Robert Hobbs plays in the recent film Serenity as Ape where his character brings notice to the old film nor techniques used. Hobbs uses his perception to assess these techniques. He further discusses the film industry and if the classical tropes are of any use today.
ATM: How does the set up between the main characters in Serenity control the plot in the film?
RH: This story is an interesting one because it works on very different levels. The director is known for his unconventional storytelling techniques and narrative structures. This is a film where not everything you see is to be believed. The main character is always being manipulated in different ways. The strategy to try to get Baker to kill her husband and her son’s stepfather fits into the typical film noir scenario. It is a common theme in these noir films that you go back to cinema history. He is using standard techniques here to set up the audience into believing the film is happening on a certain level. When the twist comes through you see how he sends a little of code for it. In terms of the strategy, these are kind of conventional film noir strategies. Does this make sense?
ATM: How does your modern day thinking have a perception on the film noir tropes that you said are presented in this movie?
RH: These tropes been used for many years in the cinema. As audiences, we have a self-conscious knowledge of how these things play out; it is a standard storyline. The ex-wife comes back and needs her husband’s help to kill the guy, etc. It informs the contemporary cinema storytelling as we know it now. The basis of the story is always the same. The modern audience does have a connection to it. It is highlighted in this film through things such as her wardrobe. There is a certain tone of the hot steamy environment that the scenes take place in. There is a great scene where she comes to him on the boat. It is all dark and black. She is in a black widow figure in the film. As contemporary audiences, we recognize these things. Even though we may not be watching old black and white films, we understand this is a part of cinema history, and this is how it is going to play out. Steven uses these quite consciously.
ATM: The wife plays a damsel in distress in this film. This is one of the most famous tropes adapted in film noir. This is just a theory.
ATM: As a damsel in distress, why can this female character not do the deed herself?
RH: Are you saying she is a bit of a stereotype?
ATM: How does the wife playing a damsel in distress show her motives? This character is a damsel in distress. She is relying on the male do kill her husband, but she does not do it herself. In the film, typically as a damsel in distress, you look for the man to complete your duty or desire. In this scenario, why can’t the woman tap into her motive to do the deed?
RH: She is also being manipulated by her son. She essentially becomes a part of the video game and is a character that is inserted there trying to lure Baker Dill to do this. It speaks to the relationship between the mother, Baker, and the son. Ann and Baker character is almost like a manifestation of the boy’s imagination. In a way, neither of them has an internal drive or motivation. Their motivations are being dictated by an omnipotent game creator boy. Once Baker Dill becomes aware of the fact he is being manipulated and that nothing around him is real, there are some interesting things around what is consciousness and around what is real. He goes to this existential struggle. The mom character is one of the things that the boy lures Baker Dill with, and she does not have her agencies. She is being manipulated and placed into this nonreal world. We as the audience are not aware of this until the twist is revealed. Up until this point, we are okay that she is playing the stereotype of a damsel in distress. We understand her motivations. Why doesn’t she just get a hit man from Miami for 10 million dollars? Why does she come back to Baker Dill? These are things that are not necessarily answered. The son essentially has this connection to his father, and she is longing for a father figure to enable his father who was in the Iraq war to give him the power to kill his stepfather.
ATM: How does a gender change how we view the trope damsel and distress?
RH: The name and trope is a damsel in distress and not a dude in distress. This is something that was created in the 1930s during a different kind of social environment where this kind of patriarchy worked. The vulnerable women will get saved by the guy. These are techniques from a different era. In a contemporary environment, nobody would be able to work with this. We would go “What the hell this is not acceptable?” How would this flip it? Hm, I am not sure. I guess essentially it is a trope, and a kind of cliché is what makes it works. The writer chose to go with this because we all recognize it.
RH: How would this work in this environment? I am not sure. I think it was specifically placed in this way to recognize this is kind of being like a noir film. We are going down this path where we are setting up the audience to this is the narrative journey. It was set up so when the twist does come it is all the more of a mind warp. I am not sure how it would impact the narrative. This storyline is being made up to fill it in.
ATM: I just had an epiphany. Along men have been playing the damsel in distress. There has not been a term created to support when a man is playing the damsel in distress. But this is seen in the film, T.V only emotionally. For example, often in films, the man relies on the woman for emotional support. This could be a romantic encounter. There is not a term for it. When a male uses a female character, and he pushes her to the side once he has gotten what he wants.
RH: Yes. Although in this case, he is given an objective, which is to catch this fish. When the abuse happens back at home, he sends his mother into the story. Baker Dill rejects the offer that she brings to him until he learns of the physical abuse that is going on and her son is suffering. This is what turns him in deciding maybe he can do this. He has to fight against this because it is not the objective of the game. Fishing is what drives him. There is sort of a reference to what you were talking about a male being a damsel in distress. It is true because he needs her to change the game. He needs her because of him to fulfill his new objective which is to kill the guy. He needs her as a turning point, in the information that her character brings. He is dependent on her to make this decision. It connects there.
ATM: Are you aware that the symbolic meaning of fish means serenity?
RH: I did not realize this until now, but it does make sense. I was certainly aware of the color scheme — the blue water and water of serenity. I did not quite realize that fish was for serenity. He also names it justice, which is interesting. He changes the symbol and renames it to something else. This is interesting. The colors and the choices that both the art director, production designer, and director made are very specific in terms of all this stuff from the old white and blue. There is a certain color palate there that was created.
ATM: Where is a place that makes you feel peaceful or have the most serenity?
RH: I come from South Africa. I travel out to the bush where the wild animals live. This is serene and beautiful to me. I like it because it connects you to nature and humbles you on a personal level to make you realize you are just one of many creatures walking this earth. My serene and happy place is out in a bush.
ATM: While in this serene, happy place, does it feel like a place to escape?
RH: It is a place to stop the noise, calm down, and stop the noise of the world around. Also, to just focus and connect to nature. I am a big fan of animals. You realize how vulnerable you are as a human being when you are faced with a male elephant or lion. It is the quickest way to humble yourself and realize humans are not as cool as they think they are.
ATM: Animals exercise more of the traits humans should embody every day. They exercise them better than us.
RH: 100%. Absolutely.
ATM: They are ferocious and strong. Some humans are strong, but – I guess what I am trying to say is that animals do not put on a front, whereas we as humans do.
RH: This is it. There is no pseudo. If you are a little gazelle and you are going to get eaten by a lion, then you run like hell. Survival is everything. If you are a little monkey, then you care for your little monkeys You look out for them. You have this pact mentality. They look out for each other. They live harmoniously together. They are co-dependent on each other to survive.
ATM: Sometimes, not all the time, but even if you were to compare humans being in a pact vs. humans when they are in groups or clique. There is just a difference. There is not jealousy or envious behavior with animals. In every group or clique with humans, there is always one person who is secretly jealous or envious in some absurd nature. Animals are not like this while in pacts.
RH: They have a common purpose, which is survival and the well-being of everyone. It is survival of the fittest on some level. You must work together to achieve your objectives. If you are a wildebeest and you want to cross the river, and there are crocodiles, then someone has to sacrifice themselves for the good of the whole. There are many lessons in animals that we should learn like the human race. Unfortunately, we are sometimes a little bit self-centered and do not follow the nature rules as we should.
ATM: When coming in contact with the male lion or any other endangered species, how did this challenge your masculinity?
RH: It is pretty straightforward. It is like a fight or flight. So often we pretend like we are these macho masculine dudes. When you come face to face with a male lion it is a humbling thing. The most ferocious animals out there in the wild are female. A female lion is a way more danger than a male lion. The females are the protectors and the hunters. Females are ferocious.
ATM: Some people not having any knowledge, but the average thinking might think the male is ferocious. The male relies on the female for the most part.
RH: There is a hierarchy there. I can assure you that the females are doing most of the work. They are out there hunting and caring for the young. If you get in the way of anything or their instinct, then you are going to come across something incredibly dangerous and ferocious.
ATM: Wait, have you ever been in a dangerous situation with an animal?
RH: Yes, I have. I walked into a water buffalo once, which is not the smartest thing to do. Luckily, we happened to be walking in the National Park here. We stumbled upon water buffalos who are incredibly dangerous and enormous animals. They rushed at us. We were able to scamper up a hill and managed to get out the way. This is about the closest I have gotten when almost getting stumped on. Also, it is not always the biggest things that are the most dangerous. I’ve had Malaria a couple of times from a tiny little mosquito, and this is very dangerous. I did have a very interesting encounter with a green mamba. My fight or flight kicked in immediately. I ran away like nobody’s business. This is the wrong thing to do.
ATM: Biologically we as human beings when tapping into the fight or flight mode, this is activating the amygdala. This is the part of the brain that triggers this intense emotion.
RH: This is it. There is a part of the brain that kicks in. I was not aware this was what it was called.
ATM: This part of the brain is responding to how we respond to threats. It is the unconscious emotional responses, and it makes you not think clearly in a situation.
RH: This is it.