Tag Archives: film

Arendt, Heidegger, and Eichmann

Hannah Arendt (2012)

The movie poster for Hannah Arendt (2012)


This outstanding 2012 film tells the story behind Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase “the banality of evil” while explaining the horrific ability of the modern bureaucratic state’s potential to convert human beings into abstractions and parts of a process.

The film also offers a glimpse, if to me a somewhat inconclusive one, into Arendt’s professional and personal relationship with Martin Heidegger, a still-influential, profound, puzzling philosopher who at least briefly affiliated himself with the Nazis.

Already an acclaimed political philosopher for her book The Origins of Totalitarianism (waiting on my shelf), Arendt secured a deal with the New Yorker to cover the trial of Nazi Lt. Col. Adolf Eichmann, considered a “one of the major organisers of the Holocaust.”

Part of Arendt’s series in the New Yorker suggests Eichmann believed he was merely playing a role in a process and merely following orders, so he did not believe he had a direct role in the killings of millions of Jews. This perspective strains friendships while setting Arendt on a quest to understand the nature of evil. (She did, however, believe a court in Jerusalem did the right thing by ordering Eichmann’s execution.)

But these historical and biographical details don’t carry the film. Barbara Sukowa‘s portrayal of Arendt lured me in and carried me through. Perhaps Sukowa’s most compelling moment is her portrayal of Arendt’s defense of her perspective in a packed college lecture hall. Here we find the phrase “crimes against humanity.”

The film is available for streaming on Netflix. If you don’t demand explosions, gun fights, bikinis, or slapstick in every movie you watch, play this film tonight.

Movies as insight into mass fears and desires

“[Gene] Siskel described his job as ‘covering the national dream beat,’ because if you pay attention to the movies they will tell you what people desire and fear. Movies are hardly ever about what they seem to be about. Look at a movie that a lot of people love, and you will find something profound, no matter how silly the film may be.” – Roger Ebert, from an enriching gallery on the Atlantic’s site

I finally saw ‘Argo’

 “Argo” was outstanding. As director, Ben Affleck pulled the tension as tight as he could. He also threaded a nice complement of archival news footage throughout the film.

For the acting, however, Alan Arkin nearly stole the show as an older Hollywood heavyweight whose glory has started to fade.

Most importantly, however, this film countered years of the song “Blame Canada,” suffered by our northern neighbors since 1999 when “South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut” was released.

That’s right — for a brief, shining moment, Canadians were our heroes, and “Argo” remembers that, as well as heroic work by our own CIA (during the Carter administration, believe it or not).

 

‘The Dark Knight Rises’ — The myth told within the myth

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(No worries — no spoilers! Only the vaguest references to what happens.)

Like the last Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises has a central bad guy who matches or out-matches our hero. Director and co-screenwriter Christopher Nolan reveals the backstory of the bad guy, named Bane, in increments throughout the movie.

What I thought was remarkable about Bane’s backstory is its mythological nature. The characters in the backstory are archetypal. The characters face challenges that are universal, with both real-world and allegorical senses.

Something about this mythological element makes The Dark Knight Rises richer and more resonant. Any story that could be both factual and psychologically or spiritually allegorical will have stick with the reader.

This seems to have an immediate application to writers, whether they are writing stories or backgrounds within stories. Whether a writer begins with the realistic or the allegorical makes no difference. If the final product can bring both together, then the story will have immediacy and resonance — with a deep sense of meaning.

‘The Dark Knight Rises’ — the role of military technology in storytelling

Bane versus Bat

(No worries — no spoilers!)

I saw The Dark Knight Rises last night in a nearly packed theater.

I could not help but wonder at what point in those early minutes of the film did that sick, evil man start shooting at innocent moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. I could not help but feel a little scared that a copycat terrorist would try again.

But I also wanted to engage what director and co-screenwriter Christopher Nolan set out to accomplish through his art form — long before the horrific, despicable shooting in the Colorado cinema.

Now that I’ve seen the (outstanding) film, I want to begin a series of posts about the movie with something that might be of use to writers.

Of course — without spoiling anything for those who have seen the first two movies — Wayne Enterprises (Bruce Wayne’s corporation) has a department devoted to research and development of military technology. That department is the source of Batman’s cool gear.

In our time, much of that military techology is plausible. Body armor and sleek armored vehicles aren’t so far-fetched.

I realized today that the military technology of the current Batman trilogy operates as a kind of pivot point between fantasy and reality.

Obviously, some of the stunts and scenarios and bad guys in this Batman series are pure fantasy.

The corruption, ethos, and moral and ethical quandries within Gotham City, as well as many scenes of city architecture and daily life, seem all-too-familiar.

And between the fantastic and the realistic is the connective tissue of military technology. It’s realistic-enough yet futuristic-enough to make a clean handoff between the reality we recognize in the film and the super-human and fantasy elements of comic book stories.

Intentionally or not, there’s a technique at work here: fantastical elements become more believable when they emerge from a recognizable and relatable fictional world.

Director and co-screenwriter Christopher Nolan consciously could have positioned military technology in such a way, or maybe its use was intuitive to the comic-book and sci-fi genre.

I’ve mixed my metaphors. I’ve called the military technology in this film a pivot point, connective tissue, or suggested it’s a baton.

Either way, it’s effective — and successful.

In the classroom: horror movies as harsh moral lessons

One of my creative writing students wrote a vivid, immediate, gruesome short story. At the end of our workshop discussion about the story, I turned the conversation to horror movies as moral lessons.

I asked how many had seen the horror flick Hostel. About a third of the class had seen it. I hadn’t, but I knew the basic idea.

Another student, referring to the starting point of the movie, said, “I’m not going back-packing in Europe anytime soon!”

“What’s the premise of Hostel?” I asked the class. “Trying to hook up with strange girls in a strange place!”

Some of the students made the connection.

I mentioned I had once written an article about horror movies, in a general sense, serving as morality tales:  “The idea is, teenagers are alone together in a way their parents don’t want them to be, and just when things get interesting, the boogey man kills them,” I said.

More of them seemed to get it.

“You don’t want Jason running you through with a big knife, so keep your pants on!”

They laughed.

“So on that note, have a great Spring Break!”

They laughed even harder, and eagerly left the classroom.

Silver Screen moment

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Pictures of film stars Judy Garland and Charlie Chaplin donated after their stays at the Savoy Hotel are pictured in the hotel in London October 9, 2010. London’s Savoy Hotel, the Palace by the Thames that has welcomed generations of royals, prime ministers and Hollywood stars, reopens this weekend after a facelift that cost 220 million pounds ($350 million). REUTERS/Luke MacGregor (BRITAIN – Tags: SOCIETY TRAVEL BUSINESS) Content © 2010 Reuters All rights reserved