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April 10, 2011

*Spoilers* Sucker Punch *Spoilers*
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:16 PM * 209 comments

Once again it’s time for Red Mike Goes to the Movies!

Over in Open Thread 156, comment #455 and following, there’s mention of controversy surrounding the movie Sucker Punch.

It’s showing near me! (Near in the north country meaning “well over an hour by car.”) So I’m going to see it tonight, and report back to y’all.

No spoilers yet, but when I get back, there will be!


Spoilers will be here!
Apparently, in the Great State of Vermont, in order to get into an insane asylum you have to be a hot chick.

See, there are five hot chicks, only they’re crazy, and this is their story. It’s Inception meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s got all kinds of nested reality, and you can only figure out which layer of reality you’re in by checking how much eye makeup everyone is wearing, and whether it’s shot through a brown filter or a blue filter. Unfortunately, there isn’t a baseline level of reality, so when you get to the shocking conclusion that it was Only A Dream, after the M. Night-level Twist (the “sucker punch” of the title), it doesn’t matter.

But since none of the viewpoint characters are sane (not that sticking with POV is a priority here), it’s okay that that doesn’t make any sense either.

Okay, let’s run through this one.

We start on a stage. It’s got a proscenium and everything, and the walls are clearly flats. A young lady in PJs sits on a bed. We push in on her, and the camera turns, and now we’re inside a house. This is a beautiful young lady, who has a sweet young sister, and a dead mother. Just recently dead, like in the next room. And she has a wicked step-father who is a fat ugly pig who smokes cigars, and tries to rape his step-daughters. This is all in brown filters, with skies that look like they came from someone’s screen-saver; in other words, we aren’t in literal reality here.

Well, one thing leads to another, and our young lady scratches the guy’s face, then she does some crawling around on drain pipes outside, gets his chrome-plated .45, and tries to shoot him in a no-jury-in-the-world-would-convict kinda way. But! He’s already killed her little sister, so the cops come and a doctor shoots something in her arm, and the step-father drives her off to an insane asylum somewhere in the greater-Burlington area (not looking like any Burlington I’ve ever seen). There, the oily orderly with the key marked “Liberty” hanging around his neck (“subtle” doesn’t seem to be in this film’s color palette), takes charge of her, and she and he and the step-father go to the theater where the head psychiatrist is using Acting Therapy on that very stage that we saw at the film’s opening. By getting the young ladies to act out their traumas, they can be cured!

This is all explained by the oily orderly to the step-father, in some of the worst Maid-and-Butler dialog imaginable. But that’s still too subtle; we rapidly shift to As-You-Know-Bob. The Oily Orderly and the Step-Father discuss the Step-Father’s evil plans while standing directly behind the young lady. This is so that both she, and the audience, will know those evil plans; he’s bribed the orderly to forge the psychiatrist’s signature to a form ordering a lobotomy on this young lady, so that she can’t tell her story to the police! The circuit-riding lobotomist will be there just five days hence! Woo! Ticking clock!

Right around now we switch to the next level removed from reality, to the world of blue filters and way too much eye makeup. The young lady is now the new girl in a House of Ill Repute, where Rich Guys come to watch the young ladies dance (because this is a PG-13 movie, dance is all they do).

We meet the rest of the cast of Beautiful Young Ladies. It turns out that on this level of reality, the young lady is named “Baby Doll.” There are two more blondes, “Rocket” and someone else, and a pair of interchangeable brunettes, whose names I don’t recall. One of the brunettes, however, is Ethnic, to help you tell them apart. Not that you need to, since they’re interchangeable.

The psychiatrist is now revealed to be the madame/dance coach of this house of Ill Repute, and the Oily Orderly is the pimp. He now wears a pencil moustache, along with too much eye makeup.

All the young ladies are expected to dance. And when the madame turns on her tape recorder, Baby Doll goes off to fantasy world, which is even more sepia than before. She’s now wearing a Japanese School-girl sailor suit, and standing in front of an Oriental-style temple. She goes in, where an old duffer tells her that she’s on a quest to gain freedom, tells her which plot coupons she has to collect (a map, fire, a knife, a key, and some fifth thing that she’ll know when she gets there), gives her her weapons (a katana and a chrome-plated .45) and sets her loose to fight some eighteen-foot-tall samurai armed with electric-powered Gatling guns.

Now you might think that her flashing her panties was the entire point of this movie. Nothing could be further from the truth! When you’re wearing a miniskirt and you’re kicking an eighteen-foot-tall-samurai in the head, your panties are just naturally going to show. It’s just the way things happen.

So, she gets back from this sepia fantasy sequence to the blue-filter fantasy level, to discover that while she’d been off talking with mystic duffers and kicking samurai ass, she’d been doing a dance of such supreme grace and beauty (or perhaps so hawt) that it has the power to cloud men’s minds.

Because we were paying attention during the opening sequence, we also know that those items she’s supposed to collect are all things that exist near-at-hand. The map is on the wall in the orderly room, the fire is a cigarette lighter (cunningly embossed with a dragon logo) that one of the guards carries, the cook has the knife. The katana is the mini-katana letter opener that the wicked step-father has, and the .45 is the .45. And she really is Keyser Söze. No, really.

After dropping back to the not-so-deep sepia level of reality, Baby Doll explains to her new friends that if they get these objects, they can all get out. Because her dance has the power to cloud mens’ minds, she will dance, and each time she dances, the others will go and get one of the items. They think this is an insanely stupid plan. But, since they are all insane, they go along with it.

So, they do this. First stop, World War I, where the Kaiser has deployed steam-and-clockwork powered zombies to man the trenches on the western front. Which is kinda cool. Our young heroines go over the top to fetch the map from a bunker on the German side of the lines. (I don’t know about you, but when I go over the top, I dress in high heels and fishnet stockings. Doesn’t everyone?)

After quite a bit of running around and much firing of full-automatic weapons, they have the map, and it’s on to phase two!

And so on. If they weren’t insane, they’d have figured out that they didn’t need this elaborate plan.

A couple of fantasy sequences later (WWII bomber vs. dragon! Daring train robbery!) the Oily Orderly/Slimy Pimp realizes that something is up, and also notices that the two interchangeable brunettes don’t really have anything to do, so he shoots them.

Let me skip ahead a bit. The “plot” bits are only there to keep the really neat action/CGI fantasy sequences from running into each other. Finally it’s down to just two chicks, Baby Doll and the blonde whose name I forget. They have all the objects, so off they go on their daring escape! They make a Molotov cocktail and light off a supply room. Then they use the master key to open the various doors along the way, heading for the exits shown on the map. When they get there, the final set of doors open because there are big signs all over the place that say, “In case of fire, all doors will open.”

So, they’re out. Then Baby Doll uses her Skimpy Outfit to distract the guys in the courtyard, to allow the other blonde to escape. Surprise! The other blonde was the protagonist all along and this was her story! Bet you never saw that coming!

Baby Doll gets lobotomized on schedule, just seconds before the police arrive to ask her for her story about what happened that fatal night when her little sister got raped and murdered. Sucks to be her, but she’s happy now.

The Other Blonde eventually hops a bus for Fort Wayne, under a sepia computer-generated sky, so we know that we still haven’t gotten all the way to consensus reality.

The End.

If they weren’t all insane, they’d have figured out how to escape in fifteen minutes, without having to do the dance of the seven veils or fight shiny-chrome robot gunmen. But that would make for a twenty-minute movie, and no neat computer-generated action/adventure sequences, so that wasn’t going to happen.

All the chicks are spectacularly beautiful, and wear just what they need to in order to keep that PG rating. They fire a lot of full-automatic weapons and leap about. All the guys are fat, ugly, disgusting, or some combination of fat, ugly, and disgusting.

Imagine The Matrix as written by M. Night Shyamalan, casting no one you’ve ever heard of, and shot as soft-core porn. That’s Sucker Punch.

Comments on *Spoilers* Sucker Punch *Spoilers*:
#1 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 06:43 PM:

"Sucker Punch" is the name of her boyhood sled!

#2 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 06:52 PM:

"My god, it's... a drink recipe!!"

#3 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 06:54 PM:

Oh my God, it's full of pants!

#4 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 07:22 PM:

The drink is made from squid and octopus: they call it a, "squick".

#5 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 08:09 PM:

She is Keyser Soze.

#6 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 08:16 PM:

The lamprey is a ventriloquist.

#7 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 08:34 PM:

Darth Vader is her father.

#8 ::: Singing Wren ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 08:36 PM:

She hid it on the envelope.

#9 ::: Claire ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 08:50 PM:

And the envelope was on the mantelpiece....

#10 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 08:51 PM:

After he tries to drop her off and finds her sweater on the gravestone, there's a hook hanging from the car door because the call was coming from inside the house.

#11 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 08:54 PM:

9
next to the squid?

#12 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 09:03 PM:

The squid turns out to be a very tall octopus.

#13 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 09:11 PM:

She's actually Bad Horse.

#14 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 09:19 PM:

Terry @ 4: Actually, it's made of people.

#15 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 09:37 PM:

She's living inside a nature preserve.

#16 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 09:37 PM:

She's been dead the whole time.

#17 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 09:40 PM:

She *is* the mad wife in the attic.

#18 ::: Sherwood ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 09:58 PM:

Red Mike is back in action!

*rubbing hands*

#19 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 10:05 PM:

She's actually a guy!

#20 ::: landondyer ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 10:23 PM:

The ruby slippers were her way home all the time!

#21 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 10:31 PM:

It says "The End," but then there's a question mark. A QUESTION MARK!

#22 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 10:32 PM:

It was all a dream, and then it started happening again.

#23 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 10:56 PM:

The "Fear Flasher" and the "Horror Horn" are dragged out of cinematic retirement. Also, "Percepto."

#24 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 11:03 PM:

The Statue of Liberty shows up at the end.

#25 ::: VictorS ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 11:08 PM:

The protagonist is really Jean Grey, now back from the dead again and even more powerful.

#26 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 11:16 PM:

We'll return to our radio play "Nine-Fingered Frodo and the Ring of Doom" after station identification.

#27 ::: J Homes ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 11:17 PM:

Cadbury Moose @3

That was, roughly, our local film reviewer's opinion.

J Homes.

#28 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 11:26 PM:

...and then he hits the bottom of the rope, and it turns out that the whole thing about it breaking and him escaping and running through the woods was all his imagination.

#29 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 11:35 PM:

Kong dies.

#30 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2011, 11:52 PM:

"The greatest cinematic event since 'War God of Israel' and 'The Thing With Three Heads!'"

#31 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 12:38 AM:

I thought that was "The Thing with Three Souls", Bruce....

#32 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 12:54 AM:

Adding to the spoilers:
I read elsewhere that the dead mother left her money to the daughters, and evil stepdad wanted it for his own use. Hence the murder (or at least homicide: it was said, where I saw this, that the older girl, in trying to protect her sister, accidentally killed her), so evil stepdad could get control of the money.

#33 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 01:11 AM:

You can keep trying, but I'm not likely to change my mind: Barbarella remains the only appropriate double-feature with Zardoz.

#34 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 01:18 AM:

Tom: you're quite right. I overdid yesterday and my head has been stripping threads ever since--should be back to normal tomorrow.

#35 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 01:56 AM:

While I have no objection to skimpily-dressed cute chicks with guns, it would be kind of nice if a film made sense sometimes.

(And my idea of a cute chick doesn't quite seem to match the Hollywood pattern.)

#36 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 05:41 AM:

We can't have seen the same film. All of that exposition and plot was not in the version I saw, it was just random images, juxtapositioned next to each other in sequence. With CGI and explosions, to keep the mugs happy.

No, I didn't pay for the ticket, that at least is something to be happy for.

#37 ::: Matthew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 06:45 AM:

I think it was a serious mistake to try and squeeze this into PG-13. It meant it was even a failure at titillation. Plus, it meant that the camera cut away for every death and made it less obvious what actually happened in what story it actually had.

Instead they should have embraced its cheesy exploitation nature.

Personally, I was impressed by how un-sexy they managed to make it, in a you-guys-suck-at-this kind of way. It kind of felt that they felt guilty enough about what they were doing to half-ass everything.

#38 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 07:20 AM:

When I saw the promo stuff at the cinema, I thought the giant robot rabbit with the chainguns suggested that this would be a lame Alice-in-Steampunkland kind of thing, but this sounds much, much worse than that.

#39 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 08:05 AM:

I agree with all of Jim's observations, but the movie did something simple and brilliant that carried it for me.

The movie established immediately the inherent deadness and sterility of objectification. Then the babydoll character virtually dips a brush in that deadness and sterility and begins painting with it. That was no less valid an impact for me than the way punk and Zen design with underprocessed elements and emptiness, and no less valid than how pop art designs with the elements of our shared commercial culture.

I spent an afternoon a while ago researching Henry Darger, and I went to this movie because it seemed to try to realize what he seemed to try to do. Darger was so isolated he essentially didn't know there was such a thing as a second gender. Only the roles. His naked little girls leading each other through charnel houses and abattoirs were portrayed with boy bits. But people still wonder if he had any part in a child-murder in the news records show haunted him, when all he wanted to to was reconcile the samurai-like purity of Uncle Tom's Cabin with the bloody generations of history that followed.

Sucker Punch is a movie that says even someone like Henry Darger has something to say to us. And as a fable it still all adds up. And that seems to be the reason everyone is hating on it. We can't get over our own failure to shut-out the world.

Now we live in a culture that nurtures neighborhoods where itf you send your kid on a 10-minute walk to his soccer practice, your neighbors will call the cops on you, and they will respond. It seems a never-ending hysteria.

#40 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 08:42 AM:

(Reads description. Shakes head. Goes back to earlier game.)

They were twins all along!

#41 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 09:31 AM:

Baby Doll was actually a man!

...I guess not.

#42 ::: David Forbes ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 09:38 AM:

My thoughts on how Snyder came up with the idea for SUCKER PUNCH:

“Because it’ll LOOK FUCKING COOL!” How Zack Snyder wrote SUCKER PUNCH

http://www.davidforbes.net/archives/2342

#43 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 10:00 AM:

They were actually other people in a completely different movie.

Two! Two different movies. Three?

#44 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 10:13 AM:

Yeah, the Wicked Stepfather learned that the two daughters inherited everything, but that's in on-stage-in-the-madhouse sepia-tinted computer-generated-sky land, so it's still in someone's dream world, not in consensus reality. And whose POV was that in, anyway? Not Baby Doll's, and certainly not in Other Blonde's.

I'm still not sure why they needed the Knife anyway. Assuming the escape plan in Madhouse Level, if it worked, they wouldn't need the knife. And if it didn't work, they still didn't need the knife.

As far as doing the Dance that Clouds Men's Minds for the cook, why? Earlier in the film, Baby Doll had gotten that knife away from the cook pretty easily.

This is the single most annoying part of this film.

The fat, piglike rapist cook has these knives, y'see. On blue-filter whorehouse level, where Baby Doll dances, one of the interchangeable brunettes goes to the studio to get the tape recorder with the music tapes. Unfortunately, she is caught by the madame and pimp. Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, where the cook has a radio (which is tuned to the All Mozart's Requiem, All The Time channel). Baby Doll is all set to dance (and I was kinda looking forward to the fantasy-land with skimpy clothing and machine guns she'd go to when inspired by Mozart), but fortunately, the other young ladies find a rock station, so she can get going.

In Deep Sepia Video-game land, our heroines are on a helicopter armed with rockets. Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to keep a bomb (code-name Knife) aboard a train from getting to a city. It's timed to blow up there. This train is filled with hordes of robot gunmen, all shiny chrome. So they go through the video-game shooting everything in sight part of the level, then do the mini-game that involves disarming the bomb. But! Then the radio shorts out on the water on in the floor getting to the frayed power line. So the dance ends with the mission incomplete! The fat piglike cook awakes from his dance-inspired stupor and stabs Rocket. She dies! Then the music starts again, because in this world power from shorted out extension cords works when the plot needs it. The dance continues, and Rocket doesn't make it, and the bomb get to the city and it explodes, presumably killing everyone there.

Because our clever chickies don't notice, "Hey, we're in an armed helicopter! We can blow up the track head of the train, problem solved!"

This is the point at Whorehouse Level that the entire escape plan goes wrong. But! Even though the plan is destroyed, because the knife was irrelevant, the plan works anyway!

At Madhouse level (and also at Whorehouse level), if our young ladies wanted to go for the fast and easy, rather than the incredibly elaborate and subject to failure --but with far more underwear and automatic weapons--plan, they could have gone into the kitchen, cold-cocked the cook with one of the broom sticks that are conveniently all over the place, and taken his knife. One of them goes to the oily orderly/slimy pimp and says, "You have to come to the kitchen, the cook's taken sick!" and when he arrives, cold-cock him with a broom stick. Key is now in our possession. With the oily orderly/slimy pimp out of the way, another one goes to the office, and grabs the map right off the wall. No need to photocopy it a section at a time. That kitchen is full of fire in the gas ranges. All the fire they could ever want. No need to filch a lighter off a guard (madhouse-sepia level)/mayor (whorehouse-blue level). Then hey-ho, five alarm fire, out the door, and when the fire-fighters arrive, escape in the confusion. Go cross-country, avoiding areas of high tactical value, cross the border into Canada, and they're home free.

But do they do that? No! Because they're all insane. And they like prancing around in their undies.

Don't get me wrong: I don't mind watching young ladies, any one of them good-looking enough to get a job as a Hollywood actress, prance around in their undies. But if you're going that way, and that's all the movie has going for it, you should go for the Full Monty.

This was a two-hour study in Unreliable Narrator. The madhouse-sepia level, while it's closer to reality than the whorehouse-blue level, still doesn't make any sense whatever, and has lots of cues that this isn't consensus reality either. So you're left with a puzzle that has no solution except, hey! that's a really low-cut corset!

#45 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 10:38 AM:

If they took the knife from the cook directly, and he made the institution aware of their explicit plan to escape, they would have gotten the kind of attention that would have thwarted them from the get go.

So Scott Glenn had the option a) of telling Baby Doll to sacrifice someone else, then herself, to help who knows how many of her fellow inmates escape, or b) to tell her her fifth item is the knife. Both won't be received by Baby Doll the same way, but they result in the same outcome.

If he tells her to sacrifice another then herself, it isn't a direct outcome from that for her to rationalize to herself, "We'll be dead, but they'll never have us." Then she'll never adopt her quest.

It's one of the few opportunities to explain something (however well) Snyder passed on, but in the thinnest sense, it still seems to add up.

#46 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 10:51 AM:

If they take the knife from the cook directly (and why did they need it anyway?), they're moving fast: By the time anyone notices the cook is tied up in the pantry, they're gone. Once they decide to move it's fifteen minutes, end to end, before they're all over the wall.

But they don't do that, because they're all nuts in the head. So they really do belong in the lunatic asylum (but not this one, because this one makes Willowbrook look like a spa).

#47 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 11:45 AM:

Oh God. "But the Kids'll love it!"

#48 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 11:45 AM:

Choosing to slip the knife from the cook and tie him up at knifepoint risks one of 5 or 6 people in the room panicking. Someone's heartrate shoots up to 180. Then maybe getting stabbed stupidly becomes the least of the cook's concerns. Or all other attention goes to the inmate who's panicking, but he goes into some kind of zone (hell, what do the inmates really know about the world outside and beyond their years) where what's wise in him retakes the knife. Then the inmates receive the kind of attention where nothing they do won't be thwarted.

Again, this thread of rationalization qualifies as the thinnest kind of integrity, but it still seems to work on paper. How am I supposed to deny the movie this?

#49 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 11:48 AM:

...also, if they tie up the cook, who's going to get him out of the building after they set the fire?

#50 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 12:30 PM:
(and why did they need [the knife] anyway?)

Specifically, Scott Glenn in the fantasy-adventure setting is a manifestation of Baby Doll's powerful unconscious wisdom.

If Scott Glenn wanted her to refuse the quest, he could have told her to achieve freedom from the institution (the goal of her own choice), she would have to sacrifice one of the inmates, then herself.

But he is helping her with what she said she wanted, so he won't say what will prompt her to give up her quest. To accomplish the same, he simply tells her another truth, which is that to attain her freedom, her fourth goal is retrieving the knife.

Suicide isn't freedom. Freeing someone, anyone, from the institution demonstrates the kind of control she can call freedom with personal contentment.

#51 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 01:57 PM:

We're smart people who expect things to have meaning. Like jujitsu [sp?], this strength is being used against us.

I think David @42 has the only explanation that really holds up.

#52 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 02:52 PM:

Sounds like someone was told "see how stupid and incoherent you can make a movie, and have it sell anyway because of scantily-clad hot chicks."

Mike Leung 49: ...also, if they tie up the cook, who's going to get him out of the building after they set the fire?

Who cares? He's a pig rapist, which makes is OK to let him burn to death, in a Hollywood movie. In real-world ethics, not so much, of course, but I can't see this as a relevant criticism in a movie like this.

#53 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 03:24 PM:

Actually, the only way I can make this make sense is for the whole thing to be the stepfather's masturbatory fantasy.

Or maybe the writer's.

#54 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 03:29 PM:

Lila @53

What, you mean authorial self-inser—never mind...PG-13.

#55 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 03:35 PM:

Xopher @52: Jim asked why they didn't tie-up the cook, and I provided an answer. So, literally, Jim is who cares.

Where ridicule (ie you trying to make it sound like common sense I shouldn't have responded to Jim by asking who cares) is meant to deter, I think we should always welcome the ridicule meant to deter an answer of "they didn't want to participate in murder" that satisfies a question. Ridicule is not a reason to withhold such an answer.

#56 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 03:45 PM:

I accept no whinging from anyone who saw any advertising for this imitation turkey. (It has to be industrial product; a natural turkey couldn't be that bad.)

#57 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 03:47 PM:

They don't actually need to set the building on fire.

The fire alarm pull box is right there in the hall where any of them can pull the thing at any time and get all the doors to open, create confusion, and get them all outside.

Then, over the hills and far away.

Since seeing this movie and writing this post, I've been catching up on the reviews. (It is my policy never to read a review prior to seeing a movie. I go in as a naive viewer (other than my own experience in seeing other movies).) I've seen it suggested that the entire thing, from first shot to last, is Baby Doll Owl-Creek-Bridging it during the instant of her lobotomy, and this is the random synapse-firing of her brain as it's being destroyed, the two hours of the film actually occurring in about half a second.

That makes as much sense as anything, and is a valid reading, but it still doesn't make me like the film any better. I personally think that the reason she doesn't react much to what's happening around her and her gaze is unfocused throughout the film is because that's what you look like when what's really in front of you is a green screen.

#58 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 04:11 PM:

I think it's valid to buy they needed to set the fire. The outcome of the way events unfolded was handicapping the hunt for the lone fugitive. Besides the actual destruction, there were fewer witnesses and resources available.

For the sisters, freedom meant reaching Indiana, but for the Baby Doll character, freedom didn't mean reaching a destination. It meant attaining a level of control, the metric of which was someone's freedom from the institution. I don't think it makes me damaged if I buy in the movie the need to set the fire. Which for a movie I'm only hearing everyone else call stupid and execrable, I hope it isn't held against me my need to lay the case why I'm not damaged for being glad was made.

Like I said, for me, the single gesture of the characters taking their own objectification and designing with dead and sterile allegories carried the movie for me, and the thinnest integrity of rationality held it together. You can know how a magic trick works, and it can still be performed to hold your attention. I don't need this trick to fool me for it to hold my attention.

#59 ::: Froth ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 04:54 PM:

Mike @58: "...the characters taking their own objectification and designing with dead and sterile allegories..."

I'm not sure what you mean by this. Would you mind rephrasing it in layman's terms?

#60 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 04:58 PM:

Oh, I'll be the first to admit that the film is visually stunning, and it has a first-rate soundtrack.

What I'm regretting is that the load-bearing walls don't support the weight. Alice in Wonderland is rigorously logical. I'm not seeing any kind of structure to this film; Macbeth's tale told by an idiot is the closest summary I can find.

If all you have is the clues to a crossword puzzle, you may not be able to recreate the grid, but you can intuit that perhaps someone more clever than you would be able to. I'm pretty darned clever, but any time I try to create a structure here, I become profoundly aware that I'm the one who created it, not the writer.

Is this a Rorschach test with a rock score? Perhaps. Exactly when this film was set is a mystery to me. We see an IBM Selectric, so it must be the 'sixties or later. But by 1960, lobotomies were already vanishingly rare. In the fantasy fighting sequences, the young ladies carry, at times, weapons that weren't developed until the 1990s or later. When did any of our potential viewpoint characters run into the items that they see and use? They seem to have a nearly-encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture in the first decade of the 21st century.

A movie that's meant to be deep should be ... deep. It should be able to stand up to thought, analysis, discussion. This one, not so much, other than discussions that seem to go to WTF?

But it does look awesome on screen.

#61 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 05:41 PM:

They had to set fire to the building, because pulling a fire alarm when there's no fire is a misdemeanor.

#62 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 05:44 PM:

Mike Leung: you misunderstand my "who cares?" I meant "why would the characters care if this schmuck burns to death?" I accept that you think they would (after all, you've seen the movie and I certainly never will), even though I'm not sure I fully grasp your reasons for thinking so.

#63 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 05:59 PM:

Froth (@59),

I don't think it's hard for anyone to trip over replying to a request for a layman's explanation of anything, but here is my honest-to-god attempt to unpack what I'm referring to in as accessible a way as I know how (before I have to catch my train):

I happen to be rereading Moby-Dick right now, just past the introduction of Ahab as an interactive presence in the story. Ishmael goes into how a ship captain has control like a monarch, but without the royal comforts, there's a deadness to control. In a book about control, I've come across Ishmael's explicit observation there is no inherent enjoyment to control.

The objects of lust in the film are similarly portrayed deriving no enjoyment from their status as objects of lust (which is what I mean by objectification). I happened to be past the point in Moby-Dick I referred to, so the association of the objectification of the women and the deadness and sterility of their status as objects of lust seemed like common sense to make.

Then moving into the fantasy-adventure layer of the story, the movie introduces the allegorical imagery for the characters experiences as objects of lust.

Verbs need nouns for the verbs to perform on. Wisdom is, if anything, action. No verbs, no wisdom. Stories make us less helpless. That's what the fantasies give the characters for their ordeal of being left to starve on their own objectification.

(Similarly, religions are like languages in that they are representational. Words are not interchangeable for what they represent. In a similar way, what are conventionally considered true religions have references to their own deadness. The Abrahamic religions have the commandment against idolatry. Buddhism has the koan, and Nirvana is the Sanscrit word for nothing. However powerful he is, the life of an Indra is also ephemeral.)

Like I said, punk and Zen are essentially designing with rough elements and emptiness. Pop art is design with icons from our shared consumer culture. Portraying someone designing with dead and sterile imagery as an allegory for moving from paralyzing objectification to action and wisdom seems like a worthy breakthrough.

#64 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 06:05 PM:

I suspect Snyder wanted Sucker Punch to be his movie that gets people to talk by asking each other "what do you think happened?" like with 2001 or the much better, much more recent Source Code. Instead it just gets people to go "what?" which isn't the same thing. And I'm not sure Snyder can really tell the difference (I'm saying this as someone who has, inadvertently, seen every movie he's made but one). I don't think he gets unreliable narrator or open ended interpretations. What he does get is superkientic action scenes, which bodes well for his next movie, the new Superman reboot.

He does win points for at least trying to do something ambitious, even if he was overreaching. If more directors did this, we would have more uneaven attempts at something, which is an improvement over the slurry of sameness we have now.

#65 ::: Dr Rick ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 06:09 PM:

I saw this not expecting it to be interesting (I see a lot of movies, I pay by the month for cinema not by the film), and then found it was.

I think any attempt to suggest that it's aimed at titillation falls down on the fact that Snyder really can do visuals. If he wanted it to be titillating it would have been (and most obviously, he'd've left the dancing in - instead it was pointedly and completely omitted). He's not generally an incompetent director; I still think Watchmen is a masterpiece, and this is, if nothing else, a remarkable visual triumph, almost any shot from which could be used as a comic panel unmodified.

My own reading, which admittedly nobody else seems to share, is that this is almost the only movie I've seen that portrays dream-sequences with dream-logic rather than story-logic (as Inception very much didn't) - and as such has a sort of power and a definite artistic interest, and was (inevitably) not strong on narrative, dreams being what they are. I am ready to admit, though, that Snyder may have done that by accident. Even if it was deliberate, since nobody else noticed it I guess it was a failure anyway...

#66 ::: Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 06:15 PM:

"I still think Watchmen [the film] is a masterpiece"

Whoa, ya lost me there.

#67 ::: Froth ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 06:34 PM:

Mike @63

Thanks for getting back to me.

If I'm understanding correctly, you're saying that the girls use the dead-end imagery of their situation as building-blocks for their own, more empowering stories?

Your paragraph about religions containing their own negations and how this relates to language is going far over my head, but since it's a paranthetical, we can probably live with that.

#68 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 06:56 PM:

Mike Leung: I don't know that I think (having read it a good half dozen times) I'd agree that Moby Dick is about control. I also disagree that Wisdom = Action. I think wisdom is more a case of being aware of the consequence of action.

Then again, I don't know that I think Zen is about emptiness, but about essence it's just that to be able to see essence one has to see everything that the thing one is essentialising isn't.

#69 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 07:18 PM:

Keith Kisser @ #64: I suspect Snyder wanted Sucker Punch to be his movie that gets people to talk by asking each other "what do you think happened?"

Rashomon set the bar pretty high for that exercise.

#70 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 07:39 PM:

Lila@69:

And Sucker Punch was definitely no Rashomon.

On the flip side, did you know Kurasawa wanted to direct a Godzilla movie? That would have been one hell of a visual spectacle.

#71 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 07:58 PM:

If you want a dream movie with dream logic (and an empowered female lead), may I suggest the first Nightmare on Elm Street?

If Scott Glenn is a manifestation of Baby Doll's powerful unconscious wisdom, then, when he shows up in Sweet Pea's storyline at the very end, it means that we're still in Baby Doll's head, and Sweet Pea didn't get away after all. Which invalidates the reading that any one of them finding freedom was a win for Baby Doll.

Actually, I think that Scott Glenn is there because Charlie's Angels had Charlie, and he's Charlie.

#72 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 08:49 PM:

I think Phantom of the Paradise was a good example of dream logic in a film that was obviously a nightmare throughout it.

#73 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 08:55 PM:

James D. Macdonald: It is my policy never to read a review prior to seeing a movie. I go in as a naive viewer (other than my own experience in seeing other movies.

I can respect you for that. However, having suffered through "Death Becomes Her" years ago, I do check a few critics whose taste matches mine fairly well if I'm not sure if I want to see a film based on ads or trailers. (This has problems, as does everything: Rodger Ebert is such a sucker for romances or visuals that include something he's not seen before that he's less than reliable when it comes to films involving either ["Spawn" being a particularly egregious example], which means I look into the genre of the film before I check his reviews. Also, I'd love to know what the hell bit him before he trashed the script for "The Frighteners" which I consider one of the few tightly constructed ghost stories on film of the past 30 years and which I'd eagerly use in a screenwriting course should I ever teach one.)

#74 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 09:04 PM:

56
Do billboards and posters on the sides of buses count?

#75 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 09:25 PM:

Jim, it doesn't seem like an hardship to interpret Scott Glenn showing up as the bus driver as the contagiousness of Baby Doll's wisdom.

Terry:

I said Zen designs with emptiness, not that Zen is about emptiness. Saying a book designs a story with words isn't saying that books are about words.

I'm only reading Moby-Dick for the third time, but a reader can't help what s/he picks up from a reading.

This reading so far, whaling stands out as an ethnically-neutral allegory for the practice of slavery, and the story foreshadowing the fall of the south. Ishmael comments, on the outset of the book, life on a ship means tolerating taking flack from someone because it gets passed on. Ahab's honor disrupts this cycle, seeking revenge on a force of nature, white honor dragging him down in the end.

Honor is enforced respect. How is honor then established without control? Also, when Studio360 covered Moby-Dick, they devoted time to Laurie Anderson framing Moby-Dick as a story about control, so I'm going to have to hear a solid alternative -- either from someone's disagreement, or my reading -- to give up what seems a legitimate meaning inferred.

Also from the outset, Melville emphasized, in the process of hiring on board a ship, the ideal in commerce, of delegating and systematizing until you are irrelevant. Until the boat sails, Ahab isn't to be seen, and duties are run by delegation. It just seems like common sense Ahab's idleness (rooted in his control of the ship) fed his broken honor, maybe contrasting against creatures of the sea who are never idle.

As for wisdom being, if anything, action: implicit in what we call the 80/20% rule is that from a suite of options, the best option is 4 or 5 times more beneficial than the next best option. But if we could think our way to the best option, we would be able to teach genius. Teaching genius is something I think we all know doesn't happen.

The contrast to judgment is experience. The contrast to deliberation is action. We establish the practice of finding the options with most beneficial outcomes -- the practice of wisdom -- comes from trial and error. From taking action and gauging the outcomes. That's why I refer to action as the root of wisdom.

But like I think I've been saying, that's just how it seems to me.

Froth, I think I might instead phrase that: the girls use imagery exaggerating the challenges laid out in the story to establish landmarks to form a map, and populate roles to form a drama, to keep the concentration they need to implement their escape from drifting away in something like the next breeze.

#76 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 09:39 PM:

I'm glad for Mike and Dr. Rick that they saw interesting movies, but I think they had to half-create them.

For me, the abomination that was the filmed Watchmen told me about Zac Snyder as a storyteller. He loves cool visuals, enjoys romanticizing violence, and does not understand stories. By "does not understand stories" I mean that he does not understand character, theme, subtext, motivation, setting, dialogue, action, or any other element of narrative except spectacle.

#77 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 09:48 PM:

Terry: oh, you didn't challenge Moby-Dick is about control. Duh.

What was wrong with Watchmen is that Snyder removed all the "Moe Vernon" moments the book was grounded on, and tried to make Sin City from material that wasn't Sin City at all. It was terrible.

But my understanding is that subtext is by definition what the audience brings to a story. Snyder should alway present movies I can bring so much to the story.

#78 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 09:53 PM:

Mike Leung: I didn't say you didn't get that out of Moby Dick, I said I didn't. To paraphrase you, that others do, isn't going to convince me. I don't know what what to make of your comments on honor: Honor is an internal thing, so who/what enforcing it (respect is an external thing, often seen as how/what others perceive of one's sense of honor).

Where then is the control? It's self control.

As regards wisdom you didn't action was the root of wisdom, you said, "Wisdom is, if anything, action. The reader will take from that what seems to be there, and I don't see anything about root/cause/training. I see a direct statement of essence, Wisdom = action. The modifying clause "if anything," doesn't change that.

I also seem to not know what you mean when you say design. What aspect of zen are you telling us are "designed with emptiness"? I would say, as a philosophy, it's designed around pardox. As art forms it's designed around sparsity (the classic, "zen garden" of gravel and stones), but emptiness isn't the core of that, it's a counterpoint to the things.

So it's basic element isn't emptiness, but abstraction (and concretisation, but that shows up in the parables, not the koans; the meditation, or the art forms)

Obviously we have very different ways of seeing things.

#79 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 09:55 PM:

Mike Leung, No problem, and now I go to get my ends trimmed.

#80 ::: Karen ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 10:02 PM:

Haven't seen it, only know what I have read here. But based on that, if they had gotten the knife, would they have avoided the lobotomy? Like the littlest prince's arm staying a goose-wing because the shirt wasn't completed?

#81 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 11:00 PM:

Terry, I said "Wisdom is, if anything, action," because that's what I believe, and provided the explanation why. And I ended that explanation by saying, "That's why I refer to action as the root of wisdom," because in saying "Wisdom is, if anything, action," I believe I am referring to action as the root of wisdom.

Zen isn't paradoxical. Thought is paradoxical. The role of the koan is to highlight the inherent b.s. of thought, the role of meditation is to unburden you of thought, and meditation is considered the center of Zen. That is why I think it's fair to say Zen designs with emptiness.

#82 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 11:00 PM:

I don't see how getting the knife, or not getting the knife, would have changed anything.

(And if Melville meant Moby-Dick to symbolize the fall of the South, with Ahab dragged down by white pride, that would be remarkably prescient, seeing as Moby-Dick was published in 1851.)

#83 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2011, 11:35 PM:

@65: Dream logic, like "So I was in my old high school, and there were nazis there, and you were there only you were my math teacher, and my leg was stuck and it really bothered me?"

I'm not seeing that. It's got hyperstylized action sequences that do not obey standard physics- but they do obey predictable physics (possibly anime or video game physics). You throw a map up, it goes WAY up and takes a really long time to come down... but it does come down and it's still a map when it does. You're never washing your hands when all of a sudden you're holding someone's head under the water and you can't let go. (Inception, I agree, had dreams that bore no resemblance to actual dreams either.)

@76: I wish I didn't agree as much with your last point. I am a poor creator of fiction- unsubtle, sometimes awkward in my social interactions, bad at metaphor, prone to misunderstanding, and stereotypically left-brained. And yet I would have told a better story.

#84 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 01:43 AM:

Terry, I said "Wisdom is, if anything, action," because that's what I believe, and provided the explanation why. And I ended that explanation by saying, "That's why I refer to action as the root of wisdom," because in saying "Wisdom is, if anything, action," I believe I am referring to action as the root of wisdom.

Zen isn't paradoxical. Thought is paradoxical. The role of the koan is to highlight the inherent b.s. of thought, the role of meditation is to unburden you of thought, and meditation is considered the center of Zen. That is why I think it's fair to say Zen designs with emptiness.

Mike Leung: The root of a thing is not the thing.

I think we can dispose of the qualification, "If anything." which leaves, "Wisdom is action."

I happen to think some actions are better than others. Some actions are, IMO, unwise.

This is why I can't agree with this idea (and I never said you didn't believe it, I disagree with it), and I don't see how I am supposed to see the, very different idea of action being the root of wisdom.

Even that formulation fails to work for me, because doing the same thing, again and again and again, without learning from them (say spending $100 a week on lottery tickets) is action/i>, but it's not wise (it may be perfectly affordable but the difference between zero lottery tickets and 1 is the difference between having a chance of winning, and not. The next 99 tickets don't add to the practical odds, and so it's not what I would call wise (even if it's not foolish).

As I said, for me wisdom is the ability to foresee consequence. A person who says, "if you do 'x', 'y' is the likely outcome" and is right is what we call wise.

The person who merely does isn't. Even those who do, "without thinking," are only considered wise, if they make the right decision.

Wisdom isn't action, it's outcome.

I didn't say zen was paradoxical. I said, "I would say, as a philosophy, it's designed around pardox... but emptiness isn't the core of that, it's a counterpoint to the things. So it's basic element isn't emptiness, but abstraction...

I understand how koans work. I've studied zen. I'm not sure where my volumes of Suzuki are, but I've got them. As I said before I think we have very different understandings. I don't think meditation is the center of zen, anymore than I think being able to toss people around the room is the center of aikido. I think meditation is a foundational tool to coming to see the world as it is, and that the center of zen is seeing the world as it is.

#85 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 01:51 AM:

Crud: I was afraid I would do that. I quote the entire post by mistake. I dropped it into the comment window so I didn't have to either scroll, or flip windows.

#86 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 08:03 AM:

Jim,

I see how getting the knife changed things, and I said so in post #50. Let me quote it so you don't have to scroll up:

Specifically, Scott Glenn in the fantasy-adventure setting is a manifestation of Baby Doll's powerful unconscious wisdom.

If Scott Glenn wanted her to refuse the quest, he could have told her to achieve freedom from the institution (the goal of her own choice), she would have to sacrifice one of the inmates, then herself.

But he is helping her with what she said she wanted, so he won't say what will prompt her to give up her quest. To accomplish the same, he simply tells her another truth, which is that to attain her freedom, her fourth goal is retrieving the knife.

I said Moby-Dick seemed to foreshadow the fall of the south knowing it was published before the fall of the south.

Terry,

If wisdom is, if anything, outcome, all dances would be a race to a spot on the floor, all music would cut to the last notes, and all books a cut to the last sentence or word. I wouldn't refer to outcome as the root of wisdom.

Zen says trippier things than what I say here.

Is it the flag which moves the wind, or is it the wind which moves the flag?

What moves is your mind.

...and so the inquirer was enlightened.

#87 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 08:27 AM:

Mike, I saw your thing about the knife in #50, which you quoted in #86. While clever, it isn't supported by the film that I saw.

Equally, I disagree with your reading of Moby-Dick, but it's your reading, so it's valid for you.

#88 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 08:46 AM:

Mike Leung #86: Ahem. I'd say wisdom includes not trying to stretch "wisdom" over some far less constrained concept like "action" or "outcome"!

If wisdom is, if anything, outcome, all dances would be a race to a spot on the floor, all music would cut to the last notes, and all books a cut to the last sentence or word. I wouldn't refer to outcome as the root of wisdom.

And here you show why.... Wisdom is hard to recognize until the results are obvious; I'm guessing that's why Terry tried tossing "outcome" up against your "action". But that doesn't mean that trying to skip to the outcome without passing through the process is wise!

Not that "action" does any better: Remember this classic routine in security and political theater? "Something must be done! This☣ is something, therefore we will do it!" Nope, "action" by itself isn't wisdom. And it's only a "root" of wisdom in that lack of agency moots wisdom. (PS: Check out Aristotle's Nicomachian Ethics, where, iirc, he argues against both action and outcome as wisdom. Aristotle favors "proper moderation" -- what we might call self-discipline and self-control -- but also recognizes that wisdom (and "virtue", his primary concern) requires learning about the world around you.

Zen says trippier things than what I say here.

So? Maybe you missed the part where Terry's already well-aquainted with Zen? I'm not quite so deep into it, but I know this much: those "trippy sayings" are meant as such. The point of both sayings and meditation, is to try and shift your mind into a state where it doesn't block out as much of your perception of the world. See also Doors of Perception (Aldous Huxley)... or, say, Animals in Translation (Dr. Grandin), or Be Here Now Be Now Here (Ram Dass?), or any number of other works devoted to considering changes and differences among human thinking styles. Altered states of consciousness are an ancient method to look for "deeper truths". Wordplay can do that, but so can any number of other activities and experiences ranging from all-night vigils to drumming and/or dancing. (Not to mention actual drugs!)

Also, if you tried lines like yours on a Zen Master, they'd probably start smacking you with a large fish or some-such, until you recognized that wisdom had something to do with not bugging the Zen Master, regardless of what they're holding. ;-)

☣ Substitute boneheaded scheme du jour.

#89 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 11:09 AM:

David Harmon, I can't tell from your post any particular action you mean to inspire. All I've done is paraphrase the Forrest Gump rule, which we laugh at not because it's wrong, but because it's so obvious: a (good/bad) thing is as a (good/bad) thing does.

From this paraphrasing of something I never hear anyone disagree with, that action is the root of wisdom, Terry let me know it sounds like it should be -- from his usage of the word outcome -- that a (good/bad) thing is (as good/bad) as it appears.

From you I seem to be getting a blanket disagreement I don't see how I'm supposed to act on.

David, please feel free to let me know what I'm missing. It helps me if you start with an action you mean to inspire, or an inaccuracy you wish to correct. Like the inverted information pyramid the was news article are supposed to be structure.

#90 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 11:50 AM:

I prefer the Pragmatic Maxim: a thing's meaning is its imaginable consequences.

It's not Moby Dick that prophetically dramatizes the fall of slavery (in MD, "Who ain't a slave? Tell me that"). It's "Benito Cereno," where Babo and his followers surely ain't slaves, but Capt. Delano can't see it.

#91 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 12:26 PM:

Mike Leung @89 said: something I never hear anyone disagree with, that action is the root of wisdom

You may never have (until this thread) heard anyone disagree with it, but I've never heard anyone come close to asserting it until you. In fact, an awful lot of exceedingly unwise people are people of action -- act first, think far later, and usually trip over themselves because of it.

Is English not your first language? An awful lot of your posts come out sounding strangely phrased, as if translated from some other thought-process (or generated by a thirtieth-generation Eliza equivalent): they end up sounding like "Countermand the newsreader's nose squarely, waiter, lest blue joyousness impinge upon my trousers." It's *phrased* like grammatical English, but it mostly doesn't *mean* anything ... or, rather, I'm putting in a lot of effort to TRY to make your statements mean something, and not succeeding. Might be a failure on my side, of course.

#92 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 12:32 PM:

Elliot, there may be occasions where posting a sentence fragment doesn't change the meaning of the text cited, where the change in context doesn't change the meaning. The fragment of mine you posted isn't one of them. You've completely changed the meaning of the fragment by refusing to refer to the complete sentence.

You couldn't cite the sentence? Please. Your need for me to be wrong isn't evidence I'm wrong.

#93 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 01:03 PM:

Mike, I'm not sure you strike folks as wrong so much as very idiosyncratic. An idiosyncratic reading of a novel can be not-wrong, but then, the interpretation of novels is also communal, so not-wrong isn't necessarily right if it doesn't bring others along with you. The same for a Humpty Dumptian approach to definition.

I think this is the kind of conversation that goes best if we speak for ourselves, so I'm sorry if I spoke for others in the above paragraph. This is what I see happening:
-- Mike liked Sucker Punch.
-- That seems unaccountable to many. What kind of mind has that experience?
-- Another kind of mind.

I do not think it would be good for folks to start insisting that one's own mind is the only or best kind. Nor will I admit that a word means what I can't stretch my mind to making it mean, but it is interesting to hear someone else struggle to explain their thoughts.

#94 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 01:04 PM:

Mike Leung @92:
Your need for me to be wrong isn't evidence I'm wrong.

Where has Elliott evinced a need for you to be wrong?

That quote seemed to stop at a syntactic breakpoint for me. Please explain how it's different rather than making accusations.

Or, alternatively, step away from the keyboard a bit. You're starting to treat everyone in the thread as an opponent in the conversation, attacking you, rather than a companion on a search for mutual understanding.

#95 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 01:13 PM:

To quote an old grad school professor of mine, "Moby-Dick has probably driven more men mad than any other novel."

Fortunately, being female, I was able to escape from the reading experience with my sanity intact. I will say, though, that Mike Leung's interpretation of the novel -- while not one that I myself particularly hold with -- is a long way from being the weirdest one out there.

#96 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 01:27 PM:

David Harmon, I can't tell from your post any particular action you mean to inspire. All I've done is paraphrase the Forrest Gump rule, which we laugh at not because it's wrong, but because it's so obvious: a (good/bad) thing is as a (good/bad) thing does.

Oh, I'd prefer moderation rather than action... ;-)

I'm sorry but, your "Forrest Gump rule" is funny exactly because it's "simple, obvious, and wrong". Consider that in the real, adult, world, nothing ever "does" just one thing! There are costs and resource usage, accidents and malfeasance, side effects and reaction effects. (...growing spinach instead of cabbages starves the local Giant Hamsters...)

#97 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 01:30 PM:

Mike, #50 and #86:

But he is helping her with what she said she wanted, so he won't say what will prompt her to give up her quest. To accomplish the same, he simply tells her another truth, which is that to attain her freedom, her fourth goal is retrieving the knife.

If this is so, he could as easily, and as helpfully, send her to find a blue marble, a perfect rose, or a cup of water from the well at world's end.

Therefore, the knife is meaningless.

Further, I observe that regardless of what level of the story one takes, it's useless. Even though the mission was a failure, the plan continues unaltered and succeeds.

In fairytale/folklore worlds, the three random items that the protagonist picks up after being advised to do so by the dwarf with his beard stuck in a tree/little old woman selling cabbages/clever fox are exactly the three things he/she will need later on to climb the mountain of glass/cut down the forest in a single day/make the king's daughter laugh. The reason this is so is that at a deep psychological level, this story-telling works. What we have here, in this film, in contrast, is something which at a deep psychological level doesn't work at all.

I hesitate to ask why the "manifestation of Baby Doll's powerful unconscious wisdom" should appear as a male.

#98 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 01:34 PM:

Jim, 97: I hesitate to ask why the "manifestation of Baby Doll's powerful unconscious wisdom" should appear as a male.

Obviously it's a directorial self-inse...uh, never mind.

#99 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 02:30 PM:

Two notes:

1. Babydoll didn't really want to get out, she wanted it all to end because she felt guilt for the death of her sister (it's unclear how much actual culpability she had in that death, but she feels it). She also didn't want her step-dad to get away with it, if at all possible.

One could argue that her desire to gain control was precisely so that she could get enough control to end it.

2. I've been trying to determine if an actual prostitution ring was being run out of the madhouse. It would explain a few things.

#57: The fire alarm pull box is right there in the hall where any of them can pull the thing at any time and get all the doors to open, create confusion, and get them all outside.

Even I can't accept a system where the doors open because a crazy person can pull an alarm switch and escape. One presumes that there would have to be an actual fire.

#82: (And if Melville meant Moby-Dick to symbolize the fall of the South, with Ahab dragged down by white pride, that would be remarkably prescient, seeing as Moby-Dick was published in 1851.)

Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in 1852. The second Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850. Your point?

#100 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 02:34 PM:

Jim,

If this is so, he could as easily, and as helpfully, send her to find a blue marble, a perfect rose, or a cup of water from the well at world's end.

Therefore, the knife is meaningless.

For what I said you're responding to, the object had to be lethal.

Abi,

I don't think I'm invalidating your account of what you're going through when I ask this:

I was asked to answer for something I said taken out of context, in which the meaning was changed. In other words, I was asked to answer for something I didn't say. Can I still phrase it like that? "Please don't ask me to answer for something I didn't say?"

Because Elliot doing that was baffling to me. But to you, apparently I'm the baffling one. So I hope it makes sense that I feel the need to check-in on how I can respond. Because you seem to have given him a pass to do it to me again in how you responded to me. So please confirm.

#101 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 02:55 PM:
I hesitate to ask why the "manifestation of Baby Doll's powerful unconscious wisdom" should appear as a male.

The contrast to femininity is masculinity.

Henry Darger didn't even know there was such a thing as a second gender, only the contrasting role. That's a circumstance in which it seems valid to refuse to make a male character's powerful manifestation of wisdom female. He was no wisdom.

#102 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 02:59 PM:

From Open Thread 156:

ajay: 467: I have a little rule: if a film uses a plot element that was squick-free in an earlier film that used it only because it had Sean Connery as the lead, then you'd better have Sean Connery as the lead.

Bruce, care to elaborate? Here or on the Red Mike thread?

In "A Fine Madness" Sean Connery plays a poet with writer's block and hellacious temper named Samson Shillitoe. He ends up in an institution where a surgeon wants to test out a new surgery technique he's invented to cure outbursts of rage despite it being as close as damnit to a lobotomy. After the surgery Shillitoe speaks so softly the surgeon leans in to listen, at which point Shillitoe decks him, presumably because, if I remember the line another doctor used correctly, "I guess poet's brains are different." About 15 minutes of additional hijinks ensue to tie off loose ends.

Basically, you don't get squicked because you have Sean Connery playing Shillitoe, and only because it's him. "Sucker Punch" does NOT have Connery, so I passed on it.

#103 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 03:22 PM:

#99 Glenn 1. Babydoll didn't really want to get out, she wanted it all to end because she felt guilt for the death of her sister (it's unclear how much actual culpability she had in that death, but she feels it).

If she wanted it all to end, all she had to do was nothing.

So, do we read this as "she did nothing" and the entire film is (again) the final firing of her traumatized synapses as her brain is being destroyed? We're back to the tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

My point about Moby-Dick is that reading it as an allegory of the fall of the South is incredibly strained. I could, if I wanted, just as plausibly show that Moby-Dick is an allegory of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

#104 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 03:30 PM:

Mike Leung @100:

Elliott did not try to describe your mental state. You said that he "need[ed]" you "to be wrong".

Talk about what you know. Talk about how his quote of a portion of what you said doesn't cover the same ground as the whole sentence, and explain why. Talk about what you see, what you know, how the world looks from where you're sitting.

That's what Elliott did. He talked about what you said, and gave what he felt to be an adequate trimming of it. Leaving aside the fact that I can't see how his sub-quote doesn't work—whether I agree with him or not is irrelevant—why what he did was appropriate and what you did was not was that he talked about how your statements looked to him.

What you did was assert that you knew the state of his mind, and what that state of mind was. That's actually extremely rude, doubly so when what you're asserting is some kind of compulsive contrariness.

#105 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 04:39 PM:

Mike Leung: This is hard for me. In part because (though I don't think you intended it) you irked me, and in part because the way things have gone is being hard on you

I am not a master of Zen. By no means. I have, however, read fairly deeply, and practiced several of the arts which it informs. I have had one (just one) "Zen Moment" to borrow an idea from Suzuki. That's in going on thirty years of being more, or less, intimate with Zen.

I've spent time sitting za-zen, and staring into the wall. I've have a sense of the ineffable when I was in the moment on the mat (with sword, stick, rifle, or empty hand; it's never really come with the bow).

Nothingness is not what zen is about. In some ways it's like Nietzsche's abyss, when you look into it, it looks back. The "emptiness" is a contrast to the things which are. It's taoist: to see things one must understand "not-things", and in each is the reflection of the other.

The koans are meant to help one see the "abyss", but the are not the only way (that moment, when I had a flash of enlightment [not that I am enlightened, I think I'd need to be able to find that bit of words fail me; consonant understanding of the abstract?, a few more times before it was pervasive in my worldview, and I could apply it to everything. It may be I am too much a deist to ever have that happen] was about an aspect of photography. I suddenly "grokked" (in the Heinleinian sense of seeing it from all sides; the inside the outside, the edges and the center the top and the bottom: the totality) of f-stop, but I digress- with meaning; because that sort of seeing is what zen is trying to show; about everything).

But the koans are not answers. They aren't even zippy. Zippy is a comeback, a zinger, a form of "gotcha". The Koans aren't questions. They aren't even really puzzles. They are tools, levers, mostly, to move the clutter out of the way, and make the whole visible.

But koans are hard. They are work. They can't be read, and understood, and they can't be explained. The act of explaining them is to defeat the purpose. The parables are better, because the seeds of the explanation are in them already. I commend them to you.

#106 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 04:47 PM:

Mike: I didn't say wisdom was outcome; I said the ability to see consequence. I am discussing the course of the dance, not the end state. See is the verb, wisdom is the condition, validity of prediction is the measurement.

I (for one) am disagreeing with you about action being the root of wisdom (it's the crux of our discussion).

Here are my thoughts on wisdom:

A good result comes from wisdom (for the actor; how it falls out for the rest of society may matter, it may not).

The result is not wisdom.

The action is not wisdom.

Being able to foresee the result, and then acting to bring it about (or not acting to avoid it) is the things which shows one has wisdom.

Things I don't think wisdom is.

Wisdom is not action.

Wisdom is not inaction.

Wisdom is not the result.

Wisdom is not the process.

#107 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 05:25 PM:

Abi,

I don't think I'm invalidating your account of what you're experiencing with this response, so:

From this paraphrasing of something I never hear anyone disagree with, that action is the root of wisdom...

In quoting me, Elliot literally used the preposition for the thing the preposition was for. He ditched what the preposition referred to.

When you said, "That's what Elliott did," you weren't talking about him using the preposition interchangeably with what the preposition was for. You said, "That's what Elliott did," to validate he was faithful to what I said.

I don't think observing this is asking anyone to take my word for anything.

So my question remains open, and still seems to be valid:

I was asked to answer for something I said taken out of context, in which the meaning was changed. In other words, I was asked to answer for something I didn't say. Can I still phrase it like that? "Please don't ask me to answer for something I didn't say?"

#108 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 05:30 PM:

Terry,

The "emptiness" is a contrast to the things which are.

Citing this quote seems to preserve its meaning, and its literal meaning seems to validate what I said about Zen designing with emptiness.

Contrast is the root of design. We see line, shape, colors, etc because of contrast.

#109 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 05:38 PM:

Mike Leung @92: I quoted the only bit that seemed pertinent. The rest was going in circles so many times I couldn't figure out what it was saying at all, so I have no idea if I disagree with it or not.

I'm sorry that my paraphrased quote seemed to change the meaning to you, but it appeared to me that one thing you said in that sentence was -- to paraphrase -- "I've never once had anyone contradict me when I say that wisdom is basically action." Is this a misparaphrasing of your ideas?

If so, could you restate in a sentence that doesn't chase its own tail in eighteen different hypotheticals?

#110 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 05:43 PM:

Mike Leung @107:

What Elliott did was talk about what you said. i am only validating that that is what he did, contrasting it to you talking about what you think he was thinking and feeling.

If he interpreted what you said wrongly, it is of course perfectly acceptable to correct his interpretation, preferably by quoting your full statement and his quote and explaining how the meanings of the two differ. I, for one, would be grateful if you could be as clear and detailed as possible.

(So the answer to you question is yes. That would be a suitable phrasing.)

In quoting me, Elliot literally used the preposition for the thing the preposition was for. He ditched what the preposition referred to.

I am entirely unable to parse this statement.


#111 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 05:48 PM:

Mike, I'm not going to ask you to answer for something you didn't say, but I'm not going to let you sidetrack the discussion either.

You said: "From this paraphrasing of something I never hear anyone disagree with, that action is the root of wisdom, Terry let me know it sounds like it should be -- from his usage of the word outcome -- that a (good/bad) thing is (as good/bad) as it appears."

Is that the full quote? You meant it?

Well, you're hearing someone disagree with it right now, so today is a day of firsts.

Let me see if I understood you. You're claiming that the end justifies the means? Is that it?

Or are you claiming that action genuinely is the root of wisdom? If so, I disagree with it again; we see unwise action on a daily basis.

If not, what do you mean?

De gustibus non disputatem est. You're seeing more value in this film that I am.

In my opinion, the point of this movie was to show a slender young lady in skimpy clothing leaping about while carrying a tactical Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun fitted with a Surefire light, a door-breaching muzzle, and a Blackhawk M4 style stock, even though there's no way in the world that any of the characters as presented in the film could have known that such a thing even existed, let alone what it would look like.

#112 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 05:53 PM:

Mike Leung: You are arguing by assertion. Since I disagreed with the assertion you are going to have to elaborate.

Telling me that "contrast is the root of design" is no more meaningful that, "Zen designs with emptiness".

So show what that design is. Explain to me how Zen uses emptiness, how the emptiness is central to the design, and is, "essential".

I'm a photographer, I've done choreogrpahy, I know about contrast and empty space, and implied space and negative space.

So show me how the "emptiness" is more important than the things it contrasts. If you can't do that, then the emptiness isn't what zen is designing with, but rather what zen designs around.

#113 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 06:10 PM:
If he interpreted what you said wrongly, it is of course perfectly acceptable to correct his interpretation, preferably by quoting your full statement and his quote and explaining how the meanings of the two differ. I, for one, would be grateful if you could be as clear and detailed as possible.

Abi, I believe the post you are responding to did just that.

If the quote taken out of context sounds the same to you as it does taken in context, then it's a wonder to me why anyone should balk when I say I need the quote to be faithful. If it makes no difference, then it's a wonder any offense should be taken from "Please don't ask me to answer for something I didn't say" (which is what I asked is alright to respond with).

Elliot,

Yes, as you've phrased it, I've never once had anyone contradict me when I say that wisdom is basically action. I mean that observation to be considered in the context that that notion is already part of our cultural conventional wisdom -- in Forrest Gump's "Stupid is as stupid does." We laugh at Forrest Gump, but I never hear anyone say he was wrong.

In gauging the offense I took from how you cited me, please consider that what you cited is not interchangeable with your rephrasing.

Thanks.

Jim,

I have to catch a train, and I only have time to immediately disagree that what I'm saying can be interpreted as the ends justify the means. Action is, by definition, not an outcome. I only mean to make the definition of wisdom explicitly independent from "ends."

#114 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 06:58 PM:

So.

Is this another episode in Dollhouse?

Which I have not seen because I do not want to.

I haven't seen this Sucker either because I do not want to.

Love, C

#115 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 07:17 PM:

Mike Leung@113: You seem to be using the word "preposition" in an idiosyncratic way. As a result, while the post Abi was responding to may seem to you to "do just that", to her and to me it does nothing of the kind, and inasmuch as it depends wholly on the usage of a word we don't understand, it conveys very little meaning at all.

#116 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 07:38 PM:

I believe Mike might have intended "proposition" (meaning clause) instead of "preposition."

#117 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 08:13 PM:

I keep having this vertiginous living-in-the-future sensation that I'm participating in one end of an unannounced Turing test ...

Mike Leung @113 said:If the quote taken out of context sounds the same to you as it does taken in context, then it's a wonder to me why anyone should balk when I say I need the quote to be faithful.

Yes, exactly -- none of us have any idea why your quote reads differently than my excerpt. And in fact, neither do you (possibly):

@113, again: Yes, as you've phrased it, I've never once had anyone contradict me when I say that wisdom is basically action. I mean that observation to be considered in the context that that notion is already part of our cultural conventional wisdom -- in Forrest Gump's "Stupid is as stupid does." We laugh at Forrest Gump, but I never hear anyone say he was wrong.

... and yet right there he also said: In gauging the offense I took from how you cited me, please consider that what you cited is not interchangeable with your rephrasing.

If my "I've never once had anyone contradict me when I say that wisdom is basically action." rephrase is semantically identical with your original long sentence [From this paraphrasing of something I never hear anyone disagree with, that action is the root of wisdom, Terry let me know ...], as you said @113, and yet nonidentical to my original pull-quote, "something I never hear anyone disagree with, that action is the root of wisdom" ... then I really don't get it.

Because my pullquote, "something I never hear anyone disagree with, that action is the root of wisdom", is semantically identical -- to me! -- with my later (you-approved) paraphrase, "I've never once had anyone contradict me when I say that wisdom is basically action."

So I don't understand how I misquoted you, if, um, I conveyed what you agree is the entire meaning of what I meant to quote?

Let me take a moment here to try to make clear (in this facial-expression-less medium) that I'm boggled, not angry, and attempting to understand what I did to cause offense (so I can not do it in future!), not trying to poke an argument. I hope. As someone with a multiyear amateur journalism background who was raised by science academics, maliciously or carelessly misquoting someone so you can argue with what they didn't say is a cardinal sin that would get me yelled at (along the lines of, "Who RAISED you, wolves??"), so I really want to be sure I don't do it to Mike again.

#118 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 08:53 PM:

Imagine starting a sentence with the following:

The geese of the Great Lakes, which fly south for the winter...
Now imagine someone correcting you by saying:
David, Anne, Elliot, when you said, "the Great Lakes, which fly south for the winter..."
When you balk at this, and Abi tells you the quote is fair game, because it's what you said, how would you express the inaccuracy in how what you said has been misrepresented? I'll call it that. I'll phrase it however you want. It'll be true just the same.

Terry,

I am arguing by assertion for as far as I'm asking anyone to take my word for anything. So what am I asking people to take my word for? That the design of emptiness takes place in Zen. I said, "Zen designs with emptiness."

But it isn't just my word. You yourself said,

The "emptiness" is a contrast to the things which are.

From which I made the observation:

We see line, shape, colors, etc because of contrast.

We design in things that contrast. We don't design with elements that don't contrast.

The Tao te Ching is an influential descendant of the practice of Zen, and it talks of how the utility of wheels and jars and rooms comes from what's missing.

You're entitled to take as much offense as you want from me associating "The emptiness is a contrast to the things which are" with my observation that Zen designs with emptiness. We are all entitled to our account of what we go through. But seriously, where am I supposed to begin to reconcile what I see, and your offense at what I see?

Jim,

Or are you claiming that action genuinely is the root of wisdom? If so, I disagree with it again; we see unwise action on a daily basis.

Malcolm Gladwell was bolder in "Outliers." He made the case for how, where there is a genius, there is someone who put in 10,000 hours of practice. The Beatles put in more time playing clubs than anyone else.

I think we all know genius cannot be taught. Wisdom is built on unwise action.

I don't think "action is the root of wisdom" means all action is the root of wisdom. But the action on which wisdom is built includes foolish action. "A fool in his folly may become wise."

#119 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 08:59 PM:

Mike Leung: I've been trying to avoid putting gasoline on a small fire, but you are accusing Elliott of acting in bad faith, because he didn't give what you felt to be enough context in quoting you.

Fine.

But you've misquoted me, more than once, and in the same ways, after I have corrected you. I have not said wisdom = outcome. I have explicitly refuted it, yet you persist in saying that is what I said.

I said wisdom is the ability to discern outcome; and it is visible in the results. It's a subtle distinction, to be sure, it's the one I have been making from first mention I made, at post 68. "I think wisdom is more a case of being aware of the consequence of action. [emphasis added].

You replied But if we could think our way to the best option... (@75), which I think to be a misreading of what I said. Awareness is not "thinking", and it's certainly not the analytic situation implied in that quotation.

The full quotation is no better, "If we could think our way to the best option, we would be able to teach genius," which is both non-sequitor, and somewhat incomprehensible, rather than just the insertion of a new topic.

What does genius mean here? I thought we were discussing wisdom. I can teach wisdom (assuming I am both wise, and self-aware of that wisdom. Ask me how to run a squad, or a platoon, and I can teach you what wisdom I've gained). That's not "genius".

As to teaching genius, depends on what you mean by "teach" and what you mean by, "genius". Neither of which is defined in the comment you made.

@ 81 you say action is the root of wisdom; but again, this has no meaning I can tease from it. Action is. A large part of the foundation of Zen was about making action independent of anything else. The root paradox of Zen was "how can one be a Buddhist, and be a samurai?" By divorcing action from thought there was no paradox; because one didn't decide to kill someone, it just happened (the functions of zen have changed, and so this is a little less evident today, unless one is practicing zen, and a martial art; at which point it becomes a lot more clear).

This is why having the idea of wisdom, and action, intimately related, in the same passages you are talking about Zen, is difficult, because in Zen, it's not that way. I tried to divorce them, but it seems I was wrong, and you are relating the two.

I don't think, as you assert at 81, that you have given any real explanation of how action = wisdom (or the root of wisdom). It would help if you defined wisdom. I have stated my definition. You have told me that I'm wrong, because you believe something else.

I didn't say Zen was paradoxical, I said it was designed around paradox, and I'd say your explanation of the function of koans agrees with me.

I still don't think meditation is the center of zen, per se, though there are practitioners for whom meditation is the prime way of engaging zen.

Which brings me to 86, and (in a roundabout way, the complaint you have about Elliott). What were you trying to do with the, "Zen says trippier things than what I say here... and so the inquirer was enlightened.

For one, as koans go, the one you used (about the flag, and what moves) is not so trippy: This one is a little better, for trippy:

When Banzan was walking through a market he overheard a conversation between a butcher and his customer

"Give me the best piece of meat you have," said the customer.

"Everything in my shop is the best," replied the butcher. "You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best."

At these words Banzan became enlightened.

We can swap koan for days, it's not likely to do much more than show we each know koans. Because koan are not enlightnment.

And so to (what I think) is the problem: Let me actually plug a variable into your use of the Gumpism, and see how it works out (and I wonder at your saying you have paraphrased, to get at essence; when you protest, loudly, that Elliott has edited, to get at essence; the one is less than the other).

"Wisdom is as wisdom does."

It's true. Can't be argued, because it's a tautology. It doesn't tell me what wisdom is. It also is results oriented. Until I see what "wisdom" does, I will not know what Wisdom is.


I will have to have someone else show me what wisdom is. I will, in short, have to be taught to be wise.

Which means it is useless as a means of teaching.

I also don't see how Elliotts removal of the specific thing ("action is the root of wisdom) hurts your sentiment. Since the full quotation would have included your misrepresentation of me in a paraphrase... you are not standing on very high ground.

The important part of your claim is (IMO) the universal acceptance (since you have not previously encountered "anyone" who disagrees with this sentiment of yours (i.e. action is the root of wisdom). I can't see how Elliott hurt that statement. He didn't build a strawman out of it.

So, if there is a real change in the meaning, could you show it to me?

And could you please define wisdom, so we can see how action is the root of it? It's possible that, were we to understand what you mean by it, we would agree; but until there are definitions in play, there is noway to reconcile our understandings of the words, with your usage.

#120 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 09:33 PM:

Oi... I am at a stand. I honestly, can't decide what you are doing. I say one thing, and you tel me I said another. I respond to you, with explanations of how I disagree, and you say this proves you are correct.

You reply to requests for expansion with mere repetition. It's baffling. It's impossible to have a meaningful discussion with someone who does that, because nothing I say can be trusted to be understood.

I say X = X, and you reply with X=Y. When I explain the differences between X and Y, that (therefore) X/= Y, you say, "Yes, X=Y, and I you have proved my point".

I never said, emptiness was not a part of Zen. You said Zen designs around emptiness. I said Zen designs around things. To you said, yes, contrast means one must have emptiness, so it's emptiness Zen designs around.

Which is a different sort of tautology. If everything included is the focus, then nothing is the the focus. If I design a car, and the idea us to go fast, then I am designing around the transmission and all else follows. The transmission is the focus of the car.

Let's take a real world example. Tanks. Tanks have a tradeoff problem. Speed, Armament, Armor.

The US wanted to have armor. They wanted to make the M1 Abrams able to take a lot of abuse (because the Russians had lots of tanks). So they designed really amazing armor. Weighs tons (62 in the original version... more now). The problem was there wasn't an internal combustion engine that could make it move (in any practical manner). So they got a helicopter turbine engine, and made it fit.

Now the tank had LOTS of power, and in a completely different paradigm (it was a lot faster to respond to the throttle). They could put a bigger gun on it, and add some other bells and whistles.

Which means there are a lot of features that only exist because of the engine.

But the tank was still designed around the armor, no matter how crucial the engine might look.

#121 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 09:43 PM:

Terry @84:

Wisdom isn't action, it's outcome.

Terry, you said wisdom is outcome.

#122 ::: Jo MacQueen ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 09:54 PM:

Mike at 121: no, those are your words from post 81. At 85, Terry explains that he didn't trim sufficiently when composing 84.

I understand that much of this sub-thread. I'm a bit stuck for the rest of it.

#123 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 10:32 PM:

Jo,

The word "outcome" doesn't appear in my post @81. So I don't know on what factual basis you can say I gave the standalone statement "Wisdom isn't action, it's outcome," for Terry to say @84.

And I don't know what you and Terry mean by trimming a post, in a way that means when he shouldn't be held to the phrase, "Wisdom isn't action, it's outcome," in his post @84.

#124 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 10:34 PM:

Oh, this is splendid. Mike at #86 is arguing against Mike at #81.

I believe this demonstrates that all I'm seeing here is reflexive contrarianism.

Go your way in peace, Mike. I don't believe there's any point in my trying to engage you any more.

If it happens that you ever again want to say that you've never heard anyone disagree with the statement, "action is the root of wisdom," don't. You've heard someone disagree.


#125 ::: Jo MacQueen ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 10:52 PM:

It *is* true, going back to Terry's 84 and Mike's 81, that the offending phrase does not appear in 81. However, at 84 the offending phrase is mired within refutation of Mike's oft-phrased viewpoint and might, as I seem to have done, be taken as a part of it, especially as Terry, as he confesses, spotted the edit failure at the ohnosecond. In reading 85, and realising that Terry wasn't really talking to himself, but to Mike, I could well have made an assumption that was unwarranted. Still doesn't make Mike's position any clearer, however.

Shorter version: I understand less than I think today, and should have gone back to relurking after posting in the Gargarin anniversary thread.

#126 ::: Mike Leung ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 10:54 PM:

What?

Ok, whatever.

#127 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 11:06 PM:

Mike Lueng: Please be so kind as to go and read the entire comment again. Then look at the first post I made, at 68. Combine that with my follow up at 106.

My less than perfect phrasing (which you inserted an, "if anything" into when you replied), was in direct response to your comment that wisdom = action.

As I elaborated, expanding on my first argument, if wisdom is a thing, it can only be measured by outcome. In that regard, outcome = wisdom. But as I've said, before; and after, wisdom is being able to see the consequences of action.

It would behoove you to quote the entirety of my comment (that courtesy you ask of others) if you aren't able to put the individual parts into proper context.

#128 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 11:12 PM:

As a side note, Taoism is not descended from Zen. Taoism and Buddhism were concurrent (the teaching of Lao-tzu are ca 600 BCE, as are the teachings of the Buddha). Zen, as a Way, is hard to pin down, because all the "ways" claim to be direct descendants of the Way of the Buddha. As it's known today it's a primarily Japanese Way, with it's origins in China, when the Boddhidharma (28 generations after the Buddha) came to China. It doesn't really become a powerful school until fairly well after that, when it can be discerned from other schools. One could argue it comes into it's own under the 6th Patriarch (Hui-neng/Eno (China/Japan). Even at that, Chinese Zen is different from Japanese, for the reasons I mentioned above, having to do with the cultural differences between Confucian China, and the Imperial Japan in the 11th century: when it arrived there.

It didn't really become it's own school of Buddhism in Japan until the 13th century. At which time it was struggling in China, not really being taught as "pure" form, but in conjunction with "Land Buddhism" (which became Amida in Japan)

#129 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 11:39 PM:

#21 ::: Kip W

It says "The End," but then there's a question mark. A QUESTION MARK!

Speaking of puzzling comments - since this was posted days ago, I haven't been able to connect this with its movie. The closest I can get is Frankenstein, where the monster is played by "?", completely different.

#130 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2011, 11:44 PM:

Carol @ 129: Flash Gordon

#131 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 12:08 AM:

Carol and Paul, #129 and 130: The Blob (1958)

#132 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 12:45 AM:

At risk of adding to a heated argument, considering Wisdom as either action or outcome alone would be a little like defining the elephant by its tusk. (Though Terry is right; his full explanation clearly to me demonstrates that in his perception, wisdom is not outcome alone, only that outcome is the most visible demonstrator of the wisdom).

Jo Walton talks about spearpoints in stories; the moment when everything comes together in one neat tight point. The problem, she points out, is that the spearpoint is entirely ineffective on its own. It needs the whole spear behind it, and the force driving the spear. The spear is worthless if the spearpoint is blunted or broken -- if the outcome is unwise. But likewise, the most perfect outcome is useless without showing the set-up, what leads to the spearpoint hitting where it should and cutting how it should. In other words, jumping to the outcome, however positive, does not demonstrate the wisdom without the foresight to identify the target, the aim to drive the spear, and above all, the rest of the spear and shaft behind the spearpoint.

To me this is obvious; no, you can't dance the last measure and have the whole dance be a triumph. That is presenting the spearpoint without the spear.

However, to say that action is wisdom is to say that the act of throwing is the complete demonstration of wisdom. Even if what one is throwing is not a spear at all, but a pool noodle. Or if one misses the target.

#133 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 01:11 AM:

Paul Duncanson @ 130... I have it on DVD, in the English language, but the DVD's interface is in Portugese, as it's an import from Brazil.

#134 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 01:15 AM:

the M. Night-level Twist

...which was never used in the Twilight Zone or in that Ambrose Bierce story.

#135 ::: pendatic Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 01:18 AM:

(“subtle” doesn’t seem to be in this film’s color palate

'Palette' would be a more appropriate word. Either way this film looks like it'd leave a bad taste in my mouth.

#136 ::: pedantic Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 01:30 AM:

It's 'pedantic', not 'pendatic'.

#137 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 01:31 AM:

Moby Dick... The 1960s cartoon show?

#138 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 02:04 AM:

James D. Macdonald @131: Also Manos, the Hands of Fate.

#139 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 11:17 AM:

I, for one, have trouble comprehending how a conversation about Zen, Buddhism, Zen Buddism, Taoism, and the true nature of Wisdom grew out of a discussion of this trashy movie.

I read back. It avails me nothing.

Why are we doing this?

#140 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 12:02 PM:

Because Mike devoted approximately a billion percent more thought to the movie than Zack Snyder did.

#141 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 12:07 PM:

Xopher: To find Enlightenment?

#142 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 12:08 PM:

TexAnne, while your statement seems obviously true, I don't see how that leads to the whole Zen conversation. Not that discussing Zen, to the extent discussing Zen is even possible, strikes me as a bad idea; it's just that nothing of any depth of thought seems connected to this silly jiggle-party-with-guns movie in any obvious way.

#143 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 12:10 PM:

Terry: when I have enlightenment, perhaps that will make sense to me. But since I don't, I don't see how it can possibly lead there.

But then, when I have enlightenment, you'll give it to me, and when I don't, you'll take it from me. Or something like that.

#144 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 01:43 PM:

@60.

I haven't seen it yet, but two of my friends have. One described it as "Live Action Anime" and a "Porno Without the Sex." Both agree that it was a very, very pretty film with good music. After reading your review and various additions, "Sucker Punch" sounds like "Live Action Porno Anime Without the Sex Because They Couldn't Figure Out How To Put The Tentacles In And Still Have It Look Cool."

Or, more briefly, "CGI Art Show With Just Enough Plot-Like Elements to Make It Look Like A Film."

#145 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 03:19 PM:

Mike Leung @113: Forrest Gump's "Stupid is as stupid does." We laugh at Forrest Gump, but I never hear anyone say he was wrong.

We laugh, and nobody ever says he's wrong, because it's a meaningless statement, stated as if it had meaning. "Stupid" is not defined.

"Colorless green ideas sleep furiously."
"Don't neither!!"

#146 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 03:45 PM:

Xopher @139: Why are we doing this?

Why not?

#147 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 03:52 PM:

'Cuz it seems kinda mean to me. 'Cuz Mike Leung is getting defensive after everyone kinda piled on.

#148 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 03:57 PM:

Xopher, I saw it as a bunch of people being interested in what he was saying, but having trouble parsing his language. I certainly had trouble with it.

#149 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 04:00 PM:

And while I haven't seen Forrest Gump, I don't quite agree that 'Stupid is as stupid does' is meaningless. I think it means that stupidity is phenomenological, that is, you're stupid iff you do stupid things.

That was my interpretation when I heard it. I think it's funny because of its resemblance to 'Handsome is as handsome does', which means something more like "you can't really call someone handsome if they behave like a scoundrel."

#150 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 04:02 PM:

TexAnne, so did I, and he clearly had trouble understanding what we were saying and asking as well.

I just also started feeling like a bully, which is why I pretty much dropped out of the conversation.

#151 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 04:11 PM:

Xopher, #149: I always thought of "handsome is as handsome does" as being the masculine version of "beauty is only skin-deep". IOW, they may be nice to look at, but are they nice people?

#152 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 04:12 PM:

Xopher, 149: "Stupid is as stupid does" is undeniably a riff on the Southern saying "pretty is as pretty does, but ugly's to the bone." I never heard "handsome is as handsome does" until I was an adult; even my brother got quoted the "pretty" version. I suppose the non-Southern equivalent is "actions speak louder than words."

#153 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 04:22 PM:

I was first exposed to the "handsome" version in an L. Frank Baum Oz book. Never heard "pretty is as pretty does" before now.

I have heard "beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes to the bone," and thought it meant that it's easier to make a beautiful person ugly than the other way around, because ugliness (and I always construed that as referring purely to the physical property) is a more fundamental trait; messed-up skin can ruin beauty, but deep (physical) ugliness won't be entirely fixed by perfect skin. Kinda cruel thing to say, really.

I'm afraid I was rather literal and bloody-minded as a child/teenager. I thought 'beauty is only skin deep' was obviously true, because if you take the most beautiful person in the world and skin them, well voilà, they aren't beautiful anymore!

#154 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 04:24 PM:

Argh. Messed up my single/double quote convention in my first para. Drat.

I'm almost sure no one cares but me, but still. Drat.

#155 ::: Jo MacQueen ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 06:36 PM:

Xopher at 154: it didn't add to the confusion of bears of little brain like myself, so go easy on yourself for that, at least.

#156 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 07:28 PM:

Xopher #142 ...nothing of any depth of thought seems connected to this silly jiggle-party-with-guns movie in any obvious way.

Except that is wasn't a jiggle-party. The young ladies were all remarkably slender and athletic.

#157 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 09:16 PM:

Xopher: Anything can be the cause of enlightenment.

As to the question of why, because the questions arose, and were engaged. That's the nature of the place Who knows what the dominant theme of the next OT will be? No one, because until the entery leads to comment, there is nothing. It may be directed, some, but I can't think how many have ended so far from the starting point as to be in no way connectible.

I can only speak for myself: I didn't feel I was piling on. I did my best to avoid it (there were places I think I could have been mean, or cheap; or just snarky to the point of vicious. I think I avoided it).

Mike Leung got pretty defensive, pretty quickly. IMO pretty much out of the gate; and before the questions of wisdom/zen became paramount.

There are interesting questions in that (certainly of interest to me), and I pursued them, in part because I don't think letting what I see as misunderstanding by someone who want's to understand continue is a kindness.

That may be unwarranted, I may not be correct, but if I don't try the conversation which might clear things up for someone (be it the showing of my error, or the rightness of my position can't happen).

It's what I do. Ich kann nicht anders, Gott helfe mir.

#158 ::: Spiny Norman ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2011, 10:38 PM:

She is Tyler Durden!

#159 ::: NovySan ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 01:00 AM:

I'm just glad someone finally gave Henry Darger a chance to write and direct a big big movie.

#160 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 06:11 AM:

James D. Macdonald@124

I find Mike's written style idiosyncratic and obfuscatory, but it seems like you're being unfair to him here - I don't see how @86 argues against @81.

Jo MacQueen@122

Some confusion arises from Terry's blockquote mistake @84; I read this as the quote of Mike Leung@81 ending and Terry's response beginning at the line "Mike Leung: The root of a thing is not the thing."

This puts "Wisdom isn't action, it's outcome." squarely in Terry's mouth, although it should certainly be read in the context of Terry's other statements.*

Mike Leung@89

"From this paraphrasing of something I never hear anyone disagree with, that action is the root of wisdom , Terry let me know it sounds like it should be -- from his usage of the word outcome -- that a (good/bad) thing is (as good/bad) as it appears."

Italics mine. I find this sentence incredibly difficult to parse. If it doesn't mean what Elliott Mason@91 thinks it means - that you are saying action is the root of wisdom and have never had anyone disagree with you - could you please try rephrasing it to make your actual meaning clearer? The stuff about prepositions and geese didn't help.

* i.e. I don't think Terry is making this as a bald claim in itself so much as contrasting it with "Wisdom is action". He goes on to unpack his understanding of wisdom in other posts.

#161 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 08:42 AM:

...and I see that while I was composing @160, the conversation has moved on, probably to everybody's benefit. So please feel free to disregard.

The truck is full of pods!

#162 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 11:18 AM:

::giggle:: A coworker just forwarded me a notice for a new local sci-fi/horror meet-up. Paraphrasing: "My friends are kind of squeamish. I'm looking for people who share an interest in things like 'Sucker Punch' ..."

"Thanks for thinking of me," I told my coworker, "but I think I'll pass."

#163 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 12:26 PM:

#162 ::: Jacque "Thanks for thinking of me," I told my coworker, "but I think I'll pass."

You don't need to; it's visually stunning and has a great soundtrack.

#164 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 12:42 PM:

Or you could just watch The Cramps performing Bikini Girls With Machine Guns from the 90s.

Looking them up, I see lead singer Lux Interior died in 2009. RIP.

#165 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 12:51 PM:

Xopher@153: I have heard "beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes to the bone," and thought it meant that it's easier to make a beautiful person ugly than the other way around, because ugliness (and I always construed that as referring purely to the physical property) is a more fundamental trait; messed-up skin can ruin beauty, but deep (physical) ugliness won't be entirely fixed by perfect skin. Kinda cruel thing to say, really.

As someone who grew up speaking southern, I always understood the ugly that goes to the bone to be ugliness of spirit rather than of flesh.

#166 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 12:58 PM:

That's a much nicer thing to say, and I approve of it. I first heard the expression used by drag queens, who (at least on stage) are not known for their kindness to one another. In fact I was told by one, when I proposed the drag name 'Sharon Sharealike', that it was "contrary to the entire spirit of drag," which I guess is supposed to be all about acting out the worst stereotypes about how women treat each other.

I've met some incredibly sweet, kind, helpful drag queens. I have no doubt they'd be denounced by the one who told me that.

(No, I never seriously considered doing drag. That was highly speculative. Also, NB: 'drag queen' is not the same as 'transexual' or even, strictly, 'transvestite'.)

#167 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 01:06 PM:

Xopher @166:

I guess my brief brush up against drag culture wasn't representative, then, because all the drag queens I knew in my twenties were lovely to me and to each other.

Our assistant office manager back in my SF law firm days used to dress up with his best friend as the More sisters, Mona and Quella. He taught me all my makeup skills*, a few good tailoring tricks†, and was generally a wonderful guy. The times I went to parties with him and his friends in drag, I don't recall a harsh word being spoken.

But I was an outsider and may have missed the knives in the dark.

-----
* this is one reason I don't wear makeup, probably. I know a lot about de-emphasizing masculine jawlines, but not much of use with my actual facial structure.
† Best one: turn a man's suit coat into a nipped-waist women's jacket by taking a button off of each sleeve and using them to anchor a couple of pleats in the back, right at the waistline, folds facing each other. Probably would look good in a steampunk context, actually.

#168 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 01:16 PM:

Indeed, my experience was such as to belie what that one drag queen told me. I guess that wasn't clear. But the drag shows I've been to have relied heavily on insult comedy, and I suspect that's what s/he meant.

#169 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 01:16 PM:

On Southern Sayings

I am very certain that "ugly" in Southern American usage is not about looks, but about behavior and character. The wordplay in "beauty . . . skin deep, but ugly . . . bone" is the slide in meaning between physical beauty and an ugly character. So it's not mean to physically ugly people, only to mean people.

In Forrest Gump the phrase "stupid is as stupid does" occurs when kids call young Forrest "stupid." Mama is telling him that the label need not stick.

On Literature

By the powers vested in me by the University of North Carolina, I hereby declare that finding a parable about slavery in Moby Dick, while a stretch, is not as much of a stretch as finding a parable about the Cuban Missile Crisis, because every American cultural product of the 1850s can be plausibly read as being in some way about slavery.

On Question Marks

I think "Young Frankenstein" also ended with THE END?

#170 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 03:19 PM:

rm: I thought YF ended with an explanation of the "sweet mystery of life".

#171 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 06:04 PM:

rm #169 I hereby declare that finding a parable about slavery in Moby Dick, while a stretch, is not as much of a stretch as finding a parable about the Cuban Missile Crisis...

Not slavery, but the fall of the South, dragged down by white honor. Were Moby-Dick written in 1871, that might be a reasonable reading. Given that it was written in 1851, that's no less a stretch than the Cuban Missile Crisis, given that the south would not fall for another fifteen years, and the outcome of the Civil War is obvious only in retrospect. A sufficiently clever subtext-hunter could find the one as easily as the other, and support it as firmly.

#172 ::: Jo MacQueen ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 06:45 PM:

Niall McAuley at 164: uh-oh, I'm being earwormed by the chorus now. (Song's fault, rather than yours: I've only heard it two or three times but it's been catchy enough to engrave itself on a neuron or two.)

#173 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 09:00 PM:

Well, Melville did write quite a bit about slavery and the slave trade in his fiction. He wrote of a mutiny slave ship in Benito Cereno (1855), and examines the suggestion that the North is also complicit in the evil business.

After the war was finished didn't mean that many souls stopped having dark nights in which their hearts and minds investigated the endless how? who? why? of the terrible sin/evil of slavery in the land of the brave and home of the free.

Ishmael, the narrator of Moby Dick, was a black man. The history of African slaves, African American slaves, seamen who were free men of color, played an enormous role in the commercial shipping industry, and in the navy in the wars before the Civil War, then during it and afterwards. They were part of the many-headed hydra of the lower classes who came out as a mob when called upon by the Boston Loyal Nine, elite, for instance. Also, certainly in NYC via the groups that were run by the Sons of Liberty here too.

Arrogance, obsession, so overriding they become crimes, sins and evil? Was there ever anything so true in this than U.S. slavery?

Love, C.

#174 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 09:08 PM:

Constance, 173: Okay, I've never read Moby Dick, and frankly I don't want to. This is the first I've heard of Ishmael being black. Can you elaborate?

#175 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 09:10 PM:

I was inspired by all of this discussion to go and look again at D. H. Lawrence's take on Moby-Dick -- and yes, it was every bit as mind-bogglingly batshit insane as I remembered it being.

(Lawrence, being Lawrence, thought that Moby-Dick was -- among other florid descriptives -- "the deepest blood-being of the white race . . . our deepest blood-nature" and "the last phallic being of the white man". And I am once again reminded of the fact that Lawrence is the only author who has ever actually moved me to throw a book of his against the opposite wall.)

#176 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 09:16 PM:

I smile whenever I think of the Far Side cartoon about the street scene where Ahab's car gets rear-ended by Moby Dick's.

#177 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 09:23 PM:

"He tasks me. He tasks me and I shall have him! I'll chase him 'round the moons of Nibia and 'round the Antares Maelstrom and 'round Perdition's flames before I give him up!"

#178 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 09:28 PM:

Constance: textual evidence for Ishmael being a black man?

There are multiple persons of color aboard the Pequod, all of them clearly identified as such: the three harpooneers (Tastego the Native American from Gay Head, Daggoo the African, and Queequeg the South Sea Islander) and Pip the young black cabin boy, not to mention Ahab's own sinister whaleboat crew (though their specific ethnicity is never made completely clear, and in some respects they seem to have wandered into the text from a different and much more lurid novel.)

Of Ishmael's own background we get very little, though it is implied in the opening chapter that he was previously a country schoolmaster -- "The transition is a keen one, I assure you, from the schoolmaster to a sailor, and requires a strong decoction of Seneca and the Stoics to enable you to grin and bear it." Given that Melville himself worked as a schoolmaster before shipping out on the whaler Acushnet, one could reasonably conclude that Ishmael is to a certain extent modeled upon the author.

#179 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2011, 10:08 PM:

Joining the chorus of those questioning what the evidence is for Ishmael being black. It would make his reactions to waking up sharing a bed with Queequeg significantly less funny, in a 19th C. context (and I'm one of the few people who thinks of Moby-Dick as a marvelous example of the 19th C humorous novel).

#180 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2011, 02:50 AM:

Debra Doyle@175, considering that Moby-Dick itself was "mind-bogglingly batshit insane", it's not suprising that a commentary from someone like Lawrence would be even more so.

TexAnne, I'd recommend taking a stab at reading the book. There's a lot of it I didn't like, and I've only read it once so I've probably missed most of the things it was trying to say, but it's vast and crazy and compelling and worthwhile.

#181 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2011, 02:51 AM:

I have to say that I've never seen any internal evidence for Ishmael being non-white, and the entirety of the spermaceti crushing changes if he is black. The sense of equality, one and all, which it imparts isn't the same if a non-white is saying it.

As with Tom, Ishmael seems a bit of a stand in for Melville. I think the choice of name (one who is outcast from his society/kin) implies his whiteness.

#182 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2011, 03:11 AM:

Texanne: I don't know that I agree with Bill Stewart on the nature of Moby Dick, but I'd commend it. I was just thinking I need to reread it, and this thread has made it seem a bit more important.

But I really like it, and think the whaling chapters are the meat of the matter.

#183 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2011, 04:20 AM:

Agree - it's a good read though it seems to have been written in a hurry and could do with a bit of an edit. And the whaling chapters in particular are great.
I am also surprised by Constance's assertion that Ishmael's supposed to be black. He's completely dumbfounded when he first meets Queequeg by Queequeg's skin colour, which seems to argue against it. And as for Biblical references, Ishmael was supposed to have been the ancestor of the Arabs, not of the Africans. "Call me Ham" would have been different.

#184 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2011, 05:44 AM:

James D. Macdonald @ 171:
Given that it was written in 1851, that's no less a stretch than the Cuban Missile Crisis, given that the south would not fall for another fifteen years, and the outcome of the Civil War is obvious only in retrospect.

It's true that Moby Dick can't be an allegory about the actual fall of the South, since that happened after the book was written. But could Moby Dick be, at least in principle, an allegory or parable about the possible, imagined fall of the South? Absolutely, in a way that is quite impossible for the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1851, the antebellum South was a very real society that Melville's readers were either acquainted with or actual members of. Melville and other Americans were aware that societies could suffer falls of one kind or another, from ancient Israel to the Roman Empire to the ancien rgime of France. Moreover, many of them believed that, sooner or later, God would destroy the unjust and sinful societies of the world, and that their own society wasn't necessarily immune to this. It wouldn't surprise me if there were abolitionist sermons and tracts which warned, in suitably apocalyptic terms, that the sin of slavery would bring doom upon those who continued to support it (or did nothing to oppose it).

Here's a passage from near the end of Uncle Tom's Cabin, published just a year after Moby Dick:

This is an age of the world when nations are trembling and convulsed. A mighty influence is abroad, surging and heaving the world, as with an earthquake. And is America safe? Every nation that carries in its bosom great and unredressed injustice has in it the elements of this last convulsion.... Both North and South have been guilty before God; and the Christian Church has a heavy account to answer. Not by combining together, to protect injustice and cruelty, and making a common capital of sin, is this Union to be saved,—but by repentance, justice and mercy; for, not surer is the eternal law by which the millstone sinks in the ocean, than that stronger law by which injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God!

This doesn't mean that Moby Dick actually contains such an allegory (I myself still haven't read it, so I have no opinion on the matter). But you can't claim that "the fall of the South" was as alien a concept to American writers and readers of 1851 as the Cuban Missile Crisis would have been.

#185 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2011, 05:58 AM:

I thought everyone knew Moby Dick is an allegory of the tragic downfall of 1990s genetically engineered supermen due to monomaniacal revenge fixation on tubby Federation starship captains.

Also, the bit where the guy falls inside the whales head is really funny.

#186 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2011, 12:10 PM:

Indeed, and "Benito Cereno" was written in 1855 but it shows a successful slave rebellion (successful until the very end, but that's kind of a last-minute reversal). The "horror" (that was the word they kept using) of slave rebellion runs all through the literature and political discourse of the time. They may not have expected the Civil War, but they were expecting something.

The Haitian Revolution was, to them, "The Horrors of St. Domingo," and it was the ultimate object lesson in how slave societies could end. For the slaveholders it was the reason to repress harder, and to abolitionists like Melville it was a reason to end slavery. The slave ship in "Benito Cereno" is called the San Dominick.

I never thought Moby Dick was exactly about that, but it's not an unreasonable thought. Melville does, elsewhere, wonder what "whiteness" means in a racial sense.

Oh, and also, too, the trick of "Benito Cereno" is that the white captain is literally unable to perceive that the slaves are in charge on the Spanish slave ship when he visits. So it implies to Americans that maybe they will be completely surprised and shocked when that volcano erupts.

#187 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2011, 12:15 PM:

Also, too, when Ishmael pokes his head inside a black church near the beginning of Moby Dick he perceives the folks inside as devilish and threatening, so that seems to mark him as white.

But on the whole, Ishmael might be "black" like Bill Clinton.

#188 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2011, 04:41 PM:

Dreams that feel like dreams: Try Lair of the White Wolf. Skip the book, from which the film took little, thankfully.

#189 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2011, 05:19 PM:

To go back to the quote Jim was referring to in his original post, I think I can kinda see how some young women/teen girls could see Sucker Punch as "empowering" (and why, when challenged about it by someone of the opposite sex, they would respond by referring to "privilege").

After all, take a movie like 300. Lots of action and eye-candy? Check. Main characters are hot and gratuitously show a lot of their anatomy? Bunch of stereotypical baddies killed or maimed in various cinematically entertaining ways? Check. Of course, it's over-the-top, the plot doesn't really make sense -- and there are some very ugly real-world implications to the story if you just stop to think about it. (I'll just link to History Spork's take on that movie for details.)

Now, just reverse the gender of the main character, and you have something like SP: action and eye-candy that can be enjoyed if you turn rationality off and just go with the flow. And since the heroic characters we are supposed to identify with during the movie (the ones who have the sex-appeal AND perform the daring stunts AND get to kill baddies, all sorts of fantasies rolled into one) are female, I guess it can be enjoyed, and even felt as empowering, by young women who either don't have too much grounding in feminism -- or just don't care about that while fantasying in a movie theater about hot young heroines wielding deadly weapons.

In that light, SP can be seen as a female counterpart to the male fantasies that James Bond movies and superhero flicks are for men. Basically, a fantasy trip that can only work if you don't look at it too closely, with girls instead of guys as the protagonists. (Of course, Lara Croft already did something similar...)

#190 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2011, 02:36 AM:

IreneD: The only weakness in that argument is that at the end of the movie, Bond walks away, usually with one of the girls. In superhero flicks, the superheroes usually survive (or, natch, come back.) In this movie, one in 5 lives, and it's not totally clear that she's totally free of it all.

Which, yes, some people ignore in the face of hot chicks kicking ass and taking names along the way, but I do think it undermines the feminist view.

(although I am reminded that my sister-in-law refers to action movies with half-naked men and lots of explosions as chick flicks, because they appeal to HER gaze.)

#191 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2011, 07:23 AM:

@ Lenora Rose #190: Oh, I agree with you about the way this movie effectively undermines feminism even as it pretends to picture kick-ass heroines. I was just trying to imagine how someone could come from seeing Sucker Punch thinking it was in *any* way feminist.

Maybe a lot of people just enjoy putting their brain on vacation when they go to see this kind of movie (along with things like 300, in which nearly all the characters also die in heroic but stupid ways...) and only want the most basic escapism possible: impossibly attractive protagonists who can do anything, and make them forget for a while the boring, complicated reality we are all stuck in. And they enjoy it all the more when said protagonist is of the same gender/ethnicity/whatever than them, because it makes identification easier.

#192 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2011, 12:54 PM:

Lenora Rose #190: In this movie, one in 5 lives, and it's not totally clear that she's totally free of it all.

Possibly one of those "buddy" flicks, where "everybody dies"? Thelma & Louise have already gender-flipped that one, after all.

#193 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2011, 04:53 PM:

I am wrong about Ishmael. In my haste I conflated Ishmael with Queequeg! Gack. I apologize for my confusion making more confusion. Thanks to all of you who caught that error.

Love, C.

#194 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2011, 07:33 PM:

pedantic Serge @136: "It's 'pedantic', not 'pendatic'.
"Pendatic" is when it has a dangling participle, but hangs together anyway.

Xopher @149: I first heard "Beauty is as Beauty does" as a song from the old Mickey Mouse Club, and in fact, I have transferred our ancient, battered LP of it to my iPod where I can listen to Annette sing it whenever I want. I like it when Annette sings.

#195 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2011, 07:34 PM:

No, wait, that would be "pendantic." "Pendatic" is when you make a date with your Pen Pal.

#196 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2011, 11:29 PM:

Well, actually, the construction seems to argue that "pen-" is "the one just before," and "datic" is of or pertaining to dates, so it means something you do just before a date. Like dutifully pleasuring oneself, so as to last longer for one's lady love. (also known as "anticibation")

#197 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2011, 02:10 PM:

James D. Macdonald @163: You don't need to; it's visually stunning and has a great soundtrack.

Soundtrack can be contemplated separately, and visually stunning isn't enough to get me into the theater. And from the descriptions so far, the story and characters in this thing sound like fall squarely into my squick zone.

#198 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2011, 12:38 AM:

I saw the movie weekend before last, when I had a Friday night to kill in Milton Keynes. Due to confusion in finding the cinema, I managed to miss the beginning up until just before oily orderly offers to fake the lobotomy request. Losing the first ten or so minutes didn't spoil my enjoyment of the film, I have to say. There was very little of the bracketing level to worry about sorting out the plot of, and I think I accepted the switch to the whorehouse level without much confusion, except for the switch between Babydoll being prepped for her lobotomy and the angry blonde whose name we all seem to be having trouble with appearing on the stage. And I did wonder for a moment whether we were descending or ascending levels of reality. But I mostly forgot about that as that level unfolded for the audience.

It seemed to me that the stolen items had symbolic significance in that they had to be taken from the girls' oppressors. The map isn't necessary, since they could draw up their own map without much trouble, but it symbolises the pimp's control. As long as only he has the map, he controls the whorehouse, but when angry blonde copies it, he loses the security through obscurity.

—Incidentally, despite the PG rating, there was never any doubt in my mind that the dancing was only for the front of the house. When Rocket shows Babydoll around, they spend part of a scene in a rather lurid bedroom, which can't be used for sleeping, since the girls all sleep in the dorm we see later. Also, it seemed to me that as well as Babydoll's dancing they were going to sell her virginity to the Big Cheese (or whatever the name was).—

And again, they don't specifically need the mayor's lighter, except that it is the lighter used to light the vile cigars he smokes. And sometimes a cigar is not just a cigar. They don't need the knife, except that the knife belongs to the cook, and it isn't a cigar either. I've forgotten what the other thing is, but I'm sure it's symbolic somehow.

I think this is the kind of dream logic that was referred to near the beginning of the thread, not the anything-goes melty dream, but the more narratively-styled dream that nonetheless can't be distinguished from Twilight novels when you wake up. So, yes, the whorehouse plot doesn't make a lot of sense — if the girls have a dance instructor, why don't they have a fuck instructor? — but it makes about as much sense as Iain Banks' bridge in, umm, The Bridge.

The anticipation of modern tropes in a dream within a dream in a fifties/sixties head, I put down to being just an interpretation of what the girl was dreaming translated into a modern idiom fir the audience. Maybe her dreams could more accurately have been portrayed as swipes from contemporary Astounding covers. Also, the music in the whorehouse was all pretty modern; I can't imagine what pre-Beatles era Americans would make of Björk, but I doubt it would have played well to the whorehouse customers. Was Babydoll literally dreaming of a late C20 Icelandic songstress, or was she just dreaming of some weird music, blanks to be filled in later when she came to consciousness?

By the way, one of the indistinguishable brunettes could be distinguished by the fact that she was the pilot: she drove the mecha during the trenches dream, she piloted the B-26 during the dragon escapade, and flew the Huey on the train mission.

Anyway, I managed to miss all the publicity for this film except for a poster that caught my eye, so I went into it expecting nothing, didn't take it seriously, had fun working out what I missed at the beginning and WTF was happening, enjoyed the visuals and the music, didn't worry too much about it making sense. And I enjoyed it as I might an extended, high-budget music video. Not particularly deep, despite a wave in the direction of profundity, but satisfying on an action level. And I note that it passes the Bechdel Test.


#199 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2011, 08:36 AM:

Jacque @ #197, not only am I certain I would be both squicked and bored (I've previously discovered that "visually stunning" is nowhere near enough to overcome a dumb plot and/or unlikeable characters), I am also certain that I do not want a dime of my money going to encourage the making of more of this crap.

Look, even leaving the question of feminism aside: how many action movies would you watch if all the kick-ass heroes were built like Fred Astaire? There's suspension of disbelief, sure, but after a while you need a damn big crane to suspend it from.

#200 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2011, 09:03 AM:

how many action movies would you watch if all the kick-ass heroes were built like Fred Astaire?

Pretty much the entire Hong Kong film industry is built on making action movies with fairly small, wiry men as leads. (Or Sammo Hung.)

#201 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2011, 09:22 AM:

Look, even leaving the question of feminism aside: how many action movies would you watch if all the kick-ass heroes were built like Fred Astaire?

More of 'em, given that I vastly prefer Fred Astaire's physique to Arnold Schwarzenegger's. As it is, I go to action movies to watch things blow up.

#202 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2011, 09:44 AM:

how many action movies would you watch if all the kick-ass heroes were built like Fred Astaire?

In the musical "The Band Wagon", Fred spoofs Mike Hammer, of all people.
The Deadly Dame being played by Cyd Charisse was less of a stretch.

#203 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2011, 09:57 AM:

Serge, 202: "A rag, a bone, and a hank of hair." Given the dates, though, I'm pretty sure he's spoofing Chandler. (Speaking of dream logic....) Besides, Mike Hammer doesn't like women very much. Fred is far too gentlemanly to play a guy like that.

I always wanted to be Cyd Charisse when I grew up. Her green dress in Singin' in the Rain is still my favorite movie costume ever.

#204 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2011, 10:13 AM:

TexAnne @ 203... I had assumed that it was a spoof of Hammer because Fred's character didn't quit have the nse of self-deprecating humor that Philip Marlowe has. Maybe it was a combination of Hammer and Marlowe, or Fred not wishing to play a misogynist.

As for Cyd Charisse..
"She came at me in sections... more curves than a scenic railway."

#205 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2011, 11:41 AM:

How many action movies would people go to if being in a fight led to the damage/incapacity that being in a fight causes (the only thing that feels worse than winning a fight is losing one).

It's not physique, per se, that wins a fight (though there is a reason I don't box anymore), it's not even skill, though it helps. Raw willingness to hurt people is the prime requirement. Unless the opponent is willing/able to respond, it's game over.

#206 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2011, 12:22 PM:

How many action movies would you watch if the hero was built like Audie Murphy?

#207 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2011, 12:42 PM:

The most brutal movie fight I ever saw was in a Hitchock film - "Torn Curtain", I think. No flying on wires, no perfect choreography, just two men silently grasping at each other on the floor, and it ends when one shoves the other's head inside a gas oven.

#209 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2011, 03:34 PM:

Heh. "Don't hold back, Mark. Tell us what you really think." ZackSnyder!

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