Wax, or The Discovery of Television Among the Bees

Wax, or The Discovery of Television Among the Bees ★★★★★

rewatch kinda confirmed some thoughts i've been mulling over, but my latest interpretation (at least, one of many ways i view the picture) of Wax seems to be that it aims to show the evolution of imperialism and the systemic nature of that process. this gets a bit tricky as things don't 100% line up for this interpretation but i believe it was at least partially what maker was going for - any sensible antiwar message is going to be inherently anti-imperialist and vice-versa, and Wax is extremely cognizant about the horrors of war.

first, some notes about the timeline. there are arguably five historical periods that are directly referenced in the text with connection to jacob maker. two of them are biblical (around the time when cain killed abel, and sometime around the construction of the tower of babel), although neither of these are concretely filmed or "traveled to" really. the other three are 1914, 1945, and 1991. the events that codify all three of these eras are directly linked to warfare. for 1914, soul-fragmenting as a result of WWI. for 1945, the creation of the atomic bomb, with which maker heavily identifies with in the middle section. and for 1991, sentient weapons technology, and the gulf war. maker's framing of these periods, though abstracted by his conspiracy theory mullings, are ones clearly defined by their place in the US warfare. from the development of war protocols after WWI to the most powerful weapon ever made to the use of sentience in weapons.

in many ways, this gives a sort of creation mythos of america. i was thinking while watching it this time that there are a number of elements of this which have fascist undertones in terms of maker's justifications and conclusions. the film trying to mesh a creation mythos together and jacob ultimately justifying his job by the end (being a weapons programmer in the gulf war era) in some ways reminds me of accounts of SS-era nazis i've read in the past. of course, the most obvious seller here is when he explicitly says "i'm just doing my job" w.r.t his guilty conscience but there is visual and contextual subtext here in addition to the foreground stuff.

i think even the way the film's visuals are set up - frequently using a number of forms of media, but also text, people, archival footage, common symbols (the x-shape, the picture of zolton, the escort, etc.) barrage at the viewer like a powerpoint - sort of add to this theory. i spoke about this in my longer analysis (I AM THE X SHAPE SIAMESE TWINS) wherein i sort of discuss how this film utilizes propaganda elements (notably changing the hexagon of a bee into a pentagon, a US war symbol), though it really struck me here how much blair ties in overtly fascist tendencies with what would more colloquially be seen as a thoroughly 'american' picture.

but not only in the presentation of the plot and images, the very storyline itself (if we're to believe jacob is telling the truth) has been set up in a "history is written by/FOR the winners" style that, well, most history we learn has been. for example, zolton shares his mesopotamian bees with james, yet james eventually goes on to kill him to become the sole owner of them. jacob believes that he identifies with zolton so hard that he BECOMES zolton, even though he realistically has nothing in common with him. jacob at the start of the film is at a crossroads of sorts - he's worked his whole life, has a good job, a healthy marriage, probably good money, hobbies, etc. and it dawns on him how his actions at his job directly impact people in horrible ways. does he go on and pretend it's not true? or quit and start something new? no; he doubles down so hard that he travels through time and sees the eye of god through the bee television.

anyways, jacob becomes zolton, and sees his grandfather kill him. james maker always wore his suit. it's also heavily implied that he gets away with this murder, as he moves back to kansas and it's never mentioned that he was in jail or anything. but he brings his bees along. the mesopotamian bees, which are what wake jacob up in the film. they're his conscience. they want him to stop his job, stop the killing, or at least, learn what it's like to be a part of that.

so it's kind of an interesting thing that jacob turns into zolton, instead of his grandfather. it makes me think it wasn't jacob's choice, but rather, it was forced on him by the bees. they wanted him to see the actions of his imperialist family, dying a slow painful death as bees stung him to death. vengeance for the dead. the same bees that killed zolton are the ones who will go on to avenge his death - wonder what's going on there.

jacob's real-life day-to-day, of course, involves a similar level of imperialism. i mean, he has the same bees that his murderer grandfather stole, and his weapons he programs are killing people from around the same area. murder has changed a bit; instead of just being able to be a citizen and get away with it, now you have to be in a jet, have a bomb, or better yet, sugar-coat what you're doing. you're helping democracy flourish, helping oust dangerous regimes. the people you kill are your brothers now. cain and abel, repeat ad infinitum.

some other various thoughts:

-"god would protect me from my victims" holy shit this and all the religious iconography has some insane fascist undertones that i somehow didn't latch onto much earlier

-in addition to fash stuff, there's a lot of space race iconography as well as new age era objects. blair has a great sense for imagery in this regard, building an entire timeline of american culture through war and science fiction.

-at one point jacob says "weapons die every day" which made me think of those headlines where it's like "teen dies from police officer's discharged gun" or something; "weapons die" when they hit buildings or people, but saying it in the way that he does makes it sound much less violent. a lot of nazis (including himmler most infamously) were very concerned with the way violence would impact the ability of the SS to function, so even these sadistic individuals were big on coding language and instructions like this to sort of lighten things up in their way.

-honestly though this movie rarely strikes me as deeply emotional (it's kind of that kubrick-cold in many ways), the like parts just before and after jacob goes insane in the first like 30 minutes are deeply depressing. "inside the targets, i could feel that there were souls," he professes.

-the more i see it, the more i kinda get familiarized and adjusted to its structure. it has a very clear beginning (backstory from 1914-15, his finding the bee TV), middle (traveling to the desert), and end (the garden of eden cave, 'beyond the infinity' stuff). a film which initially presented itself as totally alien has become surprisingly digestible as a narrative - i wonder if all "confusing" films eventually do this? i don't usually watch things this out of left field enough times to find out.

i'll probably rewatch this once blair finishes the Telepathic Motion Picture, but until then yeah easy 10/10

erik liked these reviews