Having focused perhaps too much attention on the negatives in cinema during recent musings, whether it’s the possibly warped conservatism of the Oscars, or films that are depressingly poor, time has come for this writer to look at some positives.
So what could be more positive than the films that you simply must watch again, whether right after the first viewing, or a more sensible six hours after. These are the movies that are so packed with information, plot, mysteries or subtext that you cannot possibly hope to fully appreciate their content in one go.
Or perhaps, it’s just so you can fully understand what you’ve just seen…
Ostensibly a sci-fi adventure, or something of an action thriller if one is going off trailers alone, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is the story of a group of astronauts sent to reignite the sun after it’s cooling dooms Earth to a perpetual winter, and eventual death. Armed with an interstellar bomb packing almost all of the planet’s natural resources, and weighing in at the size of Manhattan, the multi-national crew of the Icarus II are basically involved in putting in place the biggest piece of kindling in the universe.
The actual film itself surprises you, however, both with its moody atmosphere and its understated melancholy. This isn’t Armageddon meets The Core, it’s more existential than that, touching upon the classic sci-fi of Stanislaw Lem. Which is why, for some, the slasher movie climax is a massive disappointment, after it had received such a thoughtful buildup. It’s destined for a 7/10 because it couldn’t decide how to conclude proceedings.
That is until you watch the film back, perhaps with a nagging sensation at the back of your brain that you missed something. It’s at this point that it clicks, and you have a masterstroke on your hands (no double entendre intended).
Subtle touches are suddenly crystal clear, and the deeply theological and philosophical musings of the film are now fully realized, examples, including Captain Kaneda’s distress at the plight of his disturbed predecessor, and the ship’s counselor becoming addicted to sunlight, providing symbolism. The foreshadowing of the unreality surrounding the payload’s delivery becomes more acute.
The sun itself is presented as possibly being God, and when the ‘villain’ emerges, he appears to be altered by the star, not quite in our reality and superhuman in strength, almost like a Sun-man superhero character. As he goes about murdering the crew, as he did his own, his ranting about God’s will no longer sounds like delusional gibbering, but rather the words of a prophet, false or otherwise. With this new take, the endgame goes from straightforward good guy versus bad guy, and instead becomes a fully realized physical manifestation of Science versus Religion.
Basically, watching Sunshine for a second time is like watching a completely different film.
Darren Aronofsky’s personal passion project and magnum opus, The Fountain has fallen into the rather wide shadows cast by Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan as far as audience interest is concerned, although it didn’t fare well on release.
It’s a hugely ambitious story concerning the search for eternal life, which canvasses three different points in time (1500AD, 2000AD, 2500AD) and numerous storyline strands, while the whole time focusing on just two characters: Hugh Jackman’s Thomas and Rachel Weisz’s Izabella, who incidentally all exist in different incarnations in each timeframe.
It already sounds confusing, and we haven’t even gotten into the fact that the future seems to be a direct extension of the present while the past is actually the contents of a book being written in the present. Or that it’s debatable how much of it is actually happening. Jeez…
Viewers watching The Fountain literally, that is following it as a physically bound story, will probably be just about holding onto their understanding (and sanity) until they get to the end, when everything crashes together in a sea of beautiful scored anarchy. All the timelines clash and mesh together, and the present timeline concludes the film by conversely going back to its own start and altering events we’ve seen. So, almost everyone is so baffled they can barely find the Cineplex exit, let alone a resolution.
The trouble is that it’s impossible to make sense of The Fountain when you view it in this way, since the whole film is a complex metaphor and allegory rather than a tale of boy and girl and drinking sap. You have to look for the meaning within the material, making it something of a philosophical puzzle box, but the prize is quite enlightening, whichever one you happen to find.
Watch it again, open minded, and you discover that it’s a message from Aronofsky. The film breaks down cinematic walls and storytelling boundaries to present the idea that by fighting with all our strength to make what we love last forever, all we accomplish is missing out on what little time we have, and that those precious moments should be spent appreciating what we have, not coveting more than we can get. Throw in a poignant point about the power of love, and the obsession it breeds, and you have your answer.
At least it makes giving out spoilers incredibly difficult.
The Thin Red Line
Terrence Malick’s first film for 21 years, The Thin Red Line suffered heavily by going up against Saving Private Ryan in the World War II epic extravaganza that was 1998.
Adapted from James Jones’s novel of the same name, it follows the American attack on Guadalcanal in the South Pacific theatre, and specifically the actions of one Company of US Marines. Going deeper into the plot is a little unnecessary, given the film’s narrative structure and attention to the finer points of objectives.
It’s probably best known for having a huge cast, a mind bogglingly massive first cut (almost 6 hours) and for being utterly unintelligible. Although it’s principally a war film, with plenty of battles and heart racing sequences of adrenaline and gun bomb frenzy, many a bloodthirsty viewer was perturbed by the thoughtful, poetic camera focus, and the philosophical narrations of more than half a dozen different characters, many of whom are unnamed.
Approaching The Thin Red Line as you would a traditional war film is a massive mistake, something which anyone familiar with Mallick should well be aware. The aforementioned comparisons to Saving Private Ryan are not damaging due to a contrast in quality. It’s because of the contrast in purpose.
Malick takes the story, a frenzied and bloody battle during the Second World War, and uses it as an opportunity to examine the fragility of life, the self destructive nature of humans, and the ultimate foul deed that is war. Each soldier presenting their thoughts through beautifully worded voiceover acts as a mouthpiece for Malick, becoming an extension of the Director’s vision. It’s a chance to explore humanity at its most raw, in similar style to last year’s The Tree of Life. In this sense, Jim Caviezel’s character Witt is the incarnation of the film’s point.
In many ways, The Thin Red Line is a method of taking an auditory poem, and a visual one, and lacing them together to form a question to pose ourselves. It’s no wonder you won’t get anywhere when all you’re waiting for is a flag being erected on a mound, or a Japanese man being shot between the eyes.
No Country For Old Men
For years, it seems, the Coen brothers have been playing a trick on screen audiences by continuously leading them to believe they’re going to watch something other than a Coen brothers film. Few in Hollywood are us distinctive and laconic as the mighty duo.
Their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men is no exception, and perhaps is the best example of the dedication they have towards their own code. It’s a blisteringly mounted, atmospheric story of ‘every man for himself’ frontier-ism and the love of money, as Josh Brolin’s poacher comes across a drug deal gone bad, and makes off with the cash left behind, subsequently entering a game of cat and mouse with Javier Bardem’s psychotic bounty hunter. Meanwhile, dithering, old fashioned Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) tries to keep on top of the situation without much success.
The film riveted filmgoers for much of its length, thanks to some brilliantly judged pacing and supremely constructed set pieces, not to mention some of the most taut, tense scenes seen in the 2000’s. Then the anti-climax kicked in, throwing said viewers into the doldrums as the piece seemed to switch tone and focus quicker than an Anton Chigurh murder-death-kill. Cue critics and fans left with comments such as “great film, but botched it at the end”.
The decision to retain McCarthy’s conclusion, and to bring the narrative back into the Sheriff’s corner for the final half hour (excepting Chigurh’s final scene), is one of the bravest attempts in mainstream cinema history to stay faithful to source material, and some claimed this in itself was ill judged. What they saw was a gritty chase thriller which ended with a retired Texas lawman talking about some irrelevant dreams he’d just had.
Thus missing the point entirely. No Country for Old Men, both the book and film, is a reflective story and the main character is always Sheriff Bell, just as the narrative was always supposed to serve as a deliberate tailspin. The film’s opening narration from Bell, in which he talks about a young man he once arrested, who was then executed, serves as a foreshadowing to the main story. The primary plot is essentially just a visualization of a tale the disillusioned Sheriff will tell, representing the dawn of a new, dangerous and acidic era, one of corpse piles, money grabbing and senseless violence, that he simply cannot keep up with.
It’s natural not to realize this initially, but upon a second viewing No Country for Old Men is incredibly clear, and the symbolism and moral crux becomes abundantly clear. It’s a con on the audience, perhaps, but a hugely effective one retrospectively.
But then again, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
By Scott Patterson