Monday, September 28, 2015

#42Movies, Day 18: A Very Specific Milieu

Setting is everything here:

Office Space (1999)
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

Take a tour after the trailers.

I knew next to nothing about both of these movies when I walked into them. For Office Space, DeeAnn and I went to our local multiplex to see something else—I don't even remember what our original selection was—and ran into our friend Aaron Hallmark in line at the box office. He was a huge Mike Judge fan, and very excited about Judge's live-action feature debut, so we changed plans and joined Aaron's pilgrimage. It's always more fun to do things with friends.

For Master and Commander, I want to say DeeAnn and I were at the Metreon in San Francisco, possibly after having done something else in the city and wanting to extend our stay (to meet her 2:1 fun-time-to-travel-time requirement—long story, tell you later). I distinctly remember eating at a food-court-type place after the movie and talking about how much we liked it. Neither of us had read the late Patrick O'Brian's novels, but the film is extremely well made and completely immerses the audience in its historical era (to the point of skirting a few uncomfortably racist/sexist moments, but only incidentally, not maliciously or overtly).

Speaking of racism and sexism... I recall later discussing Master and Commander with another friend and having one of my most naked encounters with white male privilege. This friend said he didn't like the movie because he didn't buy its central premise: that a single ship patrolling around South America in 1805 could possibly affect the wartime fortunes of the Royal Navy against Napoleon's forces. I didn't even know where to begin to respond.

Because the point of the whole thing was the officers and crew of HMS Surprise believing in their duty, whether or not it was actually, strategically significant. It became clear to me, in that moment, that my friend wasn't interested in understanding what made the characters tick as people—he was only interested in analyzing them as the parts of a political machine. And it's sad but true: not caring who people are, only how you can use them, is an attitude endemic (though by no means exclusive) to straight white dudes.

I didn't try to talk to this friend much about fiction after that. (BTW, this was also the same guy who refused to travel by car unless he was driving the vehicle himself. Yup, he literally wouldn't go anywhere with you unless he felt like he was in control. OMG THE MAN PAIN)

But back to the movies. Both Office Space and Master and Commander make great use of the details of their specific time and place, from dialogue to costumes to music. To watch them is to briefly glimpse another world and get a fascinating view of the native culture, whether it's late twentieth century suburban Texas or a vessel sailing the Atlantic Ocean in the early nineteenth century. You can never visit either place now, but you can understand something about them through these stories. That's the point.


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