18/08/2017

Annabelle: Creation - Structure & Pacing: The Real Tension

Thoughts On: Annabelle: Creation (2017)

We just covered this film, essentially delving into its subtext, or hidden meaning, with spoilers. For that, click here. What we will be concluding now is the critical analysis of this film's formal cinematic design.


Annabelle: Creation is a film that I grew to appreciate quite a bit thanks to the intelligent storytelling that comes out of the script. However, this is a film that is incredibly rife with bad horror tropes. To the film's favour, I wouldn't say that this is any more of an assault on the idea of originality than most average horror films. Moreover, there was a clear attempt in this narrative to embrace the tropes whilst dishing out some genuinely horrific imagery doused in some well-earned atmosphere and tension. There was one thing that really got on my nerves with this narrative, however, and that concerned the atmospheric crescendos that come to a dead stand-still at their peak. To better explain, something strange will happen: a door will open off its own accord. The camera then has us stare straight at it, the character in the scene wary and confused as they close the door and then walk away... it happens again... the door creeeeeeks open... the music starts to swell... the person edges towards the door... the camera has us stare for an age more... the music grows louder and louder... their fingers come to the door handle... small pieces of sound design are emphasised... the character starts to doubt their actions... the music's coming to its peak... something is gonna happen--BANG. Another door slams shut, all tension and horror are gone as the person pushes the door and runs off. Whilst this exact scene doesn't exist in Annabelle, you see this paradigm repeat itself again and again and again and again throughout this narrative. Even when supernatural beings actually start chasing characters, the tension will continue to build, only for--BANG--a door to shut and the problem be done with.

This is so incredibly frustrating as this movie's slow pacing never goes anywhere and all the built potential of atmosphere and tone add up to nothing. This is actually something that I began thinking about when sitting through the trailer for the up-and-coming It before this movie started. (Trailer watching is a practice I try to avoid). The trailer for the King adaptation seems to imply prolonged scenes in which children interact with clowns, meaning highly tense scenes that don't end abruptly with false scares or loud noises. Whilst I have no faith in trailers at all, I began to think of a movie that had us stay in a horrifying situation that played out to its full extreme. The perfect movie in this regard would then start with a door opening and then, without jumping through time or having any unnecessary breaks, horror just flowing from the screen in a constant crescendo until the final climax in which everyone's nails are bitten clean to the bone as they lie several feet from the edges of their seats.

With this unrealistic ideal movie in mind, I began to search my memory for examples of already-existing films that do force their characters to stay in a moment, letting the horror play through to its very extreme. After finding a few sparse and loose examples, like REC, The Exorcist and The Shining, I suddenly realised something: there is a whole genre in which this is the goal. This genre is commonly referred to as exploitation. We've talked about exploitation and video nasties (the British-named counterpart) before. In case you don't know what these films are though, we'll define them quickly. You can skip this next paragraph if you already know...

Exploitation films emerged from New Hollywood in the late 1950s and evolved across the 60s and 70s, coming to a dead end around the early 80s. These movies are the product of filmmakers that took advantage of the new cencorship infrastructure in Hollywood as well as the changing economic environment - which was far more accepting of independent films that came from outside of the big studios. Many exploitation films are horrors that focus on one idea to the point that it is ridiculous - and this is a kind of game that the audience and filmmakers play. However, whilst almost all exploitation films are highly sexual, violent, torturous and grotesque (seemingly with the goal of the filmmakers being arrested for obscenity, animal cruelty or after being accused of murder) some are also heavily racial (Blaxploitation for example), and so they can all be characterised by a focus on the lewd and the socially unacceptable. Video nasties serve as a cousin to this genre of film as they are a breed of exploitation films that reached markets through the new VHS technology that emerged from the 70s.

Exploitation films such as Cannibal Holocaust, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Last House On The Left and Pink Flamingos all have a sadistic fixation with prolonging scenes, or ensuring we see the most extremely gratuitous and tortuous things occur as quick as possible. Are these the height of my ideal horror cinema? I don't think so. Whilst exploitation films often take things to their extreme, milking a concept for all it has, they lack technical prowess in regards to the writing; they lack tension and atmosphere.

What then seems to be the solution here is a meeting of the exploitation film and the high-end modern horror film; the combination of atmosphere and tone with an exploitative fixation on horror. But, this solution, whilst it's a nice idea and piece of motivation, comes with many of its own problems. Where is the line between prolonging tense scenes and exploiting concepts, reducing them to absurdist gore-porn?

This is a very difficult question to answer as there's one lesson that Spielberg seems to have taught most modern filmmakers: don't show the shark until you absolutely have to. Jaws works because the imagination can often be stronger than reality; a horrific thing not seen can be far more terrifying than something horrific played out right before your eyes. This is because potential, the unexpected and possibility are harder topics to grasp and comes to terms with than what is before you. Knowing this, filmmakers imply horror instead of striving to think up the most horrific images like those apart of the exploitation movement did. Thus, when we consider the pacing and structural issues of dud and anti-climatic horror scenes in movies such as Annabelle: Creation, there develops a tension in these scenes beyond the anxiety we may be imbued with as we wait for a jump scare. This tension is between the sophisticated soft-core horror and the hardcore, balls-to-the-wall, all-on-show exploitation horror. As a result, the line between these two contrary approaches to is called absurdity. Some filmmakers know how to embrace absurdity, Wes Craven and Sam Raimi are pretty brilliant at this, whilst some are better at keeping away from it, James Wan and David Sandberg seem to be quite good at this. There doesn't seem to be anyone, at least, no one who comes to mind, who can negate absurdity and push their horror scenes to their utmost extreme, drawing every ounce of terror out of them. This leaves us in a place that's not too better to that which we started at.

I'll then have to leave with a few open questions to you. Can you think of any horror movies that take their scenes to their utmost extreme without becoming ridiculous and before having to cut things short with a door slamming or a false scare? Do you think the line between exploitation and atmospheric, jump-scare horrors is insurmountable? How do you think this element of filmmaking could be improved upon?






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Annabelle: Creation - The Horrifying Toy Doll

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17/08/2017

Annabelle: Creation - The Horrifying Toy Doll

Thoughts On: Annabelle: Creation (2017)

A group of displaced orphans move into a household haunted by tragedy.


Quite inadvertently, I've seen every single one of the Conjuring Universe films. Whilst I don't think this series is particularly good or bad, much like the Paranormal Activity films, they just seem to find themselves in front of me. The weakest Conjuring film, in my view, was certainly Annabelle as it was so forgettable. So, going into this movie, I wasn't expecting much at all. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised by a well-constructed and intelligent picture. There are major downfalls in this film's design however. We will not get into the most significant of these, but, I will say that what initially brings this movie down is its bland characters - not one of them are particularly interesting or emotionally engaging. This is something that I believe most people will pick up on, and so will be the biggest hurdle to enjoying this narrative. That said, the scares, whilst predictable and heavily reliant on the sound design alone, mostly work to a satisfactory degree it seems - my girlfriend jumped quite a bit. What's more, the direction is pretty flawless. Sandberg, quite like Wan with the first Conjuring, uses his camera in the way that seemingly all horror movie directors would love to if they had a big enough budget; he often has us float through, above and across the sets, a ghost like Kubrick's camera in The Shining, but with a distinguished modern aesthetic. However, this can draw too much attention to itself at times as the camera movement is often unmotivated, yet not impressive enough to really justify itself. But, this isn't overwhelmingly distracting and, especially by the mid-point, this film ultimately finds its footing and works pretty well.

The other strengths of Annabelle concern its subtext - and this is the element that really made this movie worthwhile for me. To delve into this, be warned, because we will be using...

**SPOILERS**

With this second Annabelle film, Dauberman (writer) constructs a pretty expressive narrative about sisterhood, femininity and the dynamics of a female social group. He does this with the use of the Annabelle doll and the generationally diverse cast of women. A question we must ask to understand how this group functions is: why are toy dolls anything from lovable to pleasant to weird to creepy to horrifying?

As many people may already know, there is a theory that places particularly creepy human representatives (like dolls and robots) into an "uncanny valley".


This is a very interesting tool with which you can understand horror movies, but sticking with Annabelle, it's clear that the doll, because it is constructed so well, but not well enough, fits quite snugly into the uncanny valley. However, realism isn't the only determining factor of its creepiness in my view - and this film attempts to emphasise this. There is an emotional connection that people, girls especially, can develop with their dolls (baby dolls in particularly). This is because, once they hit a certain age of maturity, girls' biological functions as well as surrounding social mechanisms motivate them towards empathy, care and compassion for young humans. When this emotional symbol of emotional attachment - the toy doll - is pushed down the uncanny valley, the after-effects are pretty poignant - hence a plethora of Chucky-like movies that have been made over time. Dauberman seems to be somewhat conscious of this concept and so uses the symbol of Annabelle to test his group of females with age-old tropes of horror.

As has been made fun of time and time again with spoof movies that make use of virgin teens alone surviving the killer/monster of a given movie, horror is classically pretty puritanical in its often unforgiving application of religious themes. There are then heavy motifs throughout the horror genre of women being punished, tested and used as cautionary tales of sin. Whilst many will find this distasteful, I believe that this can have a significant place in a horror film if used well. Relating this to the film at hand, not only does Dauberman punish his corrupted female characters in Annabelle: Creation, but he does so for the sake of building his story.

So, to begin the dissection, there are three females in this story that are really put on trial. They are the mother, who lost her daughter and, with her husband, used satanic forces to bring her spirit to life again; one of the oldest orphans, Nancy, who pushes around and bullies (passive-aggressively) her younger house mates; and, finally, one of our main protagonists, Janice, who has broken her leg and fears being treated differently by her friends because of the injury. It is the devil that resides within Annabelle's (the dead daughter's) doll that is used to punish all of these women. Because they express no faith - as is made clear by Sister Charlotte - these three figures are then susceptible to the whims, and in turn the punishment, of the devil. To provide a secular explanation, because these figures hold no concept of a higher, transcendent (of basic understanding) and archetypal good that they remain loyal to, they leave in themselves a sympathy towards the bad - which is a slippery path towards self-destruction. Further contextualising this, however, is the use of a feminine symbol: the Annabelle doll. This uncannily horrifying doll is then representative of these women coming into conflict with, or neglecting, their female values.

We see this paradigm quite clearly with the parents of the dead Annabelle. They chose not to accept the death of their little girl and instead fixate on the impossible. By neglecting a trust in a higher ideal of goodness, they, with vanity, turn away from a positive perspective to wallow in their sorrows by bringing their daughter 'back to life'. The mistake that this is, is made clear by the fact that the devil (ultimate darkness) inhabits their daughter and later takes the mother's eye - her perspective - a wound she masks with a portion of a doll's face (which is not too different from what she does by remembering her daughter through her doll). When the parents attempt to provide penance - which is reversing their previous negative actions by trying to move past their daughter's death and by opening their home to a group of orphans - they come into conflict with themselves. We see this through the sinister and uninviting atmosphere captured by the 'welcome' the girls receive; the parents are struggling to move on - the evil, possessed doll still lingers in their home - and this eventually kills them.

It is Janice who exploits this weakness in the couple by going into Annabelle's room. She knows that this is socially wrong (a sin) and so she is possessed - possibly by the parent's own negative attachment to their dead daughter. However, this is something that is never expressed too clearly, which could have easily been done through the parents being put in a trance of sorts by the possessed Janice, which in turn indicates that Dauberman doesn't have a full grip on his subtext. Nonetheless, Janice's punishment through the doll seems to be two-fold. Not only is she punished for committing a sin, but she also seems to act with too much pride; like the parents, she doesn't want to accept help in her weakened state, so instead isolates herself. Again, this idea isn't expressed very well as Janice's actions around this element of story are portrayed as rational, not irrational. But, despite this weak element of writing, it is clear that Janice's conflict concerns obeying authority and establishing/maintaining sisterhood. By failing in both of these regards (ignoring her elders and losing her friend) she is eventually consumed by the doll.

Concerning the hostile atmosphere in the house that the orphaned girls move into, we come to the bully, Nancy. She, much like the scarecrow from which the devil that kills her rises from, puts up a malevolent facade as a form of defence. Nancy is not scaring birds away from crops, however. She is, probably out of self-defence, attacking the younger girls - and often as to project her own 'maturity'. An example of this would be her mistreating Janice's friend, sending her off to play a game of hide-and-seek which she never engages in, only so that she could 'talk about boys'. This minor act of obnoxiousness becomes ever more pertinent when she constantly scares the other girls into mistrusting the new house in which they live. As mentioned, this contributes to the already tense atmosphere and so puts further pressure on the still-mourning parents.

As could be expected, this explodes with all of these characters being seriously hurt or killed, but the most compassionate, naive and innocent surviving the coming of the devil. What this transforms this narrative into is a tragic parable about a predominantly female social group failing to unite under an symbolic idea of creation. Creation is an attribute linked heavily to women, after all, we all have mothers without which we couldn't exist. This idea is expressed through these female figures, which have almost all lost either mothers or children, all coming into conflict through the loss of a child as well as biological maturity. This may stem from the fact that they've all forgotten how to properly play with dolls. Considering this idea metaphorically, what I mean to suggest here is that the social mechanisms (like a toy doll) that motivate women to be highly sociable, compassionate and caring - something that would be referred to as archetypal femininity - have been put under much pressure with seemingly irreconcilable after-effects. Again, this idea could have been better expressed with other dolls playing larger parts in this narrative - maybe the older girls bully the younger ones by stealing and throwing away their dolls whilst calling them weird or childish. However, the fact that so much of this clear subtextual conflict revolves around the doll already speaks volumes about each of these characters and their function in this narrative.

To come towards a conclusion, what Annabelle: Creation is quite clearly about puts emphasis on Creation. This is a movie about girls and women coming into conflict with their own femininity and in turn an idea of sisterhood. What this will then make clear is the abstract ending. Why does Janice grow up calling herself Annabelle? It seems that the girls throwing away the doll in the end was not a good thing; they never truly embraced their inner conflicts despite confronting them. What that would suggest is that maybe Janice was exiled from this group and was sent to another orphanage where she grew up with inner demons and insurmountable psychological torment. This was around the important age of 12 - which is about the point at which puberty will start for most young people. For the fact that all of these conflicts arise in the house following a 12 year period after Annabelle dies further implies that this movie is heavily focused on creation, loss and growth as attached to females coming under much duress. Interestingly, 12 years after Janice-turned-Annabelle is adopted, she has a nightmare about killing her parents as her boyfriend sleeps next to her. Again, the mid-20s are another tuning point in people's lives as this is where they may begin to think about starting a family - a significant point of maturation at which conflict can, again, arise, leaving the final scene of this narrative the last beat if a parabolic tragedy concerning women who can create life and must learn how to sustain it (a child; a doll) through their social practices. All of these conflicts, as said, concern sisterhood and an idea of these women's sense of feminine self. The fact that "creation" is then the abstract focus of this narrative through the doll then adds a very strong layer of intelligence to this story. The girls in this story all suffer because they do not come together and also show little understanding of, and sympathy for, the highest feminine virtues. This is done through disrespecting Annabelle's mother and one another which, all too soon, devolves into chaos.

With all of that said, it should be recognised that, whilst this is a very intelligent script, Dauberman doesn't demonstrate a full control of this subtext and so leaves this story lacking in certain respects. Ultimately, I would then say that Annabelle: Creation is an above-average horror film with quite a few faults. But, as said at the top of this post, the most significant of these issues haven't been brought into the light. We will then do this in another post on pacing and structure. But, for now I'll leave you with this question: What do you think of Annabelle: Creation and all we've covered today?






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Tangled - Classical Essence?

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16/08/2017

Tangled - Classical Essence?

Quick Thoughts: Tangled (2010)


A stolen princess with magical hair dreams of leaving her tower.


Tangled is Disney's fast and loose retelling of the classical tale of Rapunzel. For the fact that this is so far removed from the original tale, much of the archetypal subtext has been lost and replaced by a rather basic adventure full of tropes and predictability, and not much depth. If we were to delve into the subtext of this film we would only be re-tracing ground, though with a fair degree of futility, we've covered in much detail recently when exploring parent-children relationships and dreams. (For more on this, click here). In fact, when we compare Tangled to films such as Coraline, or even Disney's 1991 Beauty And The Beast, both of which this is quite similar to, Tangled is, story-wise, quite mundane. This is something that I didn't really foresee when initially planning this series well over a year ago.

I have always enjoyed Tangled, and still do, even after seeing this film dozens and dozens of times - I have young sisters, so this is nothing close to an exaggeration, believe me. I've always liked Tangled for its intricate animation and projection of characters, in particularly, Mother Gothel during the first act and in the 'Mother Knows Best" sequence (which is undoubtedly the best part of the entire film in my opinion). But, because, much like the majority of the best Disney films, Tangled holds up under a ridiculous amount of re-watches, I assumed that, when the time came, I'd have quite a bit to say about it. This is not really a position I find myself in. Whilst this is a truly gorgeous movie with great characters bursting with personality, the intention with Tangled, as said by the filmmakers, was to transpose the feel and aesthetics of the old Disney films - such as Cinderella and Pinocchio - into a CG world. Put straight, despite clear inspiration and a return to the princess figure, the essence of these films, both stylistically and atmospherically, is lost on Tangled. Whilst I speak from a bias towards the classics, Tangled doesn't feel like a true Disney film like even the recent Treasure Planet and Lilo & Stitch did. At best, this feels like a rather fantastical CG blend of a 50s Hollywood musical and a romance such as Roman Holiday. This has a lot to do with the direction; the 'camera' here functions nothing like it does in classical animated films, instead resembles that of a live action movie. Again, I really appreciate this and think it works for this narrative - though this doesn't have it contend with the best that Disney has offered.

What Tangled represents, to me, is something that, in 2010, was a long-time-coming. Whilst Disney made major strides away from their classical style in the 1960s with 101 Dalmatians and continued this through the 80s and 90s with the gradual implementation of CGI, it was after a run of CGI films that eventually lead up to Tangled that Disney, maybe inadvertently, made a resounding statement, saying that the classical style is finally, truly and completely a lost art form. With films such as Mulan and Lilo & Stitch, this idea could be looked past as the old, yet morphed, Disney magic still resides within these narratives. This magic is not present in Tangled; because of the irreconcilable distance aesthetically and tonally put to screen with this film, Disney adopted much of what Pixar does best in terms of style, and so have very clearly stepped into a new era.

This shift, if we consider the films we skipped past for the series, films such as Chicken Little, The Wild, Meet The Robinsons and Bolt, has some rather unattractive and forgettable attributes, but, thinking ahead to Wreck It Ralph, also has much promise. However, this will be something that we will have to explore further in later posts. To bring things towards an end, I'll emphasise that Tangled is a film that I really enjoy, but don't see much substance in thanks to a very basic narrative that is solely reliant on characters. These are just my thoughts though. What do you think of Tangled, especially considering its place in the wider catalogue of Disney films?

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Abouna - Irresponsibility

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Abouna - Irresponsibility

Quick Thoughts: Abouna (Our Father, 2002)


Made by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, this is the Chadian film of the series.


I'm not sure why - I think it's just because I saw this film at the right time - but, Abouna had a strong impact on me. From the very start, themes of responsibility jumped off of the screen and mixed perfectly with motifs of abandonment, isolation and confusion. In such, we follow our two forsaken main characters, whose father walks out on them and mother sends them to a Koranic school to be disciplined, as they trudge through events that seem far beyond their experience, age and depth. They then have to confront the meaninglessness that life can present when childhood structures are suddenly ripped from underneath them - simple structures like daily routines, but also more complex events like moving schools and watching your family dissolve around you. Without drowning in the structureless landscape that I could only imagine a young teenager would perceive when they look out into the world having endured much of the events depicted in this film, our main characters become the epicentre of a narrative based on strife as a force that would pressure many people into a foetal position in which they would forever remain--but also a force that many manage to stare in the face and simultaneously engage life as it seems we all must do.

The warm cinematography and use of colour throughout this film overlay this narrative with a sense of instantaneous nostalgia and melancholy, making visceral the pertinent themes of childhood. And the technicalities of this film are made all the more impressive knowing the strange shooting schedule: the footage from the end of every day of shooting would have to be sent over 2500 miles to France from Chad. After the film was processed and the crew was told that the footage was good, several days after they had sent it, they could begin shooting another day.

Somehow managing this schedule, somehow putting to screen a well-directed and good-looking movie with a highly affecting and poignant story at its heart, Haroun has clearly done something lasting and spectacular with Abouna. I would highly recommend anyone even slightly intrigued find and watch this film.

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The City Of Lost Children - Creation In Vain

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15/08/2017

The City Of Lost Children - Creation In Vain

Thoughts On: The City Of Lost Children (La Cité des Enfants Perdus, 1995)

A strong-man circus performer's adopted brother is stolen by an organisation who give children to an evil scientist that steals their dreams.


The City Of Lost Children is a film we recently, and briefly, covered without spoilers. To see this, click here. Today we will be exploring the narrative of The City Of Lost Children with spoilers, so, if you've not seen it, you've been warned.

Jeunet and Caro's 1995 film is a fairy that is essentially about vanity and its effects on children. The vanity that is referenced in this narrative isn't, however, a narcissistic obsession with one's own image. Instead, an indulgence in one's own existential and material being. Picking up on this, but not focusing on it, some theorists have seen The City Of Lost Children as a critique and exploration of capitalism; both its positive and negative sides. Whilst I see this as a layer and a valid interpretation of this narrative, I think the heart of The City Of Lost Children is certainly the theme of family, or rather, a lack of positive familial groups. And in focusing on this element of the narrative, it becomes increasingly evident that father figures in particular are being assessed and critiqued throughout this story.

There are two primary father figures in The City Of Lost Children: One and The Scientist. Whilst One is a compassionate father, The Scientist is a vain one. We come to understand this through the fact that One is one of the clear sacrificial heroes of this narrative (alongside Miette) whilst The Scientist is the figure that has sparked the sinister network that sprawls across the nearby city. This web of selfish malevolence was then ignited by The Scientist's four life-creating experiments. First was a beautiful princess, who he constructed to be his wife. Something went wrong with the genetic building of Martha, however, and she emerged from the experiment disfigured - a dwarf. Next, The Scientist cloned himself, creating his identical sons - but they too weren't perfect; they all fall asleep without a moment's notice. After this, The Scientist wanted someone to talk to and so he created a brain in a jar. He strikes out again though; the brain constantly suffers from migraines. Focusing on his masterpiece, not so much his shortcomings, he finally creates a scientist more brilliant than himself, Krank, who cannot dream and so ages unnaturally, then eventually becomes corrupted and evil. After destroying his father, The Scientist, with his mother (or at least, this is what they aimed to do), Krank then attempts to steal his youth back by extracting the dreams from innocent children in the nearby city.

What this summary would begin to imply is an archetypal story of a 'perfect' creation being corrupted - something that is seen in differing lights within narratives such as Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Terminator and Tron. These narratives seem so archetypal as human beings understand that, with science, we have great potential and limitless power, but simultaneously recognise that some people can't even keep a simple house plant alive for more than a month. So, should people, all of us in general, who can prove themselves to be so naive and incapable be granted such power? This is the question that many of these narratives begin asking, but, the most complex actually bypass this kind of questioning as, upon consideration, it is actually a terrible thing to ask. This is because the question proposes a problem with one of two polar options that prove to solve nothing. The dialogue surrounding such a question would then be:

Should we be granted such power?
Yes.
Well, let us continue on our current path just as we are.

Or:

Should be be granted such power?
No.
Well, let us sit here and never change and just rot.

Simple answers provide simple solutions; if the answer is too simple, the solution will fail. Understanding this, better writers will not ask these questions, instead, they will ask something along the lines of: how do we change so that we align ourselves on the path towards being able to handle such power, such as the A.I in Terminator or Tron, or the biological and chemical advances in films such as Frankenstein and The Invisible Man? This is, self-evidently, a far more useful question and one that is asked just as such, or with an opposing inflection: what will happen if we don't change and still take this power? And such is the common approach seen in films such as Terminator. The City Of Lost Children explores both sides of this coin, asking what happens if people do not change as well as depicting a manner in which people can change.

We then come back to the father figure dichotomy drawn up between The Scientist and One. Whilst One shows no real self-obsession at any point in this narrative, only a dedication to his 'little brother and sister', The Scientist is implied to have fallen in love with his own potential and, instead of using his life-creating abilities to aid other people, he served himself. One thing I find interesting about how he is depicted to have made the wrong decision here is the implication of genetics. Just like nature seemingly has controls in place so that we cannot successfully reproduce ourselves or with family, there seems to be a wall put in place when The Scientist attempts to clone himself and, using unknown material, create Martha his wife, Ivan the brain and Krank. And there is an appeal to a natural order throughout this movie; most clearly, through the theme of coincidence. Jeunet playfully uses this in many of his films, often as a romantic means of implying fate or a way things were supposed to be. This is true of The City of Lost Children. There are many ludicrous plot-points throughout this narrative that are emphasised to be seen precisely as such, and the clearest examples of this would be the scene in which Miette is saved from drowning by The Scientist, the sequence in which the twins attempt to assassinate One and Miette as well as the very end with the bird perching on the detonator. Whilst these are playful means of building a unique story, they also serve the purpose of implying a natural or guided fate that exists in the this story's world - which has heavy links to the existential themes of this narrative. In such, what is revealed both through elements like the coincidental opening and the many beats of this narrative that are manufactured to bring it towards a clearly predestined end, is the manner in which The Scientist is initially corrupt; he blindly and disrespectfully (disrespectful of consequence) assumes he is right and good enough, in himself, to follow a path towards great power.

It's at this point that we could extrapolate The Scientist as either a basic father figure or an archetype of something greater. In such, we could choose to see The Scientist as a figure tantamount to a world-leading force, and so in turn see the use of him as a critique of people in power; those who run countries and the economy. And it's through this line of thought that you arrive at the conclusion that this is a film about the good and the bad of capitalism, or even people in high places of power and influence. Again, I think this is a valid interpretation of this narrative, but I can't help but recognise the appeal to the average person confronting and then walking away from The Scientist, or this archetype of power. If Miette and One took over The Scientist's lab in the end, then this film would follow the archetypal structure of something such as Mad Max: Fury Road, in which minorities, or representatives of the downtrodden masses, reclaim power. With the pair escaping The Scientist there seems to be an appeal to the re-establishment of something resembling a basic family structure; an idea that doesn't have so much to do with grander themes of capitalism and governmental power even though they may be partially featured in this narrative. With the ending, it then seems to be confirmed that this is a film about family and father figures' impact on children.

Whilst we have discussed much about the father figures, we haven't yet touched on the children. These would be the many creations of The Scientist and then One's little brother and sister, Miette and Denree. It is quite clear why The Scientist's creations are corrupt and, to varying degrees, broken. However, what is it that One represents that is so good for Miette and Denree? My favourite implication of this narrative answers this question: you have to, to a certain degree, be a child to raise an adult. This is a very profound notion that not only suggests that an adult, a parental figure, needs to be understanding of a child (and so must see themself as one), but that they must assume that they are just as naive as their children are at times and that they, one day, will be cared for (hopefully) by their children. This in turn implies that, whilst adults should not act like children - and such is suggested with One's strength and his mature sense of loyalty and compassion as he searches for and protects his siblings - they should be able to see eye-to-eye with a child as a means of giving them the tools to outgrow themselves. This is a topic that we delved into when looking at Coraline. Both parents and children have the potential to descend into an Oedipal relationship where the child and parent are too attached to one another for their own good and to a degree that inhibits their growth as people. If parents do not allow their children to outgrow them, their maturation will then be stunted - and quite possibly chronically. Similarly, an adult too will become a monster of sorts; something like the Other Mother from Coraline, or The Scientist in this narrative who welcomes his own destruction by loving himself (by proxy, his creations) too much.

The connection between children and father figures in this narrative is all predicated on the idea of compassion. Compassion itself is a difficult idea as it doesn't just mean caring for someone, nor does it mean giving yourself to another person out of charity. If compassion is to be an action, not just a feeling of pity that someone does nothing but sit in, then compassion should not be thought of as a selfless ideal. In fact, selflessness is, in my opinion, a terrible idea on two major fronts. Firstly, to be selfless, you must entirely sacrifice yourself to someone else. This, in a way, is not a terrible idea as sacrifice and compromise are major tenants of a functional society. However, if you completely give yourself to someone else, you put yourself in a dangerous position. You not only rely on them to give themself to you entirely too, but you run the risk of developing an over-dependent relationship that, like the parent-child Oedipal relationship, is detrimental for all involved - thus a little spark of independence is necessary for all relationships (which, funnily, the Octopus twins in this narrative do not have). Second to these issues, however, selflessness is, like perfection, an impossible thing to achieve. Beyond dying for someone, people know that, even if it is unlikely that they will get something in return, that they are doing something for something - immaterial, emotional or internally self-fulfilling - in return. To get slightly abstract and to solidify this proposal, people may even die for another person, or, knowing full-well that an action is bad for their health and will go completely unrecognised, will still sacrifice something, because they have higher ideals or hopes such as, or tantamount to, heaven; in death, they assume they will be rewarded. So, on top of selflessness being a terrible idea if considered too seriously (as said, sacrifice is still immeasurably important), it is technically impossible for a healthy human commit to, let alone sustain under. After all, the subtext is built into the word, "selfless": it is impossible to, or even if it is, I doubt we want to, lose our individual sense of self.

To reconcile ideas of compassion, selflessness and sacrifice, people have to come to terms with a set of social exchanges. And what this again expands upon is the Oedipal relationship. But, without returning to this idea yet, understanding the function of compassion as a tool with which you engage the world and people in an exchange of good deeds, we can see why vanity is foundationally wrong. This idea, vanity as an ultimate form of corruption, seems to be a very old. We see this through the phrase "all in vain". This means that something was pointless, but "vain" itself means having an (excessively) high opinion of yourself. Why do we as a society that use this phrase - even without thinking deeply into it - attribute narcissism with pointlessness? The answer to this question rests in the figure of The Scientist. He creates his 'family' from himself; he does not find a woman to love and begin a family with. He concocts these things alone in his lab. This is an ultimate form of vanity as he attempts to create a perpetual cycle of social exchange within himself; his perfect creations serve him only without him having to serve them; he is asking them to be selfless. But, if they are human, they cannot be selfless and existentially bound to their creator as an emotional slave built for one purpose. This is why the mother and eldest son kill their father/husband. This is why creations turn on their corrupt and imperfect creators; they refuse the slave-like or Oedipal relationship that is predicated on poisonous selflessness.

With that established, however, we could falsely deduce the idea that anyone who creates something did so in vain and must be destroyed by their son/daughter. To a certain extent, this phenomena is metaphorically true; children do not want to be their parents and so their most crucial stages of maturity are defined by rebellion. Children then must transcend and kill off all that they do not like, or, rather, all that is not good, about their parents whilst absorbing all that is good into their own self. With that said, the literal killing of one's parents shouldn't happen - and this is usually because, to put it starkly, parents don't often deserve to be murdered - good parents especially. One is an example of this: he is a good parental figure that doesn't deserve to be murdered (unlike The Scientist who is allowed to die - there is a notable difference between letting someone die and killing them, however). As alluded to, what makes One a good father figure is compassion, is his ability to both look after and appear as a child to Miette and Dunree. He then, unlike The Scientist, engages in a positive social exchange with his adopted siblings instead of setting up a vain positive feedback loop which inevitably will blow a fuse. And that is the last crucial detail of the cautionary tale that The Scientist represents: setting up that positive feedback loop is so wrong because it is vain; because it yields no positive product (emotional and material) that is distributed into society - The Scientist is serving himself alone and in vain.

Because The Scientist demonstrates no sense of compassion, self-sacrifice and responsibility, his creations then not only turn on him, but start to destroy the world as an extension of his own selfishness. This is exactly why Krank steals children's dreams which fuels the Octopus' thief-turned-slave orphanage organisation. What's more, Krank's corruption fuels the religious turmoil in the city - the organisation that want to steal everyone's sight and sacrifice themselves to God. These people are all corrupt and, by working selfishly - sometimes pretending to be selfless - and in vain, enact numerous positive feedback loops of devastation and malevolence throughout society. Thus, the whole city slowly descends into chaos. This is a phenomena - innocuous individual actions contributing to the downfall of a nation - that historians and theorists use to describe how Nazi Germany and Communist Russia were established and became so murderously corrupt; all it takes is the lightest tip of the first individual domino. A figure that is then particularly divisive, yet seemingly practical and purposefully placed into this narrative, is the flea circus ringmaster who's fleas injected people with a serum that has them turn on one another. He seems to play a pivotal role in letting the corrupt destroy themselves so that the righteous may prevail.

The final message of this film, having established these ideas of corruption, compassion and the significance of father figures, then sees Krank get exactly what he wants and Miette grow up during their final confrontation in the dream machine. Krank, who, like Coraline, over indulges in dreams and childhood, is made a child whose evil and vain positive feedback loop keeps him perpetually immature. Added to this, Miette, who not only finds and establishes a loving relationship with One, but is willing to sacrifice herself for it, then out-grows Krank and, despite his intellect, outsmarts him. What this then suggests is that good parents, good parental figures, give birth not only to good children, but children who will transcend their being, whilst corrupt, vain parental figures lay the tracks for the possible destruction of everything. This is why, in the end, seeing all of his papers raining aflame around him, that The Scientist suddenly doesn't want to die; he is reminded of who he was and seemingly falls in love with his own creations again; he cannot, and does not, change himself, only hides away from society and the past. A natural order then finalises his movement towards destruction with the bird perching on the detonator. What can be said of his children after this, who escape the explosion in the boat, is unknown. Maybe this is a positive caveat; maybe they will be good men despite their father's corruption. What is not ambiguous, however, is the journey that One, Miette and Dunree have established; it is one, thanks to its basis in rational compassion, that will mature along a path towards a higher place - a place that is hopefully not one of lost children searching for good parental figures to guide them.

It's this profound and intricate subtext - which has more elements to it than what we've covered - that really seals The City Of Lost Children as a great film in my view. However, these are just my thoughts. Have you seen The City Of Lost Children? What do you think about all we've covered, and maybe skipped over, today?







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