Adventures In Babysitting – Babysittin’ Blues Puttin’ You In Your Place

Thoughts On: Adventures In Babysitting

This late 80s comedy/adventure follows Chris through one unbelievable night of hell with a little kid and two teens only a couple of years younger than herself right at her heels.


Oh, I love this film too much. As a person who hated Mad Max, Batman V Superman, The Notebook, and just simply doesn’t care for the likes of Star Wars and–yeah, I’m just digging myself into a hole here. But, forget that, my point is, I shouldn’t like this film. But, I absolutely love it. I love this film for what it stands for and because it does what no other movie (I know of) has been able to do so well. This film is absurd to say the least. At a first glance this is just a fun movie–one you’re just supposed to enjoy whilst throwing popcorn at your face. It definitely has that tone, as given by Chris Columbus, who directed Home Alone (1 and 2) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Mrs. Doubtfire and wrote Gremlins and Goonies. All films you gotta love if you grew up anywhere near the 80/90s. Whilst it has a tone of a dumb, fun movie… well… no. Let me paint you the picture of Adventure In Babysitting before we go much further though. What I want to talk about is the film’s divisive use of conflict (problems, issues). Conflict more or less makes stories, and how it’s implemented and dealt with is often a measurement of quality. What’s clear is that this film (as a popcorn, dumb, fun, movie) has too much conflict that is just absurd. Having said that, I’m going to give you a taste of the conflict devices in this film. Remember, when you read this, that this is about a 17, 8 and two 15 year old white, rich, suburban kids from Chicago…

– Boyfriend issues

– Parent issues

– Having to babysit

– Acne

– Crushes

– Running away from home

– No money

– Flat tyres

– Cheating wives

– Homelessness

– Fist fights

– Gun fights

– Physical violence

– Organised crime

– Poverty

– Sing-song break

– Back in with a gang fight

– Mob rule

– Knife wounds

– Hunger

– Death

– $50!!

– Needing to pee

– Cheating

– Identity mishaps concerning a Playboy magazine

– Getting laid

– Pollution

– Environmental issues

– Lonliness

– Immaturity

– War (Vietnam)

– Chemical warfare

– Facing your heroes

– Cheating

– True love’s first kiss

… yeah… some of those things seem pretty out of place, don’t they? Now, it’d be easy to pass this movie off as another one of those extreme, over the top, silly things. For that, I direct you to its remake, The Sitter. Yeah, don’t think I didn’t notice Jonah Hill! They remade this movie and didn’t have the courtesy to tell us they did. WTF!? I think they’re doing it again as well. Ugh… Anyway, whilst mixing teen drama with guns and violence (drugs in recent years) is quite common in comedy–in all cinema–it’s the everyday man in the not-so-everyday situation. Whilst Pineapple Express meets Superbad (The Sitter essentially) sounds like a great thing, the degree to which this film focuses on its ‘comic-yet-serious’ ideas and how it slyly, yet very casually, it incorporates themes of poverty, chemical warfare and social divide is something that shouldn’t be ignored. This film speaks straight to you, the movie-goer. We all love to watch Saving Private Ryan, The Godfather, Selma or A Streetcar Named Desire and feel like we’ve been through shit. We love to watch the likes of Spotlight and feel like we’ve contributed to… I don’t know… solving a problem, or at least offering our support. Grown up cinema is often seen as dealing with heavy themes and big issues. ‘Grown up cinema’ essentially makes you feel grown up. This film sits you down and puts cinema and, more importantly, you, in your place. This film is such a cluster bomb, flying, soaring, sizzling, timer ticking, fuse shortening, about to land, to explode in a barrel of conflict, because that’s what it’s trying to talk about. Conflict in cinema.

This film is a perfect allegory to the average movie goer, and it best sums itself up with the idea of Babysittin’ Blues… If you watched that, yeah, I know! It’s not the full piece, but, nobody leaves this place without singin’ the blues. Oh, and this is the one that really gets me… the opener… that, and the stupid smile stretched across my face, is why I love this film (’87 Elisabeth Shue, marry me, please!!). But, both clips perfectly demonstrate the film’s style and gives insight into its satirical look at conflict. Now, as is obvious, this film is about ‘white problems’, ‘first-world issues’ and if you’ve seen the film, you now it’s set in a place considered to have ‘real problems’. It’s set in a selection of bad neighbourhoods, bus stops, subways and… sorry… DON’T! FUCK!! With the Babysitter… one of the greatest lines of all time, that I promise you (seriously, ’87 Elisabeth Shue, marry me, please!!). Where was I? This is how you know I love this film more than I should. Anyway,  let’s get to it. The characters in this movie are, to some, inappropriately placed in stereotypical jazz bars and dodgy body shops so it can tease the hand of critics and give ‘film buffs’ something to moan about for a good few hours after the film is done (P.S. the moaning ‘film buff’ is me–passionately annoying is all I can say). The easy critique is that the film can’t balance realism and fantasy. That is true, and I am linking a lot today, but I feel by saying that, you’ve misses the core gag of the film.

The gag of the film is ‘Do you have any idea what I’ve been through tonight!?’. It is the juxtaposition between fantasy problems and realistic problems. What are the fantasy problems? They are poverty, gun fights, gang violence and hanging off the side of buildings. What are the real problems? Boyfriend/parent issues, zits and being ignored by your crush. What the film does is give you your issues and the issues we all go to the cinema to ‘experience’ before we run away with a deep sigh of relief, only proud of the fact that you can now announce you have seen… Sophie’s Choice… DUN-DUN-DAAAAAA. Sorry for the tangents. The film gives us realism and fantasy in the way it does because it’s mocking us. We are Chris and despite having our everyday problems we believe in ‘grown up cinema’. The film essentially asks us what we think cinema is through its use of questionable conflict. Now, I know there’s people who want to call bullshit and say I’m giving the film more than it’s due. But! But, it’s all there, right at the end, just wait till I show you. Who does Sarah love? Thor. A fantasy hero that is her end all and be all, an idol. And… She meets him in the film (kind of). Before that scene happens Chris and the others are taken down into an underpass, filled with green smog, whilst we hear Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones. The song is, cinematically, intrinsically bonded to war films, especially those about Vietnam. The movement into the underpass with the green smoke is a parody of Vietnam war films, but specifically, the audience members that would suck them up one day and hail them a masterpiece, an important piece of artwork, whereas the next call this fantastical and silly. This is not me saying those films aren’t important, or masterpieces, but that people put too much on art. The climax of the film is a parody of the highest kind of conflict we present in movies (war) so that it can satirises both its own use of conflict and our perception of it. But I’m not done yet. Through the smog, song over-head, who do we meet? Thor. As played by Vincent D’Onofrio, Pvt. Pyle, fresh out of ‘Nam, trimmed and hunkered, blond and beautiful, post-Full Metal Jacket. BOOM.

But, what does this mean? Apart from the obvious juxtaposition between films (this and Full Metal Jacket) we have a huge moment of symbolism. D’Onofrio as Thor is Sarah’s hero. But, in reality he’s just a mechanic–oh wait, no, he’s Vincent D’Onofrio, the actor. Duh. Sarah is the audience and Vincent D’Onofrio as the mechanic as Thor is cinema. Cinema is a bunch of talented weirdos making up stuff and putting on a magical screen, moving pictures for us all, a miracle. There are three layers of cinema that this film makes explicit. There’s the truth, a bunch of actors reading lines in front of a camera. There’s the illusion, a story, characters, a movie. And there’s the fantasy, idols, high art, movies we are in literal and irrational love with (I’m not excerpt from criticism here). If we are Sarah, Chris, Brad. Daryl sitting in a cinema, the film looks down our irrational perspective of conflict and how it affects the ‘quality of cinema’. Now, in the 80s cinema changed quite a bit. It was taken over by the teens. The biggest films were now Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, Star Wars, E.T, Back To The Future and so on. Resultantly, the 80s to many people the death of cinema. The core criticism here comes from the idea of conflict, reality and fantasy. What the movies where trying to do was what the Italian neo-realsits like De Sica, Fellini and Rosselini did in the 40s. Whereas films like Rome, Open City, La Strada, or Bicycles Thieves focused on war torn and ravaged cities and their people, Back To The Future and Breakfast Club focused on Ferris’ ideals and fantasy.

What all the previous films have in common is what essentially what all films do. They are wish-fulling fantasies. We get to have ourselves represented on screen. Us and our problems. Adventures In Babysitting does not reduce teen problems to laughably negligible griping. It expresses what teens are scared of. Whereas Gran in ’43 had to deal with hunger and Nazi occupation, Brad has to deal with the distant danger of inner city crime. Yes, Gran had it worse, a lot worse, but give Brad a break. Brad doesn’t know what hunger pains feel like or what gunfire sounds like. But he’s human. Fear and pain is relative to what we know. There’s an arbitrary 1 to 100 for all of us and its set by norm and worse experience ever. Brad’s 100 is nothing in comparison to Gran’s, getting a D- in Biology is nothing like waiting out a rain of shells, but 100 they are nonetheless. What does this have to do with cinema? Well, what resonates with audiences ranges widely. You might hate it, but some people love Transformers–all 12,00 of them. At the same time some people just won’t understand A Streetcar Named Desire. Adventures In Babysitting makes a case for the teens. It reflects their naivety whilst respecting their problems. Simultaneously, it talks to the old guy who doesn’t get why so many people love Mad Max, Batman V Superman, The Notebook, and just simply doesn’t care for the likes of Star Wars and–yeah, copying and pasting to make a point. The film juxtaposes itself with Full Metal Jacket, it juxtaposes ‘fantastical conflict’ with ‘realistic conflict’, so we can be reminded that we sit at home or in a theatre watching a bunch of grown ups play make-believe.

All in all, the film takes away a bit of cinema’s magic to talk sense. Conflict (as presented through film) is a mere shadow of reality, but is also born out of fear. Fear is relative, but never irrational in a moment of panic. This means that we are consumed by ourselves and cinema is a mere form of entertainment, merely representative of situations we’ll, most probably, never be in. By being unbalanced in the portrayal of reality and fantasy, Adventures In Babysitting shows the thin line cinema walks, and so brings in the truth we all love to forget. It’s just a movie. Watching Full Metal Jacket doesn’t mean you’ve been in the shit. By seeing Adventures In Babysiting you haven’t either, but that’s the fun. The end here point being, if one film’s just a movie, than so are all the films, conflict is conflict, don’t confuse it with reality.

Ok, my final words need to be that I don’t criticise those who take art seriously–I’m one of you. I only think that this film makes a good point of showing us as being a little too much like Sarah knelt at ‘Thor’s’ feet. We’re a weird bunch, but needn’t hold films to such a high standards. 80s films are fun after all. This is why I try not to explicitly review, but explore what a film means. So, comment below and tell me the films you think need to be taken too serious for a moment and explored to absurd depths.

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Forbidden Planet – Innocence And The Tiger

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Grizzly Man – The Invisible Line

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Forbidden Planet – Innocence And The Tiger

Thoughts On: Forbidden Planet

This is the 1956 sci-fi classic about a team of workers that come upon the planet of an ancient race, inhabited by a Dr. Morbius and his daughter, Altaira.

Forbidden Planet

I love these old posters. It’s so apparent that they were either made before the script was written or thought-through, or that it was made without any consideration of anything but the fact that this is (on a surface, commercial level) a monster and damsel picture. This film is one in a million and I don’t joke when I say it’s something special. If I were to personify this film it would have to be the down-right repulsive, ugly girl that once you talk to you fall in love with and she becomes your best friend. This film has such a beautiful, complex and profound core, but manifests itself with cringy acting, dead, dry, drab, in an awkward and laughable position, dialogue and just bad writing in general. This film is ‘special’ because it spreads it’s ugly, yet loveable and very intelligent, self across the wide spectrum of review. With its acting and dialogue especially, it sits on the far end of God awful and unseeable, yet it grows on you with the minutes that pass, leaving you at the 40 min mark with a strange attachment to everyone. On top of that, the set design, logic and world building range from questionable, to sound, to awe-inspiring. And all at the same time. Also, because its a mystery it does a good job of seeming nonsensical but explains itself well (ish). And the exposition… I liked it. I like exposition when it’s apart of a film’s style. For dramas, no, don’t do it. But for spectacle sci-fi, yeah, go ahead, as long as you have cool ideas. And like Inception, this film definitely does. But, beyond the surface, what really makes the film special for me is its huge commentary on humanity. Yes, it seems like it’s shouting ideals at you, especially near the end (as a lot of pictures of this type love to do). But, when you break the film down, it’s a lot deeper than is obvious. This film is a secretly shouting, sickly diamond.

What this film is about is, essentially, being a father. Specifically, it spends a lot of time dealing with the idea and concept of the father/daughter/boyfriend dynamic or relationship. This will be clear even to the slightly perceptive audience member that is almost deafened by that shouty end. This does degrade a film as cinema requires you tell a story with pictures, images. This is true, but the film is also speaking in metaphors. So, that’s what we’re going to explore as well. This is one of those films that ‘social justice worriers’, sites like BuzzFeed, and other… things I don’t want to talk about, would misconstrue so spectacularly, it’d be funny. They (BuzzFeed) do this with films like 500 Days Of Summer, explaining that the character of Tom is ‘kind of a dick’. Ugh… I know. Tom’s not perfect and nobody pretends to be, and BuzzFeed feel like they’re making a perceptive point on the film’s stance–when they’re really just blind to it. I don’t care to check if there is, but if they made an article on Forbidden Planet, they’d say it was misogynistic, patriarchal, oppressive and… ugh. Whilst the film can be described, in parts, with these terms, that’s its purpose. The film is a question concerning the male approach to women, that is really discussing something a lot deeper about humanity as a whole. If we look at the ‘seduction’ scenes with Altaira and the crew members being described and behaving in terms of childish idiots, both fearing and yearning the opposite sex with laughable conduct, we can make a perfect example of this film being so ‘special’. The writing is awful, yes, but what the scenes depict is the weird and immature way humans act almost all the time.

The film was almost written and directed from the perspective of an all-knowing (or at least, better-knowing) alien. That’s why its tone is of such pretension–that’s why anything trying to comment or pull apart something else sounds so pretentious. It’s simply a characteristic given by an audience member who thinks they in fact are smarter than both commentee and commenter–that they are the omniscient commenter. Pretty pretentious, no? That’s not me having a go at you by the way. We all do it. Anyway, what this has to do with the ‘seduction’ scenes is the way we look at them and how maybe we should give them a break, even if we don’t agree with them (BuzzFeed–I told you, we all think we’re the omniscient commenter). If we give the scenes a break and pay attention to what they’re telling us, we can see that the film looks down on a dogmatic approach to relationships. It doesn’t think that there’s a right way for a woman to dress or behave around men. This is shown by the father’s detachment when three guys basically come into his home, pat him on the back and say, ‘excuse us, while we try and gang bang your daughter’. The characters very clearly says this and the fathers reaction is completely unrealistic (in comparison to our prejudices). But, the father’s the bad guy in the end, right? His cool façade is lie. This is why his subconscious creates the monster and tries to kill all of the men. The film is about a father standing in the doorway of his own home, having just opened the front door to the twerp that’s going to take his 19 year old daughter out for the night, and just wanting to annihilate the slimy motherfucker. Anyone with a sister, or indeed, a daughter, will understand this. Women, daughters, hate this though. It’s the repulsive (socially unacceptable) reflexive attempt of men trying to protect the women they love. And this is the crux of the film.

This film about about tolerance and self-destruction. There are three archetypes, or symbols, in the story. There’s the singular father trying to protect his daughter and home planet. He is the superego. The film uses Freudian terms to explain human behaviour–because as ridiculous as they are in concept, and despite how unscientific they are, they kind of make sense. The superego is the mediating factor of the mind–basically the grown up. The daughter is the second archetype and the represents the last woman on Earth–a sorry position to say the least. She is the ego–self-centred but realistic. The men are clumped together (giving reason for their poor characterisation–not that there are many strong characters in the film). The men represent a crowd of horny frat bros. Horrible, I know. They are the id–the animalistic and entirely self-centred part of the mind. Now, these archetypes portray humans as a whole through the Freudian terminology. There’s the rational, the realistic and the unrealistic. Basically, the film symbolises our contradictions concerning love, war, hate and peace, whilst citing our ability to mediate and try to control our polarising tenancies. That even harks back to the cluster of good, bad, perfect and horrific that this film is. You starting to see why I think it’s so special?

Whilst the film sets up these ideas of opposites and mediation within the human mind, portraying a world where a father, daughter and an invading horde of men can coexist, it ultimately devolves. The film sets up these solid archetypes of id, ego and superegos, but lets them break down, with the father not being to cool and mature, to portray how imperfect people are. Like the alien civilisation before them, humans are more than capable manufacturing their own end. This is why since the 40s films like Godzilla, The Day The Earth Stood Still and Terminator have resonated so well with audiences. What these films are all about is the idea or concept of the atomic bomb. This is one of the biggest and most used symbols in all art forms from pre-war time until now. With the massive technological advances of the early 20th century culminating in quantum physics and the atomic bomb, came the realisation that humans are very capable of ending it all, and pretty quick. With that comes paranoia and a lot of questions. What it has best done is given rise to mentalities presented in Cold War times through films like The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers or even more recently Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is basically about not letting the commies take over your mind. Star Wars in general calls back to Nazis and totalitarianism–as is very, very, obvious, just look at the uniforms and the huge red Nazi flag that Domhnall Glesson gives a speech straight from The Triumph Of The Will right in front of in the new Star Wars. Heck, I know I keep coming back to it, but look at Batman V Superman. It embodies the very American paranoia that has been ingrained in society from 9/11. I don’t need to go too deep into how war and conflict shapes cinema, I think that’s pretty obvious when you look for it. But he point it, this film is so nearly among this type of art. However, it takes a step further…

Whilst the film is about change, about forgetting dogmatism and totalitarian-esque power, it also portrays that these are inherent to humanity and self-destruction is the only solution for those who want complete change. The only way Dr. Morbius–by the way, what does his name sound like? Morpheus. But that’s not another pathway for me talk about The Matrix yet again. Morbius is nearly Morpheus because the character so nearly changes (morphs). This is why Dr. Morbius can only let his daughter go and accept Commander Adams as a ‘son’ (one of his last few words) by committing suicide and blowing up the planet. True tolerance is only achievable by betraying who you are. Fathers would rather die than leave their daughter in the hands a rabble of frat bros on a confined ship for years on end. What? You think there’s a happy ending? Wrong! People are going to die, rape and enslave on that ship. Shit is going to hit the fan, big time. No one’s going home. Best situation is a Jabba The Hutt/Slave Leia thing on a ship flying a skull and crossbones stitched from the charred and beaten skin of what were once crew members. How could this come to be? Over the father’s dead body. Here is the film in its essence. The film doesn’t pretend that people can change, only the ideas that they represent be wiped out along with themselves (look at how ISIS is being dealt with). The only way preserve the human race is to take away all its toys and sit it down in a nice comfortable–very secure–play pen. No toys of mass destruction. No omniscience. No omnipotence. It’s not going to do anyone any good.

So, here is the profound and impossible situation the film gives us. It asks us what would we do if we were in Morbius’ shoes? Would you want to let go of your daughter, the secrets of mass destruction? Could you change your ideals set so deep within you? Could you suppress your monster? Hard questions, right? If not, then you don’t know what they’re asking and don’t know how to deal with a hypothetical beyond feeding yourself lies. These are questions you shouldn’t be able to answer, merely hope you don’t ever have to face in real life. Maybe they make the Dad standing before that slimy motherfucker you want to go out with a little more understandable? Maybe it makes the leaders of countries a little more human? Humans create atomic bombs, we get lost in paranoia, we have ideals of peace, but we do not change much (never entirely) because we’re not that simple. Let any one solution come to full effect (even though no one like totalitarianism) and you’ve ended the human race, or your own life at least – as the film shows. Things hang in the balance because that’s how things seem to work. There’s the id, ego and superego so humans can balance themselves. We fight, have perspective, love, hate, want peace, because humanity is simply a projection of the individual human. We are made of contradictions because a solution to a problem as complex of self-sustaining life cannot be elegant and cannot simple. In other words, the film is against change. It only wants to show you the atom bomb, then destroy it, only to show its still there and that it ain’t going anywhere. That’s why Robbie, the robot, and Dr. Morbius’ daughter zip away in the end with the crew. Stupid is a runaway train. No one’s ever going to catch it and it’s setting down its own tracks so it can go where ever it needs.

All in all, this film is about navigating worlds, paths, that we as humans maybe shouldn’t tread. It’s about naively exploring forbidden planets. In short, this film shows that tigers cannot be tamed, yet people will always believe they can be. Curiosity, however, is what kills the cat, no matter how big. Who, what, is the cat? We are the cat, we are the innocent, we are humans. Id, ego, superego, however you want to say it, we are all three, made up of numerous facets, never just one or two. Try and cut one lose and you’re only cutting into your own flesh. In the end though, the whole point is null. There’s no changing who we are as a race, no changing the path we tread, Earth is the Forbidden Planet and we’re lucky we’re still here.




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Silent Running – Perspective

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Silent Running – Perspective

Thoughts On: Silent Running

This early 70s sci-fi classic follows Freeman, an ecologist aboard a ship holding the last of Earth’s botanical life, when the command is given to destroy the cargo.

silent running

I’ll start by saying this is not a great film. I really like this film and it is excellent, but it is not flawless. That said, I’m not going to be criticising this film. As always, I’ll be using the film as a platform to talk about its ideas. What I love so much about this film is the control of the protagonist over plot, structuring and narrative in general. Every moment of this film is imbued with Freeman’s perspective. Now, this kind of makes the film great. Almost all of its downfalls in plotting and sense are attributable to the fact that this is Freeman’s story, not a screenwriter’s or director’s. Not directly – or at least that’s the fantastic illusion it creates. That’s not to say that the film pulls a move like Life Of Pi and cops-out at the end by saying, ‘but was it all real?’. It doesn’t have its faults a matter of semantics. The ‘faults’ in plot such as the obvious fact that plants need sunlight, are down to Freeman’s hubris and so naturally flourish from the character. This begs the question of: why don’t I think this film is great then? Well, the lapses in logic are one thing, but the design and world building as well as segments of acting aren’t great, but, like I said, we’re not here to criticise. What we’re going to talk about with this film is the idea of character driven story and the whole concept of human perception,

Watching this film, paying attention to its structure, it becomes clear it’s quite an unconventional picture. What many screenwriters want when they face a blank sheet, or blank document on a screen, is help, answers, a way to tackle their story. If you’re one of those people, stop. The reason why Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat and his ‘beat sheet’ are so successful is because screenwriters want answers, a cheat, a formula to follow to make their lives easier. Now, I started off with Save The Cat and Screenplay. And what is pretty apparent is that the book’s main use is of an insight into another writer’s method. Knowing other people’s methods is always interesting and allows you to reflect on your own. Screenplay is the better of the books as it tells you the truth that there is no formula for a good story. Save The Cat says quite the opposite. It claims that all successful pictures have the same beats. And, in fact, it proves this quite well. But, the beat sheet it then gives you… ignore it, please. Story telling is a natural thing, and so are the beats of a story. Blake Snyder has simply found a paradigm to fit the natural reflexes of story tellers. You don’t need a beat sheet to write a good script. You need practice and you need to watch a lot of movies or read a lot of screenplays. That’s how Blake Snyder got to the beat sheet and jumping the processes of learning and skipping right to revision notes is not going to get you a good grade in the test. I know I’ve spoken to screenwriters specifically here, but this applies to all facets of art and creating.

All regular movie goers know the structure of a generic film, we’ve been raised on them, so, whether you know it subconsciously or consciously, you know it nonetheless. Now, formulaic films are not bad films. This is like listening to your iPod and hearing the same songs playing over and over (I’m pretty sure I’ve used this analogy before…). Anyway, it’s your brain picks up a pattern, that doesn’t mean it necessarily exists. The same thing happens when you watch a movie to a certain extent. To get from point A to point B as a writer, from start to end, and give an audience what they want (happy endings, character arcs, lessons, such and so on) you are walking a wide, but one-way road. What I mean to say here is that movies follow paradigms because of the stories we want to hear – it’s the same reason on horror tropes exist, any trope for that matter – we wan them. This is not me saying generic films are good though. Generic, formulaic, films are bad when they are predictable to the extent of pointlessness – you’ve seen A Bug’s Life, you don’t really need to see Antz, in the same way  that if you’ve seen Carrie (1976) you don’t need to see the 2013 version. But because of the Hollywood machine and people’s over reliance on formula at face value we’re drowning in remakes, sequels, adaptations and the same old crap. What this film makes obvious is that the same old crap is quite avoidable – more than you think.

Wit the idea of character driven plotting you can very easily get an original path from a start to an end. I can draw on many examples of unconventional characters forcing unconventional films – we can look at Shrek, Gone With The Wind, The Wolf Of Wall Street or even an extreme example of Memento. Now, what Memento and this film have that really makes the stories unconventional is their concepts. You know Memento, I’m sure, the film had to be broken because the Nolans used the the character’s perspective to convey story. Silent Running does the same thing, but its original concept comes from the world and situation it’s manufactured. This throws back to my talk here about fantasy, so we’ll move on. With character driven story and narratives not being contorted by a screenwriter wanting to hit ‘beats’ we can let our characters make good or bad decisions and project their inner thoughts to produce original and different films. This is not that hard to grasp. If you have an idea for any kind of story, don’t ask, ‘what do I need to do next?’, but ‘what would my character do next?’, ‘what are they feeling?’. Watching Silent Running you can clearly see how Freeman dictates his path from start to end. My main point here is that stories should be the product of a good idea and good characters flourishing, building their own plot. I think it’s obvious that good films write themselves. Yes, we can step in and make sure our story doesn’t fall into familiar territory (please do) but when you try and pump out a formula and then bend a film around it, well, we get the same old contrived and boring stuff. This film stands as testament to the idea of naturally forming films, from character and concept.

This is also why I love concept films so much. All films are about ideas. The best films have the best ideas in my opinion. Favourite films and best films are completely different – an obvious fact. This is why people say Star Wars is the best film ever made – because they enjoy it so much–it’s their favourite. But, I’m not going to get into Star Wars, I always feel like I’m on the precipice of doing so–but, another time. My love of concept films links to ideas of movies giving birth to naturally forming plots and them being a way to produce unique stories. What’s the concept of this film? It lies in perspective. This film is about searching in the dark, running silently through life with no idea what we’re doing, unable to ask the right questions to get the answers we need. Such is existence. Watching Freeman’s perspective through this film, for me, is a very humbling thing. Me and Freeman are not very much the same. He loves nature and reveres its beauty in a poetic and love-struck kind of way. I think nature’s cool and I can appreciate its beauty, but not on a surface level and so deeply as this character does. I could so easily get so annoyed at this character if I tried. People love to hate those different from them. Characters we don’t agree with can make a film unbearable for some–for me at times. But this film opened up honestly and I accepted that me and it weren’t the same. It immediately said ‘I love the environment. We need to protect Earth’. I have no qualms with that. What so many films like to do is spring that idea on you at the end or midway through. Look at Avatar. The main character goes through an arc of growing tolerance. This is screenwriting 101. But, audiences hate it. They hate it because you are saying they are an idiot who doesn’t care about the environment and you need to change. Yeah, we absolutely hate that. And, for the exact same reason, we hate Jehovah Witnesses or Mormons knocking at our doors. Whilst we can hide from them (as best as we can) or at least hide our shame and embarrassment at the fact that everyone knows what is going on, Mormons outside especially–BUT STILL THEY KNOCK!! WHY!? They must love being ignored!… I don’t know.. Whilst we can hide from Mormons we have to bear a film, writhing in our seat, growing more and more annoyed. This film respects you by staying true to its character’s perspective, and doesn’t try and worm its way into guilt tripping and changing yours. You gotta love that.

I think what I’ve got to be making clear is that character driven stories are ultimately likeable–even loveable at times. With true characters and a genuine film that doesn’t betray itself you don’t need to have the best models or set design, nor the greatest acting of all time. A film can work so well without relying on such components so heavily. It can stand on its own two feet. That makes for a film, any output, you can genuinely be proud of. I’m going to return to Blake Snyder here for a moment. In his book he says he wouldn’t have wanted to have made Memento because, in short, it didn’t make that much money and not everyone has seen it. Ask yourself the same question: would you have rather written Blank Check, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot or even one of the films he cites such as Thelma and Louise or Miss Congeniality? Or would you rather have written Pulp Fiction or Memento? If you’re answer isn’t Memento or Pulp Fiction, stop reading this and go away, I don’t want anything to do with you, I don’t want you to make films and I will not be seeing them. If you agree with me, I quote Blake Snyder here:

‘Oh, and btw, screw Memento!’

Am I right in saying, SCREW BLAKE SNYDER!! What a pretentious little prick! Screw Memento!? The guy wrote Blank Check!… sigh… Anyway, all I hope is that you are put off the idea of overly formulaic writing and at least Save The Cat, and want to hold out with your ‘ridiculously’ and ‘needlessly’ thought-out, original and unique screenplay, book or whatever. I promise the reward you’ll get for that is a million times more precious than millions of dollars. Please tell me that’s obvious.

I’m going to leave the last section by saying not all Blake Snyder’s ideas are bad, or that they deserve to be shat on. Merely take them with a pinch of salt. Save The Cat is not an anchoring point for a writing process, don’t rely on it. read it once or twice if you must, but then buckle in and try some hard work. Moving back to the idea of perspective, this film is very much about being firm in your ways and so ultimately blind (kind of nullifies the last part, but stick around). We grow up to grow into a mould we build around ourselves. We develop ideas, religions, belief systems, dogmatisms–personalities in short. Unless you’re a child your vision is pretty tunnelled. This is how we get though life without an existential breakdown at every turn. This is why people hold on to faith (or a lack thereof), political leanings, ideals, social perspectives and so on. As we all know, once you hit a certain age, there’s just not much that’s going to change us. The mind physically becomes less malleable, less plastic, and so we stay rigid in our ways. This is also why no matter how much you want your significant other to stop obsessing over how the house looks or to actually care, you are having the same arguments day in, day out. People don’t change. They don’t like or want to. The film presents this idea so perfectly. If you watch it and are annoyed at the decisions Freeman is taking you simply don’t understand him or have any insight into your own character.

But, where does this leave us and Freeman? I like to struggle over this kind of question. If we are a certain way, in this case stuck in our ways, what can we do, why, what does that mean, where are we left? Of course there are no definite answers. This comes down to opinion, and so all I can do is give you mine. I think it leaves us in our own worlds – irrevocably disconnected. That sounds all doom and gloom, but I think it’s just the reality we live in. And there’s no need to try and label reality, just bear it. After all, no one’s going to change it. The film seems to agree with me here. Whilst it is about preserving the Earth, it’s more poignant message concerns the preservation of an idea. Despite, being forced to do the unthinkable, despite having to kill co-workers, Freeman does what he believes is right. He does this throughout the film, enduring a hell he needn’t. In the end Freeman commits suicide because of the insurmountable futility he’s faced with. Freeman alone isn’t able to preserve the last of the world’s organic matter. He tried, but he failed. The beautiful allegory he tells us explains why he tried and why he had to give up. I paraphrase, but he tells his robot about putting a message in a bottle with his name and address on and sending it out to sea, never to know if anyone found it. The film is about hope. The film is about Mr. Smith. A big jump, but yes.

In The Matrix, Mr. Smith of course wants to create a world of clones of himself. Mr. Smith is my favourite character of the Matrix trilogy because… Mr. Anderson… and because he is the most human character in the entire Matrix/Real world. He is Neo, just grounded and a true to human nature–excerpt from the Wachowskis’ ideals. That’s not to say they’re wrong for having ideals concerning individuality and so on, but just that I most like Mr. Smith. We all want a world of clones. We are stuck in our own worlds and have those arguments with our significant other over the state of the house because we want to change them, we, to a certain degree, wish they were us, that they just did want we want them to! The film demonstrates that such fights are futile and that people don’t change. We send out our messages in bottles in hope of finding like minds, but once the bottle’s gone it’s most probably never going to find the same hands that sent it off. The film goes a step further than this by showing that whilst we hope, that we want a world of clones, we run, we hope blindly.

Throughout the film, Freeman is bound to this idea of nature, of growing and eating his own food. But what he’s also bound to is technology, his robots that he grows to love so much, more than he does other people, his plants even. The robots come from an idea of artifice, that which kills nature. Freeman’s hubris here, not seeing his core contradiction of ideals and action, is him running silently through his life. He refuses to, or just can’t, see how he preserves his ideals (as represented by the plants) with artifice, with their complete opposing factor. In the same way, you put up with your significant other because you like cleaning up, you like not having to clean up, you like to argue. No one wants the perfect man or woman because they’d just get on our nerves. In the end, the film demonstrates that we are set in our ways, but only because there is a atmosphere around us (that which often contradicts who we are and our ideals) that lets us remain so. Equals and opposites. We need them, but we don’t like them.

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