Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Railway Man



Railway Man

If you remember when male potency supplements like Viagra came out, it was clear the companies believed that men had to have their shame of admitting to having potency issues abated by addressing them otherwise as total he-men, totally potent. So we got commercials where a bunch of older guys playing golf are discussing the twenty-year olds they've bedded, and where "Viagra" isn't discussed but just flashed on the screen at the end. This film looked to be going on about the same thing -- except the issue being brought a bit more into common recognition was how experiences during war might never be shucked off.


But we'd hardly need to have Colin Firth's Eric -- a World War 2 British lieutenant -- shown first as a prosperous older man who's just romantically won himself a resplendent wife (Patti, played by Nicole Kidman), before dwelling into what he experienced in war, if what was going to be shown up close was what we've traditionally been directed to allude to when we think of soldiers refusing to discuss what they experienced -- friends being slain before them, civilians … as well of course all their own killing. This is something, quite frankly, which has always served to make soldiers seem somewhat greater than other men -- more broadly experienced, not shallower, or more shrunken -- and therefore something of a cheat: experiences we collectively have insisted on as adding to your manliness also working as an infallible manner of gaining leverage over people. But it is perhaps necessary here, where we're going to deal with what soldiers were reduced to when captured -- ostensibly something a la Abu Ghraib, but worse.

To the credit of the film, we are told that what is hard for a soldier to discuss are things which are embarrassing, not just overwhelming, depressing, terrifying. Certainly when I heard Stellan Skarsgard's Finlay -- the "uncle," the senior member of the troop -- mention this, I suddenly had in mind Abu Ghraib's sexual humiliation of the captives, with their being raped, sodomized and whatnot. It would have been something, if after encountering this highly respectable and attractive man, we were back witnessing him being forced to felatio fellow soldiers, eat his own shit -- or just watched him regress in captivity to be a scared child who couldn't help but gain pleasure in garnering approval from his tormentors. After witnessing that, would we attend to him with the dignity we know he deserves? Or rather just wish the film had made him even more the hero in everyday life, someone so commanding of respect what we had just learned wouldn't be allowed any permanent grip in our consciousness -- like the way nothing we might ever learn about what Nelson Mandela would be allowed to sit there if it couldn't be squared with the attitude we know he is owed?

But what we actually see are him and his fellow young officers beginning their servitude by successfully transforming an episode which was supposed to reduce them into one which showcases their wit, their vitality -- they count themselves off into numbers … until they reach "ten," with the four subsequent counting off as "Jack," "Queen," "King," "Ace." Then we witness them acting in a way indistinguishable from if they'd been an elite team sent in to effect a "Saving Private Ryan" moral boost, but rather for all those still caught in captivity rather than for civilians languishing at home. In "A-team" style, they effect various plausible but still very brave and inventive means to gather all the components to build a radio. And with the radio, they gain information -- specifically, that "Hitler" was repelled out of Stalingrand and that the Americans are bombing all of Germany day and night -- to spread a boost in moral to all the troops building an "impossible" railway for the Japanese.



However, the Japanese do learn what they did, and the guilty fourteen are rounded up. And here they all witness one of their own being repeatedly beaten upon by a rifle, which has them shrink in fear … until Eric steps up and volunteers for punishment. This act was never forgotten by the rest of them; it was the bravest thing any of them had ever seen, in fact, including everything they'd seen by the during the war, and the inverse of what their servitude was supposed to render for them all.

But for this show of undaunted spirit, this defiance/mockery, Eric is isolated, taken into the shack he has spent so much of the rest of his life remembering; and so here, finally, is where the film is going to broach the kinds of embarrassing things there's no way he'd ever be able to share with any one else or shuck off. Only, it turns out -- not so: an interpreter repeatedly tries to daunt him through tersely asked questions but has trouble gaining ground even with that: "I ask the questions, you only answer." And then he endures torture which looks terribly painful -- he's repeatedly pumped so full of water he's near bursting -- but not evidently worse than that awful rifle beating; and this time almost as indication of his hereto inability to be broken -- a weird kind of flattery, but recognition and flattery none the less.



And the truth is, this scene in the shed seems even more concerned to manage how the interpreter is portrayed so that when Eric ultimately later in life befriends this man, it can seem do-able without it making him seem some sort of gargantuanly pathetic, intrinsic kiss-ass. So the interpreter is shown several times reacting to what the Japanese camp officer is doing to Eric with some alarm; he tells Eric at one point -- in good faith -- that he'd best just tell the officer what he wants to hear because they'll get their information out of him anyway, and it'll mean less pain. And he only explodes at him when Eric dooms them in finally revealing what they've been trying to chase out of him, what he learned from the radio: that Japanese industry, towns, hospitals were about to be decimated by attack, that "your hopes are [already] burning, and your families are starving." So when afterwards the Japanese are defeated, it seems fully appropriate that the interpreter not suffer the fate of the those who committed war crimes and instead is permitted to step to the side. And when Eric catches up with him later and is allowed the obligatory turning of the tables, with the interpreter having "to answer, not ask," and briefly submit to being in a bamboo cage -- and further later apologizing and bowing sincerely to him -- it seems very agreeable they end up friends. Two educated, fundamentally decent men, but of different cultures and of differing perspectives during the war … a satisfying bro-mance for the literate baby boomer to enjoy.

But as to the matter of the great shame that has troubled his Eric and his friends for life, it's near literally an aside. For we do end up seeing some sense of it, but not amongst them but in those Eric and his fellow engineering-educated peers were deemed too valuable to be cast amongst. When Eric is passing through the passage being made for the railway deemed impossible to be constructed without slave labor -- for it'd surely killing most of the people involved in building it -- he sees a major working there whom he once served under. He tries to recall him to himself, but the major recoils -- as if he's now at the point where he assumes anyone advancing upon him must be about to beat him. He's a totally broken man -- the intrinsic slave the Japanese assume inhabits the soul of any man weak enough to have let themselves be captured. Whatever they do to Eric, he never, ever, appears recoil-worthy, and this poor man-ghoul mostly certainly is that. If what Eric's wife had to account for in trying to understand him, why he couldn't get past his experiences thirty years before in the camp, was him being broken as badly as this -- then his being otherwise made to seem so comfortably established and identification-worthy would make sense. 

In fact, when later the movie allows the major to be the one who initiates the spreading of the news down the railway line, there almost seems room to assume it something we were all agreeing to simply allow for him after the horror of "meeting" him rather than it keeping in line with the story's otherwise ostensibly truthful account. He was too broken for it ever to have actually happened that way, so in tribute to who he was formerly and in recognition of our inability to adequately ever square his future self with who he had revealed himself as here, we're going to have to collectively agree to momentarily step to the side within this film some, and attenuate the details … in fidelity to something more important than facts or our enjoyment of the film -- to goodness. Then of course, back to the story. 

Eric, however, we're simply to take straight … presumably because the people making and watching a movie such as this are not so interested in dealing with trauma as they are in defensively coping with it. That is, by keeping the person they are supposed to identify with a respected man outside of war and capture, and persistently heroic and empowered during servitude, as we match up our own life experiences with his own, Eric ends up being a kind of sturdy railway overlay of tricky matter in our own minds. In truth, a kind of contagion. 

Someone might object that the repeated beatings Eric endures, as well as the water torture and the -- for awhile -- living in a cage, would be enough to create a traumatic experience he'd never recover from, even if he never knew the shame of capitulation. The reason this is in fact fatuitous is because these tortures are designed by captors so that inmates know humiliations that they, the captors themselves, experienced during childhood -- the unconscious intention behind torture is to shame one's own "guilty" childhood self, whom you've projected into inmates: it certainly means to but doesn't really have "you" in mind. If you didn't experience the equivalent in your own childhood, as physically painful as these experiences would be they would not serve to remind you of how scared and powerless you were when you were infantile -- that shame. The reason many Jews who endured Nazi tortures were able to recover from them somewhat adequately was not simply owing to the fact that they formed terrific support groups afterwards, but because they had had better childhoods than the Germans did. That is, these tortures were essentially new to them, something afflicted upon them now from people outside their family and for the most part outside of childhood -- it was intrinsically foreign to what they had previously experienced in life and to what had gone into shaping their personhood. It could be shucked off, for it was mostly overlain from the outside upon an already solid core. 

The film we really need to see involving an older man still crippled by something he experienced decades earlier, wouldn't let it settle in his experiences as a soldier in wartime, even if shown more honestly than this film is interested in. For "wartime" is in this situation a plank we've set up, way aloof from the age where experiences can really destroy us, presumably for us to further pontificate if we mean to allow the plank to drop lower. It's actually a safe zone, a "simulation room," to maybe prepare ourselves for the leap back into infancy, where the ferocious soldier screaming at us would become our mother and father repeatedly doing so, where being locked in a cage becomes our own being shut into closets, where being beat on repeatedly or sexually used becomes our parents having been these kinds predators. 

Since captors force captives to experience what they themselves experienced in childhood, the film we need to see would explore something along the lines of this passage from psychohistorian Lloyd DeMause. Whether of Japanese war camps, or German ones ...  or otherwise, it would be this


Jews, then, were the main poison containers for the restaging of traumatic German childrearing practices four decades earlier. Every one of the things done to Jews in the Holocaust can be found to have been perpetrated by parents and others to German children at the turn of the century. The precise details of earlier events that were reinflicted upon Jews later are astonishingly minute and literal. Jews were, of course, murdered by the millions, just as German children had watched their siblings murdered in infanticidal acts earlier, using the exact same phrase for the genocide of Jews--"elimination of useless eaters"--as parents had used earlier for their infants and children as they murdered them at birth. Because infanticide rates were so high, the majority of German children would have witnessed the murder of newborn siblings by their mothers, would have heard the murdered baby being called a "useless eater," and would themselves have been called a "useless eater" as children and so could have wondered if they might also be murdered. One can hardly read a single Holocaust book without having to wade through endless accounts of children buried alive by Nazis, "children having their heads beaten in like poultry and thrown into a smoking pit," "babies thrown from the fourth floor and crushed on the pavements," "children's bodies lay around, torn in half with the heads smashed in," "'little Jews' caught on bayonets after being thrown from upper story windows," etc. Even the specific methods German mothers had used for killing their newborn--especially smashing the baby against a wall or throwing it into a latrine--were "a regular occurrence" against Jews in concentration camps:

When mothers succeeded in keeping their babies with them. A German guard took the baby by its legs and smashed it against the wall of the barracks until only a bloody mass remained in his hands. The unfortunate mother had to take this mass with her to the 'bath.' Only those who saw these things with their own eyes will believe with what delight the Germans performed these operations. [Also] SS men used to amuse themselves by swinging Jewish children by their legs and then flinging them to their deaths. He who threw a Jewish child farthest won.

Jews were also regularly tied up and made to live in their own filth exactly as swaddled German infants were earlier. Rarely washed, Germans had spent their early lives covered with their own excreta, addressed by their parents simply as "little shitter." In the concentration camps, Jews were subject to what Des Pres calls a constant "excremental assault," in which they were forced to defecate and urinate upon each other, were often thrown into the cesspool if they were too slow, lived in barracks "awash with urine and feces," walked about "knee-deep in excrement," were forced to eat their own feces, and finally died in gas chambers "covered all over with excrement." In one camp, 30,000 women not only had to use a single latrine, but in addition, "we were permitted to use it only at certain hours of the day. We stood in line to get into this tiny building, knee-deep in human excrement." Holocaust scholars, missing the childhood origins of all these gratuitous excremental cruelties, have been puzzled by how much of the concentration camp routine was devoted to the endless humiliations: "Why, if they were going to kill them anyway, what was the point of all the humiliation, why the cruelty?" Gitta Sereny asked of Franz Stangl. But of course the humiliation was the point, restaging early German childhood exactly. Hitler--himself swaddled and left alone in his feces by his mother--had told Germans in Mein Kampf , "If the Jews were alone in this world, they would suffocate in dirt and filth." In the Holocaust the Jews--"so much like us" (Hitler)--would suffocate in dirt and filth, as all little, helpless German babies did all day long at the hands of their mothers. And since the "little shitter" German babies were also covered with lice, vermin and rodents as they lay swaddled in their cradles, unable to move, Jews too were called "lice, vermin and rats" as they were locked into the concentration camps, told "This is a death camp. You'll be eaten by lice; you'll rot in your own shit, you filthy shitface." Some guards even restaged the rodent attacks "by inserting a tube into the victim's anus, or into a woman's vagina, then letting a rat into the tube. The rodent would try to get out by gnawing at the victim's internal organs." Later toilet training of German children was also restaged, often in precise detail, as by having the ghetto-latrine supervised by a "guard with a big clock, whom the Germans dressed comically as a rabbi and called the ‘shit-master.'"

Incidentally, this film has it that you can visit someone who tortured you thirty years previously and they can be fully recalled to it. As the film shows these two men, this is plausible -- for they're never lost to themselves during the war. But this normally would not have been the case. Wars are periods where people have bonded with their mother nations, set about to destroy guilty villains -- projections of their own childhood "bad selves" -- and thereby nurture for themselves a glorious feeling of purity, of cemented "good boy" or "good girl" status, absent contaminants. Once this madness is over, like the postwar 1950s after WW2, people are mostly detached from whom they once were -- literally, a map of their everyday mental life would be completely different; have it lorded over by more regular areas. They'd be back to whom they were previous, the Weimer Germans who were all set about their regular bourgeois life before they became the 1930s-40s Volk, would be back simply to "shopping" and building families, not ganging up on Jews on the streets, which they -- not just the Nazis -- collectively did. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Transcendence


Transcendence 

In a recent New Yorker we learned that many of those earning instant fortunes for their apps are feeling pretty guilty about it. It's pretty tough, they proclaim, to enjoy your millions when you're aware of just how hard and rewardless a life your own mother had to make due with. Specifically, though to make their apps they "borrowed office space and subsisted on a diet of instant ramen," though they knew "in the back of [their] heads […] [how] hard you worked, that you sacrificed your stability and you took on the risk of financial ruin for a long while," that "[y]ou did things that other people were not willing or capable of," it still "feels awful," for they "couldn't get rid of the image of [their] mothers in [their] cars, driving to work." The truth is, that if the only thing they had to contend with was the fact that their mothers had much harder lives, they've already amply contended with it as a source of guilt. For added to their belief that their mothers worked hard for them to live easier lives, would be how conceivably they've fit their sacrifice and gumption in creating the apps in with how society normally lauds and backs those who've achieved success -- endless hours and ramen noodles: no silver platter there! Stop your fretting and start enjoying your hard-earned money, son! So the reason some of them are even shutting down their apps so they can be spared the guilt of fifty thousand dollars daily accruing to them, is because they didn't so much intuit that their mothers deserved more in life but were thoroughly aware of it since birth: their mothers had them to provide them some of the love and devotion they hadn't yet received in life, and not only weren't much interested in them otherwise but couldn't help themselves from being angry when their children switched off them to focus on their own pursuits. Some success might somehow be justified -- but not a surfeit of it, for it'd feel nowhere within the vicinity of what should be lent to you after you'd been the good boy and seen to your mother first. To deal with that, you'd need a miracle to be spared the self-recriminations that'd accrue from it. You'd need transcendence.

Nominally, the transcendence we are to focus on in this movie is the one that brings a human consciousness -- it turns out sorta successfully -- into a machine. The human electrical / chemical that somehow begets consciousness can become the machine's purely electrical that miraculously accrues the same thing. But the movie clearly wouldn't have been interested if this transcendence hadn't involved a very powerful person and the magnification of already-held powers -- if, say, the first move from human consciousness into a machine involved a Gandhi type that'd shut itself down the very moment it realized it could even make Google its bitch. What the movie is really concerned with is how to transcend the guilt of being an enfranchised, empowered person; how to be at peace with the world as someone who's already powerful and isn't slowing down.

Most of the movie would have gone just the same if it proved a hunt for Johnny Depp's Will Caster, without regard for whether he'd been on the precipice of something egregiously transformative like putting a human soul into a machine. He's one of the leaders of technological advancements that magazines like "Wired" fete, and because he just won't stop, anarchists -- show-stoppers -- are now literally gunning for him. What transcendence -- the official one, man into machine -- does in the film is operate as the kind of theatricality and deception that failed to buy Batman time against the initiated Bane but which allows Caster time to readapt his current life elsewhere whilst trying to come up with something that might give him moral advantage over his persecutors. So he takes his life, which was one of riches and independent existence (he owned sole his multi-billions--dollars-worth of computers) and of being one of the few great minds, that was proving vulnerable, about to be beset and eradicated, elsewhere where for awhile it isn't -- specifically, into a decrepit desert town, that's got the cover of being some place something about our time is telling us we have to participate in making it realize how forlorn and lost to hope it is by never quite recognizing its presence.  And when the government, fellow scientists, and anarchists alike unite to hopefully bring him down, he doesn't allay the legitimacy of their crusade with all his wholesale healing of the townspeople -- because he's at the same time made them his troops -- but possibly could have if a bit more time was allotted his healing of world's ecosystems. Indeed, if the images we are shown of whole forests being healed, of pollutants wholesale removed from lakes, went a minute longer on screen, not only might more of us might have been converted to the side of machine-man hybrid Caster but we'd near expect the finish to involve some Earth-first anarchist group taking out the anti-technology one hunting him down.

If with this he'd been granted another reprieve, he might have reintroduced himself to the planet in his new physical avatar -- his duplicated previous physical body, proclaimed that if let be he'll simply be furthering his Earth-cleansing project, and the world might have let him just go for it. He'd join Bill and Melinda Gates out there, completely unharassed by the world, still in possession of billions but transcended all doubts and demons, which have simply slipped off him. That is, the great peace he experiences when he realizes it's time to slip off human concerns, when we see him as silicone dust levitating into a shrouding cloud, should be understood experientially as the same thing Bill Gates did when he dropped his post as head of Microsoft and became his current form as -- not a god, but an agent of Good, slipped off day to day errata and huge ego concerns. At peace to go about the world. Vaccinated to anything that would make us want to go out, target, and chew at him.





Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bad Words


Bad Words

One of the key things we take from this film is that if you want to intrude on an exclusively prole ritual like child beauty pageants, dismaying parents and causing participants to cry, by all means go for it -- we'll chortle right along with you: films like "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Bad Grandpa" paved the way for us to feel no compunctions. But if you're intruding on a ritual being used to build up children's resumes expecting to get into the ivy leagues -- like Spelling Bs -- then you only get to half mean it. A bright child of affluent, educated parents is inserted into this movie -- purposely beset upon Jason Bateman's Guy Trilby, on the presumption that Guy won't defeat the dreams of a kid he ends up considering a friend. And though the gambit works, you sense it wasn't owing to friendship but that the kid served as a grinning "Cheshire Cat," castration-reminder afflicting him throughout the movie: this kid is of the class that is getting it all right now... do you, Guy Trilby, really mean your revenge so deeply that you'd impinge upon the momentum of gentrifiers successfully intimidating most of us from speaking our own frustrations too loudly and from doubting the bright sure forward momentum of the world? Didn't think so. So enjoy your "hotel trashing" truculence for awhile -- and heck, make mincemeat of the working class, single mother, who's barely keeping a tether on her being mentally stable, calling her, as you so deliciously do, a "blown-out weak sock of a vagina" from a "shit-kicking town." But you'll be a good boy and limit your wreckage there.





The final scene involves Guy ceding the championship to Chaitanya Chopra, the son of Cosby-parent types of the colour -- brown -- we're favouring now, not just for their endorsement of multiculturalism  -- which is cover -- but for their intermixing into our elitist society confident centuries-worth of Brahmanism. He's decided that he'd already achieved what he wanted by entering the contest… but with him ultimately losing and the type of child the contest would want to win actually winning, it's hard to imagine how that is. As such, the finish irritated me so much I had to begin this review with harsh criticism. But if one could somehow edit out Chaitanaya as so many have mentally edited out Jar Jar from the "Star Wars" films, I'd have simply commended this film. Guy got royally ripped off in life. His parents weren't there for him, and the school system convinced him the world could readily do without his further progress -- which was why he never finished the 8th grade. Twenty five years ago one might have made a future for yourself none the less, but with today people putting blinkers on all those without reassuring resumes that ripple down ongoing progression as if the person at the end is due to crack out of a human shell into an exfoliating angel, his human story is already simply done: he belongs with those history has simply discarded; people who are living but so irrelevant to narratives we want to superimpose upon the world he might just as well be a ghost amongst the living, so much are we blurring their aberrancy out of our vision. He couldn't even finish 8th grade!," as he is sized up by one appraiser in the film. A dead-end, still around, intermixing irritatingly amongst those still with forward momentum -- complete, flatulent, human yuck!

So he has nothing to lose by entering the Spelling B, and there's a sense that even if he won at the nationals, the world, however irritated by it, wouldn't either. When contemporary films show youth beauty pageants being disrupted, we're expected not to fret what the disruption might be doing to the contestants because we're expected to see the whole ritual as something dangerously aberrant from what these kids ought to be doing anyway. It's already a sidestep into something terribly foul, so disrupting it is like stirring matter already settled into excrement. We are learning, however, to be aware that the kind of performance exam that ostensibly can establish one as singular and truly worthy -- the SATs -- is coming to bear the stink of an affixed mark of one's lack of meaningful distinction as well. For each increment of twenty thousand dollars in parental income, a child's SAT score will increase by ten to thirty points. Who you are, we are coming to appreciate -- and also desire to loudly advertise -- depends on the amount of money your parents make. You are, that is -- whatever your hopes to be autonomous, your own person -- mostly a member of a class. If you were near the top of a Spelling B, you'll be near the top of the SATs, and you'll have come from parents around the two hundred thousand income level who've hoisted into you the DNA, the bullseye-perfect training, and perhaps most importantly, the presumption, to achieve at this level. But if for some reason you're bumped off early in life -- maybe by some crazy Guy type, gone not truculent but violently anarchist -- not to worry: every other person at your station possess the same elite-level "algorithms," and they're still thriving. We'd be upset that someone ragged took down one of the elite, but not that you, personally, Chaitanaya -- or whomever you might be -- are lost to us.

When a society is becoming so that even if you'd prefer otherwise, you're still more able to see representatives of a class than distinct individuals, the future -- at least for awhile -- is foreclosed. It's entered one of those times where some grand narrative is being played out, so it's displaying extreme discretion in its allowance of the open-ended -- and in truth is delighted when where where some liberty is still permitted -- like in personal blogs -- people show themselves prominently motivated to mimic and thereby hopefully a bit partake of, their heroes. During times like these Guy really is disrupting nothing in parading himself in this esteemed contest for uber-smart kids, for in a sense the people he's intermixing with are -- as "Terminator 2's" Sarah Connor says -- "already dead"; those with futures, already determined. Rather, he's hoisting himself into situations where really the pressure's on -- how much harder for him to stand amongst the kids than for them to stand amongst each other, being a prune intermixing himself amongst grapes -- being a prune loathed not just by the grapes but by the whole wine industry for spoiling the year's vintages. He's remaining calm amongst jeering and even better than that, something that is actually hard to do when you can't imagine yourself backed by peoples-who-actually-matter's approval for you -- something that is occurring when liberals imagine themselves frustrating pleb beauty pageants and, for that matter, with terrorists undertaking their attacks, who believe their mothers couldn't love them more for their sacrifice. You know society is expecting you to stay quiet, and you're keeping faith with yourself, seeing yourself demonstrably keeping faith with yourself -- and this would feel great. The world might be foreclosed but your own future isn't playing out that way: a small flash of light others might be attracted to.

Don't think so? Think being an adult amongst kids will naturally make you an "expert player" amongst beginners? Not if the world is against you -- as it is with Guy. For then this bit from "Step Brothers" will more likely be the humiliation you'll experience, an older guy being shown he's still afraid of the whopping a twelve year old could afflict upon you -- how could you live ever after knowing that?: 



Actually, I'm lying a bit in that Guy is operating under a sanction with some considerable credibility right now -- the older white man who's heading the "Spelling B" is the abandoning father he's revenging himself upon, only you don't know this at the beginning. I actually am editing this out of my remembrance of the film as well, not only because it's obvious the father is hoisted as the ostensible main concern to make it so that when the film humiliates castrating women it can pretended as just aberrant fun kept along the way rather than where the film's focus really lies, but because it only inspires when you imagine him in a sense time-travelling back to his past and patching into his lifeline a successful besting of academic testing rather than having once been discouraged and defined by it. His victory, doing a lot for him, however invisible it might be to everyone else, and unappreciated. Those who find people like that interesting, those demonstrating private realizations / victories invisible to and incommensurable with everyone else -- like this film's Jenny Widgeon, played by Kathryn Hahn  -- and "Groundhog Day's" Rita, played by Andie McDowell -- are interesting too. They don't so much go for losers as are attracted to the open way. 




Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Draft Day


Draft Day

The key scene in this movie is where Kevin Costner's Sonny Weaver realizes what it is about the person he's been shepherded to pick as the number one overall pick -- the Heisman trophy-winner quarterback, Bo Callahan -- that proves there's something foul about him. He notices that after being sacked twice by the same player, he isn't able to rebound but rather starts doing things like hurrying the ball -- he let a player get to him, lets himself get rattled. The linebacker who did this to him -- Vontae Mack -- is the player Sonny wanted to pick as his first pick, and from highlights of the same game, sees further confirmation for choosing him, even though no one else had accounted him the best player available. Vontae got booted from the game -- but after an official hassled him after he gave away a game ball to his sister in the stands: far from a pariah, he's a selfless person who does everything for his family and every-time-otherwise for his team -- what Sonny already has seen and appreciated about him.

Very nice. But the man doing all the sorting is someone spending much of the film recovering from being cowed himself -- Sonny agreed to deal three number one draft picks in order to get the number one choice, under pressure of a narcissitic owner insisting he make a big splash. And rather than someone who cedes to his family, he's haunted by having agreed to fire his father at his mother's behest, and so now refuses her not only by not attending the reading of his father's will but by not following through with his father's requests on how to ceremoniously dispense with his ashes. That is, if his personality was somehow schlepped into a candidate for the number one draft, he'd be exactly the type he'd deem a bust.

Ivan Reitman, the director, also produced "Animal House," a film we remember not for witch-hunting individuals for character idiosyncrasies and for championing the humdrum, but for the opposite -- a full-on hoisting up of the odd as American emblematic. The soul of that film still exists to some extent in Sonny, who seems a baby-boomer bent on ensuring he doesn't relapse into being easily amenable to the wishes of family seniors. He's someone who's reminiscences on Joe Montana and John Candy betray a love for the idiosyncratic and surprising -- even as much as he keeps the good part of it to himself --  and who's ongoing affinity for people like that carries forward a bit with his encounters with the perennially unsure-footed, out-of-place, nerdish intern. But still, there's a sense that he's a man who's ceded himself at least half to "plastics" -- dull, "parental" expectations, that is -- too. The players he wants for his team are a linebacker everyone knows will be steadying but maybe not "a natural," a quarterback that has worked hard over the off-season so now can comfortably throw ten yards further, and a legacy running back who might have a problem with violence but is remonstrating himself now as a dutiful agent of his father's earnest, constant-shoulder-overlooking shepherding -- they're those who's equivalent in university juniors would never have pledged the unaccountable Delta of "Animal House" fame but rather any other, which would've imbibed of the already hewn that normally defines the ranks of a fraternity. 

Further, there's a sense in even his telling of how Montana, during a last minute comeback during a Superbowl game, had motioned his teammates to check out John Candy in the stands, he's enfranchising himself with the remembrance of all that moment consisted of -- which wasn't just cool-headedness but the delightfully aberrant; of someone admitting himself a fan-boy whilst directing a heroic drive  -- while admonishing it for a younger generation who hadn't been there so they'll understand it only in chastised form -- as his simply keeping his cool under duress. He's someone who knew what strange surprises and delights a universe can offer, but willingly played a part in putting it into thrill-discouraging strictures for a younger generation to only know. He'd become a guy who, for example, even if fully aware that someone like Gretzky could succeed brilliantly despite saying he'd lift a barbell only once he saw one score a goal, wouldn't oblige a younger generation this remembrance unless somehow it could substantiate the admirability of his young star's working real hard to bulk up during the off-season -- perhaps by establishing him as someone who doesn't foolishly change habits that are working for him, rather than someone who thumbed his nose to expectations... someone who was so admirably (for some) or infuriatingly (for others) insouciant to how what he said might have made him seem an effete intruder gorging on having inextricably made a whole sport his personal lounge and-sometimes bitch. 

There's a sense that I take this film to well represent the baby boomer's legacy at this point. They're still a generation so enabled by having grown up in a youth-favoring, prosperous time, that they have a better chance of weathering the damage sticking up for what you believe in can bring. Through playful, fearless exploration -- which involved terribly consequent generational conflict, violence, and permanent splits -- they enabled themselves the self-esteem, the self-love, to do so. When Sonny decides to keep faith with his original choice for his team, even though it means choosing a player no other would value as even close to being the draft's best, and with it needlessly costing him three number one draft picks, I believed that the character was going to be able to weather the damage this would bring. It'd cost him his job; he'd be endlessly ridiculed (even if he made an apt choice that showed he saw things others didn't, the fact that he let himself be dissuaded from his preferred choice in the first place would always showcase his hesitancy, his shame); his mother would have further reason to discredit him as an adult -- and yet he'd know he'd done what he believed was the right thing for the team, and as having done it despite testing. He of course gets the happy ending -- but you believe he was ready if all that'd of been gifted him was tumult. We know it'd have been very hard to have done the same but appreciate the reminder that this is what it is to keep faith with yourself -- the world might first hate you for it, then cast you off as a loser to be forgotten about -- an assignation that'd stick. If the film had ended with his simply making the right choice… as he sat alone before us, would we have fretted our close proximity to his seeping poisonous carapace? We just can't be seen with you, dude… as we scrambled to cast our lot with some group giving themselves high-fives over actually obvious choices or easily accomplished goals rather than the loner forbearing himself before demons the rest of us are pretending exist only in his imagination.

Boomerish too, for me, was his whole making his mid-life about needing to brace battles most of us would prefer to imagine quarantined into our early adulthood. That is, his mother's coming close to being all over him, a net spread out to trap his autonomy. She doubts his business acuity, hates his new girlfriend, and has succeeded in humiliating him by determining his most important sport and personal decisions in the past -- she managed to convince him to fire his father, for his ongoing participation with the Browns being bad for his health, even as his father would of clearly had it otherwise and chosen to end his life earlier than medically required but requisite to keeping lifelong fidelity to his team intact. He ends up being up to her challenge; but it's a brave thing for a film to suggest that despite being a well-placed boomer with all the accoutrements of being the generation that's firmly now in charge, you're still vulnerable to feeling like despite it all you can regress to being someone who doesn't yet know they're up to fending off determined parents in the first place -- the "Graduate's" "plastic" battle all over again, but at age sixty. Very brave indeed to admit to that dispiriting possibility!





But if he's still the 60s kid, he's still bent on directing youth not to be, to be less rebellious and (therefore) self-realized than his generation was. This strikes me as a current boomerish prediliction as well. Obviously we're all feeling that this is no longer a time for creating artistic paeans to self-indulgence, so if you're going to keep to yourself the possibility of keeping faith with yourself regardless, the way to do this without guilt is to show that you're going to do what you can to limit the ability of the generation that'll eventually be taking over to stretch the possibilities of human growth when and if they gird themselves to insist on the same. You tell them -- like this movie does -- that the best performers are those who are loyal to their family, who graciously accept snubs and lumps, and carry themselves with discretion and modesty, even though if you look back just five years ago the best performers were the likes of Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, and Tiger Woods -- those who, together, were abrasive, self-infalting, two-faced, and slept with towns full of women. Heck, there's even a scene where a player is instructed not to unduly tweet, and where the player is shown accepting the wisdom of that... and with that any possibility the player would ever develop the irrepressible individualism of Kobe Bryant, who still can't be stopped from daily reminding us that the message a corporation would have us imbibe is vulnerable anytime its greatest assets speak their unrehearsed honest opinion regardless. But, ah, he's almost out of the sport, so we we can pretend he already isn't here and safely double-down on young athletes who in comparison are somewhat lacking in depth, personality and irascibleness. 

Given the predilections of our age, it's appropriate that the film shows acquiring the number one overall draft pick as something of a curse -- with it meaning you're going to be saddled with someone we still haven't stripped of associations we've spent decades building up as requisite to this choice, of him being a prima dona, that is. Someone like the quarterback in the film, Bo Callahan, who's got a website devoted to all the women he's slept with, is a gelled, stylish, pretty boy, who's already been feted to the skies... and who yet might just still be the next messiah to transform not only your team but your sport. It means being saddled with someone expectations still insist will involve more your adjusting to him than him to whatever system you've already got in place -- by legend, the number-one-overall redefines everything, something we sense in the film when Sonny momentarily feels beholden to the possibility that getting superstar Bo is still better for the team than keeping relevant all their agonized previous months of prep for the upcoming season. 

So the real "victory" of the film is akin to a successful potlatch -- the neat giving away of unwanted riches, without looking foolish for having done so -- like as if you're just averse to the limelight. Sonny tells another general manager that getting three number two picks is worth giving up access to a substantial number one, and this film informs this preference with wisdom -- the three players Sonny gets for Bo are exemplified for being hardworking and loyal, or as useful special team players/irregulars: the associations we normally ascribe to second bests, seven out of tens, okays but not beautifuls.  




The message of this film is a perfect fit for news that one of the best sports teams this season is the Boston Bruins, who dealt away their previous two superstars -- Phil Kessell and Tyler Seguin -- and is now a team without star leadership at its center position. You can still triumph, despite these moves maybe having more to do with being superstitiously averse to charismatic, "golden-locked" offensive leaders than to hockey sense, is how this fact was enthusiastically greeted in some quarters. They've still got the giant Zdeno Chara… but that's like a frowning, desolate, craggy terrain being unafraid to inform of its being backed underneath by voluminous magma, or an unattractive, apish lout that he's backed by a surprise charge of Popeye strength -- they safely serve as advertisements of your overall overt lack of incriminating show(iness), that is.

There's a nice line in the film where Coach Penn, played by Denis Leary, responds to Sonny's demand that he wants more Tarzans on his team by saying that he's already got a full team of them… and that they could actually use a Jane! This might be a hard thing to buy an NFL coach saying, but something about the environment enabled for the middle-aged adults in this film makes this latitude, this evolution in style and attitudes, fit perfectly. And it's nice to know that a good portion of football-loving middle America would have been non-plussed by this as well, even as much as it was probably requisite that a hero of theirs -- Denis Leary, playing a fully macho, former Dallas Cowboys' coach, no less -- was the one who said it, and however much they might not have been if the analogy chosen required the coach requesting a Nancy not a Jane. There's been a lot of evolution in attitudes since the 50s, and this 60s generation deserves credit for spreading and mounting it; and it's nice to see them flexing their success, their successful overlay over all areas of the social environment, in this film. 

But what's not so nice is when you sense within the same film that could do this, building blocks for fearing what is queer and different being newly constituted. So much of the movie is about hunting down something about this ostensibly flawless candidate which could make him ruinous to any team that drafted him -- a Trojan horse. Sonny at one point says that all great players had flaws that people weren't sure wouldn't prove to actually derail them success in the NFL, and uses this as excuse to do a substantial close-examine on already heavily vetted Bo. But with Bo he isn't interested in exploring the kinds of weaknesses he listed for the others. He isn't interested in knowing if he throws too hard or not hard enough, but if he stinks as a human being; and believes he finds evidence that he in fact does. He can't be dissuaded from thinking there is something terribly revealing about the fact that none of his teammates attended his 21st birthday, which can't be smoked out from previous coaches or other players because they're keeping hush-hush for the honour of their school's player going number one in the draft, and the movie wants you to believe it to. His friends can't stand him -- for good reason, we are being told. And so here in this movie the kind of fear of the awry and different that for ages derailed, for instance, Jews from getting into Harvard -- everyone knew they were smart, but something about their character… Best to go with the known.

So Bo is effectively shown up as someone "so obnoxious seniors'd beat [him] up once a week," and as such the NFL team that plays the "Animal House" Delta role in taking in this known "Otter" anyway, are the Seahawks, not the Browns, who not only knew him to be showy but just saw him on live television throw a temper tantrum when not chosen number one. You take how the movie shows the personal life of the Brown's GM, with the fearlessness of the Seahawks' GM's in effect rescuing an athlete from a rapidly accumulating, entirely rumor-based pile-on that would have ruined his life, and you'd of had the movie we should have been gifted with -- and would of hoped of from Ivan Reitman. As is, half of it has to be mentally scrapped for legitimizing stigma and bigotry. "It's okay to sit beside the person without any friends; he or she may not bite," we're in need to tell ourselves afterwards.