Saturday, March 30, 2013

Mr. Lisa Goes To Washington (analysis)


So I'm going to do something today that I don't normally do which is talk about television. Reviewing or analyzing television is problematic for me because I have a hard time bridging the gap between the microscopic (individual episodes with their brief but contained themes/etc.) and the macroscopic (entire series with different writers/directors shaping each episode). This means I usually stick to one or the other, and today I'm focusing on the microscopic: a single (my favorite) episode of The Simpsons called "Mr. Lisa Goes To Washington" (season 3, episode 2).*

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Italian Job (review & comparison)


I finally got around to watching the original 1969 version of The Italian Job, and since the 2003 remake was sort of a part of my "childhood" (it was the first DVD I ever owned) I'd like to compare the two. Considering how iconic the original is and how some critics received the remake this will probably read for most people like a defense of the remake. So just to be upfront with my opinion so you can stop reading if you disagree, I genuinely enjoy most of the remake more than the original but can see that if I grew up with the original I might have liked it more. But let's talk about what makes both of these movies great and how the remake remade the original.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

House (review)


This is a review of House the 1977 Japanese "horror" film, not the TV medical drama.

It is incredibly difficult to communicate with words what watching House is like (so look forward to lots of pictures and animated gifs—speaking of which, if you're running Google Chrome and don't have Hover Zoom yet go install it now). At its most basic level the movie is kind of like if Evil Dead had been weird and surreal because it was trying to be (instead of because it had a tiny budget), but there's so much more to enjoy than just that. Part of the magic of House I believe comes from the fact that producer/director Nobuhiko Obayashi's daughter provided the inspiration for many of the scares in the movie by sharing her childhood fears (as opposed to movies that are weird and surreal because, for instance, the director took too much acid or something). But before I get too far into what I liked about the movie, let's just get a baseline level of plot information.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Layer Cake (review)

Just to make this easier for some of you: if you are a big fan of the Guy Ritchie film-making method (e.g. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch (2000), etc.) then do yourself a favor, stop reading this review, and just go see Layer Cake (2004). It might be the best of its kind.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with Guy Ritchie's style, his movies generally take place in the seedy underbelly of England and involve crime and usually drugs. The way he tells his stories is what stands out for most people and should appeal to anyone who likes to "figure out" movies (or likes to be confused). Despite the deceptive ensemble casting there's usually a pretty clear protagonist (who often gives a voice-over at the film's beginning) and throughout the film the audience is (almost) never told/shown anything the protagonist wouldn't hear/see. This often leads the protagonist and the audience into situations they can't have expected (although lucky guesses are of course always possible). The movies aren't terribly difficult to figure out after watching them (especially if you have a good memory for names & faces), but the point of a Guy Ritchie movie isn't to figure out what happened, but to enjoy the experience of it happening.

Now Layer Cake isn't actually directed by Guy Ritchie, but it is directed by Matthew Vaughn—the man who produced a couple of Guy Ritchie films—so it has a very similar feel. After the movie sets up the characters it wants to set up, Daniel Craig (the protagonist) is given two missions from the sort of mob boss figure: one to find the daughter of one of the boss's old friends, and one to move a large amount of drugs (what he normally does). As the plot twists and turns you find out that people you thought were good are actually bad and vice versa. The Guy Ritchie brand of exhilarating confusion ensues.

There were two differences in Layer Cake which for me made it stand out from Guy Ritchie's movies, however. Major spoilers begin here (I'm going to reveal at least one major twist as well as the end of the movie).

First, I thought the cinematography was of slightly higher quality. There's this one scene in particular that just blew my mind. Daniel Craig assassinates the mob boss figure who originally gave him orders (because he was an informant out to get Craig in trouble). When he returns home he begins crushing pills into large glasses of whiskey and enters a state of paranoid delusions. The camera here does an excellent job communicating Craig's unrest to the audience: we get weird angles, fuzzy shots, good camerawork but nothing we're not used to seeing in a Guy Ritchie movie. Then the magic happens. There's a shot of Craig all disheveled looking in the bathroom mirror, he opens the mirror where he keeps his pills to reveal that he's all out, he shuts the mirror and now he's well dressed in a suit and tie, he opens the mirror again to reveal a stash of money and a passport, and then closes the mirror and suddenly we're somewhere else. While this sort of jump cut obviously doesn't have the same sort of temporal scope as the infamous 2001: A Space Odyssey jump cut (and probably couldn't exist without it), it has a completely different (and perhaps more complex) function and just blew me away.

Second, the ending of the movie is completely different from anything we see in Guy Ritchie. Even RocknRolla has a happy ending (Johnny Quid cleans himself up somewhat and, despite his previous lifestyle, lives). Layer Cake, on the other hand, ends with Daniel Craig's death. He's shot after announcing to his friends that he's leaving the business (and boy did I jump out of my seat when it happened). Why does Craig have to die when Johnny gets to live? Because (and I'm sure this isn't the reason Vaughn had him die, but it makes sense in my head) by leaving the business Craig is giving up on his drive. At the end of RocknRolla, Johnny says he wants to be just like Mark Strong, that he wants to be a "real rocknrolla". In this way he decides to embody his drive in a way that his drugged out previous self never could. Craig does just the opposite: he's given a chance to take the position of the boss he killed but instead decides to leave and therefore must die.

I'm also tempted to claim that perhaps he has to die for the same reason Shane has to leave at the end of Shane (1953). This is an analysis made by one of my favorite professors from school, Todd McGowan. The argument goes,

In George Stevens’ Shane (1953), for instance, the violence of Shane (Alan Ladd) helps to establish a democratic and agrarian society that will replace the lawless reign of the ranchers. Shane acts violently in defense of the Starrett family and their farm, but his violence has no legal authorization because it occurs before the law has been firmly constituted. In order for the social order that his violence founds to function as a legal entity, Shane must leave at the end of the film.

The arguments relies on the theories of Agamben, Kant, and Hegel, and if you're interested in reading more you can find his essay on The Dark Knight published in Jump Cut magazine here or you can buy his recent book The Fictional Christopher Nolan (I recommend this second option if you're a fan of Christopher Nolan—it's a great book). In any case the argument for Layer Cake would run something like this: Daniel Craig's violence (which he only takes up in response to his discovery of corruption within the business) doesn't have a place within the law of the mob, but functions instead to create a new law, after the creation of which Craig must leave since his violence no longer has a place. This argument doesn't fit quite as well for me since in this case Craig should just be able to leave and not have to die, but there are interesting parallels so I thought I'd include it anyway. 


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Top 5 (Recent) Comedies

For some reason (mostly having to do with my Cabin in the Woods Bestiary post) my blog is getting some attention from people outside of my Facebook friends, so considering that half of my writing is overly steeped in Lacanian jargon and the other half is angry indictments of amazing movies with tiny flaws I thought it was time to show my new audience that I am, in fact, a human (dangit, stop that, I'm trying to prove a point). With that in mind, here is a list of my top 5 favorite contemporary (sorry, no classics to be found here) comedies, or as I like to call it, Movies Not Directed By David Cronenberg That Find Their Way Into My DVD Player.

Since I'm honestly disappointed when I read lists like this and the #1 pick comes first and ruins the tension, I'm going to present these in reverse order, and since I had to include an "honorable mention" that's what's coming first. So, yeah, here it is. Expect minor spoilers. And yes, five of these six movies came out in 2008 or 2009, and no, I didn't plan that. Golden age of (recent) comedy, or the years when I started developing my cinematic tastes? You decide.


Honorable Mention: Zombieland (2009)
Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Why It's On The List
Well, it's kind of not on the list, but you know what I mean. I guess part of the reason this is one of my favorite comedies is that I generally prefer horror to comedy when it comes to genre flicks and Zombieland is very much indebted to zombie movies. I think the real reason that I end up watching this so often though is that the film has so much personality. Everything in this movie is just so lovable, from Bill Murray's role as himself to Woody Harrelson's quest to find a Twinkie. On a more theory-based level, I also love the film because the trust issues and family ties theme that the movie plays with to me represents a microcosm of communist ethics, a fantasmatic happy place for me. Finally, Zombieland has a special place in my heart because it was the first movie I wrote about for this blog (original post here) and I would've been sad not to include it even though it's not the funniest movie in the world.

Why You Might Not Like It
Well, most obviously, if you don't like zombies you might not like this movie. It's certainly not a very scary movie, but I can't deny that it is at its heart a zombie movie. Also I've heard of people who don't like Jesse Eisenberg, so if that's the case you definitely don't want to buy a ticket to Zombieland. Jesse Eisenberg does indeed play the character into which he has been typecast (the insecure nerdy type). Sort of in the same vein, the movie is a little childish (Woody Harrelson plays the only character with real emotional depth), so if you're looking for a serious comedy you should probably look elsewhere (like maybe on someone else's top 5 comedies). Finally, while I personally enjoy the romance between Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone, I can see how it could be unnecessary/unenjoyable for some viewers.

Number Five: The Informant! (2009)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Why It's On The List
I love Steven Soderbergh's comedies, and although technically speaking Schizopolis is probably his best, The Informant! is my favorite. Easily the most enjoyable part of the movie for me is Mark Whitacre's (Matt Damon) voice overs, which are not only hilarious non sequiturs ("I don't like wool on skin. Not even that merino wool they have at Marshall Field in Chicago. Ginger likes it because it's formfitting, but she likes avocados and who wants that texture in their mouth?") but also do some work to foreshadow the fact that his character is a compulsive liar. Mark's almost complete incompetence (he opens his briefcase containing the recording device he's using to tape his colleague's illegal activities during a meeting with those very people) is also incredibly enjoyable to watch. Finally, the soundtrack to the movie gives it a light-hearted tone that might otherwise be missing, especially in an expos√© about a man who stole millions of dollars.

Why You Might Not Like It
The most glaring reason this movie won't thrill everyone is that the protagonist, Mark Whitacre, is a scumbag. He not only tells people his parents are dead to win over their sympathies, but as we learn about halfway into the movie, "Mark Whitacre, driven by his own boundless ambition to take over ADM, has attempted to frame his superiors in a price-fixing conspiracy of his own invention. His cooperation with the government, merely a smokescreen to hide his lying, cheating and stealing." Not exactly the most likable guy, and you're forced to spend all of an hour and forty-eight minutes with him. Also, because the movie is based on a true story it might infuriate viewers instead of make them laugh.

Number Four: Kung Fu Panda (2008)
Directed by Mark Osbourne and John Stevenson

Why It's On The List
Part of the reason Kung Fu Panda is such a success in my book comes necessarily from the amazing cast providing voice work. We get Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie (one of only two movies with her I actually like—what's the other?), Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Ian McShane (Bobinsky in Coraline), Randall Duk Kim (the Keymaker from the Matrix trilogy), James Hong (Chi Fu from Mulan), Michael Clarke Duncan (Armageddon's Bear and The Green Mile's John Coffey)—the list is staggering. Personally I also love the movie (again, for theory-based reasons) because of the dragon scroll and the way it functions in the movie as a fantasmatic object of desire which is revealed to be empty. Finally, and this actually jumps back to the strength of the voice actors, but I never seem to get tired of Mantis saying "I wish my mouth was bigger" when Po cooks them his secret ingredient soup.

Why You Might Not Like It
I can think of a couple of reasons, but most of them are pretty minor. All in all I think this is maybe the best children's movie of all time, which is hard for me to say since aside from this movie I'm a hardline Pixar fanboy. Some people might not like this movie because they don't like Jack Black. Some people also might not like this movie because they don't like Dreamworks. If you don't like Kung Fu Panda for either of these reasons, that's fine, I get that, but you're wrong and I hate you.

Number Three: Be Kind Rewind (2008)
Directed by Michel Gondry

Why It's On The List
Quite simply, Be Kind Rewind is a movie about the magic of movies, and with a film degree hanging on my wall I can't help but love that. Throughout the movie we get to see what amount to student film remakes of classics like Ghostbusters, RoboCop, and 2001: A Space Odyssey (unfortunately only short snippets of them with the exception of Ghostbusters). At the end, the movie Jerry, Mike and Alma make saves their little video rental store from being demolished by the evil forces of capitalism (embodied by none other than Sigourney Weaver). Similar to Zombieland, I also like this movie because for me it embodies a kind of communist ethics. When the video store is threatened with both destruction and an IP infringement lawsuit, the Passaic community comes together to create something new. This something new happens to be a historically inaccurate account of how famous jazz musician Fats Waller grew up in Passaic, which wonderfully highlights how a community needs a history, a sort of fantasmatic background against which they can act, but that this history is precisely that: a fantasy, a figment of the community's imagination.

Why You Might Not Like It
I don't know, because you don't like movies or something? But seriously, as with Kung Fu Panda this movie does star Jack Black which may be a problem for some people (ironically I'm not much of a Jack Black fan myself—you'll notice a curious lack of School of Rock in this list, a must for Jack Black fans as I understand it). I could also understand not liking this movie if Mike and Jerry's recreations of these famous films sort of ruin the originals for you I guess. It's getting harder to think of reasons as I get closer to my very favorites, so sorry if these are getting less helpful.

Number Two: I Heart Huckabees (2004)
Directed by David O. Russell

Why It's On The List
My next big analysis project is going to be updating a paper I wrote on I Heart Huckabees for my senior seminar back in school (finished the project, here it is) so I don't want to ruin too much, but I love this movie. The ensemble cast is incredible and all their characters are hilarious. In the lead role, Jason Schwartzman plays an activist who tries to deal with his perception that his work doesn't seem to be making a difference. Mark Wahlberg (who needs to be in more comedies) plays a fireman obsessed with petroleum who is confronted with the problematic appeal of nihilism. Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin are two existential detectives in a philosophical war with nihilist Isabelle Huppert. Jude Law is a big business executive who's dating advertising model Naomi Watts, and together they discover that their identities are as constructed as the repetitive stories Jude Law tells his coworkers (how am I not myself?). None of these characters sound particularly funny in themselves, but the way David O. Russell pulls it off is absolute genius. The movie succeeds because it doesn't take itself too seriously, it doesn't have an agenda it's trying to push with all its philosophical meandering (this is also why my forthcoming essay about it sort of misses the point, but whatever, I wanted to write about it and I don't know how to write about comedies). This is one of those movies where I just can't help repeating the dialogue along with the movie (which is why I often have to watch it alone to fully enjoy it). If you liked the recent Silver Linings Playbook (same director) you should really check this one out.

Why You Might Not Like It
I think the biggest danger, and one that my fellow theory friends have fallen into, is taking the movie too seriously. If you do, all the characters begin to come off as almost solipsistic in the way they care more about themselves and their opinions than other people. Also, if you prefer more of a slapstick style of comedy then you should look elsewhere (not that you have to think hard to get the jokes, just that this is very far removed from The Three Stooges).

Number One: Speed Racer (2008)
Directed by the Wachowskis

Why It's On The List
If it weren't for the year I took off from college during which I watched Memento every day after work then Speed Racer would be The Movie I've Seen More Than Any Other In My Collection. I wasn't sure at first whether to even include it in this list since it's not a comedy strictly speaking, but since the only wrong way to watch this movie is to take it too seriously (and I'm not sure what other category to put it in—Action? Sports?) I decided it was fair game. Where do I even begin with this movie? I guess first and foremost it's stunningly beautiful. The post-production colorization (complemented by the excellent lighting) is something we haven't really seen since the days of Technicolor. The way the movie uses wipes is unparalleled by all but the wipe master himself Akira Kurosawa. Some of the dialogue is absolutely hysterical (can this really be the first movie to use the term "nonja"?). Sparky's role as the probably homosexual mechanic provides a priceless reinterpretation of his character from the original series.

As far as theory goes, Speed Racer provides just enough to keep me hooked. On the Marx side of things, there's the (admittedly fantasmatic) overthrow of the corrupt capitalist system underpinning the big league races, and on the Lacan side, we get a depiction of Speed confronting (rather directly) his ego-ideal ("the agency whose gaze I try to impress with my ego image, the big Other who watches over me and propels me to give my best, the ideal I try to follow and actualize"*). During one summer while I was in college I wrote a 14 page Marxo-Lacanian analysis of this movie for fun (maybe not so shocking considering I'm now writing this whole blog for fun, but whenever I tell anyone about that paper the first question I get is, "Oh cool, what class did you write that for?").

Why You Might Not Like It
I can pretty easily come up with two reasons you might not like this movie: first, that it's visually overstimulating; and second, that you're "faithful to the original series". That said, I think either of these reasons would be a failing on your part. If you're not looking to be stimulated by a movie, then what are you doing watching one? And if you think this movie ruins the original series by not being faithful, have you watched the original series recently? I have, and it ruins itself. I wish the Wachowskis had included the Car Acrobatic Team as much as the next Speed Racer fan, but at least we get Snake Oiler (as well as a wonderful homage to the Mammoth Car). Seriously, I know this movie did terribly at the box office, but I think if more people give it a try they'll fall in love as deeply as I have. Or, you know, maybe not.


*Zizek, Slavoj, How To Read Lacan, Granta Books, London, 2006

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lucky Number Slevin (analysis)

Based on the deleted scenes and director commentary for Lucky Number Slevin there are actually two movies happening, one which I like (the final cut that you saw if you watched the movie) and one which I really like (the original cut which the director decided was "too dark"). But the movie's confusing enough as it is (for both the characters in the movie and the audience watching it), so let's figure out what's going on at its most elementary to begin with. Then I will jump into my analysis of why I like the original cut better than the one which made it to theaters and DVD.

Major spoilers ahead. There's a lot going on in this movie and anyone who enjoys twisted plots (√† la Tarantino's Pulp Fiction) should definitely check this one out. This is the best I've done at a synopsis of the plot that explains the essential details but is also (relatively) short.

Lucky Number Slevin revolves around Josh Hartnett's character, and he has three names in the movie. As a child his name is Henry, and his mother and father are killed for betting on a fixed horse race with some new gangsters in town (The Boss and The Rabbi) who wanted the race all to themselves. Henry survives and changes his name to Slevin Kelevra and teams up with the assassin originally assigned to kill him (Goodkat) in order to avenge his parents' deaths. They concoct a plan to get at The Boss and The Rabbi (who are now estranged from each other) by having Slevin impersonate Nick Fisher, a man who owes lots of money to both of them. Three names, one person (well, two people, but real Nick is dead for about 95% of the movie). Not super important to my analysis, but crucial to understanding what happens in the movie.

Slevin and Goodkat's plan is also essentially the same in both versions of the movie. Goodkat kills the real Nick so nobody will be able to find him (and thus Slevin will pass as Nick trying to get out of his debt by claiming to not be Nick) and so they have a dead body to fake Slevin's death with later. Slevin kills The Boss's son so he'll think The Rabbi did it and will want vengeance. Both gangsters (influenced by Goodkat) abduct fake Nick (Slevin) to confront him with his debts. The Rabbi just wants the money, but The Boss asks fake Nick to kill The Rabbi's son, The Fairy. Slevin and Goodkat kill The Fairy and his bodyguards and plant real Nick's dead body to make it look like he succeeded but was then killed by the bodyguards. Slevin reports back to the gangsters, knocks them both out, and brings them into a room together. The Boss tells The Rabbi he had The Fairy killed, The Rabbi is confused because he didn't kill The Boss's son; it's really a wonderful scene. Slevin confronts them with the truth of their situation (that he killed both of their sons, that they killed his father, and that he is Henry and is, in fact, alive) and kills them both the same way they killed his father.

Okay. Deep breath. We're getting to the good part now. One major detail I've left out is that along the way Slevin meets Lindsey, they bond over Bond films (yes, I thought long and hard about that pun), and eventually they fall in love. This is where the two versions of the film begin to differ. In the original cut of the film, Slevin kills Lindsey at the end of the caper because she's the only one other than Slevin and Goodkat who know what Nick Fisher really looks like. The movie cuts to a silhouetted Slevin walking into the shadows, and then cuts to Henry (as a child again) with Goodkat driving off into the sunset to begin their plan. This is perfect. Nothing needs to be changed. But freakin' Paul McGuigan had to ruin a good thing because it was "too dark".1

So here's what we get instead. Goodkat shoots Lindsey instead of Slevin, but she doesn't die because Slevin warns her of what's going to happen and she wears a bulletproof vest (and a professional assassin like Goodkat doesn't shoot her in the head). Then after Slevin walks off into the shadows there's an additional scene where Slevin and Lindsey meet up, and Goodkat shows up to learn she's not dead, and Slevin says he didn't tell him because "he wouldn't understand" (despite the fact that they've spent the last 10+ years together), and considering how masterfully crafted the rest of the film is it's absolutely astonishing to me how terrible these additions are.

So assuming I don't care about these (admittedly minor) flaws with regard to the characters and actions they would or wouldn't take, why am I upset that McGuigan gave the film a happy ending? Because in doing so he ruined Slevin's character.

So from here I'm going to jump into my analysis of Slevin's character. I originally came up with this analysis for college in order to examine Hyon Joo Yoo's concept of moribund masculinity, an idea she takes in equal parts from psychoanalysis, gender studies, queer theory, and her own genius. My personal academic interest in this film comes more from a purely psychoanalytic approach, but I'm going to include both connections since you readers might find it interesting (and it's basically a subset of Lacan's theory of drive so it's not much extra work). Anyway, here goes.

Slevin, as many of my favorite characters do, embodies the Lacanian notion of drive. He spends the majority of the film Symbolically dead. The basics of the plot allow for Slevin to exact his revenge on the Boss and the Rabbi and then disappear. Everybody thinks Slevin was Nick Fisher, and Nick Fisher's body is found dead in a crime scene everyone thought he should have been involved with. Everybody that could have positively identified Slevin as the real assailant is dead by the end of the film. In this way Slevin doesn't exist within the Symbolic order. As far as the public and the law (embodiments of the Big Other who upholds the Symbolic) know, Nick Fisher was picked up to repay a debt, was ordered to kill Yitzchok since he didn't have the money, and died trying to do so. The Boss and The Rabbi, who have been fighting for ten years, may as well have killed each other (over the death of The Boss's and then The Rabbi's son). No loose ends, no reason to look for Slevin, so he disappears.

Slevin's motivations and even the structure of the film also identify Slevin as a subject of drive. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here's that Zizek quote I always use when I'm talking about drive:

Of course every object of desire is an illusory lure; of course the full jouissance of incest is not only prohibited, but is in itself impossible; however, it is here that one should fully assert Lacan's claim that les non-dupes errent. Even if the object of desire is an illusory lure, there is a real in this illusion: the object of desire in its positive nature is vain, but not the place it occupies, the place of the Real... There is a parallax shift at work here... in Lacanese, the shift from desire to drive... This gap that separates the aim from the goal “eternalizes” the drive, transforming the simple instinctual movement which finds peace and calm when it reaches its goal... into a process which gets caught in its own loop and insists on endlessly repeating itself.2

At first you may be thinking, "But Slevin is a fairly goal-oriented movie, as most revenge films are." This is one of the ways in which the addition of the final heartfelt reunion ruins Slevin's character. Otherwise, once he achieves his goal we get a shot of him walking into the shadows and then the film rewinds to the beginning of the story when Slevin and Goodkat first meet. This circular structure metaphorically visualizes the way Slevin is "caught in the loop" of his need for revenge which literally "insists on endlessly repeating itself" (at the end of the movie we find ourselves back at the beginning). As a subject of drive, Slevin spends his life circling around the object of desire of avenging his parents (he exists within "the place [the object of desire] occupies"), and then when he reaches his goal the loop ends, he dies (when he walks silhouetted into the shadows), and the movie starts again from his beginning with Slevin as a subject of drive, after his parents have died.

The final scene with Lindsey ruins this not only in the way it disrupts the structure of the narrative, but also in the way it restructures Slevin's character. His object of desire changes from revenge, which he dies upon achieving, to love, which he (fantasmatically) achieves. Love is fine (it's actually pretty great if you do it right), but this sort of "happily ever after" love is lying to the audience. Not only is it clear that Slevin only wants Lindsey because he can't have her (he has to kill her; the movie ends when he tells Goodkat "I thought you wouldn't understand"), but also that Lindsey isn't actually a human. Lindsey is never shown to be lacking in the film, which constitutes her as not a human, but a fantasmatic object.3

More specifically, Slevin embodies Hyon Joo Yoo's concept a moribund masculinity, an idea most easily conceived (for me at least) as a more specific subset of the Lacanian drive. As Yoo explains,

The economy of enjoyment turns moribund when the subject swallows the traumatic real—created by the loss of what is most beloved, for example—which is beyond the subject's capacity to make sense of within the symbolic, and converts the traumatic real into a source of excessive pleasure. Here, the traumatic real becomes the sustenance of the libidinal drive. As the subject accepts the traumatic real as part of its psychic constitution, the drive for excessive pleasure entails not only symbolic, but also material death.4

Slevin has “swallowed the traumatic real” when he changed his name from Henry: he was forced as a child to face the death of both of his parents, which Slevin later says was “everything he ever loved”, that which was “most beloved” to him. After this, he created a new identity “Slevin Kelevra” with the traumatic Real, the death of his parents, at the center (his “psychic constitution”). He then converts this trauma into “excessive pleasure” in the pursuit (“libidinal drive”) of his revenge plot. After executing The Boss and The Rabbi he has reached the end of his drive, and walks into the shadows, a sign of his “material death” following the “symbolic death” he experienced as a child.

We can see Slevin's "excessive pleasure" in the scenes where he kills Lindsey (which was cut) as well as when he faces The Boss and The Rabbi (especially when he kills them; this is conveniently contained in the final cut of the film by the transference of his object of desire to Lindsey). Elsewhere in the film he always shows little or no emotion (he even claims he's afflicted by ataraxia, which is not something you would be diagnosed with but is instead a Greek term meaning "a state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety")—moribund masculinity at its most basic.

So what's the problem with the rest of the movie, with the parts that were added to make the final cut? Lindsey has to die and stay dead, not just die symbolically but materially as well, because as Yoo points out again and again, the moribund masculine subject is asexual. Outside of his romance with Lindsey, Slevin is perfectly constructed as asexual. He spends the first forty minutes of the movie in a pink, floral-patterned towel in a room decorated with pastel, floral-patterned wallpaper. Josh Hartnett did not work out in order to bulk up for the role, even though he is essentially playing an assassin. He shows no interest in Lindsey until after he has won a date with The Fairy, and in fact uses his first date with Lindsey not in order to get closer to her, but to get closer to The Fairy. The closing scene revealing that Lindsey is alive feels incredibly out of place because it is: Slevin's interests have been abruptly displaced.

So why did Paul McGuigan decide to have Slevin fall in love with Lindsey? We can write it off as trying to sell the movie to a wider audience, but there's a much more compelling explanation available. In the director's commentary, McGuigan admits to having a strong affection for the actress Lucy Liu (who played Lindsey). Thus what we see in the movie is not Slevin having sex with Lindsey, nor Josh Hartnett having sex with Lucy Liu, but instead Paul McGuigan fantasizing a sexual relationship with Lucy Liu. This also explains why it was too traumatic for him to have Slevin kill Lindsey: as his fantasmatic double, there's no way he would allow himself to do that.

In other news this movie's set design is rather beautiful. Just had to mention it. The disconnect when The Boss's minions abduct Slevin between the atmosphere (of abduction) and the set design (pretty flowers) is so wonderfully alienating I couldn't leave it out.


1This alternate version of the film was compiled based on deleted scenes and remarks McGuigan made in his feature commentary for the film. You unfortunately cannot watch this version of the movie anywhere that I know of. It's really not very different, but the differences are all bad, and I'm annoyed at McGuigan for making them.

2Zizek, Slavoj, Living in the End Times, Verso, New York, 2010 p. 72-3 (my emphasis)

3For more on this dynamic of inhuman fantasy (and for an example of a positive depiction of love), check out my review of Silver Linings Playbook.

4Yoo, Hyon Joo, Cinema at the Crossroads, Lexington Books, Maryland, 2012, 114