Friday, June 12, 2015

It's Not what it looks Like: HONEYMOON, FORCE MAJEURE

"This was supposed to be romantic under the stars, not sheets."
In the old days, before cable, VHS and Betamax entered the affordable mainstream, there was something called memory. Films were subject to the warping effects of 'telephone game' oration, passed around like recess versions of campfire tales. Once the film had left theaters it was at least a year sometimes two before it would show up on TV, usually premiering at 8 PM on a major network, where it was panned, scanned, edited for content and time, cut up by commercials, subject to possible static from weather formations above our aerial antenna. Those who saw it on the big screen could then argue over what was missing, what was added, what they remembered that no one else did. People just assumed the 'good' parts were gone... which for us kids meant gore, breasts, and curse words. There was no way to know for sure what you saw by then - and anyway things can always be edited from some prints, not others, and memories themselves often recorded what wasn't, even in the moment - seeing what it thought it would see vs. what was shown.

Look into his false-colored eyes! (HONEYMOON)

Then there were some films, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1972) or Clockwork Orange (1971), that could never, no matter how much they edited them, ever be shown on TV. In the pre-VCR era this meant no one ever saw them again outside of their possible revival at the tail end of a drive-in triple feature, which meant never. Loaded with dread-by-scarcity, those who did see them were considered gods, the bad kids, a badge of cool like smoking or sex. Even if you were lying and we knew it, if you made up something believable and riveting, hey - you were a star. There was no need to even go into the gore or horror involved in those - as if remembering them alone would be too much, that the shock had created a block on your recollective power, putting them into the same category as traumatic childhood primal scene-stumblings or Satanic Ritual Abuse.

Now of course things are better, film-wise, to a point. Nearly all films from Edison onwards are all available all the time, unedited and in original aspect ratios on big widescreen HD TVs. It's such a great era for movies that there has to be negative side effects. For example, gone is the freedom to lie, to hide truth, to imagine a better movie than really exists, to change the narrative along according to our perceptions, instead of the other way around. We might get six different versions of the same film on our DVD set, choosing the R, NC-17, unrated versions. Still, no actual film gore or violence can compare to our lurid imaging. Now, however, our imagination is cut off at the pass and next time it comes around, we can't imagine as lurid as the movie anymore. We've lost the thread.

Two recent films on Netflix streaming, the indie horror movie Honeymoon (2014) and the Nordic import Force Majeure (2014), offer diegetic examples of these negative side effects. Each relies on a certain cinematic familiarity, a common shared iconography that can then collapse as characters within each film are continually forced to confront their own helplessness in the face of real events vs. their instilled and conditioned expectations that they can somehow change what happened through denial or secrecy. In Majeure, an upscale Nordic family's Alpine ski vacation is momentarily interrupted after an avalanche blowback whiteout that rolls over the outdoor brunch patio. Most people don't move or worry but it causes the father to run inside in a panic, leaving wife and kids to fend for themselves (though he might presume they were following him). The whiteout clears, brunch resumes, the father returns like nothing's happened, but the mom's faith in him is destroyed. He only exacerbates her distrust when he tries to remember it differently, to deny and convince her of a different set of facts.

Thanks to ever-present cameras, the white-out can no longer occur in memory instead of recorded image, not in this era, not when the elephant in the room has been identified and deflated, and no one can smoke, be mean to minorities or homosexuals, or otherwise trod carelessly over other people's feelings. He can't change her mind with a loud and forceful "ENOUGH!" and get her to change the subject. In this recorded age he has no power to shape the social construct to his will, and he gets slapped for flinching from each previous slap.

In Honeymoon, the first date of a couple is jointly recalled as taking place at an East Village Indian restaurant that leads to the man, Paul (Harry Treadaway) puking, trapped by food poisoning vertigo on the studio apartment floor of Bea (Rose Leslie). This weakness on his part binds him to her, and their wedding reception has Indian food which they address directly in their video (the movie begins mostly as their wedding / honeymoon video diary): "You tried to keep us apart. Fuck you, Indian food... we win." Yeah, right. Indian food played you like a putter.

Any sane person watching this already senses something is seriously wrong. Paul is just doing a longer range version of what the dad in Majeure does, submitting to a repetition-compulsion complex until the ugly memory is contextualized as triumph. Poisoning is an old trick used by nurses and cooks with a yen for Munchausen by-proxy to weaken and ensnare those they want to keep dependent. As their video progresses, Paul and Bea's intimate talk always seems to weave it's way back to puking, as if it's a trigger that disrupts what should be danger signals in his brain, that something's 'not right.' The puking triggers a skip in the record where normal good judgment normally functions.

Paul should take it as a sign to run - but he's a good guy and good guys don't run (right, Majeure dad?). So Paul rebukes the omen, reconfigures it. The wedding tent for example, seems like a shroud --we never see anyone else in the confessional booth but them - does Bea even have any other family? If she doesn't, Paul never finds out, until it's too late. MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!

For their honeymoon, Bea brings him to her family's cabin up in Canada, where one of the duck decoys has her childhood note in it "Dear ducks - I am not a real duck --stay away." Of course it's too late by then. And whether and what she means, outside of trying to sabotage the very purpose of a decoy (as in to draw ducks to it), he doesn't know, and neither do we, and that's how history --family, marriage, self, individuality, civilization --slips its bonds, like Jack Torrance sliding into a New Years 1928 Gold Room while simultaneously freezing to death (in a white-out) in 1980.

 employs a nice 'suggestion' of a POV home movie, via a Steadicam that whips around the woods and fuses with the opening wedding video, but then it subtly switches over to regular film (or professionally-shot HD ), and soon after that switch is mirrored in the film itself, as this two person isolation takes its toll in paranoia and dysfunction. It becomes another collapse of the social sphere in that uber-paranoid honeymoon Antichrist meets Zulawski's Possession symptom-laden symbolist collapse. The paranoia itself ends up giving "birth" like a virus to some weird The Hallow x  Dagon x The New Daughter x Invasion of the Body Snatchers amphibian reality (or do I just feel that way as 60% of my friends in real life mysteriously married Canadians?)

You don't need a government to make you paranoid. Sometimes all it takes is a Force Majeure, i.e. an avalanche, or worse, a woman...

Good as they both are in their way (I saw them back-to-back on a rainy Sunday on Netflix), neither Majeure nor Honeymoon should be seen on a first date, or even a last. But they do make a great double feature, a before and after of the pros and cons of marrying into the royal reptilian bloodline. Majeure could be the sequel ten or so years after Honeymoon where, instead of a nice redhead hipster revealing herself to be a frigid Innsmouth fishwife, there's a father ostracized by the mom for a single moment of weakness, a whole man resented for the slightest of perceived offenses. Filmed for maximum geometric thermal dynamics, the film, floats squarely in the middle of the Alps, a place that seems inordinately hostile to human life, so that skiing and all the other human 'recreation' is made almost absurd-- like sandcastles in front of a tidal wave. The husband's response (i.e. fleeing) is completely 'natural' of course. It's not until the mom herself overreacts to a moment of perceived crisis towards the end, on a steep dangerous bus ride down the mountain (the precipice dropping below the bus's massive windows) that the balance can be redressed.

Is the wife's problem with her man the fleeing, or that he won't cop to his moment of cowardice? In refusing to remember his flight, maybe blocking it out via subconscious mechanisms he can't control, he's like a kid who just won't admit he stole something to the point of pathology. But she's worse, in that this is a vacation and it's a minor thing but she just can't let the matter drop. Within minutes of the whiteout, brunch is back to normal, with only a thin layer of powdered snow on the plates and coffee surfaces to indicate it was ever there... but she can't forget, and he won't remember. If it wasn't so common in the US (a similar rift forms in the family of Escape from Paradise), one would think the film was overreacting on her behalf. But watching the film it seems pretty natural you'd run for the door and presume your family's behind you rather than run to them to --what-- shield them with your body to make sure you're both buried and suffocate? Either way, as in Contempt, the woman uses this small event as a scratcher to some incoherent deeper itch, trying to test and provoke and de-masculinize the man she married. Vacations bring out the worst in people. It's why I don't, personally, like them.

In Honeymoon the de-masculinization comes from the complete ignorance of some kind of strange Lovecraftian de-evolution in his new (to almost stranger) young wife. The nightmare begins on the honeymoon as she keeps postponing sex and then intensifies when he wakes to find her outside the lonely cabin in the dead of night, naked and with underwear covered in frog egg-style slime. The answer to the mystery of why she needs to be constantly reminded of the most basic things--like her name--begs the question: did he find the right 'thing' when he found her, or is this some amphibious clone pod person changeling, one able to hold the pose of a human for only so long? Is it all paranoid blue ball madness (ala dodging honeymoon 'duties' as if she was hiding her own penis or venereal disease) or is it just that she wants to hook up with this guy down the hill she knows from childhood?

With the semi found-footage approach we never learn any of the answers, except maybe hottie young director Leigh Janiak would like some Paranormal Activity profits or delayed Bug acclaim. She deserves both, taking the same male-female approach (her boyfriend Phil Graziadel co-wrote) that works so well in both films. As with all great horror, it becomes harder and harder to distinguish reality from the vividly imagined the longer we're away from consensual reality, i.e. on vacation in the middle of nowhere, without a stable of normal social others. When there are cops, EMTs--even enigmatic gas station attendants, doe-eyed librarians, lunch-eating coroners--to modulate any accruing cabin fever derangement, we see just how easily escaped are the bonds of a consensual social order.

We might even realize the truth in the process, a truth all couples must accept sooner or later: there never was a consensual social order- it's all just phantoms and shell games. There is, indeed and inescapably, no such thing as objective reality. There is just a shared delusion, a Rashomon-style collective cubist stigmatism. Couples delude themselves that swinging will work when all else fails, or kids, or marriage, or all of it, and then blame themselves, then each other, when it doesn't. Then they accept it. Or die. They die either way, actually.

Oh yeah, and there's the
Successive de-evolution of the masculine father 
in the post-industrial age. 

Sometimes kissing a girl is enough to tingle a man down to the toes. Sometimes he has to keep digging deeper, removing more clothes, grinding closer, just to get the same tingle, approximated or facsimile. He becomes like a relentless miner dredging with his lips for that tingle. Sometimes even after sex he still doesn't get the tingle, so then maybe without a condom? You know, to feel something? Anything? If that doesn't work, then tell her we love her. She loves us, too? Does that help with the tingle? Uh-oh. No, still no tingle. Then marriage. Still no tingle - so kids. On and on, when with the right girl a single kiss would have been good enough to know, for sure, electricity existed.

A smart man would run when that tingle's not there.. A smart man would have run way back at the first lack of tingle, wouldn't have let the Indian food puking sway his better sense, the whole biolgical code is all just there in the kiss. But just the thought of running is cowardly, what a frat murph asshole dude does (since if she's willing you may as well dredge as deep as you can while you can, right bro?)

Still, trying so hard to make it work, the old tingle-deprived misery surfaces like a toadish reminder of all the tingle's that never came. Better keep trying with what you got than just go back to that amphibious nil. After all, maybe it's we who are the problem, not her. Anyway we're not 'that' type of guy, the type who cuts and runs. Fuck you, Indian food.

Honeymoon is not perfect, but it is well-acted, especially by Rose Leslie who manages to look less and less like a human being and more like a bug in the way only certain red haired facial types look when you're looking at them while on, say, enough acid that their small almond chin below their fast talking mouth begins to look like two mandibles moving like a mantis dismantling an unseen fly with sewing machine precision. I applaud that Honeymoon sees that mandible effect too and doesn't need to CGI in actual mandibles, and it doesn't take a post-modern approach like, say, Intervention. It has the courage of its Lynchcraftian convictions. As the film leads to a full blackout just as Force leads to pure whiteouts, there are no easy answers or even coherent questions. None of us in couples ever knows who the other is, or who even we are. Why we should have presumed a 'normal' existed to begin with is anyone's guess (unless it's that we believed the TV).

But then, well the nightmare question that no recent remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers dare ask (there wouldn't be a movie if they did): in a land where no one stays the same, moment-to-moment, at a time marked by no set shared cultural touchstone (thanks to a proliferation of screens and mediums), in a culture driven by myopic narcissism and cultivated shallowness, and shaped only a a ground zero infinity of film history, how would we ever know if our loved ones were supplanted by pods? When the white powder fog clears the brunch deck, or the black-out clears the bedroom, worrying if our mate is the same person before the outage occurred isn't even in our top ten anxieties.

Every minute we stick around is a minute we're not running for our lives.

What or who we're running from is irrelevant when there's so many goddamned directions to choose from. Netflix Boulevard crawls with them, so why feign rootedness? Where is the fleeting urgency to slow down? Our monster monsoon has waited long enough in heaven's white-padded room. Let it come down and eclipse the infinity of our perception so we might once more behold the outline of that dirty finite door. Let us be washed away in high floating style. Bitches be full of tricks. We can stay and be buried or be free and frozen in the Torrence's bit-torrent maze.

Beyond the Door II is, after all, just another name for Shock.

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