Tag Archives: misanthropy

From the archive: In the Mouth of Madness (part 2): “The sooner we’re off the planet, the better”

In our last post, I discussed the various literary influences apparent in In the Mouth of Madness.  Today, I’m delving a bit deeper into some of the tropes and philosophies that informed Lovecraft’s work, and this film in turn.

In the Mouth of Madness opens with John Trent being admitted to an insane asylum, where he recounts his story to an investigator (David Warren). One of the most common tropes in Lovecraft’s work is the notion that some truths are so terrible as to cause the knower to go insane. Consider this noteworthy opening quote from “The Call of Cthulhu”: “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.” In some Lovecraft stories, acquiring forbidden knowledge not only causes insanity, but forces bodily mutations upon the victim. This is apparently a trope within Sutter Cane’s fiction and also happens to unfortunate readers  of his newest novel, In the Mouth of Madness. In some respects, these mutations are reminiscent of transformation scenes in John Carpenter’s earlier film The Thing.

An ominous painting foretells the fate of residents of Hobb’s End

Misanthropy was rampant in Lovecraft’s fiction. In a letter to Edwin Baird, editor of Weird Tales, Lovecraft wrote of a young writer who wished to pen a story of a mad scientist who strives to conquer the world by unleashing a plague. To Lovecraft, this vision unoriginal and simply did not go far enough. “Good and evil, teleological illusion, sugary sentiment, anthropocentric psychology–the usual stock in trade, and all shot through with the eternal and inescapable commonplace…Who ever wrote a story from the point of view that man is a blemish on the cosmos, who ought to be eradicated?…I told my friend, he should conceive of a man with a morbid, frantic, shuddering hatred of the life-principle itself, who wishes to extirpate from the planet every trace of biological organism, animal and vegetable alike, including himself…Only a cynic can create horror–for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a demonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, longs to pull them to pieces and mock them” (Quoted in Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror) .This attitude is rampant in Sutter Cane’s work, and John Trent offers a similar opinion at one point when he tells Linda Styles, “The sooner we’re off the planter, the better.” However, Trent is ultimately unable to maintain that stance–or perhaps it was mere posturing all along–because he tries desperately to save humanity in the film’s final act.

“I think, therefore you are.”

The last and perhaps most important Lovecraftian trope is identity-based horror. (And here I spoil the best scene in in the movie.) In “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” Lovecraft writes, “No death, no doom, no anguish can arouse the surpassing despair which flows from a loss of identity.” Savvy viewers would know that John Trent is set up for such a fate, given his arrogance and frequent comments along the lines of “I’m my own man; nobody pulls my strings.” The revelation that he is not his own man and in fact has no free will is expected, but the specific nature of this revelation delivers a gut-punch arguably superior to similar twists penned by Lovecraft himself. In a confrontation with between Trent and Sutter Cane, Cane reveals, “This town didn’t exist before I wrote it, and neither did you…You are what I write!” Trent sputters and protests that he is not, in fact, a “piece of fiction,” Cane responds, “I think, therefore you are.” Trent is not even left with the solace of having once been human. He simply never was what he believed himself to be, and technically, was never real.

I will further discuss the notion human existence as puppet existence in our final post on In the Mouth of Madness and its religious implications, and in my review of Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.

Is “Alien: Covenant” part of a misanthropic and pessimistic trend?

While watching Alien: Covenant with Todd and his family, I had to ask myself, “Is 2017 the year of the misanthropic Hollywood movie?”

Earlier this year, another big budget sci-fi/horror film Life was released in theaters. In a move more appropriate in a John Carpenter film than a Hollywood blockbuster starring Jake Gyllenhal, the creators of Life decided to end the human race through series of colossal  fuck-ups, revealed in a deceptive twist ending.

Alien: Covenant is the latest entry in what I now view as the Space Fuck-Up subgenre, in which terrible things happen that were completely avoidable. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the movie. I’m saying that virtually all the characters display terrible judgment based on impulse and emotions rather than logic. Explorers on an unknown, un-researched planet decide to flounce around the unexplored terrain with no protective gear and to eat the local vegetation without testing it first. It’s not what kills them, but surely that space wheat was full of gluten. They fail to enact quarantine measures when crew members are infected. Later, when things are completely FUBAR, a pilot risks the lives of thousand of colonists and human embryos because he wants to rescue his wife.

The endless fuck-ups and poor leadership displayed by the human characters may be among the issues die-hard Alien fans have with the movie. But I’m going to assume it was a deliberate thematic choice that explains and enables the villain’s motivation to get rid of the dipshit human species entirely. Yes, the android David is back from Prometheus, and because there can never be enough Michael Fassbender, he also plays the role of another android, Walter. As an added bonus, Fassbender gets to share an erotic scene with…himself.

David was a complex character in Prometheus. He does some terrible things to his human crewmates, but he’s also sympathetic, and exudes an almost childlike curiosity and wonder. Prometheus ended on an optimistic note, with heroin Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) extending kindness to David. One gets the impression that there will be a redemptive storyline for David, with him developing empathy for humans.

All of this optimism is blown to hell in Alien: Covenant, with David emerging as a full-blown villain. He has human qualities, but seemingly our species’ worst traits, combined with superior intelligence. A guy so narcissistic that he would literally fuck himself if he could. Someone whose definition of “love” in no way precludes vivisecting his beloved. Hence we learn of Elizabeth’s horrible fate following her decision to rebuild his body. Like any narcissist, he “loves” others to the extent that they benefit him. As a side note, because  there was the implication that David has developed sexual urges, I do wish the film had more explicitly a homosexual relationship between David and Walter, or human-android relations between David and the new heroine, Daniels.

“Let me do the fingering:” that point when the audience erupted in guffaws of “that’s what she said!”

Because he himself is not human, it’s somewhat easy to understand his contempt or indifference toward humanity as a whole. In this respect, he’s not as strange as the antagonists of Carnosaur or In the Mouth of Madness, who are humans desiring the end of humanity. And while Alien: Covenant has a twist similar to that in Life, I think everyone in the theater saw it coming. But, since this is a mainstream Hollywood film, it’s unusual that the filmmakers  not only decided to let the villain win, but to effectively make him the protagonist and to lay the groundwork for humanity’s destruction.

 

LIFE (2017): That ending tho…(spoilers ahead)

I’m taking another brief break from our Women’s History Month theme to report on my viewing of Life, the new big-budget sci-fi/horror movie starring Jake Gyllenhal and Ryan Reynolds. As with Kong: Skull Island, I’m somewhat wary of big-budget horror films, because they tend to play things safe.

For the most part, Life does play things safe, referencing classic films such as Alien and The Thing, without really adding anything new to the genre. Yeah, we get it. There’s an invasive life-form on the ship and it cant be allowed to reach earth. After it kills a few crew members, the best option is to shoot the alien into deep space and send the human survivor back to Earth in an escape pod.

But then…the filmmakers go where few other mainstream filmmakers have gone before. The ending comes out of left field and seems more like something John Carpenter would have filmed while in a bad mood, though even Carpenter isn’t generally this cruel, with the exception of In the Mouth of Madness. The best way I can describe the ending is that it is defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, thanks to some deceptive switcheroo editing reminiscent of The Silence of the Lambs. I wasn’t completely caught off-guard, because things seemed “off” once the escape pod reached Earth, but the big reveal was still something of a gut punch. I was actually pretty repulsed, but walked out of the theater snickering over the misanthropy of it.

Another clue to the final deception is the fact that the trailer itself is deceptive. Entire scenes and pieces of dialogue in the trailer don’t appear in the movie, or appear in altered form. The trailer shows a clean intercept of the rover containing samples of martian soil, whereas the intercept in the film is offscreen and a bit messy. One of the trailers also has dialogue stating that the invasive life-form destroyed civilization on Mars, but there is no mention of a martian civilization in the movie itself.  While most of the film doesn’t break new ground, I will recommend it because of the ending alone.

In the Mouth of Madness (part 2): “The sooner we’re off the planet, the better”

In our last post, I discussed the various literary influences apparent in In the Mouth of Madness.  Today, I’m delving a bit deeper into some of the tropes and philosophies that informed Lovecraft’s work, and this film in turn.

In the Mouth of Madness opens with John Trent being admitted to an insane asylum, where he recounts his story to an investigator (David Warren). One of the most common tropes in Lovecraft’s work is the notion that some truths are so terrible as to cause the knower to go insane. Consider this noteworthy opening quote from “The Call of Cthulhu”: “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.” In some Lovecraft stories, acquiring forbidden knowledge not only causes insanity, but forces bodily mutations upon the victim. This is apparently a trope within Sutter Cane’s fiction and also happens to unfortunate readers  of his newest novel, In the Mouth of Madness. In some respects, these mutations are reminiscent of transformation scenes in John Carpenter’s earlier film The Thing.

An ominous painting foretells the fate of residents of Hobb’s End

Misanthropy was rampant in Lovecraft’s fiction. In a letter to Edwin Baird, editor of Weird Tales, Lovecraft wrote of a young writer who wished to pen a story of a mad scientist who strives to conquer the world by unleashing a plague. To Lovecraft, this vision unoriginal and simply did not go far enough. “Good and evil, teleological illusion, sugary sentiment, anthropocentric psychology–the usual stock in trade, and all shot through with the eternal and inescapable commonplace…Who ever wrote a story from the point of view that man is a blemish on the cosmos, who ought to be eradicated?…I told my friend, he should conceive of a man with a morbid, frantic, shuddering hatred of the life-principle itself, who wishes to extirpate from the planet every trace of biological organism, animal and vegetable alike, including himself…Only a cynic can create horror–for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a demonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, longs to pull them to pieces and mock them” (Quoted in Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror) .This attitude is rampant in Sutter Cane’s work, and John Trent offers a similar opinion at one point when he tells Linda Styles, “The sooner we’re off the planter, the better.” However, Trent is ultimately unable to maintain that stance–or perhaps it was mere posturing all along–because he tries desperately to save humanity in the film’s final act.

The last and perhaps most important Lovecraftian trope is identity-based horror. (And here I spoil the best scene in in the movie.) In “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” Lovecraft writes, “No death, no doom, no anguish can arouse the surpassing despair which flows from a loss of identity.” Savvy viewers would know that John Trent is set up for such a fate, given his arrogance and frequent comments along the lines of “I’m my own man; nobody pulls my strings.” The revelation that he is not his own man and in fact has no free will is expected, but the specific nature of this revelation delivers a gut-punch arguably superior to similar twists penned by Lovecraft himself. In a confrontation with between Trent and Sutter Cane, Cane reveals, “This town didn’t exist before I wrote it, and neither did you…You are what I write!” Trent sputters and protests that he is not, in fact, a “piece of fiction,” Cane responds, “I think, therefore you are.” Trent is not even left with the solace of having once been human. He simply never was what he believed himself to be, and technically, was never real.

I will further discuss the notion human existence as puppet existence in our final post on In the Mouth of Madness and its religious implications, and in my review of Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.

Weirding the Apocalypse Part 1: Carnosaur (1993)

Scoring only 3.5 out of 10 stars on IMDb and 11% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the 1993 Jurassic Park knock-off Carnosaur (directed by Adam Simon and produced by Roger Corman) doesn’t get a lot of love. Technically, it isn’t a knock-off, as it’s loosely based on a 1984 novel by John Brosnan  (a.k.a. Harry Adam Knight), which itself predates  Crichton’s novel.  But the timing of the film’s release was certainly meant to cash in on the success of Jurassic Park, and even adds an additional callback by casting Diane Ladd, mother of Jurassic Park‘s Laura Dern, as a mad scientist.

Carnosaur doesn’t boast the then-cutting edge special effects of Jurassic Park. In fact, the dinosaurs are overly rubbery and the film as a whole is incredibly low budget, but in other respects, Carnosaur is the weirder, gorier, and more tantalizing of the two films.

Let me explain.

Despite Jeff Goldbloom’s character in Jurassic Park being quite delicious as the resident pessimist, like all Spielberg movies, the entire film is very much Up With People in its outlook. It’s comfortably anthropocentric, with dinosaurs being genetically engineered for the sole purpose of humans’ entertainment and corporate profit. Of course things go badly, but order is ultimately restored with humanity reasserting itself as the dominant species.

Carnosaur also has a plot involving the creation of genetically engineered dinosaurs, but with a twisted motive. Dr. Jane Tiptree (portrayed by Diane Ladd) is a female mad scientist (a rarity in horror films), who has a strange plan to save the earth. She has created and introduced a food-borne virus into poultry products that recodes human DNA in such a way as to cause women to give birth to dinosaurs, killing the female host and thereby preventing the human race from reproducing. Dr. Tiptree wants humans to become extinct and to “give the earth back to the dinosaurs.” This is an absurd, even arguably idiotic apocalypse scenario. What makes it effective is Dr. Tiptree’s misanthropic philosophy.

Carnosaur isn’t the first film to depict and apocalypse in which humanity is supplanted by another species. Better-known and more popular examples include Invasion of the Body Snatchers (and its remakes) and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Those films depicted a quiet alien invasion in which the alien species can imitate other life-forms. They didn’t celebrate the extinction of the human race. Carnosaur is nastier by virtue of Jane Tiptree acting as a species-traitor who promotes misanthropic and anti-natalist perspectives, viewing humans as nothing but a “set of instructions for the reproduction of the species.”

She explains her reasoning: “Just imagine. An ugly cancerous grey planet littered with the dying remnants of biological life as we know it. I actively worked on that in industry and in government. The earth isn’t ours to destroy…I don’t want to end the world, just one unruly species…The human being is the WORST. The human species is a disaster.” Tiptree’s radical solution to save the earth and the environment even includes her own extermination after serving as a vessel for her new breed of dinosaurs. The end of the film is ambiguous. The hero obtains the serum needed to reverse the effects of the virus, but he may be too late to save the high percentage of people infected.