Tag: Film

Sarah Miles

[All Spoilers- well known story (book and film)]

Sparked by a character meme going around, I went back to watch the film that first came to mind when faced with the seemingly simple question of, “What three or four fictional characters do you identify with strongly?” Not that I could narrow it down to two or three characters, but some faces flashed up immediately without much thought at all.

Sarah Miles

sarah
“Are you saying my husband’s a fiction?” – “I’m saying he could be, in the right hands.”

It has been a few years, but at a difficult crossroad point in my life I watched this film every few months, as if working on a puzzle. In my case, it wasn’t that there was an affair, or another actual person creating such a contrast, but that my then life nonetheless felt like Sarah’s… lonely though surrounded with others, perfectly fine in many important ways, but, as Bendrix identifies immediately upon seeing her, restless. He attributes much to the context of the war.

This was before I knew the background of Graham Greene’s novel The End of the Affair, and knew that the story was based very strongly on his actual life experience of living with his lover, Catherine Walston, and his lover’s husband… a socially imperfect situation that nonetheless for a time seemed to ensure what was needed for each. I haven’t made a deep study of it, because the novel conveyed his sense of things well, as did the film, though altered. Greene, as an intelligent, wrestling, person of faith, was a master at including this Invisible Character, registering even the subtle effects of belief and disbelief within the flow of characters’ consciences and actions.

For Sarah, God takes form of both savior and destroyer. In Bendrix, an unworthy intrusion. For Henry, a man without passion, God doesn’t register at all. And making the center of the story even more obvious, the insertion of a priest wrestling with his own desire, who seemed to feel the ownership Henry didn’t, with a different justification.

Julianne Moore is perfect in this part, as is the clothing of the time… the tone of a world pretending to continue functioning as usual, though falling apart. And this film was the first time I laid eyes on Ralph Fiennes, before I hunted down nearly everything else he’d ever acted in.

onions
“Does Henry like onions?”

I liked so much about the rhythms of the film, how we begin the story part way through, actually more toward the end than beginning, then look back from Maurice Bendrix’s view first, and through the eyes of his wide-eyed and somewhat bumbling investigator. The case against Sarah is strong, not just the case against her treatment of Henry, but Maurice too. Henry broods over the loss of his comfortable world, but Maurice rages, first against Sarah, channeling his passion.

dignity-in-a-hat

We get to see the intensity of their love affair in flashbacks of lovemaking (admittedly, filmed too overtly, saw to butter), and to follow the desperation of his doubts and fears, along with her assurances, before they are aware of what is about to happen to their bubble.

i-always-will
“How can you be jealous the rain?”

Until the day she rejects him at the most vulnerable moment possible, in a way he can’t possibly accept nor understand.

without-seeing-him

“Do you believe in things you can’t see?”

Then appears to go on with the motions of her life. Until a new piece of evidence arrives. Sarah’s view, in the device of a diary, allows Bendrix to discover her heart along with her unreasonable reasons. With him, we go back into the very same moments, through Sarah’s eyes.

im-not-sure-i-liked-the-peace

“I wasn’t sure I liked the peace.”

He reaches out immediately, following her into a church, where the Invisible becomes visible. I especially liked that… as though he had been waiting for that one key that he underneath it all knew was coming, to confirm what he could not let go of.each-time-i-tried

“Each time I tried (to tell you), something would happen.”

I suppose that’s a common fantasy – one more people are actually playing out when their Plan As crumble – returning to their ‘real’ love. Just today a friend shared photos of a couple that “took a twenty year break” but feel they’ve gotten destiny right this time.

I guess the funny thing for me is, I wouldn’t be able to write about my own intimate process with this film and with Sarah, if there were any romantic partner to be careful of. That in itself tempts me to protect the aloneness I also at times, despise…. the emptiness that Sarah says, in the language of the church, God fills with Himself.

sarah-and-bendrix

“Happiness is harder to write.”

For a moment, they are happy. They live out their life together sharing imagination, over a weekend. Until Henry arrives, not to cause a scene or win her back, but to give bad news. Sarah then calmly references the two vows of her life, one to Henry and one to God.

“See Morris, you may have to keep your promises.”

Within this sorrowful reality, Henry proposes that Maurice move in… that they will care for her in her last days, together. These scenes are quite beautiful… the men embracing, Bendrix bringing Henry tea, the priest coming to visit and being turned away, Bendrix angrily identifying himself as “the lover, Father.”

bendrix-end

And there is a small funeral scene that was missing from the book but brings the focus of the film back to faith… not just Sarah’s but now Bendrix’s angry embrace of God “as though You existed.”

I found while re-watching, that the story still has questions for me, although the experience of watching the film wasn’t quite as entrancing.  The reds of Sarah’s clothing, and the overall aesthetic, isn’t one I could ever tire of, but the film itself could be finer, more subtle. Actually The English Patient has many very similar themes and captivations, and also more intricate care.

The Cure

So the cure for malaise turned out to be watching a few Korean films and a British series based on a book I’ve read a few times and have given several friends.

Starting with the films:

A Man and a Woman (Korean)The french film is the one that probably comes to mind for most when reading the title, and it was my fondness for that film that brought me to this one, along with actors Jeon Do-Yeon and Gong Yoo. On the heels of watching the Korean version of The Good Wife, I watched both this film and Memories of the Sword: the first which I was totally absorbed in, and the second which was interesting but not especially novel if as familiar with martial arts revenge and/or historical films as I am. A Man and a Woman had most of the elements of Korean storytelling that I love, and a few nicely steamy scenes, but ultimately was about adult aloneness, a theme I very much relate to.

Dong Ju: Portrait of a PoetThis is a telling of the talented Korean poet Yun DongJu, who lived and died in jail quite young, during the time of the Korean Independence Movement. Kang Ha Neul was my draw to this film, but also stills I had come across that displayed artistry and care. This was a case where I wanted to see more of his life outside of jail than the film offered, but wanting to see more does not at all constitute a negative review.

Up where the seasons pass,
the sky is filled with autumn.
In this untroubled quietude
I could almost count these autumn-couched stars.
But why I cannot now enumerate
those one or two stars in my breast
is because the dawn is breaking soon,
and I have tomorrow night in store,
and because my youth is not yet done.
Memory for one star,
love for another star,
sorrow for another star,
longing for another star,
poetry for another star,
and oh! mother for another star.
Mother! I try to call each star by some such evocative word, names of school children with whom I shared desks, names of alien girls like Pai, Kyunh, Ok, names of maidens who have already become mothers, names of neighbors who lived in poverty, names of birds and beasts like pigeon, puppy, rabbit, donkey, deer,and names of poets like Francis, Jammes and Reiner Maria Rilke.
They are as far away
and intangible as the stars.
Mother!
You too are in the distant land of the Manchus.
Because I have a secret yearning,
seated on this star-showered bank,
I have written my name thereon
and covered it with earth.
In truth, it is because the insects chirp
all night to grieve over my bashful name.
But spring shall come to my stars after winter’s delay,
greening the turf over the graves,
so this bank that buries my name
shall proudly wear the grass again.
-Yun DongJu

 

 The Handmaiden I hadn’t seen the BBC adaptation of this novel, nor read The Fingersmith in the first place. I was simply curious about the buzz, and to find out what ‘the twist’ would be. No disappointment! This is a “not for everyone” film. It is disturbing, redemptive, and goes beyond ‘sexy’ sex scenes.

 

The Mini Series

jonathan-strange-mr-norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – It was no small feat to make an 8-episode series out of an over 1000 page book, and definitely no small feat to make it well, considering the book’s grand magical elements, which >whew< turned out visually and emotionally fitting for the world and story. 

The trickiest part for adaptation of the book must lay in the novel’s genius footnotes, some of which take up entire pages. Those footnotes contain much of the cheeky humor and were my largest concern when news of the mini-series first broke.  I still can’t quite believe they pulled it off, but the film feels like the book – quite distinctly English – while standing on its own, and takes nothing from my desire to read the novel again and again. 

Beauty Inside

I felt fortunate this weekend, to find The Beauty Inside, a film whose title I kept coming across when I looked for other kinds of information. So many top actors starring in the same film?

beauty inside

Woo-Jin wakes up truly new every morning, in a body he cannot predict… one that may be a beautiful man, an older ajumma, young child, ordinary lady, etc. He builds a life, hones a talent, while never investing too deeply with others.

The film dances beautiful edges, and we come to believe in the many strong underlying connections between the two lovers, transcending appearance, although sadly, in some ways the film still plays quite safe, and can be insensitive at times.

Still, the blind spots didn’t leave me wanting on the whole. It was a soft and fluid film, meaningful, and strangely realistic for the premise, which could have gone so… wrong.

 

It’s Okay

[spoilers]

Due to little interest in new releases, I’ve been going back to re-watch the shows that come to mind often. My re-viewing this time is It’s Okay That’s Love, a compassionate and modern story that deals with a wide-ish spectrum of mental illness. Each character has a secret try to keep hidden, from themselves mainly, but is led toward openness and uncomfortable honesty, which I would call the main hope.

Much of the drama takes place in a shared house situation, where lines between private and public knowledge are paper thin. Very little is off limits, or dealt with in a charged way, which is playfully symbolized by house members often reaching into one another’s food.  Rather, there is a refreshing matter-of-factness between people, without expectations of perfection. In some ways it is a teachy drama, but not preachy. One friend said that it actually made her a better person.

evesdropping
I do dream of a world that aspires to understand the way others are eventually understood in this fictional universe of supportive intentional networks.

In one scene, two from the shared house are eavesdropping on a lovers quarrel outside, but their act is not intrusive. The reasons are rooted in loving responsibility for one another, and expected by those eavesdropped on within the larger context. One character is a young barista with Tourette’s Syndrome, and the other an elder Chief Psychiatrist with lingering feelings from a long-over divorce; they are the best of friends.

facing myselfIn the hospital, we meet a patient kept for treatment because she keeps returning to a home where she suffers physical abuse – parents and siblings not accepting her expression of gender. She doesn’t understand why she is kept for treatment until forced to take a long look at her most recent injuries.

It is self-harm to go back into brutal situations, even a sign of suicidal tendencies. Common sense, yet I hadn’t seen that before. That particular bit of wisdom about what constitutes self-harm must mean a lot to the writer, because it appears again and again in other scenarios, including that of the main patient in the show, who dissociates due to torturous guilt and misplaced sense of responsibility.

And then, there is the honest feeling but bumpy romance at center. Missing the magic, becomes the magic.

show and tell

This is complimentary material to an autobiography I’ve been making my way through, written by a woman who calls herself a cured schizophrenic. According to medical definitions this is impossible, however writing during the early part of the book takes us into her affliction in such a raw-yet-sensible way that it is hard to doubt recovery.

Perhaps we need to change our notions of recovery altogether.

Melancholia

Tastes are becoming serious again, prompting a return to deeper subject matter. If I were to track trends, I might find seasonal patterns to my viewing habits, with stagnant heat and humidity characterizing the last few months, and too much time indoors during what for many is the most outdoorsy and playful time of year. Our puppy’s separation anxiety has been a challenge too, leaving openings for only short jaunts away from home.

[spoilers – Melancholia]

After years of initial recommendation, I settled in to watch the film Melancholia last night. Intrigued by the premise of the world’s end, which many of us seem to be thinking a lot about, and by questions at the film’s center sparked by the maker’s history with depression, I finally decided to give in.

Sure enough, I came away with a feeling of relief, even lightheartedness–not because the film was a happy one–but because the main character’s behavior made sense. Her sense of validation and rescue from being “the crazy one” in the middle of more seemingly well-adjusted people, read like an other side looking back kind of work… a bit of a ghost story.

I watched the film Hannah Arendt before that, which I’m sure affected impressions, contemplating the nature of evil and the world. One line I especially appreciated, when she was confronted by a dear friend who could no longer accept her after she suggested the Holocaust could not have been so orderly without cooperation from some Jewish leaders. I’m not qualified to comment on that, because even after significant study, it still falls under the category of “no way to know” for me. What I imagine is that people had all sorts of coping mechanisms and ways they felt sure they had to contort themselves and others to get by. And that so many did not get by, remains the bottom line.

But the sentence, that was actually a paper excerpt historically, is, “I don’t love any people (on the whole, as a group); I love my friends.”

She was writing from a broad perspective, truly trying to understand what had happened, not being controversial for fame’s sake. The film did a good job of showing her situatedness as a scholar as the identity she was most faithful to, and a good job in showing the reasons why even a close friend could not abide her position. Why it was also right not to.

That choice cost her a lot and somewhat overshadowed the truly profound main point that she made about Adolf Eichmann’s lack of thinking and obedience to orders being more effective in carrying out evil than maniacal power lust. Bureaucracy and the “banality of evil.”

The films fit together well.

Ex Machina and the Programming of Compassion

[Ex Machina Spoilers]

Upon recommendation from a friend after letting my initial interest drop, I bolted out of the door just in time to see the film Ex-Machina. I found it less riveting as a film than as a question – rich ground for contemplation on the nature of identity and consciousness, evolution, humanity and compassion.

ExMachina(image from Art of VFX)

The film introduces the Turing Test as premise under which a gifted hacker is brought to an isolated environment to interact with AI beyond anything in our current capabilities. “Eva”, is fluid of movement, has curiosities, is able to calculate and feel resentment. She even imagines a life beyond her current situation. She desires and feels herself as a “her” self, able to measure effect on a “him.”

If Turing’s Test aims to give a way to access an interaction with an “other mind” – a way to evaluate from the outside whether self-awareness/sentience is present – by all measures Eva passes the test at an intellectual level. Let loose in the world she will blend, function, manipulate, and be resourceful enough to have her “own life.”

However, she has an “empathy chip missing.” Eva has ground for empathy, which she was shown by someone else, but it doesn’t register, or doesn’t register as necessary or efficient. There is no indication that her awareness of self includes awareness of other in a compassionate way. She is largely made up of data gleaned, down to micro-expressions and human-appropriate emotional responses, but bypasses compassionate connection. We aren’t sure whether it is a matter of capacity or of phasing something deemed unnecessary, out. Which is a flaw in the Turing Test, or at least of basic understanding of the test, and presents crucial questions we might not have the answers to before we reach the next stage.

If there a war between intellect and (this, figurative) heart, my side is with the Dalai Lama, who has said that compassion is crucial in terms of survival. And I think we can be somewhat logical about this, making rational arguments and decisions in compassionate directions, without falling into Utopian territory.

Another question the film raises is that Eva is crafted from not only random data. She is particularly tailored to suit the tester’s preferences, gleaned from internet searches. She projects back qualities he has sought out, especially through porn sites. So this is a slightly different question that reaches into the ethics around selecting for preferences in offspring, as it is always possible to argue that one is doing what is best for a child by bringing them into the world with qualities particularly favored by the world, rather than trying to change the whole world to be favorable. Although evidence may abound in favor of certain traits, there are sufficient variables that no trait is a guarantee of optimum world-friendliness so I think we largely avoid this experiment so far.

The maker of the film, Alex Garland, compares the question of AI to the question of nuclear technology, both in its risks and potentialities, and also in the scope of the puzzles it poses about humankind and coexistence. He would not give up nuclear technology, even seeing the devastation upon Nagasaki and the threat of man-made, unfathomable scale disaster that humanity lives under since that time. Mankind pushes on, evolves in ways that it would not have without that knowledge. And must relentlessly evolve, without seeking perfection.

I agree that each time mankind has sought a perfect world, totalitarianism resulted, but I would like to believe we can do far better than that sort of devastation while still engaging in full-hearted discovery.

Which brings me to my main thought: we are only half-aware ourselves, while giving tests to measure awareness. Much or most of our own motives and intellect are obscured as we deal with ourselves, much less with other humans, much less with potential AI. Any test we give remains highly suspect.

changing hearts

What I learned from compiling my list of k-dramas (See top menu), is that a good rule of thumb is to watch a drama twice when able, if still curious about it. In more than one instance, I didn’t care for the couple that the writers chose, but the second time around was fully on board. If I’m being overly logical, it might mean that I have a hard time forgiving, but do stay open to a “belief reversal” or change of heart.

I found myself wondering whether it might be interesting to contrast with more Western TV, not just in the obvious ways, pointing out differences in restraint and virtue, but contrasts between specific shows, comparisons with specific actors. People have written about the obvious Jane Austenness of Korean drama, but where is this seen most clearly?

Well, the first image that pops up for me is from Emma Thompson’s interpretation of, Sense and Sensibility. Col. Brandon is at the door catching first sight of Marianne, who is playing piano. His hiding in the shadows is so clearly parallel to k-drama second-lead moments of adoration and brooding. In k-dramas however, this longing usually ends with something like #thanksnothanks, #sorrynotsorry.

In Sense and Sensibility, When Marianne lingers later, recovering from illness, Col. Brandon’s stance is the same, but her heart has actually changed. She has not settled, nor reasoned herself into a more stable affection. She has seen him with new, more fragile eyes, and thus truly appreciates his less showy devotion.

brandon

Which is something I’ve not seen fully realized in k-drama yet. I could search for “second lead gets the girl” but wouldn’t be the same as pulling off a genuine shift.

 

Les Miserables (film)

As for what to do with the self-inflicted holiday I created in a flash of frustration,
“Facebook Free February,” maybe start a blog. .

Viewing Le Miserables two days in a row, was quite an experience. My laptop battery was running out in a cafe’ when I thought to check movie times for the venue next door. I gathered my things and walked briskly, sitting exactly as previews began.

I was leery of what might be the film’s emotional toll, but that turned out to be a non-issue: many times I found myself drifting off into side dreams, admiring the set, or looking for the director’s intentions. As the actors strained their faces and voices to convey the anguish of their characters, I could hear some around me beginning to sniffle, could feel others shifting in seats to nonchalantly brush away their tears. But I was running away with myself, editing, imagining the making of the film, of being a hairdresser or make-up artist on the set, talking with Helena Bonham Carter. And I was tweaking and speaking to the actors internally, “Russel, please not so cowardly lion…”

I hadn’t intended to see this film again, although touched unsuspectingly by a note leading into the end, and although on the way home as I puzzled over my coldness in not being affected like the others around me, I found myself sobbing with new determinations to live authentically and with kindness. “I absorbed the emotion of those around me, but felt none of my own,” I said to my daughter when she asked my review.

But the next day was a holiday with a peculiar feeling to the air, beginning with the Inauguration and leading into technical work that seemed to accomplish itself, and then my teenage son, not knowing I’d already gone, asking to see the film.

As we settled and I encouraged him to open candy first so as not to disturb with crackling once the film began, people sat on either side of us that Leonard Cohen might deem “psychically abrasive.” To our right, a man too masculine to allow his wife or others in the theater to think he would enjoy a musical, and to our left, a family doing their best but having a bit of a day. I noticed my son beginning to seethe with irritation, so asked him whether the whole purpose for coming to the planet might be to work with just this sort of feeling; some situations are so over the top… so near to spectacle, one can’t help but bow. We laughed, let down our guards.

And as for Le Miz, it was a quite different film from the one I’d seen the day before. These were different actors, not the ones from the award shows or endless commercials. Through my son’s eyes, the kindness of a priest, the sacredness of music, and the nobility of each of the characters shone through. No one was out-rightly evil; each played their part with reverence, and “how heartbreaking a prison of literalness!” The heart of the roles consisted in allowing failure to be seen, to be loved and redeemed from the squalor, so ultimately they succeeded. Who, coming away, would want to be a Cosette, sheltered and kept innocently polished, and who isn’t Eponine?

Jean Val jean did begin to look like Michael Landon.