Thursday, March 20, 2014

Stuck in the Basement: An Evolutionary Reading of (Some Films by) Roman Polanski

Stuck in the Basement: An Evolutionary Reading of (Some Films by) Roman Polanski

To say that Roman Polanski is a controversial figure is not enough.  It's admitted that he had sex with a minor (most likely consensual - if a 13 year old can legally consent to something like that).  He never served any time for it.  His wife was murdered by one of the most notorious killers or those around him of all time.  Perhaps THE most known.  He's made some incredible films.  ChinatownThe PianistRosemary's BabyKnife in the WaterCarnage and Ghost Writer (that this writer has seen).  He's also made a couple of  forgettable, thought admittedly entertaining ones in The Ninth Gate and Frantic.  Bitter Moon stands between these two extremes.  It seems that a film dealing openly with sex and sexuality should pique one's mind who attempts to level the lens of evolutionary psychology at it.  As you will see, this isn't actually the case.

To admit that men are obviously attracted to young women is not enough either.  That being said, Polanski's film which deals most explicitly with sex is a mishmash of ideas and characters that shed no more light on who we really are as a group, and seems strangely ill-equipped to open the debate on niche sexual behavior as well.  Neither his case, the documentary about it, or this film shed much light on human sexual behavior, but perhaps we can glean what radiance is available and point to better examples.

Polanski's attraction to younger women shouldn't shock any of us.  His acting on it is, on the other hand, definitely disturbing.  Bitter Moon deals with a couple that act on anything they feel and a British couple that act on relatively little that they feel, presumably, until the film begins.  Polanski allows for little middle ground.  Why can't we talk about what we feel before and - at times - in place of, acting on it.  Oscar's (Peter Coyote) discussion of his current relationship's past is one way for Nigel (Hugh Grant) to live vicariously, but that isn't always enough.  Here, we see repression of feelings as something that can severely damage ourselves and those around us.

According to people who care about stardom, Polanski didn't care much about his star in Hugh Grant (I'd venture that Peter Coyote was a bit more interesting to him).  What a bizarre film!  A second viewing was necessary to piece together the ideas and guttural reactions.  Oscar needs to tell his story to someone, as perhaps his writing has never been successful enough to find the larger audience that many artists need to reach.  Polanski is jabbing at the sad state of American sexual behavior here.  Even when we find exactly what we want, in a young, beautiful, open-minded woman, we must prod more and more.  Polanski is saying we're fools to go as far as Oscar, and yet Polanski himself has been sensationalized in the press, and his sexual life too is not enough.  The bloody ending hints at a possible future for himself and his wife?

Sadly, the documentary about Polanski's action and its resulting consequences could have been taken from a more historical perspective; we can't yet hope for all documentaries to include an evolutionary approach.  Do those with power, fame, etc often find ways of avoiding punishment after statutory rape?  It's easy to see that they have access to this act more readily, but who is to say about the punishment avoidance?  If we feel the power dynamic and see it objectively in our own society, it seems to be a fairly obvious conclusion.  This most certainly makes none of his actions around this particular case alright.  Here, we probably have a lot of "similarity" in mate selection a relatively low concern for the pursuer; Polanski is "smart" enough to feel slight tug from many social mores.

The film explores faux-bestiality, urolagnia, other salirophilia, and other less bizarre sexual fetishes; Polanski himself explored others.  Men and women seek dominance over one another and other things.  They experience pleasure in "conquering" their EEAs.  The key here is melding this with a socially aware sense of fairness.  If what we're doing harms no one else, and they consent to it, there should be no reason why any sane human could oppose it.  Of course, at what point are we able to consent?  How old must we be to say "yes" or "no"?  These are questions that evolutionary psychology and a study of evolution can't answer; indeed they may point at best to a different time and a different stage of what we are now.  The answers can't be the same in both places until we've dissected the differences.

What Roman Polanski did to the 13 year old girl will always be wrong to this writer.  They will always mar his oeuvre.  Here, we can look back at a different time and stage and proffer an answer.  Ultimately, we have the choice and free will of consciousness.  We can choose to attempt to have sex with minors.  We can murder.  We can do any number of other things that were necessities in the past, thousands of years ago before we set up a scaffolding to build ourselves to more enlightened vantage points.  We can also say no, flip on the light switch, and slog our Sisyphean way out of the basement.

Bitter Moon, 1992, Polanski
Carnage, 2011, Polanski
Chinatown, 1974, Polanski
Frantic, 1988, Polanski
Ghost Writer, 2010, Polanski
Knife in the Water, 1962, Polanski
The Ninth Gate, 1999, Polanski
The Pianist, 2002, Polanski
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, 2008, Zenovich
Rosemary's Baby, 1968, Polanski

-Hugh Grant Interview,
-Roman Polanski, IMDB,
-Roman Polanski, Wikipedia,
-Roman Polanski Sexual Abuse Case, Wikipedia,
-Statutory Rape, Wikipedia,
-Tate Murders, Wikipedia,
-The Mating Game Isn't Over: A Reply to Buller's Critique of The Evolutionary Psychology of Mating, Various,

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Running in Place With a Bum Leg: Evolution, Warfare, and The Small Back Room

Running in Place With a Bum Leg:  Evolution, Warfare, and The Small Back Room
"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place." 
Lewis Carroll

After World War II was over with, we could finally tell the truth about it with our arts.  At the same time that Italian Neorealism was telling the story of the poor masses and their day to day lives, certain films around the the world cast backwards light into the depths of our societies, and especially our societies at war.  Films like Late Spring told the story at home as well as any thus far in the history of film, while one of art cinema's most beloved films, The Third Man, wove a mystery that contains to fascinate.  The widening gyre of what was acceptable as a film continued to elongate, ready to burst at the thin-stretched edges.  Enter The Small Back Room.

History is a tale of battles.  Most of the battles aren't documented as they occurred at a tribal level long before there were any forms of documentation.  Recently, our populations have exploded and we've gone to war in huge groups known as nations.  World War II is by far the most large scale of these wars.  In hindsight, it's difficult to understand how a nation was spellbound by a psychopathic leader, but I'd simplistically argue that 1. The treaty of Versailles at the end of the first World War.  The very concept of history being a battleground of ideas in which the winner of the battle has their history written most loudly seems to be an easy way to summarize history.

Our protagonist, Sammy Rice, has no interest in winners and losers, in beating his chest in dominant ways, or any of the other bizarre testosterone rituals of warfare.  He simply wants to save lives.  He has a bum leg from what seems to be a past military incursion, and he understands the toll of warfare, both physically and especially - as we will come to see - psychologically.  We have a man here who is sensitive and talented, and not content to live in the way many males do.  We also have a man who is struggling with his vices.  Perhaps there is a correlation between these two?

The lush black and white photography, rich characterization, and at times avant-garde use of storytelling draws you into the struggle that Sammy faces day-to-day.  His bitterness toward authority and war create part of the draw toward alcoholism.  Indeed, when our emotions aren't adaptive (as Sammy's are too rich, too vibrant, too complex to be of use in a wartime situation), and he can't buy into simply talking to a controlling wife on telephone day-after-day or focusing on the numbers of war operations, including body counts and slight gains, as his coworkers do, he is forced into dulling his reactions toward this.  Emotions were designed to spark our actions toward certain benefits, and there can be no benefit gained from collapsing in an injured, defeated, bitter, and caustic heap, as Sammy's are wont to do.

The climax is likewise intense, and provides an ample history that follows in films like Paradise Now and The Hurt Locker.  Mentioning these further reminds me of Dil Se.. and Divine Intervention and the relationship between bombs and human love.  The red queen hypothesis is in full affect.

What evolutionary lessons are to be learned here?  The most obvious is that war is huge in our history and will probably - most unfortunately - continue to be so.  Next, we evolved to satisfy our pleasure centers and we've become way too good at it for our own benefit.  We must try to maintain the Greek ideal, the even keel.  Finally, peace, love, and understanding are goals worth seeking out.  We learn lessons too late, and we must deal with damage that makes our learning not only harder to apply but that stands as a constant reminder of our past failings.  This is humanity.

Dil Se..., 1998, Ratnam
Divine Intervention, 2005, Suleiman
Late Spring, 1949, Ozu
Paradise Now, 2005, Abu-Assad
The Hurt Locker, 2008, Bigelow
The Small Back Room, 1949, Powell & Pressburger
The Third Man, 1949, Welles

-An Evolutionary Perspective On Substance Abuse, Nesse,
-Discussion, on, of "history is written by the winners,";f=101;t=000374;p=0
-List of Wars by Death Toll, Wikipedia,
-The Red Queen hypothesis, Wikipedia,
-The Treaty of Versailles, Wikipedia,