Archive for July, 2010

Parlor Discourse on The End of the Male Narrative in No Country for Old Men & There Will Be Blood

Follows are Parlor discourses on No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

First to be clear.  I consider these films masterful storytelling.   They are also, for my purposes, strong illustrations of a way of perceiving and forming meaning.  This way of seeing and re-presenting in the telling, the long and cherished sweep from, well, the cave to now, I think of as the male narrative. And I also think we’re at the end of it.

These stories have no interest in delivering us, in any way we can believe, from the desolate emotional shores where they abandon us.  They are not about exploring what might sprout from the dissolution of long held beliefs of who were are, what we’re doing here.  But from my point of view each speaks directly to the falling away of this narrative’s ability to evolve meaning, and complexly expresses the end of what’s brought us here.  And what this bringing has taken out of men.

No Country for Old Men

On the surface this is a story of men tracking:  tracking deer, tracking money, tracking blood, a beeping tracking device.  But what it’s really tracking is retreat, warning us to sit silent and close to the fire ‘cause there’s danger out there.  ‘Cause if we get lost in the darkness, there’s been no way laid to track back.  And anyway, all our guides have quit.

Javier Bardem as the monster in No Country for Old Men

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Movie Salon: Explorations at the End of the Male Narrative

So this month it seems the time’s come to address what the heck I mean by this term the Male Narrative and furthermore, what do I mean by saying we are at the end of it?

My intention is to do this through three films that are to my mind masterful expressions of this notion.  It’s as if they are themselves spreading the word that their infusion of meaning into our swirling chaos, their way of perceiving, which has, afterall, brought us here along a very long path from, well, the cave (and for that we owe & honor it) is now unable any longer, on its own, to sustain us, to provide reason for our existence.  Tired, emptied, this way lies exhausted at our feet.  But like oft the human body right before death, it exhibits a remarkable resurgence of clarity and energy.  A last grasping at life force.

But first an apology to my friends who avoid films that depict violence.  There’s no way around it in this month’s Salon.  Violence, actual and threatened, has all to do with it.  Along with self-destruction.  And an incredible ability to take abuse. 

So my specimens are

No Country for Old Men, 2007. Ethan and Joel Coen.  Like many, I was unable to turn away from this exquisitely spun yarn by these Brothers Coen and yet…the telling of it left me only with dread.  And the dread does not feel the same as the Brothers Grimm warning us to stay out of the dark forest for the sake of our own preservation. Is more akin to Hieronymus Bosh, leaving us irreparably lost, with no way out.  These brothers seal off by the credit roll every, even the most minute portal of escape for the human heart.  And in that made mine flutter, a doomed and captured animal.

There Will Be Blood, 2007. Paul Thomas Anderson.  This immaculate conception of voracious greed puts the face to predatory capitalism.  Dangerous, consuming and competitive.  The origins and spiraling root growth of it in a man until its arc flares out scorching, ruining all he might love, if there ever is any capacity, and that cast in great doubt.  Certainly, should the searching beam of this acquisitive love ever fall on you, if we can even use the word love for it, you will be destroyed. 

The Road, 2009. John Hillcoat.  What is this inarticulate suspicion afloat in so much of our entertainment product nowadays (is it just the influence of gaming?) that we need a good old fashioned apocalypse to straighten our moral spines?  Some nostalgia for that wild west clarity of good guys (people who don’t eat other people) versus bad guys (people who do)!  Perhaps it’s a human all too human reaction to the demanding complexities of our life now,  its “relativism.”  As if an encompassing understanding of multiple experiences and points of view brought to our doorstep by this connected world is just too exhausting.

Please accept my invitation to join the discourse on these exciting questions in our Parlor in a couple weeks.

Oh, and by the way there’s some new growth on a two branches of our Family Tree of Stories

New to the branch of Reasons to Keep the Faith

  • Girl with Dragon Tattoo.  Possibly pointing in the direction of the female Hero?  Or something else entirely? 
  • Blessed. WIF/Seattle’s sponsored film at SIFF this year, and a fine plunge  into stories of children and their mothers told in a collective, almost operatic voice.  

New to the branch of End of the Male Narrative:

  • Northface Cautionary tale of the male qualities of adventuring we so love.
  • Gomorrah  Unabashed, rigorously honest travel through a range of threatened malehood.