Friday, October 17, 2014

One Step Forward, One Step Back

"Gone Girl” David Fincher (2014) and “High Hopes” Mike Leigh (1988)

One of these movies is American and one is not.  One is recent and one is not.  One is basically reactionary and one is not. 

Mike Leigh is the great British filmmaker who makes movies about the working-class – precisely workers who are not always morons or thugs.  Name an American director that does this?  Can’t?  Because there is none.  He works with a recurring group of actors, similar to Robert Altman.  Leigh’s whole ‘oeuvre’ is worth a look.  The later his films, the less stereotypes you run into, and the more powerful they become.  They all handle class and politics in a personal, humanistic way.  Leigh has just come out with a new film, “Mr. Turner,” which is unusual for him, as it is about the radical, revolutionary painter JMW Turner, a British impressionist.  His last film, “Another Year,’ explores class on a deeply personal basis, and is a great film. 


“High Hopes,’ was made during the Thatcher regime in England and features two working-class lefties of sorts, Cyril and Shirley.  The whole film contrasts two classes – the Thatcher middle class feeling its oats and the hammered working-class still trying to live decently.  Cyril is a motorcycle messenger and Shirley works on a gardening crew of some kind.  They are in love. The central character in the film is Cyril’s elderly mother, who is depressed, lonely and becoming forgetful.  She was nearly always a housewife.  Cyril is class-conscious to the bone and resents his superficial, social-climbing sister and her sexist, money-grubbing husband.  The sister treats Mum cruelly, while Cyril and Shirley try to defend her.  Living next door to Mum is a yuppie couple who have bought the council row-house and turned it into a chic apartment.  Painfully at one point, Mum must hang out in the “Boothe-Braines” house after forgetting her purse and keys in her own house.  Given their outrageously bourgeois accents and manners, the Boothe-Braines should really be located in a mansion in the country-side, not some former council flat.  They seem to be obvious caricatures – but who knows, perhaps creepy people like this actually exist.

Mike Leigh said this film was about the difficulty of being a socialist.  At one point Cyril and Shirley take the Honda up to Highgate Cemetery to visit the old man’s grave, Karl Marx.  Cyril doesn’t want to have kids because the world is so screwed up.  Shirley does.  He says that all he wants is that everyone has enough to eat.  Shirley tells him that is not going to happen.  They allow various wayward and homeless people to sleep in their tiny side room.  One, a naïve kid from the countryside who knows nothing; one a friend who believes in social revolution but cannot find a job and seems to have drug or emotional troubles.  At the end of the film, it seems Cyril might agree to have a kid anyway.  Mum perks up with them after a disastrous birthday party at the sister’s ‘detached’ house.  They take her up to the roof of the apartment building to look over the King’s Cross neighborhood in London, and she says, “We’re on top of the world.”  There is always a bit of a human silver lining in every Leigh film, as his characters never give up.


You might be scratching your head wondering why this film has been lauded by many mainstream critics.  Salon concentrated on the bloody shower scene and Ben Affleck’s ‘junk’ (which was invisible in the film we saw in Georgia – the censored south?).  This is all typical film-class aesthetic criticism.  The real story of this film is its misogyny.  In a world were rape, murder and sexual assault against women is broad-based in the U.S. and many other countries, here is a movie saying it’s all a frame-up by a really clever, ‘crazy’ woman.  She stages her own abuse and death in order to get her husband arrested for murder - because she is so jealous of his affair with a younger woman.  The poor man married the wrong privileged New Yorker!  The subtext is that marriage can be a really, really bad jail. 

This film is based on a book by a female writer, Gillian Flynn.  The film is so full of arbitrary screen-writer suppositions that it comes across, not as a real story, but as a prefabrication.  Like the horror film where you are supposed to make bad decisions like hanging around by the chain saws, as the advert goes.  Why would the woman plan to kill herself?  Why would Affleck decide to stay with her because she is pregnant?  Why would the Feds ignore a sliced-up body in a fancy hidden home?  Why wouldn’t the local police continue their own investigation, or at least feed facts to the Feds?  Why is she crazy?  Why would she want to stay with this Missouri doofus anyway?  They have nothing in common really.  How are they living in this giant suburban house if they were broke?  All of it is artificial pretense.

The best part of the film is the negative depiction of the cable news business and moralist scolds like Nancy Grace who trade in rumors, hysteria and personalities.  Of course, this is all in the interest, eventually, of the ‘happy’ couple, their coming child and the enduring wonders of marriage.  Flynn, a Missourian with college professors as parents, has written prior mystery books that contain negative descriptions of women, according to Wikipedia.  Fincher directed mainstream films like “Alien 3,”“Fight Club,” “Panic Room,” and “The Social Network” – Hollywood films with no social conscience.   They are a really good couple.  That is the real marriage here – of misogyny and Hollywood.

(Commentary “Rape – Really?” below.  Use blog search box, upper left.)

Red Frog
October 17, 2014

No comments: