The Cloverfield Paradox – What Went Wrong? – Wisecrack Edition
Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on What Went Wrong in The Cloverfield Paradox!
Written by: Leo Cookman
Directed by: Robert Tiemstra
Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Mark Potts
Motion Graphics by: Jackson Maher
Produced by: Emily Dunbar
The Cloverfield Paradox – What Went Wrong? – Wisecrack Edition
Hey Wisecrack, Jared again. For a franchise so surrounded in mystery, it seems fitting that nobody had a clue The Cloverfield Paradox had even been made, let alone that is was being released within hours of its announcement during the Superbowl. Now, there are plenty of reasons why the Cloverfield Paradox should have worked and plenty of reasons why it didn’t. But we’re going to focus on the element that makes 2 largely unrelated scripts, so unique and cohesive, and makes the third one such an epic fail. That element? Our relationship to reality and trauma. Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on The Cloverfield Paradox: What Went Wrong? And spoilers ahead for all the Cloverfield movies. Before we dip into that secret sauce, a recap of The Cloverfield Paradox is in order. The year is 2028, and the world is in the midst of an energy crisis. The Crew aboard Cloverfield Station are orbiting Earth to test the experimental Shepard particle accelerator which, they hope, will save the world by producing safe, clean energy. Just before they turn on the machine, though, we overhear an interview with a writer who thinks turning on the particle accelerator will open a wormhole to other dimensions and release God-knows-what onto an unsuspecting population. “This experiment could unleash chaos, the likes of which we have never seen!”
And surprise! This is exactly what happens; they are teleported into another dimension, across space where they experience the combined horrors of phantom limbs, creepy crawlers, and faulty wiring. The crew must figure out how to get home, and well, you can probably figure out where it goes from there. If there is one thing we should be excited about getting in The Cloverfield Paradox – it’s answers. What was the giant monster that attacked New York at the end of the first one? Did it survive the nuke? If we hoped to see those answers in 10 Cloverfield Lane, well, we’re out of luck. Instead, we got Walter Sobchak remindiing us that this isnt ‘Nam, there are rules. “Yeah, Michelle! That’s great. Except it was Emmet’s turn.” “Sorry, I just got a little excited.” “Yeah, well. I’m keeping that point.” And, as our protagonist escapes his clutches, she enters a world of pain… and aliens. “Come ON.”
But The Cloverfield Paradox DOES give us answers. Those giant monsters? It’s from another dimension. The camcorder video? It might not even be from the same timeline. So, why isn’t getting these answers more rewarding? Cloverfield, and 10 Cloverfield Lane, are both films about trauma. Both the trauma one might associate with war, natural disaster, or extra-dimensional aliens destroying your home, and the trauma of being physically trapped in a relationship with a person that’s gonna go full Jack Torrance at any minute. “Here’s Johnny!” 10 Cloverfield Lane brings up all the same aspects of abusive relationships: possible gaslighting, “There is nowhere TO go, Michelle.” and threats of violence interspersed with normal family fun. But the first two movies aren’t just about dealing with trauma: they’re about the impossibility of fully comprehending that trauma.
These insanely violent encounters with a lack of closure speak to one of the fundamental difficulties of navigating the world. For philosopher and sometimes-kleptomaniac Jacques Lacan, there exists a fundamental human inability to fully grasp what he calls “The Real,” or the world as it truly is. Cloverfield throws us in the midst of an alien invasion that evades easy description. We’re often given the byproduct of what’s happening, or people’s reactions, but almost never get the source of the turmoil in an explainable way. Like when the head of the Statue of Liberty comes rolling down the street or a horrifically disfigured woman is begging for help. “Let me in, let me IN!” In the first Cloverfield, the reality of what’s happening only sparsely comes in news segments in the background. One of the ways Cloverfield achieves this is with perspective; it’s filmed POV-style, shot by the characters in the movie and begins with a detailed look at our main cast of characters during a party for the protagonist, Rob. In the middle of the shindig, they’re interrupted by an explosion signaling the monster invasion.
Their battle for survival is intercut with older video that is being recorded over, which gives you glimpses into the relationship between Rob and Beth. This subjective point of view means we only ever get hints of where and what the monster is, how the military are responding to it, and even what it looks like. Y’know, just like you would in real life. By shooting it this way, we don’t know what kind of monster they are facing but we do know who the characters are and what they are facing, personally. 10 Cloverfield Lane employs a similar technique. It doesn’t use this same POV-style to cut us off from the reality of what’s happening, but rather uses a concrete bunker to similar ends. The protagonist Michelle wakes up in a bunker that she can’t leave for reasons that seem suspicious, to say the least. She’s told she was “rescued.” “Given as how I saved your life, I think that’s acceptable” and that the outside world is deadly, “Everyone outside of here is dead.”
Now, if we suspect that Howard is preparing to wear Michelle’s skin, we get just enough interaction from the outside world to give credence to his story, but not enough to truly know what’s happening. As the movie ends, we get enough information to let us know that things aren’t going great for Earth, but not much else. The control of information in both movies is what makes them so tense and entertaining. We have to fill in the gaps, which instead of being frustrating, makes for the sort of thing that spawns endless fan theories. For Lacan, that reality which seems to evade us, “The Real,” is disconnected from our own personal experience. Only through language, or what he calls the “symbolic,” can we bridge the gap between our minds and the reality beyond them. What Cloverfield explores, is the chasm between “the real” and language, the inability to bridge that gap. The characters and us, the audience, want answers, we want to understand what is happening but the film withholds the language to explain it. That chasm, for Lacan, is called the ‘Lack,’ and it’s what drives the tension of the first two movies. We all know what it’s like to be at a “loss for words” during a terrible event. Footage of 9/11 shows onlookers covering their mouths in silent horror, while watching the tragic event happen in front of them.
It’s no secret that the cinema verite, found-footage style of the original Cloverfield was inspired by the events and coverage of 9/11. That kind of cultural trauma runs deep and was still a raw nerve at the time of the trailer’s release. Mass entertainment wasn’t willing to return to these sorts of disaster movies right away but the movie is able to tap into that that post 9/11 anxiety by borrowing from the structure of Kaiju movies, thereby using a symbol to represent that shared trauma. This is what makes it so cathartic. 10 Cloverfield Lane, released some 8 years later at a time of cultural uncertainty and change, was a paranoid thriller that makes you question the people around you. Against this gap between language and reality, The Cloverfield Paradox gives us its antithesis: science. “This is the paradox.” “Excuse me?” “Particles interacting with each other across two dimensions.” “Okay, I’m gonna sit down.” “Two distinct realities, in a multiverse.”
While there are certainly unexplained events – like why the hell did Mundy’s arm keep moving after it was detached? The whole premise of the movie, trans dimensional travel, explains the origin of the Cloverfield ‘event’ in the first fifteen minutes of the movie. “Monsters, demons, beasts from the sea—“ “To clarify, you believe their efforts to solve the energy crisis might unleash demons?” “Yeah. And not just here and now. In the past, in the future. In other dimensions.” And sure, we’re not saying mysteries can’t be solved, or that science can’t do it, but it shouldn’t be as background noise in the first half of the movie. Turns out the terrifying, ineffable monstrosities that have invaded Earth for reasons beyond our imagining happened because Science. Little disappointing isn’t it? And if you’re going to give an explanation or revelation, there’s a certain way to do it. Good examples tend to give us a paradigm shift or clarify motives. In exceptional cases, they can give you an entirely new way to view the events prior, like when we find the truth about Tyler Durden or the Man in Black.
How does quantum entanglement add to, or reframe the original Cloverfield stories? It doesn’t. And besides breaking away from the kind of trauma that defined the first two movies, there is no central fear or shared trauma for the audience to latch on to. If Cloverfield was the fear of an invasion, and 10 Cloverfield Lane was the fear of other people, what’s the central fear of this movie? Fear of Particle Accelerators? Peak oil? By explaining away the mystery almost as an afterthought, you rob the audience not just of their mystery but their catharsis. While, yes, “Explaining a mystery ruins the fun” is a kinda obvious point, it’s what creates our desire for mystery that is important to the Cloverfield movies. Lacan’s idea of Lack gets to the heart of understanding why we love a good mystery and why JJ Abrams’ properties seem to have such a hard time with resolving those mysteries. We’re looking at you, Lost. Just as the reality around us always evades easy answers and the language to describe it, we don’t want everything explained. Not just because we all like a good conspiracy theory but because of the catharsis that comes with the shared experience of realizing that some things can’t, and sometimes shouldn’t, be put into words.
The first two Cloverfield movies knew this and played on that which is what made them so interesting and, ultimately, rewarding. The Cloverfield Paradox, paradoxically, ruins the fun by giving us all the answers and pretty half-baked ones at that. So, what do you think, Wisecrack? Can the movie have more tastefully explained the mystery? Let us know in the comments, and thanks for watching. Peace.