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Entries in joseph gordon-levitt (4)


In Which The Scarecrow Probably Did Most Of This

Giving Up


The Walk
dir. Robert Zemeckis
123 minutes

Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Northern French accent is very impressive in Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk. “He never gives up,” says his girlfriend Annie Allix (Charlotte Le Bon). After Philippe Petit walked across a high wire strung between the two towers of the World Trade Center, he dumped her for a woman who came onto him after his appearance on the local news. In the movie, we never see the infidelity; Annie just peaces out in a cab like nothing too bad happened.

It has been over a month since Islamic terrorists killed 130 people at a concert in Paris. One month later diplomats are in Paris, talking about who will pay for the cost of fighting climate change. The Associated Press article reported that the countries were close to an accord; a group of hard-line countries represented by a Malaysian lawyer named Gurdial Singh Nijar explained that the meeting was “going backwards," since India, China and Malaysia would never agree to any of the conditions set forth by Western democracies.

Annie Allix has had to watch her relationship with Petit glorified. She is presented in The Walk as an ultimately innocuous bystander to his 140 foot-walk across the sky. One hundred and forty feet does not sound like a very far distance, but Petit managed it several times. Bystanders clapped and cheered. Afterwards, his criminal charges were dropped and he was even honored as a local hero.

That was 1974. Two years earlier, eleven Israeli Olympic team members had been taken hostage and murdered by the Palestinian group Black September, with support from anti-Semitic German groups. It did not take much time for people to forget about that. We all have short memories, so it is nice to remember what Mr. Petit did. His girlfriend remembers it, too. In the documentary about Petit's walk, Man On Wire, she explains, "My life was completely consumed by his, and he never thought to ask me whether I had my own destiny to follow. It was quite clear I had to follow his.”

It is remarkable how people can ignore what it happening all around them, and at times even necessary. In The Walk, Petit explains to a customs guard what his plans are, and the guy laughs and waves him through LaGuardia. Petit even employs more than one willing American in his act of terrorism. Such a thing would never happen today, and in fact in seems an insult to towers lost to history that Petit even suggested he would perform his feat again. I mean, why would we want him to? He’s a dick who forced his girlfriend to watch from the ground below through binoculars.

In order to drag out the tension during his walk, Zemeckis includes the appearance of a seagull. A helicopter emerges shortly thereafter, further disturbing the relative peace of Mr. Petit’s walk. The seagull looks angry: there were seagulls before men built towers, and decided to walk across them for no discernible reason.

Now some white men want to set back the economies of developing nations in order to ensure that pollutants are no longer pumped into the atmosphere, and fossil fuels burnt at quite the same rate. If the gesture is reasonable on the part of the assorted diplomats involved, it is also somewhat hypocritical. After all, Western nations were the perpetrators of the original crime to the environment — now that historically less prosperous nations finally have the economic advantages that come with industry, the West explains, “No, we've decided that’s enough!” and has the gall to ask them to pay for it!

It is easy enough for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to substitute for a Frenchman. He actually plays Petit as a bit of a narcissistic asshole, and the constant smirk that dashes back and forth across his face is never wiped off, not even as he crosses skyscrapers. In the days after the walk he was so happy. He had become a sort of honorary American, and as a showman, he enjoyed this new caricature of himself.

Zemeckis' movie, which is about a half hour too long, tries to turn The Walk into a sort of heist caper. This would be great, except that every single one of Petit's associates was a white guy with a beard or moustache who had absolutely no personality. Gordon-Levitt is forced to carry the day. He is entertaining enough, but it's clear that Zemeckis and co-writer Christopher Browne have no great love for Petit himself, who comes across as a maniacal dick.

Philippe Petit did not care why his girlfriend helped him walk on that wire. It only mattered to him that he achieved his goal, and what happened afterwards was a mere consequence of his desire. This subtlety was completely excluded from The Wire, constituting a great disappointment, because it is only interesting thing about the story. Petit's fuck-everyone-but-me perspective is a very Western attitude, and it is not just a destructive one — it is a self-destructive one.

What stuns me is the lack of empathy in The Walk, and by the West in general. Terrorist attacks are awful, sinister stuff. Any regular murder becomes a mystery that is never solved until we understand the motives of the perpetrator. For some reason, we have a different perspective on mass murders, actions so objectionable they seem to most people to defy motivation. That is a mistake in judgment, for every murder should demand an equal amount of horror and introspection. With the attacks on the Bataclan, the general understanding seems to be that some specific villains are involved: maybe the Joker, or Scarecrow, or Lex Luthor? I mean, who really cares, get them!

You know, Donald Trump is a disgusting creature, but at least he identified a problem and explained the steps he would take to solve it. A bunch of politicans are more concerned about striking non-binding "agreements" to limit emissions from countries that will never stop polluting, and couldn’t care less about the vagaries of international accords. The West is in a war, but they do not know the war they are in, and would not be able to identify the villains or their motivations if asked. Meeting in Paris at this time proves how exactly dense they are.

Petit could never stroll into Manhattan today to start making his terrorist-esque plans. Walking across a wire seems quite hard, but maybe not as difficult as taking your own life in order to destroy the lives of people you never even know. That our enemies are willing to go to such lengths for either their religion or their hatred of our world should say something about the conditions in it. This violence is a sickness, but it is also a symptom.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

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In Which Inception Dreams Of Us Beneath The Surface

Blind Night Errand



dir. Christopher Nolan

148 minutes

Movies are often talked about as though they’re America’s dreams, like surveillance tapes of the collective unconscious. Movies are analyzed to find out who we are today, and what’s brewing beneath the surface of daily news (maybe journalism is to fiction as waking life is dreams). The liberal arts student in me finds this take compelling, but I’m also skeptical, since movies are of course designed to make money and tend to be financed, produced, and directed by people of extraordinary privilege and wealth. Avatar, for example, probably reveals less about America’s unconscious concerns than it does about James Cameron’s. It’s unclear whether the “dream interpretation” approach to movies is a useful way of understanding ourselves.

If movies are windows into the American psyche, then what to make of those that dramatize the unconscious mind at work? A bunch of recent examples spring to mind (The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus; Synecdoche, New York, Pan’s Labyrinth, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), but of course it’s a legacy dating back to The Wizard of Oz (spoiler alert, sorry). One theory: just as movies are metaphorical dreams, maybe dreams are metaphorical movies, and the postmodern refractions of Gilliam, Gondry, et al are attempts to represent the uniquely contemporary experience of daily life crowded with alternate experiences, with scenes and stories from other people’s lives. Movies about dreams might be dreams about movies.

Inception has been called both a masterpiece and an object of delusional hype. If you’re reading this, my guess is that you’ve already read some other review somewhere, so I won’t go too far into explaining the premise: a group of very well dressed, good looking “extractors” (con artists who specialize in sneaking into people’s dreams to steal information) are tasked with “inception,” the implantation of an idea, which sets in motion a Mission Impossible-type heist caper set in Cillian Murphy’s subconscious. Meanwhile, lead extractor Dom Cobb (Leo) is tormented by visions of his dead wife, who routinely tries to sabotage his missions within dreamland.

Peevish reviewers — and point-missers everywhere — have observed that it technically should be unconscious mind, not subconscious. Even Wikipedia gets all sassy about it, reporting that “the term subconscious is used in many different contexts and has no single or precise definition. This greatly limits its significance as a meaning-bearing concept, and in consequence the word tends to be avoided in academic and scientific settings.” But I’m glad that the term “unconscious mind” isn’t used, because that is clearly not where the movie’s action unfolds.

The unconscious mind, as Freud had it, is the seat of desire, fear, instinct, appetite, trauma, and so on: it’s a wilderness, swampy and overgrown, its inhabitants feral, its images distorted and surreal. That’s not what Inception imagines: the artificially-induced dreaming that the movie depicts is a technology, not an organic process, and the “subconscious” of its shared dreamscape is orderly and realistic, clean and spacious.

The setting of the movie inside the mind isn’t arbitrary, but it is a means to an end. Apparently dreams play by Narnia rules, where minutes in the real world amount to hours in the dream, and days in the dream-within-a-dream. Due to this conceit, the movie is a structural marvel, and its method of storytelling is dazzling: the narrative arcs are strung from one another like the balanced wires of a hanging mobile, and all of the (seemingly unending) exposition serves to create a space within which this unique and intricate structure can take shape. (Grammar nerds: if conventional narrative is paratactic, Inception is hypotactic.)

These strengths are more or less uncontested. The movie’s detractors complain that Inception has no heart, that it’s a mere action flick rather than an emotionally mature work. But the whole tortured-by-grief widower thing totally had me, and was less contrived than anything else onscreen. It’s central to the plot, it includes Inception's cleverest twist, and it holds plenty of emotional wallop: a sudden image of (significance-laden) billowing curtains made me gasp in the movie theater. It is pretty crummy that the two female leads (Marion Cotillard as the specter of Leo’s dead wife, Ellen Page as the extraction n00b who needs everything spelled out) are moreso plot-advancers than people; but they’re much richer characters than the merely instrumental roles played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, etc, all of them tools in the purest sense.

Hardy makes the best of his part, trying his damnedest to charm the audience into looking up his name on IMDb when they get home. Murphy, skeletal cipher that he is, delivers his few flat lines as though hypnotized. But flimsy as the parts are, the women have the most to work with after Leo. It’s Page’s character (Ariadne) who enters Dom Cobb's mind, and repeatedly confronts him about his derangement; these scenes are played with a dark, weird intimacy. They don’t know each other very well, but she’s toured some of his most personal memories.

Somebody once said that Buffy the Vampire Slayer's satire is based on literalizing metaphor — that when a student remarks that the school principal is a monster, the principal does then turn out to actually be a monster. Inception is up to something similar, making the mind a stage and embodying the tormented memory of a dead loved one as an antagonist. It's typically considered bad writing when characters "speak their subtext," declaring aloud the motives and feelings that should be conveyed through the actors' performance. But Inception is about subtext as text.

I have a theory about why some critics might not be moved. In photography (I’m told), black-and-white images work best when they include both “true black” and “true white.” If the image’s shades only span the spectrum of grays, then it’s un-anchored. Black appears darkest, and white brightest, when juxtaposed with the other. The same is likely true for drama: the low notes of guilt, fear, and conflict are felt much more fully when set against the high notes of levity and humor. Inception takes itself very seriously, and deserves to; but if audiences aren’t moved by the hero’s tragic romance, it’s probably because Inception’s emotional range is narrowed by the absence of jokes. I can only remember two.

One of Inception's key tropes is the maze, and keeping up with the puzzling story is just challenging enough to resemble playing a game. Several reviewers have remarked that Inception needs to be seen twice to be understood. I disagree, but I would totally go see it again.

Ben Lansky is a contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Portland. This is his first appearance in these pages. You can find his website here.

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"Field" - Mount Kimbie (mp3)

"Between Time" - Mount Kimbie (mp3)

"Blind Night Errand" - Mount Kimbie (mp3)


In Which We Find There Are Two Types of Guys

Good At Something


I have two types of guys. The first guy is very easy to describe; he's a tall, skinny, rocker type (but a rocker more in the vein of Pulp than Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers).

The other type has been harder for me to describe. He's a nerdier type of man — but not the kind who is into World of Warcraft or any of that weird digital hocus pocus shit. I ain't into that. He's also not so nerdy that his social life consists of him watching films about other nerdy guys all weekend. He's the kind of guy who's cute, dresses well but not so well that you'd mistake him for a GQ model (or stylist), and is creative and good at...something.

In short, as I discovered today, he is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character in (500) Days of Summer.

I have never been aboard the JG-L train. I see the appeal, I'm just not going to buy a ticket. Maybe this is because I'm bummed that I missed out on my chance to ask him to prom (and this story isn't as juicy as it sounds, trust me. He was best friends with a relative of mine whose mom suggested that I ask him, but he was in Harvard or whever really smart good looking actors spend their time when they're not working.

Also how was he to know I would turn into a total babe? I mean, this is what my mom tells me.)


The thing is, ladies, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character exists in the real world; he just doesn't look like Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

In fact I have a guy friend who basically is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character. But he's like 8 feet tall, kind of chubby, and doesn't wear argyle sweaters. So he's basically screwed. Because all around him his female friends are bemoaning the lack of men as sweet and understanding as Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character when he wants to shout, "BITCHES I'M RIGHT HERE" but he never would, exactly BECAUSE he is as sweet and understated as Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character.

So what the fuck is he supposed to do? What is any of us supposed to do? What is Joseph Gordon-Levitt supposed to do? Now he's got straight-up Lloyd Dobler syndrome where every woman he meets is going to think that he's his character. But wait, fuck him, it's 20-something adorably nerdy men types who should be pissed because now we, 20-something future Annie Halls, are going to superimpose his character on every adorably nerdy man we meet, and be totally bummed out when we realize that he's not him, even though we know he won't be, because it's all fiction anyway.

In short, we need to never EVER see movies again. WE NEED TO BURN THE MOVIES BEFORE THEY BURN US.

That or just stick to skinny rockers.

Almie Rose is a contributor to This Recording. She blogs here.

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