Monday, February 23, 2015
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Before we look at this week’s film, I would like to announce that the novel, Out of the Picture, the mystery for movie lovers that I mentioned in last week’s post, is now available also as an ebook on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Again, all author earnings will be donated to Kitty Cottage, an animal shelter. You can find out about this organization at http://kittycottage.org.
The link for Kindle is:
The link for Nook is:
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
The basic plot involves scientists at a secret underground facility trying to deal with an extremely deadly space germ which was brought to earth by an exploratory satellite. However, the story, which on the surface awes us with technology, is actually showing the dangers of scientific exploration and its dehumanizing effects. Dr. Stone, played by Arthur Hill, is the Nobel Prize winner who had Project Wildfire built to deal with extraterrestrial infection. His name alone conveys the lack of emotion in this scientist. When the surgeon, Dr, Mark Hall (James Olson), says he has two patients (the only survivors of the infected town in
New Mexico where the capsule lands), Stone
corrects him by saying "the team has two subjects." Hall becomes
angry, because Stone's attitude is that they are guinea pigs to be tested upon.
Although later, even Hall, given the circumstances, says that he may have to
experiment on the survivor who is a baby by denying the child food to find out more about the germ. When
Andromeda breaks out later, Hall can't type into the computer under the
pressure. He lets the ice-in-his-blood Stone do the data entry.
The setting is maybe more important than the characters in this tale. Wildfire is a subsurface cylindrical building with each level more biologically pure than the one above. As the capsule, patients (the other is a Sterno drinker, who tellingly says to the spacesuit wearing Hall, "You did this. You're not human" - an indictment of scientists), and Stone and the others descend to the lowest level, they are cleansed of all contaminants. They no longer eat food, but rely on pre-fabricated supplements. In essence, they have their humanity stripped away as they are lowered (de-evolution in the face of technological advancement?) to the bottom where rests a nuclear device made to cleanse the facility in the event of an outbreak. Is it coincidental that they are heading for the spot where the symbol of ultimate human annihilation sits? Science has created weapons of mass destruction already, and now they have brought back from space something that could wipe out life on the planet. David Wayne's character, Dr. Charles Dutton, recognizes that the maps used to chart Andromeda's path are for biological warfare. He and Dr. Ruth Leavett (Kate Reid) are outraged, accusing the military of having deliberately searched for a biological weapon.
The cylindrical nature of the site reminds one of Dante's Inferno. When they enter Wildfire, the door closes behind them with the statement written on it, "No return ... through this access." It recalls the Dante reference to abandon all hope, he who enters here. In the end, Hall, aided by Stone, has to fight the "safeguards" in the building, which are based on ignorant assumptions, and which will bury them by exploding the bomb that will feed Andromeda instead of killing it.
Scientists and their inventions are, therefore, satirized in this film. The poor people of Piedmont New Mexico bring the satellite to the one man of science in the town – the doctor. He proceeds to open it, unleashing death from the high tech Pandora's Box. Despite their renowned intelligence, these scientists can't deal with simple concepts or problems. Dr. Hall is the safeguard person to prevent the bomb from going off in error. His designation is based on some weird odd-man theory about single males being the right persons to make the decision. Any women out there want to cast their votes on that one? But, Hall can't seem to understand that he has to insert his key and turn it only when the countdown has already started. A couple of times he acts like he can do it before the countdown is activated. The scientists also think automatically that they can sterilize
by dropping a nuclear bomb on it. It is only at the last moment that they
realize that action will actually feed Andromeda's capability to convert energy
into matter. They are at a loss as to why they haven't received a communication
about the bomb being dropped. It is later discovered that a sliver of paper
fell between the bell and hammer which prevented notification of a message. Here,
advanced technology is thwarted by the simplest of things. The scientists are also
shown as cold-blooded as they sacrifice one animal after another as they try to
determine the size and means of transmission of the germ. This film is a reversal of the end of War of the Worlds. In that film, earth germs kill aliens. In this
one, an alien germ kills humans. Despite all our scientific advancement, Stone,
at the end of the film, at a government inquest, when asked what do we do in
the event of another attack, can only repeat, "Yes, what do we do?"
The film next week is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Saturday, February 14, 2015
Before I get into a discussion of the movie, I wanted to let you know that I have a new novel out. It’s entitled Out of the Picture. For all of you film lovers (as well as mystery and animal lovers), the book is geared to you. It is a murder mystery loaded with film references. It also has an anti-animal abuse theme in it. All author earnings will be donated to Kitty Cottage, an animal shelter. You can find out about this organization at http://kittycottage.org.
You can enter the Amazon Giveaway for the book by clicking on the link below for a chance to win a free copy. There’s not much time left, though. The giveaway runs through Feb. 17, 2015:
You can order the book at the Amazon link below.
(A version of this post first appeared on the Bryn Mawr Film Institute Blog)
SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.
I probably would have called the movie
, because I like the way the people talk
there. But, nobody asked for my preference. Anyway, as a former Federal
employee, I am familiar with the machinations of bureaucracy. I experienced the
crazy regulations and redundant procedures imposed upon me as a civil servant. Although
one can experience the frustrations of the individual confronting large
institutions in the private sector as well (anyone who has tried to get his or
her cable company to fix a problem knows about that), the fear of a
centralized, all powerful entity strikes totalitarian fear into those who value
personal freedom. Jamaica
So, it's not surprising that a movie like
would draw my interest given my work
background. Add to that the fact that I am a Monty Python fan, and Terry
Gilliam is the director, and you have the deal sealed. The film is a dark comic
take on the plot of 1984, with a Big
Brother government and modern technology that looks old (very much the way the
future appears in Gilliam's 12 Monkeys).
There is the dissatisfied worker, Sam Lowry (played by Jonathan Pryce), who is
drawn into the resistance movement because of a girl (in this case Jill, played
by Kim Kreist). The individual is not successful here, just as in George
Orwell’s book, at least not in the "real" world. The difference here
is that while 1984 is deadly serious,
Gilliam pulls out all the stops and turns the cautionary tale into a satire. Brazil
Probably the most effective images Gilliam employs in the movie are ugly air ducts that snake through every room in this brave new world. They look like the tentacles of a huge octopus invading everyone's lives. The kraken has been released! In a great scene where Robert DeNiro appears as a renegade repairman dressed like a military commando, he opens up the walls of Lowry's flat and the ducts expand and contract, as if breathing. This metaphor is an apt one showing the intrusion of the government as a living monster into individual lives. This privacy invasion is also seen when the two main characters are physically prodded by machines in the scenes where Lowry goes to his mother's party, and Jill confronts a government official about the wrongful abduction of her neighbor.
It also seems that the film is saying that the more mechanistic we become, there are more chances for the machines to break down. There are numerous illustrations of this fact, what with Lowry's coffee machine pouring liquid on his toast, his air conditioning breaking down, and plastic surgery operations becoming fatal. When "Central Services" is called to fix things, they are either unavailable, don't have the proper paperwork, or create more damage instead of repairing anything. The phones in the film have the most annoying ring tone around, sounding like a demonic dentist drill. Of course, the more things break down, the more the population is dependent on those in control of the systems in place.
Totalitarian regimes try to control their subjects by manipulating the outward appearance of the world in contrast to the underlying reality. The emphasis on having plastic surgery in the film illustrates this idea. Also, in the movie, the food at the restaurant served to each person is a yucky mush. But, each plate is accompanied by a picture of a savory meal, implying that is the reality they are to buy into. And explosions are ignored as room screens are placed around the diners' tables, promoting the idea that one should ignore the negative facts in the environment.
The paperwork here is labyrinthine, where you need a receipt to show proof that you have received a receipt. It is paralyzing and strikes fear into people (such as Lowry's boss, played by Ian Holm) if procedures aren't followed. Which appears to be the goal of the ruling bureaucracy. Gilliam seems to be saying that this type of world wants its inhabitants to be frustrated and feel powerless. Another brilliant and devastating image occurs when in Lowry's dream state the resistance blows up the Ministry of Information and there is paper everywhere. The paper covers and entangles DeNiro, and he disappears in it, symbolizing how the individual is lost in the whirlwind of bureaucratic red tape. The effect of the dehumanizing bureaucracy is shown in the offices where Lowry goes after his promotion. There are numbers on office doors, not names. His office is so small it looks like a closet, or the size of a prison cell. People are seen as becoming diminished and restricted. But, Gilliam never shows us any manipulating, all powerful heads of state. It’s as if this bureaucratic and mechanistic construct here has a life of its own.
One of the posted signs in the street says "Suspicion breeds confidence." People have been taught to suspect each other. That way, they will not become stronger by banding together. Later in the film, Lowry asks Jill to trust him, and realizes that he has to earn her trust if they are to succeed. There is another sign which reads "Happiness – we're all in it together," which is an anesthetizing slogan to placate the people. When DeNiro says, "We are all in it together" it is genuine because it is in the context of the power of joined resistance to authoritarianism.
The sound track has the song "
Brazil" being played. It is a
Latin-infused, fun, liberating song which is in contrast to the life of the
characters. Lowry escapes his claustrophobic, penal colony of a world by losing
himself into a dream state. There, he flies on Daedalian wings in the sky,
pursuing his blonde fantasy (also Jill), doing battle with the monsters
imprisoning her. (Robin Williams lives in a similar fantasy in Gilliam's The Fisher King). In the end, when he is
a restrained captive, his body may be enslaved, but his mind, through
imagination, has escaped into freedom.
Next week’s movie is The Andromeda Strain.
Sunday, February 8, 2015
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
My father loved Alfred Hitchcock and I guess he handed that affection down to me. He didn't delve into the psychology of the characters or the subtext like his nerdy son. He just liked the suspense, which is reason enough to enjoy the director’s works. But, this blog centers on “meaningful movies,” so here I go digging again.
Even though Hitchcock always was interested in the psychological workings of individuals in his films (Psycho, Vertigo, Marnie), Spellbound is his most overt take on the professionals who practice psychoanalysis. Here, Ingrid Bergman’s Dr. Constance Petersen is a psychiatrist at Green Manors, a euphemistic name for a psychiatric asylum. “Green” suggests innocence, but can also mean ignorant – perhaps some of the doctors are not as insightful as they think. “
the word “constant,” and she is, at the beginning, a person of even temper,
always reducing everything to unemotional science. She believes the abstract
notion of love is really about concrete attributes such as voice tone or
coloring. A colleague, Dr. Fleurot (John Emery) comments about how cold and
detached she is. He says that hugging her would be like “hugging a textbook.”
He goes on to say that this lack of passion makes her less of a doctor, and a
woman. But, he is not offering love to Constance,
only lust. When she feels true love for Gregory Peck’s character, her passion
and female instincts kick in, and she is “constant” in her belief in him and in
her persistence in finding him innocent.
Let’s look more at the attitude toward women in this film, where there is more than what appears on the surface (which is what psychology is about). Early in the film we meet patient Mary Carmichael (Rhonda Fleming). On the outside she is sexy and seductive around men. But, she scratches the male attendant who escorts her to Petersen’s office. She then reveals that she hates all men. She says she would pretend to kiss a man, and then bite off his mustache. At this point, she is the opposite of Constance, who appears to be all superego, compared to Mary’s representation of the id.
Gregory Peck is introduced as Dr. Anthony Edwardes, the person who is to take over as head of Green Manors. Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll) is stepping down after returning from a vacation which was needed because the job “crumbled” him (another example of undermining the males in the profession). The chemistry between Edwardes and Constance is immediate. Dr. Fleurot’s assessment of
Constance is shown as
flawed as we now see she is truly an emotional person. Dr. Fleurot is not very
good at his profession, since he could not see what was below the surface of Constance’s outer scientist. Her id and superego are in
conflict at times, as she says she is there for Peck as a doctor, but then
quickly surrenders to his kisses. But Fleurot is not the only male who lacks
insight in the film. The house detective at the hotel where Peck’s character
stays assumes Constance is either a teacher or
librarian, stereotypical roles for women. (It’s interesting that the female
psychiatrist of producer David O. Selznick was an advisor on this movie).
to her mentor, Dr. Alexander Brulov (Michael Chekhov) for help, he says that
“women make the best psychoanalysts – until they are married. Then they make
the best patients.” He also says that a woman in love operates at the lowest
level of intelligence. This medieval attitude comes from the belief that when
it comes to love, women are the weaker vessel. The film contradicts this belief
by presenting a woman who can be in love and also use her deductive powers to get
at the truth behind her lover’s problems and solve the murder at the center of
the plot. She tells Brulov basically that her heart can see better than her
mind, and that she couldn't feel the love she feels for a murderer. Even Peck’s
John Ballantyne (his real name) slanders women. When Constance
pushes him to remember traumatic events, he resists, saying that “I hate a smug
woman.” He spouts other misogynistic lines as she presses him. But, his
response is defensive, trying to stop her from removing the psychological
bandage his psyche has applied to his damaged mind.
The plight of an innocent man pursued for being considered guilty of a crime is depicted in several of Hitchcock’s films. Here, the director explores the concept of guilt in depth. Peck appears at Green Manors as a psychiatrist who has written a book entitled The Labyrinth of the Guilty Mind. Indeed, the movie shows how guilt can twist the personality. Early on we encounter a patient, Mr. Garmes (Norman Lloyd) who believes he has killed his father.
tells him that his guilt is due to a childhood trauma that makes him feel
guilty about events he did not commit.
This part of the plot is a foreshadowing of what happened to Peck’s character. “Edwardes” can’t even remember the book he has written. He has disturbing reactions to black lines on white backgrounds (markings on a table cover, a robe, a bed spread, etc.). When
sees that the autograph in his book does not match the writing of his name on a
note, she knows he is an impostor. Actually, Peck’s character has amnesia. He
is only known as “J. B.” which are the initials on a cigarette case which we
later learn stand for John Ballantyne, a doctor. Constance
deduces his profession by the fact that he knows answers to medical questions. As
the story unfolds, we find that Edwardes died at a ski resort when Balantyne
was there. He believes he killed Edwardes, as do the police. Guilt has twisted
his mind to see innocent black and white markings as sinister, as do other
everyday objects. For Garmes, a letter opener becomes a weapon. For Ballantyne,
just the sight of Constance cutting her meat
seems ominous, as does his own shaving razor. Even the names “Ballantyne” and
“Edwardes” seem distorted versions of their usual spellings.
I was a claims examiner for the Department of Veterans Affairs for many years, and I know a little bit about post-traumatic stress disorder. This film was made in 1945. Back then, psychologically traumatized soldiers were said to have experienced “shell shock.” In this film Ballantyne remembers that the burn scars on his arm came from his medical transport plane being shot down by the Germans. He was seeking psychiatric help from Edwardes at a ski lodge. While they were skiing, Edwardes accidently went over a cliff. Ballantyne, as a child, accidentally killed his brother by pushing him onto a pointed fence when he was sliding down a snowy roof. Since the traumatic situations were so alike, Ballantyne’s mind planted the guilt of the psychiatrist’s death into its own psyche. The amnesia and the taking on of Edwardes’ persona were ways to avoid the realization of the death. Ballantyne has “survivor guilt” as many of today’s soldiers experience after living following the deaths of comrades. The way he becomes upset at the white and dark markings are ways of avoiding the stimuli that represent his trauma, namely the ski tracks in the snow. This avoidance symptom is also seen in PTSD patients. Also, when Ballantyne is seen walking down the steps toward Dr. Brulov, he looks like a marionette, a somnambulist out of The.Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. When sitting on the couch, his head is tilted back and to the side, and he is motionless, like a doll. He is “bound” by the “spell” cast over him by his unfounded guilt. The trauma has numbed him, distancing him from his own feelings, as a way of coping with the traumas he has experienced. This symptom, too, is associated with PTSD.
However, Edwardes was shot. Ballantyne is arrested. But
Constance catches Dr. Murchison in a lie about how well
he knew Dr. Edwardes. She reinterprets Ballantyne’s dream (whose design in the
film was by Salvador Dali). A misshapen wheel in the dream symbolizes a revolver,
which was used to kill the victim. (There was a foreboding of this detail when
Brulov says that when a psychiatrist travels with a patient, it’s like carrying
“a loaded gun”). Constance realizes that
Murchison killed Edwardes to prevent him from taking over as head of the
asylum. In her confrontation with Murchison, she logically persuades him not to
kill her, because it would seem premeditated, while Edwardes’ killing could be
seen by the authorities as due to Murchison’s mental breakdown. After she
leaves, Murchison’s guilt makes him turn the revolver on himself, and the true
guilty one is punished.
Hitchcock uses doors as symbols in this film. When Peck and Bergman first lock eyes on each other, doors are seen opening for her, symbolizing her emotional, sexual freedom. When Ballantyne is in the operating room he has a spell where he talks about opening the doors, which can mean the desire to see the truth about his situation. They both awaken the truth in each other about their emotions. But, we also see the doors of the prison cell closing on Ballantyne when guilt is wrongly assigned.
The last image shown to us is that of the doorman at the hotel. The words on his cap, which is on his head (the house of the brain), read “Gateman.” We are the ones who free or imprison our minds. That is why Hitchcock places the quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at the opening of the film: “The fault in not in our stars … but in ourselves.”
Can you name another film in which Gregory Peck’s character had amnesia? The answer will be in next week’s post.
Next week’s film is
Sunday, February 1, 2015
SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.
Prometheus – someone who definitely was caught between a rock and a hard place. This film has its problems, too. I didn't really connect with the characters. The idea that we are descended from aliens was explored previously in books (Chariots of the Gods), TV (the X-Files), and film (2001: A Space Odyssey). There are some plot questions: Why do the aliens need to disintegrate one of their kind to alter the gene pool at the dawn of man instead of just adding the DNA to the environment? Why are there cave drawings of the aliens pointing us to a world that is not really their own, but which may be a weapons development planet? If you have answers, please let me know.
However, there is an interesting theme here, namely, the old Greek warning against hubris (excessive pride). The Titan Prometheus stole fire from the Gods to give it to humans – obviously a presumptuous act – for which he was tortured by being bound to a rock and having a bird tear at his liver. Here, the spacecraft in the film is named after him. He is referenced in the movie by one of the scientists, who basically says the ancient thief's time has come. This statement implies scientists want to find divine powers and make them their own. So, they go off to the planet to find our extraterrestrial parents. However, we discover that our otherworldly ancestors are not to be admired. They have a serious God-complex. They have a large sculpture of themselves, not of God, in their cave, indicating they worship themselves. They intervene in other worlds and create life and then decide to destroy it. Why? The film leaves it open – but it could be that they are just emotionally detached scientists, too (although technologically advanced ones), conducting experiments, which, in the end, destroys them.
The android in the film is called David, who admires the movie Lawrence of Arabia because
Lawrence is able to
tolerate pain. How does he do it? The secret is "not minding" – what
a good line for a cold hearted robot. Lawrence
also fashioned himself somewhat of a god, intervening in another culture's
world. David asks one of the scientists on the ship why create something
(ironic, since humans made him and he is thus questioning his own creation). The
scientist responds by saying, basically, because he can. It appears the apple
does not fall far from the tree. David, the unfeeling robot, the offspring of
humans, also performs experiments without concern for the individuals involved,
spiking the drink of one of the scientists with deadly mutating goo, which
leads to Noomie Repace's character becoming impregnated with the prototype of
the creature in the Alien films (Ridley Scott is the director here, too). She
cannot give birth to a human baby. She can only gestate a monster, indicating
that her science creates abominations when ego outweighs good judgment. It is
interesting to note that it is the nonhuman David who takes her crucifix, which
symbolizes her deference to a power greater than her own, which at the end she
takes back, her original belief having been vindicated. But, aren't all of the
Alien films about overweening pride? Don't they all say that things would have
been fine if we hadn't gone where we shouldn't have intervened, and awakened
the sleeping dragons?
However, Repace's character goes off with David at the end to seek the beings that seeded the earth with their DNA. She hopes to find out why they wanted to destroy us. David asks what's the difference. She says she is human and he is a robot, and she needs to know. Hasn't she learned anything from what has transpired? Or, is it, despite the possible hazardous consequences for the quest for knowledge, it is in our nature to keep exploring for answers?
Next week’s movie is Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound.