Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on April 24, 2012
The mind needs structure. So when watching films in quick succession, unexpected linkages emerge, like the strange thematic similarities between Hong Sang-soo’s The Day He Arrives (in theaters now from Cinema Guild) and The Farrelly Brothers’ version of The Three Stooges, discovered while watching them back-to-back over the weekend. The first is a critically-acclaimed art film in limited release, the second the lowest of lowbrow comedies out everywhere, and yet they are both episodic narratives about arrested male development, albeit in different stylistic registers. The Day He Arrives uses a teasingly complex script to lay out the alternate life paths its passive protagonist could have taken, hypnotically acted out with repetitive gestures and phrases. The Three Stooges, however, are active participants in their own destruction, eager to endlessly pratfall down the same road to get the eternally recurring nyuk-nyuk inducing result. Two versions of male stupidity, touchingly rendered.
The Day He Arrives is the latest generator of masculine regret from Hong Sang-soo, who has been mastering his elegiac deadpan mode since ’96, with increasingly fractured narratives. This one circles around ex-film director Seongjun (Yu Junsang), who leaves his exile in the country to visit his college friend Youngho (Kim Sang-joong) in Seoul. He says, “I’m not going to meet anyone but him”, which of course means that everyone on the street is a former lover or fan, forcing him to relive all the fumbling mistakes of his past. As Seongjun walks in circles, in a predetermined grid set up by the opening shot of an intersection, his past life starts repeating in the present. A rekindled relationship with an old flame from school is then re-enacted almost word for word with the owner of a bar named “Novel”. Seongjun learns nothing new, though, keeping his distanced, faux-romantic pose as he once again cuts off personal contacts and retreats into his shell. Though he idly hopes that his films will be “re-evaluated after enough time has passed”, he never deigns to re-evaluate himself. It’s a bumbling, tragi-comic vision of Nietzsche’s eternal return:
Seongjun is too oblivious to be aware of his endless circling , his flickering consciousness too self-absorbed and far too passive to gnash teeth. Maybe he would make do with a clench, if it didn’t strain him too much.
The Three Stooges are also stuck in an eternal return, not just of the endless recycling of television characters, but of their insatiable need to beat the snot out of each other, a trio of sadomasochistic co-dependents. Seongjun burrows inside himself to escape the world, while the Stooges slap each other to do the same. The Farrelly Brothers have examined all kinds of physical and psychological maladies (Seongjun is heading in the direction of Jim Carrey’s severely repressed schizo in Me, Myself and Irene), but the Stooges are the most sociopathic characters in their careers. A stupider and more violent Dumb and Dumber, which means, yes, it is a stirring return to form.
The Farrellys give the reborn Stooges an origin story, as babies dumped at an orphanage at the feet of the curmudgeonly Sister Mary-Mengele (a hilariously harrumphing Larry David). As amateur hell-raisers they are never chosen for adoption, and are spurred to action when the nuns are forced to sell the place unless they raise six figures in cash.
The trio of low-watt celebrities do a remarkably good job at capturing the staccato tempo of the original Stooges. Sean Hayes has a fine falsetto whine as Larry, Chris Diamantopoulos has the nasal a-hole Moe voice down pat, and Will Sasso does a nimble Curly, always the most balletic Stooge. Avoiding the baggage of the originally rumored stars (Carrey, Sean Penn and Benicio del Toro were all attached at one point), these anonymous performers are able to put the jokes center stage.
Sent off into the world, the Stooges are as helpless as Seongjun, although instead of re-living past failures they establish new ones, including starting up a free-range salmon farm that flops. They attempt to insulate themselves from the world through their friendship (as the conjoined-twin protags of Stuck on You do), but start to crack apart instead. They re-team because they have to, due to the demands of Hollywood narrative as well as their own natures – they eye-poke, therefore they are.
If posed with Nietzsche’s question, they would probably answer “never have I heard anything more divine”, fools in love with their own foolishness, and when peeking outside the edges of their slap-happy triumvirate, would eagerly agree to stay inside of it for eternity, free to create chaos and baby pee fights wherever they may roam. Seongjun, an alcoholic Bartleby, would rather not participate in life. His Cartesian saying would be: “I think, therefore I want to disappear.”
MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
See more: facebook.com/tcmtv
See more: twitter.com/tcm
3-D Action Films Actors Actors' Endorsements Actresses animal stars Animation Anime Anthology Films Art in Movies Autobiography Avant-Garde Aviation Awards B-movies Beer in Film Behind the Scenes Best of the Year lists Biography Biopics Blu-Ray Books on Film Boxing films British Cinema Canadian Cinema Character Actors Chicago Film History Cinematography Classic Films College Life on Film Comedy Comic Book Movies Crime Czech Film Dance on Film Digital Cinema Directors Disaster Films Documentary Drama DVD Early Talkies Editing Educational Films European Influence on American Cinema Experimental Exploitation Fairy Tales on Film Faith or Christian-based Films Family Films Film Composers Film Criticism film festivals Film History in Florida Film Noir Film Scholars Film titles Filmmaking Techniques Films of the 1980s Food in Film Foreign Film French Film Gangster films Genre Genre spoofs HD & Blu-Ray Holiday Movies Hollywood history Hollywood lifestyles Horror Horror Movies Icons independent film Italian Film Japanese Film Korean Film Literary Adaptations Martial Arts Melodramas Method Acting Mexican Cinema Moguls Monster Movies Movie Books Movie Costumes movie flops Movie locations Movie lovers Movie Reviewers Movie settings Movie Stars Movies about movies Music in Film Musicals Outdoor Cinema Paranoid Thrillers Parenting on film Pirate movies Polish film industry political thrillers Politics in Film Pornography Pre-Code Producers Race in American Film Remakes Revenge Road Movies Romance Romantic Comedies Satire Scandals Science Fiction Screenwriters Semi-documentaries Serials Short Films Silent Film silent films Social Problem Film Sports Sports on Film Stereotypes Straight-to-DVD Studio Politics Stunts and stuntmen Suspense thriller TCM Classic Film Festival TCM Underground Television The British in Hollywood The Germans in Hollywood The Hungarians in Hollywood The Irish in Hollywood Theaters Thriller Trains in movies Underground Cinema VOD War film Westerns Women in the Film Industry Women's Weepies