Dark Horse (2011)

123For the past few weeks I have been watching exclusively Todd Solondz’s (or Solondz’?) movies. They are great, especially Happiness (1998) and Wiener-Dog (2016). Looking almost exactly like Paul Giamatti (and fuck, he knows that, since he cast the guy to play himself in ‘Storytelling’), Mr. Solondz is actually what Charlie Kaufman could be if he was a little less schizophrenic and a little more perverted. The two have a similar ephemeral love-hate relationship with their characters, managing to create misery in the lives of the most seemingly stable Hallmark-postcard families.

Solondz feels exactly that towards the main character of Dark Horse (Justin Bartha) –  Abe, an overweight loser in his early thirties who lives with his detached and emotionally drained father (Christopher Walken) and a terrifyingly loving mother (Mia Farrow). Abe meets a beautiful and visibly depressed woman named Miranda (Selma Blair) and forces her into a date with him. Miranda is frustrated with her literary and academic failures and completely emptied by a recent breakup with a guy named Mahmoud (Aasif Mandvi). Mahmoud tells her to lower her expectations from life and take last resort by becoming a housewife to some husband-material of a man, whom she finds in Abe.

I hated this film. And not in the way that Todd Solondz, perhaps, wanted the viewer to. It seems obvious to me that the picture was an exercise in both sociopathy and the limits of human compassion. To feel for the disgusting character would be to prove the point of the director that the most miserable, revolting person can expect sympathy. However, it is merely the phenomenon of cinema that the central character, the character in the main focus, will always be the target of our interest and compassion. It works similarly out of the blue screen as well: we grow to adore and support those, who we meet every single day – ourselves. But why? Is it because we are capable of experiencing emotions towards even the least appealing of people? I don’t think so, since it is all just a matter of time and perspective. The same film told from a different perspective would result in a completely opposite experience.

Cinematic narrative doesn’t seem to be effective when it carries a clear agenda or a moral premise. It should be up to the viewer to extract an idea from a seemingly objective piece, because that is when a picture can be most effective. Todd Solondz, by the way, is extremely good at communicating ideas to a viewer effortlessly and unobtrusively. Wiener-Dog (2016) is one fantastic example of that. It is an anthology of anecdotes, which are hinting at something, yet do not have any concrete position. Putting a thought into a viewer’s mind will always work, if you make him think that he came up with the idea himself.


07.11.2016; Assignment 10

Our entire perception of the world is, inevitably, quite surficial. We live our lives according to how we want to, assigning roles to people around us regardless of their preference, which subsequently leaves to their dissonance and our frustration and disappointment. While for me a person may be, first, my girlfriend or my friend, it will never be the central point of their self-identification. Say, for instance, to my mother I will always remain her son, that being my only and main role in her life, but I still identify myself as a Russian, a student, a 19-year-old, etc. That will always be one of the key reasons of misunderstandings and conflicts between people. In my opinion, Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ is revolving around this exact issue – the discrepancy between what we want to see (here – what we want a person to be) and what the thing really is (how the person sees himself).

The story does a fantastic job at illustrating this issue with both the dialogue and the symbolism of its setting. The dialogue supports the idea quite clearly, especially near the end of the piece in the exchange between Mrs. Das and Mr. Kapasi. “I beg your pardon, Mrs. Das, but why have you told me this information?”- he responds to her confession, disproving her assumption that he is a telepathically-skilled interpreter of maladies both spiritual and physical. No, Mr. Kapasi was always just a translator, but it is merely his self-identification, which has nothing to do with her perception. Mrs. Das sees what she wants to see, and the one she thought she could confide in turns out to be a stranger.

The Sun Temple, which the characters of the book had been planning to see all along, is a symbol for all the relationships fallen victim to misunderstanding and unwillingness to understand. The description of the temple features a lot of symbols – some more obvious than others (say, the depiction of erotic scenes on the exterior walls would be a symbol from a naive expectation from a relationship), but I am only going to focus on one excerpt from the exposition. “It was no longer possible to enter the temple, for it had filled with rabble years ago, but they admired the exterior; as did all the tourists Mr. ’Kapasi brought there, slowly strolling along each of its sides” – this, perhaps, exemplifies all the withered and faded loves. Basically, what was once beautiful is now only possible to observe from the outside, similarly to how Mr. Kapasi sees the Das couple. The exterior is the only thing deserving admiration, because the inside is ruins. The tourists walking outside, at the same time, are all the people in our lives, looking at us and our loves with glass eyes of fake involvement.

Reference: all quotations taken from Jhumpa Lahiri, “Interpreter of maladies: stories”, Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

31.10.2016; Assignment 9

The topic that I want to explore in Annie Proulx’ story ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is confusion surrounding homosexuality. I believe, that the text suggests that in a homophobic culture, people of both sexualities experience unacceptance towards it when it becomes nontraditional. Essentially, some cannot agree with unorthodox sexuality and act on it with aggression and abuse, but the ones who end up abused are just so extraneous to the idea of such a thing being normal that they either do not recognize their own feelings or experience guilt for having them.

On the Brokeback Mountain, during their first romatic encounter, Jack and Ennis discuss their relationship for the first time, ““I’m not no queer,” and Jack jumped in with “Me neither. A one-shot thing. Nobody’s business but ours.””. It is clear that the main characters are just too used to the way their community treats homosexuals, and it is hard for them to overcome this skewed perception that had already been installed in them. Neither of them is ready to accept their affection.

The following dialogue happens when Jack and Ennis say goodbye to each other after their summer on Brokeback Mountain. “You goin a do this next summer?” said Jack to Ennis in the street, one leg already up in his green pickup. The wind was gusting hard and cold.
Maybe not.” A dust plume rose and hazed the air with fine grit and he squinted against it. “Like I said, Alma and me’s gettin married in December.” Although it is clear that both of them would love to see each other again, Ennis rejects this idea by reminding Jack of his engagement. However, this is just an excuse, and by bringing up his plans to marry Alma, he is just trying to disown himself from his genuine feelings towards Jack.

After their unavoidable divorce, Alma and Ennis meet again at a dinner, where she explains that she was aware of his affair with Jack. ““Don’t lie, don’t try to fool me, Ennis. I know what it means. Jack Twist? Jack Nasty. You and him — “ She’d overstepped his line. He seized her wrist; tears sprang and rolled, a dish clattered. “Shut up,” he said. “Mind your own business. You don’t know nothin about it.”” The reaction that Ennis has to her mentioning Jack is extremely aggressive and irrational, supporting the idea that his entire sexuality was an upsetting and confusing subject for him. Basically, Ennis reacts as if he is offended to be the person that he truly is.

This confusion that Annie Proulx paints so perfectly in the story is the reason why I enjoyed ‘Brokeback Mountain’ so much. That pain is depicted in such a beautiful melancholic way that not sympathizing with characters becomes an impossible task. More than that, it provides a very important perspective on issues related to homosexuality. It is a double-edged sword. Abuse of homosexual people is merely half of the entire problem. What is much more devastating, is the feeling of being cursed or wrong that a gay person can experience.

Reference: all quotations taken from Annie Proulx, “Brokeback Mountain”, Scribner, 2005.

24.10.2016; Assignment 8

Roald Dahl’s version of ‘Cinderella’ throughout the entire text is clearly satirizing the conventionality of the original feel-good fable. ‘The phoney one, the one you know, / Was cooked up years and years ago, / And made to sound all soft and sappy / [J]ust to keep the children happy.’ – he explains straightaway. Later on, keeping up with that thought, Dahl dismisses the exaggerated settings and descriptions from the original fable. ‘<…> they got the first bit right, / The bit where, in the dead of night, / The Ugly Sisters, jewels and all, / Departed for the Palace Ball’ – the author is mocking the traditional attention to detail when describing the posh setting of the dances. In my opinion, saying ‘jewels and all’ is almost like making a joke about how much the original fable would fixate on the gems that the Sisters were wearing. Dahl does a similar thing later in his take on the fable, when he writes that the prince, after he had decided to find Cinderella no matter what, ‘rather carelessly, I fear, / He placed it on a crate of beer.’ This, in my eyes, is a wonderful humorous jab at the naïveté of the original story. His last reference to the setting in the story is in its very end. In his ‘happily ever after’ ending, Dahl writes that after all the misfortune she married a jam maker, ‘Who sold good home-made marmalade. / Their house was filled with smiles and laughter.’ This adds an ironic tint to the usual ending, since this time not only is everything so innocent and sweet, but it is also quite literally sweet.

Overall, Dahl’s descriptions of the setting in Cinderella serve purely as an additional gag in the story without adding too much to it in terms of the plot. The setting in Cinderella is quite typical to that of a fable, so Dahl finds it quite irrelevant. What he does mention just gives his version an additional humoristic edge and reminds the reader of how different life in fables is from real life.

Reference: all quotations taken from Roald Dahl, “Roald Dahl’s Revolting rhymes”, Knopf, 1983.

17.10.2016; Assignment 7

Foreshadowing is something that is used in fables and folk literature quite usually, often to emphasize the moral of story even before it is explicitly stated in the end. Because of that, the reader or listener focuses his attention on what will eventually be the point of the story, making it more believable.

Roald Dahl’s version of Cinderella is no exception. He starts the fable, ‘I guess you think you know this story. / You don’t. The real one’s much more gory.’ The reader is instantly intrigued, since he knows what to expect, but too remotely to understand what the moral of the story will be. It is only clear that Dahl will eventually lead up to the original narrative being too naïve and conventional and add new features to the classic fable. ‘The phoney one, the one you know, / Was cooked up years and years ago, / And made to sound all soft and sappy just to keep the children happy.’ – he elaborates on the point.

The rest of the story is told predictably until the climax of the story, when the prince decapitates the Ugly Sisters. The moral is not stated openly as it was in the original Charles Perrault’s version, but it is transparent what Dahl means to say. His moral is just as simple: one should not be so innocent to believe in children’s fables, but rather base his or her understanding of life on the worst case scenario.

Reference: all quotations taken from Roald Dahl, “Roald Dahl’s Revolting rhymes”, Knopf, 1983.

10.10.2016; Assignment 6

October showers let me take a break (a)
From thawing under flames of summer sun. (b)
The last exhale of smoke when day is done (b)
Will help me quench the never-ending ache (a)
That wakes me in the mornings with a shake; (a)
It is the pain that says I need to run (b)
Towards the looks that I desire to shun. (b)
A crave for time will never become slaked, (a)
And life is always just a pointless spell(c)
For something that can never be achieved. (d)
How lovely would it be to kill that spleen (e)
And in my mind to stop this dreadful bell! (c)
I wish that buses never had the speed (d)
To force me to get up at 8:15! (e)

03.10.2016; Assignment 5

Charles Bukowski’s poem ‘so you want to be a writer’ is a personal perspective on the author’s craft, the process of making a conscious decision about becoming a poet and the damage that the mere consideration of this decision can cause to your work. Its most noticeable feature is the perpetual repetition of the phrase ‘don’t do it [=become a writer]’ that gives the reader the impression of hearing someone speak from traumatic experience of knowing people who committed such a mistake. Every single time that phrase booms in the reader’s mind, you realize that fitting any of those parameters is a fiasco. That repetition, however, is one of the only visible poetic elements of ‘so you want to be a writer’. It has no rhymes or consistent meters and feels more like a recitative rather than an orthodox poem. Moreover, a lot of lines are enjambed, which gives a feeling of the thought being very urgent and rushed.

The poem, in its core, is a reflection on the misguided motivations of writers. ‘[W]hen it is truly time, / and if you have been chosen, / it will do it by / itself and it will keep on doing it / until you die or it dies in you’ – writes Bukowski, and that further highlights the borderline-separate entity that is poetic talent. If there is any motivation to you other than to create poetry, he implies, you truly should not do it.

‘Don’t try’, another famous Bukowski quote, is engraved on his tombstone. It conveys the same idea: if you need to put effort to achieve it, then just do not do it. Something that is your true purpose will find you itself.