What if the lies are truth?
What if truth is myth?
What if myth is imagination?
What if imagination infinite?
“The new education must consist essentially in this, that it completely destroys freedom of will in the soil which it undertakes to cultivate,and produces on the contrary strict necessity in the decisions of the will, the opposite being impossible. Such a will can henceforth be relied on with confidence and certainty.” - Johann Fichte, 1808
Craig Zobel’s film, Compliance, recounts the true story of a fast food employee held captive by her manager at the behest of a prank caller posing as a police officer. The film is disturbing, frustrating, and horrific in its portrayal of each character’s willingness to go along with the directives of the perpetrator. What begins as a simple search of Becky’s purse quickly degenerates into cold, ruthless, mental and physical abuse.
What is most shocking, however, is the collective ignorance of everyone involved. If this wasn’t a well documented true story, the movie would have fallen quickly to pieces. But knowing that over 70 cases just like this one have been reported across 30 states makes Compliance a study in the dangers inherent in American society. It is easy to be reminded of the compliance so easily won by Adolph Hitler that led to the extermination of millions of innocent people.
But when we consider the foundations of that German society, rebuilt upon the rubble left by Napoleon’s successful 18th century invasion with an educational system founded on Johann Fichte’s philosophy that stated unequivocally, “By means of the new education we want to mould the Germans into a corporate body, which shall be stimulated and animated in all its individual members by the same interest.” And so it was that Prussian education was born with the purpose of removing the individual spirit from each child and replacing it with the will of the state.
As a result, a population sprang forth that was predictable, nationalistic, and compliant. This method of schooling, as stated by Johann Fichte in his Addresses to the German Nation (1808), “must exist and on which the existence of the community depends, are to be enforced in case of necessity by fear of immediate punishment, and this penal law must be administered absolutely without indulgence or exception.” It is this very system that found its way to America at the start of the 20th century.
The battle for control of public education raged in America for nearly 100 years, until the state finally wrestled control away from neighborhoods and local communities. The fate of American (schooling) education was finally sealed in 1910 with the well documented Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education (1910), which shifted American education from a thinking man’s curriculum dominated by liberal arts studies, toward a curriculum for “developing attitudes and habits important in a democracy.”
In today’s compulsory educational landscape, outcome based education and standardized testing dominate. Critical thinking and personal inquiry have all but been removed from the majority of public schools across the country. The communities who suffer the most, of course, are the middle to low-income neighborhoods where schools are labeled as “failures,” but the testing craze and school grading initiatives have impacted the entire nation.
Compliance is, ultimately, a cautionary tale. It is what can happen when a society is coerced into conformity through punishment and retribution. It is what happens when a society is promised “all the riches, all the gold,” if they just show up, sit down, shut up, and complete. When the collective mass absorbs the individual spirit, the dissenting voices grow quiet. And with silence, comes compliance.
So the key to our survival is to believe that there are answers to every question. And somewhere out there, somewhere beneath the oceans or beyond the stars, the ultimate answer awaits. It is the magical world where everything is perfect, where all expectation is lifted.
Ridley Scott’s Prometheus aims to take us on this journey. It is the year 2093, just four years after Doctors Shaw and Holloway’s great cave art discovery, when we board the corporate sponsored ship on its way to a distant planet. David is performing his daily rounds, checking on the sleeping crew, studying the ships coordinates, and learning ancient dialects. David is a robot, “designed this way because you people are more comfortable interacting with your own kind.” We spend a good few minutes with David, understanding quickly his role, his motives.
But the humans in Prometheus we spend quite a good deal less time with. “Big things have small beginnings,” and these big things are consumed with silly questions of heaven and hell, money and power, life and death. The crew is made up of the standard clichés, the motley crew including the geologist, the psychologist, historian, the doctors, and the captain; you get the idea here. This story is not a character study; it is a species study. There is so much more at stake here than mere humanity; this is about the core of all thinking species.
Scott opens the film with an awe inspiring, breathtaking panorama of rushing water, majestic waterfalls, and curving rock formations sure to spark mystical ideas in each of us. But it also reminds us that we may be a small coincidence within the workings of the universe. So when the ship enters the Martian atmosphere, the first thing the crew notices is the vast desert, where “there is nothing…and no man needs nothing.”
Man’s insatiable need for more answers, to know more each day, always leads us astray. And in the Alien universe, this wayward path leads us directly into the nest of the beast. Prometheus exists within this world, and the impending doom adds to the already intense first half. It is easy to get lost in the mythology, the H.R. Giger inspired corridors and machines, and the fantasy of discovering our true origins. I surely did.
This movie is about discovering how “far you would go to find your answers.” And should you find that answer, what would be your next question? Because there will be one; man always needs. And maybe it is this exact need that led to the serious flaw in the third act that made me wish I could rewind the film to see what I had missed. What could only be called careless assumptions lead to hastily drawn conclusions, igniting a violent and frenetic ending that is high on action but empty of emotional impact.
But the first two-thirds of Prometheus is enthralling, easily making up for the rush to the finish line (this is a big Hollywood production, after all). There is a lot to absorb and so many questions still unanswered. In the end, we understand one thing clearly, that answers matter, regardless of the weight of knowing. So when you meet the one who made you, and find yourself wondering who made him, take a deep breath and journey onward.
I Can’t Remember Anything
Can’t Tell If this Is True or Dream
Deep down Inside I Feel to Scream
this Terrible Silence Stops Me
Now That the War Is Through with Me
I’m Waking up I Can Not See
That There Is Not Much Left of Me
Nothing Is Real but Pain Now
For me it was Rush. Cinderella Man opened a door in my head and in flooded the sounds that would define my musical tastes. It was 1988. Soon after I heard the first few notes of Queensryche’s Suite Sister Mary. Tate’s passionate pipes and DeGarmo’s signature compositions made Operation Mindcrime my very first CD purchase (along with Survivor’s When Seconds Count-some doors never close). Through the door followed Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden, Dream Theater, Shadow Gallery, Blind Guardian, Pain of Salvation, Rhapsody, Edguy, and so many more who have left their marks.
One of those visitors was Metallica (“…perfectly capturing rage and rapture among “dirtbags” and other factions of the disenfranchised”). During that same year, the year of my awakening, I heard the dark, atmospheric, visual feast that was Metallica’s One for the first time. The brooding lyrics, the pounding double bass drum, the themes of war, isolation, insanity, oppression, panic, and loss connected immediately with my sensibilities. The video, horrific and beautiful at once, could have been lifted right from the pages of Fangoria. The horror of Metallica’s vision was thrilling and One remains the definition of Metallica for me.
But to Mike McPadden, author of the new book, If You Like Metallica, Metallica is so much more. To McPadden, Metallica is metal. And he takes the reader through a comprehensive tour of all bands metal, from those that laid their hooks into the young men that would form Metallica to those young men who would aspire to become like Metallica.
McPadden’s encyclopedic knowledge of metal spans the last 50 years to provide the origins of so many metal forms. We learn about the origins of punk rock with the band MC5, “what they…started would flower a few years hence into punk rock and, with a few more detours, Metallica.” We discover the beginnings of black metal with McPadden’s section on The Monks, “Black metal begins with “Black Monk Time,” the compellingly repellant, freakishly brilliant 1965 album..” And when he introduces us to Hellhammer, we find they “…sparked the very specific inferno that would blaze across Europe into black metal and death metal.”
Mike McPadden’s If You Like Metallica plays connect the dots with heavy metal’s most famous band, providing a comprehensive education on the history of all things metal-lica. Ultimately, though, McPadden shares the evolution of Metallica from young men who loved music to rock legends who would forever change the future landscape of metal, and along the way, the world.
Trent Haaga, writer of 2008’s Deadgirl, makes his directorial debut with the hilarious, pitch black comedy Chop. Unpredictable, clever, and endlessly entertaining, Chop manages to avoid all of the clichés as it delivers shocks and laughs in equal portions. The script, from writer/actor/ director Adam Minarovich (Ed Peletier in The Walking Dead), is a powerhouse of wit, dark humor, and intensity that never loses its nerve nor its momentum.
Main character Lance, Will Keenan of Tromeo and Juliet and Terror Firmer, is living a seemingly normal life until he is abducted by a mysterious, all-knowing stranger. Apparently, the stranger has been wronged by Lance and is seeking retribution. But when Lance fails to satisfy the stranger’s unnatural desires, a game of “cat and mouse” ensues.
But the mouse has little chance of winning this game. As Lance finds himself minus more and more of his body parts, his world quickly descends into one of paranoia and fear. Keenan plays all of this with mastery, maintaining a sense of the real while delivering comic brilliance with line after line. It is a tribute to the script as well as the actor that the dialogue never seems fake, the comedy never forced.
Early on, the stranger calls Lance to inform him that he has broken their deal. Lance, in a panic, pleads his innocence. “Do you think I’m stupid?” the stranger yells. “No, I think your psychotic,” Lance replies. Lance’s lack of filter with the man brutally torturing him is what makes Chop special. There is an emotional relationship forming between these two men, one that somehow manages to foster respect and, oddly enough, admiration between them.
Later, when the police arrive at Lance’s door and inform him that his half-brother, Bobby, has been found with an ax in his head, Lance feigns shock and horror when he says, “that is…disgusting…and…unbelievable. Wow! I guess that’s that then.” There is so much to love here, and Keenan is awesome as the loveable loser who, in order for the film to work, must win our sympathies. So that when his leg is violently chopped off and he screams, “I don’t really feel it, but that looks horrible,” we can laugh along with him instead of cowering from the horror.
Revealing specific plot details would surely ruin the unique experience that is Chop. This is the rare, low budget, obscure film that will remind everyone why we love the darker side of film. And by the end, when the stranger says to Lance, “you’ve lost all your fight,” I felt both relief and disappointment when Lance replies, “yea, I’m about ready to go now.”
Trust me, you won’t be.
Marcus Koch, fellow Floridian and special effects maestro on a number of interesting new horror films including The Theater Bizarre, Imago, Reggie Bannister’s Bloody, Bloody Bible Camp, and the Joe R Lansdale based Christmas with the Dead, handled the body-splitting make-up work and direction on 2007′s 100 Tears. On a micro-budget, Koch finds the perfect vehicle to showcase his over the top, blood-red festival of guts and gore.
Mark and Jennifer are tabloid reporters hoping that producing a story on serial killers will further their careers. Lucky for them, a killer clown picks this very day to butcher the residents and staff of a nearby half-way house. Wielding the heaviest cleaver ever made, Gurdy the Clown violently removes heads, severs limbs, splits skulls in two, and disembowels his victims. Koch’s camera catches every blood splattering, skull shattering moment; and though there is enough carnage during this five-minute rampage to fill two splatter movies, this is only the beginning of the mayhem.
There is so much gore left to enjoy, including a circular saw to the abdomen, strangulation by intestine, and more dismembered limbs. 100 Tears is an old-fashioned splatter fest. The script gets the audience from killing to killing with as little pain as possible; and while the movie moves briskly from beginning to end, the stilted dialogue still manages to curtail the momentum over and over again.
With such lines as “It’s not the lunatics I’m worried about, it’s the sane people. They’re the ones that need the ax to the head,” and “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m short. Next time you’re looking for a dwarf, stay low,” 100 Tears falters when it tries too hard to be clever. For example, when Jennifer and Mark hesitate before descending into the dark, retched basement, Mark turns to Jennifer and says, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Ah, look around you. There is blood and death everywhere. What do you think?
Everyone on 100 Tears gives it their best shot. And as a showcase for the clearly talented Marcus Koch, 100 Tears delivers his goods. There is blood and guts and gore, and then more blood and guts and gore. I can only imagine what Koch will be able to do with some funding in his pocket.
We see castles in the distance and leave the plains for cities. We claim our land and spend our lives protecting it. We build homes that shield us yet become our prisons. We build fences isolating us and now log on, desperate for connection. And in our quiet desperation, we find only what we believe exists: horror, depravity, and danger.
And in the life of every white, middle aged man married with children, there will come a time when nothing seems right; the world shrinks around him, suffocating his existence, until there is nowhere stable enough to stand. Everything breathes danger, everyone breeds evil. The stories we hear, the news we watch, the neighborhoods we avoid, and the conversations we ignore act as incubators, feeding the anxiety and doubt until it bubbles over. The fantasy crumbles, and the fear takes control. This is where television producer turned director Tony Krantz begins his first feature.
Sublime opens on a painting, using the “epic of nature as an expression of the sublime,” filling the screen with blues, greens, and a rainbow cutting the sky from mountaintop to mountaintop. A bird explores the imagery, flying slowly across the screen. A flash of light against the brightly colored blue sky is followed by a trail of lighting. Moving in closer, we see a man falling through the surreal scenery.
George awakens. He sits at the end of the bed. His wife stirs. “I was dreaming of falling,” he says. “You know what they say,” she replies. “Our brains protect us from death by preventing us from seeing ourselves die in our dreams,” George answers. “Maybe people who die in their sleep hit bottom,” she concludes before laying atop his chest and whispering, “Everyone’s coming, their coming for you,” she tells him.
It is George’s 40th birthday. Nervous about tomorrow’s scheduled colonoscopy and prodded by his brother to re-evaluate his marriage, career, and surroundings, George, Ed’s Tom Cavanaugh, is perpetually nervous, always trying to be the perfect man. But life is moving quickly, and the realization of his current situation creates an anxiety and paranoia magnified by the pending procedure. At party’s end, the group poses for a photo recreation of the last supper. Who is Judas, one calls out. “I am Judas,” his wife playfully retorts. George is Jesus, of course.
In the hospital the next morning, we meet the nurse; Krantz’s camera wraps tightly on her full, artificially red lips. “Hello, I’m Zoe,” the lips say. Enter Dr. Shirazze. “Hello, Mr. Grievous,” he says. “Welcome to the Outback Steakhouse,” one of many gastroenterologist jokes. George gets the joke, but there is no laughing.
Instead, George corrects him. “It’s Grieves.” Something in this hospital just doesn’t seem right. And when George nicks his leg on the wheelchair, the blood bubbling from the wound indicates serious trouble ahead. Krantz plays on our fears of hospitals, on the stories that we have all undoubtedly heard about hospital incompetence. There is an immediate suspicion drawn from the white walls, the white uniforms, the foreign doctor who thinks he soothes George by telling him his degree is not from Tehran, and the mispronounced names.
In any other environment, these are all just moments, fleeting exchanges leading us forward or back, side to side, randomly about our environment. Life in this other environment is truly sublime. But in a hospital, at 40, with a mortgage, the doubt of a wife’s love, the fear of influences upon the children, the world closing in and the 24 hour news stations laying their hooks in, each of these exchanges creates more fear, and fear breeds paranoia. And so the premise of Sublime is laid out.
From here on, things grow increasingly convoluted. When George awakens, he is in pain, sweaty, and wearing a 3 inch incision on his right side. Impaired by medication, he struggles to communicate a clear thought, an increasingly frustrating plot device used to build tension. Clearly though, we now understand that something was done to George that should not have been.
Sublime is really a mystery, in the same way that Jacob’s Ladder is. Krantz wants us to spend the movie questioning the events; and by cutting back and forth between last night’s party conversation and the present situation, he succeeds for a while. Many of the incidents and ideas discussed at the party occur in the hospital. We are invited to piece the puzzle together through George’s flashbacks to the night before. In one of the films most beautiful moments, his teenage daughter stands at the edge of his hospital bed and asks him what he meant 10 years ago when he turned to her and said, “Yes.” His answer is beautiful, like nothing I have seen. And skillfully, Krantz is able to turn this most beautiful moment into the film’s most shocking as well.
Each conversation from the previous night unravels more clues, and the conversation is interesting enough. But as the movie progresses, unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any way to figure it out, and it slowly grows tiresome. There are many moments in Sublime, but they do not make the whole. As a first effort, Sublime shows Krantz to be a capable director with a unique voice. His desire to explore the lives of the middle class white man through the darker side of film is his niche, and with Otis, his second feature, he is wildly successful. But with Sublime, he manages only to bait the hook. And so by the end, it doesn’t matter that George lies in bed, bleeding from his hands and feet, crucified. It only matters that it is finally over.
Note: Darker Side of Film’s review of Sublime was originally posted at Beyond the Dark Horizon on July 7, 2010.