1. A Clockwork Orange
‘It had been a wonderful evening and what I needed now, to give it the perfect ending, was a little of the Ludwig Van…’
[While listening to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony…] ‘Oh bliss! Bliss and heaven! Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh. It was like a bird of rarest-spun heaven metal or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now. As I slooshied, I knew such lovely pictures!’
‘Being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven,’ as the tagline puts it. Our antihero Alex is a charismatic sociopath and remorseless sadist, who also happens to be rather intelligent and a great lover of classical music (Beethoven especially). Despite the film’s violent content, Kubrick’s goal was not to glorify this behavior but rather to explore the savage and wicked nature of man…
In Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket’ Pvt. Joker is questioned about the peace sign on his body armor and the conflicting ‘BORN TO KiLL’ written on his helmet. He explains, ‘I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir!’
‘Man isn’t a noble savage, he’s an ignoble savage. He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective about anything where his own interests are involved—that about sums it up. I’m interested in the brutal and violent nature of man because it’s a true picture of him. And any attempt to create social institutions on a false view of the nature of man is probably doomed to failure.’ -Stanley Kubrick.
2. Pulp Fiction
One of the most brilliant works of fiction ever written for the screen, ‘Pulp Fiction’ is Tarantino’s masterpiece. Like ‘Reservoir Dogs’ 2 years before it, ‘Pulp Fiction’ is replete with ingenious dialogue, great music, tremendous characters and an unpredictable, unforgettable plot. A few examples:
- Vince and Jules conversations: ‘Royale with cheese’, the foot massage debate, and the so-called miracle.
- Big Kahuna burger. ‘That is a tasty burger!’
- Jackrabbit Slims, the 5 dollar shake, and Fox Force 5.
- Mia’s overdose. ‘I gotta stab her 3 times?!’
- The whole Butch and Marsellus sequence: Butch (after ripping off Marsellus) goes back to his apartment to get his father’s gold watch, kills Vincent (who was there to kill him), leaves and sees Marsellus crossing the street, runs him over (crashing his car) then flees on foot. Marsellus pursues Butch to a pawn shop where they are taken captive by its rapist-owner and his partner Zed. The two are tied up in a sex-dungeon of sorts where ‘The Gimp’ (another captive/slave) is kept. Butch manages to get free grabs a Samurai sword and kills the shop owner, leaving Marsellus to deal with Zed… Wow.
- ‘Whose motorcycle is this?’ -‘It’s a chopper baby.’ -‘Whose chopper is this?’ -‘Zed’s.’ -‘Who’s Zed?’ -‘Zed’s dead baby. Zed’s dead…’
- The Wolf. ‘It’s thirty minutes away, ill be there in ten.’ [9 minutes and 37 seconds later…]
- ‘I’m a mushroom-cloud-layin’ motherfucker, motherfucker!’
- ‘Nobody’s gonna hurt anybody. We’re all gonna be like three little Fonzies here, and what’s Fonzie like? Come on Yolanda what’s Fonzie like?’ -‘Cool?’
- ‘You read the Bible Ringo?’ -‘Not regularly, no.’ -Well there’s this passage I got memorized…’
- ‘I want you to go into that bag, and find my wallet.’ -‘Which one is it?’ -‘It’s the one that says Bad Motherfucker.’
3. Princess Mononoke
Hayao Miyizaki’s films have a feeling of depth and an attention to detail that makes them incredibly engrossing. We get the sense that there is a long untold history and a whole unexplored world to each of his films.
While all of Miyizaki’s films are visually stunning, ‘Princess Mononoke’ is exceptional. We travel alongside Prince Ashitaka through mountain ranges, valleys, and rivers, and deep into the ancient forest that hosts giant animal-gods and spirits. The animals and spirits of the forest are at war with the humans who have been burning the trees to smelt iron for guns. Ashitaka tries to reason with the both sides of the conflict and restore peace to the forest.
The striking visuals and excellent score give emotional weight and force to the film’s themes of environmentalism and peace. Ashitaka tries selflessly to stop the fighting between the two sides despite both turning against him. He does not give in to the greed and fear that drive the humans, nor the hatred toward the humans that the animals have.
The story of ‘Mononoke’ is truly moving. Ashitaka is the model hero, he forgives those who attack him rather than retaliate or seek revenge. We quickly see that what he is fighting for is not any selfish desire, but peace and harmony between man and nature. Miyizaki’s message is as relevant now as ever before.
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey
In my post ‘God, Kubrick, and Alien Life‘ I went over some of the concepts in Kubrick’s Sci-Fi masterpiece ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ and why it is probably the most realistic portrayal of god/intelligent life, as well as space and space-travel, in any film to date. I will probably discuss these ideas in more depth in a future post but I will keep it brief for now.
‘2001’ is the ultimate science fiction film. It is a true epic, spanning millions of years; from man’s beginnings on the plains of Africa, to his future as a space-faring explorer, and his next evolution to ‘star child’. Kubrick took to this momentous topic with the mood and pace much closer to that of a symphony or ballet, rather than a typical narrative film. He uses classical music and provoking imagery to convey a sense of awe, wonder, and even fear. As he put it:
‘I don’t have the slightest doubt that to tell a story like this, you couldn’t do it with words. There are only 46 minutes of dialogue scenes in the film, and 113 of non-dialogue. There are certain areas of feeling and reality—or unreality or innermost yearning, whatever you want to call it—which are notably inaccessible to words. Music can get into these areas. Painting can get into them. Non-verbal forms of expression can. But words are a terrible straitjacket. It’s interesting how many prisoners of that straitjacket resent its being loosened or taken off…’
The quote below is the same one used in my post mentioned above, but it is worth repeating as it is a perfect summary of Kubrick’s fantastic concept of god and intelligent life.
“I will say that the God concept is at the heart of 2001 but not any traditional, anthropomorphic image of God. I don’t believe in any of Earth’s monotheistic religions, but I do believe that one can construct an intriguing scientific definition of God, once you accept the fact that there are approximately 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone, that each star is a life-giving sun and that there are approximately 100 billion galaxies in just the visible universe. Given a planet in a stable orbit, not too hot and not too cold, and given a few billion years of chance chemical reactions created by the interaction of a sun’s energy on the planet’s chemicals, it’s fairly certain that life in one form or another will eventually emerge. It’s reasonable to assume that there must be, in fact, countless billions of such planets where biological life has arisen, and the odds of some proportion of such life developing intelligence are high. Now, the sun is by no means an old star, and its planets are mere children in cosmic age, so it seems likely that there are billions of planets in the universe not only where intelligent life is on a lower scale than man but other billions where it is approximately equal and others still where it is hundreds of thousands of millions of years in advance of us. When you think of the giant technological strides that man has made in a few millennia—less than a microsecond in the chronology of the universe—can you imagine the evolutionary development that much older life forms have taken? They may have progressed from biological species, which are fragile shells for the mind at best, into immortal machine entities—and then, over innumerable eons, they could emerge from the chrysalis of matter transformed into beings of pure energy and spirit. Their potentialities would be limitless and their intelligence ungraspable by humans.”
5. Spirited Away
Miyizaki’s most celebrated work, ‘Spirited Away’ is a beautiful adventure into a magical world that is bizarre, even frightening, but also enchanting and sweet. As is common with Miyizaki’s films we are swept far away, deep into a dream world.
Like Ashitaka in ‘Princess Mononoke’ our hero Sen is a truly good protagonist. While Ashitaka is the noble and ideal adult-warrior, Sen is the innocent and pure child. She is the epitome of good. She is thrown into a dangerous and foreign place, and even though she is terribly afraid, she summons her courage and does her very best. She survives for her compassion and sympathy. She takes care of the weak, the outcast, those who can be of no help to her, even those who attack her (another trait shared with Ashitaka). Her loving nature slowly wins over those around her who once treated her as an outcast.
The brilliance of the film is that we are cast into this world with Sen. The laws of reality and logic that we rest our feet on in the real world are pulled out from under us. Everything is alien and ephemeral, we are the visitor, we are the not-so-welcome guest. We are marooned in this place with Sen as our only friend, and we find that she is much braver than us.