Kill List

By Christopher Matos

Before going into a horrendously structured analysis of, Kill List directed, and written, by Ben Wheatley with Co-writer Amy Jump, I need to preface the following article with some honesty. My background in writing is not film; I’ve only ever enjoyed watching movies. My background is in Literature where, with a goal in mind, I had aimed to prove something to someone. I’ve always loved film more than literature, and in many ways my love for the art is why I kept so far from raking through it with a fine-toothed comb.

I’ve always viewed film critics as idiotic, or snobbish individuals whose ideals far exceed what was necessary, who pompously overlooked what the average person may find appealing. In my opinion criticism in general is rife with such flaws, often drawing conclusions founded in broken dreams, or missed opportunity. My main goal writing these articles is to be honest, to try to be fair, and present the perspective of your average movie-goer. So…

Have you seen “The Kill List?” This “Horror film” available on Netflix was in my opinion an interesting look inside a dysfunctional family. A pained family, that brutalized what it meant to be unemployed, and what some must do in order to survive which of course means murder people! Yay! In sitting down to view this film I had no expectations because realistically English indie horror films don’t often flash through my viewfinder. What I received was a movie that had peaks, and valleys, and to a guy whose hair stands up at the mention John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), I was somewhat disappointed with this billed horror film.

As a suspense thriller? In that respect it was average. Everything about this movie said, “that’s interesting, but why is it so familiar.” At times it was beautifully shot, taking me to Sheffield, South Yorkshire a decent suburb of England’s Humber region that, realistically, I couldn’t find on a map if you paid me. Holding your attention with the stark contrasts between the brutality of the unfolding story, and the quaint peaceful setting, you’re along for the somewhat predictable ride, which can be entertaining.

The introduction to the plot, and the character development, in some ways, helped the overall movie, however once it gets on the road I felt like I had seen some of it before. The “Former Hit men looking for a way to make money” plot takes us on a path that is both interesting, yet somewhat predictable. Its attempt at generating mystery causes subtle interest, as violence allows the main characters to take ownership of their lives. Poignant moments give us reflections of humanity, displaying how a disenfranchised man can artfully be fed up with the way things are, and that is what saved this movie for me. Insert your hit-man code of ethics, and comradery, and now you love these characters.

Certain themes throughout where beautifully articulated. The display of the broken home portrays the strength of the actors, and allows the script to truly shine. There are moments where, as an audience member, you are allowed to think slightly deeper than what is in front of you. You may begin to realize that to live “sins” or past regret is to be tortured forever for being human, whether a hit-man, or not. The thematic realization that we are a cog in a giant machine with only one goal: to destroy itself. This plays well here, and foreshadows the gripping ending.

The final scenes, and the overarching final descent into chaos was, by far, the best, or most suspenseful scenes despite, at times, being choked by its own script. I felt feeling uncomfortable and uneasy by the end, but the attempt at a hard shock was obvious, and somewhat unoriginal. The acting was good, the photography was good, and the story was okay. Obviously, a suspense film needs to keep you on your toes, keep you uncomfortable, and fearful of what’s to come. The Kill List had its moments.

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A Journey “Under The Skin” 

By Langston Teijeiro
 
Aliens? Extra-Terrestrials? The Third Kind? The Fourth Kind? Maybe you turn to the Spielberg classic “E.T.” for answers, or to Ridley Scott’s crowning achievement, “Alien,” for a compelling sensation of vulnerability, and helplessness, as I do. Maybe you even look up at the stars? Well, early in 2014, I had the pleasure to sit in a quiet, empty theater for the newest work by Jonathan Glazer, a British director who has led some independent classics such as “Sexy Beast” and “Birth”. Undoubtedly, “Under the Skin” is the Golden Standard of Science Fiction. It gave me chills beneath my skin, despite the fact that one primitive human being booed as the ending credits began to roll.
 
Scarlett Johansson delivers the performance of her career as an attractive being who is physically, emotionally, and spiritually lost on Earth . The film is photographed and shot so eerily, that I began to feel as if the spirit of the great Stanley Kubrick lent a helping hand. This story is best said through the eyes of Johansson’s character, who is clearly in pain, finding her thrill by sexually teasing men and then disposing them into her own fluid. This is an interesting concept, especially since the majority of sexual activity derives from fluids. 

However, by the third act of the film, we realize that her beauty is really only skin deep… and we can feel her torment. The human audience magically finds themselves relating to a character not born in this world, and we begin to pity her. She can’t find peace anywhere, and her beauty is her curse. The film ends as an expose of her repulsive characteristics– her “true” colors are shown.

Langston Teijeiro is a 24 year old screenwriter based out of New York City and Los Angeles. He is currently in the process of planning his first directorial debut (Which he wrote himself) and should begin shooting Summer 2015. He was born and raised in Miami, FL, and graduated from Florida International University in August 2012.

5 Reasons Why “Captain Phillips” Was The Most Accomplished Film Of 2013

By Langston Teijeiro

Hello, fellow cinephiles. I hope that you are settled in after “12 Years a Slave” won the big award and “Gravity” became the big winner (7 Academy Awards). As we are preparing for another fall season, I figured it would be beneficial to take a trip back down memory lane as I explain why Paul Greengrass’ masterpiece (Bloody Sunday, United 93, The Bourne Supremacy, etc.) known as “Captain Phillips” was truly the biggest triumph of 2013. 

Though there are many more, here are 5 reasons why:

1) What Was Written:  As a screenwriter, I understand what it takes to make a film work behind the camera. Screenwriter Billy Ray’s approach was to adapt Richard Phillips’ memoir to an entertaining, thrilling, and thought provoking Docu-Drama. The script was a multi-layered examination of the 2009 event, rather than a dull lecture. This film was written with grace from beginning to end, making an intense, informative, and jaw dropping roller-coaster ride. Billy Ray’s writing efforts won him the Writer’s Guild of America Award in 2013, as well as an Academy Award nomination in 2014 for Best Adapted Screenplay. Well deserved, Mr. Ray…Well deserved.

2) What Wasn’t WrittenHave you ever heard the phrase: A screenplay is merely a blueprint? Well, it’s true. Nobody understands this concept better than masterful director, Paul Greengrass. With a resume that ranges from the critical acclaim of “United 93” to the commercial success of “The Bourne Supremacy”, Paul Greengrass’ approach to storytelling is recognized. Much of Captain Phillips was improvised, including the iconic line that first time actor, Barkhad Abdi, ad-libbed in, which is present in arguably the most iconic and powerful scene of the entire film. However, despite the power of that famous scene, the improvisation that captured my attention the most was the captivating ending in the infirmary on the ship.

 3) Technically, The Film Should Not Have Succeeded:  When one looks at the trailer for this film, it can be concluded that “Captain Phillips” is a typical, Hollywood propaganda piece meant to sell tickets and entertainment to jaded audiences. However, thanks to Scott Rudin, Kevin Spacey, Dana Brunetti, and Michael De Luca, this film is a golden treasure that embarks and captivates, rather than merely entertains.

 4) Launched Careers: It’s always a beautiful thing to see a pack of newcomers from Minnesota shine on a big screen and, at times, steal the show from a Two-Time Academy Award Winner. However, there is one Somali from Minnesota who completely nailed his performance. Barkhad Abdi shines in this epic with no prior acting experience. His menacing demeanor, facial expressions, and impeccable body language earned him an Academy Award Nomination, Golden Globe Nomination, Screen Actor’s Guild Nomination, and a British Academy Award win for Best Supporting Actor! Who is the captain now?

 5) Solidified Careers: What more can an artist do after they make history and pass their prime? Oh yeah, reach a second career peak. Throughout the film, Tom Hanks maintains a reserved, composed, and calm demeanor as the lead performer. However, in the third act in the lifeboat, Phillips’ composure runs out, and as the pirates are executed in a brilliant fashion, Hanks delivers in a way that no other actor could have. The ending in the infirmary shows Hanks’ prowess as an actor and he shows all of the reservation, composure, and calm being channeled through shock, distortion of speech, tears, and trauma. It’s the perfect examination of the human brain after it experiences a traumatizing occurrence which, in my opinion, equates to Hanks’ finest work to date.

With Henry Jackman’s score, Barry Ackroyd’s lighting, Greengrass’ brilliant ability to engage a story, and plenty of other technical challenges this film had to endure (Shooting in tight spaces, filming on the ocean, etc.),“Captain Phillips” diligently executes cinematic structures and formulas. However, it rebels in every way possible, making this film the greatest cinematic accomplishment of 2013.

Now all we can do is sit back, watch the news, and predict what story Paul Greengrass will grace us with next.

Langston Teijeiro is a 24 year old screenwriter based out of New York City and Los Angeles. He is currently in the process of planning his first directorial debut (Which he wrote himself) and should begin shooting Summer 2015. He was born and raised in Miami, FL, and graduated from Florida International University in August 2012.”

Abject Bodies and Gender Instability in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960)

By Dan Spada, originally published on Raving Through Dark Nights. Republished with permission.

The way performance functions in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” reflects a deep, abiding preoccupation with gender roles and the truth economy that is generated therein. The oscillation between masculine and feminine, and the instability of gender is depicted in the construction of characters that do no satisfy ideal, conventional roles regarding sex and gender, but rather expose a profoundly unsettling inconsistency in respect to bodies, both abject and normalized. The gender role reversal in Psycho is blindingly obvious, particularly in the scene where Lila goes to explore the house and find Mrs. Bates, while Sam acts as a decoy to distract Norman. This scene and the following one, in which it is revealed that Norman has been preserving the skeleton of his mother and dressing up in her clothes, stress the transience of gender, and how it is not always in sync with biological sex. Sam’s aggressive homo-social taunting of Norman in this sequence, and Lila’s exploration of the house, leading up to the discovery of the skeleton and Norman’s performance as his mother, all hint towards an inherent gender instability within the characters of the film and a masculine/feminine malaise that is developed throughout the course of the film.

Psycho 1

Before Lila begins to look for Mrs. Bates and Sam distracts Norman, they search through the cabin one for any clues. They find a slip of paper Marion wrote on regarding the stolen money (just numbers and equation signs) that missed the toilet when she flushed the rest down. Lila becomes desperate to search the house and speak to Mrs. Bates, and Sam fulfills the typical role of male protector by saying, “I don’t like you going into that house alone.” This dialogue is in line with the heterosexist ideology of the time, and an ideology that Sam’s character clearly held true. He sounds resigned when he says that he’ll find Bates and keep him occupied.

psycho 2

It is important to note that Sam’s gender performance, like everyone’s inside the world of the film (and outside, according to feminist and queer theorist Judith Butler), is a failure. He cannot provide for Marion in the way that she wants and needs him to (as evident from the first scene); ironically, right after Norman watches the swamp swallow the car with Marion’s body in it, Sam is seen writing a letter to Marion professing that he doesn’t care if they are poor, cramped, or miserable – at least they’ll be happy (and alive). This could be why he overcompensates when in pursuit of the truth about what really happened to her, and this overcompensation comes on particularly strong throughout the scene in which he keeps Norman occupied. His hyper-masculinity in this scene is almost to be expected, especially with someone as weak as Norman.

psycho 3

However, Sam’s hyper-masculinity does not surface until after they enter the office. Norman is already suspicious of the couple, and Sam is clearly nervous, at first (before entering the office), to be diverting Norman’s attention. He knows that he is a potentially dangerous person, although he is not yet sure in what way. The sexual tension between the two is immediately felt in Norman’s body language. His confidence (both in body and speech) when he asks, “You looking for me?” slowly begins to dissipate shortly thereafter. His body then enters a visible state of unrest, and Sam’s teasing line, “I never can keep quiet enough for her, so I thought I’d look you up and talk”, with all its erotic undertones, hints towards a fluctuation between homo-social and homoerotic interaction – that also begins to dissipate after those few seconds.

psycho 4

Sam then begins to try to bully the truth out of Norman, which, although it does not work (in regard to what he wants to hear – about the money and Marion), puts him in a progressively more distressed state over the duration of their conversation. It seems that Hitchcock implies that when Sam says “Buy a new one, in a new town, where you won’t have to hide your mother,” when talking about the hotel and the money, that Norman is actually thinking about himself and his gender identity. Hitchcock is also suggesting the possibility of Norman thinking Sam is aware of his secret, which makes him noticeably tense up – his jaw muscle begins to contract faster, and his speech begins to tremble.

In the office scene, the frame is split perfectly in two. Sam inhabits one side (the left – customer), Norman the other (the right – owner): one proper body, one abject; one (normalized) heterosexual identity, one (shamed) queer; one searching for what he will not find, and one hiding something everyone is looking for – but also the opposite, something no one expected to find. Lila exploring the house while Sam distracts Norman also could be looked at as a gender role reversal – why is it Lila exploring the house while Sam distracts Norman? Shouldn’t they use Lila’s female sexuality to keep Norman’s attention while Sam (born explorer, essence of man) searches the house? Or were they already unsure about Norman’s sexuality? They certainly were not given any clues to his gender trouble at that point.

psycho 5

The revelation of Norman as Mrs. Bates is a different kind of performance when looked at against those outlined by Judith Butler. Butler offers drag as the ultimate portrayal of gender instability. However, almost always, drag offers some sort of comedic edge (whether it be inherent in the participants/the performance or reactionary from the audience) and her syllogism that if one understands drag as a portrayal of gender instability, then they must believe gender to be socially constructed, is reductive and unrealistic. With Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock offers his character’s gender trouble in a less deductive and more effective/affective way: Norman is not a sideshow, a circus act for the people from within the film or the audience to laugh at (up until the end, when a feeling of camp arises). Hitchcock is not setting it up so that once the audience witnesses the wig falling off Norman’s head in the big reveal that they will instantly be convinced of gender’s contingent foundations. Hitchcock is, however, offering a deeply troubling ambiguity that confounds the characters within the film, and finds the audience feeling a deep unease in regards to what they have just seen. It’s the slippage between masculine and feminine, the undeclared sexuality of Norman that is emphasized by Hitchcock and felt by the audience; it is that uncertainty which functions as the crux of the film and is the key to its understanding. With drag, you only get the performance. With “Psycho”, you get more: the visage of the boy next door and the spirit underneath the skin of Norman Bates – the creation of a monster a little too human for our liking.

psycho 6

About the writer: Dan Spada has a Bachelor’s in Women Studies and Film from Hunter College. He currently works for Tribeca in the Acquisitions Department. Dan was on the Pre-screener Committee for the Hampton’s International Film Festival taking place this October (2014) and was on the selection committee for this year’s Rooftop FIlms Summer Series.

Optimus Prime Fails to Let Awful Humans Die in ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’

By Tara M. Clapper, The Geek Initiative’s Senior Editor. Initially published on The Geek Initiative

Optimus Prime makes a big mistake in the latest “Transformers” movie: he defends humanity. This installment proves even more regressive than “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” formerly my least favorite movie. Since the last film was tolerable and my husband is a fan of the animated “Transformers” series and movies, I decided to give the fourth installment a shot.

Typically I adore plots that involve characters defending humanity – whether it’s an alien robot like Optimus Prime, the president in “Independence Day,” or the god of thunder. Unfortunately, all of the humans in “Transformers: Age of Extinction” fail to prove they are worth redemption.

Not Dating Him, LOL! He’s My Dad!

The human side of the story begins in Texas, complete with idyllic sunset. There, we meet Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz). But there’s a catch – the relationship between Cade and Tessa is ambiguous at first until we realize Cade is the widowed parent of Tessa. There’s nothing wrong with the age difference (it’s great to see a young parent who supports his daughter), just that it’s presented so you may first assume the two are dating. Additionally, Tessa’s uncle figure makes more than one creepy comment about her before their relationship is established as well.

Women Are Objectified Again. And Again…

Male characters objectify women throughout the film. We are led to believe this is pretty much their purpose in good old Texas, but the primary objectification occurs with Tessa as the subject…or rather, the object.

Tessa primarily serves as character development for Cade and Shane (Jack Reynor), her tan Irish racecar driver boyfriend. The two spend most of the movie fighting over what Tessa is allowed to do, who she belongs to, and who is worthy of protecting her. They seem to disagree with what the 17-year-old should be allowed to do with her body. Tessa, of course, just stays quiet except for the occasional ‘but daaad,’ and lets the men decide her fate in all regards.

There were also some fake bots that looked suspiciously like Arcee. Bumblebee refers to these fake bots as ‘things.’

Even when Cade tells Tessa she wasn’t a mistake (because she was unplanned), he makes sure to remind her that she’s the best thing that ever happened to him.

Tessa Is a Victim

Tessa serves as a victim in most of the film. She’s a victim of:

  • Her mother’s death
  • Her father’s lack of responsibility
  • An agent pointing a gun at her within the first 20 minutes of the film in order to make her father cooperate
  • Robots, robots, and more robots – somehow everyone else can roll out of the way but for Tessa, who remains paralyzed with fear
  • While restrained, she is nearly a victim of alien tongue penetration – yes, it really does get that rapey
  • Denial of education as she is rejected for a collegiate scholarship
  • Fear of heights, despite the male characters’ innate ability to traverse suspended cables in moderate winds
  • Men deciding who is responsible for her while she isn’t even awake

The Role of Tessa

If Tessa had a role other than victim or possession, her character might be redeemable. I spent most of the movie vacillating between ‘she’s already so weak, I hope they don’t fridge her’ to ‘now she’s just annoying; put her out of her misery.’ Not only did I lack sympathy for Tessa, she just seemed intentionally helpless. No wonder the men were fighting over who had to bear this burden of protecting the farm girl.

That’s the thing, though – in the beginning of the movie, Tessa finds out that she doesn’t get a college scholarship. She doesn’t even tell her father; instead, she starts to justify staying at home because no one else is there to take care of her father. He doesn’t even notice she’s upset.

At least she has a role – she cooks and makes sure he has food and she cleans the house. While it isn’t what she wants out of life, it’s something – except in true Michael Bay fashion, her house blows up less than 15 minutes later, leaving her without the backup role of homemaker.

Blatant Racism

The movie has a lot of white people in it and many Asians who fit neatly into stereotypes (especially martial arts master). Aside from a few random agents, the film contains no African-American actors…except for one. He’s just a tiny robot guy with a ‘black’ accent. He gets trapped and experimented upon and when a white man of authority is tired of hearing him complain about it, he electrocutes the robot to make him stop talking.

The little robot, meant to be comic relief, becomes free – and declares he’s “free at last” – because nothing says ‘it’s not racist, he’s just a robot’ like a racially exaggerated, electrocuted robot blatantly quoting/mocking Dr. Martin Luther King.

Confusion in Humor

At various points in the film, I think some of the characters’ misogynistic comments are supposed to be exaggerated; unfortunately, the blatant sexism taking place in the ‘who possesses Tessa’ trio makes it nearly impossible to tell exactly where the line is drawn – if there even is one.

Sexism in Language and the Vagina Monster

“Don’t bitch out on me.” This is one of the more disturbing lines in the film. What’s even better – Tessa’s father is the one who says it to her boyfriend. What’s more disturbing is that Wahlberg not only agreed to say this line multiple times, but brought his wife and children to the movie’s premiere.

Someone else gets called a bitch – this time by Hound (John Goodman). He lays out the curse while he’s taking care of a villainous vagina monster – that is a vagina dentata alien who offended him by ejaculating fluid onto him.

Michael Bay Films…Now With More Machismo!

I’ve heard it before. Us pesky feminists, always complaining about how women are treated unfairly when men endure so much. Well, Bay’s film has something to offend you as well, especially if you happen to be a less-than-perfect-looking bearded dude or a guy not working in a high level of government. Anything other than that – including a large chunk of the film’s demographic, I imagine – is a stooge. Several ‘normal guy’ characters (including male scientists) are portrayed as not manly enough.

He Who Has the Biggest Peen

So who actually gets to decide what Tessa does with her life and her body? Her dad. That’s because he’s the one who strokes the big giant penis sword first.

What I Liked About This Movie

  • Very occasionally, some women in the movie had heroic moments. Unfortunately, they were overshadowed by the rampant sexism of the males.
  • Dinobots and explosions are cool.
  • The poor editing was hilarious. One moment, Cade’s crying out about injustice and two seconds later a bad cut scene reveals his sudden serenity.
  • Despite being in a survival situation, Tessa is sure to find some time to make sure her nails are painted a trendy periwinkle about three-fourths of the way through the movie. Obviously she has her priorities straight.

Trivia – Possibly Unrelated, But I’m Thinking No…

Screenwriter Ehren Kruger once worked as an executive assistant at The Fox Network, also known as the company that airs Fox News and the company that canceled “Firefly.” Draw your own conclusions.

(Re-published with permission)

A Tropese Artist & His Meta-narrative Whirl(ed)s

By Joseph Pravda

Long before “cyberspace” became argot (owing to a certain expatriate author known as Gibson minting it), simulation was the hyper-spatial home of Daniel F. Galouye’s “identity units.”  Fittingly, his tomes are not to be found on the bookshelves just before Mr. Gibson’s growing oeuvre in a “place” we know as three (at most, four) dimensional analog “real life.”

Arthur Clarke, perhaps without intending it, crystallized the issue: “Sometimes I think we’re alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we’re not. In either case, the idea is quite staggering.”

Staggeringly staggering is the proposition that analog creatures can digitize themselves, leading to the greatest imponderable: what sort of entity allowed this to take “place”—and just how, then, to define that rearview mirror image of “real”.

Galouye (pronounced ‘guh-lew-eh’) undertook to become the Samuel Johnson of this new lexicon in “Simulacrum 3” (a runner-up to “Stranger in a Strange Land” from Robert A. Heinlein for the Hugo Award), first depicted by wunderkind German filmmaker J.W. Fassbinder for the, then, still new medium of television (aptly, in Germany, a still new half-nation, perhaps searching to, via mass communicative media, reunite itself electronically, as it were).

In April of 2010, this production, as “World on a Wire”, saw its 35mm world premiere at New York’s MOMA, and shown as recently as January 19, 2011, to reviews retrospectively remarking on its prescience, only casually recalling the tale’s authorship, not unlike praising Francis Bacon’s editorial/authorial genius portraying another long-forgotten author’s work, newly available as “The King James Version.”  [From MOMA’s website, Film Screenings page, as it’s now part of their permanent collection: “‘MoMA’s Department of Film recently participated in a restoration of the film, and we presented the luminous new 35mm theatrical print in a weeklong engagement earlier this year. Working from the original 16mm negative and a digital transfer, Juliane Lorenz, director of the RWF Foundation, and Michael Ballhaus, the film’s original cameraman, supervised the making of the new print. The restored film had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2010, and is now part of the Museum’s collection.'”]

At that century’s last gasp, another German director, Josef Rusnak, deployed a much less derivative version via digital projection in the cyber-melodrama “The Thirteenth Floor,” whose release, much to its demise, coincided with “The Matrix,” an unrelated yet truer synchronous revelation of the questioning of reality per se.

As timely inheritor of Tesla-ized modernity’s newest capabilities, he saw the literal manifestation of the ‘truth as stranger than fiction’ aphorism as truism.  In the same way that Gibson, conveniently alive, describes science fiction as “a narrative strategy” for reflecting upon the “incomprehensible now” in his interviews, Galoyue saw as yet nonexistent digital recreation as but a potentially infinite layering of meta-realities, the Russian doll nesting of one within another.

The American chronicler of the seemingly paranormal, Charles Fort remarked: “A social growth cannot find the use of steam engines until comes steam engine time.”

At the very incipient front edge of digital engine time was D.F. Galouye, finding uses only hinted at then— today, no less scientific luminaries than British Astronomer Royal Martin Rees and JPL’s Rich Terrell (behind such epoch-making scientific probing as Voyager) concur that it is highly plausible that you, reading this, and I are “living” within an ancestor simulation.

As you step away from your electronic quantum device du jour—perhaps to reboot your own central processor’s neural net—scan your surroundings, aware that, as those brave cosmonauts and astronauts have attested, I.e., there are no directions in “space”—ponder this: are “birth” and “death” carbon-based palliatives for the more accurate binary notions of “online” and “reboot”?

Cue the Swedish band from Rusnak’s “The Thirteenth Floor” soundtrack, The Cardigans’ “Erase & Rewind”… ‘Cause I’m changing my mind.’

“Game Over,” do you want to play again?

http://www.andmagazine.com/contributors/114_joseph_baron_pravda.html

http://www.angrysponge.com/

“Whitnail and I, you know what I mean?”

By Nora Gilmartin

Year: 1987

Director: Bruce Robinson

Production: HandMade Films

George Harrison was a producer, allowing it to be one of the few films in history that contains an original, fully licensed Beatles song (Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”)

Infamous in British university culture for its impossibly difficult drinking game

There is always one work within every film lover’s artillery that serves as the perfect representative for their sense of humor. The absurdist name drops Monty Python films— fans of eccentric, wry humor tout Coen brother works like Fargo— disciples of visual comedy worship Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. So in an attempt to self-categorize my comedic taste, I always simply say, “I’m a big fan of Withnail and I, you know what I mean?” Only no one ever knows what I mean. They’ve never even heard of it.

That’s not to say to Bruce Robinson’s directorial debut wasn’t beloved, or indeed even worshipped. The film holds a cult status in the hearts of many Brits, and arguably served as the catalyst for star Richard E. Grant’s career. It has aged like fine wine for the press, now being ranked as one of the top British comedies of all time. But for whatever reason, it never made its home in the States. Perhaps Withnail’s visa was denied because of public intoxication charges. Because if there’s one thing you rarely see in this film of many elements and many one-liners, it’s the main characters sober.

The film opens like a raging hangover. Set in a squalid flat in Camden Town in 1969, we are introduced to two of the many casualties of the decade of artistic exploration– Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and “I” (Paul McGann). As the rest of the world settles back into the drone of office routine and 6 o’clock news, Withnail and his companion are still “resting”– broke, unemployed actors, with serious alcohol problems.

Withnail is Shakespearean in his flamboyance— teetering between the pride and arrogance of a king, and the emotional imbalance of a madman. He assails against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and curses the underserving folk who have become more successful than him. “I”— also referred to as Marwood in the screenplay, but never named in the film— serves as the voice of the audience. Only slightly saner, he strives to find ways to resolve their destitute state and avoid any further chaos.

In an attempt to flee urban London, they reach out to Withnail’s wealthy Uncle Monty. Played by Richard Griffiths, Monty has been lauded for decades as his greatest role (sorry, Potter fans). A corpulent, gay Oxford alum, he manages his time equally between tending his growing vegetable collection and reminiscing over half-fabricated memories of his thespian years. They obtain a key to his home in the country, and immediately head off in their deteriorating Jaguar.

The holiday, unsurprisingly, is a disaster. The pair find themselves even more out of their element than ever before, in a dingy, wet hut of a summer home— relying on their own natural hunting ability to gather food. They attempt to shove a chicken in a kettle, and use plastic grocery bags as Wellingtons. The nightmare is heightened tenfold when Monty arrives in an attempt to seduce Marwood. He retreats when he gets the impression that Marwood and Withnail are in a secret affair, and is saddened by yet another rejection in his old age.

Despite being a comedy, the film is incredibly self-aware of the tragic nature of the characters. The world no longer holds a place for their kind— if it ever did— and they have reached the age where they must adapt, or perish. In a moment of ingenuousness, Monty holds the boys’ hands and declares, “We are at the end of an age… And here we are, we three, perhaps the last island of beauty in the world.”  It is a sentiment echoed throughout the film by the companions, and reflected by the behavior of the outsiders. They are harassed by local drunks, ignored by rural neighbors, rejected by posh tea drinkers, and abused (albeit rightfully) by the police. These are the scenes which provide the greatest comedic effect in the film, but upon further scrutiny reveal the bleak future to come. What will happen to these characters, when the last drop of wine is spilled, and when they tire of amusing schemes to escape their state?

Marwood is astute enough to realize what must be done. Upon returning to London he secures the leading role in a play, cuts his hair, and makes his final exit. An eviction notice comes through the mail, for which Withnail is too high to even show concern. Yet he reveals his devastating fragility in the final scenes, as he attempts to appear happy for his friend’s success, while trailing him to the station— quietly hoping Marwood will become aware of his betrayal. Marwood remains headstrong, saying his sincerest goodbye in Regent’s Park. Withnail is truly, completely alone.

Standing in the rain, in front of the wolf enclosure they used to frequent together, Withnail belts out the “Hamlet” soliloquy: “What a piece of work is man.” The rain strengthens in its intensity, as if to drown him out, but he continues to scream over the downpour. He takes his bow, and the screenplay ends with, “The wolves are unimpressed.” There is something painfully relatable about Withnail as he walks into the distance. His bombastic and rebellious facade has been shattered, the last remnants of dreams finally crushed, with no support or encouragement to be found. He is stranded– a man out of time. Out of cash. Out of booze.

So how does this reflect upon myself, and others who declare Withnail & I to be their favorite comedy film of all time? Perhaps we embrace the more farcical elements of life, acknowledging that the most comical and extravagant characters are often also the most tragic. We can find humor in the darker sides of humanity, and mockery in those who herald themselves as the elite. And maybe, just maybe, we fear that we are the outsiders— narrowly avoiding isolation and destructive despair.

Jesus. That’s grim. Time for another drink.

Nora Gilmartin graduated from Hunter College with a BA in English Literature.