Nathsies's blog

4:36 PM on 12.04.2012

Skyfall: Bond about Bond

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 ofJohnny 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 didAmerican 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 andThe Avengers, Marc Webb and...Spider-Man again,and now James Gunn withGuardians 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 toSkyfall expecting something on the level ofAmerican 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 andbureaucracy.

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 howSkyfall 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 withSkyfall being the firm flag to mark the series' long history. Journalists, reporters and film critics seemed to get caught up in theruckusaround 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 thesetup.Skyfallrequiresyou 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 whatmakes a Bond film. Thesetup 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. Bondhas 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 aperpetratorof "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 ofIndiana 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 andwant 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 bethis 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 "hauledoff" 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 prettyhumorousnote 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 Bondwields 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'sfavoritevillain. 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 ofSkyfall'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 isSkyfall? 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 noguaranteeof 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 fantasycrumbles 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 Skyfallcomeback 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 inBlade 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' poetryoverlappedby 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 perfectlysummarizesSkyfall 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 Warparanoiaand 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 asSpec Ops: The Line is a video-game shooter about video-game shooters and Jane Austen'sNorthanger Abbeyis 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.

Let the skyfall.

When it crumbles.

We will stand tall.

Face it all.

Together, let the skyfall.

When it crumbles.

We will stand tall.

Face it all, together.

At Skyfall.   read

1:37 PM on 09.23.2012

Aliens: Call to Action

t's interesting to consider the massive array of talent that was suckered into theAliens franchise. The fire waskick-startedby 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 withAlien 3 and he's gone on to do incredible things. The last director I won't even mention becauseAlien Resurrectiondoesn'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 isdefinitelyasuper-sizedsequel. 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.Refineriesand 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.

Anyvulnerabilitythat 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 theTerminator 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 disgustingSaw like 'revolting' levels. It isn't fun. ButAliens 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' likeAliens did.   read

11:13 AM on 09.17.2012

Alien: The protagonist paradigm

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 fromTwilight 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 inAlien orAliens, 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 mostpatriarchalof 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 ofAlien however, takes a vastly different approach in my opinion.

I can say that I can count enough 'good' films with female protagonistson one hand. Sarah Connor from Terminator(James Cameron also directedAliens), Beatrice Kiddo fromKill Bill, Dorothy fromWizard of Oz, Ellen Ripley fromAlienseries and arguably Lisbeth Salander fromThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Obviously if you expand that to literature and I'll need alot 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 generallyviscouslydisgusting'creatures'. Then I rememberedAlien.

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 oftendestroy men. A few extreme circles would argue that he is simply showing how thepatriarchalsociety 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 inMacbeth, 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 alldebatablereally.

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 inBlade RunnerScott 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 byvirtueof her being one of the strongest protagonists of all time full stop.   read

5:18 PM on 09.08.2012

Aliens Essay Season

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 onAliens tonight but then I remember that I'm an idiot. I did an essay onthe originalAlien a few... months agobut I really didn't do it any justice. I have a strong love for the originalAlienand I think it's Ridley's finest hour outside ofBlade Runner. I've decided that before writing onAliens I need to go back and deliver some more essay action on the originalAlien.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 originalAlien 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 ofAlienResurrection could probably span a whole month's worth of essays. Not because it's bad but because it's sodifferent. 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 withPrometheus 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 andPrometheus, beginning right now when this post goes out.

Many thanks and I'll see you soon,

Nathan   read

10:41 AM on 08.16.2012

An update

Not dead. Writing books. Maybe a filmy essay soon. I know I promised to write every week. Many sorries. Busy busy with university applications.


Nathan   read

5:03 PM on 07.23.2012

The Dark Knight Rises: The ideology of hope


So that was pretty good. Better than 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 like paedophile. Rises is a different film from the previous two. I have some minor gripes with the moments of exposition (Nolan is not a natural writer, 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's 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; abruptly. If anything they're long-winded attempts at some pseudo-intellectual incision into a film or something. 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 fascist 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. The Dark Knight was about the war on terror, 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. In 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 a 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 of 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 of Rises... at some point.   read

11:18 AM on 06.25.2012

My free eBook on Blade Runner is now available

It’s available here to read in PDF (for now).

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. I’ve 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.


Nathan.   read

12:49 PM on 06.18.2012

Alien: Genesis of fear

“I’ll try to terrify you first, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll horrify you, and if I can’t make it there, I’ll try to gross you out. I’m not proud.” – Stephen King


Alien is probably one of Ridley Scott’s most acclaimed films. It sits alongside Blade Runner in his filmography as a bombastic science-fiction master piece, I still see Blade Runner as his ‘magnum opus’ however. 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 I’ll be taking a hammer and chisel to the Alien Anthology from Alien to Aliens to Alien 3 to that other one. I might even squeeze in something on Prometheus, though I haven’t seen it enough times to essay it up. Maybe when it’s release I’ll throw myself at it.Today, I’d 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. Alien is a science-fiction horror thoroughbred, and when I first saw it… 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 there’s three aspects of science-fiction horror, a triad of elements. There’s some shared horror texture with the wider Gothic genre, and you’re 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 ‘horror’. It’s 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 ‘horror’. 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 to A New Hope actually. Except when we enter the ship, we’re shown a claustrophobic, tight and steel environment. There’s 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.

“Anybody tell you you look dead?” Parker’s foreshadowing right at the beginning is, in my opinion, actually slightly humorous. Back when the film was advertised as the brainwave sci-fi horror amalgamation, to hear the word ‘dead’ 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 don’t even see any form of the xenomorph until a good way into the film, and it’s worth it. Because of all that build-up, we are able to have our climax of absolute wretched horror. The score by Goldsmith helps tremendously 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 with 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 film’s environment, except I don’t see Alien as that political. There is an obvious Vietnam allegory underneath its xenomorphic sheet, but I really don’t see it as really saying as much as Blade Runner. Although it’s 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 of Star Wars promised adventure and excitement and E.T showed visitors as cutesy and cuddly. Alien and Blade Runner were Scott’s anti-thesis to the sci-fi idealism boom. For too long had mankind longed for the future, now it was time to create raw 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. It’s when we are literally horrified, disgusted, repulsed or shocked by the content on display. 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. It’s a film about elevated terror that eventually cripples us with absolute horror. It’s 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 wasn’t all bright and lollipops, and Scott was able to shove 1984 and Philip K. Dick right into his projects. Alien even has a corporation that is fine with the killings of its crew, as long as it’s 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 doesn’t necessarily means it’s dumb for it. Some of the engagement and twisted enjoyment with 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 released on the same day with Blade Runner. In fact, all roads lead to Blade Runner.

I think this is the genius of Alien, its allusions. It doesn’t go full retard (we never go full retard) like the ‘other one’, and the ‘ones that seriously didn’t happen‘. It has the right formula that a horror film needs, with a sci-fi skin to glaze some of the thematics together. It’s easy to see how the beginning’s tension leads to the first few skirmishes of horror, and the terror escalates quicker and quicker, ramping up past every horrifying moments. There’s lulls in the tension to allow for the audience to catch their breathes and the story beats, but it’s all in one massive effort to get us towards the finale.


Speaking as a 17 year old who saw 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 wouldn’t I) and soon 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 watching Alien. I soon realized, however, that this was simply my way of personifying my fears.

There’s some modern critiques of horror that say it’s exclusively about the audience seeking dark, disgusting messes in order to ‘purge’ their own dark side away. It uses some Freudian theory as a basic template, seeing our ‘id’ (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 away temporarily. Something like that. But there is something to horror that has us coming back, and there’s 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 I’ve come close to gore and utter revolting imagery thanks to video-games, comic books and films like 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 watching Inside Nature’s 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 ‘immortality’ 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 child’s life… utter confusion occurs. We’re psychologically trained to reject it from an early age; mortality is a fact that we can’t 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 don’t really care about religious squabbles about the process of it. Go away. Alien is probably one of the most important films of my childhood because, and I’ve 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 wouldn’t be the man I am today without seeing the film so young, and I see that as a completely positive thing.   read

5:33 PM on 06.10.2012

The Dollars Trilogy - Part Two: The Good, The Bad and the significance of beauty


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. The 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's 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. 


"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 him every time 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 loose 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. 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 of classicist fiction and hard boiled genre pulp? Could be fresh and interesting.

'Superficiality' itself, and the value of beauty, is integral to fairytales like Cinderella and 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 the 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 Ecstasy 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; it is called the Dollars trilogy after all. What I think the trilogy addresses, and what Ugly addresses, however is the value and beauty behind money. The American dream, the superficial glitty to which Gatsby and 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 'Filthy bastard', with the final line of the movie being 'Dirty son of a-'. There's an emphasis on filth and decadence, perhaps of the moral 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', the taverns, the booze and the rampant bandit trade all epitomise 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 tortured 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 ugly scoundrel 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 believe 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 that 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. 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 of aesthetics. The pursuit of the characters, that binds them and connects them, is the extreme wealth.

In a Fistful of Dollars, Eastwood's character donated a good chunk of money to a family to escape. In 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 in 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. The apparent 'Good' apple of the story.

Next week: Alien   read

5:26 PM on 06.03.2012

The Dollars Trilogy - Part One: The movement of identity


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 I’m ready to start going off the beat. This isn’t really an introduction to this essay, but it’s instead a warning. Soon you’ll be getting Freudian analysis of films, feminist examinations, Nietzschean application and all kinds of abnormal bits of film essaying. I’m waxing on, I know, but this is my statement. I am riding back into town and soon they’ll be a book on the table called Tears In Rain (entirely dedicated to Blade Runner) and so… I know too much. I know too little. It’s time to spread the joy around tinseltown and invite everybody in. In other words; I am back.

And there’s 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 ‘Pop Philosophy’ lesson). Regardless, it’s 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 it’s so grandiose of a title, or maybe because it’s 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. It’s easy to see then that there’s the issue of identity both inside and outside of these films. Inside with Eastwood’s character and outside with recognizing the other films in the Dollars Trilogy. I’ve read critical examinations that it’s a critique of capitalism, American expansionism and even a brutal critique of the American dream. I’ve also read that it’s just a fun Western film.


It‘s easy to spot the issues at the very heart of these pictures. Eastwood’s cowboy, Man-With-No-Name demeanour carries such masculine swagger you can see why so many women flocked to see the films. He’s handsome, tall and devilishous. That’s ‘devilish’ and ‘delicious’ 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 actor… in the same trilogy… 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 there’s parallels with The Dark Knight with the ‘watcher’ quality. A silent protector and borderline anti-hero. I’d argue Eastwood’s 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 he’d make a “good scarecrow”, and the innkeeper Silvanato tells him that Mwnn is “Just like the rest of your kind”, that all he does is “eat” and “drink” and “kill”. In A Few Dollars More, Mwnn is given a full-on explicit name with ‘Manco’. We have our issues of identity established within the realm of heroism: idleness, reluctance, anti-hero, conformity, recognition.

‘Idleness’ comes about with Mwnn’s 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, it’s hard to still identify with Eastwood’s character. We then are seeing him ‘conform’ to the “Rest of your kind”. Mwnn loses individuality, when in fact a hero is someone who rejects the villain’s purpose and seeks selfless pleasures. In short, we lose our ‘recognition’ of the character; the root of all identity.

Without a name, without any identifiable nationality and with no trace of sympathy or support… 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 Gosling’s 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 Marisol’s family, so they can escape. He truly becomes an ‘anti-hero’, 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 “scarecrow” nature”, in Fistful by finally fulfilling the heroic deed that was available to him at the very beginning. He finally destroys reluctance, right after the film’s incredible destruction of the Rojos’ opponents (the lawful Baxters) and suddenly all ‘issues’, all conflicts of identity should be rested. But we still do not know who Mwnn is. We know his names. ‘Joe’ in Fistful, ‘Manco’ (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 Leone’s 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 ‘superman’. 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, Leone’s 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 that’s 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 Cage’s David Spritz in the phenomenal Weather Man. People don’t 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 “in the middle”. 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 ‘middle-man’ that is Mwnn is merely a guiding light in the narrative, but not a strict ‘hero’ in the typical sense. If anything, he isn’t an anti-hero either. I don’t 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 it’s an old-fashioned pipe. He says that he was “like you once”, he is a ruthless bounty hunter and excellent with guns. By the end of the picture, however, Mortimer’s 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, it’s 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 ‘Average Joe’ (he actually dons the name ‘Joe’ in Fistful) who just wants to get the most money. He is the purest capitalist in the Western genre and it’s easy to see why he’s so celebrated in this regard. The kids in For A Few Dollars ask if he’s a “Captain?” or a “General?” and Mortimer’s character is a “Colonel.” It’s as if Mwnn completes the chess set of a military hierarchy. He slots in, he conforms. However, “there isn’t anyone got the guts to face that killer” right? No-one has the guts to face El Indio? Mortimer does, as we begin to realize who he is. But the true ‘nobody’ of the picture, indeed Fistful also explicitly says that “Nobody” 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 Indio’s 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.

It’s quite… broad of me to suggest that sexuality is one of the identification muddles of the picture. The film’s display of the devilishous Eastwood portrays a strictly heterosexual relationship with its audience and, should in turn, its characters. It’s even more the merrily interesting when you notice in Fistful that Mwnn’s 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 lines… if none at all if I remember correctly. Mwnn takes no interest in women, maybe he was married or maybe he just hasn’t found the right one yet.

It’s however a little more intricate when Mwnn at one point says that, when he leaves the Rojos room (in Fistful) that they’ve offered to him, that ”I don’t find you men all that appealing.” In For A Few Dollars More there’s a scene when Mwnn looks at a picture of Il Indio’s bounty in his bed. He even enters Mortimer’s bedroom, plays around with his belongings and (strangely) looks at him across the street with binoculars. I’m 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 it’s now better to see back with new context glasses and see the sexuality of Mwnn with added detail. He’s 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 universal… 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. “Cowboys and indians” as one boy puts it in Fistful. Gunslingers, cowboys, horseback, gold, bounties, taverns, buxom babes and swinging… homosexuality. Brokeback Mountain‘s 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. There’s a reason that Eastwood’s character comes to mind when the Western genre is brought up, there’s a reason that Mwnn is so revered and the Dollars trilogy is the comparative piece for any modern Western… 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 today’s 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 “rugged individualism”) 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 (there’s a reason he’s the one to infiltrate El Indio’s gang), his individuality is removed with his lack of a name, his anonymous persona parades the entire narrative. The Dollars trilogy’s protagonist, if he can even be called a ‘protagonist’, doesn’t just encompass the American West but the entire world.   read

11:18 AM on 04.15.2012


This was a pretty hard decision for me to come to, but it’s one that I need to take. For the next month and a half I’ll be thrown into the hardest academic period of my life and I need to be at peak efficiency. This means I’ll be taking a long break from the internet in general, no more Redditing for me! The fact is, I just don’t 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 can’t afford to even write anymore. This means that I’ll be taking a hiatus for the remainder of this month and all of May. I’ve decided I’ll still be tweeting, answering emails ([email protected]) but I… I was stupid not to stockpile articles and stuff and this will not happen again. Next year, there will be weekly content that I’ll just write months in advance. Or something, we shall see.

This means I’ll have a lot of stuff to do, and I’ve 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 – Volume Four: I need to do some heavy planning on this, but it might not be coming this Summer. I’m 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 haven’t finished writing it yet but I will get it completed for the 30th Anniversary if it kills me.

Film Book 2#: We’ll see…

Because I’ve broken your heart (and mine) I’m putting together a Welcome Back package. It’s 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 can’t 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 – 1st July) there will be seven articles. Essays, reviews, scene analysis. All found on my regular blog and here.

So, there you go. That’s me bidding farewell for a month and a half, wish me luck. As soon as I get back I’ll 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. It’s due to my poor planning really.

Feel free to email, tweet and whatever me over the next few weeks.

I’ll see you soon.   read

5:22 PM on 04.01.2012

A New Hope: The Influence of Faith

“I command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

I can’t really recall my first time with 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 me… I was young. I grew older, grew more bitter and swore at the prequels. They now, in my mind, were the ‘other ones’. I re-watched the full saga over and over, it became a stepping stone of my childhood to adulthood. Star Wars, to me, is one of ‘bumps’ of pop culture… it’s goddamn everywhere. I’ve been going over them with my film theory glasses on and there’s something about each of the episodes which sends a shiver down my writer’s side.

Empire Strikes Back is still one of the finest pieces of science-fiction cinema every constructed, and to me personally it’s one of the best films ever made. A New Hope however… is a bit silly to start ranting on about? Indeed, I was going to just throw myself at Empire and be done with it, but re-watching A New Hope I’ve taken a new liking to it. I always saw it as ‘Act One’. better than Jedi obviously but Empire stands way too tall for A New Hope to be considered in the same league.

This’ll probably be 100% film theory because I simply haven’t 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 behind 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."

Romans 9:33

From the beginning of the story we’re shown a Rebel force that is, in one word, hopeless. We’re shown them absolutely massacred in the face of the sweeping fist of the empire and (suddenly) we’re then thrown into a smaller story. The story of this farmboy with big ambition, with big hopes and dreams and the ‘New Hope’ title becomes all the more potent. We’re 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.

“Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” Hope seems to be an underlying theme throughout the entire Star Wars saga but I think it’s probably more explicit throughout the fourth episode. Somewhat because this is the one where Luke has to find out who he is, what he’s 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 we’re 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 “Idealistic crusade.” 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 “ancient religion” filled with “sorcerer’s” and Vader violently harms Admiral Motti when he calls Vader’s devotion “sad”.

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

I don’t want to be the one to investigate whether or not Vader represents religious extremism or any kind of sub-text allegorising blah blah blah. It’s stupid and way too superficial in film theory to assert that “this means that”, I’m simply saying that “this could mean that and also this and weeeee!” It’s 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 “What you feel is right” and the use of ‘feel’ comes throughout the entire film.

Luke says “I have a bad feeling about this.” Just before the “That’s no moon…” Moment. Han even uses it in the garbage chute. It’s interesting to note that Han remarks himself that he’s “Never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all powerful force controlling everything.” Whether or not the force could be synonymous with a belief in a higher power, namely a theistic belief, is something worth note.

“Feeling” isn’t like ‘Faith’ though exactly is it? Except to have faith, we have to have trust in something. In Empire even Vader uses ‘feeling’ with… “Search your feelings, you know this to be true.” Right after revealing himself to be Luke’s father. Probably the biggest ‘mind=blown’ moment in all of science fiction cinema history. Faith is used as an instrument of truth, and the physical (or what little ‘physical’) manifestation of faith is the force.

“That’s good. You have taken your first step into a larger world.”


“He 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.”

Isaiah 53:5

“We seem to be made to suffer!” 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, in 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 there’s a renewal of faith. R2 has the plans at first, and he goes off into his journey believing in his “mission”. A prophet in his own right. Soon Threepio and Luke are swayed to the idea, when Luke’s family is murdered, and eventually Han joins in the crusade right at the end to save the goddamn universe because he’s Han goddamn Solo.

The “destiny” that Obi-Wan speaks of seems to exist in people’s heads. But, it happens doesn’t it? The ‘prophecy’ that was talked about in the ‘other films’ came true? That was a destiny wasn’t it? There’s an element of fate to the 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 Luke’s idealism and heroism, his very faith. That he begins to hear the voices, and eventually see apparitions of the dead. The eternal line of “May the force be with you” runs straight into the Rebel briefing, which confused me at first because I don’t see the Rebels as representing or in fact preserving the old Jedi order’s 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. It’s the most maddening thing in the entire saga, I feel, an probably the biggest gamble of belief until then. In fact, seeing A New Hope as ‘the first Star Wars‘ is absolutely perfect in cementing something. The audience’s belief in the force.

We too are punished. Our favourite characters suffer, we watch people die, we see planets destroyed and (in 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 can’t actually see.

“Your eyes can deceive you, don’t trust them.”

Hope and Theism

“Tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope.”

- Romans 5:3-4

I’m not one to state, at every turn, about my beliefs. I believe they have nothing to do politics, government, media, opinions or whatever. I don’t 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 I’m not one who believes that government can be theocratic. I don’t, on the other hand, believe that religion is evil. I believe that the good things can’t 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 ‘god’) and I think it doesn’t belong in film theory whatsoever.

I am, however, at the end of the day going to interfere 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, I’m here to answer something else.

Throughout this flimsy lamentation of film theory I have referred, endlessly, to ‘belief’ and ‘feeling’ and the ‘force’. I think it’s quite silly to see the force as an “all powerful force controlling everything”, as Han Solo believes, I instead think the force and the people co-exist and help each other. Obi-Wan himself says it only “partially” controls your actions. I’m still not, addressing, however just how Star Wars addresses theism.

I don’t want my beliefs to interfere with my film theory, but it’s important for you to know this. I don’t want you to think anything of it, but you do need to know that I do believe in God. I won’t go into detail because then it’d turn into some personal waxing, but my belief in God did not come from Star Wars or ‘the force’. It came from something else, but what I do see in Star Wars isn’t entirely an underlying ‘theism’ approach to hope or faith or whatever. It’s simply ‘the force’, something which binds us and keeps us all together.

Perhaps ‘love’ might be better a term? Although “Use the love!” 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. It’s about heroism, David vs Goliath, some essences of neo-classicalist, it’s about journeys (perhaps biblical ones, redemption through the entire saga, Darth Vader’s sacrifice being a tragic alignment with that of Jesus Christ etc.), it’s about discovery, it’s about faith, it’s about love, it’s about diversity but… 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 think Star Wars is about self-belief, it’s a moral compass that points to our very self. We are the masters of our own destiny, and the ‘all-powerful force’ co-exists. It doesn’t force us, or care and it might love us or be indifferent.

On second thoughts… my beliefs might be interfering very heavily with my own interpretation of Star Wars.

What do you think?

I’m not too sure on this one guys, I think I waxed a bit too close to home and didn’t really talk about A New Hope in enough depth. I’m not sure if I should carry on with the essay series, but I am thinking of doing The Dollars Trilogy with a deft focus on narrative, protagonists and identity? Let me know what you think.   read

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