Monday, April 13, 2009

April Showers: Changeling

April Showers evenings @ 11 all month long

Showers in real life are comforting and cleansing. In the movies, they're often harrowing ... if you survive them that is. If my math is correct there are five types of shower/horror in the movies.
  1. being murdered
  2. being raped
  3. being spied on (possibly for the purposes of #1 or #2)
  4. seeing something you didn't expect to see (like blood or Kevin Bacon's penis)
  5. being violently hosed down... more specialized. It's generally spotted only in the wilds of prison movies or in the sub genre of Women's Pictures dealing with the martyred crusader. Think Meryl Streep in Silkwood or this recent demonstration from Angelina Jolie in Changeling.

Most of us will never experience the hose down (water fights on your childhood lawn don't count) so who knows if it's as painful as it always looks? The point is surely humiliation, rather than pain. It's another chance to build yet more sympathy for the heroine.

This isn't meant as a knock against Clint Eastwood (calm down) but why must workers in unfortunately dehumanizing facilities like asylums or prisons always be portrayed as evil themselves? This happens in a lot of movies, not just Changeling. When Eastwood grants these actresses shots of their own they're completely unforgiving and possibly malevolent.

Evil Worker #1 "spread your legs" she intones mercilessly
Evil Worker #2 has no voice. She wields her hose with committed intensity

Maybe these two ladies could just as easily have starred in a Woman's Picture themselves? Perhaps they're widows or hard up single mothers like Christine Collins? How easy was it for them to get jobs in the 1920s? Maybe at the beginning of their movie they were circling want ads just like Erin Brockovich did in hers. Maybe this is the first job they could find to feed their kids and they hate it with a passion? Surely not everyone who works at miserable jobs is evil themselves?

Hunger is the only recent film I can think of that understands that it can be even more emotionally potent and despairing to humanize the people doing the dehumanizing work. There was a brief shot of a crying prison guard after a particularly brutal "beat up the prisoners" sequence that was just devastating. Caricaturizing worker drones as evil simplifies your movie but it does dehumanizing work of its own.


Hayden said...

Angelina Jolie is my personal Hilary Swank.

Anonymous said...

Totally with you on Hunger. Great job showing how dehumanizing the situation was on all parties.

BeRightBack said...

This was actually my biggest issue, in a way, with "Pan's Labyrinth," of all things - if fascists are terrible in the vein of utterly evil-in-every-way villains (I mean the human villain in that movie), then isn't that just reassuring the audience that they would never be susceptable to becoming one, just as long as you know you'll never be mean to adorable little girls? But history, including the history that movie relies on to give it "depth," tells us something slightly different, I think.

I had a couple other issues with that movie, but that was my biggest one (although I am so obviously in the minority by not loving it unconditionally that I hesitate to even bring it up).

rodrigo said...

But Nathaniel, they BECAME evil by taking this job, but what Clint forgot to tell you is that they were homophobic AND anti-adoption, they thought Malawi was the tile of a song from Singing in the rain, that's how evil they were

rodrigo said...

* title

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

Nath, I have nothing to contribute to your points. I'd just like to emphasise how vital they are to good, productive cinema, and therefore how crucial it is that you don't let someone get away with such things even if they are a stoic 70+ humanist Republican with two Academy Awards and five Dirty Harry movies to their name.


Now allow me to contradict myself. Pan's Labyrinth is a fairy tale. The fascists in Pan's Labyrinth have as much to do with historical portraits as they do with Maleficent or the whale in Pinocchio. I certainly agree that del Toro's use[/exploitation] of history is problematic, and it's one of the main reasons his film is by no means a masterpiece. But purely as a gloomy fairy tale, I still find it entrancing and imaginative and thoroughly satisfying.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

** I should have put inverted commas round the 'humanist' in my above post. I don't think you can legitimately proclaim someone a humanist when they present the world in such reductive ways.

Anonymous said...

I find it deeply insulting that you put Streep in Silkwood in the same sentance as Holie in Changeling! Streep in brilliant and natural as ever in Silkwood. Angie... UGH. She's just terrible and unnatural.

Unknown said...

To respond to anonymous
My name is Nedda
You are simply an Aniston fan and you don't judge an actress like Jolie for her work. In Changeling she was great and you should learn to look at an actress without getting involved in the gossip crap.
I'd like to add that Eastwood in the scene of the hosepipe just shows how humiliating an act like that can be, especially considering that the mother in the movie already goes through a whole humiliating process.

Guy Lodge said...

Funny how some people assume that not liking Jolie as an actress automatically classifies you as a crazed Jennifer Aniston fan.

I say this as someone who appreciates Jolie's skills (though she sure doesn't get a chance to show 'em in "Changeling") but can never quite connect with her on screen.

Jim T said...

Nate, when you watch Where the Wild Things are, be prepared for a second viewing of Kevin and his sausage (not bacon). I found the pattern (evil lough).

Chris Na Taraja said...

Nat, you left out one catagory...BEING FABULOUS!

What about the opening of MOMMIE DEAREST, when Joan gets into her amazing many headed shower?

And there may be one more catagory after that...MAKING LOVE. I can't think of any particular scenes at the moment, but I'm sure there are a few.

but kudos for the other 5 catagories.

Wayne B. said...

Hear hear. It's always struck me as lazy writing when the guards/nurses are caricaturely evil in prison/mental institute movies. It's like the writer is trying to force emotion out of you rather than letting it grow organically. I understand that that type of position attracts certain personalities but not every guard/nurse can be a sadist.

Did some research into prisons for a class once and the information I gathered seemed to indicate that people in these type of positions disassociate themselves from their actions while at work. "This is the job, it's what is required. This is not who I am." Kinda scary actually.

kel said...

Angelina Jolie would be my Michelle Pfeiffer if there were no Michelle Pfeiffer.

amir_uk said...

Posts like this one are why I love you, N. Who else would come up with such an angle on a scant few minutes in a not-so memorable film, let alone draw it so well?


thank you Amir. I do try.

Magda said...

Nathaniel, (S)He Who Enlightens

Becca said...

Let me count the ways I hated Changeling...

What annoyed me in this scene was the bad make-up and the lazy editing. Angelina's many tattoos on her back were clearly visible. Why bother making a period piece when you don't even care enough to hide these tattoos?