Film Crit Hulk Smash: GREEN ROOM And The Joys Of Active Agency

Neo-Nazis and adept dramatic stand-offs. Together at last!

JEREMY SAULNIER'S GREEN ROOM IS BEYOND EXCELLENT. JUST A GRUESOME, TIGHT, LITTLE THRILLER AND IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT, DO YOURSELF A FAVOR AND MAKE THAT HAPPEN STRAIGHT AWAY. THERE'S A LOT OF NICE CRAFT THINGS GOING ON IN THE FILM, BUT ON THE WRITING LEVEL THERE'S ONE THING HULK REALLY WANTS TO POINT OUT ABOVE ALL ELSE. IT DOES SOMETHING REALLY WELL THAT WE SADLY OFTEN DON'T SEE IN MODERN MOVIES, AND THAT IS THE FILM'S WONDERFUL USE OF "ACTIVE AGENCY."

NOW, HULK TALKS ABOUT THE NOTION OF DRAMA A LOT IN THESE ARTICLES BECAUSE IT IS ANOTHER ONE OF THOSE THINGS TODAY'S MOVIES ARE NOT SO HOT AT. SURE, A LOT OF FILMMAKERS MAY HAVE A VAGUE SENSE OF STORY, EMOTION, MOOD, OR TONAL EXECUTION, BUT DRAMA IS A VERY SPECIFIC THING THAT IS BUILT OFF PURE FUNCTION. BECAUSE DRAMA IS ALL ABOUT TAKING THE ACTIVE MOTIVATIONS OF THE CHARACTERS / PLOTTING AND SETTING THEM AGAINST EACH OTHER IN A WAY THAT MAKES THE AUDIENCE BOTH UNDERSTAND THE INHERENT TENSION OF A SCENE AND THEN EXACERBATING THEM. IT'S ALL HOW YOU SET A GOOD FOUNDATION OF ROOTING INTEREST AND CLEARLY-DEFINED CONFLICT BEFORE YOU GET INTO ALL THAT TIGHT, GRIPPING FILMMAKING STUFF THAT PROVIDES THE TEXTURE. AND IN WRITING, THERE ARE A LOT OF GOOD WAYS TO MAXIMIZE THAT DRAMA.

THE MOST POPULAR IS WHAT HULK CALLS "UNDER THE THUMB" TENSION. CASE IN POINT, WHEN HULK FIRST HEARD THE ONE SENTENCE PITCH OF GREEN ROOM IT WAS THIS: "SOME KIDS GET INTO AN ALTERCATION WITH NEO NAZIS IN A PUNK SHOW GREEN ROOM, AND IT'S TENSE AS FUCK." WHICH SOUNDED GREAT, BUT HULK IMAGINED IT WOULD PROBABLY USE THE UNDER THE THUMB TACTIC, IN WHICH YOU TAKE A BUNCH OF WEAKER, LIKABLE CHARACTERS AND YOU PUT THEM IN A HOPELESSLY OUTMATCHED SITUATION AND KEEP TURNING THE SCREWS ON THEM. IT'S COMPLETELY ABOUT THAT CRUSHING POWER DYNAMIC AND MILKING THE TENSION (EFFECTIVELY, YOU'RE POINTING A GUN AT A KITTEN). YOU SEE THIS IN A LOT OF HORROR MOVIES, BECAUSE IT'S ALWAYS A BUNCH OF UNSUSPECTING KIDS WHO ARE IN OVER THEIR HEADS AND THEY KEEP GETTING TAKEN BY SURPRISE OR BACKED INTO TIGHTER AND TIGHTER CORNERS AND SOMEHOW WEASELING OUT OF IT (OR, YOU KNOW, NOT).

BUT INSTEAD, SAULNIER TAKES A MUCH MORE NUANCED AND EXCITING APPROACH THAT IS TRUE OF ALL THE BEST "STAND-OFF" MOVIES (HULK SHOULD HAVE EXPECTED THIS THOUGHTFULNESS AFTER BLUE RUIN). IT STARTS WITH THE FACT THAT THESE KIDS ARE PUNKS AND THEY ARE NOT GOING TO TAKE SHIT LYING DOWN. FROM THE VERY START OF THE CONFLICT, THEY'RE MAKING QUICK, MORAL DECISIONS. IT MAY BE HARROWING, BUT THEY IMMEDIATELY SHOW SURPRISING TOUGHNESS AND GUILE. THEY DON'T JUST SQUIRM UNDER THE THUMB, THEY PUSH BACK, THEY PUT OTHERS UNDER THE THUMB FOR LEVERAGE. THEY ARE AT A DISADVANTAGE, BUT THEY FIGHT IT. THEY ARE BEING "ACTIVE." BUT AT THE SAME TIME, THEIR MISTAKES ARE BEYOND COSTLY (AND GORY). AND AS THE SITUATION INTENSIFIES, THEY KEEP DEFTLY WEIGHING RISKS OF BEING BRAVE VERSUS BEING CONSERVATIVE, JUST AS THE NAZI'S PLAY THE COSTLY GAME RIGHT BACK WITH THEM. AND ULTIMATELY, SO MUCH OF IT COMES DOWN TO THE TESTAMENT OF WILL.

WHAT THIS ALL HIGHLIGHTS IS THE DEEP DRAMATIC DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CHARACTER WITH PASSIVE AGENCY AND A CHARACTER WITH ACTIVE AGENCY. BECAUSE THIS MOVIE COULD HAVE EASILY BEEN THEM SITTING THERE AS THE BAD NAZIS TRY TO GET INTO THE GREEN ROOM AND THEM BARELY GETTING AWAY. BUT THIS WOULD MAKE ALL THEIR ACTIONS NOT ONLY "ONE NOTE" AND REPETITIVE, BUT PURELY REACTIONARY. INSTEAD, THEY ARE ACTIVE AND SHOWING A WHOLE SPECTRUM OF THEIR HUMANITY. THIS, COMBINED WITH THE EXECUTION OF THEIR PLANS, MAKES EVERY MOMENT PLAY DIFFERENTLY. SOME VICTORIES FEEL EARNED. SOME FEEL LUCKY. SAME WITH THE LOSSES. AND IN THE END, IT FEELS MUCH MORE LIKE "LIFE." IN FACT, HULK'S NEVER SEEN A MOVIE THIS TENSE THAT PLAYED THIS ORGANICALLY. IT HIGHLIGHTS SAULNIER'S IMMEDIATE TALENT: HE'S MAKING SOMETHING THAT DOESN'T SEEM CRAFTED, BUT IS IMPECCABLY CRAFTED.

THIS IS NOT JUST EVIDENT IN THE FILMMAKING (MEASURED CAMERA PLACEMENT, ECONOMICAL CUTS, TOEING THE PERFECT LINE OF STYLIZATION VERSUS REALISM), IT'S ALL OVER THE DEEPER STUFF. THE FILM HAS SUCH A GREAT SENSE OF CHARACTER ECONOMY. YOU UNDERSTAND EVERYONE THROUGH A SERIES OF GESTURES AND SEEMINGLY-SMALL CHOICES. YOU CAN FOLLOW EVERYONE'S LOGIC WITHOUT HAVING TO OVER EXPLAIN IT. THERE ARE JUST SO MANY LITTLE THINGS IT GETS RIGHT. LIKE A HORRIFIC INJURY THAT PLAYS NOT IN "REAL LIFE TIME," WHICH WOULD BE TIRESOME, BUT INSTEAD IN PERFECT "EARNED CINEMATIC TIME." WE SEE IT HAPPENING AND WITNESS THE CHARACTER'S HORROR. WE SEE HIM BEING OUT OF IT IN SHOCK. WE SEE HIM DREARILY (AND LITERALLY) PUTTING HIMSELF TOGETHER. AND THEN WE MOVE ON, FEELING LIKE EVEN THAT LITTLE BIT OF MOVIE-LOGIC WAS PERFECTLY EARNED.

PERHAPS NOWHERE IS THE FILM'S CONCERN FOR FUNCTION MORE EVIDENT THAN WITH PATRICK STEWART. IN WHAT COULD HAVE EASILY BEEN A ROLE FILLED WITH SCENERY CHEWING, STEWART'S NAZI LEADER IS ALL BUSINESS. THROUGH HIS MEASURED BITS OF HUMANITY AND INHUMANITY, WE GET THE PEFECT VILLAIN FOR A MOVIE THIS GORY YET GROUNDED. AND IT'S PRECISELY WHAT LETS THE ENDING SERIES OF MEANINGFUL, SYMBOLIC GESTURES FEEL ALL THE MORE EARNED. THE MOVIE IS JUST A PERFECT LEARNING TOOL. DRAMA. AGENCY. CHARACTER ECONOMY. THE WHOLE DEAL. PLEASE CHECK IT OUT.

THEN GO TELL SOMEONE WHO GIVES A FUCK.

(THAT SHOULD BE EVERYONE)

<3 HULK

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