Sunday, February 24, 2008

My One Oscar Tidbit: We Saw the Horses in Realm & Conquest, Too

The only big film I have seen is Michael Clayton, which I liked a lot. There is quite a strong blog presence against it, particularly against its structure.


At the beginning of the film we see MC survive a car bomb, and then we get the “4 days earlier” message that resets the time frame. When we arrive at this point in time again, people are complaining that no suspense exists, because we know he survives.

That is true. But the car bomb scene is not about intrigue suspense, but about subtle dramatic revelation and a turning point for the character Michael Clayton. I haven't seen anyone write about this.

At the beginning of the film, MC “fixes” a situation for a client in Westchester, and as he is driving toward home he sees horses in a stand of trees. He pulls over, gets out of the car and walks over to them. It is just dawn, and the lighting of the scene is very beautiful. Over his left shoulder we see his car blow up. He runs into the forest, and then we go back 4 days earlier and the story really starts from there for the viewer.

When we arrive back at this scene, we have important new knowledge and context. We have learned that MC’s son Henry is engrossed in a sci fi world of a book called Realm & Conquest. He gives a copy of the book to his dad, and to Arthur Edens, the other main character. Arthur is very taken with it, and bonds with Henry over it. MC hasn’t had time to look at it.

Fast forward to Arthur being killed. MC goes to his apartment to look around, and he finds the copy of the book. He flips through it and stops for a second on a page with an illustration of horses. (He continues to flip, and finds the receipt for the report that is at the copy shop.)

Now further ahead to Michael driving away from his task in Westchester. Again we all see the horses—but now we know that they are almost exactly like the illustration in the book. That’s why Michael stopped in the first place. He was amazed, surprised. Without this knowledge the first time, you have to wonder why he got out of the car for a bunch of horses. They are not an uncommon sight in Westchester.

This second time with the horses is a longer scene than the first. We see Michael’s reaction more fully, and it is beautifully dramatic. We now see on his face that he feels his grief over Arthur, and his deep love for his son, and that he is having an “ah-ha” moment of embracing life itself in the beauty of those magnificent animals. Then the car blows up. So, the illustration in Realm & Conquest saved Michael's life. Hmm.

The evil corporate giant U-North is the antithesis of everything that is connecting in Michael's head, and from that moment, he acts to finish what Arthur started, and bring down the bastards.

As I said, it’s a subtle moment. It wasn’t meant to be suspenseful about the car bomb. I think it’s a tighter film than some people give it credit for, and Clooney’s performance is very, very rich.

That said, they say that Daniel Day Lewis has a lock on the Best Actor nod. I will catch up, sometime.


Jeremy said...

I'm totaly amazed you needed to point this out ... but then I don't discuss films with people much. Of course we saw the horses in the book, and of course that's what makes the movie work.

Right now, The Squeeze and I are worrying over the Brothers Sunday in there Will Be Blood, but as you seem not to have seen it, I won't go into details.

M.A.Peel said...

Jeremy--I KNOW!! Even some serious film bloggers didn't see it. Still don't know how that is possible

I will keep my ears open for the Brothers Sunday when I catch up with TWBB.

Tim Footman said...

Are people still really so wedded to strictly chronological narrative that they give up on a film "because we already know George Clooney survives"? Did they walk out half way through Pulp Fiction because Travolta gets killed? Oooh, sorry, I meant to say SPOILER ALERT.

I liked Michael Clayton. The whole point of the flashback structure was surely to get the audience wondering how the character got to that point.

Anonymous said...

I've just read through a whole ton of posts for this truly excellent piece of cinema..

One of the clearest points for me is that Clayton did not survive the car bomb... Physically, yes, but the man after that point is not the same as he was. The film begins with a voice over totally involved with rebirth, a calling to a higher purpose, the recreation of a mans very soul...
And I haven't found a single post that points out the simple premise of the car bomb: Michael Clayton recieves his Summons.
If you dont get this reference, watch the film again. You only need to see the first 5 minutes.

As for your points about chronological narrative, yes, people are firmly wedded to it. In a far broader sense they are wedded to Contemporary Hollywood and its structure in general; its the only style most people can actually read... but then films such as this aren't made for 'most' people.

A piece of cinema such as this is a thing of true beauty (as opposed to TWBB, which clearly lacks in depth, has nothing below the surface and aside from a [large, admittedly] number of exquisite shots has nothing of worth in its entire structure). Besides all of these things, the underpining point of any human story, any Drama, is that of human interaction; human beings.
In a nutshell, I can relate to each of the characters in Clayton with perfect simplicity.

Like you guys said, theres more to Clayton than meets the eye. It requires a number of viewings. And everything is easy to miss for most people. The sad thing is that most people just don't have the time, energy, inclination or interest.

It's also quite sad that TWBB is being celebrated for this very reason... if you look long and hard at TWBB, you'll find theres very little there. Look long and hard at Clayton and you'll find yourself writing an essay...

Just so we're clear, I threw out TWBB after the first viewing. And now I'm gonna go watch Clayton again :P

M.A.Peel said...

Anon, I hadn't thought about the "purpose" of the car bomb in relation to the character Michael Clayton. I think you are entirely right--it's the moment of transformation for him. Thanks for pointing that out.

jaik said...

well there were horses in the book, that still doesn't get at the whole issue of why he got out of the car, or stopped or was driving the way he was. how did he know he was being followed, he seemed to. why did he leave the car, is that just supposed to be a massive ridiculous coincidence that magic horses tempt him away at just the very moment his car will blow up. that logical leap really hurt the movie. they could've done better, characters acting with out realistic motivation hurts the delivery. and also that the hitmen carefully mask Arthur's death as a suicide, but then loudly blow up MC's car with a bomb ? How would investigators have reacted to a carbombing in NY ? When was the last time that happened ?

M.A.Peel said...

jaik, I agree that the horses put the film into the Signals arena. A strange, but unique choice. It meant the film didn't settle into one genre.