Semiotic

The Second Coming of a Scientific God in Transcendence

Transcendence, the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, was a science-fiction blockbuster released last year that was condemned as a critical failure. Many reviews criticised the film for its inability to contain the expansive concept and the scale of the story. An undiscussed element of the film which may have also impacted its reception is the structure of the narrative and the unusual ideals that it presents when compared to typical Hollywood fare. The following analysis will look at how Transcendence subverts the standard model of story-telling by reversing religious and scientific values – and by making Johnny Depp Jesus.0.

TRANSCENDENCE

In The Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell looked at the archetypal hero that traversed the mythologies of ancient cultures, theorising that there was really only one overarching story structure, which he termed the ‘monomyth’. This universal metanarrative applies not only to theology but contemporary narrative forms such as cinema – Hollywood especially – appearing to reinstate the same values now as they did centuries ago. Reduced to the extreme the monomyth can be seen as the journey of a hero who has his faith tested through trials of doubt before he can achieve success on his quest. Inherent in this story structure is the conflict between faith and doubt, attributes that I would argue (and have argued again and again) are aligned with religion and science respectively: with faith treated as heroic or noble, and doubt a sign of weakness or ill-intention.

The hero is typically the protagonist of the story whom the audience will follow and support. Transcendence is unusual in that it has no clear protagonist; or rather it has one then kills him in the first ten minutes of the film. With no guide through the narrative, the audience are presented two opposing perspectives that represent faith and doubt, and so experience the trials of the hero first hand. Crucially though, the positions of religion and science, essentially good and evil, are reversed so that the audience truly doesn’t know whether they should be believing or not; whether to have faith or doubt. (more…)

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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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