Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Horror

I've been going through a little spurt of cinema going and have grave news to report. Spider Man 3 is not worth seeing. I know, I know, you were already aware of this - but I felt the need to confirm it lest you spent some of your hard earned social security benefits on the thing.

The Spider senses aren't tingling, not even a bitIt's not that it isn't a well put together, slick, high production value pacy romp with just the right amount of violence to kissing to special effects ratio and a just in the nick of time bitter sweet happy ending... hold on... in fact yes it is that fact - it's that fact precisely that makes it not worth seeing. It's painting by numbers, it has Kirsten Dunst as its vacuous hollow core with little to do but plod through her plot device role. It's *inoffensive*. Shudder.

But whilst Spidey is busy selling burgers the good people at Fast Food Nation are busy trying to put you off your food, for good.

Based on the well respected book of the same name the film lays out a fictionalised greasy trail of corporate corruption and the social misery it creates and feeds upon. Drawing in scenes from the chain of moments that go into creating a burger we see glimpses of the boardroom, the high school, immigrant labour, the middle managers, the consumers and, of course, the teenage burger flippers.

Do you want lies with that?Although we are only "treated" to one final scene of the killing floor there is a murderous undercurrent throughout, despite the fact that the events we see are all perfectly ordinary. I did feel rather unsatisfied by the whole thing. A little too worthy perhaps, a little cliched at times and those issues it dealt with most strongly had been dealt with better elsewhere - corporate corruption (Silver City) and immigrant labour (Bread and Roses) in particular - although the direct action kids were damn hilarious.

It's good this film's been made, and I'd recommend seeing it, you may well feel sated by it in a way that I didn't quite achieve. At the very least you'll go away with the strong feeling that there really is "shit in the meat".

Of course when it comes down to it we are all meat aren't we? At least that's the feeling you get once you've seen '28 weeks later' a feast of cannibalism, rage and horror the like of which we have not seen before that makes '28 days later' look like a walk in the park. Admittedly a zombie infested terror-park, but a walk in the park none-the-less.

I hear that some people don't enjoy films where more than half the cast get disemboweled - if you number yourself among their number then stay well away from the cinema until it's all over, not even to see Magicians lest the audience in the neighbouring auditorium go berserk and burst in, tearing and biting indiscriminately.

They are coming to get you - and they will not stop until you're deadThe premise, that Cambridge scientists develop a killer "rage" virus that turns our beloved tea drinking nation into a pack of ravenous killers tirelessly hunting down the uninfected (although for some reason not fighting each other, just like in Serenity) where so ever they choose to hide is, of course, the stuff of legends.

Surprisingly, both films deal with the psychological effects of this "what if" scenario and the horrendous moral decisions people have to make with humanity and a real sense of ambiguity. I had my doubts whether this sequel had anything new to add but Robert Carlyle in particular brought an emotional depth and understanding to his role that was truly touching.

Some people are arguing that, like in the first film, the army are simultaneously the protectors of the remaining population and the villains of the piece - but I don't think that's true. Whilst in 28 days the wonderfully disturbed Colonel Ecclescake is a monstrously logical conclusion to the situation in 28 weeks the US army is, if anything, too humane. Sure they end up shooting everyone - but they feel bad about it and their biggest problem is essentially their unwillingness to do the job properly.

The subtext of the film is that in order to save millions you may have to sacrifice hundreds. It's not *nice* to shoot uninfected children but those soldiers who refuse to do their duty are letting down the free world, and responsible for a far greater evil, allowing an unrelenting and ever hungry virus to spread across the globe.

If the rage is a parallel to Al Quaida (and I have no reason to believe that it is) then the film is arguing that we need to be hard headed. Far better we kill one hundred innocent souls than allow the virus to spread, potentially destroying the world. It's a pro-war film if ever there was one - but pulled off in a most interesting, if blood curdling way.

All three films were horrific in their own ways. Whether it was the squelch of a torn off limb, the slit throat of the cow on the killing floor or the bland inequity of the Tobey Maguire homunculus Hollywood is still able to give me the willies - although admittedly not always in the way it intended.


badmat said...

I think you get 28 Weeks Later badly wrong. Put it this way: the American Army are engaged in a 'humanitarian occupation', sheltering in a supposedly safe 'green zone', and when they lose control of the situation they attempt to kill everyone, infected or healthy. The echoes of the Iraqi occupation are obvious. The film doesn't sympathize with the US military command, but does find room for some sympathy with soldiers taking an individual line, but they are doomed. It's just not 'pro-war' (unless you are willing to agree that the polysemic nature of film makes multiple interpretations inevitable).

For myself I'm tempted to just blame the children: 'It's all your fault' I wanted to shout. 'Couldn't you just do what you were told'.

Jim Jay said...

Hmmm, I don't agree. Of course there are easy parallels to draw with Iraq - but what those parallels mean is the knotty bit, particularly as many of us are minded to assume that any mention of Iraq, particularly in cultural forms like film is prefixed with a silent "the distaster that is" - but it's not necessarily the case.

It's a double sided humanitarian occupation - they attempt to create a safe zone to protect those within from further infection but it also serves as a quarenteen where they quite properly monitor the occupantions for possible signs of infection for this unknown contagion.

Once it breaks out they have no choice but to kill them all. No choice at all, because they have learned that infection can break out even in supposed uninfected areas.

Therer are moments of incompetances of course. Like herding everyone together allowing one lone infected person to infect *everyone*, that was clearly idiocy on their part. But other areas of incompetance were refusing to kill those who could be carrying the plague and of course the most liberal humanitarian act of all "saving" those bloody children, which ultimately means sacrificing everyone else's children.

I don't know what polysemic might mean but I do think this is a film that allows for moral problems to be seen in more than a black and white manner. However, if we take Bentham as a guide (perhaps we shouldn't) with his greatest possible good for the greatest possible number then the US army were just not tigger happy enough and there presence as a potential lethal occupier was the correct thing to do.

If you were in charge of the US at the time would you not have three options

i) nuke em, wipe it out totally
ii) try to find a cure and hope you do it before the infection has killed millions upon millions, which it clearly would
iii) contain the infection whilst looking for a cure. If the infection could not contained then its necessary to wipe out the carriers.

iii is the most benign option and it is the one we see the US army carrying out. It is for a well intentioned occupation that has to commit murder, even of innocents, for the greater good.

I do agree that children should behave though and all children should be forced to see this film to see just what the consequences of not obeying your elders and betters could be. The end of civilisation as we know it!

Ed said...

The other option, Jim, might have been not to 'repatriate' the Remaining British population so bloody soon after the outbreak of the worst epidemic in history.

I really don't think that the underlying message of the film (if we can talk about a message to it - it's probably right that there's no one right way to interpret it) is that the military should have wiped out the whole damn lot of them. We are clearly meant to sympathise with the two 'heroic' US soldiers who help the kids. Isn't one very important layer of horror in the film concerned with the fact that there is no escape for those poor blighters that were herded into that warehouse? Those that didn't get bitten were shot down or burned to death with napalm and flame throwers. Aren't we supposed to sympathise with them and think 'you utter bastards' when the soldiers start mowing everyone down?

Agreed though, those irresponsible little monkeys were largely to blame for the mayhem that ensued after their sneaking out from the compound. They never seemed to show any remorse either.

Jim Jay said...

Hold on ed... no matter how sympathetic to the soldiers who disobeyed orders we might be they are definately the villains of the peice because if it wasn't for their actions then the virus would not have spread (probably).

Also most of those in the green zone were rounded up from the surrounding area no? They were at the very beginning of repatriation stage I thought (?) - i agree this was a mistake (policy wise) although quite possibly in that situation people may have wanted to go back home and get out of the "refugee camps" that were mentioned in passing.

If we are "meant" to sympathise with the two soldiers it's a film maker's trick - to turn our expectations on their heads and possibly think about what the real moral decision would have been.

I agree that one important layer of the horror is what is happening to the innocents, although due to much of the perspective being from the soldiers eye view I tended to find more horror in the fact they were being *ordered to kill* innocents. i certainly didn't think they were bastards... why do you think we were meant to think that? Perhaps I missed something.

badmat said...

Jim's comments have just so little to do with the actual content of the film or the point of the genre: which is really the absence of happy endings and the glorious prevalence of human stupidity. The refugee camps were definitely signalled as being abroad. The resonance is so strongly about Iraq, it can't be ignored. Trouble with that is that then the infected becone something like the resistance and we've got mto draw back from that! The general dismisses the medic who says they've got to save the mother as she might provide a cure. The medic says they've got to save the children and the heroic individualised soldiers do that and the result is the unintended consequence of spreading the disease. But the disease was always going to spread. I seem to remember a piece of revisioning from 28 Days Later: this time they say the disease doesn't cross species barriers, but I'm sure the dad in the first film got it off a bird. In which case it was already in Europe!

Jim Jay said...

I don't think that's true matthew. Everything I've said is in the film. If you want to intrepret it differently then fine but the film *is* about well intentioned soldiers and children disobeying their orders and causing the end of the world. The subtext is that it is necessary to do bad things for the greater good - otherwise why are the US army killing civilians - what is code red for? Not because they are simply horrid surely?

I know the refugee camps were abroad - I'm saying that the repatriation had only just begun, from those camps. The kids were in Europe weren't they - on a school trip.

the argument for saving the mother was really interesting - although it would have been nice if they had her in a sealed compartment rather than lounging around where anyone could visit her. And that kiss - wonderful! I don't know what i would have argued... I think i may have sided with the general.

"But the disease was always going to spread" - really? why do you think that? should everyone have given up trying to contain it?

"this time they say the disease doesn't cross species barriers, but I'm sure the dad in the first film got it off a bird" yes and no. It does cross species in the first film because the first victim gets it from a chimp... but the dad gets a gob of human blood in his eye after a bird pecks a corpse up on the scaffolding... so birds aren't shown as carrying the disease.

However in the first film they explicitly mention that the disease ad spread to France, which actually fucks the ending slightly - although obviously the initial outbreak may have been contained and its only the second time that it gets out of control - perhaps - if the film makers had thought about that.

anyway i still think it was a good film.

Derek Wall said...

to move back on to the old red green politics. are you joining us for Vegetarian week then, on the basis of this orgy of cannibalism at the movies...?

Jim Jay said...

I should ... but I've not taken the boycott poll yet so I'm making the most of my meat eating time - god i'm a disgrace.

Bizarrely fast food nation (which made at least one of my companions go right off meat) had the opposite effect on me. I guess I already knew meat was dead animals.