Thursday, October 30, 2014

TRAILERS: Fast & Furious 7, Mockingjay Part 1, Penguins Of Madagascar & Ex Machina

On this side of the screen, we will probably never know what it took, or personally cost the film makers involved, to get Furious 7 completed and out. The studio has announced that this Saturday, they will debut the fist trailer for the film that will pick up with the end-credits scene when Jason Statham gets out of the car and announces he's going to kill Dom's team in revenge for the death of his brother Owen Shaw (Luke Evans).  I will post it asap! In the meantime, the studio has put together a pretty compelling compilation of why we should be excited about this film, and I certainly am:
For the new film coming out, Ludacris released this 6 second snippet of the rides each of the characters is getting to enjoy, just to whet our appetite:
This is a legitimate question: are fast cars something to get excited about? Not in and of themselves, from my perspective, however, cars are vehicles, symbolically, so there is very much an element of the "free market" tied up in these cars: if one car manufacturer makes a fast car, their rival has to make a faster car; if one maker creates a sleek design, the rival has to create a sleeker design, so on and so forth. Showcasing--and quite literally, films like F & F 7 and Transformers do just that--might create a demand for such cars, but just as importantly, they keep the spirit of competition alive and reward manufacturers who produce the coolest cars with the honor of being in the film; likewise, films such as these require ever-cooler cars to showcase so they have something other films don't have. No, it's not a vicious circle, it is, rather, a mutually-rewarding cycle that doesn't look like it's going to diminish anytime soon,
Terminator: Genisys has released their biggest plot reveal yet, and it is interesting. On the cover of these week's Entertainment Weekly is Emilia Clarke (Game Of Thrones) and Jai Coutrney (Divergent, A Good Day To Die Hard) as Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. The newest film provides us with a nearly "alternate world-view" of Sarah Connor as the news story explains: "Sarah Connor isn't the innocent she was when Linda Hamilton first sported feathered hair and acid-washed jeans in the role. Nor is she Hamilton's steely 'zero-body-fat' warrior in 1991's T2. Rather, the mother of humanity's messiah was orphaned by a Terminator at age 9" orphaned by a Terminator and then raised, the article goes on to tell us, by Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator, an older T-800 she calls "Pops," who is programmed to guard rather than to kill, as AceShowBiz details. "Since she was 9 years old, she has been told everything that was supposed to happen, but Sarah fundamentally rejects that destiny. She says, 'That's not what I want to do.' It's her decision that drives the story in a very different direction." Terminator: Genisys will be in theaters July 2015.
The last trailer for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 has come out, and the film has sold more tickets (pre-sale) in one day than any other 2014 release, including Guardians Of the Galaxy; that being the case, I just went over and purchased by ticket for the Thursday night showing so I can get my post up asap. So, that being said, if you are really intent on seeing the film opening weekend (November 20), you might want to pre-purchase your tickets as well and get thee to the theater as quickly as possible for that day because these fans totally take up all the good seats.
If you stop the trailer at 0:12, and look at President Coin (Julianne Moore) there is something really disturbing about her eyes: her left eye appears blood-shot and even, perhaps as if she is blind in that eye. If that's the case, and it the swollenness attests at least that we are supposed to notice it, then nearly anything she says, the opposite is going to be true: the games ruined Katniss, Coin says, actually, the games probably made Katniss the strongest she has ever been. Before the film comes out, we will review everything we have seen--again, I am incredibly impressed with the creative advertising they have used for the film--and discuss what we should be looking for.  And, speaking of creative advertising, here is one of the two newest trailers for Penguins Of Madagascar, the film I am looking forward to the most (I doubt this will be in the film, although parts of it might):
Did you catch it?
The TOP SECRET black-out stamps are a form of,....? Erasure, one of my favorite theories. Why? Like noise, it erasure puts certain topics, identities, themes, etc., in a totally different category, meaning, that whatever is "under erasure," has to suffice, even though what it means it actually beyond words or, at least, beyond that which can be spoken (as in censorship, although there are times when that's a metaphysical lexical gap). So, for example, the Penguins being in Cuba, one of the "enemies" of the US due to its communism (and a little event called the Bay of Pigs) and the date of their operation being "under erasure" with the TOP SECRET seal, suggests that the real nature of what is being shown to us transcends Mission: Cuba and the movie over all, pointing at something much larger. Like the TOP SECRET weapons they are using, we, too are invited to use our weapons of deduction and symbols (anything we can get our hands on, like the scissors) so we can understand what is really going on. Here is the second clip, Mission: Italy:
Ugh, I just found out this one isn't coming out until December 5! Its was supposed to come out in November. I'm so sad. Well, I have plenty to catch up on. I haven't had time to research Ex Machina, but this is a trailer we should keep in mind and we will revisit in the future:
This weekend, not much is opening at my theater, however, I am going to go see Before I Go To Sleep with Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong and Colin Firth. I am interested in the film because, as we discussed, whenever there is a film about amnesia, it means that the culture as a whole as developed amnesia; in this case, Kidman's character has amnesia about the crime that was perpetrated on her (being beaten nearly to death and left naked) and she has no memory of it; we could ask, in the history of England, who beat savagely beat England and left them naked? (I'll give you a hint, it was the Nazis). Now, I could be totally wrong, but this is my thesis going into the film, so we will see whether or not it works!
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
By the way, Joel and Ethan Coen have their newest star-studded film coming out in February, Hail Caesar, about a "Hollywood fixer" who has to keep the biggest scandals from leaking out. The film stars: George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johanssen, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Another Avengers 2 Trailer: Lounging

This is the official poster for Avengers 2; notice anything about it? Of course, it's all mechanical and metal and not living. One of the themes we might be seeing in the second installment is the difference between flesh and machine; for all the faults that people have, we do have the ability to be converted, to learn a lesson, to change our values and moral structures, to sacrifice. What's strange about us humans is, these are often the themes which lead us away from evil and greed, even self-destruction (note the story of Black Widow, for example). 
I can't believe I missed this. In the film Dracula Untold, the Master Vampire says at two different times in the film, "Let the games begin," including the last line of the film. I had forgotten that is what Bane (Tom Hardy) says in The Dark Knight Rises, so the MV is being directly related to a figure of violent socialism by the film makers and we will need to remember that. Moving on,....
After a slew of new comic book films for several years to come, the second trailer for The Avengers Age Of Ultron has been released and provides the scene which we have heard of, but now get to see for ourselves. Before moving on, let's discuss a word that has been overlooked. "Age," as in The Age Of Ultron.  "Age" can refer to the biological/physical amount of time which Ultron has existed (he "came to be" at a certain moment that can be determined) or, another way of understanding "Age" is as a time period or epoch characterized from others by certain definable traits. There is, therefore, something about Ultron the film makers want communicated that defines the time in which we are living, what Ultron is is what each of us has to battle on a daily basis, and it's that elusive trait of Ultron's that is, basically, the point of the whole film.
Is Thor being arrogant?
No, he is, literally, the very definition of humility. At 0:30-2 we get a good look at Thor in the background as Steve Rogers attempts to budge the great hammer and succeeds in budging it ever-so slightly and there is a spark of panic on Thor's face. Notice the colors Thor wears: there is a purple jacket and a gray shirt underneath that; his hair is pulled back, but there are a few strands loose. As we know, purple is the color of royalty (only the members of the royal family in Rome were wealthy enough to be able to afford to wear purple) and purple is also the color of suffering (those who suffer have the right to rule because they have suffered) and, due to events in Thor, The Avengers and Thor 2, we know Thor has proven himself, suffered, lifted himself up from being un-worthy, to being worthy and the very model of leaderships; the purple jacket he wears reflects what we can see about Thor, the "outside" of him, whereas the gray shirt shows that part of him we don't see (it's underneath the jacket) and symbolizes that Thor is still doing penance and a pilgrim, living as if he were a novice (those are the themes of the color gray). His hair being pulled back symbolizes his thoughts: he is disciplined, so he doesn't let himself think things he shouldn't (unless he does, because there are some "loose ends" and that is why he wears the gray shirt, he isn't perfect, but closer to perfection than any of the others).
We have all ready touched on why Steve is able to "budge" the hammer ever-so-slightly, because he comes closest to Thor's level of self-sacrifice, but there is still a dark mark on Steve's heart: he is bitter at having lost sixty years of his life and feeling lost in the world as it is today. 
Thor announcing then that none of them are worthy to carry the hammer is a reflection of the truth, they aren't. It's not just a sign of how unworthy they are, but how worthy Thor is. This is a definition of "humility" because humility is recognizing the truth: "false humility" is when, for example, you did make an excellent dinner and everyone compliments you on it but, instead of saying thank you, you denigrate the dinner and say, "Oh, it wasn't that good," or "You're just hungry."  When prompted to try lifting the hammer, Black Widow declines, and that's a sign of her own humility. "That's not a question I need answered," because she knows she has done bad things in her past, and she is truthful about that; likewise, Thor is truthful about the heroic things he has done that has made him worthy to carry the hammer. Thor exercising true humility though is the intro of Ultron.
Tony can't pick up Mjilnor, but Thor can pick up Tony. By the way, Thor 3: Ragnarok due out July 2017 (that's way too long to have to wait, ugh!). An important note about the trailer we see above: there are probably bits edited out, so we aren't getting the whole scene, but the gist of the scene and narrative. 
What happens at 0:54?
A very loud noise. Those of you who are long-time readers know that noise is a legitimate art form, designating that information has been interpreted, or interrupted, there is a mask quality to noise, and wherever it is, its presence suggests we haven't fully understood the message, or part of the message is hidden and we need to dig to get to it (remind you of the villain Bane--who had that mouthpiece in The Dark Knight Rises?). When Ultron emerges, he asks, "How could you be worthy?" and that means we have a profound conversation on our hands. Humans often have to "rise to the occasion," what would Tony Stark be today had it not been for the events in some cave half way around the world? Ultron asking them, "How" suggests he doesn't grasp the fundamentals of humanity (again, the Pinocchio theme) but,the real question is, do the Avengers?
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Mother's Coming: Ouija (Film) & What's Haunting the Millennial Generation

It never ceases to amaze me how shallow critics of horror films are, because they also profess to be the biggest fans of them, yet they know nothing of the genre. Like all other films, but even more so, if someone dies in a horror film it's because they are all ready dead: some aspect of their behavior is being made an example of by showing how it leads to death; those who survive a horror film either exercise virtue or are at least able to repent sufficiently that they can go on. No other genre of art employs as rigid of a moral standard as a horror film, and Ouija is no exception. There is one important clue to understanding the entire film and that is a newspaper clipping but. As always, this post contains spoilers, so only read further at your own risk; this is a horror film, so there are also GRAPHIC IMAGES of death and violence.
SYNOPSIS OF THE FILM: Laine wants her friend Debbie to come to a game with her that night (and the game is an important detail) but Debbie has just thrown a Ouija board she found into the fire to burn. Debbie does back into the house and ends up hanging herself with a string of Christmas lights. Debbie's other friends meet the next day and receive the news of what has happened and the grieving begins. Debbie's mom is leaving town for awhile and Laine agrees to watch the house for her and Laine discovers the Ouija board one day and approaches the other friends about contacting Debbie. They make contact with a spirit who identifies their self as "D" and Laine takes that to be Debbie. The board spells out, "Hi, Friend" and the group stops playing after the lights go out. The next day, each of the friends discover "Hi, Friend," written somewhere and decide to meet again because Debbie is trying to tell them something. They then discover it's not Debbie, but DZ, and through the planchette, Laine sees a blond girl with her mouth sewn shut and spells out "RUN" on the board; when Peter asks, who hurt you, DZ spells out "MOTHER" and through the planchette, Laine sees "mother" rushing at her. The next day, Isobel is getting ready to take a bath and is flossing her teeth when her mouth becomes sewn shut and she can't move; her eyes turn completely white, she levitates, and her head is thrown violently against the porcelain sink, causing a major gash in her head from which she dies. As they begin to die off, Laine discovers a penguin flash drive with the video Debbie made of finding the board. Laine and Peter go back to the house and discover the box of photographs of the woman and girl they saw and discover they used to live there and play with the board but Doris Zander disappeared under mysterious circumstances but her sister Pauline is still alive at a mental institution. Laine goes to visit Pauline who tells Laine that her mother was a powerful medium, and used Doris as a vessel until she couldn't take the voices anymore and sewed up Doris' mouth and buried her in the basement. Laine, Trevor, Peter and Sarah go to find the secret room and Mother tries to stop them, but Laine successfully cuts the threads binding Doris' lips. Then Peter dies and Laine confronts Pauline who tricked Laine into "freeing" her sister: Mother had tried to stop Laine so Doris' power (the demons in her) wouldn't be unleashed but Laine failed. So now, Laine and Sarah go to Nona (their Catholic house keeper) and ask for advice, and Nona tells them they have to burn both the board and Doris' body. Laine, Trevor and Sarah go to the house to burn the body, but Trevor is killed before they get there. Doris threatens to kill Sarah, but Laine tricks her into playing the Ouija again but is nearly overhwelmed by Doris until Debbie's spirit appears and helps Laine win while Sarah takes the body of Doris and throws her in the furnace to burn, thus destroying Doris and her powers.
One of the schools of literary thought, New Historicism, examines works of art and looks for clues about what historical context a work of art exists in, or what references it makes to history. So, for example, we can ask what spirit has befriended the Millennials (the greeting, "Hi Friend") and made them think they were one person, when in fact, they are a very deadly spirit? Who claims the Millennials voted for him? We get an impressive newspaper clipping provided for this viewpoint as well as the daily habits of generation Y, or the Millennials. Desperate to find out what is killing their friends, Laine and Peter discover who lived in the house before their friend Debbie (who was the first to kill herself) in an old box with family photographs in the attic and realize what they need to do. The first important clue is: the attic.
There is an important detail about this scene which warrants our attention: Laine is getting ready to go to a game, a game they will probably lose, but she's going anyway, but Debbie decides to stay at home. With the newspaper article, we know the film makers are pro-capitalist, and this dialogue reveals an important aspect of Debbie and a difference with Laine. Laine is still open to competition (capitalism) even though Debbie has closed herself off, not letting either Laine or Peter in the house (isolationist). The more Debbie plays with the Ouija board, the more alone she wants to be and not discuss with anyone, in other words, she has "tight lips," the way the mouths of the others will be sewn up to resemble Doris'. Laine, on the other hand, reminds Debbie "No secrets between us," and gets Debbie to open-up and discuss what she has been doing. Debbie, then, has abused her friends by closing herself off to them (not discussing her difficulties with Peter and Laine) but allowing herself to be open to the spirit who wants to harm her. If you will notice, Debbie wears her hair like Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) from The Hunger Games, and the first installment of that film was decidedly pro-socialist, although Catching Fire was far less so and I anticipate Mockingjay Part 1 to not be pro-socialist. An important note I might as well mention here: after Isabelle's death, Laine is called into the principal's office and the name of the principal attempting to console her with the brochure is named Dr. Neustadter, which is German for New State, i.e., the Third Reich that the Nazis wanted to spread throughout the world, and, as we saw in Fury last week, lots of people in Hollywood are willing to start spreading again. On Debbie's bed is a Union Jack pillow, and there is a poster of a band from Liverpool with the Union Jack in Laine's room; why is this important? England/Great Britain has become increasingly socialist and the Union Jack elements being in the girls' rooms is a sign that they, like many Millennials, accept being a part of a "global community" rather than their national identity of the country where they were born. One of the facets of communism is that national identity ceases to exist and people identity only with the government that rules over them, like the government of Panem in The Hunger Games
When a character descends into the basement in any film, regardless of genre, (and that happens in Ouija), it signifies a descent into the baser appetites, the unconscious area where things have been buried (sometimes, literally) by the mind so the mind doesn't have to work it's way through whatever has been marginalized or cast out. The exact opposite is true with the symbol of the attic: a house usually stands as a symbol of a person's soul, because a home houses the body the way a body is the home of a soul (so windows become the "eyes" of the house) and the attic, usually the upper-most level of a house, stands as the highest-level of the mind, the potential of the mind or ideas that are lofty or difficult to grasp, or that the mind needs to explore. It's in the attic that Debbie finds the Ouija board.
This is a rather unique feature of the film they emphasize, people stepping on the planchette. Why? The feet symbolize our will power, because, just as our feet take us where we want to go, so our will expresses our desire of where we want to go/do. In the opening scenes of the film, after the slumber party scene, we saw Debbie use the planchette to say GOOD BYE, then she threw the board into the fireplace. Laine then called her on the phone, so Debbie goes out and talks to her, then goes back inside and it's obvious by things happening that burning the board didn't work the way Debbie hoped it would. Debbie stepping on the planchette upstairs--even though it had just been downstairs at the fireplace where she had burned it--indicates that there was a part of Debbie that didn't want to burn the board, but keep playing with it (had she really wanted to be through, she would have thought to throw the planchette in the flames as well, but this little bit escaping is all that is needed to open the door for the spirit to come back). 
Debbie isn't looking for the Ouija board when she finds it, she just randomly decided to start cleaning out the attic and discovered it. Two points: first, the very first opening scene is Debbie and Laine when they are little girls and Debbie teaches Laine how to play with the Ouija board, so their parents (who are strangely absent from the film) permitted the kids to play with it (you might as well know, I absolutely do not support people playing with Ouija boards whatsoever: the book The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty was based on the 1949 exorcism of a young boy Father William S. Bowdern; the only cause of the boy becoming possessed was that he and his aunt had played with a Ouija board, and that's just one, quick example, (so now you know my bias). So the kids play with the Ouija very young and decide for themselves that it's harmless so that's why Debbie, who knows the "rules," breaks the rules and plays with it anyway, and secondly, Debbie tapes herself doing it.
Debbie has finished cleaning out the attic and has the Ouija board. It's not that the Ouija board signifies a higher plane of consciousness, or a lofty idea, rather, the condescending attitude that "It's not real, it's just a game," is an act of pride and arrogance. Debbie doesn't know she's playing over a graveyard, but she does know that it violates the rules to play by yourself; why? It depends on who made the rules. In game theory, one of my favorite approaches, and certainly an applicable one in the film, whoever makes the rules does so to benefit them. For example, the rules of basketball benefits tall players, so the team with the tallest players has the greatest advantage. "Play," on the other hand, is an absence of rules, and this absence is meant to grant some kind of advantage to the player(s) who might be disadvantaged by the rules. For example, in the story of David and Goliath, the rules of hand-to-hand combat clearly favor the giant Goliath; David, however, "playfully" interprets the rules to use his slingshot and thus, introduce his skill into the fight so he has a chance at winning. Who made the rules of the Ouija board, Hasbro, the manufacturer? Or is this folklore handed down through the ages, or are these rules the film introduces? Who is it that benefits from the rules? If you are not supposed to play alone, we can see that as benefiting both a human player and a potential spiritual (demon) player: the human playing with another human has someone there to talk them out of doing or asking things or stopping play all together; a spiritual player has the option of potentially possessing two people (or more) who are playing, instead of just one. Breaking the rule is an "advantage" for a single human because then they know no one is pushing the planchette, whereas when two or more are playing, everyone is confident that so-and-so is pushing it, but if you are alone, you know that you are not manipulating it. The advantage for a spiritual player for a human to play alone is they might be easier to hooked on the game and open themselves up to possession, which is what it appears Debbie did (we only see her playing once, on the video, and what she tells to Laine before Debbie hangs herself). Why not play in a graveyard?  A spiritual player wouldn't want that because, ironically, there might be more competition, more spirits, trying to take possession of the players; likewise, as long as the human players don't think it's real, the more apt they are to play longer because they perceive they are safe; in a graveyard, the atmosphere of death hanging around would not make players feel safe so they might be more tempted to end play earlier than if they were sitting at home in familiar surroundings. What about saying "good-bye?" Closing the session makes the human players feel in control and that the "play" is limited to the physical dimensions of the board; saying "good-bye" for the spiritual player is beneficial because, as long as the human players think they are in control, the more apt they are to play again and again, so they get hooked. The planchette is both the piece for "speaking" and the piece for "seeing," so we will discuss this below and how it's an appropriate symbol for Generation Y.
So, the rules of the Ouija board are: you can never play alone, you can never play in a graveyard and you must say good bye at the end of each session; to begin "play," you say a rhyme, then circle the planchette around the board for each person who is playing. Debbie, after discovering the Ouija board, actually breaks two rules: first, she plays by herself and then she is also playing over a graveyard (Doris Zander's body is in the basement). It's possible, however that there is an additional rule being broken: in the opening rhyme that is spoken, the player(s) say "we gather with hearts that are true," and that part about "true hearts" is entirely ambiguous: does that mean everyone believes the Ouija is true? Or that they all truly want to speak to Debbie? That no one is in a state of sin? This ambiguous phrase could easily be interpreted by a demon seeking to possess someone in a variety of ways so as to breach the gap between worlds and take possession of a person(s).
Laine discovers how Debbie discovered the Ouija board on a penguin USB drive; why a penguin? It's probably a reference to the very capitalistic Penguins Of Madagascar (the way X-Men Days Of Future Past references Whiplash). Why does Debbie record herself cleaning out the attic, and save it on a flash drive?  Other reviewers have accused this film of having no character development, and I take issue with that, because one of the issues of the film is what is blocking members of this generation from becoming the people they could become and I think Debbie filming herself talking about cleaning the attic is an important part of the problem. Filming themselves is an act of self-discovery, however, if how you are on film is being used to discover who you really are then there is a grave misunderstanding between your social being and your individuality. The ability to develop as a person has been so far removed from this generation that their maturity has been technologically stunted so this is as deep as it gets with them. Putting herself on the 2D screen of a computer/phone to communicate with others is no different than a spirit talking through the 2D board of the Ouija. Generation Y having an audience for what they are doing is like Doris being the vessel for all those spirits: they are never themselves, but whatever mood they feel or whatever it is they are "channeling" through the audience watching them. Social media, then, has taken on the characteristics and peculiarities of the Ouija board; more importantly, the way Generation Y interacts with each other and society at large mirrors how one interacts with a Ouija board. They practice seeing themselves as they anticipate others will see them and so the public image becomes the reality of their self for them just as Laine anticipates Debbie answering her call when they sit down and play the Ouija and Doris utilizes the persona of Debbie to fool Laine. Always geared towards a public at large, and potentially "going viral," the film puts the question to the audience (like players around the Ouija board, again, asking questions of a spirit: have the Millennials reversed the values of collective being, making the group more important than the individual? If so, this would be another reason why they would easily be set-up to accepting socialism.
I was born in 1975, so when I was a senior in high school in 1993, email still hadn't been invented, so this signals a huge culture gap between myself and the kids in the film who are on social media and tape themselves all the time (please see image above for more on this detail). So, what do we have so far? Debbie, a senior, excited about going to college (as Laine tells Debbie's mom at the funeral, with Debbie drawing pictures of their dorm rooms), went up to clean out the attic that was filthy, meaning, getting ready to go to college, where she was going to be exposed to a world of new ideas, and--like most of us going to college and starting our lives out fresh--she wanted to throw out everything that she wasn't going to need anymore (like outdated morality, things her parents had taught her and ideas that wouldn't be accepted by her new teachers and friends in college).  Debbie probably didn't do such a good job cleaning out the attic because, when Laine goes up there, dust particles are still over everything and fill the air; Debbie's poor sense of "cleanliness" is reflected in what she salvages from the attic, the Ouija board.
Debbie looks through the planchette, using the plastic circle as an "eye" to see those from "the other side." If you will notice, on the right side of the image is a yellow, green and lavender mask on the shelf behind Debbie; there are several masks in the film; why? It serves as commentary for what really happens when one of the characters holds up the planchette to see a ghost: the person distorts their identity. The plastic magnifies and distorts the eye looking through it, while completing blocking the other eye, transforming the person into a cyclops, which has symbolic meaning (Douglas Smith, who plays Peter in the film, Debbie's boyfriend, was the cyclops Tyson in Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters): they have intentionally blinded themselves (by covering up their eye) and, by making themselves blind (blotting out wisdom, because eyes symbolize our ability to see things as they really are, and see ourselves, perceive, wisdom) they have dumbed themselves down and opened up a portal to allow spiritual beings into their world that, had they kept "both eyes open" and exercised reason, they would not have done. If you notice the case on Laine's cell phone, she has an eye (just one) on the back of it. This is further advanced by lights going off  in the house (the "light of reason") and the kids always going to the house at night (when they are not exercising "the light of reason"; more on these two topics below). If you notice Debbie's bedroom, she's not in theater, and we don't know that she is especially into reading, but she has several theater posters in her room, including Shakespeare's Hamlet. There are at least three reasons why Hamlet is in Debbie's room: first, the film makers want to remind you that ghost stories can be high art: there is probably no higher art than Shakespeare, so if the English Bard could tell you a ghost story, why can't these film makers (we see the same with Shakespeare references in Penny Dreadful). Secondly, even though Debbie isn't in theater or drama, it demonstrates that she has a flair for the dramatic naturally and uses it in her videos of herself. The third reason is the political plot of Hamlet. Has our own rightful government been destroyed and taken over by an impostor, like Hamlet's uncle in the play? Debbie is the victim of Doris impersonating her, and Laine and the others fall victim to it as well, and just as the actors staging the play to mirror the reality of the king's murder by his brother in Hamlet, Ouija is doing the same by mirroring the reality of what has happened in America politically and putting it into a play.
Instead of getting rid of the out-dated stuff, Debbie chooses the oldest, most ridiculous item to cling to, the Ouija board (because it doesn't work, it's not real,... right?). This demonstrates for us that Debbie makes bad choices and has a weak value system. She records herself playing with the Ouija board once, but she only records herself once, and in her last talk to Laine before she dies, Debbie had confessed that she had been playing with it (as in multiple times). We don't know what Debbie had asked or discussed,... or do we?
Sorry if this is a graphic image, but it's important for a number of reasons. To begin with, Debbie had gone "up the stairs" after she had burned the board and it seemed the spirit was still active so, just like discovering the board in "the attic," she's being called to a higher state of consciousness that just happens to kill her; how can we say that without being cruel? Well, she's hung herself in the "stair well," and, like the "gas" burner on the stove, the stair "well" is a play on words as well (the way "D" on the Ouija board is a play on "D" standing for "Debbie" or "Doris"). A "well" symbolizes the deep, inner-self from which we draw our strength and faith when faced with a crisis; Debbie hanging herself here, instead of from the light fixture in her room, for example, or even in the basement somewhere by where Doris' body was, shows that Debbie's failure to cultivate her inner-well of virtue, faith, understanding and individuality caused her to fall for the demons trick. What trick was that? That socialism is good (the gas burner coming on is a symbol for fossil fuels being bad for the environment). Maybe you noticed how, throughout the entire house, there appears to be abstract art, like at the very top of the stairs (you can sort of make out the Rothko-esque painting) and the two blue pieces on the first floor, to the right of the doorway in the image above (there is also a book on MODERN ART in the living room). Why? Even though Ouija appears to be a straight forward film, it requires interaction and engagement, JUST LIKE MODERN AND ABSTRACT ART, and, also like abstract art, it's supposed to reveal more about you than you know about yourself. Ouija achieves that.
After Debbie successfully gets rid of Laine and goes back inside the house, Debbie fixes some leftovers in the microwave and is eating when the back door opens; she closes and locks it but then the oven gas burner turns on and Debbie has to turn it off. The door clearly symbolizes a side door into the soul that Debbie didn't "lock up" and is still open for the spirit to enter (it's not just about destroying the board in the fire, in other words, Debbie has to fortify and secure herself which she failed to do; the planchette not having been destroyed in the fire re-iterates this interpretation) and the spirit has "cooked up" something for Debbie to eat with the burner coming on, or the spirit has cooked up something that Debbie has all ready eaten (bought into, partaken of). What could that be? Gas. The gas burner is a play for gas, car gas, fossil fuels and their "devastating effect" on the environment is likely what Debbie and the Millennial Generation have been "eating" that this dead spirit from 1953 has been feeding them (see discussion below in next caption), so, what's the newspaper clipping?
This is at the restaurant where Isabelle works. Even though we never see Laine or Isabelle eat anything, we see them floss. Again, Isabelle and Laine are on the opposite ends of the spectrum: Isabelle has appetites--for a car, for example, and she's possibly saving up to go to college--but (the mouth is the symbol for the appetites, including luxurious appetites) even though she has appetites for these things, she tries to keep it "clean" (the flossing means she doesn't want too expensive appetites). Laine, on the other hand, doesn't really seem to have any appetites--which is something of a characteristic of Generation Y, and why they tend to not have cars, or homes of their own, staying with their parents for a long time instead--and to Laine, not having appetites is keeping your appetites clean. Even though Laine drives, we don't know that it's her car (it might belong to the absent mother) and we don't ever actually see her driving. We don't see her working, or even really doing her homework or paying bills, or even doing chores around the house (Nona picks up after them) whereas Isabelle works and we see her taking out the trash at the restaurant when the phrase "Hi, Friend" appears on her car window.
After Laine sees the video of Debbie discovering the Ouija board in the attack, she talks to Peter and he agrees to go with her to look for more information. Laine finds photographs of "Mother," Mrs. Zander and her two daughters, Doris and Pauline, playing the Ouija board Debbie found. Peter erroneously suggests that the photos look like the 1940's (World War II) when in fact, they were from the 1950's, the Cold War between communism and capitalism. Peter goes online and discovers that Doris had gone missing and the mother was suspect in her disappearance; Pauline, however, was taken to a mental institute. Searching for what the date on the newspaper was, I didn't see it, but--and this is important--the prominent headline was Troops To Start Returning From Korea. The year, then, is 1953 when Doris Zander goes missing. (Remember, this is a fabricated newspaper, they created this just for the film, so of all the things they could have chosen to put on that page, that return of troops from South Korea is what they wanted intentionally).
After the phrase "Hi, Friend" appears to each member of the group, they play again, realizing it's not Debbie they talked to but someone else and the planchette flips from the board and points towards Isabelle, the only time it does that and Isabelle is the first of them to die. Why does this happen? Isabelle, we have to deduce, dies for two reasons. First, Isabelle says, the first time they gather to play, "I don't believe in it, but I still don't even want to touch it." Why didn't she trust her instinct? Basically, she gave into peer pressure to play, so that signals that she sacrificed her individuality for the group will. Secondly, Doris, a symbol of socialism, wants Isabelle to die, and marks her out specifically, because she is everything socialists don't like: responsible, making her own way and depending on herself to provide for what she needs. We can say that Isabelle taking a bath is to cleanse herself of the discouragement or disenchantment of working a job she probably doesn't like, but is doing to be self-sufficient. Why does Doris sew Isabelle's mouth shut? Doris can only do what Isabelle herself has done, and Isabelle not speaking out against using the Ouija means that Isabelle kept her "mouth shut," so Doris can also do that. Had Isabelle been more vocal, they probably would have all been saved. Doris wanted Isabelle dead first, again, because Isabelle was providing for herself and socialists don't want that.
With the return of US troops in 1953, the US had made the statement to China, the USSR and the rest of the world that, wherever communism was going to spread, the US would be there to insure it didn't, and given that North Korea's objective was to illegally seize the south of the country and make it communist, too, the US won by making it impossible for the communists to do so; the armistice that was signed in 1953 meant there was an official end to aggression (technically, North and South are still in a state of war) but the US had successfully defended a country from being taken over. How on earth does this relate to Ouija?  If you've seen Disney's Brave, you have an idea.
This is a rather bizarre scene, an abstract scene, like the art in Debbie's house, when Trevor gets the message "Hi Friend" in the tunnel. What happens is, Trevor rides his bike on a busy street (so he's not driving, even though he could be) and he gets off the path to go down to these tunnels for no stated reason whatsoever. At the tunnel, he hears someone/something. Out of nowhere, a female jogger appears and runs past him without looking at him. A shopping cart, full of old soda cans suddenly starts moving and a piece of chalk rolls towards him on the ground and he sees the words "Hi Friend" written on the wall. What's happened? When we make one decision, certain decisions exclude other possibilities. Trevor deciding not to drive (perhaps because he's too busy surfing and doesn't want to earn money to buy a car) means he has to leave the road and take the path; the path leads to these tunnels. What do these tunnels lead to? Hauntings. Who is that jogger that runs past him? A non-competitive athlete, which is what Trevor is by surfing (surfers compete, and it's a multi-million dollar industry, but Trevor isn't competitive). Surfing hasn't helped Trevor with anything in the film (it certainly doesn't save him when he falls into the pool) and we can compare this to Transformers IV when Mark Walhberg's character throws the football at the bad guy towards the end and knocks him out and saves his own life. In not engaging in a more competitive sport, Trevor runs the risk of losing his masculinity and becoming exactly what the left wants him to become: a woman because he's not exercising his testosterone. The tunnel he's in is probably a reference to the film that's being made by Hollywood liberals Paul Greengrass, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill The Tunnels about some East Germans trying to escape communism (even though you would think a film like this would be pro-capitalist, they are going to re-write history and it will become another pro-socialist propaganda piece). What about the shopping cart? Generally, a shopping cart would be a sign of consumerism, an invitation to get what you need; Trevor, however, isn't a participant in consumer culture, so the soda cans is a sign of him believing in recycling and that cart becoming the vehicle to bait him, like "gas" was for Debbie, the older boyfriend in the black car is for Sarah, and  the environment is for Gen Y. Now, I am not saying the environment isn't important, of course it is, but one political party in particular is using it to get votes and they aren't, like Doris, being honest about who they really are and what they really want, and how that's going to prove to be self-destructive for this generation of Americans. What about the chalk? It's a device we saw in The Conjuring, Annabelle and even The Dark Knight Rises. To socialists, everything is easily erased, history, reality, people, and chalk is what is the easiest to erase, meaning that, because Trevor hasn't invested himself anywhere, or done anything that's really going to matter--he has "become one with the waves" and has come and gone just like them--Trevor's life is as easy to wipe out as chalk dust.
"Mother," Mrs. Zander, we learn from Pauline, was an accomplished medium and practiced constantly; Doris was enthusiastic to help, and so Mother used Doris as a vessel for the spirits to talk through; it got to the point that Mother couldn't stand to hear the voices anymore as she had lost control over them, and over Doris, so she sewed up Doris' mouth (it's unclear if that killed her or if Mother did something else to her) and buried her in a secret room in the basement. Laine learns all this when she goes to visit Pauline at the mental institution. So, what does it mean for the film?
Laine really messes up in this scene when she lies about being Pauline Zander's niece. Not only does Laine align and make herself one of the Zanders in doing this, it signals to Pauline that Laine has a weak moral character and will be easy to take advantage of: Pauline "cooks up" a story for Laine the same way Doris "cooked up" a story for Debbie, to the detriment of both of them. The wheelchair is a vehicle for Pauline as the board is for Doris, and Pauline will make Laine a become a vehicle for freeing Doris from Mother. In a way, Pauline is very much a"Renfield" character from Dracula, assisting her "master" in the asylum because of the things she hears her "master" promising her; in this way, Pauline symbolizes the faction of communists in America who are doing what they can to free socialism from the constraints placed on it by "Mother America."
In the film Brave, Merida thinks her mother is a beast and so turns her into a bear when in fact, her mother is protecting her from the real beast of a bear in the film; likewise with Ouija, the spirit of Doris, and the half-truths of Pauline, successfully trick Laine into thinking Mother is a beast when Mother has tried to protect Laine and friends from what Doris,in her foolishness, had become (a home fro several dark demons). Mother, then, becomes a symbol for the US (as "the motherland" that gave birth to Doris and Pauline, but also to Laine, Debbie and the others) and just as the US fought to contain communism in North Korea so it wouldn't spread, so Mother fought to contain the demons in Doris so they wouldn't spread but, because they have been tricked, Debbie, Laine and the others are helping to spread the demons. Which demons are they exactly?
I am thrilled with this image! Nona, on the left, is Laine's and Sarah's housekeeper, but they have visited Nona at her house to finally consult with someone who knows and cares about them. When Laine had first brought Debbie's Ouija board home, Nona found it and, like a good parent (even though she is not) she told Laine in no uncertain terms that she had to stop using it and to get rid of it, but Laine didn't listen, the way Sarah didn't listen to Laine about her older boyfriend. The two girls going to Nona signals two important things: first, there is, again, a dramatic lack of adults that the Generation Y crowd feels they can trust and connect with; secondly, as is characteristic of Gen Y, Laine would rather go and talk to a woman she knows nothing about, in a mental institution then to talk to a religious woman who knows and loves her (Nona). Generally speaking, Gen Y views their self as not religious and distrusting of  religious institutions in general (on the left side of this image, just touching Laine's head, is a framed picture of one of the saints and Mary, probably Francis or Dominic, but I am not sure). Nona tells Laine and Sarah exactly what they have to do and why. In the center of this image is a large cabinet with all those apothecary drawers; why? That cabinet reflects Nona's wisdom and her ability to diagnose the situation and prescribe the right medicine, unlike the lunatic in the asylum that Laine went to first.
By what the demons do, we can form an understanding. Now, it's Mother who reveals her profile to Peter in the mirror then pushes his head into the glass; why? Mirrors are symbols of "reflection," and being able to reflect on what it is you are doing; Peter's face/head wasn't cut as a result of being pushed into the mirror, i.e., it didn't hurt him (unlike when Doris bangs Isabelle's head on the sink), so we can deduce that Mother wasn't trying to hurt him, but make him think. Doris, on the other hand, reveals who and what she is through the ways she haunts people, like the Christmas lights Debbie uses to hang herself.
This is how "Mother" appears to them when they play the Ouija the second time and, given the dramatic lacking of parents in the film, it's no wonder a "mother figure" would appear to them like this. Where is Debbie's dad, we never see him? We never see Laine's and Sarah's mom, and then the dad leaves town. Peter, Trevor and Isabelle might as well all be orphans for all we know; the housekeeper Nona is the only one who takes a parenting role in the film, apart from Mother and,... Laine. When Sarah is ready to sneak out the first time, Sarah accuses Laine, stop "hovering over me all the time," which is a reference to helicopter parents; the problem this film reveals is that parents aren't hovering, they are nowhere to be found anywhere. Is that why Mother protecting them is so difficult for them to grasp, that, like Sarah rebelling against Laine protecting her, the group of freinds are so void of feeling and knowing parental love (like Merida in Brave) that they reject that very force trying to save and protect them? Why would Mother have been practicing to be a medium? Well, the US was very much a "medium" for all the different channels of thought going on at the time and allowing complete freedom of expression: think of the Beat generation and their radical views of life, or any of the hippie and counter-cultural events taking place later in the '60's. The US allowed any form of thought and expression, even allowing people to talk and theorize about socialism, and certain "socialist" programs to be passed by the government. Why, then, did Mother sew up Doris' mouth? To lock up the voices that had started haunting her, or, politically speaking, the "Mother" of the US locked out and buried the voices of socialism that were trying to take over the world by engaging them in war all over the world because of the terrible things happening in the USSR, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and China. 
Of all the things the film makers could have used to have Debbie hang herself with, why a string of Christmas lights? The lights don't indicate that it's Christmas, but Debbie has taken something meant for a religious celebration (the lights) and "recycled them" to be used as a (secular) decoration in her room. Not identifying with religion or religious institutions is one of the characteristics of Generation Y (there is not a single prayer uttered, or the name of God ever mentioned in the film). Again, the planchette flipping to point at Isabelle and her being the first of the group to die, begs the question of why Doris would want her to be killed first (discussed in the caption above). What about how Trevor dies?
This is the doll Laine discovers in the attic, and we don't know much about it until the credits come up and we see extensive photographs that Laine supposedly found in the attic. There are pictures of Doris holding the doll by one lef, upside-down, or by the hair, or by the arm, but never hugging the doll to her; why not? That is how socialists treat people, like dolls to be thrown around. Girls who are growing up and emotionally maturing feel the love their parents have for them, so they want a doll that they can love and cherish and take care of the way their parents take care of them; Doris doesn't take care of the doll though and certainly doesn't direct any emotion or love to it. In China, for example, it's illegal to hug anyone, even members of your own family, because you do not belong to your parents or siblings, you belong to the state, and the state gets to decide what is going to be done to you, not your family. 
We had seen Trevor at the pool, messing with the pool cover, earlier in the film. Why is it that Doris uses Sarah's persona to lead Trevor back to the pool instead of Debbie? This could indicate that Doris realizes Trevor has a secret attraction to the "bad girl" Sarah and maybe he thinks Sarah is leading him to a place where they are going to have sex. Why deduce that? Water either symbolizes the cleansing power of Baptism, which leads to new life, or the bodily fluids of sex; the plastic on the pool surface that Trevor gets wrapped up in suggests condom useage. Why does Peter die? Just as Doris first appeared to Laine and the others as Debbie, so Doris appears to Peter as Debbie, in Peter's room. Why? Perhaps Peter had entertained thoughts like, "I wish we had had a chance to have sex before she died," or sex one more time, which is why she appears in his room. Remember, the eyes going white and looking as if a fog/smoke has taken over is a sign of death (white either symbolizes that a person is a live with faith, purity and innocence, or that they are spiritually dead because one or more of these virtues are dead within them).
In the trailer, Sarah's eyes go white when she tells someone at the table, "It's not real," but that never happens in the film. The first time we see Sarah is through the "eye" of the planchette when Debbie and Laine are little playing; that's important because with "one eye" is basically how Laine sees Sarah until the very end when they truly become sisters and save each other. The way Sarah is running around with that older guy, and sexually experimenting with him, is exactly what socialists want: kids introudced to sex at younger and younger ages, so that they lose any sense of sin or wrong-doing, which puts the State in control of "morality" and insures that people see themselves as "animals," not Children of God created with an eternal soul, rather, just one, not-special rung on the evolutionary ladder no different than any of the animals in the farmyard. In revolting against Laine's attempt to protect her, Sarah expresses a desire for that kind of care-free, morality-free life, until of course she realizes how evil the forces are that are out there and after them.
This probably explains why Laine survives the film: she doesn't mis-use people, she respects other people's dignity as people (whereas Trevor would be willing to have sex with Sarah, Peter would be willing to have sex with Debbie, and Debbie, whose eyes we don't see turn white, but uses the white stringed-Christmas lights to hang herself with, misused the religious for the secular and, in always filming herself, mis-used herself). Laine is also willing to sacrifice herself in challenging Doris to play the Ouija with her in order to save Sarah, which leads us to our next and final point.
Playing with the board at the "dining table" re-enforces the idea of the friends "eating" what the spirit cooks up for them and feeds them, but also enforces the idea that none of them are at home having dinner with their families.
The first time the group goes into the basement, Mother locks Peter and Trevor in a room, and this is probably to protect them from Doris who would try to kill them (because Trevor and Peter aren't hurt). The second time Sarah and Laine go into the basement, Sarah is sucked into the "secret room" and Doris is ready to sew her mouth shut, but Laine grabs the board, because she was getting ready to burn it, and challenges Doris to a game, saying, "You have to play with me Doris because I'm playing alone!" which means Doris has to leave Sarah and go play with Laine (shown below); this is an example of "play" and Laine interpreting the rules to benefit her so she can win. But here's where the film makers introduce the irony of the Ouija board,...
If Laine is able to flip the rules to make them work for her by breaking them (this is an example of "play") then Doris is going to do the same by forcing the planchette to say Good Bye so the game will be closed and ended and Doris can go back to killing Sarah. 
Whenever people play, someone is accused of "moving" the planchette. In this scene, Laien and Doris are locked in a fatal struggle to not move the planchette, Laine desperately not wanting the spirit to move the planchett. This is why Debbie is able to appear and help Laine, because it's actually the love that Laine has in her heart for Debbie that makes her stronger than Doris (remember when Nona tells Laine that Debbie is always in her heart, and you kind of smirk and say, "Yea, sure that's what everyone says," but this scene, again, proves the wisdom of Nona). Sarah, recognizing what her sister has done, does her part to burn the body and all the demons who had made Doris their home, have been exposed.
Politically, Ouija suggests that the Millennials have accidentally summoned a spirit who appeared to be friendly at first, specifically through environmental causes, their lack of religion and their growing sense of being citizens of a global community rather than Americans. Now that the spirit has been revealed to be hostile to Gen Y (as in terms of a $17 trillion dollar debt, a shrinking economy and higher tuition for college) Gen Y finally seems to be slowly, but selectively, waking up to the reality of what force has taken control and what it means to them.
Ultimately, Ouija is a critique of the behavior of Gen Y but, like all great art (the abstract art and Hamlet) it's not enough to criticize, but it wants to explore and offer remedies as well; by engaging with the film, in stead of just dismissing it, we harvest a great deal of information and considerations about this important group of Americans and the forces that have created them, such as absent parents/adults. Because the main horror of the film centers upon having one's mouth sewn shut, it would be a probing question for Gen Y to ask their self, "Why are we so horrified of not being able to speak?" They talk with their fingers (texting), and even with their eyes (taking pictures and videos with their phones then posting them as commentary); is Ouija challenging them to just listen?
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Specialized Waste Disposal: John Wick

This post is full of spoilers; you have been warned. If you're wondering what cool song is playing in the background of this trailer, it's The Sonics, Have Love, Will Travel. If you are wondering what John Wick's back tattoo means, Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat, the trend has been to translate it as, "Fortune favors the bold," or brave, however, a better translation can be found here in my post for John Wick Chapter 2: Ex communicado). UPDATE: Many thanks to Allen Tucker via Twitter who generously provided this excellent detail, that, "The gate man at the airport is reading Shibumi by Trevanian ." So, what can we make of John Wick? A great deal. Not only does the film have a heavy body count, but a heavy symbol count as well, with the simplest aspects of character and action invested with a ton of meaning, exactly the kind of narrative I love; something else I love? "Self-awareness" in art, when a work of art knows it's a work of art and knows there are people watching it.
What do I mean by that?
Without a doubt, John Wick is a formula film: a reformed criminal gets sucked back in for one more job, one more heist, and he's just as good today as when he left, and he's still the best. There might be aspects of this genre that I am missing, being female, however, I think we can make at least a one generalization: there's an element of immortality for masculinity. There is an element of immortality, not only because of the reputation that male hero has earned in this position that all his associates hold up as a standard, but throughout the events and inevitable violence of the narrative, the hero also doesn't die (you can put in nearly any male hero into this category: Arnold, Bruce Willis, Eastwood, Van Damme, Stallone, etc.). This is the weird element of the genre that, the more death there is, the more immortal the hero seems, and, therefore, the audience identifying with the hero. A central theme in these films, is can a person change? Until the band of baddies show up at John's house to steal the car and beat him up, we had no reason to believe that John was going back to "that life." That's not the question the film poses: there are moments when the "conflict" of the stolen car could be resolved in a civilized manner; John doesn't choose those options, so does that make him violent? No, it makes him self-sufficient because he is still enough of a man  to carry out justice himself.  I know this is controversial, and the controversy of it somewhat proves my point: art is a metaphor to say those things we can't say in everyday conversation (either because we don't know to say them, don't know how to say them or are not allowed to say them), so a guy "sorting out some personal issues" on his own is a guy who can take care of himself and what he values. The social contract by which we abide is nice and all, but as liberals insist men--especially the white heterosexual man--becomes less and less of a man and more like a woman, there are going to be revolts against this social change and John Wick is one of them: he doesn't need anyone or anything to carry out justice, he is completely capable of that on his own (the rest of the review will be exploring the facets of this). Now, what about the poster itself? The color scheme, green and blue and purple, is used throughout the film and suggests a kaleidoscope of hope, suffering and depression.  If you'll notice, the words JOHN WICK are slightly skewed, the bottom and top being disjointed. That's one way of looking at it, not everything "lining up," like Wick and Helen not spending long lives together being in love in spite of the sacrifices he made to have that happen. His name, one of the most personal and intimate expressions of our individual identities, is what is skewed (and accented with the barrel of a gun, suggesting it's "just a part of him") but it's the gun that seems to be the focal point "straightening out" the rest that has gotten messed up.
For example, when the main villain of the film speaks in Russian, assuming John Wick (Keanu Reeves) won't understand him, and Wick responds back in Russian, that "other language" becomes a metaphor for the film itself: the English language we understand. The character Avi--played by Dean Winters from the All State "Mayhem" commercials you will recognize--keeps asking his boss to say it "In English, please?" because there is always the surface language of a film (plot, action, narrative) but then there is the sub-text, the "other language" in the film (metaphor, simile, symbols) and John Wick wants you to be alert to it so you can enter in and engage with the film's meaning and purpose. There is also the text "written on the body" of John Wick in his tattoo that becomes a commentary on the film: Fortune favors the bold, not the weak and domesticated male in Iosef (Alfie Allen) who ends up dead in spite of all the men who die trying to protect him from Wick.
But there's still more.
It's been raining for days, and it appears that Helen has been buried in the same cemetery we see Gwen (Emma Stone) buried in for The Amazing Spider Man II. Even as Helen is buried, there will be a part of Wick that becomes "unburied," and this theme of resurrection is one we have seen in Iron Man 3 (with Pepper having fallen to the fiery pit then coming back again), Skyfall (with Bond falling off the bridge but surviving) and Star Trek Into Darkness with Kirk dying from radiation poisoning but being brought back with Kahn's blood. It's not, however, the resurrection of John Wick the Bogeyman that is the "resurrection" theme of the film, rather, the John Wick who, at the end of the film, can walk away with a new dog and chooses life, even without Helen. 
There's the "code" that Winston (Ian McShane) mentions that they live by, as well as the unspoken rules of his hotel, The Continental (which got a face-lift--read, it has a new surface that is hiding something beneath, like the room waaaaayyyy in the back that Wick goes to in order to speak to Winston); there is the "double-talk" Marcus (William Dafoe) uses when he agrees to take the contract to kill Wick without intending to kill Wick at all. There's the code phrase, "Dinner reservation," which means removal of a dead body and incriminating evidence; there are the mysterious gold coins used as currency, rather than cash; there's the Church in Little Russia that hides the head-mobster's vault. Why enumerate all this? Each one is an example of literary devices, propelling the film from mere entertainment to a work of art intent on making a statement; the more of the tools of the trade we can recognize at work, the clearer the film's statement becomes.
What is that statement?
Before she dies, Helen has made arrangements that, on the day of her funeral, this tri-color beagle puppy should be delivered to Wick, along with a final card of her encouraging words to him. The card has a white daisy on it, the collar has a daisy on it, the dog's name is daisy and, for their anniversary, Wick had given Helen a gold, daisy bracelet. The gold of the bracelet contrasts with the gold coins used throughout the film (discussed below) but "daisy" plays into New Jersey being the Garden State on Wick's Mustang license plate. What does the daisy symbolize and mean? The Bellis perennis, the common lawn daisy, in Latin means "pretty" and "everlasting," and we know from the name of his wife (Helen, as in Helen of Troy) and what Wick says, that he thinks Helen is beautiful, but also that his appreciation of her beauty and the beauty of their love and friendship will be everlasting. It's important that it's a dog Helen gives because this symbolizes Wick's animal appetite for love: when we see Wick looking at Helen's unused coffee mug, her sink at the vanity in the bathroom, the absence of her in his life now, that is part of our immature, appetite for love that we all experience: I want someone to love and someone to love me because of all the wonderful happiness it will mean. That's not sufficient, however, and in signing the card, "Your Friend, Helen" instead of "the love of your life", or "your loving wife," she signs it friend because, in the events of the plot that follows, Wick releases all the friends that he still has: Marcus, Winston, Aurelio (the car guy), Francis the doorman who lost all that weight, the girl at the bar who fixed Wick "the usual," Charon at The Continental, Harry, and realizing that he has friends still, not only helps Wick get past the animal appetite of love, the immature phase, but to appreciate friendship as an absolute value in his life, which is why he avenges Marcus' death (more on that below). So, the daisy symbolizes a love that goes from being transitory, like a spring time flower, to a friendship that is everlasting.
There is a political message to John Wick, but let's take a moment to appraise the psychoanalysis provided by the events. The events at the beginning of the film unfold pretty much like the opening of the trailer: Wick's wife dies, there is the funeral, the puppy is delivered, he gets to know the dog for a day, Ioseph offers to by the car, Wick refuses, they show up that night and beat up John, kill the dog (because it's wimpering), put a bat through his dead wife's SUV and bust out all the windows. Now, when the guys show up, it's night, and Daisy (the dog) wakes Wick up from sleeping; Wick goes into the dark living room and sees the guys wearing hoods and, from behind, he gets hit with a metal bar. What is there about this that is psychoanalytic?
I don't know that there is a formal symbol for a man's tie, but it's an important part of his wardrobe--women generally don't wear ties, neither do children (generally)--so it's a sign of both masculinity (a phallic symbol) and being of the professional class (please see the very last poster of Wick at the end of the page); likewise, I don't think there is really a symbol for a man's scarf worn around the neck like a tie, but inside the shirt, as we see with Winston (Ian McShane) above. The scarf is generally worn by more upper-class men but, most importantly from my perspective, is what it hides rather than reveals. Now, "men hiding things" is an established theme in the film: for example, until he's in the shower, we don't know that Wick has all those tattoos; until he's breaking the cement floor with the sledge hammer, we don't know that he has all those weapons hidden. Marcus hides his true intentions from Viggo when Viggo asks Marcus to kill Wick for him; Ioseph hides his face from Wick when he's stealing the car (then reveals it when he pulls his mask down); towards the end, Viggo tells Wick he wants to fight him man-to-man, but then pulls out a knife he was hiding. Winston isn't above hiding, either (like luring Ms. Perkins to the meeting place of her death) but I think the formal wear of the scarf around his neck is interesting. Even though Winston is a part of this seedy world, somehow, he's also above it, warning Wick that, if he dips so much as a pinky in, there will be something to drag him back in (so in this facet, Winston is a prophet). Being the owner of The Continental, with the manager at the front desk being called Charon (more on this below) means that Winston is like a Hades figure, especially when he executes justice on Perkins for breaking the rules of the hotel.
ANY TIME a character has been sleeping, in a coma, experiences death or has a dream/memory sequence, this state is an invitation to explore the workings of the mind. Three times (I think) we see Wick waking up in his bed in the morning, but at the very opening of the film, Wick was dying, the black SUV he was in crashing against a concrete retaining wall, and him rolling out of the car, bleeding profusely, watching a video of him and Helen on the beach, then "falling asleep" then we return to this sequence at the end and watch it play out in its entirety. My suggestion is, that the day after Wick buries his wife, sees Marcus and receives the dog, and the night of Ioseph asking him how much he would sell his car for, Wick slips into a dream sequence that night of Ioseph breaking into the house and from that point on to the very end, Wick is dreaming. What, if anything, substantiates this interpretation?
It's "just" a car, it's "just" a dog, people keep saying throughout the film, so how does the dead body count justify Wick loosing his car and dog? If you listen carefully to what Wick says in this exchange is "She's not for sale," attributing a personal pronoun to the car (I know other languages habitually do this, however, objects in English do not have a feminine or masculine attribute). It's not so much that Wick puts his car on the same level as his wife Helen, but that the car means as much to him Helen (again, this supports the interpretation of the dog Daisy as being part of the immature understanding of what love is, and Daisy is a part of this conversation). The car just disappears in the storyline: Ioseph doesn't ride the car around anymore, it's not returned to Wick, he doesn't recover it in anyway; Winston does give Wick a new car towards the end, which acts as a reward for how far Wick has come in his understanding what friendship and real love is about. That car getting totaled signals that Wick hasn't learned everything he's supposed to learn during this lesson, even though he's making progress. 
According to Viggo, Ioseph's father and the Big Boss of the Russian mafia, as well as Wick's former boss when he was a hitman, it was because of Wick that Viggo and his family had built themselves up so successfully. If Wick had only been out of the business four or five years, wouldn't he know the only son of his boss? Wouldn't Ioseph at least recognize Wick, or the name of John Wick when he's told that at the auto house he takes the car to after stealing it? The way the mind forms dreams, according to Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams, is the mind gathers and collects bits of reality from the last two-three days of a person's interactions with the world, then re-arranges them to express the deepest levels of unconsciousness to the person so, this is what I am suggesting happens to John Wick (this doesn't mean it's the only interpretation possible, but that there is a strong framework for this interpretation).  What point of the narrative does this solve?
Viggo disciplines his son for taking Wick's car, but not sufficiently. The knife we see Viggo use on his son Ioseph in this scene will be brought out again in his last fight scene with Wick. To Viggo's credit, he understands the crime his son has committed against Wick--even though he becomes overwhelmed by it towards the end--but Viggo sacrificing Ioseph to save himself is why Viggo won't survive the show; you can argue that, had the film ended after Wick kills Ioseph, Viggo would have lived, but that's not accurate. Marcus lied to Viggo, this is true, but had Viggo not felt so guilty for handing his son over to Wick to be killed, instead of letting Wick kill him, Viggo wouldn't have wanting to taste revenge against Wick and so Marcus might have lived. That Viggo uses the same knife on both Ioseph and Wick illustrates the necessary comparison between these two scenes. 
There is no indication that Ioseph and the other guys with him will break into his house to steal his car, neither is there any indication that Wick is going to return to his hitman life. If John Wick is such a badass, why isn't he better able to defend himself when the bad guys break into his house? Having heard Ioseph speaking Russian during the day would have been enough to trigger those long-buried memories of Wick's former life and, after going to sleep that night, his mind easily could have woven a narrative like the one we see on the screen to explain to himself what he was going to do now that he didn't have the reason why he left that life to begin with. Even though Wick tells Viggo towards the end, "People keep asking me if I'm back and I'm thinking, yea, I'm back," Wick walking off with the gray Pit Bull (?) at the end, into the darkness, is the indication that he's done and, as Helen says in the video playing on his phone, "Let's go home, John," you know Wick's going home. Walking into the darkness is the psychoanalytic John Wick of the dream retreating back into the darkness of his subconscious, and him choosing the dog is the affirmation that he would rather stay with the life of a normal civilian, even without Helen, then go back to being "The Bogeyman," which leads us to another point.
Usually a "cleansing scene" takes place after all the blood has been spilled but, in cleansing himself of the blood beforehand, John Wick is making the statement that their blood is not on his hands because they have brought down the wrath on themselves and they are getting what they deserve. Please note the Cross on Wick's arm, that is important for later in the discussion as well as the hands held in prayer (after the Albrecht Durer drawing). One aspect of  the 1969 Mustang is the license tag: New Jersey, Garden State. We get shots of the license plate several times, and it's a viable point to question, "Why would we need to know that John Wick lives in the Garden State?" The soul is often compared to a garden, where either the flowers of virtue grow, or the weeds of sin flourish. Because of the tattoos on Wick's back, and the plate on his car, we know there is more to John Wick than just what we see "on the surface." (This is an imperative scene, and since John Wick Chapter 2 has come out, I have significantly revised this interpretation based on a new translation of the Latin tattoo at across Wick's shoulders which you can read here: Ex Communicado, Or, Reflections On the Soul John Wick Chapter 2).
Wick gets the nickname of "The Bogeyman" from Viggo, when he explains to Ioseph whose car Ioseph has stolen: Wick wasn't the Bogeyman, Wick was the guy you sent to kill the Bogeyman. This nickname (and this is always true in art) introduces an "alter ego" for John Wick into the plot and it's this alter ego that is the "John Wick" of the dream, not the suburban husband of a sweet woman who liked daisies and died after a long illness. There is one more imperative aspect that must be addressed, however, for this interpretation to work.
Why does Wick go out on the plane runway and drive his Mustang so recklessly, and come so close to hitting those dump trucks? It verifies that, in spite of feeling out of control of his life, Wick is still in (some) control, and if we entertain the possibility of the dream sequence of the rest of the film, this verifies it, because a dream is the best way for us to experience being out of control regarding the events taking place in the dream and yet, because we are in control of when we wake up, we are still in control of the dream. Just as the Mustang is Wick's "vehicle" for getting around, the dream then becomes the "vehicle" of the film in getting through the plot and narrative.
Freud postulates, "All dreams are a fulfillment of a wish." Does Wick want his car stolen? Does he want his dog killed? Does he want to kill dozens of people? Does he want Marcus killed? No, to all these. Want John Wick does want, however, is revenge, and a way to release his anger and, most importantly, a way to resolve his loss and feel like he's in control over his life again. This makes Viggo a "god-figure" in Wick's "dream" (the plot sequence); what is it that verifies this? The church in Little Russia being used as a front for Viggo's vault (Viggo, as owner of the Church, becomes a "god-figure" because the Church is set-up to work for him, not for God Himself) and that makes his son, Ioseph, a Christ-figure. In the violence that Wick deals out to both Viggo and Ioseph, does that make John Wick an anti-Christian film?
No, just the opposite.
In addition to Viggo having the church in Little Russia as a front for his vault, in this scene, when Wick has been captured by Viggo's men and Viggo talks to John (Viggo's back is to us, he faces Wick) Viggo tells Wick that God took Wick's wife away from Wick as justice for Wick's crimes, and that both of them are cursed men for what they have done. That's a pretty bold statement for Viggo to make because it testifies that Viggo believes in God, even though he has mocked the Church and Priesthood by using them for his own corrupt ends. We could say that John Wick is an example of Matthew 21: 28-32 and the parable of the two sons: a father asks one son to go work in his vineyard, and the first son says no, but later goes and does the work; the father asks the second son to go and work in the vineyard and that son says yes, but never goes to do the work; which son has done the father's will? Wick is upset with losing Helen, and experiences a complete crisis, but that "dark night of the soul" is something we are all going to go through, and it's meant to break us, so He can make us stronger when He puts us back together. At the end of the film, you know Wick is back on the right path. Please remember, as noted above, Wick has a tattoo of a Cross on his shoulder and the Praying Hands on his back (and there was a priest officiating at Helen's funeral) so, even if he is not a practicing Christian, he has a chamber of faith somewhere in his heart. This scene is interesting because it suggests Viggo intends this to be the place where Wick dies (he gives the order for Wick to be killed): there is a cement mixer and the place is under construction with scaffolding and tarps. Then again, these construction tools are probably literary devices indicating that this scene is meant to "build up" and finish the construction of the narrative, specifically, putting in place Marcus and his "illegal" helping of Wick and Viggo's revenge against him.
We have all been mad at God for things that have happened to us in our life, we have all had deep feelings of suffering and grief, of feeling lost and abandoned. Wick, having been a violent man, plays out what he knows in his unconscious mind (uncensored mind) but Viggo and Ioseph are just "figures," scapegoats who are conveniently incorporated by Wick's mind to bear the guilt and responsibility for what has happened to him. At the end of the film, John Wick chooses life, he chooses to go on living in spite of what has happened to him, and that indicates that, after the natural turmoil of Wick's emotions have played out, he has gotten through and re-affirms his relationship to God, again, in spite of what has happened to him. So, moving onto the more political interpretations.
There are several interesting symbols regarding Marcus. When Viggo comes to ask Marcus to kill Wick, Viggo sits and Marcus stands, the opposite of the scene when Viggo is ready to kill Marcus. Marcus wears a robe in this scene, suggesting he has just gotten out of bed (which can be used as a symbol of a coffin, the bed being temporary "sleep" but the coffin being the bed of "everlasting sleep") so by the robe Marcus wears, we could guess that he's a "dead man walking." After Viggo leaves, Marcus goes to a secret door under his stairs and pulls out his weapon cache. The stairs, and rich decor of the house, suggests that Marcus' weapons (and ability to use them) has been the foundation of his wealth and "climb" of social status (the staircase) so much so, that Viggo thinks Marcus is the only one really capable of taking out Wick, which is why Viggo comes to Marcus to begin with. After Marcus pulls out his weapons, he lays them on top of the piano to put them together, because, just as the piano is an instrument of skill, for Marcus, his gun is an instrument for his skill. It's important to establish this so we know, when Marcus watches Wick through the scope of his rifle in the hotel room, and Marcus hits the pillow instead of Wick, we know it's not from a lacking of skills on Marcus' part, but intent to just fire a warning shot to protect Wick.
When Ioseph sees Wick's car at the gas station, he asks Wick if it's a 1970? "'69," Wick cooly replies. Why is this important? 1970 was a pretty good year for the Soviet Union (Ioseph is Russian): they were still manning space missions, unions and communists in the US were causing havoc, and the USSR completed the Aswan High Dam. In recognizing the beauty and "muscle" of Wick's Mustang, Ioseph wants the car to reflect the glories of the Russian past; Wick's retort, "'69," however, confirms that the Mustang reflects the glories of the American past: in 1969, America won the Space Race with the USSR, which has also been alluded to in Men In Black 3 (and this is the year of the Charles Manson murders, which was alluded to in Annabelle). In Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Chris Pine, Kenneth Branaugh), the conflict of the film is between Russian and American business, also involving a violent father-son vendetta. This is nice, but is that all John Wick is about?
Definitely not.
I like the edginess of this poster because of the ink and smudges, the "writerly" and "graphic art" nature it communicates. John Wick is a creation of ink and paper, which is what this image accentuates, but his story is about the most vulnerable piece of each person: our heart, and our heart's need for love, and what happens when that love is taken from us. Wick finally evolves past the bad circumstances to achieve inner-peace; for being a character of ink and paper, he reminds us of how fragile flesh and blood can be.
John Wick is THE MAN, and in the highly anti-white-heterosexual-male atmosphere of America today, making a film glorifying a white man with very traditional values of masculinity is an act of political sabotage. John Wick doesn't depend on anyone to take care of him, he takes care of his own business. Helen succumbs to a lengthy illness after collapsing one night, (in Guardians Of the Galaxy, Peter Quill's mother died of a similar circumstance) reflecting the slow disease eating America right now and the financial "collapse" of 2008. The gold coins and Wick's stash of weapons also offer political commentary.
The character of Charon, the hotel manager who assists Wick throughout the film, is an important one because, even though Charon is a figure from mythology, he symbolizes the division between the living and the dead, being the ferryman who takes souls to their eternal destination. This half-way-world of the hotel adds not only to the Christian symbolism of the film (when Viggo talks about God taking Helen) but also the journey that Wick's own soul is on to find redemption and get his "personal issues" resolved. In the scene above, when Wick asks Charon, "How good is your laundry?" and Charon replies, "No one is that good," it's Wick realizing that he has spilled more blood than he had intended, and he needs to atone for what he has done (cleanse his soul of the blood he has spilled). Charon's reply validates that Wick will have to atone for the blood, not just wash it away.
Why do all those associated with the mafia in the film pay for everything with gold coins (Wick has a couple of rolls of them stored with his weapons)? Gold is king, for one thing, so accepting payment with gold means you're investing in your future by accepting payment in gold; secondly, and far more interesting, gold doesn't tarnish, so in this ultra-corrupt world of murderers and bosses, you might not be able to trust him, but you can trust his gold, which brings us to the last point: Ms. Perkins.
Why is a church used as a front for Viggo's vault? For at least two reasons. First, it articulates how this lifestyle this group of people have chosen is their "religion," (as Christ warned Peter, those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword). What Viggo reveals was in the vault also better reveals Viggo's identity: "his leverage" for blackmail and influence was in the vault, which, we can argue, is what the devil does to us in keeping a record of all our sins. Wick has, essentially, freed all the people who were under Viggo's thumb because he had something on them, and by freeing them, he has come a step closer to freeing himself. This is just one of the connections to an earlier Reeves film Constantine
I had hopes that Perkins would prove to be a conversion figure, that perhaps Wick would be able to save her from her path of self-destruction; that didn't happen. Perkins isn't just a contract murderer, she is willing to disobey any of the codes of conduct in their "business," and it's proper that Harry, another hit man helping Wick, tells Perkins, "You're no lady." In addition to Harry spelling it out for us, we know the film makers agree with Harry because there is something Perkins lacks: a first name. Not having a first name in the film, she's only referred to as Perkins, means that she has forfeited her identity to commit acts of evil: compare the awe people are in of the name "John Wick," and the symbolic importance of the dog being named "Daisy," so that Perkins missing her name reveals that she is a "doomed" character, but she does do one thing right: she tells Wick the truth, which leads us to Marcus.
What does Perkins symbolize? What Helen is not: the Dark Woman. Helen is a woman of love, Perkins is a woman for hire. Helen reminds us of the "ultimate woman" Helen of Troy, whereas Perkins will slip into an abyss and no one will mourn or remember her. Perkins, then, is an image of self-sabotage, choosing to live the dangerous life and forego the warning signs of impending disaster--like the fine she will have to pay for breaking the hotel rules--for a quick buck. 
Granted, Wick has a gun to Perkins' head when he "persuades" her to give him something to have cause to keep her alive, even though Wick probably knows that Winston, the owner of The Continental will have her killed for breaking the rules; Perkins delivers, and Wick is so confident that Perkins tells him the truth of the church in Little Russia being a front for Viggo's vault, that he goes into the church shooting the "priest." When, then, Viggo shows up at Marcus' house and asks in person (rather than calling on the phone) for Marcus to kill Wick, and Marcus lies and tells Viggo he will, Marcus has, sadly, committed a greater crime than even Perkins committed. Marcus didn't have to lie, he could have said, "Thank you for offering me the contract, but I can't do it, we are friends," because there is no indication that Viggo would have had him killed for saying "no thanks." But Marcus lying, even for his friend Wick, and then paying for his lie with his life validates the rigid structure of the film's self-imposed morality scale.
Why does Viggo kill Marcus (or is getting ready to have Marcus killed?) and then call Wick to let him know? First of all, it appears that Marcus wants to "go out on his own terms," and we can say that is accurate, but Marcus arranged his death when he lied to Viggo instead of telling Viggo he couldn't take a contract on Wick. To some people, in the grand scheme of the film's violence, they may be asking, what's one lie? That's because we have lost our understanding of what sin is and what it does to us. Again, Marcus still could have protected Wick because the contract wasn't exclusive to Marcus, so there were plenty of people after Wick. Viggo feels so guilty, though, about having offered his son up in his own place, that Viggo wants retaliation against Wick and Marcus' lie is the "vehicle" to accomplish that. Note that Viggo wears a purple shirt in this scene and purple is the color of suffering. When Wick retaliates against Viggo, it's not so much that he's entering into an old-fashioned blood feud with Viggo over Marcus' death, rather, instead of doing penance and facing up to how cowardly he's been, he's forcing Wick into a position to make Wick come and kill him; in effect, Viggo won't take responsibility for his own actions, and is passing the buck onto Wick.
In conclusion, John Wick is a great film on several levels, and the kind of film Americans need to be seeing right now to remind us of individuality, pain and suffering, the importance of free will, Divine Retribution and Divine Forgiveness. When Wick calls to make dinner reservations for 12, and Charlie's Specialized Waste Disposal truck arrives, Wick has indeed removed waste from his life in terms of the emotional turmoil the men breaking in symbolize to his psyche, and the film calls for us to be willing to do the same in our own unconscious minds, reminding us that even a "action-flick" can aspire to the status of art when the proper tools are used so that we be thoroughly engaged and come out, like the hero, better for it in the end. (Here is the link to the sequel film: Ex Communicado: John Wick Chapter 2).
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
This poster could be a picture of any one of us, as you or I could, at any moment, lose all that we hold most dear, and become emotionally volatile and take it out on anything. Let us use the film to remember, not only how delicate we ourselves are, but everyone else, too.