Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

When the Good Guys look like the Bad Guys…

In case you don’t hang around on pop culture websites, here’s the link to what you may have missed last week: the latest nugget of Hunger Games movie-franchise teaser images features the ostensible ‘rebel warriors’ who will appear in the series’ third film, Mockingjay, Part The First.
And here are the posters, all together:

HGMJ1rebs

(On a superficial note, Cressida‘s extreme undercut shaved-head look won’t hold up well in twenty years or so. Plus, good luck getting us to believe the story is set hundreds of years in the future when a character has an oh-so-trendy twenty-teens ‘do like that.)

Ugh. I think my first thought upon seeing these was something along the lines of, “Huh. Good Guys are looking pretty tacticool: black plastic submachineguns, black ninja suits…Are our protagonists planning to take the fight to the Capitol, or raid a Branch Davidian compound?”

In general, I find that the entire publicity/marketing propaganda campaign for these sequels leaves me feeling somewhat nauseous. While the ‘Capitol’ campaign is focused on ideas of ‘unity’ and decadence, the opposition seems more concerned with manufactured ‘resistance’ and being bleak. However, make no mistake, there is nothing organic about either campaign: each is meticulously planned, arranged, ‘shopped, and doled out to the masses of salivating fans.

However, in light of last month’s (justified and, frankly, long overdue) protests/riots and resulting police overkill/crackdown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent broaching of a national conversation about the militarization of police, I have to say that I find this latest batch of publicity posters pretty repulsive. Hell, even if they were released long before things went down in Ferguson, I still would have found them repulsive.

On the Wired link above, I counted (as of 4 September) 35 comments; most seemed to focus on fawning over the sole female in the lineup (I gathered that she also appears on the toxic ‘Game of Thrones’ series), complaining about the first and second films’ similarities, or technical issues. Of those 35, only a single commenter seemed able to separate his enjoyment of the franchise from the troubling visual message on display. This individual (who uses an image of a Black man as their avatar) remarked simply, “Wait, this is the Ferguson Police squad.”
Indeed. Congratulations, ‘tmsruge’, you win.

In fact, if you covered up the faces of these characters and the name of the film being promoted, I would have to assume that they were either elite, spooky, SEAL-type shadowy assassin-tools-of-the-State, or shady Blackwater-type ‘contractor’ mercenaries for private hire. But, surprise!, these are supposedly the Good Guys! Well, I’ll believe it when I see it, because as soon as you put your ‘rebels’ in matching uniforms*, they start looking entirely like oppressive, top-of-the-Pyramid Powers That Be.

And yes, tha Police fall neatly into that category.

*(History seems to show us that in a conflict, the less-civilized force will almost always be the one without uniforms (underdogs may have a similar look, but usually won’t be standardized). Star Wars is a good example of a rare exception: even though the Rebels have a standardized military, they’re still the less-Civilized of the two parties (being democratic, gylanic, and diverse, etc. versus the xenophobic, patriarchal, literal Space Nazis of the Galactic Empire.)

Why is this? Is it some kind of Stockholm Syndrome in the water? Have we become so accustomed to being oppressed by these kinds of paramilitary forces that we’re supposed to identify with—and even root for—them now?
Either the costume designers clearly do not understand what is meant by ‘ragtag resistance’, or perhaps this is a reflection of the fact that the rebels are entirely backed by District 13, whose leadership is just as corrupt as the Capitol?

Anyway, as I close, I’ll bring this back to the Real World, with a handy little tool—compliments of the Freedom of Information Act!—that reports what kind of groovy ex-military gear your local peacekeepers can bring to bear on your community. Stay informed!

Advertisements

Thoughts on Aronofsky’s ‘NOAH’

Well, I finally got around to seeing NOAH (given the limited staying power and increased turnover rate of mainstream releases these days, my movie-going pattern is pretty much either Opening Day With Bells On, or Dollar Theater Several Months Later.)
Before I get into my discussion of the film’s troubling big-picture issues, I feel I should give at least a couple of quick thoughts about it as a film, cultural implications aside.

It’s not that bad.
*I thought the pacing was off (I didn’t check my clock, but I think about the first hour of the film is pre-Flood, and the second hour is all post-Flood, on the boat), and since most of the Drama is crammed into that second hour, it feels a little unbalanced. Personally, I would’ve liked to have spent a little more time watching the Ark being built, instead of the ten-year (?) fast-forward, while it gets 90% completed off-screen.

*The setting is really ambiguous, but I understand that it was intentional—we’re not meant to be sure if we’re seeing Earth in the far, far, far distant past, or pseudohistorical, deconstructed Biblical times, or a distant ‘post-apocalyptic’ future (a la the Sloosha’s Crossing… section of Cloud Atlas), or even a totally different planet (in which case, the use of biblical names works in a kind of folk-archetype way)—witness the radically-different continents and the celestial objects visible in the skies, even during daytime. In the end, of course, a case could be made for each of these possibilities, which makes for a more interesting, multilayered film in general, but in the interest of avoiding ambiguity I still would’ve liked the film to have picked one and stuck with it.

*Everybody (the literalist Christians, especially) seems to have been surprised and up in arms about the director’s inclusion of ‘Watchers’….they should get over it.
It’s funny, because these ‘rock monsters’ were totally edited out of the film’s promotional material, just to surprise the audience out of nowhere! I actually really liked these characters (they’re like kickass helpful stone Ents!)—plus, using Nick Nolte to voice a pile of gravel incarnate was doubly brilliant—and it’s nice to see references to apocryphal ‘giants’ and Nephilim and such interpretable-as-extraterrestrials spookiness getting used. The character design and animation on these guys was great; I could watch them all day.

Anyway, on to the big picture fun.

When I first saw the teaser for NOAH months ago, my first reaction was probably some grumble about the whole production design (costumes especially)—reflecting Hollywood’s zeitgeist-y obsession with “gritty” (for the current ringleader and worst offender, see HBO’s Game of Thrones…but on second thought, no, don’t see it, because that show is toxic).
You know how it goes—even though a property is ostensibly set in a ‘historic’ or at least ‘realistic’ setting, outfits are designed with visual storytelling and not practicality in mind. Call it ‘Hollywood primitive’: garments are always incredibly threadbare and made of what-looks-like loosely-woven burlap with exposed, crudely-sewn seams in uncomfortable places (with grime rubbed into every crevice), as if to suggest that people occupying more ‘primitive’ levels of technology are incapable of both craftsmanship and regular laundering:

If this film wasn’t associated with Darren Aronofsky, I’d just chalk it up as another ‘gritty’, Russell Crowe-led anachronism-stew historical epic with copious amounts of shakycam—of which he has been in quite a few (but not Master and Commander—that’s a quality piece!).
However, because Aronofsky was directing, I know there was probably going to be a fair amount of realism sacrificed for the sake of Art. From what I’ve read, the Christian audience the film has been halfway courting—you can’t make a major film based on a major episode of the Old Testament without attracting Christian attention, after all—seems to have been expecting NOAH to have been a literalist reading of the story thrown up on the screen. I understand they were disappointed. Apparently, it would seem they expected a film about a fairy tale to have been realistic!

But the costumes and the ‘realism’ of NOAH aren’t what I came to grumble about. My main grumble is about the film’s underlying philosophy, which is nothing if not unquestioning of the status quo. This is especially troubling considering the myriad possibilities of alternative viewpoints that an innovative director like Aronofsky could have brought to a film like this. But unfortunately, what we got was the same old Younger Culture message that we see encoded and enacted all around us every day: the one about how Humanity is fundamentally (and irreparably) flawed as a result of some half-understood original ‘sin’ first manifested in the killing of a figure called Abel by a figure called Cain.

Especially indicative of this is the segment I’ve embedded below, in which the character Noah summarizes the pre-Flood chapters of Genesis, and in which Aronofsky fairly successfully (and visually beautifully) shoehorns the history of evolution into the biblical six-day creation of the world, via the deployment of copious amounts of poetic license:

This ‘evolution’ sequence seems to reinforce our culture’s misguided anthropocentric viewpoint, suggesting that every stage of creation—from the first dividing cells on up to fish, frogs, lizards, mammals and monkeys—has been leading towards the emergence of Man. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—the human species is not the end-point of evolution.

Despite depicting his ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ as radiant creatures straight out of Cocoon, Aronofsky’s version of ‘The Fall’ still remains the same old mess of incomprehensibility as our culture’s accepted interpretation, heard or seen everywhere, even when reduced to a simple repeating three-note wordless visual motif (snake hiss, apple lub-dub, rock thwack).

The montage which follows—various historically-costumed warrior silhouettes killing and being killed—only serves to underline the status quo message of the film. Crowe’s narration (reflecting our deluded, dominant cultural narrative) suggests that our major flaw (encoded as ‘Human Nature’) is such that we’re simply unable to keep from killing each other. This, frankly, is bullshit, as anyone who has ever dug even slightly more than surface-deep into human history would see that even the most sustainable societies still have warfare and the occasional murder.

Luckily, the truth, which this film doesn’t seem to recognize, is that the problem doesn’t lie with Humanity as a whole.

In NOAH’s opening exposition cards, we are told that following The Fall (snake hiss, apple lub-dub, rock thwack), the followers of Cain created an “industrial civilization” which spread over the earth. If you take Quinn’s anthropological view of The Fall story—in which Cain (the metaphorical first practitioner of our culture’s model of aggressive agriculture) kills pastoralist Abel in order to possess and farm his land—and look out the window, you can see that story being enacted before your very eyes.
Throughout the film, Noah repeatedly (ad nauseum, in fact) asserts that for the good of all, the whole murderous human race (‘mankind’) needs to be wiped off the face of the planet. This is, of course, untrue: saving the world requires stopping only one single culture—Ours—the one whose rise to dominance was metaphorically depicted in the biblical story of ‘The Fall’.

This was the part where Aronofsky really dropped the ball, in my opinion.
Given the film’s explicit connection of a life-destroying industrial civilization with the ‘line of Cain’, it would have been very easy, in all those scenes where Noah insists that wicked, murderous Man must not be allowed to survive, to replace ‘Man’ with ‘Cainites’, as a handy sort of shorthand for ‘Totalitarian Agriculturalist-model Civilized Takers’.
(Some reviewers seem to have picked up on a ‘green’ message in NOAH, but I must have missed it; I don’t recall a point at which Noah ever suggested the Flood was retribution for the damage the Cainite civilization had wreaked on the planet. If he did, it was done, again, by pinning the blame on ‘Man’ and not a single culture.)

While it may be hard for us, here in the conquered 21st century, to conceive that civilization is not the whole of humanity, for the protagonists in NOAH, there’s really no reason they shouldn’t be able to. After all, as Noah himself is descended from Cain and Abel’s other brother Seth, he should be well aware that the Sethite line which he embodies (vegetarian and friendly to non-human animals as they seem to be) represents a far more healthy approach to life than that of the industrialized Cainites.

In short, while Aronofsky’s Noah continues to assert that Man must be destroyed because he simply can’t stop killing himself, it would have been exceedingly more accurate (and productive) to say that the line of Cain must be stopped before it is allowed to destroy all life in its relentless, myopic pursuit of Growth and Power.

The Hunger Games™, Franchise-Branding, and Rebellion

As part of an April fundraiser at my school, I paid a dollar to ‘dress down’ one day, and wore my homemade stenciled mockingjay t-shirt:
mockingjay stencil, by me.While a number of kids (though far fewer than I’d hoped) commented on it, their comments were kind of troubling.
The loud, popular, Type-A kids would usually ask me, “Do you like The Hunger Games™ or something’?”, as if they’d forgotten our society’s penchant for using t-shirts to proclaim to others the things which one enjoys.
The ‘geeky’ kids would usually just announce that hey, they liked my shirt (at which point I would try to drum up some business by offering to make and sell them one of their very own).
What nobody said, however, was “Hey, nice mockingjay shirt” or “Cool! District Twelve, represent!”(we are in Kentucky, after all).

(at which point the addition of a D12 salute would make me giggle like a schoolgirl)

In other words, because ours is a culture which believes everything has a price (and can therefore be bought and sold), even something as simple as an encircled-bird-holding-an-arrow ceases to be a symbol of hope and resistance against tyranny, and instead simply becomes a logo representing a profitable franchise.

ADDENDUM: I wore the same shirt to a first-grade classroom a few weeks later; a couple of kids saw the shirt and declared, “The Hunger Games are bad.” Indeed! The question then becomes: what changes in how our youth view the world in the years between first and eighth grade?

Because I spend a fair amount of time in a public junior high school, I see a fair amount of ‘Hunger Games’ merch, and I’ve yet to see a single item that hasn’t been emblazoned with the name of that franchise in big, flaming letters. Now, maybe it’s because I approach my various internalized fandoms from in-universe perspectives, but I find such branding—and most of the merch, for that matter—to be pretty generally disgusting.
(Especially tasteless is a movie tie-in booklet going by the title “The Hunger Games Ultimate Tribute Guide” which is little more than a collection of glorified headshots (literally, a pocketbook that allows teenagers (the franchise’s target demographic) to examine the faces of murdered peers, 70% of whose names we never learn).
For the record, let’s remember that The Hunger Games themselves are a yearly event in which two dozen children are coerced by the threat of starvation into fighting to the death for the entertainment of their society’s elites. So, my question is…do our youth believe they have no choice in how they are able to express their enjoyment of this franchise, save going online or to the mall and purchasing—and then wearing or carrying—branded merchandise which is essentially advertising for such a deplorably transparent, blood-soaked system of control? Why the hell a thinking person would possibly want to do this is completely beyond me.

Thankfully, however, the answer is Yes, they do have a choice, but most don’t see it. The first step in breaking the chains of consumption is, as always, to UN-COOL it (in this case by pointing out the ugly truths we’re not supposed to see/think about), and then DIY it (like by making your own mockingjay shirt, as I’ve done above). Personally, I’d be on cloud nine if a teen counter-emblazoned her The Hunger Games™ backpack with a big, red “FUCK”:

(I’d settle for “F— THE”, since our hypothetical activist is probably in junior high, and such profanity generally runs counter to dress-code decency rules)

(though I’d settle for “F— ”, since our hypothetical activist is probably in junior high, and such profanity generally runs counter to dress-code decency rules)

Can you imagine? Or think: if kids took copies of glossy Hunger Games™ movie tie-in ‘books’ and added stickers drawing attention to the non-fictional plights of actual child soldiers, coal miners, and trafficked humans—to say nothing of top-down wealth inequality, unsustainable resource extraction, or the coercive, oppressive nature of pyramid-shaped prison societies, &c. (as in most dystopian fiction, when the society in question is just Ours turned up to eleven, there is no shortage of applicable parallels to be drawn). Just think of it!

Sidebar: And since I’m already talking about unthinking franchise patronage, let’s remember that this isn’t an issue unique to The Hunger Games. I’m still completely unable to grasp last year’s petition—signed by over 34,000 people—for the US government to build a Death Star. Yes, that really happened! So, I guess people will just turn off their brains and click ‘Like’ for anything that even vaguely relates to whatever their profitable geeky franchise of choice is? I shudder to imagine these people’s thought processes: “Oh, hurhur, Death Star. That mean Star Wars. Me like Star Wars. Hurhur. <sign petition>.”
Even though the White House comically vetoed the petition, their explanation neglected (most troublingly) to mention the fact that the Death Star program— and the Tarkin Doctrine it represented—was the end-result of an evil empire of FUCKING SPACE-NAZIS!?!

So, anyway. When the teaser-trailer for Catching Fire came out about the same time, I was already kind of grumbly and had these things on my mind (because I always have these things on my mind!).

What I found especially telling was a line from Woody Harrelson’s character Haymitch, breaking the news to our newly-victorious heroine Katniss that “[her] job is to be a distraction from what the real problems are.
Boy, that about sums it all up, doesn’t it? In a nutshell, that’s a pretty good reason why I have a really hard time passively watching professional sports, sitcoms, televised ‘talent’ shows, big, loud superhero blockbusters, NASCAR, and other such mainstream bread-and-circuses (the panem et circenses from which Collins took the name of her novels’ dystopian nation):
I know what the real problems are, and I don’t want to be distracted.

In the course of the teaser, the obligatory title-cards flash up and inform us that “Every revolution … begins with a spark”. While I guess that’s true, wouldn’t it be amazing if (for once!) we saw through the age-old story of plucky, ragtag rebels fighting against the System, and stopped living vicariously through the pictures on the screen and took it to the streets?
I’m really hoping against hope that Catching Fire’s release this November will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back (glad to see I’m not the only one) and bursts the dam holding back all of our simmering anger and frustration—that people will finally WAKE UP to recognize the hidden workings of Our Culture—because what we need isn’t a Revolution, but a Revolt.
I say that because unfortunately, the ‘revolution’ depicted in Collins’ trilogy is the classic definition of that word—a purely political shakeup whose outcome is not breakup of power or a cultural evolution, but simply a change in leadership (“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”), maintaining the status-quo notion that we’re all incapable of governing ourselves and need someone at the top of the pyramid to tell us what to do. If people get riled up and start doing something about it (which would be good) but model on THG (which would be bad), we’ll just be right back where we started.
At this point, however, I’d be completely overjoyed if Woody Harrelson (a self-identified anarchist, let’s remember) started throwing inflammatory, expressly political, apocalyptically-minded comments about Our Culture’s systems of control into every obligatory late-night-talk-show appearance or press junket he did in support of this film!

ADDENDUM: This is a good start:

On ‘Children of Men’


I often describe this film to the unfortunate folks who haven’t heard of or seen it as “2007 turned up to 11” (actually, I think I did read an interview with the art director (or someone?) who explained that the future of the film had to be “like the present, but more so”). In that way, it’s like the cinematic equivalent of James McMurtry’s 2005 We Can’t Make It Here Anymore, a song that similarly captures the turned-up-to-11 bleakness of the Bush years:

Basically, it’s all the worst parts of the Oughts, where if you watched the news it looked like a possible war with Iran, climate change data was coming in and being disregarded, bird flu was on the horizon, Somalia was imploding (again), and it was gray and rainy for like, a month straight. Well, add a pandemic of infertility and throw it all into a blender with some beautiful cinematography and a very interesting soundtrack and Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men is what you get. In other words, because its roots are solidly in the actual present, it’s an entirely plausible (and thereby cautionary) future.

Together, this film and Max Brooks’ World War Z have probably had the biggest impact on my outlook of a postapocalyptic world; since both futures draw inspiration from histories past and present, both reinforce the fact that almost nothing happens in a vacuum: waves of refugees can result from distant wars (“Africa devastated by nuclear fallout” a background newspaper reads), rising sea levels (Maldives, anyone?), crop failures (don’t even get me started on totalitarian monocrop agriculture), &c.  It’s a good exercise—I can look at a scenario in one of these works and see how it might have come to be, and then pull back farther to see how it relates to what’s happening now.
By extension, these two properties have also played a huge role in influencing my philosophy on our idea of ‘survival’ in its current form, doomsday-ism, &c. As both are essentially topical, applicable, and political (as opposed to the apolitical, purely-entertainment ‘Zombie 2.0’ media wave), I don’t worry about The End of the World; I’ve always found it more important to focus on The End Of The World As We Know It (aka The End of Our Culture’s Unsustainable Way of Life), I educate myself on the key shatterpoints in play (and their root causes), and then imagine (or find in history) sustainable alternatives to embrace.

On a superficial level, this is also one of the few films where I see or pick up on something new each time I watch it (ditto for reading WWZ). I would love to see an annotated version of the film that takes time to point out all the little shout-outs (everything from Banksy’s art, Pink Floyd, and T.S. Elliot to next-gen military hardware and the use of oranges as foreshadowing a la The Godfather, &c.).
Actually, that might be a fun future post

Finally—and people always look at me like I’m batshit insane when I say this—this is my Christmas movie. Why? Best let me deconstruct it:

Our story takes place in December.
A man and an expecting woman travel together, going through many obstacles.
The woman is with child, but not by the man.
The woman’s child is the result of a miraculous conception.
The child will apparently redeem humanity.
The protagonist goes through his journey wearing sandals.

Now, did I just outline Cuaron’s Children of Men, or the story of the Nativity?

shanti shanti shanti!

On ‘AVATAR’

AVTR
I’ve written about this before, but I think it’s still a valid point.
Say what you will about it (haters are gonna hate regardless), AVATAR is the perfect film for our times, and it’s very telling how it’s had practically zero lasting cultural impact, aside from becoming a punchline. Unlike “I’m the king of the world!”, “Hasta la vista, baby”, or “Game over, man!”, you probably won’t hear anyone saying “I see you” non-ironically.  Which is too bad, because the recipe is pure James Cameron genius:

*Take a troperific love story (don’t forget the James Cameron Strong Female Character™!),

*Place it in a larger Takers-versus-Leavers conflict (to make it applicable and let us draw comparisons to every single run-in between Our Culture and the less-civilized since the Neolithic):
Contact*Set it in the future (to showcase dressed-up guns, power loaders, and other geeky hardware),

*Highlight an inherent preachy message to warn society of its faults (they won’t do anything but bitch about how heavy-handed it was),

*Dress it up with absolutely cutting-edge, will-not-age, had-to-be-invented-for-the-film special effects,

*And then rake in the dough when every person on the planet (statistically speaking) sees it, twice, in 3-D, and doesn’t take anything away from the experience besides, “Gee, Dave, that place sure was purty!”

Like I said, pure genius!

On ‘The Matrix’

So, my favorite movies.
Tied for number one are Star Wars, AVATAR, and The Matrix, because they’re pretty much the same film: a Hero Journey set alongside guerrilla warfare against a System (hey, I like movies with subtext!).  Also, groundbreaking effects from all three.  So (because I have a bit more written on it than the others), I’ll begin with The Matrix.
Mtrx1

The Matrix is one of those films that occupies a strange place in the public conscious.  On the one hand, geeks and kids taking Philosophy 101 dig it, but in general it’s remembered for all the wrong reasons (like most of Shyamalan’s oeuvre, which I also really enjoy). For most people, three things come to mind when you bring up The Matrix.
First are probably the ‘bullet-time’ effects, which (even though there were only four of these shots in the film) were parodied or ripped off ad nauseum and therefore showed up in just about every movie that came out for the next few years.
The second is probably a vague sense of the bloated ponderousness of the sequels that followed (see the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise for another more recent example); maybe you never even saw the sequels, but just learned through pop-cultural-osmosis that they were kinda slow and unintelligible (even though that’s really just Reloaded).
Third, due to an unimaginably unfortunate example of bad timing, this film was released just a few weeks before a coupla latchkey kids went tragically mad and ruined guns and black trenchcoats and Marilyn Manson for the rest of us for a good long while.

That’s what most folks will think of when you mention The Matrix.  Which is too bad, because it’s an incredible film.  Like most things I love, it works on a number of levels.  Yeah, it’s trendy and mind-bendy and full of badass visual and storytelling tropes, but it’s the subtext most people seem to overlook that really gets me.  Take this scene from the first act:

MORPHEUS
… You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
NEO
The Matrix?
MORPHEUS
Do you want to know what IT is? The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
 NEO
What truth?
MORPHEUS
That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch…
A prison for your mind.
 

Or how about this even more transparent monologue?:

MORPHEUS
The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around. What do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system, and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.

Thankfully, the idea of ‘the Matrix’ isn’t just some pseudo-philosophical mumbo-numbo in a popcorn blockbuster, it’s a metaphor for the culture we live in. In one form or another, it’s how the world has been—for an increasing majority of humanity—for about the last six thousand years. The first Mesopotamian god-king city-builders laid the foundation for the Matrix. The Egyptians lived in the Matrix. So did the Romans. In today’s all-but-conquered, global, industrialized capitalist world, 99.999999% of people live in the Matrix. It’s really a testament to the genius of the Wachowskis that they were able to package these rather heavy-handed, dangerous ideas in such an entertaining, marketable format  through their use of allegory (a la James Cameron, more on him in a bit): the average viewer won’t pick up on the film’s anarchist subtext because it’s about hackers and robots and people covered in plugs.

Sure, the film is violent.  But, as brother Cornel West explains, it’s “intellectual violence”.  The film’s heroes aren’t fighting individuals, they’re fighting against the system itself, for the opportunity to show humanity a better world. In fact, the speech that closes the film sounds like something straight out of Kalle Lasn’s Culture Jam:

I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid. You’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you, a world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries, a world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.

That’s what’s so worrisome about the Matrix sequels.  Metaphorically, if the Matrix is our status quo civilized world, and the ‘real world’ is the fulfilling life outside the System, the second and third films’ suggestion that the real world is just a Matrix Within a Matrix* would suggest that even rebellion against the System will leave one still within the System…which is pretty much true.  As the PBS Frontline program Merchants of Cool put it:

The cool-hunt ends here, with teen rebellion itself becoming just another product. … The battle itself is packaged and sold right back to them…welcome to the Machine.”

*Yes, I know that’s not what the Wachowskis say, but when the official explanation is a hand-wave and ‘Fuck you, dear viewer’, I’ll take the one that actually encourages discussion.

On ‘The Hunger Games’

HungerGames

So, I caught an opening day matinee (these days I pretty much only see current movies on opening day, or not at all—in theaters, at least) of the hottest Hollywood property, and for an adaptation, I was pretty pleased with how it came out.
I said I wasn’t going to see it until I read the book first, and I’ll admit, I cut it pretty close—resorting to piracy and acquiring a copy four days before the release. There’s really no excuse for this procrastination, as I’ve been hearing positive things about it for almost two years now (first brought to my attention by Linda Holmes in what must’ve been the first episode of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour).
(For what it’s worth, I’ve noticed something weird that happens when my first reading of a work is a pirated electronic version. The page count might be the same, I might recognize some character names I’ve heard about, but if there are a few typos, I’m always paranoid that I’ve been duped and I’m really reading a bootleg pdf of someone’s fan-fiction based on a trailer. It’d be a cruel joke to be talking to someone and saying, ‘Yeah, remember when so-and-so did such-and-such?’, only to be stared at as if you had two heads and hear, ‘Erm, that never happened’. It’d be like finding out that the folks you call Mom and Dad aren’t really your parents. Or something like that.)
But luckily, it seems that the copy I found was the real deal, and I zipped through in two sittings over about nine hours. This seems to have been the case with everyone else who’s read it. What can I say?—it sucks you in, just like a good book should.
And so: first, some general spoiler-y things I found worthy of comment, and then I’ll discuss it a bit in eco-, survival-y terms too.

I.
*Like I said, I was pleasantly surprised how faithful the film was to the source material; for the most part, departures were more omissions than outright changes, and the few additions actually helped to clear things up.

*I breathed a sigh of relief at the minimalistic opening title. Plenty of should-have-been-epic films have been ruined by traditional, complete credits over the opening scenes (*cough*chroniclesofnarnia*cough*).

*I tired of Gary Ross’s shaky camerawork within about the first five minutes. Thankfully I think it smoothed out somewhat as the film progressed.

*The inclusion of the Truman Show-like control deck was good—I always like scenes that show spatial relationships between characters in a landscape, and they helped clarify things like the firestorm and the mutts later on.

*By the end of the film—despite her beauty and complete competence with the role—I was kind of tired of looking at Jennifer Lawrence. I know she’s in like, every single frame but I felt like she only had two or three expressions. Also, nice to see both of the leads are from Kentucky. Represent.

*Stanley Tucci continues to be an absolute chameleon.

*The requisite time compression (the Games stretch over maybe three weeks in the book, versus maybe one week in the film) meant that there wasn’t as much time for the relationship between the two leads to evolve and mature, which meant it simply didn’t have the nuance of the book. But then again, it’s a movie; what did I expect?

*I found the aesthetics of the weapons used in the Games to be fairly unattractive.

Specifics:
*Aside from the aforementioned Gamemaker scenes, the only invented scenes I noticed were a few underwhelming bits with Donald Sutherland’s president, and a few powerful minutes of a rioting District 11 following Rue’s death.

*Ross decides to close the film with some brooding shots of Sutherland looking resentful or vengeful or something unpleasant. I haven’t read the second and third books, so maybe this is foreshadowing for later, but I think first acts of film trilogies work best as standalones. Let’s focus on wrapping up our protagonists’ plot threads properly, and save the changes in political environment for the start of film number two.

*Rue’s death got me pretty emotional. As the smallest and most childlike of the Tributes, her death hit me surprisingly hard, especially given its fidelity to the book.

*Even though it snagged a PG-13 rating, the film managed to retain the brutality of the book, using a ‘less is more’ approach to the violence, especially in regards to the ‘bloodbath of hacking’ that opens the Games.

*The mutts were handled pretty well, as being able to see their creation/insertion into the arena was clearer than how the book dealt with them. In the book, the last-minute nonsense about them having the eyes of the fallen Tributes (or were they supposed to be the Tributes themselves, reanimated in dog-form? I’m still not sure what was meant) was generally weird and unnecessary.

*Picky: I had a hard time with the branch the trackerjacker nest hung from—I didn’t really believe Katniss could’ve sawed through something so thick in the time shown. From the book’s description I was picturing a branch maybe a few fingers thick, not the five-or-so inches in the film.

*Nitpicky: I didn’t like that the Arena’s ceiling was blank at night, instead of showing stars and such. If it’s supposed to approximate the real world, while still giving the Gamemakers complete control of the environment—which we are shown they have—why no stars? It just seemed kind of lazy.

In all, it was really quite well-done, and as far as adaptations of books go, this might rate just below Jurassic Park for me. And if the hype is anything to go off, this year’s ‘PG13 violent scifi movie about strong women opening at the end of March’ will do much better than last year’s Sucker Punch.

II.
So, this trilogy’s protagonist is named Katniss. In the book, the author explains that this comes from a particular aquatic plant with arrowhead-shaped leaves, and then goes on to describe with familiarity the process of gathering the edible tubers (uproot them with your toes, and collect them as they float to the surface). Well, I’d never heard of any plants named Katniss before, but I sure know a description of the genus Sagittaria when I read it. I guess it’s an inside joke to those who know their wild edibles, that the main character—whose standout trait is her mad archery skills—is named after the Arrowhead plant. I have to wonder if Collins would’ve named her protagonist Wapatoo if it had been a male.

Anyway, I had hoped that the film would showcase any kind of survival skills. Silly me, I guess I forgot that Hollywood movies can’t be educational AND entertaining, because I was sadly disappointed:
No mention or depiction of wild edibles (only fictional, toxic ‘nightlock’ berries).
No medicinal plants.
No knots.
No firestarting.
And not even any water purification (at least the book mentioned using iodine tablets).
And I’m dubious about the whole ‘cake-decorating skills translate to camouflage skills’ angle.
So, bleh.
However, I still have to hope that this movie will at least get people (and women in particular) interested in archery and other outdoorsy activities. I know it certainly inspired me to finally finish the osage selfbow I started a couple of years ago.

Anyway, the society depicted in the book/film is especially depressing to me; it’s like my worst nightmare come true; it’s why I get nervous when people start talking about rebuilding. This is a world that has been rebuilt post-collapse, and yet is still functionally the same as ours; it’s still a Taker model of life: the 1% are still the ones holding power, the food is still under lock and key, and the 99-percenters are still—for lack of a better term—slaves to a system; in Panem it’s just more transparent.
(In my notes I had something about ‘stop watching’. This could either be a call for people to turn off the ‘reality’ tv programming that inspired the book (which would be a good start), or more likely, some kind of metaphor for enacting societal change by turning your back on what drives the society.)
To borrow from Buckminster Fuller, until we as a society can imagine a new way (which might actually look like an old—think tribalway) of organizing and governing ourselves “that makes the existing model obsolete”, our post-collapse world will likely look an awful lot like Panem.