Friday, May 2, 2008

One Blueprint For Reconstruction: The Circumvention of "Us vs. Them" in Fri├░riksson's Cold Fever

Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
Genesis 11:9
“Every single constituent of any linguistic system is built on an opposition of two logical contradictories: the presence of an attribute ("markedness") in contraposition to its absence ("unmarkedness").”
Roman Jakobson
"Space and force pervade language. Many cognitive scientists (including me) have concluded from their research on language that a handful of concepts about places, paths, motions, agency, and causation underlie the literal or figurative meanings of tens of thousands of words and constructions, not only in English but in every other language that has been studied.”
Stephen Pinker

In Cold Fever, Fridriksson provides us an out to our evolutionary nature of forming boundaries, coalitions, and using the fractious and nationalist modes of language to separate. Whereas an immature filmmaker could have stopped far short and ended in the desperate and dramatic flings of the Babel effect, such as Coppola's Lost in Translation, we wonder if she's seen this gem. Cold Fever goes beyond the romance novel melodrama of sadness-borne-of-personal-despair-cum-happenstance-meeting -in-foreign-country-assuaged-by-quasi-adulterous-affair to a much deeper understanding of the human dilemma. Here, despite no romantic interest, we find a hope for something better.

Hirata travels to Iceland to right the wrongs of his past and we become him. He repeatedly notes that this place is “strange,” and considering the aptly chosen series of events, we can't help but agree. He meets a “psychic,” or at least one endowed with what she thinks are extraordinary gifts, and he is just desperate enough to accept her attention to him as truth; he buys her car and begins driving across the landscape. Introductory college courses of Archaeology aside, we're painted a pretty bleak picture here of wintry Iceland; Bob Ross has gone off of his SSRI and the mis en scene is one of stark contrasts. Though many of the scenes could have been shot in black and white without much loss, the rusty red of his newly purchased car, the grays of spirits in the middle of an ice field, and the funereal Johnny Cash black of Hirata as he wanders from the stop sign where he was kicked from his car to the village where he finds redemption are very important to this film's dramatic shape. Fridriksson to viewer: the world is bleak, cold, and unforgiving place but if you can make it through the tunnel, there is something glowing at the end.

Spirituality is a huge factor here. A spirit actually appears to warn Hirata of impending doom if he continues along his way (unfortunately she doesn't warn him of the upcoming psycho couple who will rob him – perhaps we find the limitations of foreign-language-speaking spirits here), and she even starts his car for him, in case the ice-breaking avalanche in the distance of his desired direction isn't enough. Hirata, as Job, is then faced with this faith-challenging ordeal: the American couple. Its easy to pick on Americans, and these are certainly the quintessential ones. Jack and Jill (haha) like hot dogs and the New York Yankees. Jack and Jill (read: Bonnie and Clyde) also like shooting innocent people and the lure of the GTA (before it was popular, mind you). So this comes off as a bit clich├ę, but Lili Taylor – of Six Feet Under fame – is great and so is her Jack, and so it's meant as tongue in cheek a bit, certainly. It comes across more as delightful, quirky humor than banal nation-bashing.

Ultimately, Hirata (and us) find a sort of quasi-spiritual salvation in Siggi, whom he meets at an Icelandic cowboy celebration. They share a bottle of black death, and then Siggi offers to take Hirata to the river where he must peform his parents' ritual burial. After having a “strange” dream, where Hirata alone is confronted with scores of whiteclad people (spirits?), Siggi says he can't go any further. In Cold Fever we find Hirata on his hero quest forsaking past ways of conquering a nation.

The message here is clear. Do not fall prey to full modernism and becoming the golf-ball swinging boss who scoffs at his employee's tradition and dedication to the Shinto burial. Do not let a stark landscape and foreign language keep you from being a good and civil person, even if it means you'll have to suffer some. Finally, do not think that you know everything. Remember that “stupid people believe in only what they can touch and see.” It's not a shame that the Tower of Babel fell and separated us; this created the melismatic abundance of diversity that we have today. The shame is that this separation makes it all to easy to cling to nationalism, which leads to hate and war.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Genesis

Generally, this page will not come from the "I." That should not make anyone think for a second that I am not biased or that this page has any sort of empirical merit, beyond being true to citing sources where it is appropriate, and the citing of miscellany from various traditions, and various countries. Furthermore, I will attempt to update this site once or more weekly, but due to previous engagements (i.e. life), I can't guarantee that.

Why start a blog when I already have one (here)? This is an attempt to be scholarly with each and every post, and my personal blog is a mixture of venting, memoir, and quasi-scholastic writing, not to be mistaken for this site - which will be a conscious effort to enter the public arena and tear out the mouldered and desiccated drywall that has begun to fester. I shall then attempt to proceed with a certain degree of positivity, at times, with the hope of offering a contrapuntal melody.

Why am I an evolutionary psychologist? There are numerous reasons, but they distill down to my leaning toward evolution as a tentative and as yet unfinished way of explaining humanity's origins and hoping we can find a way to understand one another. You could lump this under the liberal doctrine of idealizing education. Though our evolutionary past and present is a litany of war, jealousy, greed, and general malfeasance, our evolutionary future is certainly unwritten. It takes hundreds of generations before a mutation can take place, and become a trait, but if we don't start doing something soon we'll either end up like Mad Max or a cretin in Idiocracy.

Why am I a humanist? To sum it up:
"Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity," from the American Humanist Association. How radical? Radical enough to be fed up with the Republocrat chokehold on American politics.

Last but not least, why cinema? I have a huge passion for movies, regardless of genre. The key for me is that they be intelligent; if not, they should prepare for a lashing.

What is up with the title? Mozi was a Chinese philosopher who established enough of a name to have people attribute amazing things to him in our day and age, such as Newton's first law of motion. He also invented the Camera Obscura, which is the predecessor to Camera and Film.

Please stop by and see if anything interests you here. There will be many forthcoming essays, and links about evolutionary psychology, humanism, cinema, and how they're all linked.

Thank you