Assassination Nation (Sam Levinson, 2018)

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DarkImbecile
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Assassination Nation (Sam Levinson, 2018)

#1 Post by DarkImbecile » Wed Jun 27, 2018 11:07 am

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I have no idea what this movie is, but that's certainly an attention-getting poster.

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PfR73
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Re: The Films of 2018

#2 Post by PfR73 » Wed Jun 27, 2018 1:36 pm

Apparently the writer/director is the son of Barry Levinson.

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Re: The Films of 2018

#3 Post by colinr0380 » Wed Jun 27, 2018 3:01 pm

Serendipitously I just was hearing about Assassination Nation on one of the IndieWire podcasts from Sundance earlier this year that I only just caught up with this afternoon! The film apparently has something to do with social media satire, in which a whole town's secret lives get outed (something about men being annoyed at women for revealing things about them?) and it results in a witchhunt. It's set in Salem, natch.

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Re: The Films of 2018

#4 Post by DarkImbecile » Tue Jul 17, 2018 11:23 am


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Never Cursed
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Re: Assassination Nation (Sam Levinson, 2018)

#5 Post by Never Cursed » Fri Sep 21, 2018 3:57 am

Well now I feel a little bad for slagging off Flower almost on a conceptual level, because here's a movie that tackles some similar subject matter (both movies with an offbeat, unlikeable female protagonist with a penchant for explicit drawings nonetheless) that I thought was much better. Much like DarkImbecile said for Flower, I tenuously liked this movie, and I thought it functioned extremely well as a teen movie designed to manipulate the target audience of teens on as base a level as possible, though I liked the movie more in its first half when it was hyperbolically exploring the social effects of a mass hack (ie when it was actually exploiting its premise) than when it went for more standard slasher ideas later on. Unlike Flower, which I thought made the mistake of treating its charmless main character with reverence, this movie never convinced me it was in love with its leads, and at least my reading of the movie was that that their attitudes and actions were 100% one of the targets of the social commentary being made. Levinson is definitely overreaching with some of his message (somehow I don't think people in real life have such internalized misogyny that they physically attack random "loose" girls)
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and the movie completely falls apart in its last few minutes - everything after the final speech screams "we didn't know how to end this"
but there are enough well-executed sequences to mostly pick up the slack - I'm thinking in particular of one great tracking/fake tracking shot which circles around and reframes the interiors of a house during a violent B&E for minutes on end - so overall I think I enjoyed this, if that's the right word to use for such a cynical movie.

Oh, and like this movie, I'll offer a preemptive trigger warning: there are a couple fairly violent sequences in the movie that are more extreme than promotional materials would lead you to believe. I mean, if you plan to see Suspiria or The House That Jack Built theatrically, then no sweat, but it's certainly more graphic than most horror films of this kind (though I should point out that this isn't a horror film) usually get.

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Re: Assassination Nation (Sam Levinson, 2018)

#6 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat Jan 09, 2021 2:43 am

Well, much to my surprise I think I loved this more than anybody here, though unlike Never Cursed (and very much like Lily's pronouncement that we can hold empathy and moral disagreement at once, notably to the dismissal of her friends) I don't think we have to choose between being in love with these characters and also seeing them as targets of the social commentary. I do think we’re allowed to identify with our lead, Lily (a phenomenally balanced performance from Odessa Young), as her early internal monologues communicate weighed hopelessness masked as empowerment. She attacks the concept of honesty because identity removed from social influence feels impossible to access for these youth, and without the right supports she may as well reject the concept of authentic self-actualization and seek strength from the building blocks of culture as a defensive stance. Artificiality and truth cease to matter when your only viable next step forward is to shotgun a neon-soaked cocktail of pop phantasmagoria til you’re spun.

I keep coming back to her line about holding empathy and moral disagreement at once, not only because I believe it but because it's so politically incorrect to believe, let alone say out loud, that as soon as she utters this philosophy we sense her drowning in a sea of unreciprocated opinions of anti-consciousness. This ethos juxtaposed with the trigger-judgments lobbed at privatized mundane skeletons-in-closets-made-public is a sagacious stripping of the hypocrisy behind cancel culture. Levinson cares deeply about these victims of diagnostic oversimplification, as the camera follows them with attentive proximity that works as both intimacy and invasiveness. How depressing, that nobody is allowed to be complex other than the beholder of character assassinations, our capacity for tenderness and mercy eliminated by the zeitgeist.

The contradiction of Lily recalling her boyfriend’s compassion and positive nostalgic significance with his crass antithetical comments during their fight is an insightful encapsulation of this ironic whirlpool of Gen Z’s post-post-modernism fused into “real life.” Levinson's use of black comedy and stylistic theatrics are perfectly fit for taking that theme and applying it to the most exaggerated artificial exposition that make this a kind of docudrama under a new-age lens. He attempted this again with a different tenor for Euphoria, but while that series' approach orbits more tightly around shades of realism, Assassination Nation's strategic method of symbolism more successfully, and audaciously, expresses the enigmatic experience of this generation, as the narrative bearings slip from heightened subjective potency of corporeal states into allegorical excess using familiar, steadily amplified, language to evoke its anima.

The apocalyptic tone is set by the halfway mark so all the residual information only supports the self-fulfilling prophecies established by Lily‘s surrender to the repression of her vulnerability, finally catching up to her milieu as she sees it: actively disintegrating into narcissistic violence. I love how Levinson paints this generation as simultaneously demonstrating persistent resilience in an era of social comparison and ego fragility from constant social media consumption and paradoxically ill-equipped to cope with life's tribulations as a result of such platforms impeding social skills and facilitating detachment to develop independent selves. The social isolation and solipsistic justification are empathized with and scoffed at, respectively, from lending a sensitive eye to Lily’s humiliation in one moment and mocking the nonchalant rationalization made by a girl beating another girl with a baseball bat in the next. Some of these commentaries are ones we can all relate to regardless of when we were born, though these bearings become slippery as Levinson forces us into this generation's wavelength, much like they're forced into its ubiquitous overstimulation themselves.

The descent into hell this film sets as its course -a nightmarish hilarity whose poles getting wider and wider much to our amusement and to the detriment of these people who live in the barren, abandoned, directionless, yet overwhelming space between these increasingly alienating extremes- is an apt satire because it’s how Lily sees the world; a metaphor for the chaos and necessary aggression with which these women need to contest with an equally cosmic-aggressive social context. It’s her world, not mine, so who am I to judge this movie's trajectory? Levinson's film is far more ambiguous than it appears, for he uses extremes manifesting as half-serious/half-joking didactics to reflect a confusion that comes from powerlessness in the face of a grey world, and the narrative devolution only gets closer to the sincere core of this fucking intense ineffable feeling (which is what the film is really "about" in my eyes), ironically as the physical events become more caustically absurd, eventually reveling in home-invasion/cult horror. This is arguably the most committed exploration to uncover the reality of youth experiencing a dissolve of identity that I've ever seen, here topically exemplified by the ruthless assaults of a weaponized cancel culture, to the degree where the aesthetics and narrative stimuli must also dissolve into extreme symbolic macabre to tell its truth. The film operates as a musical where the reality-breaking numbers are fits of dissociative carnage rather than alleviating clarities of caroling perspective, but both are similarly tools of self-expression in their own respective vacuumed internal logic.

I also absolutely loved the ending. The final lines could not be any more fitting for a film populated with peripheral characters taking meaningless, antisocial action so personally, and yet reflecting and projecting back that same numbness in a cycle of incessantly eroding appreciation for human life. The preceding monologue reminds us of the sea of people guessing, judging, and forgetting the rational depths of emotion-based behavior shallowly on the surface-level, reinforcing Lily's subjective experience of being fatalistically misunderstood and disregarded due to a mixture of our psyche's inherent impenetrability and cultural apathy infecting everyone, including our loved ones, to even try to take a perspective of curiosity or humility- a revelation that's darkly comic, tragic, and affirming (so many contradictions here, but that's life) as we finally see that Levinson is actualizing the unconditional empathy for Lily that she needs and that her world, or ‘assassination nation’, has failed to deliver. Oh, and that final credits sequence set to a big-band Postmodern Jukebox-style cover of "We Can't Stop," bringing us back to a wordless expression of the passion we've just seen for two hours, thereby refusing to discard this thematic feeling with a superfluous acidic bite as the final word and opting instead for implicit humanism (no wonder Sean Baker loved it) by unapologetically parading in the streets of rubble with youthful defiance for any and all barriers to emancipated spirit? This generation will carry on. How validating! I'm clearly alone here, but I think it's a perfect film, and one of the most complex pieces of art-imitating-life from the last decade.

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Re: Assassination Nation (Sam Levinson, 2018)

#7 Post by colinr0380 » Sun Jun 13, 2021 6:46 am

"I think that you can disagree with a person and still feel empathy"
"Yeah, and maybe you're not me"

I'm not too sure that I really bought into the particular socio-political barbs that Assassination Nation kept throwing out during its run time. This really felt like two films bolted together with a big turn at the mid-point into a simpler, more focused and cathartic 'us v them' explosion of violence that forces people to choose sides (somewhat strangely making this perhaps the best film to explore that certain George Bush-style "you're with us or with the terrorists" attitude than any of the run of Iraq War films).

I particularly liked the run of scenes of Lily's conversations, of her meeting with the Principal over her Egon Schiele-style drawings (yet while he respects her ability, its not appropriate for her school environment); the scene when Lily attempts to empathise with Mayor Bartlett's suicide that gets dismissed by her transsexual friend because the Mayor was hypocritically hiding his sexual interests from everyone until the hack exposed them (which has shades of the Anthony Weiner scandal); and the third scene that almost immediately follows with her parents about the Principal about how a guy having a photograph of his young daughter naked in the bath on his leaked phone probably does not really mean that he is a secret child molester (the most powerful moment of the film is probably that upsetting pan down from the young kids on their own phone on the landing down to the Principal and his wife nervously talking in hushed whispers at the dinner table, as the even younger generation getting hurt in the collateral damage by the squabbling of the two generations above them - actually the three generations - over issues of meaning and representation getting recontextualised for current needs), but her parents are too invested in the narrative going on in their heads by this stage. That scene with Lily and her parents at the dinner table (and younger brother, who amusingly tries to shift the uncomfortable conversation away from sexual issues towards safer mondo-violent ones at the end, with asking if anyone saw that video of a family being mauled by tigers online!) is probably the best one in the film, as it is almost as if the parents have been in search of 'proof' long before this to explain the corruption of the wider world. The Principal or the Mayor don't matter as individuals (and I like that they get put in almost identical spotlight situations, dealing with it differently yet just as futilely), they are just the inevitable representatives for wrathful societal hypocrisy (whether actual or horrifically overblown, all the context gets flattened out into 'he's a monster' posturing) and there is nothing that Lily can really do to counter the strongly held, yet fundamentally biased, beliefs that are driving people. Its all building to her becoming the subject of the witch hunt for the second half of the film.

This film has a really pessimistic, bordering on contemptuous, view of the general mass of people as pretty much immediately getting the wrong end of the stick and being happy with having done that on the whole (although interestingly it does not really satirise the media's role in amping up tensions, perhaps because of it wanting to be about the internet, but it does sort of allow them to get away scot-free by putting all of the onus on individuals acting anonymously online. Yet you don't have to look much further than the overblown Prince Harry and Meghan Markle 'scandal' going on at the moment, and associated complete deafening silence over Prince Andrew, to see this kind of biased narrative being played out in an 'official media' sphere), and that all flows into the expectation people have of being able to comment and make judgements on people's private behaviours and morality (from what they wear in private, to what they eat as a couple). If the setting of Salem was not already indication enough, this is paradoxically a film about modern day Puritanism that is full of explicit swearing and sex. Yet there are still things that people are doing with their bodies and have as their interests (and just have as general existences) that are apparently incensing to the point of needing a posse put together to 'sort it out'.

That covers the Mayor's indiscretions (which he kindly deals with on behalf of the mob, creating his new viral video in the process); the Principal's 'child molesting' (which he has the utterly rude temerity to attempt to deny); to Bex's transsexuality causing ructions amongst the football team's bro culture, necessitating much more extreme (and even more homo-erotic) bonding rituals to recover from; to Nick's amusement at the hacking causing him to become the prime suspect when revenge is sought; to eventually Lily becoming the ultimate object of puritanical hate, in being 'slut-shamed', even if she was only ever in search of a more understanding 'daddy' figure.

I do like that the seemingly all-American family turns out to be the single nexus from where all the tensions originate, and where everything comes back to roost as well! It turns out to be a very private story in that sense, despite dragging the entire town into sharing a collective breakdown!

However after an interesting (if heightened) first half where a lot of these subjects get brought up, I am not too sure that the film has much further to go after that. After the old-school figures of the Mayor and Principal are dealt with (and the hacker guy who triggers off the witch hunt in earnest after a bit of Iraq War-style waterboarding, although the focus appeared likely to have landed on Lily with or without his involvement) in some ways I do not think the film understands or has any interest in the psychological motivations of men beyond just portraying them as ego-bruised jock horndogs always ready for a bit of retributive violence. Which really makes the casual namedropping of Straw Dogs at one point (a film that does a far more complex, grounded and in depth delve into gender politics, tit-for-tat squabbling, one-upmanship in relationships and bruised egos than this film could even begin to imagine) something that really did annoy me a lot!

I ended up feeling that this is a film that wears the garb of profoundity by surrounding itself not just in one or two issues but all the issues and then needs to turn everything into a black-and-white, us versus them climax where the only proper response is an equal and opposite explosion of violence in response. To me, the tougher ending to a film like this would not have been everyone dividing into two opposing camps leveling their weapons against each other, but if the final "Fuck you" monologue was delivered to nobody in opposition at all, because nobody beyond Lily and her friends would particularly care about their side of the situation one way or the other. A generational rebel yell to nobody is perhaps worse than facing an army of incensed jocks and Baby Boomers with your gal pals and the rest of the girls of your generation in town backing you up with their own magically appearing arsenal of weaponry, because at least when facing such overwhelming opposition you know that you have provoked attention and fundamentally have a right to fight for existence in one form or another.

But a much more daring ending of our quartet of heroines now being cathartically unleashed beyond just righteous revenge but into their own world of pre-emptive hate against those with even the potential to treat them differently (therefore the cycle continues, probably into their own children rebelling against them one day. The Principal's kids in particular might be set to perform their own upheavals in a few years!) would perhaps have been too complex for this film to deal with, even if it may have underlined the theme of the film that people are writing their own narratives in their heads about their situations and not trying to assess things from outside of their own initial responses, both from those wanting to oppress and those that they have driven to extremes in response, in a kind of symbiotic relationship of mutual (gender, generational, etc) distrust. The Puritans end up creating the new, modern band of 'witches' who eventually come to embrace their status as 'outcasts' to destroy the community that had turned on them as being the cause of all their problems. Its hard to sympathise with anyone in that conflict, even if after the situations they experience Lily and her friends are understandable in their meting out of bloody violence (once the knives and guns come out, its just a fight for survival at that point).

This feels like a film that both condemns vigilanteism and then rather conservatively appears to suggest that it is the only solution in the absence of the authorities doing their job to police people and their urges properly. While also saying that everyone in the avenging role (amateur or 'professional') is pretty much lashing out wildly, and creating innocent victims in their wake. That pretty much underlines that the film is a modern day version of The Crucible (or the best entry in the Purge series - The Purge: Salem? I'm trying extremely hard not to just say that its the best Tarantino film that Tarantino never made, with all the inherent flaws that implies), than anything more nuanced than that. All of these events are about people feeling guilty about their dark desires being uncovered that destroy their relationships and then lashing out in response, when really the best response to all of this (as perhaps embodied by Bex) would have been to just face the vocal crowds down and say "Yeah? So what? I am what I am, and its none of your business anyway". Though of course that usually ends with the person exposed in the spotlight on stage, waterboarded and a noose around their neck for their sins.

So we get to the sudden, audacious turn at the mid-point of the film into the home invasion night of the witch hunt, as our four protagonists dress in matching blood-red outfits and the film does that excellent tracking shot going up and down and all around the outside of the house that seems like an obvious homage to that tracking shot during Argento's Tenebrae (NSFW). I was initially a bit ambivalent about this turn as Straw Dogs has a cathartic final act turn into us-versus-them violence too, although that was pretty grounded (and far harder hitting) compared to what occurs here. Yet strangely this was where the film went from feeling a bit muddled in its random societal barbs to actually pretty good. Whilst slightly disappointingly all the pretexts at nuance fall away for the attacking jocks just becoming even more one-note caricatures (though I suppose that at least they remain somewhat human, at least compared to the recent Black Christmas remake!), it becomes more purely a film about pushing our four heroines to the point where they are justified in fighting back with ultraviolence. In everything boiling down to one-on-one confrontations we lose the wider allegorical point being made somewhat, but the characters themselves come to the foreground instead.
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And then we get to the amusing coda where everyone tries to put the blame for their actions back onto the initial hacker for having 'made them' commit all their acts in response. That hypocrisy of washing their hands of their responsibility and funneling it down onto a single wrong doer itself getting amusingly undermined by the final line from what I would like to imagine is the mouthpiece of the director!
Last edited by colinr0380 on Fri Jun 25, 2021 3:12 am, edited 13 times in total.

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Re: Assassination Nation (Sam Levinson, 2018)

#8 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Jun 13, 2021 2:38 pm

Great thoughts, colin! I really loved reading that, even if I don't entirely agree with your criticisms. Where we most disagree, I think, is that I don't see Levinson as making an objective statement on a collective answer to these issues. The film is entirely rooted in subjectivity (when it's not following Lily, we're empathizing with Bex or the Mayor or Principal briefly) so this "pessimistic, bordering on contemptuous, view of the general mass of people as pretty much immediately getting the wrong end of the stick" is felt as a burden of being oppressed, rather than a remote observant examination of this oppression and all its facets. All the issues are taken on not because it's a composite portrait but because these people are being bombarded with every issue flooding their consciouses 24/7. So the descent into simplified violence feels to be less a simplification in the form of allegorical solution, but an allegory for the only way these people can conceive of sublimating their feelings of persecution. I definitely saw this more as a film about the feelings rather than the actions -obviously the former influenced by the latter, but the formidable weaponized zeitgeist smothers these characters with culture, and it is the internal effects of this 'smothering' on the psyche that Levinson is interested in focusing). A lesser film would have been more concisely didactic in its satirization, but Assassination Nation offers no synthesis of pragmatic ideas outside of the emotional consequences that are channeled into pragmatic violence emulating the most direct tangible way we can communicate our intangible emotions- fury.

Another example of why I don't think the film is more aloofly meditating on this Cancel Culture impulse from a definitively negative perspective is in how the character of Bex is handled. Lily's "I think that you can disagree with a person and still feel empathy" may embody my own position, but Levinson takes great care to emphasize why Bex may feel differently, and validates that concern insularly, and in doing so gives her equitable merit to feel as she does, coexisting with the other privileged assertions. Bex may be popular, but the scene where she is rejected with shame post-coitus is stalled on with surging empathy, as we briefly soak in her tragic experience and can postulate why someone may adopt a less externally humanistic worldview; not from a logical position, but an emotional one- which many of us incorrectly believe doesn't rule our own internal logics when it really does most of the time.

I do think Levinson is acknowledging that he aligns with Lily's stance as well, but that's part of his approach to filmmaking in general that forms an ethos of incorporating his beliefs and feelings as one ingredient subject to critique; rather than taking his subjective feelings and proclaiming it as an objective statement. He's critiquing even that simplified view, and as you allude to in your spoiler, ends by throwing his hands up and admitting humbly that it's all absurd and he doesn't know all the 'why's (hence why when these characters cannot discern truth or solutions themselves, they externalize their stress in violence). I'm not sure how much familiarity you have with Levinson's work, but I encourage you to check out more if you haven't already (but, for the love of God, do not watch his debut, which is one of the worst films I've ever seen- and thematically irrelevant to his subsequent work). It took me a while to get on his wavelength, and I think that if I saw this film first I would have been more critical, but after consuming Euphoria, especially the two special episodes/movies, and the equally-messy Malcolm & Marie, it's become apparent to me that this man is a seeker, a curious artist who creates complex works that extract his own emotional reactions and character flaws, courageously contends them with others, and continuously reaches zeniths of self-evaluation, humility, egoism, and growth, before morphing back into another ball of enigmatic cognitive-emotional density to start anew. These are films made by someone who so clearly works a 12-step recovery program of constant introspection, admission of defects, and determination for growth, as well as inconsistent confessions of imperfections.

I'm so glad you got something out of this film, and thoroughly enjoyed your insights that are too plentiful to discuss one by one. The impasse resigns in the method of how intrusive Levinson is being. He's being very intrusive- he's passionate, aggressive, angry, hopeless, and amused with irony- but he's also more concerned with the emotional effects on this generation of youth than his own sociopolitical hangups, and so checking any clarity of a diluted intrusive aim incessantly. Watching the fusion and conflicting interactions of those positions and more are part of what makes this film so fascinating, uneven, esoteric, and overwhelming; it's figuratively putting accessibility and inaccessibility in a pit to duke it out.

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Re: Assassination Nation (Sam Levinson, 2018)

#9 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Jun 14, 2021 3:10 am

Thanks twbb! Sorry I did not enjoy it as much as you did, but it is certainly a vivid, highly stylised film and it is nice (even if I found it frustrating at times!) to see a film tackling some current issues head on than completely ignoring some of the difficult issues. I don't think many recent family drama films have had the courage to have the parents drag their daughter out of the house by her hair (ironically in an action a bit like the one done to Susan George in Straw Dogs!) and lock her out of the family home in disgust at her revealed online indiscretions!

I like your point about the film being about subjectivity more than objectivity, probably best expressed in the moment you talked about in your earlier post of Lily getting put down by her boyfriend whilst her voiceover describes how they got together and how happy and loved she felt. Its a film that is sort of about the betrayal of confidence in different forms, as people have their worlds upended by casual cruelties that make them realise that there is no 'safe space' left to inhabit. The online space that was once a place to explore different aspects of yourself, your sexuality, your personality and diary-like feelings about it all suddenly becomes public to all. This I think is less because of 'the internet being evil' but because we are in a transitional stage of the internet from being the exciting/dangerous equivalent of the 'Wild West' to being urbanised (and monetised-corporatised) into 'safety', but a safety that puts constraints on behaviours: I remember back in the early 2000s when the BBC were doing that huge push to put everyone online that such an aim was all well and good, even noble in some senses, but in that forced mass colonisation of the online space it was going to displace the nerds, the weirdos (and yes, maybe the deeply disturbed perverts and criminals!) who had made this initially marginal space a place to set up home. Twenty years on where almost everything has to take place online, from shopping to paying utility bills, and everyone from children to teachers, parents, church leaders and businesses are expected to inhabit that self-same space (and even more importantly, and something which I think Assassination Nation is particularly dealing with, is that we now have an entire generation of young adults who grew up online with everything from, yes, their baby bath-time pictures to their latest naughty tryst with boyfriends all available on Facebook whether they consented or not and not even needing a hacker to put it all there for parents/teachers/employers/the State to view) there is much less tolerance of potentially extreme behaviour from these new (often political, or at least politicised) interlopers who are obsessed with 'cleaning up' the internet to make it a place for all the family to inhabit without stumbling across something that might disturb them.

This difficult transition from the internet being the new 'Wild West' to the new 'cleaned up Times Square' space is going to damage quite a lot of people, as they work out if they shared too much (or too little!) to make themselves societally acceptable in the new internet paradigm (as perhaps seen best by Lily talking about shaping her body to take the perfect nude selfie. Isn't that the Instagram world of people creating the most pleasing posed pictures of themselves and their lives in a nutshell?). People who used the internet to explore themselves may find that they will not be allowed to test the waters anonymously anymore but, as in the 'real world' have to accept the direct, named consequences for having thoughts and feelings that society might frown at. A lot will be lost in the pursuit of getting everyone (who may be more or less adept at adapting to that space) online, and those who are only there for practical purposes might frown at those using such space for other reasons, whilst the marginalised look for the next hidden, liminal space to safely inhabit. Perhaps that is another way in which this modern day set film has links back to the Puritan Colonial era.

Anyway, as someone who until recently was being threatened by carers and social workers regarding my father's care and the future of my family home, I can certainly relate to that feeling of authoritarian hypocrisy leaving no where to turn for recourse and redressing of grievances (except death), but I think having a bit of a personal experience of being on the receiving end of personally-directed biased cruel comments is something that makes me understand the impulse to fight back yet also makes me recoil a bit from subjectively wallowing in anger and revenge as being a fully cathartic response. It is perhaps naive to say that treating people who make these kind of comments and behave in the way that they do as having any kind of a point at all just gives them power, and it would be much better to just let them do the greater damage to themselves instead by their toxic behaviour and ways of thinking, even if they do have the power to waterboard and/or hang you (or sell your family home)! It is incredibly difficult to have to just weather the storm until these kinds of people exhaust themselves and move on to their next object of interest (and I know how excruciatingly difficult that can be!), but caring too much about what people say on the spur of the moment can often become a person's own downfall. Especially when such people often provoke with the notion of getting a reaction that can then be in turn over-reacted to with faux shock and anger! That's really why, whilst I understand Bex not giving a damn about the Mayor because he would not have cared one jot about her if their roles were reversed, that just ends up in a situation of people stuck sniping at each other from their own entrenched positions (and I also really like that moment of Bex walking briskly past the boy who wanted to keep their sexual encounter low key, but in some ways excited for a confrontation with him to occur as well, to have the fight out in the open rather than keep the tension simmering under wraps). The slight ray of hope in the boy who slighted her from his own embarrassment eventually having a line he will not cross in tormenting Bex, and then Bex herself 'forgiving' him at the end perhaps suggests a slight slip away from everyone being so subjective all of the time and looking more at a world that they have to inhabit together. Though of course, any notion of common ground is all quickly subsumed by the flashily cathartic 'two tribes' stand off at the climax!

I am curious if you have seen that 2013 Rob Zombie film The Lords of Salem? That film came to mind a lot whilst watching Assassination Nation as another film contemporising the Salem witch trials to a modern day setting (albeit all of Rob Zombie's 'modern day' films end up seeming as if they are set in the mid-1970s!). I certainly think they would make for an interesting double bill together!

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Re: Assassination Nation (Sam Levinson, 2018)

#10 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Jun 14, 2021 12:30 pm

colinr0380 wrote:
Mon Jun 14, 2021 3:10 am
I think having a bit of a personal experience of being on the receiving end of personally-directed biased cruel comments is something that makes me understand the impulse to fight back yet also makes me recoil a bit from subjectively wallowing in anger and revenge as being a fully cathartic response. It is perhaps naive to say that treating people who make these kind of comments and behave in the way that they do as having any kind of a point at all just gives them power, and it would be much better to just let them do the greater damage to themselves instead by their toxic behaviour and ways of thinking, even if they do have the power to waterboard and/or hang you (or sell your family home)! It is incredibly difficult to have to just weather the storm until these kinds of people exhaust themselves and move on to their next object of interest (and I know how excruciatingly difficult that can be!), but caring too much about what people say on the spur of the moment can often become a person's own downfall.
I can relate to your personal reaction here, as well as the skepticism of Bex's canceling attitude (as I think I've made quite clear on this board!) that reinforces a 'Chinese finger trap' anti-dialogue. I also think Levinson would candidly also agree on a personal level. What interests me so much about this film is that Levinson is more interested in the youth than the adults- who in the film are more like us in not being able to cope with these stressors of relentless judgment (i.e. the Mayor, Principal, Lily's parents, Joel McHale). I think Levinson admires the resilience of today's youth, he's inspired by it, and also using a subjective technique to plunge us into their experience, overstimulating us to the point where we're ready to erupt ourselves and saying, "See? This is what gen z youth are dealing with 24/7 every single day." I've put a lot of emphasis on the descent into chaos being an allegorically empowering tangible solution for these young people, but a large reason the milieu collapses into a social apocalypse is because the adults have a lower frustration tolerance for this ceaseless triggering from an unpoliced space (hence how law enforcers immediately resign their duties to protect and serve- exacerbating the Hobbesian freefall).
colinr0380 wrote:
Mon Jun 14, 2021 3:10 am
It's a film that is sort of about the betrayal of confidence in different forms, as people have their worlds upended by casual cruelties that make them realise that there is no 'safe space' left to inhabit. The online space that was once a place to explore different aspects of yourself, your sexuality, your personality and diary-like feelings about it all suddenly becomes public to all.
I'd suggest a slightly tweaked reading of that, where the film may expose the tragedy of this 'loss' of confidence to us older folks (gen y and above), but the teens who are the main characters have been familiarized with this insecure space of infinite satiation, and a de-privatized state of being as expected conditions of life, from ground zero. That's why I've called this Gen Z's Rebel Without a Cause- it's a film that, I think, is actually way ahead of its time. Right now the majority of critics and moviegoers view this as an uncomfortably aggressive reminder of our recent acclimation to there being "no 'safe space' left to inhabit," but there is a sect of the population who already knows and feels this, and has become desensitized to this truth on a daily basis since practically birth. We are the parents in Ray's film, who don't "get" it and are processing our loss separate from the youth who grew up learning the language that we reject. The kids, on the other hand, are finally reaching their own breaking point after serving years of adaptive management, engaging in vulnerable psychosocial developmental stages in a milieu that's unforgiving and incongruous with the self-consciousness these innate phases of maturation provoke. I have a feeling that in about ten years or so this will be seen as an apt exhibition of this experience, that which some of us cannot fathom (I'll just speak for myself, but I can't completely part from my perspective of this as a 'loss' following my own development in a social context without such ubiquitous technology during formative years).
colinr0380 wrote:
Mon Jun 14, 2021 3:10 am
I am curious if you have seen that 2013 Rob Zombie film The Lords of Salem? That film came to mind a lot whilst watching Assassination Nation as another film contemporising the Salem witch trials to a modern day setting (albeit all of Rob Zombie's 'modern day' films end up seeming as if they are set in the mid-1970s!). I certainly think they would make for an interesting double bill together!
I have not see it, but you've caught my attention. Grabbing it today from my library!

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colinr0380
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Re: Assassination Nation (Sam Levinson, 2018)

#11 Post by colinr0380 » Tue Jun 15, 2021 3:24 am

I just wanted to say that I think your "Gen Z's Rebel Without A Cause" analogy is a really good one! Rebel Without A Cause itself is a vividly vibrant, and somewhat headily melodramatic, portrait of spiralling adolescent angst that is always threatening to careen off the rails (or over that cliff!), but that's what turns it from being a more grounded portrait looking at these troubled kids (as a lot of the surrounding issue based exploitation films of its era that often instead use the parent's/authority perspective on the issue of juvenile delinquents as a kind of safety net for its audience to indulge without shame or full identification with the kids) into feeling as if it exists for the purpose of privileging their headspace over everything else.

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John Cope
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Re: Assassination Nation (Sam Levinson, 2018)

#12 Post by John Cope » Sun Jun 20, 2021 4:28 am

A tremendous piece of work. Seriously epochal in its significance. Very sorry it took this long for me to see this, especially as I'm a great admirer of Levinson's Euphoria. There are many stylistic antecedents to Levinson's cinema (Gregg Araki and Harmony Korine especially) but it's still very much his own terrain that he's forging here; it is Cinematic too in a way that we rarely see even in cinema anymore: big, bold, expressive, unafraid, unapologetic. Having said that, and as much as this poster image is awesome and striking, the poster and tagline kind of give a wrong impression as to what this is and what it's all about. It makes it seem like a glib jape but (as with the best of Araki) it is not that at all. And though this does thematically resonate as a confluence of Gaspar Noe meets Rules of Attraction or Heathers the big difference here (and part of Levinson's glory as a film artist) is that the high style, the Huge Style, does not distance us ironically; instead, we are plunged into the morass of this suburban community upended chaotically by random seeming data hacks. We don't just recognize the truth of what Levinson is getting at but we share the distress as the noose tightens inextricably.

Levinson nails the situation of our digital and data dependent age better than anyone I've ever seen. He has an obvious understanding of and affinity for youth culture but he has an equal sensitivity for our cultural moment. There have been a lot of films over the last twenty years that deal in a half-baked sort of way with the (pre)dominance of social media, the internet, etc. and the way it shapes us, our lives and cultures, but I don't think anybody has ever got at the precariousness of our circumstances quite as well as this, the way it all could easily tip full on into a chaos many long for anyway (the Purge analogy).

Part of that just has to do with how well he maps out the omnipotence of the digital world surrounding and encompassing us and convincingly indicates how easy it would be for that same technology we rely on to bury us, especially since so many have ceded so much of themselves to that realm. Revelation of all thoughts, feelings, hidden inclinations then is a virtual key stroke away and he makes that felt and the fear of that felt, all the implicit anxieties of it as what used to be our private lives are laid bare before everyone. But Levinson also grasps that nothing particularly incriminating would even need to be found; that the inclination is already always there, stoked up into an inferno, to "assassinate" everyone at the slightest opportunity (that's why the final plea against self-righteousness has so much power).

Structurally the film is quite brilliant as well. The first half is a very slow build in establishing the convincing and overwhelming details of this world and our circumstances. He goes from the digital outing of someone which seem vaguely cartoonish initially as a caricature of standard hypocrisy to the direct results of that which are blunt and vicious. From there he ups the ante as it all goes from a slow simmer to a full boil. The Purge analogy isn't subtle but shouldn't be and is utterly justified; Levinson gets at exactly what that series does at its best, the intricacy of its condemnations. His film then is ultimately as moralistic as those it confronts and faces down, a moralist rebuke or repudiation, and such moralism seems unavoidable, inevitable, a proper meeting on the same level of direct relevance and, as such, properly purgative.

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therewillbeblus
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Re: Assassination Nation (Sam Levinson, 2018)

#13 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Jun 20, 2021 10:56 am

Great thoughts, John Cope! You’re dead-on in describing Levinson’s unironic sobering style, even if part of that is geared at exposing ironies in our culture. I’ve said it before, but I believe he’s the most empathetic and curious filmmaker working today, and certainly the one who’s the most misunderstood in this department, cast aside and labeled as problematic or exploitative. Unfortunately, because he sees the voyage of subjective truth as messy as it is, and has a head full of AA to be able to esoterically translate his empathy in deep, complex ways that hit nerves otherwise excluded from traditionally “empathetic” films, what he produces is easily misinterpreted because it’s rather uncomfortably grey, indigestible communication for the masses (Malcolm & Marie is probably the best example). However, I wouldn’t want him to channel his compassion and disinhibited interest any other way, so I’m grateful to be part of the (apparently) small club who can access his wavelength.

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