07 August 2011

Crazy, Stupid Film

Yesterday’s flawed indie film, Another Earth, was far more interesting than today’s slick drama/comedy Crazy, Stupid Love. The former with all its inconsistencies even illogicalities left me a great deal to consider and about being and existence, and the latter sent me back in not a bit of despair to Denys Arcand’s The Decline of the American Empire. There, one of the characters states that when an empire is in decline when the populace focuses on the pursuit of personal happiness to the exclusion of almost everything else. Films such as Crazy, Stupid Love epitomize this condition in the United States today. And lately these productions make me angry for insisting that the citizenry continue to sink to the lowest possible level of thought and intellectual insight. 
In Crazy, Stupid Love no one has financial worries though no one really seems to do very much work. When his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore) of twenty-five years (his one true love!) asks for a divorce (blaming her desire on a mid-life crisis—who else but the upper middle classes have the opportunity to indulge themselves so!), Cal (Steve Carrel) occupies himself a great deal of time in one particular bar where he is coached by the suave and smooth Jacob (Ryan Gosling), on how to dress and to pick up women. Jacob, we soon learn, has been left a great deal of money by a father who died years ago. Jacob doesn’t work. Emily (Julianne Moore) has a job and there are even a few scenes in which we see her at it: her deskplate names her as assistant to the president, though what the business of the company is remains wholly undefined. Nevertheless, she doesn’t seem to work at her job; nor does her co-worker and sexual fling, David (Kevin Bacon). Cal and Emily’s daughter, Hannah, is a recent law school graduate, and is offered a permanent position in a law firm, but she turns it down because it was a marriage proposal she really desired. In this film, no one ever mentions money: they spend it as they breathe: regularly, but they never consider it. They think about money as a bird thinks about air: not at all. 
The film is set in California. Everyone drives an SUV, the weather is almost always sunny, and when it does rain no one seems to get very wet! Of course, the hotter the weather the more skin is exposed. 
In this contemporary film (2011) there is no sense that there are at least two wars being fought, a global economy in real crisis and serious decline, a Congress held hostage by too many fools high on tea, not to mention the pervasiveness of racial, gender and class conflicts that define daily life. No one in this film has concern for anything but his/her own happiness and personal welfare.  Sex and comfort (though in the film this is called crazy, stupid, love) defines the actions of every one in the film, even the adolescents. 
What do such films say about our culture that so many people flock to see them and so many of our film critics praise the production. What is the appeal? The obvious answer is that these films offer escape from the world of our troubles, and no little insight into our real lives. But the world into which we escape at these films is one that we long for, and our viewing only exacerbates the discontent we experience daily. If the mass of men and women live lives of quiet desperation, then films such as Crazy, Stupid Love ensures our continued despair. In fact, the experience looks like escape, but at film’s end doesn’t feel like it at all. As Hamlet says, “Nothing is, but what is not.” Cal may appear unhappy and his wife may be seeking a divorce, but he shows little concern for anything but his capacity to bed another woman. And it is not long into the film that he finds what he seeks; by the end of the film Cal gets everything he wants! Indeed, so does everyone else in the film! Most of us never do achieve this because what we want is what they have, but what they have doesn’t exist. There is a world outside the pursuit of personal happiness that demands an attention that does not have happiness as its goal. 
Aristotle ascribes to literature the capacity to arouse fear and pity and thereby to purge these emotions from our lives. This is the purpose of tragedy. I don’t know that I ascribe to this social function of tragedy, but I am certain that a good tragedy deepens my understanding of my own existence. A comedy is usually defined as a work that ends with the formation of a new society, one that improves on the one that provoked the actions that inspires the comedy in the first place. Shakespeare’s comedies almost all end in marriage; the play’s dialogue is witty and comments on the characters and the life they present. There is complexity and irony portrayed. But at the end of films such as Crazy, Stupid Love though marriage is the end, no new society is formed though everyone achieves the personal happiness they believe they deserve. And in these films, though the dialogue means to be witty, in fact it is usually crude. Certainly, such ribaldry plays a large role in Shakespearean comedy—but in films such as Crazy, Stupid Love this dialogue offers no insight into either the characters or the human condition, and certainly offers no irony to call into question the desires of them. And at the end of such film, the real world outside goes on unchanged and unnoticed. 
I hate to consider myself one of those effete intellectual snobs, or to think of myself as a nattering nabob of negativism (though I am prepared to accept the labels), but I despair at the increasingly low level of intellectual activity that films such as these mirror and demand. And they seem to be on the increase and they seem to be increasing in expense.
 And then we’ll blame the teachers, huh?


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