Sunday, December 16, 2012

2012 in Film: Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

Okay, so it is maybe a bit unfair to lead off with this one. Particularly because I just had a review of it published over at Strange Horizons. But, it being my favorite movie that I saw this year, and since it seems to be in an accidental intimate dialogue with most of the things that fascinate me these days, I am going to suggest that those of you who are interested take the time to read that review, because what I am going to try to do here is draw out some of the stuff I found interesting about the film that I didn't talk about there.

So to begin, the stuff about video games. Specifically how games themselves are structured to absent the protagonist. There are obvious echoes here with my concept of Fantastical Materialism, and the way in which MiƩville treats his generic creations with a materialism generally absent even from things like "hard sci fi" and how it then results in an absence of interiority in his characters. An easy reading of this would then be to say that all video games are therefore Fantastical Materialist, and then (hopefully) to throw the idea out altogether, given how video games actually act (both formally and culturally; either way one doesn't tend to see much materialism (except maybe in the moralistic sense) therein). There are other consonances; video games tend to be difficult, if not impossible, to allegorize -- even games like Eternal Sonata, whose premise boils down to "yr anime chopin" (also it is a wonderful game) or Bioshock, with its preachy boring anti-Randian premise saturated through its whole structure, aren't in practice reducible to these meanings -- as well as tending to require, for reasons both formal and of perceived consumer prejudice, much more clearly defined internal worlds & therefore fidelity to what occurs within them. They also almost never indulge in the "it was all a dream!" frame, which, despite being almost exclusively thought of as a form of lazy writing, is basically a way of conflating content to form by breaking the frame. Because the dream-frame is predicated on the idea that the text is a product of a specific interiority, and video game protagonists must be stripped of their interiority, the frame doesn't fit; the few counterexamples I know of, where a game does do this, perform it for much more material purposes than it gets used for in film, as in the end of Super Mario Bros. 2, where the game itself was a reskinned version of a non-Mario game and as such had almost nothing to do with the previous game, even in terms of mechanics, and so the dream-frame presented in the credits offered more of an excuse/apology to the player, a "get out of canon free" card, than a way of pretending that Mario is well-developed enough as a character to have a subconscious. That Silent Hill provides one of the only other examples is also telling, given that it is one of the only video games that engages with interiority whatsoever.

Of course, what these consonances achieve in video games is basically the opposite of what they achieve in MiƩville's novels; instead of reconfiguring the ideological base of the form in which they act, they serve to lubricate the transferance that gamers like to call "immersion," which is itself the primary ideological vehicle of the form. The player doesn't need to have an objective interiority structured for him; this is the primary material difference between a player and a reader. The gamer is immersed exactly to the degree that her subjectivity can be made to fill the void that the character/protagonist creates; where the reader identifies, the gamer inhabits. Both are implicated in the production & reification of bourgeois subjectivity, because of the difference of form.

I should note here that I am using too broad a category for the thing I am describing. This obviously breaks down in a lot of places; for our purposes, though, I suppose I am using "video games" as shorthand for the "narrative component of character-driven video games."

All of this, of course, is an extrapolation on my claim that what Silent Hill: Revelation 3D does is to invert this relationship, in the same way that the Silent Hill games do. Which is to say that instead of operating in a form in which idealism & bourgeois subjectivity are predicated on the creation of a central character as void to be occupied, it operates in a form in which the central character produces these same ideological effects by presenting to us a subjectivity which is in the process of being constructed, and uses our and their visuality to short circuit the viewer into identification. By basically not having any characters, and by treating the plot as a paranoid conspiracy/mythological structure become material, it recreates the sensation of estrangement from form that makes the games as effective as they are.

Also, I don't really know where this fits but the video game-y stuff in the movie is so good, Heather checking her inventory in the motel room especially, oh my god that made me real happy.

Now that I have said something that makes this seem like a review or whatever, lets telescope back out and talk briefly about how this lack of characterization intersects with the fact that this is a movie in which the both the protagonist and antagonist are not only women, but the same woman; the villain is also a woman; the main infodump is given by a woman; and the men are either dudes in distress (Harry), totally ineffectual afterthoughts (Vincent), creepy stalkerish detectives (that dude who was a creepy stalkerish detective), or dumb fucking monsters (Leonard, Pyramid Head). Like how the romance arc ends with Vincent awkwardly kissing a really distracted and at best vaguely interested Heather, who isn't necessarily repulsed by him but is a bit busy living out her recurring nightmare, and even the way the scene is shot seems to be aware that this is more them enacting certain social assumptions than True Love.

The question, to which I have no answer, is how treating a film which is ostensibly in the horror genre and which is stacked with female characters as a shining example of an approach toward genre that moves away from the centrality of characters, might create apace for that wretched form of academic misogyny that hides behind interpretive frames to perpetuate male supremacy. Because Heather does spend an inordinate amount of time yelling "dad" into the haunted corridors of the town, and the climactic fight scene does involve a dude (albeit a monstrous one) stepping up to protect a woman from another woman (albeit a monstrous one) & ultimately decapitating her. So while there isn't so much of the shitty moralism of a slasher film, the problem is still very much there, and I worry that claiming the actors aren't characters as such could be used to justify them.

That the film simultaneously reifies & (possibly) subverts social roles, then, is an argument that is not so much in its favor -- even those moralizing slasher films often do the same thing, and whether we take this as a horror or weird film, the sexual politics of the genre provide a legacy which requires much more critical engagement.

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