Monday, September 24, 2018

Remember the Caine!

Recently, there's been more and more references to comparing the current Presidential Administration to the Caine Mutiny, where an increasingly unbalanced and paranoid Captain Queeg's position of command is taken over against his will.  Gee, I wonder why?

While rewatching the movie, there were several factors that jumped out at me that went unnoticed at first.  It occurred to me that there were several things that would be completely different if it were made today.  There's going to be minor spoilers for a 60+ year-old movie, the general audience primary point of knowledge would be the MAD satire (back when it was first in colour, and issue number was in the double digits), who many would vastly prefer over the source material.

First off, the main major complaint that I'm sure many people would have is that the Romantic subplot is totally superfluous, distracting, and could be cut out entirely without missing anything of substance.  I'm sure there are people who've internally memorized the whole crew present during the "Strawberry Incident", but for the life of them, can't recall the Girlfriend's name.

The movie starts out with a clean-cut boy of high standing graduating from University who has great expectations and high ambitions, and is slightly embarrassed to be dating a girl who's a dancer.  Upon being drafted into the Navy, he suddenly finds himself onboard a naval M*A*S*H boat of sloppy organization and slipshod crewmanship, well below his expected standards.

Dismayed at the conditions of the minesweeper going through the motions, and annoyed at being punished despite trying his best compared to the lackluster behavior of the crew.  Willie is secretly delighted when he finds out the current Captain is going to be replaced with someone with more experience - someone who'll make the ship shipshape.  That is, until Captain Queeg starts exhibiting irrational behavior ranging from being easily distracted by miniscule details (focusing on a soldier's shirt tails over the circular route of a ship cutting their towline), overly controlling, punishing the crew for minor infractions, and ordering a stripdown over a key he already knows doesn't exist.

While Queeg's actions seem excessive, they're waived by his impressive history of past naval knowledge and experience... which is completely glossed over.  You'd have to read the book to know that, but none of that knowledge comes across onscreen.

So naturally, from the displays of cowardice, irrationality and general failure of winning over the hearts of the crewmen who've had it far too easy with their previous Captain, Queeg fails to inspire loyalty.  There are whispers of Queeg being mentally imbalanced, paranoid, and playing with Freudian steel balls.  And his actions don't help much when he freezes up when the fragile ship is assaulted during a typhoon, save for remaining insistent on staying on course, which could potentially put the whole ship in jeopardy.  So then the first mate decides to mutiny there and then.

And then the focus shifts away from Willie to Maryk, leaving the main active character into being an impartial passive observer.  Not very many movies would take that route.

If the Caine Mutiny were being remade today, Humphrey Bogart would still be dead.  But more than that, the primary identifiable character wouldn't be the straight-laced Willie, it would be Maryk.  After all, he's admittedly "not that smart", and was easily manipulated by Keefer to record Queeg's increasingly irrational behavior.  It's Maryk who's the one on trial for insubordination, not Willie.

For the longest time, I was confused because Maryk wasn't anywhere close to sounding like Van Johnson.  That was until I realized that he was named after the Actor, and not the character.  Much like how Jack, the Nameless Protagonist in Fight Club (I am Jack's utter lack of surprise), was re-Christened Edward Norton in some captioned versions of the cult movie.

As far as I can tell, Willie's main function is to show his transition from breaking away from his domineering parents.  (His father was the one who pulled strings in the background so he'd have a 'respectable' Captain)  And early on, when he was serving under Captain DeVries, he continually made mistakes that got him reprimanded, because he was undermined by men who didn't respect him. At the very end, he was asked what it'd be like to work for a crew that was constantly under-appreciating and undermining his work ethics.  He admitted that anybody under those conditions would be subject to great strain, clearly speaking from experience.

But those details are lost in a sea of irrelevant details.  The audience is expected to recall that scene of seemingly insignificance where Willie complained to Captain DeVries that would be washed away in comparison to the more memorable Captain Queeg moments.  The problem is, in between those scenes are the Romance subplots that as I mentioned before, distract from the issue, don't really go anywhere, and create artificial drama.  If the remake concentrated solely from the viewpoint of Maryk, it would be a vastly marked improvement, alongside the likes of A Few Good Men.

Hollywood Filmmakers nowadays generally pander to a lower common denominator, and Maryk would certainly fit the bill.  He's well-meaning, but gullible to armchair psychiatry, and doesn't find out just exactly how he's been fooled after the fact.  And there's the heightened factor of personal risk, when the audience is invested in someone from the start.  These traits would be a strong convincing argument for why Maryk should be the central character.

Losing Willie's personal opinion wouldn't be much of a loss in this trade-off.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Grading on the Curves


The audiable roar of an angry teenage girl could be heard roaring throughout the hall outside the faculty room.  Inside, the teacher felt a pang of fear, knowing exactly what this disturbance was about.

The door bust wide open from the girl’s exaggerated strength which only seemed to increase with every passing second.

“Oh, hello,” the teacher said, nonchantly greeting the furious teen, having regained his composure.

“Don’t act all so innocent!  I just read the latest news!” she said, holding up the latest edition of the evening papers.  The headline screamed “TOKYO MEDICAL UNIVERSITY WOMEN’S EXAMS INTENTIONALLY LOWERED”.

“There weren’t enough men being admitted to being doctors, so women’s test scores were lowered to make up for the loss.” the teacher said, explaining the headline, as if she didn’t understand.

“I already KNOW that!  But then, I thought, did you do the same thing with me?”

“You have to understand.  It was for the greater good.”

“Don’t play innocent!  When I failed my last exam, you comforted me at my moment of weakness!  And what was it you said?”
“You would probably be better off as a housewife anyways”, a flashback appeared in the background.
“Do you have any idea how humiliating that was?  It was as if you were saying that all my effort amounted to nothing.  That my mind wasn’t something to be appreciated.”

“I was saving you the hardship of being constantly feeled up and ignored in the largely male-dominated areas of research where you’d be put down on a daily basis, then quit and become a housewife anyways.”

“Maybe that’s because there’s hardly ANY women allowed in these fields, which would explain why their numbers are so low!  And what you’ve described is hardly any different from how I’m living NOW.  What was the REAL reason you kept lowering our scores?”

“It was felt that if the girls were seen doing better than the men, it would be a severe blow to their self-esteem - ”

“THEIR self-esteem?!  What about MY self-esteem?!  I spent every second of my free time on my studies!  Time that I could’ve been doing other things!   Reading!  Relaxing!  Texting!  Gaming!  Having fun with my friends!  And what did I get for all my efforts?  A slightly lower mark than the consistent top rankers.  What were my ACTUAL test scores?”

“That’s priviliged information.  You’re not allowed to know those ahead of time.”

She looked at the teacher with pure undisguised disgust on her face.  “For a society that places extreme value over school marks, this is an unjust abuse of the system.”

“Look, the Medical University need more doctors.  Too many women were entering the field and not enough men.  Besides, a woman is better qualified to be a nurse.”

“So have the women be doctors, and let the men be nurses.”

“Are you kidding?!  That’s a woman’s job!”

“Only because you let it be.”