By David Millikan
I have seen both Leviathan and Jurassic World in the past few weeks. Leviathan has taken up residence in my head. Somewhere in there it demands attention. It is not asking me to remember its images and sounds. The greatness of Leviathan lies in what it is saying. It has that magic mixture or double genius of high art which joins the delicate touch of the cinematic craft with a deep insight into the human condition. It is prophetic in that it holds our gaze to something we might not want to look at. A world we recognise as our own, where our flaws have taken hold. As if it is commonplace, greed, veniality and violence have left nothing untouched in the Russia that Leviathan gradually reveals. There is no refuge from the corruption; friendship, love, community life is trapped in its embrace. The final scenes have the local Bishop in full gorgeous Russian Orthodox regalia, intoning the liturgy over the head of the obscenely corrupt, prominently seated local Mayor. It left me gasping for air.
That to me is a great film. As for Jurassic World, I wish I hadn’t seen it. I am ashamed I was beguiled by the thought, “It’ll be good to see how far special effects have gone”. That was amusing for perhaps five minutes. But it could not possibly redeem a film which has no honest bone in its body, no commitment to any enduring depth in the story it tells, which confuses sentimentality for sentiment, and survival against impossible odds for salvation. Annoyingly, it is riddled with the strangely hollow form of acting that has captured American films. Every move and emotion has been catalogued and a limited set of clichéd gestures isolated for maximum audience effect, efficiency of communication and star quality. The degree of melodramatic stylization that has now seemingly become routine is increasingly painful to endure.
There is the sniff of salvation in great art. Despite its darkness, a film like Leviathan holds up a glimmer of light that tells us that the present reality is not the end of the story. It dares to see with searing clarity that which we can thereafter no longer avoid understanding. Because of this, a seed of hope that the human spirit is not entirely lost to the evil that surrounds us is left within us, enough to shift and deepen how we perceive our world.
Jurassic World is quite simply about money. It was made for US$250 million and so far has taken $1.5 billion. That may be enough to corrupt the most righteous heart.