Rewind Review: ‘Interview with a Vampire’

Interview with a Vampire feels like the quintessential example of a bad book adaptation: You can tell there are big themes lurking in the background. There’s a sense that these emotions aren’t melodrama or camp but sincere. And yet, nothing about the movie is really able to connect.

Interview with a Vampire posterFor instance, the movie seems to revolve around the connection between Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt) and Lestat de Lioncourt (Tom Cruise), their sometimes diametrically opposed views on the afterlife and vampiric sensibilities. For the first two-thirds we follow as they banter between themselves, haphazardly drawing in victims and even a “daughter” in Claudia (Kirsten Dunst). Then the movie drops this plot line, in favor of a turn to Armand’s (Antonio Banderas) coven in Paris, only to return later with a flourish to the “central relationship.” In a book these chapters might feel a bit episodic, but in the movie there’s a lot more telling that Louis and Claudia digest the various pains of the world than there is showing you.

Instead the movie paints in broad strokes, favoring the book-translation that seems to name-check important plot points without paying much attention to the emotional weight of them.

Some of this is likely due to the casting. Young Brad Pitt clearly hasn’t discovered that he is a character actor in a leading man’s body—unlike co-star Tom Cruise, whose vivaciousness buoys nearly every scene initially. Pitt is utterly wooden; a precursor to Robert Pattinson’s later turn in Twilight. It’s clear that Louis de Pointe du Lac is tortured. But we, as an audience, mostly know that because he spends so much time communicating this in his voiceover, and sitting on the sidelines, peering into a world he understands but still doesn’t want to. Given his stiff and mopey state, it’s hard to believe that one of the through lines of the movie is that every vampire Louis comes in contact with yearns for his company above all.

It’s left to Cruise and Dunst to breathe some life into the film, and they each do so with great aplomb. Cruise manages a vibrant Lestat initially, seamlessly shifting between the vampire’s complicated desire for Louis as a dissimilar companion and his frustration with Louis’s inability to want to understand him. But it’s Dunst who manages to fully embody the complexities of the vampire lifestyle—not to mention the added complexities of her character, all as a child not nearly as aged as Claudia. Hers is the only performance that seems to be able to tap into the poetic and nuanced style of Anne Rice.

Otherwise, Rice’s novel and its shading is lost in a film that’s done away with subtlety and themes of grief in favor of what reads as gothic camp. Though its style and themes would certainly influence modern horror, and in particular vampire tales, Interview with a Vampire isn’t able to do much with the infinite lifetimes of its heroes. And we thought we could have it all.

500 Days Asunder

A couple gazes at each other, holding hands, overlooking a scenic Los Angeles. Already we’re getting mixed signals: A narrator illustrates the incompatibility of the two, her engagement ring dazzles, the writer calls his ex a bitch as an endearing whistle hovers in the air. (500) Days of Summer is already using the pathos and techniques of a traditional romantic comedy to create a classic romance tale, with one important caveat: “This is not a love story.”

The movie is about Tom wrestling with reality; the reality of his relationship with Summer, the reality of love, the reality of his life. The themes, when written out, sound weighty, too magnificent for a simple romantic comedy to take on. But in many ways this movie—which flits between romance and comedy—is not a romantic comedy at all, but a coming of age film.

(500) Days of Summer looks at the romances that scatter our past, how they can inadvertently lead to something totally different than a wedding (although the ending does allude to the fact that they can also lead to a better fit down the line). In order to really engage with those themes, however, it adopts the mannerisms of a romantic comedy. But by turning them on their head with the depth and seriousness, it also rewards those themes with more poignancy, living up to its declaration that it “is not a love story.”

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Perhaps one of the genres that requires the biggest leaps in imagination is the romantic comedy. Where else are two-dimensional characters, shallow emotional moments, and unbelievable gestures not just expected but encouraged?

Though the walls of a romantic comedy have been stretched and contracted since Hollywood came to be, its structure on film has always been remarkably similar. Whether as part of the present story or as part of an introduction to the plot, we usually we see boy meet girl, and then watch as they fall together over (usually) an abridged period of time.

(500) Days of Summer plays no such games.

When initially asked to tell his little sister what happened, we see Tom’s mental View Master flutter past us. Only later will we learn that only one of these memories held a deeper, darker, if ultimately rewarding, moment for Tom—the fight that pushes him to declare them “a couple, dammit.” The rest of the images are all smiles. That’s because this is how Tom remembers Summer: as Roger Ebert himself put it, a “series of joys and befuddlements.” To Tom, and by extension the audience, Summer is smart, funny, charming, beautiful, entrancing, and taken with him. And yet, she doesn’t think they’re dating.

500-days-109Often called “cutesy” or “utterly unhelpful” by some critics at the time, the movie’s narrative structure is actually a vital framing device for the audience’s understanding of Tom’s fact. Love stories—whether happy or not—sprawl across months, sometimes years, without a definitive end. No one remembers them purely chronologically; we jump between the “end,” and the middle, and the beginning we didn’t even know was a beginning, and then back to a different middle. We remember the laughs. We wince at the pain. The free-flowing structure allows the movie to explore that, while also interrogating it.

The truth is we’re never clear on what or how Summer thinks about her and Tom’s relationship. Things seem to progress to definitively “serious” but that is—like the whole of the movie—all Tom’s perspective. We see the interplay of the highs and lows of the relationship as Tom sees it: filtered, if not overtly white-washed.

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Like any film, a romantic comedy is an exercise in a very specific kind of world-building. Stretching all the way back to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, romantic comedies demand a viewer to expect the world to exist beyond our own. Be they faeries that seek to make a match or just a world built on loony humor, romantic comedies are always intended to be a fantasy.

In this respect, (500) Days of Summer follows in the footsteps of traditional romantic comedies by creating its own heightened reality: Director Marc Webb stated that he wanted to give the movie a “classic look.” And so production had rules about which buildings (only those built before 1950s) and what sounds (old phone rings, as opposed to digital) could be used. Likewise, Summer’s wardrobe is reminiscent of 50’s fashion.

This also plays into how color is used in the film. Webb has said that he drew out the blues as the color representing “love” in the universe of (500) Days of Summer because of actress Zooey Deschanel’s eyes. It helps remind the audience that what they are seeing is an augmented reality, both as moviegoers experiencing the film and as a one-sided love story. Summer is almost always dressed in blues, her hair ribbons and apartment are decked out in it—and yet very infrequently does that splash over to Tom. His color palette is decidedly browns, oranges, and tans; from his khakis and sweater vests to the warm, streetlamp that colors his apartment even at night.

And Webb uses this device to play around with how Tom’s view of Summer might be changing even if he refuses to recognize it: As the days progress she starts wearing more and more brown, covering herself up with tweed jackets and moving away from her summery blue skirts. When Tom is ultimately forced to confront the bad stuff in the relationship, we see her in more darker, muted clothes than ever before. Her deep blues seem almost black, as if the relationship is suffocating her vibrancy. In the initial three hangouts post-breaking up (the train, the wedding, and the house party), Summer’s clothes seem to have bounced back to their usual pop.

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These devices are used in order to invoke the feeling of a vintage romantic comedy, to inspire the feeling that love can conquer all madcap curveballs life throws at it. If this were a romantic comedy these signs, the vibe, this reality—it would all be a clear indicator that Tom and Summer would reunite, decked head to toe in blue, and ride off into the sunset. It’s what makes Summer’s defying of gender expectations feel all the more brutal to Tom. After all, this is not a love story.

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Romantic comedy leads can often get away with bothering their friend with every whim; their lives are seemingly the engine powering the universe around them. Their loved ones all have their parts to play; their friends link up; their sisters somehow get involved with their boss. We see this in (500) Days of Summer too, but once again, with an illuminating twist.

Very seldom do the lives of the supporting players seem to exist outside Tom’s. Each of them inhabits a sort of cliche from the romantic comedy genre: The wise beyond her years little sister; the troupe of off-kilter supporting players; the existing-entirely-for-the-male-protagonist love interest. It may seem cheap to offer it up as an excuse for a half-written woman when the fact of the matter is Summer’s chapter in Tom’s life, the 500 days he will look back on someday, functions on a story level as a tool in his development. But though the scope is shallow, perhaps it’s reads like a deliberate choice on the part of the filmmaker. In a world as manufactured as (500) Days of Summer it’s fair to say there’s more nuance to its players’ shallow characterization.

As I mentioned above, what we know about the ins and outs of Summer’s life are actually fairly limited. That’s because we’re seeing the world from Tom’s perspective, with occasional interjections from an omnipotent narrator. We know Tom to be a romantic—the narrator tells us as much (as well as confirming that Tom’s reading of The Graduate was wrong, for what it’s worth)—and so it’s not surprising that his reality is tented by pillars of romantic comedy.

These aberrations of reality are fairly revealing of Tom: The now classic examples include the “Reality vs. Expectations” split screen, and the Hall and Oates inspired flash mob after he sleeps with Summer for the first time. But when his expectations don’t align with reality the path in front of him literally gets erased, 500daysofsummer2009-0804suggesting he thought his life would find meaning if only he had the right partner. At his most depressed (and thanks to a doze in a cinema) his world takes on the framework of new-wave French film, devoid of color. While the emotions of the film stay grounded, the world is colored by Tom’s imagination. His friends appear to us as second bananas because in his story about Summer he sees them as such.

But in the “love documentary” sequence we see there’s more to them than Tom has shown us. Vance borrows a phrase from one of the cards to speak his truth about his 30-year relationship with his life, like Tom borrows from pop culture when he’s lovestruck. Though we know Paul is proud of his relationship with Robyn (goin’ strong since ‘97!), it isn’t until the black-and-white documentary sequence that he has a chance to really speak about her.

“Robyn is better than the girl of my dreams. She’s real.”

Which is why Summer seems so one-sided; she literally is. She’s her own person, but like the moon Tom can only see her in phases. “I think you’re just remembering the good stuff,” cautions his sister near the end of the film. “Next time you look back…I really think you should look again.” It’s then that Tom starts to realize how caged Summer was starting to seem; her big, doe eyes doubling as the wide-eyes of a frightened animal.

Harsh, yeah. But we see his blindness to Summer’s personhood in his first invitation to her apartment, when the narrator clues the audience in on Tom’s inner narrative:

For Tom Hansen, this was the night where everything changed. That wall Summer so often hid behind—the wall of distance, of space, of casual—that wall was slowly coming down. For here was Tom, in her world…a place few had been invited to see with their own eyes. And here was Summer, wanting him there. Him, no one else.

As he listened, Tom began to realize that these stories weren’t routinely told. These were stories one had to earn. He could feel the wall coming down. He wondered if anyone else had made it this far.

His experience is entirely in his own head, but with plenty of projections towards Summer. Even as he listens to her tell stories of his childhood, he’s caught up in the bigger picture of himself, and Summer, steamrolling whatever it is she’s actually been telling him. He’s strong enough to expect love, weak enough to be foolhardy, and too blindly in love with Summer to listen to her clear expression of boundaries.

“I’ve never told anyone that before,” says Summer cautiously.

“I guess I’m not just anyone,” Tom says, returning the focus to himself.

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So what does this mean for love? Where do the grand gestures and deep affection fall in the realm of (500) Days of Summer? Summer’s not a girl, she’s a phase. What does it say that the film doesn’t pretend she’s anything else? How can a movie get away with using these “clear signs” to light the way to the altar only to leave young Werther jilted and alone?

Some see it as a sign that Tom was purely right (that Summer was wrong about what she wanted all along). Summer even seems to imply as much. But its ending doesn’t compromise the premise. Instead it seems like it’s just one more way Tom blew past signals. Summer’s choice to marry someone else is inconsequential. It’s her wisdom to not marry Tom that matters.

The maturity of the narrative is all in not forcing Summer to buckle to Hollywood convention. Instead it pushes Tom to grow up. Introduced as someone whose misreading of The Graduate fundamentally lead him to believe that the right partner would solve all his problem, he, like Benjamin Braddock, is discontent with his place at life and ready to project himself forward with a partner, placing himself in what he believes to be the love story to end all love stories. Well intentioned as Tom is, it’s a selfish motivation. Instead of focusing on what he could bring to Summer, he sets his sights on what she can do for him—an easy, juvenile mindset that we all grow out of. He sees himself as fully baked, only missing Summer as the final ingredient. Only he’s not.

This is a story of boy meets girl. But this is not a love story. For Tom it’s almost a story about how love is a fantasy. To him, a brief and shining moment (give or take a couple hundred days) led him to nothing but ruin. “Complete and utter bullshit.” But then, one last time, Summer takes his hand and guides his way.

Summer: Well, you know, I guess it’s ’cause I was sitting in a deli and reading Dorian Gray and a guy comes up to me and asks me about it and… now he’s my husband.

Tom: Yeah. And… So?

Summer: So, what if I’d gone to the movies? What if I had gone somewhere else for lunch? What if I’d gotten there 10 minutes later? It was, it was meant to be. And… I just kept thinking… Tom was right.

Tom: No.

Summer: Yeah, I did…I did. It just wasn’t me that you were right about.

Instead the movie leaves us with an almost absurdly simple lesson with a complicated wake: Love is more than two-dimensional. It’s two-sided. The movie is about Tom coming to terms with that, finally understanding that it’s not as simple as he once made it out to be, nor as ruinous as Summer seemed to think it. (500) Days of Summer is not a love story. It’s a coming of age tale, wrapped up in a blue, romantic comedy bow.

Joe MacMillan can be a mighty son of a bitch. And there’s a lot of facets to him. But I don’t think they’re all necessarily opposed.

There’s the mastermind, the tech guru, the guy who answers things with wistful looks and platitudes. Had the show only lasted one season we would’ve seen a fairly classic anti-hero arc with him. We would see him defy odds, get bested, act impulsively, hurt those around him. In season 2 we have another classic anti-hero arc—”can I find happiness?”—but with a twist: He’s post his show. It’s like what happens to Don Draper after the Coke commercial plays; he’s off the map a bit. And so his attempts at love and loving feel a bit more honest. He’s certainly not the character on the show who’s changed the most, but one thing has become abundantly clear: There is a heart under there. Somewhere. And it’s confused as fuck.

But to me they all seem aligned: He’s a guy who knows what one of his two biggest strengths is—vision. Joe firmly grasps where things will go, how they will move, and (perhaps dipping into his sociopathic side) how to get people there at all costs.

1280What he doesn’t realize is his managerial side. It’s more than just putting out “boring” computers or pushing papers or being the Silicon Valley’s messiah. It’s recognizing talent in people; such classic leadership. He has a brash way of pulling it out of people—his toying with Gordon, and now Ryan, speak to his lack of care towards pleasantries or even (sometimes) humanism. But he knows good ideas and strong people when he sees them.

To me, Joe is a lot like BoJack Horseman. He’s convinced, knowingly or not, that he is doomed to be a curse on himself and those who love him. And in a way he is. But only because it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; like a child who loses a game and says it was dumb anyway. That childishness is what rears itself when Joe is at his most mysterious. Like BoJack and Don Draper before him, when he feels backed into a corner he’s cagey; he answers in riddles to try to obscure the fact that he’s just as unhappy and lost about the situation as you are. His imposter syndrome catches up with him. All of a sudden his vision is corrupted and he can’t put it back together right.

Ryan: You said freedom from fear is a right and you shouldn’t have to pay for it!

Joe: In a perfect would that would be true.

Oftentimes he is whatever the narrative needs him to be—a bully, a genius, a walking crisis of faith. But when Halt and Catch Fire is firing on all cylinders these versions of Joe align pretty clearly. He’s just got to get out of his own way.

 

The Facebook Times

With more and more of our news access being filtered (willingly or not) through social media reach, it’s about time readers started thinking critically about how those same social media sites might influence what we read and know. wersm-facebook-trending-657x360

Companies like Facebook have supplanted our traditional means of distribution, meaning many news outlets have no oversight—or insight—into how their content is disseminated and received by readers. And now that they’ve fired all their human editors in favor of the almighty algorithim, there’s even less insight and, as the Megyn Kelly-trending example shows, less management into what content gets distributed and how.

“I also worry about the opaqueness of Facebook and its mysterious algorithms. My team and I try to figure out why some posts seem to “hit” and are shared thousands of times while reaching millions of people, while others fare much more modestly,” said Dan Rather in a recent post (on Facebook). “On balance, I feel that all this change is a tremendous force for good. As this article states, I believe Facebook never set out to become the primary means of journalistic communication. We have to figure out how to make that work best for all concerned.”

But as we wade into discussing what alleigance and assistance social media companies owe us in the fight for modern journalism, let’s talk about things that matter. And—on trend—things that are real.

For instance, the answer to “Did Facebook Commit Libel Against Megyn Kelly?” is a resounding no. Libel, the legal definition for a defamation in a written form, is committed by folks who write articles, not folks (or robots or companies) that allow for that content to be shared. What’s more, under the DMCA or Communications Decency Act internet service providers and their intermediaries are not responsible for illegal content on sites so long as they remove it when it comes to their attention.

“It’s difficult to know who to blame for Facebook’s mistake,” wrote The Atlantic (which ultimately acknowledged that the law would not see Facebook as at fault). “On its face, the company’s decision to switch from human to algorithmic editors seems like a shirking of authority. The new Trending algorithm appears to work by promoting the most-discussed news topics to a place of prominence, no matter their global or editorial importance. It also caters to the kinds of stories that users appear to want to read.”

Which if Facebook is solely a technology company and not a media company—which it has always claimed is the case—then it has the right to do. Algorithms mess up. Just ask anybody who’s ever gotten a notice from the DMCA to take down a video because it contains a 30-second snippet of a song in the background that Youtube’s software flagged as a violation. As a technology company they are not necessarily responsible for verifying what users share. That’s how bullshit gossip and hashtags trend anywhere.

It’s worth asking if, in the future, there will be a new category of law that social media companies find themselves beholden to, with addendums for what they can and cannot allow on their pages. We seem to be wading into the debate already with questions over Twitter or Facebook’s politics and desire to step in around harassment. But in the meantime these social media sites are not legally treated as media companies. And that’s the way it was.

Is Liz Lemon our last under the radar asexual?

Representation on television—with the obvious caveat of still having a ways to go—is getting better and better. We have more types of sexualities and relationships being portrayed onscreen than ever before. Perhaps one of the most elusive enigmas in terms of sexuality on screen is asexuals. From a institution point of view they have nothing that Hollywood so values in onscreen relationships—namely sex scenes and accompanying narrative/humor. But as we get broader representation we are starting to see some characters declare themselves as such; like on Sirens or (possibly) the latest season of Bojack Horseman.

Which brings us to Liz Lemon. 30 Rock bridged a weird time in comedy; straddling the sort of subtly nasty humor so prevalent in 80s and 90s sitcoms with the more politically aware comedies of now.

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“Is that supposed to be sex, Lemon?” “It is the way I do it.” 

Liz’s sexuality arguably falls in the cracks of the former here, with jokes about her not just discomfort with sex and sexuality but her active distaste for it rarely getting serious treatment.

 

But it seems to me like Liz is a poster child for asexuality. On numerous occasions she expresses desire for a romantic relationship that is free from sex, bemoaning the seemingly contractural obligations she has as a girlfriend. She longs for a relationship where you just watch TV and no one tries any “funny business.”

Had the show been on now I’m not sure much would’ve changed; Tina Fey has proven time and time again that she’s not very interested in analyzing the comedy she puts out in the world, and I’m betting that Liz’s sex negativity would be just another hilarious gags that the SJWs expect her to apologize for rather than a nuanced look at sexuality. Even still, her time on TV possibly marks one of the last characters whose disinclination towards sex could skate with a slap on the knee instead of discussion. Here’s to many more asexuals gracing our screens in years to come.

The reviews for the VMAs are in and they are…

bad. Overall, critics and audiences weren’t pleased with the show MTV put on—that is, unless you break it up into chunks.

Turn to your Twitter feed this morning and you’ll likely find a number of people still in awe of how Beyonce or Rihanna rocked the stage, how Britney Spears is back in the spotlight, how Drake is back on the sideline. Any moment with any pop star resulted in dozens (in the case of the former two, maybe even hundreds) of tweets and discussion items, not to mention articles buzzing about who wore and said what.

So the reviews of the show is bad. So what? MTV’s goal with the VMAs has, historically, been about creating big moments in a chaos chamber. The performances and kerfuffles they create in the meantime is the sundae, not the cherry on top.

“[We] put those chaotic elements in the room together and then we kind of let go. We don’t produce things really tightly the way other awards shows might,”Van Toffler, a former Viacom executive who worked on the VMAs for 28 years,told Billboard last year. “We love when people talk about the event.”

In the age of social media, having those two or three moments that get people talking—and, more importantly, sharing—seem to matter much more. The question is: Will other award shows follow?

I’m hardpressed to believe that organizations like the Academy or the Grammys will let performers bounce off and go balls to the wall the way they do at the VMAs, but the idea that a few choice moments are what viewers are after isn’t so far off from how many people I know watch bigger award shows. The Oscar’s has the openings, and maybe some choice winners in a category or two; the Grammy’s and Tony’s often feature some of the best musical performances audiences will see all year; the Emmy’s has a better (and more funny) version of the Oscar’s opening bit. While networks try to figure out what formula, host, and red carpet hook will reel in viewers each year, overall viewership of awards is dropping. Like in late night programming, people are more in for the clips than they are the ride.

The VMAs is perhaps the only show that understands this. And though many viewers don’t care about the actual award (not even MTV devotes itself to music videos anymore) they can care about the personalities involved. And any awards show that offers up its stage for a Beyonce medley? Well, that’s just that isn’t it?

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Let’s Do The Twist!

People love to update old classics with modern twists and sensibilities. But be careful—it isn’t always so easy.

Take the Veronica Mars episode “One Angry Veronica.” Based on the timeless 12 Angry Men, Veronica gets jury duty and seems all too ready to dismiss a latina woman’s claim that she was assaulted by two white, well-off boys (09ers, as the show calls them) until one jury holdout makes a compelling case. After that it’s Veronica’s job—as teenage detective and jury foreman—to convince the rest of the jury to vote “guilty” on the two boys in question. vm_2x10

The “twist” is that this time instead of the defendant, a latinx person is the plaintiff, with the justice system still “working” to defend the actual (white) perpetrators of the crime. Problem is, there’s a big difference between 12 Angry Men’s use of the criminal justice system vs. Veronica Mars‘. For starters, the film had the “innocent until proven guilty” quality, where jurors are instructed to only convict if there’s no reasonable doubt in their minds. The entire movie centers on the bug of reasonable doubt spreading from one juror to the next until the climactic monologue that convinces the lone hold out. In Veronica Mars, it’s much less interesting—both legally and narratively—for the hold out to say that she has an inkling of the defendants lying to cover their ass; they’re not supposed to be guilty until proven innocent. I see what the writers were trying to do here, commenting on the racial and class divides in Neptune, but it’s not the update to 12 Angry Men they seem to think they’ve earned.

Same with Selfie, a single-season show starring John Cho and Karen Gillan in a modern retelling of My Fair Lady. Only this time it’s Eliza Dooley; a self-absorbed, social media obsessed pharmaceutical rep; and her straight-laced boss Henry Higgs, who she enlists the help of to assist her in learning there’s more to life than likes and shares.

selfie-castOnly here’s the thing: In My Fair Lady, Eliza was treated poorly because she was lower social class, and her manners are a reflection of that. Ass that he is, Henry Higgins’ “project” was ultimately set out to make high-society London the butt of the joke; he wants to illustrate the fact that the only thing that separates someone like Eliza from the upper-class is properly taught speech, an accent. His “experiment” is a stupid bet, but it also inherently implies that Eliza is worthy of good treatment.

Unlike Selfie, which instead of commenting on how a relatively arbitrary indicator of social class (speech) is used to artificually elevate one class over the other, is basically just saying that heavily gendered and youth-bent personality traits have no place in successful society.

While perhaps neither of these transgressions are so egregious that they can completely spoil what are essentially jumping off points, it’s as if the writers have a woeful disregard for the way the originals intended to jump off to. Ultimately their “twists” aren’t really twists are all, just poor adaptations.

 

Hunger Games is more than Battle Royale with Cheese

hunger-games-battle-royale-with-cheeseI’ve been thinking a lot about the common connection drawn between Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. I can’t speak to whether Suzanne Collins saw Battle Royale, was inspired by it, lifted it wholesale, or whatever. To me the only clear thing is that while the films/books share a lot of similarities, they’re interested in wildly different things.

The Hunger Games starts out with the spectacle of it all. The egregious event floats a sense of dread throughout Katniss’ thoughts and action; looming tall over what is otherwise an ordinary day. And it does so because that’s what it’s intended to do: The government (“The Capital”) puts on the Hunger Games because they need to teach the outer districts a lesson in obedience, using the brutality they force their children into as a way to keep the status quo. It’s what makes the ending of the first Hunger Games so powerful, even when it’s stripped of the same savageness that gives Battle Royale its bite due to the U.S. film’s PG-13 rating. Katniss has learned to make the system work for her. The ending is abrupt, as her and Peeta go home in deception, but it works because the entire movie has been building to it; all that spectacle, now used to cage her in a very different way.

For whatever spectacle there is to the titular Battle Royale, it’s not entirely clear in the movie. The beginning shows us that there’s immense press interest in the winner of the games, but somehow the students have never heard of it.

Similar to the Hunger Games, the Royale was instituted to keep students compliant after 800,000 of them once walked out and utterly disregarded the rules of Japanese society. The focus, by director Kinji Fukasaku, is much more on the institutions of society, rather than the human nature of the “spectacle” in The Hunger Games. He interrogates what adults’ roles in the lives of the next generation are, how they communicate with them, the heightened melodrama of stories that—had the students lived longer—would’ve been blips on a radar.

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Even the posters reveal a crucial difference: Fukasaku initially (and brilliantly) focused Battle Royale on the way teens move and react as a group. Collins plucks Katniss out as a distinctive “YA protagonist” type.

That last point is why the characters come off so differently from each other. The Hunger Games focuses on kids who have had to grow hard, who have needed to become tough in order to function in the world. Battle Royale is about kids who have trauma suddenly and unsuspectingly thrust upon them. The former is about PTSD and adults, the latter is premature death in kids.

Whatever similarities there are—which, don’t get me wrong, are a lot, between the “kids killing each other because the government demands it” angle and the two lovebirds making it out together against all odds—they seem to be starkly contrast when held side-by-side. Collins went through great lengths to separate the government in her book from the government of the present, even if the media environment seems remarkably similar. Fukasaku’s work seems like a direct indictment of the government of both past and (at the time) present Japan.

The Authorial Intent Battle Royale

Is there a right way to advise people to care about authorial intent? My instinct would be to tell most people that they can disregard it, but I think that—as a whole—that can rob us of some really fascinating perspectives.

Obviously without authorial intent movies can feel “of the moment” in the wrong (or at least, unintended) way. Battle Royale hit the U.S. at a time when it was recovering from its first school shooting; the notion of paying to watch kids killing kids seemed to fly in the face of the idea that violent culture breeds violent kids. And so it was largely “banned” and made difficult to access in the U.S.

Battle-Royale-Class-Photo-But in Japan it was a whole different ball game. Director Kinji Fukasaku came up during WWII, working in a munitions factory that kept getting bombed, as a 15-year-old (the same age as the students in his film). When bombs came the kids sometimes used each other as human shields, and survivors would be left to bury the dead. It made him “understand the limits of friendship,” and he realized that the government had lied to Japan about why they were even in the war to begin with.

“This was his film kind of giving a finger to the Japanese government,” said film critic Amy Nicholson on The Canon. “I love that the last film he made is [like] ‘You can’t trust adults, you can’t trust the government; they grind up kids and use them for meat.'”

This seems like a crucial block of knowledge to bring to a Battle Royale viewing; it colors the culture of Japan (which, during the movie’s release in the ’90s, was also going through some changes reflected in Battle Royale like high unemployment) as a post-war state, and informs viewers about how that makes Fukasaku feel. As authorial intent goes, this one is wide-reaching and savage. It touches on the war, the nation, and human (or at least, survivalist teen) nature.

But that only makes it all the more peculiar when directors like Christopher Nolan say that the wiretapping debate had no impact on their decision to give Batman the ability to wiretap the citizens of Gotham in The Dark Knight, or the clash of grassroots protesters versus the police just happened to make its foray into The Dark Knight Rises after #OccupyWallStreet. It seems disingenuous for audiences to implicitly trust that Nolan wasn’t affected by these things. It seems wrong to think that there’s no way the two worlds could bleed into each other.

Dark Knight Rises protest still
I mean, come ON

Which is what makes The Birth of a Nation controversy so irreconcilable. How can a movie, centered on a graphic rape, be trusted to be appropriately handled by someone who committed (alleged and murky) sexual assault? How can the audience react to a movie organically, knowing that fact in the back of their minds? Will they be able to divorce authorial intent and the creator from their viewing? Should they have to?

It’s easy to cast off a notion like Nolan’s when you see parallels in The Dark Knight trilogy. Incorporating Fukasaku’s past is a fascinating spotlight that only illuminates the statement of Battle Royale all the more. But with Nate Parker the line is murkier. And I’m not sure there’s an easy answer there.

Keep Going

“I hate that guy.” “Keep going.

“I feel like this plot line is really going to pay off.” “Keep going.

“Does it pick up?” “Keep going.”

tumblr_o1p7q1un5m1s27ctto6_250Are there any two words as encouraging and as frustrating? Certainly not when it’s in the midst of catching up on a show your friend recommended.

Of course, it depends on how much the person plays their hand. A “I think Sheilah is the killer” met with a “just you wait”—depending on the circumstances—can indicate fairly clearly whether you’re right or wrong.

Even as it gives the indication that you’ve stumbled on the same boat a friend was once in, it can feel dismissive in the way hindsight often is. Just because a plot line pays off doesn’t mean it was done right in the moment. The 100 received a whole lot of discussion and outrage over their decision to kill off Lexa immediately after she finally consummated her relationship with Clarke in just the latest “Kill Your Gays” chapter. Many fans were angry that our goodbye to Lexa was a random mishap, not even intended for Lexa at all. Bringing her back later on to go out in a blaze of glory (sort of) doesn’t negate the initial emotional charge of her initial death, even if it may lessen the sting a bit.

But they are, perhaps, the fine line someone can walk when trying to have a conversation with a friend about a TV show they’re hoping to discuss without spoilers. I tend to be a bit cagier about my spoiler intake, but “keep going” feels like heartening; like you’re pulling at a thread of a future conversation of a theme your friend also noticed. Instead of shutting down conversation you’re just moving it forward, earmarking a thought for the future.