Saturday, July 14, 2007

There's Something Unsettling about That!

In my previous entry, I essayed the allegorical context of films past. Now it's time for the present. Movies are such a powerful medium, many of noted that when watching them, we have similar brain activity as when we're dreaming. Even the worst of mush can lull us. Classics like On the Waterfront and High Noon, great, must-be-seen movies lull us into a false sense of security-- giving a great story (with two contrary opinions) and are actually about something completely different. We can state that now since that period is long and gone, even though it still burns to those involved and still alive. But what about today, in a post 9/11 world, the Bush world, the "war on terror" world. Again films are springing forth that while not exactly addressing today modern woes, they allude to them just as before, even those that might surprise.
I started thinking about those a long time ago, different trends that seem to popular in modern filmmaking, and am slightly jarred, if not exactly surprised. It's interesting, I think, that the last five or six years have seen a rebirth in based-on-comic-book movies and a revisionist take on horror movies. Sure lots of these movies were greenlit, possibly even made before 9/11, but there seems to an up tick in the sort of politically commentary, even if very subtle. It's hard to think about this when watching movies like Spider-man, The Hulk, Superman Returns, Batman Begins, etc., but it makes sense, in our post 9/11 world, that they would be popular. In a time when fear seems to be president's alley, maybe it feels like we need a superhero to set things right, to make peace with the world. Things are so bad us ordinary schleps can't do it at all. My mind directly thinks of that moment in Spielberg's War of the Worlds, when mayhem starts, and little Dakota Fanning exclaims, "is it the terrorists."
When it comes to horror films, it seems the general consensus is that one can never cross the like of too-bloody, too-gory, too-whatever else. In movies like Hostel, Saw, The Hills Have Eyes, etc., countless destruction is shown in all it's non-glory. It's torture porn, but it could also be an artistic expression of the palpable rage of authority in this country. This is an outlet for my anger and confusion at the world, the present state of this country, the lack of direction, the madness of living in a post 9/11 world. Another trend I've noticed (forgive me for my haphazard way of writing) is that between 2003-2005, there seemed to be a lot of vigilante-type films arriving. I'm thinking of the Kill Bill serious, Man on Fire, The Punisher, I'm sure there's some I'm forgetting. It seems another outlet for underlying anger felt by this country.
One of the best examples of a modern allegory is, in my opinion, Lar von Trier's Dogville. It's about a young woman, Grace (Nicole Kidman), whose running away from the mobster bad thugs guys and stumbles upon a quaint Rocky Mountain village. After much debate, the members of Dogville (the name of the town) agree to help hide her out in exchange that she works for them. Grace happily agrees and for a while everything is heavenly. Then the township turns on her, becoming greedy and demanding too much, to extent that she becomes a slave. When her past catches up with her, she has the option of vengeance and takes it. It's ripe with political commentary, and a great movie. When Dogville opened a few years back, lots of criticism poured in that von Trier was anti-American, which may be true (he is supposedly a bit of loon, who's never actually been to American, due to a fear of flying), but that's besides the point. What's up on screen to me does not point fingers at American specifically, but the ugliness of human nature, exposing the fabric of greediness and selfishness we all possess. But what makes this film a juicy one to analyze is that basically it's a modern day version of The Crucible. The film, made in a bare-boned auteurish way, is a modern day allegory of events leading up to 9/11.
I want to conclude by stating I'm a bona fide patriot, but also it's important to know and understand the bad things America has done, past and present. It's important to argue, debate, and discuss these things. I believe the open discussion is what makes America so wonderful-- you read the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, it's beautiful, empowering writing; it makes you want to high five all the four fathers and go out drinking with them and learn some more.

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