Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I Would Prefer Not To

Over the weekend, my husband had a summer cold and was in a comfort movie mood. We ended up watching The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and I ended up singing wahwahwah for the rest of the weekend. As you probably are, if you remember the score. I'd never seen the entire movie; bloody combat and grotesquerie are not my particular narrative preferences. I sat down to ask a question, stayed for a plot summary and then for the shocked fascination of Clint Eastwood being led through a desert (cringing in sympathy--my childhood could be organized in terms of sunburns and false tanning hopes).

The thing about coming to the movie now is that it refracts through all of the rest of the media I've consumed, a perspective I'd never have had at eight or whenever it was on the regular Saturday afternoon movie rotation. As a small example, I've been playing Elder Scrolls lately, a fantasy RPG that encourages resource allocation through looting. This is just a practical matter:  I have every gore slider in the game turned to "antiseptic" and I loot whatever glows, post-combat. So encountering a scene that demonstrates what that might actually look like (when The Ugly loots a CSA stagecoach full of bodies) both turned my stomach and made me think:  this is just a convention in the game with zero narrative weight. Vanquished enemies are your WalMart. 

Slowly, the grimness of the battle scenes in TGTB&TU, which were portrayed without any of the CGI hero light (or fake dimness), in gorgeous sunlight, in terrain that fought against the characters as impersonally as they fought amongst themselves, began to get to me. I started to think about the battle scenes that I've seen recently, in fantasy movies full of dimness and hero-light, and I suddenly understood the desire for a story like Game of Thrones. This movie, as dull as I found the pacing, refused (generally...everyone had great teeth, The Good had his cool gunslinger look back by the end of the movie) to give me polished, one-size-fits-Hollywood people in every scene.

Pain had weight and was never far off.

Because of this, perhaps, the movie felt...not necessarily real, but as if the characters and their actions were actually happening, affecting the story and me at the same time. I couldn't "escape" the gut-level impact of scenes under the rubric of 'entertainment.' Perhaps this is part of the reason there is an argument for why "unrealistic" fantasy is reductive and too conservative of the status quo. Maybe some of the stories that I like let me off the hook to easily, providing a weightless alternative space where actions aren't painful and therefore characters have an escape into perfection, immortality, a glimmering fay-reality.

Or maybe not. I don't want to see another example of the very real misogyny of our current political system and then pick up The Handmaid's Tale, for example, and tumble right into a pit. Stories don't have to do one thing, don't have to be one thing. I need to know just how much weight I can add before I am immobile and to understand that weightlessness is also a form of immobility.

This slow interrogation of what I see, what I read, and what I write has, so far, resulted in a creative inertia--I'm afraid to put something on the page, worried I haven't thought about each aspect of each word, character or scene enough, and that I am running right toward some kind of existential complicity with a genre of which I'm no longer completely sure. It has led to the exact immobility referenced in the title to this piece, one that I hope will eventually give way, either to silence or speech.