Friday, September 12, 2008

'Burn After Reading'

I've been wondering what sort of film the Coen Brothers would produce after the unredeemed dark vision of human folly and pointless violence of "No country for old men".

They went for a comedy, which New Republic film critic Christopher Orr describes as "very funny and surprisingly sad new comedy".

It does make sense. NCFOM had reached a blind alley, as far as demonstrating how every good instinct for love, human kindness, and reason can be forestalled by the sheer forceful will of one morally-neutral psychopath (is there any other kind?) who fully understands the way they render humans so easy to figure out and then destroy. A highly empathetic psychopath, who should perhaps serve as a flashing red light for all those who salute themselves for being able to emphathize, even with terrorists and genocidaires.

Having reached down to the deepest, claustrophobic pit of the Inferno, the Coen Brothers are trying to sublimate that despair by offering us an alternative to hell: a funny hell.

"As in their best films--No Country for Old Men, Miller's Crossing, Fargo--Burn After Reading asks what happens when the social contract breaks down (in this case, expectations of marital fidelity, stable employment, the return of lost property), and answers, as before, that chaos and violence follow. Do the Coens imagine that this bleak vision describes the world as it is? I don't pretend to know. But I suspect that, if they do, it distresses them every bit as much as it does their critics."

All this is sheer conjecture, of course. I will know better once I have actually seen the movie. But I have to say, I have, in real life, met some of the clowns that populate this film: "a sweet but needy and sex-addicted philanderer ..." the lonely woman "who imagines a vast surgical makeover will help her find love", and " the boss who has love to offer her if only she would notice". And what I have learned is probably the sort of wisdom that animates this movie: choices, even when clear, are not so easy to make as we would imagine from reading about them. What defines humans is desire, for that which is not quite attainable or possible, and the necessary self-illusion that goes with that desire, without which desire would not exist in our mind, the cursed hope that maybe just this once, we might get what we desire.

I'll get back to this after I've seen the movie.

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