Monday, July 1, 2013

Laughing at death: Scoop (2006) and ParaNorman (2012)

Woody Allen's Scoop starts with a funeral where we're introduced to the departed as a great journalist; and then we see what a great dedicated journalist he is: on the boat to the underworld, he gets a scoop from another dead person--and to make sure that the story gets out, he escapes from death multiple times, just as he previously escaped from other tight situations (according to the funeral-goers who toast him). It just so happens that, for no real good reason, he appears to student journalist Sondra Pransky in a magic trick performed by Sid Waterman (and later to Pransky elsewhere and later to Sid both in the magic trick and outside it). That's the whole gimme of the situation: ghost with scoop gives it to amateurs who don't really belong in the sleuthing or journalism business.

Most of the film is classic Woody Allen "fish out of water" comedy (which really began with his stand-up jokes, like the one where he tries to blend in at a KKK rally and gives himself away by pledging money). Sondra and Sid schmooze with the British elite, pretending to be rich Americans. (Usually you would want to avoid giving two characters names with the same initial, but since Sondra goes undercover as "Jade" and since one of them is Scarlett Johansson, it's easy to tell them apart.) Only Sid is terrible at blending in since he falls back all the time on his magic and his patter.

So when (spoiler) Sid dies, he appears on the same boat that we saw at the beginning. And where the journalist kept doing journalism after his death, Sid continues to do his magic and his patter. Death may be a dark boat ride through an unknown sea, but it's also just the same-old-same-old. You do in death what you loved doing in life.

Which is a funny take for a murder mystery: death isn't all that big a deal.

ParaNorman takes a similar position on death in some regards, by flipping some of what we expect. That is, Norman is given the task of performing a ritual to keep some terrible horror from occurring--and when he falls, seven Puritan zombies rise from the dead. Pretty bad, right?

Well, actually, that's pretty bad news for the zombies. The curse is less on the living people than on the undead people: their rising from the dead is a big problem for them, since they just want to rest. And also, because when they show up in town, they are quickly set on by the humans. This is one of those movies where the end seems to be "the monsters were humans all along."

But that's cliche irony at this point. Let's instead say that, as a movie with a direct moral for kids (be tolerant of difference, both in others and in yourself), there's a subtheme here about adapting to strange circumstances. The zombies are stuck in a loop and out of their own time--bonus points for their recoiling in horror at the permissiveness of current society. But the living can adapt and change and find new solutions to old problems.

The main problem with death is that you end up stuck, like the aviatrix pierced by the tree or the gangster with the cement overshoes.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah. I enjoyed "Paranorman" much more than I thought I would. Very well done and clever.

    "Scoop"? Not so much enjoyment. It was difficult since I can't stand Woody Allen as a person and can't separate that from his work.