Analysis of ‘The Apartment’

The Apartment is a 1960 comedy produced and directed by Billy Wilder, who also wrote the screenplay with IAL Diamond. The film stars Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and Fred MacMurray, with Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David Lewis, Willard Waterman, David White, Hope Holiday, and Edie Adams.

The film received widespread acclaim, and was the eighth highest grossing film of 1960. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning five: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Film Editing. Lemmon, MacLaine, and Kruschen were all nominated respectively for Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor; Lemmon and MacLaine won Golden Globe Awards in their categories.

The Apartment is considered one of the best movies of all time, ranking at #93 in the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies, which then moved up to #80 for the 10th Anniversary Edition. It ranked at #20 for AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs, and at #62 for AFI’s 100 Years…100 Passions. The quote “Shut up and deal” was nominated for AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes.

Here is a link to quotes from the film.

The film’s central premise, that of an upwardly-mobile insurance clerk named CC “Bud” Baxter (Lemmon) allowing his senior coworkers to use his apartment to have extramarital affairs, is on many levels symbolic of capitalist exploitation. He often stays in the office late after normal working hours are over, working without overtime, because one of the men above him is fooling around with a woman in Baxter’s home, meaning he has to stay out until they leave.

This sense that his home is not really his home reminds us of another aspect of capitalism: landlords’ ownership of one’s home, putting one in the potential danger of being kicked out and thrown into the street. Indeed, early in the film, Baxter finds himself temporarily homeless one winter night because Mr. Dobisch (Walston) on short notice has picked up a woman in a bar who “looks like Marilyn Monroe,” and so he needs the use of the apartment; Dobisch also gives back the wrong key to the apartment, leaving Baxter out of his home even longer. Having been out in the cold, he ends up getting sick.

Why does he let these men walk all over him? If he doesn’t, his hopes of climbing the corporate ladder are sunk. Again, the cutthroat world of capitalism drives this pressure to compete. At the beginning of the film, Baxter’s is one among a sea of desks in the office, where the lower-ranking employees work; later, when promoted, he has his own, coveted office, but Dobisch, Kirkeby (Lewis), Vanderhoff (Waterman), and Eichelberger (White) all want the continued use of Baxter’s apartment, implying that if he doesn’t let them, they’ll bring him down just as surely as they brought him up.

Fortunately, Baxter will have the protection of his boss, Mr. Jeff Sheldrake (MacMurray). Unfortunately, that protection will come at a price–a spare key to Baxter’s apartment, so Sheldrake can bring his mistress there. To make matters worse, this mistress also happens to be Baxter’s crush at work–elevator operator Fran Kubelik (MacLaine).

The mistresses personify yet another aspect of capitalism: the exploitation of women. In a society that promotes worker alienation, it follows that women will be used for men’s sexual sport rather than appreciated as human beings. Dobisch et al are not only using Baxter as a kind of pimp; these married men are also using their mistresses as if they were prostitutes.

Their encroaching on Baxter’s apartment and his use of it in his free time is perfectly symbolic of how capitalists exploit the worker by extracting surplus value from him to generate profits. His apartment is symbolically (as well as literally, of course) what the office building is literally: private property, a place the capitalist uses to exploit workers and make profits from. Baxter’s home is thus a double for his place of work.

Even when at home alone, he still has capitalists intruding on his private life. He turns on the TV, hoping to enjoy Grand Hotel, a film starring Greta Garbo in which she says the famous line, “I want to be alone,” a sentiment with which Baxter surely would sympathize. The problem is that before the film even gets a chance to begin, it is interrupted by the program’s two sponsors.

His philandering boss’s and senior coworkers’ use of his apartment, symbolic of the extraction of surplus value, is significant in how this use of it is for sex, which shows how Marx can be fused with Lacan. Plus-de jouir, a term Lacan coined to express an aspect of his notion of jouissance–an excessive and transgressive indulgence in sexual pleasure–is derived from Marx’s notion of surplus value: one gains a sinful excess of sexual pleasure (i.e., cheating on one’s wife), just as a boss cheats the worker of the fruits of his labour (surplus value).

Still, a countercurrent is going on in the story. In spite of all the worker alienation we see going on, Baxter’s crush on Kubelik is the beginning of a bond slowly developing between the two. As coworkers, Baxter and Kubelik will build a mutual fondness that can be seen to symbolize worker solidarity.

This development is far from being a smooth one, though. First, when they have arranged a date to see The Music Man at the local theatre, she stands him up because Sheldrake, of whom she is–unbeknownst to Baxter–the latest in a string of mistresses, is taking her to the apartment.

Baxter forgives her for this because he’s happy to have been promoted and to have gotten his own office. Later, he returns a compact with a broken mirror to Sheldrake, knowing it belongs to his mistress because it was left in the apartment (in an argument with Sheldrake there, she threw it at him and broke it). During a Christmas party, after Kubelik has heard a drunk and chatty Miss Olsen (Adams), Sheldrake’s secretary and original mistress, tell her of all the women their boss has enjoyed, from Olsen to Kubelik, this latest, and heartbroken, mistress reveals herself as such to Baxter by letting him use that broken compact mirror so he can see how he looks in a new bowler hat he’s bought, now that he’s of executive status.

Marx and Lacan are again fused here in the form of alienation. Lacan’s mirror alienates one’s fragmented self (symbolized by the broken mirror) from the ideal-I in the specular image. Baxter would see his ideal-I (the new executive) in that hat in the mirror reflection, but the break in it shows his realization that he isn’t so great, because Kubelik is Sheldrake’s girl, not his.

Alienation from oneself in the mirror reflection can be seen as symbolic of alienation from one’s species-essence, as Marx called it. Kubelik’s heartbreak over falling in love with a married man who dangles promises before her of divorcing his wife so he can marry Kubelik, yet never keeping the promises, is an alienation of herself from herself, because she realizes she’s being used as his whore, when she’d rather see herself as his true love. Small wonder she likes how the broken mirror makes her look how she feels.

Not aware of the depth of her heartbreak and despair, and assuming she’s content to be Sheldrake’s mistress, Baxter leaves the Christmas party and goes to a local pub to drown his sorrows. A married woman there named Margie MacDougall (Holiday) gets his attention, hoping he’ll pick her up since her husband is stuck in Cuba over the holidays.

In a strange irony, Margie complains about Fidel Castro, calling him “a no-good fink,” for not releasing her husband, Mickie, from a Havana prison (a jockey, he was caught doping a horse). I bring this up because Cuba under Castro would provide largely universal housing and free healthcare, two benefits that could have helped Baxter avoid catching that cold, and could have freed his home from being a haven for his coworkers’ infidelities (Castro’s first name thus embodying yet another irony).

Baxter finds himself lowered to the level of lecherous Sheldrake, Dobisch, et al, taking Margie to his apartment for a tumble. He is experiencing a nadir of alienation, making him use a woman for his sexual sport (and helping her cheat on her husband), when deep down he just wants to have a real relationship with Kubelik. Another irony is that his neighbours and landlady assume that he’s an alcoholic ladies’ man, when it’s those other men that are drinking and philandering in his apartment.

Kubelik is in his apartment, too, to his surprise, since she’s had another argument there with Sheldrake earlier over his continued unwillingness to divorce his wife. Heartbroken, Kubelik has overdosed on sleeping pills and is lying on Baxter’s bed, unconsciously awaiting death.

Baxter has to kick Margie out and get his next door neighbour, Dr. Dreyfuss (Kruschen) to help revive Kubelik. It’s interesting how, in the process of helping her to recover, the sense of alienation is fading away, to be replaced with a sense of solidarity.

Dreyfuss assumes, as does her gruff taxi driver brother-in-law (played by Johnny Seven) later on, that Baxter has taken advantage of Kubelik, when actually he has been a perfect gentleman with her. He and the doctor nurse her back to health–with the help of the care and cooking of Mrs. Dreyfuss (played by Naomi Stevens), who also assumes the worst of Baxter–and he even plays the role of housekeeper for her as she recovers, suggesting the feminist ideal of men helping around with the household duties.

In all of these actions, which include the doctor not requiring any payment for helping Kubelik, we see, in contrast to all of the exploitation of the upper-level coworkers of Baxter, Kubelik, and the other women (all symbolic of capitalist exploitation), communal acts of kindness and charity symbolic of socialism (recall what I said above about that “no-good fink,” Castro). This growing relationship between Baxter and Kubelik is the solidarity that will free them of Sheldrake et al by the end of the movie.

A crucial part of this growing relationship, in the symbolic sense, is the gin rummy game Baxter and Kubelik play. What’s ironic about this game is that he is playing with her, but it isn’t ‘playing’ in the sense that the other men are playing with their mistresses. A genuine bond is developing between Baxter and Kubelik as she tells him, during the card game, of her bad luck in love, not just with Sheldrake, but with a number of men before him.

Baxter listens sympathetically, which is just what Kubelik needs. He has also told her about a suicide attempt he once made with a gun over similarly unrequited love for a woman who sends him a fruitcake every Christmas. In this growing mutual empathy, we see also their growing solidarity against Sheldrake and the exploitative capitalist system he represents.

On the other side of this growing solidarity and camaraderie between these two employees, there is also their growing attitude of rebelliousness against the philandering men who still want to use Baxter’s apartment. Kirkeby and his telephone operating mistress are rebuffed at the door to the apartment; Kirkeby and the other men get their revenge on Baxter by helping Kubelik’s brother-in-law find her at the apartment, where he punches Baxter for having apparently soiled his sister-in-law’s honour.

Baxter doesn’t mind the punch, though, since Kubelik’s kiss immediately afterwards tells him that she’s growing feelings for him, too. This encouragement will inspire him, on the doctor’s advice, to “be a mensch,” and give up his pimping use of the apartment…even to his boss.

Sheldrake has learned that it was the loose lips of his tipsy secretary at the Christmas party that pushed Kubelik to the desperate swallowing of those sleeping pills, so he fires Miss Olsen. She gets her revenge on him by telling his wife about his many affairs, so Mrs. Sheldrake kicks him out of the house. As we can see, this conflict between him and Miss Olsen, as with the conflict that’s growing between Baxter and Kubelik on the one side and Sheldrake on the other, is symbolic of the contradictions between the bourgeois boss and the proletariat.

The worker is promoted as a reward for his obedience to the powers-that-be, not so much for his abilities. We see this when Sheldrake promotes Baxter to an even higher position…expecting the key to the apartment in exchange.

Baxter, in love with Kubelik and sick and tired of being used for his apartment, defies Sheldrake by giving him the wrong key…the one to the executive washroom instead of the one to his apartment. This deliberate giving of the wrong key is an ironic repeat of Dobisch’s accidentally giving Baxter the executive washroom key instead of returning the apartment key. The sexual symbolism of a key going into a keyhole is obvious: in the use of Baxter’s apartment key, the adulterous men are screwing their mistresses (and their wives, metaphorically); they’ve also been screwing Baxter out of the use of his own home; now, Baxter is screwing Sheldrake back.

At a New Year’s Eve party in the Chinese restaurant, Kubelik is surprised to hear from Sheldrake that Baxter has quit because he refuses to continue acting as apartment pimp for his now-former boss, especially if such pimping involves her. Now, she could go the traditional route and marry rich Sheldrake (only to be replaced in turn by future mistresses). Instead, realizing that unemployed Baxter truly loves her, she runs out of the restaurant when Sheldrake isn’t looking and goes to Baxter’s apartment.

There, the popping of a cork on a bottle of champagne sounds to her, out in the hall, like a gunshot; she’s relieved when he opens the door with the bottle and with no bullet in his head. Again, we see growing sympathy as indicative of growing solidarity and love.

She learns that he is moving out of the apartment: indeed, the memories of the pimping have made the place unattractive. The two sit down and get out the deck of cards. He professes his love to her, but she’s sick of hearing the mere words of love–hence, her famous ending line.

Playing that game of gin ironically expresses true lovemaking, not the lewd acts of the lecherous playas and their mistresses, but a real making of love, a building of a relationship of mutual support and solidarity, symbolic of a union of workers in defiance of their exploitative bosses.

Flying Saucers

We see them
arrive on Earth in
flying saucers.

Humanoid,
yet bug-like, with
antennae,

as we see them,
they come in peace…
perhaps.

We see & hear
with fear, however,
firing

our guns at them.
And then, when they
shoot back,

we see them
as the aggressor, not
ourselves.

So many
think of aliens as
monsters,

yet once,
we saw a child
befriend ET.

Why can’t
we be that boy,
blind to

the bug eyes
and antennae, seeing
instead

what we
all have in common,
feeling love?

‘Furies,’ a Horror Novel, Part Six, Chapter 4

Megan and her father, John, as well as Lynne and Herman, stood in a straight line, holding hands, before their own lake of blood. The only one of them not trembling at the thought of feeling the suffering of the other three was John.

You’re not afraid now, Mr. Fourier, Furioso said to him, but you will be…soon.

I only feel hate and anger, John said. Anger towards this unfilial daughter of mine, and hate towards the whole miserable world. I’ll be glad to end my existence. If this is the only way to do that, then so be it.

To end your existence, and to end the pain that you think your hate and anger are shielding you from, you’ll have to let go of those two emotions, Furioso said. When you let that pain hit you, be prepared for a shock. But stay with it, for only staying with it to the end will get you out of Hell.

Very well, John growled. Let’s just do this.

In you all must go, Furioso said.

Megan, Lynne, and Herman shook as they all took deep breaths. John just snarled as he got ready to jump in.

The four ghosts went in with a splash of red spots flying in all directions. They sank deep below the surface, seeing at first only a void of infinite black.

Then the visions of their rapes appeared.

As with the other groups of ghosts, each of the four of them experienced the suffering of each other, not of their own. They felt the phallic invasions of those that they themselves had invaded in their physical lives.

Megan felt a strap-on dildo suddenly jammed into her ass while lying on top of Lynne, who felt Herman vaginally invading her…but not in their bedroom at home. Lynne experienced it in Megan’s body in the changing area of the shower room in the high school gym.

Herman experienced a phallic penetration again, but as with Lynne, it was in the gym changing room. And he felt it in Megan’s body. He saw himself on top of him-as-her.

Oh, no, Lynne and Herman moaned together. Not again! Our crime, back to haunt us!

So, this is what I made them feel, Megan thought as she felt that dildo going in and out of herself. My saner self wouldn’t have wished this on my own worst enemies. Yet my not-so-sane self did wish it on them! Hate and lust for revenge really do take away one’s sanity. I want to heal from the trauma of my rapes, not go through them again!

As Herman felt his own phallus jamming in and out of him, tearing away at Megan’s vagina, he also felt a surprising emotion from Megan’s experience: he felt her crush on him, and her betrayed love.

Oh, my God! he thought as he saw her victimization through her eyes. Megan used to like me? She fancied me? And I did this to her. I let Lynne talk me into doing such a horrible thing to her? Lynne and I should both be ashamed of ourselves, far more than the guilt we’d felt years ago.

I thought I’d paid my dues, Lynne thought as she continued experiencing Megan’s rape with all of her senses. Going to church, being a ‘good Catholic,’ being monogamous with the rapist I’d goaded him into becoming, giving therapy to rape victims, going to confession and telling the priest what I’d conspired to do with Herman…none of that comes close to redeeming myself. No belief in Jesus could ever undo what I did to Megan. Why did I have to be so cruel to that poor girl, she who’d hardly done anything to me? I so deserve this, as awful as it is to have to experience. I’m so sorry, Megan.

I’m sorry, too, Megan, Herman moaned. I repaid your crush on me by being such an animal. I should have gone to jail for what I did to you.

We deserved to experience your revenge, Megan, Lynne said.

No, you didn’t! Megan said. I should have known from my own pain that no one, ever, should be subjected to rape.

The agony of these three, however, was an orgy of delight compared to what John was going through…he who, perhaps, should have been subjected to it.

John found himself in the body of a little girl–twelve-year-old Megan’s. That delicate body being used for the perverted pleasure of…himself.

He could no longer shield himself from her thoughts: Oh, Daddy! You’re hurting me! Why are you doing this to me?

He looked up at himself through her eyes, that sweating and grunting man with the hateful snarl on his face. He saw himself with the eyes of his betrayed daughter. He saw what a foul pig he really was.

He realized that all those bad boys he’d warned Megan about, those boys he’d accused her of yielding her body to…they were all actually projections of himself.

He remembered his constant, unchanging attitude every time he’d done this to his daughter, as well as to all those prostitutes he’d been so rough with at that brothel: They’re all just a bunch of sluts, tempting me to sin. They deserve no kindness for making me sin. The only good in them is the pleasure they give me.

He now felt the worthlessness he’d imposed on his daughter.

The pain he felt between his legs–experiencing it in Megan’s then-small body–the pain of his phallic stabbing, was a minor irritation compared to the torment of looking up at and seeing his ugly face. Now, John was a physically handsome man; but the scowl of hate and contempt on his face as he continued raping her, devoid of pity or remorse, cancelled out his good looks to the point of reversing them to the other extreme, making him as hideous as a Gorgon…yet looking in that face would never give him the mercy of turning him to stone.

If John closed his eyes, he still saw himself.

Now he knew who he really hated.

God, stop this! he screamed inside himself. I can’t bear to see myself this way! I’m a beast! I’m a devil! I’m a monster! I don’t deserve to exist! I don’t want to exist!

But he kept existing in that lake of blood.

He tried to push the pain away, to project it onto Megan, then to Lynne, then to Herman; but it always came back to him. The pain was a ball of fire that flew in a circle among all four of them…and this is when they all realized that their ‘ghost-bodies,’ as it were, had begun merging into one, single, deformed monster of a body. Megan was reminded of the fused body at the end of the Tool video for “Schism.” This body was shaped like a circle-jerk of a donut, with a phallus shoving into each ghost positioned before that phallus.

A donut-monster fucking itself.

All four ghosts were trying to pass the pain on, that fireball, to each other, passing it on in the form of rapes, but it always came back. As their four identities continued fusing, transforming from a ‘donut’ into one giant floating blob in all that blood, they began to see the futility of trying to pass the pain away, to project it. They realized, more and more, that they had to confront it.

Even John did.

I’m sorry, baby, he moaned to Megan. Though saying ‘sorry’ is useless. I was never a real father to you. I should never have even been born. I deserve this punishment…forever.

The fireball stopped flying around in circles. It stopped in the centre of their now fully unified identity, that grotesque ball of pain. The fire settled there, then it grew from the centre slowly, coming closer and closer to the periphery. All four ghosts, as one big ghost now, felt the painful experiences of all four of their lives simultaneously.

Besides experiencing each other’s rapes, they all felt such memories as Megan’s getting green paint all over her blouse, and hearing all the laughter from her classmates. They felt Lynne’s and Herman’s annoyance at getting in trouble with the high school principal for that prank; they also realized that Megan hadn’t wanted to involve the teachers or principal, meaning that getting revenge on her in the changing room was all the more indefensible. They felt John’s annoyance at his wife’s leaving him for another man…and they all knew of John’s shameful visits to that brothel, and how they justified his wife’s leaving him.

Shame, shame, and more shame.

A huge, deafening scream came from that blob as the fire reached its periphery and began boiling the surrounding blood. The scream died out, the blob melted into, and merged with, the boiling blood, and the bloody lake evaporated into a hot, pink mist, which in turn faded into nothingness.

A nothingness of peace.

***********

Furioso wasn’t there to watch it, though. He–as a demon who had lured so many thousands over the centuries to Hell, yet also had recently developed the compassion to show how some of the damned could escape it, was now standing before his own sea of blood.

He saw that red sea shrink a little, as it had shrunk a little on several occasions before.

A slight smile appeared on his lips.

THE END

Hourglass

The tiny grains of sand,
dropping down from
the top glass bulb
to
the
one
on
the
bottom, fall quickly.

The time we have
to resolve our
O,
so
sad
&
dire
predicament has a
brevity like a mere hour.

We cannot dawdle.
Time
is
run-
-ning
out.
If we don’t save our Earth,
there will be no more trees,
or creatures, people, or seas.

Our
orb
will
be
no
more. Man will be dust.
Cities will be ashen, and
all life will fall to the dark dirt.
Green and blue will turn to grey.

When our
time here is up,
our home will be but
a bland, brown hill of sand.

‘Furies,’ a Horror Novel, Part Six, Chapter 3

Next, it was Tiffany’s turn, along with the ghosts of her mother Alice, Faye and her baby, George, and his mother. As with the previous group of spirits, Furioso led them all to a large lake of blood, the blood of their bodies mixed together.

Again, as with the last group, the ghosts of Tiffany and her victims/victimizers all stood in a straight line before the red lake, holding hands and feeling a heavy dread for what was to come.

In you must go, Furioso said, if you truly wish to end your pain. Just remember that the pain you feel submerged in that lake will feel much more acute. Still, as torturous as it will feel, it won’t last forever, as this pain outside will. When you go in, stay with it, be patient and endure it all the way, as extreme as the pain will feel, and it will come to an end. Keep faith in the ultimate outcome.

All the ghosts looked at the lake with fearful eyes. They took deep breaths, then jumped in together.

Whether their eyes were opened or closed under the surface of the red, they all saw visions of the past; but they experienced the pasts of their victims, as their victims had experienced those painful moments. The experiences were also synchronized, so the victimizers could glean the meaning of what they’d done, by seeing and feeling it done to themselves.

Faye and Alice, for example, were in Tiffany’s position when Faye’s fist came smashing down on Tiffany’s calculator in math class; this vision coincided with experiencing the block of ice dropped on Tiffany’s head in that neighbourhood on the way home from school. As this happened, Tiffany, in her mother’s place, felt the sledgehammer cracking her skull open in the same neighbourhood the same night Tiffany’s ghost killed her mom.

Experiencing the mutual suffering caused all of the ghosts to shudder. I should never have done those things to Tiffany, thought Faye. No wonder she wanted revenge.

My poor daughter went through so much, Alice thought. And I never supported her the way she needed her mother to. True, it was hard for me raising her without Barry, and the heartache of his leaving me had made it impossible to forget every time I look in Tiffany’s eyes–her father’s eyes–still, that gave me no right to take it all out on my baby. In many ways, I got what I deserved. Forgive me, baby.

No, mama! Tiffany’s ghost moaned back to Alice. You may have hurt me and neglected me a lot, but you never smashed anything–ice or a sledgehammer–on my head. The punishment I gave you far outweighed the crime. You did not deserve that, mama! I’m so sorry.

Speaking of cracked skulls, Tiffany next experienced Faye’s newborn baby being thrown to the wooden floor. The baby itself expressed its pain to Tiffany’s ghost in the only way it could, non-verbally, by projecting the feeling onto her.

Oh, my God! Tiffany’s ghost thought. That baby never did me or anybody any harm. How could I have done something so cruel to a defenseless child? I was so drunk on my hatred at the time, laughing at their suffering, that I didn’t see how despicable I was being!

Punish me, Tiffany! Faye moaned. Why punish my baby?

And I laughed as I watched you and your baby die, Tiffany’s ghost thought. I’m so sorry!

Next, the ghost of Tiffany saw the hallucination she’d made Faye see of her baby, with the elephant’s ears, tusks, and trunk. She felt Faye’s shock, as well as the trunk hitting her on the nose, hard enough that it hurt.

My God! Tiffany thought. That was so mean.

She saw the horrified reaction of Brad, Faye’s husband, when the baby was thrown to the floor.

That poor man was made to suffer, too, Tiffany thought in her swelling remorse. He never did anything to me. He didn’t deserve to see his baby die. I made her innocent baby look like a monster, when it is I who am the monster.

The ghosts of George and his mother saw what he had done to Tiffany back in high school: how mean he was to her when he called her “a wimp,” how he hit her on the shoulder with a triple-A battery shot from an elastic band, though aiming at her face as Boyd had done to Alexa, and how he and Faye dropped that chunk of ice on Tiffany’s head.

George! his mother moaned at him. Did I raise you to do things like that? Small wonder she wanted revenge.

I’m sorry, Mom, he moaned back at her.

Apologize to Tiffany, not to me, she said.

Apologize? he said. After what she did to you? My bullying of her wasn’t anywhere near as bad as what she made me do to you.

Dropping a block of ice on her head and leaving her unconscious on the sidewalk was not a minor thing, she said.

It wasn’t major enough to deserve your murder or my suicide in the hospital, he said.

And at that moment, Tiffany was made to experience that moment in the hospital room: him getting the syringe out while feeling his love for his mother, as well as his horror at being forced to make that air bubble in the tube leading into her body; her feeling the terror at helplessly watching her son’s inexplicable murder of her.

His mother never hurt me, Tiffany thought as she saw the air bubble come closer and closer. She never earned my hate. Still, I was so high on that hate that I never contemplated how low I’d let myself sink.

Each ghost was trying to separate itself from experiencing the suffering it had caused the other ghosts, but couldn’t. Each ghost tried to swim away from the others in that lake of blood, but the mixed blood ensured their inescapable togetherness. Swimming away led immediately to being pulled back to the others.

Their identities were merging, as were their pain, shame, and remorse. The ghosts’ moans were crescendoing into screams. They all begged for the pain to end, yet they were each also fearful of losing their individuality.

Eventually, they came to realize that each ghost clinging to its own ego was perpetuating its suffering, and they all came to understand the need to let go.

Though each ghost hated the other ghosts for having caused their suffering, each hated itself even more for having caused so much greater, and needless, suffering. Even George came to accept that it had been his and Faye’s bullying that started the chain of events that led to his mother’s death and his suicide.

Forgive me, Tiffany, he moaned.

Forgive me, George, she answered.

The ghosts all felt themselves melting and merging into the blood, and the red lake evaporated into a hot, pink mist. The mist slowly faded and disappeared.

No more existence.

No more pain.

Wine

In vino veritas,
but wine can
also be
a way
out
of
the
sad truth trapping us.

Dipsomania
craves a
high to
fend
off
the
low of
depression.

There is the high of
drink and drugs,
and there’s the
opium
of
the
toiling masses,

the wine that one imagines
to be transubstantiated
into the blood of Him
who had blue water
turn into a
red
and
tasty wedding beverage.

We cannot change
our blue to red
by wine gods
or
by
the
Word of God’s red blood.

Changing blue to red is not a
matter of Spirit or spirits.
Red bourgeois blood
must be spilled
so
we
can
have a red state for all the people.

Analysis of ‘They Live’

They Live is a 1988 science fiction action film written and directed by John Carpenter, based on the 1963 short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson, and the 1986 comic adaptation “Nada” by Nelson and artist Bill Wray. The film stars Roddy Piper, with Keith David, Meg Foster, George “Buck” Flower, and Peter Jason.

They Live was a minor success during its release, but received negative reviews from critics for its social commentary, writing, and acting; but like other Carpenter films, it gained a cult following and more positive critical reappraisal. The film has had a huge impact on popular culture, with such iconic scenes as that of the shocked protagonist (Piper) putting on and taking off special sunglasses that reveal subliminal messages enslaving the world to aliens, and of a six-minute alley brawl between him and his eventual sidekick (David).

Here is a link to quotes from the film. Here’s a link to Nelson’s short story, and here’s a link to the comic adaptation.

The short story and comic are a straightforward narrative about a covert alien takeover of the world, with little if any sense of the aliens being among the ranks of the upper classes. Indeed, one of the aliens in Nelson’s story is disguised as “a loveable old drunk,” implying a homeless wino. Other aliens (or “Fascinators,” as they’re called in the story) are the neighbours in the apartment of Lil, the girlfriend of George Nada, the protagonist. The only suggestion that the “Fascinators” could be rich is that Nada finds “no aliens on the subway…Maybe they were too good for such things.” (PDF, page 5)

It was Carpenter (under the pseudonym of “Frank Armitage,” the name of David’s character in the film and also an allusion to Henry Armitage, a Lovecraft character) who turned Nelson’s story into an anti-capitalist allegory critical of the 1980s Reagan revolution and its war on the poor. A key element, however, retained in Nelson’s story, the comic, and the film is how the aliens use the mass media to lull the world into passive compliance with the nefarious, world-destroying agenda of the aliens.

Indeed, They Live is amazingly prescient in how it portrays the insidious effects of Reagan/Thatcher neoliberalism not only widening the gap between the rich and the poor, but also using the media to make us all passively accept our descent into ever-worsening alienation, submission to fascistic police, and mindless consumerism. The film grows more and more relevant with each passing year.

Though the anti-capitalist message should be so obvious that it doesn’t need comment, certain egregiously erroneous right-wing interpretations of who the aliens represent should be dismissed at the outset. No, they don’t represent a conspiracy of world domination by “the Jews” (capitalism, apparently, is only bad when they practice it, but when ‘good, decent Christians’ exploit the global proletariat, that’s perfectly OK [sarcasm]), or the Freemasons, or Big Government per se. Carpenter is very clear in his criticism of free enterprise, the “free market” that these right-wing morons all too often defend in their criticism of what’s wrong with today’s world. No, “small government” won’t fix our ailing society: a government that serves the people, rather than the rich, will fix it.

The film begins with Nada (Piper), a homeless drifter, walking into LA looking for work. His name is an interesting choice, being Spanish for “nothing,” and indeed, in the comic adaptation, when he dies at eight o’clock in the morning as predicted, we see the final panels showing his body decaying, being reduced to nothing, and him saying in the narration that he has become “…once…and…for…all…nada.”

As a personification of nothing, Nada represents the lumpenproletariat, thought by Marx and Engels to have no revolutionary potential, though some leftists today feel that people like Nada do have such potential…provided they are given proper guidance. When led astray, as the other Drifter (Flower) is, they can end up supporting the forces of reaction and even fascism.

Still, being “nothing” can paradoxically be everything from a dialectical perspective. We proletarian “nothings” can be everything if we come together in solidarity. Hegel’s dialectic, as expressed in his Science of Logic, finds the unity between being and nothing in becoming. In the course of this film, we certainly see Nada go on a journey from nothing to becoming something of the greatest importance.

After finding neither work nor food stamps in an employment agency, Nada walks by a park where he hears a blind street preacher (played by Raymond St. Jacques) warning his listeners of the aliens who are secretly controlling the world. He doesn’t mention aliens, so we assume at this point that he is simply talking about Satan and his demons.

The preacher is blind, yet he says the people’s enemies “have blinded us to the truth.” He is like the blind prophet Tiresias, who nonetheless could ‘see’ secret truths most people of his day could not see. This paradox of blindness vs. sight will be further developed when Nada sees through those black sunglasses.

The preacher speaks of our greed and, significantly, of “our owners,” which seems to anticipate what George Carlin would say in a rant, seventeen years after this film was made, about the real owners of the US, “the big, wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions.” Police arrive at the park to shut the preacher up.

We hear the preacher’s words in a voiceover as the camera gets a shot of TV screens in a store window that night, showing Mount Rushmore, a bald eagle in flight, a cowboy on a horse, and men who seem to be celebrating winning a basketball game. All-American stuff: a colossal sculpture by a man “deeply involved in Klan politics,” and which was done on a mountain promised to the Lakota Tribe; a bird of prey aptly symbolic of the imperialist country; cowboy stereotypes; and pleasure in competition. It’s all on Cable 54, a station whose significance will be seen later. Nada walks by as a dazed black man is watching the TVs.

Nada finds a job at a construction area. After a day’s work, he meets Frank (David), who offers to show him a place, “Justiceville,” where the city’s homeless can get some food. It’s significant that homeless Nada is rarely welcome in any private property or shelter, which is why some of us wish to abolish private property.

The friendship between Nada and Frank is strained throughout the film, their alley brawl being where that tension comes to a head. This tension reflects how worker alienation is rife in capitalist society.

Frank has a good heart, and he has a sense, as most of us do, that something’s not right in a society that allows the rich to trample on the poor. Nada, who will ultimately lead in the duo’s revolution, is at first still willing to “believe in America,” to follow the rules, to do a good day’s work, and to hope for better luck in the future.

Frank, in contrast, though full of justified anger at the unfair system, is afraid of rocking the boat, since he has a wife and two kids in Detroit to support. Frank is, as The Last Poets once said, scared of revolution. This fear, combined with how the manipulative media hypnotizes us all, is one of the main reasons the masses won’t rise up against the ruling class.

Nada, though pro-American at the beginning, is observant to the point of putting everything together quite soon. He notes the bearded hacker interrupting the mesmerizing TV programs to warn people of the dangers the blind preacher was speaking of in the park. He notes that the church across from Justiceville, where the meals for the homeless are prepared, isn’t what it seems: recordings of church singing drown out the voices of a resistance movement.

This church reflects a paradoxical thing about religion: usually the church is used to prop up the class status quo, which is presumably why it’s a good hiding place for this resistance movement; but every now and then, Christians actually engage in anti-capitalism, like the preacher and the other resisters.

Still, in spite of the resistance’s attempts at being clandestine about their plotting, they’re discovered by the fascistic police, who raid Justiceville one night, trash the place, and beat the preacher and the bearded man who warned about the aliens when the TV programs were hacked. Attacking a homeless community, the kind the Black Panthers would have helped: what could be a more naked manifestation of class war? As we see in this scene, whenever the ruling class is threatened by plots of revolution, they use fascist violence to keep the people in line. Bourgeois ‘democracy’ is a sham.

Ever-observant Nada, however, is putting all the pieces together. After helping a boy get safe in a shelter from the police–a shelter in which one of the homeless says, “Somebody start World War Three?”–Nada goes back to the church to take a box of something he discovered before, something the resistance deems important. Inside the box are pairs of black sunglasses.

The reference to WWIII ought to be linked to something the other drifter (later, a collaborator–played by Flower) has said earlier. He spoke of an “epidemic of violence,” “end of the world kind of stuff,” terrorists “shooting people, robbing banks.” He’s talking about the resistance, of course, but he never develops the class consciousness needed to understand the need for revolution. These references to WWIII, epidemic, and the end of the world, as much as they’re made in passing in the film, are nonetheless another instance of how prophetic They Live really is, when we consider how dire the situation is in our world in the 2020s.

Anyway, Nada hides the box of sunglasses in an alleyway trashcan after taking out a pair for himself. Soon enough, he’ll realize their significance.

A paradox about wearing them is how they make you see the truth, yet in a way, they also ‘blind’ you. Wearing them, he sees only black and white, a seemingly simplified world; and while he sees the revelatory subliminal messages, these messages are as simplistic as their black-and-white presentation.

What’s more, though they’re black sunglasses, they can be associated with the dark glasses a blind man wears. Like the preacher, Nada is ‘blind,’ yet he sees what most seeing people don’t.

The propaganda used to keep the masses in their place is, of course, often far subtler in real life than merely “obey,” “marry and reproduce,” “conform,” “no independent thought,” and “consume,” but much of what is presented in the media, the breads and circuses as well as the divisive propaganda to keep partisan-minded people loyal to this or that political party, is also simplistic, so the simplicity of the film’s black-and-white subliminal messages is fitting.

In today’s intellectually impoverished political discourse, critics of Biden are assumed to be Trump supporters; disliking both the red and blue parties seems to require a capacity for abstract thought far too complex for too many of today’s liberals. The same applies to ultraconservative Trump supporters, who claim that their critics must be DNC “commies,” a ridiculous pairing of labels as any I’ve ever heard. The same black-and-white thinking applies to the conservative vs. liberal (actually bourgeois) parties in all countries around the world.

What is, of course, the most shocking thing that Nada has to deal with is his seeing the aliens, as they actually look, for the first time. He stares in a daze at a middle-aged businessman whose face looks like a skull with his eyeballs popping out.

In Nelson’s short story, the aliens look reptilian, snake-like, with green flesh and “multiple yellow eyes,” speaking with “bird-like croaks” (PDF, page 1). Such a description reminds us of David Icke‘s reptilian overlord conspiracy theory, but Nelson’s story is not so overtly political. The aliens in the comic adaptation are colourful, many-eyed, and grotesque, but not at all reptilian.

Carpenter’s representation of the aliens’ appearance is the most sensible one. Properly understood to be symbolic of the capitalist class, the aliens with their skull faces are agents of death. The lack of lips and eyelids gives their faces a zombie-like lack of human expressiveness that is chillingly fitting for the purposes of this anti-capitalist allegory.

The endless pursuit of profit is a dehumanizing process, causing alienation among people and within them, alienating them from their species-essence. Not only are the people of Earth enslaved by the aliens and their ideology, but the aliens themselves are also thus enslaved, hence their reading of newspapers and magazines with the same subliminal messages. Capitalists don’t pursue profit merely because they like to; they are compelled to maximize profit because of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

The wish for endless growth on a planet with finite resources is why capitalists are agents of death, and therefore why it is apt for the aliens to have skull-faces. Late stage capitalism is destroying the planet through climate change and endless wars; the US military, being the number one polluter in the world, is waging wars to ensure the sustained profits of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, etc.

The capitalists know they’re destroying the Earth, despite their denials and lies that ‘climate change is a myth’; they have underground bunkers to survive in when “the Event” happens, be it climate change, nuclear war, or American civilizational collapse in general. Small wonder the bearded man on the TV says, “Look around at the environment we live in. Carbon dioxide, fluorocarbons, and methane have increased since 1958. Earth is being acclimatized. They are turning our atmosphere into their atmosphere.” Then he says the aliens will “deplete the planet, move on to another.”

Again, so there isn’t any doubt about who the aliens represent, resistance leader Gilbert (Jason) says it most explicitly. He says, “They’re free enterprisers. The Earth is just another developing planet. Their Third World.”

So, the aliens represent not only the ‘free market’ capitalism that right-wing libertarians idealize, they also personify imperialism. As we on the left understand so clearly, and try so hard to get the rest of the world to understand, imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, exporting capital to other countries, expanding markets out there and hiring cheap labour from Third World countries to maximize First World profits, and fighting wars in a competition to keep the biggest slice of the pie. The aliens in They Live do this on an interplanetary level.

Nada is amused, but not surprised, to see (through his sunglasses) a politician on a wall-mounted TV who is an alien speaking of how we should “have faith in our leaders,” and be optimistic about the future, in a world as obviously bleak as it is in the film, and by extension as bleak as ours is now. One is reminded of, for example, Trump’s State of the Union address in 2020, when he spoke of America’s great economic recovery…then soon after, the whole economy came crashing down.

Nada’s shock at the sight of all these aliens, and the messages saying “obey,” etc., cause him to react inadvisably, making the aliens realize that he sees them as they really are. After fighting off and killing two alien cops, he takes their guns and tries to take all of them on alone.

He runs into a bank with a number of aliens among the humans, and he introduces himself by saying that iconic line (of Piper’s own invention) about bubble gum and kicking ass. As bad-ass as this scene is, we must understand the error he as a potential revolutionary is making: his spontaneous attack on the aliens is mere recklessness and adventurism. It’s thrilling to watch at first, but it ultimately ends in failure. Revolutions must be planned, organized, and timed well.

To escape his inevitable pursuers, Nada goes into a parking lot and kidnaps a woman, Holly Thompson (Foster), and has her drive him to her home. It’s interesting how when he gets out of her car at her home, two male neighbours (aliens?) of hers seeing them, he in those sunglasses looks rather like a blind man (recall what I said above about seeing and blindness). She is scared, but cooperative with him…and cunning in her private thoughts.

Inside her home, he finally takes off the sunglasses, which have been giving him a headache. Earlier, whenever the bearded man on the TV interrupted the Cable 54 broadcast to warn of the aliens, his viewers would get headaches after a short while of listening to him, too. Indeed, it’s painful and depressing for us to learn the truth about our oppression; TV shows and fashion ads are so much more comforting in the illusions of superficial pleasure they perpetuate for us.

Nada gets excited to learn that Holly works for Cable 54, knowing that that’s where the alien signal is coming from, and therefore he can get a chance to destroy the transmitter. He lets his guard down, and she smashes a wine bottle over his head, making him fall out of her window and down a steep hill. Calling the police with a cold look on her face, Holly reveals herself to be a class collaborator. Nada has lost his sunglasses in this incident: will she put them on, realize the aliens are controlling everything, and later redeem herself to Nada? Or does she already know about them, and is she collaborating to save her own neck?

To get a new pair of those sunglasses, Nada has to go back to that alleyway and find the box he hid there. He’s already seen Frank at the construction area, who is so shocked from having heard of Nada’s violence in the bank that he wants nothing to do with him. Still, Frank has a good heart, and he goes to the alley with a week’s wages to give Nada. Frank wants no part of Nada’s revolution, all the same.

Frank’s unwillingness even to try on a pair of the sunglasses shows just how adamant so many of us are even ‘to wake up’ and see the enormity of our ugly reality. In Nelson’s short story and in the comic adaptation, ‘waking up’ is a straightforward matter of coming out of the state of hypnosis that the ‘Fascinators’ have put the human race under. The story begins with George Nada coming a little too much out of the hypnotic state to be lulled back into it.

He must try to wake up the rest of the world, including his girlfriend, Lil, before eight o’clock in the morning, the time a ‘Fascinator,’ by force of suggestion, has determined for his death by heart attack. Since he does die this way at the end of Nelson’s story, it’s clear that even he isn’t completely ‘awake.’

So as with Frank, there’s plenty of resistance to ‘waking up.’ Lil, represented in the comic as a shapely, buxom babe, comes across as ‘asleep’ in the sense of having internalized a wish to attain all of society’s beauty ideals without question. Her female equivalent in the film, Holly, is similarly all given over to the aliens’ agenda, if at least more aware of their existence.

Being ‘awake’ versus ‘asleep’ in our world is far from being the simple dichotomy that it is in the film. Various factions in the left disagree as to what it means to be ‘awake’ to the reality of capitalism and on what to do about it. What’s the answer? Anarchism, Trotskyism, social democracy, or Marxism-Leninism? Leftist infighting has made it most difficult for us to rise up together and defeat the ruling class.

Though it isn’t really dealt with in the film, Frank as a black man is especially affected by the capitalism that the aliens personify. Still, he’s scared to ‘wake up,’ yet the need to ‘stay woke‘ has been given expression as a major issue for African-Americans ever since the 1930s. Further complicating matters has been the bastardizing of the term “woke” by the right, first in the capitalist exploitation of the term, and also by conservatives’ pejorative use of it, similar to their use of “politically correct.”

So as we can see, waking people up is a hard thing to do for blacks (Frank) and women (Lil), as well as for a number of other complicating reasons. Small wonder Nada has to fight with Frank for about six minutes in that alley, just to get him to put on the sunglasses.

The ruling class loves to have the people fight with each other, rather than join together in solidarity to fight the elite. The Western oligarchs would have us all hating Russia and China to distract us from the glaringly obvious problems in our own societies. So in the story, George Nada has to tie Lil up and take her car; and Nada and Frank beat the crap out of each other.

In the hotel, Frank, finally acknowledging the situation with the aliens, speaks of how they must have always been here, making us all hate each other. The alienation brought on by class conflict has led to the kind of parental abuse Nada suffered as a kid from his dad.

Gilbert finds Frank and Nada in the hotel, and he tells them of a secret meeting of those in the resistance. At the meeting, our two heroes replace their sunglasses with far more effective contact lenses. Here, Gilbert tells the others that they all have to be far more careful. The resistance movement is suffering because of such problems as adventurism. He advises the others to blend into society to avoid getting caught. Indeed, one must wait for a revolutionary situation before rising up. In the meantime, one must be patient and bide one’s time; they can strike when they find out where the hypnotizing alien signal is coming from.

Another big part of what makes revolution so difficult is how so many people sell out, as Gilbert explains to Nada and Frank. So many join the police, who have historically existed to protect the interests of the owners of private property. Many on the “left” sell out, like Bernie Sanders, AOC, and the Squad, politicians who act as mere sheepdogs to lull American voters to elect right-wingers like Joe Biden, politicians that the mainstream media disingenuously claim are on the left.

Opportunism is so easy to give in to. People get promoted this way, get more money, and buy nice houses and cars. The resistance gets labelled as ‘commies’ by the cops in the film (and this is who they truly represent; though Carpenter is a liberal who has admitted to supporting [regulated] capitalism, he represents the left-leaning variety of the pre-Clinton years when ‘left-leaning liberal’ actually meant something). Now communists, by contrast to the opportunists, are those who “stand out in the rain,” as Michael Parenti once described them: risking their careers and even their lives as they combat capitalism.

Nada is pleased to see Holly appear at the meeting. He imagines she is remorseful for hitting him with that wine bottle in her home. It would seem that she has led the police to the resistance’s meeting…though the film so far has left her private intentions ambiguous, so we’ll see her opportunism fully revealed at the end.

Nada and Frank, the only members of the resistance to survive the police attack on the meeting, manage to get to the Cable 54 building, where not only the source of the hypnotic alien signal is being transmitted, but also where the aliens are having a banquet with their human collaborators. Here we see symbolically how the ruling class colludes with the world’s politicians and the mainstream media.

At this banquet, Nada and Frank are reunited with the drifter from Justiceville who was the most resistant to the bearded man’s warnings about the aliens on the interruption of the TV program. This drifter, so totally given in to the mainstream media’s mesmerizing (as are so many of us), has predictably become a collaborator, having traded in his dirty old clothes for a tuxedo. Being as empty-headed as he is, he foolishly gives Nada and Frank a tour of the building, thinking our two heroes are collaborators, too.

They reveal that they aren’t collaborators in a sound-proofed room next to the TV studio where the mesmerizing messages are given by two alien news anchors. (For ‘Cable 54,’ read ‘CNN,’ to give but one example.) The drifter/collaborator rationalizes his treason to humanity by saying, “it’s business…there ain’t no countries anymore…we all sell out every day.” (This last line was inspired by something a Universal Pictures executive said to Carpenter.)

There being ‘no more countries’ shouldn’t be misinterpreted as the NWO ‘one-world-government’ nonsense, except in the sense that the new world order that George HW Bush spoke of referred to the post-Soviet, neoliberal, capitalist-imperialist one, in which it has been the ambition of Washington DC to rule the whole world. It’s business…it’s capitalism.

Nada and Frank manage to fight their way to the roof of the Cable 54 building, assuming they can trust Holly, who has a concealed pistol and puts a bullet in Frank’s head. He was so scared of revolution, and now his wife and kids have no man to put food on the table. This has made revolution all the more urgent, though.

Finally, Nada knows he’s going to be shot either by Holly or by the men hovering by him in a helicopter. Still, he says, “Fuck it” after shooting Holly, then he puts two bullets into the transmitter before being shot himself. Waking people up to the reality of our capitalist masters isn’t a sufficient condition of our liberation, but it’s certainly a necessary one. The mainstream media must be disabled.

Arousing class consciousness, as symbolized by the world finally waking up and seeing all the aliens as they really look, is of course a much more complicated process than what we see at the end of the movie. Yet it’s astonishing to see how many people in the world either deny that capitalism is the problem (preferring instead to focus on identity politics), or believe that only “unfettered capitalism” is the problem (as Carpenter himself believes!), or believe that billionaires can be allowed to exist in socialist states, or believe that, fantastically, “real capitalism” doesn’t exist and has never even been tried (as the market fundamentalists delude themselves)! They live, right-wing libertarians, while you sleep…and don’t even know you do.

Still, just as Nada doesn’t live to see the revolution happen, many of the rest of us who are ‘awake’ are not seeing a revolution happen, either. And as with George Nada of Nelson’s short story and the comic adaptation, there is little time left to wake the world up and start that revolution. George had only until eight o’clock in the morning to set the stage for revolution: how much time do we Nadas have before climate change, nuclear annihilation, or civilizational collapse become our eight o’clock in the morning?

Will we live, or will we forever sleep?

Lakes

The water of a lake should be our focus.
Its fluid, moving waves, no firmness,
do not detract from its reality.
Pay no attention to the land:
there’s nothing there.

The universe is watery, all wavy–it’s vibration.
The stoniness of earth is just illusion.
The rocky land just hardens hearts.
The hard earth makes life hard,
but lakes are refreshing.

All life is flowing, fluid change, lakes’ blue beauty.
Sticking with the hard ground causes suffering.
We must learn to drift with the current.
Take note of only peaceful waters.
Be blind to the dirty land.

Jump in the water, take a swim, enjoy the cool.
Don’t let want’s summer heat dehydrate you.
Lakes’ ever-moving waters do enlighten.
Rocky ground makes rocks of brains.
Get yourself all wet instead.

Analysis of ‘Drugstore Cowboy’

Drugstore Cowboy is a 1989 crime drama directed by Gus Van Sant (his second film as director) and written by him and Daniel Yost, based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by James Fogle. The film stars Matt Dillon, with Kelly Lynch, Heather Graham, James LeGros, James Remar, and William S. Burroughs.

The film was widely acclaimed by critics. Siskel and Ebert included it on their top ten lists for movies in 1989. Rotten Tomatoes has given it a rare score of 100%, based on 28 reviews.

Tom Waits was Van Sant’s original choice to play the lead, but the finance company would not support his choice. Dillon, instead, won the Independent Spirit Award for playing the lead. Drugstore Cowboy was filmed mainly around Portland, Oregon. The soundtrack music has songs contemporaneous with the 1971 setting.

Here is a link to quotes from the film.

The movie begins with a shot of Bob Hughes (Dillon), a 26-year-old junkie and thief of pharmacies/hospitals, in an ambulance with a smile on his face. We will see him here again at the end of the movie.

He and the three other people in his group of pharmaceutical thieves do what they do as, of course, an escape from the miseries of life, comparable to the escape that religion offers. Recall Marx’s words: “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” (Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, from the introduction)

Getting high is the foursome’s religious ecstasy. Drugs are their sacraments: in liquid form, the transubstantiated blood of Christ; in pill form, they are the Host wafers.

So, this quartet of drug addicts/thieves is allegorically representative of religious people, since both groups have escape from life’s frustrations as their goal. As I will attempt to show, parallels of the druggie life with that of the religious can be found in subtle, and not so subtle, manifestations throughout the film.

The thieves go into a drugstore one by one, as if they aren’t together. Nadine (Graham) suddenly pretends to have an epileptic seizure and falls on the floor, shaking violently. It’s as if she were possessed of demons. This distraction allows Bob to sneak into the back of the store and steal as many pharmaceuticals as he can get his hands on, while Dianne (Lynch) tries to keep the pharmacist from going to the back to call an ambulance.

When Bob has all the drugs he can get, and he, Dianne, and Rick (LeGros) leave the store, Nadine is suddenly better. She simply gets up and walks out of the drugstore, too, with all the people who watched the incident looking at her incredulously. Yet why wouldn’t she just get up and leave? They have their drugs, their religious ecstasy and salvation, so she has experienced a miraculous ‘faith healing.’ As Christ said, “Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk.” (Mark 2:9)

Now, these four have broken the law, but remember what Paul said about salvation by grace, as opposed to adherence to the law: “a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). In accordance with the antinomian distortion of this idea, of all the swearing we hear coming from their mouths, blasphemies are notably frequent. We hear “Goddamn,” “Jesus,” and “Christ” because God is Who they have unconsciously on their minds.

Having returned to their home, Bob tells the other three to act as if they’d just come back from church. Well, of course: a drugstore, home of their sacraments, is church. During that car ride home, Bob has put some of the drugs into his veins and has vividly described the pleasure they give him, like receiving God’s grace, it seems. He says, “Your worst enemy–he wasn’t so bad.” Recall in this connection what Christ said” “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

When Bob imagines “blues and Dilaudid in such great amounts on the spoon that it would literally be overflowing,” we’re reminded of Psalm 23: “My cup runneth over.” Bob says, “You could do no wrong” while on drugs, for such is the effect of sanctifying grace as brought on by the sacramental pharmaceuticals.

Inside their home, we see shots of all the pills they’ve stolen, and immediately after those, a shot of a small figurine on a side table of what must be the Virgin Mary. A fitting juxtaposition of images, for immediately after that shot, we return to close-up shots of drugs–more pills, and a needle Bob’s getting ready for Rick to shoot up.

Another interesting parallel that can be made between substance abusers and the religiously devout is the two groups’ stance on sex. Paul held chastity as a moral ideal, only assenting to marriage for other Christians by necessity–hence, the celibate Catholic priesthood. In the case of drug addicts like Bob, it is well known that the men suffer a depressed sex drive, including erectile dysfunction.

Small wonder Dianne, as beautiful as she is, gets so frustrated with her husband Bob, asking that if he’s so hot (actually, he’s hot to steal more drugs!), why won’t he just throw her on the bed and make love to her. Later, she tries to turn him on by undressing and dancing to music, but he’s so high that, to her chagrin, he shows no interest in sex. For that matter, we never see the other couple, Rick and Nadine, as attractive as she is, getting it on, either.

Indeed, their home is like a coed convent.

Soon enough, the police, led by Detective Gentry (Remar) and having been tipped off about the theft in the drugstore, raid the junkies’ home and wreck the place in an unsuccessful search for the stolen drugs (actually, Dianne has hidden them in a hole dug outside). Just as Christians, assumed to have engaged in such vices as cannibalism (a far-too-literal interpretation of the Eucharist), were persecuted by the Roman authorities in the first century AD, so are the quartet of dope fiends harassed by the cops. Gentry’s name aptly sounds like a near-pun on Gentile.

Bob needs to go to his mom’s house to get some clothes, but she feels totally estranged from her son and daughter-in-law for their drug habit. One is reminded of when Jesus said that faith in Him would set the believers against their families (Luke 12:51-53)

Bob et al have to find a new home to get away from Gentry, and they find the “Josephine apartments.” Why they have this name is lost on Bob and Rick, the latter saying that the man who rented it is named “Dale.” Perhaps the feminized “Josephine” is a fusion of Joseph and Mary, which is fitting given the aforementioned figurine of Mary found in their first place.

In the new place, Nadine makes the faux pas of asking if they can get a dog, the mere mentioning of which in Bob’s superstitious mind causes a hex that makes stealing drugs dangerously bad luck for a month. One is reminded, in this connection, of Matthew 7:6, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

We learn of how Bob and Dianne have come to regard dogs, and even the mere discussion of them, as bad luck. The husband and wife owned a dog that, out of its love and loyalty to them, found its way home after being separated from them during a robbery gone wrong, and the police followed the dog home. The police put Bob and Dianne in jail for it.

As we can see, giving what’s holy–for Bob and Dianne, their pursuit of the Holy Grail of drugs–to their dog has made it turn against them and rend them to pieces, so to speak.

The worst hex that can be brought onto Bob, though, is a hat placed on a bed, based again on his bad experience with this cause of ill fortune. Why is leaving a hat on a bed so catastrophic for Bob, though? Why would such a mundane thing put a hex of at least fifteen years on him, with such risks as prison or even death?

I believe a hat, with its round base going over the wearer’s head, represents a halo, which in turn represents holiness (in these drug addicts’ conception of ‘spiritual bliss,’ mind you). The bed represents sex, something both the drug abuser and religiously devout avoid, as I explained above. Placing a hat on a bed thus is symbolic of profaning the spiritual, of the devout breaking his vow of chastity and celibacy.

A hat on a bed is also symbolic of the mixing of the divine, upper world with the profane, lower world, which causes the calamities we read about in the primordial narratives of the first several chapters of Genesis. A hat goes on the head, seat of the mind, reason, and therefore spirit. The body lies on a bed. The juxtaposing of a hat and a bed, therefore, is symbolic of making the mind focus on carnal things–thus, it is bad luck.

Now, I keep comparing Bob et al to spiritual, religious types, and while the ideal for such people is to “love thy neighbour as thyself,” there is of course a huge abyss separating this ideal and the average religious person’s ability and willingness to live up to the ideal. Bob and Dianne are frequently mean to poor Nadine, who is increasingly getting afraid of being abandoned by them one day.

Knowing Gentry is doing a stakeout by Bob’s apartment, he figures out a way to get rid of the detective and his spying cops. He writes a letter–how like Paul writing an epistle!–to trick the cops into spying up in the window of a neighbour’s apartment, provoking the man living there to get his rifle and shoot at the cops; for Bob has led his neighbour to believe the spying cop up at the window is a peeping Tom!

Bob, Dianne, Rick, and Nadine all sit by their window to watch the neighbour shoot the cop peeping in his window. Bob sets it up as some fun entertainment for himself and his druggie friends. Since I’m comparing these dope fiends to religious types, this entertaining show of watching the evil cops getting their comeuppance is rather like the entertainment churchgoers get watching their preacher dramatically describe and narrate how the sinners of the world will get what’s coming to them on Judgement Day.

Gentry, of course, is furious with Bob the next day, furious about his fellow cop getting injured, and he gives Bob his own comeuppance with several punches to Bob’s gut.

To deal with their hex and get away from Gentry, Bob et al go “crossroading.” During the ride, we hear “Israelites,” by Desmond Dekker and The Aces. This song again involves a comparison between the use of drugs and religion, for it is a reggae song about the struggles of Rastafarians (for whom the smoking of cannabis is a sacrament), a religious group associated in the song with the Israelites, who in a life of crime don’t wish “to end up like Bonnie and Clyde.” The song is heard again during the end credits.

Bob robs a drugstore with an open transom, and gets vials of pure powdered Dilaudid. Encouraged by this treasure trove find, Bob convinces the group to help him rip off a hospital.

The robbing of the hospital is far less successful. In his attempt to evade capture by the staff, Bob gets a bloody cut on his forehead, which in his, so to speak, ‘imitation of Christ,’ is symbolic of the crown of thorns.

Meanwhile, the abuse Nadine is suffering from Bob is pushing her to the breaking point. She calls him a “hog,” reminding us not to cast our pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). By the time he returns to the motel the quartet is staying at, Bob discovers what Rick and Dianne have already found: Nadine, dead of an overdose of Dilaudid. She’s also left her hat on her bed, to spite Bob.

Her suicide–having put the other three in serious danger of being charged with her death, since as Bob says, it’s “paramount [sic] to a murder beef,” combined with the hex of the hat on the bed–is therefore her betrayal of them. She is the Judas of this story; Bob calls her a “conniving little bitch.” Her suicide also reminds us of that of Judas (Matthew 27:5).

What’s worse, the three of them must give up their room to some people involved in a sheriff’s convention. Bob is so scared that, as we understand later in the film when he explains himself to Dianne, he prays to God to keep him from being sent to prison for Nadine’s death. In return, Bob promises to God that he’ll give up the junkie life, get on the methadone treatment program, and live a virtuous life.

His switch from the escape of drugs to the crutch of prayer is much of what solidifies my interpretation of the film as the junkie life being allegorical of the religious life. His fear during this moment is like Christ praying in Gethsemane; he would have God take this cup from him, but according to God’s will, not Bob’s (Matthew 26:36-42).

Bob manages to get Nadine’s body out of the motel without suspicion, then buried safely. Now he must fulfill his part of the deal with God: give up the drugs.

On the 21-day methadone program in Portland, Bob stays in a hotel named, significantly, St. Francis. He explains to a member of the staff of a rehabilitation centre that a junkie uses dope “to relieve the pressures of their everyday life, like having to tie their shoes.” Yes, even something as simple as that can be too irritating to bear sometimes.

Of course, if we had a socialist system that relieved us of those everyday pressures, providing a social safety net, full employment, free healthcare and education, people wouldn’t need to resort to escaping through drugs or religion, because alienation would be a dwindling problem at worst. But I digress…

Bob soon meets a former priest named Tom (Burroughs), a man whose religion hadn’t provided a sufficient escape, so like Bob, Tom gave in to drug addiction, too. Again, in Tom we see one of the strongest links between drug abuse and religion in this film. Having junkie/author William S. Burroughs, of all people, to play Tom only drives the point home even harder.

Bob gets a job drilling holes that bolts fit into. This drilling of holes suggests the driving of nails through Christ’s hands and feet into the Cross. I’m reminded of how Mel Gibson had himself filmed driving a nail into Christ’s hand in The Passion of the Christ. The Christian convert tries to remind himself…tries, at least…to remind himself that he, though saved, is still a sinner.

So Bob now has an ordinary, boring, working-class job. How long can he go without feeling the itch to escape back into the world of getting high? He himself told the rehabilitation centre employee that no one can ever talk a junkie out of doing drugs.

Temptation arrives in the form of beautiful Dianne, who of course has no intention of ever stopping her drug habit. She gives him a package of drugs with which she hopes to lure him back into the life, but like Jesus in the wilderness, he refuses the Devil’s temptations (Luke 4:8). He’d like to have her back, but she doesn’t want to be straight.

It’s here that he tells her of his praying to God to save him from jail. He says that in his new, straight life, he has hopes of something good happening to him. No such luck with her.

He gives the package of drugs, which include some Dilaudid, to Tom, who says that Bob can get an indulgence for it. Somehow, that punk David gets wind of Bob getting the drugs; combine this knowledge with the anger David feels towards Bob for having helped a junkie kid get away without paying for drugs David gave him, and he has more than enough motivation to get revenge on Bob and steal that package of drugs from him.

Having hidden in Bob’s apartment and wearing masks, David and his punk accomplice assault Bob, kicking the shit out of him. They demand that he give them those drugs, which he of course no longer has. He’s done nothing wrong, as Pilate observed of Jesus (Matthew 27:23). Also like Jesus, Bob must go through his own violent ordeal.

David ends Bob’s ‘passion,’ if you will, by shooting him. The bullet hole is like the spear in Christ’s side (John 19:34). Bob is left for dead, but a neighbour calls for help in time, so he’s taken out on a stretcher into an ambulance, just where we found him smiling in that opening shot at the beginning of the film.

Gentry arrives, wondering if the one who shot Bob was the cop who got shot at by the angry neighbour for the ‘peeping Tom’ incident. Gentry has earlier warned Bob that this angry cop, now demoted to traffic duty, has been seeking revenge on Bob. Just as Christ made enemies among both the Roman and Jewish authorities, so has Bob made enemies among both the police and his fellow junkies.

Bob tells Gentry that “the hat” is what attacked him. Gentry thinks “The Hat” is the nickname of some dope fiend/criminal who had a falling-out with Bob, but what Bob means is that, having almost been killed, he’s been freed of the hex of the hat on the bed. Like Christ’s death on the Cross as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28), Bob’s shooting has saved him from his sins.

As an ‘imitator of Christ,’ Bob has just shared in Christ’s suffering (Philippians 3:10). He got an ‘indulgence’ from Tom, so Bob is free to do drugs again! I suspect that he hasn’t been mortally wounded, so with his soon-to-come return to the junkie life, he’s experienced a kind of death and resurrection. He’s also being taken to a hospital, where they’ll give him such drugs as morphine for his pain. He’s going to “the fattest pharmacy in town.”

He’s going to drug heaven, to sit at the right hand of God the Pharma.