Friday, August 26, 2016

Don't Breathe: Symbols & Analysis

Writer-director Fede Alvarez, who also did the awesome Evil Dead, said Don't Breathe was a response to critics' attacks on Evil Dead: too many easy scares, blood and gore; so, with Don't Breathe, there is no blood, no special effects and no supernatural elements. Right now, before opening weekend, it's rocking Rotten Tomatoes with a fresh score of 87%, which is quite impressive for a $10 million  horror film.
Right now, this is the best image of the house that I can find, so we will start here. First, traditionally, houses symbolize the soul, because a home houses the body the way the body houses the soul, which is why the windows of a house are likened to the "eyes" of a person and the eyes or a person are like the "windows" of the soul. What the three young people find in the house is going to be a reflection of what they find within themselves: that which is ready to kill them, i.e., they are embarking on a path in life that is going to get them killed. Horror films could be sub-titled: Judgement Day, because each character in a horror film really isn't a hero; we identify with them, because they have done something we have done ourselves--like wish we had some of Bill Gates' money to pay off our bills, for example--but the character allows us to see, quite graphically, how sin effects our lives, our souls and those around us. In a way, horror films are the notations to the Gospels.
Now, why is the film set in Detroit? The Detroit Free Press review thinks it's overkill and just because of the poverty and rust in the town. I couldn't disagree more. Detroit is the largest city to file for bankruptcy in US history (filed Chapter 9 in 2013); why did Detroit file for bankruptcy? In spite of Detroit being Motor City, it's been run by Democrats for 50 years and it accumulated a debt of  $18-20 BILLION DOLLARS; it has only 700,000 people (down from 1.5 million in the 1950s) and is home to liberals such as Michael Moore. When political conservatives see that a film is being filmed in Detroit--like Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice--we know it's a political commentary on the socialism that has strangled the city for decades now; it's my understanding there are plenty of shots of the abandoned city and unlit streets to remind us of what Detroit should be, but isn't, at least, not anymore. The theme of "wealth re-distribution" that is the heart of the film (the old man has all that money sitting in a safe, but I need that money to get away and make a life for myself, so I'm going to take what he obviously has too much of) is the foundation of socialist politics Detroit itself has been running on for decades (unions and Democrats borrowing more money than the city could possibly make and pay back), so keep this in mind as we watch the characters' situations unfold and the path they take to remedy that situation. 
Opening this weekend is Don't Breathe, the trailer of which I gave as homework a few weeks ago; how have you done? I haven't seen the film yet, however, Evil Dead was so well written and conceived that I am confident Don't Breathe will be full of symbols and layered meanings, so here is a trailer to jog your memory (again, I haven't seen the film so there are no spoilers in this post, just ideas to help us better watch the film):
Why are horror films so popular?
They have huge fan followings, and yet, their fans are the very ones so quick to criticize every single detail of the horror film they waited for so long to see; so, what gives? The film makers (and this applies to basically any artist in any medium) depend upon an unspoken arrangement with the audience, their willing suspension of disbelief, in exchange for the enjoyment of the story and experience the artist(s) is about to provide. In other words, so that I can get to enjoy The Hobbit, I am going to agree with JRR Tolkien and Peter Jackson that I won't criticize the impossibility of Hobbits existing; I won't question wizards and their powers, or Orcs riding on the backs of wolves, I will, however, quiet my mind and enjoy the story they want to tell me; I get the experience of The Hobbit, while the artists get the joy of crafting the tale for my enjoyment.
That's an exchange.
Horror fans don't buy into it.
Why not?
Most of what we have seen so far in the trailers and clips reflect a muted color scheme, like the image above, and the reason film makers will incorporate muted schemes is for two reasons: first, it highlights moral ambiguity, that is, the issues aren't going to necessarily be "black and white," rather, there will be gray areas. Secondly, since a muted palette is not realistic (that is, it doesn't reflect nature realistically which has lots of colors and saturation) it means we are supposed to understand the images in abstract terms, not literally, but figuratively, and we are supposed to think upon them. The image above has a green or blue filter over the lens as the scene is shot, and that "filter" means we, too, are supposed to filter what we are seeing and what we are not seeing, but should be thinking about regardless.
Money, who stands in the doorway--and doorways will be important symbols in the film-- probably is the least complex of the characters, however, thinking that about him might be a trap; why? Look at his clothes: he's wearing four layers, this easily suggests that there are more "layers" to Money's character and we are easily "blinded" by what we want to see and don't want to see, as well as by what Money's character is willing to let us see. For his character, watch to see if he hides something, like if you get the feeling he really loves Rocky, and hides his true feelings for her, or if he doesn't love her, but is maybe afraid of being alone.
A normal, average critic would look at this scene and say, see how unrealistic this film is? First, we have this blind guy asleep while the kids break in, but later, he has this amazing hearing, so how can he not hear when they break in? The answer is because, at this point, the kids could still turn around, repent of what they have done, and leave. When they try to open the door, they commit themselves to stealing the money they believe is in the house. Being asleep usually indicates death, at least in some area of a character's life, or it foreshadows the character's own death. We are "dead in sin" and that is usually interpreted as being asleep, as The Blind Man is above. Money sees The Blind Man, not as a man, but as "Money," that is, Money (the character) doesn't see a man, he sees the $300k he wants to get for himself, therefore, Money is killed by money.
The basic vehicle of a horror film is morality. Strict morality. Absolute morality.  The very people who need the moral teachings of horror films the most are the ones who tend to laugh off those teachings (which implies that their own lives are a type of horror film since they refuse to fall into line with the moral teachings of society). These would be critics who only exist to condemn everything they see because it makes them feel superior. Seriously, they do a great disservice to themselves and a treasonous disservice to humanity. Because fairy tales--Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel--became stale to audiences: the lessons of social teaching were valid, but audiences chose to ignore them, to the increasing degradation of the foundations of society, so the lessons had to be given more intensity, more severity, hence, the horror genre of film (if you don't believe me, you have obviously never seen the film Scream; please see Decoding the Decoding: Scream). By mocking every horror film produced, critics and fans mock the lessons they inherently contain and, thereby, the very purpose of horror films.
For example,...
The second Money opens the door to the basement (I'm not sure that it leads to the basement, but bear with me) that is the same second The Blind Man appears in the other doorway; meaning? That opening the door unleashes the monster.  Note the dollar sign tattoo on Money's neck: he is led in life by money. Why does The Blind Man have such big arms? This is an artistic device, and in this case, it means that The Blind Man (when he's a victim and even later when he's villain) is stronger than the kids are morally speaking. 
In Alvarez's last film, Evil Dead, Mia (also played by Jane Levy who portrays Rocky in Don't Breathe), is raped by a tree,.... seriously. Most critics shrugged it off because Evil Dead was a remake and the tree-raping-a-girl-scene was done in the first film; did they shrug it off because it was done in the first, or did they shrug it off because they hoped no one would notice the statement Alvarez was making, namely, that the "environment" (the tree) is raping Millennials (Mia) and forcing Millennials to commit themselves to environmental issues even though the evidence for liberal claims about the environment are sketchy at best. SO, in discussing the moral codes and lessons of horror films, and how horror films have replaced fairy tales, horror films use scenes like the tree-raping to make a point, and then it just gets intentionally over-looked, mocked or counts against the film makers because they wanted to make the point; so why does that happen?
These are two fabulous shots because we see Alex being "blind." In the top image, we see only one eye, suggesting that Alex is only seeing half of what the situation is. In the bottom image, he has been beaten up so bad, his eye is swollen so he can't see out of it again. In this bottom image, he's calling his dad (I don't know if the call goes through or not) but his father works in the security business; what does this mean? Fathers symbolize the "Founding Fathers," and that this father works in the security business, we can say he probably specifically symbolizes the framers of the Constitution, which has been America's security for centuries now. The kids were more concerned with their rights to live their dreams, and ran rough-shod over The Blind Man's rights, now, he is running over their very right to life, and Alex has finally realized the costly lesson of taking responsibility for his actions and  why "wealth re-distribution" doesn't work. 
Do you remember the story of the adulteress woman brought to Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees in John 8: 6-7? Jesus said to them, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone," and in humility, realizing they had all sinned against God, they dropped their stones and left her. Film critics and horror fans, on the other hand, when brought face-to-face with the sins played out by characters in horror films which critics and fans are actually committing in real life, instead of being grateful for having someone point out their sins to them, pick up stones and throw them at the director and other film makers because the conscience of critics and fans speaks to them; they know they are the ones who are the subject of the film, but woe to the person who points it out to them.  SO, if fans and critics are just going to stone the film makers of horror films and mock them, why are horror films still made?
Glass and mirrors symbolize reflection, as in, "interior reflection," and our ability to see what we are doing and think about it in moral and social terms. For example, Rocky is the one who breaks the glass so they can enter the house, which means, she has willingly destroyed the moment of reflection she should have had about what she was doing, so she now must face the consequences of her actions because she refused to contemplate on how her actions would turn HER into a monster. In the image above, we get a good idea of Rocky's strange clothes, especially her pants. She wears black tights under short-shorts; legs symbolize our standing in society, so her tights reveal that she wishes her legs were completely covered, but the shorts reveal that she can't stretch her resources that far, in other words, Rocky's actual standing in society (the jean shorts) doesn't "measure up" to what she wishes her standing in society was (the black tights that completely cover her legs, but aren't pants so that she could just wear the tights, she has to have something else covering her). 
Humans have a compulsion to know.
It's not the compulsion to look at the car accident on the road as we drive by, as some have suggested: we aren't obsessed with the gross and cruel, rather, because horror films make our own deepest, most private and intimate self the subject of their narratives, we have to watch them because we have to learn about ourselves, we have to figure out who we are, and what the consequences are of being who we are. In other words, the very fact that we are human draws us to horror films because "being human" is the subject of every horror film; sure, humans populate other genres, like comedy and drama, and we do learn about the "human condition" in other genres, however, the situation--the conflict determining other genres--are central to those stories, whereas being a human being is central to a horror film. For example,....
The shadow in the image is going to be important, pay attention to that part of the scene. The dog (which belongs to The Blind Man) is actually going to be a metaphor for Rocky herself because Money calls Rocky "my bitch," which is a female dog, so the dog--which is a watch dog meant to protect people--is going to try and warn Rocky that there is danger and she shouldn't try to do what she is planning on doing (like when they watch The Blind Man and the dog jumps up; the window of the car (the window being glass and symbolizing "reflection") is meant to convey to the audience that Rocky's conscience should tell her that she shouldn't try and do this, but she does it anyway. 
When the three kids are inside the house and they use the gun to open up the door, and The Blind Man appears, why doesn't Money shoot him? Even if Money just injured him, instead of killing him, wouldn't that, realistically, have been better than letting the guy--who they know was in special forces in the army--get his gun? What has just happened is the type of  "analysis" a typical fan or critic uses to understand the film: "Why didn't Money just shoot him?"
Because Money can't.
In the top image is Rocky's mom, who feels she is "entitled" to what she wants, even if she doesn't have the money to pay for it, so Rocky should (rather how the whole city of Detroit has operated to rack up such a massive debt); while Rocky can see that her mom is bad for acting that way, Rocky turns around and does the exact same thing: she doesn't have the money to get to California, but someone should have to pay for it. The little sister, in the second image from the top, is probably a symbol or commentary on how Rocky should be, but isn't, that is, not everything can be blamed on Rocky's mom, Rocky has free will and has to own up to her actions, but doesn't, and this leads us to how Rocky is blind (the third image) when the lights go out in the basement, this is a graphic interpretation of how Rocky is living her whole life: walking in the darkness of willful ignorance (she doesn't want to heed the warning of the dog barking at her) and she's trapped, not because of her finances, but because Rocky doesn't have any idea where she is going in life, and no, taking yourself to another state is "going somewhere" in life: either you are going to hell, or you are going to heaven, and Rocky is going to hell because she walks only in darkness.
 The bottom image is brilliant because the light shining across the face of The Blind Man suggests that he's "enlightened" or "illuminated" with understanding, so this will be an important moment in this scene.
It's not that The Blind Man is blind, it's that all of the characters--and us in the audience--are blind. Whatever the villain in a horror film, that's really what all the main characters have become, that's what they are battling interiorly, and the film makers want to teach us, the audience, how to battle the same villain/monster. Money, then, is blind to how he really is, i.e., when Money sees The Blind Man standing in front of him, and Money draws his gun on him, Money really draws the gun on himself, because Money IS The Blind Man, just as is Rocky and Alex AND us in the audience. This is how horror films fulfill the fairy tale function of society: they show us the evils that lurk ahead of us in life, and either we prepare ourselves for meeting those inevitable evils by making good, wholesome, virtuous decisions in life, or we slowly turn into that evil ourselves so that, when we meet that evil, we don't  have a chance to win against it because we have been letting it win every day of our lives.
This top shot is one of many amazing shots in the film; why? Well, for one, the green light shining on the man's face. We know that green either means hope, life and rebirth, or it means that something has died and is rotten. The white film over the man's eyes is like the white shirt he wears: white either means a person is alive and pure of heart with faith, hope and charity or that a person is dead because faith, hope and charity are dead within them; this seems to be the case with The Blind Man; it might not be that way at the start of the film, but as the film progresses, it will become that way; the point is to determine at what point it happens and then why. In spite of his blindness, we can tell he has blue eyes; why is that important? Blue is the color of both sadness and wisdom: wisdom is the greatest treasure a person can obtain because the price to obtain it is our sadness in life. At the start of the film, he will probably seem pretty wise in his ability to be resourceful and protect himself from Rocky and Alex who have invaded his personal property; by the end of the film, however, we will most likely see how he has allowed his sadness to "color" everything in his life, so that sadness and suffering is all he "sees" in everything (again, Rocky, Alex , Money and we, the viewers, are really The Blind Man, so we need to understand how the characters have let depression color their outlook on life and how that subsequent sadness has led them to becoming "blind" about how they really are and who they are becoming because of their decisions). Please note his left eyebrow (it's cut off a bit in the photo) you can tell something is wrong with it; why? The eyebrows are a part of the eye, so when something is wrong with a person's eyebrow, it means they have a hard time seeing something. What, being "blind" isn't enough? No, this is actually different. "Seeing" is our ability to understand, so, for example (and, again, I haven't seen the film yet, this is just an example) we know Money, Alex and Rocky are in the house to get the money; The Blind Man may think they are there to kill him; the kids don't want to kill him, but that might be what he's thinking because his life has been so hard, that's how he "sees" the situation (the damaged eyebrow). What about the wound (scar or recent wound?) across his nose? The nose is the most prominent feature of our face, hence, because the face is the most prominent feature of our identity, the nose symbolizes our character (consider how Romans always gave a distinguished large nose to Roman who were held in high regard, regardless of what their real nose looked like, because a larger nose signified a strong character). When there is a scar, or the nose is deformed in some way, it's a reflection of the character of that person. Not knowing anymore about The Blind Man than we do at this point, we can't go into deeper analysis yet, but please keep this in mind as you watch the film, especially if there is a scene where the camera is close up to The Blind Man's face and the nose scar is especially highlighted.
What about the bottom image?
When a character goes up stairs, it means they are ascending to a higher level of consciousness, so they are going to be thinking in more abstract terms, rather than concrete terms (which is more of what happens on the main level of a house). When characters descend into a basement or a cellar, it's because they are going "beneath the surface" of who they themselves are, exploring the things they have "kept hidden" from the rest of the world on the main level of the house. So, this shot we see, is an interesting one, because The Blind Man is at the top, he's on a more abstract level; is that because he is thinking on a more abstract level, or because we the audience are supposed to think of him on a more abstract level? Again, we see him standing in a doorway, and sure, since most of the film is going to take place in one house, there is going to be lots of doorway shots; however, The Blind Man seems to linger in the vicinity of the doorway, and that's a part of his character building we need to heed.
When we see Money telling The Blind Man it's just him in the house and there isn't anyone else, it's like Independence Day: Resurgence's Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) taking the blame for what others have done: Jake taking the blame denies the free will of the characters who messed up; Money, by lying to The Blind Man, isn't giving Rocky and Alex a chance to get out, rather, Money recognizes that Rocky and Alex aren't real people, they are zombies, like the people they will find in the basement of the house. If you see critics bashing the film, remember, they are "blind" scribes and Pharisees throwing stones.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner