Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Dark Matters

This becomes quite a disturbing story and you might think it somewhat provocative. You probably shouldn't really, but you might.

Chen Zi-Sheng's
Dark Matter was premiered at Sundance, where it won the Alfred P. Sloan prize. It features Meryl Streep and Aidan Quinn and stars Liu Ye.

Here are two excerpts from the film's official synopsis:

Dark Matter delves into the world of Liu Xing (Chinese for 'Shooting Star'), a Chinese science student pursuing a Ph.D. in the US in the early 1990s. Driven by ambition, yet unable to navigate academic politics, Liu Xing is inexorably pushed to the margins of American life, until he loses his way.

Liu Xing becomes a ghost like presence at the university. Left alone with his shattered dreams, he explodes in a final act of violence.

Both the trailer and official site for the film note that
Dark Matter is 'inspired by a real event' - though, in light of recent news, some people might eventually be confused by which real event.

I'm not
sure how this relatively small film (in terms of films with cinema releases, anyway - how small can a film truly be if it has Meryl Streep in it?) will be effected by the shootings in Virginia but I do fear that it is going to suffer. Really, when an event like this happens, it is the need for films about such things that is made clear, not the need to suppress or hide such films. There's still some ludicrous assumption that films are entertainment, and that a film like Dark Matter is making entertainment out of tragedy while writing a non-fiction book on the matter, for example, wouldn't be exploitative. I can't see any argument that a film intrinsically entertains while a non-fiction book does not, but people are still hung up on the idea. The argument that films can help us explore and understand parts of ourselves and our world is in distant second place to the "Where's my popcorn?" way of thinking.

What possible reason could there be to not release this film as per the original plans? Would it be shelved as an act of 'sympathy'? This argument comes up time and time again, and frankly, it doesn't wash.

Why should we be axe films in the name of the victims of the Virginia shootings while we're not doing the same for the countless number of people who die in car accidents, from stabbings or cancer or any of the countless other ways people expire in the movies? And why not out of sympathy to victims of other, less recent shootings? Where were the campaigners trying to get Titanic or Gettysburg or even The Cat's Meow pulled because of their accounts of real life death, murder, disaster?

Pulling Dark Matter wouldn't prove real sympathy, in could simply be lip service to sympathy. While a tragedy is fresh, all kinds of maneuvres are made so that any accusations of exploitation are avoided. Later, everything becomes fair game - is this a 'time heals all wounds' argument?

Of course, situations like this one - you know, the amazingly common situations in which somebody buys a gun in a shop with remarkably little effort and then later shoots a very large number of people, quite frequently people on the campus of an educational institution - are often linked to movies in another way. Movies are very frequently named as a cause, alongside popular music, the internet and videogames. So far, no mention of movies in the discussion of the Virginia shootings specifically, but they are already being blamed in the general discussion.

The events in Virginia have little in common with the events in Dark Matter - no more than any of that sickeningly high number of other shootings in similar circumstances. I feel there is to be some confusion because the film's protagonist is Chinese and the Virginia killer was from South Korea - and, sadly (but there's no point denying it) plenty of people aren't going to notice, or pay much heed to, the difference.

I find it likely that Dark Matter will become rather hard to see, at least in the short term, while the free and easy purchase of guns and ammunition in the US will not in any way be impeded. A very old and at best outdated, at worst thoroughly ridiculous piece of the constitution will see to that.

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