Oscars are on their way and what better movie night is there than the Oscars? So I wanted to give you all an alternative to Oscar night. Im sure all of you are wildly curious to see what else these brilliant directors have put out so im going to suggest we take a quick trip through some back catalog titles of some of the people who were nominated this year
Best Director – Darren Aronofsky – Black Swan
Alternative title – The Fountain
I mentioned before that Aronofsky makes movies about passions that devolve into obsessions. Here it is love and overcoming mortality that guides are hero, Tom. Whatever your interpretation is of the events that take place I believe it is safe to say that Tomas, Tommy and Tom are representations of the same ideal. Each man is on a journey of discovery in order to fulfill his dream of eternal love with his “Isabella.”
This film marks a turning point in terms of aesthetics when it comes to Aronofsky. He’s not messing with film stock quality, nor is he playing around with rapid fire montage cuts. Now anyone who has seen this film knows that it is far from conventional. Here he balances three parallel stories, cutting between the three at will forcing you to question which stories actually exist or which stories are just that…stories.
Aronofsky makes complex and challenging films. So with that comes quite a few interpretations to be had. Rather than attempt to analyze the film in its entirety I’m going to focus on a few things relating to its theme of life and mortality. First off I will analyze Aronofsky’s use of black and white as a metaphor for the journey our heros take but also as a metaphor for the cyclical nature of life. I will also touch upon Izzy’s role as a guide for our hero to find his way to his ultimate fate.
Aronofsky uses black and white throughout the movie to symbolize the journey of life. Our hero in all three stories starts out in low light or shadow, and as his journey progresses each hero becomes closer to “the light”. In the past story we see the conquistador travel through a dark temple until he finds the guard of the tree of life. Aronofsky stages these scenes beautifully almost as if he was trying to bring ancient paintings to life. His composition of scenes clearly sets up Tomas as the “hero” of the story. He is constantly center in the frame or posed directly opposite his enemies, such as his fight with the guardian of the tree of light. Here he overcomes the flaming sword and walks out to the tree bathed in light. Upon opening the tree it begins to spew the purest of pure white sap. Here he has found liquid creation. It is also here that we discover that the colors of black and white do not necessarily mean life and death in a strict interpretation of the words. Tomas falls down and becomes part of the earth and new life erupts from inside of him. Sporting white flowers no less.
The story taking place in the present is the most subtle of the three. Dr. Tommy is racing to find a cure for his wife. We constantly see him walking through halls which parallel the conquistadors journey through the Mayan temple. Libatique lights these scenes very precisely, as Tommy moves we see the light begin to flicker over him more and more as he gets closer to the "cure." In the modern story Izzy tells the story of Xibalba and how one had to die in order for a new universe to be created. So we begin to see that whereas “white” is creation it also demands destruction. This view of life and death is repeated throughout the film as seen first with Tomas and the tree of life and now here Izzy spells it out for us.
In this story Izzy is constantly trying to get him out into the snow, or trying to pull Tommy to the light. Her clothes are almost exclusively white showing us how close she is to the end of her current life that she is beginning to understand what happens at the end. Combined with the story she tells about Xibalba we really begin to see that Izzy is our heros guide. She has already made the connection between life and death and it is represented by her constant desire to be in the snow and be dressed in white. Seemingly making the beautiful statement: love guides us through life and will endure throughout time.
The last part of this story shows us, presumably, the last man alive flying through space with the tree of life and the spirit of Izzy. The man we can presume is tommy who has managed to live forever and is completing the mythical journey his wife told him about. Again our hero begins in shadow, so extreme at one point we only see a silhouette of him against the stars. He now is dressed in white similar to how Izzy was dressed in the modern tale. We are led to believe that he has accepted his fate and is trying to make this last ditch effort to be with his beloved for eternity.
More than anything these future scenes bring together the past and present stories....we see the tree and ancient tools but we are located within a hyperadvanced space ship with Izzy again motivating him to keep going.
So I'm going to discuss the last few shots of the movie so if there's anyone who hasn't seen it...sorry. the astronaut gets flung through the space as they enter xibalba in an awesome array of light and the tree is reborn.
Back in the present Tommy stands at Izzy's grave and looks up and Xibalba isn't there anymore....he picks a seed and wipes the grave of his beloved free from snow and says "I know how it ends." All this happens rather quick but it all has so much symbolism embedded in it. The seed is obviously new life but now we see that Tommy realizes what Izzy had realized. That life and death are not endings. They create one another in an endless cycle. Her black tombstone covered in snow is another example of this relationship with life and death. We see how even though she died already the light has moved in and is beginning to overcome once again.
Lastly I want to talk about the credits. As Tommy looks up coming to terms with everything he's learned the screen goes white. Creation. Then black begins to seep in and we see slowly before our eyes a universe form...by the end of the credits the now black sky is filled with stars. Now this had me recall a previous scene where Tomas goes to see his queen and to get to her he must traverse a huge hall full of hanging candles....little spots of light in the darkness. I mentioned before that Aronofsky had adapted what he learned from Pi and Requiem to fit this movie, and here in an amazing dispkay of craftsmanship he uses repetition so well to subtly drive home his theme. Izzy was his love and guide the whole time. From the beginning he was willing to travel to the stars if it meant being with her forever, and in doing so he learned that life and death do not have to be so precise, when love is involved they create endless cycles of life they even create new universes.
Best Picture - 127 Hours dir. Danny Boyle
Alternative Title - Sunshine
Danny Boyle has been enjoying some great acclaim at this point in his career. I've been a fan for years so its nice to see such an eclectic director get the recognition he deserves. Boyle has never really stuck to one genre moving from zombies, to dark comedy, to drug soaked drama. Within each genre he refuses to make anything "typical", instead approaching it with a seriousness and intelligience which usually results in something special. Not to sayy all of his films are dead serious, only that he has a reverence for film and enjoys exploring the genre within which he resides.
Sunshine is his science fiction film. He knocks this out of the park, creating an amazing atmospheric sci fi film that asks some serious questions about the importance of life and what responsibility we all have for sustaining it. At least up until the last half hour when the movie inexplicably becomes a zombie slasher film. Make no mistake I highly recommend this film, he does such an amazing job for most of the movie that it still gets a positive response from me. Now with this film I'm going to talk briefly about what he got right and then discuss just how bad he stumbles the landing.
The film begins with a single point of light and as it gets bigger we realize we're looking at the sun reflecting off the spaceship. He nails the realism right from the beginning. Like I said he takes everything so serious and here he creates a story very much based in reality. This group of astronauts are on a mission to kickstart our dying sun, which is actually inevitable. Whether a nuke could kickstart it well that's one problem that even the crew discusses within the film.Boyle adds so much detail to this world to make it feel real. The hyrdoponic center is very apt solution to creating renewable food and oxygen on year long missions. He has the servers dipped in a freezing solution given how hot they would have to run in order to support the ship and its proximity to the sun.
He uses a very calm camera for most of the beginning not moving it too fast or cutting harshly between scenes. He takes us through the ship smoothly letting the viewer take in the beauty of the ship bathed in golden light and admiring the interior of his ship.
He introduces us to each of the characters and makes they are all individuals. Garland created a nice mix of personalities without having to resort to extremes from michelle yeohs hopeful botanist to cliff curtis(from The Fountain!) Psychologist who is obsessed with bathing in the suns light. The standout performances are those of Chris Evans' pilot and Cillian Murphy's physicist. There relationship creates much of the drama on the ship and they both turn in some strong and subtle work.
Chris Evans is completely underrated and I blame it on Not Another Teen Movie. If you doubt his ability he owns this movie all the way to the end even in the face of sun zombie attacks. His character is often the voice of reason, he makes hard decisions and is fully ready for the responsibility attached to them. He is ready to die for this cause, but he believes everyone should be ready to die to. To him nothing is more important than the mission.
So now we get to the end, along the way stuff has gone wrong as it always must in deep space. Ship malfunctions begin occurring they take a detour from the mission which was obviously a bad idea. Then all of a sudden sabotages occur and we find out its a captain from a previous ship burnt to a crisp by the sun running around causing havoc and killing people. Yes it actually is that confusing and jarring when it happens.
So here's my biggest problem with this. We've been watching this movie and up until this point its been great, stuff has been "going wrong" for awhile and I don't see why he needed to bring in the space zombie to explain some of the malfunctions. The audience would've just as easily accepted that system failures were occuring naturally. The ship had been in a serious crash with another ship, its shields weren't in the appropriate setting, and its getting closer and closer to a dying star. OF COURSE STUFF IS GOING TO GO WRONG. All the havoc that sun zombie wreaked could be explained by natural causes, he really did committ suicide, the servers really did malfunction, the air locks did get messed up.
Alas, that is the movie we have. I still like it, I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes a good science fiction film. As ludicrous as the film gets, the pros ultimately outweigh the cons and it lives on as one of the most confusing pieces of almost brilliance.
Best Foreign Film - Biuitiful dir. Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu
Alternative Title - 21 Grams
Wow this movie is emotional hell. Inarritu definitely does not make movies that most would call enjoyable. They are difficult films to watch as he explores the trials and tribulations of humanity within each film. Here we have three people bonded by tragedy all struggling to find meaning and a connection in life.
Inarritu continues the trend he started with Amores Perros in that we follow three parallel stories that weave in and out of each other and are shown to us out of order. He uses the same muted color tone and to represent the dreary almost hopeless lives that our characters live. We have Sean Penn who is on his death bed for most of the movie, Naomi Watts who is a drug addict facing a relapse in the face of current tragedy, and Benicio Del Toro a reformed convict who can’t seem to find any luck in life.
I know I started out by describing this movie as emotional hell, and it is, but when you get past that this movie shows some amazing performances of people trying to have a good life. All of them just want to be worth something. Naomi used to be a drug addict and she made it out of that lifestyle. She had a family, house, husband and happiness and she spends the movie trying so hard not to fall back into her old ways. Benicio is much the same as the reformed convict who has a second chance but fate won’t make it easy on him. Sean Penn just wants to feel love again. He loves and respects his wife but not in a romantic way, now that he has a heart again he wants to have that feeling.
In a very roundabout way this movie is somewhat hopeful. The ending is not happy by traditional standards, but we see that the hardships these people go through are not necessarily in vain. Inarritu makes sure we feel just how hard each of those tribulations is and he also makes sure our focus never veers too far, to the point that we never even see the tragedy of the film happen. He knows that this film is about the effects this tragedy has on the people who survived. The closest we get is seeing the truck speed by and then the first witness rushing off camera t o the scene. This scene shows us exactly that it isn’t about those that die, rather those who continue to live.
The title refers to mythical weight of the soul and just exactly what that means. Sean Penn makes a speech about what that soul is worth at the end of the movie as he lies on the hospital bed dying. Rather than the contempt we see in the beginning his face now shows relief. Naomi’s family is starting again and we see Benicio forgive himself and rejoin his brood. Inarritu does not make the journey easy, but through his impressive storytelling and actors we are treated to a film that ultimately praises life and gives us a realistic view of what a happy ending looks like. It just so happens that sometimes that happy ending is release from a disease after feeling love one more time.
So that’s about it for this first installment of Movie Night. In writing this I never meant for all the films to ultimately be about mortality and the worth of human life, but getting to the end that’s kind of what this turned into. I gotta say I’m rather happy with that. That’s exactly what I was hoping I could accomplish with this column, exploring films and in doing so come to some sort of connection or interesting discussion about them. Sorry about the length I’m going to try and work on my editing for the next one but I hope you all enjoyed it and as usual please respond add comments email me your hatred I’d love to hear from all of you and continue this discussion.
Last Thought: Dogtooth is on Netflix instant watch. It’s been nominated for best foreign film, everyone should check it out. It’s quite a disturbing extremist take on home schooling.