No Such Thing

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 04/02/02 10:08:53

"Being a monster can excuse a lot of anti-social behaviour"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Hal Hartley takes his prediliction for the microscopic examination of the vaguries of humanity into the arena of the fable in an introspective and philosophical Beauty and the Beast tale. Beast is a foul mouthed drunk monster who has been terrorizing a small village in the hinterlands of iceland out of sheer boredom. Beauty is the young journalist on her first assignment: to investigate the murder of a film crew sent by the ratings hungry network headed by a demanding, hardened yet soft centered news exec played by Helen Mirren.

Two women in their late seventies at the screening chatted amongst themselves about how Mirren was in the film and “she must be a big star now or something”. Which was a classic example of the old Hollywood elite examining their asshole and failing to see that there is a world of culture outside of their market analyses. She’s also been nominated for an Academy Award … twice. But you know, she’s British, and unless you are cute and kitchy, you aren’t getting the usually steadfastly patriotic vote because the acceptance speech of an accomplished, talented, hard working actress who can think rings around the people who get you up on that podium isn’t going to be good for a few condescending head pats and belly chuckles for the wine soused audience waiting to leave for the real party.

Viva La Revolucion!

These are the kind of women you know at one time worshipped Joan Crawford. Yeah. Studio System Chicks. Bless Their Hearts.

Hartley likes to draw complex characters that splinter around ideological dichotomies and the emotional geography of paradox and contradiction. And even as he is telling you one thing, he weaves in strands of other stories to add texture to the main plot. A Hartley film is like an echo in the Alps. From one primary sound returns a response from several locations so that you are suddently surrounded by a conversation.

Hartley’s portrayal of the news media is critical and as usual, on the individual human level, sympathetic. We are feeling creatures trapped in larger unsympathetic systems. Information sells, and the kind of news that captures attention is the stuff that good theatre is made of. Drama, intensity, incredulity. While thousands of other stories that demand attention, may take longer to tell in forms that aren’t readily grasped, fall by the wayside for the select few who value other paradigm expanding modes of telling story.

No Such Thing, like all Hartley’s films, are easy mental exercise as you ride the crests of all the themes until the denoument, which is usually the tragic, shocking, bleak and hopeless final solution, Yet because there is even a solution at all, there is an ironic optimism implied.

If suicide is the only way out, well, at least there’s a way “out” of the ideological prisons of planet Earth.

The Monster is a literal monster and it takes some time to get used to seeing what should be a character from a magical fantasy film (no, I don’t mean Xanadu, more like Krull) set against the otherwise mundane, modern world.

The Monster is looking for his own salvation which may come in the form of a Mad Scientist who has invented a machine based on his theories of matter that are more metaphysical than physical. His radical cosmology ends him up in the employ of what else, US Weapons manufacture. Because any potentially liberating and life ameloriating technology should of course be used as a weapon of politics. Something that powerful should absolutely be studied for its destructive capabilities.

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