Friday, December 28, 2018

The Immoral Parable of Bird Box, plus a few pleasant discoveries re: my writing

An unexpected, but pleasant, surprise: Jim Santo of Big Takeover online was posting about the most read articles on their website for 2018. Turns out two of my interviews and one of my concert reviews from years past were actually the top reads this year (!): my 2011 interview with then-Amon Amarth drummer Fredrik Andersson was #2 in their top ten most-read interviews, with 620 page views (I presume for 2018 alone); and a 2015 interview with Christian Vander of Magma was #9; while the #1 spot for concert reviews is held by this piece of writing I did on Electric Wizard (which I actually am really proud of), again from 2015. Thanks to Jim Santo for posting it - I am happy to know, because I wouldn't have, otherwise, that my old writing is living on.

In other news, there's Bird Box. Erika had watched it the other night with her parents on the island (while I am back at home, preparing for interviews and getting some needed me-time in). She recommended it to me - as had Judith Beeman - and while both those recommendations were sufficient, my keenness to see it skyrocketed as soon as I learned it was the first horror movie to be directed by Susanne Bier, some of whose earlier films - like her Oscar-Winning In a Better World - impressed me greatly. (I also enjoyed her Dogme film Open Hearts, which I would love to see again, but which has not been distro'd over here to my knowledge; I watched it on a borrowed disc, and only saw 2/3rds of it, not realizing I would never again get a chance to finish it, so I still don't know what happens!). Like some others out there, I am sure, my awareness of Bier greatly increased with Lars von Trier's absurd potshot at her during that "I used to be a Jew til I discovered I was a Nazi" kerfuffle at Cannes, which at that point I thought was the most entertaining thing he'd done since Dogville.  (He had yet to make Nymphomaniac; I like that one. I want nothing to do with The House Jack Built, though). I wonder if she's in any way grateful to him for that comment?

(Digressively, if you haven't read it, the GQ interview with Lars about that episode is pretty damned entertaining. Hard to believe it's seven years old now! I know children who are younger!).

Anyhow, Bird Box is a curious film (probably there are spoilers throughout what follows, by the way; don't read further if you care about such things). I watched it and couldn't make sense of it, because I was distracted by tracking down what previous movies its ideas were lifted from.( "And this is the part in The Mist where they go to the drugstore..."). It's got a bit of The Happening, a bit of A Quiet Place, a bit of It Comes at Night (thanks to John Clark for pointing that one out) and a lot of Blindness, which it kinda makes me want to see again. It's skillfully made, has some effective scares, but it does a few things that I didn't care for, besides being obviously derivative of a bunch of other films: like, it never once tries to explain what the nature of the evil besetting its world IS. What are these entities that make you want to kill yourself? Why can they only function outdoors? Why do they come in at the eyes? Why do some people survive seeing them, and decide they're beautiful and make you want to rip off your blindfold? I can live with that sort of cop-out, but it does seem to be one, if you approach it as a genre film. Of course, you can take the whole thing as a surrealist nightmare, or an overt moral parable, I suppose, like Blindness (which also declines to explain why there's an epidemic of contagious blindness afoot). But if you do that, the problem is, it is not easy to figure out what it is SAYING: if it's meant to be a moral parable, what the hell is the moral? Don't look at the bad things around you or you'll kill yourself? Keep your eyes closed at all times, and make sure that your children keep theirs closed, and don't trust anyone who asks you for help, because they might just want to rip off your blindfold and make you see the evils all around you? ...because the people who point out things that you're shutting your eyes to, are actually a threat to you, are actually deranged, co-opted forces of evil who mean you ill, and they should not be trusted; even if they ask you for help, it's just a trick?

What kind of fucking moral parable is THAT?

I went to bed irritated by all this, then woke up interested. Is this actually a film ABOUT denial? A film about how people, for example - can we call them "Americans," perhaps? - protect their children from reality? Is it a sort of horror movie illustration of a quote I vaguely recall from Nietzsche, about how human life may depend on NOT knowing, not understanding, not seeing - about how one must learn to "boldly stop at appearances?" ("He who has looked beneath the surface with disastrous results knows how much wisdom their lies in the shallowness of men," that's one I think I recall a bit better).

What kind of moral is THAT?

Maybe a relevant one, sure, but kind of objectionable, on the surface of things. I suspect in the world of Bird Box, I think I'd be one of the people trying to sneak into your house, open the curtains, rip off your blindfold, and make you look. I wonder if those characters get a bit more space in the book that is the source for the film?

Anyhow, I went to bed annoyed with Bird Box, and woke up interested in it. I'm not sure it is moral, but it certainly does seem relevant, because it DOES seem many people are living in a state of apocalyptic denial these days; how else to explain that Donald Trump still has supporters? Suddenly it's one of the more interesting and provocative "apocalypse" movies I've seen. Immoral, maybe offensive, but what the hell, it's timely and topical. Maybe we can make a horror movie next about an evil that descends on Americans that makes you want to take automatic weapons into a high school?

I still don't know how I feel about Bird Box, but I guess I have to concede that, at the very least, it's one of the more interesting horror movies I've seen lately. I am now going to read this Den of Geek interview with Susanne Bier, and this Gizmodo article, to see if any of my concerns about the film's staggeringly immoral apparent subtext get spoken to.

By the by, Leave No Trace, playing this evening at 8pm at the Vancity Theatre, as part of their Best of 2018 series, sounds great, and sounds like it might appeal to people who liked Bird Box. It will be followed by a 10pm screening of Children of Men, which is a truly great apocalyptic movie, which I'm pretty sure is VERY moral indeed (it's a rip-off-the-blindfolds film for sure).

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