Hey, everybody! I'm currently stationed here in Madagascar, and had the chance this evening to introduce some of the locals/expat-coworkers to the Brothers B. (as well as to enjoy rewatching one of my personal all-time favorites). In this rewatching -somewhere around the thirteenth or fourteenth for me - I noticed some subtle lines that I don't think I'd ever fully thought through. Now, the possibility - and likelihood - is that I'm reading further into the text than was intended by its' creators; that said, I think that art, in any medium, is the result of a collaborative creative discourse between the creator and the work's recipient, with the context of both ultimately forming the experience that is shared. This piece is certainly art, and had enough depth to be dove into.
First off, I would be remiss if I didn't thank those involved in the creation of this masterpiece, especially Mr. Johnson. The mise en scene, editing, costume, soundtrack, lighting, and pacing were all superb, with the well-crafted narrative and natural dialogue-style providing ample opportunity for the actors to embody their characters in a vivid and evocative way. Humor and genuinely-moving pathos are difficult to balance, as are the simplicity of a good story, and a complexity sufficient to provide new epiphanies with countless repetitions; I think that they call such a balance "elegance."
We'd paused to brew more coffee - quite the venture by lantern light - and I wanted to look up the "Diamond Dog, carrying a cup and a cane" reference, a Joni Mitchell line that sounds as if it were pulled from a hypothetical lecture by a young Ginsberg about symbolism In tarot... something I think Steven would enjoy. XD I stumbled onto this forum, and looked into a number of different threads; perhaps this was why I watched the postintermission section with some new questions watching right alongside me: is there a subtextual attraction between Bang Bang and Penelope? Was Penelope involved and aware of Steven's plans in the second half of the con? Finally, did Steven know in advance that he was likely to die? The final question was one I'd entertained before, to be honest, though I'd chalked it up to foreshadowing in the writing style. The three theories mentioned in a different thread made me reassess my conclusion, and the other questions were new to me...
First, Bang Bang, as this idea is the shortest to discuss; though the reference made earlier was to the bawdy joke where she sniffs Bloom's fingers, this is fairly balanced out with the innocent - or seemingly-so, at least - interactions she has on screen with Penelope, though it could be argued that feigned innocence is a bit of a theme with her character, and her more genuine moments correspond with a temporary shedding of that persona... if persona it be. Instead, the more conclusive source for any inferences to an off-screen context between her and Penelope would be her final scene. Her facial expression when gesturing to Penelope to call her - something that most likely means that she actually verbalizes with Penelope, though it might be a roundabout to texting (unlikely) - says a good deal more than just about anything else, as does the flick of her eyes to Penelope when Bloom entreats her to stay, citing that he "really needs her right now." Whether that glance was a rebuttal, a statement that the one Bloom truly needed was Penelope, or a subconscious glance to the only person upon whom Bang Bang had begun to feel a form of reliance... is a motivation of which the interpretation would be highly subjective. Whether this was an actress-driven improvisation or a directed choice, we may never know... (or will we *nod nod wink wink* Mr. Johnson?). All we really need to know about the director's view on resolving beautiful ambiguities is the fact that the film ends with the word, "Well..." XD
If Steven truly has completed the perfect con, Bang Bang wanted what she had, a clean exit from attachment, which is actually something Steven asks about in that final scene with Bloom. He made it his business to know both she and Bloom as well as possible, and must've reached the conclusion that departure was something she ultimately would want. "When you're done with something... blow it up."
The second question was regarding whether or not Penelope was involved the planning of phase two of the con, the Conning of Bloom. I'm ultimately convinced that she was, if only because of three separate moments that seem subtle nods to such a concept.
First off, in the Russian car assault scene, she has oddly perfect timing in gently pulling Bloom down to lay in her lap before a bullet arcs directly through where his cranium had been moments before. This may have been a coincidence, but it's also possible that this was a signal for the onslaught to begin.
Secondly, when Bloom is convinced of Steven's involvement from the amount demanded in the ransom note, Penelope asks "Would he do that?" This is either a genuine inquiry, or an attempt to lead Bloom into actually contemplating Steven's motivations for such a con (Potentially the line is "Do you think he would do that?," which would be even more convincing in that direction. I'd check, but my netbook is dead, and the campus power has shut down for the evening).
Finally, in the concluding scene, when she says that "There's this thing Steven said to me, once." When?? At no point in the movie is there a likely moment of Penelope and Steven having a one-on-one conversation, especially on a idea so central to something as heavy-hitting to them both as the topic of Bloom as "an unwritten life" (especially given Steven's sketch of Bloom's anguished expression, right next to those same words). A plausible view is in Penelope having a post-Mexico discussion with Steven, trying to understand why Bloom had wanted to brush her off so badly... and the two contemplating a series of situations that could lead to peace for him. In the film, Steven is the Writer, and Bloom, the Actor, while Penelope is the preemptive Autobiographer, writing herself into being. It seems fitting that the two creators would collude to instigate a situation in which the person they love so deeply would cease simply going through the motions, and begin to create himself.
This leads us to the final question: Did Steven know?
The most gone-over reference to this is "The day I con you is the day I die," and I'll admit, there is a beautiful symmetry between their opening adult con depending on a shot from a timid mark listening to those words that finally goad him into action, and the final con depending on the same. It's tempting... but there's another layer to it. In that moment that Bloom demands the truth of Steven, "is this a con, or is this real?!?!" there's this beat where Steven simply looks at him. We assume it's because he's hurt on account of Steven's lack of trust... but what if it's something else? What if this is the hinge point, where Steven himself doesn't know the answer to that question? Are actions genuine if you can predict the likelihoods of them in advance? The shared conundrum of the Writer and the Actor is whether or not the Truth must be Real. Thid seems consistent with the later portions of this scene, where Steven pulls verbal somersaults in order to mislead Bloom without lying to him, without conning him. "You said it, not me." "You did it, you're done here." "S: Play it like I'm dead, adds some gravity to the whole thing; I guess I'll see you when I see you. B: When? S: Not too soon, I hope. Last thing you need is me hanging around."
The only way to give a character an unwritten life, true autonomy, is to write the author out of the story. Steven wanted to tell a story so well it became real; perhaps that story wasn't the Death of Steven, but instead, the Birth of Bloom. I don't personally believe that Steven conned Bloom in any sense but to provide for him In that great dream, The Perfect Con; I think that his policy of not lying to Bloom and that genuine hesitation before admitting that the situation was real means that though the outcome was a forseen possibility, it wasn't the one he'd initially intended, which infers that Diamond Dog did indeed double cross them. This doesn't mean, however, that it wasn't a consideration he had made, and made his peace with.
In Christian theology, a primary source of the Russian symbolism Steven admires so much, a contested point of doctrine over the state of the dead and whether attaining heaven is instantaneous hinges on the placement of a single comma, a punctuation mark of clarification that doesn't exist at all In the original text. The story is told that Jesus Christ turns to the repentant thief on His right, and says, "I say to you today, you will be with Me in paradise"... or He says, "I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise." The difference between the implications of the two statements is profound, and it all hinges on a question of punctuation.
In a similar manner, I think that an allusion to Steven's self-awareness of his likely - and impending - end relies upon a similarly crucial punctuational ambiguity.
In the attempted brush-off scene in Mexico, he tells Bloom, "In my story you don't get the money, the sunset, or the girl"... OR he says, "In MY story, you don't get the money, the sunset, or the girl." Is the "you" in that sentence second-person singular, or a self-inclusive third-person general? Simply put, is he talking about Bloom... or himself? Though the former seems more likely, the implications of the latter scertainly shifts some of the central context of the film. I'd be interested in hearing some feedback/thoughts about this idea.
Anyway, I wanted to congratulate the team (quite belatedly) on a job well done, and if you've finished reading this, to give you my thanks for your patience. XD What do you think?