Love comes skipping and life makes a fist. So be careful. The new movie Revolutionary Road is about a woman (not a couple, as some reviews may claim) who life kicks the shit out of. Her tragedy is romance; she wants life, but she gets married. Not that the movie is anti-marriage, or that the man she marries isn’t good to her; worse, it’s that she isn’t someone who should be married. Love fools her the way it fools everyone who winds up miserable or divorced, by saying: love will solve everything. But love is only the solution to wanting love. If you want something else…someone has to give.
You know how, even if you know a Springsteen song is rote, it doesn’t matter? Like when you hear the first verse, and it’s about how “[Joey] lost his job at the [docks/car plant/box factory]” and “[Mindy] got pregnant” that same week and “[Joey’s] smokin’ a cigarette and [embodying blue-collar America]… dah dah dah.” And you know it’s just Bruce slapping all the clichés together… that all his songs sound the same and you really should’ve quit listening after Born to Run. But you well-up anyway. That’s what watching The Wrestler is like. It’s not the song; it’s the voice. We’re all suckers for Bruce.
The bio-pic is a bastard genre. You can’t make a good movie if there’s no answer to: why now? Movies are meant to be about the most exciting/meaningful/life-changing moment in a protagonist’s life. If you choose to tell the story of your protagonist’s whole life; where’s the rub? Steven Soderbergh has clearly thought about this dilemma before making Che: Part One. Structurally the movie has rigour; it focuses on the event that led to Che becoming a famous syllable. But Che: Part One is another in a long line of failed bio-pics because it can’t answer another question: why should you care?
Poor Ed Zwick; cursed by a forgettable fairy to specialise in mediocre movies. Think of Glory (a white-guilt theme tune waiting on a massacre), or Legends of the Fall (men’s grooming meets WWI), or The Last Samurai (Japanese Imperialism as self-help instruction). Here is a man who took the yuppie ideals of thirtysomething and made a career out of them. So war becomes the issue of the week; each conflict helping people make peace with themselves. His latest is called Defiance. It’s about Jewish partisans fighting the Nazis. Zwick appears to have made it for a buck fifty. Even the bullets look bored.
This is a beauty and the beast story and it tells a hard truth: love does not redeem monsters. We’re so used to thinking of evil as an abhorrence or as something alluring that it’s easy to overlook the everyday middle-ground; that evil can be commonplace, that evil people go about their lives in the millions… that half of them (all of them?) are us. And if there are so many evil people then it stands to reason some people will love them. But love won’t undo anything. That’s what The Reader says. The best you can hope for, if you love an evil person, is that you’ll be honest with yourself, and admit there is evil. If not, what can you hope to learn?
Are all epic movies camp? Or is it just that we’re daunted by scale these days? I don’t imagine Cecil B. DeMille worried if his movies were camp. And I can’t see camp accusations giving Joe Mankiewicz any sleepless nights. But these days – when we’re practically born knowing what the “snails and oysters” scene in Spartacus is about – any movie reaching for something big seems camp to us. Australian director Baz Luhrmannn has based his entire career on camp; whether it be ballroom dancing or Shakespeare – he always winks. In Australia, he’s created a camp national epic. But knowingness is dangerous if you want to raise more than a smirk.