I’m not going to tell you where the Stepford-wife button is hidden on a woman; I wouldn’t want to deprive these great advertisers of your custom! But at last we can confirm that women are indeed unthinking breeding dolls who you can trick into sleeping with you if you just know the technique to dial into their dumb animal brains. I mean if you just use that seduction technique, they have to do it. Or if you find that blonde and do that one thing? Man, she’ll be like an alligator that you’ve turned on its back. And if they’re not just completely running on animal instinct after you do that thing the ad says—and I mean maybe you’re not the kind of guy who wants his woman to talk—they’ll beg to be your girlfriend, and you can just pick the hottest one!
There are some things that people love for reasons that are hard to justify. EL James books, The Big Bang Theory (the TV show, not the actual Big Bang), Kardashian-West… that sort of thing.
One such that is suddenly and irrationally attracting my ire is an inspirational quote doing the internet rounds.
Though the whole poem probably fits on twitter and is much better as a unit, the bit that is circulating just reads, ‘What if I fall?’ ‘Oh but my darling, what if you fly?’
It is agitating–most specifically in its short form–because it is really terrible advice. Here’s a gif of a guy who is taking this advice:
In the poem, we are listening in on a conversation between (presumably) an awful parent and its child. It’s hard to tell whether these are normally flightless creatures or if there is a reasonable expectation of flight.
Either way, it captures a risk-reward calculation that counter-balances the risk of falling and painful impact (which is pretty certain given gravity) against the hey-who-knows? of unexpectedly mastering flight. Who tests whether they’re able to fly by jumping from a height and hoping the ability kicks in sometime on the way down? Shouldn’t you just, you know, check if you can fly from not-a-height?
People tend to be really bad at working out whether the reward that they’re chasing is worth the risk. All of Twilight depends on bad decision-making in this regard (both for the main character, and for prospective movie-goers). This is the kind of advice that underwrites teen pregnancy and the Darwin Awards and Madea movies.
There are many other excellent possibilities for spin-off aphorisms though.
- What if I catch on fire? Oh but my darling what if you’re actually a phoenix?
- What if I drown? Oh but my darling what if you sprout fins and become queen of Atlantis?
- What if my internet beau is actually a balding rapist? Oh but my darling what if it really is Harry Styles?
Lucy is a movie based on that long-debunked myth that humans only use 10% of their brains, and speculates what someone could do if they used 100%. For a film that purports to be teaching us how the cleverest ever person would see the world, this is a pretty wonky start. If they start with a ‘truth’ that 5 minutes of fact-checking would have overturned, how much should I trust their conclusion?
For a film with such a heavy-weight cast and respected director, it really is the most obvious, surprise-less garbage that I’ve seen in a while. The plot is: Drug gives ordinary girl superpowers. Superpowers make her unstoppable. No one stops her. Movie ends. The most comprehensive and accurate catalogue of its crimes has been provided by Cinema Sins (you should watch that here–warning: lots of implied swearing and spoilers).
But my biggest gripe with the film is the worldview that it tries to pass off as the most enlightened way of seeing the world–the next step in human evolution (‘Lucy’ the human ancestor ape-thing is here a symbol for the first stage of humanity, whereas the Scarlet Johansson Lucy is everything that we could be–the start of a new humanity). And what is this massive step in human enlightenment? Well, it’s 2nd Century gnosticism, basically, or perhaps a variation on one of the many ‘oneness spiritualities’ that the world has seen since.
The basic idea is that our individuality, our separateness, is all an illusion. Deep down we are all part of one basic stuff–whether it is energy, or divine spark, or (in Lucy) just the fact that all matter is made up of atoms and so there are no real boundaries between one thing and another. There Is No Spoon. So if you were clever enough, you would see that you are part of the great Oneness, and you would then have access to all experience and knowledge, and you would eventually merge into Pure Consciousness, as Lucy does in the end. Oh spoiler. Sorry. (I’m not really).
My problem with this is simple. The makers of this film seem to think that they’re cleverer than everyone else to have seen how the world really is (that we are all connected), but they’re really just committing a logical fallacy–the continuum one. The mistake is to assume that because distinctions between things are fuzzy, they do not actually exist at all. In other words, because my body and the air are both collections of atoms, there is really no border between body and air at all–it is all connected.
This is not a new idea (even if the atomic framing of it is comparatively novel), and it is not a function of higher intelligence, as this film cringe-worthily brags. It is a function of that ongoing problem of reconciling the dual human experience of unity and alienation: we are aware that we are connected to one another, to the world, perhaps even to a spiritual, eternal realm, but we also feel unique and special, or (less positively) alone, different, separated.
Gnosticism dealt with this by teaching that difference, baseness and individuality belong in the temporal, material realm, whereas oneness belongs in the spiritual, divine, eternal realm. Other mystical systems tend to have a variation on this theme–enlightenment frees me from the cycle of reincarnation and merges me with nirvana.
In other words, the worldview of this film is not genius. It is the inability to cope with paradox. It cannot find a place for both sides of human experience, so it relegates individuality to the status of ‘illusion’, and assigns oneness the status of ‘divine’.
Christianity gets a hard time these days, being treated as though it is everything else’s dumber cousin, but it has a way more elegant solution to this paradox. The final end of Christianity is not just to be merged into divine oneness and thus to cease to exist as an individual. Rather, Christianity holds that each of us is a created thing (I’m struggling for a word here–a machine? an artwork? a puzzle piece?) with our own quirky shape and our own rough edges, but rather than being merged into generic eternal goo, we are shaped to fit and play a role in a huge, multi-faceted body. In other words, the way in which we all become one is not by losing ourselves, but by being perfectly the part in the whole that we were created to be. And it is with this community of united individuals that God will be in relationship.
So there is a solution to the paradox that resonates with both facets of human experience, and enables us to affirm true unity and true human individuality. I hesitate to say it, but there is divine genius there if it’s anywhere.
At my house, we tend to decide which movies to watch based on the score it gets on metacritic.com. The thinking is that, while you can’t trust a critic, surely you can trust all of the critics bundled together. This should work, but it frequently doesn’t. Metacritic told us that Before the Devil knows you’re Dead should have been a masterpiece (84%), and that Captain America: Winter Soldier would be a treat (70%). Nearly every one of them loves insufferable Mike Leigh movies for no reason I can work out.
And that brings me to Paddington–allegedly a charming British film that the whole family would love, starring the dad from Downton and that lady from Mike Leigh’s Happy-go-lucky. From 38 reviews, metacritic gave it an average score of 77%.
My eldest daughter begged me to let her leave the cinema (though mostly because Nicole Kidman is in it–an impulse I often have in Nicole Kidman movies–and she was a bit scary and was trying to kill the beloved bear). So I happily put my cellphone away and waited outside for the rest of the family to finish watching.
Now, it wasn’t without merit–if you like those films in which blundering, clueless characters keep embarrassingly screwing everything up (the Jar-Jar approach to comedy), it’s great, and it has some social commentary about London and xenophobia that makes it ‘deep’ etc.
But it’s also annoying (sorry Sally Hawkins) and completely self-contradictory.
I have psychological problems of a sort, but I really struggle when a film creates the rules of its universe and then utterly violates them, and Paddington is a chief violator of this sort.
The idea is that an explorer discovers these bears, and finds that they are intelligent, can talk and learn, and are essentially human, so he refuses to shoot one in order to bring a sample back to his funding body. In other words they are so extraordinarily unique and so unlike any other animal that he breaks the usual ‘shoot one’ rule of his society.
Then later, one of these bears turns up in London to find the explorer again, and… everyone treats it like it is a workaday immigrant, as though talking animals are commonplace. The entire film depends on both of these things being true at the same time, when of course they cannot be.
Ah, but it’s a kids’ movie, you may protest. But should our children really be subjected to incomprehensible plot-lines? Should our children be forced to digest Jar-Jar humour? Won’t you think about the children?
Writing is hard, you guys. I dabble in it, but anyone who perseveres to the point of producing something for public consumption should be cut some slack. You have a cool idea, you try to flesh it out to a 90-minute running time, you add a few cliches and formulae–OK and a few more–blunder through a couple of tricky areas, and then release it to the adoring public hoping they’ll be nice.
Will Smith gave this a go and I say good for him. After Earth was almost nice. It gave his boy something to do over the Summer. Great. I just wonder how the army of people who must have read the script managed to yes-man it all the way into theatres without pointing out some pretty fundamental weaknesses. I offer this one:
1. Why are your monsters so impossibly dumb?
In the story, Earth has been Republicanned to the point of toxicity, and people have upped sticks to another planet. Unfortunately some unwelcoming enemies have airdropped horrid beasties called the Ursa into this world in order to exterminate all human life. They are blind, but hunt by smelling fear pheromones. Will Smith has learned that fear is a choice and so he doesn’t smell scared. He can walk up to these giant naked mole-rats undetected and kill them with his high-tech scimitar.
So the army has invested much money and risk trying to teach soldiers to have no fear so that they can kill the Ursa.
This seems incredibly dumb to me. Firstly, just shoot the things. They can be killed by stabs, so they can be killed by guns, tanks, drones, air-to-ground weapons, traps baited with cowardly Rhesus Monkeys… anything.
But even if you have to walk up to them and cut them, I present to you the invincible Ursa warrior:
Suppress the emission of pheromones and Bam! you’re invisible, Will. Avoid stinking up the place with your fear and you’re golden–a fact clearly acknowledged in the film when little Jaden’s sister sticks him in a glass bubble to hide him from a death mole (advice she herself might have followed). You don’t have to control involuntary bodily processes, you can just do what humans are good at and use your brain. Sigh.