This genre mash-up left me speechless. Unexpectedly brutal, but also confusing and triumphant, is The Big Short.
Christian Bale plays an over-confident Michael Burry, the sheriff of a small western town in the late 1800’s. As the movie progresses we learn he is an avid fan of Metallica and YouTube “Reunion Videos”. You know, the kind where people are reunited with loved ones or loved things or loved animals. The majority of Bale’s on-screen appearances include one or both of these elements which lends one of the many bizarre facets to this quirky film.
Morgan-Stanley employee, Mark Baum, is played by an overly-intense Steve Carrell, who has recently ambushed a trio of travellers along with his partner, “Buddy” played by David Arquette; the both of them slitting the throats of their victims and rifling through their knapsacks. Hearing a flurry of horses in the distance, they leave their spoils and head for the nearest hills in lieu of getting caught and possibly hanged. This fleeing sets us on the fateful course The Big Short is built on.
The duo flees unexpectedly into a sacred burial ground, where they disrupt the stones and are immediately attacked by a group of Jabberwockies who we mostly see in shadow, their arrows doing the majority of the work. Buddy is killed and Mark Baum, played by Carrell, escapes unscathed and finds his way to the nearest small town.
“I hear the drums echoing tonight, she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation…“ Ryan Gosling, the small town’s Saloon musician is playing to an almost empty room. A drunk sits in one corner; face down on a small table. A stereotypical saloon bartender stands behind the mahogany wiping a glass repeatedly with a white rag. An overly well-dressed man sips brown liquid from a short glass. Later we will find out he is Matthew Fox who plays his same character Jack from Lost, just dressed in the styles of a fop, or a dandy, his manner formal with a feminine air. We watch as he loosens, his toe taps, his shoulders drop and begin a small sway, his head begins a gentle, rhythmic nod as Ryan Gosling hits the chorus, “It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you, there’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do...” The corner drunk has shot up and joins Ryan, creating the signature harmony the song is known and loved for, “I bless the rains down in Africa, gonna take some time to do the things we never had…” The drunk’s head drops immediately following the chorus, eventually shooting up again each time Ryan reaches it.
After the song finishes, a slow clap from the saloon doors begins. It’s Bale’s Burry, the sheriff, who then enters at a less than relaxed pace. “Nice job, Ryan Gosling. That there’s one of my favorite tunes after Metallica’s entire catalog, of course.”
“Thanks, sheriff,” he responds.
Bale-Burry turns serious; “There’s a drifter in town. Says he disrupted a burial ground. Says there’s a tribe of Jabberwockies out some miles yonder. Says they’re coming for him, and now that he’s here, this town. We need to rustle up some men to go get them before they get us. Who’s with me?”
Nobody really answers. There’s a palpable uncomfortable silence while everyone sits inside their cowardice. Bale-Burry says he ain’t leavin until he gets some volunteers, then sits down and pulls out his iPad, his fingers scrape all over the screen until there’s a video of a soldier coming up a walkway, a woman releases a German Shepard who affectionately attacks the man and they roll around in a joyous cuddle of man and beast. Bale-Burry’s eyes water. His fingers slide again. It’s a dark street, late night or early morning, a couple comes out of a van, carrying two twin babies. The words across the screen explain they’ve just completed a 17-hour flight from New Zealand to surprise the twins’ grandmother who has yet to meet them. The couple and the babies walk to the porch and ring the doorbell. The grandmother opens the door and immediately starts scream-crying. Bale-Burry is crying now as the grandmother reaches for and takes both twin girls, hugging them to her chest as if they were life giving. The bar patrons gather around. A lion is reunited with two men who raised him as a cub, nuzzling and tackling them like a huge playful cat. Finger scrape again. A small child is woken up by his father, who—as we can assume from his military dress—has just returned from a lengthy tour in Iraq, the child yells, “Daddy!?” and it’s both a declaration and a question and then devolves into sobs and hugs. A mother sitting at a kitchen table being asked inane questions on video from who we presume—from the nature of their banter—to be a daughter, until a hearty knock comes from the side door and a large shadow appears behind the frosted glass, the mom reacts both annoyed and quizzical at this intrusion to a door other than the front one but with the daughter’s prodding to ‘go answer it’ does so, only to find her son who had been overseas for six years standing there with a small bouquet of daisies, she too scream-cries, much like the grandmother from earlier and she embraces him with a force that came close to knocking him down. Fingers slide again. And again.
The group watches the videos and they are sobbing. Outward. Unflinching. Arms around one another. Bale-Burry selects video after video. As people enter the saloon they walk over to investigate the spectacle and they become entranced too. The group becomes a crowd, growing like an arc of ripples around Bale-Burry. Shirt-fronts and sleeves are soaked in salty-tears. It’s when there is no more room left in the saloon, when all able bodies have over-crowded the small range of the iPad’s screen, that Bale-Burry turns off the device, which was at 3% battery power anyway, and re-explains the situation, finishing with a new element that turns everyone’s decision to a positive one, “And when you return from slaying those varmints, you will have a reunion come upon you, much like those you’ve just seen
Carell’s Michael Burry leads the horsebacked bunch to the lair of the Jabberwockies. The cave entrance is at the top of a very steep cliffside. They tie up the horses and head up, hoping for the element of surprise.
The cave entrance is littered with skulls and skeletons of various make; human, animal and other. In the center of the room, next to an untended and failing campfire, is the corpse of “Buddy”. It’s split down the center, from asshole to neck, the frame of it now a V, entrails a red, slimy web between. A half-charred forearm that looks as if it’s been partially eaten lies next to the fire. The group shivers at the sight, but continues into the cave.
As they move further inward the visibility reduces to darkness but they light not one torch for fear of being discovered. Bale-Burry is playing Enter Sandman in his head which is his fight-fuel for leading them into what could very possibly be their collective demise. A light grows ahead. They creep.
As they get closer, and the light’s color morphs from straight white to one with a blue tinge, the sound of click-clacking is heard. Bale-Burry turns and silently motions to the group to be quite and get ready. Knives and guns are silently drawn as they reach the entrance to the chamber.
The Jabberwockies are heavily muscled and painted white over dark skin. Bones and feathers weaved into their plaited hair, animal skins covering their groins and nothing else. Their size is that of a regular man, doubled.
There are 12 of them that they can see. Their group is only seven, however they have an obvious advantage; the savages are each consumed with the computer screens in front of them. All of them tap, tap, tapping on the keys, their fearsome faces reflecting the ghost-lights from the screens. A stock-ticker’s scroll rides across the rim of the room, racing its letters and numbers across the cave edges. Small murmurs are heard but nothing more. No actual words. Just the click, clack of keys.
I will spoil no further. I will only say that this movie becomes a reunion video like nothing you’d ever seen before; no lions, no dogs, no children, no fathers, no mothers, no wives, no daughters, no babies reuniting will every match the reuniting that happens after the engagement with the Jabberwockies.
I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened by this thing that I’ve become.