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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Super 8: In the eye of the camera

Any film that deals with its own medium of film must ask the question of what is real and not real, and the film Super 8 with its focus on young filmmakers is more than a little complicated when it comes to this.
On every level, Super 8 is about death and resurrection, and this is also true when it comes to the process of filmmaking.
The group of kids is in the process of making a zombie movie, something that has been going on prior to the opening of the film, and the director/writer, Charles, is concerned about losing Joe – who does makeup and other behind the scenes roles for the film – because Joe’s mother has passed away.
“I bet Joe is not going to want to do my movie any more,” Charles said as he and his friends hover over the food table at the wake.
“Why?” asks Gary
“Why do you think why? The story, it’s about the living dead.”
“His mother’s not a zombie.”
“She’s dead, shit head.”
Charles and the others are obsessed with getting the film done, something that not everybody understands.
Joe’s father, Jackson, wants his son to go off to baseball camp if only to get him away from the zombie makeup, not that he dislikes the kids, it’s just… well, things have changed for the family now, and Joe’s mother, Elizabeth is dead.
The camera literally takes on a life of its own for this film, becoming its own character, seeing things that the characters of flesh and blood do not – such as when it continued to run at the train station even when a derailed train disrupts the shoot and sends the actors and crew scrambling for their lives.
It is the camera that catches the image of the alien escaping the train after the crash, a kind of resurrection of the dead after the alien has been held captive in a tomb-like military science lab for more than two decades.
In a film in which everything is about resurrection and returning to life, even the camera must play a role, broken at the train station, another camera takes its place when Joe borrows his father’s.
So the fact that the three day wait for developing the film wreck footage takes on new meaning, yet one more allusion to resurrection.
Joe’s mother is resurrected in one scene when the power comes on suddenly and the home movie made of her and him as a baby starts up again.
Joe tells Alice that his mother was always looking at him – the way a camera might, perhaps, the way the alien in the concluding scene does, taking everything in, making it all real.
The camera becomes the witness to what is real. The train crash doesn’t become real until the kids see it on TV.
Charles is constantly rewriting his script in order to find the heart and soul of it, even when he has great scenes like the death of a zombie.
But the death scene is not a story and since older boys are going to be entering the film competition, Charles writes in a love interest for his main character – although this borders on reality, too, since Charles invited Alice to do the role because he’s romantically interested in her.
She proves to be a remarkable actress, but also a disappointment since she falls for Joe instead.
This causes Charles to become disillusioned with the film, since what he wanted to become real did not, at least not for him.
Charles as artist is struggling to make his work become more and more real – seeking scenes with “production value” such as ones that use the backdrop of the train wreck or the military searching the house of their biology teacher.
Ownership of this reality also comes into question when Joe’s father, Jackson, takes back the camera Joe took to continue the movie, and Charles complains that while the camera might belong to Jackson, the film – the images, and content, belongs to Charles.
Film also becomes evidence against the military when it comes to the captivity of the aliens, as the military searches for the biology teacher’s research that includes reels from secret experiments in the early 1960s, films that show him being touched by the alien.
Still later, the clip of the alien slipping off the train because evidence for Joe’s father, Jackson, when he begins his search to find Joe, who the military had captured.
Real and unreal are blending into something nobody is completely comfortable with, just the way the boundary between living and dead gets blurred by the idea of zombies and the living dead.
This film with its internal filmmaking process because of search for reality, for the boundaries of life itself, as the lens captures images of something that may or may not be real, and gives evidence to the horror of not knowing where one ends and the other begins.

Super 8: forgiving yourself

A moment before the train crash that brought the alien onto center stage in Super 8, a handful of kids had rehearsed a newly-written scene for the as-yet-named super 8 zombie movie they were making at the train station.
This was a magic moment, because Charles, the director and writer, ached to find a story around which he could build in zombie movie, and believed that by introducing “love” into the film that he would achieve it.
This slight addition, however, resounded through the entire film because it said something about the characters on the other side of the camera, the cast of aching people to whom bad things had happened, and who needed to find a way to heal.
The wife – played by Alice – was saying good bye to her fictional reporter lover, telling him she did not want him to leave, how she hadn’t asked him to cease his obsession to hunt down zombies before, but clearly wanted him to stop.
No moment is so important in this film than this one in, as Alice seems to come up with real emotions which were unexpected from her when she was recruited.
Charles asked her to join the film not as a love interest for the character, but for himself – a pudgy boy, nobody loves, who doctors say will trim down soon – hopefully, but can’t stop eating, regardless of where he goes or what the circumstance.
The reporter tells the Alice character that he has to stay behind to investigate the murders,
“But I would think that it would be safer if you left town for a couple of days” he says.
“John, I don’t like it. This case. These murders.”
“What am I supposed to do? Go to Michigan with you?”
And though she tells him the place is beautiful this time of year, he insists that he has to stay.
“This is my job,” he says
“The dead, coming back to life? I think you’re in danger.”
“I have no choice,” he tells her
“You have a choice. We all do. John, I never asked you to stop, never ask you to give up, walk away, but I’m asking you now. For me. Don’t go. Don’t leave me. I need to know this is not the last time I’m going to see you. I just love you so much.”
“I love you, too,” the stunned reporter says.
This passage reflects the remarkable diversity of wounded and obsessed characters that make up the external film, from the Alice’s guilt-ridden father, who because he got drunk one day could not go to work at the steel mill, and was replaced by the Deputy’s wife, who died in a tragic accident. The Deputy’s son, Joe, clings to her locket as if expecting his mother to return from the dead. The Deputy cannot forgive the drunk, and even casts him out of his house when the drunk comes to ask forgiveness.
Each of these characters, the father, the deputy, and their children are living Zombie-like lives, clinging to something in the past they can’t let go of, and need some dramatic force to save them.
A moment after this scene, that miracle occurs as yet another obsessed character, the teacher from the middle school, drives his pick up truck onto the tracks in front of rushing military train to save the alien who is being held captive. In freeing that creature, the teacher begins a chain of reaction that allows each of the main characters to free themselves from their own personal pasts, and to let go and choose to live.
“Bad things happen,” Joe later tells the aliens. “But you can go on living.”
Joe, by this time, is completely in love with Alice – against his father’s wishes. The deputy held the drunk responsible for the death of his wife, right up until both father’s risked losing their children to the new threat, and it becomes clear that they have to work together to save what they still have. This, of course, gives the drunk an opportunity to express is sorrow to the deputy, who in the closing minutes of the film, forgives him.
The drunk, of course, was still wounded because his wife left him – something the Deputy’s wife seemed to understand before her death, but it took a train crash and escaped alien for the deputy to understand.
As in other classic Spielberg films, we are getting a lesson in fatherhood, what it means and how to “step up,” and become one – something the deputy had not yet learned. In some ways, this is a similar lesson we get in War of the Worlds, where the main character has to come close to losing his children in order to learn his own role as dad.
We get similar scenes in this film as we do in War of the Worlds.
The father in War of the Worlds seeks to feed his daughter a peanut butter sandwich, unaware that she is allergic to peanut butter. The deputy in Super 8 puts aside two slices of pizza to feed is kid, unaware that his police buddy ate them. This concept of feeding and protecting children is central to most Spielberg films.
In this film we have two fathers working towards resolution of the same issues, and by the end of the film, Joe can let go of his mother – by releasing the locket with her photo – because he has a parent again.
People need to make choices, what is valuable and what is not.

Super 8: If ET couldn’t get home

In many ways, Super 8 is very much right in being touted as the new ET.
It is the film that Spielberg could not make because he could never figure out how to do a sequel.
Although set during the same time period of the late 1970s, in many ways, this is much more modern versions of ET, and if there is any doubt about that, all you have to do is see the scene in which Joe and the Alien are staring at each other, and go back to the ending scenes in ET to see ET looking at Eliot, and doubt no more.
But this is a film that changes the story line, a tale of what might have happened if the guys with the keys and the off-road vehicles got to ET before Elliot did, holding the poor creature hostage, torturing him with their tests.
Super 8 is full of ironic twists.
In ET, for instance, Elliot symbolically rescued ET when he liberated the frogs from dissection in the biology class. In Super 8, we get a guilt-ridden biology teacher attempting to rescue the alien, after he – the AP biology teacher – tracks down the route the military will use to transport the alien to a new location.
Like ET, all the Alien wants to do is fix up his space ship and go home. Unlike ET, Super 8’s alien has a grudge to settle, and in some ways, resembles the War of the World aliens since this alien also feeds on humans, hanging them upside down in his cave like a spider might.
But the whole film Super 8 has been loaded down with images and details from ET that make it impossible not get an echo effect, especially in the concluding scenes where these build up to lend evidence to Joe as a symbolic Elliot and the new monster a frustrated grown up ET, capable of violence.
Some of these are small things such as the fact that Elliot’s brother did not yet have his driver’s licence and had only driven his family car to the end of the driveway until forced to drive the vehicle in helping ET escape at the end.
Alice, the love interest in Super 8, also drives without a license, driving her father’s vehicle to transport the super 8 film crew to the train station at a critical time – just before the train crash that brings them in contact with the alien and the secret troops.
As in ET (as well as Close Encounters) the TV becomes a vehicle for communicating vital information and instruction.
Even pizza plays a strange role in connecting the films. Elliott spoils the pizza when he first meets ET, Joe is deprived a pizza when one of his father’s workmates eats the last two pieces.
Both films are drenched in food imagery, which is strangely connected with death – the character Charlie never stops eating, even at Joe’s mother’s wake or when they are fleeing the military in an attempt to find the lair of the alien later in the film.
Both aliens are building some means of rescuing themselves, ET a communication device that will call for his parents to pick him up, the alien in Super 8 is seeking to rebuild his space ship.
Remarkably, both are stealing a host of materials – although Super 8’s alien is doing so on a whole sale level, although it is unclear as to whether he is trying to use the microwaves, car engines and other items as substitute pieces for the parts the military is keeping from him.
With the exception of War of the Worlds, most Spielberg related films have a dog in them, and this film like ET, has a dog the main character is supposed to be taking care of, but which flees when the alien comes into the neighborhood.
Joe like Elliot has only one slightly unattentive parent. Elliot’s mother is getting over a recent break up with his father, Joe’s father is getting over the death of his wife.
In both films, the military – once the alien is on the loose – is in a constant search, traveling around, searching for clues as to where the aliens went.
At one point, Charles makes reference to ET by saying he’s nervous about the use of walkie talkies saying, “They might be listening in,” as “they” were in ET, and as in ET, the military are everywhere using gieger counter to track down the alien.
While the kids in Super 8 tend to borrow rides from other people, they also use bicycles in a similar manner as in ET, although we don’t get any flying scenes in the new film, but in one chase scene, Alice is pursued by her father after a fight, and is abducted by the alien, leaving her father in a panic to find her, only no one will believe his tale.
While Zombies don’t figure prominently in ET, we get a few during the Halloween scene as ET peers out of ghost outfit as the passing trick-or-treaters. In Super 8, most of the adults and some of the children live Zombie-like lives, blind to each other, something of a reflection of the adults in ET, who do not understand and cannot see the amazing things going on in their lives.
Kids – especially in Charlie’s family – seem to be out of control (similar to the kids in Close Encounters, but also in ET.
When Elliot vanishes after ET gets sick in the forest, his mother calls the cops – we get a similar scene in Super 8 when a mother is looking for her daughter who disappeared while wearing rollers, although we also have the fathers of Joe and Alice in pursuit of their missing children.
While many of these references are designed to evoke a similar feeling of the 1970s Spielberg films, they are also part of a theme, deliberately included as metaphor to evoke a subtext we are not supposed to consciously be aware of, but becoming something filtering into us in the back of our heads.
It is no accident that the alien in Super 8 burrows in the graveyard, since this is a film about death, and cheating death, and the need to move on, just as ET was about dying and rebirth. The zombie theme is perfect since many of the main characters in mourning lost love one have become zombie-like, and this as with ET is a film about redemption and the process of letting go of sadness and pain so that the characters can get on with their lives.
As in the lines given to Alice to read at the train station, people have a choice, and this film as in ET, it takes an alien to make us realize our humanity.

Back to an old Spielberg movie

Some people claim you can’t go back in time, can’t regain the same snese of innocence you had when you were young. the new Spielberg film, Super 8, disputes that theory, recapturing some of the magic his films had during the 1970s, yet managing to continuing themes his films have routinely explored ever since.
Set in 1979, Super 8 is something of a cross between ET and Close Encounters, with dashes of other Spielberg films thrown in for flavor.
What we get is an extremely hostile alien, but one that is misunderstood and reacts to human aggression.
The real villain in this film are the human scientists and military people (if they really are military) who are even more ruthless than the ones that populated the original ET in 1980 – though in many ways the situation is similar, as the main character, Joe, develops by the end of the film a close relationship many others lack.
ET, the film, was created in an era of extreme mistrust for government and authority, or for adults in general, and kids, although often slightly out of control, are more pure and have a better sense of truth and fairness than adults have.
Two decades later when Spielberg re-released ET, he had a change of heart and edited out some of the harsher elements such as replacing the guns some of the adults carried with flashlights. Now, a mere decade later and a new era of mistrust for government begun, the guns are back with a vengeance.
The military – if that’s what it is – becomes once more the evil entity post Vietnam War era saw it as, conspiring as in ET to experiment and hold capital the alien that Elliott and his friends managed to help escape in ET.
As in ET, the film opens on a broken family – actually more than one.
Joe’s mother, Elizabeth, dies in a tragic accident in steel plant.
As it turned out, the man, Louis Dainard, she filled in for got too drunk to work that day, and so died in the accident he might have perished in. The film opens at the factory the day after the accident and the sign being changed detailing how many days it has been from the last accident.
We then go to the house where friends and neighbors come to help the Jackson and his son Joe recover from the loss.
Although there is some speculation among some of those who attended that Jackson isn’t up to the task of being a father, since he hasn’t lived up to the role prior to this, while others believe he will learn.
“He doesn’t know anything about the boy,” one woman says.
Joe’s friends – in particular Charles – gather in front of the buffet, where they bicker over food and the faith of Joe’s mother, whether or not the body would be in an open casket after being crushed by a steel beam.
Charles, the director and writer of the super 8 film, believes that Joe won’t want to continue helping him make the film – since the film is about zombies, who are living dead.
This becomes one of the symbolic centers of the film, the concept of letting things go. ET was much less specific, although the parallels between the two films are strong.
Joe is not with his friends, but outside the snowy yard on a swing, thoughtfully mourning the passing of his mother. So he is there when Louis rolls up in his muscle car and goes into the house where Jackson – the sheriff’s deputy of the town – drags him out, and puts him in the back of the police car, driving him away from the scene.
Although Elisabeth, when still alive, felt sorry for Louis – whose wife had left him to raise a daughter, Alice alone, Jackson had no sympathy for the man, calling him irresponsible. Indeed, a number of people thought ill of Louis. One car dealer even suspected him of stealing the engines out of his cars later in the film.
Joe seems very distant from his father, and clings to a locket that his mother had worn right up to her death, a locket that will become yet one more symbol in the film for letting go of bad memories in exchange for getting on with life.
This scene, of course, sets up a new dynamic, since Joe will eventually come to love Alice, in a contemporary retelling of Romeo and Julliett, when Charles enlists Alice to play the love interest in his zombie film.
While Charles claims that he needs a love interest in the film to help develop a story line, in truth, Charles is using the film as an excuse to get close to Alice, and in a twist that even Shakespeare would admire, Joe falls for Alice instead, and worse, Alice falls for Joe.
This match sets up a future conflict between the fathers.
But at this point, something larger happens.
Complete with makeup kit, cameras, lights, the cast hitches a ride with Alice to the train station where they set up to shoot a good bye scene between the reporter character and his wife, played by Alice.
Charles seeing an opportunity to use the approaching train as a backdrop to his film, begins shooting only to have a pick up truck rush onto the tracks and cause the train to derail in a monstrous disaster scene – which the cast of the tiny movie are in the middle.
This is no mere train, however, but a military transport that is taking a live space alien and the pieces of his space ship across country. The film does not explain why the alien needed to be move since it is clear from later revelations that the creature had been in captivity since the early 1960s and the government – along with their biology teacher at the time a member of the project – did extensive experiments on the creature, something Elliott in ET feared most.
The driver of the pick up truck that caused the crash turns out to be this biology teacher, who was drummed out of the military after coming in contact with the alien and learning that all the alien wanted was to rebuild its ship and go home.
The teacher is still alive when the kids find him among the wreckage, but he warns them to leave and not talk about what they saw, claiming that the military will kill them otherwise. On cue, the military arrives and the kids, flee, Charles finds his camera had fallen and broken during the disaster, but they manage to get away before the soldiers arrive. But they left some clues behind such as the empty film package.
Although at one point before all this, Joe saw something strange with one of the box cars, the kids do not know until they get the film developed that something else got loose from the train, and from the reaction of the military, it is something the military desperately wants back.
Joe also recovered from the site a small Rubic’s Cube like block, one of the building blocks for the alien’s space ship, which the military has kept the alien from reassembling.
Strange things start happening around the small town.
Dogs flee the area in every direction, so that at one point, we see a 9/11 like bulletin board of all the missing animals.
Then all sorts of other things go missing, such as car engines and appliance. The power fluxuates throughout the county. People complain about the missing items, one attack that causes the sheriff to go missing is blamed on a bear, another theft of 40 microwaves is blamed on the Russians.
People go missing, too.
Charles wants to finish his film, but his camera was broken at the train station, and the clerk at the film store – who has the hots for Charles’ sister (something that will prove useful later) tells him not to bother trying to fix the camera.
Joe agrees to lend him Jackson’s camera and they continue on making the film, now determined to use the backdrop of the train crash and the military search as material for the film.
Determined to put the genie back in the box, the military is not only searching for the creature, but also the biology teacher’s research – and appear to kill the biology teacher at one point when he won’t cooperate with them.
Made suspicious by the lack of information from the military and the apparent search underway in the community, Jackson stumbles into the middle of the plot – and is made prisoner.
It is hard to tell just how bad the military really is in this film, because the bad guy at one point when the alien finally attacks, make an effort to free the kids from the rear of a bus. Joe, of course, because the focus of the story early on, and become the hero of the story when Alice turns up missing, and using things he’d already seen, goes to rescue her – with the help of his friends.
In this rescue, he manages to connect with the alien, and in that exchange, comes to understand that they are all in pain, and that each of them needs to let go of some of it so that they can live their lives.
In a typically Spielberg ending, all are saved in their own ways, except, of course, for the truly evil characters, who naturally get their just deserts.

Super 8: Close encounter with the internal kind

Super 8 takes a lot of its root materials from Spielberg’s classic “Close Encounters,” and this film can’t hope to duplicate the obsession contact with alien species of Spielberg’s masterpiece, the details help evoke the similar feelings.
Close Encounters is one of the plot-less art films whose structure depends upon image and a sequence of events.
Super 8, however, is extremely plotted – a cause and effect adventure film upon which elements of Spielberg films are hung like ornaments, yet some of the original magic seems to have seeped into the film anyway.
Both films deal with what is real and what isn’t, and how these things can sometimes come together.
The table top rail road set early in Close Encounter and its use as a math lesson on fractions implying a train wreck is perfectly balanced against the fake train disaster the film later uses.
We have the main character building a fake Devil’s Tower, while other characters recreate the same reality in other mediums.
Super 8 – which is also about a faked reality – finds itself in the middle of a train wreck and eventually an alien situation. Joe builds model of everything, and these seem to take on a reality of their own.
At one point, Charles want to blow up one of Joe’s models of a train, and Alice asks Joe not to let it happen.
The model has become a symbol of something important and she objects to its being destroy to create something that’s not real.
As with other Spielberg films, back drops are important, and this film repeats some of the set design jokes Spielberg added to his films, such as images of Star Wars, as well as incredibly complex and crowded backgrounds, rooms so cluttered with stuff there is almost no room for the people in them.
While we get less of objects being controlled by aliens in Super 8 than we do in Close Encounter, we get some, especially in the scene at the gas station when the sheriff gets abducted.
The twins in Super 8, in one scene, seem as out of control at the kid smashing things in the early scenes of Close Encounter, bent on destroying things while their parents look on.
In Close Encounters, when the power starts going out through the Indiana town, the main character – an electrical worker – goes out to make the repair. We get a similar character and a similar truck in Super 8.
In both Close Encounters and Super 8, we get a scene in which the father is trying to impose his own wishes on his children: in one the father is manipulating his kids to go see the film Ponokio, while in an early scene in Super 8, Jackson attempts to talk his son, Joe into going to baseball camp for the summer.
TV is used in similar ways in both films, although more symbolically in Close Encounter, and more effectively. The TV set in Close Encounters tells us what the story is really about – giving us images of the film The Ten Commandments before the film’s hero starts off on a quest to the sacred mountain. We get symbolic images denoting time and cartoons donating space travelers, and, of course, we get the dramatic irony in which the government tries to fool the public by staging a train accident. In advertently, this becomes a vehicle that communicates to those who have had close encounters.
We get similar train crash visuals in Super 8 – although as Charles points out, “if it is on TV it must be real.” Both films allude to how little TV can really be trusted, especially in Close Encounter when the TV camera jumps from one sensational subject to another when at a press conference someone claims to have seen Big Foot.
The camera becomes a weapon at one point when intimidating the mother who claims her son was abducted by space ships
The camera – especially the one the kids use – symbolizes something else in Super 8 (more about this in another essay).
Animals play a huge role in Close Encounters – especially as they are used to enhance the government’s lie, bodies of animals are seen along the roadside leading up to Devil’s Tower.
Super 8 uses animals differently, first as a warning as the dogs in the neighborhood take flight away from the animals, and then – in at least one seen – as a kind of counter point to the human madness, horses standing calmly in the middle of pasture while humanity is a panic.
The train crash site provides a number of common elements, helicopters and other such “production value” items Charles is eager to get into his zombie film.
Abduction plays a central role in both films, but again for different reasons. It is not clear why the aliens abducted people in Close Encounters (there is a symbolic religious theory), but in Super 8, it seems the alien is harvesting food.
In both films, we get a public event with misinformation a main focus, a woman blaming the loss of her 20 microwaves on a Russian invasion, while we get big foot and a lying government officials in the others.
We get misinformation from the military in Super 8, too, when they refused to explain what it is they are doing traveling around the town searching for something.
We get similar evacuation scenes in both films and for largely the same reason – the government has set up a fake disaster in order to remove people from the area of interest.
In both movies, the military is moving a lot of materials around in trucks, although the Close Encounter disguises what they are doing better.
There are a number of other small references, such as characters in both films going off road to avoid road blocks, or deliberately disobeying orders – always disregarding the military. In both films, the main characters are captured, held captive for a short time, and then make a dramatic escape.
In both films, some characters are reunited with their loved ones at the end or learn a valuable lesson on life.
Super 8 will never rank as high as Close Encounters in terms of greatness, but by using elements from many Spielberg films, it manages to achieve some of the magic – as if some psychic connection was made simply by association of materials.

Super 8: Joseph’s descent into Hades

Any story that starts with death and mourning, inevitably leads to some kind of journey into hell.
Joesph, the hero of Super 8, is no exception.
The main female lead in the film, Alice, says at one point that she doesn’t understand the obession Charles and Joseph have about making their film about zombies.
But from the start, it is clear that for some of the characters in this film, death or its equilivent, dominates their lives, and they appear to seek ways to cheat death or reverse it.
So with the death of Joseph’s mother as the opening scene of this film, followed by her wake and Joseph’s isolated in a deathlike setting of a snowy yard by himself, we already had the makings of a myth – one in which the hero might have to die in some ways in order to be reborn.
In jewish mythology, Joseph is seen as one of those heroes who as a dark death like passage to find salvation. The name as Yosep has several common uses such as “to repeat again,” but also “a hardening of one’s heart.”
Joesph’s father, Jackson, clearly has hardened his heart against Louis Dainard, the Dionysus-like father of Alice, who because he was too drunk to go to work one day, allowed Jackson’s wife (Joseph’s mother) to go to work and thus die in the accident reflected in the opening scenes of Super 8.
The Dionysus myth has undertones throughout Super 8, since much of the film deals with abandonment. Ariadne, Cretan princess/priestess who assisted the Greek hero, Theseus, defeat the Minotaur, is later abandoned, only to become the wife of the somewhat irresponsble, beach-combing Dionysus
Dainard’s wife left him at some point prior to the film’s beginning,
His daughter, Alice, later plays the role of a lover turned into Zombie, somewhat reflecting the loss all of the main male characters are feeling, and the need to somehow cheat death.
Joseph clings to a locket that contains a picture of him with his mother as an infant. His father gave it to her at the time of Joseph’s birth and she wore it until her death, crushed under a steel beam, at which point, Joseph’s father got it back and gave it to the boy.
Joseph – in watching films of his mother – recalls has she “is” or rather “used to” look at him all the time.
This is a hugely important revelation since we get the alien in the concluding scenes looking closely at Joseph suggesting that there is a connection. The fact that the alien before taking off takes the locket with him, suggests that at least part of Joseph’s journey to the underworld was to free his mother from the captivity of death.
In some contexts, the word Hades – which is more or less the world of the dead – means “unseen,” and since the alien in Super 8 is very much unseen for most of the film, it is a strong suggestion that the alien is the master of that Greek underworld to which dead must go.
This is strengthened by the fact that the alien chose to create the entrance to his underworld in the cemetery
In a variety of mythologies, the hero makes a descent to the underworld often to bring back something needed by society or to rescue a loved one.This ability to go into the underworld and return is one proof of a hero’s more than mortal status – a kind of deity figure, and since Joseph’s last name is Lamb, we get the sense that he may be a Christ-like figure, capable of defeating death possession the possiblity of immortality.
In Greek mythology, Orpheus entered the underworld in order to bring Eurydice back to the world of the living.
In Christian mytholody Hades compares to the Jewish sheol, meaning grave or dirt-pit, answering Joseph’s friend Cary’s question when they were trying to reach the entrance to the lair.
“Why is there dirt in there?” he asks at a critical scene before they open the door onto the dirt pit that leads them to where the Alien hold Alice capitive.
Of course, the Alien, himself, has been held captive in a different part of Hades, which the Greek’s called Tartarus –a gloomy, dungeon of torment and suffering, where supposedly enlightened scientists kept experimenting on him.
The concept of death as something natural plays a significant role in this film, since creating zombies is an unnatural act, something that defies the normal order by cheating death, and few things so enrage the god of Hades as someone trying to cheat death.
The Romans painted the gate to Hades as a kind of crater, which is more or less what we get in Super 8.
The mourning scene early in Super 8 may also explain part of the problem with the aliens. The kids are debating about the condition of Joseph’s mother after she had been crushed by a steel beam.
The ritual of a wake comes out of the gathering of mourners and the offering of libations to prevent the deceased from returning to the upper world to haunt those that failed to give a person a proper burial.
So in this regard, there is something significantly wrong in the opening scenes that causes the alien to rise up. This may have been the children’s talk, but most likely it was the unforgiving nature of Jackson, who refused to forgive Louis when he came to appologize for being drunk that day at the factory. Louis was not allowed to pay his respect to the dead Elizabeth.
Hades – the mythical land of the dead – like Dante’s hell, has a variety of levels, places where shades of old heroes wander dispondently among lesser spirits who flutter around them like bats. In some ways, Super 8 is filled with such lesser heroes, such as Louis and Jackson, who mourn the loss of something, and according to myth, it takes a blood offering to reawakedn them to the senations of humanity. This further connects the zombie film the kids are making the adult reality, as if most of the adults in their lives are zombies waiting to be set free.
Another part of Hades is a place of forgetfullness which cointains a pool from which common souls flocked to drink – perhaps reflected in the film’s water tower used as a the launching pad for the alien’s return into space.
Hades like the alien in Super 8 was not an evil entity or particularly hostile or evil. His role was to maintain balance, ruling over the dead. He forbade his subjects to leave and became enraged when theyt ried, or someone tried to cheat death by stealing souls from his realm.
The alien’s arrival at the train station when the kids are filming a critical new scene in their zombie film may well reflect the rage over cheating of death that the nature of zombies signify.
The fact that Elizabeth was crushed by a steel beam fits into the mythology of Hades as well since minerals and metals are ruled by the god Hades since they come from underground.
Hades is depized because he represents the finality of death, but he was never evil, just stern, cruel and unpitying, yet at the same time just – so when looking at Joseph in one of the last scenes of Super 8, we see Hades as the alien, passing judgement on the hero,
Sophocles once said "the gloomy Hades enriches himself with our sighs and our tears."
Some ancient scholars believe that Hades and Dionysus were the same god, creating some over lap of characters in Super 8.
Images fleeing dogs and grazing horses in the film may been further allusions to Hades. Who can tell?
The refusal to smoke pot in at least once instance in Super 8 may also be an allusion to the Greek myth when the grieving goddess Demeter refused to drink wine, which is the gift of Dionysus, after Persephone's abduction.
Alice is among a number of people abducted by the alien which seems to reflect the myth of Persephone who was abducted by Hades, and later rescued – but only for a portion of the year, becoming part of that seasonal change. Persephone must return to Hades for part of the year – which brings us back to the image of Joseph on the swing in the opening sequence with snow all around him.
Images from the film of coiling snakes seem to add even more validity to the concept that the alien is Hades, and that at least part of the love story between Joseph and Alice is based on the Theseus and Pirithous.
Both fathers in Super 8 seemed to determined to keep hold of their children, yet neither really seems to know the child they possess.
At one point, during a trap set by Hades, he sets up a feast and as soon as his victims sit down to feed, snakes coiled around their feet and made captives of them.
Habes has been described as a dark, serpent-like monster who drinks water from the sea every day which may explain why the alien chose the water tower as his launch pad.
The constant food references in Super 8 starting with the wake and continuing through to near the end with Charles may be a reference to this.
Guilt plays a huge role in both the original myths and in Super 8, and the ability to forgive. Heracules is racked with guilt when he entered the underworld to rescue Cerberus.
Joesph and his friends become the heroes that must free their world from guilt over the circumstances surrounding the death of Elizabeth, but also in their quest, help free the alien himself.
In the end, they journey into the depths of the underworld to free themselves, not merely Alice, and to allow the adults in their lives to let go of the past, and to move on.
Bad things happen, it is all right to go on living.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Peeping tom?

Woke up this morning to find this outside my window

Newark's Washington Park