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JWR 2.2 - And Now...
...The Talk Soup Flick of the Week
I know Iíve talked about movies quite a bit. Iíve done comedies and then Iíve done dramatic or what have you as well as crap flicks. I suppose Iíd like to now talk at some length about a side to movies we all know about, but seldom think about. After all, movies are all supposed to be dry humps: fun but when theyíre over, no mess to clean up.
The part I mean is the underlying symbolic side to movies. The part that we all see but that which is veiled behind double talk and misdirection. In a lot of upper level English courses they would assign you a story or group of poems to decipher. You could punk out and just write about something silly or something obvious, but Iíd hate to do that as there was no effort in it. So Iíd read something over and over again until I would realize a deeper meaning or have something pop into my head and then the battle would be to find clues to support said thesis statement or to craft the paper in such a way as to convince others that youíre just not talking out of your bum.
Let me give you an example. In Gladiator--not Glad He Ate Her, by the way--thereís quite a bit of symbolism. The amber fields he walks through in his sleep or the stone wall with the wooden door all MEAN something. But what caught my eye around the second viewing was the new Emperor Commodusí armor. Maybe you didnít see it, but his armor had Jesus crucified and a man beneath Him catching His blood in a cup. There was also a Roman riding in a chariot pulled by horses. I found it kinda odd for the Roman emperor to be sporting Jesus on his armor, after all it was the Romans that killed good ole J.C. So what I was thinking was this: Gladiator takes place a couple centuries A.D. The Roman Empire was at its height (you know, just prior it itís fall) and Christianity had yet to gain the wide following it enjoys today. Christians were persecuted big time in the infancy of its religion. Commodus was wearing in pride something of a victory for the Roman people. And actually, Maximusí armor was also a bit symbolic. He gets this chest plate from his slave owner, Proximo, with two horses on it. At some point, however, small likenesses of his deceased wife and son appear with no explanation or mention. Boom, they just appear between colosseum battles.
Thatís not such a stretch, but this may be. Anyone not seen American Beauty? Well, I have my own theory about the ending. Now, if you havenít seen it, you may want to skip this paragraph. Everybody assumes that Kevin Spacey was shot by the retired Marine. The way it went was, the Marine goes to Lesterís garage and we all think heís gonna kill Lester because the Marine thought Lester and his son were having some homosexual fling. And we were all shocked when the Marine up and kisses Lester and then just walks off. Later (after Lester de-pantses his daughterís high school friend) he gets his head blown off. We assume itís the Marine because you see him walking down the street with blood covering his shirt. But I have a different theory. I think the Marine went home and shot his wife after coming to terms with his own latent homosexuality--you forgot about his wife, didnít you? Then Annette Benning comes home after the Real Estate King dumps her and shoots Lester in the back of the head. They both had the same kind of gun, by the way. She tosses hers in the hamper in a hysteric state and then collapses against the closet full of his clothing. But you donít buy it because she was in the car when the shot went off and you heard the shot very clearly in the house from the point of view of the kids. But maybe there was a continuity switch there. Yeah.
Another point Iíd like to address is Castaway and its ending in particular. See, Castaway was a very cool movie for the simple fact that it did something original. Itís an old story, but told it in a different way. There was an hour in the middle when he was on the island with very little talking. I sat in front of these two younger guys who were just yapping through the whole thing. Part of me wanted to tell them to shut up, I didnít pay no eight dollars to hear them yammer, I paid it to see Tom Hanks go crazy and grow a bushy beard. The other part of me wanted to listen to them because I found interesting the things they were saying. They wouldnít really talk, rather theyíd just list things as they appeared on screen. Kind of like a running narration of the props. I get the idea that people like them canít simply sit in quiet and watch a movie or sit in silence at all. There use to be silent pictures with no dialogue at all, you know. I watched this movie called Itís All True which was a collection of three short Orson Welles movies that were silent but very interesting nonetheless. Itís a style of moviemaking and a difficult one at that. You get the feeling nowadays that movies are just churned out with little to no effort. Most especially comedies because there are no special effects to clean up the mess. Thatís why The Big Lebowski is so good. First of all, the script is excellent and the the acting is wonderful, but the final click is the preproduction. The sets and settings are all immaculately crafted. You donít think about it, but itís there. Most comedies take place in the present day in relation to when theyíre shot, but TBL takes place in the early nineties. This means that any innovation that took place after the Gulf Way had to be absent. No cars post-dating Ď91, no computers or beepers or cell phones dating past said date. Itís not a huge deal, but it does give you a sense that the Cohen boys were really trying and putting effort into their picture.
Back to Cast Away, at the end he has no place to go. His wife is married to another guy with a kid and he comes back to his home after solitary life for four years. So, he has this one final package he did not open out of a dozen he had managed to salvage from the crashed airplane. All the others he opened. But this final one he did not. I remember Scott saying, ďI wanted to know what was in that box,Ē because Tom Hanks eventually delivers it to itís destination. (He also let a note saying, ďThis package saved my life...Ē which I thought was overkill, and Iíll get to that in a moment. I really think it doesnít matter what was in the box. It doesnít matter at all. No matter what it is, itíll be disappointing. Itís not going to be coke. It wonít be gold. Itíll probably be yarn or papers. The Rock says, It doesnít matter whatís in the box! The box itself is the important thing. That box, that final box represented his whole life. He was his job. He said it to the Russians in the beginning: ďWe live and die by the clock,Ē and more to the point, we have to get these packages to their destinations and fast. Four years late, but he finally delivered the package. He drops it off and drives to this crossroads out in the middle of nowhere. He gets out of his truck and just stands there until this little hottie comes by and asks if he needs help. He says no and she drives off in the direction from which he just came. He notices on the back of her truck are these little wings he recognizes from the box and her house. Itís her box. And he stands there for a moment longer and the movie ends. How many people were disappointed by that end? Lots that I talked to. Not me, I farginí loved it. I told these people I worked with it ended like a Robert Frost poem and I get these smart ass comments that I thought I was all that and you think youíre so smart. Screw that. ďThe Road Not Taken.Ē Ever read it? No. Well then you donít know what youíre talking about. All I meant was I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference. It doesnít matter, either, where he goes. He could go get some of her. He could strip naked and r-u-n-n-o-f-t out the opposite way. He could go any which way on that intersection. The whole point is, he was reborn and could go anywhere. People donít like ambiguous endings. They like concise, happy endings. Happily ever after. Life is not a fairy tale, ever.
A big thing Iíve been seeing in movies is Biblical symbolism and imagery. For example, in Pleasantville are you aware that Don Knotts represents God? Think about that. Then you have the color apple symbolic of Adamís temptation. And if you think about it, Joan Allen puts on makeup to cover her color after she turns. That is a fig leaf of sorts. And letís not forget the tree bursting into flames when sheís masturbating in the tub. Thatís God getting you attention.
The Matrix has itís own parallels to the Bible. The character name Trinity refers to the holy trinity and Neo means ďNewĒ as in either New World Order or a reference to him as a new savior. Then Joe Pantoliano turns into a Judas. And of course, letís not forget the blatant not-even-a-symbol of Neo dying and the being resurrected to fulfill the prophecy of being the One.
The Star Wars movies are full of all that, too. We meet little Annikan Skywalker in Episode I. He will become Lukeís daddy as well as Darth Vader. Anywho, his mother said that there was no father. One day sheís pregnant. A reference to the immaculate conception. And later Annikan leaves his home planet with a promise to come back and free his people who are slaves. A reference to Moses freeing his people. I think it was Episode VI where Luke is with Darth Vader on the Super Planet Destroyer (or whatever, nerd) and theyíre looking out at all the stars and all the ships fighting and Darth offers Luke control over all of it if heíll turn to the Dark Side. Now thatís a sweet correlation to the story in the Book of Matthew where Satan and Jesus are on a mountain and Satan offers Jesus control over all he sees if Jesus would turn to the Dark Side. There are lots more, but this ainít no Bible group.
And speaking of those Cohen boys who brought you TBL and a murder via wood chipper in Fargo, they have come back with this funky movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? Which is incredibly good. In the credits it said based on The Odyssey by Homer and this guy behind me laughed. But I thought to myself, what if it really is based on The Odyssey? And, although I donít recall The Odyssey all that well, I think it was. My friend Dan said he heard it was like a Hillbilly Odyssey. I think if you looked closer, it would follow The Odyssey quite closely. Yes, George, I too am a man of constant sorrow. Not to mention a Dapper Dan man. Iím particular about my hair jellies.
I also saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon which few people have heard of. Some have called it the Star Wars of martial arts pictures. I donít know about that, but it certainly does give you an appreciation of martial arts as an art. I was transported to a different time and place, no doubt. The cool thing was you have no idea when it takes place except that it predates electricity. The Chinese architecture and the wardrobe are engrossing. And thereís this fight scene in the tops of trees that looks mystical. This is the kind of movie that could never be made by Americans. I canít see Kevin Costner and Julia Roberts in this movie, dig? (Although The Magnificent Seven is basically a remake of a martial arts movie whose name escapes me [The Seven Samurai].) The part that really sold me were these moments sparsely put in the film where two characters would be speaking and then all of a sudden they would say nothing for a short time. This would be filled with speech in most movies, but the Chinese know, nothing means something. Dude. Sweet.
And, finally, a note on Pulp Fiction. What was in the briefcase? Answer: Marsellus Wallaceís soul. Clues: the combination was 6-6-6. The bandage on the back of head: Iíve heard that thereís some story in some culture (itís not the specifics weíre interested in, people) that says the soul is taken out the back of oneís head. And the amber glow from within the case, not to mention the way everyone stares transfixed at it. What did you think was in it: Porn? People say all the clocks were set at 4:20, the police code for marijuana (whatís that?) smoking. Plus, think about why Vincent Vega was in Amsterdam for three years...
I donít think Iím so smart. I donít think Iím better. But I think more about movies than some, apparently. But what really sets me apart from you is the circumference of my ass.
ďThe Road Not TakenĒ
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Knibb High football rules!
Copyright © 2001 John Lemut