Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Last Five Minutes

I decided to get into the weeds with True Detective, Season One:

Lance Mannion has a motto. “You can't make a Policeman take the Romantic view.” As Rust Cohle and Marty Hart make their co-joined way through a 17-year labyrinth of an investigation, one of the most gripping aspects of our journey with them is the long-term argument they're having. Rust takes Lance Mannion's side. Marty battles against the dark, and he's mostly losing. That's why Marty says, on more than one occasion, “just shut the fuck up.”

In fact, Cohle is arguing against the metaphysical “romantic view.” The romantic view asserts that justice prevails, that love endures, that in the end, “things” do in some sense turn out all right. In every episode of True Detective we are presented with evidence for Cohle's view, starting from the very beginning, when the cruel, senseless murder of a beautiful woman is thrown into both the detectives' faces. Hart must look away in horror. Cohle creeps closer, making detailed illustrations of various features of the crime scene which he alone apparently notices. It is after this brutal slap in the face that Hart asks Cohle, in the patrol car, what he believes. Cohle answers that he believes human consciousness was a terrible evolutionary mistake—basically a malignancy—and that humans should stop reproducing to save the rest of the planet. This elicits the first of Marty's STFUs.

Marty's way of understanding life is to compartmentalize. He has his idealized family, his beautiful wife, his beautiful young children. Then, now and then, he has his objectified mistress, a beautiful woman who actualizes all of his sexual fantasies for him in trade for his interest. Marty of course grows to believe he owns the woman, as he believes he owns his children and his wife. But all the fissures we perceive in Marty's life are also seen by Cohle, and eventually by Marty's wife and children.

Eventually, Marty's wife selfishly exploits Cohle with the conscious plan of forcing Marty to leave her. Even then, Cohle tells Marty that he must own his choices. Yes, Marty's wife seduced him. Yes, he let himself be seduced.

In the excellent finale episode, Marty and Cohle get their perp, and are both wounded in the process. Marty's wounds are less severe and he becomes Cohle's protector after he is well enough. And so the two friends come to the last five minutes of the show. (Spoiler alert!!)

During his period of injury and unconsciousness, Cohle says he experiences a sense that love is bigger than death, that somehow in “the end” things will be alright. Apparently his darkness has lifted, via a “near death” experience of a sort.

Certainly there are several reasons for this last turn of events in the story line of True Detective, Season I. As a report of the two detectives' changing states of mind, it is not unbelievable that either of them might change and even “learn” from what they've experienced over 17 years. Hart has been accepted once again by his wife after more infidelities had driven her to cheat on him with Cohle. Cohle had through the series been haunted by the death long before of his daughter, and no doubt many people do manage to deal with such life tragedies, sometimes returning to a state of joy and happiness which they might at first find blasphemous in the context of loss. Sometimes survivors are haunted by a “why me” kind of question. Some of these survivors eventually move back to experiencing life without such a question framing everything else.

On the other hand, a story like True Detective, Season One, is more than merely a set of particularities if it is a great story. Rather, the story is a series of very graphic, particular experiences for us and the detectives living them conjoined with the detectives' own commentary on the meaning of these events. And the meaning of an event is more than the particular puzzle the detectives are trying to solve. Yes, they are looking at the performance of a tent revivalist because he's a lead, but they also comment on what he's doing and how he's living. Is he a fraud or the “real thing?” And is what he's offering to his listeners salvation on any level, or delusion. Cohle, for the whole series, is more or less taking the position of David Hume: if it's romantic it's but sophistry and illusion; commit it to the flames.

The series suggests that Cohle's dark view is grounded in the particularity of his own daughter's tragic death. But Cohle finds support every where he looks for his dark view—the realistic view. And we, the viewers, are shown in every episode that Cohle is right, that he sees the world aright. The unctuous religious power figure who intervenes in their initial investigation does have an ulterior motivation. The detectives who interview him and Hart much later are, indeed, “company men.” And the fantasy which the killer cult indulges is blown away, a dark romantic fog, by the realities Cohle and Hart continue to uncover.

As an ending Cohle's redemption is emotionally satisfying to the viewer. I can actually testify to that—I felt at the moment a definite pleasure that Cohle was going to move past his dark view of things. Just this, the psychological need for the view to be “completed,” is at the level of entertainment argument enough to win the day. It's been the winning argument on more that one movie before. A great example, to draw from my own favorites, is the ending of Peckinpah's The Get Away. Compare that to the ending of Peckinpah's best movie, The Wild Bunch.

I'm told the Jim Thompson novel from which The Get Away is taken ends differently, with the two lovers plotting to kill each other after a few months of bliss. While Hart's return to marital accord also ends True Detective, we've already seen him fall off that wagon before, and several times. How then, to understand Cohle's new perspective? Perhaps he's just trying to make Hart, and us, feel better, in the moment. It's hard for me to believe in his testimony, or that he can really change into a happy camper. We and he have seen too much. As he says, a lot of the killers are still free.

I'd have liked to see the truth be driven home a little harder by the series. Even the Maltese Falcon's wry musings-- “... the stuff dreams are made of...” – is harder hitting that Cohle's explicit renunciation of his life's deepest lesson. His dark view is not based on his daughter's tragedy alone, or on his “nature” (an idea he raises when he and Hart are discussing the reasons they were drawn to police work). Cohle sees the world clearly. To tie his view to his daughter's death is to trivialize it.

As my late friend's aunt said, “old age is not for the faint of heart.” Hart's last comment is ironically clearer seeing: “at least we got our man.” Or as Robert Creeley put it, in a conversation on a similar subject:

“drive,” he said, “fer christs sake look out where yr going."


Sunday addendum. One of the touchstones for True Detective is Ambrose Bierce. It occurred to me in the night, rain drumming on the tin roof, my place looking in mid-summer way too much like the Billy Childress home place, that there's a tiny "clue" in the last episode which if it's as I think it might be changes how we understand the "coversion" at the very end. One of the little jokes in the last episode happens when Marty and Cohle drive up to the decrepit mansion in the Louisiana jungle. They don't have cell phone reception. Thus, they can't call in the backup they know they may shortly need, since they're dealing with a serial killer. "Go ask if they have a phone," Cohle tells Marty. He does, then breaks into the house and eventually (after we've seen the state of the place, its chaos and disorder) finds a green land-line phone. It's only a very brief shot, that view of the phone (and that it's green is rather important as green keeps coming up in the story as a talisman). My memory of that shot is, the phone is not connected to anything.

After that shot Marty hears Cohle yelling for him and he runs outside. Cohle is well in front of him, chasing the killer into a labyrinth of jungle and crumbling colonial coastal fort (reminded me a lot of Fort Macon, on the NC Coast, which has been restored and is a tourist attraction). Eventually the two detectives meet Childress, who attacks them and stabs both of them severely. Cohle is lying on the floor, a terrible knife wound in his stomach. Marty has a hatchet sticking out of his chest and is also on the floor, Childress looming above and about to administer the coup-de-grace. Then Cohle manages to get off a shot from the ground and kills Childress. So there they are, both seemingly mortally wounded, and buried in a fort no one may even know about.

Then there is a nice long tower shot of blue lights flashing in the woods around the mansion (reminded me in a way of Mizoguchi's great long shot of the burning of the bailiff's redoubt), and then we see the two detectives, rescued and recovering. But what if all of this is an Owl Creek moment. Mr. Bierce made it work. In this case, such a solution would leave Cohle with his accurate view of how things "really" are. I mentioned the Wild Bunch earlier. This would also be a kind of Wild Bunch ending solution (and something Tony Scott was fond of as well--see, e.g., True Romance). I tried to find out whether anyone writing about the show has mentioned whether the phone was connected, but struck out. If I'm mistaken, well take this as a possibly interesting speculation, a turn the writer and director of this great show didn't take.


Here's a couple of links, the google has a lot more:

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Maybe Rust Was Right

"I Clapped a Pistol To His Head,"

I've been watching, with delight, True Detective, Season I. Whatever you do, avoid the Rolling Stone article:

There's nothing like a critic who thinks he's above it all. See, e.g., Cokie Roberts. I'm tempted to watch the whole series again, start to finish, after I get done with the last disc, which should arrive in the mail by the weekend. Perfect timing. In the first episode the two detectives have just seen a gruesome cult/sex murder victim and are shaken by the experience. Harrelson asks McCoughnahey--his character's name is Rust Cohle--what he thinks about life. It's the first time they've talked about "deep things" after riding around together for four months. Cohle is new to Louisiana, a cold, distant personality with a mostly obscure past. He was a lawman in Texas. Harrelson is trying to warm him up with his question. Rust says (paraphrasing): "well, I think human self-consciousness is basically a malignant evolutionary mistake, and humans should probably just stop reproducing altogether to save the planet." Harrelson reacts with shock. "Let's just have silence in the car, ok, just don't say anything else about what you think." It's the kind of thing Watson might have said to Holmes on more than one occasion.

The reaction by most politicians and far too many Americans to the human crisis at our southern border, a crisis involving thousands of children--refugees--is so appalling it confirms Rust's pessimism. There should be no doubt at all about what to do regarding these children. America must give them succor and care, and in abundance. There is absolutely no other moral choice, and no reason at all for equivocation. There isn't even any need to take note of the plain fact that America has, for decades, formed the second part of the equation, Demand, on which drug suppliers have orbited from their various Central and South American niches, moons around our sun.

Instead, the many reactions and comments on the right are nothing less than fascist in their brutality. There are so many it isn't even possible to pick the worst. Possibly the Republican Congressional Representative from Georgia, a medical doctor, who suggested that the children pose an Ebola threat wins the slime prize, since as a medical person he should presumably know that there has never been even one case of Ebola virus in Central America. Vying for the prize would be the southern California town that greeted a school bus full of children pretty much the same way the good folks of Little Rock, Arkansas, greeted a few black children going to a formerly white school back in '57. (And that little greeting party caused President Dwight Eisenhower (R, Kansas) to call out the National Guard--to protect the children.)

What seems just as depressing is the willingness of too many Democrats, including possibly even Mr. Obama, to search for some "compromise" with the racists and "southern strategists" who control the whole Republican Party. Solutions to the "problem" at the border seems to include, for even liberal Democrats, fixing the law which admits that children in such straits require a review of their circumstances before being tossed back into the unknown from whence they fled. What the hell is that? Other than a strategy of denial, a method for looking in the opposite direction with great interest while criminalities are occurring in plain view. As Rust says later to his superior officer, after he's figured out what's really going on with the murdered, "You're all morons."

America is coming dangerously close to the kind of "solutions" that Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and the various other dictators who've brushed aside all niceties to get their way as our history has ground its iron wheels through the last century or two. When people call for sending troops to the Texas border (as many Republicans in office have done), what are they really suggesting. These children are walking up to American authorities with their hands in the air, not sneaking over the river and into the brush in the dead of night. Are we to show them that they can't "take advantage" of our supposedly Christian morality by shooting them down, as examples for the ones that follow? That would seem to be Rick Perry's incoherent message, and Mr. Gomert's as well.

If we profess to stand for anything other than power, refugee children offer us an opportunity and a choice. If Mr. Obama cares to lead on anything at all, to be anything beyond a capable manager of a system that's grown too big for anyone to manage, this is his opportunity.

Or maybe Rust was right. For the rest of the sickening, two-faced cow-towing to fear, as was pointed out at Mr. Edroso's yesterday, Lewis Carroll has already drawn the true picture of these craven cowards, running from ragged children because they can't stand to spend a nickle of their preposterous treasure:

I weep for you, the Walrus said:
I deeply sympathize.
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

It's possible Mr. Carroll had politicians and other Grand Men of Great Britain in mind when he wrote the poem. He did live, after all, in the land of Dickens. As, apparently, do we.


Sunday postscript:

As the week unfolded--the Malaysian airliner shoot down accomplished by incompetents furnished with sophisticated weapons by Mr. Putin (who proves himself frighteningly incompetent), the Gaza incursion (340 dead Gazans, 2 dead Israelis), the continuing children's border tragedy--I began to understand True Detective as allegory. This was perhaps already my deeper understanding when I chose to combine a slight review of the work with current events; it seems a much more credible way to read the HBO series (season one) after this week. In this reading the female corpse with antlers arranged in prayer, which Harrelson and McCoughnahey discover at the start, stands for something. Perhaps it is our mostly optimistic grounding, the idea that here in the US things are at least aiming to "get better." "Lady Liberty" is a corpse. They keep passing a road sign in their travels: "Who Killed Me" it cries out, bold headline over a woman's face. As they dig deeper into the mystery, the supposed moral leaders are all exposed as frauds and worse, collaborators in evil.

Peter Dale Scott wrote a book a couple of decades back called "Deep Politics." Give it a read sometime.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The On-going Agenda

Most of us have stuff to do. I, to use an example close to home, have a full-time job. It's tiring, and in a mental way that is quite different from the profession in which I used to engage, namely building stone entities such as chimneys and walls. I'm more exhausted when I get home, that's my meter for measuring. And then of course like most everyone I have other stuff to attend to. Last weekend I changed the oil on our three aging trucks. They'll be due again about October 1--when it's cooler and the ticks have possibly moved into winter quarters. Then there's the damn roof, and the damn grass (which is dying right now cause central NC is in a drought; even though we had a brush with a hurricane, the rain didn't get this far inland). There's all sorts of stuff I don't manage to get to either, such as rescreening the porch and making it cat proof so's the houdahenians can have more space to enjoy the view of the great outdoors without getting actually in it and serving as tick magnets and food for wandering dog packs.

So, anyways. Not so different from anyone else, just particularities. In the evening I am tending to not watch the news any more, but to retreat to movies. The news is so disgusting. I'm sure most everyone feels that way too. But strangely what the object of disgust is varies greatly. Last night I watched Megyn Kelly browbeat some foolish liberal woman who thought she might go on Fox and have a consequential discussion about the Hobby Lobby Decision. What she got--quite predictible--was "well, you were ok with Roe, weren't you?" What a genius Ms Kelly is, with her chin all pushed out. Earlier I'd heard Charles Krauthammer assert that he hadn't watched any of the major news networks for twenty or thirty years, but at least the news wasn't all "liberal bias" like it used to be before Fox. Krauthammer was being interviewed by O'Reilly, on Fox.

Over on MSNBC, which is the sorta liberal balance to most of the media these days, which General Electric felt some existential need to fund because things were getting so unbalanced, Rachel Maddow did a quick run-through of the historical fact that since the advent of Ronald Reagan we are living in a world with both news and faux right-wing counter news. So in a way Fox and MSNBC were kinda covering the same meta-story, that to find out what's going on is a bigger job than most folks have time for. Because most folks live just like I do and are way too busy.

So this morning--I devote an hour or so to this constant research so's I can have some idea of what's happening--I ran into this:

I wasn't aware of there being a pressure brewing to get rid of the disability insurance wing of Social Security. Far as I know it's not been some huge story. But check out the post by Mr. Pierce. Hearings are starting up. Already there are allegations of massive fraud. And this stuff seeps down into the minds of regular folks somehow. My boss told me several weeks back that the social security disability fund was being gamed. My boss is by no means a right-winger either. Like me he works hard, goes home tired, watches a little tv, gets up and does it again, plus Saturdays, when he does the books of the company. But he's formed an opinion that there's problems with the disability insurance.

Of course there could be problems. If there are, they should be fixed. But there's also an on-going agenda. The agenda is to destroy the entire concept of the public good. All concerns for the weak are to be dismissed as soft-hearted, soft-headed liberal confusions, if not out-and-out pandering for the votes of the "takers." There's a growing murmur of impeachment. Sara Palin called for impeachment this last week. The Speaker of the House is going for impeachment too, by other means.

Mr. Obama goes down to Texas today, to talk to Rick Perry. That should be interesting. Mr. Perry has also insinuated impeachment as well as Texas secession. I'd like to see someone try to harness the vast "right to life" cauldron, forever on the bubble and in search of new focus. There are all these desperate children arriving. You'd think a person who finds the "right to life" as their beacon of meaning would want to offer succor and nurture. These kids have a right to life. Their parents are desperate enough to send them off alone, to us. We have the makings of a Darfur along the border. But the logistics favor us, and there are no fanatics riding camels and wielding Kalashnikovs and shoulder-mounted ground-to-air missiles. Wouldn't it be morally bracing to spend some time taking care of some children who need care, rather than, say, stalking a woman's health provider, or screaming at a desperate pregnant woman, or even shooting some doctor in the back of the head as he worships of a Sunday.

What if the folks driving the on-going agenda actually did something human? That'd be news. Optimism springs eternal. I should note, however, that the striking photo at the top came with a headline: the kids are sporting, it is alleged, gang tattoos. How convenient. In Germany they applied the tattoos. Some genius has figured out how to skip the middleman.


Update. Indeed Mr. Obama and Mr. Perry talked. The Obama news conference afterwards was clear and sensible. The Republican congressional response, at least the bit I heard, was not. "We gave him $40 billion for Home Land Security already, why doesn't he use that?" That is a well-crafted political counter-move to a straight-forward effort by the President to start dealing with an humanitarian crisis which was not budgeted. It's also paternalistic. It sounds like Dad asking where the allowance went, because it is crafted to sound that way, to resonate.

It must be extremely frustrating for Mr. Obama. He is obviously being responsible and trying to do his job. His job is to craft an human solution to a refugee crisis involving mostly children. As they have in the past, the Republicans are just fine using the helpless as pawns in the ongoing game of destroying Mr. Obama. It was disappointing to see some Democrats chime in. Mr. Obama doesn't need to "go to the border." His problem is not empathy, he has plenty of that.

There is unlikely to be a solution crafted by Congress and the President. The Republicans would rather play their joint and mutually inconsistent attacks on Mr. Obama. He's both, according to them, too strong (sue him) and too weak (used up the allowance). The hell with those children. Anyways, as noted yesterday, a lot of them sport gang tattoos. A Republican would surely know a gang tattoo if he spotted one.