Defining (and redefining) contemporary fascism may be a losing game, but identifying the destructive forces of moral conservatism remains as depressingly easy as ever. Another thing that remains vivid: the misogyny at the corrupt core of modern patriarchal life.
It’s never confirmed that the film’s “right” Chinaman is a statue whose head stands still and straight. Yet this remains all a matter of perception, as well as interpretation. The object is thus tactile yet vaguely defined, and leads to a larger question: if the Chinaman doesn’t belong here, then what, or who, does?
What does giving such primacy to the nonhuman and inanimate mean for the other elements onscreen, specifically the human or the animal? What does an object convey? What is its meaning within an art form that is itself so given to fears of impermanence?
I am left with the feeling that Many Saints is an expression of Chase’s archness run amok, rather than an invitation to immerse myself in a universe like that of The Sopranos, where, like our own, everyone feels put upon, can’t see past their pain, and therefore fail to notice the pain of others.
Noe uses two cameras to capture all of their travails in intimate close-up, allowing us to see them both at once using split-screen. Such a formally rigorous approach tends to call attention to itself, naturally inviting questions of aesthetics and perception.
His movies are about fraught relationships and breakdowns in communication, but without any histrionics; they often fracture time and chronology, but not in a cloying or self-consciously experimental way. They are so emotionally transparent that they run the risk of being mistaken for simple-minded.
The chaos of the moment feels aptly reflected and deeply felt in both a Bogdanovich slapstick classic from the seventies and a Hammer horrror gem from the sixties.
In this ongoing column, one writer will send another a new piece of writing about a film they have been watching and pondering over, in the hopes that this will prompt a connection to a different film the other has been watching.
Malick’s filmmaking, especially here and in everything after, strikes me as a way of using the cinematic form to piece together a visual approximation of a world made unknowable by our own perceptions, our own human limitations.
Seeking historical and temporal specificity ultimately proves fruitless, and provocatively so: The Irishman is, after all, based on an account of a subjective reality, an exactingly detailed version of one man’s perception of history, and of himself.