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[Editor's Note: LFM Editor Jason Apuzzo has the day off.  In his place he's invited an old friend, Professor Jacques de Molay, to review Piranha 3D.  As long-time Libertas readers may recall, Jacques is a Professor of Cinema & Neurosemiotics at the University of Northern California, and is a widely recognized Marxist intellectual.]

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By Jacques de Molay. Bon jour, Libertas readers.  Due to LFM Editor Jason Apuzzo’s vacation, and the fact that Piranha 3D is directed by the subversive French auteur Alexandre Aja, I have been asked to review this striking new film for the bourgeois film forum Libertas.

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It could be said that the subject of Piranha 3D is ‘consumerism,’ albeit consumerism that is contextualised into a dialectic that incorporates within it both “T” and “A.”  Except that in the case of Aja’s provocative, neo-deconstructionist exercise, female “T & A” in Piranha 3D is itself the object of consumption - as well as being approximately 10 meters high, unclothed and in three dimensions.

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A parable of 'consumer' culture?

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Aja understands that in America’s capitalistic society, the chief object of consumer desire and fetishizing is female flesh, itself.  By thereby ‘incorporating’ into his film such pre-commodified females as Kelly Brooke (ooh-la-la!), Riley Steele, Ashlynn Brooke, et al as objects of ‘consumer’ desire in his film, Aja boldly poses the question: who are the ‘real’ consumers depicted in Piranha 3D?  Are ‘we’ ourselves the piranhas here?  And if so, what does this say about the state of deconstructive, post-capitalist feminism (i.e., whose ‘asses’ are being hung out to dry here?)

Piranha 3D takes place in the fictional bourgeois community of ‘Lake Victoria’ (substituting for Lake Havasu), a repressive middle class haven of Bush’s America – note the proliferation of police, armed with tasers (“Don’t taze me, bro!”) – that swells from a population of 5,000 to approximately 50,000 each year for the annual teen rite of ‘Spring Break.’  This annual bacchanal – which both legitimizes sexual profligacy, yet contains it within the strict confines of the corporate calendar – provides the ultimate ‘feeding frenzy’ for the film’s ‘consumer class,’ the piranhas.  For the piranhas, the teens of Lake Victoria are truly ‘pieces’ of ass.

Early in the film we are introduced to our ‘hero,’ a classic WASP teen of the American middle classes named ‘Jake,’ played by Steven R. McQueen – who is the grandson of the famous actor Steve McQueen.  And thus immediately one is reminded of the elder McQueen and his appearance in 1958’s The Blob, another film which thematized the devouring of teenage flesh by an insatiable ‘consumer’ beast.  [Set to the music of Burt Bacharach.]

We are also introduced to another ‘hero,’ Jake’s mother, a female sheriff played with gruff brio by Elisabeth Shue.  Shue’s sheriff is a classic figure of Bush’s America, drilling martial ‘responsibility’ into her son and prudishly shielding him from on-line porn.  We practically expect ‘Jake’ to enroll in Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University by the time the film concludes.

'Spectacular' bodies: the temptations of American consumerism.

In a scene evocative of 1957’s The Monster That Challenged the World (another film subtly promoting America’s military-police state), an earthquake at Lake Victoria collapses the ocean floor (the Wall Street collapse?) and opens an underwater chasm, unleashing an enormous swarm of ancient piranhas (releasing unholy forces from the capitalist id?).  These savage aquatic creatures, possessed of unexpected shrewdness and cheeky charisma, have ostensibly lain dormant as eggs for millions of years – much like the flash-frozen, fried fish meals so popular in Western capitalist economies.

Soon enough, however, the ‘consumed’ will themselves become the consumers.

After the earthquake, these ‘unleashed consumers’ immediately surface … and confront actor Richard Dreyfuss, reprising his role as ‘Matt Hooper’ from Jaws.  And thus the first character killed in this fable of Bush’s America is, predictably: the liberal Jewish intellectual.

In short order, however, we learn that the true villain of Piranha 3D is not so much the prehistoric fish … so much as it is a character named Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell), based ostensibly on “Girls Gone Wild” mogul Joe Francis.  This character – who attempts to lure young Jake into his world of commodified females, alcohol and drug use – takes Jake, his benign romantic interest ‘Kelly’ (Jessica Szohr), and models ‘Danni’ and ‘Crystal’ (the astonishing Kelly Brooke and Riley Steele, respectively) into the isolated, outer reaches of the lake.

It is here – in this bucolic setting – that the signature sequence of Piranha 3D takes place, the sequence which will be talked about for years to come among film critics, academic semioticians, and older men wearing raincoats: a campy, underwater ballet between Ms. Brooke and Ms. Steele, performed to the strains of Léo Delibes’ “Flower Duet,” conducted fully naked and in 3D.  Surely this will be remembered as Aja’s ‘Odessa Steps’ sequence in years to come, his defining moment as a visionary.  I am not aware of anything resembling this sequence in the history of the cinema, at least in terms of the fetishizing of female flesh within the strictures of normative capitalist discourse – not to mention within the classical music canon.

It is here especially that Mr. Aja’s meaning becomes only too plain: we ourselves are the ‘piranhas,’ ogling after this commodified flesh.  Here one begins to appreciate the sophistication of Mr. Aja’s vision, in comparison to the similarly 3D-mad James Cameron.  Aja dispenses with Cameron’s tame, prudish alien titillation – and gives us the ‘real’ thing, in vivid three dimensions, as only a French director could.

Eager capitalist, reviewing his 'product.'

Soon enough the piranha ‘consumers’ begin wreaking their havoc.  I have been informed by Editor Apuzzo that one of the conventions of bourgeois film criticism is not to ‘give away’ the ending, so we will limit our remarks to revealing that the Derrick Jones/Joe Francis character – clearly Piranha’s scapegoat in terms of channeling the audience’s anxiety over the exploitation of female flesh – comes to a uniquely spectacular end (aided here by 3D technology) … in which his male member is chewed off with gusto by the piranhas … who subsequently spit the member out, apparently as disgusted by Mr. Jones’/Francis’ exploitation of female labor as is the audience.  [The piranhas' refusal to 'devour' the male member also confirms suspicions that the fish are, in effect, masculine and heterosexual in sensibility.  Are they fanboys, perhaps?]

Mr. Aja’s critique is thereby made plain: after the Wall Street collapse, commerce in today’s capitalist society can only end in bloody apocalypse – a farrago of bikini tops, chewed limbs … and shattered ideals.

On the acting front, special kudos should be given to Ving Rhames – the sturdy character actor who valiantly combats the marauding fish, at one point with an outboard motor – and to Christopher Lloyd of Taxi and Back to the Future fame, playing the stock ‘mad scientist’ character.  His presence in American mainstream cinema has been missed.

A vision of the predatory American 'consumer'?

Given the repressive nature of American society in the long aftermath of the Bush years, Piranha 3D should likely have been rated NC-17, if not an outright X.  In my less restrictive homeland of France, where we are better prepared to appreciate such material, I assume there will be a ‘French’ cut of the film  - perhaps featuring an extended version of the breathtaking ballet sequence … and perhaps replacing the Delibes with Bizet.

[Editor's Note: here at Libertas we are committed to providing a platform for freedom of speech, and a diversity of ideas - including those of today's progressive left.  We'd like to thank Prof. de Molay for his unique contributions to our understanding of the new film Piranha 3D.]

Posted on August 20th, 2010 at 7:10pm.

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20 Responses to “Rampant Consumerism: A Marxist Reading of Piranha 3D

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ben Bussey, Robot J. McCarthy and Mr. K, Libertas Film Mag. Libertas Film Mag said: Rampant Consumerism: A Marxist Reading of "Piranha 3D" … See: [...]

  2. Trojan Horse says:

    Well, it’s great to see that you’re giving different viewpoints a say here, Editor Apuzzo. I remember Jacques de Molay from the old days of Libertas. It’s very open-minded of you to be giving these Marxist intellectuals a chance to contribute. I have no idea what he’s talking about, but he certainly brings in a unique perspective.

  3. Gil Gilliam says:

    I never experienced the old days of Libertas, but if Jacques de Molay is now seen as a widely recognized Marxist intellectual, he clearly has NOT been avenged yet.

  4. K says:

    I am not aware of anything resembling this sequence in the history of the cinema, at least in terms of the fetishizing of female flesh within the strictures of normative capitalist discourse – not to mention within the classical music canon.

    Perhaps the good professor is forgetting the “Bolero” scene from the movie “10″? Since the composer in question in that case was French, I’m surprised at this slip up.

    Otherwise an excellent and spot on analysis. I might add that clearly the uhh, “dismemberment” scene is a timely homage to the bath scene of Russ Meyer’s classic “Up!” .

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      K, I’m so pleased that you even remember “Up”! A largely unrecognized Meyer classic, although I generally prefer his earlier work. Great bar fight in “Up,” as I recall.

      I can’t speak for the good professor, of course, but I imagine he might be turned off by Bo Derek’s subsequent turn toward political conservatism. It’s a shame to say it, but sometimes Jacques lets his politics get carried away with him – to the degree that he’s unable to appreciate the finer things in life. :)

  5. Steve Wexler says:

    Wait a minute, I think I had Professor de Molay as an instructor of mine at UCLA! This certainly sounds like a sociology prof. I knew.

    I wonder what the good Professor would think of the original CBS TV show “Spring Break Shark Attack.” I remember enjoying that.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Again, I can’t speak for the eminent professor, but I imagine he would dismiss such TV fare as lacking the visionary quality that Aja displays in this film. Probably Jacques would argue that something as subversive as Piranha 3D would never be allowed onto network primetime programming. Especially the ballet scene.

      I’ll have to text Jacques about that, though. I think he’s paragliding somewhere in South America right now.

  6. johngaltjkt says:

    This was a fun review Herr Arzt (No doubt a Vichy Collaborator) however I have one quibble in that I’ll take a Bush America over this current Destroyer/Buffoon (Let them Eat Cake!) President any day.

    • Jason Apuzzo says:

      Jacques just sent me a text message, which reads in part:

      ” … let them eat arugula.”

  7. Brett says:

    Interesting idea, but the execution went on far too long.

    Which is probably what the real de Molay said by the time March 19, 1314 rolled around.

  8. Oli says:

    But Jacques was always saying a lot of stuff and then next day he’d take it all back. Lots of contradictions….ate in Macdonalds but not Burger King (something about “flame grilled….”) and his favourite TV show was The Saint, with that guy Simon whatsisname….

  9. Patricia says:

    Another classic! I still am reeling from intellectual vertigo after “reading” the Inception review!

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