The Battle for our hearts and minds will be fought in Los Angeles

Posted on by TheLastPsychiatrist . Bookmark the permalink.

Battle: Los Angeles is an alien invasion film full of  standard tropes and cliches, with great CGI, lots of bullets and no nudity.  You might think you’re not the target demo, but you are.

Aliens have taken LA.  Deploy the military.  An perfectly ethnically diverse squad of marines- black, hispanic, dorky white guy, woman– are lead by a frazzled white sergeant.  He lost his men in a previous war, and now no one trusts him but he’s bound by duty to fight when deployed.  Hua.  They’re commanded by a brand new lieutenant who, of course, graduated “top of his class” but lacks the experience and smarts to be an effective leader,  so he does what the narrative requires him to do in those situations: he sacrifices himself to save the squad.

It’s easy to misinterpret this as suggesting that our leaders may be dumb but they’re still honorable.  False.  The point is that the crony system puts undeserving incompetents in charge who, by the power structure, are preventing the real heroes/workers/academics from effectively leading us out of a crisis.  But you can’t change The System, too hard to even imagine, easier to fantasize about Jack Ryaning the situation and killing off the top level.  We’ll let you die with honor and dramatic music and brave last words, but for Christ’s sake, just die already and let the enlisted men get on with the real work.

And what is the real work?  Fighting off an attack by aliens?  Don’t be naive, man, that’s just what they want you to think.

II.

This is what an old white guy critic at The Australian wrote:

Watching this nonsense after seeing tragic television images of the destruction of Japan somehow made Battle: Los Angeles appear even more meretricious.

I had to look up meretricious, it means 1. like a prostitute which makes no sense; 2. tastelessly showy which is what he meant but is wrong; 3. based on pretense; deceptively pleasing which he didn’t mean but is exactly right.

This movie is Independence Day without the humor, charisma, or character actors, which is fine, I went there to see aliens getting blown up and only possibly a boob, and it delivered.   But unlike Independence Day, the aliens aren’t defeated at the end of the movie.  Hmm.  That’s weird.   Only the battle in Los Angeles has been won, the aliens still have the rest of the world, and while the Marines cheer, “now we know how to defeat them!” the newly discovered strategy isn’t a modified flu virus or water but, basically, to shoot the alien command centers with surface to air missiles.  That’s the kind of out of the box thinking you don’t get with an entrenched officer class.

So when the movie ends, the humans haven’t won the war, just this battle.  But that’s okay, because while the aliens seem to be the bad guys, in terms of the story’s structure they aren’t the antagonists but a macguffin.  Geeks will complain that you never really get to see the aliens, but that’s the point– they could have been anything.  Aliens, tsunamis, plagues, World Wars– give us any reason to join together and put aside the petty things like Egypt that have given us all anxiety neuroses.  What the aliens  represent is the deus ex machina solution to our other geopolitical, economic, moral and existential catastrophes.

You think when the aliens invade anyone will bother with make up or shave their back or diversify their portfolio or Rock The Vote?  The only thing that will gets us away from obsessing over our individuality is a catastrophe bigger than all of us.   The aliens are the solution to narcissism.  I’ve watched the movie twice, but I can’t tell you the name of one single character except Hector, who is not the main character but a boy that the story uses only as an metaphor for vulnerability and sadness, which used to be the damsel’s  role but nowadays sexy women are needed to stay strong and save us.  No 40 year old man still believes a man can suddenly know kung fu when the time comes, but women are sufficiently inexplicable and archetypal that they might, so long as they’re young and wearing black lycra.

But Hector’s name is repeated over and over and over, he’s the focus, they’re not fighting to kill aliens but to save him.  The boy is powerless, the boy is us.  And what will get us to save us is something else wanting to kill us.

But don’t worry, as superior and advanced as aliens are, we’re still above  them.  The aliens are humanoid upright bipeds with a heart, two arms, and portable wave motion guns.  But the medic is completely baffled by their their anatomy, the only one who can make sense of it is a hot veterinarian.   Ergo: they’re animals.

That Los Angeles is the important battle is no accident.  The battle for the ability to unite as a common species will be, is being, fought in LA.  They control the horizontal and the vertical and the CGI and the page 60 plot twist, and they decide the kinds of qualities we will assume exist in all of us.

I had just seen The Adjustment Bureau the day before, and both movies offered an impossibly optimistic view of the universe, and it brought to my mind one of the few poems I like:

And now, what’s going to happen to us without the aliens?  They were, those aliens,  a kind of a solution.

And so, we continue to wait.

No related posts.

16 Responses to The Battle for our hearts and minds will be fought in Los Angeles

  1. fsarver says:

    “What the aliens represent is the deus ex machina solution to our other geopolitical, economic, moral and existential catastrophes.”

    So… narcissism is the root cause of these catastrophes?

    “The aliens are the solution to narcissism. “

    • Anna says:

      Narcissism = inability to love. “When people no longer know how to live unselfishly, Hollywood proffers aliens to unite us The only thing that will gets us away from obsessing over our individuality is a catastrophe bigger than all of us.” The aliens are the solution to narcissism, yes, in Hollywoodland.

      • Anna says:

        Sorry, that should say, Narcissism = inability to love. “The only thing that will gets us away from obsessing over our individuality is a catastrophe bigger than all of us.” The aliens are the solution to narcissism, yes, in Hollywoodland.

        Pssst, Last Psych: Ability to edit/delete comments?

  2. operator says:

    “So… narcissism is the root cause of these catastrophes?”

    Perhaps narcissism’s boastful relative egotism would be the root cause (for the recurring “war of the worlds” theme, anyway) – it’s beyond suspension of disbelief to pretend that a superior life form would be unable to scour opposing life forms off this planet in a matter of moments, given that we already have the rudimentary means to achieve as much.

  3. max says:

    I figure you could pinpoint the screenwriter’s address by the frequency of occurrence of Santa Monica street names.

    We’ll let you die with honor and dramatic music and brave last words, but for Christ’s sake, just die already and let the enlisted men get on with the real work.

    I thought the metaphor was more subtle: Early-forties-proven-himself-to-hell-and-back staff Sargent cast aside because he can’t earn the respect of the younger generation of soldiers, follows the rules to the letter and allows his young leader to fail, yet in the end he carries the day and gains their respect through heroic action. This is how the aging baby boomer sees himself, and wishes it could be.

  4. Pingback: links for 2011-03-19 « Michael B. Duff

  5. boeotarch says:

    “Entrenched officer class?” I don’t know if your military commentary is a serious point or just an attempt at cleverness, but I can tell you that if there is an ‘entrenched officer class’ that 2nd Lieutenant was not a part of it.

    • HP says:

      As somebody who has even the slightest idea what the military looks like…of course he wasn’t. He was a brand new 2LT with no leadership experience who got hung out to dry, repeatedly, by his worthless NCO.

      But to Hollywood? Anybody with an even remotely officer-sounding title is part of the entrenched class; had they showed his commissioning, it probably would have involved a sword-tap on both shoulders from his commander.

  6. someone says:

    “The only thing that will gets us away from obsessing over our individuality is a catastrophe bigger than all of us.”

    But ironically enough the movie has already been turned into a political issue. Left-wing movie critics are attacking it because it’s pro-military (supposedly anyway) while conservatives sing its praises for the same reason. Whether it’s actually a good movie is beside the point.

  7. BrunoR says:

    Don’t know why, but this text reminds me of Viktor Frankl.

    “When we are no longer able to change a situation – just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer – we are challenged to change ourselves.”

  8. johnbr says:

    I enjoyed the movie’s frantic pace and constant action and the wonderful lizard-brain-level satisfaction one gets from the pleasure of violating moral laws (thou shalt not kill) without violating them (i.e. thou shalt not kill other humans, thou must smite aliens to bits)

    And indeed, catastrophe is the lever that moves the world – which is a fascinating take on “civilization” – catastrophes “bring out the best in us”, (except when they’re too large, in which case we revert to savagery). Catastrophes are what pushes us beyond individualism – forcing us to acknowledge that while our individual lives are important, the survival of humanity as a species is even more important.

    • HP says:

      It’s actually “thou shalt not murder“. The semantic difference is a big one.

      But it is always nice to have an unquestionably evil, non-human, faceless enemy to kill. Which is what made it even worse when the Marine in the overwatch post halfway through started trying to humanize them.

  9. Pingback: The Battle for our hearts and minds will be fought in Los Angeles | Partial Objects « This is something that happens.

  10. HP says:

    Having now seen the movie: Not even going to touch the never-ending parade of errors that say “we didn’t even talk to anybody in the military when we made this movie”, but:

    1. I’d like to fire the sympathetic main character NCO who set his LT up for failure, then held his hand and pulled him right into it.

    2. It’s a good thing we only ever get invaded by stupid aliens: from the retards in Independence Day through the idiots in Signs who decide to invade naked, we now have an army that can cross light years of space but carry weapons less sophisticated than our own, with a strategy anyone who’s played Command & Conquer a few times could beat.

    3. Somebody should teach Michelle Rodriguez to play characters other than Michelle Rodriguez.

    As regards the whole post…well put, I agree heartily.

  11. vellutina says:

    “And now, what’s going to happen to us without the aliens? They were, those aliens, a kind of a solution.”
    Who knew you read Kavafi????

  12. vellutina says:

    Have you read “Oso Mporeis?”…in english it would translate as “As much as you can” I suppose. That is some poem to notice.

Leave a Reply