Signature Move

Posted January 15, 2018 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: art-house, romance

signature-move-2017-001-wrestler-masksIf you feel like registering a gentle complaint about the current leadership, you could do worse than Signature Move, a lesbian dramedy about the maybe-sort-of-something between a Pakistani-American immigration lawyer and a Mexican-American bookstore clerk. Zaynab (co-writer/co-producer Fawzia Mirza) meets Alma (Sari Sanchez) at a friendly bar; they drink, dance, and fall into bed. The proudly out Alma would like the fling to become something more. Zaynab, fairly tightly closeted, isn’t sure; she keeps her sexuality from her recently widowed mother (Shabana Azmi), who spends her days sitting in Zaynab’s apartment, watching Pakistani soap operas and spying on passersby with her binoculars.

The script, by Mirza and Lisa Donato, is neatly assembled. The soap operas (Alma speaks in praise of telenovelas too) as well as a seemingly discordant note — female lucha libre wrestling — form part of the movie’s theme about acting, pretending, lying. It’s maybe a little too much of a coincidence that Zaynab takes wrestling lessons from a client (as payment for Zaynab’s legal services) and then meets and beds the daughter of a once-famed, now-retired luchadora. But I didn’t mind, because metaphorically it’s sound — the universe is conspiring to show Zaynab in ways painfully emotional and physical that she has to stop acting.

Director Jennifer Reeder, an indie-film veteran, keeps Signature Move bubbling atop a low flame, occasionally turning up the heat when the lovers enjoy each other (always clothed — save for a couple of words, this could be a PG film). It’s assured work from a filmmaker who values human-scaled awkward comedy over grand passion; the movie itself could have been handled as a soap opera, but Reeder disdains cheese (this is most welcome during the climax, at a lucha libre event). The women are agreeably paired: the warm and fleshy Sanchez matches up amusingly with the angular, neurotic Mirza, whose short swept-up hair and stoic default expression give her a resemblance to the young, imperious Camille Paglia.

One odd motif is the concept of a human being “coming out of” another human, the unlikely link mothers and daughters have despite deceiving looks. It also neatly sums up the dichotomous feeling many modern LGBT folks have when trying to reconcile their heritage with their sexuality. Sooner or later Zaynab has to move on past her mother, and so on. Signature Move packs a lot under a relatively small hood; the film weighs in at a slender hour and fifteen minutes, and sometimes feels like an extended pilot for a Pakistani-American lesbian New Girl. Join Zaynab, her girlfriend Alma, and their zany friends and family every week on NBC! Certainly there are worse things to say of a film than that we’d gladly spend more hours with its characters.

That’s probably more a result of the charm of the actors (I especially liked Audrey Francis as Zaynab’s wrestling coach, sort of an Illeana Douglas with biceps) than a reflection of the filmmakers’ goals here. Signature Move is short, but sticks around exactly as long as it needs to in order to make its point about the courage of declaring oneself (or one’s self). The abbreviated length also means we don’t have to wallow in the lovers’ temporary misery for very long. The movie is a perfectly pleasant bonbon for its target audience and its allies, and likely poison to those who don’t care for Pakistanis, Mexicans, gays, or women.

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The Year in Review

Posted January 7, 2018 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: Uncategorized

mother2Well, 2017 certainly was a year. It more or less began with craziness and pretty much stayed that crazy — though near the end, say in the autumn, we started seeing some pushback in the form of #MeToo. In fraught political times, every work of art seems to comment on those times, even when the commentary is unintentional.

My picks for the top two films of last year seemed to stand cheek by jowl in their efforts to explain the world in which we find ourselves, even though they were conceived and written long before January 20. Jordan Peele’s electrifying Get Out ran a paranoid premise through the filter of a lone African-American’s terror at the hands of outwardly benevolent white liberals. With its airtight structure and attention to detail and theme, it’s built for repeat viewings and long conversations. Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, hotly polarizing among critics as well as audiences, recast a biblical fable as an environmental cautionary tale — much like Aronofsky’s previous Noah. It was, in my view, the film of the year, a daft and impassioned folly that proves stubborn art is still possible on the major-studio level.

I loved Peele’s and Aronofsky’s efforts and look forward to more from them. I also celebrated the return of Patty Jenkins, who directed her long-overdue sophomore film Wonder Woman and made it into a fine refutation of nihilistic male domination in favor of female perseverance (the No Man’s Land sequence was instantly iconic). It became the official “Nevertheless, she persisted” movie, and seemed to set the stage for a period in which male sexual predators were called onto the carpet. One of them, Louis C.K., made a film that didn’t get released (but was shown at film festivals and sent out on screener discs to critics for awards consideration before its maker was disgraced) yet seemed to have the current moment on its mind.

The excellent series capper War for the Planet of the Apes was another accidental commentary on this xenophobic “build the wall” era. So was Mike White and Miguel Arteta’s Beatriz at Dinner, which boasted, for me, the year’s great female performance (Salma Hayek) and found it within itself to allow some wit and dignity to a snide billionaire antagonist (helped by John Lithgow’s compassionate work). Colossal maintained that women can be monstrous too, though not as monstrous as a resentful, friend-zoned man. The tepid Wilson practically gave up on its eponymous anti-hero (Woody Harrelson) and let Laura Dern, as his long-estranged ex, take over the movie. Dern also shines, I hear, in the latest Star Wars episode, which I have not yet seen.

Star Wars, too, has become about how disaffected young white men can re-animate a bad old ideology (the First Order = white supremacy) while disillusioned old white men leave the battle for good to young women and people of color. (Eventually, the self-exiled, gray-bearded Luke Skywalker pulls himself together.) Blade Runner 2049, bloated as it was, spoke compellingly about the role of humanity in a cold tech future. Writer-director S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99 was a terrific old-fangled yarn with old-school prosthetic gore as well as a 1970s respect for quiet human moments; it seems to cloak within it a sad critique of white-knightism and toxic masculinity, as did Zahler’s previous Bone Tomahawk. Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri seemed to have confidence in the potential for redemption, even for violent racists. Two middling efforts, The Shape of Water and I, Tonya, still put complicated, suffering femalehood at their centers in all its passion and rage.

In and out of the movie theater, 2017 was a year for struggling with the national identity. Are we to be compassionate or indifferent to injustice and inequality? How shall we define ourselves as a country — what world do we want to make for ourselves and our neighbors? The movies continued to tell us it’s important to stand against oppression in all its forms, even while some of those involved in making those movies were outed as hypocritical victimizers or enablers. (Kevin Spacey found himself un-personed out of the year-end Oscar bait All the Money in the World, replaced by Christopher Plummer.) Will we take up our swords and fight for the good we can be, or will we sink into self-abnegating despair like Luke Skywalker or Wilson or Rick Deckard? Increasingly, we are seeing women and non-whites stepping in. “We got this,” they seem to say; “be our allies or get out of our way.” The quality of our 2018 depends largely on the lessons we learn from 2017 — and its art.

The Post

Posted December 31, 2017 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: biopic

postIt seems unlikely, but The Post marks the first time Steven Spielberg has put the Vietnam War on the screen. Granted, it’s only for the first few minutes, and I can’t really forgive his easy falling back on Creedence Clearwater Revival for the song choice (Creedence is generally the lazy director’s signifier for ‘Nam). But the PG-13 jungle chaos Spielberg stages right at the start helps to establish why the saturnine and disaffected Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) risks everything to leak sensitive government documents to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and seventeen other newspapers — documents that show the government knew we couldn’t win the war.

The Post isn’t really about Ellsberg, whose story was told in a cable movie from 1993, The Pentagon Papers, starring James Spader. No, the story here is about chasing a story. Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) has taken over as publisher of the Post from her husband, who committed suicide eight years prior; she feels insecure in the role, the paper is bleeding money, and now would seem the worst time to run a bombshell story that will, at the very least, antagonize the Nixon administration. But the story is more or less dropped into a Post reporter’s lap, and the savvy editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) lunges for it. Various lawyers and bean-counters advise Ben and Katharine to back off. They won’t.

The problem is, there’s not much inner conflict. Every so often there’s a line of dialogue about how very, very foolish the paper would be, especially after going public at a loss, to pursue its line of inquiry. This sort of scene generally ends with Ben or Katharine nodding gravely and saying something like “Okay. We’re going with it anyway.” Spielberg doesn’t put much stress on their fear, or on anything else, really. The filmmaking is very mild, classical at times, shot in long takes of two people sitting and talking. Despite that, The Post does move along; it comes in at a brisk hour and fifty-six minutes, which for Spielberg these days is concise. It’s smooth work from an old master (despite clunks like a bad continuity gaffe involving someone’s cigarette).

The smoothness is meant to help the message go down — that a free press is crucial for an informed public, that in the words of the Supreme Court it’s there for the governed, not the governors. Under the current leadership, which is fond of discounting the media with squawks of “fake news,” we are meant to find that message more poignantly urgent than ever. But — how to put it gently? — those who might most benefit from such a message aren’t likely to go see The Post, or to come away from it changed if they do go. It is possibly, then, a note of go-get-‘em support to the beleaguered and splintered media of the moment. If they could take a demon off the throne, the movie whispers to the modern Bradlees and Grahams, so can you.

Spielberg, though, doesn’t bring much passion to it, and he seems to encourage his actors, sharp but tremulous Streep and amiably growling Hanks, to underplay to match his apparent energy level. Years from now, away from its current relevance, The Post will play like a sedate prequel to All the President’s Men — here’s how the heroic paper rose from its underdog status to set the table for its later, larger triumph. I don’t think the seeming lack of engagement on Spielberg’s part is due to his indifference to the subject, but maybe to the simple, complexity-free way it’s presented (by scripters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, the latter of whom wrote Spotlight, a better movie about a paper going after the big fish). The Post is bland and, if I’m not mistaken, vaguely dispirited, as if Spielberg knew the media it depicts has become a shadow of itself, as have the media’s consumers. Newspaper-making even in its full metal physical details — the clacking typewriters, the gleaming printing plates — had more weight, more substance, in the old days.

Dunkirk

Posted December 24, 2017 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: one of the year's best, war

dunkirk-2017To what extent do we not really see a movie — see it, hear it, experience it — if we haven’t seen it on the big screen? The life of a film, after all, goes on long past its youth in the multiplexes; most people will come to it via DVD, or even on cable. Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic Dunkirk (an epic though it only lasts roughly an hour and forty minutes, plus end credits) was initially released in some theaters in the mammoth IMAX format, creating an immersive aspect that mitigated its otherwise somewhat impersonal narrative. Richard Brody opined in the New Yorker that Dunkirk, “if it’s not seen in enveloping and engulfing and body-shaking scale, may be nothing at all.” I, however, have just seen it on the fifteen-inch monitor of my laptop, and heard it through ear buds. If you missed it writ (or projected) large, you haven’t missed much; the movie is as stressful and relentless scaled down, and may even pick up some points for subtle intimacy that may have eluded the film’s deafened, overwhelmed theatrical viewers.

Nolan has approached the story of Dunkirk — from which 300,000 English and French soldiers withdrew and headed to England — as an experiential, almost experimental affair. We get no backstories among the soldiers or fighter pilots or officers, nor does Nolan observe very many well-worn combat-flick tropes. This isn’t like Saving Private Ryan, which yoked several technically superb war sequences to a series of clichéd leftovers from older war pictures. In this context — where the point is to get as many men out of harm’s way as possible so they can survive to defend England’s shores — perhaps the most heroic moment is a small, sad one, when a shell-shocked soldier asks about a young volunteer, “Will he be okay?” The volunteer’s friend knows the truth — the soldier, in his panic, has inadvertently killed the young man — but opts to protect the soldier from his guilt by responding in the affirmative.

That soldier might, after all, go on to fight for England and save lives. What would anyone gain from the fallen man’s mate spitting out “No, he’s dead, you killed him”? There’s a refreshing aura of the adult about Dunkirk. There exists an efficient ender of German hopes, a Spitfire pilot played by Tom Hardy (who, as in Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, spends most of his screen time with his lower face obscured by a mask). The pilot escorts several Nazis to hell, but he simply has a job to do, and he does it. About his life, about his plans interrupted by the war, we know precisely nothing. Nobody matters personally because everyone matters collectively. Dunkirk does flip back and forth between various sets of survivors, a small civilian boat requisitioned for the purpose of scooping up any floating soldiers, and the patch of land that must be kept clear for retreat (Kenneth Branagh brings some warmth and weariness to his few minutes as a commander monitoring the evacuation on land). Sky, earth, sea.

Dunkirk comes as close to an act of pure cinema as anything Nolan has made; he dispenses with dialogue and “character moments” in an effort to cut to the bone, to extract the essence of the event, which was survival. “Good work, lads,” says a blind old man greeting the young soldiers. “All we did was survive,” answers one of them. “That’s enough,” says the old man. The lack of Hollywood orientation (here’s a young lad who leaves behind a worried mother and girlfriend) helps us map our own fears and hopes onto the young men. (I think we fleetingly see one woman, a nurse, who points weary soldiers below decks where they can tuck into tea and toast with jam.)

It’s not quite just a virtuoso exercise, though Nolan here proves himself a master of the technical effects he strives for and achieves. (The only real demerit on this front is Hans Zimmer’s typical overbearing, discordant score.) Dunkirk is as uninterested in political context as are any of its hungry, terrified soldiers, whose experience we are obliged to share. The Germans are mostly felt only as the piercing staccato of enemy gunfire; whenever one of their planes goes down, the movie eschews exultation in favor of simple relief at a micro-disaster averted within a larger, growing catastrophe. This could be the war movie, made at a time when its physical extremes could be effectively, even beautifully, simulated, released at a time when we need its narrative of ascendant though exhausted decency.

The Shape of Water

Posted December 17, 2017 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: Uncategorized

shapewterWell, for those who always fancast Guillermo del Toro as the director of a Creature from the Black Lagoon remake, we now have The Shape of Water, del Toro’s new beauty-and-the-beast romantic fable pairing a mute woman (Sally Hawkins) with a being known in the credits as Amphibian Man (performed by Doug Jones). Del Toro loves monsters, and that comes through loud and clear. What also comes through is the laziness of the screenplay (by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor). At what point do archetypes become clichés? When they strike us as clichés, I think, and The Shape of Water has enough of them to classify it not as a pure fairy tale but as a mid-budget film that had to be simplified — or dumbed down, if we’re not being generous — in order to be made at all.

Del Toro, for me, will always be among the angels creatively. He’s more or less the only major filmmaker who puts his all into movies that could have been covered by Famous Monsters of Filmland, and he looks for wider and deeper meaning in his elemental stories. His work is probably equally informed by James Whale and Joseph Campbell, by Lovecraft and Bettelheim. Like Clive Barker, del Toro works more seriously with old-school Universal Monsters-style horror than the filmmakers at Universal ever did. So what happens to him sometimes? I think that when working in his native Spanish, del Toro feels more free to flesh out more complex characters. In America, del Toro loses confidence on some level, and he falls back on well-worn tropes.

Here, for instance, the mute woman, Elisa, is lonely and pure of heart. She has no quirks that would intrude on audience identification with her. She’s just looking for love, and so is the cliché next door, her friendly closeted gay artist neighbor (Richard Jenkins nevertheless invests his role with gravitas and regret, and walks away with the film). And so is Amphibian Man, who has been captured and is being contained at the same facility where Elisa works as a cleaning lady. On the other hand, being in a relationship is no guarantee of happiness, either: Elisa’s friend and co-worker (Octavia Spencer) barely tolerates her husband, and the villain of the piece (Michael Shannon), a military man who captured the creature, has the stereotypical cloying nuclear family at home (the movie is set during the Cold War). Only Elisa and the creature’s love is pure, real.

We’re probably not meant to probe this proposal — interspecies love is more authentic than love between humans — too literally. Del Toro intends the romance as a metaphor for how so many people exist at the wrong place and time to find their soulmates, but the universe occasionally gets it right. All well and good, but the problem with predictable characters is that they act predictably and make the movie predictable too. Nothing the brute military man does surprises us, and del Toro piles uglifying indignities on him — the guy throws his wife harsh fucks during which he commands her to be silent; he has two poorly reattached fingers that are starting to stink and blacken with rot. The creature has more dimensions than this human monster, and we get two scenes with the villain buying and driving a new car apparently just to set up its trashing later. It represents the materialism he should transcend, I guess. Not only is he a violent sociopath, he has False Values.

Part of me is always glad that a movie like The Shape of Water can still be made and that a filmmaker like del Toro can continue to work. The movie is a feat of visual imagination, but underneath its sophisticated imagery is a banal and too-plotty skeleton, with a Russian-spy subplot that serves mainly to make the movie longer. If we squint, we can make the Cold War element conform to a larger human theme of feeling alone and mistrustful, or basically feeling like a monster. For del Toro, it always goes back to being a monster, fleeing from the villagers, being smitten with women who shriek at you, dying in an inferno or in a hail of bullets. The thematic masochism is intrinsic to del Toro’s art — miserably picking the scab of one’s self-esteem. But the architecture here is too cardboard, despite a high level of craft among the cast, to make us feel the pain, too.

I, Tonya

Posted December 10, 2017 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: biopic, overrated

i-tonya-margot-robbie-850x478A rarity for me: I went into I, Tonya without knowing who the director was. As the absurdist black-comedic biopic unfurled, I thought, “Whoever made this, he’s really trying to get his Scorsese on.” (I thought “he” because female directors rarely if ever try to get their Scorsese on — they’ve worked too hard to express their own voices to want to ape someone else’s.) The major tells were the frequent (and frequently ironic) ’70s-rock needle-drops and the incessant trackings in and out — the camera almost never stops moving, except when it’s locked down in “interview segments” wherein Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) or Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) unburden themselves.

As it happens, the director is the nondescript Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl), who aside from his Scorsesean gesticulations mostly stays out of the way of the star and co-producer, Margot Robbie. I would like to report that in the reviled Tonya, the media-beloved actress has found something feral, primordial, essential in herself, as Robert De Niro did in Scorsese’s Raging Bull. I would like to, but that isn’t true. Robbie is snarly and entertaining, but except for the grinning-rictus-through-tears bit she does in a mirror — and that’ll turn up in her Oscar reel if she’s nominated — she doesn’t locate any humanity except fear, rage, need. And since Robbie is more conventionally attractive than the real Harding, the makeup she wears to render her skin mottled and white-trashy suggests that, in this context where Tonya’s stupid tragedy is played for black comedy, Robbie is condescending to working-class Harding even physically.

I, Tonya left me in a mildly desolate mood. It says that dreams are shit in a country that turns everything to shit. The movie (rather brilliantly, actually) ends with Siouxsie and the Banshees’ cover of “The Passenger,” and that’s what Tonya is. Pushed into skating as a toddler, forever connected to a ridiculous crime, she has no agency. (She rides and she rides.) The movie’s concerns don’t seem universal — they’re belittlingly specific. We’re just watching these particular dimbulbs — Tonya, her hapless husband Jeff, his buffoonish friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) — as they fuck everything up. The characters get progressively idiotic, until, by the time we get to Shane Stant, the doofus who actually kneecapped Nancy Kerrigan, he’s so brutally inept we wonder how he manages to figure out his pants in the morning.

It’s difficult to stay engaged in a work that has so little regard for its subjects. Gillespie doesn’t display the freezing contempt of, say, an Alexander Payne, but it’s hard to know what he does feel about these people. The movie hedges its bets more than a little by casting a ringer, Allison Janney, as Tonya’s ghastly mother. Not only has Janney played this sort of role before (as a trailer-trash floozy in Drop Dead Gorgeous, in which, despite the more farcical context, she may have done subtler and more compassionate work than she does here), she’s still playing it every week on Mom. Janney is America’s sweetheart in the division of endearingly fucked-up mothers. When Tonya’s mother is abusive and hateful here, it just seems like Janney doing her usual shtick; the movie is deadpan-sarcastic about it — look at this moron woman throwing stuff at her moron daughter until finally she lobs a knife at her — and Janney hasn’t been directed to make anything real out of it. Real would be sad, sobering, anathema to the sour good time the movie wants to give us.

Eventually Gillespie drifts away from imitating Scorsese and starts imitating Scorsese’s imitators. The last reel or so has the spun-out, dirge-like melancholia of the last act of Boogie Nights, where people wound up beaten up, in jail, dead, soulless. Here, everyone starts dropping around Tonya like brainless flies, whisked off to jail, and the camera lingers on Tonya in her devastation after she is sentenced to life without professional ice skating. Then we see a bit of Tonya’s career as a celebrity boxer spitting blood all over the ring. Ah, finally she’s found an arena that lets her release her rage. But then, stupidly, the movie cuts to footage of the real Tonya skating, and we see, through the context of the life we’ve just watched, the aggression and fury in Tonya’s movements, the fierce determination, the itchy underclass energy that the upper-class skating establishment was never going to be able to accept. Tonya quite elegantly and wordlessly speaks for herself in this footage, and leaves the callow jeering movie in her dust.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Posted December 3, 2017 by Rob Gonsalves
Categories: drama, one of the year's best

threebillboardsAn unburied corpse, in ancient Greek tragedy, gave pause to the very gods themselves. It was the ultimate indignity, an affront to life as well as death, a refusal of humanity. This has something to do with Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a sort of Greek tragedy in modern garb. Here, the body, which we never see except fleetingly in police photos, is that of the teenage daughter of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), who works in the town gift shop. Mildred’s daughter was interrupted rather violently almost a year ago; in response, Mildred has rented three billboards and uses them to frame an accusation. The billboards — posted within about a football field’s length of each other, like three-quarters of a grim parody of a Burma-Shave sequential ad — read as follows: “Raped while dying”; “And still no arrests”; “How come, Chief Willoughby?”

That would be Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), who has done everything he can to find the rapist and murderer of young Angela Hayes. Sometimes, he says at one point, you don’t catch a break. That’s not nearly good enough for Mildred, who may as well be aiming her query at God. “The heaven shall reveal his iniquity,” the book of Job tells us, “and the earth shall rise up against him” — in the form of billboards, presumably. Three Billboards proceeds in the grand classical tradition of tragedy, though it’s not without humor, this being a movie by the writer/director of the madly amusing crime films In Bruges (2008) and Seven Psychopaths (2012). This is something of a crime film, too, though the major crimes take place before and (possibly) after the narrative’s reach.

Whodunit? Maybe God — unless, of course, “there ain’t no God and the whole world’s empty and it doesn’t matter what we do to each other,” muses Mildred. She flirts with nihilism, but it doesn’t flirt back, and soon she’s swinging into action again, driven forward by rage and grief, hardly even noticing her living son. Like many Greek-tragedy heroines, Mildred is both a great woman and a monster. Her quarrel with Chief Willoughby is really a quarrel with death and with life, and McDormand creates a façade of stoic strength she allows to develop tiny cracks so we can see the ungovernable pain beneath.

Three Billboards deals in the, let’s say, archetypal — the drunk, racist mama’s boy who ultimately shapes up to be a fine detective and avenger (Sam Rockwell, mesmerizingly askew as always); the cheesy, near-pedophiliac ex-husband (John Hawkes). Peter Dinklage shows up — McDonagh must love dwarves and love it when clueless idiots call them midgets, because he told that joke in In Bruges and tells it again here, only with Peter Dinklage. By now such things in McDonagh’s work impress us as signatures, pet themes, preoccupations we can only guess at. McDonagh had been building a rep as the next bad boy of crime cinema (cf. Tarantino, Danny Boyle, etc.), as conversant with gore as with wit. But this film feels like a step forward, or at least a step sideways.

When a character here opts for suicide, McDonagh attends to it with empathy, but also doesn’t let us forget the deceased leaves behind a grieving spouse and two children. A good chunk of Three Billboards is about redemption and how people are stubbornly complex, able to be many things at once. A man can be good and noble and still be prideful in ways that deprive children of a father. A man can be a racist twerp and still (rather literally) come through a baptism of fire and find himself more reflective and intuitive. A woman can be full of unappeasable fury and still, in telling little moments, pop back into community and humanity when faced with another’s agony. How we’re supposed to feel about the ambiguous ending depends, I think, on what mood we’re in — whether we want to see it as proof of evil helplessly regenerating itself or proof that even the most monomaniacal and violent can grow and change. Either mood is, accidentally I’m sure, very much of this harrowed and degraded moment.