erik reeds’s review published on Letterboxd:
I AM THE X-SHAPE SIAMESE TWINS
despite my overwhelming eagerness to discuss any and all things Wax and david blair in the past two years, and despite my attempts to write a primer for it for the film studies class i introduced it to, i have yet to take a proper stance or allow for substantial literature on a film i hold so dearly to my heart. i have seen this film probably around 10 times in the past two years on a number of different formats: my phone, my computer screen, an HDTV, another HDTV, and on a CRT off of a VHS tape. the exploration of this film in so many different forms of media has led to some pretty different ways i view the film as an installation or curiosity vs as a cohesive narrative experience; these different formats and structures can lend additional depth to the aesthetics of a film as completely off as this one. my next viewing, if not with a friend, will be watching the film with some music playing, then listening to the soundtrack without the picture. perhaps after this i will have more conclusions.
the difficulty of writing on this film is that it's so exhaustive that it can pretty much be caroused into a theory of everything the instant the dots start lining up. i've said this to some extent about the wonderful, curious depth of Celine and Julie Go Boating (which i still - tentatively these days - will say is the better movie) although that film has a more charming, breezy appeal than the wildly outlandish Wax. both are surrealist pictures in some way, although there is far too much going on beneath the surface of each to dismiss their sociopolitical appeal as a mere exercise in flair. with Celine and Julie, though, i don't get a vibe of an all-encompassing picture that is, in many ways, about the precise singularity that occurs when science and religion, biology and mathematics, intellect and emotion all collide together. Celine and Julie Go Boating is largely self-contained within the rivette universe, cordially criscrossing its common-themes of the director such as conspiracy, what it means to act, what it means to view, and the magic that can only be gained by cinema. some commentary on sexuality, gender politics, maybe psychedelics-cum-magic-shows, but there is a logical route to Celine and Julie Go Boating... in Wax, there is nothing. it expands at the speed of the universe in all directions, propelling not in the incredibly tight 85 minutes it temporally exists in, but also seems to occupy something more spectral; as if it is about the birth and death of ideas as we know them.
given the film's constant, sometimes foreboding, sometimes farcical spacial manipulation, i don't think that this is too far off. Wax is attempting to be all-encompassing in such a way that i don't think it's easy to comprehend with the technology and dimensions we currently have access to. films such as Koyaanisqatsi or what have you can attempt to explain the human experience, or more broadly make statements about life and what that means, but with the sole feature of computer scientist david blair - a totally singular work of art - he has revealed himself to be one of the truest authors to the experience of everything in this universe. i have often joked or spoken about how blair pretty much did this film and then dipped and would always love to see more, but honestly, how do you bounce back from this? where can you go? maybe a film that explores the least amount of the world possible? an even grander experience? is that possible?
as i have mentioned and mentioned in this review, and elsewhere if you've talked to me for 2 minutes about it, this is an absolutely huge production. years in the making, breakthroughs in technology, funding from a myriad of groups and organizations, Wax acts as outsider cinema's answer to future blockbusters. it is very concerned with all of the features those films are concerned about, however; awe, film's potential as a visual medium, entertainment, cohesive editing, larger than life concepts, etc. what is so incredible about Wax is how it works not only as a medley for the greatest hits of our spacetime experience, but also how well it vibes as an "ordinary" picture. the editing, sound design, and visual style of this film is totally unparalleled. no shot runs for too long. nothing is overwhelming to the point of headaches. the visual style is something entirely out of this world, yet i suppose it's just the culmination of all knowledge and spirituality, so of course it would be outlandish to some degree. but really, there's no linkage of this to anything else out there in the cinematic world. After Last Season? a guy maddin picture? those films may meet this one's aesthetic progressiveness although they retain none of its broad ambitions that go far beyond stories, but more the concept of how stories, morals, and mythmaking begin. the only thing that comes close to this specific scope is Histoire(s) du cinema, which lacks much of the stylistic ambitions of blair's piece.
so just what is it that Wax is "about" even? i think i have a pretty good grasp on the plot and will summarize it as follows, in the "true" temporal timeline, in case there is any confusion:
dawn of man. adam and eve are created by god. they have two sons, cain (who had some very fixed ideas about things) and abel. one day, cain killed abel, and god put an X shaped mark on cain, to protect him from vengeance. whoever killed cain would die, 13 times over.
later on, the tower of babel was constructed. this was constructed to reach god. STOP TRYING TO BE GOD. god made their languages different and cursed them once again, ceasing any more development on that front. the language of cain is created in this way - it becomes the language of the dead.
flash forward. a hungarian bee scientist, zoltan abbassid, loses his wife in an auto accident. ella spiralum finds this out, and discovers that abbassid knows james "hive" maker, or hivemaker, her half brother. spiralum and hivemaker are both electrical inventors, while abbassid and hivemaker are both beekeepers.
hivemaker hears of a plague wiping out british bees, and purchases abbassid's mesopotamian bees, which were found from abbassid's travels in archaeology at the tower of babel. these bees produce an unusually clear honey. spiralum and abbassid strike a sudden, star-crossed love, and are married. later, it is revealed that the bees swarm to attack abbassid, with hivemaker allegedly standing over him, in his suit. he wanted to be the sole owner of these new bees.
flash forward again. jacob maker is born july 16th, 1945. the same day that fat boy, the loneliest plutonium bomb, is dropped. he grows up on an acre of land known as the garden of eden, with his grandfather hivemaker. he works as a programmer, working on missile defense systems. he likes his job, and does what he is told. he is married to melissa, who is related to him, as she is spiralum's granddaughter.
IN ALL DIRECTIONS
maker is hypnotized by his bees, which are presumed to still be hivemaker's mesopotamian bees. he is implanted with a television, the bee TV, in his brain. he learns that he is not only jacob maker, but also zoltan abbassid (i.e. his wife's grandfather), and fat boy, the first nuclear weapon. through his journeys across new mexico, he learns that the weapons he helped program are trying to escape this world, to go to the land of the dead, somewhere else. this is represented by the moon here, the center of the earth later, and some other dimension at another time.
the bees are the living, fractured spirits of the dead. maker is said to receive his new body, after he kills. he discovers this in the garden of eden cave, a place with bees 30 feet tall, who he understands as much as his bees understand him.
THE GARDEN OF EDEN CAVE
VTHE GARDEN OF EDEN CAE
VETH GARDEN OF EDEN CAE
VENTH GARDE OF EDEN CAE
VENGTH ARDE OF EDEN CAE
VENGETH ARD OF EDEN CAE
VENGEATH RD OF EDEN CAE
VENGEANTH RD OF EDE CAE
VENGEANCTH RD OF EDE AE
VENGEANCETH RD OF DE AE
VENGEANCE TH RD OF DE AE
VENGEANCE FTH RD O DE AE
VENGEANCE FOTH RD DE AE
VENGEANCE FORTH D DE AE
VENGEANCE FOR TH D DE AE
VENGEANCE FOR THE D DE A
VENGEANCE FOR THE DE D A
VENGEANCE FOR THE DEA D
VENGEANCE FOR THE DEAD
maker must live through his life as abbassid, though he already has. he must see the fragments of all of the lost souls, who claim vengeance for their dead souls, attack him simultaneously. bees die when they sting. important. blair tells us that gypsum is the main ingredient in drywall, but fails to mention that bees die whenever they sting someone. important. keep this in mind.
now, maker has died as abbassid, and he has lived as maker. he has died, and lived, and now he must kill. his target is two iraqis in a tank in the gulf war. he murders these two, and is reincarnated as the x shape siamese twins. on the top is jacob maker and zoltan abbassid, and on the bottom are the two iraqis. he changes shape into a woman (two, actually): allellee and zillah lamech, and becomes a genetic corn researcher. the world of the dead promise that, for the next 1000 years, there will be peace on this earth.
I WANTED TO TAKE A PICTURE. BUT ALL I COULD DO... WAS DANCE
a good starting place in examining this film is trying to see it as a justification for a smaller problem. this is something that surely any class conscious person has encountered at their job. are we exploiting the worker? the consumer? are we imposing on oppressed class? in maker's case, his question is one of imperialism, warfare. we've lost more soldiers to suicide than to isis since their relevance. by far. magnitudes more. some may say, "the gulf war did not happen," and one wonders if any "wars" truly do happen anymore that the US is involved in. in maker's case, his involvement is direct. he knows it. we all do.
try to imagine a world without context (it's what the apolitical chuds want, right?). justifications for imperialism rely on a programmed darwinism that we retain, we believe, implicitly, from our more literal darwinist days. hunter gatherers, agrarianism. the neolithic era, etc. or maybe not.
to imply that imperialism is justified, is to imply some degree of social darwinism. but this is already at odds with the religious mythos of imperialism, so we have to invent something else. the meek shall inherit the earth. we must learn to be meek. we must be like abel. we must have vengeance for the dead - attacking against our stronger enemies in biblical tales.
well, that's all settled. but what of the x-shape? will we not, too, die 13 times over? then we must surely be cain; our x-shape marks are all over countless battlefields. and we have completed the loop: cain inherits the earth, because we must inherit the earth. this reminds me of the crosscutting in Birth of a Nation; seeing the tapestry unfold to promote darwinist christianity as a timetraveling cyberpunk extravaganza. cain is the meek one. he is protected by god. but what of his vengeance?
the language of cain, created at babel, is the language of the dead. cain has gone from being the first antagonist to the holy protagonist. isn't the cross an X shape too, in its own way? spin it around, change some edges, whaddya know.
the language of cain is something created by bodies of the dead; it is not for them, it is BY them. the vengeance for the dead is the world's conquest against conquest. the true meek, vs the biblical meek. history is written by the victors, but more importantly, history is written for the victors. the language of cain is co-opted by those impacted by cain, that is, the dead. the meek. some see the dead as an oppressive, domineering, ruthless force - but what could be more ruthless than the living? the meek inherit not the earth, but the mark of cain. cain's name. his x shape.
after all, don't the dead give us 1000 years to live in peace? it's more than the living do for the dead.
maker tells us at the beginning that a soul could fragment. wwi. gas warfare. how many souls? how many fragments? how many bees? wwii. the atom bomb. how many souls? how many fragments? how many bees? blair is a jewish man, and maker is his stand in - just doing his job, just following orders.
the questions that we ask today about morals and ethics are nothing new, at least, nothing that other people haven't thought of before. we are obsessed with scales. tankies and nazis argue about who killed more. digits go up and down. but there's a far more sinister shadow lurking, one that this movie examines: every conflict ever has been justified. was it neil degrasse tyson who said all wars were about misunderstandings? a jaden smith esque quote that turns out to be the most damning message in the most damning film ever made.
blair tackles reincarnation in similar ways. the dead are just in another state, either on the moon, in the center of the earth building their tower of babel to the living gods, or elsewhere in our 90s cgi universe. he tries to tackle not the entirety of the human experience, but of the human consciousness. religion, justification, faith. it's all here, we just need to unpack it more.
what of the bees? how about the television?
the bees are made up of the fragment of dead souls. that is their reincarnation. bees are all about death. they die from reproducing, and they die from stinging. their life is suffering - constant work. they work harder than any other animal or insect. they save the earth. they even give us luxury goods. they are the meek, and like the meek, they will never inherit this world. a friend pointed out that pentagons change to hexagons. US military changes to the meek bees at the drop of a hat; it's simply an unnoticeable perspective shift until they justify drone warfare against schoolchildren.
that same friend asked why the mesopotamian bees came out of the tower of babel. i don't have a good answer for that. is it because the language of cain is what gave them their voice? many christian historians and linguists proclaim the good-ness of the tower of babel splitting people into cultures and languages. it's all just another part of #godsplan.
another friend speaks of the bees being a menacing, omnipotent force. but i'm not sure i can agree. they constantly buzz, constantly reminding who is in charge. but the horror of maker's story is not due to its conventionality but its alarming surrealism. and what is more surreal than the meek inheriting the earth? the dead getting their vengeance? an "un-justified" conflict? no, the bees are here to be the meek, the dead, well, the bees. their life is suffering, and their death is constant. what could be more terrifying than having the tables flipped? who doesn't love a good revenge movie, excuse me, a good vengeance movie?
and what of the television?
well, you know what they say about revolutions.