My writer’s group recommended that I look at Men in Black as a spur to rewriting the feature that I’m working on to submit for the Academy Awards’ Nicholl Fellowship. It was moderately helpful — I’ve been struggling for a nice punch at the end, and the sight of Will Smith stomping on cockroaches to infuriate the savage “bug” that had been previously hiding in Vincent D’Onofrio’s skin made me ask myself what would infuriate my own villain? (He’s a PUA who’s been possessed by a vengeful alien intelligence. The short answer is “a strong woman”.)
It was also clear that that final battle, like the movie itself, didn’t have quite enough, although there are some satisfying moments. It lacks a critical character moment for Will Smith–he’s smart and brave, but we already know that about him. He doesn’t surprise himself–or us. Entertaining movie, but somehow I was hoping for a little more.
It also was surprising to see how lightly the movie played the relationship between Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. The bromance may have recently taken over action movies, but that’s a recent mode a long-latent (and often explicit) tendency, viz. Butch and Sundance, Lethal Weapon. J. and K. have a mentor/partner relationship, but it only has two small moments of emotional connection, one of which is centered on K. pining for a long-lost love and the second of which is good-bye. It will be interesting to see whether this summer’s entry in the franchise affects more fashionably labile expressions of friendship.
The movie does offer adequate testament to the immigration politics of the Clinton years. The aliens are quasi-legal-immigrants, regulated by a vast bureaucracy that imitates large public institutions but is completely secret. Although Tommy Lee Jones first announces himself as a representative of the INS, that’s a cover story that he subsequently changes. The bureaucracy exists to both allow refugee aliens safe harbor while conceal their existence from the public. In our world, this is not a governmental function, but a political one, a liberal-but-not-left Democratic position, trying to express compassion to one constituency while hoping not to have to talk about the issue with another. (Certainly not calling for amnesty, let alone open borders.)
I was reminded of a panel on immigration at the two-day AFL-CIO-sponsored Columbia Labor Symposium in 1996, a kind of labor-left revival for students and academics, in whose plenary session historian David Montgomery shouted “and this time, we’re going to grab on like Gila monsters and never let go!” We were in a breakout session about immigration, and some labor lawyer was nattering on about how whatever had befallen illegal immigrants (Prop 187, federal waffling) the Clinton administration had at least increased the number of legal immigrants, and perhaps that was the best we could hope for. He hadn’t quite gauged the exciting effect of the Prop 187 campaign on us. Somehow we were hoping for much more.
What did you see? Was it enough?