Dec 8, 2015


I do not generally like to say that I have guilty pleasures because I do not really feel guilty or ashamed about any of my interests, but I do somewhat uneasy about confessing that I have watched every single episode of both FX’s Sons of Anarchy (2008-2014) and HBO's Game of Thrones (2011-present), so naturally I was somewhat intrigued when I discovered that an auteur filmmaker that I somewhat appreciate had just released a quai-arthouse work starring a bunch of popular Hollywood stars that was cleverly advertised as a ‘mashup’ of both TV shows. Indeed, Cymbeline (2014) aka Anarchy directed by semi-mainstream auteur and sometimes documentarian Michael Almereyda (Twister, Experimenter) is a modernized adaptation of the somewhat obscure late period tragicomedic play of the same name by William Shakespeare and as the various amateur and professional film reviews I have read on it clearly reveal, it seems that most Sons of Anarchy and Game of Thrones fans absolutely hated it, which certainly does not surprise me (after all, I do not think I have ever met anyone that appreciates Almereyda's films). Directed by a rare contemporary idiosyncratic auteur who has, among other things, adapted D.H. Lawrence using a children's Fisher-Price Pixelvision camera for his short The Rocking Horse Winner (1997) and got David Lynch to produce and appear in his shoegaze-driven semi-Sapphic black-and-white postmodern vampire flick Nadja (1994) featuring Romanian-born Jewess Elina Löwensohn as Dracula's dyke daughter and Hollywood counterculture burnout Peter Fonda as Van Helsing, Almereyda’s film is certainly a work that would probably offend and/or annoy fans of both the Bard of Avon and trash TV as an unintentionally absurd anti-American Shakespearean melodrama of the tragicomedic sort that features dope-dealing leather-clad bikers speaking in Elizabethan English, a murderously jealous emo fag skater that cries hysterically because some unscrupulous conman tricked him into think he sexually defiled his angelic wife, and super stoic blond Aryan brothers who cannot seem to figure out that their noble negro father is actually a banished warrior who stole them from their monarch father when they were just wee lads, among other captivatingly bizarre and completely culturally mongrelized scenarios that highlight the degeneracy and cultural retardation in the context of Shakespeare's non-classic work. A proudly rude and raunchy redneck soap opera that was obviously heavily influenced by Shakespeare’s Hamlet—a work that Almereyda also previously adapted (in fact, Hamlet (2000) starring Ethan Hawke is easily the filmmaker’s most popular and well known work)—Sons of Anarchy is indubitably openly yet strangely respectfully mocked in Cymbeline, which replaces the Harley-riding hick histrionics and gratuitous Whiskey-drenched sex and violence of the TV show with provocative preternatural tableaux, understated art-trash poetics, and esoteric (socio)political subtexts in a sort of post-industrial crypto(anti)western that is set in a decidedly decadent and morally and culturally decayed post-empire America that acts as a somewhat fitting substitute to the historical pre-Roman England of the somewhat maligned source play. 

 Featuring a NY-based biker drug kinpin that is in control of an east coast organized crime operation called Britons Motorcycle Club instead of an early Celtic British King that is control of Ancient Britain like in Shakespeare's play as the eponymous ruler, Cymbeline is undoubtedly one of the most elegant and labyrinthine (anti)biker flicks ever made, which probably does not say much but it does more or less confirm that most biker film fans will absolutely hate it, which certainly seems to be the case as reflected by the user reviews at Like its source material, the films features a number of recycled Shakespearean themes and motifs (e.g. deceptive cross-dressing, a drug cocktail that makes people appear dead, a young hero that talks to the ghost of his dead father, a young romance that is violently rejected by family members, etc.), yet strangely it is the very first film adaptation of Shakespeare’s original play (though British Hebrew Elijah Moshinsky directed a lackluster version for BBC Television Shakespeare in 1983 that was somewhat visually inspired by Rembrandt and various other Dutch Golden Age painters), thereupon making for a fairly fresh and rarely derivative flick that does not seem like another insufferably modern adaptation of the bard’s work like Baz Luhrmann’s flashy piece of botched big budget bile Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Michael Hoffman’s fairly tacky A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999), among countless other examples. In other words, Almereyda’s Cymbeline is, not unlike Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948) and Derek Jarman's The Tempest (1979), one of the rare cinematic adaptations that actually made me feel more interested in the work of Shakespeare. Indeed, Almereyda’s film somewhat feels like what might happen if the bastard broad of Fassbinder and Cocteau attempted to direct a misanthropic anti-American melodrama disguised as a mainstream biker-themed crime-drama-thriller. Intentionally set during Halloween as a somewhat subtle way to connect the present with England’s death-obsessed pagan past, as well as to underscore the increasingly paganistic essence of American pop culture (or so Almereyda described in an interview), Cymbeline also demonstrates in a crude yet strangely simultaneously cultivated fashion that, in a strange and decidedly degenerate way, dope-dealing bikers are carrying on the torch of their Germanic viking ancestors in a post-Christian pre-apocalyptic multicultural age where the Occident seems like it is on the brink of complete capitulation.

 Opening with the film’s fairly catchy yet kitschy theme song, which initially strangely sounds somewhat like Fabio Frizzi’s classic main theme in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (1979) aka Zombie, juxtaposed with introductory shots of all the main characters as well as the imperative prologue, “For years Cymbeline, King of the Briton Motorcycle Club, has maintained an uneasy peace with the Roman Police Force. The Queen, Cymbeline’s second wife, has her own agenda. But she’s losing hope that her son will pair up with the King’s only daughter, Imogen. Without consulting her royal parents, Imogen decides to marry Posthumus, Cymbeline’s penniless protégé. The marriage triggers the King’s rage, setting in motion a series of disastrous events. But fortune brings in some boats that are not steered…,” Cymbeline will almost immediately leave most viewers lost and confused if they have not bothered to at least read the general synopsis of Shakespeare’s play. Additionally, the viewer would most certainly benefit from watching the film with subtitles (luckily, unlike the bare bones Miramax Lionsgate DVD for Almereyda’s Hamlet, Lions Gate’s DVD/Blu-ray release of Cymbeline thankfully includes optional English subtitles). A film where all the death, destruction, and bodily dismemberment happens as a direct result of the two main male characters’ inability (or, more like willful naivety and ignorance) to see their female counterparts for who they truly are, Almereyda’s truly timeless tragicomedy ultimately demonstrates why it is never ever a wise idea to put pussy on a pedestal, especially if said pussy seems a little bit too infatuated with her own pussy. Indeed, titular King Cymbeline (Ed Harris) is so deludedly enamored with the chiseled pulchritude of his second/current wife, ‘The Queen’ (Milla Jovovich), that he has no idea that she is a crazy conspiring cunt who actually loathes him and only married him for his power as she hopes that her no less demented son from a previous marriage, Cloten (Anton Yelchin)—a sadomasochistic spoiled rich kid who hopes to wed his stepsister Imogen (Dakota Johnson) despite the fact that he absolutely repels her—will eventually become the new ruler of the illustrious Britons Motorcycle Club.  Likewise, Posthumus (Penn Badgley)—a young man whose name derives from the fact that his father, the King's comrade Sicilius Leonatus, died before he was born—looks at his new bride in a fairly vain and idealistic fashion to the point where he trusts the dubious word of a ruthless Roman rival over what he should know is true about his beloved Imogen, thus leading to completely avoidable consequences of the rather cataclysmic sort. 

 At the beginning of the film in a scene fittingly featuring whacked-out homo anarchist avant-garde composer John Cage’s 1948 composition “Dreams,” recently secretly wed lovers Posthumus and Imogen meet at night at the site of empty bleachers where they embrace and exchange symbolic wedding gifts, with the young husband giving his bride a bracelet and the young wife giving her hubby a diamond ring that she inherited from her deceased mother. When the King encounters the lovers embracing, he almost becomes murderously enraged, less than delicately declares, “Thou basest thing, avoid hence, from my sight,” and then proceeds to grab Posthumus by his broken cast-covered arm and declare while shoving a gun under the petrified young man’s chin in an exceedingly threatening fashion, “If after this command thou fraught the court with thy unworthiness…thou diest. Thou art poison to my blood.”  From there, Posthumus hightails it of town on his skateboard while the King tells his less than trustworthy wife the Queen to imprison Imogen in her room so that she cannot see her beloved husband. Despite the fact that he is his virtual adopted son, Cymbeline refuses to accept a poor sap with peasant blood like Posthumus as the husband of his sole daughter. When the King describes Posthumus as a, “beggar wouldst have made my throne a seat of baseness,” Imogen rightly retorts, “It is your fault that I have loved Posthumus. You bred him as my playfellow.” Unfortunately for Imogen, Posthumus is not the “eagle” that she believes him to be and Cymbeline does have good reason to believe that he would make for a less than ideal husband. 

 Posthumus is if nothing if not a pathetic posturing little bitch whose insufferably glaring pride is just an ill fitting mask for his biting insecurities, which have their origins in being a literal poor bastard who was raised by a wealthy ruler of pure noble stock who he could never dream of living up to as far as masculinity and leadership qualities are concerned. Seeing as Posthumus’ insecurities are blatant to anyone with working eyes, it is only a matter of time before an unscrupulous schemer exploits them for his own greedy personal gain. Shortly after being banished from town and crashing on the couch of his swarthy ‘Roman’ friend Philario (played by James Ransone, who is arguably best remembered for his unsimulated autoerotic asphyxiation scene in Larry Clark’s Ken Park (2002)), Posthumus encounters a proudly sleazy and uniquely unsavory older rival named Iachimo (Ethan Hawke in his second Shakespeare collaboration with Almereyda) who mocks the lovelorn skater for bragging about his young wife's purity with arrogant remarks like, “Even if you buy ladies’ flesh at a million a dram…you cannot prevent it from tainting.” A sort of megalomaniacal Machiavellian opportunist who would never dare to spoil an opportunity at destroying a young Brit’s pride for profit with the added bonus of potential unspoiled teenage flesh, Iachimo makes a wager with Posthumus to prove that he has the killer charm and sex appeal to fuck such a virtuous young wife as Imogen. With his pride seeming to be more important to him than his beloved wife, Posthumus offers Iachimo that truly priceless diamond ring that his spouse has just given to him as a prize if the Roman conman can provide sufficient evident that he “enjoyed the dearest bodily part” of Imogen. If Iachimo fails to despoil Imogen, he must pay $10,000, or as the young husband more eloquently states, “If you make your voyage upon her…and give to me directly you have prevailed…I am no further your enemy. She is not worth the debate. If she remains unseduced, for your ill opinion…and the assault you have made to her chastity…You will answer my sword.” After the two men sign a contract that Posthumus written up a contract on a notebook paper and then proceed solidify their wager by shaking hands, Iachimo somewhat absurdly grabs and shacks one of Philario’s breasts and then exists the room, as if he is snidely demonstrating to his rival what he plans to do to his wife. 

 Under the pretense of being a refined Roman gentleman who has befriended Posthumus, Iachimo shows up at the King’s large manor (but hardly a castle) where Imogen is imprisoned  and proceeds to attempt to woo the lovelorn princess with shallow and flowery compliments that highlight his innate phoniness and deceptiveness. After handing Imogen a package containing a print of a woodcut created by Posthumus featuring her and her husband as a skeleton with the somewhat ironical inscription, “Fear No More,” Iachimo then proceeds to bombard the princess with lies about how her hubby is an insatiable party animal that has been nicknamed “The Reveler” due to his ostensibly exceedingly extroverted ways. When Imogen remarks regarding Posthumus, “When he was here he did incline to sadness…and ofttimes not knowing why,” Iachimo seems somewhat offended and replies, “I never saw him sad.” From there, Iachimo shows Imogen various dubious staged photos of Posthumus, proceeds to accuse her husband of being a Don Juan of sorts, and then attempts to convince her to seek revenge, arguing, “Diseased ventures…and such boiled stuff as might well poison. Be revenged or she that bore you was no queen…and you recoil from your great stock.” Ultimately, Iachimo less than smoothly attempts to coerce into Imogen into fucking him so that she can be “revenged” against her supposedly unfaithful husband by stating in a disgustingly groveling fashion, “I dedicate myself to your sweet pleasure. More noble than that renegade from your bed. And will continue fast to your affection still close as sure. Let me my service tender…on your lips,” but of course the princess is of true noble stock and refuses to be a cheap whore who allows her main vein to be stabbed by dubious foreign strangers. In fact, Imogen is so offended by Iachimo's salacious proposal that she proceeds to whip out her cellphone and threatens to call her father the King so that he can serve royal punishment to the Roman sleazebag. Since she is a remorseful princess who is quite modest in terms of executing her power, Imogen decides to pardon Iachimo when he desperately begs for forgiveness, but unfortunately she makes the mistake of agreeing to store a large chest in her house at the request of the Roman. Imogen should not have agree to store the chest because Iachimo emerges from it when she is asleep and then proceeds to take photos of her when she is scantily dressed in bed as proof that he managed to debase her. In fact, Iachimo goes so far as to lift Iachimo shirt and take a photo of her tit, though he has some guilt over what he does and even thinks to himself during a fleeting moment of personal insight, “No more. I have enough. I live in fear. Though this a heavenly angel…hell is here.” Upon noticing a “mole cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops I' the bottom of a cowslip” on Imogen's left breast, Iachimo naturally feels he has enough evidence to prove to Posthumus that he fondled the flesh of the princess. 

 When Iachimo brings back the somewhat questionable proof that he has fornicated with his wife and declares like a grotesque braggart, “Your ring is won. Your lady being so easy,” pathetic pussy Posthumus totally believes it and completely breaks down to the point where he is crying hysterically like a little girl, even though if he truly knew his wife and understood what she was capable of he would never believe such a thing. In fact, Posthumus is so upset about Imogen’s supposed sexual deceit that he decides to immediately travel back home to kill her, declaring, “Oh, that I had her here…to tear her limbmeal. I will go there…then do it in the court before her father.” Although Posthumus commands his loyal servant Pisanio (John Leguizamo) to slaughter Imogen with a buck knife, the saintly servant refuses to kill the princess and instead decides to help her faker her death by sending her husband one of her shirts soaked with her blood. Pisanio also convinces Imogen to disguise herself by demanding that she cut off most of her hair, dress in drag, and adopt the identity of a young boy.  Naturally, Pisanio also convinces Imogen to leave town by herself, which is not exactly easy for a pampered princess who has no idea how to fend for herself. Meanwhile, at the influence of his scheming wife and her equally unsavory son Cloten, King Cymbeline provokes a war between Britain and Rome by refusing to pay tribute to Augustus Caesar. Indeed, when Roman ambassador Caius Lucius (portrayed by black Hollywood hack filmmaker Vondie Curtis-Hall, who is responsible for directing such truly grotesque flashy Afro-kitsch as Glitter (2001) starring Mariah Carey)—a stoic middle-aged black cop—shows up at the King’s house to pick up the “tribute money,” Cloten goes to great pains to insult him by obnoxiously pouring a bag full of hundreds of Hershey kisses onto a table instead of the money that they usually pay and then self-righteously declares, “Why should we pay tribute? If Caesar can hide the sun from us with a blanket…or put the moon in his pocket…we will pay him tribute for light. Else, sir, no more tribute.” Although Caius respects the King and vice versa, he must declare to Cymbeline, “I am sorry, Cymbeline, that I am to pronounce…Augustus Caesar thine enemy.”  Of course, if were not for the Queen, who plans to kill the Imogen via poison, Cymbeline would have never even considered provoking such a pointless war, but such are the senselessly tragic things that can happen when you're a powerful man with a covertly wicked wife who uses her cunt as tool of manipulation.

 Unbeknownst to Cymbeline, his two long lost sons that were kidnapped from him when they were just babies are alive and well and have been brought up to be stoic fighters of high moral fiber by a negro warrior named Belarius (Delroy Lindo), who stole boys as revenge against the King after being banished from Britain for a crime that he was apparently framed for, or as he states states to himself in a quite moody fashion, “Villains, whose false oaths prevailed…before my perfect honor…swore to Cymbeline I was confederate with the Romans. O Cymbeline, heaven and my conscience knows…thou didst unjustly banish me…whereon, at three and two years old, I stole these boys. And this twenty years this rock has been my world…where I have lived at honest freedom…paid more pious debts to heaven…than in all the fore-end of my time. These boys know little they are sons to the king…nor Cymbeline dreams that they are alive. They think they are mine; and though trained up thus meanly…Their thoughts do hit the roofs of palaces.” Indeed, despite being blonde Nordic men, Cymbeline’s sons Guiderius (Spencer Treat Clark) and Arviragus (Harley Ware) believe that black brother Belarius is their father and have adopted his revolutionary attitude and disdain for the mainstream America and corporations, hence why they all live off the grid as recluses in a secluded cabin in the middle of the woods (in Shakespeare play, Belarius lives in a cave).  Additionally, poor would-be-lumpenprole Guiderius, who has no idea that he is of royal stock, proudly sports a Che Guevara t-shirt. By happenstance, Imogen wanders into Belarius' cabin while looking for food and is unwittingly reunited with her long lost brothers. When Guiderius and the boys catch Imogen in their cabin, she tells them her name is ‘Fidel’ after looking at Guiderius’ Che t-shirt and thinking of Cuba (in the play, Imogen adopts the name ‘Fidele’). Needless to say, Guiderius and Arviragus have no idea that Imogen is not only actually a woman, but also their little sister, so they fail to see the relevance when Cluton, who is dressed as Posthumus (who he plans to slay in an absurd attempt to win his stepsister’s heart), randomly shows up near their cabin.  Ultimately, without even knowing it, Guiderius manages to protect his sister by swiftly dispatching Cluton, who is such a sadistic sexual degenerate that he masturbates while fantasizing about killing Posthumus. As Cluton states in regard to his patently preposterous plan to win the heart of his stepsister, “With the suit upon my back I will ravish her. First, kill Posthumus…and in her eyes...There shall she see my valor…which will then be a torment…to her contempt.”

 After Guiderius gets in a fairly brief brawl with Cloten that concludes with the real future king decapitating the would-be-king with his own sword, Belarius and the boys go back to the cabin and assume Imogen is dead as a result of the fact she will not wake up due to the fact she has drank a potion that Pisanio supplied her with at the behest of the Queen, who wants the Princess dead. While the potion was intended to kill the Princess, the dope chemist that supplied it, Dr. Cornelius (Peter Gerety), assumed that the Queen had unsavory intentions and designed the drug so that it would only induce the temporary appearance of death in the drinker. Thinking that Imogen is dead, Belarius and the boys bury both her and her stepbrother Cluton side-by-side under some rocks. Naturally, when Imogen eventually awakes, digs herself out of the rocks, and discovers a headless corpse next to her that is wearing the same clothes as her beloved Posthumus, she assumes the worst and mentally breaks down. Meanwhile, Posthumus, who has reached such an all-time low as a result of wrongly believing that he killed Imogen that he has befriended his enemy Iachimo, goes crazy and goes on a nihilistic suicide mission where he shoots and kills the King’s right-hand man during a car chase and then turns himself into Cymbeline’s men while declaring with his arms raised, “Is it enough I am sorry? For Imogen’s dear life, take mine.” Meanwhile, at the request of his ‘adopted’ sons Guiderius and Arviragus, Belarius decide to join Cymbeline as warriors in his fight against Rome, thus killing a virtual army of cops and helping the motorcycle monarch win the war in the process. While the final battle between Britain and Rome is being waged in the streets, Posthumus, who is strapped to a embalming table, is visited by the ghost of his dead father Sicilius Leonatus (Bill Pullman) who more or less apologizes to him for ruining his life as a result of dying before he was born. When Posthumus is asked by one of Cymbeline’s bikers, “ready for death?,” he confidently replies “I am merrier to die than you are to live.”  Of course, life will be worth living again for Posthumus when he discovers that his precious Imogen is alive and well, even if she has a dyke haircut.

 Despite all the senselessly tragic death and destruction in the film, Cymbeline could not conclude in a more absurdly ideal fashion. Indeed, aside from the fact that Cymbeline obliterates Rome and all the bad guys die, both sons and fathers and husbands and wives are reunited in the end.  Indeed, right after the King wins the war and declares to his men, including Belarius and his sons, “Stand by my side…you whom the gods have made preservers of my throne. Knights of the battle…I create you companions to our person…and fit you with dignities befitting your estates,” Dr. Cornelius abruptly arrives in an Ambulance with the royal maids and Queen’s corpse and informs Cymbeline that his wife has committed suicide as a result of the intolerable grief she had suffered upon learning about her son’s grisly dead. When Cymbeline asks the good doctor about the circumstances surrounding his wife’s death, Dr. Cornelius replies in a regretful fashion, “With horror, madly dying…like her life, which, being cruel to the world…concluded most cruel to herself […] First, she confessed she never loved you…only affected greatness got by you, not you…married your royalty, wife to your place…abhorred your person.” At this point, Cymbeline finally comes to realize that his whacked out wifey saw him as nothing more than a mere means to an end and is ultimately the true source of all the death and destruction that has plagued his empire. After talking to the doctor, Cymbeline proceeds to prepare to liquidate his surviving enemies and in the process notices that Iachimo, who was captured with Posthumus, is wearing his daughter’s ring and asks him how he got it. At this point, Iachimo decides to repent for his sins and confesses, “I returned with proof enough…to make the noble Posthumus mad.”  Naturally, Posthumus is quite upset upon hearing this as he finally realizes that he was duped and that he had underestimated his loyal wife. At this point, Imogen emerges and runs to her husband to embrace him, but Posthumus does not realize that it is his wife since she is disguised as a boy so he elbows her in the face and knocks her out (somewhat humorously, Pisanio remarks after Posthumus knocks Imogen unconscious, “You never killed Imogen…until now”). Of course, Posthumus finally realizes it is Imogen and they kiss and embrace after she regains consciousness while Cymbeline watches on without even the slightest hint of hatred, even though he knows that his stepson tried to kill his daughter. In a second twist happy ending, Belarius comes forward, declares his true identity to the King, and then reveals that Guiderius and Arviragus, who have no idea about their true paternity, are his long sons.  Luckily, Cymbeline is so happy with the good news that he not only pardons all of his surviving enemies, including Iachimo and Belarius, but also tells Caius Lucius that even though he has won the war, he will once again pay tribute to Rome.  As a sort of bittersweet viking-esque farewell to his treacherous wife, Cymbeline has the Queen's corpse set on fire while it is sitting on a stretcher in a body-bag. In a quasi-gynocentric conclusion that hints that Almereyda does not wear the pants in his relationships with women, Posthumus and Imogen leave together on a crotch-rocket, with the princess driving the motorcycle while her emo fag hubby meekly holds onto her back. 

 As I discovered in one of the few positive reviews I have read on Cymbeline, Irish playwright and eugenicist George Bernard Shaw apparently once described Shakespeare’s original play as, “stagey trash of the lowest melodramatic order” (though he later changed his mind about most of the play aside from the ending, which inspired him to write the play-fragment Cymbeline Refinished (1937)), which is also a pretty way to describe Sons of Anarchy. While Almereyda’s film might feature John Leguizamo naked and locked in a dog cage, Ethan Hawke taking selfies of himself with a sleeping young girl who he wants people to believe that he fucked, Milla Jovovich singing a sorrowful Bob Dylan song about a hooker to a room full of drunken bikers with huge beer guts, pube-headed Jew-boy Anton Yelchin decliately fondling himself like budding a preteen who has just discovered her clit, perennial wuss Bill Pullman portraying the ghost of a tough dead biker who recites an Emily Dickinson poem to his pansy uxoricidal son, and Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) star Dakota Johnson getting high off of the fumes of her banished boy toy’s lucky red sweater, among other rather ridiculous scenarios, it would probably be better described as, “stagey artsy fartsy stuff of the most ludicrously understated order,” as a carefully calculated work with a sometimes almost hieroglyphic style approach to storytelling where love, sex, and death are treated in a strikingly stylized, as opposed to sensational, fashion, hence why the film seems almost unanimously hated among both regular filmgoers and film critics alike. Somewhat ironically, despite taking a similar subversive approach to adapting Shakespeare, Almereyda’s film is the total opposite of British arthouse auteur Derek Jarman’s high-camp late era Shakespeare adaptation The Tempest (1979) as a cinematic work that is about as playful and campy as a Michael Haneke flick, thus highlighting the versatility when it comes to cinematically adapting the bard's plays. If Sons of Anarchy exploited the timeless tale of Hamlet to make a biker TV show seem like something more than a degenerate hodgepodge of boobs-bikes-boots-blood-beer-and-barf, Cymbeline ultimately returns the favor by exploiting the popularity of Sons of Anarchy to celebrate one of Shakespeare’s least loved plays (notably, the film was even originally entitled ‘Anarchy’ until Almereyda thankfully put a stop to it).  If Almereyda has proved anything with both his Shakespeare adaptation and his experimental (post)modernist monster movies like Nadja (1994) and Trance (1998) aka The Eternal, it is that he has a very distinctive and quasi-sagely talent for bringing new lifeblood to ancient archetypes, genre conventions, and themes.

 In its depiction of a decidedly decadent and corrupt world where a ‘virtuous’ druglord with a discernible moral code is able to freely run his drug empire by paying off the police, Cymbeline ultimately manages to make an interesting connection between the pagan Britons and their somewhat mongrelized and less spiritual American descendants. Personally, I have always seen bikers as sort of modern day Vikings, just as I see black street-gangs like the Bloods and Crips and Latino international gangs like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as examples of non-Europid races reverting back to primalism and atavistically returning to their pre-Christian tribal ways, albeit in a highly degenerate and largely materialistic way that would probably disgrace their forebears. Indeed, the eponymous lead played by Ed Harris is more or less the Führer of a degenerate modern-day Männerbünde empire, though what is somewhat curious is that many of his various biker underling are Mestizos, which can be seen as a sign of the feminization of white males and rise of Hispanic machismo culture in America (as is depicted on Sons of Anarchy and is true with most real-life biker gangs like the Hells Angels, outlaw motorcycle groups tend towards racial segregation though, over the past couple decades, white gangs have been more accepting of Mestizos). While I doubt it was Almereyda’s intention, the fact that Cymbeline’s very Aryan-looking sons were kidnapped by a negro and brainwashed to the point where they hate the Occident so much that they sport t-shirts featuring an image of commie third world icon Che Guevara (who, as his book The Motorcycle Diaries demonstrates, was no fan of negroes) can be seen as symbolic of the pathetic deracinated state of younger generations of white Americans who, brainwashed with everything from cultural Marxist style public school indoctrination to illiterate honky-hating rappers on MTV to a race-hustling double-bastard mulatto president, have become hopelessly lost orphans to both their own race and kultur. Of course, the mass marketing of Che’s readily identifiable swarthy image speaks for itself in terms of the triumph of capitalism over communism (considering Almereyda’s name seems to be a pseudonym that he borrowed from the anarchist turned communist militant father of French auteur Jean Vigo, one can only guess what the filmmaker’s intent with the use of the Che shirt), so it is fitting that literally cutthroat capitalist Cymbeline's long lost sons completely embrace him in the end. 

 Like Shakespeare being lovingly sodomized by Jean-Pierre Melville, Michael Mann, and the lead bike boy of Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1964), Cymbeline is ultimately a notable yet far from immaculate experiment in cinematic dramaturgy by a rare talented contemporary American auteur who unfortunately seems to have suffered spiritual castration as a result of attending one-too-many college courses on feminism and deconstructionism, among other things. Indeed, had Almereyda attended more viewings of works by Fassbinder and Peckinpah instead of Godard and Akerman, he would have surely assembled something with more meat and less pomo pedantry, though the film admittedly does has some memorable and even poetic, albeit all too brief, murder and torture scenes (after all, who can forget a scene featuring the extra dark corpse of a burnt dead black cop sitting in the passenger seat of a patrol car while Dakota Johnson is dressed in drag in the backseat?!). Additionally, disgustingly sulky heartthrob Penn Badgley is intolerably irritating in the role of Posthumus, as he comes off seeming like a sort of culturally and socially confused crybaby preppy-emo-skater-fag hybrid who was raised by a slutty single mother, but then again that makes the character somewhat typical of contemporary heterosexual males, who oftentimes seem no different from their homo counterparts. While Dakota Johnson certainly pulls off the somewhat unbelievable role of a completely morally pristine and faithful virginal beauty (considering that she is the daughter of a Botox-ridden screen bimbo like Melanie Griffith, this makes her angelic performance seem all the more incredible), she is considerably less effective when portraying a boy as she is just too damn innately feminine and delicate to ever make for a halfway believable fag (in fact, when I first saw a shot of her from the film with short hair, I had no clue she was in drag). While clearly directed by a beta-boy who has no problem letting people know that he thinks less of men than women, Cymbeline ultimately an important remainder that no knight should take his shieldmaiden for granted, as she might be a psychopathic Salome in disguise. 

-Ty E

No comments: