Review: Jenny’s Wedding

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Movie Poster by IFC Films
Starring: Katherine Heigl, Alexis Bledel, Linda Emond
Director: Mary Agnes Donoghue (Writer and Producer)
Run-Time: 94 minutes
Content Rating: PG-13
Distributor: IFC Films

Jenny’s wedding watches like a non-profit funded public service announcement on homophobia. The main characters are two-dimensional at best and Alexis Bledel is wasted on a one-dimensional character that is the passive receiver of Jenny’s affection. It seems that too many recent films on so-called ‘controversial’ topics use token stereo- and proto-typical characters in a bid to get a wider audience. These poor cardboard characters are mere vessels for ideologies and lack any real human substance.

It is not all bad; the film features some great educational scenes: The grocery store scene highlights the normalised inconsiderate exploitative behaviours of the mother’s friends’ children by contrasting/comparing it with Jenny’s sexuality. The scene where Jenny calls out her father’s inappropriate concern with the mechanics of her sex life is also a great big middle finger to sex as penetrative sex only myth.

The continuous self-obsessed image-conscious behaviour by Jenny and her whole family offers a fantastic opportunity to develop the characters some depth as they become thoughtful compassionate human beings in the process of coming to terms with Jenny’s previously concealed sexuality. Disappointingly the film only flirts with the opportunity leaving the audience wanting for more.

Jenny’s relationship with a partner whose name we cannot even recall after the credits rolled could have enjoyed more attention making us genuinely identify with their love for each other regardless of gender as they engage in a mutually respectful loving partnership rarely seen in films of any genre.

This could have been the unlikely couple, romantic wedding film that normalises homosexual weddings and marriage, but alas. As there is little to identify with in Jenny’s relationship it leaves no possibility to mobilise sympathy for the trangressive couple as their love transcends gender similarities (in contrast to the conventional race and class differences) culminating in a fairy-tale white wedding – where hetero-normativity is further challenged by both brides wearing dresses.

The story had great potential to become a thoroughly human, subversive film that challenges both cultural and cinematic norms; but unfortunately the short run-time and soul-lacking script frustrates the film’s potential. Jenny’s Wedding would be great for discussing and teaching adolescents about sexuality, stereotypes, and homophobia, or even for older folks who haven’t gotten the memo yet, but as a feature film it falls terribly flat.

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Analysis: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) is a documentary film directed by Werner Herzog. The film was shot primarily in the Chauvet Cave in France, where Palaeolithic era paintings was made by people in those times.

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Herzog narrates the film throughout; he gives his opinion and during the interviews engages in an active conversation with the interviewees. While engaging in an almost art-historical analysis the film also has an overt philosophical undertone: in his narration concerning the paintings’ artistic significance Herzog furthermore addresses the nature of time; the way it preserves and simultaneously transcend human achievements, the disposition of human productions to outlive their creators, and the impossibility of reassembling and recreating the past from artefacts alone.

Drawing attention to the medium Herzog addresses cinema as he refers to the curvature of the rocks (rendered in 3D) as they lend to the drawings the illusion of movement; he likens this to ‘proto-cinema’. And as with cinema, the process of viewing the art in the cave, letting in air and light, ultimately contributes to and hastens its systematic decay.

In one of the last scenes from the film Herzog speaks about the mutant crocodiles that he filmed in the tropical biosphere habitat on the Rhone River in France: “The Chauvet Cave is located only 20 miles as the crow flies beyond these hills in the background. A surplus of warm water, which has been used to cool these [nuclear] reactors, is diverted half a mile away to create a tropical biosphere”. As the crocodiles see their reflections in the glass cage Herzog reflects on how we see the Palaeolithic people; “It is hard to decide whether or not these creatures here are dividing into their own doppelgängers. And do they really meet, or is it just their own imaginary mirror reflection? Are we today possibly the crocodiles who look back into an abyss of time when we see the paintings of Chauvet Cave?”

Cave of forgotten dreams is a superb juxtaposition of the old and new, the Palaeolithic paintings and 3D cinema, while staying true to Herzog’s style and his ecstatic truth.


Herzog, W (dir). 2010. Cave of Forgotten Dreams. [Film]. Sundance Selects.

 

Analysis: Encounters at the End of the World

Encounters at the End of the World (2007) is a documentary film directed by Werner Herzog. The film was shot at the McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica, and is about the people there and the activities they partake in.

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The film is composed of footage that Herzog shot staying at McMurdo and venturing about Antarctica: interviews he did with the people there and magnificent footage of Mother Nature undisturbed. The title of the film is ambiguous; while the South Pole is located at the most southern end of the world, the title may also suggest encounters at/after the human extinction. Herzog visits the tunnel of mementos where he encounters a frozen sturgeon, an extinct fish species, and contemplates the human extinction and if aliens archaeologists will be interested in what humans was doing there.

Herzog encounters many interesting people at McMurdo; they are adventurous, brave and often quirky compared to the mundane existence of many city dwellers. He meets the divers who, in order not to limit their range, do not use a tether line and have to find the hole in the ice without it. He speaks with volcanologists who, to study the active volcanoes, sometimes climb down volcanic vents possibly filled with toxic fumes; and the performers who zip themselves into luggage at the station’s talent night and sings from the top of a Quonset hut late at night (even though the sun never sets) to celebrate the day’s findings. We are introduced to the former banker who now drives a gigantic bus and the pipe fitter who claims to be of Royal Aztec descend. Herzog identifies with these people as they too have gone to great lengths to escape the monotonous and venture in search of the exceptional. Some also share his sentiments on nature, as a diver remarks that the oceans are horribly violent and a nightmarish place filled with horrors.

The scientists at McMurdo also engage in everyday activities like watching monster movies and eating ice cream. As far from society as you can get they have deeply societal artefacts like the ATM machine; a peculiar thing here where the machine, the money and the people who use it are air lifted in from far away. The scientists are not unaware of the destruction excessive expansion, spending and consumption have caused, as they too can observe the effects here, far from these destructive societies, where they ironically also enjoy the spoils. Long after the film ended, we are left with the image of the penguin that hauntingly walks inland to its death – a metaphor for humanity’s suicide.

The film explores mortality and humanity in a thought provoking way, the only way Herzog knows how. The film is about living and dying, dying while living, and manufacturing humanity’s own demise.


Herzog, Werner (dir). 2007. Encounters at the End of the World. [Film]. THINKFilm.

Analysis: Grizzly Man

Grizzly Man (2005) is a documentary film directed by Werner Herzog. The film portrays Timothy Treadwell’s life and death among grizzly bears in Alaska.

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The film is composed of both footage Treadwell shot living with the bears, and interviews Herzog did with close friends and family after Treadwell’s death. Treadwell’s footage shows him interacting with and talking to various animals, often referring to them as his friends. Amie Huguenard, Treadwell’s girlfriend who accompanied him on his last trip, was rarely filmed by Treadwell and not frequently mentioned in the film by Herzog – aside from acknowledging her death alongside Treadwell’s. This may speak of Timothy’s difficulty in relating to fellow human beings.

Both Herzog and Treadwell’s footage creates a sense of unease binding the film together. Treadwell’s idealism in contrast to Herzog’s cynicism adds to the anxiety of the film. As is Herzog’s style, he narrates and appears in the film both as interviewer and commentator. Filming the interviews with the interviewee in the middle of the frame and looking directly at the camera echoes the unnaturalness of Timothy living and closely interacting with grizzly bears.

The film is far more than a mere factual account of the life and tragic death of Treadwell. Herzog either intentionally or accidentally portrays Timothy Treadwell as a deeply disturbed man, who cared much for grizzly bears; but might have displaced his compassion. Treadwell desperately wanted to help and protect the bears, who didn’t need his help and instead became his solace from the world that he thought had rejected him.

Grizzly Man is not only about a man in the wilderness, it is an examination of Timothy Treadwell’s struggle to fit into human society. It is explicitly about a man in the wild, becoming one with the wilderness and its inhabitants in order to camouflage; but also implicitly about the wilderness in man that consumed Timothy and would not let him camouflage in society.


Herzog, Werner (dir). 2005. Grizzly Man. [Film]. Lions Gate Films.