You can find my movie reviews on CinemaDiscourse.com, a Web site I do with John David Ebert that looks at movies from a mythologically informed literary point of view.
These reviews, done over the past several years, are buried in the site, but you can link to each of them directly from here.
While these reviews discuss the movies, they are more focused on the archetypal stories and situations on which they are based. So for example in reviewing Phantom of the Opera, I do not address the acting or the singing. Rather I look at the three male archetypal figures in a woman’s life: her father, her demon lover, and her husband lover. In Tron and Alice in Wonderland, I look at the archetype of the journey to the underworld, what is supposed to happen on that journey, and how these movies measure up.
Click on the movie title for the full review.
Prometheus takes itself seriously as evoking mythological depths. First, the title, from the Titan who brought to humanity not only fire, but technology and the arts. Then references to movies with mythic dimensions. 2001, with hints of assisted evolution and artificial intelligence in HAL. Blade Runner with a shared director and androids.Alien, with a shared director, and for which Prometheus is a prequel. And finally H. R. Giger, who did designs for the Alien movies and for Prometheus, and whose work evokes a futurist bio-machine eroticism. Not afraid of pretention, Ridley Scott, Prometheus’s director says, “we are talking about gods and engineers. Engineers of space.”
So, just what is the mythic theme of Prometheus?
• The Hunger Games
If this movie is reflective of the way young people feel today, how do they feel? They feel pessimistic. They feel that the government is hostile to them, and they are hopeless to change it. They feel they live in poverty brought on by a corrupt system. They are profoundly pessimistic. How could that be?
• Source Code
Notice that we have been getting a lot of movies with a non-linear, layered time, and notice that (most) audiences are totally comfortable with these movies. We can now add Source Code, in which the protagonist is repeatedly returned to an eight-minute slice of time to attempt to prevent a terrorist attack, to our list.
• Tron: Legacy
It is bad enough that movies have become so formulaic, but when they are, they could at least follow the rules of the formula.
In Tron: Legacy, we have:
– Search for and reconciliation with the father
– Travel to the underworld for the completion of the self
– Travel to the underworld to save the world
– The realization that technology cannot replace humanity
Tron: Legacy does not do a great job with any of them.
• The Black Swan
A female ballet dancer in a has for too long been passed over, but now she is chosen for a role in a reworked Swan Lake which will require her to dance both the role of the pure White Swan, and also the aggressive erotic Black Swan. She is perfect for the White Swan, but her sexual repression keeps her from capturing the Black Swan. The movie presents her sexual/artistic (they are one) awakening.
The genre: A group of people come together, party, go to sleep, are awakened by strange goings-ons. Earth has been invaded by aliens, explosions are going off around the city. Masses of people are being vacuumed up into the hovering invading bio-machines. Our small party has to take on the aliens alone.
• Comments on Inception
In Inception we have various people in each other’s dreams, and dreams within dreams down three layers. Very ambitious, great imagery. Could have done better at tying the images to the themes.
One of the best science fiction movies of its kind, up there with AI in its investigation of the human meanings of creation-of-life technologies. It achieves its stature, as does much great science fiction, by being not just about the science, but also about the human impact of the science. And it goes further in making that impact be not on stereotypes, but on real, fleshed-out people. Two geneticists, a couple, mix the DNA of various animals with the woman’s DNA to create a creature which they tell each other they will “terminate,” but to which (or whom) they become attached.
• Harry Brown
Harry Brown, staring seventy-seven year old Michael Caine, is in the tradition of Death Wish but it more closely evokes seventy-nine year old Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, even to the point of using the “Harry” from Eastwood’s earlier Dirty Harry movies. Old retired guy, wife has just died, himself with lung cancer or emphysema, neighborhood terrorized by youth gangs, ineffectual cops, our hero good with weapons from war experience. He becomes a vigilante and takes out the bad guys. This English movie tells us that England is a dead corpse beginning to rot.
• Clash of the Titans
A mish mash of plots and stories of quarrels, backstabbing, and lame dialogue among the Greek gods. (No Titans, despite the title.) But there is an idea here, nothing less than the human attempt to overthrow the gods.
• Comments on Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland is what Campbell calls a Hero Journey – a hero (male or female) separates from ordinary reality, journeys to a realm of fabulous forces, wins a decisive victory, and returns to enrich the world. And there are numerous other elements; hero-helpers, etc. In this movie we have the variant in which our hero travels to is the underworld, symbolic of the unconscious, and there are principles for that. What are the elements of an underworld Hero Journey?
• Law Abiding Citizen
Law Abiding Citizen is, on the surface, one of those revenge movies in which a man’s family is killed, and he takes revenge. In modern incarnation, it begins with Charles Bronson in Death Wish. But Law Abiding Citizen is not about “law, justice and morality,” or Shelton’s revenge, it is about the redemption of Rice’s (the DA) soul.
• Apocalypse Now
Coppola’s story is set in Vietnam. Willard, a secret service agent, is today’s Marlow from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but in this case a character out of a Raymond Chandler mystery rather than an educated man of the British Empire. His mission: to “terminate Kurtz with extreme prejudice.” Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando, is a Green Beret who has deviated from orthodoxy to the point of moving into Cambodia and forming his own personal army of mountaineer tribesmen. Willard’s journey up river through the war in the jungles of Vietnam brings us Heart of Darkness, the Odyssey, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, The Golden Bough, and more.
• The Phantom of the Opera
Or, how to review an archetypal movie. If we were reviewing a realistic movie, we would complain about the stereotyped characters and their lack of development. But in this archetypal movie we accept that they are all projections of Christine’s psyche. The perfect father, the perfect demon-lover/mentor and the perfect lover-husband. No wonder tens of millions of women have dragged their men to the theater in hopes something will rub off.
• Terminator: Salvation
Movies of humans fighting machines are often not so much about the dangers of machines, but about our choices of what kinds of human beings we want to be, individuals or a part of the Borg.
• Star Trek
Academia and our politics tell us that we are in agreement on growing governmental and communitarian control over every aspect of our lives. But our movie heroes are almost without exception those who rebel against such controls. There is no need to list these characters since they constitute just about every male (and now often female) lead in every action movie of the past half century or so. A celebration of the shamanic over the priestly, an American faith in the inner voice so celebrated in books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. So it is no surprise that when we meet the boy Kirk in the new Star Trek movie on the open plains of Iowa, we see him speeding in a vintage Corvette in defiance of a robot traffic cop.
• Babylon AD
The central theme of the film is also found in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, which pits the lunar Queen of the Night, against which the solar, rational father as they compete for the Woman and Man of the present and their Children of the future. Nothing earth-shattering here, but one of those basic mythic archetypes that defines us.
The prime myth of Wanted, as of many action movies, is Percival, the story of one of the knights of King Arthur’s Roundtable. A sub myth is the search for the father. While the search for the father is found in the myths of many cultures, the themes of the Arthurian Romances are unique to the European culture.
• A Course on Myths and Movies
As the liberal arts in universities comes to be dominated by critical and visual studies, the ability of mainstream academia to respond to movies, particularly visionary movies, is diminished. Critical and visual studies, while providing insights into some cultural issues, fails to penetrate deeply into the individual narrative psyche or the cultural narrative psyche. Indeed, the claim is that these narratives are implanted in us to make us ripe for exploitation. In response to this, I propose a course on mythology and movies, which I am posting here.