Thursday, 17 August 2017

A Ghost Story | David Lowery, 2017

A friend delivers a pie to a grieving woman, who is not home. When she returns, she cuts a portion of the pie and eats it, then another, and another. But she's only eating the middle, hollowing it out to leave the crusts to encircle a nothingness, a space where a rich taste used to be. Eating in this way is to miss the experience. There's nothing to balance the sweetness, and it becomes harder and harder to swallow. You need it all, crusts and filling, to make it edible. To make it endurable. The blank ghost of her husband looms large, watching on from the background. And we only see fragments of life, before and after: a song, a party, an iPod. Times pass. People change. Spaces die. Then it starts all over again and the crusts bring clarity. A ghost watches a ghost and the daughter of a colonialist hums a melody that hasn't been written yet. The future is the past. History isn't what it used to be.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Solaris | Steven Soderbergh, 2002

There are two shared images in Steven Soderbergh's Solaris. The first is a calling card, a recorded message from Dr. Gibarian, an old friend on a space station, delivered directly to camera, calling on Dr. Kelvin to join him in investigating a mysterious planet known as Solaris. This message is brought by two high-ranking officers to Dr. Kelvin and played in its entirety on a screen in his home in front of all of them. It's hard to say no to the face of a friend. Once it's over, the image stutters and pixelates. It's not real anymore. It's a message embalmed by technology. The past revived in the present.

The second shared image is on the space station: the "facsimile" of Kelvin's dead wife, a product of his memory rendered in flesh by the strange planet. She appears in a locked room on the bed next to him, caressing the back of his head as she used to. She has memories of their life but can't place herself within them. He can't help but fall in love with her again. And why wouldn't he? He can see her, feel her, hear her; and so can everyone else on board. She's as real as Gibarian's message, and they're both a proof of life. Kelvin knows she's fake — but he loves her anyway. "All I see is you." Irrational love. Pixels on a screen. The past is the present.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Heat | Michael Mann, 1995

A master criminal and his girlfriend are home free, driving away from the city of lights to a new life in another town. Suddenly, they're engulfed by the light of an illuminated tunnel and, for a brief moment, their lives couldn't be more beautiful. They're together. Everything is ahead of them. But tunnels end, and the darkness quickly returns. The lights shrink into the rear-view. They drive on into the night.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Okja | Bong Joon-ho, 2017

A sole member of a new species of “superpig” is purportedly discovered in the Chilean jungle and shipped to New York City by the historically anti-human Mirando Corporation, where a PR campaign to provide a sustainable food source to the world is presented to an adoring public in the factory where the company manufactured Napalm during the Vietnam War. But that was the old Mirando. The new Mirando has reared this animal and, through “non-forced, natural mating”, 26 new superpigs have been bred from one, ready for distribution to farmers around the world as part of a global competition. It’s a biologically dubious yarn to say the least, but one accepted without question by a fawning public — who’s going to argue with feeding the world?

Ten years pass. “Superpig” is now a global brand, and the titular Okja, recently crowned the world’s best superpig, is an international celebrity, taken from the South Korean countryside to New York City for her grand unveiling to the masses. Mija, her Last Guardian-style companion, just wants to take her back home, and so she embarks upon a globe-trotting, girl-versus-the-world rescue mission to save her friend — one which takes on new significance when, assisted by the Animal Liberation Front, iPhone footage of an overwhelmed Okja escaping captivity and running amok in downtown Seoul goes viral, and these images are coopted by both Mirando and the ALF to further their own political agendas.

And so Bong’s film becomes one of competing narratives, image versus image, perception versus perception, propaganda versus propaganda. Mija and Okja are part of something bigger than themselves: a war of public opinion that has been won and lost already — “if it’s cheap, they’ll eat it”. But all Mija cares about is Okja. She just wants to bring her home. It’s a simple story viewed through a political prism, refracted and distorted, and pieced back together again as if nothing has changed. And it hasn’t changed — it was never going to. People still buy superpig meat. Bong’s film isn’t so much anti-corporation as it is opposed to a world in which corporations are allowed to flourish without accountability. If it’s cheap, they’ll eat it, wherever it comes from. It’s easier for people to remain passive and not ask questions, so there can be no meaningful opposition. Even the supposed anarchists are useless, apologising for the pain they inflict and reassuring the world that they never harm anyone, human or nonhuman. As long as businesses make money they can do what they want — and human decency isn’t a currency. The only way to save Okja is transactional. “Pleasure doing business with you.”

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Mr Klein | Joseph Losey, 1976

Adriaen van Ostade's The Analysis (1666) haunts the home of Robert Klein, an art dealer in occupied Paris who buys paintings such as this for a fraction of their worth from desperate Jewish families fleeing the war, who's unwittingly cast into the labyrinthine life-swap scheme of his mysterious Jewish namesake and doppelgänger.

A student of Frans Hals and a contemporary of Rembrandt, van Ostade, who'd changed his name from Adriaen Jansz Hendricz, was a celebrated painter of the Dutch Golden Age, whose younger brother, Isaac, later became his student, emulating his style and taking his new surname. The two van Ostade's, however, had vastly different careers, and Isaac, forever stuck in the shadow of his brother, never found the same success as an artist. He died in 1649 at the age of 28, just as he was beginning to step out on his own.

The portrait owned by Klein, The Analysis, painted by Adriaen several years after the death of his brother, is not only a souvenir of the cruel business he profits from, but one which suggests that the best way to survive in this wintry, war-torn world is be one step ahead of it, to cast your own shadow, to develop your own style, to make your own terms — for Klein, however, it's too late. Like Isaac, he's already lost, doomed to chase the shadow of his own name as the world leaves him behind.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Light Sleeper | Paul Schrader, 1992

"Is there luck for me?" A two-years clean dealer is looking for normalcy. His associates are going straight with a cosmetics venture that has no place for him. His way of life is ending. For now, he's wordlessly driven back and forth across the city on delivery, feigning friendship to mask transaction; brief encounters, then on to the next one. He's becoming an island. His apartment is shrouded in darkness, the floor lamp a faded lighthouse on the shore, illuminating only the objects in its immediate vicinity: a desk, a notebook, a bottle of wine, cash money from the night before; the remaining space is an uncharted silhouette longing to be filled, a nothingness that could be everything — then fate intervenes. Two chance encounters in as many days with the love of his life, an ex-lover he has neither seen nor spoken to for years. Their addictions tore them apart. But now they're both clean. They reconnect, passion consumes the darkness and the past fades away. There's nothing but the present. They spend the night together in her small apartment, red light bathes the room, but they don't wake up in the bed. They're naked on the floor, pushed between the wall and the bed frame. The room is now an inexplicable shade of green. The intimacy he craves is there, but the pieces don't fit together as they should. Beds are meant to be slept in. For him, this could be everything he's ever wanted, but for her, "this is the end." The past comes rushing back. The night before and the morning after. They've relapsed. She gets dressed and tells him to do the same. He tells her he loves her but she doesn't hear him. Bridges crumble into the ocean. The islands remain alone.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Retribution | Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2006

“I felt lonely for so long. Since then, all my senses, memories, and emotions as a human disappeared one by one, and only despair was left at the end.”

The pain of Kurosawa’s ghosts is the perpetual despair of lost love, and an agonising emptiness impelled by the loneliness of the modern world. In Retribution, two ghosts in red dresses embody this pain in oppositional ways: a woman taking revenge on those who she believes killed her through inaction and neglect, and a detective’s ex-lover pretending to be alive to spare him the anguish of her death. One's dress is vivid red, unadorned, invasive; the other's is more muted, emblazoned with red flowers and splashed with the green of their leaves. An evocative emptiness and an imitation of life, a murderous rage and an enduring love. Both are stuck irretrievably in death, and neither can leave life behind — but empty rage can be satiated. Fake flowers never die.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Lost World: Jurassic Park | Steven Spielberg, 1997

"We're here to observe and document, not interact"
"That's a scientific impossibility"

A small army of experts and local muscle hired to transport dinosaurs from the original park’s “site B” to San Diego are armed with technology: phones, guns, tranquilliser darts, cages and restraints, radios, cameras, trucks, boats, helicopters. Palaeontologists spew facts about the dinosaurs they look at disbelievingly at rapid speed, barely stopping for breath. Educated precaution. They want you to know that they know everything, that they have everything covered. That nothing can go wrong. But they have no control here. Their technology fails more than it works, and their words have no purpose in the wild. They’re emboldened, but they don’t know what they’re dealing with. At a distance, these dinosaurs are pixels on a landscape, weightless and unreal, but spectacular giants, nonetheless, miraculous and impossible, demanding to be studied. But up close, these CGI creatures are puppets and models, awkward and ugly, still unreal but within reach. It’s easy to forget that these are wild animals, so they get too close, and the animals defend themselves. These dinosaurs are manufactured, but they've become natural. Technology can’t control them. Science can’t control them. People are killed by them. The events of The Lost World: Jurassic Park are hubris masquerading as curiosity. A human failure rather than a natural one. Survival of the fittest.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Accident | Joseph Losey, 1967

"There is nothing to keep her here."
"She loves me."

Rooms darkened by overflowing bookshelves, tables alongside tables, and mantelpieces loaded with ornaments, ashtrays, lamps, glasses and bottles; an enclosed tennis court surrounded by overgrown flowerbeds; the claustrophobia of an overturned car. Joseph Losey's Accident is designed to push people close to one another and make them fight for limited space. One idyllic summer afternoon, a professor is invited on a boat ride with two of his students: a beautiful “Austrian princess” and her high-achieving boyfriend. He jumps in next to her and his eyes soon dart around her body: legs, chest, neck, face. He’s enthralled by her, and is emboldened to impress her by swinging from a tree overhanging the water. But, of course, he falls in. Her boyfriend, propelling the punt with a pole, laughs, his show of strength having defeated his professor's. Humiliated and soaked through, the professor bashfully returns to his office to change clothes as his students walk hand in hand behind him. The failure to understand that physical closeness doesn’t equate to intimacy will always be the undoing of men.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Flags of Our Fathers | Clint Eastwood, 2006

"Looking at it, you could believe the sacrifice wasn't a waste."

A dessert served at a fundraising dinner held in honour of the three surviving subjects of Raising The Flag on Iwo Jima, an iconic photograph that became a sign of hope during World War II. The horror and tragedy that surrounds this picture is lost on American soil, where the war is seen in black and white and the blood is away from the headlines. But for these men, stolen from the front-line to become poster boys of war bonds, the blood is vivid red. As they're paraded around the country, their friends die on the battlefield. They're more valuable as symbols than as soldiers now, but, to them, their absence is the same as blood on their hands. And the photograph keeping them from war is now served to them on a plate, smothered in blood-red strawberry sauce. Symbols mean more than men. Images mean more than reality.