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Thread: I Heart Huckabees

  1. #1
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    I Heart Huckabees

    I went to see this film for the second time today, the day after Bush was elected to a second term. The film seemed to resonate more deeply with me today, particularly its sense of disbelief at the goings on in this country.

    I'm not going to go through an elaborate plot description here. If you've seen it, you'll know what I'm talking about, if you haven't then it won't make sense anyway. It's a story about "existential detectives" and the world that several of their clients live in. It's an agressively weird and "quirky" film, sometimes offputtingly so. Still, I found many of the scenes and dialogue to be very clever and relevent to current events. Mark Wahlberg is perfect as the firefighter whose life has become unhinged after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01. He's simply incredulous (as am I) that the world can go on as before with no real discussion about the effect of oil on geopolitical events, terrorism, or the environment. The sharpest scene in the movie is when he and Jason Schwartzman's character are engaged in a dinner discussion with a family of white Christian conservatives who have adopted an 18-year old orphan from Sudan. As the two kids at the table are caught up in the video games and pop culture that make up their insular world, Schwartzman and Wahlberg take on the father in some pretty heady debate. The scene sparkles in its alacrity and humor, and it's the high point in the film. Many other scenes are disappointingly flatter, but overall the movie succeeds in portraying the "island of existentialist angst" that can be found sporadically in our modern day, consumer driven society. As Dargas states in a positive Times review, "Knowledge may be power, but as the history of the post-1968 left in this country suggests, it can also be an excuse for factionalism, impotence, despair."

    So here we are, set for four more years of Bush. During the last four years, they've dished out lies, deceit, and double talk, and the result has been a ballooning deficit, looming Social Security and health care crises, environmental damage, and a chaotic situation in Iraq. And yet Bush wins on "moral issues", whatever that means. And 11 states have passed referndums clarifying the definition of marriage. We've had a chance to make real inroads in providing more security and stablization for the world, and we're now moving in the wrong direction. It's surreal.

  2. #2
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    In grim times it's one of the best features of Huckabees that it's so lighthearted and quirky despite dealing with such profundities as oil and the environment and one's soul, although I think you got it exactly right when you wrote
    The scene [with the Christian conservatives] sparkles in its alacrity and humor, and it's the high point in the film. Many other scenes are disappointingly flatter, but overall the movie succeeds in portraying the "island of existentialist angst" that can be found sporadically in our modern day, consumer driven society.
    Many other scenes indeed do seem disappointingly flatter and there is what feels like a pointless busy-ness about them. Maybe the trouble is that the existential angst can only be found sporadically. Mark Wahlberg's firefighter is the only character with soul and passion and it should not have been that way; he's not meant to be the central character. I think this is in contrast with the progressively increasing brilliance of Russell's three earlier films, Spanking the Monkey, Flirting with Disaster, and the climactically pointed and satirical and enormously entertaining Gulf War pinioning, Three Kings. There too in the latter he's juggling a lot of balls in the air but it's serious as well as madly crazy stuff (this is the just descendant of Heller's Catch-22), the insanity of war, of imperialism, of the military, and it's a historical moment most of us have lived through (unless any contributors are under twelve) so Three Kings has more punch. But Huckabees deserves credit for being wildly peculiar and still having found an audience. Besides, Russell is a great rarity because he's a major director who went to my little liberal arts college.

  3. #3
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    Yes, I like your allusion to "Catch-22" (the book, not the movie) and its effect on "Three Kings", Russell's earlier work. The style of "Huckabee's" borders on the absurd, ala Heller's masterpiece, much more so than "Three Kings", which is more straightforward in its storyline and narrative structure. But, of course, "Three Kings" and "Catch-22" are both stories about the absurdity of war and the military, so they're similar in that regard. It's a trinity of absurdity, if you will.

    Evidently during the filming of "Huckabee's", Russell would say and do things, such as taking off all his clothes during a shoot, to keep his actors on edge. It worked. None of the characters, other than Wahlberg as you point out, are particularly believable or "real" in a traditional sense (i.e. full of soul and passion). I think he meant the film to be absurd, a post-modern take, if you will, on today's society. Viewed in that context, I think he succeeded. The insanity of the film reflects a perceived inability to affect any sort of meaningful change in our society today. The last four years and the Bush re-election attest to that. Maybe the characters don't resonate on a personal level in a traditional sense, as I already stated, but then again neither do the characters in "Catch-22", and that book is still brilliant and hilarious.

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