“God’s Own Country”, directed by Francis Lee, may come across as a “Brokeback Mountain II” from Ang Lee a dozen years ago.
This time, the setting is in Yorkshire in northern England, apparently in the 1960s or so, before modern technology. Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) seems a little squeamish over his farming duties – in the opening scene is vomits when getting up on a day he has to help a sheep deliver a baby. His parents, especially mom, seem concerned about his manliness. In a nearby town, he finds nelly boys who make him feel a little manlier by comparison. Gay life went on in rural England, even only a couple decades after Alan Turing’s tragedy (Britain decriminalized sodomy in 1967). When a roughshod immigrant, Georghe (Alex Secareanu) arrives from communist Romania, the new guy first intimidates Johnny because the comrade really is very good at doing everything on a farm. The time of this movie may have actually been intended to coincide with the fall of the Soviet bloc and Ceausescu. But soom Georghe’s dominating (very cis-male) behavior entices Johnny and they fall in love, with some passionate scenes when out on the range with bedrolls.
A family crisis ensues when dad has a stroke, and Johnny has to really take care of dad personally. That leads to a whirlwind plot climax in the men’s relationship.
The film has graphic cinematography of the live animal birth scenes, with how farm boys really do this. The animals “know” and “trust” them (“it’s only me”). I’m reminded of a live birth scene in Walt Disney’s “The Vanishing Prairie” (1954), a bit of a sensation at the time.
The film was preceded by a 10-minute short “Breakfast” by Tyler Byrnes. A young man David (Altan Alburo) invites a boyfriend Alex (Tommy Bernadi) (quite handsome but apparently with dysmorphia) with an eating disorder to share a fattening breakfast. The film contains David Lynch-like scenes with chest tunes invading.
The show, sponsored by Reel Affirmations of the DC Center at the Gala Hispania theater in the Columbia Heights area of Washington DC, was preceded by a stand-up by Rayceen Pendarvis, advertising himself as 68, who got everyone one into a brief hug-fest. That isn’t my own personal message, but that’s for another time.
“The Big Sick”, directed by Michael Showalter, written by comedian Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, does, even as a romantic medical comedy (if there is such a thing) lay out the issue of assimilation for religious minorities, especially Muslims.
Kumali, playing himself as having come with his parents as a little boy from Pakistan, does comedy gigs at Chicago nightclubs, more or less on Rush Street. His more conservative but well assimilated Muslim parents urge him to go to law school and become respectable.
Kumali falls in love with a (Gentile) girl Emily (Zoe Kazan), and they start sleeping together. One day Emily twists her ankle in a supermarket, and a few days later is in a medical coma with what looks like a life-threatening opportunistic pneumonia. Kumali is the only one present until family arrives and pretends to be the husband. The doctor asks if she has HIV, which could mean that Kumali has been exposed to AIDS himself. (Yes, heterosexuals can spread it.)
But it turns out that Emily has an unusual automimmune disorder, related to genetics (and probably an earlier infection like mono). Eventually she pulls through, and the end of the film will deal with whether they still have a relationship.
The film presents a few social issue confrontations. Early in the film, when Emily shouts out at him, he scolds her for harassing a comedian, which is considered rude behavior in comedy clubs. (Ask Kate Clinton, whom I have watched on Netflix.) Nevertheless, that helps start the relationship.
While Emily is in the hospital, a caricature of a while nationalist and “Trump supporter” harasses Kmali in the club as a recruiter for “ISIS”. The boorish troll gets tossed by security, but not before he is told he is “bad person”, part of Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”.
Then there is the scene where Kumali is confronted by his parents. Why doesn’t he think about his family instead of himself, they say. Why is an arranged marriage to a Muslim girl not god enough for him? Why won’t he grow his beard? (He looks quite handsome and charismatic as he is, clean-shaven but with his hairy body; most middle Eastern people are actually “white”, a fact that gets lost on a lot of people.) Why won’t he kneel and pray five times a day facing Mecca? Kumali does not such formality is necessary to have the personal faith.
I worked in I.T. or 30 years, and I always encountered software people from India and Pakistan. Until 9/11, nobody thought about religion in the office. Everyone was assimilated. The parents are shown as well off, with beautiful Islamic interior decorations and art work in the house, and well assimilated into American capitalism and business.
At the end, Kumali moves to New York to start in a new club, and Emily has to make a choice.
I’ve covered some of the argumentation about gay marriage in a review of a film about it here July 5. But an encyclopedia-like book like Nathaniel Frank’s “Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America” (2017) can cover a lot more detail than a documentary film or video. Still, this particular issue seems to have both sides talking at or past one another, playing with the subtleties of language itself, like in “Paul’s” Youtube videos.
I have to admit some distraction. I had to finish reading the last chapter on Obergefell and then the philosophical Epilogue (Arnold Bax-like) just as the news exploded this morning with Donald Trump’s edict by twitter banning transgender troops from the military. Different topic (I’ll come back to the military thing soon with another post) – and indeed a marriage with a transgender person can turn into a straight marriage but without the possibility of procreation, exactly like a heterosexual marriage when the woman is past menopause. I guess that shows partly why tying marriage to procreation gets so problematic.
At the very beginning, Frank says that marriage law is important by indirection: logically, those who are not married or do not have the benefits of marriage can be excluded from some of society’s benefits as a consequence of mere logic. In fact, that generally describes how things were in my own life in a world that (until very recently) where being married usually meant having minor dependents that one had sired – but it didn’t always mean that. And single people and same-sex couples have always had dependents. But someone without dependents can find his life disrupted by the needs of others anyway – as I found out with my own eldercare situation. There is a “dynamic imbalance” in life (like in a chess position, say a Sicilian) between having fewer responsibilities and more disposable income, and at the same time being less welcome in some situations,
The debate over “gay marriage” has become sometimes interchangeable with “gay rights” or “equality”. Or let’s say “the right to marry” is a tricky idea. As a logical matter, anyone has the same “right” to marry a consenting adult member of the opposite gender (when gender is binary), but not the same capability to procreate or even enjoy penetrative heterosexual activity in a relationship. Frank talks about discussions about marriage as early as 1963, and then about the Baker case in Minnesota in the early 1970s. Frank also explains how marriage became a focus (among gay “activists”) as to whether gay people should assimilate (and share risks and responsibilities, including serving in the military) or resist. Did liberation mean walling off the outside world and creating your own (like in the East Village and the Ninth Street Center, with its polarity theory, in the 1970s)?
Indeed, overseas, “gay marriage” as been illogically comingled with gay rights in general, as in Nigeria with its draconian law in 2013.
Frank indeed covers the history of gay rights in general, including Stonewall, Anita Bryant, the Moscone-Milk assassination in San Francisco in 1978, the Briggs Initiative in California that could have banned gay teachers (1978), the AIDS crisis and Reagan’s indifference, the sodomy law litigation (Hardwick v. Bowers in 1986 and Lawrence v. Texas in 2003), and the history of “don’t ask don’t tell” in the military. In the 1990s, particularly in Hawaii, debate on gay marriage for its own sake as a marker for personal equality in general, started to develop, even as cases like Romer v. Evans (Colorado Amendment 2) grew. Then, of course, Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, under political pressure. Frank presents the 90s as more negative for gay people than it really was for me. Frank gives many side anecdotes that are important for other issues: Dan Choi and don’t ask don’t tell as a valued Arabic translator needed for intelligence purposes; the fact that one of the important marriage cases involved a person who died of ALS; the male couple in Florida who took care of foster kids with HIV.
Then , in the 2000s, the cascade of litigation started, with Massachusetts in 2004, leading eventually to Obergefell, with many steps along the way. These included the idea that you could encourage the states to go their own way and experiment first, before solving it federally, although then you had the Full Faith and Credit issue (to be resolved in Obergefell). Along the way came Gavin Newsome’s marriage day, and then the whole Proposition 8 saga in California.
Frank has a few juicy quotes that show how gay marriage became a cover for a bigger question about hyperindividualism and sexuality. On p. 236 he refers to the risk that the “gradual transformation of marriage from a pro-child societal institution into a private relationship designed simply to provide adult couples with what plaintiffs say is personal fulfillment. It was a sinister echo of the old canard that homosexuality was primarily about indulging individual selfishness, while somehow heterosexual pairing was about contributing to the greater good.” When was this canard actually stated? Is the greater good to be found in protective courtship and doting? It strikes me that this is like a three-lane highway in Virginia (indeed, Marshall-Newman, 2006): it can be more challenging to raise adopted kids in a same-sex relationship that survives a few decades of aging than a conventionally heterosexual one with biological children. If marriage is expanded to include relationships with no penetrative complementarity, will heterosexuals decide that it isn’t important to marry before having kids? Indeed, the record so far is that gay marriage does not encourage heterosexual divorce or discourage heterosexual marriage. (Baseball player Bryce Harper beamed his Mormon heterosexual wedding celebration on Superbowl Sunday on Facebook.) Later, on p. 349 (in a chapter on Obergefel there appears, “While defenders of gay marriage bans in 2015 did all they could to avoid appearing anti-gay, the notion that letting gays marry would transform the institution from being ‘child-centric’ to ‘adult-centric’ fit squarely in the tradition of demonizing gay people as selfish and indulgent, and gay rights as the triumph of a narcissistic culture over a responsible and temperate one committed to the common good.”
In 2010, Nathaniel Frank had published “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America” through St. Martins, about nine months before Congress approved the gradual dismantling of “don’t ask don’t tell”, the certification of which was completed in September 2011.
If you’re 74 years old, it’s generally not too appropriate to expect an intimate relationship with a 21 year old, however legal. My own mother used to say (back in 2000, when I was 57) that even 30 was too young for me, even for “friendship”. So what’s the next best thing? To play match maker, as “Uncle Bill”, on Facebook and Twitter. Yes, I’ve done that. I know of much younger men who should meet each other. Sorry, I don’t use Snapchat, although there is a lot of snappy smartphone chat in this film.
This is, “The Matchbreaker”, directed by Caleb Vetter. Wesley Elder (sounds LDS-like) plays the energetic, articulate, socially charismatic Ethan Cooper (Wesley also helped write the script and story). He’s skinny, cis-male, and hairy chested. I could say that this comedy is “Milo” for straight people. He gets fired by giving too much away to customers as a computer tech in a store that looks like Best Buy (I think of the Nerd Herd in the store Buy More in the old NBC series “Chuck” where Zachary Levi plays a spy disguised as a repair techie).
So Ethan goes into business for himself, somewhat by accident, as a matchbreaker. Parents hire him to break up relationships of their teen kids (first daughters and then sons too) by double-dating them and causing his clients to make faux pas. Like in one case, a gawky male (Olan Rogers) isn’t able to jump off a river boat to save a girl who jumped in. It’s all sexist and chauvinistic. Ethan has a best friend and roomie played by Osric Chau as part of a tag team.
The film doesn’t have the outrageous social setups that made sitcoms in the 1950s funny, but that may be what it needed, rather than playing itself as a Shakespeare-inspired comedy. Eventually, he’ll be exposed in a comic near-finale (rather like “All’s Well that Ends Well”) and face the idea he could lose his own girl friend (Christina Grimmie), an only half-willing accomplice.
The film is shot in “KCMO” – Kansas City, Missouri, with many spectacular shots of downtown, all the way out to the famous shopping malls (the Country Club Plaza, south of downtown, near most of the bars), with some scenes on the Kansas site, and some scenes in Leavenworth, KS. I was last in the area in the summer of 2006 but I know the area well because I earned my MA in Mathematics in 1968 at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Army service followed. I would have liked to have a scene a Royals Kauffman Stadium (been there once).
I used to rehearse the phrase “equality of opportunity” in my own mind when I was younger, because I thought providing that would provide a moral basis for looking at people through my own distant guise of meritocracy.
Richard Reeves, senior fellow in Economic Studies and co-director on the Center on Children and Families in the Brookings Institution, and himself a naturalized U.S. citizen from England, takes on this aspect of inequality in his brief new book “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What We Can Do About It”. That’s a mouthful of words for a book title.
One of Reeves’s key observations that it’s not just the top 1% who show their privilege, it’s more like the top 20%. And it is true, kids of affluent parents tend to do better in life than kids of poor people. And it’s true that affluent parents are more often European or Asian and Christian or Jewish. Poor parents are more often African or Latino or Native descent.
And affluent parents to dote on their kids. David Callahan had covered this problem in his 2004 book “The Cheating Culture”.
But Reeves goes particularly after policy patterns that give affluent parents to “hoard” opportunity fr their kids in what he sees as a zero-sum game of “positional play” (as in chess, you have a finite set of pieces and sometimes you make small sacrifices).
He does support individualism (as supported by meritocracy), for adults. He thinks that grownups need to accept the idea of downward mobility to balance things out (I remember that period after my forced “retirement” at the end of 2001 and what the pimpy job interviews were like). But for kids, we need to keep them raised up.
He has a number of specific policy proposals. These include backing down on exclusionary real estate zoning laws so that people of different incomes and their kids mix, and the end to legacy preferences in college admissions and internships. He does take up the student loan problem to some extent, not going as far as Peter Thiel to call it a scam. And he waffles on condemning unpaid internships (compare to Ross Perlin’s 2011 book “Intern Nation”). He thinks that Charles Murray (“Coming Apart”) and Robert Putnam (“Our Kids”) are too nice to rich people, for different reasons. He does take a swipe at the lenient treatment of inherited wealth in our tax code.
Putnam thinks that much more needs to be done to help disadvantaged kids in person, but he seems to want big government behind it. He wants teachers to pay their dues by working in poor neighborhoods, and he wants to see home visits. He sees this sort of escalated interpersonal intervention into poor families as a job creator.
Reeves makes the point that legally married parents who wait until marriage to have kids raise better kids. He takes a libertarian position on adult consensual sex as long as unplanned pregnancies don’t happen. (There’s a whole world of population demographics that he does not touch.) He supports planned parenthood programs and criticizes the GOP for its hypocritical moral squeamishness. He would not be too sympathetic to single moms because they usually result from carelessness. He also notes that higher income and better educated people are more likely to marry and also more likely to avoid bad health habits (like cigarette smoking) and generally avoid obesity – and indeed higher income teens are much less likely to be obese and generally are better able to balance screen time and Internet use with real world physical activity and opportunity. He does not consider same-sex marriage but probably the same observations would hold; same-sex couples seem able to provide the same supervision for kids. There’s one outlier he does not mention: single gay men, who don’t fit the marriage profile. But in upper classes single gay men often compete very well because they have more disposable income and haven’t had kids, ironically part of Milo’s (and my) “dangerous” argument.
Richard V. Reeves
“Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What We Can Do About It”
Brookings, Washington DC; 196 pages, hardcover, endnnotes, indexed
Freedom to Marry was the legal assistance organization, largely under Eva Wolfson, that helped steer the many courtroom victories that finally made gay marriage legal in the United States, under the Full Faith and Credit clause in our federal system, in June 2015. Wikipedia has a detailed factual history of all of the separate cases here, finally leading to a cadence with Obergefell.
“The Freedom to Marry”, directed by Eddie Rosenstein, is a relatively new documentary chronicling the entire achievement. It ends with a happy shutdown – of the offices of the group at the end of 2015, when its work is done. It makes a good companion piece to “Love v. Kentucky” (April 17). There was some call for people to sponsor screenings of the film, but now it is available on Amazon and iTunes.
Of course, that was about the time that Trump’s campaign was getting going. Donald Trump has even said that he views same-sex marriage as settled law, but Neil Gorsuch’s behavior in his first days as the new Supreme Justice replacing Scalia leads one to be concerned. Remember, back in 2003, in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, Scalia (“a peaceful man”, by his own self-description) predicted a coming legalization of gay marriage. I want to take a moment here to note the passing of freelance writer Phil Chandler, who wrote many columns on gay equality, from ending sodomy laws to marriage.
The new film does give a useful history, particularly of the 1990s, when there were pioneering cases in Hawaii and Vermont while the parallel debate over the military “don’t ask don’t tell” got going (and when Romer v. Evans was resolved). In 1996, President Clinton signed DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, meaning that the federal government itself would recognize only heterosexual unions as marriages, even if states wanted to experiment on their own. In my 1997 “DADT-1” book, I even encouraged this approach, that it had to start with the individual states to go anywhere. My own “29th Amendment” has proposed that. I did not see how quickly the tables could turn, starting in 2004 in Massachusetts, even with George W. Bush (the “sanctity of marriage”) in office. I remember those times. In the summer, Rick Santorum had tried to propose a federal marriage amendment limiting federal marriage to “A Man and a Woman” (like the 1966 French film), while Diane Feinstein excoriated Santorum for wasting the Senate’s time when it needed to pass an anti-terrorism bill. I recall the C-span program, with a Bruckner symphony playing during the intermission. Earlier that year, then editor Chris Crain (“global citizen”) had penned his famous editorial in the Washington Blade, “Piddle Twiddle and Resolve”.
The film also shows the vigorous counter-demonstrations at the Supreme Court in 2015 (the film has shown the countdown of days until oral arguments, to maintain the impression of suspense), even the Westboro Baptist Church. There seems little doubt that what they object to is not just gay marriage but the permissive practice of homosexuality (and now gender fluidity, which is something different) itself. The opposing sides seem to talk past one another. There is one passage where an anti-gay group makes no apologies for demanding abstinence from people who find only homosexual attraction interesting. For several years, the conservative paper “The Washington Times” always used quotes this way: gay “marriage”. Earlier arguments against gay marriage in conservative periodicals frankly talked about babies.
The arguments for marriage have always centered around “Equal Protection” rather than “due process” (the latter was more relevant in the sodomy law litigation). There is a tendency to divide society into affinity groups, and especially define suspect classes of people who have rights abridged by being members of the group (or of a “people”). I am not very comfortable personally with arguing things this way.
Of course, it is true, if you have, for example, an elderly same-sex couple and one depends on the other for eldercare, or one dies, and then the couple is hot treated the same by the courts as a heterosexual couple would have been, this is a personal problem for the survivor and represents unequal treatment. (I can remember sitting next to a lawyer on a plane in 2006 whose legal specialty was this problem.) But I also recognize that, at an individual level, talking about “equality” as an absolute concept gets one running around in circles. One can say, for example, that all of us have the same equal right to marry a member of the opposite sex (assuming sex is always binary, which it isn’t, even in most of nature). But then I am left with the idea that I get much less reward from the prospect of heterosexual intercourse (which could have led to procreation earlier in life) than a “typical” male. So my life takes its own individualized course. Equality becomes very situational. My parents are deprived of a lineage since I as an only child. I develop the ability to find a lot of satisfaction in the projection of certain fantasy material, which can have artistic and expressive value. I take on fewer responsibilities (not having kids) and less debt, so I have more disposable income even if I am in a sense “less than equal”. But I can be called upon to make sacrifices for those who have kids – that might happen in the military (it didn’t, but it could have), or I could wind up having to raise a relative’s child (again, it didn’t, but the “Raising Helen” scenario has happened in other families). What does equality really mean in this interpretation? It seems that personal morality encompasses a lot more that owning up to one’s own choices in the narrow libertarian sense.
Nicholas Wade (science reporter for the New York Times) created controversy and anger with his 2014 book, “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History”. Right away, I wonder if this is the conservative-to-libertarian answer to Al Gore’s idea of “An Inconvenient Truth” as a book and movie title.
Let’s go over his basic argument. Mankind originated in Africa (we are all “black”), and a mass migration north split off into two groups: one group, gradually becoming Caucasian, settled Europe, the Middle East, and India. Another, becoming “oriental” settled East Asia, centered on China. More recently further splits led to separate groups in Australia (aborigine), and the Americas (across the Bering Strait).
Mankind started out living in tribal groups with very close association with biological kin, as is common among other primates and many social animals. First in Asia, and later in Europe, as populations increased and faced a “Malthusian trap”, populations had to organize into larger social and political groups (sometimes mediated by religion) to feed themselves. Gradually, as social structures became more complex, society started to reward deferred gratification and individual problem solving. Families who were good at these skills, compared to using short term use of force and tribal violence, tended to prosper, especially as commerce developed. They had more children. So in some parts of the world people are better adapted to modern civilized living than in others.
Africa, by comparison, did not have the population growth and geography that favored the growth of modern states, and colonialism intervened before it had time to catch up. Likewise, smaller populations in the Americas and Australia did not have as much population mass to build modern states, although it seems to me that the Incas and Maya indeed built impressive civilizations.
For other reasons having to do with geography and the relative safety from invaders, Europe went through a second wave of innovation and developed openness to modern science (and balancing the power of the centralized state with other institutions) that led to technological superiority. This is not always connected to “white people”. Muslim populations in the Middle East often maintained tribal ways for geographical reasons, and tended support religious fundamentalism in a tribal context. In China, innovation did not continue as quickly because the state became too centralized and conformist.
Wade has a lot of discussion of genes, alleles, and the statistical nature of how these are distributed. At an individual level race may mean nothing as to innate capacity. But in the aggregate, aggregate small differences in some psychological traits associated with genetics can wind up having profound political consequences.
Some reviewers have criticized Wade’s analysis of genetics (like on a final exam in Biology 101). He gets into the issue of IQ, and notes that by some measures East Asians measure the highest, then Europeans, and then Africans. But the work of others “A Path Appears” by Nicholas Kirstoff, would claim that the relative intelligence of groups in different parts of the world has a lot to do with child medical care and the availability of early learning. But Wade maintains that it is not easy to teach “western values” to tribal populations.
Wade also goes into detail on the relative success of Jewish populations in intellectual and artistic pursuits, and hints why western classical music sounds richer and more nuances than tribal or folk music of many parts of the world.
I think that Wade’s comments on the values of tribal societies are very interesting. Tribal groups (most of all, hunter-gatherer) are both egalitarian within and authoritarian. The values behind some kinds of religious social conservatism (like “The Natural Family” by Carlson and Mero) reflect extended familial or tribal values. In tribal culture the nuclear and extended families develop slowly as social constructs, with many rigid rules about gender. It takes many generations for nuclear families to develop and it may venture toward polygamy, favoring more powerful alpha males; in the beginning, most men interact with women and protect them from rival tribes collectively. Sexual intercourse is strictly about procreation and, when in marriage, is connected to local privilege over the lives of others in the family. Family values evolve from a system where most men had to be good at warrior behavior to protect the women and children in the tribe. The refusal for a man to sacrifice himself when required to do so for the tribe is considered cowardly, and Wade bluntly points this out. That relates to the practice of military conscription of men by more advanced states. It also helps explain “homophobia” (and now “transphobia”) and why modern gay rights seems so recent and so dependent on modern civilization. But the practices of some native tribes would refute that claim. In any case, personal morality is about a lot more than just making wise choices according to consequentialism.
Modern neuroscience does support the idea that various personality traits are influenced by genetics (and for sexual orientation and sometimes gender identity, epigenetics — I won’t get into how traits that seem to hinder procreation remain persistent here). Sometimes these can become pathological or destructive, as in various recent violent events related to mental illness and probably somewhat to genetics. Indeed, the existential “combativeness” of young men in tribal cultures seems hard-wired to a degree shocking to people who have grown used to openness. So it seems reasonable that over time, characteristics that promote individual competiveness in an open society, rather than just following the group, could be favored and become more common in an advanced culture.
There’s one other thing to say “in favor” of tribalism, as it occurs in nature. I think there are reasons that it may connect to “the afterlife” (through genetics) better than a self-directed individual’s own “soul”. I’ve covered this recently on my News Commentary blog. Ponder again, the big cats: lions are social, tigers are not, and in a pride the alpha male lion guards his own lineage first.
“A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History”
“Heli” is a gut-punching dramatic film about involuntary family responsibility in the third world, specifically rural Mexico in an area overrun by drug cartels. The film (in Spanish with subtitles) is directed and written by Amat Escalante, with other writers Gabriel Reyes, Zumurt Cavusgolu, and Ayhan Ergusel. The film was shot in 2013 and has shown in Cannes and Sundance and is now becoming available on DVD from Strand Releasing (June 27).
Heli (Armando Espitia) is a an slender, appealing young man, about 20 with wife Sabrina (like the 1955 film name, Linda Gonzalez), 12 year old sister Estela (Andrea Vergara), and father (Ramon Alvarez). Dad works at the local auto assembly plant, which looks very modern (and perhaps tried to take American jobs – to Donald Trump’s consternation) and Heli has been working the night shift for some time. Estetla has a boy friend Belo (Juan Eduardo Palacios) who seems to be going through paramilitary training (maybe from a drug cartel) where he is forced to roll in his own chunky vomit.
Belo stores drugs in the family’s house, and when Heli finds them, he destroys them by throwing them into a well. But soon the house is raided, we think by police but they may be drug dealers disguised as troops. Dad is shot, and the rest of the family, as well as Belo, are captured.
The film’s middle section has one of the most graphic torture scenes ever filmed I’m recalling New Line’s “Rendition”, where Jake Gyllenhaal’s character witnesses “my first torture”) in which Belo’s private parts are set on fire, as if to imply permanent castration and epilation, and affront to “the virtue of maleness”. But soon Belo dies and his corpse is hung from a bridge in a public lynching.
The film had opened with a shot of Belo and Estela in the back of a pickup truck, leading to the lynching, as a prologue before the opening titles, a story preview familiar from the films of Jorge Ameer.
Heli is spared with worst but still injured. He eventually talks to police and is in the position of being the sole protector of his younger sister as well as wife and baby. The sister has become pregnant. Heli’s injuries cause him to be inefficient working on the factory assembly line, and soon he gets fired. But, as in typical screenwriting, he must prevail.
A reasonable comparison could be made to Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 film “Traffic“.
Guanajuato archeological site, near where film was shot (Wiki).
When and how viewed:
Strand private screener on Vimeo, 2017/6/22, DVD BluRay available 2017/6/27
“It Comes at Night”, written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, puts it all together: frightening horror in a suddenly primitive Catskills forest environment off the grid, family loyalty, radical hospitality, doomsday-prepper survivalism, and personal moral karma. Even if the premise is different, I’m remembered of classics like “The Blair Witch Project” and “The Last Broadcast”.
The background premise is a little bit open to interpretation. A horrible pandemic has suddenly stopped the civilized world, rather like the super-flu in Stephen King’s “The Stand”. Symptoms include vomiting black blood (yellow fever). But rather than multiple road trips, this film presents a home stand. A former history teacher Paul (Joel Edgerton), open minded enough for an interracial family with wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and teen son Travis (Kevin Harrison, Jr.) holes up in the woods in an ample house (a kind of “Cabin in the Woods“), hoping to become the next Noah. One night a young man Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into the house looking for food and water. Paul keeps him bound and quarantined outside but eventually the men start to trust each other. Each has a family, and that’s very important/ Paul drives Will back into the woods, escaping one ambush, and eventually brings Will’s wife and young son (Riley Keough and Griffin Faulkner) to the house.
They set up a little commune with house rules, rather like an intentional community (like a miniature Twin Oaks). But when the dog detects a menace outside and disappears, the trust between the two families, who have to behave according to certain norms if they can get a mini-civilization restarted at all.
The presentation of the dank insides of the home in the film is quite chilling. The force intimacy within each family — including the family bed — is something I could never deal with. This leads to an eventual catastrophic confrontation between the two adult fathers. I could not function in this kind of world. You have to be want just remain alive enough for your own genetic progeny to function this way, like a wild animal with just the remnant of civilization to restart.
The dog’s fate does pose a real question about where this threat came from.
“It Comes at Night”
Trey Edward Shults
When and how viewed:
Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/6/14, ample crowd on a weekday night
As I recall, my late mother liked to read some of Daphne Du Maurier’s novels back in the 1950s. Despite the French (Norman) name, she fits well into courses in “English literature”, following the Victorian novelists, writing about their time period but with a touch or gothic horror and supernatural as well as class given romance. I remember reading two novels by Thomas Hardy (including “The Return of the Native”) in 12th grade, and some George Eliot aka Mary Anne Evans (“Silas Marner”) in 10th, with the way a little girl named Eppie humbled the Scrooge-like Silas. The best known film based on Du Maurier that I had seen before was Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca”, with the burning of Cornwall at the end. The other classic film, based on her story story, was Hitchcock’s “The Birds” in 1963 (I have visited Bodega Bay twice).
“My Cousin Rachel”, the new British period gothic romance film by Roger Michell for Fox, based on Du Maurier’s mature 1951 classic gothic novel, is set in the same Cornwall, and opens with a shot of the fragile coastal cliffs that will play a crucial role in the movie plot (the details of which, Rachel’s death, are changed from the book). Here let’s say that the movie and book touch on the whole moral question about the proper way to behave with inherited wealth and estates. Think of the politics: the conservatives (the GOP in the US) wants to eliminate the death tax and grow family generational wealth, Trump-style; the radical Left, like the People’s Party of New Jersey which I spied on in the early 1970s, wants to eliminate privilege and especially inherited wealth. There are questions even in how I manage my own estate (link). A good friend from California in the Log Cabin Republicans world tells me and an entertainment attorney tells me that George Eliot’s novels dealt with the “dead hand” and the proper use of inherited wealth a few times in her novels, and this seems to be a preoccupation of English novelists. (High school English teachers, take note, even if I’m not subbing for you now; good test question material.) People could be pursued by relatives or other interests based on the way arcane language in a will is re-interpreted, the source of a lot of handwritten-document intrigue. This whole English class system seems to fear expropriation. As if the inheritances hog wealth that could become a poorer person’s safety net, even in conservative parlance. The really radical Left regards inheritance as stealing. Even Thomas Piketty doesn’t go that far.
The central characters are Philp Ashley (Sam Clafin), the 24-year-old looking forward to taking over his guardian’s estate (cousin Ambrose, who has mysteriously died in Italy), cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz), the godfather Nick (Ian Glen), now supervising Philip until he comes of age at 25 and more distant relative Louise Kendall (Holliday Grainer), who has plenty of suspicion of Rachel. Let us say that Philip is assertive and dominating, if a bit of a home-body. One scene shows a real hairy chest, but in those days women didn’t have to shave their legs, either.
The plot is both Hitchockian and a bit of a stretch. Philip first suspects Rachel of poisoning his guardian. A trip to Italy and shown Rachel in cahoots with one Rainaldi. But once back home, as she moves in and as Philips gives her an allowance, he starts to fall in love with her.
Here comes the stuff about inheritance. The guardian Ambrose had left the family estate to Philip, so he doesn’t need another job and keeps the servants. But there had been another will leaving it to Rachel, unsigned because apparently Rachel didn’t have child. Philip feels conscience-bound to turn it over to her, but expects to marry her and live off the wealth anyway.
The late part of the movie turns into the love-hate. Philips has potentially procreative sex with her once (and in older families people do have sex with cousins, and it happens today in some circles, not a good idea). Philip gets sick, and suspects her of poisoning him. Their interactions become surreal (as in a stage play, something Jesse Eisenberg could come up with), as Rachel, after Philip turns over the estate to her, won’t marry him. There are hints that she has a lesbian relationship on the side, and that Rinaldi back in Italy was homosexual and wanted much younger men. Even so, I was left with the impression that at first wanted just to do “the right thing.”
Then Philip finds a clever, undetectable way to get rid of her. It’s different from the book, but pure Hitchcock.
At the end, you feel you have indeed watched a horror film. Other reviewers have criticized the film as too tame, but I found it rather compelling.
The film draws out the period look, showing how people sign legal documents with quill pens to make then so final and official.
The movie reminds me of “Raising Helen” (Disney, Garry Marshall, 2004), where a young woman has to (or gets to ) raise a sister’s child as part of an estate. And I recall the short story by John Knowles, “The Reading of the Will”, in an anthology “Phineas”, which contains the story upon which the coming-of-age prep school tragedy [anticipating the WWII draft] “A Separate Peace” film (1972, Larry Peerce) was based. Yes, he jousted the limb,