Friday, December 22, 2017

What Is Remembered: Some Thoughts on The Last Jedi

(This post discusses the plot of The Last Jedi in detail.)

I still remember watching the ending of "The Force Awakens" for the first time. Crying until salt tracks dried on my face as Rey (Daisy Ridley) held out the lightsaber to long missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and the camera began to circle and the music swelled and the film cut to credits. I'd lost my father at the beginning of that year, and I knew he would have loved the film too. I spent the next two years when I thought about "The Force Awakens" wondering what the conclusion of that scene would be. I pictured Luke's eyes gleaming with tears as he gently told Rey he was not the hero she was looking for. That the lightsaber belonged to her now, that she would have to find her own way. I pictured Rey having to cajole him back into the fight and succeeding on her terms. What I did not expect was that in December of 2017 when I sat down to watch "The Last Jedi" the scene would conclude with Luke taking the lightsaber, looking at it like an unwanted Life Day present, tossing it over his shoulder like a cheap dollar store "light sword" toy, and snarling "Go away" before stalking off. Whether that moment made you laugh out loud or get enraged was a good cue on how willing you were going to be to roll with director Rian Johnson effectively setting the game board on fire. "The Last Jedi" was not at all the film I was expecting, and that's why I'm still thinking about it days later.

Ignoring the constituency of howling man-children there are those whose dislike of the film is understandable. "The Last Jedi's" tone and pace is ragged. And if you thought "The Force Awakens" sprinted a goodly distance from "Return of the Jedi's" happily ever after ending, this entry leaves it several star systems behind. But I've grown increasingly wary of happily ever afters. 2017 was an object lesson in how quickly things get lost. I very much need stories that tell me you can lose, and lose badly, but as long as you pick yourself back up you and look out for one another you have a fighting chance.

But I keep going back to the conclusion of Rey finding Luke. The messiness of the idealized memory, nostalgia, meeting the much more complicated face of lived reality. It's how grieving goes too. I'm going to be entering my third year of watching movies without being able to talk to my dad about them. And what could have been unbearable pain has become a settled melancholy that occasionally rubs against the psyche like a pebble in a shoe. But I'm remembering more too about how difficult my father could be. His stormy Irish temper, how I'd have to go weeks without calling him because I was at my end of being able to handle him. But I loved him too, and miss him every day. Contradictions rule our selves and our lives, and that's another theme that runs like a fraying ribbon through "The Last Jedi". Things are not going to go according to plan. You can love someone and be no good for them or they for you. You can sacrifice yourself and that's a victory, or you can flee and your living another day is a victory. The fan theory you've built for a movie, or for yourself, is going to prove to have no relation to what actually happens. And what you do in the fallout of that reveals who you are.

The mythic cliffhanger of "The Force Awakens" is what I needed in 2015 at the end of a brutal year. The grumpy, startling conclusion of that cliffhanger is what I needed in 2017. Stories, lives don't end neatly or go the way you want. How you react to that is how you make a life and leave a legacy in turn. I keep thinking of this exchange from "Rio Bravo" in relationship to this film. "A game legged old man, a kid and drunk, that's all you've got?" "That's what I've got." And I remember how I groaned when I was little when my father spotted a western channel surfing and I knew we were going to be stuck watching that. How it wasn't until it was too late to tell him that I finally clicked with watching westerns. And how it's always too late in the end, but you keep going anyway.

There's an echo of that "Rio Bravo" line in the end of "The Last Jedi" too. Rey sorrowfully looks at Luke's lightsaber now split in half. She wonders how she and the handful of Resistance survivors are going to be able to rebuild from their devastating losses. And Leia (Carrie Fisher) tells her kindly, "You've got everything you need right here." And Rey looks around at all the other survivors on the ship and smiles. It made me smile too. I don't know what will happen in 2018, or what will happen to me, but I can make a life from what I have. And I can survive another day, and I can hope, but with the wisdom to not get too attached to the outcome. Because hope and survival never look like what you're expecting either. And that's what I've got.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

What I Wrote 2017

 "In this entry, it would appear the jig is up for Frankenstein; he’s been sent to an asylum. When the younger protagonist succeeds in finding out where he’s being held, he gets there to discover, what else, that Frankenstein is secretly running the place."

"We all hope to be the kind of heroic protagonist who can save the world and bring down a corrupt system. But fantasies of swooping in to save the day meet the brick wall of how frustratingly slow progress is, how precarious it is." 

"If everyone has something to hide, if everything is a facade, why wouldn’t that apply to reality itself? Why wouldn’t signs, portents and omens of great change start bleeding through every picket fence?"

"Apocalypse is the traveling companion of Resurrection and they both lurk where you least expect to find them. They exist in moments as small as cup of coffee on a chilly day."

"But it’s that very disinterest in villains that underlines what makes the film so unusual and satisfying as a superhero story. Jenkins is much more interested in kindness and compassion."

"That resentment of women is literally killing us is what gives the film teeth. Sarah’s ideas and orders are constantly overridden by the other men. Often leading to devastating consequences."

"In an entertainment climate where you have seen almost every new movie before, and can see its plot twists coming from the trailer, the idea of a movie actually surprising you starts to look appealing."

"The reason we cherish those special seasons in our lives is because they end. It’s awful to grow up, but it’s liberating too."

"The idea that we might not need to be perfect, that we can be prickly and lose our tempers and still be worthy of love and a family is beautiful resistance to the idea life is a pass/fail test."

"And it would be nice if, going forward, blockbusters realized how much is to be gained by letting women in them be as full of contradictions, flaws, and life as they are."

And if you've liked my writing this year, tips are always appreciated