movies Uncategorized

Even Stanley Kubrick wasn’t THAT good

I love films with subtext. The best movies have both an engaging plot and something deeper to say, beneath the surface. Carefully-chosen camera angles, judicious prop placement, and even purposeful color grading can either underscore or undermine the main storytelling thrust.

A movie with such semiotic depth blurs the line between artist intent and audience interpretation. It’d hard to tell which meanings the director had in mind, and which were happy accidents.

Take Stanley Kubrick’s films, for example. On the one hand, Kubrick’s visual directing style plays with symbols and subtext. Remember the cut from bone-bludgeon to orbital satellite in 2001? Kubrick’s fondness for interleaving ideas and juxtaposition invites his audience to make their own connections—connections the director himself might never have even considered.

In recent years, The Shining has certainly prompted this sort of speculation. Bloggers have noticed ways in which the film’s Overlook Hotel makes no architectural sense. Passageways dead-end abruptly. Rooms extend beyond the boundaries established by previous shots. Doors go nowhere. Some analysts claim that Kubrick uses these inconsistencies to upset the audience’s equilibrium. As Jack Nicholson’s character goes mad, the audience begins to doubt its own sense of reality.

And that’s a mild example of how fans obsess over The Shining. For more extreme “Kubrickism”, watch Room 237, a documentary that celebrates nutty Kubrick conspiracy theories. You’ll see film buffs wax eloquent over The Shining’s most minute details. One analyst claims that the movie serves to condemn the European genocide of the Native Americans. Another interprets the film as allegory for the Holocaust. Still another claims that Kubrick uses The Shining to confess his role in faking the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Somehow, I doubt Kubrick was quite that enigmatic or meticulous. Every movie makes continuity mistakes. Every film fudges with architectural space to improve a shot or two. Just because a jar of TANG shows up in the background doesn’t mean Kubrick intended to expose the lunar fraud.

Still, in the end, does it matter “what Kubrick meant”? Is an interpretation automatically illegitimate, just because the creator hadn’t considered it? Meaning doesn’t belong exclusively to the director (or the painter, or the musician). It’s not just “what the author intended.” Instead, meaning emerges in the encounter between an audience and an artist’s work. A work can suggest a whole range of valid interpretations.

Besides, if The Shining’s architectural quirks or Native American motifs creep out the audience just that much more, wouldn’t Kubrick be delighted?

TV Uncategorized

OCD nightmare

In AMC’s The Walking Dead, survivors of the zombie apocalypse fight to survive. All around them, undead “walkers” lurk, hungry for fresh flesh. The show continues to grow in popularity and has crossed over from nerd favorite to cultural phenomenon. Season Four starts soon, and I’ll be watching.

Although I’m a fan, something bothered me about Dead’s gleeful goriness. If the zombifying disease seemed so dangerously virulent, why would the characters splash themselves with zombie guts so nonchalantly?

Presumably, any small scratch or wound represented a potential infection point, right? Let a single drop of “walker juice” slip through, and it’s game over. And what if the disease could spread via any exposed orifice (say, the eye or the mouth)? You’d think the heroes would be more careful about spilling walker blood.

And they’d definitely want to clean themselves up afterwards. If you knew that careless nose-picking could literally rot out your brain, wouldn’t you at least wash your hands? Wouldn’t you take every precaution possible until you knew exactly how the virus spread? What if you could catch it by breathing, like the cold or flu? Why don’t the characters loot those abandoned grocery stores for breathing masks, surgical gloves and antibiotics (along with baby formula and weapons)?

Two reasons: First, unbridled zombie-bashing attracts more viewers. Hypochondriac heroes don’t swing that baseball bat with the same gusto. Second, who wants to filter every line of dialogue through a surgical mask?[1]

  1. SPOILER ALERT: As it turns out, this isn’t how the Walking Dead virus works. A zombie bite doesn’t infect you; you’re infected already. Anyone who dies turns into a walker. Zombie bites simply kill you more quickly—through blood loss or infection. You could bathe in zombie-juice, and it wouldn’t necessarily kill you.  ↩

    It’s an fun plot twist (and a major season two reveal). It’s also pretty confusing for viewers.

technology Uncategorized

How little hardware flaws drive me crazy.

Stuff breaks. Every so often, something I buy conks out, goes on the fritz, or just plain stops working.

Blessed warranties to the rescue! Apple replaced my iPod touch at least twice: once for a stuck power button and again for a temperamental headphone jack. And Lenovo (after a month-long, maddening back-and-forth) fixed a blown-out GPU, a burned-up logic board, and an under-insulated processor.

On each of these occasions, the problem was obvious, and I sought out service ASAP. But every so often, I run into less conspicuous hardware flaws. These easily-to-miss defects bring out the OCD in me.

  • I agonized over whether my iPod’s Home button was too loose.
  • I tried to convince my wife that my iPod’s screen was inferior to hers. (She remains convinced that the difference was in my head.)
  • My iPhone rattles when I set it down. I don’t think iPhones are supposed to rattle.
  • Where did these bruises and scratches on my Thinkpad’s screen come from?
  • I am haunted by squeaks, rattles, and bumps in our recently-purchased car.

Why do I let such trivialities bug me? Two reasons. First, I paid good money for these baubles, and I hate getting a raw deal. Second, warranties only last so long. If I put off filing a complaint, I might miss out on a free replacement.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve noticed an almost-undetectable flaw in my phone. Time to obsess!