Friday, 5 September 2014

Is The Fifth Element Love? I Think It's Love

With Lucy in the cinemas spreading 10% of brain propaganda in order to indoctrinate the masses such that they eventually rise up against the rest of of us who use all of our brain since that's how brains work, it's as good a time as any to revisit Luck Besson's late 1990s scifi action classic, The Fifth Element.

You remember. The one with the multi pass. 

The Fifth Element is possibly Besson's most enduring film along with Leon: The Professional, the movie that made us all incredibly uncomfortable with how precocious Natalie Portman was at age 11. For people who don't recall just how uncomfortable, let's just say that 'Happy Birthday Mr. President' will forever be associated with pedophilia now.

Which tends to happen when you dress  an 11 year old girl as Marilyn Monroe and have her sing 'Happy Birthday Mr. President' in the most seductive sultry manner she can muster as an 11 year girl trying to be sexy despite being 11 years old. All of which is part of her flirtatious proposition to a middle aged man who also happens to be a professional killer and French.

Yep. Nothing inappropriate about this.

However, The Fifth Element is remarkable for its complete lack of pre-teen girls trying to seduce older man skilled in the art of murder. Rather, the film is a scifi comedy action film and starts in Egypt, because of course it does since pyramids and aliens go together like Sphinxes and riddles. Or pyramids and Sphinxes. Or aliens and riddles. Or Sphinxes and aliens. Obviously, these are all things that go together.

There is some typical prophecy stuff about planets aligning and eclipses forming, unstoppable evil returning after eons but on a deadline, an ultimate weapon that needs to be found and protected to stop the unstoppable evil, yada yada.

But what makes The Fifth Element unique among the many scifi/fantasy movies that follow this prophecy narrative is the fact that it is absurdly camp yet serious at the same time. Rather than try to hide the hokiness that can occasionally be an undeniable part of scifi movies, The Fifth Element revels in it and displays it without irony.

However, it isn't a parody. It's not making fun of the campier elements (sorry) of science fiction, it embodies them but at the same time taking itself seriously enough that it plays more like a homage than a spoof.

No man with hair like that could be anything less than sincere.

And the film does look and feel like every trope of 1970s scifi adventure was thrown into a blender and this is the gloriously colourful space smoothie it produced.

And what a ridiculous smoothie it is. One where the aliens look like rejects from a classic Doctor Who/Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy crossover, and having just written that sentence it sounds like the greatest thing ever and kinda already happened since Douglas Adams wrote for Who back in the late 1970s, which surprisingly enough is the very period of scifi that the film invokes. See how I tied it all back?

Here are those Hitchhiking Who aliens I mentioned earlier.
Just tying it back the way I do.

But it's more than just the film's visual aesthetic, the film is a stupid science fiction adventure and unabashedly so. Which is great since it knows what it is and does what it wants to do without trying to be self-serious or going full camp, resulting in film with a lot of charm that is far more than the sum of its parts. Because really the plot doesn't hold up to any scrutiny since, like Unreality Magazine points out, "It’s the future, and there’s a giant Prime Evil ball of fire that’s going to destroy everyone, except for these elemental stones and a guardian or something, and then it turns out that the key to defeating evil is love". All you need is love. If you need to defeat a goodness gracious great ball of fire that is the embodiment of evil to save the universe, that is.

And the hokey campness should really work against the film but instead it endears it as it adds an affectionate light tone to the film, not to mention a good dose of humour that nearly turns it into a scifi comedy. For example, every moment Gary Oldman is onscreen chewing the scenery with his outrageous Southern accent doing his best villainy villain is a moment to treasure. Additionally, scenes crop up that have little or nothing to with the plot but serve to provide some of the movie's most memorable moments.

Like when a completely incompetent would-be robber ambushes our protagonist Korben Dallas outside his apartment, telling Korben to give him the casssh but ends up having Korben disable his gun and pulling a gun on him. And then he kinda dances awkwardly for no reason after Korben compliments him on his hat, which to be fair, is a very nice hat.

Here is the scene in all its awkward hilarity.


The film is full of scenes like this that in most other movies would be considered dead time since they do nothing to further the plot or move things forward but since the plot is such a minor concern in this film it just adds to the fun vibe and campy hokiness.

But all of this revolves around the two protagonists, the aforementioned Dallas and the Fifth Element and Supreme Being herself, Leelo. Now, there is a weird touch of ogling and objectifying male gazing that goes on relating to Leelo. Men are constantly look at her in various stages of undress and commenting how 'perfect' she is. But this is more than just her being the Supreme Being but due to the fact she's a woman and played by Milla Jovovich.

Perfect.

And here's where the film does verge into some stereotypical depictions of the powerful woman who nevertheless is kinda helpless and needs a male lead to save her, but where this is okay is because of the rational behind it. Leelo is born/cloned/created in the beginning of the film after having been asleep for the past 5000 years, so I imagine she has such a crick in the neck. Therefore she has no knowledge of human history, language, or anything of the past 5000 years and therefore has to learn as she goes along.

Luckily Leelo's a fast learner but really this excuse still wouldn't really fly if it wasn't for two things: the film's hokey serious tone and Jovovich's playful yet empathetic performance which totally hits home the child-like curiosity of her character while also conveying her compassion and strength. So when Leelo takes out a whole room of alien goons and then follows that up by being completely passive after discovering what the word 'War' means (complete with a History Channel WWII Special) in the final third of the film, it makes sense for her character, at least more so than if she had been completely badass or kittenish the whole movie.

Obviously she would kick all different kinds of ass, she's the Supreme Being. When she tells Dallas she will keep him safe, not the other way around, you believe her, even if in the end Dallas saves her because of course she would keep him safe, she's the Ultimate Weapon.

Bring it on.

But at the same time she has a childish naivety about her with a laid-back "It's okay, I'm the Supreme Being, I got this" attitude to saving the universe once she settles in to life in the 23rd century,  an attitude that is only shattered when her compassion and empathy overwhelms her in the face of all the death and destruction humans inflict on each other such that she wonders if life is worth saving.

And that is why we have Korben Dallas, you know, the other protagonist I mentioned earlier? Tying it back yet again. Korben Dallas is the archetypal gruff anti-hero and as such is perfectly cast with Bruce Willis in his 1990s reluctant action hero peak. He's named Dallas because Dallas, Texas has cowboys. And cowboys since he's made from the same mold as those other space cowboys James Tiberius Kirk and Han Solo, mixed with the rugged every man appeal of John McClane in orange skintight tank tops and peroxide hair, which suggests ruggedness has evolved a bit in the future.

Pictured: Ruggedness in the 23rd Century.

Like Leelo, Korben is a fish out of water, a divorced retired major working as a cab driver who really doesn't want to get involved in intergalactic shenanigans but circumstances and coincidence keep forcing to have to save the universe, and if he has to, he'll do it reluctantly like a snarky anti-hero should. There are so many action hero cliches there is reads more like a list than describing a single character.

But that's what makes Korben Dallas a great protagonist for the ridiculous excess of a movie like The Fifth Element, he is all these cliches but he makes them work despite and because of them.

"You know I make this work."

And the thing is, in a movie with so much camp in the air, it could have been really easy for the relationship between Korben and Leelo to come across as fake or empty. But Willis and Jovovich embody their characters so well, and bounce off of each other so charmingly, that their two day relationship feels quite heartfelt with just the right amount of sap.

You actually believe that this lonely ex-military divorcee would fall for this woman with child-like innocence who literally fell out of the sky into his life. Similarly, right from the get-go, you can see that Leelo immediately bonds with Korben as the first person she meets that isn't trying to capture or use her but to help her despite it meaning he has to risk himself for her.

And just look how cute they are together!

So yes, this epic ridiculous camp excessive scifi action comedy homage ends with the Ultimate Weapon learning what love is because she had a former major now cabbie divorcee to show her, which results in her shooting out Divine Light to destroy the Prime Evil great ball of fire.

Because love conquers all. Especially evil balls of fire.


References:

The Fifth Element Wikipedia page

10 percent of brain myth

A Love Letter To The Fifth Element

'The Fifth Element': Masterpiece or Mess?

The 7 Most Irritating Characters From Otherwise Great Movies

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