Category Archives: American Identity

The Tree of Life and The Limits of Psychoanalysis

[I posted this on 7/11, but I went back and added to / revised the last seven paragraphs on 7/12 because I wasn’t entirely happy with where I ended things. Like I said, I was trying to make last call at the bar!]

I’ve been racking my brain over Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Not because I couldn’t comprehend the basic plot and demanded a refund. Instead, I’ve been trying to find a suitable response to my friends and to critics who’ve leveled some justifiable concerns against the film. One friend was infuriated with the film’s depiction of women, describing Jessica Chastain’s maternal figure as a character who did little more than prance around the yard and care for her children. Another friend found the staging of Sean Penn’s struggles with his upbringing little more than a “vulgar” reading of Freud’s psychoanalytic work. These buddies also hated the dinosaurs, but I’d rather focus on these particular concerns and tease out why I still like (but don’t love unconditionally) The Tree of Life.

Continue reading

Meek’s Cutoff: American Landscape and The Gaze of Man

Michelle Williams in Meek's Cutoff

In Shifting Ground, Reinventing Landscape in Modern American Poetry, Bonnie Costello reminds us that “Landscape is the world under the gaze of man” (10). Meek’s Cutoff is a film preoccupied with landscape, the gaze of men, and most visibly, the gaze of women. The film caused me to return to Costello’s book not only because it is a favorite of mine, and not just because Meek’s Cutoff has been described as “a collaboration between John Ford and Wallace Stevens,” (the latter’s work is discussed at length in Shifting Ground).   I admire Meek’s Cutoff for the way it lines up with the work of the poets surveyed by Costello: like the poems she describes here, the film “reveals the entanglement of nature and culture, the interplay between our desires, our concepts, and our perceptions, and possibilities for renewal and vitality within that entanglement” (14). Like the modern poems Costello favors, the film “is not designed to establish epistemological or ethical truths, but neither is it indifferent to epistemological inquiry or immune from ethical motivation or scrutiny” (14).

Continue reading

Flying Away From The American Way: Superman and National Identity

(Image from Comics Alliance)

I just read Comics Alliance’s description of the latest issue of Action Comics, and apparently Superman has renounced his American citizenship. While I have never been that taken with the writing of David S. Goyer (the Blade trilogy, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight), he may have redeemed himself with this little bit of “ripped from the headlines” superheroics, Here’s Laura Hudson’s recap of the moment in question:

The key scene takes place in “The Incident,” a short story in Action Comics #900 written by David S. Goyer with art by Miguel Sepulveda. In it, Superman consults with the President’s national security advisor, who is incensed that Superman appeared in Tehran to non-violently support the protesters demonstrating against the Iranian regime, no doubt an analogue for the recent real-life protests in the Middle East. However, since Superman is viewed as an American icon in the DC Universe as well as our own, the Iranian government has construed his actions as the will of the American President, and indeed, an act of war.

Superman replies that it was foolish to think that his actions would not reflect politically on the American government, and that he therefore plans to renounce his American citizenship at the United Nations the next day — and to continue working as a superhero from a more global than national perspective.

The timing of this moment could not amuse me more (it also, consciously or not, critiques another current  Superman story that began with the character walking around the country and aligning himself with crude, absurd caricatures real American folks from the flyover states). I’m sure smarter people than I will justify President Obama’s decision to engage so directly with the birthers, but it is also a little depressing to see a comic book so handily make contemporary political discourse look so cartoonish. While the world at large (and Warner Brothers) will surely regard  Superman as a cultural icon (and a brand) firmly aligned with American iconography and ideals, it’s great to see Goyer and the Superman team wrestling with questions of national identity.

Continue reading