Monday, June 18, 2007

Selective Paranoia

By all means, watch it. Admire the cinematography. I did.

FILM STUFF. There's very little reason to go to the movie theater these days. Most of the movies suck, so much so that the trailers used to advertise them generally serve as superior substitutes for the movies themselves, and theaters have become a contemptuously blatant con job. The screens are small, the ticket prices big, the popcorn and soda prices bigger, the restrooms dirty, the audiences loud and uncouth, and after you creep across the sticky floors to your seat, you are subjected to the one thing you are supposed to be free from in a pay-per-view arena -- commercials. The whole experience seems designed to persuade you that you're a fool for showing up in the first place, but here you are, so what else can we do to bore and annoy you for cold cash?

You don't agree? Well, that's my excuse for what is obviously a late review of a movie masterpiece called "The Children of Men," which I saw over the weekend via cable On-Demand. I have some observations to make, but don't read them until you've clicked on the YouTube file and watched it all the way through.

I'll wait right here while you do that.

Done? Good. Ready to run right out and see it? Not so fast. Here's are some excerpts from the only review -- by Kyle Smith of the NY Post -- that reflected my own experience of the movie:

The report from 2027 delivered by "Children of Men" is mixed. On the plus side: Flat-screen TVs for every one! Also, alcohol is plentiful, and the dog track is still operating. On the minus side: The world has turned to smoldering ruins, and it's been 18 years since any woman has given birth...

Playing Theo, the shell of an alcoholic whose son has died, Clive Owen is just the man to pick his way through the wreckage of what used to be London...

After a surprise visit from his ex (Julianne Moore), who now leads a group fighting to protect immigrants from being caged and deported, he stumbles onto a woman (she jokes that she's a virgin) who is pregnant with the only baby on the planet. They spend the movie dashing from safe house to safe house, one of which is the home of a chuckling old stoner played by Michael Caine, who appears to be wearing Emmylou Harris' hair. The goal is to save the child. And humanity.

Everyone around them is a terrorist, and most are wearing government insignia. Between the marching Muslim extremists, snarling immigrant-haters, gun-toting immigrant-protectors and a police force determined to crack skulls first and ask questions never, London has turned into a bombed-out ashtray.

Director Alfonso Cuarón has a vision so mesmerizingly terrible that it alone - at least, for those who enjoy a gorgeous nightmare - is reason enough to see the film. His color palette runs from soot gray to corpse gray as he hurls his camera over the festering landscape. Nothing is presented with the slightest degree of "Road Warrior" fun, either: This is humanity's garbage time, in both senses.

The story, based on P.D. James' novel, grabs you at first, but its grip slackens as the unanswered questions and murky plot developments add up. In addition to saving the girl, you want Theo to solve several mysteries: Is this really the only pregnancy? If so, what is different about this woman? Why did all women become sterile back in 2009? Who exactly can he trust? [emphasis added]

Instead, Theo seems content to dodge bullets, get increasingly grimy and try to get mother and fetus to a mysterious organization called "The Human Project"...

The film wants to be political... But it completely misses the point about what is happening today to the same farcical degree that "V for Vendetta" did: Who seriously has an equal fear of London's bobbies and radical Islam? In the past five years, the movie industry has virtually blacklisted any mention of Muslim terror - even documentarians are more worried about Wal-Mart's health insurance - but "Children of Men" makes sure its buses, which are filled with political prisoners, are labeled "Homeland Security." Ha ha.

Actually, the movie's cinematographic artistry serves to undermine its affect because the impossibly long tracking shots inevitably remind the movie buff of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil, which was an incomparably superior movie. There, the villain was not a stylized visual backdrop standing in for a vague, deliberately undefined ideological dilemma but something quite specific, human, and recognizable. The Welles tracking shots represented a ruthless hunter endowed with the frightening ability to track and understand his quarry. Cuaron's represent only a kind of helpless, incoherent paranoia that makes even pursuit seem like a nightmare flight from every conceivable conviction and cause but the saccharine ideal of infancy.

Which is all fine, of course. It's acceptable to roll back the entire history of philosophy and declare that the only certainty is the innocence of the unsocialized newborn, but it scarcely merits designation as an idea. It's a default, a kind of automatic reboot that simply ignores reality and postulates the suckling child as superior to all the mentality a suckling child does not possess. Is this what impresses the liberal cognoscenti as thought-provoking, politically astute, and intelligent? Give me a break. There is absolutely nothing in the script which attempts to translate the provocative images of fascism, Islamists, and immigrants into argumentation of any kind. It's all simply a gray, undifferentiated threat to the survival of a baby whose existence has no apparent meaning to the movie's premise but anomaly and, oddly enough, celebrity.

Did you get that? It's a chase movie, a poisoned remake of The Terminator. The protagonist is prepared to die to save the life of the most important being in his universe, except that the nature of that importance is never explained or even hinted at. If all women are sterile, what difference does one baby make? It's not going to save mankind. There's no indication that the mother possesses any unique properties, physically, mentally, or spiritually -- except that she's an illegal immigrant. Which makes her a political straw man and, well, that's all.

Apparently, what's supposed to save us -- what's supposed to inspire us, at least -- is the good intentions of those who fight to keep the baby alive. Well, isn't THAT the liberal paradigm writ large?

In the end, we never learn what the Human Project is. We never learn anything about what the real nature of the conflict between the government, immigrants, and native "resistance" fighters is. I guess we're supposed to assume an allegory that isn't actually delineated, although the chief property of allegory is usually that it is delineated, usually in too much detail. (Perhaps an allegory that refuses to explain itself is the highest of post-modern art.) I infer this means we intelligent liberals are supposed to graft various Bush-isms and Blair-isms onto the script and privately pronounce our own political "Aha!"

Maybe Cuaron could have gotten away with that. Maybe. If he hadn't given himself away with some truly bush league moves. Like casting Michael Caine as a 70-year-old pot-smoking hippie ("Tell Sid he's a 'fascist pig'") who represents the only fully individuated character in the movie. And twice referencing the beloved counterculture sixties with the Stones ballad "Ruby Tuesday,"only not in the original Stones version but in a castrati cover, because in a movie like this Mick's voice somehow sounds too ballsy and vital... And when the credits finally (finally) begin to roll, playing a typically dumbass-Marxist John Lennon song, "Free the People."

We don't care what flag you're waving,
We don't even want to know your name,
We don't care where you're from or where you're going,
All we know is that you came,
You're making all our decisions,
We have just one request of you,
That while you're thinking things over,
Here's something you just better do.
Free the people now...

Well we were caught with our hands in the air,
Don't despair paranoia is everywhere,
We can shake it with love when we're scared,
So let's shout it aloud like a prayer.
Free the people now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now.

It's all too perfect. Instant nihilism. Add tears and stir. A lot of liberal condescension derives from their supposed artistic superiority over the rest of us. There's no question this "film" has an artistic feel, but it has no content. It's interesting and instructive that the libs don't recognize it. For them intellect has become merely a pot-smelling esthetic, which is ipso facto brilliant even when devoid of ideas, rationality, and sense.

It's good information. If you know what to do with it.

POSTSCRIPT. I'll leave it to all of you to divine the relevance of this news item. Al Gore gave an interview in London in which he said:

“The G8 have been meeting in Germany and the United States is throwing a monkey wrench in the efforts to get a consensus.

The planet is in distress and all of the attention is on Paris Hilton. We have to ask ourselves what is going on here?”

My sense is that at the moment, Paris Hilton is more important than Global Warming. As parents and their kids discuss Paris Hilton, they may arrive at some personal decisions about how life should be lived that will have great impact on their lives in the next four or five years.

If they obsessed about Global Warming instead, they'd be seeding important lessons about paranoia, but the lessons might not bloom for another ten or twenty years. Think of all the things that might kill large numbers of people before Global Warming ruins Venice as a tourist attraction: another worldwide flu pandemic (overdue), nuclear wars precipitated by Islamists or China (likely), an economic depression caused by destruction of the mideast oilfields or overly aggressive economic controls in the name of slowing Global Warming (likely), an asteroid strike (more likely if we suppress technology in the name of Gaia), a killer quake in California (overdue), et al. Come to think of it, it is a lot easier to forget all the crises for which we might bear some actual responsibility and focus on a phantom future problem instead...

For the time being, though, it's at least possible that American families are seizing the opportunity to prevent tragedies that are very specific, human, and recognizable by discussing what it means to be an irresponsible spoiled brat. I don't think anything Al Gore has to say is more important than that discussion, if it's occurring, and I can't think it's worth truncating such conversations to go see "The Children of Men."

But that's just me.

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