Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction, Introducing a Sub-genre

Every now and then I discover a specific sub-genre of film in which so many of my favourite films fit. Sadly these sub-genres don’t actually exist so it is up to me to name and define them. I’ll start with a sub-genre I’ve mumbled about in the past; Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction or HeKniSciFi for short.

What are you talking about?
Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction covers all of those films in which there is a strong science fiction element at the crux of the plot and the film’s main focus is on the emotions of the characters rather than the fictional science itself.

Science Fiction tends to be quite futuristic, have a cast of characters in form-fitting clothing, and the futuristic technology is sleek and shiny. In a HeKniSciFi film the characters do tend to be wearing a lot of knitwear (just look at the image above) and the technology is often much more rustic. It is the difference between a man in Lycra on a spaceship travelling through time and a man in a sweater on a farm travelling through time and being emotional about it.

Sci-Fi has science fiction driving the plot throughout whereas HeKniSciFi takes the science fiction as a catalyst and then concerns itself with focussing on how miserable everyone is (in the best possible way.) Budgets are lower; you can expect a lot more wood and natural fibres in the furnishings in a HeKniSciFi and infinitely fewer explosions.

What’s wrong with Science Fiction?
Absolutely nothing! Did I say there was anything wrong with Science Fiction? You are being very defensive.

My only issue is that I think the term Sci-Fi automatically conjures up an image of humanoid aliens and galaxies far, far away and doesn’t accurately represent the full spectrum of the genre. Later I will list films that fall within HeKniSciFi and I hope that you will agree that while they contain fictional science they are a far cry from Sci-Fi.

Give me an example
A good comparative example comprises of Michael Bay’s 2005 action adventure film The Island and Mark Romanek’s 2011 indie drama Never Let Me Go. A look at a still from each film should give a good idea of what I am writing about:

The top image shows the leads in The Island, the bodysuits just scream Sci-Fi while the second image of three young adults with wavy hair could be taken from any indie drama of recent years. And yet they have the same plot. Both feature individuals in a secluded society who discover that they are clones who will eventually have their organs harvested when someone in the outside world needs them.

In The Island the clones live in an underground compound, wear tight white bodysuits, and upon discovering the truth go an adventure to find their real selves while being chased by a mercenary. As this is Michael Bay you can rest assured that explosions and fast bikes are included.

In Never Let Me Go the clones are brought up in an English boarding school, wear heavy knitwear, and upon discovering the truth do very little about it. While they do have a day trip to find one of their real selves the focus of the film is on the central love triangle. There are no explosions beyond Andrew Garfield shouting on a beach.

The Island is a glossy product, one in which Bay tries to keep you entertained and does not worry too much about the emotion side of the story. In Never Let Me Go everything is that little bit more textured and the characters are brought much more to the surface. The Island is shiny metal and Never Let Me Go is scuffed wood. The Island is Sci-Fi and Never Let Me Go is HeKniSciFi.

What other films fit the genre?
Other films in this genre include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (a man wipes his memory of a past love and in doing so relives their relationship), Another Earth (a young woman falls in love with a man whose family she accidentally killed while a second Earth appears in the sky), Womb/Clone (a woman gives birth to a clone of her dead boyfriend and experiences confusing emotions), and Cold Souls (an actor literally swaps his soul to better act in a Chekhov play). In each of these films there is a fictional technology at the film’s core but our focus is on the emotions of the lead character. They all feature heavy knitwear too but that is not an essential requirement.

The next time you see a low-budget film with a high concept and a chunky jumper just think about it. Are you watching Sci-Fi or HeKniSciFi? Does Looper fit the bill or Safety Not Guaranteed? Discuss.

Reassessing Kirsten Dunst

I can’t help but feel that before her acclaim for Melancholia, Kirsten Dunst was given short shrift. While she may be an acclaimed actress now, it seemed like a long and successful career has become overshadowed by weak romantic comedies (Elizabethtown, Wimbledon and How to Lose Friends and Alienate People) and her unimpressive role in the Spider-Man films, these being the films that gave her the widest exposure. Below I pick out nine films from the length of her career, showing that Dunst has been doing good and varied work long before Melancholia came along.

It’s time to reassess Kirsten Dunst.

Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles
At just 12, Kirsten had to play the very complex role of Claudia, a young girl who is turned into a vampire. Struggling to grow up in an unchanging body Dunst gave a very mature performance and was absolutely terrifying at times. One moment that will always stay with me is the sight of a young girl slitting Tom Cruise’s throat and him bleeding out on the floor. Shame the sequel Queen of the Damned did not live up to this vampire classic.

Oh, how I loved this film. It combined “cutting edge” CGI, Robin Williams (a man who couldn’t put a foot wrong when I was young) and animals running amok; all of which make for a child friendly film. Kirsten took the role of the sister in a pair of siblings who play an old board game in their new house, only to unleash the jungle on suburbia. “There is a lesson you will learn: sometimes you must go back a turn.”

Small Soldiers
Another childhood favourite, another case of toys getting out of control and another film which is just as good today. When toy soldiers get military chips implanted in their circuits, they take their role as soldiers very seriously and humans aren’t on their side. Dunst was mostly the love interest here, but for a 10-year-old me that was more than enough, and she got to dabble in some violence too.

The Virgin Suicides
In Sofia Coppola’s debut Dunst stars as one of a group of beautiful and elusive sisters, all of whom defy understanding and are heading towards the inevitable tragedy. Possibly Kirsten’s first opportunity since Interview with the Vampire to do some “proper” acting, this being a film focussing more on mood and character than the high concept plots of Jumaji and Soldiers. Alarming to think that at the age of 17, Dunst had five films out this year.

Drop Dead Gorgeous
Another of those five films in 1999 is one of my all-time favourite comedies, a mockumentary following contestants in a beauty pageant. An extremely dark comedy, one involving murder and anorexia, Dunst gets an opportunity to showcase her comedy chops. The film is also notable for featuring the great Allison Janney along with early appearances from Amy Adams and Brittany Murphy.

Bring It On
No child of the nineties doesn’t secretly love this cheerleader comedy, one of the classics of the teen comedy genre of the late-nineties/early-noughties. The plot is simple, the new cheerleading captain (Dunst) has to lead her team to victory at the national championships, but the execution is a joy to behold. Say it with me, “Brr! It’s Cold In Here!” Another film where the sequels (not involving Kirsten) pale in comparison.

Get Over It
I fully accept than no-one else seems to have seen this film, let alone enjoyed it. I saw it by chance on a plane and since bought the DVD to prove to myself that it exists. This high school comedy is essentially a re-imagining of Twelfth Night, with the students in the film also rehearsing a musical adaptation of the same play. I urge you to see out this forgotten gem, you won’t be disappointed, because I imagine your expectations are pretty low. The film starts and ends with a musical number, I’ll leave it at that.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Confusing, thought-provoking and flawless, this is a film I can return to an infinite number of times. Dunst plays the receptionist (and then some) of a doctor who offers a service in which patient can remove all memories of a loved one from their mind. While the main story is about Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet’s characters, Kirsten has a sad little arc impacting on the main plot. “Blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders.”

Marie Antoinette
When Sofia Coppola reunited with Kirsten Dunst to make this lush period piece the reception was one which the real Marie would not have been unfamiliar with. In the film’s defence I would say that it subtly conveys the story of a young woman who is forced to leave her own country to marry a man who shows no affection. The film is gorgeous, Dunst is great in the role and there’s plenty of humour and tragedy to be found if you give it a chance.

UPDATE: As you can see in the comments below, this post does not reflect the views of the entire Mild Concern team.

The Mother of All Film Lists

In honour of Mothers Day I asked the woman to blame for who I am today for her top five films. Naturally she came back with ten films, which I can’t bring myself to cut down to five. The list below shows where my good taste in film, and random hatred of actors, came from.

If you’re looking to buy a film for your mum, maybe look beyond the special Mother’s day stand, she deserves better than Tamara Drewe or Life as We Know It.

Very moving film – 1st mainstream film (as far as I know) to deal with AIDS, homophobia and discrimination.

Mamma Mia!
Exact opposite – pure feel-good cheese!

The Jungle Book
Best cartoon film from childhood – great songs and good story

E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial
Funny and moving – lesson in having to let someone go that you love

Gregory’s Girl
Charming teen movie – gently funny – showing that you often look in the wrong place for love

Four Weddings & A Funeral
Despite Andie MacDowell – subtle British comedy with one of the most moving funeral scenes

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
Despite Jim Carrey (actually good in this) – surreal, thought provoking and romantic

Shirley Valentine
Escapism for middle-aged women (although I wasn’t middle-aged at the time!) – realistic representation of home-life of many women at the time, and had happy ending without relying on the romance.

The Sixth Sense
Well-acted, and one of the best surprise endings

Cool Runnings
Light-relief, but still inspiring – I liked it particularly because I remember the actual race and the amazement that Jamaica had put out a team