October 02, 2005

What were my first impressions upon seeing Joss Whedon's Serenity? Primarily, that at this point in time we measure Whedon against some high standards indeed: and he met them.


LIGHT SPOILERS FOLLOW. Then again, if Firefly was near and dear to your heart such that spoilers would be painful, surely you would already have seen the film by now?


Mythic, certainly. What else was the quest of Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of Serenity but a descent into the underworld to retrieve the sun (= truth) from its demonic guardians; and then a second rescue of the sun from the Powers That Be, who had buried it in the underworld in the first place so as to keep it from being shared with humanity, and who indeed had themselves created through their actions those same demonic guardians? What else had been the quest of Simon Tam before that, in recovering his sister from the depths of a government laboratory? (The retrieval theft of fire/sun/truth/the fertility maiden/hope does not require that its guardians know, understand or can make use of that which they guard.) Myth is more than a game of "plug in the archetype". Jung is only one theoretician in a field far wider in its possibilities and its near-instinctual understanding, far more open than we have been willing for some time to embrace. We like concrete yes/no pigeonholes: but Shepherd Book doesn't have to tell us one damn thing.

An answer to several of the premises of Star Wars, quite possibly. Seeing it with fellow Star Wars fans, my very first reaction was to blurt out that Malcolm Reynolds was a Jedi, as the Jedi maybe should have been. The near-mantra of "a leaf on the wind" is a direct quote in parallel context from the Barbara Hambly (Star Wars expanded universe) novel Children of the Jedi, almost universally hated by every Star Wars fan out there except me: partly due to her writing style, partly due to her inability to successfully blend all three separate subplots, partly due to her habit of focusing on the Jedi as characters rather than action figures -- and thus evolving a novel where, by Star Wars standards, almost nothing happens.

It is also noteworthy that it takes the entire story arc of the New Jedi Order war to arrive at the same place where Malcolm stands already: wrath can be legitimate, even for a (presumably light side) Jedi.
"Does anyone else want to hit our honored Jedi Master in the nose?" - Kyp Durron
The question, for Malcolm as for the Jedi, is only one of application and to some extent intent: is anger by way of defense of or otherwise helping others, or is it destructive only? The entire angst of the the expanded treatment of the Jedi lies in the contradiction between denial of friends, denial of raw emotion, loyalty and anger alike, against the simple demands of a sociable human being. In the films, Anakin is brought down by a continual wedge of love into the heart of this contradiction: while Luke may be restored by love for his father and his friends.

(A part of earlier discussion seems to have temporarily gelled that the awareness of "failure" during the cave vision of The Empire Strikes Back was not itself a failure, but a necessary part of Luke's evolution into a Jedi, allowing him to see in his father a reflection of himself ... whether or not Yoda sees it so at the time, but possibly allowing him to release Luke when it was necessary later for Luke to face his father. However, by way of remaining relatively on-topic, I stay clear here of the curious Star Wars note that apparently love for mother and wife is what is dangerous, but not love for father and fraternal love.)

What else? for first reactions? Disturbing, subversive, seditious, definitely! but extrapolating along the same themes as Firefly -- and Angel and Buffy before it -- had already established. The previous entry on the subject will stand well enough. Suffice it here to say that it is not a film fashioned to evoke serenity in its thinking audience: although it may well be the most truly hope-ful film I have seen, this millennium.

The dry humour naturally existing in all tight camaraderie and that we have come to associate with Whedon's writing was present as hoped for and indeed expected at this point, although sometimes the sound mixing and effects were such as to drown out some of the words. Although that may have been a function of the cinema in which I saw it, or even of the background influenza or of the background medication holding it at bay. Assuming the cough cooperates, I will know better at the end of this week.

And, yes, although I accepted the one sharp shock matter-of-factly, although I accepted from the first its necessity if the audience were to take the risks seriously: I too mourn.

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