Around Thanksgiving, LitReactor published a list of “10 books to make you feel thankful.” At #10–SUFFER THE CHILDREN! For which I’m thankful too. Thanks for the call out, LitReactor!
In HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017), Theresa, a beautiful college student who is cruel to her classmates, is brutally murdered on her birthday by a hooded figure wearing a campus mascot mask. She instantly wakes up and starts the day over, only to be murdered again and again. The only way to stop it is to figure out who the murderer is and stop them, and hopefully in the process learn how to be a person worth surviving.
It’s GROUNDHOG DAY meets SCREAM, as fun as the first and as lightly scary as the second. I didn’t expect anything earthshaking going into it. By the end, I enjoyed it quite a bit as a basic fun movie that’s competently written, directed, and acted.
Darren Aronofsky’s MOTHER! recently came to Google Play, giving me an opportunity to rewatch it. It was even better the second time around, particularly since I started the movie with a Biblical interpretation of the story, which I’d discovered about a third of the way through my first time. Here’s my take on the film, which contains spoilers.
At the start of the story, we have the poet (God) reconstituting the world from ashes. The poet (“Him” in the credits) and Mother (representing Earth, or nature) live in harmony until Man arrives professing to be an admirer of the poet. This is Adam, who in this story is a bone surgeon (rib reference) with a surgical scar over his ribs. Then Woman arrives (Eve), a seductress fascinated with the poet’s study where he does his writing (Eden), particularly a large and beautiful piece of crystal (the apple). Man and Woman break the crystal, which gets them expelled from the room and locked out (banishment from Eden). Despite them being nothing but trouble, the poet finds them inspiring and seems to depend on their adoration.
Since their arrival, Mother is struck by visions of ashes returning to the home, foreshadowing but also a buried memory, and when she places her hand against the walls of the house, she senses cancerous cinders infecting a heart, which is really her own heart. She discovers an ominous sealed-off room in the basement which houses the oil tank (Hell, the dark flip side of paradise, a foreshadowing of the coming apocalypse). They’re extremely rude to her, giving all their love and praise to the Poet while ignoring or belittling her, and making a mess everywhere they go. Then their sons show up (Cain and Abel). One son kills the other, and the poet slams him against a piece of glass, cutting his forehead (the mark of Cain). After the funeral, Man and Woman and all their friends show up, all of whom are amazingly rude to Mother in her own home, putting the worst of human nastiness on display. When the people break an unfinished sink, which floods the house, Mother banishes them. The house is wrecked, and it’s raining outside, but the people are gone. This is the Biblical Flood.
The poet and Mother make love that night and conceive a child, and all is harmony for a while. Mother is happily pregnant while the Poet has rediscovered a passion to write. His new work draws adoring worshippers from all over, who start to trash the house. Mother sees a blood stain on the floor (from Abel’s murder) reappear like a diseased wound, as humans are back. The film’s subsequent last act is completely surreal as we see humanity in all its extremes, dancing, joy, worship, religious evils, war, poverty, destitution, and hypocrisy. Soon it’s hell on earth all over the house. Tormented and horrified, Mother begins having contractions, which strike like earth tremors. The poet reopens his study and brings her inside, where she delivers a son.
The poet wants to show the boy to the people in the house, who have been leaving them gifts outside the door, but she refuses, not trusting them. When she finally falls asleep, the Poet takes the baby to the people outside, who handle him so roughly they kill him. Mother pushes through the crowd to discover they are eating him in a ritual. The baby, of course, is Jesus, and the ritual a version of the Last Supper. Mother goes berserk until she’s severely beaten to the point of almost being unrecognizable.
In a blind rage, she goes to the basement, where she breaks open the oil tank. Holding a lighter, she tells the poet he never loved her, he only loved how much she loved him. Then she burns the house and everyone in it (the apocalypse). The poet takes her ravaged body to the kitchen. She tells him she still loves him, and this allows him to take out her heart (her love) and fuse it into a large and beautiful crystal. Using that crystal, he is able to regenerate the house and the surrounding paradise, producing a new Mother. He will try again. His creations and what they do to their world don’t matter, only that they adore him.
MOTHER! presents God as narcissist, humans as nasty monkeys at best and a plague at worst, humans as focused on the spiritual rather than their environment, and Earth as living, giving, nurturing mother who is snubbed, scorned, and abused in turn by its children who depend on her for life.
The film has a brilliant message, is beautifully shot, and contains a raw power I found completely compelling. It was one of my favorite films of 2017.
In MAYHEM (2017), a mid-level executive consultant named Derek (Steven Yeun, shining in the role) plays a part in screwing over Melanie (Samara Weaving, bringing a hilarious intensity to her role as well), a homeowner who is losing her home, only to find out he’s getting screwed himself by the company he works for. Three people play a big part in his career destruction–the Siren, a highly political executive; the Reaper, the director of human resources; and the brutal CEO. Derek refuses to take the fall for the firm’s error, only to face even worse personal destruction.
While he’s being shown to the door by security guards after being fired, the building goes under quarantine. A virus that is going around has been detected in the building, and it will take eight hours to neutralize it. The virus makes people act on their darkest impulses, resulting in a growing orgy of violence. Steven teams up with Melanie to take their grievances upstairs to management using a variety of tools used to kill anybody standing in their way.
This horror comedy is a really fun movie that reminded me of BATTLE ROYALE, ZOMBIELAND, and THE BELKO EXPERIMENT. The comedy is physical, though there are numerous comical asides that made me laugh out loud. The violence is mindless, remorseless, almost cartoonishly over the top. I particularly enjoyed how everybody in the film basically goes on doing what they were doing in the workplace–abusing each other, screwing each other over, lust and hate and competition–but now they’re doing it honestly, with weapons. White-collar workers hurt each other all the time in an environment that is ultimately thoroughly dehumanizing, but strangely, by doing it out in the open with violence, they somehow become more human than they were before the virus got them.
MAYHEM never achieves greatness, but it competently does exactly what it sets out to do, which is entertain the crap out of you with, well, mayhem.
A German original Netflix series, DARK portrays how several families are affected by the eerie mounting disappearances of several town children, evoking a response from some of the adults that “it’s happening again.” This is a crazy, dense, complex, dark, intellectually challenging (and exhausting) show. I really, really liked it, though I didn’t connect with any of the characters–all of them deeply flawed–enough to love it.
The show has been compared to STRANGER THINGS (though nobody teams up in DARK, and it’s much, well, darker) and TWIN PEAKS (overall weirdness and tone). To which I’d add IT (strange events happened 33 and 66 years ago that are happening today, and the villain, who seems to understand what’s going on more than anybody and obeys its rules, is awesome) and LOST (new mysteries are introduced as old ones are resolved). There’s a great cosmic aspect centered on travel. We’re shown the lives of a large cast both in the present, past, and distant past, along with numerous theories of time travel and time travel paradoxes.
The craziest paradox is how the future can influence the past, a problem I also had with the film ARRIVAL. It works like this: I’m drowning and will definitely die without help, but I find a life preserver and survive, because my future self came back and threw it in the water for me to find. The same paradox occurs in DARK at least twice. Several other strange things made me wonder, such how a kid (and the dog) get through the portal, somebody coming out in the present though the police tape is missing, etc., which seem to be creative license shortcuts and continuity errors.
Yes, I’m nitpicking, but it’s that kind of show. You have to pay attention to every single detail (and numerous characters at different ages on the three-point timeline) to follow what’s happening. Despite the amount of information, the show has a fairly solid pace. For about 4, maybe 5 episodes, it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on, but then the show starts introducing reveals that sew up the dozens of loose ends one by one until the striking last episode’s conclusion. I was able to figure out two big reveals before they happened (through intuition and luck), but otherwise it’s a show that leaves you guessing until it’s ready to slap the next puzzle piece on the table. In more than one way, I was satisfied when it ended, as I found it kind of exhausting albeit oddly penetrating. I don’t know if DARK will get a second season; I’d be happy either way. The show wraps things up nicely, with just enough loose threads to make you wonder and perhaps long for them to be sewn up as well in a season 2.
DARK is yet another example of why TV is in a golden age, while film kind of sucks despite the odd gem. It’s TV that challenges you, that makes you think and feel something different. I really liked this one and hope for more of the same.
Naomi Alderman’s THE POWER is a novel about the final battle of the sexes that results from women undergoing an evolutionary change in which they gain the power to wield electrical current with their hands. Suddenly, men become the “weaker sex.” Women push back until a complete societal reversal occurs, as they gain not just the power to hurt men at will, but all of the other power that comes with it. I found this story, a big ideas novel written in the tradition of THE HANDMAID’S TALE (and as powerful), a work of genius that got me thinking on several levels. The novel came out in 2016 and won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2017.
The story starts off clunky. A man named Neil, a member of a men’s writing association, is writing to Naomi Alderman, a popular author, in the hopes she will beta read his work of historical fiction. What follows is his novel, told mainly from the perspective of four people: an abused girl who becomes a powerful leader after founding a religion based on a feminist reinterpretation of the Bible; a girl destined to play a minor role in a London crime family, who rises up to become a mafia don in her own right; a female mayor who rises to become one of the most powerful people in America; and a male journalist who travels the world documenting it all. Alderman’s decision to use Neil (and herself) as a device for introducing the novel is a bit off-putting due to the style change and the wait to get down to it, but in the denouement it ties together and really works.
The story of women around the world suddenly gaining power over men initially leads to what one would expect (and hope) to happen. Repressive societies like Saudi Arabia undergo revolutions, men catcalling and sexually harassing women comes to a dead stop, sex slaves liberate themselves, and other events occur that are, well, satisfying to read for anybody who hates these things. All good, right? As the gender reversal accelerates, however, Alderman takes a gutsy path with the novel: Women start to act like the worst of male behavior. Rape, humiliation, stereotyping, subjugation, rewriting history and religion to promote a single gender, stealing creative work, this is what some women do after they get all the power (pursuing a similar premise as portrayed in the film WHITE MAN’S BURDEN). While reading THE POWER, you’re going, hey, payback’s a bitch, then, wow, maybe women really would become the worst of the “patriarchy” if they ran the world (an assertion that power universally corrupts), and then, jeezus, in the real world, women have to put up with a lot of crap. The ending is conclusive but open, and while acknowledging the truth is unknowable, the denouement suggests what happened, or at least confirms what the world is like in the present, in a final clever note among many.
Overall, I loved it for what it was–a gutsy big ideas novel about gender and power spiced with terrific action set pieces. Recommended if you like speculative fiction that tugs your brain strings. If you read it, like it, and want more, TV rights were acquired by Jane Featherstone (Sister Pictures) in an 11-way auction and will be turned into a TV series with global distribution.