Yeah, so, Cloverfield.

January 19, 2008

We went to see J.J. Abrams’ new flick, Cloverfield, tonight. My basic response is “not deep, but thoroughly entertaining,” but there are some other things I’d add to that. First, though, two points of backstory:

1. I am a ridiculously huge Lost fan. If I weren’t already barren I would totally have Lost‘s baby. (By the way, the new season premieres January 31st! I can hardly stand it. T-minus thirteen days and counting). So naturally I was intrigued by a movie created by the guy who co-created my favorite TV show. In fact, I have to say that the Lost connection is the main reason that I was interested in Cloverfield, although the strikingly original trailers helped.

2. Remember my pretend boyfriend R? (Update on that: still friends! And still kind of flirtatious. But all above-board, thankfully.) Well, R’s exact words when I mentioned how psyched I was to go see Cloverfield were, “That looks really dumb.” (Damn, how harsh is that? See why he is only my pretend boyfriend?) R pretentiously recommends, instead, There Will Be Blood.

Now of COURSE I want to see There Will Be Blood. Who wouldn’t? It’s critically acclaimed, widely regarded as possibly the best film of the year. I find the premise fascinating, especially since I am both amazed and repelled by the fantastic power of capitalism, and I am always a fan of Daniel Day-Lewis. But I didn’t feel like I had to rush out and see There Will Be Blood on opening weekend, as if it were some sort of featherweight summer blockbuster. Indeed, according to one source, TWBB is an “American masterpiece.” I’m guessing it’ll be around for a while, especially after the Oscar noms are announced next week.

…And then it’ll be on DVD within minutes of departing theaters. Did I mention we have a 42-inch HDTV and a great surround-sound set up, perfect for watching those kinds of movies at home? Between this and the two great indie theaters in our neighborhood, I am more than sure that I will see TWBB eventually. In fact, I am sure that it will be thought-provoking, and poignant, and visually and emotionally powerful, and that I will leave the theater (or peel myself off of my living room sofa and wander to bed) feeling that I have just seen something profound, and will wallow in deep rumination about American corruption and wealth for days afterward.

But before I get down to all of that heavy crap, I would like to gasp, and clutch G’s hand, and yell “holy hell!” at the same time as a lot of other people are yelling and clutching and gasping, and see pretty actors that I don’t much care about get chased by a gigantic monster.

Enter Cloverfield, which Manohla Dargis at the Times called “a feature-length gimmick,” and panned, hard. (Small vindication for R: she even used the word “dumb”!) I’m not surprised. I mean, there’s nothing profound there, really. If not for the “from the ground” perspective and shaky camera work, it would be just another monster movie with very impressive special effects.

Well, sort of. And I’m not so sure we can dismiss the “from the ground” perspective so easily. Dargis talks about the “tacky allusions to Sept. 11,” but those moments in the film were very interesting to me. I don’t want to make it deeper than it was. It wasn’t that deep. But it was still really something to feel the huge, rowdy crowd around me (theater was so packed that the only seats we could get were in the front row) respond to these images by falling silent, seeming collectively to hold their breaths. The images I’m talking about, of course, are those of the movie’s central characters covered in white dust, disoriented, terrified, wandering in the streets of lower Manhattan after the first major “attack” of the monster, a monster they hadn’t yet seen more than a glimpse of, a monster that some didn’t even fully realize, yet, was behind the seemingly random devastation surrounding them.

Of course this is an allusion to September 11th, but not just a visual one. It alludes also to the not knowing, the confusion, the way that the people involved in a disaster are the last to know what is actually happening. So one of the ways that the handheld camera conceit was useful was in capturing this in-the-moment human drama from the perspective of those caught up in it, literally “on the ground.” Which has special resonance in New York City, not just because of 9/11 but because of the way one moves through the world in Manhattan; the sheer press of people and busy pace of the day means that unless you are a tourist you are not often taking the time to look up, while on the street, and think about the city’s immense verticality. But that’s exactly what’s at issue when that same city is, or appears to be, crumbling down around your ears. What do you know, for sure, when buildings are falling down and you are there, in the street, trying to escape? Trying to escape, I should add, a menace that seems everywhere at once but also impossible to pin down, one that seems to have come from nowhere, yet acts on the City with real malice.

Yeah, again. I’m making it deeper than it is. And I should also note that although I moved to NYC (Brooklyn, actually) in the summer of 2001 and was right here when 9/11 happened, I was not one of the people who fled through the streets as the towers fell. I was at home in my pajamas, and I watched it on television just like everyone else in America. Maybe that’s what made those moments in the movie so compelling. If I had lived through it on the ground, would I need a silly monster movie to help me think about that kind of fear in a new way?

When I was sitting there seeing these movie images that referenced September 11th so plainly, I also wondered how old the average movie-goer in the room was. 30? 25? 21? The other day, G reminded me that 9/11 happened nearly seven years ago. What does it mean to be, say, in your early 20s, someone who was only a teenager on that day six and a half years ago, possibly a teenager living somewhere else, one of the ones who wasn’t on the ground but who imagines she feels just a little bit of what that experience must have been like because of the way this movie was shot? Is that imagined feeling a good thing, or a kind of perversion of the truth of that day’s horror? Is this whole thing just a really good example of the postmodern “end of history,” in which historical events lose meaning as they are severed from their contexts, and become only a series of empty images reproduced for mass consumption? Are allusions to 9/11 “tacky,” or vital, in a film about how ordinary (young) people respond to a crisis of impossible proportions?

These are not questions I am prepared to answer at 2:00 in the morning. Or possibly ever. But they are some of the things that Cloverfield made me think about, in addition to making me jump, and point at the screen and urge the characters to “RUN,” already. And if you don’t feel like thinking at all, it’s also a great movie for that. Take a Dramamine beforehand if you tend toward motion-sickness, and enjoy.

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2 Responses to “Yeah, so, Cloverfield.”

  1. Kenya Says:

    As New Yorker the 9/11 feel scenes were bothersome. It too close to home, the dust, debris and walking across the Brooklyn bridge. But all in all it was decent flick that scared the mess out of me with the little critters. That ending had everyone in the theater yelling “Boooo”. Rightfully so, they could have at least shown how they got the tape!

  2. niniloren Says:

    Wow, thanks for the review and ponderings. 🙂 I was 18 when 9-11 happened, and it was and still is very real to me.
    Thanks for the encouraging comment! You’re next, I can feel it. Demand clomid from your new RE!!
    🙂

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