As always, this is a list of my favorite movies of the year, not the best. If you want to tell me how wrong I am, that’s what Twitter is for.
I joked on Twitter that ParaNorman (and it’s predecessor, Coraline) have been tricking kids into seeing scary movies and making them deal with heavy issues for a while now. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if ParaNorman and Coraline weren’t designed to trick adults into dealing with heavy issues.
One of the best scenes in Team America: World Police is its opener, which basically asks if the solution (Team America destroying Paris to kill terrorists) is better than the problem (terrorists destroying Paris). ParaNorman grapples with these same issues. What if our reaction to what we’re scared of is worse than what’s scary? Sometimes we as humans get so caught up doing what we think is right, that we completely miss that it’s hurting the very people we’re supposed to help. (cough Congress cough). Those are heavy and complex issues for any movie, let alone one that’s (ostensibly) meant for children.
If you have working ears or eyes (or both) and are in the U.S., you may have heard or seen something about a gun debate. Some people think we need more guns; some people think we need fewer. But, isn’t this debate kind of missing the point? Is the goal to increase/decrease guns or is the goal to stop gun violence? Sure one (or both) could cause a decrease in gun violence, but we as humans tend to latch onto solutions our gut tells us are correct, despite a frightening lack of evidence.
Is Looper anti- or pro-gun? Of course not. It’s anti- killing the symptom to a problem and assuming the problem is solved. Old Joe assumes that going back to kill Cid stops both the problem of his wife dying and the Rainmaker’s reign of terror. Instinctually, that makes sense: if Cid becomes the Rainmaker, then killing Cid stops it. But what if just the threat of killing Cid causes the reign of terror? Even if Cid was killed, what if threatening him causes someone else to become the Rainmaker?
If you are truly anti-gun, the reaction to the Newtown shootings must have you horrified: an increase in gun sales amid fears of crackdown. If you think that more guns equals more gun violence, it turns out that merely the suggestion of laws that decrease the amount of guns has actually increased the number of them.
In both our country and the world of Looper, things are out of balance. Looper tells us that it’s important do something, but it’s also important to make sure that doing something doesn’t make the problem worse. It’s a message we could all take to heart.
Do they still do spelling tests in high school? Does taking (at least) an hour of instructional time a week to teach people how to spell things makes sense? Especially when 20% of students will have vocational occupations and the other 80% will work on a computer? Shouldn’t we use that time to teach them something like computer programming?
If you agree to all of that, surely you also agree that some people need to learn how to spell things. Say…maybe the people who create the spell checkers?
It didn’t have to be this way, but through years and years of franchise neglect, James Bond became a lot like a spelling test: a relic of a bygone era that still has its place, but its worth is greatly diminished. So, how do you bring one of the greatest franchises of all time into the modern era?
By acknowledging that James Bond is a relic. He’s a landline in the smart phone era.
Skyfall is so successful because it shows what happens when the cell towers go down. No matter where we get to as a society, no matter how marginalized certain skills become, some of those skills will still be necessary. We’ll always need spelling because without it, language loses meaning. We’ll always need landlines, because sometimes cell towers go out. We’ll always need agents on the ground, because sometimes our cyber tools are not enough.
Time marginalizes everything that isn’t willing or able to change. But, you know what? Not even time can rob the worth of even the most marginalized.
How do we know what is good? Is it by the actual acts we perform or is it relative to the bad we’ve experienced?
Think about the very emblem of what we call good– our heroes. Do we call the guy who rides the train to work a hero? Or do we call the woman who rescues the boy from the well one? The soldier who sacrifices himself for his company? The baseball star who hits a come-from-behind home run? We base the good off the bad we experience. Most things we consider good adhere to this.
If you had a person who did not understand what love was, how would you describe it to him? Is it even possible to describe?
Is love something you instinctually know or is it something you learn how to do? Is it something you show with actions, emotions or words? Does love have to develop over time? Does it have to be tested in both good and bad situations?
Amour is the answer to those questions. But in order for those answers to have meaning, it must show the cruelest of the cruel. Great loss can show great love.
6. The Cabin in the Woods
Southerners don’t love violence. Americans don’t love violence. Westerners don’t love violence. People love violence. It’s pervasive in everything we do. From the big hits in football, to the nightly news, to Animal Planet documentaries, to, yes, video games, people have a macabre interest in watching things get hurt. Some have learned to repress it better than others, but it’s there in the very meaning of being human. We’re just lucky that people only love violence and not committing violence.
But there’s the question. If we love violence so much, why do we not want to commit violence? Could it have something to do with the aforementioned violent activities? Could it be that football or video games assuage those violent tendencies?
I don’t like to usually come out and say what I think movies are about. But it seems to me that the Cabin in the Woods is so fundamentally misunderstood, that it needs to be said. In addition to being a straight-up horror film, in addition to being a spoof of some of the tropes we’ve come to expect in horror films, it’s a literal interpretation of what we discussed above. Bradley Whittaker and Richard Jenkins’ characters have to satisfy the old gods with violence. They don’t do it to be sick, they don’t do it for enjoyment; it’s done because not doing it leads to the end of the human race. Those characters literally embody the writer/directors of movies, video game programmers, football coaches that create this violence for us to consume. Without them, could the violence committed in our society be ever worse than it already is?