Andrew, Author at Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Annihilation (2018)

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Lena goes about her routine, teaching classes while rejecting the advances of a fellow professor and trying to move forward with her life.  When her long absent husband, Kane, returns to their home she is left with questions to match her elation.  Soon, she'll become intertwined with the investigation that left Kane a shell of who he was, and enters a mysterious zone where her worst fears are given life.  Alex Garland wrote the screenplay for and directs Annihilation, which stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny.

Depression is the greatest human paradox.  It stains as it drive bits of itself further out, slowly tainting every facet of your life.  But it continues pulling itself apart, reaching toward who knows what, and will not be satiated until everything in existence feels its touch to begin its own inexorable journey toward oblivion.  Up into space, into each other, into the fragrances and sights that give life meaning.  The pain comes not in knowing that you're facing the total annihilation of yourself, but the pieces that you thought gave meaning to others unfortunate enough to know you will eventually drag them down to your pain.

There have been successful expressions of depression in science-fiction, most notably the traumatic healing of Upstream Color and the egoist's self-destructive hope all will feel how you suffer in Melancholia. I can't think of another film that visualizes the paradox of depression as perfectly as Annihilation.  Lena (Natalie Portman) sees "the shimmer", an ever-expanding expanse bordered with hypnotic colored oils merging and pulling apart as it stretches off into the air.  It exists with clear boundaries, but its expanse seems to have no limit.  The colors do not reflect on Lena's face, instead brightening her features with an unnatural strength that recalls the lighting of daytime soap operas.  Inside the shimmer awaits not the varied texture of human melodrama, just a harsh spotlight on yourself, and no one is prepared for what that might bring.


The Messenger (2009)

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Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, barely out of the emergency room, is reassigned to a "sacred" duty - informing the next of kin of the deaths of those in the service.  SSgt. Montgomery is mentored by Captain Tony Stone, a brash soldier with rigid protocol for delivering the news, and starts to wonder if there's a better way.  Oren Moverman directs The Messenger, from a screenplay written by Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman, and stars Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, and Jena Malone.

Interrupting himself during one of his many macho rants, Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) loudly exclaims how the news should run footage of every body lost to America's wars.  In the context of The Messenger, he's talking about the dead and wounded.  Taken within the larger empathetic focus of Oren Moverman's film, Capt. Stone's talking about the pain of the survivors - not just the friends and family left behind.  Capt. Stone knows better than anyone the importance of showing respect to those bodies, but doesn't have a full grasp on what it means for the traumatized people he gives the worst news of their lives to.

Enter SSgt. Will Montgomery, played by Ben Foster in one of those performances that hooked my heart in 2009 and still bleeds fresh nearly a decade later.  Moverman and cowriter Alessandro Camon wrote the conventionally "juicy" bits of storytelling for Harrelson's Capt. Stone, but it's Foster's quietly tumultuous empathy that gives The Messenger its lasting affect.  In scene after scene, Moverman's camera will sit - barely stirring - and just watches SSgt. Montgomery trying to process the role he's been given.  The question that seems to be flickering through his mind with every flinch, barely held back tear, or as his rage builds to near breaking points is, "How?"


Planescape: Torment: Enhanced Edition (2017)

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Planescape: Torment (just P:T moving forward) was a "bucket list" videogame for me.  A former friend of mine introduced me to P:T back in 2003, a couple years after I got into other CRPG titles like Fallout and Baldur's Gate.  He handed the discs over with the promise that P:T was the greatest role-playing game of all time which, considering my love for the genre, placed some mighty expectations on it.

Playing P:T was, no joke, total agony.  The overwhelming grey, brown, and dingy oranges of the starting areas made it difficult to figure out where my characters were - a predicament not helped by primary PC The Nameless One's grey skin and first companion Morte being a tiny floating skull.  My mom used to warn me playing videogames for too long would give me a headache and that came to fruition squinting my way through P:T's awful aesthetic.  I tried playing P:T three more times before the Enhanced Edition came out, the second time with my then-friend guiding me to try and highlight the appeal, a third time after that, and a fourth several years later when P:T appeared on Good Old Games.


Battle of the Sexes (2017)

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1973, where women's lib is a joke on the tongues of sportscasters while women like Billie Jean King struggle to make it a reality.  When the opportunity comes for Billie Jean to play tennis against Bobby Riggs, one the number one player in the world for several years, there's more than publicity at stake.  Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris direct Battle of the Sexes, with the screenplay written by Simon Beaufoy, and stars Emma Stone and Steve Carell.

Back at Illinois State University, I took an elective theater class where my professor made the uncontested claim that a man in a dress is always funny.  It went uncontested because, at the time, I didn't think too hard about the various social and cultural forces that went into the joke of a man in a dress.  Cut to about eight years later, I'm watching my rental of Battle of the Sexes, and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) is doing a photo shoot of him in a pink Little Bo-Peep dress complete with sheep.  Bobby is treating his upcoming match with Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) like a joke, while she's training her heart out.

There's the problem with taking "man in a dress" at comedic face value.  We aren't so enlightened that what are deadly serious gender issues for one person can be easily dismissed for the next.  Representation alone isn't enough.  Billie Jean didn't need to just play against Bobby Riggs, she needed to win.  She didn't need to just win against Bobby Riggs, she needed to maintain a tough if affable public face while doing so.  She didn't need to just keep a great public image, she needed to ensure her private life wasn't reflected negatively in the press.  On and on the pressures mounted, affecting every corner of her life, and she never broke.


Actual Sunlight (2013)

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If this is your first time reading Pixels in Praxis or are averse to spoilers, check out our FAQ before proceeding.

Around this time a year ago, I was on a special kind of antidepressant that accelerates the effects of the three antidepressants I was already on.  It's easier for me to joke about now (accelerating an antidepressant feels like a contradiction in terms), but at the time I was either sleeping or dealing with massive headaches as I got used to the medication.  A year before that, I was struggling to keep my dignity while taking samples of my feces for a medical test.  The year before that, I was crying at work because I could barely keep my impulse to throw my computer and scream at length.  Thankfully, a coworker saw me as I tried to leave quietly and could tell how terribly I was doing, and my therapy started two weeks from that point.

I had a breaking point with my depression cocktail (depression, anxiety, and PTSD) that made me uncomfortably close with Actual SunlightSo close I had nearly direct parallels to everything that happens.  Quit a job because of a girl?  Yup, I ended my theater job shortly after my girlfriend there broke up with me.  Seething loneliness in my apartment?  Been there too, though I call it "getting existential in the shower."  Breaking all the things I thought were weighing me down?  Stupidly so, after a horrible few weeks involving losing my promotion, getting walking pneumonia, and a different girlfriend of then a few years I sold off all my videogames and anything "nerd" related.  Member of the Something Awful forums?  "I am protected."