Film Review of Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies

You need to trust an animated film. It possesses a childlike nature; the fabric of which is unfeigned and vulnerable. We don’t live life in such vivid and beaming colors. Assimilating landscapes that are bold enough to capture the vestibules of our mind. Our imagination is mimicked (perhaps even limited) by own perceptibility. And this symphonizes how we think of others – people, nature, buildings, trees, roads, places we’ve never been, places too briefly seen to be remembered. I haven’t experienced a film as realistically and candidly as the Grave of the Fireflies.

Based on a semi-autobiographical novel, the story is about Setsuko and Seita. It transcends hostility in the way history perceives it. How it writes famine, war, survival, bloodshed, desertion, and invasion as mere words. But the living and breathing of it are left behind in the dust. As we are specks of dust, such suffering and loss is what makes each dust an entire universe. So Carl Sagan writes, “We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.”

This film is poetic and artistic. It’s not defined by its spatial dimensions. You see it as a tragic painting and, all at the same time, you hear it as you would a transformative tale. There’s no past that shows you what has passed or no future that bears witness to what’s left. The pain is in the here and now; so voluminous and defined, it lingers even after the film ends.

Grave of the Fireflies has substance and essence. It reaches to such intense complexities of the heart. The seed that remains, no matter how gorged and depleted it has become by what falls from above… sowing its own beauty and virtue.

Film Review of Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin

A rare and uncomfortable film (based on a novel), We Need To Talk About Kevin addresses many psychological tiffs. Besides the more conspicuous ‘nature versus nurture’ debate. The film takes you down a different kind of rabbit hole, quite bizarre, gritty, and disturbing. And that’s the Oedipus Complex. The mother-son bond that depravedly relates to incest or “Oedipal love.” But in this film, that love, affection, maybe even lust reverts to hate, hostility, and provocation.

You see the self-assertive and withdrawn mother, Eva, navigate a difficult and acutely-visceral son, Kevin. The story is binary, constantly perplexed and overwhelmed by the mother’s and son’s lives. Around them, the husband, Franklin, and their second daughter, Celia, exist as shadows… perhaps of their psyche. It’s because of films like these that I don’t read about a film, the plot, reviews, etc. before watching it. The suspense and anticipation of every next second, the acting, dialogue, character development, setting, and highlights feel authentic and unavoidable as in real life.


The film goes to extremes and can be too much to take in. Period. It faces something much more sincere than motherhood and parenting. A human is fragile and unconscious, especially during childhood, and exempt but privy to such acute mental and psychophysical conditioning. It’s insane how knowing and perceiving are two exclusive faculties. The film highlights this while exemplifying antisocial behavior as confused – in the clutch of subjective and objective realities.

The tomatoes, the color red, the desensitizing glares, the hollow shelves and furniture, the toilet training, diapers, the hair. We Need To Talk About Kevin refers to a conversation that comprises of such visual details. Exhibiting a distressing, remissive, and damnable state of mind. The kind that most people don’t think about or even imagine but it’s there as if hereditary.

Book Review of Goethe’s Faust Part One

Where do I begin? My first reading of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Goethe’s Faust (Part One) is a story of such grave and unredeemable sensibility. A poignant work of drama that’s not meant for reading but performing. Be that as it may, I read it to the point of absolute necessity. As if the time spent not reading this book is time spent in a state of total uselessness and disorientation. So yes, it’s not meant for reading but performing. If performing means to fulfill an act as acute as ingesting Faust’s yearning and desperation for adventure, desire, and passion.

Mephistopheles, the Devil incarnate, strikes a bet with God. To lure a vain, scientific, and intellectual man, Faust, to become a beguiled and shallow captive of pleasure. In exchange, Mephistopheles receives Faust’s soul and allegiance. The exchange is greedy and impulsive. As Faust travels through these stages of exploration, he finds himself despairingly holding on his past self, yet impatient and greedy; in search for something greater, larger, something that anchors him to the ground beneath. A stab in the dark. Ironically, to redeem his soul.

What anchored me to this story was Faust’s frustration. The “shadow of a life” he lived, as described by Mephistopheles. Faust’s quest for knowledge, as omniscient as it is, was not enough to satisfy and titillate his soul. It was all a delusion, once sweet and heroic, later became the source of his uneasiness and impatience. Perhaps the passion he so craved was yet another delusion. A truth that is so painful to swallow: that desire and loathing are inseparable beings; one cannot be felt without the other.

“Sometimes a place is very hard to leave-
But it’s just not one’s destination.”

Film Review of Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Celine Sciamma gathers all of life’s longing and affection, those you have felt and have had to let go of and those that are yet to come, into an embracive and enigmatic film. The Portrait of a Lady on Fire bridges the ephemeral with the everlasting. It’s a reflection of sentimental love, blotched in the very absence that it contains and soon this very absence deepens and vibrates the void too malignant and brusque to contain it.

Compare it to Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color, this film’s softer, more isolated, more real. The love affair is arousing and tender and startling not because it’s “forbidden.” But because it blends the artistic with the emotional… the naked, rawness of romance that makes the film distinctly spiritual and emotional.

Female desire – as wavering and intense to be captured on screen– is spirit rather than substance which, in ordinary life, is where the storm is felt the most. And films like Portrait of a Lady on Fire explore and ignite such an invisible force of nature. It’s essential cinema in that it’s indispensable. If the synthesis of a self is what is rather than what can be – then the past, present, and future spent in such deep affection is not time-bound. It’s the sum of all the experiences, emotions, and frustrations that that love arouses in us. It allows us to internalize it, embrace it, give it meaning, and for most of us, watch it recede as the sun sets on our desperation to love, our destructibility. And our wanting to never miss out on what could happen though it never once did.

Book Review of Soren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness unto Death

“…the very notion of a self is vague,”

The measure of one’s truth is in what drives a person to despair. How does one live? What faculty of thought or tendency of a “self” drives a person to happiness? Is it by virtue of the lack of sorrow? And what faculty of thought or tendency of a “self” drives a person to sorrow? Is it by virtue of the lack of happiness?

Soren Kierkegaard spoke about the idea of despair as being an eternal phenomenon as the “self” is an eternal force of nature. So the loss of despair is the loss of one’s “self” in which there can occur an annihilation of one’s relation to not only the outside world but to the “self” itself. The Sickness Unto Death is his profound, intellectual, and ceaseless conversation about self-actualization. His writing is easy no task to bear but if you are patient and amicable enough, the book is better than any self-help book you’ve ever read.

For Kierkegaard, this sickness of despair is not as conventional as physical sickness that may or may not drive one to death. Despair is rather an omnipresent, an underlying manifestation of the consciousness. It doesn’t alienate us from perception rather it elevates the intensity of the experience to the point of uninhibited self-expression, or what Kierkegaard calls “faith.”

One despairs in being oneself. One despairs in wanting to be oneself. One despairs in not wanting to be oneself. This tug of war between a self’s authentic and inauthentic despair is the formula of human existence.  The biggest danger, however, is “that of losing oneself, one can pass off in the world as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. is bound to be noticed.”

Read all my highlighted passages from the book here.


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Film Review of Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies

What is life, in contrast to never having one, when the living of it, in all its time-bound realms, is excused as fate? The word ‘generation’ marks a period in which a whole life is contained. A life’s share of the universe, catastrophes, upheavals, and profound sensibilities. But is a generation enough to epitomize a political and religious revolution? This film explores the depths of fulfilling such a prophecy.

Incendies builds an emotional, visceral, and cerebral world. The film manifests what I’d like to think of as the psychosis of a vision and the justification of freedom. The constant stirring of time in a pot uninhibited by its fantasies. As a result, you see the life of Nawal through the lens of her children’s incomplete memories of their mother.

The story is gripping and embracive. The film feels like a time machine taking you back and forth – stopping time, quickening it, reversing it – only to fit the cryptic capacity of Denis Villeneuve’s magnetic story. The choice of background score is profound and deeply disturbing. Nothing that feels out of place in a setting as intense and restless.

Some stories are narrated beyond words. But they can be heard as intimately as the pounding of one’s own heart. And the memories of Nawal, the life of her children, and the crux of this film are parts of them. They grab you by the throat and never let go.

Book Review of Albert Camus’s The Plague

Begetting such symbolic human helplessness against the unbendable forces of nature… perhaps seen through an evolutionary standpoint makes The Plague an unfortunately arresting book. It’s symbolic in that it’s about the bubonic plague taking place in the 1940s, spread across the city of Oran. The plague could be Albert Camus’s allegorical interpretation of war and/or his absurd and atheistic interpretation of good and evil. One can view this book through many lenses.

The story is grotesque and uncompromising. It doesn’t dramatize death. The protagonist carries out his role as a doctor in the midst of this epidemic as an abstraction. An abstraction that trumps happiness and heroism. For pity, grief, and anger do not offer any strength against such a hardening blow. What’s left is cultivating logical habits that do not leave a person cold and empty.

This abstraction applies to most everyday things of life. We yearn to succeed at something not because it’s the ideal way to live. But in order to avoid failing at it. We’re constantly in fear of not knowing that it forcibly and impulsively compels us to know. Transitioning this thought to the question of good and evil where life is not evil nor is it good. Rather it’s the living of it that affects our judgment on the stand.

The book raises many such questions. Why human behavior is “more or less ignorant” rather than a “vice or virtue?” How appalling it is to understand love not by attaining it but withholding from it. And finally, a question that makes one aware of the enormity of our infinitesimal existence, “But what does it mean, the plague? It’s life, after all.”

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Book Review of Haruki Murakami’s Wind/Pinball: Two Novels

His first debut short novels, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973, are the first strings that tie Murakami’s fantasy together. The stories are rich, captivating, and vivid. They transcend layers upon layers into the characteristic vitality and loneliness that Murakami never fails to bring page after page. The lives of the people permeate everything. I couldn’t understand how else the language and longing of the protagonist are brought to be understood by so many.

The novels are centered upon ordinary realities whose very essence and soul are rare and unforgettable. I enjoyed revisiting the pleasant and nostalgic sensitivity of Murakami. Where his deepest and conscious thought is so effortless to make sense of. The book demands little in return. Consider it a light read… a moving work of literature. Meditative and tranquil; containing the sum total of one’s lonely, quiet, and vigilant voyage.

If what you seek is wisdom and meditation that’s lurking beneath the surface, you’ll find it in this story. All it does is give you a taste of that flawless and enigmatic purity that Murakami achieves in his later works. If you’re attentive enough, these short stories reveal the beauty of such seasoning of life.

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Book Review of Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death

It’s like going to sleep in this reality and waking up in another. A reality bereft of meaning but burdened with formulaic lifestyles. The book tells you that your character is a lie; forged as a result of denying pain and anxiety and suffering in the world. You validate and create your own supposedly infinite values so life’s possibilities may appear abundant, final, and redeeming.

We’ve all incurred this trait as it reaches an unconscious and almost robotic stage. Where, to break the pattern, the repression of these lies and delusions, one has to not only step out of this world but step out of the shoes that one, from childhood into adulthood, had tightened the shoelaces of. The Denial of Death calls this “the final terror of self-consciousness” under the light of facing up to one’s own death.

There is no doubt this book is consolatory for such times when our biological fate seems too hollow and out-of-hand. Evolution dictates the continuity of science, of geographical and historical precedence, but one does wonder if humanity is the real nature of the world. These “character defenses” we collectively but internally manifest and project out into the world is an attempt to delay the realization and acceptance of the only philosophical question about the human condition.

The “hero” is not the one with the answer but the one who bears the question without an explanation. Who lives undeterred by, but as a result of, the nothingness of life’s alibi. There are many definitions of death; poetically, we must return to the very form that created us, to dust; scientifically, our cells die and our organs do not regenerate; philosophically, death is nothing but the living of life. None do explain the accompanying awareness of death. And while we continue to form our own symphonies to bridge time, space, and existence – it’s books like The Denial of Death that broaden our understanding of our place in it. Don’t read it if you want answers, read it if you can start asking the questions.

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Book Review of Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life

Reading Proust and meditating on his literature and wisdom are unique but strange experiences. His descent and inquiry into igniting every compassionate nerve in one’s body are exceptional. And Alain de Botton accomplishes the rare task of compiling Marcel Proust’s most significant and learned possessions.

The book comprises of life’s most sought but unrequited questions. Perhaps it’s not about people that we need to learn about. Nor is it about acquiring more words under the guise of knowledge and wisdom. Rather, it’s understanding the varied dimensions to loving and being.

Presence, which goes above and beyond sensory perception is often unwelcome in the realm of friendships and loves.

Proust takes you a step further into the logic of such a philosophy. And when other philosophy books seem perplexing and perhaps too embracive, Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life makes the same sentiment more alluring than just a glance. It’s intense, simple, and within the realm of one’s emotional, intellectual, and platonic possibilities.

There is a lesson in each question. Two of them that, in homage, I offer to time’s quickening spirit is ‘How to Suffer Successfully’ and ‘How to Read for Yourself’. Read this book as a reminder or merely a kind of repose which offers mind and creative courage. Alain de Botton delivers an unforgettable and imaginative evaluation of what Proust so eloquently discovered in his books.


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