Midsommar ok!!!!

MIDSOMMARRRRRRRRRRRR

I thought it was brilliant!! It was about several interesting things, I thought (LOL). I don’t have a good outline for putting my thoughts together so I guess they will just be all over the place. For starters don’t you think it was basically the ultimate “culture clash” movie? It explored cultural encounter in such a brutal way. I guess it wasn’t just culture clash, it was specifically a critique of American globalization–the way rich Westerners get to travel around the world scooping up bits and pieces of other cultures they find interesting, and how despite the fact that these encounters are always described as amazing and beautiful and “the people are so friendly over there” and such it’s actually a really dehumanizing act. Seeing other human beings as sites to visit and take home something from. The Americans in the film were excited to encounter this strange other culture and they did it in such an acquisitive way, a way that wasn’t about people at all, wasn’t about being together in different ways on the earth. I was really into the moment when they first arrive at the village when the Anthropology student (not the boyfriend, the other one, I can’t remember a single character name) meets the village leader who tells them something about some custom they’re about to do, and the guy is like “oh yeah, don’t the such-and-such people of Sweden have that same custom?” Like as though he’s just chatting abstractly about “culture” to someone else “interested in culture,” rather than to a dude who is living his damn life not thinking of it as “interesting culture to compare academically with other cultures.” And so the village elder just looks at him in confusion. I loved that. And of course the bickering of the two students over who “gets” this culture–it’s mine, I called it I have dibs! The more overt signaling of how disgusting these people’s attitudes toward other human beings are (mirrored in the boyfriend’s lack of feelings for his own girlfriend)

So there was that. But then also the movie raised questions I don’t know how to answer, about cultural relativity. When they all witness the old people’s deaths, the different reactions of the outsiders are so interesting and it all raises questions that to me are disturbing and pretty urgent. Our main girl is horrified by it, it triggers her dead-family-trauma, but then her instinctive impulse to flee is tempered by the Anthro dudes who somehow have taken it in stride, they somehow aren’t disturbed by what just happened. They’re amazed but they immediately fold it into their academic understanding of culture; they perform their anthropology methodologies on it, immediately working to understand the ritual in its historical and cultural context. But this act totally evacuates not only moral judgment (which is the point–anthropologists aren’t supposed to “judge” the cultures they observe really) but also PERSONAL response (which is maybe less forgivable/more disturbing). It seems like what’s really disturbing about the Anthro dudes is that they don’t CARE. Their bodies don’t shudder; they aren’t concerned about the old people’s inner experiences; they won’t have nightmares about this moment. So it’s complicated–on the one hand, the terrible Anthro bros are RIGHT, right? You don’t go traipsing over into somebody else’s culture and then start screaming about how it’s evil. And yet our hero is also right to FEEL FEELINGS about what she sees, and to be overwhelmed and upset by these things that are so outside her enculturated understanding of right and wrong. Also, the two British characters are right to immediately start screaming and crying and saying you people are monsters, and to trying to leave. All those reactions are correct, in their own ways, and yet you see in the film how inadequate each one of them is, how none of them take the full consideration of human life/experience/culture into account. And you’re left wondering: what would be the BEST reaction? What possible reaction could you have, other than the three we were shown? So in that way I also thought the movie was about the irreconcilability of difference, which is something Ive been interested in lately because I’ve been reading all this anarchist theory and anarchism is all about a kind of radical inclusion that doesn’t try to prevent or ignore “antagonisms,” in the words of one cool book I read. And it’s hard to think this way. It’s hard to develop a politics that truly, genuinely, includes EVERYONE. Because some shit just IS irreconcilable: I put it to you that none of us could encounter that village in a way that didn’t somehow invoke an irreconcilable difference in feelings or judgment. And yet, the village exists, and we exist. What to do? Midsommar to me was at least partially about this. There maybe IS no way to appropriately contextualize or experience this crazy village; it’s just itself, doing its own thing, and what you think of it doesn’t matter, and yet here you are, too.

Along these lines I was especially interested in how the village/villagers were depicted. I think the main source of why this movie felt so “disturbing” to people was that the villagers were not evil, but that insistently-reiterated fact doesn’t gibe with the things we see them doing (ritual human sacrifice). The villagers were fun and nice, full of love and joy, full of enjoyment for one another and of pleasure in getting to live in a beautiful place together. The “horrible” stuff they do as part of their religion ISN’T HORRIBLE TO THEM, it’s beautiful and thrilling and deep. I loved all the moments that showed us this. The crazy sex ritual where they drug the boyfriend and make him impregnate that girl in front of all the naked women—for him, he’s having a truly horrifying, traumatic nightmare experience; but for HER she’s having one of the most special, exciting moments in her life! She’s so happy, and all the women are so happy for her–the mom kneeling down and taking her hand and singing to her, it’s such a beautiful, beautiful moment. Getting to be a part of this special ritual, that will only happen to a girl one time in her life! Meanwhile the dude is basically having the worst acid trip anyone has ever had on this earth and his brain breaks apart. How to reconcile both those experiences of that moment, both of which were very authentic and “correct” given who the individuals involved are?

(yes there are issues of consent of course, the Americans did not “consent” to becoming the ritual sacrifices of this weird Norwegian cult. I’m leaving that aside I guess)

It’s interesting that both Hereditary and Midsommar are about roughly similar kinds of culture clash. In Hereditary it’s a group of pagan devil worshipers doing human sacrifice; in Midsommar it’s a group of pagans (not sure if they worship the devil explicitly) doing human sacrifice. And they have SUCH SIMILAR ENDINGS, where the harried and confused son/main girl finally SUBMIT to the madness of the pagan cult, and just kind of accept it and go along with it and get subsumed into it, and there’s this huge sense of RELIEF in that final moment, ahhhh it’s OVER. But the feel of the two films is powerfully different. It feels like Hereditary is about evil, but Midsommar is not, and the quality of why/how they are each disturbing films is very different to me. We talked about it after and we decided part of this difference is that the Satanists in Hereditary want evil things–money and power–and they are murdering and torturing people in order to attain those worldly goals; and also that THEY have come into OUR place, our culture, where they aren’t wanted. The Midsommar people don’t want money and power, and they haven’t gone out into the world infiltrating other cultures; it seems important that the Americans/Brits came to THEM, as part of their fun tourist attitude. The villagers are just there, doing what they do. They’re just what Gary called later “a garden-variety pagan fertility cult,” the kind of culture that was a dime-a-dozen a few thousand years ago, all over the world. And reading about this kind of culture in ancient history doesn’t seem to bother us so much. That’s what they believed, and everyone involved in the society was on the same page with it, so it wasn’t horrible. The idea that what is “horrible” is relative, whatever the majority agrees upon–I think that is a hard thing to grapple with and yet it is true. The Midsommar situation only becomes “a problem” or “disturbing” when put into juxtaposition with modern Western values or whatever. The old people who die in the beginning are fine with it and their death–after your initial shock of course–actually maybe doesn’t seem that horrible. It’s the outsiders who are not part of this cultural situation who make it into a nightmare. They don’t want to live this way.

And yet, the way the Americans DO live is portrayed as so empty and shallow. The boyfriend character was so great for this and I thought that actor portrayed him so well. The guy who seems like a nice normal guy but actually inside his heart he is a howling void of emptiness, there’s nothing inside of him. I was laughing with my cousin because we were going so deep interpreting this movie but then we had a moment where we were both just like GOD he was SUCH A SHITTY BOYFRIEND, and like I love that that’s also what this movie was somehow about: the ways dudes can be the worst fucking boyfriend on the earth. Hahahaha and her ultimate reconciliation of that coming in the form of having him murdered! Jesus. But yeah, so, the film also forces us to be like, huh, is the way you people live really all that moral and wonderful compared to these weird villagers? Is your inner life so deep, your spiritual experience so rich, that you can really stand in judgment of what these people do?

So basically I felt like overall the movie was really about feelings, specifically crying. It was about feeling feelings together, fully living together in the full awareness of life in all its beauty AND terror, and how modern life in the sense that we all live it totally precludes that possibility, and how that is actually what is horrifying. I think maybe what we experience as “disturbing” with this film is the fact that deep down we’re kind of on the side of the villagers; their life seems better, realer (and the American characters are such pieces of shit), and we can’t really see them as evil even though they are doing these horrifying things. But yeah, feeling feelings and honestly facing life TOGETHER, not alone. The main girl didn’t have anyone who would do the work of being with her in the face of her intense emotions. She had no one who would cry with her, no one she could really cry with. The mirroring of the first horrible crying scene, in the sterile apartment in the snow with the bad boyfriend / vs. the amazing cathartic scene of screaming and crying and grieving with all the women on the floor of the dormitory (and also how insistent the film was about showing us the whole village ritualistically crying/screaming together), I found that juxtaposition incredibly meaningful and powerful. This is a village of people who can withstand feelings and don’t turn away from them; even the most brutal thing of all, DEATH, is something they face honestly together, turning it into a site of joyfulness and honor. The thing the town witch or whoever she is says after the old people die is TRUE–isn’t it better to live 76 years and then die on your own terms, brilliantly, in the bosom of your respectful family who honors you? Than to crumble into nothing slowly, in a hospital bed, looked at by nurses who don’t care about you, cycled into somebody’s spreadsheet somewhere, shitting your pants etc.? There IS something so powerful about that first death scene, the old woman is clearly feeling such intense, profound feelings, making those powerful runes with her arms, communing with the fucking spirits that made the earth and control the tides, then facing death actively, bravely, in front of everyone. It was fucking awesome.

[later addition: I was pondering the brutal death of the old man, getting his head smashed by his neighbors with a mallet, which is so upsetting to watch. I think maybe there’s something here about social responsibility–his kinsmen don’t turn away from his death, his suffering, they take responsibility for it. If he fails to die, it is their job to help him succeed, even though to the outsiders watching it looks so brutal. But is it really more brutal than, for example, dumping your parents in a nursing home and visiting them once a month, and feeling guilty and alienated and awful about it all? Again there’s something powerful about this community’s ability to face things together and to not just try to ignore or shove aside or make invisible the aspects of life that are uncomfortable or hard. Maybe?]

So those are my thoughts. What did I miss?? I thought that main actor was so brilliant. Florence Pugh?? I’m not going to google it even though it would take less time than it took to type this sentence. I really loved her. Everyone in the movie was good but that main couple really killed it. I also loved the friend who was from the village–I loved the moment at the end when he was congratulated for following his instincts and bringing them such good outsiders to offer as sacrifices, and he was genuinely so happy and proud. Hahahaha. And god the maypole scene. What a tremendous scene. And did you notice HOW FUCKING GOOD THE MUSIC WAS IN THAT GODDAMN MOVIE?????????????? The whole time I was also assuming the same person who did Hereditary did this one, because they are both so good and in similar ways, but they are two different people. The dude who did Midsommar has worked with Bjork and, like, sludge metal bands, so that makes sense, but also specifically what I loved about the score was how much amateur singing was on it. The singing of people who are not professional singers. If you watch that movie and pay attention to the music you will find it does major major work in the world-building. God it was so good. I really think that director is a genius. Every single shot in both these films is so precise and perfect (although Gary takes major issue with the opening establishing shot in Midsommar, which he says “ruined” the entire film for him, although he also says the film was otherwise “perfect,” so take that as you will). Isn’t it fun to get to discover a brand new filmmaker who you are like “I will see anything that dude makes”???–did you know that Hereditary was LITERALLY HIS FIRST FILM? He hit the ground running!!!!!!!

other answers to your questions:
– I got the new Dyson cordless vacuum and it is still a game-changer and I love it
– We are able to watch mummy movies because we got internet in the house after 3 years!! The town finally delivered on its promise to create a town-wide broadband internet network that would be regulated as a public utility. So it costs like 1/3 what Comcast costs and is great. It’s been totally fine having internet in the house again–I think those 3 years re-set my internet habits and now it’s not a source of distraction for me. My computer is 90% a workplace and 10% emails/reading the Onion and that seems fine.
– We have seen several more mummy movies since I last spoke to you, all of them are terrible except THE GHOUL, a Boris Karloff film made the year after the original mummy, which is not technically even about mummies at all but has lots of signifiers of the genre. It’s very very good. The rest of them are trash. We plowed through two of the Brendan Fraser mummies and then couldn’t continue because they were sapping our will to live.
– We cleansed our palate with maybe the two best zombie films I have ever seen: one is Korean and is called TRAIN TO BUSAN and it literally made us both physically cry; the other is, surprisingly, the sequel to 28 Days Later, which mark my words is much much much better than the original. Who knew??? It also made us cry. Both these movies are utterly bleak and misanthropic and basically about the sorrow of trying to continue struggling to be together and help each other in the face of the growing awareness that it’s all over and the world has ended. There is some father/daughter melodrama in Train to Busan that will make your heart explode. Like really that movie is actually a cliche plot about a father who works too much and only thinks of himself and doesn’t really care about his child, and through hardship he comes to learn the value of other people and of social responsibility and his intense incredible profound love for his child is reawakened–but because late capitalism is so powerfully dehumanizing it literally takes a zombie apocalypse for him to have these revelations, and of course the revelations come too late, because it’s too late for us all. God I cried

Posted in Opinion | 9 Comments

TOM CRUISE MUMMY

It is so funny to come back here after so long solely because I wanted to write about the Tom Cruise mummy movie but that’s what I’m doing!!!!

A couple of years ago we decided to get really into Halloween. It feels like a pretty pure holiday: it’s Of My Cultural Heritage (motley anglo-euro peasantry) but, somewhat uniquely amongst that heritage, it doesn’t seem to be rooted in anything particularly evil or settler-colonial (although I’m ready to stand corrected on this, as I have done no research). I like that it’s ancient and pagan but also fun-loving. I like the tiny glimmer of anarchy that’s still present in the concept of trick-or-treating. I like the funny children dressed up as Ninja Turtles. I like scary movies, I like making a jack-o-lantern. And it is the holiday that is the great doorway into autumn, the best season.

So when we moved to Olde New England, the land of Halloween, we decided to really embrace it and go to haunted hay rides and shit. That aspect hasn’t paid off yet and actually I don’t want to do a haunted house because that isn’t a version of Being Scared that I enjoy (I don’t enjoy the jump-scare). But, we have gotten into fall festivals and making cider and trying to make things jolly for the trick-or-treaters, even though starting last year our stupid town has instituted this thing where instead of trick-or-treating everyone just walks down main street and receives promotional candy handed out by businesses. God every time I think “maybe we’re gonna be okay,” my fellow humans do something that makes me feel like the biggest fucking alien. Parents say it’s “safer” than trick-or-treating. LORD ON EARTH

We also have gotten into setting ourselves movie projects for the Halloween season. Last year we watched every John Carpenter movie in chronological order. This year our intention is to watch all the mummy movies. I was just saying, you never see a mummy in a movie anymore, but it seemed like in the 40s it was a big deal. The Universal Horror Cycle and all that (“Universal” meaning the film studio; I am not saying these monsters are “universal” in the sense that all cultures have them!! Hahaha). Then we started wondering what precisely is the nature of the terror the mummy invokes? And what makes some monsters stick around in culture and some fade away? As you no doubt are aware I’m so interested in monster movies because I think they show us our truest grossest fears, just like superhero movies show us our truest grossest fantasy (which is that we actually love fascism and yearn for it).

We started talking about werewolf for example. WHERE DID THE WEREWOLF GO? It was such a standard of 1950s movie culture. And it’s a great monster! Very compelling, scary, full of pathos. Werewolf is obviously about Freudian stuff, the beast within, the fear that actually deep inside you are a ravening wolf/the fear that your neighbors are actually ravening wolves. Sex and murder being poorly tamped down by the flimsy shreds of civilization. Suddenly I had a revelation about what happened to the werewolf in contemporary culture: it turned into the SERIAL KILLER. I think serial killer movies replaced werewolf movies. The beast within! The horror in contemplating the idea that the local baker, the school teacher, your boyfriend, could actually be a psychotic monster and nobody knows it. He goes about his normal life, goes to his job, and then at the full moon he becomes a raving beast of violence and pointless horror. So now we have the serial killer, which is much scarier than the werewolf, so we don’t need the werewolf anymore.

Anyway I don’t need to go into all my thoughts about the various standard monsters of film history and what happened to all of them. Because the point is: MUMMY

Mummy madness has swept the Euro world several times. In the nineteenth century it was an expression of colonialism and Romantic exoticism and there are all these creepy 1840s novels about British archeologists unwrapping hot female mummies and having sex with them (okay I say “all these” but actually I can only think of one. Oh, two. But still). In the 20s everybody got mummy madness because of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. Those are actually the only two examples of historical mummy madness I know about; I wonder if there was one in the 80s that accompanied that traveling Ramses exhibit? Did you go to that? I sure as hell did; my entire town drove to Denver just to see it. I remember looking at the mummy and feeling both disappointed and totally awestruck, an odd and unusual affective combination I have not felt many times in my life, now that I think about it. I wonder if that was where I first started thinking about becoming the half-assed semi-historian I am today?

Maybe Ramses-fever generated those Brendan Frasier 90s mummy movies? Which I have never seen. Actually I’m realizing there are tons of mummy movies and it didn’t really disappear as a monster. But I’m not so sure it has to do with exoticism anymore, exactly, or colonialism, although those are still sort of obvious themes of the mummy trope. I will need to watch a lot more before I have any interesting thoughts (if ever).

Anyway we’ve now watched the original Boris Karloff mummy and then the third mummy movie (we accidentally skipped the second)–apparently after the Karloff mummy in 1932 they made roughly seventeen thousand mummy movies across the 40s, all starring Lon Chaney’s SON, which seems depressing (for him). All of them have between a 10%-15% on rotten tomatoes and they have increasingly unintentionally hilarious titles, the reading aloud of which suddenly showed me what that one Mr. Show joke is about. They are all called like “THE MUMMY’S HAND” “THE RETURN OF THE MUMMY’S HAND” “THE RETURN OF THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S HAND” “THE RETURN OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB, WHERE HIS HAND WAS EARLIER,” every single one has a poster on which a mummy carries a swooning babe in his arms while men point and shout, and all of them are, judging by the one we have watched so far, totally hilarious. The one we just watched opens on an old archeologist sitting in his comfortable New England home regaling his family with stories of his exploits in Egypt. He’s smoking a pipe and everyone is wearing fancy clothes and drinking tea, just sitting down of an evening for one of father’s great stories. He starts telling his tale and the movie keeps awkwardly cutting back and forth in flashback, and the story is the most insane thing you can imagine, it’s like “well, that’s when the mummy opened his eyes! Well you can imagine how startled we were when he strangled Henry, by jove,” and then his sister laughs rudely and LITERALLY SAYS “oh Charles stop boring everyone with your long stories” and just affectively and narratively it makes NO sense, the story he is telling is the furthest possible thing from “boring,” it’s about a fucking 5,000 year old mummy coming to life and murdering his partner, like, no ma’am, this isn’t just some musty-old anecdote I’m zoning out during. But everyone is acting like it’s sort of a normal after-dinner thing to have happen. “Wow wasn’t dad’s story wild?” “yes it’s wonderful to think of all the adventures he’s had, I almost can’t believe it! See you tomorrow.” The way he tells the story is so conversational and so bizarre. “Well we lost the mummy that day, it’s certainly odd to think that he’s still out there somewhere, walking around murdering people. Well, goodnight dear”

Anyway lets cut to the chase, last night we watched the 2017 Tom Cruise mummy movie that was an enormous, enormous flop but that had a truly great trailer that we accidentally saw two years ago and have talked about ever since.

TOM CRUISE MUMMY was supposed to inaugurate Universal’s version of the Marvel movie franchise—it was the first entry in what was to become a reboot of the Universal horror sequence from the 30s-40s, and they had already slated out the upcoming movies and who would play which monster: Frankenstein (Javier Bardem–apparently they actually MADE this movie (Bride of Frankenstein), then shelved it when Tom Cruise Mummy was such a flop!!! Don’t you think Bardem would be SUCH a good Creature, omg Universal RELEASE THE BARDEM FRANKENSTEIN), Invisible Man (Johnny Depp, probably only because he looks just like Claude Rains, which is annoying (Gary: “Depp does NOT have the voice for that role”)), Dracula (I forget who was going to play him), Wolf Man (I also forget), Jekyll and Hyde (Russell Crowe), and mummy (sort of Tom Cruise). Oh and that fish guy I guess. Swamp Man? I don’t know those movies. The guy who looks like the dinosaur who kills Newman in Jurassic Park. Anyway can you imagine this rebooted Universal Universe? Where like Frankenstein’s Creature and Fish Man team up with Dracula to fight ISIS or something??? This is literally what they were trying to do. God I am SOBBING about this never happening. And it’s ALL TOM CRUISE’S FAULT!!!!!

So anyway it was a big deal and Universal was all smug about it—they even created an alternate Universal logo that shows before the movie: DARK UNIVERSE, like it’s going to be this whole “universal universe” akin to the Marvel universe (keep in mind, while I am very interested in the original Universal horror cycle, I am not interested in these contempo Marvel movies so this is just what I have gathered from living in culture and maybe seeing Iron Man once a thousand years ago). Anyway it’s so awkward to watch because it does all this Marvel-style ham-fisted signaling, like “wink wink, this is the cool headquarters of the secret international monster-hunting club that is going to be at the heart of this upcoming franchise of films! Here’s the conference table where the Mummy and Invisible Man will have their humorous planning sessions”

So basically the movie opens with some comical hijinks in war-torn Iraq where Tom Cruise and Jake Johnson are soldiers who loot treasure from the towns they help destroy. This is played solely for laughs. Then they uncover an Egyptian tomb (“an Egyptian tomb! We’re in the ‘Persian’ Gulf, Tom Cruise, didn’t you notice? Do you understand the significance of this discovery” and he’s like “BORING”). Down in the tomb the real archeologist who is also the love interest is narrating everything she sees, and it’s so bonkers, it’s a pool of mercury with all these pulleys and chains holding something down in it (“this isn’t a tomb……………………………….ITS A PRISON”) and then Tom Cruise is just like “huh” and shoots his gun at this 5,000 year old pulley and makes the whole works explode and anyway it pulls up a mummy in a sarcophagus. Tom Cruise looks at the golden eyes of the sarcophagus and is suddenly hit with a vision of ancient Egypt and the sexy mummy lady (whose origin story we saw at the beginning of the film) kisses him and calls him her chosen one and says thank you for rescuing me. And he’s like “whoa”

then they take the sarcophagus on an airplane and then a flock of crows destroys the airplane and there is a genuinely SPECTACULAR plane crash scene (this was the trailer we saw that so inspired us 2 years ago) where Tom Cruise and Love Interest are falling up and sideways as the plane rolls and it’s so amazing, we kept yelling AWESOME during it, I wish the whole movie had just been that. Later there is almost as good a scene involving Tom Cruise falling out of a rolling ambulance that then flies over his head. “WHAT A STUNT”–Gary

Anyway Tom Cruise DIES.

He dies at the end of Act I! Like, immediately! He dies in the plane crash! After heroically giving the only parachute to Love Interest and shoving her out. He wakes up inside a body bag in the morgue, with a tag on his toe. And he’s like “weird.” And Love Interest comes in to identify the body and is like “weird!!!!” And then they go to a bar and do shots and she’s like “I just don’t understand how you survived that crazy plane crash” and he comically shrugs in that Tom Cruise way where it’s like “whaddya expect.” Oh Jake Johnson is a comical zombie at this point who only Tom Cruise can see, he got bit by a scarab beetle. He’s kind of like Clarence, in It’s A Wonderful Life, but a hideous zombie. Kind of a great role for Johnson, really.

But the point is that within the first 30 minutes of the movie, Tom Cruise FUCKING DIES, and when he wakes up, it turns out that he is the REINCARNATION OF SETH, THE EGYPTIAN GOD OF DEATH. This is true, a real film a human person wrote.

So this movie is about Tom Cruise becoming an ancient Egyptian god. That is the “superhero” concept Universal was pitching with this film. It’s way, way too intense for what’s supposed to be kind of an adventure romp a la Iron Man. I do not find “The Egyptian God of the Underworld” to be a compelling “superhero” character, frankly. Just gimme a normal mummy, or Batman or something! Jesus.

So then he’s just struggling against his evil Seth-side for the rest of the film. He gets taken to the cool headquarters of the international monster-hunting club, which is run by Russell Crowe, who is Jekyll and Hyde. Crowe delivers some incoherent monologues about evil and saving humanity and fighting against evil and stuff (sidenote: it’s honestly so offensive to me that “Mr. Hyde” is always played working class, while Dr. Jekyll is posh. Crowe here does like a cockney accent when he turns into Hyde, the evil guy. “Poor people can’t control their animal urges lol”). He mentions sacrificing Tom Cruise but it’s unclear what this would accomplish. They have the sexy lady mummy (who (before getting her life force back by sucking it out of various people) briefly was a very cool CGI zombie type thing lurking around in the ancient cathedrals of Great Britain sucking the faces off of various bobbies who come upon her like “oy! who goes th—AAHHHHHH”) chained up and are pumping mercury into her veins because it’s the only way to keep her power contained. She talks to Tom Cruise telepathically and to Love Interest in normal English (“your language is simple”), basically saying that she is going to kill every person on the earth. Love Interest is like “oh no” but maybe is also jealous because mummy lady is clearly putting out some pretty intense mystical sex vibes at Tom Cruise, who after all is her 5,000 year old ordained life partner. Then they run away and all the windows in London turn into sand and it looks pretty cool honestly. They go down into the tunnel and have to fight hundreds of zombie skeletons of Crusade Knights (don’t ask) and anyway Love Interest dies, and because he is the God of Death Tom Cruise brings her back to life and then is like “I must find a cure, I know not what I am” and goes and rides horses out into Egypt and the signaling for a sequel is SO over-the-top.

Oh I forgot to mention that the flashbacks to ancient Egypt are SO bad, they look like low-budget perfume ads from the 90s. They look like a Depeche Mode video. It is like somebody had a $100 gift card to the prom dress store at the mall and that’s where they got the costumes.

In conclusion it was really great and I loved it. I think next we are going to watch all the Brendan Frasier mummies, which I did not see when they came out. But I mean, so far one thing we have learned is that mummy is actually not a very compelling monster, and you kind of have to go through weird narrative contortions to make it interesting–for example, in the Boris Karloff original, he’s only a mummy for like 5 minutes! Then he becomes just a regular guy, walking around going to the British Museum and attending dinner parties. Because what can you really do with a regular mummy? Proper mummy is really just a zombie in bandages and there’s only one of them, and there’s only so much tension you can generate with it, as evidenced by the Lon Chaney Jr. one we watched, where it becomes harder and harder for the film to explain why the townspeople can’t catch the mummy, who basically just shambles extremely slowly down Main Street over and over and manages to murder people who just stand there staring at him and going “it’s the mummy!” So I guess all the sexy lady mummy stuff and Tom Cruise being an Egyptian god maybe come out of this basic narrative problem? I’m not sure. I’m really not sure what could lead somebody to write the plot of the film we just watched.

We were talking about the Marvel franchise and how disgusting it is and Gary at one point very sincerely burst out with “I can’t believe that Robert Downey Jr. took all that amazing charisma that God gave him, and just loaned it out to the stupidest shit on earth, and now we’re stuck with it forever” and I thought it was sweet how genuinely aggrieved he was by RDJ wasting the beautiful gift the Lord gave him freely at birth

Other stuff:
I canned 42 quarts of tomatoes and learned how to make pasta
my book came out
the mailman thinks Franklin’s name is “Kevin”
I got my first mammogram
finally got some Adirondack chairs
Midsommar was so good, who knew it would be among other things a critique of academic anthropology?? I loved it so much
we painted our kitchen purple
Gary works at a bookstore
I finally bought an extremely fancy cordless vacuum after thinking about it for two years and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made and now I truly am #livinforty

Posted in Opinion | 6 Comments

NIETZSCHE’S EYEBALLS

Well it has certainly been awhile. HELLO. Are any of you even still out there? I don’t know why I’ve fallen off updating this thing so steeply. I got busy with an actual career I guess, and now I’m old as dirt and spend my free time sleeping (not true), but then also there’s something about working on learning to write intensely/deeply/critically (like I do for my job) that makes it harder to put breezy blog entries down on paper, as it were. I keep wanting to go back and edit them all. “Writing” occupies a different part of my brain now than it used to. In many ways I’m glad, as learning to read and write at the scholarly level has been incredibly transformative for my brain and life. But I miss informal writing. Oh laddie the times they are, ah, becoming quite different

I did feel honor-bound to update the internet about how I have CURED MY NIGHT SWEATS, on the off chance a fellow afflicted will find this and learn of this miracle. As you know I’d had years of unhelpful doctors and unfruitful self-cure attempts. Somebody put me on PROZAC for awhile because sometimes it has a side effect of regulating night sweats. And I took it! That’s how bad it was. Finally I went in for a routine pelvic exam to my new gyno. At this point, I put “night sweats” on all medical intake forms on the off chance someone has a brilliant idea, but I had given up hope of actually being helped. Then this lady was like “huh, have you tried magnesium?” and I was like whaaaaat? and she was like, sometimes your body can’t absorb vitamin D and magnesium helps you do that. And I was like OKAY and started taking magnesium and IT WORKED, it like mostly worked. I was down to three sweats a month instead of fifteen or twenty. The magnesium was intense and gave me truly transcendent morning shits but I was still happy. THEN Jessica posted about this magnesium product on instagram and the product is all about maximum absorption and I just had a feeling about it and I went and got it and it was like aaahhhhhhhhh, PEACE AT LAST. The product is Natural Calm and it’s a powder you put in water and drink. I am free. I can sleep at night. The shits are no longer transcendent. My boobs don’t hurt all winter long anymore. I no longer dread going to bed; I no longer sleep between two beach towels. I am so happy, thank you to our Lord and Savior for this blessed release from pain. Thank you to Jesus for MAGNESIUM SUPPLEMENT. Anyway, if anyone out there is struggling with wintertime night sweats, give MAGNESIUM a try!

I keep thinking what people with this affliction did in the nineteenth century. Just suffered I guess. My parents are having all these medical issues suddenly, they’ve both had surgery this year and they’ve both survived cancer this year (my dad by being patient #1 in an experimental immunotherapy drug trial??? “I’ve always been lucky”–my dad’s life motto). My dad had this weird pinched nerve due to his lifetime of hunching over a typewriter or computer finally catching up to him (word to the wise, also to myself) that DEADENED his left arm, like not only was it incredibly painful but it turned his whole left arm numb and weak and useless. And he got surgery to correct it and it worked. And the other day he was like, what did people do in the old days, when they didn’t have painkillers and corrective surgery? And I was like, well, they SUFFERED. Much like today, if you don’t have health insurance. You suffer. Then I told him about how medieval doctors performed eye surgeries on patients with no anesthetic whatsoever, and the patient would just kneel gently on a cushion at the doctor’s feet while the doctor probed around in their eyeball. So it seems like pain and suffering also are cultural, like maybe an old dead arm that’s super upsetting and painful in middle class America today wouldn’t have felt like that big a deal back then. I don’t know.

J.S. Bach got eyeball surgery! Also Louis XVI got penis surgery.

When it comes to pre-modern surgery I say: no thank you

I am also reading this totally bonkers new Nietzsche biography I AM DYNAMITE! It is so, so good. It’s mostly all about Wagner, actually, so it’s right up my alley. Talk about nineteenth-century medical issues!!!!! Good lord!!! You want to see someone who suffered medically look no further, plus the treatments he endured were worse than the disease. For starters, from childhood he was plagued by this weird sickness that would come over him all sudden-like, where he’d get super sick, be unable to tolerate light, have splitting headaches etc., maybe like migraines?? But the biographer doesn’t suggest this diagnosis; it sounds like nobody to this day knows what was wrong with Nietzsche, although his father died of “brain softening” at age 35 and the family had a history of mental illness and weird neurological problems. But this is just the start of poor Friedrich’s woes.

As he grew up he became very brilliant and also kept getting sick a lot. His friends would read to him during these times because reading hurt his eyes and brain too much. He was sick A LOT. And every time one of these bouts came over him, he’d be sick for a full week. So it really took a lot out of him. But it’s so interesting–he developed his aphoristic writing style explicitly because of this pattern of epic sickness followed by unpredictable amounts of time of feeling ok. So he developed this writing style where he basically just wrote incredibly brief pithy things, as developing long arguments was impossible for him. He started wearing glasses that were tinted deep green, along with a green visor, to shield his weird eyes from the sun. As he descended into madness in his early thirties he started thinking electricity from the sky was what gave him brain problems.

On a doctor’s recommendation he started putting deadly nightshade in his eyes to paralyze the eye muscles (this was a cool nineteenth-century version of pain relief), which apparently relaxed his eyes so much that he couldn’t see at all and his pupils grew enormous and everyone said he looked “frightening.”

MEANWHILE he suddenly goes to serve as a medic in the dang Franco-Prussian war! He is not medically trained, nor is he particularly physically fit (see above re: gigantic pupils) but he wants to be part of this great historical moment and serve his country in some way. He gets 2 weeks of medical training then is sent out into the field, where he’s literally sawing off legs and treating people whose guts have been blown out of their body. He has this utterly harrowing experience where he’s the only medic on board a hideous cattle car full of dying soldiers, for three days. During that time he contracts dysentery and diphtheria, on top of all his other problems. He also witnesses the utter horror of war and becomes a “Europeanist,” eschewing nationalism for its tendency to generate violent cultural clashes. His cosmopolitan beliefs will strengthen over the course of his life and ultimately cause the breakup of several friendships with German nationalists, whom he will come to see as vulgar and disgusting.

Anyway the treatment for his wartime medical problems was enemas of tannic acid, which destroyed his digestive system irreparably. So now he’s got that to contend with on top of everything else. For the rest of his life he takes intense, too-large doses of things like opium in an effort to find relief from his unbearable chronic pain, but everything he takes for the pain also worsens his physical condition. By his early thirties he’s a shambling wreck. It’s honestly hard to read about.

As basically a child, he becomes a famous professor in Switzerland. One thing I will say the nineteenth century, specifically in Germany, has going for it is the enormous esteem professors were held in. The descriptions of his fame are so funny in the context of how professors are seen today, at least in this country! He’s considered a national treasure–every time he even SEEMS like he might be considering taking a job somewhere else, his university ups his salary and stuff. The actual country of Switzerland considers him an asset and plies him with praise and money to try to make him stay. I think at one point he receives a medal from the city?? Crazy shit like that. And he’s famous with students, students come from all over to study with him, etc. He’s only like 24 years old–he was named the CHAIR of Philology before he’d even finished his degree, and he didn’t have any teaching certification. But they were like PLEASE COME RUN OUR DEPARTMENT, so his current school just GAVE him a doctorate and sent him off. In short, he was very smart.

Around this time he befriends Richard Wagner, an internationally famous/infamous superstar composer currently being supported by the teenaged King of Bavaria (Ludwig, aka “the Mad King Ludwig”) and kicking up a ruckus wherever he goes. Nietzsche was obsessed with Wagner for various complicated reasons having to do with philosophy and Germany and capitalism and cultural renewal and Schopenhauer. Wagner is like 30 years older than him and they develop this strange father/son thing where for many years Nietzsche is sort of in thrall to him and worships him and wants him to like all his writing and approve of him. This kind of thing goes hard on a person when disappointment or disenchantment creeps in, as it did For Nietzsche for several well-known reasons and one (to me) totally previously unknown reason that made me scream!

There’s this hilarious period where he’s hanging out with the Wagners at their beloved home in Tribschen ‘pon the lovely lake and talking about universal harmony and shit. Supposedly the first time Nietzsche approached the house he heard Wagner playing something from Siegfried over and over again on a piano and he was struck with raptures of the soul (in the nineteenth century everyone wrote like this about their emotional life, it’s so amazing. Seeing or hearing cool art sends people into “paroxysms” and makes them faint and makes them beg for death because they can not tolerate knowing that such beauty exists in the world, it obliterates them, etc. Cosima Wagner is constantly begging her husband for death after hearing a piece of music he’s been working on and he’s like my love, if thou diest so die I and then they weep together. It sounds like, from reading her diaries and this Nietzsche book, these explosions of group weeping and begging for death happened regularly, every couple of days, including one famous time on Christmas morning when Wagner got Hans Richter and a fifteen piece orchestra to play music from Siegfried on the staircase to wake Cosima up. “NOW LET ME DIE” she begs). Anyway there’s also a lot of weird descriptions of the rainbows caused by the mist over the lake, and Wagner standing before it and projecting his shadow massively over the mountain and being like I AM A GOD and then shinnying up the drainpipe and standing on a balcony and yelling because he did something he was ashamed of. And making his servant row him back and forth over the surface of the lake while he recites poetry and makes ribald jokes. Wagner sounds like a real character; he actually sounds a lot like Trump, like Trump if Trump were somehow really smart and did actually have deep thoughts. It’s a really weird personality combo–all the thuggish self-aggrandizement and demanding of attention and reverence of a Trump but then also sitting around thinking incredibly deeply about, like, the nature of existence and writing this unbelievably complex music that takes 20 years to fully realize. Also he was intensely, intensely empathetic toward animals and would scream and weep if he saw a carriage driver beating a horse, etc., which it’s admittedly hard to imagine Trump doing. Anyway!

So things are going well For Nietzsche, aside from the aforementioned genuinely hideous physical ailments. He’s actually befriended his hero, and he (the hero) thinks his writing is profound! What bliss! There’s this weird part where somehow Nietzsche doesn’t realize that Cosima is 9 months pregnant and he’s there in the house when she gives birth and somehow doesn’t realize it’s happening even though Cosima is screaming all night and the midwife is running up and down the stairs and everything; Nietzsche just goes to sleep and when he wakes up somehow Wagner magically has a son. Must have been pretty surprising.

So things are going well BUT THEN, disaster strikes! He publishes The Birth of Tragedy and it’s a total flop; no one knows what to make of it, and those that do actually read it hate it SO MUCH, including his former mentors, fans, people who love him. The kindest thing these people do is just NOT review it; so there’s this weird period of total silence when he’s waiting for people to comment on his brilliant book and nothing happens and no one will respond to his letters about it. Finally somebody writes the most epic screed, the most classically nineteenth-century take-down, a blistering review that includes a demand that Nietzsche be removed from his teaching position. Disaster! Poor Nietzsche doesn’t get it, he’s like, but my book is awesome! (Also there’s a quieter tragedy during this period because he sends one of his musical compositions to Wagner and expects that Wagner will respond with praise but instead Wagner just never responds at all; in Cosima’s diary she records that they had Hans Richter play it to them and then they all sat around so bummed and annoyed by how bad it was and then they decided the kindest thing to do is just not write back to him about it. Desperately seeking approval Nietzsche makes the mistake of sending it to Hans von Bulow, who, long story, but anyway he hates it and writes back another blistering screed, literally at one point asking N if this is supposed to be a joke, etc. Anyway N is devastated and embarrassed, as anyone would be. I will say as a sidenote that after I read this part we found a recording of this piece and listened to it and it indeed is really not very good, it’s like a mashup of Beethoven and Wagner emotional drama but without anything interesting going on musically; when it was over we looked at each other with kind of wry “that’s a shame” looks on our faces and I started laughing imagining those very same expressions being on the faces of Richard, Cosima, and Hans Richter once they turned and looked at each other when Richter finished playing. POOR FRIEDRICH)

Anyway because of this horrible disaster of a book publication NO STUDENTS WILL SIGN UP FOR HIS CLASSES ANYMORE and the school has to put him on leave. CAN YOU IMAGINE

So he’s wandering around town in his green eyeglasses and green eye shade, the disgraced professor, if you can even call him that now, and the Wagners have moved to Bayreuth and he’s bereft and lonely and sick.

Then a lot of other stuff happens. INCLUDING the amazing thing that made me scream, which is the actual reason for the famous breach between Nietzsche and Wagner. In my field the canonical story is that Wagner sold out to the aristocracy–he began as a kind of revolutionary but by throwing in his lot with Ludwig and certainly after the building of Bayreuth he became more of an icon of the State and his works were seen as upholding the glory of the monarchy and stuff–and also that he got too Christian (with Parsifal). Nietzsche’s horrible sister Elisabeth, who controlled much of the discourse about him following his death (and I say “horrible” not in the run-of-the-mill misogynist way where every famous man’s female relatives are kind of belittled in the discourse surrounding that man but because she was a LITERAL NAZI and indeed her virulent racism is what drove Nietzsche to finally cut off all ties with her and tell her she was a disgusting pig despite their years of closeness in childhood), anyway, Elisabeth spread around this story about N and W climbing a mountain together and then at the top of the mountain W told N the plot of Parsifal and he talked for hours as N grew slowly more and more disillusioned and upset, and at the end of the conversation N was like “fuck Wagner.” That’s the canonical story of the end of their friendship. And these aspects were indeed a part of it–N goes to the first Bayreuth festival and is totally disgusted and appalled. Wagner’s installed himself as a sort of emperor, living in a newly-built mansion with a special second-floor balcony built expressly for the purpose of him standing and waving at parades in his honor; he’s hob-nobbing with kings and dukes and all the kinds of trash aristocrats that he and N spent years talking about overthrowing and destroying; whereas before, during the idyllic days in Tribschen, his piano was set up so that he looked out onto the glory of God’s sublime creation as he played (the lake, the mountain), in Bayreuth his piano is set up so that he looks out AT HIS OWN GRAVE, which he’s had specially built for him and Cosima and their two dogs (apparently at night he and Cosima stand out on the balcony and look down at their graves with their arms around each other, yearning for death as usual). FUCKING EPIC. So anyway Nietzsche is, to say the least, bummed about all this, but he still reveres Wagner and feels deep loyalty to both of them.

BUT LITTLE DID HE KNOW!!!!!!

Some years previously, Wagner had gotten him an appointment with a famous ophthalmologist to try to get him some relief for his eye problems. And, because this was a time before anything resembling doctor-patient confidentiality, Wagner and this doctor wrote letters to each other about Nietzsche’s condition. And in one of these letters, Wagner–clearly out of genuine worry, but still–tells the doctor that after years of observing Nietzsche he’s positive the man must be a chronic masturbator, because he doesn’t have normal relations with women (meaning he’s not only unmarried but also doesn’t seem to visit prostitutes; highly abnormal and suspect behavior). Wagner goes on and on about how N must be masturbating constantly, and how this must be the source of his eye problems. This theory being a scientifically-accepted one in this period–eye problems being caused by masturbation–the doctor writes back and is literally like “well I examined him, and he assured me that he does visit prostitutes, but still I defer to your greater observation of his lifestyle and so I’m sure you’re right, he must be an awful chronic masturbator and I do think that’s why his eyes are so fucked up.” Furthermore the doctor says that in men of his “advanced condition” (meaning: the masturbation is SO chronic and long-term) there is very little hope that the eyes will ever improve.

Nietzsche did not know that Wagner and the doctor were writing these letters. He found out five years later, when out of spite this newspaperman who served as Wagner’s secretary spread this information around at the second Bayreuth festival. And it was THE TALK OF THE TOWN. Kings and queens were literally gossiping about it, about how that disgraced philologist Friedrich Nietzsche is a chronic masturbator!! My dear it’s simply TERRIBLE, did you hear?? At this time Nietzsche was living in a completely asexual experimental menage-a-trois with his friend Paul Ree and this wild philosopher woman Lou Salomé whom he considered his intellectual soulmate. They took an unfortunate and immediately notorious photograph in which Nietzsche and Ree are hitched to a carriage like oxen and Salomé is in the carriage pretending to whip them. This did not help N’s reputation as some sort of sex pervert.

Then a lot of social drama happens, but at any rate the point is that N was really genuinely so hurt by these revelations about Wagner calling him a masturbator. And that’s what really ended the friendship. And Elisabeth knew this, and specifically spread the Parsifal/mountain story around to try to cover up the real story for posterity. And it worked! The truth was not discovered until 1981 when someone dug it up. What a fun scholarly discovery that must have been!!!! I’d love to discover something like that.

Then Nietzsche goes crazy and dies.

THE END

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