Another good piece on Get Out: My reaction when I saw it was that Get Out was at heart a zombie movie that hearkens back to the Haitian origin of the zombie myth and the fear of slavery that created it.
I remember when I used to love to go to the movies. I went almost every weekend, because I could find a movie I wanted to see every weekend. I was often surprised by something entirely new: Pulp Fiction, The Big Lebowski, American Beauty.
It seems those days are passed. I can no longer get to the movie theater as often as I used to–one of the downsides of being a parent–but even when I have the opportunity, I rarely find something I’d like to watch. Even watching movies at home, with all the choices available to me now, is a chore. With rare exceptions, movies are no longer surprising. They are safe, and I feel like I’ve seen all those explosions, heard all those jokes, before.
I thought I might turn to movies I watched long ago to see if they still hold up. First up: American Beauty (primarily because it is streaming on Netflix). Remember this?
Fifteen years later, I have a very different take on this film. Move on if you haven’t seen the movie because I’m about to spoil it big time.
Kevin Spacey’s character in American Beauty is the prototypical man-boy in Lester Burnham, isn’t he? He quits his job to work in a fast food restaurant, masturbate, smoke dope, lift weights, buy a muscle car, and mack on a teenage girl.
But on a rewatch, it occurred to me that maybe this movie is much more subversive than I originally thought. The events of the film are presented through Burnham’s distorted, thoroughly unreliable point of view (he is the narrator). It is only in the last few minutes of his life that Burnham sees how wrong he has been about pretty much everything. His wife is not a nagging shrew but is only unhappy because her partner has turned into unsupportive dead weight, another child for her to raise. His daughter is not a bitch but a damaged child searching in vain for a father. His daughter’s friend is not the nymphet Lolita of his fantasies but just a naive young girl and his fantasies are basically about child rape. And the kid next door who he so romanticizes, his “hero,” is actually just a skeevy drug dealer and quite possibly a sociopath who no sane dad would want dating his daughter.
In fact, Lester is killed by another version of a man-boy, the character played by Chris Cooper, who has refused his whole life to grow up and admit to the truth about himself or about the world. When that truth finally hits him in the face, he reacts in the most immature way possible, with gun violence.
All those people who watch this movie and admire Lester Burnham and want to be like him are actually part of the joke. Because Lester Burnham is thoroughly unadmirable, in every possible way, and his scant redemption comes far too late. I think what the movie’s real message is that yes, there is a lot that is soulless and twisted about modern society, but regressing to man-boyhood is not the way to deal with it.
Well, maybe I’m projecting, but that’s what we do with art. I just still want to like this movie.
So sad to see that Alan Rickman has died. His movies have given me many hours of pleasure. We just had our traditional Christmas viewing of Die Hard. He will be missed.
I saw the third installment of The Hobbit over the holiday, and I have to say that this has not been my favorite book-to-film adaptation. More is not always more, a tough lesson to learn. Anyone else tired of unending superhero movies and uninspired sequels as well? The movies just don’t seem fun anymore.
I did see Birdman over the break too, which I really liked. It pokes a lot of jabs at superhero movies and Hollywood sacred cows. Other than The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman is the only Oscar-nominated movie I’ve seen. I liked them both, so take note: They never give Oscars to movies I like.
Speaking of overblown movie award shows, I loved this joke by Tina Fey at the Golden Globes: “Steve Carell’s Foxcatcher look took two hours to put on, including his hairstyling and make-up. Just for comparison, it took me three hours today to prepare for my role as human woman.”
I didn’t watch the awards, but I did watch Amy and Tina’s monologue and thought it was great.
I just purchased and started reading a beautiful little book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I was struck by this sentence in the section on books: “The moment you first encounter a particular book is the right time to read it.”
Hmm. This strikes me as true, as I just cleaned out my books and earmarked for the Little Free Library or book sale donation all of those books I’ve owned for over a year that have gone unread. I figured the moment when I felt the energy to read them has passed me by, and if I ever do feel moved to read them, well, books are very easy for me to get.
But it’s making me re-evaluate the whole idea of reading by categories over a year. While I love being organized and planning my reading ahead, it removes the spontaneity. I think there is a balance to be achieved–still musing on what the right balance is, though.
I watched Marnie last night for the first time. I thought it was a good movie, although probably not destined to become one of my favorites. The acting was impeccable, Sean Connery was incredibly easy on the eyes, and I enjoyed the self-conscious artificiality of the world Hitchcock created, especially his use of color.
I have read that this film “proves” Hitchcock’s misogyny, but I couldn’t see it. Men come off worse than women in Marnie. Marnie is damaged, but Connery’s character Mark is perverse in his obsession with her and his desire to “fix” her that doesn’t seem to arise out of any pure intentions, but rather out of a need to possess and control her. Rather than proving Hitchcock’s hatred of women, Marnie is another dark, twisted view of humankind that characterizes all of his movies and is the primary reason why I am drawn to them.
Whatever Hitchcock’s feelings about women were in real life, I don’t want to know about them. I am sure they were more complex than a simple hatred of women. What I care about is his work. If misogyny did come through clearly in his films, that would turn me off of them. Hitchcock does not shy away from female characters who are immoral, self-serving, or shallow; certainly there are women who are like this. I think he is interested in male obsession with women, though, as can be seen in Marnie, Vertigo and possibly Notorious (which I need to rewatch soon). In all of those movies, though, I don’t see the man as a hero, as a portrayal of what Hitchcock thinks all men should be, no more than I see the woman as an indictment of what all women are. I see them as stories about people, stories that challenge our own exalted views of ourselves. This is why Hitchcock’s films continue to be so compelling.
I watched Room 237 last night on Netflix instant streaming and highly recommend it. It is a documentary that presents several theories on what is really going on in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. But wait! It is so much more than a geek-out about The Shining. (Although, to be fair, the film will be more enjoyable if you’ve seen The Shining, and read it, and seen all of Kubrick’s other movies.)
The brilliance of Room 237 is that, even though it’s a documentary, the people being interviewed are never shown in that classic talking-head documentary style. Instead, film clips constantly play as they explain their pet Shining theories, most of the clips from the film, the bulk of the rest from other Stanley Kubrick movies, and some from other films. These clips serve as a constant commentary on the voiceovers, so that Room 237 becomes more about how people become obsessed with films (or books or other works of art), fueling their obsession with every possible piece of evidence, however slight. My favorite part in the film is when the guy is explaining his theory of how Stanley Kubrick helped fake the Moon Landing, and points to Danny’s Apollo 11 sweater in a scene in The Shining as his aha! moment.
I actually have a theory on The Shining myself, but mine isn’t as far-out as the ones presented in Room 237 (or maybe it is, and I just think it’s normal). I think that Kubrick, as an artist, challenged himself to make films that were not only in a particular genre, but that transcended the genre and perhaps even defined it. He did this with 2001: A Space Odyssey in the science fiction genre, and with The Shining, he was trying to make the horror movie. Many of the clues and inconsistencies pointed out in Room 237 were probably deliberate, as Kubrick was an exacting director, but they aren’t signs of some uber meta-theory. Rather, Kubrick was trying to subtly unsettle his audience, have them feeling constantly off-kilter in small and large ways, in an attempt to truly horrify them, rather than just scare or shock them. This is why The Shining actually gets more disturbing the more you watch it, as you start to pick up on these subtle inconsistencies. The Shining is a movie about a place where the rules of reality no longer apply, and the rules of movie-making don’t apply in the film, and the inference is that maybe none of us can trust what we think is real. Now, that’s terrifying.
Speaking of Stanley Kubrick, I read this essay yesterday too, and it made definitely me want to watch Eyes Wide Shut again. That film has a lot of parallels to The Shining, doesn’t it? I feel another theory coming on…
World War Z is getting a lot of coverage this weekend, but I would like to remind everyone that it is a pretty good novel. By all accounts, the book is different enough from the movie that it’s worth reading even after seeing the movie. I have been reading some profiles of the author, Max Brooks, this weekend. Things I did not know: He is the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft; he tours the country giving lectures on zombie preparedness; and he doesn’t think zombies are funny. For him, zombies are those random things in life that get us that we don’t see coming–a car accident, cancer, random chance. Zombies are the personification of that old chestnut, “Life isn’t fair.”
By trying to prepare for a zombie apocalypse, something that we can feel reasonably sure is not ever going to happen, we prepare for the things we can’t control, that feel too big for us to take on. (Max Brooks wrote a survival manual for the zombie apocalypse before he wrote World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.) Maybe this is why I like to read apocalyptic fiction. There is literally very little I can do about climate change or peak oil, but I can read about people who go through worse, and survive it.
Alternate World War Z movie poster art found here.