We Have a Hulk…But there’s still a Cabin in the Woods

Yes, I saw The Avengers  (twice in fact) and am still a bit giddy from it. Only someone with the ability to write whip-smart dialogue and combine it with a toned and supple comic book sensibility could have pulled this off. Joss Whedon has given us a superhero flick that’s big, wide open, blowing up, punching us in the face and yet somehow still a character-driven, sometimes almost quiet, movie.

Hulk and Loki’s “puny god” moment was my favorite scene…I guess (there were so many). And of course it was great fun to bloat with nerd pomposity during the post-credit cut scene. Like a lot of you, I enjoyed having access to various arcane taxonomies while the rest of the audience wondered, “who was that?” and mumbled “I don’t get it.”

It’s been a very Whedonesque summer for a lot of us, given the release of what I consider the even more amazing film he produced and co-wrote, Cabin in the Woods. Its extraordinary that someone who wrote a slaphappy funny book extravaganza like Avengers could also right an arguably misanthropic, if deeply smart and ridiculously fun, film like Cabin.

Cabin, as most fans know by now, is at heart an apocalyptic narrative and maybe that’s not so shocking in the year that the Mayans, or at least their calendars, are going to get us. But Whedon’s apocalypse is out of step with most of our apocalyptic stories, narratives that are best denominated with that strangest of all portmanteaus-“post-apocalyptic.”

Nothing reveals our indomitable narcissism as a species than the creation of the post-apocalyptic genre. There’s really no such thing as a post-apocalypse…unless it wasn’t much of an apocalypse to begin with. But hope springs eternally and naively. We need narratives about new beginnings and opportunities. We may end the world, but lets not be pessimistic about it.

I saw Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods and Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia in relatively quick succession. Both are wonderful films (lots of unforgettable shots in Melancholia). Both strikingly manage to tell truly apocalyptic tales but both are also truly androcentric. Von Trier surgically unwinds the skein of human emotion in response to the end of all things. This makes for a subtle exanimation of panic, depression, sorrow, loss and, well, narcissism in response to the possibility of the end.

Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods has the subtlety of a jackhammer…a beautiful, beautiful jackhammer.  As I suggested in my last post about this amazing film, it reconstructs our assumptions about our voyeurism, our desire to punish others, our fears about the world we have thoughtlessly made and its likely unmaking. Our suspicion that its all, and I mean all, a pretty elaborate scam.

So I’ve written about how much I love it. Let me throw in a criticism or two. The first is not really that substantial but worth saying. Honestly, I think Joss depends a bit too much on the remake of Chainsaw for his archetypes. In particular, he and Goddard didn’t do a great job with what the script refers to as “the virgin.” She’s not “the virgin” so much as she is, as Carol Clover famously described her, “the final girl.” As I say about this figure in Monsters in America, she becomes “a hero…whose courage and cleverness allow her to outwit and even outfight the monster.” She’s Buffy in another incarnation.

The second point I’d like to make is less a criticism and more a reflection. In my last blog on this film, I evoked Lovecraft as a pretty clear influence on Cabin’s metanarrative and the release of the Cabin in the Woods: Official Visual Companion also makes much of the dour New Englander’s shade hanging over the film.

After pondering it a bit more, the film seems significantly less Lovecraftian than I thought at first. The brilliance and terror of Lovecraft comes from his ability to de-center human experience. We don’t care, really, about Lovecraft’s characters in the way that we care about Dana and Marty and Jules.  At the end of the day, indeed at the end of the world, Cabin celebrates friendship and laughter…jokes about giant evil gods are ok even when giant evil gods are rising. Friends get to be friends even after they try to kill each other. “I’m sorry I let you get attacked by a werewolf and then ended the world.” And its ok.

Of course, this is not the way the world works and this is maybe why we need Lovecraft. He takes us into the mountains of madness and out for a sail on the black seas of infinity. And maybe we need to venture there, even meditate on Cthulhu rising and the ten million things from nightmares he represents. “Humanity” Dana pffts, “maybe its time to give someone else a chance.”

Depending on how much of that darkness you can encompass, this becomes less a counsel of despair and more a strange, and I do mean strange, kind of hope.

Anyway, while waiting for the desiderata of all terror, I might try to see Avengers at least once more in the theatre. Maybe, as Lovecraft writes in The Colour Out of Space, we have often met “doom and abnormality which far outraced…any image…conscious minds could form.” But we also make things like The Avengers that awakens our wonder at even the terror that tears a hole in our sky.




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