Writer/director Alejandro Landes dives head first into the disturbingly real world issue of child soldiers, a subject that hasn’t been seen too often in cinema and it’s easy to see why given how confronting Monos is. Rather than creating any sort of clear narrative for the young soldiers, Landes focuses firmly on atmosphere and mood to convey the experiences such children/young teenagers are forced to endure, and is forever ambiguous on details. This creates an sense of confusion that mirrors the psyche of the child soldiers. This deliberate decision to focus on the presentation of Monos paints a haunting picture of what such kids experience when raised to be soldiers. A protagonist is never focused on, nor are they even given real names, rather they are known by nicknames such as Boom Boom, Dog, Rambo and the like. Both choices are incredibly dehumanising. We aren’t watching humans, nor do we have a main character to follow and learn about. This all seems fitting for a film where teenagers wielding assault rifles are given military orders, but the childish nature still a part of each can clash with the very adult missions they are tasked with, the most important of which is to guard a prisoner of war who is being held for ransom. Landes intently generates dangerous and difficult situations for Monos, including the aforementioned responsibility of keeping a prisoner, a concept that that some don’t seem to truly understand. Subsequently, they struggle to make rational and logical decisions when one must be made; they are simply too young to understand the nuances of the orders they are taking. This is reflected in how the young soldiers of Monos (Spanish for monkeys) behave: often impulsively without prior thought, most confused and disorientated.
Despite the tough front these unfortunate young souls try to establish, at times their true self is revealed when a tough exterior shatters. Adding further to the sense of confusion are basic facts that are never revealed. How old are they? Where are they? Probably somewhere in South America somewhere given its appearance and the director’s heritage, but we are never explicitly told. Nor do we ever learn how they ended up a part of this group, this last fact dehumanising them further. It is subtly implied in one scene that the character named Boom Boom was raised to be the ideal soldier, but this is the most we ever learn on a factual level. The emotive acting by these non-professional young actors allow us to see what they are feeling, what is swimming in their minds. The rather aimless nature of the group is an ideal analogy for what surely is, at least in part, a sense felt by kids in these situations. Too young to grasp the gravity of what they are doing, they are lost and indeed aimless as they try to comprehend what it is that they need to be doing. To compensate, they try to delude themselves into thinking what they are doing is right, especially the squad leader, which unsurprisingly has the opposite effect. When an offensive attack by their enemies, unnamed of course, they are forced into a forest to hide and to continue their imprisonment of Doctora (who interestingly is the only character whose real name is used). The situation proceeds in an increasingly scattered fashion during the second half of the film, steadily becoming reminiscent of Lord of the Flies; the young group decide to establish their own idea of order. The threadbare framework of order that originally existed falls from existence as the film becomes almost surreal as events begin to defy belief. But the emotive screenplay and disturbing, exhausting and realistic emotional ride keep this from spiralling into any type of a mess. The steady yet varied, picturesque camerawork and use of colour indicate changes in where the film is going as Mica Levi’s score breathes up and down with the film and disorientates, using the juxtaposition of dark synth waves and strangely effective type of innocent sounding whistling. This level of contrast is also eminent in the many shots of the teenagers as silhouettes. Landes’ focus on this and nearly everything but a concrete story not only depicts what it might be like for teenagers finding themselves in this position, but it is the core reason that Monos is one of the most striking, haunting films of 2019.
To say that The Lighthouse is unique and unlike any film in recent memory is a hard notion to dismiss, whether you enjoyed it or hated it. This nightmare-inducing piece of art is a rarity, a gift from the goddess of film, and as such, its delicious platter of audio-visual immersion is to be experienced rather than something to simply watch. It is slow,. the plot thin, but given every other aspect of the movie is perfect, the simple narrative becomes a non-factor.
The thin plot is this: two men travel to a remote island to watch over and maintain the lighthouse that stands there. There isn’t much more to add. But the film has other ideas and adds so much it is almost overwhelming.
Willem Dafoe plays Thomas, an older man who enjoys his drink and consequently has a manner of speech that almost makes him unrecognisable, his words sometime impossible to make out.
Robert Pattinson, who is proving to be one of the best American actors working prolifically, plays the younger Winslow. He has a slightly shy demeanour and at first is weary of Thomas. But as he learns more about about him, he stands up to the casual insults thrown his way. Most importantly though, neither of their personalities are static.
Both men slowly lose important personality traits, moral beliefs and values that are sucked away by… what? The lighthouse itself? The ghosts of sailors who now reside inside many seagulls, according to Thomas that is. Maybe the mermaid that Winslow saw but never confessed to Thomas stole their personalities.
Whatever it is that causes their drastic change in personality, neither seem to realise it. Appropriately then, the two men gradually develop new beliefs and values. But these alterations are far from positive: as some of the changes mirror the events developing on the island and in and around the lighthouse itself, as if possessed. Whatever the case may be, the character development is uniquely strong and importantly, it is believable, regardless of the dark atmosphere that is slowly building, aided by many choices by the filmmaker.
The theme of utter isolation, among others, can be enough to drive any person crazy. This isolation is not simply an emotional or societal feeling, though these are certainly present. More importantly though is the geographical isolation of the small island. These different types of isolation play a part in where the film will move forward.
When the two finally realise just how isolated they are, unable to see anything but the ocean stretching past the horizon in every direction, the tone as well as the soundtrack changes appropriately. The lighthouse that they have been maintaining, perched on this small island, suddenly looks fragile despite the consistent sound of its horn: a deep and unsettling sound that literally sounds like the death of a giant whale.
This physical isolation is brilliantly captured by Eggers and his DP Jarin Blasch both when the two men see the light of the lighthouse in the distance, eventually followed by the building and island coming into view. Even more effective is when the boat that brought them to the island sails away into the distance and eventually disappears over the horizon.
It isn’t long until the feeling of loneliness and isolation wash over the immaculately shot black and white film while using the rare 1.19:1 ‘Movietone’ ratio used only in the late ‘20’s and early 30’s when film transitioned from silence to sound – this maybe is another nod to the events of the film: It begins in a peaceful manner, but events march downhill as the two men become far from silent. They are stranded, and a heavy thunderstorm that is again not silent prevents the boat due to pick them up.
This cramped ratio also creates an eerie feeling of claustrophobia and impending doom, as if the wide black bars down either side of the screen are going to move inwards, crushing everything until the movie ceases to exist. While the film takes place in the 1800’s, it is a 2019 release that looks 80 years old, further separating it from anything else.
All the relatively different techniques used add layer upon layer of atmosphere that surround the island and the two men; an atmosphere thicker than tar. The two men try to decide what they will do given their ride back home isn’t coming anytime soon. As the storm somehow becomes worse, the interactions between the two men become magnetic and impossible not to watch. The chemistry they share couldn’t be more palpable.
This film is very reminiscent of old Ingmar Bergman films in some regards, specifically The Hour of the Wolf, and to a lesser extent, Persona: as all three are dripping with an overwhelming feeling of dread, with characters becoming unsure of reality itself as well as their own personalities.
The Lighthouse though separates itself from these Bergman films, and almost anything else it could be compared to, thanks to the final act, which uses the soundtrack perfectly to amplify the final scenes, these final tracks a perfect companion to the incredibly tense and unsettling last act.
Classical type instruments are turned on their head and are used to create an audible nightmare. This, combined with sudden, loud crescendos using high, dissonant chords are perfect for the job.
The composer of this soundtrack, Mark Korven, must be praised for this work, each track ideal for the scene(s) that it accompany , such as those above, as well as early tracks which incorporate that deep, dark sound of the lighthouse horn, almost a warning of what is to come.
Listen to it without the film, and you will hear what is essentially classical music written to sound like a gift for Satan himself.
A shout out must go to the awesome Thomas J of digitalshortbread.com, who made me aware of this film and assured me that I would love it. Well, I owe you a thank you mate, as yet again you were spot on. In your review you seemed certain that this will sit atop your favourite films of the year, and I must concur. It is a perfect film. Your mention of his next project has already got me excited too. Only two films, and the man has achieved perfection. Whatever comes next, I shall be first in line.
Fun fact: The lighthouse and living quarters next to it were built from scratch specifically for this film.
Noah Baumbach returns to the subject of divorce after first exploring the premise in The Squid and the Whale (2005), albeit from a different perspective both within the film and himself as a writer. His new offering centres around a couple who are on the road to divorce, Charlie and Nicole, featuring two virtuoso performances by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson who combine to drive home the realism of nearly every scene.
This unfortunate yet all-too-common process is closely examined in all its gritty detail, but preventing the film from being an exercise in depression is a healthy dose of Baumbach’s unique style of humour, not to mention a slightly eccentric family that again feels very Baumbach-like. He has always been very adept at creating memorable characters and this is no different. His characters usually have flaws or oddities that aid in his work feeling human; oddly though, the principle exception is couples’ son, Henry.
Despite being caught in the middle of his parents separation, Henry isn’t a major part of the film either. It feels intentional, a realistic look at how children often take a backseat when their parents’ issues consume all else.
Considering the subject explored, this appropriately is a film of contrasts: the realisation of how different Charlie and Nicole are, heated arguments that can suddenly morph into laughter (or tears). The manner in which their divorce proceeds being the opposite of what they initially agreed on. Among others, there is the obvious difference between the couples’ aspirations: Charlie wants to continue directing plays in New York, while Nicole wants to pursue an acting career in California, a career she had already started until she put it on hold to be with and perform in Charlie’s productions.
It feels apt then that the very first moments are at odds with all that is to follow: in tones of voice that have subtle touches of affection, we hear both Charlie and Nicole read a list of everything they like about each other. It is a touching introduction as both have many positive things to say.
The way this introduction is constructed adds to the instant connection we feel to the couple: the emotion conveyed as both lists are read is heightened by homely scenes that rhythmically mirror what is being said. The small details of each letter highlight probably highlight the reasons that originally brought the two together, flaws included.
However, the first scene directly after Nicole’s list about Charlie is heartbreaking, as what they read was simply an exercise that a marriage counsellor of sorts asked them to complete. The fact they were asked to write the list rather than their words being shared of their own volition shatters the illusion of attachment that had been created, and in its place becomes the very opposite.
The intimate understanding of family dynamics and strained relationships is obvious, the searing realism of their relationship unravelling is almost disturbing, especially if, like myself, you are a child of divorce. If we are honest though, this understanding of family-driven roller-coasters has been Baumbach’s forte for years, a talent that has only improved.
Laura Dern, Ray Liotta and Julia Greer as Nicole’s mother (who Charlie amusingly seems to be best friends with) all excel in bringing their characters to life and every member of the cast share perfect chemistry. Johansson is at her best since 2013’s Under The Skin after a few lack-lustre years within Marvel’s Universe.
Adam Driver however has been the definition of consistent for years now, starring in other vastly different roles for directors such as Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Terry Gilliam and Jim Jarmusch over the last three years, as well as Baumbach’s previous film. And I hear he is also the best part of the Star Wars reboot too! The future is very bright for this young actor.
Despite the varied and clever dry humour, best realised during numerous situations and conversations that border on the absurd, the film as if it could have the subtitle: “Please, never get married”. And who knows, perhaps that is precisely how Baumbach feels at this moment after recently experiencing a divorce himself.
He has said that this is not autobiographical, but has acknowledged how personal this film is to him; a distinct difference, and this personal connection has certainly worked in his favour, as Marriage Story is one of the best dramas of the year, and yet another winner for Netflix who have ended the year on a very strong note.
Stupidly, I forgot to post this before I went on a holiday. Well, I say holiday, in reality I didn’t leave the state. But any 10-day vacation away from the ghetto I live in is a holiday in my book. A month ago a guy got stabbed in the neck with a screwdriver over a drug deal gone sour. And it didn’t surprise anyone.
But enough about my sad existence, and more on Mr Fleck’s sad existence!
When writing my other posts, I wasn’t aware of how successful this movie was. I had no idea: A billion dollars, a soaring, record-setting box-office result for an R-rated movie!
And this is a film that wasn’t released in China mind you, a market responsible for a significant percentage of MCU earnings. Why it didn’t play in China would be an interesting point to explore, but by someone far more educated on such things than myself.
I’m unsure of when that decision was made, but if it was a late one, surely the absurd negative media bias played a part. What I find quite funny though is all these people protesting the film, making a fuss about a film that most hadn’t actually seen yet… Well, it gave the film free publicity!
This reaction is the exact reason why no other filmmakers have gone near the issue of mass-shooters, despite it wreaking havoc so often that many reports show that there have been more shootings than days in 2019. This is more than last year, and the year before. It is getting worse, and one does not need to live in the US to know how bad it is.
But a possible depiction of how someone could come to behave this way elicits a biased media shitstorm, despite the fact that in reality, Joker is not only relevant, it is essentially social commentary on this scourge, or at least the sort of people who are gradually becoming a larger part of the population.
The latter statement there is, I think, why this made so much money away from the US. This movie has nothing to do with school shootings, and there is nothing concrete in the film to say this. Rather, it is demonstrating a disturbingly realistic view of the world where even in a laid-back country like Australia, people are being stabbed in the neck with screwdrivers. Not to mention that a novel could be written about what is happening in Europe politically.
Anyway, enough of that, lets quickly get back to how I see the end of the film in detail.
The crux of my take on the ending is, as I said, an extension on Keith’s suggestion that the climax of the film was a delusion. My somewhat bizarre take on it is, first, no one was ever wearing a joker mask. That was what Arthur wanted to see, he needed confirmation that what he did was a good thing.
The joker mask motif is obviously prevalent in the last moments of the movie, and again represents what Arthur wants to see at the end. It represents his need for recognition. He killed Arthur so he could become the Joker, not to mention shooting his idol-turned-enemy on live television. So what does he see?
The Joker masks of course, but also what is behind the masks, which are different versions of himself. He can see each small weakness of his past behind each mask, and he also sees how they have gradually disappeared, in his warped opinion that is. Therefore, each one of them is yelling and pushing to get closer, to congratulate him on ridding himself of his biggest weakness: his personality. Congratulating him on achieving what he perceives to be his full potential.
Killing Arthur Fleck was his only way forward in life, and his final pose on the cop car is his realisation that, finally, his life has meaning. Not only that, he can see the Joker that he will become, and the fame and greatness that will come with it.
Okay, it’s incredibly far-fetched… yes, but it is plausible given that delusions often become ‘delusions of grandeur’. It is a common symptom within those who have completely lost touch with reality: their self-confidence shoots up as far as possible as they begin to believe that they are extremely special, a chosen one, and on the planet for some type of divine purpose.
And hey, I can tell from experience! When I was in that world, completely and utterly disconnected from reality, I literally felt like a God, a Messiah destined to spread the word, whatever word that was I do not know. Being a writer, I knew that what I was writing would change the world. Once I returned to reality, what I had written was complete nonsense.
From my experience then, from my perspective, it appears that this is how the Joker feels as he can see a crowd of his former selves cheering him on in admiration that he did the right thing, while they are all still Arthur Flecks, he is the Joker. Recognising this, he uses his own blood from the crash to paint a literal blood-red smile, a sign of what is to come as he will be laughing when blood spills, even if it is his own.
In his mind, he is a messiah of blood, here to kill those who he deems unfit to live. Of course, this notion morphs into an attitude where anyone can and should be killed, and to him, these are jokes; we even hear him laughing as this scene fades to black. It seems that death is the usual punchline.
Again, thanks to Keith for opening my eyes a little regarding this absolute gem of a film. Hollywood needs to create more flicks of this quality.
The second half of this year has seen Netflix firmly establish itself as a home for quality independent films as well as larger picture’s such as Scorsese’s The Irishman or The Coen Bothers last film.
I Lost My Body is an art-house animated picture, and to my knowledge, animated film originating from France isn’t exactly a well established phenomenon – I can’t say I could name a single title falling under this banner. The Red Turtle, an animated film written by Michael Dudok de Wit who is a fellow European – a Dutchman to be precise. The idiosyncratic story-lines of both films that subtly make their points, usually in existentialist and emotional ways suggesting that European animation/stories differ immensely from their Japanese counterparts.
While animated films inevitability are compared to the work of Studio Ghibili, which is inevitable if we are honest, but this film uses animation that explores new and interesting directions that are a credit to the creativity of the animators and everyone involved. Don’t get me wrong – this is no Your Name or Weathering With You. But importantly the style of the animation is unique and it is obvious that many hours went into creating it.
This surreal story is very layered – the main character Naoufel experiences a roller-coaster of emotions, chastised at his work, miserable delivering pizzas. This does lead him to meet Gabrielle – via intercom. Naoufel decides that he in love and does everything he can to be near her, obviously afraid to approach her directly – he even decides to take a job working with wood as Gabrielle lives in the same building.
Meanwhile a severed hand is determined to find its owner, once it gets out of its plastic prison. It soon gets its feet under… er, its fingers steady underneath itself, learning to walk and eventually becomes almost acrobatic in its movements. Quickly exiting the building it was bagged in, it already has the sense to avoid guards at all costs. There is some light humour to be found here, especially one scene involving a pigeon, but the hand’s journey is one fraught with obstacles. The hand refuses to quit.
A sense of longing now looms over the film: the hand is desperate to find its owner, while Naoufel pines over Gabrielle, still unable to approach her to tell her how feels. Perspective plays a subtle role throughout, as we often see the severed hands point of view as it makes its hazardous journey to its owner, which it somehow knows the location of. This concept of perception plays a much larger part for Naoufel, as it soon becomes obvious that the way he perceives the world isn’t quite right. His final project – a surprise for Gabrielle – challenges our perception as it doesn’t seem to make any sense. But how does Naoufel see it? We never find out, and it is certainly a head-scratcher.
Everyone has Netflix these days, right? This hidden gem is only a few clicks away! Get on it!!
Films such as this are rare, so it is fantastic to see it on Netflix. It is an obvious passion project, with clear dedication and heart – this film is a rare gem, offering commentary on a near limitless amount of topics regarding the human condition, as well as existential questions pondering that stem from from the actions of both the hand and Naoufel.
The hand is the key to the story, and again, how can we unlock its mystery? Given the hand is instantly aware of danger and is willing to take risks in order to find its body. What is this saying? Perhaps it is saying nothing at all. Or perhaps it is showing us what we are capable of. If a hand can accomplish this, then why am I sitting on my backside all day?
It is however a tale that is very much worth watching.
Knives Out is a gleefully silly game of Cluedo that revels in its absurdity, never taking itself seriously, asking us to play along in Rian Johnson’s funny whodunnit tale, Johnson’s love-letter to Agatha Christie. The central characters are brilliant, all sensationalised in this light-hearted, very funny take on the droll subject of death – and more pertinently, what happens when the will left is by anyone wealthy and with a family.
Such is the case here. The greed and selfishness between relatives that can occur if the reading of the will doesn’t go as expected sometimes destroy family ties, but this depressing aspect of the film is also depicted using the perfect tone. Comedic and whimsical, you’d be forgiven for forgetting this is about a man’s death.
Refreshingly, the mystery doesn’t take long to begin: In fact, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a well-known author and the rich patriarch of the family, is found dead in the opening scene. Soon his children have dollar signs in their eyes, suddenly eager to hear his will read, all expecting a cut of his vast portfolio. Despite celebrating his 85th birthday the night before, the will and nothing but the will is all anyone can now think about.
Before the will is scheduled to be read though, the matter of his death must be solved. The death of an 85 year-old family member seems like an internal affair, but a private detective is hired to investigate the death. He doesn’t know who hired him, but he received an envelope filled with cash and instructions to investigate the incident if Harlan died under certain circumstances. The case seems quite pointless, but when given a job, this private eye does not stop until the truth is found.
This private detective (Daniel Craig) soon becomes the centrepiece of the film. First two cops inform the family that Harlan’s death is to be investigated. The cops are asked who is sitting in the background, observing and not saying a word, and it is here that Craig makes his introduction.
His name is Benoit Blanc (The European name perhaps a wink to Hercule Poirot, a well-known detective from Agatha Christie’s books), and one couldn’t be blamed for expecting a French accent. But Craig sports a consistently hilarious southern accent that never actually sounds like any person I’ve heard talk, rendering his name and odd accent as two oddities amongst many others. His constantly amusing demeanour is magnetic, while the detective is a smart, curious man with a keen nose.
Appropriately this Sherlock Holmes has a very southern, charming and polite personality, which is helpful when interviewing an entire family about a fellow family member’s death. This also proves useful when he convinces Harlan’s carer, Marta (Ana de Armas), to join him. Marta could be his secret weapon as she physically cannot lie, obviously Blanc’s reason for asking her to join him as he strides around the house trying to put together the pieces.
Marta is the moral compass of the film; Ana de Armas’ depiction of this shy carer is extremely convincing, and her unsmiling face and shy behaviour impressively contrast against the big personalities of nearly every other character. She is especially stoic when the script comes to the Thrombey’s casual racism about what country she is from exactly, pointless rants about illegal versus legal immigration, and lets not forget to mention the way every family member condescendingly look down at her while simultaneously saying that they will look after her – given Harlan Thrombey is dead and her future now unclear.
It is obvious that Craig is having fun here. His accent wavers constantly but I don’t think anyone ever cared, as it’s simply another element of the film to smile at. This unpredictable, passive-aggressively intense detective couldn’t be a more of an against-type character for Craig, as he is the centre of not only the twisty mystery, but also the comedy. Put simply, he nails it. His body language, especially the way he moves with cigar in hand (or mouth), rounds off the perfect, spotlight-stealing performance.
If anything, he is too good, as the actors playing the family members really need to keep up to be as memorable, or as close to it as possible. The entire cast comes very close: Jamie Lee Curtis is particularly intense as the oldest daughter Linda, while Chris Evans plays against-type himself, looking very young as the ratbag son of Linda and her husband Richard (Don Johnson), who is probably the most forgettable actor here.
Fortunately though, since the incredible chemistry between the entire group is consistently evident, this doesn’t matter at all, plus he had some truly tough competition. Unsurprisingly, Michael Shannon is easily the best of the rest as Walt Thrombey: this character he is given to play is hilarious in his foolishness and ignorance, not to mention that beard, which couldn’t look more awkward, much like Walt’s himself. As a consequence, every time he is on screen, it is amusing. It’s a pity then that we don’t get to see enough of him, one small flaw which applies to other family members too.
This is almost the entire cast, barely any extras are needed as this almost entirely takes place inside Harlan’s giant house. It seems Rian Johnson has given his actors room to breathe life into the characters they have been given as it seems sure that much ad libbing took place here, and the ease in which they work together is obvious. The use of flashbacks is handled with ease as the puzzle is pieced together from mainly Blanc and Marta’s viewpoint. With a satisfying conclusion that isn’t too twist-filled when it easily could have been, Knives Out is hilarious, knee-slapping and almost tear inducing at times. This is the funniest, and most fun, film of the year. And it’s about a man’s death!
Arthur Fleck: “For my whole life, I didn’t know if I even existed”
The Joker: “I don’t believe in anything”
While there are other moments, these two lines are the clearest in presenting the nihilistic streak of Arthur’s personality, long before the transformation into Joker. It becomes an increasingly powerful part of his personality as the film progresses and dives further into the psyche of Arthur Fleck, who is clearly a portrayal of the delusional men who have taken lives in mass shootings.
This nihilistic attitude was expressed by the shooters of Columbine and other early shootings. Their (extensional) belief in nothing, their beliefs about the nature of reality, not to mention the fun little concept that human beings are insignificant, are far from healthy.
Unsurprisingly, many of the shooters have also been found to have enjoyed Nietzsche’s work. But like the Joker, these men take their nihilistic philosophy to such extremities that they are essentially following a totally different philosophy: one that constantly reminds them that humans don’t deserve to live. Their thoughts about human beings snap into illogical delusions as they act out their fantasies. Their twisted delusions represent a terrifying way of thinking: all human beings need to be killed.
Again, like the Joker, these mass shooters don’t feel any real emotion, especially when taking multiple lives.
This is an incredibly relevant movie, a character study of a weirdo, a loner, who slowly turns into a monster. It is intentionally holding a mirror up to US society, intentionally challenging any viewer, yelling loudly its distressing messages through the symbolism of Joker/Fleck’s actions as well as plain ol’ observation.
The grimy state of Gotham feels like a real city, and very apt for such a dark story. It is the perfect backdrop for Joaquin to turn into the Joker, and to send chills down my spine with his painful laughter, a phrase that sounds like an oxymoron until you hear him laugh uncontrollably on a bus, physically trying to stop it by covering his mouth with his hands. When asked ‘do you think this is funny?’, the laughter increases, and combined with him shaking his head while laughing, it is rough. A scene that is hard to forget.
Rather than trying to sound like any other version of the Joker, Joaquin’s laughter is his own unsettling creation. When he was Arthur Fleck, his laughter was often painful and inappropriately timed. But after he shoots the three men on the subway, the laughter becomes less of an issue as he moves towards becoming the Joker – his confidence increasing rapidly, again meaning the laughter is often not a problem. This pattern feels too deliberate too ignore.
The laughter essentially has its volume turned down as the film moves forward and feels deliberate but weaved in with the story. This is telling, as… In case you missed it, as a great many ‘critics’ did, the film is not laughing at any violence that occurs, or somehow glamorising it, and I’d love to hear a logical reason for the latter. Honestly, I’d like to know what the logic is behind this thinking.
Which brings us to the media circus surrounding the film… well, mainly the US really… which was perhaps the biggest overreaction to a movie release in recent memory. After Joaquin Phoenix walked out of an interview, annoyed at what he saw as a ‘pointless’ question about a possible connection from Joker to real-world violence, was followed by some words by director Todd Phillips that were just a tad clumsily worded, it wasn’t long before the media machine cogs started to creak and turn.
Of course, only the most negative articles about the subject are ever reported on, the bias as strong as possible. These negative news articles filled with almost nothing but speculation is disturbing in all honestly, but it also serves to fan the flames of those protesting the movie: the media has found a group of people who will listen to almost any of their biased news stories with conclusions often matching original beliefs.
If you honestly feel this way, listen to the heavy, dark soundtrack. Pay attention to the grimy look of Gotham, the depressing colour pallet used. While the film doesn’t have much violence compared to every action film in existence, the despicable acts in Joker are depicted in an incredibly dark, deeply disturbing fashion that stays in your head like a horror film. This is the opposite of glamorisation.
This all all has created more panic about any movie premiere in my life, yet I’m not hearing anywhere as much panic about the gun control issue itself in comparison! This bizarre, near Kafka-like world feels akin to Stravinsky’s music literally driving patrons out of the theatre, causing a riot back in the 40’s or 50’s. If it weren’t so frustrating, I’d find the whole issue hilarious in its absurdity.
Complaint over, the film has a perfect climactic scene that, as Keith pondered, is fun to play around with in its true meaning. Keith had three different but equally valid theories, and my interpretation will be a little… Odd but familiar, which a sign of how fantastic this movie ends. I cannot stop thinking about it.
Also, quickly, did anyone ever think for long that he was really dating that woman? This is what good film does: it challenges and creates discourse, which this film has achieved with flying colours, if not in the manner originally intended.
But if one ponders further: it now seems obvious in retrospect that the climactic sequence wasn’t real at all, as the shot of him standing on the bonnet of a cop car cuts straight to Joker in the sterile white of a mental ward.
I have my weird theory – if anyone actually reads these posts, I’d love to hear your thoughts before I post the final part of this. Or after I post it, I don’t mind!
to be continued… again
Early in the film, it isn’t hard to picture Arthur as a harmless mother’s boy, albeit a little nuts of course. “I’m not supposed to have a gun” is his hushed response when he is given a gun ‘for protection’ by his colleague, Randall. But destiny has other plans.
It is the most important scene of the film, and the gun is the most important symbol of the film, representing this definitive turning point. It is also making a poignant point: Arthur is very strange and mentally ill, but the start of the film sees him as a nice man, one who takes care of his mother.
But the gun drastically changes his perspective of the world. Suddenly, this awfully cruel world, from Arthur’s deluded perspective, can now be altered. Violently. Having just been jumped by a bunch of kids, his self confidence needed a boost, and it seems this gun is just what the doctor ordered, given he can no longer get his medication.
This single scene also depicts the reality of gun availability and mental illness coinciding: arguably the exact reason for the despicable shootings in the US. The film could not be more relevant or timely.
Back to the movie, the Gun clearly represents the beginning of his violent transformation, but it seems a part of Arthur never wanted to become such a violent monster. Arthur kills Randall in a fashion without a gun, as if he demonstrating that having a gun turned him into a violent man, even if he doesn’t have a gun in his hand. His obvious relief after the brutal murder of Randall suggests that it was an act of revenge, given Randall was responsible for the beginning of Arthur’s transformation. He gave him the Gun. Perhaps there was a part of Arthur, somewhere, that never agreed with his own actions.
After he learns he is to be on Murray’s show, he begins to practice how he will introduce himself on the show while watching an episode, most probably seeing himself in the studio as he did earlier in the film. His hallucinations are cleverly presented in a very different fashion this time around: from our perspective of the scene, the sound of the episode he is watching becomes crowd reaction to what Arthur is saying. The whole audience laughs at his joke, and he in turn reacts to the crowd. We see his first real smile before he delivers his punchline: putting his gun to his throat, he pulls the trigger, throwing his body back and goes limp.
Of course metaphorically, the gun was loaded. Arthur Fleck is dead, and the Joker is born.
Meanwhile, another gun creates true mayhem on the subway: as a cop is chasing the Joker, he accidentally shoots and kills a man – instantly he is surrounded by the other passengers, who jump on him. The Joker is free, and after getting off the train, he does another quick dance, and happily skips away, throwing away the clown mask he used to blend with crowd. The camera closes in on the mask, suggesting that Joker is now able to throw away his metaphorical mask, free to act in the way he wants.
This soon becomes very apparent when he is introduced on to the stage of his favourite show. He suddenly looks confident, and performs a quick dance for the audience, and then surprises the female guest with a long kiss before sitting down. As Murray says, it is quite the introduction
The Joker’s sense of humour is presented incredibly accurately while he is on the show. His ‘knock knock’ joke has the crowd displeased, and then the female guest tells him that the joke isn’t funny. His rant about comedy being subjective couldn’t be more accurate. The woman telling him that his joke can’t be funny on a show like Murray’s family-friendly entertainment is reminiscent of the Letterman show when he decided to cut the comedy routine of Bill Hicks.
While it is probably unintentional, this is an interesting look at what comedy is. Confessing that he shot three people who were ‘awful’, he is proud, telling Murray that what he did was a funny, a joke that aligns perfectly with humour of the Joker of other films/games. Murray tells him that the shooting is what caused the riots in Gotham, eliciting a smile from the Joker as he raises up his hand, taking responsibility and chuckling at his own joked. This again is amazing in its perfect connection to the Joker’s sense of humour. This is a guy whose idea of a joke is to blow up a building, or to shoot his former idol in the head.
Thanks must go to Keith, who posted his theories regarding the end of the film, and I am essentially expanding on the idea while kinda going in my own direction. Of course everything here is 100% subjective.
Spoilers are obviously on the way, however, if you have seen the film, you must check out Keith’s review and his thoughts on the ending also.
I’ll try to disregard the ending for the most part so I’m not repeating Keith’s post.
The first interesting nugget I noticed was the very first scene before the title. Arthur is literally trying to force his mouth into a frown, then a smile which he obviously isn’t satisfied with as he proceeds to pull his mouth so far into a smile that a single tear rolls down his cheek and over his make up. Then he stops, looking into the mirror looking unsatisfied with his effort.
Sure, it could be a tear of emotional pain, physical pain from his attempt at a big grin, but the fact that such extreme gestures elicit only a single tear perhaps suggest that Arthur is unable to feel happiness or sadness: traits of a budding sociopath. The fact that he is looking in a mirror could be positing that he doesn’t understand the feelings of not only himself but any other person he sees, another trait of a sociopath.
Interestingly, this opening scene, given it it is the only scene that takes place before the title appears, could chronologically fit anywhere within the film. The only clues are his delusional attempts to smile or frown, as if he truly wants to feel emotion like most people. But his confusion around this matter is a near constant anyway, but it surely doesn’t chronologically take place at the start of the movie.
The constant sh*t that rains on him is literally laughed away, where most people suffering like this would be bed ridden, or dead, Arthur never seems to feel any strong emotion, nonchalantly shooting his third victim with no empathy or emotion to be found at all, as he simply walks briskly up to the man and pulls the trigger until it clicks twice.
When he shoots Murray, you could say he was bitter about being called a ‘joker’, but he never seems angry or upset. Before the shooting, when he confesses to killing the three men, his emotionless but proud smile barely changes. After shooting Murray, he again sits in his chair smiling – for a moment he is ignorant to what he has done. His reactions are the opposite of what would be appropriate or expected, but even these never seem quite real.
His laugh, that pained, cruel laugh that sounds as if he is gasping for air, seems to be a coping mechanism for the fact that he doesn’t know how to express these emotions. For example, the scene where his boss delivers some bad news, one of many effective close-ups of Phoenix, we see a grin slowly forming on his face as what his boss is saying becomes tuned out and muted.
As for his devolving mental state, the film proves that he was delusional far earlier than depicted, as he hallucinates positive interactions with the woman next door to him, clearly suggesting that he was already very sick and detached from reality from the beginning of the movie. Hell, was his mother even alive? Did he really approach a young Bruce Wayne? The more I think about it, the more this seems unlikely, as this would means Wayne is at least 30 years younger than Arthur/Joker, which doesn’t add up at all. Maybe everything here relating to his mother never actually occurs in the way we see it.
If all those interactions were all in his head, what else was? It is curious that the only delusion we actually see is early on when Arthur is watching Murray on TV and suddenly sees himself in the audience. After this sequence, we don’t see anything but the incredible performance from Phoenix, especially his body language and facial expressions that expertly hint at what could being going inside that noggin, while being subtle enough that it is open to discussion.
To be continued…
James Gray is one of the few directors in Hollywood, or perhaps on the skirts of Hollywood (his films do feature big name actors) who makes films for himself and anyone who happens to enjoy it, refusing to cater to popular taste. Indeed, this is a man who told Cannes Critics to go f*ck themselves following the screening of The Immigrant in 2013. It is refreshing to see films in the mainstream that consistently intrigue, or at least attempt to carve their own path with their originality.
Taking place in the near future, Ad Astra centres around astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), whose father Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), a fellow astronaut, is regarded as a hero of space travel due to his achievements in outer space, specifically his dedication to the task of finding other life-forms somewhere within the cosmos, as well as travelling further from Earth than any other human, despite the obvious risks. When he was near Neptune, communication with Clifford was lost.
It is soon suspected that Roy’s father is responsible, as the surges are coming from near Neptune – exactly where Clifford’s ‘Lima Project’ lost communication with Earth. Roy’s relationship to Clifford is used to make contact with him as authorities now suspect he is alive and responsible for the electrical surges.
Before this, the film starts strong: an impressive sequence sees Roy repairing one of Earth’s space antennae, whose purpose is interestingly similar to that of his father’s mission goal. Severe electrical surges smash into the antenna, sending Roy hurtling towards the ground in maybe a nod to 2001. It is an ideal beginning, wasting no time in launching the story.
Roy’s feelings about his father are obviously mixed and confuse him for the entire film. Clifford left him when he was 16 to venture into space knowing there was a good chance he’d never return. It is never clear if Roy resents him for this, as he is the epitome of calm. Or cold, depending on how you perceive it. Even while falling from a very high altitude, his heart rate never went over 80, and never has. This is an interesting symptom of the way he internalises and compartmentalises different aspects of life, which led to a divorce and being told, ‘even when you’re here, you’re not here’. This is one of very few flashback sequences, there’s enough to establish Roy’s loss without adding a needless romantic component.
His personality shares parallels with his father – we regularly hear his internal dialogue which, while poorly written, invites us into his psyche. Once we hear how conflicted he is about his own personality, it is unsurprising that he constantly looks confused and lost, as if he is unsure what to think or how to act… apart from how to complete his mission.
Gray uses the setting of space, as well as the coldest planet in the solar system to provide apt, if not somewhat obvious metaphors for the distance between the two, both in distance and psychological distance, which are both due to his father’s decision to leave. Neptune seems to embody the cold qualities of both mens’ personalities, and while they are different people, Roy becomes increasingly entangled in his own paranoia, wondering if he is more like his father than he would like, or if he is in fact slowly turning into his father. Regardless, he moves forward on his increasingly complicated mission. True to his word, he is dedicated, but is soon experiencing a severe personality crisis.
While far from subtle, this allegory for strained relationships between fathers and sons, a much more serious issue than many realise, and an unhealthy way to process one’s emotions and problems in life, is beautifully presented. Hypnotic yet understated camerawork pulls us further into Ad Astra’s world. The icing on this proverbial cake is the score by Max Richter, who used real sounds taken from Voyager satellites, as well as his compositions, to create an appropriately otherworldly atmosphere.
Ad Astra’s story truly does aim for the stars in it’s ambition, as per its Latin translation ‘To The Stars’. The themes of father/son relationships, of internalising and compartmentalising different problems, are all sensationally portrayed by a typically stellar Brad Pitt who never looks remotely happy, or even comfortable.
Apart from the poor dialogue written for Roy’s internal dialogue, this movie is gripping, hypnotic and meaningful while packing a powerful emotional gut punch. The amount of positive adjectives I could use to describe this film feels limitless. Like all of Gray’s films, Ad Astra is unique and will again become divisive. It is a film that truly begs to be seen at least twice.
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