An indiscretion Some notes on how we could begin to learn who we are
If you know the story, you have to raise all sorts of questions about the weird choices the characters make. We learn the director has seduced & saved quite a number of women, the wife & family none the wiser. Why should we see this one in particular? Because this one is about poetry. What’s pointed out here is the old-fashioned habit of aristocrats to pay for poetry. Even without an aristocracy, it takes aristocratic gestures to make for good poetry–& that is deeply immoral.
How come democrats are unable to make up the difference by their numbers? Why did the golden age have stars we do not have? Why did the aristocratic age build glories we recognize but cannot create? For one, we are far less arrogant, not to say cruel. Who am I to say something that will be a possession for all times? Who is this director to go around producing happiness where once was only neediness?
Think of the wife–for all her artistic pretense, which is a mockery of aristocracy, which was a mockery of divinity, she cannot conceive how her husband could chase after women & she is outraged at his generosity! But she would know first hand! It is our individuality which makes us think we are unique that blinds us to our world & prevents us from being unique or at least seeing what really is outstanding.
The poet quietly shows this by showing how difficult the characters find it to communicate or be peaceful: Everyone is out for himself because they’re all scared they’re not important enough or treated quite as they deserve. There is only one good joke in the movie. The wife, arrested, tells the cops carrying her: Put me down! The cop says: Ok, You’re an idiot! This is the most vulgar explanation of political philosophy you’re likely to find at the movies. It is our permanent fear, too.
Isabella learns to love the movies & naturally is attracted to those who love the movies. There is a sharing there that does not depend on fear or anger. This is the standard by which she judges things, it would seem: This is why she does not worry so much about lost lovers. The joke is, you need movies to teach you not to fall for phantom lovers…
The plot is moved by this director who ended up believing his stories & started delivering happy ends to people who hardly hoped in them. It is almost a piety to be sinful in his way: Running away from the good things he did kept him safe from the problem of rule. Liberalism allows for a kind of generosity that conceals itself from democratic politics.
The emergence of eros out of neediness Some notes on how comedy does the work of reasoning about nature
Why should the story have a whore turn into an actress? The poet suggests, he will confirm the worst of our desires & uplift them. He will make a goddess where we would make a whore. He is more vulgar than we dare to be & is therefore a greater man than us. He goes so far as to suggest, the whore is the poet, explaining her story to us in advance! He will dignify our fantasies! He will justify the desires which drag us to the movies.
Well, acting is not a respectable profession, to begin with–it is all silliness & lies. Then there is the corruption involved in selling people the beautiful while promising the pleasant. There is the lust that is at the root of comedy… Probably, comedy cannot dignify that. That’s the work of law–specifically, the law concerning marriage. Comedy works against it. Comedy is lawless, because it is erotic.
The poet shows rather carefully the character of the director: His eroticism is a secret & is unmanly. How can this one cause account for its many different productions? Eros is complex. Its fight against marriage has to do with its complexity. If you catch yourself saying, Sure, he shouldn’t’ve cheated on the missus, but you can see what attracted his attention!, you’re already on the way there. Eros points us back to nature. Comedy needs that guidance to supplant or complement law.
What’s the point of telling us, we don’t know clearly the distinction between whore & goddess? Returning us to this confusion by undoing the certainty of moralism forces us to make the admission that have & deserve are different. That is our original awareness of the world: Striving or eros start there; that origin is inexhaustible. The director is uniquely sensitive to this part of our common humanity.
His tragic flaw is artlessness. He has surrendered to what we may call experience–his interpretation of events–because he thinks it authentic. He has to conceal it from the public, because he does not wish to tyrannize openly. But his awareness of what’s possible, of the source of human greatness is marred by this concealment. The natural concealment in which that awareness lives, however, is obvious in Isabella.
What’s another word for naivety? Generosity. This is how comedy works–it transforms serious things into unserious, laughable things, by certain complicated rules. Whoring is revealed as generosity in this story to point out the natural or immoral or unlawful quality of our desires, which point us to happiness. This is why the shrink falls for the raffish actor. She finally learns about nature & forgets her anger. Notice that he has a very small dog & she a very big dog…
Arnold Albertsen is a middle-class American whose love of great stories has turned him into several kinds of criminal. He is an unwilling, half-hearted immoralist. He is married to the star of his new play, an actress who knows expertly the reputation of actresses. He is trying to direct something authentic, small, to get away from Hollywood pretense. He has children he cannot really take seriously. His productions, however, include the careers of more than a few whores.
This guy believes the stories of old Hollywood. In that age, stars were made. The world danced. There was an eroticism about the possibilities of American life. He wants to do that for women. Other men never learn what they seek in seeking whores. This one knows all too well, so he lavishes fortunes on them to make their dreams come true. They are American women: They dream of prestigious or prosperous careers.
Like people pay the stars their gold, so does he pay whores. Like he gets good things out of people’s love of beauty, he gives whores a chance to get what they really want. Beauty is magic because it transforms poverty into prosperity by finding some path from desire to satisfaction. It is the deception nature plays upon unwitting or unwilling individuals. How is this done? This director is rather artless–there is a complicated plot.
If you notice that the money does not really matter, you begin to understand the story’s ambition. Isabella’s journey from whoredom to stardom depends on getting a role playing a whore in a small play with prestigious actors. Arnold does not want her in his play! Nevertheless, the writer & star fall for her, she ruins the director’s marriage, & shocks her poor father. Opinions vary, are the shrink & shamus necessary?
Why should we be told to expect a happy end? We do anyway: We’re always expecting things to work out in stories–it’s our lives that do not work out quite so well. Isabella says, we go to the movies to see beautiful images–we want to escape ugly lives. But if we want to see images of things we do not see in our lives, why should we pay attention–why laugh & cry? We want to believe that stories are the same as deeds. We’re always trying to turn wishful thinking into rights & powers. For example, we tyrannize with our desires the people we’re supposed to worship–we want to decide which images appear on our screens.
We see several happy ends: Every woman the director loved is a success, including the missus! Strangely, they do not owe him the success. Humorous scenes do the work of beauty here: To conceals causation.
Isabella is America’s new hope. She used to be a whore. She is now an actress of some renown. Prestigious magazines staffed by cynical writers who seek her to learn her story get snippy about her naivety. The writer is sure the truth is ugly–she never suffered & rejoiced with her, but is sure that she’s deluded. Instead, we get a chance to see this hero tell the story & we can judge for ourselves whether there is any providence moving events & whether there is anything to learn about the hopes that drag us to the movies.
Isabella hopes to give people hope because of her success, but she implies people should not be moralistic. This says something interesting about how we are supposed to understand the serious things involved in the way we take hope from people’s stories, but this is a comedy, so it speaks to us in a comic way: Recall that amuse comes from muse. Isabella calls herself a muse. Isabella is somehow tied up with the divine!
She tells us what’s obvious & what we cannot see because of our moralism: She makes men happy, for a while. They get a sense of their importance & their ability to enjoy beauty. Moralism says, such happiness is cheap–people ought to do & be better! If they are not, so much the worse for them!
She is not concerned with doing right as much as with doing well. Her mother, she says, was a beauty, but she only won a beauty contest because the man who wanted to marry her sold the other girls hot dogs that ruined their digestion. I will not belabor the vulgarity of the imagery here: You see clearly, beauty does conquer, because smitten men do strange, immoral things. What if our love of beauty would be marred without crime?
What should we be doing, adoring audience that we are? She has little to offer by way of guides if morality & law are subverted. She calls it magic. The reporter thinks this is easily debunked dross, but she is ridiculously wrong: Isabella is pointing out the aristocratic implications of love of beauty & the vaguely aristocratic Hollywood of the age of the stars. In the golden age, mankind worshiped the stars simply & this made the great able to pluck out beauty wherever they recognize it, which gave some hope to democrats.
Comedy is here to supply a democratic equivalent of that divine election. Isabella has something to teach us because she has learned how to get good things without causing trouble. Concealed in her beauty is the intelligence that guides her, which emerges as she becomes shameless. Prudently, she speaks only after she has conquered.
Mr. Peter Bogdanovich has offered us a screwball comedy at the center of which is a girl whose loveliness has no part of condescension or resentment.
North & South of the border stand the domains of domestic & foreign policy. With regard to the endangerment that leads the human beings to associate, this is the difference between the police & the army. This is also the difference between friend & enemy. Even in our peaceful prosperity, we remember that some are killers. In a secretive way, at the movies, we learn that some dangers call forth the most terrifying powers which the human beings can wield.
Macer sees a conflict between Matt, who runs a team of men who act like God’s chosen, & Reggie, who was both a soldier & a lawyer before joining the FBI. They understand the law different ways. Matt wants to protect the laws, which strikes Reggie as untrustworthy & arrogance. Macer has to arbitrate between them. She looks at her friend, a man of peace, who obeys the laws without any terrifying ambition & sees a weakling: Obeying the laws is never going to protect people from demonic men.
Matt brings with him a stranger, Alejandro, who walks like a prophet, putting life & death together as though obeying an order beyond human beings. There is no politics nor no ability to think about our problems–there is only wickedness & that which will stop it permanently. Alejandro is also a man who has died, but unlike Macer, he wields terrifying powers.
If you want to laugh, just notice that the discussion of what America should do is conducted by a white man who likes Texans played by an actor who played Mr. W Bush & a black man who was a lawyer & who is opposed to war, who stands for Mr. Obama, of course. We do not see much of this at the movies, although the questions of American foreign policy affect many people across the world.
Reggie’s concern with obeying the laws & opposition to secret operations is thrown out because he is not capable of protecting people. Civilized people are revealed as those people who say, those of us who survive can afford to ignore the terror that is everyday life for others. This is almost philosophic. You may be surprised to think then that the warlike are far more philanthropic–they want to stop the terror & have summoned the necessary powers. They know they cause fear & contempt, but they are willing to live with it…
If you want to consider serious things, notice that Matt talks about order as something that needs to be installed & defended. He implies that chaos is the truth concealed in the secrecy of secret organizations. Therefore, protecting life is superior to justice. Everyone else may believe that peaceful prosperity is natural & sacred, but they do not face the wicked in their powers.
Politics & time Some notes on justice & facing the dead
America is such a paradise, women lead some of those police teams dressed in armor who play soldier & kick in doors. Kate Macer is such a woman, strikingly pretty & with a softness about her that makes you wonder why she would want to go about killing people. She kills a man; he tried to kill her, but instead the shotgun blast reveals that the walls of the house conceal corpses. These super-cops end up vomiting, unable to control their bodies.
When Macer sees a house of corpses, she is as good as dead. The scene when she tries to wash off the blood & sees herself in the mirror obscured by the film, by the steam–that recalls the dead faces obscured by plastic. It is our ability to see ourselves in the dead that calls forth the most terrible things justice requires of us. Macer does not know what she was searching for–what fear or what nightmare drove her to escape paradise.
She wants to know, what hand, what eye is behind this monstrosity? Who can conceal horror in American suburbias? What’s the point of having laws if they cannot protect humans in the flesh from dying nightmarish deaths? Macer does not think that the laws might merely dignify death. She takes the beauty of the laws to be a power to fight against the coming chaos.
Macer thus joins a strange team of men who walk enshrouded in death. The leader, Matt, walks around in flipflops & smiles all the time. Then they go to Mexico, where the difference between policeman & murderer is a subject of some debate. Macer sees corpses hung from overpasses & hears firefights. That’s the scenery. Someone dug into the forested hillside the message, The Bible is the truth. Read it. What does that mean? It means she’s entered hell, the unjust city.
South of the border, the wicked rule by terror. The crimes concealed in America are public in Mexico. It is worth thinking at some length about this mirroring. Macer is supposed to enforce the laws. Well, why do laws need enforcement? Citizens are supposed to be ruled by laws because they have an agreement about what is good for them & can manage disagreements about how to secure the good.
This understanding is confronted with a world where there is no agreement. Macer is forced to ask herself, how can people live together when some torture, murder, & defile the corpses of the others? The origin of the laws emerges as a terrifying faith. Macer’s faith in the laws has to be put together with the killing that her team does so well. The dead command us to kill or else lose our humanity.
Mr. Denis Villeneuve has given us an ambitious & fearful view of what you may feel inclined to call the facts of the case–the doings & goings on of the drug wars in Mexico.
The comic attack on the concealment of injustice in beauty Some notes on the remarkable coincidences required for justice
A failed burglary, an impromptu firefight, & an improvised escape from the police lead man of the people Harry Lockhart from misery in NYC to the life of sin in Hollywood, where he gets to see the glamorous life up close. Harry is a loser, so Hollwyood to him is people on the make exuding rumors & gossip about the troubles of the wealthy & influential–the only sign that there are important people there the ruined lives of losers more or less like Harry.
Let’s take a step back before getting to the troubles: All Shane Black stories seem to take place on Christmas, & Christmas is a time of giving, so Harry decided to steal a present for a kid. In Hollywood, everyone who acts friendly is trying to use you, apparently–Hollywood, you could say, is Christmas in July, but it is really Christmas everyday. That’s the ugly truth about generosity & it says a thing or two about property.
Harry’s joke to the first girl looking for a private way to publicize her talents, I invented dice when I was a kid, makes sense because the people who run Hollywood live off everyone’s fantasies–they’re always inventing dice–they offer people the fantasy that chance is the same as fate & therefore to be gamed. It’s a world where everyone nodded along to Machiavelli’s Prince, haunted by what they might become.
This is the scene. The action is the complicated part. I should say a word about the structure, why the plot is so strange. This is a missing girl story. Our protagonists are discovering she was a human being. Apparently, no one cared for her. Her humanity depends on vengeance.
The impossible coincidence of Harry, Perry, & Harmony leads them to learn the truth about Hollywood & LA. They nearly get themselves killed playing detective. It is not obvious that they need each other: Harry & Harmony are looking for love, having failed to do anything with their lives. What’s in it for Perry? For his troubles he gets to not serve criminals anymore–freedom. The plot structure is such that none of them faces troubles the others cannot help him overcome. It were not vulgar to say that the nobility of thinking emerges through the structure, quietly.
Harry’s name is also a joke–Harmony has they key to his heart. His original love for her has ruined his life & is now threatening to kill him. Hollywood brings them together, but their story is far too ugly to be a romance. Harry pretends to be what Harmony thinks she needs to escape her life of chasing fantasies. It’s a Shane Black joke, having the mystery plot be the solution to the problem of seduction.
The comical identity of actor & hero Some notes on the deceptions that belong properly to the phenomenon of heroism
Harry Lockhart is a punk with a sense of humor; when you’re a loser, there is not much else to have; it’s a kind of pride. He starts out a petty thief & ends up in LA, where no one is proud, because everyone is out to get things. The first couple of scenes are about how he’s good & bad at acting, because he’s so easily deceived. His arrival in LA is a deception concealed in a self-deception.
People pretend to want him in a movie because of his audition–there is the first coincidence–he confuses a story with his own experience. He seems to believe these people even when he realizes his confusion. Further confusion comes from this moment of pride. All his later moralism originates here: Apparently, everyone thinks himself a hero, if a comic hero, & deserving of good things–that is the basis of our sense of justice. He’s a thief & only got his chance by eluding justice, & that only serves to confirm him in his newfound self-regard.
He tries to play hardboiled detective to save a woman’s honor, but the guy is not scared. He then plays detective to get acting lessons from Gay Perry & it turns out his awareness of the world around him is about what you expect from people who talk back to the screen. He finally decides to play detective to win Harmony’s love, the girl he’d loved as a boy, & his incompetence is staggering, if comic.
The plot depends on Harry’s self-delusion. He is violently undeluded about his comparative unimportance & the injustice of this world. This plot was always going to happen; this is what the world is like; this is what the guy is like; adventure would find him because he believes chance is fate.
So there is no character development with Harry, all you get is the revelation of this character. You could say, his reversal & recognition occur simultaneously: He is told in so many words, what he thought was his chance at fame is really the proof of his worthlessness. But his moment of recognition occurs later, when he abandons his desperate, yet not entirely unsuccessful attempts to avoid the fate his enemies have designed for him & finally realizes he’s not going to talk his way out of what’s happening.
What Harry seems to have learned is that his childhood dreams cannot come true. He does not have what it takes to be a romantic hero. It seems those dreams are the reason he is a loser–they made him unreasonable. Those dreams now force him to face reasonable or calculating people, who cannot understand that even a loser might decide to risk his life.
The end of the story suggests happy ends are as good as resurrection. Maybe comedy replaces religion. How to demote death, though? Comedy is not serious about anything, not even death. Comedy might even make fun of Abraham Lincoln. Comedy might even disbelieve in a new birth of freedom. Or maybe that’s a comic exaggeration, pointing out the limits of comedy.
This is to do with having a narrator. Our narrator tells us his story. The comic poet steps up on the stage. He mocks serious poetry as magic: Illusions & drama that mystify audiences, those willing dupes… He grew out of that sort of dream. Magic shows may be beautiful, but thieving secures the good, so that’s what he does. He shows his dedication to the good by not carrying a gun, which saves his life. He later shows the relation between speeches & deeds by offending a man & getting beaten up badly.
His incompetence may please, but the comic poet’s awareness of his limits only makes his boasts worse. He claims he has changed the world; on Christmas Day even. Not that it lasted – he insists such things cannot – but he shows that it can be done, which may inspire others, so long as they are as shameless as he is. Harry changed the world by showing an actor was pretending to be moral – underwhelming stuff.
The story is laced with jokes played on detective novelists, especially the most pretentious of them all, Raymond Chandler. But what is the accusation really? The girl’s name points it out: Harmony. Serious drama requires coincidences which are really unjustifiable. The comic poet therefore strings far more audacious coincidences to tell his story. He outdoes the dramatist at his own craft. He suggests that drama is really like a pun – whoever thinks that’s wit can have it.
But what’s wrong with the detective as a hero? The basic accusation seems to be that he prefers the beautiful to the good; he pretends he understands the corruption of the city, but he still does justice, because he really believes in the beauty of the laws. The detective really loves men, the comic poet says… The comic poet loves women, whose beauty & charm move him to outdo himself. He shows by example that lust is a better guide to happiness than beauty.
But we do not want to go too far. The comic poet allows the detective revenge; he allows for the justice of bitter humor. In his only unprompted speech, he delivers himself of criticism of the loose mores of modern women: Hollywood women are not from Hollywood. This is serious criticism of America, showcasing the ugly breakdown of family.
One of the funniest detective stories you’ll see, at least after a couple of viewings…
Lord Marchmain in the end returns to England even as war returns to Europe. The old man is dying surrounded by his family, having outlived his cruelly pious wife as an exile. He wants to disinherit the eldest son, who cannot even tell he is humiliated by his marriage, in favor of the eldest daughter, who has finally come to her senses & is looking to make a good marriage. He must have some hope of the future, of birth. In this, he is wrong. His girls go to the Palestine to help troops.
The old man remembers how old people remembered the remarkable palace as the new house, built of the stone of the old castle. He recalls the origins of the family & its remarkable growth in the century of progress. The palace is their only enduring work. & now the family title will expire with a weak, foolish, pious son, unable to desire or woo or sire. The family want him to die a Catholic & he is in the end too weak to resist. During the rites, the will of the old man seems to emerge as he signs himself. In some way, this is the end of the family, too.
It is strange how people fight over the dying man. The pious want him properly priested; the impious Charles wants him free of what he calls superstitions, proud of the old man’s rejection of the priest, hopeful that that pride could overcome the obvious fear of dying. The old man has to do with the England that was lost in the Great War & never recovered. There is no future then–these people are quarreling over the past, & whether they should or could return to the old ways.
In the end, it seems Catholicism is about people hoping that there is something else to life than punishment. The Marchmains were brilliant & are now humbled. They cannot let go of their dead mother & her faith any more than their father could. They see in their failures a kind of liberation; they can return to God now, & are childless.
Charles comes to a similar view of providence. Deserted Brideshead is repurposed for the war effort. The soldiers are incredibly vulgar, given the seriousness of the war, & narrow-minded. At the same time, they are not immune to the call of piety. The old chapel, closed after the very pious lady died is now once more open & the light burns before the altar.
Julia goes back to the family name, Flyte, after leaving Charles. She cannot continue in sin after her father’s return to the Church. Charles says he has ended up “homeless, childless, middle-aged and loveless”. Thus he comes to faith in providence.