This week, I consumed two units of media.
Yesterday, I finished The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. The book is set in North America in the 1630’s1 and depicts the relationship between the French and the Huron, told from the perspective of a Huron war-bearer, his adopted Iroquois daughter and a Jesuit missionary.
Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is one of my favourite books. I read The Orenda expecting a similarly violent and wry dreamscape of a novel. I was certainly wrong, but not disappointed.
Boyden’s book captures, within a grounded, realistic framing, two life philosophies, two competing schools of magic, their meeting and ensuing struggle.
Père Christophe, “the Crow” , tries largely in vain to save the souls of the Huron among whom he lives. Despite his ambiguous personal progress, he is the herald of a new, inescapable pantheon of interests, interests that stumble across the Atlantic and trespass into every aspect of the lives of the Huron. By the book’s end, the course of the future is clear.
Bird, the Huron war-bearer, Gosling, the Anishinaabe mystic, and Snow Falls, the adopted daughter, represents facets of the magic of the native people, their Orenda. They are varied, human, proud and doomed, without2 resorting to cliché; without even the threat of cliché.
We’re familiar enough with colonial narratives to know how the story goes. To Boyden’s credit, The Orenda reads as though independent of that epic cycle of exploitation, justification, blame and guilt. It is consciously a story about people coming to terms with incredible change, even apocalypse, and is well told.
The book didn’t smash my worldview, but I don’t think it was supposed to.
I closed the book with a profoundly-felt respect for its characters and for the historical figures and peoples they represented.
Ant-Man is probably not post-colonial literature.3
I cherish those films that you can watch again and again, without ever getting bored. The background films. The movies you can dip into, that don’t ask too much.4
Marvel’s Ant-Man might be one of those films.
Like many of Marvel’s recent entries, it suffers from being what it is, an entry in a franchise. Unlike many such films, Ant-Man revels in those fanboyish obligations, stuffing the picture full of in-jokes and references.
Much has been said about Ant-Man’s troubled gestation and weak box office. I love Spaced as much as the next guy5, but I don’t regret Edgar Wright’s leaving the film. Perhaps Wright’s pure-blooded Ant-Man would have been amazing. Perhaps it would have utterly failed to integrate into the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”, both stylistically and narratively.
Wright started on Ant-Man in 2003, long before the world we know now existed. A world where Groot is a thing.
The comparison between the first Iron Man and this film is apt and unnecessary. Ant-Man is a origin story, with mad science, families, fathers, sons, daughters, all that, but it isn’t weighed down by an obligation to be an “origin story”. It concerns itself with being a cool, comic book movie. The origin stuff just happens.
Like Netflix’s recent Daredevil, Ant-Man is mature in that it knows it is a comic book movie and leans into the comic book tropes that serve its narrative. In one scene, an Ant-Man and an Avenger6 have a fight, but it turns out they are both good guys and it’s all a misunderstanding. Like every issue of every superhero comic ever. Delightful.
In addition to all that lowest common denominator froth, crafted to tickle and caress my geek bones, Ant-Man depicts an exhilarating moment that literally7 left me breathless. It could have been ripped out of the trippier parts of Kubrick’s 2001. The scene is sufficiently, delicately foreshadowed such that it easily fits within the film, despite its otherworldliness. That was a good scene.
Ant-Man isn’t art. I’m not convinced The Orenda is either. But neither of them need to be.
We celebrate noble failures all the time. We perhaps give such failures more credit than they deserve, or wear rose-tinted spectacles for longer than we should.
I think, on most days, I’d rather consume a well-crafted, workmanlike meal than a failed, but noble, gastronomic experiment.