MOM: THE JAIL
If we look at Rio Bravo and Ghosts of Mars
as mirror opposites, it becomes clearer how the whole pre-oedipal scenario of the "besieged jail" taps into the death complex
as well. The jail is safety and trap, where one is "held" as in a mother's arms. But if being safe inside the
besieged prison fulfils our infantile regression fantasy as viewers, we are also on a very real level denied this regression
in full, even in the context of the film. We are always conscious of being merely voyeurs, intimidated sperm gazing up
at the glowing egg-white screen, hammering at the screen doors of the maternal cinematic image. We despise the unloved
hired guns of Nathan Burdett, the kid with the glasses at the start of Ingmar Bergman's Persona (1967) or the
"lost boys" of Mars because they remind us of what we are as "socialized" adults: shut out, weened, permanently de-Edened.
In the womb-like dream of cinema, these creatures loom outside the exit door, they are the unwashed and ticketless,
ever reminding us that we will soon awaken and be one of them once more.
Rio Bravo of course came out in
a different era than Ghosts of Mars, namely 1956: men were king of the work place, and boys grew up to be men
in the shadow of gas rationing, air raid drills, and the very palpable threat of nuclear annihilation. Ghosts of Mars
comes in a much different age, where women are industry captains and boys stay boys deep into their 30's. The gray flannel
suited father has morphed into just another slacker loafing around the house, or one who fritters his commissions on jet skis
and jaguars instead of child support. In Carpenter's Martian future, this flip-flop of gender authority has bloomed
into a full-blooded matriarchy. The "mature" women of Mars have even given up reproduction altogether; Melanie’s heterosexuality
is as transgressive as her drugs or death wish. What makes this Martian inverse so interesting is how the death wish and being
a "breeder" are so tied together. In effect the film is making a distinctly pro-abortion, anti-population growth statement;
on Mars, reproduction is the primary threat to life.
BETWEEN THE WOMB AND THE GRAVE,
With the women refusing to give birth, there is no Oedipal
jealousy in any way on part of the viewer, and the result intoxicating. Everyone both inside the screen and out are free to
put on a human face mask and start throwing razor discs at each other without the least twinge of fear. This sense of liberation
carries through the screen, making that once foreboding veil between viewer and cinematic image "crossable." When
watching a great Hawks film like Rio Bravo, The Thing, or Only Angels Have Wings, the feeling of
camraderie is so strong one gets the feeling they are hanging out with the actors on the set, having a beer with John Wayne
and talking about the next scene. In Ghost of Mars the action scenes bear this mark especially. The stunt men, for example, seem
to be having a great time. When a bomb blows and a Martian goes flying, he doesn't scream in pain so much as yowl like a professional
wrestler. Everyone takes their times doing their choreographed fight moves. We hear the great, cheesy rock guitar soundtrack
and we know that's Carpenter is playing on it. Everything is cool, no one is going to really get hurt.
This is the ultimate gift of this film, Carpenter does the fantasy
of the death drive two steps better than anyone who came before. We are granted an arrival at the death drive's
final destination, it's ultimate wish is granted, and at the same time we are lifted up over and past it. Instead of
the expected placebo of genre, Carpenter delivers the real thing. The trouble is that the audience has become so used to the
placebo they don't even remember what the real thing tastes like.
Usually when swept up in the narrative of a film we worry that the
characters may die and so we are fooled into assuming ourselves immortal, watching from a position outside the realm of life
and death. This is the same way dreams work-- in providing intense emotional stimulus, dreams intentionally keep us
asleep. The emotional urgency they provide ensures we have no chance to lean back and become contemplative, thus realizing
we are dreaming. Mars inverts this: we know that since Melanie is narrating, she wont even be wounded. Thus
the emotional intensity of the movie is hobbled from the start. Ironically that puts us in the position of realizing that
Natasha Henstridge, the actress, human, and mother, one day will die, that she already looks older than she
did in Species. And we realize we too will die, that the film is itself but a brief experience. Ironically too,
it is this awakening that provides the genuinely "real" escape.
Ozu, Dreyer, Bresson, they get all the credit for being "transcendentalists"
but for all that, they make dull films (I haven't even been able to drag my ass to see one). The real transcendental moments
in cinema are when characters "wake up" and realize that there is no mortality, no fear, desire, hunger, thirst
and time. They become free souls who can take a million mile journey in the time of a cross-dissolve and not even have to
pretend their feet hurt. In Ghosts of Mars we are presented with the opportunity as viewers to not just admire one
of these souls, but to have the option of being killed by her to awaken from the dream of cinema while in the cinema, to finally
get that "decent shave" and to live happily ever after even as a flying disc takes our head clean off.
|Cube breaks the fourth wall for a sneer at the camera, Godard style