Friday, March 11, 2016

The pleasures of withholding information: 6 oblique notes on 10 Cloverfield Lane

1) Back in 2008, I wrote that "Cloverfield works best when it withholds information," and the same is true for 10 Cloverfield Lane. Just as J. J. Abrams' clever marketing campaign maintained its teasing ambiguities, 10 Cloverfield Lane keeps asking: what do we know about what's going on in this movie? Has the civilized world ended outside of Howard's (i.e. John Goodman's) bunker? What is the exact situation inside the bunker? Has Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) been thrust into a refuge or a prison from which there is no escape? The movie emphasizes our contemporary fragmentation of knowledge, how the political positions of isolated people have solidified in their ignorance of other points of view, how the current environment breeds conspiracy theories where every home becomes a fortress surrounded by real or imagined enemies, where the true menace comes from not having any kind of fix on any truth beyond the necessity for survival. I liked 10 Cloverfield Lane for its action and suspense, but also for its tendency to raise (and not necessarily answer) these kind of questions.

2) From Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb:

Muffley: Well, I, I would hate to have to decide . . . who stays up and . . .who goes down.
Dr. Strangelove: Well, that would not be necessary, Mr. President. It could easily be accomplished with a computer. And a computer could be set and programmed to accept factors from youth, health, sexual fertility, intelligence, and a cross-section of necessary skills. Of course, it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition. Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh? There would be much time, and little to do. Ha, ha. But ah, with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present Gross National Product within say, twenty years.
Muffley: But look here doctor, wouldn't this nucleus of survivors be so grief-stricken and anguished that they'd, well, envy the dead and not want to go on living?

3) In the 1975 post-nuclear armageddon science fiction film A Boy and His Dog, young Vic (Don Johnson) happens upon an underground society where people apply rouge to their cheeks and assume good wholesome rural American poses (apple pie, gingham dresses, false smiles, etc.). Their shared delusion of continuing 1950's era conservative normalcy ironically juxtaposes with the toxic irradiated atmosphere, the layers of fallout overhead, and their inability to survive on the surface of the earth. If a member of this society misbehaves, then he or she is sent to the "farm" (where they are quietly killed). In Vic's case, they hook him up to a machine that mechanically extracts sperm from him, thereby emphasizing how the other men have become sterile. A Boy and His Dog demonstrates how ideological groups become ghastly parodies of themselves over time. They may follow the "form" of their beliefs, but their lives can become a matter of hiding sinister truths: self-delusion, the pointlessness of survival without integrity, and the mockery of authority when the rules become deranged. 


Very indirectly, 10 Cloverfield Lane reminded me of Dr. Strangelove and A Boy and His Dog.


4) Early in 10 Cloverfield Lane, Howard tells Michelle: "I'm sorry, but no one is looking for you. You are lucky to be alive. I saved your life." Should Michelle be grateful? Down in the doomsday chambers, Howard has assembled a jukebox with creepily cheerful 1950s pop songs such as "I Think We're Alone Now" by Tommy James and the Shondells, a collection of DVD's and videos to watch including Cannibal Airlines, magazines oriented towards teenagers (?), a shower curtain with a large rubber duck on it, and an heirloom dining table that Howard is very concerned about not getting stained. In all, a very faux-comfortable yet subtly demented Flintstones living environment.   

5) How has her role as Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World prepared the celebrity persona of Mary Elizabeth Winstead for 10 Cloverfield Lane? Is it because Scott Pilgrim's dreamlike fixation on her primes the viewer for whatever interest anyone in the bunker may take in her? Has all of the previous film's Street Fighter-esque fight scenes helped us accept how Michelle fiercely battles whatever might lie within or without the shelter of J. J. Abram's movie? 

6) Ultimately, the questions that arise from 10 Cloverfield Lane seem apt for the present moment. With so much fear and prejudice on display in the news, the feeling of being threatened by a constantly redefined other that needs to be opposed, walled out, and subdued, how much are we living in a bunker mentality already? 

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