Thursday, November 5, 2015

Theory Thursday: The Wachowski Siblings Are Overrated

Scene from V for Vendetta
Welcome to a weekly column called Theory Thursdays, which will be released every Thursday and discuss my "controversial opinion" related to something relative to the week of release. Sometimes it will be birthdays while others is current events or a new film release. Whatever the case may be, this is a personal defense for why I disagree with the general opinion and hope to convince you of the same. While I don't expect you to be on my side, I do hope for a rational argument. After all, film is a subjective medium and this is merely just a theory that can be proven either way. 

Subject: Today is Guy Fawkes day, the basis for the movie V for Vendetta.
Theory: Andy and Lana Wachowski are overrated.

Doona Bae in Sense8
Every year since 2005 (or 1988 if you're an Alan Moore fan), people have made it a point to flood the internet with the reminder that November 5 is Guy Fawkes Day. It doesn't seem like much of a problem, especially since there's hundreds of holidays per year worthy of recognition. But what it usually seems to end up being is not that people care about Guy Fawkes Day, but more that it's an excuse to recite a line from V for Vendetta; a film that is largely inspired by said holiday and helped to create the modern hacktivist movement Anonymous. If you've been circling the internet for a few hours today, you're likely to have come across someone saying "Remember, remember. The fifth of November." It's a catchy, quick saying that for the most part sticks with you, like the best lines of cinema ranging from "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." to "E.T. phone home." It's V for Vendetta's legacy in a nutshell; one line that overshadows the memory for most of an entire film.

The film was written by Larry (now Lana) and Andy Wachowski, of whom you may remember best for the sci-fi films in The Matrix franchise. For the most part, the 1999 original, of which the two co-directed, is one of those iconic films worthy of discussion and passing to new generations. While its bullet time effects may have been satirized to death, its general mixture of philosophy and Keanu Reeves doing kung fu is insanely watchable. It may seem more dated now that time has passed, but it still feels like one of the ultimate commentaries on the shifting tides between the analog nature of the 20th century, and the digital age that would be ushered in shortly after Y2K. Yes, James Cameron was also banging that gong, but The Matrix embodied the future with style and brains.

It's been interesting to see their career post-The Matrix. With subsequent sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, fans turned on them. While they would make money, it does feel like they were the fluke directors. Besides V for Vendetta, their next film would be an adaptation of Speed Racer; which is a colorful, surreal journey into what they could possibly offer. To their credit, they are likely more cutting edge and innovative than most mainstream sci-fi directors of the past 20 years. It's the type of credibility that makes me want to give them more love. 

Secretly, I have been watching all of their films - including their Netflix series Sense8 - with hope that they were going to be this revolutionary cinematic force. After all, they were addressing themes uncommon to sci-fi. With Lana Wachowski recently coming out as transgender, it's a relief to see diverse representation in film. Even their exploration of LGBT themes in works like Cloud Atlas and Sense8 were very bold and worthy of the the acclaim. With everyone else calling them unappreciated geniuses, I need to come out and just state something: I don't see it. Besides that diversity, what exactly do they have that I'm not seeing?

Don't mistake my cry. This isn't an attack on their approach to film. In fact, it's why I feel saddened when I don't enjoy their work, most notably post-Speed Racer. I commend that they take me to places outside of the familiar sci-fi realms. I liked Cloud Atlas *in theory*, but felt that its production and pacing were too problematic. Even the themes, which were handled much better in the book, felt a little too rushed. At most, I could appreciate it as one of those flawed masterpieces you hear about. Basically, I could away from Cloud Atlas more curious by what it does, impressed with it from an editing and production standpoint, than what it achieved. I am capable of now noticing its ambitions, but I do think that it's the start of where I don't exactly love The Wachowski's works.

As hypocritical as it sounds, I'm also a little turned off by the high concept nature of their stories. Where Cloud Atlas was capable of condensing its themes almost like a textbook with many, many indexes; I found myself feeling defeated by Sense8. Beyond its slow pacing, I found myself not entirely embracing the montages. Sure, some were impressively bold - such as one involving several explicit births. They were meant to become this overwhelming feeling about the value and preciousness of life. As much as I was enthused to find something that told and showed a story differently, I couldn't get around everything else within the narrative. The characters took six episodes (or: six hours) to actually get interesting, and even then they mostly worked because of the challenging visuals of transplanting its diverse cast into different scenarios; as relevant to the plot.

You see, The Wachowskis strike me more as high concept directors than great directors. By the end, people remember the "philosophy" of their work more than the actual story. Sure, they have cool visuals, but they often feel more like haphazard parables than plot driven stories. As it stands, Sense8 is among the most unique experiences I've had this year. It's also one that I've forgotten about almost entirely. It wasn't that great. Yet, I commend them for making a world with one of the most diverse casts in, well, anything this year. They are respectable in that they incorporate an equality motif to most of their work. My only hope is that they one day get back to making great stories that don't feel like excuses to get to the big wowzer visual. It's become overbearing to even want to watch their work, because that's what they feel reduced to. Even with Jupiter Ascending, it sounds like people are growing tired of their lack of skills as story tellers.

Scene from Bound
I know that this all sounds harsh, but it's the one thing that's been hard for me to publicly admit with The Wachowskis. For all that they do right, I just don't think that they tell good stories. It's an odd move, considering that their most beloved non-Matrix movie is the one that they co-wrote, but didn't co-direct, called V for Vendetta. That film is arguably just as high concept as Cloud Atlas, but probably benefits from being a film outside of the sci-fi landscape. It could also just be that they had outside interference with a different director, and a rich source material from the usually creative and dark Moore. There's a lot of contradictions in how I feel about these two directors that makes it hard to admit that I generally don't love their work and mostly see it to support "challenging and progressive" cinema. 

Frankly,  I would personally love if they didn't make sci-fi for awhile. I think it would be best for them, because it would give them a chance to make something as compelling as V for Vendetta. Of course, I don't consider that one film a fluke. If you go to their debut with Bound, you'll see that they always had the ingenuity to do something off kilter. For instance, Bound is a 90's take on film noir in which the two leads play lesbians, which already turns the femme fatale concept on its head. It's a genre film, much like everything they've done since, but their characters are grounded in their stylized realism that it only adds to the brilliant subversion. It's an underrated film by general audiences, though is praised by LGBT cinema enthusiasts for its accurate depiction of lesbian romance and sex. If nothing else, it definitely proved that the directors could do something ambitious.

I would say that The Matrix ruined them, but that's to argue that what they made since wasn't good. There's a lot to like about their work. It's just that I don't think it's being handled in an interesting way. What I would love is if there was another Bound in their filmography. Maybe not film noir, but possibly tackle a grounded drama in which there's nothing supernatural going on. I think that it would cause them to stretch a little bit. Speaking as they have always had a compelling ideal, I just want to see them do their commentary in a more captivating manner that doesn't feel rooted in hard sci-fi. Maybe it's just that I don't care about the genre as much, but I do think that it's a deterrent at this point.

I hope that I don't come across as hating The Wachowskis. Even if I don't love most of their work, I do think that they're a valuable contribution to film and TV. What they're doing is more progressive and important than what most directors are doing. While I'm baffled as to how they always get big budgets after consistently losing money, I have to admit that it adds to the fun of watching them experiment within an otherwise incapable pallet. I like that there's people wanting to gamble on them. I like that they have shown me things that I have never seen before. I just wish that I was more interested in them from a story standpoint. Speaking as they've remained consistent to their vision over the years, I won't fault them if they never make that film that I think is great. I just wish that they would so that I can relish in that joy as much as everyone else does.

1 comment:

  1. Speed Racer is severely underrated in hindsight, and Cloud Atlas' score should've received an Oscar nomination.