By Ezra Stead
Maps to the Stars, Canada / Germany / France / USA, 2014
Directed by David Cronenberg
If A Dangerous Method (the end of the Viggo Mortensen trilogy as I like to call it, the first two being A History of Violence and Eastern Promises) shows David Cronenberg at his most respectable, and Cosmopolis presents the Canadian director at his most unwatchable, his latest manages to avoid both of those traps. A sleazy, trashy, dark comedy about the amoral self-absorption of Hollywood, Maps to the Stars is gleefully disreputable and never less than entertaining. However, it lacks the narrative focus and thematic bite to rank among Cronenberg’s best films.
The most coherent and interesting thread to be found amongst the rather large, interconnected ensemble concerns an aging actress (Julianne Moore) angling for the part played by her now deceased mother in a remake of one of the latter’s classic films. She hires an assistant (Mia Wasikowska) who has been disfigured by burns in a house fire she herself started. The mentor-protégé relationship gradually sours to the point of a rather shocking conclusion, and an earlier scene in which the pair sing and dance in celebration of the tragic death of another actress’s small child is easily the funniest moment in the film. Read More
By Ezra Stead
A Dangerous Method, UK / Germany / Canada / Switzerland
Directed by David Cronenberg
A Dangerous Method could be called the final film in director David Cronenberg’s Viggo Mortensen trilogy. Beginning with 2005’s A History of Violence, Cronenberg has used the estimable actor in each film he’s made up until now, with the brief exception of his short film for the 2007 anthology To Each His Own Cinema (the wonderfully titled “At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World”), in which only Cronenberg himself starred. This triptych of films, which also includes 2007’s Russian mob story Eastern Promises, marks a distinct departure from the type of filmmaking that made Cronenberg’s name synonymous with gruesome, highly physical horror – see masterpieces like Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986) and Dead Ringers (1988) – and ever more into the territory of restrained human drama. While it lacks some of the visceral punches (the “Cronenberg touches,” as many reviewers called them) found in the previous two films, Method is probably the most consistent and accomplished work, and though it is certainly a bit drier, it is no less consummately entertaining. Read More
By Ezra Stead
The Tree of Life, USA, 2011
Written and Directed by Terrence Malick
Terrence Malick is a truly extraordinary and enigmatic filmmaker; over the course of the last 38 years, he has directed only five films, each one of which is widely regarded as a consummate masterpiece. The beauty and complexity of his images are almost in a league of their own. Between the sheer cinematic perfection of his work and its anti-prolific output, he is reminiscent of perhaps the cinema’s greatest auteur, the late Stanley Kubrick. His latest film is likely his best work to date (I still haven’t seen 1978’s Days of Heaven, widely regarded as his greatest achievement up until now), and it certainly feels like his most personal, while simultaneously tackling the huge metaphysical ideas of Kubrick’s own greatest work, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
The Tree of Life is a staggeringly ambitious film that evokes not only the monumental beginnings of all existence in the universe, but also the tiny, specific details of ordinary lives; the result is a flawed but profound epic on the scale of 2001 with the emotional resonance that Kubrick’s more detached approach is often accused of lacking. It is also a film that deserves comparison to Darren Aronofsky’s extremely underrated masterpiece The Fountain (2006) in its themes of the interconnectedness of all time and space and the way in which we are all affected by forces beyond our control and understanding. It is the rare film whose flaws only make it more intriguing, since life itself is flawed and disconnected in much the same way. Above all, while comparisons can be made to other masterpieces in Malick’s own career as well as those mentioned above, this is a wonderfully unique and original film, with a style and voice unlike any I can recall. Read More
By Corey Birkhofer
Ikiru, Japan, 1952
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
What does one do upon learning they have just a few months left to live? Akira Kurosawa gives an answer to this question in his film Ikiru. Telling the simple story of a Japanese city official, Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura), and his efforts to see that a park is built in a waste-ridden empty lot, we the viewer are given an insight into the final task of a man living with terminal gastric cancer. Setting the pace of the film to slowly recount the struggles of seeing this final task through, Kurosawa ultimately conveys through Kanji the beauty of life, as well as the urgency that inevitable death instills in us all. It is because of this limited amount of time that terminal cancer allows one to live that a psychoanalytic focus on Ikiru seems almost natural to me. With an analysis looking toward death and the psychological ramifications it imposes on not only Kanji, but the rest of the characters as well, the question of why he is so driven to build the park before his death becomes that much more profound. When analyzing Ikiru under a psychoanalytic lens, the most logical aspect to focus on is not only death, but the influence it has on a person throughout their entire life. In the case of Kanji Watanabe, a man who is so engrossed in his work that he has lost touch with reality as a result, death and its inevitable influence are nothing more than some mythical, far-off event that he doesn’t have to worry about. Read More
By Corey Birkhofer
Y Tu Mama Tambien, Mexico, 2001
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Analyzing a film such as Y Tu Mama Tambien under the influence of Laura Mulvey’s 1975 article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” is as complex as it is enlightening. Regardless of the fact that Mulvey has since moved away from her original argument, “Visual Pleasure” continues to provide a pool of theory from which to pull in reading contemporary film. In the case of Y Tu Mama Tambien, Mulvey’s article employs several key concepts that can be used quite effectively in a reading of this film. More specifically, the general concepts of spectatorship, subjectivity, verisimilitude, Jacques Lacan’s mirror phase and symbolic order, as well as Sigmund Freud’s scopophilia and primal scene, will all have relevance throughout. The purpose of this explication is to use these aforementioned concepts in order to expose Y Tu as a film that fully employs typical representations of woman as described by Mulvey in her article. Through this exposure, it will be revealed that the employment of these conventions of representation are in place only to create a basis of contradiction that can ultimately be subverted to transform Y Tu Mama Tambien into a dialectical text.
However, before an engaged reading can be conducted, it is of paramount importance to keep in mind that first and foremost, Y Tu is an independent film. Therefore, certain independent conventions must be kept in mind alongside these key concepts in taking any theoretical stance on the film. Bearing in mind these independent conventions, the following analysis of several key sequences is crucial to exposing the relationship Y Tu shares with the concepts of spectatorship and subjectivity. In the following explication, one particular focus of analysis will be a specific shot that is considered by many as the “pay-off” shot of the entire film. This is the shot in which the main female character, Luisa Cortes (Maribel Verdu), looks directly into the camera for an extended period of time. In doing this, the female representation transfers her role as castrated spectacle to that of the spectator/subject. Thus, Y Tu Mama Tambien becomes dialectic, as its representation of woman ascends into the realm of the symbolic order. Read More