May 11 – July 12
Couples in Crisis. Bend but don’t break, they say. But lots of relationships break, leaving people with only loneliness. The ones that bend are special. Malleable things to aspire to. To hold onto one another even in the harshest moments.
That’s what half of these films are about. These ten that it’s taken me forever to watch. About couples who withstand the fire and come out, not better, but changed. Because all we can do is withstand the change of life.
But the other half are about the one’s that break. Those sad cases we all have wish to do over. The thing that you learn watching these films, though; you need those failures to learn how to bend.
Save Yourselves (2020) – There is a groaning idea that all of us have of wanting to be less attached to our phones. Life was a lot simpler before the smart-phone. Information wasn’t at the tip of our fingers and no one had a trouble in the world. With all this info, comes angst and dread and weight of the world. If we could just unplug for a few long moments, maybe the cobweb of facts and figures and statistics would clear and the sheer load of data would be lifted and we could finally breath. So, we think of the best place to do this. To unplug, to unspool the extension cord of details. It always comes back to one place. The woods. A nice, little home you Airbnb, near a lake. The perfect place not to have an Alexis. That’s the idea, right. But maybe we’re just looking at technology the wrong way. Maybe it’s just part of our evolution as humans to incorporate ones and zeroes into our futures. How else will we know when there’s an alien invasion? We need to be ready for this. Fight technology with technology when the Tribbles come for our ethanol. Maybe spending less time with our phones is the wrong idea.
The One I Love (2014) – Does therapy bring out our best self? Or is it all just an exercise in futility? A ruse to temporarily change a train of thought. This movie would suggest that therapy could be some evil plot to let the id out, and let it run amuck. Ted Danson’s therapist sends a couple to Ojai for an oasis-like couple’s retreat. The place is beautiful and comforting and the couple seem happy for the first time in a long time. But there’s a guest house that stands in for the inner-self. And inside the house are two con-artists. Con-artists of the subconscious. Two people, who look like the couple and present the most amiable sides of the couple, but really have their own motivations. Which is to escape that quest house of the mind and be free. Again, the id taking over the ego. Or, is it the other way around? Either way, the endgame of therapy is to find a balance between the two. And maybe that’s just what happens for the couple. An id and ego together forever.
The Lovers (2016) – It’s a movie filled with images of people so wary of each other. Everyone treats each other like wild dogs. Eyes crowded with foreboding. Medium shots held for awkward seconds as characters measure and study motivations. Just what does this person want from me, their eyes say. But, all it takes is the right look. The one that says, hey, maybe, just maybe. Then the rollercoaster shifts into reverse and you’re remembering what it was like to be love with this person. To be so attracted to someone you can’t even stand it. Marriage is rarely a circle. It’s usually a straight line toward contentment or ruin. Rarely do you get a chance to loop back with one another and rediscover one another. See the person as new, but familiar. See that person as the adult they are. Because I believe we rut ourselves in the image of first meeting. We find ourselves wondering what happened to that person that made you feel that certain way in the first three months. Ask ourselves what changed? But it’s you who has changed. And your partner. We just don’t adapt. And the loop back is rare but it can happen with the right look.
Bound (1996) – They’re sisters now. Sometimes the first film you make as a filmmaker is the most important. The one you put all your heart and soul into. The most intimate and personal you’ll get, is in that first one. You can imagine, now, the Wachowski’s as Corky and Violet. Two women hemmed up in a Neo-Noir of oversized, gangster burlesque. Two male filmmakers (at the time) trapped in genre. Two brothers trying to untie themselves from existing yolks twofold. It’s meta, they say these days. It’s a popular adjective to describe self-awareness. To describe something cleverly aware. Most of the time in your art, you’re just trying to work things out. Art is a good space to let go and let the sub-conscious roam out in the daylight. Only later does the journaling become meta. So, it is later. Twenty-five years later, and this film may very well be the Wachowski’s, not at their inception, but at their end. Not at their end as filmmakers but as men. At the end of being hemmed in as genre filmmakers as well. It only took one film for them to get to the Matrix. A film that took a handful of genres and pulverized them into modern mythology. But the Matrix wouldn’t be able to break free if it wasn’t Bound first.
Someone Behind the Door (1971) – Charles Bronson is so bad in this that it makes you wonder how terrible the director felt about his ability to work with actors. You just can’t get past the utter drowning of Bronson in this. He’s playing an insane amnesiac and he’s rudderless. He has no idea which direction he’s supposed face or go. And maybe Gessner thought a hands-off approach would lead to an interesting motif. Because Perkins plays his evil, heartbroken neurosurgeon with the same matador approach. Just stay out of the way of the pitbullish Bronson. Perkins is light on his feet here, and pushes and cajoles Bronson into the perfect murder of his cheating wife. It just takes forever and once you get there, even the actors are tired and don’t quite buy the back and forth, which Gessner turns into an unending loop of man and woman forever trapped in their own discord.
Vivarium (2019) – Finnacan wants to dig holes and never get there. Never get to China. Or Australia or anywhere that a gopher could stick its head out and see the endgame. It’s all in the mood he creates. He gets lost in it, and never sees the forest. It’s a sick game he’s created, in a Burtonesque burg, but without any of the charm or humor. It’s like focusing on the bassline and nothing else. What are we to think of this take on parenting? The nuclear family is exactly nuclear. A bomb ready to go off if you’re not prepared. You want the house and the lawn and whatever comes next. But are you truly ready for it? Not so sure that’s what the filmmaker is saying. No one is sure what is being said. Are there aliens in the world conducting experiments? Why the bulge in the neck, kid? We’re given some sort of answer when the mom finally resorts to violence. A literal pulling up of the rug to see what’s underneath. Irony. The father digging that hole for nothing other than for his and her grave. But what did the mother see underneath the rug? Just more visual gibberish. Nothing that understands the mystery of the story. It’s the curse of the cinema of Lynch.
Miracle Mile (1988) – It ends in the white-hot heat of nuclear annihilation. Sorry for the spoiler. But not really. It’s a new couple in crisis. A newly minted couple. They’ve just met and the ending is just a coda for how some relationships burn. Burn like matches. You’ve experienced them before. Brief and fiery. That’s how some go. And that’s how this one goes. It’s a beautiful metaphor for its time. The Cold-War and its paranoia creeped all through the eighties. When would that senile Reagan finally fall asleep on the launch button? That’s the mania of the time and this movie captures it so well. It begins at the LaBrea tarpits. Woolly Mammoths being swallowed by the muck of fossil fuels once legend. In 1988 they’re being looked on by minds with less than random intent of destruction. It’s a willful evolution toward the manipulation of atoms. But in the minutia of all this is the slipshod nature of human beings and what they call love. Two people who feel the rolling time. Every second of it and choose to care for one another, even though this place they live in is nothing but chaos ending in white light.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999) – The blueprint to the male mind in marriage. Or any other form of loving relationship. Everything seems to be going fine. You’re a doctor in New York City. You seem to be doing well for yourself. Nice home, wife and a daughter. Then one night you smoke a little pot (Kubrick wafting us into a waking dream) and your wife tells you about a time she had a fantasy about another man. Some guy in uniform that she saw for half-a-second. She didn’t even talk to the man, much less sleep with him. But it burrows its way into your male mind and turns into an erotic thriller you play back over and over. It drives you to walk the streets at night looking to get revenge. Revenge on your wife’s worthless dreams. All the way down a rabbit hole to a secret society. Kubrick has given us the pattern for maleness and why the world is the way it is. The male ego is at the same time narrow and obtuse. It only seeks to control what it can’t understand. Subject to massive over-reactions and pettiness. A man done wrong will seek to protect himself from the world. Even form clandestine communities so they can wear masks to hide their shame.
Detective Story (1951) – Early on you get vaporized by Wyler’s visual acumen. These seamless shots and cuts and masterful compositions set you in this baleful mood. Something bad is gonna happen real soon. You can see a string connecting it to Lumet’s Twelve Angry Men eight years later. Not just the visuals but the examination of morality in confined places. The putting under the microscope of the fragile American male ego boxed in by civilizations and it’s ceaseless upward and onward movement. And in doing so, Wyler puts front and center misogyny women face in the systems men create. It goes right to the core of the control men seek over women. To control every aspect. Even their ability to create human life and every decision surrounding it. One system blaming the other. A cop blaming a doctor for all societies woes. An abortion doctor is verboten. A sure criminal. But when it hits down in his own backyard, the male ego crumbles. Black and white bleeds together into gray and the mind can’t take the uncertainty. Thank God for criminals with guns. You can always count on them.
Presumed Innocent (1990) – The overly, ambitious, career woman and the deferring, talented housewife are anathema to each other in this, but they are rolled up in the same ball in the end. Man-eaters all of them. But this movie has a bit more subtlety than that. The legal system is the ultimate metaphor for man’s grasp on controlling chaos. What is law but an idea thrown against the maelstrom of nothingness? A chance to draw a line and say something matters. That’s what the law is. And that’s how the actors act. Holier than thou. Because they are the pinnacle of society. Without the law, where would be? Anarchy. But there’s a better question being asked by Pakula here. Where do women fit into all of this? Do they benefit from the system that men design? No, not really, is the answer. By juxtaposing these two women against one another, on the surface, we find them in the end, nothing but fatales. But if you take a step back and look at it as a whole, we find that it’s just the system that they’re wrapped up in. Where they find themselves, clawing and fighting to gain some sort of attention from their fathers.