30/08/2016

As Good As It Gets - Space And Time

Quick Thoughts: As Good As It Gets

An obsessive compulsive grows close to his neighbour and waitress.


This is a terrible film. I've seen the title and poster in passing many, many, many, many times and I've always assumed it was a good film due to apparent critical acclaim as well as the cast. But, I finally came around to watching it and... sigh... It started out so well, it settled me into brilliant character piece about friendship, personal growth and the acceptance of life as is. But, it devolves slowly as it sinks into the second act, but then take a huge nose dive approaching the third act, hits the ground and is just decimated by the time the romance kicks in. If I were to be rational, I could say this is quite a good film with editing problems. But, for how good it started and how bad it ended... yeah, fuck this film.

But, I don't want to just say why this is a bad film, instead, use its faults to demonstrate a key aspect of cinema in respect to writing and editing. Film is all about space and time. Space is a frame, it's a painting, it's a moment. Time is the flickering of 24 frames per second that builds into a scene, that builds into an act, that builds into a film. For character films like this, space and time are particularly hard to manage. To understand why you simply need to look at the likes of a Die Hard.


What you have here is one night in which a lot of shit must go down. That means your management of time when approaching the story is simplified to, in as basic a way to be seen, choosing the best bits to fit into 90 minutes. This form of story telling has its traps and difficulties, but because of the small amount of time in juxtaposition to the masses of action, a Die Hard is easier to write than something like 12 Years A Slave or Boyhood.

  

In these films you have a lot of narrative time (12 years) and an awful lot of action. Whereas Die Hards hold a lot of high-octane action, guns, blood, glass, explosions, bullets, dead bodies, Boyhoods and 12 Years A Slaves have a huge swath of action - both dramatically intense and extremely mundane. In other words, there's a lot more to choose from over 12 years than there is 1 night in respect to plot points. Now, the management of space and time to create a narrative is only made harder when you have a focus on character. Your responsibility is to chose the right spaces, the right frames, the right moments of their lives from a long stretch of time to demonstrate the particular character traits you are trying to utilise to get across a certain meaning or certain emotions. Simultaneously, you must also manage the time you have, and so how much of a character, or how much of their individual elements you are showing. This is incredibly difficult to get right, to balance the space or moments you show and how long you show them.

With As Good As It Gets you see a good selection of moments in these characters' lives and journeys, but simply not enough of them. No parts of Melvin's early character traits are succinctly touched on throughout the narrative, they are only really mentioned in the beginning and end as some half-assed excuse for a character arc. This means that you feel huge gaps in his character, but also fail to follow the timeline of the movie. And the management of time here is God awful. There are mentions of things to come in the narrative, like the son getting better, that we're left to assume happen - which is fine to do - but things like this are only mentioned after the fact, they aren't shown cinematically. This awful management of time and lazy in-dialogue reference to space is completely down to the crap plotting. What's more, the editing within scenes is shockingly bad. There seems to be so much cut of this movie, and it's done so badly that jarring awkward silences or jumps in conversations convolute the purpose of scenes and of character motivations. These things absolutely kill how an audience perceives character, and in turn kill a movie.

I suppose all I can end on is a question to whoever decided to nominate this film for Oscars, whoever gave it good reviews, whoever likes this film. What are you seeing that I aren't? All I see is the skeletons of what could admittedly be a great movie. A skeleton that needs to be put under ground, or filled in with some substance that must have been in the original script or a longer cut. Nonetheless, time and space, if you can't manage them you not only destroy all narrative sense over a plot, you destroy the perception of character and of their growth.





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The Shining - Within The Throes Of Abuse, Destruction And Dysfunction

Thoughts On: The Shining

This will be the last film featured in the series exploring which movies inspired and informed my most recent screenplay, Receptacle Infinity. This is post 8 of 8, so if you haven't checked out the previous 7 feel free to follow the link...


Jack Torrance takes a job as the caretaker of The Overlook Hotel through isolated winter months, bringing with him his wife and young son.


The Shining is a masterpiece. This is one of my favourite films of all time. This is one of the greatest films ever made. This is the best horror film ever made. But, this is not a flawless, through-and-through, perfect picture. Most importantly, this is not the movie Room 237 paints it out to be...


Room 237 is part interesting, part nonsense, part insanity. Ultimately, it does not reflect a true reading of this film as it presents itself. This is what I want to do today: both demonstrate why this is such a great film, and also what it means with an honest, taken-as-given analysis. Staying with Room 237 a moment, what we have here is a documentary tantamount to bad reality TV. It's intriguing, but in a way you feel probably isn't too good for your mental dexterity. More than this, Room 237 is primarily a collection of poor reviews or looks in on a film. You have obsessive fanatics of this film that zoom waaaaay to far into tiny details which ultimately does nothing more than trivialise Kubrick's ingenuity, talent, craft and artistry, making it not just pretentious to say he's a genius, but almost laughable. Then you also have those who pick up interesting details (like the reference to Native Indians) but cannot demonstrate the purpose of that throughout the narrative. This has always been something that has tugged at the fibres of my filmic pretension and geekness. It's fine to analyse the details of a film, to zoom into scenes, moments, seconds, but, each frame cannot be treated as an individual painting. Each frame must been seen as a segment of a collage. If you wanted to, you could make a claim for this film being racist against blacks or Native Americans because of certain designs on clothing, on the walls, the use of 'nigger' and of killing the only black guy. If you wanted to, you could use this film as evidence for the moon landings being faked by Kubrick (I know). If you wanted to, you could see this movie as being misogynist because of the way Wendy is treated by Jack, how she's given responsibilities in the kitchen and how women are generally the targets of a lot of violence. If you really wanted to, you could see this movie as a whole lot of things, and I suppose that's part of what makes it great: its ambiguity, its flexibility, its resounding accessibility. But, to judge a film you must take into account each scene, each moment, see how they interact and so hear how the film as a whole speaks to you. This is film analysis. It's not making a case for a sneaking suspicion you have, or a scene you thought pushed the mark too far. It's discovery and then the articulation of what you've discovered. It's here that you then make your case. The film provides your agenda, you don't bring it into the movie. That's said, let's get into why this film is so often seen as one of the greats.

I've often had a hard time seeing what people mean when they say a film is a masterpiece or is great. This happens all the time when I look into arts I'm not familiar with (almost all of them). What this says to me is that I just don't get what I'm looking at most of the time. However, I've loved film for a long time, but haven't always been able to see what people mean by great, or even form my own opinion on their view or the film itself. This is simply something you have to develop, meaning seeing greatness is something you have to learn how to do. That sounds stupid and elitist, but that's not what I mean for it to be. What I'm trying to get across is that greatness needs to be pointed out, made clear and precisely demonstrated - something hard to do but also gain access to--largely because 'great' is a word thrown around all to easily (myself being a huge culprit of this). Either way, what makes The Shining great, what makes any film great, is that it both excels in many of its cinematic elements and maintains an irrevocable quality over time and as a cohesive piece of art. 'Cinematic elements' are varied and vast, bringing together a huge skill-set of sometimes hundreds or thousands of people, stretching through numerous art forms. The most obvious elements of cinema though are directing, acting, editing, writing and sound design. A great film excels in all of these elements, but to varying degrees. This is because perfection is not a tangible thing, and the judgment of what is great is ultimately something not determined by a film's many individual parts (something we'll come to in a moment). So, The Shining excels most in the fields of direction, writing and editing. I love the sound design, but it is a little too blatant and emotive at times as well as repetitive. This cheapens the experience as it takes you out of the movie slightly instead of drawing you into the narrative and supporting the meaning of the film. I also love Jack Nicholson's performance, but, it's a little over the top at times, moreover, the acting overall isn't amazing (though very good, great in parts). Again, this cheapens the experience, but it also reduces verisimilitude which will add further detriment to the immersive quality of the film as well as diminish character work. On the note of character work, we're going to have to touch on Stephen King's novel. King has criticised this film quite openly on the basis of bad character work. Firstly, I haven't read the book. Secondly, this is a distinguished piece of work that has since defined itself from the novel, leaving the point of comparison rather useless. Thirdly, for reasons we'll get into later, the characterisation in this film is there to support the narrative. So to get along as quick as possible, let's move onto what's great about The Shining and take a look at direction.

Kubrick's style is something you could write a book about. But, in respect to The Shining, what is so exceptional about it is the regimented framing and fluid movement. The cinematography, blocking (where actors sit, stand, move) and framing work together to produce a beautiful, life-like look that is very open to technical analysis. And it's for this reason that The Shining is a film I can return to time and time again. I love the 'sit down and talk' scenes. These are the scenes that are often said to be the best way to judge a director's worth. If you give a director a huge set-piece, a whole lot of CGI, a magnificent landscape, or even phenomenal actors, what they capture is something that wants to be seen, that in some ways speaks for itself. To understand what I mean you simply have to consider something like the end battle of The Avengers or an action scene from Indiana Jones happening before your eyes, or in a YouTube video. Just seeing aliens, Captain America, Hulk smash or Indiana run from huge boulders, fight atop moving tanks, shoot unsuspecting sword-wielding enemies, is enough, and whilst direction can add a lot to this, there is a strong basis of amazement that leaves a lot of a director's job down to simply not distracting the audience from the imagery. The same goes for a great bit of acting, writing or artwork. You could otherwise just listen to, read or look at these things despite their presentation. When it comes to simple talks at a table good acting is key, but what elevates something like the opening to Pulp Fiction or Inglorious Basterds, the majority of 12 Angry Men or Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, the monologues in There Will Be Blood, the central dramatic set-piece of Fury or Psycho, above a filmed podcast, a YouTube video or a play is direction. What this demonstrates is something I've already touched on a few times and that is the importance of immersion. The individual elements of a film (acting, writing, editing, direction, sound design) are there to ensure you are having a good time, are there to put you in that suspended place just above reality, but below a dream, are there to draw you in and hold your attention. This is a huge qualifying factor of a mediocre, good or great film. They have to entertain or draw you in. With the simple 'talk at a table' scene what you have is a segment of your story that is usually something you need, not really want - it is ultimate something your audience is not often looking to be entertained by. But, Kubrick holds long and (on paper) kind of meh conversations over long stretches with minimal acting and little movement by setting down cinematic poetry. By that I mean to reference what Scorsese calls cinematic language, and this term describes the means by which a camera angle can tell you something in the same respect these typed squiggles do. In other words, during the table scenes Kubrick not only manages to hold our attention, but say an awful lot with the positioning of his camera.

With the last sentence I leave an open end of analysis/explanation as going through scenes frame-by-frame would take a long time in what is already going to be a long essay. Nonetheless, it's the combination of editing and great camera work that truly suck you into the film, but are also the source of a lot of rewatches, rewinds and obsession. That is to say, the camera work in this film demonstrates what cinema is: it is art made accessible, but art that retains the capacity to say a lot. The last thing that makes this movie great is the writing. This encompasses plotting, character work, dialogue, such and so on. You can then break these elements down further to assess them, and whilst the writing of this film isn't flawless, it is great. It's actually the writing of this film that makes it truly great to me as how a screenplay materialises on screen is my favourite thing about movies. But, before moving onto this I must conclude the point of parts and wholes. Elements of a movie can vary in their strength, but the quality of a picture must be judged over time, and with the movie seen as a singular composite of numerous arts. This comes down to what a film is and how we see and/or analyse them. Films, as repeated many times over, are there to entertain and draw us in for an hour or two. It then makes no sense for you to be ignoring or fixating on fractions of the film before judgement. You must see it in full and be paying attention to everything for your view to have any veracity. Moreover, a film explains itself. This is why film analysis is the articulation of what has already been said by a film. The purpose of analysis is to reflect overall meaning that some may miss, but also provide opportunity for the film to flourish in the themes it holds and the questions it asks us. In the end, a great film does a lot - a lot of impressive, astounding, interesting... things. Those things remain, in part, undefined, as a great film (given the needed approach or perspective) makes its own rules and plays by them like no other. The Shining takes the idea of book adaptations, makes its own rules of approach and surpasses the novel. The Shining also mesmerises, captivates, draws in obsessives, fanatics and weirdos. The Shining defines itself as the greatest horror film ever by being unlike any other, by being strictly irreplicable.

Ok, to delve into my favourite aspect of what makes this film great we come to the writing and in turn the meaning of this behemoth. This is a film entirely about destructive familial relations, it is about domestic abuse, child abuse and self-abuse. To see this you have to look straight to the aspects of this movie that are so easily looked past. The central performance of Jack, the constant build to the moment he's smashing down doors with the axe, pushing his face through the whole in the door to taunt 'Here's Johnny!' all detracts from the supernatural foresight of Danny, Hallorann and the ghosts Jack talks to - these are the most important aspects of this movie. That's not even mentioning the final image...


To understand how Jack is somehow in a ball in 1921, you have to understand what The Shining actually is. The Shining is the ability to see things that have happened or may happen that are demonstrated by the film to be a looming threat. This isn't strictly true though as Hallorann tells us. He was able to talk to his Grandmother, for hours on end, when he was a young boy. What's more, he talks to Danny. The Shining is then two things. It's the ability to see danger, but also communicate. To understand why Danny and possibly Hallorann have The Shining you only need to look to these scenes...


It's Jack talking to Lloyd that reveals the central elements of his character. Firstly, he tells the story of his breaking Danny's arm. Secondly, he hints at possible alcoholism with 'the hair of the dog that bit me' and Llyod handing him whiskey. What is implied here is that Jack, despite trying to be a good father, snaps at times. It's his relationship with Wendy that makes this most clear. And it's here we need to come back to character work. Nicholson injects a lot of needed life into a very subtle film. Like in Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick risks seemingly bland, even bad performances for faux interactions between characters to imply satire and an underlying lie.


With Jack and Wendy in the car, in the bedroom or talking on the phone you can sense an utter disconnect masquerading as shitty writing and terrible performances. It's knowing how much hatred for Wendy Jack is hiding that makes these scenes work. What looks like bad acting is bad acting, but on Jack Torrance's behalf, not Jack Nicholson's. Nicholson portrays a miserable husband who feels stuck in a relationship with the unthinkably oblivious Wendy. This is actually the aspect of character work that makes little sense. Wendy is never shown to pick up on Jack's disdain for her (not until it's too late). This may be because she fears Jack (due to his stressed/drunken and possibly violent history) and is putting on as much as of a show for him as he is for her, however, this is hard to find evidence for, leaving ambiguity a downfall in writing. In other words, her character is ultimately left a slightly tangential element of this film left largely unexplored. Nonetheless, the key takeaway from Jack's past and his relationship with his wife is that he is a conflicted, possibly abusive husband and father. Knowing this we can come back to what The Shining actually is. For Danny, The Shining represents an ability to reach out for help. This is made clear in early scenes with him talking in the mirror and with later warnings with the twins - but let's not jump ahead of ourselves. Staying with the opening act, there's an extended cut of this film that includes a small scene with a doctor coming to see Danny (who has been sick) and also one with the doctor talking to Wendy about Jack breaking his arm a few months before hand (something Wendy defends Jack on). This scene brings together the outside world and the inner family circle on the theme of abuse. This also happens with Hallorann interfering - and doesn't end well.


But, what is present in both of these scenes is the idea of Shining. Danny called out for help to Hallorann, but couldn't when alone with his mother or the doctor. The Shining is then a metaphorical means of presenting a child's (person's) ability to call out for help. This implies some interesting things about Hallorann who can also Shine and maybe lived with his Grandmother. It's possible that he had an abusive past, giving reason for his (alleged, but denied) fear of room 237 and why he would have lived with his Grandmother, not his parents. However, we cannot jump to that just yet.

So, Hallorann and Danny obviously have The Shining, but, what went over my head for years was that Jack does too. This isn't the same kind of Shining that Halloran and Danny have as he can't communicate like them, but it is what lets him see ghosts, just as it does Danny. Before delving too deep into that, we also need to recognise something implied about Jack's past. It is possible that his parents abused him, giving reason for his need for seclusion, his incredibly distant facade and ultimately his final break. So, with The Shining we can see that Danny, Jack and Hallorann struggle or have struggled with needing help, but not having a voice to call for it. But, The Shining is not just a means of communicating - as implied with Danny's violent visions and Jack's interactions with a ghostly world. The Shining is also a means of reflection. With Danny and Hallorann this reflection triggers foresight of possible danger. For Jack, we see something different. The best way to see The Shining is under the Freudian interpretation of a dream. Bad dreams or nightmares are a means of a dreamer working through fears. But, dreams are also a means of wish fulfillment. So, for Danny and Hallerann, The Shining provides warning based on their fears and anxieties relating to abuse (like a nightmare). For Jack we see a much more masochistic means of dealing with past trauma. In short, Jack seeing Lloyd is a very dangerous means of Jack accepting his violent side and embracing an abusive childhood/history - some kind of self-destructive wish fulfillment or a means of reversing repression. This is what will eventually explain the last image of the film and open up the true struggles of characters throughout the narrative. To get into Jack's visions we have to recognise what The Outlook Hotel is and so recognise what Jack's role as the caretaker means. As we all know, The Outlook is a fundamental symbol of isolation. And it's the barren seclusion that The Outlook provides that forces the singular families within to the edges of their psyches, sometimes resulting in tragedy.


The Outlook then represents a family home blown up and made to seem looming. What this emphasises Jack's role as caretaker to be resultantly becomes unbearable. In short, his responsibilities, not only for the hotel, but his family force him into deep waters of introspection that have him come out full of hatred. The Outlook Hotel forces deep soul searching, and for the deeply conflicted men at the heads of some of these families, the isolation of self leads to implosion. This then bunches Jack in with Grady, the father who killed the twins - and gives reason why Grady and Jack have an exchange about who is actually the caretaker of the hotel. What this allows us to do is see 'the caretaker' as an archetype. He is a man at the head of a family that is deeply conflicted and profoundly miserable. With Jack we see the conflict in the way he's pulled in two directions, both by his son and wife, but also by his job as the caretaker and aspirations of being a writer. In short, he loves his son and maybe loves writing, he doesn't seem to like the work he's got, or the wife he lives for. His dissonance on who he is to the family grows with him believing he cannot express himself, he cannot live for himself and is wasting his time. We see this in this scene...


... and also in the infamous lines...


It's here that we're moving towards room 237, so we're going to keep a hold on the dull Jack and his lack of play. Instead, understanding Jack as a conflicted man/father/writer/caretaker/husband we can pull apart why the caretaker is an archetype. The caretaker is a man that finds no joy in his life, not as a father, a husband, not in his work, nor in his art. He is isolated with the ones he loves in a world where he feels unappreciated. This is demonstrated to be a very dangerous figure, one apt to explode. The reasoning why comes back to Jack and his version of The Shining. As said, The Shining is a like a dream, for Jack, some kind of wish fulfillment that is ultimately masochistic. Remembering the implimence of Jack possibly being abused as a child combined with the discussed roles of traditional families and responsibility, we can see why he envisions the 1920s across the hotel. He sees Lloyd, Grady and so on because he sees himself as an archetype, a man built in another time. This then explains the last image as being a critique of the traditional nuclear family. Jack sees himself in a time passed, but displaced hugely:


That's why this image is so important - and takes a leaf out of Polanski's book and his masterpiece, Repulsion, with a picture essentially explaining the narrative. Jack is the centre piece if this image, but his central positioning only isolates him. The crowd around, full of couples and smiles, are a faceless mass that seem to engulf his presence. You even see his wave being held down as to suppress and demean his presence as what we can assume to be the caretaker. Seeing the image in this respect allows us to see Jack as the try-hard weirdo that has no friends, that smiles, but is never really happy. He tries to fit in with the masses, tries to conform, but simply does not fit in.

The constant overshadowing idea of Grady and the crime he committed then lay heavy on the archetype of the caretaker as someone who is inevitably going to break. This is why Jack fits into this picture, why he sees ghosts, why he does their bidding. He not only bends to his own fears of hurting his family...


... but the will of apparent inevitability, of the past dictating the future. It's here where the theory of Jack being abused as a child becomes more poignant. Maybe Jack draw to violence comes from an idea of control, of 'correcting' his wife and kid as once Grady did. This idea may come from a traditional, and rather dysfunctional, idea of family, but maybe Jack's personal experience of family life as a child informed this. If his father used violence to lead and look after his family, why wouldn't Jack? If his father abused him and his mother maybe not just physically, but mentally, why wouldn't Jack? What we have here is a question of self-determinism and environmental-determinism. We cannot infer that just because Jack was abused as a kid that he will abuse his wife and kids. In fact, we can see a struggle within him to keep from this, to hold his family together despite him maybe not loving his wife (even like her slightly) anymore. The questions presented by the metaphorical Shining are then all about the world in respect to the individual.

However, we can't delve into these questions right now. Instead, we need to understand what room 237 actually is. Room 237 is ultimately nothing very interesting, at least, nothing that lives up to the weight the name holds. There is no significance of the numbers pertaining to moon landings. There is no actual significance to the physical room - it's just a designated place in the hotel. I've watched the film dozens of times over and never has anything explaining why room 237 is important as a physical place come up. There is the possible chance that this is where Grady and his family stayed, maybe it's where he killed his wife. But, there is no evidence for this, none at all. For this reason we can only assign room 237 the metaphorical meaning the narrative provides. Room 237 is Jack's suppressed thoughts hidden in his temporary family home. What is most interesting about it is not really what goes on inside (we'll get to that though) but what happens around it. Firstly, we have to look at its introduction through Danny who comes to ask Hallorann about it. What should be clear already is that room 237 is a sexual place...


... to juxtapose that with the distance between Jack and Wendy you should understand what this means:


Jack isn't getting any, and even if he is, it's not with a person that excites him, nor is attractive to him. Bring this back to Danny, and you see his fear of the family being split up, of Jack leaving in pursuit of another woman. Bring this theme of sexuality forward a little to Hallarann, we come across more interesting details...


When confronted by room 237, Hallorann denies he fears it. Combine this with his implied abusive past, the fact that he is alone in his bed (a bachelor) with the huge pictures of nude models and you see his confusing relationship with women. He gets along fine with Wendy, implying he does not fear or get nervous around them - just as he says he doesn't room 237. But, he stays away. Why? Well, maybe Hallorann was almost the caretaker archetype (giving reason for his Shining) but never committed to traditional family life as that was not for him. He remains a bachelor for his own sake, and maybe because he doesn't think he'd be a good father. This is the life that Jack maybe should be living: alone in his room by day, typing away, nude pictures hung around for him to muse upon, and then by night, he puts the typewriter away and goes out to sling some dick, get some free love...


Ok, this is not the time or place for an absurd theory, but the link to Easy Rider is an interesting one. Nonetheless, the commentary provided here with Hallorann and Jack is not that all men should be bachelors, just that some aren't suited for family life - Jack being a key example of this. So, getting closer to actually going inside room 237 we get a thematic build culminating with the accusation of Jack abusing Danny...


It's this scene that solidifies the idea of abuse and The Shining being linked because of all the violent and supernatural snowballing that occurs as a result of this scene. Danny claims he is hurt by the woman in room 237. In other words, he foresees Jack wanting to split up with Wendy and find another woman. Him being physically hurt by the woman isn't something we should take seriously though. It only makes sense that Jack was the one that hurt him, as seeing the woman in the bathtub as a metaphor leaves him the only one left to hurt Danny. His manipulation of the family then demonstrates how deeply troubled he is, how he not only pulls the wool over their eyes, but possibly his too. What we now need to ask is why Jack beat Danny upon discovering room 237. Well, maybe he stumbled upon a secret of Jack's, maybe he questioned his intentions, or let loose some kind of anxiety over the state of the family. We cannot know for sure, but what is implied is that some kind of sexual tension has been picked up by those with the capacity for Shining - and it tears them apart. But, assuming Jack did beat Danny, you can see clearly why he'd accuse him of murder, be in a zombie-like state and use The Shining (Tony) to call for help.


It's from that point that all hell breaks loose and the family break apart, Jack being frozen out of the group...


It's having said that that we can quickly touch on the maze. This is a symbol of introspection, of being lost in oneself.


For Wendy and Danny to be able to navigate this well enough, but Jack to be ultimately lost (to freeze to death) in here speak volumes. It demonstrates the resounding struggle he faces as a conflicted father/husband/writer such and so on. But, we still need to conclude what goes on in room 237. It's knowing what this...


... horrific image means, that we'll understand why Jack devolves into a murderer. So, going into room 237 forces him to confront his suppressed or latent sexual desires. However, he sees them decay in his grip, implying that he feels he is too old or too deep into marriage to be a bachelor. This means that he is both stuck with a woman that will rot in his arms (sorry Wendy) and that his desire for a young, beautiful woman has also rotted to nothing over the years of his marriage. This realisation drives Jack over the edge as he sees no meaning in life. He finds no joy in work, he cannot write, he cannot love, and so he decides he wants to snuff all of his problems out.


The final thing to do here is ask why Kubrick has pulled together such a complex subtext and so see the cohesive whole of these many intricate parts. The major elements of this story are of abuse, of tradition, of sexuality and of disconnect. This is what fuels all of the violence and horror and what ultimately makes clear to Wendy why she needs to get away from Jack...


And, yes, this is her realisation that Jack is not sexual attracted to her and...


... ultimately wants to kill her. She sees the violence and the deviance within him, a deviance that maybe implies Jack is gay. This says a lot about Hollorann, Grady and even Danny, and I suppose if you wanted to you could see this film as being about trying to come out of the closet, but not being able to. In fact, it makes a lot of sense if you wanted to see many of the male characters as lying to themselves about their own sexuality. This would explain why Wendy doesn't have The Shining, why she's not a focus of the narrative and her perspective is never really taken seriously. I won't say that this isn't a possibility, just something that doesn't fit that well into the narrative as Jack seems quite enthusiastic about the young nude woman, and quite concentrated on an idea of family and fatherhood. I suppose it's up to you on how you see the end takeaway of this film as about heterosexuality or homosexuality.

Nonetheless, the many elements of this film (sexuality, abuse, tradition, disconnect) are encompassed by one major theme - isolation. The Outlook Hotel is so important as it truly represents a psychological Petri dish that holds specimen the Torrance family for the world to see. It's a metaphor for social moulding and its perceived constriction. It's Jack that sees the world's image of normality projected onto himself who asks: why isn't he happy? He cannot cope with the pressure of responsibility, maybe because he is deeply conflicted on grounds of childhood abuse, or maybe because he is a deeply suppressed homosexual. In the end, he can neither express himself to his family, or through his writing as he cannot channel his anger, his lamentations, his sexuality to someone who he feels can listen. He does not know how to ask for help, and he let's that destroy him. The lasting question of this image...


... is then as much about isolation, as it is self-determinism. Was Jack always doomed to be the broken caretaker archetype, or did he simply doom himself?

In the end, what The Shining is all about is down to you. You have to put yourself in Jack's position as to hear the questions he may be asking himself, to maybe understand how he justifies his heinous outburst. If you find intrigue in this, in the craft of the filmmaking, in the experience of this film, I'm sure you, as I do, will see this film as an undeniable great.

Before you go, this is the last time you'll hear me say this, but if you want to know why The Shining is apart of the Receptacle Series, please check out...


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28/08/2016

Lights Out - Horror Exposited

Quick Thoughts: Lights Out

A troubled childhood rife with mental issues materialises in darkness, disappears in light.


We'll start with an overview, then get into spoilers. This is quite a good film, more so, a relatively good film. That is, relative to its genre. Lights Out is a supernatural horror and so we can all presume with quite a lot of confidence that there are going to be tropes, jumps scares, such and so on. You get some of those in this movie, but they're not too bad. The true faults in this movie come down to the director and cinematographer. The look and feel of this film implies that the director and/or cinematographer have a great eye for colour, contemporary neon flash and vibrancy. However, this is a film, as made clear with the title, about darkness. The pivotal reason why darkness is intrinsic to horror is atmosphere. It focuses the eye and is a visual tool for creating ambiguity - a great means of misdirecting, captivating and ultimately scaring an audience. To work with darkness, to create a great atmosphere with visuals, a director and cinematographer need a great eye for tone, not just colour. This allows them to work with shadow, play with the nuanced absence of light, not the spectra of possibility it can provide. The resulting downfall of this is then that this isn't a very atmospheric film, and despite its quite good (nothing spectacular, but with some great moments) acting, it cannot suck you in like it otherwise could. Moreover, the bland look of the film could be detrimental to its slightly comedic moments. I say could because there were idiots in the theatre making sure I knew what moments were supposed to be funny - which ones were scary, which ones were suspenseful, which ones were predictable, which ones they didn't get--you get the point. Nonetheless, I suspect that without the aid of the idiots the comedic moments wouldn't have hit that well, maybe would have seemed like awkward bits of editing and direction. Having said that, one of the strongest aspects of this film was character. No characters were overly cliched, benign and depthless shells. All but the demon antagonist had a strong moments and were in the end quite effective personas to take us through this narrative. It's having said that that we move into...

**SPOILERS**

First things first, Andi Osho. Her stand-up is quite good, her British accent being central to her projected stage presence. Maybe it was just me knowing that, but I didn't buy her American accent. Nonetheless, she put on quite a good performance. I know that's not really a spoiler, but it could cause you to fixate on that when it otherwise might not have, hence, spoiling the film.  Anyway, the worst thing about this film, to me, is not probably an issue its target audience would care about. The worst aspect of this movie is that it came so close, but failed at having greater narrative depth with Diana (the ghost thing) being a real person, a mental patient with a half-assed disease and non-existent motivation. The best use of her character would have been for it to be a metaphor - and she/it so nearly was. Diana should have been a symbol of depression much like the Babadook is in The Babadook.


With this we would have a had much stronger characters in Diana and her will being an extrapolated representation of Sophie's mental issues in face of family bonds and already present themes of trust and reclusion. However, this was very clearly avoided despite the writer, quite obviously (maybe accidentally), laying this deeper meaning out across the narrative. Instead of keeping ambiguity around the creature a lot of the film's 70 min run-time is dedicated to exposition around Diana. This is not needed. These scenes should have been taken out with the 'supernatural rules' of Diana being explained by the mother's need for darkness to be hidden from the world, her fears around parental responsibility and loving another man - as well as her daughter and son's fear of becoming like her, but also being trapped with a depressed mother. This would have allowed for more character scenes, but most importantly a better build to the mother's suicide. Her blowing her head off was a borderline strong moment thanks to good acting. But, there was no true tension set up around that, moreover, the direction of the suicide was not at all effective. So, in the end, if this film, if more horror films, took exposition out of their narratives and replaced them with meaning we'd get chance for better character, less jump scares, and more emotive scenes.

**SPOILERS OVER***

Overall, this is a good film as is. I'd be interested in seeing an alternative cut that maybe had some more 'character scenes' (as discussed in the spoilers) which could possibly bring it to the level of The Babadook. But, as is, an ok film, not a bad trip to the pictures.





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Ordet - Intangibility

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24/08/2016

Ordet - Intangibility

Thoughts On: Ordet (The Word)

Differences in religious belief whittle away at a family as tragedy wades its way through the doors of their home.


**SPOILERS**

This is a film that ultimately asks the question: who's right? It asks whose word is The Word in spiritual, philosophical and emotional terms amongst those we love and those we live by. In asking this, the film is deeply sombre, precisely controlled and oddly melancholic. The melancholia of this film is imbued in its crisp yet largely invisible long shots, its everyday dialogue that produces grounded, realised characters as well as its nuance and stretch of each immersive second. The borderline irrationality of the sadness in this film is instilled through the viscous existential atmosphere it creates. It's with each curve and step in the dramatic narrative that I find myself trudging through grounds I feel I cannot escape nor explain to the point of purpose. Mystery and morally inconsolable situations are what have me trudge, are what ultimately leave me speechless. It's the question of Johannes' apparent madness, the purpose of Inger's death, her revival, the parallel running formation and loss of love and relation that are made almost unanswerable questions by this film - and are what make it great. The only way I then feel this film can be processed is personally - using your own belief systems and pragmatism to feel your way through the narrative, maybe pull it apart. By consequence of its complexity, Ordet exist in a special calibre of the cinematic library. It's amongst the works of Tarkovsky, Bergman, Lynch, Thomas Anderson, Herzog, Jodorowsky and Buñuel that Dreyer's arguable masterpiece lies. These are films experienced, not merely seen. These are the behemoths that all the film geek pretension in the world cannot sully, cannot explain, cannot better, cannot touch. These films, for the large part, speak for themselves. It's for this reason that I haven't delved too deep into this 'genre' of film before. There is always a backlash within me, a question of why? But, it was with Un Chien Andalou that I touched on this, and whilst Ordet isn't technically surreal it holds the same presence of incomprehensibility. The lasting note of An Andalusian Dog to a creator though is and was about the audience, about a personal relationship between art and consumer. This is then what I want to articulate with this post - my view and my own personal interpretation. Though this feels like it breaks the rules of the 'genre' this film exists in, I feel it can be explored with this precursing insurance: you will have your own view of this film, what I put down is fact only in that it is what makes sense to me.

So, without belief in a God, in spirituality and without theological sensibilities, this deeply religious film is, to me, about intangibility. It's about eyes that see, but only with light. Neither the Petersons nor the Borgens have the absolute answers to all life's questions. It's religious conviction, however, that supplies the illusion to each individual - and under the differing interpretations of what life on Earth is. The Petersons stand under the interpretation of life being hard with suffering, prayer or mundanity being necessary for a successful relationship with their God and for a better afterlife. The Borgens on the other hand want to believe in the beauty of life, in making the most of your time on Earth. These two interpretations of Christianity, as presented by the film, seem to come from one place - and that is hope. The Petersons hope for better when they are gone from this world, an eternal better in heaven. The Borgens have hope in the present and in tomorrow. For this reason the Borgens are accused, an even show themselves to be less faithful. It's Morten (the head of the family, the Grandfather) that is often at a loss, and when confronted by Inger on ideas of love is revealed to be little less loving and hopeful than his religion would suggest. Moreover, Mikkel (Morten's son, Inger's husband) has serious problems with his faith, feeling his belief in God is not true. What their characters suggest is a somewhat precarious set of beliefs. This is because their theological hope, unlike that of the Petersons, is based in reality, is based upon tangible day to day life. We see this reveal itself in the talks on miracles. The foundation of religious belief for millions is in Jesus: what he said, stood for and went through. It's Jesus that is accredited for the facilitation of miracles - raising the dead, purifying water, bring clay birds to life, healing the wounded, producing seemingly impossible amounts of food or harvest. But, miracles of this nature do not exist in the lives of the Petersons or Mortens. Some characters feel they must simply accept this, others (Inger) believe in miracles still existing, but on a smaller scale. Nonetheless, the debates and questions of miracles themselves are evidence for a need for confirmation, about an uncertainty in intangibility. And it's here that we begin to see the struggle of the faithful.

Faith would oblige you to trust something out of your control, something you cannot feel emotionally, touch physically, experience or truly comprehend. This is an indicator that the human mind is prepared to deal with infinites whilst being confined to a body and world bound by finites. This is an idea I've used previously to explore concepts such as success and perfection. Both of these ideas are infinites. You can always be better and you can always do better. God is, to many, also a set of infinites. God is infinitely wise, powerful and loving. But, what does that look like? What does the word of an infinitely wise being sound like? How does a universe created by an infinitely powerful being work? How does it feel to be infinitely loved? These are deep theological questions that are ultimately redundant. They are redundant for the same reason ideas of perfection and success are. Whilst you can always be better, have more money, own more things, there are only so many dollars, pounds, hunks of gold, silver and diamond on this Earth. You could have it all, but still be more successful. In the same respect you can have saved lives, you could have donated money, made lives better, but no matter what, there's always more people to help, you could have done it sooner, you could have worked harder and you could have given more. No matter how much you do, you can never be perfect. In the same respect, God may be infinitely powerful, loving and wise, but with a human mind you can never comprehend that power, that love, the words, teachings and understanding of this being of infinites. No matter how much you believe, no mater how strong your faith is, you can never know God. However, you can feel successful, perfect, faithful. But, if there is always more to attain, infinitely more to attain both materially and spiritually, there is also an infinite amount to be lost. This leaves us all on a scale. There is an infinite positive of attainability and understanding, then there is an infinite negative of attainability and understanding. Because we can never approach either extreme we are irrevocable stuck in the centre of this scale - infinitely distant from both the utmost positive and the utmost negative. Our feeling of perfection, success and faith is then a mental cap--a mental dismissal--of this scale. Instead of recognising each concept as infinite, you assume that what you have, what you understand, is enough. These are white lies we use to conjure up a feeling of comfort in life. It's recognising that we aren't perfect or the absolute best that keeps us all sane.

In knowing this, to the mind incapable of accepting the futility of the infinites, you can find yourself trapped; a donkey walking after a carrot held before his face. This, in part, is what Johannes represents. He overlooks the questions of miracles by believing he is Jesus, and so capable of inducing them. He bypasses the existential traps of perfection, success, an infinitely loving, powerful and wise God, by believing he holds power, answers and is the literal son of God. However, he is made the donkey with the carrot dangling perpetually in front of him throughout the narrative with his inability to prove himself. It's then the narrative juxtaposition between the Johannes, who represents an irrational interpretation of the intangible and infinite, against those who hold a humbled and struggling recognition of intangible and infinite (ideas such as God) that drives us toward the hugely ambiguous ending. With Inger being resurrected by Johannes, we are asked directly if we believe in miracles. I believe that this question is, however, a misdirection. This film is really about faith. It's a film about emotions and wanting answers. This is why relationships play such a huge part of the narrative. Faith, in this sense, is a defining character trait that sets up how the devastating death of a person close to them will be met. Death, by the Borgens, is seen as a tragedy. As the young daughter of Inger articulates, they'd rather want a mother in their home, than in heaven. This is a strange and almost selfish thing to feel if you truly believe in the eternal God-sent gift that is heaven. As the cliche goes, love is not just wanting someone, but also being prepared to give them up if need be. There is, of course, rational sense in the cliche, leaving us with two outcomes. It's either that Inger's daughter doesn't truly love her, doesn't love her enough to let her rest in a better place, or that heaven is a concept she's not able to comprehend to the point of letting the concept overcome her emotional attachment to her mother. The same can be said for her husband, father and even Johannes who complies in bringing her back to life. This decision is actually a very troubling one on Johannes' part. He didn't save Inger as he suggested he had the power to, nor did he care much for her death and those around him (maybe the daughter a little). Instead he is entirely focused on being believed in. This seems to be the only reasoning for him to bring Inger back to life. The only other reasoning would be of remorse, of Johannes regretting letting Inger die. However, the latter motivation is not communicated well through direction. Instead the lasting shot lingers on Inger and her husband.

What this suggests is that its the emotions, the relief around the resurrection that truly matters. What we then need to bring back into the picture is hope. I don't see the resurrection as a literal image in this film. It serves no narrative purpose apart from a very weak commentary on the human reaction to the second coming of Christ. Because this is a film about opposing faiths and family, the lasting image suggests that the family, sat around Inger's corpse resort to their only hope, an idea laughed and, gestured away and scoffed at throughout the narrative. They take the idea of Johannes actually being able to help seriously. They didn't do this when Inger was dying. They called the doctor and sent Johannes to his room. It was only after the tragic delivery, Inger having survived, but her baby having died, that there was a debate over God's power and the power of science and medicine. The debate was left on the point of dismissing the tangible efforts of the doctor with a: thank you, but this was of God's work. It may even be inferred that Inger then dying after the doctor leaves is somewhat consequential. Maybe it was without recognising the deed of a fellow man that Inger was, inadvertently, doomed by her family and maybe God or Johannes (as Jesus). Whilst the juxtaposition of death teases this and a critique of religious thinking, it is not a central point of the film. Instead, we need to come to the end again. The Borgens, with Johannes stood before them, a man they saw as insane, bridge an emotional gap and resort to absolute dependence on the intangible and the impossible. This means they want to see Johannes as Jesus, they want to see him resurrect Inger - and so they do. It's because of this that it's clear that we see this film through an emotional looking glass. This is, in fact, a very interesting form of writing and direction that is rarely done without a snarky break of the fourth wall. In other words, with the emotional looking glass, we are seeing the film we want to. The narrative arc of this film is then tantamount to...


... but, much more serious - and like I said, without a snarky break of the fourth wall. In fact, the film that Ordet is very similar to is...


In the end of Scott Pilgrim we realise that everything insane and comic book-esque is the product of how the characters of this film would ideally like the world to work. This gives reason why, for a better world, Scott has to defeat himself, he has to fight his own self-loathing and figure a way out of the games he plays and back into reality. Ordet ends in a very similar way. The family fights against their questioned faith and step through a door into another reality. The question left in the end though is if it's a positive one, the Borgens now believing that Johannes is Jesus and Inger was in fact revived, or a negative one. I think your answer here will be determined by your own belief systems. If you believe in the literal revival of Christ, then it's possible that you won't see Johannes claim as impossible, more so disrespectful (though, you may) instead, a confirmation of belief - a belief that is positive. On the other  hand, you may be skeptical of how this family manages to go on after this revival. Moreover, if they only imagined Inger coming back to life, will they go on to live a life tantamount to Lars' with his real girl...


... but, much... much... much... darker?

In the end, I see the lasting take away of this film being about how we face intangibility - painful, crushing intangibility. This intangibility manifests itself in a myriad of ways. It can be a deceased relative you still love, a girl you have fallen for but can't have, a version of God's word you're striving to trust in and live by, but, to what degree should the fantasy of our perception be skewed by our emotional needs? I mean to reference my post on Fight Club here and the idea of control, the fantasy; control the fantasy. We do not have answers in this life, not all of them, nor do we have the physical or emotional power to attain all we need. That leaves us to fill in certain gaps of unknowing with, what is tantamount to, fantasy  - and for existential and emotional reasons. But, existential well being in a world that is not a perfect Matrix, a utopian simulation, has to be a balancing act. We cannot live in ultimate fantasy, which means we cannot fill in all our gaps, not with religion, not with science, not with TV, games, virtual realities, books or films. The existential plight of any believer, anyone who believes in a shade of reality, present, omnipresent, known, presumed, unknown, is balance.


When is what you believe enough? When is what you feel good enough? When, after all our toiling, will reality be bearable?





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The Italian Job - The Tragicomic And The Feel-Good

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21/08/2016

The Italian Job - The Tragicomic And The Feel-Good

Quick Thoughts: The Italian Job (1969)

Fresh our of prison, Charlie Crooker plans to steal 4 million dollars off the streets of Italy.


This is definitely one of the great British films. It serves as an entertaining action crime thriller, but more importantly a comedy - a prime example of British comedy. We see this in the paradigm of the plotting, the rise and fall of action, anti-parallel to conflict. In other words, as levity and excitement rise, disaster creeps closer, waiting to pounce just when you think everything is going to be all right. This genre of comedy is quite iconically British. Many comedians such as Stephen Fry, Russel Brand and Ricky Gervais have made this larger point before me, making clear the place British comedy has in entertainment - especially in juxtaposition to the comedies coming from America. British comedy is self-deprecating and preferring to be laughed at than walk away to whoops and applause. This was all explored in a video by Now You See It (link here). The video serves as great commentary toward the American dream and British cynicism, giving an explanation as to why the two different types of comedies come from the two different side of the Atlantic. But, I believe there's more to be said in regards to why these two types of humour exist, functionally, structurally as technical comedic forms. I think the reasoning for the difference mirrors the cinematic dichotomy of films and movies. Movies are pictures where the main goal is to entertain. Films on the other hand hold meaning over entertainment. The easiest way to understand this is to compare Hollywood blockbusters to European dramas. The difference between stereotypically British and American comedy mirrors this as the self-deprecating, tragicomic form can say or mean more. This isn't to say that British films have more meaning in them, instead, it's best to stop classifying the two kinds of comedy by country, but by approach. There's the tragicomic and the feel-good. Feel-good comedies are for the most part throw-away entertainment. We can watch these films and have a good time, maybe many times over if the film is good, but there's few questions raised by the narrative, neither is there a plotted structure we feel we must pull apart or delve into. With The Italian Job, we're forced to ask why, when everything is shown to be going so well, that Crooker manages to have everything turn tits-up. Because, coming back to the paradigm of this films structuring, that's exactly what we're given time again and time again. The films shows Crooker getting the beautiful women, then having his girlfriend catch then scream and shout at him. It shows the gang's elegant cars, the awe-inspiring scenery - the back drop to a James Bond film - and then takes it away with shame, showing Crooker and his gang as next to nothing in face of the Mafia. And finally, we have a successful robbery, one scuffed up by celebrations, ending on a literal cliff hanger, one that Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels seems to pay homage to.

With an aspect of tragedy in comedy, an element of being on the losing side, comes a lesson of caution. The true difference between American, British, feel-good, tragicomic humour is in a philosophy of how we learn and how we cope. Laughter is how we point out weakness, it's how we say you're doing this wrong, or you've out-smarted me. It's also a means of reflecting on subjects whilst feeling good - conditioning our minds and bodies for positivity. With the purpose of laughing being in learning and teaching, is it more important to reflect success with feel-good comedy that we may imitate, or is it more important to reflect failure with tragicomics to be avoided?

What I love is that this is not a question to be answers with ideals. It's a question you answer with how you behave. What is funnier to you, tragicomics or feel-goods? What is your favourite joke or comedy, and how does that classify? What does that then say about you, how you perceive the world and how you learn?




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Fight Club - Nihilism, Anarchy And I

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20/08/2016

Fight Club - Nihilism, Anarchy And I

Thoughts On: Fight Club


An insomniac runs into a soap salesman.


We've all seen it. And so the warning is pointless, but, SPOILERS. Tyler Durden is a projection of The Narrator's screwed up mind. With that said, this is a movie entirely about self-destruction sourced from a simple lack of identity. Fight Club is a movie much like The End Of The Tour, but more extravagant with an exuberant, boisterous and hyperbolised style, movement and characterisation. This is then a movie that is, at its core, pretty petty. However, the truth of this is presented in a manner you can take seriously, in a manner you don't feel you must mock. So, the core of Fight Club is of a man that is simply not happy. To combat his depression he wallows in it, but when he can no longer feed off his own bullshit, he decides to hit self-destruct. His self-destruction through Tyler is actually tantamount to us not being able to take the plights of this movie (or something like The End Of The Tour) seriously. The narrator knows his problems are pretty pathetic, he knows that going to the dozen support groups he has no place in joining is pitiful, pretty scummy and completely self-absorbed. It's with Marla that this narcissistic essence of his self becomes unbearably upfront. This is what triggers Tyler. Tyler is nothing more than a way for The Narrator to punch himself in the face and stuff Marla without having to recognise the fact that he is both pathetic and could maybe push a way out of his depression. The paradigm of this film is then all about a reflection of self. In the very beginning, The Narrator is forced to look in on himself and see nothing. He stays up night at day, simply wanting reprieve. He hates his job. He hates the system he is apart of. He wants out.

To understand The Narrator's position you simply have to see him in an empty room. There is a door and it's unlocked. The Narrator wants out. What does he do? He walks to the door, pulls it open and leaves, right? Ok, but what if The Narrator can't walk? The door is now shut in spite of him, his efforts, his need to translate thought to physical actions are fruitless. It's now that we see his depression, his insomnia, his debilitating lack of perceived self. He sees himself as empty and so is powerless to leave his unlocked room. What happens if, in exchange of locking the door, we give The Narrator a friend with a bomb? He still wants out, but he's not moving. Why not let the friend destroy the room around him as he stands? This is the entire narrative of Fight Club. The Narrator senses a vacuous hole beyond the shell of his skin, and this makes him feel like absolute shit. To escape this, he projects the shit onto the walls around him. He then decides that if he wipes the walls clean, maybe wipes them away completely, the shit inside him will be gone too. What we see here is a cushion of nihilism being popped by a pin of anarchy. The Narrator doesn't believe in himself and so he doesn't believe in the world. He decides he wants to lose control, he wants to play with his internal self-destruct button, and then he decides the world's self-destruction also needs to be hit. This translates to Tyler's plan to destroy all monetary and capitalists aspects of society instead of The Narrator searching within himself for a new beginning. This trait of The Narrator and Tyler is immersed in a plea to the world to stop letting them (him) destroy themselves (himself). In short, it's working a boring job for money and to simply accumulate things, that are so easy to do, just like watching TV, living a safe, quiet life by everyone else's rules. However, we choose to live the easy life, to indulge in shit that's not good for us. Is it right that the world then be labelled corrupt? Is it right that we then think the system needs to change? Does it make any sense that what we feel in side is irrevocable attributed to the world around us along with blame and consequences to come?

This is a question Fight Club begins to ask. However, this is not the last interrogative given by the final image of the film...


What this image caps off is the end of a cautionary tale. The Narrator and Tyler alike, no matter how enjoyable they are, no matter how convincing their case for anarchy feels, are (somewhat inadvertently) liars. Don't get sucked into what they preach. That is not what the film is about. As said, this is a film about finding yourself. It's subsequent commentary then comes with how people tend to approach this perpetually distancing peak that is ultimately insurmountable - knowing just who you are. Again, this is a film about finding yourself, about finding your own individuality, and it starts with The Narrator breaking away from his shirt, tie and suitcase by beating himself and friends up for a laugh, to actually feel, to experience physical truth. It's the beginning of the second act where the nihilistic and anarchistic elements of this film teach lessons that actually help The Narrator. What The Narrator and Tyler start off doing is simply chipping away at the hatred they have for themselves. They feel weak and pitiful and so they ask themselves just how weak and how pitiful they are. They test and find this out with Fight Club. And it's, as Tyler says, Fight Club that is truth, that isn't bullshit and lies. What's bullshit is The Narrator's boss being a better person or having more power than The Narrator just because of a title. This social hierarchy is what we all experience every day. It's having to be polite, having to be passive aggressive, having to not ask someone who believes they are better than you to actually prove it. It's the monetary and capitalist aspects of society as presented by the the first two acts and all of the workplace scenes that demonstrate how we live in a society where we fight with metaphors, with implimence, with intangibility and hidden agendas. And the rules of this world remained undefined as we simply aren't able to talk about them. And it's that there that should be ringing all the bells. We all know it:

"The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club."

These rules are a massive fuck you to the way we operate in a civilised society where we have to be passive aggressive, we have to be fake and lie - and never talk about that fact. The first two rules are then a dare to actually say who you are, to actually say what you feel you must not, to talk about Fight Club despite authority. This is a paradigm repeated throughout the film. In fact, it's after Tyler and The Narrator have their beers over The Narrator's apartment blowing up that Tyler demands The Narrator actually ask if he can stay at his place. This is the best example of social conduct being thrown out the window in search of honesty. Tyler knew what The Narrator wanted to ask. The Narrator knew that Tyler knew. Still, he keeps his mouth closed as it's the polite thing to not be upfront, as he didn't want to force a yes, or hear a no. These touch and go rules of society keep us from truth, keep us from being honest with one another and ultimately separate us all. I don't believe this a universal truth, and I don't think we should be unconditionally honest. But, more honesty in our world is something that wouldn't go amiss. This is a concept explored by another film...


... so maybe I'll save that talk for another time. Nonetheless, honesty is all Fight Club represents, is all Tyler and The Narrator are in search for in the first half of this movie. The subsequent rules of Fight Club reinforce this:

"Third rule of Fight Club: if someone yells “stop!”, goes limp, or taps out, the fight is over. Fourth rule: only two guys to a fight."

Think about these rules, not between two people fighting, but talking. If we could be honest enough to say how we truly feel, about our boundaries, about truly pushing to the fringes of what we're capable of, we would be able to see true character in others. We wouldn't be coddled by cushions of social conduct. I remember hearing a Joe Rogan podcast, with Duncan Trussell, that dipped into these ideas with emojis and texting. Trussell spoke about emojis being like hieroglyphics that communicated more human emotions with imagery instead of words, letters and squiggles. But, on another episode of Rogan's podcast, a similar idea came up with texting, but with a different interpretation. It was questioned if auto-correct and suggested responses may one day evolve so that we needn't have to text or message, until we will be simply watching our computers or phones have the chats we would - but are too lazy to type out. It's these two perspectives that outline just what The Narrator and Tyler are trying to escape. They don't want to live in a world of auto-correct and predictive messaging because it leaves them empty as is a mere extension of regressive rules of social conduct. Its predictive messaging that mimics not wanting being so impolite as to just ask a stranger for help, instead, take them for beers and wait for them to offer. The world feels easier with predictive messaging and another person offering instead of us asking, but we are taking ourselves out of the equation at our own expense. We aren't putting our true and nuanced emotions down on the page or screen. We aren't trying to conjure up new sentences, different ways of saying things, we aren't trying to do better, to have things be more personal and more real. To understand why real is important just look at emojis. A smiley face can work on many levels words may not, and with just one click, because they mimic what we are used to. We are used to looking at someone as they talk. When they say something we like we smile, we laugh. An emoji or a lol has to suffice on the phone, but all we're really trying to do is mimic real conversations so we feel the genuine emotions humans have been coded for. All this begs the question of why not just put down the phone and talk to someone? These are the exact questions Fight Club begins to probe. It wants true raw emotions and because the characters in this film are so tightly wound around themselves, the only way to get them out is through extreme actions and extreme emotions - fighting and the ensuing ecstasy of pain and triumph.

However, this devolves with the rise of Project Mayhem. But, we'll get into that later. First, it's important to understand the roots of the nihilism, the complete disbelief in belief, and anarchy, the singular belief in disorder, in this film. These two terms have their problems. You cannot be a true nihilist for reasons explored in the previous Thoughts On: essay. (link here).  You cannot be a true nihilist because belief fuels perception and reality. You cannot be a true anarchist for the same reason. People perceive, and perception is simply noticing patterns. You cannot live a life without perceiving, nor experiencing patterns and a certain set of rules and structurings. However, there are healthy doses of nihilism and anarchy that we can all take. By suspending our belief in everything once in a while, we can gain perspective over the absurdity of the society we've created. We are born wanting to sleep, eat and fuck - and feel good, safe and comfortable in the moments between activity. Why, if this is what we all want, must we then work? Why, if this is what we all want, do we get married, struggle after sex, affection, love? These are great questions that allow us to assess the world we live in objectively. It's through a certain degree of nihilism that we can ponder, find out who we are and live by the rules we think make sense. For instance, why must we work? Well, yes, we all just want to be comfortable, but laptops, WIFI, heat and electricity don't just happen. You need to create and maintain these things, just like we need to create charts, move money around, market, produce art and so on. We must produce these things for others so we may also consume what we are not able to produce - and that's society. That's why we work. It might not be fun, but it makes sense. As for the second question of sex and love? Well, it's clear not everyone deserves our love, not everyone wants to be fucked, or have sex with another or every single person. We feel this way for evolutionary reasons, so we don't end up with mates who have bad genetics, or are horrible people. It's nihilism that makes society absurd, but we must not forget that nihilism is just a tool that raises us up for the purpose of perspective, so we can actually see the sense in a crazy system. The same may be said for anarchy. We live in a world that exist without any apparent reason or rhyme. Embracing this once in a while allows you to step back, look at the rules and decide if they make complete sense, if we want to be sending reams of emojis, if we want our computers to talk for us whilst we just watch, if we actually want to test the glass we feel we're made of with a good scrap. Again, this is what the first half of Fight Club sets up so perfectly, but in comes Project Mayhem...

Project Mayhem is perpetually enforced nihilism, it is systematised anarchy. This is what happens when you take the given concepts too seriously and act as if they are philosophies possible for people to live by. What we see with Project Mayhem is a group of guys from the Fight Clubs being taught to let go of rules to feel truth once in a while growing into men that do not believe in anything but Tyler. Project Mayhem becomes a cult. This cult believes in a dogmatic hierarchy, it believes solely in Tyler and what he believes. That's not nihilism - you're not supposed to believe in anything. However, professing you're a true nihilist leads to this. The same can be said for anarchy. The men working under Tyler aren't true anarchists because they have a leader, they are doing what they are told, they have rules, they support control. This is what leads to the final irrational bombing. But, the contradictive failure of Project Mayhem is best exemplified with the death of Robert Paulson.


He dies on an operation, getting shot in the head. The men's first reaction here is that the cops are pigs, that it is there fault alone. But, The Narrator is forced to ask: what did you think would happen!? It's at this moment that we realise the sheer mindlessness of these supposed anarchists and nihilists. Anarchy and nihilism affords the opportunity for perspective and enlightenment - only if you utilise it well. They came into the project to find out who they are, to find their independent and true self. But, it's chanting 'his name is Robert Paulson', a name given in death, that it's made painfully clear that the purpose these lost postmodernists are so desperately searching for, has disappeared within themselves - and that they buried it. They are fighting for purpose, a purpose only felt when dead. What the fuck is the point of that!? There simply isn't one.

What's also poignant is Marla. We mustn't forget that Marla is ultimately the crux of this film. She is what triggers Tyler and she is what The Narrator hides from. She is a person on his level that can help him through his own bullshit. A very important scene that comes midway through the film is one that mirrors the first fight The Narrator and Tyler have. As said, before the fight and after the beers, The Narrator is forced to actually ask Tyler if he can stay over. What this achieves is truth, it solidifies the relationship between The Narrator and Tyler - and is also the driving mechanism of Project Mayhem that brings all the men that it does together. But, during one of their many morning meetings Marla and The Narrator talk, but, as always, The Narrator cannot be honest with the only person he probably needs to be honest to - Marla and ultimately himself. When she tries to push him to talk about himself (Tyler) and her, he backs away from conversation, saying he's mot afraid, but in the end simply mirrors Tyler's words with: this conversation... this conversation... is over... BANG (shuts door)... is over. What this cites is The Narrators inability to be truthful when it truly matters. And just like the Project Mayhem goons blaming the cops for Paulson's death, The Narrator blames the world for his problems. What's horrifying is, like his goons, he has blinded himself to truth. He attributes everything shitty and contradictory that he does to Tyler - as if he's a different person. This brings us toward revelation pretty quick. The significance of The Narrator realising he is in fact Tyler comes with his sudden humanity and surge of morality. He sees that putting men in danger, feeding them lies of anarchy and nihilism isn't helping himself or them. And so he has to turn back to the beginning where he started to find truth in beating himself up. He fights Tyler, he fights with open eyes and wins, gaining his own personal independence and a hand to grab his...


... because, in the end, Fight Club is a romance. It's a search for love and personage in oneself and hopefully with someone standing by your side. Sounds pretty soppy for a film called Fight Club, huh? But, that's the truth. The truth is that The Narrator, much like us all, is an emotive creature. He feels happy, sad, lonely, lost. This changes his perception of self, and to deal with that, he figures he needs to change the world. But, with notions of nihilism and anarchy, The Narrator loses all sense of responsibility. That's why Fight Club is a cautionary tale. It's great to rebel, to question, to want change, but only if you hold in the back of your mind a constant reminder of your own personal responsibility. You should stay true to the idea that our actions are often towards personal growth - especially the pre-planned and questioned ones. But, you should also remember you ultimately want to eat, sleep and fuck - all whilst being happy, safe and comfortable in the moments between - and that's all. The 'moments in between' are the existential focus of one's life, they are only managed with open eyes, with a concept of responsibility - and it's what will hopefully stop you from having turn the gun on yourself whilst blowing up the world to get a fresh start. With perception meeting the reality through the senses our bodies hold, we must remember that we are a tool, but a tool that gets to exploit the system of reality. It's thus then ultimately true that control is the epitomal fantasy in a reality without free will or actual answers, where we are not omnipotent, all knowing, all powerful. This leaves us the only response of trying to control the fantasy we live in, not the world or reality as that is simply impossible. I've said it before, I'll say it again...

Control, the fantasy; control the fantasy.





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