Sunday, March 18, 2018

hey i’m god. i changed my mind

Writing about Ran at Akira Kurosawa Info, Vili Maunula makes an interesting point about a specific moment in that film:

[W]hen told about Ayabe's advance against Jiro's troops, Saburo's General, sitting next to his master's dead body, asks lamenting... "How can this be? Of all things, at this moment, why did Master Saburo have to die? Why did Lord Hidetora have to go?" It does not take much insight to realise that the straightforward answer to the general's question--why did they have to die at this moment--is that the structure of the tragedy mandates these events, as they are the driving force of the story's final catharsis. Noteworthy is also the manner in which these lines are delivered, not facing the other soldiers or the fool, but rather by hesitantly gazing towards the direction of the camera.

I've mentioned before how one of the screenplays I wrote years ago ends with the main character stripping off her shirt to bare her scars to the audience, tearing down the frame around the screen, and proclaiming the audience responsible for all her injuries and difficulties. Ultimately, the audience is quite responsible almost every time for what happens on the screen. Certain genres have certain tropes because that is what the audience has seen, what the audience has accepted. Two of a Kind has your meet-cute (the bank robbery), your basic relationship obstacles (Zack's indifference about Debbie missing her callback), and plot obstacles (the guy's coming after Zack, Beasley's machinations, Zack telling the police that Debbie took the money), and just enough side plot for each of the leads (Debbie's roommates, her nosy landlord and her money problems; Zack's inventions). Plus the angels who play stand-in for the folks in the audience who want to see Debbie and Zack together. We want it. We get it. Whether it's because of nostalgia because we liked Grease or because we just want to see a good-looking guy and a good-looking girl hook up, we want this to go well. So it does.

We are God. The angels, within the film. And the filmmakers outside the film. They serve us.

The sheriff in Rubber--because I want to reference another film you haven't seen to talk about this old romantic comedy most of you haven't seen--says that things happen in movies for "no reason" but he's wrong. In particularly poorly made films, sometimes things happen for no particular reason but to pad the screen time or because the filmmakers were mad, but as a rule, no, everything in film serves a purpose. The more this is true, without being obviously true, the better a film might feel as we watch it.

Roger Ebert complains parenthetically about how, since the angels never tell Zack what's going on, "he never knows the fate of the world rests on his shoulders" but that's always the case with cinematic protagonists. They only know what they know. They don't know they're in a film. They don't know that little boys and little girls (and adults, I suppose) are hanging on their every word, rooting for them, hoping for them to win the girl, or the guy, to ace that audition, win that fight, or even take that bullet. No, Zack doesn't know the fate of the world rests on his shoulders. But, he isn't supposed to. Within the film, he's still part of a story. The angels and Beasley and on a dramatic level in between the romantic story and the audience. Like Shakespearean fools, or a Greek chorus (or that sheriff in Rubber).

And, I don't think I'm explaining myself right. Or I'm just not in the mindset to explain this more... Sensibly? Fully? Seriously? It's all just so shallow, when I'm trying to deal in something insightful regarding film and how we in the audience relate to what happens on the screen. But, really, for me, this film was maybe one of my earliest experiences with a metanarrative. The central plot here is just that, a plot. Even within the text, the relationship between Debbie and Zack is a constructed thing, a forced piece of story. In fact, in retrospect, I think the reason the central relationship works is because the film leans so hard into offering up something for the audience to want, telling the audience that it is literally the most important thing that can happen, and then showing us angels (and the devil) pulling strings to make it happen. The story frames itself as a story, and shows us all of its cards. Hell, the twist in the final sequence isn't even much of a twist. There is no other way to force the issue. And, it also links the whole thing back to classic drama, deus ex machina and all that. Or, here, I guess it would be diabolus ex machina.


The writing overall isn't great. But, at least it's trying to be clever.

 

 

 

 

 

Also, the police would be questioning the crap out of Zack and Debbie. They were both just in court--and would still be suspects in the bank robbery. Zack gets shot but has no bullet wound, the masked gunman is shot but disappears. That is all quite suspicious. But, we need the happy ending, so freeze frame on Debbie and Zack together. Looking at us.

And, seven year old me gets a nice lesson in heteronormative romance, in the redemption of the bastard, and in the universe/God not being so nice.

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