Tag Archive: alienation

I’ve been amiss on my blogging since the summer in just about every way one can be amiss on blogging.  Total absence.  Void.  Lack-thereof.  Certain dramatic changes in life circumstances, followed by an MA paper that refuses to go away, will keep you a little busy, and blogging falls a little down the list of things-to-do.  So, by way of apology, I want to start blogging again, and will do so, first, by sharing with you one of my favorite things: Tarantino films.

Tarantino is one of those directors where, well, you like him or you don’t, and by that I mean you either LOVE him or you HATE him.  I know few people who, if I ask them what they think about Tarantino, they merely shrug shoulders and say “Ehh, he’s okay, I guess.”  I, however, LOVE Tarantino films, and while I don’t like all of his movies equally (I only watch Jackie Brown after enough time has passed for me to forget how ‘blah’ I feel about Jackie Brown), there are some that I quite well love.  Death Proof is one of those.  This won’t be your run-of-the-mill full plot-based movie review–this is me, cleaning my apartment and watching Death Proof, and taking a little pit-stop to share it with you, because I like you (whoever you are).

And I don’t know if what follows will count as spoilers or not, so I’m just going to say SPOILER ALERT!!!!! just so I don’t have to think about it further.

Death Proof is a movie divided neatly in two.  The first half is a group of girls who get run down on the road (read: Tarantino-level massacre) via a lunatic stunt car driver named Stuntman “Icy Hot” Mike in a “death proof” muscle car.  The later half is “Icy Hot” attempting to do the same to a second, unrelated car full of girls, and it ends up. . . differently.  Now, a feminist analysis would be easy in this last part, given the clear Tarantino trope of strong-female-characters-kicking-violent-male-douchebag-ass.  That is not the story I want to tell.

The key part of Death Proof is what makes the fate of the girls in the first car different from the fate of the girls in the second car, under the same circumstances.  In both cases, Stuntman “Icy Hot” Mike claims to have been a stunt driver for television/film, but the implication is that his best days are over.  He is shown having a conversation in a bar about movies and films he has worked in, and none of the younger crowd listening have any knowledge of the movies or tv he mentioned.  Later, when he asks a 20-something girl if she knows how movies film major car crashes, she suggests “C.G.?,” implicitly suggesting that in modern movies computer generated scenes have replaced stunt driving.  Thus, the only real clues we have about Stuntman Mike being a real stuntman are (1) the fact that he seems to believe it himself, (2) he has a stuntman’s ‘death proof’ car, (3) he shows real driving ability, and (4) he does mention his role in things, but truth-be-told they aren’t really verified.  He also has a notable scar running down his face, looking old enough that we can perhaps assume that  its from his stuntman days, rather than his subsequent hobby.

The girls in the first car are “Jungle Julia,” an Austin, TX local DJ, and her friends.  Julia is something of a local celebrity, and she and her friends spend a night of getting high and wasted, as Stuntman Mike easily runs them down.  From the occupation we can assume Mike to have, he attains all the elements needed to pull off vehicular homocide. . . a ‘death proof’ car that allows him to survive any collision he gets into, and the driving skills to make sure the other drivers don’t get off so lucky.

The girls in the second car, however, are themselves associated with movies, too.  Of the four girls in the second car, one is an actress, one a makeup artist, and two are stuntwomen: one who seems to do a lot of stunt driving, and the other general stunts (Note: this character, Zoe, is actually played by Uma Thurman’s Kill Bill stunt double, if memory serves).  The actress, dressed like a cheerleader for her role, allows the characters to get their hands on a valuable muscle car, and the skills of the two stuntwoman–the first’s ability to drive, developed in her profession, with the second’s ability to ‘always land on her feet’ and developed control in doing the nearly physically imposssible, collectively give the girls the skills necessary to out-stunt(wo)man Stuntman Mike.  This is no small detail, either, as Stuntman Mike’s skills as a stuntman and his stuntman’s ‘death proof’ car, spawning the title of the film, are well developed as the means of his method of murder.  Similarly, the occupations of the girls in the film’s second car/second half are well established, focused on, and set up a large portion of their story line.  In fact, without their jobs, no element of their plot-line would make sense–they wouldn’t even know each other were it not for their occupations.

In short, the key difference in the fates of the girls in car one and car two are due, entirely, to the effects of their occupational skill.  Implicitly, this shows the difference that occupational skill development makes in the lives of two otherwise similar groups of women–the first have occupational skill that gives them no practical means to defend themselves against vehicular assault.  The latter have those very skills, and it saves their lives.

So I guess you could say the ‘moral’ of Death Proof is that (if the the development of wide-ranging skills is forbidden due to occupational differences) alienation kills!  Or perhaps, to say the same differently, CAPITALISM PUTS THE “KILLING” in “DESKILLING!!!”

Tarantino, you dirty, foot-fetishist communist, you!

Now that you’ll be thinking of the 1844 Manuscripts every time you see Death Proof, I’ll leave you to it.  Oh, and a review gives stars, right? I’d say 3.5/4.

Philosophy: Revolutionary Road and Alienation

The following review contains spoilers, just so you know.

Revolutionary Road, the 2008 movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet based on the novel of the same name by Richard Yates, is a film about the American Dream.  The movie centers around Frank and April Wheeler, the model couple for their community, who just moved into a house on Revolutionary Road, and have recently discovered that their American dream has fallen flat.  Frank works at Knox Business Machines and, obviously, hates his job completely.  His wife, April, stays at home with their two children (after failing an attempt at becoming an actress), and hates her life equally.  The movie begins with a massive argument between the two, flashes back to happier days when they first purchased their house on Revolutionary Road, then resumes in the present with Frank at work, obviously unhappy.  After being chided by his boss at work, he takes a young secretary out for drinks.  He tells her a ‘joke’ . . . that his dad worked at Knox as a salesperson his whole life and hated it completely, and while Frank vowed to never end up like his father, he is also a salesman at Knox.  Frank sleeps with her.  He comes home, only to find that his wife and children threw him a surprise birthday party.  Some short time later, April thinks of a solution to the monotony and meaninglessness they feel in their lives. . . remembering comments Frank expressed about having been to Paris, she proposes that they pack up their things, Frank quits his job, and they move there, with her supporting them through secretarial work while Frank finds both himself and what he actually wants to do. 

Frank and April are both unhappy because of the alienation they experience in their lives.  Alienation is the term used to show that two things which are naturally joined (and should be) are artificially separated from each other.  Karl Marx, the German economist and philosopher, names four types of alienation that the modern worker experiences under capitalism.  The worker is (1) alienated from what he makes when he is working (because he made it but does not get to choose its use or destination. . . his ‘boss’ does), (2) alienated from the act of working itself (he does not choose what he does, how he does it, or why he does it), (3) alienated from his human nature (because Marx saw humanity as naturally and rationally capable of choosing their actions, and thus their lot in life, and your boss takes control over your work), and finally (4) alienated from community, because he doesn’t see anyone’strue essence, and because he is thrust into competition with others (and controlled by his ‘boss’).  Frank feels all these things.  He hates when his boss tells him what to do, and feels powerless over what he does.  He knows he is capable of more in his life, and that he doesn’t want to work for Knox, and he doesn’t feel a kinship with his fellow workers because he rejects the role that they seem so comfortable in. . . he sees himself as no one special or worth having a good life, and sees everyone else likewise. 

April is also alienated.  She wants more for her life than her role as a wife and mother of two.  Engels, Marx’s longtime collaborator and friend, wrote that the origin of the monogamous nuclear family, the type of family April and Frank have, is the first source of the oppression of women.  April does not want to be resigned to household labor–the 1950’s American Dream does not work for her, and she is alienated from her true self.  She proposes moving in order to have a fresh start, to let herself be liberated from the home, and Frank be liberated from the alienation he experiences at work.

Their friends seem unsupportive of their moving (though likely from jealousy) and we are shown their private conversation where they try to convince themselves that they are happier than the Wheelers’ possibility of moving.  Shortly afterwards, they receive their first visit from John, and his parents Mr. and Mrs. Givings (Mrs. Givings was the Realtor who sold them the house on Revolutionary Road).  John had just been let out of a psychiatric ward, and is extremely blunt, but the Wheelers remain patient.  Frank and John discuss that the former feels hopeless in his life.

As Frank and April start preparing for Paris, they are far more happy in their lives and relationship.  Soon after, Frank gets awarded an opportunity for a raise and promotion.  He comes home, neither having taken the job nor telling April, and he and April have sex in their kitchen, happy in the path their relationship is taking.  Later, April tells him she is eight weeks pregnant; she suggests that she could have an abortion in the next month, which Frank is unsure of (thinking of his promotion, which he still hasn’t told April about).  He tells her about the promotion sometime later, when they are out with friends and he loudly mentions it . . . and April knows that he’s been rethinking the Paris move in favor of the job. 

Arguing later about abortion and the move, it is revealed that they moved to their house on Revolutionary Road because of April’s last pregnancy, and April didn’t want another part of her life determined by pregnancy. [The following sentence spoils the end, so highlight it to read it.]  Their relationship continues to degrade, and eventually April has an abortion (after the 12 week safety deadline), dying in the process.

Again, Revolutionary Road is all about the alienation felt by people in the capitalist system.  Frank and April never reached their potential, and so they wanted to have a chance at a new life.  This alienation caused a major rift in their relationships, shown most clearly when they were preparing to move, and their relationship was never better.  They have debates with each other throughout the movie, usually beginning with April realizing their possibilities and the limitations of their present circumstances, and Frank arguing that they aren’t special people, and by implication deserve as alienating a life as everyone else.  The exchanges of dialogue and events in this movie show many different factors that hold up the capitalist system.  The beliefs of any particular period are referred to as the ideologies of the time, and generally speaking, any ideology that is widespread tends to be one that supports the ruling class (because more people have to support the status quo than not for it to continue in any particular time period).  The belief that Frank has that only ‘special’ people deserve lives that aren’t meaningless, and that they aren’t ‘special’ people.  This type of belief resigns people to the fate of bad lives and bad jobs because they feel like such things are parts of life; the difficulty is they are avoidable parts of life, and that no one deserves to resign to a bad life.  But Frank is less sincere than he is using such beliefs as justification for his decision to abandon a happy future for one in a job that he hates for more money.  This shows a phenomenon that Marx discusses, picked up by Erich Fromm, in the distinction between having and being.  Having and being are two modes of life, or orientations towards existence and values.  Capitalism supports having over being; one defines oneself not as a free actor, but a free consumer, whose identity is formed through purchasing objects rather than performing actions and making choices that express one’s sense of self.  Marx advocates being over having, where consumption is considered only a means to one’s ability to make said choices, and express oneself in a way that benefits the self expression of others.  Frank chooses having (through increased consumption ability) over being (i.e. a happy life where he is able to live his dreams).  April would have chosen the opposite.  One key feature of ideology is that it places limits on what possibilities can be thought of as real possibilities, and it was this feature of ideology that caused Frank to choose having over being. 

Revolutionary Road also shows how the family stifles change; once one becomes enmeshed and weighed down by familial obligations, one is more dependent upon the rewards of class society.  April knew this, and it is for this reason she wanted an abortion. 

Ultimately, Revolutionary Road shows the futility of trying to escape the system as an individual, rather than change it.  As individuals, so many factors can disempower a person, from having children to facing the uncertainty of a new life, and no escapist solution can change the source of the alienation: capitalism.  April had the heart to be a Revolutionary on Wheeler Road, and her plan to escape to Paris would have made progress towards that end.  But if she wanted true meaning in her life, she would have been better off seeking systemic solutions to eliminating the alienation of others.