Saturday, April 04, 2009

Loving the Alien

Last night's tweets;

Nicholas Cage has quite a long, sad face.
I see in cold mall lots, kid culture thrives.
Does buying bobbins have to be a race?
Kids quickly clump up in twos, threes, and fives.

To-day I also twittered "I love you" because of this meme that asked everyone to post "I love you" in their twitter, blog, or facebook just once to-day. I saw a bunch of people twittering "I love you" because of it, only they included a link to the site with the statement. I didn't include the link because I think it's probably a purer experiment not to--I think, without explanation, most people probably take it as sad and/or creepy, something I think people apprehend intuitively when they post for the meme. I don't blame them--it might seem risky confessing your affection so casually, and we know a lot of people will take you as dishonest, delusional, or whoring for attention. But I still think the people who posted it meant it, as I did, possibly because all the people posting are artists of one kind or another. I think people who "sing their heart out to the infinite sea," as The Who song goes, do have to love that sea unconditionally.

I wanted to see a movie last night, but the only thing I really wanted to see was Coraline, and I only got the idea to see a movie long after its last showing of the day. So instead I went to see the new Alex Proyas movie, Knowing. I liked it.

I saw it mostly on the strength of Roger Ebert's review, even though I know that Ebert seems to have a massive love for Proyas that practically no other critic seems to share. He didn't just write a review for this movie, he continued with a blog entry (filled with spoilers) pondering the concepts of determinism and randomness that pervade the film. "As I watched these scenes, I became aware of synchronicity in my own life," writes Ebert at one point in the blog entry, and I was reminded of a quote from Oscar Wilde's preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray; "The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things. The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography." The best critics transcribe their personal experience of a work of art in a work which is itself another sort of work of art, because what a critic is doing is describing his or her impression of the work of art. Objectified subjectivity, as David Lynch said.

So, Ebert's reactions to some things about the movie that I thought might be a bit weak actually seemed fine to Ebert. A perfect example is a scene in the movie where Nicolas Cage's character, a scientist named Koestler, is showing one of his colleagues, Beckman, a fifty year old artefact that seems to have perfectly predicted hundreds of future occurrences. Beckman says his scientific mind can't accept what Koestler is showing him, and my immediate thought was "That's not a very scientific reaction". Koestler was presenting Beckman with evidence so overwhelming it ought to have been treated seriously by any actually scientific mind. So I thought the movie was presenting the false dichotomy between scientists and people of faith. But Ebert didn't have a problem with it, and on reflection I see how it could be seen as part of the movie's uniting theme of people resisting what they actually would be inclined believe due to a false correlation to past experiences, like Koestler's own resistance to believing in the possibility of predetermined destiny because of his estranged relationship with his pastor father.

The great thing about the movie, which Ebert perceived before I did, is that when we're wrong about things we've believed our whole lives, the truth isn't necessarily exactly the opposite of our beliefs, and even then we aren't definitely wrong. Belief is valuable for its own sake. Again, from Oscar Wilde; "No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved. No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style."

I'm completely astounded this movie is rated PG-13. I say that as someone who doesn't even believe in the ratings system--I think Pan's Labyrinth, which is rated R, is a perfectly fine children's movie. But the hypocrisy of the ratings continues to astound me, invariably reflecting society's desensitisation to violence while sexuality is taboo. Knowing features an amazing plane crash sequence with burning people running out of the wreckage and a subway disaster where human bodies explode like blood water balloons. But it's PG-13 because there's no nudity and the language isn't too bad.

I remember Steven Spielberg complaining about the episode of Heroes where Claire wakes up to find her body had been cut open and the inside of her chest was exposed. Spielberg felt this was a bit too much for prime time, but I didn't give it a moment's thought when I saw it. One wonders if Spielberg is aware of the contradiction present in the fact that thirty years ago he made a PG movie where a guy gets torn up by an airplane propeller and several guys have their heads graphically melted. This is why censorship is an inherently flawed practice--the limits are different for everyone, and the majority opinion is rarely consistent.

Anyway, Knowing looks like it's extremely expensive, though convincing special effects seem to have gotten a lot cheaper. It's still amazing the movie wasn't promoted more aggressively. I can't imagine the Nicholas Cage name drawing much of a crowd anymore--I think this is the six hundredth movie he's made in 2009.

There were a lot of wonderful visuals in the movie. My favourite being a scene that begins in an attic bedroom where the curved lines of a ceiling in the dark emphasise the glowing orange of fire through a circular window, and this is followed by the horrific imagery of a burning forest beyond and terrified animals running, burning, from the trees.

There are still some things I don't like about the movie, but they're minor. The only other Alex Proyas movies I've seen are The Crow and Dark City. I really didn't like The Crow, but I've changed a lot since I last watched it. Dark City didn't make a huge impression on me either, but I've been meaning to revisit it because Ebert loves it so much.

I watched the new Dollhouse last night, which I thought changed the show fundamentally because it cast some light on what motivated these people to become dolls--it's intriguing the sort of shame that would make people want to fully abdicate free will. The new Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was good, too. I loved what happened to Derek, and the revelation as to why Weaver seems to be at odds with the other terminators was very good.

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