Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Themes of every 2012 Film I saw

This follows off a thread I last did in 2007 and will be continually updated but here's a sort of first stab at it. Also, I wrote this from a cell phone. So I expect many spelling errors here:

Quartet, Trouble with the Curve, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel:
Antithesis of Ageism/Old People are Rad-All three films are an unabashed celebration of the latter stage of life. I see all three is created out of a reaction to ageism, both metatextually (proudly employing older actors and tailoring to older demographics in an industry where that is not easy) and on screen. Dustin Hoffman, who just turned 75, likely chose to make a film about an old age home for artists for his directorial debut as a way to explore his feelings about old people. He even went so far as to use retired musicians in the background so that our ears are literally filled with the musings of old people. In both BEM and Quarter, major life decisions (which is the reason characters are made the center of storylines) are shown as continuous. Trouble with the Curve, on the other hand is a failure of a movie because it's anti-ageism makes no sense. Why exactly should a guy whose job it is to scout players, be able to continue his job when his eyesight is gone?

Zero Dark Thirty
The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions-The suggestion that torture was necessary to capture Bin Laden is what incited the controversy that moved people to picket the Academy Awards Luncheon today. A good question for discussion would be whether it was the theme that disturbed people or the presentation of that theme. I'd argue that whether it was torture or not, would anyone really debate that it was a road to hell for Maya? She clearly is drained by the process
Unsung Heroism-Read: Maya
In fact, Maya is representative of so many desk jockeys here in DC who shuffle through papers and are one small cog in the machinery of a large bureaucracy (I'm 97% sure I spelled that word wrong, give me a break, I'm blogging from my cell phone) and in a way she's the new everyman blue collar hero that the average worker in America can see themselves as and vicariously live through. Which brings me to..... Changing nature of terrorrism/the world-George W Bush said this was a new kind of war. I think if the new hero is a desk jockey and not a soldier, it signifies that the changing landscape of the world and specifically war is a larger theme of the movie. Therefore, people with knowledge of that changing world are the people who are now most essential in war. This might also be an implied justification of the torture: Yes, torture is inherently wrong but you are also seeing an unfamiliar world on screen you can't fully understand so who's to say whether something like the wrongness of torture is universal?

Imperfect nature of the justice system- Bernie was generally a good man who did something wrong at his weakest moment to a woman everyone in the town hated. He would have never been driven mad enough to shoot her if he stayed away from her like everyone in the town. Essentially, he was punished for daring to be kinder then the rest of the town
The power of community-Bernie is the hero of the story and the victim of an imperfect justice system because the community loved him. Serving the community made him morally superior to even the concept of murder
Everyone has a dark side-It either just takes a little longer or more extreme circumstances have to arise for someone like Bernie to reveal his.

The Dictator
Corruption is all relative-Sacha Baron Cohen's films are strongly satirical so its a 99% certainty that if he is making a film, he will use comedy to make his points. Few people know that Cohen is a religious Jew who wrote his thesis on anti-semitism in Oxford. Thus, Borat was a subversive tool to spread the central message of his scholarly studies.
The dictator gives a speech at the end of the movie about how dictatorship is good because of reasons that double as a list of flaws with democracy. Throughout the movie, the lifestyle of a madman is depicted as morally normative.
The power of laughter-Its a story where the hero is a doppelganger for political figures generally considered too reprehensible and offensive to glamorize. Cohen suggests that if funny enough, discourse about these men and the heinous acts of brutality undertaken in their regimes can be successful.

Pitch Perfect
College is good-The protagonist Becca has an already-set end point in her life she knows she wants before she sets foot on campus. Hence, college is irrelevant to her. Although she still has the same end point, she is surprised to find that she has a life changing experience that teaches her how to be a better person. Score one for college! The film has a very pro-college message but ironically, Becca is never shown going to school or learning anything from her classes.
Friendship (particularly same sex friendship) is underrated and important-The practice of blending your voices together to create harmony is (very obviously, I'm not saying anything profound here) symbolic of Becca learning to coexist with other girls which she admits at the end of the film is something she's never done before.

The need for creativity-Filmmakers write what they know so the joy of filmmaking/art is a theme that pops up everywhere from musicals to biopics of artists to films about films. Argo expands on that a little bit by showing that creativity is curative from individuals like Tony Mendez and the two Hollywood producers, to the organizational health of the CIA. In the case of the two Hollywood execs (Alan Arkin and John Goodman), they make movies yet their creative outlet comes from abetting the CIA. Along this theme, the a-hole hostage who wouldn't initially cooperate among the six could be read as a non-believer of the curative power of creativity. It was also indicative of this theme that the Iranian officials at the airport were mesmerized by the pictures of the movie.

Silver Linings Playbook
Your work is the spoke to which you build the wheel around-I was once listening to two religious Jews in a conversation. One said to the other that he wasn't sure whether he was passionate about taking a job, and the other responded that a job or whatever you decide to pursue as your primary mode of activity isn't necessarily relevant, but everything else falls into place and has more meaning once you adopt some mode of activity. Pat was singularly obsessed with reuniting with his ex-wife Nikki and while it looked like an unhealthy obsession on the surface, it got him focused and organized on rebuilding himself. In the end, Nikki's irrelevance was highlighted by the penultimate scene in which we learned that she was no longer relevant to him on his journey.

Destigmatizing mental illness-Both Robert De Niro and director David O. Russell have a child with some mental illness and both were attached to the project for that reason. Pat scares people around him but as the viewer you also see he means no harm. Through both Pat and Tiffany, the viewers are being exposed to people with mental illness and forced to ask themselves if they're as bad or as repulsive as they seem. Likewise, various characters are forced to reconsider their notions  of craziness when deciding the degree of acceptance they want to have towards the two "ill" characters. Pat is even scared of Tiffany which brings some more complex dynamics and also illustrates that fear of people who are different is universal. Jennifer Lawrence's Oscar interview also further confirms that destigmatizing illness was a focus of the film or played a big role in the characters' minds

The Importance of the Support System-Kind of a no-brainer. It was through connecting and forming better bonds with old friend, his family, his new soulmate, and even his psychiatrist that Pat got better. One comment I'll add here for some depth to this bullet point, is that Pat only started to trust Dr. Patel and take his medicine when they began to bond.

1 comment:

James Nesten said...

Dan Zukovic's "THE LAST BIG THING", called the "best unknown American film of the 1990's in the film
book "Defining Moments in Movies" (Editor: Chris Fujiwara), was finally released on DVD and Netfilx by Vanguard Cinema (, and is currently debuting on Cable Video On Demand. Featuring an important early role by 2011 Best Supporting Actor Oscar Nominee Mark Ruffalo ("The Avengers", "Shutter Island", "The Kids Are Alright"), "THE LAST BIG THING" had a US theatrical release in 1998, and gained a cult following over several years of screenings on
the Showtime Networks.


"A distinctly brilliant and original work." Kevin Thomas - Los Angeles Times
"A satire whose sharpest moments echo the tone of a Nathaniel West novel...Nasty Fun!"
Stephen Holden - New York Times
"One of the cleverest recent satires on contemporary Los Angeles...a very funny sleeper!"
Michael Wilmington - Chicago Tribune
"One of the few truly original low budget comedies of recent years." John Hartl - Seattle Times
"'The Last Big Thing' is freakin' hilarious! The most important and overlooked indie film
of the 1990's!" Chris Gore - Film Threat