Have a Good Time

March 23, 2010

Footnote on Coraline and Avatar: All that is solid melts into Eywa

Filed under: film — by JR @ 8:12 am
Tags: , , , ,

Another difference between Gaiman’s Coraline and Selick’s adaptation: the first is set in England, the second in Ashland, Oregon.  “I felt as though I had to set it in America instead of England, though it still has English characters,” Selick says; “I felt I had to set it in a town known for its Shakespeare festivals and then it started to turn into a movie.”  The pivotal Shakespearean sequence, almost exactly halfway through the movie, immediately before the presentation of the eye-buttons that Coraline must accept if she is to stay with her new family in the Other World, is also the most explicit visualization of aesthetic immersion.  Coraline and her friend Wybie enter a lush, spacious theater to see a performance by Spink and Forcible, the supposedly retired English actresses who live in the basement of Coraline’s house.  The figures onstage here are the Other Spink and the Other Forcible.  Bouncing on two planks suspended high above a barrel full of water centerstage, they suddenly zip themselves out from their large, familiar bodies; emerge as impossibly thin, agile, cat-like, button-eyed versions of themselves; and swing through the air on trapezes that come from nowhere, ecstatically declaiming the “What a piece of work…!” passage from Hamlet. They swoop down just before “the beauty of the world!” to pluck Coraline out of her seat and fling her through space.  She yells, first in terror then in exhilaration, as she lands and balances on an impossibly outstretched hand and the show comes to a close, and the defining reversal of Hamlet’s speech—after the humanist rhapsody, the return to empty corporeality and depression—gets left out, resonating all the more clearly for being unspoken: “And yet to me what is this quintessence of dust?”

Which suggests, maybe, a way of seeing Avatar as the most expensive conceivable gloss on the best-known crux from the same play.  To be solid is to be Sully is to be sullied!  Leave the ash-land of Earth behind!  Disappear into blue-green 3D liquidity!  (And if you thought we were the paragon of animals…)

If this is a reimagining of Hamlet, though—with a slain Mother Nature demanding vengeance instead of the murdered father king; responding to or embodying some kind of collective sense that time is out of joint, or that “the world is going badly”—it’s also Hamlet with the ambivalence erased, reworked into a blissfully uncomplicated messianism.  Time is out joint; Jake Sully was born to set it right; and so we watch as he melts, thaws, resolves himself into a Na’vi, and does just that.


1 Comment »

  1. A bit of submarginalia here, not another post, because I worry I could keep writing posts about these two movies forever, without having said what I wanted to say, stilll without having seen Avatar. Joshua Clover’s fantastic short piece from the Spring 2010 issue of Film Quarterly

    [ http://caliber.ucpress.net/doi/pdfplus/10.1525/fq.2010.63.3.6 ]

    –has some more than relevant thoughts on the logic of prosthesis in Cameron’s body of work. That work, Clover writes, culminating in Avatar, “is organized by a single idea: the necessity of the augmented human body in the struggle against inhuman beings. […] And the prosthetic eyes we all have to strap on just to take part [in Avatar] are a kind of irony–the only tsaheylu paying customers are allowed […]. To see the new world James Cameron is king of, we too have to be augmented just a little.”

    Yes!–and so a more concise way of saying what I’ve been trying to get at in these posts is just to say that Coraline is interestingly attuned to the Cameronesque fixation on prosthetics or supplementarity or what is missing; and that, in some striking and also problematic ways, it grounds a kind of proto-critique of the Avatar event in a reconsideration, not quite a rehabilitation, of the figure of the mother-queen from Aliens.

    Clover’s piece is titled “The Struggle for Space,” and there’s surely more to be said about the gendering of the spatial domination he’s interested in. In the 90s Cameron was crowning himself king of the world; now (as discussed in the first post) he’s simply crowning.

    And was Neil Gaiman, or Dakota Fanning or Henry Selick or anyone, aware of the existence of “coralline ocular implants?” Who knows?

    [ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1850825 ]

    Comment by JR — March 30, 2010 @ 5:57 pm |Reply

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