Saturday, May 13, 2017
Hurriedly gettin jiggy wit it, in "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword"
The evil mage Vortigern says at one point something along the lines of, "there is no better feeling than when you know you scare the living shit out of everyone... when everyone feels compelled to do what you want out of fear." You wonder if not just his own servants but if everyone in the realms of the "good" and "bad" in this film, must have felt something of this sort of ongoing trepidation -- that doom awaits them if they for a moment displease -- particularly its armed warriors. For though they can look menacing, are ready to fight without fear, know sword skill and bow expertise, they are also ultimately useless... beside the point. This is not "Lord of the Rings" where you can be a great wizard, armed with an artifact that makes you near unstoppable, and yet the courage and bravery of just one man might yet still prove sufficient to topple you. This is a realm where if you're the evil wizard who's near his top power, or a warrior armed with Excaliber, you are absolutely unstoppable against normal forces. The wizard can conjure evil, armed elephants to his side, that are about one hundred times larger than normal elephants and that can flay whole castles apart with just a single brush of one of their tusks -- and its but one of the things he can do. And a warrior armed with Excaliber can blow apart structural walls as well because his sword can shoot out concussive arrays of force, but of course also wade into a fray thick with opposing men, and slay everyone of them inside of twenty seconds. At one point in the movie, a whole host of armed forces, witnessing what Arthur can do with Excaliber, simply drop their weapons... and it might not even of been an act of submission but rather only concession to the obvious: suddenly they're not knights waging a fight in a medieval setting, but knights in a Sci-fi setting where "planets" are doing battle against one another -- might as well drop the swords so the last few moments before their deaths are at the very least relieved of encumberance.
So if you are hapless enough to be a warrior in the realm, how would you be able to relieve yourself of the fear that at any moment, you'll find yourself revealed as an imposter for one of the "planet's" momentary sport? For every single warrior would know that that only way they could actually be effective is not to have enfranchised themselves with battle skills but with keen powers of scouting. That is, a servant of the realm might actually be of use if perhaps they could see one of these "planets" advancing upon their realm and bring early warning to the "planet" on their own side; arouse him out of sleep; and allow him a few moments more than he might have to prepare himself, and so even wolf down a cup of coffee and a cream-cheese bagel before getting to business. The answer, it turns out, is the warrior would scan himself up and down and decide that he satisfies an estimation of being cool... of being a cool kind of companion that a narcissistic "planet" leader would want to persuade himself has some service to offer him other than the shame-inspiring one of just making himself feel cool for being surrounded by such cool servants. So if he's young, good-looking and athletic, or middle-aged but wise, suave, and of aristocratic bearing, then he can relax that the "planet" on his side will decide he's remains essential somehow for battle, or if not that perhaps to help him better engage wits against his enemy. But if the warrior scans himself up and down and decides that he's not especially cool... that he's sort of fat and bland in countenance, and yet has been fitted into the role of a warrior, then he knows he has nothing to waylay the movie fixing on making him only a vehicle to show just how cruel one of the "planets" can be by having it mutilate him into pieces, while his son watches, and just after he served as an irritating burden to his own forces by being stabbed early into a fray and needing to be carried away. (Another warrior got stabbed too, but as he was young and athletic and good-looking -- fit in this movie to look good sat at a table of knights -- rather than able about listlessly afterwards, clutching his wound, pretending he'll be okay "in just one minute or two," while everyone has to pretend to be empathetic while mostly thinking, "get a move on you fat fuck," he urges his companions on and launches himself, sword in hand, at a mess of onrushing foes, of course taking down at least a couple of them.)
So the movie might succeed in showing how great it is have such power over people, but what about its attempt to show the costs of enabling yourself with such power -- does it succeed at all in demonstrating that? With Vortigern, it does not. What he has to do is every once in awhile kill someone absolutely precious to him -- his wife, and after that, his daughters -- to garner power from a power-dispensing sea deity to complete a tower that will make him a full-strength wizard. This plays out in the movie as him every once in awhile leaving his assembled male companions to enter a private chamber of an absolutely beautiful woman, who, I suppose, must be either his wife or daughters, but whom we haven't met yet and so only play as ravishing women in their physical primes, about to greet one of the few men they're allowed contact with... as him finding them helpless before and receptive to him... as him embracing her and shortly afterwards as him revealing a long knife at his side and sticking it inside her abdomen... and finally as his watching as her eyes open as she in some surprise accommodates the unexpected corporeal intrusion. He cries over this ostensible misdeed, but surely what he would rather have done is light a cigarette but displaced to a gesture involving water and eyes from one of flame and lips, to keep some fidelity to the sea-witch about to grant him so much power for an actual total absence of cost.
With Arthur, however, the movie kinds of does. He is really, really frightened to allow himself to bear full witness to a scene involving the death of his father he had been witness to as a young boy. Until he manages this, he can't fully use Excaliber. Bit by bit he allows himself to witness more, but I can't be the only one who doesn't in the end figure out exactly what it was about this scene that was so averse to his witnessing... it certainly wasn't just the fact that he saw his father die, because he sees this early; and it isn't the true identity of the slayer, either, because that it was his uncle was common knowledge. It appears to be that he needs to heed his father implying to him that he has to at some point, in "Lord of the Rings" parlance, forgo the Ranger and become the King -- grab the sword for himself rather than endlessly rewatch it slaying him -- but he seemed to be already mentally "there" about an hour earlier into the film, so, okay, a further reminder -- always useful, of course -- but can't we just at this point get on with it? This said, the movie does succeed in making it seem like Arthur is going to have to come to grasp with something anyone's psyche is almost structured to resist accommodating -- like Freud's primal scene, or some such. And so though nothing was inserted in here, into this slot, one feels that something might have been, which would perhaps have drawn apart our own eyes as we made an effort to accommodate it.
The movie can surprise. It has Arthur, not just killing evil men but pushing his way to the head of a line composed of regular ordinary Brits, waylaying all objectors through bald physical intimidation, without apology either here or when afterwards he's ascended to the throne. This makes King Arthur simply a man who has the biggest cock who enjoys when others, even or especially ordinary underlings, experience their own diminishment. No surprise that it's hard afterwards to hear him speak up for the worthwhileness of an education without snickering. And it also has Vortigern involved in something opposite. He's at the height of his powers, he's just spoken about how much he enjoys seeing other people perform as if afraid of him, and his second in command nevertheless puts a hand on his shoulder -- firmly -- to guide or rather instruct him against behaving arrogantly before an arisen threat, and Vortigern communicates that he registers the breach upon his authority and that he is irritated at the intrusion, but is able to register the genuine service to him involved in it as he subsumes his irritation within a welcoming of his servant's deed. The movie makes him temporarily a man of self-control and wisdom. It's a bit of a stretch, but the escapade of this movie is a bit the departure of someone actually a bit reserved and discerning -- if stand-offish -- who can make complicated deals with foreign countries, diplomatically, for a swaggering narcissist who expects other nations to comply, to make all the adjustments -- to get jiggy wit it, quick -- or else: we get Obama displaced by Trump, all in service for the revival of the green primeval might of a grand ol' country.
One notices that the most visible element of asymmetry in the film is the costume in which Vortigern arraigns himself: his left arm is more elaborately armoured than is his right. So while Arthur is instructed to wield his sword with two hands, which is good instruction for a sword-wielder but also for a rower or a digger in the field or an imbecile who don't know well how to focus, Vortigern naturally arraigns himself in subtle, eye-catching difference -- just like the left-handed Obama did -- that draws one into consideration and thought... into academia, if you will. Trump would of course prefer the wield-with-two-hands bit himself, but maybe not only to keep him focused but because, with his hands, the only way he could wield a sword is through the use of the both of them.
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