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Vertigo (1958)
Freudian Concepts and Their Ultimate Failure
10 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
By 1958 psychology was so pervasive that Freudian concepts presented in the film were taken as a given. Hitchcock innovated by tapping into the beginning of popular skepticism about the limits of this profession, and its practitioners. Scottie cures his vertigo, notably without the intervention of a therapist. After Madeleine's death, members of the psychoanalytic community attack Scottie for allowing someone to die and for running away. Gavin comforts him saying, "there is no way for them to understand. You and I know who killed Madeleine." While the film reveals a fascination with uncovering the mysteries of the mind, the validation of psychoanalytic concepts embodies the whole of the film rather than investing in the representation of the psychologist.

Vertigo has no clear narrative sequence, presenting its plot line through stream-of-consciousness, structured like the talking cure. Episodes are strung together as Scottie himself discovers and makes sense of the events. After he witnesses Madeleine's death, the movie is seen through his perspective, and events are revealed to the audience as they would be to a therapist. This structure validates the concept of therapy in everyday life.

The film explores obsession. In the beginning of the film, Kim Novak plays a woman obsessed with the spirit of a dead ancestor. After her supposed death, Scottie becomes obsessed with the image of her. His libidinal energy is invested so heavily in the remembrance of Madeleine, that Scottie cannot love Judy the way she begs to be loved. This inability references Freud's belief in the economics of love, which work on a scarcity principle.

Related to Scottie's obsession is the phallocentric gaze of the camera, seen through Scottie's eyes. The clearest example of this Freudian subtext of latent sexuality is the Coit Tower, a recurrent phallus, standing proud against the San Francisco skyline. When Scottie has the naked Madeleine in his bed, the Tower is visible through his apartment window. It is Scottie's insignia, and Madeleine uses it to navigate by, saying, "it led me straight to you." Whenever Madeleine is lost to him, Coit vanishes. When she re-enters his life, the Tower reappears. The film's twin climaxes take place in the equally phallic church tower of San Juan Batiste. Hemingway wrote about penile tumescence, "to a man in that portentous state, all objects look different. They are... more mysterious, and vaguely blurred." Thus, when Scottie follows Madeleine into the graveyard, the scene is shot in soft focus, and when Judy's transformation at the salon is complete, she walks towards him in an eerie green mist. The film validates latent sexuality in its main focus on obsessive love.

The film also destabilizes the conception of identity in a typically Freudian way. It is a study of flawed characters. Judy is not really Madeleine and yet once she is made over, she is not truly Judy either. Freud's works destabilized people by telling them they did not know who they really were and that there were unconscious functions that motivated them that they couldn't control.

Finally, Scottie believes in the power of psychology to release a person's guilt or fear. He tells Madeleine, "once you see the house you will remember when you saw it before and it will destroy your dream." Later, he drives Judy to the crime scene, saying "there is one final thing I have to do and then I will be free of the past." He has an energetic belief in the release of dreams once they are recalled. Because of time constraints, Hitchcock condenses the psychoanalytic process, but the guilt, longing and melancholy pervading the story reveal the serious, transformative power of Scottie's illness.

Despite the insertion and validation of many Freudian concepts, Vertigo reveals the main failing of psychoanalysis. It cannot remedy love. Circular symbolism links Scottie to his love of Judy/ Madeleine in both her life and demise. This circular imagery opening the film symbolizes Scottie's vertigo, also appearing in Carlotta's hair in the painting, again in Madeleine's hair, the bouquet of flowers suggests the pattern, and the story itself is circular in structure. Every event that happened in the first half of the film repeats in the second, including the death of his love. The locations of the movie follow this pattern, twice spiraling outward from the heart of San Francisco. Characters come full circle with their tragic destinies. Scottie follows Madeleine the night after he rescues her, through the same San Francisco streets, baffled as she leads him to his own house, to himself. Judy's death may symbolize Scottie's own (emotional) death. This connection is clear in Scottie's dream when he looks down at Madeleine's grave and sees his own face spiraling, showing that when he lost her, he lost himself.

One thing often overlooked is the emotional heights that Scottie is more afraid to fall from than tangible heights. When he does fall in love, and realizes to what depths he's been tricked, he growls "you shouldn't have been that sentimental" presumably about Judy's necklace, but really about his own reconstructed fantasy of Madeleine. As they climb the stairs, Scottie overcomes his fear of heights and confronts his emotional downfall, in the form of Judy, the personification of both his previous weaknesses.

Vertigo is about wanting to achieve the ultimate love, and never having love turn out the way we want it to. As we watch Judy refuse to become Madeleine, Hitchcock prompts us to confront our own fixations with superficiality. However, it is not a movie about voyeurism, but rather crafting and molding people to resemble our fantasies, seizing back control from a world which has gone mad. Hitchcock is rare in seeing that psychology is not always the answer to people's problems. He respected the profession and premised many of his films on Freudian concepts, but he also held a pessimistic view of humanity. One psychologist, no matter how knowledgeable, cannot cure the basic troubles of man… namely, love and loss.
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Unzipped (1995)
A Feminist Reading
10 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
While not ostensibly about the place of women in contemporary society, the images of Unzipped represent the tension and dichotomy of two extreme conceptions of women: the hyper-feminine sex object, and the successful, masculine career-women. The film unfolds through the male gaze, violates the space between public and private, legitimates female subjugation, and upholds stereotypes of both extreme conceptions of "women."

The camera's view of attractive females makes them sex objects by its leering, sexual viewpoint. The opening clip depicts a woman pulling a dress over her pantied buttocks. The camera focuses on the blond smiling reporter when she questions Isaac about the theme of his show, instead of his reply. It objectifies the female body by explicitly focusing on body parts such as navel, feet, and breasts, rather than the human face. This lack of respect displays the core value of females in a patriarchal society to be sexual in nature. The title alludes to a scene of Isaac unzipping a woman's outfit all the way under her crotch. The unconscious thrust of the film is the male control over female sexual depictions.

Males have a public business role and an unarticulated private one, whereas the film consistently shows the models' familial or social lives intruding on their professional lives. In Naomi Campbell's first fitting, Isaac teases her about her engagement. During the second fitting, she receives a social phone call. A model complains in an interview about her husband waiting for her at home, and behind the scenes at the show, the camera focuses on Cindy Crawford talking with partner Richard Gere. The most blatant violation of public and private spheres is the scrim the models change behind at the show, sexualizing their work. The audience sees the chaos, quick changes and naked bodies that are not typically intended for the public. Even while Isaac is asking the women if they would mind being seen in a bra and underwear for the show, the camera captures them in exactly these garments for the film. Ostensibly for artistic effect, the scrim and the chosen clips for the film add to the unstable nature of women in the work force.

The film legitimates the subjugation of women in several ways. Isaac wonders how much it costs to book the "girls." Later, he says he's not suggesting that they be seen changing; he doesn't "give a sh*t if they want to do it, because they are gonna have to." The fact that his wishes prevail displays the male power to force women to conform to social or economic pressure. By not crediting the models as they appear on screen, the producers objectify and dehumanize them. When the viewer sees two people ripping a woman on the floor between them to remove her high-heeled boots, it's symbolic of her social struggle for equality, torn between two male conceptions of her.

Male stereotypes of women tend towards the two extremes of sex kitten or professional woman. Eartha Kitt tells a story of how Orson Welles bit her neck and pushed her aside "like a little mouse." Making cat sounds, she emphasizes the animalistic, sexual nature of her undulating body. Naomi's nipples show through her tee-shirt while she wears the jacket of a beast; she's eroticized while looking like an animal. The sex kitten, embodied by the models, is also concerned about appearances. Backstage, the camera captures hair being curled, makeup being applied, and the pain of eyebrow-tweezing. When an interviewer asks a model about the difficulties of being glamorous, her work is framed in terms of appearance... while the camera focuses on Isaac working under her skirt, reminding the viewer she is a sexual object. The models themselves are vocal about their concerns. Cindy Crawford says, "you're a little close. My pores are not that small." Linda Evangelista screeches, "I must be out of my f*cking mind undressing next to the two best bodies in the business." Here we see concern about body image and appearances, and a reference to other women as bodies, a clear example of the subjugation of the female to a patriarchal order. The navels and bare breasts reveal more about the women's bodies, and public depictions of them, than the clothes Isaac has fashioned to cover them.

On the other extreme, emasculated, professional women may be seen as the positive standard of the new woman to which all media should aspire. Whereas the models have no cited names, the professionals have a title when they appear on-screen. Supposedly, they earn respect from the camera that views each of them as a person not a body; however, these successful women are denied independence, as they are always in the frame with Isaac. The professionals are also stripped of all femininity. Polly Mellon, Candy Pratt and Sandra Bernhard all have gruff sounding voices and wear man-tailored shirts and suit jackets. They co-opt the male power system to gain respect and take away the threat of women in the work force. They are denied a gendered identity, even while they are still denied complete equality with men. They are seen on the phone, eating or talking, never behind a desk like Isaac. Successful women gain respect, but not to the extent that they are feminine.

This is no longer a film about fashion, or even a look behind the scenes of a show, but rather a portrayal of women. Nina asks Isaac why he distracts the audience with a scrim, because the clothes look so good. Its real purpose is to access the models' bodies, having nothing to do with fashion design. Women are either viewed as sexual objects, or men in women's bodies, both of these depictions narrow and incomplete. The sign systems for fashion and female identity become entangled and inseparable. Through the camera's male gaze, the violation of public and private, and the advocacy of stereotypes, women continue to be devalued and unjustly portrayed.
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Tootsie (1982)
Eighties Feminism = Gender Confusion & Homosexual Fear
10 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Tootsie, like Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night, explores the nature of attraction between people of the same and of different sexes. The film was produced in the early eighties when the feminist movement had already challenged and changed many institutions, rapidly closing the gender discrepancy in the work force. Because of this supposed sexual equality, viewers' attention focused on relationships between the sexes. Tootsie is concerned with the impact of fluid gender identity on relationships. If there is no meaningful distinction between the sexes, than there exists a threat of homosexual relationships to disrupt the social order.

By the eighties, gender roles were increasingly bleeding together with the advent of feminism. Whereas the challenge in Shakespeare's time was to eliminate gender distinctions subordinating women, the challenge in the eighties was to create gender distinctions in order to define the social boundaries of acceptable attraction. Without distinctions between the sexes, heterosexual marriage could not be maintained.

Dorothy's female gender increasingly becomes an internalized part of Michael's identity. After he makes the transformation, he becomes absorbed in female shopping, shows concern about his hips, and develops an emotional female-logic on set. He displays a nurturing aspect of his personality when watching Julie's baby, and stroking Julie's head at night. He proudly tells his agent, "I am Dorothy. Dorothy is me. Those lines are coming from me. It is the woman in me." He has integrated the two personas and balanced them within himself, even as Julie balances her independence and career with her family life, as a man would. Since gender affects actions and speech, it is logical to conclude it also affects desire.

Dorothy attracts both men and women by her gendered identity. Julie reveals that since she has known Dorothy, she has never been lonelier in her life. It is like she wants something she knows she cannot have. Yet, as a woman, Julie cannot accept Dorothy's advances though she admits to having the same impulses. She claims not to be "liberated" enough. She loves Dorothy, but she cannot let herself love her because of societal concerns. Meanwhile, her father Les pops the question after a brief interlude, having never even kissed Dorothy. The homosexual desire Dorothy creates in both Julie and her father are entirely based on perceived gender. Julie is not attracted to Michael when he approaches her at a party, and Les makes very clear by his embarrassment at the bar that he would not have been interested if he knew Dorothy was a man. There is no real resolution to the gender confusion in Tootsie. Because Michael has integrated both his masculine and feminine personas in one person, there can be no clear distinction that will create a socially approved attraction.

Julie punches Michael after he comes out on-camera about his true identity. Instead of being relieved that the object of her affection turns out to be marriageable, Julie disregards the intrinsic value she saw in Dorothy when she is no longer a woman. She valued Dorothy as a woman confidant and maternal figure, and her dislike of Michael is similarly based on his sex. The fact that his person integrated the two gender roles makes it impossible for the ending to be satisfying. Any future relationship would be a challenge to societal conventions because it is a woman Julie fell in love with, and a woman that Michael must prove himself to be in order for them to even walk down the street together. The film leaves the homosexual nature of their relations unsettled. The ending begs for gender distinctions so such confusion will not occur again.

The film explicitly tries to depict what it means to be a woman opposed to what it means to be a man. As a woman, Dorothy has to field offers and fend off attacks. As a man, Michael is deceptive and inconsiderate of Sandy. He reveals that he must play a woman to be a full man, and for this integration he is almost raped as punishment. Les states the film's general standpoint quite clearly in his tirade against feminism. He thinks that women want to be entitled to be men, and sees feminism as an attempt for one sex to imitate the other so we can all be equal. He feels that men should be men and women should be women. There is a need for a distinction.

Often what is more revealing than what is being challenged is the way in which it is presented. In Tootsie, despite supposed female equality, Dorothy almost does not get her role on the show because the director believes that power makes a woman masculine. Ironically, apparently so does the director of this film! Julie and Sandy allow themselves to be taken advantage of, while Dorothy (who is really a man) is the only woman able to defend herself. Even in this time of equality, it is interesting to see that women are still portrayed as weak. The only strong woman is a man, and her contract is extended because she is the only woman who asserts her character without detracting from another's. This detail sets up a gender distinction very derogatory towards women and reveals the way men felt threatened by the feminist movement.
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Seinfeld: The Bizarro Jerry (1996)
Season 8, Episode 3
A Postmodern Reading
10 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
An allegory is a symbolic representation with a one-to-one correspondence to reality, illustrating an idea. The bizarro world with Jerry, George, Kramer, Newman, Jerry's apartment and even the coffee shop having a counterpart is an especially great example of postmodernism, because the allegory in effect references itself. It establishes that the only reference point is popular culture, and the only statements it makes is about the television reality of the characters: they are cheap, they don't read, they're selfish, irresponsible, unreliable, and inconsiderate. In the opening clip, George defends his preference of being in the circus rather than the zoo, saying "at least it's show business." This self-reference, along with the canned laughter, reminds the viewer that Seinfeld is just another media product. Elaine self-references the show when she says, "I cannot spend the rest of my life coming into this stinking apartment every ten minutes to pour over the excruciating minutia of every single event," which is all they do in every episode. And when she walks out on him, Jerry yells, "the whole system is breaking down!" referring perhaps in a broader sense to the system of metanarratives that make sense of the world. This is the system of repeatable, predictable occurrences by which we organize our lives. Every Seinfeld episode centers on the discussion of minutia, but this episode favors an even more postmodern experience...

Kramer says "you don't sell the steak. You sell the sizzler." In our consumerist society, people are sold on appearances, and he serves to emphasize the point by having a job with no substance behind the surface gloss of convention. The men in the elevator tell Kramer he did "good work today" though he did nothing. He has crackers in his briefcase, and his day consists of the morning rush, time at the water cooler and after-work drinks. The show makes fun of the conventional language he uses; he has a "tough day at the office, the phone wouldn't stop" and was "busting his hump over those reports."

Consistent with this stress on style over substance, Seinfeld breaks down distinctions between high and popular culture. George mixes allusions of antiquity with that of a modern day concert referencing in one sentence both a secret, forbidden city, and how having the picture of "man hands" would prove that he'd been inside, and "his hand had been stamped." Later, Jerry comments that "man hands" was part woman and part horrible beast, alluding to creatures of Greek mythology; the next moment he comments how he'd prefer if she had hooks for hands, a popular reference to Peter Pan.

Seinfeld embodies the postmodern trope of pastiche more than the standard television narrative (told between commercials) because it's a sitcom without a progressive narrative, so time becomes irrelevant. Seinfeld constructs a series of comedic situations derived from the lives of four characters that meet at a coffee shop or Jerry's apartment to tie their stories together. Real time is distorted in the telling of these stories. The practice of cutting from one scene to another typically denotes activities occurring simultaneously in different places, but Seinfeld shifts times, places, and characters so rapidly that the viewer cannot keep track of any distinct time span. The meatpacking plant is a happening club for a few nights, then completely reverts back to its former self. Just as postmodernism is about loss of time and space, it's also about the loss of metanarratives.

Seinfeld parodies the move away from the metanarrative of marriage toward a series of discrete, if still monogamous, relationships. The picture of "man hands" that Elaine gives Jerry has her "stats" on the back just like a baseball card would: last serious relationship, car ownership, and favorite president, to poke fun at the process of collecting irrelevant, arbitrary data on a person. This parody is a statement on dating today, where people trade each other in for better models, and the process of harshly critiquing dates... the hands could stand in for any flaw. The nature of relationships is casual, as none of the characters is married. When Elaine says that Kevin was fine with being just friends, Jerry asks, "why would anyone want a friend?" an ironic question since they are friends. No one needs friends anymore, which was once an important part of self-identity. Another declining metanarrative is that of work ethic. Kramer says meaningless things, like "TCB- taking care of business," when he actually does nothing but eat crackers. Seinfeld mocks self-inflated business types by making the most anti-establishment character fit into their routine. The show proves that the work community is no longer a place from which one can draw his identity. Neither can he draw comfort from typical gender roles. "Man hands" not only has abnormally large hands, but she breaks lobsters with them, unscrews beer caps and wounds Jerry when he looks through her pocketbook. These are powerful hands that take on a male or even animal role, not feminine. At the same time, Jerry plays the scorned housewife, sitting at home while Kramer goes to work. He complains, "You never listen to me anymore. We never do anything" and "Call if you're going to be late." He is sulky and wears a robe like a stereotypical housewife, commenting "I'm left sitting here like a plate of cold chicken- which was by the way for two." With characters taking on the gender role of the opposite sex, they prove that there is no clear gender distinction anymore. With women in the work force, this metanarrative is quickly on the decline.

Since postmodernism rejects any claim to absolute knowledge, it valorizes subjectivity. It claims that there is no pure point of reference according to which a text needs to be read, because there is no authentic meaning. In this way, a postmodern critique of Seinfeld is as effective as any other reading, and equally ineffective in making sense of the program for a larger public.
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Motherhood and the Devil's Pact
10 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Motherhood plays a crucial role in the emergence of the Devil, and the Devil's Pact. Eve is the first ambitious human to be discontent with her station and strive for more knowledge. She is the prototype of the Faustian legends. She wanted to be like God, having the same knowledge as Him. In biblical terms, the Fall represents the introduction of evil and the beginning of history or temporality. This temporality introduces a line of ancestry, and the creation of humankind, who will intrinsically strive as their mother had. Maternity should play an important role in any story involving the Devil because of the concurrence of motherhood in the creation of history and the introduction of evil. Although Devil's Pact stories have typically only dealt with male striving, Rosemary's Baby highlights the importance of motherhood in the Devils' mythology.

Rosemary is depicted as a figure similar to Mary, mother of Jesus. They both mother a savior who has come to redeem the world. Mary births the son of God, and Rosemary births one of Satan. While Rosemary is juxtaposed in name and motherhood to Mary, whose son would reverse the effects of the Fall, it is evident that the son of the Devil would continue the effects. This film replicates the occurrence of the Fall. Eve eats of the apple and leads Adam to eat also. Here Rosemary leads her husband to eat with the Castevets, serving as the serpent's temptation of which he bites.

The presence of the Devil and evil are as plain upon her as a piece of jewelry. The necklace that Rosemary receives indirectly through Satan contains Tannis root, later referred to as Devil's pepper. This has a bad odor that Rosemary, Hutch, Sapirstein's nurse, and Guy notice and comment on. As Mephistopheles says, "a whiff of anything makes plain whether it's holy or profane." Motherhood is clearly linked to the jewelry since Rosemary puts the necklace on the first night she finds out she is pregnant.

The nativity scene of Mary alone in the stable becomes important in viewing motherhood in this work of art. Motherhood as it relates to the Devil is very much an individual endeavor. Minnie tells her to go home when she spies her waiting for Hutch. Dr. Sapirstein advises her not to speak to any friends, or her Aunt "Fanny". Satan only rapes her once her wedding ring is taken off, and from the first day she knows she is pregnant, her body language in the bed makes her an isolated mother figure talking to her unborn baby, while the unresponsive Guy sleeps. The mother is always a solitary figure.

And she is an ugly, insane solitary figure. None of the typically beautiful descriptions of motherhood apply when related to the Devil. After Rosemary becomes pregnant, everyone she meets tells her how awful she looks. Guy thinks it is her haircut, which was the "worst mistake (she) ever made." Hutch asks in shock, "My God what's wrong with you?" and tells her she looks terrible. Her friends at the party tell her that she looks like chalk and that she looks tired. The party takes place at the time of her greatest pain, and the uglier she gets the more she desires the "day's brilliant light." She is also depicted in a negative light when seen as insane. According to Guy, she has the "prepartum crazies."

The Pact is strongly linked to motherhood because the striving male sacrifices the woman he loves to attain his goals. Guy is not satisfied, and in order to attain his dream of acting fame and fortune, he sacrifices his wife to the Devil. Literally having life's blood painted on her for the rape ceremony very clearly depicts the connection between the role of motherhood, the striving male and the Devil's Pact. It is the ambitious male who sacrifices the woman, thereby aligning himself with the Devil. Woman is left to breed more males to continue the process.

In relation to the Devil, the mother's only role becomes that of breeder of evil. She initially begins the Fall, and she continues the evil through her offspring. A drinking metaphor is one that emerges with the mother and Devil theme, played out with all of Rosemary's drinks, morning pills, and Adrian's drinking her milk. Instead of the nurturing role motherhood has typically embodied, here the mother is reduced to a very physical base level of need. The Tannis root drinks keep Rosemary unconscious so Satan can rape her, and the morning pills keep her unconscious so the coven can raise Adrian without her interference. All that remains for her is to give birth to him, and provide his milk. The Devil's work is to swell the ranks, and motherhood fits in by breeding the evil through each generation.

A sense of impending doom arises with the arrival of each progressive generation being born. Adrian Marcado conjures up the Devil, bears a son Roman, and he lives on to consort with the Devil just like his father. Roman Castavet aids the begetting of a mortal son of Satan to reap vengeance on the world. The inevitability of creating the Devil again is central in the maternal theme. Woman is inextricably linked to the Devil and the Devil's Pact. She created it and she will continue it.
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Mirror, Mirror On The Wall...
10 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Self-reflexivity in artistic works serves to remind the audience that they are viewing a cultural product. It prevents their becoming so involved in the text that they do not think critically about the message. The presence of the mirror during various scenes of The Devil's Advocate serves as a self-reflexive device to highlight the major themes of the film, namely duality, free will and truth. These important mirror scenes propel the plot action to Kevin's ultimate downfall and rebirth.

The mirror first appears during the Gettys trial when Kevin is faced with a crossroads. He faces his reflection, and negotiates with himself in the mirror. The duality of seeing both him and his reflection highlights a struggle between good and evil. While Kevin sells his soul (ethic and morals) and makes his pact to keep his record clean, he does not wear his wedding ring. This recalls previous texts in which marriage is an institution frowned upon by the Devil. The sinking sound of the toilet flush and thunder with the rip of the paper towel further emphasize this crossroads scene. His decision to defend Gettys despite his knowledge highlights his pride. He is unwilling to lose a case and mar his unblemished record. The mirror sequence underscores his decision which propels the action forward, whereby Milton takes notice of him and lures him to New York.

When Kevin meets Milton, the two are reflected in a man-made lake on the rooftop. The body of water often symbolizes the unconscious and deep, submerged truths. This scene foreshadows the final climax when Milton reveals that he is Kevin's father and that he values man-kind above all else. At this mirror/reflection scene Milton asks "you don't really want to go back to Florida, do you?" and Kevin decides he does not. This decision, emphasized by the mirror, propels the action again by allowing Mary Anne and Kevin to move to New York despite his mother's warnings. This is another crossroads, a time when he could have resisted his egotism.

For Mary Anne, the mirror does not emphasize a crossroads, but truth. Milton looks at her over her shoulder at Eddie Barzoon's party, and the two are reflected in the mirror. It shows Mary Anne's desire to have someone standing there next to her. She is very lonely, and this scene is intercut with the first instance of Kevin bailing on her. He puts his work before her, leaving her alone.

While in the dressing room with her new friends, one woman admits she had a boob job while another worries about her hips. The two women stand in front of mirrors admiring themselves, but Mary Anne sees the true self and not the reflection. These self-absorbed women, spending money and drinking, are monsters. She sees one morph into a hideous creature, while the mirror in front of her emphasizes the deception of appearances. It is Mary Anne who realizes first why she is being punished. She values the money and the apartment too much. She was taken in by the appearance, but the reality is far different. The mirror emphasizes the duality.

At the hospital, Mary Anne refuses to look in the mirror because she thinks she will see a monster. She accepted blood money through Kevin's acquittals since she knew all those people were guilty. This emphasizes the mirror's ability to reveal true identity that later manifests with Pam. Evil had followed Mary Anne into her room in disguise, but the reflection revealed her true form. Mary Anne crashes the mirror at exactly the climax of Kevin's mother's story. Kevin had been running away and not listening to her, but after the incident he allows his mother to reveal that Milton is his father. The two scenes intercut emphasize the mirror as a teller of truth and discovering one's true identity. It is significant that Mary Anne kills herself with the mirror, because the truth hurts.

Another mirror scene occurs while Kevin and Milton are at the boxing match. While on the phone with Mary Anne, Kevin spies a woman wearing a red dress in front of a mirror. As he's looking, he tells Mary Anne not to wait up, that he does not know when he will be home. This decision that he makes, in light of the fact that Milton is his boss and pays for their apartment and bills, is intercut with Mary Anne's dream that her ovaries are removed. Kevin's decision propels the action by leading to her first hysterical moment when he will take her to a doctor. The woman in red symbolizes evil, and she is alone. Perhaps it suggests the isolation of Mary Anne on the other side of the phone to whom he is speaking while looking at another. The woman reflects on the blood color of her dress that Maryanne will soon see. The reflection foreshadows the reality.

In the final mirror scene, Milton dies and returns Kevin to the Gettys trial, in front of the mirror where it began. Kevin squints looking at his face, searching himself. His decision to kill himself propels the plot further and brings him back to himself. The cyclical nature of identity is further emphasized when Kevin abandons the trial, but relents to an interview when Larry calls him a star. Milton repeats that vanity is his favorite sin.

These various mirror scenes emphasize key themes in the film. Because the mirror scene in the Gettys case frames the film, it is obvious that there are two paths to take. History will repeat itself in a different way the next time around, but there is no escape from the self. Kevin faces himself and makes a decision to support the case, and the second time to drop it. Mary Anne makes a decision to kill herself. Their decisions embody the philosophy of free will, and have very real consequences propelling the story forward.
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Chuck & Buck (2000)
A Powerful, Genre-Expanding Romantic Comedy
10 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Romantic comedy consists of a widely discrepant body of work addressing and questioning the nature of love. The unifying force of the romantic comedy is its preclusion of a tragic ending and the preoccupation with love. What constitutes a happy resolution for the protagonists of each film reveals the relative value those films place on romantic love. Chuck & Buck depicts the idealization of romantic love, expands the boundaries of the genre, and ultimately validates the genre by its preoccupation with romantic love.

Like its predecessors, Chuck & Buck validates the existence of romantic love despite its seeming superficiality. Buck forms a love based on a childhood memory rather than on the person, because he hasn't seen Chuck in sixteen years, yet this love propels the action of the whole film to its shocking climax. Chuck consistently refuses to talk to Buck, not answering or returning his calls, yet their reconciliation and invitation to the wedding confirms the primary significance of romantic love. Love is also a very powerful force. Buck accuses Chuck, "You made me this way." His infatuation has the power to make Buck gay, and cause all of his unhappiness, loneliness and rejection. Finally, Chuck & Buck self-reflexively allows the audience to appreciate an ideal love, and acknowledge the inability of real life to reach the ideal. Chuck & Buck, like Annie Hall, rewrites history in a play. Beverly describes it as "a homoerotic, misogynistic love story" which aptly summarizes the film, as well as the play. This self-reflexivity serves to create an ideal in the past, and reveal where the reality lacks. Buck laments "If Chuck would just see the play, I know he would remember what it used to be like." This act of remembering is a constant theme in the romantic comedy. This ideal is a better time they want to return to, but the protagonists typically must undergo a change to make them suitable for coupling. This is the first innovation Chuck & Buck makes on the genre...

In Chuck & Buck, change is necessary, but it does not result in coupling. The film presents love as immature and delusional. Giving up the innocence of childhood is a painful but necessary and rewarding process. Chuck tells the emotionally arrested Buck, "A lot has changed. I'm not the same person I was." And after seeing the play, he tells him at the bar, "Maybe you haven't changed but people do. It's like you are trapped in some kind of time capsule." Buck's sexual and social development stopped at age eleven; his love for Chuck is a delusion he built up, and he must let go of the past to find his own happiness, as Chuck has found his in marriage. Buck eventually gets a job, friends, and an apartment, but not a love interest. Love is not the ultimate value of the film. The place for it is secondary to personal fulfillment and maturation, and love is seen as a protective bubble that one should outgrow.

Chuck & Buck introduces stalking to the romantic comedy, testing the limits of the genre, and revealing that there are no limits! It does not undermine the category, but rather changes it in vital ways. By naturalizing Buck's behavior and never punishing him for it, the film legitimates obsessional love. Although it is not rewarded, for a time it is the dominant mode of expression the audience sees and identifies with in the person of Buck.

Chuck & Buck makes another innovation on the romantic comedy genre by making the love climax in sexual rather than spiritual coupling. Seemingly well-matched with rhyming names, the film foreshadows their eventual coupling. However, throughout the film Chuck is cruelly abusive to Buck, and their ultimate coupling is not for eternal bliss but one night of sex. This joining is not satisfying because Buck's feelings are not reciprocated. The film continues with Chuck's marriage, but this coupling is not pure either, because Chuck cheated on his fiancée. There is no ideal relationship, everything is debased.

In its subversion and derailment, Chuck & Buck still validates the romantic comedy genre. Despite its disillusionment about the nature of love, its preoccupation is still significant. The film expands the conception of romantic comedy and ultimately places love second to friendship and personal development. Buck transcends Beverly's assessment that "the author of this play has trouble relating to women... and men." By the end of the film, he has a professional relationship with her, and develops a friendship with his neighbor Sam, who bears a resemblance to the object of desire without the romantic love (Sam resembles Chuck, his real-life brother). Professional or personal connections prevail over romance, yet the film still validates the importance of romantic love. Buck tells Chuck, "When I'm with you, I'm okay. I know you. All this other stuff makes me feel dead and I don't want to feel dead." Love makes him alive. In their sex scene, rose petals on the bed add to the romantic aura. After Chuck leaves, Buck tells Beverly, "There is no love for me. Not anymore." He valorizes love above everything else, and only later learns to find value in life.

Chuck & Buck is a romantic comedy because it further questions the place of love in society. Love is portrayed as a debased childhood illusion or delusion that one must outgrow. Buck is involved in a post-modernist struggle to derive meaning from the fairy tales and memories he has of love. Chuck finds satisfaction in the glamorous lifestyle of an executive at a record company, while Buck finds satisfaction at the wedding. Here the song "oodly, oodly," which was used in conjunction with Chuck, is now about himself. It is his new start now that he put his obsession away. He agrees that marriage cake is sweet. He validates that there is a place for love. The film opens up further exploration of where that place is.
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Modern Times (1936)
A scathing critique on technology and his times
18 May 2002
Modern Times is a social critique of the new technology that dehumanizes people, and a powerful statement against the technology and rules that inhibit progress. Chaplin clearly holds an anti-"system" stance, and both his character and his leading lady refuse to reform. He likens industrial workers to sheep in an early montage, and squirts oil on them during his nervous breakdown, likening them to cogs in the machinery or automations. They are never depicted as humans. The most striking scenes often include shots of the machinery in the factory. When Chaplin is trapped in the machinery, he literally becomes a cog in the wheel, totally replaceable since he is fired soon after. Near the end of the film, he is again working in a factory and a long shot presents the machinery towering over the men, literally overpowering them and figuratively dominating their world. When a second man is stuck in the machinery, the viewer sees how the technology literally consumes his life, and he is not happy. He repeatedly yells to get him out, because humans have a natural desire to fight off the technology that oppresses and contains them.

By taking technological mishaps to the extreme, Chaplin presents a powerful statement about progress. The Deluxe Feeding Machine spills hot soup on Chaplin, the mouth wiper slaps him, and the corn cob makes sizzling noises as he tries to eat it. This machine does not serve its purpose of feeding, but rather reduces Chaplin's power over himself and takes an aggressive role against him. In another lunch scene in the factory, Chaplin has to feed another man his lunch because he cannot serve himself; he is reduced to the level of a baby. Chaplin clearly holds a very strong view of what technology is doing to men in making them everything but men. The assembly line process gives Chaplin a weird walk with kinks, a comment on the strain of doing that kind of tedious work. This scene complements a montage of workers on strike, factories closing, and industrial people out of work, tying the movie's humor to the real life seriousness of the industrial process. While all of these people are out of work, only two fix the idle machine that is useless, unfixable and inefficient. Without it, many people would have work and be doing a better job.

The other major setting of the film is the jailhouse, the scene for Chaplin's attack on "rules." Chaplin is arrested three times, once (wrongly) for leading a strike. Ironically, the conditions of the jail are better than the constant search for work and attempt to conform to societal norms. Chaplin tries to return to jail, where civilization seems to lay in this ridiculous world. Here he is treated as a human and has tea with the minister's wife. He who is viewed as a criminal is innocent and those typical criminal robbers of the department store we come to pity because they are simply hungry. It seems the "system" is as inefficient as the factory machines because the arrests, paperwork to find wanted people, and strikes waste time that could be spent finding work for the millions unemployed.

Chaplin shows his contempt for the "system" in his statement that he would get a home even if he "has to work for it." He does not enjoy following the rules, which is why he is so often out of work, but even he espouses the suburban ideals of America that so many cannot attain. He makes the audience consider the inequity of wealth with his first humble abode that constantly falls apart. His critique comes through strongest in the closing scene. Both the orphan girl and he have jobs, nice clothes, and success, demonstrating that the individual can succeed when given the opportunity to have the spotlight. They can not succeed when they are just one of a million other "sheep." When they walk off into the sunset, they are two people against the "system" smiling as they walk down the road to opportunity, away from authority, industry, technology, and the silliness of the established rules.

In a purely technical aspect, Chaplin reinforces his critique by largely ignoring the available addition of sound. Sound is linked to the dehumanization of people and is only used with those linked to machinery. He believed this new technology in the film industry would detract from the truer human emotions and messages that had been perfected in silent films. Modern Times is a perfect example, as the indigestion scene is a type of crass humor that does not work as well as the visual humor he presents. Chaplin has a physical grace and power over himself and each scene, giving him an aura of control that extends to audience interpretations of the film. In this film too, he perfects his portrayal of "The Little Tramp," a misfit in society. He stands for our common humanity and is the hero that transcends the oppression of the industrial machines, rules, and society. Chaplin is not just a talented filmmaker; he is also an astute social critic.
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the childhood lessons make this a classic
14 May 2002
The Wizard of Oz offers a variety of messages, both beneficial and detrimental. The film still captures the imagination after over fifty years because of its fantastic images, and dazzling Technicolor, but much of its worth lies within the actual story. The film begins in the bleak and dreary Kansas that is Dorothy's home. She wants to go over the rainbow, a dream world where she follows a bright sunshiny road, at the end of which all of her problems will be solved. She sings and makes friends, and it is so wonderful that she even walks on jewels. But in the end, no one can help her, as the Wizard of Oz is a fraud. Her dream is crushed and she has to say goodbye to friends. She returns to Kansas realizing there is no place better than home. The film presents a classic disappointment of childhood, realizing that dreams cannot compete with reality, and imparts a moral to appreciate what one has already. Literally, the grass is greener in Oz, but Dorothy has her family and friends and love at home, and that should be enough.

The film effectively discourages dreams and stifles creativity. After seeing all the horror and disappointment that Dorothy faces, children no longer want to travel down their own yellow brick road. Instead, the film encourages loyalty to home and family despite the neglect that Dorothy encounters. However, many children are told to stay out of the way and out of trouble, and the film teaches that no matter how busy one's parents are, they still love and care about their child. Perhaps this is why the Wizard of Oz has become a childhood classic. Children have fond memories of the film, especially if it is a family viewing experience. This persistent love is a reassuring message; the singing and dancing is not all that makes this a feel-good movie.

The lesson that the Wizard imparts to the road weary travelers is also twofold. When he gives the tin man his heart, he says that how much he loves is unimportant, but `how much he is loved by others' that matters. He repeats similar platitudes to the scarecrow and lion. Everything they lack is simply a matter of perception, and he emphasizes the opinion of others over their own. This detrimental lesson in self-doubt and the superficial nature of human merit can also be perceived quite differently. It is very reassuring to know that all four of the wanderers have within them all of the qualities they sought. Everyone feels that he lacks something on his way to self-actualization, and the film presents a highly individualistic message that anything one wants can be found within.

The Wizard of Oz is preoccupied with the transition between childhood and adulthood. Dorothy keeps forgetting that they are not in Kansas anymore. As she grows up, nothing is what she as she is accustomed to. She also takes responsibility for her actions, regretting she ran away and eager to return and care for her Auntie Em. During the passage, Dorothy has a negative realization that adults can't or don't need to make things right in the world. Aunt Em follows the law and lets Toto be taken, and the Wizard is a fraud. Dorothy can no longer rely on adults for help. She begins her journey in munchkin land, where she is physically and emotionally looked up to by the patrons for killing a wicked witch. She becomes a position of authority for each successive addition to her journey, helping the scarecrow stand, oiling the tin man, and soothing the lion's feelings. On the other hand, she makes true friends, assuring viewers that there are people one can rely on. They stand by Dorothy even when the witch threatens them, and risk themselves to help her. The message comes across most clearly when Dorothy defeats the witch in the battle between good and evil by simply being true to her friendship, trying to save the scarecrow from burning. In adulthood, she makes friends that are her equals, instead of looking up to a higher authority.

The Wizard of Oz lays out important lessons on the road to adulthood. It teaches children to live in reality instead of a fantasy dream world, and take responsibility for home and family and the issues that are right in one's backyard. There is an even balance between the importance of other people's opinions as and faith in oneself. Most importantly, Dorothy is taught to act like an adult. She relies on equals for help from the witch, and herself to return to Kansas. Perhaps this is because in the time it was made, the government could not help farmers out of their troubles. They needed to tend to their own yards and form cooperatives with their neighbors, not look to a higher authority. It is these timeless lessons that make the Wizard of Oz a classic film.
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Terminator 2 (1991)
Message to humankind...
2 April 2002
The Terminator and the T1000 represent desires within humans, and their struggle in the film represents the classic fight between good and evil. The Terminator fights for a future embracing life and humanity, while his enemy fights for death and destruction. Through their actions, both characters transcend their machine form by tapping into an aspect of the humanity around them. Terminator 2 presents a grim future in which the war against the machines establishes the enemy as technology; however, the threat that the T1000 poses to mankind is a smokescreen shielding the true identity of the enemy. At the gas station where two children are shooting each other, John realizes that the reason humans won't survive, and the real enemy threatening their existence, is the human tendency to destroy themselves.

The T1000 embodies the evil within humans; human technology created him, he takes the human form of all the people that he kills, he shows a consistent lack of respect for human life throughout the movie, and his mission is to destroy the leader of the human resistance. As the T1000 meets his doom in the hot pit, he manifests all the human forms that he has embodied, men and women of different races. He is more than a machine. He is a cross section of the evil in humanity.

The Terminator is a larger than life character, able to walk through gunfire without flinching and throw people out windows with force; however, his most important heroic aspect is the wisdom and hope that he brings to mankind. Sarah states the theme in the last narration of the film, saying that she `faces the future with a sense of hope because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe [humans] can too.' The wisdom that the Terminator brings is his own evolved respect for the human life. His initial instinct as a Terminator is to kill, but John begins his evolution by telling him that he is, `not a Terminator anymore,' and he can't just go around killing people. When the Terminator says goodbye to John and Sarah before he is lowered into the pit, there is a close-up of his human profile, not showing the exposed mechanical side, and he tells John that he `knows now why [John] cries.' This CPU computer has learned what it is to be human by acquiring human emotions. Then the camera focuses on the handshake between Sarah and the Terminator, which is another example of his increased humanity. Finally, as a last sign of the Terminator's embodiment of the human desire to strive for life, he claims that he must be lowered in to the pit because he `cannot self-terminate.'

The film's message is best summarized by the quote Sarah carves on the table; `The future is not set. There's no fate but that which we make for ourselves.' The technology that humans created for the year 2029 shows a grim future to look forward to, but that is only if humans continue on their self-destructive path. Technology and progress are not the enemies, but rather where humans choose to take that technology that is the enemy. Though Terminator 2 is a science fiction movie, the message is not far removed from reality, which serves to make the movie highly ideologically disturbing.
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