Monday, December 12, 2005

Saturday Night at the Movies

K. & I caught a late showing of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe [aka, The Chronicles of Narnia -- not sure which is the official title] on Saturday night. Now, as a few people have already pointed out, I'm not a huge fan of Lewis anyway, so my comments here are not entirely unexpected. Having said that, I like to think I'm open-minded enough to enjoy something even if I expect to hate it; and hate something I expected to enjoy. It's certainly happened before. It did not happen this time around, though.

Well, let me back up. I can't say that hated the movie. That's giving a bit more credit than it deserves. I am, surely, deeply opposed to what I regard as its testicular jingoism. But whatever. For the sake of argument, I'll just accept that as benignly metaphorical. Even then . . . I find myself really disturbed by a war in which the winner suffers no real losses. Aslan (inexplicably) returns -- thankfully, his version of sacrifical atonement ultimately makes about as much sense as Anselm's; all the 'good guys' who get struck down during battle are revived and on hand for the coronation of the kids. I mean. If there is a battle between good and evil, a battle that I guess would seem worth fighting, the high cost of death doesn't seem too much ask. And yet, we get the sense here that even 'the good' isn't something worth (or something you're capable of) dying for. Which makes me think ... in Narnia, what is? Sort of cheapens the 'warfare' metaphor. I mean, hell, even Judas hung himself for the sake of Christ's cause -- the quintessentially tragic victim. Nothing like that here.

'Oh, Brad, you're being petty again.' I know some of you are thinking that. Maybe I am. But you know, is a little loss really that much to expect? Or, for that matter, ambiguity. This, I suppose, is the primary thing that annoys me most with the recent crop of 'Good v. Evil' movies: absolutely no nuance or complexity of character. Consider Lord of the Rings. You think you're getting some nuance with Golem, but no. Tolkien has to make explicit that Golem is as beastly as we'd normally expect. He bites off Frodo's finger for the sake of owning the ring, damn the cost to himself. Well ... what if Tolkien had injected some ambiguity to that scene? What if we were left wondering and arguing about Golem's intentions? Perhaps he saw Frodo's moral failure at the moment of decision, or simply knew that one could not refuse the ring, and did the most heroic act in the entire book? Wouldn't that, dare I say it, be a little more like the real world? As it is, you have an exciting turn of events, but no moral ambiguity. Much the same here. You think you're getting some complexity of character w/ regard to Edmund. But, no. He's just a prat who deserves to die. There is nothing patently evil about this, since this is how most of us live our lives -- categorizing people according to various criteria -- but it certainly is a failure as a piece of art or literature, which is ultimately intended to create new horizons of meaning and not simply parrot or reinforce the one that already exists.

'But, Brad. Have you considered the possibility you're judging the movie by a standard it was not written / presented to achieve?' Yes, I have. My only response is that movies that are this epic in scale -- that is, movies whose message is momentous and so obviously injected with universal themes & scope -- an aborted artistic ambition is damning. And it infects the rest of the project. Notably the degree to which it is sold to the highest bidder, namely Disney, and then pimped out as nothing short of a vapid promo for a video game. In the end, this is what I walked away regarding the movie. As far as it goes, I suspect the game will be very fun indeed.

Then again, maybe I'm just an old-fashioned elitist. Granted, one who likes the bawdy humor of 'Drawn Together', who has fond memories of the movie Bad Boys, still listens to Howard Stern, and knows the chorus to almost every Top 40 love song from the 1980s.

[None of this even touches on of the clear technical problems w/ regard to the film's editing and very flimsy characterisation. But I don't want to ruin the movie for people who haven't yet seen it, or haven't read the book, so I'll save that for the comments if anybody is interested in sounding off.]

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Playing the Fool

I've only recently begun reading anything written by Simone Weil. There's a lot of interest there, but I really like this quote from one of the letters she wrote while in an English sanatorium.

When I saw Lear here, I asked myself how it was possible that the unbearably tragic character of those fools had not been obvious long ago to everyone, including myself. The tragedy is not the sentimental one it is sometimes thought to be; it is this:

There is a class of people in this world who have fallen into the lowest degree of humiliation, far below beggary, and who are deprived not only of all social consideration but also, in everybody's opinion, of the specific human dignity, reason itself -- and these are the people who, in fact, are able to tell the truth. All the others lie.

In Lear it is striking. Even Kent and Cordelia attenuate, mitigate, soften, and veil the truth; and unless they are forced to choose between telling it and telling a downright lie, they manoeuvre to evade it.

What makes the tragedy extreme is the fact that because the fools possess no academic titles or episcopal dignities and because no one is aware that their sayings deserve the slightest attention -- everybody being convinced a priori of the contrary, since they are fools -- their expression of the truth is n ot even listened to. Everybody, including Shakespeare's readers and audiences for four centuries, is unaware that what they say is true. And not satirically or humourously true, but simply the truth. Pure unadulterated truth, luminous, profound, and essential.

From here, Weil goes on to too quickly & conveniently equate herself with the fool, but I'll be damned if the first part isn't well stated.