Please welcome today’s guest writer, Ryan Hagerman. Ryan graduated in the spring of 2014 with a major in media production and minor in journalism. He currently lives in Grand Rapids with his wife Liz Mulder. When he’s not working, Ryan is either writing for his WordPress blog All Good Frames, making a short film, editing videos, or taking photographs around the city.
Bodies matter. I will live my whole life with this body and accomplish everything through it. I’ve been thinking about this basic truth as the latest pack of superhero films stampedes through the box office. Superhero films are not bodily; they rely overly on CGI and spectacle, which makes them increasingly irrelevant to us.
Hollywood’s obsession with spectacle has led to an overzealous use of CGI (computer generated images) to create fantastic scenes of explosions, crumbling buildings, and alien spaceships. Sometimes CGI is useful, but in films like The Avengers or Man of Steel CGI gets in the way of our emotional connection to characters. It is hard to sympathize with a superhero when it becomes difficult to locate him or her amidst crumbling buildings. It is harder when heroes don’t even appear to be incarnate. They are ghostly, pixilated; we are fleshy, vulnerable.
A bigger problem is that these blockbuster heroes are not allowed to die, and they are never in any real danger of dying. We know they will always pull through and live. It’s so frustrating because we die. I will die, you will die, even Jesus died. Yet, these films keep giving us untouchable immortals.
These films bother me so much because our bodies have to deal with political consequences. We can’t just fly away from our government. I live in a state where the lawmakers for an entire year would not approve funding to improve the roads. Potholes that can damage vehicles are fine for them; they can afford it. For others however, a punctured tire means missing a shift, losing a job, missing rent, losing a home. We are limited by time and space; superheroes are not.
These films bother me because #blacklivesmatter. In 2014, a police officer in Ohio shot and killed a black twelve-year-old, and a police officer in New York choked a surrendering black man to death. The year before that, a man killed a black fifteen year old for wearing a hoodie. In that same year, a man shot at a group of black teenagers, killing one of them, because their music was too loud. Yet Hollywood films ignore this: white superheroes stop non-white, non-human supervillains.
Thankfully, there are films out there that do deal with bodies. Films like Boyhood, Selma, and shockingly, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One, all deal with our vulnerabilities. Boyhood is just the story of a boy growing up and trying to figure out “what kind of man” he wants to be and whether the concept of “being a real man” is helpful at all. The unique thing about Boyhood is that it was filmed over twelve years, watching a real boy grow up. The film is as much celluloid as it is cellular; as frames of film move in front of projected light, Mason’s (Ellar Coltrane) cells divide and he grows up.
Mockingjay Part One gave me hope that Hollywood could make a big budget film that wouldn’t be so un-relatable. It is unlike any of the other blockbusters out there right now. Many people have complained that the film is just a cash grab and that nothing really important happens, but I disagree entirely.
Throughout the film there are scenes that focus on the other districts. In these scenes, the citizens are presented as a crowd. They have no weapons, no rhetoric, all they have are their bodies, and they use sheer force of numbers to accomplish their goals. One scene shows the crowd rushing a dam while guards mow them down with automatic weapons. The crowd is trying to carry a bomb to the dam to blow it up, which would disrupt the power of the Capitol. Two will be carrying the bomb when they are shot down, and then two more will pick it up. It goes on, and many people die until they reach the dam.
Selma is another good example of bodily cinema. It follows the protest marches in the titular town for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The film almost doesn’t have a protagonist. It focuses on Martin Luther King Jr. but it isn’t his story. The film follows the stories of several other members of the protest, including two white priests who were beaten to death. By focusing less on a singular protagonist, the story becomes about people, not a superhero.
There is a moment when the crowd of protesters crosses a bridge and faces federal and state policeman. The policemen lower gas masks over their faces and then proceed to launch gas grenades into the crowd as they beat the protesters with sticks and guns. The smoky bridge hides their actions from the televised newscast, but the sounds of screaming and smacking of clubs is heard clearly. It is a chilling scene, black men and women laying down their bodies to provoke white people’s sympathy.
“Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” Adam said to Eve upon seeing her. It’s an embodied kind of love, a love that occurs again with the Incarnation. Bodies matter, and more films need to remind us of that.