2001: A Space Odyssey
I’ve watched The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut more than twenty times each, but each viewing of 2001 has left me altered. Kubrick and Clarke tried to tell a story about the fate and function of life in the cosmos; 2001 is instead a portrait of the operatic gesture of civilization, its reliance on murder, and its amity with the quality that neatly defines a mind that minds itself: cruelty. 2001’s final sequence is more than an approximation of transcendence beyond language (and, for our limited nature, intelligibility)—2001’s final sequence is a pulsing reminder that mystery forms the core of life.
Vertigo’s structure is fractal; its parts compose, riff on, and reveal its whole. If you watch Vertigo five times, you’ll experience five different films, each radiating out from a trunk thick with rings of obsession, deceit, and beauty. Hitchcock smuggled so much structural and emotional sophistication into this movie as to make a psychological drug for critics and careful viewers; give it enough of your time, and you’ll begin to want to force other films to assume Vertigo’s guise.
Shoah documents the Holocaust through the speech of its perpetrators, survivors, and witnesses. It does so decades after the systemic destruction had stopped. What is left to the film’s subjects are memories. Claude Lanzmann, the film’s director, believed that a film long and direct enough could approach the reality of the Holocaust, but only insofar as it granted these memories a space unique to cinema. Shoah is over ten hours long, and so requires you to sit amid its facets, faces, and rigor; watching this film dents you. Lanzmann gave the film eleven years of his life, and has since made only films that investigate the lives that the Holocaust destroyed and formed. To witness and engage this film—the only film that faces the Holocaust with the respect and geological steadiness that atrocity begs us to forget—is to ask yourself what culture can posit in response to its most terrible consequence.
What does love rescue us from? What does love force us to face? What does love propel us to do? These questions are answered—gorgeously, sleepily—in this film. The movie plants an unsolicited and unwarranted romance in our ground of anxious obligations, consumerist dreams, and novelty toilet plungers. Bloody hands desperately pressing on an abandoned, duct-taped instrument that must be forced to breathe before it sings: Paul Thomas Anderson is in firm command of analogizing tenderness and care in the godless haste of American life. To watch this movie is to coalesce in a puddle of powerful, strange, and rebellious love. And, if you like pain, it’s really fucking funny.
The Thin Red Line
Terrence Malick, this film’s director, relentlessly gets at spirit. He makes you see the writhing, thriving grace infused in a shell-blackened hill, in the eyes of a starving prisoner, in the errant questions of a man about to die. This movie takes seriously the consequences and stratifications of civilization, making plain the death conjured out of bureaucracy’s distances and the nation’s quixotic identity. Through a parade of soldiers tasked to kill and die for the temporary rule of a mute hill, this film asks its viewers to see that each heart yearns in its own way, particularly those blasted away in orange pangs of technology, the dead our fear’s choking flow of fodder. This film gently envelops war in the striving, grace, and pageantry that we have systematically denied to nature, and asks us to hold this swaddled child until our arms give out.
Ken Baumann is a writer, publisher, and actor. For more: kenbaumann.com