If you lie to me, I will hurt you

 

I have real difficulty seeing what the reason for the furore around the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty, Katherine Bigelow’s latest movie. Martin Sheen has come out in opposition to it. Naomi Woolf had come out in the Guardian calling Bigelow the latest Leni Riefenstahl, and the torture scenes themselves are rather tame in real terms compared to what really went on. There is no justification for torture expressed in this film. On the other hand there is no pornographic lingering on the inhuman brutality meted out to the prisoners. Over and over again the torture victims are told that if they lie to their torturers, their torturers will hurt them, a horrifying thought, and even more horrifying to endure. Rest assured also this is not a film that will leave you riveted to your seat in unspeakable horror – its not a horror movie. It is clever,  extremely entertaining, well paced, and the writing is top notch. The acting too, is simply wonderful. Bigelow deserves a best director Oscar, and it is a big snub she didn’t get it. What is depicted in the movie is what the CIA was ordered to do, that being to get the information by any means necessary. When watching the movie itself we only get snippets of the unspeakable physical and psychological horror endured by the prisoners, before they were disappeared or executed or in some cases returned to their families to tell stories about how they were tortured by persons unknown in locations unknown for time periods unknown with no evidence whatever to support their claims. It’s not without significance that the various conventions, Geneva or otherwise, expressly forbid torture. Aside from the enormous stupidity of using torture, an unreliable means of getting hard evidence, the information one does get is legally useless and therefore has what one might call a questionable actionable status to it. One needs to amass a sheaf of corroborations before it emerges into the light of any degree of credibility. Torture is about power. It’s about the torturer, in this case – the state, telling its enemy- in this case the prisoners, we have absolute power. You will give us everything, the contents of your mind, your emotions, and when you have given us everything, then we will allow you to die, maybe. Torture is an act of terrorism. In a war on terrorism this surely is the greatest of ironies. Torture creates a hatred that will last from one generation to the next. It is never forgotten and never forgiven. Bigelow does not come down in favour of torture. To think that from this film is to hugely underestimate an enormously skilled and intelligent artist who is telling a story, not recreating history, or trying to make a kind of propaganda movie. Basically it is a revenge story, and the ruthlessness by which revenge is exacted in the mafia style hit on the Bin Laden compound at the end is truly appalling. Before you make up your own mind, go see it. Bigelow’s interest in powers structures and the military goes a long way back. Let’s hope her next movie is even better than this one.

O Superman – the Man of Steel Reboot

 ‘Man of Steel’ (2013) is the reboot, as they like to call it in these computer literate times, of the endlessly fascinating myth of Superman. Zack Snyder directs, with Christopher Nolan producing, and Henry Cavill starring as Kal El .

Amy Adams co-stars as Lois Lane. Michael Shannon as General Zod. Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Diane Lane as Martha Kent. Laurence Fishburne as Perry White. Russell Crowe as Jor-El.

The planet Krypton is dying, mostly due to poor environmental maintenance. Jor-El decides on a radical move to save his people, the people of Krypton. All the other species on the planet seem to have been forgotten, which seems a tad strange for a scientist with environmental concerns.

He steals an artefact which contains the genetic heritage of the Kryptonian race, and without taking a backup gives it to his son Kal-El, the first non-genetically programmed naturally born child in centuries, a risky undertaking which seems to have worked out well.

Imbued with the genetic heritage of his race, Kal El is put on a tiny life pod and journeys to earth to be raised as a farm boy in Kansas by good people and grows up to save the world. Jor-El has already decided that it really is not best option for his boy’s future stability to have the love and support of his birth family on his son’s journey to Earth, or indeed his new life on Earth. He ignores his wife’s pleas about not wanting to leave the boy, does little or nothing in the line of seriously arming himself or having some type of preparatory escape pod for the family ready when being attacked by the angry rather one dimensional General Zod and his cohorts, and finally in a moment of the most ludicrous self immolation, allows himself to be killed by Zod, whom he must know, being a super smart very limber scientist, he hasn’t a hope against in battle. Furthermore I wonder if Jor-El had thought through the consequences of his son being brought up by psychopath or someone hell bent on world domination on Earth. Imagine if some imperialistically minded politician had found him and saw Kal-El’s powers and sheer potential . Kal- El was a lucky baby to be found by the Kents. It’s also quite amazing Jor El, an extraordinary person with an extraordinary mind by any standards, manages to fuse his people’s genetic heritage in seconds into the baby’s DNA, with no side effects whatever, plot a course for earth, and yet leaves the boy’s fate literally to the vicissitudes of space, with a genetically trained army gunning for the child that is the key to Krypton’s future. Kal El calls Earth a planet with intelligent life, a planet where his boy, so Jor El says, will be a god to the earthlings. This is not what one would call optimal parenting thinking on Jor El’s part. Being a god comes with serious problems, sometimes of the insoluble kind. Its a life sentence of misery and Atlas like obligation.

At this stage the movie is hardly ten minutes running, and I have this sinking feeling that the producers, directors and screenwriters have opted for a movie that looks great but is devoid of even the merest simulacrum  of a coherent plot. The worst part of this movie storytelling disaster is the fact that the Superman myth is probably the most high concept one can work on.  If there is any myth (more than that of the myth of Jesus – which I agree with only to an extent) the myth of the Golem is the myth of the golem. The word means ‘formless mass’, literally matter – something not yet imbued with form, the golem is designed by man and imbued with the power of god and designed for a purpose. Kal-El is imbued with the powers of godlike strength, immense beauty, and has within him the future of his race, literally the genetic code of life, truly a gift of God. Interestingly Kal-el, despite his father’s brilliance (his mother seems to serve the purpose only of bearing him in her womb in this rather phallocentric movie) does not have a divine intellect, has no interest in art, science, music, politics, or thinking about the meaning of life.  One doesn’t see him out with an easel and paints drawing the beauties of Kansas, mind you he does like Plato, which is probably the only moment of contemplation one gets in this hyper violent movie. Zod inevitably tacks Kal-El to Earth and threatens genocide to get back the key to Krypton’s future.This is an entirely Americano centric movie, despite the plot being about the fate of the Earth. A horrific battle ensues and in scenes that made my stomach turn Zod is defeated. In imagery that reminded me rather too closely of the twin towers, thousands lose their lives as Zod and Kal-El fight it out till the inevitable predictable end arrives. An awful movie, and the kind of movie that makes one wonder how so much money and so much talent can be wasted so wantonly

You will be unprepared for how pretentious this movie is ….

 

SUCKER PUNCH

I have been watching the interesting, highly erotically charged movie ‘Sucker Punch (2011)” in effect it is an extended dream sequence about an abused young woman who is incarcerated in an asylum and then lobotomised. The lobotomy method is particularly gruesome, inserting a long spike up through the nose into the frontal lobe, in effect reducing the ‘Baby Doll’ to a vegetable. Obviously the pharmacological resources available to the doctors (the story seems to be set in the 1950′s) was somewhat limited. At the time a rather broad view was taken of the remedial methods available and acceptable for helping the mentally ill, which, I am sure has contributed to the fear and loathing of the mentally ill (‘possessed’ and ‘dangerous’) and indeed of the institution of psychiatry in general. This rather dark prejudice is capitalized upon in the unspeakably awful sexually charged Marquis De Sade atmosphere of the mental hospital, where ‘Baby Doll’ is taken, filled with lecherous aggressive misogynistic males, and enabling passive females living in fear mostly. ‘Baby Doll’ is, by the way, not a baby, but has a rather doll-like face, being twenty years of age, and she is wrongfully accused of killing her own sister. The central point of the story is around the lobotomy. Indeed the story seems to take place in the moments before the lobotomy actually happens. Just as the protagonist (Baby Doll) is about to have her personality irrevocably smashed with a shiny metal spike she begins to dream, of way out of this hell she is in, longing to be gone with her fellow inmates from this place not of of healing but destruction, this place that seems to have morphed into something between a dance club and a brothel where a beautiful madam presides over equally beautiful young women in order that they may entertain gangsters, and please general punters who come night after night to the club. As ‘Baby Doll’ dances, the world once again morphs and she fights huge oriental warriors, slays dragons, kills mechanized Germans in trenches, and slays robots in futuristic settings. What particularly drew my attention was these fight scenes, for in this movie more than any other I saw that fighting was in some way a substitute for sex. They are either sexually entertaining men, or they are killing and fighting to be free of this fruitless loveless destructive slavery. In a sense the world they are in gives them no identity beyond the beauty and perfection of their bodies, which is interesting indeed, and the lie at the core of their lives. These were young women fighting for a liberation from enslavement to a kind of misogynistic tyranny, a male based woman hating sexually empty slavery to the whims of their keepers, a kind of Stockholm Syndrome dynamic. This contempt for the power of the feminine has to mind its basis mainly in fear. These erotically charged fight scenes, the sexuality exuding from every pore in these brothel scenes, the heightened emotionality of the women’s interaction with each other seems more than anything to allude to some form of deep rooted sexual frustration that pervades not just this film, with its fantastic plot and fascinating visuals, but the plots of so many movies like this, the exchange of fighting for intimacy, particularly sexual intimacy, exchanging life giving or life renewing penetration with that kind of wound that destroys life. Don’t in any way think that I regard this film as kind of timeless classic. Its the kind of titillating fluff that one comes across now and again that underlines an age where we are drifting further and further apart, despite all the psychological and psychiatric technologies available to us, an age where career or duty is eating into our love lives, an age where our thinking is controlled increasingly by corporate propaganda, an age where science and technology is pursued only for money and weapons technology. That’s the real sucker punch, not this nonsense. That being said, I liked this film. It showed me something. In terms of art, I would prefer any number of episodes of the Simpsons, particularly from the first five seasons. Now that’s genius.