The Raid 2 2014, 150 Minutes Directed by Gareth Evans If you saw The Raid then you will most likely expect The Raid 2 to be a retread of the first film in a new location. In the opening act it appears that they are setting the film up this way, yet the film shifts gears after the first act and morphs from an action film to a brilliant crime thriller with amazing fight sequences that is perhaps closer to film noir than a traditional fight film. Where the first film was an assault on the senses and kept you on the edge of your seat The Raid 2, is a more complex character film that is unlike any sequel in recent memory where the film series requires more intelligence to follow the plot threads. The plotting is so intense that the film will require a second viewing. A less patient viewer may see the narrative structure of the film to be problematic as there are characters who enter the film and a fight scene ensues whilst the audience may be feeling bewildered by these scenes they pay off in other ways. This film feels like it is attempting to redefine a genre and is perhaps closer to OldBoy in that film is about the morality of its characters and it does push the audience to keep up while never distancing itself from its target audience.
I would recommend seeing this in the cinema as it does feel like there is something new and that we are in the middle of a new film genre that is emerging in which The Raid 2 could very well become a classic film in the martial arts/film noir genre.
Other films of the martial arts-noir genre also include
SPL with Donnie Yen
and Chan Wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy.
Directed by David Fincher
Written By Walter Hill, David Giler and Larry Ferguson
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Ralph Brown and Paul McGann
Running Time: 114 Minutes Theatrical Version/145 Minutes Extended Version.
In 1979 Alien reinvented the horror/sci fi genre with its simple haunted house in space premise. Alien also made a star out of Sigourney Weaver. This was for the most part a horror film hybrid. In 1986 James Cameron delivered Aliens. In this film James Cameron shifted gears from the first film by reinventing the formula. Aliens was an Action film in space that owed no small tribute to the Robert A. Heinlan’s 1950s pulp serial ‘Starship Troopers’ and Rambo (1984) which was also written by James Cameron. So we had horror in Alien and action in Aliens. In 1992 Alien 3 was released with a lot of anticipation and was expected to follow the template of Aliens. David Fincher created something few expected. He took the conventions of the Alien series and introduced Film Noir. This can seen stylistically in the rustic prison scenes and in the contrasting shadows. This demonstrated the bleakness of this world, but unlike other neo-noirs that are admired for their technical skill and for referencing older films, Alien 3 is true film noir in its themes of death and as antithesis to melodrama that destroys any feelings of hope that James Cameron created in the final moments of Aliens.Where in Aliens Ripley was seen as a hero, in Alien 3 she is on a journey towards her own death. Through this essay I will demonstrate why Alien 3 is a film noir by investigating Ripley’s masochism and how the alien in Alien 3 is a metaphor for the internalized hatred of these characters.
Ripley’s death was one of the major selling points of the film. This is perhaps why Alien 3 was the highest grossing film in the series. Alien 3 was also the most disliked of the series. This was due in no small part to the absence of an emotional catharsis to Ripley’s story arc. An example of this is in the closing shots of the three empty cryogenic chambers that Ripley, Neut and Hicks went to sleep in at the end of Aliens. This was another signification of the meaninglessness in the world of Alien 3. All that is left behind of these characters is a computer log recording of Ripley’s voice. If Ripley had died in a heroic blaze of glory or she had some grandstanding speech, audiences would have been more receptive to her self-sacrifice.
The film going audience tends to enjoy this in melodrama such as Titanic and The Notebook. In the case of neo-noir films such as Alien 3, audiences often despise seeing their heroes die. The most likely difference depends on the emotional investment on the audience’s part and the belief that a character died for a good reason. Alien 3 did not satisfy in this manner. David Fincher’s film moved against the easy formula set up by James Cameron and Ridley Scott. He thrust his audience into perhaps the bleakest sci-fi world ever conceived in a mainstream film. Alien 3 in this regard was difficult for audiences in that the film was about a woman’s journey toward irredeemable death.
James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) featured the subplot of Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) waking up 60 years later and knowing that her closest relatives and her daughter have passed away. By the end of Aliens she had found a new surrogate family in the form of Neut the orphaned girl and a burgeoning love interest in Hicks (Michael Biehn). David Fincher’s Alien 3 on the other hand opens with the annihilation of this surrogate family and this represents the destruction of hope for Ripley, for the future survival of the family unit and for the audience’s emotional catharsis awarded at the end of Aliens. It was this discomfort, the antithesis to melodrama and the absolute alienation of humanity in this film that brings Alien 3 into the sub genre of film noir.
Ripley’s fate was sealed in the opening act with her impregnation. Therefore the film is in its simplest form is a neo-noir about Ripley’s journey towards death. Even when Ripley realises that she is going to die at the birth of the Alien Queen, she is anomic to her own doom. She just wants it over with. This was evident in her scene with Charles Dutton’s character, the preacher. She asks him to kill her but demands that there are no references to god, no eulogies or anything else. She just wants to die. Symbolically she was already dead via the death of the family. This scene was perhaps the most important scene. This scene signifies Ripley’s need to destroy herself was a greater priority than killing another Alien.
The secondary characters in Alien 3 were the prisoners. These men chose to remain on a prison planet even after the company closed down the prison and abandoned them. They not only chose to remain on the abandoned planet but they established their own religion and a vow of celibacy on a planet without women. Their incarceration manifested as religion alleviated them of their existential free will to do wrong. They were ‘condemned to be free’ and Ripley spins them out of control by posing a threat to their vow of celibacy. Whereas the prisoner’s existence represented the worst that humanity has to offer, Ripley was the representation of everything they hated about themselves.
Therefore, regardless of the Alien threat, the Prison population were going to die out. Ripley as a threat on the other hand was going to turn these men inwards and bring out the darkest instincts of human nature. The Alien in this case was an internalized hatred of themselves. Neither their prison sentences, nor seclusion from the rest of the known universe, nor religion could purge their basic instincts. Even if Ripley did not sacrifice her self to neutralise the alien impregnated in her, she would have had to die to preserve the social order of the planets population.
Despite what some may say when comparing this to other stories that involve self-sacrifice Ripley’s sacrifice was meaningless to Ripley. This was because she had nothing to continue living for. Due to the nihilistic nature of this film it is easy to see why mainstream audiences reacted negatively. After James Cameron’s hope inspiring finale Ripley has a meaningless existence. This does not make Alien 3 a bad film as some would argue but in many ways there is a lot more going one beneath the surface of these characters that were pushed aside in favor of action spectacle in the previous film. Alien 3 may not be the best in the series but examining Alien 3 as a film noir or a neo-noir provides a greater appreciation for this often neglected and misunderstood film that is very much a David Fincher film.
The 1940s represented a time when masculine control of the world was coming undone. Men returning from war, the social paranoia of the emerging cold war and the perceived communist threat to America were all signifiers of a world where man is not as dominant as he once believed. Therefore, the masculine role was changing. When this changes the feminine roles change too. It was these social changes that led to the shaping of what we now know as Film Noir. The man losing control or giving up control is not an invention of film noir but it is a staple of the Film Noir protagonist. Fritz Lang’s Woman in the Window (1944) and his follow-up film Scarlet Street (1945) are excellent representations of the changes in masculinity in the 1940s. These two films starring Edward G. Robinson will be explored through this essay.
By social standards there are certain qualities that a man should have, such as being protective, providing and aggressive when needed. What all of these have in common is the need to have some form of control over ones environment. Film Noir, stripped its male protagonists of control and emasculated these characters by turning them into the weaker sex.
The two Edward G Robinson characters, Richard Wanley from Woman in the Window (1944) and especially Christopher Cross in Scarlet Street (1945) are examples of the emasculated man. Cross was a character that appeared almost asexual in his desires. His need was to be loved and to be needed or at least appreciated. Wanley on the other hand wanted adventure and to relive his glory days.
Cross never had these glory days. Yet his masculine desires were still prevalent. This is evident in the scene where he stabs Kitty (Joan Bennet) with an ice pick and the earlier scene where he attacks Johnny (Dan Duryea) with an umbrella.
The use of phallic objects was also prevalent in his paintings with the snake and the long-stemmed flower in the bathroom. This was a man who was not allowed to be a man. The only masculine outlet he had been his art. This can be seen when the art dealer questions Kitty about the paintings and says that he can usually see the difference between art painted by a man and a woman. She not only stole his art but she also robbed him of what little masculine pride he had.
At every turn Cross was being emotionally castrated by the world he lived in. A good example can be seen in the bathroom where his wife throws away the flower. All he had to show for 25 years of work locked in a cage cashing paycheck’s was a gold watch and a demanding wife that disrespected him. Cross had no human contact by anyone but those who wanted to use him. The person who cared about him the most was his boss. His boss was the closest thing he had to a friend and the watch signified the deep respect that he had for Cross. This was a seventeen jeweled, fourteen-carat gold, pocket watch. This was the man who Cross betrays. He does so by taking money from the cashier station. The alternative would have been to sell the watch. Stealing from a person that has been loyal to him for twenty-five years was in this writers opinion Cross’ calculated downfall. If Cross is fired then he cannot pay any more bribes and he can remain an emasculated, victimized man. This appeared to be easier for him than actually standing up to the people in his life. This negates his responsibility for his own actions. This was the one action that he controlled but he was not completely aware of why he chose this course of action.
Wanley on the other hand had the confidence that Cross lacked. Wanley puts forward the argument in the opening of the film that ‘the man who kills for self-defence should not be tried in the same way as the man who kills for personal gain’. This sounded like a fair judgment. Unfortunately he did not have the perspicacity to form such a judgment. Wanley and his friends were old men who sat around smoking pipes and sipping port with butlers doing their deeds. This was a controlled environment for Wanley. These were men of inaction who wanted to engage in-action. Fritz Lang procedes to contrast the fantasy of adventure with the reality of horror. The horror is that in reality these men have no control over their world and that evil exists within all men.
Wanley had never been in a dangerous situation where he had to fight for his life and the evil within Wanley had never been provoked. After killing the finance with the scissors, Wanley was able to rationalize his actions as self-defence. If he truly believed in his own ideals and what he taught his students he would not have covered up his crime. He rationalized this too by saying that he will be ruined either way. By giving in to the temptation of a woman and his desire for adventure Wanley takes a path that is in stark opposition of the values that he and his friends make a claim to. Without his butler to nurture him he delves into the evils of his own psyche just by accepting an offer to have a drink.
Wanley’s attempt to regain his masculine control was to drink poison but even this was outside his control. He awakens in what could be either, his real life, the after life or purgatory. Cross goes in the opposite direction by living as a condemned man who will never move beyond his actions. He lives in an emotional purgatory whereas Wanley, (in the after life theory) has a ‘blissful ignorance’.
Entrapped in a Changing World
Anxiety and entrapment became dominant motifs as a response to masculine and feminine social structure. This is because they are trapped between masculine and feminine roles in society. Therefore, anxiety and entrapment became a motif because since that time, the world that preceded film noir, the world of an illusory masculine control over the environment has not been restored. Therefore, Robinson’s characters of Wanley and Cross were archetypes for our own discomfort and despair at this time in history. We are still afflicted by the past, and like the film noir protagonists we as a society rarely learn from the past until it is too late.
Geoff Mayer & Brian McDonnell, Encyclopedia of Film Noir, pp. 90 – 92, 141 – 144, 242 – 244, 321 – 323, 365 – 367, 382 –383, 398 – 400. 435 – 437, 446 – 449.
Andrew Spicer, Film Noir, Ch. 5
Tony Williams, ‘Phantom Lady, Cornell Woolrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic’ in Alain Silver & James Ursini (eds), Film Noir Reader.
Richard Lippe, ‘At the Margins of Film Noir: Preminger’s Angel Face’ in Alain Silver & James Ursini (eds), Film Noir Reader.
Frank Krutnik, In A Lonely Street, Part 111, esp. ch. 6
Gaylyn Studlar, ‘Masochism and the Perverse Pleasures of the Cinema’ in Bill Nichols, Movies and Methods, Volume 2