Motifs in 2012 Cinema: Luck and Fate
I feel privileged that for the second year in a row, my friend Andrew (Encore Entertainment) has asked me to come out of my chemically induced hibernation and take part in this:
Motifs in Cinema is a discourse across film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2012 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of death or the dynamics of revenge? Like most things, a film begins with an idea – Motifs in Cinema assesses how the use of a common theme across various films changes when utilized by different artists.
I suppose the point of this exercise is to objectively write about both luck and fate as equally represented in this year’s cinema. I’ll start with three movies that I thought profess the powers of fate over luck. It seems that heroes can’t escape their fates, the latter manifesting in their respective villains, buy you can also argue that these protagonists are unlucky to have such grugdge-fueled antagonists. Les Miserables is an epic spanning many decades, kings, republics, revolutions and tragic female deaths. But there’s a notoriously succinct spoiler on the doorstop – adapted by Tom Hooper – where, spoilers, it’s all about Javert chasing Jean Valjean into a river. It matters less to me whether a hero wins over his villain and more that fate – and the rules of drama – forces them meet. It doesn’t matter, in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, that Bruce Wayne mopes for almost a decade – he has to face Ra’s al Ghul’s dysfunctional family, including the latter’s daughter Talia and her lover, Bane. Elizabeth Shaw, with her quest to know life’s origins, is bound to meet the titular Prometheus, as she herself contributes to creating different monstrous life forms. In Sam Mendes’ Skyfall, James Bond helps M hide in Scotland but she will eventually face her persistent prodigal son, Raoul Silva, into a Pyrrhic victory.
There are some situations where the protagonists don’t have other characters as villains but instead their fighting concepts, societal oppression, injustice. Fate has its hand in helping these protagonists in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Yes, free will factors into the decisions of the characters within the book’s cinematic adaptation by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis but only as a part of a chain reaction from another character’s actions. And to show the effect of this chain reaction we get to see at least four centuries when six different protagonists live, each of them living their own revolution as inspired by each other.
But I’ve been itching to write about luck and fate around the release of Moonrise Kingdom. On the surface level, I can talk about what forces has let Sam and Suzy’s puppy love survive both a storm and a group of meddling adults. Three factors are enough to derail a master plan that will either keep the young couple together or tear them apart. But I want, instead, to recall a discussion I have about this movie with a critic, who pointed out Sam’s age. If we do some basic math,
Sam will be of draft age when Vietnam’s at its worst.
Wes Anderson’s been known to show the heartbreaking interior within movies that otherwise would have been maligned for its twee surfaces and Moonrise is no exception. Even the smallest and harmless looking institutions – like the Boy Scouts and Social Services – in an otherwise insular island like the fictional New Penzance are militaristic and preparing its young recruits for the slaughter. This perspective on Moonrise Kingdom is new to me and it opens up a way of looking at movies. These movies only serve as snippets of their lives, segments that would be weaved into a larger, even national story. It reminds me of what someone tweeted about The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson showing these characters slowly paving – or slow boating – the way toward the Sexual Revolution. Both movies show America is different stages of adolescence, a decade or less before its many destinies.
This year’s movies shows us many characters exploring different eras and territories which become problematic for the characters who explore them. In Argo, what happens to Sahar, the woman who helped save the Americans in hiding during the Iran Hostage Crisis? It’s established that it’s not a good idea for her to leave Iran, America’s enemy, for Iraq, America’s former enemy. Is it also enough that Broomhilda, and her titular hero Django in Django Unchained blew up Candieland? Will the other Plantation owners hunt the people responsible for Calvin Candie’s death? Will the West be as hostile to the couple as the South has been? I pose the same questions for Cid from Rian Johnson’s Looper, a movie that plays with the notion of fate by showing different alternate universes. When Joe kills himself while saving Cid and his mother Sara, has Joe really stopped Cid from becoming the destructive super-villain whom the latter is meant to become? Sahar, Django and Cid are contemporary versions of Antoine Doinel, leaving troubled lands and histories for frontiers, the latter symbolizing the troubling uncertainty of their fates. And it’s good to question these things, an activity that this year’s filmmakers openly encourage, knowing that great contemporary storytellers don’t wrap their creations in neat little bows.
The All Wet Blog-A-Thon: Inception
It’s super boring to talk about Christopher Nolan‘s Inception, the favourite movie of people born yesterday, but despite of the flaws we know about it’s a movie we like revisiting. Or it likes revisiting us. Like every (lax) fan boy I was obsessed with Hans Zimmer‘s bombastic soundtrack, half of the songs deserving to be a ballet that needs to happen, especially the track “The Dream is Collapsing,” it’s suggestions of violent and volatile movement. I then had to look up and remember which scene it corresponds and it couldn’t have been a better one, starting with the appropriately named Mal (Marion Cotillard) ruining her living husband Dom Cobb’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) extraction. Being in a dream within a dream Dom’s collaborators try to wake up him up to salvage the mission. On the first dream level it just looks like the old architect (Lukas Haas) pushing his boss down a tub and ruining the latter’s not so young face and white suit which, in hindsight looks ridiculously over-played. But we see that the first level infiltrates the second. This isn’t necessarily rain as the blogathon requires but it, like an act of God, comes out of the sky and into the palace’s rooftops. Dom eventually watches this artificial world’s destruction, being brought back to the fiery troubles of the first level and the real world itself. It’s a beautiful event in itself.
This is part of The All Wet Blog-A-Thon via Andrew Kendall.
Top Ten Films of 2010
I’m not even properly doing this list, while just writing about the first ten awesome films off the top of my head. [ETA: Because of distribution randomness, movies like The Conspirator won’t come out so I can’t really make a proper list until April this year. Nonetheless, here I am.]
I wanna commend the naturalism of Noah Baumbach‘s latest film Greenberg. I’m not sure if I can really call this mumblecore because I feel the emotions are just as explosive as it would in a typical drama. The characters of this film underact their deliveries of empty threats and misunderstandings, but they have to come back together eventually.
It wasn’t until now that I realized that I am Love echoes Hitchcock in portraying quiet eroticism, obsession and guilt within the elegant trophy wife Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton). The editing is snappy yet buttery from, for example, close-ups of nature scenes to close-ups of Emma’s body perfectly captures the impressionistic waves of her emotions.
The obligatory animated film spot goes to How to Train Your Dragon, again, with its rousing music score that helps portray the fantasy within Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) as he befriends a slick dragon. It’s interesting to see an animated film convey such human intimacy and freedom, its modest ambitions captivating its audiences.
A tidbit in this month’s GQ described Inception as a heist version of an Alain Resnais film, and my love for this film makes sense by reading that. The film’s intricate structure messes with your head without seeming deranged. It’s an enveloping experience combining narrative, visuals and sound. Most importantly, it’s got style.
Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a marvelous achievement in editing that translates the comic book into film. I really felt like I was flipping through the book itself. The eye-popping graphics are also lovely, making the film an esoteric experience, going hand in hand with Scott Pilgrim’s (Michael Cera)’s energy level, kicking ass.
I’ve referred to the influences that Meek’s Cutoff, illuminating its audiences with colour while presenting the Oregon Trail’s dangers in quietness. Director Kelly Reichardt shows how much she’s mastered the art of composition, where every skirted, persevering woman or tree or rock looks like artwork. I can’t wait to get the film’s DVD to screencap it.
As I’ve said in my review of this film, I’ve given mercy fives but the one movie that truly blew me away this TIFF is Confessions, which, as I’ve said earlier, is a mixture of elegy and revenge as a genre. It also exposes a society where children do the unthinkable. people don’t stop learning but don’t evolve as mature human beings neither.
Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone takes us with the tough Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) go head to head with her enemies who just happen to be on her extended family, like her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) and the matriarch (Dale Dickey). Despite the survivalist and drug-addled reputation it may give, this haunting tale put the Ozarks on the map.
I probably like The King’s Speech mostly for the quotes. Does anyone else think that the future King George VI’s (Colin Firth) words as adorable? Obviously the story about him and his unlikely mirror, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), both of whom show their inadequacies and hurdles. People who call this ‘Oscar bait’ are amateurs.
Another Oscar bait ‘guilty pleasure’ is The Fighter, a movie capturing the rustic, rupturing cadence of a working class family in Lowell Massachusets as they stick to their own mythologies through boxer and comeback hero Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg). This movie has a male protagonist surrounded by strong women and is the definition of the ensemble cast.
- Top Ten Movies of 2010 — Aaron Peck Edition (seattlepi.com)
15 Directors Meme
Ruth from FlixChatter responded to being tagged to do a 15 Directors Meme post she did two-ish weeks ago, and I did some proud begging for her to tag me because I like talking about my favourite directors. Or I think I did – it was hard going past 12. I changed the list compared to my pre-list on her comments section. And it took me a while to respond.
What I look for in a director’s work is beautiful cinematography, theatre-like scripts or energy, decent representation of strong female characters. Lastly, a sense of humour, preferably dark, like coffee I would only drink if I was lazy. List.
- Stanley Kubrick (Full Metal Jacket)
- Charles Laughton (The Night of the Hunter)
- Christopher Nolan (Inception)
- Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill Vol. II)
- Woody Allen (Sleeper, Another Woman)
- Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line ’98)
- Elia Kazan (East of Eden)
- Mike Nichols (The Graduate)
- Michael Haneke (Code Inconnu)
- Jane Campion (Bright Star)
- George Cukor (A Star is Born ’54)
- Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien)
- Sidney Lumet (Serpico)
- Lars von Trier (Dogville)
- Fritz Laing (Fury)
And now I have to tag ETA: six bloggers who have lives.
Jose, who talks about classics with wicked witches and fugly whores.
Simon, who reminds us that David Bowie played Andy Warhol in a movie.
Andy, who’s going to see Ellen Ripley cut a bitch.
Nick and Nathaniel. One’s very chipper and the other’s a quipper. Both are getting me really excited for the Oscars.
Farran, who reminded me that my birthday was also Constance Bennett Day.
For some reason, I think I know who they’re gonna pick, but I know they have the ability to surprise me and their own readers. 🙂
Inception and the Bechdel Test
Christopher Nolan’s Inception has garnered a lot of discussion, mainly about ‘is it real or is it a dream’ by Brad Brevet. The film made me think about other categories, and I’ll go with the most coherent. Spoilers ahead. (p.s. And fine, just in case don’t wanna read everything, just scroll down until you see Joe Levitt’s picture.)
So does Inception pass the Bechdel test, a test that Nolan’s earlier works like “The Dark Knight” or ‘The Prestige” have failed?
Inception has a reputation of becoming inscrutable, or most critics believe this. What most hyped, inscrutable films can legitimately be criticized about is its depiction of gender, since women in films are underrepresented after the era of Julia Roberts. Nolan could do a lot better in writing roles for women, since they’re mostly at the back seat, but I’m grateful enough for what he’s given us. From “Memento,” Natalie (Carrie Ann Moss) avenges her husband’s death by playing cruel tricks on Leonard (Guy Pearce). In “The Prestige” are Sarah (Rebecca Hall) and Olivia Winscombe (Scarlett Johannson), well-written polar opposites of tragedy and survival (p.s. Actually, let me retract that. If Sarah was gonna kill herself, at least show her relationship with her child and nephew before she does so. Or at least show said relationships more blatantly. Great performances though. I’ll defend Scarlett’s performance but not with my life). His two Rachel Dawes have either given us tough love or sunshine.
But before we put check marks on the Bechdel test, let’s now discuss the characters in question.
There’s Mal (Marion Cotillard), Dom Cobb’s (Leonardo di Caprio) wife who commits suicide, believing that doing so is just another kick up from the dream world back up to reality. And as Mr. Pattern Ramin Setoodeh has pointed out, this is suicidal wife number 3 for Leo.
(p.s. As Cobb says, Mal as a femme fatale is his projection, man’s projection. Cobb incepts an idea within Mal’s head that her world isn’t real, an idea that she carries through the dream levels then up to the real world. If we take the plain interpretation of the film, the negative ideas the female might have and the consequences of said ideas is because of man’s doing. Mal That either makes men monsters or women passive or both, take from that what you will.
Here’s Bilge Ebiri‘s piece that reminded me of the ideas within the paragraph.)
Another theory about Mal’s presence in Cobb’s dreams – she functions as Cobb’s antibodies, separating Cobb’s subconscious from the subconscious of his marks. She prevents him from stealing Saito’s (Ken Watanabe) ideas. She stabs Ariadne (Ellen Page) for breaking the rules. She shoots Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy) so Cobb won’t do an inception on him like the latter did hers. In essence, she’s protecting Cobb from himself. If this is correct, Ariadne’s plea to Cobb to forget Ariadne might have been the wrong move.
With the IVs involved with sharing dreams, it might just be biologically possible that Mal with her own free will actually exists within Cobb’s head. As Cobb tells his father(in-law?) Miles (Michael Caine), Mal is powerful enough to interfere with Cobb’s work and ability to structure other people’s dreams.
And we go to Ariadne, Miles’ student in architecture. I’ll go out of my way to say that Ellen Page’s performance is more geared towards reaction instead of original action, as written for her role. Nonetheless, Nolan beautifully misdirects us with Ariadne, since I viewed her inquisitiveness with suspicion. Red from Brad’s discussion, among others believe that she’s Miles’s spy. Cobb opens up to her, she’s genuinely concerned about his mental well-being, there’s a bit of sexual tension between them that thankfully didn’t get more blatant. She uses the information to hustle herself into Cobb’s team and as far as we know, hasn’t told any other character within or outside the crew.
In Devin Faraci‘s ‘Inception as metaphor of filmmaking’ post, he posits Mal as the muse and Ariadne as the screenwriter. As I said earlier, Ariadne adapts this predilection of telling Cobb what to do, in a sense, directing him. Ariadne and Cobb both feed off each other – he exposes, she regurgitates, he practices what she preaches.
Mal is Cobb’s conscience since she stops him for what he shouldn’t do or Ariadne is his conscience for telling him what to do, or if you believe Virgil in Brad Brevet’s site, Mal and Ariadne are the same person. Under this interpretation, the female’s function is to help the male, no matter how much Cobb tries to make it look like the other way around. Nathaniel Rogers uses the phrase ‘window dressing,’ and I’m seeing that in other reviews too.
Now that that’s over. Check one – Mal and Ariadne have names, overtly symbolic ones and no family names but names nonetheless. Check two – They meet three times. The last time is in the fourth dream level, where they don’t even talk to each other. The second time they meet is in Cobb and Mal’s dream basement/anniversary suite and talk. Their conversation, check three, is where it gets complex, especially since there’s no script/DVD of this movie that’s readily available to me. I don’t recall either of them saying Cobb’s name nor a masculine pronoun. If we take the plain interpretation of the film, it’s obvious that they’re talking about him, and even struggling to have him on their respective side. I don’t wanna sound like an apologist but they’re talking about themselves too, a battle between Mal, the dream world and Ariadne, a detached, outsider symbol of reality.
Then there’s the aspect that they always meet in someone’s dream, whether Cobb’s or Fischer’s.
Lastly, Mal stabbing Ariadne is the first time they meet. If that’s not interaction, I don’t know what is.