April 4, 2005

Narratives [Open Thread]

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at April 4, 2005 1:02 AM

Daylight Savings Time has been messing with my mind all day. I spent the weekend catching up on teaching stuff, but at least had a chance to see a movie.

Sin City: Robert Rodriguez set out to create a faithful adaptation of the original Frank Miller graphic novels, and although I haven't read the source material, I was amazed at how much this movie looked like a comic book. The cinematography, especially the sparse use of color, was very successful in this regard.

The negative reviews of this film are focusing on how disturbing the graphic violence is. I agree, it's very disturbing, but I found that this added to my appreciation for the movie rather than detracting from it. While the style of the movie is comic-book noir, the real genre is actually horror: it is a monster movie, with the serial killer Kevin and the Yellow Bastard being two of the monsters. But the real monster is the city itself, a society whose institutions are so corrupt that the only way to fight evil is to adopt evil's methods. It's the Nietszchean aphorism in movie form: He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. When you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you. And I won't deny that there's a sense of gazing into the abyss while watching Sin City.

What sets the heroes (to the extent that they are heroic at all) apart from the villains is that although they often use the same brutal methods, the heroes do so not for their own advancement but for the benefit of others that they are protecting (or avenging). Each of the three plotlines involves the emergence of selfless behavior in an otherwise nihilistic landscape, and which in each case drives the protagonist to undertake a hopeless struggle against an unbeatable foe. I found afterward that it was this narrative form that stuck in my brain rather than the violence: I had a dream the night after seeing the movie that played out like a Sin City vignette with the violence muted. The strong elements of the dream were the narrative ones: the struggle, the hopelessness of the situation, the determination to defend a loved one. Whereas the violent elements from the movie didn't really reappear: the fights I dreamed were hazy and lacked detail.

I definitely agree with Matt Yglesias: some things should be hard to watch, and Sin City is meant to be this way. And so I both liked the movie and was disturbed by the violence; I'm now interested in reading the original Frank Miller material, and I may see the movie again before it leaves the theaters if I get a chance.

The Decemberists: Picaresque: These lyrics aren't the usual fare: eschewing traditional rock subjects, the Decemberists are more likely to launch into, say, a nine-minute ballad of revenge on the high seas. Sometimes it works for me and sometimes it just seems weird, although even the weirder ones have been growing on me. One that I liked from the start was "We Both Go Down Together".


I just wanted to say, I think you have an excellent point about how people are grouping Sin City as a "comic-book" movie, without realizing that comics cover many different genres, including horror. One of the reasons I love comics so much is that innate flexibility - Sandman for example would not exist if there wasn't room to tell non "comic-book"-y stories.

Posted by: Zifnab | April 4, 2005 4:25 PM

In a bizzare, blogosphere-meets-real life moment, here I am in Austin reading your comments about "Sin City" while volunteering at our local public radio station's pledge drive, and I look up to see Robert Rodriquez himself walking in the door of the building.

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I just saw the director...


Posted by: Dave | April 6, 2005 12:28 PM

Yo. Hey Gazebo, there's some HIGHLY PERTINENT news re: the Cookie Monster that you ought to be blogging, just FYI.

Posted by: Lemming | April 9, 2005 2:30 PM

Lemming: You're right, I should definitely make my opinion known on this development. Probably later today...

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | April 10, 2005 3:03 PM
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