Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dick Laurent is Dead: Five Films that Intentionally Confuse the Viewer

     I am not one to judge a film for being confusing. As a man who openly supports films like Synecdoche, New York, INLAND EMPIRE, and Zerkalo, I like to think that I am a pretty good sport when it comes to films with complicated narratives and unusual methods of displaying them. With that said, I sometimes find myself extremely irritated by movies that seem to, in place of actual storytelling, include small details that are out there to intentionally confuse the audience.
     Jackdawgs Love Swifter Poets.
     To me, there is a difference between enticing a viewer with interesting visual style and unusual pacing, and including the possibility of a subplot that most likely has nothing to do with anything.
     My case in point, the David Lynch film Lost Highway involves an impotent man who murders his wife and is sent to prison. Once he enters prison, he dreams that he is a teenage sex magnet with the swagger of Samuel L. Jackson. This is all fine and good. Yet, at the end of the movie (spoiler warning if you care) the teenager turns back into the original man, drives away, and gives the audience pretty clear evidence that a time loop has occurred.
    What? Why?
    The film, already pretty unusual, even as far as Lynch goes, just up and decides that there has been a time loop when no indication whatsoever is made before or after this loop occurs that said loop is even relevant. It literally does nothing to the story. It is almost as if Lynch was sitting around, thinking, "You know, my film is not adequately 'Lynchian.' I shall place an intentionally confusing, and ultimately arbitrary, time loop in the midst of my film!"
    (Yes, David Lynch talks like that.)
     Anyway, after watching Lost Highway recently, and being reminded of this pretty clear manipulation of the audience, I began thinking of other films that practice this same logic.
     "If I'm looking for a young, hip audience, I need to place things in my film that no human being can understand. That way, my audience will think I am very smart indeed!"
     Here's a list of arbitrarily weird things in movies that should bother everybody.
This is a real screenshot from Europa

 Hey, you're in color! Wait...Why?                      In Lars Von Trier's World War II traincar mystery, Europa, Trier decided, for reasons that seem to be unclear to everybody, that the film would work better if sections were in color, and other sections were in black and white. So all throughout the film we see some characters in color, some in black and white, some sets in color, some weapons in color, it doesn't even make sense. What doesn't make sense is the fact that it has no continuity. Some color characters are sometimes black and white. What makes them color sometimes? Who knows.... This is during the section of Trier's career where he did this sort of thing a lot. Make arguments if you want to, but it honestly makes no sense to me.

Who is that guy on the left?

I thought you said you was Charles.  In the beginning of the film The Shining, the owner of the Overlook Hotel tells Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) that a man named Charles Grady killed his daughters and wife one winter in the hotel. Later, when Jack meets this Grady fellow, he introduces himself as Delbert Grady. In Stephen King's original novel, the man's name is always Delbert. Now, you could attribute this as a mistake in the film, but given that the film was directed by the notoriously perfectionistic director Stanley Kubrick, it's likely that he was just messing with the audience. By why? What purpose does that serve? Let's put this one under libbity-flam slap'nslap.
What about that guy on the left? why are they here?   Okay, so maybe I'm going deep off of the edge here, but this is something that has bothered me for years. You remember A Kid in King Arthur's Court? Well, the movie is pretty simple enough. It's about this kid that played for the Chicago Cubs who goes back in time to hang out with future James Bond and that chick that survived the titanic and King Arthur. Okay...I'm kind of following. Then the Cubs kid saves King Arthur by inventing roller blades or something. Anyway, when the kid returns to his normal time period, it is clear that the whole thing was a dream. Only when the kid comes out of the dugout, seemingly after a mid-game nap, he realizes that King Arthur and his love interest are in the stands. And they are the same characters. And it's present day. And they're there. And it's present day. What in the--
This is a poster.

I love pancakes too, kid. For any of you who have seen Cabin Fever from director Eli Roth, you know that the movie splits audiences. Some people think it is a perfect deconstruction of the '80's horror film, some people think it is completely stupid. Well, I don't really know which of you are right, but I bet you can all agree that Cabin Fever contains one of the most famous intentionally confusing scenes in recent memory. That is, of course, the pancakes scene. What in the world is this all about? Roth says in the commentary for his film that he just liked this kid and wanted to put him in a movie. The only problem is, this scene makes absolutely no sense. Yet, for some reason, I kind of like this one. 
Excuse me, but your boat sucks.

I'm on a boat, and I think I'm traveling through a nightmare?  This, I'm sure, is the most famous scene of the ones I have described. Basically, it's the scene that caused all of you to have nightmares. Now, this movie is by no means a light children's film. However, this scene has been (at various times) banned from television, stricken from certain DVD editions, and even eliminated completely from all German versions of the film. Why? Because this scene is scary, strange, and completely inconsequential to the plot. It might be kind of fun, strange, and interesting, but what in the world is it doing in this movie?

Can you guys think of any other intentionally confusing things in movies? Let me know in the comments section. 

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