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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sibling Rivalry: Brothers and Brodre
In the ‘How-to’ guide of film snobbery, claiming that “the original is better than the blockbuster” is a good way to set you out from the crowd as a true lover of cinema. Especially when the original is a little-known, foreign film – in which case, efforts must be made to constantly refer to the original title: extra kudos for applying an accent where necessary. So in the wake of Let Me/The Right One In (or Låt den rätte komma in for those paying attention), I have taken another recent example of Americanisation and provided an unbiased comparative study…though I have tried my utmost to flaunt my own film-snobbery.
Inception: Levels of Complexity
With Christopher Nolan’s Inception set for release on DVD (it’s out, it’s definitely out) providing the viewer with the means to pause or rewind the action, does the film lose it’s magic?
Inception follows ‘extraction’ expert Dom Cobb (Leonardo Dicaprio) as he attempts to plant an idea into a subject’s subconscious – by entering his dreams. Fronted as one of the most confusing blockbusters of all time it is hard to say whether a one line synopsis does it justice. But with all the dogmatic hype pushed aside: how confusing is Inception really?