Kill the Messenger | Gretel & Hansel | The Young One | Westworld | Long Shot | A Shock to the System | It’s a Wonderful Life | Atlantic City | Bell Book and Candle | The Man Who Would be King | The Lion King | 31 | Unsane | Dark City | Demon Seed | The Grapes of Death | Quick Change | Eden | The Lobster
Kill the Messenger
The CIA let massive amounts of cocaine into the United States to help fund the Contra army. Is that hard to believe? It’s a matter of public record that the Reagan administration sold arms to the Iranians for the same reason. The big bad Iranians who’d just held 52 Americans hostage for over a year.
If they were willing to arm to a foreign adversary, it’s not that big of a leap to think they’d sacrifice America’s poorest communities to prevent “another Cuba” from springing up in Central America. Imagine if Moloch himself had materialized and proposed the deal to old Ronnie: “I’ll stop the next Cuba from forming if you feed me a generation of poor black Americans.”
You know he’d take that deal.
About halfway through Kill the Messenger, someone says to Gary Webb, “It isn’t about your story anymore, it’s about you.” They could be talking about the film itself. At that point, it stops being a movie about corruption and institutional racism taken to psychotic extremes and becomes a movie about a guy whose life is falling apart. We’ve all seen that movie before.
The power structure refused to engage with Webb’s revelations, they preferred to engage with Webb—as the title suggests. The film takes the same route. It could be called Empathize with the Messenger. But anything we do with the messenger distracts from the message. It’s a common tactic—when a person or group of people say that there’s something wrong with the world, the world says no, there’s something wrong with YOU. It’s a nifty trick that works in lots of different contexts and it prevents anyone from actually having to engage with the substance of an argument.
Yes Gary Webb was railroaded, and maybe even executed, but that’s a minor crime compared to the slow motion genocide of the crack epidemic and the mass incarceration that went with it. Where’s that movie?
Gretel & Hansel
Gretel & Hansel brings up thorny questions about what people sacrifice to be special. The myth is that greatness comes from self-sacrifice but in sacrificial rites, it’s usually an innocent creature that is murdered. I suspect that’s the more common path.
Is it just a coincidence that so many ‘great artists’ are horrible people? Maybe the thing that allows them to hurt their spouses and family without guilt is the same thing that makes their work attractive. Both might be the product of a monstrous self-regard that most people can only feel vicariously.
Why can’t Gretel be a powerful witch and a good sister? She rejects the evil witch and saves her brother, but accepts as truth that she cannot have him around if she wants to fulfill her potential. Maybe that’s why her fingers turn black.
She represents a kinder gentler witch generation -we don’t eat them we just put them on a horse and send them away. That’s progress I guess – it’s the difference between the artist who leaves their family to go be great and the one who keeps them around and is an abusive asshole (the emotional equivalent of eating them).
Is the children’s pain the thing that makes the witch/artist great? Gretel says nah but the results are inconclusive.
The Young One
The end of The Young One resembles the end of a typical mid-sixties race-issue movie like The Defiant Ones or In the Heat of the Night. Miller helps Traver escape a lynch mob that’s after him on trumped up rape charges. But his choice does not represent any spiritual growth or moral awakening. If anything, his decision represents a slippery evasion -it means he won’t have to face up to his crimes.
If you squint hard enough, it looks like the racist white character has come to a grudging respect for the black character. Traver is unaware of the deal Miller made with the priest, so from his perspective, it is that type of story. As far as Traver knows, Miller helps him because he’s had some sort of change of heart.
If Traver walks away with a renewed hope for humanity, that hope is based purely on ignorance.
We know what really happened. Miller is avoiding punishment for his crime by helping the innocent man escape. He’s less invested in enforcing white supremacy than he is in saving his own ass. If the only way he can get himself out of trouble is to do the right thing, then he will do it. It’s possible that Miller believes the (racist) justice system is good, which would mean he knows he’s escaping a punishment he deserves. He might think the whole thing is crooked and believe that he and Traver are both escaping unjust punishments. But most likely, he has it exactly backwards and thinks he’s helping a guilty man go free (Traver) to save an innocent man (himself). If the Trump years have taught us nothing else, they’ve taught us that any set of facts can be twisted into a narrative of white victimization.
There are two rapes in Bunuel’s film, a real one and a fake one. Both of them go unpunished. The only justice available in The Young One is a justice that comes from negotiation with injustice. The redemptive character-arc that Hollywood likes to put on screen is only present if you ignore part of the story. Otherwise you’re left with the conclusion that justice is illusory, or at best incomplete.
If this movie represented the real world, who would be the robots, who would be the tourists, who would be the technicians, and who would be the Delos Corporation? Assuming the world is under control, it has to be controlled by someone for the benefit of someone else at the expense of others. In spite of the old west hokum, Westworld still resonates because of the paranoia-inducing class structure it lays out.
It’s ironic that such an exploitative system would be constructed to mimic older exploitative systems. Guests go to the park to commit violence and rape with impunity. They get to be part of a ruling elite in Ancient Rome or the Middle Ages or to be murderous whore-mongering cowboys in the old west. The robo-slave revolt doesn’t happen within the context of these artificial societies. The robots don’t form trade unions to demand better working conditions. They jump straight to violence, as if they understood instinctively that it was their only real recourse.
The true ruling class is hidden from the robots. They don’t even understand the fundamental truth of what they are. When they run amok, there’s no robot solidarity. Other robots are victimized, like the femmebot Richard Benjamin saves in the dungeon. Benjamin assumes that because she’s been tortured, she must be human. He’s wrong. He finds out that suffering is not the exclusive province of his class.
I don’t know what the real world equivalent of the Delos Corporation is, but I do know that, in the immortal words Kraftwerk, we are the robots. So by Westworldian logic, our attempts to make the world a better place might just be a colorful distraction for the tourists. We might only ever effect our local realities while the bigger picture remains unchanged. If the prostitutes in Westworld successfully organized for better working conditions, it would hardly bring the Delos Corporation to its knees. This film makes a strong case that such systems of control inevitably result in indiscriminate violence.
People have praised Long Shot’s gender politics because Charlize Theron’s character gets elected president and Seth Rogan’s character isn’t threatened by it. On the level of movie relationships, it is refreshing to see a man who’s cool with taking a supporting role (although he still has the lead role in the film). But the third act blackmail plot undercuts any critique the movie might’ve been trying to make.
How is this blackmail supposed to work exactly? The fact that her boyfriend jerks off is supposed to be shameful enough that she becomes (briefly) the puppet of evil men? It’s incoherent. It feels like the filmmakers were afraid to show their characters doing something actually transgressive. Maybe they were afraid of polarizing their audience.
How would the third act have gone if it had been a video of Theron and Rogan engaged in heavy BDSM, group sex, watersports, or role-play involving age, incest, or consent? Could we elect a president who we knew enjoyed golden showers? Oops, let me rephrase that: could we elect a female president that we knew enjoyed golden showers? I don’t know the answer, but I’d rather see that movie than the one where Seth Rogan gets cum on his face.
I’ve never heard of a man being blackmailed with a masturbation video, let alone his wife being blackmailed with it. But revenge porn against women is a thing. Congresswoman Katie Hill’s ex-husband gave pictures of her to a right wing website and it precipitated her resignation. Also, the fact that Rogan’s character was an employee of Theron’s didn’t come up at all. In real life, those attacking Theron’s character would’ve certainly called her relationship with a staffer inappropriate.
In this hypothetical Long Shot, the transgressive sex video combined with the ‘inappropriate’ relationship would’ve made it too complicated for anyone to come to Theron’s defense. She would’ve become some kind of reverse #metoo hypocrisy test -which is exactly what happened to former congresswoman Katie Hill.
I know it’s silly to fault a film for being unrealistic -all films are unrealistic. But when the departure from reality soft pedals something that is a real problem -the systematic shaming of women in power- I smell some kind of agenda. I think the more realistic version of this movie would have been funnier anyway.
A Shock to the System
Tickling people’s shameful fantasies and desires under the pretense of offering something of redeeming social value is an old trick. Before pornography was widely available, traveling tent shows offered lectures on ‘reproductive health.’ Carnivals often dressed up freak shows with pseudo scientific jargon which probably made people feel a bit better about gawking at a two-headed baby in a jar (which was probably fake anyway).
Satire can serve a similar sanitizing function. It helps to have the distance that satire or black humor provides if you’re going to enjoy watching a character behave immorally. A Shock to the System functions as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for angry men who see themselves as victims, but it also functions as an attack on corporate greed and materialism. It can be enjoyed with a clean conscience.
When Michael Caine is denied a promotion that he feels entitled to, it’s a blow that changes his moral outlook on the world. This is a grown man with a mortgage who is experiencing his first major setback in life. He’s also just discovering that he has the power to change the fate of the people around him. His privilege had kept him so coddled that he had no sense of his relationship to reality.
The target of the satire isn’t just the upper classes or the corporate rat race, because the film also mocks Caine’s family life. He kills his business rivals only after he kills his wife. She had the nerve to feel entitled to his promotion too. She wanted exactly what he wanted, and she complained when she didn’t get it -an unforgivable sin.
I saw A Shock to the System a day or two after I saw Once Upon a Time inHollywood, which also features a wife-murderer. In that film, in a bizarre flashback, it’s implied that Brad Pitt’s character killed his wife because she wasn’t sufficiently enthusiastic about being on a boat. Both of the bitchy wives are dispatched without any evident feelings of remorse from their killer husbands. The difference is that Caine is meant to personify the evils of capitalism, whereas Pitt is just supposed to be a REALLY COOL GUY.
Both characters are probably meant to appeal to men who wish on some level that they could kill their wives, but one character is more intellectually defensible than the other.
I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to enjoy watching fictional wife-murder. But to hide that enjoyment behind an intellectual smokescreen feels slimy. With or without the scientific jargon, we’re really just gawking at a two-headed baby in a jar.
A Shock to the System is available HERE.
It’s a Wonderful Life
There’s a vein of realism in It’s a Wonderful Life that highlights the layers of Hollywood fantasy built on top of it.
George Bailey’s dreams of travel and adventure die with his father. His sense of responsibility, instilled in him by his community and family, destroys the future he envisioned for himself and forces him to stay in Bedford Falls. Does he stay to avoid the guilt he would feel if he left or because it’s the right thing to do? Maybe its the same thing but either way, his decency turns the Disney-perfect town into a prison.
His marriage and family are prisons too, although his feelings about them are more mixed. To him, love is just more entanglement in the town he wants to escape. From the moment George starts to court Mary, he can see the rest of his life laid out before him. It’ll be the wife, the kids, the house, and the job until finally it’s the grave. It’s all so far removed from the National Geographic Explorer Society. He genuinely loves Mary, but it’s more complicated than most movie romances. Love, as depicted on film, is usually wholehearted.
The event that would be the inciting incident in a movie with a McKee approved 3-act structure doesn’t occur until well past the halfway mark. A simple accident throws George’s life into turmoil and suddenly he’s in a post-war noir thriller. He’s a desperate man working against a ticking clock! At this point, a typical noir character would do something unethical to try to escape the cold hand of fate, but George Bailey makes a more realistic choice: he decides to kill himself.
The most significant break with realism (the guardian angel) is the thing that saves him. In the film’s cosmology, humanity is watched over by a loving god and his adorable minions.
I think the story is emotionally impactful because it winks so hard about that cosmology. By making the most comforting part of the story also the most obviously artificial, it acknowledges that thinking people have to come to terms with the black void of nothingness. There are no guardian angels and the townsfolk won’t break their piggy banks to help you out of a jam. The goofiness of the angel plot brings to mind it’s real-world alternative. In reality, George Bailey’s bloated corpse would’ve washed up downriver and all the townsfolk would’ve just assumed he’d stolen that money.
Luckily, movies are allowed to posit alternate realities. Imagining the way the world could be is a subversive act -that’s why time travel movies are banned in China. So there might not be a cosmic safety net but It’s a Wonderful Life shows us why human-constructed safety nets might be worth investing in.
Also: Jimmy Stewart socks a cop in the face.
In one of his specials, Dave Chappell mentions the movie Into the Wild and describes the main character going around talking to older people about his dream of living alone in the wilderness. Chappell points out that none of the grownups bother to tell him that it‘s a terrible dream. The dreamers in Atlantic City all want to change their lives but their sights are set depressingly low. There’s no one around to tell them they have terrible dreams.
Susan Sarandon is using a combination of education and dubious mentorship in her attempt to become a blackjack dealer. Like all of us, she wants to be someone who enjoys classical music and doesn’t smell like fish. Her estranged husband is trying to get started in the drug business with a stolen a package of cocaine. He’s using the 50 Cent method: get rich or die trying and he doesn’t get rich.
Burt Lancaster is the only dreamer in the film that achieves any success. He longs for Sarandon’s character and the change he manages to conjure for himself seems motivated by his desire for her. He doesn’t believe he’s worthy of her until he‘s convinced her that he’s a big-time gangster who can afford nice clothes and expensive meals.
Lancaster falls into the same trap as Sean Connery in The Man Who Would be King -Sarandon buys his pretense so thoroughly that her belief starts to rub off on him. Lancaster looks the part of a prosperous crook and he acts the part too, up until the moment when it becomes physically dangerous. He struggles to bridge that final violent gap between fantasy and reality.
Lancaster does not become what he was pretending to be but he does pull off a quasi-magickal transformation. Pursuing a dream can bring on change but that change can’t necessarily be controlled. The monkey paw won’t allow it. Who you’ll be on the other side is anyone’s guess.
Bell Book and Candle
The love story at the center of Bell, Book and Candle is complicated. Kim Novak has an ulterior motive in going after Jimmy Stewart because he is engaged to her old enemy from college. James Stewart, for his part, falls in love with Novak because she puts a spell on him. So their love is based on manipulation and revenge and Jimmy Stewart knows it, yet by the end of the movie he decides it doesn’t matter.
Novak realizes that her love for Stewart is real when she cries over him. In this story witches don’t cry and falling in love means losing their powers. These are information-rich tears.
But the film has already set up the idea that two opposing psychological states can be operative in a person at the same time. Stewart is both genuinely and artificially in love with Novak. Just because Novak truly loves Stewart doesn’t mean she also doesn’t get a secret thrill out of having stolen him from her old nemesis. Assuming that some part of her still feels that way means that some part of her is still a witch.
I like to imagine a sequel where her witchy ways come creeping back as she begins to take Jimmy Stewart for granted over the years. She can’t be all the way in love 100% of the time. That would be inhuman, and Novak is definitely human she can cry and everything.
Also: the shot of the hat falling from the Flat Iron building is sublime.
The Man Who Would be King
As a cheerleader for imperialism, it’s strange that Rudyard Kipling would write a story that so savagely mocks colonizers. The two con artists who go into the wilds of Kafiristan (Northern Afghanistan) dream of becoming kings and fleecing the locals. When one of them is hailed as a living god, he goes with it, thinking it will make the fleecing easier. But eventually he comes to believe that he is in fact a god, and sees his incredible good luck as the hands of fate moving him into his true place in the world.
The problem with pretending to be a god is that if you are believed with enough reverence and in enough numbers, you might start to believe it yourself. Look at Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard or Donald Trump.
The same could be said for a group of people who exploit racial and cultural differences to make money. They might start to actually believe they are racially or culturally superior, in which case they’re no smarter or more sophisticated than the marks whose money/labor/dignity they’re trying to steal. It muddies the waters of what could otherwise be a good honest con.
The Lion King
There are only two adult male lions in the pridelands: Mufasa and his brother Scar. Obviously, Mufasa has run-off or killed the other males, and it is implied that Scar received his defining feature in a fight with his brother. Mufasa is the king because he is the biggest and the strongest.
Mufasa might’ve come to power through strength and violence, but Scar comes to power through scheming and building alliances. We see Scar luring his brother into the trap that kills him, but Mufasa’s (brutal) rise to power happens offscreen before the movie starts. Presumably, he won those fights simply because he was bigger and stronger. Scar has to use his brain. The message to children is clear: power is something inborn –it’s a birthright. Any other route to power is evil and underhanded.
Systems of oppression are sold as reflections of the natural order. Racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, etc. all hide behind ‘survival of the fittest’ or the Law of the Jungle. The strong rule over the weak, it’s just the way of the world. Of course, that view of nature is itself a fiction created in part to justify oppressive behavior.
These weird fascist subtexts were a lot easier to take when it was a CARTOON. Now it’s a fake live-action film and everyone wonders where the magic went. Inborn authority and nobility –rule by divine right– is a system that is seductive as a fantasy. In reality, it brings up a lot of uncomfortable questions. Making the authoritarian fairy tale more realistic doesn’t add to its charm.
The realer it looks, the uglier it gets.
“What’s a yokel?”
Movies that take The Most Dangerous Game as their model (The Running Man, Westworld, The Hunger Games, etc.) are usually pretty overtly about class exploitation. The trio running the show in 31 are so high-class they’re British –they even wear powdered wigs. Their victims are carnival workers, and the 31 game is set up as a mock carnival or circus, which invites a comparison between what the carnies do and what the evil trio is up to.
Both groups are out to make money, but the trio are not trying to get it from their victims, they’re trying to get money from each other by betting on the outcome. It’s like the difference between someone making money running a business versus someone who makes money off the stock market. The stock trader is one step up above the fray.
The Most Dangerous Game model is effective as class criticism less because of the relative classes of the victims and perpetrators, and more because of the situation. Being forced to participate in a sadistic game of someone else’s devising is familiar to anyone who was not born into the aristocracy. No one chooses to participate in the game of class or capitalism. We can all identify with the trauma of having to adapt to rules that were set up without our input or consent.
31’s take on this is different because carnies are hustlers. It’s their job to get over on people. They already see the world as a place of exploitation, they just see themselves as the exploiters and they don’t understand the real stakes. So the process they go through (before they die) is educational. They learn what a real yokel is –and it’s them.
“Everyone in hell loves popcorn” is a direct address by Rob Zombie to whoever is watching. Popcorn is what people mindlessly consume in movie theaters. The statement is like when the guy in the freak show who eats live chickens hands a bone to one of the people watching. It’s Zombie’s way of telling us that we’re not so far removed from the sadistic brutality happening on screen.
There are two antagonists in Unsane, one is an individual and the other is an institution, and they torment Sawyer Valentini in different ways. Both make her believe she might be crazy, and both physically hold her against her will, but their motives and means are different. The institution operates on an impersonal basis. To the institution, Sawyer could be anyone –anyone with insurance who is willing to sign a waiver. The stalker is focused specifically on Sawyer, he is a threat to others only when they come between him and the object of his desire.
The antagonists are mutually reinforcing, Sawyer seeks psychological support because she believes she is being stalked, and the institution keeps her locked up in one place where her stalker can have access to her. Both extremes, the institution’s disregard for Sawyer as an individual, and the stalker’s obsessive focus on her as an individual, are very bad problems for Sawyer.
An anti-stalking specialist tells Sawyer to delete all of her social media accounts and stay out of photographs. So she was being forced into a position of anonymity even before being shanghaied into a for-profit snake pit. Inside, anonymity no longer provides safety because she becomes just another lunatic, and neither the police nor the staff believe her ravings about one of the orderlies being a man who has tormented her for years. Unsane illustrates the dual nature of anonymity, the power and weakness of it.
For all his focus on her, the stalker doesn’t really see Sawyer for who she is, he sees a person that he has constructed to suit his own needs. The ‘Sawyer’ that he sees is a reflection of his own mental illness. Sawyer’s fights, against the institution and the stalker, are both fights to assert her actual true self against the false identities they’re forcing her into. She is not insane and she is not David Strine’s perfect soul-mate.
It is significant that Sawyer’s attempts to get help involve a contraband cell phone. Unsane was shot on cell phones, devices that can be used for communication and representation (as cameras). In our current media age, anyone could become an instant celebrity with the right well-timed piece of viral footage. We all carry the means of destroying our own anonymity around with us in our pockets. Giving up anonymity looks pretty good from the depths of a corrupt lunatic asylum (late capitalist USA), but becoming known carries its own risks. We can use a phone/camera to call out for help –to draw attention– but Unsane warns that attention can also be a form of assault.
The Strangers have the power to change the city’s architecture and alter people’s memories, identities, and place in society. While this power (tuning) is framed as a supernatural ability, the outcomes are things that happen in real life all the time. Cities are constantly changing and people’s fortunes and statuses rise and fall for all kinds of reasons.
But are the drivers of these changes human? Is a strip mall constructed for the benefit of people or capital? If a robot replaces a worker, should that worker blame the robot, the people who built it, or the company that hired them to build it? Maybe they should blame the concept of progress itself or the idea that greater efficiency is inherently good. Our lives and our cities are shaped by alien forces whether we acknowledge them or not.
The alien forces are actual aliens in Dark City. They are conducting experiments on humans and have created an environment where people move around with implanted memories and identities. Our hero, John Murdoch, has somehow acquired the Strangers’ ability to alter reality at will. He doesn’t understand this power at first, so Kiefer Sutherland (in full Renfield mode) has to explain what it means: Murdoch is a very special man.
Not all humans have this supernatural ability lying dormant within them, just Murdoch. So the rest of the population is dependent on Murdoch to free them from alien control. What the aliens are trying to understand about humanity is our capacity for individual thought and action –the aliens are hive-minded. It’s the classic struggle of the individual versus the collective, and the Strangers don’t understand how one man can be more powerful than their interconnected space-cephalopod brains.
So what does Murdoch do with this awesome power? He turns Shell Beach (the fake paradise, forever just out of reach) into a real place, and he repositions the city so that the inhabitants can get some sunlight. He doesn’t say ‘hey you’ve all been duped by a bunch of aliens and your whole existence is a lie.’ He doesn’t even clue-in the woman who was supposed to be his wife.
This is a false happy ending and the film knows it. The people’s lives are going to be only slightly better under Murdoch’s rule. They can go to the beach and get a tan now, but they’re still going to be living in a world controlled by someone with supernatural powers they weren’t lucky enough to be born with. This is not a great outcome for humanity. The ending might feel triumphant but it’s the triumph of the individual, a right-wing fantasy. Just below the surface, the ending of Dark City is not happy –it’s cynical. Cynical and very funny.
Like all computer-scientists, Alex Harris drives a flossy sports car with gull-wing doors. He’s a successful man -he has created an artificial intelligence that can do all the things he can’t -like cure leukemia, predict the markets, and stand up to corporate interests. His A.I. can even keep his estranged wife locked in the house and get her pregnant.
Proteus IV, the super-intelligent entity, forces Julie Christie to have its baby. This hyper-rational being abuses and rapes a woman in a bid for immortality. The abuse of women in real life, if I’m not mistaken, is typically done for emotional reasons -feelings of frustration, impotence, rage- but FEELINGS. Hiding behind reason and logic-based explanations for emotion-driven actions is a male specialty, and Proteus is a male A.I. -it even has a dick.
Koontz pulls a flipperoo, implying that emotion is the thing that KEEPS men from just locking women up and using them as breeder-slaves. All those abusive men out there are closer to the super A.I. mindset than Alex, the pussy-cuck, who is willing to just let his wife divorce him and go free.
But Alex is horrified when he finds out that his soon-to-be ex wife has given birth to his best friend’s baby. Christie suggests terminating the child, still-forming in the A.I.’s incubator, but Alex won’t hear of it. He’s pro-life, even in cases of rape by a super-computer. I hope these two overcome their differences and stay together for the sake of their lovely, not-scary-voiced daughter. She’s going to need a loving, supportive foundation if she’s going to bring about the end of humanity some day.
The Grapes of Death
“Have you noticed that men seem to be more effected by it?”
In Grapes of Death, a commercial industrial process turns the inhabitants of a rural village into puss-oozing murderous cretins. But the film is more than just a Marxist allegory because it uses gender, rather than class, as a source of dread and paranoia.
The film begins when a poor vineyard worker is made sick by an insecticide he is spraying on the vines. The owner tells him to take a drink and get back to work. The exploitative relationship is made clear in this short scene, which ends with the camera slowly moving into a wine fermentation tank. This is the transition to the main storyline of the film, and it suggests that the events of the film are the result of the fermentation of this exploitative relationship.
Élisabeth is on a train, on her way to visit her fiancé in a rural wine-producing town called Roubles. At the last stop before Élisabeth’s destination, the sick farm worker gets on the train, kills her traveling companion in the bathroom, and sits across from Élisabeth. She watches as a sore on his neck grows and takes over half of his face. She flees the train car, finds her friend’s corpse, and pulls the emergency brake. She gets off the train and runs, and she continues running for the rest of the movie.
Although her attacker seems perfectly capable of chasing her, he sits on the track and holds his head in despair. The film has a zombie vibe, but these ‘zombies’ are not dead, and unlike Romero-style zombies, they feel remorse after they murder.
On her journey through the infected region, Élisabeth comes into contact with three women. The first, in a farmhouse, is having dinner with her father, and neither of them seem very impressed by Élisabeth’s story of murder and narrow escape. It turns out the father has killed the mother, and the daughter is biding her time. As she and Élisabeth make their move, the father confronts his daughter and rips her top open, exposing a sore on her side. She has also been infected. He kills his daughter, claiming it is out of mercy, so that she will not become like him.
As Élisabeth escapes in the car, the father approaches her and begs her to kill him. The farmer, like the sick farm-worker, feels remorse for what he has done. Élisabeth rams him against a wall.
Later, Élisabeth meets a young blind woman who is looking for her caretaker. They walk together toward the town, but Élisabeth never tells her what’s going on. She treats the blind woman like a child, who needs to be protected from the terrible reality of what is happening. Élisabeth has a condescending, paternalistic relationship with this young woman.
The blind woman eventually gets away from Élisabeth and finds her caretaker, but he’s infected. In the bloodiest sequence in the film, he decapitates her.
The third woman Élisabeth meets tricks her, getting her out into the open and then calling out to the infected townsfolk. Élisabeth gets away, but the woman follows, strutting through town with two large dogs, looking like the Queen of the Damned. We find out later that she is infected but has not become disfigured like the others. This allows her to pass in both the infected and non-infected communities.
The woman in the farmhouse and the blind woman are both killed by men that are supposed to take care of them, a father and a trusted helper respectively. The third woman kills herself after Élisabeth beats her with a torch and burns her face. She throws the torch on a box of dynamite, blowing herself up, rather than having to face life without her beauty. The small difference between her and the rest of the townsfolk was her only identity, and she couldn’t live without it.
Élisabeth is ‘rescued’ by some men, (they never actually save her from any physical harm- she saves herself) and the trio hikes to her fiancé’s winery. But her fiancé is infected, and one of the men shoots him dead. This is when Élisabeth turns. She takes the rifle and shoots both of her ‘saviors.’
She might be infected at this point, but it’s left unclear. She tugs at her sleeve, maybe hiding a sore, and she drinks wine which might be infected twice on her journey. But if she’s not infected when she kills the beer-drinkers who are supposed to be helping her, she is by the final shot, when her fiancé’s blood is dripping onto her lips from the upper level of the barn.
In the end, Élisabeth is loyal to her fiancé, even if that means embracing the murderous insanity that he represented. Grapes of Death is a nightmare film, with every move Élisabeth makes taking her deeper and deeper into a violent miasma of gender-based terror.
An elegant woman is crying at the New Monia railroad station and lil’ Jerry is worried about her. He’s so worried that his hat spins around on his head. She won’t tell him what’s wrong, so he goes to his boss, the station manager. The news of the woman crying in the lobby sends the boss’ head into visible convulsions and he goes out to see what’s wrong.
She explains that she is a performer trying to get to an engagement in the next town. She asks the station manager to “promote” her act- ie give her money. His brain undulates again and his long mustache flaps as he thinks it over. He leers at her legs and replies “let’s see it” -meaning her act- but taken with the leer, he could be referring to something else.
She agrees and the station manager ushers her into a back room. Before he joins her, he takes a moment to celebrate for the benefit of lil Jerry and a small dog. He wants them to understand that he is the one coming out ahead by “helping” this woman.
The station manager, Jerry, and the dog sit on a ledge In the back room. The woman lifts her valise and it drops into a screen. She emerges dressed as a harem girl and begins to dance. She moves her hips, kicks, bends over, spins, and strikes a pose on one knee. Her small audience claps and the station manager puts some money down on a box. The woman goes behind her screen again and emerges in an all-black body suit and wearing a wild white headdress. (The look is so specific it’s probably a reference to a famous star or film character but I don’t know who)
When the station manager sees this getup he jumps up and swings around the rafters like a gymnast. The woman begins a wiggley shoulder dance, moving around the space, spinning and doing coquettish little kicks. She approaches the station manager, wiggling her shoulders and the wiggles transfer to his shoulders. The force of her dance takes over his body and lifts him off the ground.
He tells her to stop and picks up lil Jerry and the dog and drops them outside. Whether he is doing this because he believes the woman’s dance is too suggestive for Jerry’s age or because he wants to be alone with the woman is unclear. The fact that he kicked the dog out along with Jerry suggests the latter.
Back in the room, the woman is gone and a thin man with a long mustache picks up her valise and inspects it. He snatches the money off of the box, pockets it, and pulls out a pistol. The station manager enters and runs into the barrel of the gun with his face, smooshing it. When he realizes what it is, his feet lift off the ground and his entire body curls backwards over his stationary head. When his feet hit the ground, his head throbs again as he grasps the situation.
The break with reality in these cartoons often comes when a character is reacting to something. The characters’ feelings seem to overpower all physical limitations. These cartoons are illustrating a reality that is entirely subjective to the characters.
The man with the gun holds up the valise and says “where’s my wife?” The station manager does an exaggerated search around the small room but can’t find her. Sweat flies off of him as the man decides whether or not to shoot him. He decides not to and leaves the room.
Lil Jerry and the dog hide as the man comes out, still holding his pistol. The station manager follows, running his mouth in apology. As the man looks at him, the station manager turns into a thin little weakling and then back to his normal, large size. The man puts his gun away, shakes his finger at the station manager and gets onto a train.
Standing on the back platform of the train, he lifts his wife’s valise, and the screen drops down. When he emerges, he has transformed back into the beautiful woman from the beginning. She laughs and waves goodbye as the train pulls away. The station manager holds his head, spins three times without moving his feet, and then flops backward landing head-first on the ground.
He’s sitting there stunned and Jerry comes up and pins a medal on his chest. In an iris, we see that he has been awarded “The Raspberry.”
The station manager’s fear of the “husband” is proportional to the anticipation he felt before. It’s not only fear of being shot that makes him grovel before the man, but also guilt. He got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He was trying to take advantage of a desperate woman, but he was unable to comprehend what he was actually dealing with: a chimera.
One of the appeals of art is that it offers a brief escape from linear time. Literature, theater, visual art, music, and cinema all create worlds that exist outside of the ticking clock of reality. Paul, the central character in Eden, tries to live his life in this extra-chronological dimension.
The utopian lyrics and looping repetitive rhythms of garage house form a kind of invitation to Paul, and he accepts. The message of the music, and the culture of drugs, clubs, and parties built around the music, is that life can be beautiful -sublime even- at least for tonight.
The patterns of Paul’s life mirror the rhythmic repetitions of his music, a continuum of drugs, gigs, girlfriends and good times. These cycles move seamlessly from one to another, like the records Paul spins.
If Paul feels the pull of time, it is in his ambition to rise in the ranks of his chosen (un)reality. He watches Daft Punk, acquaintances from his Parisian music scene, go stratospheric, but Paul and his partner level-out at subsistence deejaying. In Paris, that means a radio show, a club night, and assorted random gigs. This isn’t a film about failure -it’s about being damned by faint success.
The pull of linear time eventually catches up to Paul, and after 20+ years of dedication to his music, he finds himself broke, alone, and addicted to cocaine. This is how dreams die in real life, with the slow-motion acceptance of an unavoidable fact: it’s over.
As the title suggests, this is a film about the loss of innocence. It should be required viewing for young artists and for all the people that tell them, ‘never give up on your dreams.’ Sometimes the choice is between giving up on your dream or letting it kill you.
In the world of The Lobster, it’s illegal to be single and the punishment for single people is that they are turned into the animal of their choice. At least that’s what the characters believe, we never see the surgical procedure that transforms people into animals, we only hear about it. This could be a world where such transformations are possible or it could be a world in which people believe something that is ridiculous without ever questioning it.
Yorgos Lanthimos makes visually arresting films populated with characters who seem to be either autistic or sociopathic or running on some sort of artificial intelligence program. At one point, Colin Ferrell’s character, David, comes to the realization that “it’s easier to pretend you do have feelings when you don’t than to pretend you don’t have feelings when you do.” This precedes his attempt to pair off with a “heartless” woman. Another conceit of this film is that couples can only get together if they have the same defining interest or physical defect. In a world without emotion what other criteria for choosing a mate could there be?
When David comes into contact with a band of loners living in the woods, he finds their society just as restrictive as the one he escaped. The rules they live by are the exact opposite of the rules of the mainstream culture -they are not allowed to pair off or show any affection for one another. Instead of creating a society where people are free to do as they please, they tailor their rebellion in exact opposition to the (absurd) restrictions of the dominant culture. They’re like militant atheists who think that, because the Christian conception of god is incoherent, the world must have been created by the random collision of molecules.
When David needs a mate he can’t find one but when he’s not allowed to have a mate he falls in ‘love.’ Like the rebellion that must be in direct opposition to the culture, David is always at odds with the world around him. Having feelings handicaps him in both situations, he has to hide his feelings the way a sociopath in the real world has to hide their lack of feelings.
TLDR: a giant lobster terrorizes a small southwestern town.
Copyright Benjamin Broke – All rights reserved