Out of the frying pan and into the fire: Gravity and 12 Years a Slave


Viewing the earth from space is supposed to be one of those opportunities to chuck off familiar ways of apprehending your lived life into a baptism where cognitive categories need to be reapplied … hold on, it's not just blue sea vs. brown terra which this view tells me it is, but of course the Pacific Ocean, and that chunk of terra is California, and so on.  It's supposed to be one of those chances where in feeling an actual effort to reapply our entire normal way of perceiving, we feel in ourselves the capacity to change … the "us" in us can flow into a better mold. But though in certain kinds of cultural contexts this realization/rapture can be magnified -- like during the space launch, the utopian 1960s -- in some it can be virtually nullified as the fact that it's simply a view from a height lends it strictly not to perspective but to orientation. Arrogant, aristocratic -- entirely-not-our-own -- orientation.

I've heard of differing agents in regards to how an age can get stifled. Linda Colley, for example, in her "Britons" provided the familiar one of how aristocrats can consolidate and disable an age from being a meritocracy, something she said occurred during the second half of the eighteenth-century in Britain with the development of the elite "polite vision," which everyone else was denied complete access to but were supposed to -- and did -- sublimate themselves to. Almost as familiar, is the one James Walcott provides of an age becoming stalled owing to the prevalence of grandmotherly tut-tutters -- no one remains around to lend strength to those who refuse the staid and mannerly in preference for the baroque trashing of hotel rooms -- something he says afflicted the U.S. in the period between Emerson/Thoreau (1850s) and Fitzgerald/Hemingway (1920), and is afflicting us now.  The truth is, I could only dream these were the antagonists, because in every age where people start reporting a preference for things "decent," where vile egoism is being chased out, and where sadistic control over the powerless is being eroticized, the antagonist is emerging from out of almost every one of our own selves. No one is really chilling us into place, even as we hear report after report of cowards trying to corral and determine public preferences, for the voice we're hearing out there in society is just that part of ourselves that damns our own egoism, given some semblance of outside life owing to so many of us puffing our inner demons into its cloud-fog. If all I had to worry about when advancing my own thoughts and writings is that an outside world might hate it, or willfully ignore it, at least they might still get "produced" so long as I could abay self-doubt and a lack of an audience. But if I'm battling a formidable antagonist inside my own head, then thinking and writing things that are fair to oneself become like LOTR's good Gollum gaining a repass from his usually dominant demonic self  -- outside of ideal conditions, it's probably something that will only limp through after a long battle. At the finish, it's not a precious seed enthused into a ripe fruit, but potential discombobulated and humbled into bruised reality. Tada! Here's my finished product! … Would you now cart it off for presentation to even a tolerant world? 

But this is our world today, one that favors the established, and disfavors youth, the new, because they're presumptive …  in their simply offering an alternative. So it's an age where if you're established, how can the tendency not but be to exult -- obviously it's an opening the age wants someone to play out. If everything maybe even substantially better and more transformative than what you've got shows itself on the scene is dissed simply because a society hates egoism amongst the everyman -- however much it absconds from noticing it in those in charge -- then even the intrinsically compelling, the magical, can't shuffle you off the scene because it'll be confused for the arrogant. And if anyone was to stand beside you, they'd have to wilt as if stood to the side of Kim Jong Un.

That's pretty much how I felt when watching "Gravity" -- my wilting while watching another extend his arms out, engage and embrace. Alfonso Cauron is showing me the grandeur of space as if Kim Jong Un up on some high palace wall. He's created a majestic stage set which over the next hour and a half will be completely destroyed in a calibrated fashion. He has two "players" -- one the kind of captain of the ship every aristocrat wants at the helm: experienced and able, but still working class limited in his needing to apprehend the confusion of life through platitudes; and another who is more sensitive but also more delicate, and who's going to have to wear through the kinds of disorientation, struggle and trauma you'll only be noticing. Afterwards, she'll be the daddy's girl who tried it out on her own only to be so stricken afterwards she reckons her dad wholly right to have cautioned her against it. "I hate space/terra incognita! Daddy, oh you were so truly wise about it! I'll never leave your safe pastures again." 




I saw "Gravity" just before I saw "12 Years a Slave," so considering my response to the former "12 Years" felt like going from standing beside a despot and watching his orchestrations to being at the finish surprise-pushed into the pit with the rest of the forlorn. For three hours I was Solomon Northup, doing nothing more noticeably than attending to the moods of masters and humiliatingly shoring up their legitimacy by actually showing I do care they know that in certain contexts I can perform as ably as their star slave Patsey, even as much as I can -- another humiliation -- never admit it to myself: "Patsey can do daily 500 pounds of cotton, but if this was sugar cane or if you instead had wanted a river forded --" Then after three hours of nerve exhaustion, rather than taste freedom, some of that wonderful dalliance stuff with his wife we saw at the beginning of the movie, you're with Solomon Northrup who's chastised thereafter into a warrior mold -- we're instructed to see the rest of his life as about leading reparations for the black race and vengeance on white scallywag racists, pushed away from self-determination into a role we all strangely, damningly, expect him enslaved to. He's not Bilbo, who after adventure and war (involving a bad hit to the head) tastes once again fine cakes, good company and tea, and shucks the whole rest of the world off, but Frodo, who afterwards is displaced from relaxation and pleasure … who for some reason can't even take a sip of beer without drawing memory of the whole travails through Mordor; and being the wraith amongst men, seemingly has to be fit into another narrative. 

Brad Pitt was this movie's Tom Bombadil. He ends up getting involved, but we taste mostly his freedom to up and detach himself anytime he pleases, with no one paying much mind -- his ability to persist in situations where everyone else is caught in some death-grip heated drama, and pretty much manage to do his own thing. I think being someone who can get away with this, is basically what a lot of people are hoping for themselves these days. There may be epic forces at work about to drive people into action, but maybe they can invisibly get through it all without being picked off. Pathetic -- maybe; but barely at all presumptive, which could get them off the hook and prove their parachute out

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