by Chad Perman
An impasse. A quandary. A pickle. A choice.
In this issue of Bright Wall/Dark Room, we’re looking at dilemmas: the in-betweens and roads not taken, the murky areas, the shades of gray. When we sent the theme out to our writers, we left it broad, stubbornly refusing to refine it any further, wanting to see what would emerge. Our worst fear was that we’d end up with an issue full of pieces on Sophie's Choice, but we had faith that the writers would rise up to meet the challenge, and, as I think you’ll see in the pages that follow, that faith was amply rewarded. (And we didn't get a single submission on Sophie's Choice.)
The issue opens with Matt Brennan's stunning meditation on Zero Dark Thirty, which wrestles with nearly fifteen years of American history, suggesting the film "remains one of the few cultural artifacts from this age of grief to suggest the actual experience of living through it." Then, Kelsey Ford takes a look at the predicament posed by the Turing test at the heart of this year's Ex Machina, and the complicated morality of artificial intelligence. Next Kyle Meikle explores the central dilemma at the heart of It Follows, a recent horror film that is often read as pure sexual allegory, but, as he suggests, might actually be a lot more about growing up, facing adulthood, and realizing our own mortality. The first half of the issue concludes with Kate Horowitz reflecting on Sweet and Lowdown, a film she grew up with and loves dearly, but finds she can no longer watch after what she learned about Woody Allen last year.
Last week, I was lucky enough to attend a screening of The End of the Tour, James Ponsoldt’s new film about a journalist's five day road trip with David Foster Wallace, at the Seattle International Film Festival. I wrote an essay on the beautiful, sad experience of watching the film in a crowded theater, as well as the existential dilemmas Wallace often orbited around in his own writing. After that, Andrew Root wonders if Hollywood, bogged down in a muck of endless sequels, adaptations, and reboots, has any new stories left to tell—only to find himself unexpectedly charmed by last year’s Into the Woods. We conclude this month’s essays with Caroline Jarvis and her look at the little-seen 2011 film, Violet & Daisy, about two teenage female assassins who find themselves in a moral quandary when they develop a friendship with someone they’ve been hired to kill.
The grace note to the issue comes in the form of a brand new poem from our resident poet, Arielle Greenberg. Arielle decided to try something new this month, turning in a seven page “poem-essay” exploring cinematic depictions of Esalen-type encounter groups (think Don Draper at the end of Mad Men), how easy it is to write these groups off or poke fun at them, but how they often lead to some very real, deeply authentic experiences. It’s some of the finest work Arielle has ever done, and we’re proud to be able to share it with you.
Finally, I wanted to mention something that means a whole lot to me. Two years ago, in June 2013, we took a leap of faith and decided to transition our long-running blog into a monthly magazine instead. This month's issue marks the two year anniversary of our little digital experiment, a labor of love that the staff and I have been pouring our hearts into these past 24 months, and we wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of you for going on this journey with us. It takes a lot of work behind the scenes to put an issue out each month, and we couldn’t possibly do it without your readership and support keeping us afloat. We’re enormously happy to reach this two year point without running a single advertisement, or compromising any of our independence along the way. We’ve kept it going for 25 issues, and as long as you keep reading and subscribing, we’ll keep doing what we do. It’s been an absolute blast, and we don’t take a single one of you for granted.
—Chad Perman, Editor-in-Chief