Wednesday, June 29, 2016

An Eye For An Eye: Now You See Me 2

Just as each card has two sides, so there is (at least) two sides to nearly everything in this film, making it an incredibly deep and rich one. I'm only going to discuss the significance of the "birth canal" or a hero being "reborn" in this post, because it's an important subject in art when it comes up and it's easy to isolate in specific scenes for this post. Some of my favorite examples of the "birth canal," "umbilical cord," or being "reborn" are from a variety of films. For example, another critic (again, this was someone else's brilliant deduction, not my own), saw the 1950 film noir classic Sunset Blvd. and, during the scene when Joe Gillis (William Holden) walks out of the house, he gets the chain of his pocket watch caught on the door knob. The watch was a gift from Norma (Gloria Swanson) and because she has completely paid his way and supported him, Joe has basically lost all purpose to work or go out on his own, even at the moment he's trying to: the watch chain serves to illustrate to us, the viewers, that Joe has become "attached" (the chain getting caught) "materially" (the watch) to Norma and the lifestyle she has provided him (the house/door). Of course, the next time he tries to leave her, she shoots him dead. In a similar vein is Ripley (Matt Damon) in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Ripley gets out of a bus to go see Dickie (Jude Law) and his bag (that looks like a large purse) gets stuck on the door handle as he gets out of the vehicle; we can see Ripley being compared to the mother of Dickie who is handicapped because Ripley himself is so "handicapped" by his low social status, his social awkwardness and lack of professional opportunities (please see Gestures: The Significance Of the Insignificant for more). One of my very favorites is in Star Trek Into Darkness: at the start of the film, Spock has been lowered into a volcano, but the cord breaks, and we can interpret that cord as being the "umbilical cord" to the "mothership"; later, when Kahn (Benedict Cumberbatch) attacks the Star Fleet, Kirk (Chris Pine) throws a hose at Kahn's ship: it's not an effective weapon, however, it is symbolically, with Kirk telling Kahn not to attack the "mother" (the hose being the umbilical cord) that gave birth to him (the Star Fleet; please see The Enemy Of My Enemy: Star Trek Into Darkness for more). 
There's only one problem with Now You See Me and Now You See Me 2: both films are so packed with devices and amazing strategies, they are basically impossible to write about because it's so hard to keep the discussion from becoming too tangled; in other words, you can watch these films over and over and over and over and you won't be able to catch everything. There are, however, three reasons to at least say a few words: first, both films have been pro-capitalist, even though the sequel takes an interesting turn in delivering it; secondly, there is a third film still to come so we should be prepared for that and, finally, the strategy I'm going to talk about is one that pops up from time to time (but it's tricky to catch) so this will be a perfect platform for that discussion: the strategy is birth.
This is an excellent image, as it aptly summarizes just how much goes on in the film at every single moment; just as we are seeing something play out in a scene, so, too, there is so much going on beneath the surface of that scene. It's overwhelming, even for someone like me used to dealing with it all. They really did a fine job on this film.
Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) was imprisoned by FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) in the first film, basically for the death of his father (he was framed for the theft of money from Arthur Tressler, played by Michael Caine). Thaddeus gets Dylan to let him out of prison to help him track down the 4 Horsemen who have disappeared. When Thaddeus emerges from prison (after being in there for 18 months) he tells Dylan, "It's like giving birth at the hospital: one person goes in, and then two come out." This is an imperative statement because it has repercussions throughout the entire film, even portions which have all ready happened. In other words, the characters are all being "reborn," and this "rebirth" is meant to give new life, not as villains, but as heroes. In Now You See Me, the 4 Horsemen were clearly pro-socialist villains; in Now You See Me 2, they have been given new identities and a new political agenda.
Here we see Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) returning in his role, but his twin brother Chase also shows up for this film; why? The film is full of "twins." Because they have both occupied the role of the "female Horseman," we can say that Henley (Isla Fischer) and Lula (Lizzy Caplan) are "twins," while Jack has a "dead" twin, his public persona and, of course, his very live self; since both of them "control" everything, Danny Atlas and Arthur Tressler are twins while Thaddeus is his own twin, from being the magic debunker to being one of the leaders of The Eye. because Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliff) points out that they are both devoted to their fathers and would do anything to avenge the wrong against them, we can say that Walter and Dylan are "twins." Because Walter had been deceiving Danny Atlas (Eisenberg) with the "false" Eye organization, there is a "twin" Eye, the false one forwarded by Walter to get information from Danny, and then the real Eye ran by the owners of the magic shop in Macau.  We can also say that Dylan, in his duplicity, IS a set of twins, his FBI agent Rhodes, and Dylan, the leader of the Horsemen. So, what's the big deal? With twins everywhere, there are "mirrors" everywhere, you think you see something once, but you're actually seeing it twice, which creates illusions and a bit of dizziness. Why do this? It's a sophisticated technique meant to deconstruct identity and our understanding about the "stability" of meaning. In other words, who is the real Dylan in the film? Is it the little boy we see at the beginning? Is it the FBI agent talking to someone who he inspired to become an agent? Is it the leader of the Horsemen who leaves Danny to his own corrupt consequences, or the Dylan who saves him when he sees Danny is in over his head? Is the "real" Dylan the Dylan who died in the safe, or the Dylan who emerged from the safe mostly dead? Dylan tells FBI director Austin that he's the same person he's always been, but that's after she discovers he has been working with the Horsemen, not for the FBI. So, is he or isn't he? This is a difficult position, because we can look at this kind of "entanglement" being applied, for example, to transgender people: I'm the same person I've always been, Bruce Jenner might say, but now wants to be recognized as a woman, as Dylan argues he's always been the same person whether he was working for the FBI or for the Horsemen. As the film's agenda advances, however, Dylan's "strong moral compass" kicks in, and rather than be the instruments of a false Eye, they are brought into the true Eye; whereas in Now You See Me, the Eye was more of an Illuminati organization, now it's going to be a watchdog organization fighting for Everyman. We have seen this in, for example, Fast and Furious, when Dom (Vin Diesel) was a petty thief, then he and his team stole $10 million, now they are heroes working with the government; why? They've been baptized, so to speak, and while their sins haven't been forgiven, a more creative way for them to payoff their debts to society has been found with them aiding the government (we can say the same of the character Napoleon Solo [Henry Cavill] in the film Man From UNCLE when the art thief was recruited to become a CIA agent).  So, again, why have all these "twins?" Because you and I have the ultimate twins: yourself as you exist physically, and then yourself as you exist digitally; the point of the twins in the film is for your to realize your own twin and how your digital twin is at risk because of advances being made specifically to capture your twin for someone else's profit.  
After a year in hiding, the 4 Horsemen (minus Henley, played by Isla Fischer, see note in caption below, please) finally get called by The Eye organization to let them do something: show up at the Octa unveiling ceremony and expose the founder Owen Case (a real Mark Zuckerberg type) as creating the phone to steal all the users' personal information that he could then sell on the black market; it turns out, that Owen Case stole the tech from Mabry who blackmails the Horsemen into stealing the tech back for him,... so that he can do what Owen was going to do. Now, how does Mabry get the Horsemen from the Octa unveiling to Macau where he is?
The birth canal.
"The Self Decapitator,".... like everything in the film, this is a loaded title. She literally "decapitates" herself when she first meets Danny Atlas, but as she says things in the film, she also "decapitates herself" by making herself look like "she's lost her head" and she doesn't have a clue as to what is going on. Lula has three important scenes: the first is when she meets Atlas in his apartment and has things rigged to drop a guillotine on her neck, so she's decapitated herself; why? The head is the governing function of the body, it controls everything else, so this might be Lula's way of saying that she plans on becoming the leader, or "the head" of, the 4 Horsemen. The second scene is when they are at Octa and Lula has to cause a commotion in the kitchen area, she "saws off" her arm with an electric knife (which we saw in Evil Dead). By this point in the film, she probably feels that she's "dead weight" or not needed so she is like a left arm that is lost, she's going to be "cut" from the group. The third scene is when they are performing in London and Lula pops off the head of the dove, then screws it back on when she has to cut her act short. The dove is a sign of the peace that has come to exist between her and the other members of the group, and her popping the head off suggests that she will do something (or fears she will do something) that will disrupt that peace; her putting the head back on the dove means that she's committed to making it work out with the Horsemen and she thinks she can fix anything that might go wrong between her and them. 
It's not exactly a birth canal, but that's what it is, really. The Horsemen jump into this tunnel at the top of the roof and out at the other end is,... China. Further along in the film, Dylan is thrown into the prototype of the safe in which his dad died trying to do a Houdini stunt; Dylan picks open the lock, but it's too late and he falls out of the safe without enough oxygen to get him to the top; Danny swims down and gets him, bringing him back up and Dylan survives. Both of these examples demonstrate the "birth canal" and the "being re-born" motif in the film, turning them from their former lives, into new heroes with a new purpose. How are they supposed to be heroes?
One of the themes of the film that I really liked was "inspiration." There is good inspiration and there is bad inspiration. For example, Danny Atlas reveals that it was Lionel Shrike, Dylan's father, who inspired him to become a magician; FBI agent Austin reveals to Dylan that he had inspired her to become an FBI agent. The bad inspiration is revealed by Thaddeus when he tells Dylan how Dylan had plotted revenge against Thaddeus for thirty years because Dylan felt Thaddeus was responsible for his father's death and Arthur Tressler mocks Dylan for hating Arthur's face so much for thirty years (for denying Dylan's mom's insurance claim when her husband died) and yet Arthur could not have cared less about Dylan's face. 
Whereas in Now You See Me, the Horsemen had taken Arthur Tressler's wealth and re-distributed it (which is what socialists want to do), in Now You See Me 2, Tressler and his son Mabry are truly villains ready to use the tech to take themselves off grid and sell the information and identities of everyone else who is still on grid (you and me). With Li and Bu Bu being the owners of the oldest magic shop in Macau, and Macau being "the Las Vegas of China," we can say they--"they" being the leaders of The Eye--are definitely capitalists and since Li and Bu Bu organized everything to stop Tressler and Mabry, we can be confident this is a team who is going to keep an eye out for us.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner
How do we know that Bu Bu and Li are capitalists? Well, Macau is a really happening place, incredibly prosperous, and they have made a living for generations in this magic shop, which is a means of entertainment (magic isn't a necessity in life, like bread and water). Magic is also highly specialized, so people who can do it, like the 4 Horsemen, are able to make a living at it rather than stay in an office all day and do something millions of other people are good at too.