"spare me the grotty symbolism"
Part deux of my paper-maybe-cum-article, with references and a cleaned up part one ("When there's trouble in nature") re-inserted below.
“Spare me the grotty symbolism.”
Wells (2000) notes that in the prototypical “revenge of nature” scenario, the Ray Harryhausen-animated “Creature Features” of the 50s, the monsters are broadly metaphorical embodiments of a deep historical anxiety, forcing audiences to confront
the knowledge that humankind was preceded by creatures who used the earth as a different kind of habitat, and that the place where men and women now live is one huge burial ground, an environment that science has only partially come to know and understand.
Humankind commits one offense too many, and to paraphrase Uma Thurman’s Bride, nature goes on a roaring rampage of revenge. The horror in question comes from the consequences of repressing the natural world for the status quo, the humans and their misguided (but fundamentally corrupt) authority. This perspective, “where…there is man-centeredness, even pathology of isolation and fear” (Shepard 1969, 1995) underpins FX-travaganzas like Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993) and the ill-fated 1998 Roland Emmerich-produced Godzilla remake (Wells 2000), as well as any number of the “dopey and dumb” wrath-of-nature storylines (or as Marcia might say, “Spare me the grotty symbolism.”)
Taking a cue from the “ambivalent apocalypse” of Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) which was sparked by outwardly unrelated phenomena (Ibid), Long Weekend breaks with the essentially dualistic “revenge of nature” narrative described above. The “exigency of process” (Ibid) which in large part helps define a horror film Long Weekend follows is in fact much closer to the “new science” of living systems models and the practice of Arne Naess’ deep ecology: if it can be said the standard “revenge of nature” storyline is either a variation on the “pathology of isolation and fear” associated with our relationship to the natural world or the ratcheting up of historical anxieties, then the narrative of Long Weekend, to quote Fritjof Capra’s (1987, 1995) description of deep ecology, “views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life.” And, in the context of such a horror movie, humans wouldn’t necessarily need to dump toxic waste into a lake or kill a baby orca to incur nature’s revenge.
The nested qualities of humankind in nature functions as the basis for the horror in Long Weekend, and is patent in two key ways. Crucially, the filmmakers do not place strict limits on either the timing or the type of transgressions Peter and Marcia commit. Indeed, one could reckon the initial wrongdoing - the couple’s dabbling with wife-swapping, the abortion, or the subsequent hardening of their relationship – was one thing, or a couple of things, or all of the above. One is no less offensive than the other. In this way, Peter and Marcia’s prompt of nature’s wrath is a nonlinear process, an important precept for modeling living systems (Capra 1996). Indeed, Peter and Marcia’s marriage could clearly be interpreted as a living system, a network of phenomena “fundamentally interconnected and interdependent” (Capra 1987, 1995), and significantly, a part of the larger world, and that the couple’s abject handling of this living system – the infidelity, the childlessness, the fuming anger – is in fact the microcosm-become-macrocosm the beast in a “revenge of nature” flick is typically read as (Wells 2000). Rodman (1983, 1995) writes
It is based upon the obligation principle that one ought not to treat with disrespect or use as a mere means anything that has a telos or end of its own – anything that is autonomous in the basic sense of having a capacity for internal self-direction and self-regulation…The notion of natural entities and natural systems as having intrinsic value in the specific and basic form, of having tele of their own, having their own characteristic patterns of behavior, their own stages of development, their own business (so to speak), is the basic ground in which is rooted the attitude of respect, the obligation of noninterference, etc.
Additionally, the couple’s continued disrespect of nature – beginning with the intrinsic worth contained in their relationship, which is then reflected back to them for us to see and hear in Cricket’s frightened eyes, and again the weird cry at Munda Beach, and once again in the undead dugong, to name a few examples – is a cumulative track throughout the course of the film, an awful loop that “feeds back into itself in what can…be considered a runaway situation,” Thomas Berry’s description (1987, 1995) of the fast-converging eco-crises of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Writes Capra (1997),
The crucial properties of these cycles is their ability to act not only as self-balancing but also as self-amplifying feedback loops, which may push the system farther and farther away from equilibrium until it reaches a threshold of stability.
Ultimately, the long weekend of the film’s title is a record of a “runaway situation,” following the arc of one self-amplifying, self-defeating feedback loop after the next.
As we begin to learn once more “that nature matters,” (Homer-Dixon 2006) filmmakers will almost certainly begin drawing on ecological themes for their work. The most potent of such work may be the horror genre: unlike films that generally explore more middle-of-the-road fare, horror movies are often able to engage political and cultural themes in creative and exciting ways. The emergence of new horror film discourses is important. As Wood writes (1980), major works of the genre serve as a “radical and diagnostic reading” of the culture; a culture, according to Thomas Berry (1987, 1995) that has thus far refused “to accept any restraints upon its quest for release…[harboring] a hidden rage against those inner as well as outer forces that create a challenge or impose a limitation on our activities.” Thus, the question for genre filmmakers in the age of nature then becomes what such a film might look like, and why. However, the “revenge of nature” film has often been a didactic exercise in simple, PC themes – the goofy, sci-fi bombast of The Day After Tomorrow (2004) being a good recent example.
While neither deep ecology or systems theory modeling have developed to the point they may tell us a different story, at present they offer the semblance of effective critiques. The central purpose of deep ecology process “is to ask deeper questions” (Naess 1985, cited in Capra 1997), and the language of living systems theory now informs the way we think about topics as widely dispersed as the internet and the Antarctic. By adapting their film to the contours of living systems models and modes of critique used in deep ecology practice, filmmakers Colin Eggleston and Everett De Roche shifted the narrative away from traditional “revenge of nature” themes like historical guilt and repression and instead presented the horror as a self-amplifying, runaway feedback loop, positioning their 1978 film Long Weekend first as a minor horror classic and second as a template for genre films to come in the emerging “Age of Nature.”
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You all will be the first to know if I can get it published somewhere. Otherwise, think of yourselves as the premiere...