Sunday, October 7, 2012

Worm Cakes & Scream Cheese: Hotel Transylvania

Essentially, it's Moonrise Kingdom with different costumes.
Genndy Taratkovsky's Hotel Transylvania follows the line of pro-socialist films we have been seeing for months now and follows the same manner as well with a critique of capitalism to turn people away from it, while failing to glorify socialism, and show how the same drawbacks inherent in capitalism are "solved" by socialism. How does it establish itself as being against capitalism? There are plenty of clues and they are the same ones which have continuously showed up in other films, but I would like to start with that feature which would draw a viewer such as myself to the film: the collection of old horror film monsters.
Why is "fire bad" in the film? Fire not only destroys, and purges, but it''s also the sign of a mob! The monsters are afraid of fires because capitalists are afraid of French & October styled Revolutions overthrowing them and killing the upper-class, like the one in The Dark Knight Rises.The absence of fire in the hotel means the monsters and upper-class who can afford to take vacations in today's terrible economy are safe from being killed/punished. Because Dracula risks being burned to death by the sun in the end of the film, Hotel Transylvania suggests that a mob isn't needed to overthrow the upper-class, they will be purged naturally (the burning of the sun).
Both Hotel Transylvania and Frankenweenie (opening this weekend) know that the "old monsters" have always been culture's catharsis for labeling, identifying and overcoming our fears, like the Boris Karloff classic from 1932, The Mummy, which I have identified as being about the Great Depression (please see The Curse and the Mummy for more). In those films, however, the "monsters" were usually symbols of abnormal sexuality (as in Nosferatu, please see  The Undead: Nosferatu on World War I and homosexuality in the trenches) or other social taboos film makers wanted to keep taboo such as promiscuity (Dracula has often been the primary threat against woman's sexual purity; please see both For the Dead Travel Fast: Dracula and False Light: Interview With the Vampire); now, with a film such as Hotel Transylvania, it's the general population, which is still capitalist, that has become the "taboo faction" of society with socialists inverting the ideas of "normal" and "abnormal."
Dracula with his teenage daughter Mavis who wants to see the world. The film makes us think capitalists are the ones who habitually create "false worlds" to deceive others, but forget how the Soviet Union, North Korea and China have all deceived the world in the past by creating false impressions of prosperity and freedom that did not exist.
Just as (both book and film versions of) Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter establishes itself as being pro-socialist by making all the vampires business owners and wealthy, Hotel Transylvania makes the vampire Count Dracula a business owner and developer of the luxury resort for monsters (and he's a "count," which Frankenstein refers to him mockingly as being "His Lordship," a point of class structure we shouldn't overlook). The point at which Hotel Transylvania negatively illustrates business ownership is two-fold: first, Dracula has to take care of all his guests--so the work itself is drudgery--and, secondly, a legitimate point, Dracula's running of the business tends to come between he and his time with Mavis (and no one would argue that this happens). Before we move onto the other characteristics the film depicts amongst capitalists, and why capitalists, such as myself, are monsters, we should look at the "hero" who depicts socialism and the better standards of living for which the film argues.
Dracula is shown to be a bad employer on numerous levels (a device utilized in Arbitrage, as well) but the film intentionally displays Dracula's superiority complex by his categorizing everyone as either a guest of the hotel--his customer--or his employee, and it's as an employee that Dracula disguises Jonathan, thereby putting Jonathan beneath him economically and socially, although the film reverses that by everyone liking Jonathan and getting upset with Dracula, to the point that, the famous climax of old horror films when the townspeople would mob and go to "get the monster," in Hotel Transylvania, the monsters mob together to go "get Jonathan" and bring him back to Mavis.
How do we know that Jonathan is a "hero of socialism?"
The film erects a series of diametrical oppositions, such as "good and bad," "black and white," "freedom and imprisonment," "fun and boring," "human and human eater," etc., and guess who comes out on the "positive side" of those oppositions each time (The Dark Knight Rises does the same thing, but demonstrating the positives of capitalism, instead)? While Jonathan is the only human with any real involvement in the story, he's also the one who "livens" up the Hotel and brings fun to the entertainment that makes everyone like him (instead of liking Dracula, the owner, so Jonathan is a better "business owner" than the business owner, even). Jonathan's primary identification as a "socialist" however, comes from his limited possessions (he has only a back pack and no known job) and his staying in youth hostels throughout his wide travels (as well as being a vegetarian, more on that below). 
Mavis, Dracula's daughter, symbolizes the future of America, like all young females in narratives, but in Hotel Transylvania, the film makes it clear that the "future of America" is being falsely led: on her 118th birthday, she wants to go meet humans for the first time and Dracula has given her permission because he has built a false village not far away "peopled" with his zombies in disguise. They mock an attack against Mavis for being a vampire and she returns home heart-broken. She falls for Jonathan, thinking he's a cousin of Frankenstein, even as Dracula tries to get Jonathan out of the hotel so she won't "fall for his kind," which Frankenstein tells him is "racist." A vampire making a statement that his vampire daughter and a human can't be together romantically suggests a post-Twilight world wherein there is no moral values separating humans from their greatest enemy, the vampires (and a reference is even made to Twilight in the film). Even though the statement is made by a monster, Frankenstein, it shows the influence Jonathan has over the monsters. No, if you were about to ask, there is no discussion on how Jonathan will be "converted over" to becoming a vampire to live forever with Mavis, or what Mavis will do when Jonathan dies and she's still alive; yes, it's important, because it demonstrates how adverse to reality socialists are in their arguments for their side; we also saw this in Ice Age 4 with the mammoths having possum in them (how did a possum mate with a mammoth? They don't care, neither do they care about a mammoth mating with a ground hog, and this "unnatural" mating shows up in Hotel Transylvania as well).
Food plays a big role in the film, from pancakes filled with live, wriggling worms, to Jonathan himself becoming food for the monsters, and this is one of the (now) typical attacks on capitalism we have seen consistently brought up. The gross food order Frankenstein makes is meant to show that "we are what we eat," and for those eating such disgusting food, we must ourselves be disgusting to want it; Jonathan, on the other hand, orders the vegetarian meal, demonstrating that he is "natural" and "healthy," and for those who want to go the natural route in life, they should also go the socialist route. Dracula, being a blood-sucking vampire, of course symbolizes an employer who "sucks the blood" out of his employees.
The Wolf Man, Wayne, and his wife Wanda, are a sore point of contention with me on this film. Werewolves have had three prominent appearances in films as of late: Underworld: Awakening, Dark Shadows and The Cabin In the Woods. Typically, a werewolf symbolized a man unable/unwilling to control his sexual appetite, thereby reducing himself to an animal (please see The Bright Autumn Moon: The Wolf Man).  The plethora of bratty children Wayne and Wanda have, as well as her being pregnant again, testifies to Wayne's breeding habits; the terror the children wreck is a message for birth control, possibly even pro-abortion. At one point, Wayne is red-eyed and still awake with his pups all around him in bed, sleeping soundly, and he can't get to sleep. This negative image of not just paternity, but of children in general lays out a pro-socialist/Obamacare agenda of the government implementing birth control amongst Catholics who generally favor large families (myself included).
As the owner of a large, upscale hotel, Dracula has the staff needed to run the place: shrunken heads on all the doors constantly saying, "Do not disturb," witches on broom sticks as "housekeeping," zombies as the bus boys and bell hops, as well as knights who act as middle-management (pictured below). After an incident in the hotel, Dracula gets angry with the knight and yells at him, "What do I pay you for?" and takes off; the knight takes the moment to mention, "He doesn't pay me!" and that is intentionally planted in the narrative to create discord between employees and employers and to make people think, "The government would be a much better employer than my current employer!"
An additional facet to the knights acting as middle-management is that it makes capitalism look ancient and silly, whereas, in Resident Evil, we will see, this is actually an advantage. It was the disadvantages of feudalism and the changing work force which gave rise to the open-markets and competition leading to capitalism; Hotel Transylvania thinks this long history is silly and automatically means the American economic model needs to be updated.
We've discussed "vehicles" as symbols of economic stimulation and a great contrast is made between the two in the film. One of the opening shots is of a hearse with the license pate "Undead" which is the shuttle service for the hotel while Jonathan pulls out a green foot-scooter from his back pack, aptly articulating the difference between the two economic models of capitalism and socialism: the hearse, while the car of the dead (because socialists want us to think capitalism is dead) is driving fast and confident through the wild terrain; Jonathan''s portable little scooter is self-operated (the newest green energy) and is promoted as the "it" and exciting thing to have! We saw a similar situation in Madagascar 3, when the bear (symbolic of Russia) tottered around on a tiny tricycle, then exchanged it for a roaring motorcycle, recalling how the Soviet Union went from the inefficient communist system to the fast-paced world of market capitalism. 
Gremlin with Jonathan's scooter. Not only is this a great way to contrast the personal possessions between Dracula and Jonathan, but their lifestyles as well. Dracula has a castle and a successful hotel that serves the needs of his guests; Jonathan has nothing but what is in his backpack and no home, no job, he just "rolls with it." At one point, desperate to get rid of Jonathan, Dracula takes him through a secret entrance and then can't remember the tunnel to take them outside, the castle is so big, mocking the abundant wealth Dracula has. The film also makes it look like anyone can live like Jonathan, and that induces Mavis to go with him but who is going to pay for it? Whose tax dollars will sustain this kind of lifestyle, China's? The ignorance of who pays for the socialist lifestyle--like Jonathan's free-roaming--is a ploy to make people vote for a socialist government because what they think they will personally get out of it.
We recently saw contact lenses being used in The House At the End of the Street and they are used in Hotel Transylvania (funny, the things that film makers pick up on to use?). In Hotel Transylvania, Dracula looks into Jonathan's eyes to erase his memory of what he had seen, but, due to Jonathan's plastic contact lenses, Dracula is unable to. Because the eyes are the window of the soul, Jonathan's plastic covering over his eyes demonstrates how materialism covers over the soul in a socialist government; well, you might ask, if that's what it really means, and the film makers are pro-socialism, why on earth would they put something that negative and condemning in the film? Because they don't believe there is a soul! Everything is material to a socialist, evidenced by the plastic lenses of the contacts, and if you can't shake a stick at it, then, for a socialist, it doesn't exist. Jonathan tries to get the lenses out of his eye with his finger, sending Dracula into a fit of disgust because even the great enemy of humanity knows people have a soul and Dracula can't bear to see Jonathan doing that to his eye! (Please refer to For the Dead Travel Fast: Dracula for more).
Jonathan, not believing he's seeing  a real, walking skeleton, sticks his hand inside its rib cage and another skeleton comes along and says, "Get your hand out of my wife!" (and Jonathan sees her showering later). This is actually an argument we saw with Magic Mike and the "sharing" of a wife because in matrimony, your spouse belongs to you; socialism makes fun of a spouse being personal property of the other (mainly because of feminists) but it also drives home for capitalists the license of sharing in a socialist government and the total break down of morality.
Last but not least, is the role art plays in the film.
Mavis asks Jonathan if he's ever been endangered of being eaten and he says no, except once at a Slipknot concert, a guy was going to eat him; what does that mean? Slipknot has been surrounded by controversies, but, most importantly, they would be considered a product of capitalism because they have been so commercially successfully, introducing the art in capitalism or socialism argument once more. By linking up a controversial, heavy-metal band with being eaten, introduces a lousy moral argument into the fray, namely, that capitalism produces "human eating" art, like the vampire employer/business owners and that such art doesn't exist in socialism. Well, that's partly true, because art doesn't exist in socialism, it's controlled by the government so it's all propaganda. 
You are probably sick of all the capitalist and socialist interpretations as of late (although, really, it's not my fault, it's what all the films are discussing!) but we will take a short break: I am seeing Taken 2 tonight (which has scored $50 million this opening weekend) and getting that up, but then I will be posting on Paranorman and The Cold Light Of Day, both of which will take us away from the socialist/capitalist dialogue for at least a breather!
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner