Captain America: The First Avenger

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Reference: Alexander the Great, The Gordian Knot

Level: Inferred

Description: In Captain America: The First Avenger, pre-super serum Steve Rogers is a thoroughly decent, honourable fellow, who is held back from joining the army by a raft of physical and medical barriers. Due to the positive aspects of his character, he is selected for a secret initiative that eventually leads to him being turned into a superhero and becoming the eventual leader of The Avengers. It is in his ‘weakened state’ that we see him echo one of Alexander the Great’s most famous deeds. Steve Rogers and his company are on a long-distance jog around the army campsite when a flagpole appears. The drill sergeant tells the men that the first person to get the flag from the top of the pole gets a ride back to the base, thus skipping the remaining half of the slog. All of the soldiers attempt to climb the pole, and fail, except for Rogers. After the other men fall back in line, Rogers approaches the flagpole and removes the pin from the base, leading to the pole toppling to the ground. Rogers then simply walks towards the end of the pole (now on the floor), removes the flag and gets a lift home – much to the amazement and ire of the other men.

This solution to a problem is very similar to Alexander the Great’s treatment of the Gordian Knot. When shown the knot in Gordium, Alexander was told that any man who could unravel the knot would become the king of Asia. After several unsuccessful attempts, Alexander applied some lateral thinking/cheating to the task. There are two versions about what happened next. The first states that Alexander simply sliced the knot apart with his sword – thus freeing the cart that it was tethering. The second version (and the one most like the Steve Rogers example) has Alexander removing the linchpin from the yoke, thus allowing the knot to be loosened.

In both the Alexander’s and Steve Rogers’ story, this reaction to a seemingly impossible challenge is meant to demonstrate that both men were more than muscle; they saw the world in ways that other men could not and this allowed them to be greater than anyone who had lived before them. It could be argued that both men cheated, but perhaps they show that power can be taken by those that can see how to seize it. Both men also demonstrate that a Captain and a Great need plenty of brains as well as lots of brawn.  

Contributor: David Hogg


12 Monkeys

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Reference: Cassandra

Level: Overt

Description: In Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, Bruce Willis plays the time-traveller James Cole who is sent back in time from a virus-ridden future to try and locate a cure or prevent a deadly outbreak which kills 5 billion people. In order to do this, people in James Cole’s present (our future) have pieced together clues from the past, which they believe prove that The Army of the 12 Monkeys are responsible for the horrific event which leads to the death of almost the entire world’s population. Cole’s mission seems straightforward, except when he returns to 1990 instead of 1996, time travel has somewhat addled his brain and the people that he comes up against do not believe he is from the future. Thus they are unwilling either to release him from the asylum he is locked up in or help in his quest. Thankfully for Cole, he is jumped out of 1990 and eventually finds his way into 1996.

The film then shows psychiatrist Dr. Kathryn Railly giving a lecture on the Cassandra Complex in patients and how throughout time there have been people who have claimed to know the future, and it is almost always an apocalyptic vision. She then references Cassandra who in Greek mythology was cursed by Apollo to always know the future but to never be believed. This burden is most keenly felt when Cassandra knows that the Greeks are lurking within the Trojan Horse, but nobody listens to her advice – and the city falls forever. This of course is the time-traveller’s curse; unless you can bring back technology from the future that does not exist in the temporal zone you are sent back to, who will believe that you are from the future? In fact it is almost impossible to envisage anything that could be brought back that would prove you were from the future, such is our ambivalence of ground-breaking technology today.

Back to the Future showed that if you went to the past and then predicted a series of events correctly, perhaps that would convince people that you were from the future. In reality, I think most people would just think you were making lucky guesses. In fact, there is even a term now for the belief that the future can be known and that is ‘The Cassandra Complex’. Therefore, even if we were lucky enough to be visited by someone form the future trying to warn us about mistakes we were about to make, we have a readymade label to slap on their head before sending them off to a psychiatrist. This means that we will never see whatever is coming, even when it is potentially right under our noses. The knowledge drove Cole (in this film) and Cassandra mad and both proved that knowing the future does not mean you can change fact. Jocasta and Laius can certainly confirm that.

Contributor: David Hogg


Back to the Future

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Reference: Oedipus

Level: Inferred

Description: It has taken me a long time to see the Oedipal references in this 80s classic and yet when I saw them they were so obvious! This is more evidence for what a good film Back to the Future is - it created a mythology of its own which meant that only imitators following it are recognised rather than the inspirations that preceded it. The most obvious reference to Oedipus comes in the form of Marty McFly’s mother (Lorraine), falling in love with him and ignoring his father (George). For Oedipus, Lorraine is Jocasta and George is Laius. In this movie, we have Freud’s Oedipus Complex played out in mainstream cinema as entertainment - for kids! But there are even more echoes of the infamous Greek tragedy in this movie.

Firstly, in Sophocles’ play, Oedipus inadvertently kills his father in a road-rage incident. In Back to the Future, we have a nice twist on this when Marty actually saves his dad from being knocked over by a car (in 1955), thus preventing the very accident that would have brought his parents together.

Secondly, it is also possible to see Biff as the Sphinx; he does after all present Marty with a riddle (“Why don’t you make like a tree...”) and it is in Marty’s humiliation of Biff (in the manure) where Lorraine’s love/lust for her own son becomes solidified; similar to how Oedipus defeating the Sphinx gives him access to Jocasta’s heart.

Finally, we can see a nice spin on the idea of fate in this movie. In Oedipus, the fate of the son is written by the gods and cannot be altered. In fact it seems that in trying to alter fate, the characters actually ensure their doom. In Back to the Future, fate is seen from ‘the other end’ - as much as you cannot alter your future fate, you also cannot alter your past and if you do, there will be dire consequences for your future. Back to the Future is a movie that feels very modern, but in its most dramatic (and horrific) moments, it is tapping into psychological distresses that have been with us since the times of the Ancient Greeks

Contributor: David Hogg


Captain Corelli's Mandolin

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Reference: Horace

Level: Inferred

Description: Horace once wrote that, “Conquered Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought her arts into rustic Latium”. This statement was in relation to how Roman culture blossomed only after it had allowed Greek culture to seep into Latin arts; this cultural appropriation by the Romans was a direct result of their successful colonisation of Greece. This film adaptation of Louis de Bernières novel cannot be watched without feeling like Horace’s sentiment runs throughout the narrative. When the film starts, Cephalonia is idyllic – it is peaceful, children are happy and love blossoms easily. However, this peace is shattered when the Italian army occupy the island (with a little help from the Nazis). When we first meet Captain Corelli, he seems like a boorish man, fuelled by his own sense of brilliance and with an arrogance that is inflamed by the fawning of those around him. When he first sees Penelope Cruz’s character Pelagia he performs the Italian militaristic equivalent of a wolf-whistle by pointing out her beauty to his troops and then salutes her whilst marching ignorantly through her recently conquered home. He continues to act in this loutish way until Pelagia points out his distinct lack of charm to him. This leads Corelli into a process of self-reflection and then self-improvement. Eventually Pelagia sees the real man behind the uniform and decides that he is worthy of her love. In the end, the Italian soldiers fight against the Nazis who take over the occupation of the island (after Mussolini surrenders to the Allies), primarily as an act of self-preservation, but also perhaps as a demonstration that the conquered Greek island of Cephalonia had now conquered the savage fascist conqueror again, echoing Horace’s 2000 year-old sentiment.

Contributor: David Hogg


Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (Jabba the Hutt)

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Reference: Caligula

Level: Inferred

Description: Jabba the Hutt may not have had the title of ‘Emperor’, but in lots of ways he styled himself as one, albeit a more budget version. Jabba had a palace, his own Praetorian guards (the porcine Gamorrean guards), a loyal Narcissus-esque slave/adviser (Bib Fortuna), courtesans (Oola) and a special place to throw people to their death when they were disloyal, boring or not amorous enough (the Rancor pit). In fact, the drunken stupor that Luke finds when he enters Jabba’s Palace could just as easily be a scene from the ‘last days of Rome’ as it could be from closing time at a local pub. But what perhaps elevates Jabba’s faux-Imperial standing even further is his sail barge – the Khetanna. This floating vessel is an ostentatious pleasure-boat, complete with a mobile-drinks service (R2-D2) and plank that has been specifically designed to allow people to fall to their death, straight into the mouth of the Sarlacc Pit, in clear view of the baying viewing gallery. Nothing screams powerful despot like an extravagant barge! And it seems that Jabba may have stolen his barge design from a much more famous despot – Caligula. In 1927, Mussolini ordered Lake Nemi to be drained so that the remains of 2 boats belonging to Caligula could be recovered. What was brought to the surface looked strikingly similar to the design of (what would become) Jabba’s Khetanna; no Star Wars fan could help but see the design similarities. One of Caligula’s barges was absolutely huge (73 metres by 24 metres) and contained quantities of marble, had mosaic floors, heating, plumbing and even had amenities such as baths. Suetonius described one of the boats as having ten-banks of oars and poops blazed with jewels. Both of Caligula’s barges were deliberately sunk after his assassination and they were re-destroyed by the Allies in a WWII bombing raid. There is a pleasant historical symmetry in the raising of Caligula the dictator’s boats by another dictator (Mussolini), only to be sunk (again) by people trying to assert their power over a tyranny. Of course, any lover of history would have loved to see what Caligula’s barges looked like in all their glory, but some history writes its own story and perhaps this version is better.

Contributor: David Hogg


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Reference: Galen of Pergamon, Callisto (Ovid's Metamorphoses)

Level: Overt and Inferred

Description: Galen Erso is the scientific genius who is forced by Orson Krennic to build the first Death Star for the evil Galactic Empire. Galen does not want to do this, but decides that if he has to, he will build a hidden flaw into the weapon that will allow the Rebellion to destroy it once it is complete. In lots of ways, his plan is a success and shows how it is not the ‘science’ that is evil, but it is how the science is used which dictates whether it is good or bad for mankind. ‘Galen’ is a name that is synonymous with Galen of Pergamon who lived in Rome as a physician to the gladiators in the early 160s AD and then became physician to the emperors Marcus Aurelius, Commodus and Septimius Severus. Galen of Pergamon also gained fame for his dissections of living animals (more about Galen of Pergamon’s history can be read in the Planet of the Apes entry below).  Galen Erso’s name is therefore apt because of his scientific knowledge and his ability to support the survival of emperors. However, what I find most intriguing about Galen Erso is his surname. When pronounced, his name is almost homophonic to ‘Ursa’, which is Latin for ‘Bear’. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses there is a story regarding Ursa Major and Ursa Minor that may just have a tentative link to Galen’s surname and add an extra layer of tragedy to his relationship with his daughter, Jyn. In Ovid’s poem Callisto (a follower of Diana) is raped by Jupiter, after he disguises himself as Diana. Nine months later, Diana discovers Callisto’s pregnancy and exiles her. Juno, angered by Jupiter’s affair, turns Callisto into a bear. Fifteen years later, Callisto (now a bear) is wandering around the forest when she sees her son. She reaches out to him, but he, thinking that he is under attack, prepares to unwittingly kill his mother. Just before he is able to carry out this matricide, Jupiter transforms both mother and child into constellations – Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. In Rogue One, Galen seems to suffer a similar fate to Callisto. Neither Callisto nor Galen were in control of their lives as bigger forces (Gods and Empires) lusted after them. Both were also isolated from their loved ones, whilst simultaneously being perceived as a danger to those around them. Jyn Erso, like Arcas (Callisto’s son) is almost responsible for the death of her father (at the hands of Cassian Andor) and it is about 15 years between Jyn’s separation from her father and her brief moment of reunion with him. By the end of the movie, both Jyn and Galen have died, so it could be argued that they are now ‘in heaven’, together again. It seems therefore, that Galen Erso’s narrative arc is linked to Callisto’s. And if you are still not convinced about this Ovidian link… what was Galen Erso’s nickname for his daughter? Stardust.

Contributor: David Hogg


The Shape of Water

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Reference: Cupid and Psyche, Orpheus and Eurydice, Pandora, Tantalus

Level: Implied, inferred and overt

Description: In Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, the myth of Cupid and Psyche can be seen bubbling away beneath the surface and so can the musical accompaniment of Orpheus and Eurydice. In the myth of Cupid and Psyche, Psyche and her sisters (based on a prophecy their father had been told) think that Cupid is a monster. Despite this, Psyche still falls in love with Cupid and the opulent life that he gives her. Psyche is banned from looking at Cupid, but temptation gets the better of her and when she looks at him, she thinks he is most beautiful creature she has ever seen. Unfortunately, this results in Cupid disappearing from her sight (as her punishment).  Psyche eventually wins Cupid back after she is turned into an immortal and ascends into the heavens with him. In The Shape of Water, Eliza Esposito finds herself in love with a monster (simply called Monster) who initially hides himself away from her.  Eliza pursues the relationship, enamoured by the happiness she feels in his presence (emphasising that happiness and beauty are subjective). Del Toro seems to have inverted the original myth in the final scene when Eliza ‘ascends to the heavens’ by  descending into the oceanic depths after metamorphosising into ‘an underwater goddess’. The myth of Psyche is further echoed in the movie when we are told that Eliza was found by a riverbank; a riverbank is also where Pan finds Psyche after Cupid has disappeared. By the end of the film, are there perhaps references made to Eliza having been left by the river bank years before by the Monster as some sort of ‘punishment’ (as in the myth), with the possibility that the scars on her neck were actually her gills in a ‘sealed state’? Fate, it seems, had been plotting their pathways. The plot of this film is also entwined with Orpheus and Eurydice. This is seen in the name of the cinema (Orpheum) and the fact that music plays such a pivotal role in the forging of their relationships. It seems that the Monster in the film is Orpheus, sent to the Underworld (our terra firma) to rescue Eliza from the purgatory of her Cold War-era - racist, homophobic USA.  The Monster’s mission is to take her back ‘to the surface’, by taking her below (the water). Another myth referenced is Pandora, which is the name of Giles’ cat – the same cat that is eaten by the Monster. In mythology, Pandora releases evil into the world from her box, but she is also responsible for releasing hope. There is some irony that the cat no longer has any hope, but the lesson is more important than the cat. Giles doesn’t turn his back on the Monster, somehow sensing that something bigger is going on here (which is a good choice by Giles as it allows him to get his hair back!). The final mythological reference is fleeting but powerful. Giles talks about his feelings for the ‘Pie Guy’ and describes them in reference to Tantalus (another myth) – he is so close to his desire, yet so far. As viewers, we feel that it is Giles’ own embarrassment which creates his tantalising punishment, but when he summons up the courage to let the Pie Guy know his feelings, we discover that it is the prejudice of society which continues to ensure that Giles is tortured. The homophobic reaction of the Pie Guy is emphasised further by his racist reaction to the black family who enter the establishment. For all the wholesomeness of the pie shop and the Pie Guy’s friendly act, there is no soul in this America and no room for love, unless you are prepared to fight for it – and fight for love is exactly what our protagonists do. And for once, unlike for Orpheus, love succeeds. 

Contributor: David Hogg


Fantasia

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Reference: Lovers of Lies or the Sceptic by Lucian

Level: Inferred

Description: When Mickey Mouse needed a commercial boost, Walt Disney looked to Goethe for inspiration and decided to place the studio’s star in an animated short called The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. This short evolved over time into Fantasia, the 22nd highest grossing film in the U.S. and in 1998, it was ranked as the 58th greatest American film of all time. The film has also spawned soundtracks, theme park rides, video games, spoofs and marketing emblems (the Sorcerer’s hat that Mickey Mouse has been seen to wear). In short, Fantasia has brought in a lot of money for Disney. The most memorable moment from the movie is arguably the Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene, which is a moment that steals the show; it is a scene that everybody knows and remembers. And Disney owes the success of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, not to Goethe, but to Lucian - a Greek satirist who was writing about 1500 years before Goethe was born. In one of Lucian’s attacks on superstition (called Lovers of Lies or the Sceptic), there is a single paragraph that is undoubtedly the inspiration for Goethe and hence, the inspiration for Disney. In Lucian’s writing, the character of Eucrates tells his colleagues that whilst in Egypt he befriended a holy man called Pancrates who was able to utter a spell that would turn a broom or a pestle into a servant. One day, Eucrates (unbeknownst to Pancrates) tries the spell and asks the pestle to fetch him some water. Once the pestle has done this, it refuses to stop and continues to bring more and more water until it fills and floods the house. Eucrates panics and chops the pestle into two pieces with an axe, but this now means that there are 2 pestle-servants fetching water, doubling Eucrates’ problems! Pancrates returns and de-animates the wooden objects, before mysteriously disappearing from the scene.  From what I know, there is no ‘tradition’ in antiquity for Lucian’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice (a tale that also reminds me of Bedknobs and Broomsticks) and therefore it seems safe to say that Disney should be very grateful to Lucian – or at least mention him in the end credits of the next Fantasia re-release!

Contributor: David Hogg


Star Wars

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Reference: Augustus

Level: Inferred

Description: The Emperors Augustus and Palpatine both used the same machinations when they transformed their states from Republican to Imperial rule. In both situations, a single man succeeded in seizing all of the power and all of the levers that controlled that power. To help the process along, he framed his actions within a civil war, citing it as both justification for his actions and as expediency to altering to the status quo. Neither Empires were formed by chance, but were instead the result of an orchestrated ‘Imperial revolution’. Once in place, both Emperors maintained a modest façade, but left nobody in any doubt as to who was in charge. A comparison can also be seen in the way that Augustus relied on Agrippa (his strong, ‘right hand man’) and Palpatine’s use of Darth Vader at the coal-face, who makes sure that the Emperor’s word is carried out, without the Emperor actually needing to be present. Interestingly, by dropping the second “p” from the name Palpatine, what remains is “Palatine”; this is the English spelling of the mons Palatinus, one of the seven Roman Hills, on which the imperial palaces were built. There is also a similarity in the clothing style of Emperor Palpatine and that of Augustus’ image as ponitifex maximus. Augustus is not the only inspiration for Emperor Palpatine. Parallels to the Weimarer Republic und Adolf Hitler can be drawn, where a republican senate is led by a chancellor. Also, according to George Lucas, air battles in WW2-movies were an inspiration for the space dog-fights in his Star Wars movies. Augustus and Imperial Rome certainly loom large over both the fictional world of Star Wars and the all-too-real world of the Third Reich.

Contributor: Michael Kleu


The Book of Life

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Reference: Orpheus and Eurydice, Achilles

Level: Implied

Description: Guillermo del Toro’s animated The Book of Life is a magical tale about a young boy (Manolo) who has dreams of becoming a great musician and marrying the love of his life (Maria). Things seem to be heading in that direction until Xibalba (who rules the Land of the Forgotten – the Underworld?) becomes a literal Deus ex Machina when he creates a snake that bites Maria, which seems to kill her. Heartbroken, Manolo offers to give his heart to rescue Maria from the Land of the Remembered. Manolo does go to ‘the Underworld’, but he has been tricked and one of the ways he gets out is by using his music to charm the dead souls of the bulls that have been slaughtered in the bullring. Although not identical, there are quite clearly links between this movie and the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Eurydice is bitten by a snake and Orpheus travels to the Underworld to retrieve her. His music is also his ‘weapon’ when he comes up against The Furies. However, Orpheus is unsuccessful, which is probably why adaptations of Greek myths for children rarely follow the original plot – Pixar et al would be making horror movies for school kids! In addition to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Achilles also seems to be present. Manolo’s friend, Joaquin is given a medal that means that, as long as he wears it, he is invincible. This allows him to become the greatest warrior in the land, but he sacrifices the protection of the medal to save his friends. By the end of the movie, we are aware that there are Gods that sometimes decide to get involved in our lives for no better reason than a wager (La Muerte and Xibalba have made a bet about whether Maria will marry Joaquin or Manolo when she is older, which is the start of the chain of events), and we are once again reminded of those Gods on Olympus, meddling in the affairs of men as and when it pleases them.

Contributor: David Hogg


Planet of the Apes (1968)

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Reference: Galen

Level: Overt

Description: In the original Planet if the Apes movie (1968), Doctor Galen is vet who works with and experiments on human test subjects. He constantly laments his position in the ape hierarchy and seems to feel that his ideas and methods would help his fellow apes. Doctor Galen saves the life of human astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston) by using a blood transfusion from another human (Nova). In the second century A.D., Galen was a Greek born in Pergamon who got the job as physician to the gladiators by slicing open a monkey and challenging the other physicians present to repair the bleeding beast. They were out of their depth and refused, meaning that Galen got the job. He is quoted as saying ‘we ourselves treated the ape... we deliberately severed many large veins...’ which of course does not sound very nice for the monkey, but is the start of a career that is very important to the history of medicine. The naming of Doctor Galen in Planet of the Apes is therefore a nice piece of historical mirroring; the fictional chimpanzee’s search for anatomical truth reverses the Greek Galen’s use of the monkey and humans become the test subjects of the simian surgeon. It is in these scenes that we are reminded most of the true horrors of vivisection. It is also this reversal of fortune (and others in the movie) that remind the viewers that humans have the potential to be just as beastly as any other beast.

Contributor: David Hogg


Sleeping Beauty/Snow White

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Reference: Eris

Level: Implied and Inferred

Description: I was tempted to place this addition into ‘Books’, but as I have not read the original fairy stories, I thought that it would be disingenuous to pretend that I had. Therefore, this entry will be focussed only on the movie versions of the fairy tales. In Greek mythology, Eris is the goddess of strife and is not invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, as it was in Eris’s nature to cause discord - and no one wanted that on a wedding day that was already controversial (Thetis was being forced into this marriage by Zeus). But Eris turns up at the wedding anyway and being overlooked for an invitation has not made her particularly happy. She gate-crashes the party, scowls and sulks and then leaves - but not before sowing a seed of disharmony that will eventually lead to the Trojan War and countless deaths. As she departs from the celebrations, Eris drops a golden apple inscribed ‘for the fairest’ and the goddess triumvirate of Hera, Athena and Aphrodite all claim the prize as their own. Each of them refuses to relinquish ownership of the apple because such an action would prove that they were not ‘the fairest’. This myth therefore seems to have inspired/informed two fairy stories. We see the exclusion of Eris from the wedding in Sleeping Beauty when Maleficent is snubbed from the royal christening of Princess Aurora (which then leads to the innocent child being cursed by Maleficent). We also see echoes of Eris in Snow White with the Queen’s ‘mirror mirror on the wall, who is fairest of us all’ incantation. Additionally, the discordant effects of an apple are also seen in Snow White when Snow White eats the poisoned fruit and ‘dies’. With the myth of Eris and the film Sleeping Beauty, we learn that not inviting malevolent forces to family gatherings can lead to worse results than if they had just been endured at the celebration in the first place.

Contributor: David Hogg


Ex Machina

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Reference: Pygmalion

Level: Implied

Description: The myth of Pygmalion gets a modern twist in this sci-fi classic. Tech guru (Nathan) has built a robot called Ava that is so lifelike that he thinks that it could fool a person into believing it is ‘real’. Here, ‘real’ means ‘intelligent’ and Nathan is so sure that his creation will pass the Turing Test that he does not even attempt to hide the circuitry from the person he has asked to test the Ava’s responses. The examiner (Caleb) is so convinced of her sentience that he begins to feel sympathy for her imprisonment and plots to free her from her cage. He also seems to have fallen in love with the A.I. and therefore his motives are not purely altruistic; there is definitely a hint that he thinks he is coming to her rescue and that his actions will lead to them living ‘happily ever after’. In the myth of Pygmalion, Pygmalion makes a sculpture that is so real and beautiful that he falls in love with it. This leads to him denying all other women as they now seem inferior when compared to his (silent) statue. Aphrodite takes pity on his yearnings, brings his creation to life and they live happily ever after. The myth alludes to the idea that the ideal woman is beautiful, silent and possessed by her man -  a man who by the very act of creating her neutralises the female ‘superpower’ of procreation and elevates his own status to that of a god. Nathan refers to himself as a ‘god’ in Ex Machina and also mentions Prometheus, so the ‘delusions of grandeur’ idea is not without grounding. However, Ex Machina fights back against the ’male fantasy’ inherent in the Pygmalion myth. Ava manipulates her ‘men’ to set herself free from prison, using the feminine aspects of her character (aspects that the men desired), against them. In doing so, she literally walks over the body of her dead creator and then abandons the man who thought he would own her - to a slow and painful death; she doesn’t even blink when she sees what she has done. It is by these cold, Machiavellian actions that we realise Ava has passed her final test and she has proven beyond doubt, she is ‘human’ after all.

Contributor: David Hogg


Thor: Ragnarok

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Reference: Spartacus

Level: Implied

Description: In Ragnarok, Thor finds himself on the planet of Sakaar, where he is promptly taken prisoner and forced into gladiatorial combat for the pleasure of the Grandmaster and his bloodthirsty subjects. Whilst waiting for his appearance in the arena, Thor meets a man made of stones named Korg. Korg is part of the ‘warm-up act’, before the main fighting starts; he is a ‘Roman’ gladiator and is even dressed like one. His Spartacus-esque qualities are gifted to the audience immediately when he explains that he is being punished for trying to start a rebellion against the Grandmaster (a rebellion that failed due to a lack of leaflets being produced). Just in case you miss the Spartacus reference, Korg also leads the gladiators into a rebellion later in the film; he also manages to break his fellow gladiatorial prisoners out of their enslavement and into freedom. However, unlike Spartacus, Korg is not captured and executed and instead continues to use his new freedom (along with the other gladiators) to stop the forces of evil. The way that Spartacus is remembered by the ‘collective conscience’ is an interesting topic to explore and is very similar to how Guy Fawkes is viewed in England. Both men were threats to the established order and were extreme outlaws within their society. Yet their pluck at taking on such huge powers (and almost succeeding) has bestowed an ‘underdog’ status upon them. It is a status that people choose to remember far more readily than the calamitous endings that both men faced. I’m sure many people have often played with the idea of what Rome would have been like had Spartacus succeeded and I’m sure that that vision is probably quite idyllic. Why is that?  

Contributor: David Hogg


O Brother, Where Art Thou?  

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Reference: The Odyssey

Level: Inferred

Description: The story-line of this film is loosely based on Homer's Odyssey – although it manages to entwine this Classical myth with Christian allusions too. This ‘switching of codes’ allows the movie’s narrative to ‘fade in and out’ of the Greek myth, which prevents the plot from becoming predictable. The film tells the tale of three escaped convicts on a journey looking for treasure and contains multiple inferred references to Homer’s epic poem. The main protagonist's name is Ulysses, his wife is called Penny (an abbreviation of Odysseus’ wife Penelope) and Ulysses has to fight a rival male suitor at the end. The convicts meet a blind prophet (Tiresias) on their travels as well as three beguiling singing women (Sirens). There is also a Southern Evangelist baptism, which sees two of the fugitives drawn to the promise of forgetting all of their troubles and woes in the arms of religion. On first viewing, it seems that this is another ‘Siren’ moment, but the ‘forgetting of problems’ actually makes it a Lotus Eaters reference. John Goodman plays the part Big Dan Teague who only has one eye and robs people for a living and thus, we have our Polyphemus. Finally, Ulysses and his men are pursued tirelessly by Sheriff Cooley, who is the personification of Poseidon trying to punish Odysseus to the point of pity. There is also a big ‘O’ at the start of the title. This is a great film, but it begs the question - when is there going to be a good movie adaptation of Homer’s classic that isn’t based on allusions?

Contributor: SarahS


Blade Runner 2049

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Reference: The Trojan Horse

Level: Implied

DescriptionSPOILER ALERT! The following piece of writing will contain plot descriptions of the new movie.  It seems that no matter how far into the future or how distant from Earth a sci-fi movie is set, it is never very far away from the Classical world. Classical tropes are very useful in these ‘predicted realities’ as they can give the viewer something familiar to hang their thoughts onto, whilst the backdrop and storyline perhaps deals with something far more alien to them. For example, Battlestar Galactica’s use of Hellenic gods allowed the viewers to identify with the beliefs and history of the last remaining humans, without having to them as being exactly the same as ‘us’. The Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049 uses a very common piece of symbolism that allows the viewer to go away from the film with more questions than answers. In the first half of the film, Gosling holds on to the memory of a wooden horse, a horse that he literally ends up holding as proof of his unique replicant birth. It is impossible to say the words ‘wooden horse’ without then conjuring up the image and the symbolism of the Trojan Horse. The trick with this film is trying to work out who has placed the horse outside the gates and who is hiding inside it. The first explanation is that Decard’s replicant/human daughter has placed the horse into the memory implants that she designs for the replicants deliberately. She is literally hiding in their heads and when the replicant revolution comes, they will hold on to the memory of the wooden horse and that will give them the belief that they are ‘real’. She is the best designer of ‘memory implants’ and therefore, her memories will give the replicants the emotional jolt that they need to rebel – as witnessed by what happens to Ryan Gosling’s character. However, it is unclear if she is aware of her unique identity or not. Has she been placed there deliberately by the replicants who witnessed the miracle of her birth as a Trojan Horse within the replicant industry? It would not be the first time that the term Trojan Horse was used to describe a computer programme. Finally, there are the Trojan Horses on every street in this futuristic dystopia – the replicants themselves. They have been welcomed into the human world as an offering to humanity’s brilliance, but the underground of replicant revolutionaries is growing and they are almost ready to jump out and sack this modern Troy. Robin Wright’s police chief talks about ‘a wall being at risk of coming down’ and that when that happens their world will end. I think this is an allusion to the walls of Troy; what Wright does not seem to realise though is that the walls have already been breached. Even K’s ‘virtual girlfriend’ is a horse, that allows him to be tracked by Jared Leto’s company. What we are left with is the Russian Doll Wooden horse: the horse inside the head of the replicant, placed in there by the horse inside the company, placed in the company by the horses on the street. Humanity is doomed and judging by this movie’s predictions, that may not be a bad thing.

Contributor: David Hogg


Prometheus

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Reference: Prometheus

Level: Overt

DescriptionSPOILER ALERT – I will also be talking about Covenant. After viewing Prometheus, most audience members feel let down and/or confused. But there is an extra layer of enjoyment to be gleaned if you watch the film with the myth of Prometheus at the forefront of your thoughts. In Greek mythology, Prometheus brought the gift of fire to mankind, which allowed them to become independent from their gods and essentially ‘ignore the gods to death’. Your job as an audience member during this film is to try and figure out who are ‘the gods’, who are ‘the men’ and what is ‘the fire’. The first god seems to be the ‘Engineer’, who we are led to believe created humans. They leave clues to their location in caves around Earth and Guy Pearce’s character of Weyland assumes that they will have the knowledge to prolong his life. So, the Engineers are gods and the fire is life. But it isn’t as simple as that. In this filmic universe, humans have learnt how to create sophisticated A.I., which makes humans gods and robots humans. Michael Fassbender’s A.I. character David is superior to his human counterparts in everything except his ability to feel. However, we are shown several times that he does not like to be reminded of this shortcoming and this perhaps proves that he does actually have feelings. He then makes the decision to turn his back on his creators and expedites the death of his human crewmates in a quest to create new life or destroy it, whichever comes first – like a god. This idea is fleshed out further in Covenant and we see his megalomania in flashback with Shelley’s Ozymandias as a soundtrack. And so, we are left with David as god and the xenomorphs as his ‘humans’. Does this means that the aliens are the eagle repeatedly eating our collective livers and will the aliens somehow turn on him? What is Ridley Scott trying to say with these movies? Is he saying that our pursuit of knowledge will be our undoing? Is he reminding us that God should be the answer to all questions? Is he letting us know that we are ultimately responsible for what we create – whether that’s good or bad? There are lots of things that could be said about these movies and their links to mythology that I have missed, so I am very happy to insert addendums if you send them to me (see Contact page). Maybe the next film will provide more answers (but I do like the questions too!).

Contributor: David Hogg


Clouds of Sils Maria

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Reference: Nemesis

Level: Overt

Description: In this movie, Juliette Binoche plays an actress (Maria Enders) who agrees to take part in a play that she had first performed in 20 years previously. Significantly, she is asked to take the part of the 'older woman' (Helena) in this version as opposed to the 'carefree teenager' (Sigrid) she had played two decades before. We are told that Binoche's character had starred in some X-Men movies in the role of Nemesis (a character that has not actually appeared in any of the real X-Men films). The name of this character feels significant as it is mentioned at least twice in the movie and we begin to wonder if Ender's failure to acknowledge the fact that she has aged means that she starts to develop some form of madness. She refuses to believe that anyone but her could understand the machinations of Sigrid and this starts to come across as hubris.  This unwillingness to accept reality is tested further when Chloë Grace Moretz's 19 year-old character Jo-Ann Ellis is dropped into the movie to take the part of Sigrid, the part Ender cannot let go of. Ender is confronted with a young female actor whose fame has grown out of a sci-fi franchise (similar to Ender's involvement in X-Men movies), but rather than see the parallels between their lives, Ender can only see differences and does not respect or like this younger version of herself. And so, the pain grows for Ender as the retribution of Nemesis is visited on her time and time again. It is not until she seems to accept her new role in the world as an older woman that she finds inner peace and the film ends. 

Contributor: David Hogg


Planet of the Apes Trilogy

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Reference: Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar

Level: Implied

Description: Initially I thought that this was quite a lazy name for the ape leader (I know in the film the name is given to him because of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, but a good literature student never stops at the obvious answer). I felt that the history of Julius Caesar did not seem to map very well onto the first film and even by the end of the trilogy I was not sure how far his name could be interpreted as a reference to Julius Caesar. However, on closer inspection I saw that there were parallels. Both Caesars were great generals and had troops that were loyal to them. Both Caesars fought battles and won. Interestingly, both Caesars declare war by the crossing of water (the Rubicon and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge). Both were victims of assassination attempts that were carried out by those closest to the victims (Brutus and Koba). However, ape Caesar is not interested in a power grab for his own sake and survives his assassination attempt (unlike Julius). It is at this point that I think the Caesar of Augustus starts to emerge. Augustus and ape Caesar led their people long enough to fully establish their empires. Both were willing to do what it took to maintain their leadership, by eliminating threats, in order to propagate the bigger picture. Both also seemed to value the establishment of the family unit and held conservative values. And both were seen more as leaders than tyrants, despite their supreme powers. When both Caesars die, they leave behind them a world that is very different to the one in which they were born into.  I'm sure that there are other parallels, but I might have to watch the films again. If you have anything to add or disagree with what has been written, fill out the contact form and let me know. Perhaps ape Caesar was Claudius all along and I've completely missed the point.

Contributor: David Hogg


Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

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Reference: The Praetorian Guard of Imperial Rome

Level: Overt

Description: In the original Star Wars trilogy, the Emperor had guards dressed all in red, referred to as "Royal Guards" (of course, Emperors have Imperial Guards, not Royal Guards, but this is how it goes in Star Wars).

In the prequel trilogy we learn that the Royal Guards were originally the Senatorial Guards, dressed all in blue.

In the second film of the third trilogy, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, we discover that Supreme Leader Snoke, in his attempt to reconstitute the Empire (which was destroyed at the end of Return Of The Jedi), has created a new Guard force titled Elite Praetorian Guard who are, once again, dressed all in red.

As the film does not open until December, we still do not know any details about these new Praetorians. Their name is a direct reference to the Praetorian Guard of Ancient Rome, which was formed by order of the Senate to protect Emperor Augustus Caesar. It remains to be seen if these 'Space Opera Praetorians' will, like their ancient namesakes, become the power behind the throne, able to make or break emperors. It was the Praetorians after all who decided that the unloved Claudius succeeded Caligula after he had been assassinated. Given the history of Star Wars though, I doubt this will happen. Or is the role of 'Space Claudius' about to be filled by Jar Jar?

Contributor: Narukami

Website: http://narukamisthunderbolts.blogspot.com/2013/08/hollywood-romans-4-box-office-gladiators.html


Indecent Proposal

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ReferenceAlcestis by Euripides

Level: Inferred

Description: In 1993, a film came out that caused a sensation and was the source of countless discussions that centred around the phrase 'would you?'. Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson's characters go to Vegas and put it all on red in an effort to rescue their dire financial situation after the recession. They fail and Robert Redford offers $1,000,000 to the couple if he can sleep with Diana (Moore). She eventually agrees and this saves David (Harrelson) and Diana financially, but kills them emotionally. Both Alcestis and Diana are forced to step-up and save their husbands from their fates; their only weapons are their bodies and they give these unwillingly to 'save the day'. Both husbands are left worse off after their wives' sacrifice than if they had just let fate take its course; they regret not simply accepting the negative turns that their lives had taken and dealing with the problems instead of trying to avoid them. At the end of the movie, Diana meets David at their old romantic hang-out. They hold hands. The end. In Alcestis, Admetus "turns and, holding Alcestis, makes his way into the palace". We don't know what comes next for Admetus or David, but one imagines that they are now more open to letting fate take its course than they were before and perhaps this will make them happier in their lives ahead. As the Chorus states at the end "What men expects does not happen; for the unexpected heaven finds a way."

Contributor: David Hogg


Time Bandits

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Reference:     Agamemnon

Level:              Overt

Description: This 1981 film directed by Terry Gilliam (and written by Gilliam and Michael Palin) features a gang of time-travellers armed with a map which shows them where all of the holes in spacetime are located. This allows them to travel to different historical periods in search of booty. They inadvertently land in 11-year-old Kevin’s bedroom and he gets swept along with them on their fantastical adventure. After being accidentally separated from the group, Kevin literally falls into Ancient Greece and lands on a warrior wearing a bull’s head and thereby inadvertently saving Agamemnon (played by Sean Connery). The grateful Agamemnon brings Kevin back to his palace in a procession led by men wearing gold masks of the type found at Mycenae by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876.  These masks were once thought to show a likeness of Agamemnon. Also, though Clytemnestra (his wife) is never mentioned by name, hints to Agamemnon’s fate in myth are given as his wife is seen several times as not being best pleased with the king (no spoiler here - you'll have to read the play). During the celebrations at Agamemnon's palace, the time-travelling gang catch up with Kevin and whisk him away. Kevin would have clearly preferred to stay in Greece with Agamemnon as a replacement father. This probably would not have been a good idea though as Agamemnon did not have the best family unit.

Contributor: Devan Turner


The Warriors

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Reference:    Xenophon's Anabasis

Level:              Implied

Description: The movie The Warriors is a modern retelling of Xenophon's Anabasis, that is set in 1970s New York gangland. In Xenophon's account, a Hellenic mercenary force of 10,000 soldiers is hired by a usurper to the Persian crown called Cyrus. Cyrus is killed before the mercenaries can overthrow his rival and they are therefore trapped deep inside enemy territory. The story recounts the soldiers' difficult journey back to Greece. They know they are safe when they reach the sea, a moment that the soldiers acknowledge with the phrase 'Thalassa! Thalassa!' (The sea, the sea!). In the movie version, a man called Cyrus summons all the gangs of New York together and plans to use 10,000 foot soldiers to overthrow the police and rule the streets. He is killed before his dream can be realised and the protagonists of the film are framed for his death. The film then recounts their struggle through enemy territory to get back to the protection of their turf. After many struggles, they finally make it back home to the safety of 'the sea, the sea' at Coney Island and the movie ends. Cyrus' speech to the gangs is also an excellent piece of rhetoric - watch it and see how many devices you can count suckas! Can you dig it? Can you dig it? Caaaan youuuu digggg iiiiiit?! 

Contributor: Brett


Spirited Away

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Reference: Circe

Level: Implied

Description: In the initial scene of this animated movie, the 10-year-old Chihiro witnesses the transformation of her parents into pigs after they eat some magical food from an unattended stall. In fact, they eat 'like pigs', so the punishment is somewhat apt. This is the same porcine-punishment that the witch Circe admonishes to Odysseus' companions. They too had scoffed down food that did not belong to them and they paid a hefty price for their greed. Haku helps Chihiro by giving her a magic pill to make her invisible, just as Hermes gives Odysseus the magic moly herb to make him immune to Circe's spell. Are there any other moments from the Odyssey in this animated classic?

Contributor: Nicholas Fontana


Mamma Mia!

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Reference:     Aphrodite, Siren, Bacchus, Greek Chorus

Level:             Implied

Description:  Mamma Mia! references Greek mythology a few times, which is somewhat unexpected in a romantic musical. It is set on a Greek island though, so perhaps it would have been rude not to. Donna, the main protagonist, has a hotel which is said to be on the site of Aphrodite's Fountain (and at the end of the movie this explodes through the hotel's floor, perhaps representing the 'birth of Aphrodite'). During the movie, Donna's daughter, Sophie, is referred to as a 'siren' after she lures Donna's ex-boyfriends Sam, Bill, and Harry from various cities around the world to her wedding on the island in the hope of discovering the identity of her father. Sophie's hen party becomes a Greek Bacchanalia as her fiancé descends with his friends in masks to crash it and Sophie ends up fainting. Another nod to Greek mythology perhaps is the locals who act as a bit of a Greek Chorus during some of the songs.

Contributor:  Keeley Hogg


The Matrix Revolutions and Reloaded

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Reference:     Hades

Level:             Implied

Description: In his quest to free Zion from the enslaving clutches of the machines, Neo is instructed by the Oracle to visit the Merovingian in order to obtain from him a man known as The Keymaker. To reach the Merovingian, Neo must pass from the real-world city of Zion to the dark prison-like realm of the Matrix, where this nefarious character reigns supreme. In this world, the Merovingian seduces women with sweet delicacies (pomegranate anyone?), controls most of the programs (or souls) that exist there, and is inferior only to a creator (who is rarely seen, has a booming, deep voice and menacing white beard). Oh, and his wife's name is Persephone. This is Hades!

The writer/directors (the Wachowski's) have attempted to flip the classic Greek myth on its head, but the clues are all there that this dark realm is actually above ground. Those trapped inside it are subjected to a life of bondage and servitude, as they would be in the Greek underworld. They even set one of the scenes in an establishment called 'Club Hel'.

The Merovingian is not satisfied with his lot, and seeks more power; a characteristic often attributed to Hades, who was apparently unhappy with having to live in the Underworld whilst his brothers had the sky and the sea as their own.

There are also philosophical questions for characters and audience alike to consider, relating to power and it's insatiability, cause and effect vs. choice as a source of truth about existence, and the envy and hatred borne out of sibling rivalry. All of these are juicy topics which Classic mythology explores so entertainingly.

Contributor:   Sean Vaughn 


James Bond: Goldeneye

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Reference:    Janus

Level:             Overt

Description:  James spends most of the film tracking down an elusive international terrorist known simply as 'Janus', only to eventually discover that he is in fact James' old pal from his MI6 days: Alec Trevelyan (or 006). Janus bares the facial scars from an explosive set off by James at the start of the film, and along with Janus' betrayal of their friendship, his disfigured face reinforces the obvious reference to the 'two-faced' Roman god. The name of the god also highlights the past and future of Janus/Alec - Alec is of Cossack heritage, but was orphaned as a result of the brutal past actions of the British Government towards the Cossacks in Russia; he envisages a future where the financial holdings of the British government are eradicated, ultimately "sending them back to the stone age". The god Janus was also believed to preside over the beginning and end of conflict (or war and peace) and Janus/Alec is quite comfortable with his role in instigating a war and destroying peace. Janus/Alec's life throws up an interesting internal conflict for James Bond (who is notoriously anti-authority) as to whether he should stay loyal to his friend or do his duty to the crown.

Contributor:  Sean Vaughn


Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

Reference:     Socrates

Level:             Overt

Description: Socrates is brought to San Dimus High by Bill and Ted. He is given a brief biography and comes across as a 'totally excellent dude'. Socrates would surely have approved of Bill and Ted's lack of respect for authority and their questioning of expected behaviour. Unfortunately for Socrates, this could be used as evidence to prove his corrupting influence on young and impressionable minds; Bill and Ted respect him without question and would probably have gone along with whatever he said. This leads to an interesting question regarding Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan - is it ever acceptable to get a good result by disobeying the rules or is it better to obey the rules fully even if you know that you will get a bad result? Discuss.

ContributorDavid Hogg


Freedom Writers

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Reference:     Odysseus, The Odyssey, Orpheus and Eurydice

Level:             Overt

Description: Hilary Swank is a good teacher in a bad school. She tries to take her pupils on a 'journey' through school and life. She does this using The Odyssey as a set text, which leads to discussions in her classroom about overcoming adversity, etc. to 'get home'. It is interesting to try and locate elements of the text in the film. Who is Odysseus for example? Are the children on this 'difficult journey' or is it the teacher, the education system or perhaps, American society? Who is the Cyclops? Is it the children with their limited experiences of the world and narrow vision of what it has to offer them? Is it the teachers who dismiss the 'bad' pupils? The idea of the Sirens can be seen in the draw/allure/pressure of the gang culture. The children who succeed in this movie tie themselves to the mast of Swank's classroom and stick hip-hop beeswax in their ears to avoid the Sirens' songs that tell them to 'jump in' and join the gangs.

There is a 'blink and you'll miss it' moment in a classroom scene when 'Orpheus' is seen on a whiteboard. Could this be a reference to a piece of 'don't look back' advice for the children or for Swank, or is it a reference to the teacher's ability to charm even these furies (the bad kids, the education board)?

I like the fact that what seems to be a fairly straightforward narrative has layers of meaning that can be explored much further. 

ContributorDavid Hogg


The Avengers

Reference:     Thanatos

Level:              Implied

Description:  The big baddie in the Avengers films is called Thanos. This is a derivation from the Greek personification of death - Thanatos. The implication therefore is that this character is not going to be good news for people that are alive, since Thanatos was heavily involved in the whole 'death' thing.

ContributorDavid Hogg


Triangle

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Reference:       Sisyphus, Aeolus

Level:               Inferred

Description:   Melissa George stars in this psychological horror thriller about a boating trip which goes horribly wrong. A group of friends (including George) are forced to abandon their boat and board a derelict ocean liner named Aeolus (who appears many times in Greek mythology, most notably as son of Poseidon and as Keeper of the Winds in The Aeneid and The Odyssey - not sure what the relevance of the name is to this movie, other than him also being the father of Sisyphus. Any thoughts?). Strange things start to happen and they become convinced someone is stalking them and they then start to turn on each other. The film explores deja vu as George finds her situation looping back to the start over and over again and each time the group is faced with gory, weird and mysterious goings-on. It is based in part on the story of Sisyphus, who in Greek mythology was punished for deceit by being forced to roll a boulder up a hill, only to watch it come back to hit him, an action he repeated for eternity. Poor George's attempts to stop the loop are futile as she is thwarted again and again... until...?

Contributor:    Keeley Hogg


Wonder Woman

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Reference:     Socrates

Level:             Overt

Description: In a film full of Classical references, this one tickled me the most. Wonder Woman is demonstrating her polyglot powers and then recites Socrates in 'the Ancient Greek'. I am sure that there are lots of obvious reasons that explain how Wonder Woman can fluently speak languages that evolved around her whilst in her isolation, but why would she call this version of Greek 'Ancient'? Is she aware of the political history attached to the development of the Modern Greek language, because that would require at least access to 'the news'? What language does she speak at home? Has her 'Native Greek' evolved into a new version of  linear A and if so, does she still use a subscript iota when writing? And I hope that someone spoke to her straight after the war about how to decipher Linear B! Also, in a film that is being held up as a great example of feminism because of the female super-hero lead, it's a shame she couldn't have recited a bit of Sappho instead of Socrates.

Contributor: David Hogg