21 December 2007

Brass Monkey


Pursuant to Friend Dave's recommendation, I caught an $11.75 matinee of The Golden Compass yesterday. To be honest, this was also pursuant to not working, having a cold and being pretty certain that I'd do myself worse financial disadvantage if I had two hours more out amongst the Christmas fairs of New York. But I digress (shamelessly [and at great length {mostly as an excuse to ((ab))use proper parenthetical structure}]), and the title of this entry has not merely to do with ripping off Friend Davey's 'blog conceit.

The Golden Compass, in my opinion, has two highly effective devices on which most of the success of the movie rides. The first has to do with the first half of the movie. Everyone's soul, you see, in this imagined world, exists outside of themselves as a sort of animal familiar that never leaves their side. Nicole Kidman's familiar (or daemon) is a monkey, with oddly metallic fur. Upon her introduction to the plot, the metastructure of the story goes a little something like this: Hey, look at how pretty our film is, how fantastical, isn't it all so calming and utopian and OH MY GOD WHERE'D THAT SCREAMING MONKEY COME FROM!? I am not kidding. There was this one time when, I swear to you, the monkey popped up from the bottom of the screen from out of nowhere. I mean, he didn't even have something he could realistically be standing on in the environment, and there he was again, screaming. If I had been one of the animators on this, I would have saved the file, program, whatever, of the monkey, for use in startling my coworkers for years to come. Just imagine sweating through your 2007 TurboTax when, from out of absolutely nowhere, a screaming golden monkey juts his head into your screen. In all fairness, the movie should have at least been subtitled The (Screaming) Golden Monkey.

Oh yeah. The other highly effective device can be summed up in two words: Bear and Fight. Bear fights. Fo' reals. Keep your eyes peeled. This could be a whole new sub-genre of action film. And if so, I am there, I am wearing the t-shirt, I am learning the terminology (ah, the classic Rips-Lower-Jaw-from-Body technique...) and I am enrolled in the Bear Fighting fantasy camp. Stick some giant foam paws on me. I am ready to rumble.

When the fur settles, and the dust as well, this is pretty much a good-time, only-enough-pathos-to-justify-some-violence Christmas movie. Lots of snow. Talking animals. Cute kids. And two of the most gorgeous adult actors on the screen these days, for mom and dad. (In fact: Hey: I know that movie casts often repeat themselves, but weren't these two just in that Body Snatchers reremake? This reminds me of the Batman Begins/The Prestige and The Matrix/Memento phenomenon. Not to mention the unholy trinity of Willis/Jackson/Travolta. Spread some of the love around, Hollywood.) They even clipped off the ending of the first book in order to make the film conclude a bit happier, which actually upsets me more than sucking the supposed Atheism out of it.

As to that (the Atheism)--I'm sorry, but I just can't stay off this topic (see 12/7/07). Friend Younce posits in his Comments section that if the ultimate plot of this trilogy involves "killing God," it indicates not only a belief in God, but an actual finger, pointing to God, saying (yes, they'd probably have talking fingers in this sort of trilogy), "Hey look: It's God. I found him/her/it. He/she/it exists." I'm afraid I disagree, to a certain extent. The author, as any fantasy author may be accused, is clearly working in allegory. To "kill God" is in his allegory to eradicate the supposedly irrational belief in God from within ourselves. In fact, what will be really interesting as far as these movies go will be to see how they handle that little feat in the third film. The characters' "daemons" represent individualism, or Humanism, after a fashion.

I have a curious history with the books this franchise is sprung from. I have only read the first two, and those quite by necessity. It was toward the end of my first trip to Italy, in 2006, and I came down with a serious bug that laid me up with a high fever for almost a week. With nothing to do but lie in bed and either read, or try to learn Italian from their daytime television, I quickly tore through the novel I had brought: The Mask of Apollo. (A birthday gift from Friend Patrick, and the first Mary Renault book I ever undertook.) Friend Heather loaned me the first two books of His Dark Materials and I drank them up in lieu of the excellent white wines of Orvieto. I write about it now, similarly afflicted (though no high fever, thank...whatever providence may be), and acknowledge that my knowledge of the books is partial and drenched with fever-sweat.

I reiterate: Go Atheists. I've got nothing against them, just like I've got nothing against Christians or Muslims. Those for whom I do have something against (that made sense grammatically, I swear), is them what (that bit didn't, though) exercise their beliefs--any beliefs--by way of disparaging others'. Up with that I shall not put. It may seem only fair; the Atheists have had to deal with eons of persecution, I realize, but here's another thing I'd do away with: the symbol for justice being a beam-balance scale. Balance is good, but dichotomy is simply a deceptive paradigm for identifying anything. I'm all for clarity, but I aspire to understand all things beyond a simple yes, or no. All things are a part of a whole, in my humble opinion. Balance, in the theological, philosophical sense, cannot be expressed on a simple beam. I come around, by tender footfalls, to my point.

In my post of December 7th of this year, I mentioned in passing that the notion of "fate" is inescapable to me because it permeates every story we tell on some level. (Pullman, the author of the books in question, by the way, values stories above all else. Reminds me of Gaiman in that way.) Especially in theatre, fate, or some analogue of it, sort of makes the motor run. This goes for both tragedy and comedy. Similarly, I'm not sure one can tell a story without God entering into it. If we could, I'm not sure we'd want to. The storyteller is, after a fashion, God of the story. What gives the majority of humans meaning in their lives? God. Who determines meaning in a story? The storyteller. This paradigm (or matrix, if you will) manifests in our novels, movies and plays on conscious and subconscious levels. It's tough for me to point toward it in His Dark Materials before having read the third installment but, for those who know the series, might not the presence of "dust" (magical stuff from the universe that connects people to their souls, and their souls to the source of "dust") be a manifestation of a, albeit rather Universalist, concept of divinity?

Perhaps I am simply too influenced by what little classical education I have absorbed. All the Greek plays have a theme that can be summed up as, "Hey, you can mess with the Gods all you want, but after a few hours, they get the last word, machina or no." I agree with the Atheists when they tell us (calmly, without insult) to take responsibility for the here and now, and love humanity for being human. I'm just not sure that it's possible to kill God off entirely, in spite of Nietzsche and Pullman and the rest. Please, contest my claim; I'd love to hear theories, especially as relates to storytelling. Interestingly enough, Friend Dave is also a big proponent of role-playing games for which there is not necessarily a storyteller. In these, instead of a typical structure of a game-master, who tells everyone what's going on, the players themselves contribute to the narrative in different ways. Perhaps therein lies a way of retiring God. Perhaps, instead, it creates a pantheon of Gods.

Part of my holiday travel plans include venturing south to Friends Davey, Dave and Mark, to play this sort of game all together. It's an appointment a long time in the making, and I'm looking forward to it. These friends of mine are some of the best storytellers I know. I'll let you know what stories we create together.

You can bet a screaming monkey will enter into it, somewhere.

5 comments:

dave said...

"You can bet a screaming monkey will enter into it, somewhere."

Not to mention a soul-sucking telepathic cockroach. No, seriously, DON'T MENTION IT!

Melissa said...

In my rehearsals you mostly have to look out for the Laughing Monkeys.

Should make a version of the movie where the Monkey just has a total melt down giggle fit....

"Go steal the castle/jewels/God/whatever!! The monkey can't get right-side-up on her branch/chair/hutch/perch!!!"

Jeff Wills said...

Melissa, as having been a fellow performer with you in other rehearsals, I'm afraid I can only say you're getting your just desserts. ;) Actually, that's not all I can say. I can also say I have absolutely no idea what that quote you ended with signifies...

Dave: Maybe the golden monkey was inhabitted by said roach. Whoops. Mentioned it.

Melissa said...

Hmmm...I'm having thoughts of explaining myself...but then I'm afraid of what that might really explain.
So let's just say...
It wasn't a real quote. It was an imaginary quote that might have been said during the monkey's aforesaid "giggle fit" and an important assumption regarding the screaming monkey's role as a protector of Something Important was made about the movie.
Anywho.
Just ignore the giggling monkey in the corner.....

Patrick said...

Read the third book; I'm not convinced yet that Pullman is being allegorical in the trilogy, but will be interested to see what you think after you read it.