Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Symbols In 'King Arthur: Legend Of the Sword' Trailer

A history film is never, ever, never, ever, never, ever, never EVER about history; it is ALWAYS about the here and the now because we aren't interested in history (I was a history major, among other things, this is true, trust me) we are interested in ourselves and how we can see ourselves through historical events. There are two parts to this title: King Arthur. It's a name everyone knows, it's a name that means justice and hops. It's a name of an exceptional individual. The second part of the title is, "Legend Of the Sword." The sword, and I don't know if they will call it by its name or not, but traditionally, Excalibur, is a material object (which socialists hate) and it's the sword of a kind and a sword that is exceptional itself. We can even say there is a third part to this title: "Legend." Why "legend?" because there is history in a legend, there is also wisdom and cultural identification in a legend, that is, the values a culture has traditionally embraced and recognized itself as (and distinguished itself apart from other peoples and cultures) is contained in legends, so, in a way, legends transcend history, because the historical fact is important, but the sociological record of legends is beyond value. If you stop the trailer below at 0:40, where Arthur says, "And they all lived happily ever after," you will notice a scar on his neck, going down from his right ear, and a scar on his forehead, above the eyebrow; why? The neck symbolizes that which "leads us" in life, and if there is anything on or around a person's neck, it reveals what is or has led them to where they are now. In the case of Arthur, the scar indicates that his past pain, or bad experiences has led him to become what he is up to that point; why is this important? Because the sword (I'm going to call it "Excalibur" but that doesn't mean Ritchie does) is what will lead him--or, at least, try to lead him--once it has been pulled from the stone, and that's an polarization Ritchie wants to draw our attention to: are the negative forces in our lives leading us (the scars) or are stronger, positive forces leading us (the sword)? What about the scar on his face? There are three different ways we can interpret facial scars: first, that the scar is just "on the face," as opposed to a specific location; this ambiguity means that the person's identity has wounded and either the person or the person(s) with whom they are in contact, don't really know who they are; depending on the scar, it can even suggest poisoning in who or what the person thinks they are (but we have no reason to suspect this about Arthur at this point). The second possibility for this scar is that it's above the eye (since it echoes the arch of the eyebrow) and can be seen as a part of Arthur's eye. Eyes are the windows of the soul, and so for Arthur to have a scar over his eye suggests that his ability to see has been wounded: either he's a poor judge of character--he might, for example, meet Guinevere and not realize what she is really capable of--or Vortigren (Jude Law) and Arthur might underestimate Vortigren because Arthur's sight has been wounded. This would make for an interesting interpretation because there are two examples in this short trailer of Arthur "seeing": the first is when he awakens from his nightmare (since dreams are the mind's way of communicating to us what is really happening or even what might happen) and, secondly, when Arthur takes the sword and he sees bits of what is going to happen as a result of him pulling the sword from the stone (there is also the "seeing" which comes from the line we hear being spoken by a man, "You wanted a prophecy? Here is your prophecy," since prophets are oftentimes also referred to as "seers" because they can "see" into the future and the hearts of men). The third possibility for this scar above Arthur's eyebrow is that it's part of his forehead, which would mean that Arthur has a problem with his thought processes: he might be street-smart, but not diplomatic, for example, or he might not be able to analyse situations the way he should (such as when he says, "There is an army of you," and he insists he's not going to fight, and then he goes ahead and fights in spite of the overwhelming odds against him). So, why are these scars important? For at least two reasons. First, because they communicate to the audience without Ritchie having to tell us what to think about Arthur: Ritchie's showing us what he wants us to know; this marginalized vocabulary--visual clues audiences rarely pick up on and engage with--are essential to artists even though most go unrecognized by the viewer. For example, when the "narrator" we see tells Arthur to tell him everything, and we see him speaking to Arthur about his dream, the man is blinking,... like a lot, like he has something in his eye: this is a form of "blindness." In other words, this man is a figure of us, the audience, because we are going to be "blinded" by some of the details, even as we are wanting to know those very details, we aren't going to understand them or miss them completely. So, why put that into a film? Because, dear reader, you and I aren't going to miss them; rather, our interpretation would be validated because such moments like this are included within the film and we can recognize them, so Ritchie is basically congratulating us and frowning upon the rest. Secondly, look at the people in the trailer at 1:56: they wear masks over their faces. We have seen these "guards" several times, like in Mission Impossible 5 Rogue Nation with the guys on motorcycle wearing their helmets and the Storm Troopers in Star Wars: the Force Awakens. When someone wears a mask, it can indicate a loss of identity, that they have ceased functioning as an individual; Arthur's facial scars are singular to Arthur, only he has those exact scars from those exact life circumstances that caused them, and so they contribute to Arthur's individuality, regardless of how painful the cause of them might have been, In essence, while the cause of the scars was meant to hurt Arthur, they have made him stronger and made him Arthur. 
So, a few of you have written--thank you very much!--and inquired about Guy Ritchie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and why I think it's going to be so good. Fair enough. Let's go through this carefully, and, if you are wondering about that song playing in the background, it's Sam Lee, Wild Wild Berry:
Please, keep in mind I am still sick, so I won't go ad infinitum like I sometimes do. The very first image is of a river, but it's not just any river, it's the Thames, which flows through London; then we see some young, not-so-upstanding men running, suggesting they are going to be caught. They dive off a cliff and into (more) water. This probably isn't how the film actually begins (well, maybe) but we don't know but we also don't need to know: what are the elements of narration we are seeing? Water, trouble, more water. We know from the title cards we see, "Born to be king," that the initial water (the Thames) is a sign of the "grace" from which Arthur was born--we don't know how director Guy Ritchie is going to handle the actual birth of Arthur, but that's rather immaterial--then, the running with his friends demonstrates that Arthur is, one of the many, a member of the herd (even if he be the leader of that herd) and he will have to be "re-baptized" (the jumping into the water) in order to seize hold of his destiny.
Then, enters the narrator.
Why is there a "sword in the stone" at all? The great sin of lust. Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana in this version) is Arthur's father. According to legend--but not necessarily what Ritchie is going to do--Uther becomes lustful for the wife of Gorlois, Igraine, and wants her for himself. The situation has two symbolic levels. First, Uther covets the wife of another man, and this sin of adultery--which traditionally embraces Guinevere and Lancelot as well--brings down a king (one is reminded of King David and Bathsheba). The sword in the stone, then, symbolizes the sexual act: the sword (phallic symbol) between the man's legs, entering into the mound (the "delta of Venus" as the vagina has been called) and Uther doing this to protect his son's claim to his throne works for two reasons. First, Uther has this moment of humility in recognizing that his downfall and the loss of his kingdom (the darkness falling over England which Arthur will have to fight against) was caused by Uther's lust; secondly, Uther's lying with Igraine is the king taking from his vassal.  The sexual is all one level; another level is the geo-political. Igraine is not a woman, per se, rather, she symbolizes all of England, Ireland, Scotland, etc., because she is the "motherland" which gives birth to us. Women who are of child-bearing age symbolize that land which gave birth to us; Uther lusted for power and domination over the English realm, and the sword was Uther's capability of obtaining that power and land as king. In this interpretation, Uther would have placed the sword, Excalibur being the power to the right to rule the kingdom, into the stone because a stone is barren, it doesn't give life, and neither did the reign of Uther, so Uther's action in putting the sword into the stone is that of saying, "To the one who can use the sword, not to bring death, but life, I bequeath unto you the right to rule," and in this interpretation, the biological father of Arthur is irrelevant, it's that Uther Pendragon is the "political father" or even a spiritual father to Arthur and Arthur is his son by virtue of following in those footsteps,... just not too closely. THEN, there is the reason of why the British ever had a sword in the stone for their central identity origin: something about Arthur's struggle is quintessentially British, not only when the story was born, but for every generation to which it has been passed and continues to pass down the tale of the central characters. So Ritchie is going back, way way way back to the original to try and understand how and why Arthur embodies Britain and what the people then were going through that we can take in for today. There are two important modern references for Ritchie's film: in The Minions movie, Bob the minion pulls the sword from the stone and becomes "King Bob." In Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice, young Bruce Wayne leaves the theater with his parents after having seen Excalibur (which was full of nudity, so Mr and Mrs Wayne didn't actually take Bruce to see it, we are supposed to understand Excalibur as a setting for what was going on then and the Waynes were a part of  it: the Reagan years and the abundance of money in America at the time being like a Camelot when the rest of the world seemed wrapped in the darkness of communism). So, without us even knowing anymore about the film than we do from this trailer, we know all ready that Ritchie aligns it with the lessons and positions being communicated to us in both The Minions and Batman vs Superman.
He isn't really a narrator, however, he's narrating what our thoughts as the viewers our: tell me the story, tell me every single detail of  the story, and remember, I've seen the Walt Disney Sword In the Stone and (possibly) Excalibur (1981). Very few will have read The Legends Of King Arthur and His Knights (free e-book download) from which Ritchie will undoubtedly draw a good deal of material. So, as we see Arthur detailing what happened to him, and the "narrator" correcting him and telling him he left something out, that is actually what we, the viewers, will be doing as we watch the film: correcting Ritchie and telling him what he should have done or should not have done. And now, it's going to get really good.
It's inevitable to compare Jude Law's King Vortigern to Ravenna (Charlize Theron) in Snow White and the Huntsman: both monarchs usurped the throne and their power through the killing of the parents of the rightful heir, Arthur in Vortigern's case, and of course, Snow White in the case of Ravenna. Not only do both Ravenna and Vortigern have magical powers, which they use to maintain worldly power of the throne, they have similar crowns, notably, neither crown has any jewels in it. Why is that important? Jewels symbolize virtue, and virtue symbolizes the reason God chose that person to rule (or the virtues God endowed that ruler with so they would be a good ruler); rubies, then, mean love of their people while emeralds being green would be the hope of a good and peaceful life for the kingdom. For Ravenna and Vortigern, their crowns are made of metals, forged by fire and strength, so their right to rule is that they had the power and means to take the thrones, not that they have any virtue or quality apart from strength and willing to do what must be done to keep power. (Oops, when I watched it again, there is a jewel in what appears to be the dragon's belly on Vortigern's crown; how do we interpret what a dragon's belly means? Do you recall a little film called The Hobbit: the Desolation Of Smaug, and the treasure Smaug guarded over? An appetite for riches is probably a good place for us to start). When Arthur rides up to Vortigern's castle, a guard introduces Arthur, "Behold, he who pulled sword from stone," and that's meant to be an insult, because Vortigern has the right to rule through the stratagems that put him on the throne, whereas Arthur is claiming the right to rule because he has been chosen, divinely. Hence, it's not just a matter of an earthly throne over which Arthur fights Vortigern, rather, God's right to rule over earth (and there definitely is some satanic force at work in the trailer, and Vortigern obviously serves that evil). 
"I woke up."
"From where?"
"From a nightmare."
"What was it about?"
Actually, just, "I woke up," can itself be the real turning point, because even today, that has significance. For example, in the film Divergent, Tris (Shailene Wooley) tells people to, "Wake up!" because they have been induced into an obedient trance to do the will of the state (Joby Harold, one of the three screenwriters, penned a film called Awake, as well as the Tom Cruise film, Edge Of Tomorrow, where he wakes up each day); the trailer for Star Wars VIII had a voice speaking about the Force, "There's been an awakening, have you felt it?" and it's also a popular political saying nowadays, "Wake up, America!" in realizing the state of the union and what is happening, and then there is the premise of the film Passengers with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence in that they are sent into space and wake up from their hibernation ninety years before the others do, because that is a political film; in the trailer for London Town, Joe Strummer (Jonathan Rhys Meyer) says (at 1:04), "Wake up! Wake the bloody hell up people!" . Arthur saying, "I woke up," might mean that he has realized how he is living his life and wants to make a change, that he is not only going to get himself killed, but he's called to something better and greater. When the character (that I have been calling "the narrator" because he has served that function in the trailer) known as "Jack's Eye" (Michael McElhatton) asks Arthur, "From where?" the full sentence is, 'From where have you awoken?" being, what previous state where you in that caused you to awaken? We don't know the real answer to this until we see the film, however, Arthur gives us his interpretation of that state as being, "From a nightmare."
This is the golden nugget.
Who is she? I am going to assume she is crouched down and does not have a hand growing from her throat. Originally, Astrid Berges-Frisbey was cast as Guinevere, but she is now billed as "Mage," which is singular for Magi, a person who has studied and learned magic and spells. This doesn't mean she still isn't Guinevere, however, it might be that she is the character traditionally known as Morgan Le Fay, the half-sister of Arthur and mother of Mordred, Arthur's son (uh, yea). This is just speculation on my part, there are lots of "Mage" listings on the casting sheet. A case in point is Djimon Hounsou who was originally cast as Merlin, but then re-cast as Arthur's mentor Sir Bedivere (for no known given reason). We can say that whoever and whatever Guinevere is, that is what Ritchie wants us to understand as being England's state today. If you stop the trailer at 0:26, you can get a good look at her: she has yellow eyes, the color of an animal, and serious bags under those eyes; she's pale, but her lips are dry, nearly cracked, so she looks sick. The yellow eyes readily suggests (but doesn't necessarily mean) she has the soul of an animal, and has given herself over to some evil. Why? Yellow is the color of gold, and gold always denotes kings (as in Arthur): either a king is good and he has a soul of gold, or a king is bad and takes from his vassals (like Uther taking Igraine from her husband and Vortigern taking the throne from Arthur) and doesn't do his own fighting (yellow and cowardly, a good king is one who is capable of fighting and winning). In the case of yellow eyes, she has, possibly, abandoned her dignity as a human being (we are the children of God, and that separates us from the animals, so we have an inherent, divine and royal dignity to each of us). Now, let's say she's a good character (and this is supposed to be a trilogy, so she might start out good  and then turn to the Dark Side) the yellow eyes might mean an abundance of dignity, she is very in-touch with her dignity and she sees the dignity in others: for example, she might realize what Arthur is capable of when no one else does, even himself. Please note the blue cape she wears: blue, as we know, means both wisdom and sadness because the price for obtaining wisdom is our sorrow, so either she has an abundance of wisdom, or an abundance of sorrow to which she holds so tightly she can't gain wisdom from it. 
The "nightmare," whether it be personal or political, is a statement of duality; why? Psychoanalysis, baby. Either Arthur had been living in a nightmare--be that the political state of affairs, or the personal state due to bad choices Arthur had made (when we see Arthur fighting another man in the trailer above, that's also an image of the fighting going on within Arthur and how he's struggling against himself)--so whatever is in the nightmare is a part of Arthur's own being; how? When we have dreams, good or bad, our unconscious utilizes those things which are all ready within us to tell us about what is all ready happening within us; in other words, the psyche encodes a message so it can tell us something. Arthur's deeper self has been trying to tell him something, and it's important for us, the viewers to know this, because a dream/nightmare isn't just for a character, it's for us: namely, it's an encoded message the film makers' want us to understand.
And that message is,...
Oh, this will be a difficult moment. No idea, obviously, what part of the film this takes place, but that mud reveals the state of sin/lack of grace within Arthur's soul. We know Arthur was raised "on the streets," and it has even been rumored he was raised in a brothel, so the question is (rather like the film Amadeus about the gifted Mozart) how can God grant so much to someone who deserves it to little? Does Arthur deserve to be king? Maybe not. This is where the great theme of the film will come into play: the conflict of free will and fate/destiny. As you listen to the trailer, there are quips about writing a book, not having a manual, you know what comes next, suggesting that everything is written and they are just acting out what has been pre-determined from the dawn of time. At the moment when Arthur's hand touches the sword, Arthur knows something is about to happen, and he goes ahead and grasps the sword anyway and pulls it out. THAT is an act of free will: when those images flash before his eyes, that is God letting Arthur know all that is going to befall him, but Arthur accepts it, because even though God all ready knows what we will choose, it is still our free will to choose it. At 2:03, we see Arthur taking Excalibur and throwing it (possibly into a lake); this isn't a break-down of Arthur's will, it's the re-establishment of it. Arthur then takes the sword for a second time (we don't have to see the film to determine that, even though we will have to see the film to know what the circumstances are for him throwing it and then taking it back up). Arthur is chosen because Arthur is the only one who will make the choices that need to be made; for example, when, around 1:44, Arthur says, "There is no way I am fighting," and then we know he goes ahead and fights, only Arthur would have made that decision, and that's why he was chosen: not an abundance of virtue, or a serious lack of vice, rather, the daring, the bravado and faith to commit the bold acts which needed to be made (at 0:12, when he jumps off the cliff, that is a "leap of faith" he makes, showing he is capable of it).
On a different note, at one point in the trailer, we hear Vortigern saying, "I know what kind of a man you are," and that's the kind of thing the devil says to us: I know what dark and evil sins lurk within you, but God knows what potential we have and is ready to be tapped at the right moment; Arthur isn't the kind of man Vortigern sees Arthur as being (probably the kind of man who grew up on the streets in a brothel, and not much else) but nonetheless, God knows the inner-strength Arthur has, even though Arthur doesn't know it himself. 
... buy a ticket.
We won't know until we see the film in its entirety, but we can pick-up on the key points and devices which will be employed to communicate to us how to watch the film. Given that so many are familiar with the story, but lacking knowledge about all the original sources, how Ritchie handles the narrative and characters--when audiences have an expectation of certain situations and people--will prove what a talented story-teller Ritchie is. Again, forgive me, I'm sick and rather out of it, being thoroughly doped up on meds, so that's why I didn't go as in-depth as I usually do. (Since this post, another teaser has come out, and you can read the analysis for that here, at this link).
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On a last note, landscape symbols will play a huge role in this film. When--if ever in the film--there is a nice, gentle plateau/meadow, that means that's how the characters are behaving, they themselves are balanced and even-keeled; when, as in this scene above, there is a towering cliff, that suggests that Arthur himself is on a road but he feels there is no way out of the choice he has made (the cliffs are inescapable, he has only the path before him that he can follow). Where there is water in the landscape, will of course suggest cleansing or grace; where there is a forest, as around 1:15 and we see the "woman" in the tree, that denotes sin: the multiplication of the woods is the opposite of the wood of the Cross which cleansed us of sin, so to go into the woods means you are going to commit a sin, or you are carrying a sin with you. When the trailer first opens, and we see Arthur and his gang running, they are clearly doing the opposite of that which they should be doing: instead of "running the good race," as St Paul says he has done in 2 Timothy 4-7, Arthur and his lads have been hustling in the world with no thought to God; the question is, have we done the same?