The rest of the country may be confused,but you don’t have to be.
Ethan and Joel Coen have released an elegant, masterful, gorgeous, kaleidoscopic, fractal comedic work of unmatched excellence, and nobody knows it (yet). With a movie-going public stymied by an acute case of misaligned expectations, and another entry in the Marvel franchise to compete with at the box office, Hail, Caesar! is exhibiting an almost 2:1 ratio of favorable critic reviews compared to the public. If reviews were grades, reviewers would be giving it a pat on the back and a B-/C+, and the general public would be dismissing it with an almost hostile D.
Public reaction, and even Coen Fan reaction, based on a highly un-scientific study of various review forums, appears to be taking on one of (only coincidentally) 4 forms:
- Boring. No further questions.
- That was fun! I love that era of Hollywood! Channing Tatum can dance! No further questions.
- The movie-in-movie bits were fun to watch, and once or twice I chuckled, but nothing connected any of the pieces together, nothing seemed to be at stake, and all my favorite actors only had bit parts. What a rip off.
- It seems like there’s something going on with [the main character] Eddie Mannix in a kind of Jesus role and kind of sort of half-wrestling over the value of what he does, but why are all the movie-in-movie bits so long when they have nothing to do with Eddie’s problem? Why the hell is [some scene] even there? In general, WTF?
There has been a high proportion of comments complaining about the trailer. These include comments from viewers who thought that they were going to see a noir time travel kidnapping thriller because of the two references in the trailer to the kidnappers being from The Future. I am not making this up . Confusion abounds, and understandably so.
Contrary to these complaints, Hail, Caesar! is a master work, hyper-focused on a single central theme. All of the characters and action you see on the screen – and this is not hyperbole: Every. Single. Little. Piece of action and dialog – is reflecting, refracting, and bending back in on this theme like Light Everlasting trapped on the surface of some weird fiber optic Mobius strip.
Finding this theme is part of the puzzle of the movie. The fractal nature of the narrative in this movie begins to emerge when you feel like you don’t understand what you’ve just seen. What some of us feel compelled to do when we’re confused by something is: we go looking for answers, or the truth about what the movie is saying, and remember, this is a Coen Brother’s movie. If you’re a fan, you know that the Coens have an interest in exploring the big existential questions of life in an odd and often humorous way. So, it just so happens that this movie is about People looking for Truth. Not just some people. Not just people in Hollywood. All people. Mankind.
Yes, the core story of Hail, Caesar! is no less expansive a story than all of Mankind’s search for truth. About how each of us fits into the Big Picture. Ha!, you say, with a mirthless chuckle, would that it twerrrr so SIMple! Trippingly!
To help you experience this yourself (if you haven’t already), without mansplaining it like a jackass, there are these four questions that can lead you into the theme. It requires only that you watch the movie (again if you’ve already seen it) and evaluate what you see by asking these four questions. What you see here means not only what you see Mannix do. Its what you see everybody doing. Even the communists. Even the bartender at the Swingin’ Dinghy. Literally. Everything. Everybody.
You should be warned that once you see the central idea emerge, all kinds of lights and bells and car horns and bullets and laser beams and fireworks will (hopefully) go zinging around like gangbusters in your head. I am not making this up.
Volumes can (and eventually will) be written about what is going on in this movie. It’s another piece of brilliance that some people can watch it and feel like nothing is happening in it at all.
The Four Questions
- Who has been given a role?
- To whom (or to what institution) do they look in order to understand their role?
- Who tells them what their role should be?
- Are they fulfilling their role?
Its important that you think of the word role here more generally than the sense of a Hollywood actors role in a movie.
Now, take these questions, go out there, and be a star. This is exciting.
- “The nature of the Christ is not quite as simple as your photo play would have it.” – Priest
- ” So God is…split?” -Mannix “Yes…and no!” -Priest
- “So Man is….split?” – Baird Whitlock
- “Man is unitary – a simple economic agent. Mans institutions are split, expressing contradictions that must be worked through. And they are worked through in a causative, predictable way: history is science. This is the essence of the dialectic.” – Professor Mancuse
- “Would that it twerrrrr so simple” – Hobie Doyle
- “Its complicated” – Hobie Doyle
- “Shes gonna importune? Is that something I should be concerned about?” – Hobie Doyle
- “Respond to her line with a mirthless chuckle” – Laurence Lawrentz
- “You look at an extry…you just don’t know whats going to happen” – Hobie Doyle
- “Dr. Marcuse joined the study group and started teaching us about Direct Action” -Communist Writer
- “We each pursue our own interest. In pursuing our interest with vigor, we accelerate the dialectic and hasten the creation of the New Man Communist: Plus, we make a little dough” -Dr. Marcuse