This is a repost from myspace from a while back. Kayla and I had dinner with her old roomies, who I had never met. They seem like pretty cool kids, but after I was dissing “Fargo” they seemed to think I was some sort of cinematic reject. We also got to the subject of “All The Real Girls,” a David Gordon Green movie that is one of Kayla’s favorites. I hold it to be the counterexample of the movie I’m about to review, and wrong in every place that “Spartan” is right, a pointless piece of cinema about a whole town of timewasters where the smartest person is a five-year-old with Down’s. So, here it is, in brief. I was really just starting to get rolling with being a critical philosophy douchebag, so I didn’t have all that much to say. I mean, I was a minimalist.
Chillin' by the Hell-realm water cooler.
Why "Spartan" may be the best movie ever written
Heh, it’s the movie you’ve never seen. The one you picked up next to “Syriana” and said, This looks interesting, but George Clooney…
“Spartan” is the one that got away, but the other day I watched it. No shit, I really did. Now, I had put it down in favor of “Syriana,” so don’t think I’m bragging. I wasn’t sure what to expect, really, and what I got was a revelation on the nature of art. I won’t fuck you with the banality of a plot review, or anything like that. The basics of the Mamet-written-and-directed “Spartan” is thus: a competently shot and acted spy thriller, with dialogue that sounds as if it came from some occult ritual. It’s offputting at first. You think you’ve stumbled onto a Special Forces unit made up of Asperger’s sufferers. As the movie goes on, though, you realize that every single person speaks with the ritual cadence of someone on the continuum from novitiate to adept. In fact, the only naturalistic lines are uttered when characters are actually giving spy code phrases. How ’bout that, motherfuckers? Weird, huh? Here’s a sample, with faceless agent Val Kilmer saying something to his protege:
Scott: In the city there is always a reflection, in the woods always a sound. Curtis: What about the desert? Scott: You don’t wanna go to the desert.
I was taken with this movie and what it represented, but I didn’t realize what it meant until I hit the right chapter in Theodor Adorno’s landmark “Aesthetics.” Schizophrenic Adorno’s organization may be, he has the right ideas, and his judgement on effective art recognized the harmony or nonduality, the imposition of opposites. The visuals and plot of “Spartan” are the mechanical, realistic portrayal of life as we know and live it. Were you to extend this to the dialogue, it would either become a documentary or a cheezy sentimental… Hollywood film. Instead, the dialogue and acting of “Spartan” represent a formal pure artistry, ideas and expressions for their own sake, removed from conventional ideas of reality. What Mamet has done is blend them like oil and balsamic vinegar, distinct in each dip of the bread. Genius. And don’t even begin to try and understand some of the things people say. They are ultra-Zen, with no rational iron bridge between islands in hell. You have to jump, and you will feel the meaning burn deep down in the cockles of your liver.
Now, I’m no Mamet whore, but I will declare unequivocaly that “Spartan” may be one of the best movies ever written in a formalist critical view, a la the Frankfurt School.
At least, that is, until your next step in the initiation…