Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Okay- Southland Tales. First of all? Wow. Just that: wow. If you’ve seen it, you understand the weight of that single word. Second? Why am I spending this week’s post writing about a feature film that doesn’t involve spandex, capes, death rays and the like (a la the increasingly popular super-hero adaptation)? I’m not a huge fan of marketing ploys, and comic books have inevitably become another outlet by which Hollywood producers crank out merchandise to supplement the profit they make on such-and-such summer blockbuster film. I’ve never really wanted to be that guy who goes out and spends money on the “movie-prequel” illustrated story and sits in the theater and bugs the crap out of their friends by interjecting useless information from it that the fans were promised would be crucial to understanding the background of the film and that is ambiguously referenced in it at best. (Editor’s Note: And even if he does know something about the film that would prove useful he doesn’t tell you until AFTER you’ve seen the damn movie. Stuff like “look for X in scene Y.”) And comic adaptations of the film, just straight up? ...I just don’t get it. Reimaginings are one thing- believe it or not, there’s a Japanese Manga-style version of the Star Wars trilogy that I had a brief romance with. It’ll blow you away just how well those movies work in that style yet take on a different feel to them all together in the process. But other than that- why? What are you buying? Why are you buying it? Just a thought. Well, to make a long story short- Southland Tales might be one of those rare and few endeavors in which reading the supplemental graphic material is worthwhile, even necessary. Originally, the launch of the movie was envisioned as an “interactive” experience in which the first six chapters of the story’s plot would be told in comic book form, released before the filmed three chapter conclusion was shown on the big screen. Ultimately, the story for this particular project got condensed into six chapters, with only three graphic novels published. But yeah, if you popped the movie into your DVD player and were baffled by its first storyboard (entitled “Part IV: Temptation Awaits”), that’s why. Of course, it isn’t that the background of the characters and the setting aren’t explained in the movie itself. You can just watch it, if you like. It’s that even HAVING read the prequel material, making since of what the hell you just saw is a staggering intellectual endeavor (or a James Joyce-esque @#$%-you to people like…well, me, I suppose. Over-thoughtful comic book and science-fiction dorks with too much free time). Of course, the real reason I’m writing today’s post is that I just can’t help myself with stuff like this. Southland has this very cool, very creepy, and very, very, VERY ambiguous David Lynch feel to it. When I was a kid, I tuned in every Thursday night to Twin Peaks and watched Dale Cooper (Kyle McLachlan) try to figure out who killed Laura Palmer. It scared the hell out of me, but I watched it, addictively. It wasn’t the idea of a murder that kept me awake at night- I was way too young to really “get” what the prospect of violence and loss meant. No, it was those creepy-ass dream sequences involving midgets speaking in backwards tongues that scared the #$%& out of me. Even to this day, I get chills. But as I got older, I rewatched the show with friends fanatically, trying to decipher ever inch of screen time and symbolism. I can’t help myself. I go to websites and read other people’s theories about the show in my free time even. I know J.J. Abrams pulls this shtick with Lost with similar success as well and I’m quickly succumbing to its lure lately. Of course, it is quite possible that Southland puts these other attempts to shame as far as raw complexity goes. I mean, I’m not ruling out the possibility that it’s mostly fluff, meant to confuse the viewer more than to enlighten them. But something about it- I just can’t stop trying. Set in a (slightly) futuristic California, the film and its preceding graphic novels depict “the end of the world”. Trying to explain more about the plot than that here is way outside my scope (and maybe even my capabilities). It’s gotta be read and seen, not explained. Although, hey, even if you have no idea going on the movie (like me)? It’s worth the watch- the film features an eclectic, “never going to see these people together in something again” cast that will take you aback at times. Among the ensemble, all of whom offer funny, but sometimes surprisingly deep, performances, I count Dwayne Johnson (“The Rock”), Seann William Scott (of American Pie fame), Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Justin Timberlake, Jon Lovitz, Kevin Smith (yeah, that’s him near the end there), Amy Poehler (SNL veteran), and Christopher Lambert (the original Highlander). That’s not even a complete list of notables. And for those of you who have read/ seen it- what does it all mean? Oh, I have some theories. But they’re just that: theories. Any, all, or none of what I say could be true. If anyone has any clearer ideas than me, please, let me know- I’d welcome any or all discussion. I’ll list a few ideas below (spoil the comics and film at your own discretion, if you haven’t seen it), but after that you’re on your own. Duality and Polarization: Roughly, I think you could look at the story as a political warning. The conservatives walk around in clean suits and work towards the slow transformation of a Democratic government into a veritable police state. The liberals, on the other hand, seem to view tearing the government down as more of a pop-culture artistic phenomenon than as an extremely dangerous and influential past time and hang out in beach houses and garages filled with post-modern art. Everybody is just TOO MUCH what they are- there is little moderation and no one really gets what the hell is going on. No one can really see the big picture because they can’t see out of their own ass. At the film’s conclusion, you have a time displaced character facing his “self” and coming to completely opposite conclusions about what has happened in his life. And the world ends because everyone is just too damn different. All that Bible Stuff: The constant book of Revelations references makes for the obvious parallel. Maybe the whole thing is just one big allegory for the last chapter of the Bible. While the direct references through the series help you “read along”, there could be quite a lot more buried in there that someone with a better sense for theology than yours truly could get. Pretty sure there was a “Whore of Babylon” in Revelations, right? Couldn’t that be Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character? And if you’re paying attention, the red-haired Chinese woman (played by Bai Ling in the movie) is named Serpentine. As for who’s the Christ and the Anti-Christ…well, I’m not going to touch that one. Total Confusion: It isn’t that the events of the story itself are supposed to be picked apart and even understood. It’s that you, the reader/viewer experience the kind of confusion that everybody WOULD if the world ended. It’s scary because it isn’t understandable. Maybe the world gets punished for sins that people committed thousands of years ago, maybe politics and technology just gets out of control- either way, you don’t know what the hell is going on. And you’re helpless. And that’s what it’s like at the end of the world: it isn’t any one person or thing, it’s EVERYTHING, and it’s been set in motion over the course of thousands of years. No one gets the big picture and you’re just a tiny cog in the machine, playing your part. The movies funny…but it’s scary, too.