Sunday, May 25, 2014

Symbols

What I've been struggling with for the past fourteen years of trying to put food on the table through telling stories for the masses is my inability to escape my belief that all stories are allegorical and that the characters, places, and occurrences within those stories are symbols. All of them.

Listen. Whether it's gossiping about how your neighbor's teen-aged daughter is pregnant or it's a major network pouring millions of pesos into an episode of a TV show, the fact that a story was deemed worthy of being relayed from one person to another and the other person deemed it worth his time to hear means whatever it was that originally inspired the tale--an event, a thought, a whimsy--it has since become symbolic. The event itself is not a story. It's a random turning of the cosmic cards. A tree falling in the forest, so to speak. It's only when the event is recalled (to oneself, to another, to a great many others) that it becomes a story, that it is given meaning. It's only when the tale is told that the personages, locations, and incidents become symbols. Symbols are humanity's shorthand for complex ideas, and stories use symbols so we may be able to make sense of our lives, of our place in the universe. Storytellers use the alchemy of imagination to string together symbols--even if there are those who don't seem to realize what they are actually doing, simply believing that they chose a specific path to take a group of characters because it pleased them.

What I find extremely difficult is concealing the symbols and camouflaging the allegory. Mainly because I don't want to. As I celebrate the making of the symbols, I want the listener to celebrate the deciphering of them. And in an industry that seems to recognize only one purpose for stories--escape--not pretending to be blind to the allegory can injure one's prospects.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Enemy (2013) Analysis Notes Part II

“Enemy” is a 2013 movie directed by Denis Villanueve and adapted by Javier Gullón from José Saramago's 2002 novel “The Double”.  It features Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of two men of opposite characteristics who look exactly alike, down to their scars. The movie is stylish, cryptic, and surreal.

The following are my notes in attempting to decipher it. I’m sure some of it—if not a lot of it—is just me reading too much into the film. But I was approaching the material with the intention of not missing anything that may be significant.

ENEMY (2013)
Notes Part II:

Adam finds out the Anthony's talent agency is called Volga. Now, writers—especially writers trying to be cryptic—usually don't merely pull names out of their asses. I've pointed out possible reasons why Adam and Anthony were named as they were. So why was the talent agency named Volga? It’s the longest river in Europe. It’s the national river of Russia. Russia can be seen as a symbol for duality since it is the crux between the East and the West? I know, I’m reachin’. I’m stumped here. Maybe the writer WAS just pulling names out of his ass.

Adam then rushes to the DVD rental shop to find two more movies Anthony appeared in, "Call Me L8R" and "Passenger Without a Ticket". I must admit that, again, I'm stumped as to the relevance of these titles. But I think the poster on the wall is a clue. It's the classic science fiction flick, "Attack of the 50-Foot Woman". In that 1950s movie, the protagonist—a wealthy heiress—has a philandering husband who wants her to be sent back to a mental hospital so he can take control of her millions. When she grows into a giantess via alien machinations, she kills both her husband and his mistress. Remember this for when we get to the end of Anthony.

Adam watches one of these movies, although we never know which one this is. It shows Anthony being arrested by riot cops in an urban setting. It's a scene we see a lot of when people protest their governments. Especially in totalitarian states. What I find more intriguing is that Anthony is supposed to have played a waiter in "Call Me L8R" and a train passenger in "Passenger Without a Ticket". The man getting arrested doesn't look like a waiter and isn't on a train. Is this another movie Anthony appeared in, something not listed in his short filmography? Or is it a movie at all? Is this footage of Anthony actually being arrested by cops? One thing we must take note of is that Anthony in this scene has a beard. I'll get back to this issue later.

Disturbed by what he's seen, Adam takes a shower. Afterwards, he fishes some old photos from boxes stacked in a corner of his apartment. These unopened boxes and the rolled up phone cable we saw in an earlier scene give me an impression that Adam just moved here. Just how long has he been living here? How long has he been with his girlfriend? How long has he been teaching in that school? Anyway, the picture Adam takes out of the box is one where he didn't have a beard. He wants to compare it to the picture of Anthony on the Internet. This makes me ask: is the man in the picture that Adam holds really the history teacher? What if that's actually Anthony? What if Adam doesn't really have a picture? Also worth noting is that this old photo is torn. There's obviously a woman with her arms around the man in the photo, but half of the photo has been ripped off so we don't know who this woman is. The only clue we have as to the identity of this woman is her thin bracelet.

The next day, Adam seems to be agitated in class. He leaves the school.

That night, Adam is again looking at Anthony's page in the Volga Talent Agency website when Adam's cellular phone rings. His mother is calling. Adam doesn't answer it. As the phone buzzes, Adam looks at the address of the talent agency.

The next day, he goes and buys a pair of flashy sunglasses. We'll know later why he picked the most garish pair he found.

He parks his car outside the talent agency's building and eats pizza as he waits for the opportunity to slip into the building. When he finally succeeds, he is met by the security guard. This is the first time Adam learns that his double's name is Anthony. The garish shades seem to have worked. Adam does look like some two-bit actor. The guards says he didn't recognize Anthony because of the beard and that it's been six months since Anthony has visited the agency. Now, remember that mysterious movie where Anthony—or the character he plays—is being arrested by the riot cops? He has a beard there. Anyway, pressed for a reason for his visit on a Saturday, Adam fumbles and asks if there was something left for him. There actually is an envelope with Anthony's name on it. Adam takes the envelope and leaves. Back in his car, Adam opens the envelope. Inside is a smaller envelope with Anthony's real name and address. It's marked PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL. Adam doesn't open this envelope.

Adam arrives at Anthony's posh condo building and leaves his car in the largely empty parking lot. Again there's that feeling that the city has been depopulated. From the parking lot, he counts the number of floors in the building and looks at an open window where he assumes Anthony lives. He suddenly turns around, feeling as if someone is watching him. No one there. He goes to a nearby payphone and calls Anthony's house. A woman picks up the phone. It's Anthony's wife. Apparently, Anthony and Adam don't only look like each other, they also have the same voice. Anthony's wife thinks her husband is playing a prank on her. When he tries to tell her that he's not Anthony, the woman starts getting upset. Adam hangs up, shaken. It’s one thing when two people look alike. It's another when they also sound alike.

Back in his apartment, Adam calls Anthony's home again. He finally speaks to the actor. Adam starts sounding like some creepy fan so Anthony hangs up. Adam dials again and tells Anthony that they should meet.

In Anthony's condo unit, we finally see the actor. He looks exactly like Adam but has better clothes, a swankier home, and carries himself with more confidence.

An aside about names again:

Anthony's wife is Helen. My first thought is of Hellenistic Greece, the period in Ancient Greek history after the death of Alexander the Great and before Rome succeeded in annexing Greece, thus ending Greek independence. Greek and Roman mythology have the same gods under different names because Roman culture is the offspring of Greek (at least, that’s how the legend of Aeneas tells it). If we think of Anthony as the original and as the Greek pantheon while Adam is the doppelganger and the Roman pantheon, this may be a foreshadowing of how the offspring/copy will overpower the parent/original.

Adam's girlfriend is Mary. Etymologically speaking, the name “Mary” came from the Aramaic “Maryam”. This may have come from the Egyptian “Mry” (due to Jewish captivity in Ancient Egypt), which means “beloved”. Or perhaps “Meri-Amun”, translated as “beloved of (the Egyptian patron deity of Thebes) Amun”. Amun, remember, became a prominent Ancient Egyptian god and was fused with the sun god Ra, creating Amun-Ra, a supreme being comparable to YHWH or Zeus. Later, the pharaoh Akhenaten decided to make the worship of Aten (another aspect of Ra) the official religion of the kingdom. Perhaps this is again a foreshadowing of how the copy will overpower the original.

Back to the movie. Anthony's wife suspects that the actor was speaking to a woman, or maybe a woman's jealous husband. We can gather from the exchange that Anthony has been unfaithful before and Anthony's wife thinks he's seeing her again. He walks out, exasperated. Cut to a wide shot showing that Helen is pregnant.

That night, Anthony Googles Adam's name and finds his contact information from his university’s website. Meanwhile, Helen finds a piece of paper in Anthony's discarded pants. On it, Anthony has written Adam's name. Helen also Googles the name and find's Adam's contact info.

The next day, Adam shows up in class. He's early. There are no students yet. As he prepares his lecture, we see a diagram on the board showing how chaos leads to order when it is deciphered. There are also some scribbled words indicating that power is security. Anthony calls Adam and arranges a meeting on Sunday at the Breezeway Inn outside the city. Adam agrees with fear and excitement. He needs to get some air.

Meanwhile, Helen arrives outside the lecture building. She wants to see who this Adam is. She sees him sitting on a bench to get some air. She cannot believe it. He looks exactly like her husband. She sits on another bench. Adam, not knowing who she is, says hello to her. He asks her how many months she's pregnant. Six, she says. As he leaves to go back to his class, Adam tells Helen: You never know how your day is going to turn out. Helen calls Anthony just to see if she's being bullshitted. Anthony answers the phone.

The strange thing though is that Anthony only answers the phone about half a second after Adam disappears into the building. We are left guessing if indeed Adam is just Anthony pretending to be someone else. Maybe he's living a double life? Also, Helen is six months pregnant. Remember that Anthony hasn't been seen in Volga Talent Agency for the last six months? What's he been doing since then?

Helen gets home. Anthony arrives after her, panting and sweating. He says he's been out jogging, and that he was trying to outrun a younger man. He opens the refrigerator and finds his blueberries gone. He goes on about how Helen should eat the organic blueberries and that he can't shoot the ones left in the ref for a shoot.

That night, Adam asks Helen what's wrong. She admits that she saw Adam earlier. She asks Anthony, what's happening. Anthony says he doesn't know what Helen is talking about Helen, tears welling in her eyes, and says: “I think you know.”

Dream sequence: A hallway, the same hallway leading to the dimly-lit room with the naked ladies. The camera is upside down. A naked woman is walking down this hallway, also upside down to our perspective. She has the head of a spider. She passes by Adam, who is upright in our perspective. Why is the scene upside-down? Because we are seeing things wrong? Because we got to know Adam first, we are assuming that he's the real thing and that Anthony may be the doppelganger. But let's remember that Anthony is the one who seems more real. His wife is more emotionally tangible. At two other persons know him, the security guard at Volga and his companion in the dimly-lit room with the naked women. Adam, on the other hand, lives in an apartment that looks barely lived in, has a girlfriend he doesn't connect with and an unnamed mother who doesn't take him seriously. While Anthony seems unlikable, he's understandably human and has human flaws. Adam seems like an imperfect copy of a human being.

Thought: What if it was Anthony who was visiting the woman we assume is Adam’s mother? Adam IS Anthony. Or Adam is a CONSTRUCT of Anthony, either as a conscious effort of deceitfulness or an unconscious desire to live another life.

Adam wakes up, startled by the dream. Anthony is also sitting up in bed, apparently startled as well. Maybe from the same dream. Of course, we'll learn later that this isn't happening at the same time and that this isn't Anthony but Adam sleeping with Helen. But more on this later.

Sunday. Adam goes to the inn where he's supposed to meet Anthony. He still has the envelope for the actor, unopened. He waits for Anthony in a room. Anthony appears in a leather jacket (his mode of transportation is a motorcycle). Anthony asks Adam to show his hands. They have the same hands. They have the same scars. Anthony suggests that they may be brothers. Adam isn't buying this. The teacher is starting to freak out and thinks this may be a mistake. He gives Anthony the envelope and leaves. It's worth noting that while Anthony and Adam can see and speak to each other, they are never seen together by a third party throughout the movie. On the road, a man on a motorcycle rides past Adam's car. We assume that the man is Anthony but we don't see his face beneath the dark visor of his motorcycle helmet.

Back home, Anthony tells his wife that Adam won't be bothering them again. In the bathroom, Anthony appears shaken.

Next day, it's Anthony's turn to stalk Adam. He sees Adam with his girlfriend, Mary. Anthony follows Mary, gets into a bus with her, looks at her with lust, and even notices her stiletto heels. He apparently has a thing for stiletto heels. He watches her as she works.

Adam visits his mother, who seems to be a wealthy painter. She dismisses Adam's story. She offers him blueberries. He says he doesn't like blueberries. She doesn't want to hear any more of Adam's story. Cryptically, she tells him, “You should quit that fantasy of being a third-rate movie actor.” Again, I ask, is Anthony the woman’s son?

Then comes the second strangest scene in the movie. See you in Part III.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Enemy (2013) Analysis Notes Part I

“Enemy” is a 2013 movie directed by Denis Villanueve and adapted by Javier Gullón from José Saramago's 2002 novel “The Double”.  It features Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of two men of opposite characteristics who look exactly alike, down to their scars. The movie is stylish, cryptic, and surreal.

The following are my notes in attempting to decipher it. I’m sure some of it—if not a lot of it—is just me reading too much into the film. But I was approaching the material with the intention of not missing anything that may be significant.

ENEMY (2013)
Notes
Part I:

The first shot is of the city (which we'll learn later is Toronto) covered in a nicotine-colored haze. This sickly yellow tinge will permeate every shot in the movie. The city seems to be abandoned. Of course, we'll see later that the city isn't empty. But there are places where it's strangely devoid of activity. From my first viewing, I know that one of the major themes is alienation. Painting the city this way is symbolic of the existential desert where this story is unfolding.

History teacher Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is in his car, listening to his mother's voice mail. The woman claims she loves Adam but she also criticizes him for his living conditions. What living conditions? We'll see more of this later.

A shot of a pregnant woman in bed, naked. We'll know later that this is the doppelganger Anthony Claire’s wife (or is Adam the doppelganger?).

Before we go on, let’s consider the two men’s names:

ADAM BELL

Adam. The first man. In Kabbalistic thought, however, there is a distinction between Adam Kadmon and Adam HaRishon. From what little I understand of Kabbalah, Adam Kadmon is the cosmic man, the template from which all humans have been created. The mold, if you will. Adam HaRishon is the physical man, the source of all of humanity.

Bell. Bells have various shapes and sizes but they all have the same purpose. Ringing a bell is a signal, often a warning. Bells are also made similarly, by pouring liquid metal into a mold. Adam Kadmon and Adam HaRishon, see?

Which is Adam Bell, the mold or the creature that came out of the mold? We assume he’s the original because we get to know him first. What if he’s the doppelganger? But who created him? How? Why?

ANTHONY CLAIRE a.k.a. DANIEL SAINT CLAIRE

Anthony. A reference to Cleopatra's lover? I can't see how it fits. Besides, that’s Mark Antony. Maybe the temptation of Saint Anthony the Great? Saint Anthony beset by demons in the Egyptian desert is a subject that has been repeated throughout the history of Western art. In Salvador Dali's take on the subject, the nightmare is more sexual in nature and the naked old saint is using his large cross to ward off a parade of animals bearing naked women, obelisks, etc. The animals (elephants led by a white horse) all have stilt-like legs. You’ll see a shot later on in the movie that supports my claim that Anthony’s name is directly related to this painting.  Also, both Anthony the actor and Adam the teacher have misogynistic qualities. Anthony is a predator with a history of infidelity while Adam is disinterested in his girlfriend and acts as if having sex with her is a chore (and at one point begins to rape her).

Claire. Etymologically speaking, it means “clear”. Not muddled. It is at is appears to be. Is this a hint that Anthony is the original and not the copy?

Daniel. The prophet from the Old Testament who interpreted the dreams of kings in Babylon. Two events in the Book of Daniel seem to be related to this movie. The first is when Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as a prophecy that the king would become mad and would live like an animal for seven years. It came true. The second is when Daniel was summoned to interpret Belshazzar’s vision wherein a disembodied hand wrote MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN on a wall. Daniel said it was a warning that Belshazzar has been judged and found wanting by God. Belshazzar was slain by his enemies. Animalism and death, something that we will see Anthony Claire suffer later in the movie.

St. Claire. St. Claire of Assisi was a nun and a follower of St. Francis. She founded the Order of Poor Ladies (Poor Clares). She’s been displayed for centuries as an incorruptible. It was later found out that she was a skeleton inside a wax mask. Anthony, we’ll see later, is capable of great deceit.

Now, on with the movie.

The line appears: Chaos is order yet undeciphered. Chaos, in this case, is the bizarre events we will be watching in the next 90 minutes. The movie seems to be promising us that there is logic to be found here, that there is a method to this madness if we have the capacity to decipher it. Challenge obviously accepted, Messieurs Villanueve and Gullón.

Anthony is carrying a mysterious key. We know it's Anthony because he has a wedding band on his finger and dresses well. He has a companion, whom we'll learn later is the security guard in Anthony's posh apartment building. With the key, Anthony and his companion enter a dimly-lit room where other gentlemen are gathered around a stage. On the stage, a woman--naked except for high-heeled slippers--is masturbating (a woman objectified). Then two women, also wearing high heels, appear. The take off their robes. One of them puts a covered silver tray on the stage floor. A fat spider crawls out. Anthony watches intently as one of the women begins stepping on the spider with her stiletto heel. Is it really a woman? Is this really Anthony? Was the spider really crushed? We never really see it happen.

The city again. The haze is much thicker now. Is this just smog? Or is it something else?

Adam is lecturing some college kids about dictatorships. It's all about control, he says. In Ancient Rome, the masses were entertained with bread and circuses to dissuade them from revolting. Other dictatorships use other methods to control ideas and knowledge: lowering education, limiting culture, censoring information, censoring expression. This is a pattern throughout history, Adam points out. On the blackboard, we can see the words THESIS  ANTITHESIS. Alright, we're getting somewhere. Who is the thesis and who is the antithesis? What will be the synthesis when Adam and Anthony clash? Also on the board, Adam has written that history is not truth.

A shot of electric wires that look like spider webs. This spider theme will be obvious throughout the film.

Walking home, Adam passes by some graffiti stenciled on a wall: men in business suits, each one with a fist raised in the air like a revolutionary. But in business suits. Bansky-esque irony. Maybe a statement about how the revolutionaries of today are the reactionaries of tomorrow?

We finally see Adam's living conditions, which we heard his mother deploring earlier. He lives alone in a dimly-lit and largely-unfurnished apartment.

Adam sighs a lot in this movie, a deep, soul-weary sigh.

Adam's girlfriend, Mary, arrives. They eat. They fuck. She leaves.

Adam is delivering the exact same lecture to another class the next day.

Again, the Mary arrives. They fuck. She leaves. They seem bored in this relationship. It happens over and over again. Remember Adam's lecture: Dictatorship's limiting of information and expression is a pattern that repeats itself throughout history. Adam and the woman's relationship is a dictatorship? Who is the dictator? Or is it more meta? The movie prevents us from getting all the information. The writer and director are the dictator in our relationship with the story? In many dictatorships, being free means getting the info by ourselves, sifting through the bullshit to get to the truth. To get at the truth in this story, we must earn it.

Jesus Christ, I've already written a lot and it's only the first ten minutes of the movie.

In the next scene, a smarmy-looking man, probably another teacher in the school, seemingly manipulates Adam into watching a movie, even when Adam admits that he's not into movies. Bread and circuses, Adam earlier said. What is a movie if not the modern man's bread and circuses? At least, in this movie's logic. In reality, movies can be more than mere escape. But that's just my opinion. Anyway, if we follow the symbolism--that a movie and the viewer's relationship is a dictatorship--this could be interpreted as Adam rejecting movies and therefore rejecting dictatorial control of his life. Maybe this is why he seems so dejected. He is a man controlled by some unseen but potent force. He senses this controlling force but cannot pinpoint what it is. He is kept in the dark. But he suspects someone or something is keeping the truth from him. As it goes, Adam finally relents and says he wants to see something cheerful. Smarmy co-teacher suggests a comedy called "Where There's a Will, There's a Way". A prophetic title since the story will unfold with Adam trying to get at the miasmic truth by sheer will.

Later that day, as he's walking home, Adam enters the video rental shop and looks for the smarmy man's recommended movie. Note: it may not be actually important but (like the scene with the spider and the high-heeled woman) we don't actually see the implied action taking place. In the next scene, Adam is entering his apartment with the rented movie. Maybe I'm just reading too much into these truncated scenes.

When Adam's girlfriend goes to bed, Adam says he's still got some papers to grade. He then watches the DVD. The movie, from what I can gather from it, is about a wealthy and mysterious married woman. After the movie, Adam goes to the bedroom, looking like he's about to do a chore. He strips and starts making love with his girlfriend. He hurts her. She says “no” a few times before Adam stops. The woman leaves Adam's apartment visibly upset. Adam dreams of a scene in the movie he watched earlier. The bellhop in the movie looks exactly like Adam, sans the beard. Adam looks at the scene again and confirms it. The bellhop does look uncannily like Adam.

The next day, Adam lectures his class about Hegel, who said that all the greatest events in the world happen twice, to which Karl Marx added that the first time is a tragedy and the second time is a farce. Note the words on the blackboard in an earlier scene. THESIS and ANTITHESIS. A man and his doppelganger represents the dual nature of the universe: God and Satan, dark and light, good and evil, man and woman etc. We saw the dictatorship lecture being delivered by Adam twice. Adam also mentions that many of the world's thinkers are worried that this century is a repetition of the last.

Interesting. The last century was marked by violence:

-The rise of Two World Wars
-The rise of Nazism, facism, Communism, and other dictatorships
-The violence of American wars in Vietnam, Korea, and the middle east.

Yet (again, reflecting the duality of the universe), that century was also marked by a step towards peace, justice, and equality:

-The philosophy of peace and love spread by the hippies
-The fall of dictatorships
-Huge gains in civil rights

That night, Adam finds out the name of the actor that looks like him: Daniel Saint Claire (which is the stage name of Anthony Claire). Adam pulls a wound-up cable and connects it to his computer, allowing him Internet access. This is strange. Adam doesn't watch movies, there's no TV in his home, there's no radio, and he doesn't use the Internet. He's living in an information bubble, just like the citizens of a totalitarian state. Is Adam his own dictator?

Adam Googles the name and finds out that the talent agency that represents Anthony is called Volga.

With that, I end Part I of my rambling analysis of "Enemy". Let's do this again tomorrow. We'll continue at the 19:55 mark.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Follow Your Conscience

I lost the Pope Francis photo.
Here's Jonathan Pryce instead.
Pope Francis said atheists would be forgiven by God if they followed their own conscience. Some thoughts:

1. Atheists have been following their own conscience ever since they turned atheist.

2. This is the pope trying to woo humanists, freethinkers, and other forces of secularism. The world is becoming increasingly secular and people are looking at religions warily. To be able to continue participating as a world power, the Catholic Church must evolve. And evolving to survive is what the Catholic Church does best. The Church adapted the widely popular winter solstice feasts and turned it into Christmas. People need their personal gods so the Church devised the concept of patron saints who can intervene for you. Modern science is incompatible with the creation myth of the Bible so the Church decreed that the myths are metaphorical. The Church has become very good at maintaining power by being flexible. This is something other Christian denominations don't understand, which is why they are increasingly seen as rabid.

3. This is not necessarily a bad thing. If this trend continues, the Catholic Church will go the way of Buddhism. Sort of. Buddhism nowadays downplays the weirdness that got attached to it throughout the centuries. Today, Buddhism is seen as an atheistic religion and can be drawn upon for inspiration and wisdom. The same can be the path of Christianity, or at least Roman Catholicism. Already, there are Jesusists or Jesuanists (different from the Jesuits, mind you) who draw from Christ's philosophy of peace and love and reject the reprehensible parts of the Bible.

4. Catholics need not be worried. Vatican spin doctors are already burning the midnight oil to write press releases downplaying the implications of Pope Francis' seemingly heretical statements so you can rest assured that atheists are still going to hell and you still need your religion to go to heaven.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Propaganda


My political views have always been left-of-center ever since I became an adult. I believe that there's too little for the many and too much for a few, and this makes me angry. But I have never been comfortable with leftist organizations, even as a student in UP Los Baños, because the propaganda turns me off. Propaganda, in my opinion, is the greatest insult to a person's intellect. Propaganda is designed only to whip your emotions, to manipulate you into subscribing to a point of view. Those who use propaganda are not interested in educating you so you can think for yourself. Those who use propaganda are interested only in telling you what to think.