No Country for Old Men (2007) on the surface is a battle between two men with a singular goal. While examining old fashioned ingenuity the film raises questions about destiny and the nature of evil in our world. Anton Chigurh is an apparently powerful and violent force who has identified his prey, Llewellyn Moss and the briefcase full of cash. When asked about how dangerous Chigurh is Carson Wells offers only a vague impression.
“Compared to what? The Bubonic Plague?”
His words are more important than the comedic tone implies. Chigurh appears in No Country for Old Men as a living embodiment of Death, or the Grim Reaper. His killing is cold and absolute, but not maniacal and sweeping as other unstoppable film slashers. Those who survive owe their lives to the flip of a coin when they cross his path.
The Coens reinforce the sometimes random nature of Death’s calling by leaving the destiny of some characters ambiguous. We the viewer may speculate whether Carla Jean or the office accountant were murdered by Chigurh but it is ultimately left unknown.
The ending of the film that shows Chigurh continue on after a horrible car wreck is a statement about death. It is coming and it is unstoppable. When the Reaper’s sights were set upon Llewellyn his fate was sealed and those who cross Death’s path by accident will survive only by the dumb luck of a cold and emotionless coin flip.
I’ve noticed that more commonly accepted or documented theories seem to be popular at Lost Narratives (using well-known or cult movies also seems to be of more interest to viewers). For this reason I will take a moment to explore John Hughes’ Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) and the belief held by some fans that Ferris is not real but is in fact a figment of Cameron’s sub-conscious. There are too numerous a site to reference the original theory to, so I will link the YouTube video by “ClassyHands” that ties the premise to Tyler Durden From David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999).
Ferris Bueller is a flake when it comes to his schooling. Though an obviously smart teen he has hidden issues of truancy from his parents. On his day off he concocts a plan to spring his girlfriend, Sloan, from school, steal Cameron’s father’s Ferrari and take the three of them on a trip. It is the reserved character Cameron who ends up being the emotional focal-point of the film, feigning suicide and eventually destroying the car in a fit of rage.
Cameron is a hypochondriac with possible social anxiety. Ferris is outgoing, charming, and everyone loves him. Ferris has a beautiful girlfriend and a family that adores him. It is unlikely that the two would be friends, much less best friends. their situation conveniently brings them together: They are both faking illness to play hooky from school.
In many ways Ferris is the exact opposite of Cameron. It could also be said that Ferris is exactly the way that Cameron wants to be. In Fight Club Tyler explicitly states to Edward Norton’s character the nature of their bisected personality.
“All the ways you wish you could be, that’s me. I look like you wanna look… I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not. “
Note the scene where Cameron struggles with the day off, leading Ferris to explain all the fun they had and the things they did. Like Tyler Durden, fans claim Ferris is a creation of the psyche to help Cameron grow and become the person he wants to be.
When the three discover the mileage on the Ferrari has increased significantly Cameron has a meltdown and drops himself to the bottom of a pool. It is Ferris who saves him and at that moment Cameron accepts a new way of life. He wants the pretty girl, his family to love him, to be outgoing and charismatic. In the end he destroys his father’s Ferrari, both as a symbol of aggression toward his father’s misguided love and a farewell to his sheltered life.
In the final scene of The Thing Childs approaches MacReady after the Antarctic research facility has been destroyed. Both men are leery of the other, each suspicious that the monster has taken their form. MacReady cautiously hands Childs a bottle of whiskey. As the man gladly takes the liquor and drinks MacReady laughs to himself.
The ultimate fate of The Thing is left ambiguous to the viewer. Like most mysteries in the movie, however, there are several clues that indicate that the monster has survived and taken the form of Childs. John Carpenter urges the viewer to pay close attention to personality and continuity errors as a way of solving who the monster has taken the form of and when the transformation occurred.
Note that when Nauls returns with MacReady’s torn shirt and claims he is not what he seems the other men are quick to lock the door. Childs is adamant during this scene that they not let anyone in or open the door, instead staying guard with a torch. At the end of the film he explains to MacReady that he saw Blake outside and uncharacteristically ran out from his post to stop the man. Those watching attentively will notice this tale appears unlikely given how the “real” Childs reacted earlier to potential danger outside the facility.
The second clue is revealed in the character wardrobe, specifically jackets. Carpenter uses clothing several times to indicate who the monster may have taken the form of; MacReady is the first to explicitly state that The Thing tears through the clothes of those that it possesses. Throughout the majority of the movie Childs is wearing a dark blue parka. After the facility has been destroyed he has clearly changed into a tan coat. As a hint the camera looms over the men’s coat room ominously shortly before the explosion.
The third clue comes in the final moments of the film. MacReady laughs when Childs freely shares the drink because he knows The Thing has survived. The men are both aware that every cell of the monster is intent on surviving and capturing others. Childs demonstrates that he is not concerned about infection or being possessed when he gladly takes a sip from MacReady’s bottle. These subtle messages indicate the filmmaker’s intent that The Thing has survived the team’s efforts to destroy it. What happens in the following moments between MacReady and the monster is unknown.
This post serves as an introduction to David Lynch’s paramount film Mulholland Drive and the numerous questions it raises about protagonist Betty/Diane’s psyche. Many walk away from watching this movie knowing they have witnessed something deep and profound, but they are ultimately left confused. Like all of Lynch’s work exact answers do not exist; what follows is a superficial explanation that may help viewers make sense of character and plot shifts.
Mulholland Drive blurs the line between reality and fantasy. In opposition to the way we first see her, Betty is a deeply troubled individual who has failed as a Hollywood actress and seen her life crumble. At the start of the film, however, she is depicted as a beautiful and talented woman who has success routinely dropped at her lap. Lynch literally indicates that Betty is dreaming and awakened to reality. Whether we are seeing her dream or are privy to her deepest fantasies, the first half of the movie is not real.
To make clearer the point at which the switch to Betty’s real-life occurs, note the scene where The Cowboy enters her room and says to wake up. This should serve as a pronounced moment when the characters and circumstances are completely reversed. With this in mind (and with repeated viewings) Mulholland Drive weaves a fascinating trip through crises of identity and longing for power. Thus begins a recurring series of posts to follow at Lost Narratives on some of the more salient fantasies and how Betty’s dream serves to satisfy her sub-consciously. Watch the movie and see what you can find.
Minority Report ends in a pleasant way, with John reuniting with his wife and defeating the head of the pre-crime division that attempted to frame him. This is in stark opposition to how the film opens, where John is a depressed drug addict who cannot recover from the loss of his son and whose job is in jeopardy. John discovers a murder that was covered up and after some investigation he is framed by his own division. Through the course of the movie John is captured after the set up and implanted into the halls of containment, a new form of prison for those who are guilty of pre-crimes. John’s ex-wife learns of his framing and boldly springs him from the halls.
Upon entrance into containment the prison warden explains to John’s lifeless body some of the benefits of capture.
“You’re a part of my flock now John, welcome. It’s actually kind of a rush, they say you have visions. That your life flashes before your eyes, that all your dreams come true.”
As stated, John’s ex learns of his framing and springs him from containment at gunpoint. In dramatic fashion John displays the video proving the framing at a dinner party celebrating pre-crime. He faces off against his former boss who commits suicide in shame. John is absolved and reunited with his former wife.
The warden’s noting that John will experience his wildest fantasies upon entry into containment is an important hint about the remainder of the movie. Much of the movie is considered a dark sci-fi until the happy and rather “cookie-cutter” ending. The stark shift in the tone of the movie, as well as the sudden good fortune of our hero, indicates that the ending is John’s dream. After confronting his son’s killer John is captured, ending the portion of the story that can be considered reality in Minority Report.
I discussed the impossible window and thematic mazes and disoriented perspectives in a previous blog post with regard to The Shining. One of the more notable narratives underlying this deep film is that of the settlement of North America and specifically the slaughter of the Native Americans. The Shining opens with a beautiful ride across undeveloped countryside, as if Jack himself is venturing in his yellow car to take it over. This narrative is set up by the characters in the beginning of the film as well, both by the set design and the explicit conversation. Mr. Ullman, for example, notes that in constructing the overlook hotel the workers had to fight off multiple native attacks. As the family is driving Jack tells his son about a settler party that was forced to eat their own when they became stranded. The wardrobe of the characters is notably patriotic, with many reds, whites and blues. Observe the colors that Wendy and Danny wear in the beginning of the film. This and Mr. Ullman’s suit are no coincidence.
As Jack and his family take over the vacant hotel we see mental unraveling in some detail. Jack struggles with his writing, his alcoholism, and with the demons that seem to haunt him. In the image below note the fabric designs that he beats the tennis ball against repeatedly. It is certainly an ethnic design and resembles a native tapestry. Wendy also has replaced her American flag attire for a much more native-like appearance. Jack is struggling with his role as the representation of the settlers who must destroy the people that welcomed him to the new land.
Many believe that the scene where Jack threatens Wendy up the stairs as she swings a bat toward him is actually a representation of a settler pleading with his conscience. The “contract” that Jack refers to in this monologue is not about his role as caretaker at the hotel, but with British authority to populate the new land and eradicate the natives. It should be noted that this scene holds the Guinness World Record for most takes of a single shot at 127. This is a testament to the meticulous nature of Kubrick’s direction as well as the hidden importance of the dialogue.
Toward the climax of the film Wendy is accepted into Jack’s delusions, where she sees wealthy aristocrats holding a fancy party as she runs screaming around the hotel. There is even a scene where a man in a costume appears to be performing fellatio on one of the rich guest members. This could be a metaphor for the figure of the native or indigenous succumbing to the incoming settlers. As I said before, there are several more narratives to discover in The Shining and I urge anyone to give it multiple viewings.
I know, I know… The genocide of the Jews in Europe by Nazi Germany during World War II is not a matter to be taken lightly and I have no intention to offend any parties who may read this entry. I considered not posting the analysis at all, but after some time digging I came across an excellent blog contribution that affirmed much of my interpretation and also added some interesting points.
In Toy Story 3 Andy is leaving for college and debates what, if any, toys he might bring with him. He decides that he is too old and Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang frantically gather around to come up with a plan for their “survival”. This is similar to the populations fleeing the German occupation of much of Europe, leaving behind the Jews to be entered into concentration camps. Buzz sees refuge in the attic as the only chance that they will not be thrown away. The comparisons to Anne Frank and her family hiding from the Third Reich are obvious.
The group’s plan does not work and they end up at a daycare facility, where they are separated from veteran toys in a younger classroom of children that abuse the toys. This is a metaphor for the system of concentration camps that nourished some Jews while beating and starving others, eventually killing them.
Toy Story 3 continues on its own narrative while using the Holocaust as a backdrop for the movie’s events. Woody and the gang are eventually shoved into a trash chute by Lotso Lovin’ Bear and his goons. Though Lotso is himself a toy at the daycare (read: Captured Jew) he may also represent the Nazi forces, as he seems to govern what toys are treated well and makes sure that security keeps them all imprisoned. The trash chute drags the toys and eventually leads to a giant fire pit. It was a common practice for many of the concentration camps to employ furnaces to burn some Jews alive. Woody and his friends hold hands as they are carried toward their doom.
At the last moment the gang is saved by the Pizza Planet Martians and carried away. This may be seen as a metaphor for the allied forces that eventually conquered Hitler’s Reich and liberated the Jews. These allied forces were witness to the atrocities that the Germans had committed during the Holocaust, as the Pizza Planet toys were, though they were never in the camps themselves. The use of the “alien” toys also symbolizes the outside forces that overthrew Germany’s conquering of Europe, namely the US.