Category Archives: Looking

A few words about all the movies I watched in 2016

I’ve been keeping a list of every movie I watched this year… those I’ve seen before and those I saw for the first time.

For each of them, I wrote a very brief reaction. Some are thoughtful, some are irreverent. All are honest.

Here’s the list, in sequential order of my viewing:

Babel – makes Tokyo and Afghanistan and Mexico seem like another planet
Revenant – more movies should be filmed 100% with natural light
Winter on Fire – meanwhile in America the Kardashians what??
Big Eyes – the guy in this movie is a huge asshat
Moonraker – are they serious? They can’t be serious. I love it
The Big Short – Steve Carrell should always play this character
Dallas Buyers Club – drugs should be mostly legal
The Princess Bride – I have no good excuse for seeing this for the first time in 2016
The Perfect Storm – but I can’t stop wondering if Marky Mark is from Boston or not
Unbroken – the book was probably much better
The Men Who Stare At Goats – I don’t know how this got made but I love it
Deadpool – if only they had given Green Lantern this treatment
Finding Vivian Maier – why are the most creative people usually so troubled?
Beasts of No Nation – this should be seen by more people than it probably was
Turner & Hooch – I want a sequel with cats
Ex Machina – the future is going to suck (and kill?)
The Agony & The Ecstacy – it really is a nice ceiling
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice – Batfleck, you did alright
Spotlight – shame that newspaper stories have to be made into movies for most people to notice them
All Together Now (Beatles/Cirque “Love” Doc) – Vegas is so rich
Captain America: Civil War – I wanted to take a nap through most of this
Return to the 36 Chambers – I’ll never hear Wu-Tang the same way
“21″ – MIT is so smart
You Only Live Twice – I already forgot literally everything about this
Good, Bad and the Ugly – I have no good excuse for seeing this for the first time in 2016
Ghostbusters (original) – somehow it still gets better every time I watch it
Jurassic World – I wouldn’t complain if this were on at the gym or something
Rock the Kasbah – everything about this was tremendous
The Woman in Gold – cool story but Ryan Reynolds does better with dick jokes
Frances Ha – I love when people who like photography decide to make movies
Fight Club – still good but doesn’t change how I feel about IKEA <3
The Dark Knight Rises – still good but still not as good as Banecat
The Peanuts Movie – beautifully drawn Nyquil
Bo Burnham: Make Happy – the funniest musical since ‘what.’
Beatles: Help! – for someone who grew up with MTV already established this is a revalation
The Man With the Golden Gun – I already forgot literally everything about this
A View To Kill – I already forgot literally everything about this
Chef – the best movie that anyone has ever tweeted in
Bo Burnham: what. – the funniest musical since South Park: Bigger Longer Uncut
Suicide Squad – Margot Robbie
The Bourne Supremacy – still good but so hard to hear all the whisper-yelling
Best of Enemies: Buckley vs Vidal – this is where all the people yelling at each other on TV started I guess
Steve Jobs (Boyle) – Boyle deserves thanks for un-Kutchering this story
Father of the Bride – still good but now anything with early 1990’s fashion is funny
The Hangover – still good but why couldn’t they just leave it without the sequels
Hail, Ceasar! – this basically closes the book on Hollywood
Elvis / Nixon – oh shit this 10 minute meeting seems like a microcosm of the next four years
Prefontaine – why does Jared Leto always have to die
The Lady in the Van – British movies are so much more thoughtful
Allied – what is this like the tenth Brad Pitt movie about WW2
Arrival – omg how can she afford that house on an adjunct’s salary

Sorry Good Will Hunting, I Need that T.P.S. Report By Monday

Two movies from the late 1990’s stand out as favorites, for me and many others: Office Space and Good Will Hunting.

Both truly stand the test of time, and entertain now just about as well as as they did when released. Both also have something to say about what “Work” is, and what kind of man should pursue what line of it, and what’s respectable or questionable about the choices they make along the way.

Construction labor plays an understated role in both narratives, repelling one protagonist and rescuing the other. Will Hunting (Matt Damon) begins his story as a workman, who is encouraged and motivated to find his way into a more intellectual profession. Peter (Ron Livingston) begins his story as a cubicle drone, who is encouraged and motivated to find his way into a more physically laborious occupation. For what it’s worth, Will Hunting lives in a dramatic universe, and Peter lives in a comedic one – but through its dry humor, Office Space manages to leave the viewer with a moral aftertaste just as significant as Good Will Hunting’s.

I don’t have a grand thesis to accompany to this comparison, it’s just something I noticed and that I’ve wanted to share for a while. I feel like these two movies are celebrated more than most others as time capsules of their era, but I’ve never heard any critic stand them up next to each other for comparison. On the surface they’re wonderfully different films, but at their core, both represent the challenges of a man trying to discover his true calling.

Let’s look at how each character begins his journey:

Here’s Will Hunting, on the job –

And here’s Peter, working –

But by the end of each film, their roles have reversed.

Peter, on the job:

Will, working:

Good Will Hunting (1997) was released two years before Office Space (1999.) It’s reasonable to assume Mike Judge had seen Good Will Hunting as he was writing and directing his film, but who knows whether he was intentionally making a response, or had even registered a connection between the stories.

Nearly twenty years later, enough time has passed for the once brilliant jokes to go just a bit stale, and without their original novelty, these two films now seem to have a lot more in common than they were originally meant to. How’dya like them apples?

202 days down, 163 to go

I’m still in the photo-a-day project, over halfway finished.

It hasn’t gotten any easier, and the difficulty that’s been creeping in could be due to the repetitive nature of the project, or the wearing off of novelty, or my transition from walking everywhere to spending time in the car, or my continual pull away from photography and toward work, and writing, and home life.

The catalyst for this project was thin – it was a cold, wintry Sunday and I felt the need to do at least one thing, other than nurse myself on the couch, after a long Saturday of carousing. So I went for a long walk, took a picture of some trees, and decided on the fly that I would take another picture every day for a year. That was it. No research to start, no browsing through other’s work and finding inspiration, no possible financial reward. Just a bored need to do something productive with a hangover.

1/365

After I began, and started taking a few nice pictures, I was hooked. The first few weeks and months were invigorating and I had plenty of subjects, around my office and apartment everything started to look fresh and new. The brief, low sunlight of winter was offering lots of shadows, and the early sunsets meant I was always out and about during the good ‘blue hours.’ But as winter turned to spring, and spring turned into summer, the sun blasted everything all day long, the opportunities for finding those uniquely colorful skies or silhouettes was less, and I was more frequently just pointing my camera at the ground and taking pictures of grass or frantically trying to coax the cat into holding a pose for a minute while I adjusted the lamp.

165/365

I’ve ended up following a fairly strict regiment of what is an ‘OK’ daily picture and what isn’t. Selfies, voluminous food pictures, screenshots, pictures of people that I work with, and unpleasant things like toilets and trash cans are generally out of the question when I’m looking for a subject. I’ve settled mostly on the landscape, ‘found art’, my fiancee, signs, details of familiar objects, the dog, architecture, empty places and abstract patterns. There’s no real method to this selection, it’s just been what I’m comfortable with. Because I didn’t start the project with any formal goals like documenting ‘important things in my life,’ or ‘finding representations of my environment’ or ‘telling stories,’ these self-organizing limitations I’ve been following have been fine and haven’t diminished the purpose of what I’m doing.

That I do now have these unplanned norms of what to shoot and what not to doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize the benefit of planning, and also understand how more carefully thinking about what I want to shoot could improve the course of the work. It would have been nice to say, at the beginning, ‘this will be a portrait of my personal life,’ or ‘this will be a year of pictures of the place where I live,’ and to go on from that and build a coherent and themed body of images. But when I started, I didn’t know what I didn’t know – mostly that having at least a vague goal or purpose would be a helpful concept.

73/365

Maybe when I look back at this (if I do, someday) I’ll be charmed by it’s aimlessness and it will remind me of who I was and what I was like at this time. Maybe I won’t ever look back at this, because I won’t ever stop… it’s actually difficult to reason why I should ever quit, even after the 365 days is over. Because of how effortlessly and unceremoniously I started, stopping might feel like acquiescence, or like I had been wasting my time. I could just vow to continue taking a picture every day for the rest of my life – hell, why not.

Some of my favorite pictures from the effort have been those that are the least recognizable, the things that make me (or anyone looking) think ‘why would someone see THAT in their daily comings and goings?’ That removal from the expected is what I’m always looking for, and it’s the hardest thing to find, by definition. What makes it great is what makes it so hard to capture – its fleeting essence, its otherworldly appearance, the pause it gives and the puzzlement or astonishment or wonder it produces. It feels like a mini-rebellion – an underhand statement I make to this digital device I’m always carrying, the thing tracking my movements and seeing the world with me, that I can still surprise it, no matter how easily it can record, transmit, and normalize to the world my day-to-day existence.

71/365

Maybe someday when I return to these pictures, my favorites won’t be those artistic shots, but the most casual, the most everyday life, the pictures of me and my future wife and my family and our friends. Maybe those will remind me most of my life, and maybe the more conceptual and thoughtfully aesthetic pictures won’t continue to feel important.

22/365

The thing that’s been the biggest struggle for me with this project is whether or not to take it seriously as ‘photography,’ or whether to treat it like a personal diary. I can’t decide how much I should go out of my way to make it great. I know that if I take an hour or two every day to step away from my routine, to go out and actually look for a picture, I’ll find something new and different, and maybe make a nice picture of it. But I can avoid doing that by justifying the nature of the work as casual, I can say that I’m just doing this to capture ‘what my life really looked like, lazy mornings and quiet dog walks and all,’ and then I’ve excused myself from making the effort of looking for better images.

56/365

As I wrap up the final third of the year, that will be the question I’ll try to answer about this project – if it is just snapshots of my life, for my own personal enjoyment and memory, or if I’m doing this to force myself into creative excellence, to sharpen my skills and make myself a better photographer. Maybe I’ll find that in this first year, it’s OK to try both.

198/365

on the Oscars and Being Liked

If you haven’t seen Birdman, Boyhood, or the Imitation Game, maybe don’t read this post yet.

Three of the films nominated for Best Picture this year had climactic scenes in which characters confronted the importance of ‘being liked.’  

Coincidence? Or important cultural phenomenon, captured? I’m leaning towards the latter. The ‘being liked’ discussion did heavy lifting in these narratives, and served as a critical character-defining plot point in each.

In Birdman, Michael Keaton’s character Riggan is overwhelmed by the criticism and potential of failure he faces for trying to re-define his legacy. As a former action-movie star, now forgotten, his quest for recognition has led him to produce a serious drama on Broadway. He tries to explain his motivations to his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone) but she calls his sincerity into question. She’s right.

Riggan: Listen to me. I’m trying to do something important.
Sam: This is not important.
Riggan: It’s important to me! Alright? Maybe not to you, or your cynical friends whose only ambition is to go viral. But to me… To me… this is…  God. This is my career, this is my chance to do some work that actually means something.
Sam: You’re doing this because you’re scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don’t matter. And you know what? You’re right. You don’t. It’s not important. You’re not important.

Stage actors can’t convincingly argue that no one’s opinion matters, or they would find something to do that doesn’t require a live audience. Being liked becomes the foundation of Riggan’s identity – he can’t exist as an artist without an audience, and the audience has to like him if they’re going to stay in their seats.

The theme repeats in the film, as Sam and Edward Furlong’s character Mike Shiner have a less animated, but more to the point discussion about the same thing.

Sam: Why do you act like a dick all the time? Do you just do it to antagonize people?
Mike Shiner: Maybe.
Sam: You really don’t give a shit if people like you or not?
Mike Shiner: Not really.
Sam: That’s cool.
Mike Shiner: Is it? I don’t know.

When Sam dreamily asks whether Mike cares about being liked, his response sets up the antagonizing force that will eventually transform Riggan. Mike’s success seems to have been born from his indifference to recognition, and his attitude is partially what teaches Riggan that letting go of the need for acceptance will set him free and allow him to create ’true’ art.

In The Imitation Game, the ‘different’ and ‘weird’ Alan Turing character, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, doesn’t begin with the need to be liked, and then find relief from it, as Riggan of Birdman does. Turing’s story goes in the other direction – starting from a place where ‘likability’ doesn’t matter, but eventually being required to strive for it. Turing’s social environment would ever ‘like’ or accept him as who he is, so he was forced to adapt and perform a ‘likability’ act that would keep him out of trouble. A mantra verbalized by Keira Knightley’s Joan Clark character repeats throughout the film:

Joan Clarke: Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.

Turing embraced the notion that an un-liked, low profile persona would give him the space to explore his scientific interests. But a wonderfully awkward scene in which Turing’s fellow scientists try and fail to invite him to lunch illustrates the problem Turing faces. He must confront the reality that working with other people is necessary to accomplish the mission he is called into, and that as smart as he is, he can’t do everything on his own. In contrast to Birdman, Turing’s not trying to be ‘liked’ for his own emotional satisfaction, but as means to an end.

Joan Clark (Knightley) explains to him that if he’s going to succeed, he’ll have to get the other scientists to like him. ‘They won’t work for you if they don’t like you,’ she says. She suggests that he bring them snacks as a first step toward amiability, and in a scene as comically awkward as the failed lunch invitation, he arrives at the lab with a basket of apples and bluntly relates the logic that drove his actions – I hope you’ll like me, for bringing you apples, he says. The wheels are set in motion, and the film becomes as much about Turing playing the likability game as it is about him developing a electronic computer.

Boyhood comes to the ‘likability’ table in the first scene that exhibits a true independence of the main character, Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane. A road-trip with his girlfriend opens the door for a thoughtful discussion about whether or not it matters to be liked. The ‘likability’ dialogue takes place without Birdman’s gripping intensity of emotion, and without the Imitation Game’s dry humor – of the three, it feels the most genuine.

Mason: I just feel like there are so many things that I could be doing and probably want to be doing that I’m just not.
Sheena: Why aren’t you?
Mason: I mean, I guess, it’s just being afraid of what people would think. You know, judgement.
Sheena: Yeah. I guess it’s really easy to say, like I don’t care what anyone else thinks. But everyone does, you know. Deep down.
Mason: I find myself so furious at all these people that I am in contact with just for controlling me or whatever but you know they are not even aware they are doing it.
Sheena: Yeah. So, in this perfect world where no one is controlling you. What’s different? What changes?
Mason: Everything. I mean, I just wanna be able to do anything I want, because it makes me feel alive. As opposed to giving me the appearance of normality.

The scene follows Mason’s first monologue, and it occurs nearly two hours into the film. After watching him quite literally grow from a child into a young man, this becomes the first thing we know about how Mason is feeling and what he is thinking as an adult. Because the film is about his journey from Boyhood to manhood, the scene is significant. It’s remarkable that the first vulnerability he exposes, as he transitions away from ‘boyhood,’ is weighing the importance of being liked by others – and it probably won’t be the last time, as evinced by the older characters of Birdman and Imitation Game.

So, does the spirit of each film come to the same conclusion about likability? Birdman’s narrative is fueled by an intense desire to be liked, and the struggle to escape from it. Imitation Game is propelled by likability as a game – a game in which Turing must conform to the standards of social acceptability by suppressing his true persona. To those films, being liked is important to the characters, but in different ways. Boyhood takes the position that likability is only an encumbrance – to quote Mason, “feeling alive” is better than “the appearance of normality.”

The primary reason why I’ve seen all these movies and paid such close attention to them is because the Academy nominated each as Best Picture of the year. Their nominations all prove, to some extent, that being liked matters – if they weren’t liked by the Academy they wouldn’t have been nominated, and I might not have seen them or cared to think deeply about them. But what’s curiously interesting is the result of the competition – the film whose character had the greatest ‘need to be liked’ turned out to be the winner, while the film that stood firmly in its notion that being liked isn’t all that important didn’t get the top Oscar… and perhaps, it didn’t need really need to.

“Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life” – Oscar Wilde

on 365 (Inspiration is for Amateurs)

Twenty-four days ago I decided I would take a single photograph every day, for 365 consecutive days. I’m only using an iPhone, and I’m often taking more than one picture, but the goal is a single ‘shareable’ image at the end of each day.

Creative people who ‘sit around and wait for the clouds to part,’ as Chuck Close has put it, before they sit down and get to work, are not going accomplish very much. Often it seems easier to believe that the best work only comes in moments of divine inspiration, but as I embark on this challenge I’m finding that routine & persistence is the best way to refine technique and make good work.

Knowing that I need to make a photograph at some point during each day is opening my eyes in ways that they weren’t open before, when I was lazily waiting for the right image to coalesce before me.

Here’s a gallery of what I’ve done so far, in these first few weeks:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/brianbrian/sets/72157650665080771

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Paris par Deux

I last visited Paris in November, 2011. It is a city I admire and my imagination returns to it often. Despite what the terrorists would have us believe, Paris is a city of love – maybe a cliche, but for many, absolute truth.

During my last trip, I walked the city at length. I love the city’s rhythm, and my camera kept finding moments of ‘two’ – two people sharing a small corner of the city, amongst the millions who inhabit it.

At a time when Paris is threatened by separation, division, and ideology that seeks to break apart – I want to pause and reflect on these small moments I last saw there, and the unity they represented – simple frames of two people, sharing togetherness, freedom, and fraternity.

on The Smartest Guys in the Room

Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room [Motion picture]. (2005).

This film nicely wrapped up what was a very complicated story. As the scandal took place, uncovering the important pieces of the narrative was difficult because they were competing with everything else in the daily news information deluge. Letting a few years pass and waiting for the dust to settle makes stepping back and taking the 10,000 foot view easier.

When Enron was originally in the news I didn’t have any sense of the great impact that company shareholders suffered, and I didn’t understand what a celebrated and ‘accomplished’ company it had been shortly before the scandal broke out. Being a high school student in 2001, I wasn’t as tuned in as I would be if something like this happened now, so I appreciate the deep-dive explanation of what really happened.

I am proud that investigative reporting was one of the catalysts for uncovering the story. At a time when many people think the media is suffering, news is biased, and technology has rendered newspapers and magazines obsolete – this scandal was ultimately uncovered because a lone reporter asked a few tough questions. A lone female reporter at that, who not was not only dealing with a very ‘macho’ culture at Enron, but also didn’t have very much career experience before breaking the story.

Energy is a form of technology, and that’s what Enron sold – but this didn’t feel like a story about technology. The company’s trouble mostly came from accounting practices, limiting the supply of their product and creating false demand to raise prices. This could happen with any industry that serves a basic need to the population – auto makers, communication services, airline industries, etc.

It raises the question (although it was seemingly answered for energy long ago) at what point does a technology, or a technology market, become regulable? There are probably actual definitions of this, but I’ve never thought about it before. Energy became regulable a long time ago, and now the internet is approaching that same threshold – but does it meet the same criteria?

How would this story be different if Enron were a broadband provider? I don’t know if they would have been held to the same ethical standards, since unlike energy, broadband hasn’t yet been defined as critical to the functioning of everyday life in American society.

The film presents the notion that Enron only attempted these unethical actions because they believed they were ‘smarter’ than the regulators, and that being smarter gave them permission to break the rules. Is this any different from the idea that ‘code is law,’ and whatever code someone is smart enough to come up with gives the coder permission to circumvent legality?

Squares and Dreams

Discovering a balance of visual elements within a defined space is exciting.

Driven by the influence of Instagram, most of the photography I’ve done lately has been in a square format, and captured on the fly – pieces of everyday life that I sneak into a symmetry. I go about my routines looking for rhythmic views that I might steal from the disproportionate world.

The square nudges me into looking for harmony of dimension, and the scenes I stumble on can occasionally trick me into thinking I’ve escaped the lazy, uninterpreted world… and slipped into a more astral, dreamy place.

Images from the last few weeks:

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Oct. 3

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Sept. 25

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Sept. 8

Two Documentaries on ‘Hacking’

BBC – How Hackers Changed the World

While Anonymous was given most of the treatment in this piece, I didn’t feel like their story was the strongest thread in the overall hacker narrative. Lulzsec appears to be the group that did the most actual damage, while WikiLeaks is the most ethically challenging.

Anonymous comes across as a bunch of people posting on message boards who all showed up to protest the Church of Scientology once. Occasionally they were able to DDoS some government websites. They are presented as being large and formidable because allegedly ten thousand people participated in the Scientology demonstrations – but 10k isn’t that much, in the grand scheme. Ten thousand people shop at the Gap, ride the metro, buy a hot dog, blah blah every day. Boring and mundane stuff also attracts many people. Crowds don’t predicate meaning or importance.

Lulzsec on the other hand appeared to be able to cause more disruption with a much smaller and more focused group. Anonymous appeared to be too large to manage any kind of cohesive campaign, and the premise that it could operate without leadership doesn’t really have a historical precedent – anarchistic groups or societies have not accomplished much in the world, compared to groups with leaders and structure.

Discovery Channel – Secret History of Hacking

I think the order in which I watched these two documentaries made a difference in how I reacted to them. Watching the BBC doc first, and being exposed to Anonymous before Wozniak & Cap’n Crunch, had a different effect than if I would have reversed the order. I think I had less sympathy for Anonymous’s cause without the historical context of hackers that came before them.

The hackers of earlier decades, who began with ‘phone phreaking’ seemed to have a more innocent purpose. In the BBC doc, hearing the stories of Anon and Lulzsec and Wikileaks, I didn’t detect any of the harmless and curious aim that the original hackers had.

The earlier hackers also seemed to push the technology further. They subverted the intended use of the technology in a way that was unprecedented. Instead of disrupting or harming the way other people used it, they just found a way to use it more freely themselves. They were apolitical.

One interesting moment came when an early hacker spoke on the initial perception of computers – ‘why would anyone want one of these in their house?’ seemed to be the original sentiment, back in the 70’s when computers were large and not very powerful. It makes me wonder what technology is in its infancy today, that people are having the same reaction to. 3D printers? Self-driving cars? Google Glass? What else are people shunning for its perceived uselessness, that might someday dominate markets?

before ‘Felina’

There are absolutely spoilers below. Do not read, if you have not watched the Breaking Bad series in its entirety. I plead. 

The joy of episodic narrative is that the audience gets to play the guessing game. We get to suppose what is coming next, week after week, testing our theories and validating our assumptions and essentially judging our own intelligence or predictive abilities. We take joy in the cliffhanger endings, that lead to cold opens, jumping to our own conclusions about what will come next, trying to stay a step ahead of the participants.

But Heisenberg, both the real quantum physicist and television’s Walter White, will not let us engage our prophesying peacefully.

Heisenberg, the real-life physicist from whom the fictional Walter White took his pseudonym, is credited with discovering the Uncertainty Principle of quantum mechanics, which states…

The more precisely the position (momentum) of a particle is given, the less precisely can one say what its momentum (position) is.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qt-uncertainty/

If the audience of an episodic narrative subscribes to this principle, we can translate the language of science to the formula of story –  The more precisely the position (current feelings, attitude, desires) of a character is given, the less precisely can one say what is the characters momentum (future intentions and plans.) This calculation works naturally against our human instinct to form logical expectations about people and their objectives.

I can’t recall any story, in any format, having illustrated the uncertainty principle so gracefully as Breaking Bad. At every point when the position of a character seems to gain clarity, their momentum becomes exponentially more ambiguous. Every new door opened throws shadow on some corner to be backed into. I could litter this essay with examples, but frankly, every single scene of the sixty-some episodes of the show is evidence.

I have one episode left to watch, titled ‘Felina.’ The series finale. A true easter egg, this title – an acronym for the elements Fe, Li, and Na – Iron, Lithium, and Sodium – key components of blood, methamphetamine, and tears. And in truly uncertain glory, the combination of those acronyms form a beautifully poetic word, something like ‘finale,’ something like ‘felled,’ something like ‘felon.’ In the last scene which we saw Walter, he watched his former business partner on television explaining to the world Walter’s contribution to their billion dollar company. He said it was just the name – Grey Matter – a combination of their names, Black and White.

And now we have this new word, ‘Felina’, a combination of Fella and Niña, ‘boy’ and the Spanish for ‘girl’, all that Walter allegedly ever cared about, his two children. What uncertain momentum awaits for the the White children? We last saw Holly surrounded by masked men as she slept in her crib, and Walter Jr. wishing death for his father who called him in a desperate plea for forgiveness. Their positions are known, but their momentum is all the more uncertain. The position of this word as the series finale’s title could indicate momentum toward resolution for the White children. Or it could mean nothing at all. 

To test the theory of narrative uncertainty, I want to write out what I feel are the position and momentum of the characters, before I witness their literary conclusions. Much foundation has been laid to give me a plausible idea of what could or could not happen. But as fixed as the positions for every character seem, at this point, I’ve learned better than to hold tight any expectations of what drama will unfold.

Jesse has just witnessed the death of yet another person whom he cared for, another person to which he can ascribe himself guilt in their undoing. He is a caged animal, a used tool, and he despises everything about his life. This is the crystal clear position he is in, but what does it say of his momentum? Where will he end up? His position is more fixed than ever, he appears to be absolutely powerless, outnumbered, alone. But the Uncertainty Principle explains that this fixed position means his momentum is more difficult to perceive. It feels completely plausible to me, given the position of all the other characters, that he will be killed, finally, for refusing to cook meth, or by trying to escape again, or by Walter himself. His death seems almost certain… yet it feels emotionally impossible.

Somehow, Jesse is the last character the audience might have any emotional investment in. Despite the often disastrous consequences of his actions, he has repeatedly tried to do what he thought was right, giving away his ‘blood money’ and trying to prevent Walter from the destruction of any more lives. His slivers of righteousness have the audience hoping, just maybe… that he will find peace, despite the obviously bleak choices available to him. Jesse’s final road will either be one that satisfies the cold reality of his current circumstances (death), or one that redeems him for the muffled justice he has tried to inject into all of the wrongdoing.

Walter’s position also seems quite fixed. His broken and bloodied family rejects him, his identity is compromised, his partner became his enemy. His name and face are recognized in public as belonging to a murderous criminal mastermind. His 80 million dollar empire has reduced to a lonely, snowy cabin with two copies of a shitty DVD and a monthly newspaper delivery. His character, as has been meticulously revealed throughout the season, has lost all credibility and hope of redemption. There will never be a way out for him, there will never be a family for him again. This position is abundantly clear.

Mike helped illustrate this precise position earlier in the season, by telling him he’s a ticking bomb. Yet, Walter won’t sit quietly. He is last seen leaving his sanctuary, trotting back into the fray, begging the question of momentum – what will be the direction of the explosion, when that bomb goes off?

Who will Walter take down with him? Jesse, by going after the drug-makers and engaging one final showdown? Skylar and his children, by attempting to contact the family or transfer money? Or can his clear, evident, irrefutably destructive position – can the simplicity of that explosive position shroud the direction of his momentum to such an extraordinary degree that he simply fizzes out, quietly faces capture, or innocently succumbs to cancer? There is no reasonable guess.

All of these paths of momentum seem equally likely, so anything is fair game. As Heisenberg taught, momentum is uncertain… and as Walter taught, in episode 1, chemistry is not the study of chemicals, but of change.

(A big round of applause for the A.V. Club in guiding me through the Breaking Bad viewing experience with brilliant insight)