Wednesday, May 27, 2015

California Dreaming: San Andreas

Opening this weekend is Dwayne Johnson's San Andreas, and I am going to see it tomorrow night for the opening. Why should we be interested in this film? Well, there have been a lot of disaster films lately: disaster at the White House with Olympus Has Fallen, disaster in NYC in The Avengers, disaster in London with Thor 2, in the world with 2012, disaster in Los Angeles in Fast and Furious 7, etc. but San Andreas is a bit different. When we think of "disaster films," we usually think of something like Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure; San Andreas I think is going to be different, here is the final trailer for the film that starts showing Thursday night:
Here is a compilation trailer of 8 different clips from the film.
So, Ray (Johnson) and Emma (Carla Gugino) are estranged, but their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is getting ready to start to college in San Francisco and she's gone up there when the earthquakes begin. The earth is a feminine symbol, "Mother Earth," because she nurtures and feeds us, we could not live without the sustenance "mother" earth provides; so who is the "mother" figure in this film? Emma. What is happening to the earth? It's being torn apart. What happened to Emma and Ray? They were torn apart. Like, as in, a lot of marriages and families that have been torn apart lately.
Enter Lawrence.
What do we have here? A divide. The country is literally, divided. And that suggests the film is a metaphor of a civil war
Lawrence (Giamatti), at 3:24, starts talking about what is going to happen with the "swarm" (more on this in a moment) and, at 3:40, as he discusses the big earthquakes still to come, the camera guy looks behind him and the guy behind the glass shakes his head "no," suggesting that they are NOT going to air the interview and tell people how much danger they are in (this may not be the case, however, I am guessing about their identity, I don't know).
Now, why is it called "a swarm event?"
San Andreas is estimated to bring in around $40 million this weekend, so it will be interesting to see how close it comes to that number. Now, at 4:55, where to they land when they parachute out? A baseball field. Why? Because the "sports arena" is the only safe place in the city,.... hum,... I wonder if that is going to have any greater meaning in the plot? I'm joking, of course it will.  At 5:04, what do we see? Yahoo! Coke, McAfee, AT & T, Adobe, etc., because those big companies, support the sports complex, and if it weren't for big business, there wouldn't be a place to land,... figuratively as well as literally. At 5:10, what are they on? A private boat. That wasn't provided by the "central government" or FEMA, it belongs to an individual who purchased the "luxury item" and is now coming in handy to save lives, even though it was originally an indulgent purchase; the point is, just as we saw with the expensive cars in Fast and Furious 7, there are multi-uses for items that aren't limited to their price tag or original design, but we can use them for what we need, when we need them, and that is why personal property and possessions are good, not evil. 
What do you think of when you hear the word, "swarm?" Bees? Yea, that's what they do, as does any animal exhibiting certain behaviors that involve no central planning but follow a simple set of rules (in other words, I want you to click on this link and take a look at this article). Why is this important? The "earthquakes" probably aren't really earthquakes, but mob attacks, groups of people, as in Ferguson and Baltimore, who are "swarming" in hordes with no known planning (that's arguable) and causing massive destruction wherever they go; in deconstructive terms, the term introduced to audiences (who are going to be the "unimplied viewer" for the most part, since most of the members of the audience--myself included--don't know about seismology and earthquake swarms) about "swarm events" isn't going to mean anything, except what the film tells us and what we see on the screen, so the term "swarm" is going to be a floating signifier that, as we watch, in our minds, we will take meaning that we have experienced in life, and apply it to the phrase "swarm event." Is that as clear as mud?
When so many film posters have gotten stuck on showing the backside of the hero for the main poster, the San Andreas poster (left) is a fresh take, but also probably meant to invoke The Dark Knight Rises; why? Well, we see the Batman symbol as what will hold Gotham together, and we see Johnson's figure as the rescuer coming to save the day; can we compare the two? Absolutely. In TDKR, Bruce Wayne is a billionaire who works to protect Gotham, while Johnson is a minority male who is working at saving his family. In this scene we see on the left, who is Johnson's character saving? A white girl, rather like the girl we saw in the trailer for the TV show Aquarius, when the girl gets sucked into the Charles Manson "family."
When we don't know something--like a little kid reading out loud who comes to a word they aren't familiar with--we have three options: first, try to find out the exact meaning (which isn't always immediately possible, as in a theater situation); two, try to use "context clues" and construct a possible meaning for it (like imagery, conversation, personal experience) or, three, we ignore it completely (this is a rough summary of Jacques Derrida's early work). What Derrida concluded is, the part we "skip" or throw out, however (in this case, "swarm"), tends to be the most important part, and we lose critical meaning of the whole because we failed to wrestle with the unknown meaning of that tiny detail. As always, I will be tweeting out my initial response to the film, and I will do my very, very best to get the review up asap.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner