All posts tagged “rabbits


The Rules of the Game, Jean Renoir (1939)

A dangerous discovery: The University library has the entire Criterion Collection available to stream. Suddenly these quiet summer afternoons in the office seem like golden opportunities to revisit old favorites.

It’s too bad that Renoir’s Grand Illusion isn’t available through this service, because it’s the natural accompaniment to The Rules of the Game. Both films are about the fragility, or maybe the elasticity, of the conventions, taboos, and mores which govern civilized activities, whether social (in Rules of the Game) or political (in Grand Illusion). To live rigidly within those boundaries, like a cow keeping its wary distance from the electric fence, is to be doomed to dreariness: a frigid marriage, moronic jingoism. But to flagrantly transgress them is to risk chaos, alienation. The authentic life, then, is lived with one foot on either side of on an impossible and invisible line hidden beneath the snow, as seen at the end of Grand Illusion.

The Rules of the Game is an iron fist in a velvet glove. The main action takes place at a country estate, where a bunch of aristocrats are spending the weekend. On the surface it looks like a charming upstairs/downstairs melodramatic farce, with slamming doors, midnight rendezvous, stolen kisses, jealous husbands. But there’s a hard edge under the fizz. The party goes out for a hunt and Renoir subjects us to a relentless sequence of rabbit after rabbit after rabbit being shot dead in the dirt. And in the end, innocence itself lies down with them.

Renoir, famously, called The Rules of the Game a war movie, and indeed the alliances and enmities of the feckless aristocrats and territorial servants who populate the film are easily understood as metaphors for the pettinesses which were, in 1939, about to destroy a civilization.

All that, yes, but the movie’s no dirge; it’s French, and so is also filled with joy that literally makes me laugh out loud. And, far from least, this is the movie where one learns the proper method of making salade de pommes de terre. Crucial.


Gone Girl, David Fincher (2014)

gone.girl_.thm_ Because they do extraordinarily strange things, the characters in this thriller, I can’t help but assume, must have very complex psychologies. But the movie remains focused on the strange things they do, rather than the complex reasons they do them. So instead of coming away with a sense of having plumbed the depths of an interesting psyche, I come away thinking something along the lines of, well, that was weird. I can’t really even get too heated up about the movie’s misogyny, since its objects seem more cartoons than actual women, its perpetrators more cardboard than actual men.

In fairness, the idea that extreme behavior and situations—rough sex, murder, obsession, Missouri—are regularly figured in our culture as sensations to be rubbernecked at while we flick through the channels (the movie’s absolute best moment is a winking tracking shot near the very end which focuses briefly on the satellite dish atop the antagonists’ soulless suburban home), rather than human phenomena worthy of thoughtful analysis, is part of the movie’s raison d’être. Or at least I’m guessing that’s what David Fincher is telling himself.

But while the critique of Nancy Grace’s style of serial sensationalist indignation is present, it’s not the main event here. The main event is the psychotic, beautiful, brilliant bitch everyone still loves to hate, these thirty-odd years since Glenn Close killed and boiled that rabbit, these three-thousand-odd since Helen launched those ships.

Movies to watch instead of this one:

Fury, Fritz Lang (1936). Spencer Tracy > Ben Affleck.

To Die For, Gus Van Sant (1995). Still my favorite movie about TV, I think.

Caché, Michael Haneke (2005). About the same amount of blood, but a good deal more significance.