These are some analysis comments I wrote on Facebook after a Christmas watching of It's a Wonderful Life.
Sunday, December 27, 2020
Saturday, December 19, 2020
This actually comes from a series of comments I made on my own post on FB that I was going to watch Tenet after just buying it on DVD (2020 has really sucked ... ever since Dark Knight, Nolan's films really should be viewed on the big screen at least the first time, but I am among the people simply not taking chances). I took a picture of the case and posted on FB that this was the night to see how it measures up, and then when done, I thought I would toss up a quick comment or two after I watched it, and over one long post last night and another six comments today, this is what it turned into ... so it is kind of strung together, but being as I have work stuff to be getting done, and so don't have time to thrash out something structured, and I would rather save something of my thoughts for posterity, I figure I will just go ahead and put at least this up (the stand-alone ellipses are the breaks between original comments in FB).
Friday, December 4, 2020
I was having a conversation recently with a friend who's kid is reading the Harry Potter series, and he was asking about theories that the school motto has a one-word-per-house code for the four houses, and I was saying that dragon as Slytherin and tickle as Gryffindor, maybe, but the other two are really hard sells, but that it was definitely worth asking, because she definitely does do a lot of coding, and then I was saying that there is even stuff that has been discussed as coding among commenters but didn't seem to pan out tightly in the end, so maybe she included something originally in a form that she might be able to pick up in code but then didn't follow that, and I was mentioning the theory of the potion riddle in book 1 just before the mirror chamber being a code for the seven DADA teachers across the seven years, because I have never really read much more about that panning out as a major code thing (but then I am also fairly reclusive from the online commentary sphere, not because I don't like it; I just am kind of reclusive in general and usually trying to catch up on work because I'm not super organized).
But then I was going through it and actually it does work out pretty neatly. The three killers in line are those working directly with Voldemort: Quirrel in book 1, Barty Jr. in book 4, and Amycus Carrow in book 7 (I think that one of the reasons the theory may have at least lessened in fervor is that, in the last three book, our expectations became much less about new individual books and their elements that might fit into a numbered series of books and more about the forecasted culmination of the overall story arc ... so we don't think of Carrow as being one of the seven teachers because he's not a legit teacher, just part of the takeover, so it feels kind of like book 7 went into territory where the whole "seven teachers in seven years" has been sort of wiped out in the whole main arc of the takeover of the whole Wizarding World). The two nettle-wines are then the two who went batty, literally had a cognitive breakdown of some sort, at the end of their books, Lockheart and Umbridge.
And that leaves Lupin and Snape. There, admittedly, one has to go into theme to make the matches, rather than simply material aspects like working directly with Voldy or going nuts, but at some point, at least I believe, these things must tie out with theme and character in some way or another if they are to be interesting at all as part of the artistry of the work and not just structure for structure's sake. Lupin is one of the key ways Harry connects with his past, like the potion that allows going back through the first set of flames, and discovering and reconciling with the truth about Snape is necessary for Harry to move forward as a person. But, while the forward and backward thing has to go into theme and specific characterization, the basic aspect of movement in general, movement of any kind, is a bit closer back to material detail, although more on the "what does literature as such do?" (versus "what do these particular themes or characters in this particular work do?"): These two DADA teachers were key to the movement of the character as protagonist, progression along his character arc in the narrative arc.
I don't see the riddle correspondence as heavily tied to chiasm, although the biggest chunk is chiastic (whether intended or not, but I suspect probably or at least highly possibly), in that the group with the largest membership, the three killers in line, happen in books 1, 4, and 7 ... but the rest of them don't tie out: nettle-wines are 2 and 5 and helpers are 3 and 6. Although, it is interesting that, while not mapping onto the seven-book chiastic structure, the wines and helpers do pair in elements of their books: we meet Lockheart again in Umbridge's book, and in book 6, Lupin is a key source Harry tries to tap to figure out the truth about Snape's old positions book (and not that, in book 7, which ends with the Prince's Tale chapter of finally understanding Snape, we have a tense refusal of Lupin's help, which I think makes a sort of tension between these two in Harry, moving on from the past to find the future ... and obviously beyond ... a lot more latent is the fact that, in the epilogue, the boy Harry names for Severus Snape [at least the middle name]), that boy is in the same family unit with the son of Lupin, Harry's godson ... so the connection between those two as DADA teachers for Harry is strong (and really, one could Harry's second son as an embodiment of the DADA
teacher theme even in the first name, in that it is for Harry's real DADA teacher
throughout the series, and materially his sort of DADA
independent/directed study professor in book 6, to put it in literal real-world college/grad-school terms).
All that to say, I think the DADA riddle does wind up being something, and I think she may have tied it loosely to chiastic structuring (the killers) but not seriously tightly (neither the nettle-wines nor the helpers), although I do think there is some evidence she may have intended pairing as an element with the types, just not all tied tightly to that full chiastic structure (you can't tie everything out that tightly and get it all in; different mechanisms will always crowd each other a bit when the work is as densely packed with meaning mechanisms as she does). Fun discovery though, long after the fact (although, who knows, with as little as I keep up on things, others may have put it together when book 7 came out ... come to think of it, I would be highly surprised if I am the first ... highly surprised).
Sunday, August 23, 2020
I once heard a debate between Joseph Pearce and somebody else about whether Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films were any good, Pearce pro and the other guy con. At that time I hadn't really soured on Pearce yet (as I have since done in reading the intro of his work on the life of Shakespeare, in which I think he is a judgmental Anglo-triumphalist whose theory of authorialism [his term, which he calls a "philosophy"] shifts way too easily between big A and little a "author" in a way that paints literature as incarnating an author in a way only one person ever was incarnated because only one person ever was/is/will be worth incarnating ... as I say, I think his main goal in all of it is an Anglo-triumphalism combined with a "we conservatives know those liberals are going to hell" party). But even having not soured on him yet, I was still disappointed in him, although feeling kind of sympathetic at the time. The question at the moment was Tolkien on allegory and whether there was some type of healthy use of it, etc. etc., and Pearce was just kind of stumbled around trying to piece together some visual with his arm about good allegory being some succession of of hoops between the original and the allegory of it, rather than a single hoop between them or something, and it really wasn't working in my opinion. The formulation to which I myself have come is that, prescinding from the question of whether Tolkien hated all allegory (to which the answer is, I think, that he is all right with a limited use as long as it does not get mistaken for the core of "narrative art"; he openly admits in one of the letters that Tom Bombadil is an allegory of pre-fallen nature), what allegory is in its essence, whether major or minor, good or bad, is a copying of a narrative arc wholesale. To take a minor example, in that instance of it just mentioned in the parentheses, the instance of Bombadil, a small basic narrative is carried over completely: Bomdadil is prelapsarian nature and the ring is a problem when evil is in the world, so it's not prelapsarian, but rather postlapsarian; the proposal is made of having Bombadil take care of the ring and the answer is given that that won't work; this is an allegory of asking the theological question of whether prelapsarian nature can address the problems of sin after the fall, and the answer is "no." I would argue that every use of allegory that Tolkien would find problematic is one in which the whole plot is carried over as the main plot of the new work (Bombadil was a very on-the-side subplot; Jackson cut it out altogether).
So, cut to now, and I am rewatching Person of Interest for the who knows what time, two episodes at a time on my elliptical machine, and I just came across an episode in season 2 that has always bugged me, and it hit me that it's a corollary of the allegory thing that can help explain it. There is an aspect of PoI that I have always loved, which is that they do send ups of famous films, but in this episode, called "Proteus," they straight-up ripped off a more current and non-classic (I think). I used to think that it was the "classic" status that made the difference because people would recognize a classic as a tribute and not really confuse it, and I still think that that is a part of it, but I think this other part that is analogous to the allegory issue is more core. The classicss to which PoI paid homage are, for example, Rear Window, Les Miserable, Usual Suspects, It's a Wonderful Life, and Wings of Desire (I noticed a nice really small hat-tip to Speed in an episode too when a car's computer gets hacked and keeps the car going at 50 mph). The film I think they ripped off is the 2004 Taking Lives, with Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke, in which a serial killer takes on the identities of his victims. Allegory, and particularly the level at which Tolkien disliked it, is like the ripping off of Taking Lives in that the plot of that movie was the plot of the episode, straight-forward. In all the other cases, the setting was obviously a tribute to the classic: Reese in a wheelchair doing recon with a camera through an apartment window watching a guy digging in a garden and they think he may be getting ready to commit murder; a french law officer chases a thief who really has a heart of gold; a mastermind pretends to be the peon interviewed by cops after participation in a criminal activity (they had a nice hint that I missed on the first watching for Usual Suspects in the form of a comment on the coffee in a police station). But that is as far as it went: there was nobody buried in the garden and no wife in the picture and the super was innocent and the victim; the thief was not guilty turned law-abiding, but rather innocent and then forced into crime, and a mother, and the Interpol agent doesn't question his whole philosophy and drown himself in despair; and the mastermind is the only person involved on his end and he gets blown up at the end (and I think he was working for something other than keeping his own identity safe). The plot is not copied, just some setting or character element. The ripping of Taking Lives, though, was pretty much a straight copy: a serial killer is taking the identities of the people he kills, and they stop him.
Tolkien's use of allusions or borrowings of tropes, even plot tropes, is not for tribute, like PoI did, but rather simply to build what he is building, BUT it is similar to the classy send ups versus the ripping off. An instance is the use of the Numbers 20 striking of the rock that gets Moses barred from the promised land: A first born son (Boromir and Israel, often stated as the "first-born son of the Lord) complains, "why did you bring us to this desolate place, to die here?"; Moses/Gandalf is told to speak to a rock/stone(door) and strikes it instead in anger; there are 40 years/miles and on the other side Moses/Gandalf is prevented from entering the promised/golden land by striking the rock (in Gandalf's case, he had to strike again in the form of the rock bridge). Tolkien doesn't do a straight up allegory of the Numbers story, though. For one, Moses's not getting into the promised land does nothing but identify him with the first generation, who are also barred from entering because, at the outset of the 40years, they failed to trust God to protect them if they would enter on the report of the two spies (Joshua and Caleb), but Gandalf's forfeiture by falling actually helps his friends go to the golden land by escaping. And in Tolkien, there is a powerful threat (the balrog) that is totally missing from Numbers, which is simply about the failings of Moses in relation to the failings of the first generation. There is a common element of the issue of a less than perfect leader making a mistake, but the whole narrative of what flows out of that is different. Tolkien's tale is not a simple allegory of the tale of Moses, like PoI ripping off Taking Lives, but rather the trope of Moses being one element among many Tolkien borrows from different places in building his own character and story.
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
I have the fodder for a longer post on the closing of season 2 of Person of Interest (the last two episodes) scrawled in a mini yellow pad from watching it on my elliptical machine again, but that will take a while (it's complex, intersecting the machine as golem with correlations between the machine and both Harold and Grace and Harold's statement earlier in the season about the "mystery of the human heart," throwing in a dash of my own interest in the "mystery of the human author").
But, for a short blurb here, I just wanted to get out a thought that came to me in that last episode. In my previous longer wrap-up of the whole series, I talked about it as a series of conversions or reversions: Reese was always on borrowed time but needed to be converted to the idea that his death could have meaning; Root converts from an idealog to being in Harold's family and following Harold's principle, and so she has a noble-sacrifice death and becomes the avatar of the machine; the whole arc can be seen as the process of the final full conversion of the machine (the ultimate idealog because the ultimate practitioner of logic) to Harold's principle of protecting life, which is what it is finally reborn with after the battle with Samaritan (the two "gods" fittingly fighting it out in space, "hyperboreans" that they are, a nice theomachy touch); Elias is more, like his name, an ally rather than a convert, and so he dies neither nobly like Root nor ignobly like Greer; Greer never converts form being an idealog; Carter never has to convert to Harold's principle of saving lives because she was already there and just needed to be sure she could work with them; Fusco has a reversion, in that he became a cop out of desire to do good, then got lost and needed to be found again.
In this post, I want to simply note what I call the "conversion by kindness" motif in these last episodes of season 2. Carter kind of converts Elias to more giving Harold's side a chance by the kindness of saving his life. It's also a matter of justice in stopping an injustice when she knows about it and can, but that's from her perspective; from the perspective of the person saved, Elias, it is a kindness, as he doesn't necessarily think that kind of justice is owed. And then there is Finch's kindness to Root in taking her with them because Hersch would kill her otherwise, and again, for Finch it is a matter of justice in that he would be unjust to her not to keep her from being killed when he could, but from Root's side, I think it plays as a kindness she can't wrap her mind around (but I think she converts in the end to wrapping her mind around in the form of being willing to lay off her sexual advances on Shaw to try to help her with her unsurety about what is real). And I also think that, for both Finch and Carter, the fact that it is a matter of justice does not preclude it from also being a matter of them caring about a person, an act of charity in the sense of valuing the other person as a person and personally wanting their well-being.
There is also the kindness Carter shows that is not respected or repaid: she doesn't shoot Tierny when he pleads on the grounds of having a family. If I write a further post on this, it will be called, "The Kindness of Detective Carter." There is also Carter's kindness to Fusco in getting him out of hot water with the body of Stills (and the evidence of Fusco's conversion in not killing Simmons). And I'm getting goose bumps already thinking about entering the season that has that amazing bit of visual story telling with the Johnny Cash version of "Hurt" (and that awesome shoot-out in the motel ... Simmons deserved what he got, and Elias's commentary on it is right to the point.
One last note on the the conversions and the co-incident presence of the Cash song (which had June in Cash's own video of it): It's well known that John Cash did not survive June by long. When she left on that trip, he was right behind her going on it with her. One strand of PoI could be seen as that kind of love story. That center of season 3 is that John Reese and Joss Carter have fallen in love and John reveals how she saved him. And then she is lost. And the series always had to end with him following her like Johnny Cash followed June Carter Cash (I live for those kind of coincidences, almost like the universe is doing wordplay: Johnny Cash's middle name begins with R. so it's John R., and June's maiden name was Carter, from the famous Carter family of performers, so he was "J. Carter" ... and if you want to have your heart ripped out, read her essay in the sleeve for the "Love" disc of the three-disc anthology hand-picked by Johnny with the disc titles being, "Love," "God," and "Murder").
Sunday, August 9, 2020
So, this springboards from John Granger's observations on the last three book in the original seven-book Harry Potter series as the three-stage description of alchemy: black, white, red. In book 5, Sirius Black dies; in book 6, Albus (Latin for white dies); and we have a character whose name means red in Latin, Rubeus Hagrid ... so some of us were very afraid he was going to die. But she did something different for him: he is Harry's bearer: he brings Harry to the Dursley house, and he brings Harry from the Dursley house into the wizarding world, and he brings Harry's body back to Hogwarts after they think Voldy has killed him. In listening while driving today, another observation already made popped into my head as also being a bookend thing with books 1 and 7. Hagrid can use his wand that was snapped in half (now buried in his pink umbrella), but we know from book 7 that this is usually not possible, but then we see that one wand is powerful enough to do it, the Elder Wand, and so Dumbledore probably used it before to fix Hagrid's wand on the sly, making the whole "healing a broken wand" things a matching in, which could make the "wand" thing a chiastic element passing through book 4 in the form of the twin cores connection and how it plays out in book 7 (Harry's wand recognizing Voldemort ... and the nice trick that, in the final face off, neither is using their own original wand AND they are using two wands that have faced each other before in the hands of others ... if my metaphorical interpretation works that wands can be viewed as language [the specific thing you use to express your imagination and really to communicate yourself], then it is an idea of people adapting to others' language, borrowing and using it, adapting it). The other bookend I noticed a role of Harry. It struck me how it felt like listening to people and shaking hands in the first scene in the Leaky Cauldron sounds kind of like the more stated situation in Hogwarts after Voldy dies, the statement that he was so tired but he had to do this walking around talking to them, sharing their pain and their gladness. Chiastic reading passing through book 4 is a bit harder on this one, or at least a bit more latent; the only real connection I can make is him being the one who delivers their sadness to them in bringing Cedric's body back, he has to be the one to tell them about it, almost trapped in the role of sharing the grief (so maybe the end in book 7, sharing the grief and the relief, combines sharing the relief in book 1 and the grief in book 4 ... but it's still pretty latent.
Friday, August 7, 2020
August 2020, I am on another rewatch of Person of Interest two episodes at a time, one time per day on the elliptical to try to keep lockdown from going to my gut now that I have canceled my Y membership for social distancing. Two things, one of them a list I am making of film hat tips, either whole-episode or one-scene. Whole-episode, that I have written down so far either from this watching or remembering having noted them in previous watchings are: Rear Window, Les Miserble, Usual Suspects, It's a Wonderful Life, Frequency (a nice hit tip because that was Caviezel), and Wings of Desire (the series finale with Root in the half trench coat as the machine watching human lives like the angels in the Wenders film). A smaller, and much more latent, allusion might be The Man Who Fell to Earth in the form of the cabbie in season 2 who is trying to bring his wife and son to American from Cuba and looks like he might not be able to. A season 2 momentary, one-scene hat-tip is the episode that introduce the tech billionaire Logan Pierce, whose car computer gets hacked and locked in third gear and unable to stop ... going fifty miles per hour ... the speed the bus has to stay above not to blow up in Speed (Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper).
So that brings me to thing number 2, which is a more structural thing for the whole series. They introduce Logan Pierce, who will become Harold 2.0 as the reclusive tech billionaire supporting team 2.0, the DC team shown in the final season, in the same episode that they reveal Harold 0.0 ... Nathan Inrgam in his car with the gun getting ready to go try to help the first ever number. I don't think they necessarily had concrete plans, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was a kind of contingency-plan element ... if you're gonna do an interesting episode with a tech billionaire who you're gonna wind up liking in the end, and you're also going to introduce Nathan Ingram having tried the venture first and been the one to build the back-door with SSNs, it's a good move to couple them ... just in case you ever decide to to a Harold 2.0, it's a nice literary thing to have had that character introduced at the same time as Harold 0.0. It puts me a little in the mind of thoughts that I have had about John LeCarre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, that the kid Billy who Jim Prideaux says is a "watcher" is the kid version of George Smiley and Control is the old-man version (but Smiley is a much more tragic character than Harold, as LeCarre's work has, albeit a very true point, also a much more depressing one), and I have already had ideas of J. Nolan being a LeCarre fan in having one of the government higher ups in PoI be called Control.
It also reminds me of something I have said in recent years about Tolkien ever since reading Shippey's Author of the Century and hearing that he really didn't have a solid narrative plan for LotR until he wrote the council of Elrond, and my line has been "he was just pulling stuff out of his ass, but he has an exceptionally good ass from which to pull such things." And by that I mean the same type of thing as here: not necessarily a clear plan (for the ring in LotR [what we all know now as the Hobbit is actually the second edition, in which the story of how Bilbo got the ring from Gollum changed to meet what he now realized he was going to want to do with it, because if it was what it comes to be in the LotR, it would naturally have such a grip on Gollum that he would never give it as a prize, or at all] or Harold 2.0 in PoI), but enough acumen in good narrative to pack it with the kind of stuff you have a hunch might be good to have in there to connect to later, and because Tolkien and J. Nolan are good and studied authors, the kind who have spent time soaking in a wide variety of good stories, they have an amazing intuition for what might be useful to make a good story tie out.
And Person of Interest had a real set of balls: there is a lot of pathos in that last scene with Ingram in the car: the desperation of a one-percenter frustrated feeling like he can't do any good to help somebody he knows is in need, in part precisely because he is a one-percenter ... he knows he's no John Reese with that gun, but he has to try, out of desperation to actually be giving a damn in some way.