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Life Arts    H4'ed 12/2/19

Silly Film Olympics, Part II: Midsommer & Joker

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Message BK Faunce

Silly Olympics
Silly Olympics
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[Author's note: In "Silly Film Olympics, Part I," two very silly films, Vice & Hereditary, were nominated for consideration in the first annual Hollywood Olympiad under the category, "Silly Films made by people with no sense of directing." In "Part II," the same inscrutable focus is applied to two more silly films, Midsommer & Joker.]

Spoiler alert!

Films are considered silly --- unbelievable, nonsensical, goofy or just plain ridiculous --- not because they fail to provide a few spills and chills. They do. A scene in which people jump off a cliff to their death, or a shot of a gas line taped in a young woman's mouth, or a character suddenly stabbing a co-worker all provide viewers with a jolt. The problem is the jolt is often all they get. The films below also suffer from what might be called "homage-syndrome," or an over reliance on allusions to other films, as if technique is an acceptable substitute for coherent storylines or credible characters. Hardened fans are challenged to keep a straight face. The shocks fade quickly. The surprises wear thin. The rest is silliness.

Silly Film #3: Midsommer (Aster 2019)

How much hooey can one group of filmmakers dish out? A lot, apparently. Full disclosure: this second dalliance "with false surmise" isn't a film so much as it's a loosely strung collection of horror film cliche's. Genre buffs will recognize them all: the deadly family romance, the struggle with insanity, the use of illicit drugs, the threats associated with sex, the lover's betrayal, the fateful journey into nature, the temptation (of a "Christian," of course), the Final Girl and so on. Unfortunately, without a creative fire to forge these familiar pieces into visionary form, they creak across the screen as antiquated plot devices loosely held together by a string of fright-night visuals. Nothing in the film satisfies beyond the momentary emotional rush, as fleeting as it is shallow, like a stone skipping across a puddle, or a boulder smashing a car. Pass the popcorn, please.

(For a more rewarding introduction to pagan rituals and human sacrifice, or the clash between primitive and modern cultures, check out Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man (1974) and Eli Roth's The Green Inferno (2013).)

The female protagonist in Midsommer, Dani Ardor, loses her entire family when her sister, Terri, kills their parents and then commits suicide. She is, understandably, on the edge of an emotional collapse, so much so that after Pelle, a complete stranger, mentions his own loss, she breaks down crying. Yet two weeks later she goes on vacation to Sweden? To be with her "boyfriend," Christian? The insensitive little poser who casually dismisses her family troubles, who confides to buds he doesn't want her going, who asks her only because he's certain she'll decline, who forgets her birthday, who avoids her virtually the entire time and, finally, who has sex with Maja because, well, why not? She's flying to Sweden with that guy?

Even the sacrifice at the end falls apart fairly quickly. Dani is (what else?) whacked on drugs and hallucinating, whipped into a Bacchae-like frenzy as the May Queen. She must choose the ninth victim for the HÃ rga and, to help clarify the choice she makes, the film ends in a series of shots that moves from Christian roasting to a freeze frame of Dani smiling. Smiling? Given her battered state of mind, surely it's nothing more than an expression of the happiness she feels at the conclusion of the ceremony. She can't possibly know what she's doing, can she? Unless . . . why, of course! Revenge! How clever! She's smiling because Christian is roasting! That's why she goes to Sweden! To be with a guy no one in her condition would want to be with and take a bunch of drugs no one in her condition would take just so she could wait for the right moment to unleash her vengeance! Good golly, women do the silliest things!

Speaking of silly, how about casting an African American to play a graduate student in anthropology who is writing his dissertation on the whitest ethnic group in human history? According to the Association of Black Anthropologists, out of a total graduate student population of 3.5 million, there are roughly 1000 African American graduate students pursuing degrees in Anthropology, and their research is focused on exactly what one would expect: the history, culture and evolution of the African diaspora. Religious rituals in Sweden? Eh, not so much.

The favorite, however, has to be Yiva and "the laborer's" death-leap. These two are at the end of their time and wish to die. They live in a village that makes all kinds of lovely drugs, for all kinds of occasions, but for some reason there is no drug that might help them pass peacefully. Besides, where's the shock-value in falling asleep? Better to have them jump off a cliff, fall 100 feet and smash against the rocks below. Think of the impact! And speaking of impact, remember that huge wooden mallet? It's for when a jumper survives, which, naturally, the old man does, so villagers can then take it up and bash his head to bloody bits. It doesn't make a lot of sense. It's hilarious to watch. But damn! How about those effects!

Silly Film #4: Joker (Phillips 2019)

"By Grabthar's hammer . . . what a [mess]!" From its narrative gaps to its treatment of mental health to its pro-status-quo politics, Joker is like that bowl of gruel served to orphans in the Work House: marginally sustaining but absolutely tasteless.

So many discrepancies, so few bullet points:

*Arthur smothers his mother in a hospital yet no one notices.

*Randall betrays Arthur, helps get him fired, then shows up at his apartment asking about the subway murders.

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BK Faunce is a retired Associate Professor of English (UMW / UCSC) specializing in British Romantic Literature, Film Theory and Writing. His recent work examines the use of state power and its impact on visual culture.

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