Spring Breakers – Is This Today?

Thoughts On: Spring Breakers

Here we are, this is a big one, I’ve looked at Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in preparation for this. If you’ve not read those posts I will be referencing them a lot, so you can check them all out here…

Spring Breakers Preamble

… if you’ve read those or just want to read a bit about Spring Breakers, then here we go. This film follows Candy, Faith, Cotty and Brit from their boring dorm life through a robbery into a spring break of escalating debauchery, crime and violence.

Spring Breakers

This is one of those films where there’s so much to say that you’re kind of left speechless. This is a cult classic which means quite a few people really love it and a few people absolutely hate it whilst most haven’t heard of it or just think, ‘meh’. I don’t love this film, I kind of want to hate it and I just want to say ‘meh’ and stop thinking about it. But, I can’t. In comparing this film to the behemoths at the top of the page, I’m not saying this is a modern classic or that it can brave the test of time. But, if I’m frank, it wouldn’t surprise me if it does gain some credibility over the years. This film was made with some interesting ideas that were executed quite well. The director, Harmony Korine, wanted to make a film about the phenomena of spring break in how young adults go off for a few weeks and devolve into… just… craziness, before getting into their cars and driving away as if nothing happened. The film is supposed to be psychedelic, transcendental, post-narrative and think-feeley (Lynchian). It’s also is supposed to cite gang culture, the culture of violence, gaming, teens, materialism, alcoholism, such and so on. The film tries to do all these things and in the end you can decide how well it manages to do so. I do have to say that it is captivating when Alien is introduced and that the Britney Spears bit–if you’ve seen it you know exactly what I’m going on about–really won me over. It’s because of the second half that I decided to take this film seriously. However, the first half is not so engaging. This is because the film is supposed to present a sense reality–but one I completely don’t relate to or have any experience with. This film’s inner conflicts are timeless, but the way in which they’re manifested makes them seem trivial. Spring Breakers works in the same territory as Rebel Without A Cause with the themes of wanting to escape adults and parents who don’t understand you. Whereas Rebel Without A Cause puts you in the home with Jim and his family, the girls in this just moan about the town being boring. The only link to a group to rebel against comes with religion – but this falls by the wayside when Faith (really subtle characternym) leaves. Having said all of that, the profound thing that hit me with this film is it’s relation to now. I see this film on T.V, on advertisements, online, in the facade of many strangers. This film is the uncensored stereotype of what some would call millennials, but what we can look at as the status quo of the culture of the late teen of today(ish).

As I said before, I do not relate to this film. I don’t consider this film to be representative of my mindset and the way I act. I can, however, see this film being a calling card for a dramatised and fantasised version of today in the same way that Ferris Bueller or The Breakfast Club is for the 80s, Taxi Driver is for the 70s, The Graduate the 60s, Rebel Without A Cause the 50s and so on. This is why I looked at the golden age of modern cinema that is the 70s. The 70s, cinematically, represent a time where rules were relinquished and art could be epic and huge – just look at Apocalypse Now. The 70s took the new found freedom and style of the 60s that developed throughout the world with the French New Wave and various other forms of foreign cinema that were pumped them into Hollywood. The blockbuster met the art film in the form of mid-budget, fearless and unflinching personal filmmaking. But, then Spielberg invented the true blockbuster and cinema decided its primary audience should be young adults and families – which it is to this day. But, I don’t want to teach a film history class here, I want to talk about this film in relation to past, present and future. The first thing we’ve already touched on is the idea of authority. What the three 70s classics up top have in common are there huge emphasis on questions of authority and control. Spring Breakers is about authority, but it doesn’t question the notion, merely free-associates the idea and then has its characters turn into anarchists. This film has binary antiheroes in the same way that One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest does. There’s Randle as chaos and Ratched as control. Spring Breakers just has chaotic teens and then Alien. The girls in the beginning of the film are pretty out of hand with the robbery and as implied with their dreams of spring break. I mean… the intro, come on. I don’t know who that appeals to. Everyone is faceless and purely stupid. There’s just a barrage of bikinis, trunks and sunglasses. If we juxtapose this with the noirs of 40s where everyone was suited, clad in shadow and a trusted fedora, we can see how cinema has always depersonalised. In fact, look at The Apartment and we can see a critique of the suited and uniformed crowd – this critique in film stretches from The Matrix to Metropolis. However, in these depersonalised situations what is being presented is both functional and constrictive. The crowd of ties and bowler hats are workmen, they represent how society has to work for the individual to live. Look at The Crowd or The Best Years Of Our Lives and we can see the people within the horde that the likes of The Matrix or Metropolis condemn.

In Spring Breakers the faceless crowd are not constricted, they are free. This is very telling of today. It’s not the legions of suits that need critique in my opinion, it’s the legions of swim suits. Why? Because of the massive contradiction they present. Metropolis critiques robotic crowds of workers, imploring we all need freedom, to be treated as individuals. The opening to Spring Breakers is what happens when you give people all the freedom they need. They don’t stop being robots, they just become stupid. Now, there’s always been stupid people, there always will be. But the crowd of free robots are very common modern cinema. From the trillion kids wanting to party in Weird Science to now, the crowd, as represented by cinema, has devolved. The crowd of suits is what has always been rebelled against in cinema. Now though, the crowd of swim suits is apparently rebelling. The transition’s not working me. This is because of the inherent contradiction that it presents in a wider context. But, staying with the crowd of swim suits, they of course end up disrobing. Tits are everywhere in this film and somehow that’s no fun. Yes, yes, breasts are just apart of a woman’s anatomy, they are not play things, I completely agree. But, the film doesn’t. The style of this film fetishistically lingers on women for the sake of sensationalism in the same way Tarantino has a The Bride slice up the Crazy 88. Tarantino isn’t saying violence is bad, but showing us it’s fun through the lens of cinema. Boobs in Spring Breakers are… ugh… because of their context and the faceless idiots they’re attached to. Korine’s sensationalism isn’t very sensational in short. This does however reprise an idea of a cinematic future posed in the 70s and P.T.A’s Boogie Nights. Hitchcock was a huge advocate of implementation, and in this sense the censorship in the 30s, 40s and 50s forced creativity and gave us Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo, but more relevantly, the screwball comedy. An ankle or a bit of shoulder in the right context can be miles more satisfying than push-in on legs spread eagle. If that sounds ridiculous to you then you’re a lost cause – sorry. But, what this relates to is the famous joke at the end of  North By Northwest…

North By Northwest - kissing

North By Northwest - end

…. if you don’t get it, I won’t help you. Hitchcock’s question concerning this was, how far can you go? Not very, he thought. Jump cut 50 odd years and, surprise, look what we’ve done. But, let’s not jump past the 70s. As seen in Taxi Driver porn theatres used to exist. From today’s perspective, that’s kind of absurd, you could look around and without trying quite hard you’d probably not find one. The closest thing we’ve got to porn theatres is the top shelf of the magazine section–and it’s not even that bad. In England there’s page 3, but there’s quite a bit of dispute on that. And of course we all have the internet, but I’ll come back to that. Pornography, in an alternate universe, became legitimised in the 70s with it becoming an art as shown in Boogie Nights. In this universe, it could have been, but no. I can’t delve too deep into why porn isn’t considered an art or legitimate, but it’s safe to say it has a lot to do with the rise in ticket prices, the loss of popularity of theatres as well as the discretion and ease given with the internet. Porn could have legitimised itself in the 70s because of its exposure, I mean, heck, there were porn theatres on Time Square – again, look at Taxi Driver. Whilst protests happened and they’re no longer there, what Spring Breakers implies is our desensitisation as a society despite this. Whilst there are large pockets of people against the raw nature of media and the growing relaxed nature in censorship, people are growing less conservative. I mean, 50 Shades Of Grey. Had that been a good film or as graphic as it promised–both it was far, far, from–then… I don’t know. I think we’re inevitably going to get follow ups to 50 Shades Of Grey, but will the genre flourish? This isn’t porn on the big screen, but we’re moving closer towards it and for young audiences, most aren’t likely to bat an eye at this movement. Some may disagree, but do you think there’s any child that grew up with a phone or internet connection that would have the same response to 50 Shades as a child that grew up without one? Porn becoming easier to access first allowed for a huge influx of discretion, but over time has desensitised us. Two Girls One Cup. How many people just had an awful flashback? How many of you shrugged and said, ‘I’ve seen worse’? And please, no, I don’t want to see the videos. Spring Breakers first and foremost poo-poos Hitchcock and his affirmation that we can only go so far with sex in cinema, but also represents the desensitisation of younger generations both portrayed in the movies and those watching them.

This is however is just scratching the surface, we’re just talking about the film’s intro. The narrative purpose of this film, as said, was to demonstrate how spring breakers are the Mr Jekyll to the everyday Dr Hyde. The spring breakers of today are tomorrow’s doctors, lawyers and unemployed (some rightly so). This speaks to the notion of pornography’s legitimisation. The sexual elements of Taxi Driver are representative of Travis making himself lonely–just like Kurtz relinquishes authority in the end and Randle traps himself. These three key films demonstrate vices as actions with real weight. This is not the case with the Spring Breakers. Before we go on, you may say to this whole essay, that Spring Breakers, doesn’t do what Taxi Driver or other classics do because it’s a bad film. I can agree with you to an extent, others wouldn’t, but, the poignancy of this film comes with the truth it seems to speak – how it is representative of many mentalities and paradigms present today. This doesn’t make it a great film, but, as said before, a marker point people may use to look back on our time from the future. With the internet, and as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you much about, there’s an abundance of anonymity. This is the trope of today – ineffectuality. Actions are not often met with consequences. We see this in the virtual world with gaming, social media, such and so on. I’m not going to hark on about all of that though. I don’t really have many thoughts surrounding that. This is all however significant in the regard to the film’s theme of game culture. This film’s climax is something right out of GTA – and it’s supposed to be. The mentality encompassed by the idea of inconsequence is nothing new however. Cinema has its basis here–it’s fantasy. I don’t criticise this aspect of art, but ask the question of what it has done to ‘today’? Gamers are cool, Comic Con is huge, everyone and their grandma has a Facebook, a phone and Candy Crush. The inconsequential has permeated incredibly deep into our society–rapidly. This is doing the opposite to what we think it would in respect to cinema. I talk about this with Batman V Superman and Human Cinema. Whilst people are bound to gaming and social media, cinema is losing fantasy and adopting realism in places it doesn’t need to. Spring Breakers is a representative of cinematic drama and fantasy exchanging places.

The playful nature of a Tarantino movie should destroy all sense of verisimilitude in a teen drama. It doesn’t in Spring Breakers. This is not a complement to the film. Whilst I don’t believe that the events that transpire are realistic, I believe that there are many people stupid enough to fall into this kind of cycle, that think the pink ski masks and AK-47s are cool. If we stop and take a look at Goodfellas here, we can see the material shift in the perspective of violent bad guys. Henry Hill is a gangster, what he has to boast for himself is a beautiful wife and kids, a car, a good suite and a lot of friends willing to wack him in a heart beat. Alien has the car, but is much more excited to flaunt the ridiculous amount of weaponry he has. Staying with Scorsese, Travis had a fascination with guns in Taxi Driver, but what made them cool was the fact that they were a symbol of utter violence. Look at the way Scorsese shoots them – with regiment and an almost awe inspired gaze. It’s their power that attracts Travis. Him practising in the mirror with the guns makes us very aware of his massive decline. The mirror scenes are where Travis truly breaks. But, go on YouTube and you find a myriad of supposed ‘gangsters’ with guns, real guns, that pose for the camera. Granted 90% of the idiots accidentally fire and then panic because ‘Oh, shit! My mom’s going to be soooo pissed!’. But, how can we laugh? Why are these not seen as troubled individuals like Travis is? In the same way we’ve been desensitised to sexual imagery, we have violent imagery. I’m not talking about cinema here. I’m talking about real life. Whilst porn on your phone is pretty harmless, real guns, real bullets and what could be real tragedies as a source of comedy is questionable. I think it’s good that we’re laughing at these idiots, but guns becoming banana peels can’t sound very good to anyone’s ear. Before moving on, I want to quickly jump to City Lights and Chaplin. In this film, a gun is a banana peel – in that it’s a comedic prop. But, I’m laughing and gasping and cringing at the same time with Chaplin. In Spring Breakers, the gun confrontation with the two girls and Alien is not ‘In what way am I funny?’ from Goodfellas, there is no danger, there is no comedic levity afterwards. There is that cringe though – James Franco, why!? I have no idea how they got through the part where he has to blow two guns, props to the guy though. But, whilst that’s a messed up image, we, with a gun as a symbol of violence, aren’t afraid to put our lips on that shaft. Like I said, messed up, right?

Staying with the gun/blow job scene, we can see how the two themes of sexuality and violence coalesce. Our day and age will forever be remember through images of twerking fat booties and the endless crass or violent comments under that video. Depressing, right? This is what the film, intentionally or not, presents. It’s Disney child actors, sexualised, masked and then given guns. Millions of children have grown up with the likes of these figures and, when looking back, this good girl turned bad idea is going to be our age’s personal growth or right of passage. Forget the likes of a teen getting a car and then chasing the women. Kids are meeting up online and sending each other nudes. This is not a universal truth, but neither is the getting a car and chasing the girls. You didn’t bat you eye at that one though, did you? Maybe future generations won’t with ours. My point is, dick pics are going to be looked back at as the first kiss. I’m laughing, and I’m not sure if that’s just funny, but, in 30 odd years would you like your kid to look at you and ask, ‘when did you and mum/dad meet?’ ‘When we were 16.’ The kid then asks, ‘how long until the first he sent the first dick pick?’ ‘NOOOO!!’. Mortifying, right? But chances are that that’s what they’ll think. I daren’t imagine what they’ll be up to though. Anyway, our growing tolerance toward sexuality and violence isn’t black and white. It’s not good or bad. In truth, we’ll have to wait and see what it is. But, in terms of cinema, morality is no longer an exciting theme or question. Some may see this is as a fault, I, somewhat unintentionally, don’t. Batman V Superman bored me because it was supposed to ask really serious questions of good and bad. When I see this I just groan. It belongs on the Disney channel. We all know what good and bad are, the film didn’t blur any lines. But, if the likes of Silent Running, Singin’ In The Rain or All Quiet On The Western Front, were made today I’d probably dismiss them (which I don’t). This is because they are simple moral stories. Their tone and context however makes them timeless classics. The tone given by modern cinema disallows the light and fluffy, but demands the tough and gritty. Again, I talk about this in Batman V Superman with Human Cinema, but I don’t think getting rid of the formulaic gritty fantasy is a solution or that our movement away from moral story telling is a problem. What the 70s gave us was existentialist and postmodern cinema giants. The postmodern elements of Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now and One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest are what make them great. It’s because they question and challenge morality beyond simply the good and the bad – no ugly. In fact, postmodern cinema gave us Star Wars. What? I hear you say. Yes! Postmodernity is as much about the neglect of basic narratives and messages as it is about reinvention. Star Wars is the prime of example of a film that redefined a genre.

Everything good about postmodern cinema has drained away. We’ve had the comic book revelation, but it’s not a big jump from the likes of Star Wars. We’ve also lost our interest in films that ask truly challenging questions. The best attempt toward a postmodern masterpiece like those in the 70s is with Nolan and the Dark Night trilogy. However, they say nothing new, merely package it with IMAX. More than that, what makes the Dark Night trilogy great comes from the spectacle films of the silent era. Nolan says this himself. It’s the likes of Metropolis and Intolerance that makes The Dark Night Rises work. But, this is a floppy attempt toward reinvention. Spectacle is spectacle though, nothing incredibly special, however, the moral themes of the trilogy give basis for the argument that it’s truly great. They cover chaos, authority, loneliness, balance and power. Ringing any bells? In terms of those themes, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now and One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest make the Dark Night trilogy look utterly pathetic. The Joker is no Randle McMurphy, Batman is no Travis Bickle and Bane is no Colonel Kurtz. Yes, they are all great characters, but any serious film fan, or filmmaker, can clearly see that the Randle, Travis and Kurtz are a step above any of the comic book characters. The postmodern elements of Spring Breakers (yeah, we’re still talking about that) are… meh. Like I said, the only scene that works on a level of atmosphere and pure cinema that Korine wanted is the Britney Spears part. I truly do tip my hat to that scene. For postmodern, pure, atmospheric, cinema I direct you toward Lynch with Eraserhead, Polanski with Repulsion and then ask you to please bow down with me at the feet of Tarkovsky. No one knows what cinematic atmosphere is better than Tarkovsky. I promise you that. Bergman comes close, but damn, Tarkovsky… just… wow. It may be unfair to ask of anything on a level of The Mirror, Nostalghia or Stalker from Korine, but are we just supposed to accept that the 70s and Tarkovsky are the best cinema can do? No. By ‘dehumanising’ in the respect of freeing it–I won’t link to Batman V Superman and Human Cinema again–we could open up a new brand of cinema, reinvent the reinventions instead of remaking. But, I’ve fell onto a tangent again.

Spring Breakers is representative of cinema now and the future in one more key way. This links to the portrayal of women and what I discussed in the preface to Taxi Driver. Spring Breakers is not a ‘woman with a problem’ story. The key reason for this links back to the crowd paradigm we discussed earlier. Women are intrinsically linked to this idea of a group mentality in the zeitgeist of today. When we think of feminism we don’t think of a woman and her rights, but women and their rights. This idea has conflict with the goals of modern feminism. We can see this with women wanting to close down the wage gap–I know there’s dispute over this and the numbers, but whatever–and wanting to get more girls into the hard sciences. Women are not treated as individuals capable of solving their own personal issues, of facing their boss, of signing up for the class they want. No, they have to be affirmed, they have to be led into the class room or be facilitated. I don’t want to criticise here too much, but the link to the paradoxical crowd mentality is that by unifying, you dehumanise – and feminism is all about creating an equal playing field. Contradiction. What has this got to do with cinema though? Well, women are either isolated to show they can stand up to a group of men, as in Alien or Avengers–which is criticised anyway because they don’t have other women around them–or women are shown to group tightly together. We see this in Bridesmaids, Mean Girls, Pitch Perfect and this–Spring Breakers. We get very few ‘woman with a problem’ films because women are either grouped together or only used as protagonists in romances. The strongest ‘woman with a problem’ films are The Hunger Games series. However, Katniss is a bit of a gimmick and her problems mainly revolve around love and boyfriends–the same happens in Brooklyn. Spring Breakers doesn’t actually feature much of the traditional quest for love. Instead, there’s a lot of licking cartoon penises and three, sometimes four-way, relations – which doesn’t do much for the girls in the way of power, so it loses out there. The only good true ‘woman with a problem’ films that come to my mind are Brave and Inside Out–thank you Disney – again. Spring Breakers reflects a move in modern cinema toward characters that we don’t get to hear much from (women), but not a great one. I don’t see the woman’s version of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Taxi Driver or Apocalypse Now happening any time quite so soon. This is because people are unable to shake of this desperate bid for change. We’ll get the female equivalent to Taxi Driver unintentionally, when we can watch the film and not say–oh, it’s trying to be the woman version of Taxi Driver. This of course links back to reinvention and leads on to the final notes…

Spring Breakers says a lot about society as is and how we will be looked back on. This has an awful lot to do with a lack of good management and no one having much to talk about. 20s, 40s and 70s. These are the cinematic golden ages and they are all anchored to contextual tragedy or turmoil. The golden age of silent cinema followed the first World War and the drastic growth in the modernisation of the western world. Hollywood’s golden age followed to the great depression and second World War. The second golden age of cinema has it’s basis in the cold war and social revolutions in the 60s. What problems have we as a society got? Uhh… yes, there’s poverty, some say social injustices in respect to minorities, there’s world hunger, war, North Korea. But you laughed at North Korea, didn’t you. Maybe it’ll take them flipping out and bombing us to give us our next golden age of cinema. But, how selfish did that sound? Jokes aside, the issues we fixate on are largely transitory. Things trend for a while and then fizzle out. We, as a society, can’t manage our issues too well. This is because with the information age comes too much stuff to juggle. I like to be reminded of this through those YouTube videos that reminisce about the year that has just passed. You start off by saying wow, that was only that long ago? And by the end of the video you’ve forgotten what you were so flabbergasted by. I’m trying to remember one of these videos and… nothing… how about you? And that’s the issue. Cinema has it’s basis in conflict, in thematic issues. The issues of today are self-contradicting as shown with the approach to the presentation of women in cinema and, of course, the group. What’s more pressing is the very first thing I said about this film. It leaves you speechless. It speaks volumes about our time, but it’s not a time I’m familiar with. I don’t understand these characters in the same way I would a Jim Stark, a Travis Bickle, A Randle McMurphy. The most popular characters to come out of modern cinema are probably The Joker, Batman ad Tyler Durden. Who have we got here? Randle McMurphy twice and Travis Bickle. You can find these characters as recurring figures further back in cinematic history, but what Randle and Travis do that Batman and The Joker don’t do so well is reinvent the archetype instead of redress them with cloaks and make-up. On the bright side, Tyler is quite unique and stands for quite a lot, but …1999 was quite a while ago, so I’m not sure if he counts. Either way, the point stands that without characters that resonate, or big issues that are tackled precisely, cinema can be little more entertainment.

In Spring Breakers I see a huge mirror, and our reflection doesn’t look good. I’m not going to pretend like there’s a solution to this problem. I mean, come one, the problem is literally all our problems. You can’t expect me to give you a quick fix. But, in seeing films like Spring Breakers we should be asking ourselves questions like, is this today? The answer is, again, we’ll have to wait and see. But, that’s scary, right? I hate to leave you on that note, but that’s the purpose of the film. It’s about not facing consequence. At best it asks us to look at what we do, with thought of how we will be seen. But, I and you aren’t in control of the big WE. That’s the futility. At least there are the Travis Bickles. That’s the only upside to the situation and way forward. If we want better cinema to represent us, that isn’t remakes and adaptations, then we need to truly reinvent instead of half-assing all attempts. In short, we should learn from history as much as we do from self-reflection. That is, of course, if you care for how you look. In short, could we, could cinema, be better? More importantly, how?



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One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Rolling Stones Don’t Wash Dirty Underwear In Public

Thoughts On: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

The last 70s classic I’ll be looking at before diving into Spring Breakers. This follows Randle McMurphy into a mental institution, where he discovers the life of a psychiatric patient isn’t so mellow and free.

One flew over the cuckoo's nest

This movie, despite the end, is one of the most joyous films of all time. It does this by perfectly balancing the idea of chaos with control and restraint through mischief. Jack Nicholson perfectly captures a person with little restraint, little self-control, but an abundance of respect and heart. It’s because Randle only wants to enjoy himself that he can rouse a sense of humanity and normalcy in those others would consider insane. In short, Randle only wants to see the likes of himself in others and so can see character beyond facade. This is ultimately how we see and is what makes this film absolutely phenomenal. Whilst the film does have themes and questions surrounding a question of normality versus insanity, I won’t be focusing on them today. What we’ll be looking at is is the two core ideas of the film. The first is chaos and disorder for the sake of levity or fun. The second is trapping yourself and being trapped. Let’s jump right into what Randle represents. He is the part of you that picks up snowballs even though you know you’re hands are going to get cold, wet and probably to the point where you’re almost in tears. Randle is what makes you put glue or sticky tape in your friend’s hair for a laugh. You’ve ruined their day, possibly the next month of their life, but, shit it was funny. Impulsiveness and good intent laced with apparent malice, this is Randle. I mean, just look at that smile up there… I need say no more. How he explains himself as the chaos factor to an organising body (the psychiatric hospital) is that he fights and fucks too much. He is, for all of those who’ve taken a psychology class, representative of the id – instinctively drawn to innate impulses. Law’s purpose is to essentially control that part of society. But, with ease, Randle can have Dr. Spivey smiling over the idea of statutory rape and the audience cured of any disillusion. This has quite a bit to do with antiheroes, but Randle’s case is quite special. Sex driven teens are quite the norm, as are gangsters, murderers, monsters and idiots. All common antiheroes. What Randle manages to be is an amalgamation of Travis Bickle and Alex DeLarge. This comes back to what makes the film special. Randle is the dark antihero, your Batmans, Charles Foster Kanes, Jim Starks, or Men With No Names. At the same time he’s a Patrick Bateman, Juels Winnfield, Joker, Sugar Kane Cowalczyk, Jordan Belfort. There’s a very strong sense of of both yin and yang in his character that few others can manage.

Whereas The Joker can get away with being 90% bad but 10% truly entertaining, Randle splits the divide evenly because One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest ultimately isn’t about bad trumping good. This film is made up of antiheroes and the naive. Nurse Ratched may seem like an antagonist, but with an antihero in a realist picture, she can’t be the bad guy, but a representative of Randle’s opposite. She may act in opposition to him, but not in hostile way, and so, she’s not a true antagonist. This will eventually link into trapping oneself and being trapped, but the first takeaway here is that of balance. When we take into consideration all sides of character motivation, the film asks how much control an institution should have. This is best summed up with the cigarettes ordeal. All patients have their cigarettes rationed and doors locked because they essentially aren’t trusted to look after themselves. Because Randle won all their smokes, Nurse Ratched decides to look out for her patients and stop what she assumes to be cheating from happening–just like countries may make gambling illegal. But, as Manchini says, how, without their cigarettes, will they win any back? To control we must minimise risk. But risk, the whole concept of odds and imbalance, is meant to excite a system, both in an emotional and physical sense. The freedoms of being an adult are best utilised by those trying to do something childish and stupid. Mistakes are seen as a right to an individual, but on a larger scale, mistakes are big no, nos. Randle is chaos, Nurse Ratched is control and we are the likes of Martini, Taber and Cheswick. We are the impressionable. I like to say this too much, but, the crowd is the stupidest person of all. They can be lulled into routine or sparked into chaos like a child with ice cream; refuse to give it to them, they scream, give it to them, they love you, they drop it, they scream again, give them another, they’re grinning again. This kind of makes Randle the big kid who’d happily smack the ice cream out of your hand and Ratched the parent who warned you not to drop it. But, ice-cream and tears are trivial matters. What the film is more concerned with is the over-reactions, the misunderstandings. In the same way Taber shouldn’t have been detained because a cigarette burnt his foot, Nurse Ratched didn’t deserve to be strangled. At the same time, I don’t think Randle really needed lobotomising either. But, the question raised is, who would? Are the over-reactions always unjust?

The conflict between control and chaos in a liberal or moral society–liberal more so–is tantamount to embarrassment. With rules such as freedom of speech, people are forced into a corner when they hear something they do’t want to. People and idealism don’t work together because people hate contradiction, but love to say we’re all human. The cycle is quite funny to me. As a species humans yearn for paradigms – formulas that make us all happy. But, one of the worst attempts at this is the idea of doing onto others as you’d want done onto yourself. Equality is one of the key ideals of our day and age, the idea is prospectively warming, but when faced at present isn’t always so fun. Equality is sharing your toys with that snot nose kid that got away with making you eat sand. Equality is staring the nurse who just drove your friend to suicide in the eye and saying, well, I’m sure you didn’t mean for that to happen. Equality is blind tolerance, blind forgiveness. Why should we love our enemies? Yes, I can pragmatically say that Nurse Ratched didn’t deserve to be strangled, but had I stood in Randle’s shoes, like almost all of us, I could have strangled the bitch. Maybe I wouldn’t, but I could not forgive her so easily. This is the embarrassing state of conjecture. We love to ignore apparent truths or what makes us look bad so we can get those retweets, that round of applause from strangers. Here’s one I love, ‘treat your girl like a queen and you become a king’. I see it all the time, but, no, simply, no. All that sounds like to me is an abusive relationship. But, it keeps the girls smiling and the guys’ hopes of sticking it in you high–so, shh. From a literal perspective, people love to spew nonsense and this translates to the film’s ideas through its main conflict. Both Randle and Nurse Ratched are trying to look out for the patients at the psychiatric hospital. Randle, for fun. Nurse Ratched, because it’s her job. Both for moral comfort in helping others. The patients maybe need parties and alcohol as much as they do therapy and pills. Both sides of the spectrum (Randle/Ratched) don’t want to accept this. The true tragedy in the end of this film is not that Randle is reduced to a zombie, but that the film had to end, that things got so out of hand. The reasons for this link to the second idea of the movie.

Whilst this is a film about freedom, it is as much about about enslaving oneself. It’s because of Randle’s, what he would call, misdemeanours, that he was sent to prison. However, in an attempt to cheat the system and get an easier ride, he gets into the psychiatric hospital. Because of his nature, he ends up trapped in a place that he doesn’t seem to belong–but kinda does. In this sense Randle is just as much of a voluntary patient as Billy. This isn’t so coherent in the beginning of the film, but by the third act all is revealed. It’s the lingering close-up of Randle having just set Billy up with Candy that shows that he doesn’t want to leave for Canada. He puts on a relaxed facade, but can’t prevent his embarrassment from surfacing in his disingenuous smile to no one. Randle chooses to stay until morning, just like he chose to put the keys back on the window ledge. Chaos is nothing without control and all Randle was looking for was a fight. It’s the in-extreme element, the mid-ground, that suffers from this. Like I said, there’s the antiheroes and the naive. When extremists fight for control, the crowd that watches is torn left to right until they break. This is what happens with Billy. It’s unclear whether Ratched or Randle is better for him, if routine or impulisivity better suite his nature, but both of them together prove fatal. In the same way that Billy is torn apart, that Randle tears himself apart by rebelling, systems are shown to collapse by not managing their extremes. In short, opposites are rarely equal in a literal sense. Someone always has to win. Unstoppable forces do not meet immovable objects. Randle is a binary archetype, it’s all or nothing, off or on, with him. As with Ratched. What does this imply? It implies that we should all become more tolerant, backpedal toward a mid-ground, toward equality. Contradiction! I hear you scream. Well, yes. But, here’s the thing, a move toward equality is not equality. Systems, like people, work best when in conflict. This is the crux of the film (I feel like this is becoming a catchphrase). Anyway, the core idea of the film is not in Big Chief running toward the horizon, free as an eagle, big as a mountain. The point is lifting that sink and breaking the window.

Conflict is what the film ends on, is what the film implores. It’s with imbalance, Ratched in the nurses station with a neck brace on, the group playing with a set of cards with nude women on, but Randle nowhere to be seen, that the film finds peace. It’s Randle when, having lost the vote, can sit in front of a blank screen a yell like a child, that the film finds joy. It’s when Cheswick is moaning, ‘Hard-on’ is ranting, Martini’s giggling, Taber’s mocking, Sefelt yips ‘peculiar!?’ and Billy silently grins, that morbid silence can’t stagnate, that everyone seems so alive. This is why we trap ourselves in jobs we don’t love, with friends that are annoying, with people who don’t share our ideals. Not, only do we love to moan, but we need conflict to know that things are happening. This is where the rolling stones and underwear aphorisms come into play. Rolling stones plow through life. Not gathering moss is refusing to, as Ferris Bueller would say, stop and take a look around once in a while. In the same respect not cleaning your dirty underwear in public is best defined with the Kim Jong-un character in The Interview. It’s refusing to be seen as human–to have a butt-hole. Randle is a rolling stone, Ratched wouldn’t wash dirty underwear in public. They are flawed in the same sense because those they aim to impress themselves upon are never truly allowed to see them as much more than caricatures. Randle’s happy to throw a big gestures, but rarely small ones. Ratched exercises restraint to the point of being nothing more than cold. By polarising themselves they are trapped in conflict with each other, but a conflict that’ll always want to escalate. A conflict that has an end, wants to stop and have the life sucked out of a place. However, with Big Chief, Randle found another opposite. He’s controlled internally, but he does not want to control externally. It’s these two that form the most genuine relationship, that can have the quiet conversations. And so, through Chief, a part of Randle lives on. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is ultimately about inserting the right amount of chaos into a control system so that it can thrive. The hard conflict the film endures cites an unbalanced imbalance. The levity we are given through joyous uproar is the porridge that’s not too sweet, not too salty, but just right. Of course, we’re stealing from bears, but everyone loves a fairy tale, adventure, a bit of danger.

All in all, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is about the world as a ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’. Yes, Cuckoos are birds–they are free–but they’re nuts. And so again, the tragedy of the film is not that Randle flew over the nest, but that he couldn’t stay. Chief, in all hope, hasn’t fled the nest, but entered a bigger badder world. Ultimately, freedom is not shown to be in peace, but in comfortable conflict–the tears and the ice-cream. If the world wasn’t a crazy place, then what would it be?



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Taxi Driver – You Talkin’ To Me?

Thoughts On: Taxi Driver

With a continued look in on 70s classics before looking at Spring Breakers I come now to what could be Scorsese’s best film. I started with Apocalypse Now and will be looking at One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest next, with the intentions of exploring the ways in which cinema has changed over the last 40 years, and what the current era of cinema will be defined by. So, Taxi Driver follows an insomniac and a loner, Travis Bickle, through the streets of New York as his disdain for the city and world festers, culminating in an explosive gesture for catharsis and an attempt towards fixing his broken world.

Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver is the quintessential ‘man with a problem’ picture. Some like to look down on this kind of film. One of Christopher Nolan’s key criticisms is that he tells the same ‘man with a problem’ stories. From Memento, to The Dark Night, to Inception, his male leads lose the women dear to them and then battle an internal struggle against the loss. Such stories are criticised because women are seen to be objectified, reduced to mere motivation instead of real characters. With 8 1/2 I explore what this is and why it’s done. In short, films are dictated by character’s perception. But, the main argument against the ‘man with a problem’ film usually pertains to a question of, why aren’t there many ‘woman with a problem’ pictures? I think this is a genre, or grounds, that cinema hasn’t explored too well at all. This may be down to fact that if I were to name a handful of the greatest directors of all time, without prejudice, I wouldn’t come up with one woman. Google the ‘best directors’ and you get Scorsese, Spielberg, Nolan, Fincher, Tarantino, Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Kubrick, Coppola, Cameron, Eastwood, P.T.A, Woody Allen, Tarkovsky, Rossellini, Goddard, Truffaut, Fellini, Bergman, Ozu, Kurosawa, Lynch, Cronenberg, Bertolucci, Chaplin, Peckinpah, Welles, Leone, Aronofsky, Capra… the list literally goes on and on and on. You don’t get a woman until Sophia Coppola, Katheryn Bigelow or Ava DuVernay – and they are way down on the list. This is a very depressing and ultimately confusing reality. I won’t pretend that there is one cause to this paradigm, or pretend to know the solution to the problem. But, when looking at Taxi Driver in this respect, you’re faced with some difficult questions. Could Travis have been a woman? Yes, of course. But would the film have been as successful? As poignant? I feel the answer is no. The film would have been reduced to an exploitation or ‘feminist’ picture. Ridley Scott is praised for using characters like Ripley or Thelma and Louise. But, that idea is quite counter productive. Having strong female leads is the equivalent to having 3D in your film. It doesn’t instantly make it better, but triggers an audience’s interest. I won’t delve too deep into these questions here, instead, save it for the talk on Spring Breakers–which I might end up splitting into several parts. What is relevant about the idea of a ‘man with a problem’ is Travis’ issues being universally applicable.

Taxi Driver is about loneliness and authority. Anyone can face such issues, but Travis’ retaliation is stereotypically male. The dynamic and tone of this film is reliant on the existence of this idea of a man with a problem and a stereotypical male response. Travis’ underlying struggle with loneliness comes with his inability to get along with women and their rejection of him. We can see Travis’ fight against societal ostracisation primarily with women, with Betsy and Iris. How Paul Schrader describes the film is as paraphrased: Travis is a guy who wanders around, he can’t have the woman he wants and he doesn’t want the woman he can have, he then tries to kill the father figure of one and fails, but does manage to kill the father figure of the other and becomes a hero. This is the best thematic summation of the film I’ve heard–and rightly so, Paul Schrader wrote the film. Travis, as he says, is God’s lonely man. But, again using Schrader’s view of the film and his intentions, people aren’t born lonely, ‘we make ourselves lonely’. Those three ideas are the crux of the film. Firstly, there’s the problems with women, second is loneliness, third is responsibility. Problem, effect, retaliation. We learn of Travis’ problems with direction and of course his narration. Scorsese made a point of directing this film from Travis’ point of view, only ever once showing what Travis wouldn’t have seen – the scene with Iris and Mathew dancing. We are made to cruise the grimy, grim, ill-lit streets of New York, constantly privy to crime and poverty so that Travis can be further isolated. The blurred and distant lights of the world beyond his cab imply his disconnect and when he opens the door to customers he’s letting in more than potential fare. He’s relinquishing control and letting in danger. The ‘Taxi Driver’ is an archetypal character of a person who lives as part of a city. And when that city is dangerous, they are show to be living life on the edge. This is why the archetype is applied to Travis’ character. It perfectly captures both his will to be apart of society, but ultimately reduces him to a piece of furniture. This is also Travis making himself lonely. His problems and their effects are looped in positive feedback.

The idea of problems that reaffirm themselves by the actions they induce in us is a very telling paradigm. Almost all of the major issues faced by humanity are manufactured and self-preservative. People decide to go to war, choose to pollute, corrupt, lie, steal. As a whole, humanity is incapable of stepping out of this cycle of causing problems and feeling their burn. Travis’ inability to hold onto relationships deepens the commentary. Coming back to women, Travis wants a girl that may be beautiful, but who ultimately isn’t much like him and isn’t that interested. When he comes across Iris, he comes across a character very similar to himself. She chooses to be a prostitute, to stay with Mathew. She can never step out of the loop. Travis could have easily been with her if he could bypass his own moral sense. But, like almost all of us, he can’t – he doesn’t sleep with a 12 year old. Women, in this respect, represent Travis’ natural urges. But, his morals, standards that are too high and his persona disallows him to adhere to his natural inclinations in a true, or satisfying, sense – yes, he can go to porn theatres, but can’t win Betsy over. Why? Because he messes up by taking her, on their first date, to see a porno. He allows himself to destroy what he wants. Porn represents an easy fix. Travis fits into an unfortunate niche here. He’s willing to accept the easy fix that isn’t good enough (a sticky seat in a porn theatre) whilst refusing another equally easy fix that may be more satisfying – Iris, otherwise known as Easy. Travis’ conflict is himself, is this idea of morals. Morals are apart of what makes people human – it’s what separates us from the animals. But, humanity is as much a gift as it is a task. Is self-awareness, conscientiousness, are feelings, emotions, really that great? Without them life would be an automated process, not a struggle to balance opposites: love, hate; need, want; society, individuality; us, them. But, the solution to the problems of humanity is not as simple as hitting auto-pilot. Our response to war, corruption, pollution, lies, theft, poverty, inequality, comes in the form of government, democracy, hierarchy, morals, social norm and laws. This idea is expressed though the political elements of this film, but ultimately comes back Travis and women.

Humanity is not perfect despite government, democracy, such and so on. This gives reason as to the state of New York in Taxi Driver and Travis’ disdain. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go into the historical and political atmosphere of the late 60s and 70s – this is partly because that’s a small feature of the film, but mostly because I wouldn’t know what I was talking about. With the wold being imperfect, Travis wants change. He sees a failing solution, a lie, in Palantine (the politician) and a worsening and ever prevalent situation around him as expressed through Mathew (the pimp). As Paul Schrader says, to Travis, these are ‘father figures’. Travis isn’t at all concerned with politics, but the girl at the politician’s head quarters. Travis isn’t so much concerned with the combatance of drug and gang crimes, neither prostitution. He simply wants a rain of biblical proportions to wash them all away, flush them down the toilet. His reasons for engaging in the final conflict are selfish, just as the reason why he didn’t assassinate Palantine was. By killing Palantine, Travis wouldn’t have won, spited, or helped Betsy. And so, he was quick to give up on the pursuit of what can be considered an authority figure above her. Killing Mathew and the organisation around the pimp is the only way Iris could escape her cycle. But, she’s 12, Travis has no sexual inclination to save her. Travis, as a loner, may only break the cycle of his own pain by ending his life with the alleviating idea being that he died for a good reason – saving Iris. In short, in self-pity, Travis decides to affect the world the only way he knows how. There’s a little more to the ending of the film though. The reasoning behind all the destruction comes with an idea of retaliation to authority. Travis makes himself lonely by telling himself the world is disgusting, that there is no solution to its problems beyond washing it all away and starting again. The final conflict is not representative of Travis washing away the problems of the world, but his problems with the world. He allows himself to see Mathew as the symbol of all that is wrong in his city. When he destroys that symbol, he’s rewarded, but is ultimately left the same person. Travis has metaphorically washed out the streets of New York and in the end of the film, with him coming across Betsy again, he’s reminded that he’s merely displaced its issues – just like he has his own.

This idea links to Travis helping the girl he does not want. Here’s the sad reality of the film. Travis was in the papers, Iris is safe, but all will probably be forgotten, Iris will probably hate school and would have only adopted a whole new set of problems. How easy would it be for a 12 year old former prostitute to fit in with other girls? Her problems, like his problems, have been displaced, not solved. The true happy ending to the film would have been some wishy-washy transformation which allowed Travis to get Betsy. But, hold on, that’s not exactly true. How well do you think their marriage would go? Not very well at all. Travis was doomed from the beginning. He is the type of man that will probably forever be stuck in a cycle of his own issues. This is why Scorsese made the film. He thought it was a form of maturity, that it was ok to have the feelings of hatred Travis had, but not to cross the line he did. Taxi Driver asserts that some times it’s not the world that needs to change, but your view of it – and that you can’t go killing the fathers of the women you like because they represent a wall. It’s Palantine that represents democracy and a sense of control in Betsy that Travis (as a person who ultimately devolves into an anarchist) can’t get along with. It’s Mathew as an immoral dreg of society that represents why Travis can’t have Iris. In short, to be with those women he must be like them, be like their father figures. It’s Travis’ isolation from society, from other men, that makes him incapable to behaving like them. That is why this is a ‘man with a problem’ picture. It centres around the world of men with themes of not belonging. It’s because Travis isn’t the stereotypical man that he can’t get the women he wants. By adapting the downfalls of the stereotypical man however (aggression, violence) Travis only recycles his descent–furthering himself from the idea of an average man and getting the women he desires. This speaks to the film’s bigger picture which deals with the conflicts of humanity. In the same way Travis dooms himself, we shouldn’t want to ‘fix’ the problems with humanity. We shouldn’t be looking for the auto-pilot button. Problems must be dealt with internally, not externally. War? Everyone decides they don’t want to kill or be killed and it won’t happen. Pollution? Everyone decides they care about the future of our environment and they wont’ actively harm it. The same goes for any and all major issues humans have made for themselves. But, alas, the major issue is humanity and me asking everyone to change, too look inside themselves, is just as futile as shooting up a crack den–no matter how good it makes me feel or how others praise me.

All in all, Taxi Driver is about responsibility. It’s about taking your issues and dealing with them internally, not trying to project them onto the world around you and then asking or forcing it to change. The person that you should be asking ‘you talking to me?’ is not any figure of authority, of power, of opposition. No, you save the question for the mirror and maybe one day your refection will talk back, they might say ‘yes, let’s having a conversation’. Whether you shoot at them or not is up to you, but remember, the gun’s not loaded.



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