Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Sun Also Rises on Homeland

I took a lot of English classes in college with the initial intention of minoring in the subject. Oddly, a school founded by and named for the King and Queen of England does not offer an English minor. According to an administrator in the English department, "there isn't enough interest in a minor" so they don't offer it. Because, like, you know, it costs a lot of money for the school to allow students to take eighteen-to-twenty-some-odd credits worth of classes in the English department, what with all the expensive laboratory space, equipment, chemical reagents, and the need for an army of TA's to run the labs. It's not like English classes consist of simply reading books bought by the students.

One of my favorite books from my high school English class was The Sun Also Rises. (You should probably read this if you haven't read the book and intend on reading the rest of this post.) It was my first exposure to Hemingway and I enjoyed the drinking, carousing, fighting, bullfighting, depression, aimlessness, and misery of the story.

The book was even better the second time around in Prof. Davis' "American Literature, 1912-1960's" class. He delved beyond all the obvious lost generation/raised baton stuff and posited that many characters in the book are doubles of each other and that the story shows that these characters are destined to their outcomes no matter what decisions they make.

For example, Barnes and Cohn are doubles. Both have wounds inflicted by opponents (Barnes was injured in WWI and is now impotent, Cohn was a boxer at Princeton and has a typical boxer's broken nose) about which they are self-conscious. Both are in love with Lady Brett but neither can have her (she won't roll with an impotent dude even though she loves Barnes and she thinks Cohn is a tool). Together they show that no one can really have Lady Brett because she's a bitch who can't be satisfied. And that's the problem all the characters face: they will never find happiness or satisfaction.

A similar set of characters is spooling out in Homeland, the new show on Showtime starring Claire Danes. You should start watching if you haven't already. The only reason I started was a free three month Showtime trial (shameless Fios plug; Time Warner sucks) which allowed me to watch the first few episodes on demand. The show's premise is: a Marine sniper was captured in Iraq in 2003 and freed from captivity by US forces in 2011. He returns home to a hero's welcome but encounters obvious difficulty while integrating back into his family and life in general. A CIA agent (played by Danes) has reason to believe that the POW was brainwashed and turned and now works for Al Qaeda. The POW does some really weird and questionable shit that lends credence to this belief, but I'd do some really weird shit if I was trapped in a hole and tortured for eight years. That the CIA agent suffers from some psychotic disorder (maybe bipolar?) adds complexity to the storyline, making it unclear if she invented the whole thing in her head. So far the POW hasn't done anything to prove that he's a bad guy so it could go either way.

The show is very well done so far. There's sex and violence but not as much as on True Blood or The Sopranos and it doesn't feel as gratuitous as on those shows. These types of scenes are instead central to the story's development and aren't over-the-top. There are some heavy-handed instances of foreshadowing but there are also a few completely unforeseen plot twists. I can't tell if Homeland is 24 masquerading as a cerebral show, or a cerebral show masquerading as 24. Perhaps there's no masqerade and instead Homeland is a cerebral spy show. Check it out and let me know what you think.


What then, you may ask, was the purpose of the foregoing literature discussion? The POW (Brody) and the CIA agent (Mathison) are doubles. Both suffer from psychological disorders that they must hide from everyone around them. Mathison must hide her illness in order to maintain her job and top secret security clearance, while Brody must hide his brainwashing (assuming he really is an Al Qaeda operative now) in order to complete his nefarious mission. Brody also hides his conversion to Islam, which may or may not be part of his brainwashing.

Both allow their work to consume their lives, and both are consumed by their work because of acts by Al Qaeda (Mathison was forever scarred by 9/11, Brody was brainwashed).

Both characters have problems with sexual intimacy. Brody's first love scene with his wife was no R&B dick; it was what I can only characterize as POW sex. It was not romantic. There were no lollipops and roses. Brody's next love scene with his wife is even weirder -- apparently he can't perform anymore and instead masturbates while looking at her bare breasts, saying something like "It's better if you don't talk." It's unclear if Brody's refusal to touch his wife is a post-traumatic-stress-disorder-thing (he beat off to his memory of her for eight years and that's all he can do now) or an Islamic-fundamentalist-terrorist-thing (he won't truck with no infidels), but dude has problems with intimcay.

As does Mathison. When she wants to get some she goes out and gets it while wearing an engagement ring, even though she isn't engaged to anyone, so that the guy she gets it on with won't expect anything beyond what he's getting that night. That's weird.

And if the building sexual tension between Brody and Mathison ever reaches a head (pun!) then both characters are willing to bone the enemy in order to achieve their goals.

If Brody really is a terrorist then he is a criminal, and Mathison breaks various laws every episode while trying to prove that Brody is a terrorist. So both characters are criminals in some regard.

That these two characters are doubles is likely supposed to illustrate that the line between hero and villain can be thin and blurry, and the side of that line on which anyone falls is subjective based on the viewer's perspective. My guess is that in the end Brody is not a terrorist, just a guy screwed up by his captivity, and that Mathison's dogged surveillance and pursuit of Brody will serendipidously result in information that thwarts a terrorist attack.


Speaking of The Sun Also Rises, I saw Elevator Repair Service's production of The Select a few months ago. Although not quite as good as Gatz I enjoyed it thoroughly and encourage you to see it if it ever comes to your hamlet.

I know that Dave hates plays, but that's because he doesn't like to leave the house; he'd rather slouch on the couch while watching his wife shovel snow in dominatrix boots and tight clothes. Perhaps this preview will motivate you to leave your homes and, instead of watching people do things on your television, watch people do things live in front of you.

I cannot stand musicals (which The Select definitely is not), but I loved the brief nightclub dance scene featuring "Les Petits Boudins" by Dominique Walter. Here's the whole song with music video circa 1967:

I'm surprised that Tarantino hasn't used this song in a movie yet. Based solely on this video wish I was a twenty-something single guy in Paris in the 1960's because then even I could have been cool. Anyone who's into pixieish brunettes with bangs and long thin legs and goofy self-effacing dance moves and French last names would envy Dominique Walter. And our brigade of brachyphallic bloggers has to love a song about a little sausage.

And I can't wait to blast "Les Petits Boudins" from the back of my station wagon at a Jets game.


Igor said...

I, too, was shocked when I was told that my thirtysome credits in English (with a GPA therein that wouldn't qualify for a major) were worth nothing. I, too, received a less than satisfactory explanation from the College.

Jerry said...

I'm pretty excited about that Giants game. And I also enjoyed The Sun Also Rises.

rob said...

gtb orlando mini-summit cancelled due to crime in florida and two old tired dudes.

T.J. said...

I'm not good at reading the books, but even I read and enjoyed The Sun Also Rises.

Danimal said...

so i hardly ever wager on nfl games...probably less than 6 all year long. have exercised great discipline this year and up until today has paid off. so what did i bet on today? new england. and not even w/the spread - the moneyline. that hurt the big russian. brady 31 or something and 0 at home since whenever, 20 in a row for the pats at home, 18-0 vs nfc at home going back to fucking 1922 or something...turrible.

T.J. said...

Tribe/St. John's post coming tomorrow. rob answered some questions about the Tribe asked to us by a Red Storm blogger, I asked questions of the same guy about the Johnnies and will post it all sometime in the morning.

T.J. said...

This Ravens/Steelers game...blah.

Jerry said...

Hard to believe Al Michaels didn't mention Sam during those Mt. Lebanon highlights.

T.J. said...

Well played.

Shlara said...

The refs in the Steelers game sucked. And I consider my 22 English lit and writing credits a minor even if W&M doesn't

T.J. said...

So the AD and the school administrator stepped down in light of this Penn State scandal, but Joe Pa gets a free pass? Allrighty then.

T.J. said...

And Shlara, um, hearing Steelers fans whine about officiating would be akin to me, a Yankees fan, whining about salary inequity in baseball.

Dave said...

wow-- a cultural tour de force. i will check out "homeland," but i will NOT go to a play (although that might be a way to get my wife to wear those boots again).

i did see a show yesterday-- the indiana jones stunt spectacular-- and the acting was pretty lame but there was an awesome explosion . . .

zman said...

I find it odd that a man who hates plays also teaches Shakespeare for a living.