Sunday, April 17, 2011

Atlas Shrugged Review

On a scale of 1-10 in enjoyment, I'd give it a 7 or an 8. You all know my predispositions and can take that for what it's worth. That's better than any of the movies in recent memory (Black Swan, The King's Speech, Sucker Punch, The Town, Dawn Treader) except perhaps True Grit. It's better than most network tv movies, excepting Brave New World (with Steve Schub and Leonard Nimoy). Maybe its on the same level as Stephen King's 1990s version of The Shining. In many ways I liked it better than The Fountainhead with Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper. I think Roger Ebert is wrong - libertarians and Objectivists will generally like it. People who don't like the ideas won't like it. People who are libertarians and don't know it will want to learn more about it. It whets the appetite for rethinking selfishness.

I'm still not sure about the people in between. On the positive side, the cinematography (including Ebert's derided office scenes) and score were beautiful. I was moved by the launch of the John Galt line. Taylor Schilling was beautiful, driven, and calculating as Dagny Taggart (the way I imagined her). The Washington lobbyists are spot on - I know from having met many of them. But somehow the dialog fell flat in several places, and the movie didn't always flow well. John Galt and Hugh Akston, in particular, lacked gravitas. Like others have said, I wish they had taken some liberties and adapted more of the book's dialog for movie purposes - showing, not telling. With more time for the second installment, I hope they do so.

Philosophically, it stayed true to the novel. I wasn't sure what I thought of James Taggart's character when I read the book, and I'm still not sure. He doesn't come across as a real altruist (as he's supposed to), but he also doesn't quite pull it off as a false humanitarian, or someone who wants to help but does a bad job of it. I think the uninitiated will be as puzzled as I was.

Bottom line - if you liked the book, go see it. If you think someone would like the book, tell them to go see it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Shining Light on Kubrick

I watched Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) for the first time since 1995 recently.  Since then, I've become much more sensitized to themes of class and race, and I also saw his swansong, Eyes Wide Shut.  Between the two of them, I think that Kubrick wants to say that wealthy white Americans are not the fine people they are cracked up to be.  Most of this is unoriginal analysis, as you can tell by doing any number of web searches.   Major Spoilers Below

The Shining

The Overlook Hotel is built on a Native American graveyard.  You could say the name is indicative of overlooking American history, or perhaps refers to whites overlooking other races.  There are Apache tapestries throughout the hotel and Jack Torrance (Nicholson's character) throws his ball against them while thinking about what to write (is he awakening their spirits?).  The scene of blood pouring out of the elevator is not in the book, and never made a lot of sense except as a horrific image.  One reviewer says it represents the blood of slaughtered Native Americans.  You also see the Indian image on the baking soda in the dry goods room a couple of times.

When Jack enters the Gold Room bar for the first time, he drinks to the White Man's Burden - again not in the book, and it makes no sense in the immediate conversation.  Jack later goes into the bathroom and talks to the WASPy butler Delbert Grady. Grady explains that his children didn't like the hotel and needed correction.  He "corrected" them with an axe.  He tells Jack his wife and child must be corrected because they don't like it at the Overlook either. Danny, his son, recognizes the hotel - American civilization - for what it is.  He labels it as "redrum," or murder spelled backwards.  Scratch just a little bit beneath the surface - or look in the mirror - and you figure out murder has/will take place.  American history can barely conceal it.  Danny was trying to contact an "outsider" - "a nigger cook."  Those who don't like American civilization must be dealt with "on the harshest possible terms," according to Grady.

It is not a white man or a rich man who saves the innocent in this movie, but a black man who dies in the process of saving women and children.

The bathroom is all symmetrical red and white.  Jack is wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt - he completes the hotel by completing the color of the American Flag (the shirt is plaid blue and white, and he wears a red corduroy jacket, so he's red white and blue all by himself, too).   The flag is also on the hotel manager's desk at the interview - Ullman has a flag next to a cup with a miniature axe in it!  At the end of the movie, Jack is seen in the photo of the Fourth of July ball.  Grady told him he had always been the caretaker - perhaps a murderous caretaker has always been with and will always be with American civilization.

The vestiges of the parties of the rich are pretty indicting.  Ullman said the jet set went to the hotel before they were called a jet set, and that "all the best people" had been there.  A couple of the "best people" have disturbing furry sex.  Another one kill herself in her bathtub.  One says "splendid party, isn't it" as Jack's wife runs through the hotel in terror. 

Eyes Wide Shut

Tom Cruise's character, a doctor, discovers a secret society of rich men who have orgies with hookers.  When he confronts his contact in this society at the end to ask who they are, his contact (played by Sidney Pollack) says "you don't want to know."  These people correspond to "all the best people" in The Shining.  They arrive to their orgies at a mansion in limos with expensive costumes.  When Cruise arrived at the party, they instantly nod to him knowing he is not of their class.  Although he spent a ton of money that night - on a rental costume, a cab, and a prostitute he didn't have sex with - he is clearly outclassed by the orgy attendees.

If it were just the sex, it wouldn't be so bad.  But there are several scenes in the movie where the sex is revealed to be deadly.  Cruise patronized a prostitute before the orgy scene and later found out she had AIDS.  One of the prostitutes at the party who helped Cruise escape is found dead later, and Pollack's character didn't seem concerned - "she got her brains fucked out."  At the beginning of the movie at Pollack's party, Cruise is asked to look at a prostitute stashed away in Pollack's bedroom.  She had a speedball and Cruise recommended keeping her there for two hours to recover; Pollack is clearly aggravated and wanted to get rid of her before then.

The costumed orgy participants are horrific.  Their central room is crimson red and a crimson red figure sits in the middle when he interrogates Cruise.  The masks include Picasso cubist masks and sharp beaks; in fact, the man who brings Cruise's female savior away has a beak that looks like a scythe.  They warn cruise that there will be the most dire consequences for him and his family if he tells anyone.  Cruise has been a good guy - he is shown as a caring figure that heals people.  The rich are amoral and hedonistic, and they don't care if indulging their sensibilities lead to AIDS or other kinds of death in the process of having their secret orgies. 

There is a gender angle in this too.  You witness Cruise's wife on and off set, Nicole Kidman, having trouble with a career and seems to slide back into being a housewife.  She can only confront Cruise about her real feelings after smoking a joint.  She points out that women are assumed to not be into sex for physical pleasure but disputes that, admitting to an affair.  Cruise's daughter is also "indoctrinated" with toys for girls at the end of the movie.  Women are clearly for sale - the costume merchant doesn't deal with two older men having sex with his teenage daughter until after he completes the financial transaction with Cruise.  Later, he hints that he was willing to sell her sex to Cruise as well.

Pollack scoffs at the end when Cruise turns down an offer to send him an expensive bottle of scotch; Cruise was already bought and forced to cooperate - it's silly to turn it down on pretend pride.

There are lot of loose ends in the story, but these were the things that leaped out at me.