Thursday, October 24, 2013



I almost don’t want a movie to provide a simulacrum of what it might be like to be out in space right now. Engineers, and other employees whose brains are 90% scientific data, still after fifty years of space inhabitation, holding court over who gets to tell us what it’s like to see your home planet from the outside--how we might prefer to be in the situation where only Apollo and his lute was able to express the same. We think New Mexico, and we don’t only think of cowboy yokels bearing daily witness to desert beauty, but artists, poets, hippies, doing so. Space, however, is kept rigidly by those who see nothing amiss in their space station--the ostensible center for a community in space--being as cold and human-indifferent as any structure nearly forgetting it was built not just to withstand, but to house. When Sandra Bullock’s character peeps into her shuttle, the objects that float out aren’t items of décor, of domicile, but a Space Jam character--the difference in inner-life between any of them and your typical cubicle geek, is slight. I could handle it if this was critique--they made the main protagonist a likely NPR listener, after all--but it’s apparent the filmmaker kind of liked that the heritage of space still isn’t something we could imagine anyone knitting an afghan cover for. Throw a nervous Betty in midst of it, and it'll be a perpetual struggle for her to keep herself together--one doohickey into a slot, is about what she could manage--and that with relief. Which would contain her. 

Part of me followed, immersed myself in Bullock’s character, with gratitude all the way appreciating her being at the forefront of heart-palpitating situations we can relate to. Part of me just balked at the whole thing, fixed on some corner of the screen, and kept my own composure whatever was happening. It's an hour and a half of struggle--something perhaps only soldiers and Formula One drivers and James Cameron, never cease to want to re-experience. The rest of us remain wary that if we too often brace ourselves against assaults, we'll get to the point where we never quite relax all the way out again. At the end she tasted the relief of being in a medium--the sea--where she had more control, those toned muscles, useless in space, getting to visibly, kinetically show they were worth all the hard work. I felt like telling her she should insist this be the worst inhibition she should ever let herself know--if space for us must still be first fish crawled onto land, we should let it go until the worst sublimation it can inflict still leaves us knowing the evolved flex of our substantial monkeydom. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

(Still Pending) Response to commenter Reuben Thomas, on Richard Brody's review of 12 Years a Slave

Reuben Thomas: 

To me Brody does not get it. "Django unchained" is the film you want to see after seeing "12 years a slave". The last one simply came after. And I'm pretty sure of the historical existence of characters like the one depicted by Samuel L. Jackson in Tarantino's movie... 

But it mystifies me more that Brody does not seem to be able to infer through his own imagination any of the realities actually suggested by both films. If we accept that it's actually impossible for even all of the slavery related films as a whole to narrate every single moment of real-life historical abuse, then we should offer our own minds to fill-in the blanks as homage to the effort and as proof of our own capacity for compassion. It's like Brody were saying that the current world is in such a state that without the explicit nature of these images we can no longer gather enough empathy against slavery.

I agree that empathy is lacking, but only because both films fail when they show the horrors of slavery as the result of the actions of madmen. The horrors of slavery were the result of the acts of psychologically sound businessmen and plantation entrepreneurs. People like you and me. People who truly believed in the inferiority of the black race and the need for slaves to sustain an economy and a way of life. Come on, even a war was fought around these "facts". I wish a film would come and actually show that

@reubenthomas Slavery was the result of madmen--or rather, people who were brutalized by their parents when they were young. When collectively childrearing is brutal enough, it leads to institutions where a populace re-afflicts the horrors inflicted upon them upon some simulacrum of their innocent, vulnerable childhood selves--what Germans in the 30s were getting themselves prepared to do. If you're the type to enjoy good parent Richard Brody's writings, you're way beyond being someone who could be indoctrinated into seeing any institutionalized human torture as okay. Doesn't matter if your head was drained of all prior teachings; unless somehow they excavated all the love you received out of you--you're beyond them. 

I also have major doubts about slavery as about good economy, but little that most people want to flee considering how the particular nature of their childhoods is still afflicting them. The typical historian's method of evasion, is to see humans as essentially the same--as rational, homo economicus. Trust me, the societies that were abandoning the institution of slavery, did so fundamentally because through increased love from generation to generation, they'd become people who no longer felt the perverse need. 

The Africans that were stolen out of Africa, what were their societies like? Did they possess institutions as abhorrent as slavery? If so, that was something they were going to have to work out of themselves, through the same means--increased empathy from mother to daughter, gradually over generations--as well. 



There's a moment in Carrie when Carrie becomes remote from us, not owing to the carnage she wrecks, but to her being possessed of a self-assuredness there's no way we'd be able to match. Her mother, attempting to prevent her from seeking a life for herself which might allow some pleasure, bangs her own head repeatedly against a wall, with sufficient force it might lead to breaking herself open. Carrie watches it, but insists on her own life anyway, letting her mom break herself into brain pulp, if such is her wont. This was what she was going to need to do to individuate, push on despite being guaranteed that if her mom could no longer physically desist her by scaring her to holy hell with knives or carting her off into isolation closets, she'd probably slit her own wrists before her, to show her the wreckage her "selfish" pursuits were inflicting physically, emotionally, psychically on her. She's basically Rose in Titanic, who ultimately told her own mother to shove the hell off, even though this was going to bottom her mother--high in lineage, but nada in riches--out, but somehow with a much, much, much more daunting mother, and without someone--apologies to the good gym teacher--near Angel-sent to temper her the strength to do it. Intent on going to the prom, she telekinesises her mother into a closet, fuses any possible exit, and embraces a new world. The world is set-up to turn on her, as it turns out, and when she turns on it, it's less out of shock and rattled umbrage and more as if out of now familiar, superb, quite controlled and even-pleasurable rebuttal (great! I get to use these powers again--and in an even larger venue!). The confidence in which she directs and motions her carnage, the presumption, without hesitation configuring how aptly to direct the environment to butcher the particular wretched kid she's caught sight on, is more or less the same we saw in her disabling her maniac mom when she'd become immune to her. We take stock of her at the end, and with her poise, apt calculation, and tremendous power, with her not seeming to have done in anyone who didn't deserve it--it's mostly the real nasties, like the corrosive black-haired twinish girls, who are squashed down into trampled-down floor rugs like the deflated evil witches in Wizard of Oz, who are done in, but everyone in the crowd was laughing at her covered in pig's blood while video played of her terrible shower humiliation... so what loss, really, any of them?--I basically ignored the finish and imagined her carted off by Professor Xavier. She'd beat down her mom and home, beat down her school and small-minded, hipster-absent town (hipsters would have admired her aesthetic and askew beauty), and now was really just ready for bigger game. Not, that is, to be herself quit by death, and folded into a lesson for smaller people.

I'll admit, though, that I actually did identify with her some. When I was about to leave my mother and embrace the wider world, I would find her lying as if dead, in midst of some house pathway I would have to cross. Since she knew I knew she was performing, and that this would be amongst a number of innumerouses I would have to ignore just to go about my own day, she knew I would have to step over her--as if she, a bum on the street, and I, the callous--and that by doing so, no matter my awareness of what she was doing, there was still a gamble-worthy chance I would still feel doomed by some rightful, me-overlording judge as having done the unpardonable: "Your mother was lying on the ground, possibly sprawled in death, and you just walked over her ... you did this, to your mother!!! I don't care what kind of hinderances she presented you with, you crossed the line, and are the saddest, most selfish, most demonic cad ever born to earth! Your fate is to be cursed with guilt after every fun thing you do, never-ending--and this only to start!"

There's another way I know I could have identified with her, harnessed her power of self-righteousness, but chose not to. When Carrie explains why her mother is wrong to hem her in, she doesn't just do this by explaining the innocuousness of such normal life events like the prom, the rightness every human being has to participate in and try and enjoy them, but effectively by chastising her mother as being self-centered and selfish. Referring, that is, to her own powers of telekinesis, she explains that this power is actually fully normal to their shared mother-daughter lineage, only that it skips every other generation. She makes her mother's preference that her daughter understand it only as Satan's "gift," a betrayal of the whole story of their heritage, a wilful ignorance of bloodline and history, that selfishly makes her own self more normal--or rather, better, less sin-ridden--than her daughter. She makes her seem a selfish rebellion against her own telekinesis-empowered mother! The way we can do the same with our own parents, is by finding a way to make our generation seem more akin to our parents' parents, with their own selves the historical aberration. This is okay-easy for gen xers to do, but easy-peasy for millennials, for, like them, baby boomers' parents were defined by their living the great span of their youth in hope and dream-inhibiting Depression times. The baby boomer parent points a finger at their millennial kid, calling them spoiled and selfish, and the crafty millennial, perhaps looking at their own lifestyle of "Kinfolk"--read overtly ancestral, paradingly masochistic, grandfatherly and sparse--ways, sees the absurdity of someone built out of decades of prosperous post-war years chastising someone who like the 1930s sufferers, doesn't even feel guaranteed any kind of job. To them, a house and a car, isn't bottom-level middle class--what everyone who doesn't live on the street could possess--but a sign that you've gotten lucky and hit upon a career path vixen, unaccountable Future gloriously spared by shining some favor on. To be called spoiled, increasingly invites a collective glare back ... a judgment, against the abominable absurdity of the revealed exploiter still insisting morality has anything at all to do with them. Depression Nazi Youth, against their own Weimer-spoiled, dessert-fattened, bourgeois parents, that is.

If we adopt this strategy in categorizing away our own parents, it would amount to the same sin the same afflicted upon this movie. Carrie makes the link between Carrie and her grandmother in order to isolate her mother, and this comes at the cost of appreciating that this grandmother--surely having come at her own daughter as menacingly as Carrie's mother did with Carrie--is equally as dismissal-worthy. Further, it comes at the cost of understanding why exactly her mom was as crazy as she was (do we really buy, considering what the film shows of maternal power, that it owed to religion?), why she was confined for life to appreciate pleasures as the worst possible thing in the world, the great villain in the world, that everyone attempting to be selfless and holy will crusade against. Very likely, it comes at the cost of appreciating that her mother, in actually desisting against the voice in her telling her to kill her new-born child, and choosing instead to keep and hold and temporarily tend to her, may have been doing something heroic, in relation to her lineage's history. Some part of her daughter, she was able to believe, deserved to be loved--something she herself may have had even less experience of.

I'll end this review by mentioning how much I appreciated the popular high school couple in this movie. It was moving for me to see the girl, especially, trying to figure out how to make amends to Carrie, not just to expunge guilt, but because she wanted her mended and happy. It was a miracle to see her boyfriend manage his prom date with Carrie, without either making her feel she was being set-up or not truly of interest to him. He wanted to convey how he felt, that she was interesting, and that he was pleased to be her date, could very readily have a good time with her, and did very well with this. He moved her to allow herself a little bit more time with him, an hour more at the after-party, perhaps--the baby-steps forward toward larger happiness she was still going to need. When the bucket crashes down and kills him, I almost wanted to stop the movie there. He and his girlfriend have a lot going for them to make them feel they could manage whatever hit they might take through so publicly befriending the most despised person in school, but they weren't guaranteed to float though. It was lovely courage, and terrific love, and they deserved much better.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Don Jon

Don Jon

It's a considerable task put to Julianne Moore's Esther for her to present as the preferable alternative to porn as porn and our porn-watcher are presented here, and I don't think she manages it. Jon--the watcher--has his life perfectly compartmentalized. There's his time at the dinner table, his time at the gym, his time at church and the confessional, his time at the bar with his friends, his time in bed with this week's select girl, and his time afterwards in porn--summed up nicely each time with a single crumpled up tissue sent into a black waste bin--and in none of these activities does he feel a disadvantage. I mean by this that though he's a millennial and not an owner of a home, nor of a job that puts him outside of being defined as a loser or as underclass servile--he's a bartender--he's not mastered in his family home, his job place, amongst his friends, nor anywhere else, exempting sex, whose for-him arduous quality requires a besting amendment. His life seems perfect, an already commendable, substantial realization for anyone fraught with being a mastered young man ill-placed to make any kind of stake against the world, until rather than settle for his usual 8-or-9-in-hotness babe he goes after a 10, and he starts loosing leverage over his life. Scarlett Johansson's Barbara culls Jon to her powerfully, and each step towards her she uses to adulterate him in a way more amenable to her. Julianne Moore is too old to be within the echelon of women Jon and his friends would even rate, and is more like someone sage--an Obi Wan ... or a croon, even--needling him insights to loosen and unroot him from an allegiance to a sun-radiant sashaying shrine of a woman he can do little but obey and forbear. She also gets him to rethink his attachment to porn, by showing him that a great, nurturant, reciprocal relationship with a woman--with her, in this case--can give him the high he thought only obtainable through it.

In effect, what she's doing is akin to unrooting someone to their obsession with, say, texting, to spend more time directly involving himself with people. Once you know how great a real-life conversation can be, you'll lose your interest in the shallows of more generic and detached conversations ... ostensibly. But clearly to millenials there is worse than something detached and not entirely satisfying, and that is, that whatever is too pronounced and of too much affect can subjugate your shallow defences and eventually overwhelm and subjugate you. That phone call that you think communicates more than the text, that is obviously a better, a richer, form of communication, is to millenials an affect-loaden, commanding mother's harague that can't be dialed down into something just font and text, on a device never stripped of its potency as an authoritative cultural object to diffuse everything communicated into it into a community that has been messaged the same thing before. So her learning him to be a responsive partner and to enjoy reciprocation and conversation development, may be a genuinely helpful learning, until his ability to imagine himself a kind of device which powers down people's ability to dictate terms to him, lapses, and he becomes a kid who has lost his varnished advantage--his youthful alpha perfect form and sexual potency--to a crackening, wise older woman, who has hard-earned won the argument over who should be allowed to break in every part of innocent, ignorant him. She's a superior Barbara, that is, in that there's no one out there to lesson him on how he might be better off without her. Which may be why the film inflicts her with a periodic tendency to shut down, broken over rememberance of her lost family, so to become sort of a null object he can actually act over from time to time.

If this film was true life, Jon would forgo her the first moment possible--making his switching off at some moment where she had curled into herself once again in pain. He'd bookend her experience with her with it lending him the authority to talk back to Barbara and acknowledge the rightness of his feeling neglected by her (guys are going to like this moment in the film), and perhaps with his gaming how he schedules and goes about his life a bit--a bit of social mixing it up with basketball might be better than just the familiar routine of weights--but otherwise return to what he had, with maybe also a bit more sass at the church, and so not just with his dad. He'd forgo the commanding 10s this time, spot out the less-fielty-owed 8s and 9s, and every week, catch one. He'd take them to bed, which though it punished him with missionary sex which hardly flatters the form of his mate, reducing them to compressed, blockened slabs of somnambulist flesh, though it means felatio which terminates just when its getting good, or which from the start--when he's eating her out--is pretty rank and foul, is still something which might lend life into his follow-up routine of amended sex through porn. He's a hunter who can claim more from his follow-up routine of administrating, handling, and plying apart his prize stalked prey, than can the big game hunter readying things with a blooded carcase for a later feast.

In short, a device clearly used to make guys who watch porn not feel like they're losers--he's a guy who's got an active sex life, and with total scores--probably has most of them thinking that though they like the involvement of the Obi Wan Kenobi female friend, they'd just-fine take what Jon has from the start. And you can understand why apparently some porn companies cooperated with the film. Here presented is a fully honest account of why guys go to porn, and apparently it's as innocent-dewed as Playboy magazine in the 1950s. Guys go to it for better tits, better ass, and a feeling of empowerment and satisfaction they don't always so much feel in sex, which can turn servile. Not ideal, maybe, but understandable, and hardly character defining--a bit hen-afflicted man still turning his head at the gorgeous young blonde strayed into his path ... quintessential manhood. But go to a porn site, and see if this is what you see. Do you perhaps instead see something a little bit more disturbing than just chasing down the perfect ass? Or even, something more salutary than just cold sex, stripped of any genuine sensuality that might have been more evident in porn during the free-love 1970s? Maybe what you get is a lot that is damning men, making them beyond recoverable--a heightened longing for revenge, not compensation. Rape fantasies. And maybe also a bit that is genuinely buttressing them, giving them some company that is actually teaching them a thing or two about mutuality, but delimited by being entirely under their control.

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