aleph beth null’s review published on Letterboxd:
heads-up: talking in this one about abuse & various forms of self-harm and -destruction. also spoilers if you care about that kind of thing
this is the worst film of the decade. the first hour is shameless expositionism as performed by every single character imaginable, trading lines off with one another as if this is a radio play with pictures. pictures for which i’m pretty sure j.j. thinks ‘kinetic’ means ‘camera goes swoop-de-doop’. pictures that tell so little story because despite all the plot there’s so little story to tell. the stormtrooper rebellion for which i so fervently wished is briefly alluded to but most are still just statistics in the final battle. on the other hand no named character’s death is given any room to breathe before inevitably being revealed as a fake-out, and this happens probably two dozen too many times. carrie fisher is dead, off-screen, and disney treat even that as a fake-out. this is. i repeat. the worst film of the decade.
except. (and i am livid about this counter-conjunction. i am furious. hopping mad. boiling over and evaporating)
i am a great big sucker and i love rey with my whole heart. i melt at daisy ridley’s terribly expressive face and i identify, hard, with her very strong wish to Do the Right Thing. her heart’s far far better than mine but the desire is in the same direction. and you know how i wrote lots in the past about terrible experiences with impulses that whirlwind people towards supposedly-holy self-destruction? rey’s entire arc throughout this amoral abomination of lukewarm salmonella-ridden slush is a fast-forwarded spin cycle whirlwinding towards supposedly-holy self-destruction. which means all my critical faculties were laid waste by unconscious undercurrents, and by the time of the inevitable final shot i was weeping beyond my own comprehension—i.e., for reasons i could not fully puzzle out. and when i cannot tell all the reasons i am crying i have learnt by now to listen to my body. therefore this review.
i was not in such a sob-state because of the ending so to speak. that was its own little package i’ve yet to unpack. (expecting to dislike what i find there tbh.) but i recognised in rey the impetus to try to crash myself as far away as possible from anyone i cared about on the basis of considering myself irrevocably tainted.
one of the first fictional franchises to mean the world to me was left behind. a bad choice, in retrospect, but to be fair i’d just reached double-digits. in armageddon, the eleventh book of the main series, the tribulation force (goodies) land in new babylon (bad place) for a rescue operation, during which rayford (goodie) runs into the antichrist’s (baddie’s) personal assistant (…?). her name’s krystall. no surname given. she has taken the mark of the beast (bad) and hence is doomed (bad) to eternity in the lake of fire (very bad). but she does not feel good (good) about her current state. is very upset no longer to have free will. wants rayford to help her uncle for whom there is still hope. rayford tells her he’s sorry. about her situation, you know. she spits—the authors don’t say she spits but that’s how i imagine it—‘how do you think i feel?’ later, she dies trying to help him locate his daughter.
anyway to this day her whole cosmically horrifying situation has stuck with me, and with it the terrible assurance of being irrevocably marked (even if only by myself) as bad, as doomed to be bad, and nevertheless inextinguishably desiring to do the right thing. in my case the mark is trauma recovery—the whole incredibly messy process of learning to deal with my emotions all over again, to try to keep them in flailing in the worst directions possible after they’ve been twisted and bruised into awful survivalist shapes for years at a time. and for many many years after that the first impulse, whenever anything went wrong, whenever anything felt spinning out of control, whenever any scared part of my brain felt like using me as a conduit, was to run away, to crash myself on an emotional island, so i could never hurt the people around me, about whom i care buckets & buckets. (and yet—crashing myself hurts them too. very much. which makes it feel all the more determined. more inevitable.) that impulse has never fully left me. and rey succumbs to just the same.
but also her impulse is to be dangerous to herself about doing the right thing, to perform kindness (of a sort) even when that’s tantamount to self-harm, which is not nearly so saintly an impulse as people like to make out. i know. i felt the same thing. i still do sometimes. often. thus rey heals kylo after defeating him, absolutely aghast at her own victory, breaking down in tears and running away from what she perceives as another failure. and of course palpatine plays on these fears—who knows whether if she’d killed him immediately all the ghosts of all the sith would flow into her? certainly that’s not what happens in the end, and i’m tempted to say it’s either part of his manipulation or else just something about which he’s mistaken. the point is: she’s so frightened of any kind of evil manifesting in herself, her self that sooner or later she thinks will be totally consumed thereby, that she adheres wholeheartedly to proverbs 25.21-22. (or maybe romans 12.20. depending on what you want to argue.) well, for the most part when i think of any of my abusers i hope they’re doing okay. i hope they are feeling safer now, from others, and that they are safer for others too. and i know that if i ever saw them again i would want to make sure they were feeling good, and that i apologised for everything, and that i wasn’t making them uncomfortable, and that i’d do everything to take care of them, and—. (some things are still too vulnerable for letterboxd.)
and so to my eternal shame and chagrin, and to the indescribable anger of my pre-ix self, the big climactic kiss got me. got me very good. there’s been a bootleg photo sitting right next to my active tabs so i occasionally accidentally see it again a couple of times every hour and my heart sinks in deep recognition and mourning. it reads so clearly, to me, as rey’s own moral self-harm that i don’t pick up any romantic tone whatsoever. instead it’s the apex of her desperation that if she is anything other than perfectly kind she's evil. and unfortunately i know how much rey's idea of what is 'perfectly kind' is messed up by everyone around her, and therefore she presses with her whole giant caring-selfish heart into self-destruction in order to ward off what she sees as her own evil. not that she sees it as self-destruction; she sees it as her last hope for absolution. so her wide eyes and great grin of relief… and what i’ve felt when things have looked upward with abusers… and when i’ve got to make myself vulnerable to them… and tried to give them all of myself as she does with her kiss… i know how overwhelming those feelings are. but i desperately want to tell her that she’s never been doomed. and that not giving herself so totally in this instance wouldn’t in the least count as sliding into evil.
this atrociously botched arc, which j.j. cannot begin to realise as it deserves (i’ve filled in so many blanks, smoothed over too many cracks), which disney do not deserve to handle (but what do they deserve?), harpooned me in horribly vulnerable places. i don’t like it any more than you do. and of course since watching my thoughts have tried to harpoon me too: whatever. maybe my trauma isn’t real. maybe i’ve just fooled myself into identifying with a hollow corporate caricature. just like i fooled myself into identifying with alleged idiosyncratic caricatures lisbeth or quiet or… maybe i am soulless corporate mishmash. maybe it’s just internalised misogyny. or maybe the way i am written is pretty misogynistic!
&c., &c. it’s standard post-traumatic cycles of complicated self-defence. it’s parts of me that are very scared and not knowing what to think, and i can reassure those parts. can tell them how much i love them. i know some ways to help bounce that malicious determinism out of my system, and i am usually together enough to know what to do when i’m out-of-balance. this time last week i knew—i could tell myself honestly—that i was so much stronger and and more together than i was last year. that i could rely on myself to take care of myself, and thus properly & safely take care of others. watching this film has set me in a proper tizzy and i’ve been flailing lots ever since. but i’m not doomed. i can pull up and out of this. i have before, many many times. gerry caravan writes that:
Star Wars is the multigenerational, nearly century-long saga of every major character trying to kill themselves with one grand gesture that solves all their problems. […] There are so many suicides trying to kill themselves in the final third of The Rise of Skywalker it’s actually hard to keep track of which are the good suicides and which are the bad ones.
there is no grand gesture that will solve all my problems, and by the same token there is no grand gesture that will ruin me. i don’t like the framing of the line associated with it, for probably somewhat obvious reasons, but in the last jedi one of my very favourite moments is also a kiss. it’s rose and finn, friends, comrades, who want just as much as rey to do the right thing, and who get to help one another work out exactly what the right thing is—but whatever it is, rose insists, it’s, counter to the last third of this movie, neither of their sacrificial suicides. and so she kisses finn, with the kind of joy that comes from certainty they can both live and both continue to get better and do better.
that’s the kind of all-encompassing self-giving love to which i aspire. and i’m not ontologically doomed for it to fail.
that’s a good theology of the kiss.