Les Revenants (2012).
It’s been a while since I ranted about zombie shows and how they fail to capture either horror or suspense. The idea of a half-human undead reduced to animal instincts and inexplicably drawn to human flesh is essentially boring. If you haven’t seen the stunning French drama The Returned, the screenshots above will have massively spoiled it for you. But it’s still worth a watch because the series is driven by characters, and the pictures above can’t do it justice.
I love how this series plays with and inverts horror tropes while building up an atmosphere of dread and quirky small town secrets unrivaled since Twin Peaks. The premise is simple: somewhere in the French alps, for no obvious reason, the dead are returning. Not all of them, and not en masse, just some of them, quietly resurrected by unknown forces and for unknown reasons. Where they’ve been during the limbo of death is unclear: the undead themselves simply return as if they had never died, expecting to carry on their lives as if nothing has happened. But things have changed.
The first episodes nod to zombies and ghosts: the groom to be who died on his wedding day is seen in the mirror by his ex-fiancé; when she turns around, he is gone, but only because he’s walked around front to knock on the door. A young woman is assaulted in an underpass, stabbed repeatedly with a knife before the murderer takes a bite of her flesh; it transpires that her attacker is not a brain-dead zombie, but simply a deranged killer who has returned and simply carries on where he left off. A fifteen-year-old girl returns after dying in a bus crash four years earlier; she is more concerned with her relationship with the boy she and her twin sister—who was not on the bus and survived—both love than she is with her mysterious resurrection.
Perhaps most affecting is the relationship between Victor—the creepiest little kid this side The Shining—and Julie, a nurse whom he attaches himself to after appearing from nowhere. Julie was a victim of the crazy flesh-eating killer, seven years ago, but survived, and she acts more dead than the boy who died thirty-five years ago. Accompanied by the gloomy, perfect soundtrack by Mogwai, we see the living more concerned with death than those who have returned from it.
Visually, it is as if the characters have been stuck in a Gregory Crewdson photograph. There is the suicidal bride-to-be who has second thoughts about her upcoming marriage to the local police chief when her groom from the past, the depressive musician who committed suicide on their wedding day, returns from the dead. He wants to run away with their daughter, the daughter who was still in the womb when he died, while she vacillates between her two suitors, and their daughter is caught between them: on the one hand, there is the father she knows, the father who raised her; on the other side, the “angel” who has returned, her biological father. Did he kill himself because of her? In an early flashback, we see Adele, the bride, tell Simon, her groom, that she is pregnant. It is the day of their wedding; hours later, Simon fails to show up at the altar, having chosen to end his life.
The town itself becomes a character: nestled in the Alps somewhere, below a great dam where the water is steadily disappearing. In town, people congregate around local islands of Americana. There is the Lake Pub, the local watering hole; there is an American Diner where Simon, broke and hungry and rejected by his lover, assaults the owner after he refuses to give him a piece of bread. The dam looms over the town; it transpires that thirty years past, the old dam broke and took the town and many of its inhabitants with it. The Sun is always setting; every scene is shrouded in twilight.
The living attempt to use the return of the dead for their own purposes. There is Pierre, a charismatic religious leader who runs the local shelter for the needy; he is convinced the dead are a sign of the Apocalypse, and attempts to use Camille, the revived teenager, to instill hope in the parents of the other children who died in the bus crash. But there is no hope in this town. Sandrine, mother of one of the other kids, views Camille as a monster and appears to blame her for the crash. Why did she return, and not her own daughter? When Pierre convinces Camille to lie to the parents about her experience, pretending to have communicated with the spirits of the other kids, two parents decide to end their lives by hanging, assured that they will be reunited with their dead son. And then there’s the clairvoyant woman, Lucy, who sees the dead relatives of the men she sleeps with, and who comes back from the dead herself after she is attacked by Serge, the killer—who was himself killed by his brother, who could not bear turning in his own kin to the police and decided to take matters in his own hands.
The tangled mess of character relations described above develops organically throughout the eight-episode series; no synopsis can do it justice. As the series approaches the finale, unfortunately, the plot starts veering towards the very tropes it had so much fun with in the beginning. More dead return, but they are inexplicably reduced to animals, foraging for food in the woods and lapping water from toilet bowls like dogs. I understand the need for resolution, but not why the perfect rendition of the dead as simply having come to life as if they never died is thrown out in favor of zombified animals. The revenants start rotting, becoming living corpses; the horde of undead, lead by Lucy, the sexually clairvoyant, start pushing to reclaim the revenants for their own nebulous purposes.
Overall, the show is stunning, sinister, moving—and ends on an unresolved note that begs for another season, unfortunately. Having binged on the first eight episodes, I’m looking forward to the second season which is reportedly in production, but at the same time, I wonder why the writers couldn’t simply wrap it up while they were still ahead. I hope they do; I hope they manage to tie the loose ends together in a way that rests on the characters and their relationships, the way it started.
My issue with zombies, in case you couldn’t be bothered to read my old rant, is that they’re boring. As monsters, they aren’t scarier than bears or Chupacabras; robbed of their humanity, they also lose all character, and although there is some emotional potential in the sorrow of seeing your own relatives reduced to mindless, flesh-hungry animals, it feels like an issue that is resolved before it’s even introduced. Shows like The Walking Dead are pulpy, boring apocalypses; I’d rather have the emotional ambiguity of Les Revenants.
Zombies are body horror. Revenants builds its horror on the scariest things in the world: the fear of the unknown, the chaotic world we live in which appears to have been left by any gods who may have once been present to set it all in motion—the feeling of wasting away not having lived while alive. July, the nurse, is perhaps the character I connect most with. In one of the last episodes, she confides to her former lover, police lieutenant Laure, that she fears she is one of the revenants. After all, she flatlined before reviving after having been attacked by Serge, many years ago. But more than being an undead, she fears life itself: because if she is not undead, if she is actually alive, then why does she live as if she were already dead?
I’m in my early twenties myself, but approaching the middle; in depressive moments, I feel like I’ve wasted my life, my potential, and soon I’ll be dead and I’ll have missed out on life while I had it. Religion doesn’t appeal to me, I have no purpose. At least if I were dead I’d have an excuse for not living.
Luckily, those moments are fewer now than they were some months ago; I’m making moves, picking schools, trying to do something in life. Impersonating a living, charismatic artist in the hopes that one day the fiction will have become real by osmosis with the lie. If you live a “lie” long enough, a lie that you are a real, successful person, at least a person going somewhere in life, perhaps one day you’ll realize—I’ll realize—that the lie was real all along.
Tapping into that fear is my kind of horror.Mar 25, 2014
My grandmother, ~1934Mar 20, 2014
So yeah I made a stock photograph for hashtag existentialdespair. Can also be had in an ultra-grainy version that looks just like you just casually instagrammed yourself… apparently naked… in a despairing pose in a room lit only by an ominous light source angled from above. But for that you’ll have to add one small millibitcoin to the already quite cheap price of absolutely free. Yolo swag four twenty out peace folks.Mar 13, 2014
The gods condemned Sisyphus forever to push a heavy rock up a steep hill. But each time the rock reaches the top, it rolls back down, and Sisyphus must walk down and repeat his labor towards the top. In The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus takes an existentialist look at life, and tries to use the myth of Sisyphus to illustrate human life. In the end, says Camus, we must imagine Sisyphus happy: “
Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." Camus wrote the whole book to defend this proposition. But to me, he never really justifies Sisyphus’ happiness. Leaving Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain, I cannot imagine him happy.
I’ve been neglecting this blog for some time. When I’ve posted something, it’s usually been something short and light. I’ve been, and am, preoccupied with learning to like life and being around people as a human being again. I hope that I’ll get to a point beyond where I’ve ever been, a point where I can look down from the top of the mountain at all the years I’ve been keeping this blog running, and not fall down. That has been my pattern in life: I keep getting to “just okay” for a while and then I fall down into crisis. That is why I selfishly say that I envy manic depressives, even though I know it’s unfair because they have problems I’ve never had and can never understand. But the temptation lies in the fact that I follow the same cycle of getting to a top and then falling back down, except unlike people with bipolar disorder, I never get beyond “okay,” I never get into the “happy” or “euphoric” or “manically driven by infectious enthusiasm” phases. And since I feel, when down, that this continual depressive cycle is destroying me anyway, I’d like to destroy myself but have fun doing it. Be a supernova that explodes, not implode like a depressive black hole.
Those kind of thoughts are what I’m trying to get a grasp on and defeat. I don’t want to destroy myself—if I’m self destructive it’s only because I feel like I’m destroying myself either way, so I’d rather do it my own way than simply sit on my ass and let it happen. Rather go out spectacularly than quietly, withdrawn from everything. The end result is the same, but one road seems so much more fun. Except deep down, I have no desire to destroy myself. I want to get to that “okay” stage and stay there. Be a normal person who is neither sad nor happy most of the time, simply content and feeling whatever fleeting emotions are going through my head at that moment. Not be preoccupied by insane worries or doomsday thoughts.
Here is my list of things to do for 2014: become a normal person. Start some kind of education or job in a field that interests me. Visit Paris.
Blogging is not on that list. I really like blogging, or more specifically, I really like writing and blogging is the most efficient way for me to gain an audience—or to lean on the audience I’ve somehow built in six and a half years of doing this. But in order to write I need to be the right kind of person. Otherwise, I’d simply be spewing out the sort of either mundane or hysteric shit that always turns me off most blogs. My keeping quiet is simply a way of protecting you from my worst sides. You can see glimpses of them in a few previous posts, and it’s not pretty. Re-reading them, I want to press delete, but also to keep them as a warning to myself. Raw, misguideded emotion. Instances where the editing on the stream of consciousness fell short.
Life can be like the myth of Sisyphus. You get that rock up the hill; you may never get to the mountaintop, but at least you can rest a while on that hill, looking up at that mountain and be content with your effort. But then you fall down again, and you must struggle so hard to get up, and when you finally get there again, you either want to stay there forever, or you desperately long for wings so you could fly all the way to the mountaintop up there shrouded in fog. But neither happens: you just roll down the hill again. I want out of that cycle.
I started lifting. I remember the last time I bench pressed before this year: I might have been eleven, and I was at the house of the villain, the bully who instigated most of the attacks on me, verbal or physical. He was a sly devil and at times he appeared to show a certain kindness, inviting me along when he invited some of my friends to his home, one of the largest private residences in town. And so with heavy heart, because I hated his guts, but also because I falsely believed this “kindness” could last if I tolerated and reciprocated it, I went along. We watched a movie, and then we visited the home gym one of his relatives had set up. My friend lifted the bar, twenty kilograms. I think I barely managed to lift the bar. Twenty-five was out of the question. Not long after, the bully again turned a crowd on me. Kindness is a surface upon which evil dances, sometimes.
Now I lift for myself. With the satisfaction that there is no one to compete with but myself.
Social media are exactly like the myth of Sisyphus, insofar as they implement a stream. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, they all implement the stream. You create something, put a lot of effort into it, and put it there. But it only stays there for a little while before something else comes and pushes it downstream. Soon, you’re at the bottom again and if you want to get to the top, to gain attention, you need to put in all that effort again. It’s a model that encourages easy, dumb content: quickly made, quickly shared, quickly enjoyed and then discarded in the memory thrash bin of the stream’s readers. If you want to create something of value, something that takes effort, you’re welcome to, but it never stays on top of the stream. It disappears into the dreaded “archives.” No one ever goes downstream. No one ever digs through those archives to find the gold that lies waiting.
That’s why it’s especially fun when someone tells you they found something you wrote a long time ago and enjoyed it. Thank you Alex for reminding me that I wrote an article about the Kowloon Walled City back in 2010. The photograph above is one I wished I’d taken, but it’s not mine. It’s Greg Girard’s, part of a book project he did with writer Ian Lambot. The two of them spent four years taking trips to the Walled City, photographing its architecture and people, interviewing inhabitants and documenting the anarchic enclave’s daily life. It was torn down in 1992, not long after my own birth. The book is the definite source about everything Kowloon in English. Unfortunately, even the reprint appears to be sold out. This means there is no way to pay the authors: they already got their money when the books were originally printed and sold. If you buy from a reseller, none of that money goes to the original creators. Accordingly, I recommend that if you want to read the book and see more photographs, you locate the pirated pdf that is floating around. You’re not cheating the authors out of money, you’re simply saying fuck you to the scumbag resellers who hog the market on photobooks before people with a legitimate interest in the books get to buy a copy. Either way, $0 goes to Lambot and Girard, even though they deserve the money. I hope another reprint comes along, so I can buy it without paying hundreds of dollars to resellers and also give money to the authors.
Alex also told me that the Japanese have recreated the city as an amusement park of sorts. I mentioned in my original article that the city reminded me of cyberpunk tropes; but this, the recreation of a squalid, lawless slum as an amusement for the bourgeoisie, that’s just perfect. Couldn’t be more cyberpunk if you were required to wear Google Glass upon entry. I recently read Neuromancer, and the theme of the rich using the poor as amusement is very prevalent. More so than the original city, the Japanese recreation is cyberpunk incarnate. There are even some cracks in the perfect facade that reveal what lies under. See: “
The juxtaposition of a high-tech Japanese toilet in an authentically grimy bathroom has to be seen to be believed.”
I’m sorry for rambling. I am not, perhaps, in the right frame of mind to write too much on this blog. I might write some things inspired by the pessimistic existentialist literature I’ve been reading. In the meantime, if for some reason you miss my writing, I suggest you read the old gem Alex found: Kowloon. An article based on Girard and Lambot’s book, written in a better frame of mind. Looking back, I was about to go to school for photography, realizing my dream, and I had the energy to pour into an article that is not about myself and my ramblings and bullshit. Alternatively, I’ve edited the “best of” page so there’s less stuff on there, and hopefully higher quality all around. I want it to be a place to go to find out what this blog is about, insofar as it is about something more than whatever is on the front page at the time.
Take care, everyone.Feb 14, 2014
Impossible Project black and white Polaroid 600 film, technical failure, 2013Jan 17, 2014
i’ve begun meditating
my mantra is
i’ve begun meditating
i repeat it
until it’s true
What can be said to characterize the Outsider is a sense of strangeness, of unreality. Even Keats could write, in a letter to Brown just before he died: ‘I feel as if I had died already and am now living a posthumous existence.’ This is the sense of unreality, that can strike out of a perfectly clear sky. Good health and strong nerves can make it unlikely; but that may be only because the man in good health is thinking about other things and doesn’t look in the direction where the uncertainty lies. And once a man has seen it, the world can never afterwards be quite the same straighforward place. Barbusse has shown us that the Outsider is a man who cannot live in the comfortable, insulated world of the bourgeois, accepting what he sees and touches as reality. ‘He sees too deep and too much,’ and what he sees is essentially chaos. For the bourgeois, the world is fundamentally an orderly place, with a disturbing element of the irrational, the terrifying, which his preoccupation with the present usually permits him to ignore. For the outsider, the world is not rational, not orderly. When he asserts his sense of anarchy in the face of the bourgeois’ complacent acceptance, it is not simply the need to cock a snook at respectability that provokes him; it is a distressing sense that truth must be told at all costs… The Outsider is a man who has awakened to chaos. He may have no reason to believe that chaos is positive, the germ of life… In spite of this, truth must be told, chaos must be faced.Colin Wilson, The Outsider (1956) Jan 7, 2014
at this point in your life
what are you celebrating?Jan 1, 2014
Ever have that feeling of existential claustrophobia as if the entire world in all its infinite expansion is closing in on you at once, from every direction, and in the middle of it you are horribly alone?Dec 22, 2013
bedroom wallDec 20, 2013