Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

All Hail the New Flesh Keychain: ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW

Sticking it to the Walt Disney Military Intelligence Complex by inverting its 'Lächelnd macht frei' ethos, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW, newbie writer-director Randy Moore's black and white chronicle of the last day and night of a family at Disney World, is the first sign the the apocalypse will involve enforced smiling and animatronic vampires holding hands around the world. Beautiful to look at in 16mm handheld on-ride stolen shots (the movie was filmed on the sly without Disney permission), ESCAPE's camerawork delivers surprisingly little whiplash jerky motion sickness and instead offers comedic cognizance, great AMERICAN BEAUTY / LOLITA obsessive midlife crisis management, David Lynch post-modern artifice-surrealism, and Guy Maddin black and white fuzzy basement expressionism. As we watch a nuclear family implode, dad's (and eventually mom's as well) perceptions of reality, fantasy, and papier-mâché facsimile dissolve into one throbbing archetypal hydra.

As the disintegrating papa, Roy Abramsohn is an ungainly blend of guarded and agape. Fired via an early morning phone call (taken out on the hotel balcony to not wake the family) and then locked out on the hotel room balcony by his evil little son (and dad too polite to make a ruckus and wake his perennially irate wife), he's still expected to put on a happy face, and be the spontaneity-loving moneybags for his ungrateful troupe. A pair of nubile but clearly underage French girls (Annet Mahendru, Danielle Safady) are his perfect objet petit a, appearing as if by magic dust, giggling amidst themselves, making flirty eye contact with his children on the monorail, and expressing jubilant post-pubescent vibrancy in that perfectly self-contained way that heralds any sex-starved 40-something father's nervous breakdown. Powerless to resist ogling them like a school boy bewildered by his first hormone surge, he's helpless to resist. And why should he? The mom (Elena Schuber) won't even accept his most rudimentary physical affection, for no reason she can really explain. We Jungians know why though - she's animus-dominated, so any emotional response -- positive or negative--is taken as truth. Her inner dad thinks she deserves far better, and there's no swaying such an irrational voice, and she lacks the self-perspective that would dismiss the voice rather than the husband.

I've always felt that the eye of older men being drawn to younger women is analogous not to cougars but to older women being drawn to other people's very young children, and ESCAPE clearly agrees with me: the film becomes a reflection of the differing gender drives and how one is considered holy and the other vile, each a reprisal against the other. So which came first, man's attraction to younger women or his wife's own longing for adorable-age babies, infants and cherub-faced preschoolers? Shut out of the closed circuit of a child-mother pair bond--unable to raise so much as his voice--the dissolving father is sabotaged by negative portrayals in the media on his role as ultimate signifier. Instead of the proper Freudian equation of father as alpha male and child envious of his priority in the mom's life, the son is priority and the father reduced to abject Oedipal exile, emasculated by the mother-son rejection. But mom doesn't want him leaving or finding love elsewhere either. It's just this sense of isolated exile though that frees him from duty as the ultimate signifier of the law. Why shouldn't he be drawn to a woman still young enough to think he's not a child, but old enough that she's equally cast out of the closed circuit mother-son pair bond? When the girl's too old to be cute to the mother she becomes cute to the father (and a threat to the mother), To the girl, the man's wedding ring signifies both a challenge and a safety throw, a chance to feel like she's correcting the Elektra complex-exile she has herself suffered (think Natalie Wood in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE). Rather than recognizing her responsibility in creating their shared exile, the mother sees their closeness a priori justification for her coldness.

I have a grand over-arching theory that this post-70s change in husbandry was instigated by huge films like THE EXORCIST and E.T. both of which have a conspicuous absence of the dad. He is not even present in a phone call, so mother and child bond against interlopers without him. Ever since E.T. became the new family model dads (with a few exceptions like Brody in Jaws) have been depicted as either wimpy-voiced second class females (i.e. Greg Kinnear) or else gangsters, thugs, rapists, molesters, Satanists, sell-outs, government flunkies, pimps or psycho loners, OR simply not around at all (they only return --with their unique sets of skills--when their daughter's been abducted or killed by a man who IS around, thus negating the father function except en absentia).

Older daughters meanwhile, those not devout or cheerleader bland, are Lolitas by necessity. White trash short shorts eye candy harlots, they tempt weak-willed husbands 'just because they can' or are sexophobic virgins able to forge a sex-free friendship only with some similarly disabused and immanently dead older male, such as a sad-eyed cop, lawyer or mining engineer. Even then, mom glowers to the side, as if the only role their man should have is as a devoted spectator to her perfect bond with their young son (ala Jennifer Connelly in LITTLE CHILDREN). Raising children on their own regardless of the father's presence, these moms are elevated to saints. They have no time for smiles or joy as they work two jobs to put food on the table and swat away questions about why dad left with tearful displays of eternal devotion that all but ensure the son never grows up, leaving the post-pubescent babysitters and any remaining fathers to drive back to her house alone together, with mom's curses and suspicions by way of adieu. C'est fou, eh, Pierrot?

Moi aussi, Marianne. 

But that presumes a certain midlife crisis-level case of bad judgment, the sort only spousal scorn/frigidity and no place or time to masturbate can bring. With that bad judgment comes an inability to correctly read a scene - to never know if the son has black alien eyes or if those teenage French chicks really like you or are just creeped out and trying to humor you. A smart fella would know his perceptions in these matters are seldom accurate, but again that takes self-perspective, experience making a fool of yourself misreading signals. From there it's a short skip and a jump into the abyss of delusional paranoid schizophrenia, and then... Imaginationland!

Does Disney World's all-consuming devotion to fantasy merely encourage this escape, or enforce it?

Some critics complain that we never quite learn what the hell is really going on in ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW. By now you should know I am not one of them.  I applaud any movie that dares blur the line between daydream, fantasy, hallucination, nightmare, and paranoid reality. Once some parameter is set up as to what's a dream or fantasy vs. real I lose interest, which is why I'm no fan of BILLY LIAR, for example.

Ambiguity might or might not rule!

Along his embryonic journey, ESCAPE's dad gets into a fight with his bitch wife, runs into a sexy nurse whose tears and veiled worry about some contagious disease rocking the park make her seem both starved for attention and desperate to seem 'open' to seduction (as soon as she's waved them out of sight with she breaks down - it's okay since no one is watching -smiles are rigidly enforced by the Disney gestapo, we later learn). Dad also runs into a spooky aging Maleficient (Alison Lees-Taylor - the sexiest craziest witch since Deborah Reed in TROLL 2!) who hypnotizes dad with a sparkling jewel, and lures him into a midday tryst at the presidential suite while his daughter sleeps in the other room and the witch's son watches TV. The witch's post-orgasm sad eyes reflect a weary desperation when she tells him that rich Japanese businessmen pay thousands of dollars to sleep with the Disney princesses --and she was one of them when younger, and that not being able to register a single negative emotion all day at work gradually drives every Disney employee insane.

If this all sounds a bit like EYES WIDE SHUT, well, old Walt was a 33.3 degree Mason and the enforced smiling signifies tier-two Monarch programming. Is the witch some kind of manipulator/ trigger sent on by the forces of darkness upon sensing his vulnerability? Or just an accidentally 'activated' Illuminati hypnotized kitten? You'd think getting his rocks off would lessen his frustrated weirdness, but even when the boyfriends, replete with obnoxious long curly hair, of the younger girls show up, he can't get them out of his line of vision. The ride/movie becomes like the approaching pinnacle of a steep flume chutes which only the brave Cinemascope funeral snake handlers such as David Lynch or Bunuel dare plunge. But like them, Randy Moore knows that when you can no longer tell what's real or illusion, you are finally free, finally getting your all-day pass's worth. Monsterdom begins at home and if you have to look farther than the mirror to find your mortal enemy, you never really had one to begin with.

Little CGI flashes of animatronic fangs, blackening pupils, shining hypnotizing jewels, and fairy wings all do a bit to cement this equation. Moore's use of Disney's subversive archetypal psychology against itself constitutes a kind of psychoanalytic detournement, enabling the idea that, in order to appreciate a fake wonderland, your schizophrenia has to supply the missing details. Having never tripped at Disney World I'm not sure if this is what it's like, but before this movie I presumed it was like the classic SIMPSONS episode where the kids go to Duff Gardens and Lisa ends up drinking the water under the log ride and hallucinating wildly, eventually declaring "I am the Lizard Queen" but Moore's film is now the new benchmark. Little moments: the pre-fireworks pool scene, wherein both the girls and the wife seem to be both pulling him towards him as he floats in the middle of the pool until he seems trapped in the center of the pool like a spooked Marilyn caught between Gable's, Clift's and Wallach's rodeo lassos in THE MISFITS. Lifeguards pull him out of the water thinking he's drowned; has he? Is this what it's like in your last hours on earth? Are heaven and hell really all commingled in a land of fake castles, expensive witch costumes and nubile woodland fauns with braces? Considering all the photos being taken in the park it's hardly surprising that a guerrilla film could be pulled off but it's still an audacious move, throwing legal safety to the wind (Disney is a notoriously rigid enforcer of their copyrights) along with any semblance of sanity or logic, and aside from a few missteps, such as a scatalogically unfortunate climax (I went into the other room until the gross noises stopped) it's pretty tight with the ambiguity. Even the shots that are obviously filmed against a blue screen generate absurdist post-modern unease.

If ESCAPE ends up being slightly less than the sum of its parts I for one shall not complain. I've always felt the French are far more clued-in about how to balance work and play. If you go to the beach for a month, you never feel the clock ticking on your space for enjoyment. You never feel the crippling urgency of fun, you're never burdened with the imperative to have 'more fun' than you are having now (the family rapt before some display of fireworks or whales, and mom or neutered father going "isn't that wonderful, Caitlin?!' or "isn't this fun, Caitlin?!" unable to shut off her motormouth thought babble even before a spectacle that overwhelms any rational need to comment). Instead of this (socialist) cognizance about the inability to have fun under a time clock, America surrenders to the idea of the one week vacation, the trip to Disney World as being some sacred ideal to aspire to and hold holy as you slog away the molasses hours at work the rest of the year, saving money and deferring all joy in life for this one expensive dream week, until you're finally there, and any sense of spontaneity or fun buckles under the pressure.

But old Walt is too canny to not understand this basic problem, hence the all-inclusive package stay, which makes the unlimited access to all rides and accommodations a liberating freedom from any imperative to enjoy, though some moms stick it in anyway (like the one in ESCAPE). Here's an example: My dad traveled all the time for work so hated going on vacation with us. He needed a break, so my mom took my brother and me by herself to Bermuda one year and then Disney and Epcot (shortly after the latter opened) the next. Going to Bermuda without him made me feel I had to step in, even at 11 years-old, and be the man of the family, which meant worrying about how much everything cost (I wouldn't go snorkeling since it was $23 an hour per person, so my mom and brother went and I sulked in the room, afraid to touch anything lest we be billed for it) but at Disney my oldest man of the house status didn't compel me to take on responsibility. We had already paid up front, so it was about getting as much as you could out of it. And being able to monorail back to the hotel and then return at night to Epcot was just getting the most out of the already paid $$ (which I didn't know how much the package was, hence I was free!).

I mention all this to draw the conclusion that fathers might be needed in Bermuda but are superfluous at Disney World. Their dreams are never meant to come true, because their dreams involve being single, childless, and young. And since they can't go back in time to being 22 they do not belong. Once they see a way back into the past, a chance to dive onto (or under) the passing train, they take it. They get drunk, dance around, buy a motorcycle or a fez, and let themselves be seduced by younger women. But beware giving up your adult father power, Papa. This move will only confirm mom's treatment of you as just the oldest child, the perpetually 'in trouble' oldest son as the mom submits to her stern animus' daemon lover edicts. You can try to feign spontaneity while she glowers and nags, but the bloom will not come back to her thorny rose and the souvenir 'all hail the new flesh' mouse ears have grown so deep into your brain as to be irremovable. When you finally look for the treasure map that leads to your buried balls you find it's been torn, frayed, and scattered Osiris-like to the far corners of the REKALL amusement park. Lucky for you then, there's a facsimile souvenir offering proof you ever had some, and photos. Look at this one... it's proof you had fun. You were there, and you're even smiling!

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