R. I feel like it's been a while since I've written about an R rated movie. Oh, man, this is so exciting. I know I shouldn't be encouraging vice, but it is so much easier to talk about why a movie is R versus why a movie is G. These are small things that you probably don't think about, do you? The language is something else, so I wouldn't worry about that. But there are implied sex acts, smoking, drinking, violence, death --one being a pretty brutal execution. It's a well-deserved R.
DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson
Technically, I'm supposed to be writing about Austenland. I try to write in order of film watched, but I want to close up noir week with an homage to film noir. I'm thinking of doing my paper on this. Maybe this will help me get a lot of the loosey-goosey thoughts in words so I can cherry pick an interesting thought. Sorry, Internet, you are my brainstorming page. In college and post-college, this movie was everything. Even though I haven't watched it in ages, there's a lot of beats that I instantly remembered. It's one of those movies that I memorized parts of, but not the whole thing. The insane thing is, despite the fact that I understand 75%-90% of it, there's still a solid section of "What is Brendan doing and why is he doing this?" I'm sure my friends could elaborate, but it is almost trivial.
I feel like I get annoying about Brick. It's one of those movies that's a little bit of a deep cut, but also kind of a poser movie. It's what I would talk about before I got the Thomas Video job. I'm being the biggest snob in the world right now, but it's kind of how I feel. The movie, itself, is genius. I love it and I unabashedly love it. I want other people to love it. But I have to be a bit critical, even about the things that I adore. The very conceit unfortunately subjects it to elements of trying-too-hard. It's Rian Johnson's first full length film and it has a lot of elements that kind of feel both a mix of film school and also a bit of '90s indie aesthetic. Perhaps it is the budget. Perhaps it is a bit of eager directorhood, but there are certain things that really pale technically compared to stuff that he would be doing later.
But none of that matters. It's totally cool to be a fan of Bottle Rocket or Clerks. Everyone has to start somewhere and Brick is one of those movies that transcends most people's first movies. It's very tight. While it might be a hard sell, the movie beams passion. Every single line stays in the world of the film. The characters are interesting and complex. I have a theory about writing mysteries that may or may not be accurate. If I had to write a mystery, I would write it backwards. What result would I like? Then, I would write the chronological, unbroken narrative...that scene where the protagonist explains the whole mystery. Finally, I would systematically cross out excess information and dump major plot points in non-chronological order throughout the story. I don't think that's what is happening with Brick. Brick seems more challenging. There's something far more deep about Brick. It seems like this was intricately sculpted. There's so much going on with so many levels. For all I know, Johnson used my method for writing, but there's something that acts as a painting withing the movie. It's really impressive. I...am genuinely impressed.
Now that I'm knee deep in film noir, though, is Brick a member of the film noir family? Is it an homage to film noir? It might be something else completely. There's this idea that I have beating around my brain that I'm formulating. The language of Brick has the same absurdity as some of the stuff that I've seen in film noir. Whatever can be defined as 1940's slang is accentuated and embraced throughout the film. But with Brick, it is a conscious effort. Perhaps Hollywood was exaggerating the language of the era at the time to create a sense of otherness, but it took the rudiments of the culture and expanded upon it. Brick's active effort to create that sense of otherness is perhaps a commentary on the film as a whole. Perhaps the inspiration was the great moments of film noirs, with the mile a second dialogue that is so laced with idiom that it ultimately lacks clarity, but it almost has a Shakespearean element to the language. There's a line, and I ask for your forgiveness that I don't remember the exact wording, that mirrors "Not where he eats, but where he is eaten." My weird theory is that it all started with an admiration for the jargon of film noir and then it evolved into an appreciation on a Shakespearean level. I wonder if the whole film is a comment on how film noir should be considered high art, not disposable art.
The thing that I think I want to challenge is the conceit that is staring me in the face. I've been dancing around this is exclusively film noir element. The conceit is that it is film noir in high school. The real bummer answer would be "it just fits." In the same way that Encyclopedia Brown solved mysteries, I suppose that Brendan too can also solve mysteries. But there's a seriousness woven into the absurdity of Brick. We're both supposed to laugh and hold back from laughter. Someone says the best comedy is that which takes itself seriously. I don't know if that's absolutely true, but the movie treats it as such. So if this film is an homage to the era of film noir, what does the high school setting say about what film noir is all about? My current theory is the idea that there is something developmentally stilted about film noir characters. Focused on their own happiness and neuroses, these characters are moved forward by id and desires of instinct. Listen, I'm not going to slag off high schoolers, at least not all of them. I teach high school and it is irresponsible to lump a bunch of people into one group.
But high school is obsessed with an imbalanced sense of empathy. Brendan believes that he is hunting Emily's killer to the ends of the Earth. There's something romantic in both meanings of the word with Brendan's quest. But as much as Brendan claims altruism for his quest, it is an odd narcissism that Brendan is seeking. He is the center of a world of insanity. It's probably why he falls for Laura so hard. It's that odd dynamic knowing that this is a quest for Emily, but he's driven entirely by the obsession with revenge. Emily almost seems distant for a percentage of the film, but that doesn't really seem to matter. Instead, there's an odd almost Viking glory to Brendan's quest. He takes abuse and takes pride in being able to power through a near death experience. Johnson reminds us of Brendan's deterioration through his gag-worthy coughs throughout the film. He's on a suicide mission and it is the kind of suicide mission that only a high schooler can go through. I'm reminded of D.O.A., the absent thought of self-preservation woven throughout the movie.
I think I have some rough ideas of what I could talk about. I now have to see if there are scholarly articles on Brick. I'm going to guess that it's pretty minimal, but we'll see. Regardless, there's some really good content here. I'm going to whole-heartedly recommend this movie. It's not encapsulating of my film tastes, but I'm also not ashamed of liking this movie either.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.