Film Analysis

Losing Faith and Breaking Bad

After binge-watching Breaking Bad in its entirety, I felt I had witnessed Walter White’s Heisenbergian decline in such a short space of time that I had picked up on something. A theory: that Breaking Bad shows that there is no moral foundation for those without religious belief – especially not Walter White because science.

breaking_bad Breaking Bad is a show that follows its protagonist Walter White from hero to antagonist, unusually aligning the audience with a character who gradually becomes more immoral and unlikeable. Walt’s descent is sparked by a lack of faith that leaves him with an amorality based in science. Essentially the first episode begins by establishing a loveable family man who suffers the toils of incredibly bad luck. This is in fact a retelling of the Story of Job which aims to explain why bad things happen to good people; a religious fable that reinstates the importance of faith. (more…)

No Ordinary Love Story: The Subverted Romantic-comedy in (500) Days of Summer and Friends With Benefits

The mainstream romantic-comedy has steadily become saturated with genre conventions and narrative devices that seem to have shaped audience expectation. A formulaic love story that relies on certain narrative hooks and character details that become almost interchangeable. This is made more noticeable by the sub-genre trends that seem to overlap as they reflect current attitudes – think the few rom-coms released in 2010 that centred on artificial insemination. The films do not not disappoint rather they play out just as suggested in the trailer. While every genre has its conventions, two recent romantic-comedies Friends With Benefits (Gluck, 2011) and (500) Days of Summer (Webb, 2009) seem to bring attention to, and in some cases overtly criticise, the tendencies of the genre. Most importantly though both films offer the promise of no ordinary love story…  and both films break that promise.

In Hollywood

Recently more films have been challenging the conventions of the romantic-comedy genre, moving away from the uniform portrayal of heterosexual, Caucasian, materialist archetypes. The anomalous box-office success Bridesmaids (Feig, 2011) was viewed as a breakthrough for depicting stronger more rounded female characters – perhaps an affectation of actually being written by women. Although this film challenged certain Hollywood clichés and stereotypes it also appeared to reinstate and reaffirm others – such as the heterosexual, Caucasian materialist. (more…)

Mortimer, Jung and Frankenstein: The Surviving Traits of the Mad Scientist in A Dangerous Method & Hysteria

Science and scientific values have long been denounced in cinema, shown to be a product of an egocentric personality that is somehow less human than others. In the last decade there has been an ongoing trend that is fighting against this representation – beginning to subvert stereotyped characters and narratives that promote the alienation of science. Although this light-spirited backlash has experienced an increasing popularity, there still remains in Hollywood the stereotyping and vilification of the scientific mind. A Dangerous Method and Hysteria, both released this year, appear to demonstrate a subtle undermining of scientific values that harks back to the classical opposition in Hollywood.

Adam

‘Adam’ Click for Higher Resolution

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What’s In a Name? Decoding the Ambiguity in Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2012) looks at fragility of the human mind and how it can be manipulated, in the process contorting personality and identity. It follows a young girl as ideals are imposed on her from conflicting perspectives of consumerist society and counter culture community – ultimately fracturing her sense of self. The following analysis will look at the crisis of identity that is titled in the film, as Martha becomes Marcy May and finally Marlene.

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Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) is a young girl who, along with her older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), had been abandoned by her father after the death of their mother. Seeking refuge and a new family she joins an alternative community in the Catskill Mountains of New York. The film begins two years after this induction as Martha flees the commune to her sister’s scenic lakeside retreat in Connecticut – her personality fragmented by her abusive experience.

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The Scorpion and the Frog: The Fable of an Anti-hero in Drive (2011)

Edit: Condensed the analysis into a video here

Faced with a river, a scorpion enlists the help of a frog to ferry it across the water on its back. Fearful for being stung, the scorpion explains that if it were to sting the frog they would both drown. Alas, halfway across the river the scorpion stings the frog. As they begin to sink to their death the frog asks the scorpion why it had doomed them both, receiving the reply that it is in its nature.

The broken halo of a violent hero

Ryan Gosling plays the part of a nameless Hollywood stuntman/ mechanic/ getaway driver turned breadwinning moral avenger in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive – subverting the strong-silent type of classic cinema and, like Refn’s Valhalla Rising and Bronson, calling into question the nature of violent heroes on screen. The following analysis will examine how the hero of Drive is made to appear reserved and unpredictable in an effort to make him unknowable – but really how his actions are undermined by his childlike sensibilities and confused sense of self.

Fuckers Who Kill People For Money: The Unsentimental Portrayal of the Hitman in Kill List

KillList

The hitman has become a cultural figure that has undergone various aesthetic and moral transformations in cinema. The most typical and somewhat surprising characteristic of the contracted-killer is that he or she is shown to be a solitary figure worthy of empathy or even admiration; a sleek and often charming loner that the story is attracted to – suspending the audience’s judgement or allowing them to explore his/her inner conflict in order to understand their motivation or veiled humility. Amongst his description of the subcategories of hitmen in his chapter of ‘Crime Culture: Figuring Criminality in Fiction and Film’, Andrew Spicer describes the aestheticised version of the hitman as the ‘Angel of Death’: “a highly masculine fantasy of total self-sufficiency”. This increasingly recognisable antagonist and the subsequent notion of fantastical perfection is precisely what Ben Wheatley challenges in his latest feature – Kill List (2011).

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Blue Valentine and The Christian Right

Blue Valentine is a contemporary take on a romance that explores the deterioration of a marriage by jumping through time to examine moments throughout the relationship.

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The inevitable failure of the marriage is undoubtedly pinned on Cindy (Michelle Williams), whilst Dean (Ryan Gosling) collects the empathy of the audience. The film opens with Dean displaying a sincere, everyman charm before befriending colleagues and then displaying his lovable treatment of old people. This is juxtaposed with a stone faced Cindy who is shown annoyed at the prospect of fun, before killing the family dog. I hope that my own inherent gender is not the reason for siding with Dean at this point. However, there is a recognised tiredness to Cindy, so following the non-sequential structure of the narrative, there is an expectation of explanation – for a moment which explains or contextualizes her behavior.

The following scenes reveal the moment in which they first meet – Dean exercises his charm and sense of humor, whilst Cindy deals with her  current, disagreeable boyfriend. It is once Dean has been established as the point of empathy, and the character who holds onto his sense-of-humor, that he exercises a subtle conservative, albeit loose, ideology. When they first talk at length on the bus: Cindy tells a dark joke about a child molester. Dean smiles playfully but confesses he does not find it funny – although he is playful, his comment on his taste appears sincere.

Gosling displaying his screen-permeating loveliness

When looking into their future – in an aptly named ‘future room’ of a sex motel, Dean lays bare his want for another child. The audience are aligned with the male position, almost pit against the female. He explains his discovery of fatherhood and his ever delightful concept of family, whilst she appears to act as a mother out of necessity. The sentiment of Dean is not forgotten shortly after when they proceed to have sex. Cindy insists on a rough form of intercourse, in which she is dominated. This is cut short when Dean states that he cannot do it, “I don’t want that. I want you. I don’t want you like this…I’m not gunna’ hit you, I love you”. Left to ponder these words, he seems to be condemning non-heteronormative sex.

Back in time again, twice lovely Dean is told that Cindy is pregnant, and that it isn’t his baby: resultantly she signs for an abortion. In the hospital we witness a vulnerable Cindy answering invasive questions that seem to be forming a picture of her as sexually promiscuous, as if it somehow tarnishes her as immoral or sinful. We learn that she had sex at 13 and has had sex with 20-25 people (she is not sure). Dean waits outside, the very model of a supportive partner. The procedure begins. The camera is very invasive, looking at her fearful expression and amplifying the sound of utensils. Thankfully, in the eyes of pro-life supporters, she sees the light and abandons the procedure. Dean is supportive.

Once word gets to the actual father of this relationship, he and a couple of toughs beat Dean. I’m sure somewhere in amongst the punches delightful Dean turns the other cheek, or forgives them or something. But in all seriousness, his character continues to show reasons to empathize with his position. Cindy, in turn, becomes the antagonist who acts immorally. The closing of the film has her telling adorable, lovely Dean that she wants a divorce. He responds to this by reminding her of the promises made in the ceremony; how she is not recognizing the sanctity of marriage.