Saturday 9 August 2014

Three Films I Could Not Do Justice

It's odd, how three completely different films could tap into seemingly collective fears about the state of the presence. The Lego Movie, starring a product that almost everybody has a personal story for, which turns into a smart tale about the dangers of conformism and the value of creativity and friendship - an ironic corporate tale about the dangers of corporatism, a very marketable story about what happens to something that was created to inspire creativity and individualism, the shared joy of creating something, building something, solely based on fresh ideas, when it is turned into a product, commercialized. Commodification is symbolized by Will Ferrell's character wanting to turn his model of a modern city into something that can no longer be changed - glued together eternally, the essential promise of Lego is broken, because nobody would be able to change the story, to take it apart again and turn it into something. Within the world of Lego, that very realistic, very real-world plan is turned into the plot of a super villain, who wants to freeze time to stifle creativity, after years of trying to create a unified society - a society of worker bees that all have the same hobbies, the same favourite music, the same favourite show, so that their preferences become predictable. The Lego Movie is a brilliant criticism of certain aspects of capitalist society, but ironically bound to a product that functions within that society (both Lego itself and the movie industry), but it also tells a very human, very relatable story about one character trying to find the confidence to express his creativity, an everyman breaking out of the mould that defines his character to truly find himself. It's also a story about friendship and a shared struggle, which is very fitting, considering how Lego can be a shared adventure, people coming together to create something that both expresses their individuality and their ability to find a common ground. 
Meanwhile, the second part of the Captain America Saga - The Winter Soldier - is more specifically politically, tapping into a similar fear as the last part of Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy did. One of the essential ingredients that make Captain America work (and arguably, make him not work within the context of The Avengers, although that's a discussion for another time) is his infallible moral compass, the way that he consistently redefines patriotism not as a blind project, blind allegiance to whatever leader is currently giving orders, but a broader idea of freedom and liberty that can be, at any point, not just under attack by foreign enemies, but by the very forces that are meant to protect it. Steve Rogers' discomfort with the giant flying machines that will be potentially capable of killing a threat before it has actually become one does not just stem from the time he comes from - frozen in time, trying to catch up with the period he ended up waking up in - but from a profound dedication to his interpretation of American values. The idea of punishing someone before a crime has been committed is utterly foreign to him, because it violates his beliefs, and so does the system that S.H.I.E.L.D. has devised to keep the world safe. That discomfort is more important than anything else that happens - the reinterpretation of Hydra as not quite as dedicated to the murderous eugenic ideas of National Socialism into something more pragmatic. Steve Rogers is a hero that works, in a franchise that is still very conscious of the fact that any world in need of heroes is in trouble, and ultimately flawed. And Captain America works on a human level, works in as far as it shows Rogers as a man who has been brutally separated from his own timeline, building a life with the woman he loved, who is now at the end of her life, while he is still in his prime (while his friend has been turned into a weapon against him, by the very forces that he has been fighting since the 1940s, while his only allies are realists and pragmatists and cynics, who admire his idealism, but never quite grasp its meaning). 
And finally, perhaps the best film to come out this summer - Snowpiercer, with a publishing history to fit its contents, a film most easily enjoyed on a flight, bringing true meaning to the way it uses the class distinctions of travel - from first to economy class - as a metaphor for classism in society. Chris Evans is a hero as driven by idealism as Captain America, but tarnished by a history of doing whatever it takes to stay alive - and the consequences of it, of the burden of having survived a situation in which retaining your basic humanity would have meant death. In a post-apocalyptic world in which humanity has perished, apart from a precarious few travelling on a train, class stratification has become more crystallized and essential than ever. Director Joon-ho Bong makes perfect use of the consequences of that idea, a train as the small model of society at large, with the huddled masses doomed to a wretched existence at the end of the train, while the more fortunate passengers live in luxury that the other half can't even imagine. It's a picture of our society, now, and therefore exactly the way dystopias are meant to work (not as a device to predict the future, but as a story told about the presence). The disgust with how the system constantly recreates itself, and balances itself based on the complicity of everyone involved, is almost physical in this film - and the potential promise of freedom of the outer world, as inhabitable as it may be, becomes a pure promise of a tabula rasa, where no more morally compromising alliances have to be forged. Perhaps the ending is too hopeful for the self-consciousness that the rest of the film projects - in which even the best character is unforgivably tarnished and eternally attempting to make up for his mistakes, and everyone else of consequence exists pragmatically, forgetting the blood price of an existence in luxury in a society that runs on inequality and the wretched many producing the goods for the blessed few. 

The Lego Movie (2014), directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, starring Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Alison Brie, Morgan Freeman, Nick Offerman. 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell. 

Snowpiercer (2013), directed by Joon-ho Bong, starring Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Ed Harris, Ah-sung Ko, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Alison Pill, Luke Pasqualino. 

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