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.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Person of Interest minor thought on closing of season 2

 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

Odd bits: Chiasm elements (books 1 and 7, Harry and Hargid, also alchemy)

 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

Person of Interest Ideas

 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.