Archive for January, 2012

Time to Leave Eugene?

January 30, 2012

Ever since I saw A Dangerous Method, I have been interested in the interpretation of dreams. Last night I had an extremely vivid dream that has haunted me.

I am walking through downtown Eugene. (My dreams rarely ever take place in Eugene.) I suddenly see an army advancing towards me, with demonstrators retreating in front of them. The soldiers are shooting. Some of the demonstrators turn and throw rocks, but this doesn’t slow the soldiers. A bullet goes whizzing past my head. I turn and head back the way I came, but I see soldiers coming from that direction, also with demonstrators retreating in front of them. I turn towards the Willamette river, the only way I can go. I see some old friends of mine – people I knew before I moved to Eugene – crouching on a steep river bank, so I join them. We discuss what we should do. I suggest wading across the river to the other side, but they don’t seem to like that idea. Suddenly we are all on a freight train heading out of Eugene.

So, is my dream telling me I should leave Eugene? That’s what it seems to be saying to me. (Yeah, I know, Freud would have said that the train is phallic and that the river is a vagina. I am, needless to say, not a strict Freudian.)

A Dangerous Method

January 29, 2012

David Cronenberg’s new film, A Dangerous Method, is about the founders of psychoanalysis. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) is asked to treat a young woman suffering from hysteria, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). Under his treatment, Speilrein starts to improve. She begins studying psychoanalysis. She eventually makes sexual advances on Jung, but he rejects her, partly because he feels it would violate his professional ethics, and partly because of his devotion to his wife, Emma (Sarah Gadon). At about this same time, Jung meets the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), who makes a strong impression on him. Freud persuades Jung to take as his patient, Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), who is also a psychoanalyst and who advocates free love. After analyzing Gross, Jung decides to accept Speilrein’s advances. However, when Freud says that he has heard rumors that Jung is having an affair with one of his patients, Jung decides to end his relationship with Speilrein. The latter takes this badly. She eventually announces that she wants to study under Freud. This alarms Jung, who is afraid that Freud will find out about his unethical behavior.

The characters all come across as deeply flawed, and the film does not take sides. Overall, however, Jung seems more sympathetic than Freud. The latter comes across as rigid, narrow-minded, and domineering. In one scene he reveals his hand by saying that he wouldn’t discuss one of his dreams with Jung because he didn’t want to compromise his “authority”. There is also a complacency about Freud’s world-view. He tells Speilrein that “the world is what it is”, and that pyschoanalysts shouldn’t try to change it. Yet one cal also see why Freud eventually became disenchanted with Jung; the latter was fascinated with irrational ideas, such as a belief in telepathy. The revelation of his affair with Spielrein becomes the last straw.

One point this film makes is how psychoanalysis was rooted in nineteenth-century romanticism. Jung and Spielrein both admire the music of Richard Wagner. Spielrein finds inspiration in the story of Siegfried, which influences her ideas about psychology. (Themes from Wagner’s music are subtly interwoven into the soundtrack.)

The acting in A Dangerous Method is very good. I especially liked Mortensen’s performance as Freud. He subtly conveys the character’s arrogance and authoritarianism, without turning him into a caricature.

At the end of this film, we are told that Spielrein, who was Jewish, was murdered by the Nazis during World War II. This is a disturbing reminder that our lives are ultimately shaped by political and economic forces that psychoanalysis can do nothing to address.


January 22, 2012

Steve McQueen’s film, Shame, deals with the topic of sex addiction. I must admit I’ve always been skeptical about whether such a condition actually exists. However, I suppose if a person can become addicted to gambling, then it’s possible for someone to be addicted to sex.

Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is an executive at a company in New York. He engages in casual sex with prostitutes and women he meets in bars. He downloads pornography from the Internet. He even masturbates in the john at work. He seems incapable of having sex unless it’s impersonal. When, for example, he begins seeing a woman who works in his office, Marianne (Nicole Beharie), he ends up rejecting her.

Brandon’s life gets complicated when his emotionally unstable sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), suddenly moves into his apartment with him. The film implies that they had a traumatic experience in their childhoods, although we are never told what it was. When Sissy has sex with Brandon’s boss, David (James Badge Dale), Brandon becomes angry with her. Brandon seems to have a madonna/whore complex, which is no doubt related to his obsessive attitude towards sex and to his inability to have a relationship.

Fassbender gives a powerful performance. With his looks and gestures, he’s able to suggest complicated thoughts and emotions going on inside his character’s head. Shame contains graphic sex scenes; McQueen apparently wanted to make clear the joylessness of Brandon’s approach to sex. This film’s ending does not offer any redemption for Brandon. He seems trapped in his behavior. This is an interesting, if somewhat bleak, character study.

Revenge of the Electric Car

January 12, 2012

This is an incredibly shallow film. It spends ninety minutes talking about how wonderful electric cars supposedly are, yet it says almost nothing about how electricity is generated. Fifty-seven percent of the electricity generated in the United States comes from the burning of coal. So it is simply false to claim that electric cars do not pollute, as some of the people in this film do. Of all the “experts” interviewed in this film, only one, Thomas Friedman, even touches upon the issue of power generation. He glibly assures us that as the power grid becomes “cleaner”, so will electric cars. (Friedman is the only person in this film who acknowledges that electric cars are not “clean”.) Considering that the government is touting the fraudulent notion of “clean coal”, I cannot share Friedman’s complacent optimism.

There is a quick discussion of solar power at the end of this film, but, if you blink, you will miss it.

The development of electric cars needs to be done alongside developing renewable energy sources to the exclusion of all other types of sources. This is the only rational policy, but our for-profit system will not allow this to happen.

House of Pleasures

January 9, 2012

Bertrand Bonello’s film, L’Apollonide: Souvenirs de la maison close, has been showing at my local art house movie theatre under the title, House of Pleasures. (It has also been released under the title, House of Tolerance). It depicts the lives of women living and working in a brothel in Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century. Their lives are hard. One woman, Madeleine (Alice Barnole), has her face slashed by a client and is permanently disfigured. Another, Julie (Jasmine Trinca) contracts syphilis and eventually dies. Clotilde (CĂ©line Sallette) becomes an opium addict. The fate of the other women is uncertain, since the madame (Noemie Lvovsky) cannot afford to pay the increased rent demanded by the landlord.

Despite its grimness, this film is not strictly realistic, for there are fantasy sequences. In some scenes, for example, there is late twentieth century pop music, such as the Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin, playing on the soundtrack. In one scene, we see semen coming out of Madeleine’s eyes. This struck me as completely gratuitous.

House of Pleasures is two hours long, but it seems much longer than that. What’s really frustrating about this movie, though, is that one senses that buried somewhere in this sprawling, confused, and sometimes repulsive mess is what could have been a good film. When they’re not dancing to anachronistic pop music, the characters sometimes come across as complex and interesting. House of Pleasures does show a sense of class consciousness in that the women all come from factory worker or peasant backgrounds, whereas their clients all come from wealthy families. Unfortunately, Bonello’s self-conscious artiness and heavy-handed efforts to shock the audience ultimately rid this work of any emotional power. It simply leaves you feeling numb.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

January 7, 2012

Sean Durkin’s first feature-length film, Martha Marcy May Marlene, is billed as a “psychological thriller”, which is misleading, for the film is actually a character study. There is suspense in the story, but it is never resolved.

The film begins with Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) running away from a Manson-like “cult” she has belonged to for the past two years. She moves in with her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), and Lucy’s husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy). The rest of the film interweaves scenes of Martha living with Lucy and Ted, and Martha’s life in the “family”. In the latter, she lives with a group of men and women who live on a farm in the Catskill mountains. The leader of the group is Patrick (John Hawkes), who spouts psycho-babble and plays mind games with the others. Female newcomers to the group are drugged and then raped by Patrick. One of the disturbing things about the film is how the group’s “family” feel masks a brutal male supremacy, and how Martha and the other women find ways to accept this.

To support themselves, members of the “family” sometimes break into peoples’ houses and steal from them. During one break-in, they kill the owner. This incident is apparently what causes Martha to leave, although the film is a little bit vague on this point.

Lucy and Ted are mostly kind to Martha, although they come across as emotionally cold. (It is implied that Martha joined the cult to get away from her family’s coldness.) It doesn’t help that Martha is unable to bring herself to talk about her experiences. She also begins to suffer from a fear that the “family” is pursuing her. Her behavior increasingly causes friction between her and Lucy and Ted, and it also creates strains in the latter’s marriage.

This film is well-made, and it has some powerful moments, but overall I found it claustrophobic and frustrating to watch. Because Martha never opens up to her sister about what happened to her in the “family”, they never interact in a way that is dramatically interesting. Durkin has said in interviews that he wanted to make the point that people who go through experiences with “cults” often have difficulty talking about them immediately afterwards. (Some psychologists and sociologists consider the term “cult” to be problematic. Durkin’s casual use of this word strikes me as a bit glib.) For all I know, this is true, but it’s a small point to make in a feature-length film. The story would have been more interesting if it took place over a longer period of time, and if it showed Martha finding some way to come to terms with her traumatic experiences.

I hope that in his next film Durkin is able to tell a more dramatically satisfying story.

Mitt Romney

January 5, 2012

“Go ahead, suckers, laugh all you want about ‘magic underwear’, but when my friends on Wall Street are through, you’ll be lucky if you can afford underwear. Heh, heh”.

Mitt Romney has narrowly defeated right-wing-nutcase-of-the-week, Rick Santorum, in the ultra-right-wing Iowa Caucus. It is clear that Romney will be the Republican Party’s nominee in the 2012 election. He has always been that party’s only serious candidate, yet the media have always refused to acknowledge this. Instead, they have subjected us to the spectacle of incessant rounds of completely unnecessary debates. One by one, they have tried to produce a far right David to take down the Mormon commie Goliath. First, there was Rick Perry, then there was Herman Cain, then there was Newt Gingrich, and now Santorum. All have failed.

This shouldn’t have been surprising. It’s worth remembering that in 2008, it was the most moderate candidate, McCain, who won the primaries. A few months before, the media had dismissed his campaign as dead in the water. Likewise, only a few weeks ago the media seemed ready to write off Romney. Most Republicans are not as far to the right as the media believe or would have us believe. When I say “Republicans”, I should perhaps say, “Republican voters”. A distinction should be made between the people who vote in the primaries and the Pod People who show up at the debates and cheer wildly whenever someone discusses the possibility of killing innocent people.

So the election will be Obama versus Romney: Wall Street’s Plan A and Plan B. Real change can only come from outside the electoral system.

We are the 99%. We will prevail.