|Top to Bottom: Forever Young; Captain America; Matter of Life and Death|
In this way there's also an echoes in both of Powell and Pressburger's A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946). Bombardier David Niven isn't deep-frozen in that one, but he does hang suspended between life and death in a frozen ice court/operating room after he has to jump from his burning plane without a parachute. Moments before he jumps he falls in love with June (Kim Hunter), a radio operator with Bomber Command, trying to guide him in through the fog. Their chemistry in their scene is terrific -- they aren't really in the same scene at all, or even the same altitude, but they convincingly fall in love just the same. She loves his poetry-even-in-the-face-of-certain-death gallant sweetness (he dictates a cable to his mother to her) and when he asks if she's in love she notes "I could love a man like you, David." tears in her eyes "I love you, June. Your life and I'm leaving you." - And just like 'that' - they're in love - They're both in love with a voice, and with the pregnant mythos of the moment, a flame they agree has struck in this vast opaque fog-enshrouded darkness. In wartime there is no room for waffling and being coy. When love strikes, the victims don't wait to give it their whole selves but grab on tight in great spasms of each-breath-may-be-your-last intensity.
After surviving he washes up right on the beach where June is cycling home - no coincidence, as anyone who's been in love and found fate thrusting themselves together over and over has experienced. They recognize each other without even needing to hear each other's voice. Is it a dream? We soon learn he was not supposed to survive. His psychopomp lost him in the fog. The thought of having to die a second time and not be with June is too much for Niven to bear, though his the heavenly soul-bearer consoles him he may get to meet her again... when she's 97 and comes up to the heaven at least. If he had managed to get a different operator at BC, he might not mind dying at all. But 97... she won't even be the same person.
In1992, meanwhile, Mel Gibson lives the geriatric-romantic fantasia. He races against time to find his old bitty. What was romantic in the early 90s becomes in 2011 not even worth asking about --a mere regret. Captain A. notes to Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D (though Fury too, presumably was frozen since he fought WW2 as Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos), "I had a date." According to the Comicvine, Peggy Carter is "residing at the Larkmoore Clinic due to old age and possibly Alzheimer's disease."
You think Mel would have let that stop him?
Luckily for Mel's lovelorn pilot he starts to rapidly age soon after he's thawed from his (co-invented with George Wendt) cryogenic prototype. Thawing him, by accident, is a plucky young boy (Elijah Wood) who helps Mel reach his eighties right as he reunites with his lost love, who just happens to have a landing strip-sized front lawn. For Captain America, however, there can be no such strip and no such Wood. Seventy years is just too damned long to pick up the pieces. The next time a WW2 'greatest generation' member awakens from the ice, there will be so much distance between his waking date and WW2 that his lover will be long since turned to dust. And so it is on this past Thanksgiving I celebrated via CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER a country built on the urge to escape... from religious oppression, from time, from the ice (or into it) and, most importantly, from girls our own age.
But as Americans, we don't stop there. Even in our new safely-escaped-to haven we know that to be free and safe and cozy we must go deeper still, up the tinsel-and-celluloid palm trees, into the pulp novel of the cocoanuts and comics, into 3-D and Cinemascope, ever searching for a new excuse to get out of the house over the holidays, to escape from prying parents, screeching spouses, needy, nagging children, loud neighbors, lack of air conditioning. The theater is where we escape on those horrid summer days when our AC gives out. Is it not so? Freezing ourselves, as Americans, in film, becomes the new sky-diving, the new crack, the new Coke, good as a quart of bourbon and a W.C. Fields tape. You just drink and watch until Fields' double vision quadruples, and when you wake up technology and changing tastes and inflation have altered the landscape so drastically you may as well be on Mars.... hangover averted.
In all three of these 'frozen man' films it's hard to scrape together even one worthy bad guy to compet with the real enemy: time. Hugo Weaving's Red Skull works towards RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK meets WILD WILD WEST/JONAH HEX-style world archeological domination as best he can, but since he kills his own Nazi overseers how bad can he really be? He's more into world domination than genocide, so is he any worse than, say, Stalin?
Captain America of course can't understand that kind of high-end politics. His very name and uniform color was always a throw-back to the dawn of comic books, the 1940s, when nearly every superhero tangled regularly with the Axis, including: Captain Marvel, Captain Midnight, Captain Blackhawk, and so forth, and the colors of their uniforms needed to be bright and distinct from the backgrounds for the crude newsprint color printing process. In order to preserve his generic 'every man superhero' quality for modern times-so he can magically do battle alongside the Avengers--without making him seem hopelessly square (ala DC, rather than hipster Marvel), he needs a reason he didn't lose his integrity, the apple pie gleam. But it's a cop-out. He froze because he couldn't develop a sophisticated approach to relationships, political and personal. He was still working up the nerve to hit on Peggy before a chance to sacrifice himself bravely came along and let him off the hook. "Phew!"
And seriously, does anyone really love Captain America? No. He seems like he was created by some drab civics committee to deflect flak about juvenile delinquency. Comic book fans in the 1980s loved, as I did, the Fantastic Four when drawn by Kirby or John Byrne. We loved the X-Men as written by Chris Clarendon. We loved Frank Miller's stint with Daredevil, but Captain America (I presume since I never read him, even though I had a complete run of The Invaders) could never get too dark. He stood for something, and thus seemed wooden, like a support rod for a tomato plant.
And some might say that--in the modern light of things--the baroque steampunk version of WW2 is, in vaguely disrespectful, 'too soon'. In the 1940s comics it was okay to give Nazis gigantic death rays, but it seems now to diminish the true heroism of the men and women who fought and/or died in that war-zzzzzz. And when I see villains wasting time staring at glowing green or blue power sources I begin to think of Red Sonja (1985). Man, I knew that comic fairly well, too, and I really wanted that movie to be good. But it wasn't. Each bad scene and haircut (they gave her a mullet for god's sake) stretched time to tedium where freezing oneself to get to the end credits faster seemed to be already happening, but in a botched version where we're conscious the whole time. Red Skull fares only moderately better in that regard. Red does not mean hot in these cases.
Like Captain America, Red Sonja even as a comic character seemed exist solely to indulge some base instinct (patriotism as the last refuge of the sexually frustrated). Perhaps it is the mark of pure quality when the motivation for a character's creation isn't embarrassing in its committee-conscious contrivance.
On that note, a little background: In the summer, in the early 80s, as a sulky 13-16 year old, I used to put my feet up on both sides of the central air vent in the corner of my room, letting my crotch cool from the blasts of arctic frost while reading all the above comics in my bean bag chair, as well as all the DC war titles like The Unknown Soldier, Sgt. Rock, All-Out War, Weird War Tales, and Enemy Ace. What I mean is, I never had time to have a child thanks to permafrost sterility. And all my old real life crushes and lost loves now since aged into dreadful moms and withered forty year-olds. It's enough to make me wear a beard, and a mask of a younger man to cover my too-late completely blushless mummy skin. If I freeze myself until their grandchildren are over 38 is it skeevy to hit on them when I am woken? These are no longer just the concerns of 140 year-old hunk vampires, but of cryogenic America, a country built on the freedom to defy authority, natural aging processes, time, space, heat, humidity, and the lessons of history.
Freeze me, then, Big Red Sonja Skull, so I can miss Christmas and airport anxiety and just magically get to the time when that AVENGERS movie is finally released... as an eye drop of digitally encoded biotechnology that lets me dream it in 4-D. Freeze me, December, and let me remember a time when I, too, felt human... and 22.
When I was 22, I had a very good year.
Prepare the blue ray and let's pull this spinning plastic disc planet to a stop. But.... wait...
Lois Lane crawls through the bushes,
looking for her Indiana Jones blue pill, but
there is no blue pill. That's what no one told Neo.
The blue pill was a sugar placebo.
There never was a choice of not burning in blushing bushes of idiot reject hell.
Every decade spent hiding in the cold, reading comics while we slowly froze our sperm just postponed our spasmodic initiation,
and now, alas,, the girl we finally worked up the nerve to ask to the prom is too old to dance,
and long since crumbled to dust, or worse, become your mom.
Xmas is coming, son, the least you could do is hit pause.