“Act of Violence” — A Selfish Dignity

An Analysis of Fred Zinnemann’s film Act of Violence

The mood for the film is set when the opening scene consumes viewers in a dark, wet street with a harsh black and grey aura while Joe Parkson (actor Robert Ryan) eerily limps across, like some sort of non-human figure. The director, Fred Zinnemann, lets light emerge only a few times throughout the film, giving a sense that the world the characters were in was not the same world as we experience every day—it seemed, instead, like a war zone or prison camp amidst a smoky underworld.

Joe, seeking a sort of freedom through vengeance, is content to consistently point blame to others. He feels it is not his fault that he disregarded Frank Enley’s (played by Van Heflin) advice in the prison camp and tried escaping through the tunnel; it could not possibly be his fault that Frank got shot and died in the final scene—or so he claims. Similarly, Frank feels it is not his fault that Joe went into the tunnel. Both men seem to be trapped in their arrogant dignities, while Joe more directly evades any moral attempts. I believe that Frank at least withheld his “I didn’t do it” attitude in order to act with a more humane morality to go to the train station in order to warn Joe of the events that were going to unfold that would have led to Joe’s premature existential fate. However, Joe’s intentions of committing his act of vengeance by killing Frank would not have changed anything; as his girlfriend, Pat, said, “What are you going to prove through violence? It won’t bring back men that died.” This line highlighted the selfishness of Joe’s intentions: an egocentric elevation of his sense of dignity and self-worth as his end goal.

Oddly enough, the women in the film did not assume the typical ill-mannered femme fatale role that is seen in numerous other noir films. Zinnemann seemed to allow women in this filmto be somewhat a voice of morality, at least to an extent. The main women (Edith, Pat, and Ann) all tried to break the one-track motives of the men who strove for violence as a means (Joe and Johnny). Throughout the film, the women were shown in a physically brighter light for the most part; perhaps to assist in revealing the truths of the situations through their dialogue.

Another element that I believe Zinnemann used effectively in the film is the use of sound. Frank and Edith’s baby pierced the air with its eerie screeching cry every time Joe was around, creating a mood to fit the arrival of Joe shortly after. With a sound of almost mimicking proportions, the trains in the film sent a surreal punch to the ear drums. Along with unearthly lighting, skewed framing, and a significant succession of scenes, dialogue, and convincing acting, Zinnemann created a noir of a magnitude as intense as the philosophical themes it brings into question.

“Little Caesar” — Rico’s Delusional Superiority As Seen In Our Society

An Analysis of Mervyn LeRoy’s film Little Caesar

The film Little Caesar, directed by Mervyn LeRoy, presents an insightful look at issues of insecurity, irresponsibility, and immorality through Edward G. Robinson’s character Rico, a.k.a. “Little Caesar”. Rico’s motives of becoming a ‘famous’ gangster depicts aspects of some of our motives in society (void of gangster-involvement, in this case).

As Rico’s character develops from a lowly hoodlum to a big-shot gangster, we are able to see more clearly his degenerating individuality. He loses his sense of Self in his deadly lust for superiority. His motives are firmly embedded in rising to a level of fame through belittling others and mimicking those which he admires. Since his lack of social and conversational ease persists, he opts to rob others of their humanity (and some of their lives) as a means to achieve the selfish ends he desires atop the hierarchical ladder of the underworld. In this way, his gun serves as his source of rising success; it cowardly asserts his dominance.

Rico states that he never got the chance to “be somebody” when he was living in the hood as an unrecognized ‘nobody’. In his pursuit for recognition, he resists taking responsibility for who he is and where he came from—he does not want to come to terms with himself, so he chooses to ingenuinely establish himself by creating and adopting an identity that better suits his motives. He intentionally mirrors many aspects of Diamond Pete Montana’s and Big Boy’s lifestyles (both dominant forces in the underworld) in hopes of projecting a similar, superior reflection.

We can perhaps empathize with Rico on account of his general motivation to scamper out of the streets and make something of himself, but empathy is quickly stolen and replaced with pity, disgust, and aversion when we recognize his cowardly intent. Failing to take the time and make the efforts to genuinely establish himself within the context of society and even the underworld, his created ‘Self’ quickly falls through the weak, flimsy materials in which it was fabricated. Cowardly enough, Rico seems more satisfied with dying than confronting the reality of what he has become.

Without pointing fingers, it is evident that Rico-like characters can be found in our society (with the exclusion of guns and gangs, in this case). Even in the smallest of social situations, some people cower away from taking responsibility for themselves. They, essentially, make others into something in order to evade any attempts to courageously make themselves. This is precisely Jean-Paul Sartre’s claim regarding Anti-Semites’ motives to create their own identity as ‘superior’ by creating one they deem as “inferior”; namely, the Jews’. This is also apparent in the film The Battle of Algiers by simply replacing the colonizing French with a character such as Rico—an utter denial of the others’ humanity by imposing one’s motives on them is a result.

In our society, it is also evident that many people look to the “Big Boy” (the media, fashions, trends, societal ideals, etc.) as an easy way out of taking the responsibility to make themselves through themselves and not through “the gaze of the other”, as Sartre said. Ironically, as Rico marveled over Big Boy’s and Diamond Pete Montana’s lavish jewels and expensive material goods, he assumed an inferior position through trying to rise to superiority by creating his life as a reflection of their’s. However, his superficial efforts were rewarded by none other than a warped reflection similar to that of a carnival mirror’s.

Rico’s ounce of humanity fights the powerful current of immorality and comes up for air in his lack of ability to be able to shoot Joe. However, Rico’s love for Joe is, essentially, nothing more than a love for himself and the identity he strives to create. In the book Dreams and Dead Ends, Jack Shadoian says, “Rico’s self-assurance is dependent on Joe’s allegiance.” Moreover, his immorality contributes to the ever-increasing debt he soon pays for at the end of the film, proving the quote LeRoy included in the film to be true: “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (St. Matthew).

LeRoy’s use of minimal cast members keeps us attentively focused on the prominent characters presented. Similarly, the simple yet precise framing presents only what is relevant. Lack of diegetic sound, aside from conversation and the few instances of dance-related music, centers our attention to every moment and allows us to feel every moment as it naturally occurs in the characters’ actions and interactions. These elements (but obviously not limited to these) create a very distinct mood that echoes the serious and ponderous nature of the film.

 

“Harold & Maude” — An Affirmation of Natural Life

An Analysis of Hal Ashby’s film Harold & Maude

Though there are many things to draw upon in the film, to me I felt that both Harold and Maude were representations of different environments. Maude, in this case, symbolizes not only the natural environment but also true meaning; whereas Harold can be seen to symbolize a societal environment as well as the meaninglessness that arises from created tensions. Maude’s experience with oppression is, no doubt, drowning in meaning that is born from time spent in a concentration camp (Hal Ashby, the director, does an excellent job of only providing us with a glimpse of this as her tattoo, perhaps as a way to bring more awareness to the meaningful effect and not so much the oppressive cause). In this way, her connection with existence is powerful and her actions are willfully significant. Harold, on the other hand, a youth during the Vietnam War, shows no real significance or meaning for his obsession with death. We are given no insight into his past to suggest a purposeful reason for his attention-seeking place in society.

Hal Ashby creates Maude as a character who appreciates Nature’s gifts and embraces the impermanence of everything that makes up a life. Ashby animates her with a yellow umbrella after a funeral to subtly remind us of death as a part of life, and even makes several relations of her with breath: For example, her letting Harold breathe an oxygen tank filled with flavors of snowfall; showing him the yoga breath called “breath of fire”; letting him smoke from her hookah water pipe; and, most importantly, her concern, care, and love for plants—showing the importance of a coexistence not only with humans, but also with Nature; as plants and animals work together to provide breath and life for one another.

Maude also seems to be a rejection of any adopted moralities; we can assume as a result of her experiences in the Holocaust. Though Harold points out to her the ‘immorality’ of taking people’s cars and upsetting people, she continues to do so based on her own intent and not that which is imposed on her or implied from some alternative ‘morality’.

Slowly we see Harold accepting his existence, as a warm blood runs through his once pale face toward the end of the film. The ultimate affirmation for him is when he sends his hearse over a cliff onto the ocean’s shore. Perhaps synonymous with emptiness and meaninglessness, his hearse was once something that (literally and metaphorically) drove him through life, casting a grim murkiness onto his perceptions of existence. The hearse being sent onto the ocean’s shore can also be seen as a reuniting of life (the ocean which bores existence) and death (symbolized by the hearse).

His ability to affirm existence after Maude’s death is shown in the final scene when he strums his banjo—creating a ‘music’ for life—while walking amidst the lengths oforganic, natural phenomenon.

An Awakening

This is the monologue
This is the analogue
This is the dialogue
This is the metronome.

This is the moment
where moments meet moments,
and to survive
means also to die.

This is the story
where the Self
becomes the self
Upon realization of itself.

This is the wake-up
where you quake awake!
And what you create
is an opaque mistake!

This is the fall
where the usual
becomes mystical,
and the ‘truth,’ dismal.

This is the spin,
where confusion sets in
and nothing makes sense –
What’s a mountain?

This is the smack
where everything is out of whack,
and you feel so alone
you can’t feel your backbone.

This is the peel
where you peel yourself up,
swallow your hiccup,
and wake up your wake-up.

This is the choice
where you choose
what to lose,
and both abstain and gain.

This is the delivery
where you’re empty of story,
no longer fooled by glory,
but full in the allegory.

 

Open-Ended

Without lust, I find myself mostly without purpose–
lust for knowledge
lust for exploration
lust for touch
lust for food
lust for drink
though often, a lackluster view of life.

Why do I torture myself with these securities,
these insecurities?
Is it a lacking, a lusting, a limping?

Fervently I contemplate
the ways to negate,
though lust returns fertilely.

Like the mucro of a leaf,
I believe
I am the point, the shape, the telos
of all telos—the end of the end.

This lust for certainty
is a retention of my ability
to become free,
believing my mucro to be
autonomy.

Fallacy! I proclaim,
with my breath
lacking nothing but lust—

Finally,
a purpose, a trust,
where limping is not the necessity
for a deceptive lust;
where the mucro
is not within touch.

In Pursuit of ______.

Virginia Craft
2011 April

Why is it the most passionate-about-life people seem to be usually successful where less driven individuals rarely push the edge of life’s possibilities?

– John Jancik
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John, I love your question and I have thought about this very thing before. Keep in mind that I do not assert any things that I say to be universally true, just true from my own perspective. There is, of course, a lot to gain from thinking about other people’s perspectives though; even if you find yourself in disagreement, it is by that disagreement that you strengthen your own thoughts.

I will not attempt to apply reason to all particular people’s lives. However, I will focus on a few things that I believe to be relevant factors.

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I believe that your question comes down to this:  What drives people and what keeps people from pursuing their dreams fully?

I feel that it is more important to discuss some of the reasons for people not pursuing their dreams fully, because in focusing on these possible reasons, the former question of ‘What drives people?’ will be answered. To exaggerate, we can assume that the reasons for some people being so passionately driven to the point of actively pursuing their dreams is either from overcoming or never confronting the hardships of the people who rarely push the edge of life’s possibilities.

The factors I will discuss will be, in order: weakness of will, procrastination, fear, self-deception, and habits.

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WEAKNESS OF WILL

To start, weakness of will may explain why, I believe, people may linger too long on the edge of life’s possibilities without yet pursuing them.

If someone evaluates their situation and considers all things before reaching the conclusion “I will quit smoking”, it does not necessarily follow that their actions will correlate agreeably with their decision to not smoke.

The will is weakened, I believe, in moments where emotion, mood, interest, and desire are strengthened, usually for immediate satisfaction. The person who once thought that they would not smoke, may go against their better judgment and give into an inclination to smoke if, for example, they find that their current state is one of anxiety or irritability. Motivated by their discomfort of not being able to smoke when they want to, they all too easily revise their decision in order to accommodate their current situation in every way: It is 6:30 PM, they want to smoke, so they conclude, “I will not smoke anymore, except only one cigarette in the evenings.”

This gives them the ‘OK’ to smoke now without feeling bad about it; they are still willing to do something, but their will has been weakened by immediate desires. Later, after their discomfort has subsided—after they get to smoke—, they revise their will back to their initial decision: “All things considered, I will not smoke again.”

This, to me, is weakness of will, and it has, I am certain, happened to most of us in one way or another.

Acting in contrast to your better judgment definitely puts a damper on goal-oriented progression, especially when the process is put on repeat. Although I consider weakness of will to be a moral issue, I do not think that it necessarily makes someone a coward. I feel it is a circumstance of being a free person and having the ability to make decisions as such. However, it should not be accepted as mere normalcy and, therefore, ignored. Addressing acts of a weakened will are important for moving forward toward your goals.

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PROCRASTINATION

Next up, procrastination.

There are many different forms of procrastinating, but I will focus on procrastination associated with bigger, goal-oriented things; not on, for example, why one might procrastinate mowing the lawn.

Excuses for procrastination are certainly plentiful by the procrastinators themselves: “I don’t feel like doing it right now”, “I want to, but I have so many other things that need to get done”, “I work better at the last minute when I am under pressure”, “I’m trying to figure out if it’s really what I want to be doing”, “I don’t have the necessary tools or information to do it”, “I don’t know where to start”, to name a few.

These excuses (and any others) are merely surface statements for the underlying reasons for procrastination. Some of the underlying reasons for procrastinating are, I believe, as follow (but are not limited to):
Perfectionism;
Because you are not sure where to start; anxiety (may be another form of perfectionism);
Because your goals are set for others (whether you are conscious of it or not);
Because it is truly not what you want to be doing (again, whether you are conscious of it or not).

(It is important to note that, in my opinion, laziness is one of the fundamental reasons for procrastinating. Laziness to accomplish a task would only be present as a result of one of the above reasons for procrastinating.)

Perfectionism: Procrastination can be a form of perfectionism where the person will put something off until last minute, knowing that they will not have enough time to work to their fullest and best, thereby giving them an excuse for their imperfections. This is usually done in instances where a person may not feel prepared or particularly knowledgeable on a subject. Knowing that the end result may not meet their perfectionist standards—even if they start early—, they put the project off until the last minute. Then, when they do poorly or below their desired standards, they claim, “If I would have started earlier, then it would have been perfect. It is only imperfect because I started late.” This example can be carried over to bigger goals that someone may have, putting the goal off almost indefinitely for fear of unknown failure or imperfections.
(Note: If the person creates the failure or imperfections, then they have control; by contrast, if the person takes a chance by pursuing a goal, they do not necessarily have control over the failure or imperfections.)

Unsure where to start: For the person who procrastinates because they are not sure where to start, they may never accomplish any of their goals if they wait till they have things planned out perfectly. It’s important to just start. Start somewhere. Anywhere. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu says it simply and perfectly, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (The Way of Lao Tzu). However, this person may be stalled because of anxiety and uncertainty, finding themselves trapped also by routine or habit. (This will be discussed more later in this piece in the section on habits.)

Goals set for others / Not pursuing what you truly want: In the next form of procrastination, we see instances where someone finds that they “don’t feel like doing it right now”, is “trying to figure out if it’s really what I want to be doing”, etcetera. These excuses or reasons may be because your goals are set for others or the thing you are pursuing is not what you truly want.

The most important thing to do in this situation and any, I feel, is to abandon all expectation-oriented goals and take sufficient time to know yourself.

Without taking sufficient time to truly know yourself—who you are, what you want, your morals, beliefs, values, etcetera—, you may fall prey to acts of self-deception and procrastination. (Self-deception will be discussed in length later in this writing). Both are done to try to please false motives acquired from expectations from yourself and/or expectations from others.

An example where someone may be procrastinating pursuing something because their goals are set for other people and it is not something that they truly want to be doing is: If someone has been told by their family and friends for years, “Oh, you are so smart!”, then they may feel the need to go to college since they have, over time, internalized this thought that they are smart and should pursue a higher education. They may have even, again over time, subconsciously deceived their self into believing that school is, in fact, what they should do and want to do.

This form of self-deception and procrastination (procrastination, if the person is putting off going to school for related reasons) is a lose-lose situation: The person loses both ways—whether they go back to school or not—if they are setting goals or working toward goals that are set for other people’s expectations. In the end, they still do not get for what they truly dream.

However, if this same person were to analyze the reasons why he or she has been putting off going back to school, then they may find a truth in the very act of procrastinating; that is, their voice speaking to them saying, “The reason I have put off going back to school is because it’s not really what I want to be doing!

By the same token, someone whose family members never pursued a higher education and who was rarely, if ever, told that they were “Oh, so smart!” may lead their self to think that they could never go to college because they are not ‘smart enough’. Even though their hopes, dreams, and aspirations lie in becoming a nurse, for example, settling for what they have internalized from others’ words, or lack thereof—that is, settling for less—, they never actually conjure enough passion to confidently step toward their dreams, or they procrastinate ever actually trying.

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FEAR

Now that we have looked at weakness of will and procrastination as setbacks in life, let us look at fear.

Fear can cripple an otherwise headstrong person. For one, fearing failure may keep somebody from even attempting their dreams. If someone has worked hard to create their reputation as a strong, confident person, then pursuing a dream may make them vulnerable to failure or pain—a fear of weakening their character or freedom. Situations that challenge somebody’s personal autonomy are certainly fear-inducing. If one lost their ability to fully govern their self, then they might feel powerless or broken. For some, this may be reason enough to keep ‘putting off’ dreams until they feel prepared or ready.

However; the ambiguity and uncertainty that reveals itself from holes in the sidewalk along one’s journey cannot be thought of in advance. These holes may lead to falling and pain, something that can only be dodged by not even taking the walk to begin with.

For others, a “disorder of the will” may be the explanation. From the textbook, Abnormal Psychology, a disorder of the will is explicated as knowing what you should do, what you ought to do, and what you must do, but having no notion of what you want to do. Admittedly, I suffer this from time to time. Finding myself bored with nothing to do sometimes, I remember all of the goals I have set for myself, picture myself working toward these goals, then decide “I don’t feel like it right now”, thereby accomplishing nothing in that moment of time. Overcoming this, for me, is a matter of mood control and self control, I know, because other times I may go through this same process, but push myself through mentally—I know that if I just get started, then I can keep going—, thus working toward one or more of my goals.

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SELF-DECEPTION

Now, something that I believe falls under the categories of both driving people and keeping people from pursuing their dreams is self-deception.

Basically, self-deception works to lead oneself and others to believe something that the deceiver knows to be false, but is claiming and maintaining to be true. The reason for deceiving oneself, I think, comes from the belief that one does not have sufficient means to accomplish one’s goals, thereby feeling it is necessary to lie to oneself and others.

Example one: For example, Anna would love to travel the world, but she is truthfully too scared because she fears that she will not be able to survive outside of her familiar home (fear of failure), being too scared to leave comfort and delve into the unknown.

While working at her cubicle, her coworker Elliot asks her if she has ever wanted to travel the world. Anna—knowing her true fears of traveling, but too scared to reveal aloud to herself and to others what she believes is weakness—replies, “I would like to travel, but I am just too busy lately”, continuing her excuse, “Although, I just helped create the new marketing presentation that will be displayed in Russia next month!” Convincing herself and Elliot that traveling is something that is not high on her to do list and that she would absolutely do it if she ‘had time’ works as something believable by showing favor to her real life situation of not actually traveling. A difference lies in the reasons for not traveling: one of which is the truth but would reveal a weakness of Anna, and the other of which is deception to show that her reason for not traveling is her moral, confident decision.

Example two: On the other hand, self-deception can lead someone who is not quite prepared enough to accomplish their goals, to believe that they actually are. In other words, I am sure you have heard the phrase, “Fake it till you make it”.

For example, Elliot knows truthfully that he is not a particularly confident person and he fears traveling alone. He is no longer taking adequate steps to mentally overcome his lack of confidence and his fears; although, in the past he has tried to talk about his problems with psychologists, family, and friends, but in the end he thinks it will be too much work and take too much time.

Hungry for an immediate fix, he practices trying on a personality that is headstrong and fearless.

Eventually, he mostly convinces his self that he is ready to travel alone.

When talking to Anna at the office, Elliot says, “I love travel. This summer I am going to be leaving for Turkey. I will be going alone without any set plans.” Regurgitating this same thing to other people, Elliot finds that he is able to believe his displays of confidence and fearlessness. From here, he leaves for Turkey and successfully ‘makes it’ traveling alone, coming across small physical obstacles along the way, and every so often catching a glimpse of the person underneath the facade who is still self-conscious and still fearful; the person he did not pay attention to and no longer really knows: his true self.

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HABITS

Pondering still the reasons for people not pursuing their dreams fully, we find habits.

Breaking habits is perhaps one of the hardest things to do in life, but it is something that, I believe, can set people free from their mental trappings and allow them to work toward their dreams or goals.

Example: Continuing the example of traveling, in the adjacent cubicle Lucy overhears the conversation between Anna and Elliot. Lucy is an accountant, 45 years old, and has been working her job for 18 years.

Also a victim of self-deception, Lucy has convinced herself that she is too old to travel and has too many things to do. Not to mention, she has formed the habit of working her job, going to the grocery store every Sunday, attending book club sessions every Thursday, and mostly leaving her weekends to be ‘spontaneous’, sometimes meeting her friends for a drink or watching movies. She is fairly happy with this routine, but she knows that since she was in college she has wanted to travel the Mediterranean countries. Listening to Elliot talk about his upcoming trip to Turkey, she allows herself to dabble with the idea of actually taking the trip of her dreams.

Quietly, she searches the Internet for an airline ticket to Greece. Her blood rushing with excitement, the butterflies in her stomach push her further to calculate her expenses and see how she could reasonably manage to take the trip.

She figured that if she did not eat out very often, was frugal with her money at the grocery store, and if she drove less and took the bus more, then she would have enough money to comfortably take the trip in September, six months from now.

She let herself get carried off into her imaginations of relaxing on the sandy, white beaches of the Mediterranean Sea, eating delicious foods, drinking spirits, and maybe even meeting the ‘man of her dreams’. Then, as quickly as she fell into her daydream, she fell out. With thoughts of, “Who will cover my position while I am gone?”, “Who will take care of my house?, “Who will take care of my dog?“, etcetera, Lucy convinced herself that it is not reasonable to take the trip in September and that maybe she could shoot for next year when she has more time to work things out.

The problem came when she allowed herself to fall back into habit and let her enthusiasm that day fade with time and routine.

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In the end, it is necessary to not only take the time to know yourself, but to practice being yourself. Pain, suffering, and failure are all necessary parts of life. Avoidance of them may keep you from pursuing your dreams, and in the very act of avoiding them, you are avoiding life itself.

To me, it is a necessary and worthwhile pursuit to go through pain, risk, and anxiety to find what you really want to do, and then do it. No reservations, no apprehensions.

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There may be other reasons for why some people may not push the edge of life’s possibilities, and I am certainly open to hearing your thoughts if you have any on the topic.

— Virginia Craft

Categories

You sometimes like things that are obscene and sexual and megaphone their voice into your skull;
the cacophony covers and lets rest your thoughts.
You like this control sometimes.

You choose your shoes like you choose your purpose in life;
the distance touched by them is greater than or equal to your height.
Eventually they are equal though.

You feel motivated by creating a Dream House for your thoughts to try on clothes and feel pretty;
a few (sometimes all) of these thoughts drive away in a Dream Corvette
that combusts when it reaches speeds higher than 205 miles per hour.

Distractions

She waits through times
dusty with habits and expectations,
for a premeditated hope of flight.
An escape from time’s jagged tic-toc chain.

Body drifts across sand and becomes dunes;
Tongue fondles ambrosias and kisses;
Eyes create photographs kinetic;
Lungs pulse in glass air;
Ears flutter with waves, wind, wild.

Heavy minds sit comfortably on the senses
but unceasingly thoughts prick often;
for immediate pleasures
are only pincushions for a pricky psyche.

Searching, scraping, scouring through dictionaries of words
for the perfect combination to medicate
the attack of mind on mind.

But can peace be heard from any string of words,
or should she strive to keep senses alive
for fear of an early demise?