Thursday, November 13, 2014

On Lex Luthor

I was listening to a Mark Waid interview recently where he said that he liked the idea of Superman and Lex Luthor having been childhood and/or teenage friends because it adds a lot to Superman’s character to have that little splash of darkness. 
However, I think that the guy he was debating against did have one very good point: while it probably helps develop Superman’s character, his loss is Luthor’s gain in terms of character development. I don’t like the idea that young Luthor was obsessed with things extraterrestrial because as I understand Luthor he is fundamentally a man. He has spent years rising through the social ranks, pulling dirty tricks but at every turn striving to become as powerful as a man can possibly become. Eventually, he reaches the pinnacle of his achievement: he is the most brilliant, most wealthy human being on the planet. And just at that moment of triumph, an alien being who is both naturally more powerful and naturally more beautiful in both body and soul than Luthor can ever be appears and outdoes him. This, to me, defines Luthor’s character. His evil arises from the fact that his principles are founded in petty jealousy and desire for revenge. But, like all good villains, his foibles disguise a pretty legitimate point - that anything as powerful as Superman, however benevolent, is inherently fascistic merely by placing itself that far above everyone else. 
What if Superman turned bad? That’s the classic refrain. But what Luthor understands that he thinks everyone else is blind to (and, to some extent, they are) is that Superman doesn’t have to turn bad to be oppressive. He doesn’t have to be The Plutonian to feel that cracking down on human flaws is fundamentally the right thing to do. His very presence is an affront to humanity. The fact that he is roughly omni-benevolent is a happy accident. And to be fair to Mark Waid, the solution he comes to in Kingdom Come is the best one I’ve heard--if Superman really does have a stronger and more accurate moral compass than anyone else, let him prove it by not using his powers, by living among us as equals.
Back to the topic of villains, in my experience the best villains define and crystallize the hero’s character through contrast. The Batman is largely defined by his principles. So the Joker challenges those principles and tries to get the Batman to break all of them. Superman is a super-powered alien life form whose powers are bestowed upon him through no achievement on his part who has never had any need for jealousy. So Lex Luthor is a pathologically jealous self-made man who cannot go any higher simply by virtue of being only human.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Talking Picture, Ep. 13 - The Chosen One, a Limerick Sequence

The Talking Picture, Ep. 12: Originality (The Hunger Games vs. Battle Royale)

The Talking Picture, Ep. 11: Irony - A Limerick Sequence

The Talking Picture, Ep. 10 - Zombies, A Limerick Sequence

The Talking Picture, Ep. 9 - Remakes and Sequels, a Limerick Sequence

The Talking Picture, Ep. 8 - Michael Bay's Montage of Attractions

The Talking Picture, Ep. 7 - Men In Funny Hats

The Talking Picture, Ep. 6 - The Problem of Agency

The Talking Picture, Ep. 5 - Defeat, Deferred

The Talking Picture, Ep. 4 - The High Brought Low

Episode Four!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Saturday, November 1, 2014

On the Ending of Inception

A few quick words on Inception, particularly its ending. Even today, I hear confusion from some people as to what the ending meant, or even frustration as to Christopher Nolan’s alleged failure to provide us with a hard-and-fast answer to the question of whether Leo ever did manage to reach the real world or if the entire end of the movie is just another dream.

First off, I’d like to say that the ending is perfectly timed. When the spinning top wobbles, the image cuts out before we get to see if it will continue wobbling and eventually fall or just right itself and carry on forever. This is reality vs. the dream world in a nutshell, and withholding the final verdict from us creates ambiguity.

But that’s precisely what those confused by the ending or particularly expressing frustration at it are missing: the ambiguity is the point. Leo doesn’t care anymore whether he’s in the real world. This level of reality is where he gets to be with his children. This level of reality is where he has a life. So even if it’s not entirely real (and who’s to say?), it’s the reality he will choose to live out.

This is the choice that all of us face to one extent or another. True, we could all be living in the Matrix, we could all be living out a lie and really just be brains in vats. But as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter. As long as I can make a good life for myself here, it doesn’t matter whether it’s real or not. It’s where I live, and I will make the most of it.

Nolan really knows how to end a film, though. I think part of the reason he’s so universally acclaimed is because, psychologically, we as humans tend to remember the first and last items in a sequence better than anything in the middle. I imagine Nolan understands this and thus understands also the value of a good ending. He certainly puts a lot of effort into them. Sure, the ending of “TDKR” was lacklustre, but the ending of The Dark Knight is perfect. The endings of Batman Begins and Memento are terrific. The ending of “The Prestige,” well, your mileage may vary depending on how thoroughly you’ve thought out the mechanics of Hugh Jackman’s magic act. By the end of the film, I had thought about it and had already realized that the Hugh Jackman character had basically been drowning a replica of himself every night for the length of his entire performance run in a wonderfully grotesque metaphor for how he’d been tearing himself apart piece by piece after the death of his wife, so the final shot where we realize that the long rows of tanks each contain a dead Hugh Jackman didn’t have much revelatory value for me. Sure, it’s still a cool ending and the sudden cut to black, plunging the audience into darkness at the precise moment of maximum horror, is an effective technique (and consequently one that the ending leans on heavily). 

On this spectrum, the ending of Inception falls toward the upper end. It makes an unavoidable misstep in teasing us, provoking an automatic and involuntary reaction just when it needs us to step back and look at the situation more analytically. At the same time, if you’re basically a sociopath like me, you’ll have no problem looking at it analytically. So for me, it works in a way that the ending of The Prestige doesn’t, but for someone who didn’t get Inception that would probably go the other way around.