DVD review


After thinking about this wonderfully beautiful film for almost two months, I finally (perhaps foolishly) feel ready to mutter a few of my frayed synapses’ most muddled concatenations.

I understand that Trier constructed Antichrist in such a way as to be available to a number of interpretations. He does this through utilizing symbols that nod to a number of possible sources.
So while saying that, I do feel that looking at Trier’s pattern of motifs and statements from his body of work one can make better sense of what he’s doing here.

Most informative to Antichrist are the films where Trier re-imagines Christianity: Breaking the Waves, Dancer in The Dark, Dogville, Manderlay. These films are inventive and challenging presentations which riff on themes of The Leap of Faith, and Saint as Martyr usually with the background of human injustice and cruelty.

Antichrist fits right in with these previous films because it immediately requires the viewer to question themselves:
“What is ‘Christ’?”
“What is it to be ‘Anti-Christ’?”

I was very tempted upon finishing Antichrist to pit it as a ‘counter’ or antithesis of the Christ/Saint/Martyr themes of the other films, as though maybe Antichrist was ‘about humanity’ or ‘a view of the world without God.’
I see that this was wrong.
Why?
Because Trier has always asked of us to see each of us as living Christ events. The potential for each of us to perform ‘impossible leaps of faith’ and the non-rational means and often tragic conclusions of these ‘leaps.’
He asks of us to see Christ’s humanity, and humanity’s potential to enact the divine in the midst of our largely banal, cruel, and chaotic world.

So what or who is the Antichrist implied here?
I believe that it is the ‘Chaos that reigns.’
It is meaninglessness, the force that surrounds us at all times that tempts us to see our lives as without order, meaning, without value.
The position that I believe Antichrist takes is that this force of meaningless chaos is real. It is the real state of things. It is however conquerable through our each making a ‘leap of faith’ as it were.
This triumph of the human spirit is not a synthesis or balance of Reason and Intuition, or Order and Chaos–it is the abnegation of these as opposing poles and transcending them in Pure Resolution or Survival.

Antichrist is the description of the triumph that occurs in one’s affirmation of life through their decision or choice. When one accepts the meaningless chaos and still rises with a ‘yes saying’ to life they pass through death and are recreated and mark a ‘Christ event.’

Here’s how I came to this view:

The film begins with a creative act: the act of making love. In the midst of creation, there is loss–in this case the loss of a young life. Decision is definitive. It says yes and it says no. Future is created and possible futures are cast off. We cannot know all the outcomes or consequences of our choices and we must accept that in our life-creation there will be potentially hurtful and destructive effects. This can be one definition for the ‘state of sin’ in the world.

From this moment of ‘decision’ our characters embark on paths that illustrate ways of trying to contain or control chaos. The husband and wife portray different ways that one may ‘wrap their head’ around this existential burden and we see that rationality and madness, science and magic, are just different paths of coping with or trying to control life.

Ultimately the husband finds that these concepts are not enough–one cannot shirk off or end the power of Antichrist. One only can continue, persevere in the face of it.

Integral to this idea in the film is the appearance of bodies in the forest. At first there are only languishing or lifeless bodies covering the forest floor as the couple make love: the quest is almost fulfilled, concepts of madness and reason are being dissolved–
then in the Epilogue we see the weary and battered husband as triumphant and he is joined by fully formed and living people.
These people are the new future, continued possibility, Life flooding towards the Hero of Faith.

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Hana Surf Girls is not your ordinary surf doc. It is an illuminating film that shares the stories of two amazing young women from a small Hawaiian village called Hana.
In equal parts it is a coming-of-age film that shows how Lipoa and Monyca balance their goals, family, love of surf, community all with grace and the Aloha spirit.

I feel that Hana Surf Girls is a great film for young people because its stars are great role models, but it is a film for all audiences. Surfers will become enchanted with the people, landscape, and surf of Hana and anyone who has ever dreamed big and felt the rush of following their heart will connect to the women’s big spirits.

Movie Site:
http://www.hanasurfgirls.com/

Movie Premiere:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlOEH3orsv0&feature=related

IMDB:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1523291/

Monyca Byrne-Wickey’s Nike 6.0 page:
http://www.nike.com/nikeos/p/nke6/en_US/athlete?id=monyca-byrne-wickey&sport=surf

Having recently seen and thoroughly enjoyed Joel and Ethan Coens’ “True Grit”, I decided to check out
Henry Hathaway’s 1969 film adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel.

I was happily pleased with the 1969 version starring John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, finding it a well done film in its own right but also very interesting to see alongside the 2010 version. Below I will discuss some of the similarities and differences of the two great films.

1. The Duke vs. The Dude
As much as Jeff Bridges brings a light comedic touch to Rooster, so does The Duke. I found The Duke’s one eye glaring a fun affect and I appreciated how it seems The Duke has a bit of a rooster strut. This makes sense to me as an ‘on edge’ marshall with one eye may begin to swing his head a bit. I also wondered at how much Jeff Bridges was influenced by The Duke. I do think that Wayne was sending himself up a bit in doing an untraditional hero but Bridges is coming  from the other direction, known less as an action hero (Tron aside) he was able to strike a perfect balance of a lovable offbeat cold blooded killer. I loved the scene in the original where John Wayne falls down drunk and can’t get up and looking around says, “Here. We’ll camp here.” I think that Daniels deserves an Oscar nomination in his balance of comedic and dramatic acting (a feat matched by Christian Bale in ‘The Fighter’–another Oscar deserving role).

2. On Matters of Mystery 
What differed in the Coen Brothers version was how much was left to mystery. I believe that talented script writers know when to draw the line of “what is better left unsaid”. Two important decisions of mystery were made by the Coens. First, they do not say if Mattie actually has access to this lawyer she always uses as a threat. We are left to imagine that she could be bluffing, or truly doesn’t know how much interest a lawyer would have in her affairs, or maybe really does wield influence with her family’s lawyer. On the other hand, in Hathaway’s version, we even see the lawyer serving papers for her. Secondly, in the case of Rooster’s eye, Hathaway chooses to disclose how it was lost. Again the Coens correctly (imho) left it open to speculation.

3. Justice Is Blind…At Least In One Eye 
In both films, there is the question of appropriate justice and the workings of revenge and retribution. It is no mistake that a hanging is occurring when Mattie enters town. Is the hanging of these three men just? What is the function of public executions? Is it moral for any court to execute a criminal? The theme continues with Rooster’s examination on the stand. He justifies and rationalizes his killings not only to the court, but it appears that he does so to himself also. He is judge, jury, and executioner if he sees fit. Interestingly in both films, there is a bit of ambiguity about Maddie’s intentions. She at times says she wants Chaney to be brought to court but she also says she plans on shooting him herself with her father’s pistol. She may perhaps consider both options, but in both films when she confronts Chaney she does try to convince him to come peacefully to Marshall Rooster. In Mattie’s view of justice Chaney had to die on account of his killing her father, and to be killed for any other crime would be unsatisfactory. In both films, Rooster is concerned with the capture or killing of Lucky Ned Pepper, and Chaney is just a means to that end. Any ‘justice’ for the killing of Mattie’s father is on the periphery if at all. The Coens do well in bookending the theme of justice. In the narration in the beginning, Mattie states that nothing goes unanswered for, that there is an accounting–nothing is free but God’s grace. At the end of the film, we see that she has lost an arm and she and Rooster appear to have led isolative lives of disconnection. It is these quiet judgments of life that are just as stirring as any. One may look to the repurcussions of Moses’ attempt to sacrifice his son Isaac: disconnection, isolation, loss. God’s vengence is sometimes portrayed in quiet fashion. This theme of justice is closely related to the next topic…

4. Its Morally…Je Ne Sais Quoi  
Moral ambiguity is handled by both films quite well. Both films use one conversation between Rooster and LeBoeuf
to bring this theme to the fore. It occurs when they discuss the fighting companies that they were associated with during the Civil War. Each accuses the other of being essentially a rogue and identifying with illegitimate companies. Who was right? Who were the bandits? The terrorists? On the side of good? That is a matter of perspective. In war, these issues are more pronounced perhaps, but they permeate all of our daily lives. Is LeBoeuf lying when he says that he’s drank from a hoofprint? Most likely. Is he inappropriate when he says he’d have liked to kiss a fourteen year old girl? Yes. Is he wrong to whip her with a stick? Yes. Is he a good guy? Is he a hero? These questions are doubly more pertinent to Rooster. Both films are working with an original text that played up the idea of dark anti-heroes and that is why, I believe, each film is so interesting to watch. The ambiguity is strong with the question of John Chaney’s crime and each film handles it a bit differently. In Hathaway’s 1969 version, we are shown Chaney killing Mattie’s father. The man is desperate, drunk, and is played as a crime of passion. Is he to die for this crime? How would we judge his actions today? In the ’69 version Chaney is also portrayed as an uncomplicated person, not scheming certainly, almost childish and naive. The Coens don’t show Chaney’s crime but they do talk about his cognitive acumen. LeBoeuf believes Chaney to use being ‘simple’ as a rouse but Mattie disagrees and we as the audience see him in honest moments and can agree that he does have  the mind of a child. Does Chaney understand his actions? Is he responsible in the same way other adults would be?

5. A Horse of A Different Color
One way the Coens succeeded I believe, was in creating greater emotional impact in almost every way for just about every character. In my viewings I saw this starkly in the death of Mattie’s horse: Little Blackie. In the 1969 film, the horse collapses and Rooster and Mattie carry on. It is just an event. In the Coens’ version, we feel like we are seeing the death of a friend. I was crying the entire ‘night ride’ and when Mattie yelled “you’re killing him!” I was overcome. We see the pain conveyed in Mattie’s face as she is carried away where the pain of the poison is replaced with a deathly pain of grief.

6. Hot Lead Served In Family Sized Portions
One aspect of character relations that the 1969 version emphasizes that the Coens do not include really to any degree is the way Mattie mirrors Rooster. In Hathaway’s film, we are given three clues that the hardheaded Mattie serves as a younger version or potential Rooster. The first is when Rooster says of Mattie, “she reminds me of me.” The second comes when the horse trader says to Mattie regarding Rooster, “you two could be related.” Lastly, towards the end of the film, Rooster calls Mattie “Sis.” There is a sense that Mattie is a child not of her parents. She seems to have acquired a worldliness, a wisdom and clarity that exceeds her parents’ even at age fourteen. It appears that Rooster could be the ‘spiritual’ father of Mattie, a picture of herself as an adult. His quick judgments that could cut someone down in cold blood is echoed in her capacity to judge a person as “trash” (which she does in both films, though to different people).

In closing, I would just repeat that both films are great films–interesting in their own ways but very enjoyable to view alongside each other.

How can it be that Aliens Resurrection is rocket science compared to this movie in terms of ‘splicing’ and issues of maternity?

Are misogynist interpretations of Adam and Eve right?
If you buy into ‘Splice’, they are.

In this domestic drama in ‘horror’ film clothing,
Elsa is Eve…and Woman is the root of Man’s trouble.
What a bore. Even Clive, a scientist, says ‘mankind’ rather than ‘humankind’ and Clive blames his girlfriend for cheating on her with her daughter.

Who are we to like in this film? Even if a film has despicable characters, can it not at least be fun? Or be revealing something about ourselves and not just reveling in women hating idiocy?

It feels like a script written by a stunted man with ‘mommy issues’ and comes across as loathing of women. How else can one account for the Elsa character’s choices which can only range from conniving, manipulative, abusive, power hungry, idiotic, and self deluded?

In the scene where ‘Dren’ (the splice) is tied down to a table and the camera lingers on her exposed breasts, we get a sense that this woman also is only here in this twisted male fantasy to be abused, gawked at, mistreated but without feeling of complicity. When Clive has sex with Dren, essentially his girlfriend’s autistic and imprisoned daughter, we’re again to just a deeper level of family dysfunction and abuse that does not fall into any category other than ‘meaningless sociopathic drivel’.

This film is like a grab bag of annoyance.
Chock full of baby crying sounds and slaughter house animal squeals. Annoying also is a ‘family’ drama without likable or believable or empathetic characters.

When, in the last act, the film does turn into a straight up horror type film, it is a ‘dark chase around in the woods with murky sequences’. Yuck.

Even more ‘yuck’ is that the horror act is literally an Oedipal playhouse. Dren transforms into a ‘male’ for its vengeance (I guess women must remain femme fatales who will only hover their poison-tails over you while you have sex–no avenging angel/monster for them!) and rapes its mother and kills its father figure. Literally. In the span of a minute.

What absolute head shaking repugnance. This could have been a B film that didn’t take itself seriously and gone for a ‘bad campy’ feel and maybe would have been worth it. But in this over serious film in only dreary, poorly lit sets, with horrible dialogue and a script originating from the mind of a mommy-hating 16 year old–everything is a mess.

Against many interpretations, I hold that Lynch’s brilliant Inland Empire is a statement about the possibility of hope. This is at a purely philosophic level a retreatment of the way we speak of time but holds a personal spiritual element of how one faces life.

The ‘time’ that I feel Lynch forwards here is not about sequence of events calculable, measurable, and linear but wholly spawned through the relations of conscious beings and the self-conquering of those beings’ ego illusions.

The film begins with Future watching the parade of Samsara’s cycle of suffering. The illusion is that ‘time’ is changing, but from the view of anticipating newness and true freedom unlocked from ego, the human experience and history is a sham of repeated failures and cycles of violence and corruption.

We are told in a number of ways, with one prophetic character stating as much clearly that the film is ‘about time’. It is a tale of one hero’s journey (Dern) through pasts, total commitment to the present through her art, and finally through her renunciation of the cycle of ego she releases an opportunity for change–a true future.

I see Dern as awakening to the reality that everyone is synonymous with another in terms of their imprisonment in Samsara. A key moment may be when on the sound stage with her director (Irons) and fellow actor (Theroux) they learn that their project ‘has been done before’ and ‘ended in murder’. It this transitional moment that our Hero later returns to and revisits.

In a promotional interview for the film Dern states that she may be playing ‘three characters’ or ‘all of them’ and hints at a support for this interpretation.

Another key element is the green watch. Here we have the time message repeated with the color green perhaps standing in one of its mythic meanings corresponding to the Green Knight of medieval literature. In one story, Gawain takes on the Green Knight’s challenge to kill him, with the warning that if he does not succeed the Knight will have a free swipe at Gawain with an axe before New Year’s. Well, Gawain of course can’t kill the Knight and when the tables are turned as the deal prescribed, Gawain gives his neck freely only to be released.

So too does our Hero give all to her art (in this case acting) despite all costs and in the face of immanent mortality only to be released into newness.

Another key is a moment in the Rabbitsverse where we see again the livingroom of the rabbits and one dressed in a gown brings in two candles. I take this to be an allusion to Shabbos, a ‘suspension’ of time, a transformation or divine time for even in the next scene we see the Hero meeting for the first time with God.

This God figure may seem irreverent in its silence and seeming lack of care or attention to the plight presented by the Hero. God stands mute to her, speaking only over the phone as if within the Heavenly Council or among God’s angelic host. However, it is this ‘Mute God’ that eventually leads the Hero towards her culmination, her great triumph. This occurs in the movie theatre scene where she follows God’s beckoning up a staircase to meet The Phantom/Ego.

The Phantom/Ego has been a mysterious figure up until this final moment, also wearing Green and leering in shadows. The Hero ‘kills’ The Phantom/Ego and is allowed to face the burgeoning/anticipating Future. The woman the film opens with, Future, embraces The Hero and the Hero Past/Present/Ego dissipates and unlocks what unfolds next: A mythic ‘reunion’ where Future embraces an idealized family (using heteronormative and nuclear family structure which are mythic tropes that shouldn’t be taken to be prescriptive for a Hero) and we then see a celebration/curtain call/Apocalyptic Age Turning through the credits where everyone has stepped back and seen the ephemeral and illusory nature of existence (soundtrack is Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman”).

Of course there are huge statements about the exploitation of and violence against women especially through a critical eye on class, but Lynch keeps the journey open enough so that many forms of violence and social injustices are within purview including race.

As a whole, the film is beautiful, touching, challenging, and ultimately requires a personal investment and invites to a personal transformation. It is a spiritual film speaking in the language of myth and archetypes that gently nudges its viewers to give capriciously, generously, and without fear to their art while removing themselves from ego. A transcendent and enduring film of great detail and nuance, it evoked from me a trancelike state through much of it that, like the best of spiritual literature, was singly horrific and divine.

The Coens have made the most plainly and accessibly theological American film in a number of years with A Serious Man.

By theological, I mean to say that it rests in the theological mood, one of pious questioning rather than of dogmaticism or creedalism. Certainly we have seen the rise of the true cinematic powerhouse Tyler Perry whose work is rife with faith, celebration of the Christian tradition, and stirring testifying of the Gospel, but Perry’s work and Christian bookstore oddity Fireproof (starring off-the-deep-end Kirk Cameron) are of the creedal type rather than theological.

The Coens pay homage to their Judaic tradition of ‘wrestling with G-d’, of questioning the One Who Isn’t Obliged To Answer. I for one have always felt more attuned to this stance in life and is in part why I was so attracted to this film.

It is a modern depiction of a ‘Job like trial’ surely, but it also poses the question that arises from the tension in the Tanakh, the Jewish Scriptures. Does the sins of one generation impact the judgment of the next or not?
“…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,” –Deut. 5:9
or
“…The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.”–Ezek. 18:20

We find this tension immediately after the Yiddish ‘Prologue’ where the editing is done so that we are made to believe that the son and the father are one. The camera trains on close ups of their ears–awakening the audience to ‘listen with their spiritual ears’. The Son (Danny) and Father (Larry) are closely aligned in the film: both are facing hardships and are on a spiritual path–one on his way to Bar Mitzvah the other caught in the labrynth of day-to-day life and the conundrums that accompany it.

Many have found similarities between A Serious Man and the Biblical portrayal of Job.
I would say that the Coens have creatively stepped back from the Job story.
Whereas in Job we are told that Job’s problems are indeed the result of a wager between the Accuser and the Lord, in Larry’s case we never know.
The question of Job is “why do bad things happen to good people?” to which God answers essentially “none of your business! I’m in control around here so quit yer yappin’.”
The question we’re presented in this film is “Can we ever know if God is involved in our lives at all?” and the answer is essentially “nope.”

Whether God is involved or not, you are left in a double bind.
This is set-up in the ‘Prologue’ which is made to feel like an ol’ Yiddish tale from the shtetl was in fact written by the Coens and though they have said in interview that the story has no connection to the film, it plainly does.
The double bind as presented in the Prologue is this:
If the man is truly a dybbuk the family will experience hardship because it is a supernatural curse.
If the man is not a dybbuk, the family will be cursed because they just killed a man.
Bottom line: you’re screwed no matter what choice you make and you’ll never know if God or supernatural influence had any part in it.

This is the double bind of Larry, and I would offer of many alive in contemporary society.
Life seems miserable. Is it God’s doing? Is there something we should change? Do our choices matter? Are we reading meaning into common everyday occurrances to find a ‘something more’?
Whether you believe in God or not, you are given no answers and no solace is found.

In fact, there would seem to be a simplicity in not trying to find the answers. In their previous film No Country For Old Men Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is troubled by the seemingly increasing violence of his world. In the opening voiceover he gives what could be the final words of the film:
“…You can say its my job to fight it [the crimes of Anton Shigur and the evils he represents] but I don’t know what it is anymore. More than that, I don’t want to know. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He would have to say: Okay, I’ll be a part of this world.”**

It is perhaps easier to turn away from the darkness, the realities of the human condition but to do so, by Sheriff Bell’s telling, you’re not a part of the world. Another double bind. You must face evil or turn away from it and be lost to yourself in a new type of horror: isolation, solipsism, passivity, vanity.

The film balances on a hinge point of decision: Larry’s changing of Clive Park’s grade at the end.
Earlier, Larry had told Clive that there were consequences to what occurred in his office. ‘Not just academic. Moral!’
He took the moral highground then, but later succumbed. (This is an interesting pattern in human experience where it is when one is through the hardship that they let their moral guard down–things are going good, ‘somebody up there must like me’.)
It is at that moment that we see the tornado threatening the son Danny.
(Job 40:6, “God answered Job from the whirlwind saying…”Do you think you’re as in control as I?”)

Was it a judgment upon Larry? Or was it coincidence?
The answer won’t come to Larry from God. Will we give it?

**No Country For Old Men Adaptation by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy

As an aside, I got a kick out of the three Rabbis we see in the film. The first and youngest is full of zeal and answers. The second is full of words that amount to little. The last and oldest, Marshak who we see in the above clip, wisely intones: “Be a good boy.”

“A Quiet Simple Country Life” 
(a movie review poem of Once Upon A TIme In The West)

Thin legs in denim move in patchwork of tinder holding up skeletal wrecks
ghosts in mouldering dust
of a thousand nightless days chokes screams of the dying
tearing like incoming trains
clocks incorrect-the West is young
sweetwater alkaline-feigned innocence
spindles of rock revel in our infancy and whatever beauty
for it is weakness
guns snap in sick staccato koans
(lightning abandoned)
some fugitives among us are known as such
the Sun reclaims (redeems) the dead
makes white and unmoving that which had cursed it
graves are only costly to dig
their filling comes quickly
any question of ‘why’ in eyes gazing
into the yawn of a gun is answered
evil is most comfortable in its skin of opulence
a nation born in the wisest
butcher tactics

Ryan McGivern

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