JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

 

Notes

1. Klein explains on her website that she sent Cuarón a copy of her latest book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, because

“I adore his films and felt that the future he created for Children was very close to the present I was seeing in disaster zones” (Klein 2007a: unpaginated).

Žižek likewise sees in the future depicted by Children the present “ideological despair of late capitalism” (Žižek 2006a: unpaginated). Cuarón included both of them in the bonus features of the DVD of Children. He also created a short film to promote Klein’s book, which can be viewed at:
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/
video/2007/sep/07/naomiklein
>.

[return to page 1 of essay]

2. This reading was not lost on Christians. See, for instance, Todd Hertz’s review: <http://www.christianitytoday.com/
movies/reviews/2007/iamlegend.html
>.

3. The virus is named after Dr. Alice Krippen (uncredited Emma Thompson), whose cure for cancer — a genetically re-engineered measles virus — mutates into the lethal strain that wreaks havoc on the planet. Krippen is the German word for “cribs” or “mangers,” and carries connotations of the Nativity Scene. In the allegorical structure of Legend, the Krippen Virus quite literally sets the scene for Christ’s second coming.

4. Neville travels to the South Street Seaport at noon everyday and broadcasts the following message:

“My name is Robert Neville. I am a survivor living in New York City. I am broadcasting on all a.m. frequencies. I will be at the South Street Seaport everyday at midday, when the sun is highest in the sky. If you are out there...if anyone is out there...I can provide food, I can provide shelter, I can provide security. If there’s anybody out there...anybody...please. You are not alone.”

Neville’s equanimous broadcast, with its echoes of Psalm 18:2 and John 16:32, contrasts strikingly with Vincent Price’s existential loneliness in the first filmic adaptation of Richard Matheson’s book, The Last Man on Earth (1964):

“This is Robert Morgan. If somebody can hear me, answer me. For God’s sake, ANSWER ME. This is KOKW calling. KOKW calling! Answer me!”

While Morgan desperately desires “somebody,” Neville can console and care for “anybody.”

If Neville is indeed Christ, as I believe he is in the world of Legend, when Anna listens to his radio broadcast, she literally hears the voice of God. When Neville denies that God told her to find him, he says,

“My voice on the radio told you to come here, Anna.”

At this point in the film, Neville is simply unaware of his divinity. Later when his sacrifice turns him into Christ, his final act retroactively acknowledges that it was he, the God, who broadcast his plan to Anna. Anna’s faith is so strengthened by the apocalyptic event of the plague — she can hear God better in the now quieter world — that she comes to H/him.

5. The necessity of Neville’s sacrifice should not go unquestioned. Why does Neville not throw the grenade and duck into the chute with Anna and Ethan? Why does he have to become a suicide bomber in order to defeat the dark seekers?

6. http://godstilllovesus.org is a viral marketing site created by Time Warner to promote Legend. The site contains a photography contest in which entrants submit pictures that display the “God Still Loves Us” logo in various settings. One grand prize winner receives a MacBook Pro 15", which is significant because Apple’s products are predominantly placed in the film. The site also contains message boards on theological and philosophical issues and a newsfeed to stories on current events with specific emphasis on disasters. That religion is not immune to the viral logic of capitalism is nothing new, but the way in which Time Warner uses religious belief to peddle its cinematic product significantly contrasts with the absence of cross-marketing promotions in NBC Universal’s Children. No corresponding “The Human Project Lives” website exists. If one were created for commercial purposes, would it not contradict the meaning of the Human Project within the worldview of the film?

7. Perhaps the “butterfly effect” also accounts for Anna’s connection to Brazil. At the time of the outbreak, she was evacuated from São Paulo aboard a Red Cross ship. Could her “flight” have set in motion the events of the film? A less speculative reading of Anna involves the film’s creators and its intended audience. The fantastic gaze of (predominantly white) Western Christians projects onto Anna, a devout Latino woman from Brazil, the status of “true believer,” or “subject supposed to believe.” As Žižek explains,

“There are some beliefs, the most fundamental ones, which are from the very outset ‘decentered,’ beliefs of the Other….From the very outset, the speaking subject displaces his belief onto the big Other…from the very beginning, the subject refers to some decentered other to whom he imputes this belief” (Žižek 2002: unpaginated).

 Žižek cites the role that children and “ordinary working people” play as stand-ins of the big Other for parents and Communist intellectuals, respectively. To this list I would add the Catholic Latino Other to whom white, Western Christians impute their spiritual belief. A white American Anna (played by someone like Jennifer Aniston) would be ridiculous precisely because she would not have fit within the fantasy frame of the film.

[7b] Further evidence that butterflies signify the divine providence of fundamentalist “knowledge” (and the incorporation of a premodern teleology within the modern world) can be found in Francis Lawrence’s most recent project, the television series Kings on NBC, which imagines the contemporary United States as a monarchial society called Gilboa. A butterfly on the kingdom’s orange flag symbolizes God’s supposed anointment of King Silas (Ian McShane). In Silas’ story, which he repeats verbatim, a swarm of Monarch butterflies landed on his head in the shape of a “living crown” to signal his divine right to rule. We do not know if this moment actually occurred or if it is a myth meant to keep the people enthralled to their leader, until we witness the butterflies crowning a young soldier named David Shepherd (Chris Egan). Their presence indicates the real existence of a metaphysical realm that guides the events of the world in a predetermined fashion—the exact same role that butterflies play in Legend. (No wonder Kings retells the Old Testament story of Kind David’s ascension.) That Lawrence uses butterflies in Kings as he did in Legend cannot be a coincidence.

8. Notably, Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” plays during the credits, giving a specific meaning to the lyrics: “…We’ve got to fulfill the book.” Neville also tells Anna about Marley’s “virologist idea” to “cure racism and hate…by injecting music and love into people’s lives.” Neville’s view of racism as a religious and moral problem contrasts with Children’s representation of its political and economic roots.

9. As Christian allegories, Legend and Children star black religious figures. Because of class differences between Neville and Kee, only the latter treats race progressively. Legend uses Neville, an affluent African American from Manhattan, to make a religious and nationalistic appeal to Americans from all races to unite against a common enemy. Children uses Kee, a Third World refugee, to argue that the struggle for emancipation begins with the wretched of the earth.

10. The ideological move here would have been to make Kee, the black illegal immigrant, the “true believer,” just as Legend figures Anna. To repeat the thought experiment of f.7: Would Theo believe, even for an instant, in the immaculate conception of a white and well-off Kee?

11. One possible objection to the claim that Children rejects metaphysics involves the animals in the film. In the tradition of fairytales, the animals take a supernatural liking to Theo and seem to operate as helpers for the heroes to reach their destination. For example, dogs seem to intentionally increase the volume of their barking to cover the noise of Kee’s labor pangs. I argue that the film’s animal scenes, along with its nods to religious allegory, are ludic pastiches of archaic literary forms.

12. Jasper seems to slip into mythical discourse when he states that Dylan’s birth was inevitable because “he loved it here.” Does Jasper not affirm that replayed in all possible universes, Dylan — right down to the random genetic recombinations that formed his singularity — would be born? Granted Jasper’s New Age flirtations, he does seem to contradict himself here. However, we could read “Dylan” in the sentence “Theo and Julian would always bring Dylan” as an open signifier, one not pinned to a specific individual per se, but one representative of a general idea, a signifier that stands for their belief in changing the world incarnate.

13. As reported by AP reporter Holly Ramer, Republican presidential nominee John McCain also fancies himself an omega man. Throughout his campaign’s ups and downs,

“he’s shown the stamina of the last man on Earth. ‘I’ve been declared dead in this campaign on five or six occasions. I won’t refer to a recent movie I saw, but I think I am legend,’ [McCain] told reporters, referring to the film in which Will Smith stars as the last man on Earth” (Ramer 2008: unpaginated).

McCain’s reference to this particular piece of pop culture should not be treated as incidental, but as a calculated political move geared to rally Christians to support his neoconservative candidacy. [return to page 2 of essay]

14. Arlen Parsa discusses several of the political references of the film in her blog, The Daily Background, which can be accessed at:
<http://www.thedailybackground.com/2006/
12/31/exclusive-political-references-in-new-
film-children-of-men-examined-illustrated/
>.

15. Since, in many respects, cars represent the world of commodities at large, the contrast between Children’s depiction of automobiles and Legend’s is not incidental. The Fiats and Renaults of the former are not the concept cars on display in standard fare futuristic films like I, Robot (2004). They are old, boxy, covered in grime, and often fail to work properly, i.e. they are not a fantasy being sold to the audience. The only car that looks like it has just been driven off the showroom floor is a Bentley Arnage R that escorts Theo into the Ark of Arts to see Nigel. Close-ups of this car emphasize class differences between those in the inner and outer circles.

16. Several critics point to the video rental store scene as one of the highlights of the film. For them, Neville’s interaction with mannequins recalls Tom Hanks’ performance as Noland in Cast Away (2000) when he paints a face on a volleyball and talks to it to stave off loneliness. From a cultural studies perspective, I am less interested in the existential dread of a lone survivor than I am in how Neville procures a modicum of normality by sustaining an everyday experience of consumer society. Instead of transferring the DVDs he desires en masse, he visits the store each day to exchange videos to maintain the illusion that he is only renting.

17. The titles of online articles that discuss Legend’s advertising encapsulate its hypercommercial subtext: “I Am Legendary Product Placement,” “I Am Legend; Ford is Legend,” “GT500 Stars in I Am Legend.”

18. For examples of Children’s ironic “anamorphic advertising,” see the YouTube video, “Children of Men: Advertising From The Future” at:
<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VnIrXmdYhY>.

19. “Not so long ago, disasters were periods of social leveling, rare moments when atomized communities put divisions aside and pulled together. Today they are moments when we are hurled further apart, when we lurch into a radically segregated future where some of us will fall off the map and others ascend to a parallel privatized state, one equipped with well-paved highways and skyways, safe bridges, boutique charter schools, fast-lane airport terminals, and deluxe subways” (Klein 2007c: 50). [return to page 3 of essay]

20. In one draft of the script available online, Mark Protosevich’s description of Neville’s “turn-of-the-century house” unwittingly demonstrates the “class warfare” aspect of gated green zones. Although the house looks normal from without, “normal it is not”: “Every window and door has been bricked and cemented shut....security cameras jut out at odd angles, pointing at every corner of the surrounding landscape.” In addition, two fences constructed of wood beams, telephone poles, metal sheets, iron staffs, sharp wooden spikes, and barbed and razor wire outline the perimeter. A crude, three foot deep moat adds a royal touch. The full description can be found at
http://www.horrorlair.com/scripts/legend.txt.

22. Nick Turse uses the term “military-industrial-entertainment complex.” See Turse, Nick (2008) The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives. New York: Metropolitan Books.

23. See Branston, Gill (2007) “The Planet at the End of the World: ‘Event’ Cinema and the Representability of Climate Change.” New Review of Film and Television Studies. 5:2, 211-229.

24. Maurice Yacowar provided the first formalist taxonomy of the disaster genre. See Yacowar, Maurice (1986) “The Bug in the Rug: Notes on the Disaster Genre.” Film Genre Reader. ed. Grant, Barry Keith. Austin: University of Texas, 217-235. Yacowar’s study lists eight basic types of disaster films: natural attack, the ship of fools, the city fails, the monster, survival, war, historical, and the comic. Although Children and Legend borrow elements from some of these genres, neither film could be classifed as one of these types. However, as responses to the contemporary political constellation, they reflect one of the conventions Yacowar highlights: “Often the disasters have a contemporary significance” (Yacowar 2001: 231). For a more recent study of the disaster genre, see Keane, Stephen (2001) Disaster Movies: The Cinema of Catastrophe. London: Wallflower.

25. It bears mentioning here that Children’s foreground story carefully draws a line between terroristic resistance and “something else.” That "something else" may entail a recognition of the mutual problem of neoliberal capitalism, an acknowledgment of political stakes, the willingness to die for an indeterminate cause, leftist politics. At the very least, Children argues for a purely formal gesture of united resistance, something in the vein of Jameson’s cautious call for “anti-anti-utopianism.” Children poses the question: Can terrorism ever be an effective form of resistance, or does it always devolve into hysterical provocation where the terrorists get caught up in a zero-sum “war game” of mutual destruction with the state they oppose? The fine line is best represented by the difference between Julian, whose true allegiance as a “mirror” is to the clandestine Human Project, and the rest of the Fishes, whose prime motive — from its idealistic to ignorantly dangerous ranks — is the suicidal Uprising.

References

Buchanan, Ian (2006) Fredric Jameson: Live Theory. London: Continuum.

Busack, Richard von (2007) “Making the Future: An interview with Alfonso Cuarón.” Metroactive. 22 April 2007.
<http://www.metroactive.com/metro/
01.10.07/alfonso-cuaron-0702.html
>.

Cuarón, Alfonso. Dir. Children of Men. Perf. Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and Claire-Hope Ashitey. 2006. DVD. Universal, 2007.

Harvey, David (2005) A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford.

“Interview: Alfonso Cuarón” (2006) Moviehole.net. 22 May 2008. <http://www.moviehole.net/interviews/
20061021_interview_alfonso_cuaron.html
.>.

Jameson, Fredric (1988) “Metacommentary.” The Ideologies of Theory Volume I: Situations of Theory. Minneapolis: Minnesota, 3-16.

Klein, Naomi (2007a) “The Shock Doctrine Short Film.” 16 Jan. 2008
<http://www.naomiklein.org/
shock-doctrine/short-film
>.

Klein, Naomi (2007b) The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Metropolitan.

Klein, Naomi (2007c) “Disaster Capitalism: The New Economy of Catastrophe.” Harper’s. October: 47-58.

Klein, Naomi (2007d) Alternet.com. 22 Mar. 2009
<http://www.alternet.org/blogs/video/62129/the
_cia's_love_affair_with_shock_therapy_%5Bvideo%5D
/
>

Lawrence, Francis. Dir. I Am Legend. Perf. Will Smith, Salli Richardson, and Alice Braga. 2007.

Marx, Karl (2000) “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.” Karl Marx: Selected Writings. 2nd Ed. Ed. David McLellan. Oxford: Oxford.

McCarthy, Erin (2007) “I Am Legend’s Junk Science: Hollywood Sci-Fi vs. Reality.” Popular Mechanics. 27 May 2008.
<http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/
worst_case_scenarios/4236920.html?page=1
>.

Mondello, Bob (2007) “I Am Legend a One-Man American Metaphor.” All Things Considered. NPR. 3 June 2008.
<http://www.npr.org/templates/
story/story.php?storyId=17260869
>.

Ramer, Holly (2008) “McCain: ‘I Am Legend.’” USA Today. 21 Dec. 2008.
<http://www.usatoday.com/news/
politics/2007-12-28-2824987828_x.htm
>.

Sauer, Abram (2007) “Brandchannel’s 2006 Product Placement Awards.” brandchannel.com. 12 June 2008.
<http://www.brandchannel.com/
start1.asp?fa_id=355
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Žižek, Slavoj (2006a) “Children of Men: Comments by Slavoj Žižek.” <http://www.childrenofmen.net/>.

Žižek, Slavoj (2002) “The Interpassive Subject. The Symptom. 3, Autumn. 27 Jan. 2008.
<http://www.lacan.com/interpassf.htm>.

Žižek, Slavoj (2006b) How to Read Lacan. New York: W.W. Norton.

Žižek, Slavoj (2006c) “The Clash of Civilizations at the End of History.” 16 Jan. 2008
<http://www.childrenofmen.net/slavoj.html>.

Žižek, Slavoj (2007) “Deleuze and the Lacanian Real.” 17 Jan. 2008 <http://www.lacan.com/zizrealac.htm>.


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Further evidence that butterflies signify the divine providence of fundamentalist “knowledge” (and the incorporation of a premodern teleology within the modern world) can be found in Francis Lawrence’s most recent project, the television series Kings on NBC, which imagines the contemporary United States as a monarchial society called Gilboa. A butterfly on the kingdom’s orange flag symbolizes God’s supposed anointment of King Silas (Ian McShane). In Silas’ story, which he repeats verbatim, a swarm of Monarch butterflies landed on his head in the shape of a “living crown” to signal his divine right to rule. We do not know if this moment actually occurred or if it is a myth meant to keep the people enthralled to their leader, until we witness the butterflies crowning a young soldier named David Shepherd (Chris Egan). Their presence indicates the real existence of a metaphysical realm that guides the events of the world in a predetermined fashion—the exact same role that butterflies play in Legend. (No wonder Kings retells the Old Testament story of Kind David’s ascension.) That Lawrence uses butterflies in Kings as he did in Legend cannot be a coincidence.