Saturday, July 08, 2017

Saturday & Sundry Thoughts on Allegory as Side-effect

Allegory: we humans seem wired into it, a side-effect of human nature, encouraged and developed by early exposure to myths, parables, fables...and religion.

Allegory, as a concept, has been around since at least the days, and philosophers, of ancient Greece. I suspect that it was around but undocumented long before that. Its use and appreciation in matters religious, moral, political and general is accepted as another of our innate human characteristics.

Billy Collins' poem, The Death of Allegory, proposed that allegory is really a thing of the past. First verses are below, the rest at an archived post HERE.

The Death of Allegory
By Billy Collins
I am wondering what became of all those tall abstractions
that used to pose, robed and statuesque, in paintings
and parade about on the pages of the Renaissance
displaying their capital letters like license plates.

Truth cantering on a powerful horse,
Chastity, eyes downcast, fluttering with veils.
Each one was marble come to life, a thought in a coat,
Courtesy bowing with one hand always extended,

Villainy sharpening an instrument behind a wall,
Reason with her crown and Constancy alert behind a helm.
They are all retired now, consigned to a Florida for tropes.
Justice is there standing by an open refrigerator.........

It's a clever poem, nicely done, but in truth allegory is with us still, in literature, in art, in theatre, and in film.

A blog post is no place to be delving into every instance of recognised allegory. Blog readers, few as they may be in these Facebook-ridden days, are prone to ADD, as am I! That being so, I'm interesting myself here in just a couple of instances of allegory in movies, which had flown right over my head; perhaps I've not been alone in this.

A hat-tip to a piece at Taste of Cinema for this enlightenment. From the 14 examples of movies quoted - of those I'd actually seen - I found that the allegory in these two had zoomed right over my now silvery top-knot -

High Noon (Fred Zinnemann, 1952)
The Plot: On the day of both his marriage to a pacifist Quaker (Grace Kelly) and supposed retirement, a town marshal (Gary Cooper) is given less than two hours to decide what to do about a gang of killers headed for his town – a conflict that, playing out more or less in real time, is complicated by his realization that none of his neighbors seem willing to help.

What It’s REALLY About: McCarthyism

Wait, What? To understand this one, one must take into account when the film was made. Shot in 1951 during the Korean War, the film’s plot is heavily influenced by events concerning the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Carl Foreman, the screenwriter, was called before HUAC as he was in the process of writing the script and refused to name names, causing him to be labeled an “uncooperative witness.” He was blacklisted shortly thereafter.

Watching the film with this background knowledge, it’s impossible to disregard the parallels between the town’s inaction in the face of incoming danger and the refusal of many in Hollywood to stand up for their persecuted peers. The film isn’t quite as blatant with this idea as other works about McCarthyism were at the time, such as the plays The Crucible (1953) and Inherit the Wind (1955), so it’s understandable how the message of this thoughtful Western could go over the heads of modern viewers unaware of the circumstances under which the film was made.


RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)
The Plot: In a futuristic Detroit, Officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is brutally gunned down by a gang of criminals, only to be brought back to life as a crime-fighting cyborg (justifying the film’s tagline: “Part man. Part machine. All cop. The future of law enforcement.”).

What It’s REALLY About: Jesus Christ (once again)

Wait, What? Director Paul Verhoeven has made no secret of his aim to portray the title character as a Christ figure. After all, Murphy suffers a cruel and painful death at the hands of laughing sadists, only to be resurrected and become a savior figure. The biggest visual clue comes at the end, when RoboCop walks through shallow water, appearing to almost walk on top of it. Of course, turning the other cheek isn’t exactly RoboCop’s style. As the Dutch director has stated, he’s “the American Jesus.”

As it happens, I've just this week ordered a used DVD of the Robo-Cop re-make starring, in place of Peter Weller, a new favourite of mine, Joel Kinnaman, whose performance in the TV series The Killing impressed me so much that we're watching the whole Netflixed series for a second time! I shall be watching the Robo-Cop re-make with yet another layer of added interest now!

A final thought, fitting for the 21st century, from Flannery O'Connor,
Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose :
“In any case, you can't have effective allegory in times when people are swept this way and that by momentary convictions, because everyone will read it differently. You can't indicate moral values when morality changes with what is being done, because there is no accepted basis of judgment. And you cannot show the operation of grace when grace is cut off from nature or when the very possibility of grace is denied, because no one will have the least idea of what you are about.”
Perhaps Billy Collins was right!


R J Adams said...

Oh dear, High Noon will never be the same again. As for Robocop being an allegory for Jesus Christ - oh, please! The 'American Jesus', indeed!

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~ I wonder what kind of movie they'll make, at some point, as allegory of what's goin' on right now! ;-)

LB said...

"I wonder what kind of movie they'll make, at some point, as allegory of what's goin' on right now!"

They already have, Twilight. "Elysium":

There are probably others too. That was the first one that came to mind. Until I googled Elysium, I hadn't realized it was made by the same person (Neil Blomkamp), who brought us "District 9", another allegory and one of my favorites.

Twilight said...

LB ~ Yes, you're right - thanks for the reminder of both. Had to dig around my memory banks for Elysium, but eventually remembered it; District 9 did make more of an impression, and I realised at the time that it was reflecting current atmospheres.

Well - dang! I've just searched my tags and find I wrote a blog post mentioning both those films, in 2013:

LB said...

Thank *you*. Your posts have led to our enjoyment of several good movies in the past.:)

Twilight said...

LB ~ Happy to know that! :)

Wisewebwoman said...

The Killing! Yes! Re my previous comment. I'd like to watch it again too.

As to allegories I imagine we can declare endlessly. So show Chancey the gardener came to mind. Peter Sellers. Best role IMO.


Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~ Thought so! :-) Yes, allegories can become commonplace if one looks with that in mind. Good and evil (the stuff of so many tales) have been always with us, easy to recognise and relate to real life.

One I've just remembered: "Snowpiercer" - about a train - much of that was definitely allegorical.

I liked that Peter Sellers film too ("Being There" I think it was called.)