• Johann
    You can have all the elements of a good film but without an appealing story line the cinematic experience is at best mediocre and at worst "dead". So I wonder if anyone here is keen on developing their sense of storytelling by sharing some basic ideas and collaborating on the forum? It could be an exceptionally interesting creative process. In that vein I'd like to share an initial idea of where one could take Firebase.

    One usually sets up the first act to identify with the protagonist through some kind of suffering. Harry Potter's adoptive parents suck, Luke Skywalker's adoptive family are killed etc. But in Firebase I felt a definite pang of identification with the River God during his horrific transformation. It was his very human suffering that led to him becoming a monster. How often do we become monsters and lash out at others when we encounter suffering? Truth be told I felt more of an identification with the River God than with the protagonist.

    So my sense is that rather than seeing the River God and his hordes simply being destroyed in the final act, we need to see some kind of redemption of his soul. Perhaps that does involve his actual destruction but some kind of redemption seems necessary - some way of setting his "soul" to rest. I'm not exactly sure what that looks like yet so I'm sharing it here and maybe something comes of it!

    Beyond that I think there is some interesting potential for twists in the plot. There's a fair amount of mystery in the story so far to really keep an audience intrigued. Did the River God really come into being the way it was shown or was there more to it? What does he really want? Revenge or something else? The protagonist is also a fairly mysterious character - What's his link to the River God and how could he redeem him? And what's up with the "rapture event" at the beginning?
  • Hayley
    Hey, I'd like to help if that's OK.

    About the River God -- you made a good point there with his monstrous form. It's interesting, because on one hand you have a film like District 9 which shows the protagonist gaining humanity as he becomes less human, and I'd say the River God is more or less the opposite of that. He was once an ordinary man who got his home overtaken by Domino Theory/Communism fearing soldiers who seem to act in their own self interest. It would make anyone ready to lash out, especially when you know all the things that the Americans did to the Vietnamese citizens who weren't fighting. (Sorry -- bit of a history nerd here).

    I absolutely agree that some sort of redemption needs to happen. The protagonist and the River God need to cross paths because we need to have him, just a soldier following orders in the name of God and Country, realize the implications of his seemingly "good" (in his mind) actions. I don't know if the protagonist will ever feel sympathy/empathy for the River God, but that would be the happiest ending I could think of for a short like this. Or, you could go what I call the more depressing "Full Metal Jacket" route, where the protagonist kills the River God, realizes his mistake, but can't do anything about it (except learn a painful lesson about humanity along the way.)

    Let me watch the short again and I may have some more ideas. Thanks!
  • Johann

    Thanks Hayley. Yes, of course, that's the idea - to collaborate on the story elements. Some nice ideas there and somewhat in line with my thinking since my last post after watching it again myself.

    There's obviously a strong Biblical inspired theme here with the River God manifesting "Hell on Earth" and the hero acting as the Logos (that which brings order to chaos) - his "Armour of God" for example that keeps space-time from breaking down around him, his Divine protection etc. (But I don't want to go too much into a psychoanalytic breakdown yet unless it's needed to keep the story line in check)

    So an extension of this idea which perhaps echoes your own sentiments:

    Not only does the hero have to redeem (and probably destroy) the River God to restore order but in what way is the hero (Logos) himself redeemed by his "journey to hell"? Clearly, the hero is all action, the archetypal "animus" - cold, analytical, detached and withdrawn from his own feeling function. There's a traumatic past there - one that must synchronistically coincide with the birth of the River God. He too has experienced a loss of relatedness to others, the ability to love but rather than clinging to and being consumed by his grief he has cut himself from it.

    So, I'm thinking that the River God is an unstoppable unconscious force. No conscious intent can stop him. Then at some point in the final battle the hero becomes disarmed and having lost the "armor of God" he is sent to his own personal hell (as we saw previously with the kid that was mysteriously sent to Charleston base). His own historical trauma - the reason for his own loss of "soul" (emotional function) becomes fully conscious. This is a great plot element since it increases the tension. A difficult situation becomes hopeless as the hero not only faces the outward threat of death by the River God, but is cast inwardly to face his own insanity. More than this it's a "psychological truism" because vulnerability (removing the defense mechanism ["armour"] of the ego) is a necessity to assimilating and coming to terms with unconscious trauma.

    Perhaps then, the hero's own personal hell becomes a mirror for the River God - another psychological truism in respect of consciousness (as per the psychoanalytic definition). Rather than delivering the final and fatal blow to the hero the River God is redeemed by witnessing the personal hell of the hero which resonates with his own trauma.

    Still needs the meat to be place don the bones, but I like where that could be heading...
  • Hayley
    I'm assuming you're quite knowledgeable about the Vietnam Conflict. To me, the backstory of the main character needs to be explained, and you can't do that without knowing what he's had to go through.

    I like the idea of the protagonist and the River God following mirror paths when it comes to backstory, both similar (loss, trauma) but different (rage versus detachment). As a soldier, the protagonist isn't allowed to feel remorse for his actions, or the guilt will consume him. He was probably once a young man who wanted to do his patriotic duty and got in too deep.

    Vietnam was highly confusing in many ways -- the environment was very difficult for American soldiers to navigate, it was hard to tell who was winning or losing (they would keep a body count and whoever lost more soldiers was the loser for the day), and politically, there was a lot of tension. Generally not a good experience overall, and so I like the fact that the main character has this luck to him that isn't very lucky after all. Why does he get to be the one to survive, over and over? It just adds to the overall confusion.

    Maybe our anti-hero's problems (PTSD?) come from several different sources, that mostly has to deal with this idea that he can't be permitted to show emotion. He's a soldier, and that automatically gives him the stereotype of being brave and strong. He knows he should be lucky to be surviving ordeal after ordeal, but he, like many other soldiers, probably just wants to be done with it all (not sure if he wants to end his own life, or just be done with the war in general). My guess is that he's lost someone close to him (can definitely expand on this later) and it's caused him to take on a "thousand-yard stare" kind of stance: unfeeling, not caring. By taking away his power, he should become more human, and feel relieved that he's no longer invulnerable -- the odds are evened out.

    The River God, on the other hand, has gone through similar trauma, but since he doesn't have to deal with the stereotype of being an American soldier, he can show all the emotion he wants. He's the victim, both of whatever trauma he's faced and of the Americans razing his country.

    Agree with everything else you've said, about the anti-hero coming face to face with River God, but I'd like to think that he would be the one to try and kill the RG, not the other way around. Maybe the anti hero wants to go out in a blaze of glory like a true patriot (keeping in line with American ideals), but RG spares his life because he can empathize.
  • Johann
    I actually know very little about the Vietnam war, but your back stories and sound about right. My interest beyond film making is psychoanalysis / depth psychology. Typically in dream analysis (I see movies as being a kind of collective dream), the jungle symbolizes the wild, untamed and animalistic aspects of the unconscious or nature (including human nature) in all it's "rawness". So even in our very literal historical events such as the Vietnam we see the Western psyche has as it's telos (aim) the desire to bring about order from chaos. Only it didn't work very well, because too much order becomes pathological in itself and inevitably a showdown with chaos becomes necessary to restore balance to the psyche.

    Everything about our culture reflects this - the perfect "little boxes" we live in, the trimmed lawns, our ideas about psychological health and so on. We have in our mythologies the killing of the dragon (St. George for example) juxtaposed to the Eastern psyche that sees the dragon as beneficial and life giving. For a long time the Western psyche has had this idea of redemption by force, overcoming nature through a pure effort of will even though the major Western religion has ironically been one about self-sacrifice, carrying one's "cross" (the burden of one's suffering etc). I'm wondering if we will ever learn what we need to learn here...

    Anyway, so with that psychoanalytic background, my idea was that the hero does attempt to kill the RG. He breaks through the hordes and the final showdown ensues. Only every forceful attempt against the River God fails. The RG is simply unstoppable - and that's a psychological truism again in the face of pathological order - chaos will inevitably overthrow it to restore the balance. We have many other suggestions in our mythologies besides the Christian idea that direct force is not the answer. Frodo has to cast the ring of power into Mount Doom (Gollum aka our "suffering" follows after the ring). Luke fails to defeat Vader by an act of force but rather succeeds by an act of love. Neo has to die to destroy agent Smith in the Matrix. So I like this idea that the hero's direct efforts fails and only after that is he disarmed and through some kind of vulnerability he defeats / redeems the RG. (Incidentally, Luke is also quite literally "disarmed" when he discovers Vader is his father).

    The difficult for the Western psyche is that vulnerability is often associated with weakness, but psychologically it takes a great deal of courage to be vulnerable. So the question is how does one portray that visually in such a way that it's clearly an act of strength? That's the only way it can be "sold" to a Western audience in an action movie convincingly.

    I prefer this idea to a "direct" defeat of the RG, but that being said it's not going to be easy to pull off while maintaining the heroic disposition of the protagonist. I like it, but it's tricky.

    I like your idea that the protagonist has difficulty with his "divine nature"- it's a thoughtful inversion where he doesn't recognize his "divine nature" or "destiny". His human side struggles with this and it becomes something of a "cross" to bear.
  • Johann
    Ok, so here's one possible way we can set up the final showdown while keeping the hero's vulnerability as virtuous rather than displaying it as some kind of weakness. The subtext in the scene with the burn victim (sorry, I'm terrible at remembering names) suggests that something actually did happen at Charleston airbase despite the denial about it.


    So what happens here is that the burn victim's fear of communism (due to U.S propaganda and efforts towards patriotism) manifests as his own personal hell due to coming into proximity with the RG. But it's not just in his head, it actually manifests in Charleston - space-time actually break down and he's really transported there albeit temporarily. The Ruskies don't actually have that tech at all, they're just a manifestation of the boy's worst fears, how he unconsciously imagines them as some terrible advanced enemy, so that actually manifests at Charleston even though it doesn't actually exist.

    This actually becomes pretty damn terrifying because the RG's reign of terror now extends beyond the jungles of Vietnam randomly affecting the rest of the world through the personal nightmares of some of his selected victims. The war brought him his own nightmare so now he's giving it back. (another psychological truism)

    So the same happens to the anti-hero (I like your use of the term so I'm going to use it). After being disarmed (dis-armoured) his worst nightmare comes into physical manifestation. (I don't know quite what that looks like yet but in some way it has to resonate with the RG's own trauma.) Rather than running from his own existential terror, the anti-hero knowing full well that he cannot defeat the RG and that his nightmare has become real with real world consequences performs a sacrificial act to save others. It's in the offering up of his own life that he redeems his own soul and somehow this acts as a mirror for the RG's redemption. I'm not sure exactly what the details of his nightmare look like yet but the overarching idea seems to fulfill the needs of the plot and conforms with the story in volume 1.
  • Hayley
    I like the interpretation of RG as a symbol of straight emotional chaos -- works historically and psychologically. Probably what the anti hero would like to be expressing? Plus, the idea of an imaginary enemy works well as a combination of psychological horror, and wartime paranoia of dealing with an enemy that can easily camouflage themselves. Burn victim's story can easily be developed.

    Agree with you also about anti hero and RG final conflict. I guess now the next steps are to figure out what exactly the trauma the anti hero and RG faced in the past.
  • Johann
    like the interpretation of RG as a symbol of straight emotional chaos -- works historically and psychologically. Probably what the anti hero would like to be expressing?Hayley

    In a sense yes. They are psychologically "corrective" to one another - a perfectly matched "psychoanalytic inversion". Both exist in a state of partial paralysis unable to move forward without some explosive meeting point - RG is the unconscious mind obsessed by it's state of grief and unable to let go of it's trauma while the anti-hero is the conscious aspect (ego) frozen in it's fear of facing it's own unconscious feeling function. In this scenario the unconscious will always "win" by usurping the ego with the only way out being "surrender" (unless one medicates oneself into oblivion). Sorry for all the psychoanalytic theory but my sense is that a good story is generally only good because it rings psychologically true and hence we are able to relate deeply to it.

    So in terms of the anti-hero's trauma I was thinking about all the cliches - loosing the love of his life, loosing his family as a child etc, but they seem too cheesy. I prefer your idea of PTSD suffered due to the war itself, because from the little I know that's historically pretty accurate. Do you have any idea what the common causes of PTSD is in Vietnam vets?

    I have this sense that it's something along the lines of the meaninglessness of it all. Young men fighting for a cause they just couldn't make sense of. Going against their own moral compasses on the orders of a seemingly corrupt patriarchy. (Suffering is difficult enough but without meaning and purpose it's basically impossible for the psyche to deal with). Any ideas?
  • Johann
    PS: I just realized there's a nice set up in the subtext of the helicopter scene for the idea of going against his own moral compass by following the orders. Hines (I picked up his name finally!) is told to follow orders, he sort of half nods and half shakes his head, then looks off into the distance - clearly the idea of blindly following orders is something of an issue for him. Here's the scene:


    So perhaps that's his personal hell - blindly following orders against his own moral compass. I'm thinking along the lines of being ordered to kill innocents - farmers, women, children. It's both senseless and resonates with the RG's trauma. Due to this inner conflict he hesitates to act according to his moral compass, innocents die and he experiences an emotional breakdown (restoring his feeling function - I'm seeing lots of slow-mo shots here). Clutching the body of a child and falling to his knees, the "rapture" (as seen previously) begins to take place. Bodies of innocents float towards the heavens. It's a metaphor for the cathartic process - the release of libido tied to trauma moving upward from the unconscious into the conscious mind and being released through "surrender".

    This can act as a "mirror" for the RG's redemption. I'm just not sure how that can be told visually. Perhaps he collpases too, looks at what he has become. For a brief moment his humanity is restored and he too is "raptured". Not sure?
  • Hayley
    In answer to your question earlier, the main reason for PTSD is that the Vietnam war was unpopular, as evidenced through the many anti-Vietnam war songs produced during the 1960s and after. The US fought to keep Communism from spreading to the rest of Asia (namely neighboring countries like Laos and Cambodia). People saw this as the US meddling where they had no need to be -- imperialism at its worst. The soldiers would be told that they were doing their patriotic duty -- and they believed this -- but then they would start to doubt the mission after months of minimal progress. They initially were told they'd be home quickly, but no. When they did return, they weren't greeted as heroes, but as agents of imperialism, even though they were just kids when they were sent over and didn't know any better.

    I'd recommend listening to the song 'Goodnight Saigon' by Billy Joel, which I feel provides a pretty accurate picture of a soldier's life. And while we're on the topic of music, hopefully you caught the song 'Fortunate Son' playing in the background for a few seconds in Firebase. Obviously, it's an anti-war song about a guy not being fortunate enough to avoid the draft, but I find it kinda funny because the one character has the gift of good fortune... or is it? The song, like the character's luck, is ironic. Or it could've just been a coincidence. Either way, good reference -- I love classic rock.

    I think the personal hell could have come from perhaps time spent on leave. Hines probably had a handful of weeks off to be back at home and realizes the level of disgust people have for the war, which causes him to rethink his whole moral code. Of course, by the time he's figured it out, he's back in the jungles, more confused than ever.
    As for the RG, just look up Operation Sunrise or Strategic Hamlets. Similar to D9 in a way and keeps up with Blomkampian social commentary while also being historically accurate and a good source for rage from RG. Think about it.
  • Johann
    Thanks for this - some real gems there to colour in back stories and develop the plot.

    Hines is more of a vet than the stereotypical 18 year old confused "kid". He must have some history in the military and I would place him in his mid 30s which is a bit too old to have been a "kid" at the start of the U.S's military involvement in Vietnam. He could however have been a "kid" at the end of the Korean war, which would place him in his late 30s - but that's possibly a bit too old. I just researched that the U.S. had a "shoot first" policy in Korea since North Koreans would disguise themselves as villagers so there could be a past trauma related to the killing of civilians there.

    But I guess Hines doesn't have to have an actual traumatic event as a back story since the RG is already the symbol for that and it could be an overkill. It could just be a deepening moral dilemma and as you say a vacation back home could be fertile ground for helping that set up. PTSD would be a better explanation for his dissociation however, but CPTSD (Complex PTSD) can develop with repeated exposure to less significant traumas so maybe it is just a growing discontent. That has to be told visually though with flashbacks. It could be narrated but then you fall into the problem of explanatory dialogue. Needs some thought...

    Strategic Hamlets are a great idea for the RG's back story!
  • AZechariah
    Good job, both of you, I would participate but you have said it all

  • Johann
    I feel we're just getting started on extrapolating what's partially already implied and there's still lot's of room for creativity here.

    Someone made the suggestion elsewhere of bringing in aliens. I like the fact the Firebase diverges from an extra-terrestrial theme though, but perhaps there's a hint of it.

    Where does the advanced tech come from? The "armour of God"? Maybe it's research stemming from the artifacts from the Roswell incident? Perhaps then an object appears in low Earth orbit over Vietnam, apparently accounting for the "raptures". Extra-terrestrials or is it God? Is God an alien? Maybe that's best left a mystery...

    The biggest idea that keeps growing on me is this idea that the RG causes people's personal hell to physically manifest in a break-down of space-time. It's clearly implied in the subtext that it's not just in the mind of the burn victim, but that Charleston actually happened. I love this because again it's a psychological truism as far as depth psychology is concerned. As the father of analytical psychology Carl Jung once said: "When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate."

    Thinking more on Hines' vacation as per Hayley's suggestion. I just read that psychoactives were issued unsparingly to soldiers in Vietnam accounting for much lower rates of battle related mental breakdowns than other other recent wars. (This contributes to long term effects of PTSD / CPTSD since psychological issues remain heavily repressed.) Either way psychiatry was a major component of the war. So perhaps Hines undergoes a psych evaluation when he gets back home and here we have a nice way to visually tell the story of his growing internal conflict / moral dilemma. It would have to be a flash back though which perhaps isn't ideal since at the end of episode one he's basically being sent out into the field.

    In a way Hines becomes a symbol for America. His final "surrender" in the manifestation of his personal hell is an analog for the end of the war. Not that the U.S. actually surrendered to the Vietcong - they didn't. But I think they may have surrendered to public pressure and the senselessness of it all. I still need to research this. Perhaps Hayley can give some insights as to the final reasons for a treaty?
  • Hayley
    I don't actually like the idea of aliens; I feel like you've got a complex enough story with Hines and the River God and aliens would just complicate it further. If they're truly necessary, then yes, go for it, but for now, let's keep this a tight, character-driven story between Hines and RG.

    One of the supposed 'advantages' the American army hoped to hold over the Vietnamese was their superior tech; they had chemical agents and state-of-the-art weaponry. I'm willing to bet that since the Americans want to win the war at all costs, they'd outfit one of their best soldiers with the "Armor of God," further emphasizing the idea that they are against the Viet Cong Communists, who are by American definition godless. (Besides, now we all know that God is just Sharlto Copley in a beard sitting in a cigar lounge, haha).

    The idea of RG showing people their personal hells could perhaps be blamed on tuning in, turning on, and dropping out. I'm sure that Hines is going to be subjected to some kind of psych eval at some point -- maybe his wife (if he has one) is worried about him, or maybe he works up the courage himself to go in or risk further mental breakdown.

    And no, the Americans didn't surrender. Here's a quick description of the Paris Peace Accords: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/paris-peace-accords-signed

    Of course, then South Vietnam was invaded by the North and Saigon turned into Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Johann
    I don't actually like the idea of aliens;Hayley

    Agree. I would never want to see an actual alien, (or necessarily hear about aliens) but the idea of an unknown object in low earth orbit possibly accounting for the rapture events adds an element of intrigue. Maybe it's the Russians? Something else? We never find out. As a storytelling device, it brings the unseen "spiritual dimension" into the physical making the events more believable. Exactly what it is should remain a mystery, leaving the audience wondering. I feel I also need a partial explanation of how the U.S. army got hold of advanced tech like the "Armour of God." The Western psyche is having a hard time interpreting "unseen forces" outside the domain of literalism (science, physics, even religious Creationism is a literalization of ideas that clearly belong to the more symbolic registers of the psyche) so subtly suggesting some rational explanations might help to not alienate the audience.

    The idea of RG showing people their personal hells could perhaps be blamed on tuning in, turning on, and dropping out.Hayley

    I love this idea! When Hines is back home we see hippy protests. Leary is on Television promoting the use of LSD while the CIA is experimenting with it. We know that soldiers are being administered amphetamines and even anti-psychotics. The collective American psyche is drugged in some or other way. Is the shit going down even real or just a pharmacological nightmare? More intrigue but it needs to be subtle rather than going full Jacob's Ladder.

    Discussed the ideas so far with a very knowledgeable friend last night. He brought my attention to the My Lai Massacre that occurred in 68 but only gained media attention in 69 (shortly before Hines is sent on his mission in '70). While the "official" reasons for the U.S. pulling out aren't exactly clear it seems very reasonable that social pressure (1/3 of the public were against the war), humanitarian reasons and the utter senselessness of it all were a part of it. At the very least Hines' moral conflict and ensuing breakdown in the final showdown works as a metaphor for that. Audiences are more sophisticated now than the days of Schwarzenegger bashing his way to victory. Most importantly for me, again it's a psychological truism and could be in line with (as you put it) "Blomkampian social commentary". We have to see the acknowledgement and release of trauma into the conscious mind (metaphorically, the rapture of tormented souls) followed by the return of the feeling function in Hines. It's only through an encounter with the archetypal Jungian "Shadow", the RG, that Hine's psychopathology can be cured.

    More than that I see the juxtaposition between Hines being forced to face his own hell and subsequent redemption vs the broad use of pharmacology as a device for repression as a subtextual commentary that medicating our way out of our own psychological hells simply isn't the answer and never will be. (Psychologically repression doesn't work and never will). Although stress related breakdown in soldiers was reduced to 1% (as opposed to 5% in WWII) through the use of pharmacology, in the long term it's exacerbated PTSD in Vietnam vets. I'm hearing the Stone's "Mother's Little Helper" as a background track in there somewhere.

    I'm really enjoying this process. Even if none of this goes anywhere, it's a great exercise in character and plot development, research, psychoanalytic film theory etc. Thanks for participating!
  • Hayley

    Could "unseen forces" also count as the VC? They had the home court advantage, and a jungle is very different from a battlefield. Just thinking. I like all your ideas about creationism and the human psyche, even though I don't claim to be a psychology student.

    Completely random side note: I know more about Tim Leary and the '60s counterculture than I should, mostly due to reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. It's a very interesting read about Ken Kesey and his group of Merry Pranksters, and I'd recommend it if you're interested in the decade. Nothing really about Vietnam, just about the hippie scene. Could be potentially useful to show historical background? When you're talking about what is real versus what is a product of drugs... well, who's to say it can't be both? It may seem like reality leaves while under the influence, but it's really just distorted, not gone. (In the film Pink Floyd: The Wall, which I also recommend, the animated hallucinations the main character faces are just distorted, wildly exaggerated events of his reality, or rather his perceptions of his reality).

    However, we need to establish that RG is not a hallucination, etc. Obviously, hallucinogens or any other type of drug isn't going to help, but drug culture was such a huge part of the '60s and everyone was very naive & unknowing about what they were doing to their minds. The idea about self-medicating is a problem that we still face today, obviously, and as a soldier, the epitome of masculinity, it would make sense that he would want to try and solve his problems himself than -- God forbid -- talk to someone about them.

    I like your idea about the Stones, haha. I know it sounds cliche, but I could also see Jefferson Airplane's 'White Rabbit' or The Doors' 'The Unknown Soldier,' which is one of their only political, anti-Vietnam songs. Pink Floyd's 'Jugband Blues' also comes to mind, when it comes to not being all there.

    I enjoy collaborating with you, too -- thanks for the great insights!
  • Johann
    Could "unseen forces" also count as the VC? They had the home court advantage, and a jungle is very different from a battlefield. Just thinking.Hayley

    Absolutely. The fact that the VC had a network of underground tunnels is very symbolic. It implies that they had a means of "navigating the underworld", which seen as psychological metaphor is the ability to deal with one's own unconscious. The U.S. on the other hand attempted to keep the unconscious at at bay, medicate, keep things clearly above ground where they could be seen, light up the jungles with napalm to clear away the trees etc. These different strategies point to the great differences in psychological disposition. So the VC were using the unconscious, "chaos", the "unseen" to their advantage.

    When you're talking about what is real versus what is a product of drugs... well, who's to say it can't be both? It may seem like reality leaves while under the influence, but it's really just distorted, not gone.Hayley

    Well hallucination has a "psychic reality" to it. We usually think of dreams or fantasies as metaphorically expressing something literal in the world but it's almost the other way around where physical events and objects in the world becoming placeholders for the realization of an inward desire. If I can only have that object or this public recognition then my inner conflict will be resolved. But he desire can never be sated because it's points to the infinite which is an inner object or a "psychic reality".

    However, we need to establish that RG is not a hallucination, etc.Hayley

    Yes. But it could be fun to have the audience guessing at some point. Perhaps when Hines sets out we see his platoon shooting up with steroids and amphetamines (this actually took place historically). At some point we see another soldier succumbing to his personal hell when confronted by the RG. Hines disobeys his orders to take on the RG at all costs and decides to save his brother in arms instead. The platoon regroups and we see another conflict between the Major and Palmer as Palmer is trying to get to grips with what's happening to his soldiers. Palmer questions some new pharmaceuticals being used and proposes that as an explanation for the soldier's hallucinations but the Major then admits that what happened to Bracken (the burn victim) at Charleston actually occurred. It's no hallucination. Nobody really knows what the hell is going on but based on the psych profiles they have of the soldiers the current theory is that the RG somehow manifest a soldier's worst nightmare. Something along those lines introduces the subtext that maybe it's just hallucination only to later be resolved...

    But there's another lovely juxtaposition here between anti-psychotics used by soldiers and 60's counter-culture. LSD and psilocybin usage expresses a desire to re-enter the unconscious rather than keep it at bay with anti-psychotics. In recognizing the pathology of the patriarchy hippies expressed a desire to return to the "Oedipal Mother", Nirvana- the state of undifferentiated chaos and potential. Emasculated hippy males, flower power and "Make love not war". The father is a tyrant so let's go back to the comfort of mother! The problem was that it was a regressive and "unconscious" return.

    The exact same Oedipal theme is expressed in communist ideology - the state acting as "mommy" will take care of all the children's needs (of course while communists pushed conscious awareness of their own patriarchal tyranny in turn back into the unconscious and projected it onto the "evil" West). So there are some lovely parallels here between politics, pharmacology and culture.

    It's for this reason that I think Hines needs to take on the Oedipal role. He has to directly disobey orders (intra-psychically "kill the father") and then surrender to his own feeling function ("copulate with the mother"). Only in that way can he re-synthesize the conflict between the Castrating Father (Capitalism and patriarchy) and the Oedipal Mother (Communism and matriarchy) into a new transcendent order out of which the healthy individual is born having both the father's "willpower" and the mother's "compassion".

    Now I'm thinking this has to happen before the final showdown, because it's only the "individuated Logos" that can "free the tormented souls from hell" (descend into the darkness of the unconscious and liberate the world from it's trauma). Again, I'm not sure what that looks like yet, but it could be interesting because he has to go "rogue" and so all sides are antagonistic towards him. But being individuated (aka "enlightened") he knows exactly what he's doing in which case he probably deliberately throws off "the armour of God" to be taken into his own hell.

    Ha! The story is changing a bit now...
  • Johann
    Ok so now I'm thinking one could go full apocalypse. We've already had fire from the skies (the Russian aircraft) in Corp. Bracken's personal hell. We can have other soldiers personal nightmares manifesting along the lines of "apocalyptic visions", seas turning to blood etc.

    When Hines goes rogue a few soldiers ("apostles") decide to stay by his side. They've seen his "divine nature" as the "Logos" and decide to follow him - this only after he's been transformed into the Logos through the "Campbellian ordeal" and emerged with "the reward".

    Originally the platoon was just there to keep the dead away from Hines so he could focus on the RG but now the Major has a crisis on his hands because the "apostles" are now source material for the RG to unleash a full apocalypse through each of their personal nightmares. The Major radios in to intelligence headquarters to get their individual psych evaluations so they can predict where the next apocalyptic outbreaks might occur. Hell on earth just became a real possibility. It's a full blown crisis for the Major but Hines knows exactly what he's doing now. The audience doesn't know this of course.

    I'm not sure, maybe it's a bit too wild....I'll have to brush up on my Revelations and may as well make a study of Hebrews while I'm about it.
  • Hayley
    The idea for Hines to go on an Oedipal journey is straight-up genius. The RG is the ultimate symbol of the chaos Americans experienced in Vietnam, and so Hines' mission is most likely to encounter the RG and kill it. After a few attempts, he realizes that force isn't gonna do it, since he is only a mortal and the RG is a force of nature. He can commit an act of sacrifice (not sure how exactly) but by doing so, can come to terms with his own trauma and reconcile mother and father. The Doors' 'The End' comes to mind, and not just because of its connection to Apocalypse Now.

    I'm liking the Biblical symbolism and connections to Hines and his hero's journey. Since the RG is almost like an opposite or mirror of Hines, then he should have his own spiritual journey as well. It makes sense that Hines goes on a Christian-like journey because he's American and was equipped with the Armor of God. Of course, he learns the true meaning of sacrifice and all of that later, when he stops blindly following orders. RG should get some redemption, too, and find his own type of enlightenment. I'm inclined to learn more about Buddhism for him, but I don't know. What do you think?
  • Johann
    Interesting idea. My sense is that Hines and the RG can equally be viewed through a Buddhist lens as something like "Buddha nature" and something like "vasanna"
    respectively. Symbolically the "burning up" of karma / vassana is equivalent to the burning of tormented souls in hell and enlightenment would be the equivalent of rapture. But it's a nice idea to visually represent the RG's redemption as stylistically Buddhist. I'm just not sure what that looks like?

    Maybe a lotus leaf opens up underneath him. Haha - seems a bit silly. Alternately you could have the Kundalini Serpent rise over his head like Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree:


    Interestingly the serpent is depicted with 7 heads just as the beast in Revelation has 7 heads and of course the serpent theme echoes the Biblical fall. I noticed as well that Corporal Bracken draws out his "ssss" over here, another hint at the serpent / Satan:


    I'm now picking up all the subtleties and need to watch again because I'm not sure if anything here has developed too far off track.

    In terms of the RG attaining his own redemption by his own hand doesn't ring true for me, at least psychologically. Reason being that each character in the story represents a different aspect of the psyche. The psychic wound wreaking havoc from the unconscious can do nothing by it's own volition other than usurp the functioning of the conscious personality, creating "hell on earth". That's why the ego as Logos (the ordering function of the psyche) must undertake the "journey to the underworld". However the ego is completely transformed by the journey or rather destroyed and "resurrected".

    The question I'm asking now is whether the RG can actually be redeemed given that it's become much more clear that he is the Bibllical Satan - an almost cosmic principle. In a sense he can't but the human that existed prior to him becoming the RG can be redeemed and I think that's the redemption I would want to see...
  • Hayley
    OK, so maybe "redemption" isn't the right word. I think I was looking for something more like "closure," but I didn't have the right word on me then. I at least want to see the human that obviously suffered at the hands of the American military get some form of redemption, especially if Hines becomes a Christ-ish figure and takes the high road morally.

    I did a quick search of the main pillars of Buddhism, and while the River God has obviously violated the majority of these, maybe the human inside of him didn't before the tragedy, whatever it was, struck. I'm still inclined to go with the strategic hamlet route because it reminds me of D9 and is as valid a reason as any. If you can think of anything better, I'd love to hear it.

    Anyway, the first five precepts involve abstinence from:
    - harming living beings
    - taking things not freely given
    - sexual misconduct
    - false speech
    - drinking and taking drugs

    Then there is what is called the Noble Eightfold Path to Enlightenment:
    - right view
    - right intention
    - right speech (absence of lies, deception, slander, and idle conversation)
    - right action (no dealing weapons, no slavery, prostitution, or harm to animals including for food, and no dealing intoxicating substances)
    - right livelihood
    - right effort
    - right mindfulness
    - right concentration

    I don't know how helpful this is going to be in the long run, but maybe it can give us some information to the River God before he became corrupted by rage?
  • Johann
    I do love your idea of the hamlet as a back story. I'm just not sure whether it's told visually at some point or just forms part of the back story of the RG? I had been thinking that perhaps we see more of the forcible removal of villagers at some point. A few refuse to leave their ancestral lands and so Palmer gives the order for their execution so that they aren't turned into more undead. This could set up for Hines' and his apostles going rogue. I'm not sure whether we flash back to the RG's creation at some point and show the hamlets - it could be a part of the RG's "closure" though, to revisit the memories and deal with them differently or see them through a different lens.

    But yes, I would say the human that became the RG basically violated the 4 noble truths of Buddhism, which boils down to one having to accept one's suffering. Failure in that results in "vassanas" - a pattern of behaviour based on the past (karma) affecting the present. It's the Buddhist equivalent of the "psychic wound" / trauma I've been speaking about. So the whole concept gels nicely with Buddism too. A psychoanalytic truth must be true for all cultures and religions.

    Re-watching Firebase for the 3rd time and I'm picking up a lot that I missed. Here are a few points to keep in mind.

    • Hines has already disobeyed orders by abandoning his platoon prior to encountering the first "undead". There's the suggestion of a court marshal. The subtext is that he's disobeying orders because he's become aware of his "divine mission". However, I think that still works with the Oedipal role of "killing the father" by which I mean the hero no longer listens to the voice of moral conditioning either outwardly or inwardly. Rather he listens exclusively to the inner voice that guides him towards his destiny and at all costs.
    • I previously mixed up Jake Palmer with Major Brickerson. Obviously Palmer is CIA. So it would be Brickerson that asks Palmer about the use of anti-psychotics being the cause of the personal hells manifesting.
    • Brickerson suggests that the CIA better explain what's going on or there will be a "mutiny". That's a nice set up for Hine's "apostles" going rogue with him.
    • The Jester image on the helicopters and at Firebase is suggestive of the archetypal trickster. The trickster is sometimes associated with the devil and fulfills the very necessary role of upsetting the current social (which has become corrupt) for the sake of ushering in a new order. (think of the Joker's role in Batman). In the final analysis the "devil" is not actually evil but a necessary force for psychic growth and social evolution.
    • The opening quote from Hebrews ties in with the above in the sense of ushering in the "New Jerusalem"
    • Interestingly Bracken is the only one that saw the RG. The rest of his platoon hadn't seen him. More material to play with the use of anti-psychotics? But perhaps there's also another reason why only some see him.
    • There's a scene at 17:48 where Hines takes some pills. Straight after that he sees the RG in the mirror. Technically it would take longer for meds to work but it is suggestive again of the role of pharmacology and possible "hallucinations".

    The difficulty I have with the RG's redemption is fairly complicated but relates to what I said about the jester archetype fulfilling a necessary and ongoing role in the psyche. More that that, the devil has become a fusion of several archetypal ideas, the transposition of pagan deities that form the goat-like image we have (never mentioned in the Bible) is symbolic of the carnal nature, animalistic instincts, the Freudian "id" and so forth - a somewhat different archetype to the serpent in Eden for example. Anyway, to cut a long story short a "banishment" of Satan is more appropriate in which case it frees the tortured soul of the man underneath - and that can be redeemed. It has to be redeemed. If not then we are all basically fucked - existence and human suffering is entirely pointless. Ultimately at the core, there is a grieving man and that requires the "compassion of Christ" for redemption. So somehow that needs to be told clearly in a visual way.
  • Hayley

    I'm sure that at one point, we'll get some kind of backstory or flashback that reveals more about the RG, and it can be as simple as the military forcing Vietnamese citizens out of their homes. The audience should get the gist quickly. If necessary, this scene can be expanded for maximum empathy-building.

    An interesting fact that happened before the Americans got involved in Vietnam is this: after Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, all once owned by the French) got separated into the countries they are today, Vietnam was split into Communist North (run by Ho Chi Minh) and a Westernized South, run by a brutal dictator, Diem. He wanted to make South Vietnam more Westernized because that is how he grew up. One of the ways he attempted to do this was by forbidding Buddhism, and so there were Buddhist monks lighting themselves on fire -- an ultimate act of suffering and sacrifice -- for their beliefs. Contrast that with the River God...

    Something else you should know is that as the war dragged on, there were soldiers who just up and deserted. When you mention mutiny, this could be part of it. Hines and his group of apostles are probably just trying to get to the bottom of this River God issue, but in order to do so, they will have to desert (killing the father) for the greater good (a reconciliation of father and mother).

    I'm thinking that through learning about the River God's trauma, Hines will learn some uncomfortable truths about not only himself, but about his society's mindset, which fills RG's role as devil or trickster. I'm sure Hines already knows that the whole rationale for the war is completely screwed up, but the full extent comes when he and his apostles realize that they were ultimately responsible for the creation of the River God. Compare that with the ultimate goal of winning the war at all costs and you do have a potential mutiny and moral dilemma on your hands.

    As for psychotics and why some can see RG and some can't: first of all, yes, it does take time for hallucinogens to take hold of the brain, but once they do, time obviously gets distorted. Hines could feel like he just took the pills at 17:48, when in fact time had passed, but he wasn't aware of it. Also, when you said that some people can see RG: they have a stronger acceptance of just how deep they've gone for anti-communism. If RG is the embodiment of chaos (and also of growth), then those who still believe they can win against the chaos of Vietnam are clearly lodged in a dangerous, unchanging mindset and therefore should not be able to see RG. Those who realize that winning is very unlikely and that they are doing more harm than good should see him.

    And now, the big question: is existence pointless? I'm reminded of a line from Bob Dylan's/Jimi Hendrix's 'All Along the Watchtower,' during a conversation between the two characters: the Joker and the Thief.
    "'No reason to get excited,' the thief, he kindly spoke. 'There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate. So let us not talk falsely now -- the hour's getting late.'"
    So yeah, there needs to be redemption for both characters. RG needs to come to terms with what happened, and Hines needs to rebel against the iron fist of America (no better than the USSR in some ways).
  • Johann
    Some fabulous info and ideas there. I know about self-immolation by monks but never knew the story about Diem.

    'No reason to get excited,' the thief, he kindly spoke. 'There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate. So let us not talk falsely now -- the hour's getting late.'"Hayley

    Lovely. Notice the deck of cards under the jester, symbolizing "being dealt a hand" implying "fate". Also the skull obviously represents death - again I take that to suggest the fate of Hines is that of the dying and resurrected god.

    I like your ideas behind the politics. The idea of the U.S. "winning" this battle doesn't resonate for me with Blomkampian social commentary so I really feel that Hines really has to distance himself from the U.S. Perhaps more is needed than just disobeying orders, some act that really cuts ties with the social order? I'm not sure here...

    I'm also seeing the threat of a full global apocalypse rather than keeping the hells too localized. Nuclear launches etc. The "apostles" could be the "meat" for the RG to start materializing that. I feel I need much more of a twist though. Perhaps Hines wounds the RG and approaches him, his apostles still manifesting hell in the background. The RG gives him a vision of power (the temptation of Christ). He drops off his armour and weaponry and there's a WTF moment for the audience. Has the hero turned?

    Without his armour to protect him and the RG staring at him he clutches his temples (SFX similar to when he had visions of the RG previously). We don't actually see what's going on for him as with the apostles hells, but he screams in pain eventually collapsing the ground, apparently dead. (the symbolic death).

    Cut to Hines walking through a Vietnamese village. The grade looks a bit dreamy and not quite real and maybe slow-mo. Perhaps this is where we see the hamlet idea being enforced. Villagers forcibly being removed, their houses burned. Steadicam is tracking Hines from behind so we don't quite see what's in front of him. He sits down. Cut to the front and he is holding the body of a woman. It's the same scene from the RG's initial transformation, only now Hines is in his place, tears streaming down his face as he caresses her, yet he somehow retains a peaceful composure. Camera tracks back...(I shouldn't add in directorial instructions but just describing how I'm seeing it)

    Cut back to the "real world" where Hines lifeless body lies. The RG begins to dematerialize and out of it the body of the Vietnamese farmer emerges floating towards the heavens in a "rapture".

    Next morning the lifeless body of Hines is taken away by Palmer and some other troops to camp. We hear over the radio that things have normalized. Nukes fell from the sky or simply vanished prior to hitting their targets. In a makeshift morgue Brackerson and Palmer debate over Hines' body whether he should be given a hero's burial. They walk out. CU of Hines' face. He suddenly opens his eyes. Cut to credits (with some kick ass music).
  • Johann
    One more thing. Just before the morgue scene there's a debriefing of all the soldiers at camp. They're told that one of the experimental anti-psychotics they've been using as part of their daily pill popping regimen has been found to cause severe psychosis in certain individuals. This accounted for the delusions of some seeing the RG. They're told to swap out the stash for a new stash and forget all about the RG, Hines etc. Another WTF moment for the audience, some of whom may have been expecting this.

    Following this with Hines' "resurrection" in the morgue brings it back to the idea that the anti-psychotics were just a cover-up by the CIA. Maybe that or maybe Hines was just affected by a prolonged psychosis? The audience is left guessing....
  • Hayley
    Awesome ideas, I agree with all of that. No idea where to go next - I'd say we've got a pretty good summary of events, but ultimately it's up to Oats to decide what to do...
  • Johann
    Thinking about this some more, my sense is that Blomkamp's original intention might have been to reveal Firebase as a drug-fulled delusion because there was a part of the U.S. psyche that saw (and still sees) itself as the world's liberators backed by a Christian capitalist ideology. We've seen how damaging that can be and it makes for an important social commentary. So perhaps we underestimated the "Jacob's Ladder" factor.

    My guess is, and I might be totally off the mark here, that Blomkamp neither espouses Christian or capitalist ideals or at the very least he's certainly not constrained by tradition views about them. God: Serengeti and the fact that Oats has a kind of open source quality about it should be testaments to that. (Shit, I sure hope I don't offend him in any way, but one should hopefully be able to make some educated guessing about an artist by looking at their work).

    So I'm asking the question that if Firebase is real rather than a drug-fueled delusion, is it possibly too Christian? Taking the audience into account here as well there is a growing sentiment against both Christianity and capitalism leading to a rather severe polarization sending the political right into archaic views and we are seeing some weird extremism on the far left as well. Again, we see the schism between the archetypal mother and father on the political left and right respectively. The father is corrupt so let's return to the mother or vice versa.

    My own view is that the transcendence of these political ideologies and the next stage of our socio-political evolution points to anarchism. Not the layman's idea of anarchy as chaos but rather the sublime philosophy of the sovereignty of the individual. We must grow up and in so doing discard the reliance on state acting as mommy or daddy. Too soon for this? Most probably yes.

    Either way this is why I felt Hines needs to go "Oedipal" and "rogue" - he becomes a symbol of the sovereign individual. Perhaps we need to discard the apostles? But I have no idea whether this would resonate for Blomkamp....

    I'm still left with the difficulty of whether it's too Christian. While I'm not religious myself in the literal or traditional sense I do see the Christian "myth" as having a psychodynamic truth to it that effectively transcends religious dogmatism when understood correctly. I'm just not sure if and how that can be conveyed in the story or whether it's a message Blomkamp would even consider conveying.

    One thing that does point to it not being drug-fueled is the opening CIA footage where a Vietnamese woman is interviewed saying she saw bodies rising to the heavens. Also, would we actually see this caught on 16mm film if it was merely in the mind of the soldiers? Here the suggestion is that it's real.

    So many questions to consider here. I believe that the film has the potential to offer so many layers of meaning, it's just a question of what really resonates with Blomkampian social commentary.
  • Johann
    Here's an idea:

    The encountering of communism and atheism (Buddhism) must transform our hero, not because they are good in themselves (as partial views) but rather that they compensate as opposites to capitalism and theism. Truth must be whole and not partial and so the duality of opposites must be synthesized into a new truth - the "New Jerusalem". This is why I asked the important question many posts back - not only how does Hines redeem the RG, but how does the RG redeem Hines?

    So somewhere along the lines Hines wants to take a handful of pills but decides against it and chucks the bottle. He progressively begins to show signs of withdrawals (we can answer that in the scene later where the soldiers are told to swop out their pills and are given something to ease withdrawals). Reality (truth) begins to kick in but Hines is still psychotic and delusional seeing the RG in his Satanic form.

    The whole final showdown still takes place as described with Hines collapsing (death of the hero) and entering the RG's "dreamy" trauma, the RG dematerializing the farmer undergoing a rapture however when they come to collect Hines' body where the RG was we simply see the original farmer sitting there mortally wounded or dead. Reality has kicked in, the hallucination has dropped. He was always just simply a grieving villager and nothing more. The interpretation changes now because rather than being the "Christian redeemer" Hines has redeemed himself by restoring his feeling function, ability to empathize with the "enemy". The VC are simply humans just like you and I, after all.

    My sense is that this is more in line with Blomkampian social commentary. However, we also remain true to the idea that the way to redeem ourselves is by way of the "psychoanalytically correct" interpretation of the Christian story. Even though this was apparently a drug-fueled delusion, and rightly so (how dare we project the devil onto other vulnerable human beings) - the "psychic reality" of the formula of the hero's journey remains intact as a way to liberate ourselves (rather than our supposed enemies) from our own torment and delusion!

    We still end with Hines "waking up" to remain true to the "resurrection" because the hero is now "reborn" and has "made the world anew" (The "home" in the opening Hebrews quote). That still leaves the audience with questions though. Was it real or just a CIA cover up? In this way we blur the line between literal reality and "psychic reality" which is important because "psychic reality" is equally true (just in a different way from the literal).

    Make sense?
  • Robert Miller
    Wow, youre both digging really deep into the archetype and symbol side of this. Im gonna try to keep closer to the story itself.
    First off, you mention an orbital object at the beginning causing the rapture event and the spacetime breakdown. Why could that object not be Valis or the Blackknight satellite? It adds mystery along with a small amount of familiarity for the initiated.
    Your ideas about the nature of the rivergod paint him almost like Dr. Weir from Event Horizon after he is corrupted by the ships core, A conscious form of almost comically over-the-top evil. I like the idea for character motivation, but that seems to paint his actions as more intentional rather than random. I like the idea of his powers being a result of the spacetime breakdown rather than a cause or catalyst of it. He through grief didnt become vengance, he became an animalistic version of pure entropy, like a trapped animal chewing off its foot to escape except its foot is all of reality in this case. Hes just taking what would be a completely chaotic breakdown of reality and shaping it around him without even thinking. This is perhaps happening in multiple places in the world with multiple different iterations of the rivergod and the armor at the end is just one of many attempts by a desperate CIA to patch up these breakdowns in reality (caused by valis?). That would make the russian jets just another attempt by Valis (or whatever ethereal force you choose) to teach us dirty ignorant humans just how bad the world can get if we keep up the petty quarreling amongst ourselves. The higher power is just intensifying the already existing strife and horror until it starts to break reality, like a parent teaching us not to smoke by making us smoke the whole pack, except instead of cigarettes it is the horror of War. The young soldiers transit to charleston while everyone else stays fighting is simply because unlike everyone there, he has never been in a fight before. His emotional response of horror and confusion is more profound so he gets a special trip.
    While you were discussing our protagonists motivations it seems like youre both very eager to flatten him, the CIA, and the whole American operation in Vietnam into two dimensions as the negative party/parties exclusively. Im not saying thats wrong, or that I can think of anything different, but its just very expected and easy for a '60s era piece. Perhaps his early life is shown in a flashback. His wife and child are killed by a drunk driver in an old pickup truck. He watches the whole town like zombies go through the motions of justice, but the irresponsible asshole who killed his family just serves a short sentence and walks. He finds the guy and kills him in an insanely brutal manner, but it brings him no resolution. He is offered service overseas rather than jail time out of sympathy for his situation. He agrees, thinking it will be a quick death, but he is condemned to survive every battle and stay locked in his insanely brutal cage. At the end we find out that the CIA was experimenting with Psychotronics on their troops in Vietnam. By playing with areas of the brain they should have never touched they interrupted the combatants mental connection to the ethereal higher power and allowed them to begin ripping apart reality, even once they turned the machines off. Only the most damaged subjects (like our protagonist) cause the reality disfunction. Thus the whole supernatural experience in Vietnam is his fault. When he killed some random villagers family in front of him our protagonist saw something familiar in the villagers eyes. Without realizing it our protagonist created the rivergod from the villager to try and punish himself for losing control and becoming a worse monster than the man that drunkenly killed his family. The other monsters and zombies are twisted representations of how humanity looks to him now. The whole story being an attempt (possibly a failed one) to save this mans soul and fix a very dangerous blunder by the CIA. In fact, that story arc is reminiscent of a graphic novel called "Spookhouse" by Clobe B'jah and illustrated by Patrick Farncombe. Thanks for including me in the discussion!
  • Robert Miller
    Oh, just watched it again. They specifically say the young burned soldier is to be transferred to MKsearch. That means they are going to try to find the mechanism by which he saw the things he saw, its effects on him, and how to harness/control it. Hes looking at living out the rest of his days as a lab monkey. Poor kid ends up hanging dead in the jungle at the beginning of the film, there really wasnt a good end to his story was there?
    Also, made another observation of the story here as well https://forums.oatsstudios.com/discussion/241/where-rakka-firebase-and-zygote-can-go-
  • Johann
    Thanks for hopping on here. If feels like so far we've mostly just been extrapolating from what's already implied so nice to have some ideas coming from left of field.

    Why could that object not be Valis or the Blackknight satellite?Robert Miller

    Valis to me is too related to the Gnostic Demiurge but it could work - have to get my head around that idea. The term blacknight could be used by Palmer at some point? My own thoughts were to design the craft around the concept of the throne of God surrounded by the 4 creatures in Revelations forming a cross like object with God in the middle - whatever that might look like to an artist.

    Your ideas about the nature of the rivergod paint him almost like Dr. Weir from Event Horizon after he is corrupted by the ships core, A conscious form of almost comically over-the-top evil.Robert Miller
    Hes just taking what would be a completely chaotic breakdown of reality and shaping it around him without even thinking.Robert Miller

    Interesting idea. Psychoanalytically the unconscious (trauma) is...well, unconscious so yes the RG isn't "thinking" at all - it's as you say a "trapped" animalistic drive (exactly what unconscious trauma is basically). This is confirmed where Palmer says something about him manifesting his subconscious without even knowing it. So I agree with what you're saying here. But how does one visually get that idea across exactly?

    The higher power is just intensifying the already existing strife and horror until it starts to break reality, like a parent teaching us not to smoke by making us smoke the whole pack, except instead of cigarettes it is the horror of War.Robert Miller

    Interesting but how do we convey that visually or through some dialogue? I always prefer a visual telling if possible over explanatory dialogue as it makes for better a film.

    The young soldiers transit to charleston while everyone else stays fighting is simply because unlike everyone there, he has never been in a fight before. His emotional response of horror and confusion is more profound so he gets a special trip.Robert Miller

    My own sense here was that Blomkamp's intention as a social commentary would probably paint the idea of America as the "Christian liberators of the World" as a dangerous delusion or at least having a really bad shadow aspect and hence the role of pharmacology as a subtext to psychosis comes to light - certain individuals suffer psychosis as a side effect and so it all boils down to hallucination (how dare we project the image of Satan onto other beliefs and vulnerable villagers etc). Of course I might be totally off point here, but looking at the kind of social commentary coming out of D9 and Elysium my thinking is that Blomkamp would probably be partial to this kind of message.

    While you were discussing our protagonists motivations it seems like youre both very eager to flatten him, the CIA, and the whole American operation in Vietnam into two dimensions as the negative party/parties exclusively.Robert Miller

    Yeah. It's a good point. Again, though we have to think of as Haley put it "Blomkampian social commentary". This thread has been quite long and a convoluted back and forth process so not sure if you read my idea of Hines going "Oedipal" and the socio-political reason why I see that as necessary. It's not that Christian capitalism is worse or than atheistic (Buddhist) communism but rather that a counterpoint is produced between them representing different archetypal aspects ("castrating father" vs "Oedipal mother"). The "way out" is to produce a synthesis that transcends this duality, a "transcendent third" that ushers in "The New Jerusalem" (anarchy as the sublime philosophy of the sovereign individual who has left the dependent fold of mother and father). This is why I say Hines must "kill the father" (cut ties with the U.S.) and "copulate with the mother" (restore the "anima" or "feeling function"). At least from a psychoanalytic perspective it paints a true picture of the process of coming to terms with our inner conflict and transcending that at the level of both the individual and the collective.

    Perhaps his early life is shown in a flashback. His wife and child are killed by a drunk driver in an old pickup truck. He watches the whole town like zombies go through the motions of justice, but the irresponsible asshole who killed his family just serves a short sentence and walks. He finds the guy and kills him in an insanely brutal manner, but it brings him no resolution.Robert Miller

    We did discuss a similar idea. I was thinking pregnant wife or something but it felt too cliched. It rings true that Hines needs a trauma from which to liberate himself, but then I thought that the RG already is the trauma. Hines and RG represent different aspects of the psyche rather than whole psyches in themselves, as is often the case in film and mythology whereby the characters represent the complexes (sub-personalities) of the inner world. So I got to thinking that the trauma is simply CPTSD based on the mix of questionable patriotism and war - because I think that rings true for soldiers in the Vietnam war. I'm not against the idea though I'm just not sure it's necessary or adds something. But it would be cool if we can visually tell the story of how Hines becomes dissociated from his feeling function. We already see how he uses medication to cope with keeping the enemy (feeling function, the archetypal mother of communism, his trauma etc) at bay.

    At the end we find out that the CIA was experimenting with Psychotronics on their troops in Vietnam. By playing with areas of the brain they should have never touched they interrupted the combatants mental connection to the ethereal higher power and allowed them to begin ripping apart reality, even once they turned the machines off.Robert Miller

    Interesting idea here. I'm not sure how we reconcile that. Again with the social commentary it was never real but simply hallucination. However, I also like the idea that "psychic reality" however delusional is equally real if not actually more real in some sense (at least in terms of determining human behaviour in the world) than "consensus" reality. I tried to solve that with subtext that suggests blaming it on phamacology was a CIA cover-up and Hines' resurrection in the final scene. At least it leaves it as a possibility an open to audience interpretation. Perhaps your suggestions here are equally part of the "delusion" but in the end we're not sure? I think we can play with this a lot more.

    Without realizing it our protagonist created the rivergod from the villager to try and punish himself for losing control and becoming a worse monster than the man that drunkenly killed his family.Robert Miller

    I like what you're suggesting here. Had a similar idea but dropped it because I couldn't reconcile it with where I was in the narrative at the time. So what if in the redemption scene (a dreamy scene where Hines as the Christ-figure enters the RG 's trauma), we suggest that Hines was the perp. We would need to see the perpetrator from behind and say out of focus. Hines comes in trying to stop the shooting of the family and ends up holding the wife, tears streaming down his eyes. Then cut to the reverse shot and we see that Hines was the perpetrator?

    That way we further drive the point home that redemption is an act of redeeming oneself rather than redeeming "the other" - which to my mind is the whole bloody moral problem on the planet right now, the cause of war (or at least how we are politically manipulated into supporting it etc). I think that would be a fantastic social commentary as well as ringing true psychologically.

    Poor kid ends up hanging dead in the jungle at the beginning of the film, there really wasnt a good end to his story was there?Robert Miller

    I didn't catch that. Can you send me the timecode? Great that you picked up MKSearch. It confirms for me that Blomkamp's intention would be to go with some kind of mind-control / psychotropic effect possibly to suggest the "delusion" factor again but now it's even more sinister - completely deliberate - a way to get the troops to believe they are fighting a holy war and that God is on their side. It doesn't reconcile with my idea for the penultimate scene where Palmer tells the troops to swop out their bag of meds, but it's a much better idea. The audience needs to see that it was all a form of mind-control, but how do we tell that visually exactly. Who are the "good guys" that expose this and how?

    But now I'm really starting to like your idea of Psychotronics and an actual real breakdown of space-time. It really drives the point home that "psychic reality" no matter how delusional becomes the lived and literal reality. There's a fine balance that has to be found. It has to be clear that it's delusion on the one hand (my idea was that they find the original farmer lying dead next to Hines with no evidence of any Satan-like figure) - conveying the message that we must be careful of what beliefs and ideologies fuel our actions. In the end the RG was just a human like me and you. On the other hand what you believe and live into the world becomes true - it's not to be dismissed as "merely in your head". So I really like this, but it's going to require some genius storytelling to get that across with real clarity! Or does one want to leave that up to the audience?
  • Johann
    Hang on, it's not that difficult - my head was still stuck in some older narratives. If MKUltra is using psychotropics and psychotronics and feeding dangerous delusions to U.S. soldiers then it's clear that it's delusion. At the same time if Vietnamese villagers are witnesses and it's been caught on 16mm film then it's physically real too - implying that one's delusion becomes a lived reality.

    There could be a scene where the Major confronts Palmer again, maybe some threat of violence or Firbase soldiers start effect "mutiny" and tie up. They get a confession from Palmer as a flashback that they've all been part of an MK experiment. The senselessness of the war was leading to the loss of public support so they had to find a way to keep it going in the mind's of the soldiers. Only they didn't expect the experiment to actually affect reality. Maybe Hines as redeemer has to play a role in this? After he has redeemed himself from his own dangerous delusion with the RG he also "redeems the world". (There's also the subconscious inference that in actual fact it was the RG that redeemed Hines)
  • Johann
    Just researched the badges in the 16mm footage at the opening. They seem to be U.S. special operations that worked unconventional warfare and in particular psychological warfare. I think this is fairly in line with where we have been taking this. Good to read up on these for background though:



    Interestingly, the Phun Hoang is the symbol of the Chinese phoenix which has a similar symbolic and psychoanalytic meaning to the "resurrected Christ".
  • Johann
    Before I distill a more coherent story line from this complex thread, I have a few loose ends I feel need to be tied up. Blomkamp isn't really giving much in the way of explanation, which is fantastic but it's going to be difficult coming up with a coherent story line unless one can extrapolate some of his thinking with fair success.

    • Who / what is the figure in the opening shot? Important?
    • Why are the guards wearing gas masks at the camp? Biological / chemical reasons? Why doesn't Palmer wear one then while interviewing Bracken?
    • How does Hines become obsessed with the RG and how does Palmer know about this? Palmer seems to know exactly what Hines' mental state is.
    • Still trying to make sense of the "rapture" events. It seems that US soldiers get turned to the undead or is it VC soldiers as well? Or do only the VC rapture? According to the Vietnamese woman's testimony it sounds like it's the RG who goes into the field and prays and then the rapture begins. Or is the 16mm footage documented only after all the events still to come since over 15000 deaths have to be accounted for? The burning hut in the 16mm footage looks the same as the hut in the RGs creation scene. Can anyone make sense of that?
  • Hayley
    I'm assuming that the reason for the gas masks is because there was a lot of chemical warfare used by the Americans. Most notable is Agent Orange, a carcinogen that was used to destroy the jungles and make it easier for Search and Destroy missions. The images of what it did to people are unforgivable.

    Perhaps Hines is obsessed with RG because he had heard stories about it, like a local legend. Every place has its ghosts, and there's probably a lot of young green newbies wanting to go toe to toe with it. He probably heard about it from them just bantering, and his belief in it rising over time?

    Maybe the burning hut could be related to (if we're still gonna use this idea) the Vietnamese being forced out of their homes. I'm sure that they were burned down, and this is the RG remembering?
  • Johann
    I'm assuming that the reason for the gas masks is because there was a lot of chemical warfare used by the Americans. Most notable is Agent Orange, a carcinogen that was used to destroy the jungles and make it easier for Search and Destroy missions. The images of what it did to people are unforgivable.Hayley

    I had similar thoughts even going so far as to think that the opening footage of the undead was a reference to deformities from agent orange but that's a bit too much of a stretch. I did think that perhaps they had been spraying psychotropics (could be as part of wandering soul) targeting the VC but some of the U.S. troops got too close and started breaking ranks like Hines. Palmer comes in to sort things out. What do you think?

    Perhaps Hines is obsessed with RG because he had heard stories about it, like a local legend. Every place has its ghosts, and there's probably a lot of young green newbies wanting to go toe to toe with it. He probably heard about it from them just bantering, and his belief in it rising over time?Hayley

    Perhaps. I get the sense that Palmer is kind of leading him on a bit. Something to bear in mind is that Palmer could be lying which would include the RG creation story...

    Maybe the burning hut could be related to (if we're still gonna use this idea) the Vietnamese being forced out of their homes. I'm sure that they were burned down, and this is the RG remembering?Hayley

    Yes absolutely. My thoughts were that the farmer is out in the fields while his wife and children refuse to leave. When he returns they've been killed.
  • Hayley

    I'd check this link out. Seemed a little dense but maybe useful?

    Palmer could very well be leading him on, just to mess with the guy. Tension is already high in the jungle and among the new recruits. A leader needs to keep a clear head and not be daydreaming about river gods. Could definitely be tying into the belief symbolism - Palmer might think it's just a superstition in the same way some people treat religion as just myth.

    And yeah... who is the guy in the first shot?
  • Johann
    Thanks for that. Pretty crazy considering phenothiazines were used primarily to treat psychosis and schizophrenia. By the way Agent Orange in large doses also has mental side effects. It's not clear whether it could induce psychosis but definitely confusion and some dementia.

    At 5:44 Palmer says to Hines "I'm the guy you've been communicating with" after introducing himself. So Palmer could definitely have be leading Hines on prior to them even meeting.

    I'm wondering if the River God's creation didn't take place at My Lai ('68). It only came into public knowledge very late in '69 and according to Palmer the RG had been wondering around for some time. Considered symbolically, the RG is the "restless soul" of the aftermath of My Lai which comes to consciousness in the public psyche in late '69 causing increased opposition, dissent etc. If that's Blomkamp's angle - a metaphor for the psychology around the war - then what would Hines symbolize? Was there a CIA reaction to My Lai coming to public knowledge? Any cover ups or that kind of thing?

    Holy crap! As I was writing this I did a bit of Googling...

    Lucius Mendel Rivers was a Democratic U.S. Representative from South Carolina, representing the Charleston-based 1st congressional district and was involved in My Lai cover-up attempts. As I said previously Tar Heel was a nickname for Northern Carolina, the etymology of which related to soldiers not breaking ranks because they had "tar heels".

    No question in my mind now that Firebase is strongly metaphorical.
  • Hayley
    Whoa! That's insane!
    Looking into some more stuff:
    - Agent Orange induces memory loss, mania, loss of concentration, and severe personality changes, among other psychiatric issues. Not sure if that's truly "psychosis," but useful to have on the backburner, just in case.

    - The question now becomes why Palmer wants to lead Hines on, and what he thinks he would gain from it. If they're both on the same side, what is Palmer's reason for trying to wind Hines up?

    - My Lai, as I'm sure you know, was a strategic hamlet where the people living in it were slaughtered. This ties perfectly into the RG's original creation and being born from tragedy. The massacre only increased the antiwar movement and tension, though it was tried to be covered up at first (because if the gov't caught wind of it, the military would be in massive trouble). It was actually a young soldier who hadn't experienced it - but who had heard about it - who brought it into public view through letters to Nixon, the Pentagon, etc.

    - Its impact: caused morale to plummet (by 1971, over a third of US troops were getting high off of their drug of choice) and created feelings of paranoia - what else are higher-ranking officials hiding?
  • Johann
    Thanks for that. It feels like one has to decipher the puzzle of the first episode before one can make any new ideas fit the story.

    So the RG could be Rivers' "god" - aka the apparition of denial (Rivers expressed doubt that My Lai even happened). Bracken asks "did that even happen in Charleston?" - another reference to denial. The farmer then must symbolize the raw truth of My Lai. But it still leaves the question of what Hines symbolizes and that doesn't feel completely clear to me yet. Broadly he must represent something like the "drugging" of the American psyche, an alternative version of events and so on.

    I suppose from the psychoanalytic perspective it makes perfect sense because what is denied in the unconscious becomes "demonic".The redemptive idea is not to slaughter the "demon" but to find it's essence (truth) and come to terms with that. For so long as the RG roams he will create "undead" (unconsciousness) but when the truth comes out there is "rapture", the rising into conscious awareness of the event / trauma. So it seems we were on the right track with our earlier intimations about how the RG also redeems Hines.

    From here I will summarize our thoughts so far...a
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