“It’s the end of the world and he’s upset about a dead pig.”
Emmett about Howard (10 Cloverfield Lane)
10 Cloverfield Lane -Introduction
One of my most read blog entries on Andy´s Mercury Comments is my analysis of The Mist (2007). I guess more people than me saw that movie as an interesting piece.
Since that one was such a success, Ill try to do a “blood-relative sequel” to that blog entry, by now analyzing 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016). Is it as good as The Mist? No, not really. But it has it´s moments, touches on some of the same themes, and there are questions that at least I felt was left unanswered.
The main question I had at the end was: Was Howard really the bad guy?
Let´s look at the movie again, and look for the pros and cons of Howard being the villain in the movie. I will also talk a little bit about the ending, and how I didnt like it. I expect you have seen the movie, when reading this. Meaning there will be spoilers.
Also, you may be thinking “AndyAce83 looks to much into a stupid movie” or “its just a movie, why do you care?” and all that other nonsense. If you dont care, then dont read it.
10 Cloverfield Lane -Plot summary
The story is about a woman (Michelle) who leaves a relationship with a man. She seem to think that it´s cuz “she flees the problems”, perhaps cuz she grew up with a violent dad. She then get run out of the road by a car and wakes up in a bomb-shelter, tied to the wall. In there she meets Howard, the builder of the bomb shelter, who tells her that the world has gone to hell, for reasons not specified. The bombshelter also have another inhabitant, the easy going, sympatic Emmett who forced himself into the shelter when he knew problems where coming.
They live in this bombshelter for an unknown amount of time. At times it is nice and at times it goes well, and at times they fight, and it gets clear that Howard is suffering from some kind of mental problems. He shows anger and a need for control. Sometimes downright threatening behavior.
It is then revealed that Howard had a daughter as he shows Michelle a picture of her. Michelle then sees signs of dangerous activity in a closed down room where someone has scribbled “help me” on a window and some bloody ear-rings. Emmet says that the daughter in the picture is not really Howard´s daughter, but a girl who had gone missing. A girl named Britney.
This leads to the conclusion that Howard is a mentally unstable murderer and that Emmet and Michelle needs to flee. Their escape plans is stopped though as Howard discovers a home-made hazzard suits. In a confrontation Howard shots Emmet, a struggle follows where Howard is badly burned and blown up in the bombshelter, while Michelle leaves the shelter only to discover that Howard was right. There has been an alien attack. She goes into a big show down with the aliens, killing a space-ship like creature and drives away. On the radio she hears pleads for assistance and she decides that drive towards that. Implying she no longer runs away from her problems.
10 Cloverfield Lane -The analysis
Michelle: What are you gonna do to me?
Howard: I am gonna keep you alive.
When we analyse a movie, as with most intellectual pursuits, we have to ask the question: What do we really know? What did we really see? Which of the characters can we really trust? Who´s narration can we belive?
In 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) we see certain things and other things are told to us. Scriptwriting 101 says “show it, don´t tell it” and so it is reasonable to belive that if something isnt shown there may be a reason for it.
It may be cuz we are not suppose to know (like what was in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction (1994) or what was in Norman´s diary in Psycho (1960).) or it may be just because of temporary suspense.
Like Hitchcock himself said:
“There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean.
We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”
In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.”
In this quote we can learn a lot about narration, why something is revealed and something is left out. I would like to add though that sometimes supsence can be kept by also NOT showing something. That in narration, what isnt shown, but told isnt always true, and may be deliberate ways of keeping suspense or keep us guessing.
Keeping this quote in mind, let´s look at what we see and not see in this movie to ask the question: Who is really the villain in 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)?
The first thing I noticed is that although it is clear that Howard is on edge and suffers from some kind of mental issues, never do we see him behave violent towards Michelle. She is violent towards him on several occasions, but he is only violent towards Emmet. At least not before things excalate to complete chaos towards the end. And even then, he doesnt really hurt her. IF that is just pure luck for Michelle or his intentions is left uncertain.
It also seem to be a misconception that the first loud crashing sound we hear, before introducing Emmet as a character, is when he tried to get in. But that is not the case. That is the sound of Emmet destroying one week of food, for reasons never explained other than he “is sorry for that”.
We never see Emmet fighting his way into the bunker. It is said that by Emmet that he bruised his arm when that event took place, but again, we did not see that happen and the question then is: If that is false, why is Emmet the one who looks like he has been in a car accident? In fact Howard shows no signs of being in the accident that he says he was a part of.
Also the suspicion Michelle has towards Howard is from the very beginning. She tells Emmet her concerns, before he puts any seeds in her mind. She tells him that she was run off the road by Howard. She thinks she is been kidnapped, even when all evidence point to the fact she is not. She seems to be looking for evidence that Howard is evil.
We often observe Howards reaction as psychopathic in nature. He is angry, semi-paranoid, demands respect and becomes more and more unhinged as the story progresses. But saying he is a psychopath one also is forgetting that he is under a lot of strain himself. He is not happy being in the bombshelter either. Which we see when Emmet makes a joke about how long they may be staying there. The clenching of the fist may seem threatening, but it can also be a sign of claustrophobia.
What many people seem to think is the clear reveal of Howard´s villinous behaviour is when he shoots Emmet after he says he wanted the gun. It seems cold and is a violent act. That may be true, in peace times. But this movie takes place in a more extreme situation. Howard is a millitary man. He sees the bunker as his ship. He even says so at one time. “All on deck.”
In the military one is taught that one has to deal with mutiny is a very harsh manner. Cuz if people do not follow orders, that could lead to even more dangerous events. Like we see at the end, when the entire “safe space” is blown up cuz of Michelle´s mutiny.
What I am trying to say is that although we see this as a harsh and immoral act, we see this with civilian eyes in peace time. They do not live in that context. They live in war times, with limited resources with a group of people conspiring against each other. Howard may have acted by a moral-code for survival, not a humanistic one we are used to.
Also I dont think that Howard doesnt show regret and pain after he shot Emmet, as he is clearly even more unstable and childlike (regression) after the events.
So why do I think Emmet may be more insidious than what is seen explicitly? The first reason is that he is the only one who looks like he has been in a car accident. His wounds also seem to have had proper care at the hospital. His arm in the sleeve looks professionally taken care of. Also he is the only one who shows ability for manipulation as when he manipulates Howard into thinking the showercurtain may be contaminated or when he windes up Howard at the dinner table. He does seem to be biding his time, looking for a good time to take control of the bunker. And what he states just before he is shot; “I wanted your gun. So I was thinking about making a weapon, to get it.. From you. I wanted her to respect me, the way she respects you.” could just be the truth. Perhaps he believed his “honesty” and apology would be accepted. So he wasnt playing a hero, but tried to manipulate again. But all in all, not very much evidence to go on.
But if we think that Emmet has his own unstated agenda, then its more safe to assume that he is lying when telling Michelle that the girl in the picture with Howard is not his daughter. A statement that is the catalyst for Michelle disbelief in Howard. If we look at the picture of the girl in the picture, do she really look like she has been kidnapped?
And if we look again at the other evidence of the written “help” window. Michelle says it was written on the inside of the window, but
to me it does not look so at all. It´s written in mirror image. Of course it could be possible that the girl was smart enough to write in a way that was easily read on the other side, but still it´s written the wrong way. My theory is that this is written by the crazy women from earlier who tried to get into the bunker. She even started to bleed when she bunked her head into the window, which could explain the blood. Although this goes against Michelle´s statement, which was that it was written on the inside of the window.
The way I see it there are three possible interpretation of this movies event.
1) That Howard was the psychopath as he is clearly the most unstable.
2) That Emmet is the subtle manipulator, growing the seeds of suspicion in Michelles mind wanting to take over. But he failed at his last attempt at manipulation. Perhaps not recognizing the extreme situation and Howard´s military background.
3) Neither of the men are really dangerous, but Michelle´s baggage from her childhood makes her paranoid, which causes all of the conflict in the bombshelter.
After writing this I am starting to lean on the last one.
10 Cloverfield Lane – Original script
After writing this analysis I decided to read the original script called “The Cellar” to see if anything was made clearer in that script and to do some reality checks. Was I reading something into this movie not intended? Am I trying to hard to make a simple story more complex than it is?
A script is the blue-print to a movie, but sometimes radical changes is made to the original idea. This seem to be the case with this script.
“The Cellar” made Emmet (called Nate in the script) a unsympathetic character who wants the control and gets the control after he gets the gun. When he gets control he is rude and dominating.
Michelle is less sympathetic as well as she distrusts Howard instantly, and never trust him in the entire story. She also has loyalty to Emmet/Nate for reasons that seems to be that he is more handsome than Howard.
At the end of the story its made very clear that Howard only had good intentions for Michelle, but her hatred for her father clouded her judgement.
This could be what 10 Cloverfield Lane tries to tell also, but more subtle. But I guess that is just a guess.
10 Cloverfield Lane – The ending
Although its not relevant to my main analysis I still feel I should give my thoughts on the ending as I really felt it crashed a lot with the rest of the movie.
Most of this movie is a suspense thriller about people attacking each other in extreme situations. Very well made too, I must say. But after Michelle flees the bomb-shelter the movie changes from thriller to sci-fi action movie. The change is abrudt and rather strange.
I would have preferred a more quick ending or at least a more ground based one. It just becomes too comic-book like. I could accept and even understand the need for a bit of a monster-mash thrill as this is a Cloverfield-franchise movie. But even the original Cloverfield movie was far more ground-based in its action scenes than 10 Cloverfield Lane.
10 Cloverfield Lane -Conclusion
I may see too much in this movie. I admit that. But that is what I like to do. I think too many people look for flaws in films, instead of trying to think that the flaws or “plot-holes” may be intentional red-herrings. One needs to have a bit of trust in the movie makers.
I liked the movie, but felt the ending was a bit too much. I wish they could have ended it on a bit less action oriented way. The script ended rather anti-climatic. But something in between would perhaps have been the best.
If you liked this blog entry you can also watch my youtube videos “Doctor Dee and Me Talk About Movies and TV” where I talk about movies. Its not as focused as this entry though, but there may be some interesting perspectives there as well.