Monday, April 25, 2016

The Day the Earth Stood Still

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.


Like last week’s film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, this 1951 film, directed by Robert Wise, stands out from the pack of the science fiction/horror movies of its time by being different in a couple of key ways. In this pre-ET era environment, it shows the alien from another world as a sympathetic character, and earth’s scientists as the world’s possible saviors.

The film opens with a flying saucer floating over Washington, D. C., with the eventual Psycho composer Bernard Herrmann’s eerie vibrating score in the background. The audience sees the impressive buildings and monuments of the American capital, and there may be a feeling of pride in the country’s citizens as they see what the nation has accomplished, ironically, here, in a place built by those from distant lands. However, this feeling of superiority diminishes as the spacecraft lands near the White House. The first response of earth’s government is to roll out the police and the army, with its soldiers and tanks. When the alien visitor, Klaatu (Michael Rennie) emerges, he announces that he comes “in peace and good will.” He opens a small, strange-looking device. A nervous soldier shoots Klaatu in the arm and the device is destroyed. In response, Gort (Lock Martin), a tall robot, emerges from the ship and destroys the military’s weapons with a ray emanating from his helmet-like head, without harming the soldiers. Klaatu orders him to stop and explains that the object he brought was a device to view life on other planets, and was a gift for the President.



The human reaction here is not to respond to the overture for peaceful relations with acceptance and hospitality, but to go on the offensive by giving in to paranoia and assuming the worst will occur. The unknown many times frightens people, and instead of trying to discover its qualities, there is a tendency to respond with fear to the possible threat to the status quo. Here, before even knowing what the alien’s device is, the soldier destroys it. It is significant that the gift was to facilitate the observation of other races, and thus the chance to reveal and understand those different from ourselves. This metaphor can be seen as relevant today, as the response to foreigners is sometimes met with the bigotry that flows from xenophobia. In the movie we hear press announcements as people irrationally begin to panic and give in to hysteria. There is a news statement that the military “has taken every precaution,” which is an inflated prideful attitude, since it is impossible to be prepared for every contingency.
Hubris feeds the human tendency toward being narrow-minded. This inclination is even illustrated among the medical profession in the movie. After Klaatu is taken to the Walter Reed Medical Center, the doctors there find that he has the health of someone in his late thirties by earth’s standards. However, Klaatu informs the doctor that he is in his seventies and life expectancy is a hundred and thirty on his world.  One military doctor asks the other, “How does he explain that?” as he accepts a cigarette from the other. The ignorance of the statement is emphasized, even in 1951, by medical professionals who question how to have good health while they take poison into their bodies.
 Klaatu’s viewpoint is cosmic, while those of the earthlings is selfish. When he breaks out of the hospital, he does so because he wants to find out about humans; he acts to understand why the response to him has been hostile. However, the earth people respond to the unknown with fear and suspicion instead of curiosity and openness. This human reaction is illustrated when Klaatu enters the boardinghouse. The radio is on and the media are adding to the irrational fears of the people. The residents of the house see a man in the shadows of the entry way, and their immediate response is fear. This reaction is the same as the soldiers’ at the beginning of the story, because Klaatu’s face is hidden by a space helmet. Once Klaatu walks into the light, once he is seen, they all relax. Understanding wards off jumping to irrational conclusions. (Klaatu takes on the name of “Carpenter.” Is he trying to build an alliance between his world and this world? Is he, like Jesus, the son of a carpenter, trying to save earth’s people?) When the secretary from the President’s office, Mr. Harley (Frank Conroy) wants the alien to tell him his message meant for all earth’s countries, the government representative sounds self-important. As the rejections from all the world leaders pour in because they are so self-centered as to want the meeting to take place at each ruler’s home country, this human egotistical attitude is amplified. Harley says to Klaatu that he understands his impatience. Observing the pettiness of earth’s governments, the spaceman says, “I am impatient with stupidity. My people have learned to live without it.” To which Harley responds, “I’m afraid my people haven’t.” This exchange stresses how much further the people of this world need to evolve.
That the human race should not be congratulating itself for its advancement is seen elsewhere. Klaatu befriends the son of one of the boardinghouse’s residents, Helen Benson (Patricia Neal). The boy, Bobby (Billy Gray), takes Klaatu to Arlington National Cemetery, where Bobby’s father was buried after being killed in WWII.  Klaatu can’t believe how many people are buried there because of wars. Bobby asks him if it is different where he has been. He says, “They have cemeteries, but not like this one. You see, they don’t have any wars.” Even the young Bobby realizes that far away place’s superiority when he says, “Gee, that’s a good idea.” If only the so-called mature leaders of the planet could be so enlightened. When the two visit the spaceship, the news reporter there only seeks responses from the crowd that foster self-centered fear engendered by ignorance. When he comes to Klaatu, he says, “I suppose you are just as scared as the rest of us.” He responds by trying to shed light on the situation by saying, “In a different way, perhaps. I am fearful when I see people substituting fear for reason.” At that point, the reporter cuts him off, and in a sense, stops knowledge from being disseminated. The same act occurs when Klaatu tries to explain space flight to Bobby, and others in the crowd laugh at the complicated discussion, assuming anything they don’t comprehend is bogus. At the boardinghouse, the news on the radio automatically assumes the spaceman is a “monster,” who must be destroyed. They also assume that he must be from a nearby planet, like Mars, because they do not allow themselves to expand their scope of understanding to entertain the possibility that he may come from much farther away. Again, this lack of allowing for other possibilities is a metaphor for short-sightedness versus cosmic vision. One occupant, Mrs. Barley (Frances Bavier), annunciates the overblown fear of the Communist Red Menace of the 1950’s (and which is implied in Invasion of the Body Snatchers), when she announces that the person from the spaceship “came from right here on earth. And you know where I mean.”
There are those who comprehend the importance of this extraterrestrial visit. One of them is the eminent scientist, Professor Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe). Klaatu visits his home while the scientist is away and helps him complete an involved mathematical equation by writing on the blackboard in the man’s study. The two are brought together because of science, the pursuit of knowledge. The scientist’s response is not to assume he already has the answers to an unknown situation, as do the hysterical press and masses. Barnhardt says “curiosity makes good science.” And, thus, he says he has thousands of questions. Knowledge opens the mind to possibilities; ignorance closes the door. It is significant that the housekeeper is ready to erase Klaatu’s notations until he stops her; again, we see the fear of anything new upsetting our mental apple cart. Here, as in Invasion, the scientists offer hope, not the horror of their discoveries gone wrong as in other films of the genre. But, it may be that the scientists must now atone for bringing on the possibility of nuclear devastation. 

Klaatu, again with the cosmic view, says to Barnhardt, that we are celestial neighbors, and if this planet’s violent ways become a threat to those living in outer space, then the threat must be eliminated. Of course, the use of the word “neighbor” brings the discussion down to earth. Since all of us here on this world, in a sense, are neighbors, we must stop being a threat to each other in order to survive. Barnhardt proposes that Klaatu’s message be delivered to the great scientists of the world who he hopes can persuade their respective nations to open their minds, and listen. He knows that it will be difficult to get through the threshold of resistance, so he asks the alien to dramatize the importance of his message with a demonstration of the power the nations of the world are facing if they do not comply with stopping the use of nuclear energy for destructive purposes. Klaatu neutralizes the electricity all around the world to show what power the people are up against, but this making the earth stand still is merciful, since it does not affect airplanes in flight, or hospitals. 
Another person we see who has an open mind is Bobby’s mother, Helen. Early on she says that it’s possible that the spaceman may be a good person. However, her boyfriend, Tom (Hugh Marlowe), only thinks of himself. He wants to ditch Bobby when it does not appear there will be a sitter to watch over the boy. He becomes jealous of the newly arrived Mr. Carpenter’s association with Helen. When Bobby tells his mother and Tom that he followed Klaatu to the spaceship, and saw him activate Gort and enter the craft, Tom is suspicious. He finds out that the diamonds the alien gave Bobby were “not of this earth.” Klaatu finds out about Bobby’s tailing him, and, trapped in an electrical-neutralized elevator, explains to Helen who he is and what his mission entails. Helen tries to stop Tom from contacting the Pentagon. But, she is too late. She says how Tom’s actions are going to affect the rest of the world. His selfish, response is, “I don’t care about the rest of the world.” And then he says how she’ll feel different about him when he is seen as a hero and, “when you read about me in the papers.” The movie argues that it is this small-minded thinking that got the earth in the dangerous position it is in.

Helen warns Klaatu, but on the way to find protection at Dr. Barnhardt’s home, he is shot and killed. He told Helen to give Gort a command so he will not destroy the earth. She confronts the robot, and, after she overcomes her initial irrational fear, she says the famous lines that prevent Gort’s attack from occurring: “Gort! Klaatu barata, Nikto.” Gort retrieves Klaatu’s body and resuscitates it. The spaceman announces to the gathered scientists in front of the spacecraft that the universe grows smaller every day and that “there must be security for all, or no one is secure.” The peoples of the other planets agreed that there must be laws and policemen to guarantee that security. Robots like Gort have total authority to eliminate those who threaten the peace. There is freedom, except the freedom to act irresponsibly. They no longer have armies or wars. Klaatu says that they have not achieved perfection, but have a system that works.
 We of the present time may be suspicious of giving absolute authority to machines, and there are many films that warn against this abdication (the Terminator and the Matrix movies, among others). But, the argument against the catastrophic consequences of narrow-minded, self-centered fear makes this film timeless.

The next film is The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.

Gothic, or horror, stories employ many conventions. One of them is the idea of the double, usually shown as the evil twin of a character. A prime example is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But, we also see it in vampire and Zombie tales, where humans turn into monsters, basically becoming the demon part of themselves. In this 1956 film, we have a variation on the above theme, as people in the California town of Santa Mira are replaced by automaton replicas of themselves. Given the time in which it was made, the movie feels like a McCarthy-like cautionary tale about the fear that the Communist Red Menace was subverting America from within its own borders. However, this subtext theme can be applied universally to the danger of any totalitarian ideology undermining a free society.
The movie starts with the sound of a police car siren. Symbolically, the story is announcing to the audience that this tale is trying to alert us to something bad that is happening. Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy), is in a psychiatric ward, sounding paranoid and delusional, as he tells a psychiatrist, Dr. Hill (Whit Bissell), and the attending physician, Dr. Bassett (Richard Deacon) his fantastic story. Miles is the verbal alarm echoing the siren by telling us to pay attention to the warning signs.
Miles nurse, Sally Withers (Jean Willes) tells him that several patients had come in insisting on treatment only to cancel, saying everything was once again fine. However, two people say that their relatives aren’t whom they appear to be, despite looking identical to their former selves. One person, Wilma (Virginia Christine) says that her father has no emotion, that gestures and tone of voice lack feeling. The town psychiatrist, Dan Kauffman (Larry Gates), mentions that he too had seen many perplexing cases of people claiming that loved ones had somehow changed. Miles and his old flame Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), both of them now divorced and still having feelings for each other, have been out of town for quite a while. Because of this fact, these changes in the townspeople seem more dramatic, and their distance has not allowed them to be slowly converted to the new world order emerging around them.
Miles and Becky go to the house of Jack and Teddy Belicec (King Donovan and Carolyn Jones). They found an inert, featureless humanoid creature with no fingerprints, as if still unformed, in their poolroom that seems to be taking on Jack's features. It even bleeds from a hand as Jack did when he cut it on a piece of glass. This change occurred when Jack was asleep. Miles, who had taken Becky home to her father's house, returns there, worried that something might happen to her while she slept. Also, her father (Kenneth Patterson) had been in the basement, doing something unexplained. Miles breaks into the basement and finds another humanoid transforming itself into Becky. He sneaks upstairs and rescues Becky.

Evil things happen in underground places, like a basement, in horror tales, symbolizing that dark deeds are committed in hidden places. Also, the subterranean setting can mirror the id-like area of the irrational, potentially harmful, subconscious mind. It is significant that the replacement of real people occurs while they sleep. When one is unconscious, a person is not alert as to threats. If we see the film as a metaphor, the sleep state reflects what happens when a society drops its guard and lets an enemy enter into its world. There can be moles all around who have infiltrated the country, pretending to be neighbors, but who are really there to take over the culture. When we allow ourselves to forget to be vigilant, the movie is saying, against such enemies which will undermine individual freedom, it may be too late before these aliens (as is the case in this film, literally) take over. In this story, humanity itself, with its emotions and unique differences, is at stake. Becky says at one point that the creatures only need “minds” before they become complete, and she says while she slept she felt that her mind was being taken over. These statements translate into the fear at the time of the making of the film that communism could win over the minds of the people so that they could be converted to the cause.
The police in the town have been compromised and they tell Miles and the others that the body on Jack’s pool table showed up burning in a field, and it was probably a criminal who burned off his fingerprints. When those in law enforcement can’t be trusted, everyone is at risk. At Miles’ house, he discovers what appear to be large seed pods in his greenhouse. The pods open up and dispel bodies that start to look like Miles and his guests. The idea of using something vegetative that takes over the humans fits the theme of the movie. Seeds are small, almost undetectable, but once they become fertile and grow, they take root and flourish. As plants start to spread more seeds, eventually there can be whole fields of vegetation. An idea can work in a similar fashion in a person’s mind. As there are more and more pod people, these replacements start to grow more seed pods to spread the new world order. Also, the passive nature of plants just growing without any thinking process reflects the danger of not actively fighting the spread of a dangerous idea. When Becky and Miles go to his nurse’s house, the place is filled with pod people. How threatening this invasion is can be seen when the group says they will put a pod in a baby’s crib. Even the unsuspecting innocent are not spared from what is happening.

In many science fiction and horror movies, the scientist lets the monster loose. The obvious example is Frankenstein. In the Andromeda Strain, scientists bring back killer space germs. Of course you have all those rampaging dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park films. There were also many evil mutation flicks in the 1950’s that showed the dangers of nuclear radiation, a product brought to you by the men in the white coats. But, here, in this motion picture, the scientist is the savior. Miles uses his medical mind to diagnose the problem. He says, “In my practice, I have seen how people have allowed their humanity to slip away.” He recognizes the threat is like a “malignant disease spreading throughout the country.” He declares that he doesn’t want any part of this new way of living, because he realizes the only way to stay free is to hold onto those messy human traits of ambition, desire, and love. He uses medicine to stay awake so as not be taken over. Even after Becky succumbs to the sleep that overcomes humanity, he fights on. When the authorities discover a truck full of pods in a car accident, they begin to amplify Miles’ alarming warning.

The loneliness, but the necessity, of the crusader trying to help the apathetic is best seen at the end of the movie when Miles shouts out to the drivers in the highway that the evil is “already here.” He speaks right into the camera, telling each audience member, if you do not heed the warning, on the list of totalitarian victims, “You’re next!”
The next film is The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Mulholland Dr.

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.


When I saw director David Lynch when he visited the Bryn Mawr Film Institute he spoke of the days he lived in my hometown, Philadelphia. He said the ugliness, the squalor there was sort of scary, disturbing. He also implied that because of those seemingly negative qualities that the city was wonderful. This impression may seem like a paradox, but for Lynch the darker side of life, the underbelly of the human psyche, was what fascinated him as an artist. It is similar to how the young boy in the movie American Beauty sees beauty in a dead bird or in paper trash swirling in the wind. In Lynch’s films, such as Blue Velvet, which I have written about previously, and in the television show Twin Peaks, the bizarre, the threatening part of life coexists with what appears to be the acceptable aspect of existence. But that “normal” world seems less real than one would expect, almost phony, and certainly less interesting, to the artist, and usually to the audience, than its counterpart.
 In Mulholland Dr., which Lynch wrote as well as directed, he again explores two different worlds, but here he is presenting two different stories in one film with each one having his disturbing, surreal elements because they spring from the main character’s personal experiences. To understand the enigmatic narrative, we must first understand what is happening. Then, we can delve into what Lynch may be trying to say through these stories. The best way to analyze the movie is to see the much longer first part of the film as a wish-fulfillment dream of the main character based on the short second part’s real world experiences, many of which are told in flashback. However, this may be too simplistic, which I will point out later.
The movie begins with a surreal sequence of young people dancing to jitterbug music against a bright blue background, as the figures and their shadows vary in size. It also foretells the type of film which is being shot later in the story. Superimposed over these images are shots of a smiling Betty (Naomi Watts). This unrealistic opening suggests the stream-of-consciousness of a dream. We also get a quick shot of someone in a bed with a pillow, which implies that we may be entering someone’s dream state. The upbeat, although strange, start segues to a drive at night with contrasting ominous music and the car light lit Mulholland Dr. street sign. The car doing the lighting stops, and the dark-haired woman in the back says that this is not where they should be stopping. At gunpoint, she is told to get out by one man, and another opens the car door. Rowdy, recklessly driven cars slam into the parked car, killing the men. The woman survives, and staggers away. She sneaks into the apartment of a woman who is leaving on a trip so she can sleep.



Betty lands at the Los Angeles airport, and we learn that she is an aspiring actress. She is all bubbly and in awe of being in LA. She met an elderly couple on the plane, and they hit it off. They seem sweet and encouraging. But, as we see them drive away in a cab, their smiles are grotesquely broad, and they bare too much teeth, which suggests a bit of nightmare invading Betty’s happy dream-come-true of being in LA. Coco (Anne Miller), who is the manager of the apartment complex where Betty’s actress Aunt Ruth (Maya Bond) resides, escorts Betty to her aunt’s home. The actress relative is on location shooting a film. The apartment is where the dark-haired woman is crashing. Betty finds her naked in the shower, which hints at their eventual sexual relationship. The woman has amnesia, so she says her name is Rita (Laura Elena Harring) after seeing the poster of the Rita Hayworth film Gilda hanging in the apartment. Rita has a handbag that contains a large sum of money and a triangular-shaped blue key.



 At a Winkie's restaurant, Dan (Patrick Fischler) tells Herb (Michael Cooke) about a frightening dream (a dream within Betty’s dream which pretends to be reality?) he has had involving a scary man living behind the dumpsters at the rear of this particular restaurant. Here again, we have a nightmare in counterpoint to the hopeful actress dream of Betty. Dan wants to look in the back so he can dispel his fear by proving that the creature does not exist. When they go to investigate, a shaggy-haired dark-skinned man with a long, pointed nose appears. Dan collapses. But, Herb only acknowledges his concern for his friend. Did he see the dark man, or was this a nightmare demon Dan hallucinates? At another point, Betty says, “I’m in a dream place,” when speaking about LA. So, the film often alerts the audience to the fact that what they are seeing may not be real.
Director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) has a meeting with studio big shots and gangster types, the Castigliani brothers. One of them, played by the film’s composer Angelo Badalamenti, spits out what to him is unacceptable espresso onto a napkin. The brothers throw a head shot of an actress by the name of Camilla Rhodes (Melissa George) at the studio men because she is the one that they want as the lead in Kesher’s new movie. They keep saying, “This is the girl.” We see another bigger shot (ironically played by dwarf-sized Michael J. Anderson) in a room with a glass window who is the puppeteer pulling the studio strings. Kesher storms out and smashes the Castigliani’s car windshield. He returns home and finds his wife in bed with the pool guy, who says to him, “Just forget you even saw it. It’s better that way.” This remark echoes what is happening to Rita, who may be better off not knowing about the shady men who died at the car crash and the money in the handbag. Kesher stays at a sleazy hotel. The manager tells him that men showed up to say that Kesher’s credit cards can’t be used and he is broke. He is told to meet a “cowboy” (Lafayette Montgomery) at a ranch, who tells him that he has to pick Camilla for the role. Another unreal incident is how did these men know where Kesher escaped to, since he only paid in cash for the room?

In an unreal coincidence, Betty and Rita go to the same Winkie’s as did Dan and Herb. Betty, using the pay phone outside the restaurant, verifies that there was an accident on Mulholland Dr. While being served coffee at the diner, Rita notices that the waitress’ name is Diane, which reminds her that she knew a woman named Diane Selwyn. We also have a scene where an inept hit-man, Joe (Mark Pellegrino) kills a man for a black address book. Since they talk about a car accident, we know that these men are associated with the criminals involved with Rita. This impression is confirmed when Joe tells a prostitute to be on the lookout for the missing brunette. When Betty and Rita call Diane Selwyn’s number, Rita realizes it is not her, but she says she knows the voice. One of the neighbors at the apartment complex, Louise Bonner (Lee Grant), is clairvoyant according to Coco. Bonner says to Betty, “that’s not your name,” and advises her to get rid of Rita. This scene fits in with the dream nature of this part, possibly showing how the nightmare of reality is trying to intrude into Betty’s wish-fulfillment dream state.
Betty’s aunt set her up for an audition. She runs through the lines with Rita, and the two laugh at the bad dialogue. Some of her lines include saying how she hates the person she is talking to, and threatening to kill the other person in the scene. She says these words to Rita, which is an omen of what will happen in the second part of the movie. But, when Betty plays the scene at the studio, she changes the feel of the scene, and delivers a steamy, completely mesmerizing performance. The female casting director at the audition says that the film for which she read will never happen and takes her to see Kesher, who is auditioning women for his movie, The Sylvia North Story. Betty must leave to go with Rita to find Diane Selwyn. Camilla Rhodes auditions, and Kesher reluctantly repeats what he has been told to say: “This is the girl.”
 Betty and Rita go the what they believe is Diane’s apartment. They see men lurking about the area. They find the woman’s neighbor there, who tells them they switched apartments. We get a sniff of subtext here from the neighbor’s hurt and angry attitude that she and Diane may have been involved, which foreshadows the relationship between Betty and Rita. Betty enters Diane’s place through an open window, and lets Rita in. They find Diane’s decomposing corpse inside. Did the criminals associated with Rita’s past kill her, and were waiting for Rita to show up? Rita believes so, and goes back to Betty’s place to cut her hair. Betty finishes cutting her hair, and gives Rita a short blonde wig. They stand next to each other staring into a mirror. They look similar. It is interesting that they later make love, as if Betty is trying to make Rita into her own image, and may need to feel love for herself.

In the middle of the night, Rita, in a dream, starts to speak Spanish, and calls out the word, “Silencio.” She remembers a theater by that name and convinces Betty to go with her to that place. It is here where this world becomes more dream-like. The master of ceremonies there says everything at the theater is a recording, an illusion, as musicians pretend to play music, and a woman appears to be singing, but is not. At one point, the emcee disappears at the front of the stage. Betty reaches into her bag and a blue box magically appears there. We had the blue background of the opening, the blue key, and now this blue item, the coincidences lending themselves to the surreal nature of this world. When the women return to the apartment, Betty mysteriously disappears from the bedroom, just as the emcee had done. Is she waking up, and thus exiting her dream? Rita fits the triangular-shaped key into the box, and opens it. It seems as if her reality is sucked into the box, which drops onto the floor of Aunt Ruth’s bedroom, who is now there as if none of what preceded took place. However, the woman heard the sound of the box dropping, but finds nothing when she enters the room.
We then have what seems like a transition between Betty’s dream and a waking state. We see Diane’s bedroom with the corpse, but the image alternates with one of an alive woman in the bed. There is a vision of the Cowboy who says it’s time to wake up. Betty is now Diane Selwyn, in the apartment we saw in Betty’s dream. In the first part, after Rita dons the blonde wig, Betty says to her, “You look like someone else,” which shows the real world intruding in subliminally, telling Betty that Rita is not who she seems. The neighbor we also saw in the first part appears, collecting things from her former apartment, and she tells Diane that two policemen had been around, looking for her. We see a normal-shaped blue key sitting on the coffee table. Diane, even though awake, hallucinates that Rita is in her apartment, but her name is Camilla Rhodes. So, we know how that name showed up in her dream. But, then we see this Camilla half-naked on the couch, and the similarly topless Diane practically forcing herself on her, as Camilla tells her she must stop. The blue key is no longer on the table, so what follows is a flashback from here until the very end which shows most of the elements that appeared in the first part rearranged.
 Camilla and Diane are actresses, and they auditioned for Kesher’s movie, The Sylvia North Story, which was Kesher’s film in the first part, too. The two women became lovers. However, Camilla broke it off, which devastated Diane. Camilla became involved with Kesher. Camilla invites Diane to a party, and has a car pick her up. The driver stops where Rita did in the first part, and now it is Diane who says, “this is not where we are supposed to stop,” the words Rita used. Camilla appears and leads her up to the party. We see a man dressed like a cowboy, who turns into the western fellow of the first part. We also see a person drinking coffee who morphs into the espresso-sipping gangster brother in the dream. It is here where she meets Coco, who is really Kesher’s mother. Diane, in answer to some questions, states she had an aunt, who in this story died, and left her some money. Diane also says she won a jitterbug contest, which explains why we have young people doing that dance at the beginning of the dream. Kesher, talking about his divorce, laughingly says his ex-wife got the pool guy, while the director got the pool, which refers to the infidelity scene in the dream. Camilla then humiliates Diane by kissing a girl who showed up in the dream as Camilla Rhodes in the first part. It makes sense that in the dream she plays Camilla, the woman who gets the part. It also allowed Betty in the dream to keep Camilla in the form of Rita, but wipe her past clean with amnesia so Betty could help her, make her dependent on her, and fall in love with her.
In the next flashback, Diane meets with Joe, the hit-man, at Winkie’s, where she sees the person she dreams as Dan. The waitress’ name here is Betty, which is the name Diane uses for herself in the dream story of the first part. She is there to hire Joe to kill Camilla. She, like the gangsters, presents a headshot of an actress, in this case the real Camilla, and she, in this world, says the words, “This is the girl.” Joe says confirmation of the hit will be signaled by the appearance of the blue key he holds up in front of her. She asks what does it open? Joe just laughs. Now, this world, too, becomes surreal. We see the scary man behind the dumpsters, and he holds the blue box. It drops to his feet, as the box dropped at the end of the dream to the floor. We see the old couple who appeared as Betty’s flight friends, as tiny creatures scurrying away from the box. Is Diane imagining this part, psychotically answering her own question about the key? We are back in Diane’s apartment again, and the blue key is again on the table, signaling the end of the flashbacks which supplied her dream. We hear knocking at the door by the policemen possibly investigating Camilla’s murder, the light of the police car flashing in the background. Is this scene real, or more hallucinations on Diane’s part, brought on by paranoia? She is possibly driven insane with guilt about the killing of Camilla. She imagines the elderly couple, full-sized now, laughingly assaulting her. She pulls out a gun and shoots herself. She is now dead on the bed, just the way Diane was found in the dream. Did Diane as Betty foresee her own death?
So, is it that straight second part-is the reality-first-part-is-the-dream the only way to understand what happens? Perhaps. Maybe the scene in the second part which shows the scary man with the box is not part of Diane’s story, since she doesn’t really experience him, as she does the other parts that are the bases for the dream of the first part. Maybe Lynch is referring to the demons that lurk in all of our minds, not just in Diane’s suffering state. After Diane dies, we, the audience, see a surreal smoky mist rising from the bed. If Diane is now dead, and this is the “real” world, she cannot be experiencing this phenomena, or imagining it. After her death, we, not Diane or Betty, go back to the Silencio theater, which did not appear in the second part, the only suggestion for its existence in part one is Kesher speaking Spanish at the party. We see a glowing microphone stand, and the woman in the balcony we saw in the dream, who instead of saying the end, utters the word, “Silencio.”
I think Lynch is talking about the movie-making process. He has his main characters, and some supporting ones, be in the acting profession. We see the Hollywood sign twice in the film. We have auditions. Lynch may be satirizing the studios who try to manipulate the artist’s vision when he deals with the movie executives caving to disreputable interests, interfering with the director’s motion picture. At that Bryn Mawr Film Institute visit, Lynch said his primary advice to new filmmakers was to get final cut to protect their work. Movies spring from imagination, and involve the imaginations of the audience. In the first section, Betty, when suggesting they call the police to find out about the possible accident, says to Rita, “We’ll pretend to be someone else,” which is what actors do, and which we do as we are sucked into the movie’s world, much as we are sucked into the blue box in this film. Of course, this imaginative pretending to be someone else refers to how the two characters are different people in the two stories. But, it also points to how a director can take the same actresses and have them become different people depending on how you tell the story. Rita taking the name of an actress emphasizes the way people reinvent themselves in the dream world of film. Betty uses the same overwrought words of the script at her audition, but through art, transforms them into something moving. At Silencio, the emcee (the director?) tells the audience in the theater, and the audience watching the movie (also in a theater), that what we are seeing is not really happening in front of them. It is a recording, an illusion, of reality. But, Betty and Rita, in a theater, as are we, are still moved by the woman’s dubbed singing of the Spanish version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” as are we. That emotional moment is reality for us.

“Rhodes” is Camilla’s last name in the film. Mulholland Dr. is a road. When you take a ride with David Lynch down a cinematic road, that trip takes many imaginative turns.

The next film is Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Syriana

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.


In this film, Matt Damon’s character Bryan Woodman says of the situation in the story, “It’s complicated.” That phrase can sum up this movie because it explores the various elements that combine to create the terrorism that comes out of the Middle East.
 The story starts with covert CIA operative Bob Barnes (George Clooney) in Tehran supposedly supplying Iranian arms dealers with two anti-tank missiles. One of them blows up shortly after the deal, presumably killing the dealers. But, Bob is concerned because he sees that they ship out the other missile to an unknown place. He makes a fuss about the missing explosive device, and his bosses don’t like that he is making waves, drawing attention to this misstep. Bob’s story intertwines with those of a corporate merger between two oil companies, the fight for power of a Middle East country, and the recruitment of two young Arab workers by Islamic extremists.
Energy giant Connex (the name hinting that it plays deceptive “cons” to get its wealth) lost natural gas drilling rights in the Middle east country in question to the Chinese. Another oil company, Killen (which conjures up the words “making a killing,” that is, scoring money, but also the murderous act) gained drilling rights to an oil field in Kazakhstan. The two companies want to join, but the Justice Department investigates to see if this an anti-trust situation, and are suspicious of the means by which Killen acquired the drilling rights. One of the corporate executives shows how wealth in the oil industry is based on repressing progress when he says that the merger will go through as long as cars don’t run on any alternative fuels and chaos continues in the Middle East, requiring countries to remain dependent on American complicity.
The huge law firm that represents Connex assigns Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright) to find out about any infractions before the Justice Department discovers them. The plan is to offer some concessions if needed. As Bennett later says they want to present “the illusion of due diligence” in exposing any wrongdoing so that it appears that the government is doing its job without preventing the merger. Bennett isn’t supposed to delve too deeply, or more unlawful acts may be discovered. As Killen CEO Jimmy Pope (Chris Cooper, with a character name that sounds like the head of the church of the new religion – money) says, “You dig a six-foot hole, and you’ll find three bodies. Dig twelve and maybe you find forty.” Bennett eventually finds scapegoats at both Killen and his own law firm to appease the investigators. The Killen employee, Danny Dalton (Tim Blake Nelson) shows how topsy-turvy the world has become when he defends the necessity of illegal business acts: “Corruption is government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulations … We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption keeps us safe and warm … Corruption is why we win.” Sort of reminds one of the “greed is good” speech in Wall Street. Bennett’s bottom-line conclusion (or rationalization) is that as long as the merger benefits the American consumer, the government “got out of our way.”
But, while the government gets out of the way of American big business, it intrudes into the affairs of other countries in order to ensure that “business as usual” can go forward. Bob’s superiors, wanting to divert him from complaints about the lost missile, send him to Beirut to contact Mussawi (Mark Strong) about killing Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig), who they say is a “bad guy,” aiding terrorists, and is behind the loss of the missile Bob has been worrying about. The truth is that the Prince just won’t play ball with the U.S. He doesn’t want American military bases in his country, and sold oil interests to the Chinese because they gave him a better deal. So, the U. S. depicts Nasir as a communist and a terrorist. When Bob first encounters Mussawi, it is at a sea wall. The waves crash threateningly and loudly, pointing to the violence inherent in the situation and the danger to come. Later, Mussawi double-crosses Bob, who is kidnapped and tortured. Luckily, he contacted a Hezbollah leader for permission to be in Lebanon to do his business, and this leader saves him. But, Mussawi threatens to reveal the CIA plot to kill Nasir, exposing its nefarious intentions. So, based on a plan by Bennett’s boss at the law firm, Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer, with another ironic name since his deeds are “black), Bob’s own people use him as a scapegoat, just as the corporations did with their men. They paint Bob as a rogue agent and have his passports revoked, lock down his computer at work, and have him investigated for wrongful acts with which he was not involved.



With the advice of American energy analyst Woodman, who represents an investment advisory firm, Nasir wants to invest in his country, raise the standard of living, improve the infrastructure, set up a parliament, have an independent judiciary, and enfranchise women. But, Whiting has already primed Nasir’s corruptible brother for the throne. Nasir fights to gain the throne. Bob now has his suspicions about his assignment to kill Nasir, which are confirmed by Stan Goff (William Hurt), a former CIA boss, who points him at Whiting. He confronts and threatens Whiting, who threatens him back by saying in Washington, D. C., “In this town, you’re innocent until you’re investigated.” Bob goes to the Middle East to warn Nasir, but as he approaches the Prince’s auto caravan, an American drone missile takes Nasir out, thus making it look as if Bob succeeded in killing Nasir.


We also see the effect of what all these corporate, CIA, and political maneuverings have on the lowly people who try to eke out a living in the Middle East. The kings keep all of the money from the West to themselves, buying more and more expensive “toys,” while leaving the people to live poverty-stricken lives. Some of the impoverished are immigrant workers from Pakistan. We see the oil field laborers brutally beaten when they simply speak in a work line. One such worker in this story is the character of Wasim (Mazhar Munir). He and his pals don’t seem so foreign, talking about meeting girls, playing soccer, discussing comic book heroes. They are laid off from their jobs, but are given food and support by the local Islamic school. The religion fills the void in their lives. The teacher at the school tells them that Christianity has failed, free trade failed, liberalism failed, and the West had failed. None of these were able to get rid of the pain of living. The only solution is the merging of church and state, and belief in the Koran.
A persuasive man (Amr Waked) encounters the two friends, plays soccer with them, and says that they should not feel ashamed about being virgins, but are actually blessed for their purity. He is the same person who took possession of the missing missile from Bob. He offers them the chance to add purpose to their seemingly meaningless lives through martyrdom. He tells them that they can “flee the worldly life to spread the faith.” He points to foreigners, the people from the West, as the ones to blame for their sad lot in life, and the individuals to target (as do leaders in the West want to blame all of their problems on foreigners). Wasim and his friend steer a boat with the explosive device from the missile into a Connex-Killin oil tanker, destroying the craft. The irony here is that the same weapon that belonged to America to maintain its foreign investment is used to attack the capitalist interests it was meant to preserve. Another example of how western greedy nature comes around to harm itself is seen when Woodman, initially only wanting to capitalize on Middle East oil, brings his family for a free vacation at the Arab king’s estate in Spain, and Woodman’s son is electrocuted in the expensive pool owned by the petroleum-rich sovereign.
Here, the West’s desire for monetary gains merges with the Middle East’s leaders’ lust for wealth and power. So, the two sides must remain dependent on each other at the expense of the vast majority of the Islamic population. And that oppression creates fertile ground on which radicalism and terrorism can grow. As the character Farooq (Sonnell Dadral) says, “Capitalism cannot exist without waste.” Here, we can see how the economic system, when it is used to amass obscene amounts of wealth, can lay waste to so many people.

The next film is Mulholland Dr.