One of the disadvantages of moving is the disruption to snail-mail. I’m still not convinced that the USPS is forwarding any of our mail from our old address. Thus, I am now two issues behind in my Entertainment Weekly reading and not happy about it. In the dearth of EW, I’ve had to turn to the fare that usually sits on my shelf unread: academic journals. Ew. It’s even worse when something in one of those academic journals actually strikes me as interesting; I start to wonder if I’m losing my grip on reality.
So there’s this issue of PMLA (Publications of the Modern Language Association of America) from January 2008 that deals in large part with Turkish language and literature, probably because of Orhan Pamuk’s relatively recent Nobel Prize (academics sometimes try to be relevant). When I visited Turkey two years ago, I had learned from my travel guidebook that Ataturk “invented” the Turkish alphabet, but I knew little about the sweeping language reforms under his regime. As with most of Ataturk’s policies, the goal was to secularize, modernize, and Westernize: he sought to purge Turkish of its Arabic and Persian influences, creating neologisms to substitute for these existing Turkish words.
Erich Auerbach, the German-Jewish literary critic living in exile in Istanbul, observed these “reforms” firsthand in the 1930s. He wrote of the results, “No one under 25 can any longer understand any sort of religious, literary, or philosophical text more than ten years old . . . and the specific properties of the language are rapidly decaying. . . . The result: Nationalism in the superlative with the simultaneous destruction of the historic national character.”
The first part of that quote sounds eerily similar to doom-and-gloom predictions about the effect of texting on the English language. (The second part of the quote doesn’t apply to texting–I just included it because it’s interesting.) In Turkey, modern writers struggled to create an idiom that might be comprehensible to younger generations but still “literary.” In situations where language is repressed by the government, it seems like there’s a later backlash (the resurgence of Welsh, for example) that at least attempts to bring back what was lost. But when the vehicle of language-change is voluntary, like texting, is there ever the same drive to lash back and recover? I don’t know.
Here’s a meme I’ve stolen from Jillian, adding the book list to it:
1) Bold the ones you have seen. (I didn’t bold the ones I only saw parts of)
2) Put an asterisk after the movie title* if you really liked it.
3) Cross it out if you saw a film and really disliked it.
4) Underline the ones you own.
1.Pulp Fiction (1994)
2. The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03)*
4. Blue Velvet (1986)
5. Toy Story (1995)
6. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
7. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
8. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
9. Die Hard (1988)
10. Moulin Rouge (2001)
11. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
12. The Matrix (1999)
13. GoodFellas (1990)
14. Crumb (1995)
15. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
16. Boogie Nights (1997)
17. Jerry Maguire (1996)
18. Do the Right Thing (1989)
19. Casino Royale (2006)
20. Lion King (1994)*
21. Schindler’s List (1993)*
22. Rushmore (1998)
23. Memento (2001)
24. A Room With a View (1986)*
25. Shrek (2001)
26. Hoop Dreams (1994)
27. Aliens (1986)
28. Wings of Desire (1988)
29. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)*
30. When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
31. Brokeback Mountain(2005)
32. Fight Club (1999)
33. The Breakfast Club (1985)
34. Fargo (1996)
35. The Incredibles (2004)*
36. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
37. Pretty Woman (1990)
38. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)*
39. The Sixth Sense (1999)
40. Speed (1994)
41. Dazed and Confused (1993)
42. Clueless (1995))
43. Gladiator (2000)
44. The Player (1992)
45. Rain Man (1988)
46.Children of Men (2006)**!
47.Men in Black (1997)*
48. Scarface (1983)
49. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
50. The Piano (1993)
51. There Will Be Blood (2007)
52. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988)
53. The Truman Show (1998)*
54. Fatal Attraction (1987)
55. Risky Business (1983)
56. The Lives of Others (2006)**!
57. There’s Something About Mary (1998)
58. Ghostbusters (1984)
59. L.A. Confidential (1997)
60. Scream (1996)*
61. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
62. Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989)
63. Big (1988)
64. No Country For Old Men (2007)
65. Dirty Dancing (1987)
66. Natural Born Killers (1994)
67. Donnie Brasco (1997)
69. All About My Mother (1999)
70. Broadcast News (1987)
71. Unforgiven (1992)
72. Thelma & Louise (1991)
73. Office Space (1999)
74. Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
75. Out of Africa (1985)
76. The Departed (2006)
77. Sid and Nancy (1986)
78. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
79. Waiting for Guffman (1996)
80. Michael Clayton (2007)
81. Moonstruck (1987)
82. Lost in Translation (2003)
83. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987)
84. Sideways (2004)
85. The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)*
86. Y Tu Mamá También (2002)
87. Swingers (1996)
88. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
89. Breaking the Waves (1996)
90. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
91. Back to the Future (1985)
92. Menace II Society (1993)
93. Ed Wood (1994)
94. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
95. In the Mood for Love (2001)
96. Far From Heaven (2002)
97. Glory (1989)
98. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
99. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
100. South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut (1999)
1.The Road, Cormac McCarthy (2006) *
2.Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000)*
3.Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)*
4. The Liars’ Club, Mary Karr (1995)
5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)
6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001)
7.Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991)*
8. Selected Stories, Alice Munro (1996)
9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)
10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1997)
11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997)
12. Blindness, José Saramago (1998)
13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)
14. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates (1992) 15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000)
16. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)
17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez (1988)
18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990)
19. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (2005)
20.Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding (1998)
21. On Writing, Stephen King (2000)
22.The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz (2007)
23. The Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1996)
24. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (1985)
25.The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)*
26. Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984)
27.Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)*
28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)
29. Bel Canto, Anne Patchett (2001)
30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004)
31. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien (1990)
32. Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch (1988)
33. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005)
34. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002)
35. The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
36. Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)
37.Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003)*
38. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore (1998)
39. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)
40.His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995-2000)
41.The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)
42. LaBrava, Elmore Leonard (1983)
43. Borrowed Time, Paul Monette (1988)
44. Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene (1991)
45. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende (1988)
46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman (1988-1996)
47. World’s Fair, E.L. Doctorow (1985)
48.The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
49. Clockers, Richard Price (1992)
50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001)
51. The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom (1990)
52. Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan (1992)
53. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000)
54. Jimmy Corrigan, Chris Ware (2000)
55. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls (2006)
56. The Night Manager, John le Carré (1993)
57. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987)
58. Drop City, TC Boyle (2003)
59. Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat (1995)
60. Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)
61. Money, Martin Amis (1985)
62. Last Train To Memphis, Peter Guralnick (1994)
63. Pastoralia, George Saunders (2000)
64. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)
65. The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993)
66. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (1997)
67. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (2003)
68. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (2006)
69. Secret History, Donna Tartt (1992)
70. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)
71. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman (1997)
72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003)
73.A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1989)
74. Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger (1990)
75.Cathedral, Raymond Carver (1983)
76. A Sight for Sore Eyes, Ruth Rendell (1998)
77.The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)*
78. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)
79. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
80. Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (1984)
81. Backlash, Susan Faludi (1991)
82. Atonement, Ian McEwan (2002)
83. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994)
84.Holes, Louis Sachar (1998)*
85.Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004)**!
86. And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts (1987)
87. The Ruins, Scott Smith (2006)
88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)
89. Close Range, Annie Proulx (1999)
90. Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl (2001)
91. Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)
92. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987)
93.A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (1991)
94. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (2001)
95. Kaaterskill Falls, Allegra Goodman (1998)
96.The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003)
97. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992)
98. The Predators’ Ball, Connie Bruck (1988)
99. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman (1995)
100. America (the Book), Jon Stewart/Daily Show (2004)
I’m much more likely to own a book I like than a movie I like. Of course, I’m also much more likely to own a book I dislike than a movie I like. Thank you, grad school.
I don’t agree wholeheartedly with either list.
There needs to be a new symbol on the meme for “was so bad it made me laugh and was therefore rather enjoyable”; this would, of course, apply to The Da Vinci Code.
Movies that I will never forgive EW for leaving off its list: Babette’s Feast (1986), The Mission (1986), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Much Ado about Nothing (1993), The Fugitive (1993), Red (1994), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), The Full Monty (1997), The Queen (2006).
I know Susan B. Anthony did a lot of great things, but this weekend I found myself wishing that her image didn’t grace our silver dollars. I knew that, like many white feminists of her time, she foolishly saw women’s suffrage and African American suffrage as separate and even competing issues, but I didn’t know the egregiousness of her arguments in support of that view. An 1866 newspaper quotes her as saying in a speech:
“Remember that in slavery the black woman has known nothing of the servitude of the marriage laws of the Northern States. She has lived so far in freedom [EXCUSE ME????????]. . . . But under the new dispensation, with legal marriage established among the black race as among the white race, it subjects the black woman to all the servitude and dependence which the white woman has hitherto suffered in the North.”
Oh. My. I don’t even know where to begin. Lucky black women, not being allowed to marry, often being raped by their masters or other white men, and seeing their children sold away from them. I’m not saying there weren’t big problems and injustices associated with marriage law, but let’s not even try to compare the situations, okay?
I came across the Anthony quote in Jean Fagan Yellin’s biography Harriet Jacobs: A Life. Could we have Harriet Jacobs on a silver dollar, please? Or Sojourner Truth, who advocated for both women’s suffrage and African American suffrage? (By the way, did you know that Sojourner Truth’s first language was Dutch? I think that may be the most fascinating fact I’ve learned all year.)
“One of the arguments that I have been keen to make throughout this book is that a belief in original sin serves as a kind of binding agent, a mark of ‘the confraternity of the human type,’ an enlistment of all of us in what Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy called the ‘universal democracy of sinners.’ But why should original sin alone, among core Christian doctrines, have the power to do that? What about that other powerful idea in Genesis, that we are all made in the image of God? Doesn’t that serve equally well, or even better, to bind us as members of a single family?
The answer is that it should do so, but usually does not. Working against the force of that doctrine is the force of familiarity, of prevalent cultural norms of behavior and even appearance. A genuine commitment to the belief that we are all created equally in the image of God requires a certain imagination . . . Instinctive revlusion against the alien will trump doctrinal commitments every time. . . .
By contrast, the doctrine of original sin works with the feeling that most of us have, at least some of the time, of being divided against ourselves, of falling short of the mark, inexplicably screwing up when we ought to know better. It takes relatively little imagination to look at another person and think that, though that person is not all he or she could be, neither am I. . . . [I]n general it is easier for most of us to condescend–in the etymological sense of the word–to see ourselves as sharing shortcomings or sufferings with others–than to lift up people whom our culturally formed instincts tell us are decidedly inferior to ourselves. If misery does not always love company, it surely tolerates it quite well, whereas pride demands distinction and hierarchy, and is ultimately willing to pay for those in the coin of isolation. That the doctrine of a common creation in the image of God doesn’t do more to help build common community and fellow feeling could be read as yet more evidence for the reality of original sin.”
Alas, due to a recent series of travels and laptop woes, I haven’t had time to post about Ron Hansen’s new novel Exiles, which interweaves the story of Gerard Manley Hopkins and the stories of the five nuns who died in the shipwreck commemorated in Hopkins’s early poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” Now, suddenly, my library copy is due, and I find that I still haven’t written about it!
Since I’m limited in time and since my laptop is still defunct (Its current problem? It literally has a screw loose.), I’ll start off by posting an email exchange between me and Mink about our reactions to the novel:
Otter: Short answer: The first few pages were really dull. The Hopkins bits never seemed to rise above what a biography would do. The nun bits were more interesting, but still kind of meh. Together, the nuns and Hopkins did give a powerful sense of apparent waste . . . that might not be waste in heaven’s economy. Still, I really wanted a more interior portrait of Hopkins–not like Henry James psychological realism, but something reflecting the EXTREMELY INTROSPECTIVE nature of Jesuit spirituality. Hansen knows about Jesuit interiority–he wrote a long essay on Ignatius, for goodness’ sake.
Mink:My response [to the novel]: “Um, okay. Why?”
I could not tell what Hansen was trying to create by fictionalizing an historical account while slavishly inserting historical artifacts and facts into a fictional account. By telling the Deutschland account and Hopkins’s bio parallel, while cautiously adding fictions to both, he did not manage to transmute the facts into meaning beyond what they already carry. It seemed neither historical enough nor fictional enough to be historical fiction, and as a result, I was an uneasy reader.
What you say about interiority is something I felt missing too. Instead of giving us an insight a novelist rather than a biographer can give, the book seemed useful only as an untrustworthy biography – not very useful.
On the positive side, I’ve been inspired to ILL Hansen’s sources (none of which, I was dismayed to find, were terribly primary – I was at least hoping there’d be *something* new in the book) as I suspect they are a more interesting read, as well as less timid in their characterization of Hopkins, at least.
Hansen’s essay on Ignatius of Loyola is in his collection called A Stay against Confusion: Essays on Faith and Fiction, a read I found much more worthwhile than Exiles. There’s an essay called “Affliction and Grace: Religious Experience in the Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins” that, oddly, provides a more in-depth look at the poet’s interior life than the 200-page novel.
Glory be to God for breaded things—
Catfish, steak finger, pork chop, chicken thigh,
Sliced green tomatoes, pots full to the brim
With french fries, fritters, life-float onion rings,
Hushpuppies, okra golden to the eye,
That in all oils, corn or canola, swim
Toward mastication’s maw (O molared mouth!);
Whatever browns, is dumped to drain and dry
On paper towels’ sleek translucent scrim,
These greasy, battered bounties of the South:
Sameer Mishra may have won the 2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee, but he may be remembered even longer for his reaction to the judge’s pronunciation of a silly-sounding word.
Sameer was my second choice to win the competition: first was, of course, the competitor from Little Rock, Samia Nawaz. She’s even from the school where I attended preschool! Samia ended up tying for 4th place.
As much as I enjoy watching the competition, I have mixed feelings about reporters interviewing the spellers in between rounds. How can it not throw off their game? Also, when did they stop having to wear those identical polo shirts? And since when did PROPER NOUNS become acceptable for use in the competition? What’s the world coming to these days?
I haven’t read Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, because, frankly, everything I’ve read about it disgusts me. One day I may have to grit my teeth and plow through a library copy, though, so that when I mock, I can mock knowingly. For now, I’m entertained by travel writer Rolf Potts’ reimagining of the book with the characters’ genders reversed. He suggests that, with a male protagonist, readers would “react with hostility at such a self-absorbed, culturally oblivious and vaguely sexist narrative.”
Potts makes a few too many assumptions that Gilbert’s readers are women (which, statistically, is probably true, but he uses “women readers” in many cases where just plain “readers” would suffice), but his points are interesting, especially in relation to my recent reflections on gender in the Indiana Jones movies.
Comparing a past genre to Eat, Pray, Love, Potts describes the kind of books that (in movie form) were in fact a large part of the inspiration for the first three Indiana Jones movies:
“Around the middle of the 20th century, pulpy American men’s magazines published what has come to be known as ‘adventure porn’—breathlessly told tales that involved hairy-chested men fighting crocodiles, exploring rivers and surviving diseases in far-off lands. Women characters didn’t figure much in these stories, unless they were helpless victims, hot-blooded savage-vixens or hookers. Though this era of men’s travel writing has been ridiculed, these stories no doubt lent a sense of escape to the working stiffs who read them—men who weren’t likely to ever leave the country, but enjoyed the vicarious problem-solving that came with the pulpy adventure.”
How does this relate to Elizabeth Gilbert? Potts continues:
“The legacy of ‘adventure porn,’ I think, is not the kind of adventure writing you see in Outside magazine, but books like Eat, Pray, Love. Instead of wrestling crocodiles in distant lands, our protagonist wrestles despair; instead of exploring rivers, she explores emotions; instead of surviving disease, she survives heartbreak. Men occasionally appear in this survivor’s tale, but they are as one-dimensional as adventure-porn wenches, and mainly serve as a sounding board for the protagonist’s feelings. When these men are giving our heroine love and help, she gushes with admiration; when they can’t intuit her emotional needs, she reacts with despair (and vague contempt). Rarely does she ponder what—besides emotional availability to her—might motivate these men in day-to-day life.”
Unfortunately, Eat, Pray, Love is going to be made into a film—reportedly starring Julia Roberts. I suspect I’d rather see Indy 5.
This past week, Porpoise has continued to educate me in the ways of George Lucas by “encouraging” me to watch the first three Indiana Jones movies before going to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull over the weekend. I’m probably the only member of my generation who didn’t see the original three movies in the 1980s, and I can’t say I’ve felt deprived. I still don’t feel like I missed much, but at least I can understand the cultural influence of Lucas’s and Spielberg’s joint project.
Raiders of the Lost Ark felt overly long to me—and not all that exciting as an adventure. Maybe part of that is because I was bothered by the violence. Yes, it’s PG, but it’s the context of the violence that bothers me. You know that scene everyone thinks is so funny, the one in which the Arab swordsman challenges Indy with fancy sword-twirling, and Indy responds by shooting him dead? Not funny to me. Maybe it’s because I grew up reading fantasy stories with more medieval-style fighting, but Indy’s actions seem decidedly ignoble and cowardly to me. Plus, there’s the question of how, in the relatively modern 1930s, he gets away scot-free after killing so many people. I was also, of course, upset by the monkey’s death, even if said monkey turned out to be a Nazi collaborator. Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood was genuinely fun, but I have to think she could do better than Indy.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was, I think, the one Indiana Jones movie I had seen before, sometime during my teenage years, though I really didn’t remember anything except that it had Nazis in it. Fortunately, it also has Sean Connery, whose appearance as Indy’s dad makes the movie loads funnier and a little more touching than its predecessors. Also, seeing Last Crusade now, I can see how Dan Brown totally pilfered from it to concoct the aesthetic offense that is The Da Vinci Code.
My big problem with the series is with Indiana Jones’s character, who of course is convincing neither as an academic nor as an on-site archaeologist. He’s convincing as someone who is arrogant and thinks he’s an irresistible lady-magnet. The problem is that the films assume that he is an irresistible lady-magnet—which, to me, seems to reflect badly on Lucas’s and Spielberg’s view of women. I know they’re supposed to be referencing screwball comedies of the 1930s, but that doesn’t convince me. The hero of the screwball comedies is often a charming nerd, not a womanizing so-and-so. Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones—or his Han Solo, for that matter—could actually give George W. Bush a run for his money in an egotistical smirking contest, and that’s saying a lot. (Too bad Ford’s too old to play “W,” because he could probably do it well.)
The women themselves? Don’t get me started on Willie from Temple of Doom. In some ways, though, Last Crusade’s Elsa Schneider bothers me even more, because she’s supposed to be smart (she has a Ph.D., though the discipline is never clear), and yet her main function in the plot is sexual. (Look! I wore my best studying clothes to the library! I find tight suits, high heels, and perfectly curled hair so practical for a day of research, don’t you?) The gag in which Indy and his father find out that they’ve both slept with Elsa is mildly amusing, if you don’t think about the fact that it’s just assumed that she would automatically want to sleep with both of them. Beautiful, smart women are easy lays in the Indiana Jones world.
Anyway, now for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Because Indy’s older here (Ford is now 65), he does a lot less smirking. And less running and jumping, though still a lot of punching. I find the aging Indy a lot more tolerable (this film even finds him saying, “Intolerable!”, just like his ol’ dad). Plus, instead of emphasizing what essentially amounts to grave-robbing, the plot of Crystal Skull actually requires Indy to put something back where it belongs. Which is not in a museum.
The plot is, of course, over-the-top and campy, but I don’t have a big problem with that. I like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, after all (all three of them), and I admit that I can see ways in which the Indiana Jones films might have paved the way for their tone. There are huge plot holes that are never addressed, though, mainly surrounding Cate Blanchett’s character Irina Spalko, a Soviet agent who supposedly possesses psychic powers. Why go to the trouble to announce that a character is psychic, though, if we never see her doing psychic-y things? Also, it never becomes clear specifically why, early in the movie, she thinks she needs a certain box from a U.S. military warehouse.
The most implausible aspect of the plot (in a movie that Lucas originally wanted to call “Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars”) is that Indy doesn’t realize that the “Marion Williams” that Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) claims as his mother is Marion Ravenwood. I mean, yeah, Indy says he knew a lot of Marions, but how many of them spend all their time hanging out with archaeologists? Anyway, Karen Allen is a joy as Marion, because she’s allowed to look her age and still be beautiful. Also, she’s clearly had a life after Indy, which is encouraging to see.
It’s not a great film by any means, but I can deal with Indiana Jones better when his ego’s been taken down a notch. Maybe I’d like it even better if they make Indy 5 (which Lucas has said would feature Mutt in the lead) when Harrison Ford is 80 years old. And in a wheelchair.
This is the only news I can think of that can console me for the seemingly imminent departure of David Tennant (when an Ood says to the Doctor, “Your song must come to an end,” it kinda seems like another regeneration is coming soon).
I love Steven Moffat’s writing, both in Coupling and in the Doctor Who episodes he’s done: “The Empty Child,” “The Girl in the Fireplace,” and, the best of them all, “Blink.” He knows how to structure an episode like no one else, and he comes up with some of the most memorable one-liners in the business:
Before reading this review, you should know that I am the girl who cried at Titanic not because Leo died but because a voiceover said the word “absolution,” as in the survivors waited “for an absolution that would never come.” Great theological words like “absolution” push all my buttons, so I don’t even have to know what a movie called Atonement is about in order to know that I want to see it. (Why did I only see it just now on DVD? Believe me, I tried to see it in the theater several times, but every attempt failed for one reason or another.)
I did know, from reading reviews, that Atonement was more than likely to point to the impossibility of atoning for one’s sins, or at least to point to a very shabby possibility for doing so. And that is the case. However, it’s a compelling portrait of the real pain people feel when they’re aware of their guilt but feel powerless to do anything about it. It also happens to be pretty brilliant in both narrative and cinematic technique, but unfortunately I can’t say a whole lot about that without giving away spoilers. Atonement is a movie where remaining unspoiled truly matters—not because of plot details, but because knowing certain things spoils the experience of doubt and second-guessing and productive confusion that you go through while watching the film (at least, if you haven’t read the novel, which I haven’t).
Here’s what I can say without spoiling the movie: it is indeed about sin and the attempt to redeem oneself. Thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), in pre-WWII England, claims to have seen something, and it results in the wrongful imprisonment of Robbie Turner (James McAvoy–hurrah!), a family servant who also happens to be in love with Briony’s older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley). The movie establishes in its very first scene that Briony is an aspiring writer, so we never quite know whether she believes what she claims to have seen, or whether she’s made it up, or something in between. She almost certainly doesn’t anticipate the consequences, however, which involve Robbie being sent off to prison and then, five years later, to the battlefields of France.
Five years later, Briony (now played by Romola Garai) is beginning to understand what she did, and how she has made miserable the lives of both Robbie and Cecilia. She’s also beginning to make her first attempts to atone for her action, by giving up her spot at Oxford to become a wartime nurse. She empties bedpans, mops floor, scrubs her own hands rather too vigorously (not a subtle image, but still a resonant one). After lights-out, she gets up to write on her typewriter—and we can already tell that she’s using fiction to try to make sense of what happened. We can also tell that it’s not entirely working.
The movie also follows Robbie through France to the beach at Dunkirk, where the English and French troops have retreated. A word of advice: if you don’t know about the retreat to Dunkirk, check it out on Wikipedia. It will save you needless confusion. I could tell the scene was supposed to be really important because it had that famous five-minute-long tracking shot that everybody was talking about before the Oscars. I got that it was somehow about the waste of war, but I sensed there was an emotional level I just wasn’t grasping. Wikipedia may not supply the full context for you, but I’m not sure the full context is possible unless you’re British.
(Also, I just have to mention here that I have not seen and will never see the whole tracking shot—I had to turn away when they started shooting horses. It really happened at Dunkirk, and it was tactically necessary to keep the Germans from using the horses—but I’m still not going to watch it, even though I know that the horses in the movie are circus horses trained to fall over.)
All in all, Atonement isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s a fascinating one, one that you’ll be thinking about days afterward. Yes, it’s rather bleak about the possibility of overcoming one’s guilt . . . kind of like a movie about Martin Luther in his depressed-monk days. But, hey, that’s an accurate portrayal of where all of us are without the grace of God.
Here come the SPOILERS!!!!! I advise not reading further unless you’ve seen the movie.
I’ve been re-reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire recently, and in some ways the experience of watching Atonement reminded me of the first time I read Pale Fire: the moments of “wait, that’s not quite right,” followed by realizations of “oh . . .”, followed by replaying entire scenes in your head. It makes my postmodern-nerdy self very happy.
I remember reading reviews of Atonement complaining that some scenes were just too pretty and perfect. The scene where Robbie runs after the bus bearing Cecilia away? Yeah, a little romantic and overdone. The thing is, once you get to the end of the movie, you realize that’s intentional, that the scene is shot the way that Briony has re-imagined it. Everything is heightened in fictional retrospect. Then you start going back and realizing that the scenes you saw twice—once from Briony’s perspective and once from Robbie’s and Cecilia’s perspective—may be actually from Briony’s perspective both times (once from the perspective of what she remembers and once from the approximation of Robbie’s and Cecilia’s perspective that she’s achieved through fiction).
One of the most important scenes in the film is the one in which the eighteen-year-old Briony holds the hand of a dying French soldier. She comforts him and eases him into death, at first by giving her true answers to his questions (“What is your sister doing now?”, “Did she marry the man she was in love with?”), which are true in a sense, but not entirely, because he thinks she’s someone else. Yet when he says that his mother thinks they should get married and asks if she loves him, Briony says “oui.” It’s true in a sense, it’s false in a sense, but it heals—as opposed to her big Not-Quite-the-Truth moment.
Obviously, this foreshadows her final, late-in-life attempt to atone for the harm she did Robbie and Cecilia by creating a fictional happy ending for them. I really, really appreciate how the movie leaves it open to interpretation whether we’re supposed to celebrate the power of the imagination to atone for the past or to view it as a pretty poor substitute for true forgiveness. I’m intrigued by the former interpretation, but of course I lean more toward the latter.
Recently, in my other venue, I raised the question of whether it’s possible or beneficial to forgive fictional characters. I definitely believe that fiction can be an exercise in charity on the part of both reader and writer . . . but I don’t think that exercising charity is the same thing as earning forgiveness, because of course forgiveness can’t be earned. It can only be granted, ultimately by God. Briony never atones for the past, and I think the movie shows that she knows it. In some ways, her dementia might be a mercy, the only mercy available to her in a world seemingly without Christ.
Director Joe Wright says that his film is filled with religious iconography, though he also says he’s not quite sure what it’s doing there. Ian McEwan, who wrote the novel Atonement, is an agnostic. The hymn heard in the Dunkirk scene was selected by one of the producers: it’s the last two verses of “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” (with the British tune “Repton”, thank goodness), and they’re perfect for the movie. I take them as a prayer, a prayer for all souls like Briony who seek atonement but don’t know where to find it:
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.