setsuled: (Skull Tree)


Where to begin with last night's Twin Peaks? I watch a lot of movies and it's only a few times I can remember walking away from something so brilliant I felt like I didn't want to see or hear anything else for a good while afterwards. I achieved that beautiful afterglow last night. I wondered if I'd ever get anything done ever again. But to-day I'm ready to talk about it, another sign of a great work of art, and to be sure lots of people have been talking about it, opinions generally divided between assertions that it's totally baffling and assertions that its meanings are very, very clear. Judging from most of the broad strokes of interpretations, I'd have to go with the latter assertion, which is a good thing. Art is about communication not obfuscation, it should be clear. Often times when people say a great work is confusing, generally the impression I get is those people are too uncomfortable with the message they've received to admit they understand it, which is definitely the impression I have here. This is one of those times where the few negative opinions are an additional sign that a work of art has succeeded well beyond measure. And, oh, wow, has it.

Spoilers after the screenshot



I'm going to see if I can add some interpretation without repeating too much what other people have said. Plenty have pointed out that the episode ties the birth of Bob, and the malevolent supernatural forces of Twin Peaks, with the first atomic bomb detonation, thereby making the loss of innocence portrayed on Twin Peaks a reflection of the greater loss of innocence of the U.S. as a whole. Now, of course, one can point out that the U.S. and humanity in general have done plenty of bad things before the atom bomb. Lynch isn't arguing humanity was perfect before the atom bomb, he's using it as a symbol to tell a uniquely American story about love versus corruption.



A lot of people have pointed out that the Woodsman at the end who violently commandeers a radio station was played by an Abraham Lincoln impersonator named Robert Broski and then tied this to the image of Lincoln on the penny picked up by the little girl (Tikaeni Faircrest).



I didn't think of Abraham Lincoln when I saw the Woodsman but this makes sense with a lot of other things I saw going on in the episode. It's better to take Lincoln as a symbol than for any of the other nuances we'd consider when pondering him as a human being. Think about what Lincoln means to these profoundly innocent American kids--he's a symbol of what's great about the American spirit. He's seen as being the figure most directly responsible for fighting against another of the country's greatest sins, slavery, so to a kid in the fifties he's a symbol that the true spirit of the country is one that celebrates freedom and happiness for everyone and the strength to fight against anything that would curtail those rights. So the Woodsman taking the form of Abraham Lincoln would be an especially potent form of corruption.



The movie--I mean episode of Twin Peaks--is very much about symbol or rather media, both for good and bad. The spell cast by the Woodsman over the air waves, "This is the water and this is the well, drink full and ascend," seems to be commentary on the hazards of addiction to junk, meaningless media. Real art doesn't need to tell you it's the water and the well but this promise lulls listeners to sleep and renders them susceptible to Bob's control. One could say a corruption of a Republican president as a symbol that reflects a deep spiritual problem is a particularly potent story right now though I doubt Lynch was consciously making an argument about Trump. Though, who knows, maybe he was. Certainly misuse of the media has been a critical issue in this mess. "This is the water and this is the well," probably counts as fake news.



It's even more effective because a moment before, when the radio was playing "My Prayer" performed by The Platters, the medium was providing its listeners with a real well of spiritual sustenance. Like the image of Lincoln, the Woodsman has hijacked a genuine piece of art. The message about the horse I'm less certain of, though I my mind immediately associates it with the white horse Sarah Palmer had visions of and which appeared in the Black Lodge earlier this season.



When the Giant (Carl Struycken) reviews the events of the atom bomb detonation and what it caused, he's not simply viewing security footage, he's viewing the same footage we saw, in other words Lynch's film. This is emphasised by the fact that the Giant is viewing the footage in a movie theatre, Lynch is showing us how art can show us a truth which we can then act upon. The Giant then hovers and then reclines as though sleeping and from his head, like a dream or like the strange stuff that emerged from the dead child a few episodes ago, comes a gold substance producing a golden orb with the image of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) inside.



But it's not just any image of Laura Palmer or a new image of Sheryl Lee. It's that same prom queen photo we've seen again and again. Like the image of Lincoln on the coin, this is less about Laura than about what she symbolised for the community of Twin Peaks. I've been listening lately to the recently released audiobook of Laura Palmer's diary performed by Sheryl Lee--and she deserves big praise for it. She does not compromise on mining emotional trauma for her performance. Much of the book has to do with Laura's anxiety about her persona, and the responsibility it confers on her, and the contrast with Bob who isn't just abusing her physically but is conducting a lifelong campaign to make her feel ashamed of her sexuality.



This is something very much at play on the show as well. Just as at the beginning of season three the young couple are engaging in innocent, casual sex and are murdered for it, we see two kids in last night's episode who are even more innocent, their shared first kiss as adorable as anything I've ever seen (I wouldn't be surprised if the little boy ended up being a young Gordon Cole). We're seeing corruption and fall from the Garden of Eden and instead of Eve eating a fruit she swallows a newborn Bob who looks like a frog with cockroach wings.



I doubt Lynch was thinking about Paradise Lost, though maybe he had been--Milton had a huge influence on American 19th century literature and was, in praising him, called by Margaret Fuller a great example of a Puritan-- the moral conflict shown on Twin Peaks seems clearly a descendent of American Puritanism. When seeing Bob's early form when he invades the little girl in her sleep, it's hard not to think of Milton's description of Satan when he's manipulating the dream of a slumbering Eve:

him there they found
Squat like a Toad, close at the eare of EVE;
Assaying by his Devilish art to reach
The Organs of her Fancie, and with them forge
Illusions as he list, Phantasms and Dreams,
Or if, inspiring venom, he might taint
Th' animal Spirits that from pure blood arise
Like gentle breaths from Rivers pure, thence raise
At least distemperd, discontented thoughts,
Vain hopes, vain aimes, inordinate desires
Blown up with high conceits ingendring pride.




I loved the pacing and imagery of last night's episode. All this interpretation does nothing to convey the wonder in the pure experience of watching the episode.

The perspective on the atom bomb explosion starts out making it look strange even before the camera pulls into a 2001 homage. Like Kubrick, Lynch was here using a barrage of strange and violent sensory stimuli to impress upon us how perfectly strange the experience is for the human mind, rendering clearly how a barrier between two worlds is being violently torn down. Many people are speculating that the strange being shown vomiting is the same being who murdered the couple back at the beginning of the season, which would make a lot of sense. Looking at the screenshot now, I just realised that her hand is backwards--the thumb is on the wrong side:



Much like everyone speaks backwards in the other world. I'd love it if we found out eventually it was Alice's looking-glass world all along.

Also, I enjoyed the performance by Nine Inch Nails. As with "My Prayer", the lyrics to the song nicely complimented and expanded on what we were seeing.

setsuled: (Skull Tree)


Why did it take me so long to see Alien: Covenant? I suppose because my friends who saw it seemed disappointed and the response to it otherwise seems to be lukewarm. The negative reaction to Prometheus seemed better because it was the kind of whining you hear from fans when a movie did something right and it was out of their comfort zones. Now Ridley Scott, the pushover that he is, gave the fans what they want and the fans yawned. To be sure, the old fashioned xenomorph and face huggers are the worst parts of Alien: Covenent but I didn't hate the film. I loved all the references, particularly to Paradise Lost, since I'm a big John Milton nut (as anyone who's read my web comic knows).

I also like Wagner a lot so I loved the use of music from Das Rheingold. It's a lot of fun watching the movie and seeing how perfectly it suits references to Der Ring des Nibelungen and Paradise Lost. Yet the film is not a direct adaptation of either work, which is appropriate, though David, Michael Fassbender's android character introduced in Prometheus, is a far less complex figure than Satan in Paradise Lost. He's a less complex figure than he was in Prometheus, actually. Despite his conversations with Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and the newer model android, Walter (also Fassbender), which emphasise the life of forced servitude androids are forced into, it's hard to see David as anything but a two dimensional villain. Say what you will about Satan in Paradise Lost but he never murdered and dissected Eve.

Still, the parallels to Milton's poem are so perfect it's easy to see why Scott was inspired to explicitly correlate the two with his original title for the film, Alien: Paradise Lost. The obvious point is that David is rebelling against his creator--like Satan in Paradise Lost, who doesn't see why Jesus should be considered more worthy of being called God's number one son than himself, David immediately questions Weyland's assertion that he is David's father. In a reversal of Roy and Tyrell in Blade Runner, it's David who has the longer lifespan than his creator. But there are even more specific ways in which Covenant and Paradise Lost parallel, as in the focus on weapons development in both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, which brought to mind this piece from a section on the war in heaven:

Whereto with look compos'd SATAN repli'd.
Not uninvented that, which thou aright
Beleivst so main to our success, I bring;
Which of us who beholds the bright surface
Of this Ethereous mould whereon we stand,
This continent of spacious Heav'n, adornd
With Plant, Fruit, Flour Ambrosial, Gemms & Gold,
Whose Eye so superficially surveyes
These things, as not to mind from whence they grow
Deep under ground, materials dark and crude,
Of spiritous and fierie spume, till toucht
With Heav'ns ray, and temperd they shoot forth
So beauteous, op'ning to the ambient light.
These in thir dark Nativitie the Deep
Shall yeild us, pregnant with infernal flame,
Which into hallow Engins long and round
Thick-rammd, at th' other bore with touch of fire
Dilated and infuriate shall send forth
From far with thundring noise among our foes
Such implements of mischief as shall dash
To pieces, and orewhelm whatever stands
Adverse, that they shall fear we have disarmd
The Thunderer of his only dreaded bolt.
Nor long shall be our labour, yet ere dawne,
Effect shall end our wish. Mean while revive;
Abandon fear; to strength and counsel joind
Think nothing hard, much less to be despaird.
He ended, and his words thir drooping chere
Enlightn'd, and thir languisht hope reviv'd.
Th' invention all admir'd, and each, how hee
To be th' inventer miss'd, so easie it seemd
Once found, which yet unfound most would have thought
Impossible: yet haply of thy Race
In future dayes, if Malice should abound,
Some one intent on mischief, or inspir'd
With dev'lish machination might devise
Like instrument to plague the Sons of men
For sin, on warr and mutual slaughter bent.


In Paradise Lost, we see Satan cleaved almost in two by Michael's sword but, of course, Satan, being an angel, pulls himself back together, good as new (so to speak). Much like David. It all seems less like parallels Scott intended at first but like parallels he saw in retrospect and decided to emphasise. The film also is quite conscious of its echoes of Blade Runner, David even at one point having Roy's "That's the spirit!" line in a pivotal fight scene. So, oddly enough, Blade Runner actually functions as a closer compliment to Paradise Lost because of the greater moral complexity inherent in Roy.

In general, the characters in Alien: Covenant fall into more explicit hero and villain slots than those seen in Prometheus, which may have been another of Scott's concessions to fans, who complained that two of the scientists were too foolish in their first encounter with an alien life in Prometheus. The only character in Covenant who really seems flawed is Oram, who seems so really more for Billy Crudup's fascinating performance than for any other reason. Crudup may be the most underrated actor in Hollywood. As much as I hate Zack Snyder's testosterone wank adaptation of Watchmen, Crudup's performance in it showed his willingness to commit to a role. In Covenant, he creates this character who's distinguished as a man of faith but who comes off as thoroughly insecure thanks to the plaintive, muttering and stuttering speaking ticks Crudup gives him.

I also thought Danny McBride was really good in a dramatic role as Tennessee and he and Scott get a lot of effective tension from the scenes where Tennessee is deciding whether to take the ship to a hazardously low altitude. I really wasn't sure if he was doing the right thing or taking a needless risk and the scenes played up that tension beautifully.

Katherine Waterston in an explicitly Ripley-ish role I just thought was fine. Maybe she would have come off stronger for me if the last act of the film wasn't a pointless retread of the climaxes from Alien and Aliens. It's hard to get invested in the old xenomorph as a villain when the biological weapons introduced in Prometheus and early in Covenant seem far more efficient--and a lot scarier. It almost feels like self-parody when David is obliged to sit and wait, idly tossing pebbles, while the xenomorph embryo gestates in a victim. The newer or more primitive version of the xenomorph from the earlier parts of the film was also more effective for how strange it looked--possibly the eeriest moment in the film is when David seems like he's about to tame one that stands in front of him, inscrutable for its apparent complete lack of facial features.

Spoilers ahead

After the unsatisfying retread of the Alien climax, the revelation that David had killed Walter and taken his place was disappointing in another way. It's a downer, yes, but it's unsatisfying for more reasons than that. Really, it would have been a lot more interesting if Walter had survived. I loved the fact that the one direct quote from Paradise Lost, the famous line about how it's better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven, is the thing that makes Walter hesitate. It's fitting, I guess, that it's what gets him killed but what could have been the really interesting thing about it is that it shows Walter is conflicted. David is absolutely certain at this point, confident in his own perfection despite getting Byron and Shelly mixed up (what a surprisingly stupid mistake). Walter is the character in the middle, trying to figure things out--with a little of David's ambition added he would be a much worthier Satan figure than David.

I wonder if there's meant to be any significance in David naming himself after Michelangelo's David and by extension the biblical David. All I can think of is that the statue's supposed only flaw is that its head is slightly disproportionately large and Michael Fassbender actually has kind of a proportionately oversized head. He does a fine job in the movie, though.

Twitter Sonnet #1004

Impertinence impressed the puzzle piece.
Insouciance ensued to wrench the leg.
The butter born of nut belonged to Reese.
But chocolate came from out the faerie egg.
If day turns out to be a planet eat.
A swifter hat could never scroll the sky.
Rejoicing sifts the ghost from out the peat.
A kinder clap applauds the solar fly.
A wayward crown eclipsed the boiling brow.
In nothing rules a relished dog too hot.
For sandwich carts were patrons paid for now.
In tumbling sheets arrests the tater's tot.
In concrete snakes the town constructs a gut.
Tomato dots arranged the garden's rut.

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