Saturday, March 25, 2017

"Life" as political analogy, coming to you via Breitbart News

Immediately after seeing the film, I worked over whether or not the movie works as something the alt-right would produce to alienate us from the left. Mostly the film does work this way  -- as a sort of, de facto, Breitbart production -- I decided, though it's not entirely slam-dunk. There is no disparagement evident for the crew of the space station being a multicultural mix, for instance. Race is not invisible in the film -- it feels conspicuous at times, like when the Japanese crew member is shown looking at his black wife on video conference -- but the film maker, wherever he was actually raised, seems like someone who was a longtime habitat of a multicultural milieu, some place like London, and likes things that way. But the film cannot convince only as macabre relating to our current fascination with the possibility of life on Mars -- what it no doubt pretends to be doing -- because the idea of “threat” does not permeate this interest at all, whereas it absolutely saturates our current discussion on the matter of refugees. As such, and very much lured to do so by the film's plot developments and characterizations, in our minds we are drawn to play out the alt-right -- the “Breitbart” -- understanding of the film as not about an inclimate, teasing warning of what might be incurred in our species' subsequent adventures into outer space, but as clear-cut contemporary political analogy, applied to all of us here on Earth, warning of our being lead by an ideology that'll ostensibly bring ruin to everyone who matters. Indeed, an "afterword" could almost have been tagged on at the finish intoning overtly the film as rightwing political warning, and remained a surprise mostly fluent with what we'd witnessed. Something, perhaps, like this: 

Here you have seen a collection of well-meaning liberals engaging with something new they wanted to see a certain way -- namely, as benign, and hopefully responsive in a “mutual” way. It turned out they were engaging with one of the universe’s most dangerous predators -- something cunning, with an endless, insatiable appetite, but they were way too late in being able to see it. We need to unlearn our tendency to appreciate these liberals' well-meaning attitude and come to scorn it, in fact, as narcissistic and selfish -- as moral cover for their own undue professional success -- because it leads to criminally irresponsible results, to grand-scale loss of human lives. Just as we must unlearn our desire to view outer space as something that will abide us only contact with the unfamiliar and learn to see as venue to girt our own might, we must unlearn our na├»ve desire to view struggling people we’ve graciously let into our country as only wonderful additions that’ll in time sweeten our mix. Like this alien, they represent cultures that intend only to make use of our own resources to bring about their ascension. They grow/breed rapaciously, have no empathy, and won’t stop until our own civilization is in ruins. Learn from the lesson of this film: Come to understand refugees as they truly are -- rapacious alien rapists. Breach through the firewalls the left has put in place for you to remain ignorant of the destruction refugees are already incurring within your homelands! Keep faith with your wonderful homelands! Refuse liberal' mindwarping and overt intimidation! Refuse the insidious infidel!

What isn’t quite Breitbart about the film is that there actually is no animosity towards the alien itself. “Calvin” -- the name given by to him through an Earth-wide contest -- is just agency through which the liberal attitude of tolerance can be lampooned mercilessly and destroyed for good. For anyone adjusted to or who thrives on being cosmopolitan, it can take a lot to get us to hate a character who is black, educated, liberal, and who has a physical difficulty he has overcome to be the best in his scientific field, for a character like this represents pretty much exactly whom we’d hope to land as portrait on our hundred dollar bills to represent who we are. We are so much now the land that respects an individual’s right to totally realize themselves that we’ve put aside most former encumbrances -- like racism and cruel mockery of the disabled -- that would formerly have forestalled such a person’s ascension, denying him, as well as all of us. Now we are ready to greet any vastly evolved intelligence out there in the open court of space in a way that doesn’t shame us… that in fact, lends us dignity. But this film seeds some for this character -- deep anger and hate, that is -- which perhaps other dark-spirited cultural products will in future work upon.

He is the one on the ship in charge of interacting with the alien, making it come alive, and ultimately he lends it nutrition, food, from which to grow -- namely, his own body, as corpse -- as well as a tool through which to escape compound. Any other character we’d loathe almost immediately for such a dismayingly presumptive attitude towards something unknown, for being beholden to such "lost in space" carelessness and cluelessness and self-rapture. The fact that as we begin to accrue this attitude here we immediately sense psychic obstacles blocking it -- he is black and physically disabled: are you sure you’re not just using the safety of this particular incidence to joyously exercise long-maintained racist compulsions? Recoil, recoil, recoil, the inner voice in us commands -- draws attention to them, arouses irritation and anger at these firewalls, and inspires a questioning of their legitimacy: people died owing to them -- how righteous can their ascribed place in our psyches actually be? These firewalls begin to seem an alien intrusion we’ve already incurred, and which, owing to mental nudges built into films like these, we now finally are beginning to see properly as the bulwarks against our own survival they ostensibly really are! Down with political correctness! Down, as well, with giving a damn if the one telling you to desist in your ostensible hatred is black, crippled, and head of the like of a respected scientific institute, if this means being cowed to being agreeable to whatever hell business he is intent on lest you lapse away from being safe from being ascribed one of the disposable charnel horde that is racist, homophobic, and sexist!

We note in the film, too, that while the black character is insidiously characterized as unworthy of trust -- someone to slowly work away at pulling allegiance from, and being stretched to do so with the numerous reappearances in the film of him as kind and good but also as -- yet again! -- ultimately a living trespass to the survival of the crew -- the white, American, brazen “cowboy” of the bunch, the character who would perform in a 20th-century version of this film as the captain and the star but who now is lucky to find some countenancing for his type being on the ship with it not yet being repellent to the conception of what a competent engineer might look like, comes out looking good, and maybe overlooked. He’s the star early on -- even as he’s but grease-bucket, “mechanic” muscle and adept physical agility doing what “minds” bid -- but fades graciously to let less macho characters command the stage -- ultimately, we note, for their aggregate ruin. But he shows guts in a way that doesn’t quite seem idiotic. He flamethrowers the alien all over the place. It turns out it’s mostly immune, even as he does succeed in getting it to scamper about the place in retreat, but he didn’t toy with it … and if that wasn’t up to snuff, well, at least his judgment was the right one, which was to go nuclear immediately.

The female captain of the ship is equally brave, but somehow doesn’t come out looking as good as he does. He’s as effectual as he possibly could be, while, we note, she does nothing to deter the alien -- at all: she just goes out in space, gets entangled by its occupying "octopus" legs, and clumsily drowns, chugging poisonous fluid. If “your” purpose in setting out to engage was only to pretty much passively accede to a layering on of destruction -- well done! Worse, perhaps like me many of the audience noted that if she had launched herself away from the station just when the creature punctured the tubes in her outfit filled with enough anti-freeze to drown her... when it had doomed her but also when its attention was more absorbed in entwining her destruction than in averting its own, she would have gotten rid of the pest as she and it found "home" in deep space. Instead, she let that moment lapse, drifted and climbed as close as she could to the doors of the space station, so to, apparently, histrionically dramatize her intentions not to be rescued, and, as well, ostensibly inadvertently put the alien back in easy leaping distance of the ship. What does she seem like in the end, other than a former model who has aged gracefully enough to yet stir considerable sexual interest, especially as she repines in the form of a sophisticated consort who is resolved to all her disagreeable duties, after having humiliatingly failed in a role unsuited for her, despite having spent everything she had to offer in endless, glistened, hopeful and encouraging remarks and appreciative looks of holism and well-being to her crew? 

The Breitbart contingent is full of MRA types, and this film is a tip of the hat to them too. Near the finish, two characters are trying to decide who will be the one who'll sacrifice themselves to bring demise to the alien -- who gets to live and who has to die. Normally in this situation we know the male will commit himself to heroic self-sacrifice, and as a result, come out seeming brave and manly. But the male character making the "offer" in this film is the most begrudged and least manly member in the crew -- his acceding to playing the traditional role for men in this instance would not so much be about manly bravado but about the ushered-about and maybe schizoid-afflicted man being compelled to play out his designated role as heel so the Mary Sue character  -- who actually is due by logic to be the one who ought to be sacrificing herself in this situation, as she's the security officer in charge of firewalling disaster -- can survive another day. It's a "Cinderella" situation of having to unrighteously never escape the attic -- I like loneliness and forlorn environments! Don't worry about me! -- to have a chance at ranging, and infuriatingly suffer as your distress at being requited by convention to something foul doesn't register in the narcissist who plays at taking onus but who knows she's covered from having to bear it, and who really doesn't give a damn for you anyway. So what to do in this situation, if you're the plotter, to stage revenge? You make her think she's safe, only to ultimately commit her to the terror of a deviated course which, without care, spins her out erroneously to the fate she thought she'd seen herself circumvented away from. Last one "standing"... the last character we focus on, is the male -- albeit only in, as well, his final throws. But he's not lost in surprise and terror, even as he is beyond dismayed as the alien gouges him grossly, a hundred different ways. For his fate, he could succour onto himself in his final moments, he'd at least got to anticipate, whereas she had only known the shock of a huge, terrifying betrayal, then dispatch. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The problem of Belle, in "Beauty and the Beast"

I think there are two key moments in the movie when Emma Watson offers us the pleasure in seeing what the latest, most self-empowered female Disney character, is capable of. Early in the film she is assisting her father, whose trade is as a clockmaker, and presents him, twice, with exactly the part he next requires... but ahead of him realizing that this is the exact piece he is searching for. She, at this point, is leading him... and could presumably just as well be doing what he is doing, if such was her foremost interest. Basically this is a doctor-nurse situation where the routine, "nurse -- scalpel!," is played out to invert the patriarchal paradigm and presume genuine authority to the "nurse," but without the labour strife or mean gotcha: here, the father couldn't care less is his daughter was one hundred years ahead of him in ability and he, mostly put in the position of assisting her. He knows she's got him beat in many, many ways, and is just delighted to see her grow and glow in exercise of her abilities. He's a sublimely great dad.

The second is when she's met the literate Beast, many times ahead in terms of awareness than the people she's grown amongst, but is always serving as a respectful therapist to him. We note her two challenges to him. First, when he is struggling to admit he has feelings for her, she motions him to consider that the book he is concerned just now to devote time to isn't just about battles but about romance too. Second, she gently reminds him that you can't love someone while you remain someone's captive -- when you're not free. The inner struggle is mostly on him to work through. She's apparently, mostly been there done that.

It may be that it is tough to determine how exactly we actually think of a character when she's put out there as some sort of pinnacle of moral perfection, when through supporting her, we too partake in her moral elevation. As William Deresiewicz argues, we become in danger of using her, our support of her, as moral cover for everything we're doing in our day-to-day lives. She's part of a formula -- we love her and despise the patriarch Gaston, and now can go about oblivious and non-self-reflective about everything in our lives, as we're clearly with the forces of good and against all forces of evil.

I'm suspicious, that is, that what we're experiencing with films like this, films that look and seem as if they've integrated and represent the most advanced feminist sensibilities, is something already of a betrayal. A feminist sensibility is about respect and love, above all, and I'm not sure how much genuine respect and love you're showing for someone if your thoughts are mostly on how she can be portrayed to show how self-enlightened you are. If you were instead mostly feminist for wanting to see everyone -- boy or girl -- grow to their full potential, this needn't and probably wouldn't mean that you'd want to place her in situation after situation where she's morally ahead of everyone around her. You wouldn't make the one thing she does learn -- that the disagreeable Beast was a victim of abuse -- about a situation which involves no emotional or intellectual stretch on her part to take in, because it belongs to a paradigm she's abundantly familiar with: namely, everyone's mothers are wonderful, but fathers so often can be abusive and controlling monsters -- through their influence, later male tyrants are made, alas. Yes, we all know this… indeed it is apparently the only formula for the making of human monsters when it doesn’t just all lay on him.

There's an "emperor has no clothes situation" to how we're being instructed to enjoy this film where if somehow Belle did something which was a bit retrograde for a progressive, and Gaston did something a bit surprisingly advanced for a pompous bumpkin, we wouldn't let ourselves see it even as it played out before our eyes. No, neither of them could possibly be doing that, we'd judge, because she represents our current situation where we have evolved to the highest place of moral certitude, and he represents those whom we have passed by and who deserve to succumb to foul fates. It could all be for the purpose of her own growth -- a fit of regression she had to deal with after making one of her climbs in self-awareness; or her doing something which is genuinely about self-growth, but which comes across a bit clothed as something else: perhaps having a love affair with Gaston, even if already knowing it not something she'd much want to commit too, but just to see what that was like -- early-adult, healthy, experimentation with relationships and sex.

That's an interesting thought. What would it have played out like if the film had made Gaston and Belle former lovers -- or former boyfriend and girlfriend -- and she had in fact admitted that there was fun in it, of a sort, even as it didn't afford her much towards what she was ultimately hoping for... Gaston, at least, isn't afraid of her and can be marvelously, surprisingly, toward in his intentions: he meets her at this level here, something the shy-boy Beast can't manage at all. Indeed, the Beast is someone who pretends that his defending her from a pack of wolves means he's past being someone who's afraid to ask a girl out, even though this is who he remains, as it is clearly something he uses to prejudice her -- in this vulnerable-flesh-into-sheath-of-protection situation -- into being someone who must logically seek him out (earlier, the enveloping maternal wardrobe who spun around her an awful cocoon of indifferently selected luxurious clothes, failed to long entrap her, but being lured within a protective male carapace of strength, was a key to success). Here's my guess: it would be throwing tomatoes at the screen time (the crowd would cheer the Beast as he attacked: "Are you f*cking kidding me! All this time when you were ostensibly better than me, being so tolerant of me, teaching me and developing empathy in me, learning to love me regardless of my appearance, you were yourself the hussy who let neanderthal Gaston ball her for kicks!") And too bad for it, as it would be a plot artifice that remains fully within the thematic context of "beauty and the beast."

But you can't redeem every beast because we need vehicles of hate, even as one day we'll grow past it; and you can't be true in your support of every heroine, because we need to keep her in only such and such a form to demonstrate our virtue through our support of them, even as one day we'll grow past this as well. I feel I'm writing this essay a bit for Emma Watson, whose feminism I mostly trust. You let yourself get co-opted here. Remedy it by writing a fan-fiction take, involving you and Gaston. This is what we need, not your exposing your breast in "Vanity Fair," which allows us but another avenue to enjoin a fight which gives moral cover over how else we're going about our lives. The thing wrong about that wasn't the nudity (which we should be comfortable with), but that it elides that there are other things more daring for the feminist to undertake than pouring themselves more into already opened venues of demonstration. It was fine and all, but it wasn't what true feminism was looking for, for that, true feminism, has to be built away from the pull of the tolerant-cosmopolitan-vs.-restricting-pleb narrative, which draws us away from focusing on an individual's expression -- on what “you” were expressing there, in going partly nude -- towards using this, the societal stir it incurs, to retool our own certitude. You let yourself be incorporated as nothing more than another circumferent part to keep the chimes of our "morally pure" clocks going, which isn’t about avant-garde reach but about keeping the hounds of doubt from rocking our stasis.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The problem of Gaston, in "Beauty and the Beast"

The problem for a feminist, revisionist "Beauty and the Beast" is that no one character more causes us to shake our established preferences... to work toward a different finish than we were comfortably expecting, than the arrogant patriarch villain, Gaston. Belle reads as many books as she can get her hands on, but she represents the stage of moral perfection we liberals are all ostensibly at these days, so she's not about to throw any surprises our way, any new-fangled ideas on how to behave she got from reading some of her books: she'll only confirm what we know about ourselves. She'll school any number of characters on how properly to behave, implicitly school them to rise to her level, but (of course) she'll also embrace others' cultural preferences and eat and drink as they themselves would -- get dirty with them, in a sense, to help not only not shame but also bring equivalency to their relationship: "it's not only for you to learn to be like me" ("... but is this something that I too must learn?"). When she develops empathy for the Beast, it owes, in part, to recognizing him as someone brought lower, owing to oppression, than she herself ever was -- his mother was a wonderful if sickly dear he always tried to attend, but his father was one who cruelly took him away from her, ostensibly only to beat, mock and torture him with the like of a mandatory classical education, which only incidentally made him finely literate and world-knowledgable. Belle, in contrast, had a glorious mother and father, both, and the townspeople who've always thought her odd were never the overtly demonic like the Beast's father was, and were just, well, mundane, provincial -- any sense of them of them as "witch burners" is leagues away (admittedly, it does appear a bit when she is scolded away from teaching other children to read), and quite frankly they more serve as objects of contrast through which Belle profits, even if it means little to her. The most surprising thing I experienced from her was not something she did, but that the people behind the film thought it safe for a character -- the Beast -- to throw a giant snowball at her which knocked the wind out of her: it ultimately passed as just innocuous fun, an albeit surprising but ultimately fair retort to a caustic throw of her own, but it came credibly close to as if she had been hit by the blow of a giant fist instead. Which if that had happened, would have been well outside any accepted level of abuse and dishevelment either character was going to suffer from the other, and would have conveyed unprocessed anger towards Belle we the audience might as well have been feeling, perhaps over the level of permissiveness (unfair!) loaded onto her. Things suddenly would have gone, not-Disney, as what ought to have remained kept-in got near overt release.

If one of the books that fascinated Belle was something like "Need-Satisfaction through Fairy Tales"... if what Belle and the Beast discuss in their literary discussions was not just how romance is as well a component of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, not just blood and battles, but how many tyrants, not just the sensitive, know well and love Shakespeare, Belle would have induced upon us some dissonant thought we'd either have to spit out or integrate -- she'd set us to perhaps reprocess some of what we'd already seen, our indulging in being superior for being book lovers just like her. But she doesn't. Gaston, on the other hand, does -- encourage the reprocessing bit, that is. He does it when, after a precedent has been apparently set that no one in the film is going to be a villain in a way one can't begrudge, he becomes more than just vain and dense but grossly indifferent and shockingly cruel. He does it when he takes Belle's dad, straps him to a tree, and bids the wolves have at him. By doing this, he doesn't just transform the lighthearted into something serious, take us into a rushing torrent after we'd accustomed ourselves first through calm waters, but draw us into ongoing murky waters of having to try and find a way to work through what we know of his companion LeFou -- a character we still want to support -- so we can accept that he, the one reliable witness, won't commit himself against Gaston's actions -- neither here, nor subsequently before the haphazardly arranged "people's court". We're we enjoying the company all along of someone who couldn't speak up even when deigning to do so meant passing over murder? He's the one homosexual in the film, and we're absolutely committed to celebrating him, but now -- how?, without feeling like we're pro-homosexuality mostly because it makes us feel good and as such is built on and sustained by a kind of personal disregard? Can it be done without any work on our part? Will the film ultimately come to our rescue, in situating him so he'll seem to have had no other choice, or something like that, or will it make the attempt intelligently and aggressively but still fall short?

Also, by having a character suddenly commit in this thus-far amiable tale to murder, means that he himself is committed to the fate that all contemporary fairy tales will be compelled to land on him -- his death, at least, is now a certainty. And it'll be merciless, unredeemed. But this jars too, goes beyond our preferences, in that he was functioning well as sort of a mostly manageable cad. Someone whom every other woman desires, and every guy admires, but who doesn't possess anywhere near the resources to comport himself admirably to someone genuinely literate, even as he tries and tries his absolute best to do so. We know this character is lost to the universe, and as we envision the Beast winnowing down eventually to a denatured human male (Dan Stevens -- ugh!) -- one who ultimately doesn't quite measure up in presence and resources to Emma Watson's Belle, and whom we want back, immediately, as a bear-lion thing, for the adulterations electronically required to dress him up as such having erred agreeably in somehow lending him gravitas he doesn't without them possess... as we regard all the left-over, highly agreeable -- or rather, eager-to-be agreeable -- personages, we know we're going to have to deem it, very quickly, absolutely perfect -- and then get our head-space on out of this "perfection" as fast as possible, else we have to admit to ourselves that it was most notable for its absence.

Absence of a presence we seem to have found ourselves positioned to believe we're glad to be spared, for the guy, who even if outside his intentions, nudged the work of thought, repositioning, conjecture, risk... and maybe reality (outside this "Beauty and the Beast," French, opulent haven, we've got hellion hordes at our heels: do we really know them well enough, think they can they be assumed sufficiently, that we're okay only revelling in our glorious self-reflection and casually casting them aside?) into something a bit situationally inopportunely, resolved -- Gaston. They're out there, the agitatingly male and "other". Let's keep them in our narratives, with us even at the end. Maybe even do as Jessa Crispin advocates and consider them as "shit containers" into which we project all unwanted aspects of our own selves. Means by which we avoid fair self-scrutiny that prevents us not only from actual self-realization but from confronting the world with what is in everything genuinely "in advance of," in everything genuinely progressive and new and odd and strange -- the heavy scratch of dissonance.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Passing Inspection, in Kong: Skull Island:

In Lord of the Rings -- the movie -- two young hobbits meet extremely powerful denizens of the ancient world -- the Ents -- and actually trick them into joining a fight they had decided against joining. It's easily their most self-activated moment in the series -- they weren't operating under anyone's instructions; there was no way to know whether Gandalf would have approved of their actions or not. They simply had a vision of their own world coming tumbling down as a result of the Ents' decision, and, infuriated, decided to further test the Ents on how resolved they would be in their detached independence if they saw with their own eyes the devastation Saruman the wizard had already incurred on Middle Earth. In the books, Tolkien tries to inscribe both hobbits at the finish of their adventures, as not really having changed all that much. But if such was declared at the end of the movie series, it would read false -- "no," we would say, "we saw something there... with their behavior with the Ents, that didn't read as something they had been up to routinely in the Shire. For the Shire was the Shire in part for it balking at loud challenges that tugged at something deeply true, though withheld from conscious view, that drew people to change." In the movie, at least, these two hobbits were out on an adventure in which they did not return the same way they set out. For them, a spark was kindled out there.

Kong: Skull Island invites the kind of "adventure" the book series Lord of the Rings offered the two hobbits. The personnel who seek out this previously undiscovered island, receive from Kong and from the tribe of humans that live there, exactly what the hobbits receive from the Ents in the book. They park next to extremely dangerous and great entities who could destroy them one hundred times over if at all motivated to do so, an estimation that they are not "orcs": that they are not a threat, and might even be tolerated and even hosted for awhile. This is the "grail" these "adventurers" find for themselves on this island. Indeed, the most emblematic moment is when the young female photographer takes a photo of the assembled indigenous tribe. It's later in the movie; they've had their opportunity to absolutely recognize the tribe as not in any sense primitive, but actually far in advance in temperament, wisdom, and social accomplishment than any human society alive today; and found the tribe grace them as those who would do absolutely nothing that irked the tribe in any way. And the moment she is commemorating is their joyous success is establishing themselves as harmless, as willing to understand them in any way they bloody well want ... as not much worth anyone's bother, really.

This is how they score their "victory" -- his deigning them as passable, and maybe even worth helping: which he actually does, save them that is, though he seems to make clear that it's not as significant a moment to him as his normal behavior of rescuing stray or trapped cattle of his "flock"-- with Kong too. No one is going to more declare Kong as actually an ancient, great protector of all things weak... as the equivalent of Treebeard in Lord of the Rings, than these humans are. No one could possibly be more sincere when they declare that they'd die before letting the rest of the world know about him. They're not interested in brag; only in re-staging frights and seeing demonstrated an ability to be warded against them. They'd forsake themselves of this immunity for absolutely nothing. He could have smashed them to smithereens... but owing to how they presented themselves to them, they knew in his short time considering them that he'd categorized them as sincere in their apparent resolve to abay themselves to him in any way they possibly could. This is what they sought form him: proof that they had this "power."

Possessing this "ability" -- to be deemed "not a threat" by a scary, powerful entity -- is what so shamed Corporal Upham, in Saving Private Ryan, that he needed to reclaim his "masculinity" in brutally killing the next human soul who came across his path who tried to disarm him into being affable. There is no sense that there will be any of this upcoming here. What we have here is the beginning of a time where a movie watching audience takes delight in adopting through their avatars a poise that'll distinguish them for perhaps a decade or so. It is the poise that most held during the 1930s, where before triumphant, powerful and scary "entities" -- Hitler, Mussolini... and perhaps even Roosevelt and Churchill -- who claim themselves as shepherds of the people... who are folkish in their essence, and who seem associated with some great power of ancient origins, arisen again, you could imagine yourself safe if suddenly put before inspection. Four years hence, when nationalism has further caught on, and pretty much everyone has decided that we are in a war of civilizations where our fates are tied to "great leaders" "bravely" trying to defend our own, after multiple decades of "liberals' efforts to break it down from within," we will have shaped ourselves through movies like this one so that we'll be the ones photographing, not just our great Trumps, protectors of our Mother Countries, but perhaps even of the "righteous" carnage they create in their paths... all the people hanging from gibbets we'll joyously stand beside, taking selfies.

It's funny this. There's all this effort put in the film to show how the female lead is an empowered feminist war-photographer, but this is only done vis-a-vis the men in the group. Amongst them, she's settled in comfortably as as brazen, as pronounced, as any of them... as much as any of them, she's been in the shit. Then they're all set out into the field... to chase victory in proving themselves absolutely abnegative, absolutely unobjectionable, to ancient greats returned to view. They chase victory... in successfuly comporting in the stereotype of the properly feminine.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

"Logan" challenges us with the lesson of Degas

Charles Xavier was perhaps most happy when he had a mansion full of engaged, happy students, moving every day a further stitch away from their often insanely troubling pasts. But of course, at least in the movies, it wasn't the like of the robust kid Cyclops that garnered his most intense interest (in John Byrne's comic version, it was), but rather the students that never lost the "viper" in them, those who might lash out at him and wound him emotionally, like Mystique and Wolverine. So perhaps there was a sense that the other students were mostly a joyous blur that could take his mind off things -- when he saw them they were a rush of Christmas gifts amply piled up under a Christmas tree -- while the ones who could get under his skin were the students who had his interest and respect because they couldn't be distracted or lead away from recognizing that not all was right with him. In this assessment of the Xavier-school-for-mutants reality, that Charles was mostly interested in them, didn't show that he was most keenly interested in the most worse-off of his students, but that he had an admirable nose for those who saw that he was leading a life which enabled his distractions with mutant children bon-bons, but which when it lapsed, quietened down, would leave him open for more confrontational engagements whereby he himself might be helped out.

In 2027, most other mutants are dead, but given our sense of Xavier as someone who effused at charming, smiling, ever-happy children -- "look at the magic I've made of them! look how grateful they are towards me" -- it would have worked just as well if the movie hadn't chosen a post-apocalyptic type setting and just gone with a normal advancement of our current times, and had the students naturally lose interest him as he did most of them, when they became complicated adults of aging skin and rebuffing, self-assured mien. He is alone now with Logan, and he's not getting away with the self-presentation of someone who's more right and good than everyone else, because Logan has seen him fry the minds of a hundred people and seen his mind lapse away from remembering this horrible reality. Charles challenges him, saying, "you just want me to die," and Logan does him the favour of not doing much to dissuade him of this belief -- he's being cared for because he is loved, but the way he is now is equally as much a burden. Charles is in a sense here exposed as someone who requires people to fit preconceptions of them, built out of a need to supply his own needs and which actually chains them, as even now he is trying to persuade Logan that he is yet still the young man who could never face up to how much good is in him, a man who has never really grown an inch because Charles so enjoys being the empowered advisor who can see the good in one that ostensibly no one else can. He is exposed in a "senility" -- a recurring, self-harmful pattern of addressing reality -- he himself had possessed from his start.

Perhaps out of an unconscious realization that Charles is to be avoided as just a pest almost out of the world, the enemies of the world really aren't that keen to nab him -- "he'll drop off at some point; let's just try our best to pretend it's already happened." Whom they want is an escaped girl who's been enhanced with mutant abilities. Whom they want is a power they can dispatch at their own enemies, as a whirlwind of fantastically quick, metallic fury. Later in the film she is discussed, motioned towards, as someone who, after all, is mostly just a kid. But the way she is introduced into the narrative -- someone who shows no fear and who executes her destruction like a fully seasoned pro -- makes it difficult to understand her as such. Too much prepossession. Too much intelligent discernment. Too much contained desire to just amply express; have her time. She's closer to being throughout the patient T2 advanced robot than ever the outwardly petulant who keeps hidden deep insecurity. In playing with the car lock, activating it and de-activating it constantly, she seems not really the petulant child Logan sees her as, nor the playful child Charles sees her as, but merely the sane young adult providing everyone the much needed feedback -- "awaken out of your preconceptions!" -- that at this point she is beyond being the one who should actually be steering -- like, duh! -- the car. When she does so later in the movie, we know how competent she is going to be at it that you're played only as an obtuse fool if you were surprised how readily she took to it. 

As they flee their opponents, Logan, Charles, and the girl form a kind of family. They find themselves in a long encounter with a real one, a kind-hearted black family that owns a supply of horses and an affluent ranch. What comes to mind is that here, Charles is being provided the home and acceptance he once offered Mystique, and he lapses into sheer gratitude -- a sleeping baby in a warm crib, saying more than anything else, "mama, me so happy!" He draws Logan to stay longer than Logan intended, but the film doesn't quite succeed in making them, this family, seem only those to rally around. Any supporter of Trump could be imagined offering a stranger who helped them a home, a meal, and a good rest, if it also served to establish them in the 1950s' sense as the sort of bedrock suburban family a nation is built on -- if it also secretly flattered them. But if he found his guests were actually big city liberals... And so it goes in this film, when Logan, even after saving his host one more time, is fit only to be dispatched -- shot with a shotgun -- when he is revealed as, like, an actual "stranger," a mutant. Too much cognitive dissonance -- "I knew you were strange but not like, strange strange!" -- for the distraught, overwhelmed host to handle, and you have a sense that something about the whole idea of natural family seems a dumb idea at this caution-worthy time, as if it's smart to infiltrate the family you keep with an overt artificial element to keep it awake to itself as a mental formulation for the "real" lending only to unconscious narrative role-playing and dumbness. "Would you like to stay over? We have bed!" -- Yes, we know what kind of bed you're actually offering us here -- the bed of the unwary: the one you'll ultimately prove victim to.

As legendary, beloved superheroes die in this film, you keep asking yourself, is this for real -- at this point on, are we really going on without them? We do this even though the film does not equivocate in their being absolutely, one hundred percent, dead. I for one was glad in this confidence. It felt as if what we need today is one last drawing in of everything that is wise and developed of the past, and then dispatch them as we set out and inscribe our own future, with them now only active as a presence in our memories. The painter Degas worked this way; he would study intensely his subject, and then never return and do his painting all from memory. This way, the object influences but doesn't take precedence over your own mind -- you don't only represent, only transplant, but express and transform and thereby create something new to the world. It felt like a kind of book-burning, yet one Nazis would never do; for it's not rejecting the past for it being foul but out of realization that some things can no longer be kept in site for us to see if we're equal to founding a society that isn't simply a lesser son of greater sires. It's exhilarating to see this executed, this desire to see who we are once "you're" out of the way, even if it proves to be the case that we're more the effulgence that comes off from any enterprising eager start than any kind of steady way.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Fellowship of the Ring

Fellowship of the Ring

Frodo had been living amongst the inhabitants of the Shire for at least fifty years since he went off with the wizard Gandalf to retrieve a Dwarven homeland and rescue onto them, a treasure-hold of gold. He came back to the Shire possessed not just of gold but of reputation — here was one who had had actual contact with things others in the Shire could only count as imaginings, and been sufficiently up to the experience he hadn’t come back blemished. This prowess was useful for Bilbo, for it served as a protective ward over his quiet, comfortable living space: what other would ever dare venture upon his space other than timorously, when, after all, he could quickly transplant into any unforeseen entangling situation the Bilbo that kept wit and self-possession, with and before a dragon!

All magic, all charms, run out eventually — if this isn’t truth, it’s nevertheless how all the simple view those of prepossession built in part out of magic. And since something along these lines is what drew the dwarves to eventually decide to test the dragon Smaug’s might in the first place, Bilbo knew if he held out any further in his long splendid period of quietude in the Shire, he’d have hobbits… and others, much more dangerous others, testing his resolve to withstand overt attempts at capturing his wealth. He was going to have to make out soon for some place that’d welcome him, unknown to those in the Shire. He’d very soon have to make out for Rivendale. So he prepared for departure, and made one — in a manner that suited his impish desire to leave relatives befuddled and estranged, and his egoistic desire to presume some scatter into his departure. He thought to take all his magical possessions along with him, but his visiting friend, Gandalf, forewarned him that the Ring was no longer part of his story, but now of something quite dark and terrible, and thus the proper adornment of someone whose life would be rather other than the fulfilling one he had lived.

His home he left to his nephew Frodo. Frodo wasn’t to have time luxuriating in it, for the Ring left to him was being sought by a vile god who’d incinerate whomever was withholding the Ring from him, and who’d begun to key in on his existence. Not that he was intent on doing so anyway, staying that is: since it was not going to be for him to be able to cow the locals with his stature, he was going to have to deal with them as they were normally — namely, unmasked, bumbling sordidness.

He left along with three friends, Sam, Merry and Pippin. All three thought they were not just escaping attack but adventuring into the beyond, like Bilbo before them. Indeed, as if young captains steering a ship into a landscape unknown but not outside their conquest, they made clear their dismissive attitudes, their haughtiness, towards where they’d just previously come from and the new territories into which they were passing. But not much past their dissing of the Shire, brutally dangerous Black Riders were upon them. And not much passed rebutting the majesty of the old forest, the forest had them entangled and helpless. Lesson learned: if holding the Ring was dangerous, it paled in its danger-attracting prowess compared to any act of arrogance on their part. Better to put on the Ring than carry “attitude,” any day.

They made their way to the trading town of Bree. Here they met the “ruffian” Aragorn, who taught them more than anything else that freedom is always with never declaring yourself. For once you’ve done so — as he eventually will in admitting himself the King returned — what you once had as far as an independent will will be lost in subscribing to role.

They all venture to the elven’ realm Rivendale. They once again meet Bilbo, who in a sense went “out from the frying pan into the fire” in seeking escape there, because he escaped the tedious for the effortlessly frustrating — for those who are in every way embarrassingly more adept in everything they do than he is. A council is held where a decision must be made as to what to do with the Ring, and whom will be its next bearer. A number of possibilities are considered — not all of them overtly dubious. It could be hidden, for example, deep into a sea — something that might delay the dark lord multiple ages from acquiring it, which would buy time, great loads of time — for a miracle, if nothing else. But the problem is that the Ring wants to be found, and has a way of being found. So given this, it seems best to actually do it now, even if it seems unwise in that it offers a balm of immediate action for those who’d feel the outside world as threatening even if it weren’t in fact threatening any kind of attack at all: it’s an action built also to appeal to the paranoid.

No attempt is made to clear those judging of preconceptions — namely, that since the last two wearers were hobbits, and since it’s just been in the care of Frodo, that he is already the de facto choice unless a highly convincing argument is given otherwise. Strangely, they all pretend the choice is fully open, and also that it is a genuine surprise when Frodo declares his intention to further bear the weight of the Ring. Not much of a plan of action is given them. They are to get to Mordor and destroy it, but otherwise, all decisions are open. The only reprimand they serve under is to always choose the most unlikely of paths, as every one accounted ideal would surely be under watch. No discussion is made of a return. No discussion of how a return trip would be provisioned. They spend a lot of time in Rivendale. Enough to become familiar with every bit of Middle-earth’s geography, if such was their interest. But very little on explorations that would indicate that trip could be something other than a suicide mission.

They come to a point where the party is not in agreement as to where to go, which path to take. The Ring-bearer is beholden to Gandalf, however, and there’s a sense that this would have determined their course even if wolves hadn’t arrived to seemingly channel them down Gandalf’s preferred choice — the Mines of Moria.

Gandalf dies but everyone else makes it closer to the midway pit-stop where another batch of elves rule. Each of the Fellowship is tested and each receives spectacular gifts, and it feels as if each of them has been through some kind of river initiation that’ll proof them against most else the evil wilds of Middle-earth would present them with.

Boromir finds Frodo alone and tries to take the Ring. Frodo senses that the elves — or the elf queen, Galadriel, in particular — in individually testing them, served to loosen somehow the affiliation they had as a united Fellowship, and it seems possible now to set off on their own without it amounting to a break in something sacred. After escaping Boromir, Frodo in fact does so.

They’re all lost for a moment, though, in the one point in the whole of Lord of the Rings where chaos, amongst friends, reigns. But it’s a tease of a total disintegration only, for their friendship is real and their thoughts gravitate toward one another readily, and they bring themselves quickly to order.  

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Film reviews: 2013-2017

Get Out

Nocturnal Animals

Fantastic beasts and Where to Find Them



Hacksaw Ridge

Dr. Strange



Keeping Up with the Joneses

The Accountant

Birth of a Nation

Girl on the Train

The Magnificent Seven

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Captain America: Civil War

Deadpool (Superimposing another "fourth wall" Deadpool)

Deadpool (Dead potential)

Hail, Caesar!

The Big Short

The Force Awakens

In the Heart of the Sea

Bridge of Spies

Steve Jobs

The Martian

The Overnight

Inside Out

The Hobbit (book review --2014)

American Sniper (from American Sniper to Triumph of the Will?)

American Sniper (Eastwood's comfort zone)

12 Years a Slave (it might not have been worth it, Lupita)

Oscars (too late -- we saw your boobs)

Gravity and 12 Years a Slave (out of the frying pan and into the fire)

Wolf of Wall Street (fork in the road)

Wolf of Wall Street (part two)

Wolf of Wall Street (part one)

This is the End (and summer self-surrender)