Saturday, 16 February 2013

Motifs in Cinema: 12 for ’12

…celebrating 2012 in cinema with my fellow film bloggers…

Last year I asked ten goodly bloggers to hop on board with me in celebrating 2011 in cinema with a twist (link). Genre based discussion of movies sometimes feels reductive because all films in one genre do not examine the same issues. So I considered – why not have some conversations on the year in cinema through themes and motifs? So, “Motifs in Cinema: 2011” was formed. This year I increased the number of motifs to 12 and invited a dozen more bloggers to discuss twelve varying motifs/themes which various films had examined over the year.

This was my mission-statement, so to speak:
Motifs in Cinema is a discourse across film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2012 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of death or the dynamics of revenge? Like most things, a film begins with an idea - Motifs in Cinema assesses how various themes emanating from a single idea change when utilised by varying artists.
My task was discussing the Parent/Child dynamic.

I kept vacillating on whether or not I’d include parents and children as a discussion point for 2012 in cinema. In 2011 there were more options - at least on the surface - Beginners, A Separation, We Need To Talk About Kevin were just a few of the many observations on the relationship between parent and child, 2012 didn’t have that many to offer, at least not as the main draws to their films. But, it was in noting that dearth of many true examinations on the parent/child dynamic that I realised that the ostensible absence WAS the story in 2012 cinema. True, not many films were as emphatically interested in examining the issues which emanate from parent/child rapport but many of them were nodding towards them in some implicit ways as if to say parent/child machinations had become secondary to larger themes in life.

          I heard y'all talking about killing mama. I think it's a good idea.

Slightly dotty Dottie’s line somewhere at the beginning of Killer Joe is not even the most depraved thing happening in the scene in appears in, much less the entire of Killer Joe. And, yet in that incredibly flip way the Smiths are standing about discussing matricide (about a woman who never even appears on screen, she has zero agency) the relationship between 2012 children parents and their children reveals itself as unusually dubious. Friedkin and Letts’ exploitation film has a subversive outlook on everything but it’s especially striking how what it portends to family dynamics, specifically those between parents and children. Killer Joe might be deliberately pushing the envelope but its suggestions aren’t less chilling because of that. It’s why the striking absence of mother Adele from the narrative is so significant. She’s so removed from the lives of her children that she doesn’t even warrant screen-time.

It all reminds me of that William Finn song from Falsettos – “Everyone hates his parents”. And, perhaps, the 2012 conversation on parenthood is not as consistently nasty as everything in Killer Joe and it’s probably one shade removed from the defeatist title of Finn’s song but the consistent message seems to be a pronounced between parent and child.

Take, Moonrise Kingdom. It’s another example of the theme being on the back-burner but not less effective for it. Suzy’s conflict with her mother is my favourite of the film’s subplots. Anderson does not give it much attention, at least not in the way you would anticipate but it makes that scene mid-film between McDormand and Hayward work so well. Hayward is doing good work in her line reading of “I hate you,” but it’s McDormand (my tentative MVP) who after the briefest of hesitation responds… “Don’t say hate.” It’s a conversation that’s remarkable for a number of reasons. How many films are as earnestly honest about observing their child characters as Moonrise Kingdom? Further, how many honest conversations do we have about children confronting their parents infidelity? That scene is one of the reasons why, even amidst the charming whimsy, Moonrise Kingdom feels so increasingly sad. Moreover, it’s interesting in how the scene’s “I hate you” seems to be uncannily be taken from another film.

         “You’re not my mom!  You’re a liar! Liar! I hate you because you’re lying!

Looper’s confrontation between mother and child is more alarming because we know what’s at stake and in that moment danger which comes from a skewed relationship between parent and child seems overpoweringly dangerous. Even if the root of the hate is unfounded, maybe everyone does hate his parents. As I say, the picture is a dismal one. When Moonrise Kingdom ends there’s a suggestion, albeit a slight one, that things shall continue in a more positive direction now that Suzy at least has a partner nearby, but I do wonder what becomes of Mrs. Bishop and her daughter. In Looper things appear more positive, with Joe dead there is no reason for the film’s potential dire future to occur but the beauty of the uneasiness of Looper is that I do wonder – is anything really assured? Short of something supernatural is it really that simple to make parental hatred dissipate so easily? I say supernatural because without the conceit of something seismic like your mother turning into a bear – how else to learn to love? Enter Brave

Lili Loofbourow in her peerless piece on the goodness of Brave (for a myriad of reasons) touches on one of its beacons – the attention to a parent and child relationship in an animated film where the parent is a mother, and not a father. It’s not often that we get a film geared at children which observes the machination of a mother / daughter relationship which is why is the presence of Moonrise Kingdom AND Brave in 2012 make me pleased even if the relationships themselves are contentious. Brave is able to use its magic as something more than a deux-es-machina because when those essential changes in character ideologies come it feels earned. After all, the main conflict in Brave between mother and daughter is the awful ways in which communication has been stymied. “Why won’t you listen to me?” both mother and child seem to be saying to each other.
It’s why the greatest tragedies of the motif occur, for me, when communication seems not only stymied but impossible. It possibly speaks to my disengagement with critical consensus in 2012 but even as I liked Amour (albeit with reservations), the most profound element of the film’s tragedy was the way that Eva Laurent was left out of her parents suffering. I never found the film’s main arc as tragic because it just seemed to be the necessary coda on a happily ever after tale – death is inevitable, and death after a long and loving life sounds hardly dreadful. But, is there anything as tragic as being the third wheel in a tale of everlasting love? Eva’s awareness that she was always second best in her parents’ live remains for me the more striking aspect of the film which makes that final shot of her alone so profound. She’s lost all chance at communication. She seems to be alone in a jail, and it’s in the same way I think of Kenan’s alone in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. His accused murderer is on the peripherals of his film, too . Unlike Eva he’s in a literal jail towards the film’s end – although we don’t see him– and one of the myriad tragedies in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia lies with him as father of a son who does not know his paternity, and the accused murderer of the man the boy calls father. The last we hear of him after that same son throws a stone at him for murdering his “real father” is that Kenan cried all the way to the courthouse. It’s a message told to use in almost incidental conversation, but its implication is overwhelming in its sadness.

Ceylan’s use of parenthood seems doomed. The potential for communication is absent and with no communication comes no relationship. Even in 2012 films with more palatable ideas of parent/child relationships the danger which emanates from miscommunication between parents and their children is stark (Silver Linings Playbook, Les Misérables, Hello, I Must Be Going). 2012 might not have been as parent-centric as 2011 if you took a cursory glance, but beneath the surface it remains something of incessant important. And maybe Finn’s song title of “Everyone hates their parents” is the wrong one – in the good and bad relationships the suggestion which seems most significant was probably more Sondheim-ish “Children can only grow from something you love…to something you lose.” No wonder so many 2012 films were only discussing the theme in secondary ways…
Whether you are a parent or child, you will have to tough it on your own sooner or later.

And now, for more motif consideration:

The initial 2 bloggers per motif group fo 24 turned into 22 and now sits at 20 due to some bloggers having to bow-out, but here's the class of 2012. Some of the articles are still being completed, so check back over the next hour or so at the various writers for some more great reading material.

On Aging
Jessica of The Velvet Café LINK
Bob of Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind LINK

On Appreciation of Life
Candice of Reel Talk LINK
Brittani of Rambling Film LINK

On The Dichotomy between Reality and Fantasy
Tim of Antagony and Ecstasy LINK
Amir of Amiresque LINK

On Disappointment and Disillusionment
Michael of Serious Film LINK

On Economics and Money
Andreas of Pussy Goes Grr LINK

On The Inevitability of Death
Andrew of The Film Emporium LINK
Jose of Movies Kick Ass LINK

On Love and Marriage
Alex of And So It Begins LINK
Ruth of FlixChatter LINK

On Luck and Fate
Paolo of Okinawa Assault Incident LINK

On Man Against Society
CS of Big Thoughts of a Small Mind LINK
David of Victim of the Time LINK

On Parents and Children
Joanna of For Cinephiles by a Cinefille LINK

On Revenge and Justice
Nicholas of Cinema Romantico LINK

On Work and the Workplace
Craig of Dark Eye Socket LINK
Manuel of A Blog Next Door LINK

Thanks to my fellow bloggers for participating, and now go read and join into the conversation. What were your thoughts on the workplaces in 2012 cinema? Were you moved by the romances? Moved by the dissertations on appreciating life?

Go. Read. Talk


Candice Frederick said...

i LOVE that you included Killer Joe (which I forgot even had this theme), Brave and Looper here. The theme ran rampart in Looper.

Paolo said...

We thought about the same thing about Looper! Yay! One thing to consider in Looper is something also I remember in Toni Morrison's Beloved, that a parental figure like Joe wants something for Cid that Joe never had.

Jessica said...

Thanks for arranging this event! It's a great idea, a change from the usual top lists where we're forced to think in a different way - not necessarily about which movies are best, but what movies that have something in common.

ruth said...

Firstly, GREAT JOB on organizing this Andrew and thanks again for letting me take part.

I love your choices for Parent & Child dynamic. Nice that both of us have BRAVE on here, it's amazing how that film touches on a lot of topics. Looper and Moonrise Kingdom are inspired choices, both definitely are thought-provoking. I don't know if you've seen A Late Quartet yet or not, but that also has an interesting mother/daughter dynamic that is quite heart-wrenching to watch.

Jose Solís said...

But Eva was so selfish! That movie remindede why I never want to have children. As if life itself wasn't awful and painful enough, parents are also morally responsible for the upbringing of kids who will have problems as horrible and sad as they did. Parents are the ultimate martyrs and I salute them.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

candice one of the reasons i loved looper is the great way it examines so many significant issues without robbing us of some good action sequences.

paolo but, god, cid was scary, right? i feel like i'll never be able to watch the actor in another movie.

jessica and i'm glad all of you rose to the occasion so well.

ruth i'm going to have to catch a late quartet some time eventually. i'm a fan of psh.

jose eva probably was selfish but it's one of those things with being a parent, i suppose. you need to be that much more selfless for your children. they had each other, she had no one.

Nick Prigge said...

I love that you included Killer Joe on this motif. When that last shot, so bizarre, so tongue in cheek and still somehow so sincere happened I remember thinking: "Hey! They're one big not so happy family!"