Monthly Archives: March 2013
140 Minutes, 2012
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Denzel Washington, Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly and John Goodman
Flight is a simple story about a complex man. This was a fictional film that came very close to earning Denzel Washington another Academy Award. While this is a very tough year for award performances, and I have loved the work of Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln and the cast from Les Miserables there was a complexity and a sense of overwhelming despair in Flight. Denzel Washington has always played diverse characters, ranging from the kind-hearted bad-ass of Man on Fire (2004) to outright psychopaths as seen in Training Day (2001) and Safe House (2012). My personal favourite performance was in Hurricane (1999). As Hurricane Carter Denzel Washington demonstrated an intense vulnerability and huge changes in his character with almost no visible effort. However, that was fourteen years ago, and his character of Whip Whitaker in Flight is perhaps the closest he has gotten to that level of emotional intensity since.
Some viewers may watch Flight for the spectacular crash sequence. It should be noted that the crash only takes up the first Thirty to forty minutes of the film. The next one hundred minutes is the breakdown of Whip. The majority of this film is about a man possessed by alcoholism to the point where he barely registers as a person. He is owned by his disease and lives a life of lies and cover ups that internally eat away at his psyche. There is no grand standing speeches and the subtle change in this character in the final moments of the film where he finally drops the facade of lies would be a powerful moment in any film. In this moment Denzel Washington moves into an emotional honesty that is beyond most actors. All he does is shift his gaze momentarily and before our eyes it’s almost as if we see for the first time the man behind the alcohol. In this brief moment the character goes through a total transformation where he moves from a point of despair in which he has to go to drastic measures to escape his demons to a point of hope in a simple but powerful question that ends the film.
While the performance carries the film and Robert Zemeckis returns to his roots of humanist film making as seen in Contact (1997) and Cast Away (2000) where he pushes his characters through such ordeals that they arrive at a place of unknowing where they are in the world. These are very powerful ideas and amazing character moments that Robert Zemeckis gets little credit for. Zemeckis is often perceived and rightfully so, as a visual effects based film maker. Beyond the special effects of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and even Beowulf (2007) and Back to the Future (1985) there are still tragic and isolated characters at the core of his films who seem to exist outside of their time and place and questioning their identity.
Flight has unfortunately been and gone in Australian Cinemas but it is a must see film on DVD or Blu Ray. It is a heavy film but it is worthwhile if you have any interest in stories of the human condition.
First Blood (1982)
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Brian Dennehy and David Caruso
Based on a novel by David Morell
First Blood was in many ways the film that made Sylvester Stallone a movie star. Before being cast as John Rambo his only hit films had been the first two Rocky films. Films such as F.I.S.T. and Paradise Alley were critical and commercial failures that are rarely mentioned even among his most hardcore fans. First Blood was the film that pushed him through to stardom. While this was great for Stallone it was also unfortunate that the film First Blood and the character of John Rambo got caught up in the franchise machinery of Hollywood. While the other Rambo films are entertaining in their own right First Blood has a depth that is rarely mentioned amongst film scholars. These depths are not obvious on a first viewing and have only just become apparent to me now in 2013. The two points I want to address are the Frankenstein themes and the Jesus themes that run through this film.
First, there are the parallels between Rambo and Teasle (Brian Dennehy) with the Jesus and Pontius Pilate dynamics. Teasle does not necessarily hate John Rambo, he has a duty to keep the peace and part of keeping the peace is in keeping out those that threaten the existence of the quiet community that Teasle needs to maintain. Rambo to Teasle is not really a person he is a representation of the anarchy of war and stands as an open wound of Americana that has yet to heal at the time when First Blood takes place. Rambo is a mirror of the American soul and demonstrates an element of humanity that most would rather not look at. Whereas Pontius Pilate did not necessarily hate Jesus or even want to crucify him it was something he saw as being his duty and this is part of what makes him such a fascinating and tragic character. There are also images that connect this theme such as stripping Rambo down in the cell, the flashbacks of being tortured and tied up to a device not unlike the image of a crucifix. Then there is the resurrection in the final act where Rambo is presumed dead after being sent into the mine that the towns people blew up with a grenade launcher.
The usage of the local hunters forming a pack and Rambo almost killing the child is a subtly reference to Frankenstein. Where Rambo had a relationship to Teasle that was not unlike Pontius Pilate and Jesus, Rambo’s relationship to Col. Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna) character is not unlike that of Dr Frankenstein and his monster. This is the man who claimed to have made Rambo.
Therefore, Rambo is essentially a creation of the American military and barely registers as a human being. Rambo is a thing to certain degree. He is an assembled creature of military training and engineering. What remains are Rambo’s base instincts for survival. This is something he shares in common with Frankenstein’s monster. This is most evident where he encounters the boy with the hunting rifle. Rambo comes close to killing the kid before his humanity returns ever so slightly. It follows from this scene to the hunters forming a mob paralleling the Frankenstein chase into the windmill.
On one side we have a Pontius Pilate character and on the other we have a Dr Frankenstein character. ‘How can Rambo be both a Martyr while also being a monster?’ you may ask. My answer is: Rambo represents the nothingness of the world that people feel the need to fill in and mirror with their own anxieties and ego’s. Teasle needed a threat to protect his town against and Richard Crenna needed to create a monster to protect his country that eventually turns against his country when under the threat of the man wanting to protect his town. Whereas the Frankenstein Monster was created with the best intentions and purpose, once that purpose was met the monster is left to the world without a purpose. Because the monster looks like a threat he becomes a threat. Rambo was that monster but he was also a sacrifice for the purposes of maintaining peace in the world but this peace was just a veiled illusion and Rambo will become whatever those that shape him need him to be.
This is my favourite essay. I wrote this in three days of inspiration where everything in these films just clicked. It’s quite long so feel free to skip the intro or jump ahead to the Fight Club section in the second half. Feel free to comment as well.
The female characters in John Ford’s The Searchers and Seven Women, Hamlet and Fight Club suggest that the early stages of culture are created organically by an internal ‘feminine’ process. This is not the same as an ‘organic society’ where each individual serves as part of the societal bodies functions. It is the cultivation of culture that these women represent. This will be examined by analysing the abstract ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ archetypes1 of the characters Dr Cartwright (Seven Women), Ethan (The Searchers), Jack (Fight Club) and Hamlet.
The Transition to the Feminine
The transition to the ‘feminine’ will be explained using Dr Cartwright (Ann Bancroft) and her wounded ‘femininity’. The ‘masculine’ will be examined in the outward actions of the male characters Ethan (John Wayne) in ‘The Searchers’ and ‘Fight Club’s’ Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). This will involve the impact that the female characters Debbie and Marla on these overtly…
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