The Empty Man

The Empty Man ★★★★

The righteously subversive is gonna be found where you least expect it, huh? The Empty Man's exposé of diabolical influence underlying fashionable ideology and cultural currents transcends the pointless paranoia of something like Under the Silver Lake. There's no need for an all-controlling, blood-sucking elite under every stone when gradual, diffuse influence is all that Evil requires: “They don't have five year plans, they have five-hundred year plans.” You can indict a cabal, but “you can't indict the cosmos.” Mass shooters and activist mobs, recognizable enough as symptoms, find a way regardless of legislation. The Long March through the institutions has gone well (Jaques Derrida's name literally looms over the victims' school) and the next immanentizing step is immolation; post-structuralist critical theorists coming 'round the bend. Out of bored conformity (groupthink), these teens willingly blow on their magic bottles and call for their own doom, while those of a higher rank call for everybody else's. You can't manifest a remolding of humanity (much less a singularity) as the filmmaker fears, but that doesn't make the pursuit any less sinister.

An old communist once said that education is the most powerful weapon that can be used to change the world. It's not supreme, there aren't any truly empty men in the student body, no blank slates, but if you tell a kid that gratitude is regressive and resentment is progressive, they'll buy it. Sexual and political identities follow the fads (Whoops, is that Letterboxd ban worthy?) while all notions of truth are undermined; the zeitgeist is not a positive force. And the resistance? Aesthetic preoccupations mired in resentful irony, the same notions of destructive progress repackaged. In the anti-culture, empty men pantomime combat with empty men. “Solving” the mystery of the Empty Man was only performative, it turns out. That makes sense enough of the film's bleak twist, but Truth deserves some play too: some of these societal unmaskings (themselves masked as spooky schlock) could use a glimmer of hope, whether or not it's of this world. But apparently there aren't any more exorcists, just the political equivalents of arteriograms and pneumoencephalograms while Regan's scrawling “help me” on her possessed flesh.

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