Monday, July 28, 2008

Chaos vs. Mess -- 2 movie reviews

Years and years ago, I read the excellent "Chaos: making a new science," by James Gleick. I recommend it; very interesting stuff. But the point I remember most vividly is that there is a big difference between stuff that's random -- completely without order -- and the functional, scientific definition of chaos.

It's a great book. Brings together stuff from many fields; meteorology, biology, traffic, math... fun stuff. But, again, my main take away is that there are systems that exhibit meaningful behavior, chaotic systems, that aren't particularly Euclidian in their proceedings.

That is what popped into my head after having viewed "No Country for Old Men" (on DVD) and "The Strangers" (at our local dollar-flick). "No "Country..." is about the utter impersonal nature of fate, about the uncaring of large systems, about how we change in our relationship to those systems as we age, about the penalty for underestimating the power of huge fates to grind us down. It's got a lot going on. And it's very well done. It is a great film, and a great poem. Death, in the movie, is an agent of chaos. I won't go into the plot at all, because it would require me describing the entire movie to make all my points, and I'm tired and I don't like to spoil really good movies. Trust me, though -- the chaos inherent in death. Big theme.

Now... let's compare and contrast to "The Strangers." A horror flick based, supposedly, on real events. I don't mind giving away the plot elements, because if you've seen the trailers or read the intro, you know what will happen. In fact, if you've ever seen another "weird people in clown masks are hunting/terrorizing a nice, pretty couple" movie... you know what will happen.

Nice couple in cabin. Minor background story. People in clown masks terrorize them. Running, screaming, stabbing, bleeding. Blah, blah, blah. But, at one point, the guy asks them, "Why are you doing this to us?" And the reply from Scary Girl Clown #2 is, "Because you were home."

Not withstanding the fact that this was actually a punch line in "Stir Crazy," it's just not good, scary storytelling. And it's because of the difference between "chaos" and "randomness," or "random-mess," in the case of "The Strangers."

Chaos is a dance whose steps you don't quite understand. Randomness is a spasm; a fit. Chaos is the wind blowing leaves in one direction one minute, and another the next. Randomness is a drunk 16-year-old with a leaf blower. There is some beauty, some meaning in chaos. Randomness is just, well... pointless.

Maybe the sheer randomness of some kinds of horror and death can be scary. But it makes for a much less interesting movie.

"No Country for Old Men:" A-

"The Strangers:" C-

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