Tag Archives: Movie

Bad is Better Than Average

I’ve always been able to watch bad movies, and enjoy watching them. It’s not a matter of enjoying the spectacle of incompetence or having some sadistic pleasure in witnessing disaster. I’m not particularly fond of imagining Raul Julia’s film career going up in flames after the Street Fighter movie.

I think there’s something genuinely entertaining about the bizarre show that a bad movie provides – with its caricature-like characters, the strange and stilted lines voiced by the actors (hello, StarWars Episode I), the janky special effects. Such movies tend to amuse me much more than the majority of comedies. I guess I was never one to enjoy laughing when I knew that was what was expected of me.

An average movie offends me a lot more than a bad movie – the kind of movie that has done nothing obviously wrong, but doesn’t excite either, doesn’t teach anything, doesn’t fan the flames of any kind of emotion. It’s just life-filler.

Boring is worse than bad.

The Act of Killing

How would we feel if the ruling party in Germany was still the Nazi party? If the people who committed the holocaust had not only avoided international justice, but also boasted of such atrocities as if they had been acts of heroism?

There is such a place today. In Indonesia, the regime that tortured and murdered millions of innocents who opposed it, remains in power. And the murderers celebrate their deeds before the children of those they killed.

In the film “The Act of Killing” (2012), the director “deceived” the criminals so that they simulated their past acts, believing that the documentary would serve to glorify them. Thus we see how these people interrogated their enemies, how they dismembered children in front of their mothers.

On occasion, a bit of creative excess makes the movie acquire a hallucinatory quality, almost as if it were a fevered dream. But even this is not able to spare us the true terror of the film: these are people like us.

Thanos and the Problem of Exponential Growth

Spoilers for the latest Avengers movie. You have been warned.

Yesterday I explained why Thanos’ victory – and the reasons for him achieving it – made the latest Avengers movie a more interesting and serious film. But it’s achievement is stained by a couple factors:

  1. This is not the end of the story arc, and the next film will surely nullify the events of this one.
  2. The “end” toward which Thanos has struggled for and reached does not make any sense at all.

Let’s start with #1, which is easier to explain.

Thematically, the former movies of the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe series have set a heroic tone (as opposed to tragic).

This latest film was a pleasant surprise, but let’s face it, it doesn’t make sense that such a series  – one where most movies up until now ended in a positive way – should be committed to a tragic outcome. It would be the equivalent of ending Sesame Street with a funeral!

And this is not too bad. I enjoyed the ending of this movie, but I also appreciate a body of work that has thematic consistency.

Point #2 is more problematic, as it isn’t coherent with the character of Thanos; a villain, yes, but a controlled, rational, and stoic villain. Let us start with a step-by-step deconstruction of Thanos’s quest:

a) Thanos’ concern: That life in the universe is spreading faster than the universe can sustain it. The exacerbated consumption of resources will eventually result in total extinction.

b) Thanos’ solution: Let’s eliminate half of all life in the universe.

c) Thanos’ initial method: Traveling from planet to planet and randomly executing half the population. (Not very efficient.)

d) Thanos’ plan: Combine the power of the Infinite Stones to gain the divine ability to manipulate reality. With this power, Thanos can, with a simple thought (and apparently a snap of fingers) annihilate half of all living things in the universe. (Very efficient.)

Concern (a) seems legitimate to me. But the original solution (b) does not look great. This is because life spreads exponentially, while the resources that sustain it do not. That is, the best that Thanos can hope for with his extermination strategy is to delay universal extinction by a googolplex of years, give or take a decade.

But given the extremely limited means that Thanos possessed (c), I could not find a better solution to the problem. It is extraordinarily easier to kill people (we have the adequate technology ever since the first primate grabbed a rock) than to generate resources at a rate that equals or exceeds reproductive factors.

The problem is that (d) changes everything. By acquiring the capacity to manipulate reality on a universal scale, a minimum of imagination and intellect – two things that Thanos has to spare, as he has proved through his victory – would be enough to come up with a better solution than (b).

There is no logical reason why a being with the ability to eliminate half the life in the universe with the snap of his fingers does not have equivalent ability to multiply resources. Certainly, a being of such power can create empty parallel universes, ready for colonization; or increase the expansion rate of our own universe; or originate new, infinitely increasing sources of energy.

Conceptually, none of these things should be more complicated than making half the population of the universe randomly disappear. And there is no logical reason for Thanos not to have the ability to understand this.

It’s a shame that Thanos’ brilliant character conceptualisation in this movie  has been tarnished by such a narrative hole. A great villain, yes. But he’s no Ozymandias.