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"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Nihilism on Aldrich Street

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The opening shot of Robert Aldrich's "Kiss Me Deadly."

You want dark? How's this for dark: Matt Zoller Seitz chillingly sets the scene before plummeting headlong into the moral darkness of Robert Aldrich's noir masterpiece "Kiss Me Deadly" (Opening Shot Project dissection by Kim Morgan here), as part of Dennis Cozzalio's "Robert Aldrich Blog-a-Thon":

It defines the difference between cynicism and nihilism, then throws down with the nihilists, if for no other reason than to show you what it means to live in a world where nothing matters. Cynics expect the worst of humanity and are rarely disappointed, but in their hearts, they hope for some evidence that humans are innately kind and that morality is more than a sucker’s game. Cynicism is pre-emptive disappointment; you can’t be let down by anyone or anything unless you secretly nurse a kernel of hope. A nihilist, on the other hand, knows that the difference between cynicism and optimism is a matter of degrees. Like Neo in "The Matrix" blocking the agents’ bullets and then suddenly understanding, truly and deeply, that the world he's long accepted as "real" is just an intellectual prison built of ones and zeroes, the true nihilist has had his moment of cosmic disillusionment, and his accompanying realization that democracy, religion, equality -- hell, the Golden Rule itself -- are all just scam jobs sold to sheep by wolves; that everybody’s mainly concerned with playing the angles and getting ahead in the here and now, even if they pretend otherwise. After realizing that morality and ethics, religion and philosophy, good and evil are illusions of various sorts, and that there’s no percentage in decency, guilt and shame vanish and life becomes a present-tense proposition, a zero-sum game played by beasts that wear suits and drive cars.

In "Kiss Me Deadly," you might say the smoking gun comes in the shape of a mushroom cloud. And after watching last night's "Frontline" ("The Lost Year in Iraq") I'm still trying to decide whether the Bush administration is, in addition to stupid and incompetent, either cynical or nihilistic. I'm leaning toward the latter. It's a sign of our times: They just don't give a shit about anyone but their own insiders.

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