Inconsistency as a Film Technique: Three Times Kubrick Gaslights the Viewer

The abusive behavior term “gaslighting” comes from a 1944 film, Gaslight. In it, a husband isolates his wife from family or friends, flickers the gas lights in their home, moves objects, and insists to his wife that she is suffering from delusions. He does everything he can to convince his wife that she is going insane, under the guise of genuine concern. Eventually, she believes in his good intentions and gives in to the idea that she is suffering from mental collapse. After she is shut away in a mental hospital, he searches through her belongings to steal valuable jewels she has recently inherited from her aunt.

In Gaslight, the inconsistencies are central to the plot. The characters within the film note visual inconsistencies and it becomes a driving force in the movie. Yet some films choose to use this tactic in an attempt to create a sense of unease in the viewer. They create a sense of something not quite right, an uncomfortable feeling that the viewer will sense but likely be unable to name. Particularly fond of this technique is Stanley Kubrick, well known for breaking the fourth wall through extended up close and personal shots with the characters.

  1. The ShiningIn Kubrick’s game changing horror movie, he focuses on creating inconsistencies in the Overlook Hotel. There are windows where there shouldn’t be, doors that lead to nowhere, and rooms that spontaneously change location. While at first take this seems to be mere production error, it’s really a meticulous attempt to make the viewer feel unsettled. Unless someone is really looking for it, the inconsistencies in the organization of the hotel isn’t apparent, but just enough to make the viewer feel uncomfortable. All those scenes of little Danny riding around the impossible space on a tricycle really push it over the edge.
  2. A Clockwork Orange
    Items tend to spontaneously rearrange themselves throughout the film, hopping locations when the viewer is least suspecting it. One of the best examples of this is in the sped-up scene in Alex’s bedroom, where the bed sheets spontaneously rearrange themselves. In a scene where Alex’s gang gets into a scuffle with Billy Boy, several droogs lose and regain their hats several times. To show his destabilization after he has received his treatment and been released from prison, he is shown standing by the River Thames, where the tideline changes several times.
  3. Full Metal Jacket
    For a film about war, Full Metal Jacket feels uncharacteristically light, with the most intense scene being a boot camp suicide. Though the film is set in wartime, the viewer has a sensation that no harm will actually come to the primary characters, that they are more like children playing war games. This is then reversed during the sniper scene, where we see three soldiers shot down in a short amount of time. There’s a disconnect from reality here, and it’s emphasized in the ruin. In one scene the sniper shoots at a pillar behind a character, then in the next shot the pillar is intact again. When the sniper is shot, we see blood on her face, but when she’s on the ground again her face is clean. Throughout the film, things are destroyed, blood is shed, but then they spontaneously repair themselves. This allows the violence in the film to maintain a light feeling similar to a video game.
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Bigmouth Reviews Again: Room

Bigmouth Reviews Again: Room

★★★★★ Political
★★★★☆    Visual
★★★★★        Plot

Room, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, takes a nuanced view of both motherhood and the idealistic viewpoint of children, effectively turning a kidnapping plot and turning it into something hopeful. The more disturbing elements of the film play against the idealistic narrative and lack of understanding of the five year old protagonist Jack, played by Jacob Tremblay.

Political

The focus of the film is directed on one woman, known mostly as “Ma” but with the given name Joy, pulling it together just enough to create a nurturing environment out of a hostage situation. She’s been trapped in a room for seven years, giving birth to a son and then raising him in one small shed for the next five years.

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Jack: Once upon a time, before I came, you cried and cried and watched TV all day, until you were a zombie. But then I zoomed down from heaven, through skylight, into Room. Whoosh-pshew! And I was kicking you from the inside. Boom, boom! And then I shot out onto Rug with my eyes wide open, and you cutt-ed the cord and said, “Hello, Jack!”

On comparisons to the Joseph Fritzl case the author of Room, Emma Donoghue, says this: “To say Room is based on the Fritzl case is too strong. I’d say it was triggered by it. The newspaper reports of Felix Fritzl, aged five, emerging into a world he didn’t know about, put the idea into my head. The notion of the wide-eyed child emerging into the world like a Martian coming to Earth: it seized me.”

The focus is placed on Jack’s emergence into the world, what he thinks of it all after believing for his entire life that “room” was all there was to the world. His mother’s experiences take a backseat, but her volatile responses once they have escaped are not at all avoided. Overall it managed to capture a realistic image of PTSD, something often avoided by filmmakers.

Visual

Truck, wiggle out, jump, run, somebody. These are the words repeated by Jack as a mantra his mother had taught him before his escape. One of the most visually arresting shots in the film takes place to these words, as Jack sees the world for the first time in the bed of a truck.Screenshot 2016-08-08 13.39.11

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In this scene, Jack’s eyes are wide and he’s watching the world whip past. Many of the scenes that feature Jack under stress, use a filming method that keeps the camera in constant motion and blurs the images. The filming method connects with the actors to propel the story along. Many close-up shots are used in order to further the plot without much action occurring, creating a personal connection between the viewer and the characters. The journey is an emotional one rather than physical.

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Room has a strong dividing point in terms of scenery. In the first half of the film, they are in a poorly lit and isolated space. This invokes an emotional response but doesn’t give the viewer much to look at, even with drawings posted all over the room and makeshift toys like an eggshell snake.

theroom

Plot

The film develops slowly, with a lot of time spent developing the characters before any plot driving action takes place. One of the first images we see is Jack waking up, gleeful on his fifth birthday, and wandering around room greeting each object. It starts off on a positive note, all birthday cakes and childish excitement, then the viewer is able to see some signs of distress within the characters. This comes via Jack screaming about not being allowed to have candles on his sad and small birthday cake, contrasting heavily with his early statements of “A real cake? Like on TV?”

The moments of happiness are balanced out with darker elements that have clearly been normalized for Jack, such as screaming for help at the skylight and sleeping in a cupboard when the kidnapper comes to visit his mother.We gradually learn that he believes room is the entire world, and what he sees on the television is actually other planets. He believes the kidnapper, “Old Nick,” to be a magician who gets supplies through teleportation.

Jack: There’s room, then outer space, with all the TV planets, then heaven. Plant is real, but not trees. Spiders are real, and one time the mosquito that was sucking my blood. But squirrels and dogs are just TV, except lucky. He’s my dog who might come some day. Monsters are too big to be real, and the sea. TV persons are flat and made of colors. But me and you are real.

When Joy learns that Nick has lost his job six months ago and is facing foreclosure, she begins to come up with plans to fake Jack’s illness, then death, in order to help them both escape. More about her past is revealed, such as the fact that Old Nick kidnapped her when she was seventeen by pretending he needed help because his dog was sick.

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Jack: Are we on another planet?
Ma: Same one, just a different spot.

The appearance of the world outside of Room will likely seem shocking even to the viewer, after a long time watching footage within this one set and seeing one failed attempt to escape. What follows is a period of readjustment more hectic than anything witnessed in room. After a friendly stranger sees Jack jump out of the back of a pickup truck, and escapes Old Nick. Hundreds of journalists amass outside their home like locusts. Old Nick has been arrested, a trial to be ongoing soon. Ma is placed in the room she kept as a teenager before she was kidnapped. In order to pay legal fees, she must undergo at least one interview with the press.

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Suddenly out in the world, no longer faced with the daily threat of surviving, Jack’s mother allows herself to be fully and unapologetically angry. She gets into intense arguments with her mother, she demands other people acknowledge what happened to her rather than ignoring it or making it about themselves.

Nancy: Do you honestly think that you were the only one whose life was destroyed?
Ma: Actually, that’s exactly what I think.
Nancy: Yeah? Well how would you feel if somebody took Jack away from you?
Ma: Oh, shut up!
Nancy: Look at him! You should be thinking about him!
Ma: Oh, don’t you tell me how to look after my son. I’m sorry that I’m not nice anymore, but you know what? Maybe if your voice saying “be nice” hadn’t been in my head, then maybe I wouldn’t have helped the guy with the fucking sick dog!

Bigmouth Reviews Again: Enemy

Bigmouth Reviews Again: Enemy

 ★☆☆☆☆ Political
★☆☆☆☆Visual 
★★★☆☆Plotline

 

 

Not much else could be expected from a film in which both of the leading roles are Jake Gyllenhaal. In Nightcrawler, the film’s commentary on the corrupt nature of today’s media worked well with Gyllenhaal’s lack of expression in the face of obvious moral misdeeds. Yet here, in a film about two men who become obsessed with their doppleganger, his frequent lack of expression reads as poor acting and his attempts to convey strong emotion makes him look a bit like a muppet. See below, in an argument about his frequent cheating on his six-month pregnant wife.

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Political

Saramago’s Nobel Prize winning work, Blindness, features both aspects of feminism and sexism as the hero of the novel is a woman, however she is continually referred to by the title “Doctor’s Wife.” There are no names assigned to anyone in the novel, but unlike other characters, who are described by physical attributes or role, she has no independent title, she is simply someone else’s  wife. These elements of sexism have carried into the storyline of The Double, and is magnified by the producers of Enemy.

The most problematic aspect of the film is its two clear depictions of rape. These are never called rape (in the movie or on the IMDB plot synopsis), never addressed as rape, and never mentioned in any way after the fact as all other characters in the film are just satellite characters tending to the needs of Jake Gyllenhaal. The first instance, Adam Bell attempts to initiate sex with his sleeping girlfriend. The second instance, Anthony Claire tries to trick Adam’s girlfriend Mary into sleeping with him by pretending to be his double. He is given away by the tan line of his wedding ring, at which point they begin arguing and he denies everything, heavily implying she’s being irrational. So rape and gas lighting.

When he dies in a car crash during their argument, it’s unfulfilling as she dies as well.

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Meet the only non-white character in the entire film, “Security Guard.” Out of the film’s 90-minute run time, he’s on screen for about thirty seconds.

 

Visual

Save four scenes, this entire film is shot in a sepia tint. This becomes most apparent in a dark scene, but is noticeable even in the bright daytime shots which makes the characters’ skin look a bit green.

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It’s unclear whether the effect is intended to be unsettling, somehow reflective of smoggy weather, or if it is intended to make the film seem darker and hyperrealistic. All in all it was a brave choice that came across as just unappealing. There were no dramatic colors in the entire film, it was just one long sepia sequence after another that would normally be reserved to indicate a time long since passed.

At times it seems like the complete lack of interesting details in the shots is intentional; forcing the viewer to direct all of their attention to the actors, like in the warehouse scenes of Reservoir Dogs. However, there’s much less happening onscreen in Enemy than any Tarantino film.

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While some shots do seem to be played for emotive effect, like the above which plays with the concept of dark as evil and light as good, the shots often seem dull. It doesn’t help that the most emotional Gyllenhaal ever gets throughout the entire movie is this:

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‘Atta Boy!

Plotline
Throughout the film there’s recurring imagery of spiders that could have been subtly  clever in a novel but terrorizes the viewer film form. This failed attempt to translate from one medium to another makes it obvious that this story was at one point, based on a novel; More specifically, The Double by  Portuguese author José Saramago.

The story itself is interesting because of its disorienting nature, the questions it poses then doesn’t immediately answer. When the history teacher Adam Bell first sees his double, Anthony Claire the viewer is left wondering what kind of story this is– clones? Long lost twins? Insanity? As the movie progresses, the viewer is forced to wait for an answer to end the suspense, and it just never comes. Reasonable doubt is cast on each potential; Anthony’s mother denies having twins, the only thing suggesting mad science is the recurring presence of a giant tarantula but that’s much too vague, and other characters seem to understand Adam and Anthony as two separate individuals for reasons we can get to later, which seems to work against the insanity storyline.

The two become obsessed with each other in their own ways. It seems to be a shock factor for Adam Bell, who quickly tries to abandon the situation once he realizes that they are identical, with the similarity down to a matching scar on their stomachs. Anthony seems amused when Adam becomes scared, and immediately blackmails his double so that he can leverage the situation to sleep with Adam’s girlfriend.

In the beginning of the film we are shown Gyllenhaal, later to be revealed as Anthony, present in a high end, dimly lit club where a naked woman sets a tray on the floor, lifts the lid, and lets out a tarantula. The closing shot of this scene is her heel hovering above as if to crush it. Later, presumably in a dream sequence, a giant spider walks over the skyscrapers of Toronto.

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Anthony Claire and Adam Bell’s girlfriend Mary die in a car crash during an argument. Adam Bell,  pretending to be Anthony, finds a key sealed in an envelope in Anthony’s jacket pocket. He immediately  behaves less like the socially awkward and skittish history teacher and more like his double, as he tells Anthony’s wife that he’ll be going out that night as she’s walking into the bedroom. When he walks into their shared bedroom, a giant tarantula sits against the wall. This would be a fantastic ending. To a novel.

 

This Tragedy is Not Terrorism: Orlando Nightclub Shooting

Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando Florida had been filled with over 300 patrons at the time of the shooting. At this time, the swelling knot of dancers and drinkers would have been steadily growing as the clock ticked ever nearer to closing time. With all clubs, there is expected to be a gradual ebb and flow and this space was likely to be no different. Near 2AM the crowd that remains tends to be composed of devoted regulars, young men and women hoping the night will never end, professionals who have gotten a bit too tipsy and lost track of time. There’s always a certain kind of hope for what will come next near the end of the closing hours of a club that is offset with the inevitable drowsiness that comes with a long night of dancing, drinking, and an occasional narcotic. For much of the night this would have seemed a normal scene. Until close to closing time at 2AM.

It was at this time that the gunman, Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, acted. Having made the hateful decision to claim the lives of so many people, having had so much rage within him as to take it out on a mass of strangers, is near beyond comprehension. He had at his disposal an AR-15-style assault rifle, and a handgun. He was an American citizen. He took the lives of 50 people. Within this group of people were likely individuals he knew or at the very least had seen before several times in the city.

This is a brutal act of violence, one which America has seen more and more often throughout the years. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Elliot Roger’s rampage, the West Virginia sniper. The names and the locations change but the situation continues to occur. An unstable young man, or men, develops a sense of rage against the world, and instead of seeking mental health services to identifythe root causes of his hatred, seeks out a gun.

So why is it that this particular attack has been labelled a “terror attack” by The Guardian, CNN, The New York Times and Fox? Why not a hate crime due to its having taken place in a gay nightclub by an American citizen who was found with no explosives and whose crime has not been claimed on jihadi forums? Assistant special agent Ron Hopper claims that they “have suggestions the individual has leanings towards (Islamic terrorism), but right now we can’t say definitely.” Considering there has been no evidence released linking the individual to any extremist groups I would agree with Hopper that he indeed cannot say that this is an act of Islamic terrorism.

Because the only thing that links this act of violence to Islamic terrorism in the eyes of the legal system is the fact that Mateen was not a white man. The fact that he was of Afghani descent is the only thing that has directed authorities and media groups to presume that he was a terrorist on the basis of his name alone. Even his father has released a statement claiming that his son was not motivated by religion, but grew upset after having witnessed an intimate kiss between two men. Mateen is guilty of extreme prejudice, but he’s not a terrorist.

American citizens are being lied to by the local media on the basis of racial misrepresentation and this is just the most recent occurrence in a long history of similar situations. Was Elliot Roger, who was from the UK and at college in America temporarily,  who shot several young students at a college accused of being a terrorist who was resentful the American way of life? He was not, nor would the media be able to paint such a portrait of him because the American public has not been preconditioned to accept such an accusation lobbied at a white man. However the public has been fed a stream of information in the form of news articles, film, comics, magazines, etc that portray “terrorists” as primarily men of Southeast Asian descent.

This portrayal is damaging, and it has real effects on the lives of countless individuals. We as people look to the media to see an image of the world as it is, and we take this information in regardless of its basis in fact, sometimes knowing the representation is false, and this representation given to us by media sources combines with personal experience and becomes our truth. This is not an article attempting to minimize the pain of the friends and families of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, but rather to problematize the accusation of terrorism in this instance, and to bring to focus this unjust characterization because this too has impact on a large group of people. In the wake of such a tragic occurrence, we should be in collective mourning, and identifying ways to prevent this from happening again.

To make claims of terrorism on an unaffiliated man of Afghani descent is a distraction from the reality of this situation. Because if we as a nation are collectively afraid of the colored ghost of terrorism, we will focus on that, rather than identifying the reasons behind an act of violence and developing workable solutions to repair them, even at the short-term expense of the nation as a whole. So let us mourn the loss of 50 lives, and focus on how to take steps towards preventing mass shootings in America, and let us not create more victims in the name of patriotism.

“He Thinks He’s A Person”: Why We Love Seeing Animals Doing “People Things”

“He Thinks He’s A Person”: Why We Love Seeing Animals Doing “People Things”

Rationally, we all understand that people are quintessentially different from animals on one level or another. Whether its the savior complex of veganism that denotes all animals as innocent victims to the tyranny of an unjust human takeover, or its the understanding that trainers have that most animals operate on a level of base instinct making them receptive to food rewards.

But it’s just so cute to see them acting like small fuzzy people. 

It’s not really that they’re seen as children, because we know that our cats or dogs will never grow up and start to make choices for themselves. It’s a suspension of belief that allows us for a second to align ourselves with them and imagine that they think just like humanity does. Dressing up a cat, or teaching a dog to ring a service bell, is enjoyable because it normalizes odd human behavior, and the fact that an animal is performing the action highlights the strangeness of society.

People are the strangest animals. We can appreciate this fact, but we’re so deeply embedded in the nuances of society that it becomes difficult to see until a new development is made that hearkens back to science fiction. Hoverboards. Wearable technology that makes us look like cyborgs. Actual robot secretaries.

But no one stops to think anymore about how strange the concept of a service bell is, or spending several hours a day staring at a screen. This is not to argue against society, but to highlight why seeing pets as members of society to the same degree as humans is so amusing.

It comes from the classic comedic theory of incongruity. Seeing an object tied to a concept, and coming to understand that these two are not really connected is funny. The existence of the object brings to light the ridiculousness of a concept. Seeing a cat in a hat reminds us of how ridiculous hats can be as a concept, and how ridiculous humanity is.