I really thought that I’d be able to get a bunch of reading and writing and movie-watching done, but mostly I have just been being bored and very broke.
- Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968): You guys, this movie is amazing. I didn’t really realize, but this is in the grand tradition of paranoid-lady Gothic stories, like Rebecca and Suspicion. Rosemary’s bedroom even has yellow wallpaper. Most of the film is set in the apartment. She even tries to tell her doctor what’s up, and he assumes she’s crazy, so she’s trapped by the people who are supposed to be caring for her. But it’s interesting because her suspicions of her husband are…totally founded. He actually lets the devil rape her. It’s really disturbing the way they do it too, because she has this weird kind-of dream sequence that’s actually real, and then when Rosemary wakes up and finds scratches all over herself, her husband is just like “Yeah, I may have had sex with you while you were asleep, I hope that’s cool, lol.” Horrifying. I love it. Also all the aging-actors playing the coven. It’s kind of interesting when you read it against the usual texts of female hysteria, because this time Mia Farrow’s crazy paranoia is completely justified by the crazy reality of her situation, being then, not crazy at all. There is also an interesting argument to be made that you could place this movie in the context of more specifically political masculine conspiracy movies of the 1960s and 1970s; plus you know, the growing importance of second-wave feminism making marriage and family kind of feel like a conspiracy against women. So, interesting!
- Birth (Jonathan Glazer, 2004): I remain unsure why I decided to watch this this week. I think Rosemary’s Baby reminded me of it. Because look: Other than the leading ladies with short haircuts who live in New York apartments with wallpaper, this movie’s kind of the exact opposite of Rosemary’s Baby, in that it tries to make you believe in something supernatural (in this case reincarnation) in order for you to make a weird, not really complete moral leap to seeing this little boy as more than a little boy, but then it pulls the rug out from under you. I’m not saying the film really makes people accept that this ten-year-old boy is somehow Nicole Kidman’s husband, and it certainly makes that impossible to actually be on board with the whole thing when you see a grown woman kiss a young boy on the mouth. The thing is, it kind of plays with making you think this kid is somehow magically reincarnated, but then it does stuff like the kiss or the scene where Nicole Kidman’s grown-up fiance, Danny Houston, totally attacks the kid and spanks him, to remind you forcefully of his childhood. It’s hard to be totally sure what it’s trying to say, the whole thing is so tense and mannered and upper-crust, but those things all make it really fascinating. Plus it’s gorgeously shot.
- Burn After Reading: I feel like I read a comment by someone who said that although the tone is completely different from No Country For Old Men, the way it sees the world is very similar. I think that’s true, and I want to tell you why. Diary of an Anxious Black Woman (whose movie posts I always really like) talks about how cynical and sadistic a film it is, but I would read the film with a different inflection. It’s a film against the grand conspiracy, against the myth — this time it works against the Cold War version of a political world where there’s a Big Brother watching at every turn. That’s why Linda and Chad make the patently ridiculous decision to take their CD full of documents to the Russians. That’s the world it seems to be setting up, but it slowly breaks down, as a few things happen by coincidence (like Linda and Harry meeting) and others turn out to be brought on by the characters themselves (like when Harry realizes the car following him isn’t a shady government agent, just a PI for a divorce firm). The film begins with a familiar kind of zoom, from a map-like view of the country from space, to the CIA headquarters in Langley, and then ends by pulling back out; at the beginning of the film, it seems to be narrowing things down, promising us something important, but by the end it’s clear that we’re pulling back out because we’ve just seen a random, messy sample out of the random, messy world. I’m a big fan of the melodrama, of which the whole point is to give people’s everyday stories grand moral significance. I find films like this so compelling because they are the exact opposite of that. They’re also not really tragic, because tragedies are all about the fates and the restoration of order and the value of catharsis. The Coens certainly don’t give us that. They give us all this fun, kind of sweet, spy farce, but things never resolve into any kind of narrative logic. I have sort of been having an argument with this post on things what things. I like the way she describes it, but her argument that basically “The movie is intended to be fun to watch,” and I don’t really think it completely is. There’s too much that’s unsettling about it — the failure to meet any kind of generic expectations makes the whole thing kind of uncertain, the total shocking sudden brutality of the violence, how indifferent the camera is to the deaths of the characters — for me to think that the Coens want me to just have fun and go with it. But I do think they want me to have fun; I don’t think the “What did we learn?” “…” ending should negate the whole rest of the movie, because the fact is it was fun: the whole cast is pretty much a joy to watch, from McDormand meta-ing that they wouldn’t have her in Hollywood if she doesn’t get a bunch of surgeries; to Brad Pitt’s adorable dancing; to Clooney’s weirdly tan, running-obsessed womanizer; to Tilda Swinton’s performance as the World’s Worst Pediatrician; to Malkovich’s dissolute CIA analyst and self-parody; to Richard Jenkins’ sweetly affecting performance as the gym manager who Frances McDormand just doesn’t see. 1 So, I don’t know. It’s kind of an unanswered question — like if it’s an occasionally fun movie that has no point, why did we just watch it? It kind of gets back either a) the meaning of life or, more answerably and more interestingly b) the meaning of entertainment.
As a side note, how nice was it to see George Clooney with women like Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand, who are actually approximately his age? ↩