Thursday, 19 April 2012

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Serenity

More than any other “Hit Me” entry I’ve done, I feel like this one in particular depends on the presence of a preamble. For example, it seems essential for me to confess that my only relationship with Whedon, thus far, is the Buffy series (and that one episode of Glee). I think I’ve already confessed how over a three day weekend I watched the entire final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and worked my way backwards after falling love. And, yet, I’ve never made an attempt to seek out other key moments in Whedon’s oeuvre. Thus, I feel it essential for me to thank Nathaniel for pointing the way towards this one for attention.

The major crux of the film rests on the knowledge that River Tam, the psychic stowaway on the film might – or might not – have. Knowing legitimately nothing of what the film would entail that (one of many) decisive moment where River transforms from gentle clairvoyant to dangerous weapon unnerved me when it occurred.
And I love that close-up of her eyes as the subliminal message start to work on her. It’s not something traditionally good. Its existence is indicative of years of subjugation, and yet I love how soft the light on her is. River is something of the key, her eyes tell the future and what she sees – and knows – are integral to Serenity (the ship), Serenity (the movie) and, maybe even, serenity (the feeling).

Visionary, it’s one of those words that gets bandied around so that it meaning –I think – has lost some of its lustre and I’ve heard it said in relation to Whedon and I can’t definitely say yay or nay having so little knowledge of his work. But, adding this to my knowledge of him from Buffy I like to think of him in conjunction with River. Serenity is a film buoyed by Whedon’s tangible eye for shots. The eyes are important.

There were, for example, dozens of excellent landscape shots – not my best shot – but all of them excellently orchestrated.
I like those two, though, because they’re more about the group than about the landscape specifically. His knack for evincing beautiful visuals is impressive. Science fiction is not my chosen genre, but the way the world of the film overwhelms this first-time viewer is significant, I think, in making it work so well.

Like, this shot, for example.
By this time in the film, we know that River is dangerous and in a way this shot is something obvious but it works so well. Glau is not my best-in-show (that would either be Tam or the excellent Torres) but she’s committed to the role and this shot of River’s dangerousness is such a far cry from the shot of her eyes above. The lighting, too, has changed. And, it’s that way with Serenity. It doesn’t quite descend to absolute comedy, but in the same way there are so many facets making up River, Whedon weaves between romance, action, science, moral drama, humour and more and examined in isolation they may seem as disparate as “kick-ass River” versus “psychic River”, but the chain of causation is there.

And, still, ultimately I end up back at the beginning. My best shot…
The thing about this “Hit Me” feature is that it asks you for a visual, but it essentially indicts you with commenting on the thematic. I’m always drawn to films with strong sibling rapport, and this shot is something sinister because Ejiofor’s The Operative is lurking there but I like that he is. For one, it underscores the fact that beside the goodness of that strong filial bond there is still danger. And, he is the one who makes the salient point a few minutes later. When you look at what Simon is doing for his sister it’s not madness, it’s “love”. And mundane…clichéd….pedestrian? That is the rock that Serenity is billed upon.
Head over to Nathaniel's HERE for more on this excellent film. I'm so pleased I've discovered it.


Ryan T. said...

I'm happy you got to see this. Great write-up! You should now definitely try to see Firefly, the TV show this film is based on. There's so much more of that sibling relationship you loved so much as well as Whedon's great dialogue, shot-making, etc.

Paolo said...

Great mindsa think alike, gurl, and your prose is making me want to seppuku. I think another reason the beginning/that shot/The Operative's non-relationship with Simon and River attracs and interests me so much is not because it harks back to the classics, but because it's not like every other sci-fi where characters devoid themselves of emotion. Whedon explores the grey area instead that nobody wants the dearth of emotion, they just want peace and control.

Chip Lary said...

I love Serenity, and the scene that you mention. I actually wrote a whole set of posts on almost everything Joss Whedon has done. Did you know there was a "Buffy Season 8", for instance? You can find links to these posts here: