Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” is a movie that insists upon a moral framework but refuses to provide one. It is generally a movie about framing, about how we see and what we look at. The camera is incredibly motionless, emphasizing the fact that just because something is imperceptible, that something is outside the immediate frame, it is still a part of the cinematic universe. There’s much that we can’t see in this movie. Sometimes we hear it and imply the actions, and other times we don’t have anything beyond a fragmented understanding of what’s just taken place.

Accidents, horrifying events, torture all take place in this small town, but we have no real way of explaining things. In fact, we often don’t know what has occurred. A man hangs. Suicide? Murder? No explanation. A fire. Arson? Accident? The movie refuses to tell us even what mystery we’re dealing with, let alone whether or not we should look and ask questions of culpability–this despite the fact that it’s structured like a classic detective story with one character trying to explain everything that’s been going on.  It all remains a mystery. And, if so, we need to be playful with our reading of mystery itself.

The idea of a “mystery”cult, or even the Christian mystery, is that once you’ve been exposed to the mystery, the mystic aspect, everything becomes clear. Haneke leaves us on the outside. Without knowing the mystery, the events remain not only obscure but insoluble.  We can only guess since we don’t even know the hermeneutic frame. The film’s narrator suggests the Holocaust, but that appears to be a gambit: it offers one inexplicable tragedy as a solution for another. The question, again, is one of framing: how do we even start looking at these problems if we don’t know what mystery governs, ties every(some)thing in place? Read the rest of this entry »

Two recent neologisms led me to this week’s topic: disappointment. The first is “nuke the fridge,” a film calque of “jump the shark.” In a brilliant post on the phrase, Kottke discusses its hyper-absorption by the blogerati and the ensuing backlash. Or: his (hers? its? their?) backlash of one. And so, the post ends with these thoughts:

Memes seem to be spreading so rapidly now on the web that they burn out before they can properly establish themselves. It’ll be interesting to see if nuke the fridge makes it through this ultra-virulent phase and somehow slows down enough to jump to casual mainstream usage. (more)

The second neologism comes from A.O. Scott’s review of “The Love Guru.” In explaining just how bad the movie is, Scott argues that the it is not enough to simply say the movie is not funny. “No, “The Love Guru” is downright antifunny, an experience that makes you wonder if you will ever laugh again.” (link) It’s this type of insight that makes Scott’s reviews must read even if he doesn’t always have the most discerning eye.

The fact that someone decided to create an unnecessary film version of “jump the shark” attests to the seriousness we attach to being letdown by so-called “low” culture. Someone was so disappointed by “Indiana Jones” that they needed to create a whole new idiom for it, despite the fact that “jump the shark” is already used attributively (as in its main urban dictionary definition); it’s really only a matter of time before the word becomes acceptable in academic discourse, and/or used to describe a once-great bartender who can now scarcely muddle a julep. Likewise, Scott needed a new term for his review. “Funny” is a subjective category; saying you don’t find something funny is almost a challenge to the next person to find it funny. “Antifunny” looks to be an inherent quality, something that Michael Haneke might go for were he to direct a comedy. In my opinion, the word is so useful, that I’ve decided to do my part in ultra-virulently spreading the meme.

Antifunny also takes the movie out of the realm of disappointment. Disappointments, are often reevaluated, given a new lease on life (this yahoo answers thread has a nice list). Works can be ahead of their time, or released a little too late. While both De La Soul’s “3 Feet High and Rising” and the Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique” are considered classics, De La’s album came out a few months earlier, and “Paul’s Boutique” was forever endowed with a silver medal. [A wrote a way-too-long post about this about a year and a half ago.

In short, disappointments are a temporal matter and can really only be determined after the fact.

For example, is it “disappointing” that Big Brown didn’t win the Triple Crown? Sure, but history may not really think so. If his Belmont is any indication, Big Brown might just go down as the worst Derby-Preakness winner of all-time. What is really disappointing, and only so in retrospect, is the fact that Point Given didn’t win the Kentucky Derby. At the time, losing the derby upsets people close to the horse, fans, and gamblers. But looking back at years later, Point Given’s loss is devastating, a supreme disappointment. Not only did he win the second two legs of the triple crown, he went on to win both the Haskell and the Travers, becoming the only horse to win 4 million dollar races in a row. Point Given was a super-horse whose lone bad race happened to be the Kentucky Derby. Or the election of 2000. In 2000 it was a little disappointing but in hindsight, truly devastating.

To that end I propose some neologisms of my own. Maybe we need to have “antipointments,” things so bad that not only do they disappoint, they never have a chance of appointing us. Or the German-sounding “distranspointments”, things that only reveal themselves to be disappointing with or over time. I’m as open to ideas as the next person. Just don’t disappoint me.