By ROB SCHUMANN
While this is partially in response to the lovely Lindsey D’s rant about the patently absurd nature of romantic comedies and fictional love stories in general, it serves more as an intellectual exercise, another opportunity to explore the depths of film and television as an extension of and projection of our mortal desires. Granted fiction is fiction and the distinction has to be made, but the exploratory nature of films cannot and should not be explored. Other than exploring individual desires, they also have a keen ability to expose the Ethos of the age and watching films/televisions shows from decades past can offer a window of exploration into the zeitgeist of the times.
Fifteen years have passed since two of the most entertaining and philosophically fascinating movies in recent memory aired: Fight Club and The Matrix. I won’t touch on Fight Club here, although there was a distinct “man feeling alienated” existential motif employed throughout the film that made it wildly entertaining along with provocative.
The Matrix changed everything: it represented a crossing over from the action hero of old to the representative and undiscovered potential of Mr. Anderson. Symbolically this showed the nature of the culture it was created in and drew a line in the sand for action heroes (and those who inevitably absorbed it’s message). The Matrix was rich in symbolism spanning the range of existential dread, conspicuously tackling perception (Descartes style), determinism/fatalism, Baudrillard’s Simulacra/Simulation (sort of) and even loosely adopting Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to illustrate its perception though experience theme (Matrix vs “Authenic”/complete reality). It also spawned the phrase “Unplug”, something parents reading Time magazine spew forth towards their children when they refuse to participate in dinner-time conversation. It managed to touch on all of these themes in such a short period of time, even including references to other films and other cultural references, but that’s not my focus. There’s books just on and about the Matrix alone (both from a philosophical standpoint and a psychoanalytic standpoint). There’s one symbolic point of massive importance here and that’s the transformation of the action hero from Mr. Macho (conquers bad guys/has huge arms/gets girl/blows shit up) to Mr. Anderson. Using my limited knowledge of action films a decade and half old but relying on my affinity for betting, I’m willing to wager that The Matrix (yes, and Fight Club) mark the point where the action hero changed.
Mr. Anderson was an everyman, wasting away his prime years under white lights and whittling away his days for a nameless, faceless corporation… Until “it” happened. Anderson was recruited (this is important) not for his accomplishments, his skills, or his abilities but because he was special. Anderson/Neo was the one. This moment represented the crossover from the action hero who saved the day against all odds to the action hero who was chosen by virtue of being unique/despite/in spite of all indications of his mediocrity.
What seems more far fetched?
….Is a stupid question.
Why the change? Does film set the tone, or were the Wachowski Brothers influenced by something, some collective cultural force (the Other, as I like to call it. Can’t call it the Matrix here) to script such an unlikely origin for a character? If the theory that fantasy represents desires is true, does this offer a window into the desires of the culture? Does it show how they’d like to think of themselves?
“I mean I’m just an average ordinary guy…. but if there was an alien invasion/zombie apocalypse, I’d so kick ass. I just need the chance.”
Isn’t that the fantasy? Someday being rich/famous/distinguished/special for being you?
The time period and the culture that surround a piece of fiction are vitally important to understanding the representative function of the work. Don’t believe me? Pick up a copy of Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Grey, ignore the dates and translate the culture into ours, circa 2014 and it’s a boring Brokeback Mountain. Seriously.
These depictions represent desires and fantasies, evidenced by the popularity and the pernicious manner the imagery, the language, the ways of acting, and the perceptions surrounding the images are immersed and absorbed into our culture. (See unplugged etymology above) This single example has nearly unlimited applicability thorough film, television and literature.
Back to Lindsey’s grievances: I don’t think it’s ‘love’ in the literal sense as the movies show it, but rather a repudiation of isolation, the longing for intimate, complete connectedness that is the desire behind those depictions of romance. Our narcissistic culture has left us feeling ultimately alone, not completely intimate with anyone. The fascination with image, appearance and the trappings of (insert whatever desirable attributes) has left us in a perpetual Bad Faith, distanced from who we truly are. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. This leaves people longing for that ultimate bonding, that spiritual intimacy, the longing to fill that void, that “soul-mate” union. But that can’t ever happen, which is why it remains perpetual fantasy, film after film. Last thing anyone wants to do is go through a long string of “almost soul-mates” to realize the problem all along was……