A Clockwork Orange – My Views on the Book and the Film

I just wrote a post about why I don’t read dystopian fiction. Another perfect example of what I don’t read is “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess. The film adaptation is just as unpalatable to me.

The book is hailed as a masterpiece by some. It is not. It is the story of the sick, twisted escapades of a sadistic creep with severe antisocial personality disorder. The final chapter has this creep, who belongs in Dartmoor or Broadmoor, undergo a “reformation” of sorts upon seeing a former acquaintance settled and married. Since when do sadistic, antisocial criminals have epiphanies and decide to leave their depraved ways behind them? Never. Only in poorly contrived fiction.

The book and film portray hyper toxic masculinity, and I find it hard to understand who their intended audience is – Criminals? Closeted psychopaths? Incels of the Arthur Fleck variety? Who else would want to waste time and brain cells on portrayals of hyper toxic masculinity?

The film especially is EXTREMELY disturbing viewing with it’s light-hearted approach to the rape of minors and it’s sexualised, fetishised approach to the rape of an adult female. It is equally disgusting in it’s casual revelling in other acts of violence such as assault and battery and murder.

Don’t watch or read if:

You identify as female

You identify as male but are against hyper toxic masculinity

Have basic human values such as “rape is wrong, crime is bad”

Respect other humans and life

Want to watch or read something worth your time and energy

Cinema I by Gilles Deleuze – Mini Review

downloadI started reading “Cinema I: The Movement Image”  after looking into recommended reading for anyone wishing to learn more about cinema. In other words, I was hoping to find texts that would help me deepen my critical analysis of films for film reviews (and because I so wish I had read Film Studies at University).

I’m still struggling to try and read it over a year after purchasing it.

The reason for this being that “Cinema I” is complex reading for the uninitiated such as myself. It is not so much the philosophy of film as it is film as philosophy.

If you’re hardcore into philosophy and enjoy reading long paragraphs that would leave most of us utterly baffled – go for it.

For the rest of us mere mortals, I would recommend the following instead:

  • Film Theory: An Introduction by Robert Stam
  • Film Studies: An Introduction by Ed Sikov

Thoughts on the Appeal of Toxic Male Characters in Film & Television

NOTE: Contains one instance of swearing. Spoilers for some of the TV series / films used for reference. 

I would love to say, “I don’t get it. It makes no sense to me.”

It would be nice to have the moral high ground here.

Sadly, I, too, have been guilty of ‘romanticising’ a toxic character (only the one, though – to my mild relief): Guy of Gisbourne from the 2006 BBC Robin Hood series.

I hate that I still have mixed feelings (sort of) about this character. More on that later.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately: why are blatantly toxic and/or abusive male characters on screen “forgiven” for their behaviour and even revered/adored/romanticised/”stanned” by female (or other) viewers?

downloadThis was prompted by my decision to revisit ‘The Vampire Diaries’, starting with series 1 and quitting just after episode 1 of series 4. Back when the show was first airing on television, I was decidedly pro-Stelena.

Today, I am still a Stelena fan, but would also have settled fairly happily for an ending with Elena choosing neither of the Salvatores and either being on her own or with someone else (preferably both as humans).

In other words, pretty much ANYTHING but the God awful Delena endgame that the show’s writers opted for.  (Mini- rant here but seriously? SERIOUSLY people? Damon — let this sink in — DAMON SALVATORE is the “better man”?!? Are you fucking kidding me?)

Anyway, my point is that obviously the writers found the idea of the Damon-Elena pairing highly “romantic” as did many viewers and fans of the show. This pairing was immensely popular, despite Damon being troublingly toxic on screen. Let’s review his charge sheet:

1) Has stalked and tormented his brother for over a 100 years because of a grudge

2) Emotionally and sexually abuses (rapes) Elena’s friend Caroline (I’m not going to argue this point – no matter what anyone thinks, “compulsion” is akin to the absence of consent and thus anything that happens under compulsion is a violation. More for a more detailed breakdown, I refer you to this excellent post, and to this one.)

3) Repeatedly endangers and even threatens to kill Elena’s friends Bonnie and Matt

4) Intends to kill, and attempts to kill, her brother when she first refuses his sexual advances

5) His inability to understand choice and consent – he repeatedly mocks his brother for caring about what Elena wants, rather than just doing what he deems needs to be done

6) His obsessive and disturbingly possessive attitude towards Elena (forcing her to drink vampire blood so that she could be resurrected as a vampire should anything happen to her — despite her ABSOLUTELY NOT WANTING THIS.)

7) He uses and abuses people to cope with his “feelings” (e.g., Andie). Every time he faces any difficult emotion, he either lashes out in violence towards Elena and her loved ones or towards other innocent people (because, ‘oh poor Damon, life’s not fair’).

8) He never takes responsibility. He always blames others for “making” him behave in certain ways.

(For a more detailed summary, see this)

And despite all this, somehow this pairing is supposed to be “epic love”. Oh and we’re supposed to excuse all Damon’s toxic behaviour because he had an abusive father.

I get that his tragic backstory informs who he is now – he was deeply affected by what he suffered. But honestly, at some point a person needs to grow up and decide to take responsibility for who they are – either by choosing to break free of the past or investing in extensive psychotherapy.

But the Damon Salvatore character is just one example.

downloadThere’s also the ridiculously popular Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl. Ugh. SO PROBLEMATIC:

1) Attempts to rape a minor (Jenny, aged 14) at a party

2) Attempts to force himself on his (alleged) close friend, Serena

3) Much like Damon Salvatore, when faced with difficult emotions or situations, he self-sabotages and lashes out and blames everyone except himself

4) He is physically violent towards his love interest Blair (see this page for a detailed commentary on this)

5) He sabotages Blair’s relationship with someone else because he’s jealous

Seeing any commonalities here? Because I am.

I’m starting to see a pattern: “handsome” / conventionally attractive + obsessive+ misogynist + abusive = “romantic hero”.

Whoever came up with this formula needs to take some time out for reflection and reevaluation of their fundamental beliefs (and others affected by this idea need to do the same).

downloadTravelling back in time to the early 1990s, you might come across a film called ‘Blink‘ starring Madeleine Stowe and Aidan Quinn.

Whilst a suspenseful (and erotic) thriller, the film is disturbing in an unintentional way – the romantic pairing of Detective John Hallstrom and the female protagonist Emma.

Hallstrom, portrayed by the attractive young Quinn, is a massive jerk and is very clearly abusive towards Emma.

1) He attempts to humiliate her when she first arrives at the police station to report a possible murder

2) He ridicules her blindness

3) He is controlling

4) He is physically violent (he shoves her around and smashes her hand into a mirror).

downloadGoing back further in time, to the 1980s, we have ‘Reckless‘. A film about teen angst and what feels like an attempt at making the Anti ‘Grease’. It is the edgier, broody alternative to Grease’s smiles, sparkles and sunshine. Its a film that I liked, and one I would find interesting to analyse.

However, the male protagonist, Johnny Rourke (also portrayed by Aidan Quinn) is a cause for concern. There are many indications that he has painful emotions that he needs to sort through. Yet, he ends up running away with the equally angsty female lead and we are supposed to cheer for them – even though everything points towards a disastrous future for them.

imagesThese are only a few examples, but one’s that have made me ponder.

Much like these characters, Richard Armitage’s Guy of Gisbourne is extremely problematic.

He’s got a lot of emotional issues to sort through, but more significantly:

1) He forces his courtship upon the uninterested Marian

2) He burns her home to the ground (on the Sheriff’s orders, and also because he’s angry at her for rejecting him)

images-13) He nearly forces her to marry him

4) He is obsessed with the idea of her, and builds her up as this epitome of virtue and goodness through whom he can be “saved”

5) He is repeatedly violent and apparently remorseless about this violence towards others  (whether at his own initiative or the orders of the Sheriff)

6) He kills Marian, after her final rejection of him

7) He is revealed to be guilty of having sold off his own sister to a brute (for whatever reason)

…and yet Guy and Marian were more fervently “shipped” than Marian and Robin could ever hope to be. I can’t be sure what it was.

I mean, I know it helps that Gisbourne has Richard Armitage’s face, but what else?

The moments where Guy shows vulnerability, however briefly, before Marian?

The tragic backstory?

The series 3 redemption arc?

The tragic death?

I can’t be sure. But that is not, and ought to not, be enough to have him so adored by fans. Can we really overlook all the above, because he suffered in life?

Surely not.

We may perhaps understand why he is who he is, but we cannot condone it. Basically, he’s a lot like Damon Salvatore, but played by a more attractive man (in my opinion). I hate to admit this, but there it is. My most hated fictional character is very much like my favourite villain. Ugh. Why.

Is the appeal of these toxic characters related to basic human superficiality? Yes, you read that correctly. Humankind is ridiculously superficial, as shown by psychological research.

People judged to be more attractive are more easily forgiven – we’re more willing to overlook bad behaviour from people we deem attractive as compared to people we deem unattractive. We are more willing to attribute positive qualities (such as kindness or intelligence) to people we consider attractive, we’re more likely to display prosocial behaviour towards them, and they are likely to have an advantage in the workplace and in legal proceedings.

For more details on this ‘beauty bias’, read this.

One way to circumnavigate our conditioning might be the Freddy Krueger Test. This is a little test of my own invention. When tempted to make excuses for the fictional toxic male on your screen, ask yourself, “Would I be okay with this if he looked like Freddy Krueger?” Take a moment to visualise your favourite toxic character behaving in his usual way with Krueger’s appearance. It might help remove the rose-tinted spectacles of a beautiful face. Or it might not. Either way, worth a try, don’t you think?

While attractiveness is one explanation (and many people do find Ian Somerhalder, Ed Westwick, Aidan Quinn et al attractive), I don’t think its the complete answer. But then nor do I think I have a complete answer – just one other possible explanation.

My second suggestion is related to Karpman’s Drama Triangle. The Drama Triangle is a model for understanding problematic interactions between people, especially in situations of conflict. It hypothesises that a person takes on one of three roles (1) victim (helplessness) (2) persector (blaming, controlling, oppressive) or (3) rescuer (“let me save you!”). Could it be that we find toxic characters appealing because of our own ‘rescuer’ tendencies – our need to “save” other people, to “fix” people?

I have no definitive answers, but I’d be curious to know what readers think – post your comments!

Joker (2019) – Review

WARNING: There’s a lot of anger in this post.

Joker’ wasn’t a film that I was particularly looking forward to; the trailer seemed bleak and I really do not see the point of another Joker story when so much content already exists in the form of films and graphic novels. When we already have The Killing Joke, Batman: White Knight, and TONNES of other Joker stories, do we really need this film? I had hoped that Leto’s totally deranged Joker would have killed any further attempts at making the character more “interesting” or sympathetic. But alas, I hoped in vain.

Joker’ is unrelentingly bleak. It reminds me of certain people who believe that all meaningful literature and films must be depressing. The bleakness of ‘Joker’ is not just the result of its content, it feels like a conscious decision on the part of the filmmaker – “make it super depressing, because depressing = deep” (No surprises here, given the director is Todd Philips). It left me feeling weighed down, but also repulsed and disturbed – and not in a good way.

Despite all its flaws, there are two things that do work. First, the acting is excellent. Second, the cinematography is great – take for instance the shifts between scenes such as the shift from the opera house lavatory to Fleck’s apartment, the use of colour, the changing representation of the stairs.

The film has been alternatively criticised and praised for its mental health portrayal. Most mental health professionals have responded with disappointment at what has been described as its stigmatising and ignorant content. Others have found it to be a sympathetic portrayal of a “mentally ill” man. Some have said that it illustrates the Power Threat Meaning framework and recognises the socio-political context of mental health.

For me, the film was hugely problematic in its portrayal of mental health conditions. I felt like cinema had regressed by centuries in its understanding of mental health. The film felt like a weak, under-researched and superficial attempt to be “relevant” and make a “point” about mental health. I am aware that I repeat this ad nauseam, but dear God, I am reminded again of Fitzgerald’s wise words “You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.”

You don’t try and make a point with your film because you want to be deep or meaningful or relevant. You make a point because, for you, there would be no other way to make the film – the substance is already there, the depth of feeling is already there because it matters to you; it is not a manufactured fake – unlike this trash-can-pile-of-shit film. 

1) The film suggests that mental health conditions predispose people to acts of violence. In other words, it perpetuates the harmful idea that people who suffer from mental health difficulties are dangerous. Arthur Fleck aka the Joker is portrayed as a ticking time bomb. You don’t mould the world to suit him and he’ll kill you for it. 
2) The mother-as-the-cause-of-psychopathy trope. This is so last century. Honestly. We’ve seen this in Psycho and Bates Motel. A psychopath is made by his mother. And here is the same done-to-death trope trotted out again. Its so done with that it stinks like rotten blue cheese.
3) It suggests that society oppresses psychopaths and that psychopaths should “embrace the madness” – become violent, go on killing sprees and such like because “madness” is awesome. No, no, no. Please. I assure you that people suffering from mental health conditions do not enjoy the conditions. They suffer. And psychopathy of all things should hardly engender our sympathy.
4) The film seems to enjoy the Joker’s violence, almost revelling in it. It is shown in graphic, sickening detail, and it is implied that these are the “just desserts” of the victims. Massively f*cked up.
5) Equally f*cked up is the choice to use Gary Glitter’s, convicted paedophile, music to show Arthur “owning his madness”. The film in essence benefits a child abuser. Nice work people.
6) Towards the end of the film, it appears to espouse a “kill the rich” slogan. Anyone who has anything in a world of equality deserves to suffer. Why should they have what others don’t? That’s not how things work. You can’t make a society more equal by making everyone equally poor.
7) The film is the story of angry, bitchy little white incel. I know I sound angry, because I am fuming. Do we need more films about whiny ass white guys who we are supposed to feel sorry for because they don’t get the perfect life they’ve always wanted? Get real people. Get real. Male rage is dangerous, and abounds everywhere. We don’t need stories of male rage, we have access to the news for that.
The entire film builds up to the point of Arthur becoming the Joker (although, to me, he was always the Joker. He just hid his vileness under a mask of meekness – when that didn’t work, he drops the mask of niceness). And apparently, its all the fault of the women he interacts with – his “bad” mother, his neighbour for not being interested in a creepy dude who lives down the hall from her, his social worker for not doing “more” for him. The pathetic, disgusting, self-centred loser Fleck is an entitled jerk who blames everyone but himself for his problems.
This film is a steaming pile of dog shit. And tragically, it is so popular; winning awards left, right and centre. For fuck’s sake people. The Dark Knight trilogy was, is and will eternally be superior.
In my view, the story of a man choosing to use his trauma to save others is more powerful than the story of a whiny bitch who decides to kill people because his life isn’t as he imagined it.

My Recommendation for Spanish Shows on Netflix (Period Drama + Flappers & Feminism)

If you, like me, often find yourself bored by the recommendations generated on Netflix, here are two suggestions for your next Netflix binge.

downloadGrand Hotel (Gran Hotel): An imposing hotel with secrets owned by a family with just as many secrets, a missing maid, a breathtaking landscape, a period setting, high (melo)drama, suspense, melodramatic thrills, crazy plot twists – here is the Spanish show that is born of mixing just the right amount of Downton Abbey with just the right amount of Devious Maids. Also, prepare to be awed by the ridiculous good looks of Amaia Salamanca and Yon Gonzalez –  Julio and Alicia, the show’s two protagonists. They are excellent as their characters because despite some occasionally ludicrous plot twists they come across as believable characters, in whose stories we, the viewers, become easily invested.

The supporting roles are also well cast and well acted. Andres is a source of comedic delight, but is just as capable of invoking our sympathy for his pure devotion to the cunning Belen. Andres and Julio’s bromance is reminiscent of that of Arthur and Merlin (from the 2008 BBC production)- it is as much the emotional heart of the series as is the central love story.

The villains are sometimes over the top but they manage to inspire true loathing. Only 3 series long, and the show makes for entertaining viewing – once emotionally involved, it is difficult to not watch the entire series in one sitting.

Cable Girls (La Chicas del Cable): Well, hello again Yon Gonzalez.

download.jpgCable Girls follows the stories of five young women working as Cable operators in Madrid in the 1928. The protagonist is Alba/Lidia, a determined and street-wise woman who has had enough of men dictating the course of women’s lives. She is all for women doing it for themselves, and dreams of eventually getting away from it all by moving to Argentina. She takes the job at the cable company as a means to end, but finds herself taken by surprise when a connection to her past emerges and she begins to develop truly meaningful relationships with her colleagues.

The plot is often about the struggles faced by women in early 20th century Spain, and the friendship between the five female protagonists is vital to the story. From a 21st century perspective, some of the challenges faced by women in the series are deeply saddening and are wont to make one grateful for the progress made in the years since (although, tragically, there are still places in the world where women face these self-same, and often even more, struggles today).

The show is by no means doom-and-gloom; it is pretty fun too and inevitably has hints of melodrama (though to a lesser extent than Grand Hotel).

There is a love triangle, and oh my goodness, am I emotionally invested in that or what? No spoilers intended but… ***possible spoilers below***

Team Francisco, obviously. I mean, its a no-brainer. The series thus far is evidence enough of that.

Cable Girls series 4 releases on Netflix in August!

4 Must-Watch Classics of European Cinema … and a few other suggestions

Growing up where I did, most of the film scene was dominated by mainstream Hollywood (mostly good/tolerable) or Bollywood (Kill me now). It wasn’t until a course on European Cinema that I had the opportunity to widen my horizons with reference to films. For those of you who enjoy (now) old but interesting films, here are some of the ones that are true classics:

download(1) Ladri de Biciclette (The Bicycle Thieves) – Vittoria De Sica: In post-war Rome, a poor man’s is robbed of his bicycle, without which he will lose his job; the job that could save his family from further poverty. The film is unrelentingly bleak in its depiction of post-war economic difficulties, fitting perfectly into the genre of Italian neo-realism. Realism doesn’t get more “realistic” than this. The plot and the tone of the film is reflective of the sociocultural and economic conditions that inspired it: Post-war Europe, dealing with the aftermath of a 6-year long war and all that entails in terms of destruction, violence, death, and deprivation. De Sica famously employed untrained actors (including factory workers) for the roles in the film, as per the tenets of neorealism. De Sica’s style is a contrast with that of Federico Fellini, who was known for his more baroque and luscious style of film-making. The film is a depressing but effective exploration of post-war difficulties faced by ordinary people.

A more contemporary Italian film well worth watching is La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful) – but be warned, this will break your heart and you’ll certainly need a box or two of Kleenex handy. For a more light-hearted Italian film, consider Otto e Mezzo (8 1/2) by Federico Fellini, a surrealist comedy/drama film about a filmmaker suffering creative block as he attempts to make a film; or Pietro Germi’s Divorzio all’italiana (Italian Divorce) a comedy about a man desperate to escape his marriage to a devoted wife so that he can be with his younger and more attractive cousin.

220px-viridiana_cover(2) ViridianaLuis Buñuel: Viridiana (from the Latin for ‘green’, as in verdant – wonderfully symbolic in its context) is a novice at a convent, about to take her vows, when she is taken to visit her uncle at his farm. Her uncle has a sinister and disturbing interest in her as a consequence of which he subsequently takes his own life, leaving his farm to Viridiana and his illegitimate son Jorge. Viridiana continues to attempt to lead a virtuous life, but it seems that circumstances will not let her. The film follows Viridiana from her initial naiveté to her final disillusionment. The film is a perfect example of the Gothic genre, with its elements of literal and moral darkness, gloom, psychosexual undertones, and fear. It is considered anti-religious by some, and this is unsurprising given that one of Bunuel’s favoured themes was the “absurdity of religious life”. But even if one is religious, this film makes for interesting viewing in terms of its style and aesthetic and its depiction of the disillusionment of a young and in many ways defenceless woman in a male dominated society. The film is best summed up by the writer Octavio Paz’s description of Bunuel as “scandalous and subversive”.

For the interested: Bunuel was also a leader of the surrealistic movement, and he collaborated with Salvador Dali (whose influence is abundantly apparent in their work) on the short film Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) – a film that is as weird and disturbing as it is fascinating. If you enjoy Viridiana, Bunuel’s other female-centric film Tristana will interest you.

mv5bmtg5ywiymwutzdy5my00zjc1ltljotctymi0mwrmy2m2nmrkxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtmxodk2otu@._v1_ux182_cr0,0,182,268_al_(3) MetropolisFritz Lang: I love Fritz Lang. His films are unfailingly excellent: he was obviously the Christopher Nolan of his time. Metropolis, which I consider the predecessor to Blade Runner & Blade Runner 2049, is an early 20th century example of the science fiction and German expressionist genre. Metropolis is a place where the rich and powerful (the “heads”) lead idle and indulgent, extravagant lives in the world above; in the world below, workers (the “hands”) toil day in and day out to continue productivity from which those above flourish. Things begin to change when Freder Frederson, son of the city’s master, meets a young worker named Maria, who inspires him and her fellow workers with her message that “Head and hands need a mediator. The mediator between head and hands must be the heart”. Naturally, most of the rich and powerful are resistant to this ideology and trouble ensues with the complications arising from an evil robot version of Maria.

More films by Fritz Lang: ‘M’, The Woman in the Moon (Frau im Mond), The Weary Death/ Destiny (Der Müde Tod)

A masterpiece of German Expressionism (but not by Lang): The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari).

The classic femme fatale German film, by Josef Von Sternberg, The Blue Angel (Der Blau Engel)

(4) Det Sjunde Inseglet (The Seventh Seal)Ingmar Bergman: One cannot talk of European cinema and not mention Ingmar Bergman. The Seventh Seal depicts a medieval knight playing a game of chess with the personification of death, who has come to claim his life, set against the backdrop of Sweden during the Great Plague. The game of chess continues between the two as they observe and participate in the stories of other characters as well as their own. The plot, the style and various scenes within the film are influenced heavily by medieval art, and questions of theological philosophy – specifically questions of faith, how to understand an unseen God/ a God not perceived by our senses, the “silence of God” in the face of the evils of the world. The film reminds me of a quote from Death (from Pratchett’s Discworld) ” ‘There is no justice’ said Death ‘Just me'”. Hailed as one of the best films in world cinema, The Seventh Seal makes for visually interesting and intellectually stimulating viewing.

Other Bergman works include Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället), Summer with Monika (Sommaren med Monika) and the Magic Flute (Trollflöjten)

Cinematic Excellence: My Favourite Scene from The Dark Knight Rises (Part 1)

*New Year’s Resolution: Spend more time writing about the things I love, i.e., blogging about films and books. Thus, in keeping with this resolution, I’m welcoming the new year with a post about one of the films I’ve wanted to write about ever since I first watched it. Happy 2019!*

images.jpgFrom most reviews online, the consensus seems to be that The Dark Knight Rises is the weakest film in Christopher Nolan’s otherwise excellent trilogy. I disagree: all three films were superb, in my opinion. But whatever others or myself might think, it is undeniable that this film does contain a number of effective scenes.

A successful scene is one of the pieces of magic that makes a film shine – but how do we define it? Of course, what makes an impression differs from person to person. For me, a perfect scene is where the action, cinematography, and sound all come together in harmony and tie in effortlessly with the major thematic concerns of the film. It helps that Christopher Nolan’s style of filmmaking already incorporates this to a significant degree.

The best scene from the film, in my opinion, is the Climb.

The Climb (& the Pit Sequence)

This scene (or in fact these scenes) makes (/make) the film. It ties everything together so beautifully that it is goosebump-inducing. The films have often been categorised according to their main themes as Batman Begins = Fear, The Dark Knight = Chaos, The Dark Knight Rises = Pain and/or Consequences. While pain and consequences are the dominant themes of The Dark Knight Rises, this film blends in aspects of the former themes of chaos and fear too. Nolan’s circularity, or rather his films’ penchant for wholeness/things coming together, is expertly executed in this particular scene.

The entire sequence of scenes in the pit is powerful. First of all, the nod to the Lazarus Pit of the graphic novels is subtle, but well done. The Lazarus Pit (incidently located in the Nanga Parbat – “the Naked/Bare Mountain” – in Pakistan) is portrayed as a natural phenomenon discovered by Ras al Ghul. It contains chemical pools which have restorative properties, allowing those using or consuming the chemicals to prolong their lives – as done by Ras al Ghul himself. Interestingly, in the film, the pit is where Bruce hallucinates Ras al Ghul, who tells him “I told you I was immortal“; but in Nolan’s more realistic (compared to the graphic novels) films, Ras is not actually immortal, rather it is his ideology that lives on.

In the film, the pit is where Bruce is imprisoned by Bane in an attempt to break his spirit. Yet Bruce eventually rises from this pit, spiritually reborn, thereby fulfilling the Lazarus motif and the foreshadowing in Alfred’s words earlier, “There is a prison in a more ancient part of the world. A pit where men are thrown to suffer and die. But sometimes a man rises from the darkness. Sometimes the pit sends something back“. It is also interesting how these words apply to both Bruce and to Bane. Rising from the darkness is defined by choices, and whilst Bruce rises to a place to courage, renewed strength and determination, Bane rose to violence and further darkness.

images-3The Pit is also where Bruce has a flashback to the events of the first film, Batman Begins, where he was rescued from a fall down a well/cave by his father, who asked him “And why do we fall, Bruce?” The flashback is emotionally evocative and imbued with meaning. Its emotional value comes from the fact that Bruce’s decision to become Batman was motivated to a very large degree by the deaths of his parents, and his quest to save Gotham is on some level a psychological attempt at metaphorically “undoing” the deaths of his parents. At his lowest point – the fall into the pit (and symbolically the depths of despair) – this flashback comes to him to remind him of where and why he started his journey. Additionally, it ties in to the scene in Batman Begins (as do many scenes in The Dark Knight Rises) with Bruce and Alfred in a descending elevator with the Wayne Mansion aflame,

Bruce: I wanted to save Gotham. I’ve failed.

Alfred: Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up. 

The ‘meaning’ here is a continuation of the symbolic fall of Gotham’s white knight and its dark knight at the end of the second film, The Dark Knight. Where once Bruce took the (metaphoric) ‘fall’ for Dent’s dark deeds, here he falls on many levels – his failing physical condition, the fall into despair, the literal fall down the pit, the fall from hero to villain, ‘falling’ for Miranda Tate’s/ Talia al Ghul’s ruse. Why do we fall? is a reminder that he can learn to pick himself up again, that he can rise from the darkness as he once did in Batman Begins, where he rose from the darkness of personal revenge and rage and sublimated those instincts into a quest for a more just Gotham.

The climb itself makes for highly satisfying viewing. Bruce has attempted the climb twice already and has failed both times. Each time he has been fuelled by different motives; once by anger (“I’m not afraid, I’m angry”) and once by desperation. And he has failed. Now as he sits in his cell, the prison doctor talks to him, and his words again link back to Batman Begins and its theme of fear and overcoming fear,

Doctor: You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak.

Bruce: Why?

Doctor: ‘How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible, without the most powerful impulse of the spirit? The fear of death.’

Bruce: I do fear death. I fear dying in here while my city burns. And there’s no one there to save it.’

Doctor: Then make the climb.

Bruce: How?

Doctor: As the child did – without the rope. Then fear will find you again *cue Epic Soundtrack*. (Side Note: GOOSE-BUMPS. I love this part. Gives me chills every time I watch it).

Where Bruce once sought to overcome his fears, and to use the power of fear against his enemies, here Bruce learns that fear is integral to survival – it is not to be denied, but to be embraced, and that fear is where he started and where he must return. He learns the same lesson as Daredevil, “A man without fear is a man without hope”.

Furthermore, this particular moment draws on the Ancient Greek concept of the “good death”. Death itself is considered neutral; the distinguishing factor is how one dies. To die in battle, facing one’s enemies, is a good and honourable death. But to die running from battle, or in any situation considered “meaningless” or ignoble, would be a shameful death. Here Bruce too fears dying in this pit of despair while his city burns – an ignoble death. The choice he makes reinforces these undertones of Greek tragedy – it seems he chooses to die to save his city: a “good” death.

images-2My absolute favourite moment is when Bruce has nearly made the climb, and he pauses before the crucial (and most dangerous) leap – as he readies himself for either death or freedom, and edges along the ledge, in a moment of sheer cinematic genius, a colony of bats emerges from behind him, startling him into crouching. Recognising his fear, in the very tangible and visual form of the bats, he rises and – successfully makes the jump. I love how the scenes before this bring it all together, and how this particular moment feels like the completion or homecoming of all the build up in the previous two films. Bruce has found his fear again, and it is fear that propels him to success. He has also rediscovered his will to live and has found meaning and purpose for himself, which he seemed devoid of at the beginning of the film.

images-1This is scene achieves the status of cinematic excellence because of how every element works and how well things are brought together. This is the climax of the film, where everything that has been built up to until this point must deliver. And deliver it does. We move from hopelessness to hope, from the darkness of the pit to the light of the surface above (the shots of the final climb are done in ‘light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel’ manner); we see Bruce brought to his lowest point and we witness his rise as the dark knight again as promised by the title of the film. An extraordinary scene.

Watch it here.

Christmas Reading

Hello again dear readers!

downloadIts cold outdoors; the mornings are misty; the days short and the nights long; and all is festive in the world and blogosphere.

After all, tis the season and all that. So, in keeping with the weather and the Christmas spirit, I bring to you my favourite Xmas reads.

(Note: Please read this to the sound of ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham! to fully appreciate the experience. [I’m only joking, but you’re welcome to try it out if it floats your boat])

  1. download-1Agatha Christie: What is Christmas without Agatha Christie? I discovered the English tradition of an annual Christie episode at university, but my own enjoyment of her works at Christmas time goes back to the winters of my childhood, when reading an Agatha Christie book snuggled in front of a log fire was the highlight of my winter holidays. If you’re up for a Christie, I’d recommend Sleeping Murder (Young woman investigates the disappearance of her stepmother years ago); Death Comes as the End (Murder + Ancient Egypt); Appointment with Death (Murder in Petra); and if you really want to keep things seasonally themed, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (the great detective solves a mystery and experiences an authentic English Christmas). 
  2. download-1And speaking of writers of detective fiction, let me introduce you to Boris Akunin. Akunin is a Russian writer of historical detective fiction, perhaps best known for his two major book series Sister Pelagia (a crime-solving Russian Orthodox nun in Imperial Russia) and Erast Fandorin (a 19th century Russian detective, working on and off with the government but largely by himself, with the aid of his manservant, Masa, a fallen Japanese Yazuka).  For anyone interested in historical detective fiction that is impressively atmospheric, makes for engrossing reading, contains likeable and intriguing characters that one is soon invested in, and is most importantly fun: I recommend the Fandorin series – start with book one, The Winter Queen.
  3. downloadMarcus Sedgwick: Winter + Gothic fiction = Perfect mix. For those of you who enjoy gothic fiction, Sedgwick will prove a rewarding read. His work is often classed as ‘YA/ Young Adult’ – don’t let that put you off though (I do not agree with labels and restrictive definitions of genres). If you’re looking for vampire fiction, try his My Swordhand is Singing; if you’re looking for an unusual, dark, beautiful and undefinably Bronte-esque story of epic love through time, Midwinterblood is the book for you; and finally, if (like me) you’re looking for a different take on the vampire genre, and more a story of obsession, A Love Like Blood makes for fast-paced and suspenseful reading.
  4. 19540829Terry Pratchett: My list would be incomplete without a mention of Terry Pratchett. If you’ve read my Pratchett appreciation post, you already know that I am a huge fan of his work, not least because of how much hope and how great a love of humanity are to be found in his books. I could think of nothing more in keeping with the spirit of the season than Pratchett’s brilliant The Hogfather, where Death takes over for the Hogfather (the Discworld equivalent of Santa Claus) as the latter is missing due to the interference of certain other entities. The ‘Death’ books are some of Pratchett’s best work (right alongside the fantastic Watch/Vimes books) and his Death is a unique take on the grim reaper, one with a soft spot for cats and a white horse named ‘Binky’ – he’s not all teddy bears and benignity either; he can be menacing, and inexorable too. A bonus: This book contains my favourite Pratchett quote, from a conversation between Death and his granddaughter (yes, Death has a family… of sorts) Susan – a interesting meditation on the power of fiction and the human need to make meaning. Oh, and there’s a film adaptation too!

Happy Holiday-Reading!

…..

Like a Post-Credits Scene in a Marvel film, I’m including something a little ***extra***: For the film-lovers out there, here’s my list of my favourite Xmas-y films. Which are your’s?

Starting with the obligatory xmas film-experiences…

1) Love Actually

2) About a Boy

3) The Nightmare Before Christmas

and now the not-very-obviously-christmas-related one’s

4) Grosse Pointe Blank (Laughter is always good, and GPB is incredibly fun)

5) The Wedding Date (not really a xmas film, BUT it’s a fun holiday watch)

6) While You Were Sleeping (What can I say, I’m a sucker for sappy romance film. And I hate that I’m this way!)

7) It’s a Wonderful Life

Happy film-viewing!

 

Blade Runner 2049 – Film Review

***SPOILERS****

FINALLY. I’ve been meaning to write this review for far too long (but not as long as I’ve been meaning to tackle The Dark Knight trilogy – for shame!). That pesky little thing known as Real Life and/or Work/A Full Time Job gets in the way.

Blade_Runner_2049_posterMy favourite film of 2017 – which, I suppose, is unsurprising given that it deals with one of my pet thematic concerns: identity and the question of what it means to be human. It also helps that the protagonist is played by Ryan Gosling (no, I am not a crazy fangirl), whom I genuinely believe is a good actor (this may be a controversial opinion, as some viewers believe he cannot emote at all)  with a repertoire of diverse films to his credit (see: The Believer; The United States of Leland; Half Nelson; All Good Things etc).

I had not watched the original prior to viewing this film. I simply read through the Wikipedia plot summary of the 1980s film (Sacrilege!!) and a (Wikipedia) synopsis of the Philip K Dick novel (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – It is on my to-read list). This film can be watched without any background knowledge, but the viewer with even a basic understanding of the preceding works will certainly ‘get’ this film better and find it a more enjoyable experience.

71H0Ynb-vzL._SY679_.jpgAn Extremely Simplified Summary of the Original (1982): In the year 2019, Rick Deckard, a ‘blade runner’ (one who is tasked with tracking down and ‘retiring’/killing off bioengineered androids/’replicants’) is ordered by his former supervisor to ‘retire’ four replicants illegally on Earth (they are usually kept on human colonies on other planets – off-world -, treated not unlike slaves). In the process, he meets and falls in love with Rachel, a female replicant who believes she is human due to having false memories implanted in her mind, as an experiment by the large corporation (Tyrell Corp) that manufactures/produces replicants.

Other Points of Note that Will be Referenced in the Sequel: (1)Blade Runners distinguish replicants from humans using the ‘Voight-Kampff’ test: a ply-graph-like machine measures vital functions in response to emotionally provocative/evocative questions.  (2) One of the rebel replicants (Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer) manages to make quite a distinct impression on Deckard (and the viewer) through his final scene (the brilliant ‘tears in rain’).

The Premise of Blade Runner 2049 (2017): Thirty years after the events of the original film, a replicant LAPD blade runner, ‘K’ retires older model replicants and rogue replicants. He is unperturbed by the nature his work (with his perfect, calm responses to the amended voigt-kampff test – based on a passage from Nabokov’s Pale Fire – after each mission) or the disdain of his colleagues at the LAPD. After successfully retiring one such replicant, a protein farmer, K discovers a box buried under a tree, containing human remains – soon revealed to be the remains of a female replicant who died whilst giving birth via caesarean section.

K’s superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) believes that this discovery could be dangerous, and potentially ignite war between humans and replicants (replicants were formerly believed to be unable to reproduce, and are thus considered and treated as sub-human, little more that mechanised slaves). She thus tasks K with finding and retiring the replicant-human child to avoid the truth getting out. As events unfold, K begins to question everything he knows about himself, and starts to suspect that he may be the child whom he’s searching for (with encouragement from his mass-produced but customisable AI girlfriend Joi), and this sends him looking for Deckard, hoping to find answers. Along the way, he must also contend with the machinations of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) the sinister CEO of Wallace Co. (the sequel’s version of Tyrell Corp).

Poster Art: Before we delve into reviewing and analysing, let’s take a moment to appreciate the stunning aesthetic of the film poster above on the left. The vivid, bright icy blue and its stark contrast with the flame-red; the distinct-ness of the colours, with no melding of the two, almost emphasising a separation of the characters, with Deckard to one side and the others to another – perhaps suggesting a separation of their primary origin narratives in time. Whilst Deckard and K are presented in different colours, they appear to stand back-to-back and face a similar direction implying a connection possibly in terms of their motives or objectives. The two seem to represent fire and ice; past and present; urgency and biding time; young and old; desire and cold fury (as per Fire & Ice, by Frost); and maybe two sides of a single coin (the two faces of Janus). Interestingly,  the placing of Joi and Niander Wallace seems to have them dwarfed by and yet a part of K – possibly distinguishing Deckard, the human (a hotly debated idea), from K & Joi (both considered non-human) and Wallace the disturbing manufacturer of replicants (his ‘human-ness’ and ‘humanity’ are both questionable).

MetropolisposterBlade Runner 2049 is one of those rare sequels that not only lives up to the legacy and standards of the original but also manages to surpass them. It is the spiritual successor to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Whilst Metropolis (1927) is wary of mechanisation and the dehumanisation of the workforce, represented by the Evil Maria robot, 90 years later Blade Runner 2049, asks us to question the humanity of the humans behind this ‘de-humanisation’ (most obviously, Wallace) and to consider instead the humanity of their creations – the bioengineered replicants (echoing Shelley’s Frankenstein) and the almost human AI they create (for example, Joi).

bladerunner2049Themes: Thematically, Blade Runner 2049 is an existential film. It places to us the questions what does it mean to be human? Can non-humans ever be considered human? What distinguishes humans from non-humans?

In many ways, I found the film to echo the concerns and ideas of Equilibrium (2002); in particular the idea that humans are defined by their (often chaotic and messy) emotions. Compare, for instance, Preston’s return to humanness in Equilibrium (distress, panic, awe), with K’s responses to the voight-kampff test – first extremely unperturbed (no visible reaction) and later a clear physical response.

To be human is to feel in all fullness pain, distress and discomforting realities. Initially, K is inscrutable – he seems to have little to no emotions, only expressing some affection for his hologram girlfriend Joi. But as the film progresses, K is increasingly affected by his actions, his memories and his circumstances – so well depicted in this scene between Dr Stelline (the memory-maker) and himself (moving from sadness to fear to grief to rage).

As K moves from being seemingly emotionally closed off to deeply impacted by his emotions, this contrasts with the coldness and ruthlessness of those recognised as “human”. Lieutenant Joshi appears largely unperturbed by her orders to K (to track down and assassinate the child of Deckard and Rachel, purely to maintain the status quo); Wallace unflinchingly kills a ‘newborn’ replicant, and later similarly orders Luv to kill the imperfect clone of Rachel.

If emotional experiences assign “humanity”, then are K and Joi real? One reviewer (I cannot find the reference, sadly) poetically suggests that while neither K nor Joi is recognised as real, the love they share is real.

downloadIs it love, though? Is it love if Joi’s settings have been customised to say ‘everything you want to hear’? Love must be freely given. K seems somewhat aware of this, as seen by his attempts to make her more free – to give her the freedom to feel the rain, to move more independently and to make choices. He tells her in an early scene ”you don’t have to say that” when she tells him “I’m so happy when I’m with you”. For Joi to be real, for their relationship to be real, K knows she must be first be free (or freer) of her programming (i.e., to only do as he desires). In keeping with this, he later offers her the choice to stay behind when he is forced to flee, but she chooses to go with him. It is my opinion that while Joi starts out as a completely programmed hologram, she does develop some degree of agency as the story progresses.

It is also ironic, and possibly intentional symbolism, that Luv kills Joi. When K and Joi’s relationship becomes real, when their love becomes real, Joi is killed and thus K’s joy (pun intended) too is destroyed.

Nonetheless, with the knowledge that Joi is specifically programmed to say ‘everything you want to hear’, it is interesting to look back on the scene where K begins to question whether his memory is implanted or whether it may be real. Although K denies it, his own (possibly suppressed or denied) desire to be ‘real’, to be born, to have name (Joe) rather than a letter as his identifier and to have a ‘soul’ is given voice to by Joi:

Joi: I always knew you were special. Maybe this is how. A child. Of woman born. Pushed into the world. Wanted. Loved.

There are echoes of Pinnocchio and The Velveteen Rabbit (by Margery Williams Bianco) too in the ‘becoming real’ theme. Specifically in how Pinnocchio longs to be a real boy, and similarly the desire of the stuffed toy rabbit to be real. An extract from The Velveteen Rabbit that seems apropos here is:

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

The film also suggests that the capacity to experience emotions is deeply connected to our memories. The ‘upgraded’ replicants of 2049 have implanted memories to make them almost indistinguishable from humans. And are we, any of us, more than the sum of our memories? Would we be who we are – or who we think we are – without our memories?

Lieutenant Joshi: Do you have any memories from before?

‘K’: I have memories, but… They’re not real, they’re just implants.

Lieutenant Joshi: Tell me one, from when you were a kid.

‘K’: I feel a little strange sharing a childhood story considering I was never a child.

The film’s second existential concern is that of meaning and purpose. Human lives are given meaning over replicants lives in the film because of the supposition that “to be born is to have a soul”. The possession of this mystical element is deemed to both invest a greater meaning in human lives, and to give them an innate purpose or reason for living.

Yet, the film ultimately suggests that meaning and purpose are to be actively created. K is first seen going through a daily routine on autopilot – ”retire” the identified replicant, check in at headquarters, head home for dinner. But as soon as he begins to suspect that he may be the as-yet-undiscovered child of a replicant and a human, it is as though he wakes from a dream. Everything is more intentional, there is a purpose to his life, there is truth in his memories and there is a search to understand his origins and his future. He “becomes” real by the meaning he creates through his choices. As Freysa, the leader of the underground replicant rebellion, tells K, “Dying for a cause is the most human thing we can do”.

Additionally, the influence of Mary Shelley’s great work, Frankenstein, is abundantly felt. Like the eponymous Frankenstein’s creation, the replicants of the Blade Runner universe demand recognition and meaning from their creators. This is true in both films. In the original Blade Runner, this is exemplified by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). In 2049, to a less overtly aggressive degree, this is seen in the replicant resistance movement.

Freysa: You imagined it was you? Oh. You did. You did. We all wish it was us. 

As with Shelley’s novel, the Blade Runner universe also depicts the “de-womanising” of (or erasure of women from) human reproduction. This is most obvious in the scene where Niander Wallace and Luv examine a newly produced replicant. The replicant is dumped out of plastic bag (a stand in for a womb), covered in a gel like fluid (like infants covered in bodily fluids at birth). The scene is disconcerting to say the least. And in keeping with the “unnaturalness” of it, Wallace kills the replicant for not being ‘perfect’ without a moment’s hesitation.

Cinematography/ Visuals: The visuals are a cinematic feat – the stark bleakness of the landscape and the concrete jungle of the city. The neon colours against the dank darkness; the dusty orange suffocation of ruins; the hyperreality of the cityscape and its abundant AI advertisements and inventions. Not only is it a feast for the eyes, it is also imbued with symbolic meaning. Roger Deakin’s Oscar was extremely well-deserved.

5554f2defe08d8caa7965786377640fdConsider the scene depicted to the right. Here K is show as a solitary figure faced by a strange, ominous ruin of what was once presumably a giant statue of a human or humanoid figure. The staring eye, the mouth open in a silent, eternal cry of horror or surprise, and the violence of the half smashed face.  A hollow shell of what it once was. The scene is seeped in a sense of dereliction, despair and prescience of menace. To me, it seems to suggest something of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream‘, with its implications of despair, the ultimate aloneness (not loneliness) of existence, and nihilistic undertones. Similarly, we repeatedly see K dwarfed by his surrounding, be they ruins, statues, buildings or AI projections. This links in with K navigating a situation that is greater than himself, with power plays and manipulative schemes well beyond what he sees.

blade2MV5BYmI1NjQzNmEtN2E5ZS00MjJmLTkxYjEtMzIwMDE3NDA3NWE4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzg2ODI2OTU@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,735_AL_.jpgEarlier, when K visits Wallace Co., we see him and Luv make their way through seemingly endless corridors and passages, almost as if they are walking in an elaborate labyrinth or hall or mirrors. As in the image on the left, there’s an impression of ‘a box within a box within a box’ ad infinitum. The unsettling presence of ‘failed experiments’ lined in the hallway (above left) has echoes of the ending scene in The Prestige, and reinforces Wallace’s coldness and ruthlessness and the utter disregard for the lives/existences/dignity of replicants.

Similarly, later we see Luv again walking through these ‘box within a box’ hallways at Wallace Co. Is this a visual manifestation of Wallace’s deep, dark, unknown motives or his twisty (for want of a better word) mind? Is this a symbol of the deep games at play here?

1r5fehxthlqzIt could be either. I am inclined to view it as a representation of Wallace’s (and his company’s) secretiveness. It also gives the distinct impression of vastness and coldness – it is crypt-like (and cryptic!) and impersonal, thereby demonstrating the coldness present in Luv and Wallace, as is also demonstrated by Wallace’s blindness and his sinister eyes – Unseeing eyes possibly representing a man blinded by his ambition, and their strange huge white orbs of irises suggesting an inner emptiness or ‘soullessness’.

The lighting at Wallace Co. is also interesting. Clearly it is light reflected through water, and visually it is a gorgeous, golden contrast to the dimly lit, shadowy room. But the movement of the light, the constant sways and light waves of water, is eerie adding to the menace of the place and to its mystery. For more on the lighting – here.

It would be extremely remise of me to not mention the perfection that is the final scene – K and ‘Tears in Snow’. The scene brilliantly ties in with the original film’s ‘Tears in Rain’. But whilst Roy delivered a touching monologue to Deckard, here K has no audience and no words. He experiences the touch of snow against his skin, and as the ‘Tears in Snow’ theme plays, we see him lay himself to rest, possibly having achieved what he desired all along – to become real and to have meaning to his existence.

Objectification & the Blade Runner Universe’s Problem with Women

1_bbav7_IHA-Zz5RwnE-hjQgIt is obvious that in this futuristic and mechanised world women are relentlessly objectified – whether it is in the form of mass-produced AI female ‘companions’ (sex slaves? Akin to under-development sex robots?); female replicants (similar implications of sexual slavery and subservience); statues of women’s bodies in suggestive poses (sexualisation of the female form); or sex workers. This is a dystopian world with a thriving pornographic economy. BladeRunner4-TA

The film suggests a link between mechanisation, dehumanisation and hyper-toxic-masculinity. The creators of bio-engineered humanoids who are practically slaves (the replicants) are dangerous men in both films (Eldron Tyrell and Niander Wallace); and the world of Blade Runner, proliferated with violence and consumerism, seems to only have place for women as objects – to be consumed either sexually or in other more metaphoric ways.

The law of the jungle is supreme here; survival is only for the fittest. Fitness being cold calculation and ruthlessness – as embodied by Luv, Wallace’s prize replicant/assistant. blade-runner-2049-e1540134212946.jpg

The absence of female characters with more screen time is strongly felt. There are three female characters with significant secondary roles – Joi; Luv; Joshi, but the film fabulously fails the very basic standards of the Bechdel Test (at least two female characters, who talk to each other about anything other than a man/ the men in their lives). Joi and Luv’s storylines revolve around the men in their lives. Joi exists to make K happy, less lonely, to encourage him on his quest to find out about his origins and to give him an emotional motive for his decisions later in the film. Luv exists for validation from Wallace. Joshi is assassinated before her storyline can develop much. Other female characters such as Freysa and Dr Stelline, though not sexualised, have negligible screen time.

Furthermore, the menage a trois sex scene with Joi, the sex worker Mariette and K is weird. It seems as though the filmmakers intended it to be touching; showing us Joi’s desire to “be real” for K. But it comes across as disturbing – there is something of The Handmaid’s Tale (though not quite as dark) about the whole arrangement. Mariette is doubly used – by Joi for this ‘experience’, and by Freysa to get close to K for her own agenda.

These anti-feminist elements similarly exist in the original Blade Runner (1982) and in the source material. An excellent examination of this can be found here, The Sexual Politics of Blade Runner by Julian O’Dea, and this issue is also effectively summarised here, in the Guardian. On the other hand, it has been argued here that even though Blade Runner 2049 has issues with female representation, there are feminist undertones.

I felt that the film was not intentionally sexist, but that the filmmakers could certainly have done a better job of adding more female agency and at least maintaining the standard set by the Bechdel Test.

In sum

I (mostly) loved the film. The visuals are incredibly well done. The acting and characterisation is spot on. The themes are interesting, philosophical and deeply thought provoking. As with many films that become cult classics, Blade Runner 2049 did poorly at the box office – but I am fairly certain that this will be a film that is remembered and discussed well into the years to come.

Love & Human Remains (1993) – Review/Reaction

WHAT DID I JUST WATCH?!?  

large_Aq5RgnkiDUkXyp4HWckPOBxaUcJ.jpgThis film is a confused mess (euphemistically one might call it a “unique” film) of all its weird plot developments and occurrences; yet once you’ve started watching it, you don’t find yourself switching it off or stopping – somehow, despite its uncertainty and miss-mashed-ness, it manages to draw you in (at least for the duration of the film) and you’re curious to know how it ends.

The Plot: Against the backdrop of a serial killer on the loose, stalking and killing women in Toronto, we are presented with a set of unusual protagonists, their bizarre (or perhaps ‘edgy’) lifestyles and their (equally bizarre) doings/decisions.The film is based on a play by Brad Fraser, ‘Unidentified Human Remains & the True Nature of Love’. Never having seen (or read) the play, I cannot compare it to the film, and I cannot say whether the play is better – I do however suspect that it might be.

For most of the film, the serial killer plotline does not really intersect with the protagonists’ lives; it runs parallel but the viewers are unable to make a meaningful connection – its almost as though the two storylines could be from separate films.

Our motley crew of colourful protagonists is perhaps the strongest element of the film. The characters are interesting, if unusual. Nearly all the protagonists are alienated in some way; alienated from mainstream society, alienated from those around them or even alienated from themselves. Further exploration of the characters and their interpersonal relationships would have made for a better film.

The Characters:

  • David: a former television actor, currently working as a waiter. Presents a cynically bemused self to the world – sardonic, superior, nonchalant; previously in a relationship with Candy, his current roommate, which ended when he discovered he was gay.
  • Candy: David’s roommate and former girlfriend. Decidedly unlucky in love (in heterosexual relationships), she decides to experiment, and finds herself in rather a tangle
  • Benita: David’s best friend, a psychic and a sex worker specialising in urban legend informed S & M scenarios. She and David share a close friendship, and she is one of the few people that David is actually shown to care for quite deeply.
  • Kane: A young busboy, infatuated with David, and uncertain about his own sexuality.

David, the central character, embodies the trope of cynicism as a defence against vulnerability. He is nonetheless a fascinating character; as is Benita. Candy, on the other hand, is more irritating than interesting. All the characters are extremely immature and tend towards narcissism and self-absorption – Candy especially so. The roles are certainly well acted and well cast – (fan-girling here, but) young Thomas Gibson is a thing of beauty (to quote Keats) and the film is worth watching just to see him more than deliver in this role.

This film could’ve been a compelling commentary on disaffected young adults, alienation, the struggle for meaning etc, but it falls short of that and is instead really, really weird.