I spent the last year trying to escape from reality - through movies, through empty dating experiences, through endless car trips with the volume on full blast. It’s only natural that my recent return back to reality comes with some moments of anxiety. It’s only going to get easier.
On the Road to Prometheus is a series of retrospectives on the Alien franchise, in anticipation for Prometheus, which arrives in theaters on June 8th.
When Star Wars took the world by storm in 1977, all the major studios scrambled to find more scifi to put out on the market. The only spaceship story 20th Century Fox had on hand was a dark, atmospheric script titled Alien by Dan O’Bannon, pitched as “Jaws in Space”. O’Bannon had previously worked with John Carpenter on Dark Star, a scifi comedy that set into motion his desire to give scifi a different spin, this time in the direction of horror, and the blowout success of Star Wars gave him that chance. Ridley Scott was hired to helm the project, which was partly decided based on a fear that the material would be handled as a B movie by another director. And with surrealist artist H.R. Giger brought on to design the bleak, oppressive sets and the iconic (albeit elusive) visual design of the xenomorph, one of the best science fiction films of all time was born.
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While watching Happy Together, Wong Kar-wai’s Hong Kong drama that won him Best Director at Cannes in 1997, I was struck with the deep emptiness of the protagonist Fai, and the subtle ways Fai allows, and in some cases even encourages, his lover’s abusive behavior. It’s a brave film to explore the psychology underlying victimhood, and it takes a gifted director to allow reflection without sacrificing empathy.
This is, of course, dangerous territory. Victims are often blamed for being abused, and abusers are often excused for their behavior. It’s a delicate tightrope, which partly explains why it’s so rarely addressed in cinema with such brutal honesty. We go to movies to be entertained, not reminded of the darkest natures inside of ourselves, let alone the fragile boundaries we hope protect us from becoming victims – or abusers ourselves.
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Jean-Pierre Melville said of his 1962 crime flick Le Doulos (The Finger Man) that “all characters are two-faced, all characters are false”, and indeed, from the opening shots we realize that no one is to be trusted. This is certainly true in regards to the motives of its principle characters, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo and Serge Regianni as two criminals involved in various heists and double-crosses, and as we try to fit together the puzzle pieces of a plot together, we begin to realize that we might be playing with two different boxes.
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Mental illness doesn’t have the best track record in cinema.
Usually, those suffering from mental illness are portrayed as bizarre caricatures with wild, unpredictable behavior, or have warped, mutated human idiosyncrasies stretched nearly beyond recognition.
Sometimes, though, filmmakers do get it right.
Separated into 2 acts, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia follows two sisters - one representing depression, the other anxiety - and how these respective disabilities plays into their worlds in unusual and subtle ways.
Opening the film we have Justine, played marvelously by Kirsten Dunst, as a woman with chronic depression, followed by sister Claire, whose anxiety blankets her entire existence and manifests itself with the potential for dramatic and earth-shattering consequences.
The acting and script were wonderful and deliberate. A lesser movie would have had Justine crying and cutting her wrist, but here we have a woman whose illness only gradually makes itself known; halfway through her act, she exclaims, “I smile, and smile, and smile” — her facade even fools us at first, but reveals itself to be impossible to maintain for long, and progresses from helpless dysthymia to tired apathy.
Claire, arrested by fear and anxiety, faces potential doom in her own understated ways. Far from flailing her arms up and down, her slow ascent into terror leads is tense and chilling; there are no dramatic scenes or manipulative moments to tell us when to start worrying, just a subtle nervousness and that increasingly immediate heart beat, of which there is a lot of in Act 2.
Represented on the screen is the potential destruction of the entire world, symbolizing both depression and anxiety; how these two individuals react to impending doom is, of course, radically different and further helps to actualize their characters and illnesses. We’re given some hint as to how they became the way they did, but it’s never lingered upon; what’s most important here is how they are now, and the brilliantly subversive ways von Trier manages to express these characters on the screen.
I feel like one of you could enlighten me, I know there was a lot of rumblings about how Lady Gaga wasn’t outwardly supportive of (possibly even hostile towards) trans/queer issues. Now that she’s been playing up her Jo Calderone persona, how is everyone feeling?
A quick look online gave me this nugget (not really representative of the entire voice of the LGBTQ community but worth reading):
Murray Hill, a popular drag-king comedian in New York City and host/creator of “Mr. Transman,” a female-to-male competition, agreed. “There is barely any visibility for FTM, drag kings and lesbians on television. There is a huge imbalance,” he said. “For Lady Gaga, the biggest pop star in the world, to go on TV with millions of people watching in drag as a man and then to actually say ‘lesbian and transgender’ live is undeniably powerful and creates change. She ups the visibility big time and gets the language into the mainstream.” 
So what do you all think? Is she trying to be more inclusive in her support of the community or is it just exploitive?
Self-awareness is a tough, tangly jungle with branches of deception, false-paths, venemous snakes, bottomless pits, and trap nets set by the natives.
What I keep reminding myself is that all revelations in that jungle are not easy to swallow, are painful, embarassing, or scary, or all-the-above. We lie to ourselves about the worst of our natures, because facing those things isn’t just “hard”, but subconsciously buried over decades of our lives without us even realizing it.
Even the most insightful person does it. Except, it’s more insidious because a smart person has an even more tangled jungle and can justify more articulately his or her (false) belief system. I learned that by doing therapy; the smartest clients are the toughest to penetrate, because their defense mechanisms are so elaborately constructed.
I’ve gotten over trying to take other people to that level when they’re not ready. I do enough of that at work. Right now, I’m just working on myself and trying to make my way through the jungle: the irrational self-loathing moments, or the external conflicts that I mistake for being the actual problem, those are all just false-paths. I’m working my way towards the center of my pain, and I appreciate everyone’s input. Fair criticism is (as it always has been, but perhaps moreso now) welcome.
I was kind of in angry-mode for a while about how people I barely even know ask me, “Are you okay? I’ve been reading your Facebook…”
In a way, though, it’s not really negative. People are showing concern for me, and while it may be often misplaced, it’s not as though it’s malicious.
Thing is, “Working On Me” involves introspection, and a lot of times that happens online. I typically process my thoughts alone, in a journal or alone in bed as I’m staring at my ceiling or driving while listening to some inspiring music or sitting at the laundromat or clipping coupons or preparing meals. But sometimes, I process my thoughts online to an audience. And those thoughts often aren’t pretty. As long as they’re fair and accurate to me, I don’t mind how twisted someone interprets them.
I guess it just offends me to imagine that people think they know me just from what I post online, that they’re suddenly experts on the inner-workings of my head. It also offends me to think that people are sitting around talking about me in terms like, “Drew’s a mess” (which is what people were doing on my twitter, which is why a lot of people swiftly got cut from my approved-list).
But really, people talking about me is no skin off my back. And people showing me concern is really not something to get worked-up about. For the most part, I have really healthy, drama-free relationships in my life right now. I have two close friends in Orlando, people I trust and are there for me and provide entertainment as well as enrich my spirit. And there are other key players who fulfill my life in various other ways. And then there’s my mom.
I’m not in what I would call a “good place”, in that my mind is really chaotic and unpredictable and inconsistent for the time being. And yet, it’s where my mind needs to be, to prepare for the next step.
As I recently said to a friend, I’m on the precipice of a journey of self-discovery.