The Rock Face, or The End of Capitalism (Inspired partially by San Andreas, Brad Peyton, USA/Australia, 2015)

American cinema, Blogpost, Film reviews

The film sucks.

Except for the fact that the Rock still somehow manages to be appealing when wooden. But maybe this is the point.

I thought that I would have to save for another time a piece about how the Rock seems to symbolise the potential for true goodness that lies at the heart of America, as his retriever/labrador eyes speak of a simplistic desire more than anything else to be loved, a sense of kindness that means even when he tries to do hard-assed heroism it comes off as ironic – because he’s just more pup than pop in spite of his gargantuan muscles.

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t be surprised if off the screen the Rock was a demented fuck machine with a thousand roid-induced sexualities to share around the self-same people whom he wants to love him, because that desire for love – and for what the Rock might call putting his strudel in some poontang pie, especially when simplistic, is also redolent of extreme narcissism.

But regardless of what happens off the screen, on the screen, and especially as his eyes get older around the edges, the Rock is the manifestation of the American soul as it wants to be seen: too much experience credibly to be that dumb, too wide and assuming to be that smart. He is a labrador/retriever – smart, but too afraid to be independent.

Looking back, we might say that Southland Tales (Richard Kelly, France/Germany/USA, 2006) was the moment, now forgotten if ever seen at all by most people, when this genius of the labrador/retriever Rock was revealed (Southland Tales is also about the end of capitalism).

It is also there in Nina Davenport’s masterly documentary, Operation Filmmaker (USA, 2007), in which Dwayne Johnson plays the Rock as he works with Iraqi refugee Muthana Mohmed on the set of his latest blockbuster.

The Rock also achieves a wonderful sense of this labrador/retriever star persona in the opening moments of The Other Guys (Adam McKay, USA, 2010), especially when he suicidally throws himself from a building in the name of work.

But perhaps Pain & Gain (Michael Bay, USA, 2013) is the most exact expression of this, since the film hints at the protein-guzzling winky-shrinkage roid machine while showing that you can program the innocent Rock to do anything. It is perhaps apposite that in that film, the Rock’s co-star should be Marky Mark, since Marky Mark has a very similar labrador/retriever quality. Note that Marky Mark also takes over the case from the Rock in The Other Guys.

Indeed, one wonders whether it has something to do with people who become famous under one guise, and then become actors under a different name. The use of the ‘real’ name (Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg) reveals that we are in fact only ever seeing an act. Life is the ongoing invention of self that is work.

Now, there are loads of films I’ve been wanting to blog about of late. But I have not. So why this film?

Well, aside from the usual sense of feeling at times quite overwhelmed by the spectacle of the film-as-Hollywood-blockbuster – when I cried whilst watching the equally demented Battleship (Peter Berg, USA, 2012) I realised that Hollywood has found a way to affect me regardless of my intellectual defences against the film – I spent the whole film thinking that this is a movie about the end of capitalism.

And this is why it will not be in another, but in fact in this piece of writing that I deal with the face and demeanour of the labrador/retriever Rock, since it has much to do with this.

Fredric Jameson, Slavoj Žižek, Mark Fisher. All have questioned at some point why it is easier for humans to imagine the end of the world than it is for humans to imagine the end of capitalism.

And yet, with San Andreas, one wonders that we have achieved what previously we thought was impossible – and that the film really is about the end of capitalism.

Why would I make such a claim, especially when it goes against the nihilichic of the above thinkers, and especially when San Andreas is about as capitalist a film as one can get?

It has to do with the family. For of course the film is about the restitution of the family, in that Ray (the/The Rock) wins back ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) by in effect showing that he loves his daughter, Blake (played by Tits McGee, er, I mean, sorry, the paternally-monikered Alexandra Daddario), more than the other guy (one day Ioan Gruffudd will be recognised properly for his excellence as an actor).

But while the restitution of the family would suggest ongoing hope for capitalism (‘we rebuild’ says Ray at the film’s end, as if in these two words were the aleph of philosophy), the fact is that we just don’t believe that shit anymore. San Francisco might be rebuilt, but not in the way that it was before; instead, the entire system must change. We wanted the disaster, we got it; and now spectacle is over. It’s time for something else.

Why do I make this quaint, if not downright silly comment about this quaint, silly and otherwise potentially dangerous film? Mainly because the labrador/retriever Rock, precisely because he is a labrador/retriever, doesn’t convince anyone.

It’s not his woodenness per se, which, as mentioned, is a completely amiable part of his amiable persona. It’s the fact that the Rock comes across as a dog trained to do the part. He retrieves his daughter like a lovely pop-pup, and he is the labrador/labourer who will never give up.

Except, oddly, that the very casting of the Rock lends to San Andreas something weirdly Brechtian – because it makes clear the labour that goes into its making. We either see the Rock trying too hard to act, or we see clearly that he is doing what the leash holder (Brad Peyton, I guess) tells him. In effect, the face of the Rock takes us to the Rock Face.

And the Rock Face, like the California of San Andreas, is about to collapse. Indeed, if capitalism is in some respects synonymous with cinema, in that it is about devising ways of capturing, maintaining and then monetising human attention, as Jonathan Beller might put it, then the end of California – the home of cinema – is the end of capital.

But why does the fact that with the Rock there are no illusions – we can see the Rock Face – equate to the end of capitalism?

It does this because capitalism hides work, even though work is the very Rock upon which capitalism is itself built. Capitalism hides work because if we knew really that all we ever did was work (phones always on, ready for the text/call/email, with screens everywhere, cramming every second of our time with immaterial and affective labour that uses where we point our eyeballs as a means for advertising companies to make money), then maybe we’d stop. And if we stopped, then like a shark ceasing to swim, capitalism would sink.

Or rather, we all know this already, but don’t do anything about it as long as it we collectively pretend that this is not the case. Once it is exposed, in the face of the Rock and in a film as tired and derivative as San Andreas, then we cannot lie to ourselves anymore.

San Andreas seems to demonstrate a Hollywood that is buckling under its own weight, with the Rock being its odd, likeable visage. The film is tired. So tired that it must stop and go to sleep. And as soon as it sleeps, maybe it will dream. And with that dream will come the thought of something different. A new day.

I realise why I love the Rock, then. Because he cannot hide the work that goes into his own making, and into his performances. He looks a bit tired, too. Sure, we love him because despite being tired, he fights on, giving it his all – like a true American hero. But the collapse is inevitable. In the Rock Face, like the collapse of California in San Andreas, we can begin to see the end of capitalism.

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