Monday, June 29, 2009

AstroGnostic: You're Not Who You Think You Are


I've been getting these weird emails from Genebase telling me about these people whose DNA profile most closely matches my own (the Y-chromosome, at least). Strangely, their names are all almost stereotypically Irish, first and last. It's been an odd experience, although my once-hidden Irish heritage was slowly unveiled over the years, first by my paternal grandmother (at my wedding, no less), and then as family members worked out genealogies, and finally when I did the DNA profile.

I'm sure this will mean nothing to most of you, but the point here is that I grew up believing (and being told by my aforementioned Nana) that the Knowles family were a bunch of stolid Mayflower WASP holdouts in a sea of Irish Catholic usurpers. But it turns out we were not who we thought we were. It sounds insane in retrospect, but these things used to matter in New England.

There's also a deeper meaning here: so much of what I spend my time puzzling over has to do with our genome. To get these strange genetic messages contradicting the family mythology I grew up with can't help but seem like a synchronistic microcosm of the bigger issues at hand. Especially when those issues- DNA, genetics, human identity- are becoming such a fraught issue as we blindly stumble to a posthuman future.

Maybe that's the ultimate message of this blog: "You're not who you think you are."

That's also the conceit of The Nines, starring the Irish-Canadian hearthrob Ryan Reyonolds. The film is 200 proof astroGnosticism, though you may not see that in the trailer and I won't give the film's ending away. But if you're a regular reader of this blog I can't possibly recommend it highly enough. Its unrelenting immersion into mundane reality is as meticulous as its metaphysics are whacked out. Which is a good a description as any of where my head is at most of the time.

The film is written and directed by John August, who's Tim Burton's favorite screenwriter. Given the direction my research has been pulling me, it's worth mentioning that John August's first feature film was Go, which centered on a hallucinogenic drug deal. August explains that he came up with the idea for The Nines when he began to dissociate while acting as showrunner for an aborted TV series. Me being a huge fan of Go (Katie Holmes at her pre-Xenu cutest), I wonder if he had some kind of augmentation for that process.

Since I am an obsessive nutcase, I'd been watching the film over and over the past couple weeks, picking out syncs that are mainly of a personal nature. It's one of those films in which searching for hidden meanings is redundant, since the entire film is about hidden meaning. But I had an interesting experience at the doctor's office on Thursday when I saw the new Entertainment Weekly, which had Reynolds doing a strange spin on The Nines, with four covers picturing him in three different roles. Quite the coincidence, I thought.

The Nines is built around the Leibniz* aphorism, "This is the best of all possible worlds." It's divided into three distinct chapters, "The Prisoner," "Reality Television" and "Knowing." The three different roles Reynolds plays are a dippy actor under house arrest, a gay TV writer featured on an Project Greenlight-type documentary, and an earnest husband/father who finds himself in an encounter with the hippie-chick from hell. Reynolds is brilliant in all three roles, as are co-star Melissa McCarthy, the hauntingly-precocious Elle Fanning, and most especially, the virtuoso character actress, Hope Davis.

It's in the second chapter that Davis- and The Nines- scares the shit out of me. Davis plays Susan Howard, the d-girl (development executive, a post usually filled by women) from hell. August's dialogue is so scintillatingly perfect it could only be written verbatim from painful memory.

I met too many Susan Howards in the advertising racket, fast-talking lib-art grads who are constantly second-guessing everything, because they've bullshitted their way into jobs they're completely at sea in. They use all of the latest PC jargon and will play the nurturer role to the hilt, but will pin the blame for all of their f*ckups on you, even when they don't have to. Davis becomes Susan Howard...no, that's not right. She becomes all of the Susan Howards to ever walk the face of the earth. All of my LA readers will know exactly what I mean.

Some longtime readers might remember I had my own Hollywood adventure ten years ago, when I got a lot of interest in a graphic novel I'd written for Sirius Entertainment called Halo: An Angel's Story (this was way before the Halo videogame). The first bite came from Crossroads Films, a production house that specializes in advertising but dabbles in indie film. They called me in December of 1996 and it seemed like Project Greenlight city. I was told that they wanted me to write a treatment and then a screenplay and they'd start looking at actors and directors in January. They told me I would need an agent and I should replace my lawyer with someone specializing in film. Everything was smiles and handshakes and looking forward to working with you's.

I was assigned to report to a producer there (let's just call her "Susan Howard") and for reasons I think I've repressed it all got totally screwed up (my lawyer said Susan did something she wasn't supposed to but being an idiot I had no idea what the hell he was talking about) and I was unceremoniously kicked to the curb, just like Ryan Reynolds in The Nines. There's no feeling of rejection quite like the one the movie industry can hand you, which is why that chapter is particularly painful to me. But I had other bites (which all made that first experience seem like ice cream in the park) and Crossroads later hooked me up with a lot of storyboarding work, so no harm, no foul.


But here's where it gets weird. One of Crossroads' top ad directors is Mark Pellington (born 3/17, we also have friends in common), director of The Mothman Prophecies. His first feature film was Arlington Road, which co-starred none other than Susan Howard herself, Hope Davis (it also co-stars Joan Cusack, sister of John "Horus" Cusack, Superstar).

And weirdest of all, Arlington Road opens with a harrowing scene of a boy who's been maimed by a bomb. The boy is played by Mason Gamble...

...who I was just hanging around with at Esalen. The gyre is constantly widening, isn't it, Bob?

Now, I'm constantly struggling against becoming the Carlos Castaneda wannabe I once was, but I wonder if August has had some serious experience with psychedelics. And the kind of stress he was under not only generates the kind of dissociation he portrays in the film, but often very weird syncs. Like the Mothmen, the syncs notice you noticing them and tend to follow you around.

But for some reason, the syncs we see inside films like The Nines or The Number 23 never seem to be as arresting as the syncs we see in the Synchrosphere, or in our own lives. Movies are great at generating Synchronicity, but not usually as good at portraying it.

I think there's a reason for it, two reasons, actually. First, the brutal pace of film and TV writing and rewriting and production tend to keep you in your illusory self, reliant on your reptilian brain. Second, as we see August portray so painfully in The Nines, the Susan Howards of the world look at metaphysics the way an Ostrogoth looked at a fine Roman salon in the Fifth Century.

UPDATE: Loren Coleman picks up the ball and runs with it, as only he can.

UPDATE II: OK, this is interesting. The Elle Fanning character in The Nines is named Noelle ("Christmas"), which is the spelling of Katie Holmes' middle name.

* Another Nine sync- Leibniz and I share a birthday.

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