Monday, September 25, 2006

Help Me, I Can't Shut Up About This Movie

Got this from Tyromaven. And spoilers are all of Paul Haggis's films and a couple of Neil LaBute's works.

I don't want to even imagine what the Iraq War will become in the throttling hands of Paul Haggis. Or Against All Enemies, for that matter, not that I've read it yet. I just know that Paul Haggis feels more and more dangerous to me the more I think about him. He's a purveyor of complacence and self-satisfaction, and somehow thinks he's doing something better than that. And everyone else wants to go along with him, because then they don't really have to look at their own actions, since it's impossible that they'd be as bad as the people in the movies, because guess what? Most people aren't. Way to pat yourselves on the back, Los Angelenos.

How does Haggis create that when other people making outrageous films don't? Why am I so angry at him? I mean, Million Dollar Baby certainly wasn't that bad, though it wasn't that good either. Clint Eastwood is a godawful actor, and worse since the plastic surgery restricted his already limited ability to form facial expressions, but Hilary Swank can carry a lot, and there were some moments of nice, visceral directing. The movie's not that good, and the screenplay's certainly not, but I don't have objections to its being honored any more than I do about, say, Good Will Hunting. Hollywood honors subpar stuff a lot; I've mostly gotten over it. It's only Crash that's sticking to me like this. Perhaps because, lately, I've been trying to think more specifically about race and racism, my own and those of other people. Perhaps because Haggis really did nothing to acknowledge, oh, say, skewed power dynamics between races, or the depths of relationships required to create actual emotional vulnerabilities, or, you know, subtlety.

Haggis is dangerous, in my view, because he doesn't really leave questions. He takes on—and by takes on, I mean "takes on"—brutal sociopolitical issues and expects that by the end of a film he will have answered them. I don't want to go quite as far as Augusto Boal right now and say that catharsis is by its very nature politically dangerous, but Paul Haggis is certainly evidence for Boal's case. Even in Million Dollar Baby it is (amazingly enough) more complicated than that: by the definitions set in the film, only dumb hicks wouldn't allow Maggie to die. The only complex relationship is the one with the viewpoint Haggis endorses, just as only one love in Crash—daddy-daughter love, as skillfully portrayed by one Michael Peña—is uncorrupted. He equalizes the corruption, erases other perspectives, balances his stupid stories so carefully that there's no real way to make a choice about whose views you share or what can be done. Perhaps intending to equalize, Haggis neutralizes.

I'm feeling similarly frustrated with playwright Neil LaBute, in particular his play This Is How It Goes, which I just finished reading. Once you've read enough of his work, LaBute's consistent, raging misogyny and misanthropy have the same deadening effect as Haggis's barrage of shallow stories. In This Is How It Goes he extends the same complacence to cover racism. And by "cover" I mean "acknowledge the existence of." And again, it deadens the actual challenges involved in combating it, makes them too overwhelming to be worth it. Which is what happens when you're writing from hate, I think. Or contempt, which is closer to what Haggis does. I think Crash might not have intended to go that way, but because Haggis failed to develop the characters, they're nothing but a convergence of hateful circumstances. LaBute actually hates people, and thinks their demise inevitable, and really makes me wonder why he bothers to pretend to explore them. Then again, he's good at it—his craft is much better than Haggis's. But, while I'm not asking for redemption per se, you never know why you were made to suffer through LaBute's work. You start out hating people, even if you're vaguely charmed by them; you end up with a deeper, more complex hatred.

I'm sick of defeatism among writers, and I'm sick of defeatists being hailed as darlings.

Well. That's enough. Tomorrow I promise you a post that is not in any way shape or form about Crash.


At 12:22 PM, Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

Crash was so bad it made me want to claw my own eyes out ... That was the worst Oscar nod since "Driving Miss Daisy" .. his "analysis" of race relations is about as Insightful as "can't we all just get along?"


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