Monday, March 14, 2022

Merlin's "Review" of the Batman

 Again, from a rambling set of observations in a couple FB posts and comments. But as I say in the one, this may be the first movie I go out of my way to see more than once in the theater since before the pandemic, and that includes Spiderman: No Way Home ... and I loved that film. But The Batman captures my imagination as a moment in film story-telling unique to our moment of recent history, particularly it's social-justice side.

[From FB posts and my own tag-along comments].

Post 1:

I liked The Batman. My second favorite, but I've concluded that's not as much about the particular Batman as about the project. I think Affleck was wise to drop it: I liked his Batman character, but in the state of the the films he appeared in (thus setting his trend), I don't think there was a project. He put it in terms of finding a story, but I think it's as much about project. The Batman has a very distinct socio-critical project (e.g., the flood-walls = internet menacers meet Katrina [it was in the works before Jan 6, but kind of prophetic for that]). Some might say it's too on the sleeve, and there may be an argument to be made about that, but I'll take it over the "originals" any day (I think Burton's a genius in some of his stuff, and I think Keaton made an interesting Batman, but I'm more than happy to leave behind Jack Nicholson plays the Joker playing Jack Nicholson and whatever Batman Returns was supposed to be ... Forever was my favorite of the originals partly because of Jones and Carey being so fun on their own and partly because that left you free of the sort of obligations of being a "fan" the way you were supposed to be with Nicholson ... The Batman at least has the feel of a real city with a real sprawl to it, very dark but still feeling real ... interesting mix of NYC, Chicago, and New Orleans ... or at least a feel of some big-city version of a bayou-like network of waterways [but some of that may also be recently copy editing a book that touched on Katrina as an outflow of "slow violence" in the area of racial disparity in precarity and protection] ... I've been interested in Gotham as a kind of character since Nolan developed it as a distinctly American city by taking it from a generic Gothic city to being Chicago and then NYC).

One of the elements of the film is whether "the city" can be saved, or is the situation always worse than even "Gotham must be destroyed" (that wonderful line by Ken Watanabe as the fake Raz in Batman Begins, in which Nolan adapts the classic Roman "Carthago delenda est" ["Carthage must be destroyed" ended every senate speech, from whichever side, as a jingo appeal]) ... is it that "the city" always will destroy itself, any city? ("delenda est" is future passive paraphrastic, meaning it has a jussive force, must be ... some might argue it's just  that it inevitably will) ... are gritty politics and organized crime inevitable when you get the kind of population density you get in a city, and especially when there will always be some system of social tiers of advantage coming into the situation (is Plato's philosopher king only a pipe-dream, "real" only in the world of forms, never in the concrete urban world? can Plato's Greek polis never be a reality in a concrete city?) ... and if so, isn't the deck stacked against those who are disadvantaged in being born in the situation? Selina implicitly answers one way and Bruce answers the other way ... Riddler definitely answers in the negative preemptively.
[addendum post-FB: Bruce/Batman here winds up a bit like Casey Affleck's character Patrick in Gone Baby Gone, who chooses the naturalness of the real mother even though he knows he has to stay and do the baby-sitting because she's too damn self-absorbed to take care of her child well.]

 I read there are sequels planned. The Joker at the end is the guy who played Druig in Eternals, which seems like it could be a very interesting choice, and definitely fits this project ... this is an extremely different project from the world of the DC "extended universe" of ... basically anything else DC. I liked things about Leto's joker, but it was definitely only part of that kind of world, not this one ... Keoghan and Dano and Farrel are much more this project's kind of villians in the way Pattinson is more its kind of Batman and Kravitz's feel of mixed ethnicity is its Cat Woman (a side of her presentation they play up with having her be the white mobster's abandoned child). They say it's going to be a shared universe, but if it is, it's going to have to bring the rest of that shared universe up to it's level ... and no superman or metas. Reeves is doing something at a level of more distinction from other DCEU/MCU stuff in the same way Nolan did, and the other thing it shares with Nolan's is that it's not a metas world. I still think the first Wonder Woman with Gal Gadot was brilliant, but I don't think that class has really crossed over to anything else in the DCEU (including its own sequel). Joker is such a one-off that it's hard to compare. I felt the same with Logan ... that was the other contender for best single film to come out of the genre (Marvel carved itself a place not just in this genre, but in cinema history overall by what they did with the 22-film symphony, but for me it's kind of like the World Cup in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Ireland wins but Krum gets the snitch ... Marvel owns that field, but Wonder Woman [the first, not the second] is a class above any other film I have seen in the genre to date); Logan was amazing, but while it came from the genre, it didn't really stay in the genre, even in spite of staying in the "meta" realm, it became a western, which is why they could use Shane to such good effect; Wonder Woman came from the genre and stayed in the genre ... Joker pretty much left the genre too and became a social character study.

It really is kind of weird reading the wikipedia page for the film and the production background involving Affleck and a project that connected with the DCEU to date, because this final project is anything but.

Post 2:

 The Batman may be the one film I have to see more than once in the theater again. It's not happened since before the pandemic, not even Spiderman: No Way Home, which I loved. While unintended, obviously with the timing, The Batman is still kind of Batman in a post-Jan-6 atmosphere. A friend made the observation, when we both got into Person of Interest, that it was kind of Batman in a real post-9-11 world (the reclusive billionaire with the invincible man in the suit), a project able to do what Batman couldn't in examining 9-11 impact through the Batman lens, because you usually don't have real world events intersecting with super-hero worlds except maybe the World Wars, and both PoI and the Nolan Batman trilogy were under the influence of Jonathan Nolan. Obviously you can't have a post-Jan-6 real world in Batman, but the present film may at least have that atmosphere, kind of the flip of PoI being Batman character types in a real post-9-11 world, this being the atmosphere of post-Jan-6 in a Batman world (and don't think for a second that January 6, 2021, had nothing to do with race).

Human Language Observations about random TikTok

 And it TikTok anything but random? :) 

TikTokers Confused on "Bucke List"

[Copy over from FB post I did randomly)

Although, I have an explanation: to most tik-tockers ... 2007 might as well be 1950 ha ha ... and it's actually a known literary technique too ... most of the best fictions arrive with their world having a feel of history built in but without specifics, just a "feel," a murky past, and that in turn has psychological roots that are explored a little in the first scene in Inception where Cobb talks with Ariadne and asks her to remember how they actually got to the cafe at which they're talking, which she can't because it's a constructed dream,but we want to fill in implied backstories .. but only implied; it's not so much about a group having a shared imagination/hallucination as it is about a human desire to enter our stories in a world already formed with some things whose stability as established things is evidenced precisely by our very inability to track them clearly. Even J.R.R. Tolkien uses it in Lord of the Rings. He had been working on the history of the lands in Middle Earth and Arda for decades before he wrote the LotR, so if Merry or Pippin encountered ruins back in some hills near Dunharrow, Tolkien surely knew whose ruins they were more than any other author who ever introduced any ruins in any fictional world they created, but instead he makes a point of saying how the origins of these cultic-type ruins had been lost to memory, nobody now remembering exactly who those people were. 
And some histories are there that not many notice for things people want to assume have undergone etymologies that have been lost but really might not be (just as the 2004 book here evidences some prehistory the tiktokers have missed in pinning down the creation to the 2007 film). I have a book on my shelf on Cracker culture in central Florida, and before the term was a racial slur on all whites, it was less caustically used in our setting for poor tenant or squatting white farmers of Celt decent in central FLA, with a distinct cuisine that is probably the root of the name "Cracker Barrel," and a lifestyle fully on display in the 1946 film The Yearling with Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman; I have a book on my shelf on Cracker culture by a scholar at Florida State, with pictures of the 7 or 8 different known styles of cabins Crackers used, and one of those styles is sure to fit the cabin in The Yearling rather well ... and that book relates that the original use may well have been derogatory, as the first record is by an English king talking about a certain section of London being full of celt-descent "crackers" (my personal theory for that is based on years ago being told by a guy originally from Dublin that, if I was ever over there, the way to sound like a local is to ask "what's the crack?," only I found out someplace else that it's of Gaelic origin and originally spelled "craic" ... so the king's comment would be like if somebody around here noted how rednecks always say "'sup?" as short for "what's up?" and started calling them "suppers" ... and then of course, some might think it had something to do with the way they ate meals, just as some might think the present slur "cracker" has to do with the whiteness of saltine crackers, although there could be a connection in the other direction that somehow morphed with a tendency to onomatopoeia [words that sound like what they are, like "snap" and "crack" and "thump"; but it would have to be back a ways, as evidenced in the Goblin whip-cracking song in The Hobbit, but then Tolkien smoked a pipe and that supposedly comes from Native Americans ... cross-pollination and the history of words as organically evolving things is so funky]). 
Some even play up the ambiguity even more intentionally noticeably for effect: In one scene in the Battle Star Gallactica reboot, Lee Adama tells president Rosalyn, "like my father always says, 'sometimes you gotta roll the hard 6,'" and when she asks, "I always wonder exactly what that phrase means," he replies "you know ... I don't really know.," giving the impression it's a phrase with no origin that's any longer known, maybe some type of dice-game chance thing lost to memory, but it actually has a very clear logic in the realm of the show, which is set in space, with fighter craft that operate in zero-G and no atmosphere (evidenced by one episode where Gallactica jumps into atmosphere to launch fighters and then jump out and is plummeting like a rock while she launches them), and thus do things alien to our aeronautics, which relies on pressure created by airflow at speed; we could never do a complete 180 degree turn on the same line, simply completely flipping in mid-air the way the show sometimes shows Viper fighter craft doing, and in military location description, 180 degrees is your six o'clock, hence all the action/war/solider jargon of "I got your six" = "I got your back," but even with the fastest turns we can do in our air-based flight, those 3 and 4 G turns push the blood out of the head (a cousin's husband flew in the first Gulf and told me when I was a kid about how, going into these turns, they would take a deep breath and hold it hard going into these high G turns to try to have the pressure keep the blood in the head and avoid "brown outs"), and in that zero-G world, the turns the ships can do can pull a Viper jocks foot off the pedal controls without extreme pressure, evidenced in once scene by Adama loading on weight on top of the leg sled in the gym on Starbuck's injured knee to show her she wasn't ready to go back in the cockpit, and hence, a complete 180 in a viper would be indeed a "hard six" done in a roll, a "rolling the hard six" ... but the writers did a beautiful job of showing how such understandable material origins get put into the murky past behind the incredibly interesting habit we humans have of using language to analogize, like saying "rolling the hard six" to speak of hard decisions, and then that can intersect with and mutate with completely other histories of the same word, like rolling a dice with numbers on it in games of chance (and, whatever else that show was about, it was about the texture of human experience ... and nothing evidences that texture more than the gymnastics with do with language and the stories we tell in it) ... so funky.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

On Adaptions of the Bible (oddly, sprung from Book of Boba Fett)

This is material from an FB post shaing a video on things from first episode of Book of Boba Fett, and an aside I put in a comment instead of main post turned into a more full piece on a certain type of project on Biblical material. 

 The video is here:  


The main post is this: 

Kind of Star Wars nerdy, but also a lot of cool exposition of literary qualities and resonances with a larger world of art and culture, from a larger sci-fi tradition larger to ancient cultures; I do think Favreau and Filoni are going for a larger world of resonances in creating an extended social order and geo-political world in the wake of the empire (itself a respected area of historical study, social orders of various scales in the wake of empires), in addition to the western genre 


The Comment delving int biblical material is this 

I like the socio-political world-building project in a fictional realm like this. I should note though that I am not a fan of the same in relation to the Bible, including the psychologization side of the social. I think that if you want to look at what the social texture of the world of the historical life of Christ was like on the personal and interpersonal level like that, the more productive place to look in the modern world would be Arabic peoples in the Middle East, particular Islamic ... just as Arabic as a language has been much more conservative over the centuries in its development and is thus much better to consult for productive comparisons in studying biblical Hebrew than is Aramaic (the theory is that the three languages descended from a parent language that was a proto-Hebrew); I think that in the socio-psychological aspect that is analogous to that linguistic thing, people are very shaped by the land and developments of how groups and cultures have adapted to existence in it and that, were you to talk to Jesus of Nazareth and the group who regularly traveled with him, you would find the same disjuncts as a suburban American that you would find if you were in rural areas in the Middle East: things you find humorous they would find enigmatic and odd and vice versa, not just knowing inside jokes or not, but the very way of experiencing humor ... I think that what you get when you get Western 20th/21st-century Christians hypothesizing the socio-psychological character of the experiential world of biblical events is usually simply a social and personal quality that looks a lot like that of the world form which the modern maker comes (including political biases and the like). 
I think the better way to think of biblical characters is much more like an icon than a photograph. I think there is a point to acknowledging that there would have been personal and interpersonal psychological and social dimensions there, that the "flesh" of "and the Word became flesh" would have involved that, but I don't think we have the access to it that a supposed photographic reproduction would claim and I don't think that having such is the point of the Bible. I am fine with a Christ who speaks in the voice of a priest, be it the reedy voice of a tall stringy priest or a short froggy slow priest (being Catholic, where only a priest or deacon reads the Gospel from the pulpit and even in the long narratives on the feasts when a lay person reads the narrative and the congregation says the crowd's part, only the priest reads the words of Christ), I don't need a version of Christ and his disciples written by Shakespeare (even if I thought WS was all he was cracked up to be [I am more of a Tolkien school of thought on that, who differentiated between what he calls narrative art and elements like drama and indicated in a letter once that he thought it was futile to look for good plot etc. in WS, and I think more than anything lamented the assumption that drama is the core of literary art to the starvation of narrative quality, a move in Western literature very impacted by the prevalence of WS, in spite of whatever his strengths might be in other aspects of poetry etc.; he's undoubtedly a huge effect in the Western canon that you must study, in part because of his deployment as cultural justification of a cultural identity that was the center of a secular empire, but just as the fact that one MUST study the seminal figure of Descartes if one is to get the modern shift in Western thought does not mean Descartes was correct or a GOOD influence, the fact that one MUST study WS to get anything that happened after him in the Western literary canon does not mean his influence is all good, unless of course one is a straight-up Anglo-triumphalist, which I'm no; I think on those levels, WS is a mixed bag], and even if I thought contemporary projects of that type with biblical material lived up to WS)
I must say that I say all that in caution; I have encountered people who do gravitate to those projects who I think to be infinitely better people than I, infinitely more genuine and charitable.

I should also say that I don't put Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ in that category. Whatever arguments may be made about that project, including what impact personal faults on Gibson's part have on it, it's not this particular thing I am talking about here with the application of socio-psychological modeling to the biblical material in the name of realism. Gibson's scenes are much more like tableaus (fitting his stated goal of a Caravaggio tone, thinking his movement in painting terms like icons) and his dialogue is very sparse and mostly restricted to what is in the Gospel accounts. And what is added is obvious and open about being highly interpretive symbolism (nobody thinks that there might have been a bald, androgynous Satan walking around holding a bald man-baby that looked like Pilate, not in the way contemporary Christian audiences think that Christ might really have joked around with the disciples in this way that actually looks more like a 21st-century work retreat), even the rare added "funning around" scene has a highly symbolic thrust: Christ and Mary laugh, with him teasing and her rolling her eyes when she tries to figure out what he means by sitting at the higher table he's working on, and that table really defines what the scene is doing in the film: the low table is Middle Eastern and the higher table is European, fore-shadowing the world-stage movement in which Christianity would be involved over the next thousand years; whatever one thinks about that shift itself and Western European interaction with the East (Near, Middle, and Far), the elements of that scene are more about that world-stage movement than about a psychological personal realism for its own sake (not that Gibson's film is devoid of dramatic elements [as neither is Tolkien's work], but they function differently in the more icon/painting-style film ... It crushes me when I watch Mary reach out in kindness, some confusion but always kindness, and Peter cringes away from the touch out of shame, and it's absolutely haunting the way she sweeps with her hands through the air, lower and lower to the floor, and then puts her face to the ground as if she can feel what the scene reveals in then going down through the floor to see Christ hanging by the wrists from a ceiling directly below her, looking up as if he can sense her through the stones and dirt) ... Other added elements also have historical resonance, like "Why is this night different from all other nights?" from the Passover seder ... if you have read Elie Wiesel's Night and can get how he works with imagery from the Jewish religious tradition (nutritionaless snow flakes and a scrap tossed by a German woman into a rail-car full of emaciated humans for amusement, turning manna imagery into false hope and inhumane baiting), you know that that line can have some very dark resonances from 20th-century European history; Even the Ecco Homo line, not interpolated, can bear world-historical symbolic significance: I was talking an intensive course in Latin around that time and the instructor was saying he didn't like that they had it pronounce with the soft C (the "ch" when two of them) rather than the hard C that would have been historically accurate for that time, but he conceded at leas as far as, "ok, I can see you point," when I said that, for a film like this, that line embodies more than the material detail of the one historical moment, much more of the development of understanding of the Incarnation over millenia, even maybe resonances with somebody like Nietzsche using it as a title for a work with a very different take on it.

Here is a video of the Mary and Jesus through the Floor tableau scene 




Sunday, December 27, 2020

It's a Wonderful Life pairings

 These are some analysis comments I wrote on Facebook after a Christmas watching of It's a Wonderful Life

Always liked It's a Wonderful Life thematically and the performances, but hadn't really noticed or appreciated the pairings and the really nuanced relation some of them reveal. Really amazing film.
The most obvious pairing is jumping in the water to save his brother Harry and then jumping in to save Clarence. Then, I assume it's standard to notice the pairing of the time he and Mary use their honeymoon money to hold customers of the building and loan over with the time at the end of those people pooling their money to help with the money lost (stolen by Potter). I'm guessing I'm not the first to put this forward, but I did notice it on my own (if much, much belatedly), but that pairing connects with a broader theme. In the scene where the honeymoon money goes in, just before that, George described how the cash is not there, that money one person deposited had been lent to another to build, and he uses specifically phrasing like "your money is in his bakery" and so on. In the final scene, money comes back out of places it has been tucked in the nice symbolism of the literal physical places of money being tucked, like Martini's jukebox and the drugists tip jar and the cook's self-built dowry.
And that symbolism intersects with the theme of George's big plans: He wanted to be an architect and build big material structures, but he wound up building the more organic infrastructure of how a community takes care of each other (hitting community as living organism with that obvious contrast pair of a cemetery being in the sans-George world where he builds his housing development in the real world ... and of course the equally obvious connection with a potter's field as a place of forsaken burial).
The one that I really noticed this time is the subtlest, and I think intentionally so as to be the most impactful for the most gut-level theme of human relation (which makes this an intricate film: the inter-workings of love/marriage/home being sort of a microcosm examined alongside the workings of a community as the corresponding macrocosm). We all know the scene at the beginning when, as a girl, she leans over the counter and says "is this the ear you can't hear in? George Bailey, I'll love you til the day I die." I think the reason it is so up front on the screen that she knows about his deaf ear is so that, from that and a few other places that emphasize identifying the left ear, when you get to the first night in the home, when she says that this was what she wished for the night when they through rocks through the window, you're tuned to looking for whether she is talking into is his left ear only versus someplace he would hear it with his good ear. But there's no onscreen marker, so you might gloss it; you might be checking which ear but then when there's no marker that he didn't hear (as with when they were kids), you sort of assume he probably heard ... you don't hear him respond but, then, you can understand a film focusing on her line by making it the end and not bothering to show his response (he might be just so lost in the emotion of hearing her say basically, "I've wanted you so long," he doesn't know how to respond etc. ... but it's also possible that everybody who ever saw the film has realized this and I was just slow ... but it is a kind of standard embracing talking scene and it could be that many sort of slip into dropping it into that standard slot and just move on to "ok, she loved him all this time etc.").
What I think it drives home is that, just as the inter-workings of organic community relations are not evident on the surface (the people relate to each other though the B&L, not directly), there are some things that must be communicated between persons on some level other than the conscious cognizance and reason involved in recognized speaking. For, what she told him was basically that she wished that he wouldn't get his wish. He wanted to see all the big, impressive structures in all the famous places and then build big material structures himself, but she wanted to build an organic community of a home, and the B&L as sort of the embodiment of the community sort of combines those (building the infrastructure for the organic community life). But it's also important that, while that nice picture of the B&L as community sort of resolves it some, there is still the fact that she wished he would not get his wish, which gives a nuance because there is a tension there of a kind that sort of makes the most hidden pairing: in the run-on-the-bank scene, he has to explain it to people; in the end, he has to learn the deeper side of it through an experience (organic community, beginning with couple and family and moving to a system of neighbors and relations, is what makes the big material structures worth anything).
On that score, this image of something communicated below cognizant hearing is the subtlest and most unmarked (when she says "this is what I wished for) because the film needs to reveal that real, deepest paring in that same way: in the gut more than in the head. George is a bit of an Abraham character in that the tension of his life is the grand ideas versus what makes life really wonderful, but the surface stage is one on which he has accepted the small town but it's almost like God won't let even that work ... he's not worried about the eight thousand for his how use, but just for the B&L to be able to keep going doing what it is doing and himself to stay out of jail and fulfill his duty to his wife and kids, like Abraham who could have fairly said, "you chastise me for not having the trust that you will give me a son directly for the promise, but then I do and you do, you then ask me to kill him ... but still trust that you will do the promise." George wanted to go live the exciting life, but he accepted the hard work of community building for the hoi polloi in a small town ... and then God has to let a bastard rip him off and almost get him thrown in jail doing that. That's a bit of what is in saying, "I just prayed, and you can see how he answered that."
In the end, this Christmas viewing made me appreciate the film a lot more (but,. yeah, it's during the 2020 pandemic, so I did cringe at those scenes in Martini's/Nick's).

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Merlin's Tenet Review

 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).


I thought it was really good but not as unique as Inception or Interstellar. The mechanical trick had a bit of a unique twist in having inverted things traveling through non inverted space, but the basic mechanical thing has been done in a number of recent films within maybe the past decade, various parts of it in various of the films (but see further below a more detailed addressing of the issue of "influence" possibilities respective to timing, such as what came out when), and various qualities: I thought both Looper and Deja Vu were really good, In the Shadow of the Moon was all right, and I thought Predestination really tanked (I mention Twelve Monkeys below too, and I was such a Monkeys Junkey when I first saw that that I got burned out on it because it is basically, as far as class, a tragedy, and I watched it four times in as many weeks with different people, saying "oh, you haven't seen that? you have to see it, let's watch it," and after time 4 I was like, "I just can't take the heartache again" lol). But it should be noted that all of those officially involve some form of time travel (they all have their interesting non-*travel* mechanics that makes each interesting, but they all also involve actual time travel even if limited: Jeff Daniels time traveled in Looper and Washington time-traveled in Deja Vu), and Tenet is technically and statedly not time travel at all inn the normal sense of that trope/mechanics in sci fi .(in the sci-fi story that gave C. S. Lewis the idea for The Great Divorce, the grass couldn't bend because you can't change the past, but in Tenet, the reason you can't breathe the air is that it is is flowing in the opposite time direction from that of the lungs, a mechanical reason all in the present) ... but see my comment below on that, and there are lots of similarities with those films (there is even some Twelve Monkeys in there with the final phone message, and it feels like he might have frankesteined his own Interstellar a little bit, but that is the thing with anything involving time travel, and probably why good story tellers approach it with great caution, which is that it's really easy to sound like a bunch of other time travel films). 
[Added in Blogger: Add to the list of at least resonances whichever season of Lost the island becomes unstuck in time, or they do, and when Jeremy Davies's character Daniel Faraday says that it could be either the island that is moving through time of they as persons ... and then of course you have Tony Stark saying that Bruce Banner et al. ran time through Scott Lang rather than running Scott Lang through time ... but, as much as I like the Avengers arc and think Marvel really carved a place for itself in cinematic history by successfully orchestrating like twenty-two films or whatever it was and then making us like hanging on a cliff for two years between Infinity War and End Game (and Ant Man and Wasp was a brilliant filler for that, not falling into the bad idea of doing reveals for Endgame that in the end would really just leave viewers unsatisfied and disgruntled because frustrated in not getting as much as they wanted, but instead going for a good character film [and the easter egg there was not bad, as you pretty much knew the only thing further to which anything Marvel could go at that point, so when they used it to say "yeah, of course, don't worry, it will tie together with that, but that's all we'll say, it actually, I think, worked to sort of seal in the flavor of this film for itself]), I'm not going to go down the path of "everybody is trying to copy Marvel because they are so great" ... Lost wrapped in 2010, so it may have been fodder; Endgame was 2019, so it definitely was not. ... and having seen the previews of the Flash movie and the various instantiations of Batman and bringing in Keaton's Batman alongside Affleck's as different Batmans, I have to say that I am out for the most part on the whole multiverse thing unless I really like the characters, like I think Olson's Scarlet Witch and Cumberbatch's Strange could be an interesting combination, but seeing Maguire and Garfield in the cast and knowing it means their Spider Mans as "alternate universe" versions, and then seeing Reynolds and knowing that probably means Deadpool, I will probably see each film once to say I saw it and then I'm out, whatever ... stories need to have a certain scope they call their own to work, and while I think Endgame succeeded in playing with that as much as possible and having fun pushing into that alternate universe territory while still staying in bounds (but probably the most interesting with it was Into the Spiderverse), that's about as far as I can buy it without narrative becoming too nebulous to work as narrative (sadly beginning to look like the fucked-up blurring between news and fiction that is the reality TV that gave us in America four years from hell and a pandemic much worse than it had to be) ... and if this becomes some way to smooth over different versions being done, I'm really out; different people made different versions and their relative quality can be argued, leave it at that ... let's say somebody comes a long and makes a Harry Potter series of films in which number 4 doesn't suck like Mike Newell's 4 and the films of books 5 to 7 don't suck the way Yates's did, BUT they try to multiverse those with the Columbus/Newell/Yates series, I would hate that worse than I hate Yates's and Newell's abominations ... you can really see the logic of just letting various instantiations stand on their own ground if you thought about, say, trying to multi-verse together the Alec Guinness BBC miniseries of Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy and the Gary Oldman feature-length film... the difference is not between genres, as in between sci-fi superheroes versus real-world spies, but rather between concepts of (1)  unique interpretations of stories with distinct beginning, middle, and end, and/or (2) on the other hand, stories loosing distinction in being stitched together with an infinite number of possible version into some "whole" that is too nebulous to be a defined thing at any one time (this was always a problem I had with the MCU easter egg after a certain point, I enjoyed some of the content very much, but they lessened the feel of closure and the end of the film because you stuck around to see what this one was going to connect with (but note what I said above about the credits scene in Ant Man and the Wasp, where it doesn't do that) ... I think one of the marks of Nolan's genius and the distinctiveness of his interpretation of Batman will be that they can't work his Bale Batman into that multi-verse deal ... and I had no problem with going from Nolan and Bale to Affleck and still being in awe of Nolan's work while liking Affleck in the role a lot [despite the grave and obvious shortcomings of Batman versus Superman as a film).]
What Nolan brings to that [sometimes well-worn] grouping of time tropes hardcore in Tenet, making it worthy of accolades, is applying his choreography to it ... he can do that mechanics on a scope that really nobody can touch, not just the bigness of the action on screen (but that is impressive here, for which I do wish I had seen it on the big screen, some of the stuff I would love to have seen on imax ... although again some of the action scenes feel like he frankensteined a little of his own work, meaning mainly invading the top floor of the building early on feeling a bit like the nighttime incursion in Hong Kong in Dark Knight and the hallway fighting from Inception), but primarily the intricacy of movement involving such a large number of pieces, like watching several simultaneous chess games side by side in time-lapse when you know there is something also going on across the games (for instance, you have pairing big choreography scenes--the opera at the beginning and the assault on the Soviet dead hidden city at the end-- and paired experiences of the same incident with the plane at the airport, and within the latter the crossover, pretty much center of the film, or at least one side of the center [see below], in that key moment of crossing over Debicki's character to heal her from being shot by the inverted bullet).
I like the name: in the end Pattinson's character Neil says that the "what happened has happened" is a statement of faith, and it's common to speak of faith as having tenets, tenets of the faith, and it's also a palindrome, so the two directions of reading the name meet in the middle and then continue on to their respective termini. That line also has an interesting mix of the simple past tense (happened) and the perfect (has happened). 
I'm not sure the time relations work out with the mechanics of officially not doing time travel, only inversion of direction (which direction is he going when he "ties up loose ends" at the end in relation to when he received the phone call in relation to what direction he was traveling at the end of the big fight); it seems like they do some appearing at different points in time that would require actual time travel and not just inverted directions (but see my fun comment below on Frogger-style if there is a way to make it work without actual time travel). But I'm not sure on that and I may read something by somebody that explains all that to my satisfaction. 
I also like the characters and the performances (seeing Pattinson in this gives me hope that the new batman could be good ... although again, maybe not character-wise, but player-wise, finding Pattinson's Neil character in the hotel felt a little frankensteined from meeting Eames in Inception). So, while I say that it's core material thing is not as distinctive and *thematically* earth-shattering as Inception and Interstellar, it's still an amazing film. The Nolan brothers are incredible (Jonathan didn't write on this one, but I 'm just saying that the corpus between them, the stuff they did together, Christopher in this, Jonathan with Person of Interest). So, in the end, I highly recommend it and wish Covid had not robbed me of being able to see it on the big screen safely.
Add The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for the idea of one person or thing moving temporally backward in the midst of others moving forward (although there it was biological aging in reverse and not technically time play, but the concept of moving contradirectionally is there, and with at least a time element, in that aging requires time as part of it's core definition, and the concept of the scope of inversion for a lifetime arc if Neil was recruited by the Protagonist way, way in the future, and this resonates with In the Shadow of the Moon too [but see next section on the 2019 dating meaning probably no influence). 
Add also Harry Potter seeing himself cast his patronus at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban for Kat seeing herself dive off the boat, envying her own later freedom. I have to add too that timing impacts things, which is fitting, especially because these would be issues of cause and effect (a relationship directly mentioned in the film). I should say that the upshot might not be whether one could accuse Nolan of borrowing too much (although really, everything is a little borrowing; there were only ever three original ideas in the history of the world: creation, fall, and redemption), but rather whether the film has the impact of uniqueness and innovation at the time when it is hitting ... but there is also *some* question of interplay. Wiki has it that Nolan had been working on the idea for ten years before production (actually writing the screenplay in the the last five before filming and production), so that puts it at 2009 or 2010. Harry Potter book 3 definitely predates that by another ten years, making it a possible idea-sparker. Twelve Monkeys was even earlier than that in 1995, and then Deja Vu was 2006 and Benjamin Button was 2008. So those could be fodder in Nolan's idea. Looper was 2012, between when Nolan reportedly started thinking the idea and when he started writing the script, as is also the case with Predestination in 2014. Only 2019's In the Shadow of the Moon is distinctly too late to be any influence (unless Nolan were as whimsical as George Lucas, who reportedly halted filming on Attack of the Clones to work up a chase scene like the chase scene in the car factory in Minority Report of some other Tom Cruise film when he saw it while shooting Clones ... and I don't think Nolan is that loopy). But even with all that, I still think his core mechanical idea of material traveling in reverse time flow is unique, and he keeps that in the fore with things like "you're catching the bullet" and inverted lungs not being able to breathe non-inverted oxygen (presumably because it is moving in the wrong direction for normal actual intake and handling by the inverted lungs to occur, they can't catch it because they didn't throw it, or however that relation works in the scene where it is explained in the lab ... although that still may cause problems depending on who is traveling in which direction when ... it's very complex, and using such minute parts to support the unique mechanics opens the door to other minutia as sources of problems: in order for somebody inverted to interact with somebody non-inverted, wouldn't they have to be able somehow hop out of inversion to do that, which would mean the inverted folks from way in the future like Neil have technology beyond the big inversion chambers of the present, more like portable very small devices that can toggle direction ... which SEEMS like what he is saying when talking to the Protagonist and the Protagonist asks "I thought you were going the other direction" and he says he switched midstream ... and, with regard to freshness of the mechanical concept relative to all these different time-related works, a hopping around in time by reversing directions at various places, kind of like hopping logs and beetles in the river section of a level in Frogger to hit the open pocket on the other side, is a pretty fresh idea ... at least with time involved, as it is a little bit like the big finale sequence in Adjustment Bureau).
So, themewise: It's all about the girl and her child, which is not necessarily the freshest ... but the plight of that primal relation against machinations of power players deserves to keep being done over and over and over and over ... if you don't keep it in the fore of people's minds, you get Don Jr. and Eric and Ivanka and whatever poor Baron will become having gotten hit with the worst of Trump's approach to family in the service of personal image and conquest by getting hit with the version that has had the weight of the office of the president of one of two world superpowers (not just the way the power can rev up an ego trip, but also the factor of your young life being put on a world stage) behind it (I thought that the idea I think is in Inception was really fresh, which is the impact had on a mother by incepting not just an idea, with the spinning top in the safe, but an experience of fifty years of growing old *without* that involving the milestones of the kids growing up). Yes, on the surface, it's about saving the world, but all of he plot mechanics are driven by concerns around the woman, especially that central portion of the inverted run through the Oslo chamber scene being done to save her, and she has a central role in the finale that goes back and happens precisely at the moment of crisis in that relationship, when Sator most threatened her, not by threatening to kill her or even threatening to take her son physically from her, but to take him emotionally from her by getting her to consider it even for a split second. The saving the world thing is still there, but there is a relationship between that level and the mother's level that is at least consistent with (regardless of how conscious on Nolan's part, but I think he is probably at least aware) an older model, a classical model and really even deeper than that, of the same thing being in the microcosm (saving the mother and her relationship with her child) and in the macrocosm (saving the world from Sator taking it with him when he dies) ... that's what Priya doesn't get and why saving Kat from Priya at the end is not just throw-away icing on the cake (just like, despite what a lot of disgruntled people think because they secretly know they can't process such things and keep mistaking them for ciphers, I think the spinning-top ending to Inception is central to its theme); it's central to theme (it was more latent in Inception, but there was a similar relationship in the microcosm of finding resolution to what Cobb did to Mal and saving the world-economy situation by bringing resolution to the father-son relation [which is one of the reasons I think that motherhood has to be central to the main theme in Inception; it can't just be that she had a psychic break that anybody else could have had whether or not they are a mother ... and the thing about the top is that, because he took away the psychic stability of secure knowledge that the world you're seeing is real, the stability his wife needed to function as a mother for her kids, Cobb must now be there for them himself without having the comfort of the security of that knowledge, and his acceptance of that is symbolized in going to the kids without waiting to verify via the top, not demanding the security before acting, the security he took from his wife, however unintentional the theft was, and of course, for the audience to get that, they too much forego knowing for sure]).
For a possible quasi-chiastic reading (but not conclusive ... beware the bed of Procrustes): the second run-through of the sequence at the Oslo chamber isn't paired only with the first run-though of that sequence, but also with the scene at the other chamber where Sator shoots her, and those two scenes do have a close conjunction at the center that is tight enough to read as a pair center (chiasm can have either a single element as center, which is more common, or a sort of Janus-faces pairing where the center of the chiasm is the relation between them ... in this case [1] an immediate attack by Sator and [2] saving her from it, which is itself a microcosm of the plot of saving her that is itself a microcosm within the macrocosmic plot of saving the world ... this "X'' witnin X' within X kind of thing is not the same type of plot structuring as when done in chiasm, since it is more theme than material, but on that theme level it is a bit akin to the plot chiastic nesting Mary Douglas, in her book Thinking in Circles, describes in the Iliad, in which the central element of the over-arching chiasm is itself a chiasm). The question would be what to make of the second run-through having two pairing relationships, one with the first actual run-though of the Oslo sequence and the second in pairing with the chamber scene in which she is shot. And ... if the mechanics of that second run-through of the Oslo scene does work, with each of them taking on one version of the same person but moving in opposite temporal directions ... that is some seriously kick-ass choreographing of that mechanics.
Oh ... and on comparisons with James Bond ... I've never been a Bond fan. I don't necessarily hate it, but it has always seemed kind of poser to me, like "appreciating" it is always passed off as some sort of sophistication. I think the Protagonist being like Bond and Debicki's Kat character being styled like a Bond girl, especially looks (tall, lean, European model looking), whether Nolan intended it or not, works as a kind of "see, here is how you do that sort of thing so that it actually *means* something" (and means something with a happy ending ... John Lecarre, of late fond memory, did espionage and spy lit that was exponentially more legit than Bond, but it was definitely not an unequivocal happy ending: Smiley wins through Karla's desperation and can still do so only through the blackmail method that is the only thing Karla can understand, and that involves materially threatening Karla's innocent daughter).
And on the fun kick-ass trivia front: the female leader of the blue team in the final temporal pincer assault in Siberia is the daughter of none other than Grima Wormtongue, AKA Billy Bibbit the tragic suicide in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, AKA the mentat Piter De Vries in Lynch's 1984 version of Dune (and the incarcerated killer with whom Tuvok mind melds in one of the only episodes of Star Trek Voyager that was ever any good, as well as the monk who had been mind-wiped in one of the best single episodes of Babylon 5) ... Brad Dourif.
(Oh, and the scientist who explains inversion to him, Barabara, was Fleur Delacour.) 


Friday, December 4, 2020

The DADA riddle from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone

 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

Tolkien, Allegory, Person of Interest, and film allusions

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.