Thursday, May 5, 2016

Margins Of Power: Ant-Man

We could easily say that Ant-Man is just another superhero film, just another Marvel blockbuster, yet the truth is, Ant-Man pushes some serious issues. Our hero, Scott Lang, has an awkward quirk about him,... his awkwardness. That isn't normally the charisma of a superhero.  He doesn't have the cool and steady persona of either Steve Rogers or Tony Stark; he isn't the big and strong Thor, or the utter-brainy Bruce Banner. He comes pretty close to Hawkeye, who is just a normal guy with a family, but Scott isn't like Clint Barton because Scott has a prison record (which makes him a little more like Black Widow, but even then, if it weren't for the Ant-Man suit, what could Scott really do? He barely knows how to fight, but even then, has to use the weapons Hank Pym has developed for him to get his missions completed). Scott is brainy, but that is nothing compared to Stark and Banner, however, he has something that he has made his superpower: his love for Cassie, and his love for his daughter makes him make the right decisions. This is an incredibly important cultural issue: in a day when most men abandon their children and the duties of family life (or our at least encouraged to do so by false images of masculinity from other men, and the Left who encourages women to dump the man and get government support; we can actually see this in Scott's ex-wife Maggie, who acts like Scott isn't going to do what it takes to be a good father; she half tells him, "Get an apartment. Get a job. Pay child support. Then we'll talk about visitation." She has no faith or confidence in him, and this is what women are taught, by other women and the Left). Scott, in other words, is not superhero material, and that's why Marvel has put together such a great film in Ant-Man.
If you STILL haven't seen Marvel's Ant-Man, it's probably a bit of snobbery on your part: "What kind of superhero is called 'Ant-Man?'" you might be asking; "It just doesn't look as good as the other Marvel films,..." you're convinced. The truth is, Ant-Man is surprisingly complex and addresses a number of important political issues, including why white, heterosexual men are not only still relevant in culture today, but how the Left wouldn't have their "agenda" if it weren't for the tools which they have provided for culture. Let's start with why Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) gives his daughter Cassie that strange rabbit for her birthday.
Unfortunately, this is the best image I could find of the rabbit, which Cassie is hugging (if you scroll down to the end of the post, thee is a video compilation of moments from Ant-Man; you can watch the scene of Cassie getting the rabbit at 2:30). The red eyes of the rabbit means we are supposed to see with the "eyes of love": red, as we know, is the color of blood, and so we either want to spill our own blood as a sacrifice for those we love, or we are willing to spill the blood of others to appease our wrath (consider Darren and his willingness to kill, not only Hank Pym, but the poor guy he turned to jelly and flushed down the toilet, and Darren's willingness to kill Hope, and anyone else in his way). So, we are supposed to see others with the eyes of love, what does that mean? It means the difference between how Maggie sees Scott--a criminal--and how Cassie sees Scott: her hero. It's the difference between how Hank Pym sees Scott--the next superhero--and how Hope sees Scott (initially): the flunkie who took her place in the Pym Particle suit. What about those pointed fangs, like the Monty Python Holy Grail rabbit, uh? The emphasis on the fangs is meant to show "hunger": the rabbit is hungry to love and do the things love does to show love (remember, this is Scott giving  it to his little princess; if Darren had given this rabbit to Hank, we would be saying something like, that rabbit is hungry for your blood and guts and slow, painful death).  Scott is hungry to show Cassie he loves her, and the red tongue sticking out is how anxious he is to tell her that and tell her that he loves her; remember, when Scott has the suit, what does he do? He shrinks and goes to visit Cassie in her bedroom while she's sleeping because it might be the last time he sees her. He doesn't go rob a store or a bank so he can get money, he just wants to see her as the last thing he might do while alive. The red scarf around the rabbit's neck means that Scott will be guided by love. The neck symbolizes what leads us, like a dog on a leash, and Scott's "leash" is his love for Cassie, as he tells Maggie on the front porch when she throws him out of the party, and Hank knows and repeats to Scott when trying to persuade Scott to become Ant-Man. One last little detail about Cassie: please note in this image how Maggie is dressed: the big flannel shirt isn't very becoming, especially compared to the princess theme of Cassie's bedroom. This is what happens to women when they aren't raised as princesses: they grow up not believing in themselves or their personal worth. (We will discuss, "You're my bestest friend," below). Why does Scott call Cassie "peanut?" It's like the rabbit saying, "You're my bestest friend," peanuts have protein in them, and so Cassie makes Scott become stronger, and those in our lives that make us become stronger are out best friends. 
When Scott arrives at his daughter's birthday party, she is thrilled to see him and he gives her a blue gift bag and she asks if she can open it now; Paxton, the cop and her soon-to-be-step-father, says, "It's your birthday, you can do whatever you want," so she opens it and it's an awful looking dingy, pink rabbit with huge teeth (fangs), a tongue sticking out and red eyes and a red bandanna around its neck and it says, "You're my best friend." It's so ugly, she loves it. Is this supposed to be just a comic-relief moment in the film? No, because we have seen this rabbit before,....
Actually, this is an awesome image. Please note Scott's right eye: he has it taped because he was hit on his last day of prison, meaning, prison scars you. Because the eyebrow is part of the eye, it also means that prison effects the way you see yourself and the world, like Scott thinking he can get a job right out of prison because he has a master's degree in electrical engineering. Now, water is an important symbol for "cleansing" and, therefore, rebirth (we will discuss this further below with the bathtub image). So, in this scene, we see the water beneath the bridge, the bridge itself and the fog and hill/mountain in the distance. The "water under the bridge" invokes the familiar saying, "All of that is water under the bridge," that is, it's in the past, and there is a bridge now that we can walk across so we don't have to think about the past situations anymore (like with Paxton, his ex-wife's new husband). There are three states of water, and that corresponds to the three states of personal self-awareness: water in its liquid state suggests you are looking at yourself, but only seeing what is on the surface or seeing what others also see in you (this is the water under the bridge in the image below); the second stage of water is that of vapor, which corresponds to a person trying to see beneath their own surface, but they are confused about what they are finding or haven't found what they are looking for; this corresponds to the image we see above and the fog out in the distance, Scott's future. The third state of ice is the solid or frozen state, when one has made certain the self-knowledge they need in order to move on and beyond that challenge or trial. Scott doesn't get to the third stage in the film, but that's why there are more films scheduled. 
We need, however, to first establish an important point: because this scene of Scott giving Cassie the rabbit doesn't make any sense, we are likely to forget about it in the larger context of the film; like a child learning to read who skips over a word he doesn't know, and just keeps forging ahead, not giving a second thought to the word they skipped. This is the basis of Jacques Derrida's theory on "Margins," that whenever something we encounter doesn't make sense, we push it off to the "margins" of our thought and essentially dismiss it, removing it from the context  and, thereby, we actually create a new work of art because we have--unwittingly--committed an act of censorship, just like the child in the example reading the text. Derrida proposes that, when we are faced with something in a work of art we don't understand, that suddenly becomes the most important moment, because this is the moment of the author's/artist's greatest challenge to you and, instead of marginalizing what you don't understand, you should move it to the front and center so you can make sense of it. So, what does the hideous rabbit mean?
The villain, Darren Cross. Bald? Because hair symbolizes our thoughts, and Darren has no hair, he has ceased thinking about what his actions are going to do to others (like selling his technology to HYDRA; this isn't always what "baldness" indicates, as in the example of Professor Charles Xavier [Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy] from the X-Men but we can certainly see how it applies to Lex Luthor [Jesse Eisenberg] from Batman vs Superman Dawn Of Justice). We know that the color blue denotes both sadness and wisdom, because sadness/depression is the cost of purchasing the greatest of treasures, wisdom; when, however, we see a villain wearing the color blue, it means that their sadness/depression/pain, etc., has outweighed their ability to gain wisdom that will lead them on towards happiness, or at least peace. In the case of Darren Cross, his anger at Pym for not taking better care of him when he studied under Pym has ruled out Darren exercising any wisdom, which is exactly why Pym pushed Darren away. Now, all great heroes are, essentially, fighting themselves in the hero narrative. Darren symbolizes both what Hank Pym could have become--had he wanted that kind of power--and, likewise, what Scott Lang could become if he abuses the power of the suit which has been given to him. So, what counters Scott from becoming a villain? Self-awareness, and the ability and willingness to honestly see yourself as you are. In the image below, Scott looking down into the ant hole is rather like Dorothy Gale looking down the yellow brick road in Oz: just as Dorothy meets the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion--and each of them are a part of her herself she needs to learn to use and accept--so, too, Scott learns about how the ants are like himself, each breed capable of different powers which express Scott's own inner-powers of building, team-work (with Pym and Hope, with Luis and his team, but also with The Avengers) and his ability to hurt others (like Yellow Jacket) and, of course, his own "crazy ant" ability to harness electricity because of his educational background.  Like Scott, many of us are "pushed to the margins" in society because we don't have super-hero powers, but when use with purity of heart, even mundane skills and talents can become powerful. When Scott goes through the "trial by water" Pym puts him through, it's really just a re-living of everything he has all ready been through, and has still come out a good person in spite of everything that's been done to him; Darren, on the other hand, has come out a lousy person in spite of all that has been handed to him and his countless opportunities to do good. Why does Marvel make this an important part of each film? Because that's why we go and see them. It's not about Scott Lang saving the world from Darren Cross: it's about you and me saving our own individual world and identities from becoming someone like Darren Cross, because that is the decision we are faced with, every moment of every day. When you choose not to get angry, when you choose not to take advantage of the system, when you choose to take responsibility for your own actions, you are choosing to become a superhero because you are choosing not to be a villain. 
You might recall, that in Iron Man 3, Tony Stark gives Pepper a giant rabbit for Christmas, while in the beginning of Star Trek Into Darkness, a couple visit their dying girl in a hospital and give her a rabbit and, in Silent Hill: Revelation (which I was probably the only person who saw it) there are rabbits everywhere in the film. So, why? Rabbits are generally associated with Easter, and Easter is the celebration of the Resurrection, so rabbits can be symbols for resurrection (which they are in all the films mentioned previously) and the same holds true for Ant-Man; why?
As we have discussed, water plays an important role in the film, especially for Scott. When Scott puts the suit on and shrinks, Pym tells him that his trial will not be by fire, but by water; why? Not just because Scott happens to be in a bathtub, but because Scott first has to be washed of his own criminal tendencies. The "trial" which Scott is about to go through, are actually things which have all ready happened to him: getting knocked down the vent was him losing his job for whistle-blowing; getting knocked down the vent the second time was getting fired from Baskin-Robbins; getting sucked up by the vacuum was the vacuum of prison and being with all the other "dirt" of society; the women's shoes that almost step on him is when Maggie throws him out of Cassie's birthday party, and Hope calls the police on him when he returns the suit (and the general hard-heartedness she expresses towards him); the giant mouse/rat, being a rodent and vermin, is when Paxton threw Scott out of his house at the birthday party and, as Scott pulls away, he plays the horn La Cucaracha, which is also a pest/vermin/rodent. What Hank Pym allows Scott to go through during this trial is basically what Darren complains about to Hope that, had Hank not failed them so badly, they wouldn't have learned to spread their wings. The difference is, Darren thinks of himself as being better--he's become arrogant--whereas Scott has become more humble. The most humbling moment for Scott is when he shrinks to get in-between the plates of Darren's suit and enters the quantum realm; talk about the marginal arena, it doesn't get any more marginal than that. But since Scott loves Cassie so much, he will do whatever it takes to save her, and because of his love for her, love saves Scott, too, when he figures out a way to beat the quantum realm. 
Scott giving Cassie the ugly rabbit is a promise to Cassie that Scott will be resurrected; he's not going to let his prison record break him or keep him down; he will become the man that Cassie needs to have for her father. The ugly rabbit is a foreshadowing that "it ain't going to be pretty" what Scott has to go through in order to be cleansed of his past crimes and sins. The ugliness of the rabbit is why Christ tells us that we must become as little children, because Cassie doesn't care about how ugly the rabbit is she just knows it's a gift and she loves it for what it is, unlike an adult who would say, "I know that blue gift bag is a sign of wisdom, but it's also a sign of the depression and hardship this gift is being wrapped in and, I don't like to suffer. I also know that the dingy coat on that bunny means I'm going to have to get more dirt on myself before I can come clean, and I don't like the idea of that either, so, thank you, but no." Cassie accepts it, not knowing what will happen, but knowing that it will all turn out right in the end. Speaking of little girls and their fathers, let's take a moment to consider Hope.
Hope wearing black through the beginning of the film is obviously important: she doesn't have any hope (another play on words the film intentionally uses). When Hope "meets" Scott for the first time in the image above, the wallpaper of the room is green because we know that green is the color of hope and the rebirth we experience at spring time. Hope isn't wearing green yet because she doesn't buy that Scott is going to be able to do what needs to be done. In the second image, Hope wears a green shirt because she is more invested in Scott and realizes they need him and Scott needs them, too. As the film progresses, Hope becomes more natural: her make-up isn't so severe (as in the shot above) and she looks softer, kinder (although there is still a long ways to go; I understand there are three Ant-Man films to be made in all, not to mention Infinity Wars).  
We know Hope goes through her own conversion process in the film, but there is one moment in particular that I think is going to have repercussions in the future with as assuming The Wasp suit: when Scott is having problems communicating with the ants, Hope takes the "ear piece" (for lack of a better term) and demonstrates how to utilize it; she has the ants go over the light and the room turns dark. This is an important bit of "marginalia" that I think foreshadows some of the darkness in Hope's own soul (remember, her mother died and she was sent off to boarding school, and didn't have any real bond with her father) and this is going to come back to cause problems for everyone. Now that we see the problems of a bad father-daughter relationship, we can talk about Cassie.
Another aspect, or branch, of deconstruction and Derridean thought involves word play; why? Because deconstruction contends that language is inherently ambiguous, and we can't ever really be sure of what we are saying, or of what we are hearing (for example, at a philosophy conference, one of the many critics of Derrida had delivered a paper condemning Derrida's work; the next day Derrida got up and read word for word the same paper the other philosopher had read the day before, thereby proving that language is shifty, because it took on a completely different meaning when the object of the attack [Derrida himself] also became the usurper of the paper [reading the paper even though he himself didn't write it] and then making to the audience listen to it). Throughout Ant-Man there is significant word play. For example, when Scott goes to Luis and says, "I want to know about that tip," the black man's name is also Tip, so does Scott want to know about the information from Emily, or about Tip the driver who is part of the team? In the image above, we see Scott has been "underground," and that's important because of the phrase, "Underground resistance" which is political. Given the reference to Obama's Cash For Clunkers program (more on that below), we can be certain this is one of the political positions of the film. When  Hope and Darren are having dinner, and Hope listens to Darren bashing her father for what a terrible mentor he was, Hope says, "You deserve everything coming your way" and while Darren thinks that means his money and recognition for his work, Hope means his downfall and ruin, but it's one sentence that is taken two different ways. When Yellowjacket is in Cassie's room, Cassie says, "I want my daddy," and Darren replies,  "I want your daddy too" but whereas Cassie wants her dad for protection, Darren wants Scott to kill him, so it's, again, the same sentence in which a stable meaning has been mined to make it unstable; why is this important? Because then, the whole film takes on an "unstable" meaning that it doesn't mean just one thing, but has the potential to mean several things. 
It's not an accident that Cassie has a "princess theme" for her birthday party: she is a princess; isn't every little girl? But Hank Pym certainly didn't make Hope feel like a princess, and in their failed relationship, we can see what will happen to Scott and Cassie if Scott doesn't make himself "the hero she all ready believes he is." When she sees what a good man her father is, then she knows she is a princess and, unlike Maggie her mom who married a crook, Cassie will marry a man worthy of her because her father has instilled in her what her worth is. This is an important facet of masculinity, and an aspect of the film's genius, and why the birthday rabbit says, "You're my best friend."
Why is Luis (Michael Pena) telling a story in the film so funny? Behold, dear reader, this, too, is evidence of deconstruction and Jacques Derrida, or, in other words, the screenwriters (including Paul Rudd himself) once again showing off how smart they are. Luis describing the "tip" to Scott in which he first heard about the old man and his safe in the basement, is a speech act: Luis attempts to persuade Scott of the legitimacy of the tip, so he's putting his words into the mouths of other people,... or have these other people put their words into Luis' mouth (in the video clips below, it starts at 2:45)? As Luis starts telling the story, he mentions he was at a wine tasting; we might write that off as being "marginal," and unimportant, but it is important: Luis is trying to prove that he has "discriminating taste" and knows how to discern between good wine and bad wine (please note how, in the image above, Luis has his top button buttoned on his shirt, which isn't the typical way they are worn without a tie; why? We know the neck symbolizes what leads or guides us in life, so buttoning the top button demonstrates that he doesn't get "hooked" (or leashed) by just anything). Then Luis also mentions that Emily, the Pym's housekeeper, was the first pair of boobs he ever touched. Now, we see Scott taking the information and censoring it, saying, "That was a rotten detail," and wanting Luis to move on; the truth is, just as with everything "marginal," this too is important: had Scott been paying better attention, he would realize that Emily is "loose" and being loose, she's not the "airtight source" that Scott wanted for the tip. The reason Luis talking through this story is so funny is because Scott is asking for legitimacy for the tip, and Luis is trying to declare that the tip is "super-legit," but in mis-aligning the words of who is speaking, Luis makes himself look bad, and everyone else, too.
A man's best friend is his children, because of them, he should want to be the best man he can be, not a man he can be "good enough" getting away with by the skin of his teeth. Again, many men today feel that children and the responsibilities of family life hold them back and keep them from pursuing their dreams, but if they are not taking responsibility, they are not becoming the best version of themselves they can be, and hence, they aren't fulfilling their dreams anyway: maybe they have the career or lifestyle they want, but they don't have the respect of others they need in order to have respect for themselves and true personal happiness.
Jacques Derrida, the "father" of deconstruction. He himself was a controversial figure, many in philosophy not even wanting to hear him be called a philosopher. When Cambridge awarded him an honorary doctorate, half a dozen internationally-known philosophers wrote in objecting to the award; when the issue was put to a vote, he barely won, and those voting for him were scholars outside the philosophy department. Why bother talking about all this? For at least two reasons. First, Marvel has become synonymous with "margins": how many films can you name before Captain America the First Avenger that gave us a post-credits scene? (I could only think of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, but there might be something else). Some of the most important bits of information for future films, Marvel has tucked "away" into the credits; why? Because they are making use of the "margins," the areas where additional information can be stored and communicated. Doing so emphasizes the "information" aspect of the films and raises them from "fan boy comic fare" to works of art. When we know the degree of intellect which went into the production of the films, it increases the validity of our own interaction and enjoyment of the film and its characters. In other words, you don't have to feel guilty for enjoying a super hero film called Ant-Man because you know the screenwriters are all highly educated because they know about theories like deconstruction and how to apply them in such a sway that you don't even realize it. The second reason for us to spend our time on margins is because you encounter it everyday whether you have realized it or not. Consider this blog: the captions of illustrations is where I tend to put a ton of information, and those captions would definitely be considered the "margins" of the body text where, traditionally, the most important thesis statements are placed. Becoming aware of the margins of a text, art work or (any) narrative (including the news) helps you to start looking for the margins you may be missing and, when there aren't any, ask why not? For example, in the sequence of Scott's trial by water, when we discussed him being sucked up and treated like a rodent, there was the end of that when he goes through the window and lands on top of the car of a black man who is parked on the street below. Why does this happen? Again, we might push it to the margins of our own thought processes, but if we stop to ask why this is included, we might piece together the rest of the narrative to go something like this: Scott has been through a lot the last several years, like being fired for doing the right thing, going to prison, getting stomped on by women and being thrown out like a rodent; if we stop to think about what is happening (the window Scott goes through) then we know we have shared at least some of Scott's trials because of the Obama socialist program "Cash For Clunkers" when a person could trade in their old car for a new car because the car industry was facing bankruptcy and, rather than let the free market take care of the problem, like a good communist, Obama bailed them out with tax payer money. The older black man sitting in the clunker car (and trust me, this car is a clunker: look at how ripped up the passenger seat is) reminds us of all the socialist stunts Obama has pulled and, like Darren Cross (who brags about transcending the laws of nature), Obama is attempting to transcend the laws of economics. 
Lastly, let's consider a rather strange trait Scott has: awkward self-awareness. When Hank finally tells Hope the truth of how her mother died, and Hope cries and they are finally bonding, Scott says, "This is awesome," (it starts at 7:50 in the clip collection video below) and, when he meets Captain America in a clip for Captain America: Civil War, Scott shakes his hand and says, "I'm shaking your hand too long." Scott does this throughout the film; why? Self-awareness is something which the tradition of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant males has given the world in art, literature, philosophy, religion and all other aspects of Western civilization. Without white men, who are being mercilessly targeted as the ultimate-enemy of social justice and well-being by socialists, there wouldn't be the degree of self-awareness which "minorities" required to "realize" they are minorities. Case in point: in the 1960s, it was the insights of deconstruction theories political "minorities" employed to take on the "establishment" and begin gaining power for themselves. Why is this important? Jacques Derrida is a white heterosexual male! The very "enemy" of these minorities who want to overthrow white heterosexual males (and if you don't believe that this is a real threat, you can watch the trailer for the Mockumentary: No Men Beyond This Point here. So, realizing that the makers of Ant-Man employ Derridean strategies in their narrative brings the circle to completion because now, they are using Derrida to protect themselves from the very onslaughts of public backlash from "minorities."
Hank Pym is the perfect target for feminists and minorities; why? He's a rich, white, heterosexual, educated male. What's happening here? He's passing the baton of power to another white, heterosexual, educated male. When there are several "minorities" in the film--the most vocal being Hope who wants to wear the suit--another white male is a politically incorrect move to make,... isn't it? The problem is, "minorities" have proven that they only care about their world, their people and their positions in society, no one else's. White males, on the other hand, have successfully been defending the entire social order for centuries now, and getting no thanks in return. That doesn't mean there aren't minorities who stand up and join in this fight with the white men, however, Marvel is making a conscious political statement with the ethnic identities of both Hank Pym and Scott Lang. Scott "becoming the Ant-Man" isn't about becoming a glamorous super-hero. We all ready know that his first "gig" with the Avengers is, in the words of Captain America, going to "put you outside of the law" and, if we were in Scott's position, how many of us would say, "That's okay. I don't have a prison record, but I'm happy to get one," but, instead, Scott acts like, "Well, that's part of my identity, what needs to be done, and I'll do it."  
When Scott has to fight Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to get into the Avengers facility, what does Scott do? He disables Falcon's goggles that allow Falcon to see Scott as Ant-Man; why? Because you can be more powerful when you are not being seen. Just as the minuscule world of ants is regulated to their underground (marginal) environment (but still do a lot of damage to our in-home electrical systems and sugar jars) so those of us pushed to the margins of society still have a great, untapped power, if we are willing to learn how to effectively use it.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
P.S.--here is a compilation of funny moments from the film.