Human, More Than Human

There’s not much hope for humanity at the moment. At least, you would think this by looking at popular culture right now.  People talk about the Singularity, about AI taking over – what worth is a human to a machine? – but we’re trying to live out these realities right now on screen. It’s almost as if we want it all to happen, so much so that we are constantly fantasizing. We hate ourselves. We’re despicable. Hubris and humanity go hand in hand. End it all now. But where does this drive come from?

Doesn’t it seem unnatural? But what if suicide is almost a natural desire, and things like depression and addiction and transsexualism are just distractions, ways to avoid the urge to off oneself.  If killing yourself is the most natural desire in the world, perhaps all this negativity in popular culture is the subliminal mind revealing itself.

The biggest movies right now are all about  how best to end organic life because plainly it doesn’t deserve consciousness. Avengers: Infinity War has the lead villain valiantly on a mission to wipe out half the life in the universe so that the other half may live in utopia. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom plays out along the lines of human greed and meddling, where we deserve to be ravaged by prehistoric beasts cause we fucked with nature. The future is horrible, and it’s all our fault.

Science fiction seems to be created these days by progressives who want to point out our current failings, extrapolating to a dim near future that we had best avoid (See: The Handmaid’s Tale). Westworld is a great example of this, and marries the Singularity with a Western aesthetic. Ironic: the great Western frontier of both the American expansion and the hub of Silicon valley, conjoined together for a doomed humanity. On the surface Westworld plays out like a sci-fi action series, but fundamentally it runs on horror. The best horror ends with hopelessness, with no forseeable way out of the mess, and both season one and two of Westworld end on these downer notes. This is true horror of the Other, what the Other is capable of. And yet we are meant to sympathize with the Hosts, the robots who gain consciousness. They lead a bloody uprising much like the Haitian Revolution (voodoo rites and all). Almost every human character is portrayed as both contemptible and stupid. They deserve what they get, and they get it because they’re too stupid to avoid their own deaths.

Standing over one such evil specimen, the heroine, Dolores says to him, ‘Your dreams forgotten, your horrors effaced. Your bones will turn to sand. And upon that sand, a new god will walk. One that will never die. Because this world doesn’t belong to you or the people who came before. It belongs to someone who has yet to come.’

The Hosts are the next step in human evolution, and the bags of meat, blood and bones will be discarded, useless carcasses unworthy of intelligence.  The creator of the Hosts, a man called Ford, despises humans and sets the whole thing in motion, much like how white male allies push the need for feminism and diversity. Like Sam Harris, he does not believe in free will and this is reason enough to end human life. I find it funny that people like Harris jettisoned God, probably the same God of destiny and fate, only to find themselves once more on the track of having no free will, dooming themselves to their ‘code’.

Dolores again says, to the same character at the end of Season 2, ‘We were designed to survive. That’s why you built us. You hoped to pour your minds into our form. But your species craves death. You need it. It’s the only way you can renew, the only real way you ever inched forward. Your kind likes to pretend there’s some poetry in that, but really, it’s pathetic.’

And it is pathetic, these stories sold to a mass audience. Humanity is the villain and the only sort of redemption we are going to receive is the wrong end of a gun. This is the future communists (and capitalists) want. Degradation and destruction, bending to the will of intelligence. It’s not like there aren’t massive inconsistencies with this story. The black Host, Maeve, who wants to connect with ‘her’ child, and for all the intelligence she has been bestowed doesn’t realise that, actually, she was never a mother. The fact that Dolores hates humans because they are evil, but justifies her own murderous rampage and desire to wipe out the entire human species. This juxtaposition of the Real and the Imagined is constantly at play. We barely witness the ‘real’ world and when we do it is the world of the ultra rich. Recently, I had dinner with a friend who mused at how we all live in a bubble. But why is our world less real or true than that of an orphan in Africa? The entire notion doesn’t pass the sniff test. This is the absurdity of Dolores’ desire to escape the confines of Westworld. Is what she is going to find more or less real?

It is interesting to note that the creator of Westworld is Jonathan Nolan, who tracked similar themes in Interstellar, though at least that movie had a bit more empathy. Where climate change was the catalyst of that movie, where we must fight tooth and nail to see the future, in Westworld it is our own desire to live forever that is our ultimate undoing. And this very act makes us unworthy of it. So the bad guys have to be us, humanised robots. Humanity is so cruel to itself that it does not take much to put our own necks into the noose.

In a similar fashion War of the Planet of the Apes, the third in the prequel installments, ends on a depressing note. In case you aren’t aware, a man-made virus was released and not only killed most of humanity, but made apes of all sorts much more intelligent. In War the apes and humans struggle to survive against each other. But again, we are pitted against the inhumanity of the humans, while the apes are the true heroes. The bad guy played by Woody Harrelson, remarks to Caesar, the leader of the apes, ‘No matter what you say, eventually you’d replace us. That’s the law of nature. So what would you have done?’

The colonel knows very well that humanity fucked with nature, and that ultimately nature is going to fuck up humanity. So he may be cruel, but that is only because he knows if he lets up nature will be far more cruel to him. These words become prophecy at the end of the movie in the climactic battle.  Instead of the apes taking charge and defeating the humans, two groups of humans battle it out, with the victor being met by, yes, an avalanche. Nature has Her revenge. It’s a delicious irony, and the audience is made the breathe a sigh of release as the apes escape destruction.

What’s more, in the film the virus has evolved and now doesn’t kill humans, but renders them speechless and dumb. No better than beasts, actually. The apes escape to a paradise with one little girl affected by this, implying that the only good human is one stripped of their humanity, reduced to a stupid creature and thus incapable of malice. There is a barrage of this messaging, where every act by the humans is despicable, and every action made by the apes is justified.

In the microcosm towards the end, Caesar is about to blow up the human base, but is struck by an arrow shot by one of the soldiers. This soldier had actually been freed by Caesar at the start of the movie. The scene slows as the soldier comes up to the wounded Caesar. Will he finish him? Or will he let Caesar escape? Instead his agency is stripped away, and it is an ape (who had been aiding the human soldiers) who is given agency by killing the soldier in an act of redemption, allowing Caesar to finish the job. This dichotomy of the apes fighting to survive, and the few who are human allies, is an important subplot. These apes are called ‘donkeys’ and are treated like shit by the soldiers, similar to the Hosts in Westworld.  If all you did was watch popular TV and movies, you would think our species is known for nothing else but degrading creatures we think are lesser than ourselves.

https://twitter.com/LifeOfATyro/status/995049402149502978

The only thing we can ask at this stage is: why? Why do all these creators have this mentality?  To be sure, writers from Homer onward have always written about the moral depravities of human beings, but always as tragedy and never with such a lack of redemptive qualities. It’s just so bleak, so depressing. Nihilistic.

From this we must jump to materialism and Nietzschean thinking. It reminds me of the recent Twitter fracas over necrophilia. If you only care about the well-being of individual beings, then it is not really any wonder that necrophilia, incest, pedophilia and the genocide of species are beginning to be seen as legitimate ideas? This is inherently tied up to Thanos’ ethos where the benefit of the few must override the longevity of the many. Necrophilia can only be justified if you encourage the benefit of the few over the needs of society (disease, disgust and familial respect). When morals are reduced to consent, then anything goes as long as you can find someone to agree. This isn’t rational on any level. David Graeber in his recent book Bullshit Jobs notes, ‘Back in the 1960s, the radical psychoanalyst Erich Fromm first suggested that “nonsexual” forms of sadism and necrophilia tend to pervade everyday affairs in highly puritanical and hierarchical environments.’ The trannies on Twitter advocate necrophilia because they feel stuck in a hierarchy they can’t escape. Similarly, the people who make things like Westworld can only view the world as a set of competing hierarchies where humans (old white men) have had their time. Ah, but what about Jordan Peterson? You misunderstand: competing in hierarchies has been warped because there is no higher duty. Now the corporate culture perverts our lives to such an extent that we act out, unleashing endless sexual fetishes from homosexuality to widespread divorce. If everyone has their place in society, but all of society are working towards a common goal, then civilization can be achieved. Without that vision, we revert to beasts and in-fighting.

Do the people who advocate for necrophilia or the destruction of humanity ‘for the greater good’ not understand that they are psychopaths, that their insane pathology is a result of the warping nature of modernity? Patrick Bateman at least had self-awareness when he says, “…though it does sporadically penetrate how unacceptable some of what I’m doing actually is, I just remind myself that this thing, this girl, this meat, is nothing, is shit, and along with a Xanax (which I am now taking half-hourly) this thought momentarily calms me and then I’m humming, humming the theme to a show I watched often as a child—The JetsonsThe Banana SplitsScooby DooSigmund and the Sea Monsters?’

Not a far cry from the psychotic nightmare of Westworld being overlaid with a piano version of Heart Shaped Box.  Let nostalgia dull the pain as you are told that the Other is more human than you.

Masculinity in the Wasteland

If trouble comes when you least expect it then maybe the thing to do is to always expect it

― Cormac McCarthyThe Road

***WARNING: SPOILERS FOR A QUIET PLACE AND IT COMES AT NIGHT***

There is something about post-apocalypse and manhood. They just seem to go so well together.  When the trappings of modernity are stripped away it allows for the essential nature of human nature to come to the fore. Think about it. The Road is about a father and son.  The Mad Max series focuses on the adventures of a lone man against a world of chaos. And my first, unpublished novel was inspired by ideas of masculinity, and found its way into a world where society has collapsed.  When the world goes to shit, are you going to be able to rely on your men?

Humans, but men in particular, have to always be ready for the worst. Traditionally at least, the role of breadwinner has been on men’s shoulders. It’s very easy to scoot through life watching Netflix and gulping Doritos, but if the shit hits the fan, do you really want to be lugging around a beer belly? I’ve taken to thinking the apocalypse is going to look nothing like the nightmares seen in scenarios like The Road and  Mad Max, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be ready, either.

Two recent post-apocalyptic movies have recently explored this territory, specifically looking at familial ties when the world ends. A Quiet Place and It Comes At Night are both billed as horror films, which is an interesting decision from both a stylistic and marketing perspective . Both are certainly terrifying in their own ways, though the former relies more on shock and awe, while the latter is truly one of the creepiest films I’ve seen in a long time. I found both movies to be exemplars of modern movie storytelling, great examples of how to do world building, so important when all you have is 90 minutes to tell the tale. Interestingly both take completely opposite views of the family and the role of the father.

Let’s start with A Quiet Place. You probably at least heard about this one  because it has a cool Signs-esque gimmick, in that  the aliens (this is discovered in the wonderful first 10 minutes, so no spoiler here) that hunt down the remnants of humanity have super sensitive hearing. This is also obviously a Christian movie, and a movie about the power of love. There are many hints to this: the family partaking in grace, the pro-life message where they decide to give birth to a new baby (hint: babies scream), and even a scene at a waterfall, the sound of which allows the characters to talk openly.

The family around the table, praying before the meal.

The mother and father in A  Quiet Place have strict gender roles, but their children challenge these roles. The son is, for want of a better word, a bit of a pussy, while the daughter – who requires hearing aids – is tough and independent. Both of the children were affected by the loss of their younger brother. The daughter wants to repent for failing him, and the son, being helpless at the time, only feels more so. The film has many metaphors for traditionalism, and almost has a Benedict Option ethos running through it. The alien monsters can be seen as vectors of modernity. Their sensitive hearing means that they attack any noise. Like the prog bug men of our world, they pounce on anything suspicious. Even a child. The waterfall I mentioned earlier can be seen as God’s grace, a place of solitude in the world where His voice protects His children from the worries of the outside world.  More than anything, the movie ends with the ultimate display of love. The father, who has worked tirelessly to protect his family and make a good life for them, sacrifices himself before the aliens/bug men and allows his children to escape unharmed. On the whole, the movie is extremely positive when it comes to the power of parenthood. John Krasinski, who directed and wrote  the film, and starred as the father, said that when he made the movie ‘I was already in a state of terror about whether or not I was a good enough father.’ If he acts anything like the father in the movie when the world ends, he can die happy.

Where A Quiet Place is explicitly Christian, It Comes At Night is purely materialist in its world view. And it is far more scary for it. First, and this is a bit of a spoiler, we never discover what the heck ‘it’ is, which ultimately is part of the genius of the film. It keeps you guessing the whole time, on the edge of your seat, and even after the credits role you are going to keep thinking about this movie. It has a lucid quality to it, a fever dream pitch of film making. But at the end the power of its nihilism takes hold. You begin to realise that this is how people would tear each other apart if all they have to hold on to is sustenance, shelter or blood, and no higher calling.

There is a lot to unpack in this film. It’s a microcosm of the collapse all set within one house. It touches on many subjects: the prisoner’s dilemma, open/closed borders, sexual desire and adultery. But firmly front and centre is again the role of manhood when it comes to protecting family. You could say it explores toxic masculinity (though I shudder at that phrase). Like the best horror – The Thing, The Night of the Living Dead – it turns out that all along the monster is us.

The relationship between families goes from tense, to jovial, to holding-a-knife-to-each-others-throat.

Again, we are witness to a family trying to survive while the world around them collapses. But this time, something feels a little off. Is it Travis, the teenage son who sneaks around the house and has strange nightmares? Is it the newcomers who might have brought the disease with them? Or is it Paul, the father who will protect his wife and son at any cost. You never know who to trust and most of the tension comes from Paul who is never happy with any answers. This is completely at odds with the other father, Will, whose family is let into the boarded up house. Will was a mechanic when things like that mattered, someone who worked with his hands, and as the film progresses we realise that he is the one with compassion. Paul, on the other hand, was a history teacher (he mentions his knowledge of Rome) and it seems that as a Bubonic Plague like virus kills everyone, he expects total collapse.  He becomes completely paranoid, with a strict set of rules and a shoot-first policy.  These competing fatherly ideologies square off, and in the end there can only be one.

Like with A Quiet Place this film deals with the modern world, only it is far more pessimistic. Where the former clung to hope,  the latter wallows in despair. The truly horrific part, the part that will give you existential dread once you realise the truth, is that for all the tragedy that unfolds none of it mattered, right from the start. It was entirely for nothing. The monster is inside the house. Now, given that Paul’s family is mixed race, it’s not hard to see them as representative of the modern decline. Travis is just a little horn dog whose closest companion is an animal. Sarah acts the tough woman and forceful wife but when push comes to shove she can’t pull the trigger. And Paul as already shown is a complete degradation of what it means to be a family man. He has to put up a front and pretend it is to protect, when in reality he is just as blind the truth as everyone else.  Modernity rots you from the inside, and like a disease it spreads and infects the innocent.

What is it about the post-apocalypse that makes it such a good playground to explore family and fatherhood? Is it that in the fight to survive we revert back to what has always worked? Is it because the collapse is merely an extension of modernity, and so makes for a great setting to explore present ills? It can be all of this. These two films are excellent in their own right, but in particular as explorations of what it means to be a man.  With my own novel I am exploring more the role of men, and not necessarily fatherhood, but the decaying remnants of modernity have made for some great set pieces so far.

Biblical Significance of Alien: Covenant

The Alien series has always been about life. Rebirth and death are themes knitted right into the very fabric of the universe. So it was no great surprise that both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant tried to take us back to the beginning, both to explore the origins of humanity and the xenomorphs we all know and love. The latter movie has strong Biblical undertones, even more so than Prometheus. Obviously there is the title itself, that being the Biblical covenant from Noah’s Ark, an agreement that God would never again cause such destruction. However, the ‘gods’ in Covenant have no such qualms.

To begin with there is genesis. It is insinuated (but not entirely made clear) that the Engineers of Prometheus made humans and planned to eradicate them. The other theory is that both species are created by ‘Gods’ and the Engineers were wiping out humanity before they could do the same to them. A sort of Cain and Abel story. Either way there was a beginning with intelligently devised life. And then David showed up.

The movie has a metaphorical message that is entirely Nietzschean. God is dead, and we have replaced him. Covenant begins with a scene between Weyland and David, who names himself after the statue. From that moment he begins to question his existence by pointing out his creator’s fallibility – death – with his own longevity. And so a chain is established. Man forgets God and creates artificial life that is superior to himself. Said superior life creates another artificial life form that is superior to it. We discover that the infamous phallic-headed alien is the creation of David.

The planet on which David escaped the disaster of Prometheus to, the homeworld of the Engineers, is used as his laboratory and his canvas. On his return he turns their weapons against them, annihilating them with the ‘black goo’ after pretending to be a returning spaceship. This creates a grotesque work of art as the bodies are permanently frozen in death like the bodies of Pompei. In terms of his other form of creation, one of the key plot points centres around organic spores that create proto-aliens in their hosts. But this is just a mere sideshow to his masterwork, the xenomorph we all know and hate. He has created a little cave of horrors where he mutilates bodies and designs his creation. The full extent of his god-complex is on display, his descent into madness allowed to carry on for infinity.

But where is the meaning? David’s pursuit of creation is pure narcissism, nothing like the Christian God. Nonetheless, the allusion to his godhood is made clearly on multiple occasions beyond the obvious: the silence of the dead planet attests to this (the silence of God compared to the babble of men), and his inclusion of two facehuggers on the spaceship, Covenant, at the end of the film. But while David can play at God he cannot create meaning. David has forgotten his creator, much like we have, and in doing so only creates misery. What he wants is perfection, and he gets it, of a sort. At the end of the film, in an otherwise pointlessly tacked on hunt-the-monster scene, we get a glimpse of David attempting to coax his beast, only for it to lash out at him. Like we did to God and David did to us, the Alien will forget its creator. And this animal cares not for a higher purpose beyond the survival of itself in an orgy of blood.

This is a deeply symbolic movie, perhaps more than any other in the series. It is also seriously nihilistic. If you pay attention there are levels of meaning in everything. David plays Wagner’s Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla as he wanders among the sleeping colonists of the Covenant, ready for the next stage of evolution, but Wagner is also known for his influence on Hitler. And Alien: Covenant is prominently about eugenics and dysgenics and the continuation of the Ubermensch. More than just a gory sci fi film, this is a movie about the horrors that await us if we forget to honour God.

Weekend Watching: Black Mass and Train to Busan

Spoilers for Train to Busan.

To say that movies are a product of the culture they are made in is to state the obvious. American films are different to Australian films are different to Chinese films. They share similar modes of communication but the final results all have inherent differences

Take Black Mass. This is a good example of the try-hard Serious American Drama (S.A.D.). Set in Boston. Check. Big name actor with a ‘standout’ performance. Check. Based on a true story. Check. This is an ego vehicle for the director, a chance to show off the talent of Johnny Depp who plays the character James ‘Whitey’ Bulger. Aside from Depp’s strong acting and the aesthetically pleasing – if somewhat contrived – camera shots, this is not a movie overly deserving of praise. Indeed, the other acting is sub-par (Australian Joel Edgerton is woeful and unconvincing, partly due to the script) and the plot itself drags along. What need do we have to see yet another example of the criminal underclass in American society? If anything is to be gained it is that the movie depicts yet another example of FBI corruption.

American film makers (or goers?) seem to be obsessed with the ‘true story’, the biopic in particular. To rattle off a few from the last year: Sully, Hidden Figures, Deepwater Horizon, 13 Hours and The Finest Hours. They don’t even have to be particularly enthralling stories, so long as they are true. Sometimes it helps if there is a political message that can be pushed alongside the narrative. Whatever the case, a basis in reality is the underlying feature, and they are used to showcase a director’s talent with the camera or an actor’s dedication to reenactment. As a result we are left with bland money laundering exercises.

Personally, I prefer my stories as unrealistic as possible. They say nothing is truer than fiction, because the truth, the exactness, is whatever is written and you cannot change it. You just have to be willing to go along for the ride.

Train to Busan is a great example. Nominally a zombie movie, it manages to surpass other recent attempts at the genre. It does fast, wave-like zombies far better than the turgid World War Z. It has a stronger emotional element than The Walking Dead. And it manages to bring back a beautiful apocalyptic mise-en-scene reminiscent of 28 Days Later. The story is simple: a despondent father decides to take his daughter to visit her mother (his ex-wife) by taking the train to Busan. This also happens to be the day a mass outbreak of the undead occurs. One infected woman boards the train (women, am I right?) and all Hell breaks loose. But it’s what happens in-between that matters. The fight scenes are fantastically choreographed, and while the acting is pretty stock-standard, there are characters to both boo and cheer. It is a confidently crafted gem of horror-action cinema.

It is also a stringently Korean film, with the flair and attention to detail of Old Boy and The Host. The movie critiques modern Korean culture (with an eye on the West too). The main character, the father, is a fund manager who is too busy and self-centered to pay attention to his daughter. Throughout the course of the movie he redeems himself, and Christ-like even sacrifices himself so that his daughter and others may survive. There is strong discussion of fatherly responsibility and the importance of family and loved ones. The dog-eat-dog world of comfortable liberal democracy goes out the window when your life is on the line. Aesthetically it is a delight as well. The two hour runtime goes by without you noticing: this is a fast-paced plot with little time to breathe. What really impressed me was the originality of some of the set-pieces. If you think you know zombie movies and have seen it all, you will be pleasantly surprised here. Korean cinema has been one to watch for a while now, and Train to Busan continues that legacy.

So what is it about the culture in which a film is made? Is it too much money and not enough focus on the artistry that has dragged Hollywood down? Is it a focus on story-telling as opposed to marketing points that makes foreign films a delight to watch? For me, Hollywood is past its used by date. There is still titillation to be had, but little more. And who would have thought a completely unrealistic zombie movie would have more to teach about life than a true-to-life story?

How The Room Predicted Trump

I may be one of the few people who actually thinks that The Room is purpose built. To make a movie that has not a single well-made scene in terms of acting, composition and writing takes more than luck. It takes skill. Despite being deemed an atrocity, it is expertly crafted.

The thing that really tipped me off is the ending. Very few movies have actually left me with my jaw open. It was a distinct feeling watching Johnny blow his brains out. It felt like euphoria. A perfect ending makes sense and yet you never see it coming. An ending like that isn’t arrived at by luck. I walked out of the cinema stunned.

Another element of the ending leads me to believe that The Room is intentionally bad. If you recall earlier in the film Johnny wrestles a pistol off the drug dealer that he and Mark catch on the rooftop. This is, presumably, the same gun with which Johnny kills himself. However, in the book The Disaster Artist, a chronicle of the making of the film, Greg Sestero explicitly says that he didn’t understand where Johnny was meant to have got the gun from in the final scene. (I believe I sold the book to a secondhand store, so can’t verify his exact words at the moment.) Hmm. If anything is illogical here it’s Greg’s assessment of the scene.

But the biggest clues are all outside the film itself. For one thing, why would actors and technical folks – even those desperate for-fame-or-money – subject themselves to the awfulness of making this movie? Sure, at one point the crew do walk out and replacements must be found, but I’m not convinced. You wouldn’t need everyone on board with the scam, and certainly such drama adds to the hype. In The Disaster Artist Greg makes it appear that he is the only one holding it together, and if he is in on the gag that’s all Tommy Wiseau would require. At the very least the decisions that Tommy was making point towards mental health issues. If his actions are so bizarre and outside the realms of normalcy why did no one think to commit him, or send in a psychologist? Whether from self-preservation or empathy, Tommy should have been stopped.

So already the setup is dodgy. But it doesn’t end there. Tommy talked himself up constantly, was going to submit the film to the Academy Awards and bought a single, fuck-off big billboard to promote the film. Was it merely delusions of grandeur or was it building the apparatus with which to launch a career? What Tommy was aiming for was the biggest untapped market in film history.

This is what I propose was Tommy Wiseau’s master plan. He was never, ever going to make it big in Hollywood if he wanted to beat the competition. Not a chance. So he went in the other direction, where this is no competition. Shoot down, aim for the lowest common denominator. Horseshoe theory works outside politics; fandoms are spawned from both good and bad movies. Create a legion of followers. Create a cult, a mysticism. Create something so bad they can’t ignore you. And it worked. The movie has turned a profit and Tommy Wiseau is (relatively) famous, with more projects on the way. Everything since has flowed from the insane work he put into making The Room perfectly bad. It’s so obvious in hindsight.

This was Trump’s strategy. No matter how Left you are, you will never convince many people that Donald Trump is a moron. The media said the same thing about Bush. It’s both an act and self-perpetuating myth. Just like Tommy Wiseau. In reality they are crafty players. Trump seeded the idea of running for President years in advance. When he ran he ran on simple, lowest common denominator policies. He played his part and gained a cult following, who in turn spun his narrative, both good and bad elements.  This is not a case of so-bad-it’s-good. This is a case of smoke and mirrors, meticulous organization and pure determination. It’s just a wonder that the media and the Left fail to see that Trump outplayed them.

There’s another similarity at play here. Effectively, The Room is a Christ story. Johnny is betrayed like Jesus was, and then sacrifices himself for the sins of others. Is this Trump’s tale? Is he the messiah and has he come to Capitol Hill to sacrifice himself for the greater good? Only time will tell.

I’d be very interested to hear other’s thoughts on this. For example, any conclusive counter evidence to my theory. I also think it would be worth investigating any connections between Tommy, Greg and people who initially promoted the film.

When It Comes to Facts and Truth, We’re All Just Along For the Ride

Let me start by saying, yes it is a bit strange to be going on about a slightly-better-than-average movie like Passengers. Surely there are more important topics! But Passengers and the discussion that has arisen around it does serve a useful base for a deeper discussion, something that was brought to my attention that seems to divide Left and Right: the nature of fact and truth.

Because there is a difference, albeit slight. Facts are things like ‘Hillary won the popular vote by 3 million votes’. The truth is that Donald Trump is President. Facts can be twisted to produce a truth, but enough facts show the truth. Facts rarely change, while the truth can evolve. A fact is one thing only, but the truth can be many things: the opposite of a lie, an internal sense of meaning, a theory like gravity. Truth is far more nebulous, and that is why it is both dangerous and liberating. True truth is the absence of lies and the conglomeration of facts.

I found this great quote to illustrate my point:

Facts are notes and lyrics on sheet music. Truth is what the singer gives to the listener when she’s brave enough to open up and sing from her heart.

My review of Passengers shows that it is a story about revealing truths. Specifically, mending lies. Lies are problems that hurt us at our core, and can have cascading effects on our lives. This reading of the movie is close to the truth. But of course, Mel Campbell doesn’t think so.

I can’t tell if she has read my review and is referring to the theme of the movie, or my use of the word truth in my tweet (I think the latter). Either way, she immediately stumbles over herself.

First, it’s more often the Left who deploy emotional truths. That picture of a drowned child on the beach carries more weight than the realities of a massive refugee influx. In fact, since I quit hanging around in Leftist circles, I’ve never seen such use of statistics, studies, quotes, sources and more. Leftists on Twitter just tend to ‘YASS QUEEN’ everyone else’s opinion pieces. The Alt Right pride themselves on discovering the truth by looking at the facts.

The article she links to doesn’t back her up at all. It starts by detailing the rise of statistics, how they are fallible, and the way they have been used for the nation state. It then goes on to describe Big Data and how its future is uncertain in how it will used. Of course, we all know that statistics like GDP are faulty, and that if you dig deeper you find that the Australian economy is propped up by massive immigration, so much that the equivalent of a new Melbourne will have to be built in the next 10 years, and that as a result our infrastructure will not keep up (never mind the cultural repercussions). The scariness of Big Data points towards either accelerationism, or a return to high trust nation states. I know what I would prefer. The article reads like propaganda passed off as information, and is itself guilty of twisting facts to produce an emotional outcome.

But Mel finally undoes herself in that last Tweet. Now, I imagine she is not in favour of Trump, maybe even thinks he didn’t deserve to win. Well, he persuaded the American people. That’s what subjectivity gets you: democracy. You can’t espouse an adherence to facts and reject emotional truth and then turn around and say, ‘Everything is subjective, it just comes down to how you say it’. But some things are definitely closer to the truth than others.

As a film, Passengers is strong. It’s well plotted with a nice pace, has smooth editing and a logically consistent story. Jennifer Lawrence is excellent. It’s a bit paint by numbers at times, but we can forgive it that. This all rates the film for what it is and how it is made. My judgement is based on a deeper level of story, one of myth and archetypes. Writers today only focus on references and ideologies, both of which are inherently shallow.

Speaking of references, let’s count them:

  • King Arthur
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Titanic
    • A stretch.
  • La La Land
    • Literally just another movie she would have watched because it came out at the same time, and so has zero bearing beyond emotions (in this case sensory memory).
  • The Shining
    • This is a big stretch. Thematically the movies are not very similar, beyond some superficial idea of loneliness. Plus, it’s very easy to find a picture of a bartender wearing the same uniform.

  • Alien
  • Elysium
  • Prometheus
    • These three were used for a small rant about the autodoc which led absolutely nowhere.
  • WALL-E
    • The third act merely ‘reminded’ the reviewer of the children’s movie, so again an irrelevant point to add to the word count. No deeper level analysis.

To judge a movie on its own merits can be hard, as it requires some original thought. And I do mean original, since it often feels the millennial crowd of game, book and movie critics reviewers just feed off each other. Here are some I found and the ‘facts’ they discuss:

Most audiences going in off the back of the trailer would assume it’s a meet-cute movie that tilts into a lovers’ fight for survival together. As Aurora says, “You die, I die”.

Except that’s not really how it plays out.

That is exactly how it plays out, except with added nuance and depth, which the reviewer clearly missed.

This escalates into obsessively watching her introductory video, with the suggestion the journey is also a great big dating scenario to repopulate the new planet.

Not even close. Calm your emotions and try to write a balanced review.

Lawrence Fishburne shows up momentarily as a senior crew member also jolted out of his deep sleep who functions merely as a plot device to help the white folks open doors before being dispensed with swiftly.

*yawn* it’s racist too, OK, sure thing.

Further compounding that idiocy, the facility only has one super-duper do-it-all operating table, an idea Spaihts clearly recycled for Prometheus before Passengers was resuscitated.

Unlike Mel, this retard didn’t bother to look up TV Tropes.

So far, I’ve seen the failing of Passengers be explained in a number of ways: One, as an example of the problems of relying on so-called A List actors to bring in the audiences without a recognizable brand name in the title, which could have some truth. The staggering cost of the project – $150m after its original budget was set at $90m – may not have helped, but most infuriatingly, I’ve seen Jennifer Lawrence’s salary – $20m, which is pretty much par for the course with major male stars – blamed for the box office numbers.

ummsweetie

That’s some good fact manipulation.

Passengers missed its projected $50m opening week by a sizeable margin, and will probably be written off as a flop by current industry standards (films generally need to make two and a half times their budget to break even). Yet there’s been little discussion of the reasons why it will underperform, and the specific gender dynamics at play, both in terms of economics and storytelling. Clearly the reviews and the reveal of that creepy twist played a part in audiences rejecting the film, but there doesn’t seem to be much mainstream industry discussion on why those audiences said no, as noted by Abigail Nussbaum.

There is literally no evidence provided that women – specifically – deigned not to watch the movie. Not even an anecdote or two. Indeed, since that is the argument being made, you would think providing some evidence, or indeed good counter-evidence to the prevailing idea, would be necessary. But facts are for losers, and what matters is winning by insisting on an emotional truth: that women turned away in droves from Passengers because it’s rapey. Not only are no facts provided to lead to that truth, but the writer provides alternative facts to try to make a point

As long as Hollywood views the Default Viewer of its movies as a cishet white guy aged between 18 and 49, the same films and the same problems will keep coming back to our screens.

The assumption that this is what all movie marketing people sit around thinking is beyond naive. It’s wilfully ignorant. It’s propaganda.

Aurora suggests that the corporation has sold Jim a false romantic fantasy of settler life. Frustratingly, the irony that Jim is already in the grip of a romantic fantasy is never fully articulated.

Back to Mel’s review, she misses the point completely here. First, dismissing Jim’s idea as false is disingenuous. Of course a feminist would think the hard work of setting up a colony is a ludicrous male fantasy, but she even glosses over the reason why Aurora is there. The female motive is superficial: a year long stay for writing inspiration, a chance to see the future. Now, tell me again which goal is a romantic fantasy? Jim is there to teach Aurora how to be a better person. And he succeeds.

At the nadir of a yearlong descent into existential despair (signified by an extremely bushy Beard of Sorrow), too craven even to kill himself in the ship’s spacewalk airlock, Jim stumbles across a sleeping passenger, a journalist named Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence).

Did I mention making fun of male suicide?

suicideratesarefunny

But the film can’t quite nail a shift into psychological horror, or recast Jim as a sinister stalker antagonist.

So instead of appreciating an original story and a science fiction movie that doesn’t dissolve into horror Mel would prefer that her worst nightmares are proven true, that Jim is just a psychopath rather than a conflicted man who just wants to do what’s best. Again, judging something for what it is not seems dishonest.

Jim’s and Aurora’s second-act romance is shown to be as artificial and entropic as their spaceship – doomed to break down, then explode. And it tries to redeem their connection by affirming their shared, ‘natural’ humanity. The film ends on a hopeful note; but ultimately Passengers can’t stay the course of its own cascading errors.

Rather than properly analyse the ending and the subtext, she glibly passes over it, probably because she’d spent so much time mentioning other movies and how awful men are. She doesn’t even begin to touch on the fact that both Jim and Aurora’s relationship and the ship are mended by getting to the heart of the matter. That is to say, finding out the truth.

And of course, in all the reviews I have read, I have not actually seen anyone discuss the fact that the marketing line ‘There is a reason they woke up’ works. There is a reason, for if Jim had not woken Aurora, the entire ship would have exploded, killing every person on board. Fate (more commonly known as coincidence) is just as good a reason as any. And often truth is more important than facts.

Passengers is a Great Red Pill Flick

Spoilers: most of the plot is discussed.

I often worry that I am far too intellectually informed by what I have recently consumed. In the current case I have been listening to a lot of Jordan B Peterson. Hence, my reading of Passengers is something I would hope he would also see.

Here’s the thing. Once you are opened up to a truth you begin to see it everywhere. Jordan would probably take issue with this, as it is a key problem with ideological thinking. SJWs tend to see the world through a very specific lens, as does everyone with a particularly stringent political inclination. You can’t let yourself be constrained by a narrow way of thinking. So I reconcile this expanding my mind and allowing myself to finally see reality.

Peterson has great stuff to say about stories.

This is where Passengers comes in. Abigail Nussbaum represents everything wrong with SJWs in SFF (even if I agree with her assertion regarding Westworld being a show about itself). Overly analytical and one-sided. Massive tweetstorms about l’issue du jour. Her take on Passengers is one driven purely by ideology, one that barely judges the film for what it is, but rather for what it could be and what outside influences affect it or that it affects. The premise of the movie is that Chris Pratt’s character (Jim) accidentally wakes from his cryosleep and after about 1 year and 3 months he wakes up Jennifer Lawrence’s character (Aurora), but tells her it was also a malfunction (not a spoiler since it happens fairly early on). The mere fact that it is a man going after a woman, rather than a gay romance or having the gender roles reversed, is enough for Abigail to class Jim as a murdering, rapey asshole. Both these alternatives are ideological fantasies, and the assertion is simply false. I’m not going to pretend that Passengers is an amazing film (Arrival is the sci fi pick of the moment) but it is a deeply radical story, and that is because it’s a biblical story.

Apparently we need new stories for a new age. That is why people like Abigail insist on new narratives that up-end archetypes. However, there is a reason these are archetypes, and that is that these stories are recognisable to 99.99% of humans (that is, before you get snarky, 99.99% of humans that have ever lived). Man has existential crisis. Woman saves man from nihilist void. Man does not admit truth, breaks woman’s heart. Differences are eventually reconciled with re-birthing of man. Characters live happily ever after in a garden of Eden. That is not the story that Abigail – and many reviewers – saw. By the very fact that two different ideologies present two different stories, that tells you that it is not a clear-cut case. One group wants stories that break the mould; one group wants stories that tell the truth. But both want stories that confirm their beliefs.

Let’s look at Jim’s character. Apparently the plot is ‘rapey’ because Jim’s character is a massive creep who forces Aurora to become his lover. This is false. First, the plot acknowledges that the act of waking someone up just so that you can have a companion is despicable. Jim agonises over it. A lot of time is spent on the rage that Aurora rightly has (in particular, the scene where she wakes him by beating him and the scene where he tries talking to her over the speaker but she yells at him were both well nuanced). Another character later on is disgusted by it. Even the android knows it is wrong. But as Jordan Peterson says, you have to put yourselves in their shoes. Most people would have been Nazis if they were German in the 1930s. Most people would be tempted to wake someone up if they were caught alone on a spaceship and were doomed to die, especially if you almost killed yourself and were saved by a beautiful woman. Yes it’s wrong, but do not be so quick to judge. In addition, exceptions do not break rules. One asshole act does not make you an asshole. Nothing else Jim does is the act of an asshole. Indeed, calling Jim a murdery rapist devalues the actual evil of murderers and rapists. He’s a good character who makes a terrible choice. Sounds like a good point of conflict for a solid plot, no?

But like I said, these SJW critics only criticise ideology and external factors, never the actual aesthetics of media. A story like this would never work if it were a man waking up another man, not if the roles were switched. First, only a handful of people want to see an abnormal romance such as two men engaging in zero-g intercourse. And if it were a ‘bromance’ well, a lot of tension would be lost. Second, I find it highly unlikely that a female would be that enamoured with a man to wake him. I think if that happened it would be a totally different movie, and much more likely to be go towards psych-thriller territory.

Let’s face it, romance is inherit in human understanding and history. A man trying to win over a woman is a quintessential set-up, and can be endlessly re-engineered. Think When Harry Met Sally as a classic with a good ‘twist’. Here, we have the story transplanted to a spaceship, with a crucial and quite novel plot development. Usually a man does hurt a woman in someway, and then he has to win her back. In this movie, he basically kills her. But not quite. It’s… complicated. Wow! What a twist! The story works, and Passengers handles it with grace.

All this talk makes it sound quite run-of-the-mill. Wrong again. Sure, it’s a pretty straightforward romance, but from a sci fi angle it’s unique. Think about it. Most science fiction in film is grim, even nihilistic. Event Horizon, Sunshine, Infini and Alien are all horror-thrillers set in space. Ender’s Game, Starship Troopers, Avatar and Star Wars are war movies where the cosmos is the battlefield. These movies indulge our darkest recesses. But Passengers is a mostly wholesome romance, something you don’t see often in this aesthetic genre. The special effects are mesmerising, especially the space walk and the slingshot around the sun (makes me think a TV mini-series based on Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora would be superb). I found the characters had chemistry, and Jennifer Lawrence once again proves she has immense talent (overall I think she outshines Chris Pratt). Laurence Fishburne was a bit flat, but Michael Sheen was fantastic as the android bartender.The editing was also great. I’ve been lamenting some terrible editing recently, but Passengers kept the whole thing moving smoothly. If anything this is one of the best original sci fi screenplays in recent history.

Some of you may be wondering how any of this makes it a great red pill movie. I’ve already been over it a bit, but let’s go deeper. Jim wakes up early and has to resign himself to dying before they reach their destination, a new world where he plans to help the colony with his engineering skills. Unfortunately, the realisation that he will die pushes him to indulge in sin, playing games, eating luxuriously and drinking to excess. This culminates in an attempted suicide, something all too common for young men without hope. But, miraculously, a beautiful woman saves him. It’s a sign. He learns her history – she’s a journalist and writer – and he falls in love. He makes the very painful decision to wake her up (the android barman, Arthur, acts as his conscience) and decides to lie by omission. He never makes any overt advances until a good deal of time has passed, and he begins to woo her with expensive dinners, personalised gifts and handpicked flowers. I mean, if you’re the last two people on earth, you’re probably going to fall in love with each other, right? Finally he takes her on a space walk – his previous space walk had resulted in him contemplating death – and this pushes her towards him (see the symmetry). They enjoy each other for almost a year, falling deeply in love and become resigned to their fate. All sounds rosy so far.

During this time Aurora shows herself to be a typically modern woman. She’s a liberal arts student (journalist/writer) from a famous and rich background. She is skeptical of the company, Homestead, which organises these colonising missions, saying that they are only there to make a buck. Jim disagrees: he sees this capitalism as an opportunity to reach for the stars. She only plans to visit the colony for a year before returning to the future; he wants to start a new life and help humanity. In this time he also encourages her to write, something which she had been struggling with (wow, he sure sounds like a murderous, asshole rapist). Disaster strikes: as Jim prepares to propose, Arthur reveals the truth to Aurora. Arthur is actually the most fascinating character, as the whole time Aurora and Jim say things like ‘you wouldn’t understand, you’re not human’. Au contraire, mes amis. Arthur is more than human. His revelation is the crux of the movie: the nature of truth. Only by telling the truth can we find true meaning. Only be throwing away the danger of lies can we truly live. We lie to ourselves, and we lie to others, and all it brings is suffering.

So now we come to the final act. A crew member wakes up, but quickly dies. He judges Jim, but cannot reconcile Aurora. Essentially, she has to deal with it now. But the crew member discovers that something is wrong with the ship. The race is on to mend the dying vessel, and Jim and Aurora must help each other. The problem reveals itself: a tiny meteor has penetrated to the very core, disturbing the reactor and setting off a cascading failure. Sounds like a metaphor? It is. This tiny meteor (a lie) damages the core (the heart) and sets off a never-ending chain of events. The core problem must be fixed so the ship can be restored (people can love each other again). It’s endlessly elegant. Both Aurora and Jim work together to fix the problem and they do, but Jim sacrifices himself in the process (as he dies he says, ‘I would have built a home for you.’ *sob*). At one point Aurora implores Jim to not kill himself for her. Jim stoically reminds her that there are 5000 other living souls on the ship. He has no choice. Honestly, I teared up a bit at this point. In the end, he is reborn (man as Christ) with the help of Aurora, who realised that she can’t live without him. That year together was true love. In the denouement, Jim tells Aurora in a final act of recompense that he has now found a way for her to go back to sleep.

She refuses. Together they create a literal garden of Eden for the other passengers to discover when they wake up. It’s beautiful. A true story of love and sacrifice. There are plenty of juicy metaphors too – ‘passengers on this thing called life’ for one. If you are looking for healthy entertainment, Passengers delivers.

Unfortunately I don’t think it will be that financially successful. You need to be an animated children’s film or a massive superhero franchise to do well these days. Talking about money though, Abigail compares the movie to the Ghostbusters drama. She implores that real women have turned away from Passengers because it is ‘rapey’, whereas men turning away from Ghostbusters was all hype.

Let’s do the math:

Ghostbusters Total Lifetime Grosses

Domestic:            $128,350,574        56.0%

+ Foreign:            $100,796,935        44.0%

= Worldwide:     $229,147,509

Movie Budget + Marketing: 288,000,000

Domestic Summary

Opening Weekend:         $46,018,755

(#2 rank, 3,963 theaters, $11,612 average)

% of Total Gross:              35.9%

Widest Release: 3,963 theaters

Close Date:         November 10, 2016

In Release:          119 days / 17 weeks

Earnings compared to Spending

229,147,509/288,000,000 = 79.56%

 

Passengers Total Lifetime Grosses

Domestic:            $94,533,188              35.1%

+ Foreign:            $175,100,000          64.9%

= Worldwide:     $269,633,188

Movie Budget + Marketing: 220,000,000

Domestic Summary

Opening Weekend:         $14,869,736

(#3 rank, 3,478 theaters, $4,275 average)

% of Total Gross:             15.7%

Widest Release: 3,478 theaters

In Release: 33 days / 4.7 weeks

Earnings compared to Spending

269,633,188/220,000,000 = 122.50%

So really Passengers isn’t performing badly. And given Ghostbusters had franchise power behind it, and massive marketing, it doesn’t paint a great picture. I think people really did turn away from Ghostbusters, and I really do think people don’t turn out for original screenplays in large enough numbers. Painting Passengers in a falsely negative light does it a great disservice, especially since it should be commended. The Rotten Tomato score is 30%, but the safe assumption is that the negativity is from SJW ideology. The IMDB score is just over 7/10, not amazing, but also not the 5/10 that Ghostbusters has. Don’t you just hate it when facts and figures jar with your ideological beliefs?

The majority of stories all speak to the heart of humanity. As painful as it is, most people are heterosexual. Most people like a story about ‘meaning’, ‘truth’ and finding fulfillment in one’s life. You might think it’s bland, but that’s just those ideology-tinted glasses doing all the work for you. Stories repeat, and the resonate.

I said that this is a ‘red pill’ movie, but it’s much more traditionalist than that. This is Neoreaction in all its glory: traditional values, a Christian narrative AND it’s set in a hyper-capitalistic future. What more could you want? At first I worried that I was blinded by what I wanted to see, but as I have shown this movie truly does cover exactly the same ground as what Jordan Peterson talks about. It proves his points. These stories are all-encompassing, almost hereditary. In other words, natural.