Apocalyptic Fascination: A Semester Recap

One thing that we discussed in class that really stood out to me was the question of why apocalyptic films are so popular/so frequently made.  Many of my classmates gave excellent answers that I agreed with, but after it made me think about what I thought to be the real reason behind this fascination.  I concluded that our obsession with the end stems from our insecurity about not having a definite answer about how or why it will happen.

What each of the films throughout the semester did so well was that they created a world where the audience truly bought into the circumstance of their specific ending.  In each film, the rules and limitations of humanity were clearly laid out so that the audience could imagine themselves in similar situations.  What this does is makes us empathize and put ourselves in the shoes of the characters.  It almost becomes fun to imagine what we would do in these situations, but at the same time comforts us because we know that these circumstances are too far fetched to happen in reality.  Speculating every which way of how our world could end provides a sense of comfort, as we don’t have to face the realities of what really could potentially wipe out our existence.  Instead, we fantasize about tentacle-wielding aliens or living on a never-stopping train.

I personally find enjoyment in watching these films for similar reasons.  It is fun to imagine all of these scenarios, but being able to see the credits at the end and know that I can turn off the TV after is comforting.  I view these films as tiny ventures away from the inevitable reality that one day our world will end too.  Because I know this subconscious is shared by countless others, films like these will never go out of style.

To you, which film from the semester seems the most realistic in terms of an apocalypse that could actually happen?

And the Oscar Goes To…

Something that I couldn’t help but to notice as I researched each film we watched this semester was that many of them were nodded at and awarded by the Academy.  On the other side, many of them didn’t receive any attention at all.  Since most of the films are relatively similar and share the same inevitable result, my question is this: What makes an apocalyptic film successful?

Probably the most decorated film of our class lineup is Mad Max.  It was awarded over 5 Academy Awards and nominated for 10 in total.  Then you have Snowpiercer, which received no Oscar buzz or recognition.  I’m torn because I do realize that technically the former was a better made film, but to me, the latter was as equally as compelling and effective.  Both stories did an excellent job of isolating the worlds of their films and making them like no other, all the while still making these worlds interesting.  I can’t help but to feel that had Snowpiercer been stacked with as many big name actors as Mad Max, the situation would be different.

When it comes down to sheer substance of the scripts, I believe both films to be perfect examples of great material also executed well.  Perhaps the Academy prefers films with bigger budgets and more special effects like those used in Mad Max.  Snowpiercer was done exceptionally well too, but didn’t get as much as a single tech-based nomination.  I know that at the end of the day film critics have different opinions and that some films are better promoted, but I still feel as though sheer quality of a film should trump popularity when it comes to decorating these types of films.

I suppose I realize after typing this all out that nominations are more politically and biased-based.  In the meantime, I’ll still be clutching my copy of Snowpiercer and sobbing silently into the night…

If you could award Snowpiercer an Oscar nomination, which category would you choose to recognize?

Mad Max: Fury Road, Mother-tested and Bechdel approved!

Based on the title of this post, I can’t help but to preface with two words: GIRL POWER!

As sad as it is, a contemporary film patron doesn’t get many opportunities to see current films that not only properly represent females, but that also pass the Bechdel Test.  Mad Max: Fury Road not only passes these requirements, but slam dunks on them too.  The entire time watching, I felt energized as I saw how incredible the women within the film were.  They kicked ass, stood up for themselves and others, and most importantly didn’t rely on the assistance of men to achieve their goals.

A brilliant choice on the directing side of the film was to not make the former main and titular character “Max” the main focus.  Instead, we see him getting wrapped up in Furiosa’s rebellion as she gloriously kidnaps Immortan Joe’s 5 wives.  The character Furiosa quickly becomes a character that we cheer for and put our trust in, and Max falls by the wayside as he fumbles around just trying to keep up.

Seeing these bad-ass ladies kick serious butt throughout the film without assistance from the swarm of male antagonists made for quite the thrill ride.  Another achievement of this film is that it doesn’t blatantly call out that it’s trying to fight stereotypes, but rather lets the female characters speak for themselves.  We don’t sympathize for them or make any excuses for them because they don’t ask for our sympathy.  Each actress’ portrayals are spot on, ESPECIALLY Charlize Theron’s.  She easily steals the film from her first moment in frame, and rightfully so as her character is arguably the main protagonist.

There’s nothing quite like watching a film that not only excites, but also puts out a wildly important message.  The message in this film is that ladies can and do kick some serious ass!

Do you agree that Furiosa is arguably the main protagonist in the film?  Or is it still Max because of the title of the film?

What it Means to Be an Anti-Hero

Many films have approached the concept of an anti-hero and have failed.  Films like Bad Santa relied on crafting their protagonist in a way that makes you hate to love them and vice versa, but failed when it comes to fully developing the characters as a whole.  Though a Santa Claus costume-wearing Billy Bob Thornton is kind of charming, he still doesn’t achieve what Joon-ho did in his film.  The beauty and achievement of Snowpiercer is that it takes on this heavy burden and knocks it out of the park.

Curtis, played by Chris Evans, is a perfect example of a successful anti-hero.  Throughout the film, the audience empathizes, roots for, and inevitably judges him and more and more as aspects of his character are revealed.  We initially root for him as he leads the rebellion of the tail-end of the train, but as the group progresses and travels farther forward we learn things about our hero that doesn’t make him seem very heroic after all.  Especially when he reveals that he used to participate in and enforce cannibalism, we are instantly turned off from liking and trusting him.  However, through Evans’ raw delivery of this tragic monologue we can’t help but to still feel for this character.  Things that he did in the past almost seem less horrific due to his genuine delivery and now-changed lifestyle.

The real credit for this achievement goes to the director Joon-ho, as he wrote this character so carefully.  Because of how he layered the intensity and rise and falls of the film, the audience became putty in his hands as we tried to grasp on to someone to relate to and root for.  It takes a masterful director to control an audience so precisely, and because of this mastery Curtis has become a true model of what it means to be an anti-hero.

In which scenes do you find yourself most connected to or repulsed by the character of Curtis?

Melancholia: Art or an Endurance Fest?

Lars Von Trier’s film Melancholia challenged my endurance like no other film ever has.  What was billed as an artful masterpiece turned out to be a pretentious nightmare.  Before viewing the film I had done my research on Trier’s other films and read all about The Depression Trilogy.  Initially I was excited to see Melancholia to find out what all the fuss was about, but what I later found out while actually watching the film was that it was sadly all hype.

The entire begging of the film started my trial of patience as I had to endure the slow-motion, foreshadowing montage of events to come.  I understood that these scenes were important and connected to later events within the film, but as an opener it was jarring and confusing.  Another aspect of the film I thought to be unnecessary was the continuous shots of Kirsten Dunst completely naked.  I found myself distracted by the audacity of the staging rather than compelled by the character’s reasoning behind the nudity.  When the film shifted to the perspective of Dunst’s sister in the film Claire, it became even more difficult to endure (if you can believe it).

In this latter half, the events that led to the apocalypse were melodramatic, drawn-out, and frankly boring.  For example,  Claire’s slow, and I mean SLOW, decent into alarm as the end approached was, at times, impossible to watch.  The sad part of this was that I knew that the actress portraying Claire was good, but she was hindered by Trier’s compulsive need to make every breath and and motion something of a spectacle.

I appreciate films that are different and innovative but I believe Melancholia to be too different for its own good.  A more simplified story taken from this dreary version would be leaps and bounds more effective.

Do you feel this film’s story line to be too complex for its own good?  In what ways do you agree/disagree?

 

War of Getting Myself to Like This Protagonist

While reading War of the Worlds a few months ago, I kept returning to the same feeling of resentment.  This resentment stemmed from my deep, deep hatred of the book’s protagonist.  Initially I felt guilty for feeling this way, as I’ve never experienced emotions quite like it while reading.  At the time I thought, “This is ridiculous Jacob, pull yourself together and sympathize with this guy!”  As I slowly progressed into the start, the middle, and then finally the end of the book, I discovered that I did NOT care about what happened to him.

I’ll go ahead and break down the reasons why I felt so disconnected from him, as these feelings are justified.  For starters, let’s all agree that the guy is bipolar.  Throughout the entire novel, he went from 0-100 at the drop of a dime even without being prompted by the Martians.  I can remember a moment where he narrated about how the aliens weren’t a threat or to be worried about then immediately started panicking and spewing paragraphs about how the entire civilization was doomed.  Also, can we talk about how he pretty much murdered The Curate?  I know that the guy was annoying, but to render the man unconscious through bludgeon while the aliens were RIGHT next to them was kind of a dick move.

Situations and moments like this constantly repeating over and over again throughout the novel made it a really hard read for me.  What I find most tragic about it is that H.G. Wells failed to connect me to his character.  Through representing the character so poorly and essentially one-dimensional, the author lost my interest and my sympathy.  Maybe I didn’t read closely enough or maybe I formed an opinion too early on, but as I finished the novel I couldn’t shake this feeling; not even to this date.

If you were to represent/write this character differently, how would you go about it?  Would you want to change more of his actions or more of his personality?

WALL-E: Empathy and A.I.

Better late than never, I always say!

Looking back to our first film of the semester I can’t help but to continue to fall in love with WALL-E.  Since the class watched it at the beginning, I’ve gone back and watched it two or so more times individually.  Watching it in class wasn’t my first time seeing the film, but ever since we discussed the symbolism and messages inside of it I’ve become an even bigger fan.

Pixar obviously has been the top dog of the feature animation field for years on end, but this film in particular does something no other film from the studio has done.  What captivates me the most about the film is the masterful creation of human-like emotion expressed from non-human characters. Through the use of sounds and animation, the studio has crafted more human emotion in two robots than the actual humans within the film.  As an audience member, I feel for and empathize with WALL-E and EVE more than the humans; I rejoice when the robots rejoice, feel angry when they’re being hindered by antagonists, and feel sorrow when they think they’ve lost each other.

I also can’t help but to think about AI (artificial intelligence) while watching the film.  In the future imagined here, robots have apparently progressed past the point of simple mechanical functions.  WALL-E and EVE feel real feelings, and in turn, assist other robots in their liberation to feel as well.  If our world eventually invented machines and robots as sophisticated and advanced as those from the film, would this be a possibility?  Would the AI bots be able to process love and empathy?  Thankfully Pixar approached this concern with light, family-oriented comedy, but also in smart and effective other ways.  Through a story of heroism with happy ending, the studio exposes us to the advanced technology while still ensuring we aren’t threatened or intimidated by it.  This aspect of the film makes me love it and appreciate it even more.

Even for a moment, did you feel intimidated or threatened about the prospect of our near future mirroring that of the one pictured in this film?