As a film, The Big Lebowski is a lot like its protagonist, Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski. It’s lacking a little in forward moment, preferring to luxuriate in individual moments than get caught up in any big sweeping plot. They’re both hugely influenced by what’s around them: The Dude speaks largely in borrowed phrases from other character’s dialogue, while the film steals from noir, slacker comedies and westerns. The main thing that Lebowski and Lebowski have in common, however, is that they exude purest undiluted charm. The film is a pastiche of the hard-boiled-detective-pulp-noir tradition, in particular Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and the 1946 film adaptation starring Humphrey Bogart and, personality notwithstanding, The Dude finds himself placed in the role of detective. The film’s humour and personality comes from how ill-fitting he is for the role; not so much hard-boiled as baked. A case of mistaken identity leads to a urinated-upon rug leads to a meeting with the other, far richer Jeffrey Lebowski and his trophy wife Bunny. Who promptly disappears, as is the way of these things. It’s something I’ve touched on here and there, but I staunchly believe that the detective story is the purest form of fiction, a single driving force driving reader and protagonist forward. Here it’s used to stitch together a loose series of locations and setpieces, from a bacchanalian party at the pad of “known pornographer” Jackie Treehorn to the sweary smashing up of a stranger’s car. It gives the Coens an excuse to show off. There are shots of a naked woman against a sheer black background being thrown up beyond the top of the frame and falling out of sight before trampolining back up; dream sequences which mix opera, bowling, and porn. It’s absolutely luscious cinema of a type that’s rare in comedies. The places we’re led through are individually fascinating, brilliant proof that it’s not just fantasy films that do great world-building, but it’s The Dude’s charm that ties the piece together as, for example, a fine rug might tie together a room. He’s a force of personality, a common theme that will emerge a lot in the films to come (particularly numbers 5, 4 and 2). The kind of guy who goes shopping in his pyjamas, and buys a single carton of milk with a cheque. Without seeming to try, his appearance is totally iconic; dressing gown, shades, and permanent lowball of White Russian adding up to a slacker Jesus. The film is full of quotable lines, and for the most part The Dude merely echoes them, but the fact that they’re being delivered by Jeff Bridges. Every line is delivered perfectly, given the slightest spin, and he makes even the slightest movement almost quotable. It seems like an easy, comfortable performance but in truth Bridges is an high-precision surgeon of an actor in this film. He effortlessly makes The Dude someone in whose presence you want to spend all of your time. And The Big Lebowski, in two-hour chunks, gives you the opportunity to do just that.
Inevitably, approaching the very heights of a list like this, as we now are, something changes. There’s a move from films you love for one or two reasons, that you’ve seen two or three times to two-hour chunks of pure cinema you’ve seen enough times, talked about and fawned over enough that, over time, they’ve become woven directly into your personality. The relationship is just different: from now on, this list becomes pretty much The Films That Made Me. I’ll try not to get too indulgent, try and keep the pesky author out of it as much as possible, but you’re just going to have to allow me this one. Watching Pulp Fiction now feels like nothing more snuggling into an old favourite pair of pyjamas. Baggy in places, sure, maybe with holes you’ve picked over the years, but familiar, and comfortable. There was much laughing at jokes the moment before they happened and – in the case of Urge Overkill’s Girl You’ll Be A Woman soon – singing along. For all the violence, drugs and naughty naughty swears, it was an experience best described as ‘nice’. So while it played: I reminisced about the first time I watched it – in the living room on a Friday night, while the parents were out – and doodling sharp-suited assassins in GCSE art. I spot moves I stole for awkward school discos before I could dance. Occasionally, I rolled over and watched the colours twinkle on the laminated poster of Jules & Vincent I bought on a school trip to France. I mentally placed tracks on the soundtrack (which I bought on the same trip, and which pretends to follow the film’s chronology but doesn’t, really) and finally worked out why Strawberry Letter 23 is on there, except for the fact that it’s one of the best songs ever… It was an intensely personal experience, is what I’m saying. I’m indulging myself a little, but that’s what it felt like: the pyjamas I was wearing as I watched it, or the hot chocolate I’m sipping as I write this. Warm, fuzzy nostalgia of the kind I don’t often have for my actual real-life memories of school. Not that I had a bad childhood or anything, don’t worry your pretty little self, but rather that I’m one of those people for whom memories don’t come too easily. Retrieving them most often means a sharp wince of embarassment, or else fuzzy, like someone smeared Vaseline on the lens. As you’re reading this, it’s quite likely that you too define yourself by the culture you consume, at least occasionally. It’s not an attempt to look more intelligent or interesting or, God forbid, cool (I certainly wouldn’t be writing these if that was my aim). I’m not even sure it was something I chose. I just know that, on holiday in the small Spanish town I went to every summer for nearly a decade, when my mom points out a place and says ‘remember when…?’ I struggle, but that if I stand in one place for long enough I can give a rough idea of what page of which Discworld book I was on. Which, if Pulp Fiction doesn’t play the same role in your life, doesn’t tell you much about the film – the casual non-linearity, the structure of interlocking short stories, the interplay of dialogue and soundtrack, actor after big name actor turning in some of their finest work and Quentin Tarantino doing a particularly poor imitation of Quentin Tarantino, etc. I’m sorry about that, but it’s all widely available online or by talking to anyone who has ever heard of Pulp Fiction. All you really need to know is that for all my nostalgia, I was actually surprised by how vital it still felt. The thing is, though, I’m pretty sure something does play that role in your life. Or a few things, most likely. It’s a response I’m fascinated by, the way we can build identity out of pop-cultural detritus, that has fed directly back into the type of culture I enjoy. Like Pulp Fiction, for example. Like most of Tarantino’s work, it’s a just-about-digested mix of all the films that fascinate him. It’s telling that one of the main criticisms levelled at his work is that it’s self-indulgent. Which is a criticism I’d lay firmly at the feet of this entry, too. But to that I say: so what? And hope someone’s still reading.
“This relationship between men is one of the key tenets on which all of Pegg, Frost, and Wright’s work is built, along with the oft-cited pop-cultural obsession and the symmetrical structures of callbacks and foreshadowing which we’ll be looking at in a future post.” Ah yeah I did. Consider that foreshadowing, and this the callback. If we want to reach back even further, my review of Chris Nolan’s Inception might be useful: I compared it to a Rubik’s cube-style puzzle, or a clockwork-tight machine of interlocking pieces of plot/idea/dialogue. Hot Fuzz does all that – it’s got a whole lot of guns on a whole mess of mantlepieces, the dialogue is full of repetitions and variations – but at the middle of that ticking machine of gears and pistons, it manages to stuff in a human heart. (The heart being the relationship between Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman. That’d be the romantic relationship between two straight men, then. Tick!) I know it’s generally considered second to Shaun of the Dead, and please understand that, as a film with The Fratellis on the soundtrack, my love comes hard-earned. But Hot Fuzz is an astoundingly well put-together piece of work. It feels crafted, like every decision was carefully thought through: the confident second album. And it uses its structure for so many different purposes: first, most obviously, comedy. Take the swan, which evolves from the reversal of a classic Simpsons prank call (Mr P.I. Staker, it turns out, doesn’t think his name is particularly funny) to a running sight gag. But, and here’s the thing: it’s also key to the action of the film. The swan turns out to be a vital element in winning the film’s final ‘boss fight’, which feels natural – this is no cygnus ex machina – and funny. It’s an effortless juggling of the film’s two halves, the mundaneity of small-town boredom vs big Michael-Bayesque action. It’s also a good way to put the viewer inside Angel’s much-discussed brain – which is tightly focused and trained, like a bureaucratic British Batman – as he tries to solve the mystery. First of all, everything is rigidly ordered, as it should be when your protagonist demands paperwork after a firefight. But it also gives the impression that clues are being laid, that we can solve this mystery. It is all there from the very start, and it’s actually probably easier as a comedy to lay down each piece of the puzzle without them being noticed, because it’s indistinguishable from the bits of set-up that will be played for laughs. (The solution to the mystery, incidentally, is probably the film’s weakest element, because it feels so arbitrary; thinking about the film’s political stance, though, it is rather more thematically satisfying.) Meanwhile, it sets up a sense of place: the repeated references, a sign first, then a joke, to the model village which, of course, ends up as the setting for the big finale. Meanwhile, it’s helping make the plot fit together and not collapse into total farce. Meanwhile, it’s keeping a certain part of your brain occupied and entertained, the part of you that might have occasionally watched Spaced with the reference-explaining subtitles turned on… Tying it to last week’s idea of films as music might be a callback too far, I suppose? There are hundreds of other things to like. Timothy Dalton as the very obvious baddie, chewing so much scenery that of course he ends up … well, chewing scenery. The way it takes a certain strain of very British, “you’re not even from round here!” conservatism* as its villain, and places the ‘hoodies’ alongside the heroes. Nick Frost using his natural sweetness to completely sell the central romance. Count Buckules having his head exploded by a piece of masonry. The dozens of great British comedians and actors. The Iain Banks/Iain M Banks joke, which also makes me feel clever. The continued use of the smash-cut montages of the mundane: filling in paperwork, photocopying… But the thing I always come back to is how well structured it all is. Like Inception, like Watchmen (not Zack Snyder’s), Hot Fuzz is a film that rewards careful watching and rewatching by tickling that little part of your forebrain that tells you ‘oh, I’m well clever!’ for noticing. But it weaves this careful structure into something with as much heart as brains *DISCLAIMER: Note the small ‘c’. Not in the political sense, friends who I’ve argued about the world of difference that capital letter means. I mean a genuine wish for things to remain in stasis.
Jackie Brown: the third Tarantino film of five, the one people tend to forget. Naturally, it’s one I love dearly. How is it different from all the rest? Well, it marks the moment before Tarantino dived into the self-referential genre stuff, and is a bit slower and smoother than the rest of his work, and I think it’s generally considered his most mature work. But I don’t want to talk about that stuff. Just watch it, it’s great, and if you like Tarantino you’re really missing out, okay? I want to talk about music. That means, I realise, talking about one of the things that doesn’t differentiate it from Tarantino’s 0ther work: after all, he’s always been handy with a soundtrack. It’s easy to rattle off a list: Little Green Bag, Misirlou, Battle Without Honour or Humanity, Cat People… But this is a whole other level. Because it’s never just been about the music. It’s about how Tarantinos entwines them with the film, to make something bigger. I could talk about the opening, where we track, following Jackie as she walks through an airport to the sound of Across 110th Street, and how it tells us pretty much everything we need to know about the character or how it should be one of the most iconic scenes in recent cinema. We could reminisce about Strawberry Letter 23, how its opening is one of the most magical minutes in all of music, and how beautifully it complements a scene of Samuel L. Jackson preparing to stone-cold murder one of his friends. How the gliding vocals as he pulls those gloves on develops that Stuck in the Middle/torture juxtaposition into something far more subtle and sinister. I could go on like that all day. I really could. But I want to tell you my latest theory. We’ve already considered Kill Bill’s novelistic chapters, but I think Jackie Brown is the perfect illustration of how musical Tarantino’s work is. Obviously the use of songs, yes, but: the way the greater plot so often gets sidelined in favour of dipping and peaking tension. The rhythm of dialogue. The non-linear style that returns to certain moments, chorus-like. The focus on Moments. There’s a way of looking at music that’s well expressed in the work of Tom Ewing, and one I tend towards when thinking/talking/writing about music, that puts the focus on these individual Moments. You know: the thrilling peaks in the middle of those repeating structures, that demand your attention every time a song plays. It might introduce a new idea, or put the emphasis on one instrument, or maybe a production trick that tweaks the way everything sounds. In Tarantino, this manifests as those quotable moments of dialogue (“Our ass used to be beautiful”, the AK-47 speech, 90% of the things Sam Jackson says in this film) and little stylistic quirks (the ubiquitous ‘trunk’ shoot from inside a car’s boot, the use of white text on black titlecards). There are valleys – and Jackie Brown is a long film, so be prepared for a whole lot of valley – that provide the rhythm, and then layered on top of that, and on top of the push and pull of these characters and the constant threat of them killing each other, are these beautiful moments of style. People criticise Tarantino for being style over substance. I say, style is the substance. Have you never listened to a pop song?
I can remember when the concept of ‘bromance’ was a revelation to me. It’s warped into something ugly now, a word I can only bring myself to use contained safely between quotation marks. But I was young, and full of foolish innocence, and the word was a lightning rod. The relationship between two (mostly) straight men, it said, could be as beautiful and important as the love affairs most films dedicated themselves to. I wasn’t thinking of Ryan Reynolds and The Hangover and MTV. I was thinking of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. Shaun of the Dead, for all its high-concept romzomcom premise and delicate construction, is just about two blokes in love. Shaun and Ed. The kind of mates who’ve known each other since primary school, have intertwined lives and shared jokes that have being running since forever. Of course, there are women, and family, and all the types of love that come along with that too. But Shaun of the Dead presents nothing on a higher pedestal than what I’m sure Plato himself would have termed the bromantic love between the two. In the finest Twilight tradition, however, the path of their love does not run smooth. The painful truth, as various characters continually point out to Shaun, is that he’s just no good for him. Ed’s lazy and abrasive and selfish. But since when has that got in the way of a good romance? It’s the central conflict of the film. Sure, it looks like a romantic comedy (with zombies!, as the tagline so cheerily informs us) about a guy trying to win back his girl, but really the threat that drives the plot along – from the very first scene, long before the zombies arrive – is deciding whether his relationship with Ed is destructive. It’s all tangled up with Shaun’s need to sort his life out, but the relationship with Ed – and whether Shaun should dump him, and whether anyone will stand between these starcross’d mates – is where that conflict crystallises most clearly into actual narrative. This relationship between men is one of the key tenets on which all of Pegg, Frost, and Wright’s work is built, along with the oft-cited pop-cultural obsession and the symmetrical structures of callbacks and foreshadowing which we’ll be looking at in a future post. All three are fascinations of mine, and Shaun came along at so perfect a moment that I can’t separate the two, establish which came first. When I actually watched Shaun of the Dead, on my bedroom floor with my own BFF, did this all stand out? Did I know that I would ever try and mark pre- and post-? Of course not. I was too busy being entertained by a funny, thrilling, gory romp. Everything else came later: when you’re watching it for the seventeenth time; when you take selfsame friend to see Hot Fuzz for Valentine’s Day; when you’re trying to write about it…
As someone who has long taken issue with the way certain childrens’ books (hint: rhymes with Larry Frotter) are not just acceptable but celebrated reading material for grownups, my love of kids’ films is maybe worth a little examination. They have to dumb down to the same common-denominator level, surely, to be understood by even the littlest of the littl’uns? And, if you’d put this question to me in person, I’d likely spend a lot of time humming and aahing, looking at my shuffling feet, before making a hurried mumble of apology (something about explosive diarrhea?) and fleeing from the room. But here we are on the internet, where I am master, and have infinite time to consider my answer. Which is (now) this: as a passive medium, cinema doesn’t have a prerequisite ‘you must be this tall to enjoy’ barrier to enjoyment. In a children’s book, even one aimed at an audience older than Monsters Inc, the level of vocabulary and technique available to the author is limited by the reader’s understanding. The same logic applies to game for children, which have to be reasonably simple to interact with. Pixar are able to bring all sorts to complex cinematic technique to bear. Just look at the comedy outtakes that run over the credits: try something like that in a book, and the extra layer of fictional reality introduced could be alienating. But in Monsters Inc, that just slips over you without being an issue, even when it slips back into the original reality with Mike & Sully’s ‘Put That Thing Back Or So Help Me’ musical. Or… well, it could be that I just don’t really dig on Harry Potter (I’ve tactfully avoided making any reference to Pullman’s Dark Materials stuff or my lack of interest in the HP films, both of which would totally sink my argument) whereas Monsters Inc is an undeniably brilliant film, equally capable of making me laugh, cry, go awhhhh, marvel at its prettiness, get caught in the action, cry again, and totally not care about any kinds of adult/child divides. But, shhh. That would totally invalidate this post, wouldn’t it?
You know when you go back to a film you love, especially one considered a classic, after a few years? Your memory tends to get fuzzy, and so you kind of wait for the moments that have settled in your mind. It’s often those ‘classic’ big moments, the bits you see talking heads remembering for you on endless Channel4 Top 100s. Ride of the Valkyries, napalm in the morning, the horror the horror, etc. But I was surprised to find what’d truly stuck from Apocalypse Now was something else entirely; an unusual moment three-quarters into the film. It comes as the boat carrying Captain Willard reaches Do Lung Bridge. Night has fallen, and the bridge is chaos, smoke and sparks everywhere. Like the rest of the film, it makes beautiful use of light and dark, silhouettes and explosions of blurry colour. Flares fall lazily from the sky, leaving trails that are reflected in the ripples of the water. It’s probably the single biggest bit of spectacle in the film. As the boat pulls up to the bridge, Lance announces he’s just dropped his final tab of acid. “It’s beautiful … far out”. And it is – the whole scene is a light show – but it’s hellish too. “You’re in the asshole of the world, Captain!” The soundtrack is broken circus music and the incoherence of dying soldiers. The space between flashes of light gets longer, and we’re left in darkness between moments of piercing brightness. Just to underscore all that, into the most dangerous space we’ve been yet, Lance brings his newly-acquired puppy. The scene signifies a crossing into the out-and-out strangeness of the last half an hour, which is fitting given it’s a gate, a threshold between ‘here’ (Vietnam, warring against Charlie) and ‘there’ (Cambodia, hunting down one of your own). The film is one long stream of insanity, of various stripes and colours, but there’s a coolness to what comes before, that doesn’t have much place in the uneasy remainder. This is the bit where the film starts to turn nasty. On top of all that, above everything else, it’s presented like another world; more sci-fi than war film. Willard and Lance moving through the trenches in silhouette could be men on the moon. Among the churning soundtrack, I swear I can hear laser fire. That’s Apocalypse Now: an exploration of a world outside of our laws. It might as well be a fantasy world: it’s certainly far richer than the world of any fantasy film I could name. The Lord of The Rings? Pfft, this comes with its own language too – equal parts acronym (FNGs, ETAs, LZs), French, and insults – one which filled me like asbestos when first I saw it as a teenager, coloured my vision of festival fields, and is still with me today, laughing uncontrollably in the backseat as Dom throws his car round a sharp corner while Ride of the Valkyries blasts in my ears.
Perhaps you already know this, but it’s nearly a full hour into Aliens before the first appearance by any, you know, aliens. It’s a pretty ballsy move, and one that helps make the action sequences in the second half really sing. But there’s an even more important late introduction, at the 45 minute mark. It looks like it’s going to be the aliens. The motion tracker bleeps promisingly, teasingly. Guns are raised. That blip turns into a blur streaking across the foreground. Of course, it’s a fakeout. It was a little girl. Newt. Newt changes the film. Putting kids and dogs in danger is a cliché; it’s an easy way to up the stakes, but it works. (Alien had a cat, which has nearly the same effect except that cats are rubbish). Part of this is the execution – Newt’s never overplayed, she’s not a cutesy or annoying character, Cameron can build tension like an absolute melonfarmer – but more important is that the Ripley/Newt relationship is the key to the film’s main theme. If Alien was about the fear of pregnancy, Aliens is about something much more terrifying: what happens next. You survived the body horror of giving birth to something red and fleshy; now you’ve got a small vulnerable creature to care for. When I occasionally wonder about parenthood, I’m paralysed by two terrifying realisations: A) it’s very easy, to paraphrase that filthy-mouthed Philip Larkin, screw your child up; B) you’ve got something extra to be scared of, all the time. You know how much more worried you are about being mugged when you’ve got a couple of hundred quid in your pocket? But, like, times a million. This is the feeling Aliens works on, and then builds a constant plot-based tension around it. The survivors get narrowed down, and maybe you’ll jump a couple of times, but it’s only when it comes to Ripley and Newt that it really hits bone. People remember the ‘cool’ stuff of Aliens: the firing of plasma rifles and the casually-dropped quotables. But as is usually the case, that’s not very accurate. While the two hours zip past, the film’s light on set-pieces or any extended action. Instead, it practically rubs the motherhood stuff in your face. It felt weird, watching the Theatrical Release, not having the scene where we – and Ripley – discover her daughter grew old and died while Ripley enjoyed her 57 years of hypersleep. It foregrounds her relationship with Newt even more, but the film still hardly goes light on the theme stuff. After all, Aliens is a film that climaxes with a fight between a queen alien protecting her brood of eggs and the woman whose surrogate child she stole. And afterwards Newt clutches the victorious Ripley tight and calls her “mommy”. Was there really ever any doubt what it was all about?
Evil Dead II is a film in the process of going insane. It starts out playing it straight, a standard horror film: a couple go to a cabin in the woods, discover a recording of an archaeologist reading from the Necronomicon Ex Mortis, the book of the dead, and evil things are unleashed. Girl gets possessed, boy is forced to cut girlfriend’s head off. It’s 15 minutes of a fairly normal horror film. By genre standards, its premise isn’t even that ridiculous. This is, of course, the least interesting part of the film. But then it starts to get a little odd. It all starts with the girlfriend’s decapitated corpse doing a song-and-dance number, using the lopped-off head as a prop. It’s human nature: there comes a point where, having taken a chainsaw to your dead girlfriend’s head and chopped off your own possess hand, you just have to laugh. You can see something crack, in the film and its hero, Ash. It’s like watching the Joker’s secret origin (or, as I write this, the lovely girlfriend fighting the last few paragraphs of her dissertation): the laughter quickly turns maniacal. It’s no coincidence that a lot of the scenes end with Ash snapping back to reality – oh it was all a dreaAARGH – or fighting against himself. But, just like the Joker, with madness comes clarity. Specifically, the understanding that, if a man falling over is a little funny, turning the violence up by 100 will make it hilarious. And, really, there is little on this list funnier than a pinched-hosepipe explosion of blood going off in a man’s face, or a shotgun making someone’s entire head explode. …I guess I could point out that it’s notable that this all begins after Ash has to kill his own girlfriend (twice), and that maybe all those monsters and strange camera angles are a big ol’ metaphor. But Evil Dead II really doesn’t seem bothered with that sort of thing. It just wants to be itself: a big, brash thrill ride that occasionally makes you jump, but much more often just makes you laugh. Laugh your head off. It’s all rather funny, really. HAHAHAHAHAAAAAARGH.
As befits a film about vampires, there’re a lot of dark corners in Let The Right One In. Yes, real, danger-concealing ones too, but metaphorically speaking. Something will be alluded to, but never explained. It’s full of empty spaces for your imagination to fill, as it inevitably dominates your thoughts over the next few days. This vacuum sucks up everything nearby – the other version of the film, the little I know about the original book, the speculative conversations – so that going back and actually watching it, it’s strange to be reminded no, that’s not in this film or that never gets explained. By not explaining, or even dropping bigger clues, to some of the ideas it flirts with, Let The Right One In holds its mystery. And as Edward Cullen taught a generation of teen girls, being mysterious makes you cooler and more attractive to everyone. Plus it speaks with a Swedish accent and in subtitles. That wobbly sensation is your knees going weak. It’s a good looking bit of cinema, too, every bit the equal of RPats’ goth-pale chiseled features. Almost every shot feels considered, making the most of its setting- 1980s suburban Sweden in the snow, which feels as exotic and, yes, mysterious as any location ever committed to celluloid. Everything is beautiful, but just a little ugly at the same time. The two children at the centre of the story are perfectly chosen, treading that same line. There’s something repellent in the fragile porcelain features of Kåre Hedebrant’s Oskar which helps sell the character as well as being simply fascinating to look at. At the heart of all this is a very simple story, of Oskar and Eli, two children – just on the cusp of that word still being an acceptable description – meeting and bonding. A coming of age story, with some very sinister additions, as is only right for that vulnerable confused time. Girl meets boy, but girl is actually vampire and boy is slightly emotionally disturbed. And so, under and around this relationship, other things happen: some of them clear, some of them obfuscated. Serial killings, bullying, a man losing his best friend and telling his wife he now has nothing. These events all cast shadows, to be probed lying in bed awake after the DVD is safely back in its box. Shadows like: “I’m not a girl.” This is the biggest cause of speculation and if you haven’t seen it, skip this paragraph please. The whole film has sexual overtones, undertones and run-clean-through-tones (and the novel allegedly much more so) and so the gender confusion fits right. The glimpse of Eli’s crotch is the moment that stuck in the collective memory when I first saw Let The Right One In. It’s an example of that ugliness, of the sex-horror, and one of the rare times I’ve been genuinely shocked by a film. And, again, memory plays tricks. Rewatching it, the moment having built to infamy, its momentariness and simplicity was shocking. All these little mysteries and questions aren’t really important. It doesn’t matter whether Oskar’s father is gay, or an alcoholic. It’s all just an implied history that lends weight to the film’s world; fodder to keep the film alive in your memory after the credits roll. It’s refusal to answer the question just keep all the mythology stripped back, so the central relationships at the centre can shine more cleanly. Everything else is just shadows.