Friday, February 21, 2014

Endless Reflecting Spell

I love a movie, or any work of fiction, that so completely brings you into a character's point of view that their perceptions, or misperceptions, flow seamlessly with the movie's presentation of an objective reality. 2013's Magic Magic accomplishes this. It's a really wonderful film that creates an atmosphere seemingly composed of a menacing will to portray a reality of humans bereft of guidance from a higher spiritual or moral authority.

Juno Temple stars as Alicia, a girl from the U.S. who is visiting her friend Sarah (Emily Browning) in Chile. She meets Sarah's Chilean boyfriend Agustin (Agustin Silva) and Sarah's friends Barbara (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and Brink (Michael Cera). The four of them, in something of a standard horror movie setup--which the film subverts--have decided to stay for a few days in a cabin isolated in remote countryside.

Brink is a weird name and an appropriate one for the role Cera's character plays in the film. Cera gets an executive producer credit on the film and I suspect it's because he put money into it. Considering how remarkably creepy and pathetic his character is in the film, it's kind of admirable of him. The limp awkwardness he normally channels to portray sweet, impotent boys he here employs to portray a sheltered, giggly nebbish with no apparent super ego. When Barbara passive aggressively tells Alicia how white people fucked up the lives of Chilean farmers, it feels like the film is setting us up for a story about U.S. arrogance. But Cera, the biggest asshole in the film, speaks fluid Spanish and seems to be suckling on the life of the more well adjusted Agustin. Brink seems to be plugged into an incorporeal sadism that pervades the atmosphere and oppresses Alicia.

Brink is aptly named, I think, because it's his behaviour that seems to be the primary catalyst for the strange alterations to reality Alicia encounters--though it's by no means limited to him. The film is told primarily through Alicia's point of view.

Alicia tells Sarah, the only person she feels she can trust, about her feeling that the people she's with are "sadists" after she witnesses Brink shooting and killing a parrot. She also mentions how Barbara is obsessed with silence and how no matter what she does Alicia feels she can't be quiet enough for Barbara. One of my favourite scenes which shows how much the film is shot from within Alicia's mind is a scene in the living room where Alicia and Barbara are sitting and reading. A profile shot of Alicia in focus as she looks down at her book has Barbara out of focus in the background, loudly chewing some crisps, apparently staring at Alicia.

When we see Alicia look up, there's a beat before the camera goes to a focused one shot of Barbara who is looking down at her book and not at Alicia. It isn't simply that Barbara wasn't looking at Alicia when Alicia thought she was--the beat gives ambiguity to the moment. Barbara could have been looking at Alicia but her body language suggests she hadn't been. We're uncertain, just as Alicia is.

Yet, even as we're so anchored in Alicia's point of view, we're able to discern distinct aspects of her personality that seem to be reacting to the strange phenomena. She finds Brink's sexual immaturity threatening because he's physically more mature than he is mentally. The mysterious, menacing force makes her fear apparent sometimes by causing her to behave in a manner opposite to her feelings, causing her at times to behave in a sexually provocative manner, as in one scene where she, hypnotised, perhaps pretending to be hypnotised, complies with Brink's suggestion that she "dance like a whore."

This is part of a series of events that occur and things that Alicia sees that seem to manifest because she fears them.

I won't tell you what precisely is behind the strange phenomenon Alicia encounters as I think discovering it along with Alicia is a great aspect of the film's dedication to her point of view. But I will say I loved how the buried guilt connected to the callous killing of innocent animals seems to push a storm to the surface.

Twitter Sonnet #598

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