Rejected Story Ideas, Part 2

 

7, 39, 43

A group of special ops is sent to a remote desert town thought to house a dangerous group of terrorists. The town in question has already been bombed and is reduced to ash, but recent intelligence indicates that many terror cells are housed underground and all precautions are being taken to ensure that this particular group of terrorists is neutralized. Under the command of Squad Leader, the team lines up behind an embankment of rocks and gets into position.

The group is going through the shambles of the clearly primitive (and yet once vibrant) village when one particular solider, Thirty Nine, notices a single building which mysteriously has been completely untouched. A warehouse containing rows of bright & shiny red Toyota Land Cruisers. Having seen cars like this in old movies, Thirty Nine stops to appreciate the old-fashioned vehicles with rubber tires and combustion engines.

“Drop your weapons,” a voice says from behind.

Around two dozen terrorists surround the special ops with aimed weapons, easily outnumbering them.

“Drop them now.”

Thirty Nine and the others drop their weapons. The terrorists quickly rip off their helmets, deprogram the distress signals, and lead them at gunpoint to an encampment with torches and a wooden fence with sharp posts. The camp looks as though it has been quickly built within a craggy space of rocks unobservable from the air. There are small huts scattered throughout and a small tower in the middle of the camp. The ops are taken to the huts in groups of three and stripped. In Thirty Nine’s hut are also Seven and Forty Three. They are tied to the walls with old ropes and left hanging. They’re tied tight so their limbs turn swollen and purple.

Two days go by, and none of the guards and/or terrorists come into the hut. The men discuss their predicament but know also that they are most likely being recorded or observed in some way. They’ve learned how to move slightly and shift their weight to accommodate the uncomfortable position of hanging from a wall.

One the third day one terrorist comes into the hut with a knife. The men don’t flinch as he walks around the hut holding the knife in clear view. He stops at Thirty Nine and grabs his testicles and says, “Are you afraid I will cut these off? It would be very painful, no? A man’s worst nightmare. Trust me, they are a useless appendage to you now.” But then, as if he had just suddenly and for no reason changed his mind, the man turns to Seven and makes a swift gesture as though he’s about to cut, and he does; the terrorist cuts Seven’s right arm free from the rope, and Seven lets out a sigh because the blood is now free again on that side of his body and he wasn’t stabbed. The terrorist then very casually walks out of the hut.

“What was that about?” Seven says.

“I don’t know,” Thirty Nine says.

Seven begins trying to untie his other restraints, perhaps to his credit, but the ropes are tied in knots not to be undone by human hands.

“I can’t.”

“Don’t waste your energy.”

Once Seven finally does give up he has a hard time concealing his superiority of circumstance, letting out sighs of relief and speaking as if he’s better suited to free the group now that he has one hand free. But this, of course, is an illusion. He’s no closer to freeing them than he was before. Seven’s free hand only makes the inevitable more comfortable for him. He overcompensates against this newly formed gulf between him and the group by seeming to have a renewed concern for contemplating escape strategies.

“I could swing now to get my arm out the door.”

“Don’t waste your energy,” Thirty Nine says.

On the fourth day another man comes into the hut with a bowl of water and a knife. Without a word he sets the bowl down and with the knife cuts free one hand of Forty Three. Before Forty Three can even let out a sigh, Seven is already drinking the water. “Share,” Thirty Nine says. But Seven isn’t slowing down. Forty Three tries to stop him but it’s too late. Seven finishes the bowl and begins to tussle with Forty Three. And Forty Three manages to get a pretty good grip on Seven’s throat and begins choking him.

“Stop,” Thirty Nine says. “This is what they want. They’re going to kill us anyway.” A group of men gathers at the hut’s entrance and watches Seven die. His body hangs limp on the wall and his one free hand dangles like a marionette’s. And the men go laughingly to the tower and come back with another bowl of water, and then cut Thirty Nine’s right arm free and set the water down again. “Let’s do this the right way.” Thirty Nine nods and allows Forty Three to take the bowl first. He drinks exactly half and puts it back in the middle of the floor. Thirty Nine drinks the rest.

The onlooking men make disappointed gestures and leave the hut.

“You shouldn’t have done that.”

“I know.”

“They’re trying to get inside us.”

“What does it matter if we die?”

“We could escape.”

Neither of them sleep that night. Seven’s body begins to stink. With one free hand Thirty Nine turns his body and looks out the thatched roof. The stars are bright, the only light besides the few torches in the camp. Thirty Nine thinks back and realizes he never learned the constellations. They’re not so great, he thinks. They’re just there in the sky like clouds. It would be all over soon and doesn’t matter. Forty Three leans over to Thirty Nine.

“Kill me.”

“What?”

“Strangle me. It’s dark and won’t be on camera. I can’t take it anymore.”

“There could still be a way out.”

“We’ve tried all day. There’s no way out.”

In the morning they bring another bowl of water and a small piece of bread on a tin plate. Thirty Nine and Forty Three are salivating, but Forty Three isn’t looking so good. The men stand in the doorway.

“You take it.” Forty Three’s voice was hardly audible.

“Let’s do halves like before.” The men pay close attention to the dealing. They look to Forty Three for his reply.

“No. You take it and I’ll take whatever they bring next time.” Thirty Nine hesitates, unsure of what Forty Three means by this. Some of the men notice this and looked to Forty Three for his reply. Some didn’t and instead maintained their study of Thirty Nine. “Take it!” Forty Three’s shrill yell pierces the air. The men laugh. Spit runs down his chin. Thirty Nine doesn’t want to cause a scene so he drinks the water and eats the bread. And the men leave with some mixed sense of satisfaction.

Thirty Nine then gets a strong hand to the face and then another. “How could you?” he says. Thirty Nine is trying to shield himself from the blows.

“You put me in a spot. We can’t argue in front of them.”

“I didn’t think you’d actually do it.”

Thirty Nine socks Forty Three in the trachea and he vomits nothing.

“We can’t let it come to this. This is what they want.”

“We’re both dying regardless of what they want.”

By next morning Forty Three is barely hanging on, and Thirty Nine isn’t doing much better. Their heads are hanging as blood is locating itself in uncomfortable parts of their bodies; their lips are cracked; their thoughts are cracked. It seemed like the end. But then a smell lifts them out of the daze. The sweet smell of dinner rolls and hot meat.

The men walk in issuing orders. They have a steak dinner on a tray and big canteens of water.

“You can have this meal but you must pay. Whichever of you gives us the eye of the other man can have the food.”

Thirty Nine looks at Forty Three who is looking at the food.

“We’ll split it,” Thirty Nine says.

“That’s not how it works,” the men say.

Forty Three lunges at Thirty Nine, tearing at his face. Thirty Nine does what he can, grabs Forty Three’s neck, and still Forty Three is flailing. But Thirty Nine has a bit more strength left. He looks at Forty Three pleadingly but he won’t make contact. He looks wherever his arms are going, pulling Thirty Nine’s hair & neck. Right before Forty Three dies he looks at Thirty Nine. His eyes say something like thank you and then go vacant. The men in the doorway are hollering and having a good time.

“Good job, solider,” they say. “Do you want this food?”

“Yes.”

“We need the eye.”

“…”

“That’s the deal.”

Forty Three’s dead body hangs on the wall. Thirty Nine doesn’t want to do it. Not with these men watching. He takes Forty Three’s chin and notices his dark eyes. Then he puts the head back down and digs into the socket which is much drier than he expected. There is a little sound and it seemed like it wouldn’t come out but, with a little effort, it did. It dangles from his face by its nerve. Thirty Nine pulls it free with a snap and throws it at the feet of the men. One of them picks it up and put it in his pocket.

“You’ve earned this,” they say. The men raucously applaud and put the plate of food before Thirty Nine and he eats it.

“You’re coming with us,” they say and untie him from the wall and carry him out into the sun, to the tower in the middle of the camp.

The tower is a wooden thing like the huts but bigger. The tower is empty inside, a hollow room with a metal platform on the ground that begins to sink like an elevator into the sand, taking the men into an underground chamber. Everything was total dark and Thirty Nine wonders how they’ve acquired a steak since, to his knowledge, there aen’t any cows in this part of the world.

They took him to a room with a woman sitting on a cot. She’s wearing a tight-fitting military uniform decorated with many badges. She leans forward with her elbows on her knees and looks at the wall. The men leave, closing the door, and she motions for Thirty Nine to sit on the cot opposite her. He sits down and sees that she’s young and beautiful.

“What do you think of all this?” she says.

“I don’t know.”

“Do you know why you’re here?”

“No.”

“Do you know what your people have done to us?”

“No.”

“Of course not.” She takes a small controller from her breast pocket and presses a button. The wall across us lights up with images, terrible images of scorched people running in the streets and buildings collapsing in onto themselves. Huge ships are dropping the fire. Thirty Nine recognizes the ships as his own. (He’s never seen the attacks from this angle before.) Large plumes of smoke wade through the streets like chess pieces, in frame after frame, and there were limbless bodies squirming through the streets and scorched babies. “Quite something,” she says.

“We were hitting terrorist sites. Terrorists from your country bombed us first. That’s what started this. It was retaliation.”

“Those mothers and their children do look like a threat to national security, don’t they?” She clicks on the screen again. It’s a video of Forty Three choking Seven. “Yes, your people seem to know a lot about retaliation. I could play the one of you killing him? That one. Forty Three.” She motions.

“No,” Thirty Nine says.

“You think I’m pretty cruel, don’t you?”

“I haven’t thought about it.”

“Of course you have. The Thirty Nine model is temperamental.”

“My name is Thirty Nine.”

“That’s not your name, son. That’s your model. Names are for people. You’re a standard issue, military grade, very life-like thing meant to resemble a person. But you’re not a person.”

“I am a person.”

“Regardless of what you think you are, you’re going to be terminated. If you were human we’d call that execution. The good thing is you’re built with fake flesh, fake blood, so it will still be a very good show. We like that type of thing here, watching it on TV. Keeps the morale up.” She leans closer to Thirty Nine and grabs his chin. Her breath smells like motor oil and her blonde hair reflects the harsh fluorescent lights. “Do you know who you’re talking to, soldier?”

“Your face looks familiar,” he says through squished lips, pinched by the grip under her leather gloves. She stands up. Her crotch was level with his face.

“The President of the United States of America.”

 

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Fantastic Mr. Fox is the Best Wes Anderson Film, Part 2: Who am I, Kylie?

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Source: Saulscreative.com

IF THE SIGNIFICANCE OF Mr. Fox’s journey is exhumed during his confrontation with the wolf, everything leading up to it takes on a relatable form. The opening scene particularly becomes more than just a piece of information that moves the story along:

This scene is the prototypical nightmare for any modern person fearing the trappings of a traditional family life, so the mythos of hyper-individualism goes: freedom dies the moment you become responsible for someone else’s wellbeing, and thus happiness dies along with it. Mr. Fox feels this as he insincerely smiles—knowing the outward role he is supposed to be playing while being inwardly conflicted. Felicity Fox, on the other hand, upon asking him to find a ‘new line of work,’ is established as the moral center of the story: the embodiment of the expectations Mr. Fox will try to negotiate his way around.

Fantastic Mr. Fox, a stop-animation movie with fox puppets, is one of the most sophisticated critiques of this kind of modern day mythologizing I’ve ever seen; it does this by avoiding easy answers. Like Mr. Fox, we are all caught somewhere between the competing realizations of our obligations to others vs. individual freedom. One story tells us that in order to be happy we need to settle down into a family collective and subjugate our needs and wants to the group. The other says that this traditional model has largely failed and that in order to truly be happy we must follow our internal drives for autonomy and self-sufficiency. Each story, in its critique of the other, throws a little of the baby out with the bathwater, eschewing some element of human complexity.

Mr. Fox therefore has an identity crises which leads him to a path not unfamiliar to many of us. He does what he has to do in secret while playing a different role in public. He thinks this won’t have any effect on those he loves:

But of course it does have an effect.

In fact before Mr. Fox even commits any secret acts of‘pure animal craziness,’ his son Ash is already aware of his father’s resentment towards him:

How many children throughout history have been subject to their parents’ misappropriation of attention and significance? This is the deeply ingrained story of what happens when a culture cannot make up its mind about what it thinks it should be. When we (as well-meaning individuals) cherry pick and otherwise ignore incompatibilities between cultural narratives that are irreconcilable, schisms develop within us overtime which effect how we relate to others and especially those closest to us.

THESE ARE ALL VERY WEIGHTY and significant ideas but the masterstroke of Fantastic Mr. Fox is in how it uniquely handles these. Rather than becoming overly somber at its own realizations, Fantastic Mr. Fox insists on being funny. This, in my opinion, is the best way to explore tough and self-implicating problems. We can’t take ourselves too seriously or we sort of lose the point.

One of the ways Wes Anderson pulls this off is by poking fun at ways in which human civilization deals with its own inconsistencies, reinterpreting them for the animal world. My favorite example of this is the Whack Bat scene:

Why are the rules for Whack Bat so complex?

And why is it funny?

This is an expression of how culturally central sports are, and how at the same time, they are completely arbitrary systems of rules that govern human movement for the sake of entertainment and ritualistic reenactment of earlier more brutal times, when human strength and speed were important for sustenance and not sport. Ash wants to be an athlete because his dad was an athlete. This is illustrative of the very conflict within Mr. Fox: sports are a remnant of how the primal life has be tempered and even made beautiful through civilized cooperation. Imagining the minutia of Whack Back reminds us just how ridiculous our obsessions with sports are. It’s been estimated that the entire sports industry, combining all ticket sales, merchandising revenue, and sponsorships will amount to 73.5 billion dollars by the year 2019. This is hilarious. The agonizing attention which is paid to the smallest details of statistics, analysis, and reportage of games, both professional and collegiate, is a reminder of how conflicted we are about the obsolescence of our own bodies. Ash’s particular desire to be an athlete is also a function of trying to gain his father’s approval.

THIS IS JUST ONE example of the innumerable ways Fantastic Mr. Fox gives space for clever humor.

Without spoiling the ending, it’s safe to say that Mr. Fox does accomplish certain resolutions to his problem of the divided self.

In the Boggis, Bunce, & Bean Supermarket, under fluorescent lights, amidst aisles of groceries, Mr. Fox gives a concluding speech in elegy to our modern day situation; caught between our primal instincts and the world made for us by society:

They say our tree may never grow back, but one day something will. Yes, these crackles are made of synthetic goose, and these giblets come from artificial squab, and even these apples look fake, but at least they’ve got stars on them. I guess my point is, we’ll eat tonight, and we’ll eat together. And even in this not particularly flattering light, you are without a doubt the five and a half most wonderful wild animals I’ve ever met in my life. So let’s raise our boxes to our survival.

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Fantastic Mr. Fox is the Best Wes Anderson Film, Part 1: I Have a Phobia of Wolves

I WANT TO TREAT this scene as a first stepping stone in a series of reflections. I have an uphill battle to fight: I want to make case that Fantastic Mr. Fox—often overlooked or dismissed as a kid’s movie—is actually Wes Anderson’s best film, and is one of the most important films of the last ten years. I figure my favorite scene was as good a place as any to start.

The scene is both a literal and structural a detour: Mr. Fox, his son Ash, and Kylie the possum have saved cousin Kristofferson from farmer Bean. They are riding a motorcycle on their way back to their hideout to hatch a plan with the rest of the animals to get back at the farmers who have forced them underground. On the road Kylie spots a wolf. He says to the group, “Don’t turn around,” and comically all three heads turn (because, of course, in life, we do the very thing we’re told not to.) Mr. Fox stops the motorcycle to look at the wolf. “Where’d he come from?” Mr. Fox says. And soft choir music plays as Mr. Fox awkwardly comes to terms with his ‘phobia of wolves.’

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THIS IS FUNNY—I smile every time I watch this scene—but it’s also emotional. Mr. Fox too is on the brink of tears at one point but fights them back. Wes Anderson has a unique skillset as a director, one that enables him to hit beats of humor and melodrama at the same time, by complicating what would otherwise be a visually striking but superficial story with genuine discord between the appearance and what’s underneath.

Take for instance Mr. Fox’s attempt to communicate with the wolf. He states their Latin names, tells the wolf he has a phobia of wolves, speaks in different languages, but the wolf is silent. Wes Anderson’s obsession with the surface level composition does well to freight this interaction with meaning. Mr. Fox and the wolf are literally both animals but the wolf is not anthropomorphic, which brings tension to the attempts to communicate. We, as the viewers, are not sure whether or not the wolf will respond. And Mr. Fox, even set against his greatest fear, is ever a bullshit artist. He says all throughout the movie that he is a wild animal. That is taken to be the main subtext of the movie, the reason for the materialization of the main plotline: Mr. Fox cannot help but steal chickens and squabs: as he says to Kylie “And how can a fox ever be happy without, you’ll forgive the expression, a chicken in its teeth?” He thinks he wants to be a wild animal but isn’t prepared to deal with the negative consequences that go along with that. The wolf is a physical manifestation of the disparity between what Mr. Fox thinks he is and what he actually is.

The raised fist is meant to be ambiguous and funny; a symbol normally associated with political movements, it somehow fits. I don’t know why but this is the perfect way for the wolf to reciprocate—probably because it subverts Mr. Fox’s expectation that the wolf will know Latin or French, and instead, without words, this scene engenders the ironic feeling that although they are trying to express solidarity with one another, the two couldn’t be more different.

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WES ANDERSON IS THE PERFECT auteur to give expression to Mr. Fox because he too is something like a bullshit artist—but we are all bullshit artists in this sense. Mr. Fox wants both sides of the coin. He wants to live with the benefits of society and the benefits of a wild life with none of the downside, and without considering the effect that effort has on others. If this is not the underlying moral calculus for just about every modern day problem we face, I don’t know what would be.

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I APPRECIATE THE MORAL subtleties of Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is at least partially a movie made for kids. Disney & Pixar movies can be morally heavy handed, with overt messages and morals built in so obviously that it feels rigged from the beginning. Few ‘kid’s movies’ respect the intelligence of children and their ability to grasp complexity. The tested formula for conventional features seems to be: market to the parents instead of the kids, with messages the parents will want their kids to learn. This is fine. But my favorite movies and books of this genre (Willy Wonka, Star Wars, A Wrinkle in Time, & Fantastic Mr. Fox etc.) don’t necessarily pander directly to kids or to parents. Instead they become kid friendly by inviting kids to eat at the adult’s table and helping them come face-to-face with big ideas without spoon-feeding: they are accessible to kids and adults both by opening up the experiences of the characters and the general plotline in a way that is relevant to everyone.

This is no small task for the story teller. To be relevant to the widest number of people is to in some sense be universal, and a universal kids movie has fewer options at its disposal to reach such a level—being limited to what only is considered appropriate—so there is no choice other than to go deep, to delve into meaningful symbols, while eschewing the more gratuitous aspects of death or sex.

Rather than preach a specific message, this scene, and Fantastic Mr. Fox as a whole, lays out a way of thinking about the morality we all face. Even the surface is a symbol, the animals, which lends strength to Wes Anderson’s particularly stylized compositions as he plays with those metaphors.

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THE QUESTION, to my mind, is: how will we face those sides of ourselves that are driven by instinct? Avoid them? Explain them away? Run right for them, consequences be damned?

However we come to terms with this, we all have a little bit of fox in us.

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