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Watching So-Called "Edgelord" Movies With A Nuanced View

nsequeira119

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For at least the last decade, people have noticed a sort of trend in certain films- these sorts of films haven't come out in a while, but they all share a common plot structure and general sentiment, and therefore I and many others would argue that they can be categorized into a genre unto themselves- I've heard them called "loner" movies, "egdelord" movies, and a couple other retronyms. For the purposes of this post, I'll call them "edgelord" movies, even though I don't believe that title befits them, in that not all of them are particularly edgy- I can think of much edgier and disturbing movies, like Gummo or whatever, although that type movie typically isn't categorized alongside these ones. The usual list includes Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, Fight Club, Falling Down, Joker, American Psycho, and a few other, lesser-known entries.

These movies all, for the most part, have some noticeable characteristics: They feature male protagonists who feel alienated and resentful towards society, usually acting out towards society in harmful ways. The male protagonist, while engaging in patently reprehensible behavior, often comes off to the viewer (depending on who the viewer is and whether or not the viewer can relate to said character) as a charming rogue at best and a misguided, sympathetic doofus at worst. The movies are loved by some and hated by others- typically rejected by the left for their apparent endorsement of the "incel" movement and embraced by the current generation of young men- Millennials and Gen Zers- who see something of themselves in these pathetic characters.

One interesting phenomena around thse movies is that you either like all of them or hate all of them- you either reject everything they stand for in one fell swoop, or you go all in. I really can't do that, because I tend to notice more than just the purported message of a movie- I tend to notice things like set design, lighting, costuming, etc. For example, I really like Taxi Driver and I hate American Psycho. I think American Psycho is extremely pretentious and overrated, whereas Taxi Driver is a masterwork of American cinema. This has nothing to do with the writing of either film- American Psycho is, from what I can tell, based on a pretty good novel, and neither Travis Bickle or Patrick Bateman are relatable or sympathetic characters to me, I have very little in common with either of them. But I don't like Christian Bale's acting, and the sets and camerawork in American Psycho are so bland- whereas with Taxi Driver you have the wonderful supporting cast with Harvey Keitel and Jodie Foster, and Bernard Herrmann's amazing score- one of the best of all time- which kicks every shot up a notch.

What I dislike about certain videos analyzing these movies is that they dismiss every one of them as equally bad, even though they're clearly not equally bad and, as with entries in any other canonized genre, can vary in quality. They hesitate to engage with the philosophical ideas presented by these movies and the degrees to which these movies sympathize or villainize their protagonists because critical analysis these days all too often lacks nuance. It's worth noting that a movie like this can deliver, if it's well-paced and the characters are realistic and the intent behind the film is made clear. I think, also, that modern viewing audiences are less familiar with the concepts of anti-heroes and anti-villains, which admittedly are difficult to grasp if you're not a screenwriter and don't understand that protagonist doesn't necessarily mean "good guy" and antagonist doesn't necessarily mean "bad guy".

On the other hand, people who claim to love these movies because they justify an edgelord mindset don't seem to understand that these movies were not meant for them- these movies are the result of a very specific filmmaking movement spearheaded by figures like Martin Scorsese, and they've tapered off in recent years. A character like Travis Bickle is a war vet with PTSD- the product of very specific circumstances. The Narrator in Fight Club and Tyler Durden are both stated to be Gen-Xers, purposeless amid the Clinton years- "the middle children of history". William Foster from Falling Down dates back even earlier- as Joel Schumacher says, he's intended to look like someone from the early 60s in the middle of the 90s, a forgotten relic of the past who can't keep up with modernity. Joker, the newest entry in the genre, features a 70s-type setting. So it's weird, then, that so many modern men look up to these figures who all live in a pre-Internet world as relatable, considering that the challenges faced by Gen Z and Millennials are, ostensibly, very different from those faced by Gen X and Boomers. We don't currently have a character of this type who's young enough to be influenced by the problems of the modern world.

Such movies are often derided as "problematic" in that they seem to decry the problems with society without providing any viable alternative, in that they wallow in misery and nihilism and ideas that some are unwilling to engage with. I would argue that these movies are "problematic" only because they engage with complex, multifaceted themes, themes which can't easily be explained or articulated in simple sentences. It is difficult to say how you feel after watching a movie like Fight Club, because Fight Club is a postmodern mind-screwer. Its characters and world don't adhere to the typical framework set out by other films, and as such it can make audiences uncomfortable. And that's OK. That's obviously the intent of the film.

As Prendergast points out to D-Fens at the end of Falling Down, he is the bad guy- but, as mentioned before, that doesn't mean he isn't the protagonist. Prendergast is, for all intents and purposes, the antagonist of the film, in that the conflict of the movie arises from Prendergast's attempts to stop D-Fens' rampage across the city. So one could watch the movie and realize that D-Fens is both the protagonist and the bad guy. But I think we can go a layer deeper than that.

What most of these movies have in common- especially Falling Down- is that there is always a third, omnipresent character lurking in the background- society. D-Fens' fight isn't really with Prendergast as an individual, he doesn't even know who Prendergast is until the end and even then he doesn't really hate Prendergast. William Foster hates the complex, multifaceted systems that abuse him and treat him like dirt. That doesn't mean he's at all justified in his behavior- but the conflict really arises from the compounding of all these factors on his life. So if you wanted to, you could argue that the tritagonist of the movie is the system D-Fens lives under. The problem with viewing the movie this way is that it's harder to know where to put your feelings- suddenly, an abstract concept has been made sentient and afforded a will unto itself.

Society Meme.png


This is what makes Falling Down such an interesting movie, with a lot of rewatch value- it analyzes things on a systemic level rather than an individual one. It rejects the simplistic "good guy, bad guy" narrative of the classic Western- says as much outright in its climax- and rather considers whether its characters even have personal agency, or whether they're all merely pawns in a larger scheme. I heard someone argue once that the problem with D-Fens' approach isn't that he dislikes things like inflation or rising unemployment rates- these are things people have a right to be upset about- rather, it's that he attacks individuals instead of the system. He blames random employees for things they really have no control over, and this approach is antiquated in today's hyperconnected world. You can hold the Whammyburger hostage all you want- but at the end of the day, this won't cause any of the other fast food chains to have a longer breakfast menu, or even necessarily any of the Whammyburgers. It's an ineffective, short-sighted approach to a complex, seemingly inescapable purgatory of compounding bullshit.

Falling Down is unsettling because it questions whether Bill actually has any agency, whether he's just a pawn of society, whether he's the same as the Whammyburger staff rehearsing their manufactured script, whether his rampage is a cliché that ultimately accomplishes nothing of substance. Anyone who praises Bill as a hero, breaking free of the status quo, misses the point: there is no escape. Society is a villain so all-consuming, so diabolical, that defeating it is nigh-impossible, and even though the system is composed of individuals, some of whom make it worse than others, you seemingly can't defeat it by targeting any one specific individual. Change requires a large-scale, systemic overhaul, and solitary loose cannons like D-Fens are incapable of causing such an overhaul, and even if he could, his ideology is so erratic and poorly defined that he wouldn't be very good at it. There is no winning scenario for him, he's on a completely futile, Sisyphean mission.

One criticism I've heard of the film, from this particular video, is that it paints Bill unfairly, that there is no evidence that he would have killed his wife and child at the end, and that it props up Prendergast's approach as the "right way" to do things and D-fens' approach as the "wrong way" even though their behavior is roughly equivalent. The argument put forth is that Falling Down is propaganda designed to discourage anyone from criticizing the system:



This argument is interesting in that it comes from a leftist type point-of-view- rather than dismissing the film as Incel propaganda, as many would be wont to do, it engages with the film on its own terms and paints D-Fens as a kind of proletariat hero who sees some deeper truth, and is unfairly smeared by the film, which through this lens is a piece of propaganda which wants to enforce hegemony. Despite how interesting I find this critique, I must disagree with it summarily: D-fens could have killed his family if Prendergast hadn't intervened, there's no evidence that he could have ever been a functional husband or father. Furthermore, as stated earlier, Bill isn't actually challenging any one particular idea- his ideology is ambiguous, his trek through the streets is aimless, he's ticked off and in a deranged mood and he doesn't even really understand that it's not any one individual tormenting him but rather society as a whole, or he would take more direct, thoughtful action.

What this take misses is that Falling Down is far too interesting a movie to be propaganda. Propaganda is always blunt and unwilling to engage with the ideas of the people it seems to discredit- whereas a movie like Falling Down can be read in a number of ways, and entertains both D-fens' and Prendergast's positions on multiple occasions. Falling Down, along with many other movies in this genre, is good because it serves as a reflection of complex sociological processes, it manages to articulate, through cinema, these complex feelings that have been bubbling under the surface for so long. Even so, it is consistently misinterpreted and bastardized, because the people who talk about it lack the same nuance and skill as the filmmakers who create it.

These movies are too divisive and create far too much of a schism. Some people argue that they aim to criticize their characters- but if that's the case, surely they don't aim to criticize them to the exact same extent. Surely there are moral degrees to which we can hold these characters, surely a Patrick Bateman is more ethically compromised than a Rupert Pupkin. I don't think these movies aim to either directly piss on or directly celebrate their characters- the fun in watching them is how you come to question your own morality. Characters who are written like real people, who are neither completely good or completely evil, especially protagonists with lots of baggage and mental illness, are somewhat rare in film, so when they do appear nobody is quite sure how to react. This is what I would argue: If you approve of all these characters unconditionally, you're missing the point. If you decry all of them unconditionally, you're also missing the point. I'd suggest analyzing each of them on a case-by-case basis, the same way I analyze each movie on a technical basis. because just like filmmaking quality varies, so does morality. It's a spectrum of shades and hues without much direct contrast. But that's what makes these movies worth viewing, I would say. Not because they're relatable, but because they explore complex ideas in a way other movies just don't.

Anyway, I've said enough on this particular topic for now so I'd like to know what you think about this genre. What're some of your favorites, and how do you feel about them?

 
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WKYK

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My friend group calls these movies "sigma movies" and we would probably fall under the camp of loving all of them, but purely because they're really funny (except fight club, that movie is an all around 10 for me).
and the sets and camerawork in American Psycho are so bland
A fair criticism, but I would argue that it's a part of the movies theme. Bateman is rich and obsesses over his appearance, yet his house looks so generic, every restaurant they eat at looks the same, everyone dresses the same, and of course the famous Paul Allen's Card scene where every business card looks the same. I'm not a big film analyzer so I can't write a ton here, but imo the sets are yet another part of the conformity theme. Still fair if you don't like it though.
On the other hand, people who claim to love these movies because they justify an edgelord mindset don't seem to understand that these movies were not meant for them
Let me first say that the sigma/edgelord mindset is cringe and gay. However I don't think that movies should be interpreted only as they were "meant" to be interpreted. Art means different things to different people. I remember after I first watched Fight Club my friend and I were like "DUDE WE TOTALLY HAVE TO START A FIGHT CLUB", even though any gayass film person would be quick to say "Erm, acktually the film is saying that hypermasculinity is bad!!!11!" If you're familiar with Kaczynski's definition of an over-socialized leftist, those are the people who proudly exclaim that the ending of Fight Club is actually a really bad thing and we're not supposed to do stuff like that (omitting specifics cuz spoilers) and I think that's so lame. I don't care what anyone says Fight Club promotes revolution and it's OUR MOVIE.
 
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nsequeira119

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