Americans don’t want their entertainment to be too deep. It’s a large part of why simplistic, escapist films rule the the box office. It’s ironic that the same people who say such things often spend much of their free time on equally frivolous enthusiasms such as sports. The same guy who can’t be bothered to contemplate some of the deeper themes Dark Knight could probably wax analytical about his favorite players and teams at the drop of a hat. Even those of us who “don’t have the time” expend a lot of energy over-thinking our favorite activities. That tendency is something that is sorely undervalued in our society. A perceptive, analytical mind can be a powerful weapon that can help one uncover hidden truths.
A good example of how looking at things with a deeper eye can be truly rewarding is Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror classic Alien, which is being prequelized this summer by Scott himself with Prometheus. One might ask “Well, what more could there be to Alien?” A quick synopsis of the plot might certainly prompt such a response. It’s essentially about an evil alien that gets loose on a giant space freighter and kills the crew one by one; a slasher movie in space. Now let’s look a little deeper. We’ll focus on the film’s most famous moment, the notorious “chestburster” scene. While on an uncharted planet, the character Kane is attacked by a facehugger, which renders him unconscious and attaches itself to his face. While Kane is incapacitated, the creature deposits a xenomorph embryo into his lungs, where it incubates. Kane’s unconscious body is brought back aboard the ship. After awakens, he gives birth to the “Alien” of the title, which it tears its way out of his chest.
Such a simple idea, and yet it plays on two of the deepest and darkest fears shared by most heterosexual men: The fear of being sexually violated/penetrated, and the pain of giving birth. This isn’t simply some persnickety film critic analysis of the film, It’s a fact. Dan O’Bannon, the films screenwriter, has confirmed it on many an occasion:
“One thing that people are all disturbed about is sex… I said ‘That’s how I’m going to attack the audience; I’m going to attack them sexually. And I’m not going to go after the women in the audience, I’m going to attack the men. I am going to put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs. Homosexual oral rape, birth. The thing lays its eggs down your throat, the whole number.”
Now look at O’Bannon’s comments within the context of the film’s production design. The work of surrealist artist H.R. Giger, responsible for the film’s overall look, was a huge inspiration from the outset. His work is notoriously sexually explicit, often incorporating male and female genitalia into its biomechanical compositions. Look at the design of the title creature itself, inspired by his Necronomicon IV. Anyone who doesn’t see a giant black phallic symbol is either delusional or blind. Now, take into account that the “facehugger” looks like a vagina with insect legs, or Ash the android attempting to kill Ripley by trying to shove a rolled up porno mag down her throat. Suddenly, this simple little monster movie becomes infinitely more disturbing.
Even those that acknowledge how further analysis can yield hidden subtext will use that fact as proof positive that the creative community is inherently corrupt. Incorporating hidden messages shows their penchant for trying to subvert all of America’s traditional values. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Alien is essentially a movie about rape, or the fear of rape, one of the most dehumanizing and emotionally scarring experiences a human being can endure. It’s a nightmare write large, an expression of our deepest and darkest fears. Isn’t that what a good scary movie is supposed to be? Aren’t our filmmakers all the more skillful for being able to add a few more layers to their work?
All artists and mediums indulge in that practice to some degree. Hip-Hop certainly does. How many subliminal disses have rappers lobbed at each other over the years? How many metaphors and double entendres have required multiple listens to interpret? To this day, there are actually people who still think that Pac is talking about a woman on “Me and My Girlfriend.” Those who were truly listening figured out what he was really talking about a long time ago. Some may call it subversive or sneaky. I call it an essential part of being a thoughtful and skillful artist.
Corporate America doesn’t want us using our brains. They discourage it at every turn. That’s why they inundate the masses with brain dead, escapist entertainment at every turn. A sedated and simple-minded populace is easy to control. Their campaign has been so effective, that looking deeply into mass entertainment is now largely seen as the sole pursuit of nerds and pseudo-intellectuals. It’s portrayed as the antithesis of fun. As any movie buff knows, a deeper look can yield treasures that make the viewing experience even more fun, not less. Don’t let system rob you of your ability to think, analyze, and interpret. Your mind is perhaps the only thing in this world they can’t place limits on.
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