Black Christmas and the ever-looming patriarchy

Posted in Sermons on December 25, 2011 by nicholasnordlinger

Wherever I sat - on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok - I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air. ~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Chapter 15

Introduction: Facefulness 

Some find werewolves the most terrifying, some vampires. Others cannot stand the sight of zombies, or ghosts, or mummies. But these are just imaginary things. As the creature feature era drew to a close in the mid 1950′s, after audiences had enjoyed every brand of old-time monster, robot, alien, and animal imaginable, the bitter taste of true terror piqued up again and audiences focused on the worthiest monster of all.

Films did not deny audience’s their desire to see human treachery, human madness and psychopathy at its darkest, such early films as Night of the Hunter (1955) and Peeping Tom (1960) provided excellent, profound and probing explorations of serial murdering antiheroes. These films were popular, and hinted at the dark horse on the horizon that was to dominate the horror films of the later 20th century. The small difference between these thrillers and the later solidification of the “slasher” genre is the known aspect of the killer’s identity, or rather, should I say, the facefulness of the killers. There they are for you in plain view, Harry Powell, Mark Lewis, bright white faces, dark eyebrows. Monster’s are never as scary when you see them in daylight.

And so, on the road to the evolution of the slasher, killer-centric psychological horror-dramas reached out for symbiosis with the old murder mystery formula. Something in the hiddenness, unspoken faces and friend’s betraying, gave these old beast’s a strong new shadow. Films like Thirteen Women (1932) and And then there were none (1945) had established an exciting premise that had delighted audiences time and again. A group of people dropping off like flies, a mystery killer, and a final, shocking identity and motive revelation. Horror quickly espoused with this formula and held on all the way through to the 1990′s, when it was simplified and satirized by Wes Craven’s Scream(1996).

Psycho (1960) and Dementia 13 (1963) are the first in this series of thrillers to delve into a degree of mystery, they forestall the killer’s identity til the very end, suggesting different culprits and motives.

This game had been played before by Dario Argento. His early mystery film The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) is a slasher film avant la lettre, hiding the face of the raincoat clad killer (see Dressed to Kill (1980) for later use of this image) until the end and then, in the spirit of Psycho and Dementia 13, revealing a complex psychological reason for the killer’s mania.

This coupling of murder mystery with psycho killer (replacing the more standard mystery motives of money, vengeance, all rooted in sanity) matched well, but the slasher had not yet been born. Director’s took a page out of the popular exploitation films of the time, and from the splatter genre being refined by Herschell Gordon Lewis. Gore suited well this new genre, Argento himself adopted more blood into his films and they gained popularity, as did Hitchcock.

And so the slasher slid from the womb.

Slasher! The very onomatopoeia of the word suggests a knife entering flesh, a jarring, violent, sexual noise. Where did it begin? In the attic, the woman cannot breathe, a faceless creature has invaded our bodies.

Here there be spoilers.

Many people get frustrated with Black Christmas (1974),  the first true slasher, because the film has no solution. No motive or identity is ever ascribed to the killer. Sure there is one integral red herring in Jess’s boyfriend, but the last shot is of the attic window, the rocking, suffocated woman, ever frozen in her maidenhood while the terrifying voice of the killer croons on. But if one took the time to view the film more closely, one might see that the film is actually quite clear about whom the killer is, and its solution is so beautifully horrific, so spectrally ubiquitous that it has been the killer in every slasher film since.

Part 1: An Obscene Performance

No film has topped Black Christmas’ signature feature, namely the obsecene phone calls. Now obscene phone calls were a lot more common back in the 70′s, before Caller ID was on every single cellphone screen. My mother and aunts always talk about getting a “breather” now and again when they were young. Therefore obscene phone calls, especially in this time, represent one of the earliest and most commonly understood experiences of fear for one’s body and safety. It is the most basic kind of threat, that one can reach out from behind your door and connect through the phone line to express violent desire. The most rudimentary nature of a breather or moaner phone call is a male voice threatening sexual violence against a female. Of course this is the nature of the Black Christmas phone call, at first, but the caller, the killer, taunts the girls not only with a harrowing caricature of a lusty violent male, but also with grotesque feminine caricatures of pain and suffering, as though playing out the subtextual gender war in a single voice.

Judith Butler writes about the performance inherent in the very constitution of gender.

“gender is in no way a stable identity or locus of agency from which
various acts proceed; rather, it is an identity tenuously constituted in time—an identity, instituted through a stylized repetition of acts. Further, gender is instituted through the stylization of the body and, hence, must be understood as the mundane way in which bodily gestures, movements,
and enactments of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self. This formulation moves the conception of gender off the ground of a substantial model of identity to one that requires a conception of a constituted social temporality. Significantly, if gender is instituted through acts which are internally discontinuous, then the appearance of substance is
precisely that, a constructed identity, a performative accomplishment which the mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief. If the ground of gender identity is the stylized repetition of acts through time, and not a seemingly seamless identity, then the possibilities of gender transformation are to be found in the
arbitrary relation between such acts, in the possibility of a different sort of repeating, in the breaking or subversive repetition of that style.” (Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology
and Feminist Theory” 1988)

What we see in Black Christmas is the latter of these underminings, a subversive repetition of the gender binary. Though it is hard to make sense of the gargled, intensely eery, and schizophrenic voice on the other end of the line, a few key phrases can be gleaned. It starts with Jess’ declaration that it is “him again, the moaner,” demonstrating that this is not the first incidence, placing the narrative appropriately in media res of the historic gender war. The call starts off sounding barely human, the moaning is that of a dying animal, a struggling ape. This noise sets the stage in an almost primal way, for out of this garbled animal suffering and desire emerges Adam and Eve, Agnes & Billy. “Could that be one person?” asks Claire, a fitting question indeed, what is the nature of this multiplying voice that at first sounds male but then out comes the rib and a second suffering marries itself along? The duality is then expanded upon, explained and made true in the performance. The garbled noise is broken by the crying of an infant, the creature born, followed immediately by the typical, expected voice, the deep male voice threatening sexual violence. This varies in pitch throughout the sophmoric sexual threats, sounding at once like a child, then a pig, then an old woman, and finally, in the terminal iteration “I’m going to kill you,” like a mature, adult male, as though this is the conclusion, the culmination of the previous violent evolution. Out of animality, through birth comes the boyish and confused male voice, textured with gender uncertainty finally cemented in the calm declaration that he will kill the woman attempting to undermine his sexual control. It is as though against her retorts he steels himself into the truest predator. It is in the duologue of their twin performances that he develops his own tokenly masculine violence and seeks to exact it throughout the remainder of the film. Who is he? Well he was no one when he first crawled up into the sorority house attic from a POV shot in the opening of the film, a being without gender, without firm identity, with the unformed animalistic tendencies expressed at the start of the phone call. It was against the overwhelming femininity of the sorority house that his masculinity became the foil performance. The creature in the attic is like a virus that adapted into male to more perfectly destroy its host.

In this sense the sorority house functions not only as a setting but as a character, much like Poe’s House of Usher or DuMaurier’s Manderley. The very sight of it, the first image in the film, is like a living beast, breathing in Christmas Carols.

I’ll come back to this point in part 3.

Part 2: Black Christ Mass

Now perhaps we should get to the root of the film’s title. Now obviously it is a simple, darkly comical inversion of the standard ideal Christmas, namely a white Christmas.

In this classic song all of the iconic, loving, generous aspects of Christmas are highlighted, days merry and bright. Black Christmas is simply an inversion of that because bad things are happening during Christmas, a time that is meant to be about family and giving and the spirit of joy. But the actual mythology of Christmas is often overlooked in the context of this film, and its inversion is far more harrowing, and far more pertinent.

For you see, quite simply, Christmas is the celebration of a holy birth. It is a fusion of the ancient pre-Christian tradition of Yule, or the Winter Solstice (a day representing death for it’s lack of sunlight, and then new birth with the remergence of the sun to one point higher the next day) with the Myth of Christ’s birth to a virgin as the Son of God beneath a Holy Star. Christmas is the night that the most divine of births is celebrated.

And so let us view our Nativity. As the mother we have Jess, who has just learned that she is pregnant. The baby in her stomach is Christ. But she doesn’t want it, and the dark voice on the other end of the phone, the conciever. That is God. That is her boyfriend. And he insists that she keep it.

And so basically the Black Christ Mass, is Christ’s abortion, and God, the proverbial He, is enraged.

Black Christmas and the ensuing slasher genre which it establishes are about parallel lines of obvious and subtle violence. the visible blood plays a duet with the subtler abuse, synthesizing in a final crescendo.

This scene clearly hints at pre-existing abuse in Jess and Peter’s relationship. Her downcast eyes, her quick nervous movements. Though abuse is executed throughout the film on a very obvious level (i.e murder), we see here not only the subtler abuse of mere assault,  but of specifically furtive assault. Most domestic and/or relationship abuse is identified by bruised arms and black eyes, but sometimes, as on this black Christmas, pregnancy, and the male control exerted in response, is a sign of serious abuse in itself.

In Lynn Harris’s article When partner abuse isn’t a bruise but a pregnant belly, such violent relationships are outlined, with examples provided:

Sexual coercion and “reproductive control,” including contraceptive sabotage, are a common, and devastating, facet of dating and domestic abuse. A growing number of studies, experts and young women themselves are testifying to boyfriends demanding unprotected sex, lying about “pulling out,” hiding or destroying birth control — flushing pills down the toilet, say — and preventing (or, in some cases, forcing) abortion. 

In Peter’s case we see abortion prevention as a means of control. Jess informs him that she is going to get an abortion and he replies “you haven’t even asked me yet.” He sees her body as his, to mangle and slash, to control. He has slashed her long before Billy, or Agnes, whomever it is that holds the knife. “I wasn’t even going to tell you,” she appropriately replies, reasserting her control of her own body. A different fear presents. This subplot is not random.

It is no coincidence that the image that carries us into this exchange is that of a suffocated, dead woman. All well-developed slasher films artfully contrast obvious violence with more insidious and discrete abuse.

Later Peter breaks down. “Dont treat it like getting a wart removed,” Peter insists, a phrase that later echoes in another obsence phone call, first establishing Peter as the potential killer, a solution the local police, all men, seem satisfied with.

But the real solution lies within.

Part 3: The Calls are coming from inside the house

Now it would be silly not to point out the obvious parallel between the intruder/killer and the baby in Jess. In both cases there is something that has found its way into a feminine structure and is violating from within (not that the baby is directly violating Jess but the insistence of its presence on Peter’s behalf echoes back to the killer in the attic, with whom he is eventually “confused.”)

Of course this roots back to a classic scary urban legend, the gist of which is that scary phone calls expected to be coming from a distant stranger are actually within the very house in which you believe you are safe. Many films have played to this classic trope, some far more loyally:

A unique feature of this archetypal tale, often referred to as The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs, is that the climax of the danger doesn’t come from the danger increasing, as many scary stories do. The danger is constant throughout the entire tale, the climax of the thrill is when awareness is granted, when the protagonist learns that “the calls are coming from inside the house!” Just as Jess’ earlier statement that “it’s him again, the moaner,” places us in the middle of an ongoing trend of harassment, “the calls are coming from inside the house!” reveals that the danger has always been present, it has been sitting on top of them since Christmas, waiting like the dark messiah to be birthed. Indeed, Black Christmas is unique to this day for the fact that the killer remains stationary throughout the majority of the film. Save a few strange, moments, the killer is always within the sorority house, waiting to catch one of the sisters alone. In this way it is more in the tradition of such previous films as Rosemary’s Baby (1968), playing off of the parasitic nature of gestation. The killer in the attic is like an unwanted pregnancy, a Christ child that this Mary refuses to birth, and the ensuing deaths naught but the wrath of Him.

Conclusion: Agnes, it’s me Billy

Throughout the many garbled and strange phrases we hear the killer utter either over the phone or in person, as the vague figure brings down the phallic knife, one that comes through repeatedly is “Agnes.” The killer mutters this twice before killing women, and is heard more clearly saying “Agnes, it’s me Billy,” in one murder scene. No back story is ever offered, but this strange line ends up being the film’s concluding sentiment.

Further frustrating fans of certainty, the ending is one of the most beautifully elusive in slasher history. We see Jess cowering in the basement of the sorority house, Peter coming towards her with a smile as she shivers, further hinting at preexisting abuse in addition to her suspicion that he is the killer. Once the police arrive Peter is lying dead in Jess’ lap, she has killed him in self-defense, all is well. The police put Jess to sleep and leave, the camera pulls back through the cadaverous, haunting corridors of the sorority house, finally up to the attic where the bodies of the brutalized women still rot, the phrase is uttered again, this time clearer than ever “Agnes, it’s me Billy,” and then the camera comes into clear focus on the suffocated woman reiterated throughout the entirety of the narrative, the suffocated woman who is on every poster for the film. We hold on this image as the camera pulls back, away from the house, into the winter night. The phone begins to ring.

As stated earlier, it is against the overwhelming femininity of the sorority house that the killer comes to perform as a violent He. The statement “Agnes, it’s me Billy,” perfectly represents a simple binary, the first two letters of the alphabet, the female is addressed by the male. Whatever origin story is here implied is unimportant though the most obvious hypothesis would be that Billy was once wronged by Agnes or vice versa and now this duality must be expressed between the unending binary maintained by gender performance, but this does not hurt all of humanity equally, it is the woman who is suffocated, the woman who is preyed upon for she is the one that has been controlled, abused and infested. She is the one who has been slashed.

In this sense it is not quite so horrific that Jess “incorrectly” murdered her boyfriend, or rather that the suspicion that he was the killer is no more than a red herring, rather he is the killer, just as much as any man, but doing away with him is not enough, it is the deadly phallis in the attic, the ever-looming patriarchy that slashes these young women apart.

P.S. I have not seen the 2006 remake of Black Christmas nor do I ever intend to, though I understand that It provides a backstory and identity to the killer, invalidating all points made above. What a pity, this remake madness really must end.

Slashback

Posted in Sermons on February 28, 2011 by nicholasnordlinger
Dear Churchgoers,
It has been far too long since I have given a good sermon to the congregation, but even those of us in the clergy have to take a break sometimes to reflect on our faith. During my pilgrimage I have festered in the oblivion of many different genres, but the dark devil in the back of my mind cannot help but hearken endlessly back to that strange nostalgia that I find in the slasher film. I have long desired to do a four or five part slasher analysis series, each of which will help to constitute what I believe to be at the root of slasher history and the deeper meaning of the slasher story. For this reason, I will be spending a good deal of time working on these five major articles, each representing a different important aspect of the genre as focalized in a specific film. Anyways, just wanted to inform all that I had not lost my faith, and that I am working on something grand for the future.

Danny Boyle: through hell unto the light

Posted in Sermons on December 12, 2010 by nicholasnordlinger

The other day I accidentally locked my bag and jacket in a windowless room (one of those doors that can lock without a key) and so in a moment of naive ambition I squeezed my arm through the slanted wooden slats of the air vent at the bottom of the door, which ended up functioning much like one of the traps from Saw II. I managed to reach up and unlock the door from the inside, but due to the slant of the vent’s slats it was a much harder outward pull than an inward entry (like a chinese finger trap, sorta.) Stuck up to my shoulder and with the angry slats compressing my muscle and bone I entered a state of animal panic, leaned back, planted my feet against the door and wrenched backwards. Eventually my arm began to slip in measured jerks, and each time I could feel the thin wood skinning me gently. I endured a pain I would not have tolerated in a less anxious state, and, finally, when my arm came completely free and I looked down to see it badly bruised and red with such terse exfoliation (as well as some deep splinters) my first thought was “damn, I should go see that new Danny Boyle movie.”

this guy

And so I found myself chilling in the back of the 420 G Street theater sipping a Bock Bier and watching my fellow PALY alum cut through a nerve strip with a swiss army knife. Indeed Boyle’s newest film, 127 Hours, is an intense, disturbing, and triumphant piece, carried almost entirely by James Franco’s grand performance. What could have very well been a stale, boring film was instead gripping and involving.

But more than just noticing the obvious strengths of the film, I finally settled in my long-growing belief that Danny Boyle, like the Coen Brothers or Darren Arnofsky (both of whom, in a similar breakdown, shall be the subjects of later blogs), is essentially making the same film over and over, seeing how many different ways his brand of story can be told.

I will save what I believe the story skeletons for the Coens and Arnofsky for their respective blogs, but briefly, the story Danny Boyle tells reapeatedly is one of characters who suffers through hellish circumstances kept afloat only by their fierce determination and fantastical, fetishized goals/dreams. Most often these dreams experience a sort of internal betrayal, and extended suffering is brought about as a reflection of the fetish (hope placed in the wrong places, dreams aimed in the wrong direction.) There are many opportunities for our heroes to resign themselves, to give in to the sure-death that is so ready to swallow them, and often we, the audience, hypothesize that this is the course we would take. Still, we view the characters’s almost superhuman ambition to validate their fetishized goals, to overcome their infernal lots, and, in the end, in an orgasm of their defining mettle, they break free from the suffering, they achieve the goals that have kept them so motivated against all odds.

Understand that I am not saying this in a negative way. I am not calling Danny Boyle unoriginal, for each time he retells this one story he does so in a strikingly original and different way. In fact, if anything, Mr. Boyle can be credited for his eclectic filmography. However, whether we be in space or at the bottom of a canyon, hooked on junk in Scotland or poor and orphaned in India, we’re suffering and conquering the same way.

As the down on his luck, accidental kidnapper Robert Lewis (portrayed by Ewan MacGregor) says, describing a dream of his set on an imaginary game show called Perfect Love, in Boyle’s early romantic comedy A Life Less Ordinary “It’s just a dream. I don’t think the fact that it’s a gameshow has any relevance it merely indicates my cultural origins. I mean were I a tribesman in the Kalahari, for instance, the location would

A Life Less Ordinary

undoubtedly have been different. But I think the theme is universal.” So it is with all of Boyle’s films, different in the details, the same at the roots.

Now lets run through some of the basic aspects of Boyle’s story  as they are portrayed differently in different films (and yet the same.)

Here there be spoilers:

Heroes become obsessed with a fetishized idea. In Shallow Grave it’s wealth and security (which compounds itself, need upon need), in Trainspotting it’s an idealized version of complacent and responsible consumer existence (Renton spends the whole film mired in the slog of heroin, dreaming of making that one leap out of it where he can {and he’s somewhat sarcastic about this though it remains his motivation] “choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers” etc. This echoes all the way to the end when he assures us “I’m going to be just like you.”) in A Life Less Ordinary it’s to be treated as a human being instead of a slave, (Robert literally fights a robot that replaces his job and loses, when he realizes this won’t work he starts a tepid “romance” with the bourgeois, eventually joining it) in The Beach it’s a completely Orientalized (see Said) concept of what purity is (tourists who want to break free from the sickness of mainstream tourism, paying even with death and pain for the secrecy of their Beach away from all others) in 28 Days Later it is the fixation with life before the infection (pre-zombies) when such a world will never return (Selena mentions that the day before the Television and radio stopped broadcasting there were reports of infections in Paris and New York, but nothing more was heard on the subject, Jim pleads “what is the government doing about all this?” to which he recieves the obvious reply “there is no government.” He struggles against this notion desperately, can’t come to terms with it “of course there’s a government, there’s always a government they’re in a bunker, or in a plane…”

“no there is no government”)

 

28 Days Later

in Slumdog Millionaire Jamal fetishizes a girl he saw only once and makes her a symbol of transcending poverty, in Millions the dream is to become a saint, or to acheive a childlike concept of what sainthood is, in Sunshine the dream is to save a dying world much the same way that in 127 Hours the dream is to save the greater self at the cost of a part of the self. Might we say it is the same struggle? In Sunshine Capa is willing to cut himself off (die) to save the greater humanity. Is he perhaps humanity’s arm, and is all of Ralston sans his left arm the same “greater humanity” that Capa (and the rest of the Icarus 2 crew) dies for?

 

Sunshine (my personal favorite Boyle film)

Most often the suffering the characters are forced to endure is a result of their goal/fetish, or an aspect/representation of it, betraying them. Jim dreams desperately about the return of civilization, but is assured that there is no government, no police, no army. Still he holds on to the dream, spots planes in the sky, grows hopeful, but when he finally meets the army, still existing in small numbers, his hope is quickly done away with as they set about trying to rape his female companions.

Richard  in the The Beach and Ralston in 127 Hours are both betrayed by their own reckless wanderlust. Ralston, in particular, is betrayed by a boulder he trust for support, and once under its terminal weight he meditates in his delirium how “this boulder has been waiting here for me all its life, since it was a meteor, hundreds of years ago, we were destined to meet” (i’m paraphrasing), demonstrating that the boulder is symbolic of his eternal fetish, and that it is, as stated, this fetish that has betrayed him, just as it is the beach and all that its virginal seclusion entails (the loss of humanity in the deaths caused by neglect etc.) that eventually betrays all of its residents, and Richard’s dream goes to ashes.

Notice that hallucination is an element of every single Boyle film. Literally every single one. Characters jeopardized by their own delusion. And each

Millions

of them is terrfied of their own delusion, just like the fear in Damien’s eyes when his brother tells him “you’re just a fucking looney” in Millions.

Please don’t say that Anthony.”

Boyle’s films are also built on various scenes of intense suffering and delieverance from said suffering through pure will. Mace basks in spaceship coolant and yet manages to survive just long enough to warn Capa, Jamal dives straight into shit and wades through it just to get an autograph just as Renton dives into shit and swims through it just to get his heroin, Ralston drinks his own urine, Selena and Hannah take Valium in preparation for the rape-to-come etc.

Though the suffering in Boyle’s films is portrayed in many different ways it is essentially always brought on by the goal/fetish, and the two contrast each other repeatedly slap at each other, hope then despair then hope then despair, constantly reenforcing one another until, usually, the hope is validated. Now this may seem very general, in fact this model can be applied to most stories, (paricularly Dante’s Inferno, wherein he must descend progressively deeper into Hell to find his love Beatrice) but Boyle’s heroes’s near deistic drives, motivated by goals that seems absolutely unattainable, pure fantasy due to the hero’s circumstances, but that is actually achieved in the hero’s climax, a moment of such strong intention and action that they break narrative causality, that they create their own reality, that they trascend humanity, is actually rather specific. It is a reinterpretation of the Deus Ex Machina technique so that our human hero (flaws and all) fills said classic theatrical device’s role of Deus.

 

Slumdog Millionaire

And so let us discuss the Orgasm of Ambition, the moment of apotheosis.

The arm comes off, in a jolting shot, an ecstasy of intention and then suddenly, distanced, alientated, Ralston looks on his now foreign limb, lodged still in the rock that had trapped him, but he separate. He emerges from the canyon unto the blinding light, like Capa, like Damien, as Richard stares down the gun barrel the light sihnes out from Robert’s wounds , Renton snatches the suitcase, quiet eyes on Spud as he slinks through the door, the flag laid out for the helicoptor to see, Jamal answers “Irimas”, Ralston sips water from a stagnant well, happier than all hell, dead atop the floorboards, still sputtering in blood, the ultimate shallow grave.

In A Life Less Ordinary we see Deus Ex Machina employed in it’s most obvious form as the angel Gabriel (portrayed as an ornery office worker in heaven) literally calls God and asks him step in and save our hero. As a bullet cuts through Robert’s chest a divine light shines from out his exit wound, he is unaffected, and so it is with all our heroes, though the Deus is not so obvious but rather hidden in their ambition.

The end sequences of The Beach and of 28 Days Later whereas the leads both enter into a fierce, rogue animal state, use their hazardous environment as a weapon, and employ guerilla tactics to outdo the men with the guns, are extremely similar, but a crucial difference lies in the placement of

The Beach

the betrayal. For Richard the betrayal comes at the final moment of his Heart Of Darkness

28 Days Later

inspired descent, when he witnesses the slaughter of one of the ignorant tourists and loses his animal coldness (suddenly sheds tears) whereas for Jim the betrayal has already come, it is in fact the inspiration for his sudden, furtive aggression, in it he demonstrates the Orgasm of Ambition and recognizes the flaw in his dream, whereas Richard’s moment of roguehood is the fetishe’s final stand. Richard’s true Orgasm of Ambition, which, is when he finally puts away the fear of death and stares down the barrel of Sal’s gun, tells her to “go ahead and shoot,” knowing that with his death (or even the prospect of his death) the dangerous, delusional, and Orientalized fantasy of the beach will finally show its true face.

Now, most Boyle films have outwardly happy endings, sometimes glibly so (The Beach, for instance, seems uncharacteristically joyous at the end, something I consider a major flaw of the film) but whether or not the internal fetish delusion is resolved splits through about 50/50. I know it’s hard to call, but in my opinion in the films Shallow Grave, A Life Less Ordinary, Trainspotting, Millions and Slumdog Millionaire the Orgasm of Ambition actually drives the heroes deeper into the fetish, whereas in The Beach, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and 127 Hours the Orgasm of Ambition breaks the heroes free from the fetish. Now perception is truth right, so if the heroes believe themselves free what’s the difference? Nothing really, but I believe that this is the one place in Boyle’s filmography where we see a deep-rooted contrast in how the formula plays out.

Boyle refuses to be defined by a single genre. Horror, action, comedy, and drama all make up his repertoire. He’s not a perfect filmmaker, some of his films have serious flaws, others are strikingly masterful, all of them have something worthwhile and overall I’m very interested in what he’s up to next.  Do not necessarily consider him bound by the formula I have described. I’m sure that there are flaws in my analysis as it is heavily reliant upon auteur-theory, but I can’t help seeing this pattern, it has grown firm in my mind with each successive film of his I’ve seen.

 

Trainspotting

We’re getting muddled down in words now, so lets keep it simple. Here’s a chart that draws said cross section on a very elementary level. Notice recurring symbols and motifs.

Shallow Grave Trainspotting A Life Less Ordinary The Beach 28 Days Later Millions Sunshine Slumdog Millionaire 127 Hours
Goal/Fetish Leisure, security Complacency/ Consumer-centric normalcy Consumer-centric normalcy/ to join the bourgeois Wanderlust/ Orientalized purity Normalcy, civilization, order Sainthood To restart the sun, to save humanity To escape poverty/ to join the bourgeois Wanderlust/ to survive
Fetishized Object Bag of Money Heroin/ Bag of Money Girl he barely knows/ Bag of Money The Beach/ Girl he barely knows Government and government institutions/ civilization Bag of Money The second payload (Icarus 2)/ the sun itself Girl he barely knows/ Bag of Money The boulder (both as support and then as conquerer)
Object Betrayal Wicked men come looking for the money/ It brings out the worst in people Heroin leads to the death of friends and babies, withdrawal, social failure Wicked angels come looking for the girl/ Violence ensues The secrecy necessary for the beach’s “purity” causes multiple deaths, pain, and madness Government has collapsed/ When they finally meet a government institution (the army) they are exploited Wicked men come looking for the money/ It brings out the worst in people Multiple spaceship problems/ The sun itself kills many/ the idolatry of the sun motivates their enemy as well The boulder does not support him/ the boulder traps him/ his reckless wanderlust traps him
Hallucination The dead man The dead baby Himself as wealthy, Dead Jaffy, The way things used to be, family Saints Faces of the last crew Memories Memories, family, younger self,  rainstorm
Orgasm of Ambition Murder of bad men and then of friends Steals the money, cue blinding white light Survives the shot, transcends humanity, channels God (Deus Ex Machina), cue blinding white light Stares down the barrel, faces death so that the orientalized dream may die Goes rogue, uses the zombies to help him slaughter the army, cue blinding white light Uses money to help install clean water program somewhere in Africa Several self-sacrifices, particularly the last one where he rides the Icarus 2 into the sun with him on it Beats the game show (answers Irimias) Cuts his arm off, breaks free
Millions Sunshine Slumdog Millionaire 127 Hours
Goal/ Fetish Sainthood To restart the sun/ to save humanity To escape poverty/ to join the bourgeois Wanderlust/ Survival
Fetishized Object Bag of Money The second payload (Icarus 2)/ The sun itself His brother/ Girl he barely knows/ Bag of Money The boulder (first as support then as conqueror)
Object Betrayal Wicked men come looking for the money/ It brings out the worst in people Multiple spaceship problems/ The sun itself kills many/ the idolatry of the sun motivates their enemy as well His brother consistently betrays/ brother takes the girl/ he is tortured because of his success The boulder does not support him/ the boulder traps him/ his reckless wanderlust traps him
Hallucination Various Saints Faces of the last Icarus crew Memories Memories, family, younger self,  rainstorm
Orgasm of Ambition Uses money to help install clean water program somewhere in Africa, cue blinding white light Drives the Icarus 2 into the sun, cue blinding white light Beats the game show (answers Irimias), cue blinding white light Cuts his arm off, breaks free, cue blinding white light

a Poem for Maromi

Posted in Sermons on November 23, 2010 by nicholasnordlinger

In 2008 my brother first showed me what I would from then on refer to as “the greatest anime series ever made.” From the mind of Satoshi Kon, who had previously frightened me with Perfect Blue and would later astound me with Paprika, came Mōsō Dairinin, or as I would lovingly know it, Paranoia Agent.

I obsessed over this show, watching it all the way through dubbed, then back again through with subtitles and Japanese audio, and then again both ways. It crams more eery brilliance into 13 episodes than most shows manage in multiple seasons. An analysis of the series would be difficult, there is so much great material to discuss and criticize that my brain shuts down at the barrage of options for such a piece. Instead I shall keep things simple and sentimental. I am still in a fanboy state of mourning  for Satoshi Kon’s recent, sudden passing, and I can offer his works nothing but praise. De mortuis nil nisi bonum.

So to the little dog who captivated Japan, and told us all to “take a rest,” these verses are for you:

Irrepressible you

east island all erupting, lovely

truth obscurer, pink

like Jackie O day of the shot, eyes

like puddles of fresh rain, there

we find something serene,  canst

thou summon up the Slugger? Do

so now, for I can’t stand, head

is rolling on my neck, shoulders

barely hold it there, come

and swing the home run hit

Fuyubachi? Zebra? Zebra! How

are you connected to yourselves?

How bouts we take the bullet train, now

tell that story once again, how

little boys did run amuck, shadows

lurking from the walls, you’re

creator, fallen, crawling forward

towards the red light, towards the train light

towards the headlight, swerving rain drive, falling pain came slicing, like the frequency

it’s buzzing

buzzing radar man will warn the world!

“He comes from nowhere,” nowhere? Here is hollowness, the catalyst

They call me Ichi, number one! The slugger comes, he glides because

his feet are wings, he means to slay

the wicked Goma, he infesting all, Maromi!

now deliver us and lead us not into temptation

for thine is the people

the eyes and the bloodbeat

thunk thunk drunk on Sake,

stumbling home

begging for

quick ignorance

whisper slow Maromi

crawl gently up and down my arms

Japan forgives itself through you

when will we see again

the beautiful mushroom cloud

the tsunami

the great black ooze that sweeps

like grasping arms

embracing arms

do us no harm

our lives belong to you

the great shadow of the bat boy

it has now become the cloud

it has now become the wave

it has now become the quaking ground

the lesson then was simple

goodbye pup, you never spoke

it was your ghost

I’ll tear the paper people up

your puddley

eyes

now

close

今 敏 Kon Satoshi 1963-2010

 




Why are there no movies in space?

Posted in Sermons on November 12, 2010 by nicholasnordlinger

 

Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, the future (or, I guess, the past in Star Wars’ case) of space is full of bright and exciting technology, new exciting games (Pyramid <pictured left from the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica>, Dabo, Dom Jot, Kal Toh <there are a ridiculous number of different games and sports from Star Trek> or even that little hologram board game from A New Hope <you know the game I’m talking about, the one they’re playing when C3PO famously suggests that they “let the wookie win” >) books (Baltar writes a partial book while incarcerated in the re-imagined BSG that seems to gather a vast readership rather quickly, there are thousands of data files in Star Trek for reading, sadistic Eastern philosophy circulates throughout the Firefly universe) plays (Kirk attends a production of Hamlet in The Conscience of the King TOS episode 13) and music (the cantina scene from A New Hope or Jabba’s personal band from Return of the Jedi, on the Enterprise Uhura often sings while Spock plays the Vulcan lyre, and, somehow, All Along the Watchtower, makes it’s way to the Galactica near the end of season 3)

But no movies.

Seems like culture and technology have progressed with leaps and bounds in the imagined worlds of space, powerful weaponry, incredibly efficient space travel, and medical advancements (remember Luke’s hand?) but there doesn’t seem to be any Space Hollywood. In a Universe like Star Trek’s that is specifically meant to be this present’s future, the lack of a film scene becomes even more difficult to explain. What? Did we forget about cameras?

Clearly not. Picard looks at old pictures of himself (in that  leather bound photo album from Generations <pictured right>) but I guess Earth forgot all about motion pictures.

Sure the Holodeck has a cinematic aspect to it, but really it’s more like a game (mystery solving and what not.) They’ve got no shortage of games, games seems to be the main thing they do in space.

Conversation is another big activity, everyone’s always talking about Space Politics and Space Wars, religion, books, sex, music, but never movies. There are no famous directors on Serenity, the Millennium Falcon, the Enterprise, or the Galactica.

There’s even an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 1, ep. 22 The Neutral Zone) when a couple of humans from the 20th century are unfrozen from cryogenic hibernation and the first thing one of them asks is “where’s the T.V?” because he wants to watch a Braves game. Data does his classic little head tilt, realizes that such an antiquated abbreviation means “television”, and explains that the tube went out of style in 2040. Not like everyone got bigger, better T.V.’s, people just stopped watching altogether, they had better shit to do, like particiate in virtually-simulated orgies on the Holodeck.

Science fiction writers must have realized how much thought a Space Film Industry would take to design. What would the movies be like? Would they be depictions of the present (as in “modern” depictions of Space, contemporary drama) or would they be films of the past and therefore about “our” (the viewers) present, or more confusing still a past of the future that is our present future?

...uh

 

Even more confusing we would have to assume that in Space Hollywood science-fiction would be as popular a category as it is in our time/place. That means that in the Federation, the Galaxy, the Alliance, and the Galactica, many movies postulating a future of the future would be produced. That’s too much for most writers, but I challenge anyone brave enough to depict a Space Film Industry, with all its confusing rammifications.

Headless Horseman Halloween Oblivion

Posted in Sermons on October 28, 2010 by nicholasnordlinger

I don’t know about y’all, but when late October comes around it means it’s time to curl up with warm apple cider (mixed with Goldschläger) and watch old Halloween specials. My repertoire of favorites includes the obvious It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, as well as Ray Bradbury’s brilliant The Halloween Tree, sometimes Hocus Pocus, Halloween (Carpenter or Zombie), Trick ‘r Treat (very underrated) Halloweenie (Pete & Pete), Tricks and Treats (Freaks & Geeks) Pink Eye, Spookyfish, Korn’s Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery (South Park) any of the Treehouse of Horrors (Simpsons) or even Disney’s Halloweentown. But this year, on top of some of these classics, I’ve been harping on another old Samhain memory; the rarely shown Disney cartoon of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

I remember watching this many years ago, a cold October night, terrified. It’s pretty scary for a kids cartoon, the ending implies that Ichabod was killed or otherwise spiritually burglarized by the Horseman, a rather dark interpretation of the story.

You see, the original Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Iriving wasn’t so clear cut. Being written word and not visual storytelling, the identity of the Headless Horseman was more shrouded in mystery. Maybe it was a ghost, or maybe it was just Brom Bones trying to scare away his sexual competitor. It was up to the reader to decide. Here Disney gives us a ghost, and a scary one at that, which I guess we could interpret as just a manifestation of Ichabod’s mind, but as a kid you don’t get that far, you stop at “that’s a freaking ghost,” and then you have nightmares for weeks.

Upon further inspection I realized that the story gets retold lots of different ways. Some go for the dark and gory, some for the humorous, some for a blend. Sometimes Ichabod is an imbecile, sometimes a genius, sometimes superstitious, sometimes skeptical. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is one of the oldest American ghost stories ever written, so media has had it’s way with the tale many times over. I’ve been losing myself in the mad plethora of ways this classic’s been done.

So grab that cider and chill back, here’s more headlessness than you’ll ever need.

First off, here’s the full version of the Disney cartoon as it originally appeared, complete with a fascinating animated history of Washington Irving (and the real Sleepy Hollow) as prologue.

As the prologue demonstrated, the legend of the Headless Horseman was popular in oral folklore long before Irving wrote it down. His narrative is simply the way that many different stories from all over the northern New York region were condensed into a single written piece, much the way that certain New Jersey  variations of the “Cropsey” legends were condensed into The Burning.


I’ve always liked Disney’s interpretation, the song’s are great, the ghost is terrifying, but they really chose to do Ichabod as kind of a dick. I mean, sure he’s a ladies man, he’s the only guy in town who can out woo Brom Bones, which gives him some G status, but he’s also conniving, oppurtunistic, and manipulative. As we see, he uses his position as “pedagogue” (a strangely specific term to use repeatedly) to lord over the classroom and basically get fed every night of the week. First he uses women for their cooking abilities, and then, when Katrina comes along, we see a whole new form of opportunism. Sure he’s probably sexually attracted to her, assisted by the aphrodisiacal prospect of her “dowry.” Can he even tell the difference between her and the land she comes with?

“Katrina, my love, who can resist your grace, your charm…and who can resist your father’s farm!”

Douchechill.

Maybe it’s so kids won’t feel too bad when he gets decapped and the stereotypical jock gets the girl instead. I sure didn’t mind.

Though the most culturally prominent, Disney’s cartoon isn’t the only, nor even the first, animation of Irving’s Legend. In 1934 ComiColor had produced their own Headless Horseman, choosing to go for a far more humorous, lighthearted interpretation of Ichabod’s ride.

Yes, this cartoon certainly is racist (as was unfortunately typical of animation of this era) and maybe even a little homophobic (Brom was ready to kill Ichabod over that accidental kiss) but it still makes me laugh. 30′s cartoons are just so ridiculous. I don’t know what those animators were smoking.

Also it’s interesting that they chose to interpret the story as a completely natural (as in not supernatural) chain of events between two men, no real ghost involved, just people sabotaged by their own superstition.

But before even this the story had made it’s way to the screen. The Headless Horseman (1922) went the same route Disney would later go, as in Ichabod as an asshole, and the Horseman as an indisputably real ghost. The New York Times wrote at the time of it’s premier:

“The only thing distinctly cinematographic about the film is the acting of Will Rogers. He is in truth Ichabod Crane come to life. It is a positive pleasure to watch him. The scenes of Ichabod’s ride, too, when he is pursued by the headless horseman, are also well done. They are excellently photographed and effectively composed.” (The Screen, New York Times Dec. 25 1922; p. 23, Ichabod Himself)

Silent films get a bad rep these days, mostly because (let’s be honest) by modern cinematic standards, they’re boring. But try to think of pictures the way that people in 1922 did, not so much as something that requires our rapt attention (as with talkies) but rather an interplay of images over which one can talk, laugh, scream etc. Picture houses were a place to gather and chill, people would come in the middle of a movie and stay until two thirds through the next one. Get a couple friends together, roast some pumpkin seeds, and put this on as visual entertainment. Feel free to talk as much as you want, the actors have nothing to say.

Moving on now I must ask the question, is there ever a part Jeff Goldblum was more suited to play than Ichabod Crane? Arrogant, eloquent, dandy, sophisticated, and flirtatious. I could be describing either one of them. Well, the match made in heaven came to be in 1988 with this modest but admirable T.V. adaptation of the Legend.

But T.V was just getting started with Sleepy Hollow. Crane and the Horseman are so deeply ingrained in American storytelling culture that the legend (and it’s many variations) continued to appear in multiple television shows.

Firstly, it got yet another straightforward retelling in Shelly Duvall’s Tall Tales & Legends.

Then it got a “hip” modernization in the cult animated series The Real Ghostbusters (fans of Ghostbusters will either love or hate this show) with “The Headless Motorcyclist.”

And how could such a classic ghost story pass without getting a treatment from our neighbors to the north, the Midnight Society. This is actually a landmark episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark as it marks the departure of Kristen and David and Tucker’s entry into the society. That’s a good or a bad thing depending on how you feel about Tucker, personally I thought he was cool right up until the New Midnight Society.

I love how the two kids at the end just totally sell Ichabod out. They’re like “peace dude, better you than us.” I think it’s a testament that Ichabod’s always gonna be running from the Horseman, people are never going to get sick of creating his midnight Halloween ride.

And so, still not allowed rest, Irving’s Legend, had the honor of being related by the most literary Jack Russel Terrier to ever grace the airwaves. I must say, Wishbone gave me my foundational literary knowledge far before I could read independently, but he also scared the hell out of me time and time again. I remember many a sleepless night, be it after the Faust episode, Wishbone’s retelling of Frankenstein, Rip Van Winkle (also by Irving), or The Phantom of the Opera. This episode was up there as well (still Faust was probably the most traumatizing. I was raised Christian.)

Like Are You Afraid of the Dark, Wishbone always managed to draw a clever parallel between the story and the storyteller (or general framing.)

(Note: Unfortunately this episode starts 9 minutes in. You can probably piece together the plot pretty easily [or from memory if you watched this as a kid] but rest assured that I will update this link as soon as part 1 is reuploaded.)

Sometime after all this, there was yet another TV movie adaptation in 1999, though I don’t see how Brent Carver could possibly outdo Jeff Goldblum’s Ichabod (though who am I to talk, I haven’t seen this one, can’t find it anywhere.)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0214874/

Until we finally arrive at the most recognized feature film adaptation of the legend (I must say, Tim Burton really monopolizes the classics, not always for the best, everything gets the Burton drab wash and semi-comedic over-the-top gore, though I think in this instance it worked well) starring Johnny Depp as Crane, this time a policeman not a schoolteacher, and skeptical rather than superstitious.

I watched this movie for the first time with my mother around Halloween when I was in 5th grade. She agreed to rent it because of the period dress (this is the same reason she took me to see From Hell) not knowing that I was totally tricking her into renting a horror movie (not strictly allowed back then.) In the proceeding two hours, she realized her mistake and insisted that I cover my eyes several times (which I only pretended to do, the same as with From Hell.) Personally I enjoyed Depp’s Crane, I think it’s the most likable depiction of him yet, and Ricci’s Katrina is clever and sexy, but I do think that Burton over-complicated what was already a satisfactory story. We don’t need all that extraneous mystery solving, honestly I was happier with the simplicity of one midnight ride, one Halloween night.

Less refined but good campy fun is The Hollow, a 2004 ABC Family Channel movie about a descendant of Ichabod Crane who must, with the help of his sassy blonde girlfriend and the town bully (who’s soft on the inside), stop the Headless Horseman’s ghost (we’ve seen even this retelling retold a couple times i.e. AYAOTD Midnight Ride, and there’s another elusive kids special produced last year called Halloween in Sleepy Hollow with the Crane descendant aspect)

I think this is actually one of Kaley Cuoco’s better performances (fie on thee for ruining Charmed, but we’ll get to that in a sec, yeah but unlike Charmed she’s not unbearable in this)

Recently there’s been another modern, horror adaptation. I haven’t seen it and the trailer fails to entice me:

Oh god. They did it. They made the most obvious joke in the world, connecting oral sex to the headless horseman. That line’s been staring every writer to ever reinterpret Irving’s Legend in the face since he wrote it, but no one’s been classless enough to do it…until now.

I mean the joke writes itself. Think about it, Ichabod goes home headless and gets headless. He doesn’t get any Katrina, and gets headless. Get it? I can say it a couple more times if you don’t.

Besides, Lupe Fiasco already owned this joke, he did it the only way it could possibly be done with any finesse i.e. as a rap lyric.

“Now I’m brainless, which means I’m headless

Like Ichabod Crane is, or foreplayless sex is”

- From Dumb it Down off Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool

Very clever. I think that’s the one time this joke needs to be made, check it off the list.

Moving on:

I was once a big Charmed fan, mainly because I had seen principally 3rd and 4th season reruns on FX not realizing that I was seeing only the show’s creative crescendo and never the mediocre flanking (or abysmal conclusion.) 1st and 2nd season were cute and enjoyable, 3rd and 4th season are gold, from there on it’s hit or miss, probably at a ratio of 2 misses to 1 hit in Season 5, up to 4 misses to a hit in Season 6, and persisting at said ratio through Season 7 until Season 8 when it’s almost all misses.

That said, this Irving inspired Season 6 episode is alright. If I had to call it I’d say it’s a hit. You have to be in a very particular mood to get into Charmed, but if you’re there it can be good fun.

What will be next? Ichabod can’t rest for long. Soon someone will resurrect his terrified ride, someone will cast the ghostly Hessian soldier back behind him, someone will tell the legend yet again. Not to mention, there are probably at least a hundred more adaptations that I don’t know about:

I’ve been thinking about the Horseman a lot when I’m biking around at night. Sometimes I feel his decapitated specter clopping up behind me, ready with the sword. Other times, when I am riding fast, my bike light flashing through the October night, I assume the dark aspect and I become the Horseman. I guess that’s what Halloween’s all about.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN TO ALL!

thicksensory: Gaspar Noe attacks your face

Posted in Sermons on October 19, 2010 by nicholasnordlinger

Much as there is an on-screen warning 30 seconds before the gruesome crescendo of Gaspar Noe’s Seul Contre Tous (I Stand Alone) (literally a title card warning the audience that they have half a minute to vacate the theater before shit gets brutal, and an ensuing countdown) there should be a warning before all Noe films instructing photo-sensitive epileptics to vacate the theater lest they succumb to the most body-racking seizures imaginable. The opening credit sequence of Enter the Void alone is so sensorially aggressive that it could pose a legitimate health risk to anyone with a vulnerable brain.

Noe’s films blast their way into the face, throb ceaselessly around the ears, stabbing and flashing, buzzing and droning, pulsing out dirty and disturbing themes and images, violent challenges to the audience’s role, and staggering feats of cinematographic expertise. The strobe effects pose an obvious risk to epileptics, the horrific depictions of assault, incest, rape, murder, and suicide affront those of delicate sensibilities, and the constant (fiercely committed) twisting and twirling of the camera provokes sufferers of motion sickness. With these side effects considered, and perhaps all the better, Noe’s films can be regarded much like drugs (from which they certainly draw inspiration.) They are disorienting, intoxicating, and have potential health risks. And, like drugs, they go down differently for different people (and some people would do better to just avoid them altogether.)

On top of the Tsukamotoesque intensity and non-traditional form of Noe’s visuals and audio, his films invert and experiment with narrative structure, refusing to abide by any set laws of chronology or perspective. Noe’s Irreversible, for example,  undermines the standard gratification of a rape-revenge film by narrating the story backwards, presenting the inexplicable violence first and the horrific motivation for it later on, denying the audience the typical simultaneity of experiencing the anger alongside the vengeance-seeker and reveling in its execution (as seen in such films as Last House on the Left, Day of the Woman, Kill Bill, Sin City etc.) Instead, we the audience, witness one of the most savage skull-smashings ever filmed in the second sequence of the movie, only to gradually twist backwards through time and eventually witness the incendiary violation. As the end title (and the Butcher at the start) says; “time ruins everything,” particularly vengeance.

Noe’s latest opus Enter the Void, alternatively, chooses to espouse a simultaneity between protagonist and audience so tightly that one comes to realize one’s own ineffectuality as the ghost of ex-pat Tokyo drug dealer Oscar realizes his. The dark elements that have motivated some critics to group Noe’s work under the movement “New French Extremism” actually serve primarily the purpose of putting the audience into the difficult position of implied accomplice. In accomplishing this, Noe’s works explore and manipulate yet another aspect of human perception, and intensify the trip (I believe this in stark opposition to those who claim Noe is solely interested in shock value. For a “New French Extremism” film that truly sits in the dirt and never accomplishes anything original or interesting, see Baise Moi) For example, the notorious rape of Alex in Irreversible (a single shot, incredible on behalf of both the cinematography and the acting) or the Butcher’s beating of his soon-to-be-baby’s-mama’s stomach in Seul Contre Tous. These scenes stimulate the fight-or-flight response of the viewer. This is an animal urge that is numbed early on in our cinema-viewing careers, but Noes digs at us, trying to reawaken something that reaches towards the characters, that wants desperately to halt the horrors on the screen. Since, of course, you cannot fight a film, many opt to flee, a reaction which garnered Irreversible the reputation for being “the most walked-out on film of 2002″ (as Newsweek claimed.) Such an exodus weighs a heavier guilt on those who remain in the theater, who sit uncomfortably and watch Alex scream into the muffling hand of her attacker, as though they might as well just wank along with the sequence if they won’t leave. However I believe that it is those who exit the theater who have more complicity in her assault (within this hypothetical framework, of course.) Much like the devastating nuance of a character appearing in the background of the scene, witnessing  Alex’s rape, and immediately walking the other way, those who leave the theater eschew the ethical discomfort of audience complicity and therefore perpetuate the dilemma. I believe, however, that Noe is very conscious of the unsettling effects of what we may term “implied audience complicity” and plays to its ramifications in the supernatural limitations of Oscar’s specter. The third act of Enter the Void is composed entirely of a ghastly POV twirling and flying across cityscapes, back and forth through time, and, now and again, into people’s heads, manifesting their perspective. In the first two acts of the film (the first being Oscar pre-death, the second his life review after death, and the third his quest for re-manifestation) we (i.e. the audience) are certainly near to Oscar, seeing principally what he sees, or sitting always right behind his head, but he remains importantly separate, his inner monologue and corporeal effectiveness render him a sovereign being. By the third act, however, we have fully synthesized with Oscar, his eyes are our eyes, his complicity is our complicity, his impotence is our impotence. He can only view the pain that seethes through his loved ones in the wake of his death, he cannot effect change, just as we, the audience, have always sat helpless. And so the pain we, as an audience, suffered through in Carne, Suel Contre Tous, and Irreversible is finally empathized by our latest, doomed protagonist.

In line with this “complicity”,  Noe continues to pile on the dark and gritty. Incest is a major theme of his work, both its perversion and the social roots of this taboo. The Butcher (protagonist of Seul Contre Tous) molests his mentally-handicapped daughter, describing their “love” as too real for society, and justifying it saying “she is all I have.” There is an argument to be made that he is desperately using her resemblance to fill the maternal gap that his dead wife left behind, which implies that she served as a mother-figure to both her daughter and her husband (and people come at this film from many different perspectives e.g. an unsettling mass of IMDB posters seem to really empathize with the Butcher’s malicious, bigoted inner monologue that guides the majority of the film.) There is a similar argument to be made about a stagnated understanding of familial taboos due to the death of both parents in Enter the Void. Oscar and his sister, Linda, engage in incestuous behavior (of an obscure degree) which leads to obsessive and jealous outbursts from Oscar (and possibly abortion.) However, the taboo against incest is called into question both materially and metaphysically. In one scene Oscar asks his mother (in a flashback) :

Oscar: “do you love daddy more than me?”

Mother: “No, I love you both. But it’s a very different love.”

Oscar: “Why?”

and this question is “resolved” by Oscar’s ensuing role as voyeur to his parent’s lovemaking.

Of course, as a major plot point of Enter the Void is reincarnation, there is an implied universal incest. As Oscar’s shade wanders around looking for a sexual union through which to reincarnate we are forced to contemplate the true ramifications of the eternal soul, a soul that lives in thousands of bodies, a soul that has no immediate family, that commits incest countless times over with other souls that may have once, in one manifestation or another, been its sister, brother, father, or mother, or to be birthed to a sister, brother, father mother that was once that soul’s lover in a previous manifestation. Following this line of thought, we must conclude that incest is a taboo only of the body, and not ever of the “soul”. With this in mind, the incest of Enter The Void is stripped of much of its stigma once Oscar has fully discorporated, leaving behind the sin of his flesh.

And so Noe manages to drop his thicksensory pulse on your eyes and ears, but also on your mind. He plagues the small vibrations at the base of your spine, as you emerge from the theater towards the tiny point of light, squeezed through the vaginal canal, remanifesting out of the psychedelic colors of coitus, you’ll likely be absolutely physically and mentally spent, a cigarette will be in order and, perhaps, a shower.

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