Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Halloween and a theory of fundamental evil

Just in the past few days I saw the new 2018 Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis, and directed by David Gordon Green,  and while much has been made about the survivor trauma aspect of the film (and as a bi product of our “Me Too” climate), there were a number of layered themes to be found. The review by our friend John Kenneth Muir set off of train of thought about the film that left me mulling over a number of issues. Let’s address the major changes, the dispensing of all of the established mythology that began with Halloween II in 1980. Laurie is no longer a relation of Meyers, which re-directs to focus on the idea that The Shape has no motive; the film also avoids humanizing him, a mistake that even Rob Zombie made with his re-imaging. Thus, the audience is forced to ponder something a little deeper. One thought came to mind where I flash backwards to Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight, when Alfred shared a story to Bruce which lead to him describing The Joker as someone who just wanted to ‘see the world burn’. Watching Halloween left me with the inkling of the same idea about The Shape / Boogieman / Michael Meyer, that he too just wanted to ‘see the world burn’, that Michael’s interest in watching his victims in their final moments of writhing agony, this child like curiosity in their final moments, might not represent anything most people understand as anything ‘rational’, but could just be the desire to ‘see the world burn’. He, like the Joker, just is.

We cling to notions of morality, or understanding psychosis through diagnosis, or the accepted rule of justice, to explain something that simply exists, that can’t be correlated or defined. Thus is the basis for an idea that I am coining; ‘fundamental evil’, that evil is something that is tangible and concrete, and there’s a very small percentage of individuals throughout history, aberrations that truly fit my working definition of the term ‘fundamental evil’. The working definition of ‘fundamental’ is ‘serving as a basis supporting existence or determining essential structure or function’, and ‘evil’ as in ‘willful harm’. Of course, The X-Files explored the same theme or tenant of fundamental evil in such episodes like “Irresistible”, but the series Millennium was very specific in dealing with this theme, for example, the season two episode “Monster”.

But the uncomfortable truth is, Fundamental evil cannot be negotiated with, it cannot be reasoned with, it has to be obliterated, either through psychical violence, or the destruction of the ideals it espouses. There have been figures from Caligula to Adolph Hitler, and onward, that I would define as representing ‘fundamental evil’. 

Yet the Halloween film in fact offers up ideas about the solution over how to overcome it, FAIR WARNING (Spoilers), but one has to recognize it, and get past hubris, and preconceived notions, before one can face it and redefine the terms to defeat it. Laurie Strode resets the terms in her preparation to defeat Michael, while others insist on finding a rational motive or explanations for his actions. Those who insist on finding ‘the answer’ do so with fatal results. Other’s see Laurie as someone who has created a prison, due to her trauma, and she is characterized as unstable, ridiculed for her obsession, and she has been ostracized by her daughter, and kept at bay with her granddaughter. But it is often those who can see the forest through the trees that can see something for what is it.

Let’s look at the theme of something being predestined for a moment, the back story about Laurie and Michael having no sibling connection does refocus their relationship, but it also implies a notion, an inkling that there’s some kind of psychic connection, or predetermined fate that leads back to their encounter. This might be nothing more than the fact she was the one victim that got away. One visual motif that opens the film suggest a related idea, in the yard sequence with the chained inmates where Michael stands mute, there’s a checkered pattern. Which one could read as ‘whom is playing whom’, either a game a checkers or chess, and this mirrors the themes at the end. Is everything predestined, or is that fate determined by one’s actions, or fate based on wish fulfillment ? Your choice in that point of view, might help decide how one can defeat this fundamental evil.

The desire to find a rational answer to Michael Meyers past actions leads two misguided bloggers / journalists to not only seek out Michael, and insist on an explanation over his actions, which leads to their brutal demise. Michael’s psychologist Dr. Sartain, ‘the new Loomis’ as Laurie calls him, not only goes so far to defend him, but kills a police officer to gleam an understanding of what the kill must feel like, only to have Sartain face a grim demise when the shape refuses to offer an answer . The hubris of all three characters assume there’s something left that is human, but fundamentalist evil operates on its own set of rules.

Laurie, in spite of the troubles she has faced with her daughter and grand-daughter and has grown to understand all too well that such evil works outside the bounds of convention, and she sets up a profound trap that evades understanding to those who cling to convention.

The prey has become the hunter, but the motive is to fight for her family, whereas the shape just kills for selfish reasons and to perpetuate the desire to ‘see the world burn’. The final moments of Halloween enforces the truth about such fundamentalist evil. Laurie has set up a series of ingenious traps throughout her home to isolate Meyers, and even misdirects him to the basement, while seeing her family to safety. While the shape is burning in that basement, it utters no screams for mercy; it remains mute and unapologetic for its nature. This level of evil works outside the bounds of reason, one has to set the terms to a new adjustment to deal with this evil.

It seems fitting that this film would come out at one of the most heightened and unstable periods of society, both in the United States and the globe when you consider the uptake in right wing nationalism. Fundamental Evil shrouds the truth, it misdirects, and indulges people to engage in relativist arguments, and make false equivalent points. I have seen countless examples of people in the last few years that have intellectually contorted themselves into arguing that something right in front of their eyes isn’t happening. They have deconstructed mythology and archetypes, and revised past social history to suite their present agenda, and often all for the sake of clouding the issue of right or wrong. Often hiding their head in the sand to ignore what is self evident – it is folly to do so, and will lead to their demise.

Evil is unrelenting, due to its true nature it doesn’t blink, but Fundamental evil grows like a cancer, and it’s ripple effect continues long after its impact is seen. Very often, trauma creates new forms of traumas in other areas. We are reaching a period where we will have to create those very traps that Laurie understands, I don’t know what such traps will be, or the solution myself, but we might want to consider being very clear eyed and hardened for what will be needed to face which we have to face.

Films like Halloween might be a timely blessing at the moment; all story telling can often be a tool to help navigate the world we live in. These warnings might need to be heeded.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

XFLB review for "My Struggle III"

XFL’s review of My Struggle III
By Christopher Irish
All italic comments by Matt Allair

Season eleven of The X-Files picks up where season ten left off. The cliff hanger with Mulder and the rest of the world suffering and dying of an Alien contagion or disease propagated by CSM and his world ending conspiracy left fans clamoring for answers and explanation.  If the X-Files has taught fans anything, though, it’s to trust no one. Or no plot arc.

The intro of the premier has CSM explaining why he’s done what he’s done. Again, trusting his word is shaky at best. He’s been a power player behind the Alien Conspiracy since the beginning as we know. He’s at times been part of the group of powerful men who set the wheels of invasion rolling and has been ostracized from that group. It seems that at this point in the series he’s engineered his way into being the most powerful man on Earth, deciding the fate of millions. We then see the familiar intro ending with “I Want to Believe” which turns into “I Want to Lie”. That should be in the backs of viewers minds the whole time this show is on, by the way.

(The title sequence closing tag line makes the theme of the episode explicit – I Want To Believe – I Want To Lie. This works on several levels, is belief founded on lies? If the Truth is the two edge sword, are lies built into the truth even for some greater good? Can our belief become so fervent we will ignore inconvenient truths?)

The season ten finale turns out to be a vision by Scully causing her to have a seizure. Mulder and Scully’s relationship has been the core of the show from the beginning with their initial distrust that gradually led to them only relying on each other and their eventual relationship culminating in the conception of their son William. William has been at risk since he was born and has been hidden away for his own safety. Early in the episode former Special Agent Jeffery Spender being attacked by an unknown assailant who says they “want the boy”. The boy, we can only assume at this point, is William. Spender’s relationship with Mulder and Scully is another shaky one. He is CSM’s son the same as Mulder is but where Mulder rejects CSM and his conspiracy, Spender embraced it and tried to be part of it but the cost of his decision left him horribly disfigured.

(Fans have been wondering why Spender seems less disfigured from the last time we saw him from The Truth, Orodromeus from Eat The Corn assumes his reconstruction was due to conventional plastic surgery, but one cannot dismiss the possibility that the reconstruction was alien, by whom, without the benefits of Carl Spender’s access, is hard to say. But if the remains of the alien rebels exists, it could explain this.)

Once Scully wakes up she conveys her vision to Mulder about the plague CSM will unleash on the Earth’s population. Mulder doubts her cautiously since the last time he saw CSM was when he presumably died in a helicopter attack in the desert. Mulder trusts Scully enough to go search for CSM and find out what their son has to do with the plot. Immediately he is tailed and one of the more extensive car chase scenes in X-Files history ensues.  While Mulder is playing out Scully’s vision Scully is left at the hospital. Spender shows up and informs Scully that someone is after William. Spender knows where their son is and Scully begs him to tell her where he is. As she tries to leave we join CSM and Agent Reyes discussing the situation. CSM mentions that if his plan leaks out it would be dismissed as “fake news”. The X-Files’ touching on cultural issues continues.

(A Key point missed that fans whom are insisting that because SM II was a vision, that the prior episode Babylon didn’t exist, is the detail of Mulder’s car. Aside from the question if Miller and Einstein recognizes Mulder. There is the fact that Mulder is driving Miller's mustang from MS II. Miller's license plate from MSII is JVR-1131 and Mulder is driving this same car and plate in MSIII.)

Scully calls Mulder from his desk and Mulder tells her where he is, which is part of Scully’s vision she warned him about. As she’s talking to Mulder she suffers another seizure. According to her visions, CSM’s end game is to reset the Earth’s population in his image. Only select people will survive the apocalypse as the planet is returned to, in CSM’s words, a “savage state”.  It seems that his plan requires William for unknown reasons, hence why everyone is searching for him.

(Much of the plot points about Scully’s visions, while likely channeled via their Son William, does mirror Mulder’s brain storm during “Biogenesis” and season Seven’s “The Sixth Extinction I and II. Much of the episode mirrors ideas laid out with “The Sixth Extinction” series. But Season Seven did expand and reset the conspiracy. This brings up the fundamental flaw with fans who cling to the narrative laid out “Redux I and II”, treating the information laid out in season five as gospel truth, and that should never have been taken at face value. The X-Files has always played with the theme of Empirical Truth and Subjective Truth, and most of the time has leaned towards Subjective Truth.)

Mulder arrives at a mansion after his long car chase that led him through multiple states where he discovers and talks with members of the Alien Conspiracy who broke off from CSM years ago. It turns out they didn’t factor into CSM’s vision so their plot is to eject themselves and other ‘worthy’ individuals into space where they will survive the impending cataclysm with CSM’s Alien Virus. So now there are two competing conspiracies in the X-Files universe. Scully, attempting to go in search of William ends up crashing her car due to her seizure issues. Mulder is busy discussing the remaining Syndicate member’s own plot to save themselves. They try to ply Mulder into working for them by assassinating CSM, which Mulder declines. Meanwhile CSM and Reyes have AD Skinner in a car where CSM threatens him with his Pathogen intended on slaughtering the population.

(At this point Carl Spender completely represents hubris, he was a key henchmen for The Syndicate, and as various members were killed off via in-fighting, or the Alien rebels from season five, Carl Spender took on the mantle of the cause, or his own idea of such a cause. His pathology leading to act as judge, jury, and executioner of the mere pawns of mortal men, thus, his hubris reminds of Christian Dominionist, Dispensationist Tim La Haye. In Spender’s case he has become to believe he is God.)

The Syndicate members tell Mulder that the Alien Invasion that was a threat for so long has been called off due to humanities destruction of their own environment. The social commentary is no doubt divisive in today’s increasingly polarized culture. The X-Files has always played off cultural events and there is no shortage of social and environmental issues for the series to delve into. If the reasoning for the invasion never occurring is true, it does explain why the time table never was met in the series. It could also mean that it was rescheduled or was a ruse the whole time since CSM and the Syndicate’s word should never be trusted.

(Some fans dismissal of the Global warming comment miss the point. Mr. Y’s comments should not be taken completely at face value, but in spirit, his explanation makes sense when you consider the events depicted in season five, and especially the feature, Fight The Future. Mulder saves Scully in the arctic with the vaccination injection that reverses the gestation process that was begun by the insect carrier, via Purity Control. But this action triggers the mother ship into activation and escape, hence, the Grey’s had realized that humans had the knowledge to reverse the gestational plague, and therefore Earth was no longer a viable option for colonization. But that does not mean that Carl Spender did not have his own ideas about who deserved to exist. There is no reason to not believe there weren’t multitier viruses that served different purposes if the aim was the deplete the population without the use the technological weapons.)

Mulder hears the Syndicate member’s explanation that their game plan is to basically eject humanity to space for colonization but ultimately declines. He leaves to find and help Scully who is now back at the hospital thanks to Agents Einstein and Miller, making their only appearance in this episode. While Scully is in bed a man attempts to kill Scully only to be saved at the last moment by a scalpel-wielding Mulder. They both sit together finally as the dead man is cleaned up and the police do their job in the background and Scully tells him that her visions are caused by William. This seems to be more of a feeling than a solid answer, no doubt we will revisit this issue during this season. Skinner shows up and Mulder confronts him since he tried to contact him. Mulder’s inherent distrust in anyone but Scully and he shoves Skinner saying he smells like smoke.

Now is where things get tricky as we see through flashbacks that indicate that CSM is the father of William, not Mulder. Scully seemingly agreed to a trip where she was drugged, or according to CSM, passed out after being awake for thirty hours. The implication that CSM may have raped her is there, either by himself or through scientific means of fertilizing Scully with an embryo. The issue has rose concerns over Scully’s situation, rightfully and the implication that CSM is the father and not Mulder has definitely caused an uproar with the fan base, and more specifically the “shipper” aspect of the fanbase.

That said, we should keep in mind that CSM has a long, terrible history of being a known liar when it suits his needs. Whether or not William is actually CSM’s and possibly a super human birthed by Scully or Mulder’s child who may have suffered altering effects by Scully’s past abduction remains to be seen.

(This is probably one of the fundamental misunderstandings of the episode. With little doubt, Carl Spender is one of the most deceptive figures in television history. He has always used lies to suit his needs, even forcing a Samantha alien hybrid to pose as Mulder’s sister as a distraction starting in Colony. What his final aims are at the moment are elusive, but there should be little doubt that he views William as a threat, and as a potential tool. Look at the tragic history of Gibson Praise, who’s parents were murdered, and once the boy was abducted, exploratory surgery was done on his brain, and the boy as a teen was forced to go into hiding in an American desert. Considering his hubris, one should not trust Spender’s claims about the parentage, nor believe that he isn’t using Monica Reyes and Walter Skinner as mere pawns, the only thing that is likely true is that he did drug Scully and used technology to make Scully fertile again during the episode “En Ami”, and figuratively he was just stating that in his comments to Reyes, and subsequently Skinner. It should be noted that John Kenneth Muir's review is the complete contrast to the Eat The Corn review. You can draw your own conclusions on it's merits. )

At the end of the day the headline “I Want to Lie” weighs heavy on the season already. We can trust Mulder and Scully but now with two separate conspiracies competing and CSM’s plot to annihilate humanity to suit his vision, it will no doubt be a complex mystery for our heroes to resolve. Hopefully seeing the resolution of a years long conspiracy being solved by Mulder and Scully will be exciting as well as seeing new MOTW episodes which are so loved by The X-Files fans everywhere.

All publicity stills courtesy of FOX.