The problem when making central characters scientists, or at least defining them by their rationality, is that in order to abide by the format of Hollywood cinema, they’ll have to step down as hero or cave to the pressure of the spiritual or supernatural. Director Chris Nolan goes one better in Interstellar, attempting to explain away the mysticism of the narrative through science.
The conflict is introduced early on when ex-NASA pilot and apparent rationalist Cooper (McConaughey) dismisses his daughters claim that there is a ghost in her room – knocking books off the shelf, and parting dust into piles on the ground. This poltergeist isn’t like most others, acting arbitrarily and making shit move to be spooky; this one has a message.
Granted this message changes from the word ‘STAY’ to the missing quantum data of the gravitation problem, communicated in binary on the second hand of a watch. Pretty much the opposite of stay. And a tad more complex. But our hero of the third act is the little girl grown up, daughter Murphy Cooper: scientist and ghost-whisperer. She embodies both the religious and the rational, reconciling the faith-driven attitude of Hollywood with the scientific method by eventually providing proof of her own spiritual experiences.
Some thoughts on the structure of Nymphomaniac – sidestepping comments on some truly bizarre performances including Shia LaBeouf, whose accent genuinely provoked laughs from the audience I sat amongst.
With his tongue still firmly in cheek, Lars von Trier continues to try and shock audiences as he explores female sexuality in the early stages of a young nymphomaniac’s life – humorous for the first volume at least until it starts to run dry. Drifting from the more serious, though it certainly retains a level of dramatic darkness, von Trier plays with the audience as he his known to do and tries for shock so blatantly at points that it begins to feel like a parody of his own style.
The crowd I sit with in this odd Friday matinee, while the sun shines bright outside, is made up of mostly guys on their own. A few couples and the odd scattering of fems but predominantly men on their own. I am one of them. Still this is strange – I feel strange. Whether through discomfort from the subject matter, or from the lack of give in the material of our collective crotches, there is a lot of shuffling between laughs. Alan Moore, author of graphic novel The Lost Girls which would perhaps fall under the self-same categorisation, has commented on the idea of ‘intellectual pornography’: that it is a difficult feat that has to fight for the blood to rush to either of the brains; that you will ultimately be stimulated on one level only. Men anyway. Us lone men fidgeting in the dark. So maybe von Trier has an alibi for the film not satisfying audiences intellectually…
What I found intriguing about Nymphomaniac was its place in the context of von Trier’s films as subverting the form of storytelling and preventing escapism.
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.
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…)
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.