‘It’s not your house that’s haunted, it’s your son,’ an exorcist tells Renai and Josh Lambert (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) about their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) in James Wan‘s Insidious, and what I want to tell every other parent I’ve ever met. The film makes audiences notice whatever is out-of-place within the house, the ghosts audacious enough to run around in the middle of the day, scaring poor musician/housewife Renai. The film’s problematic but its title is fitting. Its ghosts don’t lunge but stand, their unequivocal presence reminding our hot young couple that every space they inhabit is inherently never their own. The film raises those stakes, as the exorcist claims that other spirits want to inhabit Dalton’s body, the ownership of our bodies is thus as precarious as that of our homes.
Insidious swims through antiquity, from the suspicious furniture to the exorcists’ equipment, the latter’s light bulb-filled boards seemingly ransacked from Dr. Frankenstein’s lair. Its references range from Murnau, the Noh genre, new Spanish horror, and other people and genres you know better about. The first house they movie into had big panels and SPOILER claustrophobic red hallways, both reminding me of Suspiria, making me wish I studied architecture, even if there are too potentially many scary stories in a house so beautiful. 3/5
- “Movie Review: Insidious” and related posts (calitreview.com)
The first time I saw the similarities between The Last Temptation of Christ and Black Narcissus when the men drag Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey) down a pathway of a small hill the same way the beggar-maid gets whipped by Angu Ayah. The earlier film tackles female sexuality and its barbaric repression in a non-Christian society. How else, I suppose, can one portray the non-Christian than to depict the pre-Christian. Sister Clogah is enduring a similar uphill climb in showing the non-Christians rationality the same way Jesus (Willem Dafoe) has.
As a Catholic child, I’ve played the game when I wear a blanket and hey, I’m one of the apostles, which is what I assume is the approach of most film renditions of that era. But in this film I didn’t see Palestine, I saw India. This is probably the most exotic depiction of the Biblical era I’ve seen so far without counting the disco ethos of Norman Jewison’s Jesus Christ Superstar. Herod and his harem in The Passion of the Christ is by nature very orgiastic, but I feel like this whole film is bejweled, and not just by looking at Magdalene. There’s the myth that Israel kept insular despite its many conquerors, but it’s as if Scorsese approached that culture with more interaction with the outside world. Just look at the money changers bustling as if Jerusalem was a port city, or the free love Hare Krishna predecessors being baptized by John or the cosmopolitan groups making up Magdalene’s customers or Jesus’ disciples.
The film doesn’t make up any consistent portrayal of Jesus’ state of mind, putting his opinions under a shroud, but instead showed us that He was once a soul within body. His eyes become large as Lazarus attack hugs him. He’s convulsing on the floor as he feels others’ crucifixion or making love to Magdalene. He tries to escape being by sacrificing himself yet thinks about escaping sacrifice to become physical again. I’m still confused, but then I suppose being the Son of God might have led Him to make some leaps of logic. I don’t even remember His crucifixion, despite the violence in showing the nails driving into Jesus’ palms, being portrayed as gruesome as the Mel Gibson propaganda piece. It was as if He was in the transcendental state, able to meet the Last Temptation and see and live an alternate scenario.
Scorsese’s Magdalene turns from being a disgruntled whore to Jesus’ pity girlfriend to dead housewife. It’s nice to pretend that the King of Spain is a direct descendant of the alleged holy couple, but the real Magdalene may not have been a whore at all and preached His word in Ephesus until she died. Of course, the new Testament are written by people from what was then a helplessly patriarchal culture, so we’ll never know if Jesus was John Stuart Mill or Ludwig Wittgenstein. And true, she wouldn’t have had to preach in Ephesus if Jesus himself stopped teaching, and that the Last Temptation turns Jesus into an equally domestic figure as the love of His life.
Why does Scorsese and other ‘revisionist’ biblical storytellers have to give Him ‘dimension’ and nuance through her? In other words why are women merely advice columns, frail consorts or femmes fatale, all passive under male perspectives and labels? The only feminist Scorsese film I remember is The Age of Innocence, although the female characters’ corrective agency can itself be subverted. Durn.
Black Swan fits director Darren Aronofksy’s other work, with an obsession with the body and performance, close-ups of Nina’s (Natalie Portman) feet and ballet flats being warmed up. There’s CGI, grainy digital photography, and uncompromising close-ups of her face. Like other Aronofsky’s protagonists, she embraces quick success without anticipating her antagonists, like rival Lily (Mila Kunis), choreographer Thomas (Vincent Cassel) Nina’s mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), and all the voices in her head.
The actresses also do great work here. Portman interestingly interprets her character as a virginal girl without confidence, panting at every step, obeying Aronofsky’s pendulum swing vision of her character. It’s probably the first time I’ve seen Portman attack cruelty in its basic form, scratching and clawing away at herself, as if a demon is possessing her. Kunis is smooth and elastic as she dances and seduces everyone, deserving the Marcello Mastroianni award she got this past week.
The inconsistent characters, are my big complaint. I don’t mean the other dancers’ double pronged admiration and bitchitude, from what I heard normally directed to women from women. I’m talking about malleable Nina, mentally unready to become Swan Queen, despite having a ‘flash’ of it in her. Or how the ‘prick’ Thomas still has his job. We are perceiving them through Nina’s warped state of mind, but I’m not sure if that’s justifiable enough. The film’s ending feels invigorating, but still, 3/5.
p.s. Just realized that the douche-y blonde guy from Hot Tub Time Machine is one of Nina’s dancing partners.
- Black Swans’ difficult takeoff (theglobeandmail.com)
No one can do blasphemy like Woody Allen. Thing is I’ve been looking for this scene while skimming Hannah and Her Sisters and couldn’t find it, and I was gonna post a still of Barbara Hershey permanently coming out of the shower or the atrocious fashion. Oh, you want me to do that too?
And when Holly and Mickey (Woody Allen) have a second chance. What kind of Jewish parent names their kid Mickey?
- Modern Maestros: Woody Allen (filmexperience.blogspot.com)