Sunday, October 12, 2008

Batty Old Men And Their Death Defying Gazes

(this was written to be posted at church and postmodern culture: conversation)....

I liked No Country For Old Men for many reasons, but I think maybe they can all be sort of categorized into two groups. One is that I would consider it a "postmodern film," and yet, in and of itself as a film, still good (I will explain more in a moment). The other is that it weaved the threads of the story together in such a way that in the end I was left with the impression of a beautifully patterened rug that takes your heart to the center of the labyrinth - that place where my heart wants to explode with both joy and sorrow at the same time - in such a way that, although the story does not parallel or demonstrate the gospel, reminds me of it.

To demonstrate my first set of reasons, I will set No Country against Batman: Dark Knight. Now, I understand that my gutteral reaction as I leave a film is not a judgement that has any real public value, but bear with me for a moment. The very experience of walking out of No Country was for me itself a kind of kairos moment, as if many things about my world and my life - sorrows and losses, joys and triumphs, hopes and dreams, resentments and dissilusionments - came together in the moment of that story. Batman, however, left me with a big headache, in disbelief that it was not an hour shorter, wishing that there were like at least two more genuine lines in the film that an actual human being would say, angry that I had just spent $7.50 for the matinee, distantly nostalgic about the reasons why i was originally infuriatedly turned off by what I had come to percieve as "postmodernism", and unable to re-member much of what I just watched.

To connect my gutteral reations to the films to things that might be more public, let me explain a bit about why I think I may have had these two very different reactions to these two films that are so similar, and yet so different. Based on what I now understand about "postmodernism", I percieve both as "postmodern" - or, I at least can see certain parallels between postmodernism and the two films. Where Dark Knight, however, makes it a not only an explicit but over-wrought point to explain to you that the world is falling apart from the center(ral character) outward (probably often leaving great joy in the hearts of those who identify themselves as "postmodernists"), No Country weaves your being into a story that places you sympathetically into the midst a very real set with scenery and characters leaving you in a state of awe and wonder over how things just might stay together somehow in the midst of a pool of blood spilled over a convex surface. Where Dark Knight is not only content but intentional about selling tickets to the drunk young folk drowning in seas of "BATMAN, HELL YEAH!" chants both before and after the film, regardless of its quality (or lack thereof), No Country leaves that same audience - by their own admission and/or pubic opining - thinking, "Huh? What was the point of that?"

Meanwhile those who enjoy "postmodernism" (and as well maybe those who hate postmodernism but love a good film) are left joyously meditating on how all of the most important "points" of No Country are not only unstated explicitly but left for the audience to figure out by immersing one's being into the story; and then that on top of one's having to figure out the unspoken rules to the game that shape how you experience that very story into which you have immersed yourself in the first place! No one in the film explains to the audience, or to any other character in the film, that the central character (who does not become the central character until the end, btw!), as a rule, kills everyone who sets eyes on him. We are just left to meditate on the rather genuinely human verse from the "old man" sherriff: "Its like he's a ghost." Additionally, no one in the film explains to the audience the significance of the conversation between the man who in the end becomes the central character and the simple gas station attendant who lives despite setting eyes on him. This is the exeption that proves that the rule is not imposed from the outside but is written into pattern of the interwoven fabrics. "Call it - heads or tails...Why? Why does it matter? Call it - heads or tails....I don't understand what it means....It means everything...But, but...?...Think of it as if you're life depends on it....But, but what do I have to do with that coin?...You and the coin come from the same place."

Now to comment on what I am referencing as the humanness of the two films, I would like to address their endings. Where Dark Night ends with the double of the central character who we thought at the beginning was supposed to be the central character (Batman) becoming an alienated lone willing Scapegoat wondering purposelessly through the shadows of the night, No Country ends with a very simple but extraordinary interaction in broad daylight between an anonymous half dead unconscious bleeding guy sitting in the driver's seat of his car, the man who at that moment becomes the central character sitting on the side of the road with the bone of his forearm sticking out, and two young teen-aged boys, an interaction which at the same time both warms and wrenches the heart. Where Dark Night is organized around all the heady and complicated intellectual machinery supposedly downloaded from the praisworthily smart and gifted author (the Joker) to the mind of the audience, which I could nor cared to keep up with, No Country is a simple series of events through which the audience lives or dies.

So I supose I could summarize my opinion of No Country of Old Men by saying that I experienced it as a medium through which I lived out my life and my death, and that it was a refereshing experience after Batman: Dark Knight, through which I felt as though I simply experienced my death. Much of "postmodernism" seems to be about actually living life after the history of spectacle left us inevitably on the outside looking in. Although Dark Knight seems engaged in an effort to be a hip new popular pomo film, it seems to miss the boat entirely by being content with window gazing (eerrr, window shopping) on (the) life (of the film itself) from the outside. No Country For Old Men (much like The Departed, for example), however, seems to have learned about "postmodernism" millinia ago, forgotten about it, and come out the other side a better "pomo film" than the film that was trying to be pomo!

And along a parallel line on life and death - where Batman seemed to take me under the bloody shadow of Tiamat, No Country, written by a couple of Jewish brothers, rather purposefully seemed to take me under the shadow of the compassionate wings of Yahweh. Now as a disclaimer: this Tiamat/Yahweh thing is, for me, not necessarily a basis for determining whether a film, as such, is good or bad - I liked, for example, There Will Be Blood. I'm just saying that this idea of leaving us with a sense of the fear of God was another aspect of No Country that I thoroughly enjoyed. Now I will not give away the previously discussed interaction in No Country between the main character, the teen-age boys, and the man in the car, but I will say that it threw a beam of light straight into the core of my soul in much the same way that the Torah is meant to be like an arrow shot directly, forcefully, accurately and craftily at a difficlut target. That target was my heart: the Joker - like the adjustable rate mortgage lenders and investors who didn't seem to realize that they are human beings with limits - didn't seem to know whether he was playing the game of philosophy or film (whereas Zizek, on the other hand, seems to know quite well when and how he's playing around with all the different games), and thus the arrow was of course wildly off the mark (only in Pink Panther is an arrow with no direction and conflicting forces behind it going to hit a target). The Coen brothers, however, scored, if not a bulls eye (which would land directly between the Cross and the Resurrection :), then somewhere pretty darn close.

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