The Coming Revolution, as Interpreted By ‘Thirty Minutes or Less”

August 29, 2011 § 1 Comment

What pisses me off is that it won’t even be Socialist.

I watched Thirty Minutes or Less last night, and I’ve got to say it was a pretty funny movie, all in all. Worth the money for a quiet Sunday night, most definitely. But after thinking about it for a bit, I’m slightly disturbed by what I saw hidden in-between the “you had sex with my sister” and stripper jokes. Namely, that it forecasts a horrifying revolution driven by greed, laziness, and only weakly justifies the consequences for no better reason than the revolutionaries just won’t care.

Oh, and it spectacularly fails the Bechdel test, just in case you were wondering.

Dude, what's feminism?

Here’s the scoop on the movie: Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari (named “Chet” in what is the worst name ever for a South-East Asian character) are friends who live together. Eisenberg is a pizza boy and Ansari is a supply teacher working his way to become a full-time teacher (and, in a short scene, seems quite good at it). Eisenberg nurses desire for Ansari’s sister, and yadda yadda yadda, their friendship is strained by certain revelations. See above r.e. sister sexing.

You also have Danny McBride and that other guy who are useless losers sponging off of Danny’s dad, who, by the by, they plan to kill for his inheritance. To do so, they need to hire a hitman, and to do that, they kidnap Eisenberg, strap a bomb to his chest and tell him to rob a bank.

Hijinks ensue, bros are reunited, and women as characters are ignored. All in all, summer Hollywood at it’s more normal.

Except…there are, well, problems. 

First, it reflects the real fear among young people these days that we might not be more prosperous than our parents. Eisenberg and McBride are losers who live in their parent’s houses (something about glass houses here, no? Also, it’s not clear in Eisenberg’s case. He might not live with his parents, but he lives in a kick-ass house, so for a pizza-boy and supply teacher room mate that seems unlikely) with no prospects and no desires to improve themselves. Eisenberg is somewhat redeemed by the fact that his parents broke up under bad circumstances, but McBride literally blames his dad, a hard-living former Marine who won a lottery, for all his problems.

I went to Nam for this?

The best these champions of humanity can do is plan a murder-heist. Eisenberg, aside from being good at driving, shows no other qualities, while his girlfriend (ish) is advancing her career and plans to move away. How many people nowadays worry that they won’t amount to anything, because jobs just can’t be found, and which jobs that are found, are wage-slavery? Look at how my old job did full-time work: it would be just under the amount of time before they would be forced to pay benefits, overtime, and all those other things that make working at a low-paying job possible.

This generation, as represented by Eisenberg, really has little to look forward to. No, we won`t have good jobs. No, we won`t have permanent employment. The best is to hang on by our fingernails and enjoy our mindless action movies and beer while we can. Oh, and call our friend the “Man” when he actually tries to improve his life. Mediocrity, hooray!

The second problem, which comes from the first, is that this engenders a very real bitterness and cynicism in those affected by it. McBride’s father, the crusty old Major, spends half the movie berating his useless son but in the end when he’s literally looking down the barrel of a gun and told to sell out his son, he doesn’t, even when he’s told his son is trying to get him killed. McBride’s character, one of this generation, wants nothing more than to kill his father because he (wrongly) blames him for all his problems. His father, however, was honestly trying to kick his son’s ass into being something better, even if that didn’t come across over the years. In return for this, the Major is assumed to be killed while McBride’s character, up to the very end, cares only for his penis and his wallet. It’s one of the hidden tragedies of the movie, really. I wish I had thought of that.

But this bitterness isn’t unique to the scumbag of the movie. This scene, which you’ve likely seen in the trailer (if you care at all enough to watch such a thing), is the heist. Eisenberg and Ansari need to knock off a bank and in return, McBride will take off the bomb strapped to his chest.

I'm so delightfully awkward that I don't realize I'm promoting Anarchy.

The heist scene is actually pretty good. It’s a good mix of awkwardness and bitter humour, but it’s tainted by one scene at the end. There are assorted hijinks that threaten to derail the heist, and in the end, Eisenberg walks out and bitterly shouts at the bank employees:

I’m just a regular guy. You just fucked a regular guy.

We’re supposed to feel sympathy for him because here he is, thrust into a situation he didn’t want and forced to do something horrible just to survive. He’s a regular guy, a Joe plumber getting screwed over by someone else. Of course he’s righteously angry that the people in the bank wanted to screw him over. He’s the little man, screwed over by everyone. Why would this be any different, and by the way, how dare they?

But let’s rewind the clock a few minutes. Some of the assorted things he does before getting “screwed over” include: terrorizing a bank full of “regular” people including a young child, being the indirect cause of someone getting shot in the leg, threatening someone with death for doing their job, possibly blinding someone through misguided generosity, and finally, robbing a bank. 

This is the guy we’re supposed to feel sympathy for? Yes, there’s a bomb strapped to his chest, and no, I don’t want to see him blown up on the screen, but he’s also a horrible person for at least a few minutes. Sure, this shows him as a selfish asshole who really stretches the bounds of acceptable behaviour in order to save your life. But when he directs his anger at the people who are frustrating him, and not the root cause of his problems, it shows up as a brilliant piece of commentary on the American financial system as it is now. We`re too busy screaming at the people who annoy us and ignoring the people who are literally profiting off of our despair.

Of course, we feel less sympathy for his character (John Q he ain’t), but it shows us something important: we have a group of people who are disenfranchised, so much so that they don’t care about each other unless they are able to help them achieve their near-sighted goals. In a chase scene where they try to get away, two cop cars are in horrible collisions, including one that was 99% likely to be fatal. We are supposed to cheer that the protagonists made it out of there (with a pithy line or two to boot)…and forget that police, y`know, are people too. Real people.  There are no heroes in this movie. There’s only people scrabbling in the muck for a few dollars to improve their pathetic lives rather than, y’know, do it themselves. Oh yes, the two protagonists make it out with the stolen cash, which rather than honestly dump or dispose of, they fully plan on using for their own luxuries.

Truly, the proletariat were corrupted by the debilitating effects of capital. And by that, I mean that at best, the protagonists, the heroes in all of this, care about two people: themselves, and their friends.

So, friends, the revolution is coming and it will be televised. I just hoped it would have been driven by something like democracy, equality, or freedom against tyranny, rather than a Stripper’s boobs.

But you know what? In the face of a literally dissolving society, there can only be one response: of course, you realize this means war. That means it’s poetry time. This poem is quite sad, but I like it because it’s sad. There’s a peculiar strength in sadness that when it’s properly realized and harnessed, means that wonderful things can come of it. I’m using an oblique blog post to do it, but that’s only because someone said it before, better than I. “It is the way of my people to use light words at such times and say less than they mean. We fear to say too much. It robs us of the right words when a jest is out of place.” – Meriadoc Brandybuck, The Return of the King, page 167.

Apology to an Unloved Child

We, the world, regret the

unfortunate circumstances that

led to your untimely demise.

We assure you,

the loss of your father to typhus

and your mother to pain

Was not our intention, nor

was the rape by your uncle.

We did not check his references

but you may rest assured

that we will update our policies

so that this will not happen again.

We hope, in future, you will still

consider your time spent here well,

even if it was just a few years.

We do not know what will happen

to you now, but with luck,

you will be reborn White and

wealthy in a place where they will

love you in all the ways that we did not.

Respectfully yours,

I AM SORRY.

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