Friday, April 12, 2013

Lincoln (2012), Steven Spielberg

I didn’t have a proper conclusion for my two articles on Spielberg’s cinema, but now I found it with Lincoln, his last film, which happens to be also a good follow-up to my last post on ethics. I must say that this is not exactly a review, because I want to focus mainly on one scene that I will use to introduce a new angle from which we can view his cinema; in lieu of proper criticism, I’ll add some general observations at the end.

As always with Spielberg, his movie is an answer to a former one; in this case, Lincoln replies to Saving Private Ryan (among others, but especially). Both movies open on a similar representation of the war: in SPR, it was a long virtuosic set-piece of the Normandy landing, the most famous scene of the movie but also the worst. A little nuance would be in order, but with its presentation of violence in a frontal, ostentatious manner, this fluid camera moving cleverly around the scene, travelling from the characters to the gruesome death of unknown soldiers and back to the characters, as if this violence was taking place especially for this omniscient camera, which always happened to be at the right place at the right moment, with all this technical skill on display, well this whole landing didn’t seem chaotic or arbitrary anymore; instead we felt mostly the absolute mastery of the filmmaker, who was using all his ingenuity to set-up the most impressive spectacle possible (and it is impressive, but this doesn’t really serve the purpose). Lincoln begins on the bloody fields of the Civil War, but this time the violence lasts about one minute: Spielberg turns away from the war itself and heads towards his main character, a Lincoln discussing with two black soldiers. From now on, the filmmaker isn’t interested in the action, but in the ideas behind it (which, incidentally, coincide with his announcement that he will no longer make action movies).

Friday, April 05, 2013

To Kill Or Not To Kill

In the past week, I’ve been having a little back and forth with Joel Goodwin on his blog Electron Dance about ethical choices as they are currently depicted by videogames. As my answer to his last comment grew and grew, and as I realized that I was not arguing anymore, but restating Goodwin's argument in my own words, I thought it would be best to develop it here more fully, as a sort of addendum to my article on The Illusion of Choice.

I first intervened on his blog (on the last part of his excellent series on Dishonored) to comment on this comparison: “The ethical choice of Dishonored and Bioshock is artificial, as worthless as the "trolley problem", a popular thought experiment in ethics. Here's the cut-down version of the trolley problem: five people will die unless you throw a switch in which case only one person will die. There are variations of the problem but basically Spock said it best with "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few"” My main argument was that the ethical choice in these videogames is more meaningful than the trolley problem because they appear in the context of a precise narrative. In a sense, we should not considered these choices from the point of view of the player (what would I do?), but rather from the one of the fictional character controlled by the player (what would Corvo do?), just like in any other narrative medium dealing with ethics – and unlike the trolley problem, which exists in a vacuum. I still agree with that part, but I would retract from the rest of my argument now and propose instead, as Goodwin did, that this narrative meaning doesn’t make these choices less hollow. In fact, such a context is exactly why we should not even qualify them as “ethical” in the first place.