META-NOMAD

The Big Short – Bureaucratic Horror

“I mean for instance, one of the hallmarks of mania is the rapid rise in complexity and the rates of fraud…” – Michael Burry

What’s the initial setup for your most basic horror film? An ordinary world, the world as a given, everything fine, normal and we as a viewer still have our nerves. Everything is as it should be. There may of course be a hero, a protagonist with which we will side, usually we shall take the side of those who we feel are more morally just. Then something goes wrong, a disturbing force, something mystical, strange, violent and absurd shall overthrow the narrative, we are given a clear warning of this, some eerie tone or a sense of unease and foreboding is given. The problem is usually solved, or fixed, the villain or sense of unease is killed/ended and those who’ve survived go on with their lives.

In this case The Big Short begins entirely in the ordinary world, we are told of Lewis Ranieri the father of mortgage-backed securities in the 70’s, we don’t know who he is, but he changed our lives, which already pushes a sense of unease, someone changed all our lives and we never knew, this is nothing unique of course, except it comes apparent later on as to why it’s a malicious global economic change. The ordinary world is short lived, we are given images from the 2008 housing crisis, people being evicted from their homes, poverty, strife, anger, worry and fear all crammed into roughly 2 minutes of news real footage. There isn’t necessarily a singular hero in this case, prior to beginning the film the audience understands that it’s about the 08’s housing crisis, so, who does one support? Who are we backing here? Who’s out hero? Potentially you could argue our ‘hero’ of sorts is the likes of Michael Burry who foresees the crisis, however, much like the rest of the films ensemble he merely uses his knowledge to profit from the crisis. Not that he, or any of the other protagonists could have done anything about it of course, to step in the way of big business is to commit career suicide, so you take what you can and leave, I guess. Perhaps the future economy is our hero? What we want to survive in an underlying sense of security in those who hold our money and safety, though the film’s general premise doesn’t bode well for this idea i.e. This has happened twice now, within a 70 year time frame. So, what kind of horror is this? A bureacratical one, constantly fluctuating with a sense of kafkaesque frustration.

Wall Street loves to use confusing terms to make you think only they can do what they do.”

Of course, this is nothing new. Look at any system in which there’s something at stake which those who know don’t want spoiled, or to have the wealth spread out amongst even more people: Bitcoin, stock markets, morgages, taxes, forex, etc. these systems are made implicitly to push people away. So already the viewer is given a new world in which the narrative is to make transparent was has for so long seemed like complete gibberish, techo-jargon explained to the layman, so we can see it for what it is, simple exploitation. We are given a world in which we’re the fish, yet the problem being, the time has passed, 2008 has passed, so we are just relieving the intricacies and underlying structure of a collective nightmare.

“You have no idea the crap people are pulling and the average person just walks around like they’re in a goddamn Enya video. They’re all getting screwed…Credit cards, pay day lenders, car financing, fees, fees, and more fees. And what do they care about? The ball game or which actress went into rehab?” – Mark Baum

 

As witty and humourous as Baum’s statement is, it’s true, it’s always been true and will forever be true, as long as we stay within the capitalist realist state we are currently within. The interesting feeling the film emanates here is that of nausea, an uncanny situation in which the horror is unfolding from both sides inwards, there’s no hero to save us, any possibility of salvation has been buried in time under stacks and stacks of paper work, maybe not, that could just be conjecture. However, the viewer now understands they are in there’s no out as this has happened, so they are just to sit and watch the horror unfold, slowly watch as the scaffolding is poked and prodded until collapse.

 

Who bets against housing?”

 

That’s the problem, complete in 4 words. Who, as in, it will never fail because everyone knows it wont. Bets, it’s a dumb gamble. Against, it’s secure. Housing, it’s housing, it’s always fine, I mean it’s housing for christ’s sake: we live in them. Everyone does it so no one questions it, The Big Short tells the story of when the mad man on the street is finally vindicated, those shouting “The End (of the economy) is Nigh!” of course no one listens, and no one will care afterwards becuase they’re too busy trying to find a new home or work out what the hell happened. Most horror movies at this point either have a clear villain win or loss: the villain either kills the victims or vice versa, that doesn’t happen here, everyone is left to deal with the remains, as if a big economic villain came in ravaged 99% of the parties involved and left without any damage to itself because it never existed in the first place. The viewer, left empty, just continues on, I don’t know how to finish this because the movie itself can only leave you with a distinct sense of dread that the walls that surround you aren’t financially secure, nothing is, it could all crumble…well, we already knew this though didn’t we.

Virtual Reality – Thoughts

“So look as the internet grows in the next, 10, 25 years and virtual reality pornography becomes a reality…we’re going to have to develop some real technology inside our guts to turn off pure, unalloyed pleasure” – David Foster Wallace, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, 2009, (talking in 1996)

Foster Wallace talking to David Lipsky in 1996 at the end of the tour for his magnum opus Infinite Jest; which itself had a lot to say about the dangers of entertainment and ‘unalloyed’ addiction. I find it quite ironic however that he mentions it is we who are going to have to develop the technology, that’s if the current rate of technological advancement continues, which it most likely will. And I do truly hope that when technology does reach the point of pure unadulterated escapism we don’t all fall into some hidden evolutionary state of hedonism.

I am commenting on virtual reality, on the Oculus Rift, on the possibility of Ernest Cline’s OASIS from Ready Player One becoming a literal reality. One might add that Cline’s naming of RPO’s virtual reality system (OASIS) is rather poignant. I’ve picked two reasonably contemporary examples of virtual reality there, however the idea of virtual reality has been around since the 1930’s and has become a common topic of speculative and science fiction, perhaps because of the noticeable possibility that it may, or has perhaps, already become a reality, it is yet to become a reality as far expanding as that of popular sci-fi novels, though we’re not far off.

I’m not trying to tackle this issue from a romanticist perspective, I played plenty of video games in my youth and still do, they’re a new art form and an extremely unique/expressive form of media, as is literature, film etc. In fact, video games in terms of virtual reality is not my particular area of interest, as virtual reality in terms of video games only works to heighten something and not become something on its own, as in, it’s only to be used as a tool to make a game more interactive and interesting, and not to replace a notion or idea.

This is where the troubles begin, as Foster Wallace mentions the idea of virtual reality pornography, the idea that one could return from their mundane tax official, eight hour a day job and plug themselves into their ultimate fantasy, every day. Virtual reality pornography replaces an arguably vital part of human life, which is to emotionally connect with other human beings, have meaningful physical and emotional contact. You could argue that within a virtual reality system that is literally life-like and 3000FPS and perfect in every way could replicate this, however I have faith in uncanny valley to prove this wrong (Uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of aesthetics which holds that when features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some observers.) I would argue that however advanced we get in terms of virtual realities, there will always be something within us that will be able to tell a simulation apart from a ‘real’ human; we’re not going to get into what is and isn’t real here as it’s not particularly apparent within this essay. Virtual reality pornography possibilities could include making love/fucking as many women/men as you like, whomever you like (celebrities etc.) all kinds of gadgets and gizmos to reflect said person’s ‘junk’ are all within the realms of possibility. Let’s not forget that it’s often porn companies that pioneer new technology (See: Internet).

This is all very well and easy to address, the fact that humans currently have a pre-occupation with escaping the reality before them, as the fact is, we have more information in our hands than ever before (of course) and it’s all readily available and easy and kind-of ‘done’ in a lot of people’s minds, so what’s more is another reality altogether, these aren’t always unhealthy, and someone who is literally stuck within a mundane 9-to-5 job because, well, that has to happen to the majority of westerners living within a capitalist society, that’s just the way it is. One thing such a society hasn’t removed however is human’s ability to think and feel and love, and perhaps the danger of contemporary virtual realities, which could easily become as accessible as the internet, is that they would destroy the remaining remnants of anything sincere and homely and emotional. Everything would become static and materialistic, beyond what is already apparent.

There is of course the potential for these developments to awaken us into a new state of emotion, in which due to the sudden accessibility of our wildest sexual and emotional desires we become mentally saturated too quickly, as if we were to win the lottery…every day. Not only would one become bored extremely quickly, they would (hopefully) come to the conclusion that there is more to life than money, or explicit perpetual sexual desire and perhaps what’s missing is a touch of emotion and good ol’ human awkward interaction. This may become a surprising afterthought of virtual reality, as for a long time people will become engrossed and addicted, in the way that within contemporary society children now have access to technology from a much younger age, something I would argue is pretty unhealthy in terms of development, due to the un-strenuousness of it all, everything is there for them immediately, a certain materialistic and cultural solipsism. I’m no technophobe, who’s saying that children shouldn’t learn to use technology that will definitely be present in their later life, however they shouldn’t become dependent on it as a form of actually being alive. It should be a secondary to real life.

And John arrives home from work, 5PM, his visor with him at all times (work permits him to access HAVEN on his lunch break, John is one of the few humans who still commutes). He puts on his visor and enters into his premade virtual reality, he’s set it so his house looks like the house from Animal House, except not as dirty, this is achieved by a very easy to use ‘dirty-ness’ slider. In reality John is walking into a 10’ by 10’ box room is an apartment complex with a floor that is made from multiple treadmill like conveyors so he can run and move as far as he wishes in any direction; his bed comes down from the roof electronically when needed. So he enters into some battlezones, and fantasy worlds, and space battles, and becomes president, and wins his loves. This happens nightly, or weekly dependant on the way he sets up the contraction, this is all up to him, and if he fails it is only because he set that as a possibility. And so the bed comes down the ceiling, John selects the NSFW option from the menu and a flesh-like vacuum comes out from the end of the bed, this is John’s stimulation device and so he selects whomever he likes and gets on with his night. He wakes up, visor on until he arrives at work, the visor is then set to work settings as he enters the building.

Ivan’s Childhood

“War is no place for children.”

 

Ivan’s Childhood sits as a blueprint for Tarkovsky’s career, with an idea towards accessible spirituality and metaphysics, towards the il y a and dread of existence. One strikes one foremost, as with any Tarkosky film is the imagery, a sublime mixture of intensly humane images, contrasted with striking, quasi-abstract death-imagery.

Ivan, a 12 year old Russian boy, whose family, we learn, has been killed. He had joined a partisan group and had attempted to cross the front line into Soviet territory. He is captured by the Soviets and installed into the war effort, his small physique and swiftness his beneficial attributes. A stoic and contrarian boy, a boy pushed temporally into the realm of man prematurely, allowed access into a chaotic masculine space before one should be. His attitude allows him to fit in.

Ivan’s dreams are interspersed througout the film, the viewers gut directed towards near overdrive as one forgets Ivan’s childhood, accepting the film’s plot as truth-of-the-matter, normality forgotten, for peace cannot exist in wartime as such neither can the innocence of childhood. For a directorial debut one quickly realises Tarkosky is working from a different plane, one where the hidden, the shadowed and the mist no longer exist as a limitrophe, but are brought to the fore and Ivan’s present emotions are laid bare; amongst the half-lit swamp, the suffocation underground and the rumble of flares overhead. Which each glowing terror a moment in Ivan’s future is destroyed, physically, metaphorically and metaphysically, which each act of violent-self a piece of childhood cannot happen.

Ivan attempts to cross the river, back from where he came, an attempt at the impossible, attempt to become what one was, to erase the past. As such Ivan becomes lost in the swamp, in the mist, in the gases and gunfire. We are to find out about his fate in the final scenes of the film. As the Third Reich is overthrown, papers on the floor of an ex-Nazi government building show that Ivan was hanged. We are shown the room of execution. And then cut to a dream, Ivan playing a child’s game on a tranquil beach, all the while a dead tree sits waiting, amongst the frollics and fun there lies the metaphysicl truth of the matter, the childhood lost, tainted and never returned.

Tarkovsky seems me a director one should begin at the beginning with, one shouldn’t start with his magnum opus’ as I feel the emotion and imagery may in fact be too much, it may seem kitsch almost, when in reality it is the utmost calculated spirit and mystery. All Ivan knows is war, without hope of a childhood, born into war and his life is of war. Violence, horror and survival is all he knows and in certain respects all he will (now) ever know, a life scolded by the war. A tension between a sweet yet dangerous nostalgia – that of what is childhood is meant to be – and the reality he is within. Nostalgic dreams become nightmares; the impossibility of normality is true horror. Ivan’s loss is pure, dead loss, a side may have won, but no -ism, -opia or -ology can redeem the death of a child. A vacuum of meaning where there should be enjoyment exists in the total now, it has happened and as such the celebrations at the end of the film fall flat; Somebody won, it has ended, he is dead, hate is no-more…but what of our Ivan? What of a child? This can seem to be empty sentiment, the typical “Think of the children!”, but Tarkosky’s presentation of such a statement retrieves it from its mutation as something used. No longer are we to think of the children as a thought to get us to act, we are presented with the children, the innocence, but we are presented with a narrative complete, as such we are simply to witness what has been and attempt to learn. Ivan was gone as soon as he heard the first bomb fall.

Ivan is mad, that is a monster; that is a little hero; in reality, he is the most innocent and touching victim of the war: this boy, whom one cannot stop loving, has been forged by the violence he has internalised.” – Jean Paul Sartre (http://people.ucalgary.ca/~tstronds/nostalghia.com/TheTopics/Sartre.html)

Arrival – Heidegger, Levinas and Fatalism.

Arrival  – Dir, Denis Villeneuve. 2016.

 

I used to think this was the beginning of your story. Memory is a strange thing, it doesn’t work like I thought it did. We are so bound by time, by its order.” – Louise Banks

 

Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is as gentle as a Kubrickian film is ever going to get. Overbearing stoicism, captured in wide shots and a general sense of seclusion and alienation, one is not so worried about the aliens as a potential for hostility, but if this will actually change anything, one feels for the earth. Whatever this is, it is already above the idea of humans vs aliens, it is beyond the horizon, into a dark unknown, an unknown even those who travel through space and (potentially) time cannot enter.

Amy Adams as linguist Louise Banks, who we see from the beginning has lost a daughter to cancer, in a flashback overcast with the idea of a dream made, then destroyed. The news comes in, as it always does and always will, aliens have landed…finally? It seems this way to Banks, who is nonchalant to the news, it’s clear to the viewer nothing could overthrow the hand life gave her, she cares not for the one dealt to the world. She’s asked by the government to use her skills as a linguist to communicate with the aliens. At the army camp, situated next to the ‘landed’ ship, she meets Ian Banks, a physicist, whom she has a relevant love interest with. I feel in the case the word ‘alien’ cheapens the detail and nuance applied to this film’s extraterrestrial, who I feel are at opposition to hostility, one has a sense of fright and worry, the extraterrestrials understand they are the strangers. Which at once gives the viewer the feeling of unease, who here is the authorative ‘species’ or genus, the hierarchy has been dissembled, we are at threat together.

The aliens or ‘heptapods’ landed in an oval pebble type ship, as high a skyscraper, yet gentle on the landscape, not too authoritative, not cold nor warm, there, still and settled.

The heptapods reside in there ship, within a lit room filled with what seems to be steam or smoke, separating them and the humans is, I guess, the heptapod equivalent to glass, the humans the other side, in their own large room…which is only illuminated with light from the heptapod side, and their own feeble technology (Glow sticks, lights etc.)

The heptapods bring a new illumination, one humans are only just becoming aware of, a world anew; and so the task begins of how to communicate. The illumination in a sense is post-Platonic, our minds are no longer the only source. Illumination of the Other? Or has the horizon simply ‘moved’. The Levinasian illumination (Existence and Existents) is inverted, the possibility and potentiality of hostility from light, a physical manifestation of uncanny-sense. We supplied the light to our own world for so long, and now an-Other supplies a new light, one that can go beyond our ‘known’ horizons, through time and temporality.

And so the task begins of how to communicate. The heptapods communicate via what seems to be 3-dimensional rings of smoke, the meaning of which change via the subtleties of the shape. Banks begins to understand the language as something which addresses time, addresses temporality, eventually leading her to understand that it can help one understand and view their individual history and future directly, a language that can take one within their history, within their future, within their time. A language in-keeping with Martin Heidegger’s theory of historicality:

[Death] is only the ‘end’ of Dasein; and, taken formally, it is just one of the ends by which Dasein’s totality is closed round. The other ‘end’, however, is the ‘beginning’, the ‘birth’. Only that entity which is ‘between’ birth and death presents the whole which we have been seeking… Dasein has [so far] been our theme only in the way in which it exists ‘facing forward’, as it were, leaving ‘behind’ all that has been. Not only has Being-towards-the-beginning remained unnoticed; but so too, and above all, has the way in which Dasein stretches along between birth and death. (Being and Time 72: 425).

Thus, Dasein, a being such as a human, one which can interrogate its own being is at all times behind its past, and ahead of its future. We are pushing our past, correcting and changing our experience with knowledge of our past, and attending to our past with direction towards possibilities of the future. So the language of the heptapods is a practical manifestation of Heideggerian historicality, praxis-language.

The film doesn’t however, extrapolate on whether the language is in favour of will, or is in fact fatalistic. The ending allows the viewer the knowledge that Louise Banks has seen her future, and that in fact the flashback at the beginning was a flashforward, and at ‘current’ she is witnessing her future, the one she will have with Ian, whom she met whilst working with the heptapods, they will marry, have a child, divorce, and the child shall die of an incurable disease. She decides to stay with Ian despite knowledge of her future, thus can she now – via heptapod language usage – change her future? Improve her relationship with Ian, have the child at a different time so it may potentially avoid the disease. It’s unclear whether at the beginning she (potentially) subconsciously knows of her future – this would be a possibility within the logic of the film.

These questions are classic philosophical questions, those of freewill, free-choice, determinism and fatalism, are our actions our own? Yet the questions are asked via a Heideggerian framework, one in which language is employed as spatio-temporally free-floating, existing outside of physics. A pure metaphysical language. A Heideggerian language of historicality, applied via a Levinasian ‘extraction’:

Moreover, the very fact that a painting extracts and sets aside a piece of the universe and brings about, in an inwardness, the coexistence of worlds that are mutually alien and impenetrable, has already a positive esthetic function.” (Existence & Existents, Emmanuel Levinas, p48)

Usually it is only that of a physical ‘spatio-temporal’ object that can extract from culture, physically that is, an idea etc, an object such as a painting or poem or film carries with it a sense of time, an individual-time. The language of Arrival and that of the heptapods is the extraction of time from a fixed linearity, it is a language to remove the shackles, the individual’s time becomes economic, theirs. Though if the language is, as the film’s linearity would have us believe, fatalistic, then the language is but a curse, we can view our future and do nothing about it? A world learning of their unchangeable futures is a paradox in itself. To teach a class of students how to utilize heptapod language to view their future, would be to teach a class of linguistics students their future’s look very bleak, many of them will die and suffer loss, and will want to change their future, as such, the language only be a tool, a gift, a means to alter one’s future.

The heptapods act as the symbolic manifestation of a transcendental understanding of Heideggerian thought, an understanding in which one can transcend human limitations, break free of deterministic shackles.

Afterword: There is of course the argument that the heptapod language would be part of one’s ‘preset’ path, as such determinism still stands outright, the language may only act as the ability for larger states of flux within a preset horizon.