Sunday, August 27, 2006

Nurture Versus Nature

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?

15 comments:

mister anchovy said...

nice pair of reviews....btw I didn't know that about cicadas....

Wandering Coyote said...

I have just recently seen both movies. Thanks for this set of reviews. You have put a much deeper perspective on Jarhead than I'd come up with in my recent review of it. Did you see parallels between it at Full Metal Jacket, as I did? As for AHOV, I had to think about this one before I fully appreciated it. Apart from featuring Viggo, its so powerful in its simplicity. You put the nail on the mark when you asked if it's our past that defines us or our power to change. I couldn't have said it better!

Nancy Drew said...

oh cm we have opposite tastes in movies. Could not handle war/violence in movies ever since I was 5. gets to me at too deep a level.

FOUR DINNERS said...

Full Metal Jacket is supurb. Not seen either of these yet. I will now.

the cappuccino kid said...

check this guy out!
http://www.jibjab.com/JokeBox/JokeBox.aspx?Id=154647&JokeId=51006 .

very very good.

Red said...

What a great post, Candy.

I really enjoyed your reading of AHOV... it brought to light many things I had not paid attention to before (my favourite being the implication that time has *stalled* in the name of the main characters).

It made me think that sometimes I'm guilty of watching films with my eyes (and ears) shut, passively, rather than engaging with the subtext. MTV generation, see?

Candy Minx said...

Red, Well, I did watch AHOV for the second time...and it is not unusual for me to watch a movie at home with a pen and paper. And as a seasoned Cronenerg fan...I have been long accostomed to his language and the kinds of layers he includes in his films. For example...a friend of mine posed for a public service announcement a long time ago. It was regardign teen pregnancy. He was posted as a pregnant boy. Croeneberg used tat poster in his set for The Fly. Makes sense, as we are seeing a character transform...into a completely unexpected jump. Same as a male pregnant.

I really loved Jarhead, Wandering Coyote. Did you notice the main character was reading Camus. Reminds the viewer they are in for an existential journey. Yes, I DID feel things about it compared to Full Metal Jacet. some the ssets, the mood the photography...and the very slow build up of characters.

Nancy Drew, I embrace the idea that we all can have different tastes in movies. Actually...I have such a braod taste for genres and styles, that I am quite sure you and I would have many movie enjoyments overlapping. In fact, I have quite a talent for recommending films to specific people. For instance, If I know 10 movies that you LOVE, I can probably recommend others for you.

I used to work ina book store and that is one thing you eed to be able to do.

Another clue in AHOV is that when Tom Stall is fixing his truck he says "she's coming back to life now"

Tim said...

I have seen both films, though I may rent them again after reading your thoughts. The scene that sticks with me from Jarhead is the horse wandering through the smoke and oil/rain. It is slick with the stuff and comes up to the man like nature greeting humanity in a death kiss. The tone reminds me of a painting by Alex Coville, death is waiting, you know by the hand of man: technology, industrialization, and war. The scene in AHOV is where the son blows away his father's enemies, and that is ok, because he saves the oldman and family life is restored. The history remains though beneath the surface, lurking to spring forth again when needed like latent super powers. They could, but I hope that they don't do a sequel.

alBi said...

Always yourself? Well there is an idea that you are only free to be yourself when you are somebody else...

d34dpuppy said...

that was awesome on jibjab cappy
i dun watch movies 2 much a lot is lost in transaltion

Dollface said...

good reviews leaving me with much food for thought. if we haven't learned from the cruelties of Roman times, I don't give us much hope....preordination...I daydream about what could have happened had I taken that path - or that path - or..........

Rauf said...

My friends don't agree with me, they say we are civilised and not violent. By nature man is violent. After four million years of evolution human mind has grown and evolved but human nature has always remained the same. Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin were contemporaries. It was Spencer who came out with the theory of evolution. unfortunately he chose a wrong title ' survival of the fittest' Darwin's was the theory of natural selection, which was accepted by the Royal academy of science. In my opinion, what we have seen in the humans of the past is the survival of the fittest. after four million years of evolution humans never got over violence hatred greed jealousy. There was little or no help from religion.
Religion could hardly contain human nature. Religion has history of only 5 thousand years. It is very recent. The cave man had a club we have guns. No law, religion or moral code can contain human nature. You can supress it for a while like the soviets did. but it explodes. All religions talk of peace but they advocate war. Crusades or Jehaad. They advocate killing or enslaving non believers of their faith. Take Ramayan or Mahabharat, the stories are full of violence, so are the bible khoraan or the torah. I can understand that they are killing or beheading only the bad guys. Who are these bad guys ? These bad guys are the ones who don't agree with them. Religion has sanctioned getting rid of them.

* (asterisk) said...

What a great post, Candy. It's taken me a couple of days to have the time to give it the attention it deserves. As you know, I watch quite a lot of films, and yet rarely these days do I have the opportunity (time-wise) to re-watch any. Your views on AHOV are interesting, especially since I was underwhelmed and that you are such a big Cronenberg fan. I'm sure the film would easily stand a second viewing, and I could even see myself growing to like it more. It has really stayed with me. Going off on a tangent, I'd also like to add that some (not all) of my favourite films are ones that I didn't much care for first time around. Strange?

Not seen Jarhead yet, but will.

And of course we all have a history of violence, just as we all, unfortunately, have a future of violence. We are doomed to wipe ourselves out, to paraphrase Edward Furlong in Terminator 2.

thehealingroom said...

PS You could(should) be paid for this kind of writing, Miss C.!!!!

Candy Minx said...

Thanks Healing Room!