Southland Tales

Southland Tales

I'm struck yet again by the audacity and ambition of this film. The future might be more futuristic than scientists predict, but if Southland Tales gets anything right, it's that the present is more... present. There's so much here about how we interpret narratives and the Now, about our relationship to the moment unfolding around us. Conventional doomsday timelines are eschewed in favor of an Era of Apocalypse. There are individual events that kick off that Apocalypse, but there is no sudden moment that divides the world into Pre- and Post-; there is only the present. We're fascinated with the idea of post-apocalyptic narratives because apocalypse-as-event promises a sudden end, a bang that ends our era of digital confusion and returns us to another time, a primitive time of analogue and subsistence. It's the end of one story and the beginning of another, supposedly simpler one. But digital technologies, as shown by the constant stream of screens in Southland Tales, never end. The concept of conventional narratives has collapsed to the point where all that exists is an extended (and, as put by Douglas Rushkoff in his book Present Shock, distracted) present. Stories don't arc, they flow like fluid karma. It's a cinema of present shock and perpetual motion. Krysta Now can't tell the difference between movies and television because all the images have blurred together, just like our individual realities have melted into a collective moment. This film devotes so much time to the watching of 24-hour TV news programs because it reflects our insecurity over the loss of the present, our feeling that everything is happening right now. Southland Tales is one of the only post-9/11 films that understand why we can't get over 9/11; not just the shock of unexpected invasion, but the shock of the present, the loss of dates and events and signposts of time we can latch on to. It all runs together. The apocalypse doesn't begin or end and the program doesn't start or finish; the revelation is unfolding in a real-time Right Now that never stops. And you best believe it will be televised.

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