Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

March 27 2015 10:54 AM

How White God Gives Its Canine Hero a True Character Arc

When it comes to movies, it’s pretty easy for the audience to fall in love with a canine star or sidekick. Dog actors are often so incredibly photogenic and great at pulling off the “sad puppy-dog eyes” that their mere presence draws us in to empathize with their “characters.” (And even when they’re on the scrappier side, it’s hard not to shed a tear if they should meet that most heart wrenching of fates for cinematic dogs: death.)

And so if you’re a dog lover—or just a lover of animals in general—upon watching the Hungarian film White God, you will be predisposed to care about Hagen, the mixed-breed dog (played by canine actors Luke and Body) who leads an uprising against careless humans. Hagen is gorgeous, with soft eyes and a shaggy face. But unlike many other films starring animals, director Kornél Mundruczó doesn’t merely rely upon Luke and Body’s movie star looks to tell his fascinating morality tale—he wants to give Hagen a true character arc, and without turning him into a talking dog. Complex camera angles and shots pull the viewer in to Hagen’s point of view and the camera is constantly in motion. The film dances happily between arthouse intimacy and action-hero grandeur, a sort of Dardenne brothers film meets Planet of the Apes.

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March 27 2015 9:22 AM

Why The Walking Dead Should Kill Off Its Most Beloved Character

This post contains spoilers.

There’s little doubt that Sunday’s season finale of The Walking Dead is going to be bloody. This season started out strong with three intense episodes, but has become bloated with half-baked story arcs that seem to have no resolution in sight. We spent half a season rooting for cheerful farm girl Beth, who proceeded to die in the most nonsensical way possible. And the guy she ostensibly died to save died nine episodes later. In the comics, Beth’s sister Maggie becomes suicidal following her death. But in the show, her emotional responses were all downplayed and condensed to make room for the reactions of another character—Daryl Dixon, the show’s ruggedly handsome, crossbow-toting, strong-but-silent type. So there’s one thing I’d argue needs to happen in the finale in order to rescue this season: The Walking Dead should kill off Daryl, its most beloved character.

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In a series that loves to remind viewers that no character is safe, Daryl seems unkillable. He’s got that effortless swagger, a no-nonsense attitude, and biceps that just won’t quit. The world of Walking Dead is crawling with deeply unlikable characters. (Looking at you, Fake-Scientist Eugene and Gabriel, Coward Extraordinaire.) Daryl is different—he inspires endless GIFs and posts to the tune of “14 reasons We Love Daryl Dixon.” And the source of his popularity—aside from those brooding good looks—is his unknowability: his blank stoicism in the face of disaster.

Daryl started out as one of the show’s most promising characters: a loner redneck stereotype who quickly turned into a fan favorite when he became hell-bent on finding meek-housewife-turned-badass Carol’s daughter, Sophia. Discovering Sophia was dead could have been a soul-baring moment, but it never happened. Sure, it made sense that the writers would want to maintain Daryl’s air of mystery for as long as possible. But this pattern of love, lose, repeat is basically the only storyline he gets every season—while the trauma has no recognizable impact on his closed-off demeanor. Even having to kill the zombified resurrection of his older brother, Merle, in Season 3 was not enough to crack Daryl open. Neither was finding out that Carol, one of his closest friends in the party, had been banished from the prison—an apparent death sentence. So at this point, Daryl’s mysteriousness has become a crutch that the writers use to justify his flatlining character development.

Daryl is always in action, and never gets to take the kind of reflective pauses that give other surviving core characters like Rick and Michonne such depth. We watched Rick go off the deep end after losing his wife, Lori. Since Season 1, we’ve seen Good Guy Rick, Ricktatorship Rick, Farmer Rick, and Crazy Hallucinating Rick, among others. But after all that’s happened, Daryl is still basically just a not-racist version of his former loner self—with longer hair. We’re only given crumbs to work with when imagining what could possibly lie within, like that poignant moment at Grady Memorial Hospital when the book he’d picked up about treating childhood abuse falls out of his bag in front of Carol, a domestic violence survivor herself. Because his inner workings are so hazy, Daryl’s distinguishing features are his abilities, not his personality. And at this point, being good at killing stuff isn’t enough to make you special on The Walking Dead—everyone except the baby and the useless priest can hold their own in combat.

The time Daryl spent with Beth in Season 4 was as close as we’ve gotten to really seeing what makes him tick. He vaguely (and angrily) alluded to a sad backstory while they were drinking, and then let off steam by torturing a walker. Yes, we found out that somewhere deep inside, he’s scared and vulnerable and harbors demons. But then Beth disappeared, he raced to find and rescue her, and she ended up dead. (Because everyone Daryl loves dies.) And now, with Beth gone, he’s quickly returned to his favorite pastimes: Fighting, sulking and briefly branching off from the party for brief, treacherous adventures. This character who initially seemed like an emotional time bomb, an intriguing blank slate to be filled, has proven completely unbreakable in every possible way—and that’s boring, especially in a show that predominantly develops through characters’ evolving vulnerabilities.

I know it’s unlikely that Daryl will die. There’s a whole group of viewers who say, “If Daryl dies, we riot.” This has been a popular battle cry for years, complete with T-shirts and petitions. (Petitions aren’t exactly rare for this fandom, to be fair—here’s one to build a statue of Rick on horseback in Atlanta.) I’m still holding out hope that the writers really do have a slow-burning plan to develop Daryl. It’s been pretty heavily implied for several seasons, from the time he first became so focused on finding Sophia to the time he grabbed that book, that Daryl was abused as a child. But for five seasons, the writers have proven they're unwilling to let their brooding hero open up about it, and when viewed from the outside only, it’s hard to engage with that inner turmoil. All we’re left with is his far less interesting invincible exterior. Daryl doesn’t just weigh the narrative down—he also disrupts multiple characters’ story arcs. As long as he’s on the show, the writers will be forced to adjust the narrative in the comic books, since Daryl was never in the comics to begin with. (And by “adjust,” I mean shortchange other characters and kill them off prematurely.) So for the sake of the future of Walking Dead, it’s time to get rid of Daryl for good.

March 27 2015 8:46 AM

Jazz Pianist Robert Glasper on His Role in Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly    

Robert Glasper may not be a big name in pop music, but the chances that you’ve heard him are growing by the day. Although he’s primarily a jazz pianist, he’s recorded with a wide range of rappers and R&B artists, including Common, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Norah Jones, and Snoop Dogg. And this month he appeared on one of the year’s biggest hip-hop albums, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.

Even though the genres are deeply interrelated, there aren’t many examples of jazz musicians playing live on hip-hop recordings. (A few major exceptions: Ron Carter’s bass on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Verses From the Abstract,” Maceo Parker on De La Soul’s “I Be Blowin’,” and trumpeter Olu Dara playing with his son Nas on “Life’s a Bitch.”) But Glasper’s contributions to Butterfly aren’t just prescribed background lines. We spoke with the pianist by phone about what it was like to work with Lamar and what he brought to the album.

March 27 2015 8:16 AM

Every Will Ferrell Movie, Ranked From Worst to Best

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Will Ferrell will turn 48 years old this summer. That’s how old Marlon Brando was when he was in The Godfather. Ferrell’s post-SNL movie career—and he has been gone from the show for 13 years—has been among the most successful in the show’s history; he has now been headlining big-budget studio comedies for more than a decade. This means there’s a trove of Ferrell movies to dig through and rank. Twenty-seven, to be exact. Now, to properly rank Ferrell movies, we had to put down some ground rules: No movies in which Ferrell is only a voice actor—this excludes Megamind, but not The Lego Movie; no movies that went direct to video—sorry, 1997’s Men Seeking Women, in which Ferrell was a supporting actor to Grant Shaud. And no glorified cameos—sorry, Wedding Crashers, Starsky & Hutch, and, yikes, Boat Trip. This list isn’t solely a ranking of the best films to feature Ferrell, though there’s an aspect of that; it’s more a ranking of the films by their maximizing of Ferrell’s essence. Which movie best captures the Will Ferrell Experience? As always, this list is purely scientific and unassailable.

March 26 2015 8:05 PM

Barack Obama, Wire Fan in Chief, Finally Got to Interview David Simon

There are two levels on which to appreciate this interview. The first is that Barack Obama and David Simon have a lot of interesting things to say about the war on drugs, over-policing, and the state of criminal justice in America.

The second level on which to appreciate it is that Barack Obama is a huge Wire fan—here he calls it “one of the greatest … pieces of art in the last couple of decades”—and it’s pretty fun to watch him get excited about meeting its creator, talking with him about his favorite character (Omar, obviously), and more. I recommend enjoying it on both levels above.

March 26 2015 6:34 PM

Why It’s Time for Downton Abbey to End

Today’s news that Season 6 of Downton Abbey will be the last was hardly shocking. The show has long been a shadow of its early self. Creator Julian Fellowes exhausted all his original ideas a long time ago—by Season 2, Seth Stevenson, Dan Kois, and I were already complaining about plot lines we’d seen before. But there was comfort in all that repetition, and I’ll be sad to wave goodbye.

March 26 2015 3:24 PM

The First Trailer for Dope Will Put You in the Perfect Mood for This Sundance Hit

One of the breakout hits at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was the new coming-of-age film Dope. The latest from director Rick Famuyiwa (The Wood), Dope tells the story of a bright Inglewood, California teenager named Malcolm (Shameik Moore) who has aspirations of going to Harvard. While the indie has its lighthearted moments, it also carries with it some deeper and more timely ideas about identity politics and police brutality.

But from the first official trailer, you wouldn’t guess that the memories of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown loom large over the movie. 

March 26 2015 3:01 PM

The One Truly Good Joke in Get Hard Underlines What’s Wrong With All the Awful Ones

The reports are true: Get Hard is homophobic and racist—the entire premise is based on a fear of prison rape and an assumption that all black males have been to prison—and definitely not funny. Stars Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, as well as director and co-writer Etan Cohen (who wrote Tropic Thunder and makes his directorial debut here) have seemed genuinely taken aback by this near-universal critical reaction in the days since the film premiered at South by Southwest. “Any time you’re going to do an R-rated comedy, you’re going to offend someone,” Ferrell has said. “But that’s kind of what we do. We provoke. We prod. We also show a mirror to what’s already existing out there.”

Which is fine, except Get Hard fails to do that last bit. Instead of reflecting societal attitudes and sharply commenting on them, it just perpetuates them. But there is one joke that manages to be truly subversive in the way that the entire film was apparently intended to be, and it’s all thanks to Boyz n the Hood.

In one scene, Darnell brings James over to have dinner with his wife and daughter, Rita and Mikayala. Rita isn’t happy that Darnell is pretending to have gone to prison and goads him into telling James the story of how he got “locked up.” Darnell, in a bind, begins to tell his story, which is … exactly the plot of James Singleton’s breakthrough 1991 hit (with a slight twist on the ending of the story—Darnell takes the rap for Doughboy, after he goes after Ricky’s murderer). James, being exactly the kind of doofy, un-self-aware white guy that Ferrell has spent years mastering, is fully wrapped up in the story and doesn’t doubt it for a minute. “Sounds just like a movie,” James says, clearly impressed.

March 26 2015 12:41 PM

A White Cop and an Unarmed Black Man Brawl in Run the Jewels’ New Music Video    

In a new music video from Run the Jewels (separately known as Killer Mike and El-P), a white cop and a young black man fight on a hauntingly empty street. But there are no guns or weapons involved—no one is killed. Instead, the two brawl until they are exhausted. Throughout the video, directed by A.G. Rojas, they’re panting and visibly reluctant to fight, and yet they continue to wrestle one another.

The song, “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” might seem like an odd choice to pair with the video.Other songs from the duo, like “Early” off the same album, which focuses explicitly on police brutality, actually seem more directly relevant to the video’s subject. But the song’s hook, provided by Zach De La Rocha of Rage Against the Machine, gives the it a frantic energy that juxtaposes perfectly with the sight of the two men lethargically fighting for what seems like an eternity.

March 26 2015 10:02 AM

The Detail-Obsessed Designers Who Recreate the ’80s for The Americans   

Each week on Slate’s TV Club Insider podcast, the creators, cast, and crew of The Americans reveal behind-the-scenes details about the making of the FX drama’s third season. 

In this installment about the ninth episode, “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?,” costume designer Jenny Gering and production designer Diane Lederman join script coordinator Molly Nussbaum and executive producers Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg to discuss every detail that goes into bringing the 1980s back to life.

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