issue nine issue nine
intercut | issue 9
intercut Editor-in-chief: Sophia Dienstag Art Director: Megan Perkins Editors: Anne Kiely David Whitehouse Elizabeth Irvin Hannah Carroll Kat Cucullo Sarah Lucente Sloane Dzhitenov Theodore Matza Illustrators: Tenley Abbott Candice Cirilo
contents Career Women from Old Hollywood to Eighties Blockbusters Anne Kiely..............................................................................................8 The Humanity of WALL-E Amanda Schenkman......................................................................16 Threads of Connection: The Double Life of Veronique Olivia Miller.........................................................................................21 Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip Sloane Dzhitenov........................................................................... 26 Watching Wonderwoman as a Washingtonian: What WW84 gets right (and wrong) about D.C. Hannah Docter-Loeb.................................................................... 35 Making a Movie in 2020 Sherwin Yu......................................................................................... 38 The Escapism of WandaVision Alex Turtil........................................................................................... 44
from the editor Dear Reader, Thanks for taking the time to read issue 9 of Intercut . Since this is my second and final issue as editor-in-chief, and next year someone new will take the reins, I wanted to talk a bit about change -- something we’ve all experienced a whole lot of this past year. Movies and TV shows have an interesting relationship to change in that it is something they don’t do -- over time, their content remains exactly the same. (Well, usually. I sense more Snyder Cuts may be in our future). But for the most part , we can always count on our favorite movie to contain the same characters saying the same dialogue in the same scenes in the exact same order, even when we revisit it ten, twenty, fifty years down the line. Sometimes this provides a sense of comfort -- knowing the characters, knowing what’s coming. Yet I would guess that more often than not , when we revisit old stories, we find them to be different from what they once were. And not always in a bad way. Frequently, upon re-watching a film, we discover new depths or hidden meanings we may have missed upon our initial viewing. Other times, however, we may find that the scene we swear was once hilarious no longer seems so funny after all. Yet , it is never the content itself that has changed -- it’s us. It is our experiences, accumulated over time, that inform our viewing, each viewing, and alter our perception of what we watch. This is maybe somewhat obvious, but it is also one of the reasons that writing about film and TV can be so rewarding. Compared to re-reading a whole novel, it is relatively easy to re-watch, for example, episodes of a TV show or scenes from a film, over and over, perhaps gleaning something new from each viewing. I often find myself surprised by how quickly my understanding of scenes or characters evolves the more I watch them -- not only over the course of years, but even over mere days or hours.
There’s a reason that the articles in Intercut are not film or TV reviews -- they aren’t first impressions or initial reactions. They are, instead, carefully considered thoughts and arguments about films or shows that these writers have watched, and re-watched, and re-watched again. Probably more times than they even realize. The articles that span the following pages are thus the culminations of these layered viewings. It’s also fascinating to think about what kinds of movies or TV shows we turn to in times of crisis and change -- whether we consume new content or rewatch old favorites, whether we crave dark, gritty stories that speak to our reality, or search for lighter comedies that allow us to escape it . It’s probably a little different for everyone, as evidenced by the wide array of films and shows explored by issue 9’s contributors. Lastly, while most pieces in this issue do not touch upon COVID-19 directly, I think it’s still important to acknowledge and document that it was during this time of tremendous change and abnormality that these writers chose to explore these particular films/shows/personal experiences, from WALL-E , to Wonder Woman 1984 , to The Double Life of Veronique . I say this mostly for any future reader who may happen upon this issue months or years from now. You should know that this was the context . Maybe this information will have little effect on how you understand these articles. Or maybe, despite the wide variety of film and television covered here, it will provide some sort of connective thread between each piece -- one that we, still in the thick of it , cannot yet see. I’m sure that by then, after all, the world will have changed quite a bit . All my best ,
THE IDEA OF A “CAREER WOMAN,” a woman whose first priority is her job, rather than her future with a family, was a common film trope in the twentieth century.
dreams of rising to a new position, and her mind is always on the world of finance, which is male-dominated. She brings a good idea for a merger to her boss, who proposes the plan
career women from old hollywood to eighties blockbusters written by anne kiely
One early example was in Howard Hawks’ 1940 film His Girl Friday, where reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is lured away from her upcoming remarriage and back into the journalism business by her ex-husband/news editor, Walter Burns. Almost fifty years later, women-in-workplace films did not face the same binary choice between work and family, yet they were still depicted wrestling with norms about women’s roles. Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) in Mike Nichols’ 1988 film Working Girl grapples with the same conflicts about women’s work that Hildy does. Tess is a secretary who
to another executive without giving Tess credit, forcing her to fight for the recognition she deserves. Released just one year earlier in 1987, Mike Nichols’s Broadcast News centers on Jane Craig (Holly Hunter), a hardworking TV news producer who rarely stops for breath. She develops a romance with an anchor, Tom Grunick, but his showmanlike attitude towards broadcasting is in tension with her belief in informative “hard news.” All three of these protagonists— Hildy, Tess, and Jane—genuinely love their work, are good at their
jobs, and find it hard to think about giving up any part of their career. I watched all three films as a teenage girl beginning to think about future careers, and I loved seeing characters whose primary source of fulfillment was work. Although plenty of people live happy lives without finding the perfect job, stories about the joy that can come from work, rather than just relationships, which teenagers sometimes feel pressure to pursue, made me more excited about the future. Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, argues that work outside the home provides variety, purpose, and satisfaction that are missing from the lives of many housewives. She encourages women and their families to rethink the centuries-old ideal of women as just wives and mothers. This may have contributed to one major difference between His Girl Friday and the eighties films: family and career seem to be more mutually exclusive for Hildy than for Tess or Jane. There are also noticeable differences in
the characters’ standing in their respective fields. Tess struggles to be heard in the business world, while Hildy and Jane are already celebrated in their newsrooms, possibly because
finance has traditionally been more of a boys’ club than journalism (although that field was also largely male-dominated). The characters’ situations thus depend on both their time periods and their fields. Despite these differences in career standings, all three characters are portrayed as navigating the complex relationship between femininity and professional work. Although their passion for their careers is portrayed in a positive light, it distances them
from some traditional qualities of women. When Hildy tells Walter about her engagement, he tries to convince her that she would grow restless if she tried to lead an entirely domestic life: HILDY: I’m getting married, Walter, and I’m also getting as far away from the newspaper business as I can get. I’m through. WALTER: Get married all you want, Hildy, but you can’t quit the newspaper business. [...] I know you, Hildy, I know what quitting would
mean to you [...] It would kill you. [...] You’re a newspaper man. HILDY: That’s why I’m quitting. I wanna go someplace where I can be a woman.
WALTER: You mean be a traitor. HILDY: A traitor? A traitor to what? WALTER: A traitor to journalism. You’re a journalist, Hildy! It’s important here to note that the phrase “newspaper man” frames Hildy’s choice in gendered terms. The engaging assignments and rapid banter (His Girl Friday has an average of 240 words per minute, while Americans speak at an average speed of 140 words per minute) that Hildy enjoys as a reporter are associated with masculinity, while to “be a woman,” she would have to work only as a housewife and/ or mother. When I first watched His Girl Friday, I thought it was interesting that Walter claims to know Hildy better than she knows herself. His efforts to keep her in the business are partly motivated by his desire to win her back romantically (which will come up again later), but he also truly believes she belongs in the workplace, and the film later suggests that Walter’s views are right. Later in the film, Hildy declares, “I’m no suburban bridge player; I’m a newspaper man.” Hildy thus
subverts gender norms through her commitment to her work, but at the same time, she is shown giving in to outside pressure. Like many women in film and TV, she is portrayed as somewhat emotional, unsure about what she wants, and susceptible to men’s influence. Interestingly, aside from Walter, Hildy’s colleagues treat her the same way they treat male reporters, greeting her with jokes and camaraderie. On the other hand, Tess and Jane are sometimes expected to fulfill traditionally feminine roles within their offices. The very existence of the phrase “working girl” reveals that by the time Working Girl was released, women with careers were no longer seen as simply taking on roles that were traditionally masculine. Women were under pressure to act differently from their male colleagues, fulfilling roles that were different in some fundamental ways. For example, Tess’s boss, Katharine Parker, uses femininity as a tool to keep people’s attention at an office cocktail party. When a man suggests that they sneak out of the party together, Katharine replies that she will have a drink with him sometime if he helps her with a certain business deal. When Tess remarks on her ability to deal with inappropriate advances from male coworkers without insulting
them, Katharine replies, “Never burn bridges. Today’s junior prick, tomorrow’s senior partner.” Women in this office are expected to walk a thin line, extracting themselves from uncomfortable situations without addressing harassment directly. Tess herself deals with even more overt sexual harassment; before coming to work for Katharine, she meets an executive who claims to be hiring but tries to seduce her instead. She leaves in disgust, wanting to be taken seriously as a professional. Although harassment isn’t a central aspect of Jane’s story like it is Tess’s, the detail-oriented work style of her character is consistent with the fact that women are often rewarded in school and in the workplace for being detail-oriented. For example, at a broadcasting conference, Jane wants to discuss the specifics of important news incidents with her audience, and she is disappointed that they applaud only when she shows them footage of a national domino competition, a visually impressive scene that has little significance for her central argument. Throughout the film, Jane focuses on details that will improve her work. At the same time, however, the loud voice and fast talking that accompany Jane’s perfectionism stand in opposition to expectations that women must be quiet, calm, and controlled in the
workplace. Hildy certainly matches or surpasses the speed of Jane’s speech, likewise subverting norms. That being said, these expectations of quiet behavior are not the same for all women. While expectations of reserved behavior do affect them, Black women also face the “angry Black woman” stereotype, which portrays them as loud, aggressive, and irrationally upset. It is often used to criticize and dismiss energetic opinions and legitimate anger that Black women express. For instance, ESPN reporter Jemele Hill, who is Black, faced a backlash in 2017 when she encouraged fans to boycott the advertisers of the Dallas Cowboys, whose owner had threatened to bench players for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police killings of Black Americans.
ESPN suspended Hill from her job, and sports commentators such as Clay Travis suggested that her call to action didn’t belong in the world of sports. He tweeted that people usually turn on ESPN in order to “pop a beer & chill,” but “they got a chick in a feminist tshirt talking about police shootings” instead. The insinuation that her anger was somehow excessive, the sympathy for people who couldn’t be bothered to listen, and the dismissive use of the word “chick” were all attempts to delegitimize her views. Travis and other commentators portrayed Hill as being unreasonably impassioned, whereas assertive words and actions by white women often receive more attention. Thus, these workplace films depict some of the social expectations women face, but it’s important to note that they don’t
represent every experience. A more universal experience, shared by many working women of the period, is the struggle to deal with a romantic partner’s opinions on a job. The three films’ protagonists each have relationships with multiple men over the course of the stories, and they each encounter potential love interests who support, admire, or even share their careers. In His Girl Friday, Hildy is engaged to Bruce Baldwin, an insurance salesman, and plans to become a housewife. In contrast, her previous relationship with Walter, which he attempts to rekindle over the course of the film, blended business with romance. He trained her as a reporter, became her supervisor, and even claims responsibility for her success; in fact, he belittles the person she was before becoming a reporter. He says, “What were you five years ago? A little college girl from a school of journalism. I took a doll-faced hick!” and he confirms that he hired her largely because of her appearance. However, there’s evidence that these comments perhaps coexist with a real belief in her skills. He implores her to return to her old job, saying that “We’re a team, that’s what we are. You need me, and I need you, and the paper needs both of us!” Walter certainly doesn’t see Hildy in the same way as a male colleague,
but the two characters’ interactions explore the idea of a relationship that is founded on, not strained or weakened by, a woman’s career. In Working Girl, Tess’s love life undergoes a similar transformation. At the beginning of the film, her boyfriend, Mick, responds to her question about when he will marry her with a dismissal of her working life: MICK: Course we’re gonna get married. But I want to wait until I’m set up, till my wife can be a wife and mother and not a commuter. TESS: What if I want to keep working? I mean, I love business, there’s nothing I 1ove more than the thrill of the— MICK: Nothing?! Tess eventually breaks up with Mick. Later in the film, she meets Jack Trainor, an executive who works with her on a crucial merger and vouches for her integrity when Katharine questions it. Tess doesn’t realize it at first, but Jack is Katharine’s ex-boyfriend. The Cinderella narrative of Tess’s career, where she eventually gets a job as high-ranking as Katharine’s, is thus parallel to the story of her love life. Like Hildy, Tess discovers the possibility of a relationship that is in harmony with her professional life, rather than in tension with it.
In Broadcast News, Jane values her career above romance even more decidedly than the other films’ protagonists do. As mentioned above, her relationship with Tom Grunick conflicts with one of her core beliefs—that substance is more important than style. Tom lacks reporting skills, general knowledge, and qualification for some of the projects he gets the chance to work on, but he is valued for his poise and smooth appearance as an anchor. He is captivated by Jane’s competence and asks her for help learning the technical skills of news production. Jane is initially unimpressed with him as a professional, but she finds herself drawn to him personally, creating a tension between her work and social life. Complicating the issue is that reporter Aaron Altman, Jane’s friend and coworker, also has strong feelings for her, even though she doesn’t feel the same way about him. He is a talented researcher and producer, but he is not as polished on camera as Tom, and his disparaging comments about anchors set him up as a model of substance and “hard news,” in contrast to Tom’s style and emotional appeal. This appears to force Jane to decide between the combination of good looks and shaky professional practices, manifested in Tom, and the journalistic integrity embodied by Aaron.
As I was watching Broadcast News for the first time, I thought that the filmmakers would feel compelled to provide a classic Hollywood romantic ending. With some resignation, I expected Jane to discard her initial emotions and realize she belonged with Aaron—in the same way that Hildy chooses Walter—in order to align her commitment to her job neatly with her personal life. But the film overturns this expectation. Unlike Working Girl and His Girl Friday, this film ends with the protagonist rejecting both potential love interests and staying true to her own feelings about both work and relationships. The takeaway is somewhat refreshing: Jane’s career doesn’t eliminate the possibility of romance, and in fact, it draws people to her, but romance isn’t necessary for her to lead a fulfilling life. All three films show female protagonists who are empowered to pursue careers, while also illustrating the tensions and complexities caused by norms surrounding work and femininity. The characters’ decisions are made difficult by external influences, such as sexual harassment and pressure from romantic partners, as well as internal conflicts about domesticity, career ambition, professional ethics, and personal attraction. Since the eighties, workplace discrimination and sexual harassment have
continued to affect many women, and many norms still make it hard to be a woman in the working world, but American culture has come to accept and welcome women’s professional careers more readily than in the past. Yet the work of cooking, cleaning, and caring for society’s vulnerable members, all of which are often done by lowincome women in particular, is still frequently seen as low in status. Teaching and nursing remain both female-dominated and underpaid.
There might now be a need for more positive portrayals of men who are fathers, mentors, and caretakers for their homes and communities, especially given that women are now often expected to have careers while remaining responsible for homes and children. While no one of any gender should be confined to one type of work, an ideal future would value and respect all occupations, from highpowered executive, to custodian, to secretary, to parent.
ROBOTS DIFFER BIOLOGICALLY from humans; blood and vessels are replaced by machinery and code. But humanity not only derives from biology, but rather
same “human” attributes despite their programmed origin. Pixar’s WALL-E exemplifies how film can delve into the complex link between robots and humanity, as demonstrated through WALL-E’s
written by amanda schenkman
the humanity of wall-e illustrated by tenley abbott
stems from emotions as well. To that point, I pose the question: what in fact makes something “human”? Being “human” is often linked to qualities like kindness, sensitivity, and sympathy. But in cinema, humanity can be defined in different and interesting ways. For example, robotic characters within films often possess these
relatable and undeniably human nature. Without compassion for others and a moral compass to lead the way, living beings would have no way of relating to or feeling for one another, making their humanity basically worthless. Therefore, these emotion-based attributes such as compassion and sympathy
define what it means to be human more than any fixed biology and are exemplified by the truly heartfelt WALL-E. In Pixar’s animated film, WALL-E , a Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth robot, remains deserted on an abandoned planet: Earth. An environmental global crisis has left the post apocalyptic planet, Earth, completely neglected and trashed. However, this isolation does not bother WALL-E. Each day, he collects garbage, and continuously and repetitively compacts the rubbish into cubes, which he stacks over and over again into piles as high as skyscrapers. At first, he appears just an average
trashworker robot, unknown to the greater world and diligently following his program. Despite
this immense isolation, WALL-E completes the job he is coded to do. Never complaining, he stays in line -- lifting and loading is all that matters. The routine of his unchanging actions seems to give him purpose in the abandoned dystopia. From the very start of the narrative, it is clear that WALL-E has prominent emotions. As he watches a scene from the 1969 film, Hello Dolly! , the rom-com he watches everyday, he becomes overwhelmed by the intimacy and connection on screen. Here, the animators play on the irony of WALLE’s teardrop eyes, using nuts and bolts as a way to convey his true emotional moments. His physical features demonstrate how emotions are an essential part of his personality. While watching Hello Dolly! , WALL-E’’s eyes begin to fall after seeing the lovebirds on screen. The romantic scene has clearly made him think about his own love life, and how he longs for something that may not ever come. Outside
of this moment, WALL-E’s desire for connection is shown through his care, particularly for his petlike friend, Hal. Whenever Hal is in danger, WALL-E tries to rescue him; protectiveness is in his nature. But everything changes for WALL-E when he discovers another life form on his isolated planet--a miniscule, green seedling. This unearthing acts as the needed catalyst to start WALL-E’s journey and introduce him to all the wonderful and heartbreaking aspects of life and companionship. Moreover, this plant causes Eve, an Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator probe, to arrive on Earth. The moment WALL-E meets Eve, his humanity becomes undeniable and unobstructed. He immediately decides to abandon his given code and follow this new, surprising, and unpredictable path; this sense of compassion -- the idea that irrational love will always conquer one’s given programming -- is reiterated throughout the film. Eve appears to be the first interactive being WALL-E has come into contact with, besides Hal. Through this connection, WALL-E instantly falls in love. Even though Eve continues to be defined by her code, only wanting to complete the mission for which she was created, WALL-E follows her and tries to protect her at all costs. Eve gives him that connection for which he has clearly been longing.
As the two bots rapidly connect, WALL-E’’s mini sound effects, often screeches, bops, and shifting gears, communicate his affectionate tone towards Eve. His language comes from simple, pure reactions; nothing feels fixed. In his actions, WALL-E’s code feels absent; instead, he adopts humanistic tendencies and moves beyond his robotic, technical code. On the Axiom, the ship holding the rest of the human race, the beings feel deeply robotic. They have clearly forgotten their own humanity, something that WALL-E, a robot, will eventually restore for them. WALL-E clearly sees the world around him, which is ironic because his eyes are mere nuts and bolts. The people, however, are unrecognizable from one another. They are overdependent on the machinery around them, chained to their hover chairs, glued to their television screens, and incommunicable with one another. Their human biology means nothing; they are essentially robots hosted by the vessel of the human body. When WALL-E disrupts the repetitive nature of life on the Axiom, he brings a few characters out of this zombie-like trance. When WALL-E bumps into Mary, one of the humans on the ship, she discovers for the first time the giant pool in front
of her, shouting, “I did not know we had a pool!” WALL-E, a robot, literally reintroduces humanity to the people on the Axiom. Without him, Mary might have never broken out of her daze, preventing her, and many others on the ship, from ever understanding and appreciating their humanity again. However, as WALL-E approaches the end of his life, he exhibits robotic behavior in a way that he never has before, taking on more mechanical tendencies. When he and Eve return to Earth to fix his broken parts, WALL-E acts completely robotic. He lacks emotion, seems unaware of his surroundings, and appears like a robot functioning solely by relying on code. For the first time in the film, he seems like another average WALL-E unit -- loading and lifting is once again his sole purpose. Even his little screeches and beeps sound meaningless. Even his voice no longer sounds like his own. However, just when the audience thinks WALL-E will never feel human again, the most humanesque thing brings him back to life: the famous Hollywood kiss. As Eve kisses him, he slowly begins to resurface, quirks and all. The nuts and bolts that make up his hand firmly hold the machinery that makes up hers. Regardless of their
robot structures, Eve and WALLE’s love defies all, demonstrating the strength of their human-like emotions, within their robot selves. Despite WALL-E’s purpose initially deriving from code, he essentially creates his own destiny. He leaves his routinized reality for something better: a life of emotion, empathy, and an adventure worth living for. WALL-E’s desire to live an exciting life is what makes him human. He feels compassionate; he cares deeply for his surroundings; he appreciates life. WALL-E is not biologically human; however, he possesses the ability to cherish life for what it truly is: a world filled with connection, spontaneity, and irrationality. To summarize the humanity of robots in one statement, as Eldon Tyrell states in Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner , some robots can truly be “more human than human.”
MY FIRST VIEWING of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Double Life of Veronique left me in a dream-like haze—entranced by the fleeting fragments of reflection and light, artfully shot through the camera’s warm, viridescent tint. I was perplexed by the naive complexity of Irene Jacob’s performance as both Weronika and Veronique, and awed by the story’s intimately captured, otherworldly events, blurring the lines between reality and fate. It compelled me to give closer attention and value to the coincidences I encounter in my own everyday experience, to observe more details, shadows and patterns, to relinquish thought and reason and be led by intuition, sensation and feeling—a state of being that Irene Jacob so enchantingly embodies. From the moment Weronika appears
on screen, singing with a choir in the rainfall, her expression is filled with complete, passionate presence, enraptured by the sensation of water hitting her eyelids as she belts the final note, head tilted to the sky as if professing love to the clouds. Next, Weronika is shown in a dark, murky backstreet, strikingly noir, embracing her lover; this provocative image of Weronika contrasts the innocence of the previous shot. Although different in character, both shots establish Weronika as acutely attuned to experiencing pleasure and the subtleties of the present moment. This attribute consistently draws the viewer into her world, observations, charming curiosity and intuitive revelations—all elegantly captured by the camera’s attention to detail, occasional distortion and play with light and shadow. The use of reflection in particular, emphasized through glass, mirrors and objects, consistently alludes to Weronika’s identical counterpart—Veronique. The first indication that Weronika
threads of connection: written by olivia miller the double life of veronique
has a double is in the alley with her lover: a large shadow of their intertwined figure is projected on the wall behind them. In the next sequence they are in bed, and Weronika glances up at her wall to interlock eyes with herself, captured in a black and white photograph. Light is streaming in from the window, interrupted by a gentle downpour of rain, projecting an eerie, ghost-like quality on the image; it is as if Weronika is deeply connected to the photograph, while simultaneously aware, even pleased, that it is a lost, distant version of herself. In the next scene, Weronika is speaking to her father and curiously remarks, “I have a strange feeling. I feel that I’m not alone... That I’m not alone in the world.” An amber green light hits her right cheek, casting a reflection of her face in the window frame on the left. With the context of Weronika’s recent premonition, the reflection in the glass takes on new meaning. The visual emphasis on shadows and reflections invite the viewer to experience hints of the intuitive bond that connects Weronika and her double. The first thirty minutes of the film follow Weronika—she travels by train to Kraków to visit her sick aunt, and
by chance, receives the opportunity to audition for a concert. Returning from a music session, Weronika is caught in a demonstration in Kraków square. The intensity and noise heightens around her as crowds run to evade the police and board buses. One of these buses appears to be for tourists, with an Eiffel tower printed on the exterior, and it catches Weronika’s eye. She stops in the middle of the square to stare at it; amidst the chaos of the protestors, she is perfectly still, as if beguiled in an alternate, intimate world. A close-up reveals the object of her pensive gaze—a young girl with short brown hair who appears identical to Weronika. The French girl, later known as Veronique, boards the bus, and through the window is shown taking photos of the demonstration. Weronika, awed by her vision, moves out into the open, where she might be captured by Veronique’s camera as the bus leaves the square. The two are fittingly separated by glass, only instead of producing a phantom reflection, a human double is on the other side. Following this brief, mysterious encounter, Weronika is repeatedly framed behind glass windows. First, she is on a bus, listening to her music, when she
notices her boyfriend through the glass, riding his motorcycle. Second, she is shown dressing in her room; emotionally distressed, she presses her face against the window. It is as if she is trying to physically touch her reflection in the window, an attempt to dissolve the barrier or veil that separates her from Veronique.
In the following scene, the veil is in some sense lifted. Weronika’s life is taken prematurely while performing at the concert—her heart fails, she dramatically falls over, and she dies. A POV shot is used to depict Weronika’s fall; the world becomes shaky and a muffled thud is heard as she hits the ground. Rather than dimming black, the floor remains visible, implying that even with her physical death, Weronika’s spirit is capable of seeing. This event marks the transition into Veronique’s world, in which the film lingers for the remaining hour. In this transition, light and glass are distinctively employed to simulate a form of rebirth. The last shot set in Poland is taken at Weronika’s funeral. The camera
is positioned inside the grave, suggesting it is from Weronika’s perspective, like the POV shot that expresses her fall. When family and friends from above begin tossing dirt onto the casket, it is as if a living being is experiencing getting enclosed in darkness from below; this being is seemingly revitalized in the following transition. The camera is positioned behind a light bulb, and through this distorted, hazy lens Veronique is depicted having sex. The darkness from Weronika’s grave transforms into an intimate moment infused with life and a transcendent spiritual quality.
were grieving.” Veronique’s life is depicted with greater depth than Weronika’s—the viewer witnesses more details and events in her everyday life, many of which conjure a certain nostalgia. Veronique is a music teacher, who teaches her students the very song Weronika died singing. In this way, the sound of the notes places Weronika’s spirit in the background of Veronique’s experience. Likewise, the style and framing of the shots, which repeatedly emphasize reflections, shadows, and light, are strikingly familiar to the aesthetic that portrayed Weronika’s experience.
Just as Weronika sensed Veronique’s presence, Veronique has an intuitive premonition of Weronika’s death. Saddened, she tells her partner in bed, “I don’t know why. It’s as if I
Everything Veronique’s character does seems to be intuitively guided rather than logically decided, especially in regard to the complex romance she develops with the mysterious puppeteer, Alexandre. There is something deeply introspective about the way she interacts with the world; she pays attention to the signs, the coincidences, how things make her feel. Veronique is
instantly attracted to and entranced by Alexandre, who performs at her school; soon after she tells her father she’s in love, but can’t explain why. She follows a path of subtle clues Alexandre sends her, and eventually succeeds in finding him. However, the film does not feel centered around her romantic union with Alexandre. Instead, Veronique is on a journey to unite with her reflection, the shadow that eludes her consciousness, the double whose death she intuitively grieves. Laying on the bed with Veronique, Alexandre looks through the belongings in her bag. Examining the photographs taken in Krakow, he says, “That’s a beautiful photograph. And you, in that huge coat.” Veronique responds, “That’s not me.” Alexandre passes the photo to her, “Sure it’s you.” With a stunned expression she affirms, “That’s not my coat.” Veronique precedes to crumple the paper, tears falling from her eyes, overwhelmed by emotion. Anticipating the moment of Veronique’s confrontation with Weronika, I expected clarity and resolution rather than vulnerability. At the same time, what I find most intriguing about the film is its lack of resolve. Kieślowski achieves a seemingly cohesive plot structure
while omitting the information the viewer’s rational mind most desperately craves. There is no epiphany where the two women turn out to be twins, separated at birth; instead, the story remains shrouded in ambiguity. Though this lack of clarity may confuse or frustrate some viewers, I believe that it is Kieślowski’s way of honoring the unknown. The viewer is forced to accept all that is beyond understanding, and Kieślowski shows there is great beauty in this surrender—flickers of light, shadow and reflection to be observed and delicate, intimate emotions to be felt. The film ignites the possibility that somewhere, there exists a double. Though an imaginative, unworldly premise, it hints at a form of magic that is always available. In the fullness of the present moment, Weronika and Veronique act upon their intuitions, authentically led by their feelings. The vulnerability that enables them to trust this inner guidance rewards them with glimpses of miracles— moments where reflections in the window subsume physical form, premonitions become reality.
gallons of rubbing alcohol flow through the strip: the startling ingenuity behind gus van sant’s last days written by sloane dzhitenov THE FIRST THING that most people notice about Gus Van Sant’s Last Days (2005) is that Kurt Cobain is on the poster. The second thing that most people notice is that wait, no,
that somehow isn’t actually Kurt Cobain - not that absurdly famous, yet even more absurdly alienated, ‘defining image of ‘90s teenage suicide’ Kurt Cobain, no. Instead, Van Sant has created his own fake, imitation-Cobain, some other
rock star whose life so perfectly shadows Cobain’s own. It’s far from a lighthearted allusion to be making, and yet Last Days does almost everything it can to imitate the rock star’s image, with a broad-chinned, blonde-haired Michael Pitt donning a black lace dress and cat-eye sunglasses, smoking cigarettes, and strumming his guitar while wailing out some startlingly Nirvana-esque melodies. Provided narrative details only strengthen the similarity between the two, bringing to the fore implied drug use, a wife and daughter, and even a detail-fordetail replica of Cobain’s own method of suicide. The only details separating these two persons, it seems, are their names - the subject of the film is named “Blake,” not “Kurt” - and a very, very desperate legal disclaimer in the end credits that assures us that “Although this film is inspired in part by the last days of Kurt Cobain, the film is a work of fiction and the characters and events portrayed in the film are also fictional.” Such a startling revelation is difficult to top. Indeed, the third thing that the typical audience notices is, for many, a bit of a let-down: this is a damn difficult movie to watch. Boasting a starkly minimalist, slow-cinema approach, the film devotes its 97-minute runtime to charting this strange, semi-fictional rock star’s final
days before his planned suicide. Not only is the narrative relatively uneventful, it’s centered on that incredibly difficult subject matter, the depiction of which I have, in all honesty, spent many years questioning. Nowadays, I personally can’t help but view the depression movie as a nearly impossible task, requiring the filmmaker to convey the suffering inflicted by mental illness without slipping into paternalistic sympathy, selfdestructive dramatics, or pure inaccuracy, with little room for any misstep before the film becomes completely unpleasant. Adding a celebrity’s image to the mix, of course, only complicates things further, conjuring uncomfortable questions about privacy, accuracy, and respect. No matter what, Last Days is by no means an easy pill to swallow. From its sensitive subject matter to its even more sensitive legal complexity, there are few conceivable versions of this film that actually work, and so many places where it could go wrong, slipping down the slope of insensitivity to become yet another callous, inauthentic portrait of a suicidal state of mind. Imagine my surprise, then, when it turned out to be as delicate, biting, and real as it was. Van Sant’s first ingenuity is his portrayal of Blake’s state of mind
as a predetermined absolute: with a title that gives it all away before you can even hit the ‘play’ button (these are, after all, his “last days”), it couldn’t be any other way. From the very opening shot, the main character is doomed, and everyone - from the audience, to the director, to Blake himself - knows how the story will end. There is no question of his mental state and, as such, no hope for the dramatics that would come from a storyline of salvation or change of heart. The world around him has also accepted this, his interactions with other human beings by now long-relegated to chance encounters with clueless strangers and unfeeling conversations with his apathetic, resigned bandmates and producers, whose own emotional issues bar them from seeing much beyond the dollar value of Blake’s image. Through the use of a forcedly distant and often voyeuristic narrative, the film takes great pains to establish this ‘absolute,’ the exact state of existence Blake has found himself in. He stumbles around on-screen, mumbling inaudible nonsense to himself as he goes from one empty action to another, whether it be making himself a miserable bowl of cereal or falling in and out of dissatisfied sleep while watching music videos on the television set. The everydayness of it is overwhelming: when a
Yellow Pages representative asks him how his day is out of routine pleasantry, Blake kindly answers, “Pretty good... Not- no- no... Another day...” We know, of course, that all he’s accomplished that day is the aforementioned miserable bowl of cereal and a rather strange, morbid detour in which he played gruesome pretend with a shotgun in hand (the very one he has selected for a later, much less jovial purpose), stalking around the house and pointing it in the faces of his sleeping bandmates. As the slow-moving, unchanging plot continues, we realize that there’s nothing unusual about how miserable and sad it might all seem. It’s simply the given state of his life. Even using the words ‘miserable and sad’ seems incorrect, actually; the camera charts this all with such a calm and patience that, even if someone could be compelled to feel sorry for Blake, Van Sant’s presentation discourages it. In fact, in the obstinately uncaring social world that surrounds Blake, who does not receive any meaningful human contact whatsoever, the camera is one of the few entities to pay any proper attention to him at all. It may be a distant, detached camera, but it is also loyal, and patient, and quite kind. There’s a care to the various layers of apathy that surround Blake’s narrative
- because without those layers of apathy, it could all become just a little too brutal - as well a tenderness to the way in which the camera then pierces through that apathy. With a faithful, attentive loyalty, it lays Blake’s life bare, pausing to take in his scattered thoughts, his forced loneliness, and even a full-length, acoustic rendition of Pitt’s own song, “Death to Birth,” that is absolutely shattering in its raw emotional power. Blake’s state of mind is both a miserable given and shrouded in empathy, preventing the film from devolving into a melodramatic tragedy or any other form of tonally callous mess.
choice of such a measured tempo, reducing the film to two hours of a depressed guy doing little else than actively being depressed, will understandably be a dealbreaker. Sitting through its runtime, though, and watching the cinematic (last) days go by has its own merit as well. How else, after all, could Van Sant convey the deadening mundanity of Blake’s experience, sinking the viewer into an understanding of what it means to live his life? How else could the camera stay far back enough to depict, without condescension, that experience and how else, too, could it prove its unceasing devotion, its attention to every detail of his every day?
This happens for quite a while. Like all slow cinema, for many the
Now, all of the above simply read Last Days as a base narrative of
mental illness, without particular attention to what is truly intriguing about this film - the not-actuallytechnically-legal theft of Cobain’s image. The first clever trick that the Cobain allusion performs is one of pure narrative convenience, stemming from the fact that almost everyone (at least, almost everyone from the largely English-speaking, Western, 2000s audience for this film) has at least some inkling of who Cobain is. Van Sant doesn’t need to waste time or effort on background exposition or character development, instead simply diving right into his hefty exploration of Blake’s mental state. Furthermore, not only can Van Sant skip the clumsy, hemmed-in introductions that often accompany depression features and biopics alike, he also doesn’t have to waste time on convincing us to care about this pseudo-Kurt Cobain: his very existence is already intriguing enough. Just the very fact that the audience is presented with this almost-familiar rock star, and all of the multi-layered controversiality of his posthumous image, makes us want to turn to the screen. In truth, what was Cobain’s death in the realm of ‘90s pop culture? It was both a kind of apotheosis, sealing the rock star into his own special brand of ‘27 Club’ membership, and a sobering end to the skyrocketing popularity of Nirvana’s grunge
sound. With families tuned into the MTV channel on their home television screens across the nation, he had been both a mentalillness bogeyman for America’s straight-laced suburbia and a victim of the music industry’s ceaseless ability to market anything it could get its hands on, even the supposedly unmarketable counterculture of the 1990s. When it all came to a violent end, his image only fractured further, presenting him as rock icon, bad influence, victim, medical statistic or, perhaps, simply a genuine, real human being, all depending on who you ask. His suicide both sobered the monster of popular culture and fed it further: it was the kind of cultural shock whose ripples eventually fed back, in opposition with themselves, to create deepseated, contradicting tensions in the American consciousness. In short, from a cultural-analysis standpoint, it was a real goddamn mess. This places his biography into a strange arena of sentimentality, because his story is both a narrative of immense personal suffering and a cultural moment of fascinating national proportions. Even on the national stage, it both acted to further commercialize images of mental strife and to bring greater empathy to our conceptions of mental illness and addiction:
somehow, it is both the most and the least personal story in the world. In a way, this is partly just an exaggeration of the statements I made above, an exacerbation of the existing contradiction that lies behind depression narratives as a whole. These dual possibilities for insensitivity and over-generalization could surely destroy the film; instead, however, they actually allow for a strange, beautiful kind of synchronicity, with these two narratives - that of mental illness and that of stardom - interlacing and upholding each other at every crucial moment. Consider only how Cobain’s celebrity can universalize and add symbolic power to the film while Van Sant’s presentation lends humanity to his commodified image, how the base humanity of Blake’s state is intertwined with these evocations of iconic stardom. When any element would get too close to being exploitative, the distance given by Cobain’s celebrity pulls it back; vice versa, if the rockstar allusion ever seems too cold, the heartbreaking reality of the narrative keeps it grounded. Perhaps most importantly of all, Van Sant is careful to acknowledge the biting reality of Cobain’s stolen image: in one spell-binding shot, the camera closely revolves
around a smoking Michael Pitt, cat-eye shades resting on the bridge of his nose, and he becomes such an image of pure, effortless ‘90s cool, you could swear you were watching a press junket for Cobain himself. If it were not for this acknowledgement, the film would too easily lean into a crude, invasive imitation of one very real man’s final moments. However with it - and others like it - included, the film manages to employ just enough self-reflexive irony to keep itself from becoming absolutely, needlessly miserable. In fact the entire work, with its off-beat popculture allusions, monotone color palette, and clinical distance,
feels like an imitation of the bitter cynicism and irony that defined the ‘90s. One aspect of Blake’s trapped nature, it seems, is his inability to escape the echoes of that classic 1990s coldness. This self-reflexive, ironic style is further strengthened by the actual contents of the film. I alluded earlier to Blake’s interactions with his profit-seeking bandmates and producers, all of whom become the faces of a ruthlessly corporate music industry, reacting to conversation only so long as it relates to Blake’s next moneymaking opportunity. Uncaring and maladjusted, it’s not as if
they are much happier than Blake himself: in fact, watching Blake’s bandmates blearily mumble, in a drugged-out haze, along with “Venus in Furs” halfway through the film is a surely depressing sight. It only made me feel as if they may be even worse off than the doomed protagonist himself, if only because they do not seem to be capable of acknowledging their own misery like he is. The film’s austerity is predicated on this unhappy and unfeeling social milieu that Blake has found himself in, his surroundings as much an expression of 1990s sentiment as they are an assertion of the music industry’s oppressive, commodifying coldness. Van Sant’s
patiently adoring camera, then, both identifies and opposes this relationship, presenting itself as a better alternative to the wellknown, over-marketed image of Cobain. In a media story that has been repeated in every-which-way, only now does Cobain’s suicidal nature gain a rare, straightforward, and sentimental acknowledgement. As a result, Last Days manages not only to be a realistic yet empathetic look at an incredibly sensitive subject, but it also provides an incisive commentary on other pop culture interpretations of mental illness. It’s astounding that a work so minimalist can secretly be so meta-analytical, but that simplicity
only furthers Van Sant’s cause. No choice is wasted, and every single understated element of the film is weaponized, creating layer after tense layer of compelling truths about mental illness, suicide, and celebrityhood. Just this, however, is not enough. Through the film’s title and premise, the entire work is implicitly oriented towards the promised finality of the ending, a coup-degrace that is expected to bring violent shock and resolution in equal measure. In a (somewhat surprisingly) un-defeatist turn, Van Sant doesn’t cut the film off at the sound of a gunshot, as so many creators would; for that matter, he doesn’t even include the suicide on film, a commendable act in and of itself. Instead, he creates a moment of strange transcendence, filming Blake before the act, capturing an odd meditation through an unusually close shot, and after, when he depicts his spirit exiting his body. This spirit-Blake calmly sits up, slowly clambers upwards, and disappears out of frame, all while the score unfolds into a fit of avantgarde melodies.
It’s as haunting a scene as it is a significant culmination for the film, a pinnacle for every complicated relationship I’ve discussed prior. The preceding runtime, all bitter ‘90s nihilism and self-effacing irony, is absolved in the calm holiness of this moment, leaving Blake to find his peace. It’s beautiful, yes, but it is also a very literal evocation of the rock-star apotheosis I discussed above, Blake’s image transcending the physical confines of his body as well as the limitations of the camera’s frame. In this one transcendence is contained every single other difficult relationship of the film, with Blake breaking free of his rock stardom, his depressive state, the bitter and minimalist 1990s coldness, the commodification of his mental health, and the ceaseless portrayal of his own image. At long last, with every single aspect of the film neatly resolved, Blake is left to find his own peace somewhere else, distantly off-screen and well outside of our intrusive view.
watching wonderwoman as a washingtonian: what ww84 gets right (and wrong) about d.c. written by hannah docter-loeb MOVIES ALWAYS GET WASHINGTON D.C. WRONG. I remember watching Marvel’s Captain America: Winter Soldier, a movie supposedly based in the District. The opening shots are filmed at the Lincoln Memorial, the fight scene at the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge seems legit, and the police cars resemble the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, but the streets give it away. Almost all of the filming, aside from a few shots here and there, was done in Cleveland. This isn’t unusual for movies and T.V. shows. Certain “postcard” shots are taken in D.C., but much of the rest is filmed elsewhere, occasionally
recognizable by the tall skyscrapers that would violate the Height Act if they were actually in the city. Much of Netflix’s House of Cards is filmed 40 minutes away, in Baltimore. Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing was shot on sound stages in California, with a tiny bit of D.C. footage sprinkled in. Other than a couple of scenes in the actual Smithsonian and at the Lincoln Memorial, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian was filmed in Canada. Even the 2017 historical political thriller The Post was not filmed in its namesake city. So why don’t many films and series actually film in D.C.? A quick Google search gave me some answers. A lot of it has to do with the city’s
unique laws. Following 9/11, D.C. established a Special Flight Rules Area, prohibiting any unmanned aircrafts from flying within a 15-mile radius of Reagan National Airport. And as Associated Press’s Ashrah Khalil lays out, film crews need to contend not only with the local Metropolitan Police for permits, but with the National Parks service police, the United States Capitol Police, and the Secret Service.
likely this initiative that allowed the Wonder Woman sequel to film in the city starting in June 2018.
But in 2016, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser instituted the District of Columbia Film, Television and Entertainment Rebate Fund, a tax rebate program that incentivizes filming in the city by allowing productions that spend more than $250,000 filming to apply for a rebate of up to 35% of taxable expenditures. The same program also encouraged production and crews to hire residents as a way to support the local community. It was
to see the city I love onscreen, and pretty accurately depicted. I enjoyed seeing Diana Prince (Gadot) and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) trying to navigate the Metro escalator at what seems to be a suspiciously clean L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station (though the Green Line didn’t exist in 1984). There were great shots of the Old Post Office Tower, far enough that you can’t see the Trump Hotel lettering that tarnishes the once beautiful
While I tend to prefer Marvel Universe movies, watching WW84 ignited my D.C. pride (pun intended). Although I had missed out on seeing it filmed firsthand––my family witnessed Gal Gadot soaring over Pennsylvania Avenue––it was quite exciting
building. I even caught a glimpse of my old bus route, along Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown. Not to mention, the fact that Diana lives at the Watergate Complex––the building where the famed scandal of the same name took place in the 1970s––is quite amusing. That’s not to say that there are no inaccuracies in the film. Pennsylvania Avenue was not as bustling or developed as it is portrayed in the film. In 1984, the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation (PADC) had just barely started developing the promenade into a more commercial and residential area—in fact, my grandparents were some of the first to move into Pennsylvania Avenue’s Market Square West apartment building in 1991. In one part of the film, Diana and Steve admire Roy Liechtenstein’s Brushstroke at the Hirshhorn Museum, which wouldn’t be acquired by the museum until about 20 years later, in 2003. But perhaps the largest inaccuracy is evident in the racial makeup of the people in the background. The film’s director, Patty Jenkins, tried her best to accurately portray D.C. by recreating old shops and using historically accurate cars––many of which were brought into the city just for the film. However, as many have pointed out, Jenkins fails to take into account the city’s racial diversity at the time.
Although D.C. city is no longer the “Chocolate City” it used to be–– currently about 46% of the D.C. population is Black––D.C. used to be a majority Black city. From the 1960s to the 1970s, the city’s Black population grew from 53.9% to 71.1%. The 1980 census reported that Black people made up 70.3% of the population in 1980, just four years before Wonder Woman is supposedly set. That’s not to say that the area around where most Wonder Woman scenes were filmed were predominantly Black at the time. Like many movies based in Washington, most of the shots are of Georgetown and downtown D.C. In the 1980s and nowadays, most residents of these areas were indeed white. While I understand that it’s a superhero movie and that most of the action needs to take place in the center of the city, D.C. is far more than its landmarks and monuments––it is and always has been about the people. To have a majority white group of extras is an erasure of the city’s racial makeup, and reputation as one of the Blackest cities, at the time. Jenkins’s portrayal of D.C. is a huge step in the right direction; however, there is still work to be done to give D.C. the accurate representation it deserves—not just in Congress, but in the media.
making a movie in 2020 written by sherwin yu | illustrated by candice cirilo WE DRIVE FOR HOURS, two or three or five; I can’t tell anymore. Daniel is behind the wheel, and I sit in the passenger seat making a fruitless attempt at reading some thrifted novel I had unknowingly stuffed into my bag days ago. Anna and Joel sit behind napping, (generously) sharing the backseat with a pile of backpacks, bulky camera cases, and road trip snacks. Distracted from my
book, I turn to face the view of the desert from my passenger window, the same view we have seen now for miles and miles. Dry dirt is all the landscape offers, that and the occasional tumbleweed. Heat waves emanate menacingly from the sunbleached soil. A range of jagged peaks run along the horizon, and if I look just far enough, I can see all the way to Mexico.
When the pandemic hit and campus was shut down in March 2020, I was a junior feeling sympathetic for the class of 2020, unaware of the severe implications that the coronavirus would have on my own college experience. At first, a “return to normal” seemed inevitable. But as the summer slowly and tediously passed by, the sobering truth shone clearer with each day. A “return to normal” gradually transformed into “a new normal,” and by July, the Wesleyan College of Film and the Moving Image finally informed film studies majors that senior theses were going to look very different. For production theses: no non-student actors, no location shooting off-campus, and only a small, bare-bones crew to assist. The challenges were impossible to ignore. While I knew these new guidelines were necessary and important in order to keep everyone safe, it was hard to muster up the passion and energy necessary for a production thesis knowing that the original premise for my film (centered around family dynamics and shot on location) was not going to pass the department’s new logistical standards. Although I knew these guidelines were important and necessary to put in place, I still found myself frustrated, and my frustration stemmed not just from the compromise of my creative vision.
Filmmaking on campus was and is one of the great joys of being a Wesleyan film major, and hopefully it continues to serve as a cornerstone of the film education on campus. There is no set experience quite like that of Wesleyan’s; our small school and major size necessitates frequent collaboration among different student artists and active participation from all involved, and there is an enthusiasm (rather than a distaste, as is the case for most other sets) for learning on the job. Seniors actually want freshmen to crew up for their projects, and upperclassmen will typically show the ropes to anyone who is willing to learn. I remember my first few times working on theses, fumbling around with my anointed boom pole and struggling to keep all the sound files organized on my recorder. Despite my lack of skills and confidence, I was met largely with encouragement from the senior directors and producers who understood that part of the joy of making a thesis film at Wesleyan is fostering a space for growth and the sharing of knowledge, a small but meaningful dismantling of the intimidating process that is breaking into the world of film. For me, participating on Wesleyan film sets became not just an invaluable educational resource but also a dynamic, fresh, and rewarding experience, one that enabled me to create and cultivate some of the
most important friendships and relationships that I have ever had. Knowing that I, as a senior, would probably be unable to foster this type of project and environment, in addition to the fact that I was losing autonomy over the capstone experience that I had invested so much time, energy, and money in, left me disappointed and dejected. One June day, however, my friend Theo called, asking me to talk about something. Hey, dude. So this may be
a long shot, but... And thus, the Longshot Collective was born—a group of eight students from Wesleyan, University of Southern California, and New York University deciding to embark on a three month cross-country independent filmmaking journey. Over the course of the summer, we met frequently and discussed logistics and visions over Zoom. We realized that despite the uncertainty that surrounded us and the world at the time, we a) had the time, b) had the support, and most importantly c) had the passion necessary for a project like this. With just a successful Seed and Spark crowdfund and a script, a filmmaking fantasy could come into fruition. And so we went to work. Most of us left from the east coast in mid-September and arrived in
California a week later. Monitoring the coronavirus situation closely, we gunned it in our Subarus and stopped only to sleep, eat, or stretch. As much as filmmaking was on our mind, so was the intense and humbling experience of driving cross-country and making new friends. On the way, we were surprised (and awed) to find a breathtaking and mysterious landscape in between the coasts. Across the Kansas plains, the auburn sunset stretched infinitely into the depths of the ever-expanding, deepening horizon. In the Utah canyonlands, the night sky became so clear and the stars shone so bright that whole new mappings of constellations had revealed themselves, having once been hidden in plain sight. Over the chasm of the Grand Canyon, the physical effects of time and pressure and runoff humbled our tiny bodies, and offered us a sliver of humility and profound stasis in our fervor of activity. Seeing as our collective’s film is still in the process of being edited
at the time of this being written, I feel as if I am not yet ready to fully synthesize the learning experience that was embarking on a completely independent film project across the country with my peers (nor would I have enough pages to do so within this piece). But over the past few months, I have been quietly and carefully contending with the flurry of emotions associated with the aftermath of 2020, a year of volatile and unexpected change that at once derailed and redeemed my commitment and passion to the process of making movies. I did not get the filmmaking experience I had imagined for myself coming into the year; in fact, I got something wholly different. Yet, I recognize how fortunate I am to have had something so wholly different, something so exciting and scary and unknown that gave me an opportunity to challenge myself mentally and physically and to put the skills I had developed at Wesleyan to practical application. I had to learn to abandon the familiar, and to become active in stepping out of the sediment of confusion and indecision that kept me stagnant, sometimes even sunken. The project and entire past year has been an exercise of adaptation, an abrupt test of resilience whose consequences I am still grappling with as I continue my journey as a filmmaker and human being. And as graduation
approaches and an uncertain world gradually veers into my periphery, I remind myself that this adaptation is not so much an exercise as it is a mode of processing, a means of acceptance for the ebb and flow of life that paves way for the opportunity and privilege to create and chase after a vision.
We continue to drive. We are only about three or four days into location scouting but we are already out of time. It is now Week 4 in San Diego, and we have not rolled a single shot. But, I remind myself, things are looking up. The equipment is now all secured. The script is essentially finished. People are rehearsing and making costumes and organizing tech and we’re even going to an abandoned ski resort town in the middle of nowhere that might end up being the perfect location for one of our longest sequences. We’re behind, but we’re moving; I wonder if I will ever be a part of a film production that never feels like that, but I shake away the thought as it isn’t helpful. Daniel asks me to pass him an apple, and I oblige. I look back and see that the other two are still sleeping. My stomach rumbles quietly, and I decide to open a cereal bar since we still have a hundred miles to go, give or take. I chew as I turn back towards the window, and continue to stare at the dry dirt. Even if the desert landscape has become monotonous, unchanging, we drive ahead.
the escapism of wand
WANDAVISION, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first television show, is an exploration of mental illness and unhealthy coping mechanisms under the guise of the action-filled origin story of Scarlet Witch, the alias of Wanda Maximoff, an Avenger with the ability to warp reality. Prior to this show, the last time Wanda Maximoff was seen in the MCU, she was forced to sacrifice Vision, her love-interest over the last few films. She then disappeared for the five years following Thanos’ “Snap,” which killed half of the universe’s population. When Marvel’s audiences are hurtled into the first episode of WandaVision, which takes place after the events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Endgame (2019), they are left to wonder how one of the most powerful Avengers has ended up in a 1950s style sitcom, acting alongside the previouslydeceased Vision. WandaVision slowly reveals the mystery of the creation of Westview, the New Jersey town in which the story takes place. As the story unravels, Marvel fans gain understanding and compassion for the lead character Wanda. The enigmatic town of Westview is slowly revealed to be the product of Wanda’s manipulation of reality, as her grief resulting from Vision’s death has led her to create a world without any reminders of her trauma. Throughout the show,
Wanda’s emotional journey features mental illness, predominantly escapism, trauma, and depression. By intertwining these issues with light-hearted storylines, WandaVision effectively delivers a promising message to its viewers: even a Marvel superhero can be afflicted by mental illness. The first episode of WandaVision is marked by disillusion and misunderstanding, as the audience is left grabbing for any allusion to previous MCU plot lines. The episode opens with an idyllic storyline -- Wanda and Vision are moving into a new home after recently being married. The episode has a 1950s comedic and artistic style, resembling the classic television show I Love Lucy. In Episode 1, Wanda plays a devoted housewife with an American accent, a drastic change from earlier portrayals of the character as a foreigner from Sokovia and a modern day Avenger. Meanwhile, Vision works an office job to provide for the family. The couple is also welcomed into the neighborhood by Agatha, their friendly neighbor. The episode mostly focuses on a quirky sitcom plot, inserting only small, easyto-miss symbols that reference the traumatic underlying cause of Westview’s existence. The first symbol is presented when Wanda
written by alex turtil
looks at a calendar that has a drawing of a lonely little girl in front of a TV. This perhaps reflects her true emotions that are being masked by the cheery, too-perfect sit-com world she has created for herself. The cryptic commercial breaks throughout WandaVision are also symbolic in their depictions of Wanda’s psychology. The first commercial advertises a toaster, with a slogan of “This is your future!”, communicating the desire Wanda feels to continue on in this new fantasy world instead of the real one. As the episode progresses, whenever there is a potential threat to this fantasy, Wanda “fixes’’ it, making sure it does not derail the new idyllic life she has crafted. Episode two maintains the comedic elements of the first, but adds a level of eeriness and deception as audiences are welcomed into the Sixties, and Wanda and Vision continue to settle into the community. The show creatively alludes to Wanda’s true, broken mental state and the possibility of some outside force penetrating her fantasy during an odd interaction between Wanda and her new neighbor Dottie. During a tense conversation, Dottie expresses that she doesn’t trust Wanda. A nearby radio plays a message with someone who asks “Who is doing this to you,
Wanda?” When a glass breaks in Dottie’s hand, she bleeds colored blood, a striking divergence from the episode’s black-and-white ‘60s aesthetic; Wanda is visibly terrified. The audience is left to guess why Wanda is disturbed but can only deduce that she is once again simply having a negative reaction to this unexplained outside interruption in the episode’s plot. Furthermore, at the end of the episode, when a non-citizen of Westview crawls out
of a sewer drain, Wanda grows livid because this is another break in her desired storyline -- it doesn’t fit with her new artificial, idyllic life. Her reaction shows her wish for Westview -- and by extension, for Wanda herself -- to be left alone, keeping out the outside world that has caused her such pain and suffering. The episode shows a new power of Wanda’s: She can rewind the episode when something goes wrong
-- something like the arrival of a “noncitizen” in Westview. Because of this, Wanda can, for the moment, elude any confrontation with the outside world and thereby temporarily keep the effects of her trauma at bay, but it is still unclear whether she is in complete control of Westview. Episode 3 focuses on a new stage in Wanda’s domestic bliss, as she and Vision prepare to have a baby -- later revealed to be twins. She expresses excitement about how she wants to name her kid “a nice, classic, allAmerican name.” These lines convey how Wanda envisions her ideal life as revolving around a picturesque American dream. When Vision brings up concerns about how “something seems wrong,” Wanda uses her powers to reverse time to end the discussion. Moreover, the third commercial break in WandaVision is a bath powder commercial that provides insight into Wanda’s emotional needs. The lines “Do you need a break?” and “Escape to a world all your own, where your problems float away,” illustrate the driving factors behind Wanda’s behaviors. Westview is in fact that very “world” from which her problems have all magically floated away. Outside of Westview she would have to face coping with her tragic past. In Episode 5, which resembles an
‘80s sitcom, Wanda faces growing pressure to uphold the normalcy of Westview from both inside and outside its borders. Vision is becoming more suspicious and distrustful of Wanda, while law enforcement attempts to contact
her from outside. Wanda avoids discussions with Vision regarding their life before their arrival to the town, indicating that Vision doesn’t understand their life -- and his ignorance is something that Wanda
is desperate to protect. Later, for the first time that we’ve seen, Wanda emerges from the town of Westview into the outside world, and therefore back into modern-day reality. The ways she presents herself in this scene drastically contrasts with her
persona in her “television show.” Here, she has her old Slovokian accent, and her expression is grim and threatening; her words seem to reveal that she understands precisely what has been going on in Westview.
As Wanda and S.W.O.R.D. exchange tense words, Wanda gives them a final warning to leave her alone and states, “I have what I want, and no one will ever take it away from me again.” This reveals her feelings of betrayal and hurt, furthering the theory that she is using her newfound home to separate herself from the reality of her loneliness and loss. She can’t see a way out, but also doesn’t seem to want to leave, as she has gained immeasurable comfort from her imaginary world. This sentiment is echoed by the commercial break for paper towels later in the episode, which has the slogan “For when you make a mess you didn’t mean to.” Undoubtedly, Wanda has found herself in a mess -- one from which she benefits emotionally, but one that also inflicts pain on others -- the citizens of Westview are discovered to be real, mind-controlled people who are suffering. When the episode ends with Vision confronting her with the knowledge that she is controlling people’s thoughts and activities in the neighborhood, she states: “All this is for us.” Here Wanda is attempting to rationalize her destructive behaviors in order to maintain her escape from reality that Westview provides. Episode 6 follows a significant cliffhanger: we discover that Pietro, Wanda’s brother, has been “recast,”
with a completely different actor from the Pietro of previous MCU films. Set in the ‘90s, this episode explores “fake Pietro” and reveals more about Wanda’s suffering mental health. Pietro at one point confides in Wanda that he is impressed by her creation of Westview and asks how she did it. She reveals that she doesn’t know but remembers feeling “completely alone and empty,” showing symptoms of depression and feelings of abandonment. After this confession, she turns and sees a hallucination of Pietro’s corpse. This clearly startles Wanda and she shuts her eyes -- signs that reveal the reigniting of her trauma. A similar moment occurs in episode 4, when Wanda also hallucinates seeing Vision as a corpse -- a clear reference to his death that has already occurred. Here, too, she closes her eyes, visibly alarmed. While Westview has mostly succeeded in helping Wanda to maintain her denial about Vision’s death, these instances serve as a rude awakening to her, reminding her of her tragic past. In Episode 7, using a modern sitcom convention, documentarylike personal interviews, Wanda
reconciles with the fact that she is living in a “fake world.” She finally acknowledges the negative aspects of her actions and admits to having a difficult time dealing with her guilt of mind-controlling the citizens. The episode includes Wanda’s first explicit depressive episode: she has trouble getting out of bed, interacting with her kids, wants to watch TV all day, and insists on having “a me-day.” A commercial calls out Wanda’s deteriorating mental health, as it advertises antidepressants -- a possible treatment option for her behavioural symptoms during the episode. The last episodes depict a number of Wanda’s traumatic life experiences, as well as Vision’s death -- her emotional breaking point that ultimately led to the creation of Westview. One past memory shows her at S.W.O.R.D. headquarters, where she demands to see Vision’s body after his death. When she is
finally given access, she is shown his dismantled, robotic corpse -- an undoubtedly traumatizing sight. She is then told, “He isn’t yours,” and is forced to leave the facility without him. From there, Wanda drives to a normal, modern Westview, New Jersey, and arrives at an empty plot of land. She remembers looking at a piece of paper that reads, “A place to grow old in,” which was signed by Vision. Heartbroken, Wanda crashes to the ground, and the immense grief and loneliness manifests in a red storm cloud of static which engulfs Westview. Before she realizes what she is doing, the town returns to the 1950s, a home is constructed where she stands, and a resurrected Vision appears in front of her. She is relieved to see him, and the extreme transformation of surroundings goes unacknowledged by Wanda as she bathes in this escape from the sad reality of the previous moments. The final episode of WandaVision
focuses on the battle between Wanda and her neighbor Agatha, who is revealed to be a witch intent on stealing Wanda’s powers. However, the episode also emphasizes Wanda’s reconciliation with her maladaptive coping strategies. She eventually wins the fight, and the show ends with her allowing Westview to return to the way it was before her arrival. Wanda finally comes to understand the extent of the damage she has caused -- both to herself and to the town of Westview -- and as a result, she must flee and allow Westview’s citizens to be free once again. This means that her sons, and most importantly, Vision, will be erased, since they were all the result of her desire to escape her grief and live in an American, dream-like normalcy -- one that, much like the façade Wanda has used to conceal her mental health struggles, has proved to be unsustainable and ultimately destructive.