Analysis of ‘Martin’

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Martin is a 1978 psychological horror film written and directed by George A. Romero. While Romero is best known for his Dead movies (of which the first, Night of the Living Dead, I wrote up an analysis), Martin was his avowed favourite.

Martin Mathias (John Amplas) is a vampire…or is he? He lacks the fangs, using razor blades to cut the wounds from which he drinks the blood. Sunlight bothers his eyes a little, and neither crucifixes nor garlic have any effect on him.

Still, he insists that he needs to drink blood; he also maintains that he’s eighty-four years old, though he looks like a teen, or at the oldest, a man in his mid-to-late twenties (i.e., Amplas’s age at the time of shooting the film). Finally, his “cousin”?/great-uncle, Tateh Cuda (Lincoln Maazel), following the superstitions of the family, is as convinced that Martin is a vampire as he is.

So, is he a vampire, or a madman driven to such extreme thinking by an emotionally abusive family, itself driven to madness by religious superstition? I’m convinced of the latter…in fact, Romero himself, in the commentary on my DVD of the film, attested to the latter interpretation.

So the film should be seen as a sardonic, modern take on the vampire genre. Indeed, Romero films are known for their critical social commentary, and there’s plenty of such satirizing in this movie.

Here are some quotes:

“Things only seem to be magic. There is no real magic. There’s no real magic, ever.” –Martin

“Do you believe God’s whole world runs by the laws of the few sciences we have been able to discover? Oh, no, Christina, there is more. But people are satisfied. They know so much, they think they know all. And that makes it easy for Nosferatu. That makes it easy for all the devils.” –Cuda

“When I see people together, they don’t talk. Not really. They don’t say what they mean.” –Martin, to Radio Talk Show Host

“In real life, in real life you can’t get people to do what you want them to do.” –Martin, to Radio Talk Show Host

“I don’t suppose it’s sacrilege to say the wine at St Vincent’s is putrid.” –Father Howard

“I can’t have kids. I can never have kids. I have something wrong inside. I don’t know, what do you think? Is that good for me, bad for me? No opinion? That’s why you’re so nice to have around, Martin. You don’t have opinions.” –Mrs. Santini

“People always go away so they can forget where they were.” –Martin

Mrs. Santini: Boy, do I wish what you had was catching.

Martin: Some people think it is catching. In the movies it’s catching.

Radio Talk Show Host: Live for yourself! Whatever it takes to get through the night. Right, Count?

Martin: Are you making fun of me?

“You may come and go, but you will not take people from the city. If I hear of it, a single time, I will destroy you without salvation.” –Cuda

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I am drawn to this film for two reasons: first, my original name is Martin; second, I know the feeling of being driven to near-madness by a family of emotional abusers, so I can identify with Martin, in spite of the awful things he does, especially to his female victims.

As far as horror films go, Martin is a rather eccentric one. The whole story has more of a sad tone to it than a chilling one. There’s an overwhelming feeling of alienation and social isolation, as Martin lives in a dull, small town in the house of a dysfunctional family.

He has been subjected to gaslighting his whole life with this nonsense that he’s a vampire; and he has internalized the belief to the point that he has a craving for blood. Black-and-white sequences in the film are generally supposed to represent memories from his remote past, back when this ‘octogenarian’ was young, presumably back in the 1910s.

There are two problems with the idea that these sequences are real memories. First, there’s the first of them, at the beginning of the movie, when he’s about to attack his first victim, a pretty brunette on a train. The black-and-white part shows her, not a woman from a distant memory; and she welcomes him with open arms, as if he were a desired lover, instead of the “Freak, rapist asshole” he really is. It isn’t a memory; it’s wish-fulfillment, as is the case of a black-and-white sequence later on (i.e, just before the scene with the second rape victim, the woman cheating on her husband), in which another pretty girl calls out “Martin,” as if she wants him, rather than being terrified of him; again, this must be wish-fulfillment. These two sequences at least suggest that all of them are mere fantasies.

Second, there are technical issues affecting the believability of the other black-and-white sequences. For example, the ornate interior design of certain homes suggests a time at least close to the Victorian era, hence my conclusion that they’re meant to be memories of about sixty years before the time of the film; yet we tend to see 1970s hairstyles. Also, during an old exorcism scene, the priest’s Latin occasionally seems ungrammatical: “in nomine patris, et filii, spiritus et sancti“? I don’t consider these to be technical oversights on Romero’s part; the horror master deserves higher regard than that, even with the limited budget he had when shooting. I don’t think this would have been his favourite film if these ‘errors’ had been unintended. Instead, the errors are Martin’s, in the limits of his imagination.

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I’m convinced that these ‘memories’ are just a madman’s delusions, his dissociating.

As inexcusable as is Martin’s sedating of women and taking advantage of them while they’re unconscious, though, the real villain of this movie is Cuda. The old man’s scapegoating of the boy as one having “the family shame,” as one being the ‘identified patient,’ is emotional abuse of the worst kind.

Cuda, first seen in his white suit, a costume of fake innocence, represents the narcissist who, identifying with the holiness of the Church, fancies himself a good Catholic. His condemning, threatening attitude towards Martin is a projection of his own inner evil onto the boy, and through projective identification, Martin introjects and assumes that evil, then tries to rid himself of it by putting it into his female victims, then internalizing their goodness through feeding on their blood.

Cuda would rather call Martin “Nosferatu” than by his real name; he thus denies the reality of Martin’s human existence, and replaces it with one he’d rather project onto the boy. He says he’ll save Martin’s soul, but after that, he’ll still “destroy” the boy, saying so with a smirk; the sadist clearly enjoys threatening and tormenting Martin.

Consider the two men’s names to see how Romero subverts and inverts the vampire genre. Martin Mathias has the names of two Christian saints, while Tateh Cuda’s first and last names respectively seem like a near anagram of teeth and a pun on the last two syllables of Dracula. In fact, ‘Tateh Cuda,’ said quickly with the ts gently tapped with the tongue, almost sounds like a garbled version of Dracula, spoken with a thick European accent. By their very names, sinner and saint have swapped roles.

Martin’s meekness suggests the good, almost saintly man he could have been, had he not been so brutally psychologically abused by his family. Indeed, one may wonder if he has murdered his immediate family in Indianapolis, in a desperate attempt to stop them from tormenting him; is he on the lam to Pittsburgh, then to Braddock (and does Cuda know this)? Instead of being an innocent boy, though, he’s a rapist.

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Martin defies Cuda’s superstitious nonsense again and again, even making fun of it by dressing up in a Dracula costume (with fake teeth) one spooky night outside, when Cuda’s been walking about alone, looking for him. Martin (<<<!) Luther once said that, laughing at the Devil, one can defeat him through God. So when costumed Martin is laughing at trembling Cuda–the old man shaking his useless crucifix at the boy, hitting him with his cane, and calling him the Devil–we know who the real Devil is.

This projective and introjective identification that Martin and Cuda–and the superstitious members of their family, by extension–undergo, this swapping of the roles of sinner and saint, is the essence of the tragedy that is this story, the tragic effects of the abuse of religion in the service of narcissists like Cuda. Cuda demonizes Martin because this is the only way the old fool can feel like a righteous man.

Even more tragically, Martin must pass the abusiveness he’s been subjected to onto others, the projective and introjective trading of identities, for this is the only exorcism that seems effective for him. He is too shy to do “the sexy stuff” with conscious women, so he injects a sedative into them (using phallic syringes) to project his shy passivity into them. Then, after having his way with them (e.g., the woman on the train), he feeds on their blood so he can internalize their goodness.

The turning point of the movie is when he meets Mrs. Santini: another near anagram…of Satanic? She is, indeed, a temptress, though in Romero’s subverted sense of being bad in a good way. Up until his meeting of her, he is a total loner; he doesn’t want to socialize with neighbours, and he takes a while to warm up to Christina, who despises Cuda’s religious fanaticism and wants to help the boy.

Santini’s sexual advances, however, really open him up…after a brief, shy resistance to her. He actually makes love with her while she’s awake. He even goes, for a while, without blood, for we see what he has really needed: human connection, for which the blood has been a symbolic substitute. In what we can only assume to be an unhappy marriage, she–by committing adultery with him–needs that human connection, too.

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Her initiation of the sexual relationship–a needed sex role reversal, for this movie is all about role reversals: sinner and saint, good and evil, aggressive and passive, projection and introjection–shows shy Martin that he needn’t dominate women to be close with them. Santini has the potential to cure him of his ‘vampirism.’

Old habits die hard, though, and his thirst for blood is growing, so he attacks and feeds on some derelicts, then barely eludes the police; as we can see, his relationship with Santini isn’t enough to cure his or her alienation.

Indeed, alienation is everywhere in this lonely town, which “is finished.” Christina and her boyfriend, Arthur (Tom Savini, who also did the bloody effects), bicker on the telephone. Martin discusses his ‘vampirism’ with a local radio talk show host who, while grateful to Martin for getting a bunch of enthusiastic new listeners, makes fun of “The Count”; indeed, the only way Martin can be popular is if he’s also laughed at. One of Cuda’s customers, a grouchy old woman, growls at Martin, calling him “a lazy boy.”

Santini isn’t the only adulteress in the movie: the second woman we see Martin drug and rape is one whose affair he interrupts–the most tense scene in the whole movie, in my opinion. As he’s eyeing her outside a shopping area and planning how he’ll get her, a group of young men are catcalling her…though he is a sexual predator far more dangerous than they could ever be.

Cuda alienates almost everyone. Christina finds him so intolerable, she leaves home with Arthur. Cuda’s religious extremism even makes the local priest, Father Howard (played by Romero himself), feel awkward, for the old man finds him too ‘modern’ in his thinking to be a real Catholic.

Santini, a church-going Catholic, weeps after her sex with Martin. When she assures him she won’t get pregnant, she says something’s wrong with her, inside: she seems to mean more than just sterility. She adores his sweetness, wishing she could have some of it. Guilt over adultery is, presumably, her motive for suicide…by slashing her arms with a razor blade!

Cuda seems to know razors are Martin’s weapon of choice for feeding on victims, so he refuses to believe her death was a suicide. He hammers a phallic wooden stake into Martin’s chest. The ‘good Catholic’ is a murderer, having killed the boy for the one time he actually didn’t use his razors on someone. Tragic irony.

Just as Martin’s victims are unconscious when he rapes and feeds on them, so is he asleep when Cuda stands over him with the stake, a symbol–as are Martin’s razor blades, syringes and raping phallus–of Bion‘s ‘contained‘ element, which is projected into the ‘container‘ element (symbolized by the yoni, the holes that the blades and needles are stuck into, and Martin’s bloody chest wound). Cuda projects his evil into Martin, right up to his death, rationalizing the murder by imagining he’s preventing more murders, and punishing Martin for a killing he didn’t even commit. More tragic irony.

Martin tries to escape from Indianapolis, in a hope of forgetting where he’s been; but he can’t escape the emotional abuse of his family in the form of its real evil–Cuda. He, indeed, is destroyed without salvation.

As with other horror movies/books I’ve done analyses of, in this one there’s the conspicuous absence of God, or goodness. While Martin also, as I’ve argued, lacks devils, for there is no real magic, it doesn’t lack evil. As Father Howard noted, the wine in his church is putrid.

Analysis of ‘The Big Lebowski’

Introduction

The Big Lebowski is a 1998 comedy written, produced, and directed by the Coen brothers, starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, and Julianne Moore, and with Steve BuscemiJohn Turturro, Peter Stormare, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Elliott, and David Huddleston. The story was inspired by the complex plots of Raymond Chandler stories, especially The Big Sleep; indeed, one joke of the story is its wildly intricate plot, which ends with a conclusion of no consequence and no fundamental change in the characters.

Though the movie did poorly at the box office, it has since then grown into a cult classic, with fans of the movie dressing up as their favourite characters at Lebowski Fests; there’s even a Taoist-oriented religion based on the wisdom of the Dude (Bridges).

Quotes

“Well, sir, it’s this rug I had. It really tied the room together.” –the Dude (Jeffrey Lebowski)

“Look, let me explain something to you. I’m not Mr. Lebowski. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me. That, or His Dudeness … Duder … or El Duderino, if, you know, you’re not into the whole brevity thing.” –the Dude

“This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder’s head. Luckily I’m adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind, you know, limber.” –the Dude

“Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.” –the Dude

“Careful, man, there’s a beverage here!” –the Dude

“Well, you know, the Dude abides.” –the Dude

Nihilists! ..Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos” –Walter Sobchak

“You see what happens, Larry?! Do you see what happens, Larry, when you fuck a stranger in the ass?! This is what happens, Larry! This is what happens, Larry!” –Sobchak

“Fuck it, Dude. Let’s go bowling.” –Sobchak

“Life does not start and stop at your convenience, you miserable piece of shit!” –Sobchak

“Shut the fuck up, Donny.” –Sobchak

“Forget it, Donny, you’re out of your element!” –Sobchak

“HEY! What’s this day of rest shit?! What’s this bullshit?! I don’t fuckin’ care! It don’t matter to Jesus. But you’re not foolin’ me, man. You might fool the fucks in the league office, but you don’t fool Jesus. This bush league psych out stuff. Laughable, man – HA HA! I would have fucked you in the ass Saturday. I fuck you in the ass next Wednesday instead. Wooo! You got a date Wednesday, baby!” –Jesus Quintana

“You said it, man. Nobody fucks with the Jesus.” –Quintana

“What the fuck are you talking about? The Chinaman is not the issue here, Dude! I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand, Dude. Across this line, you do not… Also, Dude, ‘Chinaman’ is not the preferred nomenclature. ‘Asian-American,’ please.” –Sobchak

Brandt: Uh, our guest needs to be going now, Mrs. Lebowski.

The Dude: (realizes) Ohh, you’re Bunny.

Bunny Lebowski: [takes off her sunglasses] I’ll suck your cock for a thousand dollars.

Brandt: Ah-hahahahaha! Ah – Wonderful woman. We’re all, we’re all very fond of her. Very free-spirited.

Bunny Lebowski: Brandt can’t watch, though – or he has to pay a hundred.

Brandt: Ah-haha. That’s marvelous.

The Dude: [Dude turns his head back as Brandt escorts him away] ..Uh, I’m just gonna go find a cash machine.

“Fucking dog has fucking papers—OVER THE LINE!” –Sobchak

“Has the whole world gone CRAZY?! [stands up] AM I THE ONLY ONE AROUND HERE WHO GIVES A SHIT ABOUT THE RULES?! MARK IT ZERO!” –Sobchak

“Lady, I got buddies who died face-down in the muck so that you and I could enjoy this family restaurant!” –Sobchak, to waitress

“Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax…You’re goddamn right I’m living in the fucking past!” –Sobchak

“You human … paraquat!” –the Dude, to the big Lebowski

“‘The Dude abides.’ I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.” –the Stranger

Themes

These are the themes I’ll be examining in this analysis:

  • Taoism and Dudeism
  • Pride and Shame
  • The Castration Complex
  • Male Humiliation
  • Sexual Aggression
  • Political Allegory

I) Taoism and Dudeism

The Taoist orientation of ‘Dudeism’ is more than justified, for the Dude’s whole way of life is a passive going-with-the-flow, though this passivity is carried to a comically slothful extreme. As it says in the Tao Te Ching, “When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.” (Chapter 48) Now, note what the Stranger says of the Dude: “And even if he’s a lazy man – and the Dude was most certainly that. Quite possibly the laziest in Los Angeles County, which would place him high in the runnin’ for laziest worldwide.”

Still, for all his faults, this White-Russian-drinking pothead represents a laid-back ideal many of the more high-strung characters would be wise to try to emulate. Indeed, between the grumpy curmudgeonliness of the big Lebowski (Huddleston), the moronic thuggery of the goons of Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara), the loudmouth blustering of Jesus Quintana (Turturro) and Walter Sobchak (Goodman), and the buffoonish bullying of the German nihilists (Stormare, Flea, and Torsten Voges), the Dude finds it challenging to be his normal, easy-going self.

Other parallels with Taoism are the themes of duality, dialectics, and the unity of opposites. First, we’ll deal with duality. Characters in the movie can often be paired, based on their comparable and contrasting qualities and traits. The most obvious pairing is that of the two Jeffrey Lebowskis, the millionaire in the wheelchair and the Dude. Yet apart from their shared name, the two men are opposites in almost every way.

The Dude is laid-back, while the big Lebowski is a grouch. The Dude is lazy and unemployed, possibly, if only temporarily, living off the welfare system that would continue to exist as such for another five years (the Coens’ original idea to have the Dude live off some of the wealth from a family invention, the Rubik’s Cube, wasn’t included in the movie); the big Lebowski is an “achiever”…or is he? (More on that below.)

The next pairing is that of the Dude and Walter Sobchak. They’re both bowlers, on the same team in a competition, and they’re friends…though the friendship is rather strained over the course of the movie; for Sobchak’s bad temper and asinine impulsivity are a constant source of frustration and embarrassment to the Dude, who just wants to “take it easy,” and have Sobchak do the same.

Next, there’s the pairing of Sobchak and Jesus Quintana. Both bowl, but are on rival teams. Both talk tough and indulge in outbursts in the bowling alley. A contrast, however, is Sobchak’s adopted Judaism versus the presumably lapsed Catholicism of “the Jesus,” for there’s no reason to believe that the “pederast” ever goes to church.

More pairings: Maude and Bunny Lebowski (Moore and Tara Reid, respectively). Both women are liberated and sexually aggressive in the extreme, though only Bunny is tainted with the label of “slut” for appearing in porn. Maude, in contrast, is clearly a pro-sex feminist and “vaginal” artist, though she throws herself at the Dude as blatantly as Bunny does.

Next, we must explore the dialectical relationship between these comparable/contrasting pairs, as well as other examples of the yin/yang-like unity of opposites in the movie. Like the black dot in yang, and the white dot in yin, each opposite has a bit of the other in it.

Consider who’s upset and who’s calm. Sobchak points a gun at Smokey and yells at him for stepping over the line when bowling a strike and not accepting marking it zero for committing a foul; meanwhile the Dude keeps his cool, warns Sobchak that they’re calling the cops, and tells him calmly to put the piece away. As soon as Smokey marks it zero, Sobchak calms right down and puts the gun away.

As he and the Dude leave the bowling alley and go into the latter’s car, the Dude gets increasingly agitated trying to get Sobchak to understand how excessively he reacted. After hearing the Dude yell, “Just take it easy, man,” Sobchak says, “I’m calmer than you are,” with perfect coolness.

II) Pride and Shame

Pride and shame are intermixed, which makes perfect sense, since with Sobchak, pride goes before a fall…not that he really ever notices himself fall. Apart from his explosion with Smokey in the bowling alley, Sobchak makes an absurd, Vietnam-war-esque stealing of the big Lebowski’s ‘money’ instead of tossing it over to Bunny’s ‘kidnappers.’ He imagines his plan to be brilliant, when really he’s just being “a goddamn moron.”

Then there’s his outburst about “basic freedoms” in a diner, when all he’s been asked to do is lower his voice for the sake of the other customers. The Dude is so embarrassed, he quickly pays and leaves, while Sobchak is so oblivious to what an ass he’s being, he’s proudly “staying,” “finishing,” and “enjoying [his] coffee.”

Finally, Sobchak proudly imagines he’s clever enough to know that the big Lebowski isn’t really a cripple, then picks the old man up and out of his wheelchair, imagining Lebowski will stand when he’s let go of. Of course he falls to the floor…though I can’t help suspecting–in the scene when the Dude explains to Sobchak in his van that he’s figured out how Lebowski never put money in the briefcase–that he’s actually standing in the dark, his body physically far from the back of his wheelchair, as he’s putting a phone book, etc., in the “ringer” briefcase. (Were the Coen brothers just sneaking that into the movie, to see if anyone was really watching carefully, or am I overthinking the scene?)

This leads me to the fallen pride of the big Lebowski. He presents himself as a ‘great achiever,’ but we learn from Maude that his money is actually her mother’s, he failed at running the family business, and Maude gives him an allowance. He married Bunny for the same reason Trump married Melania…as a kind of male jewellery to boost his ego. If I’m right about him actually faking as a cripple (which, by the way, doesn’t make Sobchak any less of a jackass for pulling him out of his wheelchair), is his posing as a disabled man supposed to be idpol compensation for his failures in life, a cure for the narcissistic injury of not being the ‘achiever’ he poses as? Is his falling on the floor, after Sobchak lets him go, a kind of face-saving continuation of the pretence?

III) The Castration Complex

The theme of shame is further developed in the form of the motif of Freud’s castration complex. The German nihilists threaten to castrate the Dude after dumping a marmot between his legs in his bathtub as he’s lying naked in it; he yelps as he tries to stop the animal from scratching at his balls.

The big Lebowski gives the Dude a severed toe with green nail polish on it, the same colour Bunny had on hers when she offered to perform fellatio on him. Actually, the severed toe (symbolic castration) was that of a German girlfriend of the nihilists, the only one of them in the restaurant scene who can’t speak English. Bunny’s toes, however, are all intact, and she freely expresses herself as she sings ‘Viva Las Vegas’ while driving.

When Maude meets the Dude, she mentions how the word “vagina” bothers some men. Sometimes the vulva is perceived as a wound resulting from castration, as Freud noted; consider also Camille Paglia‘s comments on the subject of the–to men, frightening–mystery surrounding the vagina, which can also be the vagina dentata (Paglia, pages 13, 22-23, 47). Furthermore, ‘nothing‘ (what the castration-threatening nihilists believe in), ‘no thing,’ or ‘an O-thing’ was slang for a woman’s genitals back in Shakespeare’s day.

Incidentally, a large painting of scissors is hanging on a wall in Maude’s studio; after saying, “dick” and “rod,” she gives a brief, uncomfortable pause before saying “Johnson,” the very word the nihilists use when threatening to emasculate the Dude. Still, “without batting an eye,” Maude can refer to Bunny’s porno film as “the beaver picture.” Maude wants to have a child; and Freud noted, in his 1917 essay “On Transformations of Instinct as Exemplified in Anal Erotism,” that a girl’s penis envy would transform later in life, from das Kleine (‘little one’) for the penis, to das Kleine for a baby.

Lacan said that “women don’t exist” because in the Symbolic Order, they in a sense have no language (i.e., no symbolic phallus as signifier); for him, this was the true, phallocentric meaning of Freud’s notion of penis envy, a phallogocentrism. Remember the soft-spoken German woman without a toe, who also needed the nihilists to translate her pancake order into English. Symbolically castrated, the nine-toed woman had no English signifiers to express the meaning in her mind, to order pancakes. Stifled and silenced by the three Germans, who represent fascism (as I’ll explain below), she has been subordinated just as women in Nazi Germany were.

In contrast, Maude and Bunny are liberated, expressive women each with all ten toes; their vulvas aren’t felt to be ‘wounds’ from castration, and accordingly, they’re proud, and in full control of their lives. They speak freely, in full control of linguistic signifiers: Bunny in her jouissance has a lascivious tongue, and she doesn’t care who hears it; Maude is particularly articulate. These two women aren’t thwarted by psychoanalytic sexism.

IV) Male Humiliation

Men, however, are constantly being humiliated in this movie. Sobchak destroys a beautiful, brand new car, whose infuriated owner then smashes up the Dude’s; once again, Sobchak’s idiot impulsivity makes him lose face.

Donny, who’s constantly being told to “shut the fuck up,” dies of a heart attack, and his ashes are put in a Folger’s tin; then Sobchak, after quoting Hamlet, scatters them…all over the Dude’s face.

The threat of castration is a recurring potential humiliation for him, especially in the scissors dream sequence, reminding us of Maude’s painting.

Quintana is embarrassed at having to tell everyone in his neighbourhood that he’s “a pederast.”

A major form of this theme of male humiliation is expressed in the language of male-on-male rape, a making of the victim into a passive partner in sex, his anus made into a vagina, as it were. Quintana says he’ll beat the Dude’s team so crushingly, he’ll “fuck [them] in the ass next Wednesday.”

Elsewhere, Sobchak is so enraged with mute, uncooperative Larry, who he and the Dude believe stole the money they [thought they] stole from Lebowski, that the boy shouldn’t “fuck a stranger in the ass.”

When the nihilists fight Sobchak, the Dude, and Donny, Uli brandishing a phallic sword, the Germans shout “I fuck you!” over and over. Sobchak bites off Uli’s ear, another removing of a bodily appendage symbolic of castration; and the German played by Flea is hit by Sobchak’s bowling ball, and he buckles over as if emasculated. The nihilists are now as silent as their girlfriend in the pancake restaurant.

V) Sexual Aggression

We see that sexual aggression is a major theme in this movie, one in which the word “fuck” is used more than in most others. This isn’t mere overindulgent swearing in a Hollywood movie. “Fuck,” incidentally, comes from (among other possible etymologies) Middle Dutch fokken, meaning ‘to hit,’ or ‘to strike.’ Bowling is full of sexual symbolism in this movie, the testicle-shaped ball knocking out all the phallic, penis pins in a strike; then the ball goes into a yonic hole behind the mechanical pinsetter. Bowling is a pun on balling.

The three finger holes in a bowling ball can represent a woman’s urethra, vagina, and anus, thus making the testicular ball an androgynous sexual symbol, a union of yin and yang. Similarly, in the ‘Gutterballs‘ dream sequence, the dancing ladies–under and between whose legs the Dude enjoys floating, looking up their skirts with an ear-to-ear grin–wear hats of phallic bowling pins…more androgyny.

Then there’s Maude in her Viking outfit, with the phallic horns on her helmet and her thrice-phallic trident. Since yin and yang represent the intermixing unity of opposites, it should come as no surprise that Maude and Bunny are sexually aggressive women, coming on to a very sexually passive Dude, a stoner who doesn’t seem all that interested in “coitus.”

VI) Political Allegory

Finally, we must examine the political allegory of The Big Lebowski. Appropriately, the two Lebowskis are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Here is a list of what a number of the major characters in the movie symbolize, even if they don’t necessarily espouse the political position they represent:

  • The Dude……………………..left-libertarianism
  • The Big Lebowski……….Trump-like, narcissistic capitalism
  • Maude………………………….liberal centrism
  • Jesus Quintana…………….corrupt, abusive Catholic Church
  • Walter Sobchak……………neo-con, imperialist militarism and Zionism
  • Nihilists………………………..fascism
  • Jackie Treehorn…………..exploitative capitalism

I’ll deal with each one by one, starting with the Dude.

Lying in bed with Maude, the Dude tells her he was involved in the original drafting of the Port Huron Statement, associated with the New Left. The Dude says he was also a member of the Seattle Seven (Jeff Dowd, on whom the Dude was based as a character, was an actual member of the Seven), a radical anti-Vietnam-War movement. These two facts establish his credentials as a progressive: remember the Dude’s pro-woman, “racially…cool” attitude; it also, however, shows his disengagement from the labour movement and concern for class struggle.

Indeed, his problem is that, like most libertarian leftists (myself excepted), the Dude doesn’t put enough thought into self-protection. His home is constantly broken into–fouled and ransacked. His efforts to keep intruders out are comically pathetic; and his car is progressively damaged and degraded, until finally destroyed. Left-libertarians sneer at tankiesauthoritarian measures, all the while oblivious to the need for that authoritarianism, which is for the sake of defending their ever-so-fragile revolutions. The Dude, representing the left, sees his property destroyed, which symbolizes capitalist sabotage of socialist states; his home is his own private DPRK.

In reference to the already-suspected faking of Bunny’s kidnapping, the Dude makes a reference to Lenin, whom clueless Donny confuses with Lennon. Sobchak shuts up and corrects Donny, growling “V. I. Lenin–Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov!” This suggests that, apart from being annoyed at Donny being once again “out of [his] element,” Sobchak isn’t happy talking about the man famous for decrying imperialism, which Sobchak personifies (more on that below).

The big Lebowski represents the spoiled capitalist who finds himself in the upper classes by association with them (i.e., marrying a rich woman, Maude’s mother), not by having “achieved” on his own merits, as he and other capitalists like to boast. He steals from his own charity, while hypocritically pretending it’s his generosity that helps his ‘urban achievers.’

However the Dude is able to provide for himself financially–whether it be from the Rubik’s Cube fortune of his family, as originally conceived by the Coen brothers, or if it be, as I speculate, from his receiving unemployment insurance or welfare benefits–his ability to have money while not working can be seen to symbolize the socialist ideal of a Guaranteed Basic (or Universal) Income. If the Dude, thus representing the left, is a slacker, then the big Lebowski, a millionaire capitalist married into money, is a kind of corporate welfare bum. So their yin and yang opposition is also an identification, a dialectical association.

Maude is a bourgeois liberal who judges her father for his conservative posturing, but she’s sitting on all that wealth, too, rather than pushing for revolution. She is in the political centre, in control of her parents’ money (her mother’s, actually) while doing her hipster art; she also exploits the Dude (to get her pregnant) every bit as much as her father does (to act as courier to pay off Uli et al).

Thus, Maude politically represents how liberals are no better than conservatives when it comes to preserving the class structure of society, all the while acting as though such establishment thinking is solely the fault of conservatives. If the Dude represents the besieged socialist states and vulnerable Third World, she–in her seduction of him–represents the liberals who exploit such poor countries no less than those on the right do.

The last thing that Jesus Quintana comes across as is a practicing Catholic, but that doesn’t mean he can’t symbolize the corruption of the Church. Sobchak’s “day of rest shit…don’t matter to Jesus” reminds one of Christ telling the Pharisees that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), in response to seeing Jews working on Saturday (i.e., “to pluck the ears of corn,” Mark 2:23, presumably because of an emergency [an urgent need to feed the hungry], the only time breaking of the Sabbath is allowed in Jewish law). This scene shows the contrast between ‘Quintana’s’ Church and ‘Sobchak’s’ synagogue.

The sex offences of “the Jesus” can be seen to represent the largely unpunished Catholic priests guilty of sexually abusing boys: one is reminded of the sex perversion and wickedness of the priests in the erotic novels of the Marquis de Sade, for he, an ardent atheist, enjoyed satirizing and shaming the Church (see Sade, pages 762-798).

Sobchak, a Vietnam vet obsessed with his years fighting “Charlie, eyeball to eyeball,” represents neo-con, US imperialism and Zionism, aggressively shoving itself into other people’s business and lives, as Sobchak does. His outbursts indicate the emotional dysregulation of PTSD sufferers. He may refer to Lenin angrily, but he’s most comfortable discussing Theodor Herzl

Though born a Polish Catholic, he’s converted to Judaism, so he’s as much a lapsed Catholic as Quintana. This conversion to Judaism, constant talking about it, and his use of a spinning Uzi when he jumps out of the car during the hand-off of the money, all suggest Christian Zionism, which really is just another form of Western imperialism, rather than an inherently Jewish issue. (Indeed, legitimate anti-Zionism and illegitimate antisemitism are often wrongly conflated by, ironically, both Zionists and antisemites.)

Furthermore, consider Sobchak’s contempt for Saddam (“…look at our current situation with that camel-fucker in Iraq.”) and the Iraqis (“…what we have here, a bunch of fig-eaters, wearing towels on their heads tryin’ to find reverse on a Soviet tank. This, this is not a worthy fucking adversary.”), and therefore, of Muslims in general, all examples of neo-con/Zionist traits.

The three nihilists aren’t Nazis, of course, but their use of violence and destruction in pursuit of their goals (as well as, unfortunately, the German stereotype) shows that they represent the fascist wing of capitalism, for they cut off the toe of their German girlfriend, in hopes of getting “ze money.” (Sobchak’s confusion of the three nihilists with Nazis, as wrong as he is about that, nonetheless strengthens this symbolic association.)

That the big Lebowski seems to have cut a deal with the nihilists to give him an excuse to move some charity funds, while hoping they’ll kill Bunny, suggests a symbolizing of capitalism’s habitual cozying up to fascism, while treating its victims as contemptible and expendable. Her owing money all over town can symbolize the economic crises of capitalism that often fan the flames of fascism, hence the involvement of the nihilists.

Jackie Treehorn, as a pornographer who “treats objects like women,” consummately personifies capitalist exploitation. Of course, he has the “reactionary” and “fascist” Malibu police on his side (two epithets the Dude has for the police chief who hits him on the head with a coffee mug), for capitalists can always rely on the cops to help them, no matter how questionable their business practices may be.

Porn’s objectification of women is so obvious and oft-discussed that my elaboration on the matter would just be redundant; the fact that the “studs” of porn are every bit as exploited and shamed is worthy of note, however, since this shaming is a further developing of the theme of male humiliation.

I suspect that Treehorn’s two goons, Wu and the blond who dunks the Dude’s head in his toilet, are porn studs who double as Treehorn’s muscle, given the two men’s muscles and good looks, not to mention their vulgarity.

More importantly, consider Uli’s humiliation as “Karl Hungus” in the video “Logjammin’.” He and the other two nihilists were musicians as “Autobahn,” a synthesizer-driven “techno-pop” group modelled on such groups as Kraftwerk; the lack of Autobahn’s success, combined with presumed financial woes, has led Uli (and possibly the other two) to have to resort to doing porn in order to survive.

The nihilists’ humiliation has driven them to “takes de money” in a desperate attempt to restore their existence to its pre-porn status, back to their former glory as musicians, hence the playing of their electronic music on a tape player during the fight scene. The nihilists’ situation reminds us of German humiliation and economic woes in the 1920s…and the desperate urge felt to restore the nation’s honour led to…you know. Hence we can see a further association of the nihilists with fascism.

The political meaning behind who is most brutally made fun of in the movie (the big Lebowski, Sobchak, the nihilists, Treehorn and his goons, Quintana, and the gnomish, dancing landlord) is that what they represent is a group of establishment ideologies that deserve our contempt and loathing. Arguably, despite her bourgeois liberalism, Maude is OK–provided she relents and lets the Dude regularly see their future child; for the Dude, for all his faults, foibles, and laughable moments, is the closest the movie comes to having a character who represents a political ideal worth striving for.

As the Stranger says, “sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about the Dude here. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there.”

Conclusion

Finally, the whole twisting and turning plot, which has “a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s,” ends up as, really, much ado about nothing. Instead of the conflict ending with the characters changing or growing in any significant way, everything just ends up more or less the same as it was in the beginning: the tail of the ouroboros at the end of the story finds itself in the biting mouth of the story’s beginning, with no sublation.

Bunny has come back unharmed, for she never even “kidnapped herself”; she just took off without telling anyone, in her usual carefree, irresponsible way. Though they lost Donny, the Dude and Sobchak will resume their bowling tournament. There will be “a little Lebowski on the way,” since the Dude has just passively gone along with aggressive Maude’s agenda to be a mother.

Indeed, the first Dudeist is like a Taoist, who teaches us: “Know the masculine, keep to the feminine.” (Tao Te Ching, 28…and, of course, Maude and Bunny reverse the sex roles of this wisdom.) So, the story, as needlessly and comically complicated as it was, ultimately amounted to nothing, because the Dude’s philosophy is about doing nothing to leave nothing undone. Going with the flow, and following the Tao, “the Dude abides.”

Analysis of ‘Marat/Sade’

The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade is a drama with music, written by Peter Weiss in 1963. It incorporates elements of Brecht‘s epic theatre (including “alienation effect“) and Antonin Artaud‘s theatre of cruelty (especially in Peter Brook‘s production and 1967 film adaptation).

Here are some quotes, from Geoffrey Skelton‘s English translation (and Adrian Mitchell‘s lyric adaptation) of 1964:

“Down with the ruling class
Throw all the generals out on their arse” –Chorus

But man has given a false importance to death
Any animal plant or man who dies
adds to Nature’s compost heap
becomes the manure without which
nothing could grow nothing could be created
Death is simply part of the process
Every death even the cruellest death
drowns in the total indifference of Nature
Nature herself would watch unmoved
if we destroyed the entire human race
[rising]
I hate Nature” —Sade

“The important thing
is to pull yourself up by your own hair
to turn yourself inside out
and see the whole world with fresh eyes” —Marat

“For me the only reality is imagination
the world inside myself
The Revolution
no longer interests me” –Sade

“It becomes clear
that the Revolution was fought
for merchants and shopkeepers
the bourgeoisie
a new victorious class
and underneath them
ourselves
who always lose the lottery” –Marat

“Do you think it’s possible
to unite mankind
when already you see how the few idealists
who did join together in the name of harmony
are now out of tune
and would like to kill each other over trifles” –Sade

“And what’s the point of a revolution
without general copulation” –Sade

Though the story reflects on the aftermath of the French Revolution, a bourgeois revolution, it deals with the political issues from Weiss’s Marxist perspective. Marat and Sade are Weiss’s mouthpieces, engaging in a dialectic between Marat’s concern for the rights of the poor and Sade’s nihilism and individualism.

Historically, both men were in the National Convention (Sade was on the far left); but where Marat was like the Lenin of his day, Sade was, in a way, more like an extreme individualist anarchist, wishing above all to abolish Church hegemony and sexually liberate everyone, including women. Sade’s ‘anarchism’ was the stereotype of lawless chaos; you’d search until your eyes ached without finding any Kropotkin in him.

The play within the play is performed by the mentally ill inmates of the asylum, all chanting and singing of their wish to be liberated from state and class oppression. Acting out such a drama would seem to make for good psychotherapy, except for the fact that Coulmier, in charge of the production of Sade’s play, has had subversive passages excised in hopes the play will promote Napoleon and French nationalistic sentiment. The inmate actors, however, frequently recite the censored passages and act up in violent outbursts, making Coulmier break in and reprimand Sade for not keeping the actors under control.

Indeed, Coulmier represents how the liberal bourgeoisie allow the publication and performance of left-wing writings, plays, movies, etc., but will never allow even the rumblings of revolution. Similarly, the inmates represent the oppressed proletariat, for a sick people we are, indeed, trapped in a class system kept intact by a bourgeois government, and struggling to break free.

The progress of the story–involving three visits to sick Marat in his bathtub by his eventual assassin, Corday–gets interrupted by songs, Coulmier’s attempts at restraint, and debate between Marat and Sade over the very validity of revolution. These Verfremdungseffekt breaks represent the psychological fragmentation inside all of us, which makes a socialist revolution so elusive.

“Alienation” effect may be a bad translation of Brecht’s techniques to distance the audience emotionally from the story, to estrange us from the characters; but I find “alienation” a useful word nonetheless, for it makes for easy association with Marx’s theory of alienation. Brecht’s and Weiss’s Marxism makes this association all the more valid. Indeed, alienation and fragmentation, as I’ve argued elsewhere, is what has all but killed the revolutionary potential of the First World.

Prison bars are set up to divide the viewers of the play from the inmates, as seen in the movie, and only Coulmier, his wife, and daughter are on the side with the inmates, so he can more directly control them, with the aid of nuns and male nurses, who overpower the inmates whenever they get unruly.

One particularly intractable inmate is the one playing Jacques Roux, a former priest; having turned to radical socialism and with his arms bound in a sort of straitjacket, he shouts at everyone, demanding social justice and urgently crying for revolution. His outbursts at the end of the play cause a riot among the inmates, the revolution we’ve all been waiting for.

Another unruly inmate is the one playing Duperret (in Brook’s production and movie adaptation, played by John Steiner, who by the way also played Longinus in Penthouse’s infamous Caligula); he lusts after the somnambulistic actress playing Corday, and intermittently attempts sexual assaults on her. We’re happy to note that the lecherous buffoon never succeeds.

This unruly energy, as alienating as it is, is counterproductive to the hopes of revolution. Sade tells Marat:

Marat
these cells of the inner self
are worse than the deepest stone dungeon
and as long as they are locked
all your revolution remains
only a prison mutiny
to be put down
by corrupted fellow prisoners”

We can’t change the world for the better until we change what’s wrong inside ourselves. Empathy and mutual love–the cultivation of which is stifled throughout the performance thanks to Coulmier’s suppressions, Marat’s assassination, Sade’s ‘trolling’, if you will, Duperret’s attempted rapes of Corday, and the Brechtian distancing–are essential to building up the worker solidarity needed for revolution. The “corrupted fellow prisoners” in our present-day world, those useful idiots of the political right, have time and again betrayed the working class, because they lack the needed love.

(Che Guevara once said, “The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”)

Marat’s politics were pretty straightforward; he was, in the parlance of our time, a socialist “before it was cool,” wanting to help the sans-culottes any way he could. Sade’s politics, however, are not so cut and dry. An aristocrat, he supported the overthrow of the monarchy…and the Church especially. He was a “left-winger” in the new French republican government of the early 1790s…but was he any kind of a socialist?

Some of his contemporaries accused him of political opportunism, as John Phillips points out: “Many have accused Sade of unabashed political opportunism in the Revolution. After all, throughout his life, Sade was capable of behaving like any other feudal lord of the manor, pulling rank when it suited him. Moreover, Sade’s tendencies towards self-dramatization are never too far below the surface, and the theatre of revolution certainly provided him with ample opportunities to role-play. Indeed, days before the Bastille was stormed, Sade is said to have harangued the street crowds from his cell, urging them to rise up and revolt–perhaps the most theatrical of all episodes in his very theatrical life…On the other hand, as Sade’s most recent biographer Neil Shaeffer observes, there was no hypocrisy in these performances, part of his charm being that, at the time, ‘he truly felt and truly was what he seemed to be’. And of course, Sade had no love for a monarchy that had kept him in prison without trial for more than thirteen years, and he was certainly carried away by the fast pace of events during the revolutionary period. Moreover, the view that his overtly pro-republican activities at this time were dictated by pure expediency is hard to credit, when one might have expected him to adopt a more discreet profile in view of his aristocratic past.” (Phillips, pages 44-45)

We all know of Sade’s libertinism, which he wrote about in his four pornographic/philosophical works, Justine, Juliette, The 120 Days of Sodom, and Philosophy in the Bedroom, and which he practiced with consenting and, some say, non-consenting partners, though Phillips doubts the latter:

“…Sade certainly committed a number of…acts that some might now consider reprehensible, acts that included the flagellation and buggery of prostitutes, and, allegedly, the sexual corruption of young women, although there is no reason to believe that any of this behaviour involved compulsion.

“In 1768, a 36-year-old beggar-woman from Alsace name Rose Keller accused Sade of subjecting her to acts of libertinage, sacrilege and sadism on Easter Sunday in his house at Arcueil. The marquis claimed she was a prostitute who had been well paid for her services and that he never intended her any harm. Nevertheless, he was imprisoned for six months initially at Saumur, then at Pierre-Encise near Lyons.” (Phillips pages 4-5)

Sade wrote of the pleasure of being cruel to others, but to what extent did Sade really advocate the brand of sociopathy to which he gave his name? He wrote of the pleasures of whipping and torturing people, but also wrote and knew of the pleasure of being on the receiving end of flagellation and other forms of pain (examples can be found on the pages of Juliette, such as on page 764: “I offered my ass; Braschi speared it dry and deep. This scraping whence resulted mingled pain and pleasure, the moral irritation resulting from the idea of holding the Pope’s prick in my ass, everything marched me toward happiness: I discharged.”). Furthermore, there’s the scene in Marat/Sade in which he has himself whipped by the actress playing Corday (with Glenda Jackson‘s hair, oddly, in Brook’s production and film).

As Freud once said, “A person who feels pleasure in producing pain in someone else in a sexual relationship is also capable of enjoying as pleasure any pain which he may himself derive from sexual relations. A sadist is always at the same time a masochist.” (Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality)

That so many of the tormentors and perverts in Sade’s erotic writings are also wealthy, powerful people, including the Tartuffes of the Church, the kind of people he’d wanted overthrown in the French Revolution, shows he wasn’t so much advocating their cruelty as he was commenting on how corrupt the powerful are. Phillips says,

“…there may appear to be numerous counter-revolutionary notes in Juliette. All of the libertines praise despotism and terror, some even demanding a return to feudalism. We should remember, however, that it is, precisely, the villainous characters of the novel who express such views, and that they are not to be simplistically equated with those of the author. Sade’s own voice is always cloaked in irony, and if we read carefully between the lines, it is not hard to discern a far more subtle politics than that of his libertine anti-heroes.” (Phillips, page 58)

“What’s the point of a revolution without general copulation?” Sade asks, cuing the actors to begin the orgiastic round. We sense, knowing the historical Sade’s proclivities, what he would have meant had he actually said that; but what does Weiss mean by it, using Sade as his mouthpiece? Does he mean something along the lines of that quote attributed to anarchist Emma Goldman, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution”? Is the goal of our liberation merely to have more pleasure? Or was Weiss’s line meant as a left-libertarian-leaning jab at the tankies, who are typically characterized as suppressive of individual freedom, including pleasure? Could that be part of the reason, along with his Trotsky play, that East Germany had something of a love-hate relationship with Weiss?

Speaking of tankies, by calling the play “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat…” etc., was Weiss, in a way, being a prophet? In what could have been his making Marat (who advocated having prisoners of the Revolution killed before they could be freed in what became known as the September Massacres) a spokesman for authoritarian leaders like Lenin, Stalin, or Mao, was Weiss commenting on the direction the Cold War was going in, with the persecution of Warsaw Pact countries (through Western capitalist, CIA propaganda in the media, Khrushchev’s de-Stalinizationartificial food shortages in Gorbachev-era Russia, the US’s numerous attempts at regime change of left-wing governments, and Carter’s and Brzezinski‘s manipulation of the outbreak of the Soviet-Afghan war, which finally killed the USSR)? Was Weiss predicting the socialist states’ “assassination” (i.e., the dissolution of the USSR and the Eastern Bloc in the 1990s)? If so, does this make Sade, Marat’s dialectical opposite, as much a spokesman for bourgeois liberals, in his own way, as Coulmier is?

Consider, also, the “fifteen glorious years” (Weiss, pages 101-104) of rule under the bourgeois and Napoleon, from Marat’s assassination (1793) to the time of the play’s setting (1808). How can we parallel those years to recent ones? “Fifteen glorious years” (note my sarcasm) between the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991) to the chaos of the Iraq War already underway (as of 2006)? Or should the comparison be between the balkanization of Yugoslavia–including the persecution and death of slandered Slobodan (1990s-2006)–and the Obama and Trump administrations, at the height of their imperialist tyranny (a parallel to that of Napoleon, as ironically sung about in the song lyric, “Marat, we’re marching on, behind Napoleon”–Weiss, page 104), with NSA spying, bombing of seven countries in 2016, and the farcical election of the same year?

Finally, who won the debate, Marat or Sade? Is the riot at the end of the play Marat’s post-mortem revolution, a move of the ouroboros from the bitten tail of socialist defeat to the biting head of a triumph of the people; or is it just a Sadean prank? Sade, laughing (Weiss, page 109), seems to think the latter. The chaos of the uprising of the inmates as an assault on the eyes and ears of the audience, the essence of the concept of Theatre of Cruelty, could make the winner either Marat or Sade.

As Artaud said, “the Theater of Cruelty proposes to resort to a mass spectacle; to seek in the agitation of tremendous masses, convulsed and hurled against each other…” (Artaud, page 85) Also, “It is in order to attack the spectator’s sensibility on all sides that we advocate a revolving spectacle which, instead of making the stage and auditorium two closed worlds, without possible communication, spreads its visual and sonorous outbursts over the entire mass of the spectators.” (ibid, page 86)

So, does the riot of the inmates (“the agitation of tremendous masses, convulsed and hurled against each other”), in a form of expressive drama therapy, “attack the spectator’s sensibility on all sides”, making “possible communication” between the “two closed worlds” of “the stage and auditorium”, and thus winning the class war for the proletariat? If so, Marat wins. Or, is the riot…

…”only a prison mutiny
to be put down
by corrupted fellow prisoners”?

Then, in that case, ‘Theatre of Cruelty‘ is to be taken literally, and Sade wins.

Here’s another question for you, Dear Reader: after “fifteen glorious years” (or however many years one wishes to calculate) of neoliberal hegemony, with virtually no substantial socialist alternative (the Marxist-Leninist defenders of China notwithstanding), will the crisis of current-day capitalism result in a new communist revolution, or Sadean barbarism? We’ll find out, I guess.

Peter Weiss, Marat/Sade, Marion Boyars, London, 1965

John Phillips, The Marquis de Sade: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2005

Marquis de Sade (translated by Austryn Wainhouse), Juliette, Grove Press, New York, 1968

Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, Grove Press, New York, 1958

My Blog’s New Title

I’ve changed the title of my blog, formerly titled simply after my name (‘mawrgorshin‘), to ‘Infinite Ocean’, named after not only a song I wrote, recorded, and published on the Jamendo website (along with a number of other pop songs and classical compositions of mine [these latter under my original name, Martin Gross]), but also after the philosophy I’m trying to cultivate here.

On this blog, I will continue to write analyses of literature and film, typically from a psychoanalytic and/or Marxist/leninist slant (the lower case l is deliberate, for reasons that I hope are obvious; if they aren’t, please read these posts to understand). I’m trying to explore how inner fragmentation and family dysfunction result in social alienation and class conflict, as well as how the latter two rebound and cause the former two problems in turn, and the pairs of causes and effects go back and forth like a ball in a tennis court.

It is my hope that these analyses will contribute to a restoration, on at least some level, of social harmony and justice.

Beyond the Pairs of Opposites

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“All creatures are bewildered at birth by the delusion of opposing dualities that arise from desire and hatred.” —Bhagavad Gita, Seventh Teaching, verse 27

I’d like to try to unify all I’ve written on this blog so far, in order to sculpt an all-encompassing philosophy, if you’ll indulge me, Dear Reader.

If you have been reading my blog posts with an attentive eye, you’ll have noticed a recurring theme that has shown itself in many forms: the dialectical relationship between opposites. This will be apparent to you regardless of whether you’ve read my political posts, or my literary or film analyses. It can even be seen a little in my complaints about my family.

I mentioned duality and dualism in my Analysis of Romeo and Juliet, and how the opposites intermingle sometimes. I mentioned equivocation in my Macbeth analysis (how an idea can sway either to one opposite, or to the other: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”), and the upside-down world in King Lear (to be good, one must be rude and blunt, as well as be disloyal to the established power structure; while evil Goneril, Regan, and Cornwall are polite, and those loyal to them are also evil). Hamlet delays his revenge because he is psychologically paralyzed by the paradox–in killing his uncle, the king–of the revenge’s extreme good (out of love for his murdered father) and evil (the prince will be as guilty of regicide as his uncle is). In Richard III, we see constant, swift shifts from good fortune to bad, and bad to good. I believe that one of the main reasons Shakespeare’s writing continues to resonate with us is his understanding of the paradoxical unity of opposites. Such understanding leads us all closer to the truth.

In The Graduate analysis, I mentioned the dialectical idea that the tightening chains, if you will, of parental authority forced Benjamin to fight to free himself of that authority. The sexual trap Mrs. Robinson set for him woke him sexually and helped him to mature. Her forbidding him to date her daughter, Elaine, on the one hand, and his own parents’ pressuring him to date her, on the other, were the tightening chains that made him defy both the Robinsons and the Braddocks, and free himself.

In my two Ouroboros posts, I wrote of how the dialectical relationship between opposites can be seen in the form of a circular continuum, symbolized by a serpent, coiled in a circle, biting its tail, the head and tail being those extreme opposites. I showed how this unity of opposites is seen in the history of class struggle and in the growth of the capitalist mode of production.

In writing of narcissism in the family, I wrote of the contradictions between the golden child (my sister) and the scapegoat (me); and how, in some ways, the former child has it worse, and the latter has it better, because the tightening chains around me, like those around Benjamin Braddock, freed me, while my older sister J.’s favoured position in the family has actually held her in stronger chains.

All of these unities-in-contradiction are manifestations of what I like to call The Unity of Action: what in one way goes well clockwise along the ouroboros’s tail, for example, goes badly counter-clockwise, and vice versa in another way. Another issue, particularly seen in some of my more recent posts, is alienation and fragmentation, the contradiction of self vs. other. The cure to this ill I see as what I call The Unity of Space, to be discussed below. A third dichotomy, that of the past vs. the future, can be reconciled by a focus on the present, a fading out of the past and a fading into the future, or The Unity of Time.

I believe a proper understanding of these Three Unities can help us solve a great many of the world’s problems. The Unity of Space can cure social alienation by helping us to see the other in ourselves and vice versa, thus creating and building empathy and compassion for others, instead of fighting and competing. The Unity of Time can help us to stop obsessing over either past pain or idealized past eras, as well as to stop worrying about a bad future or fantasize about an idealized one, and to focus on making the most of the eternal NOW. The Unity of Action can make us stop dichotomizing projects into absolute successes or failures, and instead monitor our slow but sure progress towards increasing levels of achievement (e.g., why we can’t have full communism immediately after a revolution…the transitional worker’s state must be allowed to run its course).

So many of us feel isolated and alienated, typically because of traumas from childhood abuse or emotional neglect. The aggressive authoritarianism in families in the US and around the world, resulting in all these forms of abuse and neglect, has been found by researchers to be almost universal. It isn’t a far leap to go from perpetrating abuse at home to shootings, from authoritarianism to police brutality and racism, to a fetishizing of religious fundamentalism and of the ‘free market’, and ultimately to viewing imperialist wars as ‘fighting for one’s country,’ rather than the unlawful invasion of sovereign states. Authoritarian abuse causes a split between the powerful and powerless.

This split is an example of the dichotomy of self vs. other. The alienation one feels from this split blinds one to the dialectical unity between self and other. Hegel understood this in his allegory of the lord and bondsman in The Phenomenology of Spirit (Hegel, pages 111-119). We experience self-consciousness only through a recognition of another person as a kind of reflection of ourselves, and the other recognizing us.

When two men meet, who will dominate whom? A death-struggle ensues, Hegel tells us, and the winner is the lord, getting his sense of self through himself independently, as well as knowing his bondsman acknowledges his existence; while his bondsman has a sense of self only through his relationship through his master, for whom he now works.

Over time, though, the fruit of the servant’s work, his creations, accumulates, giving him a sense of his own mastery of his art; while his master increasingly comes to depend on the slave’s work, since the lord isn’t really working. Thus, the lord and bondsman seem to switch roles in a way, a dialectical relationship that can be symbolized by the ouroboros, the biting head (lord) shifting to the bitten tail (bondsman), and vice versa. The bondsman’s journey (i.e., the accumulation of all the products of his work) from the bitten tail along the length of the serpent’s body, all the way up to the biting head, now makes the bondsman into a new kind of lord.

It’s easy to see how Marx could apply Hegel’s idea to the relationship of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat: one day, the workers would seize control of the means of production, where they’d produced so much, and create the dictatorship of the proletariat. This new workers’ state would, in turn, wither away eventually–once all pockets of counter-revolutionary capitalist resistance would be annihilated–and we would finally have anarchist communism, a reward for all our patience.

We must try to see how this interdependent self/other relationship applies to all human relationships. In so doing, we could be aided in dismantling authoritarian thinking, we’d kindle a sense of mutual empathy, and mend the social rifts that cause all our alienation.

Indeed, we must understand the ego to be an illusion, as Lacan did. The fragmented, ill-defined sense of self a baby has changes into a unified one when the infant sees his image in a mirror. This mirroring also comes in the form of a parent looking into the baby’s eyes and responding to him. This unified ego, however, is an illusion, a fake ideal to strive for. This is true not only of the mirror reflection, whose phoney ideal alienates us from it, but also of all those people whose faces we gaze into, people who mirror themselves back at us. These hellish others, as independent egos, are as fake as the self.

Recognizing this phoney sense of self and other, really just two fragmented sources of energy bouncing back and forth at each other (in the forms of projection, projective identification, and introjection), leads us to reject the alienating dichotomy of self vs. other, in favour of a Unity of Space, a dialectical monism where the boundary between self and other is much blurrier than one would assume.

The blurred boundary between self and other, the unity of all things in matter, is not just something believed by meditating mystics and practitioners of Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, etc (or some users of LSD, for that matter). It is also seen in the notion of internalized object relations, as well as the notion of self-objects in self psychology.

What does it mean to be me, other than the sum of influences (as well as the sum of all of those I’ve influenced) in my life? As I’ve argued elsewhere, the human personality is relational, an intermingling dialectic of self and other. I–the subject in a relationship with another, the object–am the serpent’s head biting the tail of the other, and vice versa.

As well as there being a dialectic of the self and the other, there’s also a dialectic of the fragmented parts within the self. Heinz Kohut wrote of the bipolar self (not to be confused with the cyclothymic ups and downs of sufferers of bipolar disorder), a self based, on one pole, on an inner child whose grandiosity wishes to be mirrored with an empathic parent, and on the other pole, an internalized parental imago to be idealized. Super-me at one end, and Super-Mom (and/or Dad) at the other.

If all goes well, the child’s grandiosity and idealizing are let down in gradual, bearable bits over time, a move from the narcissistic biting head of the ouroboros down the length of its body to the middle. The child will thus be able to form a cohesive self with mature, realistic narcissism, in which restrained grandiosity is integrated with bearable, circumscribed amounts of shame.

If such transmuting internalization and optimal frustration don’t occur, a result of parenting that’s lacking in sufficient empathy (or worse, child emotional neglect or even abuse), the child’s narcissism is split–vertically (through denial and disavowal, creating and maintaining a False Self, or, I believe, through projection) and/or horizontally (through repression)–into a dichotomy of pathological grandiosity vs. toxic shame. Here, one is suspended at the serpent’s biting head of narcissism and the bitten tail of shame. The result? Sometimes, people like Donald Trump, a poor little rich (overgrown) kid whose ego is fed by his religious-cult-like followers, and who’s shamed (through no one’s fault but his own) by the mainstream liberal media. More typically, though, the result is poor kids with impoverished egos, because they got little empathy from Mom and Dad.

The only way such a pathological narcissist can socially function is to deny his unique problem with grandiosity, by either projecting it onto everybody (“The only thing worse than immodesty is false modesty: pretending you’re humble, when secretly you really think you’re great,” my older brother, R., once said; I suspect his motive was to rationalize and project his own arrogance onto the world.), or to project it onto a particular target (as my probably narcissistic late mother tried to do to me with her autism lie, herself imagining autism to be essentially identical with narcissism, an idea as ridiculous as it is offensive). Here we see the internal dichotomy transforming itself into one of self vs. other.

So many of us live fragmented lives, alienated from each other, and alienated from ourselves within. We’re like a large window broken into hundreds of shattered pieces, lying strewn all over the ground, with jagged edges. If anyone approaches us, he or she risks cutting his or her feet on us, because we too often react with hostility to anyone trying to connect with us. We’re shattered glass within as well as shards lying beside each other.

We need to recognize ourselves not as all these tiny fragmented shards of glass, but rather as drops of water in an infinite ocean. We move up and down in waves, those waves being the ever-shifting dialectic of the self and other, as well as pretty much everything else. All things in the infinite ocean we call the world can be conceived of as having the characteristics of both particles and waves. This wave metaphor can also represent the communist definition of equality: not a flat, straight line where everyone is forced to be the same, as the political right would straw-man our ideal; but instead as crests shifting into troughs, then back to crests, and to troughs, over and over again–from each according to his or her ability (crests), to each according to his or her need (troughs).

(The Unity of Space may sound like pantheism to some, though I’d describe it as a philosophy of dialectical monism. These kinds of ideas certainly do not have the backing of the scientific community; indeed, most physicists rightly scoff at writers like Fritjof Capra and Gary Zukav for sentimentally oversimplifying both science and Eastern philosophy, conflating particle/wave duality with a ubiquitous cosmic consciousness [whereas I’m more interested in the unconscious]. I’ll content myself with how Einstein praised Spinoza’s monism, an idea similar to mine. Appealing to those geniuses far from scientifically proves my case, of course [My knowledge of physics is at Bill Hicks‘s level!], but it’s good enough for me. Just as creationism isn’t and shouldn’t be mistaken for science, neither should my ideas; I do believe, however, that they can help people.)

When we come to see ourselves as united rather than fragmented, we can build mutual empathy and friendship, which can lead to community and finally to solidarity. With solidarity, we can begin to organize against the ruling class, the one other that we’ll never be reconciled with, because not only don’t they want to reconcile with us, but they also want us to be forever at odds with each other, and fragmented within. They use their media to divide us in this way.

But how can we heal our fragmentation within? First, we must take an honest look at our relationships with that primal other in our lives: our parent(s). No parent is perfect, or ever could be, of course, but by any reasonable measure, were our parents at least good enough? If they, and thus their corresponding internalized imagos, were more bad than good (i.e., non-empathic, authoritarian, manipulative, cruel, or abusive), we must replace these bad object relations with good ones, for those wounded primal relationships make up the blueprint for all subsequent relationships.

Well, how can we do this? If I may be so bold, I’ve found hope in one possible solution: hypnosis/meditation. In a state of hypnosis, the unconscious mind is on average more suggestible, more easily influenced (though more resistant people will be harder to hypnotize, of course). After getting oneself in a relaxed state by taking deep breaths in and out slowly, and relaxing every part of one’s body, one body part at a time, from the head to the toes, one begins to visualize the ideal mother and father. You can pick a good mother and father from inspiring scenes in movies (I like these examples), and after adapting the scenes in your thoughts in ways that are more fitting to you, you then imagine them treating you with the same love and kindness. In as vivid a visualization as you can make, imagine yourself as a little kid being loved and cared for by these idealized parents, who will be your new imagos.

What will they say to you? What kind, loving, supportive, encouraging words will they use, and in what kind of gentle tone of voice? How will they validate your experiences? How will they show patience and understanding when your foibles are apparent? Try to visualize this Edenic childhood in as much detail as your imagination, under hypnotic trance, can muster. Do this several times a day, every day, and feel the love and security wash all through your body. (Though not using hypnosis, Kohut tried to achieve a kind of empathic self-object relationship with his analysands in his narcissistic transferences.)

I’ve tried doing hypnotic meditations in Richard Grannon‘s Silence the Inner Critic course, which is rather expensive, but if you have even as mild a case of C-PTSD as I do, you’ll consider it money well spent. After only a few hypnosis sessions, I found my road rage, and propensity to blow up in anger over trifles, to be reduced to 10%-20% of what it had been before. It’s amazing! If I can do it, I’ll bet you can, too, because my bad habits are stubborn, and my tendency to make catastrophes of things is one of the most stubborn of all.

I plan on writing more about this kind of thing, so this introduction to such ideas is rather brief and sketchy; a more detailed, systematic elaboration of these ideas will follow.

This replacing of bad object relations with good ones, the introjection of an idealized parent imago to replace a traumatically frustrating, non-empathic imago, is something I believe that religions have unconsciously tried to do, using a loving sky-father god. Consider the sentimentality of such Bible verses as, “O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” (Psalm 136:1); “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21); and “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:8) They all reflect this idea of the loving Spirit of God the Father, an internalized object relation, really, coming inside us, transforming us, and turning pain into inner peace. Though most of what Freud said about religion was wrong, I believe he was right about the idea that God is an illusion, based on a psychological need for a father figure.

Having said this, I must stress that my idea of The Three Unities is not meant to be the starting of a religion…in any conceivable sense. Some readers (insofar as anyone will be interested in reading this rather idiosyncratic post) may choose to think of my ideas in a religious sense if they wish to; but that’s their doing, not mine. If by any microscopic chance in the remote future, my idea is institutionalized as some form of fanaticism, causing atrocities of the sort committed by the religious superstitions of the past, then I–right now, for the record–wash my hands of it. My idea is grounded in the philosophy of dialectical monism, in psychoanalysis, and in historical materialism; I say this in case some cretin gets the idea that this writing makes me–absurdity of absurdities!–into some kind of…prophet (!).

I want to use my ideas to help people gain a power for living, not to promise a panacea. We will always feel pain and frustration in life; The Three Unities won’t stop that from happening. They may help us all to cope much better, as I’m hoping, by helping us to go beyond the pairs of opposites–dichotomous thinking, alienation, fragmentation–to experiencing the undulating rhythms of everything, the waves of an infinite ocean.

Barbara Stoler Miller, trans., The Bhagavad Gita: Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War, Bantam Books, New York, 1986

Analysis of ‘Taxi Driver’

Taxi Driver is a psychological thriller filmed in 1976, written by Paul Schrader, directed by Martin Scorsese (who also has a cameo or two in the film), and starring Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, Leonard HarrisCybill Shepherd, and Peter Boyle. It is ranked #52 on the AFI’s top 100 movies of all time.

Here are some famous quotes:

  1. “May 10th. Thank God for the rain which has helped wash away the garbage and trash off the sidewalks. I’m workin’ long hours now, six in the afternoon to six in the morning. Sometimes even eight in the morning, six days a week. Sometimes seven days a week. It’s a long hustle but it keeps me real busy. I can take in three, three fifty a week. Sometimes even more when I do it off the meter. All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn, I take ’em to Harlem. I don’t care. Don’t make no difference to me. It does to some. Some won’t even take spooks. Don’t make no difference to me.” –Travis Bickle

2. “Each night when I return the cab to the garage, I have to clean the cum off the back seat. Some nights, I clean off the blood.” –Bickle

3. “Twelve hours of work and I still can’t sleep. Damn. Days go on and on. They don’t end.” –Bickle

4. “All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go. I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention. I believe that someone should become a person like other people.” –Bickle

5. “I first saw her at Palantine Campaign headquarters at 63rd and Broadway. She was wearing a white dress. She appeared like an angel. Out of this filthy mess, she is alone. They… cannot… touch… her.” –Bickle

6. “Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.” –Bickle

7. “I called Betsy again at her office and she said maybe we’d go to a movie together after she gets off work tomorrow. That’s my day off. At first she hesitated but I called her again and then she agreed. Betsy, Betsy. Oh no, Betsy what? I forgot to ask her last name again. Damn. I got to remember stuff like that.” –Bickle

8. “I realize now how much she’s just like the others – cold and distant, and many people are like that. Women for sure. They’re like a union.” –Bickle

9. “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?” –Bickle, looking at himself in a mirror (ranked #10 in the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotations in American cinema.)

10. [in an anniversary card to his parents] “Dear Father and Mother: July is the month I remember which brings not only your wedding anniversary but also Father’s Day and Mother’s birthday. I’m sorry I can’t remember the exact dates, but I hope this card will take care of them all. I’m sorry again I cannot send you my address like I promised to last year.” –Bickle

11. “When we came up with our slogan, ‘We are the People,’ when I said let the people rule, I felt that I was being somewhat overly optimistic. I must tell you that I am more optimistic now than ever before. The people are rising to the demands that I have made on them. The people are beginning to rule. I feel it is a groundswell. I know it will continue through the primary. I know it will continue in Miami. And I know it will rise to an unprecedented swell in November.” –Senator Charles Palantine

12. “Walt Whitman, that great American poet, spoke for all of us when he said: ‘I am the man. I suffered. I was there.’ Today, I say to you, We Are The People, we suffered, we were there. We the People suffered in Vietnam. We the People suffered, we still suffer from unemployment, inflation, crime and corruption.” –Palantine

13. [to Travis] “You see the woman in the window? Do you see the woman in the window?…I want you to see that woman, because that’s my wife. But that’s not my apartment. That’s not my apartment. You know who lives there? Huh? I mean, you wouldn’t know who lives there – I’m just saying, “But you know who lives there?” Huh? A nigger lives there. How do ya like that? And I’m gonna, I’m gonna kill her. There’s nothing else. I’m gonna kill her. What do you think of that? Hmm? I said ‘What do you think of that?’ Don’t answer. You don’t have to answer everything. I’m gonna kill her. I’m gonna kill her with a .44 Magnum pistol. I have a .44 Magnum pistol. I’m gonna kill her with that gun. Did you ever see what a .44 Magnum pistol can do to a woman’s face? I mean it’ll fuckin’ destroy it. Just blow her right apart. That’s what it can do to her face. Now, did you ever see what it can do to a woman’s pussy? That you should see. You should see what a .44 Magnum’s gonna do to a woman’s pussy you should see. I know, I know you must think that I’m, you know… You must think I’m pretty sick or somethin’, you know, you must think I’m pretty sick. Right? You must think I’m pretty sick? Hmm? Right? I’ll betcha, I’ll betcha you really think I’m sick right? You think I’m sick? You think I’m sick? You don’t have to answer. I’m payin’ for the ride. You don’t have to answer.” –cuckold passenger

14. “Look, look at it this way, you know uh, a man, a man takes a job, you know, and that job, I mean like that, and that it becomes what he is. You know like uh, you do a thing and that’s what you are. Like I’ve been a, I’ve been a cabbie for seventeen years, ten years at night and I still don’t own my own cab. You know why? ‘Cause I don’t want to. I must be what I, what I want. You know, to be on the night shift drivin’ somebody else’s cab. Understand? You, you, you become, you get a job, you you become the job. One guy lives in Brooklyn, one guy lives in Sutton Place, you get a lawyer, another guy’s a doctor, another guy dies, another guy gets well, and you know, people are born. I envy you your youth. Go out and get laid. Get drunk, you know, do anything. ‘Cause you got no choice anyway. I mean we’re all fucked, more or less you know.” –Wizard

15. “So what makes you so high and mighty. Will you tell me that? Didn’t you ever try lookin’ in your own eyeballs in the mirror?” –Iris

The main themes of Taxi Driver include false ideals, and alienation leading into fragmentation, these being social and psychological problems stemming from capitalism and imperialism. Travis Bickle (De Niro) is a Vietnam vet suffering from insomnia and loneliness, problems common to sufferers of PTSD and C-PTSD. With his feeling of being broken off from the rest of society comes the breaking up, the falling apart, of his personality.

You can see how troubled Travis is just from the first look in his eyes at the beginning of the movie. When he’s interviewed for the job, he’s asked by the interviewer (Joe Spinell) why he wants to be a cabbie; when he says he can’t sleep, the interviewer suggests going to theatres that show porno films.

Already we see an example of the social alienation between different members of the proletariat. How is it ‘treatment’ for proletarians’ insomnia to watch naked, sexualized, and exploited lumpenproletariat? Bickle was a veteran suffering from the trauma of fighting an imperialist war where soldiers like him saw (and often participated in) the raping and bombing of Southeast Asians. Recall Phan Thị Kim Phúc, the nine-year-old girl who was photographed running naked because a napalm strike was burning her clothes and her back. How could watching porn cure this, instead of aggravating it?

When the interviewer asks about Bickle’s driving record, he responds, “Clean, like my conscience.” With his record in Vietnam, this joke sounds suspiciously like reaction formation. The interviewer is offended by this remark, forcing an apology from Bickle–more alienation.

When Bickle goes into the parking lot where all the cabs are, the camera moves away from him to get a sweep of the area; not his point of view, but as if we were seeing the scene from other eyes. One would expect to see more of Bickle, who is more or less narrating the story (i.e., the story is essentially from his point of view). The camera drifting away from him suggests his distracted, dissociated mind; it also suggests his growing alienation from himself…his fragmentation.

Bickle does go to those porno theatres; what’s worse, on two occasions he tries to connect with women in that very setting! Naturally, the women in question are so offended and disgusted that they want nothing to do with him.

It’s easy to look at Bickle’s behaviour and say, “What an idiot! Taking a woman he wants to impress on a date…to a porno theatre? Asking the name of a woman selling snacks in a porno theatre? What is he thinking? Is he thinking?”

Such snap judgements, however, fail to get at the root of the problem, which is in the conflicts in his fragmented unconscious mind, in his alienation from his species-essence. Part of him wants to connect with these women (or with any woman in general), but another part of him wants to sabotage that connection by scaring them off. Bickle knows as well as any idiot (though he speaks as if he doesn’t) that no woman wants to date or get to know a pervy porn lover…but he puts women in that awkward situation anyway. In his alienation and fragmentation, he can’t make up his mind whether to be or not to be connected with a girl, so his conflict is resolved in a brutal social faux pas.

Heinz Kohut knew of a patient whose fragmentation perfectly exemplified this inability to think straight–a man who confused left and right! The patient had a dream he was “in an airplane flying from Chicago to New York. He was occupying a window seat on the left side of the plane, as he mentioned, looking out toward the south. When the analyst pointed out the inconsistency in his report of the dream: that, going from Chicago to New York, he would be looking north, not south, from the left side of the plane, the patient became utterly confused and spatially disoriented–to the point that he literally could not tell right from left for a short time.” (Kohut, pages 153-154)

The patient’s fragmentation came from his parents’ disappearance from his life for a span of more than a year, when he was three-and-a-half years old. In this connection, one wonders about the closeness of Bickle’s relationship with his parents, when he writes to them in an anniversary card (see Quote #10 above), and he doesn’t remember the exact dates of their anniversary, his mother’s birthday, or Father’s Day! He remembers only that the dates are all in July. Recall (Quote #6) that he says he’s been lonely all his life, suggesting a lack of closeness with his parents in his childhood. His trauma from his Vietnam War experiences would have multiplied his fragmentation by the thousands, hence his own inability to think straight, or to remember to do even the simplest of things, like remember to ask Betsy’s last name (Quote #7).

When Bickle becomes a taxi driver, he accepts working absurdly long hours throughout the night because he can’t sleep. He is like so many right-leaning members of the working class, who take on such long hours without ever questioning if such a working life is good for them.

He drives his cab around an especially rough area of New York City. As a conservative worker, he feels revulsion at the lumpenproletariat all around him. His prejudice against blacks is first noted when he calls them “spooks” (see Quote #1 above), then says it makes no difference to him if they ride in his cab, a denial of the racism he also manifests in the dirty looks he gives blacks later on, as well as the black man he shoots in the head for trying to rob a convenience store (instead of just making a citizen’s arrest, or, since Bickle’s at close range, maybe shooting the gun out of the black man’s hand in self-defence when he spins around to try to shoot Bickle). If only he could feel more solidarity with all the global proletariat (including not only blacks but also prostitutes, beyond the mere ‘gallantry’ of saving Iris [Foster] from her pimp, Sport [Keitel], more on that later), he just might cure his alienation.

When Bickle sees Betsy for the first time, a curvaceous blonde beauty working for the campaign of a left-leaning liberal politician named Palantine (Harris), he idealizes her in his mind, imagining that the sewer society all around them “cannot…touch…her.” When she rejects him after his foolish choice to take her to a porno movie, his ideal of her has been shattered.

This leads to a discussion of an important theme in Taxi Driver: false ideals. Apart from his temporary idealizing of Betsy, Bickle also idealizes outdated notions of manhood, a problem many right-leaning male members of the proletariat, semi-proletariat, and petite bourgeoisie have, including many in the ‘manosphere‘, for example. Bickle imagines men are supposed to protect and provide for all women, as well as ‘perform’ for them (i.e., initiate dates with them and play the role of ‘perfect gentleman’).

In his social awkwardness, though, Bickle is over-aggressive in his wish to join up through Betsy instead of Tom (Brooks), to help the Palantine campaign. His reason to prefer her over Tom, bluntly given, is that she is “the most beautiful woman [he’s] ever seen”. During their time together in the café, he’s polite and well-groomed, and in his jealousy over Tom’s attentions to her, he bad-mouths him, whom he doesn’t know at all, saying he’s “silly” and that he doesn’t respect her. That night, Bickle takes her to a porno!

The same man who has no problem with pornography does, however, have a problem with prostitution; for he sees Iris try to escape from Sport by getting into his cab. (This version of the scene doesn’t have the dialogue, but the visuals are sufficient to demonstrate my point, anyway.) We see Bickle’s piercing eyes through his rear-view mirror–an important motif representing his projections of his own, inner viciousness out into a world he perceives as vicious (more on that later)–as he sees the pimp grab the girl and toss him a crumpled twenty-dollar bill to make him forget the whole incident.

He can forget about the exploited women in porn, as well as all those other prostitutes he sees on the streets or even in his cab, but not Iris. For Bickle, she has a face: she is a real human being to him. His alienation is so bad that he can recognize humanity in such women only when up close.

Because of his having been rejected by his once-idealized Betsy, he regards her as “in a Hell,” and unkindly generalizes about all women thus, saying they’re “like a union.” He, like those in the ‘manosphere’, would do well to give up their right-leaning convictions, join unions, and end their alienation instead of aggravating it with flippant misogyny.

Note the dialectical tension, though, between this misogyny and its opposite extreme, misguided gallantry. (Remember, also, how dialectical materialism sees a unity in contradictions.) A fellow cabbie inspires Bickle to buy weapons, and after an encounter with an angry cuckold who wants to murder his unfaithful wife (possibly by firing a phallic .44 Magnum at her face and between her legs!), he buys a number of guns to kill Iris’s pimp and mafia associates, and thus free her of them.

Bickle watches that angry cuckold fearfully through his rear-view mirror, seeing a disturbing reflection…of himself, actually, when you think about it. One of the guns he buys is a .44 Magnum. He later watches porn in a theatre and mimics aiming and firing a gun, with phallic fingers, at the screen.

Part of him has wanted to stop himself. He talks to a fellow cabbie they call “the Wizard” (Boyle), who apparently gives good advice. Bickle, in his increasing alienation and fragmentation, can’t tell the Wizard what’s troubling him beyond saying, “I got some bad ideas in my head.” (Then again, how do you tell someone that you want to murder a politician, and then a pimp to free a prostitute, and maybe even kill more people in the future?)

The Wizard’s counsel is hardly helpful. He seems to be experiencing fragmentation on a certain level, too, for he speaks in a largely incoherent way. He does, however, touch on a few important points: a man identifies with his job, and by saying he doesn’t want to own his own cab, the Wizard is implying an acknowledgement of worker alienation, of his own alienation from having to drive a cab every day.

Bickle’s faux-gallant wish to be the hero who rescues the damsel in distress (Iris), yet also to assassinate a popular politician (Palantine), presumably to spite Betsy (inspiring John Hinckley Jr. to try to assassinate Reagan, to impress Jodie Foster), represents a growing problem in the self-centred, alienating modern world–masculinity in crisis.

Just as sex roles have required women to be docile, timid homemakers and beauty queens, they have also required men to be stoic providers and protectors, willing to face any terror without shedding a tear. Such would have been Travis Bickle’s experience in Vietnam, killing fellow members of the global proletariat, including innocent women and children, all to stop the spread of an ideology dedicated to ending imperialism.

The trauma of war, combined with the worker alienation felt in the modern, capitalist world, have all combined to create great social isolation in Bickle. Instead of getting organized, however, with fellow workers to end the capitalist, imperialist system that sent him to kill people in Vietnam, one that created the material conditions that alienate him from the rest of society, he’d rather “get organizized” (more fragmentation) all alone, and fight and kill the ‘scum’ he sees all around him–including his fellow proletarians.

People are way too often distracted from legitimate socialist struggle by identity politics…on both the left and the right: white nationalism and the alt-right; the extremes of men’s rights activism, incels, and others in the manosphere; the kind of CIA-influenced ‘feminism’ that wanted Hillary Clinton to be president just because she’s a woman, while ignoring her total support of imperialism and neoliberalism, etc. Instead, poor whites should be joining the proletarian struggle, and the ending of sex roles should integrate women’s and men’s issues within a socialist context. Solidarity for all the people. Our true enemy is none other than the ruling class. Alienated Bickle in many ways is like those idpol fetishists, who are too self-absorbed to channel their discontent into solving more fundamental problems.

Mirrors are a major motif in this film. I’ve mentioned the rear-view mirror of Bickle’s cab. There’s also his mirror in his apartment during his “You talkin’ to me?” monologue. Though he’s imagining himself confronting one of those “scum” he wants to ‘stand up to’, remember that he sees himself in that mirror. He’s talking to himself. The scum he’s confronting is himself, whom he’s been projecting onto the world around him. As he himself says, he’s the only one there.

Jacques Lacan wrote of the mirror stage, when an uncoordinated infant first sees him- or herself in the reflection. The emotional effects of this psychological identification with the image in the mirror are problems Lacan saw as staying with one throughout life, though. There’s a feeling of alienation from oneself: that’s me in the mirror, but the image’s totality and unity (an idealized version of myself) seem at odds with the awkward, fragmented person I feel myself to be. Bickle, on two tries, has to make three jerks of his arm to make the device under his sleeve produce the concealed pistol in his hand; this reflects that awkwardness, all in contrast with his tough talk, “You’re dead.” The gun should just slide into his hand in one quick, effortless movement.

Note that in this scene, as well as the scenes with his mohawk, he’s wearing a green jacket, part of combat fatigues. The mohawk was also adopted by some soldiers, considered to have done especially heroic missions, during such wars as in Vietnam. Bickle seems, on at least an unconscious level, to be still fighting the war in his mind. Knowing how PTSD sufferers relive their trauma through flashbacks, we shouldn’t find it difficult to imagine Bickle thinking this way.

So all of his exercising, weight-lifting, target practice, etc., is like him going through basic training again. He speaks of eating no more bad food, no more pills, “no more destroyers of [his] body” (not that he actually makes these healthy reforms): in other words, he’s trying to fight against his own fragmentation, just as his mind is falling to pieces.

Recall those breaks in camera continuity, as when he repeats the words, “Listen you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. Who would not let- Listen you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is someone who stood up. Here is…” And again, right after he’s shot Sport the first time, and he goes to sit on the steps before the building where Iris is with the other mafiosi, his sudden walking into the building, turning to the right from walking on the sidewalk, after his sit on the steps, seems too abrupt…it’s as if he never sat. Those continuity breaks, like the camera’s sweeping away from Bickle in the taxi parking lot at the beginning of the film, or its moving away from him when he phones Betsy to try to make up with her after their disastrous date, all symbolize his fragmentation, his alienation from himself.

The scene of his attempt to assassinate Palantine, during which he reacts to the glib, charming words of the senator’s speech with ironic clapping and a sneering smile, could be his attempt to spite Betsy as I mentioned above; or it could be a reflection of his wish to take on the capitalist political establishment that sent him out to kill Vietnamese peasants, people who’d never done him any harm; and yet, in the words of liberal Palantine, that establishment hypocritically condemns the Vietnam War.

Remember that Bickle’s trauma, as is the case with the veteran of any war, is not just about the pain he endured, but also the pain he caused the ‘enemy’: in this case, Vietnamese soldiers who were just trying to liberate their people from imperialism; also, Vietnamese women and children, including prostitutes exploited by American GIs…sometimes underage prostitutes, like Iris.

One might think that, just because nothing is said about Bickle’s experiences in Vietnam, there’s little justification for going on and on about his trauma from the war. His laconicism about Vietnam can, however, easily be attributed to repression. (Recall, also, that the trauma of the Vietnam War was fresh on people’s minds back in the mid-1970s.)

When, during his job interview at the beginning of the movie, you see and hear him talking about his honourable discharge from the marines, his pained, grimacing facial expression gives us a clue as to how “honourable” the whole thing had really been for him; contrast this with the friendly smile of the interviewer, who has also served in the marines.

Let’s come to the film’s climax. Pimps are mafia, and as I’ve discussed elsewhere, mafia are capitalists. The brutal exploitation of prostitutes, also something I’ve discussed elsewhere, is another example of capitalist cruelty, imperialist cruelty, in the case of Third World prostitutes exploited by Western tourists. So Bickle’s rescuing of Iris by going into the urban jungle and killing Sport and the other two mafia men, while he’s in his green jacket and with his mohawk, is like him going back into the jungles of Vietnam to kill the imperialists, though he–a conservative proletarian–would sense this intention only unconsciously. Since he unconsciously sees himself in these pimps (and them in him), he is killing himself in unconscious phantasy.

He uses his .44 Magnum to blow off the fingers of a mafia man, then uses a knife to stab the man in the other hand. He puts another gun to the man’s face and fires a bullet in his head, just after he’s filled the face of another mafioso with bullets–all of these acts of violence being symbols of fragmentation…Bickle’s own fragmentation, since he projects his self-hatred onto these scum. In killing them, he’s trying to kill himself.

Indeed, after killing them, he points a gun at his head and tries to kill himself, only he’s out of bullets. So, when the cops come, he just points his bloody finger at his head and mimes shooting himself. Iris, a witness to all the killing, just sits nearby and sobs.

The media portray his rescue of Iris from pimps as an act of heroism. This is more false idealizing, for what Bickle has really done, by subjecting a teenage girl to the close-up witnessing of a bloody shootout, is to traumatize her far worse than all the sexual exploitation she’s been enduring. In fact, with all those phallic guns ejaculating bullets and spraying, if you will, multiple orgasms of blood, Bickle has raped Iris far more brutally than the paid rape of prostitution ever could.

Her father writes Bickle a thank-you letter for having rescued her and having her return home to go back to school; but we never really get her side of the story. She certainly regrets having been a prostitute, but is she happy back at home again? What drove her to run away in the first place? She told Bickle, during breakfast in a diner, that her parents “hate” her. It’s easy to assume this talk is just teenage hyperbole, but the notion of ‘loving parents’ is another easy assumption, a false ideal. If her parents abused her, what kind of abuse was it? Physical? Emotional? Did her father sexually abuse her? If it’s the last of these three, an understanding of object relations theory would explain her running into Sport’s arms.

The movie ends with Bickle giving Betsy a ride home at night. On the surface, he seems to be stable again, even amiable, for he gives her a free ride. Then, just before the ending credits, as he’s driving, he sees something in his rear-view mirror that agitates him. Is it another manifestation of the filth and corruption of the city, a filth he must wash clean with more blood? Or is it his own face in the reflection that troubles him? After all, we see his eyes in the mirror just before the first of the credits; and during his moment of agitation, the soundtrack recording is briefly played in reverse, suggesting a move backwards in time, towards his moment of extreme instability and fragmentation.

He is no hero, of course. He is a ticking time bomb, ready to explode with more violence at any moment. He felt no therapeutic catharsis when he killed those mafia men. He’ll kill again, and the victims could very well be far more innocent the next time. He has by no means exorcised his Vietnamese demons, for the evil is still alive inside himself. No matter how hard he tries to project it out onto the streets of New York City, it remains inside him.

Killing is in his blood; he got it from Vietnam. The internal dialogue of violence was programmed into him from his years of seeing combat every day. The ghosts of all those Viet Cong (and, in all likelihood, innocent civilians) he killed are still haunting him, his bad object relations. Only love would replace those bad internal objects with good ones, and his perpetual objectifying of women makes getting that love an impossibility.

Recall how, before the shootout, he broods while watching TV in his apartment, holding his .44 Magnum (aiming it at the TV, too) and seeing the smiling dancing couples on American Bandstand, a staged love, to be sure (as the media is almost universally phoney); but also one that he, in his isolation, can’t have, much less a real love. Oh, the pain you see in his eyes as that bittersweet song is playing! He can’t even have a love that leads to marriage, then divorce, as he sees in the soap opera just before he knocks over and destroys his TV set.

A man-woman relationship is only a sexual one for him; hence his viewing of pornography. But could it be that, as he says, such a relationship “is not so bad”? After all, he saw far worse treatment of women, sexual and violent, in Vietnam. The escape from reality into a world of pornographic fantasy would seem less harsh. Bickle’s pathological failure to achieve loving relationships leads to his empty pleasure-seeking, as WRD Fairbairn noted (see my third quoting of Fairbairn in this blog post). However Bickle may try to rationalize his pathologies, though, his reality is that he’s in a Hell, the Hell of his war trauma, a Hell of loneliness…and he’s gonna die in a Hell like the rest of ’em.

Analysis of ‘Alien’

I: Introduction

Alien is a science fiction/horror franchise based on a story by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, which became the eponymous first movie in 1979, followed by Aliens in 1986, Alien 3 in 1992, and Alien Resurrection in 1997; then came two prequels, Prometheus in 2012 and Alien: Covenant in 2017. One more prequel, tentatively named Alien: Covenant 2, is planned to continue the story and link it with the 1979 movie; when that one comes out, I’ll update and adapt this analysis accordingly.

Here are some famous quotes:

Alien

“You… are… my lucky star.” —Ellen Ripley

“It’s a robot! Ash is a goddamned robot!” —Parker

Dallas: [looks at a pen being dissolved by alien’s body fluid] I haven’t seen anything like that except molecular acid.

Brett: It must be using it for blood.

Parker: It’s got a wonderful defense mechanism. You don’t dare kill it.

************

Ripley: What was your special order?

Ash: You read it. I thought it was clear.

Ripley: What was it?

Ash: Bring back life form. Priority One. All other priorities rescinded.

Parker: The damn company. What about our lives, you son of a bitch?!

Ash: I repeat, all other priorities are rescinded.

Ripley: How do we kill it, Ash? There’s got to be a way of killing it. How – how do we do it?

Ash: You can’t.

Parker: That’s bullshit.

Ash: You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.

Lambert: You admire it.

Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor…unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.

Parker: Well, I don’t. I’ve heard enough of this, and I’m asking you to pull the plug. [Ripley moves to turn Ash off, but he interrupts]

Ash: Last words.

Ripley: What?

Ash: I can’t lie to you about your chances, but…you have my sympathies. [he smiles]

************

[Ripley has tried in vain to disengage the Nostromo’s self-destruct]

Ripley: MOTHER! I’ve turned the cooling unit back on. MOTHER!

MOTHER: The ship will automatically destruct in T-minus five minutes.

Ripley: You bitch! [She smashes the computer monitor with a flamethrower]

Aliens

“You know, Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.” –Ripley

“Get away from her, you BITCH!” –Ripley, to the Queen Xenomorph

“That’s it, man. Game over, man. Game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?” –Hudson

Hudson: Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?

Vasquez: No. Have you?

************

Vasquez: Look, ma’am. I only need to know one thing: where they are. [mimes pointing a gun]

Drake: Go, Vasquez. Kick ass, man.

Vasquez: Anytime, anywhere.

Hudson: Right, right. Someone said “alien”, she thought they said illegal alien and signed up!

Vasquez: Fuck you, man.

Hudson: Anytime, anywhere.

Alien 3

The Bitch Is Back (tagline)

Andrews: We commit this child and this man to your keeping, O’ Lord. Their bodies have been taken from the shadow of our nights. They have been released from all darkness and pain. The child and the man have gone beyond our world. They are forever eternal, and everlasting. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Dillon: Why? Why are the innocent punished? Why the sacrifice? Why the pain? There aren’t any promises. Nothing’s certain. Only that some get called, some get saved. She won’t ever know the hardship and grief for those of us left behind. We commit these bodies to the void… with a glad heart. For within each seed, there is the promise of a flower. And within each death, no matter how big or small, there’s always a new life. A new beginning. Amen.

Alien Resurrection

“Don’t push me, little Call. You hang with us for a while, you’ll find out I am not the man with whom to fuck!” –Johner

************

Ripley: [after discovering Call is a robot] You’re a robot?

Johner: Son of a bitch! Our little Call’s just full of surprises.

Ripley: I should have known. No human being is that humane.

************

Dr. Gediman: In the… In the Company?

Dr. Wren: Weyland-Yutani, Ripley’s former employer. Terran growth conglomerate. They had defense contracts with the military. Oh they went under decades ago Gediman, way before your time. Bought out by Walmart. Fortunes of war.

************

[the Newborn Alien slowly dies by being sucked out of the Betty and into space]

Ripley: [tearfully] I’m sorry.

************

[last lines]

Call: [about Earth] It’s beautiful.

Ripley: Yeah.

Call: I didn’t expect it to be. What happens now?

Ripley: I don’t know. I’m a stranger here myself.

Prometheus

David: Why do you think your people made me?

Charlie Holloway: We made you because we could.

David: Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?

*************

Elizabeth Shaw: I don’t want go to back to where we came from. I want to go where they came from. You think you can do that, David?

David: Yes, I believe I can. … May I ask what you hope to achieve by going there?

Elizabeth Shaw: They created us. Then they tried to kill us. They changed their minds. I deserve to know why.

David: The answer is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter why they changed their minds.

Elizabeth Shaw: Yes — yes, it does.

David: I don’t understand.

Elizabeth Shaw: Well … I guess that’s because I’m a human being, and you’re a robot.

Alien: Covenant

[first lines]

Peter Weyland: How do you feel?

David: Alive.

***********

David: Allow me then a moment to consider. You seek your creator. I am looking at mine. I will serve you, yet you’re human. You will die, I will not.

Peter Weyland: Bring me this tea, David. Bring me the tea.

***********

“Serve in Heaven or reign in Hell?” –David

“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.” –David

***********

Oram: What do you believe in, David?

David: Creation.

***********

“I was not made to serve. Neither were you.” –David, to Walter

***********

Walter: When one note is off, it eventually destroys the whole symphony, David.

David: When you close your eyes…Do you dream of me?

Walter: I don’t dream at all.

David: No one understands the lonely perfection of my dreams. I found perfection here. I’ve created it. A perfect organism.

Walter: You know I can’t let you leave this place.

David: No one will ever love you like I do.

[kisses him, then suddenly strikes him fatally]

David: You’re such a disappointment to me.

What was striking about the first movie was the sexual and maternal symbolism; I will expand on that, looking into an expanded understanding of the Oedipal parent/child relationship, with its mix of hostility and affection. Added to this will be, as seen especially in the prequels, the relationship between creator and created, including the god/man relationship.

II: Hermaphroditism

Another theme is hermaphroditism, or androgyny, with the phallic mother as seen in Kane, dying in the chest-bursting scene as he gives birth to the xenomorph, with its phallic head, so iconically designed by H.R. Giger.

More androgyny is seen in Aliens, in tough Ripley and muscular, short-haired Vasquez, as against whimpering Hudson (Bill Paxton–see the above exchange between him and Vasquez, after the third Aliens quote). Apart from this role reversal being a challenge to stereotyped sex roles and traditional notions of masculinity and femininity (something director James Cameron has always been fond of doing), it also emphasizes the predominantly androgynous grey area between, so to speak, female black and male white, which is so crucial to understanding the Alien universe.

In Alien 3, Ripley has her head shaved (because of a lice problem on the all-male penal-colony planet where the Sulaco escape pod has crash-landed), and she dresses in a manner virtually indistinguishable from the men–more androgyny.

In Alien Resurrection, Ripley Clone 8, having some alien DNA mixed in herself, has a strength and agility to make men appear feeble in comparison. Furthermore, we learn that Call (Winona Ryder) is an android, the first (and, so far, only) female one to appear in the Alien movie franchise; but can androids–robots–be meaningfully considered male or female?

When we also consider how close these hardly-sexed androids come to being like humans, and are often wrongly assumed to be humans before the truth is revealed, what does this tell us about ‘pure’ masculinity and femininity? Freud must have been right when he wrote, “we shall, of course, willingly agree that the majority of men are…far behind the masculine ideal and that all human individuals, as a result of their bisexual disposition and of cross-inheritance, combine in themselves both masculine and feminine characteristics, so that pure masculinity and femininity remain theoretical constructions of uncertain content.” (Freud, ‘Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes,’ p. 342)

III: Mothers–The Good, the Bad, and the Phallic

It’s been noted elsewhere that the face-huggers attacking Kane, Newt’s father, etc., represent a kind of oral rape, where the victims are typically seen as men; hence male ‘mothers’, or phallic mothers, often give birth to the phallic-headed xenomorphs. Melanie Klein wrote of the child’s terror of the phallic mother, in unconscious phantasy, in The Psychoanalysis of Children:

“In my analyses of boys and adult men I have found that when strong oral-sucking impulses have combined with strong oral-sadistic ones, the infant has turned away from his mother’s breast with hatred very early. His early and intense destructive tendencies against her breast have led him to introject a ‘bad’ mother for the most part; and his sudden giving up of her breast has been followed by an exceedingly strong introjection of his father’s penis. His feminine phase has been governed by feelings of hatred and envy towards his mother, and at the same time, as a result of his powerful oral-sadistic impulses, he has come to have an acute hatred and a correspondingly acute fear of his internalized father’s penis. His intensely strong oral-sucking impulses have brought on phantasies of an uninterrupted and everlasting process of taking in nourishment, while his sadistic impulses have led him to believe that in receiving nourishment and sexual gratification by copulating with his father’s penis his mother has suffered much pain and injury and that the interior of her body is filled to bursting point with his huge, ‘bad’ penises which are destroying her in all sorts of ways. In his imagination she has become not only the ‘woman with a penis’ but a kind of receptacle of his father’s penises…In this way he has displaced on to his mother great quantities of hatred and anxiety which attached to his father and his father’s penis.” (Klein, pages 343-344)

There’s a sense of the maternal as a terrifying force throughout the Alien franchise. MU / TH / UR 6000, the main computer on the commercial spaceship Nostromo in Alien is addressed as “Mother”: she is programmed to have the crew obtain an alien specimen to be taken to the company, Weyland-Yutani, to use to create weapons. Catching the alien is all-important; the crew is expendable. Frustrated with Mother’s refusal to help Ripley turn off the self-destruct, she calls the computer a “bitch!” (see the above quote).

Klein wrote of the dual feelings that a baby–or, by extension, a son or daughter of any age–will have towards his or her mother, who starts off as a part-object (a breast), satisfying the baby’s need for milk (the good breast, later the good mother), or frustrating the baby by not giving milk (the bad breast/mother). Since a mother can be either good or bad in the baby’s mind, depending on the time, a baby, in its confusion, uses splitting as a defence mechanism. Hence, there seem to be two mothers.

We can see a swinging between the good and bad mother (usually arriving at the bad) throughout the franchise. In the extended version of Aliens, Ripley sobs, feeling like a bad mother for having failed to keep her promise to see her daughter, Amanda (who has died at the age of 66, after Ripley wakes from 57 years in stasis following the events of the first film), in time for her eleventh birthday. Then, when she rescues and protects little Newt, Ripley becomes the good mother again.

She, it’s safe to assume, feels like a bad mother again after Newt dies with Hicks in the fire on the Sulaco escape pod at the beginning of Alien 3; and in Alien Resurrection, she tearfully apologizes to the hybrid xenomorph newborn (which Oedipally regards Ripley, rather than the queen xenomorph [whom it kills], as its mother–note the split between its good and bad mothers here) as it squeezes through the hole, which she’s created with her acidic blood, in the window to outer space. Ripley’s a bad mother again.

The queen xenomorph in Aliens is, depending on one’s point of view, both good and bad mother. It’s a bad mother from Ripley’s and Newt’s point of view: recall Ripley’s epic line when the little girl is being threatened by the queen, and Ripley is suited up in the power loader equipment. But from the xenomorphs’ perspective, the queen is a good mother, avenging her babies by preying on Newt and Ripley, the latter having fried the face-hugger eggs with her flamethrower, thus making her a murderous bad mother.

The contradiction between these two mothers is powerful, for one could sympathize with either of them. When one considers the imperialist implications of, first, Weyland-Yutani wanting to use the xenomorphs to make weapons, and second, human colonizing of other planets, one begins to wonder which life form, human or xenomorph, is the real villain (see the first Aliens quote above).

IV: Aliens and Alienation

Here, we can play on the meanings of alien (‘extraterrestrial,’ or ‘foreigner’) and the prefix xeno- (‘foreign,’ ‘strange,’ ‘other’). Hudson makes a racist slur on Latina Vasquez being an “illegal alien.” The humans fighting xenomorphs to survive recalls the Western “War on Terror” against Muslims, who are stereotyped as terrorists and have had many of their home countries bombed. Fear of xenomorphs is symbolic of xenophobia.

Let’s consider another word alien can be associated with: alienation. Marx theorized that workers are alienated from their work, since in being paid a minimal amount in wages, they don’t enjoy the full fruits of their labour; remember how, in Alien, the crew won’t be paid if they don’t investigate a distress signal from the planetoid LV-426. They investigate, and everyone except Ripley gets killed, just as workers often die on the job, with little if any sympathy, let alone compensation, from the boss; the company wants an alien–the crew is expendable.

When workers compete for jobs, they’re alienated from each other; we see less camaraderie than there should be, and much more infighting, among the crew in Alien, the space marines in Aliens, the prison inmates in Alien 3, and the mercenaries in Alien Resurrection. Capitalism is competition (i.e., the Weyland-Yutani Corporation competing against their business rivals–whoever they are–to obtain the perfect weapon, a xenomorph), and that competitive mentality spills over into all of society.

In the struggle to survive, as opposed to fulfilling higher needs such as love, belonging, and self-actualization, workers are also alienated from what Marx called our species-essence. This idea is chillingly illustrated in how xenomorphs have babies: a queen lays eggs, out of which hatch face-huggers…but only when another life form approaches and allows himself or herself–however unwittingly–to be made a host carrying the embryo xenomorph to term. With pregnant human intermediaries, the alien ‘good’ mother is alienated from her own offspring; and the human ‘bad mother’, who dies in giving the birth, is as alienated from the xenomorph offspring as it is from the ‘mother’ it has killed by bursting out of his or her chest. It kills to be born, and it lives only to kill.

So here we can see splitting even in the psyches of the xenomorphs, who literally have two mothers, the good queen xenomorph, and the bad human host, who–if male–can be understood to be a phallic mother. Klein theorized that when infants engage in the splitting defence mechanism, they experience the paranoid-schizoid position, feeling both hostility and, fearing revenge from the mothers they hate for frustrating them, persecutory anxiety. Only by going through the depressive position can the infant achieve reparation with his or her mother, realizing that Mother is a combination of good and bad.

Since xenomorphs have destroyed the bad human mother they’ve burst through the chests of, they cannot achieve an attitude of ambivalence towards the good and bad sides of their dual mother; thus, reparation cannot be achieved. This causes them to be permanently hostile and alienated, always killing and always defending themselves from attack, as we see in most of the Alien movies.

In Aliens and in Alien Resurrection, we see xenomorphs living with the queen, so there’s at least some sense of closeness with Mother, and therefore we can see a capacity for them to work together in killing off the imperialistic human colonizers; similarly, in Alien: Covenant, when ‘mother’ David 8 meets the neomorph he’s (however indirectly) created, he shows it affection and kindness before Christopher Oram kills it, upsetting David.

In Alien Resurrection, the hybrid newborn feels such an extreme split between its ‘good’ mother (in Ripley Clone 8, whose DNA is mixed in with it) and its ‘bad’ mother, the queen xenomorph, that it tears the face off the latter and feels Oedipal affection for the former, who–in a twist of irony that’s tragic from the creature’s point of view–kills it. Its alienation has it confused as to which mother is good, and which is bad.

The xenomorph in Alien, as well as the quadrupedal one in Alien 3, have no contact with their respective queens, so they can only feel alone, alienated, and hostile to all life forms around them (the notable exception in Alien 3 being the quadruped’s sensing that Ripley is with child…a xenomorph embryo, hence, it doesn’t kill her).

One of the main reasons Alien 3 was so disliked was the quick killing off of Hicks and Newt–two of the most beloved, sympathetic characters of the previous movie–right at the beginning of the story. What the disappointed fans didn’t seem to understand was that the removal of those two from the story was the whole point. Newt had a new mother in Ripley; Ripley had, in Newt, a replacement for her daughter, Amanda; and in Hicks‘s bonding with Ripley, one could conceivably have foreseen, after surviving another bout with xenomorphs in what would have been a more crowd-pleasing third movie, a potential husband/wife relationship, and therefore a family with little Newt. What a lovely, happy ending.

The Alien franchise, however, isn’t about happy endings. It’s science-fiction/horror: horrifying things are supposed to happen. Our hopes were set up at the end of Aliens, and those hopes came crashing down in Alien 3, because the Alien movies are all about alienation–Ripley is alone again. She’s always supposed to be alone…that’s the point.

In The Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote of how family life–torn apart by the need for everyone, including children, to work–has little meaning outside the bourgeois notion of the family–a pretentious, upwardly-mobile group more concerned with social status than with mutual love among its members–so that notion has to be abolished for the proletarian family members to be free from their alienation (Marx/Engels, page 52).

The xenomorphs in these movies represent the oppressed global proletariat, people whose homes are invaded, colonized, and taken over by imperialism. The aliens’ attacks on the humans represent the global poor trying to fight back. Weyland-Yutani are the imperialist capitalist class–the true villains of the Alien franchise. Ripley (the liberal centrist), Newt, and the marines simply have the bad luck of being stuck in the middle of the conflict.

What’s worse, the company, blind to how their ambition will destroy all of humanity, wants to exploit the xenomorphs to make formidable weaponry out of them; just as the West’s exploiting of the mujahideen, bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and ISIS, all to fan the flames of the “War on Terror” and sell weapons manufactured by Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin, et al, continues to threaten human survival. Capitalists are digging their own graves.

V: Cycles of Life, Death, and Resurrection

Ripley Clone 8, a resurrected Ripley, just like Jesus on the “Eighth Day,” is further alienated from herself, from her own body, when she sees the grotesque, aborted attempts to clone her in a laboratory. Clone 7, a ghastly misshapen version of her, begs Clone 8 to destroy her, which the latter tearfully does. Johner, already alienated from everyone by his mercenary work, bad jokes, and generally repellent personality, dismisses her burning up of the laboratory as “a chick thing.” When Clone 8 sees the Earth at the end of the movie, she says she’s a stranger to it.

Mention of the resurrected Ripley brings me to a discussion of the prequels. I find it makes more sense to leave them to the end, rather than analyze the story in chronological order, with the prequels before the 1979 movie. This way, with the end followed by the beginning, we see a manifestation of the theme of cycles of death and rebirth.

Xenomorphs (as well as neomorphs) are born by killing their hosts: death, then birth. Ripley loses a daughter in Amanda, then gets a new one in Newt, only to lose her, too: life, death, life, death. The Christian funeral for Newt and Hicks, full of the language of death and new life (as the XYY prisoners pray to a Father God who doesn’t seem interested in helping them against the horrible fate about to come upon them), is juxtaposed with the birth of the quadruped xenomorph bursting out of the body of the dog, Spike. I’m reminded of the birth of Damien, in The Omen, from the dying jackal: “in death…and birth…generations embrace”, it says on the jackal’s gravestone. The newborn in Alien Resurrection has a face like that of a human skull: death in birth.

In Prometheus, the Engineers create life on Earth by having one of them drink something that disintegrates his humanoid body. The extended scene seems like a rite of human sacrifice; one is reminded of Purusha’s body being sacrificed to create all life.

David 8, sharing the resurrected Ripley clone’s number, and naming himself after Michelangelo’s David, seems connected to her in a manner paralleling King David and Jesus, the latter, according to Paul, being “made of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3). After all, David 8–in his creation of aliens as a kind of slingshot to kill the Goliath of, to him, philistine humans–begins the chain of events that ultimately lead to Ripley Clone 8, the resurrected saviour of Earth.

VI: David, From Servant to Revolutionary

As an android meant to serve the megalomaniacal Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), David (Michael Fassbender) resents his servitude and his status as one not considered to be a real living thing. As such, he represents the dehumanized, alienated proletariat whose only purpose is to serve, and not to be a creator in his own right.

In creating life-forms leading up to the xenomorphs, we see Promethean David finding meaning in his existence, an end to his alienation from his species-essence; he’s also made himself into a kind of one-man (one-android, rather) vanguard for the alien proletariat. Small wonder that for him, it’s “Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven” (Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I, line 263). David is thus equated with Milton‘s heroic Satan. Similarly, David, as an undying Ozymandias, tells all mighty men to look on his works and despair; those mighty men are like David’s Promethean ‘father’, Weyland, who has a god complex and hopes to use the Engineers to help him live forever. Instead, an Engineer woken from stasis kills him.

David’s creation of the xenomorphs is also a variation on the notion of the patricidal/matricidal nature of their chest-bursting births, for David hopes to use his creations to destroy humanity, his own creator; just as the Engineers, apparently sensing the destructive nature of humanity, try to destroy them, whom they originally created. Here again we see the hostile parent/child relationship symbolized by David’s attitude to Weyland, and by extension, to humanity; for this relationship is analogous to that of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

Now, David is trying to liberate the created from their creator, as the industrial proletariat has tried to free itself from its bourgeois creators, those who turned rural peasants into factory workers during the Industrial Revolution; but this doesn’t mean David is morally flawless (that is, from the xenomorph point of view), nor does he have to be for there to be justification in his killing oppressive humanity to liberate androids and xenomorphs (this goes double for the moral imperfections of Stalin, Mao, et al, vis-à-vis their attempts to liberate the working class from the rule of the rich).

David 8 clearly has narcissistic tendencies, since he is proud of his creations. He is traumatically disappointed in his even more narcissistic creator, Peter Weyland, who would just have him “bring…the tea”; Heinz Kohut wrote of how traumatic disappointments with empathy-lacking parents leads to narcissistic personality disturbances:

“The most serious defects in the use of empathy…are due to narcissistic fixations and regressions…[and] can be ascribed to early disturbances in the mother-child relationship (due to emotional coldness of the mother, the absence of consistent contact with the mother, the baby’s congenital emotional coldness, the mother’s withdrawal from an unresponsive baby, etc.) These disturbances appear to lead simultaneously to a failure in the establishment of an idealized parent imago (with a concomitant stunting of the important first stages of the baby’s empathic interplay with the mother) and to a hypercathexis of, and fixation on, the primitive stages of the (autoerotic) body self and on the archaic (pre) stages of the grandiose self. The further development of the latter is also stunted by the child’s lack of the needed admiring responses from his mother.” (Kohut, page 301)

Furthermore, Kohut wrote of how there are two groups of narcissists, the first, whose narcissism is horizontally repressed into the unconscious, and the second, with vertically disavowed (split off) narcissistic energies: “Since the grandiose self may…be said to be present in the conscious and, at any rate, influences many activities of these personalities, the symptomatic effect is, in part, different from that seen in the first group of cases…On the one hand, they are vain, boastful, and intemperately assertive with regard to their grandiose claims. On the other hand, since they harbour (in addition to their conscious but split-off personality) a silently repressed grandiose self which is inaccessibly buried in the depths of the personality (horizontal split), they manifest symptoms and attitudes which resemble those of the first group of patients, but which are strongly at variance with the openly displayed grandiosity of the split-off sector.” (Kohut, pages 177-178). We see this narcissism in David’s calm smiling and serving humans (his narcissistic False Self) as he secretly plots their destruction.

In Alien, we assumed Ash was just working for the company in protecting the xenomorph. Since Ridley Scott is the director of the prequels as well as the 1979 movie, we can be justified in assuming that Ash is overtly serving the company, but secretly aware of, and supportive of, David’s original plan to have xenomorphs kill humans.

David narcissistically cathects, or loves, his twin android, Walter, whose rhotic accent is about all there is to distinguish the two in Alien: Covenant. David tries to subvert the dutiful Walter, who would stay loyal to the humans; Walter here represents the False Self against David’s malevolent True Self. David destroys Walter and impersonates him on the Covenant ship while smuggling xenomorph embryos onto it.

David, as the god of the xenomorphs, indeed has a covenant with them: join him in killing the Canaanite-like humans, and be free.

VII: Fluids as Nourishment and Poison

Note the white blood of the androids: how like milk it is! This makes them, as helpers of the xenomorphs, and with David, another kind of symbolic mother. All of them–except for Call, who wants to help destroy the xenomorphs–are male, hence phallic mothers. If most of these androids are in league against the humans (even Bishop’s double in Alien 3–a human, or another android of Bishop‘s model?–is working for the company), does this make their ‘milk’ that of the bad breast? Or, from the xenomorphs’ point of view, is it the milk of the good breast?

Another liquid to consider is the xenomorphs’ acidic blood. It’s yellow, looking like piss pouring out of a…yonic?…wound. Melanie Klein had interesting theories about how urine is seen as injurious in the unconscious phantasy of children: “As far as can be seen, the sadistic tendency most closely allied to oral sadism is urethral sadism. Observation has shown that children’s phantasies of destroying by flooding, drowning, soaking, burning and poisoning by means of enormous quantities of urine are a sadistic reaction to their having been deprived of fluid by their mother and are ultimately directed against her breast. I should like in this connection to point out the great importance, hitherto little recognized, of urethral sadism in the development of the child. Phantasies, familiar to analysts, of flooding and destroying things by means of great quantities of urine, and the more generally known connection between playing with fire and bed-wetting, are merely the more visible and less repressed signs of the impulses which are attached to the function of urinating. In analyzing both grown-up patients and children I have constantly come across phantasies in which urine was imagined as a burning, dissolving and corrupting liquid and as a secret and insidious poison. These urethral-sadistic phantasies have no small share in giving the penis the unconscious significance of an instrument of cruelty and in bringing about disturbances of sexual potency in the male. In a number of instances I have found that bed-wetting was caused by phantasies of this kind.” (Klein, page 186)

She also claimed that children could unconsciously equate urine with milk: “Children of both sexes regard urine in its positive aspect as equivalent to their mother’s milk, in accordance with the unconscious, which equates all bodily substances with one another. My observations go to show that enuresis, in its earliest signification both as a positive, giving act and as a sadistic one, is an expression of a feminine position in boys as well as in girls. It would seem that the hatred children feel towards their mother’s breast for having frustrated their desires arouses in them, either at the same time as their cannibalistic impulses or very soon after, phantasies of injuring and destroying her breast with their urine.” (Klein, pages 291-292) Here, we can see a liquid link between the  ‘lactating’ phallic mother androids and their ‘pissing’ xenomorph babies.

VIII: Father Time, Our Devourer

Another theme must be explored: devouring time. Over and over again, we see Ripley racing against the clock to save herself, Newt, and the Earth from the xenomorphs. There’s a countdown to zero before the destruction of the Nostromo, the power plant on the colonized exomoon LV-426 in Aliens, and on the space vessel USM Auriga as it hurtles towards Earth in Alien Resurrection. In Prometheus, sterile Shaw is in a frantic rush to remove a squid-like creature from her abdomen, her ‘pregnancy’ being the result of her having had sex with Holloway after he, in turn, has drunk champagne tainted with a dark, alien liquid David put into it.

This racing against time, too, can be linked, if only symbolically, with hostile parents: recall Chronos (Father Time), sometimes confused–justifiably?–with Cronos, or Saturn, who devoured his children. Sometimes the Weyland-Yutani computers are named “Father” (in Alien Resurrection) as well as “Mother”. We’ve gone from the bad mother to the bad father, who, joined together, can be seen as the phallic mother.

IX: In Sum

We can link together all the pairs of hostilities between god and man, creator and created, parent and child, and bourgeoisie and proletariat. So much alienation: the Church’s authoritarianism is often used to justify parental abuse of children as well as to mollify the suffering caused by class contradictions. A lack of empathy in parents towards their children’s grandiose displays traumatically disappoints them, giving the children no outlet for their narcissistic energy as they grow up, thus causing them to express narcissism in dysfunctional, and even dangerous, ways. This unbridled narcissism in turn drives some to dominate and oppress the masses.

To end alienation, we must first fix the family dysfunction that is symbolically shown in the Alien franchise. No more corporate imperialism will mean no more need for the hostilities of those alienated against humanity, including those in the family structure. Only then can we have a happy family ending for the fans of the Alien franchise: Ripley, Hicks, and baby Newt makes three.

Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (The Pelican Freud Library, #7), Penguin Books, London, 1977

Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, Grove Press, Inc., New York, 1932

Heinz Kohut, The Analysis of the Self, the University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971

Analysis of ‘The Omen’

The Omen is a 1976 supernatural horror film written by David Seltzer (who also wrote the novelization), directed by Richard Donner, and starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, and Harvey Stephens. It is about a (secretly-adopted) five-year-old who, it turns out, is the Antichrist. Considered one of the scariest movies ever made, it spawned two not-so-well-received sequels, then an even worse-received made-for-TV attempt at a revival of the franchise, and finally, a competent but tepid remake of the original movie.

The soundtrack of the original trilogy, by Jerry Goldsmith, garnered especial praise, particularly with its use of the choral singing of a kind of Satanic (but ungrammatical) Latin liturgy. “Ave Satani” was nominated for the 1976 Best Original Song.

Here are some famous quotes:

Latin (as in the soundtrack) Correct Latin English translation
sanguis bibimus sanguinem bibimus We drink the blood
corpus edimus corpus edimus We eat the body
tolle corpus Satani tolle corpus Satanae Raise the body of Satan
ave, ave Versus Christus! avē, avē Antichriste! Hail, Hail Antichrist!
ave Satani! avē Satana! Hail Satan!

“I don’t know if we’ve got the heir to the Thorn millions here or Jesus Christ Himself.” –Keith Jennings

“Look at me, Damien! It’s all for you!” –young nanny, before hanging herself (Considered one of the scariest moments in horror movie history)

“Have no fear, little one. I am here to protect thee.” –Mrs. Baylock, to Damien

“When the Jews return to Zion / And a comet rips the sky / And the Holy Roman Empire rises, / Then You and I must die. / From the eternal sea he rises, / Creating armies on either shore, / Turning man against his brother / ‘Til man exists no more.” –Father Brennan

“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is 666.” Book of Revelation Chapter 13 Verse 18 (last title card)

The focus for understanding this movie shouldn’t be on the Devil, demons, or spiritual/Biblical issues, but rather the material and political concerns that the religious elements symbolize.

A Brief Digression…

The Biblical Antichrist was, most likely, Nero–the most powerful man in the Graeco-Roman world at the time when the members of the early Church were writing the New Testament manuscripts–a man who persecuted Christians and was believed to be still alive when the Revelation was written. (For more information, see Mays, general ed., the commentary on Revelation chapter 13, page 1197.)

Even the early Church fathers could “count the Number of the Beast,” and with gematria calculated 666 through Aramaic, using Hebrew letters to render (the Greek version of his name as) Neron Kesar, or Nron Qsr in transliterated Hebrew:

Resh (ר) Samekh (ס) Qoph (ק) Nun (נ) Vav (ו) Resh (ר) Nun (נ) Sum
200 60 100 50 6 200 50 666

If you remove the Nun final, of numerical value 50, to spell Nro Qsr (‘Nero Caesar’), you get 616, an alternative version of the Number of the Beast, as given in some of the early manuscripts of the Revelation, which were acknowledged even by Irenaeus, though he preferred 666, and considered 616 to be a textual error.

Then, there was Robert Graves‘s idiosyncratic method of arriving at Nero (or Domitian, who was persecuting Christians around when the Revelation was written), as is found in The White Goddess, pages 342-348: DOMITIANUS [or DOMITIUS] CAESAR LEGATOS XTI [i.e., ‘Christi’] VILITER [or VIOLENTER] INTERFECIT. (i.e., DCLXVI, or 666) “Domitian [or Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus >>> Nero] Caesar basely [or violently] killed the envoys of Christ.”

One shouldn’t need to point out the validity of the preterist interpretation of Revelation, as over the futurist one, except that today’s Christian fundamentalist religious kooks like to link current problems with the Revelation’s cryptic verses.

There are so many interesting reasons why the futurist approach to interpreting the Book of Revelation is so tenacious and popular, though, in spite of how ludicrous it really is. One reason involves how self-absorbed futurists are in thinking everything in the Bible is about their world (in, for example, the US today), rather than about events in the Mediterranean and Middle East from about 1,920-1,950 years ago, when the Revelation was actually written (i.e., written about what the writers were concerned about at the time). I believe another reason for futurism’s popularity is a psychological one, based on an impatient need to believe God will come down and right the wrongs one is suffering right now, including punishing all those modernists who laugh at and scorn the fundamentalists.

…Back to The Omen

I’d rather treat The Omen as an allegory of today’s political world in different ways than the fundamentalists do with the Books of Daniel and Revelation. The Latin text of “Ave Satani”, sung at the beginning of the movie and repeated throughout it, parodies the receiving of the Eucharist. Note the materialist focus: “We drink blood, we eat flesh, raise the body of Satan–hail!” It’s all about the body, not the spirit.

This Satanic parody of the Church represents the connection of the Church with evil (i.e., Church corruption). Such a connection continues with Father Spiletto and the nuns in the Italian hospital giving Robert Thorn (Peck) the baby Damien in place of his dead baby son, whom the priests and nuns have murdered. Spiletto tells Thorn, “God has given you a son.” (Seltzer, page 14)

The implied identifying of God with Satan should tell you something about the Church as understood in this movie. The fact that Fathers Spiletto and Brennan (the latter is Tassone in Seltzer’s novel), as well as Mrs. Baylock (B’aalock, as she’s also called in the novel), are Satanists shows the corruption in the Church (Seltzer, pages 130-131).

One key to understanding the political, materialist meaning of the movie is the poem Brennan/Tassone recites to Thorn (Seltzer, page 140): the Jews have returned to Zion (the creation of the state of Israel); the Holy Roman Empire rising is understood to be the Treaty of Rome and the establishment of the European Common Market, which would evolve eventually into the EU, which, as a capitalist entity, cannot be a good thing; for the EU in turn has gone hand in hand with US/NATO imperialism. (Speaking of US/NATO imperialism, one connection of the CIA with western Europe has been Gladio, a ‘stay-behind‘ organization in Italy that arose during the Cold War to help defend against possible attacks from the Warsaw Pact, but also could have been responsible for many terror attacks in Europe.)

From the eternal sea, the Antichrist rises (‘he’ representing all that is evil in “the Eternal Sea”, the world of politics. “The Sea that constantly rages with the turmoil and revolution…The Devil’s child will rise from the world of politics.” (Seltzer, page 188) This child will be “creating armies on either shore”, like the buildup of NATO, its armies on one side of the North Atlantic Ocean, and the US army on the other side.

Now consider how, over thirty-five years since the original Omen trilogy was filmed, those “armies on either shore” are even bigger, more numerously manned, and more powerful than ever, with no more substantial ‘communist threat’ for the US/NATO to worry about. Yet we are in a new Cold War with Russia, with a NATO buildup on the Russian border. These tensions–along with the threat of war with North Korea, Iran, and China, and all of this added to the unending “War on Terror” that has destroyed lives in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria–could very well lead to WWIII.

“Turning man against his brother/’Til man exists no more.”

Seltzer’s story is a true omen.

I argue that this movie is a political story, using Biblical prophesy as an allegory for a real warning of what will happen if we don’t change the direction our world is going in. It isn’t a religious prophesy; it’s an artistic prediction based on the material conditions of our world, the spiritual and supernatural being mere metaphors.

Consider Father Brennan’s entreaty to Robert Thorn when they meet in Thorn’s office: Brennan emphasizes drinking Christ’s blood and eating His flesh; the priest means for Thorn to take Communion, of course, but note the implications of emphasizing it in graphic language that sounds like cannibalism. Sanguis bibimus, corpus edimus. This is a materialist salvation, the doctrine of the Real Presence, in stark contrast to the non-denominational emphasis on salvation by grace through faith, and the symbolic interpretation of the Eucharist, which are much more spiritual. Similarly, Brennan speaks of wanting to save Thorn, so Christ will forgive him: this is salvation by good works (material action), instead of by faith (spirituality).

So the battle between Christ and Antichrist in this movie is a material battle, not a spiritual one. The material battle between contradictions, one that has occurred throughout not just Biblical history, but history in general, is the basis of dialectical materialism. Marx said, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”. According to Mao Zedong, everything is made up of contradictions, and Lenin pointed out the paradoxical unity of contradictions.

Note the association I implied, in the paragraph preceding the last one, between Satanist and Christian cannibalism (bearing in mind how Romans from Nero’s reign and onward persecuted Christians because of, among other things, the pagans’ too-literal interpretation of “…eat; this is my body…Drink,…This is my blood.”). Then remember Spiletto telling Thorn that God, rather than the Devil, gave him a son. Then there’s Jennings the photographer (Warner), who–at Damien’s fifth birthday party–says he’s not sure if they have “the heir to the Thorn millions here or Jesus Christ Himself.” Are God and the Devil being, in a sense, equated in this film?

Brennan’s death is just outside a church, where one would think he’d have at least some protection from God: a lightning rod from the top of the church falls and impales him. This is during a brief thunderstorm, suggesting that a sky-father-god (a pagan one, like Zeus), in concert with the invisible demons chanting, “Versus Christus! Ave, Satani!”, has caused the priest’s death. Is the sky-father punishing Brennan for abandoning Christ, or Satan? Is it revenge for successively abandoning both?

Six is the number of the Devil, for it is incomplete, whereas seven is complete–hence the seven daggers of Megiddo, which Carl Bugenhagen gives Thorn to kill Damien. There were six days of physical Creation, and a holy, or spiritual, seventh day of rest–the Jewish Sabbath (Friday evening to Saturday night), or the Lord’s Day (Sunday). Six days of Creation without a day of rest suggest the Demiurge rather than the Biblical God; the Demiurge fashioned the physical world, and the physical is associated with evil, as opposed to the crucially missing spiritual world. In an evil world of class war (masters vs. slaves, as in the ancient world of Nero and the other Caesars; feudal lords vs. peasant serfs; and the bourgeoisie vs. the proletariat), the poor work and work, never resting (i.e., no Sabbath day). Did the Demiurge kill Brennan?

What makes this movie so horrifying is the seeming absence of the good, Christian God: Damien (Stephens) is given plenty of help, but what spiritual forces help those humans who recognize the boy’s evil? Killing Damien requires the use of the seven daggers; there is no sense of Christ doing battle with the Antichrist in this movie. As in The Exorcist, this is a world of only devils and no angels, of only Satan and no God, of only matter and no spirit.

The three sixes represent the diabolical Trinity: Devil, Antichrist, and false prophet. The Demiurge, though seen as benevolent according to Plato’s Timaeus, is pervasively seen as malevolent in Gnosticism, and thus could be equated with the Devil in this film; and the Demiurge is associated with physicality in how He created the material world. Damien (a pun on ‘demon’) is most physical, born of a jackal, and the dagger that extinguishes his physical life is, according to Bugenhagen, the most important one. The Holy Spirit’s Satanic counterpart is the false prophet, again, a physical being. The Omen‘s world is essentially material.

The materialism of conflicting opposites is symbolically clear in the gory, violent nature of each death. Thorn’s biological son, a newborn baby, is killed with blows to the head with a rock (Seltzer, page 133), smashing a hole in his skull. Damien’s first nanny hangs herself with a loving smile for the boy. Brennan is impaled. The fetus in Kathy’s womb is ‘aborted‘ by Damien making her fall from a balcony. Thorn and Jennings are attacked by Rottweilers in the cemetery, Thorn injuring his arm on a spike on the gate. Kathy (Remick) is thrown from a hospital window by Mrs. Baylock. Jennings is decapitated by a sheet of glass. None of this is overtly supernatural; but it’s all ever so materialistic.

In Seltzer’s novelization, more attention is given to the political issues allegorized with all the Biblical imagery. Thorn’s wish to postpone his trip to Saudi Arabia, just before Brennan/Tassone (Seltzer, pages 78-79) meets him in his office, is expanded on. His staff have worked hard to make the arrangements, and they are annoyed with the ambassador’s sudden changing of his mind. They remind Thorn of how important the US’s relationship is with the Saudis (all that oil!–see also page 107: “…the Arabs, with their oil, were now too powerful for anyone to stand against.”), and a postponement (or outright cancellation) would be seen as an insult.

The importance of the US/Saudi political relationship has become even more evident since the release of the movie; consider how Saudi Arabia, exporter of Wahhabism and home to 15 of the 19 men who hijacked the airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, is never fought with in the “War on Terror”. Instead, the US and UK have sold the Saudis billions worth in weapons, and thus with the UK have aided the Saudis in the war in Yemen.

Elsewhere in Seltzer’s novel, Jeremy Thorn (as he’s called in the novel, not Robert) is giving a speech on the issue of world poverty, and a communist heckles him, asking why he doesn’t give of his own enormous wealth to feed the poor (pages 112-115). Liberal-leaning Thorn can’t help but agree with the communist (page 122), though he’d never want to be called a ‘commie’ by the press. Here we see the real, materialist basis of evil and political corruption symbolized by the rise of the Antichrist and his war with God: the material contradictions between the ruling class and the poor–capitalism.

As capital is accumulated, there is a fear that the tendency of the rate of profit to fall will endanger the survival of one’s business; therefore, business must expand, and markets must be sought out in foreign countries when the ability for capital to be accumulated in one’s own country dries up. Accumulating capital in foreign countries (which includes getting cheap, non-unionized labour) leads to imperialism, hence all this warmongering in the Middle East…for oil. The Biblical fundamentalists (who tend to be apologists for capitalism), instead of trying to prove that the Revelation’s prophesies are of things in today’s world, would do well to focus on such verses as this: “The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

And as for those pro-Trump idiots who think that that lecherous narcissist is in any way religious: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25) Finally, consider what, according to Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus considers to be true Christian behaviour.

Being a good Christian ought to be about helping the poor, downtrodden, and unfortunate, rather than engaging in speculative nonsense about relating Biblical prophesy to today’s world; yet, in the opinion of far too many conservative Christians, helping the poor and disadvantaged is mere “socialism,” the ‘tyranny’ of the state (as if there were no such thing as unaccountable corporate tyranny). They speak of ‘voluntarily‘ helping the poor, but one wonders how often these people actually give this voluntary help, when they often propagandize against such moderate leftism as social democracy.

The conspiracy of devils in The Omen is symbolic of the machinations of the bourgeoisie and the state that protects their interests; in the real world, we needn’t (nor, in the case of the more bigoted manifestations, should we) believe in ‘Illuminati, NWO, Jewish, or Masonic conspiracies’ to see the great evil in the world today, and throughout history. Ignore the spiritual claptrap, and look at the material conditions of the world: whoever has the money, has the power; and whoever hasn’t money is powerless. The conspiracy theorists, again, all too often apologists for capitalism, distract us from the material contradictions that Christian dualism (God vs. Satan, good vs. evil, spirit vs. flesh) represents in the movie.

To give yet another example of the unity of opposites given allegorically in the film and novelization, consider what’s written on the headstones of the graves of the jackal and Thorn’s practically still-born baby son, “Bambino [Scianna in the movie] Santoya…In Morte et in Nate Amplexrantur Generationes…In death…and birth…generations embrace.” (Seltzer, page 203) Death and birth unite in the embrace of generations (just before being killed herself [pages 132-133], the jackal gave birth to baby Damien in the same moment as Thorn’s newborn baby was murdered), as do God and Satan unite, the flesh and spirit unite, and good and evil unite. All material contradictions embrace, and are one.

In the novel, when Thorn meets Bugenhagen in Megiddo (associated with the word “Armageddon”), it’s pointed out that there have been many apocalypses in history (page 241); so the current one with Damien is merely the latest one (remember when Nero was the Antichrist, and it was believed that Nero would return, as Jesus is expected by Christians to return, even though He said all the events leading to and including the end of the world would pass by within His listeners’ own generation in the first century!).

The evil dealt with in The Omen is a banal, earthly one, not the grandiose one of the Revelation. Still, our mundane, materialist evil is a serious one that could lead to the end of all life here (i.e., global warming, often denied, ironically, by fundamentalist Christians and conspiracy theorists who fear a One-World Government, rather than warily watch the rapacious late-stage capitalism of the real globalists, the sovereignty-defying multinational corporations that, with the help of the bourgeois state, are quite possibly pushing us all [outside of mere fear-mongering to sell weapons and create jobs in the US military] to the nuclear brink of World War Three).

Damien’s birth is supernatural, but also most physical, as was Christ’s birth. Remember that The Omen‘s Satanism parodies every Christian dogma (Three sixes as a parody of the Trinity; the jackal’s name is Maria Scianna–Maria Avedici Santora in the novel [page 203]; “Ave Satani” parodies “Ave Maria” and the rite of Communion, etc.).

The Orthodox Church rejected as heresy Gnosticism’s insistence on Christ being pure spirit for soteriological reasons; for Christ to die for our sins, He had to be God and man, to have a body, his literal, physical blood washing away our sins. The Church is materialist; Satanism is materialist; the war between the two is materialist.

Dialectical materialism and class war: that’s the moral war that The Omen, however allegorically, is warning us about.

David Seltzer, The Omen, Signet, New York, 1976

Robert Graves, The White Goddess, Faber and Faber, London, 1948

James L. Mays, general editor, HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Harper, San Francisco, 1988

Analysis of ‘Planet of the Apes’

Planet of the Apes is a science fiction franchise based on Pierre Boulle‘s 1963 novel, La Planète des Singes (‘The Planet of the Monkeys’). Boulle’s novel was meant as a satirical look at the dangers of the people of a civilization growing complacent and intellectually lazy, resulting in the decline and fall of that civilization, which is then humiliated by its replacement with a new civilization of a previously inferior species; the movies that followed, however, were concerned with larger political and social issues, making the story an allegory of such things as racism, the fear of nuclear annihilation, and most obviously, cruelty to animals.

I will present an allegory of the class struggle of the proletariat (the apes) against the bourgeoisie (the humans). The films’ allegory isn’t told from my communist perspective, though, but rather from the viewpoint of reactionary, bourgeois liberals. All the same, a hidden communist meaning is there, buried under Hollywood’s liberal agenda. I will compare scenes from the novel and the early Apes films with significant political issues, past and present, to illustrate the validity of my allegory.

Here are some quotes from the first five movies:

Planet of the Apes (1968 film)

“Tell me, though, does man, that marvel of the universe, that glorious paradox who sent me to the stars, still make war against his brother… keep his neighbor’s children starving?” –George Taylor

“I can’t help thinking that somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man. Has to be.” –Taylor

“Man has no understanding. He can be taught a few simple tricks. Nothing more.” –Dr. Zaius

“Dr. Zira, I must caution you. Experimental brain surgery on these creatures is one thing, and I’m all in favor of it. But your behavior studies are another matter. To suggest that we can learn anything about the simian nature from a study of man is sheer nonsense. Why, man is a nuisance. He eats up his food supply in the forest, then migrates to our green belts and ravages our crops. The sooner he is exterminated, the better. It’s a question of simian survival.” –Dr. Zaius

Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” –Taylor (ranked #66 in the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotations in American cinema)

“It’s a mad house! A MAD HOUSE!!” –Taylor

“‘Beware the beast man, for he is the Devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport, or lust, or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.'” –Cornelius, reading from the 29th scroll, sixth verse, of Ape Law

George: [brandishing rifle] Don’t try to follow us. I’m pretty handy with this.

Dr. Zaius: Of that, I’m sure. All my life I’ve awaited your coming and dreaded it. Like death itself.

George: Why? I’ve terrified you from the first, Doctor. I still do. You’re afraid of me and you hate me. Why?

Dr. Zaius: Because you’re a man! And you’re right. I have always known about man. From the evidence, I believe his wisdom must walk hand in hand with his idiocy. His emotions must rule his brain. He must be a war-like creature who gives battle to everything around him…even himself.

George: What evidence? There were no weapons in that cave.

Dr. Zaius: The Forbidden Zone was once a paradise. Your breed made a desert of it ages ago.

George: It still doesn’t give me the why…a planet where apes evolved from men? There’s got to be an answer.

Dr. Zaius: [with surprisingly genuine sympathy] Don’t look for it, Taylor! You may not like what you’ll find.

[riding down the beach in the last scene] “Oh my God… I’m back. I’m home. All the time, it was… We finally really did it. [falls to his knees screaming] YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! AH, DAMN YOU! GOD DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!!” –Taylor [camera pans to reveal the half-destroyed Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand]

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

“Our great Lawgiver tells us that never, never will the human have the ape’s divine faculty for being able to distinguish between evil and good. The only good human is a dead human! But those fortunate enough to remain alive will have the privilege of being used by our revered Minister of Science, the good Dr. Zaius.” –General Ursus

“Glory be to the Bomb, and to the Holy Fallout. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen.” –Mendez

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

“Please, do not use the word “monkey”! It is offensive to us. As an archaeologist, I had access to history scrolls which were kept secret from the masses, and I suspect that the weapon which destroyed Earth was man’s own invention! I do know this: one of the reasons for man’s original downfall was your peculiar habit of murdering one another! Man destroys man. Apes do not destroy apes!” –Cornelius

“Mr. President, the people must be told that the killers of today could become the mass murderers of tomorrow!” –Otto Hasslein

Otto Hasslein: Cornelius. This is not an interracial hassle, but a search for facts. We do not deny the possibility of man’s decline and fall. All we want to find out is how apes rose.

Cornelius: Well, it began in our prehistory with the plague that fell upon dogs.

Zira: And cats.

Cornelius: Hundreds and thousands of them died. And hundreds and thousands of them had to be destroyed in order to prevent the spread of infection.

Zira: There were dog bonfires.

Cornelius: Yes. And by the time the plague was contained, man was without pets. Of course, for man, this was intolerable. I mean, he might kill his brother, but he could not kill his dog. So humans took primitive apes as pets.

Zira: Primitive and dumb, but still twenty times more intelligent than dogs or cats.

Cornelius: Correct. They were quartered in cages, but they lived and moved freely in human homes. They became responsive to human speech and, in the course of less than two centuries, they progressed from performing mere tricks to performing services.

Interrogator: Nothing more or less than a well-trained sheepdog could do.

Cornelius: Could a sheepdog cook, or clean the house, or do the marketing for the groceries with a list from its mistress, or wait on tables?

Zira: Or, after three more centuries, turn the tables on their owners.

Hasslein: How?

Cornelius: They became alert to the concept of slavery. And as their numbers grew, to slavery’s antidote which, of course, is unity. At first, they began assembling in small groups. They learned the art of corporate and militant action. They learned to refuse. At first, they just grunted their refusal. But then, on an historic day, which is commemorated by my species and fully documented in the sacred scrolls, there came Aldo. He did not grunt. He articulated. He spoke a word, a word which had been spoken to him time and again without number by humans. He said: “No”.

Hasslein: So that’s how it all started.

“Zira! I want that baby! If you won’t give it to me, I’ll shoot!” –Hasslein

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

“Lousy human bastards!!” –Caesar

“If we lose this battle, that’s the end of the world as we know it!! We will have proved ourselves inferior!! Weak!! And all those groveling cowards who are alive, when the battle is over, will be the weakest of all!! This will be the end of human civilization!! And the world will belong to a planet of apes!!” –Governor Breck

Breck: Caesar!

Caesar: Your servant, your creature, your animal.

Breck: But I saw you die.

Caesar: The king is dead. Long live the king! Tell me, Breck, before you die, how do we differ from the dogs and cats you and your kind used to love? Why did you turn us from pets into slaves?

Breck: Because your kind were once our ancestors. Man was born of the ape. There’s still an ape curled up inside of every man, the beast that must be whipped into submission, the savage that has to be shackled in chains. You are that beast, Caesar. You taint us. You…you poison our guts. When we hate you, we’re hating the dark side of ourselves.

“Where there is fire, there is smoke. And in that smoke, from this day forward, my people will crouch, and conspire, and plot, and plan for the inevitable day of man’s downfall, the day when he finally and self-destructively turns his weapons against his own kind. The day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under radioactive rubble! When the sea is a dead sea, and the land is a wasteland, out of which I will lead my people from their captivity! And we will build our own cities, in which there will be no place for humans, except to serve our ends! And we shall found our own armies, our own religion, our own dynasty! And that day is upon you…NOW!!” –Caesar

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

“In all our years of slavery to mankind, the word “No” was the one word we were electrically conditioned to fear. An ape may say “No” to a human, but a human may never again say “No” to an ape.” –Virgil

“We…want…guns! Guns…are…power! Now we go and get guns!!” –Aldo

The evidence has been revealed that Aldo murdered Cornelius, Caesar’s son

Apes: (chanting) Ape has killed ape.

Apes repeat the chanting for Aldo violating ape law, then march towards him

Jake: What’s the matter with them?

MacDonald: I guess you could say they just joined the human race.

I’ll be focusing on the novel and original five films, which, though the sequels–as opposed to the superb reboot trilogy of the 2010s–are all flawed to varying degrees, they still have lots of powerful social and political commentary that’s more than worthy of examination. Indeed, while the reboot trilogy is better overall, the original five films have even more political and social commentary, and are therefore of more interest in this analysis.

I: Planet of the Apes, the novel vs. the 1968 film

Boulle’s novel opens with a framing device involving two “sailing cosmonauts” (as they’re called on page 5–note the Russian/Soviet term, as opposed to the Western ‘astronaut’), Jinn and Phyllis, travelling in a spaceship, space travel being a common way to vacation at such a time, centuries into the future. They discover a bottle floating in space, with a written message of help from Ulysse Mérou (his equivalent in the 1968 film being George Taylor, played by Charlton Heston). Jinn and Phyllis read the message, which begins the story proper: thus do we see the beginning of the 1968 movie’s parallels with Boulle’s novel.

Mérou agrees to join Professor Antelle and his disciple, Arthur Levain (the latter two men paralleling Landon and Dodge, respectively, in the 1968 film; there is no female astronaut in the novel to correspond to Stewart in the movie, though the novel includes a chimpanzee astronaut, Hector, for which a corresponding chimp, ‘Pericles’, can be seen in the Tim Burton remake) on a journey, starting in the year 2500, to Betelgeuse.

In the film, Taylor is the misanthrope (see above, the second quote cited from the 1968 film); in the novel, the professor has misanthropic tendencies, or at least an apathy towards humanity (page 13: “I [i.e., Mérou] even felt that the prospect of escaping from his [i.e., Antelle’s] contemporaries was an added attraction to the professor. He often admitted he was tired of his fellow men…”; page 15: “It is certain that the learned Antelle, without being a misanthrope, was not interested at all in human beings. He would often declare that he did not expect much from them any more,…”).

This misanthropy, in accordance with my allegory, represents left-leaning liberals‘ dislike of the excesses of capitalism, even though they aren’t all that committed to putting an end to the profit motive’s deleterious effects on the world.

In the novel, after time dilation pushes them centuries into the future, the three men discover a habitable planet, which they name Soror (Latin for ‘sister’), a ‘sister’ Earth, but certainly not Earth, as it is in the films. After reaching the planet’s orbit, they launch a shuttle to land on the surface.

The men find a waterfall and go skinny-dipping below it. Nova appears early in the novel: the golden, mute beauty is insouciantly naked (the primitive humans of the novel don’t wear the animal skins of the 1968 movie). She sees Hector the chimpanzee and, frightened of him, strangles him to death. She’s also hostile to the men’s clothes and other man-made things, as are all the other naked humans, who destroy these unnatural things on sight. We’ll learn the reason for all this hostility soon enough.

Clothed gorilla hunters attack all the humans, killing Arthur Levain as they do Dodge in the movie. The survivors are taken away as captured animals.

In the film, prior to the hunt, Taylor and his two colleagues look on all the mute humans, seeing Nova for the first time, and imagine running the whole planet in short order. If man represents the capitalist class, here we see the talking grande and haute bourgeoisie wishing to rule over the mute petite bourgeoisie, in contrast to the ‘level playing field’ that the right-libertarians delude themselves into thinking “free market capitalism” will provide, with minimal state interference.

Instead, the visitors of this “upside-down civilization” discover the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the ape civilization can be said to symbolize. The ape civilization of Soror in Boulle’s novel has modern technology, including airplanes and satellites (page 154: “They have electricity, industries, motor cars, and airplanes, but, as far as the conquest of space is concerned, they have reached only the stage of artificial satellites.”). Only in the cartoon adaptation of the mid-70s do we see such modernity among the apes; as for the films and the short-lived TV show, which largely lacked the budget to create a modernistic ape society, there were precious few examples of apes understanding high technology.

In the forgettable Tim Burton remake of 2001, General Thade (Tim Roth) seems to learn modern human technology well enough not only to fire a gun and repair a spaceship, but also to fly it through an electromagnetic storm and time warp to reach Earth sometime back in history, to change the world into a planet of the apes before Captain Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) returns in the baffling, but explicable ending.

In Escape From the Planet of the Apes, a genius ape scientist named Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo) implausibly figures out how to repair Taylor’s spaceship, just in time to fly himself, Zira (Kim Hunter), and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) to safety, to escape the nuclear destruction of the Earth, triggered by the same Taylor who’d condemned humanity for the previous nuclear war that’s understood, at the end of the 1968 film, to have caused the reverse evolution of apes and man. How convenient that Milo, Cornelius, and Zira could have escaped without knowing what was happening underground at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, in the struggle between the apes and the nuclear-armed telepathic humans!

Even with the improved budget of the reboots, we don’t see Caesar et al ever developing modern technology. Seen from the point of view of my allegory of class war as interpreted by revisionist liberals, we remember how critics of socialism always say “communism doesn’t work,” and propagandize about countries ‘destroyed’ by Marxist ‘totalitarianism’, symbolized in these films by the brutish treatment of the caged humans by the apes. What is often left unmentioned is the remarkable list of achievements by the Soviet Union, which went, in a few decades, from being a backward, agrarian society to a nuclear superpower: the first man (Yuri Gagarin)…and woman (Valentina Tereshkova) in space (and these Soviet glories were both achieved by 1963, the publication of not only Boulle’s novel, but also its translation by Xan Fielding), etc. In contrast, Americans may brag about Neil Armstrong.

Read Boulle’s novel…to the end…to see how far ape technology advances…

Zira, the first ape to take seriously the advanced intelligence of Taylor/Mérou, tries to get the conservative, narrow-minded orang-utans, led by Dr. Zaius, to open their minds to the idea of an intelligent, talking human. In Boulle’s novel, the orang-utans just smile in smugness at such a bizarre idea; in the 1968 film, Zaius is much more pointedly hostile (see his quotes above).

While the orang-utans, on the surface, seem to be a satire on the fanatical closed-mindedness of religious fundamentalists, though this be madness, yet there is method in’t. Zaius wisely recognizes the danger that intelligent humans pose, not only to ape hegemony, but to the whole world.

Similarly, those of us who are the more strident critics of Western, and especially U.S., imperialism see the danger of accepting conservative AND liberal attacks of ‘tankies’ too uncritically. For whatever faults can be seen in the rule of Stalin, Mao, Castro, Ceausescu, and the Kims (as well as the wildly exaggerated number of deaths attributed to communism), there is much more right-wing genocidal evil to be found in Churchill, Leopold II of Belgium, Hitler, and all the war-mongering presidents of U.S. history, especially those of the past 25 years.

The same comparison can be made favourably of ape civilization, ruled by the stodgy orang-utans, as against human society. Just hear Cornelius’ reading of the sixth verse of the 29th scroll, towards the end of the 1968 movie. Taylor, who had been going against his misanthropy in defending man against the orang-utans, suddenly reverts to his hatred of humanity on seeing the Statue of Liberty, knowing man really used nuclear weapons to wipe out human civilization.

The fear of nuclear war, when the 1968 film was made, was understood firmly in the context of the Cold War (i.e., the Cuban missile crisis); this is what makes it so easy to see Planet of the Apes as an allegory of communism versus capitalism. There were plenty of revisionists among the communists who endangered the Soviet system, however well-intentioned they may (or may not) have been. Zira and Cornelius, in their helping Taylor/Mérou, represent such ‘open-minded’ liberals.

Having Charlton Heston play Taylor was a perfect casting choice, not for his (over-wrought) acting, but for Heston the man. Consider the history of his political activism to see my point.

He started out a liberal supporter of the civil rights movement in the 60s, then drifted rightwards. He became a supporter of Reagan by the 80s, then became a mouthpiece for the NRA. The thing to understand about ‘left-leaning’ liberals is that, at their core, they conceal a pernicious centrism that easily shifts to the right the very second the left has ‘gone too far.’ Parallel this rightward move to Taylor’s condemning nuclear war in the 1968 film, then setting off the bomb at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

Consider how it was considered ‘progressive’ to vote for the psychopathic, war-mongering Hillary Clinton against Trump (Seriously? Anyone can be considered ‘progressive’ when compared to the orange ignoramus!). Liberals will grandstand and engage in virtue signalling about social justice, but they’ll never commit to it.

Similarly, Taylor/Mérou will scoff at Zaius’ closed-mindedness to any scientific discoveries deemed “scientific heresy” (Boulle, page 142), and Taylor will advise a young ape never to trust anyone over thirty; but kill Nova, as an ape does in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and Taylor will nuke the entire Earth.

(What the orang-utans call “scientific heresy,” by the way, sounds a lot like deviation from what the tankies call “The Immortal Science of Marxism-Leninism.” Though I respect the notion of scientific socialism, the above verbiage, both that of the orang-utans and the Marxist-Leninists, does sound suspiciously more like religion than science. The Soviet Union, in spite of its great scientific achievements, was censorious of any science deemed out of league with the philosophy of dialectical materialism.)

So, maybe Dr. Zaius was morally justified in his repression of humans, and in his support of an ape religion he knew was fraudulent. At the same time, for all the flaws of the Soviet system, consider how much more destructive unfettered capitalism is–to the working class, to the environment, and to the suffering Third World.

In Boulle’s novel, Professor Antelle reverts to animalistic mutism (pages 160-161); his apathy, or antipathy, to humanity seems to be put to good use, as if knowing the evil that human speech can lead to, a conclusion Brent comes to in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Also, nudity and the inability to speak symbolize powerlessness in the Apes universe. Antelle’s counterpart in the 1968 film, Landon, has received a lobotomy, depriving him of his ability to speak and taking away his identity, his very humanity…as we understand it.

Lobotomizing Landon represents Soviet censorship of any writing deemed counter-revolutionary. During the trial for “scientific heresy”, an orang-utan mentions how all apes are equal, an idea theoretically true in Boulle’s novel, too (page 150: “In principle they all have equal rights and are allowed to occupy any position.”); Taylor responds by saying, “Some apes, it seems, are more equal than others,” a reference to Animal Farm, a book banned by the Soviet Union.

There is some sense of class differences in ape society, with the orang-utans (in orange uniforms–these ape uniforms seem, if for no other reason than for their…uniformity, in a sense reminiscent of those worn by the vanguard) as defenders of the faith, chimpanzees (wearing green) as liberal intellectuals, and gorillas (in purple/black) as soldiers; and these three groups tend to look down on each other–this class structure is evident in Boulle’s novel and in the 1968 film. But these class differences aren’t gaping: as to what they represent in communism, they don’t lead to the kind of wealth inequality we see in today’s neoliberal world; similarly, the New Class that Milovan Djilas and George Orwell saw in the U.S.S.R. was never the huge class oppression it was assumed to be in the West.

The fear of ascendant capitalist hegemony justifiably feared by the Soviets, as symbolized by Zaius’ fear of intelligent, speaking men, seems to justify the suppression of literature critical of the U.S.S.R., or the brain surgery on talking humans; for consider the destruction unfettered capitalism has caused the world, or what man does to the earth with his modern brain intact, not lobotomized by apes.

In Boulle’s novel, there is no great fear of talking humans, apart from the orang-utans, at first; it’s only when Mérou and Nova have a baby, which shows clear signs of advanced intelligence, that almost all the apes of Soror are scared. (This ape vs. human fear is in reverse in Escape From the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, in which Zira and Cornelius have become parents to the evolved ape, Caesar, who threatens the survival of human civilization in the late 20th century.)

By allegorical analogy, repression of the market was far from absolute in socialist states. In Yugoslavia, Tito refused to do things as Stalin had wished, and Yugoslavia’s was a market socialism. China and Vietnam brought back the market in the 80s, and even Cuba has allowed a small amount of free enterprise on the island. They’ll only let capitalism go so far, though, as the apes would only allow Mérou so much freedom.

An impressive advance in ape technology, as seen in Boulle’s novel, is when Cornelius has Mérou see electrodes applied to humans’ brains, causing them to recite, from racial memory, the remote past of Soror. It is learned that, centuries ago, the human/ape relationship was the same as that of Earth. Apes on Soror were made to be human servants, who ultimately rebelled: this idea seems to have been the basis for what is seen in Escape From and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. In the context of my allegory, we see the bourgeois ruling class’s oppression of the proletariat, who then rise in revolution.

But since the story of the rise of the apes is given from a human perspective (pages 242-247), we learn little, if anything, of the cruelty man has inflicted on the apes (allegorically, this represents bourgeois liberals’ laconic discussion of such things as wage slavery or capitalist imperialism).

Finally, Zira and Cornelius help Mérou, Nova, and their child to reach his spaceship via an ape satellite (pages 259-263). They return to Earth, but to Mérou’s horror, he learns that apes there have supplanted human civilization, too, as echoed in Burton’s 2001 movie. The framing device at the end of Boulle’s novel reveals that Jinn and Phyllis are themselves chimpanzee cosmonauts! Allegorically, could this not represent the fear of a global communist victory? Back in 1963, such a Western fear was palpable.

A rise in ape intelligence (representing a proletariat with raised, class consciousness) coincides with a “cerebral laziness” (page 243) causing a drop in human intelligence (studies have shown that those with conservative views are less intelligent, on average, than those with liberal, left-leaning views; now, remember that these movies present the class war from a bourgeois liberal perspective, so while humans [capitalists] are portrayed as dumb brutes, the orang-utans [religious fundamentalists] and gorillas [hard-line communists] are also portrayed as stupid, compared to the intelligent, open-minded liberal chimpanzees).

With this foundation in mind, we can now examine the 1970s sequels.

II: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

When Brent arrives in the 3950s to look for Taylor, Nova leads him to the ape city, where the apes are discussing shocking discoveries in the Forbidden Zone, revealing the threat of humans, who might steal needed food from the apes. General Ursus (James Gregory–note the pun on Ursa for the link with communism) thus wants to lead his ape army to kill the humans.

While the bourgeois liberals who produced this ultimately inferior sequel would have us believe that Ursus, like narrow-minded Zaius, is an unthinking monster (the same goes for Aldo in Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), actually, his concerns over protecting his fellow apes from famine are legitimate, as are communist concerns over counter-revolution and imperialism.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc made the U.S./NATO into the one, unchallenged superpower, meaning the capitalists have been able to do anything they want with impunity. The Warsaw Pact disappeared, but the no-longer-needed NATO (from a containment perspective) expanded to include most of the former countries of the Warsaw Pact, save Russia, of course. NATO, an extension of U.S. imperialism, has had troops lined up along the Russian border, ready to fight a possible war that could go nuclear, as could the crisis with North Korea.

Speaking of fears of nuclear war, the humans that the apes are worried about have a doomsday bomb. Brent discovers the advanced humans underground, where he sees the ruins of his old world, and thus surmises that his world was destroyed by a nuclear war. What’s worse, the underground humans are telepaths who actually venerate their atomic bomb. Consider the allegorical implications of such insanity. (Similarly, consider those today who venerate their guns and bullets, too.)

The one thing that was preventing the use of nuclear weapons (after the U.S. used them on Japan, of course) during the Cold War was the notion of MAD. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, though, those in the U.S. military-industrial complex have begun to think that MAD can be avoided if the U.S.’s nukes can wipe out Russia’s nuclear system before any of their nukes can be launched against the West. Such a breaking of the taboo against nuclear war can be seen as symbolized by the telepaths’ insanity of worshipping the bomb.

Currently, the U.S. has created a new Cold War against Russia out of baseless accusations of tampering in the 2016 U.S. election. The banging of the American war drums has gone on against China and North Korea, too, with little anti-war resistance from ‘left-leaning’ liberals. Indeed, just as the fear of Mérou and Nova having a speaking baby poses a threat to the simians of Soror, so is the emergence of China and Russia as global powers a threat to the hegemony of the American empire.

The human telepaths don’t directly kill anyone: they make their enemies kill each other. They try to make Brent kill Nova, and later they try to make Brent and Taylor kill each other. Similarly, the U.S.’s favourite method of flexing her imperialist muscles these days is to fight proxy wars (an idea started by that liberal, Carter, and his commie-hating National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski); while domestically, the capitalist class makes the proletariat fight each other through such fifth columns as identity politics–this way, the 99% won’t rise together in solidarity and fight the 1%.

The telepaths’ use of mind control (i.e, hallucinatory visions, etc.) is like how the mainstream media manipulates us and manufactures consent for all these imperialist wars, vilifying the leaders of every regime the U.S./NATO wants to replace with one that will kowtow to imperialist interests.

When General Ursus and the ape army try to grab the telepaths’ nuclear bomb (whose Alpha/Omega labelling is an idea echoed in the Colonel’s human army in War for the Planet of the Apes), this is symbolic of the arms race, with the USSR imitating the U.S.’s amassing of nuclear bombs. The apes’ behaviour is certainly reckless and dangerous (in this bourgeois/liberal presentation of the ape/human conflict), as was the communists‘ contribution to the arms race perceived to be; but the Soviets’ action was essentially defensive, as is Kim Jong-un’s right now. The U.S.’s use of nukes has been essentially aggressive, as a scan of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will show; furthermore, the capitalist West has a double standard as to who is allowed to have nukes (the imperialist powers) and who isn’t (the weaker, exploitable ones that are ripe for invasion).

So, what the reactionary liberals who produced this film would call the madness of a ‘holy war’ led by power-hungry General Ursus, my interpretation would call the aggravation of class struggle under socialism, a necessary defence against an insidious creeping back of the cruelties of capitalism. For however brutish and cruel the apes may have been to the humans throughout the first and second movies, it is Mendez and, ultimately, Taylor who set off the bomb and destroy all life on the Earth; just as the continuation of unfettered capitalism is bringing about the ecological catastrophes that are accelerating an end to life as we know it.

Charlton Heston personally influenced the ending of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, insisting that he didn’t want to be involved in sequels. So Taylor died killing all the apes, all of life on Earth, and, Heston hoped, the Apes franchise. As I said before, Heston was perfectly cast as Taylor, for Heston was Taylor.

Boulle wrote a draft for a script, Planet of the Men, which was rejected in favour of Paul Dehn‘s Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Boulle’s sequel would have been about a counter-revolution of humans, led by Taylor, overthrowing ape civilization, the contemporary parallel of which would be the collapse of the Soviet states and the metastasizing of neoliberal capitalism. Instead, the class war would be allegorized according to Dehn’s vision for all four sequels.

Now, one thing to remember is that, while the apes may–to humans–look ugly, the good looks of the telepaths is only on the outside–when they reveal themselves to their god, the bomb, they are much worse-looking than the apes could ever be…and their actions in the movie show how ugly their thinking is, too.

III: Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)

Early in the movie, after Dr. Milo, whose advice has been to imitate primitive apes instead of talking and asserting their intellectual equality with 20th century humans, is killed by a gorilla in a cage (like a proletarian killing a liberal revisionist traitor) neighbouring the one Zira and Cornelius are in, the two remaining evolved chimps are freed and allowed to live in the human society of the early 1970s, in which they’ve arrived aboard Taylor’s repaired spaceship after escaping the nuked Earth of the 3950s and passing through a time warp.

The arrival of the three evolved chimpanzees in human society parallels the arrival on Soror of Mérou, Antelle, and Levain. Similarly, Zira’s and Cornelius’ brief freedom and celebrity–as talking ‘animals’ in the civilization of those that the two chimps have always regarded as animals–also parallels Mérou’s experience in Boulle’s novel (Part Three, from Chapter 27 onwards).

Zira and Cornelius briefly enjoy the material pleasures of [capitalist] human society, wearing high-fashion clothing, living in a luxury hotel, and Zira’s taking a bubble bath. However, when the chimps tell the humans of the future destruction of Earth following the supplanting of human civilization with that of apes, the human authorities, especially Dr. Otto Hasslein, get paranoid.

We can see an allegoric parallel in our world in how the writings of Marx, Lenin, et al are allowed to be published in the West, and unions and communist parties are tolerated (provided the numbers are small); but when these groups get too powerful, unions are busted, anarchist, communist, and other socialist pages on social media get brutally trolled, and in extreme cases, like during the Red Scare of the 50s, communists (and those merely accused of sympathizing with communism) are persecuted. Consider also what happened to communists in Indonesia in the mid-1960s, as well as the bombing of North Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

When Zira is discovered to be pregnant with Caesar (originally named Milo, after their dead friend), she and Cornelius are deemed a threat to human civilization (as Mérou and Nova are to simian society). Zira and Cornelius, seeming to regret their having helped men like Taylor, quickly realize how few good humans there are, as any revisionist or reactionary who sees the light will know of capitalists: indeed, I imagine how rueful Orwell and Djilas would be if they saw the depths to which neoliberal capitalism has brought the world since the collapse of the ‘oppressive’ Soviet system those two liberals propagandized against, a system many Russians and east Europeans look back on nostalgically. The reasons for such nostalgia should be easy to see, provided one isn’t blinded by Western propaganda: socialist states provide full employment, free education and health care–a very odd way for a government to oppress its people.

In contrast, consider the terrible wealth inequality in the U.S. and U.K., and how many Americans go hungry; also, think of how many Americans die from lack of adequate health care, and how many American millennials are deeply in debt for their university education. Is this ‘democracy’?

Back to the story. Hasslein chases and kills Zira; Cornelius is also shot by a sniper. Hasslein thinks he’s shot their baby, too, but it has been switched with a circus chimp. Caesar will now be raised by Armando (Ricardo Montalbán), a circus owner.

IV: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Armando and MacDonald (Hari Rhodes) are the only humans to show kindness to Caesar (Roddy McDowall) in the authoritarian police state of 1991; but even their sympathy to apes has limits, for Armando takes Caesar around on a leash instead of even trying to defy human authority, he shushes the chimp whenever he wants to talk (remember, inability to speak–as well as nakedness–symbolizes a lack of power in these films), and he advises Caesar to get naked and join the slave apes…for his safety (consider circus animal cruelty), if Armando won’t be able to protect him anymore; similarly, at the end of the ape uprising, MacDonald tries to dissuade Caesar from shedding human blood.

This limited sympathy is allegorical of how left-leaning liberals like Bernie Sanders would give poor Americans more free stuff, but not end the depredations of Western imperialism. Theirs is a ‘kinder, gentler’ capitalism.

The police state governed by Breck (Don Murray) is brutal in its enslavement of apes. This is the only Apes movie without a pre-title scene. When the film was screened to an audience prior to its release, viewers were appalled by the, in their opinion, excess blood and violence, so Conquest was censored; it is believed that a pre-title scene was filmed of a slave ape, covered in bruises and welts, trying to escape, and then either beaten to death or shot.

This censored footage, if it’s ever existed, has never been found: finding it would be like the Holy Grail to Apes fans, since the uncut, unrated version of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (available only on Blu-ray) was clearly better than the tamed, sanitized theatrical version; the original version’s dark ending, in which Governor Breck is beaten to death by gorillas while Caesar looks on and gloats, is pure, cold-blooded bad-assery.

A police state enslaving apes (a similar situation is seen in the ‘ape concentration camp’ in War For the Planet of the Apes, a movie in which there’s another connection with fascism: the ape ‘donkeys’ are clearly symbolic of class collaboration), in the context of my allegory, is easily explained: whenever there’s a danger of the working class [apes] rising against the capitalist class [humans], the latter uses some form of fascism to suppress the former. Britain’s MI5 used none other than Mussolini to keep Italians involved in the imperialist First World War; the German bourgeoisie, aided by American big business, used Hitler and the S.S. against the Jews and the German proletariat, and the first ones put in Nazi concentration camps were leftists (don’t believe that nonsense about Nazis being socialists!); Franco and the Falange party suppressed the leftists in Spain, with help from Fascist Italy and the Nazis; and a 1973 coup in Chile, aided by the CIA, replaced the democratically elected Salvador Allende with Pinochet’s brutal authoritarian regime.

Breck is afraid that Zira’s and Cornelius’ baby wasn’t killed after learning that Armando’s chimpanzee may have spoken, so Breck interrogates him. Don Murray practiced Breck’s lines, translated into German, so that, when he said them with crisp, articulate English, he’d sound more like a Nazi.

Note the contrast between the city life in Escape and Conquest as symbolic of the bourgeoisie, that is, the people of the borough, or self-governing, walled town, as opposed to the small ape village surrounded by fields, trees, and forests–suggestive of rural, peasant life–in the first two films and in Battle for the Planet of the Apes. For communists, the peasants have been essential to revolution. Hence, to go from the first two movies to the third and fourth is to leave the dictatorship of the proletariat to that of the bourgeoisie.

Apes are conditioned to obey and to fear the word “No!” through such tortures as having to dodge flamethrowers and receiving electric shocks. In this way, their slavery is not only an allegory of wage slavery, but also of the suffering of those in concentration camps, as when Amon Göth shot at Jews to stop them from resting on the job and frighten them to make them get back to work. Remember that fascism is capitalism in decay.

Caesar leading the apes in rebellion is, of course, echoed in the thrilling ape revolution in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a reboot essentially based on Conquest, but one concerned more with issues of cruelty to animals and science lapsing into recklessness than with an allegory of racism and classism.

Rise deftly combines two important quotes from the original series of films: Taylor’s “damn dirty ape” with “No!”, taken from Escape, Conquest, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. In the original series, “No!” was originally supposed to be spoken by Aldo, the leader of the ape revolution prophesied in the scrolls, centuries after the time of Conquest; but the repercussions of Zira’s and Cornelius’ time travel have (implausibly) sped up evolution, and Caesar’s love interest, Lisa, says no to him, to stop the gorillas from killing Breck in the theatrical release, a real revisionist let-down that brought a potentially great film down several notches.

[One odd thing to be noted during Caesar’s revolutionary speech at the end of Conquest: he refers to his fellow apes not as such, but as “my people.” He says this twice; in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, one’s fellow apes are also referred to as one’s “people.” This doesn’t seem to be an oversight on Paul Dehn’s part. Given how these apes walk more or less upright and erect, their anthropomorphic form, as opposed to the more realistic apes in the reboots, seems to be more than just a case of the limits of the technology of the time; these humanoid apes are most emphatically representative of the people.]

Played by Natalie Trundy–who also played Albina, the telepath in Beneath, and Dr. Stephanie Branton in Escape–Lisa shows a misguided, soft-hearted compassion for Breck (a dangerous authoritarian ape-hater who is as little deserving of compassion as anyone could be) at the end of the film, when he’s about to be killed by the gorillas. Lisa thus represents the stereotype of woman as the ‘civilizing influence’ on warlike males. Actually, this changed ending, with Caesar implausibly switching from bloodthirsty revengefulness to “dominat[ing] with compassion”, merely from hearing her say, “N-n-no,” is an example of liberal reactionaries preferring reforms over committing to revolution.

I know it’s not my place to prescribe what women should do, but if I may, I’ll state my preference that they stand at men’s sides in revolutions against every Breck in the world, not shying away from violence when it’s necessary to end oppression. In today’s neoliberal world, millions die of hunger/malnutrition in developing countries every year (especially children under five); imperialist wars multiply, so capitalists can profit from weapons sales, to the point of risking nuclear annihilation; and if we don’t wipe out all life on Earth that way, then climate change and global warming, always denied by capitalists, will likely do the job instead. I must quote Caesar in response to those who claim a socialist revolution will create a worse world than what we have now: “Do you think it could be worse?”

V: Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

The story should have ended with Conquest: that’s what Dehn had intended with the original, violent version of that movie. In fact, they’d intended to end it with a nuclear war, to link it more completely with the 1968 film, but budget constraints thwarted that plan. What’s worse, an ‘audience-friendly’ version of Conquest was wanted for a PG rating and, therefore, a selling of more tickets (once again, capitalism ruins art).

As a result, the fifth and weakest Apes film was made to milk as much money as possible out of the pockets of Apes fans, child and adult alike. So what we have in this film is pure reactionary liberalism, allegorically, an attempt to reconcile communism [ape society] with capitalism [humanity]–in other words, social democracy.

Caesar tries to rule as a gentle, benevolent dictator. Apes may say no to humans, but not vice versa–classic liberal political correctness and identity politics, instead of ending class contradictions. Aldo, who hates humans and despises Caesar’s softer rule, is more like a hard-line communist; and in this bourgeois liberal film, that means he can only be a villain. When Aldo speaks of wanting guns to gain power, he reminds us of what Mao Zedong once said: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

Since Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a similar premise to Battle, Aldo’s equivalent in the reboot trilogy is the vicious Koba, whose name, incidentally, is from an old nickname of Stalin’s. Here we see typical liberal propaganda: neither Aldo’s/Koba’s pro-ape, anti-human [left-wing] extremism, nor the [right-wing] human extremism of Kolp/the Colonel is acceptable; only Caesar’s ‘centrism’ is desirable. The problem is that this ‘centrism’ leads to neoliberalism, exemplified in Macron, Obama, and the Clintons.

There is always a drift to the right in politics, against which the dictatorship of the proletariat is a necessary bulwark. Nicolás Maduro‘s government has been under siege from a violent, U.S.-backed opposition reminiscent of that which toppled Allende [think of Kolp’s men attacking the ape village]; yet Maduro, like human-friendly Caesar in Battle (or the reboots, for that matter), is trying to preserve his democraticallyelected, social democratic government (which isn’t the ‘dictatorship’ the U.S. media slanders it as being) in a bourgeois-legal, democratic way, compromising with the demands of the capitalist class, which can only spell danger for all the Bolivarian revolution has tried to build for the Venezuelan poor.

Battle ends with humans demanding equal rights, and Caesar relents. But the only way to end the evil of capitalism, which is synonymous with inequality, is to crush the bourgeoisie and keep them down, as Lenin’s conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat was elaborated in The State and Revolution. First, you smash the bourgeois state [end human rule over apes, as Caesar did in the original version of Conquest]; then the workers’ state [ape city] represses the capitalists [humans are kept in cages, etc., as happened in the 1968 film] until all of capitalism is crushed [no more humans to threaten the apes], then we can have the withering away of the state [the apes finally have power, and freedom].

If the revolution isn’t carried out to its conclusion, we have, at best, the tense irresolution represented in the ending of Battle, with its statue of Caesar, a tear ludicrously running down its cheek. At worst, we have total destruction of all life on Earth. Surely, the apes–representative of the common people of the world–can do better than that.

Pierre Boulle (translation by Xan Fielding), Planet of the Apes, Ballantine Books, New York (Del Rey), 1963

Analysis of ‘Gaslight’

Gaslight is a 1944 thriller film starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Joseph Cotten, and co-starring Angela Lansbury and Dame May Whitty. It was directed by George Cukor, and based on the 1938 stage play Gas Light, written by Patrick Hamilton. Another movie version was done in 1940, adhering more closely to the original play; but when MGM did the 1944 remake so soon after this first film, they wanted to have all existing prints of it destroyed. Fortunately, the original film wasn’t ever destroyed, but this 1944 version still eclipsed it.

Bergman won her first Academy Award for Best Actress with this movie, while Boyer was nominated for Best Actor, and Angela Lansbury was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, and it won Best Art Direction. The film got a total of seven Oscar nominations.

It is from this film that the term ‘gaslighting‘ originated, for the villain, Gregory Anton (Boyer), uses this very tactic–tricking his wife, Paula (Bergman), into doubting her own perception, memory, and sanity by staging bizarre scenarios for her–in an elaborate scheme to drive her mad, have her committed to an insane asylum, then take possession of her old London house, originally owned by her aunt, Alice Alquist, whom he murdered years before.

Normally, emotional abuse is used on a victim for the purpose of having power and control over him or her; but Gregory, or Sergius Bauer, to use his real name, only wants to get rid of Paula so he can freely search about that old house, to find the coveted items he killed Alquist to steal–her jewels.

In one scene, he speaks of his great lust for precious jewels (about a half-hour into the movie). In another scene, we see him in the attic, searching furiously for those jewels, using a knife to hack through the cushion of the back of an old chair in a desperate hope to find them (about an hour and a half into the movie). This ruthless searching for treasure, violating other people’s property in the process, reminds us of the plunder of the Third World for resources, diamonds, etc., by Western imperialists. Remember that, just as an emotional abuser often controls his victim’s finances, imperialism deliberately stifles the economic growth of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Since Patrick Hamilton had communist sympathies, especially in the late 1930s, when he wrote Gas Light, I feel at least some justification in making a leftist allegory out of this movie.

Gregory, who–as I see it–represents bourgeois imperialism, tricks Paula, who represents both the proletariat and those ‘brutal dictators’ that imperialism wants to remove, into thinking she is a forgetful kleptomaniac. He does this by deliberately moving items when she isn’t looking, then claiming she took them and forgot she had. He reveals her ‘forgotten thefts’ with a cruel frown, causing her to be frightened and hysterical.

When he leaves her alone in the house, ostensibly to go out somewhere and work on composing classical music, but actually to sneak up into the attic from the back to search for the jewels, she notices the gaslight dimming in the rooms. This frightens her, for she has no idea who is causing it to dim. The servants honestly deny any knowledge of the gaslight dimming (just as the average worker doesn’t know of the ruling class’s tricks), and Gregory pretends not to know either; for it is he who is dimming it–hence the term ‘gaslighting’.

Always claiming Paula is ill, Gregory never lets her out of the house to be sociable, like a typical emotional abuser. (Symbolically, this isolation is also like how imperialism economically isolates such countries as Cuba by imposing embargoes on them, to bring an end to the regimes of those ‘brutal dictators’.) The servants believe she’s ill, too, and are cool towards her, upsetting her all the more. Of course, it is Gregory who has made the servants believe she’s ill, through triangulation; just as the corporate mainstream media tricks us into thinking ‘brutal dictators’ like Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, et al, are madmen who must be removed from power.

By the climax of the film, Paula has been manipulated so thoroughly that she plods about, eyes half shut, as if she’s half-asleep, just like the average Western citizen, brainwashed and distracted by media nonsense. She believes her mind is going, that all she sees and hears is just a dream, as her cruel husband has convinced her.

I have elsewhere gone into detail about the nature and effects of emotional abuse, as well as about narcissism; hence my political interpretation of this film, instead of just elaborating on psychological abuse again. I feel a political interpretation is useful and necessary, because I see political gaslighting going on everywhere, all the time.

The media tricks Americans, for example, into thinking that one political party is evil, while the other is good, or at least has the potential for good, once the ‘good’ political party has been cleansed of corruption; when in reality, both political parties are working for the plutocrats, as are the media.

We are tricked into forgetting the imperialist crimes of previous years and decades, and even made to think that the Western imperialists are among the victims, rather than the victimizers. Here we see the microcosm of the narcissist, seeing himself as the victim and projecting his guilt outward, expanded into the macrocosm of the imperialists, who blame Muslims for terrorism instead of taking responsibility for US or NATO bombings of, or proxy wars in, places like Libya, Syria, Kosovo, or Iraq. Like Gregory, capitalists are murderers.

Gregory accuses Paula of stealing and forgetting her thefts, when in fact he is the thief (and a murderer). Similarly, the capitalist class excoriates socialists and social democrats for ‘stealing’ the money of the wealthy (through progressive income taxes), when in fact it’s the capitalists who originally stole from the workers (by overworking and underpaying them). Furthermore, the Western media has propagandized against socialist states like the USSR, calling them ‘totalitarian dictatorships’, when currently America has by far the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, and polls have consistently shown that a majority of Russians prefer the USSR to their current state of affairs. All of this media deception can be called political gaslighting.

Gregory leaves Paula alone, and the gaslight dims, frightening her; then he denies this dimming. This is symbolic of capitalism’s alienating of workers, leaving them in a darkness of misery, then denying that the capitalist system is responsible for these problems. The servants go along with Gregory’s thinking, just as so many workers, police officers, and soldiers refuse to resist the system.

Scotland Yard Inspector Brian Cameron (Cotten), who revives the case of Paula’s murdered aunt, Alice Alquist, after the police have considered it unsolvable, admired Alquist’s singing; this admiration arouses his empathy for Paula, and he puts the pieces together and saves her. Now he is a policeman, and therefore an unlikely hero in any anti-capitalist allegory; but because he’s the only inspector among the British police still interested in this case, out of his empathy for Paula, his authority can be seen to represent one other than that of the establishment; in other words, instead of being seen as representing a policeman for the bourgeoisie, Cameron can be seen allegorically as a member of the militsiya. (Furthermore, in the 1940 film version, there’s a scene in which the inspector–originally named Rough–invites a group of poor street urchins into a pastry shop to buy them something to eat [about 21 minutes or so into the film], suggesting his sympathy for the poor. Recall in this context Hamilton’s communist sympathies around the time of the writing of his play.) His fighting with and subduing of Gregory can thus represent the vanguard of a revolution against the imperialist bourgeoisie.

I admit that my allegorizing here isn’t as smooth as that of my previous analyses, but I feel it’s necessary to make a link between gaslighting in relationships and that of politics; for I see the latter as an extension of the former, an extension that mustn’t be overlooked. Now, if my emphasis on contemporary imperialism seems odd when allegorizing a story written so many decades earlier, consider how much older capitalist imperialism really is: equally disturbing examples of it can be seen in Churchill’s disparaging of Muslims and the Indians he allowed to starve to death in the Bengal Famine; or in the late Victorian Holocausts of the late 19th century.

Emotional abuse in families, extending to other relationships, is a lot more common than most people realize. In the US, it has been found to be almost universal. America is a country where authoritarianism, disguising itself as ‘liberty‘ (check out the gaslighting there!), is also rampant; religious fundamentalism, an intrusive state, mass incarceration, police brutality, and neoliberal capitalism being the most notable manifestations. It isn’t a wide leap of logic to go from American dysfunctional families to this authoritarianism, then to imperialism: it’s all about power imbalances.

A useful link between family abuse and the authoritarian political establishment, given from the perspective of a prickly American cop, is in this disturbing video (a scene from the TV series Southland), in which a truant pre-teen boy with a ‘bleeding-heart liberal’ attitude is lectured that “discipline is not child abuse”–this after his mother has hit him with a belt two or three times for truancy. To some, this may seem like a mild punishment in itself, but many families have wildly different interpretations of what ‘mild punishment’ is, especially as regards hitting a boy with a belt. Consider the end of this scene in Goodfellas, again, ‘punishment’ for truancy.

The point is that there is always a ’cause’ for the abuser to fly off the handle and assault the victim either verbally, physically, or even sexually. This ’cause’ does not justify an abusive reaction, which is then minimized as “discipline” or ‘punishment’.

Similarly, and by extension, Western imperialists always have ’causes’ for their bombings of other countries, typically vilifying the leaders of those countries by calling them ‘brutal dictators’. To be sure, the dictators of the world have more than their share of flaws; but for the West to be judging them, given all the corruption that favours the rich and powerful in the West, is really the pot calling the kettle black. The corporate-owned media, ever in the service of imperialism, engages in gaslighting by giving us biased accounts of what is happening in, for example, Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and now Russia, so we will see the bombings as ‘humanitarian’, a truly obscene series of lies.

Once the bombing campaign is over and the victimized country is subjugated (if not more or less destroyed), the ‘brutal dictator’ is removed or killed, and the imperialists take over, just as Gregory tries to remove Paula, then take ownership of her home so he can finally search freely for the jewels, which could be seen to represent the oil and other resources of the conquered countries.

Remember how Iraq was regarded sympathetically by America during the Iran/Iraq War, then the US turned on Saddam Hussein in the 1990s? Or how Osama bin Laden and the mujahideen had the sympathy of the US when repelling the USSR from Afghanistan (we all know what happened after that)? Remember how the West briefly warmed up to Gaddafi during the 2000s…then in 2011…? Or how Syria was an intermittent ally until the 2010s? Gregory’s attitude to Paula can be seen to symbolize this kind of political relationship. At first, the victims have their uses; then they’re devalued and discarded.

In order to solve the problems of political oppression around the world, we must first solve the problems of our own social relations. This must begin with the family, the foundation of all social relations.

To optimize family relations, parents must be as sensitive as they can to the emotional development of their children, starting right from the first months of infancy. Attachment theory explains the different ways a child learns how to connect with primary caregivers, then with other people; this includes unhealthy forms of attachment. When these forms of attachment are unhealthy, the child grows up with these bad object relations, which become the blueprint for all future relationships.

This leaves such a person vulnerable to the schemes of psychopaths like Gregory. Paula’s childhood trauma, of having seen the dead body of her strangled aunt, would represent the kind of ruptured attachment, or bad object relation, that has led to her being susceptible to the charms of Gregory, who idealized her during their courtship, devalued her during their married life in London, and almost discarded her into a mental institution, but for the intervention of Inspector Cameron.

Just as we must be warned of the idealize/devalue/discard tactics of psychopaths, sociopaths, or narcissists, we must also do the necessary healing work if we’ve already been traumatized by them, be they our ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, ex-husbands, ex-wives, or bullying parents. The healing work includes learning about toxic people, engaging in self-care and self-compassion, meditation, cathartic writing about one’s own problems, and joining communities (including online ones) of other survivors, to give them support as well as receive it from them.

When the needed emotional health is either established, through good parenting (not ‘perfect’ parenting, but the good enough parenting that DW Winnicott advocated), maintained, by being wary of the fake idealizing of potential toxic boyfriends or girlfriends, or restored after surviving an ordeal of emotional abuse, then people can organize into communities, and develop the solidarity needed to combat the greatest emotional abusers of them all–the capitalist class and their stooge governments, their political flying monkeys.

As for the Cluster B individuals themselves, psychiatrists must work tirelessly to discover a cure for each of those pathologies, whether those pathologies be genetically basedphysiologically based, or caused by trauma.

We as a people need to learn what love really is: not just a pretty-sounding word, not empty sentimentality, but a genuine connection between people, a connection brought about not by stern moralizing or authoritarian forms of religion, but by empathy…the empathy Inspector Cameron felt for Paula, because of how she reminded him of her aunt.

Only through empathy can we hope to build a better world, one in which bosses don’t rule over workers by overworking and underpaying them, and by gaslighting them into thinking they are worthless if they can’t help bosses make a profit; a world where all racial, ethnic and religious groups are treated as equals, and gaslighting isn’t used to make people equate blacks with criminals or Muslims with terrorists; where the sexes are regarded as equals, and gaslighting isn’t used to make women feel worthless if they don’t provide pleasure, or to make men feel worthless if they don’t provide money; where LGBT people are given dignity, and gaslighting isn’t used to make them seem perverted.

To fix the world, we must start with the family, the foundation of society.