If One Person is Strong, Must the Other Be Weak?
Autumn 2003 Films
(One sees a new film and feels as if one has a view—another view—of the styles, ideas, fantasies, and feelings of the time in which one lives. Even in films planned as mass entertainment one can see a broadening of male sensibility, possibly the result of the impact of feminism and the fact of the sexual revolution—as well as individual hopes for the future. This essay considers Underworld, Intolerable Cruelty, The Rundown, Out of Time, The Matrix: Revolutions, In the Cut, and Yossi & Jagger)
I saw Woody Allen’s Annie Hall in Central Park, and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction on the Hudson Pier, both as part of free summer 2003 film screenings and both for the first time—I liked them, especially appreciating Allen’s portrayal of a man whose reality is so much sensibility (how many men would show themselves afraid of lobsters? And care to be known as a lover of art and culture, as hung up on their own fears and doubts and unsatisfied desires?). Watching the Allen film, first released in 1977, I could see how the slice-of-life he presents, concentrating on romance, family, work, mostly set in believably ordinary locations, is similar to that in current independent film productions—and that the presentation of male characters today is less constrained than in the past by traditional gender assumptions, possibly due to the impact of feminism. However, it may be easier for people to change their behavior than to change their ideas about behavior: have men really accepted a critique of gender? In seeing several recent films, I found the men in them to be rather complex and it was a complexity I took for granted as I viewed the films.
Western films, specifically American films out of Hollywood, are often expensive to produce and intricate in their physical creation of the worlds they present, though usually the films are about individuals, or at most working groups, and only rarely are they about communities. One is continually impressed by the wealth the characters possess and that of the film companies making these movies. The films are also explicit and consequently emphatic regarding their themes—so complicated theories are usually not necessary to interpret them, but the assumptions on which the films rest are not always analyzed. Those assumptions are usually considered inevitable realities. Underworld, Intolerable Cruelty, Out of Time, and In the Cut all foreground the relationship between men and women in a way that emphasizes discord rooted in the conflict of perspective, will, and even need, despite increased male sensitivity.
As I watched this past autumn the unspooling of Underworld, a movie about a longtime war between vampires and werewolves, it became clear that the male lead was playing the part usually described as a damsel in distress (here, a dude in distress). Underworld, which has a moody modern look, both elegant and treacherous, a look similar to The Matrix and Resident Evil, is unlike other recent vampire and werewolf films and books in that there’s no speculation about the origin of either species or about whether humans know or (knowingly) interact with them. Bloodlust is not identified with addiction, psychological need, or erotic perversion. The film, written by Danny McBride and directed by Len Wiseman, begins with a vampire attack on werewolves who have been following a human male. Why were they following him? They want him for his blood—not to drink or spill it, but to use it as part of a scientific experiment to make them stronger. Selene, played by Kate Beckinsale, investigates their interest and befriends the man, Michael, a doctor, played by Scott Speedman. Selene’s been a destroyer; told when young that her parents were killed by werewolves, she’s made it her mission to defeat them—and consequently what concerns werewolves concern her. (If this were another kind of film, a drama, one might ask, What are the choices that most children are made aware of as they grow up? Which philosophies, spiritual practices, professional endeavors, and political theories are they introduced to in depth, and with respect? What are the resources young adults encounter as they make choices about the kind of education and professional life they are going to pursue? Here, one simply accepts apparent cause and effect.) You take this warrior business far too seriously, Selene is told. While the true vampire masters sleep, there’s a lot of villainous scene-chewing by the current vampire-in-charge Kraven (played by Shane Brolly), a hothead who wants to mate with Selene. Kraven himself has an admirer, played by an actress, Sophia Myles, who conveys both decency and calculating shrewdness, making one want to see much more of her than is shown. There are fight scenes, chase scenes, and ambush scenes, with a few surprises among the crosses and double crosses. (A young man in the theater in which I saw the movie complained that the film too often cut away from the violence and gore.) Selene saves Michael, Michael saves Selene. It’s interesting that when a writer or filmmaker wants to create a strong protagonist, he/she is often inclined to create a weak correspondent. Though Michael has smarts and skills as a surgeon, his ignorance about what is going on and his vulnerability relative to the immortals make him “weak.” Both he and Selene are attractive (he has a low-key, sensitive but masculine look and she is slender and sleek in black leather), but there is no real “reason” why they have to be attracted to each other. The “he saved my life” scenario is, of course, a cliché. A film such as this is pure entertainment—at its best, and areas of true concern are likely to involve matters other than the story or its meaning. Yet, one sees a new film and feels as if one has a view—another view—of the styles, ideas, fantasies, and feelings of the time in which one lives. At the heart of the longtime war in the film is a prohibition against interspecies procreation, an “abomination” an old vampire master calls it, bringing to mind prejudice against gays and against black/white romance. The attraction of Selene and Michael is then connected to that; and that resonates because of the prejudices in our world.
The idea of a woman marrying a man for is money is an old one, though history shows that many men also married women for their money or that of their families; and though many women today have the opportunity to work and create their own fortunes, Intolerable Cruelty returns us to a very old story with a few frisky, and equally risky, turns. Intolerable Cruelty, starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones, focuses on a lawyer who admires historical figures who didn’t just win battles with their opponents but destroyed them, and a woman who marries for money, which she expects to bring her independence, a reasonable expectation in this society. Her methods would seem more questionable if the society itself were less ruthless and more forgiving of people without money, I think. The lawyer and woman clash when he defends her husband in a divorce case, threatening her alimony. I like the actors George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones very much, something relevant to this film, which is neither as smart nor as funny as one hopes (and its’ tone is sometimes uneven—some of the more farcical elements seem like part of a dream sequence, or a wild imagining, and a depiction of the aging head of Clooney’s law firm, a man tied in to machines that sustain him, is a vision of power that refuses to abdicate, a vision of horror, of nightmare). The film was written by Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and Joel and Ethan Coen, and directed by the Coens. Clooney, with his lived-in handsomeness, a mature masculinity, and a sense of fun, was good in One Fine Day, Out of Sight, Three Kings and other films, and Zeta-Jones, with a dark Welsh beauty that can be as cool or as warm as she likes, and a matter-of-fact intelligence, was good in The Mask of Zorro, Traffic, America’s Sweethearts, and Chicago. (To see the power of a star’s charisma, watch The Haunting, a ludicrous movie, in which the earnestness of Liam Neeson and Lili Taylor makes them seem idiotic, while Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson’s lightness of spirit allow them to emerge with their appeal and dignity in tact.) Clooney and Zeta-Jones are a dream team, and they entertain, but there is one really vulgar exchange—when Zeta-Jones’ character talks about stuffing her husband’s butt and mounting it on the mantle, and Clooney’s character says, I’m a lot like you, just looking for an ass to mount—and she tells him not to look at hers. These are two uncommonly good-looking people whose charm and intelligence can blur or possibly even enrich the perception of their characters’ selfishness: they become dazzling types, exhibited for our amusement. To have a prenuptial agreement, or not to have a prenuptial agreement—that is the question. He outwits her, then she outwits him, and then they agree to agree—and a happier ending than expected is tolerable because it comes with doubt and hesitation, as well as passion, after having gone through the most trying rigors.
The Rundown, written by R.J. Stewart and directed by Peter Berg, about a Los Angeles tough guy hired to bring back a wayward son gone off on an anthropological hunt in Brazil, gave me a lot of pleasure—for its cinematography, its humor, and the appeal of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson, and Christopher Walken. Johnson, playing a man who uses his muscles to get his job done, but dresses well, has polite manners, and likes gourmet food and wants to open a restaurant, conveys confidence, practicality, restraint, regret, and warmth; he’s a tough guy with dimension. The movie has a subplot involving the exploitation and liberation of workers. Because of its cinematography alone (beautiful scenery, clear bright colors, smooth camera movements, intimate and epic views), I enjoyed it more than I did Underworld, Intolerable Cruelty, or Out of Time.
Whereas Johnson’s character in The Rundown might inspire admiration, Denzel Washington’s in Out of Time is more likely to elicit sympathy, dismay, and laughter. Out of Time, written by Dave Collard and directed by Carl Franklin (Devil in a Blue Dress), and starring Denzel Washington, Eva Mendez, Sanaa Lathan, Dean Cain, and John Billingsley, is a mystery with both dramatic and comic aspects. It focuses on a policeman, Matt Lee Whitlock, played by Washington, who has an affair with a married woman, Anne Merai Harrison (Lathan). When he believes her ill, he secretly gives her money previously held in a police safe, and when she and her husband Chris Harrison (Cain) disappear and are thought dead, he fears becoming a suspect. Denzel Washington, whom I first saw in a play When the Chickens Came Home to Roost about Malcolm X and in the movie Carbon Copy, is one of our most respected and popular actors (A Soldier’s Story, Cry Freedom, Glory, For Queen and Country, Mississippi Masala, Ricochet, Philadelphia, Much Ado About Nothing, Devil in a Blue Dress, Virtuosity, Fallen, The Siege, The Hurricane, and Training Day, for which he won an Academy Award); and his policeman is a man whose anxiety, confusion, and fear leave him with only a beleaguered and desperate confidence. The policeman’s detective wife Alex Diaz-Whitlock (Mendez), from whom he is separated, is assigned the case, while his medical examiner friend Chae (Billingsley) tries to help him evade detection and retrieve the money. The film is engaging, and Washington and his co-stars all give good performances, especially Billingsley as the earthy, supportive friend (he’s ingratiatingly funny), but the end of the film inadvertently raises questions about police procedure and the rules of inheritance, and the look of the film—its lack of overt beauty despite its tropical setting—was a disappointment to me. Also, as the film is a kind of mystery-thriller, there are questions the film inspires that it cannot fully explore: after all, Washington’s character is a policeman who is breaking and bending the law. What are the roots of morality? What are its authority, and its limits? Is it possible to be moral, and further to have moral authority, after one has made a moral mistake? Morality has often a prescriptive and retrospective power, relative to the future and the past, as part of the search for meaning, value, and order, whereas money and physical force, as well as need, have greater currency in the present—and that is something genre films such as this can show. The policeman was convinced his lover was deathly ill and needed money for expensive medical procedures and the only money he had access to was in a police safe—why not use it? The solution is both moral (compassionate) and immoral (illegal), isn’t it?
I loved the first Matrix movie, but did not see all of the second (The Matrix: Reloaded—the scenes I did see were uniquely imaginative and gorgeous, though the film’s discourse about choice, causality, and fate was interesting but too often frustratingly rootless), and I found The Matrix: Revolutions disappointing despite its rather intense beginning. The plot of The Matrix: Revolutions unfolds illogically, with too much focus on chase, violence, and unbelievable surprises—Neo’s powers develop outside the computer matrix, and Agent Smith, a computer entity, develops a real world presence. However because this film is the conclusion to a very interesting beginning, its creators Larry and Andy Wachowski having given us a vivid mythology—symbolic ideas, stories, and heroes—rooted in the importance of technology to humanity and its threats to freedom, Matrix: Revolutions is more intriguing than most films of similar inclinations. (A couple of weeks after I saw the new film, someone told me that the second and third installments should be thought of as one film in two parts. Others have claimed that the three parts comprise little more than a retelling of the story of Jesus—or of Socrates. It might be as astute to say these films are about fashion and choreography, appearance and movement.) Keanu Reeves, as Neo or the One, remains a unique presence—I didn’t notice his acting as I sometimes have in the past and I accepted his being, his pale, almost androgynous beauty and physical grace, his mysterious transparency. Reeves’ guileless sincerity matched with his self-conscious formality of speech sometimes has been an oddity in the past. I think the Wachowskis have given him a story he considers worthy of belief, and now there’s no reservation, no reflective restraint, in him. I liked Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity, how self-aware and watchful she is, how easily she moves from thought to action, and I wished that she’d been given more to do, though she is more present in the film than Laurence Fishburne, now looking plump and given little to do. Fishburne, whose career includes Apocalypse Now, Deep Cover, Othello, and Bad Company, had seemed so strong as Morpheus in the first film, The Matrix, as to be nearly mythical; Morpheus’s courage, vision, and passionate belief in and tutelage of Neo were impressive and moving. Richard Pryor once joked that the absence of blacks in futuristic films meant that white people weren’t planning for blacks to be there; and Fishburne’s iconic presence filled in that lack of imagination. Of course, part of the problem with many futurist films concerned how to resolve current conflicts—such as those involving gender, race, and sexuality—and have those resolutions be acceptable to a contemporary, contentious audience. However, in The Matrix: Revolutions I came close to cringing for Laurence Fishburne when his character Morpheus is told by quick-moving Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Niobe to “keep up.” (Was this his punishment for not staying in shape?) Two journeys in the film—that of Pinkett-Smith’s sharp-edged Niobe to Zion, and Reeves’ Neo to the machine city—are determining factors in the film’s conclusion. Will the human settlement, Zion, be safe? Will humans still part of the matrix ever be freed? Can a pact between these two opponents, humans and machines, last? These questions, most of which began the series of films, are not answered to my satisfaction; and while they seemed of at least symbolic importance in the first film, in the latest and presumably last film, they linger but do not seem important—one thinks, It’s only a movie.
(It’s only a movie is not a typical response for me: The films I like the most gratify many of my personal and artistic requirements for story, ideas, beauty, rapture, surprise, and relevance, films such as All About Eve, The Ballad of Little Jo, Boesman and Lena, Camille, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Chameleon Street, Contact, Cool Hand Luke, The Edge of the City, Eve’s Bayou, Frances, The Full Monty, Happy Together, The Hurricane, Losing Ground, The Magnificent Ambersons, My Beautiful Laundrette, My Sex Life or How I Got Into An Argument, Oscar and Lucinda, Pather Panchali, Reds, Strange Days, Sugar Cane Alley, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train, Three Kings, 12 Monkeys, Wag the Dog and The Wind Will Carry Us.)
I liked The Portrait of a Lady, the adaptation of Henry James’ novel starring Nicole Kidman that Jane Campion made several years ago. James’ Isabel Archer is a young woman betrayed by her own ideal, as she expected that ideal to be embodied by someone other than herself. It’s important to be one’s own ideal, if one insists on having an ideal rather than accepting and exploring the complexity and contradictions of humanity.
Jane Campion’s In the Cut, written by the director with Susanna Moore (based on Moore’s novel), and starring Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo, begins with a storm of flower petals, a kind of expressionism that continues in different ways throughout the film—there are times when the richness of the film’s color and the positioning of the camera turns ordinary activities into forms of strangeness, in which one is forced to bring almost clinical attention to bear on what one is seeing or risk feeling excluded or overwhelmed. The story focuses on a professor who collects unusual words, especially slang words, and who may be one of the last people to have seen a murdered woman alive. The professor becomes involved with the policeman investigating the case, and the coming together of these idiosyncratic strangers evokes not only the possibility of love but also danger and vulnerability. (The professor saw the woman perform fellatio on a man, his face not visible, but he was dressed similarly to the policeman with a tattoo like his. The policeman tells the professor the relationship between them can go as she likes—he can romance her, perform cunninlingus, whatever.) Will the policeman be a lover, or a killer? That is as much an existential question as a plot point. I have not seen very many of Meg Ryan’s films and the few I have seen (Proof of Life, Addicted to Love, Courage Under Fire) I have liked, and I appreciated or respected her performances, while not being particularly charmed by her. Here, I find her competent and pretty, and even sensitive, but lacking in the kind of sensuality that would explain why several different kinds of men would be simultaneously aroused by her. Cute and pretty are not the same as sensuous or sensual; and certainly such mild prettiness is not as likely to inspire the kind of volatile response that a look that contains sexual promise may. Ruffalo, who was appealingly grungy in You Can Count on Me, has his own beauty marred by a mustache, a bit of hair that bothered me at first (though I too have a mustache), until I realized it was right for the character, a dedicated but otherwise undistinguished policeman, the kind of man who might not know what is stylistically right for him. The unfolding of the relationship between the policeman and professor is emotionally believable, if not believable in practical terms (would a policeman become involved with a possible witness while investigating a case, and would a somewhat reclusive professor easily open herself to a man so different from herself?). The professor is isolated from others, but sometimes given to slumming—I’m reminded that art and culture are not enough to civilize a person; they help but it is our relationships with other people that ultimately civilize—or fail to civilize—us; and of course that’s why morality—a sense of right and wrong, of justice and injury—becomes important and why we argue about morality and the uses to which art and education can be put. One watches unsure of what will happen between the professor and the policeman, one a figure who usually represents ideas and freedom, the other a figure who usually represents force and law, but here both are unrestricted by their social or professional roles—and uncertainty about their relationship provides the true suspense in the film, while the murder mystery becomes much more predictable. (Sometimes story is just an excuse for the contemplation of human emotion.)
In the Cut features a man who says he’s willing to abide by the will of the woman in their developing relationship—and a man whose actual refusal to give up his own will in regard to women ends in murder. Here, as in Intolerable Cruelty, conflict between women and men is overt and most destructive. However, tensions between the expectations of women and men are perceptible in Underworld in Kraven’s desire for Selene despite her disinterest, in the surprising role Rosario Dawson’s Rundown character plays in her community and what she is willing to do in its defense, and in the separation of the policeman and his wife in Out of Time and his misunderstanding of his lover’s character. The Matrix: Revolutions, a film set in the future, offers the most benevolent relationship—between Neo and Trinity, who are comrades and lovers. Honesty, mutual respect, and shared work facilitate a healthy relationship.
Cotton Comes to Harlem, Ganja and Hess, Lady Sings the Blues, Claudine, Blue Collar, Losing Ground, Sidewalk Stories, Chameleon Street, To Sleep with Anger, Grand Canyon, A Rage in Harlem, Daughters of the Dust, Boomerang, Posse, Sankofa, Foreign Student, Losing Isaiah, Nightjohn, The Keeper, Love Jones, Bulworth, Hav Plenty, The Red Violin, Beloved, Scary Movie, The Visit, Hart’s War, and Undercover Brother are among the films I’ve liked that feature people of African descent in significant roles and interesting stories; and I always hope for more that will be equal to or better than they are. While others rushed to see Quentin Tarantino’s latest celebration of art, pulp cinema, women, and violence (Kill Bill), in early November I put a can of soup and A Jacques Barzun Reader in my backpack and took the train to a small two-day black cinema conference at New York University. I heard the comments on black cinema of professors, filmmakers, and writers, such as Mark A. Reid, Paula Massood, Arthur Jafa, Austin Allen, Michele Wallace, Robert Stam, and Sam Pollard. They talked about the black cinema they liked—such as that of Charles Burnett and Kasi Lemmons—and their hopes for a smart, nuanced cinema to come and the importance of an attentive criticism and scholarship; and they discussed now dominant aspects of black cinema—the focus on youth (Just Another Girl on the IRT, Our Song), the use of particular spaces (urban), the rise of certain auteurs (Spike Lee), the obscurity and value of the pre-1980s black films (Killer of Sheep, Nothing But A Man, the last a film featuring blacks by a white director, Michael Roemer, as is Jim McKay’s Our Song), and even the mainstream appropriation of black nouns (such as “bling” for money) but not black verb usages or grammatical constructions (variations of “to be” as in “I be”) indicative of education and class. Conference participants also included Manthia Diawara, Clyde Taylor, Greg Tate, and Armond White. I saw the last bit of Kasi Lemmons’ film The Caveman’s Valentine, which I’d seen complete and liked very much upon its original release. I saw Compensation, a black-and-white film made in 1999, partly inspired by a Paul Laurence Dunbar poem, and directed by Zeinabu Irene Davis from a screenplay by Marc Arthur Chery, her husband. Previously, the film won the Gordon Parks Award at the Independent Feature Market in New York, and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award as a Best First Feature. The film, starring Michelle Banks and John Earl Jelks, is focused on two love stories, one set in the past and one set in the present, with both featuring a deaf heroine, and how a disease—first tuberculosis, secondly, a sexually transmitted virus—affects those relationships. (The historical story is one in which a young deaf woman is a self-sustaining seamstress, and in the contemporary story a man learns sign language in order to facilitate a relationship.) The film utilizes a “silent film” style with English subtitles; and the style is at first distancing but as the film continues the viewer gets involved with the story’s momentum, with its pathos and urgency, and the style achieves a formal beauty; and it is a film that can be enjoyed by a hearing or deaf audience. Compensation offered something spiritual that was missing from most of the other films I saw recently, a sense of perception and response beyond social constraints, beyond history; and in its storytelling it offered an intellectual awareness that reorganized one’s understanding of life choices—one can choose to be and do something different, something without precedent. The film is much more to my taste than the urban gangster movies, romantic comedies, and ideological dramas that have proliferated in the last decade or so. Is a complex and popular black cinema likely? A cinema that might be seriously compared to the best the rest of the world has to offer? Does a film create its audience (converting them to new aesthetics, ethics, philosophy, and ways of being in the world); or are films created for audiences (pandering to their ignorance, established tastes, and prejudices)? While at the film conference it occurred to me that its attendants, black intellectuals—articulate, self-directed, successful, open to diverse aesthetics, politically engaged, and responsible for shaping coming generations; people who are relatively free—might be interesting film subjects. Who is more interesting, a gangster, a drug dealer, a pimp, a whore, a welfare mother, a love-struck fool, a luxury-driven mindless consumer, a rigid ideologue, or a black intellectual? (Discuss.)
Art, such as film or literature, is important not just because of its meaning or even its form, but also because of its process. To be creative is to be a maker of an object and a conduit for experience, a remaker of the world, and this is why it is hard for an artist to easily adapt to other people, to other laws: a maker, he does not want to be made by the will and whim of others—and that desire, that demand, for freedom can be a model for individuals. That may be also why art is frightening to some people. It’s possible that Eytan Fox’s Yossi & Jagger might frighten some people but that would have less to do with the form and content of the film than with the context in which it arrives: the film is about the love affair of two Israeli soldiers. The film, written by Avner Bernheimer and in Hebrew with English subtitles, begins with the return of a group of soldiers to their snow-covered base, where they find a faulty refrigerator has spoiled their meat and other food, which they dig a hole to bury, offering a mocking prayer to the chickens and cows in their final resting place. (The man who seems most devout in the film is a Buddhist.) Two men take a walk to check an outpost, and begin to tease each other, play that quickly turns amorous; these two men are Yossi (Ohad Knoller) and one of his officers, Lior (Yehuda Levi), called Jagger because of his lively spirit and charisma, which is compared to that of a rock star. The men kiss, and their kissing—affectionate, light, joyous—is a great film image. I was reminded of James Baldwin’s description of an image of Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones and what follows that image—Baldwin describes a close-up of Poitier as the single most beautiful image in that film, and Poitier’s image is followed by the recoil of a young white boy who is looking up at him, a recoil that has nothing to do with the threat or ugliness of the image but everything to do with the fear and hate already growing in the boy. There are people who might recoil from the kiss of Yossi and Jagger, and that likely has to do less with the kiss (which is neither lewd or sloppy nor drearily sentimental) than with what certain viewers carry within themselves. While Yossi and Jagger are away from their military base, a brutish commander and two women arrive, one of whom the commander is having an affair with while the other is infatuated with Jagger. Upon Yossi and Jagger’s return, Yossi learns that he and his men are being asked to take a new risky assignment that very night, something he resists, as he wants his men to have time to rest, but his superior insists (the man is superior in rank not character). The commanding officer jokes that he likes the smell of burning flesh in the morning, a quote from Francis Coppola’s war film Apocalypse Now, in which a commander says he likes the smell of napalm in the morning. (Apocalypse Now was the first film I saw when I moved to New York in 1979. Soon after I saw Bertolucci’s Luna and the black-and-white West German film The Consequence, which was made in 1977 by director Wolfgang Petersen, and focused on a young man’s seduction of an older man. Between then and now there have been a lot of films that have included, and significantly, love and sex between individuals of the same gender: among them, Nijinsky, Ernesto, Another Country, Lianna, My Beautiful Laundrette, Parting Glances, Looking for Langston, Longtime Companion, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Law of Desire, My Own Private Idaho, The Living End, Edward II, The Wedding Banquet, Beautiful Thing, The Crying Game, Grief, The Sum of Us, Strawberry and Chocolate, Total Eclipse, Happy Together, High Art, Bound, Love and Death on Long Island, Wilde, The Opposite of Sex, Gods and Monsters, Urbania, Wolves of Kromer, Velvet Goldmine, Gohatto, The Weekend, Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train, Adventures of Felix, Confusions of Gender, and Before Night Falls.) Yossi and Jagger quarrel about their relationship, while the men prepare for deployment—Jagger would like them to be more open, more public; Jagger says he wants them to sleep in one large bed rather than pushing two small beds together, and that he wants Yossi to meet his father, his mother, and his dog. Yossi tells Jagger that their lives are not like some American movie. The film is adept at showing how ordinary concerns remain among all the soldiers—the appreciation for food, music, and sex—and also the instability involved in both love and war, how one accepts as a matter of course the possibility that one will have to sacrifice safety and a sense of self. Few people’s lives have permanent positive meaning. Possibly anything—a feeling, a circumstance—can move us toward the civilized or the savage and that’s our vulnerability and why peace and serenity are often so elusive. Character, will, belief, and philosophy can strengthen our resolve, and are the very nature of our resolve; but age, circumstance, and disappointment wear away at character, conviction, and calm. It may be that what we call morality is simply personally preferred or socially approved beliefs; and that we are free to think and act and assume the consequences. Yossi & Jagger—for its honesty and intelligence, for its well-crafted story and its vivid performances—would be enjoyed by a large audience in a better world. It’s rather annoying to think that such a film might be considered taboo or transgressive when it’s simply good.