Friday, February 29, 2008

#19 - V for Vendetta (2006)

Remember, remember, the 5th of November,
the gunpowder treason and plot.
I know of no reason the Gunpowder Treason
should ever be forgot.

You want a movie that asks an impossible question and offers up an extremely un-pc answer? If so, then this is a flick for you.

The overlying query in this film is as such: can a terrorist be a hero? Arriving on the heels of September 11th, with Oklahoma City a distant yet still relevant memory, the creators, the Wachowski brothers, took a definite risk. And my, oh my, did it pay off.

(Note: This film is actually an adaptation of an Alan Moore comic which came out it the early to mid-eighties. It differs greatly from the source material – Moore’s vision was one of the struggle between Thatcher-era fascism and anarchy, whereas the film version deals more with the modern trend towards ultra-conservatism and 1984-style control. The original book is fantastic and a worthy read, but please do not judge the movie based on its differences. Coming today, the way it’s constructed and with what it says, the film is poignant, even necessary. No matter what Moore says.)

V would be a villain in most stories. He is proficiently violent and blows up buildings, all the while waxing poetic in a naïve yet intelligent way about the need for people’s revolution. He idolizes Guy Fawkes, he of the aforementioned Gunpowder Treason, to the point of wearing his visage in the form of a mask. He is a man without a face in a literal sense. His Fawkes disguise is as much his identity as his message is; he’s become the definition of revolution, railing against the dystopian, controlling, almost Nazi-like culture that has swept through England.

In Evey, the woman he saves from “fingermen” (the new regime’s version of the SS) in the beginning of the film and then brings to the top of a building to act as his audience as he blows up the Old Bailey while Tchaikovsky’s 1812 plays in the streets, he finds one bound to him as much through fate as mere circumstance. She is a symbol as much as he, a vision of what happens to people lost in a system of control. She is generally untrusting, as her parents, being activists, had been taken away from her at a young age because of their anti-government battlecry. Yet she is passive and even a bit lazy; she’s more than willing to go about her everyday business and turn a blind eye to the evils that occur around her in an effort to make her life, which she is imminently afraid of living, pass by without incident. It’s a brilliant illustration of society as a whole: bludgeon the people into submission with fear, and it will be far less likely they try to rise up against you. This is what she signifies.

It is through the relationship between V and Evey that the crux of the story unfolds. He befriends and protects her, even acts as her mentor. In a prolonged scene he imprisons her against her will, pretending to be a government official, in order to absolve her of her fear. The act seems outwardly cruel without subtext; whereas the suffering and humiliation she is subjected to is horrible, she cannot be truly free to live her life – a life of true freedom, in mind, spirit, and action – without it. So, even though horrible, this is actually a gift to her. The gift of autonomy, a gift V wishes to give all people living under the umbrella of manufactured phobia.

That brings up the second point of the film, which is actually the one that is the most dangerous. To what level with those in power go to maintain, and build, control? In the film, the administration befell horrors on its own populace in the form of a killer virus, in essence murdering thousands of people, to gain power over the national psyche. It is a despicable move, to be sure, but not necessarily outside the realm of possibility. Countless examples can be found in history of many the same things done in different ways, though most times they occur in third-world countries, not the west.

Depressing as this is, however, it has to be said that there is a bit of Faustian karma to the storyline. Make a deal with the devil, and you’ll eventually have to pay. Through their biological manipulation to create the ultimate weapon against their own people, those in power created V. His is their Frankenstein’s monster, their problem, their offspring. Just as Evey is a reflection and henceforth evolution of V, V is the reflection and evolution of his makers. This is why V says to Evey, as he’s ready to make good on his promise and take down the Houses of Parliament, that the world he is to create he could not exist in. He is a fiend, albeit a well-spoken one. Without his rage, without his vengeance, he would cease to exist. There is a balance inherent in being human he simply doesn’t possess. V isn't human – he’s the living embodiment of an ideal. He understands this, and also understands that Evey is the next step. She feels what he feels, yet also knows what it’s like to exist. She takes it to the next level, a level V was never prepared to enter.

The end of the film I’ve heard lambasted at times, but I cannot understand why. The people gathered, all wearing their Fawkes masks and capes, signify a convergence of ideals, not conformity. And the shedding of the disguises at the end is purposeful, as well. In disrobing and revealing their individual selves, they are giving visual representation to the ideal V states just before he dies. Free of the bonds the symbol of government represents, the terrorist who created them ceases to exist as those buildings go up on flames. At least for the moment, they have gained resolve, and that can be equalized by a connection to their emotions and individual thoughts; in other words, that which makes every person different. Sure, it’s a bit of grandstanding, but it works. It helps make the film great, and I place it at number 19 on my countdown.

Which brings me back to the beginning, and the forbidden question the movie asks. Can a terrorist be a hero?

Perhaps, given the current state of world affairs, that’s a question best left unanswered.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Idleness in Art

Just a quick little tangent for today.

As a writer, sometimes the effort it takes to construct sentences and paragraphs that fall into line with the whole of a certain creation can bring with it a sort of fatigued laziness; a mental state through which inaction, at the time, might seem more productive than putting thoughts down on paper you just know won’t do the job. I fight with this often – there are hours that I sit there in front of the laptop, staring at the screen, typing the first few letters of a word only to delete them immediately. This can go on for hours, until I finally slam the cover shut and go about the rest of my day’s business.

I’ve often asked myself…is there any way to avoid these situations?Yes.

The conclusion I’ve found is that there’s no such thing as wasted words. Even a passage that will inevitably wind up in the recycle bin is a worthwhile endeavor. Creation is all about trial and error, of mistakes and changes of thought. Jessica Torrant (from here on known as ArtWiffy) has taught me this. Watching her lather a canvas with paint, stare at it sideways for a moment, and then throw another layer on top of what she’s just finished, all the while with this odd expression on her face that might seem to be a smile if not for the intensity brimming right below the surface, has been an inspiration. No longer can I sit idle and feel sorry for my lack of inspiration. The only muse I need is right here (taps on temple). It’s from within that art springs forth and, just like everything else in life, the mistakes mean just as much as the finished project. After all, there wouldn’t be a finished project if not for those mistakes. It’s all a part of the process.

So thank you, ArtWiffy, for giving me that knowledge. No more meandering. This one's for you.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

#20 - Unbreakable (2000)

Before Y2K passed us all by, we were still searching for a tangible villain to hold onto as a movie-going audience. Gone were the Russians after the decline of the Cold War, the source of so much material from the late seventies on up. The Vietnam War was far in the past; there was a sensation of “been there, done that” to it all. So we started turning our eyes in every direction we could; backward to the old bad guys of World War II (Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, heck even The Phantom Menace would fit), forward to the possible effects of our reliance on technology on the future (The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor), and upward, to the one enemy the majority of us who live in homes with foundations have still never seen (Independence day, X-Files: Fight the Future). It would still be a little more than a year before fate brought us new scoundrels to fear and a new set of wars to transpose into pulp.

At the end of it all, after western civilization failed to collapse with the new millennium, M. Night Shyamalan released Unbreakable, his second movie after the ultra-successful The Sixth Sense. It opened well enough, earning thirty million in its first weekend and ninety-five million overall, but this had more to do with the way it was marketed as “By The Guy Who Did The Sixth Sense” than anything else. Lost in all this is the fact it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, telling a story the way the best of all time have been told: by focusing inward, at that which makes us human, and the struggles we face today, in our everyday lives, our spiritual desire to be either the saved or the savior, and introducing a villain that is, for all intents and purposes, a reflection of ourselves.

David Dunn is a man just like any other; father and estranged husband, struggling with the dual terror of work and finding his place in the world. After a horrific train accident at the beginning of the film – which follows a fantastic human scene of David musing through the guilt before taking off his wedding ring and chatting with the pretty lady beside him – Mister Dunn is found to be the only survivor.

He is discovered after this event by Elijah Price, a comic book aficionado who is afflicted with osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder which renders his bones brittle. It is here that the film gains its overwhelming sense of synergy. Whereas Elijah is frail and introspective, David is strong – it is discovered he’s never been sick in his life – and a bit naïve. They are, in both theory and practicality, flip sides of the same exact coin. This is the point brought about by most all of the traditional comics written before the emergence of “grey matter” into the genre, yet no movie has ever done as good a job as this of highlighting their connection. The tete-a-tete between the two characters is equal parts intense and filled with longing. Elijah has long searched for the one to answer his ideology that there exists a man at the other end of the spectrum as he; David is an introvert who longs to simply connect with others, which Elijah, with his outward personality and flamboyant dress, possesses.

It is through their budding friendship that the truth behind David’s existence is slowly revealed. This is the overall best aspect of the storytelling. There is very little violence in the film – only one scene at the end, really. It tells the tale through dialogue and calm visual representation, using bright color to highlight the important events unfolding. David goes through many evolutions along the way. It is discovered that he is stronger than most men, that he is not easily hurt. We find out he is unusually altruistic: in an effort to save his dying relationship with his soon-to-be wife, a young David fakes an injury during a car accident, thereby saving Audrey from the miserable life he assumes would be forthcoming were he to keep on his path as an athlete. Their son, Joseph, thinks there is something special about his father from the beginning, and it is to him that David exposes himself toward the end of the movie as a way to strengthen their bond and save Joseph from the horror of self-doubt that has plagued him his entire life. In all, it’s really just a story of a man discovering his place in the world – a duty that no other comic book movie, which this basically is, has ever accomplished.

The acting is superb and the pace flows slowly without feeling dragged out. Bruce Willis embodies David Dunn as much as Samuel Jackson becomes Elijah Price. In fact, the acting is so well played out that the twist at the end of the film, which had every chance to come off as cheesy, became a highlight, and even almost obvious in hindsight. The overriding theme – that there is an emptiness which dwells within each of us that longs to be filled should we ignore our true purpose – resonates with the audience. We all want to find our path in life, after all. And I’d bet than any of us has had that sensation, upon waking up in the morning, that there’s something we haven’t done which we should have.

“They called me Mister Glass,” Elijah tells David at the end of the movie, after their true intentions are revealed. But the unasked question between them is what resounds the most, and also helps make this one of the best films I’ve ever seen.

Where do we go from here?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A New Direction

After sitting in stagnation for a few months, your humble co-narrator has decided to take a task upon himself in order to revive this journal to what it was originally meant to be. In comes a colleague of mine, Patrick Bukowski, to contribute as an active member of the Journal. And I am now beginning a rather lighthearted project in order to re-invigorate those creative juices by posting reviews of the things I use to escape - be them movies, books, or television.

My first order of business will be to organize my favorite twenty films of all time, in order of importance to myself. Then, one-by-one, I will post an analysis of each film in the chronological order my brain comes up with. Maybe, after that is completed, your humble co-narrator will have exorcized himself from inactivity and begin expounding upon that which really matters...none the least of which is whether Barack Obama is a once-in-a-livetime opportunity for this country to do something right.

For the meantime, I will let Mister Bukowski be the one to share his opinion on all those things that "really matter".

(Sarcasm is a learned trait.)