Elements of Fairytales in ‘Seven Psychopaths’

Seven Psychopaths is a film unlike any others we have watched in class: none of the main characters seem to follow Campbell’s monomyth cycle of a hero, and Billy, the character that gets the most attention throughout, seems to even portray a sort of anti-hero. With that being said, though it is not the film we were meant to link with the fairytale readings we have done thus far, I believe there are still some connections that can be drawn between the film and traditional lore.

One link would be the concept of violence – not just aggressiveness or gore, but more the over-dramatizations of these things. We have talked briefly about the ways in which fairytales often portray gruesome acts of violence, such as the huntsman being told to kill the sometimes as young as 7-year-old girl in the woods and cut out her heart, lungs, or liver to bring back to the queen; or the wicked stepsisters hacking at their feet and literally removing their own body parts in order to put on a blood-soaked slipper; or those same stepsisters having their eyes fiercely pecked out by birds. There are many examples to be found in fairytales, but the parallel to this level of violence that I noticed most in Seven Psychopaths was when it came to the story of Zach and Maggie – the serial killer-killers. Though the flashbacks were shown with twisted romantic undertones, the images put on the screen were gruesome enough for many people to look away, such as when Maggie was quite literally sawing off someone’s head, or when they staked the Zodiac’s hands to the table before lighting him on fire. In my mind, there is the violence we are most used to, such as the frequent shooting of guns throughout the film, and then there is violence on a whole other level that seems to simply be violence for the sake of violence, such as those examples of the serial killer-killers. While these acts were not necessarily drawn from a fairytale, the violence was indicative of such tales, and the casual way in which Zachariah relayed them to Marty reminded me as well of how we mentioned authors of these variations of fairytales tend to just say something outrageous to us before moving on, as if their audience can just accept it without question.

Also worth noting, though perhaps to a lesser degree, was the marginalization of any female characters portrayed. Firstly, there were few enough that I could count them on one hand: the Australian girlfriend who was constantly called names; Myra, who was killed off; Angela, who was killed off; the imagined hooker; and very briefly the background of Maggie, unless I am forgetting another. Regardless, women had a far smaller and more insignificant presence in the film than the men had, which calls up the idea we learned from the fairytales about the life of action being unfeminine. Of course, Maggie’s life was certainly full of action – but a corrupt, psychopathic side of it rather than the type of action a hero typically gets to experience.

 

Megan Normann

“Seven Psychopaths” as a Commentary on Filmmaking

“Seven Psychopaths” seems to write itself as the story unravels. It is about a writer. Marty, writing a film called “Seven Psychopaths,” that, viewers find, mirrors the movie that they are about to watch. Marty’s friend Billy has an idea of the movie that Marty should be writing, and takes steps to help him get there. Billy has good intentions, and only wants to help his friend. Yet, we find that the actions he takes to help have very real consequences.  Ultimately ending in real-life violence, despite Marty wanting the situation (and his movie) to end peacefully.

A commentary on screen violence and Hollywood’s influence over writers seems to emerge. Writer/director McDonagh seems to point out real-life consequences of violence, when movies typically portray it as something so casual and even glorify bloodshed. Billy wanted Marty to finish his film, but he wanted it to be written his way. Meaning, to be a film filled with violence and ending with an emotional and intense final shoot out, the way crime movies so typically do. Billy ultimately strands Marty, Hans, and himself and calls the psychotic and irrational Charlie to come after them to seek revenge for the kidnapping of his dog. In this way, Billy can be seen as representing the way Hollywood and society influence film. He forces his hand into the story and takes control to make it play out the way he wants it to, similarly to the way societal attitudes and Hollywood itself plays a role in changing the way films play out. (I am reminded of the story told in class about how the original ending included the death of the dog, but McDonaugh was advised not to as an American audience would not respond well to that; an example of how writers original ideas are changed to fit with what will be well-received). In this reading, Marty represents the creative, individualistic filmmaker who’s ideas are changed to fit a certain mold.

Marty points out all of the cliches of the genre, and insists that his movie should be different. But, Billy thinks his movie should involve all the usual ingredients. As the “real-life” events unfold in tandem with Marty’s writing process, the inevitable violence and death that occur as a result of Billy’s interventions show how hard it is for writers to break free of convention.

-Kate Schulz

Aristotle and Dead Poets Society

        Dead Poets Society is a film that leaves viewers thinking, “I don’t know how to feel about this.” Our hero dies a horrific death, his mentor fired, the other Dead Poets revert back to lost boys with nothing to hold on to, and no repercussions for the school or the parents. It leaves the viewer hopeless enough before those in the English field incite debates about how the film depicts English professors; some in the field hate it, others credit it as their reason for entering the field. The only way to describe Dead Poets Society is tragic. Neil is the tragic hero; Professor Keating the tragic mentor, Neil’s friends (specifically Todd) are left to face the reality of their friend’s suicide. On top of that we have Neil’s father who is so self-absorbed he does not even think of the possibility that he was the one who pushed his son over the edge. Finally, a headmaster who will blame anyone and anything to save the reputation of his school while keeping the idea that, in relation to Neil’s father, could have nothing to do with his students being depressed and anxious.

In Poetics Aristotle writes, “tragedy is the imitation of an action….on actions all success or failure depends” (11). Without action tragedy cannot occur; Dead Poets Society does a brilliant job at following this model of a tragic hero (12). We start with the action of Neil’s father telling him that he needs to drop his passions for chemistry. The film then moves to the introduction of the mentor with his guidance and understanding of the hero and the hero’s circle of friends. The Dead Poets Society is then formed and speeds up the transformation process of the hero. Then the viewers are taken to the final four actions, the most defining actions that push forth the tragedy. Neil’s father humiliates him in public and refuses to acknowledge that his son is a person, not a prop. Neil commits suicide -> Mr. Keating is blamed for the faults of others -> Neil’s circle of friends remember the lessons of the hero and the mentor but are still trapped in the cycle of outside actions.

The viewer leaves the film understanding that Dead Poets Society is a tragedy, but many also take with them the feeling of inspiration. The overall nature of a tragedy, especially a hero’s tragedy, is to inspire those around them to push themselves to do better. In this case, the words carpe diem are stuck in the viewer’s mind. Regardless of whether or not one likes the film it is undeniable that Dead Poets Society is a prime example of Aristotle’s model of tragedy. It then is left up to the viewer to either agree with the criticism or be inspired by Neil and Professor Keating to say “screw you, I can like the film without your permission.”

-Chloe Larosche

 

 

Wit and the Anti-Hero

Vivian Bearing starts a new chapter, or journey, of life when she is diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. Her first chapter of life included being torn apart by her mentor, becoming an over exaggerated version of said mentor, and dominating her field. Vivian is the professor everyone hates; the only reason for taking her class is to boost graduate and job resumes. Her diagnosis is meant to knock her down off her pedestal and remind her of what it means to be human. However, Vivian would be better labeled as an anti-hero than a traditional hero. An anti-hero is defined as a main character that lacks the ideal characteristics of a hero. Think more Rick Grimes, less Clark Kent.

Yes, Vivian comes to terms with her morality, she learns how to admit fear and ask Susie for help, faces off her past maliciousness in the faces of supposed villains Dr. Harvey Kelekian and Dr. Jason Posner (a former student who seems delighted to degraded Vivian based on the simple fact that she did not give him an A); Vivian even has the tragic hero death. Yet, all of these things can relate to her being the anti-hero of Wit. It can also be said that Vivian was an anti-hero in her first chapter of life. A hero in her field and community who is hated for her lack of compassion, as typical quality of a hero. She recognizes that she has treated people badly in the past, but only makes a true effort with Susie. Vivian understands why Kelekian and Posner are so cold and comes to the realization that she could have been a hero had she made exceptions for students who just lost their grandmother. All of this brings us to Vivian’s death. She accepts her fate and makes the request to be put on the Do Not Resuscitate list. It is a hard decision for her as it takes away research opportunities from young scholars.

In the end Vivian is denied her true tragic hero death by Posner who is so wrapped up in his research he gives no thought to Vivian’s final wishes. Susie has to swoop in and allow Vivian the honor of her choice. It appears to the viewers to Vivian’s death and Posner’s horrific mistake will force him to become more human and more hero-like in the future. He will drop his role as a quasi-villain because of the effect Vivian had on his life as a doctor. It is here that Vivian ends her journey as the anti-hero of Wit, with a last heroic action of changing the lives of both Susie and Posner.

 

-Chloe Larosche

Scott Pilgrim and the Monomyth

At first glance, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World seemed like an unconvential choice compared to the other films we have watched in this class. However, after watching the movie, I was reminded of Joseph Campbell because Edgar Wright included many of his ideas. I think that this film embodies Campbell’s monomyth in a current day context. Campbell defines the monomyth as, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons upon his fellow man.”

The monomyth is essentially the storyline of Scott Pilgrim in his quest to win over Ramona Flowers. At the beginning of the film, we see Scott living an ordinary, mundane life. He is in a mediocre band, is still hung up on his ex-girlfriend who broke his heart, and he is dating a high schooler which reuslts in ridicule from his friends and family. When Scott meets Ramona and decides to pursue her, he is thrown into a supernatural world filled with “fabulous forces.”  He answers his call to action when he comes face to face with the first evil ex, Matthew Patel. Scott then has to go through a series of trials (the remaining 6 exes) to reach his goal of being with Ramona. This follows the storyline of the monomyth because he has to overcome great challenges along his journey, and each ex has a supernatural power he must defeat.

The film has all three phases of the monomyth- the departure, the initiation, and the return. Scott enters the departure when he has answered the call to action from Matthew Patel and begins his journey to conquer the evil exes. His intitation includes all of the battles against the exes, and he receives some help along the way from Ramona. The return is when he has defeated Gideon and gains new self-knowledge and the reward of being with Ramona. At the end of Scott’s journey, he faces the greatest challenge of all when he must face Gideon. In this battle, Scott learns that he must have self respect which is much more powerful than love in defeating Gideon. Scott does not reach his goal on his own and he needs Knives to assist him, which is also consistent with Campbell’s mythology because people help the hero along the way. At the end of the film, Scott achieves his personal goal of being with Ramona, but he also “bestows boons on fellow men.” Scott not only defeats Gideon, but he makes peace with himself (his evil side who is actually “a great guy”)  and realizes the importance of self respect. Scott’s self awareness and acceptance of himself is what allows him to be emotionally ready to be with Ramona. This is a message that many people can relate to, especially young adults, whom this film seems to target. Scott learns an important lesson that everyone must learn in their life, but not many of us will learn it by conquering a league of evil exes.

-Emily Hanss

 

“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”: The Hero’s Journey as a Life-Long Adventure

Why are we watching Scott Pilgrim vs. the World?

This was my initial thought when I discovered what film we would be watching on Monday.

Before Monday, the only encounter I had with this film was when my brothers were watching it, and I happened to briefly pause as I was passing by to see what they were laughing about.  To be honest, after about a thirty second take in of the film, I thought it looked kind of…lame.

After watching the full two hours of this action-packed, nerdy extravaganza, I can genuinely say that I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Edgar Wright’s film.  I particularly loved the video-game aspects (such as the Evil Exes bursting into coins when they were defeated, the “pee meter”, and the snake and gorilla apparitions that appeared during the Guitar Hero-esque battle).  It also felt very much like a comic book with the creative way it integrated typography throughout the narrative such as when Scott is banging is head against a lamppost and the word “THONK” appears with each thud of the forehead (I later discovered that the film is based on a comic book series…makes sense!).  The unique camera angles, variety of scene changes, and plethora of special effects also made the film feel more like I was watching a video game or reading a comic book rather than watching a film, and this definitely fits in with today’s popularity of nerd culture.  Not only was the film artsy in its design, but the flashing light that instantly went off in my head was: THIS IS JOSEPH CAMPBELL’S HERO’S JOURNEY!

Scott Pilgrim (does his name remind you of something?) is a twenty-something band geek who is living a pretty pathetic and lackluster life which can be summed up by the fact that he is dating a high school girl named Knives Chau who his friends endlessly harass him about.  Scott’s lame life suddenly takes a turn when he receives a call to adventure which is when he sets his eyes on the beautiful, constantly-changing-hair-colors Ramona Flowers.  Although he is beyond the realm of awkward, Scott ends up scoring a date with Ramona; however, before he can officially date his new found sweetheart, he must defeat the League of Evil Exes (7 Evil Exes = 7 Labors of Hercules?).  Scott initially ignores the call when he decides to delete an email that warns him of his upcoming battle, and thus this shows Scott’s reluctance to go on his hero’s journey.

Scott finally crosses the threshold when he is forced to face Matthew Patel, the first evil ex.  After this, Scott has to take on 6 other foes, although he is still quite unwilling.  Scott and Ramona discuss how each of them have relationship baggage, and I would argue that the Seven Evil Exes can be looked at as the hardships and hurdles one has to face when falling in love with another person.  In relationships, Scott quickly learns, there is often a lot of emotional baggage and things in the past that have to be dealt with that go along with the journey of falling in love.

As Scott approaches the “innermost cave” of his journey, he faces a wave of doubts and this is illustrated when he and Ramona are at the bar and he asks her: “Is there anyone at this party you haven’t slept with?”  He also questions why everything has to be so complicated and hard.  Eventually, Scott makes it to his ultimate destination at the Chaos Theater where he must face off with his final foe: Gideon Graves.  In his final battle, Scott ends up being defeated by Gideon and we see him appear in a death scene consisting of a desert wasteland and a cactus.  Scott ends up being resurrected by his having an extra life, but before he leaves the desert of death, he learns a critical lesson.  The key thing that Scott learns at his lowest moment is that he needs to fight the enemy, not simply for Ramona, but first and foremost for himself, and in admitting this he earns self-respect.  With this and the aid of his friends, Scott is finally able to defeat his enemy, he gains his reward (being able to be with Ramona), and now he can start his return back.  However, Scott does not just return to his old life.  Instead, it is implied that Scott Pilgrim, like everyone, will have to repeat the Hero’s Journey multiple times throughout his life, and this fact is cleverly illustrated with the end shot being a countdown that asks: “Continue?”  This can be seen as asking whether or not the hero will continue on to future adventures and journeys, and Scott Pilgrim, by walking through the door with Ramona, chooses the affirmative.

Rachel Campbell

The Thin Red Line And The Things They Carried

In his collection of short stories about the Vietnam War, The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien asserts, “A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.”  Having read this before watching Terrence Malick’s film The Thin Red Line, I had these words ringing through my head as I was watching this film, a fictional story about World War II based on the novel by James Jones of the same title that was based on some of his actual experiences in Guadalcanal.  

Like The Things They Carried, some elements of The Thin Red Line must stemmed from truth, but what is more important than the truth of the events depicted is the truth of the story told.  The emotions provoked by the author are equally or even more important than the representation of actual truth in the author’s narrative.  It becomes interesting when you apply this notion of truth in storytelling to art that represents historical events.  As O’Brien states, there can be no morality or silver linings in war stories because in truth there is no morality to warfare.  This becomes very evident when you analyze the absurdity of certain events depicted in The Thin Red Line.  

Did Staros and Tall actually ever actually have an argument that ended in a stalemate over radio?  The subtext of the argument was concerning the value of human life.  Colonel Tall commands Captain Staros to take his men into danger that basically represented certain death; does it matter if this conversation ever actually happened between two soldiers in war?  I’m sure men were sent to their certain deaths in times of war to promote some sort of position or advantage for their company.  Soldiers of low rank were seen as pawns in the war between the more powerful members of opposing militaries.  

There is no doubt that human lives weren’t valued very high during World War II or Vietnam.  However whether or not Tall and Staro’s interaction was based on a true story of James Jones is unimportant.  The truth of the story matters more.  The truth of the immorality and devaluation of human life that undoubtably occurred in Guadalcanal comes through in Malick’s film.

 

War and Nature in “The Thin Red Line”

“Nature’s cruel,” says Lieutenant Colonel Tall to Captain Staros as he reassigns his subordinate to the JAGs and sends him back home, and yet The Thin Red Line seems to imply, in every shot, the opposite. It is not nature that is cruel: it is war. The Thin Red Line opens with a shot of a crocodile submerging in the waters of a Melanesian swamp and a voice-over narration by Private Train, who for a time goes AWOL to live among the Melanesian natives: “What’s this war in the heart of nature? Why does nature vie with itself? The land contend with the sea? Is there an avenging power in nature? Not one power, but two?”  The first minutes of the film are captivated, as Private Train is, by the idealized people and flora and fauna of his surroundings: children play in the sea; birds of paradise watch from the trees; native people live in harmony with their surroundings, all accompanied by the backing of an angelic choir. This is cut short, tellingly, by the appearance of the smoking troop carrier that hosts C Company, Train’s outfit, and that has come to take him back to work — an obvious intrusion of war into paradise. Nature is cruel, says the egotistical Tall, but in the interaction of soldiers and nature we see almost only the destruction of nature. A healthy plant withers under the touch of an American soldier; Japanese and Americans alike burn and decimate the landscape of Guadalcanal; a tense battle scene takes time to focus on a bird who has been injured in the fighting. Shots of Americans struggling to cross a swamp are juxtaposed with those of the birds who watch them do it, and as C Company marches inland, tense and fully armed, they encounter a lone Solomon Islander walking the other way, an old man, alone and barely clothed but serene.

A symbolic binary develops — the Americans and Japanese, the soldiers, come to be associated with fire, what their conflict leaves behind. On the other hand, the native Solomon Islanders and the plants and animals of their home are heavily tied to water: their children swim in it, they sail upon it, and it extends also, for some Americans, to glimpses of the world beyond the war. Private Train swims and canoes with the Melanesians, but for Captain Staros, water and the sea are linked to moments of intimacy of his wife at home, and it is the flow of a river that saves Private Fife from death and allows Private Witt to save the rest of his unit.

The Thin Red Line highlights in many ways the futility and lunacy of war: on both sides, soldiers act irrationally and display moments of behavior that seems insane. A Japanese soldier meditates calmly on the ground while his comrades are routed and slaughtered; an American laughs hysterically and plays with bullet shells. One scene that seems to best exemplify this comes between battles: a C Company soldier stands on a hill, screaming in the sightlines of Japanese guns, and is not shot at. “How come they all had to die,” he yells, “and nothing happens to me?” That war is portrayed as meaningless makes the final interactions between war and nature all the more tragic. As the Americans leave Guadalcanal, we see that conflict and disease have come to the once healthy and happy communities of Solomon Islanders, and a manicured lawn with sprinklers has been set up, absurdly, as a graveyard in the middle of a jungle. “War doesn’t ennoble men. It turns them into dogs, poisons the soul,” writes Captain Staros as he flies home, and The Thin Red Line appears to agree with him. The film closes on a coconut sprouting, improbably, on the shore of the ocean — maybe for nature, it might say, there is a chance at redemption.

Big Fish

The Big Fish is a movie produced in the beginning of the 2000’s but has been quite popular ever since. It’s about a father who at times may exaggerate the truth having to do with how he grew up and who he met, but many things were actually quite truthful we find out in the end. Instead of doing a review of the movie, I want to write a brief blog post on how the movie made me feel especially during the end. The entire movie I couldn’t decide how I felt about the actors; William because he seemed so stubborn and rude to his father who is clearly very ill, and Edward who exaggerates things which I’m sure can be very irritating to hear all the time. Throughout the movie all you see is William just doubting his father time after time again which was upsetting to see because his father was dying, and if exaggerating is something that REALLY makes him happy, then let the man do it! But also, Edward.. stop exaggerating as much and stop telling the same old stories if you know it can be bothersome! Fine line to decipher who was in the wrong. But specifically in the one of the last scenes when Edward was on his death bed and William decided to stay the night, was when I decided I was a fan of both the actors, and the movie as a whole. You have two people that really care about each other bonding for the first time in what seems like the whole movie and it was really touching. Although William wasn’t a fan of the stories, he listened, and he made one up as well- to see his dad go away happy. And the final scene where you see all these “crazy” people that he had mentioned at the funeral. William didn’t think the majority of them existed, so to see his face when they each got out of the car was a site to see! But it didn’t feel like a “in your face” type thing, you kind of just smiled because you could feel the happiness all around. I really enjoyed this movie!

Elizabeth Henty

Redemption and Cynicism in “Mr Smith Goes to Washington”

I found Frank Capra’s film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington fascinating. I was very quickly reminded of Mark Twain in the sense that the portrayal of the senators and the political system is heavily satirized both through characterization and the cinematography. Multiple scenes of Senators making backroom deals are full of quick cuts and montages that emphasize the pace in which these significant decisions that affect millions are made. I think the film succeeds in ways the many contemporary films that attempt to satirize important cultural/political systems fail to do. Specifically, the film does not get bogged down in its own cynicism via the character of Mr, Smith who is consistently genuine and righteous throughout the film unlike most of the other characters. Many contemporary films are just satires or see certain American systems as fundamentally irredeemable.  A severe example of this is the Todd Solondz film Happiness in which the American nuclear family is portrayed as fundamentally corrupt and absurd and irredeemably so. Similar to this, David Lynch films often expose the dark underbelly of American small-towns and institutions, also often without a sense of redemption or hope. I say all of this to emphasize what I think Mr. Smith does successfully.

The film accurately fictionalizes the corruption of Washington, that is enormously topical today, while also acknowledging that these systems can be redeemed by those with strong will, and firm commitment to public good. I would also argue that Clarissa Saunders is the central hero of the film, even though Mr. Smith is the primary vehicle, as the senator trying to “drain the swamp,” in Washington. Clarissa writes the original bill for the Boys Camp, convinces Smith to return to congress and fight for justice, and guides Smith through the process and complex rules of senate hearings in order to initiate the filibuster that allows the corruption of Washington to be exposed. I think too, the film is significantly more progressive than it may seem to modern audiences.  I was initially disappointed that  Mr. Smith’s rhetoric about supporting all American Boys seemed to only apply to white children. However, both in Smith’s speeches and the portrayal of the “boys” including in a few shots a young black boy helping produce the paper that makes Smith’s filibuster work, viewers can see the film makes an attempt to push back against 1950’s racism and anti-blackness. The standard of inclusiveness and social justice is much higher, as it should be, in 2017, but I think the film is still successful for its time in representing young black boys as apart of the America worth preserving and holding on to. A flaw to this is the lack of inclusion of women/girls in this representation of the American spirit, although this is somewhat remedied by the characterization of Clarissa as I mentioned earlier. Overall, for those reasons, I believe the film is better than most contemporary films dealing with satire as the narrative manages to avoid total hopelessness and cynicism while also embodying at least some of the ideal and inclusive practices that a better America would have.

-by Thomas McCarthy