Friday, September 28, 2012

What Does 'Piss Christ' Mean & Why Is It Important?

Piss Christ by Andres Serrano, photograph, 1987.
It is perhaps the most controversial work of art in America.
My mother has gotten upset, as it's been in the news again, and asked me to write about it and its significance, if it has any. Of course it does, and I think it's a very important work of art. I say this as a Christian, someone continuously trying to live up to the teachings and commands of Jesus Christ, because, I have to be honest with you, when I look at Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, I see what I do to the Cross every time I sin.
Photograph 60 x 40 inch Cibachrome print on display now at Edward Tyler Nahem Gallery, Manhattan. Because the art was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, it is often cited as a reason why government funding should not be used to support "degenerate" artists. This is up to each person's individual will, however, I hope to demonstrate how we can have a meaningful engagement with the art and not be offended by it, at least, not the way Christians have been heretofore. 
Serrano takes photographs, so what you see above is what is on display (should you decide to go see it). It is described as being a plastic Crucifix in a jar/bottle of the artist's urine and, by some, as being "the most deplorable, despicable display of vulgarity " produced by an American artist. Why? The initial reaction of people such as my dear mother, is that disrespect is being shown to the Cross and the image of Jesus Christ. It is absolutely possible that Mr. Serrano intended only to create a sensational piece to infuriate Christians, but as Christians, does the piece contain a message which we should be in tune with, and, instead of being controversial, Piss Christ becomes instructional?
Please click on the image to expand to full size. The rich color scheme is well created for such a piece. Whereas gold/yellow usually symbolizes royalty and dignity--which should be applied to Jesus Christ, the King of Kings--instead, it's the reflection of yellow urine stripping Him of dignity instead of investing Him with dignity (our recognition of Him as our King and Savior by making sacrifices and denying temptations and sins). There is quite a bit of red in the image, especially along the bottom portion of the Cross, because red can symbolize love--we willingly shed our blood when we love someone--or wrath, and we get so angry at someone, we could shed their blood over it. Christ made His Sacrifice for us out of Love, but Serrano seems to be mildly suggesting that, when we sin, we are actually in a state of wrath; why would that be? Because we have to sacrifice instead of taking, we have to become one with Christ on the Cross instead of staying in our comfort zones (and please know, I am fully aware of how I myself fail in this every hour of every day). We are, in other words, full of wrath when we sin, to the point of "taking life" from Christ by our sin (we can't take God's life, but we take the Life of God given to us--Grace--when we sin). Lastly, please note the brown tones in the top and bottom portions. "Learn from Me for I am meek and humble of heart," Christ told us; brown is the color of humility, for one makes their self low as the dirt in the eyes of the world; there is another side to the symbol of brown, however, and that is, literally, filth: instead of righteously being lowly and humble, we debase ourselves in our appetites and roll in the filth of sin. So Piss Christ is the exact opposite of a Christ Enthroned painting, this is, rather, a very personal depiction of Calvary that we have created on the private stage of our sins.
The purpose of the Cross, and Christ's Suffering, was to redeem us from our sins, to pay the price that we could not. What is it that transforms the Wood of the Cross (invoking the wood of Noah's Ark which saved the righteous from the flood waters of the world) into the cheap plastic cross of today's culture? When we ourselves cheapen the price Christ paid for our sins, because we, as Christians, know what that price was and, instead of worshipping the Cross, we steep Our Savior in the filth of our sins, again and again. Whereas we have been cleansed of sin through Baptism, "urine"--as an anti-thesis to the symbol of spiritual cleansing--is the willingness we have to wallow in the ways of the world instead of following the narrow path which we profess to believe and hold as True. Piss Christ isn't a work about Jesus, rather, it's a work about Jesus' followers, me and you, and Serrano calls to our mind an important lesson we tend to (easily) forget.
If I chose sin over Christ, then I have "pissed on Christ," and I have transformed the wood of the Cross into the throw-away, cheap plastic of a world condemned by its own appetites and I have knowingly rejected the Path of Salvation and chosen the path of damnation, hell over heaven. Piss Christ is my doing, no one else's, and I have to take responsibility before God every second of my life and at the Hour of Judgement, however, therein is the irony of the piece and the inherent victory it contains!
Sometimes Christians see Jesus on a Cross and think, He died for everyone, but not necessarily for myself. What Serrano has done is shown us how Christ died and continues to suffer for my sins, the "piss" I drown his image in when I have sinned and not just a nameless mass of people, but for the individual children He lovingly created, knowing we would sin; so why create us if we were just going to sin, or at least, why not create us perfect so we wouldn't sin at all? Because to forgive is divine. Nothing shows someone you love them more than when you forgive them, and when we go to Our Father, confess our sins, and ask Him to Forgive us, we gain more in that act of humility and trust than what we lost when we sinned (this is never a license to sin, it's an encouragement to overcome our weakness prompting us to sin).
In spite of what I have done in sinning--I and I alone in the abuse of my free will to chose sin over God's Love for me--Jesus is there, patient and waiting for me to come and ask His Forgiveness, even while "drowning" in the filth of whatever it was I did, and I know He will Forgive Me and restore me to Grace; Serrano provides for us a graphic image, a singular image for each follower of Christ, of how the King of Kings takes the filth of my individual sins and wears them Himself so I might become clean and enter His Kingdom of Heaven. This image, so despised by the media and most Christians, is a triumph of Love and God's devotion to us His Children, and testifies to how He willingly endures His Sorrowful Passion for each of us every moment of our lives.
Piss Christ provides an excellent example of how art means to engage us with a mirror of ourselves; rarely will it show us what we want to see, but it will always show us something if we meet it on its terms and try listening to what it has to say, the message, the secret door into our own soul that will open if we give it the chance.
Ultimately, Piss Christ is a triumph of Love for Christians, because it reminds us so graphically (as Mel Gibson's The Passion Of the Christ did) the Love that Jesus has which caused Him to Suffer and continues to Suffer for our sins so we can be cleansed, so, in this sense, we can call it a graphic message of Divine Mercy that Jesus really love us, really wants us to be forgiven for our sins and lovingly wants us to overcome our sins. Likewise, it shows us--which we all need to know--what sin is, the no-nonsense, graphic reality of what we do to ourselves and our Lord every time we commit the smallest sin. We should not be upset with Christians getting upset with Piss Christ, Christianity is so attacked in our culture and no one defends it, that the desecrating image of Our Lord troubles their heart, however, Jesus is willing to suffer this--as He suffered on the Cross--if it means saving us from our sins.
This is LOVE.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner

Monday, September 24, 2012

96% Unemployment: Dredd & the Socialist State

Judging by the poor box office it received, I guess it didn't occur to anyone but me really to check out Pete Travis' Dredd, which I might add I was "dreading" because I had such a change of heart about it. As I mentioned previously, when the trailers were first released, I thought Dredd (Karl Urban) would symbolize American voters upset about how things were going in Washington and he was going to take out the politicians and I could hardly wait (the drug slo-mo being what they feed us to "slow down" the version of reality they feed us as the truth); then, in my pessimism, the day it opened, I suddenly turned and thought, Oh, no, Mama (Lena Headey) is going to be symbolic of a capitalist and the drug is the way socialists see consumer consumption in a capitalist society (it's no longer "Religion is the opium of the masses," as Karl Marx said, rather, "Things are the opium of the middle class" dulling our senses to a better, more enlightened society that we should willingly accept but for being so darn addicted to "stuff").
I'm happy to say, that's not what the film is about, and it hinges on one detail.
One of the issues concerning me through the film was the visual resemblance to the eagle on the hall of justice in the film and the eagle of the Nazi Third Reich from World War II (yes, I thought a socialist film might use that to identify itself to the implied socialists/communists in the audience) but after comparing the two, they are not similar, hence, Dredd as a judge, jury and executioner can symbolize one thing only: the American voter, who judges the job of politicians, hears their case during the torturous campaign process and then executes according to what we decide with our vote that either re-elects them or takes them out.
The one detail that changes the entire tilt of the film is that, in the Peach Trees mega-block controlled by Mama, there is 96% unemployment. If that were a capitalist symbol, there wouldn't be unemployment--we see good, positive examples of work being done in the start of the film when Rosa, a fast-food worker in a Chinese take-out is held hostage (yes, that's symbolic, too)--but no one in Peach Trees working, and Mama identifying herself as the law, not to mention the idea of living in a grove of "peach trees" where everything is free and you just pluck what you want when you want, is definitely an image many of us associate with socialism; additionally, there is the fact that Mama alone controls and produces the drug slo-mo because she wiped out all the other competition. As a monopoly, that could be an image of bad capitalism, however, because she has everyone unemployed (she's a badass, she could make everyone work if she wanted to, but that's not what she wants, she wants them dependent on her, hence she's called their "Mama") it resembles a socialist state wherein the government wants the people dependent upon it, not free to provide for themselves and make their own decisions.
Yes, he keeps the helmet, and the scowl, on for the entire film. In a shoot-out in a drug room of Peach Trees, the druggies are high on slo-mo and Dredd comes in shooting, and one is shot through the cheek, another through his fat, exposed belly that jiggles all over in slo-mo time, and then another one is shot through the cheek again. Why? I mean, outside of the Coen Brothers' Fargo, who on earth gets shot in the mouth? Someone being punished for their appetites. Socialists have become fond of pointing that finger, in a film such as Lawless and Jack's insatiable appetite for expensive clothes and cars, but Dredd shows us how to point the gun the other way at socialists and how a socialist/communist government will harness the appetites of its people to use against them and chain them to what they and they alone can provide for them, which we saw in The Bourne Legacy with Aaron Cross being kept on a leash because of his meds even when he had all ready been viraled off some of them.
When the film opens, it's shots of the "cursed earth," radiated from war that created one massive city extending from Boston to Washington DC with 800 million people, all else uninhabitable. This is important because we've been seeing lots of end-of-the-world scenarios lately, including Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. Like the step-mothers in both Snow White versions, Mama took over after her pimp scarred her face (more on this below) and she's not the "rightful ruler" of the area she controls, which she has totally wasted. Her rule of terror is the law instead of justice and punishment, which brings us to comparing the villain and hero.
It's not very noticeable in this shot, but crawling up her right cheek is actually a vine with a leaf on the very end (on her cheek) and this is a tattoo coming up from her back, very much like the leaves growing on the ankles of Timothy in the pro-socialist film The Odd Life Of Timothy Green which I mistakenly took for a pro-capitalist film. The "environment agenda" that the tree vines speak of is in and of itself not a case for
When we first see Mama, she's in the tub loaded on slo-mo; when we first see Dredd, he's getting suited up for the day. This is an intentional polarization: Mama is naked, Dredd gets dressed; Mama appears to be getting cleaned, Dredd charges out into the filth of the city; Dredd wears the heavy armor of a cop under fire, Mama lounges with her "naturalist" tattoos; Mama has power, but Dredd has responsibility. With these binary oppositions (which we saw Christopher Nolan use in his construction of The Dark Knight Rises) Dredd depicts how all these falsities about Mama are the scars on her face, hence, her identity (the face symbolizes our identity) is forever twisted but Dredd's identity is protected (not masked) by the power he serves. Perhaps the best way is to think of Oscar Wilde's The Picture Of Dorian Gray: what we do effects our identity and our actions become our identity (Dredd becomes a Judge because he correctly judges, but Mama becomes a druggie because she does drugs). Our face is our identity and our actions are worn on our face.
Anderson is a rookie who should have failed because she couldn't pass any of her tests but they want to put her out in the field anyway; Dredd makes the case that if she failed, she failed, but the supervisor points out her amazing psychic abilities and they want that to give her an edge in the field so she gets another chance as Dredd evaluates her. This is another example of capitalism which the cartoon in the start of Ice Age 4: Continental Drift made fun of with Maggie Simpson being sent to Ayn Rand day care and being treated like waste because of the failure of capitalism to sponsor the lowly (Anderson happens to be a mutant and an orphan but she's been given special status as a judge). Even Arbitrage attacks the idea of capitalism "investing in people" unless the system is getting sex from them (more on that in the post). Anderson doesn't wear her helmet because it interferes with her psychic abilities. When Anderson first meets Dredd (she's still behind the glass and she asks to describe him) she mentions his anger; this is important because Anderson's innocence as a rookie and someone using the capital of their talent and gifts to improve the area where they came from balances the anger that makes Dredd unstoppable in his dispensing of justice.
That kind of structure is great in the comparison of hero and villain, but can the film carry it further? Yes it can. With the rookie Anderson, her hair is yellow because yellow is the color of gold and hence the color of dignity (gold is associated with royalty) so her desire to serve and make a difference is her "crowning glory" (hair symbolizes thoughts) because she's not thinking of herself, but the people who, like her, live in the mega-blocks they are trying to defend and clean up. On the other hand, Zwiren (Jason Kope) wears a yellow shirt because he's a coward (the opposite of the dignity of kings yellow can express is the cowardice of those who run away from their duty) and Zwirken is bullied by Mama standing behind him. More important are the eyes: Zwirken had his eyes put out by Mama's thumbs and she gave him fake eyes; Anderson has "fake eyes," but they are the eyes-as-gift of her psychic abilities that can "see" what others can't.
Mama like just took a bath, and look at how dirty she all ready is again? That's the stain of sin and the disease of power. When Kay, one of her "workers" returns with Anderson hostage, Mama tells Kay that he should have killed the judges or died trying, and this explicitly invokes the Siege of Stalingrad during World War II when Adolf Hitler made Friedrich Paulus a field marshall because no field marshall had ever been taken alive (so Hitler sent him the orders to die fighting or commit suicide) but, instead, Paulus surrendered. Why is this important? It demonstrates the lack of respect for life inherent within socialist systems. 
Most importantly, within this level of the film's structure, is how Anderson and Zwirken are treated: Dredd exposes Anderson to death, but only so she can fulfill her desire to make a difference and become a judge; Mama threatens and bullies Zwirken with a knife to his belly and makes him lie and do bad things while Dredd helps Anderson to become a better person and fulfill her destiny. A government that exists by power and extortion brings only harm to its citizens, whereas a government of freedom will most likely see abuses--we are all familiar with them--will also see good ones rise up and take the lead in cleaning up the abuse.
This happens later in the film, but I really like how they did it. In a film, the hero usually has unlimited free will, that is, they can pass through gun fire without getting hit, they can fall without breaking bones, they can get shot without it taking them down, etc. Throughout the film, we have seen Dredd do all these things, but once Anderson got taken hostage, he "is low on ammunition" and then gets shot down, nearly killed, until Anderson comes to save him, and not only by shooting the bad guy, but by "being there" with Dredd in their quest to take out Mama and bring justice to the Peach Trees and the city. Once she shows up, Dredd "operates on himself," and as graphic as that scene is, it's also a spiritual operation meant to inform us of how much he has come to depend on her emotionally during this trial by fire.
One last, interesting item the film throws out for our consideration: skateboarding.
This was well done. The peach Trees mega-block has been completely war-locked, no escape, but Mama, in her desperation for getting the judges, fires a massive machine gun that opens up a hole in an exterior wall and Dredd and Anderson manage to escape outside onto a skate board ramp (pictured below, attached on the left side in the middle of the image).  They end up going right back into the mega-block, so why bother having this scene?
It even looks like the type of cities the socialists/communists built during the Cold War...
Consider, please, all the films as of late that have utilized games and sports for analogies to capitalism; skateboarding, when I was in seventh grade, was just becoming a popular--or I should say, "acceptable"--sport for participation but today it's a major event with millions of dollars wrapped up in it; in other words, because of capitalism, the kids "wasting their time" skateboarding aren't wasting their time, they are practicing a sport in which they have a future and can make a living if they get good enough. This isn't the only reason this scene happens, but to remind Dredd and Anderson why they are doing what they are doing, to rejuvenate their purpose and encourage them in the fight that it's worthwhile and going to be the best for the greatest number of people.
Anderson has been captured by Kay (wearing a yellow shirt, please see commentary above) and is probably--at this point in the film--going to be gang raped. It's probably only that Mama herself had been a prostitute and been severely wounded/beaten by men that she doesn't allow it, instead, showing mercy to Anderson by just having her filled up with bullets (I'm being sarcastic). Is that mercy? No, so let's not fall for it. This is pretty graphic, and I apologize for this but it's an incredible example of good screenwriting: she's not going to let Kay "enter" into Anderson and leave his seed within her, because that would be Kay's power being exercised, not Mama's and Mama is only concered with Mama's power, so she wants her bullets to fill Anderson because she wants to be the one executing justice and power, no one else, and especially not someone who works for her. On a different level, Dredd, like a growing number of films, is not promoting a sexual/romantic relationship between leading man and lady, instead, there is a growing, genuine emotional/psychological bond that is being adopted and promoted more and more and I love it!
Like The Dark Knight Rises, Dredd's dusting off of the old-school "binary oppositions" upon which to hang its arguments is itself an aggessive political statement because they re-adopt what more radical political groups successfully got academia and historians to abandon in the 1960s-1970s. In conclusion, many of the variables of the film's narrative and details could have swayed the film one way or another, however, knowing history and the practice of socialism, and keeping up on the expanding and organic vocabulary film employs in today's cultural and political  debates, I am confident that we have a well-planned pro-capitalist film that has made its own contribution to the cinema battles we are witnessing!
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner

TRAILERS: Ingenious, Mama

Two-time Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town) plays Sam, a salesman in the Indie release Ingenious. It appears the film was made two years ago and was delayed for release intentionally (?); regardless, just from the trailer, it appears to be an intimate, emotional roller-coaster many will be able to identify with, or see someone they know. Big studio pictures are great, like The Dark Knight Rises and The Hunger Games, because they target large audiences and so intentionally heighten everything that can possibly appeal to the greatest number of people; that means, however, that messages tend to be more heavily encoded  and less accessible than in smaller projects intended for an implied audience where there is less money to lose due to an unpopular viewpoint or means of expressing/encoding it (I still wish I could get a copy of Blood Car!). In a way, the simplicity of Ingenious is what's so explosive about it: "A rags-to-riches story of two friends, a small-time inventor and a sharky salesman, who hit rock bottom before coming up with a gizmo that becomes a worldwide phenomenon," and for those who have so patiently been awaiting the climax to the socialist-capitalist debates waging in our cinemas, Ingenius' delayed release might be a Godsend for it and us because in 2009/2010, it wouldn't have been as important socially, culturally and politically--heck, even historically--because we didn't have the terrible verdict passed by The Descendants (Shark Feeding & The Descendants), or the eloquent counter-arguments stated in The Artist (BANG! The Artist & the New Agenda In Film); the slow but certain Socialist Revolution going on in the American government wasn't as certain then (2009-10) as now, but now Ingenious can weigh in on the side with The Avengers (The Avengers @ War), Men In Black III (Men In Black III & the Victory Of the Cold War), The Chernobyl Diaries (Extreme Tourism Through History: The Chernobyl Diaries & the Pulling Back Of the Iron Curtain), The Bourne Legacy (All Points Of Convergence: The Bourne Legacy & Programmable Behavior) and Madagascar 3 (Trapeze Americano: the Capitalist Circus and Madagascar 3), to name just a few and to intentionally and pettily ignore naming any of the socialist films which have been released, such as Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, The Vow, Ice Age 4: Continental Drift and Dark Shadows. What sets Ingenious apart, however, and this is important, is that it's about the "little guy," the average American, you and me, not the 1% billionaires like Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Bruce Wayne (Batman)--who I TOTALLY support!--but Ingenious' now-radical political statement that we not only matter, we not only make a difference that can count, but we can do it on our own, our own way and that's what is best for us, in spite of the difficulties and dues we have to pay (rather like Rock Of Ages, please see Tongues: Rock Of Ages); in short, the capitalist system isn't broke as Lawless and Arbitrage insist it is. Yes, this is an extremely important film, so please, slip a note to the usher at your local theater, and therein write to the owner about this ingenious little film that supports the American Dream, like their own dream of running a theater, and instead of making a little splash as it would have a couple of years ago, it can make a giant wave and crush the weakness of the liberal press and the American Communist Party.
It's always nice to have validation and the endearing Indie flick Ingenious, made in 2009 and just now starting a fund raising to spread nationwide, validates everything I wrote about Moneyball (Moneyball & the Great American Economy) and The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games: Hitler & America's Anti-Socialism): whereas Moneyball reminded Americans the difference between "play" (the absence of rules which benefits the underdog) and "game" (rules meant to give an advantage to a particular group) and why capitalism brings out the very best in America for the greatest number of people, The Hunger Games contends that, had the socialist-Nazi Adolf Hitler not started events that led to World War II 74 years ago, Americans would not have become so anti-socialist, instead, we instituted a "violent" form of economy where we kill each other (the "Hunger Games" is Moneyball's baseball game turned upside-down) because we all "hunger" for that gizmo that will make our lives easier (my analysis is far more complete in the links above):
It's not just the story line of whether or not the American Dream is still viable, and whether one can only be "born into" riches in America or only the all ready privileged can climb still higher upon the social ladder, but the very marketing strategy and appeal of the producer to unite and help them distribute their film (which I am going to do) because they still have faith in the capitalist system and the Indie spirit necessary for all films to exist and ever improve their vocabulary and challenge of engagement with audiences.
Having said all that, let's consider this new trailer for Mama because this is surely going to be anti-capitalist:
What do the initial images of the first few seconds invoke?
The abandoned cabin reminds me of the cabin towards the end of Denzel Washington's Fallen, the primary location for The Cabin In the Woods and, less directly, the "houses out in the middle of nowhere" in The Apparition and The Possession.
If you stop the trailer above at :47, and look on Annabel's T-shirt, she's wearing a portrait of the science fiction author, Jules Verne; where have we encountered Verne in the last year? The anti-socialist film Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (The Socialist Utopia: Journey 2 The Mysterious Island) and, less directly, the pro-socialist film, Ice Age 4: Continental Drift at the end when Scrat goes to Atlantis (Drifting Waaaaay Left: Ice Age 4 Continental Drift). So what's the significance of Annabel's T-Shirt?
Science fiction author Jules Verne. I interpreted Journey 2: The Mysterious Island to definitely be a anti-socialist, pro-capitalist film so, since it apparently contradicts Verne's own political beliefs,... can I do that? Yes and yes. Yes in that, I actually am not the one who interpreted and appropriated the material of his stories for the movies, the film makers did that, so they are the one's taking the liberties and they have every right to: all art is influenced by other art, whether art chooses or not to recognize its sources. Secondly, the liberals/socialists have made it perfectly clear that this is fair game when they appropriated Republican President Abraham Lincoln to their side in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (the book),  Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (the movie) and Steven Spielberg's upcoming Lincoln. One reader commented that Lincoln and Republicans of the time held a great number of socialist beliefs; I requested that she specify those beliefs and cite her sources and she has done neither, so I think traditional history stands regardless of what liberals/socialists would like the public to think.
Judging by works he wrote later in life, Verne was not optimistic about human progress and was probably a socialist; since he actively served in politics for 15 years (not that it really matters) we can definitely say that his views structured his stories. So Annabel wearing a T-shirt with Verne's picture on it is meant to identify her with him. How? The relationship centers around the word "Mama." Traditionally, women symbolize the "mother land," the land that gave birth to us and our identities; in Dredd, socialists see the government wanting the people to think of it as their "Mama" (Lena Headey; please see 96% Unemployment: Dredd & the Socialist State) who does everything for them, whereas the socialists in Mama focus on the "wicked presence" haunting Victoria and Lilly as the American motherland of capitalism, preventing the girls from making "a new start" in life with a woman who wears a T-shirt with a French socialist on it, i.e., the Obama administration's second term in office. What's important, again, as I have pointed out numerous times this year, is that both sides use the same images and symbols, yet, depending on the context, turn it upside-down.
Jessica Chastain as Annabel in Mama. Please note the position of the legs, Annabel's atop Victoria's (or maybe that's Lilly?) body trying to hold her down and the little girl's legs, one lying down and the other still up, her face contorted as if crying. The legs symbolize the will and will power because they take us in the direction we will/want to go, so the "oppressing" will of Annabel atop the little girl, and the little girl with half her will (one leg) submissive in the flat position and the other half of her will rebelling (in the upright position) demonstrates the "taking over" of the girl's identity by Annabel. The same "stains" or "opening up of the walls" happens in The Apparition (anti-capitalist) while the moths are prevalent in The Possession (anti-socialist) so, yes, all these elements of vocabulary together will be a very interesting statement.
How can we understand the angles of this film?
"Victoria and Lilly were all alone," the opening monologue tells us, which reminds us of the upcoming Brad Pitt film, Killing Them Softly; please listen specifically to 2:12:
"Only in America, in America, you're on your own," just like Victoria and Lilly out in the wilderness; first, socialists blame capitalism for making people struggle and the government not helping them (Ice Age 4, Django Unchained) and Mama seems to be presenting this same idea; director Christopher Nolan, however, counters the benefits of becoming strong and being in charge of your own destiny in The Dark Knight Rises and even Resident Evil counters forcibly. The "wilderness" in which Lilly and Victoria were living invokes both Oliver Stone's Savages, where the threesome end up  in some third world country, and Wes Anderson's Moonlight Kingdom when Sam and Suzy run off into "the wilderness" following the harvest trail of the Indians and the larger idea of the "Mountain Man" genre of the early 1970s.
There is an interesting twist in that this is a Canadian film, probably taking place in Canada, and the two little girls are the nieces which might be a nice way of putting the United States in relationship to our "brother" up north, Canada and how they view our political struggles down here. Another interesting tidbit I have discovered about the film is that Annabel and Lucas are not married and Annabel uses Lilly and Victoria to try and communicate to her dead children,... If Mama makes the case that Annabel is socialism trying to "transit" America away from the "savage wilderness" of capitalism (the way it's presented in The Hunger Games) then Annabel's dead children could be the "dead" Soviet Union, former communist Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic States, etc. because we see a dead child, Carrie Ann in The House At the End Of the Street, which is anti-socialist.  Always, this is according to information presented and the film may or may not take a different turn to alter these things, however, this is the structure of the film's architecture it's laying at this time.
"The ghost is an emotion bent out of shape, condemned to repeat itself," we hear at 1:52 in the trailer, and that's the summary thesis (for what we get from the trailer) of yet another view on how socialists see the "ghost of capitalism" haunting future generations (the two girls) trying to make a new start with Annabel (the socialist under the Obama Administration).
 In an update, January 18, here is the clip released of the search party finding the two girls in the house:
The two girls are seen first atop the fridge, implying the appetites. The pile of cherry pits suggests eating of the "forbidden fruit" that socialists typically accuse capitalist consumers of because the appetites for material goods drives consumers and the free market. This is all speculation, I have NOT seen the film, but these are POSSIBLE interpretations.  Here is another clip:
"In order to survive, they created an imaginary guardian," which implies two concepts. First, the word "guardian" links up with the pro-capitalist film Rise Of the Guardians and "imaginary" invokes the capitalist idea of the "invisible hand" guiding the markets and production (as opposed to socialist systems which have government committees dictating what will be made in what quantities). IF Mama as a ghostly character in the film somehow ties in with these concepts, then the two little girls--Victoria and Lilly--symbolize the future and the battle for the two girls is the battle over which "motherland" will protect and raise the future "in her own image" (Annabel the socialist or Mama the capitalist). But, as in the case of Schrodinger's cat, we just won't know until we actually see the film!
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner

Friday, September 21, 2012

Dredd & House At the End Of the Street Pre-Reviews

The tagline reads, "It's not haunted. It's not cursed. It's worse."
Of all the films coming out this weekend, at least two of them are good: Dredd and House At the End Of the Street (I just haven't been able to see all them yet). Again, as usual, as you know, etc., however you want to phrase it, I'm not a good judge of entertainment value but that's not what you come here for; I can say with confidence that Dredd is anti-socialist and House At the End Of the Street, for those of us who can't stand President Obama, is exceedingly cathartic because it validates our pain and the way liberals make fun of us for not liking him!
This scene demonstrates some sophisticated writing and how the film makers know our emotions and thoughts have been manipulated by the media and our peers. Because of the way a viewer identifies with characters in the narrative, we, like Elyssa (Jennifer Lawrence), are drawn in because of our compassion and don't realize the truth until it's too late.
When I say, "cathartic," I don't mean film makers will take your hand and speak sweetly to you about everything he's done which has upset us so much, but I do mean, as in Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, that piecing together the events and characters, we can see a commentary or, as the film itself puts it, we can see "the secret, the face" that's hiding right in front of us.
When the trailer for Dredd was first released, I was confident it would be a pro-capitalist/anti-Obama administration film; then, just this morning, seeing how the vocabularies have shifted, and the means socialists have employed to create their arguments, I suddenly feared that MaMa (Lena Headey) would symbolize capitalists and the drug slo-mo would be an indictment about consumer appetites, while Dredd as "judge, jury and executioner," might be making a case for Obama to become a total dictator; I am happy to say that's not what happened, and MaMa is, instead, symbolic of how the government in a socialist society keeps people dependent upon it (rather how we saw the agents in The Bourne Legacy being kept on their meds, even after they had been viraled off some of them).
Lena Headey as MaMa in Dredd. Even though the film is only an hour and forty-five minutes, it's about thirty minutes too long: it's very similar in all aspects to The Raid: Redemption, which was excellent, yet Dredd lacks the intense physicality of the martial arts fights that gave The Raid so much bite, relying, instead, on gun power which gets old after awhile, but was still good, for example, it's impossible not to notice MaMa's scars, and her face should be juxtaposed for comparison against Dredd's face which is covered throughout the whole film.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The 'Person' In "Personal Property": The Words

"Neither as clever nor as interesting as it appears to think it is, The Words maroons its talented stars in an overly complex, dramatically inert literary thriller that's ultimately a poor substitute for a good book," so runs the RottenTomatoes.com review, granting it a mere 18% approval rating among film critics. This is one of those films which prompts me to make several statements in advance: I don't have a typical value system for "entertainment value," nor do I try to decide whether or not this would be a film you would enjoy, rather, I look at the films as social documents, each entering into a cultural dialogue of issues and events within us right now and what those issues are doing to us; on that level, Brian Klugman's and Lee Sternthal's The Words has quite a bit to say, but perhaps the critics don't want to hear it.
The film opens with Hammond (Dennis Quaid) reading his book to an audience about Rory (Bradley Cooper) who found the manuscript written by The Old Man (Jeremy Irons) which he had lost after World War II when he was an ex-patriot living in Paris with his new French wife. The film moves in and out of the stories of these three men, artfully destabilizing that fine line between fact and fiction. In a very basic sense, this poster design is highly existential because of the way in which words and how and why we use them make up our identity and contribute to the framework of our existence, artfully illustrated within the film by the thumb print of The Old Man when he was young and typing "the story" and over which Rory places his own thumb.
All art makes decisions, it makes choices and promotes values that it believes an audience will "buy into" so they will engage the art on some level (for example, the artist has to decide, "Am I going to uphold 'love' as a value my audience will understand, believe in and engage, or does love no longer exist as a viable virtue?"); the premise The Words builds upon, the most basic foundation is, The Old Man has a story, and it's his story, it doesn't belong to anyone else: the story of his life, and the way he choose to tell the story, belong to him and are a part of his personal property. Why is this important? In a political culture where "redistribution of wealth" has become a part of rhetoric and protests, and socialism and capitalism are actively competing in films to edge out the other over which economic model best facilitates art and artists, The Words says a lot!
Whether it's The Raven exaiming the life of Edgar Allan Poe, Midnight In Paris glorifying the American ex-patriots, the transition from silent films to talkies in The Artist, or Andy Warhol's fight against communism in Men In Black III, art and artists have a consistent hold on themes of the last year and whether it's better to "pay your dues" to create art or artists should be funded so they don't have to suffer, The Words examines the issues in the lives of all three writers, Hammond in his "elegant" New York apartment, Rory struggling and having to ask his dad for money and The Old Man when he was young working as a reporter so he could pay his bills and learn more about writing. There is a part when it almost appears that The Words is going to sway towards socialism, making the case that, had Rory been funded properly, and the market be based on merit, not capitalist whimsy and trends, Rory wouldn't have had to steal from The Old Man and his first novel could have been published and all would have been well, but it doesn't, the decision to steal the manuscript, word for word, misspelled word for misspelled word and comma for comma, was Rory's and he knew exactly what he was doing (it was an artistic decision, not a monetary one prompting his "theft"), which leads us to why we read books at all: if the words and the images and the emotions belong to Ernest Hemingway, what do I or do I not get out of reading it? Am I stealing when I read The Sun Also Rises, or does something else take place? Given that Silver Linings Playbook, Midnight In Paris and The Words all reference Hemingway (not to mention The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald coming out in December) it would be a wise theme to ponder as to Hemingway "bridging" the pond between the US and France and what his works mean to Americans specifically today as they are re-appearing in films for our consideration.
When The Old Man confronts Rory (and this happens within the text Hammond has written), we begin to realize there isn't any such thing as "the words," because all words belong to someone because words must be spoken, written, stylized and fit into grammatical frameworks to become a part of our being and history, (for example, no one can choose for me what words I write or don't write, no one can choose if I want to mis-spell words, or use big words, quote someone else, or throw in something random; of course there is the argument that one, words are like drops of water within the ocean, and we take the word we need, as we need it, never paying for it, words are just there for us to express ourselves and become a part of ours elf and our story, our history, like the earth's raw materials (and, two, someone could even argue that words all belong to Webster in the dictionary and we merely borrow; this is a wonderful philosophical debate and I know the exact thinkers I would love to see commenting upon it!)
Rory (foreground) walks through Central Park with The Old Man following him in the distance, where he will sit down on a bench beside him, make him a bit uncomfortable with lots of small talk, then snag him and accuse him. Because the film gives us "a story within a story within a story" it exists--and promotes--a chaotic universe, i.e., a universe balanced on an equilibrium, not a evolutionary or Darwinistic universe. This is important in the trend of films as of late because more and more films are siding with this interpretation (The Avengers, Men In Black III, The Bourne Legacy, The Cabin In the Woods, just to name a few), creating a universe wherein God is possible (not necessary, but possible, against the evolutionary universe that states nature created man and man has no soul nor destiny). We can't say that films utilizing a chaotic universe instead of the evolutionary universe are calling for a return to God, however, they inherently debunk the basic tenants of Darwin and the secular manifesto of self-identity within culture.
"Do you think you can just steal a man's life and there be no price to pay?" The Old Man asks Rory in the greenhouse when Rory has come to "make things right" and confess to the lie as well as give all the gains from the book to The Old Man (who refuses it). We have to remember, the story written by The Old Man was about life after World War II, the Holocaust, the deaths of the soldiers (a point is made of The Old Man relating how he saw only one dead body during the whole war, but limiting the dead to just one really makes it an intimate, singular encounter).
When The Old Man encounters Rory in Central Park, before The Old Man lets Rory know what he knows about the real origin of the book, The Old Man asks Rory to sign his copy of the now-famous book but Rory doesn't have a pen; "A writer without a pen," The Old Man quips, but it's more than just a inside joke, it's literally The Old Man who has the pen, not only of the book to be signed, but of the situation, The Old Man is the one in control. In the scene above, when Rory has traced down The Old Man to the greenhouse where he works (symbolic of both The Old Man's soul has a garden of virtues the flowers symbolize and one spiritually advanced because he's not burdened by the worldly pursuits to which Rory has given himself) The Old Man roughly suggests that Rory buy some Swedish Ivy which is another writerly sub-text commentary on Rory's not being a writer, because Swedish Ivy isn't really ivy at all. 
There's a great deal more which could easily be written about The Words, and that's in part why I am stopping now, because I could endlessly go on and on, but I believe the "heart of the film" to be this obvious issue over ownership and identity, a mysterious boundary of words who have no owner, and yet we consume them voraciously in our never-ending work of art that is our most intimate being. To have framed today's political debate within this context is a stroke of genius which I applaud loudly and gratefully for drawing my attention to what I do so effortlessly every second of my being: steal the words to make them my own.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Lawless & Brass Knuckle Tactics

The more I have thought on John Hillcoat's Lawless, the more I realize how deeply his anti-capitalism venom is meant to go into the American soul. I still uphold that it is a fabulously made film, flawless in that every scene is perfectly executed, leaving nothing to desire; however, it is extremely anti-capitalist and anti-American (I am considering the two to be different attacks but Lawless attacks both, separate as they are).  Hillcoat's brilliant film doesn't need the Obama administration to make his case for socialism over capitalism, but he does have to re-write history to achieve his statement, a practice the makers of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter are familiar with.
There is a part of the film where Forrest has his throat slit by two men and, for awhile, the film lets us believe that Forrest walked twenty miles to the hospital in the snow; we later discover that it was Maggie who, after being raped and beaten, had gotten Forrest into her car and drove him to the hospital. This scenario is how Hillcoat mocks Americans in our thinking of national pride and how "we built that," we "won World War II" and we kept communism from spreading throughout the world. Because the head symbolizes "government" and the rule of government, Forrest having his throat slashed (over the open hood of an automobile, invoking the government sponsored bankruptcy of GM) relates to us the attempt at bad capitalists to destroy the less-worse capitalists (Forrest) and get a new head of government which failed. Please remember that historical films are never ever never ever ever about history, they are always about the here and the now, they are a vehicle for discussing the problems we face today through what has happened to us in the past. Forest thinking he walked twenty miles in the snow with a slit throat is the mirror the film makers hold up to pro-Americans that we think of ourselves and our victories in the same terms, but also illustrates how America the whore (Maggie) drove capitalism (Forrest) to the hospital to recover when we should have let capitalism die.
All great art invokes other great works of art, and the opening scene with young Jack having to shoot a pig invokes George Orwell's 1945 novel Animal Farm while the re-located moonshine stills later in the film summons Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel The Jungle.  Orwell was a democratic socialist, but he hated what the Soviet Union had done and, in response, wrote the story of animals overtaking the farm after the farmer continually mis-treated them. It's the pigs in the story who symbolize the bad socialists, Lenin, Marx, Stalin, and who end up turning into the very thing they sought to overthrow: capitalists. Hillcoat and the makers of Lawless, however, invert Animal Farm and they do it in the opening shot when young Jack can't bring himself to shoot a pig; why? Jack can't shoot the pig because the pig is his very self.  Pigs usually symbolize the appetites and no one in the film has a greater appetite than Jack who hungers for glory, cars, clothes and love yet it's not just Jack, but all capitalists the pig symbolizes and, ultimately, every character in the film is a pig to one degree or another and they all have to be shot.
This gives you an idea of the "jungle" in which the stills are hidden away, but it's an even better representation for what Jack is doing to Bertha, "leading her down the wrong path." There's a truly wonderful scene in the little church (while my research indicates it's supposed to be a Baptist church, their dress and manners invoke the Amish more to the viewer) but without a doubt, Bertha and her family symbolize the religious drive which brought the Puritans and Pilgrims to America seeking religious freedom. It's a well-played argument by Hillcoat when Jack, drunk on his own moonshine he can't stomach, goes to the church seeking out Bertha. When Bertha goes to wash his feet, they are stained with dirt--because the feet symbolize the will and his will is "earthly," hence the dirt of the earth has stained his will--but he won't let Bertha finish because he's drunk. The scene invokes the possibility of Jack's conversion away from the lawless life his brothers and most of the others in Jackson County are leading, and that's the purpose of his shoe being left at the church, there's literally a part of him he leaves there in that community of the righteous, however, he then goes and encounters Rakes who totally beats him up. What's going on? Drunk on the power and easy money the moonshine symbolizes in the film--their product that Americans hungers for (my reference to The Hunger Games)--he tries courting the Church (Bertha) so he has some legitimacy to what he does OR to soil the Church so he doesn't look so bad (hence his giving Bertha the new dress that she knows she can't wear). Hillcoat makes the argument that capitalists like Jack chose the world and lost their soul, and lost the soul of the Church in the bargain, and have intentionally sought out the school of hard knocks he learns from Rakes.
There's a deeper meaning to this as well, for capitalists such as myself: you can't trust a capitalist to take out another capitalist. There was a reference to this in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, when the vampires (who symbolize capitalists) can't kill each other, "only the living can kill the dead," because only someone who is a socialist--so their philosophy goes--isn't dead to the harmful effects of money and personal property. While Jack finally has to kill the Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) at the end, it's taken him a long time to do it and only because Rakes has all ready killed Cricket (Dane DeHaan) and Jack thinks Forrest has been killed--i.e., Jack's own--then he is able to kill the Special Deputy,... but is that the right thing to do? The tagline for the film, "When the law became corrupt, outlaws became heroes." That's the formula for capitalism because capitalism made the law, the law wanted "to do a little business," and then the captains of industry--Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Rockefeller--became robber barons (more on this below).
This is the best shot I could find of the "jungle" atmosphere in which the Bondurant brothers' moonshine stills are hid in the hills of Franklin County. As I watched the scene, noticing all the tall and heavy vegetation--mostly dead in appearance--hanging down and making it difficult to see anything, I thought it looks exactly like a jungle and that's not an accident. In this scene, Jack (Shia LaBeouf) has a new car and new clothes and he has just bought that new yellow dress for Betha (Mia Wasikowska) and he's about to take her to see their stills and lead the law directly to them. Earlier in the film, Jack puts on his father's suit (dad is dead) to go courting Bertha (the scene at the feed store) and that literally means that he has "dressed himself" in the "law of the fathers" (the founding fathers) to make himself legitimate to Bertha and her father ("Tell your daddy I said 'hi,'" and he turns to walk away but sees Bertha's father coming towards them so he quickly turns the other way to avoid him). This bit of action isn't accidental nor even a bit of light humor, Jack intentionally turns away from meeting the "elder of the church" because he is bent on his own path on which he later leads Bertha. When Jack comes to pick up Bertha and he's talking, the price tag from his coat is showing--so new he didn't even remove the tag--and Bertha points that out to him. The symbolism of clothing can be very difficult, so please don't think this is the only interpretation of that scene possible, however, it seems to me that the price tag on the coat symbolizes the "price tag on his soul" because Jack sells the moonshine and the takes the dangerous risks solely for money, losing his soul in the process.
The lesser known novel Lawless invokes, The Jungle, was written by Sinclair to expose the poor working conditions for immigrants at the turn of the century as he worked under cover in a meatpacking plant in Chicago (which is where several of the characters in Lawless are from) but is mostly remembered today for the unsanitary conditions in the factories and food plants the novel exposes; one publisher refused to have anything to do with the book saying, "One feels that what is at the bottom of his (Upton Sinclair's) fierceness is not nearly so much desire to help the poor as hatred of the rich." We can say the same of John Hillcoat and he uses the scenery to greatest effect.
Details are always important in art, so we should be asking, what's up with Rakes' hair? The part down the middle is atrocious and before Jack makes the comment that Rakes smells like a woman because of his constant pampering of himself. Hair symbolizes the thoughts, so the way a person styles their hair clues us into how they think (especially if we are used to seeing their hair one way, and it later changes in the film). Rakes' hair is as "divided" as this shoot out scene between the moonshiners (behind him) and the law (in front of him). Because he combs his hair so close to his head, we know that he makes great pains to keep it orderly, and the part is the way, in his mind, that he has divided the outlaws from himself: the Bondurants on one side, and he in his righteousness as the law, on the other side. Just as Rakes' hair looks so bad, so this is an artificial way of thinking about it as Rakes continually breaks the law in the "name of keeping the law."
I'm sure you're saying, "How does this symbolize all capitalists or all businesses?" and you're right to ask that: because of the plethora of advertising in the film. Throughout, one can't help but notice the signs and emblems of major companies such as Ford, Coke, Mobile and others in essence advertising how they are a part of the same type of business deals the Bondurants participate in; there is no such thing as "legitimate business practice" to Hillcoat, it's all corrupt and it's all against the law. But here's a great example of how capitalism doesn't just hurt the country, it hurts the individuals, especially women:
Maggie obviously uses her looks to sway Forrest into getting the position and Forrest's appetites are "exposed" (when he takes his hat off, we can "see" what he's thinking). Also important is, while watching the film, this is really the first time we are informed that this restaurant is the Bondurants' legitimate business that isn't very legitimate. Maggie and Forrest end up sleeping with each other and it shouldn't be a surprise: socialists have become fond of using sex as a metaphor for the way capitalists use the country and their workers (Arbitrage, Savages just off the top of my head) and Maggie's past as a dance hall girl in Chicago means, in the words of Rakes that she's a "greasy cup" from which Forrest is happy to drink.
Tom Hardy as Forrest Bondurant in his room.  Forrest has numerous characteristics, for example, he sleeps on the floor (shown above with the blankets at his feet); why? Sleep has two possible symbols: one, the sleeper is being healed and rejuvenated for an upcoming battle or trial; two, because sleep resembles the eternal sleep of death, the person sleeping is in a state of death (such as Dracula). Since we see Forrest taking the fatal fall into the ice at the end, and learn of his death, it's probably the later symbol we are to understand, that is, Forrest is all ready dead because of the philosophy he advocates in the film and what he symbolizes as both a capitalist and American (more on this below). Being on the floor means that Forrest is the closest to being "laid in the ground" because he's all ready on top of the ground. (This is a good place to discuss Cricket, because Cricket actually dies in the film, however, Cricket isn't really a capitalist, hence the reason for his bad leg, his "childhood crippling" disease was actually admiring people like the Bondurants which mis-directed his will--the legs--and "led him" to death at the hands of Rakes. Cricket is smart but he used his intelligence for a "crooked end" so his leg became crooked). This is one of the reasons Forrest "escapes" death so many times in the film, is being so close to the ground, we know he won't escape death even though he gives the illusion of escaping.
When we first meet Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy), he doesn't say much, he doesn't need to; as the brothers drop off their deliveries of moonshine to their customers, they go to a wake and Forrest tells younger brother Jack to wait with the car; when Forrest comes back, Jack is being held up and Forrest takes out his "brass knuckles" and punches the guy in the throat, probably killing him (and Forrest uses them at other times in the film). Why does this happen? It's probably a reference to "brass knuckle tactics," when someone uses intimidation to get their way over someone else, especially in business, and that's what the film is about: every business is illegal because of the means it uses to conduct business and because the law is so closely connected to business, the law is illegal as well,... here are two clips from the film where both sides demonstrate their use of "brass knuckle tactics" to get what they want, regardless of whether or not it's legal:
In this clip, Rakes who plays Special Deputy from Chicago, is wanting to get the Bondurants to join in with the law's mafia-style protection of the moonshine business in Franklin but Forrest wants to remain alone and do things the way they have "always been done," so the local sheriff clues in the city boy on who Forrest really is:
What do these two clips really mean?
In the beginning of the film, Jack talks about how Forrest had been in The Great War, World War I (because World War II still hadn't happened yet) and it was from Forrest's experience in WWI that he decided he was invincible and immortal, that nothing could kill them. This is Hillcoat's mockery of the American sentiment that is pro-America, that love of America that we can do anything and we can persevere (that is, if the government stays out of our way and doesn't keep tripping us up) it's also the re-writing of American history. World War II, as long time readers know, was the defining moment of glory for America and a moment which film makers have repeatedly been invoking this last year (we'll see more of this in my post on Expendables 2) but Hillcoat, by only invoking WWI,  basically says that what happened to America in World War II didn't happen, we never became a superpower, only super outlaws, super gangsters.
There's a deeply symbolic moment when Maggie (Jessica Chastain) works in the Bondurant cafe and Forrest, sitting at one of the tables, has put his hat on the table; Maggie walks by and puts it on the chair; Forrest takes his hat and puts it back on the table. A power struggle for which of them  will have their law rule over the cafe? No, it's more potent than that. As Rakes' parted hair symbolizes his thoughts, the hat Forrest constantly wears symbolizes his (the brown symbolizes the dirt we later see on Jack's feet when he is in the church getting his feet washed because Forrest hasn't been "clean" in his business practices. The orange band symbolizes the illusion of the glamorous life his moonshine/outlaw ways creates (orange symbolizes "vibrancy" and life, but please note how it's not a bright orange, but a faded, even dirty orange). While the hat is that of a gentlemen, it's definitely not in good shape with tears and age marks. Just as Forrest sleeping on the floor can also by symbolic of his animal like state (animals sleep on the ground) so his unshaven face can also substantiate that view of him because an unshaven jaw accentuates the animal appetites (men who are civilized shave whereas barbarians let their hair grow; Rakes compares Maggie to a "greasy cup" and Forrest's sleeping with her, i.e., drinking from the greasy cup, means he has taken in her filth along with his own). We see Rakes taking great pains to be clean-shaven and keep his hair clean, but it's with a men's straight shaving razor that Forrest,... slices off the testicles of the men who slit his throat, indicating that "manliness" has nothing to do with "being pretty" and clean like city folks, hence, why they deliver the testicles to Rakes in the jar wrapped in pink paper, the challenge of what makes a man really a man.
Because the law never brings the Bondurants to justice, the film has to tell us what happens to them. When Prohibition is repealed, they turn to legitimate means of business, all three brothers living with their families under one roof (socialism, no private property) yet the imperative point is what happens to the invincible Forrest: he goes out to the river, starts dancing and falls through the ice. Where have we seen someone falling through the ice recently? The Dark Knight Rises, when Nolan employs the metaphor as a means of talking about the risks of capitalism (one person taking a risk means they fall through the ice and drown, however, when several go out on the ice and spread the risk--disperse their weight evenly on the ice) the ice holds and they can move forward. Forrest falling through and catching death from pneumonia reminds us of the comatose wife/mother Elizabeth in The Descendants when, as a symbol of capitalism in the boat race, she goes brain dead. For socialists, the economic problems of 2008 aren't a mere phase or cycle of capitalism, rather, a death sentence that the American economy is dead and so is America as a "super power" (both Resident Evil and Expendables debate this issue directly)
This scene provides a great validation regarding the relationship of Forrest and Maggie, if we had any doubts. Forrest has gotten hurt in a fight and Maggie puts iodine/rubbing alcohol on his cut, then blows on it to take out the sting. As we all know, Maggie's blowing on it only spreads the germs the medicine was supposed to kill, so she's not doing any good.  Maggie is juxtaposed against Bertha, the whore vs. the virgin, and Maggie clearly symbolizes what America had become while Bertha was what America had been until capitalism soiled the country (hence why Maggie wears red so often throughout the film,  "the scarlet woman"). A great illustration of this is when Jack has gotten the camera and Bertha talks about the movie stars in LA, something which would clearly not be a topic of conversation appreciated by her father, yet the glamor perpetuated by the movie industry is being targeted as one of the diseases of capitalism which thoroughly corrupted the country.
How, if at all, does President Obama play into the film's scheme?
He doesn't, really, rather like Wes Anderson's thesis in Moonrise Kingdom that socialism has taken root and has a future in America beyond what does or does not happen with Obama, Lawless utilizes black people throughout the film to show the "black vote" or "black population" "getting in bed with" or being "seduced by" forces that don't have their best interest in mind, yet it's the "sending off" at the start of the film for the dead black husband which probably symbolizes Obama: he's died and is being sent off, symbolically meaning that he's not going to get re-elected, but he doesn't have to because the socialism he has brought to America will necessarily become the law of the land because the law we have now has been corrupted by capitalism and capitalism will "fall through its own ice" and bring an end to itself.
Lastly, I would like to discuss Cricket briefly (you might remember DeHaan from his fabulous performance in Chronicle) with this clip: 
Cricket is the brains to Jack's vision (greed and materialism) but is treated terribly by everyone until his death and then all remember him fondly. Because Cricket is the one who "invents" and makes their products better, he's the one who "fuels" the capitalist vision for ever-enhanced and better products, in other words, the American inventiveness that has given the world so many incredible and life-changing products and technologies. Hillcoat's making a cripple of Cricket--as they call him in the film--is, again, because (according to the film makers) his will to be a capitalist is "crooked" and "bent" so his leg is crooked and bent. This critique of capitalism is also found in The Apparition which attacks Thomas Edison's invention of the light bulb and the American power grid (on the other hand, there is a new TV mini series called Revolution about "turning the power back on," and this is clearly a political agenda about getting America "up and running" again).
The film's final shoot-out between the moonshiners and the law when Jack finally kills Rakes.
Ultimately, the film goes to great lengths to make us despise the cowardly "runt of the litter" Jack because the film wants us to know that, if we are capitalists (like myself), we are Jack, failing to shoot the pigs and bullies who beat us up and exploit us because of the material comfort we gain from the lawless system of business and private enterprise (socialists just want to know why we don't shoot the upper-class because they don't care about us at all). Again, the film is excellent and perfectly acted; I would be shocked if at least one Oscar nomination doesn't come to the film for the cast or the technical work because it is all done so very well, however, it is also a film which leaves out the very best of capitalism and, as all the others do, fails to show us a positive image of why we should embrace socialism and how socialism will eradicate the ills of which capitalism is accused.