Tag Archives: opinion

The Choice of Survival: A Review of The Pianist

Amidst pain and suffering, man’s grip for his life endures with unrelenting thirst for survival. The world is filled with death yet even death cannot corrupt the indomitable strength of the human spirit—that longing and hope for something better; the motivation to put one foot ahead of the other in the never-ending struggle to continue on living. Such is what The Pianist tells and such is what Polanski wants to convey: to hold on to life and to the realization that one’s survival is solely on the care of oneself.

The Pianist

Szpilman in the Warsaw Ghetto
(Image courtesy of Masters of Cinema)

The Pianist tells the story of Władysław Szpilman, a Polish pianist. The film is told against the backdrop of the Nazi invasion of Poland, and the anti-Semitic war of Germany. After Poland’s defeat, Nazi Germany quickly starts their “cleansing” by first prohibiting Jews from employment and forcing them to wear an armband with the Star of David. Eventually, the Szpilman family, along with hundreds of other Jews, are placed in the Warsaw Ghetto where life swiftly turns for the worse. There they constantly struggle to survive against starvation and maltreatment. By 1942, the family are transferred to one of Nazi Germany’s extermination camps but Władysław survives after the intervention of his friend from the Jewish Ghetto Police. From there, Szpilman manages to linger on: working in hard labor, and escaping and hiding with the aid of a succession of non-Jewish friends. After hiding for quite some time, Szpilman carries on in a building among the ruined city, and there meets Wilm Hosenfeld, who, after hearing him play, feeds him and ensconces him in the attic. The Germans retreat from Poland in 1945 after the initiative of the Russians. Szpilman is once again free.

The film is an adaptation of the autobiography of Władysław Szpilman with the same title. The most striking feature of The Pianist is that it is also a narrative of the director’s struggles during the Second Word War. Polanski is also a Holocaust survivor, and The Pianist gives him a platform to tell the story of Szpilman with a high degree of authenticity. This provides the film with a palpable atmosphere that is impressively visceral. It is visceral due to its unapologetic display of starvation, hopelessness, and cruelty. It takes the audience to the core of the plight of the Jews during the Second Word War by showing inhumanity through streets lined with dead bodies, physical and emotional torments by the Nazi guards, and imageries of desperation. This is further emphasized by Polanski’s use of fades to highlight the subtle contrast between life and death.

Szpilman experiences great adversity, and the film expertly depicts his descent from cool to tortured with seamless successions of false hopes and continued essays. First, he is separated from his family only to fall victim to slave labor. Second, he escapes from the Warsaw Ghetto with the help of his friend and hides in a German-occupied apartment. Third, after absconding, he beseeches the aid of another non-Jew connection who conceals and locks him in a room. He suffers from jaundice while in hiding, and eventually is forced to flee after Germans bomb his place of refuge. Finally, he holes himself up in an abandoned building among the ruins of the city only to be discovered by a German officer. His misfortune seems to end when Hosenfeld keeps him in the attic and feeds him regularly. Unfortunately, Hosenfeld leaves him with a coat, which places him in peril against the Red Army. In the end, Szpilman succeeds in triumphing over his many terrible ordeals.

Szpilman’s endurance and constant hold to life signify the personal nature of survival. That is, despite the help of others, one’s quest for continuation ultimately lies on oneself. It also suggests a choice: keep on moving or accept defeat. Szpilman need not survive. The terrible loss of his family is enough for him to end future suffering. That loss cannot be recovered—it is as lasting as his waltz with death is fleeting. The room with the piano that he cannot touch mirrors this loss. There the piano rests within his reach but he cannot play it. He can choose to but that would risk being discovered and possibly killed. He could have stroke those keys but he chooses to move on and assert his own survival.

In the end, the film conveys a message that there are indeed two choices in life: live or die. It does not need a special circumstance to force oneself to choose. In Szpilman’s and Polanski’s case, the choice requires utmost urgency. For the rest of us, at least, the choice is as compelling as selecting which foot to move forward ahead of the other.

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5 Figures That Should Have a Hollywood Treatment

I’ve been lately sucked into the abyss of Listverse, spending hours reading lists which contained anything from creepy serial killers to useless facts about hamburgers. So in the spirit of lists, I thought of creating one myself. Here are five people whose life in my opinion should grace the silver screen.

5. John Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes

Image courtesy of the New York Times

Not only because I love Economics but also that John Maynard Keynes is an interesting figure whose work changed the landscape of economic policymaking during the Second World War. His contributions to modern macroeconomic theory helped put to light the importance of the combined market activities of every economic player in shaping long-term economic well-being. His life, though might put some snores into some, will bring a good view of how the global market was during the Great Depression and how governments tackled the issue of the catastrophic recession by adopting a completely radical approach in policymaking.

4. Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace

Image courtesy of IBN Live

There is something endearing about period films but it could be even more interesting if the heroine is some badass mathematician and programming progenitor. Ada Lovelace is certainly a fit for any computer science aficionado. Her work on the Analytical Engine provided the world with the first algorithm intended for a machine. I’m imagining fabulous nightly balls sprinkled with furious note-taking à la John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. Just throw in the Keira Knightly and Joe Wright tandem and we’re done!

3. Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus

Image courtesy of Times of Ummah

Another entry for Economics, Muhammad Yunus is a Nobel-Prize-winning banker whose landmark work on alleviating poverty in Bangladesh created the very existence of microfinancing. Yunus established the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh to help those who cannot qualify for a conventional loan borrow money virtually free from collateral. He has helped motivate productivity in impoverished towns by simply believing in an individual’s human potential. And his contribution to women’s welfare could also create an excellent nuance to a movie adaptation of his life.

2. Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin

Image courtesy of CWP at UCLA

Who doesn’t know Watson and Crick, the Nobel-Prize-winning duo who introduced the double helix structure of the DNA to the world? Yet a better question would be: Who knows Rosalind Franklin? Unfortunately, it would only be a handful. The woman is practically unknown save for those whose career is built on genetics and the like. Rosalind Franklin dedicated her life to her work on understanding the structure of the DNA. The data she gathered throughout her work were used by Watson and Crick to formally understand the DNA structure. It’s high time for some people to recognize just how much Rosalind Franklin contributed to the understanding of the basic component of life.

1. Alan Turing

Alan Turing

Image courtesy of Hylbom

Finally, the second Computer Science entry to this list, Alan Turing should absolutely have the Hollywood treatment. He was an all-around genius, helping break German codes using the Bombe during the Second World War. He envisioned the first stored-program computer before the computer (as we modern folks know it) was even invented. His work on artificial intelligence paved the way for further research on the field and established the Turing Test as the baseline for determining whether a machine could be considered “intelligent” or not. There is no better time than now to introduce Alan Turing as our society becomes more and more technologically integrated.

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Morality in Outer Space: A Review of Star Wars IV

Star Wars

Luke (left), Leia (center), and Han (right) inside the Death Star (Image courtesy of The Guardian UK)

Many science-fiction films these days rely heavily on computer-generated imagery or more popularly abbreviated as CGI. We have certainly gained tremendous strides in technological advancement and a considerable amount of the effort was harnessed in creating films that defy the laws of physics and reality to the full extent. It is understandable, therefore, that an audience coming from the recent millennium, having been exposed to the dazzle of modern cinematic wizardry, would appreciate a film such as Star Wars less than that of, say, Avatar what with all of the latter’s cutting-edge technological prowess. But as film analyses go—or any form of art criticisms, for that matter—one should not take the movie out of the context of its time.

Star Wars was groundbreaking. Released in 1977, the movie from George Lucas was one of the trailblazers in movie special effects, utilizing miniatures and clever camera work to create a milieu that traversed galaxies and compressed the universe within the confines of the silver screen.

The story is set amidst a background of galactic civil war: The Rebel Alliance is gathering its might to rise up against the oppressive Galactic Empire. It opens with the abduction of a ship, which is revealed later to carry Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), a rebel leader, and two robots: C-3P0 and R2-D2. The Empire, along with the main antagonist Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), is out to crush the Rebel Alliance and, having caught Leia, are determined to find their base. They plan to accomplish the task using their weapon Death Star, a massive moon-like ship that is capable of obliterating an entire planet. The main hero is then introduced to be Luke Skywalker, a desert farmer and floating-vehicle enthusiast, who happen to come across C-3PO and R2-D2 after the two robots were jettisoned from the abducted ship and subsequently captured by Jawa traders, a race of small, cloaked scavengers and tinkerers. Leia cleverly hid a distress hologram message, along with crucial information about the Death Star, in the memory of R2-D2, which must be delivered to Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), probably the last remaining Jedi Knight, the order of lightsaber-wielding and Force-using defenders of galactic peace. The message beseeches Obi-Wan to help and to deliver the information in Alderaan, Leia’s home planet, which is later on used as the subject for the demonstration of Death Star’s destructive power. The adventure officially begins after Luke and Obi-Wan departed for Alderaan. Obi-Wan later hires smuggler Han Solo and Wookie, Chewbaca. The colorful team, on board Millennium Falcon, sets forth to Alderaan only to find it destroyed. They then are afterward captured by the Death Star and action ensues: laser-beams against laser-beams; Stormtroopers falling one by one; and finally rescuing Princess Leia and going to Yavin IV to hatch a plan to destroy the Death Star, which they managed to accomplish after exploiting its weakness.

The movie plays on the significant theme of good-versus-evil, morality and the inevitable triumph of the human spirit. The Force is very symbolic of human moral dichotomy. The Jedi Knights use the Force for good, manipulating its power to help the weak and to preserve peace. Darth Vader (as the term Sith was not introduced until the Phantom Menace) utilizes it for his selfish goals and acquires it from jealousy, fear and basically everything else consensually considered bad. Star Wars makes use of this rivalry to set the tone for the narrative and to provide a clear delineation between the antagonists and the protagonists, at least for the majority of the characters. The entire story revolves and maneuvers around this theme but the movie is also nuanced by adding moral uncertainty. Indeed, real life is not black and white; there is a subtle gradation, even on the issue of morality. And despite being larger than life and tackling themes on a galactic scale, the film’s use of Han Solo as a morally abstruse smuggler makes all the difference. Solo is the movie’s subtle grey area. In the midst of the battle between good and evil, there still exists one person whose loyalty remains nebulous—at least during the final moment when Solo decides to place his bets on the Alliance. Throughout the second half of the movie, Solo is portrayed as a lone wolf, someone who plays by his own rules. Yet even in real life, there will come a time when everyone must choose their side, and he resolves to side on the forces of good, eventually taking victory against the evil Empire.

It is clear that Star Wars is focused on expounding its theme using the overall story. The film fails on the area of character three-dimensionality. Save for Han Solo, the development of other characters are less emphasized. Leia, for instance, falls flat on giving a worthy emotion of distress and alarm when her planet was destroyed. The only fault of the movie is indeed on its reluctance to explore the facets of human character and to veer away from the dangers of one-dimensionality.

It is worth noting, however, that Star Wars is a space opera. As such, its story is told using characters, themes and settings on a large scale. Like soaps, the movie’s narrative is also open-ended; there is potential for exploring the characters more and the ending is intentionally obscured to give way to possibilities. The latter is evidenced by the escape of Darth Vader during the film’s denouement, which provides an opportunity for further storytelling (again demonstrated by several sequels and prequels). Lucas, in addition, openly admitted to being influenced by Kurosawa. Having also exposed myself to many of Kurosawa’s film (Seven Samurai, Rashomon and Sanjuro still remain on top of my list), the influence is noticeable. Yojimbo, for instance, centers on a character caught in the middle of a dangerous rift between rival crime families. Han Solo is the movie’s ronin only less fleshed out to give way to the overall narrative. Also, the film’s use of C-3PO and R2-D2 as comic relief mirrors Kurosawa’s Tahei and Matashichi in Hidden Fortress. Yet despite these influences, Star Wars manages to stand on its own and to make a mark in movie history as one of the most timeless pieces of science-fiction cinema.

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Bowie and the Death of Rock: A Review of the Rocky Horror Picture Show

On the extreme ends of the spectrum, there are possibly two kinds of moviegoers: those who watch a film for fun—taking it at face value; and those who watch in silence and appreciation of the deeper art—dissecting every bit of the picture to pieces until nothing is left for consideration. There is simply nothing wrong with leaning with either the former or the latter because both are part of the experience. Rocky Horror Picture Show engages this duality: one can either enjoy the music and pay no mind to the nonsensical plot or uncover the layers of allegory hidden underneath.

Rocky Horror Picture Show

Magenta (left), Dr. Frank-N-Furter (center), and Riff Raff (right) performing “Sweet Transvestite” (Image courtesy of Collider)

The film by Jim Sharman is an adaptation of the musical stage play, The Rocky Horror Show. The musical is a comedy romp of outrageous proportions. Newly engaged couple, Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon), experiences a car breakdown in the middle of the rain. Meeting a dead-end and having passed a mansion, the two decided to turn back and ask for a telephone call. Their demure, country demeanor, however, is no match for the surprises that lie therein as they then subsequently meet a series of colorful characters, including the handyman Riff Raff (Richard O’ Brien), the domestic Magenta (Patricia Quinn), the groupie Columbia (Nell Campbell), and the mysteriously weird Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry). The couple is just in time to witness the unveiling of Dr. Frank’s creation, Rocky Horror (Peter Hinwood), who is basically a man in a very suggestive state of undress. What follows next is a sequence of musical numbers and outlandish story twists-and-turns, including the murder of Eddie (Meat Load), an ex-delivery-boy-slash-former-creation, and the arrival of Dr. Everett V. Scott (Jonathan Adams), a rival scientist. The movie ultimately leaves the audience with a what-in-the-freaking-hell-did-I-just-watch sort of reaction in the end.

Yet despite being outrageous, Rocky Horror Picture Show still engenders a feeling of uncertainty for the discriminating moviegoer. There is simply something behind all the silliness.

I say that the plot bears no sense because Rocky Horror Picture Show does not center on storytelling but rather on, upon closer inspection, a more meaningful secret. Of course, all movies have a story to tell. Rocky Horror Picture Show, on the other hand, basks in the bombast of its narrative with allusions to the era’s pop culture. It is by no means a bad thing but rather a clever ruse: hiding music history in a musical drives the audience’s attention to the pomp—or even discordance—of tunes, which often is the motivation of making musicals. The devil indeed lies in the details.

Right from the start, the disembodied lips singing “Science Fiction/Double Feature” provide an overview of what is about to come: an unfolding of something that must hearken to Hollywood’s science-fiction heydays. The song is filled with mentions of iconic sci-fi cinemas, from Forbidden Planet to The Day the Earth Stood Still. Then it opens to a wedding in front of an American Gothic parody—a parody of the parody of the humdrum rural life, which essentially reflects on Brad and Janet. The ennui is further emphasized in the contrast between Brad’s and Janet’s lively “Dammit Janet” and the lifeless deliveries of Riff Raff, Magenta and Columbia (posing as somebody else) interjected into the lyrics. The transformation of the hero and the heroine from boring to hip will not start until “Time Warp.”

The movie was released in 1975, during the height of glam rock. Before Lady Gaga, there was David Bowie or, to be more specific, Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy was, in all sense of the word, bizarre but his appeal rested on his mystery and otherworldliness. Dr. Frank is very much the same. He is a cross-dressing alien, both figuratively and literally, from Transylvania, as per his opening number “Sweet Transvestite.” He is also a scientist who happens to have created a man, named Rocky Horror. Rocky and Eddie, Frank’s previous creation, embody the rivalry of the time between rock-and-roll and glam rock. Eddie questions in “Hot Patootie—Bless My Soul,” “What happened to Saturday Night, when you dressed up sharp and you felt alright?” Indeed, the entrance of a new form of glittery rock was an altogether radical and sharp turn for music. From being laidback, everybody was suddenly entranced with the “cosmic light” of glam. And the fact that Eddie is a partial brain donor for Rocky certifies that Rocky is, for the genre’s fans, an enhanced derivative. Rocky’s version of rock is sexier and more sensual than Eddie’s muscle-challenged naiveté. As a result Frank murders Eddie, signifying the annihilation of the rock.

Hence also is the importance of Brad’s and Janet’s transformation. The new initiates are thrown in a frenzy of sexual encounters, most notable of which is discernible in Janet’s “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me” wherein she expresses her surrender to the intimate and animalistic allure of the newfound experience; she “has tasted blood” and hungers for more.

The movie culminates in the “Floor Show.” Columbia, lovesick from Eddie’s death and disillusioned by Frank’s glamour, screeches her dislike for the new Frank; Rocky Horror embraces his birthright, that is, of “an orgasmic rush of lust”; Brad warbles his confusion; Janet asserts her sexual empowerment; and Frank encourages everyone to “don’t dream it, be it.” The four, Rocky, Brad, Janet, and Frank, eventually consummate their desires of “absolute pleasure” with an orgy while Dr. Scott implores everyone to escape from Frank’s licentious web “before this decadence” robs them of any sanity.

Yet as with everything else in this world, all good things must come to an end. Riff Raff and Magenta overturn Frank’s control, accusing his lifestyle of being “too extreme.” Ziggy became too big for Bowie, so he decided to kill him. Those caught in the whirlwind rise and decline of glam have nothing left to do but to question what happened. As with “Super Heroes,” Brad, Janet, and Dr. Scott share such confusion. It is the job of the Criminologist (Charles Gray) to pick up the pieces. But even he reaffirms the reality that the human race is “lost in time, lost in space, and meaning.” Sometimes there is nothing more to do than charge everything to experience and move on.

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Consummation by Fire: A Review of Cinema Paradiso

Cinema Paradiso

Alfredo (left) and Toto (right) sharing their love of film (Image courtesy of Facebook)

The Bildungsroman has been adapted quite a number of times in film. In a typical coming-of-age story, the main protagonist, usually male, must undergo the process of growth, which entails maturity, wisdom and even sexual awakening. Cinema Paradiso, from director Giuseppe Tornatore, tells the story of a young man Salvatore “Toto” Di Vita who goes through such process. The movie, however, strays from the cookie-cutter by incorporating an interesting narrative: the love of film.

The story is told in flashbacks, which starts with a phone call telling the death of Alfredo (Phillipe Noiret). The news eventually reaches adult Toto (Jacques Perrin) and the scene cuts to the World War II era and the Golden Age of Hollywood. Throughout the film, Toto’s journey towards adulthood is clearly outlined and related with great focus on his passion for movies. Young Toto (Salvatore Cascio) starts his love affair with the moving pictures in the town’s theater, Cinema Paradiso. There he meets Alfredo, the projectionist, and their relationship as mentor-apprentice begins. In typical coming-of-age fashion, Toto undergoes struggles that tested and hardened his moral fiber and, sure enough, his love for movies. He becomes a dedicated projectionist while experimenting on making his own using an 8mm camera. Adolescent Toto (Marco Leonardi) then weaves through his teenage years where sexual exploration and romantic ties are par for the course. His dramatic departure from the town of Giancaldo provides the film with the closure it needs for Toto’s meanderings toward personal maturity.

Cinema Paradiso is simple yet complex in the way it presents its theme and overall narrative. The story of young Toto is by far the most interesting part of the film for it clearly outlines all the characters that would help him in his development. The movie is explicit in providing the audience with a view of Toto’s love for film in two scenes: first, when he sneaks in the theater, Cinema Paradiso, to watch Father Adelfio (Leopoldo Trieste) reviews the matinee line-up for any morally offensive scenes, which mainly involve kissing; second, when Toto improvises dialogues for the cut outs of reel he picks up in the projection room.

One-half of the main character is Alfredo, the theater’s projectionist, and the archetypal Old Sage. He serves as Toto’s main guide throughout his early years, teaching him the ways to manage the theater’s projector and giving him nuggets of wisdom. Alfredo is the “wizard,” separated from the community by his solitude high up in the projection room. Yet his skills allow him and the rest of Giancaldo to meld seamlessly together in joyful—or tearful—consummation of movie-watching.

Another strong point of the film is its expert use of space. Michele Haneke used space in Caché to create a cinematic divide between the characters of the film and the audience that transcended the physical bounds of reality and therefore creating, in what many theorizes, an effect that “breaks the fourth wall.” Tornatore makes it literal by filling the movie with symbolic spaces. First, we have the projection room, the mysterious tower. The room is complicated, filled with movie posters and discarded reels. It is where the magic of film is produced and only the entitled projectionist, the hermit, in a sense, holds the power to bring forth its wonders. Second, the theater, Cinema Paradiso, provides a distinct political atmosphere. Seated at the top are the elites, uncondescending, privileged and entitled; the masses are at the bottom. Yet the theater brings together these people from diverse walks of life in a unified activity. Regardless of the status they hold, both those seated on top and those on the bottom are equal. Lastly, Toto’s room near the end is an altar of his childhood and adolescent years. It contains forgotten relics that serve as remembrances of what had been and what is. The apparent disparity of adult Toto and the room serves to encapsulate his journey.

Finally, dissecting this film is not complete without unraveling some of its symbolic mysteries, and Cinema Paradiso is fraught with meaningful symbolisms. The most apparent and explicit is the lion’s head where the projection light goes through. Lion is a beast with utmost ferocity and passion. The sudden animation of the lion’s head serves to foreshadow what will be for Toto and Alfredo. Passion is the fire that awakens man’s deepest desire, and that fire will consume both main characters in a dichotomous fashion: Alfredo’s being caught in a frenzied blaze in the projection room after a mishap; and Toto’s fervent passion for film and eventually filmmaking.

Even the most subtle of scenes can bring forth the most meaning. After Toto’s enlistment in the army, he goes back to Giancaldo and finds it unchanged. Alfredo asks him to take him to the beach where probably the turning point for the movie is revealed. There, sitting on the rampart and surrounded by rusting anchors, Alfredo tells Toto that there is nothing left for him in Giancaldo. He appeals to him to go back to Rome and find himself a future. Alfredo’s monologue draws parallel to the anchors that surround them both. The rusting iron serves as Toto’s attachment to Giancaldo: old and decaying. Realizing that he indeed has to move on and break away from the ties that bind him in the now lonely town, Toto decides to leave and the movie veers toward its most tearful moment.

Cinema Paradiso truly shines in its expert use of cinematic elements that do not draw away from the general storytelling. All scenes and shots, no matter how short, contribute to the larger story. In its final moments, we are entreated to seek out our roots and remove any fears of gravitating in the melancholy of remembrances. And like a ball of yarn, our experiences serve to enrich us and must therefore unravel to connect what is and what was.

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Love in Less Than a Day: A Review of Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise is a delightful romance journey from Richard Linklater, the same director who brought us the trippy A Scanner Darkly. Before Sunrise differs from that more recent psychedelic rotoscoped foray yet the links between visuals and themes remain distinct. Whereas A Scanner Darkly tells the decent to drug addiction with the vibrancy and otherworldliness one undergoes during induced euphoria, Before Sunrise is a moving portrait of romance framed in the muted milieu of reality—reality as the audience sees and experiences it.

One of the best things about watching a film is its ability to transport us and suspend reality. Before Sunrise is as closest to reality as possible and it certainly succeeds. The film tells the story of Jessie and Céline, two strangers sharing a train from Budapest who decided to explore the possibilities of their connection in a spontaneous decision to get off in Vienna. There is no huge action in this film nor does it have any elements of thrill, save for the anticipation of how their romance would end or continue. The story unfolds in the same way as the characters reveal themselves: through dialogue.

The entire film is carried by Jessie’s and Céline’s conversation. Their banter holds them together as they seek themselves from one another through an excursion toward discovery. At one point an idea of split soul is brought up. Whether this is homage to the myth of Aristophanes about man’s yearning to find his other half throughout his life, a concept brilliantly encapsulated by yet another film called Hedwig and the Angry Inch, it is a welcome hint to the movie’s central theme of finding fulfillment in another person amidst our mundane and unembellished actuality. This discovery is further emphasized with their pretend albeit endearing phone call where they reveal intimate sentiments of one another.

Before Sunrise

Jessie and Céline sharing calling each other. (Image courtesy of The Guardian UK)

The minimalist take on a romantic story works well for Before Sunrise for it prevents the attention of the audience from wandering off. It is a story of two people trying out love punctuated by witty tête-à-tête and adorned with mitigated, self-restrained passion. It separates itself from the maudlin and overwrought tear-jerkers or the dull and oft humorless romantic comedies. Nor is it a movie with too much gravitas. Before Sunrise is narratively unassuming; everything can be conjectured the moment their minds met at the buffet car. Yet while sexual tension is evident, the film handles it expertly: foreplay that culminated in implicit lovemaking.

It is crucial to underline the importance of Jessie and Céline for they are the drivers of this film. We go wherever they go. We meet whoever they meet. We accept whatever they share. Everything else is temporary and transitory. The few people they meet are unimportant. The film breaks away from any superfluous scene by introducing these side elements without extensively exploring them; doing so would not add anything substantial.  They are just there to make Vienna as real as the main leads are to us. They are the tiny cogs that propel the story and leaving them out would not put a dent to the overall storytelling. Other romance films want in focus and Before Sunrise triumphs in it. Such focus is even visually noticeable in several scenes where the camera lingers on a composition with just the two of them, a style, although less used in Before Sunrise, reminiscent of Haneke and Ozu.

Finally, it is worth noting the use of the word “transitory” because it encapsulates the entire film. Before it ended, the film revisited the places Jessie and Céline went to like a friend sending postcards to another. The train is symbolic of the temporary nature of their romance. Whether their romance endures is moot. The certainty is that everything we experience, even love, is ephemeral at some point. The question is whether we allow it to linger or to be tucked away in the deep recesses of our subconscious unlike Jessie and Céline who outlined their feelings for each other thus escaping the temporal barrier of one night and cherishing their intimacies before the sun rose.

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Revisiting Kubrick’s Thirty-Year-Old Masterpiece

I don’t remember the last time I watched The Shining. I am certain it was more than ten years ago, around mid 90’s. Then again, the date doesn’t matter since my appreciation for movies then was virtually nonexistent. I devoured movies like my meals: thoroughly enjoyed them long enough until the next one comes, and the cycle and experience start anew. Watching it now after many years, though, awakened new senses and made the movie far more palatable. There are new flavors of which I was unaware before. These flavors allowed for new discoveries and demanded greater attention. I took each, chewed, swallowed, and reveled with an overabundance of satiety.

Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, The Shining is one of the most well-known horror masterpieces. Although I haven’t read the book, many who have almost never fail to mention how much Kubrick deviated it, further evidenced by King’s aversion to the movie and decision to make a mini-series. Kubrick used the central plot but made the movie on his own terms. It is, in essence, his. His notoriety for perfection oozes from every scene and every line. But for me, one core element of the movie that made it effective in evoking fright is the score. From beginning to end, Kubrick’s masterful use of the background score sent shivers down my spine. It is the perfect capstone.

The Shining is unlike any of today’s horror movies, which are mostly manufactured in the same formulaic shock-factor. Instead of using horror clichés, the movie opts for subtle but deeply effecting psychological torments, again, accompanied by a haunting score. Case in point: Danny’s game-room scene. He’s playing darts and after throwing each to the board, he routinely pulls them out. Close-up of his face, and we immediately know something unexpected and horrifying has just occurred. Eyes widening, we feel an acute sense of dread as the score hits a harrowing tempo, enduring for seconds until the objects of horror is revealed. In some movies, the effect of such a reveal would be ineffective and, thus, novel, often receiving plenty of eye-rolls.

Another example would be Wendy’s discovery of Jack’s ‘writings’. Other horror films would predictably employ the oldest trick in the horror book: the scare-you-from-behind tactic, in which an unsuspecting victim is caught of guard by a voice from behind, causing the audience to jump from their seat. In The Shining, though, a more effective version is used. We still see Wendy but we also see where Jack is going to emerge from. There is no surprise for the audience, making Wendy’s reaction much more authentic and appreciated instead of gratuitous. And Jack’s, “How do you like it?” is equally disturbing in its delivery.

The Shining is marvelous from every direction. While others claim it to be deeply self-indulgent and (gasp!) boring, the human mind’s descent to psychological distress is not actually abrupt. Each line contributes to the collective, used as an efficient tool to drive the plot forward, and not as fillers to an otherwise empty scene. Every line is memorable and effecting, and so are the performances.

Jack Nicholson is wonderful. I know that’s glib, but it’s also an apt description of his work in the movie. The child who played Danny, Danny Lloyd, delivers quite a performance. But the true gem is Shelley Duvall. I had my misgivings about her role as the inept wife and jejune mother. But she really shone and exemplified authentic terror. Her transition from happy homemaker to terrified victim is delectable I could almost taste her fear. I know many would disagree with me in this, but Shelley’s Wendy is, for me, the best character in the film.

All those elements fueled a marvelous story. And the way that story was told is both timeless and peerless. The Shining is open for interpretation, especially with the ending. That kind of open-ended finale is bound to create plenty of opinions. I’m aware of the deleted scene, which probably shed some light on the film’s ending. However, the exclusion of that scene made a very efficient mystery which instilled an allure.

And while movies of this caliber are increasingly becoming rare, no matter how things change and how the movie industry’s definition of horror evolve, The Shining will remain a remarkable gem in the genre of psychological thrillers.

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