Sunday, May 15, 2011

Movie Night #8 The Roaring Twenties....the age not the time period

Really has nothing to do this article, but seriously no better introduction picture than that right?

Today we are taking a look at three films that examine the uncertainty and state of mind that is life in your twenties. These are all stories of young men recently graduated moving through life with little sense of direction. They all know who they are, but not necessarily who they want to become.

Each films protagonist takes a different approach to this moment in their life. The first film I am going to look at is Mike Nichols classic The Graduate starring Dustin Hoffman as Ben Braddock. This film is most famous for its depiction of the relationship between Mrs. Robinson(the OG Cougar) and Dustin's awkward graduate, but for the purpose of this article I'm going to discuss just how much more is going on. Out of the thre films, this one takes the idea of uncertainty and creates the most literal representation of it. While the other two films have leads that sort of wander aimlessly as they try to become adults in their own, Dustin Hoffman is completely apathetic with no idea what he wants to do with his life.

The opening scene of the film sets up our character's emotional state perfectly. The movie opens up on a close up of Dustin Hoffman against what appears to be white space, the camera zooms out and we see he's on a crowded plane. Dustin Hoffman spends the whole movie surrounded by people, but is as alone as he could possibly be. His character has no idea what he wants to do with his life and all he wants to do is be by himself to figure out what he's doing with his life. The following scene is Dustin Hoffman on a people mover gliding through the airport never once turning to see the myriad of people passing in front of him. Again we see how Hoffman is simply going through motions in a haze. He did what was expected of him by graduating college, now we see him moving along to the next part of his life. He does this all without any effort as the camera stays steady on him we know he's moving forward but it is everything around him that seems to moving. So with just a few shots we see how our character wishes he could escape the crowd of people that is his life and be alone, and that he is wandering through life aimlessly as everything else passes him by.

The script for this film really reinforces this idea that Dustin Hoffman has no idea what he wants to do with his life, while everyone else insists he make decisions. A big majority of the interactions Dustin Hoffman has with other characters are question and answer sessions essentially. Every other character seems to start the conversation the same way "congratulations so what are you going to do next?" Each character gives their own advice whether it is to "sew his oats" take some time off, or get a job every one has their two cents that they want to put in, but Dustin Hoffman doesn't want any of it. He just continues to move forward wandering from experience to experience. As the movie progresses characters continue to berate him with questions, but they become much more aggressive. Whereas in the first act the questions were playful and curious, in the latter half of the film people begin to ask with a sense of urgency. Seemingly giving him an ultimatum, the simple difference between "Hey Ben what are you going to do with your life" and "Hey Ben isn't it about a time you made a decision about your life?" By the end of the film he has found at least one purpose for his life, but aside from love we are still in the dark as to what he will pursue professionally. So while The Graduate takes a look at the uncertainty of our twenties and shows us a young man unsure of his desires, this next film shows a young man who thinks he knows what he wants only to discover the monotony that awaits us all in adulthood.

Ermanno Olmi's Il Posto tells the story of a young man beginning his life after school. He goes on his first interview, which is an amazing satire of the ridiculous complexity involved in large corporations, only to discover that the journey to the top is a slow one full of monotony and perhaps the highest form of dreams is that of the desk closest to the light. This film draws a lot of inspiration from the neorealist films of De Sica and Visconti, most notably its examination of the working class. Neorealism involved shooting on location always, and here Olmi shoots the workplace in the actual office building where he worked when he was in his twenties. Ok short digression sorry.

The script for this film is brilliantly sparse. Dialogue is spoken minimally throughout the film, and aside from the dialogue at Domenico's house every piece of dialogue is vague and empty of substance. Even the dialogue with the woman he meets at the interview is little more than forced small talk "how'd you do on the test" or "i wonder what they'll have us do next." He utilizes this to show how awkward this stage in life can be. Domenico wants to get a job and he's trying to be a part of the workforce but he doesn't really know what to expect, and that is reflected through his manner of speaking. I want to talk about two more scenes, the first being the opening scene with his little brother and the book strap. A very simple scene in which Domenico gets upset about his little brother using his old book strap, his mother tells him to let him have it that it is his little brother's turn to use it. This scene sets up the idea that this world they live in is constantly recycled. Everything is passed down through generations, and once someone finishes it is the next person in line's turn to step up to the plate. Life becomes this endless cycle where we go to school, we go to work, we work everyday, maybe we get a new desk, then we retire. This film constantly shows this passing of the guard throughout the rest of the film. One in particular occurs when Domenico is working with the older mail clerk and he sees an old man simply sitting in the corner. He finds out that the old man had recently retired but still comes in every day and leaves like he used to. Both of these men are visions of Domenico's future as a cog in the giant machine that is the workforce. Where even if you retire you could never leave since by that time the work will have become a part of you.

The last scene I want to look at is the ending of the film. Domenico gets lucky and someone passes away so he begins his climb up the ladder from mail room to office clerk. The boss sits him at the first desk, which causes an uproar from the other workers. Eventually Domenico is forced to go to the back of the room and everyone moves up exactly one desk. The scene ends as we hear the repetitive sounds of a machine and other people working diligently. Again we see Domenico's future here. A lifetime of monotonous work only to be able to move up one desk. This is the life he has waiting for him as he begins adulthood. So with this film we see a young man begin his journey into the workforce as he begins to become acclimated to what his life is destined to be. The last film we see a young man wanting to be successful but stuck in the selfishness of youth.

Masculin Feminin is a film by Jean Luc Godard about Paul trying to court the lovely Madeleine, an up and coming pop actress. Godard was a pioneer of the new wave and easily my favorite director of all time. Finally having a chance to write about him for PORTEmaus is a great honor, but never fear i will try and keep it as brief as possible and of course focused on the task at hand. So first off if ever there was a film about being in your twenties THIS is that film. It captures all the energy, emotion, and of course confusion that goes along with it. Our young hero Paul is just out of the national service and trying to find what he wants in life. Where this film differs from the first two is that it has no fear in showing just how self centered we all are when we are in our twenties and finished with school. Everyone in this film feels like they are destined for greatness and walk around with the confidence that they will live forever. This is perfectly executed by Godards refusal to use "shot, reverse-shot" for his dialogue scenes. Rather he shoots a close up of one character for the duration of the conversation and then after a few minutes he will switch to the other. Seemingly moving from one point of view to the next as we continue to hear the other person talking we are only allowed to see one half of the conversation. By doing this we see that these people are really only worried about themselves and that the other person they are talking to doesn't really matter as long as there is someone there to listen to them. Another great example of this obliviousness, is in the beginning of the film when a husband and wife are arguing, the wife runs out after the husband and shoots him down in front of Paul and Madeleine. Paul's only response was for her to close the door so there wouldn't be a breeze in the cafe.

Godard often peppers his films with a ton of pop culture and political references. Here he shows a bit of the hypocrisy that comes with the idealism of our twenties. In our twenties it is an easy time to become attached to beliefs or movements, sometimes these create legitimate passions, but sometimes like here people do it just to do it. So here Paul acts like he is a revolutionary or that he cares about peace in Vietnam, but he comes off like he just wants to spray paint a cop car for fun. The film even has the alternate title "the Children of Marx and Coca Cola." The name itself shows the playful nature these youths have towards everything whether they be serious or not.

Godard ends his film with perhaps his strongest message, that we should never believe that we are destined to live forever. Paul dies suddenly and seemingly without reason. For how confident he was that he would be great and spend his life with Madeleine, something came up and he passed away. Everyone is guilty of this. Everyone I know at one point felt like they were invincible and here Godard pulls the rug out from underneath us all and shows us how quickly it can all end.

That's about it for my commentary on these three films. Definitely a theme close to my heart given that in a few years time I won't be able to relate back to you youngins in your twenties. As usual i strongly urge you to check these films out for yourselves, in addition for being great representations of entering adulthood, they are all amazing films in their own right. As for Godard, Masculin Feminin is definitely one of his more accessible works, but most people start their Godard journey with Breathless, both of them are brilliant and I strongly suggest EVERYBODY sees at least a few of his movies.


One last thought - Out of all these guys, Dustin Hoffman has the best luck with the ladies....he gets the original cougar AND her daughter. Everyone else kind of hopes they get lucky, and Paul....well he died. Thanks Jake.


  1. I love the ending on the Graduate...a brilliant nuance on the part of the editor to drag that out like he did, totally changed the perception of the "happy" ending.

    And Godard? Well, he's Godard, 'nuff said.

  2. Yah I'm an idiot for never picking up a copy of "weekend" while it was on i have to wait and hope criterion makes my dreams come true.

  3. yeah, I'm in that same boat...fingers crossed for a criterion

    also, where's "Singles" or at least "Reality Bites" for this list? lol You gotta give gen x kids in their twenties their due!

  4. I've been skewing pretty contemporary so I wanted to explore some older stuff....these three are pretty timeless in their representation of the theme...also this piece was a request by one of my friends....I welcome others if any of you PORTEmaus fans want to give me some ideas...