1. Christmas with the Murtaughs continues. Last night we watched Hurt Locker. An exceptional film, violent, careful, subtle, authentic, gritty, human – exactly the opposite of Avatar. Curious to contrast the films, by ex-husband and ex-wife, both about the American military in some 3rd world hellhole. Avatar cost (roughly) 300 million dollars, Hurt Locker 11 million. Every character in Avatar is a cardboard cut-out computer-generated villain or hero, as blocky and wooden as possible, just so no 5-year-old or retarded viewers might fail to understand absolutely everything, or fail to conclude “the White Man is the source of all evil in the world” . i agreed with the film’s loathing of modernity (expressed in CGI, naturally) but resented the heavy-handed approach. i prefer skilful seduction, the oblique approach, delicacy. Perhaps Cameron felt so incensed that he couldn’t manage subtlety, feeling the issue was too important to allow the viewer any leeway. My own feeling is that, if one presents the matter as it is – as much as one can in a representation – it is not necessary to bludgeon the audience with crude allegories, crass simplifications. The artist can emphasise the essential lineaments of reality, but with fidelity, proportion, rectitude.
2. Inception, now. It didn’t go down well with the Murtaughs. Murtaugh Sr walked out after the first 10 minutes, later saying “it was meaningless rubbish.” Mrs Murtaugh endured it bravely. The children didn’t understand much more than Murtaugh Sr. Leo, the 15-year-old son, kept wailing questions every 30 seconds thus: “why is he fighting this random black guy?”, “wait, is this the dream within the dream within the dream?”, “I thought he was a baddie!”, and so on. This is seemingly his default mode of viewing, so in Hurt Locker the questions were rather about technical matters, e.g. “but he was only hit by a few bits of rock! Why is he falling down?”, “why is he wearing that suit?”, “why are they dressed like terrorists?” and so on. i instructed him to write his questions down and ask “the group leader” in his dreams. This didn’t really work but it meant i could reply simply “ask the group leader”, a more polite way of saying “shut the hell up”.
i liked Inception and disagreed with Murtaugh, when, on the basis of the first ten minutes, he said “did it explore any philosophical themes? No. It was just total rubbish, just a load of American idiots shooting at each other.” Wallace Stevens would have relished the film (perhaps). The film’s technique was interesting – Nolan repeatedly presents a riddle, and the answer comes about 5 minutes later. The craft is very fine here – the riddles posed so as to tease and provoke, though with the Murtaughs they just frustrated and baffled.
Later, i reflected on Leo’s incomprehension. He isn’t stupid, so i was puzzled by his inability to understand fairly simple events. However, i didn’t really understand them either – it was rather that i didn’t try, i accepted and observed, holding it in my mind, allowing the riddles to ping about my mind till the answer duly came. i didn’t understand more than Leo, in the moment; it was rather that i didn’t try to understand, and so i could watch and, in a sense, understand – or, rather, follow. i can distinguish here, between understanding a theme (musical or otherwise), and following – the latter is something like this: the path one takes to understanding. And for this, one must be easy with strangeness, with the inexplicable, with riddles. Suspension not merely of disbelief but of the need to understand – from this, one can understand.
In a sense, Leo’s apparent obtuseness is just a mind struggling to arrive at its own method. It is interesting to observe him – in many ways a normal 15-year-old, in others not. He is a gifted musician – nothing truly remarkable at the moment, but i think his talents will develop in time, into something of note.
Murtaugh tells me Leo can’t do maths – seemingly, he has to invent his own way of approaching mathematics, as if he is unable to use the extant methods, other people’s thoughts. More difficult than just inhabiting someone else’s theory, but more rewarding in the long run. Likewise i did so badly in my Literary Theory exam, at university, because i was and am unable to passively accept someone else’s theory, to think in a Lacanian/Foucaultian/Derridean etc. manner – which my university required of me, for this course. For universities naturally encourage theory, the predictable, the already-thought. The wonder is that thinkers such as, e.g., Abelard or Wittgenstein, have sometimes found a temporary, fraught home in academia, to think things through on their own.
3. Now i mean to eat crumpets.