Quick thought lifted from FB:
The ending was what really sold it for me; the ambiguity was apt. I appreciated how it never became an “issue movie.” It certainly addressed a variety of issues, but it was primarily a love story in which the characters happen to be gay, which to me is more of a mark and/or harbinger of progress than movies making arguments about gay people’s humanity (e.g. Philadelphia). The issues that did pop up (class/art/etc.) were moments of intersection with that story (rather than domineering injection).
McQueen’s camera always has a long gaze, and that tendency saves this film from the dramatic pitfalls of many movies on slavery. The approach is one of depiction over analysis (minus Brad Pitt’s momentary spell break) which allows us to feel out these systems and how they infect everyone involved. That said, while it avoids the worst tendencies of such films, it doesn’t quite reach out and assert the reason for its existence. If it’s merely to address slavery, I’m not sure it works. There’s often talk of films “addressing” an issue or an historical moment, but I don’t think we’ve really established what that act consists of (or how the production of a movie fulfills it). For me the film is far more interesting and relevant if we move beyond the goals of “addressing” and instead see the elements of the systems so depicted that remain in our modern society, particularly as linked to capitalism. The actions taken in the film, much more than being the result of inherent evil, are the results of capitalism (even one of the more good-willed characters is unable to take good actions because of literal debts; family breakups result from maximizing an investment). And while I can pull that stuff out, I’m not sure the film wants to be a film about capitalism as much as it wants to be a film about slavery (and horror, an emotion it captures well), so such a reading ultimately doesn’t really work beyond a vague notion. It’s certainly a step down from McQueen’s earlier efforts, Hunger and Shame, two of the best films in recent memory, but despite my issues with the narrative, it’s held up by an excellent (and well used) score, good acting, beautifully composed shots, and one fantastic sequence where the film reached beyond horror to surreality.
Excuse the length and the emoting. I don’t normally do this, and assuming Stephen Malkmus isn’t hit by a bus I won’t do it again for a long time. 12 years ago I bought a copy of The Velvet Underground & Nico because it was #13 on Rolling Stone’s top albums list. I put it on, heard “Sunday Morning” for the first time, and hated it. I thought it was some weak, girly pop music; I liked Led Zeppelin. I kept listening to it. At some point, I liked it, and Led Zeppelin didn’t seem so cool anymore. It’s not a singular moment, like the purchase of a record or hearing a song on the radio for the first time, but that transformation of taste left its fingerprints on every decision, artistic and otherwise, I’ve made since, whether it was buying a guitar, arbitrarily fashioning myself a writer in high school, deciding to major in English and sleeping through my final semester of math, or never learning how to alternate pick. Lou Reed is dead. Thanks.
Plenty of spoilers for The Conjuring below
Saw the Conjuring. It was certainly very scary though not particularly innovative. I appreciated the old-school aspects of the scares and effects that have been noted, but what I found most interesting about the film (and this might be applied to the horror genre in general, at least the ‘haunting’-based films, though I’m not sure) is that it seemed to critique active pursuits (e.g. writing) and laud passive ones (e.g. reading, or watching movies).
As the Perrons move into the house there’s almost a hilarious amounts of signs that something is amiss. The dog won’t enter, the dog dies, there’s a mysterious boarded up cellar, there’s a mysterious antique music box, the clocks all stop at the same time, the little girl has a creepy imaginary friend, the house smells like rotting flesh, the mother is covered in bruises, bangs, knocks, and it goes on and on. The filmmakers are really shoving it down our throats, yet the Perrons family remain oblivious until things reach the extreme.
The stupidity of characters in horror movies (esp. slasher flicks) is well documented, but I’m not sure that’s what’s going on here. It’s not that the family is stupid (they aren’t wandering into direct and obvious danger and acting illogical, at least to the same degree as the slasher genre), it’s more that their way of thinking is not appropriate for the nature of their predicament. The family recognizes all the signs of the haunting individually, but they aren’t able to piece them together into a whole. They view the events as isolated incidents with isolated causes. The mother blames her bruises on an iron defficiency (and continues to do so even after she’s determined the house is haunted) and one of the daughter’s strange behavior is explained away as sleep-walking. They are looking at these signs as complete sentences in an of themselves when really they are words or even letters that form the answer: the house is possessed. The family’s failure is a failure of reading.
As an audience, we are well versed in the language of horror films. These are often referred to as ‘rules’ but it’s really a language, a set of signs imbued with a particular meaning, somewhat arbitrarily (in the real world antique toys are hardly nefarious, but in the cinematic language of horror movies they’re obviously so). Thus, it doesn’t take much for us to draw that conclusion. However, the family lacks that language and thus is not able to draw greater meaning out of their experience. Indeed, divorced from that language, all the signs are rather meaningless, varying from tragic (the dog’s death) to quant (the girl’s imaginary friend) out of context. While they all might share a certain unsettling tone, when filmed with neutral camera angles and without forboding music, I might interpret the family’s first few days in their new home as more frustrating and unfortunate than horrifying and dangerous, at least until the creepy voices and the leaping corpse-witches show up. And even when things get to that point, the family is unable to see the whole picture, as the mother still believes her bruises are disconnected from the possession. I didn’t quite catch what the father’s job was, but I think he might have been in construction? Even if not, he was certainly a very active, fix-it-upper kind of guy, and it’s not surprising someone with interests so firmly planted in active tasks of building and creation would not be able to engage in the passive reading needed to diagnose the haunting.
(Speaking of language one side thought: Was anything actually conjured in this film?)
Entering this situation are the paranormal investigating couple the Warrens. Originally hestitant to participate in any further investigation, Ed Warren suggests to his wife that they retire for a while and finally “write that book.” Notably, Lorraine disparages him for wanting to give up on their worthy destiny fighting the paranormal to do something as non-constructive as writing a book. The movie is not interested in these pursuits. The process of paranormal investigating ultimately does not require much in the way of specialized skills, particularly obscure equipment or active interference (e.g. when the daughter sleep-walks into the hidden passage, being pushed by a spirit, they are not interested in interfering, only observing and documenting). Ultimately their knowledge is a matter of acquired information from texts, and their job is a matter of reading and interpretting the signs that the house gives them to parse out the text or story: a witch possessing mothers to kill children. It alls seems so obvious, and any audience member could’ve reached that conclusion without any special training. When it comes down to it, once you’ve “read” the text [house], how do you absolve yourself of the problem? By reading a book! Albeit in Latin. Oh, and remembering idyllic days on the beach (via a photograph that rather reminded me of Drake’s new album cover with its horizon-less blue sky backdrop), or something.
Days are normal, with occasional spikes of paralyzing fear.
Life presents me with a series of experiential artifacts through which I externalize my consciousness. Audio/visual programs, objects edible, objects drinkable, conversations, frustrations, leaky faucets, etc. The consumption of these artifacts reduces my boundless and chaotic reality to a controllable size. Life becomes a series of missions, or levels. Continous advancement is recommended for to stop is a slow death in the discard bin.
I expect the open world that lies between these self-contained levels to overflow with peril, but it has its own fairly effective defense systems in place. The ever-present questions — “What should we watch”?, “Where should we eat?” — take on the monastic quality of chanting. Just as the artifact becomes the reality, the indecision over which artifact on which to next concentrate becomes the reality. My concerns do not cross the borders of “Star Trek: TOS or Sliders”? It is safe and warm.
Sure, there’s a certain heaviness to the soul in this world of consumption. A day of monotonous work gives in to a period of leisure, but while it might be leisure it is surely not ‘free’ time. The list — supplied by friends, family, internet writers, general social trends — of media you have to consume is endless: books, articles, shows, films, physical sights and locations. This ‘required’ consumption is life-consuming. Often it’s not even enjoyable — is forcing one’s way through a bad show because you have to — “Season 3 is so good, it’s worth it,” society tells us — really the best way we could be spending our time?
But even more intellectual, philosophical or practical pursuits quickly reduce to their own brand of media consumption. “What should I do with my life?” summons hordes of economic articles, graduate school rankings, GRE prep books & self-improvement sessions powered by ‘make-it-easy’ applications. Ditto household chores (“I just need to have a tidy area so I can be productive!”).
It’s particularly relatable to writers, I would guess. As a writer, whenever I’m reading a really great novel (particularly a universally lauded tome, e.g. Ulysses, Infinite Jest, etc.) there’s a sense of, “Once I finish this one, then I’ll finally be ready.” But the sensation is never satisfied and merely burrows into the next product. At least in the absurdity of my experience, this predictament has infected almost everything. Music too: “Once I get this program, I’ll finally get to recording all those songs.” “Oh, I just need to read this PDF manual so I know what I’m doing.” “If only I can get the hang of this drum machine.” “A few effects pedals is really what I need to get the sound I’m going for, then it’ll all fall into place.” There’s a constant need to consume more: text, products, etc. You’re never ready. Perhaps the hilariously underprepared legions of twittering high school poets with their twin fists of audacity and naïveté are on to something.
In spite of all this, I have no true desire to leave the dome of consumption. I fear a life free of the distractions of media artifacts and externally imposed ideas of what I should be doing with my time (particularly relevant are this latter form of what’s really the same idea — as I am in the midst of a year+ stay in the Republic of Korea). I’ve heard arguments that all human activity (and I feel the consumption of media fits particularly well here) is distraction to keep us from thinking of death, but ultimately it’s not death that perturbs me, it’s the truth.
I have no idea who I am or how I got here. I am a man of the eternal present, my future unknown and my past obscure and inaccessible. I remember the me of years past and find him perverse and terrifying. I am ashamed of him. I wonder if this disconnect is just as strong between myself and the me of five minutes ago and I see very little reason to doubt it. I wonder why I bother to write anything that takes longer than a few minutes; it will inevitably be the posthumous publication of a million dead selves.
Occasionally in an otherwise ambivalent moment I am struck by how many things had to happen to bring me to my current state; everything seems so predestined. I look around me and I don’t recognize my surroundings. My voice shivers weak notes in a foreign timbre. My face is an obscured alteration of the avatar I project onto my mental planes. As pathetic and humorous as it may be, this sensation is undeniably heightened in frequency when I have gone a few days without shaving. Such a simple alteration sends me into crises of confusion, overwhelmed by a complete inability to reconcile the face in the mirror with the person writing in this chair. It cannot be. But I believe in the chair, and perhaps that is my salvation.
It surely exposes the fragile foundations of my identity, but I wonder how unique my experience is. With only a singular subjective account I cannot make any meaningful conclusions beyond a self-analysis akin to whittling a spoon out of a redwood when a patron drops their silverware into the unforgiving abyss of the restaurant floor. Perhaps it is a human condition too terrifying to talk much about, perhaps my foundations are so shaky merely because of a belief that identity constructs are illusions (fostered during my studies in critical theory and work in literary criticism). I am nothing but a series of practices, unable to put on a convincing face. I am the Office Depot salesman who knows how useless the extended warranties are & can’t get himself to formulate an effective pitch. One of my first jobs was at Office Depot. I lost sleep over those warranties. I only ever sold two or three, one of them to an older sister who bought a shredder w/ complete add-ons on behalf of my parents in a foolish attempt to get my boss off my back. Their robotic, soulless, inhuman stare froze my eyelids. My mind whispered, “Just one sale and then I can relax.”
I’m going to buy a shredder tomorrow.