Consumption Written with Lightning
I saw Pablo Larrain's movie “No” Saturday afternoon. It was humorous and yet disquieting in a way I couldn't put my finger on. Its hero, René, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, was basically selling pablum and we were cheering him on to do so. He achieved a greater good in doing so. Patricia and I spoke about it during coffee afterwards.
But it wasn't until the next day, writing my review, that I wrote to a place where I realized this may have been the point. René believed in Hollywood endings but he was in an arthouse movie. In a sense, he wouldn't approve of the movie he was in—with its boxy aspect ratio and old-school, unflattering video format. The movie was about a group of people who said “No” to a dictator, which was a great event, a furthering of democracy; but the way they got there, through the cold machinations of an ad man appealing to the lowest-common denominator, indicated the direction democracy would go. We would wind up where we are. To use the Neil Postman paradigm, Chile overthrew “1984” to wind up in “Brave New World.” The people said “No” to Pinochet but they can't say “No” to René.
For a second I thought, “How brilliant.”
A second later, I thought, “How sad.” For Larrain. For filmmakers. They spend years on something that most people consume in hours and quickly forget. If I hadn't written my review, I would've thought “No” was simply a good, funny movie about the '88 election. I might have said there was something disquieting about it but I couldn't have told you why. Because I only would have spent two hours and change on it.
A novelist may spend years on a book, sure, but it takes most people days, or weeks, to consume that book. And in that time they're in the novelist's world. They're immersed in it. They have time to think on it. It's an entirely different experience. One that generally doesn't involve other people munching popcorn and checking their cellphones.
That must be tough for filmmakers. Their medium defies analysis for the mass. It leads to the ascendancy of people like René.
On the other hand, it's easier to rewatch a movie than it is to reread a book.
Road to democracy or road to nowhere?