Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An arty movie saved us all... Well, me at least.

There's a lot to be depressed about these days, as a young person. The economic news continues to be poor, and I think just waiting for it to get better, as if it's a given, is the wrong way to think of it. It seems things are stuck this way for the long haul, so get used to it. And it was mostly caused by assholes in the financial sector, who have gotten away with it Scot-free, and continue to wreck things even now.

I don't mean to sound like a downer and lose the few regular readers of this blog that I have. I just mean to tell what I believe to be the truth. Republican-tea-party-loyalist-far-right assholes seem to have a firm grip on the wrench that is jammed into the gears of Washington. Washington is broken, everyone knows that. But they just held our country ransom so the rich in America could continue to pay low taxes. I don't blame the rich for wanting to pay lower taxes, as most of them have worked hard and earned their money honestly. But that's the price they pay for the tremendous inequalities we have in our stable democracy. They should accept the obvious fact that it's in their best interest to level things out, if only making things slightly more level, and move on. But they don't because they have too much clout in a Wall Street dictated government.

It's no big secret why I'm an expat right now. And though it may sound brash and egotistical, but I believe I'm one of the better examples of American youth: bright, brave, and well-educated. The US shouldn't want to lose a guy like me, but they have, to a totalitarian regime, a government my girlfriend, who's Chinese, referred to as "the biggest mafia in the world". But even they seem like a portrait of stability compared to the wrecked state of Washington. My mom put it this way: "You're the one who goes and lives with the Communists". Damn right, I do. It seems the Communists have opportunities to provide, unlike the US.

Young people like me can expect to make less than my parents' generation did. Social Security and Medicare for us seem like myths; only an idiot would take faith that they will safely pay off for us when we reach our Autumn years. And though crazy, right-wing assholes are mostly to blame for it all, the media seems incapable of putting the blame where the blame is due. Speaking of blame, Obama is without his share of it. The man shows common sense to deal with his political opponents. Sadly, in Washington that will get you nowhere these days, as those on the right insist upon one thing: if Obama loses, no matter the consequence, they win. Obama should never have treated them as if they were rational beings. They were willing to sacrifice our whole financial system so the rich wouldn't pay higher taxes, and I believe they would do it again.

But how has all this affected pop art? For one, movie studios have, and have for a few years now, relied on safe-bet films that will make a profit regardless of their artistic achievement. Maybe this has always been the case, but I've at times become depressed with movies like "Transformers" being the highest grossing movies of their year. At least films like Avatar had some sustenance. And even previous high-grossing films 'Titanic', The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and 'Toy Story' had some, if not plenty of artistic life in them. But these days it seems as if there are only two kinds of movies that get made: sequels and comic book movies (sometimes they are one in the same). Jesus Christ, am I so fucking sick of comic book movies. Except for Batman.

There was a movie, however, made recently, that's shear existence has restored my faith in humanity, art, and the medium of films: The Tree of Life. As I explained to a dear friend of mine recently, The Tree of Life is in a popular art medium, long-subject film, but it is not pop art. The fact that it has been shown in mainstream movie theaters is a triumph. And though a bunch of small-minded assholes may walk out on its slow pace and nonlinear plot, they will truly be missing something rare and fantastic. The film is ambitious as I believe a movie can possibly be: it attempts to tell the story of the beginning of life on earth and the creation of the universe, and put one life of one individual into the context of the cosmic dance, the life of an American growing up in Texas. And as best as a film possibly can succeed at this amazing task, it succeeds. It shows the beauty and elegance of life at all stages of existence, and asks the greatest questions the world knows: What is life? What is existence? What is time? Is there a God-like entity watching over us? Does that even matter if we have faith in God, creating our own reality? What is the Father? The Mother? The son?

There are no concrete answers to such questions. They can only be asked, examined, and opinions shared. Malick, the film's director, doesn't force anything on us, but merely presents us with the universal story that we all share. Hopefully, if nothing else, at the film's end you will not feel alone, but in the same cosmic state of ethos as the rest of us. But the trip will be wonderfully beautiful; with every image in the film capable of being paused and hung on your wall in a picture frame, as one critic put it. So Malick is truly master of his craft, in more ways than one.

So I was relieved, to say the least, that such a momentous work of art could be made at this point in history. And it reminded me that art will go on, of course always connected to the political, but nonetheless, always go on, no matter how dire things may seem.

Other films at Cannes this year also have me excited for the state of things. Namely "The Artist" by Michel Hazanavicius and "Midnight in Paris" by the great Woody Allen.

Movies are in the end pop art. Perhaps I should be championing the starving artist and his ill-attended gallery instead of famous moviemakers. But the fact that they appear in the mainstream, and dictate some of our culture, some of our collective consciousness, is important. If a film like 'The Tree of Life' can get made these days, and enough people can appreciate it, well, then I'm still happy to be alive, no matter the politics. And my faith in humanity, when tested, can at least be strengthened by humanity's best attribute, and that is art.

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