Monday, October 18, 2010

Getting under my skin

I've recently watched all three Jason Bourne movies, and the process of trying to figure out what I liked about them made me dig a little bit deeper into my own tastes. I've been inspired by Jesse Burneko's post 'Examine your source material'; he talks about examining the things we read and watch, and trying to articulate what it is about them that really speaks to us:
[T]here’s a gap between simply what one enjoys and what actually speaks to one on a personal deep inspirational level.
So I ask you, look at your media. Draw that line in the sand. What have you enjoyed vs. what has gotten really and truly under your skin and into your heart?
Articulating the difference between what I enjoy and what gets under my skin has been pretty useful. See, I enjoy action sequences, and gunfights, and space battles, and complicated brain-boggling mysteries.

With the Bourne movies, I felt that each of them was better than the last in terms of action ... but it's the first one that has the most kick for me. Jason Bourne's dilemma of whether - even with amnesia - he can transcend being the killer that he used to be, whether he can stop sliding back into being an assassin holds a lot of appeal for me. While the action sequences in the next two movies are exciting, that theme of trying of trying to not be a bad person, holding on to your new identity is only sporadically dealt with.

And actually it's that question that really attracted me to Lost in the first season; when the survivors crash-land on the island, no-one knows who they were in their previous pre-crash lives; they have the opportunity to start fresh, to try and transcend their own instincts and habits and flaws ... if they want to. At a deeper level, this is about people trying to change and being dragged down by their own pasts.

Another book that really speaks to me is Marooned in Realtime, a murder mystery set fifty million years in the future, when there are only a few thousand human beings left alive, and the death of any one person is a real threat to the survival of the species. In the same way, I realise that it's those stakes that really appeal to me about Battlestar Galactica: sure, there's space battles and mysteries about the cylons, but the thing that always gets me in that show is Laura Roslin keeping a tally on her whiteboard of the number of humans left alive. It drives home the stakes of the show, and the fact that murder, mutiny and civil war have a cost; you may get what you want, or gain power, but at the cost of jeopardising the survival of humanity.

One final example: I love the first Harry Potter book - to me it's a great examination of a child who's lost everything and who's been alone and misunderstood his whole life finally having the opportunity to make friends with people. The subsequent books, where friendships are tested, and the movies, where friendships are assumed and where Harry Potter is kind of presented as a kid who not only deserves this sort of success but is actually kind of totally entitled to it, leaves me cold.

I'm sure there's more, but it's late and that's a start. What about you? If you dug deep into the things you love, the things that you keep coming back to and that feed your soul, what would you find?


Debbie Cowens said...

Really interesting post. Maybe I should watch Bourne Identity again. I may have been too hard on it. I recall it being more of a 'big dumb fun' movie than the complex character film you describe. Possibly it's because I really liked the TV mini-series when I was younger and found movie simplified for the sake of slickness and exhilirating car chases. I think it may also have been the first post Team America film I saw with Matt Damon so part of my brain was chanting 'MATT DAMON' whenever he came on screen for the first movie of the film. :-)

The Usual Suspects is probably my all-time favourite film. I dream about writing something with that much tension, suspense and great characters. I love the way the story unfolds, the way the characters shift between seeming good/bad without ever changing. It's more that the motives for their actions change as more information is revealed or the reliability of the info is thrown into question.

While the central mystery and the infamous twist are brilliantly plotted and timed, it's actually the subtle twists in characters and the way you can care about them, fear for them and then find them frightening that make the film for me.

Xanomon said...

I found this interesting, I also enjoy the first Bourne movie a lot more than the sequels.

For Battlestar Galactica, I really love the first five or six episodes of the first season where it is all a big struggle for survival and the stakes are huge. Unfortunately for me, the show only goes downhill from there until it becomes almost unwatchable by season 4.

I will have to try and track down Marooned in Realtime.

Steve Hickey said...

Marooned is really worth tracking down, Xan. It's by Vernor Vinge, and it's the (superior) sequel to The Peace War.

Debbie Cowens said...

Sort of realised I never got round to answering the main question of your post despite my long rambling comment.

For me it's usually the conflict between a character's past and their future. People who are haunted by the past - either what they can't escape or what they don't know or understand about it. It can lead them to seek out redemption, revenge or the investigation of some dark secret. The burden of the past has immense weight and immediacy for the character but it can result in many different actions or different stories. It's pretty much at the heart of most books and films that have really drawn me.

Karen said...

Awesome post... it is interesting how different things stick with you... and with really good stories, how what you take away can be different, because of when you see it... so seeing it again is like a whole different story!

For me, in terms of recent TV... BSG too, but it was Starbuck/Cara that got to me... her drive to succeed combined with self-sabotage (both professionally and in her personal life) struck a chord!

'Torchwood' Children of Earth... Captain Jack's isolation and being forced into a dreadful decision that traded the life of a person he loved for the future of the world (when I kicked my children's father out, I believed he was likely to kill himself, either deliberately, or through lack of self-care... obviously the scale is less grand, but it still resonated)

Probably 'The Wire'... watched too recently to know whether it will stick... but the way all the characters felt real, the good and bad in all of them (so you couldn't just say... oh, he's a drug dealer he's evil, he's a cop he's good... and how some people were "redeemed" and others died or failed, and it felt random... not about how good or bad they were, and the way the whole cycle kept on going with new players...

And longer ago, 'A Very Peculiar Practice'... the logical conclusion of user-pays education :-)

I can't pick a single movie... maybe 'Land and Freedom'? How sectarian differences and bigotry and mistrust undermined a beautiful social(ist) experiment, and allowed fascism to triumph in Spain. But ask me another day, and it'll be 'My Life as a Dog' or 'Monsoon Wedding' or random Shakespeare (oh yeah... Richard II with Ian McKellen)...

Too many books to list and it would change depending on the day:-)

There are also some songs and poems that have stayed with me for years and sometimes pop into my head when I need them... 'What if God ain't Watching' (AniDiFranco), 'Get out the map' (Indigo Girls), 'Stand' (REM), "Why does the sun shine" (TMBG... via Jenni driving to megaroleplaying before I went away) 'If' (Rudyard Kipling), 'maggie and milly and molly and may' (ee cumming), 'Ozymadius'(Shelley)...