Given the fact that I rarely make it out to the movies nowadays, I’m not going to try to make anything resembling a prediction about who’s going to win what. But I do have a few words to say about one film that got shut out. And another at the film on the business end of a progressive backlash.
-Yes, I know it stiffed at the box office. And yes, I know people had trouble with the shifting tones and the overlapping multiple narratives.
But Goddamn it, Oscar. Nothing for “Cloud Atlas”? Not even a few bones thrown to the techincal credits? Not even a best score nod? (BTW. I’m listening to the soundtrack while writing this so I’m getting a fresh wiff of outrage.)
At first glance, “Cloud Atlas”, a film that intercuts between six different stories, sounds like it would be unapproachable, experimental mess. But in the viewing, it goes down smooth like chilled chocolate milk. Yes, the construction being musical in nature as opposed to literary seems odd at first. But then you realize that the construction is bound up in the film’s theme of interconnectedness and all is joy and wonder.
You got to hand it to the Wachowski’s. After making “Speed Racer”, a film widely derided for it’s visual excesses, (Not by me. I think it’s vastly underrated.) they turn around and make a film even more willfully experimental. Well, we need to give them their own private Kickstarter page so they can keep making willfully experimental films until the world stops spinning.
So they don’t get any Oscar nominations. They’ll just have to content themselves to hear people tell them for the next twenty years that they were robbed .
-I’m wary about wading into the whole Bigelow being snubbed for “Zero Dark Thirty” thing simply because I haven’t seen it yet. But after being swamped by pieces written by smart, well meaning progressives complaining about it’s supposed Pro-Torture bias, I would like to add as counterpoint, Devin Faraci’s passionate defense of the film via Badass Digest.
The film’s first images are of a protracted, brutal torture scene. Interestingly, that isn’t how the film opens – it opens on a black screen over which is played horrifying, upsetting 911 calls from the Twin Towers. These voices of panic and doom propel you right back to what it felt like in the days after 9/11, and it avoids the imagery of the day, which at this point has been so saturated in our consciousness that it’s almost meaningless. We’ve all seen that footage of a plane slamming into the tower again and again and again. It’s lost all impact, become just a shot overused in History Channel docs.
It’s a fascinating juxtaposition, because the voices of the victims remind you of the righteous anger you felt on 9/12, and maybe for a moment you’re okay with torturing the hell out of some son of a bitch who, in any small way, helped make those attacks happen. But that first torture scene goes on. And on. And on. Some have complained about the length of the sequence, but the length is where the sequence gets its power. We, like the detainee, are worn down.
The torture goes on, and as Kenny points out, there’s no doubt that cinematically we’re on the side of the detainee. The visual language of the film presents this guy as helpless, hurting, at the mercy of his captors. And when he’s about to break – as they stuff him in a tiny box – he suddenly stops himself. He’s on the verge of giving his interrogators actionable intelligence, telling them what day an attack will happen, but at the last moment he’s gripped with fortitude and he begins screaming every day of the week at them. “MONDAY! TUESDAY! THURSDAY!”
It’s kind of inspiring. It’s a moment of human courage, a moment of a guy who will not break. In a different movie this is a William Wallace moment. You have to respect that, especially after his tormentors have matter of factly informed him that everyone breaks. “It’s biology, bro,” he’s told.
But here’s the real rub: because the torturers could not break him, they do not get the intelligence they need and there is a massacre in Saudi Arabia. The film shows – starkly and without a doubt – that torture does not extract information that saves lives. Period.
I insist that you follow the link and read the whole thing. It offers a perspective about how cinematic storytelling works that has been sadly missing from this conversation.
And to my film geek friends who are angry and confused about the reaction to the film, let me try to offer this by way of explanation.
One of the great black marks against Obama is the fact that we never had a thorough accounting of the CIA run torture programs. And as I’ve said before, his seeming protection of Bush and Cheney from prosecution is going to come back and bite us on our collective ass.
And sadly, because we re-elected him, we are now complicit with that cover up. Yes, I’m aware that Romney would have been much worse and there was internal discussion within his campaign about bringing back enhanced interrogation.
But, you know what? That doesn’t let either Obama or us off the hook.
And that fact continues to fester in the heart of every progressive who voted for him.
So the fact is that is that we are punishing Bigelow for our own failures for not bringing Bush and Cheney to justice. Like denying her an Oscar will make up for our collective failure to throw the real villains into the Hague.
We are shooting the messenger because we lack the courage to point the metaphorical gun at ourselves.
Again, I haven’t seen the movie yet myself. And when I do, I may expand and revise my remarks. And who knows, I might wind up thinking that Devin is full of shit.
But my gut is telling me that we’re the ones full of shit.
-Other then that, the Oscars are the Oscars. They only predictions I feel safe in making is that the show will be too long and all the pretty young actresses in their lovely frocks will make me long for a misspent youth I never had.
In short, same as it ever was.