Bow Down To The Big TOE


by James Killough

I don’t understand quantum mechanics/string theory completely, and I’m not sure I ever will.  Even the Wikipedia explanations lose me after a certain point.  I’m sure if I had the sort of intelligence that could appreciate physics in its full glory, if I were as passionate about it as I am about my creative work, I would no doubt be a firm believer, taking daily communion at the Cathedral of St. Einstein of the Atoms.  As it is, I get quantum theory enough to appreciate the meaning, and might be able to bang out a plausible sci-fi script on the subject, but it would be nowhere near as satisfyingly complex and taut as Ben Ripley’s is for Source Code.

St. Einstein licks a communion wafer crumb from his chin.

Quantum mechanics is the frontrunner for the Theory Of Everything (TOE), on which all orthodox atheists, myself in particular, pin their hopes.  If the TOE is proven, then our ratings war with religious believers will take a massive turn in our favor.  It will be like the final scene in that documentary about the McCarthy Hearings when everyone has had enough of Joe’s paranoid, delusional shenanigans and just gets up and exits the room, leaving the sweaty, evil little man to stew in his wrongdoing.  One day, which cannot come soon enough, God will be replaced by the Big TOE, neatly pedicured, devoid of calluses or bunions, something about which all of mankind can agree.  Creation myths invented by the JRR Tolkiens of Antiquity will be given no more credence than very Grimm fairy tales, and not even considered for the education of children in what should be the most advanced civilization on earth, much less debated.  Instead, they will only be taught creation facts with empirical proof behind them, which will be as indelible as a fossil set in limestone, as straightforward as a strand of DNA.  In the Universal Church of the Big TOE, all tithes and contributions will go to Holy Mother Science.  Jerusalem will just another pretty, ancient city, with no more “spiritual” significance than Toledo, Ohio.  Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, Joseph Smith and the rest will finally be acknowledged as having been no more than lovable Schizos of the Week, whom we took a little too seriously for a blink of our history.  And onward we shall move.  Amen.

I thoroughly enjoyed Moon, the feature debut of Source Code’s director Duncan Jones.  Starring the quirky, relatable Sam Rockwell, it was
made for just $5 million, and, like Code, was smart, thoughtful, ingeniously crafted.  The theme was similar, too (oblique spoiler alert): the clone of a clone of a clone is stuck in a mining station on the moon, forced to perform duties on peril of his life, a life that is arguably not worth living.  Although Code had a tepid opening at the box office, and is probably too confusing for the general market ever to make big bank, it is Jake Gyllenhaal’s finest performance since Brokeback Mountain.  Of this mind-fuck genre, I preferred it to Inception, but didn’t like it as much as Memento.

Sam Rockwell as a mining clone-within-a-clone in "Moon."

There is no spoiler in recounting the premise: a soldier is inserted into the eight-minute “halo” memory of a dead passenger on a train that is bombed in a terrorist attack in order to find the bomber and prevent the second explosion of a nuclear device in the center of Chicago.  Despite the fact my super-quantum-string mind, a.k.a. noodle-brained-writer head, figured out early on which of the passengers the bomber was and a few other plot twists, overall I was kept guessing as to how it would all unfold.  Yes, it had almost as many endings as Bend It Like Beckham, but in Code they’re bending time, not your emotions.  Gyllenhaal’s repeated mantra, “Tell me everything’s going to be okay,” certainly struck a cord.  I’ve heard myself say that a few times over the years while holding onto the side of the bed hoping I wouldn’t be swallowed by a black hole of my own creation.

Coming out of the film, I did have one of those hindsight problems with the plot: why two bombings?  With only one bomber, it makes it a bit convoluted.  But I can’t really think of any other way to have told this particular story, so it’s best just to suspend disbelief.  The higher the concept, the lower the believability, sadly.  While actually watching the film, my biggest issue was with Jeffrey Wright, who plays the gimpy mad inventor of Source Code technology.  Wright wowed me when he played the sassy, philosophical gay nurse in Angels in America, but after Code I’m thinking he only appeared to be understated opposite Al Pacino’s scene-chomping Roy Cohn; Mike Nichols probably dialed back his performance.  Wright might have some physical ailment I’m not aware of, but if not he is needlessly palsied and twitchy in Code.

The watchable Vera Farmiga has Gyllenhaal's back. The mnemonic in "Manchurian Candidate" was the Queen of Diamonds. In "Source Code," they give it a nod with the Queen of Spades. Cute.

The film looks amazing.  Cinematographer Don Burgess, who usually does unremarkable if fireworksy Big Studio fare, keeps the camera graceful, balletic.  Chicago has never looked so smooth and gleaming; indeed, it seems more sci-fi futuristic here without any gussying in post-production than it did all tarted up with CGI monorails and androids for I, Robot.

Don't cry for me GOP.

Speaking of attention-grabbing if somewhat hackneyed plots, the apocalypse continues to roll forward unabated throughout the real world, or in this real world, at least; it has to be better in a parallel universe, I need to believe that.  The Big TOE must really have it in for us right now.  It’s just disheartening to watch the rebels struggle in Libya, like the gang that can’t shoot straight.  It makes you wish for some kraken to rise from the Mediterranean, scoop up Mama Gaddafi like some squealing virgin princess and swallow her whole.  Reading the news about the fumbling Libyan rebels together with the sinking of Battleship Obama is almost pathos overkill.  Obama is like some relentlessly abused wife who stays with her husband because she believes he’s only beating the crap out of her every night as a sign of affection.  It was satisfying to watch Bush get smacked around, but not Obama.  Now that Oprah has abandoned him — she is not endorsing him in 2012 — you just hope that his story has a redemptive third act.  A more suspicious mind than mine might even believe that Oprah will make a run for the White House herself, if only to get people to get someone, anyone, to watch OWN.

Script Structure 101 dictates that you put the hero up in the tree in the first act, pelt stones at him in the second, then take him down, dust him off and give him a glass of lemonade in the third.  People are actually starting to mutter that Obama may lose in 2012.  My crystal ball doesn’t reach that far, I’m not calling it either way.  I always hope he’ll turn it around at the last minute; he seems to have a knack for that.  Or maybe he’ll plug into the source code and slip into a parallel universe, and let Hillary keep the barbarians from the gate.

Just tell me everything is going to be okay.

Comment: 1

  • oldancestor April 9, 20111:52 pm

    Obama’s chances of re-election hinge on jobs numbers and if the fundies take over and nominate an unelectable wack-job like Palin over some boring old white moderate who could actually win.

    Unfortunately, facts have yet to get in the way of fundie beliefs about creation, so even more facts probably won’t help.

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