Ever rent two movies and find they seem to have an odd dialogue between them?
I saw A History of Violence earlier in the year, but wanted to think about it some more...see if it was as good as I thought it was the first time. It is.
I am a war movie junkie so also picked up Jarhead.
A History of Violence treats many concerns. Time being a predominant concern as well as consciousness. A film buff might say AHOV is temporal.
From the incredible slow 4 minute opening shot the director lures us into the languid sensation of time, history, dreamland and awakeness.
We see a wall, a motel where what most of us do in a motel is use the bed. Two men exit the motel, one with a t-shirt that references sleep, his shirt says "Night Owl" and they both talk about how tired they feel. They move as if they are stiff and sore, stretching as if just out of bed. And then the soundtrack. Cicadas. The strange animal that sleeps for 13-17 years before it's rebirth.
Several things wash over me with AHOV. Are we written in stone? And...can something surface, something we thought was long dead and gone? Who are we and can we transform or change who we are? What defines us? Our past, or our power to change?
After the four minute opening shot of AHOV we find out many answers to these questions. The scene cuts to a small girl screaming as she awakens from a bad dream. She tells her family there are monsters in the shadows. Cronenberg has created an equation where the audience is tested whether the power of the mind and spirit is stronger than destiny. We find an environment that has a rebirth. The past comes alive through action in the future while destiny and free will have a battle. Throughout the movie we are gently reminded of the essence of time and reality against dreams and will. Even the family's name refers to time. The Stalls.
Jarhead examines the predestined lives of marines. An incredible scene of the Kuwait oil fires has Jamie Foxx and Jake Gyllenhall watching the fires, and Foxx's characters says how much he loves his job "Where else can you see this kind of shit, do you know what I'm saying?" Foxx's character has discovered the sublime nature of extreme environments like the painter Turner. Being a marine is a kind of altered state of mind we hear over and over during the conflicts between Army and Marines, between crazy and sane mental states. Jarhead argues that once we have the extreme state of being through action, we are always that creature.
Both these movies battle with the idea of nature versus nurture and both seem to do so in a unique way. AHOV is a character based movie with lots of action. Jarhead is an action film with lots of character. Both contain immaculate cinematography and effects and acting. Both suggest that even if we think we can manipulate reality and the past, the past and reality drown out our dreamstates.
Again, I have stumbled into movies that reveal unlikeable characters or choices (Little Miss Sunshine) yet it is the character's flaws that seem to enable their survival and ability to overcome obstacles. Both movies have beautiful scenes of nurturing behaviour. AHOV has a supportive caring family. Jarhead studies marines who recreate a family within their own intense insulated environment.
All of us have a history of violence. It's an international history, some believe homo sapiens may have killed off the neandrathals, from colonization in India to aboriginal murders in North and South America...all of us have the blood of genocide in our personal narratives. The ability to sit here and type on my blog is because someone conquered the previous residents of Canada. None of us is free from the idea that we will do whatever it takes to stay alive.
I have always resented the tepid choice of nature versus nurture. I believe that we are rather a combination of the two. Even a diehard Darwinist like myself has to consider the idea that nurturing is part of our survival repertoire. If some power to survive at any cost could emerge from us at any time, buried deep inside asleep like a cicada...could it also be possible, if we could will ourselves to fight for what we believe in....could we not also will ourselves to nurture what we believe in?
Cicadas sleep for 13-17 years to avoid predators. Even if we never see a cicada we hear them with their distinct pitch and noises. These noises scare off predators and ironically attract other predators. It makes sense we hear these insects at the beginning of AHOV. They are revered in Asian art and many mythologies by their human neighbours because of their long secret lifespan, much of it spent generating and outwitting their predators before awakening.
Are we able to use our intense capabilities for change and transformation to awaken a sleeping angel as well as a sleeping monster? Time, or history, if you like, gives us these choices. We are more aware of all our histories now, than we ever have been in previous eras. Could our tragic history of violence also be viewed as a yardstick for the potential of strength and resolve to outwit our hatred, greed and intolerance?