November 1st, 2005


Last night we went to see "MirrorMask," the new film written by Neil gaiman and Dave McLean. We found it excellent. The protagonist, Helena, (Stephanie Leonidas) is a young teenager whose parents (Rob Brydon and Gina McKee) run a small circus. Helena is fed up with the circus life and wants to "run away and join the real world," despite the fact that she has an active fantasy life expressed in her scratchy but vibrant ink drawings. She quarrels with her mother and wishes her dead, and is horrified when her mother falls ill during the subsequent performance. With her mother on the brink of surgery, Helena falls into a troubling dream, wherein the world of her drawings seems to be threatened with being overwhelmed by her mother's dark, smothering side (the Dark Queen) while the bright side (the Light Queen)lies in a Sleeping-Beauty-like coma. Helena decides that, since it is "her" dream, she will be the one to find the "charm" and waken the Bright Queen. Further than that I will not say, since the quest becomes enwrapped in mysteries, and things turn out darker and more dire than Helena expected.

Georgie described it as "an 'Alice in Wonderland' for the 21st century," and I concur. There are also distinct similarites with "The Labyrinth" (also a Jim Henson company production) but this dreamscape is informed by Freudian and Jungian concepts ("the shadow" is not just a dramatic phrase, here) and imagery from Breughel, Goya and Dali. One of the points of conflict is Helena's separation from her mother to become her own person--not an issue in "Alice."

One critic disliked the movie, which uses a mix of digital and traditional animation combined with live action, for not using "real" sets, models and puppets, instead of what were referred to as "blurry" special effects. That person did not get it. With mutiple visual textures and layered effects with backgrounds bleeding into foregrounds, the movie style is like some of the "Sandman" comics, with multilayerec collages and color washes in action. The occasional soft focus reinforces the dream-like effects. The one criticism we had was the soundtrack: occasional bits of dialog were hard to hear. Other than that, we considered it a masterful work and well worth seeing.

Rated PG for some scary images. The darkness effects and creatures are quite creepy. The subtext will be lost on children.

Another reason why "Intelligent Design" is a fatuity--.

It occurs to me that there really cannot be any explanation for "intelligent design" given that does not, ultimately involve the supernatural, or, bluntly, God. The argument that it might be "aliens", begs the question, where did the aliens come from? If they are smart enough to understand our complexity when we do not, they must be at least an order more complex than we are, true? So, who made them? Galactus? Cthulhu? A god-like holdover from a prior Universe? And if not aliens, what? If we are the products of some mystical Demiurge, who created him/her/it/them?

I am reminded of this anecdote, which exists in anumber of variations, but the punch line is always the same:

After a lecture on cosmology and the structure of the solar system, William James was accosted by a little old lady.
"Your theory that the sun is the centre of the solar system, and the earth is a ball which rotates around it has a very convincing ring to it, Mr. James, but it's wrong. I've got a better theory," said the little old lady.
"And what is that, madam?" inquired James politely.
"That we live on a crust of earth which is on the back of a giant turtle."
Not wishing to demolish this absurd little theory by bringing to bear the masses of scientific evidence he had at his command, James decided to gently dissuade his opponent by making her see some of the inadequacies of her position.
"If your theory is correct, madam," he asked, "what does this turtle stand on?"
"You're a very clever man, Mr. James, and that's a very good question," replied the little old lady, "but I have an answer to it. And it is this: the first turtle stands on the back of a second, far larger, turtle, who stands directly under him."
"But what does this second turtle stand on?" persisted James patiently.
To this the little old lady crowed triumphantly. "It's no use , Mr. James -- it's turtles all the way down."

I'm afraid that the ultimate answer to the intelligent design question may be that "it's intellgent designers all the way down."