Saturday, February 22, 2014

Movie Non-Review: 12 Years a Slave and Gravity

It should be noted that, for reasons I could speculate have to do with my existence as a high functioning person with ASD but for which I have no proof, I have to work really hard at not getting overwhelmed with my emotional responses. I am either on, in which case I'm overly plugged into everything going on, or I'm off, in which case I'm uncomfortably objective but able to handle stuff.

This means I don't have an emotional buffer in movies. When all my sensory input is coming at me from the screen, I can very easily lose control of my emotional reaction, having feelings all out of proportion to what's going on -- or at least out of proportion to the reactions of those around me. I'm also super sensitive to low-frequency sounds, which can effectively induce panic attacks and headaches in me if I have prolonged exposure*. I effectively can't communicate under those circumstances, other than to get up and leave, which I do if necessary. I can't stim enough to make it bearable in a movie, so it puts me at a disadvantage. Some things, therefore, I only see at home if at all to avoid wasting the price of a ticket and alarming my friends.

As a result, these aren't really reviews. I'd like them to be reviews, but they aren't, for reasons that are perfectly good ones. Instead, they're discussions of the film from the bits and pieces I know about them, which will inevitably be inadequate but as I am definitely not going to see them before Oscars, this is what you get.

*This also means that in high stimulus environments, similar problems crop up. This happens more if I'm tired or otherwise stressed, but generally is manageable so long as I keep an eye on self-management and health.

Movie: 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2014).
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender), Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong'o), Costume Design, Best Director, Film Editing, Production Design, Adapted Screenplay (9 total).

I knew this film would be difficult to watch going in, but I also knew it would reward the people who saw it. I really like Ejiofor and I've done enough studying of the period to know what slave narratives are and what I was getting myself into. I got some food, had my knitting at hand, and settled in for what would be a harrowing but worthwhile 2 hours or so. After roughly 15 minutes, I threw in the towel and left the movie, unable to touch my food and barely avoiding really loud, noisy sobbing in front of people. I remained absent for the rest of the film, and felt I'd made the choice that was best for me. I did eventually regain my appetite enough to eat, but it was not a quick process.

12 Years a Slave does not pull any punches. It has no qualms about letting you experience something as close to the American slave experience as you can get in a film, in all its visceral horror but without exaggeration for its own sake. The performances, from what I saw, are stellar and I have no reason to suspect the other performances are any less. I honestly can't say that I'll ever get through this movie, though. As good as it is, I can't personally handle the emotional costs involved. If someone is teaching a slave narratives class, though, this is a must-include, particularly if students are having a hard time bridging the historical and cultural gap. Be warned, though, this movie induces strong reactions in pretty much everyone -- as well it should. Some lessons are just that way.

Movie: Gravity (Alfonso CuarĂ³n, 2013)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress (Sandra Bullock), Cinematography, Best Director, Film Editing, Original Score, Production Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects (10 nominations total).

So, remember the low-frequency sound thing I mentioned above? Doesn't seem like it would come up much, does it? Overall, it's not a thing one generally runs into -- except in movies. That low-frequency sound is something that gets used a lot, carrying the following connotations: space, aliens, eldritch machinery, supervillains. As someone who likes genre films, you can see how my world has become more problematic since my sensitivity has increased. In film class, I had to skip the viewing of Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977) because he uses that damn sound pretty much through the whole background to add tension and unease to the film, which it certainly did, as it made me nauseated and gave me a splitting headache in just a 10 minute clip. I'm sure somewhere he's gratified to know that his sound choices for the film are totally effective. The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012) hit me with a similar problem, though this was unexpected. I made it through the last 20 minutes of the film, but just barely, and I had issues for a while afterward. I totally skipped Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012) for the same reason, with the blessing of my husband who loves me and understandably not really enjoy putting his wife back together after sound effects slay her.

And that brings us to Gravity. When Matt and my friends went, we wondered if I should go. I ended up not feeling well and deciding to be safe and skip it. Afterward, everyone said it was great and absolutely the right choice for me not to have gone. I would like to watch it on a smaller screen, where I can exert a greater amount of environmental control, but I almost certainly will not before the Oscars and, as good as it is and as many people have exhorted me to watch it, it may be a while regardless. When I know I'm going to have to really reach down deep for a neurological coping skill before seeing a movie, it robs me of a bit of enthusiasm for it. That said, everything I've seen -- clips, trailers, and reviews from friends -- tell me that this movie is phenomenal and I need to see it, particularly given my interest in feminism and sci-fi. It's definitely the meatiest role for a woman that's come along in a very long time. My biggest concern is that Bullock will be considered out of the running because she won for The Blind Side (John Lee Hancock, 2009) a few years back, a film achievement that pales in comparison this one.