Tuesday, 11 October 2005

Mystical Minorites: A Movie Cliché

There's a movie cliché where if the white guy hero has an elderly black or indian friend, that friend will have so kind of mystical knowledge or some homespun philosophy that tells simple truths in a simple way. Because they're more connected to the earth or something like that (I have a whole other rant on that, but I'll save it for another day).

Anyway I think the idea is often that if this simple man can see the truth then it, well, must be true even if the hero's modern life has obscured the fact to him. "Simple" sounds horrible, but it's often then intention. There's an album I have that I mostly like apart from the point where the, black by the way, singer affects a terrible Jamaican accent to make some horridly pretentious quote about music even more unlistenable. What I gather the artist was trying to do, rather than always make me skip that bit, is have a simple man tell a simple truth making it more simply true.

I mention this mostly because I recently watched The Interpreter on DVD. While it never quite trundles in an elderly black man to tell Nicole Kidman a simple truth about terrorism or genocide it does the next best thing. Three or four times in the movie the whole thing just stops so Kidman can recount some made-up custom from some made-up country that has a direct baring either on the point or the emotional state of either her or Sean Penn. The first time it happened I didn't mind so much, it's very lazy script writing but these things happen in movies and you accept it. By the end of the second one I'd had enough.

The idea, as I saw it, was that this was some kind of tribal wisdom carried through the ages and, if it had worked for thousands of years, then a seasoned New York cop, Penn, could learn a thing or two from it. Except, well, except that since the country and it's people were made from whole cloth, whilst, you know, still giving them real world relevance, and these little homilies, quite obviously, were too. They were just tailored to give Kidman here long, emotional speeches while serving the plot as much as possible. The whole thing just became tooth grindingly fake. Instead of connecting with the characters I spent more time wondering how Nicole got through some of the speeches without rolling her eyeballs. That all the "wisdom" seemed to deal with getting Penn's character through whatever grief he was going through -- his wife died or maybe it was his partner it didn't seem totally important except as a reason for him to look hungover through the whole thing -- just made it even more fake.

I think I was supposed to have some kind of emotional response to them. Well I guess I did. I really wanted to Kidman's character to shut the fuck up.

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