A little bit of a light week this time around because I have been catching up on TV, sorry! I was kicking around the idea of writing about some of that TV, but this isn’t TV DIARY 2018, this is MOVIE DIARY 2018, baby. This week I’ve got writing from one of my favorite cartoonists, Pete Toms! Pete makes comics that I think perfectly capture the absurdity and alienation of being alive in this time when everything is dumb and hyper-connected. Mother’s Day is coming up so please think about giving your mom the gift of Pete’s comics.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
SPECIAL GUEST WRITER: PETE TOMS
I like folk music. Though, given the choice on an average day, these are the music genres I would choose to listen to before folk: goth music for old people, goth music for young people, jazz fusion, sad moaning with reverb, sad whispering with reverb, that style of R&B that sounds like a guy falling asleep while mumbling to you through a vocoder he forgot to turn off while you slowly pass him in a bus, Canadian indie rock from the mid 00s, the mean 60s girl groups, the nice 60s girl groups, novelty songs about baseball, those intro tracks from every Pusha T album where it’s some person explaining how Pusha is better than me, the sort of threatening love songs my neighbor sings to her parrots, those extremely satisfying 70s soul tracks where it’s like 3 minutes of funky music building and building until the singer just starts fucking screaming, and general silence.
Inside Llewyn Davis is about folk music and opens with the titular Llewyn Davis playing a folk song and then explaining exactly what one is, “If it was never new and it never gets old, it’s a folk song.” My favorite part of Sicario (2015) is in the beginning when the definition of the title pops up on screen. “If it was never new and never gets old, it’s Sicario.” But really it’s just like, “Sicario: (noun) A hitman.” Which, the first time I saw it, seemed really weird to me. Almost as weird as the scene where Emily Blunt google image searches “gross murders,” and then just silently keeps scrolling through a bunch of DIY drug murder Pinterest boards. If Sicario: Day of Soledado (2018) doesn’t open with a definition for at least 2 (but hopefully 3 or 4) of the words in its name, I’ll know right off the bat that it’s not honoring the intent of the original film. The intent to define the title for its viewers.
Sicario, and I guess all those movies written by the guy that used to be on Sons of Anarchy who I believe succeeds at writing movies that feel exactly like they were written by a guy that used to be on Sons of Anarchy, are heavily indebted to No Country for Old Men (2007), the Coen brothers’ Cormac McCarthy adaptation. McCarthy, as far as I know, is one of the best novelists alive, has really cool thick eyebrows, and constantly writes about the American myth and how everything that exists is out to kill you. Here’s my bad imitation of his writing:
Up your nose.
Your nose. With a rubber hose.
When I was in my early 20s, for a while I had shoulder length hair. One day I decided to cut it myself and ended up with basically Javier Bardem’s No Country haircut. That night, I had to go to a party and asked my friends if it looked good enough to just keep it like that for a few hours in public. They were like “No way,” so in a panic, I fixed it by essentially giving myself Prince Valiant’s hair. If I were somehow hexed and had to live my early 20s again, I would attempt to avoid all 3 of these hairstyles I’ve mentioned. Though please don’t tell that part of this review to whoever is hexing me because I’m assuming bad hair is an integral part of the punishment that they’ve designed. If you do accidentally let this information slip to the warlock that hates me, it would be nice if you would also let them know that weird hair would be incredibly low on the list of bad things that happened during that period in my life. Also feel free to tell them that Inside Llewyn Davis is a great movie. You can be like, “Take a break from the ouija board for one fucking night. You know how you feel like no one really gets your spells and hexes because individual people are unequipped to respond to art in a way that honors its complexity? That as much as you try to imbue your magic or life or hair with meaning, there’s no predicting how someone besides you will react to it. If they’ll react to it at all. And you know how you’re always saying that even if you try to harness the chaos of existence with your work in an attempt to communicate something complicated and indelible to the outside world, that doesn’t mean anyone wants to hear it? That’s because you’re such a Llewyn.” And then you and the warlock you married, who I’m now imagining is Julian Sands in Warlock (1989), can have a cauldron full of popcorn and enjoy yourselves while I’m stuck in the hex with my Prince Valiant hair, reliving the horrors of 9/11 or whatever.
You Were Never Really Here (2017)
Tom McHenry wrote a really great piece about this right here on MOVIE DIARY 2018 last week, so you should just read that again because I can now confirm that Tom really nailed it.
I’m still not so sure how I felt about this one. I think overall I liked it, but I found it a really frustrating movie. It’s very somber and deliberate, and there are some really great moments that are still sticking with me (the part where that woman with the black eye is just staring at Joaquin on the subway platform, that disjointed song that plays over the CCTV footage, that part where that cop that Joaquin shot grabs his hand before he dies), but there’s a kind of emptiness to it (and I mean that more in the existential sense than I do in the shallow/vapid sense) that has me keeping it at arm’s distance for now. I understand that Lynne Ramsay is making a movie that is specifically against the expectations of catharsis that usually come with these kinds of “aging actor gets into action movies about protecting underage girls” movies, and that’s cool, I like that, I’m just not sure that that idea really spoke to me as much as I was hoping. By withholding that element of resolution/catharsis, I think Ramsay adds a quality of nihilism to the genre that is interesting to think about. I think she did an excellent job of accomplishing what she wanted to with this movie, I just ultimately didn’t connect with it.
It’s always a cop out to describe something as “more of a tone poem,” but that’s exactly where I find myself now that I’m sitting down to try to write about Eraserhead. The movie is not so much about its major plot points as it is about the atmosphere of its world and the feelings that David Lynch is trying to impose and evoke. It’s literally a “Big Mood.” I’m sure there’s a much better way to describe it than “tone poem” or “Big Mood,” so I’m sorry for that, but what I’m getting at is that Eraserhead feels like a landscape painting of a series of the worst, most selfish and craven parts of humanity.
In terms of plot and actual things that happen, it’s pretty simple to explain, I think. Henry has a fucked up looking sick baby, his girlfriend can’t stand looking at this thing so she leaves, and his resentment and anxiety around this thing builds to the point where he kills the baby. But there’s so much more that’s going on. Awful dreams and awful people and awful awful sounds fill this movie with this dreadful, claustrophobic feeling. Henry’s tiny apartment feels like it gets smaller and smaller as it gets filled with his horrible baby’s persistent crying (and then later, it literally gets filled by the baby’s expanding corpse). The look of the movie is nightmarish, the kind of nightmare where things look familiar but are just a bit off in a way that makes everything look more and more off putting and you start wondering if you even knew what things were supposed to look like in the first place, a nightmare about doubting yourself and your perceptions. It’s a really incredible and unsettling experience watching this movie — there just really aren’t many movies like this, where the horror looks so specifically handcrafted with a personality all its own.
A fun sidenote: I saw this for the first time a few years ago with my girlfriend. We were in a long distance relationship at the time and she had come out to visit me. We both like David Lynch and we both had never seen this one, so we watched it together on a date and WOW WHAT A MISTAKE. You probably knew this, or were able to figure it out on your own, but Eraserhead is… not a great date movie.
––THE WIDE WORLD OF MOVIE DIARY 2018––
Check out some more writing from former MOVIE DIARY 2018 special guests!