Out on video this week is Oliver Stone's Savages, and from Blake Lively to Salma Hayek, from Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Travolta, to Taylor Kitsch and Demian Birchir, to Benecio Del Toro (and I will be greatly surprised if Mr. Del Toro is not nominated for his performance) the performances are at the peak of perfection. Savages examines two pot growers Ben (Taylor-Johnson) and Chon (Kitsch) who grow "the best pot in the world" and the process of rival Mexican cartel led by Elena (Hayek) and Lado (Del Toro) taking their business over. While you have read a number of deconstructions I have done on various works of art, Savages stands as Mr. Stone's own deconstruction on both socialism and capitalism and the inherent wrongs within each, and for this reason it's worth considering because it's a pure vehicle of politics against both major economic models dominating the country and, while I disagree with his assessment, he does an admirable job of using visuals to communicate political concepts to his audience.
deconstructing and not employing another perspective? Word play.
Whore Houses & Soccer Stars: The Hurt Locker for more). Chon first describes Elena's gang cutting the heads off several people as "savage," then Lado describes Chon's, Ben's and O's threesome as "savage" and finally, O describes their life in the remote island at the end as being beautifully savage. So what does the word "savage" mean and to what does the title Savages refer? Who are the savages and what makes a person a savage? This is one branch of deconstruction and Stone does it to show how, regardless of what the capitalists think of the socialists, and the socialists think of the capitalists, both sides are guilty of crimes; how does he encode this message for us?
Sex and drugs.
Socialists, of course, would say the cartel doesn't, but the monopolizing and taking over everything for themselves (the way a socialist government owns everything) is the characteristic linking the violent group to socialism as well as the violence used to enforce the take over (Marxism, socialism and communism have tremendous violence in their history). Further, socialism tends to breed paranoia within the government, and the ruthless torturing of Alex (Demian Birchir, A Better Life) is commonly associated with the show-trials of Stalin (The Dark Knight Rises employs show trials as well invoking the past of the French Revolution; for more on show-trials and power, you might be interested in Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish; it's not without problems, but it is interesting). Lastly, Elena's role as a mother fits in with the socialist mask because a socialist government presents itself as a parent to its people even though, as in the film, it is an unwanted parent (the dead children of Elena, as in The House At the End of the Street, symbolizes the countries in which socialism had taken root and lived briefly, but then died).
|By far, the strongest arguments to be made that we can see Elena's group as symbolizing socialism comes in the way O is treated while in captivity. She has to ask for everything and she gets no variety, typical of a centrally planned government that distributes everything and decides what gets made and what doesn't. Stone wants to force this issue to the audience in as strong of terms as possible, and he achieves this with the image above, when O, a pot addict, asks to have some and Lado takes a hit for himself, then gives O her hit by exhaling off her; like people under a socialist government, O won't get anything except "through" the government like the drug first going "through" Lado (likewise, Lado gives O a steak, but he cuts up every single bite and makes her eat it off the fork, another way Stone shows what happens to those who look to the government to provide instead of providing for themselves). Secondly, after O is high and unconscious, Lado "screws her" and records it on his phone, which is how most capitalists see a socialist government treating its people: even if the government gives you what you want, you're going to get screwed for it (like with Obamacare; we've seen another film where drugs have been employed by a socialist state, Dredd; please see 96% Unemployment: Dredd & the Socialist State). What does this scene say about the capitalists, though? O is obviously spoiled and a drug addict. In Savages, drug addiction symbolizes Americans' addiction to material goods and luxury, whereas in Dredd, the people are dependent upon Mama (Lena Heady) for everything. When Ben and Chon discuss how to get O back and how long it will take them, Chon says that O can't survive being a hostage for a couple of days and it's because she's "soft" and "pampered" (O tells them she's going to make a final "pilgrimage" to the mall; whereas a pilgrimage used to be about going to a sacred place to become spiritually healed and rejuvenated, O going to the mall means it's the luxury life of material goods which has replaced the spiritual element in a consumer-oriented world which capitalism has created. Just as drugs are an artificial means of producing pleasure so materialism is a form of drug addiction because it provides pleasure to the consumer, according to Stone.|
|John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1852, the Tate Gallery, London. Where else have we recently seen this image? Melancholia with Kirsten Dunst (please see Dance Of Death: Art n Melancholia for more). There are lots of ways to portray Ophelia, but both films turn to the act of Ophelia drowning herself. In Savages, we can understand O drowning herself in pleasure (drugs and material goods) and this leads us to answer the question proposition by O at the opening monologue: O says that, just because I am narrating this film doesn't mean I am alive at the end of it (another example of Stone's deconstruction, because the film is not only exhibiting self-awareness that it is a film--breaking down the viewer's willingness to suspend disbelief that they are watching a film and not some reality through vicarious means--but also that we may or may not have a reliable narrator who we can trust to deliver us a truthful message) so, when we see her buying fish at the native market in the end of the story, is O alive? given the word play and utilizing of masks in the film, we have to consider that, although she's physically alive, is she spiritually/metaphysically alive? As she, like Ophelia pictured above, drowned herself in sex and an irresponsible life or has something awakened inside her to take the place of the sex, drugs and materialism? It's debatable, or ambiguous, because there is nothing definite by which to answer the question, which is another characteristic of deconstruction.|
|There are several important elements which take place in this scene. First, Elena has invited O to have dinner with her at her table instead of in O's prison eating pizza or steak fed to her by Lado, demonstrating how a socialist government always gives itself the best and only makes a show of being generous to its citizens when it wants something (in this case, Elena's daughter doesn't want to see her and Elena is lonely so she invites O to eat with her; Elena also has kept the best part for herself, not offering better food/shelter to O and this is typical of socialist party leaders who indulge themselves while making the citizens suffer; please consider, for example, George Orwell's Animal Farm). Elena also can't believe how dumb O is and asks if all Americans are like that; why does this happen? Socialists build their philosophy upon everyone (except themselves) being stupid (and I mean stupid) and thereby incapable of making any good decisions for themselves so the government has to decide everything for them. When Elena's and O's conversation turns to Chon and Ben, and the threesome relationship they have, Elena informs O that Ben and Chon are only willing to share her because "they love each other more" than they love her. What does this mean? Capitalists love other business owners more than the country (O as symbolic of America) and what they do they do for themselves, not because they are patriots, but to protect their interests. O's faith that Chon and Ben will save her reflects America's faith that the upper-class, the 1%, will save the country from a future of socialism.|
|This might not be the exact version of The Phantom O the Opera Stone places in the film but all the varying stories rely upon the vehicle of money and financial ruin to propel the story through its plot.|
|Lado, who can be taken as a symbol of those who work for the socialist government, is truly brutal and self-serving, not serving some higher good or ideal, which is what they want us to believe about them.|
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