How can you not be romantic about baseball? [Moneyball]

I once saw a high school baseball coach setting up a baseball field for a game. He walked back and forth from the pitcher’s mound to the dugout as he removed one weighted block from the tarp which protected the mound and walked it to the fence by the dugout. With each block, he carefully stepped over the freshly painted lines from the third base line to Homeplate. He wore his uniform, shirt freshly laundered after the previous usage, socks pulled tight, hat waiting to be jiggled and rubbed and removed to signal expectant players to homeplate. I saw, or maybe I imagined his lips mouthing a silent prayer for the upcoming game, asking the baseball gods to bless this field, bless these players, bless this sport.

America, in some ways, has moved on from baseball compared to the prevalence of football and basketball or even soccer. But it will forever be America’s pastime, and it will always make these modern sports seem barbaric, with their raw displays of athleticism and strength. There’s no mysticism in football, there is no higher power in basketball. 

But baseball is a game of ritual and desecration, prayers and superstitions, hopes and curses, unwritten rules and unspoken edicts. It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball. I realized that as I watched that coach walk back and forth on that hallowed ground, the baseball field.

And it helped me understand the point of Moneyball, a story about big data, disrupting the system, about the dawning of a new age of thinking and overthrowing the dinosaurs in favor of a new era of efficiency and intelligence. But it is also about barbarism and the loss of belief in something greater, the death of insight and hunches and the superstition that surrounds the religion of baseball. It’s a story that makes you peak behind the curtain, and once you do, you can never go back to believing in the great and powerful Oz. 

There are two sides to the story of the overhaul of baseball at the hands of analytics. There is the hero, Billy Beane, on his quest for validation and acceptance and his journey to overthrow the ‘haves’ as a lowly ‘have not,’ reaching from under the fifty feet of crap that separates his team from every other. And we root for him and laugh at him and we feel his pain and disappointment, and ultimately, we cheer at his successes. 

But there are also those old dinosaurs in the meetings- the Gradys of the world- who have done it a certain way for a long long time. Who have figured out ‘what works’ and who just want the Billy Beanes of the world to let them do what they do best. Let them put a team together based on their years of intuition and expertise and get out of here with the stats and numbers and computer bull shit.

Their cause is noble too. The way they go about it, by stifling new thought, suppressing all  newcomers, and their arrogance and anger, are all worth criticism. But at the core of their sins is a desire to preserve an ideal, to preserve baseball, and thus, to preserve a part of American identity. They are holding onto the mysticism, the religion and the romance of the sport. They don’t want to see the game lose the ‘human.’ They want to preserve the right to play the sport with their hearts and minds, and in so doing bring the audience into the game with their hearts and minds as well.

So in the closing scene where Pete calls Billy into the film room to watch their 300 lb catcher trip while rounding first, and remain inert on the ground embarrassed and heartbroken, only to be brought to his feet after being told he hit a home run, Pete was not only showing Billy that in his failed efforts to win the last game of the year he may have done something even greater, he was also showing Billy, and us, that there was still, in the data-driven league they were creating, room for the human, room for life lessons, room for prayers and hopes and dreams.

As Billy, who has never held any superstitions about this game, put it, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?”

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If you liked this, you may also like:
The Scout Scene [Moneyball]
This Is How I Win [Uncut Gems]
The Glare Of The [Friday Night Lights]
Noteworthy Book-Movie Adaptations
A Very American Reading List

The Scout Scene [Moneyball]

Few movies are able to communicate their main idea, using only one scene, better than Moneyball does when Billy Beane first meets with his scouts and talent developers. The scene is perfect. The film had established the depths to which the Oakland A’s had fallen in the wake of their team’s pilfering at the hands of richer organization, as well as the unwavering tiny budget Beane had to work with. 

At that point, it is impossible to imagine how Beane would dig them out of this hole, but there was one thing they certainly could not do…. pretend like nothing happened, resume business as usual, bury their heads in the sand and hope everything would be okay. Pick your cliché, apply as necessary.

And what I love about the scout scene, is that Pitt doesn’t need to speak a word, doesn’t need to deliver a single line, to make all of this infinitely clear. As he sits and listens to clichés, intuition, and ‘I can feel it in my gut’ bullshit from old men with hearing aids and spit cups, who haven’t thought about how to do their job since Murderer’s Row batted in New York, the viewers, for just a moment, become mind readers. 

His perceived thoughts (and subsequent lines) strike to the core of what Moneyball is about- adopting a new mindset amidst old ideology, disrupting the system, getting out from under ‘the way it has always been done.’ Because in this story, doing it the way it has always been done, even in a sport rich with superstition and belief, is lunacy. The routine had to change in the one area of American life that is most steeped in tradition and immobility- baseball. And as good as Billy’s lines are… 

“You guys are just talking…” 

“You’re not even looking at the problem…” 

“You guys are talking the same ole’ good body nonsense, like we’re selling jeans…”

…the true gold in this scene, are the scouts’ diagnoses of why a player is worth drafting/developing. 

In those lines, we can hear a world that needs disrupting. Their words embody the old men who speak them, who have power and hold on to that power and abuse that power through a lack of intellectual integrity and honest thinking. These old men represent the parts of the world that want to play by the prescribed rules when those rules no longer apply. And they blame someone or something else when they don’t get the result they want. Or worse, maybe they don’t actually care what happens. Their role is to fill a seat and do a job, and any thinking outside of those parameters is beyond them. 

They are dinosaurs. And this scene portrays them this way and helps us understand the motivations of the wave of disruptors in the economy over the last two decades. No story encompasses these men and women better than Moneyball, and no single person embodies it better than Billy Beane. So I thought I’d look at some of the best cliched lines the scouts use to explain why they like a player, because they are incredible…

“I like guys like that got a little hair on their ass.”

This opener is a doozy. In the previous scene, Billy just threw his phone in disgust after getting played by Damon’s agent, and we, and he, walk into this bullshit. The logic of a line like this is ridiculous, hairy ass=good ball player. However, the info-gathering implications are frightening. These old men have been places, and we aren’t talking about Cleveland.

“Clean-cut, good face.
Yeah, good jaw.”

You wonder where an idea like this originates. I get that looks have always played an interesting role in who gets to play and who does not, starting with little kids. I have even heard the logic of this slippery slope- good looking kids have more confidence, they demand the ball more, they get more opportunities, then they become self-fulfilling prophecies. But at the point where talent scouts are using it as criteria to judge who should play in the Show, we are beyond some pee wee coaching bias. These old men think this is a reason someone will be good, and it makes me wonder why. Is it a weird inferiority complex gone awry, are they trying to amend for their own deficits by acknowledging it as a strength in others… who knows?

“Got an ugly girlfriend… means no confidence.”

I’d like a look at one of these scouting reports. What column does this go under? Actually, much more likely, this is just a kernel the old man put in the ole’ steel trap, because he is prone to ogling player’s girlfriends, and while doing so, the stray ugly girl catches his attention, with a twinge of disappointment. ‘Must be something wrong with this guy dating a girl like that…’

The layer of misogyny on this one is too hard not to notice. This is a group of men who miss the 50s when the woman was just an additive to the man, where she could be described in what she adds to the man. They’ve convinced themselves they are using their intuition, when it’s all just worldview and bias. And gross ones at that.

“The guy’s got an attitude… This the kind of guy, he walks in the room his dick’s already been there for two minutes.”

I actually kind of like this one. Not as a way to judge baseball players, but we are well past that. This just seems like a great way to describe a dude. Like I have no fucking clue what it means, but I feel like I understand what kind of guy we are talking about, for good or for bad.

This scene works because baseball is a world where this is the actual logic used. It is steeped in intuition and the ‘eye test,’ and Moneyball uses these men and this world as a stand-in for all those areas of life that think they know better, and fight like hell to avoid new ideas or new modes of operation.

These guys are begging to be disrupted.

And these quotes serve as a hilarious, and truthful look into the way some are comfortable maintaining the status quo, even to the point of absurdity, and it creates a hero out of Billy Beane and the entire generation of men and women trying to punch up and through a layer of intuition and ‘the way it’s always done.’

But I can’t say it any better than John Henry did to Billy Beane towards the end of the movie. So hear he is…

“I know you’ve taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall — he always gets bloody. Always. It’s the threat of not just the way of doing business, but in their minds, it’s threatening the game. But really what it’s threatening is their livelihoods. It’s threatening their jobs. It’s threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it’s the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people who are holding the reins — have their hands on the switch — they go batshit crazy. Anyone who is not tearing their team right now and rebuilding it, using your model, they’re dinosaurs”

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For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

If you liked this, you may also like:
The Scout Scene [Moneyball]
The Glare Of The [Friday Night Lights]
This Is How I Win [Uncut Gems]
Deleted Bugs Bunny Interview [The Last Dance, Space Jam]
Is Ivan Drago Overhyped? [Rocky IV]
The Dance Scene [Pulp Fiction]

Movies Inspired by [Neuromancer]

I recently gave Neuromancer a second read-through. But it was more than just another romp in the Sprawl or buzz through Freeside, it was a second chance of sorts. I hadn’t read it for a very long time, and for lack of understanding and the passage of time, I did not remember most any of the plot points in the book. I remember ‘jacking’ in and out of something and a general state of confusion.

But I love the idea of Neuromancer, and on a grander scale the idea of science fiction that can be taken seriously alongside other works of literature, so I was eager to revisit and see how jacking into it a second time- with a more mature brain and a stronger will- would play out. Immediately upon starting the book I was reminded of a third feeling the book had given me upon my initial read- this book sure seems to have inspired a lot of works after it.

And I don’t mean lots of niche works in the realm of science fiction. I am not a sci fi nut (although I think I’d be a great one), so I don’t want to address its influence on dusty old classics of which the majority of the populace would never have heard. I am sure Neuromancer’s influence on those movies and books are much more intricate and vast. But there seemed to me to be a real connection to incredibly popular books and movies.

Here are some of the (admittedly tentative) connections that I saw upon both read-throughs of Neuromancer

Inception

I felt this connection more the first time I read the book, when I displayed less rigor for comprehension and just felt the skeleton of the story. I remember thinking that this was THE inspiration for Inception. Not that they are similar, or that Neuromancer may have influenced Inception in a tangential way, but that Christopher Nolan had most definitely sat down with Neuromancer at some point… that he had loved it, that it remained in his subconscious for an indeterminate length of time until… bang… he hit us with Inception.

On the second time through, I rescind everything I wrote above. But I do get why I felt that connection so vividly. At the heart of this book is the story of a man whose living is to go into an alternate state of being in order to commit various illegal acts, who is now in trouble with a very powerful organization, and forced to commit one last and extreme illegal act in order to free himself from that yoke and get back to doing what he loves. This is both the story of Case and Cobb (those names seem pretty close too… both starting with C and being one syllable and shit…). 

Plus, in order to accomplish this final run, everything that comes before is both an introduction to this world and the line of work Case is in, and a gathering of the ‘heist team.’ Which is exactly the overall structure of Inception

I also think the last run in Neuromancer, and the closing dream sequence in Inception have parallels. From space, Case jacks into another dimension, very similarly to the team in Inception descending into dream space. Case maneuvers multiple layers of the run, going from the matrix, to a simstim of Molly, to the real world with Armitage and back again, which is reminiscent of the descending and ascending of the scenes in Inception as the film navigates the layers of the dream sequence. And at one point, Case, when it looks like he has failed, is thrown into a level of cyperspace where he washes up on the shore of a beach, waves lapping against him, a ruinous city crumbling in the distance, and the long lost love of his life tempting him to stay and get lost in this world forever. Friends… that’s Limbo.

The relationship seems odd because the tonal quality of Inception (a savvy heist film) and Neuromancer (a cyber-punk tech dystopia) are really off, and because a lot of other heist films follow these tropes, but dang if I don’t feel the connection as I go through it.

The Matrix

The Matrix’ connection to Neuromancer feels like firmer footing. In Neuromancer, they jack into what they call ‘the matrix’ which is a data and code driven reality. The movie The Matrix is also about a place called the matrix which is a data and code driven reality. But admittedly, the connection beyond this feels a bit weaker. That is not to say there is not more, but it has a lot more of an abstract tonal connection than clear plot and device parallels.

Mostly Neuromancer has a dystopian and sad view of humanity. As people struggle to find meaning in life outside major vices they turn to cheap thrills and illegal activity. This is a ‘feel’ shared by The Matrix, where people are unaware how meaningless and shallow their lives are, until they are unplugged and brought into the dystopian reality outside the matrix.

In both stories, tech is the villain and the savior. The advancements in technology have grown so large they ruined humanity (a huge concern in the 80s and 90s when every gizmo and gewgaw was so new) but also is the main avenue for meaning and redemption for the main characters.

So the connection is not merely a shared name for a virtual space, but a commentary and tone used to tell the story. 

Ready Player One

Ready Player One was not a thing on my first read of Neuromancer, so this connection was made entirely on the second go around. But, someone as into 80’s sci fi as Ernest Cline was, most definitely read one of the best works of 80’s sci fi ever written (there may even be a reference to Neuromancer in Ready Player One,and if I had a fact checker I would most definitely tell them to look into it for me- now receiving applications). 

So once that premise is established it is easy to see the parallels between the two. Case lived in the Sprawl, a mess of housing and humanity who get by through using technology and drugs to better their miserable reality, and Wade Watts lives in the Stacks which can operate under the same description. 

Case jacks into a computer console for hours on end in order to become his true self, make money, and feel alive. Wade Watts does basically the same. 

Both the ‘deck’ in Neuromancer and the OASIS in Ready Player One are high tech computers that operate like VR and use attachable trodes in order to create a simulation of actual feeling while in the system. 

The hits keep coming… Honestly Ready Player One feels like the YA version of Neuromancer, and, my feelings on YA aside, I am not sure that’s a bad thing. I do like the immersive quality of Ready Player One in comparison to the ‘take what you get’ world development of Neuromancer, which seems to assume creativity and understanding more often than I have it.

However you look at it, these books feel related, and I think Ernest Cline would be pleased to hear it.

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For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

If you liked this, you may also like:
Noteworthy Book-Movie Adaptations
Dream Levels and Spaces [Inception]
Dream Heist Team [Inception]
Advertising For [Jurassic World] and [Jurassic Park]
Personal Top 50 Fiction Book List (Ranked)

Advertising For [Jurassic World] and [Jurassic Park]

I am intrigued by the Jurassic World additions to the Jurassic Park trilogy because of the unaddressed but very present notion that after the terrible events of Jurassic Park, where people were eaten, children were lost, and a T-Rex ravaged suburban America, not only did a greedy business corporation decide that a real life dinosaur theme park was still a good idea, but patrons of the park thought it was as well.

There are a few ways this could have developed, and I am wondering which one is most likely.

The first option isn’t super interesting but would be the cleanest explanation. Is it possible that after a giant T-Rex rampaged through the streets of San Diego, the government was able to spin the story, or hush it up?

This theory would create the desired effect, i.e. people don’t worry about the tragedies of the original Jurassic Park theme park because they are unaware of them. But the chances of a T-Rex getting loose in an American city and that not being on every news channel in the world are slim to none. 

However, it does seem far more likely that the government was able to spin the story in a way that prevented it from looking bad on them and InGen and therefore unwittingly preserving the Park for resurrection someday. 

On its face, that notion seems absurd. But just think of some of our modern-day spin tactics and apply them to this particular storyline. They seem to fit quite nicely into a defense for why a T-rex destroyed San Diego…

  1. China did it. It’s the China-Rex.
  2. That didn’t actually happen. That was a robot. It was CGI.
  3. It only killed 32 people. Car crashes kill 102 people every day.
  4. We don’t know what that was. There is conflicting reports on the incident. There is no way to know.

Seems much more feasible, now, doesn’t it?

But let’s say that the attack of a dinosaur is outside of even government and media’s ability to obfuscate. Public opinion might still swing back into the favor of a theme park for dinosaurs, because as bad as the initial park went, and as awful as a T-rex in America was, American’s believe in second chances. We bring ourselves up by the bootstraps and learn from our mistakes. I could easily see Americans arguing that there is no way that the events of 22 years ago could happen a second time. 

I mean really, how likely is it, that a group of greedy, blood sucking businessmen and women would reopen a dinosaur park, without fixing the errors of a bygone generation? Huh? What idiot government would sanction this project without the utmost care and security after the tragedies that happened only a little over two decades ago? That would be absurd! Negligence of the ‘nth’ degree! And no one would believe it possible.

As rooted in reality as these possibilities seem, they are still a stretch. News stories get spun, but this particular story seems like an unlikely candidate for the spin cycle. And Americans do love second chances, but this seems like a damnable offense. 

Maybe we are assessing it from the wrong angle. Maybe Jurassic World was able to get up and running not because of how public opinion shifted in their favor, but by how they shifted public opinion in their own favor.

With the amount of money, the creators of Jurassic World have shown they have, it is not hard to imagine that they have a killer advertising team. And they would need one. After this same idea crashed, burned, and killed human beings, advertising’s top minds would need to put their best ideas forward in order to win the public’s trust and dollar bills. I could easily see a strong TV ad campaign promising a roaring good time *cue image of T-Rex screaming on a San Diego street*. 

Or maybe they went the Fyre festival route and brought in a bunch of beautiful Instagram influencers and had them pose with baby Velociraptors, and swim in teeny bikinis with a Spinosaurus. They could flood every Insta-story with influencers documenting their Jurassic themed hotel rooms and tours in gyrospheres. They could post ‘did you know’ polls about the dinosaur facts they learned (Did You Know that the longest dinosaur was the Argentinosaurus, which measured over 40 meters long, as long as four fire engines!) and give behind the scenes peaks into the genetic labs they were given exclusive access to. As long as none of said influencers were consumed by the tourist attractions, I would imagine that people would be lining up to spend their money like they were going to pet baby tigers at Joe Exotic’s G.W. zoo.

But maybe I am overthinking this whole process. Because, at the end of the day, if I heard- not even saw an advertisement- if I merely heard people mention that there was a place that genetically recreated dinosaurs, I would pay just about any amount of money that wouldn’t bankrupt me in order to go see them. And if I knew that that park had gone terribly wrong, killed people, let dinosaurs loose in America, only to reopen and offer the same thing, with the same problems, and the same flawed backbone of greed and narcissism, I would still pay any amount of money I could in order to go. Because dinosaurs are that awesome, and the experience of seeing one in person would outweigh just about any consequence. Except for maybe what happened to Zara, that’s a little intense… 

It’s why we all continue to go to these films even though the quality after the original has been… unsteady. We are feeding a need to see dinosaurs. We share the desire of all those tourists, who block out the bad in order to witness the spectacular. No trickery needed.

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For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

If you liked this, you may also like:
The Meaning of the Five Music Tones [Close Encounters of the Third Kind]
Dream Levels and Spaces [Inception]
Dream Heist Team [Inception]
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Can We Talk About [Jaws]?

Best Stewy Moments [Succession]

If you watch [Succession] Did you blank it? has a lot more to talk about with you… Go to our Watch page, or scroll to the bottom of this post for more [Succession].

I, and it seems like a lot of Succession fandom, am obsessed with Stewy. He is so unabashedly shameful he becomes someone we root for. He seems fully aware of how terrible he is and yet doesn’t think twice about it, so why should we? The only problem with Stewy, that I can see, is that he is not on screen enough, especially considering how much he does with the few moments he is given. That being said, he seems to be in that character sweet spot, where he is on screen enough to be significant, but not so much that it’s no longer special. Regardless, Stewy, with the time he has been allotted, has provided Succession with great moments. Here are some of his best.

Introduction to Stewy (S1 E3)

First impressions matter, and Stewy makes the most of his. Lots of characters show an aspect of themselves to start, Logan’s dementia, Kendall’s new age-young at heart business mindset, Roman’s petulance. But Stewy… not so much. He gave us all of himself, as he steals doughnuts, speaks crassly, barely graces Kendall with his attention, and makes indecent proposals about Kendall’s ex. After it is all said and done you wonder who the hell that guy was, and when we will get to see him again.

Subtly, it’s Stewy’s selfish nature that we see the most in this scene. He can only barely be concerned with Kendall’s significant worries. He steals a doughnut from a shop when he could just as easily buy the whole store, he wonders if someone can date Kendall’s ex, while the divorce is still not finalized, and he does coke in front of Kendall who is in recovery. He even asked if Kendall wants a taste. 

You could chalk the doughnut up to humor, the lack of attention to ADHD, the indecent question to a lack of awareness, and the offering of drugs to a recovering addict as a lack of understanding, but that would be too much explaining. At the end of the day, Stewy showed us who he is from day one- a selfish narcissist who will always think of his needs first. And I’m here for it. 

Can I trust you? (S1 E6)

If his first interaction was full of subtle hints at Stewy’s motives, this moment is a slap in the face. Stewy is a killer, Kendall, at this point, is not. Kendall thought that friendship mattered in business. Not Stewy. Nothing overcomes the bottom line. And Stewy tells Kendall as much.

Kendall wants Stewy on his side as he looks to hold his disastrous vote of no confidence against Logan. When Kendall asks Stewy if he can trust him, the response is simple and succinct, “No.”

When asked again, Stewy doubled down, “No.”

If only Kendall had listened, what might have been averted? Although playing this down the concrete roads of what actually played out, Kendall screwed Stewy more than Stewy ever could have screwed him, despite who screwed who first. Thus, the complicated state of their relationship is born in this moment, and I can only hope we get more of it in season three. 

More Stewy, more blatant honesty, more interactions with Kendall, more development of an infinitely complex relationship. Most shows would kill for one relationship as interesting as this. Succession has so many this one had to take a break for most of a season.

Logan and the visuals (S1 E7)

After first meeting Stewy, and seeing how he fell into the deal with Kendall based on nothing other than their relationship, it could be easy to believe that Stewy has no business acumen whatsoever, and, as an emblem of privilege, has fallen into millions of dollars through trust funds and relationships. And there seems to be a lot of truth to that notion. However, in this meeting with Logan- post Logan’s recovery- as a completely unwanted parasite on the back of Waystar Royco, Stewy shows us that maybe there is some ability behind his bank statement.

Very few people stand up to Logan, butStewy does, “Teevee..? Oh, I remember those. We still have one of those in my gym.”

And even fewer make it past one of Logan’s withering insults like, “Oh, it’s so great to have the wisdom of my son’s college drinking buddy in the room.”

But Stewy replies, “I just love the way he asks me for money.” (By the way, now that we are fully in ‘analyze Logan’s facial expressions mode’ in Succession fandom, Logan’s face after this line provides hours of analysis as to how he feels about Stewy’s comeback).

He also refuses to be talked down to or treated like the business baby and get ostracized from Logan’s inner circle as so many others allow.

Gerri: Well it’s a part of a larger strategy.

Stewy: No I- I get all that.

And now, they are sitting and talking, it’s officially a meeting. And in a way that Kendall never does in the first season, and Roman doesn’t until the last episode of season 2. Stewy fits right into the business back and forth. All of the banter was just a prelude to an actual business discussion where Stewy got to share his opinion. How much Logan listened would be based on the quality of the preceding repartee. And Stewy nailed it.

Once seated, he addresses Logan in a way no one has, “I think the issue here, sir, is that… everyone fucking hates you.” 

Then he grabs his attention and convinces him to do something he didn’t want to do before making a massive business deal (address his family’s visuals). Stewy is used to scorn and derision, people not liking him or wanting him around, and he just doesn’t care. He wants to make a profit, and he knows how to do it. In that moment, quite possibly, Logan found a kindred spirit.

On the island in Crete (S2 E10)

Majestic island setting in the Mediterranean. Shakespearean villain. A flower to sniff while contemplating unsavory matters. Power precariously balancing on a single conversation. And throughout it all, Stewy is in his element. Stewy will always operate best as a villain, no matter how much we love him, and he never shows this better than on the island. He is nihilistic, vindictive, heartless, and he seems to be above it all as he turns the screws to Logan and Kendall. 

“No, I don’t think that works.” The man who uses words to cut like a ginzu knife responds to the business deal of a lifetime, with this surprisingly soft and noncommittal decline. And then he gives us his business philosophy, 

“It doesn’t mean anything.”

This seems to be the greatness of Stewy. Whether he is stealing doughnuts, or committing to a hostile takeover, making a massive business deal or declining one as an ultimate fuck you, none of it means anything to Stewy. It is just what he does. He makes decisions that make money, everything else is complicated airflow.

Did you like this post? Click here for Did You blank It? homepage.

For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

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Best Insults In All Of [Succession]
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I Got Hitler On My Mind [Jojo Rabbit]

Due to the strangeness of certain decisions in the film, as well as an overarching public narrative about it being too odd, it’s easy to dismiss Jojo Rabbit as ludicrous and silly. This is especially true in the beginning of the film, before it descends into more familiar WWII terrain (heavy despondency and meta-commentary about how we are not, in fact, all that different, and we should treat each other better). Yet I loved the decisions Waititi made as director and as an actor in the role as Jojo’s imaginary friend, Hitler. 

BUT, critics may retort, it was childish and silly and over-the-top and completely out of place in a movie about WWII. To which I would reply, bull…and may I add…shit…

One of my few gripes in the world of storytelling is what I have dubbed the ‘this story would be better with Nazis’ affect (I’m working on the name). Basically what happens amidst a bout of TSWBBWN, is a perfectly good story, one filled with lovely characters and haunting internal conflict, will, for indiscernible reasons, be placed during WWII, seemingly in the hopes that this backdrop will provide a more tense story arch for the movie or book (rarely a TV show). 

This drives me mad for a couple reasons, one, it doesn’t usually make the story any better, it just creates awkward, horseshoed scenes where Jews show up, or Nazis impede character’s external journeys etc… without any real roots in a WWII commentary.

Secondly, it waters down those stories created specifically made to comment on WWII and its impact on people, a fertile ground for storytelling, that is growing less fertile with every weed choking its flourishing plants.

But amidst this phenomena of Nazi laden plots, great stories are still told, and provide new glances into those bleak times of hate, heroics, and humanity (Band of BrothersDunkirk, Unbroken, The Imitation Game etc…). 

Recently, there has also been a vein of WWII storytelling that provides good insight into the impact of the war on children in Germany, taking cues from the sentimental The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, came books like The Book Thief and All the Light We Cannot See and now, in film form, Jojo Rabbit.

I loved The Book Thief and thought All the Light We Cannot See was strong, but they both set the very obvious, bleak tone to narrate the lives of these affected children. And they did a great job. So great it felt like we were kind of done with the whole thing.

But wait, what is this?… hurtling through the forest at top speed, jumping and screaming and trailed by his imaginary Fuhrer friend, Jojo Rabbit charges on to the scene. And the boy who couldn’t even kill a bunny did something a bit different with the archetype that was going to get stale quickly. Jojo Rabbit told the story a different way. A way both comical and deeply sinister.

Waititi was hilarious as Hitler, playing hypeman to Jojo’s thoughts, playing ready companion to Jojo’s every whim. And I suppose that could easily be misconstrued as some Tarantino-esque reconstruction of history to try and minimize Hitler. 

But I don’t see it that way, because, not to be too pedantic, it was not actually Hitler, it was a small Nazi-child’s imagining of Hitler. And in this boy’s mind, Hitler was supportive, and caring, and friendly and up-for-a-good-time and everything a young boy could want in a friend. Did that create humor? Hell yeah. But after thinking about that scenario for two seconds, any viewer will see how dark that commentary actually is.

Waititi creates a much more real rendition of the impact of the Nazi regime on youth than the books and movies about very self-aware, empathetic, and adult children in other similar stories. Those stories aren’t bad, or even worse, but after watching Jojo Rabbit, I have a hard time granting those young and impressionable children the meta-cognition that we as watchers and readers grant them. Were some children like that?… I’m sure. But the Nazi youth were a thing, and I imagine a lot more kids were like Jojo, gung-ho, run through the woods with my Nazi-knife hoping to bring honor to the Fuhrer (the best leader…and maybe even friend… a boy could ask for) by fighting for the Reich and killing dirty, nasty Jews. That’s the sinister and shitty nature of what the Nazi’s did to their youth, they didn’t deny childhood, they commandeered it.

So it makes sense that Jojo would have a childish image of Hitler, and be goofy at Nazi youth camp, and that he would cast a rosy glow on the slow and inevitable decline of the Reich as it falls apart around him, that it would take the heaviest of hands to show him that the war was not good, that Jews were not horned monsters with mind powers, and that Hitler wasn’t a friend but a bad guy. 

And I think the dissonance between a WWII story, which we expect to be sad, somber, and gloomy, and the goofy tone of Jojo Rabbit is what turns some people off to the film. But this very dissonance is what happened in the mind of a child like Jojo. It’s off putting and uncouth, it frustrates his own mother, and makes his Jewish friend mock him for his lack of awareness, but it felt real, and true, and new. And I liked that.

Sure, the movie lost its way in the second half, but any movie that has the confidence to have us sit through 12 “Heil Hitlers” in a row, for no reason other than to show the absurdity of the greeting, has me firmly in their corner.

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For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

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[Nightcrawler] Movie Review: An Uncomfortable Relationship
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The Setting Of [Prisoners]
Can We Talk About [Vice]?
On Trial [The King’s Speech] vs [The Social Network] (Best Picture)

The Meaning Of ‘Those Goddamn Ducks’ [The Sopranos]

The Sopranos is a show about family, nuclear and crime, and in the pilot episode, a family of ducks grows up in Tony’s pool and then flies away. Get the symbol?

Yet to simply say that the ducks flying away represented Tony’s fear of losing his family (as Dr. Melfi ascertained) seems oversimplified and limited. And there is nothing simple about The Sopranos.

In the beginning of that pilot episode when the ducks grow up and move out, Tony, introducing himself to Dr. Melfi and us to the show, provides one of the best lines in all six seasons, “It’s good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that and I know. But lately, I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.”

To which Melfi replies, “Many Americans, I think, feel that way.” Which casts a beautifully wide net around the series.

Almost immediately after this exchange, Tony is climbing into his pool, bread in hand, bathrobe swirling in the water around him like he is preparing for a GQ photo shoot, talking to those goddamn ducks about fixing the ramp if they’d like.

The family of ducks does indeed represent Tony’s fear of losing his family. He struggles for six seasons to hold on to his wife and children (which is what makes the last scene so powerful) and to keep a New Jersey mafia together with a dying code of ethics. And watching those goddamn ducks fly away sparked the feeling he so desperately wanted to avoid, a sense of not being good enough, not providing, no longer being there for the ones he loves, even if they are just ducks.

That can be directly applied to his crime family as well, for Christopher and Paulie and Sylvio and Uncle June and even his mother who often feels more a part of his crime family than his blood.

But layered into, around, and on top of that idea, was the departure of something he loved that he did not get to experience from the ground floor. Tony’s nostalgia is his drug. Everything was better back in the old days, even whacking dudes and selling drugs. And as those birds flew away, so did his American Dream- the opportunity to experience the start of something, an idea that colored the grays and sepias of his father’s generation. 

Those ducks flew away and took a piece of Tony with them (as represented by his penis in the water fowl’s beak in the first dream he narrated to Dr. Melfi), a piece that directly plugged into his old soul (or his bellybutton in dream parlance). His view of the past, his nostalgia for an older and better America, his belief that we all have come in at the end, is, as Dr. Melfi pointed out, a feeling many Americans still share.

According to a PRRI study, 51% of Americans say America was better in the 1950sThree quarters of white evangelical Protestants believe this is the case. Our anecdotal encounters with the older generation opining about how ‘things aren’t like they used to be’ is a real epidemic in American thought, representative of dissatisfaction with the way America is right now as well as where it is headed. Those flippant statements about how ‘they don’t make ‘em like they used to’ or ‘back in my dayt’ stories narrate a measurable desire to go back to the way things were (to make America great again) rather than to embrace change towards a better future (according to that same study 74% of Americans say we are headed ‘down the wrong track’).

This all struck me during my first watch of The Sopranos. I also thought about it the second time I watched The Sopranos. But as time has gone on, and I watch it for the third time, those goddamn ducks keep meaning more and more. 

Maybe it is me getting older, maybe it is our country’s discourse, maybe it is because great shows get better with every viewing, but The Sopranos, a show that shockingly few people have seen, far from becoming outdated, keeps cutting to the heart of America through the ruminations of a Jersey gangster.

In one of the greatest episodes in all of television, “College,” Tony is confronted by his daughter Meadow, while visiting colleges, about being in the mafia. He finally comes clean to her. But he then spends the rest of the trip lying and evading her in order to strangle a former gangster turned narc with electric wires. As he walks away from that rat’s body, he looks up to see those goddamn ducks flying overhead, carrying his relationship with his daughter, which had almost been righted, and the way things in the mafia used to be, before everyone was taking witness protection, with them.

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Looking Into The Lens [Fleabag] (Season 2)
Why We Need Season 3 Of [Mindhunter]

Pennywise the Clown [It]

I want to start with a simple premise: Pennywise the Clown scares the shit out of a lot of people.

To expand on this premise, I want to state that I don’t only consider those who jump in their seats when Pennywise lunges towards pre-pubescent appendages, as well as those who now give sewer drains six feet of berth, but also those who are enraptured by the It book or movies (old and new) because that freaking clown and his ridiculous behavior is too freakish to look away. Just because a person enjoys the scaring doesn’t make Pennywise any less scary.

I would also like to add to this case that there is a real fear of clowns in the American consciousness that Pennywise either draws from or feeds into or both. Either way, Pennywise is an archetype that frightens a lot of Americans, as seen in the great clown sightings of 2016. 

So Pennywise and/or this idea of clowns out to do harm, is a frightening concept in our hearts and minds. And I want to write about why. And I want to write about why, because figuring out why Pennywise is scary is a glimpse into Its greatness. 

I also hope, by explaining him, I am able to make him a bit less scary so I can walk by sewer drains again.

Cognitive Dissonance

The most obvious reason why Pennywise is scary is because a clown, a character dedicated to making children happy, should not be ripping off their arms, pulling them into sewers, and terrorizing small-town children with red balloons and incarnations of their worst fears. 

The sight of a clown and then the slow realization of its nefarious intent, creates an ‘oh shit’ moment that puts people on their heels before Pennywise pulls us under towards those floating lights. 

Pennywise’s opening scene in It will never not be powerful because of all the conflicting sensory data our mind have to work through. Child playing with a paper boat in the rain- wholesome… paper boat floats into a sewer drain- upsetting… clown in the sewer drain- what the fuck?… clown in general- delightful… clown is trying to lure child into the sewer drain- please get me out of here. 

What lies beneath

Pennywise’s primary residence positions him in an uncomfortable locale in comparison to the rest of us. Anyone who has lived in one area for a considerable amount of time, especially a small town, becomes familiar with the gross underbelly of any residency. These oral histories of terrible events add a layer of unsavoriness to even the most picturesque of places. 

Meanwhile, Pennywise, very symbolically, resides underneath the town, where people would like him to stay buried, only to pop up and bring the town, or specific unwilling residents, down into It. In doing so, the town, in a way, brings Pennywise back to the surface to terrorize residents with the long-buried history that they all wanted to remain that way.

Pennywise is the racist history behind why the town is so segregated, the poorly kept secret as to why your parents won’t let you play in the abandoned quarry, the biography behind that one guy that everyone just leaves alone. Pennywise is the unnamed history that children comprehend but don’t understand.

Also… anything in a sewer because infinitely more creepy.

You’ll Float Too!

Fuck that line…

Calling Cards

The masters of horror all having calling cards that precede their arrival. The gentle prompt for everyone to get their change of pants ready. And Pennywise has a great one. That red balloon, or the combination of many, in a pseudo-“balloon guy at a fair” collection, is so simple and elegant and yet so awful… able to float into any room or scene out of nowhere, and prone to unwanted and untimely popping just for the unnecessary jump scare before it all actually goes down. Pennywise is scary, but he can also be boiled down into that one simple symbol, which can hold all of our fear and discomfort in its thin elastic shell before… *POP*

Demolishing of Childhood

Clowns represent childhood. They go hand in hand, like peanut butter and jelly, spaghetti and meatballs, paper boats and rainy days. So the corrupting of that meaning in order to represent child murder cuts a bit deeper than even turning Pennywise into his own symbol.

Instead, It embodies an ideal we are familiar with and destroys it. Using pre-existing emotions about the loss of innocence and the fear of adulthood and expectations in order to make people vulnerable before ever using their fear. Pennywise causes fear, but he feeds on something much deeper, which is why he tends to literally consume his victims rather than just kill them. 

Expect the Unexpected

Childhood is never knowing what to expect next. Pennywise exemplifies that fear by making us confront the unexpected. From the moment he peaks his head up through the street drain, viewers (or readers) wonder what the hell is about to happen. 

In a way, we revert to moments as a child when we not only didn’t know what to expect next, but were abandoned by the people who did, like waiting in the grocery store checkout line while your mother went back to grab the milk. As Pennywise’s behavior becomes goofier and erratic, he doubles down on the childhood misunderstanding of social interactions and ever-changing social expectations.

It is a story of children becoming adults and all the suckiness inherent in that process. In that story, Pennywise embodies the fear that is the byproduct of that journey. So Pennywise is scary because he rips children’s arms off and changes into scary monsters and pops up out of nowhere, for sure. But he also has a subtlety to his fear, something that cuts to the core of our experience and dredges up feelings long forgotten that has made him last beyond many movie monsters. 

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For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

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[Nightcrawler] Movie Review: An Uncomfortable Relationship
The Closing Scene of [Mindhunter] (Season 2)
Reaction To The Original [Dune] (1984)
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Hollywood Cats

If Rabbit Was Alive Today [The Rabbit Angstrom Series by John Updike]

Rabbit Angstrom became the de-facto American perspective in the literary world from 1960-1990 because of John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom Series, in which he wrote another installation at the end of every decade that served as a summary of the previous decade and a look forward towards the next. I was not actively reading these books as they came out, but I imagine, for the small clique of people who read Updike and anticipated his works, the end of a decade was fraught with anticipation for how Angstrom felt about the goings on in the world, not because his opinion was correct, but because it was representative, and what Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom and his family went through served as a microcosm of what America went through.

So I feel a bit left out, like watching a TV series after it has ended. I wish I could have been there for these book releases, not just retroactively reading them. And, it does not take much of a leap to then ask what would a Rabbit Angstrom book read like now, amidst the tumult of American life in the 2010s and into the 2020s? So, to feed an experience I wish I had, here is what I think Rabbit Angstrom’s opinion would be on what is going on in America right now (Updike forgive me if there is any offense).

Election

He would vote for Trump, but he would not like it. He would think Trump should stop all the social media nonsense. He would miss the Reagans and the HW Bushes who went about their business without sounding off to the world on every little thing. But he couldn’t tolerate the tolerance and softness of the left, so he would silently cast his ballot for Trump, telling himself the politics were good even if the man was not. He would be frustrated by political conversations with others and how quickly they turned to anger and tribal allegiances. This coupled with his unsurety of his own vote would prompt him to tell people he didn’t know who he would vote for, even though he knew he could never cast a vote for the doddering Biden. At the end of the day he would like the idea of Trump, a man who says what’s on his mind, who doesn’t play by the rules, who came in to disrupt the system, and Rabbit would even think he could do it too, if the Democrats would give him some room to breathe. But could he maybe do it with a modicum of decency and American ideals? 

Black Lives Matter

He would be conflicted on the racial justice movement. One thing is for sure, he would have no tolerance for athletes, paid to do what they love, what Rabbit had loved-to shoot hoops and make millions- complaining, boycotting, and kneeling for the flag. He would think they need to respect the nation that fed them. But he has always had empathy for the plight of the black man after his education by the hand of Skeeter. He would empathize with the protestors marching for the lives of those killed by police officers but struggle how to verbalize that empathy amidst his fear of unsatisfied youth and a changing nation. He would most likely draw a distinction between peaceful protests and looters and rioters, and yet he would dedicate more time to excoriating looters and rioters and how awful they were than voicing support for the peaceful protestors. And he would refuse to say Black Lives Matter. Of course they matter… all lives matter. And he couldn’t support, or more importantly, be seen as supporting an organization that is founded on socialist principals, like all his buddies at the country club pointed out BLM was.

He would draw the line at statues being torn down. The absurdity of it! These statues did nothing but remind us all of what makes America, America! And now some people wanted to pretend that they were horrible people, and not people like you or me, caught in tough spots and doing their best to make the most of it. Deep down, unacknowledged, those statues would be emblems of times gone by, and his nostalgia for the past, and what America used to be would be imbued in those motionless arms legs and faces, so their destruction would cause him unexplainable anger and resentment.

COVID

He would hate wearing a mask. He is allowed to decide the risks he puts his body through all by himself, thank you very much. And he would dive, massless, into the most populate and dense masses of people without batting an eye, like popping cashews after a coronary. 

This would especially be true because Nelson would most likely take the virus very seriously, which, to Rabbit, would be indicative of the coddling he received at the hands of his mother. All the youth these days need safe spaces and protection from things unseen (words and germs and over-blown viruses). Rabbit, on the other hand, had seen Vietnam, and SARS and grew up when kids were spanked and forced to deal with tough situations. He could survive a trumped up version of the flu.

News Media

He would distrust the media, thinking it had an agenda. He would find solace and comfort in Fox News, a place that was more likely to tell it how it is. But the Carlsons and Hannitys were poor replacements for the integrity, candor, and composure of by-gone newsmen. These guys were all bluster and bravado. It wasn’t really even the news anymore, it was opinion pieces from men in suits. But he would watch it anyway because he was an informed citizen who would do his part before voting.

Sports

He would have gotten into the NFL, but the NBA and the casualness of the regular season games that slowly built to such intensity and skill in the playoffs would always be his favorite. He would know he is not supposed to like all the protesting and politicking the players did, and he would prefer they didn’t, but he would love how powerful they were, how much everyone listened and responded to them as they went about their causes. He may not agree with their stances or how they went about it (especially walking around in those absurd clothes) but their captive-audience was something to be admired.

Social Media

He would hate social media. He would see all these kids looking at their phones all the time, out of shape and uninspired and wonder how they changed so much from when he was a kid, how they won’t go outside anymore or have conversations. They don’t play sports or stay in shape. He would imagine that whatever they do on their phones, texting and chatting is turning them into self-involved zombies.

He would have a Facebook though, just to stay informed with his friends from a long time ago. He would follow old players on his team and from opposing teams, secretly taking pleasure in how out of shape they had become and also being secretly jealous at all the places they went with women he found more attractive than Janice. He wouldn’t really post though. Only an interesting political article or commentary that he thought his friends could benefit from. And he wouldn’t really comment in all that toxic conversation. Only when he saw a really absurd statement made would he jump in and tell them how it really is. He just wouldn’t be able to understand people on social media and how crazy they get…

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For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

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[Nightcrawler] Movie Review: An Uncomfortable Relationship

Nightcrawler was released in 2014, and since then has, very unfortunately, become more and more prescient in its understanding of the escalation of news and the complicated relationship we form with documentation of life. 

That was a fun sentence… here is what I mean…

Nightcrawler displays subtle genius in the scenario it uses to comment on news and an individual’s fascination with documentation (before Instagram influencers blew up the world mind you). It uses a profession most of us haven’t thought about, nightcrawling, a vital part of the news cycle, and they place in that job the perfect type of person, a pushy, socially unaware huckster, Lou Bloom.

Lou Bloom serves as a criticism of our current obsession with filming the world, with capturing its best, and in this case, most horrible moments. And how that non-interactive interaction can become a need. And that need can become harder and harder to fill. The main character trait Bloom portrays as he haggles with construction workers over stolen metal and video tapes accidents on the highway is his lack of understanding of social and ethical boundaries. From the moment we hear his measured speaking cadence bubble forth with such precision, we think something isn’t quite right with him. By the time we see him butt his way bast EMTs in order to film a bloody car accident victim, we are certain of it.

K72A3451d.tif

And yet this is the pit every fan of online videos and media can fall into. A blurring of ethical boundaries between what could be filmed and released, and what should be. As videos continue to surface online that are both shocking in nature and helpful for public discourse, boundaries seem to be less and less useful. On top of that, the millions of dollars of revenue flowing through people’s bank accounts due to the documentation and streaming of their personal lives leave little room for argument about what is acceptable or unacceptable to film and share. 

Thus, Lou Bloom becomes an archetype, a streamlined escalation of the subtle blurring between reality and the portrayal of that reality, between appropriate and inappropriate, moral and immoral. And we witness his slow decline into this oblivion, starting with when he arrives at a car crash before the ambulance for the first time. He struggles for his shot, trying to get the image that will earn him the most money, hoping to capture it all before anyone else can come in and scoop it out of his hands, the spirit of his job forgotten amidst what those who dictate his success demand. And with no thought, he grabs the (seemingly) dead man by the legs and drags him to a better position for his camera’s framing. Just like that, his job becomes something else. This is no longer the documentation of the tragedy in the world he inhabits, but it becomes the creation of a narrative around these events, a way to frame them, a story to tell about the reality, like a director, or in a more modern context, an influencer.

But this influencer is influencing public opinion on events in the local news rather than what baggy sweatshirt to wear over biking shorts, and so the stakes are much higher. Enter Bloom’s very strange relationship with Nina, the TV news editor. 

Nina’s job is ostensibly to tell the news. In reality, her job is to get eyeballs. Because Nina doesn’t get fired for not telling the news, she gets fired for not getting viewers. So the cycle perpetuates itself, Nina needs Lou to get footage that will shock people so that they will tune in. So Lou manufactures footage in order to shock people. So Nina becomes dependent on Lou’s footage and, subsequently, Lou. And therefore they develop a pseudo-sexual connection to each other based on a relationship of need and the thrill of the hunt for the craziest news story possible. 

Nothing captures the awkwardness and intensity of this relationship better than when Lou and Nina, framing a TV, watch Lou’s footage of a shooting where a cop is killed. Nina’s breathy voice extolls how incredible the footage is. Lou asks her if she wants it, Nina states that obviously she does. They look at each other, close enough to kiss. Everyone watching becomes awkward and confused. 

But this off-putting relationship with all its awkwardness and manipulation is the embodiment of our relationship to news and media, and news and media’s relationship to what is happening in the world. It starts out as something innocent, even wholesome, videotaping of real events for the purpose of informing the public, but in its end phenomena the levers that actually move this relationship, money, intrigue, fear, and careers will always mutate it into a broken system beyond repair. 

Nina and Lou start out business-like, then become cordial, then as partners, and eventually Lou’s power over Nina becomes his means to completely control her money, career, and sexuality. It’s disgusting and uncomfortable, but it is an attempt to reflect the flaws in the way the news works. 

And it also shows the type of people who make it happen. When Rick, the bumbling yet grounded homless assistant, finally gets his performance review, and the relief of his positive feedback gets him to finally share his opinions of Lou to Lou, he tells him that he just doesn’t understand people, and that Lou is awkward and off-putting. Later on, so much so that it speaks to how much those words affected him, Lou tells Rick that maybe he is the way he is, not because he doesn’t understand people, but because he doesn’t like them. 

It is hard not to run with this diagnosis and apply it to all those people we know whose noses are always in their phones, or are constantly posting and reposting online, and consider that maybe their lack of social skills is not due to a misunderstanding but to a dislike of their fellow man. 

It is hard not to consider our obsession with watching death and blood and fear in news-form and wonder if maybe it is due to a hatred for those on the screen.

But maybe that is taking it too far, maybe my brain is interpreting that scene with too heavy a hand. At the very least, Lou Bloom as he pushes his way past EMTs and police officers, and manipulates dead bodies and films moments with no regard for ethics and morality, is telling us that he wasn’t unaware of his transgressions, he just didn’t think enough of the people he was transgressing against in order to stop. 

We all see a disconnect develop in the space between a screen and a face, but adequately defining that disconnect is much harder. Is it a social awkwardness? A protective mechanism? A support system for our social anxiety? Or maybe they forget about the humans in their screens whose lives are being documented. Maybe they stop caring about the human.

Psychological thrillers rarely come with easy talking points. Nightcrawler is no exception, giving us an intense example of one man’s decline into a world we all inhabit in at least some capacity. And the grossness of what he does while he is there leaves room for all of us to question motivations, intent, and consequences to that which we consume.

Did you like this post? Click here for Did You blank It? homepage.

For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

If you liked this, you may also like:
The Setting Of [Prisoners]
I Can’t Beat It [Manchester By The Sea]
On Trial [The King’s Speech] vs [The Social Network] (Best Picture)
Can We Talk About [Vice]?
A Race of Peeping Toms [Rear Window]