Living through the daily assault upon one’s sensibility leads one to take protective measures. Whatever does get you through the night?
I vacillate between truth and escapism. Truth consists of various sorts of political content, whether on a news network or in some sort of film or documentary. Escapism will sometimes take me to music, opera, or movies although the best escape sometimes is simply to stare at a cute kitten or puppy. Social media reflects our taste, where one can see kitties & puppies or political memes, vying for one or the other side of our brain.
The film world has noticed too. Recently I saw Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs. See what I did in the headline above? That’s just me, catching on to what Mr Anderson already did. When you say “Isle of Dogs” aloud can you avoid the homonym? “Isle of Dogs” is an unlikely phrase, and sounds a whole lot like “I love dogs” even before you factor in a story awkwardly on the boundaries of English due to translations from another language. Not only does Isle of Dogs explore –indeed celebrate—the love of dogs, but it ventures more than a little into the political side of the brain as well. After seeing it, I pulled out The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore, a pair of films I have owned for years, and the next day brought home The Grand Budapest Hotel from the library for another viewing.
Fanciful & poetic as Anderson’s films are, they also include a great deal of political content. In The Grand Budapest Hotel we see some violent confrontations that look a lot like moments in the Second World War. Ditto for Isle of Dogs: and I’ll say no more for fear of giving it away.
Tonight, it was Mr Spielberg’s turn, working in the company of Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and one of his oldest collaborators, John Williams. The score is understated but at the climactic moments I was moved to tears, largely due to JW’s contribution. The Post is in some ways more of a nostalgia trip than Grand Budapest Hotel. Where Anderson’s film takes us to a place in the past that never really existed, Spielberg reminds us of a recent version of the USA, one that seems lost in the current climate.
I’m reminded of Philip K Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle, a book that posits an alternative world where the Axis powers won, where America ends up occupied rather than victorious. How crazy is it, then, that today’s world feels like Dick’s nightmare world: where the wrong guys have somehow overturned everything achieved in the last half century, breathing new life into fascism and the KKK and the worst xenophobia. Spielberg’s film would remind America of what she once was, for fear that she forgets, that she loses herself altogether.
Today I saw a Huffington Post article citing James Comey’s memos:
- headline: “Trump Floated Idea Of Jailing Journalists To Make Them ‘Talk'”
- quote: ‘They spend a couple days in jail, make a new friend, and they are ready to talk,’
full article |memos
Does that make you want to close this page, and instead find a picture of a dog? (sorry if the picture above misled you) or something political?
Isle of Dogs is not a children’s film. It’s rated PG-13 because of violence and thematic elements, an allegory about our own time, which is precisely why Anderson chose to set it in a remote place in a stylized fashion. If you too live in a house where the TV is tuned to CNN 80% of the time you’ll be open to the plot elements in a movie to remind you of current times. No, there’s nobody with a bad comb-over or a real estate empire. Maybe I’m making too much of the story. It does include (SPOILER ALERT)
- Fake news
- A leader who follows a strategy of demonizing a powerless group
- A leader who follows a plan to exterminate that group in a kind of final solution that almost comes to pass
I’m reminded of a few artists, when I try to characterize Anderson.
- Gustav Mahler, for that ambivalence that mixes high and low, comic & tragic often in the same instant.
- Terry Gilliam for the ambitious & layered stories, the use of models & elaborate art direction
- The live-action animation we’ve seen from Tim Burton, although I don’t think Burton ever achieved anything as deep as Isle of Dogs
Tomorrow I’ll be escaping into a baroque opera with a classical story-line. I comfort myself that on the weekend the only firing the POTUS will do, will be balls fired out of bunkers on the golf-course.