Posted in Essays

On the subject of guns.

With yet another terrible mass shooting in the US, I’ve seen the discussion on the use of guns and gun violence in movies come up again. And as someone who makes action movies, often with the protagonists/good guys using guns, I thought I’d give my two cents on the subject.

First of all: History and studies have proven beyond any doubt that a full on ban of all firearms works. You can disagree with it because you feel like you can personally own a gun responsibly and it makes you feel safe, but your personal situation doesn’t chance clear evidence for an entire society.

Then there’s the influence of violent entertainment in media on real life: In my experience a violent video game for example can lead to someone mimicking that behaviour in real life, but that behaviour doesn’t exist because of the game. It exists because for whatever reason that person is looking for violence to mimic, and finds what they’re already looking for in whatever media they come into contact with. A person who (because of fear, racism, untreated issues, there’s numerous reasons) finds themselves drawn to violence will always eventually find it, regardless of which movies/comics/games are available to them. There was violence before video games, before movies, before books and plays. And of course most people watch violence in media all the time and never resort to it in real life.

Censoring art is not a proven method of stopping violence. Most countries have the same if not more violence in media available than America does, but still, with stricter gun control, there are little to no real life incidents. Kill Bill didn’t cause a wave of mass killings using katana’s. At worst it caught a wave of aspiring filmmakers.

Many people have spoken out, especially recently, against the John Wick movies for making guns look cool. But it’s important to realize that only in America that’s something you can then actually emulate when the movie is over. In most countries John Wick with a gun is as much a fiction as Harry Potter with a wand.

So to me, growing up in The Netherlands (VERY strict gun laws and almost no gun related incidents), seeing American movies with guns in them was the same as watching Frodo with Sting, or Chewbacca with the bowcaster. Guns to non-American audiences are closer to fiction.

As such, as a filmmaker, I like guns. I still own prop guns from movies I’ve worked on. But I find them fascinating exactly because they’re scary & horrible. I’d never want to own a real one. Banning guns in movies won’t solve gunviolence, but as a writer or director, you should still be mindful, because whether you mean to or not, in the current climate, you are playing with fire.

You can make guns (or gangsters, etc) look cool, but an effort should probably always be made to not make them good. Your hero shouldn’t want to use guns. They can be a genius with them, and be forced to use them, but it should always be a terrible last resort, because that’s what they are in real life. Regardless of if you’re living in a country where they’re forbidden and rare, or legal and common.

I think it’s important to make every effort to make sure guns in America become as rare and special as they are in other countries, a mythical super weapon that belongs in fiction.

I’m a 32 year old film director, I make movies with guns, but I’ve never even seen a real gun. And frankly I’d like to keep it that way.

Posted in Essays

The Incredibles is incredible

After rewatching The Incredibles for the millionth time, preparing for the release of the upcoming sequel, I decided to write down some of my thoughts on it’s core theme, which I feel is one rarely addressed in other movies: It is about ‘raising gifted children’.

The superpowers are an allegory for any gift someone is born with, like a genius level IQ, or a certain athleticism. Something that can be trained for sure, but has to be there. Some people have it, some people don’t. It’s unfair but that’s the way it is. Our school system isn’t equipped to deal with these kinds of people. That’s why a lot of geniusses underperform drastically. They’re not catered to, get bored or unengaged and start underperforming. On the other hand, they shouldn’t be given the keys to the kingdom just for some genetical advantage either, ’cause that would be unfair to everyone else. So how do you treat everyone equally whilst at the same time acknowledging that humans aren’t equal and give everyone a way to develop as people that brings out the best in who they are? Those are two goals that society should always try to meet but that also basically contradict each other. And then, in a society unequipped to meet those goals: How do you raise a child, make them fulfilled and reach their potential, teaching them that yes, they are better at certain things, but not make them arrogant or disrespectful. Teach them that they have certain needs, but also make them understand why society is unable to cater to those needs, and why those needs, since they seem like just a gift and a luxury to other people, will never be understood. The challenges of parenting that paradox is what Incredibles is about.

Every character in the movie, reflects this in a certain way. Dash is frustrated. He needs an outlet. That’s why he’s doing the thumbtacks and stuff. He needs to learn to be mindful of those who’re not as fast as he is. (Whose brains don’t run a mile a minute, if you go with the genius metaphor) but also his parents need to learn that suppressing his abilities (what Helen is doing) is just as crippling to him as letting them run free (what Bob is doing). Syndrome is what would happen to Dash if he would’ve remained suppressed. He would’ve started to resent everyone else because he feels they’re holding him back. He doesn’t feel secure and he doesn’t feel understood and supported. All very important things to a child growing up. Syndrome treats Mirage as lesser than him, simply because it’s his way of coping with himself being suppressed. That’s why he both wants to make everyone special, and also wants recognition for his specialness. His motivation must logically have that contradiction in terms that stems from his life of living with both the gift and the curse. That’s why Dash is allowed to run in that race in the end. Because everyone should receive equal treatment and people shouldn’t be suppressed back to mediocrity so as not to upset the people. That’s why he’s happy to run and end up in second place. Because he now has the recognition and support he needed to feel secure about himself, which saved him from having to take it out through other outlets. He can use his gift, but doesn’t have to show it off. That’s how much self-respect everyone in this family has gained thoughout the movie. That’s the arc. They find that balance. Violet is the opposite of Dash, where her coping mechanism is trying to fit in with people who are not like her. That makes her the child without any problems on the surface level, but also equally unhappy. Wallace Shawn’s character, and the ‘I think not!!’-teacher are the ordinary people who have the insecurity that makes them forcefully want special people to fit in. They do to Dash and Bob what Bob does to Buddy in the beginning.

The most important scene is the fight Helen and Bob have at night, when she tries so desperately to make everyone fit into a mould that they don’t fit into, and Bob is so frustrated he wants to just break the mould. He says something along the lines of ‘They’re celebrating mediocrity!’ That’s the one sentence that describes the themes of the movie: It’s about people who are different learning to live in a world that will forever think equality means treating everyone like their the same, instead of treating everyone with equal respect and support, even if you don’t fully understand them.

Posted in Essays

Ready Player One and the Escapist Dystopia

I’ve never even read the book. I know people who have, they liked it, and it’s apparently a ton of fun. I’ve seen some people put it down online as being a badly written list of ’80s stuff its writer Ernest Cline likes, catering just to nerds in a self-esteem short supply who need the obscure-knowledge parts of their ego’s stroked. Perhaps, but I know of at least one person who isn’t that trivia-ish and who thought it was a thrilling book, so I guess it’s pretty well written too. I’m not gonna discuss the book though, I’m gonna discuss the movie.

From frame one of the first teaser trailer, blaring Rush’s Tom Sawyer (apparently and unsurprisingly one of the writer’s fav songs) in the background and throwing vehicles from other movies into our eyeballs at 24fps, it was clear: Warner Brothers spared no expense (Hey! I made a reference!) and pulled out all the stops on their licensing budget. Even though they couldn’t get parties like Disney to join up (Han Solo’s belt is all we get to see of the world’s most important pop-culture franchise) there’s still more geekery crammed into Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One than there’s probably ever been in a movie. Every frame is like a full season of Stranger Things. And I’ll be honest. I love that stuff. I love the obvious in yo’ face references like the The Shining sequence (showing that in the right hands, a parody movie is actually not a bad idea at all) and the exo-armour from Mobile Suit Gundam showing up to serve some ass kickery in the final battle, I love the hard to find stuff like the Excalibur poster on Halliday’s bedroom wall and the mention of Gary Gygax’ name as a game location, I love the homages like using the same types of guns as they use in Inception when they do the simulation-within-a-simulation sequence. But I don’t really go to the movies to see bits and pieces of other movies. That’s what Youtube is for. (I guess? What is Youtube for actually?) I don’t watch Stranger Things because there’s a synthesizer in the soundtrack and they dress up as Ghostbusters. I go to the movies to see a story that I like. That entertains me, makes me think, and moves me emotionally. Preferably as many of those three as possible within a single project. Stranger Things has got the first and third one down, and Ready Player One (thank God, ’cause I’ve been defending it on twitter before it came out) isn’t just entertaining. It’s a legitimate entry into the pantheon of Spielberg’s sci-fi masterpieces.

The Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack and the omnipresence of Stranger Things further enforced what we all already realised. We’re living in an age of nostalgia. There’s a third fucking Expendables. Generation Y, the Millennials, or whatever we’re supposed to be called, as well as the final bunch of those Gen X kids, grew up behind a cartoon spewing TV set, and were the first to grow up with the internet. Before grown-ups could figure out what this internet was to be used for, we spent the ’90s and early Naughties filling her up with fan sites, top lists, and came together on forums to discuss whether or not Ghân-buri-Ghân would show up in Return of the King. He didn’t. Now we’re old enough to be a major force in what drives the world’s economy, and what do we buy? Backpacks shaped like PlayStation 1’s, Yoda shaped Christmas tree ornaments (real glass), and a Raspberry Pi that lets us give getting through that Terminator 2 video game another shot. Nostalgia’s become an industry that can rival any other, and with the dominance of Kevin Feige’s crew at the box office it seems clear that yes, the nerds have won.

So what have we won? As the Babyboomers use their dotage to sell the last of the Earth’s natural resources to whoever drills up the most oil, we find ourselves in rental houses, searching for jobs, and not really making a dent in the world even when we try to. (Don’t @ me with exceptions, I’m painting with a broad-ass brush here. OF COURSE there are exceptions.) Growing up has let us down big-time, and now we’re barely thirty and already filled with more nostalgia than most of the grey-haired population of the world. We’re not happy here and we want to leave. ENTER STAGE LEFT: POP CULTURE.

Escapism is turning into the doom of our age. As we’re unequipped to deal with actual problems, we hide away in safe places like Nakatomi Plaza, the world of Warcraft and the Forest of Fangorn, and the longer we stay there, the longer we’re happy, but the less equipped we become to succeed in anything when we finally go back outside and breathe in the smog of a world in decline. Even socio-political matters have become the stuff pop-culture is made of: Jon Stewart is as much a portrait to be printed on a hoodie as Robocop is. Click here to see Trudeau’s Star Wars socks. We’re living in a world where Trump is compared to Jabba, not the other way around. Fantasy is the measure by which we value reality. But that’s a bar reality will never reach. I’m a filmmaker by profession, which basically means I’ve managed to make a living out of not making a real living. Escapism is where all my talents lie. Boy am I a millennial. And boy are there a lot of would be artists in my generation. If the Pixar protagonist can do it, so can we, right? ‘Anyone can cook’, right? And would I be happy making popculture for the popcorn popping screenagers of the world for the rest of my life? Damn straight I would. Halliday, the big friendly giant of the world of Ready Player One (Remember Ready Player One? It’s a movie. This article is about it), is clearly one of my contemporaries. Unfit for real life, he hid away in comic books and walkthrough vids, and found a following in the one place where he never had to lead.

Ready Player One is a fun ride, sure, maybe the fun ride, but there’s a bleak goddamn dystopian vision at the core of it. Nostalgia is pure love, but it’s also somewhat of a cultural rot, an Alzheimer’s of humanity, where it’s becoming harder and harder to keep up with whatever the world’s turning into now, and we keep dredging up something we goddamn loved in ’86. (It’s Aliens. I was talking about Aliens. God, I love that movie.) If we follow whatever’s happening with the Oculus Rift and stuff like that to their eventual outcome I’m sure we’ll end up with Oasis-ish technology in the future, but Ready Player One doesn’t even have to play the ‘look at what could become’ card. Ready Player One is now. Netflix is the Oasis. Marvel vs. DC is the Oasis. Fuckin’ facebook’s the Oasis. But facebook’s also IOI. Google is IOI. There’s Oasisses (what’s the plural of Oasis?) and IOI’s everywhere. And we’re letting it happen ’cause the alternative is worse. We keep chompin’ down on the whopper, cause the effort of being a vegan is just too much of a hassle (it is) and there’s like just too much stuff goin’ on in my life to deal with all of that right now, you guys! So we keep eating and eating, and now we’re just eating because we’re eating. The screen is a drug administered through the retina.

Once we’re addicted, the actual love starts to wane. Was it just a crush? We’re now defending the original Total Recall because, well, because. It’s just the best, it just is, I’m telling you. And the new one is the absolute worst ever and it isn’t even a movie! Childhood raped everything raped. We’re becoming more and more narrow minded. In need of a cigarette. Now. No, I’m not addicted. It’s just that one you can have after dinner, you know, to wash the dirty taste of food off your tongue. That sound’s like an addiction to me. Because what if you have to let go? What if Luke becomes old, makes mistakes and hides on an Island? What if Total Recall wasn’t really all that great? What if you just loved it for its silliness? What of your heroes now? What if women want a piece of the action? Pop has become toxic. You’ve been hiding away from life by investing in the fandom, and now the fandom is falling apart at the seams. Are you watching Blade Runner: The Final Cut because you love it or because you’re supposed to? Because knowing Rutger Hauer’s soliloquy by heart earns you a place in the club house so you won’t have to deal with the fact that if those fucking taxes don’t go up, we’re all going down with them. I bet you weren’t even alive when Blade Runner came out. I sure as hell wasn’t. Have we artificially created nostalgia as a defence mechanism? Have I really been watching all those ’80s movies since I was 7? I doubt my mom let me put on The Thing as a kid now that I think about it. I wonder how many of the Oasis’ top avatars in Ready Player One actually like The Shining. I wonder how many never read the book. Why are they obsessed with the ’80s in the first place? They were born in like 2029. Do they just watch it because Halliday loved it? Is it status, a badge? And don’t you dare dissin’ the Kubrick, man. He’s the best. Did you know he shot Barry Lyndon all with available light? Well he did! Let me tell you how!

On first glance Ready Player One might feel like a big-ass thing of candy floss. Where you ask the guy in the booth for the Extra Large, ’cause the eyes are always hungrier than what the stomach can, well, stomach, and once you’re about a third of the way into it you just want to die. It looks like too much of a good thing. The Oasis looks like fun, the characters look like fun, the action looks like fun. Hey, it’s fucking Chucky! Even the ‘dystopian’ real world is too much fun. They’re still handsome action heroes fighting an evil empire in a resistance. Even the real world is a Spielberg movie. But then that’s the point, isn’t it? The dystopia of Ready Player One isn’t The Stacks, it’s the Oasis that’s the dystopia. Pop culture is the world that’s been pulled over our eyes to blind you from the truth. “What truth?” That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison, for your mind. Pre-order the blu-ray now on Do you want fries with that?

By Thijs Meuwese, as published on SnorFilm