Nocturnal Animals: A violent romantic thriller (2016), dir: Tom Ford

 

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Leaving the theatre, I felt I was never going to smile again. I had been walking for about half an hour before I reached home, feeling absolutely numb and hurt by what I had been witnessing for the past 2 hours. “Nocturnal Animals” is an incredible and a dark film, with a three-dimensional storytelling structure, an incredible cast, and an emotionally charged score by Abel Korzeniowski. Tom Ford calls it a “cautionary tale” and with good reason still,  I will call it “the lurking nightmare of missing your one chance for happiness in life”.

The film is a thriller and a strong, pure, and piercing drama about regret, revenge, and unfulfilled love. The storylines are directed with frenetic energy that is complemented by beautiful images and sounds. The film’s pulse is unnerving due to the unconcealed, rough reality that is artfully and brutally crafted by Ford, whose second work lacks the elements that made people accuse him of being a pretentiously stylised filmmaker in his first work, “A Single Man” (2009).

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The Basics: 

The film was adapted by Ford himself from the 1993 novel, “Tony and Susan” by Austin Wright. Admittedly, it demands considerable talent and ability from both the director/writer and the cast to convey the intertwined storylines with clarity and undisturbed flow of emotion. Therefore, I am happy to say that despite its complexity and richness, the film is incredible in the sense that the details and allegories that were carefully placed across the narrative evoke pervasive emotions.

Amy Adams breaths life into Susan, an art gallery owner who leads an affluent life who represents the image of an accomplished and stylish woman (a role model for the western civilisation, perhaps?). One day she receives a manuscript of the first book that her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) wrote and has dedicated to her. Susan barely gets any sleep at nights, so he used to call her a nocturnal animal, and that is how he named his novel. The ex-couple hasn’t had any contact for the past 19 years, and we learn from Susan that Edward was unwilling to talk to her when she contacted him 2 years prior. Susan is unfulfilled with her job and unhappy in her marriage (her cheating and cold husband, Hutton is Armie Hammer). She starts reading the novel in her stylish, lavish yet empty and hollow home when everyone is gone for the weekend.

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The story in the book follows a peaceful Texan (like Edward, and Tom Ford..), Tony (also played by Gyllenhaal) and his wife and daughter through a nighttime road trip in the middle of nowhere. At one point, they are harassed and forced out the road by another car whose passengers are meant to turn their life into a horrific nightmare. The sequence of the scenes that follow, I believe are one of the most disturbing and tense in cinema, as they are filled with agony and suspense in a roughly realistic background. The next morning finds Tony devastated in the company of Detective Andes, portrayed by Michael Shannon, following the trails of the previous night’s incidents. A year after, Tony has a chance to avenge his family but that would mean that he needs to redefine himself and his limitations.

3 stories: Reality (Present – Past): Susan reads Edward’s novel and expects to meet him during his business trip in L.A. shortly. Interwoven into real life and fictitious events, we see the flashbacks of Susan and Edward’s relationship. Fantasy: The story of the novel unfolds between the real events and flashbacks. Viewers are called to make sense of the parallelism between the protagonists’ past relationship and Tony’s painful story.

My Thoughts:

My curiosity was piqued right from the beginning, when Susan receives the novel. I wondered what were the events that led to their separation that spurred his inspiration for a book. Having watched the film, I realise that it wasn’t so much the reason of their break-up, as to its consequences, meaning the psychological impact it had in his life (and hers..). The book works as her punishment and his revenge.

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“Do you feel your life has turned into something you never intended?”- Susan

Susan projects power, accomplishment and composure. Her younger self however, wished to break free from the conformity of bourgeoisie, and passionately declared that she was completely different from her mother. She chooses to embrace the way Edward perceives her to be and she finds liberation and self-esteem by his side.

In contrast to Susan, Edward is confident about his calling to be a writer, he is also thoughtful and very sensitive, which is the opposite of what Susan has been brought up into. He reminds Susan that she has what it takes to be an artist herself and introduces her into a less pragmatic and sensible way of living. Susan’s initial instinct is to embrace the unknown beauty of freedom and self-acceptance, and so decides to marry him. Initially, she is called to justify the marriage to her mother, but later on (2 years approximately..) she has to justify it to herself, as she feels unhappy in it, despite her love for Edward.

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Is it inevitable to turn into our mothers? 

I do not believe that “We all eventually turn into our mothers.” (says Susan’s mother, played by Laura Linney), but I do believe that our mother’s (and father’s) voice does not leave us throughout our adult life. It is our job to seek our true self, buried under numerous years of constant influence and manipulation (conscious or unconscious) by our parents, in order to set ourselves free and find the life that suits us best, not others.

Our heroine, Susan made a step toward her truth, then she got scared when her real life did not resemble the one she was “supposed” to have, so she left her loved one and found a more “suitable” match, and career path. Nineteen years later, Susan has accomplished things that have definitely made her mother proud. She feels “ungrateful not to be happy” in her privileged life but she is simply not! The truth is that her love for Edward has never left her, nor the idea of the life they could have had together. She burdened with guilt for having given into fear and doubt, about not having believed in him the way he believed in her, and for having robbed him of the chance to become a father when she aborted their child (“I believe this is going to hunt me for the rest of my life.”~ Susan).

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What scared me the most?

The extent of feelings: Edward experienced excruciating pain from the ending of their relationship, which led him to the darkest places of his soul where he was able to conceive his allegorical, haunting story. The violence and pain that I witnessed in the scene where the family confronts the 3 troublemakers won’t leave me anytime soon. My stomach was tight and I could barely breathe while I watched those relentless psychopaths attack and ruin the lives of an innocent and happy family. I can only imagine that the helplessness we see in Tony, is the same as the one Edward felt. It is unsettling to think that someone might could feel so devastated by the end of a relationship that these feelings of anger and loss would translate into a story of such despair and agony.

Misjudge love, and make the wrong call: I must admit that I have never felt so strongly about anything/anyone, let alone a romantic relationship that could instantly evoke identification with the characters. However, the film conveys sentiment with such intensity that it affects even those who like myself, do not have a similar story in their past. In addition, it helped that I can perfectly relate to Susan who struggles between what her gut tells her, and what cynicism and borrowed logic dictates her to do.

It is believed that love is rare and thus, precious. It is scary to realise how easy it is to underestimate your partner, reduce the importance of “love” and thus, reject your feelings (as well as your partner’s). To make matters worse, it is also commonly held that second chances in life can be rare, which significantly reduces our chance to find happiness. I might be slightly pessimistic in that respect but don’t you find major decisions in life to be intimidating? Some people are firm in their decision-making but what about those who struggle with making their mind? (even about what chocolate bar they are going to buy.. they pick one, eat it and then regret they haven’t bought the other one…). I wonder, how willing we are nowadays to fight for our relationships? In a time where intimacy and sex are acquired quickly and easily, are we perhaps consumed with our perception of the “ideal relationship” that makes all others (the real ones…) seem expendable? Are we always on the look for the next, the better partner that is around the corner?

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Edward’s plead to Susan stayed with me:

“When you love someone you work it out, you have to be careful with it, you don’t just throw it away. You might never get it again.” 

I feel the film presents a clear warning as to how we should treat the ones we love, as apparently true love is rare. It took Edward 20 years to let go of the ghosts of his past, and being a writer he found a rather creative way to do so but imagine an ordinary person trying to manage the psychological burden, and struggling to discover a non-destructive way to release the pain… In addition, Susan’s story shows that when you launch on a new path, having left ruins behind you, chances are that it will haunt you for the rest of your life and will sabotage your potential happiness.

My views on guilt is that we should rip ourselves from what we were taught to feel remorse about and reshape our moral code. However, Susan’s guilt is not distant and moralistic but alive and personal. She is guilty about the abortion, and the impact of her cruelty towards Edward but she is mainly guilty about the life she made for herself, in other words about ignoring her true feelings.

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The End

Despite his great suffering Tony still remains a “good man”, which is mistakenly perceived as a weakness of character (especially in Texas…). In the end he kills Ray, the alpha of the criminal group (exceptionally portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, whose powerful performance reminded me of the obsessive tension that Tom Hardy projects on-screen), and accidentally (or not?) kills himself. It is questionable whether he would ever be able to get over such a violent and cruel part of his life, the loss of his loved ones and the person he has become therefore, his redemption comes with his death.

It is evident that in Edward’s mind Susan’s betrayal takes the dimension of Ray’s actions towards Tony however, I believe that Susan can identify with both Ray and Tony. In the beginning of the film, Susan admits that she has been thinking intensely about her ex-husband, which means that she had already started putting things together as to the reason why her life feels so empty and cold. By the time she reads the end of the book, it is beyond doubt that she experiences the same feelings as Tony who cries in despair that he “should have tried harder to protect his family”.

The cross that Tony is wearing, is the same cross that Susan has around her neck, and the red couch the Tony’s wife and daughter were found raped and murdered belongs to the apartment where they used to live together (not to mention that when Susan calls her daughter, she imagines her lying in the same position as the women in the novel). I loved the scenes where the parallelism is drawn between Susan’s and Tony’ s reality, especially the one where we seem them posing as tormented statues in the bathtub.

I feel that Edward is aware that Susan is unhappy and regrets her decision thus,  Tony is the expression of her own suffering as well. Despite the fact that Edward was deemed the weak one, it is Susan that was betrayed by her own self, due to her weakness to make a leap of faith and trust he instincts instead of the cynical world around her. As a result, just like Tony, Susan was deprived of her child and husband that the nocturnal animal took away, and in order to redeem herself and reach a catharsis she needs to “kill herself”, meaning the person she pretends to be and has been responsible for her bad decisions. By following Tony’s (and Edward’s) example, she will be free of her past regrets and will be able to find peace in her present life.

The closing scene is the proof that Edward truly did let go of his past and is no longer concerned or affected by Susan. And it is the perfect vengeance because during the hours that she is waiting for him to show up at the restaurant, she feels more and more convinced of her horrible, incorrigible mistake.

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“Life on hold” summarises “The Remains of the Day” (1993), dir: James Ivory

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I must have been around 12 when I first watched the film. It was among the Academy Award nominated films that were part of my “to-watch” list and I was determined to cross it out, despite the fact that the trailer had not triggered my curiosity. The strict environment of the British society of the past century used to cause me some sort of agony as a viewer, perhaps due to the suppressed feelings that these storylines are woven into. So I sat down and watched it, only to end up feeling unfulfilled and frustrated. I was so angry that “nothing happened” between the characters, even after the second chance they were given to reunite and finally, admit their mutual affections. Twelve years later, the film had a completely different effect on me and I would like to write about that.

The film is an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel and introduces Mr Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), the butler at Darlington Hall who is taking a trip to West Country to visit Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), a former housekeeper (at least 20 years back..) and convince her to resume her role. We follow Mr Stevens during his journey and discover their background story in flashbacks.

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“What I do find a major irritation are those persons who are simply going from post to post looking for romance.” ~ Mr Stevens

Mr Stevens considers his duty to be the highest principle in life, and the explanation for his self-imposed oppression is provided in the first part of the film. His father, a butler himself, has instructed him to place obligation and dignity above all other virtues. As a result, Mr Stevens becomes a servile, loyal and reliable man that allows himself a single ambition and desire; to serve his master to the best of his abilities.

The mask of duty and blind devotion that he wears in order to practice his profession make me wonder whether this unnatural avoidance of intimacy is a comfortable nest he has made for himself, and therefore blaming it on the job requirements could just as well be a convenient excuseI mean, what if he was a gardener, or a chauffeur, wouldn’t he still have found a way to abstain from earthly pleasures? (well.. except for smoking his cigars). Could the firm obsession with his responsibilities as a butler be a mere excuse for protecting himself from the uncertainties and dangers that lurk behind experiencing feelings? I realise of course that I might be projecting my own intentions and thoughts onto his, as I often trick myself in building walls that hold feelings away from my warm, cosy nest of a reality (yet by employing much less dogmatic means than his…).

However, one thing is certain and masterfully conveyed though Hopkins’ performance, Mr Stevens HAS feelings but he constantly suppresses them and often treats Miss Kenton with cruelty (e.g. after having exposed her affections ~in a subtle way~ he finds her crying and dismisses her once again by asking her to attend to a house chore). Acknowledging that fact about the film we can detect a certain similarity with “The Age of Innocence” (1993), “The Bridges of Madison County” (1995), and the “Splendor in the Grass” (1961), in all of which duty prevails over sentiment.

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“Yes. I am a coward. I’m frightened of leaving, and that’s the truth. All I see out in the world is loneliness, and it frightens me.” ~ Miss Kenton

The most heartbreaking scene of the film was their final separation at the bus station after having met after 20 years for the first (and last) time. However, the most painful and emotionally charged scene shows Mr Stevens being surprised by Miss Kenton in his room while reading a romance. Hopkins’s defensive body language and piercing stare contribute to the profound sadness I experienced as a viewer. The way he is observing her from up close and the hunger of his gaze could be those of a painter who has only one chance before she disappears forever, only a few seconds to grasp every detail on a butterfly’s wings so that he can portray her most accurately later.

Miss Kenton is a sensible, smart, hard-working woman who does not share Mr Stevens’ extreme views on duty. She is shaken when Lizzy (a housemaid) abandons the stability and future prospects of her job and appoints love as the most fundamental possession in life. She feels tired of waiting for Mr Stevens to express the slightest sign of affection so that she could still hold on to her hope for a more intimate relationship. Following an outburst she experiences that same evening he suggests they put an end to their briefings and in fact, replace them with the exchange of notes. She quickly apologised (“They’re very useful. It was only tonight.”) but the damage was already done. The scene made me wonder whether he traced her apologetic tone and chose to ignore it in order to punish her, or he simply did not possess the ability to spot her emotional state. This is a perfect example of how delicate the balance was between their estrangement and their friendship. A parallelism was drawn in my head; it reminded me of the way I approach a stray cat; I want to earn her trust to feed or caress her and although I do my best not to frighten her, one wrong move, a sudden wave of my hand perhaps, and she’s gone.

Miss Kenton returns from her pleasant evening, announces her decision and confronts Mr Stevens about his cold treatment. She finds a subtle way to highlight how significant his presence is in her life. Personally, I perceive her example about his mannerisms to be translated as such: “You are important to me, so I observe you and I know you well by now. I love the face you make when there’s too much pepper in your food, just like all the little things that make you so unique. I love telling stories about you because it makes me feel closer to you.” 

Despite being shocked by Miss Kenton’s marriage announcement Mr Stevens religiously keeps up his masquerade, and so he does 20 years later when she spares him from having to make his offer only to have her refuse it. The kindness of her character surprised me, as well as her endless efforts to bring emotion in the centre of their conversation, by being open about her feelings about her husband, Mr Stevens, and her life inventory.

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Lessons I learnt from “The Remains of the day”:

  • Do not allow yourself to strive to be only one thing, invest in various roles in life instead. What good will it do you if you strip yourself from the joys of life, in order to be the best employee? In the long run your life might seem deprived of meaning, or even worse seem like a terrible waste. In Mr Steven’s case, he realised toward the end of his life that the noble man he had served for many years was far from perfect and superior in judgement (He was labeled a Nazi sympathizer and a traitor due to his naivety, and died a broken man). Be open-minded and prepared for your emotional needs to potentially shift later in life. By being proactive and adaptable, and by leading a multi-faceted life, you don’t risk facing a dead-end street along the way.
  • Always express your feelings and be honest with yourself and others, even when your pride is at stake. I will not repeat cliché phrases regarding a lifetime’s  length however, regret is a terrible punishment we inflict upon ourselves. I believe it is a punishment because we always face a choice and we should normally prefer the route with the lowest emotional cost. Regret seems to be the premium emotional burden. Therefore, we ought to realise that placing our safety and risk aversion above a new, desirable prospect is a conscious choice that we make and has repercussions for our future. I suspect that if Mr Stevens had been entirely honest with himself and had chosen to act upon his impulses instead of burying them, he would have allowed himself a far more fulfilling life than the one he led. In other words, he would have been happier and would have made others happier, which is the ultimate duty of us all.

I’d like to close with an extract from the novel that contains the essence of the story:

“In any case, while it is all very well to talk of ‘turning points’, one can surely only recognize such moments in retrospect. Naturally, when one looks back to such instances today, they may indeed take the appearance of being crucial, precious moments in one’s life; but of course, at the time, this was not the impression one had…..There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.” ~ Kazuo Ishiguro

 

Lessons I learnt from “A Place in the Sun” (1951), dir: George Stevens

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This a story of an ordinary man who tastes the extraordinary only to realise that life gets cruel and canny the moment you start believing that you could achieve your wildest dreams. Montgomery Clift delivers a captivating, raw and heartbreaking performance as George. Elizabeth Taylor, as Angela embodies the perfection of privileged youth with the addition of deep emotion and the purest intentions. Shelley Winters, as Alice molds a desperate and doomed creature with the help of her distinctive fragile, high-pitched voice and her haunting gaze.

Watching the film I found myself coming up with a few questions spawned from the story, which could be considered my personal moral take-aways of the film. The situation of the tragic figures fermented due to the norms of an obsolete society however, if we gaze upon it with a fresh mind there could be found intertemporal truths and problems.

The reason for that lies on our primal instincts for survival that represent the core of our human nature. Also, tragic circumstances or the so-called “ironies of life” have never ceased to torment our pitiful, mortal existence and they never will. In moments where our survival is threatened, we need to make decisions that help us prevail and move forward in life. They could, nonetheless pose a threat to our well-established truths about ourselves and the things we consider ourselves capable of.

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Q: What makes the better girl (or guy)?

“I love you. I’ve loved you since the first moment I saw you. I guess maybe I’ve even loved you before I saw you.”, George confesses to Angela.

This quote is so rich in context as it adumbrates the source of George’s infatuation with Angela. She is the American Dream, the socialite you see in newspapers, graced with charm and elegance. In other words, her social status in combination with her kindness and genuine sentiment make her the perfect girl, a true Miss America. This divine existence also happens to accept and love him unconditionally right from the beginning (like almost every love declaration in the 50’s cinematic dramas), which makes him feel included into a world of wealth he is dreaming to become part of.

Alice, on the other hand is the chain that would forever hold him captive into poverty, misery and a destitute life.In the beginning, his need for human touch and intimacy in a strange city drew him to her but when new opportunities were born and his dreams started to materialise, Alice represented his past rather than his sunnier future.

A: The fact that you can imagine your future life with her/him because your ambitions for personal and social growth will be better achieved beside her/him. 

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Q: How much should I insist? 

It is painful to watch the scene where Alice, after having discovered the truth about the nature of George’s vacation, goes up to the lake and threatens to expose him. When they meet at the bus station she even goes on saying: “I’ll telephone the newspapers and tell them everything, and then I’ll kill myself”.  Harrowing  is also the scene where she describes her dreams about their common future, even though it becomes clear to her that her plans disgust George.

When blackmail, guilt and duty are the only incentives of a romantic relationship, the future seems bleak. Exerting pressure on someone who is emotionally unstable and clearly unwilling to share your dreams while on boat in a secret, dark location, then who is to be blamed if you end  up at the bottom of Loon Lake keeping company to the fish?

Beyond doubt Alice is the greatest victim of the story as she was desperate and totally dependent on George’s intentions. However, having the justice on your side is not a guarantee that you will get what you deserve. The more exhaustively demanding you become, the more you risk the danger of unleashing the monster inside others.

A: Body language and logic hold the key. The signs of intense distress are universal and easily recognisable. You might be in love and in need but circumstances shift quickly, therefore before placing your full trust into someone and becoming completely vulnerable, you should be sensible enough to prepare yourself for the worst possible scenario. 

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Q: What stands between my ambition and me?

George wants to be loved and feel included. The warmth of his expression when Angela describes her affectionate plans for their upcoming vacation together is deeply touching and transmits this relief that we all feel when unconditional love and acceptance knocks on our door (and with the promise of a luxury life as the cherry on top).

It is a fact that the obstacle is his girlfriend and future mother of his child, Alice and some people could argue their child as well. Abortion gets sadly off the table pretty quickly (although, it wouldn’t harm them if they looked for another doctor…) so Alice’s options are the stigma of promiscuity for the rest of both their lives (yeap..that is off the table too), or a respectful upbringing of her child inside a marriage.

George needs to choose between his happiness and that of Alice. Nowadays, resorting to spurious means could only be perceived as madness however, during an age of unbowed social norms, the only solution for him could be given if she were to disappear from the face of the earth. Of course, he grew up with a mother that served God and asked him to be ” a good boy”, which makes him more prone to guilt than murder.

A: In similar cases only the law and your moral code. An excellent choice of lawyer and a generous budget can save you from the legal repercussions of your murderous activities. Your moral code is initially formed according to your upbringing, but it can significantly change though your life. 

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Q: Guilty, or not guilty… ? 

“Things happen, you just don’t stay the same” – part of George’s apology to Alice.

George has suffered from poverty and social disadvantage all his life and just when his circumstances ameliorate, comes a “baby bomb” to shudder his chances for a better life. The tragic element of the story and George’s personality are the two reasons why I personally empathise with George. He is humble, hard-working and self-motivated, shy and private with his shoulders always leaning forward, covered by a shadow of melancholia. In other words, he does not fit the profile of a relentless, selfish, manipulative man, like the corrupted Tom that murders Dickie and assumes his identity in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999) to serve his best interests.

For George, who did not commit the premeditated murder but didn’t do much to save the drowning Alice either, the answer to my question lies in his prevailing sentiments and desires at the moment of the accident. What was he thinking falling in the water and listening to her screams? The interesting fact is that George doesn’t feel guilty up until the moment the priest suggests this way to unveil the mystery of his culpability. Asking him why he was physically unable to save her, what was crossing his mind during those few seconds.

Bizarre suggestion I would say… George wanted Alice dead for days and was handed the perfect opportunity to get rid of her without murdering her but by letting life take its course, so naturally his thoughts might have been “Is this God’s intervention to save me from a miserable future?! I could finally be happy with the woman I love!”, which is a very humane thing to do but not a highly moralistic, Christian thing to do apparently, thus the priest decides that “Then…in your heart was murder” .

My opinion is that no matter what he was thinking at that exact moment, he was already a sinner at heart. However, my question is this: Why should he blame himself out of a suggestion of what guilt means? It is perhaps for the best interest of our mental state not to ponder on theoretical and moral questions that could lead to our pointless torment, especially when there is nothing to be done (Alice was already dead.. not to mention that he would soon be dead himself).  Finally, it might do some good to admit our fragile nature and be more lenient toward our selfishness (as long as no one dies in the process of course…).

A: Guilt is there only because your environment taught you how to generate, preserve and feel it and it’s up to you to change that. 

 

 

“Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992) dir: Francis Ford Coppola

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It must be the week of horrors for me, as Halloween is almost here and the atmosphere is getting heavier and spookier so do my viewing choices. My theory is that in the midst of autumn, when the sky is already dark as soon as late afternoon and the cold is sharp, we are involuntarily placed in a claustrophobic mental mode. Late last night, before going to bed I decided to watch only one scene from my all time favourite, and admittedly classic film of F.F.Coppola, starring the brilliant Gary Oldman, and of course I ended up watching the entire film again. But it is so hard to resist its powerful and mysterious setting (even when you are more than familiar with the story) that is partly attributed to the incredible and so characteristic score composed by Wojciech Kilar.

Let me note here that I happen to consider the “Twilight” series to be the ultimate hubris of the Vampire genre (vampires are NOT wining, sparkling, cheesy teenagers), so I urge anyone who had enjoyed themselves (somehow) with these films to give this one a shot. Inspired by Stoker’s novel the film portrays the Count’s quest to reunite with his true love Elisabeta four centuries after their cruel separation. Elisabeta’s soul has returned in the (literally identical) body of Mina who loves Jonathan but cannot fight her predestined feelings for Dracula.

The Cast: 

Amongst the talented cast (apart from Keanu Reeves who is truly so inadequate and at times, ridiculously bad that makes me wonder what Coppola saw in him, and Winona Ryder that annoys me most of the time) the following actors made the strongest impression:

  • Gary Oldman is a character actor who brings out the humanity in the Count. The scene in which he abandons his human nature renouncing God and becomes an immortal avenger is breathtaking and fierce. The voice quality that he achieves enhances the mysterious and tormented idiosyncrasy of the character and his laughter is so unique and unforgettable (did I mention it is quite spooky too?!).

Favourite quote:Listen to them: the children of the night. What sweet music they       make.

  • Sadie Frost as Lucy is fantastic and radiant. We meet her as an enthusiastic, playful and childish young lady and later on we witness her while she transforms into a vampire bride, so sexual and ruthless that captivates our attention. The scene in the cemetary where she eventually faces her true death (someone has been watching “True Blood” …) is a beautifully crafted portrayal of the seductive powers she possesses.

Favourite quote: “Come to me, Arthur. Leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry for you, my darling.” (note: her British accent makes all the difference)

  • Anthony Hopkins chooses to become a Prof. Van Helsing far more weird and complex than its previous, most notable and consequential version of Peter Cushing in Dracula (1958) (and in the long series of pointless films that followed the success of the original). Small details, for instance initiating dance with Mina (and smelling her for no apparent reason), the way he scratches his forehead over dinner with the newlyweds, the way he holds the fork, his frantic excitement and huge appetite even during the darkest times make the character unique and slightly mad.

Favourite quote:Civilization and siphilisation have advanced together“.

Wonderful Scenes: 

  • Renouncing God in Romanian.
  • Dracula shaves Jonathan (and unfortunately doesn’t cut his throat to save us from the torment of watching him try for the next hour...)
  • Count’s gift to his brides in the presence of a shocked Jonathan (or so he tried to look but miserably failed..again..).
  • Dracula rapes and feeds from Lucy in the garden.
  • The Count, Mina and the wolf.
  • Lucy’s death

Interesting fact: 

The set is simple but the impeccable costumes created by Eiko Ishioka that fairly won her the Academy Award for Costume Design in 1993 are the true set of the film, according to the director that deliberately invested the film’s budget on them. The Victorian suits and dresses  and the Count’s signature blue sunglasses place the film to the most defining styling references of the 90’s in film. In fact, a pair of red-lensed similar sunglasses made an appearance at the A/W Prada Menswear show in 2012 in Gary Oldman ‘s breast pocket!!

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The following documentary explains the importance of costumes in the film, as they functioned as a crucial storytelling medium.

 

The film is rich, romantic and intimidating. I am obviously biased, as I find the myth of the Dracula fascinating and extremely tragic, and not at all scary. The portrayal of Dracula has remained for years separate from the eroticism that is planted in the story’s very core; what else can be considered as a romantic gesture if not that of a man that inflicts himself with “living death” and patiently waits for the moment when he shall be reunited with his one true love? It was Christopher’s Lee performance in 1958’s Dracula that first resurfaced the sexuality of the character. Oldman’s performance took it a step forward thanks to the script that provided various scenes of seduction that included both romantic promises of eternal love to Mina and raw sexual liberation during (and afterwards…) the encounters with his victim, Lucy. Only two years later comes Interview with a Vampire (1994) to further enhance vampire sexuality by exploring the complicated and toxic relationship between homosexual companions Louis (Brad Pitt) and Lestat (Tom Cruise). Those films can be considered the predecessors of the most recent films and tv series that have established vampires as sex symbols in popular culture.

“The Conjuring 2” (2016) dir: James Wan

the-conjuring

It might strike as a bizarre, yet spontaneous choice to watch and express my thoughts on a horror film being a person that avoids the genre like a demon avoids the cross. However, there come times when a film successfully enhances the fantasies about what lies beyond by narrating a captivating story with a talented cast and by adding the necessary twists of terror with the help of image and sound effects.

The case is inspired by the “Enfield Poltergeist” activities that allegedly haunted the Hodgson family in 1977 and resulted in the demonic possession of their 11 year-old daughter. The Conjuring 2 builds a connection with the previous film that first introduced us to the couple of paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine and that link is achieved by solving an important mystery. The first film makes note of the most intense paranormal vision that stigmatised Lorraine, where she felt being the “closest to hell” but does not reveal any details. It is in this film that the opening scene provides us with all the answers and its psychological and practical aftermath intertwines with the case under investigation.

For the first half of the film we become familiar with the paranormal activities and the psychological profiles of the family members in addition to the Lorraine’s personal struggles who is convinced she has received a serious warning that she is more than unwilling to disrespect. After the first hour the family receives the so deserved help (although doubts are never absent as to the sincerity of the possessed individual), however my thoughts at that point was that I have seen enough of the old man and anticipated the nun’s reappearance on my screen, despite the fact that her physic had scared me to death…The twist at the end refreshing compared to the most common plots out there, but nevertheless a true leap of paranormal imagination. Is it perhaps my inexperience with the genre that prevents me from accepting that a vicious demon dressed as a nun trapped the spirit of an old man (that lacks dental health and vision) to do the dirty work for him…

The scene I enjoyed most in the film was undoubtedly Lorraine’s encounter with the spooky demo/nun in the office, where the smart visual game with Ed’s painting kept you tight and tense. Another beautiful scene was that of Ed’s (successful and sweet) attempt to sing and imitate Elvis in the song “Can’t Help falling in love”. This scene, where the family is reunited under the familiar tunes of a happier and carefree past (before the parents’ divorce and subsequent deprivation of Elvis’ records) is the oasis in the desert of constant terrorism that stems from the spiritual world and the uncertainty of their future. Ed’s voice projects his kindness and Lorraine’s expression her pride for her partner’s efforts to entertain this long-suffering family.

I have to admit at this point that I watched the film in plain day light, and that must have played its part in relaxing my nerves, as the light functioned as a constant reminder of my surroundings. Perhaps this is the reason why towards the end, after the revelation of the plot twist and while facing the most tormenting question, as to whether Lorraine’s premonition is to be fulfilled (and thus thoughts about “The Conjuring 3” would be lost forever in another dimension…) I lost my focus on the terrifying elements and laughed. I found the extermination of the demon so painfully simplistic that left me wondering why was such an accomplished demon so easily intimidated by hearing his name out loud. If that is the case then I am sure such a powerful (thus experienced ?) demon would not reveal his name if that, along with a cross-waving are sufficient for its distraction.

Overall the viewing experience was intense and the plot thick, which compensates for a disappointing 10 minute finale. However, I am certain that watching the film in the dark and especially in one’s lonesome leaves the viewer with an even more haunting sensation that I wasn’t brave enough to face…

 

“Sunset Boulevard” (1950) dir: Billy Wilder

sunset-blv

One of the best pictures in the history of cinema, receiving  11 nominations from the Academy Awards (including nominations in all four acting categories) and finally winning the “Best Writing, Story and Screenplay”,  “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” and “Best Music”.  The film was directed by Billy Wilder and stars William Holden as Joe Gillis, an unsuccessful  screenwriter, who at the verge of losing his precious car finds himself in an empty  garage that belongs to a 20’s vast mansion. There he will make a bizarre encounter with Norma Desmond  portrayed by  Gloria Swanson, a faded  silent movie star now isolated from the public eye with the sole company of her ever devoted butler, Max. There he will discover his personal limitations when it comes to weighing his ambition against his instincts.

Gloria Swanson  (Norma) was particularly theatrical in her performance with the tone of her voice filled with pomposity, waving her hands  with the  long nails like a predator  and pulling her head backwards while goggling her eyes.  She delivered a wonderful performance, with the rest of the cast being equally competent. William Holden delivered a very serious Joe, firm with a decisive tone of voice and a face that betrayed hidden anger when he encountered Norma.

Further Analysis of the Plot:  

Throughout the film there are various memorable scenes that prove its original script. To begin with, the film has a particularly intriguing opening scene with the dead protagonist, floating in a pool, sarcastically narrating the series of events that led him there.

When Joe  first sets eyes on the house we detect the irony because it reminds him of the old woman  from “Great Expectations”, neglected and bitter for having being forgotten by people, without imagining its owner, Norma fits  the description herself. Norma’s face throughout the coverage of the window, lurking and observing him is brilliant.

Another unforgettable part is the formal funeral of the chimpanzee, which offers  a rare scenery. The decoration of the enormous house is  heavy, with flowers and veils, long dark curtains that banish natural light and manage to draw the era of Norma’s zenith and also create a claustrophobic environment.

The scene at the store where Joe realizes he assumed the role of her protégé and lover through the words of the salesman.

The desire to make sure her script, her “brain child” takes flesh and blood leads her back to the Paramount studio. Her visit there is sad and heartbreaking ; Norma is reunited with  Cecil B. DeMille, her mentor that feels true affection for her and informs his coworkers that her rare wit and heart were degenerated by fame. There we find a humorous scene, where the feather of her hat is pushed by the microphone.

Betty Schaefer, a script reader meets Joe and start revising one of his  old stories when they gradually fall in love And although Betty is the exact opposite of Norma and represents his escape from the depressing, threatening relationship. The existence of Betty is hurtful for Norma, especially when Joe’s decision is made between a young, beautiful woman and an old, psychologically decaying one.

Betty is creative and good at writing scripts ( her job), while Norma abandoned her public when she refused to adapt and her attempt to write a script is aesthetically catastrophic. Lastly, Betty feels working behind the cameras is more interesting than acting while the latter is obsessed over her projection. In the middle of the film Joe surrenders to Norma’s fantasies, after her attempted suicide out of guilt and pity.

Towards the end, when Betty finally discovers his secret  I suppose Joe is consumed by his anger with himself, his guilt to have taken advantage of an unstable woman that instead of following Betty to his salvation, he punishes himself by sending her away by being cynical and cruel. This entire scene is beautiful, and revealing for the characters.

After facing Norma , Joe packs his suitcase and tries to leave, ignoring her threats. Norma loses the few remaining shreds of sanity and kills him.

The film closes with a scene of catharsis for Norma ,that in her mental breakdown finally performs once more in front of the cameras and  is dancing as Salome on her way down to the beloved crowd.

Ideas about the film:

A story relevant to human nature, vanity and delusion. The impact of fame to a person’s mind and personality blended with the desire to see the world change back to the old habits and idols, once change and adaptability are discarded. In Norma’s desires and efforts to look younger we see the modern middle aged woman feeling the pressure of maintaining high standards of her physical  appearance, comparing subconsciously herself with the image of the young beautiful woman that never ages, that is always happy and glamorous, the one that stars in films.

On the other hand, Joe represents every ambitious human being that seizes the chance when he sees it. The interesting thing about Joe’s personality is that right at the beginning he seems resourceful, smart and demanding, but through his complicated relationship with Norma we discover him being more passive, sentimental and easily convinced to put aside his wishes out of guilt more than mere ambition. Aside from that and removing the last act of liberation, Joe is a young man that discovers the easy life with a woman much older than him, whose affections and vivid interest is not discouraged not until it is too late, and faces the eternal dilemma, “is it (fame, money, security etc) worth the sacrifice (pretending, selling yourself and your ideals) ?”.

Max is clearly the depiction of a loyal friend/lover who faces a certain psychological instability himself too, when he decides to tie his life with Norma’s, even when that entails having to serve her new husbands/lovers, while at the same time he has to be responsible for maintaining her lifesaving bubble. Last but not least, Betty is the fresh, fun, young, down-to-earth girl that is easygoing, hard-working, focused and very smart. Except for the scene of the party, where together with Joe they make a small sketch, and is very amusing for us there were two other scenes that made me think of her as a mature woman, despite her 22 years of age. The first was the one where she tells her story to Joe, the one about her nose and explains that failing at her acting career was for the best providing valid reasons (“life behind the camera is more interesting” – something that Norma (given her mature age) would be expected to say). The second when Joe throws his sarcastic show at the villa, where she stand listening and comprehending his mistake and asking him to forget everything and leave, once it is still possible because “ I haven’t heard any of this, I haven’t received those phone calls and I’ve never been in this house. Now get your things together and let’s get out of here”.

Memorable quotes :

  • “I am big, it’s the pictures that got small”, the explanation that Norma gives for abstaining from pictures.
  • Max’s comment about the number of the house being similar to that of the pound, because of the numerous phone calls of Betty requesting to talk to Joe ( “the stray dog”), compacts the essence of his feelings about Norma’s romance fantasies.  
  • Preparing for her imagined comeback, Norma undergoes rigorous beauty treatments that leave the audience with the sense of her tormenting obsession. Joe’s memorable attempt to set her straight “There’s nothing tragic about being 50. Not unless you’re trying to be 25”.

“Bringing Up Baby” (1938) dir: Howard Hawks

bub

Let me begin with the fact that this film is one of the funniest I have ever watched. I suppose of course it depends on one’s sense of humour and given that this comedy was released in 1938 makes my comment rather suspicious. However, its simple, even childish misunderstandings and silly gaffes with the priceless contribution of the two most talented performers, Katherine Hepburn as Susan Vance and Cary Grant as David Huxley make this film worth remembering.

David is a serene paleontologist soon to be married approaches Mr Peabody for a donation for the museum, while Susan is an interesting, overactive young lady tha is attracted to David but in her naivety trouble could be easily her second name.

The film provides unforgettable quotes that stick to you, so quick and bright. Katherine Hepburn, “for whom the script was written specifically and was tailored to her personality”, manages to create an adorable creature, so quick-spirited, funny, witty and at the same time so goofy and clumsy that creates all sorts of troubles for poor David.

Her games at the bar with an olive, leaves you tempted to try it yourself next time you will be out for a drink. The entire scene is a wonderful spectacle of ridicule. Their dialogues reminded me of a ping pong game, the velocity with which the words come out of Hepburn’s mouth is rare. What is more, the way Grant cries “ Just a minute Mr. Peabody”, along with his facial expressions towards the troubles Susan brings him are priceless. The scene where her dress gets torn makes me laugh every time, only by observing the details!!

David is a true gentleman that despite his efforts to avoid her, following  his initial impression of her and his survival instincts (apparently), is unable to end their encounters. His caring  nature leads him back to her apartment in order to save her from Baby, the leopard Susan’s brother sent her.

The strangest things happen to them that one day: committing theft, causing a car crash, losing a priceless, rare, dinosaur bone that would complete a four-year old work, digging holes in a vast garden, bizarre dinners with unconventional clothes, facing prison sentence, fighting a wild leopard, singing to a tamed leopard, burning clothes, falling into lakes, endlessly arguing, endlessly flirting, acting as a gang member and finally ruining public paleontological property!

Well it is needless to say that there is no deeper meaning deriving from the film, Susan is the troublesome young lady who from the moment she sheds eyes on her love interest messes his life, at times willingly but mostly not so. David on the other hand is un-experienced to the matters of the heart and of the world outside his museum (ready to marry a boring, austere woman) but nevertheless a true gentleman and an extremely patient man, that is finally rewarded having found the “right” woman for him.