I swear, sometimes I can’t tell if I’m a total snob or a total goat. My standards are on the one hand absurdly high; on the other hand it appears I’ll put just about anything into my eyes. Cartoons (or “animated films”) are an interesting test. I can be and have been persuaded equally by the assertion that they are only for children and the assertion that people who think they are only for children are myopic snobs. Anyway.
Zootopia strikes me as very American and very much of the moment. It’s super preoccupied with proffering a morality, but it’s so desperate not to get anything wrong or offend anyone that its moral message becomes garbled beyond comprehension. It seems to be against discrimination, graft, prejudice, biological determinism, anti-intellectualism, unfair drug crime sentencing, racism, the police state, urban blight, and all sorts of other bad things, but the categories of who’s supposed to be bad, and who good, and who’s being represented as bad but is actually good only society has made him bad, etc., get totally out of hand. This fellow parses out the problems well and in detail. I’ll only add that the happy ending is that the bunny and the fox, supposedly blood enemies, become best friends. But they’re also both cops. I don’t get it.
April and the Extraordinary World is French to the core. Twilit, melancholy, witty, fanciful, open-ended. It’s concerned with utopia and dystopia too, but far less concerned with determining tidy moral categories, which ironically opens a path to a far stronger sense of moral imperative. There’s also an abundance of historical consciousness here, which I love. Not least, it’s a lot more fun to look at the spiky, messy, impressionistic world of this cartoon than the uncannily smooth and bright world of Hollywood animation. I like that there are a lot of pratfalls in this, too. One thing that makes a cartoon good for grownups is a certain enforcement of silliness.
Exhausted people filmed in an exhausted palette in the city of exhaust. I have my reasons for not being able to look away — Schrader is a fellow expatriate from my Midwestern Dutch Calvinist tribe — but there’s not much reason for anyone else to watch this unless, like me, they have to. Bret Easton Ellis’s script tries desperately to be edgy and perverse, but since every character who passes in front of the camera is a two-dimensional cartoon of mean self-interest, it’s practically impossible to care when they do all the horrible things to each other that they do. Schrader’s glacial camera, as ever, aspires to Antonioni-like gravitas but mostly just seems aimless and slightly bored; we spend a lot of time watching people climb stairs and walk to and from their cars. I think Lindsey Lohan and James Deen do pretty well chewing the cardboard lines they’ve been given to speak, but neither are fantastic actors, and their surges from whimper to shout and back again have a high school drama club quality about them.
No need to read further if you don’t know the Calvin College fight song.
OK, so now it’s just us. The once-innocent kid’s character reaches all the way back to Kristen VanDorn from 1979’s Hardcore — they’re both good Michiganders perverted the second they step on Californian soil. But Schrader seems a little tired, or confused, or mellowed; the bracing shock with Kristen was that it turned out she’d chosen depravity. This kid, Ryan, seems to have sort of fallen into it out of a kind of indifference, or even laziness. Maybe that’s Ellis’s influence. Meanwhile, of course the depraved psychopath is named “Christian.” Of course Ryan is from Michigan. Of course the psychopath has a freakout where he mocks the kid’s naiveté and tells him to go back to Michigan. Of course the innocent lamb has her throat cut, and her murderer faces no damnation. These gestures will go unnoticed by some, but they’re almost comically obvious to us. For me, they’re also almost comforting, in a strange way.
I think often about something John Currin said in Calvin Tomkins’ fawning 2008 New Yorker profile of him: “You should never will a change in your work—you have to work an idea to death. I often find that the best things happen when you’re near the end.” This is a frightening notion to me as a writer. I have a great fear of being boring, and repetition seems like a sure path to being boring. At the same time, I think Currin is certainly correct. Every time Cezanne figured Mont Sainte-Victoire, his understanding of color and space, and ours, deepened.
I think that’s all I have to say on this subject for now.