January 11, 2013

Six Funny Things from the Films of 2012

by Luke Burns

This year, a few movies brought me to laughter with funny moments I wasn’t expecting. In no particular order, here are those moments:

 1. "I'm from the future!" - Looper

Is there anything more frustrating in time travel movies than when everyone ignores the advice of a character from the future? Just do what he says, damn it, he’s from the future. Looper plays on this time travel trope in the scene in which Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) discusses his plans for retirement with Abe (Jeff Daniels), a mobster from the future who has been sent back to oversee his organization’s operations in the past.

Joe: I'm going to France.
Abe: You should go to China.
Joe: I'm going to France.
Abe: I'm from the future! You should go to China.

This exchange encapsulates one of Looper’s central themes: the conflict between the arrogance of young people who think they can do anything and the arrogance of old people who think they know everything. It’s just not in Joe’s nature to listen to his elders, even an elder who KNOWS THE DAMN FUTURE.  And when (in one timeline, anyway) Joe does wind up going to China, we understand that this represents an important turning point for the character. More importantly, though, Daniels’ sheer exasperation in his line reading cracked me up.

2. Euclid's First Common Notion - Lincoln

There’s a lot to like about Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance in Lincoln. For one thing, he succeeded in making me feel sad that Lincoln died, and I thought I had already made my peace with that. Perhaps my favorite moment from the performance, though, is a very small one. When Lincoln first mentions Euclid, at the beginning of his rumination on the relationship between the first Common Notion and the idea of equal rights, he makes a triangle symbol with his fingers. It’s a delightful and weird detail. We know Eudlid was a geometry guy—is it necessary to make a triangle with your fingers to drive that point home, Abe? Is it some kind of mathematical gang symbol? And where did Daniel Day-Lewis come up with this idea in the first place? It made me laugh to beat the band. Nobody else in the theater seemed to find this as humorous as I did, but still. 

3. Bagheads - Django Unchained

Torch-wielding Klansmen1 with sinister masks covering their faces come sweeping down a hill on horseback to the strains of Verdi’s Requiem. Not exactly a likely prelude to comedy, is it? Well, this is a Tarantino movie. The scene that follows this sequence in Django Unchained is a flashback to a very funny extended exchange between the Klansmen about the merits of wearing bags on their heads, given that the bags are really hard to see out of. This is a wonderful way to undercut the aura of menace and power created by the previous sequence. We realize that, with or without their regalia, these bagheads are just a bunch of morons and jerks. Hilarious.

4. Hide & Seek - Zero Dark Thirty

Towards the end of Zero Dark Thirty, during the raid on the Bin Laden’s compound, a Navy SEAL enters an empty room and whispers "Osaaamaaaaa…" He whispers in the same tone of voice that a kid playing hide and seek says, “Come out, come out, wherever you are…” The first thing this brought to mind was the Monty Python sketch, “How Not to be Seen.” (This may say more about me than it does about the film.) It also suggested a scenario in which, after all the years of work that went into tracking him down, Bin Laden confounds the SEALs and eludes capture or death by hiding under a blanket or in a hamper. The audience I saw the movie with laughed, and so did I. Later, I felt uncomfortable about having done so. 

This sort of laugh would not feel out of place in a straightforward action romp, but it does feel out of place in a movie that features torture and opens with actual audio recordings from September 11. I wondered, did one of the SEALs who killed Bin Laden actually whisper, “Osaaamaaaaa…”? And if he did, does that make me more or less comfortable with my laughter? This moment points to the uneasy tension that sometimes arises when Zero Dark Thirty’s desire to work as a piece of journalism intersects with its impulse to be an action movie.

5. Anne's Wheelchair - Amour

I’m not going to argue that there’s a lighter side of Amour (Mad Magazine, take it from here!), but the scene where Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) tries out her new motorized wheelchair got a smile and a little laugh out of me. There’s something delightful about the childlike joy and abandon that Anne exhibits while tooling around the foyer in her new wheels. My smile lasted until I thought about how the word “childlike” has different, darker connotations for an elderly or seriously ill person. Then I returned to being bummed out.

6. "Strokin'" - Killer Joe

Killer Joe can be funny, but it is also brutal. You’re never allowed to fully enjoy your laughs because of the uncomfortable speed with which the movie pivots between the humorous and the disturbing. The viewer is consistently denied the relief that comes with laughter, and at the end of the film there is a ton of unresolved tension. When Clarence Carter’s “Strokin'” starts playing as the credits roll - a dramatic shift in tone, to be sure - it is hilarious and a relief. 
Finally, in the lyrics to “Strokin’” there are few questions related to the fleeting nature of time that I think provide an appropriate note upon which to end this list.  For what is the primary concern of “the year-end list,” as a genre (of sorts), if not temporality?

Didja make love yesterday? Didja make love last week? Didja make love last year? Or maybe it might be that you're planning on making love tonight… Strokin’!

1 - Technically they couldn’t be Klansmen, since the Klan didn’t exist until after the Civil War. But you see what I’m saying.

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