Sunday, July 03, 2005

War of the Worlds

I thought would post the first contemporary film of the thread.

Just got back from War of the Worlds...a rather spectacular film (in the spectacle sense). The specials effects were expectantly amazing and the story was quite poignant. During the film, I couldn't help but feel that many of the images (the aliens, their vehicles) were derivative and many of the fundamental, motivational questions (why are the aliens invading? where are they from? why did we never notice large vehicles underground?--Ebert's review covers many of these questions) go unanswered . But on the drive home, I came to the conclusion that these choices might be deliberate, thus adding to the brilliance of the film.

Unlike so many other alien invasion disaster films that follow the story of those directly battling the aliens (Independence Day), this film centers on a single father and his two children as they flee from the aliens. From that perspective, we would not know why the aliens attacked, etc. As a result, it enables us to focus on the intimate, human side of the tragedy (I could not help but think of that "What would you do" song about 9-11, Marcus, you'll like that connection. As you would imagine, there some clear allusions to 9-11, such as the initial incomprehension by individuals who experienced the event).

I have a lot more thoughts on the film, but what struck me most was how this film comports with Spielberg's other alien films. Spielberg promised to never do a film with aliens as the bad guys. Some rather compelling readings of Spielberg's opus suggest that his alien films, in fact most of his films, ruminate on relationships with estranged parents (most notably a father-figure; Spielberg himself was raised only by his mother), where the alien functions as a surrogate paternal figure (ET is the obvious example). War of the Worlds, however, reverses these roles. Before the aliens attack, the mother leaves the kids with the deadbeat dad so she and her new husband can visit her parents in Boston. When the aliens attack, they flee and head to Boston. I find it interesting that the mother is both absent during the moment of unprecedented tragedy, yet is the object of the narrative drive. So many of Spielberg's diagetic choices seemingly feminize the aliens. Although this is typical of many aliens-as-bad guys (or gals), given the larger narrative context, I think Spielberg has really presented a surprisingly complex film that challenges a simple feminist read (but why is it that all bad aliens are wet and slimy and good ones dry?)

Rambled on too long. Good film, go see, will talk more then.


Blogger paroske noted on 7/05/2005 06:57:00 PM that...

So, should I resist the temptation to be in full on boycott Tom Cruise over his incredibly stupid public persona?

If someone came on TV and said "Don't take your insulin, diabetics, so says Dianetics!", I would be pissed. And I personally don't draw a moral distinction between care for physical and mental health (both should be free and full); so why should I treat TC differently?


Blogger Freya noted on 7/05/2005 10:48:00 PM that...

I don't know, I think that Cruise might have a somewhat valid point about the history of psychiatry... and I think Foucault would agree with him. :) I'm not sure that the comparison between insulin and psychatric drugs is terribly apt -- in one case the disease and the drug to treat it are quite straightforward. When it comes to mental health, it seems like there are a variety of options for some people, and medication is just one of them. I haven't actually heard Cruise's comments, so I'm not going to defend him per se, but I think it's a little more complicated that mental health problems = need for drugs in every case. Obviously in some cases (like lithium for bipolar or something) is is pretty clear cut, but not always.

So on the the movie. My favorite visual image was the landscape soaked in the blood of the humans. Damn. I also liked the ending... it was so misty, distant and unrealistic that it was almost a bittersweet commentary on the difficulty and unreality of action-film endings. It had sort of a David Lynch feel to it. It felt like a dream sequence.... it would have been sweet if they'd hyped that up even more. You know what else I thought was good, was how with every really shockingly terrifying thing that happens to them, you get these shots of Rachel with her eyes really big and staring and everyone thinks, oh, she is going to be FUCKED UP for the rest of her life. It added this pressure and tension to all the by-the-skin-of-their-teeth scenes, like they were adding on top of each other and there was this extra danger beyond their physical safety. There was some relief when they escaped each time, but awareness of her fragile child mind.... okay, maybe this is just me with the oh-so-recent Freud and stuff. I'm like, oh, the neurosis-inducing trauma! There it is! What drama! What tension!

As far as the feminist angle goes, I do think there is a sense of vulnerability and inadequacy to Cruise's character that complicates the traditional masculine prptector/savior role. He breaks down, he cries, he gets scared, he makes mistakes, and his son is right -- he really wants to unload the responsibility of those children onto his ex-wife. On a more abstract gender level, I think it is interesting that we find an ecosystemic global connection saving the humans, a mechanism that privileges community, connection and the environment over human reason and force. In other words, the world is saved by its natural feminine interconnectedness, etc, rather than the masculine will to power. Privileging of passivity over activity, etc. I thought your point about the mother creating the narrative drive was interesting, Ronvon... and more so because she is pregnant and a sort of repository of humanness, fertility and reproduction. And there is this total irrationality to the drive towards her, an irrationality that persists throughout the film. Why Boston? Why to her? Is Boston not just as fucked a place to be? What are the chances that the mother is even still alive? Which brings me back to my earlier point about the totally fantastic (as in fantasy) nature of the ending. A return to the maternal haven, a haven that still exists against all odds, proving the triumph of the natural and feminine. Ha, now I'm really thinking about this. There is almost no portrayal of the human technological reaction to the invasion. The aliens clearly retain a masculinist technological and rational superiority throughout the film, from the extensive planning to the large machines to their ability to immediately disable all sophisticated electronic weaponry. And all the scenes of the human military resistance are of these troops (often with intimate face shots) that are stuck in the era of World War Two weaponry. Grenades? Guns? Rocket launchers? But now I'm just beating Ron's elegant point to a bloody pulp.

Some dry aliens are bad. They just have wet mouths. I think it's usually because they have only recently hatched.  

Blogger ronvon2 noted on 7/06/2005 01:49:00 AM that...

It's a Spielberg film. For me, its pretty boycott proof.  

Blogger paroske noted on 7/06/2005 09:49:00 AM that...

Just to clarify the issue: Cruise, scientiologists in general oppose drugs for obvious neurochemical disorders like bipolar (they deny chemical imbalances exist at all, so addiction fits in there too), for more squishy disorders like depression (post-partum was his specific blast at Brooke Shields) as well as talk therapy. All mental health care, right down the line.

These folks ruin lives in all sorts of really, really nasty ways.

I haven't seen the movie. But I do get steamed about mental health stuff. Continue your coversation free from interruption now.  

Blogger ronvon2 noted on 7/06/2005 11:20:00 AM that...

I'm with you, you're preaching to the choir. Are you suggesting, then, that TC's affiliations with the COS warrant boycotting his films? I'm certain his position, as well as the COS's, has not changed since he joined in the 1980s. Ergo, we should be boycotting a lot of good films (Color of Money, Jerry MacGuire, Magnolia, Minority Report...)

But on a more serious note...Yeah London! The only thing the French ever did for the British was provide the Germans airstrips for them to launch bombing runs....and London boasts three of the top five restraunts in the world.