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Larry and Andy Wachowski’s The Matrix (1999) is a science fiction classic. The setting is a devastated Earth in the far future. The premise is that humanity has been enslaved by artificial intelligences. Human beings spend our lives in what are essentially coffins while mechanical vampires drain our energy. We don’t know it, because we are asleep, dreaming that we are in a radically different world. This is the Matrix. Today we would call it a multiplayer online game.

Like many dystopias, The Matrix is actually too optimistic. The Wachowski brothers thought the human race would have to be forced into the pods. They didn’t imagine we would choose them. But eventually, gaming addicts will build coffins for themselves as in The Matrix, where they can loll about catheterized, diapered, and fed intravenously, so the game never ends. To sustain themselves, they’d gladly share their body heat.

The image of the human race both enslaved and deluded about its condition by a fake world of mere projections goes back to the Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in the Republic. It is echoed in Descartes’ Meditations and the Marxist concept of ideology.

Plato, Descartes, and Marx all believed that emancipation is possible. But there’s no way to think yourself out of the Matrix. If you managed to wake yourself up, you’d discover that you are a naked, flabby blob in a pod full of pink goo, hooked into a machine that both nourishes and drains you.

Plato posited a sunlit world outside the cave where one could live and plan to return and liberate one’s fellows. Outside the Matrix, however, the Earth is devastated and shrouded in nuclear winter. You wouldn’t have a chance.

Thus it isn’t clear how the resistance movement of the Matrix started or how it can end. To begin, the resistance needs a deus not from the machine but outside of it altogether: perhaps a seed of unenslaved humanity living in a place called “Zion” near the Earth’s core.

Getting people to join the resistance is a hard sell. You can persuade people to quit a job or a relationship by arguing that “it isn’t really you.” But imagine telling people that everything about their world, including the people they love, including their very selves, is fake. The real world is a hellscape where they are living corpses, imprisoned in coffins, fed upon by parasites. Which world would you choose?

Thus it is nice that the resistance gives people a choice: the first choice they ever really had. If they take the red pill, they will trade everything and everyone they knew and loved for life in a post-apocalyptic hell. If they take the blue pill, they will go back to sleep in the Matrix. Naturally, only deeply alienated people would take the red pill.

However, the ultimate goal of the resistance is to crash the Matrix for everyone, whether they like it or not. But it is not clear how the human race could survive such an event. There’s Zion, but that promised land probably isn’t big enough for everyone.

The Matrix works as the story of the hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves) awakening to his power and joining the resistance. But as far as the larger project of liberating humanity goes, the creators of The Matrix had written themselves into a corner, and they should have quit while they were ahead. The story could not stand up to too much scrutiny about where the resistance came from and where it was going.

The first sequel, The Matrix Reloaded, was a clever movie with a bleak message: the resistance itself is an illusion, created by and subordinate to the Matrix. Of course that’s a useful lesson in a world of coopted and manufactured oppositions. The problem is that on the basic premises of the films, there can’t really be a true opposition. Which means that no matter what happens, the machines will always be in control.

The second sequel, The Matrix Revolutions, was pretentious, incoherent garbage in which Neo and the heroine Trinity (Carrie Anne Moss) both die. It sounds like a bleak ending, but look on the bright side: if the hero and heroine are dead, at least there won’t be another sequel, right?

Wrong. For, as the movie has the brass to explain, Warner Brothers needed more money, and money has the magic power to resurrect dead franchises over and over again. Hence The Matrix Resurrections. What could possibly go wrong? Look how well it worked for Star Wars!

The Matrix is objectively more useful to the pro-white Right than the anti-white Left, but you have to look past the casting to see that. In The Matrix, the bad guys are all clean-cut white men. The good guys look like the Left: a coalition of non-whites and white misfits. But just bracket that out for a minute. Imagine the movie with a monoracial cast and you’ll see that the story itself is not anti-white. Only the casting gives that impression.

In today’s world, what is the closest thing to the Matrix? The mass media, including gaming. In today’s world, who are the parasites who control the Matrix? They are overwhelmingly Leftist and disproportionately Jewish. (The Wachowskis are not Jewish, but Anglo and Polish in descent.) In today’s world, the race-conscious Right are the advocates of realism—racial, sexual, and political—whereas the Left are advocates of social constructionism, utopianism, gender fluidity, and delusional happy talk. (Both Wachowski brothers have “changed their sex.” Larry is now known as Lana, and Andy now styles himself Lilly.)

In today’s world, who are the slaves of the Matrix? The answer is tricky, because almost everyone is bamboozled and exploited to one extent or another. But whites, especially straight white men, are at the bottom of the progressive stack. Whites are targeted with relentless hate propaganda, including the casting of The Matrix itself. Thus it was natural for race-conscious whites to see The Matrix as an allegory for our situation and to appropriate the “red pill” as a symbol of our awakening. To my knowledge, the first use of the red pill in this manner was in Michael Polignano’s speech “My Awakening Too” from May 2004.

One of the ambitions of The Matrix Resurrections was to somehow “take back the red pill” from the Right. The movie accomplishes nothing of the kind, so I suspect that this was just another cynical attempt to promote a movie by getting race-conscious whites to hate it online. (See my article on the No Time to Die trailers.)

The Matrix Resurrections is directed by “Lana” Wachowski, but after a few minutes, I thought this was the work of Jar Jar Abrams, since it follows the pattern of his cursed Star Wars movies. Because the Mouse needed money, Abrams was tasked with resurrecting Star Wars. Since the purpose was money, and since he held the fans in utter contempt, there was no question of creating an original story within the larger Star Wars mythos (what the money people call a “franchise”). So Jar Jar decided to simply coast on nostalgia. He dusted off the original cast members (who were long past their discard dates) and put them in scene by scene, sometime shot by shot rip-offs of the original trilogy, this time as farce. Since he had no idea what make the original trilogy popular, he took the 70-IQ cargo cultist route of imitation, thinking that would be safer. He also junked the plots up with so many inanities and gags and leaps of logic that he delivered running times of 138 and 142 minutes, which simply highlighted the vapidity of the stories. Not only did he insult the intelligence, taste, and values of the fans, he bored them silly.

 

House of Gucci is a highly entertaining combination of comedy, tragedy, and farce, tracing the decline of the Gucci fashion empire from an Italian family business to a global capitalist brand.

House of Gucci would have been the best Martin Scorsese movie in years—if it hadn’t been directed by Ridley Scott. It has all the Scorsese touches: lots of Italians (albeit Italian-Italians rather than Italian-Americans), a plush running time, studies of characters who are seldom admirable but always interesting, excellent acting from a distinguished cast, Al Pacino, and a meticulous, nostalgia-infused reconstruction of another era, this time the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, a time that seems impossibly glamorous, wholesome, and white compared with the present.

Gucci was founded by Guccio Gucci in 1921 and passed on to his sons upon his death in 1953. The film considerably simplifies the Gucci family tree, focusing on two of Guccio’s sons, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) and Aldo (Al Pacino) plus Rodolfo’s son Maurizio (Adam Driver) and Aldo’s son Paulo (an unrecognizable Jared Leto).

Maurizio is depicted as a nerd who is targeted for seduction and marriage by Patrizia Reggiani. Brilliantly portrayed by Lady Gaga, Patrizia is a social climber from a less wealthy, less distinguished background. Rodolfo dismisses her as a gold-digger, but she wasn’t. She stayed with Maurizio even after his father cut him off. She was, however, a social climber with a whole cluster of personality disorders. At first, her ambition and lack of scruples served her husband well. She had a child and reconciled Maurizio and his father just in time to collect his inheritance. This guaranteed her enormous wealth and prestige. She enjoyed a lavish lifestyle that is only hinted at in the movie.

But Patrizia could not leave well enough alone. She egged her husband on to take a role in the company. Why in God’s name would you want to run a company if you are not cut out for it, especially if you already have more money than you could spend in two lifetimes? (When Maurizio Gucci died in 1995, his estate was worth \$400 million.) Then Patrizia created a conflict between Maurizio and his uncle Aldo, allying with Aldo’s idiot son Paulo. Aldo eventually ended up in jail for tax evasion. Then Patrizia turned on Paulo, urging him to pursue his own design work then hitting him with a cease and desist for using the family name. Eventually, Maurizio went into business with some shady Iraqis who bought Aldo and Paulo out of the company. Once in charge, Maurizio proved to be a terrible businessman. He cut back on profitable but down-market product lines while expensing his increasingly lavish lifestyle to the company. Eventually, he was forced to sell his shares, leaving the business Gucci in name only.

Patrizia turned Maurizio from a tongue-tied nerd and wallflower to an increasingly self-confident jerk. But he resented her interference in his family. Her social-climbing was also increasingly grating, which is beautifully brought out in a scene in Switzerland where Patrizia is reduced to gibbering insecurity by Maurizio’s old-moneyed school chums. Finally, Maurizio turned his new-found self-confidence against Patrizia, first separating from her then divorcing. He soon discovered, however, that there’s only one thing worse than a scheming wife working “for” him—namely a scheming ex-wife working against him. If you don’t already know the story, I won’t spoil it for you.

House of Gucci most resembles Scorsese’s Casino, in which a quasi-autistic nerd marries a femme fatale, although in Casino the villainess is a junkie and petty grifter, whereas in in House of Gucci, she is the crazy ex-girlfriend from hell.

House of Gucci is great filmmaking that does not insult the intelligence, taste, or identity of white filmgoers. There are no politically correct messages. There is no tendentious “diversity” casting. House of Gucci is Ridley Scott’s best movie since Alien: Covenant and, along with No Time to Die, one of the best movies of 2021. If you see one movie this Christmas season, make it House of Gucci.

 
• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Hollywood, Movies 

You have to give the Left credit. They never take a day off. The eye of Sauron never blinks. They are frenzied and relentless in their attempts to overthrow our civilization. They softened us up for a long time, rotting away our character and identity by promoting vice, cynicism, and nihilism—all while playing the victim. Now that we are too weak to resist and too deracinated to care, they have launched a ferocious campaign of iconoclasm against our forefathers’ heroes: Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, etc. Once they have finished destroying us in effigy, the next logical step is destroying us in person, i.e., open genocide against whites, rather than the stealth genocide they instituted in the 1960s with multiculturalism and race-replacement immigration.

But Leftists don’t just tear down idols. They are also both shameless and tireless in molding new idols from human excrement. George Floyd is just the latest and most ludicrous in a long line of fake heroes, saints, and martyrs: Lenin, Stalin, Martin Luther King . . .

Jewish gay rights advocate Harvey Milk (1930–1978) is one such figure. Milk was the first openly gay elected official in California as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In 1978, Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were murdered by Dan White, a mentally unbalanced former member of the Board of Supervisors.

White had resigned his position impulsively then asked to be reinstated. Milk lobbied against his reinstatement. White was white, male, heterosexual, Catholic, his high school valedictorian, a Vietnam veteran, a former policeman, and a former firefighter celebrated for his bravery. He represented everything Milk loathed. Milk worked with him when he was on the Board, but he was hoping to replace him with another Leftist. Moscone agreed.

Moscone was not homosexual, and Milk was not killed because he was homosexual, but such details did not stop Milk from being touted as a martyr for gay rights and the recipient of an ever-increasing, ever more absurd list of honors and tributes.

For instance, in November of this year, as part of the ongoing anti-white cultural revolution, the United States Navy launched the USNS Harvey Milk. My first reaction was that the ship should have been named after the Village People, because at least they sang about being “In the Navy.” But it turns out that Harvey Milk had been in the Navy, receiving an “other than honorable” discharge for being homosexual. Here, at least, Milk was arguably a victim because he was gay.

But we used to name ships after heroes, not victims. Naming a ship after Harvey Milk is still an “other than honorable” gesture. It is less about honoring Harvey Milk than dishonoring the US Navy. Apparently, five other ships will also be named after woke icons. I don’t even want to know their names.

To my mind, the most absurd Milk tribute is the opera Harvey Milk by “American composer and cantor” Stewart Wallace, which casts Harvey Milk as a baritone and Dan White as a tenor and includes such characters as Dianne Feinstein and (of course) “concentration camp survivors.”

There is, however, a genuinely worthwhile tribute to Harvey Milk: Gus Van Sant’s 2008 biopic Milk, starring Sean Penn who won the Best Actor Oscar for his whiny nebbishy portrayal of the man himself. Milk was released to universal critical acclaim, but I gave it a hard pass when it was in theaters, since no critic would dare expose it if it were bad. Years later, I gave Milk a chance when it popped up on cable.

Milk is a well-made but typical biopic, complete with montages set to contemporary pop music. I don’t know how accurate it is, and I honestly don’t care enough to look into it too deeply. I know it omits Milk’s endorsement of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple and his penchants for manic and emotionally abusive behavior. I must note, however, that if the movie is a whitewash, a lot of unflattering facts still show through.

Milk is portrayed as neurotic, abrasive, duplicitous, and aggressively Jewish. He is portrayed as an active player in the Leftist takeover of the San Francisco government which eventually ruined America’s most beautiful city. He wasn’t above outing fellow homosexuals for personal political advantage (which is merely hinted at in the film). He cynically instructs his followers to start a riot, so he can pop up and play the peacemaker before the news cameras. In debates, Milk was an aggressive prick. His speeches began with the line, “My name is Harvey Milk, and I’m here to recruit you,” which is shown to be self-defeating, since it played into the hands of fundamentalist Christians pushing a ballot proposition to fire homosexual teachers to prevent them from “recruiting” children into homosexuality. As soon as he got elected to office, Milk began throwing his weight around, making demands and issuing threats. He dated a drunkard with clear borderline tendencies who embarrassed him in public and later hanged himself.

The movie begins in 1970 with Harvey Milk, a closeted Republican in New York City, turning 40 and feeling that he has done nothing to be proud of. (This movie offers hope to late bloomers.) Milk and his then boyfriend Scott Smith (James Franco) decide to move to the Castro District of San Francisco. Harvey morphs into a hippy, but he has the capital and the skills to open a small business, Castro Camera.

The shop not only is a source of income, it becomes a power base. It is a place to interact with the public and network. Later, it serves as a meeting place for political discussions and organizing. Milk’s first foray into politics was organizing gay shop owners in the Castro. He also began directing business to friendly straight shop owners and away from hostile ones. (Although it is not shown in the film, when Milk organized the Castro Street Fair, it brought large crowds to the district. Skeptical merchants were won over by booming sales.)

When Milk first ran for City Supervisor in 1973, he was an angry, abrasive hippy with a narrowly sectarian gay agenda and an energetic but amateurish campaign. He lost. When he ran again in 1975, he cleaned up his appearance, sought to build coalitions, and became more diplomatic. He lost again but came closer to power. In 1976, he ran for State Assembly and lost to Art Agnos, who later became Mayor of San Francisco.

Agnos is shown dispensing valuable advice to Milk. His speeches were angry rants about gay victimhood. He needed to articulate a more positive vision and offer policies to improve everyone’s lives. Milk took this advice to heart. Later he ran a campaign against dog poop, to clean up San Francisco’s parks.

In 1977, Milk ran for City Supervisor yet again. This time, he brought in a professional campaign consultant and sought establishment endorsements. This time, he won. But it would not have happened without San Francisco changing the election rules. Instead of the whole city voting on a common roster of candidates, the city was divided into districts. The establishment’s goal was to elect a more “diverse” (i.e., Leftist) Board of Supervisors by creating districts that would favor strongly leftist constituencies. That year, Chinatown put a Chinaman on the Board. A heavily black district elected a black woman. Milk’s district included the Haight and the Castro. He was a shoe in.

At every step of his political career, Milk was courageous, tireless, and masterful at motivating others to work for him. Once he paired these virtues with the right packaging, message, and objective political conditions, he succeeded.

 

Howard Hawks’ Red River (1948) is one of the greatest Westerns. Starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, Red River is the story of the first cattle drive on the Chisholm Trail from Texas to Abilene, Kansas. In Hawks’ hands, however, a movie about an episode in the history of America’s livestock business becomes mythic, epic, and philosophical. The frontier strips away the trappings of civilization and displays human nature and the origins of society naked in all their glory and squalor. Like such great Westerns as The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance , and Once Upon a Time in the West, Red River is an origin story about the transition from savage to civil society.

This transition is particularly problematic for Americans, since our default programming is liberal individualism that prizes equality, personal freedom, contractual obligation, private life, and comfort above things like adventure, conquest, honor, and glory, to say nothing of holiness and truth. Unfortunately, as Red River shows, you can’t carve civilization out of the wilderness by following liberal principles—although it is increasingly evident that liberalism can wreck any society that takes it too seriously. Liberalism forces us either to cover up the illiberal origins of our society or to destroy it in a fit of self-loathing. (But there’s another option as well: to embrace the truth about our origins and stop immolating ourselves before the Moloch of liberal norms.)

Red River begins in 1851. A wagon train is headed to California. Pioneers banded together because there is strength in numbers, and strength was needed to confront the dangers of the frontier, including merciless Indian savages. But practically the first thing we see is a wagon pulling away from the safety of the train. Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) has decided to strike south for Texas and found a cattle ranch.

The leader of the wagon train doesn’t want Dunson to go. They are all safer sticking together. Dunson understands that, but this appeal to rational self-interest falls on deaf ears. He has a vision, and he is willing to accept the risks to follow it. The leader says Dunson agreed to go to California. Dunson says he signed nothing, and as we will soon see, promises on paper mean nothing to him anyway. The leader says that Dunson is too good with a gun to lose. Dunson replies that he’s also too good with a gun to keep. In the end, it comes down to the threat of force.

Dunson has fallen in love on the trail with Fen (Colleen Gray). He wants to leave her behind as well. Founding a ranch is hard, dangerous work. She’s not strong enough. But what about the nights? she asks. Good question, but in Tom’s mind, starting a cattle ranch requires cows for the bulls but not women for the men. Tom promises to send for her when it is safe and gives her his mother’s bracelet (which he himself was wearing) as a token of his pledge.

This opening scene establishes that Tom Dunson is not a man to be reasoned with. Once he makes up his mind, he is immovable. Being open to persuasion, of course, is one of the principles of parliamentary democracy. Dunson, however, is quick to reach for his gun to silence his critics. He’s a budding tyrant, not a liberal democrat. But, as it turns out, it takes a tyrant to found a great ranch in the wilderness.

Dunson turns south with his sidekick Groot (Walter Brennan) plus two cows and a bull to start his herd. A few hours later, the wagon train is massacred by Indians. Dunson and Groot see the smoke in the distance and prepare to defend themselves. They kill the raiding party sent after them, but the two cows are slaughtered. Dunson also recovers his engagement bracelet from one of the braves, who surely killed Fen to take it.

The next morning, they come upon a boy named Matt Garth (Mickey Kuhn) leading a cow. He is the sole survivor of the massacre. He’s gibbering from the horror. Dunson snaps him out of it with a brutal slap. It’s a rough beginning, but Matt and his cow become the co-founders of a great ranch, the Red River D. “D” for Dunson.

When Tom finds the spot he wants to settle down on, he is greeted by two Mexican riders, who inform him that this land belongs by grant and patent from the King of all the Spains to one Don Diego, who resides 400 miles to the south. Groot thinks that’s too much land for one man. So does Tom. Groot is a Lockean, who believed that when we appropriate property from the state of nature, we should leave as much and as good for others. Tom, however, has no such notions. He wants to build his own empire. When one of Don Diego’s emissaries draws his gun, Tom kills him and tells the other to inform Don Diego of the new arrangement. When Tom releases the cow and bull, he says that wherever his herds roam will be his land. The herd will appropriate for him. There’s no talk of leaving as much and as good for others.

Flash forward to 1865. The Red River D has become the largest ranch in Texas. Tom has killed six more men to protect it, but other ranches have started in the area.

Matt has grown into a man superbly played by Montgomery Clift. Matt is the son Tom never had. But there is a strange intimacy between them. Matt now wears the engagement bracelet Tom gave to Fen. They share cigarettes with one another. When Tom starts putting his brand on other ranchers’ cattle, Matt jokes that pretty soon his will be the only rump around there without Tom’s brand. Tom says, “Bring me the iron.” There’s more than just a hint of pederasty here. This is what happens on the frontier when women are left behind as too weak.

The Civil War has ended. Matt has returned to Texas, quite practiced in the use of his gun. It goes without saying that he fought for the South. Texas is in crisis. There’s no market for beef in the defeated South, so Tom decides to drive his herd a thousand miles to a railhead in Missouri, to ship them north. They will face obstacles from men as well as nature. Indians and murderous gangs of rustlers stand in their way. It will be a brutal march, but Tom Dunson is a man of enormous will. He will make it happen.

As the drive progresses and obstacles mount up, the men become sullen and restive, and Tom becomes increasingly obsessive and tyrannical: Captain Ahab in a saddle. When the men learn that they can drive the herd to Abilene, Kansas and avoid the Missouri border gangs, Tom will hear none of it. His mind is made up. Although the story began with Tom quitting the wagon train, when three men propose to quit the drive, Tom guns them down. Tom has no sense of being on equal footing with other men. When three more desert, Tom sends a gunslinger to retrieve them. One is killed and two return. Tom then says he is going the hang the deserters.

At this point, Matt leads a mutiny. They will take Tom’s herd to Abilene and leave Tom behind. Tom vows to kill Matt, and Matt believes him. Tyranny might have been necessary to create the ranch and start the drive. But men are not animals, and Matt’s more democratic style of management is necessary to finish it. As the men move closer to civilization, they begin taking on some of its features. And in this case, who can blame them?

 
• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Hollywood, Movies, Westerns 

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, Part 1 is now in theatres. I can’t recommend it. It isn’t terrible. It is merely mediocre. I found it dull to the eyes, grating to the ears, and a drag on my patience. Villeneuve spends 156 minutes and only gets halfway through the novel. David Lynch told the whole story in 137 minutes. Of course audiences are willing to sit through long movies if they are really good: Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, for instance. But this film isn’t in that league.

This is a pity, because Frank Herbert’s original novel, published in 1965, is one of the twentieth century’s great works of popular fiction, brilliantly synthesizing both the futurism of science fiction and the archaism of fantasy literature. Set more than 20,000 years in the future, Dune is the story of two noble houses fighting for control of the planet Arrakis or Dune, which is the sole source of the most valuable substance in the universe, a psychoactive drug known as “spice.” Dune and its five sequels have been read by millions, inspiring whole universes of fan art and fan fiction, as well as a number of screen adaptations, to say nothing of rip-offs like Star Wars.

The first screen adaptation was Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed production, which may have been the greatest movie never made. David Lynch’s 1984 Dune was a flop, but it is a brilliant movie and remains the best version. In 2000, the Sci-Fi Channel did a three-part Dune miniseries which was quite flawed. Its sequel, the Children of Dune miniseries (2003), dramatized Dune’s first two sequels, Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. It is excellent, despite its poor special effects.

A Dune movie is also politically significant. Frank Herbert’s vision of the future was deeply reactionary. He depicts a world where liberal democracy failed and has been replaced by a feudal imperium. In Herbert’s imperium, artificial intelligence has been destroyed as oppressive and remains under the iron ban of a syncretic form of Christianity. Computer technology is a great leveler. Without it, humanity must fall back on natural gifts, which are rare. To refine these gifts and make them more common, eugenics is practiced. Biological sex differences are recognized. Bureaucracies are disdained as repressive instruments of equality and fairness. The story of Leto II in Children of Dune and God Emperor of Dune is opposed to surveillance and empire in favor of freedom and pluralism. Herbert believed that mankind would never be safe unless we could free ourselves from the leveling gaze of a single, universal political order. (See my article on “The Golden Path.”)

Beyond that, Herbert has quite compelling reasons for his belief that liberal democracy will not take mankind to the stars and that mankind can only spread across the galaxy by returning to archaic social forms like hereditary monarchy, feudalism, and initiatic spiritual orders. (See my article “Archaeofuturist Fiction: Frank Herbert’s Dune.”)

Herbert’s vision of the future is also gloriously Eurocentric. His imperium is medieval Europe writ large, while his vision of Arrakis and its native people, the Fremen, is based on Arabia, i.e., the Near East—“near” in relation to Europe, that is.

Thus from a Right-wing, European identitarian viewpoint, it would be wonderful to have a really good movie to sell Herbert’s vision to a whole new generation.

It is always remarkable when the modern film industry adapts inherently reactionary literature like The Lord of the Rings, Dune, or—on a much lower level—the Twilight saga. Of course the industry would prefer to churn out stories in which whites, especially white men, are ritualistically humiliated and replaced by nonwhites and strong women. With inherently reactionary and Eurocentric stories, they have less room for propaganda.

Dune does have an anti-colonialist aspect, but that is Left-wing only if one ignores the fact that ethnic nationalism is anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist as well. Dune also involves a struggle for a scarce resource, but that lends itself to vulgar Leftist materialism only if one ignores the fact that the resource’s primary use is spiritual and that the imperium is ruled by honor-driven aristocrats and mystical initiates, not by merchants. Thus the best Villeneuve could do to subvert Dune is play up these aspects (e.g., in the opening narration), hope nobody asks questions, and stuff the cast with non-whites and strong women, lest Herbert’s fans think that race and sex differences actually matter.

Race clearly mattered to Herbert. He envisioned all of his characters as, if not European, at least as Caucasoid. The imperium is European. The Fremen people of Arrakis believed themselves descended from Egyptians. The only character with any hint of non-Caucasoid ancestry is Duncan Idaho, who was described as having high cheekbones and narrow eyes. Idaho, of course, is an American Indian name, so Herbert may have been hinting at some such ancestry. But Idaho also has wavy hair—likened to a karakul sheep—which is not an American Indian trait.

The earlier adaptations of Dune have been faithfully Eurocentric, in keeping with Herbert’s vision. Villeneuve’s new movie puts nonwhites in key roles.

The character of the Imperial Planetologist, Dr. Liet Kynes, was memorably portrayed by Max von Sydow in Lynch’s film. Here he is played by a very black woman (Sharon Duncan-Brewster). Villeneuve even invents a scene where she is a bit sassy before being swallowed by a giant sandworm. (It isn’t quite “Say hello to my little fren’,” but that’s the vibe they were driving for.)

Liet’s daughter Chani is played by a mulatto actress, Zendaya. (Villeneuve tries his best to make her glamorous, but with her flat nose and big lips, she’s a solid five.)

Half-Hawaiian bodybuilder/martial artist Jason Momoa plays Duncan Idaho and actually looks the part.

Doctor Wellington Yueh, despite his name, was not described as Oriental or cast that way in previous adaptations. Here he is played by a Chinaman.

Some minor Fremen characters are also blacked-up: Harah, the wife of Stilgar, is played by Gloria Obianyo. Jamis is played by Babs Olusanmokun.

Given that the villains, the Harkonnens, are depicted as bald headed and pasty white—with part-Filipino Dave Bautista in whiteface as Rabban—I feared that Villeneuve wished to turn Dune into a race-war between putatively racist whites and a coalition of non-whites and white race-mixers. But the movie blunts that message by making some of the villains nonwhite as well.

Near the beginning, Villeneuve invents a scene in which the Emperor’s herald proclaims the Atreides family stewards of Arrakis. The scene hints at the grandeur of the imperium and the ethos of the Atreides, but its main purpose seems to be to put a very strange looking black man in a prominent role as the Emperor’s herald. But the Emperor is one of the bad guys.

Later in the movie, the Oriental doctor Yueh turns out to be a traitor.

 
• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Hollywood, Movies, Science Fiction 

No Time to Die is an excellent Bond film. It belongs in the company of Casino Royale and Skyfall and quite self-consciously reaches for the heights of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which is arguably the best Bond film ever.

I was especially looking forward to No Time to Die because—although it is very much a minority opinion—my favorite Bond actor is Daniel Craig. (Timothy Dalton is my next favorite, although he only played the role twice and only one of his films, License to Kill, is first-rate.) Neither Craig nor Dalton is the best-looking Bond, but they are both excellent actors who give the character some soul. Fleming’s Bond is arguably a sociopath, but one can’t say the same about Dalton’s Bond and especially Craig’s.

No Time to Die is Craig’s fifth and final Bond film and seems to bring the Bond saga to an end. But fear not, there will always be new Bond films. The whole series could be “rebooted,” but it would be far preferable to simply do “prequels.” I very much hope Tom Hardy is the next James Bond and that Christopher Nolan takes a turn or two as director.

The story arc of Craig’s five Bond films is now clear: from orphan with half-understood entanglements with surrogate parents in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, to a return to his ancestral home with a surrogate family (Judy Dench’s M and Albert Finney’s Kincade) in Skyfall, to an encounter with his foster brother—including sibling rivalries and cuckoldry—in Spectre, to Bond’s attempt to form a family of his own with Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux) in No Time to Die. It is the family themes—especially in Casino Royale, Skyfall, and No Time to Die—that allow Craig to tap into and communicate real emotional depth and power.

There are many strong performances in this film. The best is Daniel Craig’s. Léa Seydoux is also excellent as Madeline. Rami Malek is a very effective villain. It is odd casting an Egyptian as a Russian, but it is not the first time it has happened. (See Dr. Zhivago.) The script by longtime Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade is well-constructed, making use of aspects of Fleming’s Bond mythos that have not yet been incorporated into the movies. Some aspects of the villain’s ultimate plot left me puzzled, but that is a minor problem. Half-white, half-Japanese America Cary Joji Fukunaga is an artful and effective director. The movie is well-paced, despite the long running time, and the action sequences are extremely well-done and often grittily realistic, especially the aftereffects of explosions on Bond. There’s some humor—especially Ana de Armas as Paloma who is cutely awkward—but no camp. I usually don’t notice Hans Zimmer’s music at all, but in No Time to Die, it is sometimes excellent, including a passage near the end that made me think of Arvo Pärt. (His best score remains Interstellar.) The theme song by Billie Eilish remains a snoozer, which is sad, because the themes for Casino Royale, Skyfall, and Spectre were so good.

Of course the big question is whether or not No Time to Die is “woke.” Relax. The answer is: No, not by the standard of other Bond films, which have a long history of diversity casting and race-mixing. There was a media manufactured “scandal” about casting a very black woman, Lashana Lynch, as the new 007. But she merely got Bond’s number when he retired. As Bond points out in the film, “It’s just a number.”

In some ways, No Time to Die is actually less woke than earlier Bond films. I am sure nobody will complain of a “spoiler” if I reveal that Bond doesn’t end up sleeping with Lynch’s character, which is interesting, since Bond has bedded black women in the movies starting fifty years ago with Live and Let Die. In A View to a Kill, he ended up in bed with Grace Jones, who is far scarier than Lashana Lynch.

As I predicted in my article on the trailers for No Time to Die, the claims that this movie is especially “woke” were simply a cheap publicity stunt, perhaps intended to trigger racists on the internet to give the movie free publicity. You’ve been had. But don’t be angry. Just be flattered. They did it because they know we have power.

 
• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Hollywood, James Bond, Movies 

When I first saw Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987), it struck me as a remake of Doctor Zhivago. Both narratives begin in glamorous and archaic empires that fall to Communist revolutions. Of course, that could just be due to the fact that the Chinese Revolution was something of a remake of the Russian Revolution. But there are parallels specific to the two films, both of which depict Communism as recapitulating the old forms of despotism but as vulgar and brutal farces, stripped of all refinement. Both films also end on a note of hope. But what gives cause for hope is the reemergence of precisely what Communism sought to abolish. Thus both Doctor Zhivago and The Last Emperor are not just anti-Communist films, they are reactionary anti-Communist films. But in the case of The Last Emperor, this is hard to square with the fact that director Bertolucci was himself a Communist.

The Last Emperor tells the story of Puyi, who became the last emperor of the Qing dynasty in 1908 at the age of two. He was deposed in 1912 after China became a republic, which nobody bothered to tell him. He was allowed to rule on as emperor within the Forbidden City of Beijing, from which he was expelled in 1924. He then took refuge in Tientsin, where he plotted to regain his throne. Eventually, he threw in with the Japanese, in 1932 becoming the head of state of Manchukuo, the name given to Japanese-occupied Manchuria. In 1934, he was crowned emperor of Manchukuo. In 1945, he was captured by the Red Army. In 1950, he was turned over to the People’s Republic of China for trial and rehabilitation. In 1959, he was declared rehabilitated and released. He spent the rest of his life as a worker and citizen in the People’s Republic of China. He died of cancer in 1967.

The Last Emperor is based primarily on Puyi’s 1964 autobiography, From Emperor to Citizen. The script was written by Bertlolucci and his brother-in-law Mark Peploe. The Last Emperor was the first Western film to be shot within the Forbidden City. The cast included John Lone as the adult Puyi, Joan Chen as his Empress Wanrong, and Peter O’Toole as his tutor Reginald Johnston. Ryuichi Sakamoto played Japanese agent Masahiko Amakasu and composed the bulk of the music. There were nearly 20,000 extras. The Last Emperor was a critical success. It also did well in theaters, despite its 163-minute running time. It won nine Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, as well as many other awards.

The Last Emperor works simply as a dazzling, exotic costume drama. It is astonishing to learn that at the dawn of the twentieth century, China was ruled by an absolute monarchy that had not changed much in more than 2,000 years. The emperor was revered as a quasi-divine being who mediated between heaven and earth, a conduit by which higher order infused a world perpetually haunted by chaos. The emperors had multiple wives and were attended by an army of eunuchs, who were not only castrated but had their sexual organs entirely removed, usually when they were children. The only intact man who could sleep in the palace was the emperor. When the emperors died, they were bedecked in jewels and entombed like pharaohs.

But it gets stranger yet. Even though the emperors had absolute power, they were little more than prisoners. They were never alone and were not allowed to do anything for themselves. This is dramatized most effectively on Puyi’s wedding night, when besides the empress, he was attended by six ladies in waiting who disrobed them as discreetly as possible.

Beyond that, the emperor had no contact with the world other than his courtiers and eunuchs, who used their control of information to shape policies. When a teenaged Puyi took on a Scotsman, Reginald Johnston, as his tutor, he knew almost nothing of world history or geography. The courtiers were so opposed to anything modern that they tried to veto eyeglasses for their nearsighted emperor.

However, this system became most bizarre when children became emperors. Child rulers are inevitable in monarchies, but they also reduce it to absurdity.

Hereditary monarchy has many benefits. Every social order needs a supreme executive. In normal circumstances, laws can be enforced and policies can be executed by bureaucrats, police, and judges. But in exceptional circumstances, where decisions cannot be based on settled laws and practices, executives need some discretionary power. And when the entire system is threatened by exceptional circumstances, one needs a chief executive who can decide what to do.

Sometimes terrible things have to be done to preserve society. Rioters need to be shot, for instance. But in such circumstances, ordinary policemen and officials fear to do what is necessary because their offices are conditional, and they can be blamed and punished for their missteps. Thus it is important for there to be someone who can take full responsibility during a crisis. Such a decision-maker cannot answer to any other mortal. He must be guided only by his sense of what is required by the common good. And since the common good can sometimes require killing, the decider must be immune from punishment for his actions. In short, the whole political order depends on a decision-maker who is above the law and immune to it.

An executive who can be removed from office, however, cannot employ unpopular measures even to save the nation. Thus the best executive rules for life.

But how does he attain his office? If an executive is elected—especially if the election falls during a crisis—he cannot risk doing anything unpopular either, even if it is necessary to preserve society. Thus the best executive cannot be chosen, for that means he is beholden to those who choose him, not to the public good. The best executive, therefore, must simply be born. (Or he can be chosen by lottery.) Hereditary monarchy is thus one of the best ways to confer the fullest package of executive powers.

Unfortunately, it often confers such powers upon unworthy parties. For when ultimate authority, responsibility, and immunity from punishment are reposed in the hands of a child—who is unable to understand statecraft and make decisions for himself and who cannot be held responsible for his actions, much less the actions of his underlings—monarchy becomes a farce. Decisions have to be made by other people—regents—who lack the ultimate authority or immunity of the sovereign.

The last three Chinese emperors were children when they were crowned. During the reign of the first two—the Tongzhi Emperor and the Guangxu Emperor—power was largely in the hands of the Dowager Empress Xixi, the mother of the former and the aunt of the latter. When the Guangxu Emperor began to reform China, Xixi overthrew him in a palace coup and went back to running the country. When Xixi was dying, the Guangxu Emperor was poisoned. Puyi was placed on the throne, under the control of Xixi’s faction, so that no reforms could take place even after her death.

But a new level of farce was reached in 1912, when Puyi’s regents abdicated in his name—and didn’t even bother to tell him. After all, he was a child. He wouldn’t understand. Under the articles of abdication, Puyi remained emperor within the walls of the Forbidden City. The rituals of the court continued unaltered, although they were now completely detached from the mechanisms of government.

 
• Category: Arts/Letters, History • Tags: China, Hollywood, Movies 

David Lean’s epic anti-Communist romance Doctor Zhivago (1965) is a great and serious work of art. Doctor Zhivago was initially panned by the critics—probably not because it is a bad film, but because it was very bad for Communism. Nevertheless, it was immensely popular. It is still one of the highest grossing movies of all time, adjusted for inflation. It also won five Oscars—for Best Adapted Screenplay (Robert Bolt), Best Original Score (Maurice Jarre), Best Cinematography (Freddie Young), Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. (It was nominated for five other Oscars, but The Sound of Music won four of them, including Best Picture and Best Director.) Over the years, critics have also warmed to Doctor Zhivago, routinely including it in their “best” lists.

If Doctor Zhivago had been the work of most directors, it would have been hailed as their greatest film. But Doctor Zhivago was directed by David Lean, who had just directed one of the greatest films of all time, Lawrence of Arabia (1962). So Doctor Zhivago was bound to suffer somewhat from the comparison. But what’s really remarkable about Doctor Zhivago is how little it disappoints.

The greatness of Lean’s film comes into even sharper focus when you read Boris Pasternak’s original novel. Pasternak was born in Imperial Russia in 1890 to a cultivated, upper-class Jewish family. His father was a painter, his mother a pianist. He achieved fame as a poet but fell out of favor with the Soviet Communist party, found publication blocked, and ended up supporting himself as a translator, writing during his off hours “for the drawer.”

Pasternak started Doctor Zhivago in the 1920s and finished it in 1956. It was smuggled out of the USSR by a dissident Italian Communist and published in 1957 in Italian translation. The first Russian edition of Doctor Zhivago was published in 1958 by the US Central Intelligence Agency, which sought to embarrass the Soviets by painting them as repressive cultural philistines who refused to publish one of those great Russian novels that few people manage to finish. Pasternak and Zhivago became a liberal cause célèbre. In 1958, Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he refused under duress from the Soviet government. He died in 1960.

As a lover of the film, I expected to like the novel. I wanted to like the novel. But I found it surprisingly boring: a sprawling, flaccid story cluttered with useless and forgettable characters and digressions. Everything goes on much too long. It also seems unstructured. Good stories are unified from end to end. They have spines. But Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago is a spineless blob, held together with a tissue of increasingly unlikely accidents, as the main characters—in a Moscow of millions, in an empire of tens of millions—keep bumping into one another.

As a critique of Communism, Pasternak’s novel is unfocused and superficial. We gather that Communism created chaos and unleashed ugliness and nihilism. But we don’t really get a sense of why. Pasternak renders surfaces in a wordy, impressionistic blur. But when he tries to go deep, he comes out with lines like this: “art is always, ceaselessly, occupied with two things. It constantly reflects on death and thereby constantly creates life.” It sounds profound, but it is verbose, woolly-minded, and just isn’t true.

Finally, the main character of Yuri Zhivago, a doctor and poet, is not particularly likeable. Thus it comes as a shock when one learns that Zhivago was Pasternak himself in thin disguise. The man must have loathed himself.

But I can’t justly review Pasternak’s novel, because like many readers, I tapped out before the end. On second thought, that is my review.

A great deal of the credit for turning Pasternak’s mediocre novel into a great movie goes to screenwriter Robert Bolt, who also wrote the screenplay for Lawrence of Arabia, as well as the stage play and screen adaptation of A Man for All Seasons. Bolt removes needless characters and digressions, giving the story more of a spine. He also renders the horrors of Communism more crisply, giving greater insight into why they happened—and what the alternative is.

I will sketch out the film’s basic plot, but I will skip over most of the details, leaving much to first-time viewers to discover. Yuri Zhivago is an orphan raised in Moscow by his wealthy godparents, the Gromekos. He is a gifted poet who has chosen medicine as a career. Just before the First World War, Yuri marries Tonya, the Gromekos’ daughter, with whom he grew up. When the war begins, Yuri becomes a doctor at the front. After the Revolution, Yuri returns home to find the Gromekos living in one room of their mansion, the rest of which has been given over to seedy proletarians. Moscow is in the grip of the Red terror. Typhus and starvation are rampant.

Worse yet, Yuri is “not liked.” His attitudes “have been noticed.” His poetry has been deemed too “private” and “bourgeois.” He does not conform to the party line, which increasingly consists of managing Communism’s failures through lies, excuses, and scapegoating. Yuri’s half-brother, Yevgraf, is a Bolshevik secret policeman. He knows Yuri and his family will not survive what is coming (we are now around the winter of 1919) and arranges for them to leave Moscow for the Urals, where they live in a cottage on the Gromekos’ former estate.

While in the Urals, Tonya becomes pregnant with their second child, while Yuri begins an affair with Larissa (“Lara”) Antipova, a young woman he met in Moscow and again at the front. Yuri is then torn away from both women by a band of Red partisans, who need a doctor and simply kidnap him. Two years later, Yuri manages to return to find the Gromekos have left Russia. He is reunited with Lara briefly but separated again. Lara, it turns out, is carrying his child. Both die some years later without ever being reunited, just two of the many millions of lives blighted and destroyed by a monstrous ideological enthusiasm.

The cast of Doctor Zhivago is uniformly strong. Casting an Egyptian Arab, Omar Sharif, as a Russian poet seemed odd to some. He doesn’t look like Hollywood’s idea of a typical Russian. (Originally, the role was offered to Peter O’Toole.) But the character of Zhivago was based on Pasternak, who didn’t look typically Russian either.

The main problem bringing the character of Zhivago to the screen is conveying that he is a poet without actually including any of his poetry. Lean solved this problem brilliantly, perhaps by borrowing a bit from Michael Powell’s The Red Shoes where composer Julian Craster suddenly goes blank while we hear the music in his head. Lean asked Sharif to look as detached and absent-minded as possible—a pure spectator—while Maurice Jarre’s brilliant music (his greatest score) communicates his flights of poetic imagination.

Julie Christie as Lara is so beautiful I don’t think that the cast had to pretend to be in love with her, and her performance is excellent. Alec Guinness as Yevgraf, Tom Courtenay as Pasha, Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie’s daughter) as Tonya Gromeko, Ralph Richardson as her father Alexander, and Siobhán McKenna as her mother Anna all turn in strong performances. Klaus Kinsky has a memorable bit part as an anarchist turned into a slave laborer. But the most compelling performance is Rod Steiger as V. I. Komarovksy. He has many of the film’s best lines. I wouldn’t exactly call him a villain, although he’s far from pure. Let’s just say that he’s very much alive.

 
• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Hollywood, Movies 

Brad Bird is the director of three classic animated films: The Iron Giant (1999), The Incredibles (2004), and Ratatouille (2007), as well as the blockbuster sequel The Incredibles 2 (2018). The Incredibles is a superhero film that also pays affectionate homage to the spy movies of the 1960s, especially classic Bond. I also classify The Incredibles as a classic of Right-wing cinema because it is explicitly anti-egalitarian and also promotes healthy family values.

Bob Parr is a Nordic bodybuilder who dons cape and mask to fight crime and save lives as the superhero Mr. Incredible. He’s enormously strong and virtually indestructible. His wife Helen is known to the public as the superheroine Elastigirl. Her body is infinitely flexible. She can elongate her limbs or flatten out like a parachute or sail. Their superpowers coincide with traditional masculine and feminine archetypes. He’s hard and brutal. She’s soft and flexible.

The Parrs, however, are forced to hang up their capes when the public turns against superheroes and demands that they be banned. They aren’t banned for being vigilantes, mind you. Instead, they keep getting sued: sued for damages inflicted when they battle supervillains, even sued for saving a suicidal man. A sensible society would indemnify superheroes from such lawsuits, for the greater good. But instead, they are forced to stop helping society. Of course this law does nothing to ban supervillains, whose activities would inevitably increase without opposition. Before you dismiss the whole premise as absurd, ask yourself how it differs from the “defund the police” movement in major American cities.

The Parrs settle down and have three kids, Violet, Dash, and the baby Jak Jak. Both Violet and Dash have superpowers like their folks. Bob has a boring and alienating job in an insurance company. He’s gotten fat. Helen is a stay-at-home mom. Bob and his black buddy Lucius, also known as the superhero Frozone, go out once a week and listen to a police scanner, hoping to relive the old times by battling evil.

Bob gets fired from the insurance company and approached by a mysterious defense contractor who needs a superhero to subdue a rogue battle robot, the Omnidroid. Bob handily defeats the Omnidroid and is happy to be a hero again. He begins working out and getting his edge back.

Unfortunately, Bob’s mysterious benefactor turns out to be a new supervillain who has been using superheroes as test subjects to refine the Omnidroid. Most of them have been killed in the process. Once the Omnidroid has been perfected, Syndrome plans to unleash it on Metroville, then come to the “rescue” as a new superhero who styles himself “Syndrome.” (The “hero syndrome” refers to a form of manipulative behavior in which a person creates a crisis and then comes to the rescue.)

Fortunately, the whole Parr family comes together to use their superpowers to defeat Syndrome and the Omnidroid. Hence Mr. Incredible, who used to work alone, becomes part of a team, the Incredibles.

The music, mid-century modern design, sets, and gadgets of The Incredibles teem with delightful homages to the spy films of the 1960s. An homage, of course, has to fall short of an outright rip-off. But major plot elements of The Incredibles strike me as an outright rip-off of Watchmen. In both stories, superheroes are forced into retirement, hanker for the old life, and return to it surreptitiously. In both stories, the villain does not have superpowers, but he uses technological enhancements to make himself powerful and is willing to share those enhancements with anyone who can pay. Both villains also create crises to achieve their ends. Both stories even share a gag with capes. Brad Bird, however, denies having read Watchmen, a statement that I find . . . incredible.

Not only are Bob and Helen archetypically masculine and feminine characters as superheroes, they also have a traditional family in which Bob works and Helen stays at home to raise their three children. To underscore just how “problematic” this all is from a feminist viewpoint, at the beginning of the film, we see an interview clip with Helen as Elastigirl: “Settle down? Are you kidding? I’m at the top of my game! I’m right up there with the big dogs! Girls, come on. Leave the saving of the world to the men? I don’t think so! I don’t think so.” I guess she just hadn’t met Mr. Incredible yet. And although we can credit the government with forcing Helen out of the superhero profession, there’s nothing stopping her from getting some other kind of job. Are we to conclude she just preferred being a mother?

The Incredibles is most famous, however, for its frankly anti-egalitarian sentiments, and rejection of equality is the dividing line between the Left and the Right. The government has demanded that superheroes stop using their superpowers and fit in with the rest of us. This means that young Dash Parr can’t join the track team, because he is super-fast:

Dash: You always say, “Do your best.” But you don’t really mean it. Why can’t I do the best that I can do?

Helen: Right now, honey, the world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in, we just gotta be like everybody else.

Dash: Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of. Our powers made us special.

Helen: Everyone’s special, Dash.

Dash: Which is another way of saying no one is.

Bob is indignant that Dash’s elementary school now has a “graduation” ceremony for passing from the fourth to the fifth grades: “It’s psychotic. They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity but if someone is genuinely exceptional, then . . .”

Many viewers think that The Incredibles was influenced by Ayn Rand: first, because of the anti-egalitarian sentiments; second, because Ayn Rand herself makes an appearance in the movie as designer Edna Mode, who lives in a hypermodern house with monumental classical Greek décor and smokes cigarettes in a long holder. She’s absolutely hilarious and steals the whole show.

But this is a false inference. Ayn Rand is not the only anti-egalitarian thinker. Moreover, Edna Mode is not based on Ayn Rand but on Edith Head, the great Hollywood designer. (“Edna” is a contraction of “Edith Head,” and “Mode” is French for fashion.) Brad Bird admits that he read Rand when he was young but denies her influence on the film. However, he openly admits to modeling Mode on Head. Beyond all that, the movie’s philosophy isn’t particularly Randian.

The main conflict in the film is between those who are born with special gifts (including knowledge) and those who lack them. As Helen says to her daughter Violet: “You have more power than you realize. Don’t think. And don’t worry. If the time comes, you’ll know what to do. It’s in your blood.” The emphasis on heredity and instinct puts The Incredibles much closer to Nietzsche than Rand.

Ayn Rand, after all, denied that mankind has any inborn knowledge or skills. She was a firm believer in the blank slate, although with a special twist: she believed that the blank slate could inscribe itself, that “man is a being of self-made soul.” (Being one’s own cause [causa sui], is a metaphysical trait usually attributed to God, not man.)

If Rand believes that human beings are born blank slates, she is committed to the thesis that we are all born equal, i.e., blank. What, then, explains our differences? For Rand, it is will. Some people try harder than others. (Don’t ask why some people try harder than others, because the will is free.)

 
• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Hollywood, Movies 

Michael Powell’s The Red Shoes (1948) is his greatest work and one of my all-time favorite films. The Red Shoes is a work of art about art. The central characters of The Red Shoes are ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (brilliantly played by Anton Walbrook), ballerina Victoria Page (acted and danced by Moira Shearer), and composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring, who was much too old for the role and looks ridiculous smoking a cigarette but is otherwise adequate).

Page and Craster are young talents who are drawn into the creative vortex of Lermontov’s company, rise quickly to stardom, then fall in love with one another and fall out with Lermontov. A happy ending seems, however, to be in the offing until the screenwriter contrives a perversely tragic finale in which Vicky Page dies. Both Lermontov and Craster live on, but they are utterly destroyed as human beings.

The Red Shoes doesn’t just dance around its subject—focusing on personalities, the creative process, and backstage romance—it actually puts ballet on the screen, most spectacularly in the form of a 17-minute original ballet based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale “The Red Shoes,” with music by Brian Easdale, set design by Hein Heckroth, and choreography by the great Robert Helpmann and Léonide Massine, who also dance in the ballet and play the roles of Ivan Boleslawsky and Grischa Ljubov in the film.

The core of The Red Shoes is the character of Boris Lermontov, loosely based on the great Russian ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev and unforgettably brought to life by Anton Walbrook. Lermontov is brilliant, charismatic, and utterly devoted to ballet, which he regards as his “religion.” He can be domineering, autocratic, brooding, and sometimes brutally frank. But his most outstanding traits are the elegant manners, sensitive diplomacy, and affectionate fatherliness with which he manages his team of highly-strung and egotistical artists.

A great deal of the charm of The Red Shoes is watching Lermontov’s creative family in action: Page, Craster, and Grischa as well as designer Sergei Ratov (played by the great German actor Albert Bassermann) and conductor Livingstone “Livy” Montague (played by Esmond Knight). Each day ends as one by one they bid him a fond “Goodnight, Boris.”

Two of the best scenes—where Craster rehearses an orchestra, correcting a wrong note in the process, and where he introduces his original music for The Red Shoes ballet—were actually based on episodes in the process of creating the movie itself.

The Red Shoes is about the relationship between art and life. Early in the film, they are likened to one another, because they are both compulsions:

Lermontov: Why do you want to dance?

Vicky: Why do you want to live?

Lermontov: Well, I don’t know exactly why, but I must.

Vicky: That’s my answer too.

But if art and life are both compulsions, then they can conflict with one another. Even in the best of circumstances, artistic excellence can only be achieved by dominating the body and its desires, sublimating some, suppressing others. As Lermontov puts it, artistic excellence can only be achieved by a “great agony of body and spirit.”

But beauty and excellence can easily become all-consuming obsessions that don’t just dominate life but destroy it, a danger represented by the red shoes. In one of the best scenes in the movie, Lermontov summarizes the story of The Red Shoes ballet to Craster, who will compose the music:

The ballet of The Red Shoes is from the fairy tale by Hans Andersen. It is the story of a girl who’s devoured by an ambition to attend a dance in a pair of red shoes. She gets the shoes, goes to the dance. At first, all goes well, and she’s very happy. At the end of the evening, she gets tired and wants to go home. But the red shoes are not tired. In fact, the red shoes are never tired. They dance her out into the streets. They dance her over the mountains and valleys through fields and forests, through night and day. Time rushes by. Love rushes by. Life rushes by. But the red shoes dance on.

Lermontov is practically in a state of rapture when he completes his synopsis.

“What happens in the end?” asks Craster.

“Oh, in the end, she dies,” says Lermontov, as if it were an afterthought.

The Hans Christian Andersen tale is more about sin and addiction to sensual pleasures, whereas in the film the red shoes represent the sacrifice of life to the obsessive pursuit of beauty.

Later in the film, after the successful debut of The Red Shoes ballet, Lermontov explains his ambitions for her career and offers Vicky a Mephistophelean choice:

Lermontov: I want to create, to make something big out of something little, to make a great dancer out of you. But first, I must ask you the same question: What do you want from life? To live?

Vicky: To dance.

Near the end of the film, Lermontov comforts a heartbroken Vicky with the words, “Life is so unimportant”—unimportant compared to art, that is.

Part of life is love, marriage, and family. Lermontov is particularly dismissive of ballerinas who allow these considerations to interfere with their art. First, it leads him to dismiss his prima ballerina Irina Boronskaja (Ludmilla Tchérina):

I’m not interested in Boronskaja’s form anymore . . . nor in the form of any other prima ballerina who’s imbecile enough to get married. . . . She’s out, finished. You cannot have it both ways. The dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love will never be a great dancer. Never.

(This episode seems to be based on Diaghilev’s decision to fire Vaslav Nijinsky when he got married.)

Lermontov then begins to groom Vicky to replace Boronskaja. When Lermontov learns that Vicky and Julian have fallen in love, he tries to break them up, driving Craster to quit on the assumption that Vicky will stay. But instead she leaves as well.

It is tempting to believe that Lermontov was acting out of sexual jealously. His body language with Vicky in one scene is quite intimate. Also, before he learns of Vicky’s relationship with Craster, he seems to wish to ask her on a date, although it may simply be to discuss business. Earlier in the film, Vicky thinks that Lermontov has invited her on a date, which she eagerly accepts, dressing up like a princess. But it turns out to be just a business meeting. Only when it becomes apparent that Lermontov is entirely focused on his work does she notice Craster. Craster accuses Lermontov of jealousy. He agrees, but says it is not sexual. He may be telling the truth. After all, there’s no hint of sexual interest in Boronskaja, yet he rejects her for getting married as well. It might indeed be just about his single-minded devotion to ballet.

In another brilliant, brooding scene, Lermontov comes to the realization that he has been a fool. (Note that Lermontov, always the impresario, adjusts the lighting, finds his mark, and assumes a pose before inviting people into a room.) Then Lermontov decides to approach Boronskaja, who is still happily married, and lure her back on stage. Boris has obviously concluded that art and life—in particular, married life—need not conflict. A year later, he manages to lure Vicky back on stage to dance The Red Shoes again.

 
• Category: Arts/Letters • Tags: Hollywood, Movies 
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