This week I watched three very different but good movies – all radical in some way.
All is Lost
Redford plays an old man (he’s in his 70s, not sure how old the character is supposed to be) trying to survive a disaster at sea. It follows the eight days of his waking from sleep to find his sailboat has run into a cargo container floating in midocean. The boat is badly damaged but he seems to be dealing with it and then a great storm hits.
What is radical about this is the age of the hero, and he certainly is an action hero in every sense of the world but we are used to action heroes being young and fit. You feel his age in every move he makes. This is a man versus chance, versus nature, versus mortality, film. However brilliant his strategy and however unwavering his will and persistence, his body proves an uncertain tool to the task.
Also no music to punch up what does not need punching up. And what a departure from the director’s previous film Margin Call.
This Ridley Scott film was panned by many but I think it is quite good and very unsettling. In a nutshell, our main character, an attorney, played by Michael Fassbender, decides to play in the proverbial deep end for short financial gain. His dip into criminal enterprise continues even after every person who already lives in that world, and also the same people who would profit from his foray, counsel him not to do it.
He does and pays a price. The film’s ambiguities, or to describe more aptly, its lack of a specific and satisfying ending, to me, mirrors its subject matter. There is a dark world with dark kings where dark things happen and once you visit you are no longer safe.
There is a wonderful and eloquent speech given by a criminal overlord where the consequences of visiting his realm are spelled out to the attorney, which reminds me of Tommy Lee Jones’ speech in No Country for Old Men, also written by Cormac McCarthy and also laying plain the existence of evil in the land. They come at it from different angles but the idea is the same.
And this film is radical today, though it harkens back to the typical film noir, in that the hero is lost and utterly damaged by the end. It plays against the innumerable happy heist films out there. Kingpins persist; the most evil do not pay a price but continue to rule precisely because they are merciless and objectively cruel.
This one is the best of the lot I think but that is my art bias coming in.
Two individuals form a friendship within a Viennese museum. He, the guard, offers help to a woman from Montreal who is visiting a very sick cousin. The people in this film are almost too ordinary but that is one of the points of the film I think.
Its an absurdly beautiful film and I don’t think I have ever seen a film that brought home the act of viewing art quite as well. Not only is the art well photographed but the scenes of the city and the hospital are shot with a painting aesthetic as well.
At one point, a museum art expert explains a Breughel to a group of tourists and then another and another and this takes about 15 or 20 minutes and it brings into question the nature of the film. Has it just become a documentary?
One point that is eloquently made is that the art of today is made of the mundane materials of yesterday. They are in a bar at one point and look about and know that this could become a painting which centuries later would be experienced as great and sublime art. And thus you can make the choice to experience today as art – you can, as with many cameras now, just put your art filter over the world.
This choice to experience the everyday as sacred is brilliantly described in the moving excerpt from the graduation speech by David Foster Wallace (bitter sweet when you contrast its optimism and wisdom with his suicide).