Monday, December 12, 2016

Questions Unaddressed

One thing in movies that can tell you a lot about the ideological assumptions of the world that created it, is the questions they do not answer and that no one even bothers to ask. In some cases this is just setting details (like, how does the economic system translate these little green pieces of paper into goods), sometimes it is more clearly ideological (why do no women talk to other women about things other than a man), and sometimes it's completely sublime.

I'm not talking here about Lost style "unanswered mysteries" that everyone walks away from the movie theater being unsatisfied with. Those have their uses, but our attention is definitely drawn to them. But the sort of thing that isn't explained in the plot, and most reviewers never even bother to ask about, because it fits the logic of the world so much that it doesn't even introduce any sense of discomfort.

Let's explain with two recent genre examples, one from Marvel and one from the Terminator series.

Image result for jessica jones lighting

Jessica Jones, Marvel's second foray into Netflix, did a ton of interesting things with its comic book premise of a sociopathic Purple Man who can effortlessly mind control anyone he talks to, including the (now traumatized) naive protagonist superhero. Every scene is shot with a black and white style, but with the purple-yellow spectrum instead, where purple is the color used to emphasize a power or oppressive object in any shot. And any time some other vibrant color comes up, it's usually notable as well.

So for those of you who have seen it, or just read reviews of it, can you answer the super important question of the show?

Why is Jessica (after being trapped by it for eighteen months) immune to the mind control power?

There are certainly fan theories, about her superpowers, or "being forced to do something against your fundamental self" or whatever. But it's not a mystery that bugs most reviewers. The twist is her discovering that she is immune halfway through the season, but neither she nor anyone else tries to figure out why. The question doesn't bother us because we already know the answer.

Jessica simply doesn't take his bullshit anymore. And that's what Kilgrave's power his, the patriarchy's power to bullshit their way through any situation and make everyone fall in line. It's a recognition that it's power is so absurd, so out of proportion to the actual material strength of rich, white cismen that the only way they could do this must be out of fantasy. (Reminiscent of Ginsburg's Moloch.)

In fact, this lines up exactly with what I wrote about the Jedi Mind Trick some years before Jessica Jones.
There are extremely disturbing things going on with the Jedi Mind Trick. Which should have been obvious since we are talking about mind control. The fact that throughout the other movies the (white human) Jedi make mind control look charming and benign, tells us a lot about racism and classism. It tells us how quaint they can look on the surface, even when we know the violence that is being done. Episode 2 is where the films start to lift this veil, and start to bother us with how bad some of these tools are. And always have been.
 This scene says how we treat people of lower class than us. Now stop trying to sell me a death stick, and go home and think about your life.
And hey, Kilgrave even makes the same "joke", using the famous Jedi lines when he's bypassing a cop to get somewhere he wants.

After eighteen months under Kilgrave's spell, and being forced to do terrible, dehumanizing things, being forced to kill an innocent woman, Jessica finally saw through it all. And bullshit no longer works on her. The show's understones are preaching a message of female liberation, saying that once you see through their tricks, you'll never have to go back.

(This is entirely in accord with how Jessica spends the entire show running around trying to tell people about Kilgrave and how dangerous he is, and almost no one believes her.)

On a thematic level, the audience totally understands this. She's an abuse victim who was gaslit and now she's trying to save others from the same fate. Some sort of "enhancement" of his powers isn't going to have any further effect on her: she's not listening to him (both with the literal ear plugs, and on a more figurative level once she takes them off.) It's the fundamental moral narrative of the show and no one needed a literal plot explanation of what happened.


On a less grim, much more slapstick level, we have Terminator Genisys. Most of you are familiar with the plot of the Terminator series.

Image result for terminator

  1. An anti-robot fighter form the future, Kyle Reese, has been sent back to save the mother of humanity's general, Sarah and John Connor respectively, from a T-800 android played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. 
  2. A good Arnold is sent back to protect teenage John Connor from an evil shapeshifting T-1000 robot. They destroy the basis of evil AI technology in the future, which ironically was started by researching the remains of the robot from 1.
  3. Another Arnold goes back again to save John from a more feminine battle-of-the-sexes shapeshifter robot, who also ensures the evil AI successfully launches its nuclear strike against the rest of the world.
There are, obviously a ton of plot holes in this vision of time travel that audiences and fans have picked over them endlessly. There's no particularly good answer to such questions, and they are bothersome (especially in #3.)

Terminator Genisys throws this all into hilarious overdrive. Kyle Reese is sent back, as he was originally, but this time after he is sent back a shapeshifter robot reveals itself among the human forces, infests John Connor with nanites that take him over, and John goes back to launch the AI Apocalypse himself.

Kyle Reese must contend not only with the T-800 Arnold he was sent to kill, but a T-1000 shapeshifter that's lying in wait for him already, and of course, Evil John Connor. In the meantime, Sarah Connor was rescued by a T-800 when she was a small child, has been living on the run with the Arnold since then, and rescues Kyle, all while dreading the time-travel narrative that she is destined to fall in love with Kyle, who will then die saving her.

We're pretty sure who sent the bad guy robots back, just another AI trying to defend itself again. But the unaddressed question no one worries about is "Who sent the T-800 back that rescued Sarah?" There's a throwaway line that his memory of who was wiped so they couldn't be assassinated, but that doesn't resolve us as the audience wanting to know who.

The answer is of course, that in this constant circle history-altering fuckup, it doesn't matter. This movie isn't Terminator 4 (or, given the existence of the non-time travel oriented "Salvation", Terminator 5.) It's goddamn Terminator 10. There must have been three or four more loops we didn't even see since the previous movie.

Which is only further hilarity, now having taken the Terminator franchise from horror, to action movie, to comedy.

1 comment:

  1. And, of course, for all the Terminator movies' surface level fatalism: it's working. The robopocalypse keeps getting pushed further and further into the future.