John Carpenter movie! I finally saw Christine, and it’s great! Not quite as good as the Thing, but actually, definitively great, so I can get behind it 100%, which is not so much the case for any of the other John Carpenter movie’s I’ve seen. Part of it is the acting by the lead; the Arnie Cunningham transformation from hyperbolic nerd to hyperbolic fifties greaser is completely over the top, and actor Keith Gordon seems to be having pretty much the time of his life. More than that, though, I think the whole aura of repressed sexuality and manly bonding/competition just suits Carpenter down to the ground. Christine the car is, of course, supposed to be a woman…but any car is obviously literally genderless, and the secretive nature of his relationship with her, plus her violence and the fact that, hey, she’s a car…if she’s a woman, she’s awfully, awfully butch, is all I’m saying. Arnie,of course, gets more and more manly and tough and evil the more time he spends with the car — which on the one hand suggests that, hey, he’s got a girl now, so he’s a man — but on the other hand suggests that he becomes more of a man by caring less and less about girls. Yeah; total agonized male fantasy of being simultaneously consumed by femininity and consumed by masculinity; the orgasmic collapse/reification of male identity — being castrated so you can turn into a penis (at the close Arnie is penetrated by a piece of glass from Christine’s windshield, caressing her one last time before he dies. Being violated by her, having her in control, is what makes him most male; emotionally inaccessible, commanding, finally murderous. Christine is ultimately masculinity itself, which possesses Arnie; but at the same time that masculinity is feminine — since it doesn’t reside in a particular body, and ambiguous genders are always coded feminine.
I probably need to think that all out a little more clearly. But the point is it is, like the Thing, the movie is totally obsessed with gender and masculinity, and able to riff on it in ways which are thoroughly entertaining and smart.
In the DVD commentary, Carpenter crowed about how great it was that the forklift that crushes Christine looks like it is sodomizing her. I think he says it “sodomizes her to death” even….
Oh, right, and there’s the whole thing where the evil bully defecates on the car. And Arnie’s increasing obsession with all the “shitters” who are trying to thwart him as Christine takes more and more control of him….
So, yeah, I’d rate this, if not a masterpiece, at least pretty darn close. (It loses a point or two for Carpenter’s lame-ass score, and because it feels overly cut; the relationships between Arnie, his best friend, and his girlfriend sort of come out of nowhere — though I might see that as a strength if I saw it another time or two….)
If you want to see me natter on at length about other John Carpenter films, a good place to start is here.
I’d love to write a book about John Carpenter’s weird gender politics. Don’t quite see how it will ever happen though. Sigh. That’s what I get for quitting grad school.