How democratic heroism is about dealing with suffering
I have given some thought to the team of heroes. If you think about them, the fact that they can never seem to die may be a curse. Two have lost their families to enemies they cannot reasonably hope to vanquish, one is the result of cruel, terrible experiments, & the protagonist is an orphan who was denied humanity & brought up among pirates. One hopes his father is a god… The fifth is simply alone & cannot communicate almost with anyone!
Unseriousness may not be a rhetoric failure: Maybe there is a reason to hide from us such ugliness or suffering. The story does not give almost any attention to the great suffering nor to the reasons why the heroes might sacrifice to save a planet not our own. This makes the plot hard to understand, not stupid.
We learn at the end that interracial marriage is happening on that planet. It may just be our future… People are surprisingly human there, that is, civilized. Politicians are not hated or held in contempt, nor the military. This despite the far higher technology the inhabitants there take for granted. They use it to carry out evacuations with surprising efficiency. We might learn a few things.
That this is the question of the plot is established not just by that planet, but because the hero is asked point blank, why should he save it, because he is asking them to die for civilization, from which they have not profited, which they have treated as a nuisance & she them as criminals, & which they do not care to join, because then they would have to obey laws… It is worth considering that only after he establishes his reputation as a hero does the boy think to find his father, that is, the origins of the powers he has displayed.
We might connect the criminality of these heroes with their sense of humor. Two of them are humorous; one is sarcastic or contemptuous, which is not quite the same. The other two are serious. There is a connection between disobeying laws & laughing at what other people take seriously. There is a connection between that & the mercenary lives of the two jokers – community is discounted, private advantage is front & center.
But the story shows them as friends; that’s some kind of community. Their ways of life derive from their suffering, which is understood as a loss or a mutilation. What’s shocking is how innocent they all are. These are people who live with evil because they never had a chance. Some have a comic bent, others tragic, but they are all aware that the promises of the laws are inadequate…
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How democracy needs to keep freedom & change
This is one of those kids stories that kids would not understand, because it is part of the adult world where our differences of opinions turn into political conflicts. The political conflict here is a comedy – in the world of lego, an oligarch is turning tyrant; the aristocrats turn out to be democrats, who need the democratic type embodied to save the world.
A godless world turns out to be ruled by man as a god. There is a lot of joking about prophecies & visions, but people are atheists. Modern individualism rules in the souls of people. There is an irrepressible desire to conform to what is popular, which takes on an authority with which the divine may not be able to compete. But atheism might also mean liberation from conformism to divine justice.
Order exists in the chaos of individualism only because of conformism. Some few, however, do not want to conform & threaten to bring conformism – to keep the world disunited. The desire to rationalize things would destroy all the different worlds & make them one, unchanging. They are the only ones who are truly creative, they have their own ideas, reflected in the worlds they inhabit. But they are weak, because they do not understand equality – they cannot work together, nor with the many. The few & the many find they need to defend freedom together.
The psychological conflict is about the nature of education. The oligarchic soul is about control, but nothing is said about why. The fears of this world, are they grounded? The equivalent of lego is imagination, however. Lego is completely artificial, anything can turn into anything else. No fixed natures beyond human reworking. Creativity is the only rule. & nothing beyond man, divinity is a myth people made to understand their own creativity.
A boy enacts the comedy to educate his father, as it turns out. The father learns to respect his son’s creativity. In one way, this is about what is meant by finished. The father thinks about doing something, it getting done, & keeping it that way. But in this world, there is no room for a child, for his own son. But the son’s mixing of worlds denies the existence of ends…
There is a complication through which the poet addresses the audience. The few who are creative are aware that in our world of corporate capitalism creativity is mass advertised to flatter everyone. An infinite screaming vulgarity is abroad. You’re always competing with this flattery when addressing the people. Happiness is advertised as well, if not mandated. There is no other concern. This flattery could be politicized, someone might give people too much of what they want…
The other extraordinary success of the summer of 2014, about how democracy could get the heroes it deserves, as opposed to those it needs, which recalls The dark knight, & how comedy mocks tragedy…
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How democracy conquers the universe
I usually try to say something about what makes a movie different to others of its kind, because it takes more attention to detail, less speculation, & rewards two hours of watching something better. This, however, feels like a movie where something happens, then someone explains it, obvious as it is, as if some insight led to the obvious (the suspension of gravity).
I write about it for two reasons: This is the movie that brought the box office in line with expectations, the summer having otherwise been strangely not full of profits for the movie industry; also, this is the very definition of a blockbuster. It describes the American taste perfectly: Massive destruction can be greeted with smiles, played for laughs; everyone gets to sacrifice nobly, but nobody has to die; the only characters that are serious are evil, because they take faith too seriously.
Only small characters have to die in defense of civilization, family, &, one suspects, decency. They die by the thousands. If you are not having too much fun, you will immediately recognize the Blitz, Hitler’s attack on Britain. You may raise an eyebrow… The thought is stilled by fast cutting – the poet can only serve patriotism in small doses, with extreme discretion. The main characters are needy, talkative, & bare their souls at the first occasion, mindless of the moment. Do not blame the poets – this is an accurate description of democratic psychology. Only publicizing it may be held blameworthy…
This is the two-hour definition of action comedy. We’ve seen the comedy. The action means, mostly no planning, mostly breaking up plans. This may be said to reflect or issue from the democrat’s dislike of formality & suspicion of superhuman powers. Human powers are only too changing – humans like it that way. Fear of death & hatred of kneeling down may be the only things to bring people together.
Otherwise, some are for order, some for profit, which is an endearingly naïve distinction, with adventurers safely in the profiteering group, which is an admirably clear-eyed identification. You can see the ideology of progress sneaking in when the profiteers defend the others. Modern man, self-made, is everywhere on show, as people forget the hatreds & fears that define them, of a sudden a dead family that needs avenging becomes the lightest burden, if you can just dance.
People who like psychology might be tempted to say, the hero is so promiscuous, vulgar, & given to life’s pleasures, as well as to theft, deceit, & faithlessness because he has issues – no father, mother died when he was young, grew up among undesirables… That’s immorality as moralism. The story is all for this strong young democratic hero.
The extraordinarily popular entertainment of 2014. The most fun you can have at the movies.
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This is the movie that won Robin Williams the Oscar. Like long ago happened, the Oscar went to the man who saves America. This is not common practice anymore…
If you want to understand the story, just think of Will Hunting as a madman in the making, a man whose great talents & great anger are a great danger to America or even Boston. Or if you’re young, he’s a super-villain, like in the comics, teetering on the edge of nihilism. He knows all the knowledge in the world is not self-knowledge. He is especially tough on shrinks, whom he bullies ruthlessly.
Will has rejected already the old-time wisdom of tradition, as represented by the academy. He is now rejecting capitalism, to say nothing of public service. He does not fear God. What will hold him back if he should decide to take seriously the anger that leads him to beat up bullies? American men are murderous rather than suicidal & this one is more or less an orphan, too. Who will hold him back?
Will has low-class friends – they all grew up mean & tough, like in Johnny Cash songs, but without the benefit of hindsight. He knows he does not belong among them, but what else is there? America is about success, but that means giving people what they want. Will is too angry to be a good democrat.
This is where the professor comes in – he is the failure Will might aspire to become. He has suffered all that men like him suffer in America & he seems fully confident. He has escaped the American obsession with success. He is not a man of knowledge, like Will, but he knows a lot about self-knowledge.
Will is the refutation of the American obsession with fortune, with work, & with meritocracy. He is the living rebuke to the administrative state & the administrative politicized college. These institutions neither understand him nor are interested in him. Will attracts people who wonder what man might do or be. He has powers, but does not use them to make or do much of anything. He is young, all potential. Happily, America offers him all he could want, if he but want it.
Will’s relation to the professor is important. The violence & low class upbringing are not. Taking a young man’s anger seriously while denying he has the right to put the world on trial is what matters. Unserious kids who want to play deadly serious games were a dime a dozen in the ‘60s. Getting a young man to take serious things seriously is giving him the chance to live, which requires a living example, not cheap, cruel moralism.
A movie for angry young men
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Kids, family, black people, & 9/11
This is fun for today’s kids. Thrills without suffering, heroism without suffering, democracy without suffering, & no hard choices or moral conflicts. They are likely to like it – it is what adults seem to think kids think adventure might be… Imagine The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as an action comedy set on a roller-coaster; & no slavery & no millions of Huck Finns in inner cities.
Family, not to spoil the movie for you, turns out to be about believing in others, in your brothers. As opposed to what? Isn’t everything about that these days? This is America, so family involves no obedience or exclusion of strangers… That kind of family is fittingly shown to be hiding underground – in the end, the father apologizes to his sons. If this view of family is popular, no wonder family is collapsing nationwide.
The turtles love hip-hop & practice it, in all its brutal lack of melody. Hidden in plain sight is the military implication of the music, the anger it arouses, but cannot control. Do fatherless black kids really believe that brothers can replace fathers & it’s all fun & games, no risk & no death? Or is this easy comedy just for white kids, then, at least for those with fathers?
At the same time, all the talk of vigilante justice & ninja arts of war turns out to be mystery as displayed in amusement parks. Nobody really wants to be a ninja or fight crime – that’s all make-believe. Is that true, though? Is there no anger or ambition left in our children’s hearts? No darkness in our souls? How about our fears? So nobody ever has to die; sacrifice is successful & requires no actual sacrifice. Injecting adrenaline makes these mutants ninja turtles bulletproof! This is a farcical image of what is terrifying about the psychology of anger!
The rat-father is full of possibility, though. He reveres the small kindnesses & innocent courage of a child. He knows the evil of the world & resolves to teach his boys how to kill in order to defend themselves, to punish them unflinchingly if they disobey, & to die for them when they bring danger into his house. Obviously, this character is marginal to the story… Let’s think about him: He never thought teaching kids war like a game might get them to practice; he never thought that great power can seem devoid of moral implications to kids, who take it for granted, as if it had no political implications… Can education without fear be serious? What are kids without limits?
Apparently, we show our kids plots about mass murder terrorism in New York City in comic stories. Have we no shame?
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Death in-between world & ideas
This part of the review you should only read if you’ve seen the movie. The way this story ends is, the dreamer has to lie to this man who might end up ruling the world. The difference in excellence between the two is itself shocking. The dreamer is strangely benevolent. Maybe he just needs to get the job done to get back to his family; mankind also might need him to succeed.
But the assurance with which all dreamers agree that they have to do something to help this heir apparent is suspicious. Maybe it is a sign of their powerlessness: Politics teaches that fear is the guide of thought & necessity the master of reason. Isn’t that how it works for the dreamer & his friends? You lose, you die? He neglects to tell them that in advance, but they don’t hold it against him. Maybe they see the stakes for themselves, so it’s not just about this dreamer.
Dreaming is not quite politics, so they agree they cannot terrify this guy. Why not just kill him & get it over with – maybe a few of his associates? Then the thing would fall apart. Then again, the ruler of Apple died & the damned thing is bigger than ever, so maybe it is not that simple, you really do need a man to steer things away from our post-human future.
Likely, the kid’s father was both insane & incredibly successful. To repeat myself, he was so effective he brought mankind nearest the abyss, unwittingly. Thank God we’re all mortal! Walking back from that is not easy, but there is a connection between allowing the young man to love his father & undoing his dangerous work. The dreamer works a fictional understanding between father & son – can that be the basis of our human future? Maybe that’s conservative politics.
That brings us back to the relation of poets & politicians. The necessity under which the dreamer works suggests that Nolan sees things in a similar way. It’s tough out there for the few who want to warn the many about the troubles coming, while giving us all hope that new things are possible, & we needn’t be terrified of what they portend.
Our dreamer also wants family reconciliation. He is slowly succumbing to the guilt he feels for his dead wife. They were ambitious together & she paid the price. The possibility of the new implies that our world is not real. Maybe ideas imply the same – maybe ideas are what is new about the world. Why should that be deadly? This may have something to do with origins, like the subconscious suggests.
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Trying to save humanity from science again
I watched this movie because I read Ashok’s review. Once you find my review said to you about what it can say, go read his more insightful notes. They might start you on your way. The movie understates the things he notices. Why are these unobvious things there? They change the meaning of the obvious. I tend to look at things the other way, from more to less obvious, which is easier & less sophisticated.
This story is about our future, when corporations take over everything. I’m not going to talk much about productivity & its problems, but it’s implied technology has taken over our lives. You can tell because all the creative people have turned to crime & to dream, as opposed to the cold light of day. The bad news is that even the expert dreamers work for corporations. The good news is, the criminality of poetry is once again acknowledged. Whodathunkit? The denizens of libertarian worlds are just as moralistic as religious fanatics were.
This is a libertarian world – a CEO can give orders to the law about who’s a criminal & who is not. Science finally rules the world. The poets turn to dreams to have any space in which to exist. Science apparently discovers a limit in its powers – maybe a temporary limit, like the others – so that in dreams, you have to think on your feet.
In dreams, people are people again – everybody is out to kill you if you point out that what they like to think is real is not all they want it to be. Anyone who’s important is far crazier in this way than the rest of the world – the paranoia is deep enough that even in their dreams they’re protected from people telling you otherwise.
If you want to attract people’s attention to something they’ve never seen, you have to tell them something they want to believe. Everyone wants to believe that whatever they’re seeing, they’ve already seen. Ask yourself something like this, who is Machiavelli talking to – who is the man who might use what he gets there? The dreamer in this story talks not to an ambitious nobody, but to a man who, by accident, will end up ruling the world – in a way, he might be the last man. Happily, this man does not want to have what Machiavelli suggests the most ambitious man wants to get.
Actually, it’s the dreamer who sort of has that ambition, like Columbus – he ended up in his subconscious & decided to build a world there with his wife. Maybe it was her subconscious, if it matters. Presumably, he went there because there was nowhere else to go.
This is a complicated movie to watch, maybe a rhetorical failure–I didn’t get the sense that the impressive things really connect with the serious things it has to say. But it does have serious things to say, so watch it.
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How to save your soul
The story only happens when science gets around to playing with evil, which we fear without necessarily desiring the power to fight. We even suspect power might be evil. We suspect, there are limits to what we can do without debasing ourselves. This is hard to grasp – soul is invisible. It is useless for science to say, soul is not, because there you have it. Soul has to be extirpated. The easiest way to do it, heaven help us, is to prove we are capable of anything, that we are endlessly changing. This might even whet our appetite for self-improvement.
Our hero learns to defend himself. This might be the crucial rejection of modern science: Self-defense does not teach him who he is. Withstanding motion is one part of soul; moving oneself by soul is the other. He decides to recall his origins. This he cannot do. We no longer have origins going back before science! He decides who he really is – the man who fell in love with his wife. But he cannot remember her & the marriage is made up – does love have any power anymore? He is also the man who fights monsters.
Marriage is more of a cause than an enjoyed good. Whether it can stir heroism is questionable, but civilization would seem to require it. A world where a man & a woman can fall in love is rare, because it requires the civil peace. So much for the connection between love & evil.
Intelligence could cause madness – a detective who becomes aware of the big lie ends up suicidal, unable to trust anyone or anything. This is the same as the scientific attempt to transform human experience into science. The truth about our situation & our predicament could be fearful – an education is required to face up to it. Poets deal with that, or should. The other detective sacrifices his life, holding to justice more than science or power.
Remaking the city is endlessly the task of our new science, which believes that man is what the city makes of him, that there is nothing therefore the city cannot make or unmake. This, in a sense, is what the city believes, too. But this is just saying the city forgets its origins.
The end fails to satisfy – can we really go back to the natural world? Have we really definitively abandoned it? The power to compel belief by shaping soul is on display everywhere. Going to the edge of the city is not leaving the city. Our hero insists that the heart is where the secret is, not the head. Reason is limited; man must live by faith. & yet, our hero is godless.
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A vision of the night of the world
This is the story of a man who wakes up gradually to the realization that his life is not real, because his world is not real. But we all live our lives depending on the reliability of our memories. We live lives of memory more than other kinds of life. His memories are made up – it is, it turns out in the end, a monstrous scientific experiment, by some alien intelligence – isn’t all intelligence alien?
To get the trouble out of the way, for now, just remember that whenever you see some kind of collective entity with superhuman powers, it’s about science. Science is impersonal, super-powerful, & it preys on humanity. This is a necessary part of the poet’s return – without a serious attack on science, there is just not enough room in modern politics for poetry.
I cannot think of any example that would resemble the poetic device used in this film & I have no poetic gift myself, so I am going to give you liberal arts imagery. This movie is like Plato’s Republic rewritten by Machiavelli. But of course, Machiavelli sees no reason to do that. Nor does science see a reason to start torturing us – it is too proud, too contemptuous of mere humanity, too sure of its progress for that. Only the massive failures of the doctrine of progress could set up this problem.
The city is itself being manipulated, both physically & psychically. This is the time when science wants to come to understand the city. This is just what science did when it was blind to the origin of the city, to tragedy. The difference is that now, the actions of science, rationalizing life to eliminate what Hobbes calls fear of ghosts, are compelled – the ghosts won’t go away!
The crisis has two aspects. Our hero is falsely accused of murder; & he cannot remember his wife. By the end, he learns about his innocence; & falls in love with his wife. There is a tormented scientist in the middle, whom our hero must compel, whose help he needs. Science could either serve aliens & humans. This is tricky stuff, because the hero does not really have a choice & the scientist might abandon his own humanity…
Now, back to the trouble. A city lost in space, with no ground except the power of science is a terrifying image. Man’s homelessness is radicalized – man is uprooted forcibly. Everyone in the story does not see this coming or happening! This is the political statement about the nature of the fight between science & poetry. There is a scientific poetry long in working that has blinded people to this. We all live in darkness, unquestioningly.
This is the movie that you should have seen instead of the Matrix. Happily, you can still find it & enjoy the view from the end of the world
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I know people will say this is just a stupid blockbuster; I cannot really defend it, but here are a few of the troubles with this story that would apply to any similar story, stupid or smart. In fact, in looking at heroism from the perspective of individualism, it’s quite revealing…
Hercules is the opposite of the 300 movies – in those cases, you find a manly, even strutting defense of liberty as a political notion. This may be necessary in face of death. The shocking heroism is the projection of political life unto mere mortals. This man is Athens. That man is Sparta. The other one Persia. – Hercules is modern liberal America. This movie shows you that you can never trust people who talk about liberty. All politicians are corrupt.
The teaching is, it doesn’t matter if there are gods. You still have to make your decisions. Well, the rampant materialism & individualism that corrupts our poetry has to face up to the facts of life – why should anyone do anything serious if we are merely mortal? If there is no divine justice to contend with the limits of human justice, there simply is no justice. At least this much is obvious, atheism is really hurting poetry…
The story goes to hell when you see a boy joke about how he’s ready to fight just after he stabs someone in the back. Admittedly, the victim was evil & the boy saved Hercules, every boy’s dream! But is backstabbing the stuff of legend or courage or the manly life? The boy gave up poetry to make himself useful this way. The audience seemed pleased to go along with the boy’s joke.
At the end, Hercules kills a tyrant. If he doesn’t rule his kingdom, he leaves an army he knows is capable of evil – his work – without a captain. If he does, then what his enemies feared, that kingship is the natural end of heroism, turns out to be true. This is problematic – not to justify the murder of his family, but there is something to learn, apparently, from the jealous fear of the evil.
Hercules’ friends, who do not believe in legends, believed in him as family – no other basis of community is presented. They mostly come from destroyed kingdoms. Hercules is a home for the homeless. Courage might do that for the money, but if you want justice, you still need a home. So we’re back to Hercules king. Is that the only happy end there is? Had he pursued his kingdom unbidden, wouldn’t he have had to do pretty much every horrible thing he did, but in full knowledge, without the excuse of ignorance?
All kingdoms turn out to be a combination of subterranean, monstrous intrigue & public splendor. You even see a woman facing execution with hysteria, by turns begging & cursing. She both feared for her boy’s life & wanted him to have a kingdom. There can be no trust, therefore, in such a corrupt society…
This is a movie for boys, but it is better, because it is tougher, than most movies for boys. There is enough fighting & suffering to set most boys straight.
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