Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Transformers: Not Buddhists In Disguise

 To no one's surprise who reads this blog, I've been thinking about the Transformers again lately.

The comics, not the movies, and I've especially been thinking about them in the context of Buddhism.

Buddhism is fueled by the idea of change, of impermanence. It was born as a response to the inevitable human conditions of old age, sickness, and death.

Transformers are less vulnerable to those conditions. Individual Cybertronians measure their years in the millions. Parts can be replaced, fallen friends rebuilt.

In that context, how possible for them is any lasting change? Less bound by the positive and negative feedback of irreversible consequences, what motivation is there for real growth, for permanently ceasing hostilities, for Megatron to permanently change his ways, for the Autobots to break their dependence on Optimus Prime to come back yet again to save them, for Starscream to stop wash-rinse-repeating his cycle from ambition to self-destruction, for Hot Rod to mature and temper his recklessness?

The Transformers' situation is practically a meta-comment on comic book characters in general.

Consider Spider-Man. For over fifty years his life has been a never-ending barrage of villains, clones, costume changes, secret wars, deaths, rebirths, alternate timelines, crossovers, team-ups, and World Shaking Events...only to be eternally, inexorably reeled back by the slow gravity of the status-quo.

What would that do to a being, do you think?

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Mr. White

Reservoir Dogs opens with eight men--seven of whom will soon be dead--having breakfast. One of the dead men, Mr. Brown, says, "Let me tell you what 'Like A Virgin' is about."

"It's about a girl who digs a guy with a big dick," Mr. Brown goes on to explain. "She meets this John Holmes motherfucker and it's like, 'whoa baby.' She's feeling something she ain't felt since forever: pain. When this cat fucks her, it hurts."

Here's my question: Is the pain Mr. Brown is describing the same pain Mr. White feels at the end of the movie when he learns Mr. Orange has been fucking him?

*  *  *

An exasperated Nice Guy Eddie refers to Mr. White as "Mr. Fuckin' Compassion." One could make the argument that Mr. White is the most compassionate of the thieves. One could even argue that compassion is his undoing.

 But compassion isn't Mr. White's tragic flaw. Mr. White's tragic flaw is delusion.

He refuses to see his tendency to get too attached to his co-workers. He tells Joe what was getting to him about working with Alabama was "that man-woman thing." But Mr. Orange is not a woman, and Mr. White's affection for his self-appointed protege blinds him not just to the truth, but to even the possibility of truth.

Similarly, his antipathy towards Mr. Blonde seems as much about himself as it is about Vic Vega. He wants to believe he is different, more compassionate, less murderous than Mr. Blonde.

Maybe he is.

But from the way he talks about cutting off the jewelry store manager's fingers, from the way he shoots the cops while escaping the robbery, from his response to learning of Mr. Orange's betrayal...

He might be different. But he ain't that different. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Just Like The Movies

[Originally posted at chasingthemountains.blogspot.com, April 14, 2016]

"It is normal for a man, whilst sailing and observing the shore, to think that the shore is moving instead of the boat but, should he look carefully, he will find that it is the boat that is doing the actual moving: in the same way as this, it is because man observes everything from a mistaken viewpoint of his body and mind that he comes to the conclusion that they are eternal however, should he learn to observe them correctly, as a result of penetrating truth, he will discover that no form whatsoever attaches itself substantially to anything."
-Dogen, Genjo-Koan

"Yeah, It was but a moment
Yeah, Wonder where it all went"
-Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Just Like In The Movies

When I was four or five years old, at a friend's birthday party, I saw my first movie. It was magnificent! There were whirs and noises, a light at the front, and on top, two spinning wheels. It wasn't until an adult tapped me on the shoulder and directed my attention to the screen behind me where three ducklings were swimming after their mother into the sunset that I understood my mistake: I'd been watching the projector the whole time.

I sometimes wonder what Dogen, the thirteenth century Japanese monk credited as the person behind our specific Zen sect would think about the movies. Having read a lot of his work lately, I imagine it might go something like this:

"A person might say, "that movie was so realistic," while another says "it's only a movie" and that movies have nothing to do with real life. Such people are chumps. Ha! I pity the fools. Movies are not like reality, and movies are not like not-reality. A person in real life watches a movie, and a person also watches a movie in real life. People are real; movies are real; real life is real. Thus, while watching a movie is real life, real life is also watching the movie. It is also true that people are not real, movies are not real, and real life is not real."

Imaginary-Dogen raises a good point, but I'm not going there for now. I'm also not going to talk about the differences between life and movies, such as life's tendency to leave in the boring, difficult parts instead of condensing them into an inspiring montage set to an ass-kicking rock song. Instead, I'm going to talk about a couple things a think movies can teach us.

1. Nothing in a movie is real.  At the same time, everything we see and experience is due to countless people, many of whom we don't actually see.

The characters are actors pretending to be someone they aren't, delivering lines that another person wrote, wearing costumes someone else designed, sometimes enhanced with computer technology that means they are often performing with things that are not actually in front of the camera with them.

But is that so different from real life? We wear clothes other people made. We travel in vehicles that were invented, designed, and built by multitudes of others. The people we see are products of their parents genetics, mixed with their social upbringing. Even some of our most cherished ideas and favorite spoken lines and catchphrases...so many of those things we learned with others.

We think we're the stars of our own story, but there is much more than what we see in front of us.

2. Commitment

Even though movies are not real, the people making them treat them as if they are. Even if movies are simple entertainment, movie workers devote themselves to as though it were the most serious thing on Earth. Good actors, good writers, good directors, good make-up or special effects artists...all of them devote 100% to their work even if the thing they are working on is--in their opinion--stupid, pointless, boring, or unbelievable. Robert Downey Jr. doesn't look at the camera and go: "Look at me! I'm a-pretendin' to be a Super Hero!" Whether they are saving the world from aliens, involving themselves in the world's most improbable love story, growing space-potatoes on Mars, none of them are winking at the audience going, "Can you believe this here bullshit?"

But maybe my five year old self had the best lesson of all: Look at the projector, not the projection.

When things happen to us in our lives, our brains interpret those things, come up with a story about them, and very often we act on the story instead of the thing that actually happened. We forget about our brain's involvement.

Sometimes it's valuable to look at that brain and notice those stories.

When I find myself getting frustrated doing my taxes, instead of thinking the problem is the tax forms or the computer or the son-of-a-bitch government, I can take a look at that frustration. Maybe I'll notice that frustration is hiding something else--the fear of not having enough, the fear of doing things wrong, the fear of being asked for more than I believe I can afford to give.

When I find myself frustrated with the demands of monastery life, instead of thinking the problem is the schedule or the monks or my own inability to find out what people want and to deliver it to them perfectly, I can take a look at that. Maybe I'll notice that frustration is hiding something else--the fear of not having enough, the fear of doing things wrong, the fear of being asked for more than I believe I can afford to give.

Maybe I'll notice that whether I'm dealing with taxes, other people, or situations I feel beyond my control--even if they seem vastly different for one another--there are some common themes in my brain.

This doesn't need to just apply to external things like people and situations. Sometimes even my own internal reactions and behavior are based on a story that I am too distracted to notice.

For example, during an awkward moment at breakfast, instead of wondering whether the self-deprecating joke that springs to my lips is funny enough, maybe I could notice instead what combination of feeling and circumstance leads me to feeling the need to make a joke in the first place.

I can only write for myself, but what I notice when I look, is that often behind my actions, there is an impulse or plan.

When I look behind that plan or impulse, I find a thought or a belief about myself or about the way the world is or should be.

If I look behind that, then I frequently notice a feeling, often one that is barely perceptible.

And behind that?

Well. That's the question, isn't it? I don't know if I can give an answer--after all, I promised earlier to only write about my self.

Our lives are not about our stories. The beginning, middle, and end is not nearly as important as the thing that is happening right now, right in front of us. Right here, in our personal theatre of the mind.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Sounds of Home

Open your eyes/ Leave it all behind.
            -Van Halen, Light Up The Sky

For the past week, Ive been obsessed with Van Halen II. As its name suggests, it is the band Van Halens second album, released in 1979, when I was five years old. I own it on cassette, but it is buried in a storage room at my condo, which is currently undergoing repairs. I am on the other side of the city staying at my sisters house where she lives with her husband and two boys.

In any case, I cant get seem to get Van Halen II out of my head. The *ting* of  the bell of Alex Van Halens ride cymbal before the guitar solo on  Outta Love Again. David Lee Roth joyously celebrating the charms of Beautiful Girls.  The falsetto Oooooh.baby,baby on Dance The Night Away.

My brain jumps from one song to another over the course of the day polishing them over and over in my head. Regardless of the song though, the conclusion is the same: Van Halen II, I have decided, is the most perfect collection of music ever recorded. I want to marry this album. I want to buy a house with Van Halen II and bear its children. I want us to travel and grow old together. I want to lie in a hospital bed bathed in the golden light of the setting sun with a cracked cassette copy of Van Halen II holding my hand from a bedside chair.

Oh, and in other news, Ive also decided to move to the mountains to become a monk.

Not that THAT has anything to do with anything. I only mention it because my Van Halen II love affair began the morning after I let the visiting prior of our group know my intentions.

It wasnt a graceful moment. Reverend Master was leaving for Vancouver early the next morning, so I was on a deadline. Except that because he was leaving the next morning people from our group were hustling and bustling about saying goodbyes and asking him last minute questions and wrapping up final travel arrangements for him.

I lingered for a while, and when no perfect moment arrived, I settled for the one I had. I ended up half muttering to him in the hallway outside the upstairs kitchen, I think I want to be a monk.

Im not sure why, but after I said it, I felt afraid. I was overcome by a embarrassment, like I had admitted to wanting that was above my station. I felt like a child putting on his doctor fathers white coat and stethoscope and asking if he could come to work and perform open heart surgery.

Im not sure how I expected the monk to respond. I thought he would say something like are you sure? or Give me a call and well talk about it or even hmmm.

Instead, he did something I did not expect. He hugged me. Then he said Okay a bunch of times, not so much like he was approving a request but like he was a trying to calm a skittish horse.

He told me to hold my desire to become a monk lightly, and then we all tromped out the door. The last thing he told me was to get in touch.

Another monk, several weeks later, told me a similar story about his own experience expressing his monastic intentions. Like me, he blurted it out and didnt know what to say next or how the master would react. He described a similar sense of shock at hearing himself say the words, like he had just opened up a box and presented the world a gift so offer it . The next day, he told me, he and the Reverend Master went for ice cream.

I did not go out for ice cream. Instead returned to the guest bedroom in my sisters basement. There I  lay awake listening to a frantic little man inside my head throwing open filing cabinets, scrutinizing fine print, and scattering documents around the inside of my skull, looking for a reasons why I had made a bad decision.

 He found nothing. I dont know how big or small a gift to the world my becoming a monk is, but I know its something an offering Im willing to make completely and wholeheartedly. My brain is anxious, but my heart is at peace, and nothing can change that.

Sometime later in the night, I wake up to the sound of my youngest nephew crying.

There is something about the sound of a baby crying in the night. My heart wants to lever itself out of my ribcage, climb to the ceiling via grappling hook, and shimmy like an action movie star through the heating vents separating the basement guestroom from my nephews room upstairs. It wants to find its way into his crib and burrow in next to him, heating him with its warmth while beating a comforting rhythm. All is well. Im here. All is well. Im here.

When I come upstairs in the morning, my nephew is sitting in his high chair triumphantly waving his spoon. He is sporting a beard of yogurt and there is cereal in the wispy halo of his hair. His delight when he sees me lights the room like a tiny sun. We made it! We both survived the night! Terrible Dark Lonely Scary Tine is over!

When breakfast ends, I check my email to see if there has been any progress on my condo, which is currently serving as the rope in a three way tug-of-war between contractor, condo board, and insurance board that has slowed my condo repairs. I play Dinosaur Hotel with my four year old oldest nephew in a box that once contained a washing machine. Half an hour later, the boys are packed up and gone with their family and Im by myself in the house thinking of impermanence.

Im not thinking of impermanence because I want to be a monk. Im thinking of it because children--with every whiplash mood change, spilled plastic cup, or unexpected interruption--are a living reminder that impermanence is all there is.

My sisters house is not like my condo  and not just because her bathroom ceiling is water-free and not in need of replacement. My condo is mostly bare and no one but me ever goes there. My sisters house is filled to the brim with things and also with life.

Now, with everyone gone, well, the house remains a mess, but with the kids gone, its a strangely still mess. Dinosaur Hotel, its cardboard walls marred with slashes of crayon stands crookedly in a patch of sunlight. Toys are scattered across the living room like stones in a Zen rock garden. Even the used tissue on the table assumes the quiet dignity of a fulfilled purpose. Its chaos, and everything is in its place.

Im filling the sink to do the dishes when a fragment of song breaks loose from some forgotten place in my memory and bobs to the surface of my mind: Im a spark on the horizon.

It takes me a few moments to identify the song: DOA from Van Halens Van Halen II. A crack in the cement dam in my unconscious.

The dam bursts and the rest of the album pours through.

*  *  *

It doesnt last forever. It goes on for nearly a week, butwell, impermanence, remember?

But Van Halen II isnt alone. No sooner has it faded than another music or movie obsession arises to take its place. Sometimes it lasts for moments. Other times each piece holds me in its grip for hours or days.

Gretchen Goes To Nebraska by Kings X. Kendrick LamarGood Kid Maad City. I spend an entire afternoon deciding Im going to watch The Big Lebowski every day until its branded into my brain. That way, when Im at the monastery, I can secretly watch the movie in my head whenever I need an escape.

My obsession right now is the Dixie Chicks album Home. My brother-in-law was playing it while I was sitting at the table with the four year old helping him cut paper and when Travellin Soldier on, I grew suddenly misty eyed.

Forget all that other music. Home is the most perfect album ever recorded.

Im still thinking that ten songs later. Im sitting in the chair by the front window. The baby is standing in the middle of the living room in his green one-piece fuzzy pyjamas with his hands in the hair while he turns in circles to make himself dizzy.

I dont need to go to the monastery. I dont want to go back to my condo. I dont want anything but to watch this boy turn in circles forever while Godspeed (Sweet Dreams) plays in the background.

Sorry, Van Halen. I was wrong.  It was the Dixie Chicks all along.

This is all I want. This is all I needto sit in this chair and listen to the sounds of home.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Exposure Therapy

I dont remember what got me into Buddhism exactly.

Maybe it was the taekwon-do, which I had recently taken up because I thought one of my co-workers at the Pizza Hut I was working at the time were going to get into a fight.

In any case, there were a few things I remember from my first foray into Buddhism: One was a book I had picked up on the way home from Pizza Hut, still in my uniform as I passed through the mall bookstore. It was a book of quotes called The Little Book of Zen.

The second was a TV show called Northern Exposure.

I dont recall Northern Exposure ever explicitly referencing Buddhism. But it was the first show I ever saw where the conflicts were mostly internal. Other shows were about murders and car chases. Or conflicts between characters., but compared to the alien murderer and conspiracies of the X-Files, Nothern Exposure had low stakes: Maggies fear of bugs. Chris lack of inspiration.  Eds vocation. Even the romance between Joel and Maggie seemed less about the romance and more a for exploring the Jewish doctor and the pilots psychologies.

I was hooked. It was a show that seemed calming and energizing all at once. I couldnt find a word to describe it other thanquiet. It was the same feeling I felt in the mornings, crossing the footbridge to the mall parking lot at six thirty in the morning on my way to the Pizza Hut, feeling the vibrations of my own footsteps on the path. Below me, the Sturgeon river, clogged with stray shopping carts. Beyond me, the sky, streaked with clouds and the colors of sunrise.

I loved those clouds. I loved that sky. Different every single morning. But always beautiful.

There was conflict in Northern Exposure, but there was no yelling or door slamming. No passionate break-ups and make-ups. Even the characters who didnt got along, still got along--they lived in the same town and had to interact with each other, so they did. Adam, the most unlikable character was invited to parties.

There was a sense of acceptance

 Even the character Maurice Wiinnefield--a guy who was basically everything about the Tea Party before the Tea Party existed had a certain decency and dignity. Similarly, the neurotic Jewish New York Doctor was neurotic and out of place without ever being a buffoon or an over-the-top cartoon character.

A number of spiritual traditions have the theory that we are not who we are. The things that we think of as making up our identity--our physical forms, our jobs, our social roles, our personalities--are insubstantial and unimportant, waves on the surface of a deeper ocean.  We are part of something greater and all of us are connected to that something, and thus, to each other.

We can be bloody-red as a sunset, grim as grey clouds, or bright, blue and endless. We are differentdifferent from each other and different from day to day. But for all our differences, we are all the same sky. We cradle the earth and everything on it from horizon to horizon, from the trees to the malls to the teenage bass player in the Pizza Hut uniform crossing a footbridge over the Sturgeon River over twenty-years ago.

Listen. You can hear his footfalls in every word in this post.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Huns & Rodents

The guitar riff is the brick that built the house of 80s heavy metal.

Metallicas layered Bay-area thrash. Poisons simplistic trash. Joe Satrianis flash and Guns N Roses Slash. AC/DCs unforgettable You Shook Me and Babylon ADs forgotten Bang Goes The Bells. All shaped by the same musical DNA: a rhythmic, repeated guitar phrase.

Listen to the German band Scorpions for examples: Rock You Like A Hurricane and No One Like You are probably the best known, but there are more: Big City Nights.” “Im Leaving You.” “The Zoo.” “Blackout. No One Like You. Bad Boys Running Wild(Not to be confused with Bad Boy by Haywire, Bad Boys by Great White, Bad Boys by Whitesnake, or Bad Boys by Wham) and No One Like You with the way they have the rhythm guitar start and the lead come bursting in over top. The Zoo.  Blackout.” “Im Leaving You.

Or consider Ratt, In terms of consistency, Ratt were the best of their generation. Most 80s LA bands were lucky to even release five albums, let alone five good ones. From Out of the Cellar to Detonator,  Ratt had the best five album run of any of the Sunset Strip metal bands (with the possible exception of Motley Crue depending on how big a fan you are of Theatre of Pain).

And every song beginning with  Out of the Cellars Wanted Man and ending with Top Secret from Detonator  is built around one or two guitar riffs.

Grunge killed 80s metal. But it didnt kill the riff. Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots used them.  Kurt Cobain might have disdained metal, but the riff was as close to Nirvana as it was to Heavens Edge.  The opening of Smells Like Teen Spirit--grunges signature song--is unmistakeable, and that opening--all guitar followed by the drums crashing entrance, is all riff, baby.

Guitar-based music doesnt have the same prominence today and hasnt for awhile. Thats why I like Nickelback.

Many people dont. There was even a time when not only did people hate Nickelback, they also didnt like people who liked them. My liking Nickelback is the reason one woman refused to sleep with me.

I get it. I felt the same way about Creed. And before that, Milli Vanilli.

I like Nickelback because they use the riff. You can hear examples in Animals,” “Something In Your Mouth, and that Pants-Around-Your-Feet song.

They continue to riff, and for that, I salute them. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Jurassic Shark

Jurassic World the movie has a lot in common with its own primary antagonist. Like the Indominus Rex, it’s one movie with the DNA of other movies stitched in: I could have sworn they used elements of the Marine ambush (including the use of helmet cams and life support readings sent to a control room) from Aliens at least twice, the Predator camouflage gimmick, bits of Jaws and Jaws 3D, the Birds, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Oh yeah, and there were one or two nods to Jurassic Park.

Truthfully though, I don't see a close relation between Jurassic World and Jurassic Park.

Instead, Jurassic World most closely resembles Deep Blue Sea.

Ridiculous, you say. Deep Blue Sea featured genetically-modified super-sharks. Jurassic World's antagonist was a genetically modified super-dinosaur.

See? Totally different.

There are still a lot of similarities. There's the  animal wrangler/hard-headed boss lady dynamic between the male and female leads. The rich guy dies in a fashion dies in underwhelming fashion while trying to be inspiring and heroic. Even the composition of some of the actual shots in Jurassic World (mostly involving the mosasaurus but also one where the female lead steps vulnerably into the Tyrannosaurus paddock) seemed to call back to Renny Harlin’s schlock non-classic.

Perhaps most importantly, both Deep Blue Sea and Jurassic World submitted entries to the Most Incompetent Helicopter Crew Hall Of Fame. 

Deep Blue Sea is different from Jurassic World in one respect--Deep Blue Sea knows exactly what it is. Im not so sure the same can be said for Jurassic Shark.

Watching Jurassic World left me thinking a line in the movie Joyride where Steve Zahns character, while looking for pornography on a motel television,  asks Paul Walker: Are you in the mood for a story or more of a collection of scenes?

Jurassic Worlds dinosaur pornography mostly falls into the collection of scenes category. There are the disconnected bits cribbed from other movies. Characters are inconsistent. The story has a beginning, middle, and end, I suppose, but for the most part feels like something my four year old nephew would tell: This happens and then This and then This, with each moment having only the flimsiest connection to the next.

It isnt just the story and character that is inconsistent. The ideas behind the movie are inconsistent, which makes for interesting watching. Because the movie isnt mindless--it DOES put forth some ideas. The trouble is, it cant seem to decide what those ideas are.

Consider the treatment of gender.

Some critics accuseed Jurassic World of misogyny. The most violent death is reserved for a woman. The kids in the movie prefer the male lead to the female lead, and on one level it seems to be criticizing her choice to be more committed to her work than to family and mawwiage.

At the same time,  the film subverts as many gender tropes as it reinforces

While fleeing from the Indominus, in a moment of benevolent sexism we’ve seen in countless movies, Chris Pratt as Owen reaches back to take Bryce Dallas-Howard's hand…and she blows right by him, high heels and all.

In terms of beats of physical action, it's Bryce Dallas Howard's character Claire that is the most effective--she saves Pratt from a a dinosaur's air attack (My four-year old nephew‘s note--pternadon isn‘t a dinosaur. It‘s a flying reptile). She drives the van in the only car chase in the movie and does a hell of a job, escaping the dinosaurs and saving the children (immediately followed by the inexplicable moment where the kids express that they want to stay with Pratt). She is the one who comes up with and executes the plan that frees the Tyrannosaurus.

By way of contrast, Pratt is pretty much treated like the token female love interest in shows from less enlightened times. His crowning physical moment is hiding under a truck. We're told he’s a badass navy SEAL and he gets some token moments such as  taking down a couple pterodactyl redshirts, but at the end of the day, he’s cowering in a pipe with the kids waiting to be rescued.

The scene where he kisses Claire is a similar reversal. Some said it was an unearned moment where the male grabbed the heroine and planted one on her in a moment of sexist, unearned, tone-deaf entitlement. Yet from my end, I  thought Pratt kissed her because she'd just saved his life from the dinos----sort of a gender-swapped "my hero moment." The scene works both ways. It simultaneously subverts and reinforces.

Let’s also not forget that what he lacks in action beats, Pratt gets in emotional beats, a role typically played by women. He’s the pretty, plucky animal trainer who is the only who can get through to the raptors with the power of his FEELINGS.

He’s Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side. He’s Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds.

(Which doesn’t, by the way, mean I’m comparing the raptors the kids from the bad side of the tracks or accusing Hollywood executives of being unable to tell the difference between inner-city youth and dinosaurs. Clearly they can: One is a cunning, hyper aggressive, pack-hunting super-predator and the other is less scary covered with feathers. I’m just saying according to Hollywood, the only thing a genetically engineered Mesozoic theropod problem needs to thrive is also the only thing poverty-stricken minority teens in areas blighted with crumbling infrastructure and rampant economic equality are lacking--an empathetic white woman to care and believe and get to know them as people and whatnot.)

In Jurassic World, Chris Pratt is that empathetic white woman. His kindness, and goodness even leads to the tragic end of one of the raptors in a sequence that calls back to Muldoon’s death in the original Jurassic Park. The dinosaur hesitates when it sees him and is consequently outflanked and killed by a soldier with a rocket launcher.

Chris Pratt is Raptor Muldoon‘s “clever girl.” Twas beauty killed the beast.

The movie sends mixed messages on other themes. It uses the park as a metaphor for blockbuster sequels, and then sends contradictory messages about the value of them. Its multiple references to the original Jurassic Park seem to alternately deify and devalue it.

The movie’s final battle is a case in point. The new Indominus creature is beaten and the T-Rex from the original Jurassic Park and one of the raptors stand tall, as if to say that nothing compares to the original. Except that the T-rex and raptor actually LOST the fight. The Indominus was foiled by the intervention of the Mosasaurus, a dinosaur introduced in this movie.

Symbolically it feels like the movie first says that the Original will fight the Sequel (T-Rex and Raptor challenge the Indominus) but they cannot hope to defeat it (Indominus wins the fight) until the sequel eventually defeats itself (Mosasarus eats Indominus) and returns to the pool from whence it came, leaving on the originals (the final shot of the T-rex).

Actually, you know what? Written out like that, it kind of works as a thematic statement, albeit a complicated one. Unfortunately, if a movie’s theme has to be worked through and written out after the fact to be understandable, it‘s not really a theme. It‘s one thing to allow a viewer to connect the dots; but you need to give them enough dots to connect.

Finally, the movie seems to want to make a statement about the martial mind through the character of Hoskins. He is framed as a bad character wanting to do bad things by militarizing the dinosaurs  When he proposes using the velociraptors to hunt the Indominus, the other characters are incredulous and appalled.

And with good reason. Hoskins' plan is ludicrous. I have the solution to our escaped dangerous animal public safety problem. We’ll release other dangerous wild animals to hunt the first one. The polar bear is loose! Quickly, unleash the jackals! Lives are at stake!

 A woman I dated worked at a zoo. There were a number of protocols in place for dealing with, say, an escaped tiger, and exactly zero of them involved throwing open the wolf cages and strapping cameras to their heads.

If you were looking to make a critical or satirical statement about our tendency to think we can resolve a conflict by escalating it, Hoskins and his plan would be a great way to do it.

To me it seemed like that’s what Jurassic World was doing. Except for a few niggling points.

A) None of the primary protagonists offers a reasonable alternative. Or an effective alternative. Or ANY alternative for that matter.

B) Our heroes eventually go along with Hoskins’ plan. Willingly. They just sort of roll over. Which makes them, well…not the heroes.

C) Hoskins’ plan eventually works. Not without a few hiccups along the way, granted, but still…Hoskins was right and the protagonists were wrong. We thought Hoskins was the bad guy. This whole time Hoskins was Sheriff Brody and Claire and Owen were city council. In fact, not only does Hoskins plan works, it works when…

D) Claire doubles-down on Hoskins original plan. The problem wasn’t that releasing deadly, uncontrollable dinosaurs to hunt other deadly, uncontrollable, dinosaurs is a bad idea. The problem is the deadly and uncontrollable dinosaurs he released weren’t big ENOUGH.

A villain needs to be more than a jerk. He needs to provide some form of opposition to the heroes--physically, morally, or philosophically. But other than lip service, the heroes have no opposition to Hoskins. The security team deployment and the helicopter sortie are Hoskins’ plan--find it and kick it’s ass--without dinosaurs. Claire’s plan is Hoskins’ plan with different dinosaurs. There is no difference in approach; there is only a difference in degree.

So what are we left with?

Part of me wants to say that the conflicting messages in Jurassic World are deliberate. After all, the movie doesn’t seem to be saying nothing or sending unintentional or unintended messages. The messages seem deliberate--they just seem contradictory.

I enjoyed Jurassic World so I’d like to believe its incoherence is the point. In some ways, it has a certain resonance with what I see in my own life. It’s possible for me to be both progressive and sexist, sometimes in the course of a single interaction. I find meaning in the events of my life and sometimes those meanings completely  contradict each other. I judge people more for being unlikable assholes and less on whether they actually oppose me in any meaningful way.

Also, like Jurassic Park, in my life, the characters in my life are inconsistent and the protagonist never accomplishes as much through his own efforts as he’d like.

Also, the pacing is horrible.

There’s more: Sometimes kids like the adult that seems the coolest and talks the biggest game instead of the one that is competent and actually has their best interest at heart. Sometimes when the new thing clashes with the old, instead of a clear winner, everything comes out muddled and confused. Sometimes, in a dinosaur movie, for no reason at all, you get scooped up and dropped into a tank and suffer an ignominious, pointless extended death sequence torn between the jaws and claws of two creatures, neither of which is technically a dinosaur. Now that’s rain on your wedding day.

Maybe Jurassic World’s thesis, it’s thematic eye in the hurricane of self-contradictions is in Wu’s speech. He’s describing the Indominus Rex, but he’s also describing the movie….and maybe describing how the more short-sighted of us go through life, grasping at what we want in the moment without thought towards a bigger picture, focusing on pieces without considering the whole. You wanted this, so I gave you this. You wanted that, so I gave you that. You criticized, complained, demanded more…so long as you didn’t have to do any of the work yourself. You ordered fundamentally incompatible things stitched together without sparing the slightest thought as to how these things came about or what the result of trying to stitch them together would be. You wanted the cool parts without the downside. Reality never entered into your plans. And then you come crying to me when all I did was give you exactly what said you wanted.

Much of Jurassic World comes to us directly from other movies. Maybe it’s only fitting that its thematic statement does as well.

Remember, you asked for this.