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‘A Quiet Place’: genius or ungenius?

30 Aug


A Quiet Place has been getting rave reviews from some and “But hang on?” reviews from others.

I can see where the positive reviewers are coming from. It is a film that contains very little dialogue on account of the predicament the world is in. (All the chatty extroverts were eaten by noise-sensitive monsters about 400 days before the time this film is set.) The storytelling relies on physical acting and contextual clues rather than verbal exposition. It is tense and gripping. It doesn’t pull punches.

I am annoyingly demanding of the films I watch, and even I thoroughly enjoyed it (despite its flaws) and would recommend that you watch it immediately.

And I mean immediately because there’s no going back once you read on. I plan to spoil the film for you forever.

OK, now that you’ve watched it…

But Hang On?

Like After Earth before it, this film features creatures that are almost impervious to human weaponry, almost supernaturally effective killers, but also massively flawed. These ones can’t see anything (they seem to echolocate like bats, which I guess is how they don’t sprint into trees), but they have phenomenal hearing. Any sound louder than a whisper will alert them to your presence.

But like After Earth before it, this is where the majority of the problems lie. Here are just some of them.

1. With so much danger, why let your youngest child walk at the back? Unsupervised. Perhaps he farts or skins his knee. What then? If you’re so scared of noise that you build and maintain sand pathways all the way to town, why are you so complacent that you’d leave a three-year-old lagging 50m back?

Not pictured: youngest still miles further back

2. Why did the whole family make the dangerous trip at all? They’re carrying the older kid because he’s that sick, but it seems as though all they needed were some meds for the lad. It’s a one-person job. Why drag the sickling and two other kids who are a liability when one adult could simply have stayed home with them?

3. I know you lost your kid and all, but this is only 18 months into the crisis. You couldn’t maybe have got some birth control from that pharmacy and held off having another child for a couple of years? Maybe a solution presents itself and you could have a kid safely? Babies are nothing if not noisy.

4. If you snag your dress on something pointy sticking out of the floor, stop and check what it is. Perhaps it’s a nail that you’re going to stand on at an inopportune time. You’re all barefoot (because noise), so surely foot health ought to be much more of a priority?

5. The movie should be called a noisy place, because the film itself acknowledges that you’re safe around lots of noise. Being in a quiet place is the worst possible idea. Build a house at the waterfall, guys!

6. Even if you must live in a quiet place, perhaps:

  • Get proper soundproofing.
  • Monster-proof your property. The monster could tear out of a silo, but not (quickly) into the top of their pick-up truck. So maybe don’t live in a house made of matchsticks.
  • Live off the ground and pull up the ladder.
  • Make your quiet place a noisy place by setting up a perimeter of sound systems that are playing dubstep or monster-food noises. Sleep with earplugs.

7. In terms of defeating these monsters, again, maybe trying to be quiet isn’t the trick. You’ve had 450 days to think this over. Perhaps at least some of these ideas might have occurred to someone:

  • Don’t bring squishy dad-bods to an armoured monster fight. Stay in the tank and machine-gun them to bits.

OK, but why, military? You’re literally fighting a speedy medieval knight.

A medieval knight who keeps taking his helmet off.

  • They are indiscriminately attracted to noise, so lure them to a tower that they can’t climb and shoot them in their stupid blind faces.
  • Cover a tasty animal with remotely detonated explosives and when they show their gooey face parts explode the food-bomb.
  • Lure them into a deep concrete pit and then charge an entrance fee for people to come and play polka music at them or pelt them with cat bells.

In short, there seem to be a lot of places these monsters couldn’t get into and from which a large number of Americans could finally put their assault rifles to good use. Waiting for your dumb kid to knock over a lantern and get the whole family killed is not a plan.


Because women are like dumb animals really

9 Jun


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!

No seriously, falling is bad.

30 Jul

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 the Movie

20 Apr

lucymovieLucy 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? Pffft. That's that thing about a baby that rises from the dead? Yeah man, I'm done with stupid myths.

Christianity? Pffft. That’s that thing about a baby that rises from the dead? Yeah man, I’m done with stupid myths.

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.

Just one question for Will Smith’s ‘After Earth’

4 Nov

This movie is real. Watching it is a choice.

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?

MOMMM?? Where are my socks?

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.