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It All Hurts: A Cats Review
By Christopher Sloce
The drama’s done. Why then here does any one step forth? — Because one did survive the wreck. - Moby Dick
This was not made for you. This was not made for anyone. The only conceivable group that this was made for was as the cheesecake for actual, factual, practical non-jellicle cats. But they're going to get bored and play with a tag on a shirt instead.
You can only understand this as pornography: a garish rejection of logic and taste to titillate. Delivery boys are sexy. Teachers aren't overworked and undersexed. Cats show up at a talent show to audition for the honor of being flown up into a layer of the atmosphere to be reborn as a newer better, maybe magical cat. Fantasy allows you to be reborn as desirable during viewing whatever act. But who wants to be reborn as one of these things?. For your tabby who is watching this movie, watching Taylor Swift pretend to be a femme fatale and sinew around an abandoned theater while singing about a fantastical criminal cat in faux slow jazz bombast might have the same effect as, say, watching the dancers in MAGIC MIKE has on humans (or, if you like women, insert whoever, I’m not telling you the actresses I crush on, I can’t love anymore), but your cat also has blinds to play with.
It would probably be easy to bag on furries in this review but it's 2019: furries have better politics than the New York Times and I think they're human enough to see the melding of a human face with a cat body as the Boschian horror it is. The entire movie looks like a Renaissance painter making a metaphor about the fleeting nature of lust. Of course, the cats are still coded as sexual dynamos because repression in the form of symbol makes freaks of us all.
It probably seems like I'm harping on the sex stuff a little much, but the thing is this: this is a movie that drips sex, from every tail twitch to near kiss and rub of the head, which, if you're a cat-head like me, you know means your cat owns you. At one point Judi Dench's Old Deuteronomy hikes her leg up in the air to show pleasure at Ian McKellen's Gus the Theatre Cat's performance and I felt like I was watching a patient at a veterinary fertility clinic preparing for a colonoscopy. Ian McKellen looks confused. I only later learned because this is because the cat canonically has a palsy. I'll be honest, I left the theater for a second, but I felt bad for him. He plays the hell out of pulp roles, but no man is more powerful than Cats.
What is this movie about? It's about a tribe of cats called the Jellicles who, once a year, do a talent show to be selected to be taken up into the sky to something called The Heavy Side layer where they can be reborn. Only the best cat wins. Because no cats come back, I assume they die, making the Jellicle Ball a talent show ran by Marshall Applewhite to see who gets to don the Nike Decades.
We follow Victoria, who I spent the entire movie convinced was Taylor Swift, as she's inducted into the bizarre rituals of the Jellicles. Instead she's played by Francesca Hayward, whose blank, gaping stare is one of the worst performances I've ever seen and also the perfect audience insert. Cats isn't a movie you go to see to think or feel. It's a movie for the whole family to go to get away from the fact you could talk them into poisoning each other.
The constant bombardment of our current capitalist epoch accelerated by social media is a centerless totalitarianism, where you windows shop answers to difficult questions through a variety of stock answers. What kind of cat will you be? A Mr. Mistoffelees, who does magic? The rock star Rum Tum Tugger? Maybe you can steal like Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer? Yet there’s no interior life to these cats, just bombast and signifiers. By the end of the movie all Victoria is a Jellicle cat by name, no true identity, dead eyes in a stiff face.
The only real antagonism in the plot is Idris Elba's Macavity wants to go to his reward, so he kidnaps some of the cats performing, including Rebel Wilson's Jennyanydots, who can remove her fur to reveal more fur, and James Corden's Bustopher Jones, who only eats the fanciest garbage (if your plan is to kidnap talent, you can usually leave James Corden alone). There's an interminable fight scene, the good guys win, and Jennifer Hudson's Grizzabella, the one who sings "Memory", an alright show stopper, gets to fly up to Hell.
There's an extent to which movies are now a ritual to go to an arcade where there are games you only want to play because they're all that's there and you have nothing but time to kill. It's almost cliche to call them a sort of church but I imagine at some time before our current stage, where Disney produced 80 percent of the box office hits this year, I can imagine transcendence maybe existed, worlds all over the multiplex. Some stupid. Others edifying. Now you're in a sort of shopping mall, with things on the walls you never need but can only see, assaulted by light pollution, fast fashion, Williams Sonoma. This movie is a teddy bear jacket from Zara. As long as the money is out of your pocket, nobody gives a fuck what is wrought. The midwife of this horrid child is Amazon: with its continuous warehouses full of junk. A society where I can buy 20 kinds of fart putty is not a society that is doing its best.
When the movie got boring, and believe me, it does, I took a walk to go find a water fountain. As I walked through the halls of the Regal Theatre, I looked at all the movies playing. I passed the poster for a Christian inspirational weepy, a costume drama, a Pixar animated movie, and the giant cardboard stand for Sonic the Hedgehog. I looked at all of it and felt like I was locked in the storeroom of a candy store for eternity, a glutton’s hell. I felt a desire for a handful of Peanut M&Ms and I passed a quarter machine and there I saw it: poop emoji stickers. I looked at it and it hit me. “We waste so much.” I thought. “We waste so fucking much.”
My legs became jello and I got my cup of ice water and I thought about how many years it would take to break down. All for a cup of water. I sat down in the theater again and continued to witness.
Perhaps the portent of all this was the trailer for Trolls World Tour. My compatriot (he’s my lawyer) and I had no idea what the hell we were witnessing until we saw some rocker trolls show up and say they were getting rid of the rest of music. Apparently in Trolls World Tour trolls have musical tribes and the rockers want to get rid of all non rock music. There’s even a hip hop troll who raps over a trap beat. Begotten was less disgusting.
Somewhere, at the bottom of a river, there is a Troll doll, and he has been there for decades now. Never degrading, covered in the silt and sand of the river. The fish are swimming away from a spill of some sort and on the way they pass that monument and think, who runs this world? Who lets this happen? What the fish don’t know is we are a planet who has revised our past so that the foundation of the one planet we are guaranteed is a landfill, built on the carcasses of our former desires.
We waste so much. In time this review will be a waste, too. Just another blinking neon road sign on the way to the cessation of permanence. Our slack faces and dead eyes will be like the faces on the Troll dolls, never blinking, always frozen, passive, a mountain of them in every river and stream, hills of Troll dolls rivaling Kilimanjaro. .
We are all Jellicle cats.
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