Category Archives: Great Films

Eros & Thanatos

I just saw Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel and thought I’d repost this.

Anamorphic Tilt

Eros and Thanatos

This essay will discuss sexuality in the films of Bobcat Goldthwaite and Luis Bunuel. This will be undertaken through an analysis of the life and death drives referred to, Sigmund Freud, as Eros (God of Love) and what post Freudian analysts have termed, the death drive of Thanatos (God of Death).

The Theory

Eros is the life force. This includes creativity, sexual instincts, and the ego instinct of self-preservation.  Thanatos, is the unconscious drive towards death and dissolution, eventually resulting in self-destruction via ego-splitting and conspiracy to annihilate anything of decency. Eros  is not simply a self-preservation instinct often confused with self-centeredness or narcissism (Coleman, 2006, p. 257). Eros encompasses the act of creation on every level.  The Eros life force propels one to leave a lasting legacy and to procreate.  This drives people towards sexual relations in that they not only want to live, but…

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Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane
100 mins, 1941
Directed by Orson Welles
Cinematography by Gregg Toland

Citizen Kane is widely considered by critical consensus to be the greatest film of all time. This is a massive legacy to fill, that unfortunately no film can live up. “Why Citizen Kane?”, a lot of people ask. To put it simply, Citizen Kane makes the grade due its technical achievements and because it is so well crafted that it is near perfect as a visual experience. Yet there are other films that can give you a greaer emotional experience. A good modern example would be Requiem For a Dream (2000). This is a film that once seen cannot be unseen.  Requiem for a Dream is the kind of film that stays with you whether you like it or not. Requiem for a Dream can leave you devastated by witnessing the fragility of the human condition and understanding that everyone is susceptible to addiction, or the film can leave you uplifted in the knowledge that your life is better than the characters of the film. Either way the film is going to have an affect on the viewer.

Citizen Kane however, is a film that works as a technical achievement but not neccessarily as an emotional experience. This is perhaps why some consider Citizen Kane to be boring or not worthy of its place in cinema history. What makes this film so technically perfect you may ask….. Well, it mostly comes down to two concepts… Deep focus and perspective.

For the entirety of the film everything in the frame is completely in focus from the foreground all the way into the background. A good example of this is early in the film where we see young Kane outside the window playing with his sled. Closest to the camera is the mother signing the adoption papers, next to her is Kane’s adopted father and to the left Kane’s biological father wrestling with the decision to give up his child. Kane is trapped in the middle between two opposing forces.

This style of film making had never been achieved before. While these techiniques were possible  and had been used in landscapes. Deep Focus had never been used as a narrative tool. Later in the film this scene is paralleled when Kane  between his business partners. What is interesting about this scene is the use of perspective. As an audience we do not know how large the windows in the background are until Kane walks in. at this point we see how big the room truly is. This also demonstrates how small Kane feels. Once again the deep focus shows a character uncomfortably close to the camera and Kane is so small and insignificant that perspectively it looks as if the man in the foreground is looking down on Kane.

Throughout this scene, Kane gradually moves closer to the foreground. As we see Kane moving towards the foreground (always in focus) the status shifts between these characters, from this point onwards Kane is on the rise until his inevitable fall from grace. Thus every shot tells a story and there are almost no stagnating scenes of talking heads and exposition.

myimage.jpegAs can be seen. The film is impeccably well photographed by Gregg Toland and directed by Welles. In fact the cinematography was so important that Welles shared his title card with his cinematographer. This film is a technical achievement that has a natural flow, the beautiful craftsmanship of this film also detracts somewhat from the tragedy of the character. This is by no means a reason to dismiss the film but the emotional charge that one gets from other films is not to be found in Citizen Kane. As Roger Ebert reminded us in the Blu Ray commentary of the Pauline Kael quote “Citizen Kane is a masterpiece, but it’s a shallow masterpiece”.

John Rambo – Martyr or Monster?

I made some minor updates and corrected one of the videos. If you haven’t read this yet, it is an examination of First Blood paralleling Rambo with Frankenstein and Jesus. I am not sure how good my reasoning is but I welcome any feedback you may have.

Anamorphic Tilt

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-1982-brian-dennehy-sylvester-stallone-pic-3First 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…

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John Rambo – Martyr or Monster?

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-1982-brian-dennehy-sylvester-stallone-pic-3First 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-blood-1982-brian-dennehy-sylvester-stallone-pic-2    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.

Trautman_3The 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.

Great Films: The Birdman of Alcatraz

I get asked a lot about what films to watch to develop their appreciation of quality movies. While I like all kinds of movies and I do like trash cinema films of the 70s and 80s, what I love are the films that create that sensation where you feel like you’ve just seen something new or something that may not have ever been seen before and it feels like your scalp has peen peel open and someone has dropped sweet fresh honey directly onto the grey matter of my brain. This can be in a dialogue exchange, a look between characters or an interesting camera angle.

I therefore wanted to compile a list of films that I have found profound and that I feel stays with you long after you have seen it. As a dear friend of mine said “I know I’ve seen a great film if I’m thinking about it long after I’ve seen it”. I don’t believe that I can make a numerical list as my tastes have changed over time and I am constantly being introduced to new and old film makers that are brilliant and innovative.

One of the first films that I’d like to discuss is John Frankenheimer’s 1962 film The Birdman of Alcatraz starring Burt Lancaster as Robert Stroud. While Frankenheimer is mostly famous for The French Connection II (1975) and the contemporary Robert Deniro Action film Ronin (1999) he is often dismissed as an action film maker and is rarely mentioned on lists of great and influential film makers. However, his humanist films such as The Birdman of Alcatraz is quite well-known but not well-known as a John Frankenheimer film. Yet the pacing of this film about a man living in Solitary Confinement who finds redemption in his ability to save the lives of birds and becoming a world-renowned ornithologist is a work of brilliance. It is aesthetically brilliant and even though the film can be overwhelming in its despair there is a humanism that shines through this character even when he is at his bleakest moments. This film is dark in its context and he was a falsely imprisoned good guy as we see in The Shawshank Redemption Robert Stroud was a killer who could not live in society or in the presence of other prisoners. This is what makes The Birdman of Alcatraz so profound to me. Stroud begins the film as a monster trapped in the world he cannot escape from but only when incarcerated and cut off from humanity does he find his humanity. The tragedy of this is that once he discovered himself he could never enter the world again. His research into Ornithology on the other hand is still being used today, and his books on this subject are still in publication.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Hallie’s Choice

John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is arguably one of the great westerns of its era. In some ways it represents the end of the John Wayne era of Westerns before the arrival of Clint Eastwood. What interests me in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is not John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart or the animalistic intensity of Lee Marvin, it is Hallie’s (Vera Miles) choice that I always felt was at the core of the film. They appeared to be asking what is it that makes a woman choose one man over another? What are the qualities that make a certain type of man more attractive? Is it his money, social status or job, or is it something primal that is beyond words? Why Hallie chose Ransom Stoddard over Tom Doniphan and whether she could have chosen better will be investigated through the works of Durkheim, Weber, Sartre, Freud and Nietzsche. If Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) offers idealism, comfort and justice, Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) violent freedom and Tom Doniphan (John Wayne) just does what he has to do. Could Hallie (Vera Miles) have chosen better?

Desire and Discontent

At the opening of the film Ransom and Hallie had obviously been together for some years. The desire and passion appeared to have faded some time ago. Via flashback it can be seen that Hallie wanted a better life. She got this. She wanted to read. She was taught to read. She wanted real flowers. She got these as well. This was not quite enough. By the time we see her later in life she is longing for a simpler life.

Hallie was discontented after receiving what she claimed she wanted or at least what Ransom thought she wanted. Perhaps she did not want these materials. On the other hand maybe she lost her values as a trade off.  Such values include friendships and familial relationships to her employers and her connection to the townsfolk who depended on her as a waitress and cook. Ransom gave her these opportunities.

Ransom did not ask for anything in return. He was not looking for a wife and had no intent in possessing her as Tom Doniphan did. He could have easily lived his life in much the same manner with or without her.  Tom Doniphan on the other hand fell apart once he gave up the girl. He had a drunken tantrum and set fire to his house. This is why Ransom was the more desirable of the two. He was not dependent upon her. He did not profess his intent to marry a girl who was not even his girlfriend and did not give her flowers and trinkets like a schoolboy with a crush. Tom on the other hand gave her a cactus flower for no apparent reason other than obviously trying to win her over. This explains why she preferred Ransom but whether she could have chosen better is another matter. The reasons why people make choices or desire one person over another are not always for reasons in their best interest.

Sartre claims that ‘desire’ is the attempted incarnation of the consciousness of the other (Detmer, 2008, p. 108). Once this desire is met in the first kiss, in coitus or in the absolute certainty that you can have this person then desire is dead. Therefore by Sartre’s interpretation ‘pleasure kills desire’ (Detmer, 2008, pp. 96-98). Hallie could not be possessed and Tom could not take her freedom by steering her away from an education, without failure.

Tom’s desire for Hallie was insatiable and “insatiability is a sign of morbidity… Inextinguishable thirst is constantly renewed torture” (Durkheim, 1897, p. 208). Tom’s intentions were obvious and his attitude was too eager. This negated Hallie’s desire for Tom. Ransom on the other hand was a harder fish to catch. Not that Ransom was playing hard to get by normal standards but juxtaposed with Tom, Ransom was the greater challenge for Hallie. Her awareness of Tom’s feelings made Ransom more interesting by contrast. Even if one was to assume that Hallie was interested in Tom as the audience is supposed to accept, Tom did not make his move. He let the moment pass him by and opportunity has a tendency to step out of the way to let a man pass it by.

Take Ransom out of Shinbone and away from the excitement of Liberty Valance and there is a good chance that he was a very dull man. Once she married Ransom there is a high probability that she would eventually lose interest. This was evident in their later life scenes that bookended the film.

The Death of Liberty

When Tom shot Liberty Valance he not only killed Liberty Valance but he killed his own liberty in the process.  Tom was the counterpoint to Liberty in almost every respect. Eventually the knight has no more enemies. At the point where all enemies are defeated the knight has no purpose. This lack of purpose resulted in his self-destructive behavior just as the superego is out of balance without the id. Then the question needs to be asked; “if Tom were so heroic and magnanimous, why would Hallie choose Ransom?” This is because Ransom was noble but he could potentially move in another direction[1]. He wants to fight his own battles and he does. But not in the way that Tom fights. Ransom uses a pen and a book. Ransom was the symbol of modernity. He was the modern man and the old ways of law at the end of a gun were coming to an end. He was the grey area between Tom and Liberty. Therefore Tom’s time was coming to an end regardless.

The Abdication

It could be argued that Tom was a tragic Abraham-figure in that he gave Hallie up. Or so it seemed. This may have been an act of love or perhaps Tom finally saw the reality of the situation. Despite what Tom may have thought, giving up Hallie was not his decision. He never had her to begin with and he was certainly no relation. This assumption was Tom’s greatest flaw. Although it was alluded to that Tom and Hallie would marry, Hallie did not show a romantic interest in Tom. There were no signifiers of romantic interest and no physical contact on her part such as touching his arm or laughing at his jokes. She was certainly not impressed when he told her she’s pretty. The only times when she did communicate with Tom was when she wanted a favor. Such as needing him to save Ransom.

There was no visible connection between Hallie and the living Tom. This did not seem to matter to Tom. It also did not occur to Tom that he could not lose something he never had. Tom’s old-fashioned ideals towards women and his insecurity towards himself held him back.  By that logic Tom did not give Hallie up, he gave up his pursuit of Hallie.

To give something away as Tom claimed to be doing with Hallie and giving up on something are two very different processes. If Tom had been the master, his loss would have been his own choosing in giving up Hallie. People don’t usually kill themselves or self-destruct over things they consciously choose. If Tom actually lost hope and therefore gave up pursuit, then he had the most common motivation for self-destruction/suicide – ‘reaction by spitting the dummy against not getting one’s own way’.

If Tom was truly magnanimous and had given Hallie away as he claimed then he would not have self-destructed. The real tragedy of Tom is that he lost the girl to a tenderfoot, a pilgrim, the only man without a gun. This was a blow to his masculine and his egoist sensibilities.

The Grey

Shinbone was black and white, and Ransom remained in the grey in his acceptance of the falsity of his life and in the doubt he had in Hallie’s love for him. It is the legend that sells papers and truth becomes an irrelevancy in the modern world. By accepting this Ransom becomes disenchanted himself and liberty in Ransom dies when the choice between good and evil is removed. Tom and Liberty were like the devil and angel on his shoulder in a battle for his soul. This is perhaps why he was called Ransom. His dignity and self worth were being held to ransom.

The town of Shinbone was not accustomed to the ways of the modern world. Ransom had the best intent for the community by not carrying a gun and paving the way for the modern world. Ransom was in a sense the mediator. In Freudian terms Ransom could be considered the ego[2]. He fits right in between Liberty’s id[3] and Tom’s superego[4]. Ransom as the ego works in that he is the connection to the world outside of Shinbone. Tom on the other hand just did what he thought was right. He was a man who enjoyed his reputation as the white knight. He had to make the moral choices. Up until the death of Liberty Tom behaved in a socially acceptable manner.

Tom was the one who stood between Liberty and Ransom during Liberty’s moments of aggression. Liberty on the other hand was driven by instinct and self-gratification. Therefore they could not exist independently of each other. Tom faded away into obscurity before dying with no children to carry on his bloodline. Ransom gets the girl and the good job with the prestige but there was no family.  Ransom and Hallie did not have children and thus never moved into a totality in their love. Perhaps the sterility of the story implies the sterility of their relationship. Ransom is also dead in this regard in that his genes will not be carried forward.

The Bells

Liberty Valance of course gets shot. This death was the symbolic death of the community. Liberty had the freedom that Tom and the townsfolk only desired. After removing Liberty from their lives they lost a part of themselves. The bells stopped ringing and the townsfolk were not dancing any longer. The party was over in shinbone. They were no longer in fear and without this fear there was less to value. There was lawlessness in Liberty Valances time. There was anomie[5]. This anomie appeared to be a bad thing but once civil laws were in place freedom was subjugated. Thus there was the fear of Liberty Valance that was then replaced by Social Justice. Simplified in that the gun was traded for a law book. In the new world the pen is mightier than the sword. This was also symbolized by Tom apparently not using his gun in his remaining years and Ransom insisting that Tom be buried with his gun belt and boots.

The Family

The absence of family does not just go for Ransom and Hallie but for the town in general this was the decomposition of community. In fact, family as we know it and family values to a lesser extent were absent from Shinbone. The family structure and the respect developed from parental guidance that is transcended to authority were absent. In these cases social values remain undeveloped (Durkheim, 1897, p. 159). In the later years It was almost as if Shinbone was sterile or impotent. ‘Without the duration of families no society can be stable’ (Durkheim, 1897, p. 160). Therefore without family the community dies. Social norms and interactions break down leading into Durkheim’s concept of anomie.

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote in response to what women want. “They want more people to talk to. They want a large extended family to gossip to at family barbecues while their men tell silly jokes to one another”(Vonnegut, 2007). When there is no one else in the life of a married couple they eventually get bored with one another. Imagine knowing every little detail about the person you will spend the rest of your life with. Boredom creeps in and ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. This is where Hallie and Ransom were by the later stages of their life. Hallie was longing to go back to the community. For perhaps the first time in years, Hallie appeared joyful  when Ransom suggested moving back to Shinbone. The Shinbone that once was, is no more.

The Lie

Hallie would have had a fair idea that Ransom was not the man who shot Liberty Valance. Not unlike the journalists, she probably preferred the fantasy that is easier to live with. One form of self-deception is to embrace opinions of others in avoiding your own opinions (Audi, 2006, p. 70).  The community had a high opinion of Ransom and he went along with it, until he blew out the match.

The character that did not betray his ideals, and was authentic in and of himself, was Liberty Valance. Liberty was the only free man. Therefore, why would Hallie not choose Liberty if he could offer freedom? Perhaps Ransom was somewhat unavailable, yet Liberty was completely unavailable. Hallie would have been smart enough to see Liberty was psychotic.

Liberty was truthful to himself and there was no internalised deception. Liberty will act in his own vested interest. There is truth in this. Lenny Bruce once stated, “the truth is, what is; and what should be is a fantasy. A terrible lie that someone gave the people long ago”. The lie was everywhere but in Liberty. Even Tom betrayed his beliefs by killing a man, Ransom betrayed himself by accepting the lie and the journalists refused to let truth get in the way of a good story. Liberty would only kill Ransom in self-defense, by this reasoning it was unlikely that Liberty would have killed Ransom in cold blood. By Liberty dying Ransom still loses to Liberty in that the Ransom that once was is no more. The old Ransom disappeared when he accepted the lie.

The Coffin

This brings us back to Hallie. If Hallie had no interest in Tom, why did she put the cactus flowers on his coffin? Perhaps this was out of guilt or a platonic love. In the closing scene when Ransom asked who put the cactus flower on the coffin Hallie replied, “I did”. In this statement Hallie was protesting against the life Ransom gave her and finally become her own person in her own right in a modern world.

Hallie may have asked herself, “what if I chose the wrong man?” or “did I make a mistake?” The reality was, for better or worse Hallie was with Ransom. If Hallie and Tom attended Ransom’s funeral there is a chance she would have behaved in a similar way. This does not lead to the conclusion that she had romantic interest or that Tom was a viable option.

It could be argued that Hallie’s interests were irrelevant in the old west. Women did not have equal rights in the old world symbolized by Tom and Liberty. If this is a valid argument then “choice” in and of itself becomes a moot point. Perhaps Hallie did not get a choice. After all it was Tom that allegedly gave her away to Ransom after revealing he killed Liberty. If women had no rights, Tom giving her away like a piece of property left her with no choice regardless of the man she wanted. Taking this into account she could not have chosen better because there was no choice for her to make other than not choosing Ransom.

By Tom telling Ransom he could have her was telling Ransom that he could never get her on his own. This relates to the earlier scene where Ransom picked up the steak and demanded, no one fights his battles for him.

Tom was fighting the battle for Ransom in giving Hallie away. Therefore Ransom did not earn her. Tom ends up giving up all livelihoods. Even in death Liberty Valance triumphs.

The modern world as represented by Ransom, women do have choice. Therefore assuming that she did have choices twenty years later and reflect upon the life choices she may have made if given the choice to make choices.

Hallie was given a new choice at the end of the film in the prospect of moving back to Shinbone. Hallie chose her old life in Shinbone and put the cactus flower on the coffin. Perhaps she would have chosen Tom if given the choice. On the other hand, perhaps it was safer for Hallie that Tom made the choice for her. This is not to say that Hallie would not have made the choice to go with Ransom, but once Tom gave up there was no need for her to worry or feel guilty. When Tom is gone Hallie has no protector and now has freedom to choose, but is condemned to be free with Ransom.

The Weight

Shinbone needed Liberty. Ransom and Tom both needed an enemy. This ties in with Nietzsche’s master morality. The Nietzsche master is separate from the herd by the ability to decide for themselves a course of direction in their lives. This is what Ransom and Tom were able to do with Liberty Valance in their lives.  ‘The master will be able to move on from the misdeeds of his enemies’ (Nietzsche, 173, p. 451), Ransom was able to do this by picking up the steak. To be nonchalant in this manner is a sign of strength and richness.

Without the enemy (in this case Liberty Valance) the master has nothing to challenge or be challenged by. A good example was Tom’s outburst and his descent into obscurity and eventual death after losing his enemy.  Ransom without Liberty on the other hand lives his life as a falsehood. He had his job handed to him based on something he had not done and he had a woman that he believed he did not earn.

The Absence of Fear

Everyone has a calling. They have a job. Even the town sheriff had the job of sheriff but he also had the purpose to make Ransom look smarter, to make Liberty Valance look cool and to make Tom look brave. Labor has come to be seen as an end in itself. This does not change, even for the wealthy. It was this asceticism that neutered the spontaneous nature of life in Shinbone. This was and still is ‘The fate of the times’ to live in a society characterized by ‘mechanized petrification’ (Giddens, 1971, p. 216). Therefore with Liberty gone there was no known or comprehendible fear, or an emotional threat. Predictability began seeping through the cracks. As stated above, familiarity breeds contempt. The bells no longer ring and the honeymoon was over.

Hallie’s Choice

Hallie may have been happier if she spent her life in Shinbone never knowing what was outside the walls. If she had never learnt to read or write and had never met Ransom then she most likely would have either married Tom or gotten old waiting for him to make his move.  In this respect there was not really a choice there.  It was Ransom or wait for Tom to grow up.  Based on Tom’s behaviour in the final act it was unlikely that he would be able to maintain an adult relationship. However the idealistic lawyer that Hallie first met was a different Ransom to the political Ransom that she married.

The Ransom of Shinbone existed within the trinity of Tom and Liberty. Remove Liberty and remove Tom and there is not a lot there to hold Hallie’s interest. Therefore she could have chosen better if given the choice. She may have had children with Tom but it is still unlikely that she would have chosen Tom.  This was due to the fact that Tom was too eager to please. Tom may have made a more loving husband and provider.  On the other hand Tom’s world was coming to an end. Men like Tom and Liberty were becoming extinct. Ransom was the future therefore Ransom was the best choice that she could have made.

Regardless of whom Hallie chose she would have ended up marrying one and forever wondering “What if?” about the other.

Bibliography

Audi, R. (2006). The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.

Detmer, D. (2008). Sartre Explained: From Bad Faith to Authenticity. USA: Carus Publishing Company.

Durkheim, E. (1897). Suicide. London: Routledge.

Giddens, A. (1971). Capitalism and Modern Social Theory; An analysis of the writing of Durkheim, Marx $ Weber. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Haase, U. (2008). Starting with Nietzsche. Bungay, Suffolk, Great Britain: Continuum.

Nietzsche, F. (173). Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil. (R. Hollingdale, Trans.) Harmmondswaorth: Penguin.

Vonnegut, K. (2007). A Man Without A Country. Random House Publishing.


[1] He was a lawyer after all.

[2] The ego is based on the reality principle.  The ego understands that other people have needs and desires. Sometimes being impulsive or selfish can cause harm in the long run.  The ego’s job is to meet the needs of the id, while taking into consideration the reality of the situation.

[3] Freud believed that the id is based on our pleasure principle.  In other words, the id wants whatever feels good at the time, with no consideration for the reality of the situation.

[4] Superego is the moral part that develops due to the moral and ethical restraints placed on us by our caregivers.  Similar to the conscience as it dictates our belief of right and wrong.

[5] Anomie is a social condition characterized by the breakdown of norms governing social interactions.

[6] Bad Faith is Sartre’s concept that self-deception or denial is a way to avoid comprehending or taking responsibility for ones own life and or choices.

The Haptic image of Darren Aronofsky’s ‘The Fountain’

The Fountain

This was one of my favourite films of 2006. While it failed critically and commercially with film festival attendees in Venice publicly booing the film. The Fountain is an emotionally overwhelming film but for some reason this movie stayed with me. I watched it several times on DVD, loving the experience but never understanding what it was that I enjoyed. I just knew that there was something unique that Darren Aronofsky captured.

This piece will look at two scenes that provoked an emotional response. The bathtub scene with Izzy and Tommy, and the Museum scene with Izzy and Tommy. These scenes were selected for analysis not because they are the most interesting visually, because these scenes push the film forward as the most affective character sequences.  These scenes will be examined through the conceptual theory of the “haptic image”; this is a physical and unconscious response to something seen.  In the bathtub scene the audience feels the love these characters share, in the museum scene we experience the disconnection between life and death.

These scenes not only have a sensory response through the “haptic image” but once the haptic response has manifested in the audience, the film takes on a new life. This is a film that at its core is a metaphor on coping with death. It is a film about loss and isolation.

Three Timelines

The Fountain is a film within three time lines. This moves from a historical period film to contemporary drama and psychedelic post-mortem science fiction. All three time lines contain characters with variations of the names Thomas and Isabelle (played by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz). Tomas the conquistador is searching for the ‘Tree of Life’ on behalf of Queen Isabella. Tommy the contemporary neurologist trying to extract a cure from a rare tree found in Guatemala for Izzy; his dying wife. Tom the astronaut maintains a solitary existence in an indecipherable point in space and time. Tom is travelling through space in a bubble with the ‘Tree of Life’. This appears to be the future as Tom is travelling through space, where future and the past meet at the edge of the universe where the only way to continue to exist is to die as an act of creation.  This film moves into its dramatic core with the two central characters of Tommy and Izzy. This becomes a film of not only aesthetic beauty but a film with an emotional core.

The Bathtub

A film such as The Fountain is a film to be experienced not seen. The experience of this film is too much for a single viewing. It has been compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey for its final act, unlike Kubrick this film is an affective visual experience. It creates affective responses not only via the effects but through the affective performances of Jackman and Weisz whose close-ups in the bathtub scene where Izzi admits she is afraid and she feels her body changing tie the film together in one of the simplest scenes but also one of the most affective due to the use of ‘the gaze’.

The haptic visuality of this scene is that it feels as if Izzi is right in front of you. This produces a sense of empathy for Izzi where the audience can feel Tommy’s love for Izzi and her love for Tommy. There is nothing else on the screen but Weisz and Jackman. It is just the two performances that contain several close-up’s of the actors that bring the audience in closer than at any other point in the film. This scene moves us into Tommy’s point of view. Tommy’s gaze. This moves the viewer away from just being an observer on the journey of Tom (future) and Tomas (past). This close up brings the audience into the intimacy between Tommy and Izzi. This scene may not be the most visually spectacular it is arguably the most moving. This is a focal point in the story of a woman accepting her death. The close ups of Tommy mirror the emotional state of the viewer. This is Izzi’s world we are journeying through and Tommy/Tom/Tomas is the traveler. This scene fades to white [1].

Death as an act of creation.

Izzi visits the museum and discusses death with Tommy using the metaphor of Xibulba[2] theorizing that ‘death is an act of creation’ where new life springs from the dying person’s life force. The first father of her story from the Mayan allegory dies in act of creation in that he fuses with the star to give birth to mankind.

Tommy sees death as a disease; something to be cured. Izzi dying is something he is unable to deal with. In trying to save Izzi, she is neglected. As Tommy moves away from Izzi to get the car. The light changes from a golden light to a white spot light directly on Izzy. Izzy looks up to the ceiling before fainting. Tommy catches her just in time. The scene cuts to the eternal man’s nebula and then quickly moves back to the hospital.

Within this scene there is a mental and a bodily  experience. The audience can haptically feel the life being pulled out Izzi with the adjustment of the lighting and Hugh Jackman’s departure to get the car after hearing something profound about death. This was something Tommy needed to hear. The book Izzi is writing that the audience experience is a parting gift for Tommy. The fountain pen as a gift is not only symbolic of the title being ‘The Fountain’ but is something Izzi leaves for Tommy to complete. From this point it becomes clearer that the journey of all of these characters are intrinsically connected by death and rebirth and the journey of Tom, the space traveler has new meaning.


‘The Fountain’ as an extension of the mind

Where the spectator is within this story is debatable. On one level Izzi is writing a story that contains the historical and futuristic aspects. The story she is writing titled “The Fountain” is a mimesis of her internal struggle to deal with death. Tom the eternal man of the future floating through space in a bubble to deliver the tree of life appears to be fully aware of everything that preceded him. Tom appears to be aware of the present events and Izzi’s death as if they are a distant memory or a premonition of what is to come. The Mayan warrior who kills Tomas has a vision of Tom as the first father. As Izzi moves closer to death so does the tree in the space bubble. Thus there is no single point in time, in which this film stems from. Each story exists within the other stories. Trying to find a beginning and end to a film about life cycles is a moot point.

Whether these alternate events take place within Tommy’s mind, Izzi’s novel or if Tommy and Izzi are distant memories is debatable. Perhaps grief cannot be put into words and needs to be experienced. Visualization of the grieving process is not an easy task without going into melodrama.

The representations we seek and the ‘haptic’ perceptions we discover

The language of film taps into our psyche. We do not always understand what we see. We may attempt to create our own meaning as a representation of our lives. We often want to relive an aspect of our lives through film. Occasionally films do not conform to the representational model. They may exist outside normal perceptions where we cannot relate what we are seeing to our lives. This often happens with films that are abstract and challenge conventions of the film formula of the three-act structure. These films often become absorbed in our unconscious. Even with these films we still try to make sense of them. Where some scenes from The Fountain fit with reality the viewer is able to relate to what is happening on screen. The story of present day Tom (Hugh Jackman) trying to save his wife is relatable to an audience. This is a love story, to a degree the entire film is a love story about loss and accepting death as a natural part of life.


[1] The white fade out is common in the films of Darren Aronofsky. In The Requiem for a Dream DVD Commentary, he said that he uses the white fades early in the film to represent hope for his characters.

[2] This was a Mayan nebula that surrounds a dying star.

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