Scenes I Love: Children of Men


SPOILERS

For the latest “Scenes I Love” I had to pick one of the most powerful scenes in cinema in the past ten years. I happened to catch this scene once again while channel surfing and came across it just exactly where the scene in the clip begins. I speak of the Miracle Cease Fire scene in Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 sci-fi dystopian (though the film does offer a glimmer of hope in the end) film, Children of Men.

This scene must be given some basic ground work to be understood why it was so powerful. In Children of Men the world hasn’t had a single birth for almost 18 years. In this mix is the only birth which has become the contention between a resistance group calling themselves the “Fishes” who are opposed to the government’s fascists policies concerning immigrants. So, with this in mind this scene comes across as powerful indeed.

The looks of everyone from the refugees, the armed “Fishes” to the government troops when they heard the baby crying in the arms of Kee as Clive Owen’s character escorted them from the battle-scarred tenement building was the pay-off that the film was building towards from the very first seconds of the film. Both sides intent on destroying each other stopped fighting just to be able to allow something which hasn’t happened in 18 years to find a safe haven from the fighting.

Cuaron’s direction of this scene also made it one of my favorite scenes ever in how he doesn’t try to preach that love and peace conquers everything. Once the baby’s cries were far enough from those who listened to it the fighting resumed in earnest. This scene had both hope and joy balanced with despair and futility all occurring in the same scene. It’s a shame this film wasn’t seen by many when it first came out during the 2006 Christmas season.

Thousand Years of Dreams Day 19: The Tragedy of the Butcher General


“The Tragedy of the Butcher General” is one of the few dream-memories of Kaim’s which comes across as more of a warning fable than anything else. For the 19th day of this 33-day long series, this latest dream brings forth the story of a general so focused on destroying every thread of life in order to prevent any possibility of revenge that he had earned the nom de guerre of “The Butcher”.

In Earth’s past history stretching back as far as the earliest days of the written word there’s been many examples of military leaders who use the tactic of killing everyone on the opposing side whether they were soldiers or civilians. Their reasoning is to leave anyone with the memory of defeat will only foster future hatred which would flame to new war and fighting. Man’s history is written in the blood spilled by such men. While civilized nations now look down upon such ways even now such things still exists.

Wars will always be man’s main and best occupation no matter what peace-loving people may want, but there is a difference between waging war when there’s no other peaceful solution to be found and waging butchery because one side fears to leave even a surrendering enemy to continue the hate. This is where we get genocides of the last hundred years whether it’s the Holocaust of World War II, the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge, the Balkan ethnic cleansing of the 1990’s and the tribal mass murder in the grand-scale in Rwanda.

In the end, every Butcher General in history always ends up isolated and finally defeated by the very hate they’ve been trying to destroy. Wars may be something man will forever be shackled with to wage over and over, but in the end every war has to end sometime let allow for healing to begin. Only when the act of healing and peace are given the chance to help repair the damage are we closer to finding a way to end all wars.

The Tragedy of the Butcher General

Everyone knows this general as “The Butcher.”
He is strong in battle, a skilled tactician, he has mastered the techniques of turning the
specifics of topography and timing to his advantage, and he is outstanding, above all,
in the skills of an individual warrior.
Victory on the battlefield, however, does not lead straight to butchery.
Many generals have been nicknamed for their military prowess-
the Victorious, the Indomitable, the Invincible-
but only one is known as the Butcher.
“Do you know why that is, Kaim?”
the general himself asks as he gloats over the vast mountain of corpses
Kaim does not reply. He entered the fray as a mercenary, but his exploits far outclassed
those of the regular troops. For the general to call a man into his presence and speak to
him face-to-face is apparently an honor beyond even most officers’ wildest dreams.
“Not just from winning battles.” the general goes on. “That would be too simple: just kill
the enemy general. Take the big one’s head and the battle’s over. Right?”
Kaim nods in silence. That is how this battle should have ended instead of continuing for
three days. The enemy general proposed a surrender on the first day. He offered his
head in exchange for the lives of his men and villagers. But the Butcher rejected the
offer and continued his all-out attack on an enemy that had lost the will to fight,
annihilating them in the process. The last day was used to burn down the forest into
which the unresisting village had fled.
“The real battle doesn’t end when you raise the victory song on the battlefield.
If even one person survives, the seed of hatred lives on. I’m talking about the desire for
revenge. Nothing good can come from leaving that behind. You must cut the cause
of future troubles at the root.”
This is why the troops under the general’s command killed the young men of the village
after they were through exterminating the enemy troops. They also killed the unarmed
old poeople. They killed mothers fleeing with children in their arms. They killed the
children they stripped from those mothers’ corpses.
“Do you think me cruel, Kaim?”
“I do.” Kaim answered, nodding.
The officers gathered around them went pale, but the Butcher himself smiled
magnanimously and went on.
“You didn’t do any of those things, I gather.”
“My job is to kill soldiers on the battlefield. My contract doesn’t call for anything else.”
“And i’m saying that that is a follish line of thinking.
The soldiers you killed have brothers and children. Do you plan to go on living in
fear of their revenge? That is sheer stupidity. If you wipe out the entire family, you
can live without such worries, you see.”
The general laughs uproariously, and the surrounding officers all smile in response.
Kaim, however, his expression unchanged, starts to walk away.
“Where are you going, Kaim?”
“We are through talking, aren’t we? My contract has ended.”
“Never mind that. Just wait.”
When the general says this, several soldiers stand to block Kaim’s way.
“Listen, Kaim. I’ve had reports of your performance from the front lines.
What do you say to fighting under me from now on? You can exploit your
martial talents to the full.”
“I am not interested.”
“What’s that?”
“I will never draw my sword on an unarmed opponent.”
The Butcher is momentarily taken aback, the shock written clearly on his face.
“You still don’t understand, do you? You should try reading a little history.
You’ll find that hatred only breeds more hatred. This is what inevitably brings
down even the most prosperous nations and powers, which is why I make
absolutely sure to sever it at the root.”
“If you ask me, general, war and butchery are two different things.”
“What are you-“
“The same goes for valor and brutality.”
“You, a lowly mercenary, dare to lecture me…?”
“Let me tell you something about hatred, too, general.
It doesn’t evaporate from cutting off a life.
It remains-in the earth, in the clouds, in the wind.
I have lived my life in that belief, and I intend to go on doing so.”
“You stupid-“
“Butchery is the work of cowards. That is what I believe.”
“Where do you get the nerve…?”
The general glares at Kaim, and his men draw their swords.
At that very moment, from within the scorched forest come the cries of soldiers.
“Here are some! Five of them still left!” “No, six!” “Over there! They went that way!”
Distracted by the shouts, the general commands his men.
“Hurry, capture them! Don’t let even one of them get away!
Hurry! Hurry! You can’t let them escape!”
The men blocking Kaim begin to fidget, and none of them thinks to stop him
as he calmly walks away.
“Do you hear me? You must not let them escape! If even one of them gets away.
I’ll have your heads-all of you!”
The general’s calls are clearly those of a coward.
The Butcher presided over many battles after that.
and he burned countless villages to the ground, butchering all of their inhabitants.
Then, one night, something happened.
The general felt a strange itching sensation on the back of his hand.
It was different from an ordinary insect bite or skin eruption. It was deeper down
and felt like a kind of squirming.
“This is odd…”
He clawed at his skin, but the itch would not subside. It was very strange:
there was no redness or swelling or sign of a rash.
“Maybe i touched a poisonous moth…”
The general had burnt yet another village to the ground that day. Surrounded by
beautiful countryside, the village in times of peace had been extolled as the “Flowering
Hamlet.” In keeping with the name, the villagers poured their energies into cultivating
flowers of their hues, and the ones in full bloom in this particular season had the colour
of the setting sun.
Indeed, the entire village looked as if it had been dyed the color of a beautiful afterglow.
This was the villager that the general burned down with flames far redder than any sunset.
The villagers, who ran in circles begging for their lives, he killed on at a time. Far redder
than the sunset, far redder than the flames was the blood that soaked into the earth.
“But this is how it always is. I didn’t do anything special today.”
Shaking the hand that refused to stop itching, the general took a swallow of liquor.
And in that moment it happened.
Tearing through the thin skin of the back of his hand,
a number of small grain-like things that emerged from within.
No blood flowed.
No pain accompanied them.
Exactly the way plants sprout from the earth.
No, the things that covered over the back of his before his very eyes were,
unmistakably, plant sprouts.
Horrified, the general took a razor to the back of his hand and tried to shave the
things off.
When the blade came in contact with them, however, they gave off sounds like
human moans-sounds exactly like the moans of a human being dying in agony as
his entire body is slashed by swords.
Or like the moans of a person who is being burned alive.
“Shut up, damn you! Shut up, you hellish-“
Holding the razor in one hand to shave the other, he could not cover his ears.
His body was soaked in a greasy sweat by the time he succeeded in shaving
the horrible things from the back of his hand. To salve his own anger, he
shouted for the men who were supposed to be guarding him.
“Where the hell have you been?”
“Sir?”
“You should have come running when you heard unusual voices coming from my tent!
That is your job as my guards!”
The guards gave each other puzzled looks, and the first replied hesitantly to the general,
“Forgive me, Sir, we were standing just outside the entrance,
but we never head any such…”
The general glared at his guards, enraged, but after struggling to keep his welling
anger in check, he shouted. “Never mind, then. Get Out!”
He was too upset to waste time on subordinates.
Almost immediately, the itching attakced the back of his hand again.
But this time it was not limited to his hands:
his flanks, his shoulders, his buttocks, behind his knees,
his whole body started to itch.
Alone again, the general tore off his nightclothes and inspected his entire body
in the moonlight seeping through the roof of the tent.
The things were sprouting from everywhere now, and some even had leaves
beginning to grown on them.
The general raised a soundless scream and began wildly attacking the growths
wherever he could reach them.
Each one he cut from his body released a horrible moan- horrible, horrible,
horrible…
His bed sheets turned green before his eyes, and soon the numberless sprouts
were transforming into numberless human corpses. They covered not only his
bed, but the whole earth, before they melted into the darkness of night and
vanished.
One sleepless night followed another in endless succession.
The horrible things kept sprouting from his skin however he cut them off.
Ointments had no effect. He tried taking every poison-quelling tablet he could get
his hands on, but nothing worked.
He could not speak of this to his subordinates.
If a rumor spread that strange plants were sprouting from the Butcher’s body,
it would embolden his enemies and discourage his allies.
One of his subordinates might even try to take his head at night.
His cowardice had earned him, the name of the Butcher, and that same cowardice
was what turned the general into a lonely, isolated man.
He had no one he could tell about this.
Each night the general would wage his lonely battle-
through perhaps it could not be called a battle precisely. The things merely sprouted
from his body and put up no resistance. When he took the razor to them, they
would simply moan and fall away. What the general was engaged in on his own
was less a battle than lonely butchery.
Several more nights went by.
The sprouting continued with undiminished force. The single fortunate aspect, perhaps,
was that the things only sprouted in places on his body where the genral could reach
with his razor. This could as well have been a curse, however. The general had no
choice but to go on shaving the things precisely because he could reach them.
Precisely because he was able to perform the butchery by himself.
He could not call for help.
His lonely butchery continued.
His sleepless nights continued.
The general’s flesh wasted away.
Why is this happening? the general asked himself.
Why did this have to happen to me?
This is a time of war. I am here on the battlefield. I have to kill
the enemy in order to survive. In order to give myself future peace
of mind, I have to kill them all, both armed and unarmed.
“It is simple common sense,” the general all but spit out the words.
“All I have done is the sensible thing in the most sensible way”
This night again the sprouts emerged from his body.
This night again the general had to shave them off.
Again the countless moans.
Again the countless bodies.
Again he heard the cock crow to announce the end of the night.
Again the general passed the night without the comfort of sleep.
The general’s own body, once superbly conditioned on the battlefield, withered away
before his own eyes. But more than his body, his mind became unstable.
He spent his days sprawled on his bed.
Eyes open or closed, he would see images of his past scenes of butchery.
Now he began to recall the words of a skilled but insolent mercenary.
Hatred doesn’t evaporate from cutting off a life.
It remains-in the earth, in the clouds, in the wind.
The general wanted to see that man again-
to see him and ask him again, “Have i been wrong all these years?”
The man himself, a man of few words, would probably not answer his question.
Still, the general wanted to see him again, that mercenary, that Kaim fellow.
The sun went down. The night gradually deepened.
As always, the itching started and the plants began to sprout.
But the general, grasping the razor in fing:ers that now looked like withered branches,
no longer had the strength to shave them off.
His back began to itch.
This was the first time the things had sprouted someplace beyond his reach-
as if they had been waiting for this opportune moment.
Sprawled on his bed, the general let the razor drop from his hand.
Enough
I don’t care anymore.
The sprouts kept growing, creeping over him,
and before long they had covered him completely.
At that point his back split open and an unusually large sprout emerged.
By dawn the sprout had fully matured, and before the cock crowed,
it produced a single blossom the colour of an evening afterglow.
Many long years have passed
Visting the old battlefield, Kaim finds a flower garden there.
Blooming in profusion are flowers of cleary different shape and color
than the ones along its border.
Beside the garden stands a stone monument inscribed with the garden’s history:
In this place, a great general met his end. He was known as
the Butcher. He died suddenly one night, and from his body
grew many flowering plants. These were Evening Flowers, a
blossom unique to a village the general had burnt to the ground.
An ancient legend tells us that the seeds of the Evening Flower
lodge in the bodies of those who nourish hatred in their breasts,
and the roofs of the plant feed the flowers with the person’s flesh
The garden’s flowers, the color of the setting sun, sway in a gentle breeze.
Kaim stands there for a time, gazing at the countless flowers given birth by hatred,
before walking on in silence.
It is said that in the very center of the garden lies a disintegrating suit of armor,
but no one has ever found it…

End

Movie Review: Darkman (dir. by Sam Raimi)


As I haven’t been to the movies lately, I’m working on reviews of older films I’ve seen.

A long time ago, just after Tim Burton’s Batman and before Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, Sam Raimi came up with the idea of making his own superhero movie. Supposedly, he had tried to get a hold of both Batman and The Shadow (which eventually went on to Highlander’s Russell Mulcahy), but wasn’t able to. As a result, Darkman was created. I never mind watching it or recommending it, as long as the viewer realizes they’re not shooting for Oscar Winning material here.

Darkman was a strange film. It wasn’t really marketed very well, evidenced in the simple “Who is Darkman?” posters that I remembered seeing on the sides of buses. I don’t recall there being any kind of commercials for the movie. While the movie did alright (and even spawned 2 sequels), I never thought of it as a great success. It still is, despite its flaws, a good film. Well, for someone at 15, it was good.

In Darkman, Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is a gifted scientist that has just about everything. He has a great girlfriend in Julie (Frances McDormand), who’s doing well in her job and he’s on the verge of a major breakthrough in developing a new synthetic skin. If he could only solve the problem where the skin apparently decays in light after 99 minutes. Soon after realizing the flaw in his project, he is attacked a group of criminals (lead by Larry Drake in a great role), burned with his own chemicals and his lab is set ablaze. Left for dead, he’s found and brought to a hospital. They’re able to confirm that he’ll live, but he’s also horribly scarred, has no sensation in his nerves (meaning he feels no pain), and will need skin grafts for the rest of this life. The result of all this trauma is also a bit of mental damage. Westlake breaks free of the hospital, resurrects his lab, and decides to get revenge for what was done to him. The synthetic skin technique now allows him to assume the appearance of anyone he chooses (as long as he has a picture of them, of course). He can wear a disguise for up to 99 minutes in direct sunlight, else his face begins to melt.

One thing I like about some of Sam Raimi’s films is that they’re just strange in some ways. Not Cronenberg strange (that’s just creepy sometimes), but they tend to have some weird elements. He likes to throw things into the camera, whether it’s someone’s face or an object. He’s also into these extreme zoom shots where he’ll have the camera low and bring it racing towards it’s subject. At the time the movie came out, my parents gave me a Camcorder. I did a lot of similar shots, chasing the cats around the house with the camera hovering a few inches off of the floor. I’ll admit it, it was pretty effective here.

Some of the acting was okay in Darkman. I particularly liked Larry Drake at the time because he seemed so different from the character he played on L.A. Law at the time, but everyone else here seemed like they were playing up their roles and in some cases, taking themselves far more seriously than they should have. Some scenes didn’t even make sense to me and felt like filler. I get that Westlake was just a little bonkers, but the whole “See the Dancing Freak” song and dance routine kind of left me with a “What the hell?” expression. Frances McDormand seemed to almost whine on cue (though I guess if I had a love one come back from the dead, I’d be a little shocked too). Colin Friels’ villain caused my family to collectively snicker and groan when at one part, he exclaims “Because I built it!!! I built it all!!” It was just all very strange. M. Night Shyamalan did something similar with The Happening, but for me, this really worked better in Darkman’s favor. Since the acting is so campy, the movie never really tries to make itself out to be Dark Knight / Captain America piece.

If you’re looking at it logically, there’s really no way that Westlake should have been able to pull off half of the disguises he used. You’ve height and weight to consider, and last I checked, Liam Neeson and Larry Drake really had two different body types. Where’d he get all the extra bulk, one has to wonder? Extra clothing, perhaps?

If Darkman has anything going for it, it’s the music. At the time, Danny Elfman was riding the high he had off of movies like Batman, Midnight Run, Dick Tracy and Nightbreed. While Edward Scissorhands remains the strongest score he had that year, Darkman has a number of nice action cues mixed with some somber tones. It helps to carry the film, somewhat.

Overall, Darkman was an interesting look at Sam Raimi’s approach to a superhero. It may have also been one of the key factors in securing the directing duties on the Spider-Man movies in the early 2000’s, which was far superior to this film. If nothing else, it’s worth a laugh or two.