Albert Camus

THE MOVIE CHALLENGES

FARGO AND NEOCON TOM TOMS

 138748.dca898c8-4d8e-4f0d-bdf8-64dec3285016

In the end the Civil Servant was important. Two scenes dominate the last episode of the third series of Fargo. Both are simple and both consist of no more than a face-to-face conversation between two people, the type of thing that pretentious Civil Service managers used to call bi-laterals. The Civil Servant in Fargo wears a suit and has neat hair. He is ordinary and dull and that makes him unusual because in Fargo most of the characters are either eccentric or savage.   The series has had poignant moments because there is a weird empathy amidst all the dark humour. But if there is compassion for the ordinary, the dark humour denies the citizens of town Fargo our respect. This is what makes Fargo quirky. The characters are both pathetic and sympathetic. They tilt their heads, frown, and worry about what might happen next. Most of us, though, will be indifferent to the secure Civil Servant.

fargo-season-3-stussy

This is what he said. It is worth remembering because he provides a good description of how modern capitalism works. Imagine a finance company approaching a normal business and making a $1m loan to that business.   They introduce a partner who then borrows money, say $4m, using the original business as security. The business now has to pay interest on the original $1m loan plus the extra $4m debt. The company struggles and is sold for a price well below what it was worth when it received the $1m loan. Meanwhile the finance company has pocketed the $4m that was borrowed in the name of the business plus some assets that have been stripped out of the business. Workers may have been laid off but everybody else is happy. The new owners have a company on the cheap, the original owners get a commission on whatever was borrowed, the finance company has the largest share of the $4m and sales of assets, and the bank has new owners that will continue paying the interest on the loan.   In Fargo the example and the explanation is a little simpler. In that case the $1m loan is repaid before the bad guys arrive and the role of the bank is never mentioned. Because making money this way is easy for rich people, they do it often. It keeps them busy, and, because they are always busy, the rich tell themselves that they work hard.

FARGO -- Pictured: David Thewlis as V.M. Vargas. CR: Matthias Clamer/FX

The second important conversation occurs in the final scene and is between Gloria Burgle and V M Varga.  Burgle is working for the Department Of Homeland Security but before that she was a policewoman in Fargo, the place where Varga killed and swindled people. Varga is head of a finance company and what he does is unusual because the killing of people to protect profit is normally done by governments operating on behalf of the finance and large global companies.  Varga describes himself as a simple salesman. He does not have a conscience about the loss of life in the town of Fargo. ‘Human beings have no inherent value other than the money they earn,’ he says. If this sounds extreme, last weekend Will Tanner, a policy expert within the British Conservative Party, wrote in The Observer, ‘It (the Conservative Party) should prioritise the opportunity for the young and the hardworking over security for the old and the undeserving.’ We have heard of the undeserving poor before. Ever since rich people have been able to make money without actually doing anything of use they have been irritated by what they call the undeserving poor or the lazy, confused, alienated, sick, disabled and old. The above nonsense appeared in a liberal newspaper because, and this is almost as hard to believe as the Columbo raincoat that Varga wears in Fargo, Will Tanner is from the left wing of the Conservative party.   The people who really hate the poor have been told to keep quiet. God help us, which is how Gloria Burgle feels listening to Varga quote his self-serving rubbish.

The series and scene end with Burgle watching the clock tick inside the police station. Varga has promised that powerful friends will have him free within the next five minutes. Knowing that series 4 awaits, we stare at the clock. What has just happened is complicated. Unlike the scene with the Civil Servant, which is basic exposition for those who are unwilling to read an economic text, the final scene between Burgle and Varga has mystery and irony. It is not clear whether Varga will be rescued and, if he is, will it be because he is powerful or because he works for really rich and powerful people. Up to that point Varga has created mayhem and appeared to be omnipotent. But we leave the scene and the series wondering whether even Varga may be no more than a lackey.   The ticking clock may also be a reference to the nuclear countdown. Push the powerful too much and this is what will happen.

fargo-season-3-images-david-thewlis-goran-bogdan-andy-yu-600x400

 

Throughout the three series of Fargo the characters have witlessly engineered their doom.  Not only are the surprises entertaining they signify the delusion of ambition in the modern world. The system rather than ourselves determines our lives. The heroes of Fargo do not have ambition. The rest are either evil or misguided. Burgle challenges Varga when he describes his plans and mentions his powerful friends. Her words imply that the value of her life exists in normality and community. She is looking forward to taking her son to the State Fair. This is what decent parents do; they share the innocence of their children.  Burgle is loyal to her country and committed to her child and the future. She works for the Department Of Homeland Security.  Burgle will resist the threat of people like Varga, a British villain who describes himself as a ‘citizen of the air’.  The notion of American victimhood at the hands of foreign capitalists feels odd and it may be included in the scene so that we cannot make simple conclusions about heroes and villains. Burgle identifies Varga as a threat to American decency. Well the rich and powerful are a threat, and it may be that Varga is only British because David Thewlis is too good an actor to resist.   But the Department Of Homeland Security uniform is a peculiar choice for the steadfast Burgle. The example that the Civil Servant described to Burgle is not limited to financial dealings within a border. Developing countries have been suckered into initial investment from the West, burdened with heavy debt repayments, witnessed their economies subsequently falter and then been visited by the IMF insisting their governments have to privatise and that those contracts should be open to American companies. When none of that works and the local President thinks his country can exist as an independent state with nationalised utilities, the CIA provokes disruption. Gloria Burgle may be a nice person but she is more than innocent. She is naïve, and so are we if we take this fine scene at face value. It can only make sense if there are more surprises to follow.

fargo-season-3-promo

 

So far Fargo has revealed neither optimism nor naivety. The folks of Minnesota have homes, food to eat and cars to drive home. They are, though, powerless and unaware of how the world around them operates. What happens in Fargo is decided by someone on the end of a distant telephone and not the citizens of the town. There is what once may have been a famous quote by Albert Camus. ‘Other men will make history. All I can say is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims – and as far as possible one must refuse to be on the side of pestilence.’ We have all seen snow but most of us also see it fade away at some point in the year. In Fargo the snow only disappears when people step inside a building. The snow settles and remains on the ground like a pestilence. Fargo residents shuffle around, shovel snow and refuse to complain. They may have mistaken ideas about how they can determine their fate but none of them are making history. They endure the pestilence and, thanks to their willingness with shovels these victims are also on the side of the pestilence. And that may be why poor heroic Gloria Burgle is now obliged to wear a Department Of Homeland Security uniform. She resists evil without ever understanding the nature of her perpetual compliance. The tom toms of neoconservatism have been beating since 1979. For almost forty years we have been told to believe that people like Varga are at their best when unregulated.  In that time inequality has increased. The courtesies, trust and good manners of the deceived have facilitated measures that reduced their standard of living. Well away from them people like Varga made telephone calls, spouted nonsense about free markets and the invisible hand, took government subsidies, relied on bankruptcy law and limited liability and pretended they were men and women of risk. The rest of us have been shovelling snow and been lied to about what caused the pestilence.

fargo-season-3-episode-6-gloria-winnie

The TV series Fargo is at an important point in its development. So far it has had off the wall surrealism, great actors and improving photography. No hero or villain has continued into a subsequent series. This time, though, neoconservatism is in crisis. More and more people are resting on their shovels and having a good moan. Gloria Burgle should abandon her Department Of Homeland Security uniform and return to Fargo and series 4. But maybe the mysterious final scene was no more than a rare happy ending for a hardworking single mother. Burgle has had a lucky escape. We have to hope another policewoman will continue to probe and investigate just what is the pestilence that reduces and sometimes extinguishes the lives of her good neighbours.

Howard Jackson has had six books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories and Horror Pickers, a collection of film criticism.   If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

REAL MEAN CRITTERS

PUSHER

DENMARK, 1996

 mv5byjy3y2jinzytmzyyny00ntuylweyy2itnwvmowjlmdhlodqwxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynji3mjc5nzq-_v1_

Since the election of Donald Trump the phrase Man Baby has appeared often. Baby is perhaps an exaggeration. Man Boy is better. A Man Boy, we have discovered, is an impatient bully who has an exaggerated sense of entitlement. Man Boys, which may or may not be the plural, think they are entitled to everything their mothers promised them and everything that their inferior mothers lacked the ability to imagine. Man Boys do not regard women as their equals. They cannot. They have feelings of superiority to most human beings. So far the term Man Boy has been used by left wing critics to puncture the reputations of greedy and vulgar businessmen and coarse right wing politicians.  But Man Boys are everywhere. Working class gangsters are Man Boys. This should be no surprise. Gangsters are violent and unpleasant but they have the same interest in money as businessmen.   Man Boys, though, are not just interested in money.   Writers and filmmakers include a fair number of Man Boys.   Bohemia, the cultural homeland and not the place, is full of Man Boys and even Women Girls.   The creative Man Boy witnesses chaos and suffering and rubs his hands at the prospect of an idea for a film.   Twisted violence and torture can make Man Boys giggle.

Pusher-Big2.jpg

Nicolas Winding Refn is the other famous Danish filmmaker and not the one everyone knows.  Like Lars Von Trier, he is talented but a little odd. Although we had seen it all before somehow his film Drive impressed the critics. Winding Refn is a stylish director and he has a sense of character and destiny.  This strength undermined a film about an existential loner and his motor car but what the hell.  Camus has been long dead, more the pity. The films of Winding Refn and Von Trier are bold but also self-important. People give them millions of dollars to spend, which means that there are more than a few people who can live with self-importance. Valhalla Rising was an attempt by Winding Refn to match the epics of the equally odd Werner Van Herzog.  Valhalla Rising cost nearly $6m and made $31,000.   Even money launderers would baulk at that but perhaps that film was more self-important than bold. Winding Refn and Von Trier may just be the challenging filmmakers that audiences need if we are to survive jaded modernity.  Or they may be Man Boys, adult versions of the kind of children who giggled when they were asked to wipe their noses. To the surprise of no one Winding Refn directed a film that was based on the life of Bronson the violent criminal. Now incarcerated in Broadmoor amongst the violent and insane the troubled armed robber Bronson has assaulted an awful lot of people. Sometimes he holds his victims hostage. He also paints and writes poetry. Bronson is a role model for Man Boys everywhere.  Donald Trump may be a fan.

from-pusher-to-drive-the-many-faces-of-nicolas-winding-refn

For those inspired by the Danish record on economic equality and education the term Copenhagen Underworld may sound like an oxymoron. It is not. Winding Refn and Von Trier may be Man Boys but, because they have neither illusions nor moral aspirations, their films can sometimes benefit . The people in Pusher are unpleasant, and their immorality is convincing. These people want the freedom to be better but not in the way Camus imagined. They want more money, status and gratification.

Pusher is the first of a trilogy.   All are set in Copenhagen. Some of the characters appear in more than one film.   Winding Refn was reluctant to make sequels to Pusher but he needed to earn money because he was in debt. Valhalla did not rise.   When potential film projects are mentioned, the name of Winding Refn is often mentioned. Film directors who survive know what it is like to be a desperate hustler. Winding Refyn has also talked about how the second in the Pusher series reflects his own complicated relationship with his father.   This may be why that film is the best of the trilogy.  The series began, though, with a frantic search for money.

image-w856

Frank buys drugs from Milo.  Frank intends to sell them to someone else and make a profit.  Frank will pay Milo for the drugs he has bought after he sells them.  The economic model is simple. There is a distributor, wholesaler, retailer and customer, and something supposedly marvellous called credit. Frank is the wholesaler. Pusher may be a criticism of capitalism or it may simply be a tale of chaotic lives. It does, though, expose the network of exploitation and abuse that develops from commercial contracts, profit and the advantage of economic power. Mix in male authority, and somehow people have to survive. This means that dependencies are established. Thanks to the the films of Michelangelo Antonioni we all know the thin line between dependency and prostitution. The girlfriend of Frank says, ‘I’m not a whore. I’m a champagne girl.’ She is confused about how she earns her money but so are the rest of us. When Frank attempts to sell the heroin supplied by Milo, the police intervene and Frank loses both the heroin and the money Milo was expecting to be paid.

After the 2008 financial crash there has been debate about whether risk should be proportioned amongst creditors and debtors. The progressive argument is that creditors should be expected to take some of the risk if they expect to make profit or interest. They are exercising a judgement that may or may not be rewarded. The progressives argue that moral hazard is important to all economic decisions. In 2008 the bankers and their friends in government felt otherwise and were happy to make people homeless. Milo thinks like the bankers. He wants his money, and, if it is not paid, Frank can keep his apartment but he will lose a kneecap. This is life on the edge. Money or the lack of it can mean obliteration. Filmmakers must have similar feelings when their deals go sour. We suspect that some of the film, like the sequel, is inspired by the personal experience of Winding Refn.

pusher111

At the beginning of the film we see drug dealers Frank and Tonny relaxing.  Winding Refyn researched the film. He spoke to Copehagen criminals and he attended Narcotics Anonymous. Pusher impresses because the scenes of Frank and Tonny having fun are just as disturbing as the violent confrontations that follow. Men like Frank and Tonny need to impress other men.   Reassurance is essential for these aspiring gangsters, and they make exaggerated demands of their friends. Bravery and loyalty is challenged, and in the moments they can afford to relax the drug dealers insist on bear hugs. Empathy is important but complicated by performance and a need to shock.  Of course, it distorts their relationship with women. Frank and Tonny take comfort over what they regard as their superior status to their girlfriends.  The locker room talk between Frank and Tonny is not inauthentic but it is overwritten.  It feels as if a shopping list of sexual activities has been crammed into one conversation.

pusher

Kim Bodnia is the actor that plays Frank. He has played gangsters and sensitive husbands hurt by unloving wives. He has a range. In Pusher he combines violence and vulnerability, the spot of innocence that is, according to Camus, at the heart of everyone.  Pusher reveals how self-destruction in people without hope is informed by not just irresponsibility but fantasy. It becomes the final tool for demonstrating defiance.   By the end of the film we have a sense of how violent and destructive hustlers lack the ability to imagine either the future or life in another place. The criminals in Pusher are trapped in dependency, powerlessness and bravado. Frank and Milo, like most drug dealers in the movies and perhaps real life, are men without a contingency plan. The easy options they use to make money and their willingness to settle arguments with violence leave them with undercooked imaginations. This was what happened to Lee Marvin in the classic thriller Point Blank when he was obliged to retreat in the shadows around him. He only understood what could be achieved through his own violent power and ruthlessness. Frank is the same. He is cunning but unable to comprehend why his lack of culpability in the drug deal that went wrong is no protection against the wrath of Milo. This is a failure of imagination. When a proposal for peace is made by Milo, we watch the imagination of Frank become incoherent. The amoral hustler who thought people could be pushed aside is unable to distinguish between salvation and damnation.   Again, like the champagne girl, Frank is not that different from the rest of us.

Howard Jackson has had six books published by Red Rattle Books including Horror Pickers a collection of film criticism. His latest novel Choke Bay is available here. If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and the other great titles at Red Rattle Books, click here.