Sunday, 22 May 2016

What is Truth? - 10 Cloverfield Lane



Director: JJ Abrams
Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Release: 11 March 2016
IMDB User Rating: 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes User Rating: 90%

If you are reading this post and have not seen the movie then I recommend that you stop reading now and go and see it. There are two reasons - first of all you probably won't understand what I am writing about if you haven't seen the movies, and that this post will contain an awful lot of spoilers. As with my other posts on movies this is not a review, namely because I prefer to go much deeper into movies than simply looking at them in a superficial way as you would in a review. Anyway, I've already written a review of the film on IMBD (and there are plenty of reviews of the film there anyway).

I should mention though, that 10 Cloverfield Lane is basically a psychological thriller about a woman who finds herself trapped in an underground bunker and has been told that she cannot go outside because there has been an attack and that the outside world is toxic. As such it appears that she will be trapped down here for at least a year, if not more, with two strange men. One of the men, Harold, claims to have rescued her, and gets very aggressive when she doesn't show him the courtesy that he believes he is owed. However there is a second man, Emmett, who is just as mysterious, who was let down here after he begged Harold to let him in.

Anyway, as I tend to do with these things, here is a trailer for the movie:


That was actually the first time I saw the trailer, and I have to admit that they did it really, really well. I actually went and saw the movie without seeing the trailer, but rather knowing that it had something to do with a woman being imprisoned in a bunker and being told that she cannot go outside because there was been a nuclear or chemical attack.

I wasn't initially going to write a blog post off this film, however as I tend to do occasionally, when I go to write a review of the film I sometimes like to read through the discussion boards on IMDB (they can be interesting at times), and one of the discussion boards that I read actually turned my entire understanding of the film on its head. In fact it made me realise that it wasn't as straight forward as I originally thought it was going to be.


Normally I would jump into the synopsis, but I feel that is not necessarily required because it is not so much a film that moves from plot points to plot points, but rather a tension fuelled look into the human psyche and the nature of Truth. Most of the film is set in the bunker, and even though the plot develops, it has more to do with the changing relationship of the occupants than any external events, or a movement towards a goal (though one could argue that is goal is for Michelle, hopefully, to escape).

Truth or Perception

This actually turns out to be an important part of the film. The thing is that the entire film is told from Michelle's point of view. If Michelle is not in the room then we do not know what is happening. All we know is what Michelle knows, which means that we are subtly being dragged into Michelle's mind. What the movie makes us believe is that we are simply watching Michelle, and as such we automatically trust her. Further, the visual nature of the film makes us automatically trust Michelle. However the question is whether we can actually trust her - my position is maybe not.



The thing is that we know very little about who she is, all we know is what we see of her. She seems to be a decent, middle class girl, but in reality this is only our perception. What we perceive we automatically accept as the truth. Since we have been following her from the beginning of the film, and are following her after she escapes, we are comfortable with her. However what the film is doing is forcing us to make assumptions based upon a lot of things that we do not know. We accept what we believe about Michelle as being the truth, yet in reality it is only a perception.

First Impression

Let us consider our first impressions of the bunker. When Michelle wakes up she is in a bare cell chained to the wall. This immediately raises our suspicions as to where Michelle has landed up. My first though was from the film Misery, a Stephen King thriller where a famous author is also involved in a car crash and is rescued, and then imprisoned, by a psychotic fan. I suspect that this may have been intentional, except that many of the younger viewers would not have known of that film. However, the fact that she is chained to the wall immediately raises up the tension, and also creates suspicion towards the person who put here here.



Let us think about the mobile phone incident. There is no signal. This would make us suspect that she is underground, and based on the title, we suspect that she is really deep underground. So, she is trapped in a cell, and while she has a mobile phone she has no contact with the outside world, so this makes us believe that she is a prisoner - but of whom? Okay, there is also a very good possibility that she is also in a Faraday Cage, which is another reason why she isn't getting any signal, but that is just me being smart.

Then we meet Harold, played by John Goodman. As soon as he opens the door and enters the room our suspicions are confirmed. She is a prisoner of some horrible man (which is why I believe the casting of Goodman in the role was perfect) and we are left to wonder what is actually going to happen. She is scared, rightfully so, and the door is once again locked. So we are made to believe, more and more, that she is in fact a prisoner.

The Cell

After an incident with a burning piece of paper in the air vent, and a failed attacked with a sharpened crutch, we are finally allowed to see outside the door and into the hall. Harold seems like a nice enough guy, and we are still suspicious but less so. He has opened the door and let her out, despite her trying to kill him. He has provided her with food. He also tells her that he found her after the car crash and had brought her back here to recover. This is also when we first hear of the attack and that we cannot go outside - however we are still suspicious.



So, we now get to see where she is actually located. It is clearly a well stocked nuclear bomb shelter which will allow them to survive inside for an extended period of time. Harold is also very technically competent, and is clearly a survivalist. We also learn that there is another occupant - Emmett - who is a lot younger, and has somehow broken his arm. We are told that this was because Emmett is clumsy, but in reality we actually don't know, and are never given any alternative - therefore we simply accept this to be the truth, but there could be something a lot more sinister.

What we know as fact

Let us now consider what we know to be fact, not so much up to this point in the movie, but in the movie as a whole:

1) There was a car accident - we are pretty certain of that, however we don't know how it was caused: was it truly an accident, or was it deliberate. We know that when Michelle arrives at the service station a car approaches from behind, but we don't know what type of car it is (except that it is large) and that when she is back on the road she suddenly has a crash. After we discover that it was Harold who crashed into her, and he explains that it was because he had learnt about the impending attack an was not paying attention as he was trying to get back to the bunker.

2) There was an attack, and it was alien - At first we aren't even sure if Harold is telling the truth about there being an attack, and this distrust is increased when Michelle first looks out the window and sees everything normal, except for a couple of dead pigs: Harold's pigs. It is only when Michelle gets into the airlock and a diseased lady bangs on the door that we realise that there was an attack. Yet the truth of the attack is always sitting at the back of our mind. It is only when the alien space ship comes flying over the house, spraying gas out the back, that we realise that Harold was telling the truth all the time.

3) There was a girl in Harold's life - The thing is that we don't actually know which girl is Megan. In fact we are given conflicting stories: Harold produces one photograph and says this is Megan, where as Emmett says that it isn't, but a girl that went missing from the local area. However we actually don't know who is telling the truth. The way the movie is crafted we are more suspicious of Harold than we are of Emmett, therefore we automatically accept Emmett's version.

4) Somebody was trapped, and killed, in the bunker - when Michelle is fixing the air purifier she discovers that somebody has scratched help into the glass, and she also finds an earring. This raises a very interesting question because this is Michelle's earring. Okay, Emmett then produces a second photo of a girl, sitting with Harold wearing Megan's clothes, and Emmett tells us that the other girl was the one that went missing. This is probably one of the biggest plot holes in the movie, and one of it's major flaws - why does Harold show Michelle the picture of the missing girl, as opposed to Michelle, it's sort of a little damning for Harold, but let us continue ignoring this for a bit (because it does undermine the mystery of the film). In reality, we don't actually know who the killer is.

5) Emmett did receive an offer to run for the state university - this is important because what it means is that because his story about the bus ticket is true, we actually accept everything else that he says. However, I don't think that we can accept Emmett to be a reliable narrator, it is just that the film works to try to make us believe that he is.

6) We know that Michelle had a fight with her boyfriend - yet, like all domestics, we don't really know the circumstances around the fight. All we have is her point of view, and that she is upset. However the substance of the argument, who started it, and what caused it, is unknown. More so there is actually quite a lot we don't know about Michelle. For instance, why is it that she is so resourceful.

Harold

The film makes us think that Harold is actually the bad guy, and I suspect that this is intentional. The thing is that there is a lot that we don't know, and it is just Harold's nature that makes us want accept that he is the villain of the piece. However I am going to argue that maybe this is not actually the case. I suspect that we are being led to believe it by the film, and we are letting the film lead us in this way. I'm not sure that Harold actually meant to harm Michelle, and that he has just been pushed to the point where he is forced to defend himself.

1) Harold has difficulty controlling his anger - this doesn't actually mean that he was going to hurt her, though it quite well could, especially if he is provoked to a point where we will (and kicking a vat full of acid onto him, and then knocking him down is probably provocation enough). Sure, he seems to get angry when Michelle doesn't show him gratitude, but once again this is not surprising. He is actually trying to help Michelle, not harm her, and I suspect that he doesn't have any malicious intent. It is probably also the fact that he is prone to anger that resulted in Megan, and his wife, leaving.

2) Some have suggested that the fact that he gave Michelle Megan's clothes suggests that he is trying to somehow replace Megan, but let us remember that Michelle only had one set of clothes. It wasn't as if she could change into something else because she didn't have anything else. It was just fortunate that he still had some of Megan's wardrobe.

3) He's actually more reliable than we give him credit for - the thing is that everything that he says (with the exception of the photograph) turns out to be true. In fact he admits, and apologises, for causing the accident. He says that there was an attack, and it is true. It is clear, from his knowledge, that he is not lying about his time in the navy. Also, remember that we hear on the radio that the entire southern seaboard has blacked out, which means that he wasn't lying about the warning he received of an imminent attack.

4) He allowed Emmett into the shelter - this is an important point because if Harold was looking to have his wicked way with Michelle, Emmett wouldn't be in the bunker. In fact by allowing Emmett into the shelter means that he does actually have a good heart, and this good heart may actually overide his sensibilities. However he does know Emmett, and he also seems to be acting to keep Emmett in line as well. Notice when he instructs Emmett not to touch Michelle (and also when he blows up when Michelle touches Emmett, no doubt to elicit a response from Harold).

5) Chaining Michelle to the wall is actually a wise move - Harold may have saved Michelle, but he still doesn't trust her. He needs to find out whether she is trustworthy or not. Okay, it certainly freaks Michelle out, but having her chained to the wall means that she can't do anything unpredictable, such as kill him in his sleep. This may also be why Emmett has a broken arm.

6) Harold killing Emmett - we are meant to be shocked at this, and automatically turn against Harold at this point. However we are in a bunker and Emmet just admitted that he was building a weapon to kill Harold. Personally how stupid is that, but then again, as on Emmett's admission, he wasn't all that talented in the brains department. This is an expected reaction from somebody who has just been threatened. Obviously Michelle didn't understand them, but then again she already distrusts Harold. However, they were in a bunker, Harold was threatened, therefore needed to be judge, jury, and executioner.

Emmett

Okay, let us now consider Emmett. In reality we don't know all that much about him, except that he helped Harold build the shelter, and that he was given a scholarship to run at the State University, but was too scared to take up the offer. However everything else we are left to believe. The thing is that he comes across as a nice person, while Harold is the monster, therefore our sensibilities are going to lie with Emmet. However I suspect that he is only playing Michelle up against Howard.

The thing is that we don't know anything about Emmett beyond what we see, and what is consistent between Harold and Emmett. However it is entirely possible that Emmett was the one who killed the second girl, the one that went missing. Personally I don't think it is beyond plausibility, and Howard knows about it. However Howard probably also feels responsible for her death, which is why he showed Michelle the wrong picture. In fact, it is possible that Emmett was the one who kidnapped her, and locked her in the air purifier room. It is difficult to know exactly what happened to her, but it is not beyond reason for Emmett to have killed this girl. However, based on Howard's character, I'm not sure if he could have actually been the killer.

Also, notice that Emmett's arm is broken, and Harold makes it clear that Emmett isn't to touch Michelle. It is quite possible that the arm was broken so that he couldn't do anything to Michelle. However, it does raise the question of why he let Emmett into the shelter. Quite possibly because he also felt responsible, and wanted to take responsible for Emmett as opposed to handing him over to the police, and also because of his past relationship with Emmett meant that he couldn't leave him outside to die - he does have a good heart.

We do must remember though is that Emmett can be very sweet and friendly, and he is also Michelle's age (or a little younger). This is why Michelle relates to Emmett much more than she does to Howard. Also, consider when they are playing that game, and Harold keeps on saying 'he knows what you have done'. At the time he doesn't know about the biohazard suit, but it is clear that Emmett knows what Harold is talking about. It is only when Michelle diffuses the situation that the truth comes out. Yet this could have been to her detriment because the truth about Emmett could have come out then - but it doesn't, and in the end we never really find out the truth about what happened to the girl.

Michelle

Instead of using my own words I'll simply reprint the opening statement on the IMDB Discussion 'Michelle a Monster?'.
We get to see the movie through Michelle's eyes and therefore automatically assume she's the hero...but some her manipulations seem to suggest borderline personality disorders.

Howard brings her food which she spurns, tells her he saved her life--which she disbelieves--and then immediately endangers herself and Howard's lives by starting a fire in an underground bunker.

She then sharpens a stake intending to spear Howard ala Vampire Diaries as he attempts to investigate (and to presumably save Michelle, again).

She sociopathically drives Howard to anger by deliberately pushing buttons at the dinner table, toys with Emmett's emotions by falsely coming on to him, and then conspiratorially gets Emmett to perform most of the dangerous work for their escape plan (stealing kitchen implements under Howard's wrathful eye, getting Howard to dispose of the shower curtain, distracting Howard while she made the Hazmat suit, and volunteering to singlehandedly subdue Howard and relieve him of his gun).

Even when the suit was done they knew only one was getting out. So of course, old Emmett volunteers to stay behind...with what would be a supremely pissed-off Howard.

(Makes one wonder if she subconsciously set-up Emmett up to be that "hero" with her carefully emoted story about "freezing under pressure," which precipitates Emmett's rushed confession to Howard and gets him killed? Naughty girl!)

She lies, manipulates, steals, gives Howard a 10-point faceplant in an acid bath, and her only act of kindness is to stitch up Howard's cut--which she in fact, caused.

She then locks Howard in a burning bunker and watches it explode--after killing an organic spaceship with some strategically lobbed firewater to its kisser.

Who knows what havoc she will wreak when she reaches Houston?
I think he makes some very important points, however my position is that she was just acting on her survival instincts. Her distrust of Harold comes from the fact that she awoke chained to the wall. She sharpened the crutches and set a fire in the vent because Harold didn't give any indication as to why she was in the room when he first entered. More so she was being influenced by Emmett, who I suspect was turning her against Harold. Sure, it was her plan to escape, and she was the one who was going to escape, but the theory was that once Harold was subdued then Emmett was probably not going to be in much of a problem.

I just feel that Michelle's actions were quite understandable in the circumstances, it is just that she ended up being closer to Emmett (which once again is not surprising) than she was to Harold.

What is Truth?

So, this leaves us with the question of who really is the monster? Well, the aliens of course (and I have to admit that blowing up the spaceship with a molotov cocktail, and the fact that she didn't die when the gas mask was ripped off her face, sort of required me to suspend my disbelief quite a lot). However I don't believe that we can easily claim that Harold is the monster - it could quite easily be Emmett, or even Michelle.



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What is Truth? - 10 Cloverfield Lane by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

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