The following contains spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok, Baby Driver, and The Shape of Water. You’ve been warned.
It’s ya boi.
How’s everyone’s 2018 going so far?
I took a break from this page so I could work on some other projects, and now I’m trying to get back into the swing of things, and perhaps see if I can extend my reach a little more. Will I succeed or peter out again? I dunno. What I do know is that I’ve been consuming a lot of media lately, and thinking a lot about the messages within them (as I’m wont to do). Some of my thoughts warrant larger articles, while others are just nibbling at me. To commemorate my return, I’m going to talk about three movies that I’ve seen this year that I really liked, and talking about little aspects of them that I enjoyed.
Let’s do it to it.
The Importance of Using The Immigrant Song in Thor: Ragnarok Twice
The third film in the Thor series and the (oh fuck) seventeenth in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor: Ragnarok is a fun little movie full of humour and charm. It delights with wild amounts of bloodless carnage, colourful worlds and characters, and ends with the beautiful and timeless message that any empire built on blood and deception is one that deserves to fall.
The film deals with the emergence of the villainous Hela, who is Odin’s exiled daughter, a death goddess and a walking manifestation of Asgard’s grim past. After many long years in exile, her seal is undone by Odin’s passing, and she raises an undead legion to take over the nine realms. Seeing the peaceful world Asgard has become, Hela believes her world to have lost its way and seeks to regain its former glory as a conquering empire (almost as if she’s trying to make Asgard great again or something). Throughout the film, the characters refer to Ragnarok, the great apocalypse wherein Asgard falls into ruin, and make strides to defeat her and save their world. However, over time the protagonists realize defeating Hela and destroying Asgard are actually one and the same, since her life-force is linked to their realm. With their homeworld destroyed and Hela defeated, Thor and the gang of weirdos he recruited off-world leads a band of Asgardian refugees, in search a new home.
What was especially interesting to me about the film was the fact that Ragnarok is bookended by Led Zeppelin’s The Immigrant Song, which plays during the first and last fight scenes of the film. The song itself is about a band of Vikings on their way to battle, fighting for glory, and the belief that they will be whisked off to Valhalla should they fall. However, in the context of the film The Immigrant Song relates to certain events that unfold throughout Thor: Ragnarok. This is made even more evident in one of the trailers, and if you saw the film and want to follow along here are the lyrics, courtesy of Genius.com.
Why twice, though? Well, the idea of an eternal cycle plays a key part in many mythologies, including old Norse myths. The Earth realm of Midgard is said to be surrounded by Jörmungandr, a snake eating its own tail (a symbol of eternity that goes back as far as ancient Egypt and Greece), and that a pair of humans would emerge from the wreckage of Ragnarok and help the world begin anew. Thor: Ragnarok, much like the Ragnarok of old, deals with the death of the old world and the emergence of a new world. Repeating Zepplein’s The Immigrant Song not only bold-facedly tells us what to expect in Ragnarok in the beginning of the film, but also announces that our story has come full circle, that the old cycle has completed, and that a new Asgard is ready to emerge.
The Condition of the Cars in Baby Driver
I saw Baby Driver on the plane ride out to Tokyo this autumn, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Edgar Wright is a much better homage director than Quentin Tarantino, in my opinion, and I enjoyed the twists and turns Wright’s take on a heist film took, especially with the way Wright played around with the protagonist’s development. The titular Baby is a getaway driver for a gangster who coordinates heists. Struggling with tinnitus that he developed after a car accident when he was younger, Baby drowns out the ringing in his ears with music he plays from his headphones constantly. As the film progresses, he starts to develop a relationship with a waitress at a diner he frequents, and begins to see the cracks in the work he does, and moves towards escaping his employers’ grasp and becoming a free agent.
One visual cue that stood out to me when I was watching Baby Driver was how the cars that Baby drove got more and more wrecked as the film went on, and how that tied together with Baby’s doubts and desire to flee from his situation. In his introduction, we see that while Baby has a devil-may-care attitude, he’s still a competent driver and an expert at weaving through difficult traffic, drifting gracefully and effortlessly between the lanes and leaving police cruisers in the dust. We see Baby as someone who’s always in control and who’s done this job time and again, and could probably do it a hundred times more if he had to, all without leaving a scratch on his ride of choice. This changes during the second heist depicted on-film, as the robbery of an armoured car goes south and leaves a guard dead. Baby’s resolve is shaken. Suddenly, he can’t drive as well and he’s making mistakes, damaging his ride along the way.
As he’s forced to do more and more unsightly work, he becomes more and more distracted, as well as more and more destructive – towards both his colleagues and the cars he’s basically shoved into far too often. All this culminates into a confrontation with former colleague Buddy, where he crashes his last vehicle during the fight, and it bursts into a great ball of flame. The cars being wrecked in Baby Driver don’t just exist for the sake of a fireworks show, but are also representations of Baby’s imprisonment. They are the cage he is forced into, and bit by bit he rips those bars off until he’s finally free.
Quick aside, though: I must say that watching this film after Kevin Spacey was outed as a creep during The Great Purge of Hollywood painted his gang leader Doc, a preening older man who tries to groom the young protagonist into an unwilling accomplice, in a much different light. I guess it’s good to play to your strengths?
Hand Imagery in The Shape of Water
Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water combines a love of monster movies, fairy tales, and the defiance of authority by miscreants and marginalized people very well, all of these elements being prevalent in a good number of the director’s works. The film itself follows Eliza, a lonely and sexually-frustrated mute cleaning lady working at a government facility who meets a mysterious asset being housed there against its will: an amphibious River God that looks like the Gill Man from the Black Lagoon films. The two strike up a friendship and, eventually, a romance, and Eliza helps the creature escape.
What I especially like about Del Toro’s body of work is the fact that he sprinkles subtle visual details throughout each film. In the case of The Shape of Water, I was taken in by the way hands are used. This is especially prevalent with the main antagonist of the story, Colonel Richard Strickland. Like many Del Toro antagonists, he is an Adonis-like figure who becomes wounded or marked in a way that haunts him throughout the narrative (case in point, Angel’s broken nose in Cronos or Vidal’s Glasgow Smile in Pan’s Labyrinth). In this film, Strickland’s fingers have been torn off by the River God during an interrogation gone wrong, and a good part of his arc in the film is about him struggling with the limbs that were reattached to his body.
As the story progresses, it’s clear that the surgery didn’t take. The fingers bleed and start to rot, with Strickland refusing to do anything about them until finally he rips them off as he becomes determined to track down the monster that escaped him, effectively casting off a part of his humanity. It’s important that these were from the left hand, too, since that is where one’s wedding ring is placed in modern Western European cultures. Strickland is a married man with two children, although it’s very clear that his perfect family is just an accessory to him. When he covers his wife’s mouth during sex (with the bleeding hand no less), he indicates his lack of interest in her well-being, and ripping the ring finger off in the third act suggests that he has no reason to go back to them.
Conversely, Eliza and the River God’s relationship is strengthened with the use of their hands. When Eliza and the abducted River God first meet, their initial point of contact is with hands on the glass, with Eliza’s palm tracing over the container before tapping on the glass, resulting in the River God slamming a palm against the interior. Later, when she reaches out to him again, she teaches him words in Sign Language. Non-verbal communication becomes their main mode of communication, and tender moments between Eliza and the River God are punctuated with both physical contact and Sign Language.
What’s more, it’s shown that the River God can heal people by touching them, demonstrated midway through the film when he heals an ally’s injured arm and reverses his hair loss. It is also the River God’s touch that heals Eliza as well; Eliza is shown with scars on her neck that had been there since she was a child, damage that prevents her from speaking. In the last scene of the film, after Strickland tries to kill them both and fails, the River God not only saves her from death but also turns those scars into gills that allow her to breathe underwater. However, for Eliza, there’s a different kind of magic at work. Her hands have gifted her lover with the gift of speech, and his touch has not only healed her wounds, but also her heart.
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