Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Entities Of 'Power': The Apparition & Thomas Edison

This post is graciously dedicated to John Wilson who requested it and has patiently awaited its posting! Thanks, John!
"Entities manifest themselves through energy," Patrick (Tom Felton) explains in Todd Lincoln's supernatural thriller The Apparition and herein lies the heart of the problem the film sets out to tackle, the play on words of "energy," and "power," because we think we're in for a ghost story, but it's really a history lesson on where America's policy on foreign oil and our dependency on the power grid has gotten us. The two keys to understanding the film is that the first "experiment" takes place in 1973, and the second key is a photograph during the credits (there are always several valid ways of understanding a work of art, and this is just one of them).
This is actually a well-done poster: Kelly (Ashley Greene) is being "handled" by nasty looking hands and her mouth is gagged. It's probable that she's naked in this shot. So, as a young female, we know Kelly symbolizes America/ the future of America who is "exposed" (her nakedness) and who would be "grabbing" at us? Well, it appears that those are the hands of the owners of foreign oil the US imports every day to keep this country running, meaning that we should interpret the tagline, "Once you believe you die," to mean, "Once you believe we need foreign oil to run this country, you die to alternative energy sources and being "freed of" foreign influence" (the hands keeping Kelly trapped). A slightly different interpretation--but still consistent with the film--is once you believe you need all the gadgets you live with in your daily life, you die to the possibility of being "free" from them and living a clean life (a life "clean" of gadgets and electronics).
The film begins with a seance type home-movie from 1973, the "Charles experiment," when a group of six people attempted to communicate with the spirit of Charles and "opened a door"; what door was opened in 1973? Probably the energy crisis resulting from an embargo Arab countries launched against the US because of the US arming Israel during the Yom Kippur War that same year. Of all the things happening in the tumultuous year of 1973, how can I focus in on that?
A photograph.
This is the second experiment after the 1973 version; Patrick, in the middle and Lydia, on the right. The film keeps going back to the 1973 seance so the year is important. Besides the 1973 energy crisis, and the Watergate scandal, something else happened upon which the film probably isn't commenting but still makes an interesting angle: the US Supreme Court overturned all state bans on abortion in Roe vs. Wade. Lydia gets "sucked" into the wall as if a fetus in her mother's womb and she's never seen again, making a case against abortion in that women kill other women in the womb when they abort their baby girls (and this case was made in The Dictator; I could elaborate on this, but won't).  What's important, however, is that white, clay statue in the middle, supposedly an image of Charles Reamer from the 1973 experiment Lydia made in engineering class,... what? She had time to make a clay model of some guy during an engineering class? That doesn't make sense, but what does make sense, is that it is an engineer, just like Thomas Edison in the photograph in the credits, and the "focus" they give to the engineer is rather like an act of idolatry, which the film seems to be making the point is what we as American consumers do to engineers: worship them for the supreme gifts they bestow upon us to make life easier (more on this below).
As the film ends, there are some interesting special effects during the credits, mostly involving seance pictures (so I thought) and ghostly or haunted images,... and then there is this picture below:
Thomas Edison, American inventor, with his phonograph and the photo of him appearing in the credits of The Apparition. In the opening narration of the trailer, the commentator says, "There is a scientific theory that ghosts only exist because we believe them to," so how would this possibly tie up with Thomas Edison? Well, listening to Pavarotti singing on a CD, for example, kind of makes him "ghostly" since he's dead but I can still listen to him, and we have Edison to thank for that, or, as The Apparition may be making the point, BLAME Edison for that. Savages, Moonrise Kingdom, the socialist commentary in House At the End Of the Street (which was a capitalist film, but still it depicts socialism) and now The Apparition, all align a socialist state with a state that is closer to nature and off the grid. This is an interesting situation, because--in The Bourne Legacy--we find Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) doing exercises in the Alaskan wilderness because he went off the grid for a few days in revolt over the bad intel they had received on a bad job they had to do, so he was punished, but he doesn't stay in Alaska, he has to come back to civilization and take care of business, so to speak. So some films are making this suggestion that we should totally abandon anything electrical and modern and live as the Indians did but, because of the "ghosts" of Thomas Edison and all his inventions and how dependent upon them we have become, we now believe we can't live without them and so we are being held hostage to this entity that enjoys short-circuiting security cameras and decreasing our home values with exploding light bulbs. 
Why on earth would a picture of Thomas Edison, inventor extraordinaire, be in a ghost story film? Because it's not a ghost story film, it's a film condemning America's use of power and oil and The Apparition lays the blame at the doorstep of the man who created America's electrical grid, Thomas Edison. In other words, there wouldn't have been an energy crisis in 1973 if Edison hadn't invented the light bulb or the means to "power" American homes. "Entities manifest themselves through energy," Patrick tells us, and all the strange shots of Kelly's and Ben's home beside the Anaheim power grid now makes more sense.
The film makes quite a do about camping; in this shot, they have become so nervous about staying in the new house (Kelly's parents' investment home in a new neighborhood next to the electrical towers) they have put up a tent on the back patio porch and plan on spending the night there.  It's a bit of a creepy scene (part of which is in the trailer above) with Kelly sleeping and a security camera coming off the house and mysteriously moving across the patio to film her while she sleeps; well, if they didn't have electricity, or security cameras, that kind of thing wouldn't happen now, would it? That seems to be the point.
Patrick tells Ashley that her "house isn't haunted, you are," and if we pay attention to Kelly's shopping habits and spending of money, it's easy to see her as a typical American consumer the film probably intends to criticize (her shopping at Costco and wanting to get something that would end up in the garage), invoking the "Mountain Man" genre of the 1970s, films such as Jeremiah Johnson of 1972 (Robert Redford) and 1970's A Man Called Horse with Richard Harris and even Dustin Hoffman's Little Big Man also from 1970 (demonstrating that, leading up to the 1973 "Charles Reamer experiment," there was at least a trickle of revolt against "modern life" in America and a questioning of American materialism and how it was effecting us; these are only a few of the films, and I won't profess being an expert on them, just that, at the initial date mentioned by the film, there were movies being made highlighting the same type of concerns The Apparition appears to be making).
The Charles Reamer statue which was created by Ben's ex-girlfriend Lydia who disappeared in their college experiment and mysteriously comes out in a cracked manner when a huge,... mold spot (?) appears in the ceiling corner of the house and Ben prods it with a broom. This scene suggests, symbolically, that we have reached "the ceiling" of our filthy, electrical lives and the moldy substance is a good inward look at what such consumerism has done to our souls; the statue (engineer) coming out is the giving up of the idol that has been the cause of all the decadence in our lives; Ben utilizing a broom handle to prod it suggests a "cleaning up" or a "sweeping out" of the problems but, we're so dependent upon our lifestyles, we just aren't strong enough to break the cycle and not believe that we can live without modern conveniences.
Here is a well-done scene of the film in which they (Kelly, Ben and Patrick) are going to try another experiment in Kelly's house and over-power the entity to "clean" the house of all its ghosts:
Just as they are trying to get the house "cleaned" of the "ghost," a ghost--looking an awful lot like Kelly herself--appears in the glass reflection of the "washing machine" (symbolic of the electrical devices being used to "wash the house" so to speak) and the eerie, distorted reflection we see of the "ghost" is actually a reflection of how Kelly is haunting the house herself, hence, the reason why she nails up the door only to find herself locked inside with herself in her most undesirable, unclean form (which is what all the best horror films do, they show the main characters in their everyday life and then, when they see the "monster," it's actually their own self they are coming "face to face with" and what they have unknowingly become, such as with Ichabod Crane in The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow). Hence, another interpretation of the poster pictured above, with Kelly surrounded by hands grabbing onto her, is the "reality" of all the things she is "holding onto" in life that are holding her prisoner.
The irony the film intentionally depicts is that Kelly and Ben use electrical devices to try and rid themselves of their dependency on electrical devices.
I pointed out that camping is important in the film, first being mentioned in the Costco where Ben and Kelly go shopping, again when they move out onto the back patio and at the very end when Kelly, in some altered state of reality (?) wanders absently through Costco and into a tent, etc.
 In this "sheet mummy" clip, it appears The Apparition attacks the very act of sleeping in a bed--instead of a tent or on the ground, which we shall see in House At the End of the Street--and that act erases or suffocates her identity by "whiting it out" with the sheets, which is an interesting way of putting it. The film mysteriously ends with Kelly walking into the Costco where they were shopping earlier in the fillm and getting into a tent, zipping it up, and the mysterious hands coming to slowly grip her and cover her mouth when the film ends and the credits begin,... so, Kelly has to die because she refuses to believe that she can live life wtihout foreign oil and live without modern contraptions. Why bother watching a film such as this? It articulates the arguments surfacing in the current culture wars, and the more we know about what each side is saying, the better we know what we ourselves think and we can articulate our own arguments.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
P.S.--This is being posted much later, but I think the seance at the beginning, to contact Charles Reamer, is really trying to contact the American engineer "spirit" in this country, that same spirit of Thomas Edison, and those--according to the film--participating in the seance would be people like myself who believe in this great country and the great people in this country, "summoning" the American greats of our history to our modern time as inspritation, but--according to the film--we are getting "sucked in" (the girls disappearing in the walls) to their "lies" of greatness (again, according to the film) and the film wants to show how us looking at the past is keeping us from living with green energy in the future,... according to the film...