Monday, April 29, 2013

More Is Not More: Identity Thief & Big Government

"Look at her, she looks like a hobbit. I'm going after Bilbo." Why would this comparison be made? In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is a thief, hence the reason Gandalf chooses him to accompany them on their quest; Bilbo, however, steals back that which was stolen by the dragon Smaug (I know we haven't covered The Hobbit yet, but the act of stealing from the dragon illustrates the "recapturing" of what the devil stole from Adam and Eve when they committed Original Sin; more on this and the snake bite below). Diana (Melissa McCarthy) isn't Bilbo, Sandy the accountant (Jason Bateman) is Bilbo because he's trying to "take back what is rightfully his"; so, symbolically, who is Diana?
Big government.
We have mentioned the term "black hole" appearing more and more often: for example, in the upcoming Brad Pitt zombie drama World War Z, one character claims, "Russia is a black hole," and Disney films has committed to remaking it early 1980s sci-fi drama, The Black Hole. We have also discussed how the character of Mavis (Charlize Theron) in Young Adult is like a black hole, sucking up and using everything that comes in her path; similarly, we can say the same of Diana in Identity Thief, sucking everything up and leaving only destruction in her wake because it's through her astronomical bills and criminal record that she's tracked down by the police, Sandy and the drug dealers following her (next year's release Godzilla also shows us a monster leaving a massive wake of destruction across the country just like Diana). On a different note, why does Diana always punch people in the throat? Granted, it is a strategic, vulnerable place where a woman can maximize her advantage, however, the neck symbolizes how we are lead, the way a leash or a yoke can be put on us to guide or lead us in a certain way. Diana probably always goes for the jugular because she herself is so easily led by her appetites, she thinks everyone else is as well. What would stop a normal person (being punched in the throat) doesn't stop someone like Sandy who is driven by his morals and ideals. Additionally, Diana always seems to be "crashing," usually some kind of vehicle, but also emotionally (the emotional crashes we will discuss below) however, we can easily conclude that the vehicular crashes refer to "economic crashes" as in 2008, as well as the crashes between the American public over policies and the government over their lack of leadership.
A controversy was started when a critic made a shallow comment with regards to Ms. McCarthy's figure and weight; we have to ask objectively, however, with such an extensive pool of actresses to choose from, wouldn't there be a reason to go with McCarthy if size was an issue? In other words, isn't is fair to assume she was chosen because her size aides the audiences' understanding of who her character is? All we need to ask ourselves, then, is what is it in today's world that is "too big" and has an accountant as it's enemy?
Who else wears blue-and white checkers? Dorothy from The Wizard Of Oz. This might seem like a stretch, I won't deny it, however, are we to make the connection to the young, innocent, beloved Dorothy (who is from Kansas, and sunflowers--like the ones on Diana's shirt--are the state flower) who was symbolic of the US government preparing to go "over the ocean" to the battlefields of World War II where socialism was ravaging Europe, a comparison for how unlike Dorothy our government is today for espousing socialism? We could say that, whereas the American government waged war against socialism then, today, our socialist government is waging war against us (please see A Call To Arms: The Wizard Of Oz & World War II for more).  If you will note in the background--and this isn't a fraction of everything she has, including the jet ski in her front yard that cost $4,300--just above her head, on the shelf, is two, unopened boxes of exactly the same thing, more unopened boxes stacked up behind her, a guitar she doesn't know how to play and just "stuff" all over the house. Just before this scene above, Diana stole Sandy's rental car; why is it a rental car? Because each of us is only "renting" the "vehicle" of the economy, we have to give it up to others and to the next generation (leaving the economy in good shape for the future Americans who will need to make their living from it). Diana, on the other hand, wrecks and disposes of everything without care, just like the government today with its outlandish spending (including Michelle Obama spending $10 million on vacations just in 3.5 years!) and bad programs, racking up the massive debt and attacking the Constitution.
When Sandy has tracked down Diana, she gives him the slip and steals his rental car and she goes through his luggage and randomly appropriate his toiletries for her own use. Please watch this clip, after Sandy has walked to Diana's house from where she left him on the road (Sandy found the registration with Diana's address on it in her car she wrecked after stealing his car); this scene provides a classic example of when there is more information in the background than the foreground action. A compulsive shopper, Diana has three of everything--at least--and all still in the boxes (the clip doesn't give a great view of how she has packed her house full, but it provides a glance):
Who else is so wasteful?
Who else buys more of what it needs, and fails to obtain what it does need? Who lies constantly, always giving us the "slip?" Who is consuming, consuming, consuming and running up a massive debt? Who is "too big?" There is only one answer to these questions: the government. The government's inefficiency and massive waste has, like Diana, racked up a now $17 trillion debt, we have lost our credit rating thanks to the Obama administration's failure to budget and its creation of programs such as free cell phones which has given the dead (as in, people who are buried and in their graves) their own cell phones costing at least $2.2 billion in 2012 alone. Why does the democrat/socialist government do things like this? Watch this clip, where Diana and Sandy are going back to Colorado and they have stopped on the road for dinner; please pay particular attention to the waitress:
Nearly every single thing out of Diana's mouth is a lie and she does it to get what she wants; specifically, she tells lies she thinks will play on the emotions of someone and, feeling sorry for her, they will give her what she wants, like the waitress in the clip above, who symbolizes you and me, the viewer, because we are supposed to feel as victimized as Sandy is because our identity has been stolen just like his: by the government. Diana making up stories about emotional abuse or communicating feelings of lack of self-worth stem from a culture of "entitlement" resulting in the creation of liberal entitlement programs which feed the downward spiral of people like Diana (there are people who genuinely benefit from assistance and deserve it, however, we all know there are people abusing the system and that is the point: people like Diana are bankrupting individuals by bankrupting the country, and the waitress in the clip doesn't do anything to help the problem.
There's another reason why Identity Thief would site The Hobbit: again, we haven't covered The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey yet, however, the film includes an entirely original scene of the wizards meeting to discuss Gandalf's fear that an old evil has risen anew and Saruman the White dismisses Gandalf's fears as unfounded; we know, however, that it's Saruman who--if not all ready at this point in the story, then shortly to follow--will fall victim to evil and turn from good to evil, so when Saruman speaks in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, we know this is a "dead man talking" because he has failed to heed the advice of Gandalf, either knowingly or unknowingly, and the good within him is dying as he gives himself over to evil. The scene reflects the growing portion of Americans reacting to the behavior of the government while those who support the government dismiss our concerns and agitation as petty. In Identity Thief, the outlandish behavior of Diana--symbolizing the government--validates the concerns of the growing socialism in the government and living at the expense of others, particularly the plans at wealth redistribution.
After Diana gets Sandy's credit card, what does she do? She parties at a bar. There have been numerous parties in films as of late, but what sets these recent party motifs apart from others is the outlandish nature of them and who has them. There is, for example, Project X, Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring, The Collection (at the night club they go to, and the same scene is in The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones) and The Watch. In Identity Thief, a revealing conversation takes place after Diana has racked up a $2,000 bar bill buying drinks for everyone all night: as Diana makes a spectacle of herself getting drunk (we could interpret that as "drunk on power") someone asks someone else, "Who is she?" to which they reply, "Who cares?" When the bar tenders--acting like Sandy in this scene--cut her off, Diana mentions that all those people at the bar are her friends, to which the bar tender replies, "People like you don't have any friends," and the scene exposes the kind of strategy typical of the Democratic "Party" securing votes from people who they promise food stamps to, free health care and free cell phones in exchange for being put back in power.
A big deal is consistently made over "Sandy" being a (traditionally) female name so why does a man have it? Sandy reveals at some point that his parents were big ball fans and he was named after Sanford "Sandy" Koufax; why is this a big deal? Koufax was the youngest ball player ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the first major league player to pitch four no-hitter games, so Koufax was an excellent ball player, a legend; where else has baseball played an important role in a film lately? Brad Pitt's Moneyball, a perfect metaphor for the "game" of capitalism and how America makes it work. That Sandy is named after such an important and famous ball player (and time is taken to inform the audience about that connection) clearly indicates that we are to understand him as a symbol of baseball and competition (we'll expand this discussion below regarding his role in the new business his colleagues start up). Given this important bit of information, we can now understand another detail about Sandy's character. May 18, 1974. The date upon which a character is born usually refers to an event or circumstance which "gave birth" to a new understanding or condition that character symbolizes within the narrative. In Sandy's case, that day saw the completion of the Soviet-sponsored Warsaw radio mast which was the tallest land-based structure ever built (until 2010) but then collapsed. Remember, please, that the film specifically sites Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead when mentioned by Cornish who tells Sandy to look it up (although the way Cornish understands the principles are not what Rand wrote in the book, more on that below), and that means we are to consult it as well in understanding the framework of the film, so the anti-socialist framework of The Fountainhead is mirrored in Identity Thief, strengthening the likelihood that the collapse of the Warsaw radio mast is meant to remind us of how unsustainable socialism is and it never lasts.   
Sandy, being an accountant whose family is struggling, is easy for us to identify with because those of us keeping "accounts" on what the government are doing, realize the government pretends to be acting in the name of "We the people," but are far from doing the will of the people in what it does and doesn't do, so, in this democracy, our own leaders have stolen our identity and are making us pay the bills for it. How can this be happening?
Bad capitalists.
Director Jon Favreau plays Sandy's boss Harold Cornish and provides us with the perfect example of what "bad capitalism" looks like. The painting behind Cornish's head is a perfect, graphic illustration: barrenness. The tree that doesn't bear fruit, the desolate landscape and the dark skies of a coming storm perfectly details the consequences of bosses who behave like Cornish. There is a part, just before the "set up" of robbing Cornish when, in the woods, Sandy is bitten on the neck by a snake (the same way Diana punches everyone in the throat). Given the setting is in the woods when it happens, and Diana has made an attempt to "come onto" Sandy, we can take this to be a "Garden Of Eden" moment with the same kind of consequences for Sandy as for Adam because, what follows is Sandy losing his status as a professional accountant and instead becoming a thief (the way the Forbidden Fruit was stolen from the Tree of Knowledge). That's why Sandy ends up wearing the shoes of a dead hobo, Sandy has sacrificed walking (the shoes) among the living--those employed--to be among the dead (the unemployed hobo) because he has been bitten by desperation to do what Diana has done, steal for what he needs. The dead hobo is an interesting introduction into the narrative, because usually a zombie bites someone and the newly dead person becomes a zombie (this includes the act of eating them), and we can see this in Sandy suspending his moral judgment to rob Cornish, that Sandy is the "walking dead" without his moral integrity to keep him alive. It's a plot device, commonly employed so an artist can show the viewer the digression from a state of (moral) well-being to a state of (moral) corruption and death. It warns viewers that it's not just "that character" or "those type" of people who can behave that way or commit a particular crime, it can happen to us as well.
Whether it's Bernie Madoff or the Lehmann Brothers, certain individuals who abused the system gave capitalism a bad enough name that revolutionaries felt 2008 was a good time to switch America over to socialism and Identity Thief certainly explores the role that greedy individuals like boss Harold Cornish contributed to ruining capitalism for everyone who was making it work. Giving himself and other senior management a $1.2 million bonus instead of the employees isn't good for the economy, it's not good for the business nor is it good for the ones getting the bonuses, and it's the brilliance of Identity Thief to categorize that accurately: for example, not giving the employees like Sandy a bonus when they need it so desperately decreases the employees' loyalty to the company (so he's willing to leave and start in the new company with co-workers), so the employees suffer from not getting the bonus, and the company Sandy works for suffers because it's losing its best employees who go off and start their own business which is exactly how good capitalism happens, the bad companies die and the good, hard-working employees get rewarded.  But it's also not good for the ones getting the bonus because Sandy is then tempted to "take revenge" against Cornish and steal his identity, so Cornish made himself a target for revenge.
The suit Sandy wears in this clip is stolen so Sandy could appear to be Cornish and get his personal information and rob him. The neck has played a pivotal, symbolic role in the film, so the bright red tie leads us to ask the question, what is it "leading" Sandy at this point in the story? Red symbolizes either love--because we are willing to shed our (red) blood for the person we love--or anger, because we are willing to shed their blood to compensate for the wrong they have done us. Clearly, the anger at how Cornish treated Sandy leads him to steal from Cornish because Sandy repeats to the accountant trying to keep him from getting Cornish's records, the same thing Cornish said to Sandy when Sandy got upset about not getting the bonus. There is nothing in capitalism rewarding greed, or revenge and Identity Thief wants us to be clear on what successful capitalism is and why it's worth hanging onto.
Cornish's character doesn't make the film anti-capitalist because we see good capitalism taking place and benefiting the new company that is started from the disgruntled employees as well as the continued interest Sandy shows in helping Diana when she's in prison; Cornish's character does show how he ruins it for everyone: it's not his wealth that's the problem it's his attitude about his wealth that's problematic but, again, Sandy demonstrates the "good capitalism" in helping Diana to become self-sufficient once she's out of jail because the well-being of others is in all our own best interests.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner


2013 Movie Guide Release Dates


2013 MOVIE GUIDE
Here is a calendar with the release dates (as of now) for the rest of the year's films; there are still films not yet releasing information that will be coming out later in the summer (end of August-September) so this isn't a complete list, but definitely the most important films are here. Any titles you don't recognize? Just click on the link and it will take you to the entry for that title at Internet Movie Database and you can read up on plot details, see who is starring and discover trivia!

MAY
May 10 The Great Gatsby
May 17 Star Trek Into Darkness
May 24 The Hangover III
May 24 Fast & Furious 6
May 24 Epic
May 31 Now You See Me
May 31 After Earth
May 31 The East
Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy star in The Heat.
JUNE
June 7 The Purge
June 7 The Internship
June 7 Much Ado About Nothing
June 12 This Is the End
June 12 The Bling Ring
June 14 Man Of Steel
June 21 World War Z
June 21 Monsters University
June 28 The Heat
June 28 White House Down
June 28 Byzantium
From Despicable Me 2.
JULY
July 3 Despicable Me 2
July 3 The Lone Ranger
July 12 Pacific Rim
July 17 Turbo
July 19 The Conjuring
July 19 Red 2
July 19 RIPD
July 26 The Wolverine
AUGUST
August 2 300: Rise Of An Empire
August 7 Percy Jackson & the Olympians: Sea Of Monsters
August 9 Planes
August 19 Elysium
August 23 The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones
Chris Hemsworth stars in Rush about Formula 1 racing.
SEPTEMBER
September 6 Riddick
September 20 Rush
September 27 Cloudy With A Chance For Meatballs 2

OCTOBER
October 18 Carrie

NOVEMBER
November 8 Thor the Dark World
November 22 The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
November 27 Frozen
The company of dwarfs from The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug.
DECEMBER
December 13 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Once again, 7500 seems to be on the shelf with no definite release date; there are many more films than this being released this year, however, info is not available as of yet. 

Emperor & American Swagger: the Persona Of the American Hero

Emperor is a solid example of classic film making: from the cinematography to the acting, from the screenplay to the set decor, it is seamlessly flawless in every aspect; it might not be high up on the entertainment scale for many because it is for an implied audience of those who prefer drama and have a knowledge of history (although the film walks you through the events so, if you are wanting to learn more about WWII, this would be a great film to catch). When I first saw the trailer, I will not hesitate to confess, I was convinced the film would be anti-American and the "emperor" would be MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) and serve as a platform in the Obama agenda; I am most grateful to say, I was completely wrong. Consciously, the film starts walking us on that tightrope, letting us know that it knows what side it can take, but then backs away from it, reminding us of why we as a country did what we did and why it was the right thing to do. The main draw of the film for me, however, is the perfect portrayal of what an American hero is and isn't in its comparison of American soldiers to Japanese soldiers. The summer blockbuster season is about to begin, and with the greatest examples of  leadership and heroism about to be served up to millions and millions worldwide, the question of what virtues make a hero are not merely academic, but necessary.
"America imperialism." Most Americans--myself included--detest that phrase, the idea of conquering another group of people and enforcing our will upon them is abhorrent because it goes against everything we stand for. Someone who believes America is an imperialist country--and there are an increasing number of people who do--would argue that Emperor does nothing more than re-enforce the American myth of World War II and the myth of American democracy that never existed to begin with because corporations in America are imperialist against American workers. General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) plays the main character and is charged by MacArthur with the task of deciding whether or not the emperor was responsible for starting the war; as he researches, he talks to one of the Emperor's cabinet members and he reminds Fellers that all the lands Japan took during World War II, they didn't take from the native people of that country, because Britain and America had all ready taken it: "We were just following your excellent example," he concludes and the film wants you to know that it knows this, it is aware of the anti-American imperialist rhetoric circling in public debates and politics today. I could enter into a long discourse regarding this point but I won't. The point the film wants to make is America seeks to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people; even if we fall short of that at times, that's our purpose and our drive. 
In history, General Douglas MacArthur is one of the military's most controversial figures, so he supplies a perfect example of the good, the bad and the ugly, in the concept of what comprises the "American hero." The heart of the film can be seen in this clip (which is decontextualized, so keep that in mind as you watch it):
The idea of "American swagger" is difficult to define, but we can summarize it in the idea of total self-confidence bordering on arrogance. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pines) from Star Trek, Flint in GI Joe Retaliation, John Carter (Taylor Kitch), Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) in the upcoming After Earth, Thor and, need we even mention, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) of Iron Man (among many others) all embody this persona of American swagger, and even rebelliousness, that make them American heroes; if you took this characterization away from them, would we still go see their films? AGAIN, this is not an academic exercise, because--heretofore--we have always had leaders in America that to at least some degree, would personify themselves with these characteristics, especially when America was under threat; that has changed with the Obama administration because nothing he does--from his constant appearing on talk shows and never-ending vacations, to his failure to defend this country from foreign attacks--is presidential nor American. I doubt any conservative would argue that Obama is arrogant, but he fails--intentionally--to be what an American hero is and all the films coming out this year are reminding Americans how a leader leads.
Some viewers have criticized the "love story" between General Fellers and the international Japanese student Aya Shimada (Eriko Hatsune) but, because their relationship illustrates so intimately the differences between the Japanese and American cultures, I consider it well played. In many ways, Japan is everything America is not, and those differences are "easy to fall in love with." Japan has an ancient history, all the people share the same heritage and DNA make-up, there is an incredible degree of discipline, endurance and honest humility in the Japanese, extending into their devotion to the emperor and the ability to completely over-ride their own person hood for a greater, national cause, among many other virtues.
Like General Fellers (Matthew Fox) we are disgusted with MacArthur having photos of himself taken all the time and using his role in Japan as a prop for his own presidential ambitions; clearly, we all know in the audience, this is not only a narcissistic vice, but even damnable behavior, yet it demonstrates the superior narrative techniques of the film makers to make an American hero disgusting, but still save him at the end, and make the mortal enemy in the Japanese emperor into a hero and martyr; this isn't easy to do, carrying the psychology of your audience on swinging tightropes and risk losing them with a single word or glance from a character, but that can be done because the film makers are confident in their ultimate subject: America. Arrogance and ambition are bound to happen in great American leaders: think of all Tony Stark's vices, and the risks Captain Kirk takes with the lives of his crew, or Thor's audacity Odin (Anthony Hopkins) punished. With the pursuit of great virtue, great vice is always a danger. That possible danger, however, does not outweigh the rewards of great virtue, but art such as Emperor reminds and critiques the pitfalls so we don't forget them.
Let's admit it: that pipe is ghastly. Why use it? Look at how MacArthur stands: his hands at his back and chest clearly exposed, he is totally vulnerable to being attacked by a sniper with no way of defending himself because he is unarmed and yet, he is not attacked and he shows no fear of being attacked. Isn't that the ultimate in confidence, not only confidence in yourself and confidence in your country, but confidence in the integrity of your foe to keep their word (this will be a point of conflict in Thor the Dark World regarding the relationship between Thor and Loki helping him). Just as MacArthur is a clear, easy target for a sniper, so his pipe is a clear easy target for caricature, but in giving his enemies such an easy target with which to attack him, the ease of the target (the ridiculous pipe) discourages criticism because it's so easy, it's so obvious, his "enemy" would look worse for making fun of the pipe than he does for smoking it; the pipe of Douglas MacArthur exhibits the ultimate in personal confidence because he has--in more ways than one--made himself an easy target which discourages all petty enemies (newspaper reporters and minor politicians) while rallying strong supporters to his side through his obvious and audacious display of self-respect in sporting such a ridiculous prop. We can further make the comparison to the emperor's own person: the Japanese prime minister gives MacArthur a long list of the do's and don'ts of meeting the emperor, and explains to Fellers how extraordinary the emperor's behavior was in directly addressing the war ministry when he recited the poem to them. Just as the emperor reciting the poem was opening him for disrespect among his generals and advisers, so MacArthur's pipe opens him up for disrespect among his advisers, however, those who themselves have self-respect recognize the lack of shallowness in MacArthur's actions (centering on the ghastly pipe) and those are the people MacArthur draws to him, those who--like himself--respect themselves and aren't taken in by shallow honors and displays of popularity. We should pause to mention an important hero in another Tommy Lee Jones film who does not fit this trend of rebellion and arrogance: Captain America. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is pure through and through. While he's tough, he's also the perfect gentleman and never seems to step out of bounds like other heroes, which is probably why, in The Avenges, he and Tony Stark nearly duke it out with each other instead of the enemy: Steve sees men like Tony as an enemy to the American Dream and American nation. It will be intriguing to see what happens to Steve Rogers in Captain America the Winter Soldier and how--if at all--he sways in his purity (which I uphold completely, I think it's fabulous that Captain America is such a gentleman!) or attitude.
Before the war started, Fellers had to do a paper on the Japanese soldier, and Aya helps him with it by introducing him to her uncle who, is a general in the Japanese army, and he sites many of the virtues listed above in the caption as the reasons why Japan would be victorious and conquer anyone who stood in their way and never surrender; after the war, Fellers visits him again, and he is a broken, sad man, who regrets how the Japanese lost their humanity, committed terrible atrocities and lost the war. We don't see American soldiers fighting in the film to compare them, but what we do see is how Fellers composes himself and pursues the course of the best action for America to take in the post-war negotiations (the difference between justice and revenge). It is, without a doubt, Fellers' humanity, his heart, his human emotions that elevates him above others in the film and reminds viewers what makes the American soldier great in reality: our humanity.
When Fellers walks through Japan--starving and cold, on the brink of collapse--he does not rejoice, he does not think, this is what you get for starting a war--he laments the misery human beings are suffering and wants to alleviate that suffering as quickly as possible because he is compassionate. He sees people, not enemies, not sub-humans, but fellow men and women. When Aya and Fellers first meet, he expresses his admiration for her in making such a journey away from home to study in America all by herself, because he connects how difficult that would be for him to do, he bonds with her on this emotional and intellectual plane. But what does she say? She is too outspoken for a woman in Japan, but that's why Fellers loves her and respects her. What was a vice in Japan is a virtue in America, and when we see the trouble being brought on heroes like Captain Kirk, Tony Stark and Thor because of bad decisions, we will also see how they are able to counter-act the effects of their bad decisions with the same will and determination that might have led them to committing the mistake to begin with. Again, all these films serve us with serious examinations of why Americans are the way we are and why we value what we value, what makes a leader and the proper way to lead.
The very unpredictable, untameable and rebellious human heart, with all its problems and darkness, all its drama and stubbornness, is also the greatest source of virtue and heroism, courage and dignity. Because we know our own humanity, we never fail to see it in others, regardless of what they have done to us, and we always act appropriately even when anger and hatred threaten to bring us down (like with the Boston Bombing, or the manhunt in Zero Dark Thirty). Fellers' active appearance of pursuing the truth regarding Japan's war crimes is directed by his personal, hidden pursuit of discovering the fate of Aya. It's not, as one of the other officers suggests to MacArthur that Fellers' love for Aya weakens Fellers to make bad decisions, it's because of his love for her that he is strong enough to make the right decision, because our humanity is--with all its problems-- our greatest attribute as Americans, and that's why we won the war and why we became a defender of all people in the world because we strive to defend others as we defend ourselves. 
There is a scene towards the end when Fellers must go to the emperor's palace and demand to see the Japanese prime minster immediately, which breaks all rules of decorum, but is necessary to close the investigation and make the decision of what will happen to the emperor. When Fellers and a few men, including his Japanese driver, arrive at the barricade to the emperor's palace, Fellers tells his driver/translator, in a most rough manner, that he demands to see the prime minister at that moment; the driver takes it upon himself to tone down the aggressiveness of Fellers' request and present him as a respectful visitor to the guards. The guards comply with the request and, when they tell him Fellers can see the prime minister, Fellers replies to them in Japanese so we know he could have made the hot-headed request himself but he didn't. Why have this scene? Why not just have Fellers ask in Japanese and get it over with? Because both approaches are correct and valid but one approach is more desirable. The Japanese cabinet was failing in the investigation and aggression became necessary because of their lack of willingness to put forth information; on the other hand, the driver's respect and courtesy was also the right approach because that is what gets results. The film makers do not want one strategy invalidated by another, but to demonstrate that both means were necessary to achieve the ends.
Yet, there is also another hero in this film: the Japanese emperor himself. The genius in writing this film lies in how the screen writer and director knew the audience--an informed audience about history and, specifically World War II (a film like this is a directed demographic to a specific type of viewer the same was as films like Project X and Spring Breakers are directed towards a specific demographic)--would assume, like the public at the time the film takes place, that the Japanese emperor was all-powerful and could have stopped the War if he had wanted to, and that he, like his generals, must have been blood-thirsty and wanted to conquer the world,.... knowing this concept is tucked away somewhere within the mind of the viewing audience, the film makers slowly and cautiously introduce the concept of an emperor against the war through small examples that grow to build up a radically different impression we would not have willingly accepted had the story come right out and told us the emperor was innocent; we had to be shown examples of his integrity just as the film shows us examples of American integrity, not to tell us we behaved honorably, but to show us we behaved honorably and compassionately.
Emperor provides a counter-balance to pro-socialist films trying to erase the American memory of why we are such a great country and why and how we became a super-power (The Great Gatsby, for example, will show, in the person of Jay Gatsby [Leonardo DiCaprio] how shallow and myth-making America's history has been and the great things we have done as a country weren't so great after all). When films like Total Recall and Oblivion base the center conflict of the identity of the main character on a loss of memory or amnesia (and we might see this with Lettie [Michelle Rodriguez] in Fast and Furious 6 because she supposedly has amnesia), it's a direct example of re-writing American history in order to indoctrinate us of what horrible people we are individually and as a country, as in Lawless, Django Unchained and Gangster Squad. A film like Emperor, therefore, fulfills an indispensable role in countering and reminding Americans and the world the reality of World War II and its aftermath, why certain decisions were made and the outcome.
When America saved the emperor, America also saved itself, and when America worked with the emperor and the Japanese people to rebuild Japan, we avoided becoming emperors ourselves; yet the humility and love the emperor shows for his people and country clearly exemplifies that Americans do not have a monopoly on virtue, we don't believe we are the only ones who are righteous, we honor it wherever and in whomever we find it. This is the kind of memory films like Oblivion and Total Recall insist we as a culture remember, of what really happened, and not letting someone else tell us what we did and why it was bad. Just as the upcoming 300: Rise of An Empire will show us the simultaneous events of the sea battle while the original 300 depicted the land battle, so Emperor has a simultaneous show going on as well: while America was helping Japan get back to prosperity, the "Iron Curtain" was slowly descending upon Eastern Europe as communism was introduced by the Soviet Union. As MacArthur tells Fellers, "If the emperor goes, the reds enter," and that drama on the "side stage of history," cannot be underestimated.
It's a most moving climax in the film when we finally see the Emperor of Japan with our own eyes. In the last seconds of the trailer at the start of this post, MacArthur says, "I've never met an emperor before, much less a god. What the hell do you say to a god?" but, from what transpires, we know the emperor is probably thinking the exact same thing of what he must say to MacArthur. The concept of a man-turned-god is one we are actually familiar with from 300 in the guise of Xerxes who is coming back in this summer's 300: Rise Of An Empire (not to mention films of Greek/Roman mythology like Wrath Of the Titans, Immortals, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Sea of Monsters, and Hercules which put forth the same concepts). But there is a difference in these two sides, one who makes their self a god, and one who becomes a god by the tremendous virtue and bravery of their actions. In the person of the emperor who is a god according to his people, we see him humble himself before MacArthur and offer himself up as a victim so his people will be spared. This scene is nothing short of beautiful. Why? I don't believe the film intends this, however, that does not invalidate my feeling as a viewer, that it reminds me of Jesus the God of Christianity offering Himself up for the sins of His people, and the emperor-god humbling himself to the status of a war criminal (as Jesus became a criminal on the Cross) paves the way towards understanding what a leader does for their people: a leader suffers for their people, he does not make the people suffer for him.  This is a central conflict of 300 and, which we will undoubtedly see again in 300: Rise Of An Empire, Thor the Dark World and Star Trek Into Darkness. George Washington, for example, is not a god, however, because of his courage and selfless serving of America he has become immortal to us because of his exemplification of heroic virtues we value, and in the films to be released, the same concepts will be put forth. So why are films like Emperor presenting us with examples of men-turned-gods? Is there someone today who has made himself into a god, above the law and makes others suffer for him rather than offering to suffer for others?
When Aya takes Fellers to meet her uncle, they pass mountains; Aya relates how, when she was little, she was told giants lived in the mountains. Where have we seen giants lately? We  can see how the theme of giants would relate to imperialism, for both the Japanese and the Americans, the impulse to become a giant over others. The audience, however, is treated to a rare demonstration of witnessing the giant emperor humbling himself and, by doing so, becoming a giant when he is at his most vulnerable, and MacArthur himself humbly accepting the good-will of the emperor for peace, not retribution. Again, arrogance is always a threat in America, and it's an easy attack to make on the American people--like MacArthur's ghastly pipe--but the real presence of humility and compassion can never be denied, and if we as a country became giants, it's only because our humble human nature made us so.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner


Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Tale Of Two Jacks: Oblivion & Facing Fearful Odds

The first image we see in the film is of a viewfinder atop the Empire State Building; why that? Because we are meant to "view" the landscape of the film and find something hidden within it, and what keeps coming up is a quote from a book providing us with the theme found in these lines from Lord Macaulay's Lays Of Ancient Rome, Canto XXVII, which poetically tells the brave deed of Horatius Cocles defending the bridge from the siege of the enemy:
Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
To every man upon this earth,
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
and the temples of his gods.
Why? Of all the books, of all the passages which could have been quoted, why center a film that takes place in 60+ years from now, upon ancient Rome? At least two reasons. First, it was upon the model of the Roman republic that our own fathers founded this country; secondly, an important word is within the passage, a word shared with the The Hunger Games: "odds." In The Hunger Games, President Snow tells the Games' contestants, "May the odds be ever in your favor," and, in the second film, Catching Fire, we see graffiti in the trailer stating, "The odds are never in your favor."
So what does this mean?
When the film opens, the year is 2077; in  2017, the earth was attacked after the moon was destroyed, which set off the balance of nature, causing massive earthquakes and tidal waves, destroying much of the earth including human life on earth; nuclear weapons had to be used, and since the earth was left uninhabitable, only the "scavs" (the aliens who attacked the earth) are left and everyone else has gone to to Saturn's moon Titan, where the remnant of humanity lives, stopping off at the Tet, a space station where they prepare for the journey; but none of this is true. "They lied to you, Jack," Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman) tells Jack, because the "scavs" aren't aliens, they are humans, it's the ones appearing as "humans" that are the aliens, there is no human outpost on Titan, and the Tet is an alien space ship sucking earth's resources dry before moving onto another planet to consume (very similar to The Host). Jack and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) were the last remnant of the Odyssey space crew--which included Jack's wife, Julia Ruskokova (Olga Kurylenko, much more on this below), and who Jack sent into Delta sleep, orbiting the earth for their safety--and it's from Jack and Victoria that the aliens of the Tet cloned thousands of Jacks and Victorias to maintain the drones who would protect the fusion reactors sucking up earth's oceans to energize the Tet. Joining forces with Beech's resistance group (as in Total Recall and, again, The Host), Jack takes the fuel cells of the drones to create a bomb to blow up the Tet and save the earth for what is left of humanity.  
Horatius defending the bridge reminds us all of civic duty, because he's not a patrician, or a general in the army, he's only the Captain of the Gate, and recognizes that he has the free will to choose his fate and he does so for the sake of love of country. What Horatius does, he does for his fellow man, he does to insure Rome will survive (consequently, today--April 21, is the celebration of the legendary founding of Rome in 753 BC , by brothers Romulus and Remus).  In spite of the thousands of enemy soldiers coming to attack Rome at this gate Horatius defends by holding them off, he survives (the battle is rather like 300) and he makes this sacrifice for "the ashes of his fathers" (symbolizing the founding fathers, the traditions and culture of Rome) and the "temple of the gods," (his religion and beliefs).
This was the best image I could find of the "power stations" (upper-left side of the image) the real aliens use in Oblivion. It's a nuclear power concept, so the stations require vast amounts of water--earth's oceans--to keep the core cool and the energy supplies the Tet station with all its needs; the scavs (who are really humans but Jack is told they are aliens) are always trying to sabotage the reactors (the reactors are sucking up all earth's water, and you can clearly see it in the ships buried in exposed dirt) so the real aliens have drones to protect the reactors and it's Jack's job to service and repair the drones and ward off scav attacks on them. Why? Why does the Oblivion narrative include these details as part of the internal conflict? One of the reactors has an internal core meltdown; where have we heard that concept recently? The Chernobyl Diaries and A Good Day to Die Hard.  Why would this be brought up? It's an interesting point, and a little known one, that socialism/communism is actually terrible for the environment; why? In capitalism--where there are plenty of abuses against the environment--the government is there to tell companies to clean up their pollution and prosecute them; when a country is socialist/communist, it's the government making the pollution and there is no one there to enforce the government to follow the laws it has passed, an important point made in Murray Feshbach's Ecocide In the USSR;  Chernobyl is just one example of the Soviet Union's destruction of the environment.
Isn't that why Americans go to war and make the ultimate sacrifice for our country? One must construct an argument concisely before one can understand the arguments being made against it; in other words, "odds" of something happening or not happening do not matter, you do something because you believe in it, not because of the success rate. Jack's reading of this poem and other materials is what makes him stand out to Beech from the other dozens of "Jacks" on earth repairing drones because Jack has processed what is going on; he may not have control over much, but he does control himself.
Christina's World, Andrew Wyeth, 1948, Museum Of Modern Art, New York. Why, of all the art work in New York--where Oblivion takes place--would this painting be the one the film shows several times (there is a "art gallery" the scavs have where they keep all the art and books they have rescued, so any other work could have been used and they want us to know that). There are two types of viewers seeing this painting when the film shows it to us. The first is the un-implied viewer and the second is the implied viewer. The "un-impled viewer" is the viewer who knows nothing about this work of art, maybe they don't even know it's a famous work of art, but created solely for the purpose of the film. In the film, Julia--Jack's wife--says it reminds her of home, and this provides the viewer who is unaware of the work's background and history, a sense of "home is in sight, we just need to go a little further," and that's confirmed by the last images of the film, when Julia and her daughter are playing in front of the cabin by the lake, and Julia works in her vegetable garden, she's home. This is sufficient for the um-implied viewer, they don't need to know anymore; to someone who has an idea, however, that this is a famous work of art, and there must be something else going on for the film to show this painting, we can say it reminds us of World War II, when Jack keeps saying, "We won the war, but lost the planet," because Christina's World was Wyeth's commentary on how post-World War II America was: we won the war (against communism and Imperial Japan) but we lost so much to win, we were desolate and paralyzed. Christina, the girl in the image, was paralyzed from polio, a disease many of us today know nothing about, but ravaged America in the late 1940s and early 1950s, if not killing thousands, leaving them crippled and disabled for the rest of their lives. For Wyeth, America was like this bone-thin girl (you may click on the image to enlarge it for closer inspection; look at her right arm and left ankle, it's as thin as the images of prisoners' bodies in concentration camps America and the Allied powers liberated) abandoned in a field with no way to get herself to the safety of the house (although the house itself is probably abandoned from close analysis). Oblivion suggests that America is in the same position for us today, that our country is like this sickly, paralyzed girl, abandoned. And I agree. Oblivion's framework of interpretation is that our country has been left this way from the aliens sucking the planet dry of resources and killing off our species (again, as in The Host) and, since our country happens to be lingering in a never-ending recession, we have to ask, what are the causes weakening our country so much? Who has caused America to be so diseased that we can't recover from it? For my complete analysis on the film, please see Christina's World & Our World for more.
What are the exact reasons why we can call this a "pro-capitalist" film instead of an anti-capitalist or pro-socialist film? As we have seen, socialists have been utilizing the same concepts as capitalists and mirroring them back to accuse capitalists of what capitalists accuse socialists, however, that one of the books Jack has is Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, which compares London and Paris shortly before and during the French Revolution when the peasantry of France killed the aristocracy. Like the "aliens" killing off all the humans, A Tale Of Two Cities depicts the same kind of event staged by the peasantry as staged by the "aliens."  But how can we definitely say the Obama socialist movement is the "alien" concept to America in this film and not traditional American capitalism?
Competition.
The event pictured above happens in a flashback towards the end of the film, in the year 2017. Why 2017? If you saw the successful documentary Love Him Hate Him You Don't Know Him: Obama's 2016, you know the the dire predictions made in the film about what America would be like if Obama won the the 2012 election and had another four years to wreck the country. In this image, Jack Harper (left) and Victoria (right) are manning the Odyssey space craft on a deep space exploration that was re-assigned to observe an alien object that entered the atmoshere, the Tet. Fearing what could happen to the rest of the crew that are in hibernation mode (including Julia) Jack launches them away from the ship, sending them into orbit as the Odyssey is captured by the Tet; Jack and Victoria are cloned by the Tet. What is so important about this particular shot is that--during this scene--we see Victoria (Vicca for short) wearing a Union Jack patch on her space suit (the British flag) and we wouldn't know she was British otherwise, giving rise to a controversial point in the film we will discuss below.
What drives the free markets of capitalism and innovation we, as Americans prize so highly, except competition? The theme shows up in the "classic game" of the 2017 Super Bowl Jack remembers when a quarterback recovered his own fumble and threw a Hail Mary, hoping someone would catch it, and a third-string rookie catches the ball in the end zone, winning the game; that is what makes it a classic, because the odds are against the team winning, but the quarterback's act of faith in his team members after he committed the fumble, and a unknown rookie rising to the occasion to catch the ball makes this--not only a classic game in football--but a perfect example of how American capitalism works. Why is this moment of the film so important? Because of what is going to happen in November.
Why does the dog show up while Jack is working on the drone in the football stadium? Doesn't this somehow ruin the beauty and nostalgia of the scene, this mangy mutt showing up and nearly getting blown to bits by the drone? The dog demonstrates two things: first, that Jack Harper cares about other beings. He could have let the drone blow the dog to bits and hey, no big deal, because that's kind of how socialists have vilified capitalists, that we don't care about anything but ourselves. Jack is obviously at risk of being shot at by the drone in trying to protect the dog, so when we see Jack being so protective of the humans in the crashed spacecraft, we aren't surprised because he protects and defends life which socialists don't do because they support abortion, euthanasia, rationed health care and the outright killing of all opposition parties. Secondly, the dog appears at this particular moment because dogs symbolize loyalty. Usually in art, specifically French art, if a bedroom scene is being depicted between a man and woman, there is a little dog somewhere in the background, because the dog communicates that this is an affair, not the marriage bed (the dog being used to illustrate unfaithfulness, rather than loyalty). In this sense, we can see Jack revealing how he is loyal to the memories he still has of the game and the role that game plays in his own identity (he must be remembering the game because the score was one of the last topics of discussion prior to the Odyssey being sucked into the Tet, and the Tet erased his memory, so like his memories of Julia that come back to him, so the memories of the Super Bowl come back to him, illuminating where his loyalty and faithfulness lie). Remember, one of the Scavs sees him during this scene, and he's not behaving like one of the clones, and that's because sports and competition bring out the best in us unlike not having sports and competition, which is the thesis of The Hunger Games (which is against free markets and the competitive spirit inherent in capitalism).
In November, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will be released and the major plot point is the "destruction of the arena," just like the destroyed arena seen in the image above for the football championship.  The purpose of this football game, and the game being mentioned just before the Odyssey is swallowed up by the Tet, is how game and competition are so closely related to capitalism, and the loss of competition in America is equivalent to the whole country being lost (the theme will also be directly challenged in Monsters University and their parody of The Scare Games). It's the competition with the Tet that forces Beech and Jack to resort to play (a creative interpretation of the odds of a situation to maximize their own meagre advantages) in switching Julia's hibernation pod with Beech so Julia will live and Beech and Jack can detonate the bomb, saving mankind.
Jack is told the "scavengers" are alien lifeforms because the real aliens want the humans destroyed. Why are they called "scavs?" They are made to look like "savages" because of how they live and the clothing they wear, revealing socialists (the aliens) have made capitalists out to look. One way of correlating the scavengers with capitalists is because of where they reside, the New York Library, where all the books are still kept, though in disarray. Socialists in America--as we have been seeing--want to "re-write" the history of America to make it seem that we were always a socialist country, but greedy capitalists turned the tide in their favor; books are recorded history, and history is our collective memory as a culture. Jack is "haunted" by his memories he can't accurately remember because socialists always erase the actual history from a country they have taken over and insert their own narrative in its place, just like with Jack's memory wipe; the books, however, refresh his memory just as the study of history refreshes our memory. The erasing of our memory by re-writing history and making America out to be the guilty one all the time is the primary means of the aliens being capable to telling the lies: you can't give someone a new truth if they know what the real truth is, and the aliens can make Jack believe the drones are there to protect him instead of destroy him because he has forgotten what has always happened in history: you give some absolute power and it corrupts absolutely. Total Recall, Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters, The House At the End Of the Street, Rise Of the Guardians and The Amazing Spider Man are just a few of the films reminding us that if we let go of the narrative of our history, we don't know who we are and if we don't know who we are, we can be controlled by others.
This idea of a "competition-free world" were no one has to compete for anything leads us to examine a recurring phrase in the film: "Another day in paradise." Why does Vicca and Jack say this, does it look like they are living in paradise? Jack's little cabin on the lake might be paradise, but is the "modernist apartment in the sky" paradise or a prison? Vicca certainly never leaves it. This little catch-phrase is important because it provides us with yet another warning about the "utopia" promised by socialists (Journey 2 the Mysterious Island, Stoker, Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters, Wreck-It Ralph and The Secret World Of Arrietty). It's never another day in paradise, it's a prison of utter mind-control, lies and self-extinction just as it is in The Host: the cost far out-weighs the benefits because, if it were "another day in paradise," why would Vicca put so much importance on re-joining the others in two weeks?
There are numerous films mentioned in Oblivion in one way or another, and this is meant to intentionally jog our own memory about the role films have played in shaping America and our own selves. For example, what other famous couple meets at the Empire State Building? Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in An Affair To Remember (and she becomes crippled in the film just as Christina is in the painting above). Jack takes a toy gorilla to remind us of King Kong, and a pair of Aviator sunglasses because that's what he wore in Top Gun. Jack's location on the Empire State Building is identical to where Zeus and Poseidon meet in Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightening Thief, meaning, the top of the Empire Sate Building is where Olympus is, where the giants of capitalism and world history have made themselves. We can't help but recall all those who jumped to their deaths when the stock market crashed, but it also reminds us that when it was constructed, it was the world's tallest building for 40 years, and it is in--what still today--is the capitol of the world, the financial heart of the world's markets. When Jack proposes to Julia and says, look through here and "I'll show you the future," that literally seems to be the US telling Russia, we will show you the future of where you and us are going economically and politically.   
And now for the controversial bit I have been dreading, but appears to be picking up steam as an important argument in films. Jack's real wife is Julia (Olga Kurylenko) even though he has been sleeping with Vicca--which reminds me of the original Planet Of the Apes, as well as the brief scene when Jack, on his motorcycle, rides by the dirt-buried Statue Of Liberty--and Julia being his real wife is the reason he still dreams of her and recognizes her face when he finds her hibernation pod. The film makes it a point that we know Julia is of Russian descent with her name: "Rusakova." When Jack and Julia have retrieved the log from the space ship Odyssey, and Julia has reminded Jack that they are married, Jack returns to his apartment he shares with Vicca; he tells Vicca Julia is his wife and Vicca locks him out of the apartment (keeps him locked out) and then  a drone comes and kills Vicca.
Why is this important?
Vicca is British and Julia is Russian.
There are so many cultural references made in Oblivion that we can be confident the name of the Odyssey space craft refers to events contained in Homer's epic poem Odyssey.  Regrettably, I don't have time to go into that, so if someone was thinking of it, and has some thoughts they would like to share, please do so in the comment section! I will say this, however, Jack clearly wears a NASA patch on his spacesuit before the Odyssey he is on is sucked into the Tet, and Obama has ended funding for NASA human flight missions, wanting NASA instead to focus on the role Muslims have played in science. So, it might be an important point the film wants to make that the very means we would have for knowing about the "alien object" threatening us (NASA's manned missions) has been made impossible by Obama.  
Numerous films as of late depict the destruction of London (GI Joe Retaliation, Star Trek Into Darkness, Red 2, Thor the Dark World) and in trying to understand reasons for it, we explored what events could be triggering this feeling that London is doomed and the answer we came up with--the only answer as reflected by the protests marches and government policies--is that it's entitlement programs and socialism. If you think there is another reason, trust me, I would LOVE to hear it (please leave a comment or email me directly!). Oblivion seems to be suggesting that because Russia has made a greater commitment to free markets and capitalism in its government, it's Russia who is our real ally (our marriage partner) and not Britain who increasingly undermines capitalism in its economy and programs; it's possible to see in Vicca's refusal to remember anything before the "security wipe" forced on them by the Tet Britain's own refusal to recall history as the making of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (please see Amidst the Dead Leaves: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for more) seemed to be an effort at, reminding what the Cold War cost and why it was worth the cost.
Well, have we seen this in other places?
We have.
"Are you an effective team?" Sally keeps asking Vicca to affirm throughout the film and then, in the scene above, when Jack tells Vicca Julia is his wife, she tells Sally, "We are not an effective team." Just as Jack's image "reflects" on the glass, we too must "reflect" on what is being shown: since we can "see through glass" as we see Vicca on the other side, we should be able to see through this scene and what it is saying to us.
In Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, the relationship with Vitaly the Russian Tiger proves "vital" for keeping the "Bolshevik" out of the circus and, we could say that like Edmond in The Chronicles of Narnia who knows the wicked ways of the White Witch because he has all ready fallen for them, so, too, does Vitaly and that's why he's such an invaluable partner in the circus (please see Trapeze Americano & the Capitalist Circus: Madagascar 3 Europe's Most Wanted for more); Britain, like Peter in Narnia, hasn't been punished like Edmond, so he doesn't realize the potential danger the White Witch poses and why he's willing to solicit her help when things get tough (this kind of theme is taken up in Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters as well). This isn't a definite reading of this dilemma the film presents us, however, it is a possibility and, again, if anyone has an alternate reading, I would very much welcome it; I think, however, we are going to be seeing more of London Bridge falling, rather than less.
And lastly, the controversial ending,...
Malcolm Beech first introducing himself to Jack; does the lighted match invoke the up-coming installment to The Hunger Games Catching Fire? Because Malcolm certainly gives Jack a reason to think more deeply on what the world is like and who caused it to be that way, so the match Malcolm lights is not only so Jack can see him but "see" what Malcolm tells him to be true, so the truth will be "catching fire" in Jack's mind, which it does.
The ending is apt to be problematic for a lot of people. We know Jack has died when he delivered the bomb to the Tet with Malcolm Beech and the Tet exploded. Three years later, Julia with her daughter are at the lakeside cabin Jack sent her to before he left, and the other humans from Malcolm's group have found them and with them is Tech #52 (a clone of Jack he fought at one point in the film), who provides a voice over, saying he couldn't forget Julia's face when he (briefly) saw her, and he knows Jack built a place like this, because he knows Jack, and he has spent three years looking for her, and he knew she would be there. Have we seen this before in a film recently? We have, The Vow (please see The Vow & Obamacare for more).
An important question we should ask is, "Why is the 'original' Jack Harper designated as Tech #49, when the Tet replicated thousands of Jack Harpers (as we learn from Malcolm) and the 'Jack' that finds Julia at the end is Tech #52?" These are specific numbers, designating something specific, and since memory plays such an important role in the film, it's possible these numbers refer to our cultural memory, history, and they designate years. A lot happened in 1952: Elizabeth II becomes queen; the United Kingdom becomes a nuclear power; the first in a published series of Man Will Conquer Space Soon by Werner von Braun first appears; Truman nationalizes all steel mills, although the Supreme Court has limited the president's ability to seize private business; the war with Japan and the Allies officially ends; the first international style skyscraper opens in New York on Park Avenue (where Oblivion takes place); Anne Frank's The Diary Of a Young Girl is published;  Eisenhower wins the election to become president; 58,000 cases of polio are reported in the US (Oblivion shows us the painting Christian's World several times and it's from polio that the woman in the painting suffers). A lot happened in 1949, like the voting down of most of liberal president Truman's Fair Deal program which would have accelerated socialism in the US, as well as Beijing being taken over by Communist forces; the Soviet Union deports 92,000 people from the Baltic States to remote areas in the Soviet Union to fulfill the communist agenda for labor; the Red Scare begins with the FBI naming communists in the US; George Orwell's anti-communist work 1984 is published; the Soviet Union tests its first atomic bomb similar to the one detonated by the US at Nagasaki, Japan; China is officially declared a communist country; these are all events which could be tied to the film in many ways, however, what I think his number 49 refers to--and why this is the "original" Jack Harper assigned to this number--is it references 1849 and the California Gold Rush. Even though so many people didn't get filthy rich, some did, and the Rush pumped (by today's standards) billions of dollars into the economy naturally, not a stimulus package, like what Democrats keep doing during the Obama administration.  
The reason this ending is a problem is because Tech #52 (the clone) defies the definition of what a clone is, that it doesn't have any memories of its own or (Jack's memory was wiped, so how could the memories have passed to Tech #52? They couldn't have). Either this is a clone that has malfunctioned, or it symbolizes how there will be "intruders" in the future, that which only looks like capitalism and we will want that because we will miss it but will still be a relic of the past and the alien invasion (because Tech #52 comes from the Tet). This is very possible. On the other hand, I don't think this is the ending the film wants to leave us with, I think--and I admit, I liked the film, I think Tom Cruise did a fabulous job and we all like a good ending--I think Oblivion wants to validate both the sacrifice Jack Harper makes and the life he wants to have with Julia in their little cabin by the lake, their idea of the American Dream. I think (and this is ambiguous, so there is no "correct" reading of the ending, whatever we want to project onto it is valid) that memories and history are so powerful, it will reanimate the future to come back and create a new start, that our relationship to capitalism is the "natural" way our minds and hearts work (Jack having no memory of wanting a cabin by the lake, but him building one anyway and Tech #52 finding her because he would want a cabin by the lake, too).
But, we will all create our own endings.
The artificial wombs. We have seen similar images to this in both Resident Evil: Retribution and Cloud Atlas (of course there was something similar in The Matrix), both capitalists and socialists arguing that the other system is the one that makes people into clones without souls or wills of their own. It's an important issue because we know Jack and Julia--as husband and wife--have spent the night together, and at the end of the film Julia is raising their daughter. This "traditional family" and the child being conceived in a natural womb (Julia's) contrasts to the Tet with its artificial wombs and makes us consider socialism as the "mother" of the state but also the Obama administration's pushing of homosexual marriage (gay couples cannot conceive children naturally) and abortion (where the child is killed within the mother's womb) so a socialist government promoting such practices has to basically "grow" its population from cells (maybe a play on words to invoke a prison?) as we see above. Whereas Cloud Atlas accuses capitalism of using incentives to raise workers up, only to butcher them and feed them back to other workers, the Chinese government must have recognized itself in those images to have deleted them when showing the film to its socialist audience, and Oblivion certainly leads us to expect that, when Vicca and Jack "join the others" in two weeks that--since there are no 'others' to join--they are slated to be killed.
In conclusion, Oblivion was a wonderful film (I gave it an A-on Rotten Tomatoes) and I hope you will get a chance to see it at the theater because there is some amazing imagery and special effects, as well as numerous film references I didnt' have time to thoroughly cover here. I have never been a Tom Cruise fan, but he is in top form in this film--and most other critics have said the same about him--and he brings a intimate warmth and humanity to his character; additionally, knowing you like to really consider films and decode them, this is one that will provide you with much food for thought to keep turning over and over again! Not to mention, many of these elements we will be referring to later in conjunction with other films.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner