Paul & Andrew Talk Movies: Garden State, Children of Men

Over the past year or so I’ve been reviewing movies, which is fine, but it’s much more fun when there’s a dialog. To that end: I’ll be talking about movies with faithful reader/Hades, Paul. Let us know what you think.

Garden State

PAUL: I finally saw Garden State and Children of Men.

Garden State was amazing—there are so many things in there that were perfectly done. Love stories normally bother the hell out of me, but this was unique (and only partially a love story). This worked to convince me that Natalie Portman really is a good actor. V for Vendetta did a good job of this too, but this really proved it to me. It was also interesting to see Ian Holm in a non-hobbit and non-face-covered-with-Alien role. It had extra personal meaning because I have been on anti-depressants to the point where I couldn’t feel anything before.

ANDREW: I wouldn’t say Garden State was amazing, but I’m pretty sure every director has a movie like this in them (basically: “let me show you all the amazing people and places I know”), and it IS a really exceptional example of that. I’d also say that Zach Braff may be the first in a new wave of American auteurs. I’m anxious to see the next movie he directs (NO WAY was Garden State his last). I’m not all that crazy about Natalie Portman, but that WAS a good role for her. And Ian Holm is just downright my favorite actor, an opinion I’ve had ever since I saw him do King Lear for PBS.

There is a deleted scene on the Garden State DVD that is not to be missed, taking place in his parents’ bathroom, in which Large discusses with his father the possibility that his mother committed suicide. I completely understand and agree with the reasons why the scene isn’t in the final film and I would also have cut it, but the bitter irony is that, aided especially by Ian Holm’s acting, it’s the best scene of the movie. And it isn’t even in the movie!

PAUL: I have yet to check out the deleted scene on Garden State, but I also have yet to return it. I haven’t really seen Ian Holm in anything but the Lord of the Rings (he is EXACTLY the Bilbo I envisioned all my life) and the nameless victim in Aliens.

ANDREW’S SUMMARY: It took me a long time to decide to watch Garden State. I was afraid it would be whiny. It wasn’t. To be balanced, I think the movie is too slow and towards the beginning it exudes a sense of ennui so powerful that it could knock out even a highly motivated horse. But that doesn’t mean that it was a whiny “oh woe is me” ode to personal inadequacy. To top it off I was impressed by the acting, the production design and the script. This is a positive movie, but not syrupy. There aren’t enough movies like this in the world.

[rate 4]

PAUL’S SUMMARY: While “selected” by several festivals, Garden State has won few awards. It has, however, gotten a decent fan following and critical acclaim. I have heard it dismissed as pretentious, but I didn’t find that to be the case at all. I didn’t feel that it was out to make any big claim in life or cinema, or truly move us. Its biggest moral seemed to be “try and enjoy life.” In some senses it is a romance story, which I am almost never a fan of, but if this were to be classified as a romance it is a very unique one.

[rate 4.5]

Children of Men

PAUL: Children of Men was a little different; it was a good movie, but not a great movie. It did an excellent job of what I call “real violence,” the kind that is disturbingly accurate and should make an impact on even the most desensitized of viewers. However, it worked throughout the film to desensitize us to that. Death happened constantly and it dulled from powerful to “aw, hell, there goes another one.”

ANDREW: I think the desensitization to death is a pivotal element of the film, and is most likely something that would happen to you in that situation. This creates a sort of Balkan/Holocaust feel that is used to great effect to get rid of the midwife. Three’s a crowd, right? So we all knew she had to go, but the great thing is that you never really know what happens to her. You assume she’s dead, but you never know for sure. You just never see her again. I’d also like to point out that, while desensitizing death on a mass and impersonal scale (the bombings, mortar blasts, general mayhem, etc.), the movie does a great job of punctuating that desensitization with a few disturbingly prominent, sensitized instances of violence (the woman in the beginning holding her own severed arm, for instance, or the cop being bludgeoned by the car battery).

PAUL: The concepts were great and a lot of the cinematography was great as well, but I got a little nauseous from all the hand held shots. The acting was great, though some of the roles didn’t enable much variation. Definitely a movie worth seeing once, I would say.

ANDREW: I usually despise unnecessary handheld camera work (it’s one of the few things that put me off The Prestige), but this is one movie where it not only works, but is necessary. Not only does it lend a much-needed documentary feel to the film, but it’s good that it makes you nauseous. You’re SUPPOSED to be nauseous!

There are a few things about Children of Men that really won me over: First, there’s a little sound design trick that runs throughout the whole movie and just totally captivated me. Second, Theo’s moment of grief over losing his wife. Third, “Seriously, pull my finger.” The moment of silence on the battlefield while the baby is walked out gave me goose-bumps, and the movie ended at exactly the right time.

PAUL: I agree with how good the silent battlefield was, I got… I’m not sure goosebumps, but some very physical reaction to it. I don’t really know how to describe it. I loved Theo’s breakdown, it was brief, but it was the greatest range the role was given and it was executed very well.

Here is something to think about: Why all the 70s music? Not to mention other minor throw-backs to the era. My theory is that this was a criticism of modern revolution and the modern world. The 60s and 70s were based around a love and peace-themed revolution. In our present day and age, such a things seems all but impossible. When faced with fascism, peace doesn’t tend to be a good method of change. Instead, today’s revolutions are violent and all-too-often obsolete. As such, the revolution here is violent and seemingly unsuccessful. This world seems to be one where love and peace would be almost hopeless. I think the music chose is meant to draw attention to the differences in the idea of a revolution.

ANDREW: I didn’t see old music in general as a motif of the film (I thought there was a fairly good mix of retro, contemporary and speculative future music), but specifically the song Ruby Tuesday, which in this context seems to be a lament for life, humanity, even Earth itself:

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday
Who could hang a name on you?
When you change with every new day
Still I’m gonna miss you…

Also notice that most of the retro music occurs in reference to Theo’s father, which certainly makes sense, and in that context I think the lyrics of Ruby Tuesday could also be a lament, as you pointed out, over the loss of the peaceful revolutions of the 1960’s.

PAUL’S SUMMARY: I liked Children of Men decently. It was a good reworking of classic Messianic, and specifically Christian, myths. It is well pared with some of the other more modern visions of new world order, interestingly enough another one that places the U.K. on top. The real violence is the thing I feel they did best. I agree with Andrew’s point that desensitizing us to it may be the goal. The world is horribly desensitized, the best example being the sudden explosion of the cafe at the beginning.

[rate 4]

ANDREW’S SUMMARY: Children of Men is what it is what it is. Documentary? War drama? Messianic action flick of all-out armageddon destruction? The movie does a good job at being something unexpected, and that is the goal of all cinema. Performance, cinematography, effects, editing, above all, direction—all top notch. A filmic success if I’ve ever seen one.

[rate 5]

2 thoughts on “Paul & Andrew Talk Movies: Garden State, Children of Men

  1. Hmmm…. I guess I’ll give Garden State another go, because the first time I watched it I was unimpressed. The script was boring and the acting was bland. But since you two liked it so much maybe I’ll try it again and see what happens.
    As for Children of Men, I haven’t seen it, but I’d love to.

    Great reviews, and I like the conversation style!

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