Note: Yes, I've been away. Yes, I've been busy. Yes, it's somewhat late to be prancing about Skyfall but, goddamnit, I had something to say. Expect irregularly scheduled content from here on in. I have missed writing about film.
I am currently working on my book about American Psycho too.
Skyfall is a Bond film about Bond, both genre and man. It critiques, deconstructs and celebrates the genre it inhabits. Sam Mendes and company have created probably the most important and clever Bond film of them all, well deserving of its place atop the 50th Anniversary. Skyfall is the type of film that shouldn't happen and it's the type of Bond film that, up until now, doesn't exist. There's a whole variety of 'parody' movies, even the Bond spy sub-genre has been mocked by the likes of Johnny English, but this is possibly one of the most unique films ever created. I honestly believe that this could only be accomplished by such a franchise that has now lasted for half of a century, and will continue to last forever thanks to such raw energy that has been thrown into this series once more.
What am I talking about? To understand what I'm about to say you must consider for a moment the meetings building up to pre-production. Who should we get to direct the new Bond flick? How about the guy who did American Beauty? Great!
There's a trend that picked up from the mid-2000s which seems to becoming the simple 'norm' nowadays. Big budget franchises with all of their attached iconography are handed off to independent directors who've made clever, intricate films and projects chock full of ideas. Think Sam Raimi and Spider-Man, Christopher Nolan and Batman, think Joss Whedon and The Avengers, Marc Webb and... Spider-Man again, and now James Gunn with Guardians of the Galaxy. It's one incredible high-risk strategy; hand off hundreds of millions of dollars to some independent talent that the target audience, more than likely, won't have a clue about. People don't go to Skyfall expecting something on the level of American Beauty, nor do most folks go into Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy wanting some ideas about revolutionary thought, police state, terrorism, hope and the misuse of ideology and bureaucracy.
Skyfall manages to pull off one of the greatest moves of the past five years, and I'm not sure if people have noticed. I've read some great critiques of the film; how it explores the Oedipal relationship between Bond and M, the recurring themes of 'age' against 'youth' and evaluations of the stellar performances within. This is not an essay about any of the above, this is an essay about how Skyfall mocks, berates and celebrates the genre by using the genre itself. Sam Mendes has certainly pulled off an intellectual caper.
Even in the film's advertising there was a sense that this wouldn't fit into the rest of the franchise. There seemed to be a wider emphasis on the 'elements' of the Bond film; fast cars, glamorous women, exotic locations etc. It was largely perhaps out of the franchise's impending 50th Anniversary with Skyfall being the firm flag to mark the series' long history. Journalists, reporters and film critics seemed to get caught up in the ruckus around the 'elements'. You need not Google 'Bond' for but a few links nowadays to catch Top Ten Bond Girls, Top Ten Bond Cars. The fact is, this was the setup. Skyfallrequires you to know the elements, it demands you know what a Bond film is. At the same time it's an absolutely perfect entry point for newcomers, with only cute references and nods to the concrete past. Skyfall's critique of the 'Bond' film is more interested in the abstract theory behind what makes a Bond film. The setup began long ago, probably not even intentionally.
From the film's opening moments we find Bond failing to do his job. Failing to defeat someone in hand to hand combat. Failing and falling to his death. This was all over the trailers, and I would've relished to have been surprised by this actually. It makes more sense really. Bond has to fail, he has to fall to his death so that he can rise again. It's important to note throughout watching the film how much time is spent underwater, underground and inside buildings. This is about Bond's psychological condition as much as it is his physical and meta-condition. Sam Mendes shoots Bond in the first fifteen minutes to give us a sense that he's not worthwhile, that he can't keep up and (perhaps) there's a degree of antagonism shown towards Bond. Indeed, the next time we're introduced to him he's shagging some nameless bird up a wall and necking alcohol. The film makes a definite swipe towards Bond's martini indulgence and painkiller needs, remarking at one point that Bond has been shown to be a perpetrator of "Substance abuse" and "Alcohol" abuse. He further fails his physical and psychological tests when he comes back to England, shattering a core principle of the Bond franchise: the macho male power fantasy.
The very root fact of Indiana Jones, Transformers, superhero movies and every long-standing 'action movie' protagonist is the projection of the ideal man. The perfect man. Strong, handsome, muscular, witty, clever, well-traveled with arms around big-breasted babes and toes dipped in gold. 'Men want to be him, women want to sleep with him.' That old, heterosexually orientated near-Victorian filmic idiom. Why on Earth should we celebrate Bond then? Why should we care and want to be Bond anymore when he sexes strangers, necks alcohol, pounds the painkillers and is generally just too damn old. For the first time, Bond is shown to be nothing but a pathetic waste of man. He's called "Old dog" by Moneypenny, and Silva remarks that he's "Not bad for a physical wreck." I imagine some of this would stem from the fact he did fall off a goddamn bridge in the film's opening, but it's more interesting to link both Sam Mendes' involvement and the fact that this is the fiftieth year of Bond. Why on Earth would anyone want to be this particular Bond? Bond answers it himself, "Sometimes the old ways are the best."
One clever scene, which deserves analysis in itself, is the introductory sequence between Q and 007. Note the huge disparity of age, I agree with other commentary that age and youth is a recurring theme of the picture, but note what they're looking at. "An old warship" being "hauled off" for "scrap". What does Bond see? "A bloody big ship." Q explains, in this age of cyber-terrorism, that Bond's role is simply to fill the shoes of something almost expendable, almost worthless. "Now and then a trigger has to be pulled." The shelf life is showing, the old ship has to prove itself worthy. This actual painting comes back at the film's final scene in the background of the new M's office. Well worth seeing how the 'age versus youth' theme comes full circle. By the film's end, indeed, Bond proves himself more than worthy of the double-0 mantle.
The Aston Martin DB5 rears its head again, with one pretty humorous note revolving around the ejector seat. The film is rich in references to the past, but it also delves a little deeper. We go straight to Skyfall manor, the very core of James Bond's upbringing. Only when Bond wields his father's old rifle does he truly get his aim back. Only when he dips into his own history does he find his ability return to him. Notice an underwater sequence is both at the start of the film and end of the film. Notice the touted 'exotic locations' pillar of the franchise reduced, in the third act, to encased in the British Isles. It's shot beautifully and the locations themselves are used wonderfully, but this is clearly not your typical Bond film.
The martinis and booze are to show him raggedly alcoholic, the injuries and physical wreck to show him aged and old, the locations are to show him out of touch and out of pace with the modern cinema, the cars are to show just how long he's been around and the gadgets point and laugh at the franchise. Even Q remarks that there's no "exploding pen" to be found here.
This is a Bond film that uses the Bond genre to reveal things about the character and genre. It shows the ridiculousness behind the various elements and, honestly, did you ever consider Bond to be an alcoholic? Did you ever think for him to be this old? The film points and laugh both at Bond, and at the audience for believing in him. When James himself says he "knows all there is" about "fear", there's a truth behind that. He's been around for that long. He's seen the Cold War end and terrorism stirs. But the films thus far haven't been that self-conscious. Lazenby's Bond remarked himself "This wouldn't have happened to the other guy." in On Her Majesty's Secret Service in reference to Connery. Pierce Brosnan's Bond was called a "Cold War dinosaur" at one point. The film's have certainly been self-referential, but they've never used the genre itself to show just how ridiculous and out of touch the franchise is. At the end of the picture, however, there's a sense of celebration. Even when Silva manages to wipe his M off the Earth, Bond has exterminated the last rat.
Silva's appearance may be an actual nod back to 'Jaws', who funnily enough is Bardem's favorite villain. The cyanide and psychological scars may be an attempt to modernize the villain, to try and usher Bond into the new age.
Further still, Silva's flamboyance hilariously deconstructs any trace of the heterosexual 'macho-male power fantasy' still residing in Bond. He feels him up, and even Bond remarks "How do you know this would be my first time?" A direct undermining of the idea that Bond pursues girls, and Bond girls only. Bond's very sexuality crumbles under the weight of Skyfall's prods into the genre's elements. One could comment it's an attempt to modernize Bond, that he should always encompass our times and our society.
What is Skyfall? It's a self-conscious Bond film about Bond. Not just the man but the man beyond the man. The figurehead agent who has become a figure of British cinema and irreversibly influenced the 'action movie' forever. You may see the film differently, and I encourage you to do so, but the film's approach to common Bond elements certainly directs it to be both a critique and celebration. Even when Adele is channeling Shirley Bassey with her 'Skyfall' song, the purest kind of Bond theme, there's a sense of over-indulgence. The women, the quips, the physical wreck, the alcohol; "Age is no guarantee of efficiency". Skyfall points out just how ridiculous it is to believe in this genre, to believe that it is of any worth. That this horrible man can be revered by many. The macho-male power fantasy crumbles in wake of the film's smashing criticism, it literally slaughters Bond only to bring him back to life and push him to find his place in the modern world. And he does it. Not just 'modern' or 'post-9/11' but 2012. Bond remarks himself that his hobby is "Resurrection", a double nod both to his Skyfall comeback and the very fact of the franchise. Like a Timelord he resurfaces with a new face, film after film, actor after actor, year after year after year. He keeps coming back, I really wonder if there's a sense of agony in his meta-immortality. Alike Deckard in Blade Runner he may be stuck across versions, in some being human and in some being Replicant; never free or sure of who he is. He is trapped in ambiguity, across faces and spaces and forms from the film franchise to Fleming's spy masterpieces. The film is Bond turned up to eleven, and while it critiques itself it still absolutely delights in it.
I think this was both the most impossible and appropriate Bond to make at its fifty-year inning. It's a film that takes an axe to the genre but, by its end, enjoys itself. It lets Bond win because he is worth more than just a "trigger" in this world. He is a figure of the past, present and indeed future. To Skyfall, Bond is an 'icon' and one that can be used; it chooses to let him live so that he can go on to embody new ideas and shift his tastes. Existing long past history. It's a re-evaluation and celebration of the genre, and this is the film's greatest triumph. It belongs beyond the genre, as both an onlooking critique and a sharp romp through its heart.
One sequence that sums up the whole film is the incredible 'Tennyson' poetry overlapped by scenes of an aged Bond rushing to save M from Silva's reckoning.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
It's beautifully interlinked with the franchise's history and perfectly summarizes Skyfall itself:
Though much is taken, much abides; and though We are not now that strength which in old days
A nod towards the franchise's history. That "much is taken", that so many lives have taken on the double-0 suit. Still, past actors and history, "much abides", there's still strength in the old dog (significantly, M's final gift to Bond is that of the British bulldog ornament she has on her desk throughout the film). "We are not now that strength which in old days" is a direct reference to the franchise's history, and indeed the true strength of Bond was once considered how it was both a mish-mash of Cold War paranoia and romps within.
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts,
"Which we are, we are" Almost admits that this is Bond, that this is what it always will be. That he will remain an icon; a suit to be filled. That it is there to be mocked and celebrated and watched by all. The "heroic hearts" is a further nod to the 'macho-male power fantasy' crumbling, but Bond still remaining a hero.
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
"Made weak by time and fate" is a fantastic way to show the film's self-consciousness. It knows its own history, it knows how "old" its hero is, but it is still "strong in will". It still strives, seeks and finds new ways to fight its own corner in the cinema world. Even among Batman and Bourne, it will not "yield". It will not die.
Skyfall can, in short, be seen as a spin on the aged "Can't teach an old dog new tricks." In some cases using literal reference to Bond as an "old dog", but otherwise trying to show Bond as (both the man and genre) capable of change. Capable of rebirth. It all comes back to the film's opening, that Bond will continue his path of "Resurrection". It's a Bond film about Bond, just as Spec Ops: The Line is a video-game shooter about video-game shooters and Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey is a gothic novel about gothic novels. James Bond has finally entered the age of post-modernism.
And don't get me started on the film's links to current political events and Britain's position in the wider world. This is one clever film.
t's interesting to consider the massive array of talent that was suckered into the Aliens franchise. The fire was kick-started by Ridley Scott, a man who would go on to do incredible things with the sci-fi genre. James Cameron then delivered the first sequel, another bloke who would go on to do some mind-blowing things. A youngling David Fincher got his first proper ropes with Alien 3 and he's gone on to do incredible things. The last director I won't even mention because Alien Resurrection doesn't exist.
The first film was largely a retread of the old-age horror formula with a few twists. There was a neo-gothic, alien architecture and setting along with injecting a bit of age into all the main characters. The main heroine wasn't shrieking or screaming or fainting every five seconds, nor did she perish horribly. In fact she came out of the ordeal a complete badass. Aliens is not a 'horror' movie. It doesn't have scuttling monsters around air ducts, it's a war movie. It has its moments of suspense but it's otherwise a very action-heavy affair.
Aliens is a film with robot-sentries and Alien queens and giant stretches of the xenomorph anthology. This is definitely a super-sized sequel. For the first time you get a real feel for the universe, for the place that the films have taken place within. The silence of the first film's soundtrack is replaced by this bombastic score and it's all done to show just this vast universe. Refineries and factories, hospitals and apartments, ships in outer space and the original's plot fits in nicely. Ripley's grown a lot since the original, she's been having nightmares (which I'll discuss in detail tomorrow) and it's time to beat the nightmares to death. With bullets.
Any vulnerability that Ripley had before has now been shed away. If you compare the times that Ripley encounters the xenomorph in the original with her encounter with the Queen then you get a very different character. But it feels like a progression of the same person. Over the course of these films she slaughters them like butter and then, in the end, feels herself able to go toe to toe with the biggest and baddest.
There's still the themes of innocence (the pursuit of a cat replaced with the pursuit of a child) and there's suggestions that the film is quietly self-mocking. The lines of "Game over man! Game over!" and "Get away from her, you bitch!" seem incredibly exaggerated, but this is an 80s action flick and not a late-70s horror flick anymore. But the film is still incredibly clever and, I would argue, a lot more emotional. The moments when Ripley discovers she has outlived her own daughter, the 'Mommy' moment with Newt and the team-effort 'last stand' that goes on. The film is rich in tension but not of the 'horror' kind, we're just wondering when the bad guys will show up.
I noted before that the theme of innocence pervades in a different way and indeed both films are rich in symmetry. They both end practically identical to each other, there's still a sweeping silent shot of the ship as the crew cyrosleep and Ripley still goes into a closet at the end to escape a nasty. Except this time instead of coming out shaking in a spacesuit she dons a loader and ices the queen-mother-motherfucker. The genre flip of 'horror' to 'action' is probably at its most explicit during the final half-hour. There's explosions, larger sets and a completely different tone to the original. There's still elements of claustrophobia and a neo-gothic feel to some of the film but the lighting, the sets and the mixture of characters feels completely alien.
I think it's incredibly interesting to watch the series flip from its sci-fi horror roots, imbued with traditional elements and set-ups, to then into one of the most bombastic action sequels of all time. Cameron would later show again what he could do with massive budgets with his sequel to the Terminator which I would argue is the greatest action sequel of all time. Aliens isn't worse for wear for having an action-gun-ho sequel, it's still often quite terrifying, I'd say it feels a lot more fresh.
The series somewhat nosedives in the next flick and takes on a ridiculous mixing of both the original and the sequel. The final film in the series, that doesn't actually exist, just amps up the horror to disgusting Saw like 'revolting' levels. It isn't fun. But Aliens is where the series went from a clever horror into a bombastic and incredible action vein. There are few series I can name that actively 'genre flipped' like Aliens did. read
Note: I get a bit too preachy and feministy with this, and indeed assume and rant and whatever. I'm sorry. Last few days have been a nightmare.
What do you think of when I say 'classic strong female heroine'? Some of you literature folk will raise your fingers towards the likes of Austen and her collection of protagonists, or Lady Macbeth from 'The Scottish Play'. Some of you history people, me included probably, will yell out Pmily Pankhurst or Eleanor Roosevelt. A few of you will namecheck Bella from Twilight or Lara Croft or choose from a plethora of responses. I fully expect Joss Whedon's name to be in the mix of descriptions too. The phrase of 'classic strong female heroine' always sparks images of Sigourney Weaver in Alien or Aliens, not the latter two.
Exactly why this is has been a plaguing question for a while. Yes, Weaver's Ripley is an empowered, strong and witty female who holds her own against xenomorphs never mind the mostly 'male' crew. The film is probably, as thousands of much more cleverer folks have pointed out, an incision into the Vietnam War and its consequences. The most patriarchal of all of life's pursuits, at leas that's what history will teach you. Ripley, however, gives us the full story about conflict and community; that women are badass too.
Except 'badass too' would likely cause some sting with a slice of the feminist community. That to be on the same level of men in the context of one film isn't enough. As a more easy feminist myself I would somewhat agree, but I'd point out the absolute presence that Weaver's character has on the entire franchise. She's namechecked when she's not there, she's the only focus of the fourth movie, she defeats a legion of nasties and she's the protagonist. That last one is probably the most obvious to anyone, but this is important to consider given the realm of sci-fi horror we're dealing with.
In the realm of 'horror' then the girl is usually one of the first to die and in the realm of 'sci-fi' they're often treated with some disrespect. Blade Runner, another Ridley Scott film, treats females with either a righteous empowerment, giving great ability to the Replicant females and showing absolute oppression, or a distinct misogynist slant, the 'pleasure' model Replicants are females and Deckard only ever kills female Replicants directly, depending on how you interpret it. Ridley, in the case of Alien however, takes a vastly different approach in my opinion.
I can say that I can count enough 'good' films with female protagonists on one hand. Sarah Connor from Terminator (James Cameron also directed Aliens), Beatrice Kiddo from Kill Bill, Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, Ellen Ripley from Alien series and arguably Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Obviously if you expand that to literature and I'll need a lot of hands.
Empowered female characters in films is another story too. What I'm talking about is 'protagonist' and the paradigm of the protagonist, the very model of the lead character, isn't necessarily decided by gender but it seems to be somewhat 'the case'. The vast majority of stories have male protagonists with females serving as a cause of destruction, a femme fatale, eye candy to gawp at, a damsel to be in distress, a Maggie Thatcher male-empowered 'Look I can shoot guns too' figure or simply 'wife/girlfriend'. I'm not playing the feminist here. It's quite fun to look at the works of Christopher Nolan and try to find a single woman in his filmography that isn't a foil to the protagonist. Not that Nolan is a misogynist but I wondered for a while why he has females to be so destructive, unfair and generally viscously disgusting 'creatures'. Then I remembered Alien.
I will probably write about Nolan's 'use of women' in his films at a later date but I think he uses them as such vile, violent characters because they often destroy men. A few extreme circles would argue that he is simply showing how the patriarchal society that we have created has now created such desperate, tragic figures as Mal (Inception) or Natalie (Memento) or Selina Kyle (The Dark Knight Rises). The same goes true for Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Shakespeare may be showing such a distress (and indeed powerful being) because she only manipulates what is put upon her; masculinity, sexuality and the crushing weight of being a female. Although they're all debatable really.
Alien is not about the 'female metaphor' destroying the 'male society metaphor'. It has nasties with phallic weapons, the men tend to die a lot or do stupid stuff, and even in Blade Runner Scott portrayed the men as drunk or obese or killers or cold-blooded or envious or generally disgusting or perverted amongst others. Alien's take on the 'protagonist paradigm' is indeed a challenge of the status quo, but in a reverse as to what the ilk of Nolan and Shakespeare have created. It's showing empowerment not through showing distress, and the consequence of macho-male dominated society, but through plain empowerment. Ripley is probably the strongest female protagonist of all time by virtue of her being one of the strongest protagonists of all time full stop. read
I am so so sorry for dying for the past few... months. I apologize so so much. Consider this my 'comeback' because I've given up video-game journalism for filmy stuff instead. Expect more and more of ME around these parts.
I did plan to do an essay on Aliens tonight but then I remember that I'm an idiot. I did an essay on the original Alien a few... months ago but I really didn't do it any justice. I have a strong love for the original Alien and I think it's Ridley's finest hour outside of Blade Runner. I've decided that before writing on Aliens I need to go back and deliver some more essay action on the original Alien. Prometheus also happened and the DVD/Blu-ray is released over here in exactly a month so I'll write something on that too.
So, Aliens season.
The original Alien will get another essay written about it for Friday (which happens to be my Birthday) on the topic of the 'protagonist'.
The week afterwards will be 'Aliens' week, finally, where I'll discuss the move from horror-focus to action-focus under the direction of James Cameron. I'll also write a 'Pop Psychology' essay on confinement and the psychological metaphors that the film series carries throughout anyway.
Alien 3 will have an essay with a strong emphasis on the direction of David Fincher compared to Scott and Cameron's preview vision of the xenomorph violence. There will also be a 'Scene Incision' in which I talk about one of the film's scenes in massive detail, with screen caps and stuff. It won't be Cinematography #101 but more of a deconstruction of a specific visual piece.
The critique of Alien Resurrection could probably span a whole month's worth of essays. Not because it's bad but because it's so different. The first essay will focus on Joss Whedon's screenplay and how it was adapted to the actual screen. The second essay will be a 'Pop Philosophy' in which I address Existentialism or something.
I have no idea what to essay about with Prometheus but I would like to say that I consider it a good film. It's heavily flawed but it's Ridley Scott's best film in years, maybe even decades. I'll talk about it.So this is 'Aliens Season' to make up for my absence from 'essaying' as a whole and to finally fulfil that promise I established a long time ago. The essays will vary on their length but I will be watching the Alien Anthology numerous times between now and Prometheus, beginning right now when this post goes out.
So that was pretty good. Better thanÂ Dark Knight good? Not sure. It feels like a completely disconnected film yet familiar with its escalation. It's like a lovechild between the two films actually, and this lovechild is beautiful. Okay that makes me sound a bit likeÂ paedophile.Â Rises is aÂ different film from the previous two. I have some minor gripes with the moments of exposition (Nolan is not a natural writer,Â Inception already proved that), I disagree with the consensus that Anne Hathaway 'stole the show' (for me it was JGL, Caine, Oldman and Bale) and I also have some problems with some of the editing in the film. Other than that it's a pretty solid feature and Tom Hardy defies all odds to command a stronger position than the Joker ever did. That's not to say Heath's performance wasn't worse, it was miles beyond Hardy'sÂ repertoire, but Hardy's portrayal of Bane just has this raw physical presence which really can't be articulated. The quirk on his voice, the physicality and the ideology that drive Bane make him, for me at least, the centrepiece villain of the entire trilogy and a fitting villain to finalize the dark knight legend.
So that's it. No need to talk about anymore. Whatever! And in case I don't see you, good afternoon, good evening and good night!
Well we both know that this isn't how my writings usually end;Â abruptly. If anything they're long-winded attempts at some pseudo-intellectual incision into a film or something.Â The Dark Knight Rises is a politically intricate, morally messed and wonderfully woven masterpiece of cinema. I will probably discuss the trilogy as a whole someday, I could probably write a book about it (hint hint), but instead I want to focus on something. The ideology of hope.
I've heard slander towards the film that it's Anti-Occupy, fringes on becoming fascistÂ paraphernalia, a love letter to extreme capitalism and a raw defence of the 'police state'. I don't think it's any of these things. I think what is portrayed is two extremes battling it out to save the livelihood of the world's citizens.Â The Dark Knight was about the war on terror,Â Rises is more about a war on revolution. I think in the end Nolan settles for something more pleasingly ambiguous, and in fact seems to see that no matter what revolution we choose what matters is that we keep our humanity intact. A lot of this was taken from some abstract viewing of the film but there was a slice of concrete political thought that I took from the film. There's a strong weight given to the separate ideologies of Batman and Bane, namely surrounding that of 'hope'.
For the majority of the film Nolan decides to literally break one of the biggest genre conventions known to mankind; that of the hero/heroine learning to not fear death. InÂ Rises, Bruce Wayne revolts against the trilogy's status quo of 'sacrifice' and instead smashes into a whole new outlook on his very life: to fear death is not a weakness but aÂ strength. The lack of a fear is used against him as he tries to break Bane, only to get torn in twain himself. When he comes back with the raw 'want' to survive he practically breaks Bane in every place possible. It's interesting now we can see the trilogy as a whole: it's about Bruce finding a way to sacrifice himself for the good for Gotham, about him losing any hope for his future life (with Dawes' death) and then regaining it with the events ofÂ Rises. It's in some flavours a 'coming of age' story, albeit with a near 40 year old protagonist by the end of the three films. It's also about a realization involving 'hope'.
Bane details that there can be no despair without even the slightest bit of hope. It's why he has the bomb ticking away and hiding the tick-tock from Gotham's ears. There's still hope to survive. It's why he breaks Batman, but doesn't kill him, there can be no despair without hope. Batman's compass points in a different direction, that without hope we have nothing. It's an interesting ideological battle that spans the film and tears into other relationships and characters. Of particular interest is the way that John Blake still sends the kids to sit in the school bus when Bane looks to have won in blowing up Gotham, he'd rather the kids still have a little hope even when all is truly lost. That's all we have. "Sometimes the truth isn't enough, sometimes people need to have their faith rewarded." There are so many callbacks to the previous two films, even with the score by Zimmer and some of the camera shots, it really is a true 'curtain call'.
Once John Blake takes on the ideology of Batman then we can see exactly what will happen next. He will become the successor, a man willing to allow himself be shot and blown up to save Gotham's smallest. Selina Kyle similarly tells Bruce that there's no way he can defeat Bane, and Bruce tells her that he might be able to do it with her help, giving her the slightest bit of hope. It's what changes her character from this moral mess into an ally for Bats, the giving of hope. Whereas Bane sees hope as a weakness, Bruce eventually sees it as a weapon. Without hope we have nothing.
It's wonderful to hear that the lost words of Bruce's Batman are given to Gordon and they detail what may be the most subtle plot twist of the entire trilogy. The "warmth" that a single cop gave to him on the night of his parent's death made sure that his "world hadn't ended". That was where the hope came from, that's where Bruce became Batman. Thomas Wayne's morals and Alfred's fatherly guidance all steered Bruce in the right direction, but from the moment there was a flicker of hope given at Bruce's darkest hour (the night is darkest just before the dawn) he was reborn.
That's what serves as the ideological battle between Bane and Batman. There's an entanglement of hope and truth as Harvey Dent is unravelled as a false idol for the people of Gotham at the hands of Bane. The school children that went back to the school bus were, in Blake's eyes, just seconds from nuclear destruction. To Bane, the truth is what drives us and to Batman it is hope. Who wins? Batman... surely?
Maybe that'll take us on to the next discussion ofÂ Rises... at some point. read
30 years ago Ridley Scott changed the world. I genuinely believe Blade Runner was a watershed moment in cinema history and I have absolutely no experience in dissecting and theorizing as to why it is so monumentally powerful. All I can do is produce a 130-page fanwork, a labour of love, in an effort to express exactly why Blade Runner has twisted me into the person I am today.
I embarked on this project over two years ago. Iâve grown substantially as a writer and a journalist with this little project being a full display of my talent. I can talk about how I am horrible with my grammar, blasphemous with my spelling and poor with my sentence structure but I believe Tears to be the best work I have ever produced. It was all for Blade Runner and, more importantly, for the Blade Runner fans.
I do hope you enjoy my interpretations, my theories and dissections of context within Blade Runner. It was both a torture and a pleasure to produce and you can expect Blade Runner Week to kick off tonight with a full-on Review of the picture.
âIâll try to terrify you first, and if that doesnât work, Iâll horrify you, and if I canât make it there, Iâll try to gross you out. Iâm not proud.â â Stephen King
Alien is probably one of Ridley Scottâs most acclaimed films. It sits alongsideÂ Blade Runner in his filmography as a bombastic science-fiction master piece, I still seeÂ Blade Runner as his âmagnum opusâ however.Â Alien spawned a franchise vacuum that was filled by a wide variety of acclaimed directors. James Cameron, David Fincher and that other guy. Over the next few weeks Iâll be taking a hammer and chisel to theÂ Alien Anthology fromÂ Alien toÂ Aliens toÂ Alien 3 to that other one. I might even squeeze in something onÂ Prometheus, though I havenât seen it enough times to essay it up. Maybe when itâs release Iâll throw myself at it.Today, Iâd like to focus on the most primitive of human emotions. A pre-mammalian biological artefact nestled right in the recesses of our brains. Fear. Probably both the worst and most stimulating emotion that the body has to offer.Â Alien is a science-fiction horrorÂ thoroughbred, and when I first saw itâŚ it was the day I became a man.Not literally of course. That would be ridiculous. But I did wet myself a couple of times. But thereâs three aspects ofÂ science-fiction horror, a triad of elements. Thereâs some shared horror texture with the wider Gothic genre, and youâre more than welcome to investigate it further if you want. This is just me being me. Applying some basic understandings of science-fiction horror to a little film.
Terror is the tension and the delay of âhorrorâ. Itâs the patient game, and arguably what constitutes most of the meat of a good horror film. It gives structure and added meaning; setting the tone and atmosphere for a film can do wonders for whatever it wants to show you. Alien excels at introducing us to âhorrorâ. Even from the beginning shot we have a long, drawn out look at space. The introduction of the Nostromo shows the underbelly of the ship, similar to the opening toÂ A New Hope actually. Except when we enter the ship, weâre shown a claustrophobic, tight and steel environment. Thereâs a sense of lifelessness within the ship, and the tight corners already have us on the edge of our seats, counting down to that jump scare.
âAnybody tell you you look dead?â Parkerâs foreshadowing right at the beginning is, in my opinion, actually slightlyÂ humorous. Back when the film was advertised as the brainwave sci-fi horrorÂ amalgamation, to hear the word âdeadâ in the first few minutes should have us thinking that the film is jumping the gun. It makes perfect sense, however, to establish something in the film. Death is going to fuck up everything.
Long shots of the ship, sweeps through corridors and focused looks on tense characters all amp up the tension and the wretched terror throughout the film. We donât even see any form of the xenomorph until a good way into the film, and itâs worth it. Because of all that build-up, we are able to have our climax of absolute wretched horror. The score by Goldsmith helpsÂ tremendouslyÂ to set the mood too. Cosmic opera at times during shots of the ship, timid little beats during corridors sweeps. Perfect to fit the environment, and the environment is absolutely crucial to aiding the feat of storytelling.
The unfamiliar, smoke laden LV-426 paints a smokey maze of a planet. Here, the crew encounter the nasties. The use of smoke to obscure our perception is pretty common or Ridley Scott. He did the same thing withÂ Blade Runner, probably more so. The use of smoke in the urban setting was to create a sense of disconnection between people, of a docile mass yet disconnected individuality. The consumerism commentary takes a proper hammer and sickle to the filmâs environment, except I donât seeÂ Alien as that political. There is an obvious Vietnam allegory underneath its xenomorphic sheet, but I really donât see it as really saying as much asÂ Blade Runner. Although itâsÂ Blade Runner after all.
But the smoke helps obscure the alien environment, and to think this was barely a decade after America went to the goddamn moon. The imagery of planets, of worlds beyond worlds, it was all new to everyone. The likes ofÂ Star Wars promised adventure and excitement andÂ E.T showed visitors as cutesy and cuddly.Â Alien andÂ Blade Runner were Scottâs anti-thesis to the sci-fi idealism boom. For too long had mankind longed for the future, now it was time to create rawÂ fear. The smoke, the environment, the ambiguity of some characters (and the particular reveal of Ash) all tunnel us towards an inevitable spiral of terror. Eventually, however, terror gives way to horror.
Horror is the explicit flavour of fear. Itâs when we are literally horrified, disgusted, repulsed or shocked by the content on display.Â Alien has a lot of climaxes to its paces of terror. The chestbursting aliens, the final action scenes and even the ship crash at the beginning. Itâs a film about elevated terror that eventually cripples us with absolute horror. Itâs actually fairly conventional for a horror film, I think the cleverness comes with the science-fiction twist.
As said before, the idealistic future boom was tiding over and Scott slammed it back. Suddenly the future wasnât all bright andÂ lollipops, and Scott was able to shoveÂ 1984 and Philip K. Dick right into his projects.Â Alien even has a corporation that is fine with the killings of its crew, as long as itâs for the greater good of bringing the xenomorph home. These things, certainly to the audience at the time, are absolutely horrifying. How can such a massive body of economic wealth not care about its empl- well it was fresh at the time.
Horror is explicit, that doesnât necessarily means itâs dumb for it. Some of the engagement and twisted enjoyment withÂ The Thing, for example, is seeing the creature adapt and mutate and slaughter its way through the crew. The ambiguous finale has been picked apart, as we may be faced with an alien that is now utterly human. Ridley Scott would visit uncanny humanity with a film that was releasedÂ on the same day withÂ Blade Runner. In fact, all roads lead toÂ Blade Runner.
I think this is the genius ofÂ Alien, its allusions. It doesnât go full retard (we never go full retard) like the âother oneâ, and the âones that seriously didnât happenâ. It has the right formula that a horror film needs, with a sci-fi skin to glaze some of the thematics together. Itâs easy to see how the beginningâs tension leads to the first few skirmishes of horror, and the terror escalates quicker and quicker, ramping up past every horrifying moments. Thereâs lulls in the tension to allow for the audience to catch their breathes and the story beats, but itâs all in one massive effort to get us towards the finale.
Speaking as a 17 year old who sawÂ Alien when he was fairly young, you have no idea just how scared I was. This was during a storm of nightmares, I think everybody has that weird time in their youth. I had my dreams of snakes, dragons, Napoleon (I would though wouldnât I) and soonÂ Alien gave birth to a new sort of nightmare. Night terrors, ones that made me scream to wake myself up. I was tortured by my sub-conscious for some time, and I wondered for a while if it was entirely possible that I was doing harm by watchingÂ Alien. I soon realized, however, that this was simply my way of personifying my fears.
Thereâs some modern critiques of horror that say itâs exclusively about the audience seeking dark, disgusting messes in order to âpurgeâ their own dark side away. It uses some Freudian theory as a basic template, seeing our âidâ (the childlike, impulse driven side) as the darkly underling of our sub-conscious as trying to orchestrate this need to watch horror. Maybe it purges it away, maybe it washes its control awayÂ temporarily. Something like that. But there is something to horror that has us coming back, and thereâs something to my earlier nightmares which gives me a sense of glee. Monsters are terrifying, disgusting but (above all) they are often gross. That is a part of life.
I remember taking part in sex education lessons when I was younger and watching a live birth. I vomited for about a week. Throughout my entire life Iâve come close to gore and utter revolting imagery thanks to video-games, comic books and films likeÂ Alien. Seeing these presentations has desensitized me. I felt an odd numbness watching the photos of the body of Gaddafi being paraded around the news networks; probably because I had just done watchingÂ Inside Natureâs Giants (possibly one of the greatest nature documentaries of all time).
Alien captures the sense of utter grossness perfectly. Some of the scenes back in the day would have likely driven physical sickness. I felt physically sick too when I first saw it, likely due to me being so young. But the gross factor gives us some kind of entry level to life. I hate to get philosophical often but I fundamentally believe that your childhood, your innocence and your feeling of âimmortalityâ drips away as death creeps into your life. Death of relatives, death of characters on television and even reading about the scientific process of death. Death is a simple fact of life and the minute you introduce it to a childâs lifeâŚ utter confusion occurs. Weâre psychologically trained to reject it from an early age; mortality is a fact that we canât comprehend. I fully believe that the fruits of culture have managed to dilute death down to something more bitesize and that is an incredible thing.
For an entire populace to be now ready to enter into adulthood, to recognize their mortality, is incredible. I also believe that death makes life worth living anyhow, and I donât really care about religious squabbles about the process of it. Go away.Â Alien is probably one of the most important films of my childhood because, and Iâve been sitting on this for a while now, it absolutely ruptured my world. I was so scared, so caught in nightmares and torment simply because I was grossed out by the disgusting depiction of death. I was too young for it, and I just the impatient path of learning about mortality. I happily say today that I wouldnât be the man I am today without seeing the film so young, and I see that as a completely positive thing. read
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is often revered as the greatest Western ever made. It's a near 3 hour epic spanning across the US civil war, covering the Wild West at its absolute peak. TheÂ grandiose score, the inter-connected web of the characters, the depictions of the landscape and other heavy features of the American West all blend into one fine soup of a film. I've analysed Sergio Leone'sÂ For A Few Dollars More and A Fistful of Dollars with the focus of identity, but for the finale of the 'trilogy' it's more fitting to take another approach. With Ugly I'll be taking a crack at seeing just how 'ugly' it actually is; by considering the very nature of 'beauty' in the world.Â
"You know you got a face beautiful enough to be worth 2000 dollars?" Tuco is dubbed 'the Ugly' and the sarcasm of 'beautiful' comes throughout the opening act. Blondie (previously 'Mwnn' (Man With No Name), Eastwood's character) and Tuco work together to scam the local bounty hunting trade, with Eastwood rescuing Tuco from hanging just before death. The value on Tuco's life at first is assumed to be 'Ugly' moral deeds he has committed. They're even read at length to himÂ every timeÂ he is 'hanged'. Tuco seems to relish in his crimes, at many points laughing or appearing blatantly ignorant to what he has committed. Even after murdering someone all he can say is "If you have to shoot, shoot! Don't talk!" a basic wisecrack after he's ended a life. Tuco's very ideals about life are ugly, but his physical appearance is valued in the same semantics.
Obviously, he isn't hunted down because he's ugly but there's some kind of looseÂ Frankenstein allegory to the picture, I'm serious. When Tuco assembles one of his earlier guns, after Blondie double-tricks him, he instead takes different pieces of other guns and sorts them together. Ugly pieces, but a beautiful working whole? Remind you of anything? Tuco is however not a tortured creature, nor is he hunting for his original creator. He does however eventually torture Blondie through a trip into the harsh sandy wastelands, and so the value of life itself in this landscape does somewhat correlate to your physical appearance. The dashing Blondie is rigorously tortured by the ugly, venomous Tuco in an act of vengeance. The journey that the two go on is filled with humour, sadness, brutal tension and all kinds of genre blends. It's a real thrill to watch them interact with each other, given their polar racial and moralistic opposites. Blondie, in contrast, is referred to as the 'Good', the good looking perhaps.
He is certainly dashing.
'The Bad' however? I'm not sure. Lee Van Cleef is a certainly handsome gentleman, so the correlation between morals and outward appearance ends there. The fairytale assumption that if you're bad, you're bad looking, falls apart here.Â Ugly is certainly not a Western fairytale, but now I'm suddenly relishing at the very thought of perhaps the two blending together. Perhaps a challenge for modern filmmakers? A mix ofÂ classicistÂ fiction and hard boiled genre pulp? Could be fresh and interesting.
'Superficiality' itself, and the value of beauty, is integral to fairytales likeÂ CinderellaÂ andÂ Snow White. There's no abstract connection between the materials, I doubt Sergio Leone sought inspiration from such things, but it's fun to see that the 'dashing prince' of the fairytale world could be Eastwood's character in theÂ Ugly world. He is valued more crucially than any of the characters, probably because he has the most rare piece of information. Tuco and Angel Eyes (interesting choice of name) both come into possession of knowing the location of the treasure, but only Blondie knows the name of the grave throughout the entire picture (even playing the theme of deception against the other two).
The movement of beauty
The movement of beauty[/b]'Gold' and the element of extreme beauty is at the very narrative thrust of the picture, and its very beauty moves the characters to their destinies. There's a reason why Ennio Morricone's seminal piece is called 'The EcstasyÂ of Gold', it's because the wealth has such a direct and emotional connection with the characters of the narrative. I've read capitalistic critiques of the film in my little time researching other interpretations, and in fact I toyed with the idea of 'money' being the crucial driving force of the entire trilogy;Â it is called the Dollars trilogy after all. What I think the trilogy addresses, and whatÂ Ugly addresses, however is the value and beauty behind money. The American dream, the superficial glitty to whichÂ Gatsby andÂ Crucible and so many American greats have devoted their thematics to exploring.
The movement of beauty throughout the picture takes on various forms. Tuco's catchphrase is practically 'FilthyÂ bastard', with the final line of the movie being 'Dirty son of a-'. There's an emphasis on filth andÂ decadence, perhaps of the moralÂ flavour, and the object of beauty moves throughout the picture in various forms similar to Tuco's. It comes throughout the repetition of filth, the moralistic pursuits, the American dream, the "rotten trick of fate" that is the character's underlying destiny, the value of life and also the core theme of deception. The soldiers that Tuco sees as Confederates (who dress in grey) actually dust off their uniforms, revealing themselves to be clad in blue (Union) and Blondie plays all the characters to his will, even pulling a possibly posthumous joke on the survivor of the last stand by having no name on the stone (which is actually a truth, the name is 'Unknown').
As the beauty takes on various forms, it's easy to understand just how significant of a factor that superficiality played into the world of the Wild West. The grandeur 'gold rush', theÂ taverns, the booze and the rampant bandit trade allÂ epitomiseÂ an era of superficiality built around the core pursuit of greed and happiness within greed. Why is it then that we are on Blondie's side? Why do we cheer on the likes of Tuco against Angel Eyes? We see Angel Eyes slaughter an entire family, an old man and insult a gangrene dying fellow but we still care more about Tuco. We listen to Tuco's crimes: his rapes, murders, killings, desertions and so on and so on. But, the truth is, beauty comes through Tuco in a different way.
Because he is the underdog, and it felt weird watching a film that had such massive screentime for his character, and I wonder if it dwarfs Eastwood's screentime too. Beauty comes through Tuco not through his torturedÂ Frankenstein emotions, nor his heroic endeavours nor even his anti-heroism. It comes through his actions. He shoots people, wisecracks and he plays the dirty, scavenging and uglyÂ scoundrelÂ of the piece. He becomes obsessed with the idea of the treasure, but his religious devotion and humour make us still appreciate him as a character. Here, beauty moves in a significantly different way and it's interesting to consider that the world of the Western was indeed full of such benignly abnormal folk.
Style and Realism
Style and Realism[/b]Here's where things get slightly more interesting. I don't utterly believeÂ Ugly to take a post-modernist slant on its many ideas, and in facts some of its reflections on ideas such as wealth appear simply to dip into surface levels. The exploration of the American dream is spread throughout its three racially diverse, morally diverse and interestingly webbed characters however. I do believe thatÂ Ugly seems to have a lot in common with the great American novel of the 20th Century, perhaps moreso than its traditional roots. It's not historical fallacy at all, in fact it gets across that authentic brutal feel of the West quite easily. What post-modernism means is a rejection of the 'post-industrial' era that we now reside in.Â Ugly came out at the tip-end of our technological evolution, the buds of the 21st Century were wallowing in the sands of the Western world and cinema, literature and other cultural passions were undergoing a revolution. Charles Dickens was one of the most authors to popularize a realistic and gritty working class perception on the 'modern' civilisation, but authors like Bukowski were able to usher in an era of pulp realism, dirty realism, that shocked audiences and rewrote the books on censorship and free speech.
Ugly depicts a violent, brutal world that is now beyond mankind... right? In fact, it came out just as Lyndon B Johnson was escalating the Vietnam war and sending Americans to fight the Red Scare in that pursuit of international freedom and prosperity. Sergio Leone is not fabled for his political masterpieces and critiques, but instead for his gritty depictions of worlds, layered characters and showing the full heat of narratives. He is to me at least, with his extreme close-ups and emphasis on music, an incredibly stylistic director and this makes me truly wonder if the story he is telling is simply one about the obsession ofÂ aesthetics. The pursuit of the characters, that binds them and connects them, is the extreme wealth.
InÂ aÂ Fistful of Dollars, Eastwood's character donated a good chunk of money to a family to escape. InÂ For A Few Dollars More, he cleaned up a bandit unit with 'Mortimer' (also played by Van Cleef, confusingly for those who view the trilogy as a cohesive narrative), but here inÂ Ugly he's... simply out to get rich? He destroys a bridge with Tuco to help the soldiers and give a Captain one last moment of pleasure, but in the end, it's just in the pursuit of his individual wealth. While he doesn't slaughter families like Angel Eyes, and he doesn't rape and pillage like Tuco, he isn't the hero we deserve... but it's the one we need. He's the 'least bad'... and he's the most good looking. Beauty comes in many ways throughout the picture, and I don't think it's ever truly 'moral' and I don't think you can ever appreciate or admire their moral sensibilities, even of Blondie's. TheÂ apparentÂ 'Good' apple of the story.
And so I return to the lands of film theory. Throughout my examinations, I was able to find the smallest of relaxation times. I spent it reading up on some philosophy, psychology and tried to beef up my repertoire of film theory techniques. After finishing my studies, I think Iâm ready to start going off the beat. This isnât really an introduction to this essay, but itâs instead a warning. Soon youâll be getting Freudian analysis of films, feminist examinations, Nietzschean application and all kinds of abnormal bits of film essaying. Iâm waxing on, I know, but this is my statement. I am riding back into town and soon theyâll be a book on the table called Tears In Rain (entirely dedicated to Blade Runner) and soâŚ I know too much. I know too little. Itâs time to spread the joy around tinseltown and invite everybody in. In other words; I am back.
And thereâs only one way to truly celebrate that fact:
This will be a two part essay with the first part mainly focusing on identity within A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More. The second part will then address the immortal The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in incredible detail (perhaps our first âPop Philosophyâ lesson). Regardless, itâs time to start discussing our first topic and first films in this trilogy: identity.
People often overlook that The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was preceded by two incredible works of Western. I think that might be because itâs so grandiose of a title, or maybe because itâs generally considered by critics and folks alike to be the finest Western of them all. A genre entirely built inside the vein of the American West should never have been so purely popular, but it was a little spin-off from the action genre. An illegitimate child then, with the likes of Eastwood peppering it with popularity. Itâs easy to see then that thereâs the issue of identity both inside and outside of these films. Inside with Eastwoodâs character and outside with recognizing the other films in the Dollars Trilogy. Iâve read critical examinations that itâs a critique of capitalism, American expansionism and even a brutal critique of the American dream. Iâve also read that itâs just a fun Western film.
Itâs easy to spot the issues at the very heart of these pictures. Eastwoodâs cowboy, Man-With-No-Name demeanour carries such masculine swagger you can see why so many women flocked to see the films. Heâs handsome, tall and devilishous. Thatâs âdevilishâ and âdeliciousâ compounded together. Except Eastwood demands it, nay, deserves it. The cast, for the most part, feels full of first-timers and B-grade actors. There are a few shiners like Mortimer and Angel Eyes (played by the same actorâŚ in the same trilogyâŚ heavily confusing) and Tuco and El Indio but, for the most part, Eastwood carries the films to glory. His piercing, eagle-like eyes across the beautiful American (actually Spanish) landscapes epitomise his very character. A watcher; both within and without.
Some could argue thereâs parallels with The Dark Knight with the âwatcherâ quality. A silent protector and borderline anti-hero. Iâd argue Eastwoodâs man-with-no-name is utterly anti-hero to the core.
Except this already established one of our issues of identity within the films: heroism. A Fistful of Dollars opens up with an opportunity of heroism, which Mwnn (Man With No Name) utterly refuses. Some of the townsfolk tell him heâd make a âgood scarecrowâ, and the innkeeper Silvanato tells him that Mwnn is âJust like the rest of your kindâ, that all he does is âeatâ and âdrinkâ and âkillâ. In A Few Dollars More, Mwnn is given a full-on explicit name with âMancoâ. We have our issues of identity established within the realm of heroism: idleness, reluctance, anti-hero, conformity, recognition.
âIdlenessâ comes about with Mwnnâs refusal to help Marisol at the beginning of Fistful, and as he gains more and more money we see him as greedy and (in some sense) we lose our sympathy. As much as we see the violence and the rotten greed of the Rojo brothers, itâs hard to still identify with Eastwoodâs character. We then are seeing him âconformâ to the âRest of your kindâ. Mwnn loses individuality, when in fact a hero is someone who rejects the villainâs purpose and seeks selfless pleasures. In short, we lose our ârecognitionâ of the character; the root of all identity.
Without a name, without any identifiable nationality and with no trace of sympathy or supportâŚ Mwnn seems lost in the film. His loss of identity should create dissonance between the audience and the narrative, we should not care. He wears a poncho, a cowboy hat, he has American mannerisms and talks about as much as Goslingâs Driver (Drive). But, eventually, we learn to see just how ugly the Rojos are. We learn in A Few Dollars just how much good that the actions of Mwnn are doing. In Fistful he gives all of his money to Marisolâs family, so they can escape. He truly becomes an âanti-heroâ, showing his compassion through his heroic actions. In short, he becomes moral. He gains an identity.
But, still, the identity is tested. He vanquishes his early idleness, his âscarecrowâ natureâ, in Fistful by finally fulfilling the heroic deed that was available to him at the very beginning. He finally destroys reluctance, right after the filmâs incredible destruction of the Rojosâ opponents (the lawful Baxters) and suddenly all âissuesâ, all conflicts of identity should be rested. But we still do not know who Mwnn is. We know his names. âJoeâ in Fistful, âMancoâ (meaning one-armed) in For A Few Dollars. We now understand that Mwnn is utterly unique in the world of film: he is the first truly adaptable, universal character.
And here comes the full throttle of Sergio Leoneâs narratives: universality. Mwnn is whoever we want him to be. He is a ruthless bounty hunter, carrying a cart of bodies and a bag of a million dollars at the end of For A Few. He is a trusted hero, a charming man with a moral centre at his core with his deeds in Fistful and his treatment of the kids in For A Few. He is, in some senses, the Nietzschean ideal. The true âsupermanâ. Across nationalities, beyond strength, moral and all kinds of incredible. He may get beaten down, but he still manages to go on even without a heart (in Fistful).
With Mwnn a universal character, Leoneâs main dilemma is in making him a being that the audience can still identify with. Kids can see his macho-male power and aspire to wash away all criminal immoralities. Men can see his do-goodery and moral attitudes as a signal of what to do in life. Women can watch how devilishous he is. Except thatâs a generalization, not everyone will want to see Mwnn for his moralistic attitudes, his aspirational Nietzschean qualities nor for his handsomeness. A concrete, named, swaggering hero is one that people could so easily identify with. The emotional difficulty of Peter Parker in Spider-Man, even the relationship within Drive and the personal disasters of Nic Cageâs David Spritz in the phenomenal Weather Man. People donât always need a hero, but they need someone to care about.
But in Fistful, Mwnn puts it plainly. That there are Baxters on one side, Rojos on the other and he is caught âin the middleâ. He is, again, both within and without. He can be the hero that the town deserves and, by the end of the film, both gangs are vanquished and the heroic quest is complete. The âmiddle-manâ that is Mwnn is merely a guiding light in the narrative, but not a strict âheroâ in the typical sense. If anything, he isnât an anti-hero either. I donât think this is a mistake of the film at all, it amplifies the brutal realism. He is a human being at the end of the day, with difficulties and attitudes and ethics. We learn to like him, not through seeing him win (he eventually does) but seeing him suffer. I noticed both in Fistful and For A Few Dollars that the second act, when the hero should fall, Mwnn is beaten up in both films. He is stripped of his physicality, tipped over the edge of death but leans back in and swipes the bad guys down. That is what makes us, even if it is quite a slow-burning plot, truly celebrate a character.
Mwnn still tries to find barriers between his true self and his outer ego. Mortimer, pictured above, is a reflection of Mwnn. He smokes, but instead of a cigarette itâs an old-fashioned pipe. He says that he was âlike you onceâ, he is a ruthless bounty hunter and excellent with guns. By the end of the picture, however, Mortimerâs character is given an emotional climax. We see how the dots all connect, that this was (all along) a personal voyage of Mortimer. He has become entangled in his heroism, itâs now no longer selfless, but we care nonetheless. Mwnn allows this denouement to occur, helping it play out just the way we want it to. The bad guy loses, Mortimer looks to retire but Mwnn goes off with a cart of bounties (bodies) and all the money.
This is the very universality of Mwnn, that he can be both incredibly compassionate and yet (at the end of the day) regress into the âAverage Joeâ (he actually dons the name âJoeâ in Fistful) who just wants to get the most money. He is the purest capitalist in the Western genre and itâs easy to see why heâs so celebrated in this regard. The kids in For A Few Dollars ask if heâs a âCaptain?â or a âGeneral?â and Mortimerâs character is a âColonel.â Itâs as if Mwnn completes the chess set of a military hierarchy. He slots in, he conforms. However, âthere isnât anyone got the guts to face that killerâ right? No-one has the guts to face El Indio? Mortimer does, as we begin to realize who he is. But the true ânobodyâ of the picture, indeed Fistful also explicitly says that âNobodyâ can put a stop to the gangsterism of the town, is Mwnn. He is a nobody. He has no name, no history and his identity moves beyond universality to cover all kinds of bases. He is both within and without.
There is a wealth of discussion topics with the Western trilogy, and while I decided on identity, I could have explored so many others. Capitalism, political antagonism, philosophical and psychological explorations, genre staples and conventions, elements of gothic blends (El Indioâs score is infected with a Gothic-like piano echo), the movement of the American Dream and all other theoretical nails to puncture the films with. But, I decided on identity. It has been covered ad nauseum in numerous film theory papers and studies and articles but there are specific strands of identification that (I believe) have not been covered in great detail or have no been covered at all, to my knowledge.
Itâs quiteâŚ broad of me to suggest that sexuality is one of the identification muddles of the picture. The filmâs display of the devilishous Eastwood portrays a strictly heterosexual relationship with its audience and, should in turn, its characters. Itâs even more the merrily interesting when you notice in Fistful that Mwnnâs interest in Marisol is never identified as a sexual one or even romantic. In For A Few Dollars More, the woman of the picture (Mary) is barely given any linesâŚ if none at all if I remember correctly. Mwnn takes no interest in women, maybe he was married or maybe he just hasnât found the right one yet.
Itâs however a little more intricate when Mwnn at one point says that, when he leaves the Rojos room (in Fistful) that theyâve offered to him, that âI donât find you men all that appealing.â In For A Few Dollars More thereâs a scene when Mwnn looks at a picture of Il Indioâs bounty in his bed. He even enters Mortimerâs bedroom, plays around with his belongings and (strangely) looks at him across the street with binoculars. Iâm not suggesting Mwnn is homosexual, that would be incredibly stupid, but I am suggesting that the sexuality of the character is a lot more interesting. This then gives rise to him being universal into the modern sense, now that homosexuality is much more accepted itâs now better to see back with new context glasses and see the sexuality of Mwnn with added detail. Heâs neither purely homosexual or heterosexual, I believe the film suggests both. It has to, because its very issues of identification creates the movement of identity itself. Mwnn is both within and without the very film, displaying mannerisms and attitudes both modern and traditional. He is universalâŚ he is the American West.
The American West died at the springing of the 20th Century. The entire Dollars trilogy explores the Western world at its very peak. âCowboys and indiansâ as one boy puts it in Fistful. Gunslingers, cowboys, horseback, gold, bounties, taverns, buxom babes and swingingâŚ homosexuality. Brokeback Mountainâs aesthetics bleed into mind and this is exactly what Mwnn explores throughout the films. He is the greatest example of the American West, encompassing all of its traditions, glories,ruthless immoralities and complexities. Thereâs a reason that Eastwoodâs character comes to mind when the Western genre is brought up, thereâs a reason that Mwnn is so revered and the Dollars trilogy is the comparative piece for any modern WesternâŚ because it deserves it. It covers the entire American West, nearly its full history (even its attitudes to the Mexicans, with the language of characters zipping between Spanish and English) inside itself. Mwnn explores all of these paces with the element of universality under his heels.
These a brave, eccentric and entangled films. I truly believe that the full trilogy is the figurehead of the Western genre and the movement of identity is at its very course. Even in todayâs society, there are continual qualities of modern identity woes. Sexuality is an ever-shifting plateau, individuality is scrounged, anonymity is worried over, religion and belief is both vindicated and celebrated, politics is all about the branding image and the promise of the American Dream (of ârugged individualismâ) is dead in the economic waters. Mwnn is exactly this too. His sexuality is layered, his attitudes is suggested, his heroism is both selfless and selfish, he is utterly universal (thereâs a reason heâs the one to infiltrate El Indioâs gang), his individuality is removed with his lack of a name, his anonymous persona parades the entire narrative. The Dollars trilogyâs protagonist, if he can even be called a âprotagonistâ, doesnât just encompass the American West but the entire world. read
This was a pretty hard decision for me to come to, but itâs one that I need to take. For the next month and a half Iâll be thrown into the hardest academic period of my life and I need to be at peak efficiency. This means Iâll be taking a long break from the internet in general, no more Redditing for me! The fact is, I just donât have the time to make quality writings right now. I always like to spend time crafting pieces and noting ideas and putting effort, research and myself into these pieces and essays. Unfortunately, it seems I simply canât afford to even write anymore. This means that Iâll be taking a hiatus for the remainder of this month and all of May. Iâve decided Iâll still be tweeting, answering emails ([email protected]) but IâŚ I was stupid not to stockpile articles and stuff and this will not happen again. Next year, there will be weekly content that Iâll just write months in advance. Or something, we shall see.
This means Iâll have a lot of stuff to do, and Iâve been promising stuff over my Twitter and in my essays over the past few weeks that all needs addressing.
Journey: I have played it, I will essay it as soon as I get back. I promised it for last week but, timing and revision and stuff etc. It'll be on my regular blog and on my DTOID blog.
Filmy Essays:The Dollars Trilogy, The Alien Anthology, Prometheus, Pulp Fiction, Titanic, The Weatherman, Empire Strikes Back and so many more films. These will all be essayed. You can read these over on my regular blog or here.
Up, Down, Left, Right â Volume Four: I need to do some heavy planning on this, but it might not be coming this Summer. Iâm reworking the premise and philosophy of the piece, and after Volume Three I just want more time to work on these things.
Up, Down, Left, Right Remasters: I promised these months ago. I will get to them this August if it kills me.
Tears In Rain: My book on Blade Runner will be coming out on time. I havenât finished writing it yet but I will get it completed for the 30th Anniversary if it kills me.
Film Book 2#: Weâll seeâŚ
Because Iâve broken your heart (and mine) Iâm putting together a Welcome Back package. Itâs a lot like what Sony did during the PS3 hacking scandal except without money and scandal involved.
Weekly Essays: Gaming essays (like the good old days) every Saturday, filmy essays every Sunday. All throughout this Summer.
Critique Corners: I canât get get into the juicy stuff without essaying it, and I prefer the new format anyway.
Blade Runner Week: All throughout the 30th Anniversary week (25th June â 1st July) there will be seven articles. Essays, reviews, scene analysis. All found on my regular blog and here.
So, there you go. Thatâs me bidding farewell for a month and a half, wish me luck. As soon as I get back Iâll be chucking out essays every week. Articles, updates and other projects will come at the same time. This will not happen again, this little hiatus, I promise. Itâs due to my poor planning really.
Feel free to email, tweet and whatever me over the next few weeks.
âI command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.â
I canât really recall my first time withÂ Star Wars. I can recall seeing each of the prequels in the cinema though. My little feet tripping with excitement, my face lighting up when the CGI blitzkrieg came upon meâŚ I was young. I grew older, grew more bitter and swore at the prequels. They now, in my mind, were the âother onesâ. I re-watched the full saga over and over, it became a stepping stone of my childhood to adulthood.Â Star Wars, to me, is one of âbumpsâ of pop cultureâŚ itâs goddamn everywhere. Iâve been going over them with my film theory glasses onÂ and thereâs something about each of the episodes which sends a shiver down my writerâs side.
Empire Strikes Back is still one of the finest pieces of science-fiction cinema every constructed, and to me personally itâs one of the best films ever made.Â A New Hope howeverâŚ is a bit silly to start ranting on about? Indeed, I was going to just throw myself atÂ Empire and be done with it, but re-watchingÂ A New Hope Iâve taken a new liking to it. I always saw it as âAct Oneâ. better thanÂ Jedi obviously butÂ Empire stands way too tall forÂ A New Hope to be considered in the same league.
Thisâll probably be 100% film theory because I simply havenât the time to find reading materials, web readings and other bits to string together something a lot more academic. This is my interpretation and theorizing behindÂ A New Hope, a film I see as stretching outwards into biblical proportions. Faith itself.
"As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed."
From the beginning of the story weâre shown a Rebel force that is, in one word,ĂÂ hopeless. Weâre shown them absolutely massacred in the face of the sweeping fist of the empire and (suddenly) weâre then thrown into a smaller story. The story of this farmboy with big ambition, with big hopes and dreams and the âNew Hopeâ title becomes all the more potent. Weâre shown the very humble beginnings of this little Tatooine boy who, eventually, saves the goddamn galaxy from an imperialist force that borrows the name of its military force (Stormtroopers) straight from the goddamn Nazis.
âHelp me Obi-Wan Kenobi, youâre my only hope.â Hope seems to be an underlying theme throughout the entireÂ Star Wars saga but I think itâs probably more explicit throughout the fourth episode. Somewhat because this is the one where Luke has to find out who he is, what heâs capable of and become a Jedi knight so he can kick his dad in the shins. With the force, obviously. Ben Kenobi seems to be this mystical, mysterious character that weâre introduced to quite quickly and then told to trust him because of this strange aura that (I feel) once again returns with Yoda. Age, tradition and that twinge of wisdom.
Kenobi is a figure of faith, an image of hope for Leia. He is a relic of the old age in which the Jedi ruled, and he himself says that the battle against the empire would be an âIdealistic crusade.â Interesting to note the use of religious language throughout the film. Grand Moff Tarkin and other Empire high-commanders all refer to Jedi as an âancient religionâ filled with âsorcererâsâ and Vader violently harmsĂÂ AdmiralĂÂ Motti when he calls Vaderâs devotion âsadâ.
âI find your lack of faith disturbing.â
I donât want to be the one to investigate whether or not Vader represents religious extremism or any kind of sub-textÂ allegorisingÂ blah blah blah. Itâs stupid and way too superficial in film theory to assert that âthis means thatâ, Iâm simply saying that âthis could mean that and also this and weeeee!â Itâs a lot more fun that way. I am more however inclined to see both Kenobi and Vader as polar opposites within the sphere of faith of the force. Kenobi tells Luke to do âWhat you feel is rightâ and the use of âfeelâ comes throughout the entire film.
Luke says âI have a bad feeling about this.â Just before the âThatâs no moonâŚâ Moment. Han even uses it in the garbage chute. Itâs interesting to note that Han remarks himself that heâs âNever seen anything to make me believe thereâs one all powerful force controlling everything.â Whether or not the force could be synonymous with a belief in a higher power, namely a theistic belief, is something worth note.
âFeelingâ isnât like âFaithâ though exactly is it? Except to have faith, we have to have trust in something. InÂ Empire even Vader uses âfeelingâ withâŚ âSearch your feelings, you know this to be true.â Right after revealing himself to be Lukeâs father. Probably the biggest âmind=blownâ moment in all of science fiction cinema history. Faith is used as an instrument of truth, and the physical (or what little âphysicalâ) manifestation of faith is the force.
âThatâs good. You have taken your first step into a larger world.â
âHe was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. It was our sins that did that to Him, that ripped and tore and crushed Him.â
âWe seem to be made to suffer!â Threepio laments as he walks across the sand dunes of Tatooine. The burden that Threepio and R2 carry might determine the fate of the entire galaxy, and it is indeed a burden. Both Threepio and R2 find themselves under immense punishment of the Jawas, and then the burden passes over to Luke. What little family he has is completely murdered and (eventually) the burden passes on to Han, Leia and (eventually) the entire Rebel force.
The burden of the cross might be, inÂ A New Hope, the death star plans. Planets are destroyed over it and the Empire seems to stop at nothing, desperate for the first time it seems. What happens, however, is that in such punish circumstances thereâs a renewal of faith. R2 has the plans at first, and he goes off into his journey believing in his âmissionâ. A prophet in his own right. Soon Threepio and Luke are swayed to the idea, when Lukeâs family is murdered, and eventually Han joins in the crusade right at the end to save the goddamn universe because heâs Han goddamn Solo.
The âdestinyâ that Obi-Wan speaks of seems to exist in peopleâs heads. But, it happens doesnât it? The âprophecyâ that was talked about in the âother filmsâ came true? That was a destiny wasnât it? Thereâs an element of fate to theÂ Star Wars universe that has been covered and investigated much more dashingly by other writers. Go! Google them!
After seeing Obi-Wan Kenobi die, Luke hears voices in his head. Surely this is the mark of hallucination? Some people see it as the absolute fringe of Lukeâs idealism and heroism, his very faith. That he begins to hear the voices, and eventually seeÂ apparitionsÂ of the dead. The eternal line of âMay the force be with youâ runs straight into the Rebel briefing, which confused me at first because I donât see the Rebels as representing or in fact preserving the old Jedi orderâs values.
Nevertheless, the punishment of the characters amplifies the desperation and thus the faith itself. Right at the very end we see a Luke who turns off his targeting computer at the request of the voices in his head. Itâs the most maddening thing in the entire saga, I feel, an probably the biggest gamble of belief until then. In fact, seeingÂ A New Hope as âthe firstÂ Star Warsâ is absolutely perfect in cementing something. The audienceâs belief in the force.
We too are punished. Our favourite characters suffer, we watch people die, we see planets destroyed and (inÂ Empire especially) things look exceptionally weak under the Empire. Except, under such punishing circumstance, we turn to heroism and the goodness in humanity. We too believe in the force, something we canât actually see.
âYour eyes can deceive you, donât trust them.â
Hope and Theism
âTribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope.â
- Romans 5:3-4
Iâm not one to state, at every turn, about my beliefs. I believe they have nothing to do politics, government, media, opinions or whatever. I donât think your belief can be evidencefor your argument against abortion, that your doctrine is just a belief and not a weighted set of arguments. Moralistically, there is some weight to it, but Iâm not one who believes that government can be theocratic. I donât, on the other hand, believe that religion is evil. I believe that the good things canât detract from the bad things and that, for the most part, evil men have made an excuse out of religion to act out their own wishes. I believe militant atheism to be the absolute epitome of intellectual masturbation, god I love that phrase (heh âgodâ) and I think it doesnât belong in film theory whatsoever.
I am, however, at the end of the day going toÂ interfereÂ with my own writing. Literature, film or whatever is merely (at the end of the day) an extreme study of both the conscious and sub-conscious intentions of the director/author/whatever. Whether or not George Lucas is a believer can be answered with a quick Google, but instead, Iâm here to answer something else.
Throughout this flimsy lamentation of film theory I have referred, endlessly, to âbeliefâ and âfeelingâ and the âforceâ. I think itâs quite silly to see the force as an âall powerful force controlling everythingâ, as Han Solo believes, I instead think the force and the people co-exist and help each other. Obi-Wan himself says it only âpartiallyâ controls your actions. Iâm still not, addressing, however just howÂ Star Wars addresses theism.
I donât want my beliefs toÂ interfereÂ with my film theory, but itâs important for you to know this. I donât want you to think anything of it, but you do need to know that I do believe in God. I wonât go into detail because then itâd turn into some personal waxing, but my belief in God did not come fromÂ Star Wars or âthe forceâ. It came from something else, but what I do see inÂ Star Wars isnât entirely an underlying âtheismâ approach to hope or faith or whatever. Itâs simply âthe forceâ, something which binds us and keeps us all together.
Perhaps âloveâ might be better a term? Although âUse the love!â might be straight out of a Nineties porno.
Oh god I just implied I watch retro pornography.
A New Hope is about a lot of things. Itâs about heroism, David vs Goliath, some essences of neo-classicalist, itâs about journeys (perhaps biblical ones, redemption through the entire saga, Darth Vaderâs sacrifice being a tragic alignment with that of Jesus Christ etc.), itâs about discovery, itâs about faith, itâs about love, itâs about diversity butâŚ what I think it really is at its core is about hope. Hope against the machine, that there will be a brighter tomorrow. I honestly thinkÂ StarWars is about self-belief, itâs a moral compass that points to our very self. We are the masters of our own destiny, and the âall-powerful forceâ co-exists. It doesnât force us, or care and it might love us or be indifferent.
On second thoughtsâŚ my beliefs might beÂ interferingÂ very heavily with my own interpretation ofÂ Star Wars.
What do you think?
ESSAY OVER Iâm not too sure on this one guys, I think I waxed a bit too close to home and didnât really talk aboutÂ A New Hope in enough depth. Iâm not sure if I should carry on with the essay series, but I am thinking of doingÂ The Dollars Trilogy with a deft focus on narrative, protagonists and identity? Let me know what you think. read
About Nathsies One of us since 12:00 AM on 00.00.0000
I'm Nathan Hardisty, an author, ex-editorial writer for Platformnation.com, ex-games writer at Screenjabber. I now write for a variety of sites on the internet while still updating both my DTOID blog and my regular blog, which can be found below.
Before you ask I am only seventeen years old and I live in England. If you have a problem with either of those facts then I suggest you leave the building you are situated in and get hit by a van. If no van appears after three or four hours then a car will do. Thank you.