Dear Friends of Counter-Currents,
There is a lot of good news from Counter-Currents for December.
1. Our Readership and Web Traffic
In terms of web traffic, December was a very good month. November was our best month ever, buoyed by post-election discussion, especially Gregory Hood’s viral article “A White Nationalist Memo to White Male Republicans ,” which was read 21,602 times on our site alone and widely reprinted on the web. But even without such a viral article — and despite Christmas, which does depress traffic — in December we had 109,265 unique visitors (down from 110,851 in November). Our other December statistics were very close to November’s too.
|Month||Unique Visitors||Number of Visits||Pages Viewed||“Hits”||Bandwidth|
|June 2010||6,145||10,328||70,732||200,824||6.08 GB|
|July 2010||9,387||17,329||119,254||348,172||10.01 GB|
|August 2010||12,174||22,348||93,379||333,614||10.17 GB|
|September 2010||17,063||34,510||147,051||580,550||16.39 GB|
|October 2010||17,848||35,921||140,365||611,367||17.93 GB|
|November 2010||26,054||48,336||171,833||915,553||26.39 GB|
|December 2010||26,161||50,975||192,905||1,101,829||27.79 GB|
|January 2011||28,583||60,005||198,249||1,736,067||34.06 GB|
|February 2011||29,737||61,519||213,121||2,081,558||40.13 GB|
|March 2011||29,768||62,077||220,053||2,485,001||52.21 GB|
|April 2011||20,091||58,037||223,291||2,729,449||54.65 GB|
|May 2011||36,596||78,103||274,841||1,334,472||47.59 GB|
|June 2011||28,629||57,920||264,928||1,004,128||22.78 GB|
|July 2011||30,186||66,093||416,309||1,952,047||71.23 GB|
|August 2011||40,002||81,012||502,282||2,083,593||53.18 GB|
|September 2011||45,427||88,782||422,902||481,909||11.67 GB|
|October 2011||45,590||90,444||337,137||468,197||17.78 GB|
|November 2011||44,445||88,824||330,664||339,521||14.22 GB|
|December 2011||49,845||97,223||337,881||344,210||13.65 GB|
|January 2012||56,633||107,644||408,373||433,736||21.38 GB|
|February 2012||53,345||99,607||376,288||411,915||14.43 GB|
|March 2012||55,572||106,029||441,170||475,719||16.36 GB|
|April 2012||56,772||110,029||421,446||428,678||16.08 GB|
|May 2012||56,323||111,533||400,243||404,483||15.70 GB|
|June 2012||55,112||110,246||400,141||404,162||13.66 GB|
|July 2012||52,304||108,340||367,589||373,470||12.52 GB|
|August 2012||41,616||96,314||305,729||329,353||12.23 GB|
|September 2012||66,719||132,503||455,938||493,856||17.73 GB|
|October 2012||81,739||157,152||410,096||416,362||16.36 GB|
|November 2012||110,851||241,552||1,044,628||1,214,237||47.95 GB|
|December 2012||109,265||224,793||926,117||1,143,248||37.53 GB|
2. Our Webzine
In December, we added 66 posts to the website, for a total of 2,297 posts since going online on June 11, 2010. We also added over 500 new comments.
3. December’s Top 20 Articles (with date of publication and number of reads)
1. Trevor Lynch, Review of Pulp Fiction , June 29, 2011: 9,137
2. Dominique Venner, “Christmas: Beauty in Life ,” December 20, 2012: 5,100
3. Gregory Hood, Review of Scarface , February 27, 2011: 4,794
4. Gregory Hood and Luke Gordon, “Dark Right Rising: Christopher Nolan as Fascist Filmmaker ,” December 7, 2012: 4,302
5. Gregory Hood, “Can You Drop Out? ,” December 4, 2012: 4,134
6. Greg Johnson, “Introduction to Aristotle’s Politics ,” Parts 1 & 2, June 21, 2012: 4,015
7. Irmin Vinson, “Some Thoughts on Hitler ,” April 20, 2011: 3,820
8. Jonathan Bowden, “Frank Frazetta: The New Arno Breker ,” November 19, 2010: 3,462
9. Gregory Hood, “The Solution is State Power ,” December 24, 2012: 3,256
10. Gregory Hood, “A White Nationalist Memo to White Male Republicans ,” November 9, 2012: 3,225
11. Dan Michaels, “Exposing Stalin’s Plan to Conquer Europe ,” April 21, 2011: 3,134
12. Jack Donovan,”First World Values or Tribal Values?: On Jax, Tara, and the Sons of Anarchy ,” December 25, 2012: 3,067
13. Greg Johnson, “Metapolitics and Occult Warfare ,” Part 1, December 10, 2012: 2,832
14. Alex Kurtagić, “Why All that Theory? ,” December 6, 2012: 2,815
15. Gregory Hood, Review of Red Dawn (1984) , December 13, 2012: 2,795
16. Trevor Lynch, Review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey , December 15, 2012: 2,662
17. Kerry Bolton, “The New Inquisitors: Heretical Scientists Purged from Academia ,” December 3, 2012: 2,490
18. Matt Parrott, “The Old Order vs. the New Right ,” December 28, 2012: 2,223
19. Trevor Lynch, Review of The Dark Knight , September 27, 2010: 2,139
20. Greg Johnson, “Metapolitics and Occult Warfare ,” Part 4, December 12, 2012: 2,107
Special congratulations are due Gregory Hood, who had 5 of the top 10 articles (and a 6th in the top 20).
December’s top articles are a blend of metapolitics (Aristotle, Traditionalism, etc.), political commentary, history (Stalin’s plans to conquer Europe, Hitler), and popular culture (Scarface, Pulp Fiction, Christopher Nolan, Frank Frazetta, The Dark Knight, Red Dawn, The Hobbit, Sons of Anarchy). Thirteen of our top 20 articles were published in December or November, and the rest were older articles that people are finding through web searches.
4. Where Our Readers Are: The Top 20 Countries
Our web statistics program gives us a country-by-country breakdown of our readership. Here are the top 20 countries:
1. United States
2. Great Britain
10. Czech Republic
5. Where Our Readers Are: The Top 20 Cities
1. New York City
3. San Francisco
9. Washington, D.C.
10. Los Angeles
19. Vancouver, B.C.
Eight of our top 20 cities are in the United States. Four are on the West Coast of North America: San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Vancouver, B.C. Two are in Australia: Melbourne and Sydney. Two are in Canada: Toronto and Vancouver. Nine are national capitals: London, Berlin, Stockholm, Athens, Washington, D.C., Dublin, Zagreb, Budapest, and Paris.
6. Upcoming Book Projects
In January, we are working to get three books to the printers: Savitri Devi’s And Time Rolls On, Trevor Lynch’s White Nationalist Guide to the Movies (with a Foreword by Kevin MacDonald), and Juleigh Howard-Hobson’s “I do not belong to the Baader-Meinhof group” and Other Poems.
The other titles listed below are in rough chronological order:
18. Savitri Devi, The Lightning and the Sun (February)
19. Greg Johnson, New Right vs. Old Right and Other Essays (February)
20. Savitri Devi, Pilgrimage
21. William Joyce, Twilight Over England, with an Introduction by Greg Johnson
22. Francis Parker Yockey, The World in Flames and Other Essays, ed. Kerry Bolton
23. Saint-Loup, Hitler or Judah? A Second Nuremberg Tribunal
24. Derek Hawthorne, Above the Clouds: Arnold Fanck, Leni Riefenstahl, and the Metaphysics of Sex (on the German mountain films)
25. Collin Cleary, L’appel aux dieux (French translation of Summoning the Gods)
Other longer term projects include Anthony M. Ludovici’s Confessions of an Anti-Feminist: The Autobiography of Anthony M. Ludovici, ed. John V. Day, Julius Evola’s East and West: Essays in Comparative Philosophy, a new edition of Brooks Adams’ The Law of Civilization and Decay with an Introduction by Greg Johnson, and a collection of Alain de Benoist’s essays on Ernst Jünger.
* * *
Once again, I want to thank our writers, donors, and proofreaders; our webmaster/Managing Editor; and above all, you, our readers, for making Counter-Currents possible.
Counter-Currents Publishing Ltd.
& North American New Right
The remake  of Red Dawn also reflects its times, in its own way. It is a perfect action movie for the age of Obama. Pointless, loud, confusing, and filled with politically correct pseudo-patriotism, it’s a disposable trinket that bored drunks will be picking up from the Redbox outside the 7-11 in a few months. Chris Hemsworth of Thorfame plays Jed Eckert, but he’s probably thanking the Aesir that this film was delayed until after his career was secured.
While the characters have the same names, the overall backgrounds have dramatically changed. Jed Eckert is not the former high school quarterback from small town USA, but a tattooed United States Marine. In fact, he’s not just a Marine, but a combat veteran of the Iraq War who (it’s implied) has both killed and seen comrades die. He’s even still on active duty, simply stopping home while on leave. Rather than reluctantly taking up arms or even doing his patriotic duty, it could be argued that neo-Jed is simply doing his job. Instead of reacting with stunned disbelief or fear when paratroopers come sailing into the town, Jed reacts with instincts honed by training and combat.
Josh Peck’s Matt Eckert is no longer his brother’s faithful second, but a brooding wannabe rebel who is filled with adolescent longing for his girlfriend Erica (Isabel Lucas ). He resents his brother for joining the Marine Corps and going off to war rather than staying at home to help the family after their mother died. This actually creates a sense of tension between the two brothers that the original mostly lacked.
The first Red Dawn set the tone with a history professor ruminating on the brutality of Genghis Khan to a quiet classroom. The remake gives us a high school football game out of Varsity Blues. Instead of a mediation on war, identity, and death, we’re going to root for the home team. Go Wolverines!
While the opening invasion scene is superior technically to the original, it has been almost 30 years, and it’s supposed to be. Still, there’s something lost – instead of a sense of ominous dread followed by sudden horror, here we have explosions and silly car chases right off the bat. Jed rescues a number of people from the town (most of whom are rather disposable). After encountering his father (here, the sheriff) he takes them to his family’s second home in the woods while his father does the best he can back in the town. As Jed drives away, we see the townspeople running helplessly to the local authority figure for help. Once they arrive to safety, Jed quickly establishes himself as the alpha of the group after putting down an absurd challenge from an effeminate kid named “Pete,” as if anyone is going to argue with the older Marine in a war situation and who owns the house besides. Among those rescued is the new version of Daryl Jenkins (played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s adopted nonwhite son Connor ). In the age of Obama, the mayor is black.
Soon enough, Pete abandons the group and steals food and supplies. He’s apparently captured and leads enemy forces to the cabin. The group hides in the woods as an enemy soldier puts a gun to the head of the mayor, who tells the group to surrender through a megaphone. Then Jed and Matt’s father takes the megaphone and essentially orders them to fight and slaughter the invaders, screaming “kill this piece of s**t.” He’s predictably shot and killed. Jed resolves to follow his father’s command, and begins training the group into a force that can take the fight to the enemy. The battle begins, and the enemy doesn’t know what hit them.
While the overall pattern is true to the beginning of the film, we already see a drastic departure that changes the whole ideological thrust of the movie. Jed isn’t a reluctant guerrilla trained in the ways of the woods – he’s a professional soldier (no offense to any Marines objecting to being called “soldiers”). Rather than the spirited amateurs of the original (who ask questions like, “What’s a flank? ”), Jed creates a little platoon of mini-Marines by running the group through a quick version of Infantry School. Papa Eckert isn’t a paranoid survivalist trapped in a concentration camp – he’s a lawman, also trying to do his job. This isn’t a folk uprising against occupiers – government employees are the heroes. We’re not in rural Colorado – we’re in Spokane, Washington. No sons of the soil here – only kids who have fired guns on their Xbox. As one Wolverine puts it, “Dude, we’re living Call of Duty – and it sucks!”
And who are they fighting? At this point, most people know that the film was originally supposed to feature a Chinese invasion of the United States, perhaps with Russian help. Incredibly, even after the movie was finished, someone (not the Chinese) decided that the Chinese would be offended by this film and changed it so that the enemy is North Korea . Of course, as even this movie has to acknowledge the absurdity of North Korea invading the United States (or invading South Korea for that matter, or giving its people 2,000 calories a day, for that matter), the Communists have help. As we all know, it’s going to be an enemy that no one cares about offending. South Africa has long since vanished so let’s all say it together: the hand behind the curtain belongs to “Russian Ultra-Nationalists.” Rather than even the clumsy humanizing of the first film, the North Koreans and Russians are completely faceless and without personality. They exist to be mowed down.
The sad part is that somewhere in this mess is a film that could have been timely. The marketing  for the film used faux propaganda posters  from the Chinese occupation with messages like “Repairing Your Economy” and “Defeating Your Enemy” with a hand smashing the Capitol. In a time of economic stagnation, spiritual malaise, and popular anger against the government, the film could have addressed questions of national decline and the fraying bonds between people and government. The occupiers use anti-Wall Street rhetoric to try to win support and there’s a huge opening for something to be said about how the nation is distinct from the banks and the corporations. All of this is simply dropped on the ground, background for the video game we are watching.
The film does suggest a link between the invading North Koreans and the occupying American legions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Jed, a veteran of those occupations, notes that when he was in Iraq, they tried to bring order and essential services to the people. Here, they will be the “bad guys” and create “chaos.” The North Koreans hold a rally and claim they can restore essential services only after the people help them to stop the violence. The Wolverines bomb it. The character Pete from the beginning goes so far as to become a uniformed collaborator and is killed for it. Jed accepts it, commenting that collaborators were inevitable. Still, it seems like the movie held back its punch, never quite drawing the parallel. While Jed comments that to the North Koreans, Spokane is “just a place,” there’s not a sense of the righteous rage that drove the original Wolverines. After all, this seems like a state vs. state conflict, and we’re just pulling for the home team.
Conflict within the group erupts when Matt jeopardizes a mission in order to save his girlfriend from a North Korean prison. As a result, one of the team’s minority members are killed. Thus, the minorities serve to awaken the conflict between the white protagonists. Here, it is the conflict between love and duty. Of course, Matt eventually chooses duty and subordination to Jed – easy enough, as his girlfriend is now rescued. Incredibly, everyone simply moves on from this.
The thin explanation the film offers as to how North Korea invaded the United States is an EMP super-weapon that knocked out the entire American military. The North Koreans are able to maintain their own communications because of a separate system seemingly contained within a super-laptop. Thus, like so many other military movies  from Battle: Los Angeles to Independence Day to Starship Troopers, our heroes must seize part of the super-advanced enemy technology and enable a larger counter-offensive. It’s not a guerrilla campaign – it’s an action movie cliché. To complete the sense of “seen it before,” Hollywood’s favorite military heroes show up out of the blue – the United States Marine Corps.
The Wolverines in the original never lost sight of their place in the larger struggle – shattered American tanks, whirling dogfights, and the occasional American helicopter showed the U.S. Military was still out there and fighting hard. Here, there’s apparently nothing for most of the movie until the usual pattern of modern military movies manifests. A three person team of Marines (which already doesn’t make sense, as the USMC is not noted for its small elite detachments) arrives to link up with the Wolverines. Instead of a grizzled pilot finding himself unexpectedly with kiddie soldiers, we have Jed and the re-imagined Sgt. Major Andrew Tanner (Watchmen’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan) – both Marines – working together as naturally as they were at Camp Lejeune.
Not surprisingly, the United States Marine Corps does what it does best – conquer Hollywood, massively promote its public image, and turn a movie into a recruitment commercial for at least 20 minutes. Thus, the audience is treated to USMC slang like “mo-tard” and hoary chestnuts like the “deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.” If the Army and the Navy ever gaze on movie screens, they’ll find all the scenes are stolen by United States Marines .
Jed is relatively restrained in his Marineness and for some reason doesn’t care to ask about his unit and, presumably, all of his friends. He does favor us with the slogan, “Marines don’t die, they just go to hell to regroup!” An apparent grunt at the back of the theater actually yelled “Oo-rah!” as the film slowly transformed into a farce. As they move to claim the super-laptop, Wolverines and jarheads alike sure-footedly clear a building like professional soldiers, rather than using the rag-tag tactics of Swayze’s guerillas. Like one of the neo-Wolverines mentioned earlier in the film, we’re watching people live out Call of Duty, while the previous film was more like the Battle of Algiers. Getting into the spirit as faceless enemies were slain, audience members cried “Amurrica!” triumphantly and giggled. Needless to say, the laptop is claimed, some people we don’t really care about are killed, Jed and Matt’s father is avenged, and the Devil Dogs fly home with the super-laptop in presumably the only helicopter the US military has left.
Amazingly, the Wolverines stay behind – and have a party, complete with clinking beers and the promise of sex for Matt and Jed with the two pretty white females. These are the worst guerillas anyone has ever seen. Unexpectedly, the movie throws a curve, as Jed is suddenly shot through the head and killed, and Matt brusquely takes charge, leading the remainder of the group to safety. It’s revealed that our “Daryl” once again has led enemy forces to the group, but this time it is only because he was unknowingly injected with a tracker by a Russian soldier. Rather than a traitor, he’s a victim of tragedy, as the group leaves him behind for certain death because he obviously can’t be brought along anymore. Even though his father the mayor is a collaborator, diversity Daryl is a hero.
In the end, we find a newly hardened Matt still behind enemy lines with the remnants of his group, including both pretty white girls (who, needless to say, survive without a scratch). Echoing his brother from earlier in the film, he is training whole new teams of guerillas. The film abruptly ends with the new partisan army storming one of the North Korean prison camps, waving the American flag. The audience looked confused, as if the movie had suddenly ended mid way. “What the hell just happened?” said one, in an apt five word review.
The film’s purpose, other than a quick buck, is to rework the Red Dawn mythos so it fits into modern America. Thus, the heroes are no longer plucky guerillas but Marines, cops, and those trained by them. They’re not fighting out of rage – they are fighting because they were told to. White guerillas emerging out of the woods are scary. Multiracial kids living out Call of Duty and pounding high fructose corn syrup are fun and sexy. There is no interpretation where this film can be said to be “anti-state ” or counter-cultural.
The North Korean occupation is, absurdly, far more humane than the Soviet one of the original, where huge groups of Americans were wiped out in retaliation. Here, faceless and motiveless North Koreans tromp around, but the reason for their invasion, the ideology behind it, and the horror of foreign occupation are all left in the background. Even the concentration camp seems less intimidating than that of the first film. This actually fits the ideology of modern America. As “American” can no longer be defined ethnically or even culturally, so must the enemy be rendered faceless and evil, but not so evil as to be offensive unless the bad guys are racists. All we have left are zombies, Nazis, aliens, white South Africans, some combination thereof, and, of course, North Koreans and Russian “ultra-nationalists” who are probably racist.
The film is also properly diversified up . Hispanics and Negroes populate the Wolverines and a black woman heroically aids the group from inside the city. The film’s “Toni” pines after Jed and is supposed to be a “tough girl” but it’s unclear why. Erica looks pretty and exists to be saved by Matt. Both magically transform into brilliant warriors, but lack the vulnerability of the two female Wolverines in the original, who suffered rape and sexual abuse at the hands of the Soviets. Instead of striking back out of hatred and revenge, our grrrl power neo-Wolverines are doing it to prove they are just as tough and cool as the men .
The non-white Wolverines are treated rather contemptuously: set pieces who exist to be killed and fuel the motivations of the white characters. None of them even show up on the movie poster . An interesting possibility is introduced when the Marines show up and one is Asian. He obviously knows Korean, as he uses his linguistic skills to create chaos over the enemy radio lines. However, there’s no question of divided loyalties. I expected a scene where a white American (probably with a Southern accent) would yell about all Asian-Americans being traitors, but none was forthcoming.
The only uniformed collaborator we get to know is blonde-haired Pete (who is killed in satisfying fashion ), and the black mayor is obviously collaborating reluctantly. If the Chinese had stayed the enemy the question of ethnic loyalties could have been introduced, but it doesn’t exactly work that way with the nonexistent North Korean diaspora. In this film’s world, the only colors that matter are red, white, and blue. Needless to say, the contemporary American conservative movement loves the movie . The Beltway Right fantasy of various minorities joining together proudly under the Stars and Stripes (and the leadership of whites) exists on screen here, but nowhere in the real world.
What, after all, is this America of government-sponsored family breakups, junk culture, and ethnic chaos that the neo-Wolverines are fighting to defend? At one point in the film, the Wolverines crash into a building to hide from North Koreans in hot pursuit. They turn to find they are in a crowded Subway restaurant with people staring at them. Thinking quickly, one partisan leaps to the counter and roars “Sandwich artist! Fill this s**t with bread!” while another quickly dumps soda into a bucket. They run back to the base with the processed food and the Wolverines feast.
The audience roared with laughter (and it was funny), but there is a troubling message. Consumerism, corporatism, and product placement, are, after all, what America is, although given the alternative of North Korea, McWorld seems like paradise. A Big Mac may taste like heaven after weeks of MREs, but when that’s the defining core of your society, you have a problem. In a scene where the Wolverines are talk about what they miss most, it’s all material possessions – except for Matt, who misses his girlfriend.
It’s worth noting that although Milius is not necessarily opposed to hating on North Korea (he wrote the story for the video game Homefront ), he condemned the remake as unnecessary and went so far he would like to see a Red Dawn “about Mexico.” While using the same character names and general pattern, the remake systematically and deliberately cheapens the original film’s thematic power. If anything, Homefront has less of a simplistic video game plot than Red Dawn 2012. Significantly, the scene where Robert drinks the deer blood has been turned into a joke rather than a solemn rite of initiation. We’re not watching boys turn into men or young adults accepting the responsibility of warriors. We’re watching multiracial pinups act out the contemporary American governing ideology – multiracial diversity united under a corporate culture waving the American flag.
Of course, it didn’t do any good. Liberal reporters shrieked that the movie was propaganda for the “Tea Party.”  Other progressives sneered that it had inspired racism  – not against Russians of course, who should all be killed, but against Asians . Regardless of how diversified, statist, and bland the film was designed to be, the Left can never approve of Americans celebrating martial pride or even PC patriotism. The Stars and Stripes, the Corps, and even the idea of fighting for your country are all too associated with fascist whites and remnants of Tradition in the eyes of the Left.
Nonetheless, it won’t stop. The core symbols of the American past are slowly being redefined to fit the post-American present. The vessels stay the same, but the content is changed. Thus the military is redefined as egalitarian, in the American pantheon Thomas Jefferson is replaced by Martin Luther King, and the consensus around historical figures and periods like Abraham Lincoln and Reconstruction is reinterpreted.
Part of this process involves remaking successful pop culture franchises from the past, from Conan the Barbarian to The Karate Kid. While the remakes usually bomb, they accomplish the purpose of stripping anti-egalitarian themes from the past and ensuring the face of pop culture is never white. Thus, the original Red Dawn, a genuinely subversive movie, is transformed into a pro-government multicultural celebration of the new America. Leftists still think it’s too much, conservatives rush to support it, and the process continues. In the real world we live in, these new multicultural soldiers aren’t guerillas – they’re the occupiers, the paid servants of the cultural elite. The message of resistance lies in the original Red Dawn, the story of a folk uprising and a revolution from the periphery which uses Traditionalism couched within popular American symbols.
Our real Wolverines have to overthrow our parasitic rulers for many reasons, but perhaps the most important is simply – “because we live here.” After all, “We’re all going to die – die standing up!”
Successful action films come twice – the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Red Dawn is a classic of the Cold War, a near perfect encapsulation of the unique psyche of Conservativus Americanus during the long twilight struggle against Soviet Communism. Perhaps despite itself, it also contains Traditionalist themes that make it a true classic of the authentic Right.
The unfortunate new remake is in its own way a classic, a ludicrous example of the cultural establishment’s need to remake and redefine every aspect of the American past to fit the diversity-dominated American present. Whereas the first Red Dawn is genuinely subversive, the remake actually serves to buttress the system, a piece of patriotic propaganda for the post-patriotic, post-American Age of Obama.
Director John Milius is one of those Hollywood Right wingers who somehow snuck in and was allowed productive work over a long and fruitful career. A double rarity as a conservative filmmaker and a politically conservative Jew, Milius was rejected for service in the United States Marine Corps because of health problems. He compensated by creating a remarkable body of work that celebrates military values, patriotism, masculinity, and violence for a just cause. From writing the screenplay for Dirty Harry to creating the HBO series Rome, Milius’s long career has been surprisingly consistent and successful, especially his considering his frequent celebration of themes wildly opposed to the liberal intelligentsia. This is even more amazing considering Milius’s long history with legendary progressive filmmakers, including George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. He’s also responsible for creating some of the most memorable dialogue in film history from “Make my day” to “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
Nor does Milius’s reputation appear to be some kind of departure for the sake of art or use of irony. Milius once defended Arnold Schwarzenegger against Nazi accusations by boasting that he was the real Nazi . While we can doubt his commitment to National Socialism, Milius’s public and private pronouncements confirm he’s an old fashioned Jacksonian American nationalist, simultaneously despising effete liberals and corrupt “Wall Street Pigs .” While his career continues (although his health is failing), it’s hard not to think of John Milius as an ’80’s original, because like the culture of that decade, there is no irony in Milius’s filmography. He means it all.
Thus, Milius’s Red Dawn is not some kind of silly satire about American militarism or clichéd masculinity, but a deadly serious story about American teenagers resisting Soviet tyranny. Milius both at the time and later claimed  that the story was inspired by the mujahedin’s struggle against the Red Army’s invasion of Afghanistan. Of course, this explanation doesn’t exactly age well but is forgivable in the era of Rambo III  when Charlie Wilson’s War wasn’t a movie. Both at the time and of course today, Milius’s fantasy fulfillment about mowing down the Reds made liberals deeply uncomfortable, and the film was called “propaganda” and “paranoid” then and “fascist ” and “hateful ” now.
Red Dawn (1984)
Despite all that, the film actually has quite a bit going on besides wasting Reds, and deserves a place not just as a period piece of America’s Reagan-era Indian Summer, but as a Traditionalist film in its own right.
The film begins after Matt Eckert (Charlie Sheen) and his friends are dropped off at high school by his older brother Jed (Patrick Swayze), with the sad tale of the scoreboard showing the Wolverines’ athletic defeat in the background. The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, the Wolverines were made on the high school football field of (fictional) Calumet , Colorado. Jed’s condescending attitude towards his brother sets the stage – the alpha male of athletics will become the alpha of the partisan band. Unlike a million teen movies condemning the complicated hierarchies of high school, Milius’s tale accepts it and even celebrates it.
At school, the teacher, seemingly the only black guy in the state, is lecturing on the wholesale desolation created by Genghis Khan (possibly the subject of another upcoming Milius film), in a nice piece of foreshadowing. Subtly, quietly, the iconic parachutes lazily glide into the schoolyard. All hell immediately breaks loose  upon landing.
Just like in horror movies, the black guy dies first, gunned down by a Soviet paratrooper. The Red Army proceeds to use its RPGs on critical military targets, like school buses, random hallways, and empty cars. Machine guns mow down unarmed students, and the viewer begins to question the sophistication of Soviet tactical doctrine. This is the one part of the movie that can justifiably be regarded as, well, batshit insane, although the Red Army’s treatment of civilians  during their march through Nazi Germany suggests it might not be that crazy.
Jed drives his truck through the chaos, picking up his brother and their friends Arturo (the film’s nod to diversity), the mayor’s son and student class president Daryl, Robert (C. Thomas Howell), and young Danny. Arturo’s father is captured and yells to his son in Spanish but there is nothing they can do to save him. Driving to Robert’s father’s store, they take guns, supplies (including a football for some reason), and food, and make for the woods. An American helicopter strafes a Soviet checkpoint so the teens can escape, showing that U.S. military is still in the fight. Nonetheless, Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Soviet forces consolidate their hold on the town and begin occupation, under the command of the Cuban Colonel Bella.
The small group hunts for food and remains in the woods until they run out of supplies Reluctantly entering the town, they find that the KGB is looking for dissidents, that a concentration camp has been set up (with Jed and Matt’s dad an inmate), and that Robert’s father has been killed for providing the boys with supplies. Papa Eckert speaks to his sons briefly and screams the immortal line, “Avenge me! ” before being dragged off by prison guards. The group also picks up two new members, Toni (Jennifer Grey) and Erica (Lea Thompson), and it is strongly implied that Erica has been raped by Soviet troops.
Nonetheless, the Wolverines don’t become a military rebellion until sightseeing Soviet troops accidentally run into them in the woods. In self-defense, the Americans are forced to kill them with bows and arrows and hunting rifles. In retaliation, the Soviets force American civilians to dig graves for the Red Army troops before executing them. Defiantly, the doomed men sing a startlingly off-key  rendition of “America the Beautiful” before being gunned down by .50 caliber machine guns. Arturo’s and the Eckerts’ father are both murdered, as the boys look on in horror. Jed tells the weeping group to stop crying, and is joined by Robert, who is ready for vengeance. The guerrilla campaign is about to begin. All of this happens extremely quickly and is essentially a setup to develop several classical Right-wing themes.
At the top of the list is betrayal by the elites. When the group initially reaches the woods, Daryl immediately wants to surrender, absurdly using his school president position to try to pressure the group. While Jed is able to suppress this minor mutiny, it’s revealed that Daryl’s father, the mayor, is a collaborator. When asked to reveal the names of troublemakers, the mayor says that “it runs in some of the families” (i.e., the gun nuts, Right-wing paranoids, and militia types who had presumably been plaguing him). Laughing, the Colonel sarcastically says the people of the town enjoy good fortune in having such a shepherd like him.
When the townspeople are executed, the mayor is sickened, but he doesn’t actually do anything to resist. Milius suggests that in crisis (as in peacetime), the state and its (civilian) servants will be eager to turn on the nation. Even under foreign military occupation, the mayor thinks the real danger are those gun owning white workers and small businessmen with dangerous, anti-liberal ideas. The parallel with progressives quaking in their boots over some guys at a gun show but blithely unconcerned with open borders, foreign terrorists, or demographic conquest is obvious.
At the same time, there’s always been a strange tension between the military-worshiping, jingoistic instincts of the American Right and the simultaneous belief that our government is filled with traitors. Milius hammers away at some of the usual foreign policy tropes of the Reagan era conservative movement. The Eurosocialists, needless to say, turn their back on the United States, especially after the Greens take over the German government. NATO dissolves, and our allies refuse to help – “all except England, and they won’t last very long.” Ironically, the only strong American ally is China, though they’ve been culled by nuclear weapons. The Soviet invasion is enabled by Cubans and Nicaraguans “disguised as illegals” who infiltrate missile silos after sneaking across the Mexican border. The Soviet missiles “are a hell of a lot more accurate than we thought.” Just as American conservatives always suspected, foreign threats are understated, our allies are cowardly, and our militarily isn’t strong enough.
This belief among anti-government conservatives is strange because, after all, the military is simply the armed servants of the government. At the same time, the bond between the military and the nation is somehow stronger than the bond between the government and the nation. Milius is suggesting what many American conservatives believe: that the military “owns” and represents the nation more than the democratic politicians they serve. The nation belongs to those willing to die for it, not those who send out others to die on their behalf. It also serves as a reservoir of authentic national tradition, which is why liberals hate it. Even Stalin had to appeal to the heroes of Russian nationalism and re-open the Orthodox churches after military invasion.
Behind the governing ideology, behind the social contract, and behind the consent of the governed are the men with guns who more authentically represent the folk spirit of the nation. The Wolverines are an even more perfect representation because they aren’t actually a part of the government’s military. Although they work with a downed Air Force pilot and cheer American tanks, planes, and choppers as “ours,” the guerrillas are not accountable to anyone except themselves. Their sense of patriotism comes from their identity, not from their paycheck or loyalty to a government. Until they meet the pilot, they don’t even know if the government still exists. It’s for this reason that libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard called the movie more anti-state than anti-Communist. If anything, the Wolverines are a cinematic representation of a National Anarchist militia in action.
This distinction between state and nation is itself a key theme. Some liberal reviewers were outraged by this, suggesting that the guerrillas (and Milius) were simply motivated by the urge to kill, as “there’s not an America worth dying for” because the government officials were corrupt and treasonous. Such an interpretation is not surprising coming from people who think “the government is the one thing we all belong to.” Milius is suggesting that there is an America worth dying for, but it’s not the government, and certainly not the liberal elite. If anything, the government is opposed to the nation and would see no problem with collaboration if it means cracking down on the kinds of people they don’t like.
The tribal nature of patriotism is brought home by perhaps the most famous (or infamous) scene of the movie. Daryl disobeys Jed’s orders and sneaks into town where, true to form, his own father turns him in. Daryl is fitted with a bug (which he doesn’t mention to the group) and Soviet troops use it to attack the group. While the Wolverines swiftly dispatch them, the bug is discovered. Daryl and one surviving Soviet are to be executed, but Matt protests. “What’s the difference, Jed, huh? What’s the difference between us and them?” Jed responds, “Because we live here!” and executes the soldier. While he can’t bring himself to shoot Daryl, Robert calmly does it, and the group rides off.
“We live here” is in many ways a perfect expression of the motivations behind the true Right. To a liberal, there is no difference between an American guerrilla executing a captured soldier or a Soviet doing it. Both violate “human rights.” Of course, in the real world, there is a huge difference, because a person fighting for the concrete realities of his community and his friends can easily justify actions that he can’t explain on paper. Patriots don’t support their country because it’s the objective best any more than they love their family because all other families are objectively terrible. It’s because it’s theirs, and even though liberals can’t justify this philosophically, only an absolute monster violates such conduct in everyday life. Furthermore, the Americans in the film are fighting in defense of their own community, resisting a war of conquest started by someone else. As Saul Alinsky once said, the concern with means and ends varies in inverse proportion to direct involvement in the conflict.
This doesn’t mean that Milius celebrates savagery as purely a good thing. Despite the cartoonish image of the movie (and its unironic role as Cold War propaganda), Milius actually goes out of his way to discuss the brutality and ugly side of war. When Powers Boothe’s pilot Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Tanner watches the Wolverines ambush a Soviet column, he is ambivalent , rather than impressed. He mocks their military pretensions, saying “You think you’re tough for eating beans every day?” He alludes to the “siege of Denver” where people are eating the dead to survive. When he’s asked by one of the group if they’re doing right, he simply shakes his head and walks off resigned.
At the same, he’s hardly an enemy sympathizer. Watching an American jet fly over a Soviet column, he growls “Fry ’em” and sacrifices his own life to take out another Soviet tank. Milius notes that he based the throwaway reference to the “siege of Denver” on the real life siege of Leningrad. In the same way that Tanner explains the root cause of the conflict as, “two biggest kids on the block, sooner or later they’re going to fight,” Milius is suggesting that the world is naturally cruel, that conflict is the norm, and that only the dead have seen the end of war.
The movie makes several clumsy but sincere efforts towards humanizing the enemy. Colonel Bella, always on the side of the insurgents in the past, is disgusted to find himself “a policeman” repressing a hostile population. At the end of the film, he disgustedly writes to his wife that he’s done with the “revolution” and that he will resign and come home to her. He even lets Jed escape (though presumably to die in peace) rather than finishing him. Soviet soldiers play tourist, playfully mock each other, and ineptly try to translate American monuments and identify local animals . There’s the occasional closeup to show that the Soviet soldiers are painfully young – as young as the Wolverines who are butchering them. One begs Daryl to tell him his name before he’s executed, so he doesn’t die alone. Another cries to God for help as he is dying, and turns away when Jed places a pistol to his head, too young and scared to face the reality of death.
While there are several allusions to the glorious tradition of Red Army rape (including of Lea Thompson’s Erica), most of the Soviet soldiers efforts to get with American women come off as clumsy, bumbling, and oddly charming. One young Soviet solider outside a “Soviet-American Friendship Center” earnestly asks Toni, “Miss? Maybe I speak at you a minute?” before hopefully telling her he’ll wait for her to come back. Unfortunately for him, Toni has smuggled in a bomb.
None of this suggests that Milius is suggesting the Wolverines are doing anything wrong. Milius even said the movie was part of an elaborate fantasy about stomping out the Reds. Nonetheless, war is war, and even a good cause means killing innocent people. Milius isn’t squeamish about this – he simply is telling us that the natural state of man is war and conflict.
A former board member of the National Rifle Association, it’s not surprising that Milius’s masterpiece contains absolutely classic American gun culture talking points. Almost immediately upon seizing the town, Colonel Bella tells a subordinate to go to the sports store and obtain Form 4473 (a real thing ) which contains records of firearms ownership. A bumper sticker on a truck proclaims that guns will only be taken “From my cold dead hands,” and a Red Army soldier does just that to a dead American. When Jed and Matt sneak into town, a frightened girl tells them that the KGB is looking for them. The secret police want “people who they thought could make trouble, people with guns . . .”
Matt and Jed’s survival and leadership role is enabled by the training they received from their father. Their father named Jed after frontiersman Jed Smith and taught them to hunt and survive in the woods. When they encounter him in the concentration camp, he tells them that he was hard on them growing up, “but you know why now.” This can only be a reference to giving the boys rough training in survivalism, teaching them to “man up” in difficult situations, and filling their heads with paranoia about a dangerous world. Of course, just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that there isn’t someone there out to get you.
The purpose of the state under the social contract is to provide for the common defense. Red Dawn tells us that if state fails that duty, the people must be prepared to accept it themselves. In some situations, they must be ready to defend themselves against the state and be prepared for the day when the soldiers come crashing through the doors to take their guns and their freedom. If anything, today’s rhetoric about weapons of mass destruction, FEMA camps, and efforts to increase gun control make the message more relevant than ever. Milius is telling us that the social contract is a lie and that the people have to be willing to defend themselves against foreign threats and even against the government.
Finally, as with any great Traditionalist movie, there is the theme of initiation into adulthood through the act of violence. Early in the film, Jed and Matt take Robert (C. Thomas Howell) hunting. Dressed in a goofy “Star Wars” hat, Robert isn’t exactly formidable. After Robert successfully shoots a deer, Jed and Matt instruct him to drink the blood of the slain animal , symbolically initiating him as a man and a warrior. “You know, my dad said that once you do that, there’s going to be something different about you,” Matt intones.
Robert becomes the most fearsome and bloodcrazed of the group, the Wolverines’ berserker. Lt. Col. Tanner is troubled by Robert, telling him “All that hate’s going to burn you up kid.” “It keeps me warm,” he replies. Robert gets a death any Reagan-era patriot could envy , cut down while firing an assault rifle on full auto from the hip at oncoming Soviet choppers, screaming a battle cry. Though heroic (and portrayed utterly without irony), Milius is also telling us that a true warrior has no life behind the fight. Robert has been consumed by the struggle, and has to die.
Matt and Jed are also destroyed, going on one last suicide mission to save the two remaining members of the group. Erica begs them to stop, pleading, “You’re never going to know who won!” “Who will?” Matt replies dully. He might as well be saying, “Who cares?” The fight has become an end in itself, and the true warriors have to die so those who haven’t fully lost their humanity can survive and rebuild society. From a group of friends trying to survive, the Wolverines become a co-ed version of a Männerbund that consumes itself. Again, Milius acknowledges the cost, but tells us it is worth it. This is the price of heroism. After all, the last shot of the movie is the American flag flying proudly over “Partisan Rock .” The Wolverines have played their part in the great American victory in World War III.
Leftists then and now reacted to the 1984 film with barely concealed rage. Some of it is the usual scorn from “anti-anti-Communists” who may not be pro-Soviet (probably because the USSR was too Right-wing), but who hated and feared American conservatives worse than the KGB. The Traditionalist messages outlined above also predictably fueled the flames.
However, a great deal of the scorn came from “anti-racist” motivations. The movie paints the Nicaraguans and Cubans as part of the enemy force. It pushes the immigration button by showing how they snuck up through the undefended Mexican border. The Cuban colonel (though portrayed sympathetically) is even the face of Communist occupation for much of the movie. In the real world the Cuban military actually had a startlingly interventionist history  in the Cold War, fighting bloody conflicts in Africa, Latin America, and even the Middle East. This does not fit with the oddly racist narrative of the anti-white Left, where Cubans, Nicaraguans and the rest of their little brown brothers are not historical actors in their own right but helpless children who need to be saved from white American proto-Nazis.
Red Dawn does not contain many non-white faces, which has led to the accusations of racism, but the still American West of the 1980s didn’t contain many either. With a (presumably) Mexican-American father executed by the Reds, a black teacher serving as the Crispus Attucks of the occupation, the son of the martyred Mexican a Wolverine who dies at the side of Lt. Col. Tanner, and the Cuban occupiers portrayed sympathetically, it’s hard to argue that Milius was being deliberately racist. The only reference to racial genocide comes from a Russian colonel, who argues that the Americans must all be killed like animals, just like “in Afghanistan.” The film is of course institutionally racist because it shows a mostly white America filled with mostly noble white people fighting in defense of their mostly white families. A progressive film would have showed them greeting the Cubans and Nicaraguans as liberators and begging their forgiveness for slavery, oppression of the Indians and the existence of the United Fruit Company.
Red Dawn was the product of a still existing American nation. It attempted to capture the spirit of the “real America” but echoed deeper Traditionalist themes. Whatever the jokes or sneers of critics predisposed to hate the film’s message, Red Dawn stands up remarkably well, especially compared to most of the other products of the irony-free 1980s. While reflecting its times, it’s also timeless.
The shell game
by Brett Stevens on May 23, 2012
Democracy is not a cause in itself but a symptom. Its advocates try to tell us that democracy and equality are goals in themselves, but it’s more accurate from a historical view to say that democracy and equality are what come about when any sense of direction has been lost.
When a society agrees on its values, it doesn’t need elections. It only needs to pick from its leaders those that exemplify those values the best, and to push them forward. Decaying societies are decaying because they have lost a sense of those values and thus are torn apart by internal disagreement. The right-wing is generally the party of eliminating internal disagreement, while the left-wing is the party of celebrating it because when society is weak, the individual is strong.
Currently the industrialized West is in its Late era. This is not a prophecy of doom; at any moment, if the will is found, the West can pull out of this tailspin. However, in the meantime there are wolves at the door who wish to dominate us, consume what we have, and then destroy us so that we no longer challenge their absolute control over their territory and those surrounding it.
In this we can see how RealPolitik on the international scale is a lot like prison ethics. If anyone near you is strong enough to fight you, they will. As long as you are average, you are unlikely to be fought. If you rise above, you are both a threat and a challenge, since others will rise above by beating you. If you fail to be a threat, you become a liability in that having to be obedient to you and your needs, in turn, holds others back. Thus to be more than average is to be forever vigilant.
While pax Americana has had its problems, almost all of these can be attributed to the fickle, individualistic and thus self-serving nature of democracies. When American democracy was in the hands of a few enlightened land-owning wealthy white men, it was an aggressive and intelligent creature. Once they handed the vote to anyone over age 18 who could demonstrate a pulse, politics went from being a serious matter to being a popularity contest in which people clamor for freebies and bennies and deny the consequences will ever come home to roost. It’s fair to say that early American “democracy” was more of a thinly-spread oligarchy than democracy in the Athenian sense.
The Americans face a number of people who want them dead. The Canadians are at the top of this list, but are ineffectual militarily. Mexico might also want in but is similarly unlikely. The real threats come from China and its long-time ally, Russia. China has in fact been maneuvering to find new allies, such as Pakistan, so that it can counter American power worldwide. China’s goal is to be the top dog in the prison yard, and it will only have that status when America is destroyed. Russia would like to see America destroyed as well, because then the only obstacle to Russian occupation of Europe is removed. While Russia profits from commerce with Europe, it might profit more from owning it, and would be able to remove those who historically have challenged Russian power and Russia itself.
China however is taking a page from Japan’s book. After their military defeat in WWII, the Japanese took another strategy: economic dominance. While they ultimately fell short of dominion, they achieved status as being a necessary trading partner and ally. China wants to hybridize this strategy to neutralize America by dividing its people against each other through the power of commerce. China’s recent purchases of media firms, vast tracts of land and leading members of traditionally strong American industries speak to this goal. When Chinese ownership is commonplace, few people will want to speak out against those they perceive as giving them jobs and paychecks. This leverages the weakness of democracy, which is that it can be bought because the individual citizen can be bought. This wasn’t a problem when land-owning men over 30 ran the nation, but it is when everyone over 18 has an equal vote.
When MGM decided a few years ago to remake “Red Dawn,” a 1984 Cold War drama about a bunch of American farm kids repelling a Soviet invasion, the studio needed new villains, since the U.S.S.R. had collapsed in 1991. The producers substituted Chinese aggressors for the Soviets and filmed the movie in Michigan in 2009.
But potential distributors are nervous about becoming associated with the finished film, concerned that doing so would harm their ability to do business with the rising Asian superpower, one of the fastest-growing and potentially most lucrative markets for American movies, not to mention other U.S. products.
As a result, the filmmakers now are digitally erasing Chinese flags and military symbols from “Red Dawn,” substituting dialogue and altering the film to depict much of the invading force as being from North Korea, an isolated country where American media companies have no dollars at stake. – “Reel China: Hollywood tries to stay on China’s good side,” by Ben Fritz and John Horn, L.A. Times
In theory, the claim is that we are avoiding offending the Chinese market. But like many things, this is a reflection more of Chinese power here in our country. We are afraid to challenge China on much of anything these days. We impotently issue reports about how China leads the world in economic espionage, ignore the “flood” of fake US military parts coming from China, and censor our reports of China’s rising military strength. We have given China direct access to our currency, of which they are the biggest creditor. Seemingly we tacitly approve their spying and infiltration of industry. This is because when they own so many job-producing industries, it will soon be politically infeasible to strike back against them at all.
That changes when the first shots are fired, but the Chinese are not stupid. They will delay that event as long as possible. In the meantime, like all great Seducers, they will play a willing economic partner and friend, always advancing their needs at the expense of ours. It’s a political shell game. The original shell game involves two clam shells and a pea. The game leader puts the pea under one and shuffles the two, attempting to fool observers. A good leader achieves this by making one shell attractive to the attention, while quietly moving the other one into position. China is doing the same by directing our attention at our paychecks while they destroy the foundation beneath us.
Part of the distraction involves a replacement of our productive industry with non-productive industry. They want us looking at the shell of media and social networking, while behind the scenes Chinese firms buy up essential industries or use their own manufacturing power to push those industries out of business. At that point, we will be sitting on a mound of currency that is nearly worthless, because instead of being backed by industrial and agricultural power, it is backed by technology that doesn’t do anything new except keep people in make-work jobs and on welfare busy goofing off. While we watch the shell of the Facebook IPO, who owns our heavy steel, power production, chip fabs, and factories?
The great fallacy of dying societies is that everything is free. If your job requires an hour of real work a week, then all that time is “free.” All the benefits are free. All the services are free. It never gets paid off, but what it does do is blow away the value of your currency, since currency is like stock a share in its parent entity, which in the case of nations is the collective worth of their industries. Instead of a vast productive nation of intelligent people, we’ll have a sea of entitled welfare queens, lazy bureaucrats, nearly useless make-work serfs, and so on. It’s in China’s interest to encourage this decline.
With America out of they way, there is nothing stopping China and its Eurasian allies from invading Western Europe and taking over. The Western Europeans are simply outnumbered and after two disastrous wars, have lost the will to fight. China and Russia will roll over them and leave the kind of disaster that was East Berlin or is North Korea in the wake of a once-prosperous, industrial, free Western Europe.
As said above, this decline can be reversed quickly. It requires we sacrifice our national myth that any use of one’s time is equal to any other. It’s not. End results are more important than feelings, sensations, social activity or even popularity. Production and the ability to do things matters. Right now, the people who think that the decline of this empire is their meal ticket are going to tell you that attitude is old fashioned. But these people simply don’t care about the future. It’s up to those who do to steer the West in a better direction.comments powered by Disqus.
That damn snake cult has to be dealt with. Time for an analysis of the long-requested Conan trilogy (?) including Flava Flav’s side piece, Briggite Nielsen in Red Sonja. One great film written by Oliver Stone, and two sub par stink balls that are a lot of fun. The esoteric is there, as well […]
The post Conan the Barbarian, The Destroyer & Red Sonja – Jay Dyer Live appeared first on JaysAnalysis.com.
Kiss Me Deadly  (1955; 106 minutes; Black and White)
Director: Robert Aldrich
Writers: Mickey Spillane (novel), A. I. Bezzerides (screenplay)
Stars: Ralph Meeker, Albert Dekker, Paul Stewart, Gaby Rodgers, Jack Elam, Wesley Addy, Strother Martin, Percy Helton, and introducing Cloris Leachman.
“A crack formed and enlarged, and the whole door gave way — but from the other side; whence poured a howling tumult of ice-cold wind with all the stenches of the bottomless pit, and whence reached a sucking force not of earth or heaven, which, coiling sentiently about the paralysed detective, dragged him through the aperture and down unmeasured spaces filled with whispers and wails, and gusts of mocking laughter.” — H. P. Lovecraft, “The Horror at Red Hook” (Weird Tales, 1927)
“Soberin and Gabrielle are vying for the contents of the box. Gabrielle shoots Soberin, believing that she can keep the mysterious contents for herself. As she slyly opens the case, it is ultimately revealed to be stolen radionuclide material, which in the final scene apparently reaches explosive criticality when the box is fully opened. Horrifying sounds emit from the nuclear material as Gabrielle and the house burst into flames.” — Wikipedia, Kiss Me Deadly 
“The key Mike found led him to something of which he had no comprehension and which will very possibly kill him, and maybe destroy the Earth. He and Gabrielle are caught in a world of meanings that preexist them — culture, science, religion and myth. They proceed as they do in pursuit of something they don’t understand — but think they understand the value others place on it. They are fatally wrong.”
While recently reading Barton St. Armond’s classic article “H. P. Lovecraft: New England Decadent,” I came to the Lovecraft quote above and had an odd thought: I’ve seen this before! Then it hit me: the finest screen adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft occurred already in 1955, and quite unconsciously at that. I suppose that’s the best way, the way it had to be; no bothering with Lovecraft’s purple prose or mythos monsters; just the pure essence of Lovecraftian terror, mixed with a lot of sleaze to keep the marks happy and then sloshed up on the screen. It’s called Kiss Me Deadly.
Here’s a synopsis courtesy of DVD Savant :
Sleazy, cynical detective Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) makes his living with divorce cases, often unleashing his sexy secretary Velda (Maxine Cooper) as an agent provocatrix on straying adulterers. When he picks up naked-under-a-trench coat hitchhiker Christina Bailey (Cloris Leachman, in her first movie) and she’s later tortured to death, Hammer decides to ditch the bedroom work and pursue the secret behind the brutality, purely for profit. His government agent friend Pat Chambers (Wesley Addy) warns him off, but Mike slowly pulls the case apart by threatening witnesses and putting Velda and his best buddy Nick (Nick Dennis) in harm’s way. When the secret turns out to be a mysterious box stolen from a government science lab, Hammer finds out too late that he’s latched onto something far too big, and too hot, to handle.
This is a Lovecraft tale? Sound absurd? Can you prove it isn’t? Consider this from the screenwriter: “I wrote it fast because I had contempt for it. It was automatic writing. Things were in the air and I put them in it.”
Not your usual auteur’s claim of authorship. It’s the usual note of contempt of well-paid Hollywood commie hacks for two-fisted American pulp writers, here Mickey Spillane rather than Lovecraft, and with the interesting additional note of surrealist writing techniques. As happens in many a horror tale, you don’t have to believe in the Ouija board to conjure up something ugly “in the air” when you play with it.
Although opening to indifferent business, the film has become a legendary noir, ultimately getting a Criterion Collection release a couple years back. Reading all the commentary and fanboy buzz on the net you can’t get far without hearing about how Aldrich and Bezzerides not only had contempt for the material, but wanted to take down the whole Mike Hammer phenomenon, which they seemed to think spelled either the coming of Fascism or the return of the Stone Age. The message they seemed to want to deliver — best expressed by Fed pal Pat near the beginning — is surprisingly up-to-date: don’t take the law into your own hands, give up your guns, stop listening to conspiracy theories, and trust — but above all, don’t question — the Feds.
But as I’ve said here on Counter-Currents before, the writer who lets his imagination free is not likely to produce something pleasing to the PC crowd.
In the case of this film, by portraying Hammer not as Spillane intended — a somewhat more violent, lower-class but still Marlowe-style knight errant — but rather as a psychopathically violent moron, they produced an astounding sleazy and ultra-violent film that barely escaped the box office poison of a “C for condemned” rating from the Catholic Legion of Decency and was cited as a threat to America at the very same Congressional hearings investigating those damned comic books!
But Hammer is brutish and stubborn, keeping the cops and the feds in the dark even though they keep trying to impress upon him the importance of this case; he doesn’t seem to realize just how far in over his head he is. . . . Hammer’s no hero, and the film’s staggering climax represents his complete failure: his realization of the horrible forces he’s been toying with, followed by a nuclear meltdown from which he barely escapes. And then the film simply ends, with abrupt finality, leaving Hammer as a broken, irrelevant archetype, an out-of-date relic whose time has passed with the relative innocence of the pre-atomic age.
Once compared with what Aldrich & Co. produced, Spillane’s Hammer did indeed seem more like Marlowe or the Thin Man; the self-sabotage is rather like Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, where the Jewish and American sadism makes the audience sympathize with the Nazi “villains.” It’s no surprise to recall how Tarantino already ripped off (or “paid homage to”) KMD’s “glowing what’s-it in the suitcase” McGuffin for Pulp Fiction.
Still, I need to answer a number of objections you undoubtedly have. First, you might point out that Lovecraft liked to make his protagonists scholars, however oddball, or professors, scientific explorers, or even just wealthy slackers (“The Hound,” “Pickman’s Model”), not thugs like Hammer. Even the “detective” in the quote above is, rather implausibly, a dandy from Trinity College, Dublin who returns to New York to join the police force and investigate occult matters.
Well, the film picks Hammer up “out of the gutter [he] came from” as the mob boss says (even the mob loathes him; the feds want someone “to open a window” after interrogating him) and tidies him up into “more of a Playboy-inspired dream guy, a proto-James Bond who has to fend off dishy dames with a club.” Not that Mike himself is now an effete snob. As the New York Times says: “Mike himself is a sort of cultural caveman, whom Aldrich pointedly surrounds with high art: modern paintings, 19th-century poetry, radios that invariably pour forth classical music whenever Mike switches one on.”
Like a good post-war consumer, Mike has read all about the “Playboy Philosophy” and has bought all the right toys, from his mid-century modern bachelor pad — complete with wall-mounted, reel-to-reel answering machine — to his brand-new Corvette; the rest of the surrounding, the “culchah” items, are provided by his clients and informants.
After meeting the Rossetti-spouting Christina, he searches her book-lined apartment — casually stealing the book he needs, of course — and finds out that she “always seemed have [the radio] tuned to that station” — the all-Schubert station, apparently — so the next time Mike’s at home needing to do some hard thinking, sure enough he turns on a radio set to the same station, as if Mike usually listens to string quartets rather than bachelor pad exotica (Brooklyn hipsters from the ‘90s would kill for that so-ironic pad, man). During another “think, damn it” session he asks Velda to read out the poem Christina has marked, presumably to allow him to concentrate on this difficult “thinking” business, but it sure seems as if he could be functionally illiterate.
The final clue falls into his hands at a “modern art” gallery, where, archetypically, he gives away his entrance by walking, caveman that he is, right into and smashing a glass end-table. (I’d love to hear that was a goof Aldrich decided to keep in.)
So while Mike isn’t himself an egghead, he is surrounded by cultural references, which actually is what gives the Lovecraft touch.
Like one of Mad’s parodies, the movie unfolds in a deranged cubist space, amid the debris of Western civilization — shards of opera, deserted museums, molls who paraphrase Shakespeare, mad references to Greek mythology and the Old Testament. A nineteenth-century poem furnishes the movie’s major clue.
The movie is filled with cultural references, from Rossetti at the beginning to the pompous, soon to be shut up with a bullet Dr. Soberin at the end.
Dr. Soberin: As the world becomes more primitive, its treasures become more fabulous.
The latter sequence is particularly choice, as Soberin rattles off his culture markers and Lilly, doubling Mike (a point we shall return to), childishly, or barbarically, stubbornly (another key point) ignores his insinuations and insists on knowing — not literary or mythical references, but what’s in the box.
Dr. Soberin: Curiosity killed a cat and it certainly would have you if you’d followed your impulse to open it. You did very well to call me when you did.
Lily: Yes, I know. But what’s in it?
Dr. Soberin: You have been misnamed, Gabrielle [Lily’s real name, also the actress’s name, misnames her?]. You should have been called Pandora. She had a curiosity about a box and opened it and let loose all the evil in the world.
Lily: Never mind about the evil. What’s in it?
Dr. Soberin: Did you ever hear of Lot’s wife?
Lily: No. [WTF never heard of Lot’s wife?]
Dr. Soberin: No. Well, she was told not to look back. But she disobeyed and she was changed into a pillar of salt.
Lily: Well, I just want to know what it is.
Dr. Soberin: The head of Medusa. That’s what’s in the box, and who looks on her will be changed not into stone but into brimstone and ashes. But of course you wouldn’t believe me; you’d have to see for yourself, wouldn’t you?
Perhaps it’s her Damian meets Lolita eroticism, but the filmmakers are again subverted, as the audience is definitely on Lily’s side as she shuts up Soberin — poimanently, ya see? — and opens the damned box. Though not before Soberin delivers his peroration:
Dr. Soberin: Listen to me, as if I were Cerberus barking with all his heads at the gates of hell. [What, she didn’t get Lot’s wife and she’ll get this?] I will tell you where to take it, but don’t . . . don’t open the box!
Even the film’s Voice of Reason is equally pompous and fragmented — decadent, if you will. When Pat finally tells Mike what’s up, he speaks slowly, as if talking to a dense child, but still can’t really put it together himself, and mumbling disconnected words he hopes will ring a bell with no further effort on his world-weary part:
Lt. Pat Murphy: Now listen, Mike. Listen carefully. I’m going to pronounce a few words. They’re harmless words. Just a bunch of letters scrambled together. But their meaning is very important. Try to understand what they mean. “Manhattan Project, Los Alamos, Trinity.”
But anyway, rather than a cultured protagonist, the Lovecraftian note here is carried by the presentation of a cultural wasteland, where culture exists only a scattering of dying embers, tossed around without much or any understanding by the Last Men (perhaps, given what happens when the box is opened, literally Last Men). It’s the world Lovecraft believed himself to be condemned to live in, not his (imaginary) Regency past.
That landscape, physically, in terms of shooting locations, is Los Angeles, today [as of 1955]. Surely that can’t be Lovecraftian? Just so, precisely its absence of human culture makes LA the perfect Lovecraftian location. The nighttime scenes are all polished chrome glaring like boiling acid under blinding neon and fluorescent lights (like the box’s contents) while the daytime scenes seem to be filled with grey dust under a pitiless sun that just went nova (foreshadowing the effects of the box’s light).
More importantly, perhaps, many of the exteriors were shot in the Bunker Hill section (an appropriately New English name, don’t you think?) and thus have a more typically Lovecraftian touch of old, ruined neighborhoods. Indeed, shortly after the film was made the whole area was flattened for an “urban renewal” project, making the film, ironically, something of an archaeological record of a now long-vanished, once “modern” area.
And even more importantly, Aldrich, perhaps to show that Mike is “crooked” or “screwed up,” decided to use a number of odd camera angles, not only, say, on the stairs of Lily’s flophouse but even the presumably modern and normal hospital Mike awakens in early in the film.
LA General or Arkham Asylum?
As St. Armand notes,
So many of these skewed structures which we find in Lovecraft . . . with their gambrel roofs and rotten timbers and rooms tilted at crazy or obtuse angles, are, of course, psychic allegories of decadent and tumbled-down minds, twisted to exquisite and picturesque degrees of insanity. . . . Here the dreamland which . . . populates modern Boston with ghouls and living gargoyles is no longer an antiquarian fancy but rather immediately beneath the cellar door or around the nearest corner.
Bunker Hill or Innsmouth?
Then, there’s the violence; sure that’s un-Lovecraft? No one in Lovecraft’s world goes about gathering information like Mike does. He has two methods: if he sees you as a member of the white collar class, a coroner or health club concierge, he’ll peel off some cash to offer what he considers a fair price; should you refuse, or hold out for more, that’s when the finger-breaking starts.
Otherwise, he just jumps right in like a skinhead at a mosh pit, and you’re lucky if he finds it more amusing to snap your rare Caruso 78 in half rather than your spine.
If Batman and the Joker had a love child
Admittedly, this thuggish kind of violence is quite out of Lovecraft’s line — breaking fingers in drawers, dropping a jacked-up car on a hapless sidekick and the like — although remember, he did like Robert Howard’s Conan. More to the point, however, is that the filmmakers have taken a page from the horror genre and realized that it’s often more effective — and less likely to get you into trouble with the censors — and even perhaps more cinematically fun to imply, not show.
Thus, when Christina is tortured to death with some kind of metal-crimping device, we only see her legs squirming as we hear her shrieks. Actually, the shrieks continue after they stop spasming, which is perhaps a mistake but certainly emphasizes the illusory, make-believe nature what we’re seeing; it also suggests the kind of torturous results of the warping of the space/time continuum Lovecraft’s protagonists tend to fall into. Again, we don’t see Nick being crushed beneath the car, nor anything but his arm afterwards.
And in a famous sequence, Mike dispatches a goon by some kind of movie-land “martial arts” trick; it’s shot from below, so we don’t see what he does (Vulcan deathgrip?) and the camera then lingers on Jack Elam’s wonderfully creepy face as he emotes sheer terror/confusion over what he’s seen. Later, his boss is compelled to wonderingly ask Mike “What’d you do to him, anyway? You scared Charlie half to death,” rather like any number of doomed Lovecraftian protagonists.
As the movie nears the end, we see more and more — perhaps the need to keep the pace accelerating prevented Aldrich from using any tricky shots? — such as breaking the coroner’s fingers and b***h-slapping the health club concierge, and, of course, Lily’s iconic immolation, which we’ll devote some space to soon. This is consistent with the notion of the horror tale revealing more and more as the climax approaches. And of course, you can’t blame them for not showing the local, or possibly global, effects of the suitcase; ten years later even Dr. Strangelove only used stock footage of mushroom clouds.
But — but — but– What about the sex? Surely that’s not in Lovecraft. Well, indeed, women are pretty hard to find in Lovecraft, and the only sexual congress seems to be with extra-dimensional monsters (e.g., “The Dunwich Horror”). In the same way, the only sex we find in KMD is implied by the blackmail set-ups Mike sends Velda on. For a supposed swinging bachelor, Mike gets laid about as much as SNL’s Czechoslovakian Brothers. Like the violence, it’s all in the implications.
The Feds tell us he’s a “bedroom d**k” (he settles divorce cases through blackmail) and that while Velda handles the men, he handles the women, but we never see or hear of any, and that’s just business anyway. Christina starts off on his bad side by making him wreck his sports car, and she’s soon dead anyway; the mob boss’s sister, a drunk nympho, throws herself on him, but he only uses her to get into the house, then dumps her (“Here’s to friendship” is as far as she gets), while he recognizes Lily is a crazy nymphet not to be touched.
Altogether, Mike, like Lovecraft, is a he-man woman-hater that probably agrees with one of the goons: “Women are worse than flies.”
Speaking of Lily: played with Satanic, screen-melting intensity by Gaby Rogers, she’s a sort of multi-doppelganger. The doomed Christina, nekkid and running barefoot, is the classic movie woman in distress, yet is nevertheless rather masculine, with her short hair and trench coat, the first of many sexually antipathetic roles that Cloris “Frau Blucher” Leachman would play. Lily easily takes over her role (Lily to Christina’s Rossetti obsession) — while pretending to be Christina’s roommate — as Mike’s guide to the underworld (in both senses); when they meet she’s also (presumably) nekkid, under a robe this time, and barefoot; when next they meet she’s be running and screaming like Christina as well. Eventually, Velda will supply her with the nifty black/white Chanel suit that neatly emphasizes her duplicitous nature.
Her trench coat makes her a double for the standard private d**k. Her fatal colloquy with Soberin shows her fully in the private d**k mode, demanding to know and see.
This girl/boy/woman is not an easy person to live with, as Dr. Soberin and Mike discover. She is, as played by ex-European Gaby Rogers, née Rosenberg (another atomic caper resulting in death by fire), the ultimate Jamesian American Girl:
Daisy Miller’s freedom in the face of European social conventions is of a kind that would make her insufferable in any civilized society. . . . She is utterly uneducated, and no intelligent man could stand her for long since there could be no possible exchange of speech with her; she has nothing to recommend her but looks, money, confidence and clothes.
Gaby has looks and confidence, and clothes courtesy of Velda; when Soberin threatens to cut her out on the money, she responds by pulling out something Leavis and James — and Soberin — didn’t count on: the private d**k’s best friend, a roscoe, with predicable — and unpredictable — results.
The mythical elements here are pretty deep or widespread. When, near the beginning of the film, the thug with the pliers asks the jerkass we will come to know near the end as Dr. Soberin whether the now-dead Christina should be tortured some more, Soberin makes some typically pompous and leadenly “amusing” remarks about “that would be resurrection from the dead.” When Mike, who should have died in the car with Christina, is somehow rescued and wakes up in the hospital, he is said to be “back from the dead.” Lily Carver comes back from the dead in the person of Gaby, Mike not knowing till the end that the Feds fished the real Lily out of the river days ago.
Lily/Gaby, Christina’s roommate, thus resurrects both Lily by pretense and Christina by becoming Mike’s new naked in a trench coat partner. Confronting his double, Lily/Gaby at the end is like the confrontation of Lovecraft’s “Outsider” with his mirror image in the eponymous story — Hoberman calls him “a walking corpse”; while Pat the Fed already dismissed him in the third person with “Let him go to hell” — and Mike falls dead (with some help from Gaby’s roscoe, of course).
This is Gaby’s final resurrection, the true resurrection — not the ridiculous reanimated corpse (as Alan Watts called it) of the exoteric Christian (Mike, the “walking corpse” brought “back from the dead”) but St. Paul’s Gnostic idea of the Body of Light, with all its parallels in every esoteric tradition.
The pedantic Soberin — too sober to grasp such super-subtle ideas, unlike the “feline” intuition of Gaby — has been doubly routed. Gaby has answered his question from the beginning of the film — “How do you bring back the dead?” — and proven that she is indeed not “misnamed,” for she has revealed herself not as subhuman — “feline” — but superhuman, a being of light, an angel — Gabriel.
“Hip” film critics love to talk about how Gaby “subverts” the detective genre, and especially the Mike Hammer character—this time, girl shoots boy. Despite the filmmakers, I think what’s actually happening here is that Gaby is redeeming the Mike character. While even the Feds grudgingly admit Mike “can sniff out information like nobody I ever saw” his search for what Velda mocks as “the Great Whatzit” is really motivated by greed, when he suspects the box must be valuable to someone. Gaby’s insistence on knowing what’s in the box, by contrast, is childish but sincere — she only kills Soberin when he reneges on sharing the proceeds, after the long back and forth about Medusa and Co.
But how can Mike be redeemed? The filmmakers, as I’ve noted, want to push the Good Liberal notion of “shut up and trust the government” and so portray Mike as “stubborn” and Gaby as subhuman (Soberin condescends with “You have the feline perceptions that all women have”) rather than inquisitive.
Wesley Addy as Pat the Fed delivers the filmmakers’ contemptuous epitaph – “You’re sooo smaaaart”—with his trademark WASP condescension. He’s kind of a wimpy Al Gore, dealing with a “climate denier” or Ross Perot or George W.; Hoberman say it’s “as though addressing a dumb animal” (as Soberin does Gaby).
But is it fair? Noted Lovecraftian Darrell Schweitzer has come to the defense of the “imbecility of [the typical Lovecraft] protagonist”:
The critic has probably read [“Dreams in the Witch House”] either in a fantasy magazine or a collection of Lovecraft stories. . . . Walter Gilman, on the other hand, is supposed to be living in the “real” world where things like [anthropomorphic rat familiars] are beyond the range of normal experience. Gilman knows that they are impossible. The human mind is a stubborn thing [like Mike!], and when it is convinced of something, it isn’t always dissuaded by mere proof. . . . He does what any normal, sane person would do. . . . Unless all heroes are occult detectives we cannot expect them to readily accept the fact that the laws of existence have been violated.
Mike isn’t “stupid” so much as he’s in over his head. As I’ve pointed out before, Lovecraft’s protagonists aren’t stupid or gullible, but almost always all-too educated, like Dr. Soberin, thus inclined to know, as Schweitzer says, what is and isn’t the case, which is exactly what leads them to their doom.
Thus Lovecraft’s protagonists are unlike the “occult detectives” once popular in the Victorian age — such as Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence or William Hope Hodgson’s Carnaki, or most famously, Stoker’s Van Helsing. They are not calm, wise experts easily unmasking fake mediums or calling upon some handy bit of mystical folklore to save the day.
However learned conventionally or mystically, they quickly find themselves in too far, asking one question too many. As Lovecraft famously said:
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. — “The Call of Cthulhu”
Kiss Me Deadly has been described as the ultimate noir film, summarizing the conventions of the genre and then breaking new ground. Hoberman sees this as happening all through the ’50s, as if some kind of atomic mutation had taken place:
Genres collide in the great Hollywood movies of the mid-fifties cold-war thaw. . . . The western goes south in The Searchers; the cartoon merges with the musical in The Girl Can’t Help It. Science fiction becomes pop sociology in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And noir veers into apocalyptic sci-fi in Robert Aldrich’s 1955 masterpiece Kiss Me Deadly, which, briefly described, tracks one of the sleaziest, stupidest, most brutal detectives in American movies through a nocturnal, inexplicably violent labyrinth to a white-hot vision of cosmic annihilation. — “The Thriller of Tomorrow”
Note the Lovecraftian language uses. “Veering into apocalyptic sci-fi” would be a perfect description of Lovecraft’s own evolution in the thirties, from horror in the Weird Tales style to long, “scientifictional” novellas. Perhaps Lovecraft’s achievement could be described as taking the three original genres bequeathed to him by his master, Poe –- detective, science fiction, and post-Gothic horror — and creating a kind of mash-up more suitable for modern circumstances. To do so, he had to downplay the detective’s infallible and cool logic (as Poe’s Dupin or Conan Doyle’s Sherlock), so as to trigger the horrific end, while using science — or “science” — to provide a comforting illusion of normality, against which the horror stands our more “inexplicably.”
Kiss Me Deadly strikes the Lovecraftian note because, inadvertently, it arises from the same post-war cultural chaos that would retrospectively root itself in Lovecraft’s Synthesis, producing such characteristically modern noir-horror-sci-fi works as Alien, Blade Runner, and The Matrix.
It’s no surprise that the French loved it; as Hoberman notes:
In France, Kiss Me Deadly was admired mainly by the young critics at Cahiers du cinéma, where it was considered “the thriller of tomorrow” and Aldrich, dubbed Le gros Bob, was hailed as “the first director of the atomic age.”
Claude Chabrol praised the film in rather Poe-esque terms:
Kiss Me Deadly, Claude Chabrol wrote in his passionate review, “has chosen to create itself out of the worst material to be found, the most deplorable, the most nauseous product of a genre in a state of putrefaction: a Mickey Spillane story.” Aldrich and Bezzerides “have taken this threadbare and lackluster fabric and splendidly rewoven it into rich patterns of the most enigmatic arabesques.”
At last, let’s deal with the famous ending, or rather, the famous endings. This will require a certain amount of exposition. First, the set-up:
The movie ends at a stylish beach house in Malibu. Carver fells Mike with one shot from a .38, after [inviting him to] “Kiss me Mike. Kiss me. The liar’s kiss that says ‘I Love You,’ but means something else. You’re good at giving such kisses.” She then opens the box and turns into a pillar of fire . . .
Now the mystery starts.
In the version most often seen from roughly 1960 to 1997, Hammer regains consciousness while Carver burns. He rescues his secretary Velda (Maxine Cooper) from a locked room, and they limp arm-in-arm toward the exit. At that point we cut to a disconnected string of exterior shots. Light and smoke belch from the beach house. Several awkward jump cuts add superimposed explosions, as a miniature of the house breaks apart. A nondescript “The End” title appears, and the film fades abruptly — not to black, but to gray leader. The music score and roaring sound effects overlap the ragged cut and then end with a poorly-timed fade.
But according to Francois Truffaut’s original 1955 review of Kiss Me Deadly in Cahiers du Cinema, “As the hero and his mistress [he means Velda] take refuge in the sea, THE END appears on the screen.” The original trailer shows similar shots.
Someone, identity long since lost, thought this worked better, and cut the negative thusly soon after release. Unknown to MGM, Aldrich, or anyone else, a pristine original negative was sitting around in the Aldrich archives.
At the point where standard prints cut to the ragged short ending, this copy continued into a completely new sequence. The couple descended some stairs and then took off across the beach. The shots of the burning house were now separated by four new angles with Velda and Mike throwing long shadows down the beach. Rear-projected views showed the pair in front of the exploding beach house. They watched from the surf until an authentic end title (“The End, A Parklane Picture”) appeared. The mystery box growled and howled throughout at full volume, like the monster of a 50s Science Fiction film. [Or the boxt in Raiders of the Lost Ark] The beautiful ending had more production value than anything else in the movie. Although it was disturbing, it was conventionally edited, and resembled nothing that would inspire the French New Wave.
Quite unusually, it is the original ending that provides something of a “happy ending,” making it clear that Mike and Velda escape the house. The difference vanishes when you consider that Mike has been shot at close range, already burned by radiation before arriving, and is about 50 feet from a nuclear explosion. For that matter, we don’t know if the Whatzit is some kind of Strangelovian doomsday device that will destroy the Earth or trigger WWIII, so “living happily ever after” seems unlike in any event.
Since we are aware of the doubling of Mike and Gaby, as well as the mythical themes running throughout, we can see something else going on in the original, long ending: paradoxically, it is Gaby whose fate is more secure.
We’ve already called attention to Gaby’s checkerboard clothing, and her purer pursuit of knowledge. We can say that this Pure Fool has reached the end of the quest. As we’ve noted many times, hideous apocalyptic endings are merely a genre convention. What is important here is that Gaby has achieved a state of pure light, becoming a vertical pillar of fire, combining both the Hermetic symbol of light and verticality and the Judaic YHVH. Again, we recall the homage to the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which presents the negative, inverted Judaic version, in which the search for knowledge and transcendence fails and is punished as sin.
We cut to Mike, who, having been shot by Gaby, has fallen, in an oddly stiff way, like a tree falling, and now lies sprawled at length on the floor. This is the fall into horizontality, the material world of space and time. He and Velda then descend the stairs and flee horizontally across the beach.
As Lovecraft suggested in the quote above, Mike and Velda are seen to flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. They return to the oceans, like the protagonist of “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” These are, of course, the Waters of material existence that the Realized Man (or Woman) must cross or walk over.
While behind them, the house, another symbol of the warp and woof of material manifestation, no longer needed, disintegrates, as Gaby’s soul, presumably, escapes vertically into the higher dimensions. Of course, this also connects us back to Lovecraft, and most importantly, his master, Poe, and his iconic “Fall of the House of Usher.”
Clearly, anyone who wants to create a work of pure, PC agitprop needs to be a little more careful than to simply put yourself on autopilot while dealing with that infra dig pulp stuff; it may be smarter than you think—or than you are.
Kiss Me Deadly, original [restored] ending
2. Film Noir by William Luhr, (Wiley, 2012) p 141.
3. Originally published in 1979, Waterfire Providence republished it in 2013 in a fine edition (paperback and kindle) including plates of the works discussed, from Goya to Clark Ashton Smith.
4. “You’ve seen these films! Haven’t you, my man?” — Will Graham, Manhunter.
5. “Can you prove you didn’t? You certainly can’t prove I did.” Ray Miland, Dial ‘M’ for Murder, 1954.
6. Quoted in Luhr, p. 138.
7. “Although a leftist at the time of the Hollywood blacklist, Bezzerides denied any conscious intention for this meaning in his script.” Wikipedia, op. cit .
8. Although earlier pulp detective writers had been up-marketed and used to make some well-regarded films, the Hollywood Elite drew the line at Spillane, who was far too popular, too “fascist” (unlike a good party member like Dashiell Hammett) and had even started off in the lowest depth, comic books (Luhr, p. 129). Oddly enough, KMD itself was singled out by the Kefauver Commission as 1955’s number one menace to American Youth. Chandler and Hammett preceded Lovecraft in the canonical Library of America, followed by P. K. D**k; can you imagine Spillane there?
9. Later, there would be a similar panic among the “respectable” culturati over James Bond; Kingsley Amis easily shows the absurdity of Bond as a Hammer-style “sadist” in his The James Bond Dossier (London: Jonathan Cape, 1965).
10. See especially the conclusion of “A Light Unto the Nations: Reflections on Olaf Stapledon’s The Flames” here . The problem is especially tricky with fascism; one doesn’t “know” anyone of such a type — Pauline Kael famously said she “didn’t know anyone who voted for [Nixon]” — so one all too easily draws on oneself and produces an accidental and revealing portrait of liberal totalitarianism; see my “The Fraud of Miss Jean Brodie” here . For contrast, consider Henry James’ The Bostonians; as F. R. Leavis says, “James understands the finer civilization of New England, and is the more effective as an ironic critic of it because he is not merely an ironic critic; he understands it because he both knows it from inside and sees it from outside with the eye of a professional student of civilization who has had much experience of non-Puritan cultures.” The Great Tradition, (George Stuart, 1950), p. 134. He later refers to this as “insight . . . utterly unaccompanied by animus” (p. 135).
11. J. Hoberman, The Magic Hour: Film at Fin de Siècle (Philadelphia: Temple University press, 2003) p. 23. Spillane was so infuriated by the portrayal that he made sure the next time Hammer was filmed to not only write and finance the movie but play Hammer his own damn self. The result, The Girl Hunters (filmed in England other than some shots of Spillane swanning around Midtown Manhattan in a white trench coat — “Just like a cop to wear a white trench coat” Burroughs had noted in the opening chapter of Naked Lunch — and featuring the pre-Bond Shirley Eaton) is . . . interesting.
12. Only the Cinema: “Films I Love, #22: Kiss Me Deadly,” here .
13. See Trevor Lynch’s review here .
14. As did Steven Spielberg (“Marion, don’t look in the box!”) and Alex Cox (Repo Man); Brian Wall adds Bunuel (Belle du Jour) and David Lynch (Mulholland Drive); see Brial Wall, Theodor Adorno and Film Theory: The Fingerprint of Spirit (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p. 67 (and here ). Hoberman (The Magic Hour) adds Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player.
15. Hence St. Armand’s interest, as one of several stores where Lovecraft reveals and works out his Decadent and Symbolist influences.
16. “Spillane also seems to have invented the sadistic quip during killings — but Bezzerides gives this role to the deadly female instead.” http://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s286kiss.html 
17. “But there’s also “a new kind of art in the world,” as one character explains to Mike, and its embodiment turns out to be the object of his search, a leather-bound steel box.”
18. “KMD may have one of the best ’50s images of consumer iconography. On Hammer’s wall is a reel-to-reel answering machine. These devices actually existed in that era, and the make is Code-A-Phone.” — http://www.freepresshouston.com/film/thoughts-on-kiss-me-deadly/ . Check it out here.
19. “The detective, played by Ralph Meeker (the actor who replaced Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire), drives a Jaguar, has a futuristic telephone answering machine built into his bachelor pad’s wall, and, a bag of golf clubs in the corner, lives a version of what was not yet called the Playboy philosophy. The faux Calder mobile and checkerboard floor pattern add to the crazy, clashing expressionism.” “Kiss Me Deadly: The Thriller of Tomorrow” by J. Hoberman, here .
20. Hoberman, op. cit.
21. Luhr: “The use of the Rossetti sonnet to uncover a major clue underscores the film’s repeated references to past culture” (p. 140).
22. Talk about subverting the filmmakers’ intent, some have even discovered a “liberal subtext” that makes Mike a sort of Alan Alda: “As much as anything else, it’s the positive images of women, immigrants, African-Americans, and poor people, along with Hammer’s getting on with them so well, especially the folks at the jazz club, boxing gym, and auto repair shop, that gives the film much of its leftist edge.” — Café Noir, here . This “common touch” angle is especially worked in the aforementioned Girl Hunters, where a good third of the film is Hammer/Spillane collecting favors and plaudits from all the little people who are so grateful to owe him — even his landlord won’t take his back rent: “Take, take; remember when you gave?” That Hammer is played by Spillane himself and many of the little people are real friends of his gives it a rather odd tone. I leave it to the reader to reflect on what the praise of “getting on with” the poor tells us about the liberal’s rather feudal idea of his role in society.
23. “The force of Soberin’s mythical invocations is the reverse of what he desires; the free-floating prestige of his examples only seems to add to the glamour of the box” (Forgetting Lot’s Wife, p. 74).
24. The film can’t strictly have a “hero” since the message is “obey the (Liberal) government.” Heroism and individualism are only good when bad fascists are in charge; then it’s “question (non-Liberal) authority.”
25. Like Lovecraft’s occult gobble-de-gook.
26. Of course, we also recall Lovecraft’s incantations and cosmic mumbo-jumbo; even, perhaps, the Trinity that Red Hook’s detective hales from?
27. This, of course, is the note that interests St. Armond, Lovecraft’s self-image as a Decadent, an 18th-century gentleman exiled in a philistine future.
28. The first look like the digitally over-restored print of Ed Wood’s Night of the Ghouls, the second like a lost work of Coleman Francis. Actually, the later kinds of scenes are perhaps more Clark Ashton Smith than Lovecraft, but just go with me on this.
29. “The Bunker Hill area underwent a controversial total redevelopment which destroyed and displaced a community of almost 22,000 working-class families renting rooms in architecturally significant but run-down buildings, to a modern mixed-use district of high-rise commercial buildings and modern apartment and condominium complexes” (Wikipedia, Angel’s Flight ). “In 1955, Los Angeles city planners decided that Bunker Hill required a massive slum-clearance project. The top of Bunker Hill was cleared of its houses and then flattened as the first stage of the Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project to populate Bunker Hill with modern plazas and buildings. When the height limit of buildings for Los Angeles was finally raised (previously buildings were limited to 150 feet), developers built some of the tallest skyscrapers in the region to take advantage of the area’s existing dense zoning. In approving such projects, the city sought to project a modern, sophisticated image (Wikipedia, Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project ).
30. Op. cit., loc. 732.
31. Even before Miranda, movie audiences preferred not to see such methods used by “good guys.” Mike treats every suspect and informant the way Batman does the Joker in The Dark Knight, rendering the Joker’s attempt to taunt him acting like the Joker himself nugatory. Mike is already a combination of Batman and Joker, giving his big, smarmy smile a psychotic resonance. Hoberman: “The movie stops in its tracks to focus on his excited grin as he snaps a collector’s priceless 78 record.” Presumably this is how the filmmakers — and good liberals today — think vigilantes are or would be, rather than concerned citizens performing a distasteful but needful duty. Interestingly, Mike does all his violence after Pat the Fed takes his gun away; so much for “guns cause violence.” He pries a key, not a gun, from the coroner’s “cold dead fingers” after smashing them in a desk drawer.
32. I’m reminded of The Black Cat, where the vengeful Lugosi flays Karloff alive . . . off screen.
33. Luhr, p. 129. Similar claims, of course, are made by the advocates of the Ed Wood or Coleman Francis oeuvres. It’s been claimed online that Christina’s dubbed screams are the same ones used for Gaby at the end (or vice versa) which also nicely bookends the film and emphasizes the make-believe, but also amps up the Gaby/Lily/Christina doubling we’ll explore later.
34. For a complete accounting, see “Lovecraft’s Ladies” by Ben P. Indick in Discovering H. P. Lovecraft, ed. Darrell Schweitzer, 2nd ed. (Wildside Press, 1995).
35. “Rodgers, born Gabrielle Rosenberg in Germany in 1928, was the niece of the founder of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl, and grew up in Amsterdam, where she remembered playing with Anne Frank as a child; she appeared on the cover of Cosmopolitan in 1957, representing “The New Face of Broadway,” and married songwriter Jerry Leiber, author of “Jailhouse Rock,” “Hound Dog,” “Love Potion No. 9,” and numerous others.” Criterion Collection website, here .
36. Many critics have discussed the checkerboard and “x” symbols found throughout the film; I of course would liken them to the Traditional symbolism of Universal Manifestation as a weaving pattern of warp and woof. See “The Corner at the Center of the World: Traditional Metaphysics in a Late Tale of Henry James” here , reprinted in Aristokatia I and forthcoming in The Eldritch Evola . . . & Others (Counter-Currents, 2014).
37. “So plainspoken as to be a parody of the hardboiled detective she imitates in her inexorable and inexpressive search for knowledge” — Martin Harries Forgetting Lot’s Wife: On Destructive Spectatorship, p. 74.
38.Leavis, op. cit., p. 143.
39. “Old (’30s–’40s) term for a handgun: same vintage as gat, heater, cannon, etc. ‘He pulled a roscoe and ventilated the gorilla.’” Urban Dictionary, here .
40. Darren McGavin, who would star in “Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer” (1957–’59) later starred in a short-lived 1968 series, The Outsider.
41. “The Thriller of Tomorrow”; a similar confrontation occurs in “The Jolly Corner,” the James ghost story I analyze in the work cited in Note 35 above.
42. See Evola’s Hermetic Tradition, Part Two, where he discusses how the Realized Man creates for himself a new, indestructible body — the Tantric Diamond Body — by reconstructing himself from the atomic level on up — the film’s atomic chain reaction is an inverted symbol of this.
43. Ironically, after being shot by Gaby, Soberin transforms himself into the dog, Cerberus.
44. Prominently featured in the Bunker Hill locations is the “Angel’s Flight ,” a rather Lovecraftian funicular railway, featuring two cars, Sinai — pillar of fire? — and Olivet.
45. It’s as if Brigid O’Shaughnessy shot Sam Spade and took off with the Maltese Falcon. Usually, it’s Mike who does the gut-shooting. In Spillane’s own film, The Girl Hunters, he tricks Shirley Eaton into blowing her own head off with a shotgun.
46. Soberin’s enigmatic remark that the Whatzit “can’t be divided” suggests the extra-dimensionality of one of Lovecraft’s Elder Gods.
47. “Character Gullibility in Weird Fiction; or, isn’t Yuggoth Somewhere in Upstate New York?” in Discovering Lovecraft, loc. 1003.
48. See my review of Graham Harmon’s Weird Realism, “‘A General Outline of the Whole’: Lovecraft as Heideggerian Event” here and in forthcoming The Eldritch Evola … & Others.
49. Blackwood was an initiate of the Golden Dawn; Evola even deigns to quote John Silence on some occult self-defense techniques in his Introduction to Magic.
50. Anomalously, the folklorists from Arkham know just the right formula to dispatch the Dunwich horror and dismiss the revenant Charles Dexter Ward.
51. “. . . he gradually discovers layers of power and danger that surround him of which he knows nothing and with which he is unprepared to cope” (Luhr, p. 134).
52. “Kiss Me Deadly looks back both to canonical film noir, whose era was winding down, and ahead to neo-noir, or resurrected noir, which would not emerge for more than a decade. Death and resurrection are central themes [as we saw with Gaby] . . . embodying the baroque endpoint of an exhausted genre, pushing that genre’s tropes to and beyond their limits” (Luhr, p. 144).
53. Hoberman, “Thriller of Tomorrow.”
54. Conveniently summarized in “The Restoration of Kiss Me Deadly” by Glenn Erickson, here , from which I take the following summary of the endings
55. It’s a bit like the end of Bride of the Monster, and any number of other ’50s movies where atomic blasts happen right and left, with only a small danger of mutating into a 50 giant or something, as long as you wear your “protective goggles.”
56. See, as always, Baron Evola’s The Hermetic Tradition, especially Chapter One on the symbolism of the Tree.
57. In the James tale we analyze in “The Corner,” this is how the protagonist ends up, sprawled out on a checkerboard patterned floor; while there’s none here, there is one in Mike’s apartment.
58. Remember those “long shadows” they “throw down the beach”?
59. See René Guénon, The Multiples States of the Being, Chapter 12, “The two chaoses.”
60. See Guénon, op. cit., but especially Coomaraswamy, The Door in the Sky (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997) that exhaustively documents the symbolism of, for example, the hole in the roof of, for example, a teepee or another traditional structure, which smoke outlet serves as a symbol of the path of the soul.
61. “This opus has become a cult film . . . I cannot say why — I never completely understood our screenplay, and my confusion was still there when we ran the completed film” — producer Victor Saville; quoted in Mickey Spillane on Screen: A Complete Study of the Television and Film Adaptations by Collins and Traylor (McFarland, 2012), p. 61.
Harry Dean Stanton (1926-2017)
by Brett Stevens on September 15, 2017
It was with dismay that I read of the demise of Harry Dean Stanton, who made it to a ripe old age despite habits that modern medical science deems fatal at a young duration. A classic character actor, he imbued great personality into a number of films, including the Generation X educational classic Repo Man (1984), a film about the collision of suburban bourgeois values and a failed society.
In that film, he struck an iconoclastic posture as one of the few “adults” who would admit the utter failure of the paradise of democracy, equality, consumerism and libertarianism that the United States had become in the 1980s, pointing out the vast obliviousness of every aspect of society and the failure to address reality of all who should be in that role. For this, and his other acting successes, he will be remembered fondly.comments powered by Disqus.
Jane Austen, Western Restorationist
by Brett Stevens on March 22, 2017
Some time ago, Greg Johnson at Counter-Currents wrote about women and someone brought up Jane Austen. Six years later, this provoked Leftist celebrity-academia to sperg out and get schooled by AltRight.
With that backstory out of the way, we can look at the actual appeal of Jane Austen, and then expand upon it. Luckily, you have a credible guide; I wrote extensively on Jane Austen while entrenched in academia, before realizing that academia was just as much a lie as the private sector and bailing out of both as much as possible. And so, there are some expansions that can be argued as well.
Austen writes books that many still consider “women’s novels” for their topic matter, which is fine as long as you think that Apocalypse Now was a war film and Repo Man was a film about cars, or that Naked Lunch was really about heroin, for that matter. Setting is not content; a good novel is like a virus, with an outer shell of setting and characters, and a payload of philosophy and detailed observation of life.
As revealed in one of our recent Austen reviews, her thinking as a writer extends beyond the concerns of her characters to human questions of morality, existential fulfillment and even civilization itself. She may write through the lens of women’s issues, but Austen belongs on the shelf with Nietzsche, Houellebecq and CÃ©line.
Naturally, the Establishment is resisting the idea that Austen could be Alt Right, which tells you right away that some similarity between the two can be found, because otherwise they would not bother getting the hive-mind in a buzz about this issue. As Hannibal Bateman writes:
From The Times article â€œJane Austen Has Alt-Right Fans? Heavens to Darcy!â€:
But it has prompted the most sustained chatter among Austen scholars, a more reliably liberal bunch who, like Ms. Wright, emphatically reject white nationalist readings of her novels.
â€œNo one who reads Jane Austenâ€™s words with any attention and reflection can possibly be alt-right,â€ Elaine Bander, a retired professor and a former officer of the Jane Austen Society of North America, said in an email.
…Of course Jane Austen comes out of a White world. This is why the commentary on the original Counter Currents article were so relevant. Because Jane Austen as a European writer speaks to peculiar conditions of European man, the same way Langston Hughes and Chaim Potok speak to their respective black and Jewish readers. All of Austenâ€™s work takes place in a world where European identity, and in particular, regency English countryside identity, were presupposed.
Austen not only touches on, but by arguing for certain attitudes within them, endorses some of the most taboo institutions to Leftists, including caste systems, eugenics and aristocracy. In the Austen world, people are either good or bad, and those that behave according to the psychology of Leftism are parasitic and threatening.
Click here for an imaging of what Jane Austen might have looked like. Just two centuries ago, and already so much is forgotten. But her vision lives on because it remains relevant for any sane and thinking person in this time, as well.
For example, her classic Pride And Prejudice melds eugenic theory with an intensely realistic morality. All of the bad men are slightly effete, harmless-looking and parasitic; all of the good ones are elitist, good-natured and generous. The self-deluding characters end up with other self-deluders and make themselves miserable, and realists find each other and escape.
In her book Emma, Austen describes the Leftist mentality as similar to a lonely over-disciplined child playing in a doll house. The people and consequences are not real, only symbolic, and this manifests in a profound and damaging loneliness. In the background, civilization chortles on, oblivious to these deeper issues, as if Austen is reminding us that most of humanity is inert.
For this reason, it is both a mistake to argue that Jane Austen is an Alt Right writer as it is to argue that her work does not contain some ideas which overlap with the Alt Right. She writes about a white world of a different era, in which social rank (caste distinctions) and personal qualities are more important than commerce. Her world is appalled by European foreigners, much less non-whites, whose presence she would find as awkward as she finds the concept of slavery.
In other words, like most literary superstars, Jane Austen was that odd mixture of intense Realism and a passionate sense that the idea is greater than the material, or Germanic-style Idealism. In her books, characters are practical, but also live for spirit and a strong sense of doing what is right not only by themselves, but by principle itself.
Claiming that her philosophy fits into the Alt Right world is thus both true and not the whole story. As The Chronicle writes:
On the popular blog of the alt-right publisher Counter-Currents, the world of Austenâ€™s novels is extolled as a prototype for the â€œracial dictatorshipâ€ of tomorrow. One commenter wrote, â€œIf, after the ethnostate is created, we revert back to an Austen-like world, we males ought to endure severe sacrifices as well. â€¦ If traditional marriage Ã la P&P [Pride and Prejudice] is going to be imposed, again, in an ethnostate, we must behave like gentlemen.â€
In Jane Austen, the only reason the ethnostate works at all is the presence of an aristocracy. Austen’s work is intensely elitist, and she recognizes that most people are horrible and most human events are in fact failures. For example, witness this classic voicing by Elizabeth Bennet that expresses elitism and aristocracy at the same time:
There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.
Most things are garbage; most people are confused. The few who rise above merit attention, and this theme runs through Emma and Pride And Prejudice as well as other Austen works. In a foreshadowing of modern literature, most of her characters end up self-destructing or slotted into dead-end existences, while the few good ones struggle and then finally find a path of meaning for themselves.
This elitism is the core of hierarchy. When sorting out a human group, it makes sense to place the best above the rest, not just by external traits (wealth, power, status, popularity) but by internal traits (honor, intelligence, wisdom, pathos). Much of Austen’s work consists of filtering out the internal traits from the external image presented by characters, including slimy ones.
For those of us in the present day, this becomes essential because under democracy, everything is political. In Austen’s world we can see a comradeship of the gifted in which the political is recognized as a front, and the internal traits and motivations of individuals determine their quality and thus their relevance to that world. Austen may be as anti-democratic as she is insightful.
Her characters are — unlike modern “literary” protagonistas — not uncomfortable with their roles. Women want to get married and have families; men want to be men; proles want to prole, and elites are concerned with the abstract issues that are relevant to leadership. Each thing has its place, and the only remaining task is to sort them all by hierarchy.
That type of comfort only occurs in a strict hierarchy of both leadership and social status, demonstrated in her time by aristocracy and caste. Every person has a place, or zone of comfortable operation, paired to his or her characteristics. Scullery maids are not expected to be ladies, nor are footmen expected to be gentlemen. But all are accepted as they are and even seen through a kindly filter.
One reason that Austen remains popular is that she shows us a time before the neurotic existence occasioned by modernity, which has its roots in the removal of this leadership and hierarchy and their replacement with egalitarian mob rule. In Jane Austen’s time, being accurate in speech was still more important than flattering others, and discerning inner traits was permissible. Neither is true today.
This leads us to another uncomfortable recognition: the white world of Jane Austen could not exist without its other aspects such as aristocracy. The world she describes will never emerge from equality and democracy. It is an entirely different direction that we could have at any moment, were we willing to surrender our pretense of equality.
Aristocracy in turn could not exist without her elitism, or recognition that inner traits exist and are important, and that we need those with the best inner traits on top because if decisions are left up to lesser people, crisis and horror result. It is this realization, which reverses the logical framework for both the French Revolution and The Enlightenment,™ that really scares the Left.
If we read Austen as honest and alert people, we encounter a vision of human existence which directly refutes Leftism while simultaneously adopting and disciplining the emotional responses behind it, much as Elizabeth Bennet learns to discipline her emotions in Pride And Prejudice. While that vision includes the ethnostate, it is not limited to it.
That in turn normalizes the ethnostate as a concept. Instead of being a radical idea, it is an ingredient in the most sensible recipe for happiness; it is not chosen for its symbolic meaning or personal value, but because it works, like every other idea demonstrated positively in an Austen novel.
Her insight is to show us that the reason these policies work at the national level is because they work at the personal level. The question of civilization is not institutions, but individuals, and individuals follow the same framework and so can be predicted. Is Austen Alt Right? Perhaps neither yes nor no, but she attacks modernity the same way the Alt Right does, and we should heed her wisdom.comments powered by Disqus.
Michel Houellebecq, founder of Neoreaction
by Brett Stevens on November 14, 2015
When Michel Houellebecq hits the news for his new novel, Submission, it makes sense to remember his roots: writing about the tedium of modern life and fleeting glimpses of beauty, truth and purity that tempt people from it. Usually, as tragic characters, they cannot realize that beauty because of their broken psychologies and neuroses.
Houellebecq burst onto the scene in 1997 with Whatever, a cynically humorous book — think Louis-Ferdinand Celine or William Burroughs — about the failure of modern life. Its characters struggle through pointless and boring jobs, alienating sexual relationships and dysfunctional families, all while wandering through a 21st-century dystopian wasteland that is both beautiful in its ruin and crassly plastic in the assumptions through which most people survive.
Two years later came Elementary Particles, a classic postmodern novel — think Thomas Pynchon’s V — where two characters take opposite versions of the same path. Written much about wave/particle duality, as a metaphor for both the fragmentation caused by individualistic society and the soul itself, this novel traces two brothers as they wander through the endless existential pitfalls and career successes of modern France. It defines the West handily: to succeed while feeling empty and never having what one actually needs.
After that, Houellebecq wrote Platform, a book which compared sex tourism with terrorism and found moral and existential emptiness at the root of both, and The Possibility of an Island which examines isolation through immortality while looking at the nature of cults, as the West increasingly begins to resemble one in the book. He followed that with The Map and the Territory which explored the difference between symbol and meaning, in a nudge toward the idea that nations are more than mere boundaries but are formed of a shared idea, feeling and spirit. All of his books center on the same notion, which is that modern Westerners are hopelessly lonely because they have removed themselves from life through layers of abstraction.
Houellebecq came on the heels of another artistic movement that took up the thread of a chain of ideas:
The downfall of the illusion started with two important thinkers and a musical movement. Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber, wrote a treatise called â€œIndustrial Society and Its Futureâ€ in which he identified technology as the primary enemy of humanity, but also illustrated in clear Nietzschean terms the pernicious influence of Leftism and liberalism through their common origin in egalitarianism. He analyzed them through psychology, not ideology, which helped dig deeper toward the source of our decline. Michel Houellebecq wrote a book in 1997 called Whatever that simultaneously revealed the insanity of liberalism, the inanity of todayâ€™s style of work, and the empty misery of modern sex lives, also digging into the psychology of modern life rather than taking Leftist ideas at face value. The musical movement of â€œblack metal,â€ a type of violent, alienated heavy metal, reversed the psychology of rock music which described itself as â€œgoodâ€ in order to defend the callow pursuit of individual desires and karmic drama. The rock approach was both hedonistic and based in â€œprotest songsâ€ or declarations of the victimhood of the individual, cruelly forced to submit to social order, standards, values, and anything else which stood in the way of self-gratification, echoing the egalitarian ideal of liberalism.
Black metal turned its back on â€œgoodâ€; it aspired to â€œevilâ€ and rejected all that was popular, human, and based in the individual in favor of a naturalistic wildness and feral self-interest like one might find in a Jack London novel. Where rock music assuaged the fears of teenagers that they would be inadequate in some Darwinian contest, black metal affirmed the need for war, death, and competition to restore the strength, honesty, and appreciation for natural beauty in humanity. In doing so, it transcended the individual, and while much has been written about its tendencies toward Satanism, the real drive behind the occult leanings of black metal seems to have been a rejection of the moral binary that made people believe that â€œgoodâ€ came from flattering individuals with equal validity granted to all their desires. In rock, the individual and the social group become one; in black metal, the social impulse and the individualistic are together rejected. The morally obedient shopkeeper is replaced by the feral and lawless warrior, artist, and adventurer.
These rising ideas came only a few years after Francis Fukuyama penned his famous (and now partially retracted) The End of History and the Last Man, which posited a final evolution of humanity into liberal democracy, state-subsidized consumerism, and multiculturalism. Some conservative writers explicitly rejected this notion, most notably Samuel Huntington with his The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, in which he argued that history was very much alive and continuing through conflict between civilizations, which were formed of ethnic, cultural, and moral commonality more than by political and economic ties.
Putting Houellebecq into this context, we see him as one of the steps in the groundwork of ideas that led to the explosion in right-wing thinking that linked nationalism, anti-sexual revolution, anti-modern and anti-consumerist thinking together. This followed the Kaczynski/black metal nexus that linked the right with a more intense form of environmentalism that demands, like the Deep Ecology mission statement, that we re-order our society so that it does not create behaviors that damage the environment, instead of applying the band-aid of regulation and energy efficient appliances that leftist environmentalists like.
Others have seen that Houellebecq is the standard-bearer of the new rightist resurgence:
Last weekâ€™s Spectator carried a piece about Les nouveaux rÃ©actionnaires, French intellectuals who reject the culture of 1968 and the politics of multiculturalism. As Patrick Marnham writes:
The new reactionaries are convinced that one of the cornerstones of French culture, â€˜freedom of expressionâ€™, is dying. They reject â€˜post-colonial guiltâ€™ and are appalled by â€˜cultural relativismâ€™. To get down to the nitty-gritty, they take the view that Franceâ€™s sovereignty is under threat from Arab immigration. Europeâ€™s migration crisis has highlighted their fears, and the lip service that President Hollande pays to Angela Merkelâ€™s refugee-quota system â€” widely unpopular in France â€” has further aided the reactionariesâ€™ arguments.
The neo-reactionaries donâ€™t appear to be reactionaries as such, just people who have fallen out with the Left over multiculturalism just as neo-conservatives fell out with the Left over Communism. No true reactionary could argue that a â€œgolden ageâ€ began in 1789, as the article states â€“ a year that brought about the â€œregicide stateâ€, in the words of the late Fr Jean-Marie Charles-Roux.
It is for this reason that many of us who read Moldbug do so in the context of Houellebecq, or more appropriately, as a series of libertarian arguments designed to make us see Houellebecq’s point of view. Other movements like The Red Pill started angry but found themselves coming around to Houellebecq’s observations, such as that men are lonely because of a lack of lasting and faithful love. Even the most recent New Right resurgence has a distinctive Houellebecquian tone (that word just broke my spell checker) in that it looks more toward identitarianism as a source of commonality than a pragmatic adaptation of policy.
Others have noticed the insight that Houellebecq is conveying:
Like many people who pretend to parle a little francais but get tired after reading a page, Iâ€™ve only just now read the newly-translated â€œSubmission,â€ Michel Houellebecqâ€™s dystopian vision of a near-future French republic that succumbs willingly to a vaguely Tariq Ramadan-esque form of political Islam. When I say â€œdystopian,â€ the casual reader may infer â€” as many people did when the book first appeared, literally at the same moment as the â€œCharlie Hebdoâ€ massacre â€” that the dystopia is the Islamicized France, that Houellebecq is trying to do for Islamism or â€œEurabiaâ€ what Orwell once did for Stalinism. But if youâ€™ve read the keener reviews (or Houellebecqâ€™s previous novels) you probably understand that no, actually, the dystopia is the contemporary West, and the Islamified future that Houellebecqâ€™s story ushers in is portrayed as a kind of civilizational step forward, or if you prefer a necessary regression back to health.
I sort of knew this going in but even so it was remarkable how â€” well, I think neo-reactionary is really the only term to use to describe what Houellebecq seems to be doing in his portrait of contemporary France and his mischievous prophecy about its potential trajectory. And I do mean neo-reactionary in the internet-movement, Mencius Moldbug sense of the term (if you arenâ€™t familiar with this particular rabbit hole, good luck): The overt political teaching of â€œSubmissionâ€ is that Europe is dying from the disease called liberalism, that it can be saved only by a return of hierarchy and patriarchy and patriotism and religion and probably some kind of monarchy as well, but that religion itself is primarily an instrumental good and so the point is to find a faith that actually convinces and inspires and works (and thatâ€™s, well, a little manly), and on that front European Christianity and particularly Roman Catholicism is basically a dead letter so the future might as well belong to Islam instead.
Kaczynski saw liberalism as a psychological disease; black metal saw it as moral cowardice; Houellebecq sees it as a spiritual disease (calling to mind one of the greats of Swedish death metal, who composed an album entitled Terminal Spirit Disease). Perhaps all three are right. Perhaps it is simply illogical and dismantling of civilization, which in turn creates the effects of all three as people become the particles adrift of Houellebecq’s second novel. Like Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night, his books feature characters venturing through a society that is on its surface thriving but a few levels deeper as dystopian as Blade Runner. The only movies that come close to portraying this kind of disconnect are Apocalypse Now, Demolition Man and Repo Man which reveal the underlying loneliness of anyone who is awake in a time of sleepwalkers who have bought into whatever political or economic justifications seem to make people feel successful for living in this time. It is why they meet so much resistance: they attack society, true, but more pointedly, they attack our individual illusions of living in a good era, which makes people upset because they rely on those illusions in order to tolerate all of the tedium, parasitism and nonsense.
Another insight from fellow writer Karl Ove Knausgaard gives more of the whole picture of what Houellebecq, like Celine, is evoking:
When FranÃ§ois at the beginning of the novel writes that the great majority in Western societies are blinded by avarice and consumerist lust, even more so by the desire to assert themselves, inspired by their idols, athletes, actors and models, unable to see their own lives as they are, utterly devoid of meaning, what he is describing is the function of faith in modern society. The fact that he himself does not possess such faith, that he exists outside of it, within the meaningless, as it were, he explains as follows: â€œFor various psychological reasons that I have neither the skill nor the desire to analyze, I wasnâ€™t that way at all.â€
This is the only place in the novel that opens up for the idea that the emptiness and ennui that FranÃ§ois feels is not just universal, a kind of existential condition applicable to us all and which most people hide away behind walls of illusion, it may also have individual causes. That is somewhere he doesnâ€™t want to go, and thus a vast and interesting field of tension is set up in the novel, since the narrator is a person who is unable to bond with others, feels no closeness to anyone, not even himself, and moreover understands solitude existentially, that is from a distance, as something general, a universal condition, or as something determined by society, typical of our age, at the same time as he tells us his parents never wanted anything to do with him, that he hardly had any contact with them, and that their deaths are little more than insignificant incidents in his life. Such an understanding, that the ennui and emptiness he feels so strongly are related to his incapacity to feel emotion or establish closeness to others, and that it is difficult, indeed impossible, not to see this as having to do with lifelong rejection, is extraneous to the novelâ€™s universe, since nothing would be remoter to FranÃ§oisâ€™s worldview, an intimate model of explanation would be impossible for him to accept, a mere addition to the list of things in which he doesnâ€™t believe: love, politics, psychology, religion.
The point here is that most of us are accustomed to “Systems” like democracy, capitalism, etc. and we tend to see solutions the same way. “Get religion in there!” screams the American Republican. But that, alone, will not do it. Religion is not a system of rules like our regulatory state or EU laws, but a compulsion within the individual to charge life with meaning and thus, want to do good. Similarly we cannot like the Nazis impose Nationalism by rules, but need to come together as a people toward a common idea of positive logic, or what we want to create on an ongoing basis. National identity is like that, as is religion, and also the alertness to life itself that Houellebecq’s characters get a whiff of but can never complete. We must regrow our souls, and this cannot be done externally. It can only be done through vague and amorphous ideas like identity, reverence, and transcendence. We must re-grow the love for life in our souls to see what good is, and through that, to re-animate the corpses of religion, identity and culture.
Houellebecq is not as popular on the internet as those who offer Systems. Moldbug offers us the idea of taking the gated community to the next level and creating libertarian micro-states within the dying realms of the West, but that does not address the internal problem, which is that people have not beaten their internal rottenness. The Orthosphere offers us religious fanaticism informed by history, which beats out the fundamentalist and extremist variants and is mostly right, but not a solution in itself. Cramming people into religion without having their souls ready to come to it will turn religion into an ideology and, as a glance over the alt-right Traditionalist and Catholic blogs show us, has already done so. Even capitalism can become ideological, or externally-imposed as a universal, when designated as The Solution. Those ideas are simpler than the thought of a spiritual revival against disease, and so they win out over Houellebecq on the blogs of the world, but none seem satisfying because ultimately they lack what Houellebecq has given us: a map out of the territory of darkness of the soul by noticing beauty and making ourselves receptive to the possibility of goodness, joy and delight in our world.comments powered by Disqus.
Metal audiences and listeners, aficionados of a genre that is well known for it’s enthusiasm towards the macabre will always have the generalization of being attached to the horror genre. A very recent review of Cannibal Holocaust on here is testament to the leanings that many metallers and Hessians would have towards gore, science fiction and the supernatural, occult side of cinema. Seeing as Cannibal Holocaust did ‘realism’ to a certain extent, reviewing Rodrigo D: No Futuro intends to further this. This drama film, about an aspiring drummer is a brilliant narrative about survival amidst the harshest and roughest of environments captures a realism not present in most forms of dramatic cinema, but also possesses the same punk nihilism that would easily appeal to anybody who enjoyed Alex Cox’s brilliant ‘Repo Man’ and Tim Hunter’s ‘Rivers Edge’, stripped towards a far more coherent realism that is totally at odds with commercial ‘glossy’ film-making.
The fact that the film was shot in the same neighborhood where many of the main actors lived, within a city known to have the world’s highest murder rate at the time, only gives light to the fact as to how these young people would have gone about their daily lives, for which reason the writer feels rather little need to offer intricate details towards the plot of the film. It’s backdrop revolves around a day to day existence under the constant plethora of violence, crime, strife and nothingness for it’s young protagonists, amidst a musical backdrop that is a myriad of punk hardcore, thrash and early death/black metal, an indicator that if Europe were home to romanticism and North America a hotbed for nihilism, then surely in it’s earlier days the South American metal scene was the land where a brutal realism, born from poverty and societal decay, made itself clear.
Musically the soundtrack is one of the most compatible, suitable and cohesive to be heard in any underground flick. The fact that the bands featured on here are so distinctly similar to one another yet retaining their own character is perhaps indicative of a thriving yet incestuous underground scene in Medellin at the time, the savage and raw tonal quality having much in common, but perhaps a much more chaotic, ambient, stripped down take on what the Brazilian underground acts (Sepultura, Sarcofago, Mutilator, Vulcano, Sextrash) had done in a similar era. The remaining soundtrack is permeated with punk rock and hardcore that although not on the same level of corrosive aggression still oozes the same depravity and oblivion that makes the film all the more worthwhile and excellent.
An additional bonus to this is the presence of members of seminal Columbian act Parabellum in the film, the scene in which they are featured being poignant and insightful enough to merit that parts of the film were as good as being documentary footage. The scene featuring another local act, Blasfemia is excellent and iconic, with the band playing a rooftop gig/rehearsal, in the backdrop of idyllic mountains in the distance of decrepit, violent shanties.This is a highly recommended film for anyone fond of exploring realism within cinema, and also for those who want insight into South American underground music of the 80′s, getting hold of the soundtrack would be highly recommended. A gripping film, and both watcher or listener is entitled to take that opinion in either direction.
Written by Pearson
You probably remember Al Leong even if you never knew his name. He has acted in dozens of films as a bad guy supporting other bad guys. Hence the name of the documentary Henchman: The Al Leong Story directed by Repulsion guitarist Matt Olivo, which will see release in 2014.
Olivo has continued his musical career in parallel to his cinematic one. Interviewing dozens of media moguls and high-profile talent such as John Carpenter, Olivo assembled the documentary out of reminiscences and interviews. These enabled him to portray the career and life of legendary Hollywood stunt performer, actor and martial artist Al Leong, famous for his work in Die Hard and dozens of other violent entertaining films.
To help Olivo continue his overtime career (once you’ve been in Repulsion, you’ve wona t life) go to the Henchman: The Al Leong Story Facebook page and make sure to “like” the page, and then spread the word of the film to friends, family, bystanders and any movie industry executives you happen to know.
I remember the moment in 1996 when I first heard about David Cronenberg’s Crash on National Public Radio. I exploded in outrage. I thought the story of a group of people who made a sexual fetish of car crashes had to be the stupidest movie concept of all time. Not decadent or perverted, mind you—although it was obviously trying really hard in that respect—but just stupid. I had the sense that Western decadence, like a 16,000-page burlesque by the Marquis de Sade, was finally running out of perversions, and Cronenberg was desperately trying to come up with a novel tab and slot combo, perhaps by employing some sort of random content generator, like picking words from a book at random. “Sex and . . . car crashes. Yeah, that’s the ticket.”
Of course, I was wrong about all that. Culturally, things have gotten so much worse since 1996, that a film about attractive white people who get off on car crashes seems almost wholesome in retrospect. As for where the story came from: Crash was based on a novel by J. G. Ballard, which explains the try-hard geekiness of the concept. But maybe Ballard was the one using the random perversion generator. I have not read the novel, and I don’t know how faithful the film adaptation is, but I am commenting here on the movie alone.
Of course, the connection between sex and car crashes is not random and accidental. Both are objects of voyeurs, which is what Crash makes us, the audience. But most viewers rebelled, and Crash was a huge commercial and critical flop. Virtually everyone, audiences and critics alike, found Crash unintelligible, unsexy, repellent, and sometimes downright ludicrous.
Thus it was some years before I actually saw Crash, and to my surprise, it is truly an excellent movie. I would rank it as Cronenberg’s best, alongside A History of Violence . The story of Crash is much less satisfying, but I give it extra points for avant-garde audacity and sheer visual style.
Crash had me from the opening credits, which loom up like signs along a nighttime highway, accompanied by Howard Shore’s spiky, metallic, percussive theme scored for an ensemble of electric guitars.
Then we are inside an airplane hangar. The camera languidly stalks and caresses the bulging, sleek, riveted surfaces of small planes. Then we see Catherine Ballard (Deborah Kara Unger), a beautiful but cold and ferret-faced blonde, expose one of her breasts and press it against the surface of the plane as a lover takes her from behind.
Then we are inside a television studio. People are looking for Catherine’s husband, director James Ballard (James Spader at the peak of his attractiveness and charisma), who is in the camera room having a quickie with a crewmember, which is interrupted.
Next we are on the balcony of the Ballard’s posh modern apartment in a high-rise overlooking a busy expressway near the Toronto airport. Catherine is looking out over the expressway. The couple tell each other of the day’s sexual adventures, as a prelude to their own love-making. As James takes her from behind, Catherine commiserates with her husband about his interrupted tryst. “Maybe the next one,” she repeats consolingly.
Maybe the next one will work out, for there will always be a “next one.” James and Catherine are clearly compulsive serial sexual adventurers. Both of them are highly attractive, affluent young professionals in a large city. Birth control and abortion have separated sex from procreation. Sexual liberation has unchained hedonism from morality. At thirtysomething, they have already racked up hundreds, if not thousands, of partners and are beginning to get a little jaded. As long as they avoid venereal diseases, though, they can keep rutting until they look like Keith Richards.
Many critics have remarked on how unsexy, unarousing, and unpornographic Crash is, citing it as evidence that Cronenberg is an inept director. But they have missed the point. Crash is not a “sex positive” film. It is an anti-sex film. It is a film about addiction and degradation. Expecting Crash to make sex addiction sexy is like expecting Requiem for a Dream to make drug addiction alluring.
In the next scene, an indeterminate time has passed. James is driving home from work on a rainy night. Idiotically, he is trying to read through papers as he navigates the freeway. Suddenly, he loses control of his car, heads down an embankment, and ends up in oncoming traffic. He collides head on, and the man in the front passenger seat of the other car shoots like a projectile through both windshields and into the passenger seat of James’ car, dead. Seriously injured himself, James sits stunned as the female driver of the other car claws away her seat belt and exposes her breast.
Next we see James in the hospital, black sutures spiking up from deep, blue-black bruises, a shattered leg being held together by a hideous metal contraption with spikes buried in his flesh. Catherine tells him that the driver of the other car, Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter), is also in the same hospital. Sometime later, James is up and walking and encounters Dr. Remington in the hallway, walking with a cane, her body horribly twisted. He speaks to her, and she grips her cane in rage, as if she wants to thrash him with it, then totters on, silent.
With her is Vaughn (Elias Koteas, who looks like Chris Meloni’s homely brother), a tall, lurching figure in doctor’s whites with horrible scars on his face. He carries a file filled with photos of lacerated and sutured accident victims. Vaughn remains behind to inspect James’ leg brace and examine his other injuries, deeply invading James’ personal space, smirking and leering at his injuries, and ending with an inappropriately long gaze directly into James’ eyes. One is left feeling this is not so much a medical examination as a pick-up.
It becomes clear that James has been changed by his brush with death. While in the hospital, he rebuffs Catherine’s sexual advances. While convalescing at home, he says to Catherine, “Is the traffic heavier now? There seem to be three times as many cars as there were before the accident.” Helen Remington later reports the same experience to James: “[The traffic is] much worse now. You noticed that, did you? The day I left the hospital I had the extraordinary feeling that all these cars were gathering for some special reason I didn’t understand. There seemed to be ten times as much traffic.”
Crash is masterful at communicating the sense that through their trauma, James and Helen have, in effect, entered a new world. Of course they are still on planet earth. They have entered a new world in the Heideggerian sense of world: a new context of intelligibility. The same things surround them, but their meaning has changed completely. The crash is what Heidegger calls an Ereignis, an event that transforms the meaning of everything.
When James and Helen meet the second time, they are at the police lot where their wrecked cars are impounded. James has revisited the accident not only by seeking out his wrecked car, but also by buying a new car of the exact same make and model. Because of his crash, James cannot relate sexually with Catherine, but he can with Helen, because they have shared the same experience. They end up having sex in James’ car in an airport garage. Then, when James returns home, he has sex with Catherine in the same seated position.
Then the movie gets really weird. Vaughan reappears as the impresario of a reenactment of James Dean’s fatal car accident. After the crash, the police appear, the spectators scatter, and Helen and James escape with Vaughan and the driver of the Dean car, Seagrave (Peter MacNeil), who is seriously injured. When we arrive at Vaughan’s lair, we meet Gabrielle (Patricia Arquette), another crash victim who wears hideous braces that look like bondage gear over black lace lingerie. All of these crash victims live in the same altered world of meaning, in which they reenact their traumas—and historic versions of their traumas, like the deaths of James Dean and Jane Mansfield—until first Seagrave then Vaughan are killed.
Catherine, who is the only member of the cast who has not been in an accident, wants to join the rest of them, and they want to bring her in as well. Catherine is run off the road by Vaughan, but she is not injured. Then, after Vaughan is killed, James fixes up the car that Vaughan died in and uses it to run Catherine off the road again.
All these crashes are interspersed with increasingly kinky sexual encounters: James fucks Helen (again). Vaughan feels up Helen in his car while James watches. Vaughan fucks a prostitute in his car while James watches. (Creepily, Vaughan flexes one of the prostitute’s legs, clearly taking pleasure in it simply as a hinged object, like a pocket knife.) Vaughan fucks Catherine in a car while going through a car-wash while James watches. (With his greenish corpse-like complexion and scars, Vaughan looks like Frankenstein’s monster deflowering his bride among the instruments of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory.) Then James fucks Vaughan in Vaughan’s car. (Followed by Vaughan ramming his car into James.’) James also has sex with Gabrielle in a car, skipping her vagina and inserting his penis into a deep scar on Gabrielle’s leg. Then Helen and Gabrielle have a bit of lesbian action in the back seat of the wrecked car in which Vaughan died. And despite the physical hotness of the various actors (under all the scar tissue and prosthetics), none of it is remotely arousing, and a lot of it is downright distasteful—which, I maintain, is Cronenberg’s brilliantly realized intention.
If Crash is just a movie about sex and car crashes, it rapidly becomes tedious, then ludicrous, then just meaningless, then people stream toward the exits. For Crash to hang together and be meaningful, there has to be a deeper connection between sex and car crashes than just the word “and.”
And no, the fact that both are subjects of voyeurism is not enough. People move quite comfortably from sexual voyeurism to sex, but nobody moves from accident voyeurism to accidents.
Also, when people have brushes with death, they often snap out of self-destructive behavior patterns, such as sex addiction. But in Crash, brushes with death simply lead to the intensification of addictive behaviors, infusing the accidents themselves with sexual energy so that they too are obsessively repeated until some of the characters are actually killed. And no, I don’t think it is enough to simply trot out some Freud talk about neurotics being drawn back to and repeating primal traumas, because that is just a description of what is happening in the film not an explanation of why it is happening.
So what is the connection between sex and car crashes? My answer is simple: in Crash the car crashes are not car crashes, they are sex acts too, specifically unsafe sex acts that lead to the transmission of HIV. For me, the meaning all fell into place on the second viewing when James, lying in his hospital bed, says, “After being bombarded endlessly by road-safety propaganda, it’s almost a relief to have found myself in an actual accident.” James, of course, is a sex addict, and sex addicts are also bombarded endlessly with safe sex propaganda, especially AIDS awareness propaganda. And while road safety propaganda does not make driving less pleasurable, safe sex propaganda does cast rather a pall over things, since condoms reduce pleasure and addicts cannot simply stop having sex. This means that they often feel relieved once they catch HIV, so they can cease worrying about it and really throw themselves into their addiction. Once you crash a car, you don’t want to crash a car again. But once you have unsafe sex, you want to have it again, and if you no longer fear HIV, you are free to make a fetish of unsafe sex with HIV positive people. Indeed, even though most of the couples are male-female, I think Crash is really about homosexual men, for the simple reason that practically every sex act in the film is from behind.
This interpretation throws a lot of light on the end of the movie. Vaughan has died. James buys the car in which he died and gets it running again. Then he runs Catherine off the road. Her car goes down an embankment and flips. She is thrown out of the car. James rushes to her side and asks if she is hurt. Although dazed and bloody, she says that she is all right. James then slips her panties down and enters her from behind, repeating her consoling words from earlier in the film, “Maybe the next one, darling, maybe the next one.” None of this makes any sense psychologically if car crashes are just car crashes, but it makes perfect sense if Catherine is “bug-chasing,” because there will be a next one, and a next one, and eventually she too will crash through the disease barrier and enter the realm where hedonism, shorn of its last inhibition, is free to become a full-blown death cult, in which its devotees grind themselves into oblivion.
Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac: Vol. I and II (2013) is the type of pretentious art-house exhibitionism that begs for conservative condemnation and liberal defense against the prudish “man” — at least upon first inspection. The fundamentalist Islamic Turkish government has recently taken the bait by reacting predictably and banning the film, labeling it, what it is only explicitly and superficially, as “pornography.” But is the recent exposition of sex addiction films such as 2011’s Shame, 2013’s Don Jon, and Nymphomaniac symptomatic of the degeneration of any healthy balanced society?
Nymphomaniac’s protagonist, Joe, is played by three actresses: Charlotte Gainsbourg as the middle-aged incarnation, Stacy Martin as a younger Joe, and Anaya Berg as a ten-year-old Joe. In the end, Joe is left self-pityingly alone, with a ruined marriage, abandoned daughter, and a dangerous career — an overall squandered miserable existence — and she knows it. The film begins near its end, when Joe is found beaten in a dingy alleyway, like a drugged-out victim of a gang rape. And the plot unfolds as she recounts her life of debauchery to an erudite priestly old virgin named Seligman, played by Stellan Skarsgard, who has brought her back to his flat for convalescence and “confession.” Indeed, the story is recounted as a confession, but there is no moral growth, repentance, or redemption.
I skimmed through two reviews of the film, one calling it “feminist” and the other “misogynist,” each with anecdotal evidence to support its claim. Both writers were too confined by their worldviews to see the film as it is. Is the film feminist or misogynist? The answer is: who cares?
For Seligman, Joe is a heroine for breaking the double standard of sexuality — “If she does it she’s a w***e, but if he does he’s ‘The Man.’” While the other side of the women’s lib ticket sees in von Trier’s lens male fear of female sexuality — the vaginal passage portrayed as sexualized womb envy, as young Joe fucks ten different men a night to get her kicks, something that not even the most sexually voracious man could accomplish. In this capacity, Joe represents a threat to the hackneyed leftist chant of the “hegemonic patriarchy.” Joe acts as a deified sacred w***e of the living breathing “Slutwalk” culture .
In today’s polymorphous, perverse, pornographic popular culture, Nymphomaniac fits right in, no lubricant necessary. It’s not art that calls forth idealism or beauty, but neither does our culture at large. Nymphomaniac is intellectually and emotionally challenging, at times disturbing, and ultimately transgressive. The graphic sexuality of the movie, which utilized real “sex doubles,” only reflects the graphic sexuality of our times. We get the art we deserve.
But the work itself is not pornography in the ordinary sense. Yes, the film portrays a lot of sex, and that sex is every bit as debased as pornography. But Nymphomaniac is no more pro-sex than Requiem for a Dream is pro-drug. The purpose of the film is not to get you off. Rather the opposite. It is so depraved and repulsive that it functions as an argument for celibacy.
For example, there is nothing titillating about watching the saggy, paunchy, and menopausal grimacing in orgasm. Nor is the film’s relentless depiction of unfolding tragedies and cathartic emotional outbursts. Uma Thurman’s screaming confrontation with her cheating husband and his paramour, as her children bear witness to the breakdown, is genuinely hard to watch. Likewise Joe’s delirious and incontinent father’s slow, agonizing death in a hospital bed. The breakdown of Joe’s marriage is another of the tragedies that Trier depicts with such relish, especially in his “depression trilogy” (AntiChrist, Melancholia, and Nymphomaniac).
Sexuality was Joe’s means to escape her own existential problems, and hooking up became every bit as addictive as heroin. But Joe refuses to sleep with Seligman at the film’s conclusion. She presumably kills him, but the purity of his virginity, his sacredness in his role as “priest,” and as a man of the higher calling of the mind, is left untainted by her profane nature. By murdering Seligman, Joe keeps the old tribal taboo of the separation of the sacred and profane intact, thereby redeeming the world. This ending — in which Seligman acts completely outside his character, presumably incensed with a mad desire inspired by Joe’s debauched tales — comes off as completely unrealistic and sloppily scripted, but didactic.
While von Trier himself comes off as a snarky art school egomaniac — his production house has dabbled in real “pornography for women,” and he has the word “F**K” tattooed rebelliously on his knuckles — this self-indulgent P.O.S. actually makes some decent films. Well, films we deserve anyways.
1. Making one Turkish blogger quip, “Las von Trier I wish my country was as free as your mind.”
Therefore, having a “free mind” is equated here with sexual promiscuity (artistic or otherwise) as one “enlightened” bastion of liberalist tolerance; much like having “an open mind” means pretty much the same thing. Or being “reactionary” meant opposing the scientific evolution of society according to Marxist materialism. I mean you don’t want to be a “square,” or a “vanilla” or a “fascist” do you? Often the left, whether militantly political or repugnantly social, conjures up these pejorative distinctions to cripple those who differ from their enlightened perspective.
(It is probably not a coincidence that the pejorative term “vanilla” used by the GLTGB, BDSM, and the general hypersexualized crowd against traditional/conventional types of sexuality and coupling has a racial connotation to it. I mean, you don’t want to be “white” do you?)
2. Contrasted with Scorsese’s same-year Hollywood stylized glorification of the Jewish bacchanalia cult of unregulated stock-market manipulation and profiteering in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), von Trier’s Nymphomaniac comes off as masterful as a Shakespearean tragedy.
Parts 1 & 2; Czech translation here 
Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction  is one of my favorite movies. I didn’t want to like it. I didn’t even want to see it. Everything I’d heard made me think it would be thoroughly nihilistic and quite unpleasant. But then someone at a party described Pulp Fiction  as a movie about “greatness of soul at the end of history,” and that caught my attention, because at the time I immersed for the nth time in Plato’s Republic , the core of which is an account of the human soul, as well as Alexandre Kojève’s Introduction to the Reading of Hegel , from which Francis Fukuyama derived his “end of history ” trope.
The very idea of mentioning Plato and Hegel in the same breath with Quentin Tarantino may seem absurd, but bear with me. Pulp Fiction is not a decadent film. It is a film about the most fundamental metaphysical and moral choices we can make—that just happens to be set in the midst of the criminal underclass of a decadent society. The basic issue to be decided is whether to live according to material or spiritual values—to satisfy one’s individual desires or to subordinate these to serve something higher: the common good, one’s personal sense of honor, or a religious calling. This deep seriousness makes Pulp Fiction more than just clever, dark-comic nihilism. It is a genuinely great movie.
The three main characters of Pulp Fiction are two hit men, one black (Jules Winnfield, brilliantly played by Samuel L. Jackson) and one white (Vincent Vega, played by John Travolta), and a corrupt boxer, Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis).
Each of these men represents a particular spiritual type, defined in terms of which part of his soul rules the others. Jules Winfield is a spiritual man, meaning that in a conflict between spiritual and material considerations, he follows the spiritual path. Butch Coolidge is an honor-driven man, meaning that in a conflict between honor and the satisfaction of his desires (even to the point of preserving his life), he chooses honor. Vincent Vega is ruled entirely by his desires, meaning that in a conflict between his desires and honor or spiritual motives, he chooses his desires.
These types of individuals correspond to the three fundamental Indo-European social “functions”/castes as explained by Georges Dumézil and reflected in Plato’s Republic. The spiritual man corresponds to the priestly function/caste. The honor-driven man corresponds to the warrior function/caste. The desire-ruled man corresponds to the economic function/caste.
Pulp Fiction tells the overlapping stories of these three men in a complex, non-linear fashion. The meaning of the movie becomes clearer, however, if we discuss the story in chronological order.
The Outline of the Movie
The titles in quotes are Quentin Tarantino’s. The others are mine.
Part 1: The Diner: Two criminals known as “Pumpkin” (Tim Roth) and “Honey Bunny” (Amanda Plummer) decide to rob a diner.
Part 2: The Killing: Hitmen Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield kill several people and recover a briefcase containing contents stolen from their employer, gangster Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames).
Part 3: “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife”: Vincent Vega takes Marsellus Wallace’s wife Mia out for dinner and dancing.
Part 4: “The Gold Watch”: Boxer Butch Coolidge double-crosses Marsellus Wallace and prepares to flee town when he discovers that he has to return to his apartment to recover his father’s gold watch. (The prologue of this scene is a flashback that explains the significance of the watch.)
Part 5: “The Bonnie Situation”: Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield have to dispose of the body of one of their associates who is accidentally shot in their car in broad daylight.
Part 6: The Diner Again: After disposing of the body, Vincent and Jules decide to have breakfast at a diner, only to have their meal interrupted by Pumpkin and Honey Bunny’s robbery.
The Chronology of Events
1. The flashback to Butch’s childhood
2. The Killing
3. “The Bonnie Situation”
4. The Diner/The Diner Again
5. “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife”
6. “The Gold Watch”
Pulp Fiction is set in Los Angeles and environs in the early 1990s. The movie was filmed in 1993 and released in 1994.
Jules Winnfield, the Spiritual Man
Let’s begin the story with the killing. It is early morning. Jules Winnfield has come to pick up Vincent Vega for a job. When we meet Vincent Vega he has just returned to Los Angeles from three years in Amsterdam.
After three years in one of Europe’s greatest cities, what has rubbed off on him? Vincent’s conversation focuses entirely on fast food, drink, and drugs: what the Dutch eat with their French fries, what the French call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese (Royale with Cheese—on account of the metric system), where you can buy beer, the laws governing marijuana use in Holland, etc. Vincent, as we come to learn, is not stupid. He is intelligent and witty. But he is totally ruled by his desires.
Vincent and his partner Jules Winnfield go to an apartment occupied by four young thieves, three white and one black, who have stolen a briefcase from the black gangster Marsellus Wallace, who is Vega and Winnfield’s employer. The two hit men are let into the apartment by the black thief Marvin, who has betrayed his white friends to the black gangster Wallace and his black enforcer Winnfield. After recovering the briefcase, Winnfield kills two of the white thieves, sadistically toying with their leader, Brett, including shooting him in the leg and a quoting the Bible at him before finishing him off. This ends Part 2, “The Killing.”
The storyline resumes in Part 5, “The Bonnie Situation,” when the third white, who has been hiding in the bathroom, bursts out firing a .357 Magnum. All six shots miss. Jules and Vincent then shoot the gunman, collect the briefcase, and depart with Marvin in tow.
Jules interprets the fact that the bullets missed as “divine intervention.” “God came down from heaven and stopped the bullets.” Vincent interprets it as merely “luck,” a “freak occurrence,” “this s**t happens.” These fundamentally different interpretations reveal fundamentally different characters. As we have already seen, Vincent is ruled by his desires. Thus it makes sense that he would interpret the event in fundamentally materialistic terms as a meaningless freak accident. Jules, by contrast, gives the event a spiritual interpretation, revealing an openness to a higher reality and thus to motives higher than the satisfaction of mere material interests.
In the getaway car, Vincent turns to Marvin for his opinion of the event. Vincent is holding his gun, pointed at Marvin. Marvin, who seems none too bright, says he has no opinion. Then Vincent blows Marvin’s head off, drenching the interior of the car in blood. Vincent claims it is an accident, although he was none too pleased that Marvin had not mentioned that the third white thief was hiding in the bathroom with a “hand cannon.” Still, Vincent is a rather calculating and risk-averse individual. Before the hit, he meticulously questions Jules about the number of people they are facing and keeps insisting that they should have brought shotguns. Thus intentionally killing Marvin in a car in broad daylight seems uncharacteristically reckless.
To avoid being pulled over driving a car bathed in blood, Jules drives to the nearby house of his friend Jimmy (played by Quentin Tarantino himself). Jimmy is not amused. He tells his friends that he is not in the “dead n****r storage” business. His wife Bonnie, a nurse working graveyard at a hospital, will be home in an hour, and the killers, the corpse, and the car will have to be gone. Jules calls Marsellus, who dispatches Winston Wolf (Harvey Keitell), who apparently has some experience in these matters. The whole scene is played in a darkly comic way, wallowing in the grossness of the blood and the corpse, as well as the moral sordidness of its casual disposal. Marvin is “nobody who will be missed,” and, truly, there are plenty more where he came from.
After Wolf disposes of the body and departs, “The Bonnie Situation” has been resolved, and the last part of the movie commences: Part 6, The Diner Again.
Jules and Vincent decide to have breakfast at a local diner (it truly has been a long morning). Vincent orders pancakes and sausages, Jules coffee and a muffin. When Vincent offers Jules some sausage, Jules refuses on the ground that pigs are unclean animals, to which Vincent retorts in a childish voice, “Sausages tastes good. Pork chops taste good.” Again Vincent shows that he is fundamentally ruled by his desires, whereas Jules has higher standards, in this case aesthetic. (Jewish dietary laws are explicitly rejected as his motive, but spiritual men routinely codify their moral and aesthetic preferences as religious commandments.)
Then the conversation returns to the bullets that missed. Vincent again dismisses it as a freak accident. Jules again insists that it was divine intervention, a message from God. He has decided to quit “the life”—meaning the life of a killer—and “wander the earth like Kane in Kung Fu,” getting in adventures and meeting people until God tells him he is where he ought to be. Vincent, who is immune to the spiritual and focused entirely on the material, knows exactly what people with no jobs and no money who wander the earth are. They are bums. Jules is proposing to be nothing more than a bum. Vincent, whose entire life seems to be ruled by his digestive tract, then interrupts the conversation “to take a s**t.”
When Vincent is in the toilet, Pumpkin and Honey Bunny launch their robbery and the movie comes full circle. It goes quite well, until Pumpkin tries to take Marsellus’ case from Jules. Jules gets the drop on him, then in an absolutely riveting speech, explains that he will not kill them because he is “in a transitional period” (transitioning out of “the life”). His brush with death has brought on “a moment of clarity.” He now sees through the excuses and self-deceptions he has used to rationalize his life as a criminal. He sees that he has been nothing more than a tool of “the tyranny of evil men.” He keeps the briefcase. Pumpkin and Honey Bunny depart, followed by Jules and Vincent.
At this point, the movie ends, but we are not even half-way into the story. If Tarantino had originally meant to present the movie in chronological order, Samuel L. Jackson’s absolutely riveting delivery makes it easy to understand why he chose to make this the final scene. Everything after it would seem like an anticlimax.
Next in the story is Part 3, “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife.” Vincent and Jules, having departed the diner, arrive at a bar owned by their employer, Marsellus Wallace. The scene begins with Wallace speaking to Butch Coolidge, the boxer, but I will save my discussion of this scene until later, when I discuss “The Gold Watch.” Although we do not see it happen, Jules presumably tenders his resignation and departs on his spiritual quest. We learn nothing more about his fate.
Since Jules Winnfield is now departing from the story, this is the appropriate place to explore another way in which spiritual themes play a role in Pulp Fiction. What is in Marsellus Wallace’s briefcase? When Vincent opens the briefcase in The Killing, a golden light shines out of it. Vincent takes a drag on his cigarette and stares, transfixed. In The Diner Again, when Pumpkin demands that Jules open the briefcase, again we see a golden glow. With a look of awe on his face, Pumpkin asks: “Is that what I think it is?” Jules nods yes, then Pumpkin says, “It’s beautiful.”
An interpretation  that I find appealing has been floating around the internet since 1994: The briefcase contains Marsellus Wallace’s soul. He has sold it, or it has been stolen, but in any case he wants it back. This interpretation fits in with a number of details in the movie in addition to the strange glow and the looks of awe: The combination of the briefcase is 666, the Number of the Beast. Jules tells Pumpkin that the briefcase contains his boss’s “dirty laundry,” and indeed, Marsellus Wallace has a lot of dirty laundry, a lot of sins upon his soul.
The first thing we see of Marsellus Wallace is the back of his shaved head. At the base of his skull is a large Band-Aid. One wonders if something has been removed. It has been suggested that his soul was removed through the back of his head, although the idea apparently has no basis in myth or tradition. If Jules and Vincent were trying to recover Marsellus Wallace’s soul, it would also explain why God might indeed want to intervene on their behalf. And as for the death of the four thieves: Well, they are the devil’s little helpers anyway.
Vincent Vega: The Desire-Driven Man
Although Jules Winnfield quits “the life,” Vincent Vega stays in Marsellus’s employ, and his next job is to take Mrs. Wallace out for a night on the town while Mr. Wallace is away.
Am I the only one to whom this does not sound like a good idea? During the opening sequence of The Killing, we learn that Marsellus’ white wife Mia (Uma Thurman) is a failed actress. (She was in a pilot.) We also hear that Marsellus had another of his associates, Atwan Rockamora, thrown off a fourth storey balcony for giving Mia a foot massage. (Those of us who on this basis suspected Tarantino of being a foot fetishist were vindicated by the Kill Bill  movies.)
For Vincent, the first order of business in taking out his boss’s wife is to buy some heroin. He goes to the house of his dealer Lance (Eric Stolz). As Vincent waits for Lance, he listens to a disquisition on body-piercing from Lance’s wife Jody (Rosanna Arquette). Having purchased and injected some spendy gourmet heroin, Vincent departs for the Wallace residence to pick up Mia.
We soon learn that Mia is cut from the same cloth as Vincent: she is witty, playful, and entirely dominated by her desires. Cocaine is her drug of choice, along with alcohol and cigarettes. Everything about this couple is extremely cool, from Vincent’s car to their clothes, their music, their witty repartee, and their wonderful dance scene. But their most disarming traits are their sensitivity and old-fashioned manners. It is impossible to dislike Vincent and Mia. It is hard not to envy them. Their lives would be a fun vacation from our lives. This whole segment of Pulp Fiction does full justice to both the allure and the emptiness of their postmodern hedonism.
Mia has Vincent take her to Jack Rabbit Slim’s, a 50s nostalgia restaurant in which the booths are classic cars and the waiters and waitresses dress up like 50s movie and pop stars. (The prices, however, are very much in the 90s.) Vincent sums the place up brilliantly, in one of the movie’s best lines: “It’s like a wax museum with a pulse.” After Buddy Holly takes their order, Mia slips into the bathroom to snort some coke. After dinner, they doff their shoes then compete in, and win, the Jack Rabbit Slim’s twist contest. There is a great deal of clever dialogue, but the overall impression is that Vincent and Mia have only one use for their intelligence: to accumulate novel experiences and undergo pleasant sensations.
Cut to the end of the evening. Vincent and Mia stagger back to the Wallace residence. Having eaten, drunk, danced, laughed, and shot up, Vincent’s desires are now moving in a sexual direction. But first he has “to take a piss.” He ducks into the bathroom to get a grip on himself. Here we see the roles of reason and morality in a desire-dominated life.
For Plato, reason is a multi-faceted faculty embracing everything from induction from sense experience to calculating options and outcomes to mystical insight into transcendent truths. All human beings use reason, but only the spiritual individual accesses its highest powers. Jules Winnfield’s conviction that God was sending him a message is an example of the highest, mystical function of reason, although it seems none too reasonable to the rest of us.
For desire-ruled individuals like Vincent, however, reason is merely a tool to satisfy their desires. It is empirical and calculative. Modern philosophy, no matter how rational it professes to be, tends to define reason merely as a tool for the satisfaction of desire, which makes even professed rationalists hedonists in the end.
Vincent wants to f**k Mia. (There is no point in putting a finer word on it.) This, he claims, is “a test of character,” and he shows that modernity defines character, like reason, in a way that leaves desire firmly in control. Vincent would enjoy fucking Mia. But he would not enjoy the probable consequences if Marsellus finds out. (Mia denies the foot massage story, but who knows . . .)
Vincent does not choose against sex with Mia based on his sense of the honorable or the sacred. Rather, he masters one desire by rationally counter-posing other, greater desires: the desires to remain alive and on good terms with his boss. Thus he resolves that he is going to have a drink, say goodnight, be a perfect gentleman, then go home and jerk off.
Vincent, in short, achieves self-mastery though rational self-indulgence. Reason for Vincent means hedonistic calculus. Character means the ability to sacrifice present pleasures for future pleasures. These are the highest virtues to which a hedonist can aspire.
While Vincent is communing in the toilet with the cleverer demons of his nature, Mia is getting bored in the other room. Vincent has gallantly offered Mia his coat, which she is still wearing. In a pocket, she finds his bag of heroin. Thinking it is cocaine, she snorts some of it, sending her into an immediate overdose. When Vincent finds her—glassy eyed, foaming at the mouth, bleeding from the nose, a grotesque parody of Man Ray’s “Tears”—he panics. He is a no-doubt wanted criminal. So is his boss. So he cannot take Mia to an emergency room. Too many questions. So he drives her to the house of his dealer Lance, where, after a good deal of dark-comic hysteria, he revives Mia by stabbing her in the heart with a huge syringe full of adrenaline, shocking her back to consciousness. (“Pretty trippy” chortles Jody. Then her friend Trudi celebrates life with another bong hit.)
As the bedraggled pair stumble back to the Wallace house, they no longer look so cool and attractive. They look like death warmed over. One knows that all their coolness, cleverness, and wit—not to mention what passes for reason and character in their lives—will not be enough to save them from the consequences of their affluent hedonism: addiction, degradation, and death by misadventure. (As an “anti-drug” film, Pulp Fiction is second only to Requiem for a Dream .)
Postmodernism, Hedonism, & Death
The story of “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife” beautifully illustrates two philosophical theses: (1) there is an inner identity between postmodern culture and hedonism, and (2) hedonism, taken to an extreme, can lead to its self-overcoming by arranging an encounter with death—an encounter which, if survived, can expand one’s awareness of one’s self and the world to embrace non-hedonistic motives and actions.
This is not the place for a whole theory of postmodernism. “Postmodernism” is one of those academically fashionable weasel-words like “paradigm” that have now seeped into middlebrow and even lowbrow discourse. Those of us who have fundamental and principled critiques of modernity quickly learned that postmodernism is not postmodern enough. Indeed, in most ways, it is just an intensification of the worst features of modernity.
For my purposes, postmodernity is an attitude toward culture characterized by (1) eclecticism or bricolage, meaning the mixing of different cultures and traditions, i.e., multiculturalism, and (2) irony, detachment, and playfulness toward culture, which is what allows us to mix and manipulate cultures in the first place. The opposite of multiculturalism is cultural integrity and exclusivity. The opposite of irony is earnestness. The opposite of detachment is identification. The opposite of playfulness is seriousness.
The core of a genuine culture is a worldview, an interpretation of existence and our place in it, as well as of our nature and the best form of life for us. These are serious matters. Because of the fundamental seriousness of a living culture, each one is characterized by a unity of style, the other side of which is an exclusion of foreign cultural forms. After all, if one takes one’s own worldview seriously, one cannot take incompatible worldviews with equal seriousness. (Yes, cultures do borrow from one another, but a serious culture only borrows what it can assimilate to its own worldview and use for its greater glory.)
The core of a living culture is not primarily a set of ideas, but of ideals. Ideals are ideas that make normative claims upon us. They don’t just tell us what is, but what ought to be. Like Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo ,” ideals demand that we change our lives. The core of a living culture is a pantheon of ideals that is experienced as numinous and enthralling. An individual formed by a living culture has a fundamental sense of identification with and participation in his culture. He cannot separate himself from it, and since it is the source of his ideas of his nature, the good life, the cosmos, and his place in it, his attitude toward culture is fundamentally earnest and serious, even pious. In a very deep sense, he does not own his culture, he is owned by it.
In terms of their relationship to culture, human beings fall into two basic categories: healthy and unhealthy. Healthy human beings experience the ideals that define a culture as a challenge, as a tonic. The gap between the ideal and the real is bridged by a longing of the soul for perfection. This longing is a tension, like the tension of the bowstring or the lyre, that makes human greatness possible. Culture forms human beings not merely by evoking idealistic longings, but also by suppressing, shaping, stylizing, and sublimating our natural desires. Culture has an element of mortification. But healthy organisms embrace this ascetic dimension as a pathway to ennoblement through self-transcendence.
Unhealthy organisms experience culture in a radically different way. Ideals are not experienced as a challenge to quicken and mobilize the life force. Instead, they are experienced as a threat, an insult, an external imposition, a gnawing thorn in the flesh. The unhealthy organism wishes to free itself from the tension created by ideals—which it experiences as nothing more than unreasonable expectations (unreasonable by the standards of an immanentized reason, a mere hedonistic calculus). The unhealthy organism does not wish to suppress and sublimate his natural desires. He wishes to validate them as good enough and then express them. He wants to give them free reign, not pull back on the bit.
Unfortunately, the decadent have Will to Power too. Thus they have been able to free themselves and their desires from the tyranny of normative culture and institute a decadent counter-culture in its place. This is the true meaning of “postmodernism.” Postmodernism replaces participation with detachment, earnestness with irony, seriousness with playfulness, enthrallment with emancipation. Such attitudes demythologize and profane the pantheon of numinous ideals that is the beating heart of a living culture.
Culture henceforth becomes merely a wax museum: a realm of dead, decontextualized artifacts and ideas. When a culture is eviscerated of its defining worldview, all integrity, all unity of style is lost. Cultural integrity gives way to multiculturalism, which is merely a pretentious way of describing a shopping mall where artifacts are bought and sold, mixed and matched to satisfy emancipated consumer desires: a wax museum jumping to the pulse of commerce. This is the world of Pulp Fiction.
Yet, as Pulp Fiction also shows, even when desire becomes emancipated and sovereign, it has a tendency to dialectically overcome itself. As William Blake said, “The fool who persists in his folly will become wise.” As much as hedonists wish to become mere happy animals, they remain botched human beings. The human soul still contains longings for something more than mere satiation of natural desires. These longings, moreover, are closely intertwined with these desires. For instance, merely natural desires are few and easily satisfied. But the human imagination can multiply desires to infinity. Most of these artificial desires, moreover, are for objects that satisfy a need for honor, recognition, status, not mere natural creature comforts. Hedonism is not an animal existence, but merely a perverted and profaned human existence.
If animal life is all about contentment, plenitude, fullness—the fulfillment of our natural desires—then a distinctly human mode of existence emerges when hominids mortify the flesh in the name of something higher. Hegel believed that the perforation of the flesh was the first expression of human spirit in animal existence.
This throws light on the discourse on body piercing delivered by Jody, the wife of Lance the drug dealer. Jody, it is safe to say, is about as complete a hedonist as has ever existed. Yet Jody has had her body pierced sixteen times, including her left nipple, her clitoris, and her tongue. And in each instance, she used a needle rather than a relatively quick and painless piercing gun. As she says, “That gun goes against the whole idea behind piercing.”
Well then, one has to ask, “What is the whole idea behind piercing?” Yes, piercing is fashionable. Yes, it is involved with sexual fetishism. (But fetishism is not mere desire either.) Yes, it is now big business. But the phenomenon cannot merely be reduced to hedonistic self-indulgence. It hurts. And it is irreversible.
Thus, in a world of casual and meaningless self-indulgence, piercing and its first cousin tattooing are deeply significant; they are tests; they are limit experiences; they are encounters with something—something in ourselves and in the world—that transcends the economy of desire. They are re-enactments of the primal anthropogenetic act within the context of a decadent and dehumanizing society.
But to “mortify” the flesh means literally to kill it. Each little hole is a little death, which derives its meaning from a big death, a whole death, death itself. And it is an encounter with death itself that is truly anthropogenetic—at least potentially so.
Jules and Vincent had a brush with death, but the bullets missed. For Jules, this brought on a moment of clarity. His self-deceptions were breached, he saw his life for what it really was, and he changed it. But the experience was wasted on Vincent.
Vincent and Mia Wallace also had a brush with death. (Mia’s death would surely have entailed Vincent’s death.) But again, it was wasted on Vincent. (We never learn how it affected Mia.)
For Hegel, however, the truly anthropogenetic encounter with death is not a mere “near miss,” but rather an intentionally undertaken battle to the death over honor, which is the subject of Part 4, “The Gold Watch,” to which we now turn.
The Gold Watch
We first encounter boxer Butch Coolidge at the beginning of Part 3, “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife.” The setting is a tittie bar owned by Marsellus Wallace. The time is mid-morning, so the bar is empty. Butch is a small timer near the end of his career. If he was going to make it, he would have made it already. So he is looking to scrape up some retirement money by throwing a fight. Marsellus Wallace offers him a large sum of cash to lose in the fifth round. Wallace plans to bet on Butch’s opponent and clean up.
Butch accepts the deal, then Wallace dispenses a bit of advice: “Now, the night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That’s pride fuckin’ wit ya. F**k pride! Pride only hurts, it never helps. Fight through that s**t. ’Cause a year from now, when you’re kickin’ it in the Caribbean, you’re gonna say, ‘Marsellus Wallace was right.’” Butch replies, “I’ve got no problem with that, Mr. Wallace.”
Just before Butch leaves, Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield enter, fresh from their encounter with Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. As Butch approaches the bar, Vincent, who (as we all know) has had a really bad morning, taunts him as “palooka” and “punchy.” Butch is clearly incensed but lets it drop. Apparently, his pride is well in check.
We meet Butch again in Part 4, “The Gold Watch,” which begins with a flashback. It is 1972. Butch is about eight years old. He is watching TV when his mother introduces him to Captain Koons (Christopher Walken), who was in the same North Vietnamese Prisoner of War camp as Butch’s father, who died there.
Captain Koons has come to keep a promise to Butch’s father. He is delivering a wristwatch that was bought by Butch’s great-grandfather Erine Coolidge when he went off to fight in World War I. Twenty years later, he gave it to his son Dane Coolidge, who went off to fight in World War II as a Marine. Dane was killed at the battle of Wake Island. Knowing that he had little chance of survival, he entrusted a man named Winocki, a gunner on an Air Force transport plane, with the task of delivering his watch to his infant son whom he had never seen. The gunner kept his promise, and that same watch was on the wrist of Butch’s father when he was shot down over Hanoi. To keep the watch from being confiscated, Butch’s father hid it in his rectum. When he died, he entrusted it to Captain Koons, who hid it in his rectum until he was released. “And now, little man,” says Captain Koons, “I give the watch to you.”
Cut to the aftermath of the fight. A female cabbie, Esmeralda Villa Lobos, is listening to the radio as she waits outside the arena. We hear the announcers say that the other boxer, Floyd Ray Willis (a black man, according to the script) was killed and that Butch Coolidge fled the ring. Then Butch exits the arena from a window and jumps into the cab. He has broken his deal with Marsellus Wallace and is clearly on the run. But the question is: “Why did he fight to win, to the point of killing the other boxer?”
The natural interpretation is that his pride got the best of him. What stirred up his pride? The most plausible answer is his dream/recollection of the story of the gold watch. After all, everything in the story is connected to honor: the three generations of his family (patriotic folk from Tennessee) who fought in America’s wars, two of them giving their lives. The fact that we know that these wars were not in America’s interests, and that American men were sent to their deaths by aliens and traitors, does not alter the fact that the military cultivates an ethos of honor to overcome the fear of death. Furthermore, Winocki and Captain Koons both honored their promises to deliver the gold watch to the next Coolidge heir.
Thus the watch represents honor, the honor of fighting men, a fact that is not stained but enhanced by the detail that both Butch’s father and Captain Koons kept it hidden in their rectums for years. As Butch later says, his father “went through a lot” to give him that watch. What they went through commands respect.
So my initial interpretation was that Butch’s honor was stirred up by the recollection of the watch, thus he went into the ring and fought, not for money, but for honor. And since he had made a deal with Marsellus Wallace to throw the fight, he was risking his life to fight for honor. And he fought all-out, killing the other boxer. So Butch seems to have proved himself to be a man ruled by honor, not by desire.
Hegel on the Beginning of History
The duel to the death over honor is a remarkable phenomenon. Animals duel over dominance, which insures their access to mates. But these duels result in death only by accident, because the whole process is governed by their survival instincts, and their “egos” do not prevent them from surrendering when the fight is hopeless. The duel to the death over honor is a distinctly human thing.
Indeed, in his Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel claims that the duel to the death over honor is the beginning of history—and the beginning of a distinctly human form of existence and self-consciousness.
Prehistoric man is dominated by nature: the natural world around him and the natural world within him, namely his desires. History, for Hegel, is something different. It is the process of (1) our discovery of those parts of our nature that transcend mere animal desire, and (2) our creation of a society in accord with our true nature.
When we fully know ourselves as more than merely natural beings and finally live accordingly, then history will be over. (History can end, because as a process of discovery and construction, it is the kind of thing that can end.) Hegel claimed that history ended with the discovery that all men are free and the creation of a society that reflects that truth.
When two men duel to the death over honor, the external struggle between them conceals an internal struggle within each of them as they confront the possibility of being ruled by two different parts of their souls: desire, which includes the desire for self-preservation, and honor, which demands recognition of our worth by others.
When our sense of honor is offended, we become angry and seek to compel the offending party to respect us. If the other party is equally offended and intransigent, the struggle can escalate to the point where life is at stake.
At this point, two kinds of human beings distinguish themselves. Those who are ruled by their honor will sacrifice their lives to preserve it. Their motto is: “Death before dishonor.” Those who are ruled by their desires are more concerned to preserve their lives than their honor. They will sacrifice their honor to preserve their lives. Their motto is: “Dishonor before death.”
Suppose two honorable men fight to the death. One will live, one will die, but both will preserve their honor. But what if the vanquished party begs to be spared at the last moment at the price of his honor? What if his desire to survive is stronger than his sense of honor? In that case, he will become the slave of the victor.
The man who prefers death to dishonor is a natural master. The man who prefers dishonor to death—life at any price—is a natural slave. The natural master defines himself in terms of a distinctly human self-consciousness, an awareness of his transcendence over animal desire, the survival “instinct,” the whole realm of biological necessity. The natural slave, by contrast, is ruled by his animal nature and experiences his sense of honor as a danger to survival. The master uses the slave’s fear of death to compel him to work.
History thus begins with the emergence of a warrior aristocracy, a two-tiered society structured in terms of the oppositions between work and leisure, necessity and luxury, nature and culture. Slaves work so that the masters can enjoy leisure. Slaves secure the necessities of life so the masters can enjoy luxuries. Slaves conquer nature so masters can create culture. In a sense the whole realm of culture is a “luxury,” since none of it is necessitated by our animal desires. But in a higher sense, it is a necessity: a necessity of our distinctly human nature to understand itself and put its stamp upon the world.
The End of History
Hegel had the fanciful notion that there is a necessary “dialectic” between master and slave that will lead eventually lead to universal freedom, that at the end of history, the distinction between master and slave can be abolished, that all men are potential masters.
Now, to his credit, Hegel was a race realist. He was also quite realistic about the tendency of bourgeois capitalism to turn all men into spiritual slaves. Thus his view of the ideal state, which regulates economic life and reinforces the institutions that elevate human character against the corrupting influences of modernity, differs little from fascism. So in the end, Hegel’s high-flown talk about universal freedom seems unworthy of him, rather like Jefferson’s rhetorical gaffe that “all men are created equal.”
The true heirs to Hegel’s universalism are Marx and his followers, who really believed that the dialectic would lead to universal freedom. Alexandre Kojève, Hegel’s greatest 20th-century Marxist interpreter, came to believe that both Communism and bourgeois capitalism/liberal democracy were paths to Hegel’s vision of universal freedom. After the collapse of communism, Kojève’s pupil Francis Fukuyama declared that bourgeois capitalism and liberal democracy would create what Kojève called the “universal homogeneous state,” the global political and economic order in which all men would be free.
But both capitalism and communism are essentially materialistic systems. Yes, they made appeals to idealism, but primarily to motivate their subjects to fight for them. But if one system triumphed over the other, that necessity would no longer exist, and desire would be fully sovereign. Materialism would triumph. (And so it would have, were it not for the rise of another global enemy that is spiritual and warlike rather than materialistic: Islam.)
Thus Kojève came to believe that the universal homogeneous state would not be a society in which all men are masters, i.e., a society in which honor rules over desire. Rather, it would be a world in which all men are slaves, a society in which desire rules over honor.
This is the world of Nietzsche’s “Last Man,” the world of C. S. Lewis’s “Men without Chests” (honor is traditionally associated with the chest, just as reason is associated with the head and desire with the belly and points below). This is the postmodern world, where emancipated desire and corrosive individualism and irony have reduced all normative cultures to commodities that can be bought and sold, used and discarded.
This is the end of the path blazed by the first wave of modern philosophers: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, etc., all of whom envisioned a liberal order founded on the sovereignty of desire, in which reason is reduced to a technical-instrumental faculty and honor is checked or sublimated into economic competitiveness and the quest for material status symbols.
From this point of view, there is no significant difference between classical liberalism and left-liberalism. Both are based on the sovereignty of desire. Although left liberalism is more idealistic because it is dedicated to the impossible dream of overcoming natural inequality, whereas classical liberalism, always more vulgar, unimaginative, and morally complacent, is content with mere “bourgeois” legal equality.
The great theorists of liberalism offered mankind the same deal that Marsellus Wallace offered Butch: “F**k pride. Think of the money.” And our ancestors took the deal. As Marsellus hands Butch the cash, he pauses to ask, “Are you my n****r?” “It certainly appears so,” Butch answers, then takes the money. In modernity, every man is the n****r, the spiritual slave, of any man with more money than him—to the precise extent that any contrary motives, such as pride or religious/intellectual enthusiasm, have been suppressed. (Marsellus, a black man, calls all of his hirelings niggers, but surely it gives him special pleasure to deem the white ones so.)
History Begins Again
But history can never really end as long as it is possible for men to choose to place honor above money. And that is always possible, given that we really do seem to have the ability to choose which part of our soul is sovereign.
It is, moreover, possible as long as the examples of our ancestors, better men than ourselves, can still stir us. When Esmeralda asks Butch what his name means, he replies “I’m an American, honey, our names don’t mean s**t.” It is one of the funniest lines of the movie, but also one of the saddest. Americans are such a sorry lot of spiritual slaves because we don’t know who we are. We don’t know who our ancestors are. We don’t know what our names mean. So we don’t have to live up to them. Or if we do know, we allow the Marsellus Wallaces of the world to bribe us into forgetting about it.
Of course “Butch” means something. It is a fighting man’s name. Butch is a fighting man, from a long line of fighting men. Although he fights for money, not honor. But then, when he has reached the rock bottom of spiritual sordidness—when he sells himself as the n****r of a black gangster—he redeems himself. This is what makes Butch Coolidge seem so heroic.
But then we discover that we were completely wrong. Butch stops to make a phone call, and we learn that he has taken Marsellus’s money then leaked the word that the fix was in, which tilted the odds dramatically in favor of his opponent. Then Butch bet all of Marsellus’s money on himself and beat the other boxer—and he had to beat him, so he fought all-out and killed him—in order to win a huge payout. So Butch turns out to be a bigger crook than Marsellus Wallace. And we all know what happens to people who steal from Marsellus Wallace.
Butch meets his French girlfriend Fabienne at a cheap motel. They are cute together, and she obviously wants to have his children, explaining at length about how she wants to have a large, perfectly round potbelly. They plan to leave town the next morning, but Butch discovers that Fabienne forgot to pack his father’s gold watch.
Again, Butch is faced with a conflict between honor and desire, a conflict in which his life is at stake. Honor tells him to retrieve the watch, although he knows that he will have to risk his life to do so, because Wallace will surely stake out his apartment. Desire, most eminently the desire to stay alive, tells him to take the money and run. So now we see, for real, what kind of man Butch is. He chooses honor, risking his life to retrieve the watch.
Butch cautiously returns to his apartment and retrieves the watch. Astonished at the ease, he ducks into his kitchen for a snack (he has had no breakfast). As he waits for the toaster, he is startled to see a machine gun with a huge silencer lying on the counter. As he hefts the gun, he hears the toilet flush. The bathroom door opens, and there stands Vincent Vega, reading material in hand. The two men freeze, staring at each other. Then the toaster pops, breaking the spell, and Butch pulls the trigger, reducing Vega to a bullet-riddled corpse sprawled in the bathtub.
It could have been Jules Winnfield, but he followed his spiritual enthusiasm and left “the life.” Vincent, ruled by his desires, stayed in. Vincent, ruled by his desires, mocked Butch as “palooka” and “punchy,” daring him to retaliate. Which, eventually, he did. And given Vincent’s character, it is singularly appropriate that Butch got the drop on him while he was “taking a s**t.”
Butch flees in Fabienne’s Honda. As he waits at a light, Marsellus Wallace crosses the street in front of him with coffee and donuts for the stake out. When the two men recognize each other, Butch floors it, running Marsellus down. But his car is hit by oncoming traffic. When Marsellus comes to and sees Butch, injured in the wrecked Honda, he pulls out a .45 and starts firing wildly as he staggers across the street. Butch ducks into a pawn shop, and when Marsellus follows, Butch knocks him down and starts punching him furiously: “Feel that sting? That’s pride, fuckin’ wit ya.’”
Unfortunately, they have blundered into no ordinary pawn shop. Maynard, the shop-keeper gets the drop on Butch with a shotgun then knocks him out cold. When he comes to, he and Marsellus are tied to chairs in a basement dungeon with red S&M ball gags in their mouths. Maynard explains that nobody kills anyone in his place of business except himself or Zed, who is arriving presently. Zed and Maynard are two homosexual hillbilly sadists who apparently plan to rape, torture, and murder Marsellus and Butch.
When Zed and Maynard take Marsellus in the other room to reenact a scene from Deliverance, Butch manages to free himself. He could just sneak out, saving himself and leaving Marsellus to a well-deserved fate. But Butch can’t do it. He chooses a riskier but more honorable path. He decides to rescue Marsellus. He looks around for a suitable weapon. First he hefts a claw hammer. Then a small chainsaw. Then a baseball bat. Finally, his eyes light on a samurai sword—the perfect symbol of honor.
He returns to the dungeon. Zed is raping Marsellus (who does look just like a hawg—a roasted one, complete with an apple in his mouth) while Maynard watches. Butch dispatches Maynard and taunts Zed. Marsellus, in the meantime, gets up, grabs Maynard’s shotgun, and blasts Zed in the groin. At this point, Marsellus could have killed Butch as well. (Butch was very, very stupid to let Marsellus get the drop on him.)
But Marsellus responds to Butch’s gallant gesture in kind. He agrees to drop his grievance against Butch if he does not tell anyone about what has happened and if he leaves L.A. never to return. I know it is unlikely. But if he got his soul back, maybe it is starting to kick in. (But not soon enough to save Zed from a “medieval” fate.)
Butch accepts the deal and roars off on Zed’s chopper to meet Fabienne. They still have time to catch their train to Tennessee. And on that happy note, the story (as opposed to the movie) of Pulp Fiction ends.
* * *
Even its detractors admit that Pulp Fiction is a stylishly directed, superbly acted, darkly comic movie. I hope I have convinced you that it is a deeply serious movie as well. Yes, Quentin Tarantino is a thoroughly repulsive and nihilistic human being, and everything he directed before and since Pulp Fiction reflects that. (See my reviews of Kill Bill, Vol. 1  and Inglourious Basterds .) But repugnant people create great art all the time, in spite of themselves. Yes, Pulp Fiction contains interracial couples, villainous bumbling whites, and noble, eloquent blacks. One just has to look beyond the casting to the story itself.
Pulp Fiction is only superficially anti-white. On a deeper level, it can aid us in rejecting modernity and recovering the spiritual foundations of something better.
Pulp Fiction is valuable for our cause as a critique of modernity in its final decadent phase, what Traditionalists call the Kali Yuga, Hegelians call the “end of history,” and idiots celebrate as postmodernity. Philosophically speaking, modernity is the emancipation of desire from reason, honor, culture, and tradition.
Pulp Fiction takes such philosophical abstractions and pairs them with unforgettably dramatic concrete images and events. Modernity is Marsellus Wallace telling us to f**k pride, take his money, and become his n****r. Modernity is coke, smack, and Jack Rabbit Slim’s. Modernity is Vincent Vega sprawled dead in a bathtub, Mia Wallace with a huge syringe stuck in her heart, and Jules Winnfield scooping up bits of brain and skull in the back seat of a blood-soaked car.
But Pulp Fiction does much more than just critique modernity. It also shows us an alternative. Not an alternative vision of society, but rather the spiritual basis of an alternative to modernity. Spiritually, modernity is the rule of desire. Part of the grip of modernity is that even people who intellectually reject it are still modern men who have no idea of how they could become anything else.
Most modern people lack the concepts necessary to think of themselves as anything more than desire-driven producer-consumers. Reason to them is just calculating options. Honor is just the narcissistic display of commodities that we are told symbolize status.
Pulp Fiction brilliantly concretizes and dramatizes the moments of decision when one chooses to be something more than a mere modern man: Jules Winnfield’s choice to follow his desires or his mystical conviction that God is sending him a message; Butch Coolidge’s choice to be a sneaky, bourgeois coward or a man of honor.
The spiritual man is Jules Winnfield, honestly confronting the fact that he has been lying to himself all his life, that he has been the tool of the “tyranny of evil men” (from Hobbes and Locke down to Marsellus Wallace), and instead “trying to be the shepherd.” The warrior is Captain Koons keeping his word and delivering the gold watch; the warrior is Butch Coolidge descending back into hell with a samurai sword to do justice. These are the kinds of men who can start history again and deliver our people from evil.
Plato claims that society is the soul writ large. If democracy is the rule of desire writ large, then the regime that corresponds to Butch Coolidge’s soul is a warrior aristocracy. The regime that corresponds to Jules Winnfield’s soul is a form of theocracy in which social order is based on a transcendent metaphysical order, what Evola called the idea of the Imperium. If Tarantino had tried to show us the political big picture, he would have gotten it all terribly wrong. But what he does show, he gets dead right. Mapping out the political alternative is our job.