Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Without Music: Amour & the Morality Of Love

As of March 1, I posted additional material I realized was missing from the original post; sorry!
One doesn't have to know that Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuella Riva) are music teachers to understand how strange the absence of music in the opening credits is; by the closing credits, when there is no music, the viewer understands why Oscar nominated director Michael Heneke conspicuously left out the music: the music is the flavor of love, and love without music, it appears, is no longer love. Winner of Best Foreign Language Film, and nominated for both Best Picture and Best Actress, Amour demonstrates what happens to an aging couple after the wife suffers from deteriorating medical conditions. (As always, this post contains spoilers, so if you prefer not to know what happens before seeing the film, please stop reading now; thank you!).
Numerous pieces "play" an important role in the film, and here they are: Impromptu opus 90 - no1, by Franz Schubert,
Impromptu opus 90 - no3, Schubert,  Bagatelle opus 126 - no2, by Beethoven, Prélude Choral: Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, by Johann Sebastian Bach/Ferruccio Busoni.
The film presents important, but potentially controversial issues so if you are going to watch the film with someone, you might want to make sure it's a good selection. I was expecting to be the youngest person in the audience, but there were lots of "younger" people there, not very many who could be classified as senior citizens, actually, and that might be due to the subject matter.In the opening scene, we see the ending: police break into the flat of Georges and Anne, finding doors taped shut with packaging tape, no sign of Georges or the nurses; police wear masks and anxiously try to get windows open, clearing the air before them by waving their hands and so we understand the stench filling the room: then we see why. A door is forced open and there is Anne, dead and decaying, no one having any idea she has been that way. With a navy blue dress on, a Crucifix lies upon her chest, a bouquet of flowers in her hand and flowers strewn around her on the bed. What's the point of starting with the ending? So we can pick up on the signs as the story reveals itself and we can see the moment the characters break.
Arriving at the concert performance of a former pupil, I originally made the observation that at the theater, in the image above, there is a poster advertising the The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, a ghost story. So the question is, are there ghosts in Amour? Yes, from the burglar when they arrive home after to the show, to the slow "disappearance" of Anne as her illnesses progress, and the "appearance" of Georges the monster, the background poster offers an interesting angle from which to understand the events of the narrative.
So, structurally, the movie opens with a break-in (by the police), then—after Georges and Anne return from the theater—there is another break-in, someone having used a screwdriver to force the lock on their flat door, and they discuss it. Georges comes home after Pierre's funeral and finds Anne on the floor beneath a window she had tried to close against the rain outside but she fell instead. Later, after Anne's condition has been worsening, Georges has a nightmare. All four incidents are related symbolically, for example, after the door of their flat has been damaged, Anne tells Georges of someone telling her about someone who broke into someone else's flat through the attic, cutting out all the valuable paintings from their frames and stealing them then we later see close-ups of all the paintings spread throughout Georges' and Anne's flat: the heavy impressionism and anonymous figures, some with no defining characteristics at all. These aren't valuable paintings in terms of monetary worth, but just like the photo albums Anne flips through at the table, they are valuable for the memories they contain of how they acquired the painting, the sentimental value, in other words, but those paintings have now been stolen, just like the ones mentioned earlier, because Anne can't remember anything about them, so that value has been stolen from Georges and Anne and so the paintings have been stolen from them.
Director Michael Haneke and Jean-Louis Trintignant who portrays Georges.  Like Life Of Pi, Amour incorporates Mandelbrot sets, a story-within-a-story narrative device, and the film wants us to know that it knows what it's doing. During one scene in the salon, Georges sits in his chair and just above the crowded shelves is a set of Russian dolls, the type where there is a big one, and a smaller, identical one inside that, and a smaller, identical one inside that, etc. This is the perfect example of a Mandelbrot set, one I have often used in other posts, because it demonstrates how the same story (like the features of the Russian dolls) are repeated on varying scales throughout the narrative: the break-ins, for example, and the stories Georges tells Anne throughout the film. The purpose of employing this device, as in Life Of Pi, is that it shows us, it doesn't just settle for telling us, what is happening to Georges and Anne, and the film isn't going to show us just one way of understanding what is happening to their marriage and relationship, but several ways, so we understand what is happening to them, and we can understand ourselves. Georges asks Anne, when she expresses that she no longer wants to live, for her to put herself in his shoes, and what she would do if he had come down with her condition, but Georges is also asking us, the audience, to put ourselves in his shoes, and that's what art does, make us think what we would do if we were in the position of the characters, because art's duty is to expand our knowledge of ourselves, our deepest self, to offer a ground to encounter our self where we don't encounter that self elsewhere in life, but must engage if we are to become full, mature human beings.
What's so ingenious about the film is the use of a break-in to introduce a third person between the relationship of Georges and Anne, because Anne basically becomes someone Georges doesn't recognize as his wife and that's the explanation of him killing her, then her “appearing” towards the end, doing dishes and them walking out of the apartment together: Georges got his wife back. The break-in happening before Anne starts showing symptoms of her condition is the “third person” starting to reveal herself in their lives, the Anne who doesn't want to live anymore, the Anne who can't speak, wets her bed, has to be bathed by someone else, has to have a diaper, refuses to eat or drink, Anne who has become a defenseless child is the third person in their marriage, the third person in their love. Now that we know who “broke into” their apartment, we can understand Georges' dream.
 We could say that Georges has three “dreams”: first, the dream he has when he hears the door bell ringing and he goes into the hallway filling with water; secondly, his “daydream” when we see him sitting in the salon, watching Anne play piano, then he turns and stops the CD and she disappears and, lastly, after he has killed Anne but he hears her in the kitchen washing the dishes and they leave the flat together. The film chooses the timing of these alternate realities” well because just as Anne slips into an alternate reality where she is a child again, so Georges slips into an alternate reality of the past because his own childishness is coming through. For example, when Anne starts moaning while Georges shaves, he goes and tells her a story about being a child at camp, because that story he tells her reflects how he views taking care of Anne, like the rice pudding he doesn't want to eat, he doesn't want to care for her anymore and he kills Anne because “Anne” (the new, intruder “Anne”) has killed his love, his wife. It's of further interest that Eva mentions coming home and hearing them make love and being reassured that they would always be together because they loved each other; the “music” they made in the bedroom together has ceased (the music we don't hear in the beginning and ending credits) and love making in bed has been replaced by death struggles and groans of life slipping away.
We don't realize it's a dream until he wakes up in bed, but Georges hears someone ringing at the door; when he goes to open it, no one is there. He steps outside and there is scaffolding, as if someone has been working outside their flat (this is an important detail we will discuss later); Georges calls out but no one answers, so he turns down a hallway and he's ankle-deep in water; just as he realizes something is wrong, an anonymous hand reaches around from behind him and covers his mouth and he wakes up beside Anne. The hand covering his mouth is that of an older person, and we can specify that it's Anne hand because we do to others what they have done to us (we tend not to follow the Golden Rule of doing to others as we would like to have done unto us, rather, we reciprocate what they have done), so when—towards the end—Georges suffocates Anne, it's because, in this dream, we are seeing “someone” (the person Anne has becomes/digressed to being) suffocating Georges by covering his mouth. The water is the flood waters that cause drowning, in other words, Georges is slowly drowning just as Anne is slowly disappearing. Now that we understand Georges' dream, we can understand what the pigeon getting into the house symbolizes.
 Just as the eyes are the windows of the soul, so windows can symbolize either the soul or the interior reflection of the soul (because glass of the window panes “reflect” just as characters will be by windows or look out of windows at key moments in art, because it shows the audience how that character is taking something in or letting something go). When Georges returns from Pierre's funeral, he finds Anne on the floor beneath an open window and it's raining outside. Anne's glum expression of embarrassment that she fell trying to close the window, and that Georges has to pick her up, reveals to the audience more about Anne—even as she's trying to hide/deny all her emotions and thoughts—because the open window that Anne could not against the rain shows us the “sad” or “depressing” thoughts the rain symbolizes (maybe the same water filling the hallway in Georges' dream?) that are “flooding” Anne's soul because she isn't strong enough to close the window; this interpretation is validated as Georges tells Anne about Pierre's depressing funeral and she interprets Georges to say she doesn't want to go on anymore. In the discussion about the pigeon, which flies in through the window and which Georges releases at the window, the symbolic nature of what a window is and how the narrative employs it must be incorporated into the reading.
Almost always, a bird will symbolize either the Holy Spirit (because the Third Person of the Trinity has manifested Himself as a bird throughout Scripture) or a metaphor for the soul. We could construct a reading with the soul, especially the second time the pigeon gets into the house, because it's with the blanket Anne was using when she first came home from the hospital in a wheelchair that Georges captures the bird, tying Anne and the bird together (the way recurring items connect symbolic occurrences in Life Of Pi), so the second time the pigeon enters the flat, we could interpret the bird as Anne's soul since the blanket is tied to Anne all ready; that doesn't fit in with the first time Georges sees the bird, so that reading doesn't really work as a strategy because it fails to account for all the occurrences of this specific motif. Rather, understanding the pigeon as the Holy Spirit is strengthened as a interpretative strategy when we consider the window the bird flies in through, the Crucifix Georges lays upon Anne's dead body and the scaffolding outside the flat in Georges' dream.There is a total of three birds in the film: the first time a pigeon enters the flat and George gets it out; the second time a pigeon enters the flat and George captures it using the plaid blanket wrapped around Ann when she returns home from the hospital and the drawing of the bird on the shelf in their salon (and one of the only pictures in their salon that doesn't get a close-up in the montage of art in their home, but is seen almost every time anyone exits or enters the salon). 
The third bird of the film pictured here on the shelf. Eva (Isabella Hubbert) plays an important role in the film. When we first meet her, she provides a litany of her husband Geoff's (William Shimell) infidelities against her within the music ensemble to which they belong and how she always takes him back. Her father Georges asks her if she loves Geoff and she replies yes, rather unsure, then the two of them later come to visit Anne and Georges. What does this mean? The lengths to which we have to go for love. Personally, I would not tolerate my husband's unfaithfulness, I would do much better at caring for a sick spouse, but the point the film is seeking to make is the very nature of love--when at its deepest moments--is the absence of music, the absence of joy and happiness, even the very absence of love; instead, the greatest moments of love are moments of silence, moments of pain and suffering, moments of forgiveness, that's amour.
If we take the bird to be the Holy Spirit, and--as usual--the house (in this case, the apartment they live in) to be symbolic of the soul, then it demonstrates that, spiritually, Anne's illness has come upon Anne and Georges so both of them can grow in saintliness and holiness; this contributes an interesting understanding to the scaffolding we saw outside the apartment in Georges' dream when he steps out, demonstrating that God is "working" on the soul, (please remember the Scripture about Jesus knocking on the door and coming into a person's home--read: the soul--and that could be applied here).  However, this interpretation also colors the entire film: has God "broken into" the soul of Georges and Anne? Was God the unknown hand who covered Georges mouth in his dream (please remember that the Holy Spirit appeard as the Hand writing on the wall in the Book of Daniel)? Georges views the pigeon who enters the apartment as a pest to be rid of, is that how he views God?
Morally, what does the film say about end of life issues and deteriorating health and the obligations of spouses and family members to a person who, even if they want to die, lives on in spite of “being a burden” and dominating the lives of those who are still healthy? Amour, like all art, will re-enforce that which a person all ready believes. If you think a person should die/has a right to die if their “quality” of life goes down, you will site incidents in the story to support your belief, because there are plenty of them to support that position; if you are like myself, and believe that each of those incidents are trials to expand Georges' love for Anne and Anne's discovery of her inviolable dignity as a human being, regardless of the condition of her physical and mental health, there are plenty of examples to support that as well. If you disagree with me in my moral position, you might easily say, “But you aren't in Georges' or Anne's position, and it would be different if you were suffering that yourself or responsible for someone who is enduring that condition,” but the truth is, I all ready am, two different people in my life who I take care of are in similar conditions and are extremely trying. On every level, it's incredibly difficult, every single minute, but without this opportunity God has provided for me to become a better person, I would remain the self-centered, childish, arrogant monster I had always been, rather like Georges.
 What, if any, evidence does Amour offer in support of my position? Two examples will suffice in addition to that which we have all ready discussed. First, after Georges tells Anne the story about having been to the movie and he saw a “schmaltzy romance,” Anne mentions that she won't let it ruin his image in old age and Georges asks, “What image?” to which Anne replies that Georges is a monster, but he is also generous. We see a plethora of examples of Georges being generous with Anne, and the landlords, but we also see Georges being a monster when he suffocates Anne, which leads us to the second example, the nurse he dismisses, because of her treatment of Anne. One could say, and the film invites people to say so, that because Anne herself mentions wanting to die, Georges performs a mercy killing, as the case is made in Million Dollar Baby, which compares Maggie (Hilary Swank) to a dog being put down. If one views humans as animals, that there is no difference between a person and a dog—and there are certainly plenty of those people—this is a perfectly acceptable understanding of the film. We know Georges can be a monster, and we know, by the film's own standards, that abuse of the elderly and helpless is unacceptable, as in the case of the nurse who is dismissed, so this substantiates—for me, who all ready holds this position—that “mercy killing,” and euthanasia is still murder, plain and simple.
We can't really make any concluding comments about a film like this, because it stays with us, rather like the passages of favorite pieces of music, but it asks us a question which reveals our whole, individual philosophies in life: is silence the lack of sound, or is silence its own sound? We want music in our lives, we don't want the silence, but it's in the silence that we hear God. Georges makes fun of Pierre's secretary playing The Beatles song Yesterday at the funeral, yet that's exactly what Georges does, not only when he plays a CD and imagines it to be Anne playing (the way she was yesterday) but also at the end when he daydreams she is washing the dishes and they leave the flat together, because he longs for the past, not the climaxing end with the quivering notes signifying that a master is playing the song, but only a repeating of what has come before.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Forest Of Symbols: Life Of Pi and Chaos

The reason it has taken me so long to get this review up is due to research efforts: not knowing much about Indian history, I have been studying a specific aspect presented in the film which I have been unable to confirm, even after consulting the original story, which leads us to a interesting problem I will elaborate upon below. Life Of Pi will be released on disc March 12 but you can watch it now at this link on People either love or hate this film: if you enjoy the decoding we do on this blog, you will thoroughly enjoy the film; if you, or someone you know, only enjoys movies as "entertainment," they will not enjoy the film because, like Beasts Of the Southern Wild, it employs elements of magical realism but what many don't like is, at the end, the film decodes its own story: Pi supposedly turns the real, human survivors of the shipwreck into animals so he can better cope with what happened: the orangutan was Pi's mother, the zebra the French Cook kills to eat and use as bait is the sailor with the broken leg, and the hyena was the French Cook, killed by the tiger, Richard Parker, Pi himself; the animals in the boat (like the animals at his father's zoo, who he compares to hotel guests), are codes to decipher; as we begin to understand one code, we find more and more in the film needing to be decoded and deciphered. 
Why is this film so good?
To receive 11 nominations from the Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture, is no small feat, and it won 4 awards, more than any other film this year (Best Director, Cinematography, Visual Effects and Original Score). How can a film receive so much praise, even elevating it to the level of "the miraculous?" For two reasons: first, it teaches us that miracles do exist; secondly, it teaches us the power of art. It's my interpretation that the entire story is an encoding for events occurring in India during the 1970s, but if the author were to put it in those terms, the historical, the economic, corruption, poverty, human suffering, his story, his experience, would become lost in the "sameness" of all the other stories which tell stories about that; translating the Indian government as "the ship of state" that sinks, and his sorrow at having to leave India behind doesn't convey a story to the audience, rather, it weaves a vivid, singular experience with which we can invest our own emotions and personalities to bond with the art in the perfect consummation of the spiritual and intellectual. In short, Ang Lee's Life Of Pi deserves each and every award.
There has been much discussion about how they didn't even think this film could be made because of the nature of the story of a boy being on a boat, in the middle of the ocean, with a tiger; there is another reason they story might not have been able to be made: people wouldn't get it. Films such as Jurassic Park (“Nature will find a way,”), the character of the Griffin in Men In Black III and the ideas of universal harmony in Beasts of the Southern Wild, has prepared us for a narrative based upon the use of Mandelbrot sets which we first learned about (if you didn't take a seminar on chaos theory in college, that is) in Darren Aronofsky's 1998 geek-thriller Pi. In Pi, when the numbers of the famous equation begin repeating themselves, a “set” has completed and a new set begins all over again, and every facet of life, from people coming to our doors, to the stock market to the very name of God Almighty, is revealed by this number. The exact principles are resurrected in Life Of Pi, because it's not only the life of a little boy leaving India, but also the very life force contained within the equation Pi.
Please notice the trees in this poster: they are just like the trees we see Pi's girlfriend standing amidst when he follows her after dance class and he asks her the meaning of the last motion she made during her dance; she is the lotus hiding in the forest, and that forest is found on the floating island of meerkats with the carnivorous plants hiding Pi's own tooth.
Without a doubt, this is a complex film: it invokes mathematics and all the major world religions, so how do we know where to begin in finding the most comprehensive interpretation we can? We start by piecing together what we have, and when we have enough of the picture of symbols the narrative employs, we can deduce a thesis. There are many places where we could begin, but let's start with the floating island. We know it's in the ocean, it gives food, water and rest to Pi, there are meerkats, Richard Parker runs away from the island, and Pi finds a human tooth in a flower and decides the plants are carnivorous...okay? If this seems strange to you, congratulations, because it's supposed to be strange so we dig deeper. Unlike the insurance agents looking for an actual floating island or a map or navigation chart, we are to look for the floating island within ourselves, and what is a possible answer? It symbolizes love.
Below I detail an possible alternate reading to the one I am offering, but I don't feel it's as strong. Usually, the ship symbolizes the "ship of state," but not always; even with a spiritual-based reading, we can still understand the ship in these terms as the ship of state of India sinking and that dislocating of Pi causes his spiritual journey; however, I feel understanding the ship in terms of the soul is more rewarding, so let's try that, especially since the boat crosses the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean, so this moment is also the deepest part of the film. Given that the name of the ship is Tzimtzum, a Hebrew word referring to God and "concealment," (the way Richard Parker is concealed in the lifeboat), and Pi teaches Kabbalah at a university, this is most likely the fruitful reading. The idea of a passenger freight is rather like a hotel, and the point is made that a hotel is like a zoo (if you have seen Grand Hotel lately, you know what I mean). The freight, then, carries people along in general, however, Pi is special, and his life cannot be like everyone else's so he has to endure the shipwreck of life. The shattering of a vessel, then the repairing of that vessel, is a part of the process of God's plan (Tzimtzum) to make a person perfect, which is why audience members can identify with it because we have all been through varying degrees of purgation whether we acknowledge them or not. Pi initially enjoying the storm could be taken one of two ways, or both ways: one, sense he goes outside, he's capable of introspection where others are not (he can get outside of himself and look inside whereas the others stay inside); secondly, he first enjoys God's power displayed in the storm, thinking he is safe, but then realizes he is not safe from God's power when the giant wave washes over the ship, like the tail of the whale smashing his lifeboat later. The others surviving on the lifeboat could be said to be like God sifting the wheat, and disposing of the shaft, as each one slowly dies and only Richard Parker and Pi are left.     
Specifically, the love of the girl he met during the dance class. Remember the dance she performed, and how each move had its own meaning and interpretation, but Pi didn't understand what one motion meant, the lotus flower in the forest, so he followed her to find out, and when he found her, she was standing in the forest of trees. Those trees, and the lotus flower they discuss, are examples of a Mandelbrot set because we see it in one place as an example in the narrative, then we see the forest and and lotus flower on the island in another place and example; further, we see the tooth within the flower on the island, then later, when Pi is in the hospital talking to the insurance agents, we see his own tooth is chipped, linking him to the tooth he found. So, how do we piece it all together to make sense?
Because women almost always symbolize the passive principle, the island itself is the girl. Let's stop a moment and consider our own experiences: if we look at our own, personal history, what stands out amidst all the schooling, jobs, moving, friends, losses, etc.? Our romantic relationships. Like an oasis in the ocean of time, a romance usually marks a milestone we look back on to see our growth and maturity as individuals over our lifespan. The island makes a fitting symbol in this narrative because it shows how, unconsciously and emotionally, Pi felt they would “drift” apart anyway (because the island drifts). Likewise, the swim he takes in the clean water symbolizes sex because water either symbolizes baptism (as when Pi, as a 12 year-old boy, goes up the mountain and is dared to drink the Holy Water) or sex: baptism is coming to know our Father in heaven, but sex is “knowing someone” in the Biblical sense of sharing knowledge of their body (whether they engaged in intercourse or not is not a part of the film, but we know from this scene that what physical intimacy they did share was “refreshing”).
So why does he find the tooth?
Award winning director Ang Lee directing the scene when Pi changes from "Pissing Patel" to "Pi Patel" by writing the digits of the famous number on the board. Why is this moment important? It demonstrates two things about Pi: first, he is interested in the world of the abstract, whether expressed in spirituality or mathematics; secondly, knowing "the course" that Pi (the number) takes, Pi affirms the path he takes because he wants to be Pi (the number). He achieves both names however, Pissing Patel when he marks his territory of the boat against Richard Parker by urinating on the cover and he becomes Pi Patel when he looks into the eye of the whale and sees the universe (what is reflected in his own soul like a Hindu god discussed earlier in the film). Pi writing out the number Pi on the board demonstrates that he knows what is going to0 happen to him in life, because life follows a pattern (we will discuss this more in depth in The Hobbit) so he shouldn't be surprised at losing everything and that he experiences shipwreck because it happens to the best.
As we have had numerous times to discuss, sex is related to the appetites, and flowers often symbolize female sexuality (think of the painting flowers by Georgia O'Keeffe, for example). The placement of the human tooth in the flower—and Pi deciding that the plants must be carniverous—leads us to the problems with relationships: they devour us. In forming a relationship with someone else—if it's at the wrong time in our life—they can consume us as we are consuming the good things that come from a relationship (the fun, security, love, friendship, intimacy, etc.) and that's why the plants are carnivorous, because it's Pi's own tooth he finds buried in the flower (and we only know it's his tooth because his tooth is chipped at the hospital; this could also be a reference to oral sex, but, again, the film doesn't go into that). There are two other elements we must explore regarding the island: the meerkats and Richard Parker running off the island.
Please note how pale Pi's lips are, signifying he has no appetite, but this is when he discovers Richard Parker "hiding" or being "concealed" in the lifeboat. Again, this lifeboat, and the little raft Pi constructs for himself illustrates for us the Hebrew philosophy of Tzimtzum, the way the whale coming, and destroying Pi's food supply, might invoke the story of Jonah and the Whale from the Old Testament.
What do the meerkats symbolize on this island of love? Everyone. When we are single, it's easy to envy the happiness we see other couples enjoying, and when we have found that special someone, we then feel—because we belong to that one person—we now belong to the whole human family, symbolized by the meerkats (who move in unison with each other like a herd). There's a great comfort in this, to be a part of something, and to be like everyone else, but this too is a reason Pi has to leave the island: he's not like everyone else, and the comforts of his relationship—while nourishing and rewarding—also keep him from becoming who he has to become which leads us to who Richard Parker is and what part of Pi Richard Parker symbolizes.
 It seems that Pi takes off a red bracelet from around his wrist and lays it down at the base of one of the trees as he gets out of his boat and explores the island (it's been awhile since I have seen it), it's strange that this happens because we hadn't seen him wearing it before,... or did we? We saw him exchange the red bracelet with Anandi before his family left India, another reason to understand Anandi as symbolizing the isalnd. Just as Pi's mother symbolizes India (the motherland that gave birth to him) we can say that Anandi symbolizes the future Pi would have had there had he stayed, in other words, Anandi is the India Pi finally found for himself and started to love. One way of understanding all the foreign authors we see him reading (Dostoevsky, Camus, etc.) is that he was in love with the West, but in finding Anandi, he also found the India of his time.
We must remember two things: when we first see Richard Parker, it's in a pool of water reflecting him (just as water reflects him in the image below); secondly, Richard Parker is the hunter and there was a “clerical error” naming Richard Parker the tiger instead of the hunter, however, Richard Parker is also the goat eater, and who else do we see eating an animal in the film? Pi's father,Santosh, when he is at the table having dinner with his family and he eats the lamb while the vegetarians eat their dinner. So what does this all mean? Pi is very comfortable with the part of him that is like his mother, but not comfortable with the part of him that is like his father, in other words, the killer in him (because his father ate the lamb, Pi views his father as much of a killer as Richard Parker) but also Pi looks down on his father because, to Pi, Santosh is unable to "reflect" the way we see Richard Parker "reflecting" in the water throughout the film (that is, Santosh doesn't have the ability to be self-aware and that is what blocks Santosh's ability to be a better, deeper person and why Santosh doesn't want Pi practicing all these religions instead of just choosing one to practice). Pi also associates his father with "killing" because Santosh is a meat-eater.
 Because Richard Parker is associated with Pi's father, he can also be associated with capitalism because Pi's father owns the hotel/zoo and because of his lack of business prospects, he moves his family to Canada hence they get into a ship wreck and die; where else have we seen a struggling business man move his family into danger? Sinister, with Ethan Hawke: as a writer trying to come up with a new novel, he moves his family into a house haunted by a demon and they all die. As the loving and nurturing vegetarian, Pi's mother can be seen as an example of socialism because she married beneath her station, so not holding onto her class-standing, she bucked the social and economic system and we could say that is what Life Of Pi calls us as a country to do. In this context, without doubt, the ship Pi stays on is the “ship of state” and the struggle is with a young economy that is vegetarian (Pi, as a young male symbolizes the economy) and Richard Parker is the capitalist within himself that he must struggle to overcome so he can be free to live the way he wants to, as a totally tolerant of all things vegetarian in Canada. I am not going to make a big deal about this line of analysis because I don't think it's really all that strong in the film; while I do see these elements in place, there are far too many other plot issues and symbolisms at work to really focus on a socialist agenda at the forefront of the film, even if it is lingering in the background.
Because Pi sees an image of his mother when he looks into the eye of the whale and sees the universe, and because it's Richard Parker who sees it first, then Pi, we can say that Pi's mother symbolizes the eternal and immortal within us, that part of us closest to God, whereas Richard Parker symbolizes that earthly part of us that—even though we are the Children of God—must exist to help us through this mortal part of our destinies. Finding the balance between Richard Parker the mortal part of him, and the immortal part of his soul his mother represents, is not only Pi's struggle, but the struggle in which we all either engage or ignore. As a child growing up and practicing different religions, Pi was prone to the immortal part of his identity, (why he wanted to be “Pi” instead of “Pissing Patel” because Pi exists abstractly as a number instead of concretely in the tangible world) but he ignored coming to grasps with the part of his identity that was earth-bound, and after the shipwreck, the basics of eating and drinking water become as real for him as Divinity. 
 Art does not always support “balance” of two sides of our being: in Silent Hill: Revelation, which I thought was done quite well and with a definite Christian angle to it, the main character must overcome a part of herself because, just as that part seeks to destroy her, so the film argues, that same part within all of us seeks to destroy society, in other words, when there are self-destructive forces at work within us, if we don't manage them and discipline ourselves, it not only destroys us, but society as well (consider, for example, the price on society of a single person's drug addiction, or a person who becomes a criminal, alcoholism, prostitution, etc). The danger Richard Parker poses to Pi is clear when Richard Parker runs Pi off the boat, but Pi's “revelation” that Richard Parker was a part of his own self—and the multi-levels of spirituality contained within the narrative—supports cohesion of the self and resolution of inner-struggles rather than vanquishing a part that “doesn't belong,” but this is merely a superficial treatment of such a grand scheme and could easily be book length if we so desired.
But is this all Richard Parker symbolizes?
No, but to further answer this question, we have to analyze a different part of the film. What was the cause for Santosh taking his family from India? Ambiguously, the only answer is the politics of Mrs. Gandhi; it seems, however, there was a war taking place with the French, and a “day of reprisals” that disrupted Indian politics. I will be the first to admit I don't know much about the history of India, but my efforts to research this aspect has failed to bear fruit, which is interesting in and of itself. If there wasn't a war going on with the French in the 1970s when the film takes place, what is Pi talking about?
A cultural war.
In a scene such as this, where "illumination" comes from is important because the whole film is about "illumination": that the jellyfish illuminate the night from "beneath the surface" extends an invitation to us to peer beneath the surface of the film to find the illumination we seek for our own lives.
We see Pi reading books, Dostoevsky and Albert Camus' The Stranger. Even though Dostoevsky is Russian, and Camus was French-Algerian, we can say that Pi is feeling the inner-dichotomy between the East (India) and West (Europe and America) and that war Pi mentions might be more this war of ideas and lifestyle (it's easier to run a business in the capitalist west so Santosh moves the family to the west) than a war with guns and explosives, but that doesn't mean it isn't a real war, and this leads us to Pi's uncle swimming in the Piscine Molitor swimming pool in France, because Pi's uncle swimming in the French pool is like Pi swimming in the pool of water on the floating island; whereas Pi's swim signifies his relationship with a woman, Pi's uncle swim signifies his relationship with the west and Western Ideas and identity, and him wanting Pi to be “westernized” instead of Indian, so they name him after the pool, which leads us to the real conflict between Pi's mother and the French Cook (Gerard Depardieu) over the sausage.
 This is possibly the second reference to Alfred Hitchcock's Oscar nominated film Lifeboat of 1944 (the first being in a film no one saw, Nazis At the Center Of the Earth, which I, in my strange taste for films, thoroughly enjoyed because the theories were so anti-socialist and it was so anti-Obamacare, but also because so many parts of the film were so bad it was a great laugh! Please see The Coming Of the 1000 Year Reich & Zombies: Nazis At the Center Of the Earth for more). Why would it be possible for Life Of Pi to be referencing this long-forgotten film? Lifeboat is about English citizens on a boat sank by a German U-boat, and a German soldier gets rescued by them and plans on turning them over as POWs to a German submarine, but they kill him instead; this same kind of struggle exists in Life Of Pi between Pi and Richard Parker, and most of the film—like Lifeboat—takes place on a lifeboat, but further similarities is probably up to individual viewers to determine. As mentioned, I think this is probably a pro-socialist film because the ideas of the capitalist west being associated with his father, a meat-eater, and hence, Richard Parker, is in line with films associating capitalists with vampires (such as Gangster Squad, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and Dark Shadows, just to name a few). As a capitalist, for example, I would correlate the Bengal tiger Richard Parker to the Nazi socialists because it was the Nazis who hunted down the Jews and tore them to pieces for gold teeth and using their skins for lamp shades, as well as starting World War II in the cause for world domination; socialists, of course, would deny this and even deny that the Nazis were socialists, which is highly convenient for them. Again, depending on your own views of politics, film and culture, will determine how—if at all—you correlate Life Of Pi and Hitchcock's Lifeboat.
The French Cook wanting Pi's mother to eat the sausage, and Pi's father speaking French to the Cook to communicate with him, and the racial slur of "curry eaters," echoes the real conflict of the story: the French (the West in general) telling the East to take what they have and eat it and like it. This confrontation illuminates the East and West conflict over everything; that Pi's father knows how to speak French is a condemnation by Pi that his father speaks the language of "the killers" and Pi can't and won't forgive his father for it.
Something to consider is that the name given to the tiger Richard Parker, all ready has many associations with shipwreck, which the author was undoubtedly playing with in choosing the name Richard Parker. For example, in Edgar Allan Poe's 1838 short story The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, a character named Richard Parker convinces other members of a shipwrecked boat that one of them must die in order to sustain the others, so he is picked through the drawing of lots and loses to become the "sacrificial victim."  
As we mentioned above, Pi views his father, like Richard Parker, as a meat eater; the French Cook also is a meat eater, not only demonstrated by the sausage episode in the ship's cafeteria, but also on the lifeboat with the rat the Cook wants to eat which disgusts everyone else on board. While Pi's uncle sees the French as builders of culture to be enjoyed and taken in (the swimming in the pool), Pi sees the French—and the West itself—like the French Cook: controlled by the appetites, even to the point of eating a rat. Rebelling, however, at the appetite-controlled French Cook brings out the worse in Pi, Richard Parker, and a Bengal tiger is a greater predator than a hyena (the French Cook). So it's not just the French Cook Pi kills,...
One of the great questions the film leaves us with is, why did Richard Parker leave Pi on the Mexican beach without even "saying good-bye?" Because Richard Parker didn't leave him, they became perfectly balanced as soon as Pi realized that Richard Parker was "keeping him alive," in other words, that even the "animal in him" (that he condemns in others) serves a good and is thereby worthy to be a part of his life. Richard Parker, so to speak, retreats into the jungle of Pi's soul since his time of exile has come to an end as deemed by God, but Richard Parker has not ceased to be.
When the French Cook kills the rat to eat, the film makes a statement about the West in general; when the French Cook kills Pi's mother, it's the West killing the Indian motherland, the land and culture which gave birth to Pi (the logic and capitalism of the West killing the spirituality and mystery of the East), and when Pi revolts (goes to war with) the French Cook, Pi's revolt unleashes within himself his own predator, his own appetites and weaknesses, Richard Parker, because Pi has become a hunter just like the man who captured the tiger to begin with, but again, a greater “monster” is unleashed with Richard Parker being “uncovered” than the French Cook's hyena (far more analysis is possible with Richard Parker and this entire story; these suggestions are meant only to stimulate your won thoughts and deepen your own interaction with the art, not act as a definitive reading and interpretation). This interpretative angle explains why Richard Parker leaves the floating island to return to the boat: he symbolizes logic and the island-as-love relies upon the emotions, but this also reveals something else about the floating island.
 Great works of art invoke other great works of art, and the idea of “eating a rat” leads us to another potential reference Life Of Pi makes: Pulp Fiction, when Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) are in a diner and Vincent eats sausage (like the French Cook) and tries to get Jules to try some, and Jules replies that sewer rat could taste like pumpkin pie but he would never know because he wouldn't eat the filthy thing. In its separation between those led by ideals and those bound to the earth by their appetites, Life Of Pi shares quite a bit with Pulp Fiction, more so than Lifeboat perhaps (for more, please see Pulp Fiction: A Study In Plato and Aristotle).
While love is good, it's not the ultimate good, as young Pi might have thought leaving his girlfriend back in India. Just as the island floats, so we “float,” or drift, in and out of love with someone. Love, then, is its own appetite which can divert our attention away from the greatest good, love for and understanding of God and our relationship to God; until we understand, accept and explore that Love, any other love will consume us and we will consume it, our appetite being enlarged by it instead of satisfied with what we have. When Pi's wife enters their home, we see that Pi has, not only his individuality, but a family, and he has his family because he went through the exile and concealment of God out on the desert of the ocean.
 As I have been suggesting all year, the primary difference between chaos theory (which is used extensively in Life Of Pi and many other films) and evolutionary thought, is that evolution excludes any possibility of God existing, whereas chaos theory allows for the existence of God (although it doesn't directly state God does or must exist). Life Of Pi clearly supports this thesis from the grand scheme of the film to the minor details, no just in the good brought out of Pi's suffering as he drifts in the ocean all that time, and how his life is preserved, but how his life becomes better because of it and he becomes better, and only God our Father can accomplish that.
The film will leave you with many questions, but also many answers; the last question we will address, however, is the question the film itself asks of us: which story do you prefer, the real story with the Cook, sailor and mother, or the story with the tiger and floating island? In the film, everyone prefers the "fantastic story" with the tiger; why? Because that's what art does, it shows us, it doesn't settle for just telling us. By decoding itself, the film demonstrates that it is art, that it knows it has a message it sends out "in a bottle" (like the message Pi himself drops into the ocean) waiting to see if we the audience will find it. So, in preferring the fantastic story, we prefer art to documentary, because while documentary is good, the mystery that is our deepest self cannot be documented, only suggested, and only reflected to us, not grasped.
As always, I have only provided some possible angles on the story to aid you in your own engagement with the film; no one ever has a "final reading," including the author or film makers, but Life Of Pi is a story worthy of viewing at least once (numerous times, in my estimation) and will be available on disc March 12, or you can watch it instantly via at this link. Here are two clips:
While Pi has been starving, and the fish offer a sudden abundance of food, Pi--being a vegetarian--won't eat the fish because it violates his beliefs, but his struggle to "dominate" Richard Parker is the dominating of his appetites. In this wonderful clip, the food Pi has been eating from the lifeboat supply is destroyed by the tail of the whale, demonstrating the importance of food in the film, and how Pi learns he can't survive on just earthly food, or just heavenly food, but that he needs both:
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Oscars: What To Look For

Nothing compares to the Oscar.
A film or actor can win all the critic awards in the world but, if they don't hold the Oscar at the end of the season, the greatest performance or film ever doesn't mean a thing. It doesn't matter if you are watching Seth MacFarlane make a go at replacing Billy Crystal or not, the film makers in charge of giving out green lights for the next year or two are watching the Oscars and making decisions moment by moment, from who will design the costumes to grants for documentaries to the leading stars and who the best writers are,... so, yea, the Oscars are a big deal for movie lovers because the films we will be served up in three to four years will be reflected by tomorrow's awards (it takes one to two years to get a film made).
If you haven't filled out your ballot yet, you can print out a ballot at this official link. What are my predictions? I am not making predictions, I am lousy at it. I will be seeing Amour tomorrow afternoon (which means I will have finally seen all the Best Picture nominees [just in time] before the awards)! I would love to see Zero Dark Thirty, Beasts Of the Southern Wild and Les Miserables win; I am personally very proud of Ben Affleck for making such a (technically) fine film as Argo, but I am upset with his politics; Lincoln I thought was poorly crafted, especially for someone of Spielberg's veteran status, so I hope he doesn't win because he doesn't deserve it. I really despised The Master as a poorly conceived film, and think the actors have been nominated simply for "daring" performances and I don't like that, there should be a standard of quality I feel lacking in the overall film and that The Master isn't nominated for more awards actually proves my point. So, if Lincoln does win, does that mean Hollywood is a bunch of socialists?
No, it doesn't.   
Hollywood doesn't examine the films the way you and I do; they probably know Tim Burton is a socialist, but they aren't rewarding socialism (so they believe) in nominating Frankenweenie, which brings us to an important point: the animated features. The nominees are: Brave, Frankenweenie, Paranorman, The Pirates! Band Of Misfits, Wreck-It Ralph. Why does this matter so much to me? Kids go to see this films, and the winners of the Oscars usually get tapped to make more animated features, so if a pro-Gay, pro-cross-gender, pro-evolutionary film like The Pirates! Band Of Misfits wins the Oscar, that means kids will be getting more films made like that for them! Because animated features appear so innocent and fun, we often fail to see the value system lurking behind their creation but it's the kind of thing that helps kids determine what is normal and acceptable in society, so that category is the biggest concern for me.
A scene from Amour.
Nominees For Best Picture:
Amour (seeing tomorrow)
Life Of Pi (pro-spirituality; you can watch it now on Amazon)
Argo (pro-socialist)
Lincoln (pro-socialist)
Beasts Of the Southern Wild (anti-socialist)
Silver Linings Playbook (pro-capitalist)
Django Unchained (anti-capitalist, pro-French Revolution)
Zero Dark Thirty (anti-Obama)
Les Miserables (pro-capitalism, pro-Christianity)

What do the nominees for Best Picture say about 2012?
It was an amazing year for film!
2012 just had phenomenal movies, and I expect to see that continue into 2013. All these films nominated (with, in my opinion, Lincoln) are at the top calibre of skill and talent in film making: from the stories and acting, to the execution, just like the Oscars for 2011, when society starts going through upheaval, art is there to document it and contribute to the discussion--even guide the discourse and the direction it should take, and these films have certainly done that!
What's my real problem with Daniel Day-Lewis winning for his portrayal of Lincoln? His portrayal of Lincoln. To me, socialists are in favor of the mediocre, they would never say that, but that's what they do, and they hate excellence in anyone and the best things about Lincoln have been removed from this film and, instead, filled with hillbilly-folklore and a madwoman who was insane and angry (Sally Fields). Spielberg's film isn't "making Lincoln accessible for the masses," he's making Lincoln a reflection of the masses instead of the singular exceptional man and intellect he was; Lincoln is being shamelessly used for an agenda he never would have supported and all the genius of the man has been shoved under the carpet and replaced with the "taking of power" to validate Obama's grabs for power. That's why I am so angry.
Lincoln is nominated for 12 Oscars and has all ready won 47 awards with a total of 98 nominations this awards season. A big question no one seems to be asking--and a primary reason we were tracking wins and nominees, just so we could see something like this emerge--is the change from Zero Dark Thirty winning everything so early (no one could stand up to it) to the sudden turn-around with Argo winning everything. Why? Argo, nominated for 7 Oscars, has a total of 61 critical nominations and 50 wins; with 5 Oscar nominations, 59 critical nominations and 52 wins of those nominations, Zero Dark Thirty neither directors (Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow) are nominated for Best Directing Oscars; Benh Zeitlin for Beasts Of the Southern Wild slipped in along with Silver Linings Playbook's David O. Russel in their "spots."
So what happened?
I would love for Hugh Jackman or Bradley Cooper to win Best Actor. Jean Valjean offers, to me, the perfect capitalist because he's balanced with the true self-interest of the Christian: what is best for my neighbor (and everyone is my neighbor) is what is best for me, regardless the cost, because the benefit exceeds that.  Bradley Cooper's Silver Linings Playbook takes capitalism and demonstrates the hope of capitalism and why we need to grab onto that hope and hold onto to it.
It could be Hollywood generously allowing for someone else to have a chance. Affleck, for example, might be suffering the encouraging way of Hollywood to "keep striving" for the Oscar (but being a socialist, he probably doesn't look at it that way, just as suffering) while I utterly believe Bigelow has been punished for not giving a glorious spotlight to Obama when the door was wide-open for her to do so (by the way, Sony is released Zero Dark Thirty in March and I will let you know when it's out!).
Nothing beats the Oscar.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Trailers: GI Joe Retaliation, Star Trek Into Darkness

The incomparable Jonathan Pryce as the President in the upcoming GI Joe Retaliation (GI Joe 2).  Originally schedules to be released last June, Paramount Pictures was so disappointed with the dismal box office returns of Battleship (which I loved), they decided to re-do GI Joe 2 in 3D and possibly resurrect Channing Tatum's character Duke for more screen time.  This is one of three upcoming films focusing on the president as a major device in a film's narrative (Olympus Has Fallen with Gerard Butler and Channing Tatum's White House Down being the other two I am thinking of) so we will be comparing how each film incorporates the president and depicts him. Please note, on this shot, how E Pluribus Enum is showing on the flag; what other film has taken time to remind Americans of our national motto? Resident Evil Retribution. Who said action films don't have some substance?
These two newest trailers for G.I. Joe Retaliation, coming out March 28 (finally!) reveal some new material but they also highlight significantly the ninja fight scenes in the mountain (uh, yea, I am definitely catching this in 3D); this one, with foreign sub-titles, focuses a bit more on the villain, Cobra:
Where have we seen "flying" similar to what we see in this ninja fight scene?
Actually, we have seen it in two places: The Amazing Spider Man (when Spidey swings by his web strings across the streets and buildings of New York) and Madagascar 3 in the "trapeze Americano" acts. It may be that there is no similarity once we see the film, however, it keeps us alert to what's going on and insures nothing will slip by our radar undetected. 
It's odd,... there is still speculation over who plays the villain in the film. Pictured is Benedict Cumberbatch, "rumored" to be playing "Khan." I have to tell you, when I hear the name "Khan," I think of Wrath Of Khan from 1982 with Ricardo Montalbon (of Fantasy Island fame) but the only thing I can remember from that film is a white grub worm being put inside the ears of two captives and the grub worms ate their brains,... but that's enough to remember, and that's probably why I never watched Star Trek episodes growing up! As I was originally saying, it's still not definite who plays the villain or even who the villain is. While the "motion poster" below definitely sounds like Cumberbatch,  that doesn't mean he's the villain. This might be a totally fantastic set-up twist for the audience that someone unnamed is actually the villain,... but probably not.
This "motion poster" for Star Trek Into Darkness was just released 4 hours ago. Here's the plot: When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis. With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.
Visually, what does this scenery remind you of?
The Avengers?
We could even say New York City in Total Recall or apocalyptic images from Dredd, or the upcoming total earth destruction films After Earth (Will Smith) and Oblivion (Tom Cruise); what's important is that you are probably used to seeing images of a huge city totally destroyed, and we have to ask ourselves why? What has happened to America that destruction doesn't shock us? Let's say we saw a world of puppy dogs, rainbows and unicorns, rather like the start of Lemony Snickett's A Series Of Unfortunate Events; would that fly with us now, in today's world?... probably not. So that's not what we're getting, because that's not the world in which we live anymore, hence films such as Into Darkness.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
Post Scriptum--Let's not end this little posting on such a dark note, let's have a light-hearted interview with Thor's Hammer on why he deserves an Oscar (this is funny!):

Monday, February 18, 2013

Blood Eating Itself: Beasts Of the Southern Wild & the Doctrine of 'Good Suffering'

"You're my friend, kind of," Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) tells the giant auroch facing her, and this simple statement shapes the perspective of the entire film because it reveals the philosophy of the six-year-old and the path she has chosen to follow for her life; I admit, I was dreading watching this film. I am a capitalist and I thoroughly expected a pro-socialist film but that's not what director/co-writer Benh Zeitlin delivers: nominated for the Academy's Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars, the spirituality-infused chaos theory the film founds its tale upon whispers of hope and strength, courage and determination, making Hushpuppy a heroine in the eyes of all viewers.
The primary poster of a film depicts the one image the film makers want the potential viewer to have locked within their mind of what will be communicated by the inner-conflict the film will present or the success story or some combination. The visualization of a little black girl with sparklers invokes the day Americans celebrate our Independence, the 4th Of July; for this reason, and because the liberal media portrays the black population has being thoroughly behind Obama and socialism, I did initially react to this as portraying a new independence from capitalism and the traditions of America; instead, in the context of the entire film, it becomes a re-affirmation of everything America stands for and who Americans are and that Hushpuppy is an American, not a socialist. The primary device of the film, magical realism made famous by authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, involves basically two elements of the film: the aurochs--a mythical beast frozen in the Arctic ice caps that comes to Hushpuppy's bayou community, and the ship Grumpy she gets on to go in search of her mother at the floating catfish shack, both elements exceeding the realm of reality (and both discussed further below). Why did film makers chose to include this device? For at least two reasons: one, the the sense of something greater at work in the universe is required to validate Hushpuppy's choice at the end, that it's the greater good she chooses and she recognizes it; secondly, that greater good is also working for Hushpuppy. She's not alone in the universe, and by virtue of being  part of the universe, she's important. 
You have patiently been hearing me describe chaos theory all year now--from Men In Black III and the Griffin to Darwin and Chronicle and Pirates! Band Of Misfits--and why it's so important. From the very first images of the film, Beasts Of the Southern Wild validates chaos theory because (while it does not come right out and say there is a God) chaos theory, unlike Darwin/Evolutionary theory, does not make the case for God scientifically impossible. Because the film incorporates both the butterfly effect and Mandelbrot setsHushpuppy understands herself as being a part of something larger, and everything being connected, so when one thing breaks--no matter how small--everything is effected by that. Economically, what is this saying? The point of equilibrium balancing all the world's events likens itself to the invisible hand of capitalism/market forces which describes the self-correcting nature of the market. That equilibrium and invisible hand also guides and protects Hushpuppy, even in the midst of bad things happening.
Why is Hushpuppy called “Hushpuppy?” We can best answer that through the person of Miss Bathsheba. When we first meet her, she instructs the children of The Bathtub about the aurochs, and how they would go into the caves and eat the cave babies. Two things come from this tale: first, she tells the children that the cave babies and parents weren't “pussies” about it, they learned to take care of themselves. In the setting of where Hurricane Katrina occurred, and this is the point of the story, the people of The Bathtub might not do what you and I would do, but they take care of themselves and each other, and it's clear, when the government does come, the government is being intrusive and is unwelcomed and unwanted. Miss Bathsheba's story, then, clearly announces our second point, that the “ways of socialism” with the government coming in to take over your life, is not natural, because when the aurochs attacked the cave babies, there wasn't a government there to defend them or give food stamps and entitlement programs to the grieving parents; they adapted and learned the hard way. The children learning to take care of themselves and each other—those sweeter and smaller than you—and the government intervention not being natural tells us exactly why Hushpuppy is called “Hushpuppy”: Hushpuppy is not a meal for an auroch or anyone else. There are those who might have thought she was born for the sole purpose of being a meal for them (a hushpuppy on the side of a big meal) but she has learned to take care of herself and will, and the auroch isn't going to come into her cave and eat her like a hushpuppy.
While the first most important line of the film is when Hushpuppy tells the auroch, "You're my friend, kind of," the second is what her father Wink tells her: "My blood is eating itself," and he doesn't want her to see it so he tries to send her to safety. Up to the point in the film, we know Wink is sick, but not the exact diagnosis; we see it, however, in the way he acts, because "blood eating itself" is an act of cannibalism, an act of savagery, and Wink literally acts like a "beast," encouraging Hushpuppy to do the same (self-sabotage is another way to describe how Wink behaves). More on this issue in a moment, but heretofore, we have discussed the idea of the recurring theme of the "savage" in film, from Moonrise Kingdom to Savages, and Beasts Of the Southern Wild weighs in at savages and beasts being bad, not just for the person, but society as a whole.
 Now, back to Wink.
The lack of costume change for Hushpuppy forces us to consider why she wears what she wears (and doesn't wear). As we know, feet symbolize the will, so politically--and I believe this is a legitimate problem in the black community with finding their own identity--we could say the white boots ("Cajun Reeboks," as Michelle, a reader, kindly informed me, used in shrimping) being white signifies that her will is an act of faith (symbolically, white is the color of faith, so she has faith in the future) but wearing a pair of shoes so specific to an occupation means she is probably "locked into" the shrimping industry in some way, even if that is like the job of her mother and the other women at the diner later in the film; similarly, her white tank top--covering the place of her heart--could be said that her morals and values are instilled in her by a white society (because the chest is the place of the heart, the torso usually, but not always, signifies the region of the heart and what we hold most valuable to us); likewise, it's not a stretch to say that--as a white person--her relationship with her father and community breaks the typical notions whites have of relationships (such as the way Wink and Hushpuppy show love for each other). By the end of the film, however, this has changed: Hushpuppy is no longer a political or civil rights puppet, she has made her own choices, and the white of her clothes invokes faith and her purity of heart, demonstrating that--in spite of the monsters of hardship she has experienced throughout her story--she is a better person because of it and hardship has not overcome her.
As was noted in the case of Sherlock Holmes (Guy Ritchie, 2009) and the character of Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), the first thing we see her do is "wink" at Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) in the fighting pit; why? It reveals that Irene has incomplete "sight" about where her actions are leading her and she doesn't see the danger she's getting herself into: she's "short-sighted," in other words, and lacks vision of the future; likewise, we can say the same of "Wink" (Hushpuppy's father) that he, too, fails to see the consequences of his actions (Miss Bathsheba would agree with this because she goes to stop him from blowing up the levee, believing that don't realize the consequences of their actions; please see Irene Adler vs Mary Morstan: The Women Of Sherlock Holmes for more, and the discussion extends into the comments section). There is another dimension to this name, as well: "wink" could signal a lack of self-reflection. For a six-year-old, Hushpuppy seems to have a grounded awareness of what is going on and who she is, an awareness Wink seems to lack and, because eyesight often refers symbolically to one's inner-wisdom (the ability to "see" beyond mere appearances), his name--the conveyor of his identity--conveys his lack of identity. 
Why does Hushpuppy fix the cat food for herself? This is her putting herself on the level of an animal because she feels that way because she doesn't have a mama or daddy (in her mind). It's the genius of the film makers to have Hushpuppy “cook the canned cat food” because this image brings together contradictions of which we would not be aware otherwise, namely, the cooking is a human activity (only humans cook our food) but only animals eat the cat food (in a environment as poor as the Doucets', do you really think Wink spends money on canned cat food?). When Wink cooks for Hushpuppy, and they eat together, that's a labor of love he does for her, something to show Hushpuppy that she is “the Boss Lady,” the one for whom he does everything and loves.
From the very start of the film, when we are first introduced to aurochs--the creatures that lived during the Ice Age and ate the cave babies--the viewer sees them and not only knows they are menacing creatures and frightful, merciless predators, but as well, probably a symbol for capitalists. How can I say this? First, because they are "pigs" with inverted tusks, we can relate them to the general, contemporary rhetoric going on about capitalists in films identifying capitalists with pigs, such as Lawless (there is also the ugly factory in the background of the bayou where the people who are afraid of the water live, so there is a divide between those on one side of the levee and those on the side of The Bathtub). Secondly, what Hushpuppy herself says: "You're my friend, kind of," and this qualification "kind of" means she understands that good has come from the evil the aurochs represent, that because she knew bad things were coming, she herself has risen above the circumstances so as not to be destroyed by them and this makes her a heroine and a capitalist; how?
There are numerous references to M. Night Shymalan's The Village, notably in how the aurochs are presented and the use of similar music. Just as Hushpuppy, a six-year-old, goes on a journey to find her mother (and brings the gator back for her father), so Ivy Walker goes on a journey to get medicines from the town; both women seem unable to meet the challenges their journey will present yet both manage because of the kindness of others and their own strength. Ivy's defeat of  one of "those of whom we do not speak" is like, very much so, to Hushpuppy's overcoming her fear of the aurochs and Hushpuppy recognizing that the auroch is her friend kind of because without them she wouldn't have done the great thing she did and become the person she was meant to become. Just as Ivy demonstrates that love is greater than the pain caused by violence and bad people, so Hushpuppy demonstrates that courage and self-reliance, love of family and community can overcome everything.
In films such as Cloud Atlas and Ice Age 4, suffering and hardship are portrayed as bad; trust me, I don't like suffering anymore than anyone else, but liberals and socialists specifically use our fear of suffering to create a desire for government protection in place of God's protection or God allowing us to endure certain events so we become stronger. Hushpuppy realizing this doctrine of good suffering means she knows the aurochs symbolize bad things in general, but if they weren't there, she would be weak and unable to defend herself; lifting herself up (an important theme in the film) she becomes what she needs to be in order to be.
At the end of the film, Hushpuppy looks into the auroch's eye and sees a bit of life, and knows that she has been brave and her life--and the lives of those she loves--has also been spared because she has done the right thing and shown courage. Where else have we seen a person look deep into the eyes of an animal lately? The Life Of Pi, when Pi looks into the eye of the whale and sees the entire universe because the film makers want to illustrate that "point of equilibrium" wherein all things are harmoniously balanced; don't believe me? What happens next in the film? The whale's tale flips over (unbalances) the boat with the food supply. The great question: why does the aurochs kneel before Hushpuppy? Because it's the ultimate transcendence. The auroch is powerful and Hushpuppy is helpless; the aurochs are several and Hushpuppy is alone; the aurochs are huge and Hushpuppy is little. What a film such as Cloud Atlas wants us to believe, is that we are helpless against the terror of the universe and the government has to protect us or we are doomed because capitalists (such as the doctor played by Tom Hanks, or the tribal chief and CEO both played by Hugh Grant) will come, like the aurochs, and devour us. Beasts of the Southern Wild demonstrates how the aurochs recognize the dignity and greatness of Hushpuppy and they respect it because of their own dignity and greatness (the eyes are the window of the soul, so when Hushpuppy looks into the auroch's eye, she seems "him" as he sees her).
We could say that Hushpuppy Mama killing the alligator, and Wink's explanation to Hushpuppy about her being born into the universe about 4 minutes later, invokes magical realism; why do it this way? Because magical realism explains more than just how little Hushpuppy was born, it explains the role of women in society and what makes us strong. Wink sleeping on the lawn chair, wearing a black shirt, means that he is dead—black is the color of death and that he was sleeping means he was in a state of spiritual death—and this explanation supports our discussion on “Wink” not having spiritual insight into himself, because the lack of self-knowledge is death of the soul. What do alligators symbolize? That's an excellent question, because there is no stable “meaning” for an alligator, so we have to use our knowledge of symbols and the storyline to develop a cohesive meaning for this scene.
Throughout the film, Wink perpetually engages in self-sabotage, even self-destruction. In art, when a character has a disease, the illness actually reveals the person's spiritual state of being, the illness illustrates what is wrong with that character. Wink never gives us the official diagnosis of what is wrong with him, only that his blood is eating itself, or that which gives him life is also taking his life.  In terms of his character, we can say that which makes Wink feel free and alive also makes him a slave and dead (the way he lives in the shack and behaves) and that which makes him feels human also makes him an animal and he teaches this to Hushpuppy (as when Uncle John teaches her how to at the crab properly but Wink insists that she "beasts it," or eats it like a wild animal, then he applauds her for it). Culturally, why is this important? Perhaps it's commentary on how the black community is living (more on this below int he next caption). 
Alligators are ancient reptiles, so while we don't know an exact representation, we can compare one ancient reptile to another ancient reptile: dragons. As in the legends of St. George, the dragon not only symbolizes the devil, but the devil's specific means of temptation: sex. Wink describes how he and Hushpuppy Mama were too shy to do anything but sit around and drink beer and smile at each other; when the alligator comes creeping up to Wink, it's clearly a threatening situation, and Wink is unable to defend himself. Hushpuppy Mama stands between Wink and the gator, in her underwear, and shoots the gator, blood splattering over the white of her undergarments.
What does this mean?
Afrocity Brown writes, "I left the Democratic Party when I realized that they did not look at me as an American but as a helpless pawn of a monolith created expressly for their need of government control. When I look at me I see an American with ideas, hopes and dreams of the best for her country. When liberals see me, they see a skin color, a statistic, a vagina, a vote for entitlements, a wounded soul, a charity case, a victim. I reject their observation. I decided that my racial and sexual identity would no longer be used and abused by the liberal body politic."  I think Hushpuppy is saying the exact same thing, and the beasts in Beasts Of the Southern Wild are those who are deliberately sacrificing their humanity to become a liberal statistic. 
We could say that the gun is a phallic symbol—it certainly is in Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters—and Hushpuppy Mama protecting Wink is not a feminist statement of power usurpation, rather, that is the natural role of women, to stop men from giving into temptations (recall, if you will, how Wink and Walrus put dynamite in the alligator to blow up the levee, and Miss Bathsheba, in the role of Hushpuppy Mama, tries to stop them; Hushpuppy blowing up the levee demonstrates that Hushpuppy doesn't know what she should do as a woman, but she's only six, and so the water leaves but the government comes, and instead of “fixing” the universe, Hushpuppy—by listening to Wink—has broken it). Hushpuppy has to learn to "be the man" before she can teach her future husband how to "be the man." 
The black tank top Wink wears in this film signifies a state of death (recall, please, that he was sleeping when the creeping gator woke him up, so his state of sleeping and the black shirt means he was in a spiritual state of death). Hushpuppy Mama stepping in-between him and the devil (the gator) is the role of women proper, to defend the spirit of men because women were created from spirit whereas men were created from the earth.
Why is there "magic in the gator?"
It probably goes back to that ancient idea that if you eat your enemy, you gain power from eating that enemy. Since an alligator was going to threaten Wink, eating the gator demonstrates that threat was overcome and visualizes the dominance gained (what we have been discussing with Hushpuppy overcoming the aurochs and the threat they present). So why doesn't Hushpuppy kill the aurochs the way Hushpuppy Mama kills the gator? Because the aurochs will remain as a part of Hushpuppy to keep her pushing for the rest of her life thereby expanding her strength to live the way she should; the gator/devil was threatening to take Wink's life and so had to be killed but the aurochs will continue to give Hushpuppy life as long as she responds correctly to their presence (she responds to challenges and hardships in her life instead of giving up).
Aboard the ship Grumpy which takes her exactly where she needs to go because it's that kind of ship. Without a doubt, we think of Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs hearing "Grumpy" because of Grumpy the dwarf; so what does this mean? Perhaps, rather than a specific reference to Grumpy, it's meant to invoke a general fairy tale, the lessons and ways in which fairy tales work out in the end because there is a divine design (chaos theory) to which all events adhere and a greater good guiding those who place their trust in that greater good. Likewise, the strange little side note of the captain of Grumpy saving the wrappers of his chicken and biscuits: it reminds him of who he was when he ate each of them. We could say this is a direct affront to Darwinist principles because Darwinism defines us as animals but, if we grow and become "better" and recognize that in ourselves, we are not animals, but humans.
Why does Hushpuppy send Wink off in the boat/truck all aflame? What does it remind us of? Beowulf and the legend of King Arthur; in lighting the pyre with her father upon it, Hushpuppy recognizes that a part of her has died (the father symbolizes the "founding father," in this case, possibly the traditions of her people, a part of her she holds in honor, but simultaneously purges herself of through the fire); she honors that part of her and treasures it, but she lets it go.
There is an odd situation going on here. On the one hand, going down the stairs, as Hushpuppy does in this image, means she enters the realm of the lower appetites; on the other hand, her mother lifts her up to hold her, and this is an important moment in the film.
So what about Hushpuppy Mama? The girls from the bayou who dance with the old prostitutes will probably become that themselves; Hushpuppy dances with her mother, who is the cook, so what does that mean? Hushpuppy, who was fixing herself cat food earlier, is no longer an animal, the way the government agents might look at her, rather, Hushpuppy will become one who gives nourishment to others, like Miss Bathsheba and Hushpuppy Mama. Hushpuppy giving her father the gator before he dies shows how she has grown up, she no longer has to depend upon him for "feed up time," but she has provided for him the nourishment of the soul, and that soul food is the genuine meaning of the whole film.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner