Blue Ruin: failures and fantasies of revenge

Revenge is the sweetest vice; the possibility of virtuous violence. Violence without revenge is brutality, but with it, violence can become justice. Blue Ruin puts all of those easy abstractions to death.

The film has the making of a plain revenge flick. A man called Dwight has been living in a car at the beach, washing by breaking into other people’s bathrooms and eating discarded sandwiches, apparently unable to join society since his parents were killed. The man locked up for killing them is, at the start of the film, freed. Dwight pledges revenge. It starts, and falls apart, from there.

Dwight, Blue Ruin

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The aliens we deserve: Under The Skin and misanthropology

What would you look like to an alien? Probably an irrational sack of meat. (Certainly you would look that way to Scarlett Johannson.) It’s an often asked question, and that answer is strangely comforting. In part because it’s clearly untrue: we have thoughts, we are people, the obsession with thinking about ourselves as bags of brawn helps us realise that we’re not. But Under The Skin isn’t interested in the vague humanism that characterises so many of our aliens: for once, the extraterrestrials have arrived to show the worst of humanity, and there’s no consolation to be found.

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Review: Her

Her is a film about a man falling in love with an operating system; it looks from outside like a technophobe’s ideal parable.* I began quite worried that Her would be overly preachy: Aren’t we all too obsessed with our phones, real communication is amazing, and that sort of thing.

It puts paid to that pretty quickly: the opening scene shows Theodore at his job, writing apparently heartfelt letters on demand for his customers’ celebrations. One of his customers supposedly misses his girlfriend’s little crooked tooth, another [something]; the results are printed out in artificial handwriting and sent away. (The company is called BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com.) Her might look like the kind of film that would encourage us to write handwritten letters to one another, as a corrective to the wealth of humanity-less digital communication that we are continually exposed to; but Her shows that letters can’t be honest anymore.

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Steve McQueen’s Bodies: 12 Years A Slave, Shame, Hunger

Having a body in the films of Steve McQueen inevitably leads to misfortune, and little else. In Hunger, Shame, and now 12 Years a Slave, the body is a site of suffering, lingered over usually far too long to be comfortable. But the most successful of McQueen’s characters and films manage to make that body and its pain into an instrument, coming to own their unfortunate flesh.

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Horror, documents and the new epistolary

The greatest mark of the advance of technology is the increase in the number and kind of documents that it creates. Life – modern life particularly – is lived through and in these documents: others’ lives, and our own, are mediated through a web of new media, each offering its own freedoms and limitations. These developments are worked at throughout recent horror fiction, as any way that the way that life is lived and seen will be. In what ways has this impacted upon the genre, and the ways that it has allowed horror films to create new forms of horror? How are our lives are lived through these documents, and what importance those documents can take?

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