Monday, May 14, 2012

Cronenberg and traditional values

With Eastern Promises, David Cronenberg made a film in the traditional romantic tradition: boy meets girl, boy and girl are suspicious of each other, then fall in love, but fates separate them. In the vein of Casablanca. It has a 40's feel. Just like Casablanca, a sense of duty prevents the protagonist from entering a relationship with her. Oh that one and only kiss they have, before he heartbreakingly walks away! Classic romanticism.

I watched Crash last night. People crashing cars for sexual arousal. Lots of sex, men and women, women on women, men on men. And a lot of crashes with gory shots of dead people upside down in cars, preposterous wounds, all real graphic. After I got over the shock effect I got thinking. The film is really about its two main characters, a couple, and how love each other. It's kind of a marriage counselling story. To make your relationship work, you need to work on making the other person happy. In this case, arousal through car crashes.  It's way harder to make a film about how a couple sustain their relationship than a romantic romp where there is no risk of routine and boredom settling in. Of course there are other themes in the film, such as risk and death, but I was struck by the unobvious sweetness, the deep feeling of loving beyond the shocking images.

I remembered A History of Violence. I saw it by accident, its title had repelled me into thinking it was about a man abusing his wife. It's not. It's about a man with a violent past who goes to any length to protect his marriage and keep his family together. Even if that means his son and he shooting down the baddies on their front lawn.

Eastern Promises promotes a sense of social duty, Crash celebrates making a marriage last, and A History of Violence holding together one's family at all cost? These are not exactly anarchist values. Most conservative filmmakers make films using a traditional form, and risk taking filmmakers are more likely to promote some rebellion against traditional values. They're preaching to the converted. Cronenberg expresses his beliefs in a non traditional form and reaches an audience less likely to adopt them. I was pretty convinced. Mortensen can convey any message as far as I'm concerned. And David Cronenberg is a seriously talented director. Some of the scenes are breathtakingly dramatic, the film's beautifully shot with an 80s kind of trashy look, and the direction of the actors is highly skilled.