January 26, 2015

Queer Review: The Imitation Game (2014)

The Imitation Game
Director: Morten Tyldum
Writers: Graham Moore. Based on the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, James Northcote, Alex Lawther, Jack Bannon

Thankfully The Imitation Game does not fall prey to the tendency of filmmakers to de-emphasize a heroic LGBTQ historical figures sexual identity. What we do get is a powerful, well made film about one of the more ironic chapters of human history. Alan Turing's work was influential in the fields of Mathematics, Philosophy, and Cryptology and he is considered the Father of Computer Science. His work on codebreaking is credited by historians has potentially having shortened the World War II, thereby saving countless lives. However, his ultimate fate might not have been very different had the Axis powers won that great conflict.

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), one of the most talented mathematicians of his time, applies to Bletchley Park (the British center tasked with decoding German communications during World War II. He is accepted and immediately makes enemies with his immediate supervisor and coworkers due to his abrasive personality and his idea that a new kind of machine is necessary to break the German encoding device known as Enigma. As Turing puts it, it will "take a machine to break a machine". Further complications occur when Turing attempts to hire a talented female mathematician, Joan Clark (Kiera Knightly), to help with the decoding efforts, only to have her face severe sexism that hinders the contributions she can make. Eventually, Turing is successful in building the first decoding Machine (which he dubs Christopher after a childhood love) and ultimately aiding the Allies in their eventual victory over Germany.

This does not prevent Turings' inevitable fate when he confesses to having sexual relations with another man and is forced to participate in hormone therapy or go to jail.

The Queering
When I was growing up, my mom refused to allow us a TV and thus the two of us would frequently listen to audiobooks as a form of communal entertainment instead. While I have not (as of this writing) seen the 2001 film Enigma (an alternative version of the Bletchley Park story where Alan Turing was written out and replaced with an entirely heterosexual character), I do clearly recall listening to the audio book with my mother. I do remember that the tale that was told was one of a sweeping romance where the hero and his lover must face impossible odds while working against impossible odds to break the German codes.

Such is the history that a homophobic society would have us believe, one in which queer people simply do not exist but as victims or villians. This is how our history is stolen from us, not merely by presenting only the stories of us as monsters or victims, but by presenting the lives of our heroes as if they themselves were straight.

There is a vocal group of critics who will leap upon any historical inaccuracy in a film which deviates from history in even the smallest of details. Similarly, justification for homophobic language is simply given as "well, that's just the way people talk". However, when films present a LGBTQ character as heterosexual and/or cisgender, then the result is typically nothing more than a deafening silence.

In The Imitation Game there are a few deviations from history, mostly around simplifying the work being done at Bletchley Park and with how the decoding of the Enigma machine was actually used by the Allies. But these generally do not detract from the narrative, other than in one particularly contrived case where one of the codebreakers, after the decoding is first accomplished, reveals that one of his relatives is on part of a group about to be attacked, and the team must make the contrived decision to allow German attack to be carried out, rather than risk revealing to the Germans that Enigma has been broken. It's a small misstep, but it happens at a time when the film should be soaring.

Other deviations include making Turing to be more anti-social than he probably was. While the real Turing was indeed eccentric, he is written as if Graham Moore believes Turing to be a high-functioning autistic (allow me to insert the obligatory "not that there is anything wrong with that" disclaimer here) and his caustic relationship with his co-workers. The only problem with this is that it causes Turing to come across at times as a pan-romantic asexual. The only thing that prevents such an interpretation, is Turing repeatedly identifying as "homosexual" and his eventual prosecution for sexual deviance. As it is, Turing is never shown engaging in a same sex relationship or any kind of romance as an adult.

In any case, what is demonstrated very well by the film is the way in which Turing's work as codebreaker, philosopher, and mathematician was influenced by his sexuality. The most obvious as presented in the film, was the how the death of Christopher Morcom, drove Turing to consider how machines themselves might be able to think and to store consciousness. Turing believed that it might be possible someday for them to store human consciousness. He also developed what is known as the Turing Test (also known as the imitation test or game), which is an artificial test to determine if a machine is "thinking". Another thing that is done well by the film is the presentation of Turing's philosophical work into the question of Artificial Intelligence. The framing sequence, where Turing is being interrogated by a detective, has the two debating the question at length.

What is equally interesting, is the double meaning that can be read into the title. Does the imitation game refer to the Turing Test or to the imitation that LGBTQ people are constantly forced into, when we must imitate the lives of cisgender, heterosexuals? Either could apply to the life of Turing, who became engaged to Joan Clarke while they were working together at Bletchley Park. Fortunately, the filmmakers go out of their way to make it clear, that while Clarke and Turing were very close friends, their relationship was not in anyway romantic but based upon both of them facing different, but parallel forms of discrimination. While I don't wish to take anything away from Turing, it is worth noting that despite modern stereotypes, computer programming was once primarily seen as being a woman's work, due to it's secretarial nature and the fact that it could be done at home.

However, the greatest irony of Turings' life is not one that is often addressed. The NAZI's themselves were of course notoriously homophobic and imprisoned many gay men in concentration camps, where numerous expirements were performed on them in order to determine a cure for homosexuality. Such experiments included castration. As it were, Alan Turings' eventual prosecution at the hands of the British might have been only slightly better than his fate would have been at the hands of the NAZI's. Thus, while Turing's work was instrumental to an Allied Victory during World War II, he was not able to fully enjoy the results of his work.

Further irony comes in the fact that Turings' case was not unique, in the years leading up to 9/11 and aftewards during the US led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, numerous translators specializing in Arabic and Farsi were let go from the US Military for violating DADT. Some have speculated that had they had not been fired, the US would have had a chance to prevent 9/11.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives an impressive performance as Alan Turring, and able support is provided by his costars Kiera Knightley and Mathew Goode. The scene where Turing committed suicide was filmed, but not included in the theatrical version. Turings' final fate thus is revealed by title cards. This is the correct choice in my opinion. While it is important to note the consequences that Turing faced for being gay, too many of stories told about us go out of their way to needlessly demonstrate how miserable being queer can be. As it is, the film ends on a bittersweet note, with scenes of Turing and his coworkers celebrating the end of World War II. This perhaps is the best thing that we should remember Turing, how his accomplishments changed our world for the better. How he died is important, but only because those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, as historian George Santayana (who was either gay or bi) would have put it.

Highly recommended. This is no imitation of a great movie, it has the heart of the real thing.

The Rating
Four Stars out of Four.


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

December 2, 2014

The 90's called. They want their film franchises back.

Alright, with the release of the trailers for Jurassic World and Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens I am getting a very 90's vibe right now. Dunno why exactly, but for whatever reason, the new Star Wars trailer strongly reminds me of the days of trying to download The Phantom Menace Quicktime trailer on a 56k phone line. Now those were the days.

The new Star Wars trailer has of course already garnered a ton of analysis and speculation, but I figure that's no reason I can't do my own.

Opening: Ominious voiceover prattling on about feeling the force getting awakened from its' beauty sleep.

A man jumps up looking scared and wearing a stormtrooper outfit with no helmet.

Let's get the obvious question out of the way: Isn't this guy a little short to be a stormtrooper?

Next shot: Cute robot.

Next Shot - A bunch of stormtroopers lined up in a flying contraption thingie. One of them really is shorter than the others.

Insert J.J. Abrams signature wobbly cam here.

A young women starts her pod racer and flies away.


A guy, who apparently got lost on his way to audition as an extra for AFI's DecemberUnderground music video, is wandering around and... WHOAH COOL LIGHTSABER!


Final Note: Not unexpectedly, the new lightsaber design has caused a bit of speculation. Some say it looks silly (which does become question begging, did such people realize this was a Star Wars movie they were talking about?) and others have speculated that the extra appendages serve a function, maybe. Personally, I think that they look like vents for excess energy, given that what comes out looks less like mini lightsaber blades and more like actual flames.

As for Jurrasic World, I kind of lost interest in the film series after The Lost World so I can't exactly say I'm enthusiastic about this. Also is it just me, or does it look like Chris Pratt is playing Sam Worthington here?

November 19, 2014

Philosophical Issue: The Economics of Sin

My last semester at Wilkes University, I took Economics of Crime, which ended up being a personal favorite of mine out of the classes were required for the criminology degree (which by the way I am still working towards). Given that for the senior thesis I wrote while getting my degree in Philosophy, I argued that the ability of mathematics to describe all possible worlds makes it an ideal language, it seems only natural that I would turn towards theories that allow criminal behavior to be modeled in mathematical terms.

Another requirement for the criminology degree at Wilkes University was the completion of a capstone project. Long story short, the work I did on my (currently unfinished) capstone project involved analyzing rhetoric around violent crime and thus involved looking at rhetoric put out by anti-drug organizations. While my purpose was to analyze how anti-drug orgs presented topics around violent crime, there was another issue that stuck out to me the more time I spent analyzing anti-drug rhetoric. Namely, that our society (in general) appears to treat the use of illicit drugs such as a sin in of itself.

The reason though that I'm pointing this out is because sin, in religious terms, is something people are generally willing to pay any price to eliminate completely. If one is religious and believes in eternal damnation for not doing enough to eliminate sin from this earth, this perhaps is not an entirely irrational goal. However, this means that that religion promotes what is called in economic terms a perfectly inelastic demand schedule for the elimination of sin. In everyday terms, a perfectly (or nearly) inelastic demand schedule means that one is willing to pay any price for a good or service. In this case, the good or service desired is a zero sin world. And in order to achieve a zero sin world, all sins, including the "sin" of drug use.

But ultimately, it appears that in our modern society that the concept of sin plays out with regards to a variety of public policy issues. Examples that in my experience where the intertwining of sin and public policy occur the most include, the war on drugs, sex work, and queer identity. In each of these people who oppose sex work, drugs, and the LGBTQ related activities, work assiduously to completely eradicate any occurrences of each "sin".

This is in contrast to the thinking I was exposed to in my economics class, which focused on the concept of externalities (costs or benefits not borne by the buyers and sellers of goods) when it comes to public policy decisions regarding what we call "victimless crimes". Victimless crimes, in an economic sense is a label that can be applied to crimes that have willing buyers and sellers of a product or service, but are made illegal for other reasons. Examples of a positive externality would be the pleasure people derive from a flower garden planted by a neighbor. They did not labor in the planting, nor purchase the seeds and supplies, but nonetheless are still able to benefit from it. A classic example of a negative externality would be pollution.

In a rational sense, legislating against "victimless crimes" could be justified if the costs of preventing said activity are less than the negative external costs eliminated through criminalization.

With regards to drug use, negative externalities range from the costs created by the violent and destructive behavior drug use may cause, car accidents from those driving under the influence. If the drug user in question ends up using public assistance in order to receive healthcare treatment for issues related to their drug use, than negative health affects related to drug are also an example of a negative externality. However, when the drug user pays for the complete cost of their own health care, then negative health effects related to their drug use are not negative externalities. However, in a society with universal healthcare or where a large degree of public assistance is available to people, then any medical costs that are borne by society are negative externalities of drug use.

Sex work comes with the risk of transmission of STDs between the client and the sex worker. If these STDs are then passed onto sexual partners not engaging in sex work or the client and sex worker receive public assistance to get healthcare for treating these STDs, than those costs become negative externalities. In cases where STDs are not transmitted past the client and sex worker and neither of them receive outside assistance for treating such STDs, then the costs related to the transmission of STDs between client and sex worker are not negative externalities.

Same sex sexual acts and gender non-conforming behavior in of themselves do not generally come with any obvious negative externalities. Furthermore, it is hard to consider any negative externalities that come from queer relationships that would not also exist within straight relationships. As for gender non-conforming behavior, the only clear cut negative externality would be if the individual in question receives public assistance or charity to receive gender affirmation surgery or hormone treatments.

There is however one negative externality associated with all of these activities that is not clear cut, but is worth pointing out. Namely, that of the negative psychological consequences created in people by exposure to the above the sins. That is the psychological revulsion that people experience when confronted by any of these sins in real life. That is the revulsion a person experiences when seeing a sex worker in the street, seeing people selling drugs in public, or a same sex couple holding hands, etc. would then be a negative externality of any of those activities.

On the other hand, it's also worth considering that in the case of homophobia and transphobia, two forms of bigotry which are clearly exacerbated by certain religious teachings, can in turn be considered negative external costs of any religious activity that promotes transphobia or homophobia.

Of course, all of this is important due to the fact that the shaping of public policy should be based on minimizing negative externalities and maximizing positive ones. One way to account for negative externalities is to levy taxes on products that have them. The idea behind the tax being to make the buyer and seller of a product or service pay the full costs generated by the product or service in question.

However, in contrast, the view that all of the above activities are "sins" and thus must be eradicated according to the religious perspective. That is, the religious view does not wish to minimize or eliminate the costs of any of these activities but create a mindset where we are willing to create another set of costs in order to eliminate such acts. That is, rather than manage negative externalities, our society adds further costs to those already present by devoting resources to arrest drug dealers, sex workers, and (in times and places where such things were illegal) same sex activity, cross dressing, and other gender bending behavior.

It's worth also considering the demand schedules for any of these activities mentioned. Namely that all of the "sins" in question have inelastic, or nearly inelastic demand schedule themselves.

For example, due to the powerful nature of drug addiction, addicts are typically willing to accept all manor of costs in order to continue using, such as the negative health effects of drug use, arrest, and even death itself. While asexuality is a real thing, it appears that for most of us, our sex drive is second only to our hunger drive (and I've come across individuals where the exact opposite could be true) and thus the worlds oldest profession appears posed to keep that title for a long, long time. Furthermore, the psychological costs of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals who live in the closet are significant and well known. People who are transgender, transsexual, or gender non-conforming also report significant psychological costs when it comes to living as the gender that was assigned to them by society.

What I am getting at, is that the consequence of viewing any of these activities as "sins" is that we wind up in a situation where one side is willing to pay any price to eradicate them, and where the other is willing to pay nearly any price in order to continue doing them.

While religious folks arguably have every right to spend their own time and money in order to prevent what they view as sinful activities (so long as they do not directly tread on the rights of other people), when it comes to public policy, how we distribute public resources should be in everyone's best interest. Thus it becomes problematic when we create public policies where our primary goal is "eliminate all sin". When we do, we set ourselves up for situations where an unstoppable force is only going to meet up with an immovable object.

November 9, 2014

Queer Review: Elephant (2003)

Director: Gus Van Sant
Writer: Gus Van Sant
Cast: Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson, Elias McConnell, Jordan Taylor, Matt Malloy, Carrie Finklea, Nicole George, Brittany Mountain, Alicia Miles, Ellis Williams

Tackling a controversial subject matter is never an easy task for a filmmaker, but Gus van Sant manages to create a exploitative motion picture about the Columbine murders that provides a clinical analysis of how such an event could come to pass.

Through long takes, the story of several high-schoolers is told as they go about an ordinary day. One has to take the wheel from his drunk father as he is being driven to school. Another takes pictures of a couple in a park. One young women refuses to change for gym class and is reprimanded for it. Meanwhile two friends draw up plans to murder as many of their classmates as possible before engaging in mass carnage.

The Queering
As someone who has spent many hours pouring over data regarding violent crime as part of an academic research project, it's difficult for me to separate my own work and views on the subject with the story told by Gus Van Sant. So forgive me if I end up talking too much about my own research here a bit.

Our cultural rhetoric on violence consistently posits violent acts as an externalized phenomenon. That is, as something that comes to us from outside our families and our communities. This in spite of the reality that most violence occurs either between family members, intimate parters, or between people who are otherwise known to each other. Our focus on sensational events such as school shootings is one method by which we externalize violence as something that comes from the outside, particularly in the way that it allows us to blame everything from violent video games to absentee parents. Furthermore, such events can be depicted as dramatic inter-group conflicts, such as jocks vs. nerds or the outcasts vs. the preppies. What such framing ignores is that most violence really should be thought of as a phenomenon that occurs within groups, and not solely as the result of conflict between groups.

While Gus Van Sant arguably comes close to perpetrating externalization by making school shootings the subject of a movie, he manages to avoid it many ways within the film. The most common explanations are indeed thrown out there. The shooters are shown playing a violent video game that involves shooting people in a desert like setting, watching Nazi propaganda, being bullied, etc. But none of these explanations feels adequate or complete when we watch shots of the teenagers walk nonchalantly down school hallways shooting their classmates as they go, almost as if Gus Van Sant is mocking the superficiality of anyone who would propose any of the aforementioned hypothesises.

There is one extremely problematic element I have to comment on, namely a shower scene where the two shooters shower together and even share a kiss. While one could argue that this is merely another explanation that Gus Van Sant is trying to mock, it doesn't really help that it means that we have yet another film on our hands where queer identity is overwritten onto historical individuals who committed horrible misdeeds.

Once again I have to say it: The best way to come out in history is to have committed terrible crimes against humanity; the best way to remain closeted was to have been good.

Ultimately though, Elephant is atypical in terms of it's structure. The plot is both elliptical and recursive, with long camera shots following characters as the walk through hallways, only to show us a scene we saw before but now from a different angle. Most of this is Cinéma vérité or slice of life type material. It is not until the end that those members of the audience who might have been unaware of the subject matter, will find that this story is spiraling towards tragedy.

The title of Elephant has two possible interpretations, one is of a parable about a group of blind folks trying to understand an elephant by touching different body parts and limiting their analysis to only those parts that they can feel. Each individual comes to a different conclusion based on which part of the elephant they are touching and none realize that they are touching a large animal. The other interpretation has the title referring to "the elephant in the room" or the obvious subject that no one wants to talk about. Both perspectives can provide viewers with insight into what Van Sant is trying to say.

Many other reviewers have claimed that Gus Van Sant offers no explanations for why incidents like Columbine happen. As someone who has spent a lot of time studying violent crime statistics (much of it involving what can be considered original research) I do not think that violent crime, even incidents as disturbing and shocking as Columbine are incomprehensible. As a film reviewer I do not think that Gus Van Sant himself intended for his film to be given such a nihilistic interpretation. Instead he offers up what should be obvious, that to commit such a horrifically violent act requires a person to experience extraordinary alienation.

Many might assume that people commit horrible crimes against humanity fail to see other people as fully human. That may be so, but many of the cases of violent crimes I found myself studying involved the perpetrators themselves being highly self destructive. The Columbine shooters after all were not arrested or shot by police but instead died at their own hand. Since this is a pattern that repeats itself over and over again, the better question I think is this; do the most violent people amongst us see themselves as human? Maybe this is just me reading my own ideas onto the film, but given how Van Sant approaches his subjects, I cannot help but think that this may have been the connection he wanted viewers to make.

For those interested in a film on such a sensitive subject matter, this is one Elephant in the room that is worth discussing in order to understand entirely.

The Rating
3 stars out of 4


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

October 20, 2014

Queer Review: Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Writers: Brian Clemens. Allegedly based on the novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Luis Stevenson.
Cast: Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick, Gerald Sim, Lewis Fiander, Susan Brodrick, Dorothy Alison, Ivor Dean, Philip Madoc, Paul Whitsun-Jones, Tony Calvin

A gory retelling of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, the Hammer Horror film Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde inserts numerous transphobic elements into the classic tale and also uses the trope of female transgender villains as thieves of womanhood. The story also blends bits of history, such as references to the Jack the Ripper murders in addition to including the characters Burke and Hare.

Dr. Jekyll (Ralph Bates) has reached a point in his research where he believes that he can find a cure for most of the common disease and ailments that plague mankind. The catch is that he also realizes that it will take him many decades to complete this research. To solve this problem, he begins harvesting female hormones from deceased female corpses and begins utilizing two thugs by the names of Burke and Hare (Ivor Dean and Tony Calvin) do so. Instead of extending Dr. Jekylls' life, the hormones end up turning him into a woman (which leads to the requisite Hammer Horror nudity). He winds up explaining away his new identity as Ms. Hyde, Dr. Jekylls' sister, to his inquisitive neighbors. Ms. Hyde however, winds up completely dominating Dr. Jekyll and soon takes up stalking and murdering female prostitutes in the same manner as Jack the Ripper, just in order to maintain a fresh supply of female hormones.

The Queering
No one would mistake Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde for a historical bio pic revealing the "true" story behind the infamous Jack the Ripper murder cases. However, in that it clearly draws inspiration from historical events, can be seen writing queer identity onto a historical villain where no hard evidence of one previously existed. As I have previously noted, the only time history is guaranteed to remember someone as being a member of the LGBTQ community is when they kill someone. If you are queer and do something heroic, good luck with history remembering your true identity. However, being heinously evil is a great method for coming out of the closet, even for those who are 100% straight.

This is of course on top of all the more overtly transphobic elements. In this case, the filmmakers appear to be promoting the idea that transgender or transsexual woman can only become "true" woman by stealing something from other woman. In this case, female hormones. TERFs (trans exclusive radical feminists) will love it.

It is possible of course, to get lost in a debate as to whether or not the character of Dr. Jekyll is supposed to represent an actual transgender or transsexual individual. After all, he (the character) continues to maintain his masculine identity after starting the female hormones, rather than being written as an individual whose gender identity does not align with the one they were assigned to at birth. That is, the story is not about a "true" transgender or transsexual individual. However, I think this would ignore the obvious intent of stories involving gender non-conforming characters. That is, not only are they intended to associate gender non-conforming behavior with general evilness, but they also get to promote the idea that there is no "true" transgender or transsexual identity (along with other misguided mistruths about transgender and transsexual identity). To put it another way, the filmmakers get two shots off at transgender and transsexual identities for the price of one.

In a more philosophical vain, I found myself wondering about about the ethics of what Dr. Jekyll was attempting to do with his research. He believes he can find cures for most of the most common diseases and thus end a great deal of suffering for humanity. While this itself is a little arrogant, his solution for expanding his lifespan to complete his research is a little out there. Most researchers in the real world would do as much as they could in their natural life, then hope succeeding generations of scientists and doctors would be able to complete it. This being a Hammer Horror film, Dr. Jekyll naturally chooses the most horrific (not to mention unethical) option available to him. Although I suppose pointing out the absurdity of his motivations in this case makes about as much sense as using female hormones to extend ones lifespan because women live longer than men.

It would probably have been a lot more fun to have been operated on by Jack Ripper than to see the transphobic mess that is Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde.

The Rating
2 stars out of 4.


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

October 10, 2014

Queer Review: Nymphomaniac Vol. II (2013)

Nymphomaniac Vol. II
Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Shia LaBeouf, Jamie Bell, Christian Slater, Willem Dafoe, Mia Goth, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Udo Kier, Michael Pas

Nymphomaniac Vol. II continues the story told in Nymphomaniac Vol. I as the two movies were originally conceived as one single story before being split into two films). Nymphomaniac Vol. II takes Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg/Stacy Martin) in a darker and grittier direction, as she goes to increasingly extreme lengths to satisfy her sexual desires.

In the plus column, Nymphomaniac Vol. II has the first openly identified asexual character to appear in a major motion picture. In the negative column, the ending is one of the most problematic I have had the displeasure to witness, both from a dramatic *and* social justice perspective. Not only does it do a grave disservice to the characters, it's very nature reinforces accusations of misogyny against director Lars Von Trier.

After being found injured in the street in Vol. I, Joe continues to tell her story about her life as a nymphomaniac to Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård). In her quest for sexual release, Joe seeks out K (Jamie Bell), an unusual BDSM practitioner, but this leads to her neglecting her child and the end of her relationship with Jerôme (Shial LaBeouf). After K, Joe winds up working for L (Willem Dafoe) as a shady "debt collector". After Joe becomes a successful "debt collector", L suggests that Joe take on a protege P (Mia Goth). Joe is reluctant due to P's young age, but ends up cozying up to her anyways. The two end up forming a lesbian relationship, yet things quickly fall apart when Jerôme comes back into the picture.

The Queering
Never before have I found myself disliking a movie based solely on a single moment tacked onto the very end of the story. Not only does this moment dramatically undermine everything that comes before, it is both pretentious and serves absolutely no purpose other than to stroke Lars von Triers' ego. Everything that can be wrong with a piece of filmmaking is embodied in the last few moments before the end credits roll.

Before the ending Nymphomaniac Vol. II is on the same level as Vol. I. There are a few new wrinkles, such as Joe having to deal with being unable to seek sexual release and later engaging in a sexual relationship with a woman half her age. But for the most part, as with Vol. I there is a great deal to appreciate.

From a queer perspective, Vol. II expands upon elements that were only hinted at in Vol. 1. Seligman comes out here as asexual, making him the first character in a major motion picture to do so. Previously, asexuality has been limited to subtext, and for whatever reason, strongly associated with characters who engaged in cannibalism. (Examples: The Silence of the Lambs and Eating Raoul). Thus, I almost want to call him the first non-cannibal asexual character as well, but for the fact that potentially, there are other subtextual asexual characters out there I am unaware of.

One thing that occurred to me, is that both Seligman and and Joe go against gender stereotypes. Joe seeks out sexual pleasure, no matter the cost, in spite of society constantly telling woman that they should play hard to get. Seligman is asexual and seeks pleasure in the study of music and mathematics, in spite of society constantly telling men that they should do everything possible to spread their wild oats. While this perhaps makes sense, I cannot help but wonder what this might mean for the possibility of female asexual characters. Would most people even think a thing like that strange or would such a character ultimately appear perfectly normal to audiences? This is another reason I am little nervous about declaring Seligman the first openly identified non-cannibal asexual on film, it is quite possible there is a female character out there who fits the bill, but due to our society viewing woman as sexually passive, the characters' identity could easily slip by unnoticed, even by me.

In Lars von Triers' defense, both Joe and Seligman are complex individuals who both happen to exhibit elements of queer identity. There is also plenty of dialog (mostly from Seligman) defending human sexual desires and practices. While this at times borders on an author tract, it is still welcome to hear. Admittedly there are problematic places that Lars von Trier goes with this. For example, in the first film when Seligman defended Joe sexually assaulting a man on a train, and here Joe defends pedophiles who do not act on their desires. While I understand the sentiment, I don't see what is so great about a pedophile merely failing to harm a child. Shouldn't adulation be reserved for those who do genuine good, not merely fail to do bad?

One could potentially find things to criticize in the horrible way Joe's lesbian relationship ends in disaster, but that would ignore the fact that every relationship Joe develops ends badly. There is much more to criticize in the way Lars von Trier chooses to end the story and the way in undermines Seligmans' earlier claims of being asexual. While I try to keep in mind that films themselves are not obligated to adhere to social justice principles, there is much to mourn in what might have been. As it is, while it is nice to have an openly identified asexual character in a major motion picture, I cannot make the argument that this actually represents a step forward for asexual identity on the silver screen.

Pretty much only for completists who viewed Nymphomaniac Vol. I and want to see how the story ends. Just be warned about the pointless awfulness of the ending.

The Rating
1 star out of 4.


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

September 29, 2014

Queer Issue: Moral Dilemma: Would You Work For a Homophobic or Transphobic Employer?

Recently, my partner and myself moved from Pennsylvania to Minnesota, due to a job my partner was offered teaching Corrections for Minnesota State University. My partner is from the mid-west, so the cultural shock is not quiet so great for him, but I personally don't think that I will ever get used to hearing "soda" referred to as "pop". Also, I'm used to there always being hills or tall buildings around, so the wide open sky is a little off-putting for me. As it is, one reason for the lack of posts recently, is that I have been getting used to the area and am still trying to figure my way around a new location.

Otherwise, I'm doing fine and am finishing up my B.A. degree in Criminology for Wilkes University. I ended up having to take incompletes in two classes in the spring semester, so I'm finishing up my work for those while I search for a job here in Minnesota. I also am in the application process for a job at a local newspaper writing as a freelancer.

However, I am still looking elsewhere for work and recently came across an add for a staff position at a homeless shelter. At first glance the position looked good. The hours for the shifts they were hiring for were a little inconvenient, the pay was not great, but I figured it would be a good chance to obtain valuable experience working for a cause I believe is important. Plus I already have a lot of work and volunteer experience that would make me appear to be an ideal candidate for the position. Everything seemed set. Then I looked up the address in the ad.

As it turns out, the organization in question is one that has a history of discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community. The name of the organization isn't relevant, but for the record, this organization has both turned away homeless LGBTQ people seeking their services and there is at least one documented case of an employee being fired after coming out as LGBTQ that I am aware of. Also, at one point there was a link on their website to a virulently homophobic organization.

It is perhaps also worth pointing out that the link was taken down when it was pointed out to the organization and I could (if I wanted to name the organization in question) point to several news articles talking about the organization claiming they would mend their ways. However, a brief search turned up no news articles about the organization actually creating concrete policies to eliminate discrimination against the LGBTQ community, so it seems unlikely that such change has occurred.

Which brings me to my dilemma, it is possible that the local chapter does not discriminate against LGBTQ people and if the local head honcho was open minded, I might be able to get hired. But if I was hired by this organization, what would the implications be?

There are more than a few ways of looking at this issue. For example, the field of law enforcement and the criminal justice system have a reputation for being particularly homophobic and transphobic (in addition to engaging in other forms of prejudice) and thus one might reasonably question why an LGBTQ person would seek employment as a police officer or other wise within the criminal justice system. But the reputation of law enforcement officers in this case might be misleading that homophobia and transphobia (in addition to other forms of prejudice) are prevalent (or at least present) in just about every other career field imaginable, from science and medicine, to higher education, to politics and government.

One of the key features of systemic forms of discrimination and prejudice is that they are, well... systemic, and in general, it would be virtually impossible to find a career in which they would not be present.

But can a career choice be compared to working for a specific employer? This is the question that gives me pause. There are further complications here as well, namely that as far as I can tell, this organization runs the only homeless shelter for a long way around and thus an argument could be made that it would be better to have me working for this organization than not, as hypothetically, I could potentially work from within to make the local chapter more queer friendly so to speak. This latter choice is definitely a gamble though.

But at the end of the day, I simply do not like being put in this position in the first place. I want to work and put the skills that I have gathered during my life to good use. The choice of having to let them go to waste (if I am unable to find steady work elsewhere) or putting them to a use in a situation that might potentially increase homophobia and transphobia in our society is not a choice I look forward to making.