Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Black Hole


I'd read that David Fincher was attached to direct a film adaptation of Charles Burns' comic
Black Hole. I wasn't really impressed with the idea; I wanted Fincher to direct something with a ton of visual pizzazz. But since Fincher was involved, I thought, how terrible can this comic be? It was on many blogger's top ten list the year it came out, and frequently, people tell me it's the bomb. So I picked up a copy, an early Frugal Friday, I suppose.

Black Hole is set in the mid Seventies, in Seattle, and follows a group of teenagers, some of whom have been affected by an STD they called "the bug," which causes grotesque physical transformations, some subtle, some hard to hide. The two major characters are Keith, a big pothead with nothing to do and a tendency to be constantly somewhere else, and Chris, a popular pretty girl who ends up falling in love with Rob, one of the infected. Rob's physical transformation is easily hidden: it's a little mouth in the front of his neck, just below the adam's apple. Chris and Rob end up having sex after too much drink, and Chris becomes infected. At the same time, Keith goes from having a crush on Chris to falling in love with Eliza, a girl with a tail.

The comic is very listless and wistful and longing and tender and sad and surreal. It's like reading Bret Easton Ellis directed by David Lynch or David Cronenberg. There's a strong sense of visual metaphor that starts with the very first page and ends with the last page. It's the image of the black hole, the gaping darkness that gazes back at us, the black hole that represents an uncertain future, and the darkness within us. The black hole isn't necessarily a bad thing; for many characters, the black hole is a warm safe place away from the bug, away from the social problems of living with a disease. Burns has crafted a very strong multi-faceted visual metaphor for the black hole that is represented by Rob's croaking mouth, a slit in a dissected frog, a rock formation in the lake, the sea, a gash in Chris' foot, and, of course, the vagina.

While it isn't erotic or graphic, this is a very sexy novel. These teens fumble and f*&% and suffer the consequences of their snap decisions and their copious substance abuse. The vagina becomes an important metaphor for all of the characters, and it repeats often. It's a safe warm place.... Burns shows through small scenes that the social stigma of the bug makes living in regular civilization very difficult, so the infected teens hang in small crowds, and make tender sexual connections with each other as a way to escape from it all. Burns shows this in very ingenious splash pages of random images and symbols. The snake, representing the story, representing the sperm, representing the bug makes frequent appearances in dreams and hallucinations. There is a lot of great sexual visual metaphors that makes the comic much more than a story of teens f*&%ing and smoking up. This is a story that is uniquely a comic. It's a visual story that relies heavily on visual information that tells more than what the narrators' (purposely) clumsy attempts at insight can do.

I really liked this comic, but I don't think that Fincher is the best choice for this. Cronenberg has the visual chops for this monster, but it's not like Fincher is terrible. I think that this comic, more so than others, will lend itself greatly to a film adaptation (rather than other comics like
Watchmen), as the textual narration is easily cut to let the images tell the story. I could see this being a terrific movie.

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