Monday, December 28, 2009

The Least of these my Brethren

25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002) and The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008) both take an utterly humane look at a man nearing the end of his life as he knows it. The protagonist in both the films is the kind of man people love to hate and revile, pour scorn on, and otherwise consider the scum of the earth.

Where the Spike Lee film is about the last day before a drug dealer in New York goes to jail, the Aronofsky film is about a showbiz wrestler (one of those who fight choreographed and fake battles in the ring with dialogue and spectacle). Both films are remarkable in that they succeed in humanizing and bringing depth to the kind of person who are generally considered to only have a shallow, dark side.

In 25th Hour, the director juxtaposes the drug dealer's life with his other so-called normal friends (who don't pay the price of their mistakes, whereas he does). This film does not say anything overtly, is more subtle in what it wants to show us. Many critics have justly admired the two amazing stream of consciousness scenes in this film (the first in the protagonist's mind as he pours out his contempt for others as a means of validating himself, and the second in his father's mind as he pours out his fatherly fantasy of letting his son escape the law). Both are poignant in their own way, the second much more because its canvas is far more extended.

In The Wrestler, the director illustrates not just the inner life of the wrestler himself, but also the inner life of a lap dancing woman. It is obvious to see the connection. Both are subjecting their body to a voyeuristic and superficially entertaining abuse in order to make their living. But the similarity ends there. The woman knows that hers is a false life but the wrestler, unable to find any succour in his actual relationships, turns, tragically, back to the ring in order to find meaning and sympathy. In one of the most devastating scenes in recent films, he fights his final battle with a man who, while beating him and taking a beating from him, shows great empathy and understanding towards him during the fight. I mean, who could have thought that these muscle-bound neanderthals could have such depth of character, and while fighting?

Man is complex, and his motivations are complicated. To see a man as evil just because he made a socially reprehensible choice, or because he slipped somewhere where most people don't, is to ignore his vastness, his essential similarity with the rest of us.

And of course, Mickey Rourke and Edward Norton are a pleasure to watch in their performances in the respective films.


Surbhi said...

Greetings, Harmanjit

will shoot off a note on one of my fav films from H-wood in last few years, I am glad you saw it.

25th Hour: the film evokes for me the surreal and not just the illusion and delusion that life can be ( remember Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ). I still remember watching this film for the first time with back to back 3-4 reruns, because i could not believe my eyes ( the story is just too good). I suspect the film is based on very true incidents and life situations for only life can be this bizarre and yet real and normal. The dog is lovely and a very good metaphor of madness of human, duty/selfish desire - dogfied( i mean personified) :-)

best regards


Harmanjit Singh said...

Actually had seen this film long back. have seen it 3 times, last time in sep 2009. after i saw the wrestler yesterday, i saw some similarities between the two films, and therefore decided to write about them.

i also love the song at the end credits of 25th hour: springsteen's "the fuse".

remarkably, the wrestler also has a springsteen song at its end credits. equally enthralling.

G Saimukundhan said...

Am yet to see 25th Hour. Had seen "Wrestler" just a month back. The climax scene had me in tears. The movie was pretty impressive, and presented us something to ponder over. What is fake and what is real. The distinction is often very minimal. Pro-Wrestlers entertain. They fight it out. The results are set up. each of their stunts are fixed in advance. The pain is real. The emotions are real. Blood. Cuts. Wounds. Are real. It was this aspect that I admired the most in the movie.