A funny story about how science & playful invention can help evil men murder & destroy a city, but it works out in the end A rather disarming show that the liberal answer to terrorists is to love them
The effective truth of the story is that terrorism works & that any man sufficiently insane must get what he wants. In this story, the hero from the title – nameless, only one of many – & his antagonist fight three fights. 1.A treacherous attack by the bad guy, which should tell us that decent people are necessarily clueless & evil people do not need weapons, which they can steal from the decent; there is some danger in following this line of thought.
2.An equally surprising attack by the team of heroes on the bad guy, which shows us that if you want to fight evil, you must become evil. At this point, the boy who leads these newly armed children wants to kill the man who murdered his brother & maybe others, whom he has in his powers. Justice is about to be done. But the children, all good liberals, force him to stop. Luckily, their turning on each other gets no one killed. If you can believe this, they will sell you another…
3.The first public confrontation between good & evil. Unluckily, the bad guy, saved, proceeds to destroy as much of the city as he can. The result is that the good lose their only real hero, who is a robot, & sacrifices gladly, one can almost say. The evil gets even more than he hoped for & we learn the cause of evil. He is a scientist whose astronaut daughter died in a failed launch, which he blames on a corporate tech oligarch, whom he wants to murder, along with anyone who gets in his way. This madman not only is not humiliated & killed, but he gets his daughter back. He could not have rescued her except by the murder, destruction, & terror to which he dedicates himself. He is arrested, pending, no doubt, psychological tending & release…
Also, the sacrifice turns out not to be a sacrifice at all. But the dead brother stays dead.
There is much that’s damning in that brief recounting of the story. Putting love above justice, surely the popular opinion, leads to this kind of destruction: If evil is merely people acting out in their lonely suffering, then they need a big hug rather than the tender mercies of the police.
So we see science expose & exterminate justice. The medical psychology implied in the soft robot – who cannot fit into armor, but whose softness wrecks it – implies that crime can be prevented, maybe extirpated. The dead brother who invented this robot never asked himself whether it is good to do good to the evil. In that sense, he exposed himself to exactly the kind of murder which ended him.
One of the really popular animation stories of the year, which everyone thought was cute & fluffy.
A look at the world when it was brilliant Some notes on the death of Old Europe
This was a kingdom of glory. It was splendid. Beauty mattered; manners mattered more than mores – neither matters much these days. People who think skyscrapers beautiful could not look back to the happy age before the Great War, when civilization seemed to have won, & to be enjoying its victory.
The man who sits in judgment of this world is what today would be called an immigrant. The wars of the great powers caused empires to collapse & this small man’s family to be murdered. He has come to Europe & is becoming persuaded of her superiority to his old way of life. This way of life is embodied not by a master, but by a servant. From the point of view of democracy, all masters are needy so & so’s. But a servant who is a master of servants makes more sense. In any world, someone has to do the work.
The man is obsessed with perfume & his guests, whose decadence he softens, especially old women of the right social class. This gets him involved in the quarrels that led to the rise of horrifying tyrannies. This brings out something else again: This man switches from beauty to necessity in a heartbeat. He may love candy, but he knows better than to let anyone think he’s a candy-ass – witness the muscular foreign policy of the imperial age.
The boy whom he saves & for whom he sacrifices is both in awe of this man’s confident command, jealous of his charms, & dismissive of his foibles. For him, Europe is a ruin, but the ruin retains some signs of the beauty of another age, though none of that life. He prospered beyond hope in the ruins, but he could never again attain happiness.
The boy sees in this old world a sorry spectacle – the laws are not what you think, nor what anyone else thinks. The murder in the art museum is the political truth about Europe. A man may wear perfume & fight, but that does not make him a political animal, nor is he responsible for the lower classes. Boy & man have in common a basic decency & a reasonable flexibility where one’s own interest requires it. How about honor? Is not that the suggested difference between men in jail & gangsters?
The coming collapse of the kingdom is suggested by the collapse of its ruling class; the only happiness to be found is in the low class, & it requires liberation from poverty. The man we see at the height of his abilities is merely a caretaker, magnanimous unto sacrifice, but devoid of the magnificence, which we see only as democrats who find it cumbersome…
Wes Anderson’s newest movie. Not as funny as Royal Tenenbaums, nor particularly more insightful…
A view of the brilliant man Some notes on the origin of democratic music
How do you feel about the popular music of the last several decades? One man in the last two generations is responsible for all these changes – James Brown. Rock music has come & gone, but this man still exerts a strange influence on the American race &, thereby, on the world. His moniker is ‘godfather of soul’; his music is nothing but the groove – the body rules tyrannically over mind. He is of the age of democracy.
He was born little better than a slave; he lived worse than some slaves. It was in jail that he first thought to make something of himself by music. This is apposite – he took the church music & replaced God, who had not helped him at all, by the pleasures & powers of the body. Coming out of jail, he was a free man – liberated from the old world, in which he was treated horribly.
In the new world, he could give free rein to his sexual desire, as well as to his love of dancing. He wanted to be loved & could work incredibly hard to peddle his talents to willing audiences which increasingly take on the look of worshipers. He was of the times; he saw no trouble in treating his fellowman like a slave. The combination of brutality & sensuality one sees in his father is seen in him again.
He never talked about his suffering, only about the strange power he held over mankind. In this way, the slavery he created was of a new kind, because people consented to be enslaved. He might be called energetic, possessed of a confidence & a brilliance which seemed to announce new things. His lack of interest in politics is itself revolutionary. Funk is lawless. Maybe he changed America &, thereby, the world more than MLK.
In the end, his lack of self-control, his inability to understand the world aside from the injustices which he suffered & the desires that ruled him made him miserable. Who would suffer his age to have enjoyed his youth? He hardly seems able anymore to remember who he is. He is who he is only on stage, where his powers to charm seem unabated.
The restlessness & the willingness to put his manliness into making & wasting fortunes are really American qualities. They throw a strange light on his musical talent. He saw both the inegalitarian & egalitarian worlds. In the South, instead of self-control – see how low-class blacks acted – there was tyranny. In the North, instead of self-control – see the showbiz types – there is capitalism. His movement seems to have been a foregone conclusion; his talents doomed him to bring to life – or display – democracy.
A worthwhile look at James Brown & perhaps the best movie about popular music in this generation.
A note in defense of the warrior class On the pleasures of moral virtue
Two kinds of objections have been brought against this story. The moral objection is that the man of war loves war &, therefore, is neither human nor sacrificing. Polemicists do not use that objection against their own & seem to think that their moralism justifies any injustice. The intellectual objection is that, in strengthening in Americans their American individualism, this story does none of the thinking we need to do about our situation & predicament.
Who is allowed to disown the heroes of the nation’s wars? When once men are shrouded in the flag, who can treat them with the carelessness with which we treat each other? Those who object to the glory of the warriors are contemptible creatures. They thrive on the public opinion that holds contempt to be an offense against the democracy or even nature. We would have to say, this story says nothing about paying in blood for the political opinions in which we are raised. We would have to say that those among us who die for the others have only themselves to blame. That is the least fortunate part of democratic individualism.
The action of the story already implies all this: The terrible loneliness of the warrior class; their dedication to their profession & their growing awareness that professionalism does not keep madness at bay. All the while, you see them learning, no victory is forthcoming: The martial virtues are prohibited from securing victory. The people are turning their face against the suffering.
Who can watch this story unfold without the growing fear that madness will overcome patriotism? The fundamental fight between order & chaos is on display. Only those who are so assured that their safety is a foregone conclusion can yawn – only those who care nothing for manliness. Even the cold, unfeeling scientist who wants to dissect the man of war would be interested, even fascinated at this display.
The warrior is caught in the contradiction of war: He must kill who would take from him the joys of peace & he alone who resembles him in his virtues. He must look directly at savagery & imitate it & overdo it by his wits, then return among the civilized, who look at him with uncomprehending fear or contempt.
The pleasure this man takes in his achievements relies on the belief that the evil in man marks him for killing, not for protection. War reminds us of divine justice & divine mercy in this way only, that we see the world in which we are suffered to live & die. Here necessity holds sway, not justice, & martial virtues defend the civil peace. This man is life & death, peace & war…
On greatness & striving Some notes on the consequences of abandoning the laws
This is the story of a boy who wants to become a great musician. He looks maladroit; is unable to look at people or talk with them. The only thing you may suspect in him which is not very mediocrity is self-pity. The boy throws away love & happiness for the sake of beating drums. Excellence in playing, judged in competitions, is his path. He listens to great drummers all the time.
He does not think excellence in music is subjective & he is contemptuous of popular ambitions. He is proud of attending the best music school in America, although he has no idea about his future – or his past or his present, come to think of it. Young people, we like to think, are full of possibility. This boy has only one, on which he focuses with very manliness.
This boy meets a professor whose competence & iron will make him a tyrant. His demands as to what must be done force kids to abandon their dignity &, to some extent, the pleasures of life, & reduce themselves to musical ability. Do they take pleasure in their competence, given the terror that accompanies failure? Would they become competent absent the terror? But why should this be – is it democracy that makes them weak or does it just acknowledge their mediocrity?
The teacher insists that suffering is the path to greatness. But that is not compatible with school in a democracy: Authority does not include the authority to beat students, whether or not that helps improve their abilities. Then again, the musicians whose excellence the schools teach were not themselves the creatures of the schools. The incredible daring of this professor misunderstands the possibilities & duties of the school. A man who prowls the halls at night, then again, is not a school creature.
It would seem, everything depends on this boy finding his father’s embrace unbearable. The authority of the school is rejected in favor of the authority of the great jazz musicians. That’s not democratic, but it’s tolerated in a democracy. How about the reasoning behind it? The professor obviously breaks laws & commits crimes in pursuit of excellence. Can democracy survive the rise of men of ability who choose glory over justice & tell themselves it’s preferable to be remembered forever than to be mediocre? Happily, this is just music. Even so, there may be no great reason to fear – the people have forgotten old musicians.
The torture the professor practices on his students does not depend on their desire to please or achieve success as much as their uncertainty. They dare not trust their own judgment & wrongly think his judgment is to their best.
This was an Oscar contender, to an extent. I think maybe the Oscars are meant to defend this kind of movie from the consequences of its unpopularity
A note on a story about battleborn freedom The vision of the angel of death
The movies have given us nothing of any importance on the politics or the history of the War on Terror. Now, Clint Eastwood gives us the first good look at the man of war. Chris Kyle is already a legend among the American warrior class, but now he is also a legend on screen, a man & a patriot the likes of whom you have not seen before, & perhaps a comfort to his orphaned children, who can see their father immortalized.
We tend to think of war as the use of technology & economics, which discounts courage, & withholds its understanding of virtue. We think we’re thinking about strategy when we’re thinking about how to predict or control events & people. But war involves judging life & death: The man who takes on divine powers is what really matters.
War does look like a job for professionals, who do not boast their manliness, but who judge each other by their acquired & practiced skills. This way of looking at order & chaos, however, fails to do justice to the political order in which we live: If it is what it looks like, why does it need these rarest of men, who walk among us shrouded in death? If science has not freed us from our most ancient faith, how well does it really understand us?
Chris Kyle is the man who saves his brother. He is willing to look at people up close & kill them. Death comes by his hand, but not his eye. He serves a political order which he believes to be just, but he knows that justice is different to victory. The men who fight for America walk under the protection of his watchful arm. His power to keep them alive itself is necessary because of the way Americans wage war. He is invisible. He is not winning wars; he is not victorious over his enemies; he merely defends those who walk into the coming chaos.
Likely, his wife is right to fear him, cry & supplicate him – that she should talk of his regaining his humanity. But the doctor who tells him there are more men to be saved when once the war is over is probably wiser. Kyle lives in America, where no one tells you what victory means or who has won it. Kyle shows us that mind basically means intention to act.
The end of the movie is remarkably delicate, unlike the actions & the men, who are straightforward in a way reserved for the strong. It occurs to me, this is probably because we live as though defeated. The nobility of Chris Kyle emerges from this awareness. He is undaunted.
Clint Eastwood’s best movie in a long time. Find it. See it.
We should be surprised how quickly the dragon dies, though not how quickly he incinerates a city. The problem is not as simple as the dragon or what the survivors will do to build a home. The daring expedition to kill him is meant to restore the dwarfs to their home, the king to his crown, & civilization in its position to be able to defend itself from the coming tyranny & chaos.
This immediately collapses, as it was planned by a wizard who is unwise. His unwisdom consists or comes to fruition in the belief that men’s powers are commensurate with & servants to their needs. In fact, the dwarf king, now mad about acquiring or defending wealth, refuses to deal with the humans & the elves, who both make claims on that wealth. The humans need help for a home & have indeed killed the dragon; the dwarfs need defense for their regained home; the elves are at home in the forest, so they have no interest in war.
The only common good they can find is a common enemy. It is war against the goblins that makes sense of the defense of home. There is a kind of degenerate, evil creature that might wipe out everything good & noble in our world. These creatures, cunning & ruthless, are the first test of the wisdom & courage of the civilized races.
The hopelessness of this war suggests part of the problem with hope in the goodness of this world – it is always waiting on the providential bird to save civilization, rather than fighting with one’s own arms. Men are not sufficiently warlike to do what has to be done. The difference between the peaceful & warlike is not who fights wars, but who foresees them.
The madness of the dwarf king has to do with wealth & desire – in some sense, they are infinite, while man is mortal. Reasonable people, like the halfling, betray masters whose madness can lead to unreasonable use of property. What’s good for one is more important than having everything. In that sense, adventure is pretty greedy itself, but it has a far better sense of the relative priority of the urgent & the important. Adventure is never paralyzing – adventurers acquire goods.
The elves are insufficiently warlike because they look upon evil with contempt, unaware of their weakness. They are not greedy like the dwarfs, whence their inferior power & superior taste. Elves think too much of immortality, not enough of the hard work required for security. The new age of democracy, where a halfling calls a king his friend, must combine the elvish taste, the dwarfish power, & the human inclination for peace.
The end of the second trilogy of Tolkien stories directed by Peter Jackson. He has been criticized for dragging out a short story for kids. Kids could do with three stories here.
A note about the need for redemption in the face of death
An LA policeman is sent to Alaska to solve a murder. He has made a reputation bringing to justice people who do the unthinkable. Someone in LA is trying to make his reputation destroying this strange hero. Would that prove there is no evil, only crooked cops? A local policeman tells him she admires him for his work, which she has studied professionally. This hero inspires her to seek out felonies, not mere misdemeanors.
This man cannot sleep anymore & it is always daylight in Alaska. We see him slowly lose his mind at the end of the world. He cannot sleep. The confusion in his will is connected to the fact that the justice of the city depends on his reputation, which is endangered. He has been playing God – looking into the hearts of men & seeing what there lies. He has done what needed to be done.
He is not an attractive man or strong. He knows things which allow him to put fear into people when he needs them to fear. He intrudes upon the privacy of each man who has the misfortune to meet him. To see this man examine evidence & decide what there is to be done is to learn how to use everything for advantage.
No secret is safe from him, nor are the procedures of the laws awful in his eyes – he understands what they mean & what they require him to do, but he looks beyond them to justice, to punish the wicked. He knows that men learn to do evil & cannot be untaught. To try to reason with them ignores how clever they can be. Human power creates the limits of human power. To deal with them is necessity, not choice. That is to see clearly, undeluded.
This man looks almost ready to crumble with his reputation. What is he, but his office – an officer of the laws has the power to enforce them, supposedly, but what is his being? His public life is going to be buried because of his secrets. When people begin to suspect him, he does not seem to know whether he is good or evil. Who can judge the secret counsels of the heart? Do people want justice because they believe that the human being is good, or because it is evil?
He reveals an ugliness in the lives of the people he meets that should not be seen. He also shows that these people do not see that among them monsters walk, or devils, better to say. The man who contends with them – how does he know he is human? Who will justify him who alone guarantees the goodness of human justice?
Nolan had two early stories about justice, about punishing the guilty. This is the one about the policeman.
Leonard shows us that being a human being depends on getting justice. This looks like revenge, & then again it does not… Justice is about man’s relation to the world, too – if the whole of which we are parts is indifferent or hostile to justice, we have to change how we think about it. We should then begin to fear each other, especially when people start talking about justice. – Wisdom then were mistrust.
Lenny’s quest for justice is extreme – there is nothing new for him, because he is obsessed with his wife’s death, which he cannot face because he cannot detach from the fear & horror of the moment he lost her. His disease, the inability to form new memories, is tied up with his other disease, the inability to lose old memories. If justice is serious, you shouldn’t forget what’s owed to whom, & then again deeds become speeches & memories…
Leonard’s life ended with his wife’s death. Death is all he has now. He’s minded to share this with his wife’s murderer. Happiness & pleasure are foreclosed to him. He lives in confusion because he walks among the shadows. Therefore, we only see this part of the city that does not look like the city, the part where life is crime.
Lenny shows us a reduction of mind to body – mind now only means the intention to get revenge, which can be tattooed on the body. Other people would think scientifically about this disease & record time or write down complicated thoughts. But Lenny is not an abstract animal anymore – he has no leisure – action is its own argument with him. The requirements of justice come down to being a man of your word or being as good your word – the world should be what it seems…
Leonard used to be an insurance investigator – he was concerned with calculations about what’s good & how they can be used to predict the future. Mistrust was essential to his job, as to our society, because our urgent sense of our own good does not allow us to get to know each other. Other people are just like us, & then again they are not us or ours. That has all changed, & the future has ceased to matter, because there is nothing good left. Evil has replaced good. Chaos has returned, & now order looks like a pious lie.
Lenny looks like a complete stranger, barely human, & barely aware that he is human. He seems to believe that justice comes before self-knowledge, or that it replaces it. He has neither friends nor family nor yet country. Maybe that would be a betrayal of his love for his lost wife.
Christopher Nolan’s first movie in Hollywood, a troubling story about how justice requires a man should turn into a god. It is the peculiarity of the style that the people likeliest to like it are least likely to think seriously on justice & divine law
The biography of our protagonist is interesting. It is offered us in allusion. This kind of compression is required because of our modern, apolitical lives. There is no scene on which this man can shine. As an object of art, he cannot offer us a totality of effect. We get something else in return, as characterization is driven by the plot, that is, a sense of unraveling, a sequence in which virtues & vices are understood as public & private & oriented to give an account of soul.
We know this man by word-of-mouth, or hearsay, or reputation, as the woman describes him. This is an account of him as a whole: He is a failure, he has come apart in the wild, or gone native, & his wife left him for this reason. He was once a respected scientist, but he is no longer respectable or a scientist.
This explains to us the way the woman treats him. She starts from what is obvious about him, which she understands in a moralistic way which should sober us up about science. There are far darker secrets & far greater promises in the man, we learn, than she is capable of suspecting. We resemble to her. But we admire the manly man & his confidence as a ruler – we see no scientist at all there. Suffice it to say for now that those greater things do not fit in the city.
In the beginning, there is a motion from civilization to the jungle, which is rather comedic – the comedy is only partly at the expense of a goodhearted, but very silly woman, as proud of her scientific & political achievements as innocent of any understanding of human nature. This woman is supposed to play saving angel to a man on whom she has passed judgment. He expects servants or help.
The poet has no intention to kill the woman. Far from it – the manly man shows her the wonders of nature. But we cannot but laugh at the kind of focus moralism creates – this woman never stops to look at the very strange humans in this savage land. You could get good jokes at the expense of feminism, multiculturalism, science, & modernity…
Our protagonist, however, is not in the mood for jokes. He has changed his mind. He is now no longer willing to look away from people. The abstraction required for science & the cruelty implicit in moralism repel him. Saving lives is a fact, not a mission. Medicine should care for people, not boss them around. He looks at the woman shamelessly – her attractions are surprisingly connected to her mind. Is she some kind of image of him?