Wednesday, 06 January 2010

Whatever Works is a poor title for a film in which nothing does. Marvel at the frightening depth of my instant insights into the Woody Allen film Whatever Works (as live-blogged to Facebook last night and reprinted by a request I neither understand nor endorse): As a New Jersey/Brooklyn Jew raised in the South, "Plaquemine County" makes me want to stab my eyes out with bottles of Xanax coated in safety foam so as to prolong the agony of having one of my favorite directors prove himself to be too lazy to take the two seconds required to let Google tell you that Louisiana's made of parishes, not counties. Evan Rachel Wood is from North Carolina, and as such should know what a Southern accent actually sounds like and want to throw shit at the screen after hearing whatever it is she did in this film. Larry David is actually being as unfunnily annoying as The Wife says he always is. Any film in which the situational humor stoops to a white woman declaiming that "If you kick me out, I'm going to become an Asian prostitute" probably shouldn't be made ESPECIALLY IF YOU'RE WOODY ALLEN. I mean, seriously. SERIOUSLY. Homeless runaways in NYC aren't strikingly beautiful, and if you let them sleep on your couch, they don't wear knee highs and pretty much nothing else. I feel like there's old man id all over my television BECAUSE THERE IS. SHE IS MASHING CRAWFISH. MASHING. CRAWFISH. The following sentence isn't meta: "She had a high IQ and a low cut dress. They just don't write them like they used to." No kidding? Twenty-two minutes and ten seconds in, Larry David wears a shirt I actually own. FML. David violates the fourth wall to ask: "Can you believe this little inchworm has set her sights on me?" NO THAT'S WHY THIS MOVIE IS TERRIBLE. That dog just peed on that other dog. That's not right. "ANAL SPHINCTER"? It's one thing to hate the young for their youth, another entirely to do so this brazenly. "Ms. Natchez"? Sorry, Woody, but I'm going to defer to the woman who loves me and turn this turd off. I just can't take anymore. This is, I should add, the first Woody Allen I didn't finish, so I won't be spoiling anything when I say that I'm sure that in the end his young wife leaves him for a younger man and his mother-in-law loses Jesus and shacks up with a Jew.
The Dark Knight is, without question, a meditation about dogs. Humans do not run in packs. They form social circles and erect strict hierarchies, but the desire to live in a pack is either openly denigrated (witness every teen film), contextualized into a culturally acceptable substitute (witness every team film), or mocked as pure atavism (witness Buffy). But as Cesar Millan never tires of telling us, dogs are pack animals by instinct and acculturation: they are born into a litter and socialized into a pack. That being the case, their relationship to merely social animals (like humans) is necessarily vexed because the typical human family lacks the structure and numbers of a pack. The position of "pack leader" in a household featuring one or two dogs and a number of humans must (according to Millan) be created artificially. Whether this canine psychology is accurate or not is beside the point: its history is firmly embedded in the naturalist narratives and their various scions (literary and visual) that Millan unwittingly draws from. All of which only prefaces my actual argument here: Christopher Nolan thought the character of the Joker in The Dark Knight spoke to 1) the uneasiness of the human-canine détente and 2) the assumed applicability of canine cultural formations to human social hierarchies. Trying to process this, I run into the problem of excessive familiarity with both the film and the near-infinite iterations of man-animal sociobiological binaries such that I cannot, pace Beckett, find a form to accommodate the mess. Here's what I have so far: The Dark Knight opens with images that indicate membership in either a pack or a family. Each of the bank robbers in the opening sequence wears a mask bearing a grotesque version of one of the seven dwarfs (as indicated in what I believe is an officially sanctioned script): That would be the Joker carrying his Bozo mask ... and Bozo is not one of the seven dwarfs. The other criminals are all given names of canonical dwarfs (Dopey, Sleepy, Grumpy, etc.), but the Joker is a clown outsider who might (but given his subsequent actions, clearly does not) fit in. The Joker belongs to the correct clan (clowns), but the wrong family (seven dwarfs). Only "family" may be precisely the wrong term: I'm not sure (and research refuses to relinquish) whether the seven dwarfs were kin or clan. Their analogues' willingness to slaughter each other at the Joker's behest would seem to indicate that their bonds were of the "You like crime? I like crime too!" variety, but given the tired convention that "the loyalty of a crew is inversely proportional to the size of the score," I have reservations. Either way, the film opens with an image of organized disloyalty by a coordinated group that ideally works in unison (i.e. a pack). This would be a dysfunctional pack. Nolan then introduces us to a functional one: This is the human-canine (or pack-to-pack-leader) relation we have come to expect: that Chechen criminal may be sadistic psychopath, but he's also a beloved pack...

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