Thursday, June 27, 2013

Moments Before Midnight, I think I found Grandma


Your Grandpa was an insufferable romantic, tempered only by his belief for large swaths of his life that he would probably end up alone.  That this blog, these messages to people that I didn't yet know might be destined to be intended for no one at all.  A message in a bottle, as it were, thrown into the ocean only to be ceaselessly adrift, amidst the vast expanse of the internet.  My realism tempered my romanticism, it was the only thing that could keep me bearable rather than insufferable.

I would sit quietly, as I have my whole life, and stare surreptitiously at lovers and other strangers.  On buses, and benches, in my best friend's home with his wife, at my parents.  I have made a study of love, or at least its outward spectacle, its forms and idiosyncrasies, how two personalities interact with each other.  I never discriminated.  I spent as much time looking at love destined to end as I have spent observing love destined to last.  I tried to look for the patterns, the ebb and the flow.  I wanted to understand what ideas about love were real and what were illusory and keep my eyes open for it if it came.  It has always seemed to me to be a pressing study.

When I'd break now and then out of my reverie and observations, my mind would wander to where Grandma might be at that very moment.  Was she alone, or with another man?  Was she happy?  Would it be better if we were together right now, this very moment?  Or are her experiences, now this very moment wherever she might be, what brings her to me, and me to her?

I'd imagine where we'd be when we first met.  How she'd look, how'd I'd be dressed.  What the weather was like outside.  What we'd talk about.  Would I say something funny, something memorable?  How we would get over ourselves enough to let each other in, trust one another.  And whether we'd even realize what was in front of us before we let it slip away.

So you can imagine my surprise now that it seems all of those moments have already happened.  Not today or yesterday or the day before.  Half a lifetime ago, with someone that I couldn't have imagined would come back to me.

This is bizarre.  My mind is cautious and weary.  Within three weeks of meeting her again, I was walking to see her at her work.  Posted to a construction site wall, mere seconds away from her, I saw for the first time the poster for 'Before Midnight'.  I was flabbergasted.  How I had not known the movie was made, let alone to be released in 2 days, was beyond me.  How I could have discovered it as I was going to see her made me feel very...uneasy.  Like this was a message from higher powers that didn't generally involve themselves in my lowly adventures, my comings and goings.  As if this new adventure, this narrative, with this woman, a love long lost like Jesse and Celine's finally given life again as in 'Before Sunset', was deigned from on high.

And was now, firmly, mine to lose.

Insufferable was the word I used earlier.  If I find myself insufferable, I wonder how Grandma puts up with me.

I'll admit, it took me a while to even believe that Grandma was real.  To believe that she wasn't just a hallucination - concrete proof of a broken mind. She looked the same, spoke the same, with the same smile, and the same heart that I remembered when she was just a girl, and I, just a boy, 16 years ago.  I found it impossible to believe how recognizable she was, how understandable she was, how relate-able she was. And how easy it was for me to be near her, with her.  I've told her now as I tell you that I don't trust easy things.  I don't trust obvious things.  I don't trust effortless things.  But loving her is easy. Loving her is obvious and effortless.  It is more logical to believe that she was just a figment of a overly romantic, lonely imagination, longing for someone to cherish and be cherished by in kind.  But she is real: her warts are real, her fears and anxieties are real.  And so is her warmth and the way she makes me feel.  So I suppose I "have to accept this as real on some unconscious level."

This, then, is our Before Sunset.  And now, with this third movie, I just got a brief glimpse of what is to come.

Of course it will be years I suppose before our problems in any way mirror those of Jesse and Celine.  9 years, perhaps.  :-)  Before Midnight is a humbling look at the part of love that gives me the most anxiety: the battles.  The trench warfare.  War of attrition.  The conflicts that aren't solved - not with love, not with words, not with gestures and not with time.  They are the conflicts that two people have to learn to live with, the conflicts that become as much a part of their family as their children, the structural flaws at the foundation of a relationship, like the periodic flareup of a dormant but persistent infection, the fault lines where two people of two perspectives retain two priorities, competing priorities, irreconcilable priorities, regardless of how much they would both like to make them one.  They are the wedges driven between us, and without a conscious effort on the parts of both to hold onto each other, the wedge turns into a gap, the gap to a chasm, the chasm to a canyon, until the two of you are so far apart, so far away from one another that you can't see them - can't recognize them anymore.

It troubles me because, in many ways, I am a pragmatist.  I figure if your arguments don't lead anywhere, don't argue.  Either talk about something else, or talk to someone else.  If you don't like sleeping in the same bed as someone, don't sleep in the same bed as them, sleep somewhere else.  And if you can't remember why you loved someone, don't try.  Go find love somewhere else.  Life is short.

But obviously this pragmatism is the death of any long-term, meaningful relationship.  Going forward together requires a healthy dose of dis-pragmatism, a healthy dose of neuroses, unreasonableness, raging against the dying of the light, fighting against the inevitable, retreading old battles, rubbing old wounds, the honesty of fighting dirty.  Going forward together requires that we fight pointless, unresolvable battles in which neither of us win together and still somehow come through it together.

And being a pragmatist, I have relatively little patience for pointless, unresolvable battles.  They are not things that I will easily participate in, regardless of their inevitability.

So I wonder, already, too early I know, whether I will be able to keep Grandma, even before I fully have her.

But I have a lot of faith in this woman.  Some part of me has always loved her.  Some part of me will always love her.  Everything else - every moment more - is just the cherry on top.

- Grandpa

Richard Linklater, 'Before Midnight' Director, On Studio Origins & The Most Intense Scene Of 2013:

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Ubermensh II: Why Can't Superman have a Brain?

Saw it yesterday with Sheba.  She loved it - the action was very Dragonball Z, very over the top.  Which presented its own problems, but it was indisputably the best part of the movie.  The rest of the movie was marred by what I'm going to call the "New Chris Nolan" problem: trying to be dark and epic.  But a little back story first...

I saw the third installment of the Linklater trilogy, Before Midnight, a week earlier.  I was astounded by just how effortless that movie was.  You'd think that a beloved trilogy 20 years in the making would inspire some sort of artistic overreaction, some tension in the execution, some pressure manifesting itself as a movie that tries too hard at times.  Instead it was nothing of the sort.  They just made a movie.  It stands on its own and as part of the larger story.  It honors what was done before and concludes it in a meaningful way.  Just storytelling.

No I wasn't looking to compare the writing talents of David Goyer to that of Linklater, Delpy and Hawke.  I just wanted something that wouldn't be "Superman: the Dark Knight from Krypton".  I was looking for an optimistic story.  I understand pursuing the realism angle.  I was excited about it, especially when it came to Superman.  But the realism was only done in a half-hearted way: no massive casualties from gods fighting in downtown Metropolis, no worldwide hysteria from aliens being among us or landing on Earth.  Very PG-13, very clinical.

And then, of course, you have the two moments in the movie that will cause people's heads to swim.  The first is John Kent dying in a tornado with Clark standing meters away.  Really?  He couldn't blow the tornado off-course, or go into the tornado himself to save the dog?  Or blow the ground until a big duststorm obscured everything allowing him to save the day?  Or dig underground and pop up where his father was, or just simply run into the tornado and miraculously explain afterwards how they both managed to survive?  Children could conceive of a way to solve that problem, if you gave them Superman's powers.  Superman, the Man of Steel, the Man of Tomorrow, the hero to end all heroes, our modern incarnation of Hercules, the shining light, the beacon of hope, our inspiration and champion, stood idly by and watched his father die when he had the power to save him?

Why can't Superman have a brain?

Superman's moral compass really rests in such a direction that he would be prepared to let people die rather than reveal himself?  That's a big problem.  Here's a question:  What if it wasn't just John Kent?  What if there were 20 people trapped in the cars, tornado bearing down on them?  Or one little girl?  When I saw in the trailers John Kent say that Clark might not be able to save everyone, I figure it was a sad acknowledgement that there would be times that he would have to choose who he could save and who couldn't.  I thought it was a responsible and realistic admission that Superman can't be everywhere and that he'd have to follow his heart and his head to save as many people as he can.  Instead, the movie makes John Kent out to be a hero, willing to sacrifice himself to protect his son, willing to practice what he preached.  However, his son is just a pussy.  He stood and watched someone die when he had the power to save them.  And had it been 20 people or a little girl in the path of that tornado, he would have done the same thing.  He thought about the cost to himself more than he thought about someone in need.  That isn't someone that the world can get behind, that isn't the Man of Tomorrow.  That's just a coward.

Goyer made a good effort to try and shape the moment into a sacrifice that Clark made: that he honored his father's wishes and lost a father in the process.  That his father believed that the world wasn't ready.  But this rings hollow when in the scene immediately before, Clark goes out of his way to say that John Kent isn't his father.  So did Clark really sacrifice the man that taught him everything he knew or did he sacrifice a some guy because it would make his life easier?  Goyer tries to make it seem like Clark did the right thing by not revealing himself that day.  But in order for that to have been the right call, you'd have to have some kind of scene where the world reaction to Superman was absolute awful - world leaders calling for his head, battle lines being drawn - something to show the worst instincts of humanity and vindicate the decision.    Instead it seems like everyone's kinda okay with this super-powered god destroying towns in defense of humanity, so it just seems as though - well, gee, how much trouble would Clark have really gotten into if he had run into a tornado and saved his father?  Would everyone really be like - wow, he ran really fast and saved his old man, what a monster?!?

Secondly, in addition to Superman letting people die, he also kills people.  Didn't you know?  Zod was about to flash fly some humans so Superman ripped his head off.  Lazy, is the word I'm looking for, fucking lazy.

Why can't Superman have a brain?

That's the best anyone working on this movie could come up with?  That the farmboy from Kansas who's literally never been in a fight in his life before today beat the military leader of Krypton in one-on-one, hand-to-hand combat?  At least tell us that Superman was stronger because he'd been on Earth longer or that Zod died after taking so much damage or that his body wasn't used to his powers and he succumbed to the injuries in the battle.  Or if Superman is strong enough to put Zod's head on backwards, you think he'd be strong enough to simply move his head so that it wouldn't vaporize some curiously motionless humans.  Poke him in the eyes, maim him?  But Superman straight up kills him in combat?  Superman, who didn't want to kill Zod, ended up killing Zod, who was trying to kill Superman. How does that work?  And again, just as in the example of John Kent's death, why make such a massive concession to the core of Superman without extraordinary circumstances and extraordinary consequences? Not to beat a dead horse but I'm pretty sure Superman could have grabbed Zod and flown out of there.  I'm pretty sure he could have used his heat vision to blast the floor beneath them causing them to fall.  He has too many abilities, too many powers for the only solution to be breaking some dude's neck.  It makes Superman seem very stupid.  And it makes the writing seem lazy, reaching for shock value rather than really creating the absurd, once-in-a-lifetime, kobayashi-maru situation in which Superman is actually left with no choice - where Superman would have to cross the line.  This is an expression of the "New Chris Nolan" problem: trying to make something epic and dark without putting enough work into it to be considered epic or enough sophistication to come off as dark.  And it is the same problem that I felt watching the Dark Knight Rises.

Is it better that Superman Returns?  Sure.  But again, if Superman isn't a mountain of virtue, if he isn't the Big Blue Boyscout, if he makes easy and often decisions on who lives and who dies, and if we don't see him at the very least struggle deeply with these decisions, it is very easy to imagine humanity never seeing him as a friend.  He will always be a threat, always be just a fallible human with powers rather than the Super-human that we are to aspire to be.  His strength is supposed to come not only from the sun, but from the combination of his super powers, his uncompromising moral rectitude and inner strength and the insights, "the smarts" and "wisdom" that only someone who could see through walls, hear far off whispers and observe humanity as an outsider could have.

Despite my cautious optimism, Superman is still just about punching aliens and lifting heavy things.  And with this Superman starting his journey in murky moral waters, I don't see how it's going to inspire people to believe a man can fly.

Man of Steel: Worth It Just For The Super-Powered Combat
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