Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle with the tagline ‘the game has changed, but the legend continues’ is a 2017 remake by director Jake Kasdan of the classic 1995 film, itself an adaptation of ‘Jumanji’, a 1981 children’s book of the same name. Actually the format of the game is still much the same as in the original, with an old dusty video taking the place of a tatty board game, and the four characters are launched into a jungle in which they must find the escape route back, the key that will unlock them from this new world (the film was shot in Hawaii). The twist this time is that when they plug in the video game and are sucked into the surreal jungle-scape they are also morphed into a set of four avatars that are very different from their home-world selves.
The high-school teen gang are transformed into bodies that they will have to escape when they escape the jungle – babe Bethany turns into a chubby bearded male scientist (Jack Black), left-field Martha is now the beauty in the pack (Karen Gillan), the football jock turns into a weedy guy (Kevin Hart), and geeky bright nerd Spence turns into Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson. There is a baddy behind all of this, of course, an evil explorer who wants to control the ‘Jaguar’s eye’ stone, a magic jewel that turns on its owner, Gollum ring-style, and possesses its possessor. (As in The Lord of the Rings, this is a good analogy for the way that commodities under capitalism turn their owners into things so that those who frantically try to grasp the commodity find their own lives weirdly controlled by the objects they try to accumulate.)
Before the team get hold of the Jaguar’s eye and pop it in place exactly where it belongs, in an occult statue, and shout the talismanic key word to return home they must encounter all varieties of animatronic hazards – hippos and rhinos and so on – and in this they are guided by a fifth-player Alex Vreeke (Nick Jonas) who has been living trapped in the game from the last time round, twenty years ago, as an aviator-explorer Jefferson ‘Seaplane’ McDonough. It is a five-player game, but it is Alex who has the edge, plenty of knowledge of how the thing works from the inside, and (spoiler alert) it is Alex who doesn’t make it back when things click into place and they cry ‘Jumanji’. The success of the team, however, has redeemed history, and our heroes discover when they get back home that Alex himself has been restored to where he was twenty years ago; it is as if, dead to the world Alex was more than alive for them as Jefferson ‘Seaplane’ McDonough in the game itself.
If you want a spirit guide from the past to help you work out all the right moves in the class struggle then you can’t do better than join Socialist Appeal. In fact Socialist Appeal, the name of the group which produces a magazine of the same name, is guided by a dynamic duo, one of which is still very much alive in this world and the other of which is rumoured to be dead. The live one is multilingual Trotskyist Alan Woods who runs the International Marxist Tendency, IMT, as well as Socialist Appeal as its British franchise. The dead guy who lives on as an avatar of all that was and is and always will be correct about Marxist theory was and is and always will be ‘Ted Grant’, a South African Trotskyist Isaac Blank (a good proportion of Britain’s best Trotskyists came from South Africa).
Ted Grant once upon a time led the Militant Tendency, itself an avatar in the Labour Party of the old Revolutionary Socialist League that burrowed its way in back in 1964. But Ted left Militant, or was expelled depending on whose account you believe, along with his mate Alan Woods in 1991 when a large majority of the organisation decided, in what was known as the ‘Open Turn’, to leave the Labour Party and set up what became the Socialist Party.
Alan and mentor Ted stubbornly carried on inside the Labour Party, and Alan, at least (not Ted, who died in 2006), has been guiding his comrades in there ever since, all of them with the exception of their very successful student group that to all intents and purposes operates independently of the Labour Party as the Marxist Student Federation. That was Alan and Ted’s excellent adventure. Alan and Ted are twin souls (a double-role in the future biopic for a much older Nick Jonas perhaps), and much of the Socialist Appeal bookstall fare consists of the writings of Ted Grant as theoretical and practical key to action. The students don’t just dust off old videos of Ted Grant or race around in multiple personas in the student movement and (sometimes, as they get older) in Labour Party branch meetings, they are also hot on theory, but of a rather over-heated dried up kind.
What is distinctive about ‘theory’ in the International Marxist Tendency and so also in Socialist Appeal, however, is that it is a kind of Marxism that functions as an all-powerful because it is true kind of worldview against which everything else must be measured to see if it is correct or not. This is rather strange because the Marxist Student Federation which laps up theory relayed to them from Ted (via Alan Woods as his voice on earth) are a bright lively lot, great activists and internationalists, but it might explain why there is quite a fast turnover of membership, and not so many graduate from the student wing into full-blown Labour Party politics. Readers of Mark Fisher’s ground-breaking Capitalist Realism, for example, are ticked off for enjoying a book that is, we are told, ‘a poor imitation of Marx’. It is clear that what we need is a good imitation of Marx, the Ted talks version, for example, that will show us exactly what’s what and what to do. This is the other aspect of ‘theory’ for Socialist Appeal, a timelessly true frame that, if is really correct, will magically unlock us from capitalism.
They act as if they are the only Marxists in the world who understand what Marxism really is, and with this all-seeing eye on the world lodged in the right place, all will be right. This is surely the exact opposite of what theory is for Marxists who attend to the dialectical practical interweaving of ideas as they become transformed in new contexts, in new conditions of capitalist accumulation and at the intersection with other forms of oppression. It is as if the most radical core of Socialist Appeal, its student activists, have been set off on a wild goose chase by their guide Alan Woods for the magical talismanic form of Marxist theory that will, when it is put to work, bring Ted Grant back to life again and release him and them and us all from the capitalist jungle.
This is part of the FIIMG Mapping the English Left through Film project.