6. Enemy (2013) – Denis Villeneuve
What’s up with the Spider?
The straightforward explanation of the movie is a man having an identity crisis. It’s an adaptation of a novel written by José Saramago. On the other hand, one wonders why José Saramago would be interested in writing such a novel (O Homem Duplicado, 2002), after enduring a dictatorship that lasted almost half a century. I mean, although a story about identity crisis is interesting, this story begs for something with more depth.
When you are concerned only with one aspect of a movie, it blinds you to the rest of the possible explanations. It’s not a secret that in a dictatorship, people tend to replicate a certain personality just to get by and those in control prefer it that way. You know the ‘us or them mentality’, don’t you? Obviously, such choices lead to very similar people, at least on the surface.
So, the duplicates in the movie are understandable. Why didn’t the movie end in a more typical way, then? What was the point of all of these spiders or the huge spider at the very end? If spiders represent some sort of control, then the director of the movie can show any kind of control or seekers of order in that way just to get his point across.
He may assume that the order inflicted by a dictatorship is pretty much like the order inflicted by nature (motherhood) in a delusional man’s mind. Because these seemingly different attitudes both require you to adopt a new set of rules you don’t like. Also, in both cases you are expected to love and obey the new order wholeheartedly.
In such cases, when your adaptation goes too far, you may eventually develop sexual fantasies about your condition just to relieve the tension. Most people don’t understand their existence philosophically and live on the verge of their feelings. Therefore, what seems like a sexual fantasy is just a sexual fantasy for them. If you take a look at the fantasy at the beginning of the movie closely, you will see that it’s actually a fantasy about breaking free, getting rid of that nasty spider.
We can either interpret the movie within the borders of the straightforward explanation or we can rely on the alternate explanation that states that in dictatorships artificial communities are formed by very similar people, because others simply cannot survive. The projected image of a dear leader permeates the whole society. In the first interpretation everything is in the head of Adam. In the second interpretation both Adam and Anthony exist.
If we take the first explanation, then we have to say that this guy’s fear of commitment is so strong that it resulted in this identity crisis. Well, a man fearing marriage does not create another identity to handle the situation, he just finds another woman and cheats on the first one. Ladies, back me up on this. Am I telling the truth or what?
Still, if we insist on the first explanation, we may even say that faking a false identity under pressure just to survive in an inhospitable environment may have caused Adam to have an identity crisis and the commitment thing just escalated the problem.
If we take the other explanation as our guide, we will have to say that when faced with a very powerful enemy who forces you to lead a diminished life and lose everything that makes you an individual, to be able to survive you may end up creating possible futures for your alternate personalities. In other words, you may be reduced to what you can do in such circumstances.
Those who do the right things and the ones who continue doing what they can do are two different types of people. Because, whatever you can do always rests within the approved set of actions. What you have consciously decided to do in order to survive will transform you into a minion of the oppressors. You will unwillingly become the preferred kind of citizen. Therefore, in the end everybody will be similar to each other.
Let’s talk about the strange last scene. Why did Helen turn into a huge spider and why was she so scared when she saw Adam? Again, the straightforward answer would be a wife suspecting her partner may have commitment issues (seen from the eyes of her partner as a means of control, as a spider), would also be scared of his fantasies of getting rid of her (spider crushing sex show in the beginning of the movie).
I prefer the alternate explanation. When an authority figure plays with you, you can only surprise him by showing how low you can get. He wouldn’t be impressed by your integrity or kindness, because these are not the tools of the trade.
In other words, when you show your capacity to adapt to any situation, this in return challenges the power figure’s ability to adapt (how much he deserves his current position) as well. It’s only possible to frighten those ruthless individuals by showing them you are more ruthless, much more than they have ever imagined.
As we have seen throughout the movie, Adam is a survivor. He can handle anything. He doesn’t have any real connections to anyone. He gives lectures on control and ignorance, but he likes to control others. Moreover, he himself is ignorant. He gives lectures about the condition he is subjected to (dictatorship) and unaware of. I think, that’s why the spider trembled with fear when she gazed upon such a creature.
7. Birth (2004) – Jonathan Glazer
When Is Resolution a Complete Failure?
When you are faced with something you cannot explain, the moment of doubt may be the only exit you may ever find. Anna is lost in thoughts after being confronted by a child who claimed to be her dead husband Sean and that he still loved her very much.
Shaken, but still in control, she goes to the opera with her boyfriend. She sits among a sea of similar couples who are enjoying the show. Lost in thoughts, she feels that the crazy claim she has just heard makes more sense than what seems to be real. In a way, now she sees where she is heading for the first time.
Later in the movie, the reincarnated husband of Anna thinks that he cannot be him, because before he died, Sean has cheated on Anna with Clara. Since his love for Anna is so strong, it could not have been him. However, one can say the same thing about Anna. If her love for Sean is still that strong, how can she be involved in a ridiculous marriage and justify her decision to herself by pointing out marital duties and financial security.
Perhaps, none of us have a clear understanding of what we have and when it’s no longer there, what we lose. Because of this naivety, we can easily silence the symptoms of our condition. When they are suppressed, we can go on with our lives ignoring the fact that they existed.
Only when it’s too late to do anything about it, that strange feeling once we had breaks its chains and speaks with thunder and lightning. At the end of the movie, in a marriage ceremony where Anna and Joseph were finally getting married, Anna realizes what she has really lost and that it will never come back.
The film also makes a point about true love being possible only when you are quite young or when you have a childlike mentality. Since he grew up in the course of the movie, little Sean loses his interest in Anna and says that he is feeling much better. In other words, first we see how we’ll react when we lose something very valuable and then, how we’ll react when we really understand what we lose.
8. In the Mouth of Madness (1995) – John Carpenter
“In The Beginning Was the Word”
Religious figures always have a tendency to interpret the Word as someone’s divine intervention, his way of laying down the foundation and the rules. Let’s take a similar position and play with the words a little bit, shall we? Let’s assume that the word and the physical manifestations of the world are connected.
In other words, if the word did not exist, the associated world would not exist either. Also, assume that the world itself is manufactured by beings specifically for that purpose. If this is true, then we must accept that we are living in a dream world. Therefore, it is our responsibility to dream “unknown possibilities of existence” (All Good Things…, Star Trek: The Next Generation) for a better future.
This movie is an existential exercise of that thought with a John Carpenter twist. What’s dreamt of is presented in a very lifelike and powerful way: “Trent’s eyes refused to close. He did not shriek… but the hideous unholy abominations… shrieked for him…” While we are watching the movie, we see that whatever a writer writes comes to life. Unfortunately, that particular writer writes horror novels, but what can you do?
In the end, we cannot escape from how we conceive our world and our past experiences. Our words not only define, but also create what we call our world. We are bound by them. As long as we don’t lose our grip, that gives us our individuality and our unique perspective about what life is all about. When we lose our grip, however, we may become toys of these dreams to a point that we are no longer real.
9. Crash (1996) – David Cronenberg
It’s Not Sexual Arousal, Dummy
A couple of months ago, I was with one my friends who was interested in playing the roulette. Although I liked Poker, betting on numbers did not excite me. I thought it was boring and pointless. Since I wasn’t interested in the game, I had the opportunity to observe the ones who were interested in it.
Why would someone be excited about such a thing when the probability of winning is so small? Then, I remembered a documentary I once watched, where a gambler explained why. He said that when he looked into his future everything was already laid out for him and there was no chance that it would change. When he played the roulette on the other hand, he got excited by the possibility of winning (change) however small it may be. It made him feel like he was in control of his own destiny.
This movie is about pretty much the same thing. It’s not about a bunch of freaks who get excited when they see people with scars. The point is that we should be excited as well, because we all live a life of indifference, fooled by the toys we have. There was a time when every morning felt like new. Now it’s always the same.
Just the toys we have are new. Somehow, somewhere we must get a hold of that old spark, that spark that made us feel alive… That feeling of being at home even if we did not have a home… That feeling of absolute content even if we didn’t have anything… That feeling of serenity, even if we didn’t have the slightest idea where we were heading.
Feeling the spark is not end in itself, however. Because, sparks can be artificially generated. Therefore, once spotted, what we should do is not to increase the number of these ‘spark spotting moments’, but instead, understand why such a phenomenon has occurred. We shouldn’t sit there and look at the sign. We should look at where the sign is pointing.
10. American Sniper (2014) – Clint Eastwood
A Higher Form of Irony
Being a computer scientist makes you look for clues that may prove you wrong, even if everybody says otherwise. When we take a look at the reaction towards the film, there are two camps, one praising it for paying respects to the war heroes and the other, claiming that it is immoral and racist. Eastwood’s explanations don’t help either, because they are very subtle and he is just pointing out the suffering families go through when someone from the family is sent to the front lines.
When good authors use irony, they usually stick to the formula. They either use symbols that can be deciphered with the right set of presuppositions or they show us the ugly face of the truth by providing a moment of clarity. In this movie we have neither. There is only a very short scene when the mother of a deceased soldier makes a speech and asks when it’s no longer a patriotic act to go to war.
No good director would ignore the general attitude of the potential viewers. In fact, he/she designs the whole thing taking this into account. So, it’s obvious that Eastwood knew that some of them would praise it and the others would condemn it.
Also, he is not a shallow character like many of the action film heroes. In fact, you’ll see that even these characters he portrayed were more complicated than they seemed, if you watch these movies one more time. Eastwood is quite capable, intelligent and always have something to say unlike many lead actors of our time.
So what was the point? Again, we can pick the straightforward interpretation and talk about the family values and the suffering that goes on in such situations, but the alternate approach is always more fun. I ran an experiment with this in my classroom and introduced the following problem: “Put yourself in the shoes of Eastwood. Do not change anything in the movie and consider the profiles of the viewers. Then, show me how the movie may have an opposite meaning.” I didn’t mean that it was there, but I just wanted to learn whether it could be there.
After reading the of the students, it seems it could be there. One of my students wrote something like this: “When you are presented with something you should be ashamed of and as a result, you find yourself standing up and applauding what you see, you are also showing the world what you are really made of, aren’t you?” If this was Eastwood’s point, then the movie was in 3D, folks. It considered the viewers as active participants and asked each and every one of us a very serious question.
Author Bio: Erol Bozkurt is a computer scientist who specializes in analysis, quality assurance and management. He is interested in movies with alternate meanings, because that’s what software developers do all the time, play with the meanings of things. Right now, he is living in Istanbul, Turkey and working as a consultant.