Mar 7, 2011

Leaves of Grass

Upon learning that Edward Norton starred in Leaves of Grass, a dark comedy about marijuana dealers, I expected the chameleon-like actor to have reached an all-time low in his Hollywood acting career. After finally viewing the film, I can proudly admit, not only did I enjoy this cleverly concocted dark comedy; I was also extremely impressed by Norton's acting versatility, schizophrenically playing two different characters (twin brothers) with two conflicting personalities. Leaves of Grass was written and directed by Tim Blake Nelson, who previously directed The Grey Zone (2001), a film about a Jewish Sonderkommando unit that played a traitorous role in helping the Nazis liquidate fellow Jews at Auschwitz concentration camp. Nelson, whose own maternal grandparents apparently escaped from the Nazis before the start of World War II, once again returns to a very personal subject in Leaves of Grass. Like the Jewish drug kingpin Pug Rothbaum in the film, Tim Blake Nelson also belongs to the Jewish community of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Taking cues from the Coen brothers' A Serious Man and Fargo, Leaves of Grass is a capricious portrait of an unconventional region that Hollywood generally neglects. 

 In Leaves of Grass, a pretentious pedantic college professor reluctantly goes back to the area of rural Oklahoma he grew up in, under the false impression that his pot-dealing brother was killed with a crossbow (which is apparently a popular weapon in Oklahoma). While brother Bill is your typically boring introverted academic professor, who finds enjoyment in writings scholarly reviews of other fellow professors scholarly reviews; brother Brady is an extroverted hick who also happens to be a mastermind in the illegal marijuana manufacturing business. That best scene in Leaves of Grass that most clearly illustrates the oppositional psyches between the two physically identical twins occurs early on in the film after the brothers are reunited and partake in a pot-smoking session. Despite having a limited and slang-filled vocabulary, Brady admits to Bill that he has read all of his brother's academic publications. Instead of being happy that his twin cares enough to read his banal work, Bill belittles Brady for his inadequate pronunciation skills. When Brady asks his brother about his thoughts on Martin Heidegger (whose name Brady pronounces in an absurd manner), Bill becomes noticeably irked and condemns the German philosopher for his support of National Socialism (Nazism). I have a feeling that Bill also dislikes Heidegger because, like himself, the German philosopher also came from humble rural beginnings, a fact that Billy boy is ashamed of, yet the German philosopher fully embraced. One of the main reasons Heidegger was an avid supporter of National Socialism was due to the fact that the Nazi ideology advocated a return to nature ("Blood and Soil") and natural instincts (as originally advocated by Friedrich Nietzsche), two things Bill has fought throughout his life to escape from. Brady, being a pot growing wizard and completely in tune with his natural habitat, would have certainly been student of Heidegger's philosophies had he went on to college like his brother. Whereas Brady uses his intellect for completely pragmatic and utilitarian (albeit criminal) purposes; Billy uses his intellect for novelty academic purposes, consciously deracinating himself from area he used to call home. 

Brady may be an excellent gardener, but he's completely ignorant when it comes to running a monetarily self-sufficient personal drug operation. Due to the fact that Brady only utilizes the most state-of-the-art pot growing equipment, he ends up owing a hefty amount of cash to a prominent Jewish businessman named Pug Rothbaum. When finally meeting up with Pug and his Hebrew henchmen, Brady illogically attempts to break off his contract with the keen businessman. After hearing Brady's decision to quit drug running, Pug is thrown into an angry tirade regarding the historical persecution of Jews. Instead of shouting the famous post-holocaust chant "never again", Pug hilariously recites with a Tulsa slang twang, "We ain't gonna taken advantage of no more." Pug also goes on a rant about how Christians historically refused to deal with money, hence why he ended up having to fund Brady's operation in the first place. Indeed, Jewish wealth is the result of Christians originally banning practices of usury and money lending, enabling Jewish international bankers to eventually gain a monopoly on the most vital banks in in Europe.  It should be noted that Tim Blake Nelson shot a scene in Leaves of Grass where the camera focuses on a Pug's blood-soaked pictures of former American presidents, both democrat and republican, which will seem pointless to most viewers. Although most Americans argue amongst one another regarding the petty personal issues relevant to the two main populist political parties, neither side ever acknowledges the key issues that all mainstream politicians agree on; the unconditional protection and support for the state of Israel. Pug Rothbaum angrily explains to philistine goy boy Brady that he gives all of his money to Israel, as his most imperative goal is to guarantee the preservation of the Jewish people. As his personal presidential portraits symbolically make clear, Pug could careless which political party the president belongs to; all that matters to him is that they support Israel and protect the tiny state from it's Muslim neighbors (as we are today in Afghanistan and Iraq). After all, Jewish sources provide over 2/3 of the money for the democratic party and over 1/2 of the money for the republican party. Just as Brady manufactures and sells drugs for Pug, the United States fights wars for Israel. 

Leaves of Grass is a clever comedy in that under the veil of what seems to be another stupid stoner flick lies a humorous display of the inter-workings and cryptic-infrastructure of the United States. Unfortunately, just like the Coen brothers' Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski, the multilayered Judaic narrative brilliance of Leaves of Grass will be lost on most American viewers. In the introduction to Friedrich Nietzsche's The Anti-Christ, Baltimore sage journalist H.L. Mencken (who was the first to translate the book into English) stated, "On the Continent, the day is saved by the fact that the plutocracy tends to become more and more Jewish. Here the intellectual cynicism of the Jew almost counterbalances his social unpleasantness. If he is destined to lead the plutocracy of the world out of Little Bethel he will fail, of course, to turn it into an aristocracy--i. e., a caste of gentlemen--, but he will at least make it clever, and hence worthy of consideration." Pug Rothbaum, being a successful businessman and highly regarded public figure (with public restrooms dedicated to him), certainly belongs to the plutocracy Mencken speaks of. After all, history has shown that democracy, a political system that appeals to the lowest common denominator and gives equality to the unequal, can only result in a culturally impotent society where wealth is the sole determinant for political power. As Leaves of Grass and the excellent HBO series Boardwalk Empire make clear, you can be an immoral opportunistic criminal and still reach the peak of the American dream.  After all, mob bosses like Meyer Lansky and Al Capone are as American as apple-pie.

-Ty E

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