[Note: This review was intended as an April fools joke, apparently some readers didn't get that.]
The phrase “greatest film ever made” is not a phrase I choose to throw around lightly. How can you define that? Something that is more skillful than any other on a technical level? Something that taps into something that is personal to you? Or perhaps something that forces you to understand the artform itself in a truly new way. For me, ‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2’ was all of these things.
“But Jack,” you scream at me from a passing vehicle, “how can you say these things? ‘Paul Blart 2’ is just a horrible comedy film with no redeeming artistic value whatsoever. I respectfully disagree with your opinion, Jack Holman”. Well firstly, that was a fairly articulate outburst, secondly, I do intend to fully defend my statement. ‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2’ is the greatest film ever made.
This film is something that is, unfortunately, becoming more and more rare to find these days, a big budget art film. It is all at once a musing on the oversaturated state of cinema in these modern times, a modern philosophy on how to live one’s own life, dealing with themes of abandonment, mental illness, perhaps even the supernatural. My experience forced me to look deep inside myself and face some ugly truths, but it also taught me how to make peace and move on.
The film taught me several valuable things about the artform as a whole. Never before have I seen the idiom “don’t judge a book by its cover” apply more than it does here. Although I do think that the façade of just being “a dumb comedy” is both entirely intentional and a large part of the reason why this film works so well. They say that great art will give back what you put into it, if you go into this expecting a dumb comedy and not looking for anything more, I fear that is all you will see. If, as I did, you went into this expecting more, you can and will find it.
The fact that even something as seemingly simple as this film can contain this much depth and artistic value forces me to reconsider everything I know about film criticism. To think that something that I would otherwise write off as utter-trash could be this truly life-changing makes me think of everything else I’ve written off. Perhaps I mistook them. Perhaps I’ve been wrong about much more than I thought. I think this is intentional, as facing your faults and working to fix them is a key theme in the film.
What will follow this paragraph is my short analysis of some of the key themes and issues in the text. This isn’t a comprehensive analysis (I don’t even cover the ghost that’s clearly haunting the hotel or the villain’s attempts to steal said ghost), but it does provide a good jumping off point. It should go without saying that there are heavy spoilers contained within, so read on at your own peril.
The message put forth by Blart can be understood in many ways, all equally valid. Personally, I see it on two main levels, literally and spiritually. The literal messages are simple and powerful. Do not belittle others because of trivial matters. Even if somebody’s job seems unimportant, everyone has a mall, and everyone is always trying to make their mall a better and safer place.
Letting go of the things you love is an important theme in the text, as is the prospect that those who fail to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. This is all evident from the ending of the text. Blart actively rejects advances from the hotel manager as he feels her affection for him is misplaced. Blart is also acting on the knowledge of his previous wife of nearly a week, realizing that this will doubtlessly go much the same way.
This is all taken very literally, but I feel there is a deeper meaning to the text. Depending on the ‘method’ you use to take in the text, you will always come out with a different message. This is one of the defining factors of this work, it may never have the same message twice!
I chose to experience the work in what I and many others consider to be its optimal form, synched up to Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. Experiencing the work using the ‘Blart Side of the Mall’ method opens the human mind to new levels of comprehension. There are no ways to describe it other than simply instructing you to attempt it yourself. Do not prepare yourself, all you can do is relax and let it happen.
A theory I’ve seen proposed before states that an unseen figure known as The Shadowman is, in fact, in control of everything. Paul Blart’s life is destroyed within moments. A series of incredibly unfortunate events that could not have simply been a coincidence.
Is The Shadowman real? In my mind, yes and no. The human mind is a complicated and fascinating thing. I feel these actions were perhaps set in place by Blart himself. Not consciously, because that would be pretty fucked, but unconsciously. Without realizing it, he destroyed his own life. Somehow, his brain knew that this would trigger a series of events leading to the triumphant victory shown through the rest of the text.
During a sequence where Paul walks out onto a grassy terrace to get some air, a man calmly plays piano in the background, ‘Brain Damage’ starts playing. “The lunatic is on the grass”. Is Paul the lunatic here? Perhaps.
The lyrics “The lunatic is in my head” play as we cut to the man at the piano and we hear a deranged laughter on the soundtrack. Notice how the man does nothing to help Paul as he’s attacked by the bird. This, mixed with the synchronicity of the soundtrack leads one to believe that he may, in fact, be The Shadowman.
However, I do not contend that The Shadowman is a real figure. The lyrics “The lunatic is in my head” lead me to this. He’s in Paul’s mind. As mentioned, Paul’s mind may have set everything into motion subconsciously, but even a subconscious action can cause strong feelings of guilt. Paul’s brain probably invented The Shadowman as an embodiment of all of Paul’s misdeeds, passing the guilt onto an external figure.
Later in the film, Paul returns here during a chase sequence. The Shadowman is nowhere to be seen. I feel this may be symbolic of Paul coming to accept his faults and attempting to fix them, which he does over the course of the story.
Paul is an enlightened soul who is simply unaware of his own greatness. The keynotes speech delivered more or less adlib is a prime example of this. Without even trying, he conjures up a beautiful speech which manages to get the entire crowd cheering.
However, Paul is not inhuman. He makes mistakes. It’s reassuring that he does. If even the best of us can mess up, perhaps it will give the rest of us some comfort when we do. Yes, Blart makes mistakes, but he lands on his feet. Maybe we can too.
By the end of the text, Paul is already in a better place. His metaphorical mall is safe and secure, but still open to the public. However, the text reminds us that a mall cop’s work is never done. Just before the credits roll, ‘Breath (In the Air)’ starts playing for a third time. The previous two times have both been associated with events in Paul Blart’s life that are simultaneously good and bad. His wife leaves him and his mother dies, but he gets invited to the conference. He delivers a great speech, but his daughter is kidnapped.
During the third playing, Paul meets a fellow security guard who gives him her phone number. Perhaps things are going to work out for Paul Blart, or perhaps we’re just back where we started. Much like the album this film is obviously based around, everything comes full circle. I interpret this as a warning, that history may always repeat itself and that the worst may happen still.
However, it is still optimistic. Because for Paul, the worst has already happened, and yet he came out on the other side. If you remain kind, warm, open, and yet still vigilant, you can always keep your mall safe. This, I feel, is the message put forth by the ‘BSOTM’ method. Be prepared and follow Paul’s teachings, and anyone who tries to disrupt your mall will have to answer to the Blart himself.
Now, what was that you were saying about this “just being a dumb comedy”? If you don’t believe me, watch it yourself and tell me I’m wrong. As stated, watching the ‘Blart Side of the Mall’ method is recommended. The viewing takes up just over two playthroughs of the album. Start playing ‘Speak to Me’ as the corporate logos end (about 30 seconds into the video file) and as the drums on the film’s soundtrack begin. If synced correctly, the lyrics to ‘Breath (In the Air)’ will begin the very frame that Mrs. Blart is drilled by the milk truck.
So, sit down, switch on, plug in, turn around, tune in, stand up, recede, turn on, turn off and explode. I’ll see you on the Blart Side of the Mall!
Very highly recommended!
[Originally published April 1st, 2018]