Although there have been hints of Paradigm’s coincident identifiaction with an earlier New York City, Act 12 confirms this. The episode opens onto a large airfield, which Roger Smith refers to as JFK Mark, or John F. Kennedy International Airport. A large, bandaged Megadeus stands atop some sort of structure in the now-defunct airfield at the outer edges of Paradigm’s current boundaries,and as it begins to move, Dastun and the Military Police observe it and plot what would no doubt be a failed attempt to stop it from entering the city and attacking its targets. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as we have no clue what would have happened if this Megadeus and its pilot Schwarzwald succeeded in attacking Paradigm Corp. and revealing the truth of the world to the city), Big O arrives and prevents the Megadeus from attacking Paradigm, for now.
‘There isn’t anyone who exactly knows what did happen 40 years ago. The only thing that seems to have been left behind is the fear that whatever it was may have completely changed the world,’ Roger muses. This is a pretty just fear as a world seems to have existed well before The Event in which foreign lands and peoples existed, in which there was a world economy and Paradigm was an economic and cultural hub of part of that world. Many of the technologies of Paradigm are reminiscent of 1940s and 50s real-world tech, although there are also various modern technologies and future technologies such as compact discs, androids, and mecha.
Inside of Paradigm, the only two languages universally known are English (presumably the language spoken by everyone there, though hard to confirm as this is the veritable ‘air that its denizens breathe’ and is thereby not named) and German (as Dastun, Roger, and Angel all know the meaning of the German name Schwarzwald and seem well versed in the language). One is tempted to interpret this to mean something along the lines of WWII ending in a manner different than in the real world, such as the U.S. supporting the Nazis in WWII, The Event being coincident with some largescale nuclear and mecha based war, and the simulation of reality that is our world (at least in Big O) being eventually taken aback and traumatized by the triumph of evil over good in this run of the simulation. This would explain why the French are recognized at outsiders and political enemies of the state whose existence is hidden by the dystopian Police State of Paradigm governed by the (Tyrell or Wallace-like) Paradigm Corp. Add to this the stylish import of film noir and the hard dramatic lines of the Megadeuses, which trace their artistic lineages back to German expressionism and at least potentially an SS fashion sense, and this theory becomes more and more apparent every time you see the series.
But I digress, and Roger continues: ‘No, there is one other thing: the Megadeuses. They left us a technology that surpasses any other in the world.’ As if the greatest scientists on the planet trained under the conditions of war by the Nazis were never members of a beaten state, and were never consequently head-hunted by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in the race to technological achievement. As if they won the war, continued being funded and working together, and eventually created designs for marvelous works of destruction and of great beauty using not only funding from their mother country, but from their ally in the burgeoning economy of the U.S.
The episode flashes back to Roger taking a job for Alex Rosewater personally. In the past, the Paradigm Press reporter Michael Seebach refused to accept his severance check from Roger Smith and instead attempted to burn the man alive within his old home whilst Roger was investigating the disappeared reporter. Seebach took on the new persona of Schwarzwald and could not accept the payout as it would be a a tacit recognition of his previous identity and an affront to his new mask as the ‘Black Forest’ philosopher archetype whose goal is to bring truth to the city of Paradigm, by force if necessary. Because Roger failed to deliver the severance check, but nonetheless received payment from Paradigm for services rendered, he takes Rosewater’s new job, which is to deliver a second severance payout. This time, the job is a matter of professional respectability, of proving he can finish a job that he takes on.
The following day, Roger tracks Schwarzwald to JFK Mark, just on Paradigm’s outer limits, bordering the desert wasteland (symbolizing, like T.S. Eliot’s fable, the moral vacuum and instantiated reality of nihilism post-World War II) and finds his mark. Schwarzwald claims to have uncovered some great truth about the city, something new that all of Paradigm’s citizens should be made to hear. He attacks Big O and it is soon apparent that the bandaged Megadeus is much more than your typical modern Megadeus. Big O launches a series of missiles at the beast, which burn off its outer garments, revealing a Megadeus of the Big type below: Big Duo! After Big O launches all of its arsenal at the enemy Big, and has nothing left to throw at it, Big Duo stands still, unfazed and unscathed. It emits a cloud of smoke and suddenly disappears, not beneath the ground, but seemingly into thin air, or above the clouds (which may the source of Schwarzwald’s discovery, but more on that later).
As Roger broods at his mansion on his inability to have any effect on Big Duo, angel calls and reveals that as an assistant to Alex Rosewater, under the pseudonym of Patricia Lovejoy, she has learned the whereabouts of Schwarzwald. This puzzles Roger as he believes that Rosewater only knows about the persona of Seebach, but now realizes that Rosewater knows more than he’s letting on, which partially explains the extremely large sum of money listed on Seebach’s severance check. Roger follows the lead to a masquerade party in the city later that night. When he arrives, he is immediately admitted without the need for an invitation, and is given a mask to wear, which he foregoes donning. Those within the room are acting lasciviously, and showing themselves to be lecherous, gluttonous, and debauched people with seemingly little of redeeming quality.
And also within the party, Roger finds The Jester: a figure of deep mythic significance who is reportedly the only figure who can tell the truth to the King at all times. However, this figure is ultimately comedic and quite mad, and thereby escapes retribution through supposed insanity, and symbolically represents the link between madness and the search for truth: a Nietzschian figure who may have inadvertently gone mad through the sheer impossibility of staring into the void of meaning. This masked figure is Schwarzwald, a man who is himself masked already and appears externally as the philosophical warrior who has been burned, quite literally, through his search for the truth. Who has flown too close to the sun, far above the clouds, and thereby learned of the reality of the situation in Paradigm.
As Roger looks around, disgusted at the display of his fellow Paradigm citizens, The Jester explains that he is ‘observing the corrupt reality of the city he’s trying to protect.’ Roger feigns ignorance, always wishing to hide his own persona as the dark knight, as the Dominus of the Big O Megadeus. But no truth stays hidden from Schwarzwald. After being presented his severance pay from ‘The Negotiator’, he burns it and exclaims: ‘No! It is this corrupt city that will burn. These false skies called domes that are ineffectual and useless in this world. It cannot continue. Everyone must be made aware of the truth and experience what happened 40 years ago. And that’s what I’m going to do: Make them aware of it. With Big Duo!.’
Like veterans of an immoral war, the denizens of Paradigm are traumatized by their past to such a degree that they find it easier to forget their past entirely, lest they lash out in episodes of violence and destroy their world entirely. The evil was of such a high degree that it became metaphysical evil in nature, and the trauma translated to a cultural trauma and to an ontological state of forgetfulness in the population of Paradigm. The job of the philosophical warrior, of The Jester, is to make the world aware of this evil, to awaken them to their evil and to the truth no matter how painful. To drive them from The Cave, by force if necessary, and force a state change within them in the hopes that the truth will move them beyond their current ahistorical existence and toward progress, change, and a prophesied new world.
At the party, everyone’s heads begin to hurt as the drugged food and drink takes effect. Their masques immolate and begin to burn their faces as the club itself becomes engulfed in flame. Roger and The Jester escape the room, though all those within burn to death or jump to their deaths from the open windows of the room (pre-figuring the Event of our own time as Americans, these Paradigm citizens like our citizens merely collateral damage in the horrific plans of a terrorist group to awaken American society to its own hypocrisy and Imperialism, to strike fear in its heart and force a change to the status quo of bureaucratized, capitalist-driven subjugation of the world for the mere gain of a few robber-barons with a Middle Eastern policy founded on the lies of religion and an eschatology that dismisses the suffering of the world’s dregs at the hands of the so-called chosen nation). And like certain historical figures of our own time, Schwarzwald descends to the Earth in his machine, Big Duo, seemingly chosen by the forces of history to expose the lies of a nation-state, and like the Dominus of Big O, Schwarzwald too is deemed ‘Ye Not Guilty.’ Divinely ordained in his mission, pre-figuring the coming of a new age, and fighting to force a larger metaphysical gambit.
Roger calls upon Big O, but is informed by Norman that there has not been enough time to replace the mecha’s ammunition. As such, when the battle begins, Big O is pulverized and beaten back time and again by his overpowered bomber opponent who not only has the same capabilities, but has the ability to fly. As Big Duo launches two missiles directly at Big O, he uses a chain mechanism to pull himself into the air and hang from the support beams of the domes’ false sky. Though Big O avoids taking damage, much of the city is destroyed as a result. when Big O descends, he lands atop Big Duo and pummels it into oblivion, piston punching its skull case into nonexistence, and ripping off on of its arms.
As a final action, Big Duo stands on its own without Schwarzwald piloting it any longer. Despite being decapitated and severely wounded, Big Duo walks out of the crater and attempts to approach Paradigm HQ, reaching out to grasp it before expiring. Schwarzwald wonders aloud whether the Big Megadeuses need masters at all, or if they choose their masters. He wonder whether they are controlled by a Dominus or if it the Megadeus itself that pulls the strings, and the Dominus are mere instruments for the Megadeuses. And he departs the scene, never to be seen again. Off to the desert wastelands surrounding Paradigm to reflect on his inability to bring the truth to the world for now. Though his spectral presence will forever be a force to be reckoned with in the city of Paradigm.
Cast in the Name of God,
Little Big Man, released in 1970, was director Arthur Penn’s ninth film in a career that began in 1958. Throughout the 1970s, his career as a director would continue to flourish for a time before steeply declining in the early 80s. The result being that Arthur Penn would only direct another nine films after Little Big Man over the course of the remaining 32 years of his career. Of the 18 feature films he directed in the course of that career, all seem worth watching and interesting in their own rights. But only two are absolutely necessary for any self-respecting film buff or critic of American filmography to study.
The first of these two films is 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde. A hyperviolent tale of a nihilistic and amoral lovers on the run, the film was heavily inspired the French New Wave’s brazen approach the filmmaking and established Penn, for a time, as first and foremost amongst the auteurs of American cinema. More importantly, the film is often considered to be the first in a series of rogue films by American auteurs that would come to comprise the American New Wave, or the New Hollywood Movement, and would bring the counterculture and its concerns to the forefront of American pop culture through the films of other directors like Mike Nichols, Sam Peckinpah, George A. Romero, Dennis Hopper, and Walter Hill amongst many, many others.
The second is Little Big Man, which is one of the first Revisionist Westerns to infuse irreverence and comedy with the nihilism and moral relativity typically at home within this sub-genre of the American Western. It stars Dustin Hoffman as a 121-year old man named Jack Crabb, and likewise known by his Cheyenne Indian name Little Big Man, who is being interviewed by a presumptuous young newspaper man who has pegged the old timer as a problematic Native American hating, stalwart racist and wishes merely to write a thinkpiece on changing attitudes to Native American sovereignty over their lands over the ages. The young man has another coming, however, as Crabb exhorts him for labeling Crabb before even hearing his story or gaining his perspective on the past of which he apparently played a large part.
Although there was a historical Jack Crabb and a Little Big Man, the film fuses the two personages and present their stories in a wildly inaccurate, albeit extremely interesting manner as a Picaresque tale of a roguish young man born into difficult circumstances who overcomes the hand dealt him by the world through his cunning and wit, as well as a fair bit of luck. Jack Crabb of Little Big Man was born a white man to a group of settlers heading West in mid-1850s. Along the way, a group of Pawnee Indians attacked their stagecoach group and killed everyone in sight. However, Jack and his sister hid out underneath a toppled cart and were eventually found by a group of peaceful Cheyenne Indians who took them in. His sister quickly ran off into the night first chance she got, leaving her brother behind in the process, but Jack remained with the Cheyenne and grew up to be a promising young warrior.
As fate would have it, his group was attacked by a marauding legion of American soldiers and Jack, instead of being killed, pretended to be a white man sympathetic with America and its cause, instead of a boy raised by the Cheyenne. Through absolutely unbelievable machinations, which are obviously the construction of Jack Crabb’s imagination rather than mere recounting of historical truth, he makes his way through the home of a preacher, consorts with the man’s wife, becomes a travelling salesmen of snake oil, suffers tarring and feathering for selling faulty products to townsfolk, joins up and leaves General Custer’s men on numerous occasions, meets back up with and lives with the Cheyenne many times, makes friends with Wild Bill Hickok, marries a Swedish woman who is abducted by Cheyenne, eventually marries four Cheyenne women simultaneously, and finally leads Custer to his doom at the Battle of Little bighorn.
Although a comedy, the film is often relatively somber, especially when portraying the loss of land and life experienced by Native American peoples throughout the 1800s, ad the constant breaking of promises and legally binding treaties by the U.S. Military that pushed Native Americans farther and farther West and into increasingly smaller tracts of land. Although a nihilistic picture that recognizes the fact that there is no ontological basis for morality within this world, and that there is no god to save us or to reign in our evil, Little Big Man remains steadfastly hopeful that the natural feeling of outrage, in all properly socialized people, regarding injustice could prevent people from harming one another and disrupting each other’s ways of life when avoidable. And although a Picaresque text wherein our hero subverts the evil of the American Military by leading Custer directly into his own death and defeat, it is also a traumatic text wherein this same hero may in fact be lying about his involvement as a way to overcompensate for his inability at the time to have any effect whatsoever in making the world a better place for his people by blood (the whites who became increasingly bloodthirsty and morally corrupted throughout this period) or by upbringing (the Native Americans who lost much land and many lives that can never be returned).
Little Big Man in this manner was Arthur Penn’s attempt to personally come to terms with what America was doing in Vietnam at the time. Another immoral war fought for no purpose except to ‘contain’ communism (meaning to subvert the political structures of another people who were increasingly choosing it for themselves of their volition as the more moral option) and thereby ‘protect’ American business interests (meaning open more foreign markets to the possibility of buying useless American goods that they could just produce on their own for far cheaper and with less attendant consequences of continuing to help prop up the imperialist American war machine). It was a time when the average citizen, and even the average artist (like a filmmaker), felt helpless in the face of the evils of the world (then brought on specifically by the evils of American Empire).
And what was worse, WWII and the writers and philosophers speaking about that time rung home the absolute truth that there was no god, that there was no basis for morality in metaphysics, that we were just children left alone to govern this planet by ourselves, and that we were really doing a shit job of it. And every filmmaker and artist and writer and politician with any ounce of humanity recognized all of this and screamed out from the core of their beings for all of this to stop, but they had no effect. All their screaming and fighting and production of materials to combat the dark impulses within the human heart and all to no avail. The result was traumatic and the war was ongoing in 1970, and no primal scream seemed then to have the strength to end it. The result was that all those with a kernel of humanity in their hearts felt impotent in the face of the war machine, just as Little Big Man felt impotent in the face of 19th century Manifest Destiny.
But the film was prescient, and all those who opposed Vietnam and American Empire felt vindicated when Nixon pulled us out and when the Vietcong and North Vietnamese troops took Saigon and claimed Giai phong mien Nam, thong nhat dat nuoc. And they started building these narratives of self-importance, of how their particular protest had the most decisive effect on the decision, and how they were right there man. Right there fighting when it mattered. Right there pushing the sycophantic president toward his final decision to end the war. And like Little Big Man, they needed these narratives to prove to themselves that they did have power, that they did have strength, that they did fight hard enough, even though they did not. And none had the truly decisive power of a Gavrilo Princip or a Mahatma Gandhi to single-handedly ignite the tensions or douse the flames, when it mattered, and when millions of lives could have been saved. Because if they didn’t have these stories, the myth of human will as power would be extinguished, as would all hope of a future for a civilization based on mere brute strength and might is right real politics.
The inner city domes are littered with decorations for the upcoming Heaven’s Day celebration. The holiday is a time (presumably December 25th) when the citizens of Paradigm City celebrate its founding with festive lights and the social practice of gift giving as the city delivers care packages to its citizens, and lovers exchange gifts with each other. In a couture shop downtown in one of the city’s nicer domes, Dorothy buys a black tie for Roger as a gift for Heaven’s Day. she does so not explicitly as a sign of affection, of her love for Roger (though this is the underlying message of he gift), but as a thank you for Roger taking her in and housing her through the past weeks and months.
When she next meets up with Roger in the public square, she asks him if she is excited about the upcoming holiday only to learn that he has an open animosity toward it. As he walks back along toward a lower level of the street and enters a nearly full elevator, he asks a hesitant Dorothy to get in. And when she does so, the weight sensor on the elevator goes off and halts the machine’s progress. As an android, she weighs more than the average person and as such, must leave the elevator and take the stairs. Roger follows her and apologizes to her for his lack of foresight in this matter, for forgetting about her predicament. The emotional effect is that of a relationship’s repartee, and ebb and flow.
Next, they pass a sax player in the city square whose music Roger particularly enjoys. He tips the young man handsomely and tells him that he’s sure to become the ‘next big star.’ Later that night, at dinner, Dorothy mentions that lover’s exchange gifts on Heaven’s Day, which is quickly approaching, and asks Roger if he is purchasing a gift for anyone. At this point, the focus of Roger’s anger toward the holiday makes itself known and he explains that as an ex-member of Paradigm’s Military Police, he has forsaken Paradigm and all it stands for. To celebrate Heaven’s Day would likewise be to celebrate the founding a city he reviles, not for its people, but for the dystopian business that runs it: Paradigm Corp. Dorothy, obviously hurt once again by Roger’s lack of foresight (she wasn’t asking for a political commentary, but instead hinting at her desire for Roger to exchange a gift with her), she leaves the room and departs for the night.
Elsewhere, the young saxophone player, named Oliver, turns up at home for the night after a long day of working for the city’s trash pickup corps and busking in the streets. His beautiful, blind girlfriend Laura greets him joyfully when he arrives home. He promises to buy her a gift for Heaven’s Day this year (if he can get the money, which is difficult for a day laborer in Paradigm’s economy), but she protests and says that this is not necessary and that his presence at home for the day will be enough. The relationship between these two characters will mirror Roger and Dorothy’s own throughout the episode and sets the stage for some truly transhuman, liberating material in the future as series creator Konaka sets the two up as a Rachel-Deckard couple of sorts. And back at the mansion, Norman presses the issue with Roger, telling him (falsely) that Heaven’s Day is also the day when Dorothy was activated by her ‘father’. He also chides Roger for not buying Dorothy anything nice to wear and allowing her to remain constantly clothed in her business-like attire: ‘she is a lady after all.’ As such, Roger leaves immediately and buys a dress for Dorothy (which just so happens to be the same dress Oliver has been eyeing for Laura, but could in no way afford).
The following morning, Roger receives a message and a job offer from Paradigm Corp.’s head honcho, Alex Rosewater. Once the two meet, Rosewater reveals that he has received a postcard from a man claiming that ‘in 7 days, the world will be reborn.’ The message was received five days prior, and if the threat therein is more than a hoax, some vent will occur in just two more days, one Heaven’s Day Eve. Even though Roger generally avoids jobs from Paradigm Corp. and its subsidiaries, he takes this job, which might threaten the lives of civilians. He also asks Rosewater for his recommendation for a good tailor (to alter Dorothy’s dress).
That same morning, in the wee hours, Oliver meets a man dressed as Santa Claus (though no one in the city knows who such a figure might be since The Event) who passes along an odd emerald egg to him. The man says he is leaving the world and laughs to himself as he exclaims that ‘all the people in this city are suffocating.’
Roger meets up with Dan Dastun later that day and explains the current case to him. Dastun, however, has already been on the case for some time now and reveals that the suspect is a mad scientist (the selfsame man who gave Oliver the egg, and who is shown clothed normally in a photo held by Dastun) who has disappeared, leaving trail of his departure behind, and only documents and papers showing that the man ‘advocated fir nature restoration’ and apparently reacquired his memories from more than 40 years ago. After a full day of wandering the city for more clues, nothing turns up, and Roger meets with Dastun once more. Dastun has been given orders not to investigate outside of the domes, though Roger suspects that this is the only way to catch their would-be perp. Dastun has however found some new evidence: there was a second message to Rosewater, which Roger nor Dastun was not privy to. A letter that talked of the end of the world and was part of a larger text, part of some ;book of revelations.’
Now, we know the significance of such a text as the biblical Book of Revelations (a late 1st century text authored by an unknown prophet): the one and only piece of Apocalyptic literature within the Christian New Testament canon. The connection to Heaven’s Day, which is later revealed by the only one who remembers (Alex Rosewater) as a day whose significance is ‘the day God’s son was born’, should alert us to the possibility that the series chronology is heading toward an end-times event.
As the episode continues, Dorothy finds that within the sax case of Oliver, there is a postcard identical to the one sent to Alex Rosewater. Together, Roger and Dorothy visit Oliver at his home to inquire further into this coincidence. Oliver makes small talk and tells the two that they seem ‘to make a good couple,’ which Roger denies. Oliver tells Roger that he’s not being very kind and Dorothy merely responds that she’s ‘used to it.’ When Roger changes the subject to the postcard, Oliver reveals that all homes around there have one and that it is somehow connected to a a group of old citizens around the block who visit an old decrepit building (a church, in fact) every once in a while to sing songs. None of these figures know the meaning of their words and ‘don’t know what they’re praising,’ but they continue to do so nonetheless. And everything seems to be pointing us toward a neatly tucked away little Christian parable rife for explicating within The Big O.
Before Roger and Dorothy drive off into the night, Oliver tries to sell the emerald egg to Roger who immediately believe it is something valuable that Oliver stole. He chides the young man for ‘taking the easy way out’ (crime) and refuses to buy it. Then he explains a few of his most important rules to Dorothy: ‘ If you want to live a happy life in this city, leave memories alone when they pop up.’ This seems to be his reaction to the hymn-singers who are actively chasing after memories of a time before The Event through the action of singing. He next explains that ‘you have to use your pent-up energy to fight through the harshness of reality.’ And he seems to be applying it toward Oliver, who plays his sax tenaciously despite not being particularly talented. When asked directly about Oliver’s ability, Dorothy concurs that Oliver has no talent as a musician. Nonetheless, his pent-up aggression and energy, his desperation and hopeless search for meaning through the notes on his musical organ is his way of fighting through the harshness of reality, even if the impossibility of success is a foregone conclusion.
Finally, Heaven’s Day Eve arrives. As Roger visits Dastun once more and the two begin patrolling the domes together like in old times, Dorothy makes a trip down to Oliver’s place and visits with Laura. She asks the girl why Oliver loves her and is told that love just seems to happen, but that their love works so well because she is ‘really easy to fool.’ Something that is necessary for Oliver once in a while as he lies to stay out late and play his sax: something that Laura understands is a primal need for him, and she tacitly accepts. Just then, in the town square, the Daemonseed emerald egg erupts and begins to sprout roots and limbs of a gigantic tree. Oliver tries to escape it, but is pulled far up into the air and almost loses his saxophone in the process. Luckily, he is able to reach out and prevent it from falling. In the process, however, he begins to fall too. But instead of plummeting to his death, Roger calls upon Big O and saves the young man before beginning a battle with monstrous mutant plant being that destroys streets, cars, and buildings as it expands outward. Blood-like fluid seeps out of the wounds rent by Big O’s constant barrages of lasers and missiles, as well as his onslaught of physical melee damage.
All looks hopeless for a moment as Big O is wrapped up in a tight knot of vines and then the plant stops growing. Dorothy, who ran in that direction as soon as the city began to shake (with Laura in tow), reveals to Roger that the seed was only programmed to grow this large, to break out of the dome’s upper ceiling, and then to stop growing entirely. What’s more, the tree is festooned with Christmas decorations and the mad scientist who created it seemingly only did so to bring back some sense of reverence to this once-religious holiday. After Big O descends, Roger reunites with Dorothy at the same moment that Laura and Oliver do the same. Roger tells Dorothy happy birthday only to find that her birthday isn’t even in the same month. The two awkwardly begin to exchange gifts and then, as Dorothy dons her new dress, and Roger his tie, Oliver begins to play Jingle Bells on his sax, and the mood changes. And love is felt between the two, is palpable in the air, in the mise-en-scene, and the viewer becomes trapped as a voyeur within the sequence. At once happy for those figures he or she has been viewing for so long and simultaneously recognizing this as a fictional narrative.
And for this reviewer, sad that such an emotional event will never come to pass for himself, that the reality of life and of his own personality is such that the chase is out of the question, and that the chase is a necessary first step toward making it even remotely possible for a beautiful amorous event to occur. Is fame the only way?
Cast in the Name of God,
A red balloon floats over the city of Paradigm. Military Police Chief Dan Dastun sits within an old movie theater watching a film he has seemingly viewed on hundreds or thousands of prior occasions. A man and a gorgeous woman stand on a dock, the man’s face obscured by shadow. She moves, he guns her down, and as she lay dying, the man approaches her, kneels down, and speaks with her. She responds in a foreign language unknown, unrecognizable, and untranslatable to Dastun (French): ‘Vous-etes si gentil.’ She dies and the man is left alone. Dastun awakens at his desk and wonders if this sequence is from a film, or if it is ‘a lingering spectral image of something he’d seen long ago?’
Downtown, in a large gothic cathedral, hundreds of the city’s elite stand, singing hymns with a meaning they no longer understand after The Event of 40 years prior, and to a god they not know cerebrally or even emotionally. The effort is mere ritual and today seems to signify a connection to one’s lost past, and to occasionally demarcate those of high social status from those of low status. Meanwhile, a toy robot wanders about in the corridors beneath the city, eventually making its way into the sanctuary of the church through a basement access door. A young child attempts to touch it and the toy robot’s purpose becomes chillingly clear as it explodes and rends apart the bodies of 46 people who it kills immediately, as well as many others its blast injures.
When Dastun appears on the scene, his lieutenants have discovered that three old government officials, politicians, were amongst the crowd, and were probably the target of this terrorist attack. This means that 43 of those dead were merely innocent bystanders. As Dastun wanders off to collect his thoughts and begin investigations into this incident, the voice of our noir protagonist Roger Smith narrates and explains Dastun as best as he can: ‘Dan Dastun is a har-nosed cop. He’s completely devoted to the force and he has more pride in the Military Police than anything else. In a different sense, Paradigm City needs him as much as it needs me.’ A sentiment that has become apparent as Smith’s Megadeus is not really the tool most suited to tracking down terrorists who attack seemingly at random and through apparently harmless means (the toy robot).
Further investigation of the charred remains of the explosive device reveals that it is of unknown origin, probably foreign, as it contains a message in another language on its interior: ‘Fin’. But in Paradigm, it is common knowledge that nothing exists outside of the city, that the rest of the world is merely a desert wasteland left after some catastrophic environmental event that is potentially one and the same as The Event that wiped out the memories of the city’s denizens. Roger’s narration again appears: ‘More than likely, he [Dastun] is a man who has no interest in romance.’ But little does Roger know about Dastun’s dreams and the woman who haunts them.
When Roger appears at Dastun’s office, he is greeted by a departing Dastun who must make his way quickly to Alex Rosewater’s domain and an inquiry board to discuss the current terrorist attacks and what is being done to stop future attacks. Before leaving, Dastun asks Roger if he knows the meaning of the inscription ‘Fin’, but Roger is not even familiar with the language it comes from and can be no help toward this ‘end.’ At the board, Dastun explains that there are some ‘inexplicable elements’ in this case and that a foreigner might be involved. He is dismissed by the board who condescendingly explain that this is not a possibility as everyone knows there are no foreigners left on the planet, no people whatsoever who do not live within the domes. Angel is seen typing up the minutes of this board meeting, and when Dastun departs, Rosewater explains to his board members (and to Angel) that there are foreigners outside of the city and that finally releasing this news to the general public of Paradigm might be beneficial. How this is so, is not discussed, and Rosewater’s master plans are left obscured by the veil of his mind and his own discretion.
When Dastun returns to his office, he finds a supervisor there. the man tells Dastun to take a few weeks off as a paid vacation, and that he has been removed from the current investigation. The man quips that one day Dastun will learn ‘what Justice is really about.’ And Dastun responds, ‘Well sir. As far as I’m concerned, I understand it perfectly.’ And it has nothing to do with being a mere lap dog to Paradigm Corp. HQ. Dastun leaves and heads toward the Amadeus club wherein drinks and the piano of Instro lull him into a daytime revelry and visions of the woman from his dreams. Another red balloon ascends over the city, and an explosion takes place elsewhere in the city. Dastun awakens and runs toward the sounds. what he finds disturbs him immensely. Within the crowd, the woman from his visions stands across the street. He attempts to reach her, but loses her within the crowd as she turns tail and runs away.
Dastun, still on leave, decides to visit Roger at the mansion. He tells his old friend about the visions and dispels Roger’s preconceived notion that Dastun is a man without an inner romantic life. Dastun believes he is going crazy, that he might be delusional and didn’t see the woman in that crowd at all. Roger dismisses this possibility and decides to help out his friend. After visiting the Big Ear and roaming around the city for a few days, Roger meets the re-instated Dastun at an amusement park where, later that night, an old politician has planned a rally (and is thereby a potential target for the terrorist). Roger has found out that the woman in his dreams is one Sybil Rowan, a woman of foreign birth who lived in Paradigm more than 30 years ago. She starred in only one film entitled Winter Night Phantom and was heavily involved in politics. But the powers that be saw her pretty face and movie stardom as a potential stepping stone toward real political power on her part and thereby took her into custody, imprisoned her, and left her in jail to spend the remainder of her days. Rowan is now dead and the city has destroyed all prints of her one and only film appearance, but Dastun may have seen the film as a young man as the scene in his dream is purportedly the final scene of the picture. As for the modern Sybil, records show she had no children or nieces.
Just them, a giant Toy Robot Megadeus named Eumenides attacks the dome. Roger calls upon Big O and attempts to defeat the foreign Megadeus, but realizes quickly that its core is full of bombs. As such, he is restricted to merely restraining the machine from entering the park. Dastun saw a red balloon ascend into the sky before the attack, and has followed it to find a balloon truck nearby. The thing speeds off, but eventually Dastun tracks it down and finds the woman in his dream standing upon a dock as fireworks ascend into the night sky and snow descends to the earth. He walks in to the scene and finds that he is the own from his own recollections. And after a noir stand-off wherein the woman chides Dastun for a being a lap dog to Paradigm, and he responds that even dogs have their dignity, he asks who she is only to get a obfuscating, though poetic answer: ‘the one who can grant eternal sleep to an accursed past.’ As she pulls the bomb trigger mechanism, Dastun pulls his service pistol, and the latter is the faster to the draw. He takes the shot and approaches the wounded woman. Both reveal that this moment seemed destined, that they both knew it would occur. And she dies exclaiming ‘vous-etes si gentil’ just as in Dastun’s dreams.
The tale of the Winter Night Phantom is one that can be explicated through her designation as a foreigner and insufficient records of Rowan’s past, and through knowledge of Paradigm’s true ontological structure. Dastun’s memories could be reverberations through time of things that already happened over and over again. But this still doesn’t explain how the film and the reality of this moment intersect so poignantly. Unless the film is a fabrication or a staging in code of this moment. None of these explanations are ultimately satisfying intellectually or, especially, emotionally. And as such, it might be better for us as viewers and reviewers to give up the project entirely, to let the episode stand as an inexplicable piece of art, and to merely revel in the mystery of an enigma so tightly shrouded that (like Mulholland Drive) all our theories become like mere conjecture. And in the deep eternal sleep of nothingness, a fable to guide the formless toward emergence.
Cast in the Name of God,
(Catch my previous Bakshi film review here: Cool World)
After the catastrophe of Cool World’s release in 1992, Ralph Bakshi again had trouble developing any high-profile work and either could not secure another guarantee for the production of a theatrical feature or had no interest in directing one. Instead, sometime in 1993, Bakshi was given approval from Showtime to direct a feature-length feature for their Rebel Highway B-Picture film series. The bait must have reeled in Bakshi immediately as it would give him an opportunity to direct his first completely live-action film, finally develop a thrice-aborted attempt at making his long-adored screenplay about marital infidelity entitled If I Catch Her, I’ll Kill Her, and put himself amongst the names of other revered directors in the series including Joe Dante, William Friedkin, John Milius, and Robert Rodriguez.
Rebel Highway was a program meant to be in the spirit of Rebel Without A Cause with all of its attendant 50s atmosphere, music, cars, and culture. Each film in the series was released as a B-Movie remake of a 1950s B-Movie, but with better actors and good directors attached to each project. And the goal was to present a series of high quality in an effort to simultaneously produce an artful film series for Showtime and to cash in on the popularity of Rockabilly and 50s Retro cults that were thriving (as evidenced and enhanced culturally by the popularity of Twin Peaks just a few years prior).
Interestingly, Ralph Bakshi decided not to adapt a previously existing B-Movie, but instead took the name of one (1958’s reefer madness propaganda film The Cool and The Crazy) and affixed it to his own script without making any changes to it whatsoever. Although the final product is alright on its own merits, it seems threadbare and not excessively stylish or exceedingly well-made. By referencing and perhaps making light of the earlier film’s stance against marijuana use, Bakshi could have added an element to Cool and The Crazy that might made the film more referential to cinema history, and thereby ‘cooler’ to film buffs, or at least more in line with the postmodern approach to filmmaking, which was in vogue at the time due to directors like Tarantino and Rebel Highway’s own Robert Rodriguez. Unfortunately, the narrative of Bakshi’s film has no relation to that earlier film whatsoever and thereby breaks away at the structural integrity of the series of which it is a part.
The result was to undermine Rebel Highway’s operating principles, but to simultaneously be one with the spirit of rebellion against conventions and codes of operating that are its ethos, and the ethos of the American spirit from the 1950 through the late 1970s (when American culture began its downward phase). Cool and the Crazy, though not a great film as a film (though it does have a 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is thereby ten times better than Bakshi’s previous film Cool World at 4%?), is an interesting work because of its aforementioned formal qualities. Through them it stands as one amongst a member of a set (Rebel Highway), which it achieves by being literally one amongst its production number. But the ethos of this set is anti-set at the core, and as such, a film must subvert the set’s normative rules to be one amongst it.
The resulting confusion is in the designation of a member of such a set, which seems impossible. The other members of this set are members because they follow the few rules of the set, but in doing so are not rebellious and anti-set at all (at the formal level. They might contain cultural critique or obscenity or taboo that make them culturally rebellious whilst being conformist in the context of the set). This makes them fundamentally not a member of the set in regards to their ethos and only through their nominal containment in the set. As for Bakshi’s film, it finds itself also nominally within the set, but by breaking the set’s normative schemata, finds itself closer to the ethos of the set. In this way, Cool and the Crazy seems to fit the set better than any other members.
However, this is only so if we give ethos primacy within the set. Then, and only then, does Bakshi’s film check off nominal inclusion and ethos inclusion whereas the others do not. There is the also the schemata of rules, and if the set rules are given primacy over ethos, then Bakshi’s film only fulfills the first function of nominality within the set. The key, and also the problem with all critical approaches to grouping (hold on, we’re almost there), is in bifurcating schemata and the urge to pick the one over the other. In this case, the only film that really and truly fits the Rebel Highway series is the one with nominality (literally being one amongst the films produced for this program), ethos (being rebellious to formal rules of the set), AND rule-boundedness (actually being a remake of a 1950s B-Movie).
Given all three criterion, no films are completely at home in the Rebel Highway series, which might be why the series only existed for one season and did not manage to catch the attention of the public at large. But for those who do like some of these films and want something of a Dogme 95 challenge for the modern age, there is one within the criterion listed above: If a filmmaker were to create another remake of a classic 1950s B-Movie and update its sensuality and violence to fit in with the modern epoch, it would be able to checkmark the rule-boundedness box. By claiming itself to be one amongst the Rebel Highway series it would be truly rebellious (and fit the show’s ethos) as well, as no more films beyond the original 10 can retroactively check the nominality box. This means that a film created today in this manner by someone with the guts to claim its inclusion into the set (despite the obviousness of its non-inclusion and the threat of legal action) would, like all of the films in the series, check two of the three inclusion boxes and would therefore be no less legitimate than any of those films originally made for Rebel Highway. Such a paradox is truly something to marvel.
The final question: ‘But man, did you LIKE the movie or not?!?!’
My answer: ‘Not really.’
About a week and a half ago, I took a few days out of my self-imposed home renovation isolation to make the drive into Charlotte from my home out in the sticks. The destination was an AMC theater where they regularly show Fathom Events films (including the immensely popular Studio Ghibli Fest 2017 and 2018 through which I have managed to view every Miyazaki film, and most Ghibli films in general). The goal this time was to check out Studio Shaft’s newest Sci-fi Anime Fireworks. And this despite the trailer looking a bit basic and overtly anime (as opposed to closer to the tradition of fine art embodied by those anime creators like Miyazaki who feel better calling their works animation, or Satoshi Kon whose works more comfortably fall within the canon of arthouse films).
I’m never one to merely trust my gut reaction to a film trailer even though on most occasions that gut reaction proves correct. And because I was starving for new anime films to check out, I also disregarded the 43% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and instead went with the commercial numbers. The film, released in 2017 in Japan, became the sixth highest grossing animated film of the year in the country, as well as the highest grossing of Shaft’s history. For some reason, I took this as proof positive that the film might have potential as an interesting product even though I’ve visited Japan, know Japanese kids, and should have put two and two together that, just as in America, box office numbers do not accurately reflect the quality of a picture. In fact, quite the opposite is often true, and the great arthouse work like Get Out or The Shape of Water that manages to make a ton of money in the process is an anomaly.
Add to this, that Studio Shaft is not, like Gainax or Trigger or Ghibli or Sunrise or Bones or Gonzo or Madhouse, a studio with which I am familiar and that is known for releasing the types of cerebrally challenging or artistic anime I like, and I had to have been bordering on totally mental to pop into AMC on this day. But I did.
Fireworks is the tale of a middle school boy named Norimichi and the classmate he has crush on named Nazuna. The two like each other but have been unable to connect throughout the semester, and now Nazuna’s mother has met the man she wishes to become her third husband and is whisking away her daughter to a different city, away from her classmates, and away from Norimichi before the two have ever been able to have so much as a conversation. Nazuna is an extremely attractive girl for her age and is thereby ignored by her fellow female classmates who are jealous of her appearance and of the attention she diverts from them in the eyes of doting male classmates. Her male classmates, who all seemingly have crushes on Nazuna, are at an awkward stage in life where they are going through puberty and have not developed the requisite self-confidence to approach a girl they like. As such, Nazuna has remained, throughout the year, socially isolated and with no real friends.
As Nazuna reflects on her misfortune and her desire to remain behind and somehow tell Norimichi of her love for him (god this film is sappy), she finds a small glass marble on the beach. The colors reflected within are vibrant and compelling, and she pockets the gem before heading back to school and reclining by the side of the swim team’s pool. There, Norimichi and his best friend Yusuke find Nazuna reclining by the poolside to be one hell of an erotic scene, and resolve themselves to speak to her. She challenges the two to a swimming competition and decides to herself to ask the one who wins to accompany her to the fireworks show later that night, all the while, hoping that Norimichi will be the winner. But as he turns at the other end of the pool during the race, he catches a glimpse of Nazuna in the water beside him, and dumbstruck by her beauty, he hits his leg on the edge of the pool and comes to a screeching halt, loses the race, and his friend Yusuke is instead, made the lucky kid.
Later that day, Norimichi, Yusuke, and their apparently mentally handicapped friends discuss whether it is better to watch fireworks from the side or from below, which should be a no brainer as the amount of debris falling on one’s head from below would make the experience less than enjoyable. They also discuss the shape of fireworks after exploding and somehow one contingent decides that they do not explode outwards in a generally spherical shape, but ‘flat’, as in a big circle in two dimensions… in a three dimensional world. What? This dumb question becomes central to the entire premise of the film, and paired with jokes about excrement (Yusuke apparently feeling the call of nature whenever he is aroused by Nazuna’s looks?!?!), and absolutely horrendous RWBY-like CGI whenever a character moves downrange in a frame, the film becomes an absolute shit show (pun very much intended).
After Yusuke decides to ditch Nazuna in deference to hanging out with his friends and trying to sneak out to see the fireworks from below, she is distraught and goes into a tantrum, which Norimichi witnesses. Nazuna runs off and accidentally drops her marble on the ground, which Norimichi picks up and throws at his friend Yusuke after viciously beating him up for his insensitivity in standing up Nazuna. But when the marble reaches a specific velocity, time begins to revert and the world is subtly shifted into one in which the swim raced has not yet begun and fireworks now appear flat. Norimichi takes this opportunity to make sure he wins the race, and as the world spins out of control, he continually uses this ploy with the marble to make things work out and ultimately escape from the mundane reality he and Nazuna were born into, and move toward a reality of magic where reality conforms to their desires.
The sci-fi subplot is never fully explained, but the nature of its construction is about pure desire fulfillment and only serves to further entrench NEETS and bed-ridden Otaku that they can remain the child-god Dionysus, Peter Pans, or Puer Aeternis and that one day their desires will come to fruition through some alchemical pseudo-scientific process. I’m all for fantasy, but as a maxim art has a moral duty to not lie to its consumers. Good fantasy and sci-fi is ennobling and talks of honor, of self-actualization, of political or social action, or of any other such path toward the growth of one’s self or one’s world. Not toward mere self-gratification. And director Akiyuki Shinbo could stand to learn a thing or two from the hack filmmaker Makoto Shinkai, who has yet to make a true masterpiece of animation, but is always poignantly pointing towards the need for individuals to better themselves and to realize that fantasy is dangerous if unqualified by realism.
(Check out my previous film review in this series here: All The Pretty Horses)
Before I jump back into reviewing straightforward Westerns, I’ve got a few genre-bending numbers in the week ahead, as well as this review of the 2013 arthouse Southern Gothic film Child of God. The film is an adaptation of American author Cormac McCarthy’s 1973 novel of the same name, and like most of his works (and especially his earliest works) it is especially gruesome, bloody, nihilistic, subversive, and artistically daring. Through this story of an asocial idiot who becomes increasingly isolated from those around him and falls into a life of crime and taboo behavior, McCarthy works to press the patience of facile Christians who must call even this disgusting being a ‘child of god’ and a ‘brother’ to be totally consistent with their doctrines, despite one’s visceral response to the contrary.
The result is to make intellectually honest Christians aware of a core hypocrisy within the character of themselves, and by extension, of a diametrical opposition between the nature of the world as it is and the sugarcoated fables of religion, which tell us that all people have moral worth and ought to be treated fairly. The gut reaction to the character of Lester Ballard is to either morally support the town’s lynch mob attempt to wipe him off of the face of the earth or to hope to hell the lawman Sheriff Fate (Tim Blake Nelson) catches the guy and is able to lock him away and throw away the key.
Helmed by actor, director, producer, writer James Franco, the film was his second work in the medium of film to recognize and champion the literary heritage of the United States. The first work entitled The Broken Tower, and released in 2011, was a biopic on the life of Hart Crane in which Franco played the man himself. In the years following Child of God, Franco has directed two adaptations of classic novels by William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying, The Sound and The Fury), and an adaptation of a little known novel entitled In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck. Franco has also portrayed the great American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in the 2010 experimental film Howl, centering around the book’s obscenity trial in 1957, and is currently directing and writing a film chronicling the early life the American gutter poet (and one my top five favorite authors of all time) Charles Bukowski simply entitled Bukowski. Franco’s work in cinema is certainly setting himself up as something of an obscene, gritty James Ivory. And a large Criterion Collection release ought to be somewhere on the horizon despite (and possibly because) most of his films in this vein being critically divisive.
Child of God is set in the 1950s in Sevier County, Tennessee. The elder Ballard’s wife leaves him behind with his teenage son to raise on his own. Her departure is mysterious and not explained in the film and ultimately drives the elder Ballard to taking his own life out of emotional pain and desperation. Lester remains at home, not knowing how to pay bills or make a living, as he is a bit touched (as my grandparents generation in Appalachia might’ve quipped) . Eventually, the bank forecloses on his family’s home and land. Ballard gets a job digging post holes until he can afford a rifle and then commences to threaten all those who attempt to buy or sell the home at gunpoint. He grows increasingly mad and eventually loses his home.
Over the course of the film, we watch Ballard roam about the woods and countryside as if in some arthouse nature documentary chronicling the exploits of an incensed God-man, now unhinged and capable of extreme violence at any moment. He happens upon a woman in the woods who has been raped and left behind by someone else. At least, this is seemingly what has happened. The woman makes fun of Ballard, and in response, he steals the last tatters of her clothing and lopes off into the woods, leaving her naked and exposed to the elements as punishment for her rude behavior. When she later turns up at the police department, she claims that Ballard raped her (and is obviously thereby protecting the real criminal). Ballard is taken into custody by Sheriff Fate, and as the fates would have it, after an extensive stay in the jailhouse, Ballard is freed after Fate figures out that the woman lied.
Ballard moves through the world like an animal with no concern about morality or law as these are social forces only and are not present in the state of nature. This brute man finds that he is attracted to women and has an innate need to procreate after stumbling upon a couple copulating in their car on a dirt road late at night. As such, when he runs across a suicided couple within their car on the same road a few weeks later, he takes advantage of the young woman’s corpse inside, and even later returns to take her photograph and some money from the young deceased man’s wallet inside, before also hauling off the corpse of the girl to store and bone in the remote hunting cabin he occupies out in the forest.
The grotesque horror of this man’s very existence and the fact that none of his evil is perpetrated for the sake of evil, but by the ignorance inherent within so-called innocents (in truth, persons outside of socialization and thereby more natural men and women than those around them), gives viewers an attempt to stare directly into the abyss, if willing to do so. The world stripped of the social impulse, the world of true libertarianism, both devoid of religion and of the common human experience: a husk of life left without morality as either a social or a metaphysical impulse, which reveals why either one or both of these forces (religion and social solidarity) are necessary for society to function, lest we become brutes like Ballard. The Ayn Randian pursuit of individualism for its own sake is important to the development of worthwhile human beings and personas, but without being balanced by social conventions life is not worth living at all.
The proper response to narratives of idiots, to serial killers, or to soldiers fighting in aimless wars is to recognize the abyss of nihilism and the lack of meaning and morality beneath all of the social world we have built as a species. And to then champion the structures in place and to work constantly to make them safer, stronger, more inclusive, and less subject to manipulation by psychotic businessman and politicians. Oh, and to realize that inclusivity cannot and must not preclude locking up those types, as well as the aforementioned like Ballard, who are irredeemable, and though not deserving of it (deserving being a metaphysical concept that has no real place in a good social system), must nevertheless be separated from civil society. Permanently.
By Act 09 of The Big O, all major players in the production development of the show have finally made their appearance. From the director Kazuyoshi Katayama, to the concept designer Keiichi Sato, the head series writer Chiaki J. Konaka, the composer Toshihiko Sahashi, and two of the three episode directors Keiichi Hasegawa and Masanao Akaboshi. Act 09 was written by the third of this latter group, writer named Shin Yoshida (who would also later contribute to the series as a writer on Act 12).
Unlike Hasegawa and Akaboshi, Yoshida had no prior relation as a screenwriter with Chiaki J. Konaka and was instead seemingly hired on by Studio Sunrise just because they needed someone to quickly shape a few episodes into proper form before Katayama began directing his animation team to make the episode. Far from being a tried and tested writer for animation, The Big O was only Yoshida’s second attempt at writing for the medium after penning four episodes of Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters in 2000. However, his ability to pen a script for widely different types of productions whilst making the product fit in with the larger property’s aesthetic and philosophical preoccupations gave him many future opportunities to work on series such as Karas, Speed Grapher (as head writer), and Witch Hunter Robin, as well as continued work on numerous incarnations of the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise.
As for Act 09, it opens onto a maximum security prison wherein alarms are ringing out and guards are scrambling to and fro in something of a panic. A large yellow Megadeus, called the Victory Deluxe, emerges from the ground in the courtyard. Piloted by two thugs dressed and painted oddly as mimes, the men spring an unshaven Beck from his cell and head off into the night.
The following morning, Roger and Dorothy are riding along in Paradigm’s ‘countryside’ (an artificial paradise akin to the world surrounding 2019’s Los Angeles in the non-canon, but original release, ending of Blade Runner), heading toward the mansion of one Mr. Wise. The sounds of a melodic, almost somnambulant saxophone ring out as Roger’s interior monologue muses and reflects on the nature of the city of Amnesia, ‘a town of forgetfulness,’ wherein all people lost their memories forty years ago. But human beings are adaptable and after they figured out how to operate basic machinery and restore electricity to the city, something of civilization remained. ‘The only ones who regret the loss of these memories are the city’s elderly.’ Wise one amongst them.
A criminal group have kidnapped Wise’s 40 year old son Francis and are demanding a $2 million ransom. When the criminals call, Roger answers the phone and tells the man on the other end of the line (who just so happens to be Beck) that the Wise family doesn’t have $2 million. Beck hangs up, annoyed at the presence of a Negotiator in the mix, and Mr. Wise, not understanding the process of haggling necessary to the retrieval of his son in such a case, becomes incensed at Roger for not just offering to pay the men what they desire.
After leaving Mr. Wise’s home, who has temporarily fired Roger, Dorothy and he return home wherein Dorothy asks Roger to paint her on one of his canvases. The result is a distorted image of the girl, akin to a Picasso rendition minus the cubist framings. This intimate encounter is cut short when Dan Dastun pays a visit and alerts Roger to Beck’s jailbreak. Roger’s true identity as Dominus of Big O is the only one who should know about Beck, and as such Roger responds with confusion at first regarding just who Beck is. That is, until Dastun explains further. This encounter tells us a few things, other than revealing the sometimes intricate film noir complexity of the narrative of the show. It tells us that Dastun at least suspects that Roger is the Dominus of Big O. Roger’s response tells us that he knows Dastun suspects him and that he is being very careful not to play into his hand in case Dastun’s motives for subtly probing into Roger’s alter ego are less than altruistic.
Later that day, Mr. Wise recalls Roger Smith reluctantly as he still needs a negotiator. Roger explains the nature of haggling, how it can save him money, and how it can also make the hostage appear ultimately of little worth to the kidnappers who might otherwise go back on their promises to return the man after receiving money in the hopes of taking Wise for all he’s worth. When Beck calls once again, he recognizes the voice of Roger and decides to up the ante to a $3 million ransom and to make it known that he will take the hostage’s life if Roger does not appear, with the money, at the designated time and place.
That night, when Roger and Dorothy head out to rendezvous with Beck, they find the safe house empty except for a tied up Francis inside. Outside, Dastun’s forces appear and tell Roger that the shtick it up. He has been framed! After making a daring escape and then camouflaging The Griffon sedan to evade police, Roger and Dorothy drive off to track down Beck and his goons. Along the way, Dorothy reveals that Francis does not appear anything like Mr. Wise and is probably not his son, which only leads to more questions than it answers. The two decide that Wise’s home would be the best first place to look for answers and when they arrive, the old man reveals that he met his late wife Mary only moments after The Event. They were standing within the parlor of the great mansion he currently inhabits, neither one of which retained anything of their past memories or knowledge of their identities. But there and then, they fell deeply in love, and eight months later a child was born unto them. Wise, who may have previously been nothing more than a housekeeper, was now a rich man rearing another unknown man’s child.
Beck found this out and has been threatening to disclose this information to the public. Wise folded immediately and gave in to all of Beck’s demands for money and industrial metal and machine parts. which he had delivered to an abandoned stockyard that Beck is currently using as a hideout. Wise wished to prevent his son from receiving public ridicule if the truth of his background were revealed. As Roger and Dorothy depart the mansion just as quickly as they arrived, to track down Beck, Dorothy asks Roger a question: ‘So, wise fell in love out of loneliness?’ Roger finds the question too difficult and emotionally charged to answer, which prompts Dorothy to retain her second question for a later time. Not merely an android, Dorothy has developed a strong inner emotional life. One that makes the boundary between human and robot every day less substantial for Roger.
When they arrive at Beck’s warehouse, the criminal mastermind is prepared. A giant hook descends from the ceiling above to crush and take away Roger’s black sedan, nearly killing him in the process as well. A giant magnet appears, which attracts Dorothy’s metallic frame and renders her immobile. Beck inserts a disk into her hairband CD insert, which turns her into a machine hellbent on attacking Roger. She approaches him, and the dual function of the program becomes apparent as it renders Dorothy’s inhibitions mute. Starry eyed, she embraces Roger and tells him that she loves him, all while squeezing his body in a vice-grip that nearly breaks him in half. Miraculously, her own rational circuits are enough to override the program and by sheer force of will Dorothy stops herself, but malfunctions in the process and loses consciousness.
His first and second lines of attack thwarted, Beck now calls upon his trump card: the Victory Deluxe Megadeus! Unfortunately for him, the materials out of which it is constructed are less than ideal and it has a much lower power than a classic pre-Event Megadeus like Big O. As such, when Victory Deluxe emerges from the ground, it gets caught halfway up and has to wrench itself out. When Big O emerges, it busts straight out of the ground and begins to destroy Victory Deluxe with no problem as its yellow antagonist’s laser attacks merely bounce off of Big O’s superior metallic shell. With one piston punch, Big O decapitates Beck’s Megadeus and then proceeds to drop it outside Dastun’s office only moments before Mr. Wise appears to explain the entire incident and thereby give Roger an alibi for the kidnapping of Francis.
That night, as Norman repairs Dorothy, he asks Roger if he would like the replace her memory circuits on the off chance that such an attack occurs once again, as she is now more susceptible to being invaded by alien programs like Beck’s than ever before. Roger tells him to leave her memory as it is because she had been wanting to ask Roger something, and the removal of her memory would prevent her from remembering the question if she ever mustered up the courage. And the following morning, Dorothy does just that and asks the question she has been reflecting on since Mr. Wise’s predicament first came to light: ‘If neither of us had memories, and we both met, would you and I fall in love?’
Cast in the Name of God,
Last year, and into the beginning of this year, I reviewed every single feature film ever directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Find the beginning of that series here) as well as a number of documentaries on the man’s life and work. I developed an intense interest in this artist whose personal creative inspirations come primarily from kitsch filmmaking and Criterion classics, like my own. Who is color blind like myself, but manages to use color in novel, interesting, and thematic ways in his films. A man prone to oscillation between self-deprecation and grandiose statements about his own creative genius.
Towards the end of this period, I found out that he was in the beginning stages of launching a new streaming platform for films of a rare nature. Films that are hard to find, but legendary, films that express something poignant about the psychical chaos hidden deep within the American psyche. Southern Gothics, American Neo-realism, Independent films, Exploitation cinema, Hellfire and Brimstone pieces and Godsploitation, and works of undefinable genre. The unearthing of these works, which he has collected the rights to and fought to restore and preserve were a revelation to me. As such, I spent a month reviewing a number of these prospective titles.
Shanty Tramp and Hot Thrills and Warm Chills. Night Tide and The Exiles. If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? and The Burning Hell. And now, I’m excited to announce, that as of today, byNWR, Refn’s new free streaming film archive, interview and essay compendium has made its Beta debut. I suggest you go check it out and spend a few weeks digging deep into the core of what it means to be American through these tales of crime, of passion, of the exuberance of life lived authentically as an engagement into the existential quest of finding what it is that makes you who you are.
In a time when political life is a shit show and the news serves only to provoke anxiety, fear, and disillusionment, a retreat into the past might be just what is called for. Because without that perspective, our art is barren. In the words of Devo: ‘We need art to again be an affirmation of life and values in the face of the corporate boot coming down and kicking you in the head.” byNWR is just one new step that could lead you and I toward that direction, and thereby toward a much-needed revivification of a culture that has been forced to repeat itself over and over, producing nothing new of note or import, since the late 1970s.
Now is the time. Go forward bravely and fight to carve life into art before the alabaster dwindles to nothing!
A Manifesto, and an update,
(Act 07: The Call from the Past)
The curtains part, revealing the opening Act: a crime scene in East Town, a rich suburb of Paradigm. Dastun and his men are there investigating the mysterious case of a woman who has been mauled to death by a mysterious mutated beast, now dead and lying within a large water fountain in the courtyard of this once stately home. One of Dastun’s deputies finds a photograph of the home’s owner with a large golden retriever. He quips that pets are hard to come by (presumably since The Event) and that the cost of that particular pet probably exceeds the Military Police’s annual budget.
This is saying something as they are regularly outfitted with tanks and other military grade vehicles and weaponry. The comment also connects The Big O to the most influential modern Sci-fi narrative, Blade Runner, once again as it has done on numerous occasions thus far. More specifically, the notion of natural extinction of most terrestrial animals after some previous environmental event and their current existence almost exclusively as genetically-engineered, and extremely expensive, automata whose presence within a home signifies the immense wealth and social prestige of those who dwell within it, ties The Big O to Blade Runner’s source novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick, wherein the protagonist Deckard works as a bounty hunter in the hopes of one day being able to afford the titular Electric Sheep, and thereby becoming a ‘somebody’ in the process.
The following morning, the city is being drenched in rain and the sky is obscured by a thick grey smog (an iconic visual signifier relating the show once again to the cyberpunk aesthetic of Blade Runner). Dorothy is out and about walking around town with her umbrella when she runs across a small kitten in an alleyway. She takes the little guy in and nicknames him Pero, much to Roger Smith’s ire. The kitten makes a mess of his desk and breaks his favorite sand timer in the process, which breaks Roger’s sixth rule: ‘Under no circumstances must anyone touch my desk!’ He wants Dorothy to get rid of the kitten as it has a collar and belongs to someone else. Besides, it’s a grey kitten, and all those who live within his mansion must don themselves in black. Over the course of a few days, however, Roger realizes that Dorothy is developing a deep inner emotional life, as well as affection for the kitten, and that these two developments have some connection.
‘I get the feeling that Dorothy has grown more expressive in a short time. Yet she still has the same dour look on her face. Contact with the kitten had awakened memories, apparently of the girl she was modeled after.’ Roger too is growing affections: a response to Dorothy’s constant presence and their conversations that he can no more control than Dorothy can control her inexplicable maternal instincts toward this small kitten. Roger begins to wonder over the course of the episode whether or not the memories of old songs that Dorothy vocalizes are merely the memories of the real Dorothy Wayneright, but he eventually comes to realize that ‘whatever the reason that’s changing her, it’s for the best. And that oughta be enough.’
When the owners of Pero track him down and confront Roger about returning him to them, he is reticent about doing so as he has seen the joy this kitten’s presence has brought to Dorothy. He explains that if allowed, he would gladly pay for Pero and ensures Mr. and Mrs. Fairy that he will be well looked after. Mrs. Fairy explains that if they were talking about a child, Roger would most likely hand over the boy right away, as he would recognize their right to the child. He decides to think over the exchange and goes to speak with Dorothy about returning Pero.
Roger explains his seventh rule: ‘the basic rule of negotiating is to consider and respect the other person’s feelings.’ However, before he can apply this rule to the current predicament, Dorothy explains that she has heard the discussion and resigned herself to returning Pero: ‘It’s interesting. I didn’t know him for very long at all, but I’m glad I met him.’ As Roger asks Dorothy if she would personally return Pero to his family, a mad scientist appears in an odd flying craft and nabs Dorothy and the kitten in her arms with a large claw arm. The Fairys run outside and begin to plead with the man within the contraption, whom they recognize as someone named Eugene, to please return Roy (their name for Pero). As the scientist fires a barrage of bullets toward them, Roger evades the attacks, Norman appears with a massive machine gun to ward off the machine, and both of the Fairys are caught in the fire. Before passing away, the true nature of Roy’s identity is solved as Mrs. Fairy cries out, ‘Roy! My little boy!’
Roger leaves the mansion and heads downtown to speak with the informer The Big Ear. The mysterious figure informs Roger that Eugene Grant, the man piloting the flying machine, was apparently involved in the incident in East Town pictured at the episode’s opening act. He is a scientist turned alchemist who has studied artificial proteins and worked in the bio-engineering trade for some time. But his newest discoveries and experiments have even Paradigm Corp. afraid of the man as he claims to have the very keys to life itself. As Roger ventures out toward the lab of Eugene Grant, Angel follows behind him from afar. Eventually, Roger calls her out of the shadows and the two infiltrate the lab together, knock out Grant’s goons, and find a large Megadeus size Chimera within a pool in the centre of the lab.
Roger calls upon Big O and proceeds to tear the beast apart limb by limb. And then Dorothy appears and relates the cruel truth behind all of these experiments. This Chimera is a composite of dozens or even hundreds of chimeras, all formed from the materials of human lives. Pero is somewhere inside of this beast. Roger stops attacking the beast and eventually Dorothy’s call to it bring it around to its senses. The Chimera destroys its creator, the lab, and then itself, thereby ceasing the pain of all of its Chimera brothers and sisters, itself, and ensuring that no one will ever again regain the technology to do so.
Act 08 is a crushing portrait of human hubris and the destruction it can bring about. It is a harrowing vision of a dystopian world wherein Androids do indeed dream and live and breathe and emote to such a degree that they can retain more humanity than those humans who created them. And it is a parable, which will hopefully guide human technological efforts from ever reaching such abominable lows on their way to achieving noble highs.
Cast in the Name of God,