Saturday, October 29, 2016

"Inferno's" twin satisfactions: Enjoying the frayed, young mind for romp and adventure, and destroying the radical


A man wakes up in a hospital room, not sure how he got there, but has a head full of horrible memories, a red-hued hellscape of tangled, putrescent, menacing bodies -- an urban, corpse-filled, blood-filled war zone. A young and beautiful -- it is a nurse?... no, a doctor, attends to him. There is an age disparity, but she knows who he is for his being a famous professor of Dante and for her being someone who has read and admired all of his books. Her name isn't Florence... as in Nightengale, but we find out that's the city he has found himself in. 

No sexual interest is ever admitted between them. Nevertheless, very promptly he finds himself dressed in her boyfriend's -- or is it maybe an astray or maybe an ex-boyfriend's clothes, for where is he through all this? why otherwise does he never get mentioned? A perfect fit as it turns out. Simply a sober fact, but on some other planet -- certainly not here! no, definitely not here! -- it might perhaps suggest that he fits neatly as substitute. The next stop is some great Italian museum, where, after dropping everything to thrill at the surprise re-arrival of the great professor, the pregnant matron in charge encourages them to drop the "I'm her uncle, this is my niece" routine and admit baldly to being lovers. For this is Italy, you now, not some place prosaic and unimaginative like the United States. 

There is a great deal of adventure. He demonstrates great prowess. Maybe not always athletically -- though we note he does bang up and even smack down people who are basically intense machines of youthful muscle -- but certainly intellectually. In the museum, he looks over a massive work of art with the same sort of brilliant scrutiny that a master military strategist would look over a field of troops. In fact the painting he scrutinizes is of a great battlefield. Maybe anyone who might still confuse him as a harmless Harvard aesthete would be reckoning that if ever there were the need, this guy could morph into being a military officer -- a general -- without skipping a beat. This is a man whom in no way is to be underestimated. Maybe even as lover. She keeps up with him, assists him, even as she's not the scholar he is. They are great team, together fighting their way toward decoding an ultimate puzzle. 

And then after three-quarters of a film of this, there is a sudden termination -- no more couple on an adventure. Instead, he finds himself back with someone age-appropriate, whom he ostensibly is just as content with. If there is something subterranean about his relationship with her it's that while they are ostensibly admiring their middle age maturity, being casually accepting of their middle-aged fate -- all its pluses and negatives -- the truth is that they're not middle-aged like other people are middle-aged: there's been quite a bit of eloquent plastic surgery, the removal of creases and lines on their faces, done cunningly, so it takes a moment or two to notice exactly why it seems that they make their almost declaratively bland acquiescence to middle-age seem so ripe and right. This is a minor sin; one you can get away with.  

This is the version I saw of the film where it felt designed to appeal to an audience with conscious brains under some strict --note, not apparently Italian -- matron's charge, but with reptilian brains that still crave illicit release. The conscious brain thinks he's enjoyed a film that got the arch-conservative's okay, but the subliminals, the inferred, had their reptilian brains thrilled as if they had mostly dined on sex romp. The other version I saw was not as boomer' indulgence but as an expression of boomers' anxieties towards youth. Not subconsciously realized "youthful" release, but an expression of stern, unconscious desire for alarmingly wayward youthfulness to be curtailed. 

In this version, the professor is less... brilliant, and more, established. He is less exertion of brilliant mind to appreciate the new, and more casually combing an already stock-filled brain that could care less if it learned one more damned thing. The point is to luxuriate in what is already known, to demonstrate an actually easy ability to decode that astonishes those without your large body of knowledge. It isn't his vigour which would draw the young, but the fact that he has a depth which must have been drawn out from a longish periods of unstressed exploration, of ease, something unknown to the brilliant young of today, who since day one have been expected to perform expertly and stress uninterruptedly. Because your place is safe because the most brilliant of the young see you with the allure that the centred have over those who are ADHD/PTSD ill-at-ease, you see a future for yourself where you continue to easily enjoy the fruits of tenure no longer readily offered, while they put their shallow-but-high-IQ minds slavishly at work multiplying the discoveries of the like of biological science, which you sense will mostly be affordable to and thus applicable to comfortable people like yourself. 

What the young must not do is get pissed off about this state of affairs and turn toward rebellion. It's a threat, because in the process of creating people perennially shocked away from accruing the slow development of a stable core self, you have created a people where it seems plausible they might suddenly mistake someone else -- not you, the relaxed, self-assured boomers -- as pro-offering reassurance and stability, leading to the emergence of an ostensible messiah. And a messiah, a cause, might plausibly make these minds who are furthering Moore's law in exponentially expanding everything known every year (if now more in biological science than in computing science), into those who'll turn their fertile genius towards blackening and corrupting everything known. 

These are the young people that have, in your minds, recently emerged at elite universities, who are now renown just as much for ostensibly entangling and tripping up boomer professors with their demands for trigger warnings and appropriate gender assignations, as they are for intrepid scientific advancements. With the young and brilliant suddenly askew, adept workers long-designed for a certain purpose gone "Westworld," you're just as much likely to be assigned as someone, not with depth, but who has long hugged a suspect domain, saturated as it is with sexist, homophobic, ignorant material. In their minds, it becomes not their duty to be the passive and learn from you, but to instantly encroach upon everything you're fool enough to lay out and stake a thrilling claim of righteous protest. You expostulate the fullness of your known world... to discover that you've simply laid out more eternal beauty for the most corrupt of permanent makeovers. 

There is a great deal of talk about culling in this picture, and under threat, it seems, are mostly places where a lot of old people hang around and bond with the eternally classic; but we notice that the only people who actually get culled are the young -- all the young brilliants in this picture go radical and die. It's presented as the solution to a pressing problem. We can finally, once again, relax. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Staring up at gods, in "Keeping Up with the Joneses"

Keeping Up with the Joneses

The expression "keeping up with the Joneses" could be thought by some to be synonymous with capitalism itself -- people prevented from being content by the never-ceasing lure of something glittering, something better, still not under their possession. One would think that in all circumstances this estimation of a society would be profoundly negative, yet it is possible to see its being vulnerable to such an attack meaning it's in possession of something of real value. To the point: it bespeaks a society where the majority, even if a mouth that never finds satisfaction, is still the principle venue for consumption that would-be elites remain dependent on... it means an empowered, a vital middle class, with reach. And a society which can be accused as one where members of the middle class pointlessly emulate and accumulate is also one that one might imagine being defended as actually one where class mobility is a real thing; as fluid and open; and that this is in fact the true story. That is, it's not one where one camp can establish themselves as superior and prevent everyone else from partaking in the societal spoils their presumptuous position seems to entitle them to. But rather one where others can ape them, eventually pass as them, and actually become them, and everyone senses it. So in truth, such a society is one where you don't just keep up with but rather actually sometimes become "the Joneses," or whomever is the vanguard of the best and latest. And though this might of itself sound of no great whoop, what it means is a society where no matter the circumstances you're born with, if you have genuine value to add you're less likely to find yourself unable to make the contribution for people collectively believing that if you don't meet certain requirements, if you don't possess a certain "look," you couldn't possibly be contributing something of value, even as you already -- in albeit, unpolished form -- are. The society, the culture, its overriding deity, seems to demand it staunchly as prerequisite. And for such, a whole society progresses to a higher reach, even if while you look at it it's just pointless whatnot; the busyness of bees.  

For several decades after World War 2, with high income tax on the rich, with strong unions, with plentiful jobs, people were "keeping up with the Joneses," whether this just meant buying the latest fashionable consumer goods or seeing their children entering the same newly emerging professional fields. On the same block, were professors and plumbers, lawyers and factory workers, journalists and door-to-door salesmen. People of all varietals, vied with one another; they mixed. And during this period there must have been several dozens of films released that explored the not entirely strange phenomena of an exotic person or couple suddenly moving into a block where everyone else is on the more prosaic side. The premise of this movie, where "the Joneses" are that -- an exotic, absolutely beautiful and sophisticated couple -- was a plausible, if still unlikely reality, even if in a good number of them they turn out to be genuine monsters (very likely vampires). This was a time where the bland American family represented the American heartland -- the centre of American culture. And if you were the Fonz (Happy Days), Sideshow Bob (Simpsons), Jimmy Stewart's world-travelling photojournalist (Rear Window)... anyone who would pretend to be superior to the muddle boringness of middle America, it still made sense that somehow or another it was you who found yourself drifting towards them, their home, their abode: somehow these "prosaics" were the America that forced everyone in the world to recognize America as the worlds' greatest superpower. And as much as you might secretly despise them you were cowed by the power of their optimism and their blindness to class barriers that had once kept so many in place and so many societies sickeningly, sadly, stalled. Maddeningly, these people didn't know how to defer; they could encroach, and successfully. And the power of this spirit was daunting, truly enviable -- truly believable, as the actual source of a great society's expansive, youthful power. 

This society is not however today's society. The professionals have long escaped to their own neighbourhoods, and they, their consumption, their activity, is acclaimed by all as what keeps America going, not Joe-loser and his neighbourhood barbecue grill parties. The heartland, the formerly prospering middle class neighbourhoods, no longer a fiery hearth, but really more the skin-sag that's still attached to a body that rejuvenated itself long ago by going its own way. The deity that overlooks this culture seems bent on ensuring that in some ways it's frustrating to all: so the mix won't be enlivened by genius nobodies that grew up in no place of relevance, but only by children of plodding professionals, who went to the right schools, accumulated the right grades, dotted their resumes with the right internships. And what they have to offer that's new never displaces the awareness that they represent privilege that'll never change, never be threatened. They're a wall against "your" own aspirations, so you might as well just drink and drug, and continue in your private self-discombobulations. The difference between you and them is so great they seem not of the same species. While you remain attached societally -- even as you're now but the drag -- every possible connection between you two has otherwise been severed. 

And so it is was actually a wonder, then, that this movie landed in our own times, defined as it is much less by genuine class fluidity than by the fact that you can now look at a couple and pretty much know exactly where their children will land. What could this perfect couple, with sophisticated tastes, want with two representatives of our contemporary American sag? The purpose, it appears, is mostly about effecting some measures to ensure that "the sag" doesn't spirit up and revolt, so that the stage just before the accretions of time mercifully clips it off for good goes without a hitch. They are the dispatch to ensure a taut, effective, last-stage medical procedure.

The perfect couple feel they don't actually have to offer much. In fact as they first either bring or lure the plebs into environments which stage how their true relationship to one another is of elegant, awesome predator to pathetic, quivering prey -- the husband is taken into an underground den where a snake envenoms him; the wife is lured into Bloomingdales where she finds herself humiliatingly caught out by the grand lady spider within -- a good part of their visit is actually more about taking and indulging rather than managing. But nevertheless they do manage the couple, prevent anything from going awry, by offering them this: while there is in fact no way for you to keep up with us, you can in fact construct some face-saving (false) self-esteem by gauging yourselves superior to people of your own class. So if you allay your own sexism while your neighbours overtly exhibit theirs, or if you're still in possession of a home while your workmate has lost his and now lives in his van, you can feel temporarily safe from further humiliation and like you're already in possession of something of value, even as society now will no longer enable you to expand on it. 

And while you have yourself feeling becalmed when, really, if you had any pride, you'd be staging a revolt and rebelling no matter how sweet our lies, we'll people your last moments with a fantasy dream vision where you win us over by your warmth (re: your overeager need to be liked by us) and openness (re: do with us as you will), something our association of detached European coolness has ostensibly denied us, and could pass with a bit of coaching and smart dressing up as sophisticated agents. And to ensure this is credible, at least to you, we'll make the villain you confront not someone like us but rather a portly discombobulate... to someone actually mostly like you; someone you actually used to interact with, work along side with. Face to face with another schlep who thinks a better suit is enough to clothe deep inadequacies like poor bone structure and trauma-filled, plebeian roots, it's in fact another sort of humiliation, not really an offering at all: you rise only if we let you pretend it's an age past, an un-corralled 1950, that'd permit such a rise in place, rather than our actual, for you, dream-crushing, curtailed, post-2010. You're welcome. 


Friday, October 14, 2016

The Accountant

The Accountant

Autism usually is taken now as something that owes to genetic mix-up; you're born with it. The Accountant offers dutiful fidelity to this now core assumption but dramatizes it as actually a kind of retreat of the mind -- the older conception of the mental illness -- in face of a consistently undependable childhood environment. Christian Wolff, aka "the Accountant," his brother and sister, are children of a military officer, who requires them to move maybe as much as five times a year. He and his wife aren't dependable either: there is discord in their relationship, which eventually leads to divorce, just before the children have reached adolescence. When you can barely count on the fact that the place you've settled into will last as home beyond a month or two, and when you're just beginning your epic life journey into adulthood and one of the two pillars you're absolutely dependent on falls off the grid for good, no wonder you have a panic attack when you fail to communicate to yourself that some potential to wipe out a frustrating environment exists by your succeeding in completing a jigsaw puzzle. 

There is a sense, though, that the truest way to account for the behaviour of "the Accountant," as an adult, is not actually to explore his autism, because what we see of him in his adult life is made to seem more about how about how key role models responded to him just before his beckoning adolescence. One of them -- a kindly, sweater-wearing, "cozy" therapist -- encourages the father to let his son stay with him, where he will be treated respectfully in an unchanging chateau environment geared not to frustrate him in the way the normal outside world surely would. The other, his father, a stern, grimaced man, staunchly resists the advice, arguing, essentially, that for his son to have a chance of being a full person he's going to have to figure out ways to manage the full maelstrom of adult life, even as he must come at it with a "kick me" placard taped to his back. 

The way it plays out in the movie is not so much therapist vs. parents' will, or Democratic tenderness vs. Republican hard-love, but really as if your home-redolent mother (therapist = mother), seeing you about to begin your turning away from family as you become an adolescent, finding ways to construe you so that you can be an exception, someone who will never escape dependence, and finding her blocked by the will of the father, who is militant in making sure his sons sure as hell get out there. Every child's life up to about the age of twelve, all its empowering (being cherished and loved; knowing the body-heated coven) and restricting (dependency and minimized challenges -- the leash) is in encapsulated in what the therapist offers. And the future, scary (it might pummel the shit out of you) but thrilling (you can discover whole unknown realms of yourself, by yourself), with the father. 

He is required to take the father's way, and it is really the result of this that explains "Christian Wolff," not so much his autism. For the Christian Wolff we see in the film is, yes, an isolated bachelor -- no wife or children -- with daily rituals required to keep his mental equilibrium in order, but mostly someone who has succeeded as an adult. Someone who has chosen a career that reflects his passions -- in his case, being an accountant -- and is capably living independently. Someone who enjoys the life he has made for himself. 

This is not to say, though, that the man who had stepped in to help him -- the therapist -- is de facto entirely maligned in this film. Not at all, actually. Before Wolff had a chance to morph into his adult form, the therapist represented a threat, for his philosophy encouraging a dependency no longer appropriate for him. But with this managed it seems he can be fair, that the film can be fair, to what he also represented: namely, someone truly from outside (so not just "mom" projected out) who makes an effort to show genuine appreciation for you: what good qualities you possess. Whenever Wolff encounters people like this, people who delight in him rather than shun him, he wants to give back, even if in some cases he is rather inexpert at how best to do it. We appreciate it as a gesture of respect, but how does revenge really help his deceased prison-cell roommate, who while delineating for him how he did business, is shown in wonderful interchange with Wolff, teasing him into stretching his limited understanding of people's gesture-communicated meanings, for instance?

We appreciate it as a gesture of respect, but how much does his feeding guaranteed major criminal busts to Ray King, future head of the Treasury Department, who he wanted to thank for remaining a loyal parent to his two boys even while being lousy at everything else at life, encourage a dependency, a sense of unearned achievement, that he himself was spared from? Maybe if Anna Kendrick's Dana Cummings finds her way back into this life, she could help him out with this. As is, his heart, at least, is in the right place. 

No appreciation is however granted to Lamar Black, the head of major Robotics company. There was reason to assume it possible: he's guilty of ordering assassination -- and of people like the sweet, completely decent Cummings, no less -- but he also quite genuinely started up his company, which builds robotics to assist people who've lost limbs, to help others who suffered what his sister had suffered from. Wolff is very family loyal, and for good reason. And with them, his family, the film encourages us to see that any malignancy in their adult form (Wolff's ever-loyal brother goes bad, and through almost all of the film is ostensibly only the restrained but full of dark dominance he knows he can instantly deliver, dark villain who will test Wolff's superhuman capacities to the limit) is not so much their fault as owing to early childhood trauma and neglect, something that can and should be repaired, so why not Lamar? 

I wonder if it might have something to do with Lamar's class... part of an understated attack in the film on those who've lived the easy life, that was a bit in play in how the kindly, New Englandish, preppy therapist was ultimately quitted by the military father's preference on proper fathering. Lamar's life has been affluence and of Cambridge degrees that were pretty much guaranteed him: he could be kindly, even a bit faltering and of weak oversight -- trust people too much -- as CEO of a Robotics company -- the version of him we see throughout until his reveal as far more menacing -- because someone of his pedigree could get away with it. With him the film communicates its one sour note: resentment. And sadly it does have you wonder if the film is an advocate, not just for getting past mental illnesses and traumas, but also at some level for their incurrence: there's something bad, the film argues, about those who have no need of someone else's speaking up for them; for those who knew no real damage. Behind this is a mentality that wants to keep people categorized and owned for their own management. Narrativize yourself as one of the neglected 99%, or else. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Birth of a Nation

Birth of a Nation

There is a moment in the movie when another black man tries to caution Nat Turner away from killing. He argues that their killing whites will mean that the many of the slaves who did not participate will be killed in retaliation. His act, will mean all of their deaths. The movie communicates however that this particular man -- the one doing the cautioning, a notably feminine, fretful figure -- has become askew to the real desires of the black community. That all of them are quite ready to die to have one of them, even if only for a small moment in time, enjoy revenge on a cruel, exploitative culture. Nat Turner is told that his wife and his daughter will be killed. But he hears from his wife and his mother and his grandmother, only that they could not be more proud of him. They may hang us afterwards, but son, bury that hatchet deep into them today. We're afar but we'll know when the blade has bit, and we'll be joyous. 

Standing up to bullies feels great. And if I accept that what I am witnessing actually happened as told, I get in this instance why the black community stood behind him and ignored those advocating keeping being Jesus-loving rather than initiating being God-wrathful, even if it meant that whole hordes of human beings who knew nothing of Nat would be hanged for his actions. He told them there was fighting power in all of them. All the obsequious behaviour will continue if it must, but it can be discarded as actually intrinsically alien to them once the white slaver's empire shows greater cracks than it proved to in this instance. Staged one hundred years later, it could have done the trick... and even now, an impossibly powerful oppressive culture quaked, and those who will matter in subsequent generations were inspired.

My problem though is that this way of narrativizing is shared by every group that feels (and has been) victimized, and the extent of these groups is much larger than obvious groups like an exploited black population or, say, the contemporary American populace exploited by Wall Street. It very much includes the Klu Klux Klan and fascists everywhere. Dig into the childhood of any fascist and you will find one filled with abuse, as the current book Hillbilly Elegy is trying to remind people. Look at any horrid action visited upon a powerless person -- like the one in the film, where a slaver knocks out the teeth of a slave so he can force food down his mouth -- and you'll be witnessing a version of what actually happened to the person inflicting the torture upon him/herself in childhood (in Hillbilly Elegy, the author describes family members being set on fire as part of the everyday ho-hum). So while watching the film and witnessing it argue that we become men only when we've heaved our oppressors' cut-off heads before us, I am hesitant to only applaud. What if the film had followed its ending with a quick clip from Griffith's Birth of a Nation, where the whites knew glory when they'd strung up "oppressing" black men, thereby asking us how much of our cheering actually owes to fidelity to the black people, and how much to just craving a story of men becoming men through bloody revenge, achieved in a politically correct, non-guilt-arousing form?

Maybe the inverse of demonstrating empathic reach, we demonstrate in our enthusiasm of the film an endorphin-fueled mindset, exactly opposite one that invites in the lived realities of others? Putin is starting to make films like this one, where an oppressed Russian people finally resists an oppressive power (in the case I've heard about recently, the Hitler regime), and you don't feel so much that what's going on is applauding the efforts of brave victimized people who finally put a bullet to the oppressor's head, as gearing up a current Russian Putin-admiring populace for revenge on slights projected onto our current landscape. His historical narratives are going to get transplanted onto today's reality, and it's best not to meet them just as revved up. 

Be kind to the one who braves standing up and saying, hey, maybe there's another way, like Thorin's Balin (You don't have to do this. You have a choice. You've done honourably by our people...) and Kirk's Spock (There is no Starfleet regulation that condemns a man to die without a trial). There may come a day, soon, where we'll need these type of people intact as, not unmanly cowards or self-interested traitors, but those really worth listening to. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

What to do with the pathetic in all of us?

The Girl on the Train

The first half of the film is about the delineation of a really sick person -- Emily Blunt's Rachel. She's irrepressibly alcoholic. She has lost everything of meaning to her, and now she's dependent for survival on the kindness of a very tolerant friend. And for something to live for: getting glimpses each day on her train ride ostensibly to and from work, of a couple who live a dream of life of never-dissipating sexual interest in one another and who are absolutely gorgeous to boot. She's the sagging hag, drinking deep her water-containered vodka, while they're redolent of living Adonises from whom even a fountain of youth might draw inspiration from. 

The only other version of her that we see is when she reminds herself of her behaviour when drunk while with her husband. She acted out, a lot; she was violent. She damaged other people's lives; cost them their jobs. Her husband evidently couldn't deal with it anymore, and, even though it was with someone he met before his relationship with his wife was over, he still admirably cut his losses and moved on with a life with someone else. His evolving life with her, his new wife, is actually the other thing that Rachel witnesses... actually in their case, more than witnesses: every once in a while she finds herself invading their home and doing the like of wandering out on their lawn with their new-born child. 

This story of Rachel is, in short, about exactly what one would show an acting out friend to induce them to perhaps consider AA. You're not glamorous, you're sick. Akin to the very, very sick -- and sad -- that Rachel's ex-husband assesses Rachel as, in an actually kind effort to invite someone else to draw back from assessing her as just a very dangerous psycho.  

So the heroic moment from what we've seen of her to this point, is her actually attending a meeting of AA and admitting that she is afraid of herself. She might actually hurt someone; her business with her her ex-husband's baby might have been about something abominable -- the very worst you can imagine. She might also have killed the beautiful young woman of the fantasy pairing, as others, who were actually trying to help her but whom she had in return only abused and accosted, had assumed she had.  

But then the movie changes. It turns out she had remembered things wrong. And while it doesn't turn out that when drunk she was actually the life of the party, she was in truth a harmless drunk: all she ever does is quietly pass out. The violence she remembers was actually performed -- often upon her -- by her ex-husband, who is -- unredemiably in his case -- a psycho monster. It turns out that she had been focusing all the blame on herself, that everyone else -- her friends, the police, people she didn't know on the train-- were doing so also, when it belonged upon the story's true monster, who would have her staying feeling terrible about herself to keep his own self intact.  

So all that's left for a complete rehabilitation of her self-image is to join his current wife in abolishing him from the planet. This they do, with her doing the initial stabbing, and his new wife deliciously twisting the knife in (if there is anything of their actions that warrants some legitimate self-incrimination, it'll thereby go on the new wife.). She doesn't go back to AA because those truly sad sacks-of-shit, who were nodding the whole time she described the absurdly awful things she did while drunk, had in retrospect taken the bait to reveal themselves as a different level of pathetic. All she needs to do is sit in a different seat on the train... which comes across as making just a minor adjustment, and she's an empowered modern woman with great vistas ahead. 

Somehow I suspect that the sequel to this movie will involve her enjoying a terrific sex-life with the hunky psychiatrist in the movie, who while first implicated as a jerk, gets rehabilitated as absolutely beyond-doubt good.  And a great plus: He's a darling at not questioning the motives behind women who find themselves with babies they've innocently killed, so surely neither those whose abduction of other people's babies never quite gets cleared in our memory as something that's maybe more on her rather than her most vile of ex-husbands. 

Police detective Riley, who's no-bullshit, all-confrontation, will probably getting a passing mention in the sequel, but only to show that those who could still complicate a restored self-image with things like the truth can have miserable things befall them. I suspect we'll find out she'd been the whole time addicted to cocaine. This movie is based on the best-selling book, probably in the world. And just like if a public wants a Trump, there is nothing a sober truth-telling media can do, if it wants a cultural sphere which completely exonerates people like us who might be feeling guilt-befallen, there is nothing an old-style hard-medicine dispenser can do to which won't end up getting turned around so they become the actual problem. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Magnificent Seven

Magnificent Seven

There are two kinds of people in the world universe of Magnificent Seven. There are breeders (the townspeople) and there are livers (those like the seven). The breeders don't quite exist for themselves but are valuable as part of a continuum. The reason they are to be protected isn't because there is value to each of their individual lives -- nothing about them is intrinsically worth exploring: there is nothing but the mundane in all their "art" of making and selling -- but more because somehow there's a sense that if their flow is squelched, if one generation of them becomes barren, the human line dies, and it'd be a failed cowboy who saw the herd about him go to waste. So if you're not a breeder but rather a liver, someone who you don't look at and see their parents nor any potential children, but rather someone who lives large on their own within his/her own time, it's important to keep the herd intact. You have the pleasure as you go about life in a loose and uninhibited way of knowing also that you're guardians of something in sum quite epic: the long swath of time and the miracle of constant cellular rebirth of Life. It's a bit like knowing you're not just one equal to the rolling hills, sunsets, and great stakes of trees, but the genesis in the torrenting rivers as well. How do you like them apples.

Cognitively, then, we sense that the difference between the villain and the heroes in this film is that the villain has erred in misconstruing lesser people who nevertheless constitute the human background for heroes to lean on when they will -- and definitely to effortlessly shine amongst! -- for worthless miscreants to be wiped off the earth. Admit it, he declares, we're better off with just plain dirt. We should see through you as you clutch desperately to your kids (each and every one of you, always clutching your quaking, quivering kids!), cleverly trying to intimate that your slaughter would breach some kind of cosmically mandated decorum and/or a loss of a metaphysically necessary category, and thus be both daring the gods and risking a complete loss of psychic equilibrium. Nonsense! You're parasites skilled only at poisoning the minds of hosts into thinking they're necessary! They are not so much opposite to one another, as rather that one has simply portioned even less worth to a category of people the other still holds low as well. 

One side would kill them all willy-nilly if they don't take up the measly few dollars offered them for their property. The other would poke fun at them, with their inclination to hide and their measly ability to defend themselves, but hold back at hinting that they might be in fact be worthless. In this film, the villain stakes out turf the heroes' attitudes do beckon at: maybe we should take a try at not caring for these people at all and simply defend their lives for the delight of constant effective responsiveness in a volatile and dangerous apocalyptic shootout. The emergence of the gatling gun at the end, not cause for dismay, even as it would mow down most of the remaining townspeople and leave the barest speck of human crop -- and ostensibly a mute point to their whole effort: with only a few of them left, they'd surely have been better off all moving elsewhere -- but for jubilation, as it'll gift an avenue for a great poetic finish for one of the seven. 

For perhaps if one of the Valkyrie angels sees your brave finish and lifts you up to be a hero in an afterlife realm... if another proud vista before you opens up, what matters if the one behind gone dirt? 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

You can make being forced to live in a comfy environment, where there aren't much in the way of changes but where you feel protected and enjoy fellow-feeling, seem greatly sad and perverse ... something to be broken out of in a hurry. The way I would do it is to remind people that that what was part of what living through 1930 to 1945 was like. This was not a time for individualism, for breaking free of expectations into a realm where you establish what life you might like for yourself; but rather for people cloistering in packs against a menacing world. It was a time where all pronouncements that every human life involves a process of individuation as children establish themselves as adults, have to be put into question: you could be, potentially -- and even very likely, for it's what the age wants of you -- pretty much the same person, as you orbit in your safe familiar routines, from age ten through adult. You could be the person stunted into not making any thrilling changes about yourself, as you basically stand in place, glad, at least, not to be withered by the threatening outside world. And perhaps glad, also, not to be pressured to be expected to make something of oneself and experience the cataclysm of that further great scary unknown. Question: How did you survive the Depression? Answer: Everyone in my community looked after one another... and also, I was lucky enough to have a job. Not much there, you'll find, of the human story as from overseen child to individuated adult.

Miss Peregrine is the matriarch of a home of "kids" -- defined loosely, as a number of them are in their late teens -- that perpetually exist in the day where their home is bombed by cascading German bombers -- they "loop" back to the beginning of the day, just as the bombs are dropped. It's Britain, at the time when, plausibly, Germans might yet conquer Britain, and the war and the prospect of German rule had no end (mid 1943). They mean you to understand them as very different from other Britains, in that they are good and soulful people while the rest of Britains are bigot barbarians keen to see any new stranger in their midst as a dangerous infiltrator to be strung up. Wonderful, it would have been, to hint that that sense of belonging and warmth that you are meant to feel as you experience Peregrine's home, is how Britains experienced their own hearth at this time as well... it's really how they were experiencing their pub culture, this delightful clinging to loyalty while they endure their collective Britain-under-siege. That is, if you want to pick a group of people who really would be distinguished from other people at this time, don't choose those who, in their eager embrace of this cloistering environment, evidently are those who'd be afraid of venturing off just now into an exciting new post-war environment. Choose instead... well, the villains of this film, who are distinguished by the fact that they took their given lot in life (an ability to create time loops) and aimed not just to remain content but to dramatically improve on it: those who'd defy the gods and demand more; Jazz Age in an age of collective reproof and accepting of your lot. People like this guy:

We are told at the end that what enabled the "kids" to triumph over the scary hollowgasts was that the intruder into their realm, Jake, from 2016, gave them bravery. Well, if we are really watching the film rather than indulging in its delivered beats, we'd note to ourselves immediately that the kids really didn't need to discover that: we saw no hesitation in their combined efforts to thwart the mob and rescue Jake when he first tumbled into their stiffened, suspicious 1943 world, for instance. They acted in just as coordinated a fashion there as later. All that seemed to be called for in this latter instance is that governing matriarchs be disposed of. Miss Peregrine gets locked in a cage; and the new head mistress gets eaten up, immediately after she delineates how the children are to stay out of the way and do nothing while she handles all the baddies herself. Apparently, they, gone, gives avenue to growing new wings. Something was different this time out, even if their actions were the same, like as if perhaps they felt that this time they were doing it for themselves rather than as extensions of others' agency.   

Actually Jake may have played his part in their discovery of new bravery -- if perhaps innocently. Unlike the rest of the peculiars, his primary attachment is to adult men. Not just his grandfather, who in a sense doesn't really represent the complete individuation attached to him for his previously leaving the 1943 loop and experiencing "a life outside" -- including wife, kids, and grandchildren -- because it turns out he spent much of his time as a kind of servant to this time, going about the world hunting hollowgasts. His mind was ever with them. Where it wasn't was with his own son, who complains at one point to Jake about this. And it is he, Jake's father, the one who can't be brought to believe in Jake's phantasms, and who seems a normal if beleaguered dad -- one you might hope to eventually forge a better connection with -- who is the real perpetrator Jake innocently brings into the lives of the peculiars. The command in Jake, that is, is something they might smell off him, not owing to his connection to the ostensibly individuated grandfather, but owing to his having a connection to a father who can't be enticed into this world they're so beholden to. Like a figure from contemporary literature brought into a fantasy realm, he wouldn't want any part of it, no matter how real it ends up proving to be. 

In my judgment this isn't a stretch. Jake only gets to this past 1943 loop by taking a vacation with his father. So while the relationship between father and son is not shown here to be in any sense ideal -- most of the attention is put to how distant they are from one another -- attention is nevertheless put to the very fact of their company. We think on it. Its potentials, realized and thwarted. And we see out of this that the father doesn't only display behaviour his son must learn to spurn. There's something worthy in how his father handles outsiders. While alone Jake is shown to be bullyable, his father is confident in situations where the son senses only that he's likely going to be victimized.  The father can change the expectations of others, manage situations. The film ultimately uses these instances to shortchange the dad -- getting the vagrant teen gang to show his son around the island spares him time to write his book -- but not before we notice there is something to learn from him, and even hope for more of that. Or even just for improved interchange between them, kind of like we saw when the dad, rather than scolding his son, accepts that his son might be up to just teenage sort of stuff, and that that's not just a relief -- he's not a psycho, than god! -- but actually, well, okay. 

This is a human being doing that, one alone before the world, without any guidance. Not some member of a special collective, beholden to a life-script of us vs. them, just like any other sad Depression and wartime kid. In this film, it is the dad, in being so ontologically alone and still trying to function, who bears traces of being enticingly peculiar. 

My books at

Essays on the Lord of the Rings Draining the Amazon's Swamp Wendy and Lucy, Star Trek, and The Lord of the Rings (and free at scribd...