To many, Anthony Bourdain was a hero. He traveled the world meeting interesting people and telling there stories over a conversation at a dinner table. A gifted writer, chef, friend, and lifelong romantic, there was some sort of intangible quality that allowed him to relate to so many from many different walks of life. When Anthony committed suicide in 2018, it sent shockwaves around the world.
The documentaryRoadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain combines real footage with interviews from friends. Early on, the director, Morgan Neville, establishes that Anthony was not only a lover of good food, but also of literature and cinema. Clips from some of his favorite movies, like Apocalypse Now are expertly woven in with clips from his own television programs. He was a man who seemed restless. A man who was constantly chasing something and even said himself that he was happiest when life was like a movie.
Make no mistake, Roadrunner is no hagiography. It showcases Bourdain’s flaws just as much as his strengths. That chase and restlessness, while relatable, can drive one to make manic choices, to isolate people you love, and become more controlling in an effort to make the chaos and suffering in the world make sense. In that way, Roadrunner tells the story of one man, yes, but also causes one to reflect at how we personally deal with the inner roadrunner. Throughout the documentary, his friends affirm that despite his flaws, Bourdain “had so much light around him.” Maybe he forgot that towards the end. Maybe we all forget that about ourselves sometimes.
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is now streaming on HBO Max.
I would argue Matt Reeves’ 2022 iteration of the Dark Knight should be read as correspondence from the front lines of the ongoing war between Millennials and the “Me” generation. Zack Snyder gave us Batman V. Superman. Now, Reeves has given us Batman V. Boomers.
In Matt Reeves’ The Batman, Gotham City is (as always) corrupt from top to bottom. But the choice to cast millennial Robert Pattinson as the titular character, and to place him just two years into his ministry as the Dark Knight, means Batman isn’t up against the corruption of his peers as usual. Batman is up against the corruption of his elders.
What is a generation to do with a hopelessly corrupt and unjust system built not by a foreign power, but by their very own parents? When staring into the abyss of this Boomer-built world, Millennials tends to react in just three ways. The Batman weighs the morality of each, and, from the beginning, we know which reaction Hollywood’s first Millennial Batman is attracted to most.
In the film, Batman doesn’t yet answer to any of his character’s traditional nicknames. In fact, the word “Batman” isn’t even uttered aloud for the first half or more of the film. Batman refers to himself instead as “Vengeance” and so do his contemporaries – including detective Jim Gordon (played by Jeffrey Wright) and Selena Kyle, also known as Catwoman (played by Zoë Kravitz). The question is: Just how far is Vengeance willing to go in order to live up to his self-professed moniker?
Vengeance is Batman’s natural inclination, but it’s not his only option. Selena Kyle’s inclination is toward self-entitled exploitation. She’s not apathetic – you would be hard pressed to find a millennial that truly is. Selena cares deeply for Annika (played by Hana Hrzic) – a sex worker who knows too much and eventually goes missing. Though Catwoman has “a thing for strays,” it doesn’t stop her from pursuing the occasional, targeted cat burglary in order to take what she believes is rightfully hers. Sure, the money she steals is ultimately blood money, but we discover that the criminal underworld she steals from does owe her something and they don’t have a single clean bill in the bank.
The Batman serves as superego to Generation Y’s collective conscience. He aims to carry out in society the traditional morality left by his family’s fading legacy. Catwoman, on the other hand, serves as Generation Y’s ego. She rejects Batman’s idealism and looks to satisfy the Millennial Generation’s strong sense of justice in more realistic ways. Gotham’s criminal justice system is broken. So, Kyle creates her own justice by way of the occasional score – although only to attain what she believes society already owes her. At least for the first half of the film.
Which brings us to The Batman’s chief antagonist: The Riddler (played by Paul Dano). The Riddler represents Generation Y’s collective Id. Batman inflicts vengeance from behind a mask, but he possesses a distinct, if not hazy, moral vision and there are clear limits to the violence he is willing to commit. As Id, the Riddler takes Generation Y’s sense of justice to the extreme. He resolves to anonymously deliver horrific and unbridled retribution to Gotham’s depraved elite both living and dead.
The rest of the film is a therapy session in which Generation Y must mediate between its competing desires to enforce rigid order, unleash infinite punishment or to cynically check out after getting what’s yours.
That’s why Reeves’ choice to construct Batman as more detective than superhero is a fitting U-turn in the history of how Hollywood has traditionally portrayed the character. Batman spends just as much time playing moral detective as he does homicide detective. He lives in a world where the only institutions that still stand are hopelessly corrupt. As a result, it’s not just up to Batman to solve a series of murders. He also must piece together a moral fabric that his baby boomer predecessors tore into pieces, discarded and let blow in the wind.
Moral dilemma ensues when the Riddler casts shade on the Wayne family legacy – Batman’s only guiding light. At various points in the film, the soundtrack employs Ave Mariato invoke the Blessed Mother – not only because Gotham is chock full of fatherless children (including Batman, Catwoman and the Riddler), but also because she holds the answer to Bruce’s predicament: Hail Mary, full of grace! Batman discovers the only way to rise above his parents’ failings is to forgive them.
In The Batman, Gotham’s perpetual rainfall is an obvious homage to David Fincher’sSe7en, but the rain also warns that a flood is imminent. In the end, there is no rainbow – no utopian resolution of radical reform. There is only the Prince of Gotham carrying a dim light in the dark as he trudges through the city’s flooded streets to lead a small group of women and children to higher ground (hopefully a higher moral ground as well).
We can only presume that when he arrives, Batman will trade in the Millennial desire for ravenous vengeance and instead dutifully clean up the mess left by his parents’ feckless generation. It’s a competent illustration of the true task before us and Reeves (a member of Generation X) should be lauded for his fair and judicious reading of two generations at war.
Here are two films with the same premise. The first is about a redhead who won’t leave her home and the second is about a blue-haired girl with the same agoraphobic condition. Each woman manages to witness a murder without being physically present at the scene. They report the crimes they witness, but their stories are met with apathy, suspicion and doubt.
The second film works. The first one doesn’t. Why?
Let’s begin with the film that flops. Joe Wright’sThe Woman in the Window stars Amy Adams as Dr. Anna Fox – an agoraphobic child psychologist who spends her free time spying on the neighbors and mixing prescription pills with glass after glass of red wine.
Through a series of unexpected drop-ins, Anna befriends teenage neighbor Ethan (played by Fred Hechinger), and later his mother Jane (played by Julianne Moore). One night, Anna hears a commotion and looks out the window to witness Jane being brutally murdered by her husband Alistair (played by Gary Oldman). Or so we’re led to believe…
The film’s central mystery is that Jane is seen alive and well shortly after her alleged killing. Only this time, she appears, not as Julianne Moore, but as Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Who did Anna really befriend? Was it conspiracy or hallucination? At the end of the day, you don’t know and you don’t care.
When everyone dismisses Anna as an unreliable witness, we (the audience) are inclined to agree. That’s all thanks to an earlier scene in which an exasperated therapist warns Anna that mixing her pills with alcohol will cause hallucinations. In other words, the audience isn’t fully invested in discovering what happened to Jane, because we saw Jane’s murder through Anna’s eyes – a character the film sets up as totally unreliable from the start.
Every protagonist needs a flaw, but when it comes to murder mystery the audience must 100% believe the murder happened.
Contrast Anna’s flaws in The Woman in the Window with those of Angela Childs’ in Steven Soderbergh’s new film KIMI. Angela (played by Zoë Kravitz) is by no means a picture of perfect mental health, but her flaws strengthen the plot without discrediting the character.
Angela works remotely for a tech company that manufactures a virtual assistant named KIMI. If you’ve ever used Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, surely you’ve stumped the computer at least once. In real life, virtual assistants use machine learning to optimize their interactions with us human masters. But in the film, KIMI employs human tech workers like Angela to sift through hours of flagged conversations that went awry. The workers review the recordings and help KIMI learn by adding context to the word or phrase the computer didn’t understand.
Agoraphobia isn’t Angela’s only flaw. Whether she’s brushing her teeth or meticulously changing the sheets after rendezvousing with a boyfriend, Angela’s OCD is on constant display. But so too is her desire to be normal. We see Angela optimistically schedule a breakfast date, shower, dress and gather her things, only to flake last minute after experiencing a panic attack as soon as she reaches for the door knob.
Angela’s fear and her desire to overcome it make the plot all the more gripping – especially after Angela hears a recording of an unknown woman’s sexual assault and subsequent murder. Those recordings jettison Angela out the door to embark on a classic hero’s journey, which ends with a thrilling “High Tower Surprise” that’s a cross between Die Hardand Home Alone.
Soderbergh’s KIMI also depicts an extremely believable post-COVID world filled with cloth masks, digital surveillance and copious amounts of hand sanitizer. We see C-suite executives conducting Zoom interviews in their sweatpants. We also see others like Angela who can’t quite work up the courage to let go of their COVID-era isolation.
What catalyst moment will compel these lonesome holdouts to finally give in, return to normal and again confront the world? KIMI ends on a hopeful note that suggests it won’t be the latest protest, Marvel movie or presidential declaration that pushes them out the door, but rather mankind’s innate desire to look out for each other.