The Revenant – Stamina

The Revenant – Stamina

by

Howard Adelman

“Revenir” in French means return, to come back, and, in this film, to come back from the dead, to be really and materially resurrected. This is a film about resurrection and revenge. The medium of resurrection was the holy spirit of the dead wife of Hugh Glass’ (Leonardo DiCaprio). As I wrote in my blog on Friday, the lesson was to keep breathing no matter what, because the Holy Spirit was in “ruah,” the breath of life.

The motive for Hugh Glass’ pursuit of revenge was the killing of his half-breed son by John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), even if, according to legend, the revenge was because Glass had been left for dead contrary to the code of trappers and fur traders and the military forces that provided a degree of protection. In Western legend, Hugh Glass, a frontier trapper and fur trader, was attacked by a bear and left for dead by two other trappers, but he was not buried alive and the events took place in late summer rather than in late winter.

Why the infusion of a different theme of survival than the one handed down in history? And why was a non-existent son included, but given such a flimsy almost ethereal presence to complement that of his invented mother? The answer may be found in Alejandro González Iñarritu’s comments as the director; he envisioned Hugh Glass as an amalgam of “a man, a beast, a saint, a martyr, a spirit.” The question is how does this syncretic view compare and contrast with inherited legend, and how does it rewrite the mythology of the American frontier?

Why did the native American hung from a tree, presumably by French trappers, have a sign hung around his neck, “On est tous des sauvages” (we are all savages)? Was it an assertion about Native Americans or a universal assertion that in the Wild West, in a Hobbesian world of each man for himself in competition with every other, all humans are savages? If universal, is this thesis put out there as a contrast with a competing ethic of human survival through the help and care of others, through the mediation of women, through a God of mercy and not just justice? Is the film really about “mercy” competing with “justice” for pre-eminence? If so, why in the end does vengeful justice emerge supreme instead, as legend has it, Hugh Glass eventually forgave the two trappers who abandoned him?

But, of course, it is breathing we hear at the end. So ruah is still associated with mercy, with survival, even if Glass, in the film, lost his soul to justice. Redemption was still possible through the feminine aspect of the divine spirit, through the shechinah. In the legend of Hugh Glass, there is both masculine individualism and the power of justice to motivate, but, in the end, mercy wins out as the feminine aspect in the male soul is the real power behind survival. In the movie, that feminine aspect is almost totally externalized in a female ghost and lives on only after the God of cruel justice has his revenge.

In a blog a few days ago, I quoted from Abraham Lincoln’s first public speech at the Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois, called, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.” I repeat the first part of that quote here:

We [the American People] find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them–they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Their’s was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; ’tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.

In The Revenant, the far West was on the verge of being conquered and wrestled away from the French just fifteen years before Abraham Lincoln made his speech. In the first half of the nineteenth century, these were “the new territories.” The West (ironically, as we shall see, the Canadian West and, in the end, Argentina, were used in the film) is not portrayed as verdant and bucolic, fertile and graced with a salubrious climate. It is starkly and much more beautiful, but also far more inhospitable with its cold and its cliffs, its ice and wild rivers and even wilder “savages.” [Excuse my politically incorrect language, but it is true to the film.] However, although the scenes do not correspond to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills where the Crazy Horse Memorial is located and that I described last year in my blogs as we drove through South Dakota and to which we will be returning next week, for thematic purposes, the Alberta landscape was probably more suitable.

I am writing this review in expectation that by now everyone has seen the movie in the theatre where it absolutely must be seen. It is such a magnificent visual product. But I will not focus on the difference in landscape between Alberta and the Black Hills, with the ending even shot in Argentina because Canada’s winter had been too mild, with the fact that in the short days in winter with so few daylight hours and the desire to shoot only in natural light to enhance “the realism” in accordance with the aesthetic decisions of the academy award winners Alejandro González Iñárritu, the director, and cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, to shoot only with natural light for maximum realism, meant that they were only able to shoot a few hours a day. I will not allude to the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio, a vegetarian, ate real raw liver allegedly from a bison to give a real feel to his hunger.

However, as the readers will see, it is important that Iñárritu was a tyrant on set and that Tom Hardy, who, in my contention, was the best actor in the film, came to fisticuffs with his tyrannical director. Further, some comparison to reality is necessary to clarify what the film is really about. There are a number of iconic characters in the narrative of America “taming” the West, some, like Davie Crockett, very well known and others that you encounter in the wonderful museums in virtually every town throughout the West when you travel through the U.S. Those are icons that I had previously known nothing about. Hugh Glass was not a virtual unknown. There may not be songs written about him to make him a household name, but his story is reasonably widespread to those who read about the West and love westerns.

So why change the facts of history? Why, in the film, let his companions in the wilderness set his leg snapped by the bear, when, according to the “real” historical narrative, he set his own leg? Why give him a half-breed son when there is no record of his having had a son, part native or otherwise? If realism was the goal, why evade essential elements of realism? Though setting one’s own broken leg might be harder to believe, exploding gunpowder on a wound to cauterize it was perhaps more sensational, and I did not know that he had actually done that until I saw the film and double checked afterwards. And why not include the grossest scene of all, Glass rolling around in rot to allow maggots to eat away the gangrene that had infused his wounds?

Glass, in the film, is made into a loving father and a romantic male haunted by the love of his life, his native wife. But he never had a wife, native or otherwise. He was truly a wilderness survivor who relied on his inherited individual resources. Native aboriginal peoples helped him, but not nearly as much as the film suggested, for the narratives handed down in history again make him an exemplar of the rugged individualist who could conquer the challenges of nature on his own. He, according to legend, actually crawled several hundred miles with his broken leg, though we only get a hint of that in the film. The film clearly suggests that his survival skills – sucking bone marrow from the skeleton of a dead bison – are what count. The film, however, suggests that these were survival techniques learned from Native Americans, which could possibly be truer than the stories of the Robinson Crusoe who virtually survives on his own.

And what about Jim Bridger, the young boy who is persuaded by John Fitzgerald to leave Glass behind in spite of the agreement made with the fort’s captain? I looked up the “real” story and, as it turns out, both of the trappers who abandoned him were eventually found and forgiven, Bridger, as suggested in the film because he was duped by Fitzgerald, and Fitzgerald himself, not because of any act of mercy towards him, but because Glass knew he would be hung for murdering an active military man.

Further, Hugh Glass went on to live another ten years and did not die in a vengeful battle. I write all of this, not to insist that a film conform with inherited historical reality, but to ask why history is being so totally rewritten when visual realism, when the feeling of the real, has been such an aesthetic dictatorial principle in making the film, but historical realism has been simply cast into the dustbin of history? I contend that the reason is that the director is involved in the construction of a new mythology about the West intended to displace the old one.

What is that old mythology?

Frederick Jackson Turner, an American historian, at the end of the nineteenth century, advanced the thesis that the American character had been formed and forged by the process of westward movement of pioneers and settlers, a character reinforced at each stage of western movement and reified by legend and history. On Sunday, we will be driving by Chicago to reach and pass through the latest stages where that character was forged and it is in Chicago where Turner first presented his famous paper introducing us to his thesis about the American character.

I think it is no coincidence that it was in Chicago that Donald Trump had to cancel his rally with the lie that it was because peaceful protesters were threats when the real threats came for his own supporters and his instigations to prove that “might is right,” that force works, and that what counts in a leader is strength and not wisdom, will and certainly not judgment. Almost fifty years earlier, at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, riots broke out in the International Amphitheater in late August in response to the news that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated and in the way that Mayor Richard Daley had responded to Black rage.

This time, white rage, not so much at economic injustice as it has widely been portrayed (though undoubtedly a factor), but white rage as white resentment and latent racism that still permeates America and is redirected by Trump at Muslims and Mexicans.  But Black rage is still evident in the way the campaign to nominate Hillary Clinton has been hurt by Rahm Emanuel, currently mayor of Chicago and former White House Chief of Staff under Barack Obama, and rage that is now directed at how he has handled, or mishandled, the information on the police treatment of Blacks that has leaked out. Chicago remains a testing ground for American values. In the nineteenth century, Chicago served as the bridge between the opening frontier and settled America.

When presidential candidates, from Ted Cruz to Hillary Clinton, cite liberty and egalitarianism, though different versions of each, as the core of the American character, when Republicans and Democrats take such opposite views of the use of coercive force both domestically and internationally, in the case of Donald Trump stressing non-conformity and the refusal to accept any inherited norms of correct political conduct as supervening while his opponents rail at his torching the conventions that have governed politics in the U.S., we watch current emanations of the conflict over the role of the frontier and settled America.

The irony, of course, is that politicians of all stripes talk about the eternal and unchanging character of American equality of opportunity, of liberty and of justice, but Frederick Jackson Turner had an evolutionary model of the functioning of the frontier in the tension between civilization versus the wilderness. “Establishment,” whichever establishment it is, became a term of abuse which Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders all rhetorically rail against because American history is so imbued with a narrative that insists that America was forged in opposition to any standing class, to any aristocracy, to any established church, and, currently, to any establishment in Washington.

The issue for all has become insensitivity to the rising expression of the will of the people and Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sander’s monopoly over the economic version of this thesis has been removed. Of course, all this depends on ignoring the fact that “the checks and balances” system of democracy is but an inheritance from Great Britain reconstructed as a democratic monarchy. The king is now elected, but must be opposed as soon as he or she is in office. And Trotsky wrote about “continuous or permanent revolution!”

As Turner wrote, as Americans moved further and further into taming the wilderness and the Rockies, they became more and more prone to resist intrusive government, more “democratic,” more intolerant of any hierarchy. It does not matter if Donald Trump is a billionaire, what matters is that he sells himself like a snake oil salesman as anti-establishment and does it so much better than any other competitor. Of course, in Turner’s thesis, the more Americans moved West, the more they moved further away from inherited institutions, the more violence and individuals taking security into their own hands became the ruling norm. Not science, not a refined sense of fine art, but literally a society forged out of tooth and claw.

For Turner, with the conquest and taming of the New Territories by the end of the nineteenth century, the forge out of which the America was built, would no longer be in play. What Turner did not envision is that this construct became even more powerful as it was divorced from actual history and became an integral element in American mythology. If the frontier closed on the ground, it had a vastly wider purview when it operated on the mythological rather than the earthly plane.

It may help to contrast the American mythology with the Canadian tale of the frontier developed by Harold Innis that became so pervasive when I was at university, especially in its revamped form of communications theory of Marshal McLuhan. For the fur trade was not so much about the interaction of humans in conflict with nature in a lawless universe, but about establishing communication routes and contacts between and among peoples. Sometimes that would entail violent conflict, but most times it was negotiations and treaties, about trade and exchange of goods, of ideas, of services. In America, the frontier was a region of natural and inherent contestation. In Canada, opening the West was a matter of utilizing different technologies of communication that altered both the so-called wilderness and the ordered system of government coming into contact with a different political and social order. The issue was not so much violent conflict as inter-cultural exchange.

Harold Innis was an economic historian. His “staples thesis” about the fur trade was a tale of export-led growth. In Canada, the issue was natural resources – fur, fish, lumber, mineral commodities – and how these could be brought to markets where they were wanted and needed for a developing consumer economy. Cod and its modes of collection, transformation and transportation produced one kind of culture while furs produced a different one. Canada was inherently multicultural dependent on which natural resource was being exploited. The American frontier thesis was about a constant and universal quality inherent and characteristic of all Americans, reinforced, not because it happened to be fur that was being fought over among Americans, the French and the native peoples, but because the fight was a constant whatever the commodity and whatever the place.

I recall that my eldest son’s first publication – or one of his first major ones – was on the contrast between the way Argentina was settled and the way Canada was settled in the freezing climate of the West at the end of the nineteenth century. In Canada, only when a new strain of wheat was invented that could survive in that harsh climate could the West be settled. Civilization was a precondition for settling the West and not antithetical to it.

The combination of the type of commodity (then wheat) versus cattle, the communication routes for labour and capital, the technology of a new strain of wheat and of a new form of transportation, railways, all were woven together to produce different characters in different regions dependent on the interaction of a variety of factors rather than a thesis of a constant battle between wilderness and civilization, between individuals and inherited social establishments.

In The Reverant, there is no mention that the fur trade was controlled by large multinational companies, in Canada, the Northwest Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company, where the emphasis was on the need for large companies to facilitate the trade instead of on the wild individual, whether a trapper or a prospector of minerals. Large companies, centres of finance capital and the creation of technologically-founded communication routes were all crucial to find and forge the materials. So Canada is much more attuned to the importance of international trade and large multinational firms, to trade and transportation more than acquisition, to cultural mosaics rather than forging a unified national character, to cooperation more than competitiveness, to the volatility of resource economies in general and to the disruptions and radical changes required by broad technological evolutions.

Which takes us back to the film. For in the movie, the Mexican director is using the lament over the demise of the old individualistic American mythology of the frontier to forge a new one. Cooperation and competition are in contention. Law and order versus the wild West are in contention. The feminine spirit is at the heart of survival in nature, shechinah rather than Elohim, the merciful Adonai more than the God of justice. The villain kills he who is Other. The villain denies and disrupts family values. The hero insists on revenge, but survives, not only to take revenge, but because of the spirit world which is the world of the feminine.

In the days of modern communication when electronic and digital media are at war with old-fashioned television in the political marketplace of ideas in the American election, The Revenant is really an old fashioned frontier movie, but with a new vision of the frontier embedded with mercy as a value, embedded with a feminine spirit, in an effort to transvalue and resurrect, not just Hugh Glass, but an old American ethic for a new age.

Elohim, the God of justice, and Adonai, the God of mercy infused and evocative of the shechinah as would eventually be expressed in the post-biblical period, are in contention. As the Mexican Director has interpreted it and as American politicians and voters experience every day, the issue is stamina, who can survive best the legions of arrows shot at both candidates and voters in barrages every day. It is we, crippled with a broken leg and suffering wounds that would kill most mortals, who crawl hundreds of miles to the finish line.

The issue is over stamina, not individualism, and a different expression of stamina than demonstrated by Terry Fox in his run across Canada against cancer. For Terry Fox became a hero even though he lost his life to cancer. Donald Trump denigrated the American war hero, John McCain, even though he survived five years in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp. After all, he was a loser and not a winner. In the revised mythology and the inherited one, only winners count. Losers must be cast aside, except when opposing Trump and the God of mercy is then invoked. We need a liberal rather than two different and competing tyrannical versions of the frontier tale.

Birdman: Riggan, Mike and Adolf Eichmann

Birdman: Riggan, Mike and Adolf Eichmann

by

Howard Adelman

In a previous blog I spoke of doubleness and the dramatic tension between Riggan and Mike as the core of the tension in the movie, Birdman. The film has been nominated for nine Oscars this year. The form, theme, cinematography, soundtrack, characters are so at odds with a movie that thirty years ago won Oscars for best movie, best direction and five other Oscars – Out of Africa that we watched again last evening. I quote from the 1937 memoir by the Danish Isak Dinesen (the pseudonym of Karen Blixen) upon which the movie was based.

“Two homogenous units will never be capable of forming a whole… Man and woman become one… A hook and an eye are a Unity, a fastening, but with two hooks you can do nothing. A right-hand glove with its contrast the left-hand glove makes a whole, a pair of gloves; but two right-hand gloves you throw away.”

Before I return to the movie of thirty years ago, I want to introduce a third character, one from real life. I know you will be puzzled by the inclusion of Adolf Eichmann when discussing a Hollywood film that, on the surface, has absolutely no connection with an organizer of mass murder, but I beg your forbearance as I develop my theme. I am currently completing the reading of Eichmann Before Jerusalem by Bettina Stangneth, a German philosopher who has written a brilliant work of scholarship. It is a heavy tome at 579 pages, 155 of them endnotes. Don’t worry, I do not intend to review the book in this blog, even though it is a tour de force and hopefully will win a number of additional scholarly prizes now that it has been translated into English. It has already won the German NDR award for best non-fiction book. The reviewer of the English translation will require a far greater scholarly acquaintance with the field than I will ever have.

It is rare to read a philosopher who wrote her PhD thesis on Kant’s concept of radical evil and ever since has been researching a theory of the lie, but who has also become a scholar on anti-Semitism and the National Socialist philosophy. It is rarer yet for that scholar to produce such a brilliant case study of a personality who embodied radical evil. Stangneth, as I do, belongs to a school of philosophy that believes that philosophers have to sink into the mire of the empirical to undertake proper philosophical work.

One of the virtues of the book is the grace but thoroughness with which she totally buries Hannah Arendt’s portrait of Adolph Eichmann as an expression of the banality of evil, not only by the thoroughness of her research and the skill of her analysis, but by clearly showing that Arendt was duped by Adolf Eichmann’s deliberately cultivated deceptive self-portrait in the courtroom in Jerusalem. Though Stangneth lauds Arendt for her courage and the conviction of her clarity in portraiture, though Arendt knew far too little, and for her meticulous work, Stangneth overwhelmingly demonstrates that, “even someone of average intelligence can induce a highly intelligent person to defeat herself with her own weapon: her desire to see her expectations fulfilled.” An ability at self-critique is still the ultimate virtue of a first class philosopher and Hannah Arendt ultimately fails that test.

Stangweth demonstrates definitively that Eichmann was a man of vaulting ambition who did not inadvertently become a member of the SD as he proclaimed, but wanted with a desperate passion to enjoy the respect from others because of his membership in the SD [the SD stood for Sicherheitsdienst or Security Service in Nazi Germany and was distinct from the Gestapo). For his deepest desire was to experience the deep dread he could then inspire in others.

Eichmann was not the epitome of the bureaucrat who followed rules and kept meticulous records. He was disorganized and often tardy. More importantly, he believed in smashing conventional bureaucracy in the name of both a higher ideal, National Socialism, but also to set in place a system that was speedy and more effective by not following inherited rules. He was Mr. Fixit when it came to invention for extermination. He coined the phrase, “Final Solution”. Nevertheless, though not a bureaucrat in the ordinary Weberian sense, he meticulously kept records of denunciation files as he wrote, with his crude and simplistic ideology, anti-Semitic screeds. Unlike either Riggan or Mike in the Birdman, he sought to exude faceless power (akin to a Gestapo man in a long leather coat with his face in the shadows) rather than the desire for facial recognition of both Riggan and Mike, each in very different ways.

Not that Eichmann disdained recognition; he craved it, but for his name rather than his face. Riggan and Mike wanted recognition, the former for his face that had previously been hidden behind a bird costume, and the latter for his body of work as an actor. All three wanted and craved a reputation, but Eichmann for one that inspired fear while Riggan wanted respect and Mike wanted recognition for brilliant artistry. But all three were poseurs, Mike deliberately, for that was his art, Riggan to cover up his lack of artistic skills, and Eichmann to project power and status (hence, the black SS uniform and the riding crop) as well as erudition. For he was brilliant at convincing others that he was an authority on both Judaism and Zionism and that he had mastered both Yiddish and Hebrew when he only learned a smattering of each, but just enough about all four to deceive others.

“A glance at the modest means with which Eichmann managed to present himself as a perfect Hebraist, even to his colleagues, teaches us something about his use of role-playing and image-making. Eichmann spoke no Hebrew and only a little Yiddish.”

Riggan, Mike and Eichmann were not shy, were not retiring, and did not want to be subordinate to anyone else. Each wanted a place in history, a very different place for each, but a lofty position nevertheless. Riggan wanted to achieve fame and recognition out of costume. Eichmann wanted fame in costume. In contrast to both, Mike achieved fame by baring all. He did not even wear underwear when he had to change in the fitting room. The biggest difference between Riggan and both Mike and Eichmann is that Riggan was always uncertain and full of self-doubt. In contrast, both Mike and Eichmann were convinced that they had been chosen for greatness. Eichmann wanted fame as the exterminator of the Jews. Mike sought fame as the exterminator of himself. Riggan wanted fame for being an actor rather than a comic book character in costume.

All three men were known for barking orders. As the leaders of the Jewish communities that met with Eichmann attested, he “attacked them energetically, shouting and screaming and threatened to send them to a concentration camp.” He was no self-effacing bureaucrat who simply followed orders. None of these three men were capable of simply following orders. They were all artificers in their very different ways, obsessed with invention, primarily of themselves, though only Eichmann conceived of himself as the manservant of death who carried the sickle obsessed with the extermination of Jews. While he accused Jewish leaders of portraying him as the bloodhound who wanted to kill the Jews, he collected those reviews as if he were a director of plays taking great pride in both that reputation and his achievements. Riggan’a orders, unlike those of Mike and Eichmann, though he barked as loud as the others, were just as often ignored, Eichmann and Mike barked orders that were always obeyed, but Mike, unlike Eichmann, rarely obeyed orders given to him. For Mike could not tolerate constraints.

Pride. Ambition. Self-aggrandizement. Arrogance. Role-players. Image-makers. These descriptors characterize all three. But Riggan and Mike are Lilliputians compared to Eichmann who boasted, “Nobody else was such a household name in Jewish political life at home and abroad as little old me.” Paradoxically, a contradiction of which he was totally unaware, Eichmann was determined to exterminate that very polity in which his greatest fame was to be found. But the key is not the polity on which he focused his obsession with extermination, but his obsession with his reputation and the need for an image and public performance to sustain and enhance his role on the stage of world history. All three were united in an inability to hide in the shadows, an inability that would lead to Eichmann’s identification, kidnapping, trial and eventual execution.

What is often overlooked is how the audience is complicit in the deceit. Look at the raves Riggan’s play received from both the audience and critics in the film, Birdman – though it is clear that the play is a dramatic mess. The plaudits were for technique, for the ultra-realism of actually shooting himself at the end. The movie incorporates the laugh-line of The Producers, who, in contrast to Riggan, were intent on, rather than bumbling toward, failure. The production was a smash success. In every case, not just in theatre but in real life, deception can only succeed in partnership with the mindblindness of an audience. Even Eichmann’s Jewish victims helped enlarge the symbolism of his name as that name became more than that of an individual person, but was projected onto every jack-booted leather-coated Gestapo agent his victims ever encountered.

People who have experienced suffering, humiliation, and loss do not want to have been the victims of someone mediocre: that a mere nobody has power over us is even more unbearable than the idea that someone has power over us. This mechanism blocks our view of the perpetrator. It gives more power to the dynamic of symbol creation and strengthens the sphere of power by limiting our capacity for making clear judgments.”

Hence the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Hence the diatribe in the Torah against idolatry as the worst sin. Hence, false memories and projection of the deceived. This was true of even an intellectual as smart as Hannah Arendt. So why fault the audience who went crazy over the play Riggan wrote, directed and acted in? Why fault the audience who watch Birdman or those who nominated it for awards and will eventually cascade the movie with honours?

Am I putting down my wife and children who so loved the film? Not at all. They were taken in, as the vast majority of people are, by the artifice of technique and deception, by the magic of the movies, by brilliant and sparkling dialogue, by inventive and skilled cinematography and, most of all, by inspired acting and role-playing. Our great love of precisely those elements also help to deceive us about everyday life and of history. For artistry for its own sake, the preference for technique at the expense of substance, invention divorced from creation, is just magic.

Isn’t this an assertion of arrogance? Not at all. It is merely pointing out, what Mike was passionate about pointing out, that we all are small, meaningless and naked ultimately as we play our roles in time, and even more pitiful when we play a role obsessed with standing out and above history. These are but acts of enormous vanity. While we exert enormous efforts at playing a role that will raise us to greatness, that will give our life meaning, it is just as important, if not more so, to be always aware of how small we are and how fleeting and ephemeral fame is. Further, if fame is only to be gained by stepping over the bodies of others, better to bury fame.

Eichmann at the pinnacle of his success as an exterminator of the Jews is only a Mike turned inside out and directed outward at the Other. After the war, as he hid out in Germany and in Argentina, as he made plans to re-appear on the public stage, Eichmann did return to the world public stage, not as he envisioned it, but in a courtroom in Jerusalem where he was required to play his greatest role, that of a faceless bureaucrat that is only a cog in a murder machine that was the precise obverse of his performance in history. In the courtroom, he had his ideal critic as he played his new role for the most intellectually significant drama critic at the time, Hannah Arendt, who was totally taken in by his performance, proving what a superior thespian he really was.

Eichmann had to play the humble and pitiful actor rather than the costumed hero of his greatest fame, and though he clearly, in retrospect, bungled the writing, the directing and the performance itself, he nevertheless succeeded in earning an even greater status in history than he ever imagined by playing the role of self-diminution in a so-called banal murder machine. Eichmann desired and dreamt of being Birdman, soaring like an eagle, and not reducing himself to ordinariness, humiliating himself in his own eyes, but, paradoxically that inversion won him a role in history far beyond any that he imagined, as the purveyor of banal evil.

Mike and Riggan are hollow men. By bombarding the image of Eichmann with electrons in a super-collider, each is revealed as infinitesimally small positive and negative quarks, as the two very different faces of a monstrous Adolf Eichmann. Miniscule characters are magnified and revealed when we can see Riggan and Mike writ large as Adolf Eichmann. Even more important, the absence of the Higgs boson particle allows them to disintegrate before our very eyes. This can best be illustrated by sitting Birdman side-by-side Out of Africa, the star-studded Oscar-winner of thirty-years ago.

It would be hard to find two films as radically different as Birdman and Out of Africa. Birdman is set in the small cluttered dressing rooms, narrow corridors and small theatrical stage of a Broadway theatre. Out of Africa is as expansive as Birdman is claustrophobic. Set on the open veld at the foot of the Ngong hills in Kenya southwest of Nairobi, Out of Africa juxtaposes nature and the artifices of civilization, primitive Masai warriors and herders with ex-pat aristocrats largely from Britain, hunters with farmers, and the role of the Kikuyu workers and Somali Muslim house servants caught between these radically different periods in human history. There is NO nature in Birdman, not even human nature; it is all artifice, brilliant artifice, but artifice all the same.

The pace of Out of Africa is languorous while that of Birdman is frenetic. The sound track of each is radically different. The Music of Out of Africa combined traditional tribal music from Kenya and orchestral works by classic composers (Mozart’s “Clarinet Concerto” for example) with a brilliant original score by John Barry that communicated the transition from the tension between a tribal world and a feudal aristocratic order into the modernism of the twentieth century. In Birdman, sound designer Martín Hernández enhanced tension with Antonio Sánchez’ atonal “jazz” playing. Percussion had been taken full circle from the beat of the Masai warriors as they run across the Serengeti to a regular beat, through the background percussiveness of a European orchestra, back to drumming that paces a rapid transition into modernity.

In Birdman, instead of providing a steady beat for the warriors, the beat is very irregular and varied, tuned to reflect the subtext of each scene in the movie rather than set a constant pace for the performance. The drumming stops and starts, resuming at a very different pace to enhance the erratic performances of the characters. Instead of crisp, clear tones, the fractured and broken drumming signals disfunction, irregularity, tension and disintegration. The veld may have been relatively dry in the Serengeti, but was never emotionally dry. The drums in Birdman reflected the dirty realism of the Carver stories brought to a radically new pitch sometimes bordering on and other times breaching the insane.

In Out of Africa, the main tension is between a female and a male, initially between Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) and her philandering aristocratic husband, Baron Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) and then between Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), a man who refuses to be owned or possessed, but who deeply connects with the immediate other in imitation of the Masai way. He is as direct and honest as the Baron is deceiving and a reprobate. Whether, between the Baroness and the Baron, or in her love affair with Denys, the differences are clearly there, but, in each case, the love that unites them is clear. This is also evident in Karen’s connection with her Somali overseer, Farah (Malick Bowens).

In Birdman, we have a tension between male and male, not as in a boxing moving as a test of strength and skill, nor as in a buddy movie as a test of contrasting characters, but as a competition between two different forms of fabrication with radically different intentions and goa,ls. What we never have is love. What we never have is the injunction of E.M. Forster to “Only Connect” What we cannot find in director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s script and direction is a Higgs boson particle.