Friday, September 16, 2016

Hancock: Weather and Critical Observation

As mentioned before, Hancock contains a lot of uncomfortable class imagery. Holy hell, does it contain a lot. And the easiest thing to do is dismiss this as juvenile attempts to appeal to "frat boys" with no more substantial meaning in the film. "That's a nice theory but do you really think the director was thinking that?"

This is the wrong outlook. As a demonstration, let's talk about weather in this movie.

The movie's development of themes is best described as non-linear. We get important explanations later in the film, that then kind of jump around in the order you should follow them. So what many audience members see as a twist, is not really about "suspense" or "reveals" but just non-linear storytelling around the progression of Hancock's heroic identity. Primarily, Mary's explanations in the second half of the film give her performances in the first half of the film a hell of a lot of power.

(You've got to watch the movie multiple times.)

For instance, weather. Mary explains that her and Hancock's millenia-spanning attraction is "like physics". In that very scene the heat in the room increases, with Hancock's Jiffy popcorn popping. At the same time mamba music starts playing, and the whole atmosphere is one of very barely repressed sexual tension. Which heat is a classic metaphor for. So heat works both as a tone-setting element, and a diagetic part of their "power" set.

Later on Mary tries to chase Hancock away with a snowstorm. You don't need to be Elsa to understand this one.

But what's fantastic is much earlier on, when Mary, Ray, Ray's kid, and Hancock sit down for for a family spaghetti dinner. There's a general "chaotic family dinner with a stranger awkwardly intruding vibe" that the close shots, background chatter, and frantic pace do a good job of describing. Mary's polite anger is obvious, which again has two explanations, depending on what perspective you have on her (put upon hostess, and ambivalent ex-wife). The spaghetti scene is really good on the second watch.[1]

In the middle of this chaos, Ray asks "Hun, Is the heat on?" This line blends seamlessly in as part of the sort of naturalist chatter you'd have in such a situation and so is very easy to forget, yet is also a reference to Hancock and Mary's emotions towards each other and history together. (Ray asks about the Heat again in the "morning after" scene.)

This sort of detail isn't a big deal. There are no five minute explanations about how weather works, or how it is used to defeat some villain. (It's not like the goddamned eagles don't even ask me about the eagles.) It's just a subtle thing for people to pick up on that works along with the broader themes of the film.

Some writer put these in the script. The actors delivered these lines as an effective part of their performances. The effects team rigged up these effects. The editor cut and included them in a way that took into account their importance. And the director oversaw all of it. And because we're talking about "superpowers", everyone agrees that this was done on purpose.

Now if we draw the same attention to the way Hancock says "boy" [link to future post goes here], it becomes just reading in too much.


One common reaction to reviews like this blog is "cool, but I bet you can do that for any movie." This is a sort of casual assumption of apophrenia that every movie has a lot of moving parts so you can come to any conclusions if you just grab those details and obsess over them.

To which, no, you can only do this for good art. Which is (part of) why we like it.

[1] For instance did you notice that when Hancock play acts at being hurt by Aaron's grip hurting his hand, Mary is actually afraid an eight year old boy hurt this superhero? This doubles as "awkward parent misunderstanding a joke" and "shit the kryptonite is already taking effect."

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