As demonstrated by figures ranging from D.W. Griffith to Federico Fellini to Jean-Luc Godard to Dario Argento, even great filmmakers tend to eventually lose touch with cultural trends and their surroundings in general with old age and thus their cinematic output sometimes severely suffers as a result. As his extremely uneven cinematic swansong We Can't Go Home Again (1973) demonstrates, even truly rebellious filmmakers like great Hollywood anarchist Nicholas Ray—a man that lived in a so-called ‘filmmaking commune’ with his students when he was already well into his 60s while working as a film professor—that attempt try to keep up with youth trends can fail miserably and just seem incredibly ridiculous. In short, it is oftentimes easy to tell if a film was directed by an old fart even if it was directed by a distinctly talented old fart. Of course, there are certainly notable exceptions like Danish maestro Carl Th. Dreyer, who concluded his long distinguished career with a timeless masterpiece like Gertrud (1964), but I don’t think any other filmmaker can really compare compete in terms of singular golden years relevance than French master auteur Robert Bresson. Indeed, Bresson concluded his career with the decidedly dark masterpiece L'argent (1983) aka Money but his penultimate feature Le diable probablement (1977) aka The Devil, Probably is indubitably an unparalleled accomplishment in terms of an elderly auteur managing to depict with great intricacy, nuance, and keen social relevance the darkest aspects plaguing contemporary youth.
Directed by Bresson when he was already in his late 70s, the film was considered such a subversive and emotionally brutal youth pic when it was originally released that is was championed by figures ranging from mischling punk pioneer Richard Hell to Teutonic cinematic iconoclast Rainer Werner Fassbinder. In fact, Hell dared to describe the flick as “the most punk movie ever made,” but of course that would be selling the film too short. Undoubtedly, Fassbinder, who threatened to quit the 27th Berlin International Film Festival unless it received an award (it ultimately won the Silver Bear - Special Jury Prize), paid the film its greatest compliment when he stated to Christian Braad Thomsen in a 1977 interview that, “Robert Bresson's LE DIABLE PROBABLEMENT ... is the most shattering film I've seen this Berlin Festival. I think it's a major film [...]. [I]n the future—and this world will probably last for another few thousand years—this film will be more important than all the rubbish which is now considered important but which never really goes deep enough[.] The questions Bresson asks will never be unimportant.” Indeed, Bresson's film puts forward many imperative, albeit uniquely uncomfortable questions, but luckily the wise old auteur lacks the arrogance and ignorance to try to actually provide answers for them, as The Devil, Probably is an audaciously austere meditation on pre-apocalyptic youthful angst that beauteously bleeds a certain unmistakable Occidental hopelessness as symbolically personified by a passively suicidal lad that lacks even the will power to kill himself yet somehow manages to pull a date with death in the end.
Indeed, fuck Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin Féminin (1966), Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969), Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia (1979), Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club (1985), Heathers (1989), and countless other films that acted as virtual cinematic therapy to various generations of self-obsessed teenagers and young adults, old fart Bresson was responsible for making the single greatest and most brutal teen rebellion flick ever made. In fact, even Fassbinder’s own rarely-seen teen angst feature Wildwechsel (1973) aka Jail Bait seems as intellectually insipid and sleazy as the crusty kosher comedy American Pie (1999) when compared to the misanthropic majesty of Bresson’s somewhat overlooked masterpiece. Of course, unlike Fassbinder, Bresson does not believe humans will be around for anywhere near a couple thousand years from now as it is a staunchly apocalyptic cinematic work that makes it seem as if humanity as a whole is, for better or worse, on its last gasp.
While the characters in the film are dressed in an aesthetically vulgar fashion that makes it seem as if they were run over by a psychedelic dump truck driven by Jim Morrison (incidentally, the final scene in the film was shot at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris where The Door singer is buried), The Devil, Probably could not be more relevant in terms of depicting the cultural, social, and moral bankruptcy of the materialistic bourgeois, as well as the various metaphysical afflictions that plague contemporary youth, namely those of the hopelessly deluded and spiritually forsaken left-leaning sort. The sad and pathetic yet audaciously and refreshingly brutally pessimistic story of a passively suicidal quasi-hippie twink dropout that has lost faith in love, religion, science, civilization, politics, and just about everything else that makes life worth living, the film probably features what is arguably the most stoic depiction of a totally senseless tragedy ever committed to celluloid. In terms of sheer artistic fortitude in the face of trendy neo-Marxist bullshit, Bresson's film demonstrates the uncompromising stoicism of a kamikaze fighter pilot just before crashing into a U.S. warship.
If there ever was a film that might possibly influenced failed bourgeois leftist types to refrain from throwing bottles of old piss at elderly Trump supporters and quit Soros-backed commie terrorist groups like antifa, it is indubitably The Devil, Probably where the sheer impotence, phoniness, narcissistic virtue signaling, and dead-end social dysfunction of the so-called revolutionary lifestyle is exposed for the insipidly sick joke that it is in an inordinately elegant fashion that demonstrates Bresson's mastery of his own distinct cinematic language. Indeed, the young long-haired leftists in the film come off seeming like virtual metaphysical zombies that have been foredoomed to wait for the incoming apocalypse while carrying out innately impotent acts of ‘intellectual’ resistance at the unwitting command of a Joker-esque devil that gets his kicks from seeing the dregs of youth figuratively dig their own graves. Of course, as the great Francis Parker Yockey once insightfully wrote, “A moment's reflection shows that Liberalism is entirely negative. It is not a formative force, but always and only a disintegrating force,” hence the signature left-wing tendency to simply break down and virtually never build up. Rather intriguingly, quite unlike his comrades, the protagonist of the film has become disillusioned with leftist politics and would probably agree with Yockey’s Spenglerian sentiment, “If pessimism is despair, optimism is cowardice and stupidity. Is there any need to choose between them?” In fact, in the end, the protagonist opts for a Roman-esque suicide as a young man that can no longer be bothered with petty things like neo-Marxist mental masturbation or the distribution of pornography in Catholic churches, as he has opted to swallow the biggest ‘black-pill’ in an age where his comrades think red flags and chink dictators are cool and that the starvation-diet materialism of Marxism will somehow defeat the consumerist materialism of capitalism. While Bresson's films certainly has strong anti-capitalist themes, it is almost just as critical of the left, especially in regard to how trendy neo-bolshie political movements have destroyed entire generations of youth and turned them into soulless shells of human begins that only known how to bitch and break things.
While The Devil, Probably effortlessly critiques various aspects of far-leftist political movements, the sexual liberation movement, psychoanalysis and related degenerate bullshit, in a swift and unemotional manner that is comparable to a meth-addled German master gardener attending to weeds, it is very clear while watching the film that Bresson is deeply concerned with the threat of pollution and its central role in the fall of man. In fact, Bresson broke with his own cinematic conventions and dared to include stock footage of pollution in the film to the underscore precarious state of humanity. Despite his fairly negative portrayal of the leftist youth in his film, Bresson had a certain ‘pessimistic hope’ that the film would somehow inspire a rebellion against such a grim garbage-filled fate, or as he explained in a June 13, 1977 interview with the French weekly news magazine L'Express, “I hope with all my heart that the young will deploy all the power of their youth against the massive forces of demolition that are ravaging the world (for which they will have to pay the price). But it might be too late.” Judging simply by his film, which is drenched in a certain preternaturally stoic apocalyptic doom and gloom, I can only suspect that Bresson truly believes in his heart of hearts that humanity is practically kaput and barely even deserves to exist due to what it has done to earth and its innocent non-human inhabitants. Indeed, judging simply by the world depicted in The Devil, Probably, the word ‘humanity’ can only be taken as a grave insult. As for the devil, he is merely a convenient perennial scapegoat for humanity. Needless to say, the film reveals that Bresson has little hope for the survival of the Occident and the world in general, but as Richard Roud once wisely wrote in Cinema - A Critical Dictionary - The Major Film-Makers (1980) in regard to the great aesthetic irony of the flick, “When a civilization can produce a work of art as perfectly achieved as this, it is hard to believe that there is no hope for it.” I, for one, can certainly not think of another film where the image of a young leftist bitch sobbing becomes such an emotionally poignant experience or where the murder of a suicidal friend by an insanely indifferent dead-eyed junky is depicted with such exceedingly elegant understated brutality. While he would probably disagree with me, Bresson was surely a rare auteur that had a singular talent for great pulchritude in banal ugliness.
Notably, French New Wave maestro François Truffaut once described The Devil, Probably as Bresson’s most “voluptuous film,” which is somewhat curious since the film does not feature much ‘sensual’ imagery aside from an extremely brief titty shot and some covert crotch shots of anorexic dope-addled frog boys in tighty whities. In terms of their boyish physiques and pathetically passive demeanors, these Gallic girly men more closely resemble cum-crusted catamites than the proper revolutionaries and are surely symbolic of the emasculation of post-WWII Europa, especially post-colonial France. Naturally, as sexually dubious individuals that lack most conventional masculine traits, the film’s characters, especially the protagonist, have serious problems when it comes to love and romance. Completely conflicted when it comes to the issue of whether or not he loves both or neither of his two favorite lady friends, the protagonist of the film clearly has not read H.L. Mencken’s wise words, “Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another.” To make matters even more confusing, the hapless hero—a chap that seems totally incapable of truly connecting to anyone, especially his estranged parents—is, for whatever reason, best friends with a similarly emotionally comatose guy that he dislikes who also happens to be banging his beloved girlfriend. In short, the characters cannot even seem to salvage their personal relationships, let alone the dying planet that they believe they are fighting for. In short, these characters focus on the big (and seemingly unsolvable) problems that world is facing as if it gives them a good enough reason in their own deluded minds to ignore their own glaring (and, in many ways, quite fixable) personal problems, which is surely one of the defining traits of the archetypal left-winger.
At the very beginning of the film, we learn that the film’s meta-pessimistic protagonist Charles (played by twink-ish non-actor Antoine Monnier, who is the great-grandson of post-impressionist painter Henri Matisse) is already dead as indicated by two different contradicting newspaper articles that read: “YOUNG MAN COMMITS SUICIDE IN PERE-LACHAISE” and “PERE-LACHAISE ‘SUICIDE’ WAS MURDER.” By the end of the film, the viewer learns that technically both newspaper headlines are correct, though neither really reveals the absurdly tragic circumstances surrounding the young man's death. After revealing the questionable death of the protagonist, the film cuts to an inter-title reading “SIX MONTHS EARLIER…” and then introduces hermetic world of the exceedingly epicene protagonist Charles and his similarly depressed and socially alienated comrades. Notably, in one of the very first scenes in the film, Charles mocks a self-stylized far-left revolutionary who gives a pathetic speech where he idiotically declares, “I proclaim destruction. Everyone can destroy. It’s easy. We can sway hundreds of thousands of people with slogans.” No longer impressed by insipid left-wing slogans and mindless acts of destruction, Charles believes “There is no point” and that people that engaged in such mindlessly deleterious behavior are simply “idiots.” Charles' best ‘frenemy’ Michel (Henri de Maublanc), who still believes in left-wing causes, does not approve of the critique and snidely states to Charles, “You want to know everything and end up doing nothing.” To Michel's credit, Charles is indeed a major underachiever and pessimistic that seems to regulate most of his time to complaining and fantasizing about suicide. In that sense, Charles is like a much cooler and more sophisticated frog equivalent to the eponymous protagonist of Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude (1971), though he thankfully never succumbs to gerontophilia or discovers happiness via an insufferably spunky elderly proto-hippie holocaust survivor.
Aside from their political differences, Michel is in love with Charles’ longtime girlfriend Alberte (Tina Irissari) who, unbeknownst to the protagonist, seems to reciprocate his feelings. To make matters even more romantically complex, Charles is also fucking a happy-go-lucky chick named Edwige (Laetitia Carcano), who is being used for nude photos and stupid political acts by the same lame unnamed political revolutionary from the beginning of the film that the protagonist rightly loathes. Indeed, among other things, Edwige engages in inserting pornographic imagery of herself inside holy writings at a local Catholic church where the leftists regularly hangout and harass bishops. For example, a young female revolutionary bitches at the bishop, “You’re so civilized, so cultured, you and your bishops. Is that why your music is insipid and your hymns inane? All those words and gestures you invented are so insignificant they’re humiliating. God doesn’t reveal himself through mediocrity.” As if foreseeing the sort of post-spiritual leftist Christian churches that exist nowadays in Europe and pollute the minds of its followers by endorsing the colonization of the continent by young hostile Muslim hordes, another revolutionary remarks, “…like it or not, the Christianity of the future will be without religion.” The only thing that Charles seems to enjoy is sex, which is a topic he discusses with an inordinate degree of excitement. Not unlike many people his age, Charles also has a hard time distinguishing between love and lust, though by the end of his short life it becomes clear he only ever really truly experienced the latter.
Notably, the great poesy pessimistic philosopher Emil Cioran once described his adopted hometown of Paris as an “apocalyptic garage,” which is a somewhat generous way to describe the aesthetically oppressive, socially alienating, and spiritually necrotizing frog capital that is depicted in Bresson's film. Undoubtedly, Charles might have had second thoughts about suicide were he to have read wonderful insights from Cioran like, “It is not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late” and “What saved me is the idea of suicide. Without the idea of suicide I would have surely killed myself. What allowed me to keep on living was knowing I had this option, always in sight... But really, without it I could have never endured life.” Of course, as the film’s senselessly tragic conclusion reveals, Charles lacks the gall and will power to personally pull the tragic and kill himself and thus resigns his fate to one of the most loathsome of barely human creatures. Indeed, were it not for the grotesque morally bankruptcy of his friend Valentin (Nicolas Deguy)—an extra jaded junky that spends most of his time bedridden when he is not out stealing from churches—Charles would probably not have ended his life so prematurely, as he is far too passive and chronically indecisive to commit such a permanent task.
Undoubtedly, one of the most tragic aspects of Charles’ suicide-by-junky is that his entire inner circle is well aware of his psychological decline and morbid obsession with self-slaughter. In fact, when Charles even goes so far as asking his anti-pal Michel, “Do you think I could kill myself?,” he receives the somewhat arrogant response, “Not for a moment. Because if we were really done for, as you say we are, if there really was no hope, I’d still want to live in spite of everything.” Additionally, Charles confesses to a female friend that he made a failed attempt at drowning himself in her bathtub, but she does not seem to take him serious. It is ultimately Charles’ two female lovers that are the most proactive in trying to stop him from committing suicide, but their actions are fairly impotent. For example, when his main girlfriend Alberte receives the horrified shock that Charles is carrying around a small bottle of cyanide in a bag, she simply throws it away but ultimately lacks the strength to confront her beloved about the curious find. In fact, Alberte even finds a rather incriminating scribbling from one of Charles' journals where he has copied a citation from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s final novel The Brothers Karamazov (1880) that reads, “When will I kill myself, if not now?,” but she lacks the strength to mention it to anyone aside from her secret lover Michel of all people. Somewhat ironically, it is his semi-secret lover Edwige’s recommendation that Charles see a quack psychoanalyst that leads him on a concrete path to self-annihilation.
To Charles' credit, he makes various small attempts to get over his all-consuming death wish. For example, despite his side relationship with Edwige, Charles decides to ask his longtime girlfriend Alberte if she will marry him and she actually accepts his proposal even though she seems to love Michel more. Notably, almost immediately after agreeing to marry him, Alberte begins crying in bed after sharing carnal knowledge with Charles. As to whether Albert breaks down because she knows he relationship with Charles is doomed or because she loves Michel more is anyone's guess, but there is no doubt she is having a hard time living a semi-polyamorous lifestyle. Indeed, like with their impotent left-wing activism, the characters in the film seem to believe that sexual freedom will somehow lead to happiness and some sort of utopia when, in reality, these things have only made them more miserable and disillusioned with life. Needless to say, Charles and Alberte's engagement goes nowhere.
In what is undoubtedly one of the most deceptively ingenious and thematically revealing scenes of the entire film, Charles more or less lays out his entire nihilistic Weltanschauung for a rather repugnant money-grubbing psychoanalyst named Dr. Mime (Régis Hanrion), who obviously has nil sincere interest in curing the troubled young man. Clearly a proponent of quasi-Freudian psychobabble of the neurosis-inducing sort, Dr. Mime—a man whose arrogance is only rivaled by his horribly hidden greed—believes childhood spankings and bad dreams are to blame for Charles’ decided disillusionment with life, but as the protagonist tell him himself in a line of dialogue that illustrates the central theme of the film, “But Doctor, I’m not ill. My illness is seeing too clearly.” Indeed, as Charles has concluded, no truly sane individual can feel content and happy in a sick and insipid world where baby seals are clubbed to death for profit, communism and its equally odious offshoots have replaced religion, lust is synonymous with love, hippies are considered cool, gender has been erased, being bedridden with heroin withdrawal is a full-time job, and the world faces the very real threat of total nuclear war followed by an atomic winter, but as Cioran once wrote, “Only a monster can allow himself the luxury of seeing things as they are,” hence why the protagonist is considered a weirdo even by his best friends and girlfriend(s).
When asked by the insufferably supercilious Dr. Mime, “Isn’t being right compensation for being alive?,” Charles replies, “In losing my life, here’s what I’d lose,” grabs a crumbled up advertisement from one of his pants pocket, and then absurdly recites with an absurd lack of enthusiasm that really underscores his great disgust for life and modernity, “Family planning, package holidays—cultural, sporting, linguistic. The cultivated man’s library. All sports. How to adopt a child. Parent-teacher associations. Education. Teaching 0 to 4 years, 7 to 14 years, 14 to 17 years. Preparation for marriage. Military duties. Europe. Decorations—honorary insignia. The single woman. Paid sick leave, unpaid sick leave. The successful man. Tax benefits for the elderly. Local taxes. Hire purchase. Radio and television rentals. Credit cards. Home repairs. Index-linking. VAT and consumers.” Needless to say, Charles does not learn much from the psychoanalyst, at least until he complains in regard to suicide, “Doctor. I don’t think I will ever be able to . . . Do the deed. To think I would suddenly stop thinking, seeing, hearing” and Dr. Mime unwittingly gives him the ‘cure’ he needs by retorting, “That’s why the ancient Romans entrusted a servant or friend with the task.” Indeed, while Charles might lack the nerve to blow his own brains out, he is at least confidant that he has a friend that is unscrupulous enough to do it for him for a meager fee. Somewhat ironically and rather humorously, Edwige convinces Charles' friends that the therapy is a great success after talking on the phone with Dr. Mime while session is still going on. Due to his unbelievable negligence and clear disinterest in his patient's mental health, Dr. Mime might be best described as a sort of ‘passive villain’ and a figure that not even anti-Freudian chosenite Thomas Szasz could have dreamed up.
Since there are surely no authentic ancient Romans living in contemporary Paris, Charles must settle for his junky comrade Valentin when it comes to his friend-assisted suicide. While Valentin is a lazy bum that lies in bed all day when he is not robbing church or shooting junk into his scrawny arm, he does become somewhat intrigued when Charles asks him to do a “favor” that is “Worthy of the ancient Romans” and then offers him all of his remaining cash to get the deadly deed done. Before heading to Père Lachaise Cemetery to be voluntarily executed by his most innately iniquitous of comrades, Charles celebrates with a small glass of wine to calm his nerves while Valentin, who clearly has no concern for the life of his friend, maintains a disturbingly dead expression on his greasy frog face. While he initially seems excited about dying, Charles somewhat somberly states while strolling through the graveyard, “I thought at a time like this I’d have sublime thoughts.” Indeed, even right before receiving his long awaited dream of dying, Charles is decidedly disappointed with life. When Charles then attempts to start a conversation by stating, “Shall I tell you?,” Valentin coldly cuts him off by shooting from behind, thereupon extinguishing the protagonist's life with a single bullet to the head.
Undoubtedly, had Charles been hanging out with more high quality friends he would probably still be alive, but of course the devastatingly dejected protagonist was already too irreparably alienated from any person of real value in his life, hence his desperate need to rely of the services of a junky fuck-up. While it might have been more superficially fitting had Charles died next to the gravesite of Rimbaud fan-boy Jim Morrison, Charles body collapses near the grave of French Communist Party (PCF) leader Maurice Thorez in a symbolic scenario that can be interpreted in many ways, though I think that it is safe to say that it reflects the nihilistic navel-gazing, slave-morality-induced moping, and sort of spiritual death that comes with becoming a far-leftist shill. Since left-wing ideologies, especially those of the post-WWII French sort, are oftentimes inspired by sheer resentment, failure, self-loathing, and ethno-masochism, it is ultimately no big surprise that someone like Charles ended up the way he did as he really only followed the next logical step of the trendy political persuasion of his zeitgeist. After all, not even a stoic pessimistic like Bresson could predict that future French leftists would endorse the collectively suicidal path of inviting hordes of Muslims to France that would eventually turn Paris into a virtual third world hellhole where terrorist attacks are a relatively common occurrence, no-go-zones (or what pussy frog politicians call ‘sensitive urban zones’) are the norm, and a mostly unreported rape epidemic brings new meaning to the classic phrase ‘City of Love.’
Borrowing its title from a line in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s final novel The Brothers Karamazov (1880), The Devil, Probably arguably has an ironic title as the devil is nothing more than an all-too-convenient scapegoat for humanity; or, more accurately, Beelzebub is simply a reflection of man and only those individuals that are scared of the truth would blame the infernal Führer for the sins of man. Indeed, Cioran probably said it best when he wrote in his classic text Précis de decomposition (1949) aka A Short History of Decay, “Because he overflows with life, the Devil has no altar: man recognizes himself too readily in him to worship him; he detests him for good reason; he repudiates himself, and maintains the indigent attributes of God. But the Devil never complains and never aspires to found a religion: are we not here to safeguard him from inanition and oblivion?” While he might not be anything resembling a devil of any sort, the protagonist Charles is a sort of modern post-hippie Christ of his own suffering who, despite his philosophical purity and relative keen lucidity in regard to the metaphysical affliction of his age, sacrifices himself to the very same post-religious nihilism that made him suicidal in the first place. In that sense, the devil wins in the end. After all, Charles not only commits the unpardonable sin of suicide, but also accepts the ultimate form of defeat in a forsaken world where those virtuous individuals that known better should feel all the more obligated to fight against the devils of the world, even if said fighting is ultimately in vain. Indeed, Teutonic ultra-pessimist Oswald Spengler certainly said it best when he wrote in his short work Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life (1932), “We are born into this time and must bravely follow the path to the destined end. There is no other way. Our duty is to hold on to the lost position, without hope, without rescue, like that Roman soldier whose bones were found in front of a door in Pompeii, who, during the eruption of Vesuvius, died at his post because they forgot to relieve him. That is greatness. That is what it means to be a thoroughbred. The honorable end is the one thing that can not be taken from a man.” Needless to say, I was not surprised to learn after watching The Devil, Probably that Bresson included the following aphorism in his text Notes on the Cinematographer (1975), “These horrible days—when shooting film disgusts me, when I am exhausted, powerless in the face of so many obstacles—are part of my method of work.” Undoubtedly as a pessimistic artist that struggled to create challenging cinematic works in an era that was surely undeserving of such monumental experiments in cinematic form, Bresson certainly demonstrated a certain Spenglerian greatness.
As for as European degeneracy is concerned, post-’68 France arguably reflects the height of it, thus it is quite fortunate that Bresson—undoubtedly one of the greatest filmmakers that has ever lived—had the gall to assault it with his scathing sardonic wit. Although not coined at the time the film was released, the youth of The Devil, Probably surely suffer from what French New Right figure Louis Pauwels described as “Mental AIDS.” Indeed, as fellow french New Right figure Guillaume Faye once wrote on the subject, “AIDS comes from a retrovirus that destroys an organism’s immune system. ‘Mental AIDS’ is an infection of a psychological nature that affects virtually all the ‘elites’—the political class, the media class, show business, the ‘cultural’ community, ‘artists,’ filmmakers—inclining them to oppose the interests of their own people and to advocate degenerate values as if they were actually ones of regeneration.” Naturally, these ideas are nothing new as revealed by the great Irish poet W. B. Yeats wise words in regard to the degenerative power of leftist politics, “What's equality? – Muck in the yard: Historic nations grow, From above to below.” While protagonist Charles of Bresson's film has gone full-blown nihilist yet somehow also finally realizes that his values lack values, the same can certainly not be said of his idiotic comrades. Indeed, these characters somehow think they are working to fix the world by engaging in degenerate sex, destruction for destruction’s sake, communism, feminism, and other infantile societal diseases despite the fact that these things are only speeding up the demise of their nation as present-day France (and especially Paris) clearly demonstrates. Like their present-day equivalents, most Parisian youth in Bresson's film lack what the ancient Greeks called ‘thymos’ and instead are consumed with a sort of wholly corrosive passive-aggressive resentment. As for protagonist Charles, who is clearly more perceptive than his friends, he suffers from a sort of inverted thymos that has caused him to become consumed with so much melancholy and Weltschmerz that he simply cannot bear the pain of living anymore. Needless to say, Bresson was one of the few French filmmakers working during the 1970s that did not suffer from ‘Mental AIDS,’ hence one of the many reasons why his late period films are so important and singular in the context of all of European cinema history.
Notably, not unlike the protagonist of Bresson's film, Spengler believed that the Abendland—the West—was in its final stage of civilization and that urban areas represented this social and cultural decay the most. Indeed, in describing ‘The Soul of the City,’ Spengler explained with great pessimistic lucidity, “Now the giant city sucks the country dry, insatiably and incessantly demanding and devouring fresh streams of men, till it wearies and dies. … Primitive folk can loosen themselves from the soil and wander, but the intellectual nomad never. … Home is for him any one of these giant cities, but even the nearest village is alien territory. … Even disgust at this pretentiousness, weariness of the thousand-hued glitter, the taedium vitae that in the end overcomes many, does not set them free. They take the City with them into the mountains or on the sea. They have lost the country within themselves and will never regain it outside.” While Spengler was a proud German conservative, there is no doubt that protagonist Charles—a young man that literally cannot live with the fact that his estranged father makes tons of money destroying forests—would concur with this sentiment.
Although just speculation, I think that simply judging by the ideas disseminated in The Devil, Probably that Bresson would have found a kindred spirit in Finnish deep ecologist Pentti Linkola who, in critiquing the self-described ‘religion of death’ of democracy, noted in his revolutionary text Can Life Prevail?: A Revolutionary Approach to the Environmental Crisis (2004), “Never before in history have the distinguishing values of a culture been things as concretely destructive for life and the quality of life as democracy, individual freedom and human rights — not to mention money. Freedom here means the freedom to consume, to exploit, to read upon others. All rights, even the most seemingly beautiful — women's rights, children's rights, rights for the disabled — only express one thing: ME, ME, ME. Pure selfishness has been given a new name: ‘self-realisation’, now considered the noblest of all morals. Words like responsibility, duty, humility, self-sacrifice, nurturing and care are always spat upon, if they still happen to be mentioned. For all their mistakes, even such recently buried ideologies as fascism and socialism, both of which emphasized communal values and contained restrictive norms, were on a higher ethical level.” While sort of self-stylized leftist quasi-ecologists, the characters of Bresson's film are unequivocally plagued with the sort of ME-ME-ME democratic disease that Linkola speaks of, hence the complete and utter futility of their cause. Indeed, free love and gay rights seem rather petty and ultimately quite irrelevant in the grand scheme of things when the entire world is virtually in flames.
Notably, Bresson once confessed in regard to The Devil, Probably that, “This film is my most horrifying, but not the most despairing. I wouldn't call any of my films despairing.” On the other hand, as Joseph Cunneen noted in his text Robert Bresson: A Spiritual Style in Film (2003) in regard to the film, “One needs to remember, in any case, that though Bresson made the movie as a warning against dangerous directions in contemporary society, he is not arguing a thesis or presenting an alternate plan or action. He remains, above all, an artist continuing his research on what cinematography can express in a way that no other art can.” Personally, I found the film quite delightfully despairing and I would not surprise if it had the power to drive certain people to suicide just as Werner Herzog’s similarly darkly humorous and grotesquely tragic Stroszek (1977) proved to be the right film for Joy Division front man Ian Curtis to watch before hanging himself. On the subject on self-extermination and its relation to the film, Cioran provides the following insights, “When we are young we look for heroes. I have had mine: Kleist, Karoline von Günderrode, Nerval, Otto Weininger. . . . Intoxicated by their suicides, I was certain that they alone had gone to the end, that they drew, in death, the right conclusion from their thwarted or fulfilled loves, from their broken minds or philosophic pain […] But as the years went by, I lost the pride of youth: each day, like a lesson in humility, I reminded myself that I was still alive, that I was betraying my dreams among men rotten with . . . life. Exasperated by the expectation of no longer existing, I considered it a duty to cleave my flesh when dawn broke after a night of love, and that it was a nameless degradation to sully by memory an excess of sighs […] Even now, I have more esteem for a concierge who hangs himself than for a living poet. Man is provisionally exempt from suicide: that is his one glory, his one excuse. But he is not aware of it, and calls cowardice the courage of those who dared to raise themselves by death above themselves. We are bound together by a tacit pact to go on to the last breath: this pact which cements our solidarity dooms us nonetheless—our entire race is stricken by its infamy. Without suicide, no salvation. Strange! that death, though eternal, has not become part of our ‘behavior’: sole reality, it cannot become a vogue. Thus, as living men, we are all retarded . . .” Judging by Cioran’s words and Bresson’s film, it seems that certain types of suicides have always been reserved for a sort of ‘degenerate spiritual elite.’ Undoubtedly Bresson’s protégé Louis Malle certainly had this romantic view in mind when he put his blood, sweat, and tears into Le feu follet (1963) aka The Fire Within, which is notable adapted from a novel by literary fascist turned suicide victim Pierre Drieu La Rochelle.
When asked by an interviewer at L'Express what he was like as a young man in comparison to the nihilistic youth of his film, Bresson—an extremely private man with a somewhat mysterious past—responded with, “As if I could tell you! Violent? Absolutist? Excessive? Lots of alcohol and tobacco. Now I don't drink or smoke.” While they are quite different in other ways, I think it is safe to say that The Devil, Probably protagonist Charles is a sort of youthful stand-in for Bresson, as if the auteur was trying to imagine how miserable it would be for him to be a young man during the 1970s. In fact, in an interview with American auteur Paul Schrader featured in his book Transcendental Style in Film (1972), Bresson's would make an argument for suicide that is quite similar to Charles', stating that, “there is something which makes suicide possible—not just possible but even necessary: it is the vision of void, the feeling of void which is impossible to bear. You want anything to stop your life. . . .this way of wanting to die is many things: it is a disgust with life, with people around you, with living only for money. To see everything which is good to live for disappear, when you see that you cannot fall in love with people, not only with a woman, but all the people around you, you find yourself alone with people. I can imagine living in disgust with so many things which are against you around you, and then you feel like suicide.” Indeed, while it is easy to see Charles as a spoiled brat with both mommy and daddy issues, his suicide almost seems like an unavoidable bodily reaction, like having a wet dream while still a virgin or belching after eating a greasy chili dog. Either way, Charles was in many ways long dead before the bullet entered his skull.
While The Devil, Probably is certainly a singular cinematic that could never truly even be superficially mimicked, it has influenced at least one underrated masterpiece that I can think of. Indeed, aside from featuring the same exact virtually intolerable stock footage of baby seals being beaten to death, De Witte waan (1984) aka White Madness directed by criminally neglected Dutch auteur Adriaan Ditvoorst also revolves around a hopelessly foredoomed suicidal young man that lives off the grid and hangs out with junkies. Both of these films, like both Bresson and Ditvoorst's cinematic works in general, are destined to only be appreciated by a tragically blessed few, but as Cioran wrote in A Short History of Decay, “How could we bear the weight and sheer depth of works and masterpieces, if to their texture certain impertinent and delicious minds had not added the fringes of subtle scorn and ready ironies? And how could we endure the codes, the customs, the paragraphs of the heart which inertia and propriety have superimposed upon futile and intelligent vies, if it were not for those playful beings whose refinement puts them at once at the apex and in the margin of society?” Of course, to admit to being an admirer of The Devil, Probably is to also virtually admit that one fantasies about suicide and the death of civilization, or at least one would expect nothing less from the film's most loyal of proponents. On the other hand, the film can simply be admired for its strangely cozily hermetic depiction of the misspent lives and beauty of youth, thus it can be argued that it follows in the tradition of French Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud. After all, when Rimbaud wrote in regard to his poetry, “I turned silences and nights into words. What was unutterable, I wrote down. I made the whirling world stand still” he could have been describing what Bresson accomplished with the oftentimes misused artistic medium of film.
Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze in the Fourth Age of the last Batman cycle
Reviewers of the new Batman movie on various alt-Right sites have been reasonably led to ask why comic books — excuse me, “graphic novels” — have come to dominate Hollywood. Since both industries were founded by and are dominated by You Know Who, the answer seems easy — ethnic networking — why pay royalties to the goyim?
There is, as usual, a deeper reason, and, as usual, you’re gonna get it here!
By deeper I mean this: the ethnic networking is obvious (at least, to those of us who can See); we need to know why it works, why it succeeds, and why so well, and why just now.
Clearly the real problem is not Them but rather the state of the world — the cosmic cycle — that makes Them able to function with extreme prejudice.
In some worlds, the cream rises to the top. In other worlds, what rises is the scum. In a material world, the most materialistic prosper. And who is more materialistic, less intellectual or spiritual, than . . . Them?
Looking for something else, this rather un-typical passage caught my eye in René Guénon’s The Crisis of the Modern World:
In such a world there is no longer any room for intellectuality or for what is of a purely inward nature, for those are things which can neither be seen nor touched, weighed nor counted; there is only room for outward action in all its forms, including those most completely devoid of meaning. Furthermore it is not surprising that the Anglo-Saxon passion for “sport” gains more and more ground every day; the ideal of the modern world is the “human animal” who has developed his muscular strength to the utmost; its heroes are the athletes, should they even be brutes; it is they who awaken the popular enthusiasm and it is their exploits that command the passionate interest of the crowd; a world in which such things are possible has indeed sunk low and would seem to be nearing its end. (“A Material Civilization” available here)
What does this have to do with the Rise of the Dark Comic?
We need a still finer grained analysis. The rising tide of scum has not lifted all comics. Superman, above all, is still treated as an impossible figure of fake “nobility” and “goodness,” a sort of lumbering Golem, an embarrassing leftover of the Cold War. We still mock George Reeves’ pot-bellied, baggy suited TV image, and if not for his tragic accident, Christopher Reeve would no doubt have long since entered an Adam West or William Shatner stage of profitable self-mockery, especially after the last, disastrous, self-directed series entry.
The popular figures, Iron Man, Spider Man, and of course, Batman, are usually distinguished from Superman as being “flawed” or “troubled” — supposedly another sign of Their “psychologizing” influence — but I’d rather focus on the more basic fact: whatever their “problems,” they are, unlike the “invulnerable” Superman, just like you and me — only slightly better.
On this front, I think it would be useful to compare the two leading movie “franchises”: Batman, and James Bond (also subject to a recent reboot, complete with an ethnic-OK actor).
During the initial James Bond phenom, Kingsley Amis wrote an excellent study, The James Bond Dossier, a splendid example of the kind of valuable results one can get from paying serious attention to “mere’ pop culture, blurring the line between “fan boy” and “literary critic.”
Amis makes the valuable point that Bond, like all successful fantasy figures, is never too far from what we can comfortably imagine ourselves to be, especially if we “could only get the right break.”
Bond, obviously has no “super powers,” other than a certain amount of intelligence, physique, and good, albeit “cruel” good looks. What he accomplishes is due to extensive training, the latest equipment, and a good tailor. All of which is lovingly described as part of Fleming’s characteristic label fetishism, allowing us to imagine our closets and resumes loaded with just the right gear.
Amis calls attention to a very sly and subtle line in which Bond is described as being, of course, “the best shot in the service” . . . other than his instructor.
And we could be too, with just a bit of imagination, and a cracking good instructor, and a snooty British armorer to steer us away from buying “a woman’s gun.”
Before taking on Hugo Drax at cards, Bond bones up on cheating methods — books on card sharping seem to make up the bulk of his small home library — and as for his legendary drinking and smoking, when you add it all up — and Amis, bless him, does just that — it’s not really more than we could do with a little effort, thus earning the comfortable feeling of being a bit of a rogue but without headaches, pink elephants, and emphysema.
Even so, by Thunderball Bond is so worn out that the service sends him to a health spa! Hard work, but great benefits — a dream job indeed! And of course, while there he engages in what publishers would call “a deadly game of cat and mouse” with an Italian count, and uncovers an anti-NATO plot — just like we would!
I’m reminded of a more recent phenom, when Madonna was still put forward as some kind of icon of muscular femininity — hard to recall, now that she seems more like your drunk aunt dancing with her dress over her head at the wedding — and defensive women would retort, sure, I could look like that if I had no job, a private, state of the art gym and a staff of personal trainers
It’s all a question of degree, of course — Peter Parker’s radioactive spider bite is only a little less implausible than Kryptonian birth, while Tony Stark’s Iron Man is Bond finally deciding he’s not going to return the equipment “from the field” and will just keep it, thank you very much, Q.
But of them all, it’s Bruce Wayne who has it in spades. If we inherited a gazillion dollars, a vast mansion, an industrial concern that manufactures advanced weaponry and armor; oh, and a faithful retainer that just happens to be ex-SAS — essentially, the Old Bond played by David Niven in the first, comedic Casino Royale — then we too could be the Dark Knight.
As Jack Nicholson’s Joker says, “Where does he get all those wonderful toys!”
Similarly, the late Paul Fussell points out in his invaluable study Class: A Guide Through the American Status System (New York: Touchstone, 1992) that the popularity of The Official Preppy Handbook (despite the title, another product of Them) was a result of insinuating that a certain level of class, the upper-middle or lower-upper, could be had, or at least simulated, which to the American is just as good, by simply buying the right items, and if the houses and cars were out of reach, you could always buy the shirts and shoes, with the stores and labels conveniently listed, Fleming fashion.
And thus Ralph Lipshitz of the Bronx was reborn as Ralph Lauren of Southampton.
No surprise when the recent, failed, attempt at a reboot, True Prep: It’s a Whole New Old World (Knopf, 2010), proclaimed the King and Queen of Prep to be . . . Barrack and Michelle Obama. Of course! Fantasy fulfilled! Now Michelle can feel proud to be an American.
As figures of average man fantasy, it’s no surprise that both Bond and Bats put their lives and even sanity (Bond, for example, becomes obsessed with Blofeld both as a world-conspirator and the killer of Bond’s wife, and eventually winds up with amnesia in a Japanese fishing village, then brainwashed by SMERSH and sent to kill M) in the defense of modern capitalism and democracy, even while openly disdained for their efforts.
Bond’s Britain, as Amis documents, is the pre-War world of Raffles and Sapper, already disappearing when Fleming was writing, while modern film Bond confronts a female M that regards him as a perhaps useful but still dangerous anachronism.
Batman opposes the “weaponized Traditionalism” of the League of Shadows, and does so in the name of the most characteristic feature of the Reign of Quantity: democracy, “ a few good people,” and other notions with nothing to recommend them other than the “common sense” idea that more people weigh more, and therefore count for more. I mean, what else could determine policy, or truth? And yet, he is a hunted vigilante, living in exile, the scapegoat of all of Gotham’s problems.
But these are just the slight inconsistencies of heroic fantasies designed for the unheroic masses of an anti-heroic world.
But where do Guénon’s remarks about “sport” and “the human animal” come in? I think the popularity of Batman, and what makes him a more modern, popular and relevant figure than even Bond — despite Daniel Craig’s heroic attempts at rebooting the Bond franchise — comes from a related development: the Schwarzenegger factor.
Alan Helms in Young Man from the Provinces, his account of his career as “the most celebrated young man in all of gay New York” in the 1950s, discusses his aversion for exercise and the gym, and notes that in some 3000 years of painting and sculpture of the Ideal Male Form, not once did anyone come up with something looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Until, as Guénon might have added, now.
We’ve mentioned the laughable figure of Superman, poor George Reeves who had to take his brown costume (picks up better in black and white) home each day to wash and iron, slowly shrinking over the course of filming the series until the sleeves came up to his mid-forearm. “Family Guy” mocks Robert Mitchum as an “out-of-shape in-shape ’50s guy” (easy to do if you’re a cartoon, buddy). Mystery Science Theater chuckles at actors who “look like a 19th century ‘strong man’.”
Standards, in short, for actors have tightened up, if you will, and imagination — and suspension of disbelief — are apparently too “purely inward,” as Guénon would say, to be operative. Ignoring the lessons of Henry James, we childishly demand “the real thing.”
Of course, no actor can be “perfect” and, along with the parallel demand for “state of the art” special effects — another rich source of mockery on MST3K — we see the reason for what will be, ultimately, the complete replacement of actors and sets by CGI imagery. And, like Madonna, no one except an unemployed maniac is going to hit the gym to grunt their way to perfect Arnoldhood. (Hmm, actually quite a few around these days . . .)
What to do in the meantime? Where is the plausible fantasy of the Average Man who worships over-developed brutes but is too lazy to pump iron? Enter the Batman. Or rather, the Bat Suit.
As the protagonist in Money, a mid-’80s novel by Amis’ son Martin, wearily admits, “I need a full-body cap.”
The post-graphic novel Batman has been played with more or less controversy by a series of rather unprepossessing actors, typical of “modern men” such as Michael Keaton — fresh from success as “Mr. Mom” — or the decidedly wispy, rather metrosexual Val Kilmer and Christian Bale. It’s as if behind the mask of the Dark Knight was — Alan Alda.
Bale’s first costume did not test well with audiences
Correspondingly, the costume has changed from Adam West’s drab TV-wrestler’s garb to ever more state of the art armor and fake musculature — rather like the mighty American football players with their space-age padding, versus supposedly “girly” soccer players who make do with T-shirts and shorts.
The more “everyman” inside the suit, the more “superman” the suit itself.
The exception of course was the Schumacher-directed George Clooney films. Although not spectacularly muscular, Clooney was far too much of an alpha male to “fuel the fantasy,” and while the new bat-and-robin suits were mocked as “homoerotic” the real problem was not that as such, but rather the related notion of calling attention to the body as such, with the suits’ thrusting codpieces, lovingly delineated buttocks, and even sculpted nipples.
Again, the more powerful the man inside, the less the suit needs to compensate. And that, in case you ever wondered, was why Batgirl’s suit was sans nipple. As Jodie Foster says on the commentary track to Silence of the Lambs, Agent Starling doesn’t need a “woman suit” like Buffalo Bill to be powerful, since she is already a real woman.
The crowd wants seedy, alcoholic Tony Stark, played by seedy, drug-and-alcohol ravaged Robert Downey, in the Iron Man suit, not lithe, handsome and well-endowed David Bowie in his Goblin King leotard.
Perhaps to compensate, look, it’s Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, and get a load of that suit!
And speaking of Arnold‘s suits: the “business suit” was designed with the same purpose: weedy London business men, deprived of the invigorating benefits of outdoor labor, could still project a masculine silhouette. Contra snippy critics of the 80s, the padded, “power suit” was invented in the 1800s, and for men, not women.
Thus, as Fussell points out, Schwarzenegger looks even more ridiculous in a suit, no matter how “well-tailored.” Even Fussell couldn’t imagine Arnold becoming a governor.
Conversely, we see, contemporaneous with new Batman films, the suit employed as a weapon in Mad Men. To drive the point home, in an early episode, we see Don Draper serenely glide out of the pot-smoke filled apartment of last night’s bimbo, beatniks and cops grabbing some tenement wall to make way for the Man in the Suit.
How appropriate then that the League of Shadows should announce itself by attacking a sporting event, and be able to take out Gotham’s “top” officials by blasting them out of their skybox.
And was there any doubt that the pumped-up, bare-chested Bane would, in the end, be defeated by the Man in the Bat Suit and his wonderful toys.
1. Actually, George Reeves’ decline into drink, drugs, gigolo-ism and a still unexplained death, would seem even more tragic than Reeves, but only interests TV conspiracy cultists. “His life was filled with hard-drinking men, manipulative women, mafiosos and a career that plummeted like a comet.” See Sam Kashner’s Hollywood Kryptonite: The Bulldog, the Lady, and the Death of Superman.
2.Amis, Kingsley The James Bond Dossier Jonathan Cape, 1965. See the equally loving Wikipedia entry here. ” In one hundred and sixty pages, The James Bond Dossier methodically catalogues and analyses the activities and minutiae of secret agent 007: the number of men he kills, the women he loves, the villains he thwarts, and the essential background of Ian Fleming’s Cold War world of the 1950s. . . . Although written in Amis’s usual, accessible, light-hearted style, The James Bond Dossier is neither patronizing nor ironic — it is a detailed literary criticism of the Ian Fleming canon. In the main, he admires Fleming’s achievement, yet does not withhold criticism where the material proves unsatisfactory or inconsistent. . . . Amis reserves his most serious criticism for what he considered to be academically pretentious rejections of the Bond books, a theme implicitly informing much of the Dossier.”
3. Like his lumpen-audience, Bond doesn’t fancy books. His fans get the hint: Jack Kennedy established his George W. faux-regular guy cred by letting on that he enjoyed Fleming, and thus brought the Bond boom to the States. Kennedy was the prototype of the type analyzed here: a physical wreck kept together with drugs and braces who promoted an image of “youth” and “vigor” while pursuing disastrous 007-style ventures in Cuba and Vietnam. Don Draper shows his disdain for his snooty French father-in-law by displaying a Bond book on his bedside table, just like Jack showed those Frogs how to do things in Indochina. The season ends with Draper, deserter and fake, having a drink while the jukebox plays “You Only Live Twice.”
4. Similarly, the Hannibal Lechter saga, post the middle-brow reboot The Silence of the Lambs, postulates a criminal super-genius who dotes on Florence, everyone’s favorite tourist stop, and eventually escapes to become . . . a minor Florentine museum official. Oh, but the shopping! Like any American middle-brow, he seems to spend his time drinking espresso in quaint cafes and communicates with Agent Starling via fancy perfumes from chic boutiques. In the happy ending of TDKR, Bruce Wayne fulfills Lechter’s ultimate fantasy: brunch in Florence with Agent Starling.
5. Nor his own son, Samuel, becoming a bodybuilder: S. W. Fussell, Muscle: Confessions of an unlikely bodybuilder (New York: Poseidon Press, 1991).
6. Paul Kersey, who has tirelessly documented the role of pro and college sports in creating an alternate reality of PC-approved “human animals,” observes “There’s a reason Bane started his “revolution” in the movie The Dark Knight Rises at a football game.” Opiate of America — Penn State Edition
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