Friday, October 26, 2012

"Argo, F Yourself!"

 saw Argo yesterday at the Cobblehill Theater in Brooklyn with my friend Hai-Dang Phan.  It’s a well-made, entertaining thriller, but especially interesting to me for the way it displays so clearly the way people in the U.S. understand their history as a deferred wish-fulfillment.  (Btw, Argo, fuck yourself! is a running joke in the film.  Alan Arkin, the producer says it to a reporter asking what the film is about.) The ending of the film is the worst part but also the most interesting. Spoiler alert.  Affleck’s character, who is separated from his wife and a very heavy drinker, if not an alcoholic, comes home and asks his wife if he can “come in.”   She hugs him and says nothing, but she is smiling and all happy, happy.  The first shot of Affleck on the veranda shows a big American flag blowing in the upper left part of the screen.   Male hero equals national hero.  The family is restored.   But not really.  The next shot is of Affleck in bed with his son, who is sleeping in Affleck’s arms, but totally awake, and the camera tracks left to show part of the son’s star wars collection of action figures or figurines. They are pretty small scale.  There are at least three dissolves to close-ups of the collection, each take feeling extraordinarily long, at least to me, until finally we get to a storyboard for the bogus film that we saw Affleck keep back from the archivist earlier (Affleck was supposed to turn over all the other docs and did so, except for this one).  The storyboard, around which text about what happened later, shows the hero on some kind of space motorbike with a little boy holding on to him.  Mirror image of Affleck and his son.  Two points about the film's delivery of U.S. history as yet to be fulfilled fantasy:  first, the family is not really restored.  The wife is hardly there and immediately drops out.  The son is safe and asleep, but Dad is still on duty, his heroism invisible (what he did remains classified). Second, national history is only intelligible indirectly, through the sci-fi movie. History begins returns only through science-fiction fantasy. The Star Wars shots recycle the film as Reagan’s never built anti-ballistic missile defense system, called Star Wars.  The length of the takes at the end grant the wish or family reunion only through deferral which looks forward to Star Wars in a future anterior, since the film has already been released but Reagan has not yet been elected, and back via the stolen storyboard, to the sci-fi film Argo that one of the hostages used to get himself and the other five hostages through the final checkpoint, which was itself a story of he Iranian revolution, and back to the moment when Affleck got the idea for the op while watching Battle for the Planet of the Apes on TV with his son.  The son is father of the man.  Son is watching it at his home, Mom is gone, and Affleck turns the channel in his hotel room so he can watch it too at the same time.  The clips from Battle the Planet of the Apes show the black astronaut with two apes and ends with a close up of an orangantan.  That film is openly an allegory of the race wars of the 60s and recycles racist images of blacks represented as apes. (Think King Kong.)   Affleck notices the make-up and gets the idea to call the guy who did it, who has also done work for the C.I.A.   There are lots of clips of TV news anchors (Peter Jennings, Walter Chronkite, Ted Koppel) reporting on the hostage crisis, but Affleck only gets it, the rescue op, when he tunes into his son’s channel.  And he only pursues it after calling his son and missing him (shot of phone, no one home). So he writes a birthday card to his son and wife and drops in the mail at the airport.  Communication delay, letter never arrives at its destination.  The film begins with a sequence about the US involvement in Iran that derives from Persepolis.  It is narrated by a girl in voice-over as a kind of animated graphic novel (anticipating the Argo storyboards later and also echoing in advance an Iranian servant of the Canadian ambassador who is forced to leave to Iraq near the end of the film).  From start to finish, we get history delivered in pre-production movie form or animated storybook form or in collectible sci-fi film merchandise.  This sequence is refreshingly critical of the U.S.  it sort of drops out as the Argo fantasy recodes it as a story of miniature American and Canadian triumphalism (the rest of the hostages remained in captivity, of course).  So the scale of the story is the scale of the toys in the son’s Star Wars toy collection, and the son’s collection forgets the history of U.S. race war and remembers what is to come rather than what has happened.  The re-collection is already compulsive, looping back and forward a moment when the wish can actually be fulfilled, a moment that never arrives and never will, or does so only as a moment represented as the deferral of said wish.  Every covert op is part of a lo-“op.”  No op is opt(imal).

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