willoneill wrote: ↑
Mon Nov 30, 2020 11:04 am
An interesting thought has developed in my mind: Mank isn't about Mankiewicz writing Citizen Kane
on his own, it's actually about him writing the script titled American
on his own ... the point at which the film ends (save for the coda), doesn't preclude Welles contributing a lot to the script as it morphed into Kane and then throughout production.
willoneill, I like that phrasing. The film doesn’t explicitly remove Welles’ credit but instead focuses its aims on a kind of disconnected celebration of the thankless job of an artist, who if willing, can make efforts to puncture systems and take great risks to deliver Truth. Nitpicking over facts seems like the same dead ends one finds if they do the same with The Social Network
. Regardless of who wrote what, Mank did something destructive, dangerous, and unimaginable in order to create
place for people to think
critically. However, what this film is most interested in is placing this in front of the audience and asking to what degree it makes a difference?
To do this, Fincher weaves in addiction themes (plucked from the superficial behaviors of wild gambling and alcoholism, loud and without apology!) of self-defeating conduct, the comic absurdity and existential austerity intertwined in the character of a provocateur, to paint ironies on the walls of history. By playing with the notion of ethics, beliefs, intentions and action, he validates Mank’s subjective drives while also neutralizing their objective value in defining an icon. Mank is a human being, not a hero to worship, and like many other men he has wasted a sizable chunk of his life away, and within that life his most valuable actions have gone unknown (the throwaway reveal of his part in saving an entire family is sobering, and tragic in its minimization at once). Fincher has the decency- or an empathetic type of cruelty- to show all: the authenticity, the self-destruction, the harm and the good our weaponized egos instigate. We are more than one action, we are the sum of our parts, but that also means we are much less special than we want to be seen as- icons, history-makers, activists. Fincher sees Mank, recognizes him, and ultimately shows that he- like all of us- is alone, without the cameras rolling to dramatize ourselves into superhumans. Being the “smartest guy in the room” or “a rare bird” doesn’t actually matter as much as we may think. This is sneakily Fincher’s most humanistic work, certainly his most playful, and also, subtly, perhaps his most devastating.
Fincher has never been a stranger to evoking the darkness in humanity's place within its milieu, and delivering these ideas to us through classic cinematic techniques, most notably in Panic Room
’s borrowings of Hitchcock. Here he goes back to early Hollywood to forge the same audience-relationship via screwbally self-reflexive lighting-witted dialogue and sequential gags constructed from cheeky interplay, with plenty of innuendo provoking audiences into playing catch-up as the pace doesn’t wait around for hand-holding. Over the course of the film, these light and funny scenes become solemn and harrowing in their implications, using the very same tools. I’m struggling to believe that Fincher’s father was such a sleeper genius writer so as to concoct this stratified script independently, but however this came into being in its finished form, it’s thrilling to behold. The Finchers self-consciously skewer the 1% Men At The Top just like Mank aimed to with Kane
, and like that film, it was made possible by those very people (this movie only happened because of the Netflix empire’s willingness to grant Fincher’s vision), an irony that’s twisted further by the realization that neither film, and nothing out there, will affect such a system in an objective sense. Dangerous art might provoke our minds and hearts, and for that we can be eternally grateful, but just like Mank’s significance dwindles depending on perspective, so does the impact of art on the bigger picture. It’s a toxic dose of humility to swallow.
The era-specific score and cinematography emulations are as sensational as one would expect, and while I can understand why this film may leave some people feeling alienated by presenting as aloof and disengaging, that’s part of the point. The drama matches that of the movies, as does all the film language, and in a metacontextual manner we remain as removed from the enigmatic character as we were from Welles’ Kane, just as we are drawn in by all the narrative and stylistic flourishes in the same film. This may not be an easy film to love, but it’s one of the most intelligently-constructed films I can think of offhand, and one I hope will only reinforce its layers of brilliance upon returns.
Just like the sled was rooted in an emotional seed of yearning for the past that’s impossible to return to, Mank’s reason for writing the script is paradoxically sourced in resentment, exploding from a determinist failure to achieve personal and political idealism, culminating in an incident with those he feels furious at, and is powerless to contend with in any other way but his one skill and trade. The production of the script mirrors the shameful drunken rant from the past, that nevertheless succeeds at delivering sharp jabs with the spoken word, which half a decade later would be transformed into the written word, and transmitted into permanence via celluloid; a desperate attempt to make a change. What is meaningful: the attempt or the result? Fincher says both, but to what degree we must muse on in flexible terms.
The self-destructive nature of these actions feel like part-drawn from principles and part-grasp for martyrdom as a form of semi-conscious suicide. I respectfully disagree with those who take issue with the ending and find it out of step with the themes, as the desire for credit is crucial for the story the Finchers are telling: the existential need to exercise our agency to try to escape absolute impotence, and be more important and dignified than an organ grinder’s monkey. Isn’t this what we all want- to matter; to matter more than we do in the cosmic swamp of the amoral shining stars; to escape the parable Hearst defines him as under his thumb; to be independent from his shackled music box that is unconsciously sewn to his skin; to get what we feel we have “earned” when it’s possible that it may only mean something to us? Are we all rats in the traps of our own constructions, and if so, are those traps exactly what we set to give our lives the meaning the impartial world around us fails to do? If so, may we bless and curse the traps at once. And remember what Mank says at the very end: history can be changed through the magic of the movies. It can work both ways, and if one wants to take it at face value as a jolt to Welles they can, but that would be an empty purpose, too thematically inconsistent, and a false note to leave the film on; especially uncharacteristic for a perfectionist and smart provocateur (sound familiar? Is this partially a self-portrait or confession of an egoist both celebrating his own desires and orbiting the ambivalent, painful humility in acceptance of his value?) like Fincher to settle for simplification and dilute the power of such a complex work. Fincher has never been interested in doing this, and I don’t know why he would start now.