Welcome to this month's book film club! a change in format this month, as Benjamin Gabriel, Erin Horáková, Ethan Robinson, and Aishwarya Subramanian have watched the both much-criticized and much-lauded Wachowski-siblings' film Jupiter Ascending as a team. Quoth the plot synopsis, "Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) was born under signs that predicted future greatness, but her reality as a woman consists of cleaning other people's houses and endless bad breaks. Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered hunter, arrives on Earth to locate her, making Jupiter finally aware of the great destiny that awaits her: Jupiter's genetic signature marks her as the next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos." The film was not, in the general sense, appreciated by the critical establishment, but has enjoyed a certain popularity with female audiences, and might be regarded as a nascent cult classic. We therefore bring you a selection of our lukewarm takes (they're meant to be served room-temperature!) in a slightly unusual chat/interview format.
Aishwarya Subramanian is a critic and PhD student working on post-war British children's literature. She blogs at Practically Marzipan.
Ethan Robinson is a blogger.
Erin Horáková is a southern American writer who lives in London. She's working towards her literature PhD, which focuses on how charm evolves over time.
Jupiter Jones is an undocumented immigrant to the US, part of a Russian family (though her father was half-English). Her family operates a Chicago cleaning firm, and Jupiter works with her mother and aunt to clean rich people’s houses. Jupiter’s parents were STEM professors in Russia, but after an armed house-robbery killed her husband, her mother left the country, giving birth to Jupiter en route.
Ethan: They go extremely far out of their way to establish that Jupiter is Deserving Poor, down to her deepest pedigree'd roots. Jupiter's poverty is Undeserved.
Erin: I sort of like that it's a story about an undocumented immigrant. How many stories, let alone big media products like this, are about people like that?
Ethan: True, but how many undocumented immigrants are the child of the (presumably) wealthy son of an English diplomat who was killed by (precisely) undeserving poor?
Aishwarya: There's that specific narrative of immigrants who were Properly Upper Class in their country, and the tragedy is that they've been brought low, specifically.
Erin: Yeah, you are right, but I also like the way this film shows that these intelligent, privileged people can’t necessarily walk into privilege in the U.S. by way of inherent virtue and hard work? In SF, we see so much "X was so clever he couldn't not land on his feet! In any circumstance, his Tony Stark genius shone through—"
Aishwarya: Oh yeah, and I'd much rather have this than that, but still.
Early in the film, there’s a scene in which Jupiter attempts to sell her eggs for money. Unfortunately, aliens who want to kill her have infiltrated the clinic. Let’s talk about the imagery:
Aishwarya: I find it interesting that her fear is so immediate/instinctive.
Ben: And was that a fisheye lens when the lady doctor said "just relax"?
Erin: Do you get any "egg harvesting is inherently creepy" from this? I don't think that's the intended content, but I feel it's perhaps there?
Ethan: I thought maybe a little, but it also feels connected to a lot of other "women having creepy experiences in patriarchal medical establishment" moments in cinema. This scene reminds me of both the self-surgery in Prometheus and the gynecological exam in Breillat's Romance, or when Rosemary goes back to her original doctor and he turns her in.
Ben: I also got a bit of the medical-establishment-as-horror issue too.
Erin: Hey also, at one point we get aliens/corn/crop circles, those clichés in play.
Ethan: Crop circles! Which by the way is a completely visual joke; nothing is ever said about it.
Erin: And with this invasive surgery, and the corn/crop circle gag, and levitating in shafts of light—Jupiter Ascending is playing with the visuals of small-scale alien-abduction stories even as it’s reaching for this high space-opera plane.
Jupiter is of interest to various factions because her genes "match" those of a deceased "queen" of a business empire, the mother to three scheming successors. Genes, we are told, have accrued something of a religious significance in "developed" cultures. It’s not quite clear what it means that Jupiter’s genes "match" this dead woman’s. Does it need to be? What do we make of the film’s core plot device, a handwavium interest in genetics, and its various manifestations?
Erin: What do we think about the purposive breeding? I think that's kind of a big deal, but maybe that's a little naive, because what is class/the mechanics of globalization but a touch akin to that?
Aishwarya: Sinister, but less so than harvesting entire planets and killing everyone, so hey.
Ethan: Certainly of a piece with the harvesting, though.
Ben: The breeding stuff seems a little stranger than it ought to be, too? In that they are genome-engineering people or whatever, but not in a strictly Plato's Republic sort of way?
Erin: How weird is her dating a "splice," in this culture? Versus what do people think of her marrying her "son"? It's odd they don't even lamp-shade this by talking about how it's not weird to marry your mom here, in a world where everyone thinks this genetic accident does effectively make Jupiter the same person as this dead woman.
Ben: The film weirdly emphasizes the degree to which Jupiter and Caine dating is weird not just due to his lycantantness, but also (equally?) her Entitledness?
Aishwarya: Oh, and there’s also Kalique's weird shrine to her mother. (Also wondering, after what Ethan said, about fathers and fatherhood in this world—particularly in the context of Jupiter’s own narrative arc).
Ethan: Despite what Erin was saying earlier [in a cut bit, don’t go looking—ed.] about these people being old enough that they should know better, they are clearly not over their mommy issues (don't seem to care about daddy though).
Erin: The Abrasax seem to feel zero kinship to Jupiter’s family, though their genes must be like to theirs, somehow?
If you can basically use something like stem cell research to produce and harvest non-sentient clones, and the lack of genetic diversity was an issue there, why not use a lot of very different stem cell cultures as opposed to harvesting planets? What is their ethics like about that? Entitled are the most people, and then the citizens of civilized worlds, and then hybrids, and then Earth and co.?
Ethan: I think if we want to go that way though, the answer is "it's easier"—this interstellar society is vast, and people make more people automatically, why not harvest them?
Aishwarya: Yeah, possibly (re. hierarchy of personhood). Earth is an underdeveloped world, as Caine reminds us.
What do we think of our protagonist, Jupiter Jones?
Ben: Okay actually the moment where, after Caine breaks Jupiter out the clinic and dresses her in real clothes because she was only wearing a surgical gown, and she dismisses the re-dressing with "I can’t think about that right now" is kind of why I love Jupiter a whole lot? So much of the movie is her sort of just wandering through shit, going along with the ridiculous things happening, but her first reaction to waking up after being kidnapped is like, I am fully aware of things a film would usually just ignore. And perhaps the scene later, when she’s waving her hands through clouds of bees she can control, is the inverse of the "what about my clothes?" moment.
Ethan: And the continuation of the bit during the escape from their pursuers, where Jupiter put her arm through the non-window and played with that.
Erin: Yeah, Jupiter does wonder and pragmatism. She reacts rather than acts, but for that she's good at accessing her opportunities and taking them up.
Ben: She's already established that she knows what the hell is going on; now she's establishing that she can enjoy it.
Aishwarya: With the bees, and the enjoyment she derives from them (in that scene where she dances with them and continues to do so in the house), I think there's the implication of an audience that likes floaty arm movements. I mean, I did ballet for years, and (like all other tiny girls) had to be trained out of extra floaty arms. There’s a particular delight in specifically feminine movement? There’s been a lot of commentary on this film’s celebration of its audience of women, and I love that it goes down this deep.
Ethan: Like Dusty Springfield, or Kate Bush—"undisciplined" femininity, maybe?
Erin: Every small girl is a Skydancers commercial.
Ethan: I love that she says "my bowels are anything but royal" and "I've always loved dogs" (as an ineffective come-on to her werewolf bodyguard) in the same scene.
Ben: Her delivery on "sooooo I heard u attacked an Entitled? uh" is 100%.
Erin: What about Jupiter's ambivalent acceptance/approval of her role? She insists that she's not this person/their mother, but is willing to claim this title without asking a lot of questions about what’s going on.
Ethan: Jupiter’s really willing to say that "she's still her," none of this changes her, before she has any idea what she actually is now. And on multiple occasions, she says "I know it's none of my business" when she asks really basic questions about the people she's entrusting her life to. "I know it's none of my business but do you think you're likely to actually kill me?"
Erin: A lot of the movie's key moments of peril are so feminine. Stop the wedding, stop the contract being signed—almost Dickensian predicaments. I thought of Madeline in Nicholas Nickleby.
Ethan: Stop the moment where you legally cease to exist.
Erin: I like that she chooses the world over her family.
Aishwarya: I love that she decides to sacrifice her family for the earth, but also "what you tried to do to us . . . you can't do to anyone else"—except those other planets of sentient beings he owns?
Ethan: She forgets about the rest of the system.
Erin: The movie isn't interested in that, after this point. Jupiter is no longer involved in what may have been her past self's quest to change things on a larger scale.
Ethan: Yeah, I say "she" forgets, but really the script does.
Aishwarya: I don't know if it's fair to ask her to bring the whole thing down but those humans are humans too!
Erin: And at the end of the film, it’s business as usual for Jupiter, except she’s come to terms with being in the proletariat and loves her live. Every toilet she cleans brings a smile to her face, etc.
Ethan: A Dorothy moment. But not.
Aishwarya: It's okay to have to wake up early and clean toilets if you can secretly reflect that you are space royalty. (Disclaimer: I think there’s more going on here than that!)
The sop even this film’s worst critics are willing to throw to it is that it’s visually stunning. Were you "visually stunned"? How are the aesthetics of this film working for you?
Ethan: Q: I noticed the other night that the end credits design is all DNA molecules made out of the signs of the zodiac. Is this a) the best thing ever or b) the best thing ever? [The results of this vote remain within the committee.—ed.] I think we might mention how surprisingly both quotidian and brutal the opening, with its botched robbery and childbirth and work, is? Or at least it was for me.
Erin: I’m incongruously reminded of the opening of Star Trek: the new Star Trek (why did they not have the decency to give it a real title). A baby is born!
Aishwarya Subramanian: —in unfortunate circumstances. It makes more sense here than there, at least.
Ethan: And then after that opening, we jump from Earth to an environment that’s just totally Else.
Ben: That car!
Ethan: The tragic doll in the blue sand, the shopping bag, bereft.
Aishwarya: This is my favourite scene in the film, honestly. It's just the sudden otherness of it.
Ethan: Yes, after a very quick sequence of a number of kinds of Entirely Earthly, we have this.
Ben: I kind of love that there's never any indication as to whether that blue sand is Just That Planet or A Byproduct of Harvest.
Erin: In the scene where Jupiter gets her mark of nobility, I love the old-looking equipment they use. I simultaneously feel it's silly, and like visibly this world is a melange of tech from different eras, like the real world.
Ethan: Yeah, it's not like steampunk gear porn.
Erin: And the visual language is really lush but it's not Symboling hard? Though where we get cultural Symboling, it seems like—oh lol aliens have modern wedding bands as well I guess and wear white for this ok.
Aishwarya: I realise the idea is probably that our own wedding rituals are a reflection of this larger alien culture, but . . . nah. They even have "our" wedding vows.
Ethan: Right, like, "our" wedding ceremonies as they happen in the past bunch of hundred years, centered on one specific place in the world, are a reflection of the aliens that seeded us after wiping out the dinosaurs? Plausibility is not the goal here, probably.
Erin: Speaking of plausibility, I like how easy the fantastic tech is—the wondrous soft-scifi space operaness of it.
Ethan: Yes, agreed—a small thing, but I love that in the climactic action sequence the refinery is "destabilized, sinking fast." The sheer amount of energy/high-tech chicanery needed to keep that thing where it is within Jupiter (the planet), and it's just taken for granted until something goes wrong.
On a more general note, I love the way this movie looks, but I wish it wasn't so enmeshed in the orange/blue thing.
Ben: I don’t disagree but also this movie does orange better than like, any other movie?
Ethan: Yes, extremely true. All the shifting environments in that last action sequence are amazing, and the kind of (orange) indistinguishability of the fire from the gasses of Jupiter, switching to the (. . . .blue) metal shaft—and the gothic-looking architecture that's actually a factory.
Erin: Interestingly the same family of British architects, the Scott family, was responsible for the neo-Gothic period in the Victorian era and some iconic factory design: the building that now houses the Tate Modern, Battersea power plant. So there’s a design trajectory, there. (I watch a lot of BBC 4.)
Ethan: Can I mention too that apart from the last one the "action sequences" are easily the least interesting things in this movie? There’s no reason to pay attention in the sequence where Caine and Jupiter are on the run in Chicago, say.
Erin: Omg yes? I drift. It's a bit Star Wars prequels.
Ben: I think the only worthwhile thing about that scene is like, "check out Chicago," right?
Aishwarya: I sort of like the rootedness of "this is definitely Chicago."
Erin: The purple dress Kalique gives Jupiter to wear is like the fancy dress in Labyrinth: like a little girl's idea of a cool dress, "flouncy and purple and looooong like Barbie. . . ."
Aishwarya: I would still wear that dress.
Ethan: I mean there's a lot of "I know when you were little girls you dreamed of being in my world don't get it twisted get it twisted" to this movie.
What do we make of Eddie Redmayne’s rasping, wildly emotive character Balem, the chief heir to the Abrasax empire and our chief villain?
Erin: He has more of a philosophy about the family business than anyone else. It's a bit coherent, in an evil way.
Ethan: A lot of movie villains are ideologues vs. the kind of common-sense protagonists, and he is the main villain. . . .
Erin: That’s a good point, and sort of intrinsically conservative, as a narrative feature.
Ethan: But interestingly, usually common sense is "maintain the status quo" where "ideologue" is usually "let's change shit up." And it's kind of opposite here?
Aishwarya: Also I get why his performance is hilarious, but also . . .he's Other, in ways that nothing else in this space empire is?
Erin: Yeah Molly Katz [another SH reviewer] was talking about this in space opera, and how she goes to it and Shakespeare for emotional registers and affects that like literary fiction cannot give her—and part of that is sincerely other emotional affects/cultures.
After a host of people try and kill Jupiter for Being So Special/talk about How Special she is, Jupiter must go register her Specialness at what is essentially an intergalactic DMV. This abrupt tone shift jars a bit, but/and is also one of the best parts of the film:
Aishwarya: I love how unimportant she is in the bureaucracy. It's not like, everyone is amazed, a royal! They could all be royals in this queue.
Ethan: There are a lot of royals! The Abrasaxes are just among the more important.
Aishwarya: So many that they fill this whole bureaucratic maze? I love that.
Ethan: All of a sudden the Wachowskis call in that favor with Terry Gilliam to show how vast this universe is, in the goofiest possible way.
Erin: It's very very Bob Holmes—"The Sunmakers," et al. "Corridor p45!" [A robot’s spring-loaded grafting arm fires a bribe. The assembled enchanted.—ed.] I wish I could graft my admin problems away.
Ethan: So good, the hand hinging back, and out come flying the credits (or whatever money's called in this movie).
Jupiter Ascending celebrates the love between a woman and her dog (or rather the dog werewolf soldier who fancies her, and she him). How is this working for you?
Erin: The romance arc does nothing for me. I don't know if it does for anyone, but. [The assembled confirmed they were not Feeling It.—] It's a love story where not only do they barely know one another, they barely know one another's cultures in this huge way.
Aishwarya: Having said the romance doesn’t work for me earlier, in that final scene where Jupiter and Caine are flying around, it does work? They're just playing and it's lovely.
Ethan: It's almost not like a romance scene in that sense? More like friends with wing-benefits.
Erin: I don’t feel it there, but like: I have been annoyed by romance in films I didn't believe, and this never annoys me. More "oh, I don't really believe that/cathect it." It's not some Anakin/Padme "what?" nonsense.
Aishwarya: Caine's instinctive hate of royals makes me think of some of the appeal of e.g. Twilight (and again, there’s a larger point to be made here about the narratives this film is tapping into and is assuming audience understanding of). Boyfriend who instinctively wants to kill you, but also not.
Ethan: But with better class analysis! Eat the rich, kind of literally.
Erin: It's like that dog in Spaced trained to attack rich people on the Heath. I am sure much ink has been spilled on the Monstrous Masculinity critiques of the boyfriend who wants to kill you but not yoooou. Werewolf boyfriend feels like a weird scale issue. When we're in galactic space opera/court fantasy, the sort of closed, small, gothic problem of werewolf boyfriend feels outclassed?
Ethan: But then this whole movie is basically about wildly shifting scales. And the wings-on-a-dog thing is what I love about the Wachowskis. They just throw themselves into shit without seeming to know (or care?) if it's what they're supposed to be doing. (Also note that great little sensual moment where Jupiter facially reacts to Caine's wings on her butt.)
Ben: I think at some point in watching the movie I decided that, like, the romance is doing something different than what it is Supposed To? I kind of see it less as a Fateful Star-Crossed Lovers etc. deal and more like, Jupiter kinda wants to just make out with this dude a little?
Aishwarya: There's the moment when Titus is all "you're In Love with Caine" and Jupiter's response is "nope." And even though we're not supposed to fully accept that, she's at least intellectually aware that she's known the man about a day.
Ben: That is exactly what I was thinking about.
Aishwarya: I don't know if Caine feels the same way, but hey.
Ethan: I feel like that actually is the niche Channing Tatum fills? (Not for me personally, I extremely don't get it, but culturally). Like Not Relationship Material—for women, finally! or something? And other dudes have been that, but maybe not as deliberately placed that way as Channing Tatum.
Aishwarya: Though that also sort of feeds into the royalty stuff in weird ways. Erin and I were talking earlier about how this relationship also sort of falls into a powerful woman/bodyguard trope. There's a sense of impermanence about that sort of situation too, in that it can't lead to A Serious Relationship.
Erin: I could also see him accepting her as Pack without necessarily expecting romantic love or a long-term thing there. Maybe he just wants a person to care for as family/be loyal to and serve/a "pack" friend.
Ben: And maybe make out with occasionally, or fly around with, or play with bees with.
Aishwarya: The best relationship, to be honest.
Ben: It kind of does legitimately seem like the Actual Romantic Part could very well happen for real after the events of the film. I see that in how Jupiter frames it, even. "I have a date."
Ethan: "I have a date," then the barrage of questions from her family that she doesn't know the answers to. She explicitly doesn't know and is excited about not knowing.
Erin: Is it a mistake to frame this as romance, because it is a Lady's Movie, or is the romance as phatic as in any action film? Is this a romance, or just a blockbuster?
Aishwarya: I think maybe a fun, mindless blockbuster for ladies would get that the point of the romance is basically this scene where they fly around having fun.
Let’s cut to the heart of the reception question. Is this a good movie or no? And on what grounds?
Erin: I like that the film trusts me a little. A character coughs once, later that’s a thing, and I didn't need a huge build up. It's not subtle or blazing. Also, this Aegis ship has a lot of time to deal with Jupiter's problems. How is it we can believe in the military/cops again when something’s set in space?
Aishwarya: Oh I was conflicted about the space cops at first, but (Captain) Diomika Tsing is so pretty (this is not an ideologically sound position).
Ethan: Does it have something to do with how ridiculous "space cops" is as a concept? Jupiter even scoffs. Also, not to say that this movie's anti-capitalism is deep, but when Jupiter and Titus talk, I love that they're standing surrounded by his wealth, which is literally dead people.
Erin: I am the least Team Jupiter of the four of us, and I still find it a bit weird to me that so many people said—technically, this is a failed/bad film. I don't defend it whole-heartedly like I do Fifth Element, but unlike some efforts it's not—a non-film. Worse films than this have enjoyed a measure of broad popularity. Have we lost the category of the B movie? Or if this is a fun mindless blockbuster—can you not have fun mindless blockbusters shaped like this, for these audiences?
Ethan: I think every Wachowski movie is a blockbuster that is not a blockbuster. A friend was talking about the extremely obvious influence of ten thousand different anime on The Matrix, and how everything the Wachowskis do is extremely derivative, but the one thing they do—and do extremely well—that their influences by definition can't do, is be Hollywood blockbusters in extremely weird ways. (Bracketing of course the problems with using "derivative" in and of itself as a critique.)
Aishwarya: And sometimes Jupiter Ascending isn’t pulling its influences into a coherent thing, and looking for unity is likely to leave you disappointed, but that incoherence feels very. . . . important? visceral?
Ethan: Yes! It's like looking for consistency in the Bible or dismissing the inconsistencies because "it's a mess of different sources," both of which disregard the act of creation that was pulling them together in this way rather than another. Which I guess means I'm saying the Wachowskis are very much like the final redactor of the Bible.
Aishwarya: A lot of what works for me about this is at a very lizardbrain level, which is going to be fundamentally incoherent.
Ben: I kind of wish that rewatching this movie hadn’t "filled in" some of those alleged "plot holes" for me? I wanted it to lean into that incoherence even more than it maybe did.
Aishwarya: I think, though, that it's less a question of the plot holes being or not being there than of being forced to have to evaluate it in those terms.
Erin: I think for people this film works for, it's—working a little like kink. When something doesn't work for you on that level it's absurd, and when something almost works for you but doesn't, it's viscerally uncomfortable because of the not-quite-rightness, the commingled disappointment and the embarrassment of looking at a parody of your own desires. And when it hits, it hits. I detest the term "idfic," but.
Ethan: Oh, yeah, the mode of discourse in which there either "are" or "are not" plotholes in this movie is, like, the wrong mode.
Erin: Or it's not the main project? Or the level where the film's succeeding? You could get some of these effects perhaps with a coherent project, though. What about the incoherence qua is improving it for you?
Ethan: If I had ever written that lengthy blog post about A. E. van Vogt and fix-ups and the disjunctions of science fiction I would have something to point to and an argument readymade here (because it's the same thing going on here as there), but I never did.
Aishwarya: The incoherence at least demands that you don’t read it at the level of coherence. It insists that you're missing the point rather than it being incompetent?
Ethan: Well, I think in a lot of ways the Wachowskis could honestly be said to be incompetent? But it's a kind of incompetence that doesn't know what to do in very fruitful ways that I know I still haven't tried to articulate.
Aishwarya: Yeah, incompetence isn't quite the word I want here. But I think a deliberate incoherence positions itself as operating, if not succeeding, on another narrative plane.
Ethan: I think I know what you mean. I’m thinking about the bees specifically, and the way that they, ok, in the moment, come in handy, but never come back. They aren't there in the story for plot purposes. They aren't . . . teleological bees.
The other day I was on a semi-lengthy car trip with my father, and of all things I was talking about the way Roy Scheider's character in All That Jazz sings a disco song about dying and then dies. Right when I finished talking about that, a car made a left turn (equivalent of right turn for transatlantic folk) without signaling and almost collided with us. Nothing happened, but if something had . . . me talking about death would have been totally unconnected with it. But in a movie it could only have been foreshadowing.
I'm not sure I have a conclusion for this line of thought. I guess it's just—in a way it's ludicrous to say Jupiter Ascending is Like Life, but in another way, the bees were there because the bees were there, not because a plot demanded it.
Erin: The unexpected naturalism of Jupiter Ascending.
Aishwarya: Which is in large part true of a lot of the film's worldbuilding? It's not worldbuilding, it's world . . . furnishing. It doesn't necessarily see all aspects of its world as part of a unified system because things aren't, really?
Erin: And Jupiter can't know them that way. It's like how Diana Wynne Jones gives out worldbuilding information, exclusively as you need it. She never stops to like describe a magic system et al. If you want an overall picture, you get like, bupkis. With some creators that annoys me, but with her I mostly feel she knows exactly how everything fits, she just doesn't think I need to know more than the story needs me to. Even if she hasn't thought about an element, it would exist the instant she needed it.
Aishwarya: Except that in a book a lot that isn't mentioned is invisible and here it's all present, just inexplicably so. Because you mention Diana Wynne Jones, I'm thinking of how in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland she's mocking the sort of fantasy where everything mentioned has a Use, so everywhere marked on a map is somewhere the book will visit, etc. Which is the opposite of what the bees do, as Ethan said.
Ethan: Having A Use is one of the things that fundamentally bothers me about pretty much all narrative, if it's ok to go that grand. It's a large part of what makes narrative suspicious to me.
Aishwarya: Skillful Plotting.
Ethan: Right, skillful plotting, which only means that people, things, and events exist only to serve some purpose.
Ben: I think it's also, like, the way in which the Use is Had? For me at least, because when I wrote about China Miéville a while back that was sort of the thing for me, discovering that in these worlds things could still have a use but that could be very different from Having A Use?
With China's books it was, like, the specific thing was that moment in The Scar where the protagonist offers the little fetish idol to the Weird Monsters, and they're like, no, what, who cares? We want the map. Those powers are great and all but we would rather not be colonized?
And that moment is obviously sort of a cute subversion of the Having a Use trope, but it does it in a way that doesn't simply say "haha look I can make useless things!" It's that the way things are Used in fantasy is often very very specific (as y’all said, Skillful Plotting). Which (to bring it back to Jupiter Ascending): thinking specifically of, say, Titus' spaceship statues [exterior], or bees; the way both of those things work is very different from both the normal understanding of Having a Use, but they're also very different from each other? And this movie has no problem with making these gestures that are very disparate and apparently-haphazard?
Erin: But are we reading the film's visuals as implying a use in a way we wouldn't for another genre or another example of same? Like, what gets used in Labyrinth, a classic "female-oriented fantasy"? There's that scene with the wise man where he says "the way forward is the way back." Sarah trades her mother's ring for the advice, and never makes use of it (though this is a movie with several writers/creators and a confusion of projects). (All this said: I don't hate Skillful Plotting, I like the pull of bulky structures and tend to write a lot of stories that fold neatly onto themselves, etc.)
Ben: I think, maybe, for me at least: the difference there is that you can try and establish that a metaphorical reading is there in the Labyrinth example, whereas the bees have no metaphor? They literally (in the film's terms) establish her as royalty and attack a dude; they don't tell us anything about her, I don't think?
Ethan: "The way forward is the way back" could also be taken as a description of the movie's structure being admitted into the movie itself. But I think one of the things that draws me to science fiction (and whatever fantasy I'm drawn to, including Labyrinth) is that invention is excessive in proportion to meaning, if that makes any sense at all. And Jupiter Ascending sure is excessive.