Remember that film that followed a boy growing up in an economically precarious environment, that took us from the boy’s childhood through adolescence to early adulthood? The film about a boy whose father was (largely) absent and whose mother struggled with her situation, with getting older and feeling that she hadn’t done a good job of being a parent? That was told in relatively plot-free, naturalistic episodes that mostly began and ended in medias res? The film that most critics loved and that was nominated for most major awards?
In your mind, what colour was that boy?
One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.
One thing that video games struggle with more often than not is giving their worlds a palpable sense of history. Sure, fantasy and sci-fi games are in love with convoluted lore, but that’s different from creating a world that feels old. We regularly play games where we traverse spaces that are ancient, from the titular tombs of Tomb Raider to the old temples of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, but as impressive as these places are, more often than not they feel like movie sets, created for the purpose of acting as a cool backdrop to the game’s action. The signs of age, the water stains and crumbling pillars and fading tapestries, seem too consciously placed to be entirely convincing. Age seems a mere veneer, because in a virtual world there is no such thing as age. The ancient architecture was designed a couple of months or years ago at most and is being recreated for your enjoyment in every moment of the present. There is no such thing as an old polygon or texture.
I’ll be honest: while I’d say that I enjoyed the majority of Marvel movies to date, the thing I’m least interested in is the fights. There are some fun, well-shot and -choreographed kerfuffles in the films, but on the whole I like them heroes less when they speak with their fists, repulsor beams and mythical hammers. What’s worse than a Marvel movie fight scene, though? A Marvel TV series fight scene.
Years ago, I went to see the stage version of The Lion King in London. As the lights went down and people stopped talking, knowing that the show was about to begin, a kid one or two rows in front of me piped up. “I don’t like lions!” Well, tough, kid, you’re going to get lions, whether you like them or not.
Most people like lions, if they keep their distance and don’t attempt to eat you or your loved ones. What many people don’t like? Musicals. Some people don’t like action films, others aren’t really into horror movies, but I don’t think there’s a single genre that as many people claim not to like as musicals. To be honest, though: until a few years ago, I would have said the same, though I may have qualified it a bit more – I don’t like the Platonic ideal (i.e. the pretentiously formulated stereotype) of a musical that people may think of when the genre comes up. At the same time, some of the films I liked best growing up were musicals, such as Hair or Jesus Christ Superstar. I’ve even rewatched some musicals that didn’t click for me when I was growing up, like West Side Story, and I’ve come to greatly enjoy them. Similarly, “Once More With Feeling” is one of my favourite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Killer, and I’d defend its artistic merits as much as I would those of my favourite less jazz-handy episodes.
Richard Curtis, I’ll happily admit: your 2013 film About Time made me smile, laugh and shed a manly tear. Okay, not quite, but I found myself touched and moved. It also made me want to shout obscenities and throw things at the TV, and not in good ways: About Time can be witty in one scene and trite in the next, it has moments of poignancy and others that are saccharine, and it manages to come off both charmingly self-effacing and smug under the disguise of glib humility.
Perhaps it’s difficult to imagine how such an overtly inoffensive film could leave me so angry when I’d actually say that I enjoyed a lot of it. About Time is that most common of genres, the time-travel rom-dram-com, and the way it brings together its outlandish conceit may be one of the things I liked best – like all the men in his bloodline, the main character Tim (played by Domhnall Gleeson) can travel back in time within the limits of his own life, making changes as he sees fit. Why? Dunno. How? He just needs to go and stand in a dark cupboard, clench his fists and concentrate. In one of many lovely father-and-son scenes, Tim’s dad (Bill Nighy, as charmingly odd as ever) basically gives his son a Curtisian version of Looper’s diagrams-and-straws speech which boils down to this: shh, it’s silly, let’s have some fun with this, okay?
I was a big fan of the first two series of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi/horror satire of how modern technology and media act to reflect our darkest impulses right back at us. I didn’t love every single episode, though while I found series 2’s “The Waldo Moment” possibly the weakest instalment, 2016 has proven it depressingly prescient. When Netflix announced that they were financing a third, longer series, I was definitely interested – though then it came out to, let’s say, uneven reviews. Many still loved it, and some thought the new series was simply uneven but still largely good – but eminent internet essayist Film Crit Hulk (if you don’t already know him, be warned: while he is usually insightful and well-reasoned, he does have his quirks and affectations) published a pretty damning post. Its title didn’t exactly promise a differentiated look at the series: “Why BLACK MIRROR Is Kinda Bullshit”. Ironically, FCH’s post increased my optimism about the new series; while usually get a lot out of his essays, even when I disagree, what he wrote about some of my favourite episodes of Black Mirror, such as series 2’s “White Bear”, made me think that he’d misunderstood several fundamental things, mainly this: in its first two series, Black Mirror wasn’t about how technology was evil, it was about how technology acts as an amplifier and accelerant for some of our worst impulses. The metaphor’s not subtle, but it’s effective: new technology and media acts as a dark, distorted reflection of ourselves, they’re (all together now!) a black mirror to mankind.
So, having dismissed FCH’s argument, I got started on the third series of Black Mirror – and found that, yeah, it was kinda bullshit. Continue reading
You know how this story ends. It ends the same way as every story does, if we’re being honest. “Happily ever after” sounds nice, but it is really only a comforting fiction. All stories move towards the same end, mine, yours, everyone’s. Does that make them bad stories? Is every story that’s honest also depressing?
Then again, what choice do we have? And, if we admit to ourselves – not just occasionally, with a start, but with every breath – that every story ends the same way, would we still choose to live those stories? Could we even, without our hearts breaking constantly?