8.10.13

"Gravity" Apollo Fantasy Meets Modern Anxiety


Bottom Line: technically innovative, visually brilliant, a watershed moment in digital cinema. Alfonso Cuarón has crafted a unique masterpiece that will thrill you while making you think.

Grade: A +

by Colin Walsh

At 91-minutes (curiously the exact length of a low-earth orbit), Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity" has no filler, it is a seamless thrill ride. Its efficiency is startling because nothing like this has ever been done before, yet I can't fathom it being anymore innovative or impressive. You have never seen anything like this: an incredibly detailed vision of life 600km above the sky, a ballet of weightless destruction that is awe-inspiring, terrifying, and deceptively intelligent. 

Adding to his oeuvre of long and elaborate takes, Cuarón opens "Gravity" with a 13-minute uncut shot that smoothly tracks through the void of space, revealing his grand mise-en-scène – the NASA space shuttle Explorer, the Hubble telescope, and, of course, that sprawling, looming planet that shimmers below in all its alluring blue majesty.

In one of the many ways that the technical aspects of "Gravity" work to enhance the story, Cuaron’s long takes are more than just impressive, they are vital to the experience as they create a sense of unified spatial awareness and orientation in a setting where that is difficult to maintain. 3D, a gimmick we have all been growing weary of, is also utilized for immersive purposes, supplying constant reference in front of the infinite depth of space. Throw in IMAX -- screen technology long associated with science center space exhibits -- and you will literally feel like you’re in space. This is truly a miracle of filmmaking – a watershed moment in digital cinema.



Our human counterparts are likable and dynamic -- no surprise to those familiar with Cuarón's films. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) a vet spacewalker on his “last mission,” is tossing himself about with a jetpack, musing with mission control (aptly voiced by Ed Harris). Right down to the country music he plays through his headset, and his lamentations of “the view,” Clooney’s character amounts to a mélange of Apollo-era astronaut personalities – affable and quirky yet unwaveringly, almost abnormally, calm.

Our lead protagonist is technician Ryan Stone, played by guaranteed-Oscar-candidate Sandra Bullock. Very much the introverted ying to Kowalski’s yang. She is intently dissecting the computerized innards of Hubble when disaster strikes, one wonders if she even had a chance to enjoy "the view," Kowalski has to practically pull her away from her precious computer.

Enter: destruction MacGuffin: the Russians, we are told via mission control, have intentionally destroy one of their own satellites, causing an exponential buildup of high velocity shrapnel to enter Explorer’s orbital path.



Narrowly avoiding death quickly becomes the story’s MO as Kowalski and Stone must ditch the debris and head for the ISS to salvage an escape pod. It’s a long shot, with Stone hyperventilating her dwindling oxygen supply and Kowalski’s jetpack running on fumes. The cold blackness of space looms, human bodies do not belong here. 

Cuarón takes full advantage zero-gravity to create suspense, the result is intelligent. The truly terrifying moments in “Gravity” are not close calls with shards of satellites or fiery explosions, they are ones brought on by the physics – if you don’t grab on to that hatch, hold on to that tether, you’re going to float away…forever.

Bullock's palpable anxiety channels our own, and our empathy makes the film's sense of dread that much stronger. Although this also happens to be one of the films few drawbacks; is it believable to think NASA would allow someone this panic-prone to go to space? Probably not, but Stone is a necessary element to the story, and in the end it's a small complaint, as this tale moves in a surprising direction, away from the weight of belief or disbelief.

In a recent interview, Cuarón was prodded to provide a unifying theme for his impressive body of work -- a grueling seven year hiatus separated "Gravity" and his last film, the excellent dystopian drama "Children of Men" (2006). Unsurprisingly he responded that all of his films, including “Gravity” are “road movies.” That is essentially true, albeit in epic scope, “Gravity” is a road movie in space, sharing elements of the “coming-of-age” genre as well. Stone must overcome not only the physical challenges she faces, but also the emotional weight of her circumstances, and these are juxtaposed against the frailty of technologies that make our lives run like magic (imagine what your day would be like tomorrow if every satellite suddenly disappeared). 

What Stone endures is an almost therapeutic process of rebirth, shedding her (and our) modern anxieties in the process.

What we must now endure is the wait for Cuarón's next project to take flight.

10.8.13

"Elysium" Review





Bottom line: a brilliant premise with a stunningly original visual language becomes a typical affair as the "District 9" director revisits and expands upon similar themes with obvious, yet commendable, allegory. A missed opportunity. 

Grade: C+

The year is 2154 and Earth is a polluted, overpopulated wasteland. Old money has fled to Elysium, an orbiting utopia with the aesthetics of a country club inhabited by French aristocrats.

The poor and disenfranchised remnants of humanity watch it float through their depleted ozone with envy, many fling themselves there in rickety spaceships for sole purpose of using one of the “med beds” that the rich have in their homes – machines that “re-atomize” a body’s cells to cure it of any disease or injury. 

Even if it is heavy handed allegory – immigration, healthcare access, the prison industrial complex, pollution, war-profiteering – “Elysium” has a visual literacy, and stylistic originality that is worth commending. The future that director Neill Blomkamp has created is socially and culturally responsive to practically every issue you can attribute to wealth disparity in today’s apathetic global economy. This is a brilliant backdrop for a story, and it even begins its human drama with an intelligent foundation to match it.

Matt Damon plays our protagonist, Max, a tatted-up career criminal on terra firma who is out on parole trying to stay straight and narrow.  This is quite literally a form of self torture, as he works on an assembly line building the Gestapo-like droid army that polices earth. They rough him up, break his arm, and extend his parole term for cracking a joke about what’s in his bag when he’s stopped and frisked on his way to work. 

The torture continues for Max. A workplace accident leaves him an irradiated mess with five days to live and an imperative to get to Elysium. 




The opening is tinged with irony and humor – a welcome reprieve from the weight of the social commentary. But its qualities begin to fragment as the story moves along and plot elements are forced into “Elysium” like dead weight. You will see glimpses of this brilliance return, but they are infrequent.

The counterparts in the story include Max’s childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga), a nurse with a daughter who has Leukemia, Elysium’s internal security guru Secretary Delacourt (stiffly acted by Jodi Foster) with her sadistic sleeper agent on earth, Kruger (Sharon Copley), and the slimy capitalist droid-factory owner John Carlyle (William Fichtner).

Max’s plan to save his decaying body is facilitated by a crime-lord with dreams of socialized medicine, and is hampered by Kruger and Delacourt, who together seek dominion over an ever-liberalizing political climate on Elysium. There is also, of course, the overbearing presence of Frey and her sick daughter; they are essential to the narrative as constructed, but are a hindering factor nonetheless, causing the film to progress unevenly. 

There are things to savor throughout: Damon puts on an acting clinic in a role that doesn't even call for it, Blomkamp again proves he can create a universe with interesting visual elements and characters. And “Elysium” almost soars with its depressingly beautiful use of science fiction as allegory and social commentary, yet it is ultimately kept grounded by its indulgence in things that typify less intelligent films. 

Going through the best of dystopian sci-fi films, I couldn't help but laugh at the thought of Theo Faron (Clive Owen), the protagonist of Alfonso Cuarón’s masterful “Children of Men” (2006) blowing someone’s head off with a grenade, let alone holding a weapon. If Blomkamp really wants to deliver a wake up call to the world he is critiquing, one where perfunctory luxuries have made people indifferent to the bigger picture, perhaps he should apply those lessons to his story.  

6.8.13

Looper: Smoke in Mirrors


Bottom Line: an amazing, entertaining exploration of free will and destiny, the best sci-fi or action movie, and perhaps the most thought-provoking, you will see in 2012.

Grade: A+ 

By Colin Walsh

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Bruce Willis) is a “Looper,” a hit man contracted by an organized crime syndicate from a future where it is nearly impossible to get away with murder. The mind-numbingly complex solution to this is to send targets back in time to be executed in a deserted area, where the Looper stands at the ready with his blunderbuss -- a scatter shot  close-range weapon – waiting for a kneeled, bagged body to appear in front of them.


A blunderbuss has a range of 15-feet, anything closer is impossible to miss.

The last hit these Loopers will make will be themselves, this is called "closing the loop," it is the termination of their contract, guaranteeing the assassin won't be a future liability.  The tagline for "Looper" is "Face your past. Fight your future," the ambiguity of this statement works like an optical illusion of perspective when viewed through the scope of the narrative. "Looper" will make you question the nature of free will.

The backdrop of the story, at least its first half, is one well-crafted neo-noir element after another. The film exists in an economically disparate future, where American streets are lined with (more) poverty, where vigilantism and organized crime run rampant. Loopers live short, perfunctory lives, they snatch bars of gold and silver from their victims and exchange them for Chinese currency, which they use to fund drug habits and buy cars and clothes. If it weren't so clearly beside point of "Looper," I would say it borders on cultural commentary.

What happens when a Looper fails to kill himself? This is known as an "open loop," and it is the motor of the story. For obvious reasons more pressing than "Back to the Future" the loop must be closed. Young Joe, who has been stashing half of his pay in hopes of escaping to a plush, Paris lifestyle, is instantly being hunted by his employers for failing to close his loop when the time comes. As Old Joe (Bruce Willis) arrives unmasked, the two lock eyes and hesitation leads to separation. By both choice and chance, Joe is caught in a whirlwind tour through a disparate future that may not exist or has already happened, and a conspiracy involving the most unlikely characters on a farm in a corn field. 

"Looper" is an amazing piece of action science fiction, but it aims for much more – and like the blunderbuss, rarely does it miss its mark. Apart from being the greatest time travel movie ever made, which it is, "Looper" succeeds greatly by properly and intelligently approaching  the philosophical and metaphysical conundrums associated with time travel, specifically the roles of one's free will in the face of what has become, quite literally, a destiny.

Gordon-Levitt and Willis, the former sporting a convincing but noticeable facial prosthesis to resemble the latter, compliment each other spectacularly in "Looper," and one will find few flaws with the supporting cast. This is a well-acted, carefully directed, fast-paced thriller. 

Writer/Director Rian Johnson places keen focus on the visual aspects of storytelling, it is a welcome reprieve for a genre that has become overburdened with noise, confusion, CGI-laden chaos. "Looper" offers us quality without sacrificing quantity. Only time will tell, but it is very possible "Looper" will be the genre-defining film of this decade. 

(Spoiler alert) Film Theory: Motif of Vision


"Looper's" story is driven by its motifs of vision and appearances, which develop a theme of foresight through clarity. Old Joe, having come back to affect the past, describes his memories as "cloudy," as they are actively altered by Young Joe's actions in the present. "Cloudy" is a deliberate component that drives the motif of vision and clarity. Young Joe, a wayward drug addict, lacks the foresight that Old Joe has, this is displayed in various ways. In many ways this is made literal as Joe's drug of choice is dropped into his eyes.

Young Joe’s weapon, the blunderbuss, can only kill, and therefore alter the story, when used in close proximity to its target, another metaphor for his lack of vision and foresight. It is joked about in the film that the Loopers use them because they are ham-fisted fuck-ups with no real future, wasting their lives on drugs and material frivolities. Old Joe, who to a certain extent knows what is going to happen, uses a long-ranged weapon that is also discussed in the film as having a certain maturity or aptitude.

This disparity between the character(s) is also iterated by visual occurrences of smoke, in various forms. Throughout the film, smoke appears in conjunction with events that alter the future; it visually represents a disturbance in the clarity, quite literally, of the narrative. In the roadside diner during the conversation about what is going to happen, and whether or not Young Joe will be able to change it, Young Joe and Old Joe both order coffee, the cream is shown swirling inside of Young Joe’s cup, opposed to Old Joe’s order of straight-black, reiterates this imagery of smoke, or cloudiness -- an uncertain future subject to change --as well as the disparity between the character(s).

Visual motifs are scattered throughout this film, and are a testament to the directors own careful vision, one I did not mention was cornstalks - have at it in the comments section. Enjoy a second viewing of "Looper" and tell me what you think of its motifs!

- Colin 

31.7.13

Rise of the Planet of the Apes: An Attempt to Legitimize Junk

I haz a genetics noms




By Colin Walsh


Bottom line: it really isn’t worth seeing unless you’re a huge fan of the franchise.


Grade: C -



"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (2012) is an honest attempt to modernize and, dare I say, legitimize a film franchise has survived off of its own campy ridiculousness. It stars James Franco as the driven scientist Will Rodman. He is working on genetic cure for Alzheimer’s, which his father coincidentally suffers from – horribly. Things are very personal for Rodman; he really wants to develop this cure.

Let me stop there for a brief thematic discussion as to what this film uses as its antagonist.

The formula for a Planet of the Apes story is quite simple: humans evolve to the point where they cannot control their own technology, that technology somehow reverses their role as the dominant species thus humbly reminding them that they’re all just “damn dirty apes” after all.

"You've been warned, humans."


Schaffner’s original  Planet of the Apes (1968) was a cold-war era sci-fi flick and therefore had more important things to target as a danger to humanity than genetic medicine. A crew of space-faring earthlings experience a malfunction on their spaceship and wind up on what is in the end revealed as post-apocalyptic earth. The humans had wiped themselves out with and the other species of apes, much more “ape like,” more hairy bipeds, had taken over some time in the future, enslaving the limited number of humans left on earth. It was a learn-your-lesson-or-else story about nuclear arms race, one of countless to pop up during the Doomsday Clock epoch. What was really special, and endearing, about the original was the amazing prosthetics and comic appeal.

In this reboot, the commentary is pointed at science in general and doctors and researchers in particular, it’s part of a long media campaign that has worked tirelessly to label anyone in a lab coat as callous, immature, aloof, easily corruptible outcasts who have no empathy or compassion. (see the television show “House” for further characterization).

(End rant.)

Rodman’s project is shut down because of a violent reaction from one of the chimps they are testing the formula on, a shame too because the chimps were showing incredible cognitive progression, especially the one who freaked out and ended up being shot with a dozen handgun rounds on a conference table.

All the apes are terminated, save one – Caesar (Serkis), the star of the show. He’s the child of the hyper-intelligent chimp who is now bullet-riddled and being disposed of. Rodman secretly adopts him from the laboratory, inherited Superape genes and all.

From here the film jumps into a Caesar montage right up to the point where he starts to become a bit too human, does something stupid, and is thrown into captivity where he is treated like garbage. You won’t believe the rest of the story, but it involves the genetic medicine that was used on his mother, a whole lot of crazy John Lithgow, and an asinine scene on the Golden Gate Bridge where a hundred apes or so are being shot at by riot police.

"It's like a bad movie except worse."


It is time to acknowledge that Rupert Wyatt and a team of very talented computer graphics and motion capture artists, not to mention actor Andy Serkis as Caesar (Gollumn LOTR), have once again given their audiences wickedly entertaining special effects that showcase the true spirit of the series. If you’re a true fan of this stuff, you will love some of the Easter Eggs the writers have put in here.

Regardless of my views on its implicit commentary, Rise of the Apes really isn’t good. At times presented with a sort of melancholy seriousness that threatens to negate its intended appeal, which is akin to that of a comic book. When I caught myself being irritated by anatomically impossible movements performed by the chimps, who, remember, are right out of jungle, I realized that the film had succeeded in creating a sort of cognitive dissonance, along with the terrible commentary, it’s a good looking flop.

The Tree of Life: Jurassic Dreams in Texas


By Colin Walsh

Bottom Line: "The Tree of Life" (2011) is a beautiful reflection on life and humanity. It builds on Malick's traditional visual themes and is grand in both scope and ambition.


Grade: A +

“The Tree of Life” is a Malick movie through and through.
It is worth noting that, like his previous works, viewers will either be frustrated trying to digest the often-vague diegetic departures and poetic voice-overs, or will revel in them. In many cases I would sympathize with the former group, (I understand the complaint) but here “The Tree of Life” directly ponders questions that are unanswerable by their nature, and therefore the subject matter invites not only the complexity that Malick has crafted it with, but also a certain confusion as well.

Malick's traditional devices are used here to great effect; in many ways it feels like this is the movie his entire career has been building toward.


The film is bookended with a cluster of dancing light in the cosmos – the muse of existence, the awesome force that rips through space and time, all the way from the center of the universe to Waco, Texas, the residence of our human subjects – the O'Briens, a 1950s middle class, suburban family walking the line of normalcy. Aren't we all.
The human narrative begins with the O’Brien parents (Pitt and Chastain) reeling over the death of a son. We are then introduced to the protagonist, Jack (Sean Penn), as a middle-aged architect in present day Austin, Texas. He lives in a cold world -- a forest of skyscrapers build with rigid, modern construction. We see the loneliness in Penn's expressions and hear it in his voice-overs. He lives a life that will starkly contrast his childhood.
And just as we are beginning to reconcile with those two connected human dramas, the door to the universe and everything that ever was or will be is thrust wide open, as Malick makes a great temporal departure, affecting us with 20 minutes of select cosmic montage set to choir music – the big bang, solar system forming, the Precambrian explosion, dinosaurs walking though forests, and finally an asteroid spinning toward earth some 65 million years ago. It is Malick’s prayer, if you will, to the immutability of the universe – beautiful, ancient, and impersonal.
This grand-scale, time-lapse envisioning of the universe -- done masterfully by veteran Douglas Trumbull ("2001: A Space Odyssey") -- is placed quite well in the scheme of things. It generates the overarching tone of Malick’s fragmented, impressionistic portrait of life; and, perhaps more importantly, it disarms us for the unconventional, dream-like architecture of the film.
At the center of the film lay the story of Jack’s childhood, from infancy to emotional exile. He is born into a world of duality, as Mrs. O'Brien explains it in her voice-over, “there are two paths through life: the path of nature and the path of grace.” Jack’s life is a lamentation to that duality as he struggles to find a middle ground.
From birth to sexual frustration to questioning the authority of both biological and heavenly father,  Jack’s life is, like all lives in the caged and convoluted mess of a modern world, essentially a journey toward the loss of innocence. Mr. O'Brien, downtrodden by his own botched ambitions, raises Jack and his brothers with a military coldness, his intent to toughen them up is often tainted by his own personal frustration – “you will call me father, not daddy.”
Mrs. O’Brien, on the other hand, tends to offer the boys a somber and comforting, almost religious, feeling of love. Remember, there are two paths through life.

There are moments in “Tree of Life” that are electrifying to watch, listen to and ponder. Jack’s youth, for instance, is punctuated by very few words and is presented magnificently with a childish sense of wonder – extreme low angle shots of tree canopies, then taking his first steps, all set to a triumphant version of “Vltava,” which composer Bedřich Smetana described as tone painting to “the unification of two streams into a single current.”
We float down to that stream, and with no rock left unturned, “Tree of Life” grows, until we realize that Terrence Malick has fashioned his magnum opus: a masterwork that manages to blend all of existence – life, death, and the troubling in-between – into what feels like a single brush stroke.
The vision of Jack’s childhood appears just as he would remember it. Choice moments are there because they are poignant, and significant. It isn't necessarily presented as a “reliable” story. It is the portrait of Jack’s childhood as he sees it now, with all the bias of the lonely, middle-aged architect we first saw confronting the meaning of life in the face of death. It is clear that Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki labored to make Tree of Life look and feel like a memory of childhood in deep, solemn retrospection.

This is a religious film in the most informal sense of the word, hence the “non-denominational” title. It is my experience that, when it comes to tackling subjects such as this, people tend to demand answers, if not to placate their fears, then simply for comfort – Malick refuses to supply any. I remember pondering my place in the universe as a child, as well as after walking out of this movie. Trying to realize the vastness of it can make you sick. I was reminded of Stephen Dedalus in Joyce’s’ Portrait, when he lists his place in the world only to come to the never-ending question: “What was after the universe?”
Some turn to God to find that answer, others drown in the vast emptiness of what they find in his absence; indifferent, I enjoyed Malick’s approach.

The following is the theatrical trailer featuring “Vltava” by Bedřich Smetana.


14.8.12

It was the Batman

"The Dark Knight Rises" (2012) Batman and Bane struggle against the fate of a civilization.
By Colin Walsh


Of all things one could say about the Batman that is portrayed in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, the most noteworthy might be to remark on the rigidity of his moral code. As a symbol of justice, it is fitting that many of the moral dilemmas that Batman faces are so difficult because of that rigidity. In a world where things are so rarely defined as black and white, right and wrong, good and evil -- Batman must treat them as such.

It is this difficulty that drives the evolution of Batman and, in turn, the emotional arc of Bruce Wayne – the human protagonist. In none of the three films does Batman encounter a definitive evil that can be eradicated cleanly; with Gotham as a stand-in for a modern society -- how does its justice system deal rationally with complex threats and their ramifications: terrorism, corrupt government officials, class warfare, and mass hysteria? Surely Batman throws his weight around like the best of them, but these aren’t problems that can be stamped out with a fat wallet or a big stick.

Justice and the road to Reckoning


The Batman trilogy dissect ideas and presents plot points that are pertinent to a technologically advanced, weaponized society.

I will go mostly in chronology, leading up to a discussion of the final film.

In “Batman Begins” Wayne invents Batman as a symbol of justice: a vigilant-cause to root out the criminal corruption in Gotham’s infrastructure. Gotham had become a system that generated its power through fear and bullying. It is reminiscent of an early 20th Century America, when the organized crime was in its heyday, when cities like Chicago, New Jersey and New York got strong-armed and infiltrated by the Sicilian Mafia.
It's a world where corruption and criminality has a hold on everything – and everyone knows it. That is government of fear, a function of Tyranny.

Quite fittingly, Batman’s counterpart-villain in this film is a personification of fear: The Scarecrow. Although Batman himself is admittedly circumventing the law and using  fear to battle fear.

It is through the villains of the films that Nolan truly succeeds at telling the gripping moral duality that Batman must constantly struggle to surmount, as he is so often dangerously close to crossing the line and becoming that which he is fighting. It is a polarity that is reflected in our own world, wherein difficult decisions are often misstepped by those in power, and power is so often abused.

In The Dark Knight, Wayne makes an effort to dispose of Batman. With copy-bats running amok around Gotham, and a sour public opinion of such a warped sense of authority, he gladly submits to the notion that a Batman, a symbol of fear and vigilante justice, is not the long-term answer to Gotham’s problems. To finally eradicate criminal corruption from the city’s infrastructure, justice must be served in the courtroom, with due process. Wayne says he "believes" in Harvey Dent: a committed civil servant whom the populous trusts.

The answer to Batman’s masked justice appears to be one unveiled – the White Knight. But The Joker (Heath Ledger) causes Dent to crumble.

The Joker (Heath Ledger) is an enigmatic force that cannot be contained by our understanding of justice.


The Joker is the personification of chaos; he seeks nothing but death and the exposition of humanity’s lack of courage in the face of it. He is a stand-in for modern terrorism, and is an entirely different problem than that which was presented in Batman Begins. He cannot be conquered by fear – he thrives off of it. His is motiveless by our own understanding (burning a warehouse full of cash should have hit that one home).

Though, regardless of Dent’s demise, Batman and Police Commissioner Gordon are intent on allowing the system to remain intact while the true symbol of Justice takes the fall.

Dent succumbs to The Joker, and becomes Two Face -- a personification of chance and apathy


And thus, the final act tests the foundation of a society that is supported by a lie, when that lie bubbles to the surface.

Revolution


In one of the most thematically deliberate images I’ve seen put on film, Bane emerges from under a football stadium – the Great American Colosseum -- and puts an end to Gotham’s party. Bane doesn’t just throw a wrench in the motor of America – he fucking steals it.

Bane (Tom Hardy)


More than any other villain in the trilogy, Bane represents the antithesis of Batman -- he is an all-out personification of lawlessness -- but there are many things to consider when judging the events Bane sets into motion in Gotham City.

Certainly, Bane's actions can be justified as "evil," but the battery for his chaos actually serves a "just" purpose. What he incites is only possible because of the state of Gotham as it is directly related to the citizens' trust or distrust of their leaders. His rally-call is not death or destruction -- remember: Bane’s speech to activate his Anarchy was his unveiling of the dark truth about Harvey Dent’s final days, Gotham’s supposed White Knight. Some would call that a civil service.

It is up to the viewer to make the judgement, and it is a difficult one to make: does one rest on their laurels if they are a lie? What is the price of the truth?

Again, it is moral difficulty that drives these films. This is not simply Good versus Evil.

Looking back to Batman Begins, we know Bane is charged with bringing Ra's Al Ghul and the League of Shadow's plan to fruition. To quote Ra's' own words from the first installment:

Gotham's time has come. Like Constantinople or Rome before it the city has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving and must be allowed to die. This is the most important function of the League of Shadows. It is one we've performed for centuries. Gotham... must be destroyed.

But we must also remember that Bane is essentially a soldier carrying out a plot of vengeance on behalf of Talia al Ghul, Ra's' daughter. Bane is yet another symbol in a trilogy that is obsessed with them. Bane is the white fist on a black flag, he is the raw seductive power of disorder and anarchy (in the pejorative sense), he is reminiscent of New Left Terrorist groups such as FARC and RAF, and just like so many of those groups, the cause is rooted in genuine motivation -- it is, however, a function of evil, and Bane is planning on destroying the city and its citizens.

This time around, however, Batman will have trouble overcoming Bane and the power he wields.

Reconciliation.


The Dark Knight Rises has Shakespearean complexity, and it fleshes out plenty of the trilogy's finer points in it's symbolism and allusions, it also caps off Wayne's personal storyline. In the final chapter, Wayne must come face to face with the idea he has created in Batman, and he must first be defeated.

"I was wondering what would break first your spirit, or your body!" Bane

Bane uses class warfare as way of enacting chaos, but it is actually Bruce Wayne’s money, technology and power that make Bane’s plan even achievable in the first place.

Bane and his comrades literally steal everything from both Wayne and Batman, they tear him down to nothing and leave him deep in an inescapable prison.

It is noted in the film that “a man cannot come from privilege and conquer (fear).” Only in being stripped of his wealth and possessions, and banished to the depths of the prison in the well (a fitting symbol) does he gain the fortitude to conquer the force that is holding Gotham hostage, which again is literally his wealth and power stolen from him. Bruce Wayne must become "one of the people" so to speak, for his sacrifice to mean something to him.

This narrative trope brings together the films with coherence, Wayne has come full circle, only this time there is no caring figure (father) to lower the rope, he has lost all whom he has loved, and the man that built himself toward immortality, who seemingly cannot be killed, must learn to feel mortal again. He must struggle.

Like Lady Justice un-blinded, he must fight to keep the scales from tipping; the effect this has on Bruce Wayne swings the emotional arc of the protagonist throughout the trilogy, until he is freed from the burden of being Batman – which I think explains the ambiguity final scene.

The end of the trilogy solidifies Batman as a hero and a symbol, a solemn statue of the masked man is placed  in the courthouse, but not as Bruce Wayne, and this might be the most important aspect of the whole tale of Batman and Gotham. A society cannot worship a person, and the law must be upheld without reverence to any one man. It must be static and unwavering in the face of personal moral dilemma. My favorite recurring reminder of this is the echoed response to anyone who questions the human identity of the “hero” --


“it was the Batman.”

19.6.12

"Prometheus": the BIG questions about mythology and technology.

"Prometheus" asks BIG questions, gives us plenty to ponder.

The premise

I’ve seen Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” typed out in articles and reviews many times using BOLD CAPPED LETTERS. It’s really indicitive of how it isn’t fitting the bill of EXPECTATION. Not once did I expect a massive, sweeping epic from Scott’s “Prometheus,” which is apparently what everyone thought it was going to be. Prometheus is a dark, pointed, at times quite serious look into the depths of humanity’s relationship with itself and the universe  –  breathe in, breathe out, and tell me who read that sentence and thought,“Avatar”?

Ridley Scott’s latest film asks a lot of questions that cannot be answered because that is their nature, humanity is a never ending quest to discover them, why are we here? where did we come from? What is the point of our existence?

Let’s go down this rabbit hole and see where it takes us.

“Prometheus” is set nearly a century from now, but that is only for the purpose of plausibility. The small bit of time the story spends on Earth exists entirely as it would 35,000 years ago with anthropologists Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and Shaw (Noomi Rapace) are scouring the peaty cliffs of Scotland. There are no sprawling ergonomic cities and flying cars; they are in search of ancient cave paintings that depict a ubiquitous pattern, a anthropomorphic being pointing toward a cluster of stars in the sky. This sci fi story is going deep into the past, not the future.

Holloway and Shaw, anthropologists, are proponents of Panspermia; they believe that the similarities in the cave paintings suggest that Earth was seeded by beings from a different galactic neighborhood. They refer to these beings as our “engineers,” which is, of course, the only proper way for a scientist to say “gods.”

With that at the core of the story, “Prometheus” has built a bridge in its narrative between “science” and  whatever it is within the human mind (or soul) that makes us paint on the walls of caves, worship Gods and build trillion dollar spaceships that travel hundreds of billions of miles on a whim. It's a quest to probe the meaning of life, which will in turn examine what we have become.

The Mythology

So who, or what, is Prometheus, and what gift is stolen? Remember the Greek Mythological character did not just labor to create humanity and bequeath it fire, he was also a trickster, a very creative, yet disobedient child of the Gods. Ostensibly, we have a reversal of that mythology -- humanity is on its way back to discover it. The opening scene, which depicts the Engineer killing himself to seed earth, makes us presume him to be some sort of stand in for Prometheus.  But, what fun would it be if we took that at face value? Surely Scott, intended his viewers to think about this. Let’s take a look at David, the android, and his relationship with the human characters in the story and the Mythology of Prometheus.


Dr. Shaw, played by Noomi Rapace


Shaw has a desire to connect with “God,” whatever that may be. It is deep and pure; and she is the perfect character to search for meaning because she has none. She has neither beginning nor end; having lost her parents at a young age and being infertile. David is also parentless, in the sense that he is not human. He is treated by all characters with sterile coldness and is consistently reminded of his absent humanity. After Holloway snarks to David that people only created him to see if they could, David asks Holloway how he would feel if given that answer, after coming all this way.

A humbling thought. and since “Prometheus” doesn’t answer that question, it is entirely plausible that it’s correct.

Artificial Intelligence as a Reflection of Humanity

Those unanswerable questions, however, aren’t the only thing that “Prometheus” gives us, there is also the intriguing story of David and his relationship to the Prometheus mythology.

Artificial intelligence, specifically androids, has always given scifi story tellers an avenue to explore humanity and what makes us human. In “Blade Runner” (1982) Scott did just that. He took a look at what we identify as “human” and juxtaposed that against what we have become as a society. If we were to make an artificial human being without the capacity to adapt with apathy to a cruel world, what would its reaction to it be?



"Prometheus" shares some thematic similarity with Scott's "Blade Runner" (1982)



In “Prometheus” Scott again uses an artificial intelligence to contrast humanity. David, the unwanted child of humanity, is literally the driving force of the entire film; without him the crew does not make it into the temple, nobody gets infected, Shaw doesn’t get to leave the planet, etc. Lost on the crew is the irony of their relationship with David, it is very clear that the Engineers let things get out of hand with their own invention, and all the while their own wayward invention, David, is pulling one over on them.



If we are "Gods" does that make David "more human than human?"

In the viral TED Talk video that preceded the trailer for "Prometheus," Peter Weyland suggests that we (humans) have become the gods, in their ability to create. Certainly David wants his "father" dead, he even admits to it, saying that it is the wish of all children for their parents to die. What exactly does he say to the being he awakens from the sleep chamber right before he is decapitated and Weyland is killed?

Who is Prometheus?

At heart, he is a trickster. A wickedly creative and sly genius, who waltzes through a story that is quite horrific for most involved, with little trouble... is he not the perfect Prometheus reimagined? He steals the Vase that contains the “fire” of life, he gives it to Holloway (man), he is left helpless and decapitated after this, much as Prometheus was bound to a rock until rescued by Hercules. David does not hold the answers to the questions Shaw needs to know, but through him she is able to fathom the questions, and live to ask them, what we choose to do is ultimately what we become.


Prometheus, the wise, had the gift of foresight. Does David share it? Can Humanity retain it?