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Author Topic: Don't know if this ever got posted here  (Read 2417 times)
cigar joe
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« on: February 07, 2010, 12:30:44 AM »

Full article here:

http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/04/30/mystic_river.html

relevant section below:

Small Time and Big Time
Once Upon a Time in America
   
Mystic River is difficult to read correctly without extended reference to Sergio Leone's much debated, strange, and complex film Once Upon a Time in America. The films share much in terms of themes, situations, and mystery. The common elements are obvious: Lost Innocence, Time, Illusion, Crime and Violence, Betrayal of Friendship, a sense of Eternal Return. But there are direct echoes in Mystic River of Leone's film. They are two films that use a Proustian recherche as their dramatic engine. What is explicit and symbolic in Leone is implicit and whispered (and sometimes offscreen) in Mystic River. Both movies give us counter-indications that should make us question their “obvious” story. Both filmmakers are bent on troubling the dream/narrative.

David “Noodles” Aaronson (Robert de Niro) is a small-time hood, suspended in time. He is lured out of temporal exile by dark psychological forces that are not immediately clear. He seems to have a deadly betrayal on his conscience. It's an old story: friendship or family ties crushed in the maw of the business of crime. That's why Gangster films are always transparent critiques of Capitalism. Gangsters are capitalists. Period. With them business ultimately has to come first.

As the audience journeys with Noodles into his past though the vehicle of his future, Leone builds up an expectation of some narrative revelation. Everyone wants a “Rosebud” moment from Leone. But he confounds that expectation. The end sends us back to the beginning like in Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) but we now doubt the information we've been given. What Leone found fascinating about the source material and the “Harry Grey” character was the tension between the recollected memories and the cliched, obviously invented material. Was this some protective device, Leone wondered, some Brechtian distancing that would allow the bearer of dangerous memories to navigate, in the guise of fiction, the territory of his past?

The reason we must suspect the story that Noodles presents is because it absolves him almost completely of any moral responsibility. He is passive, dissociating even when he erupts in violence. Time is his junk, and memory is his vice. He is a narrator, not a protagonist of his life. He uses events and people almost as totems, to buttress his shattered inner life.

Deborah (Elizabeth McGovern), his lost girl, says to Noodles, “Memories are all we have left” and warns him not to open that last door. What's interesting about the final confrontation between Max (James Woods) and Noodles is the absolutely rigorous ambiguity of it. De Niro gives no indication that he recognises Max, and though he is obviously moved when the pocket watch, the absolute symbol of the recherche, is produced, he does not seem to respond to it as a token of their lost friendship, but as the montage of ensuing memories proves, as the talisman of a journey though lost time.

The psychological levels (or screens) of Once Upon a Time in America:

1. An Author veiling his reminiscences in a novel. (The Harry Grey level.)

2. An inner core of “true” events and people. Elements that can be acknowledged without repression. (The epistemological level.)

3. The main body of the film, the elaboration of these “core” circumstances into a dream of memory. (The opium or pipe dream level.)

4. The guilt that forever obscures what really happened. (The level of Repression.)

5. The cinematic and personal dream world of the filmmaker. (The Nostalgic Level)

6. The repressed shadow story, never seen, that exists only as a negation of events remembered. (The level of psychological truth.)

Once Upon a Time in America
     Once Upon a Time in America
This hierarchy of screens is why, despite the many heroic critical attempts, there can be no definitive “decoding” of what has happened to Noodles. It is a movie made to order for the postmodernist malaise. Just as it was impossible for Leone to separate the “real” America from his remembered celluloid America, it is impossible to sift the truth from memories. What Leone is doggedly asserting is that memory itself is the opium pipe. Though we can only guess at what is contained in the shadow story, we understand that its source, like in Mystic River, is a primal loss of innocence.

That moment is the death of little Dominic (Noah Moazezi), the youngest member of the gang, the ensuing revenge killing of Bugsy (James Russo) and the first suspension of time for Noodles. As the others stand or back off, Noodles explodes in violence, an act that allows the others to prosper while remaining relatively clean. His time in jail separates him emotionally from the others, and marks a rift in time. From this point on there will be growing tension between the two childhood friends, Max and Noodles. It can only lead to a fatal confrontation.

In Mystic River, the loss of innocence comes in almost identical cinematic terms. A brutal, almost happenstance event, and a moment where children look on while one of them takes on the guilty burden of violence, both in meaning and responsibility, and who becomes forever defined by the event. A sacrifice, a scapegoat.

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« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2010, 05:59:53 PM »

This isn't quite right:

Quote
The reason we must suspect the story that Noodles presents is because it absolves him almost completely of any moral responsibility. He is passive, dissociating even when he erupts in violence. Time is his junk, and memory is his vice. He is a narrator, not a protagonist of his life. He uses events and people almost as totems, to buttress his shattered inner life.

The defining moment of Noodles' life is the telephone call he makes to betray his friends (which is why that annoying ring goes on so long). Although he has the best of intentions when making that call, Noodles' act results in the death of his friends (or apparently so). It also makes Noodles an outcast: he literally becomes the Wandering Jew. During his banishment he does not seek to absolve himself of his crime. Rather, he embraces his betrayal, and if there is any totem that Noodles clings to, it is that. So important to his own self identity does that betrayal become that when Max returns from the dead to offer him absolution in the form of an alternative interpretation of events, Noodles rejects it. There is a perverse logic at work here: as long a Noodles feels that he is the betrayer, then he knows that his friends, and especially Max, are blameless, and so can continue to cherish their memories. It is this complex psychology of the main character that the film gradually reveals.

This is kind of an important part of the movie, and the fact that the Senses of Cinema guy doesn't get it makes his whole critique suspect.

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