Tell me if you know this story: Four guys are trapped on a boat for days. When they’re finally rescued, there are no longer four guys on the boat. Turns out, when you get hungry and thirsty enough, certain things stop being “unconscionable” and certain people stop being “inedible.” In this case, it was a cabin boy by the name of Richard Parker.
What’s crazy about this story is that you could have heard it from the Edgar Allan Poe novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket or from the real-life incident following the crash of the English yacht Mignonette. In both cases, the ship sank and the survivors ate Richard Parker. You might think Poe was ripping from the headlines, but Poe published his book more than 40 years before the real-life incident in 1883. Add in Life of Pi and I’m pretty sure having a Richard Parker on any kind of watercraft means you’re screwed.
In the version that’s filed under non-fiction, there were originally four men on the boat: Captain Dudley, Seamen Stephens and Brooks, and the 17-year-old Parker. According to the survivors’ accounts, the vessel was taken down by a wave that didn’t seem strong enough to do any damage, let alone take half of the bulwark off. Since “going down with the ship” seemed like a bad idea, they lowered the lifeboat and, grabbing a few navigational supplies and two tins of turnips, were now stranded about 1600 miles from shore. After roughly fifteen days without fresh water, and only a small turtle’s worth of meat, Parker tried drinking seawater and became sick. Three days later, he became nearly comatose. Feeling like they were out of options, Dudley decided it was time to have “the talk.”
Brooks flat-out refused, but Stephens was open to it. After Brooks went to sleep, Dudley approached Stephens directly about eating Parker. By his own testimony, the main thing he said to sway Stephens was that he and Stephens had wives and families, but Parker was an orphan. He also pointed out that if Parker died naturally, they couldn’t drink his blood for hydration. Since they had so many people relying on them and the comatose kid had no one, the traditional maritime rule about “drawing lots” seemed stupid. The next day, Dudley stabbed Parker in the neck with a pen knife, bleeding him to death. The three proceeded to eat him, with Brooks admitting he wouldn’t pass up survival even if he didn’t approve of killing someone. The next day, they finally caught some rainwater, allowing them to regain their strength before being rescued three days later.
Naturally, there was a bit of a conflict over their actions, legally speaking. On the one hand, it wasn’t exactly unheard of for this to happen when people were floating on the ocean for weeks at a time. Even after charges were brought against Dudley and Stephens, Dudley was confident that they were going to be dropped, because there was precedent saying that necessity could be a defense to murder in cases like this. On the other hand, they almost certainly would still have survived if they hadn’t killed Parker. They also didn’t follow the Maritime “rule” about drawing lots, meaning that Dudley and Stephens had directly conspired to kill a man, rather than just having a person be “sacrificed.”
The charges didn’t end up dropping.
Instead, they went on trial and, as expected, argued that, at the time they did it, they had to kill Parker or die themselves, making them not guilty by necessity. What wasn’t expected was that the Court responded with “nah, f*ck that.” The Court instead pointed out that people will always argue that they felt they had to commit the crime, but that, if the Court said that was an excuse, then they were making a fundamentally wrong thing legally right. The State should never establish a law saying that it’s okay to kill someone who isn’t a dire threat.
It must not be supposed that in refusing to admit temptation to be an excuse for crime it is forgotten how terrible the temptation was; how awful the suffering; how hard in such trials to keep the judgment straight and the conduct pure. We are often compelled to set up standards we cannot reach ourselves, and to lay down rules which we could not ourselves satisfy. But a man has no right to declare temptation to be an excuse, though he might himself have yielded to it, nor allow compassion for the criminal to change or weaken in any manner the legal definition of the crime.
So, the Court found them guilty and sentenced them to death. However, there’s a line in the ruling that would probably be overlooked except for what happened next:
…if in any case the law appears to be too severe on individuals, to leave it to the Sovereign to exercise that prerogative of mercy which the Constitution has intrusted [sic] to the hands fittest to dispense it.
Yeah, that’s the Court saying “here’s the principle we’re enforcing, but sometimes people are gonna get screwed by it, and we have a way to fix that.” So, a few days later, the men had their sentences commuted by Queen Victoria through her Home Secretary William Harcourt to a mere six months in jail. This was actually considered pretty harsh by Dudley and Stephens, but, again, they ate a guy.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we have clemency (forgiveness of punishment) and the pardon (absolution of guilt). Because sometimes you have to put a rule in place that upholds a really important principle like “you can’t just say I really wanted to murder that guy” or “you can’t just whip out your dick to strangers (more on that this week),” but sometimes these rules can, justifiably, be broken. In those cases, we need a mechanism in place so that someone can look at the case and go “yes, you broke the law, but you probably shouldn’t be punished.”
So, stick with me through this series while I go into the workings of the pardon, when it should be used, who it should be used on, how we’ve managed to f*ck it up, and why Captain America and Iron Man fought the most pointless ideological war that ever had to be undone for a sequel.
The Hellboy remake can go straight to Boy. I tried harder writing that joke than the people who wrote this movie.
Hellboy (David Harbour) is a demon hunter who also is a demon or a half-demon or something like that. Whatever, he’s big, he’s red, and his right arm looks like it was pulled off of a different action figure and glued on. He works for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, an organization that fights all the stuff that you traditionally find in those creepy German fairy tales preying on children: Ogres, giants, witches, Ted Nugent, etc. The BPRD is led by Hellboy’s adoptive father Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian “C*cksucker” McShane), who found Hellboy after he was summoned by Nazis and Grigori Rasputin (Markos Routhwaite) back in 1945 and elected not to kill him despite the fact that Hellboy was summoned to bring about Ragnarok.
After killing a Mexican Vampire (Mario de la Rosa) who tells him the end is coming, Hellboy is sent to hunt giants with the Osiris Club, a bunch of rich English guys who have been doing this since knights were en vogue. They quickly stab Hellboy in the back and try to kill him to prevent the apocalypse and he falls into a river.
At the same time, a boar-man named Gruagach (Stephen Graham/Douglas Tait) beseeches the Baba Yaga (Troy James/Emma Tate), the Russian Witch, for a way to get revenge on Hellboy. We’re later told that this is because Hellboy stopped him from being able to switch places with a baby and be raised human. Baba Yaga tells him to find the pieces of the witch Nimue (Milla Jovovich) and put them together, which apparently isn’t hard because there are only like 7 pieces, instead of the hundreds that you’d think a body would end up in over 1500 f*cking years. Seriously, why do all these damned “separated body parts” stories keep the number so small rather than just having the caretakers go “oh hey, another year passed, let’s cut another piece off and throw it into a new mine shaft?” This is why Voldemort’s an idiot.
Whatever. Hellboy gets out of the river, because of f*cking course he does, only to find out that apparently there actually were giants that easily killed the giant hunters. Hellboy kills them in what is admittedly a pretty cool fight scene, but then the movie has to keep going by having him pass out as a young woman named Alice (Sasha Lane) arrives. She saves Hellboy, revealing that she’s a medium and also the baby Hellboy saved from Gruagach. The BPRD shows up to tell Hellboy that the last piece of Nimue is in the custody of the Osiris Club, who have now been massacred. It’s also revealed that Nimue wants Hellboy to kickstart the end of days, because that’s what they always want him to do in these movies. He’s joined by a werejaguar named Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), who has secret orders from M11, the British BPRD, to kill Hellboy if he needs to.
Hellboy gets transported to Baba Yaga’s house, who hates Hellboy for taking her eye, offers to tell Hellboy Nimue’s location in exchange for one of his eyes. Hellboy cheats her, resulting in her cursing him, because we need an emotional thing later. The heroes head to the location and kill a bunch of witches, but Nimue’s back because movie’s gotta movie. She poisons Alice, but Hellboy goes and wakes up Merlin to cure her, who also offers Hellboy the way to Excalibur, because apparently he’s descended from King Arthur through his mother. Hellboy passes, however, despite it being the weapon that cut Nimue apart in the first place. Also, almost no version of the Arthurian myth has Arthur leave a surviving royal lineage, and the ones that do mostly say that the Pendragon line only produces male heirs, so I’m calling bullshit on this “descended from Arthur through his mother” crap.
Merlin the Plot Device dies and so do most of the supporting characters. The key characters fight Nimue in a church, like one does. Hellboy kills Gruagach and falls into a pit containing Excalibur, rendering Hellboy’s earlier decision pointless. He refuses to pull it out until Nimue kills Bruttenholm, completing Baba Yaga’s curse. Hellboy pulls the sword, which starts the apocalypse for some reason, until he kills Nimue, because cliche hero’s gotta cliche hero. Later, they find Abe Sapien, which is too little too late for this film.
Thank goodness the third season of Stranger Things came out, because I would hate for a movie like this to hurt David Harbour’s career. Actually, his portrayal of Hellboy was one of the only good things in the film. He conveys a lot more complex emotions than the dialogue allows, he looks great as Hellboy, he’s completely distinct from the version of Hellboy in the other films without feeling like a betrayal of the character, and also he feels like he’s actually giving the film effort. I love Ian McShane in general, but from his narration at the beginning of the movie, I thought he was phoning it in. Given the quality of dialogue he was reading I can’t quite blame him, but still, at least Harbour tried to make lemonade out of the pile of lemon-scented dung that they gave him to work with. Daniel Dae Kim, an actor I normally like, also seemed checked out, like he was upset that he was the second choice for the role after Ed Skrein backed out over the whitewashing of the character. I didn’t see American Honey, so I have no idea if this was above or below average for Sasha Lane. Milla Jovovich… well, she was Leeloo, she gets a pass from me. What kind of pass? If you can’t answer that, punch yourself in the head and go watch The Fifth Element.
The acting really isn’t the problem, compared to the story and the dialogue. The story feels like it was cobbled together from a bunch of different scripts precisely because it WAS exactly that. This movie adapts like three or four different plotlines from the Hellboy comics and that’s kind of a mistake out of the gate. Not only are those all fairly long plots to work in, they’re also from comics that occurred pretty far into Hellboy’s run, where the series didn’t have to worry about establishing characters or trying to quickly convey how they’d previously interacted. Even more, the film had to convey how the world you’re building is different than the only previous one we’d seen in the medium, and it’s quite a bit different from both the previous movie and the comic. A big difference is the presence of Hellboy on Earth. In the Guillermo del Toro films, Hellboy is a well-kept secret. In the comics, he’s the world’s most famous supernatural investigator. Here, he’s sort of in-between, not in hiding but also not publicly super recognized. So, basically, this film had to distinguish itself, establish a world, convey a complicated story, explain the history of the characters, and also kick-ass at the same time. That can be pulled off (like Into the Spider-Verse did), but it requires a great script and some efficient storytelling. This was not that script.
It’s difficult for me to pick exactly when I realized I was probably going to hate this film, but since it was during the flashback that opens the movie, I’d say it was about 25 seconds in when Ian McShane is throwing in some random “f*cks” to remind people what the rating is. However, I can absolutely say when I realized that I definitely was going to hate the film, and that’s when Hellboy delivered the line “if my face could talk it would disagree with you.” That line is so terrible and delivered with such unearned confidence in its quality that I just about vomited. Everything after that wasn’t much of an improvement, but my standards had hit “The Room without ironic pleasure” at that point, so I couldn’t care.
I also pretty much gave up hope of any redemption in how the plot was going to play out when the knights stab Hellboy in the back and ask him “we’ve been doing this for a thousand years, you didn’t really think we’d need your help, did you?” This is stupid on several levels. First, why didn’t Hellboy ask himself that, particularly given that they explain the history of the hunt before setting off? Second, it turns out that the giants are real and they quickly massacre the knights, so they DID need his help and they could have killed him after he helped them kill the giants. Third, their plan was to blame the giants for his disappearance so that Bruttenholm wouldn’t notice, but Hellboy kills all of them single-handedly while heavily wounded, so it seems like it would have been suspicious anyway. I’d say that hey might not know that he’s that strong, but they’ve been studying him for 60 years. Fourth, why even take him on a real hunt if you’re just going to kill him? You’re doing it to prevent the apocalypse, couldn’t you have thought of a ruse that would be more likely to kill him? Fifth, you decapitate giants, but you think you can drown a freaking demon? Lastly, this entire act pretty much ends up doing nothing, as it has almost no impact on the rest of the story, meaning it was pointless.
AND THAT’S MOST OF THE MOVIE. Something kind of easily preventable happens, Hellboy kind of deals with it, but then his decisions are rendered pointless by circumstances so that they can get to the next plot point.
This movie sucks. David Harbour is pretty good and some of the fights look neat, but everything else is poorly executed.
Netflix released this movie and, appropriately, seemed to mostly keep quiet about it, because it is like getting stung by tiny, irritating things.
Some scientists find a bunch of small winged creatures, referred to as “vesps” (Latin for Wasps) because the writers quit thinking after the first Google result for “Small flying things.” The creatures are attracted to sound, ravenous, and proportionally pretty strong.
Ally (Kiernan Shipka) is a late-in-life deaf girl (having lost her hearing in a car accident) who never acts like she’s deaf. At all. Because of that, it will be brought up repeatedly to remind the audience that, yes, this character cannot hear. She lives with her parents, Hugh and Kelly (Stanley “Yes, I agreed to this” Tucci and Miranda “Whoa, I agreed to this?” Otto), her grandmother (Kate Trotter), her brother Jude (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), and a dog who, because story demands it, barks at everything.
They are all in the city as the Vesps start to go through the US, killing anything that makes noise. The government tells everyone to stay indoors and quiet, but Ally says they should head for the countryside, which is quieter. Glenn (John Corbett), Hugh’s best friend who is randomly there, joins them. However, shortly after finding a massive traffic jam composed of all the other people who got the same idea, Glenn goes off-roading and crashes, attracting vesps. Glenn sacrifices himself to save the family who is being attacked because the dog won’t stop barking. They sacrifice the dog and make it to a house in the countryside. The owner conveniently dies because they didn’t hear the news. The family sneaks in through a storm drain, but Kelly gets bitten by vesps. Hugh kills them by turning on a woodchipper and leading them to fly into it, proving conclusively how dumb this movie is.
Ally contacts her new boyfriend, Rob (Dempsey Bryk), a guy who knows ASL, who reveals that his parents are dead. He also reveals that cults have started to spring up that involve cutting their own tongues out. I remind you that this is only a few days into the attacks. Kelly’s leg gets infected, so they have to rip-off The Day After Tomorrow and go on an antibiotic run. It’s revealed that Vesps lay eggs in corpses, something that sure seems inconvenient for a species that apparently didn’t have contact with anything else for at least hundreds of years. It’s also revealed that they’re weak to cold.
A reverend (Billy MacLellan) and his cult who Ally had refused to join earlier show up at the house, interested in impregnating Ally, because bad guy is bad. Hugh shows them a gun, something that, when fired, would probably result in everyone’s death by Vesps, which leads the cult to leave. Rob reveals there’s a “refuge” to the North. The cult sends over a little girl strapped with phones in what is one of the only legitimately clever moments in the film, activating them to summon the Vesps. The cultists run in and abduct Ally, but Lynn kills several of them by tackling them and shouting to attract the Vesps, sacrificing herself, after which the family manages to kill almost all of the other cultists. They make their way north to the refuge where Ally finds Rob and they go Vesp hunting with bows and arrows, where Ally wonders if humans will get used to silence before the Vesps get used to cold.
A Quiet Place is a great movie. It’s one of the few films where sound really does have a massive effect both on the story and the audience. The sense of terror that occurs throughout the movie is basically its own tinnitus ringing. At the same time, we are watching a family go through an internal upheaval from the loss of a child that they are dealing with just as much as the external upheaval. It gives us a way to connect emotionally with the characters that makes everything they’re going through feel just real enough to make us want to suspend disbelief to the rest of the story, and some disbelief definitely has to be suspended. The monsters in A Quiet Place are terrifying not only because they’re fast, but because they are unstoppable. Despite that, at the end of the film, in order to give the characters an arc and some hope, they are revealed to have a weakness. Realistically, this opens up a lot of holes in the idea that they destroyed humanity’s resistance so easily, because that means that no one thought to use sound against the monsters who can only use sound to navigate. I mean, we have ultrasonic weapons already, so apparently every military and police force on the Earth is pretty dumb in that world. But, the movie is so good that you don’t think about stuff like that until you’ve left the theater and ruminated. A lot of movies have similar issues in retrospect, but if you aren’t noticing the flaws until you’re at home, the film’s experience was still effective, so that’s still a quality film.
This film drives home its flaws at almost every chance.
First, Kiernan Shipka. I know that the Joker loves her in the new Sabrina series (MJH forever!) and I loved her in Mad Men, but dear God do I never, ever, ever, at any f*cking point believe she’s a deaf person. At several points she seems to react to things that are happening behind her. I understand she’s not totally deaf, but even when stuff doesn’t seem loud enough to get to her, she still jumps and turns, unless the plot demands she doesn’t. Also, if she’s reacting to people reacting to the other thing, then she should be a half-second behind everyone else. Second, the monsters in this movie are crap. They’re tiny flying dinosaurs, something that SHOULD be cool, but there are so many massive flaws with them that the movie points out. Yes, there are a lot of them and they breed somewhat quickly, but they’re vulnerable to basically everything and they can’t get through most structures. You can kill them with a bow and arrow or block them with a suit of armor, let alone a tank, and you can force them to blindly fly into anything loud. If you just threw a ton of firecrackers onto a bonfire, they’d burn themselves to death trying to eat the fireworks. I can understand why it might take a few days to get things under control, but it just doesn’t seem like it’s really an “apocalypse” level threat.
Third, the cult subplot is just so damned nonsensical. We find out that these cults are popping up everywhere only a few days, maybe a few weeks, after the vesps appear. To give you an idea of where society is at that point, we still have the internet. It gets even worse when you consider that these people just cut their tongues out, but they still make noise. I mean, cool, you stopped yourself from being articulate, but the monsters still want to eat you. Hell, the Reverend growls at people.
This movie might have been in production before A Quiet Place came out, so maybe they didn’t start out with the goal of making a mediocre knock-off, but that’s damn well what happened. It’s not compelling enough to distract me from the logical flaws, and it’s not visually or aurally interesting. I mean, Stanley Tucci couldn’t make me like this film. What else is there to say?
I didn’t really care for the movie either, but a few points. One, Stanley Tucci is always amazing. Two, Kiernan Shipka actually learned ASL to do the movie and that’s dedication. Three, adding an element of societal collapse driving people crazy does at least flesh out the world a little bit.
If you want a real review of the series, it’s here.
I’m gonna talk about some of the complaints that have been levied at this show (to the point that people have been harassing the crew) and say which ones are stupid and which ones actually have merit.
First, people have been complaining that the new She-Ra doesn’t look feminine enough. As to that, I just say: The 8-foot-tall superhuman woman does not necessarily need to be Wonder Woman’s level of curvaceous. Hate to break your mind, but not all women are super-buxom. It’s just that in fiction, they almost always are, since gravity-defying and somehow non-cumbersome big boobs are literally called the “most common super power.”
However, as to the point that Adora’s outfit as She-Ra isn’t actually any more armored or battle-ready than the original She-Ra outfit, yeah, that’s true. I mean, since she’s nigh-invulnerable, armor might not make much of a difference, but that is technically true and the show could have actually given her a practical outfit if they were already going out of their way to subvert stereotypes.
Second, every comment involving “SJW” needs to be burned. Look, I’m not someone who’s super into shows that focus every episode on the characters learning a new lesson about tolerance, but that’s not what happens in this show. In fact, differences in appearance, culture, or sexuality mostly just get the response of “okay, now let’s do real stuff” if they’re commented on at all. Since this is a planet where people can be part-cat, part-scorpion, part-angel, or have magical sentient hair, it actually makes sense that being black or Inuit doesn’t particularly come off as “unusual.” The show isn’t trying to jam a message about tolerance down your throat, it just HAS characters who happen to be callipygian or LGTBQ+ or non-caucasian. Thinking that the mere existence of non-white, non-idealized, non-traditional characters automatically makes it SJW propaganda is just denying the fact that those people EXIST IN THE REAL WORLD. So, f*ck you.
Also, complaining that they changed the race/gender/sexuality/appearance of a character is just not recognizing that the original show’s world was almost entirely white and was entirely hetero, because that was the only market that the creators believed mattered. Hell, the main character is still a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white girl. The only human character on the original who wasn’t caucasian was Netossa, so… congrats, there was a token minority in the original show, and maybe that’s something that needs to change. The show’s not spending forty minutes on “the plight of black people” or “the history of gay discrimination,” which sometimes CAN be seemingly self-congratulatory social-awareness, it’s just got characters who happen to be minorities. What does it say about you that you’re willing to accept a woman with tentacles coming out of her back but not a black guy?
Third, a reboot/remake is not de-facto bad. You know what’s a reboot? The 1939 Wizard of Oz, the Charlton Heston Ben-Hur, Casino Royale, and The Dark Knight. And this attitude of automatically assuming they’re ruining your childhood is getting annoying. Do you remember how many people thought that Heath Ledger couldn’t play the Joker, or James Bond couldn’t be Blond, or that we didn’t need another Mad Max movie? If you can use the reboot to show the audience something they haven’t seen before, then the reboot has a purpose. In this case, the show is very different from the original, while still paying tribute to it. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it, but it’s not because it’s a reboot.
Look, I’m not saying this show is perfect. Hell, I didn’t think it was more than slightly above average, and it has the benefit of following other kids’ shows that have been bold enough to have more-developed characters and diverse casts like Steven Universe. The plots aren’t great, a lot of the episodes feel formulaic, and some of the dialogue makes me want to stab my ears with the Sword of Omens (Yes, I know that’s Thundercats). But, some of the shots being leveled at it are completely inane, and that forces me into the position of defending something I don’t care that much about. So, f*cking stop it, so I can move on to better shows… like Ducktales.
Well, it’s been 14 years and we finally got the thing that Pixar should have known we’d throw money at, a sequel to Brad Bird’s The Incredibles. I can only assume the delay was because Sam Jackson was busy being in 113 movies in the meantime. Guy’s the only actor who out-films porn stars.
If you didn’t see the first one, here’s a quick summary of the premise: It’s the 1950s. Superheroes exist. Lawsuits for personal injuries also exist. Lawsuits beat superheroes. Congress makes laws. Laws beat superheroes. Superheroes are forced to retire. Two of them get married and have three kids who also have powers. Now it’s the early ‘60s. The family ends up fighting against a supervillain whose plan is to… make himself a superhero, then sell off technology that would allow everyone to be equal to superheroes. The family beats him, the free world is saved, and superheroes are… still illegal.
The family is basically a twist on the Fantastic Four. The mom stretches, the dad is super-strong and invulnerable, the daughter can become invisible and create forcefields, and the eldest son is superfast because if he had fire-based powers Disney would have sued. As Disney now owns Fantastic Four, but not their movie rights (yet), I guess that’s a good call. Jack-Jack, in the short that was on the DVD for the film and for a few moments in the movie, is revealed to have a huge number of superhuman abilities (later described as “limitless potential”), much like Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman’s son, Franklin Richards, whose powers are basically only outmatched by the One-Above-All, AKA GOD.
So, the movie picks up shortly after the end of the last film… by like 2 minutes. We immediately see the Parr family trying to resume superheroics and get our quick re-introductions. Bob, AKA Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), is the father whose life is defined by superheroics more than his family or career, though the last movie taught him how much more his family means to him. Helen, AKA Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), is the mother who is the more active parent and, arguably, the more successful superhero, except from a marketing and name-recognition perspective. In the last movie, she learned… nothing. She’s basically perfect, so she doesn’t really get a character arc. Violet, the daughter (Sarah Vowell), is a social outcast who has just started to become more open and outgoing. Dash, the middle son (Huck Milner), is the troublemaker who has learned to be more disciplined. Jack-Jack, the baby, is a baby. Their only real friend is Lucius Best, AKA Frozone (Samuel L. Motherf*cking Jackson).
Basically, the premise is that a guy wants to make superheroes legal again, so he has Helen put her costume back on and fight crime, while Bob looks after the family. Now, the general premise here is pretty interesting because, remember, this takes place in the early 1960s. Bob genuinely seems shocked when Helen proposes that she get a job, because he’s “the man of the house.” Throughout much of the movie, he’s struggling to deal with being a stay-at-home parent, something that he cannot use any of his natural superhuman abilities to help with. It gets even worse when the baby starts to show off his superpowers, which include a number of abilities that make him problematic to babysit.
Meanwhile, Helen… well, she doesn’t really have any problems being a superhero again. Honestly, that’s one of the things I loved most about the movie, that they didn’t try to portray Helen as having trouble being a working woman again in some attempt to add conflict. Instead, she’s portrayed as strong, intelligent, tactically brilliant, and resourceful as hell. The movie’s supervillain nemesis is a little corny, but still provides enough of a contest for Elastigirl to show off how good she is at what she does.
Without really spoiling anything, at the end of the movie, the family comes together, saves the day, roll credits. If you didn’t see that coming, I have to assume you don’t know how childrens’ movies work.
First off, everything about this movie, from a technical and storytelling standpoint, was amazing. The characters are well-crafted, the dialogue is amazing, the locations are creative, the villain is pretty well done (see below), and the pacing is basically perfect. I almost think it’s better than the original, honestly. The animation is wonderful, but I found it funny that it really highlights exactly how much Pixar’s animation has improved in the past 14 years, because even the explicitly cartoonish and exaggerated characters from the previous film are now given an extraordinary amount of detail. They’re still less realistic than they could be, but the hair movement and muscle movement in some of the scenes is really elaborate. And the message about the power of family is always good. I loved this film the whole way through, right until something started bugging me on the ride home.
Alright, so, a lot of people had issues with the message of the first movie, since the main family is naturally gifted with superpowers, while the villains are all people who use technology to even the playing field (Bomb Voyage, The Underminer, Syndrome). It gives sort of a “the special are genetically special and trying to change that is evil.” Some people called it reminiscent of Ayn Rand, but those people apparently never read Ayn Rand. While it’s true that Rand believed that society should support the superior people (i.e. the wealthy) at the expense of the lesser peoples (i.e. the working class), the concept of a superhero would have offended her sensibilities, since she claimed altruism was the worst thing in the world in her essay collection The Virtue of Selfishness. Yes, that’s actually its title. Even if Mr. Incredible does enjoy superheroics because of the fame it brings him, he still risks his life constantly to save other people for no reward. When he is stuck at a desk job, he still is trying to help people within the insurance company, to the point that his boss threatens to fire him for it. So, no, not Rand, never Rand. If you’re going to criticize something, read the thing you’re criticizing first (*cough* Everyone on the internet *cough*).
Still, the idea that people born with gifts are heroes and people who use their minds are villains isn’t stopped during this movie. As far as I can recall, there is no Batman equivalent in this. There is no tech-based superhero like Iron Man. There doesn’t even appear to be someone like the Hulk or the Flash, who has artificially-granted superpowers, although the movie doesn’t really explore this much. My point is, they definitely didn’t shy away from that criticism. And, let’s be honest, when you go into “some people are born genetically superior” territory, you really open up a lot of issues that tend to rhyme with “Race-based Bin-o-slide.” But, the movie does try to at least portray that there are superheroes in every country, from every genetic background, which I think is them trying to equate superheroes not to race or ethnicity, but to people born with natural aptitudes. If you look at it from that lens, the movie’s message is “use your natural talents to the benefit of everyone,” and it’s only people who choose to use them for selfish reasons or out of spite, that are bad. After all, all the villains are naturally superhumanly intelligent in order to make their devices, but they could easily just do what Syndrome suggests in the first movie: Sell all of their gadgets and make everyone super. It’s meant to be villainous in the way that Syndrome is suggesting it, but, seriously, how is that a bad idea?
Well, in this movie, we’re actually given hints that some other people have done exactly that. While the movie still takes place in 1963 (based on The Outer Limits airing in one scene and the fact that the last movie took place over several months), we see some technology which is far ahead of its time, like digital video files and a commercial mag-lev train. So, maybe, there are some people who are using their talents for the betterment of mankind. Granted, you’d think that Syndrome’s patents alone would have moved us forward 50 years, but maybe he just kept most of his stuff secret. Still, the movie series does have a tone of “super-strong = good, super-smart=bad,” which, to be honest, is a common thing in superhero comics (Superman v. Lex Luthor). Without a Batman or a Mr. Terrific or a Tony Stark to counter it, though, it does just stay at “strong good, smart bad.” And I’m not a fan of that message, even if not deliberate.
But, all of that aside, I’d like to address another message that really comes up more in this film. The premise of the film is a debate about whether or not we should have superheroes. It’s pretty similar in some ways to the debate in Captain America: Civil War, only in this one every country has a ton of supers, as opposed to Civil War, where there really are only a hundred or so on Earth until the Inhuman spread happens… and even then, it still seems like there are less than a few thousand (I’m not caught up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). And that debate is something I’m gonna address more in the future, but for now, let me state how I see both sides, at present.
On the one side, the supers, who want the freedom to do good works and help people without the government getting in the way. On the other, the government, who see supers as a giant problem since they’re basically destructive vigilantes who are not held accountable for most of their actions. Since the focus of the movie is on the supers, who do you think seems more reasonable in the narrative? Hell, at one point, a government agent says that politicians don’t like altruism, because they don’t understand it. That’s mostly true, if a cheap generalization that reflects poorly upon the American people, but that’s not why you wouldn’t want superheroes fighting in your cities. You don’t want supers because they cause a ton of collateral damage. The movie even acknowledges this when they state that A) when Mr. Incredible tries to thwart crime, he causes a huge amount of the city to be destroyed and B) when it’s revealed that his cost/benefit analysis to the city is not good. That’s actually why they choose his wife, who can avoid collateral damage and casualties, to be the face of superheroics. And that’s where we kind of run into an issue.
See, no one should have a problem with Elastigirl being a superhero. She’s well-trained, she prioritizes minimizing casualties and collateral damage, and she tries to avoid conflict when possible. In an age of Man of Steel, this is a reminder of the right way to do things. But what about Mr. Incredible? He’s done nothing to earn being a superhero besides being born super-strong and deciding to help people. His attempts to stop one of the villains takes out several buildings. In the first film, failing to effectively dispose of a bomb (like, by throwing it upwards?) results in him having to stop an elevated train, causing massive injuries onboard. While a good Samaritan law would probably protect him when he saves a suicidal jumper, this one is probably a lot more ambiguous and might actually have cost him his immunity from liability, since he’s saving them from what could be considered his own reckless actions.
And what about all the public works? The movie actually points out that it’s easier to just let some of the villains get away with insured funds than to risk destroying significantly greater amounts in property by fighting them. It actually reminded me of an episode of The Powerpuff Girls, where the girls blow up a multi-million dollar bridge to stop robbers from stealing a few hundred dollars. It’s pretty reasonable for this to piss off city managers. Since supers have been illegal for like 12 years at this point, clearly the authorities actually have ways of dealing with supervillains that’s worked pretty well. It’s not like supers are shown to have a positive effect on crime rates, the world seems more peaceful in the present, if anything.
Look, if you can do good, you should, but doing good recklessly can often result in a net bad. And “good” is so nebulous in the real world that it can be a troublesome to even determine it in the first place unless you have both a strong moral compass and a keen mind to direct it. So, is the government in the right? Well, no. In both Civil War and here, the responses to superheroes are too extreme (and moreso in the Marvel Comics “Civil War”). Some superheroes like Elastigirl and Captain America are a net positive that are only slowed down by government control. Superheroes like Tony “I create all of my own villains” Stark, the Hulk, and Mr. Incredib-ly Destructive are not, unless they’re in a situation where the alternative to their involvement is mass devastation. The key here is that your solution doesn’t have to be either “all supers are relatively free from consequences” or “no supers can exist.” There are a ton of fictional worlds that figure out a reasonable middle ground. While they don’t elaborate, hopefully, the movie has found one in the new superhero laws.
Then there’s the villain’s monologue justification for why they hate supers. Basically, it’s that relying on supers prevents people from being able to grow and take care of themselves. This basically suggests that humanity should be more Darwinian, with the weak dying off so that the strong can continue, and only those who become strong deserve to. This doesn’t get a ton of screen time, but the movie does make a point that relying solely on help from others does cause issues. Just like with the other issue above, this one is presented as a bit of a binary, with the good guys saying “you can count on others.” Again, the truth is, you can’t always, but most of the time you can. However, since we seem to have an outbreak of mistrust in our fellow man running throughout the world, I do support a movie saying that you can count on other people to help you.
So, basically, the messages in the movie might not always be the clearest, but I think overall it’s not that bad. It’s a kids’ movie, after all, and it hints at some debates about the balance between government regulation and personal liberty that have been going on since the dawn of time. That’s pretty ambitious. Overall, the general message of the movie is “just be a good person and do good things for others,” so I really can’t get down on it too much, and it’s such a great film in general that it’s hard to criticize it. Just see it for yourself.
Well, I made a list of fictional moms, so it only seems fair to do a list of fictional dads. Just like before, I picked a number, in this case 6, then picked 4 at random from a list of fictional fathers. These aren’t the “best” fathers, but they’re the ones I remember.
THE “CHANGE-OF-LIFE DAD” AWARD
George Banks (Steve Martin in Father of the Bride and Father of the Bride Part II)
We only see George Banks at two points in his life. First, when he finds out that his 22-year-old daughter is going to marry a man she only has known for six months. Despite the fact that George doesn’t particularly like his new potential son-in-law, it becomes obvious that he just always loved her being “daddy’s girl” and doesn’t want that to change. Still, by the end of the first movie, he’s accepted that it’s part of life that your kids will leave, but that they’ll still love him. The second time we see George, it’s as he becomes a grandfather and, at the same time, a father again. Managing to panic simultaneously about being too young to be a grandfather and too old to be a father, George really embodies two natural fears of most men at the same time.
Steve Martin’s performance in these films always managed to be hilarious while not being disingenuous. The things that George is feeling are the things that many people in his position would feel. Despite that, he is a loving, caring father and a decent husband, though his wife, Nina (Diane Keaton), is pretty much better than him at dealing with anything. George isn’t perfect, but he’s pretty real. Also, every scene of him bonding with his kids over basketball is gold.
THE “DAD YOU LEAST WANT TO MESS WITH” AWARD
William Munny (Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven)
Unforgiven is one of the best Westerns ever made, because it’s the anti-Western. Everything that always seemed noble and idealistic about the Western Genre is run through a blender and mixed in with heavy doses of reality. The central bounty in the movie, for example, is offered by a group of prostitutes after a man disfigures one of them for laughing at the size of his genitals. Not something I remember from Roy Rogers.
The main character of the film, William Munny, is a retired gunman who is convinced to take up the bounty because otherwise he’ll lose the farm and his children’s future. In order to spare his kids from ever having to do what he’s done, Munny tracks down the cowboys. However, at the end of the film, he has to face down an entirely different posse to ensure his family’s safety and to avenge a fallen comrade. The movie, which up until this point has gone out of the way to say that there is no “cowboy who rides into town and faces down a posse without dying” then proceeds to show Munny doing EXACTLY THAT. He kills a dozen men brutally all by himself, then returns home to his family, where he, again, swears off killing.
THE “BEST DAD, WORST HUSBAND” AWARD
Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire)
Daniel Hillard isn’t the best husband. He basically dumps every responsibility in the marriage on his wife and it really isn’t that surprising when she can’t take it anymore. Due to his instability, he’s only allowed limited time with his children, something that doesn’t sit well with him, but that anyone in social work would probably agree with. But, rather than, you know, working on getting a better job or making a better home environment for his kids, he decides to A) gaslight the hell out of his now-ex-wife and B) dress up as a 60-year-old English woman and be the children’s nanny. These are not the responses of a person who you want watching over kids, something the movie flat-out tells you when a judge restricts his custody further after he’s exposed.
There’s no doubt that Daniel loves his kids. At one point he compares them to air, because he can’t live without them. And that’s really the biggest redeeming thing in the movie. As Daniel says, he can only admit that his actions were crazy because he could not live in a world where he didn’t see his kids more and, being a creative person rather than a logical one, this was the best solution he could come up with. With almost any other actor, I think this movie would fail, but Robin Williams never wavers on this being a man doing what he thinks is right. So, yeah, he went overboard, but he’s still a pretty good father, especially by the end of the movie, where he’s finally taking more responsibility for his parenting.
THE “DAD WHO DEFINED OVERBOARD” AWARD
Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase in the Vacation Films)
Clark W. Griswold dreams big. Everything he does has to be big and bright and extreme, but it’s all because that’s how he thinks family’s bond. Credit to him, by the end of every film, the family does seem to be pretty tightly-knit, although his kids are usually recast by the next movie. From amusement parks to Europe to Vegas, Clark takes his family on wild adventures that often result in some form of legal trouble and marital strife, and it’s almost always directly his fault. And when they stay home for Christmas, well, as his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) notes “we’re all in hell.”
However, the best thing about Clark, for me, will always be his rants. Usually, at some point in the movie, something will go wrong that isn’t Clark’s fault, and Clark will snap. These are typically so hilarious that even the cast has trouble pretending to be scared by Clark’s conduct, rather than laughing their asses off. I end this entry with a quote from the best one: “Hallelujah! Holy Shit! Where’s the Tylenol?”
THE “CUTEST PAIR OF POPS” AWARD
Cameron Tucker and Mitchell Pritchett (Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson on Modern Family)
Cam and Mitchell are adorable. Mitch is an uptight, introverted, worrywart who is overly focused on work and his father’s approval while Cam is the free-spirit who loves to go out and make friends. Hell, any photo of the two of them kind of makes it obvious. Mitch usually wears something conservative while Cam’s outfit’s a little more flamboyant. I love the hell out of Cam’s shirts, too. Despite this, Mitchell is often the more sensitive when dealing with confrontation while Cam, who is a former football player for University of Illinois, is more blunt and willing to use his intimidating size. However, as cute as they are in their “opposites attract” marriage, they’re better as parents.
Cam and Mitch adopt their Vietnamese daughter, Lily, at the beginning of the series, and from then on are two loving fathers, constantly doting on their little bundle of joy. While Lily didn’t speak for the first two seasons, after she starts verbalizing, she quickly starts to pick up the funniest parts of both of her fathers: Cam’s over-the-top drama queen emoting and Mitch’s sarcasm and wit. The two often run into conflicts over how they want to raise their daughter, with Cam being more experimental and Mitch being more traditional, but they ultimately manage to give their daughter the best of both worlds.
THE “DAD EVERYONE SHOULD TRY TO BE” AWARD
Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith in The Andy Griffith Show)
Mayberry isn’t real, and neither is someone as almost unfailingly good as Sheriff Andy Taylor, but they weren’t supposed to be. Andy Taylor was a single father whose wife died shortly after childbirth and set out to raise his son, Opie (Ron Howard), with the help of the woman who raised him, Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier). Throughout the series, Andy always tends to be seen as folksy and naïve, but with a deep font of wisdom and virtue beneath, and those are the values he tries to pass on to his son. There’s already an entry on this site about one of the best examples of Andy’s parenting, but any given episode is likely to show an example.
It’s pretty telling that one of the most famous images of father-son bonding is the opening to the show, of Andy and Opie heading out to go fishing, Opie running ahead and playing with the rocks while Andy watches over him with a steady stride.
THE “DAD YOU SHOULD PROBABLY NOT BE” AWARD
Hal Wilkerson (Bryan Cranston in Malcolm in the Middle)
Malcolm in the Middle was a show about people who were pretty much failures. The eldest son, Francis (Christopher Masterson), is such a problem that he ended up dropping out of military school to go to Alaska, all in the name of spiting his mother. The next son, Reese (Justin Berfield), is a criminal to the extent that he has a regular cell at the jail and refuses any scholastic endeavors, intentionally failing to graduate once. Malcolm (Frankie Muniz), despite being a supergenius, is constantly in trouble and jeopardizing his future by trying to keep up with his two older brothers. The youngest son, for most of the series, Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan), is also extremely intelligent and talented, but is typically the victim of his big brothers’ antics. The kids are so misbehaved that it pretty much takes the iron will of their mother, Lois (Jane Kaczmerak), to keep them in line. And that’s because Hal doesn’t really step up much.
Hal’s not much of a disciplinarian, he often joins his kids in troublemaking, and he often gets so caught up in fads and obsessions that he ignores his family. Moreover, it’s all because he loves banging his wife. No, really, in one episode, Hal and Lois can’t have sex for 2 weeks and become successful parents and people. But, Hal’s not a “bad” dad. He loves his kids, even though they drive him nuts, and he does try to help them when they’re in trouble. At the end of the series, though, it’s revealed that everything he and Lois do is part of Lois’s master plan to have Malcolm become the best president in US History, which… makes it better, maybe?
THE “BEST ADOPTED DAD” AWARD
“Uncle” Philip Banks (James Avery on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)
Philip Banks was a rebel in his youth. He was a civil rights activist in Selma in 1965, he heard Malcolm X speak, and he was the first black child to use a white toilet in North Carolina during segregation. Then, he got a scholarship to Princeton, then went to Harvard Law, and became super wealthy with a mansion in Bel-Air. He has three kids of his own, and then agrees to take in his wife’s nephew, Will (Will Smith), with whom he constantly spars. Will thinks that Phil is a sellout, while Phil says Will doesn’t show him enough respect for all the work he put in helping to advance race relations. This isn’t helped by Phil’s son Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro), who acts like a stereotypical WASP. However, as the series goes on, Will slowly becomes a part of the family.
Then, there is the episode where Will’s dad, Lou (Ben Vereen), comes back. Now, up until this point, they hadn’t really addressed what happened with Will’s dad, but it turns out that he just abandoned his family after Will was born. He comes back, trying to bond with Will, who quickly grows close to him, before trying to leave again. Phil angrily confronts Lou about shirking his responsibilities as a father, which Lou quickly just says he “didn’t want.” Lou then leaves Will again, leading Will to tell him off in one of the most emotional scenes on TV, before finally hugging Phil, with Phil finally being the father Will never had.
THE “BEST DAD IN FILM” AWARD
Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird)
Atticus Finch will consistently top any list of best fictional lawyers, but I also have to put him on here as a great father. Atticus is one of the few people in fiction to really try to teach his children the lesson that it doesn’t matter what people think of you as long as you can look inside and know that you’re doing the right thing and that it’s never worth fighting someone just over name calling. In both the movie and the book, we’re shown how much it hurts his daughter Scout to think of her father as a coward, though she later realizes that’s the last adjective to put on him.
At the end of the film/book, Atticus has proven that he is the best man within the town, but, rather than ending with the trial or the departure of Boo Radley, the book ends with Atticus calmly holding his daughter before carrying her in to bed. That’s the real triumph, that, after the events of the story, Atticus returns to just being a normal father, devoted to his children from the beginning to the end.
I’m not considering the “sequel” book when making this determination, just the film. In Go Set a Watchman, people felt betrayed by Atticus Finch now being an advocate for segregation. What’s interesting is that, apparently, this may be because it was written first and Atticus Finch was based on Harper Lee’s father, who originally favored segregation before later supporting integration by the time Lee re-wrote the book into To Kill a Mockingbird. So, it’s possible that Atticus’s reversed opinions is based on the order of authorship being reversed. Still, at the end of that book, the message is that Scout still loves her father because her father loves her and has always been supportive of her even when they disagreed, so he’s still a pretty great dad.
I dedicate this to my own father, to whom I am a perpetual disappointment, but who I respect above all other men.
Part 6: Marcus Aurelius and The Guide to Picking a Good Leader
A good leader is not something that can be nailed down. It depends a lot on the state of the world and the state of the nation being governed within it. But, in general, here are the 7 things you need to focus on when picking a leader, in order of importance:
It may seem counter-intuitive, since we tend to favor aggressive leaders (check out Part 5), but, as explained in Part 2, a great leader is going to need to be able to realize the full impact of their decisions, and a key part of that is going to be to see the indirect impacts. Additionally, empathy allows for better diplomatic relations, as well as more humane treatment of enemies. As pointed out in Part 3, those tend to minimize the fallout from negative interactions.
This isn’t to be confused with intelligence or wisdom. Intelligence is the ability to quickly process information into knowledge and apply it. Wisdom is the ability to use knowledge effectively. Knowledge is the pool of information from which you draw experience in order to make decisions. Intelligence without knowledge is just quickly running in the wrong direction. Wisdom without knowledge is just making the best decision based on limited information. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t also prioritize wisdom and intelligence, but knowledge is the best metric for a leader. Having little knowledge is dangerous. Having a lot of knowledge means that you’re likely to have knowledge about how little knowledge you have.
Subsets of knowledge to focus on:
History is the most important thing for a leader to know because history teaches us what’s already been tried, what worked, and what failed.
Philosophy would be next, because it tends to involve both ethical introspection as well as re-consideration of established viewpoints.
Science follows, because science requires study, logic, and the scientific method is the closest thing humanity has to finding truth. Also, only real sciences, no social sciences, those are below.
The Law is next, because it forms the basis of our system, even though it is malleable and should be changed as society changes.
The remaining Humanities are next, including language, literature, art, religion, and music, because they inherently grow empathy within the learner.
And then there’s Economics, because, while it is almost entirely bullshit and every macroeconomics model should be labeled a lie, you still need to know how tariffs and trade agreements work, at least enough to know when they will be massive failures. Economics is like the weather service: They can’t really predict what’s going to happen for sure, but they can get the general trends right enough to tell you the range of things that’ll happen, and that’s useful over the long-term.
I don’t mean that they should follow any particular ethical model, but they must be ethically consistent. Hypocrisy, if it occurs, should be addressed, not denied, and should be discussed until either it is resolved or justified. You need a person you can rely on to follow their principles more than you need a person whose principles completely mirror yours.
Yeah, you’d think this’d be higher, but this often derives from the prior three. A leader should be for their people, not themselves. This isn’t to say that a leader cannot help themselves while helping others, in fact that’s part of trying to advance society, but if you see a person advocating for an act that gives them a primary boon, be suspicious. If you see them advocating for an act that would affect them negatively in the name of helping others, be more open to it. Basically, don’t trust someone’s tax plan outright if it’s mostly going to help their bracket. It might still be a good act but dig into it more.
While you need someone who can adapt a plan to new information and to changing times, you also need someone who’s going to not be hung up on every new problem that’s impacting their vision. If you know for sure that you need a bridge, you want someone whose response to issues with construction aren’t “oh, no, will it happen,” but “okay, find a way to make it work.” Of course, you also want someone who will know enough to have done the cost/benefit of the bridge before they start, but that’s covered above.
Despite the fact that most examples of the worst leaders of all time were so charismatic they created personality cults around them (Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Rodrigo Duterte), it’s still important to note that you aren’t a leader if people aren’t going to follow you. If you’re not willing to figure out how to convey your message in a more relatable way, you’re failing. I realize the irony of writing that as part of a long treatise that would be too long in 1800, but f*ck you, I’ll make a YouTube video of it with an animated Aardvark if I run for office. Also, you can substitute charisma for having charismatic people represent you, but that just doesn’t build as strong of a connection.
If you’re leading, you need to know where you’re leading. You need to tell people what it is you want them to have, and why they need to have it. Moses wandered in the desert for 40 years looking, but he only got away with that because he had GOD backing him.* You can’t just say “wouldn’t it be nice if people didn’t have to eat a guy’s finger in the occasional tin of meat,” you have to be Teddy Roosevelt saying “F*ck all these companies and their lack of decency, if you pressure your legislators, the Food and Drug Administration’s gonna be on their ass, keeping fingers out of your sh*t.” Yes, that’s a direct quote, but he added “Bully.” Also, you can only lead forward, not back. Look at the Luddites, at Augustus’s attempts to return Rome’s old morality, the Turner Controversy, and pretty much every race riot started by the dominant race to see why it doesn’t ever work out well to try and recapture the glory of the past.
These aren’t a full list, obviously, but remember: The candidate is more important than the issues. If you have a good candidate, then you can trust that they’ll evaluate the issues more than you have. If you have a bad one, you have to watch their every move.
And since I needed an A, I’ll end with a few quotes from what I think was one of the best unintentional guides to becoming a good leader, and person, ever, written by Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations. Aurelius was called the last of the Five Good Emperors (though that doesn’t mean exactly what it sounds like) and, by Roman standards and probably even some more recent ones, lived up to the modern meaning of that title until his son took over. Meditations is primarily a collection of thoughts on Stoicism, but, while I don’t completely agree with all of the points on stoicism, some of them truly do make for good leadership traits.
On not lashing out at petty problems: If you are grieved about anything external, ’tis not the thing itself that afflicts you, but your judgment about it; and it is in your power to correct this judgment and get quit of it.
On empathy towards other opinions: When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine.
On remembering that the Truth is always a higher power and a higher allegiance: All things are interwoven with one another; a sacred bond unites them; there is scarcely one thing that is isolated from another. Everything is coordinated, everything works together in giving form to one universe. The world-order is a unity made up of multiplicity: God is one, pervading all things; all being is one, all law is one (namely, the common reason which all thinking persons possess) and all truth is one—if, as we believe, there can be but one path to perfection for beings that are alike in kind and reason.
On the necessity of correction: Be thou erect, or be made erect. (It really means “either show yourself as being your best self, or as someone who has been corrected to be their best self,” but I think this version is funniest).
On self-governance: Put an end once for all to this discussion of what a good man should be, and be one.
(Yeah, I’m working on it, you long-dead a**hole).
You know what really makes the best leaders? The best followers, all ready to continue the work should the leader fall. But what we really need is an engaged population, who are all willing to work to try and get the best people in there. It’s especially important to look at smaller elections that represent people trying to enter the system. It’s counter-intuitive, since we associate bigger elections with bigger decisions, but those candidates typically have worked their way up there. If they seem to all be bad, it’s because we didn’t help promote the better candidates at the lower levels. So, help a candidate for mayor out, run for an office yourself, and F*CKING VOTE. You might think an election is between a giant douche and a turd sandwich, but they are never equal. One is always, in some way, a little better than the other, and you need to get your ass out there and make sure the lesser of two evils keeps winning, so that, eventually, you will encourage a real, good, honest candidate to get the office (and might be running at the same time for a lower office).
And, lastly, hold your leaders accountable, especially those you most closely identify as your own. You can complain about the other side’s leadership all you want, but hypocrisy is the number one destroyer of credibility. Not to get too Biblical, but there’s some sh*t about removing the beam from your own eye before pointing out the mote in another’s, and it applies just as much if you’ve got the mote and they’ve got the beam. Get the mote out, and then talk about the beam. You don’t need to lower the bar so that you can get someone you like, you need to raise it to challenge people to meet it.
Thanks for reading, especially the one who sent the Joker messages about this being “liberal bullshit.” You’re my favorite.
Welcome to the Grouch on the Couch’s ABCs. This will be a monthly series until I can get a rhythm going… and figure out all of the letters. F*ck you, you try finding 26 topics connected by letters.
As some of you know, I had a busy three weeks recently, so I’m a little low on buffer. As such, the only one who will be putting anything out this week (aside from Firefly Friday, I know better than to disappoint Browncoats) will be my counterpart, the Grouch on the Couch. It’s not exactly a review, so enjoy a little change of pace. Everything will go back to normal next week, though, so no panicking. The first piece goes up today, and I think it runs through Saturday. Have fun!
Welcome to this sample installment of Grouch on the Couch. Unlike my more positively slanted brother, I’m not really here to review Inception. I’m here to tell you why it’s calling you an asshole. This particular entry was inspired by my listening to the “Show Me the Meaning” podcast on this movie by Wisecrack (love their YouTube channel). They addressed an interpretation of this movie that I’d heard before, but hadn’t put much thought into. Specifically, the one confirmed as being present by Christopher Nolan in this interview with Wired, and then spoken of again in this interview in Entertainment Weekly. Namely, that Inception is about making movies. However, if the characters in the movie represent filmmakers, what’s it saying about audiences?
The team, along with Saito, go into Fischer’s mind, but their plan is undermined at every point by Cobb’s wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), who is just a projection in Cobb’s mind, as well as Fischer’s own internal mental defenses. The team keeps going deeper and deeper into the “dream levels” of Fischer’s subconscious: Each level represented with a different aesthetic, and in each level, time passes faster. During the mission, Saito is injured, resulting in him “dying” within the dream which sends him to “Limbo,” a mind-space in which time passes extremely quickly compared to the real world, such that an entire lifetime would be but a few minutes/hours. Limbo also is completely unstructured, which can result in any person there becoming lost and forgetting what was real before they get there, and then believing that Limbo itself is reality. Cobb incepts Fischer, saves Saito, deals with Mal by confessing that he feels guilty about her death, allowing Ariadne to kill the projection. Cobb comes back to reality and quits his dream-thievery to spend time with his kids. The movie ends with Cobb’s totem (a top that spins forever in dreams, allowing extractors to know if they’re in the real world) starting to wobble.
A lot of people theorize about this film, especially about whether or not any of it is reality, what parts are, who is real, etc. This movie was basically made to be talked about and discussed, and, as you’ll see in a moment, I mean that extremely literally.
This particular theory just happens to be one interpretation that the director agrees is part of the movie, though he denies it’s intentional. Unfortunately, even if it’s unintentional, there are a few negative implications about the movie-going public.
First, a breakdown of this interpretation: Under this view, the art of crafting dreams is the same as the art of crafting film. This idea was going to work its way into the movie no matter how hard they tried to avoid it, because dreams and films are inherently linked. They’re both escapes from reality. In both, we suspend our belief in what’s possible. In both, people can be multiple personas (like that dream where you’re talking to your father who is also Abe Lincoln. One is the actor, one is the role). In both, we are accustomed to having time jumps and to not seeing the whole story leading up to a scene. The very idea of making a movie about shaping dreams invites the comparison. Hell, motion pictures are entirely generated by your mind: You’re seeing a series of still images and your mind is treating them as if they’re moving naturally. If you’re asking how that differs from real movement, well, that’s a different paper, but the explanation involves calculus. I’ll write that later.
The scene that most directly compares films and dreams (as mentioned in the podcast) is the scene in which Cobb and Ariadne are at a café. The two are talking and Cobb points out that people don’t ever remember the beginning of a dream, because dreams always start at a place and begin happening immediately. He then asks her how they got to the café, at which time she realizes that she didn’t know, she just took it for granted. Well, so did we, the audience. In most films, we don’t see HOW people get to places, or what steps they took. Sometimes, if we actually thought about it, we’d realize that some scene changes are logistically impossible (like all the globetrotting within the series 24). We just go with it, because if not, well, as the movie demonstrates, it destroys the illusion. The café of the mind will be blown up.
So, within this dream to film analogy, each member of the heist team represents a different area of a film crew. Cobb is the director and the writer. He is the one who is crafting the story and adapting it to his vision. The reason he’s a combination of both roles is because Christopher Nolan is frequently both, and all art is somewhat biographical (this movie especially). Arthur is the producer/cinematographer. He’s the one who works out the logistics of how to make Cobb’s visions real. Ariadne is the production designer, the one who makes the look come to life. Eames is the performer, the one who directly interacts with the audience as someone else. Cobb himself later briefly takes on this role. Yusuf is the special effects guy, the wizard who controls how far reality is suspended. Saito is the studio, the one who bankrolls the movie and expects to profit. Miles is an older director/film theorist, the one who crafted the art before Cobb got onto the scene and established certain themes (or, within the movie, methods of extracting). This doesn’t really have to be a 1:1 breakdown of roles, and they shift a little within the movie (just like they do in a production), but the central idea still stands.
The movie itself is also a little more dreamlike than many films, which helps the theme but hurts the movie. That’s actually why I don’t really like this movie that much. The structure can be confusing because dreams are confusing. The movie takes imagery, themes, and plot points from other films, like dreams contain recurring images or actions. The rules of the situation keep changing, most famously in the “dream bigger” or “impossible stairway (Penrose steps)” sequences where it seems that the extractors could just do whatever they want and solve most of the problems instantly, but in dreams the rules can constantly change without notice (also, it would make the movie short and might give Fischer a psychotic break).
So, within the film crew analogy, what is Fischer, the guy being incepted? Well, he’s the audience. He’s the one who is living, temporarily, within the dream that’s being crafted for him. His experience is being shaped by the team coming together and each doing their parts to make him feel as if he’s actually within this world. This seems like a pretty solid interpretation of it, and, again, it’s one that Nolan seems to confirm. The problem is, he’s not the only audience in the movie. He’s the audience for the fairly typical heist/Bond-style film that we’re watching, sure, but there’s another audience analogue within the movie.
Mal, the last person incepted, is also the audience.
Here’s Mal’s story: She was married to Cobb and they had 2 kids. One day, she and Cobb are experimenting with the dream sharing technology, and they go too deep into the dreamscape, ending up in Limbo. They spend 50 years there in the span of a few hours real time, but Mal ends up refusing to return to the real world. Cobb incepts her by reactivating her totem, planting the idea in her subconscious that the whole of their reality is a dream (which it currently is). They end up leaving Limbo the only way they know how: By killing themselves. But, when they wake up, Mal is still convinced she’s dreaming, even though she’s now in the “real world.”
Mal then becomes obsessed with this idea and ends up deciding that the real world isn’t real and the dream world is. She kills herself to get back to “reality” and frames Cobb for her murder so that he’ll follow her, resulting in him never being able to interact with his children. This ends up creating a resonant image of her within Cobb’s mind, and this projection is obsessed with sabotaging Cobb’s plans. In the first heist we’re shown, within Saito’s mind, Mal alerts Saito of the theft and shoots Arthur. Later, when Cobb introduces Ariadne to lucid dreaming and she starts to change the dream in a series of artistic alterations of reality, Mal stabs her. It’s revealed that while Mal is somewhat restrained by Cobb, she still comes forward when he’s under stress and tries to destroy everything, usually with violence or a giant effect like a literal train appearing in the middle of a street. She ends up shooting Fischer, sending him to Limbo, before Cobb confesses to what happened, allowing him to stop feeling guilty for her death, and killing her for good.
So, let’s incorporate that into the framework. Mal was the audience for Cobb’s most important film prior to the current one, but it all went wrong. Why? Well, a few reasons, and all of them speak to parts of the creative process and the opinion of the director of the audience.
When Mal and Cobb first went under, she and Cobb were in Limbo. Limbo here is a blank seascape and a shoreline when you first enter it, but you can fill it with basically whatever you want. It’s described as “infinite raw subconscious,” which, weirdly, dialogue suggests is shared by all people even if they’re not part of the current shared dream. In fact, it’s not really a “dream” at all, for that reason, but a separate plane that can be shaped to resemble dreams.
Essentially, Limbo is imagination. You are unrestrained by social norms, themes, or tropes. You can let your deepest desires come forth in any structure of your choice. Now, it’s notable that the things that Cobb builds are mostly images from his own past, because all creation is somewhat biographical. Also, nothing there is truly “unimaginable.” You can make impossible figures as long as they can still be visualized, just like you can in films, but you can’t create a new color. Limbo is literally just a blank slate for the imagination to fill, without any of the pre-set structure that comes in the dream levels.
For Christopher Nolan, operating without “traditional” film-making rules is pretty much his bailiwick. Especially with story structure. Memento subverted traditional narrative structure by doing the movie backwards, constantly forcing the audience to re-evaluate their assumptions. The Prestige is literally a three-part trick on the audience, treating them as the subject of a magic show. This movie is a dream. While Interstellar came after this, that movie tries to show the inside of a 4-D structure. Nolan loves to punch traditional film restrictions in the nut-sack. Limbo is the birthplace of Nolan’s unconventional style, raw and unbound.
However, because Limbo doesn’t need to have any kind of logical structure and the rules and locations can change at any moment, it is harder to keep your bearings while in it. Mal and Cobb start getting lost within the project. They have no structure that they need to work within, so they are unable to find a point to end the film, thus they start wandering aimlessly. The source of structure that Cobb had at the beginning, his own life experience, has now been exhausted (they’ve been in Limbo longer than either of them have been alive). Eventually, however, Cobb remembers his role (and his children) and tries to bring the dream to a conclusion. Mal, however, doesn’t want this to end. The creative process is now her reality. So, Cobb decides to incept her, and therefore really transforms her into his audience. Now that he’s going to shape her perceptions, Cobb does the one thing that he knows will stop the dream: He asks her a cerebral question.
Cobb plants the idea within Mal’s head that the world is all a dream. That reality may not be real. Now, the nature of reality is a question that has been debated throughout history, and if you would like some opinions on it, I do, again, recommend checking out Wisecrack’s YouTube Channel, as well as some books on ontological philosophers. Maybe read Being and Time by Martin Heidegger. The fact that the person asking this is a fictional character makes it all the more interesting, but I’m not going into that discussion here, because it’s irrelevant to what it does in the movie. The point of the question is that it doesn’t have a simple answer and that it’s completely unemotional. And it ends the film, because the audience, Mal, doesn’t want to think about it.
But, that doesn’t stop the fallout. The impact of Mal’s reaction to the question follows Cobb back out of the film. Then, it follows him into all of Cobb’s subsequent projects. However, this Mal is no longer the audience; now she’s just Cobb’s internal issues manifesting themselves. She represents Cobb’s attempt to correct for the action that killed his first film by adding in what he thinks audiences want: Violence, dramatic tension, emotional plot points, massive special effects sequences, and a hot femme-fatale.
When Mal shows up, she disrupts the movie just so that THERE WILL BE A REAL MOVIE. If everything about Fischer’s inception went correctly, the film would be boring. Sure, it could have contained a ton of great questions about the nature of reality and the collective unconscious, but who the hell is going to show up to that? Audiences hate those movies. That’s why The Dark Knight Rises made $1 Billion, but Memento, a literal game-changing film, didn’t make $40 Million. The more unconventional a film is, the less likely it is to make money (just ask Wes Anderson, Terry Gilliam, and Edgar Wright, whose careers combined can’t equal Michael Bay’s Box Office… for the first 3 Transformers movies). That doesn’t mean that “conventional” films are inherently worse (they’re not, and they can be enjoyed thoroughly), but it means that your audience is just more likely to reject things that make them think a lot or see something too unusual. They need to connect with the movie.
Cobb, like Nolan, learned from this, even though it tortures him. That’s why in the movie, Cobb explicitly states that the core of “incepting” Fischer has to be an emotional concept and that Fischer’s mind will reject a cerebral core. Audiences can’t handle a movie without an emotional core. Appropriately, Mal’s relationship to Cobb, Cobb’s desire to return to his children, and his internal journey serve as the emotional core of the movie. If you combine the movie and the meta-movie, it means the emotional core of the movie is accepting that there has to be an emotional core to the movie. There has to be a character’s journey that you can connect with on a personal level in order to get the audience to accept the film’s message.
But what does that say about us, as the audience within the movie? Well, it’s saying that we just don’t want to see what Nolan really is dying to show us: A completely cerebral film where we’re engaged and constantly questioning our perception and our understanding of structure. And, he’s probably right. Hell, Brazil, a very inventive and introspective film that is constantly questioning convention and has inspired countless other films (and is one of my favorites), didn’t turn a profit.
Instead, we want to see a heist film with some kickass special effects that focuses on the emotional connections of the main character and contains a bunch of elements that have been pulled from other films so that we’re already conditioned to accept it. Now, parts of that movie can question the nature of reality or the nature of our suspension of disbelief or how dreams have conditioned us to accept the illusion of film, but ultimately, we still need a bunch of relatable stuff to grab onto. Next time, you might be able to go a little further, but, for now, we need something we’ve already processed so that we aren’t lost when the movie talks about those issues. People aren’t gonna want to put forth the effort to make up much of the difference themselves, and, even if they did, they might not be able to.
This is why Hollywood is sequels and remakes: Because we feel more comfortable dealing with things that are similar to what we have already seen, and they only want to fund what audiences want to see. If you talk to an experienced film analyst, they can tell you what book the writer read to learn screenwriting, because there will be certain things that happen at certain points of the movie. There’s even a running gag with some reviewers about the overuse of the structure from the screenwriting guide Save the Cat!
Luckily, people eventually start noticing similar themes and structures in their films and start to think about them, which causes the end of certain genres or franchises after they get tired. Cliche/Trope recognition is like Lucid Dreaming: You really only gain the ability to control the action, and thereby analyze the movie, when you notice recurring themes and elements. If every night you have the same dream, you are more likely to start to recognize that you’re dreaming. However, once you’re aware of it, it’s not interesting to have the same dream all the time. On a completely unrelated side-note, the Transformers franchise needs to die.
But, take a step back, and realize the implication of this message about audiences within this movie. It’s basically a preliminary defense against criticism. It’s not that the inconsistent abilities of the extractors are annoying and pull you out of the movie, it’s that you don’t get it. It’s not that the mechanism by which this dream-scapery works is overly complicated and completely misused by the society that has access to it: It’s that you don’t get it. It’s not that parts of the movie are confusing with all the cuts not only to different characters but also to different dream levels and relative speeds: IT’S THAT YOU JUST DON’T GET IT. You’re Mal, and your inadequacy to accept the novelty and brilliance of the message of the movie as it’s being presented is not the fault of the director. After all, he’s already putting emotional crap and a train into the movie just so you’ll watch it.
Ultimately, if you watched this movie, you just sat through 148 minutes of a director saying that he’s likely wasting his time by trying to provide you with an interesting idea to contemplate, so he’s wrapping your “what is reality” pill with a nice thick slice of “action sequences and relatable emotional plot” bacon.
Now eat it.
If Mal represents Nolan’s frustration with audiences not being super open to new ideas or concepts, that’s a sentiment I can completely understand. Nolan worked on this for a decade, during which he saw Memento and The Prestige get absolutely dominated by the box office for, well, The Incredible Hulk film. Not a lot of people were seeing his movies. It feels awful to work so hard on your vision only for most people to dismiss it. So, this movie that he’d put so much effort into, and that seems so autobiographical and personal, really has a lot of emotion invested in it. So, it’s natural to get defensive about the possibility that people might reject your vision for being too nebulous. But, the movie made a ton of money and was loved by critics, so clearly it didn’t turn out too badly, even if it was “compromised” by being a neat idea wrapped around a heist film wrapped around an old story of a guy wanting to move on from his own guilt.
Understand, also, that none of this was intentional, if it’s even accurate. In fact, Nolan denies that he consciously put the filmmaking analogy into the film, even if he acknowledges that it’s there. And sure, subconscious or not, Nolan is calling out audiences, because we need to be called out a little. The more a film challenges us, the less likely we are to watch it. That’s just human nature. We should work out, but it’s easier to watch TV. We should cook healthy meals, but it’s easier to grab a burger. We should open ourselves up to having our minds changed in engaging, challenging, debates, but it’s easier to call the other guy a cuck (granted, he’s usually a cuck). We’re more like Fischer: The change we experience at the end of the film is based on emotional appeal, not intellectual contemplation. The change is of the heart, not the mind. And that’s not inherently bad, by the way.
Emotional appeal is typically the strongest because emotions are the things upon which we base our values. Why do you want to be alive? Because of emotions: Fear, excitement, love, hate, etc. Why would you want to stop an innocent person you’ve never met from dying of hunger by donating to charity? Empathy. Priorities are based on values, which are typically based on emotional responses. Now, from those values, we can create logical reinforcements for those beliefs, or entire logical systems to contemplate how best to express or empower those values, but the values themselves are generally based on feelings. Nolan, unconsciously, is pissed off that you can make a worse film that uses emotional appeals that will be more successful than a “better” film that uses a cerebral approach to make you question perceptions (and yes, excitement at an action sequence is still an emotional response. So is hearing a John Williams score and feeling that inside of his soul is a complex universe we will never be able to comprehend).
And maybe we’re reading too much into this film. Maybe this entire interpretation is just an ass-pull. I think it tracks logically, but it’s always a little speculative to try to dissect someone’s subconscious from their work. Maybe this is us inserting our own opinions into Chris Nolan’s mouth. But, I don’t think so. Nolan loves movies. He’s one of the most vocal proponents of film being an art form. The fact that such a relatively small number of people want to really sit down and think about what the film is saying and what it means to them and grow from it is probably really hard for an artist to deal with. So, maybe his solution was to try and embed a message to audiences to be better. We shouldn’t be upset by that. He wants to help, and the first step to helping someone is to get them to acknowledge that there’s a problem. So, maybe, we should be more willing to go outside of our comfort zone. That’s my two cents, anyway.