Saturday, November 20, 2021

Zero percent APR or I start dropping bodies

Car salesmen are creepy. Now, if you are a car salesman, please understand that I understand. You are someone who is just trying to make a living, and you probably have bills to pay, a family to support, tables in constant need of food to be placed upon. You are a human being, I know this. We are all human beings.

But all of you are fucking creepy.

Now, DMV employees are rude, TSA officers are assholes, and fast food workers are indifferent. But you car-selling motherfuckers are creepy. 

You're creepy in the way cult members are creepy, or gym employees.

That's just how it works. I don't make the rules, I just do my best to keep my interactions with your type to an absolute minimum -- as in, hopefully fuckin' never. 

It's why I dealt with private party sales for most of my life. There isn't a need to be fake with one another in those situations, just one person looking to buy a car from another person, and you can be as real and honest with each other as you want.

But you go to a dealership, and they are overly fakeity fake fake with you, and I'm like "Dude, dial it the fuck down". Don't get me wrong, I believe in polite customer service, and I believe that whether you want to or not, if you're an employee in a field that involves dealing with people, you put on a happy face. 

But car salesmen, they dial it up in such a patronizing manner, like borderline sarcastic. Because I know, man, to them you're just another sucker, just another notch on the belt. To them, you are the bitch of the hour who will cough up the sweet commission that you were born on this planet to give them. They won't even remember your name later that night at their weekly jerk-off session, where these wannabe Joe Girards get together at someone's house and collectively beat-off to Glengarry Glen Ross or The Wolf of Wall Street, jizzing on the photo they took of you that morning when they shook your hand while handing you your keys to your new car -- the same hand they jerk off with, by the way.

In return, I then have to up my normal everyday politeness to their exaggerated scumbag levels. Now we're just fakes faking it up in the fake Olympics, and depending on how the sale goes, one of us will get the fake gold and the other will get the fake silver. And for some inexplicable reason, I find myself talking differently, using words I normally don't use in response, like "Beautiful" or "Top notch". The motherfucker's telling me how on a beautiful day like this, I should take my new ride on to PCH and I responded with a Tom Cruise-style smile, saying "Oh yeah, nothing like cruising down Pacific Coast Highway with blue skies and not a care in the world, brother!" 

Huh? What the fuck? Why did I say that? Why can't I just go "Yup", or better yet, nod in the affirmative with a simple "Hm", like the unemotional manly-man-man of few words that I wish I could be? 

No, instead here I am not being myself, and the worst part is that the salesman knows this, and I know that he knows, and he knows that I know, and that knowledge will only make his dick harder at tonight's meeting. 

Now I say all of this to you, despite the fact that things worked out for me in the end -- oh yeah, I bought a new car, by the way. I walked in that place with the swagger that only an 800+ credit score can provide, and got what I wanted on my terms. 

But it took forever and a day to get my way, and I know -- I fucking know -- that they already knew how this was going to play out. They were prepared to give it to me but they were gonna make me work, and these sleazy fake-ass fucks threw as many bumps, spikes, and roadblocks in the way, just to bolster the impression that I got one over on them. Hell, they were probably ready to knock a couple thousand more off the price, had I more stamina. 

Speaking of stamina, notice I've said "salesmen" this whole time, and not "salespeople" or "salesperson". That's because I've only dealt with men in these horrific trials. For all I know, female sellers of vehicles can be a whole other ballgame. I doubt it, though. They probably do the same shit, but because they have  vaginas and I have a penis, I'm sure I would have the opposite opinion. My 800+ credit score would be powerless against them. I'd probably love it -- and if these ladies were to draw a heart or smiley face on the invoice, I'd probably love them.

Speaking of car salesmen, the Terrence Malick film A Hidden Life has absolutely nothing to do with them, which is one of the many things that works in the film's favor.

This film is based on the true story of Franz and Fani Jägerstätter, an Austrian couple who live in the beautiful village of Radegund, where they spend their days working their balls off as farmers, and all that that entails. They have sheep, they have fields to plow, there's plenty of wood to gather -- sometimes in the snow. They have long hours, is what I'm getting at. What they don't have is a Walmart, and so one had to work a loom to create the fabric necessary to make clothes, and one actually had to grow fruits and vegetables, because what the fuck is a Whole Foods? But these people, they enjoy it -- because this is the early 1940s, and well, if that's the only life you know, well, that's the only life you know. 

But the Jägerstätters really do appear to have no issues with it, and in between their duties and chores, there is also plenty of time spent enjoying their lives together, and with their three young daughters. What I see, or at least what I see as Malick presents it, is a genuine honest-to-goodness life of contentment.  

Now maybe you noticed that I mentioned just a few seconds ago that this film takes place in the 1940s. In Austria. As in, the birthplace of one Adolf Bernadette Hitler.

Yup, World War II is in full effect and the Nazi party is always in need of new dudes to step up and defend the offensive regime trying to take over the world. That really wasn't a problem early on for Franz, who had undergone his conscripted military training under the impression that, well, he's not ever gonna be called up for service, right? 


But I'm jumping ahead here. For a while, we watch as the Jägerstätters frolic through and around nature, as expected in one of these movies. Franz is played by August Diehl, and Fani is played by Valerie Pachner. Up until this film, Malick's projects were cast with universally-known stars and up-and-comers, but I'm glad he didn't go that way for this one.

Now, I was familiar with Diehl, having seen him as Major Hellstrom in Quentin Tarantino's WW2 film Inglourious Basterds, while Pachner was a new face to me. But they might as well have both been new to me, so good are they at portraying these characters, there's no trace of artifice or theatricality in their performances. It felt as I were watching real people, not actors. They're fucking great, is what I'm saying.

So we watch as the Jägerstätters live, love, and laugh, but the looming specter of induction hangs over the couple, while little by little, the beautiful landscape surrounding our couple gets soiled by brown-shirted followers prowling the village, looking for donations to the cause. These strangers wear red, white, and black armbands featuring a bastardized symbol of peace. Even the town's formerly level-headed mayor begins to parrot the same kind of hateful statements made by the monotesticled vegetarian helping to Make Germany Great Again. 

It's bad enough for the Jägerstätters to watch as their fellow villagers take their masks off to reveal their true selves, but it's worse for them to imagine what these same people will think if they were to find out that Franz isn't too hot on the idea of doing his part for the Motherland. See, Franz and Fani are devout Catholics, so there's the whole killing-is-a-sin thing that he's not too hot about. But as more than one person tells him: OK, fine, you don't want to go into battle? I get it. So go in as a conscientious objector, and do your service as a nurse or orderly at a hospital. 

Sounds like a simple solution, right? Except there's more to it than just a simple matter of To Kill or Not To Kill, there are a couple little pesky problems that stand in the way of just going about his service the non-combatant way. First, all soldiers much take an oath and swear allegiance to Hitler; as far as Franz is concerned, that ain't gonna happen, because his allegiance is to the Big Man Upstairs. Second, Franz has been wondering that maybe, just maybe, the Nazis are evil motherfuckers doing the Devil's work -- so why would he want to throw in with those assholes?

You know what's another name for a village? Small town -- and all that that entails, which is to say eventually everybody knows your business. It's why I could never live in a small town, I'm a psychotically private person, and I'd hate to imagine a bunch of these local hens gossiping about every fuckin' fart I let out. They say "no man is an island", to which I respond: No fuckin' duh. But one man can buy an island, and as soon as I make my fortune, I'm buying one and ridding the rest of you people of me.

But I digress; this village, Radegund, with all of its loose-lipped residents soon gets the word out on the street that Franz is not down with the cause. This is initially met with indifference, but then becomes creeping resentment, and not too long after that, outright hostility -- most towards Franz, and some towards his family. 

I can see how some are offended by his refusal to serve, if they truly believe in what the Germans are fighting for. But I feel others are pissed for different reasons, like, maybe some kinda wish they had the balls to do the same, and maybe some are unsettled by someone daring to break the status quo. Because that's a thing: People hating on others who break from the mold, who do not fall into line like easily led automatons. 

Man, you want to read some fucked-up shit? In this Foul Year of Our Lord 2021, there are people out there who feel persecuted because they refuse to get vaccinated and they don't want to wear a mask when going to a public place. Some even have the audacity to compare their plight to those of the Jews during World War II, if I can somehow connect this digression to the movie I'm rambling about.

For the record, I am vaxxed and I have no problem wearing a mask. But I can see those people watching this film and thinking to themselves "Man, I know how that guy feels. Why won't these people see that they are being just as harsh on us as the villagers were on poor Franz?" 

And now some of you might have the temerity to say something like "Uh, I don't think those people are watching Terrence Malick films" and to that, I have to say, if you're being serious, c'mon man. Because what makes this whole fuckin' pandemic even scarier is that it's not just the morons, there are plenty of otherwise intelligent people who do not see the point in getting vaxxed up and/or wearing a mask. They feel it's overblown, or it's part of some conspiracy, or they just feel that science can get it really fuckin' wrong sometimes. If you see it from their perspective, people like you and me are the weirdos. 

I mean, shit, for all I know, Terrence Malick himself is out having drinks with Letitia Wright and Gina Carano and tossing babies out of windows with Eric Clapton while they all bemoan the obedient sheeple who are having poison willingly injected into their bodies because The Government told them to. I would like think he would know better, or maybe he does and I'm wrong.

Fuck, man. I fucking hate this digression. 

So anyway, "Different" is bad, no matter how you slice it. That's not my opinion, I'm saying that's what People say. That's why some get bent out of shape about, I don't know, people who don't eat meat, or people who identify as a different gender. I think they see it as a challenge to The Way Things Should Be, because it's too much work for them to go "Hey, maybe things aren't as simple as we want them to be". 

In World War II-era Austria, Franz Jägerstätter is definitely different. 

So yeah, Franz eventually gets called up for service. And upon arriving for his induction, when it comes time to say "I pledge allegiance to our one-nutted nut of a leader", he says No Thank You, and then the military police say "Come right this way, sir", and take him to prison with the rest of the traitors, captives, and mentally unwell. As expected, of all the residents, Franz gets the worst treatment, with the kind of physical and psychological abuse that we humans are just aching to dish out, if given the opportunity -- as the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment proved to us back in, uh, 1971. 

But I think it's more than just power-tripping sadism that the prison guards are getting off on, I think they share a similar hostility towards Franz that the villagers had towards him, and again, it stems from not being able to understand why and how Franz is able to march to the beat of a different drummer. How can he not simply go with the flow on a purely surface level -- you know, wear the swastika, stick an arm out for the Führer, occasionally shoot a Hebe in the face -- it's not like he has to really mean any of it. As we find out later in the movie, some people find or make up a justification for taking part, even if they don't agree with the war or its policies.

Later on, Franz is offered multiple opportunities to take the oath, and in exchange, all will be forgiven. He still refuses. Even his priest tells him something to the effect of "Dude, God doesn't care what you say, or what you sign on an earthly piece of paper, He only cares about what you mean in your heart". In other words, just sign the paper, and let these assholes think you're all about this Charlie Chaplin-looking motherfucker, while remaining true to your Lord and Savior. 

Nope. He still won't do it. And so he's in for a fuckin' ride, lady and gentleman. 

I've covered Terrence Malick's films on this blog before, such as Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, and he is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers; the visual beauty of his work pulls me in, and his existential, philosophical, and outright spiritual themes hit me hard. Over the last few years, I've lost faith in humanity and I've lost faith in God -- and it was nice knowing both while it lasted -- but if anyone has ever come close to convincing me that maybe, just maybe, there is somewhere we go after we die, and that perhaps there is a higher power watching over us, it's this motherfucker.

Because these stupid fuckin' preaching-to-the-choir lowest-common-denominator products like the God's Not Dead franchise or anything Kirk Cameron is involved in, they have the gall to call themselves Christian movies, but I feel what Malick puts out is the real deal because it's never just, you know, "Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people" answered with "Well, He moves in mysterious ways and you should never question Him because He's God and He loves you and by the way, don't be gay" followed up with some shitty low-rent country song on the soundtrack. Our boy Terry, on the other hand, knows goddamn well that Faith is a completely different thing than Certainty. 

It's why this film never answers the questions that Franz has about the pain he's about to undergo, there's never a moment or sign that there's somebody up there to give him a wink and a nod to encourage him or give him a heads-up that all his suffering will pay off in the afterlife. If anything, there's more evidence in this movie of there being no God, if one chooses to ignore half of what is being shown to the audience. Because as with most of his other films, Malick is contrasting the ugliness of humanity against the natural beauty of the world, like "Look! Look at the playground God has set up for us -- and watch as we play in it for a while, only to eventually fuck it all up by our damn fool selves!"  

This is the first time in a long time that he hasn't worked with master d.p. Emmanuel Lubezki, instead it's his longtime cameraman Jörg Widmer in charge of the cinematography, and yet his visual style hasn't skipped a beat. As with his previous films, most of the events are covered in wide angle handheld shots, under natural lighting. In this film it appears that the lenses employed are even wider than usual -- some shots border on looking like they've been captured with a fisheye lens. But it still looks good, it enhances the hyper-real vibe he's going for, and so long as he skirts the fine line between overwhelming deep focus and Wash Out's point-of-view from Hot Shots!, I've no complaints. 

In the past, Malick's approach was one of an artist discovering his film through the process of collaboration, rather than someone with a strict blueprint for the cast and crew to work from. The cast would often work without a screenplay, instead playing moments as if they were free-form jazz, with variations upon variations for each scene.

This extends to the editing process, where he has been known to not give his editors exact directions as to how a scene should be put together, but allowing them to put a scene together however they'd like. It's been said by many filmmakers that one actually makes three films in the process of making one: The film that was written, the film that was shot, and the film that was edited together. Never has that adage been truer and more fitting than in reference to the works of Terrence Malick. 

His freewheeling visual manner, with an always roving camera following the characters, remains the same, only this time he is telling a linear story, rather than a stream-of-consciousness study of the soul.

While I believe part of this was due to wanting to change things up a little and not get stuck doing things the same old way, I also feel this approach was a respectful choice by Malick to tell this true life story about real life people without the risk of straying too far off the path. Maybe some filmmakers wouldn't give a fuck about completely bastardizing some dude's actual trials and tribulations, but not our boy Terry, he manages to stay true to the events while still telling the story very much in his inimitable fashion.

That means there are still plenty of parts where we watch characters go through their lives while we listen to their inner monologues (which in this film are passages from actual letters written between the Jägerstätters), and there are plenty of jump-cuts during scenes, as if Malick was giving us the greatest hits of this particular album -- that is, if dialogue scenes were albums, and uh, you, uh, aw man you know what I mean, bro. 

I suppose I'm not spoiling anything by telling you what became of Franz Jägerstätter, because the shit happened back in the 1940s. He was declared a martyr by the Catholic Church in 2007, so I guess you can guess the end result of his refusal to fight for Team Nazi -- and if you still can't put zwei and zwei together, Franz was executed for the crime of not being a piece of shit. They guillotined the poor soul.

I'm not one to get visibly moved while watching a film. I don't cry at movies, and I don't really laugh out loud at them either -- I'm like Daria Morgendorffer in the movie theater. But I do feel and I feel well, it's just that I delay my emotions until I'm alone and then I express them -- unless the emotion is rage, of course, that is an emotion I will gladly make public. And yet, when I first saw this film in a movie theater back in January 2020, I found myself trembling during the sequence leading up to Franz's execution, and my eyes eventually got a little watery.

Part of it is that Malick has always had that effect on me, in addition to knowing exactly which philosophical buttons to push, he also has a way to build up a scene into a kind of crescendo of catharsis that I find exhilarating. Another part is just a reaction of pure empathy, as the sequence cuts between Franz being sent towards his final destination, while his wife back home reacts to the news that he won't be coming back; on the soundtrack we hear Franz reading out his last letter to his loved ones, while Henryk Gorecki's "Symphony No. 3" plays in the background. It was all very overwhelming to me. This entire film was very overwhelming to me, which is par for the course with this filmmaker, and so, I loved it, and by the end of 2020, A Hidden Life remained my favorite film of the year.

As I mentioned before, I first saw this in January of 2020, which meant I watched both on-screen and in real life, the citizens of a country giving in to their worst impulses and inclinations, due to the deranged ravings of a man in power who shared their ugly thoughts. Meanwhile, certain dark clouds from the East were beginning to spreading their contagious gloom Westward. And so this film also had the unintentional effect of helping to prepare my mind and warn my soul for the absolute shit show that was about to unfold from that point forward to, well, whenever the fuck this ends -- that is, if it ever ends.

I'm not talking about COVID-19, I'm talking about the way we wonderful human beings are handling COVID-19, I'm talking about how when given the opportunity to roll up our sleeves, stand tall, and show the goddamn universe the best version of ourselves during a global emergency, we instead have become an even worse version of ourselves. Somehow, millions confused their childish "I don't wanna" temper tantrums with a rebellious stance not seen since The American Revolution.

Hell, I suppose I should be grateful for this goddamn virus because it led to the ultimate confirmation I needed in my life: That people indeed fucking suck. Content with this knowledge, I no longer need to waste any energy or faith or tears on these people. No longer will anything regarding humanity ever surprise me, and the occasional exhibition of empathy, gratitude, and all around good manners will remain a freakish occurrence to me -- or a miracle, the way I consider someone saying "Thank you" after I hold open a door for them a miracle. 

Or maybe I'm full of shit, and there's still a pesky dot of light of faith in my heart that I can't put out. Because if I had completely written off my fellow man, I wouldn't have even bothered with those goddamn creepy car salesmen, I would've known better. I'd be riding a bike.