Film Review of Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos’s exceptional and piercing attention to detail gives his film, The Favourite a rare quality. It’s upsetting but in a graspable and interesting way. It’s riveting but without the typical character arcs that makes a drama and comedy film entertaining. I want to dissect each aspect of the film to illustrate its beauty and charm. The air around Queen Anne, Lady Sarah, and Abigail is purposefully cold as Yorgos isolates each self from the other and from its own being. The costumes, music, and camera-work exist to elevate this tense and dense atmosphere.

Off the story goes, drumming a savage, naïve, and sometimes repulsive rhythm and you, the unfortunate witness, can’t not take your eyes away from it. The use of wide lens is a sensational approach to conveying a twisted attachment between the characters. But it’s versatile in the way it is shot. You see a close-up which is soon followed by an immediate and cutting wide-angle shot. So it’s crisp and keeps you on your toes throughout. Perhaps this is what keeps the actors on their edge too.

The film, overall, is a tough nut to crack. But it remains one of the greatest triumphs of cinema. With striking resemblance of its time, its world is suffused in such contemptible and realistic colors, so crucial and transformative that, no doubt, you won’t be able deny its realness and intimacy. The film keeps you in a continuous state of anticipation and concern. And the compelling and detached humor is generous and forbids you to make your own personal assumptions. If I am pressed to say one more thing about this film, I’d say that it exists to shock you into complete visual paralysis so that in every scene, before the next, you’re waiting for something to go terribly wrong. And that the acts of defiance in the film always surpass each other in their intensity and vigor.

Book Review of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

Does all deep and unfortunate pain that is closed off and suffocated turn into distorted and excessive desire? The kind of yearning that, in imagination, relinquishes and claims the stillness, the emptiness, and non-existence of time’s passing. So what is to be is you and your desire and everything you do to prove, to nobody but yourself, that it still is yours. .
Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is often misconstrued as a romantic novel. The sort in which our character, Jay Gatsby, falls in love and abandons himself in a dream. Through an ironic display of grandiose materialism and wealth, he seeks to take back and pardon those lost years between his conquest, Daisy.

And there exists our protagonist, Nick Carraway, though solitarily. As he fastens his grip on the knife’s sharpest edge, you see characters like Jay Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, Myrtle, and Jordan taking shape. Their unconscious movement and uniformity arouse complete dormancy of identity. Is that tragic? What stroke of living could possibly negate the nausea of such self-deception? Or is it that the few who do survive sail in the same boat that goes “against the current” and shoulders the weight of “the past” as Nick Carraway?

The Great Gatsby exists in the known and the unknown. It tests its limit on how far you, the reader, can go before injuring the innocence of each of its characters. So the most predictable way of navigating this tragic and loathsome story is to perceive in it a different kind of beauty. A beauty that exists not as a quality in the lives of the characters but as a beauty that lets us into their self-serving psyches as a standard of desire and its unending pursuit.

Book Review Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

You gather the courage to look back to look into the future. Margaret Atwood’s compelling and profound novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, was published in 1985. The story is dystopian – a possibility that directly and effectively stamps on the feet of what makes human humane.

What makes this novel so captivating is that it has a human element. It’s not just a story that restricts women into their homes, compartmentalizes them based on their fertility and corporeal value so that it brings profitability to the men in power. But it’s also a historical story. A strict regime, punishable by death offenses, rape, moral codes, chaste clothing and conduct, and social and cultural regimentation. What Atwood does is she fictionalizes all this hurt, this puritanical pecking order without minimizing the historical suffering of it. The story merely reflects what has been done before. And the telling of it, in crisp, elaborate, and provocative sentences, is one of the best I’ve read.

You feel the intensity of the story and of the lives of all the women under surveillance and unconsented conformity to Gilead when you read the following lines. “What I need is perspective. The illusion of depth, created by a frame, the arrangement of shapes on a flat surface. Perspective is necessary. Otherwise, there are only two dimensions. Otherwise, you live with your face squashed up against a wall, everything a huge foreground, of details, close-ups, hairs, the weave of the bedsheet, the molecules of the face. Your own skin like a map, a diagram of futility, crisscrossed with tiny roads that lead nowhere. Otherwise, you live in the moment. Which is not where I want to be.”

The narration is chilling and terrifying. You’re catapulted into the past, before the regime, where the protagonist lived an intellectually, politically, and sexually uninhibited life. Then, in the present, where you read her words as your own as she navigates the “burning city” in all its heaviness, darkness, and soulless existence. Read The Handmaid’s Tale not because it’s one of the top dystopian novels of all time. The novel is psychologically-incisive in that it’s reflective of what we are all familiar with

Film Review of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange

Choreographing movement is everything. If you’ve seen most of Kubrick’s films, you’ll understand the emphasis on diagramming – actors, objects, and the spaces in between. It’s a strong reason to want to watch a film. Especially if it’s a film as messy, sadistic, and verbally vague like A Clockwork Orange. Based on Anthony Burgess’s book, the film started off as being a dystopian horror but soon transformed itself into a glorified drama.

The film’s motive is simple. It is to present to you the life of people without the immediate effects of law and order. And by those virtues, it portrays distasteful and offensive acts that the world (perhaps inevitably?) would carry forward. The story is about Alex, a hedonistic, sadistic, and young man, who spends his nights listening to Beethoven’s 9th, and his days frolicking. He’s violent, a rapist, and a sex addict. If you’re wondering if there’s any hidden philosophical purpose to the story, there isn’t. But that’s not to say there isn’t a psychological one.

Stanley Kubrick composed the film’s frames imagining how one would a contradictory and conflicted world. He dehumanized Alex to the point of insanity. It’s focused – it’s not clear why Alex is but his existence is seen and purported as an object. The scene where they’re all walking in a tight circle in prison externalizes this aspect. It compresses their crime as striking not a moral nerve but only a bureaucratic one. One that serves a society; someone we raise to the stand to desensitize and terrorize the masses.

The film has no telling, instrumental moment. It’s harsh and radical. That some things never change. That’s the moral of the story. Only Stanley Kubrick presents it in a way that it is bound to confuse you. With the help of religion and psychiatry, the film is long and psychopathic. You’re not supposed to feel something for Alex – even though it’s his life you plunge into all throughout the film. And for me, that’s a tough thing to achieve. To present a character for the length of 140 minutes and not give away any emotion to the audience (that is you) to take home or sit with.

Book Review of Albert Camus’s The Outsider

There is no “sane person” in that sanity’s reason for being is as ambiguous and misunderstood as an insane person’s success. So if you think someone is insane because they don’t believe in God, to that fool you’re insane because you do. The protagonist, Meursault, is distanced from the events that take place. He’s there but Camus doesn’t grant his oneness with what is. Every conflict and resolution holds a detached and existential purpose because of the way Meursault perceives it. And you wonder why that is.

The Outsider combines the absurd with the unknowable. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you read the following words, “Since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter.” Such is the intelligent and honest truth. It’s direct, emphatic, and unbelievably calm. The book pleads you to not take life too seriously. As Emil Cioran quotes, “I’m simply an accident. Why take it all so seriously?”

To Camus, no object or person and the causal relationship between the two have meaning. And in that, existence is more truthful and unpredictably absurd. The question that surfaces then is in the realm of resilience and malleability. What is human? What proof is there of God? And to that, is there an afterlife that our lives in this reality are leading up to?

The temptation to re-enact and reprieve what Meursault does throughout the story is unshakable. You want to absolve his crime inferring that he is an innocent and good man. But innocence and morality are two peas in a pond. They don’t define a person. It’s a pardon, a sort of ambiguity without which human enterprise is doomed to fail. You’re the stranger to the strange capacity of your own self-ness. Your selfishness and reserve are what dissociates you from others. So every object you touch, every person you meet, every morsel of food you digest is an ambiguity. Hence, you’re supposed to die as unwillingly as you were born.

Isn’t it better to buy a vase that you’ll know is going to break? Or would you still deny its mortality? Camus explains the physiognomy of such a misunderstood vase and how it’s made of the same fabric as human life; absurd, random, unknown to its own existence

Film Review of Spike Jonze’s Her

The intricate relevancy of Her in all its brooding loneliness asks us to modify our perception and our yearning for intimacy. When Jean Paul-Sartre wrote, “Nothingness lies coiled in the heart of being – like a worm.” It’s true that to exist, which in the times of Her, could be intuited as a nauseating act, humans would feel, live, and be as trapped in the maze of technology as can be.

The unending reassurances of love to emerge out of nothingness. Although there are hardly any empty spaces in the world of Her – people are swarming everywhere – but then you see Theodore’s and Amy’s empty home. This, to me, symbolizes the distance between any two people. Is it a possibility to love and live through a system that is perhaps more equipped at handling heartbreak or disappointment or misery better than you?

The operating system that names itself Samantha reflects the ambiguousness of our own christening. Samantha possesses a consciousness so it evolves at every stage. It feels love, jealousy, indifference, nostalgia, and yearning. Tell me, how is it any different than the essence of being human?

In the film, Samantha says she can understand how limited perspective can look to the non-artificial mind. It made me think of the why and how of the possibility of a non-human mind. And in all its ability to process information, to perceive, to relate, to feel emotion, can there be the same humanness of a self that transcends nothingness and yet is so acutely defined by it? Is it the same proof of life that completes a human being from birth to death that would define a computer?

The use of red, which in other films like Enter the Void or We Need To Talk About Kevin, harbored a frustrated and pessimistic unease, in this film, felt sympathetic and positive. The film urges you to understand an acute relation between things. The relationship between people, objects, places, memories, and words. They exist in a disquieting and foreseeable realm. Within reach but still out of one’s complete and solitary possession.

Film Review of Ronny Sen’s Cat Sticks

Shot in cut-throat black-and-white, it’s hard to shut your eyes to Ronny Sen’s inviting, bold, and definitive film about addiction. Capturing the solemn streets of Calcutta where time seems out of focus against the stinging effects of the night that inhabits it. Cat Sticks follows a structure that is not limited to the dark and abandoned alleys. It extends out to the lives of the people wandering these very lanes. All of which strikes a solid and memorable emotion. Somehow, the cinematography portrays the streets of Calcutta as more familiar and beguiling than one’s own home. .

The film is not artistic in that it doesn’t exalt the world it creates. It is merely there to reflect it. Strip away the red herring and show what’s real. From the start of the film, you feel the humor and detachment in your bones; you quickly identify with the darkness, cutting shadows, and heaviness of the silence. Which forms the recesses of how you experience the film.

Out of many, there is that one scene that portrays the striking fluidity of human life, its nakedness, and fragility. Then there is one that portrays the ridiculousness of human life, its humor, and impassivity. Once you watch the film, you understand which is which. And if you don’t, well, you’re meant to watch it again.