24 December 2007

Myths Demystified

Merry Christmas everyone! It's Christmas Eve today and I haven't done much but reading my students' work. I'm not going to write any reviews today, but will set out to demystify some of those beliefs that we've heard so many people say. The source is from Bangkok Post (Sunday 23 December 2007).

Here's the list:

(1) We need to drink eight glasses of water a day.
(2) Reading in dim light is likely to damage your eyesight.
(3) Shaving makes hair grow back faster and coarser.
(4) Eating turkey makes you drowsy.
(5) We use only 10% of our brain.
(6) Hair and fingernails continue to grow after death.
(7) mobile phones are dangerous in hospitals as they interfere with medical equipment.

All these are untrue! This comes as a blessing on Christmas Eve, as I can't drink eight glasses of water, but rather prefer to drink eight cups of coffee instead.

Now I'll list another 7 myths that turn out to be true:

(1) Reading someone else's blogs means you're nosy.
(2) Writing too many blogs interferes with my work.
(3) Interesting people don't write blogs; they socialise.
(4) The film Love of Siam can turn straight people gay. Being gay has never been so cool. Mom, I want to be gay and lonely ...
(5) Cats are dependent, needy, and greedy. They want someone to be next to them all the time!
(6) Life has never been fair. Sorry, folk, that I am too lucky sometimes. Also, sorry to hear that your life is shit.
(7) My attempt to get rid of my cynicism fails miserably.

Have a great time this Christmas and hope you'll come back and secretly read my blog again. Let me thank your whole-hearted attention for the whole year with this lovely image of Santa, who is not quite amused.


17 December 2007

Senza Sangue ไร้เลือด

Senza Sangue is another quality novel from Alessandro Baricco. Thanks to its size, I managed to finish it all in one day despite many visits from both my students and colleagues. I even took it to the office loo and read it there when nature called -- sadly the toilet seemed an intellectual sanctuary in this case.

Like Seta (or Silk) and Novecento (or The Legend of 900), Baricco manages to convey eloquence through reticence. The novel itself is divided into two parts, one happening long before the other which acts like an aftermath. It entails how a woman needs to come to terms with her horrendous past, in which her father and her brother were mercilessly killed, presumably as an act of revenge.

It probably is not too illogical to label Senza Sangue a holocaust novel, in which a wartime experience or consequence comes back to haunt the characters. In this case, the female victim's life is turned upside down because of that cruel homicide.

Baricco's decision to divide the novel into two parts is a poignant narrative strategy, as it raises questions as to how one rewrites or revisits one's own trauma. In this novel, we see how this woman Nina struggles to come to terms with her trauma through silence and willful non-communication, strategies which function as self-defence mechanisms for her. She is portrayed as 'without blood' partly to reflect how the past experience and the trauma have dehumanised her, reducing her to a machine. Yet, through Baricco's skillful descriptive rendering, one can also feel her loneliness, her need to reach out, her longing to be human, and these fragile needs are subtly hidden.


In the first part, while Nina is the victim, Tito is the perpetrator. In the second part, there is clearly a role reversal. When Nina meets Tito once again many years later when Tito is a lottery seller, she has too many questions to ask, most of which of course do not receive proper responses from Tito. We also see Tito hurt by this kind of inquisition, as a period of many decades has rewritten that past for him, and it turns out he finds some of his actions absurd. Their dialogue and silence are a gem that is worth scrutinising. Of course, Tito is also hurt and lonely.

Towards the ending the development of their relationship has become something that I really cherish, as Baricco sweetly portrays both human weakness and strength (or its pretension) through their actions and reactions.

I think this novel is better read more than once and the more you read, the more you'll be drawn into the abyss of human emotional complexities. I surely will pick this novel up again and enjoy its subtle messages hidden under a simple disguise.

10 December 2007

10 Things I Adore About CSI


CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) is on cable every Wednesday and every Sunday on AXN Channel. Needless to say, I get hooked to the show, so much that on Sunday I don't do much but laze about and wait for the three-hour CSI omnibus. To my knowledge, there're three CSIs: Las Vegas, New York, and Miami. I love the plot of CSI: Las Vegas the most, love the cast of CSI: New York the most, and love the editing and bossa-nova atmosphere of CSI: Miami the most.

Well, to begin with, I don't think I can actually list ten reasons why I adore this show but I'll make an attempt nevertheless.

1) Contrary to what the majority of CSI viewers may think, I believe that CSI is a kind of romance. It's a detective romance whereby every crime is eventually solved. I love to watch it partly because of this almost always 'happy' ending, in which all evidence nicely leads to a culprit. There's no evidence excessive as it always turns out to be relevant. Watching the show thus gives therapeutic (or hypnotic) effect, as it implies that everything can and will be solved in due time. In reality, it's surely not what happens. Cops are normally badly paid and they surely are not a bunch of clever people, like the CSI teams. Evidence can be tempered with and corruption abounds. It's interesting to see that the show itself tries to downplay these two significant, yet highly complex, factors that can affect the search for the culprit. So yes I love to watch it as it takes me away from the complexity of the real world where culprits still get off scotch-free and cops are still not as efficient.

2) It's not too long. Each episode lasts about 40 minutes, the period I find perfect for viewing and understanding such a complicated plot. I need to confess that sometimes I find watching a two-hour feature film such a commitment. I'd rather watch 30-minute Simpsons, as it's more digestible and I can resume doing other stuff, such as washing dishes, ironing, stroking the cat, or all three together. Also, watching films also means writing more entries in this blog -- another commitment. With CSI, I don't need to write any more apart from this one. :)

3) Most characters are good-looking. I don't know why but maybe it's linked to my first point about romance. As CSI is a kind of romance, no one expects it to abide by all rules of the real world. With this point in mind, the producers decide to spruce up their shows by making most team members good-looking, especially in the CSI: Miami, where the cast (well, apart from Horatio Caine who sports too many wrinkles) seems to parade out of fashion magazines. Of course, this contrasts nicely with the real world, where normally in police stations you don't expect to see any good-looking people, but burnt-out, jaded police officers with pot bellies.

4) Poetic Justice. Everyone who commits a crime is punished. In the CSI world, moral rules are very effective and karma seems to be always at work. Bad politicians get punished and thrown to lions (well, this is a bit exaggerated) and most of these criminals are greedy, corrupt, and evil. They don't normally show the case where murderers are mothers who innocently commit a crime in order to protect their children. This will be too complex and the audience will sympathise with the criminals. No good. The audience needs to hate the criminals and they need to be penalised. Complexities of intention are downplayed, especially when these entail the 'bad' status of the culprit.

5) All three CSI teams are colourful race-wise. They're from all over the place: black, Hispanic, Chinese, you name it. But of course it'd have been nicer to have some disabled people there too, like some smart alec in a wheel-chair who can answer every question and behave like an oracle decipher at Delphi. I know I'm going too far but from my experience most of the representations of the disabled swing between two extremes: the miserable victim and the wise hermit. Well, at least having the teams multiracial is acceptable, but what I still find awkward is that the team leaders of all three are still white men. Maybe the teams themselves signify the US of A, where the leader of other colours is still an unthinkable choice.


6) The body. The show is both frank and manipulative when it comes to portraying our body. Dissection is normal but we are shown only certain parts of the body. Reproductive organs are still under-represented. But the show does raise questions about our emotion invested in seeing our body so frail and defenceless. Also, we are not shown the inside of the body, as much as the outside. Cuts and wounds are normal, but we are not just as much allowed to see the damage done to internal organs or bodily fluids associated with body dissection. I guess the show both problematises and reinforces our abjected feeling towards the body.


7) Most deaths are extraordinary. Some die crucified, some die jumping out of the balcony, some die with part of their head ripped off, some die on the spotlight. Of course if deaths are normal, no one is going to watch it. We all would like to know why these eccentric deaths occur. Apart from that, some events in the show are extremely improbable yet possible too, like three identical twins try to kill a man for money. Of course I find this hilarious, but who'd have thought much about it? It's a romance anyway.

8) I seem to gain a lot of knowledge of chemistry, like if you combine nitrogen and potassium you'd get blah blah blah ... well, to tell you the truth, I don't remember much of this knowledge. But the show is full of them, some of them so fantastical that I don't know whether it's true or just a make-up to make the show interesting. But anyway, if you like to get an A for your chemistry subject or to find a good way to kill your friend, this is the show to look out for.


9) I want to be good after watching the show. After seeing Horatio Caine strutting about like a hero in Chinese action films, I am inspired to walk like him with a fire bomb detonated in the background, to talk with honeyed eyes to a victim, or to finish talking in mid-sentence not caring whether my interlocutor understands me or not and then walk away (but don't know where to!). I confess that of course I lie when I say this, as CSI: Miami seems to make this stylisation excessive and put the character of Horatio Caine on the brink of stupidity.

10) Even though the show does glamorise crimes, it does also glamorise the search for a culprit. By making their DNA tests and scans something of beauty, the show gets across the message that the police will get at you eventually. Of course many deaths are portrayed in aesthetically beautiful positions (like in quality paintings or like deaths caused by Hannibal Lector) and it may not be too far-fetched to say that they aestheticise the crime by making it beautiful and sublime. But unlike Hannibal Lector's series, they aestheticise the hunt too, how the teams rationalise, using the existing evidence to find the culprit. The harmony of teamwork is also a beauty too. I think in this lies the show's responsiblity for creating the moral sense in the public (even though I do admit that they exploit the representation of crime a little).
--

So here is the list of ten reasons why I adore the CSI. I don't mean that CSI is excellent in all counts but these ten reasons are what makes the experience of viewing the CSI valuable: it's an experience of learning more from life, art, and artistic perception in general, using the CSI as a channel.

27 November 2007

Love of Siam รักแห่งสยาม

(There're a lot of spoilers in this review. Read it at your own risk.)


Some say we need to write to exorcise the evil in us, some say we need to write to heal the pain, some say we need to write to say who we are, some say we need to write to make lies become truths ...


With Love of Siam, writing its review can be any of this. For me, the film is too close for comfort. I grew up and studied in an all-boy Christian school, had some good and bad memories there, but of course I didn't have any musical talent (so I couldn't be Mew), and I didn't have a robot as a girlfriend (so I couldn't be Tong either). But something in the film did strike a chord and left me speechless after watching the film. We watched the film on Saturday and I left loneliness to eat my heart at the core for two days before writing this review.


The film entails the coming-of-age stories of at least four main characters (Tong, Mew, Ying, and Donut) and the estranged relationship between Korn and Sunee (Tong's parents). Tong's sister disappeared mysteriously when he was young and the family has been falling apart since then. Father addicted to alcohol and Mother becoming Hitler. It's no one's fault, of course.

What I like about the film are (1) a good no-nonsense script (2) superb acting (3) good symbolism (strictly in that order). I can't believe that the director is only in his late twenties. Well, coming to think about it, I think this may be the best time of our life to direct a film about love among teenagers -- one's neither too pessimistic nor too optimistic. If he chooses to write and direct this in his forties or fifties, he might not believe in love anymore. :)

It's a film full of complexities and contradictions and I think this makes the film a precious item. One of the main contradictions is its genre -- it sets out to be a romance, yet its twist at the end really makes us wonder and leads us first to anger and then to puzzlement and then to understanding of the conditions of life. Of course I admit that I was annoyed when the film finished as I thought that Tong and Mew should've got together as a reward for my silence for the past two hours and a half (whilst the rest of the audience became urang-utangs, shrieking and shouting during the screening, especially with THAT scene when Tong and Mew are at it).

Well, when I come to think seriously about it, maybe Tong needs to be with his family, taking care of his Mom before she's completely transmogrified into a fuhrer-cum-psychopath. So what we have here is no longer a shallow romance, but something indescribable. A sense of responsibility perhaps, but one may of course wonder whether Tong will eventually get married and have a gay relationship at the same time. Hmm ... and who will suffer, if not his wife and his Mom? So I think this ending is realistic and at the same time presupposes ensuing series of problems. Who knows whether in the future Tong may get drunk and be like his Dad, leaving his wife estranged too? And of course it's going to get worse as this time there's no love between them.

Thinking about love, I think this film exemplifies the belief that love cannot solve everything. Korn and Sunee love each other but their love doesn't lead to happiness, because to love for them is also to hold on something. Korn's love for Taeng turns him into an alcoholic loser, and Sunee's love for Tong only makes him hide his homosexual tendency. Maybe the film wants to say that when you love someone, you need to set that special someone free. You can't entrap them forever. I get the feeling that in this film 'family' is a pejorative term, a form of entrapment, especially a father-mother-son-daughter family. Mew's family is much better, much liberated, with only his grandmom and him. Despite loneliness and isolation, Mew seems to understand himself more than his friends and even say 'thank you' to Tong at the end. Mew is simply too nice but not innocent (he's a slut sometimes -- I can tell from how he looks at Tong seductively).

OK, if this form of family is oppressive, maybe that's why the director decides to have a 'tragic' ending, in which love is reciprocated but a relationship as such cannot be formed. I think we're treading into the so-called unconditional love which is theoretically purer than other kinds of love (even motherly love, I guess). In this way, both Tong and Mew love each other but neither of them will, or can, expect anything in return. This may be the only form of love that can survive untainted in the contemporary world of evils, seductions, guiles, robotic Donuts, drunk fathers, workaholic moms, and lonely teenagers resorting to alcohols and drugs. (Well, I don't like this unconditional kind of love, to be honest; it looks romantic in the film but I'm sure in reality it's a piece of shit!)
---
Well, let's talk about acting. Everyone seems to do their job fine. Plaudits go to Sinjai Hongthai for her superb performance as a feminine Hitler, both hurt and power-crazed. Korn is ok. Tong may be a robot but his eyes manage to play the role for him. Mew is a slut! I really think he's gay. Ying is so-so at the beginning, but starts to shine towards the end, when her role becomes more complex. Her form of love is very idealistic: her tears and facial expression at the end show both pain and delight, pain to see her Mew about to lose (if not having lost!?!) his virginity to Tong, and delight to see Mew happy. But alas ... if only she sees what really turns out ...
---
Donut ... Donut ... Donut ... I'm sure a lot of people out there will say that she's crap. But for me she's the BEST. By being Donut (i.e., a robot), she manages to portray the complex conditions of contemporary urban teenagers, insensitive to beauty and joy in their lives, yet hungry for these at the same time. The fact that she acts like a robot may seem like bad acting, but it turns out to be realistic. If you go to Siam Square, I'm sure you're going to find a lot of teenagers talking like Donut, eating like Donut, being an automaton like Donut, insensitive and lost like Donut, and last but not least CLUELESS like Donut. This is of course pretty sad, but at least being clueless for these teenagers is better than being aware and then being sensitive and then being lonely and hurt like Mew. Who would you choose to be? So for me, being clueless is actually a form of self-preservation.
---
Oh, I forgot about June and Taeng. Are they the same person? Of course they're not. June/Taeng functions like a token, a symbol to show that shit really happens, people really do disappear and never come back. Tong's family needs to come to terms with this disappearence -- there's no magic or coincidence.
---
So, what's the lesson of this film? Love and loss are just two sides of the same coin, maybe. But I would go further. I think the director wants to pose a question: what will you do when you realise this? Some choose to hold onto illusion, like Korn. Some choose to keep this repressed but try to hold onto what remains and makes the best of it, like Sunee, even though sometimes her good will may turn into a form of domination. Some are simply lost without anything to hold onto, like Tong. Some choose to shut themselves in the well of loneliness, like Mew. Some choose to ignore all this, becoming an insensitive robot, like Donut. Some choose to let go and see happiness blossom in other people's hearts, like Ying. These are ways that people choose and I can't say which is better than the others. We are too human to make a judgement.
---
So here I leave you all to ponder. Love of Siam is really a film about 'love' and it does portray the full complexities of the term.

18 November 2007

Rope


Rope, a famous film by Hitchcock, is another suspense worth watching, not only for its riveting plot but also its homoerotic overtone. Needless to say, Hitchcock's name guarantees its superb editing and no-nonsense storytelling.

The plot centres on two young men, Brandon and Philip, who just finishes the perfect murder of their friend David Kently. The murder is inspired by their former teacher's rather cynical view of killing, that there exists such an 'art of murder' in which the inferior fall victim to the superior. Ethics is in this sense created by the winner rather than by the loser. I personally found this rather grim view inspired by the WWII, the impact of which was still ongoing when the film was made in 1948, harking back to Hitler and his compatriots who mercilessly killed millions of Jewish people without any sense of remorse.

What is interesting, though, is the representation of gay people as being able to perpetrate this atrocious act. Clearly aesthetes, both Brandon and Philip are implicitly represented as gay, as both stay in the same apartment and plan to go on holiday together after the party. Some may say that the murder committed by them represents a revenge gay people may wish to take upon society at large which oppresses them. But I beg to differ. I think queer people are blessed, not only with knowing all the social rules, but also with knowing how to play and negotiate with these rules. With social stigmata, they realise that social rules are nothing but social constructs aimed at marginalising some minorities, and these rules are not founded upon the absolute, transcendental truth, but contingent conditions. This understanding makes gay people rather cynical and sophisticated, questioning social ethics and morals.

But of course this sophisticated (some may label this 'postmodern') view on life is out of place at the time of the Second World War, where leniency and play were juxtaposed with the mass murder, whose effect was both palpable and close. This view is therefore severely put under fire. I think somehow the film questions this ruthless 'ethics' of postmodernism even before postmodernism is made into a tangible current. In other words, the film puts forth the limits of postmodern ethics of 'anything goes' and calls for a reconsideration of some absolute ground rules.

How about queer representation? I think they are unlucky in this film, as they are linked with this postmodern view. Sexual orientation and intentional killing are so far different on the scales of ethics. By juxtaposing them together in a single matrix of representation, the film makes scapegoats out of gay people, which somehow is as terrible as gay-bashing.

10 November 2007

4 months 3 weeks and 2 days


I hate Gabita. She's one of the most annoying characters I've ever encountered so far in world cinema. I'm talking about 4 months 3 weeks & 2 days, a Romanian film directed by Cristian Mungiu. Gabita is an innocent girl who got pregnant and decides to have an abortion. (Well, to say that she's innocent is wrong -- I hardly believe that women who get pregnant after consenting sex are innocent. Psychologically, I believe they try to "act" innocent because they think men like it. Personally, I think it's one of the willful guiles women have. This of course is related to what Thai people call "ab baew", something that I'll tackle later in this blog if I have time and energy.)

The trouble is ... Gabita is living in Communist Romania, where abortion, let alone extramarital sex and foreign cigarettes, can make you go to jail. She needs to ask her too-good-to-be-true friend Otilia to help out. Otilia needs to meet a surgeon, book a hotel room, have sex with the surgeon, and get rid of Gabita's foetus, while Gabita does nothing but spreading her legs in the hotel room waiting for the foetus to come out and recovering from pain. It's so unfair. I can't believe how irresponsible Gabita can be. I think Otilia is too good by consenting to do all this. Had I been Otilia, I wouldn't have hesitated to give her a good slap on her face to bring back her conscience. Of course, the film addresses the current problem Romania needs to face with the onslaught of capitalism, but for me the main point is a personal relationship between these two people, and how Gabita exploits their relationship for her own ends.

Otilia has her own problems too. Her boyfriend belongs to a different class, as his father is a doctor and their family lives in a comfortable urban apartment. By contrast, Otilia lives in a dorm and her family is by no means significant. If she becomes pregnant, she's definitely in an inferior position. That's why Gabita's problem puts strain on her relationship with her boyfriend, as it's not just gender, but class, that she's at a disadvantage.

The film attempts with great success to portray the reality of the whole thing. The whole event just happens in one day, sticking to the unity of time -- one day that I wouldn't surely want to experience.

Help me eros

Help me eros or Bangbang wo aishen is one of the films that was screened at the recent film festival here at Esplanade. Thanks went to Tik for complimentary tickets for this wonderful film. It's another film that attempts to make urban loneliness beautiful. The main characters are Ah Jie and Chyi, whose sophisticated romance develops in loveless Taipei.


Ah Jei is a suicidal man who grows marijuana at home. It may not totally wrong to say that he's a loser in a dog-eat-dog urban arena, with nothing to look forward to. Desire is important in this film. Even though Chyi falls for Ah Jie, it doesn't seem their love is romantically reciprocated in a traditional sense. Of course they have sex, but sex has been rendered worthless in this city. (Chyi herself works as a hostess.) Ah Jie also longs for another woman, a beautiful girl whom he takes to be the person who responds to his helpline calls. But it turns out the real woman who is attentive to his calls and problems is an overweighed woman, estranged in her relationship with a husband who is more interested in cross-dressing, rather than her love.



Somehow the complicated situation reflects the mental state of urbanites who are never satisfied with their present state, always on the lookout for a brighter future, more money, etc. No one seems to be happy in this film, but somehow this state of unhappiness is made beautiful. The scene to look for is a sexual scene where patterns of luxury bags such as Vuitton, Fendi, etc. are projected on the naked bodies, perhaps signifying that bodies are commodities as well as the need for this luxury "branding" to survive in the urban space. Also, the scene with the overweighed woman lying in a bath with phallic eels. I think these two surreal scenes say just about everything about the film.

21 October 2007

Slither


Spoilers alert!


Slither happened to be on cable TV last night and I happened to watch it and didn't feel guilty to enjoy it! Though there're not many elements that were worth remembering, the film enjoyed parodying itself and pushing its exploitations to the limits.

What I mean is that it sort of knows what it's doing and knows what the audience is expecting. It doesn't aim to be a classic like Schindler's List. On the contrary, it knows fully well that it's just a horror flick and the audience doesn't expect moral teaching but just having a good time with lots of disgusting slimy things. Well, it sort of borders on what people call 'bad taste'.

The film is set somewhere rural in the US, where people still sport a provincial outlook. The main protagonist is an ugly guy called Grant who happens to have a beautiful wife, Starla. The whole town gossips how such a beautiful lady has chosen an ugly husband to be her partner, but of course that's the main point of the film -- prejudice. But Grant is not a good but ugly guy, but a wicked one, so we the audience don't have any remorse to see him gradually transform into an evil lump that somehow looks like a giant octopus. The reason is he's got an alien grow inside him and it controls his thinking and makes him even more wicked and greedy. Of course it's contagious and he distributes his evil seeds to one of his mistresses (who turns into a really really big hungry lump).

I did some research into this film by visiting some websites, including IMDB. Their funny keywords for this film are 'tentacle rape', 'disfigurement', 'nose bleeding', and 'exploding body'. But of course under these layers of grotesqueries hide a subtle politics of horror concerning our human body. My opinion is that it's basically greed and lust that Grant is spreading the whole town. It wouldn't be too much, I hope, to link these negative traits to capitalism and its consequences that are being unleashed. The result is simple: these traits turn people into zombies with no mind of their own, but that which is manipulated by big transnational companies who play with our desire. We can no longer control our body, as it is controlled by multi-million businesses through adverts and propaganda.

Grant can't control his desire, being both a womaniser and a rich man. Sadly, he's also ugly. Had he been handsome, we surely would've had different reactions. This also tells us something about our contemporary society. Lust and greed make people dwell on surface, we revel only on the level of the superficial and the external. The film stresses this point by making Grant ugly so that we can't sympathise with him for too much and so that the moral message is brought to light easily.

I don't have problems with the moral message of this film, but how the moral message itself is dependent on such a superficial representation just makes me wonder whether it's contradictory.

01 October 2007

Wings of Desire


Song of Childhood
By Peter Handke

When the child was a child
It walked with its arms swinging,
wanted the brook to be a river,
the river to be a torrent,
and this puddle to be the sea.

When the child was a child,
it didn’t know that it was a child,
everything was soulful, and
all souls were one.....


Directed by Wim Wenders, Wings of Desire is a pretty dense film with poetical dialogues and very good messages. My colleague Silvia once told me about the film which she rented from our library and said that I must in all cases see the film and discuss it with her. Two years later, Dechito did see the film last week and Silvia is already back in Italy enjoying spending time with her boyfriend Stefano in her villa in Crema. It goes without saying that in Dechito's world time is a miraculous thing and seems to go slower than time outside his world (or, to put it bluntly, Dechito is such a lazy git and always does things in a much slower pace than anybody else).


Well, the film is about a group of angels who enjoy being voyeurs having a good sneak at people around them. Having an advantage of invisibility, they can come and go and overhear what the mortal talk. (Hmm ... thinking about it ... I really want to be like them! I've already got a list of whom I should stalk ...) Anyway, Damiel (one of the angels starring Bruno Ganz) doesn't want just to stalk and enjoy this voyeuristic privilege. He does want to have a real life and taste mortality. The film centres around this question: whether to be mortal and enjoy the ups and downs of life, or to be immortal and be on the safe side. However, I think Damiel is cheating: he's already been an angel and known what it's like to be up there comtemplating down below. I don't have such a choice! So I need to subscribe to his belief that it's noble to be born and enjoy suffering and happiness because that'll make your life as colourful as it should've appeared on a Sony WEGA TV set. (Why WEGA? Because it's the make and model we have. No psychoanalytical reading please).
Talking about colour, Wim Wenders does have fun switching from black-and-white to colour and vice versa. When he uses the camera to portray what angels see, he chooses black-and-white. When he uses the camera to portray what mortals see, he chooses colour. The simple reason is that angels have seen too much, have experienced too much, have heard too much, everything is at once so banal and repetitive. I should like to direct my secret readers to read Borges's short story 'The Immortal' to understand this blase feeling. I think it's probably something like marking some 300 essays on the same topic -- I'm not joking about this, I'm actually marking them and need to submit the results some time next week!


Another important subject in the film is desire. Damiel wants to forfeit his status as an angel partly because he is after a circus acrobat who sports a fake pair of wings. Even though she's portrayed as an angel, her life is burdened with a lot of problems. It's ironic that Damiel sympathises with her and wants to forfeit his real wings and go after these fake wings instead. Well, love does conquer all and he's all set to shoulder all human problems, even though we as viewers foresee all sorts of problems awaiting him (no money, no clothes, no home, etc. but at least the heaven is kind enough to give him his armour suit to sell).

What I like about this film is setting. It's set in Berlin and when Damiel falls down from heaven, he's awake next to a long wall painted in colour. Maybe this is what I've gathered from the film (despite my drowsy state whilst watching this film): walls, boundaries, thresholds, etc. are indispensable as it makes human life meaningful. If we are all omnipotent, how boring would that be? But if we can have a glimpse of what we may have but are not allowed to, immediately we have longing and need.

A case in point is in the Bible: if God doesn't forbid Adam and Eva from eating an apple from the tree of knowledge, they wouldn't have wanted it that much as I'm sure there're other infinitely better stuff in heaven anyway -- nectar, ambrosia, cookie'n'cream ice-cream, sticky rice and mango, etc. It's just that we humans are a bunch of nutcases who want things that are forbidden to us. I'm sure when Damiel assumes a real life of human being and spends more time with Marion (that circus acrobat), they'll start bickering and throwing things at each other. Well, Wim Wenders may say that exactly what he calls life and we should cherish it. If one chooses life, it means one subscribes not only to the good bits, but its downside too.

Life is fun because it has limitations, full of lacks and deficiencies. Life is a series of problem-solving negotiations and challenges. Life is full of suffering but suffering makes our life meaning, especially when we can learn or overcome that ordeal. So I guess Damiel is a masochist, don't you think? I, on the other hand, want to swap places and be an angel first. A busy schedule ahead, I'm sure!

21 September 2007

The History Boys


It's raining pretty heavily in Bangkok today and I quite like it, even though it's a bit of an ordeal to get back home. The uni hosted a charity concert this evening and the whole hall was quite packed. There was a surprise appearance of two ex-Chaliang members who performed one of their old songs. It reminded me of the old days when the band presented themselves as an optimistic alternative to the rather jaded Thai music industry. That one-time wonder was actually something very extraordinary, especially when we bear in mind the present-day standards of musical production which is sadly trite, confirming what Adorno and Horkheimer define as 'the culture industry', in which 'real' originality and talents are as scarce as people who buy legal CDs or DVDs in Thailand.

Anyway, enough complaining. Last weekend we had a chance to watch The History Boys, an English film directed by Nicholas Hytner based on Alan Bennett's script. It's quite touching and somehow oozes a lot of Britishness. The whole cast is carefully devised with token representatives from all groups of people: the good-looking one, the poor one, the fat one, the sporty one, the Indian one, the Black one, the religious one, and the gay one. But these ones turn out to be male and clever only, as they are all set to be groomed to enter Oxbridge. I think Bennett is aware of sexism this may have caused, so he uses the mouthpiece of Ms Lintott to complain about history being a series of mistakes committed by men and women are clearly excluded from this history-making. I wouldn't say that using Ms Lintott to balance this sexist undertone is right but was wondering whether Bennett himself is perpetrating this patriarchal myth knowingly by choosing to present the HIStory about boys anyway.

Sexism aside, what I think is great about this film is the script -- you get a lot of things to ponder after the film finishes. One of the things that Hector says touches me: it goes like 'one of the most difficult tasks of the teacher is to make his/her students realise that s/he is also human and the good teacher will try to make them realise this'. (I'm not sure this is exactly what they say, but if my memory is not too much like a sift, it should be quite like this.) Hector tries to show his students that he's also human, subject to homosexual desire, and his students are fully aware of that but never uses this to discriminate him. Perhaps in this way he's a better teacher than those who don't practise what they preach but turn out to reinforce the evils of double standard that are prevalent in contemporary society. The reason why he's called Hector is perhaps linked to his bravery in doing what he believes is right, like Hector of Troy, who dares to fight against Achilles even though he knows fully well that he's going to lose. Yet to stand up for what one believes or why justifies one's existence is what distinguishes Hector from other Greek heroes.

The film revolves around the clash of the titans -- Hector and Irwin, each representing different ways of teaching and gaining knowledge. Hector symbolises a traditional (and ideally humanistic) way of teaching, believing that to teach is to inspire. Irwin, however, begs to differ, as, for him, to feel is not as good as to play -- education is nothing but a game that needs good planning and strategies to get you through big universities. For Hector, knowledge should not be quantified as it has the plain purpose of edification of the whole personality, to make one grow up as a 'complete' human, whereas quantification is very important for Irwin as the school (as represented by a larger-than-life schoolmaster that reminds me of Principal Skinner of The Simpsons) needs to set records and students winning scholarships will contribute to the increase in budgets allocated to the school. Perhaps Bennett is satirising the contemporary view on education, in which everything needs to be evaluated on quantitative terms, and those that cannot be quantified (which are definitely more important, like the improvement of morality, maturity, and responsibility) are sadly overlooked.

I think I could catch a nostalgic feeling for traditional education in this film. Nowadays it's very difficult to find someone who likes poetry so much they can recite a full poem. In fact, poetry itself is a subject abhorred by students as they rather get quick fix from reading something that yields instant pleasure and knowledge, such as self-help books that are in clear format and ultra-reader-friendly. One needs time to ponder on poetry and it seems we have so little time to dwell on it nowadays we just discard poetry all together. In its place is a new way of teaching -- to look for gaps, errors, and hidden prejudices related to class, gender, etc. I'm not saying that this is wrong, but it's worth contemplating whether this will end up making students pessimistic.

However, I don't think we can return to Hector's world but we should somehow combine the good bits of Hector and Irwin. Irwin privileges the 'celebral' side of knowledge at the expense of happiness -- he seems like a good strategist, but we all know that a strategist seems to be too busy in thinking to be happy. Perhaps what we learn from this film is to negotiate carefully between to think and to feel. I think the gist of the film is this: the students learn how to steer through their lives through the comparison of these two teachers, rather than from their actual teaching. By seeing how different the ways of life their two teachers are, they realise that life is complex and can be led in more than one way and it's hardly possible to say which one is right. This is perhaps the 'real' education they get from this school. Not just that. The surprise ending also confirms that the actual teaching in classroom is not as effective as what the students can gather for themselves in real life.

I think it's getting too complicated and I won't blame you readers if you find my writing hard to understand. It's well past midnight and I had a long day ...

16 September 2007

Stepford Wives เมืองนี้มีความลับ



(Spoiler alert!)


The past week I got a chance to read Stepford Wives for the first time, after hearing about it for a long time. It's a fun read and the Thai translation didn't fare too bad. The plot is pretty straightforward, following suit the tradition of the suspense novel. Joanna Eberhart moves from New York to a small, yet pristine town of Stepford. The town has no crime records, no poor people, and every woman is beautiful and has big boobs, to the delight of their husbands. I'm pretty sure most of you out there must've known the plot, which is so much reproduced and parodied. Yet, the sheer amount of repetitions and parodies reflect the poignant and well-crafted plot, thanks to the talent of Ira Levin. (It's quite surprising to learn that a male writer can create a plot that captures the imagination of feminists!)

The truth that lies behind the perfection of Stepford may be linked to a pretty well-established tradition in Western literature, from romantic texts such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Hawthorne's 'Rappaccini's Daughter', and Hoffmann's 'The Sandman' to modern films such as The Invasion of Body Snatchers and The Village of the Damned. The use of robots as a conclusion may entail what Freud calls 'the uncanny', which points towards the unknown or the mysterious in something familiar or well-acquainted. In fact, in his essay on 'the uncanny', Freud does mention the use of robots and discuss its impact in Hoffmann's 'The Sandman' in great detail.

What the uncanny in this film points towards is perhaps that the identity of women is split in essence. This division at the core of female identity is perhaps the reason why the film is pretty errie, especially in its portrayal of female images -- not that they're so far from truth, but that they're so essentially true (of course, despite the exaggerations). Some women set these images in Stepford as their goal, aiming to be picture perfect to please their husband. Even Eberhart herself (I believe unwittingly) tries to please her husband, both physically and sexually. This division (to please men and to fight men) lies at the heart of female identity. This may be the reason why despite the overall picture at present that modern women have rights to do things and may do things better than men, when they see Stepford women still enjoy pleasing their husbands and doing household chores they can't help feeling nonplussed, not in the least because what these Stepford women do may be part of the desire that modern women keep repressed.

Well, what I'm getting at is this: that patriarchy is so strong and powerful that women, despite living in modern times, can perpetrate under this regime without knowing, as it penetrates into the deepest layers of their psyche. Even though we're at the moment (I believe) facing the third phase of feminism in which sexual difference is not as important as an investigation into the process whereby how this difference comes about in the first place, we cannot deny that it's the idea diffused only in the academia or among urban people who receive western education. Suburban or rural people, like people in Stepford, put their priority elsewhere: men, of course. (Even some of my colleagues and students, despite their well-grounded knowledge of feminism, still talk about men and how to get them!)

This fact can be related to another startling notion: that women, more than men, may be a main engine behind this sexual inequality. In the book, it's Bobbie who may have killed Joanna with a knife in the kitchen (symbolically a woman's weapon in a woman's space). This may reflect another dimension: that some women may enjoy the image of Stepford's feminine ideal and negotiate from that standpoint instead -- like using their wiles and charms to trick their husbands. They may resent putting themselves into the roles traditionally designated as masculine, such as bus drivers, miners, and engineers. They may want men to give up their seats for them on bus, etc. That's the reason why there's a good twist in the film, which emphasises the role of women in perpetrating the patriarchal ideology.
Well, we can call our moment now a disillusioned one, where women not only need to negotiate with men's power, but with their own repressive needs and desires (part of these of course are influenced by patriarchy). Women need to be frank with these and negotiate with their own ideals set out in the first and second phases of feminism. Hence, at the moment we have chicklit, which clearly shows that one of their priorities now is finding a good partner, not unlike those novels in the Jane Austen era.
Are women coming full circle? My answer is: of course not. Even though the history seems to be repeated and we are back at the starting point, it cannot be denied that we are here, disillusioned and more aware of where we're standing. But what I'm concerned is: what does this amount to? Where should the politics of feminism lie if this is the direction we're taking? Do we simply acknowledge the power of patriarchy and negotiate 'inside' it with more awareness? Hmm ... this begs serious thinking, which fortunately is not my task to answer ... It's for you all, readers, who are women.

09 September 2007

Premonition


It's a typical Sunday, with nothing much to do ... as soon as I started writing the previous sentence, it came to me that I've got to give a lecture at Silpakorn next Wednesday and I haven't made any preparation, that I've got to be in a discussion group on Tuesday on outlawed drama (again for which I haven't prepared), that I need to choose a short story for the upcoming exam (again for which I haven't prepared), that I need to visit my uncle, spend more time with the three Ms (my Mom, Mat, and Madge), go to JJ, do ironing, etc. ... well, the more I think of what needs to be done, the more discouraged I feel in writing this blog.
Yet, I soldier on ... here is my latest entry on Premonition, starring Sandra Bullock and the rest of the cast whose names I can't remember. My first impression is that the whole film is built on promising premises: what if you have a chance to wake up in the future and realise what's going on? what if you know the future and have a chance to remedy errors?
It's a shame however that the film doesn't fulfill these. It plays too much upon the accuracy of the events, which is of course something that it should do. But this happens at the expense of the intensity of emotion and philosophical entanglements. The priest's lecture on fatalism looks ludicrous and out-of-place in the middle of the film. I don't know why this happens, but perhaps the film focuses too much on the unfolding of the actual events, rather than the philosophical complexity of the whole scenario. We are, I believe, given too little information about the protagonists to feel involved with them -- maybe they're too banal? In this case, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is much better. We feel their love and grow attached to them.
I know that in this film the couple actually become estranged from each other and no longer feel love for each other. But the film doesn't bring enough emotional subtleties to elicit this fragility. Once the audience doesn't emphathise with the characters, the whole philosophical complexity becomes so distant and totally disengaged from the whole series of events.
However, there's still something that I get from this film. Compared to Jerry McGuire, which we watched the other day on cable, Premonition somehow signals a shift in attitude towards life. In Jerry McGuire, what rules is a cheap psychological talk that makes you believe you can do everything (someone would've said that this is the American optimism of the 90s), Premonition shows an opposite direction (perhaps due to the pessimism after the 9/11 tragic incident): we cannot control everything, but if we can do our best within the limits of what we can do, that should suffice.
That is what I learnt from the film, and I should've by now realised that this is the best I can do to my weblog today. So I shouldn't linger but stop all this nonsense and go back to do ironing ...

28 August 2007

This is what I look like in the Simpsons' World


Erm ... it's not quite similar, actually ...

23 August 2007

Vatzlav 2007 สัต(ว์)บุรุษสุดขอบโลก

Despite my mad schedule full of bureaucratic shit, I still managed to find some time to watch a play. Well, let me admit that thanks to my sacred job as a brainwasher, they gave me free tickets to watch quality plays once in a while.
This time they chose to do a remake of Slawomir Mrozek's Vatzlav (or สัต(ว์)บุรุษสุดขอบโลก in Thai). It's another quality political satire that is somehow timeless and so true. Despite its original setting in Poland, this reinterpretation didn't seem out of place at all in Thailand.

(If you don't know anything about Thailand, here are some useless facts: Thailand is a small yet weird country in South East Asia, currently under the control of the army who don't understand aesthetics. Thailand is also a magical country where politicians or presidents come and go as easily as rain and sunshine. Thailand also sees the greatest quantity of constitutions (I think so far we have 18 of them.) Also, national holidays come and go. The nearest example was this Monday! The government suddenly proclaimed that the 20th of August must become a national holiday, to the delight of students and bureaucrats like me. Well, I couldn't complain, could I?

Like their rendition of Animal Farm, this play is kindly contextualised by the director and some of the scripts have been tailor-made to suit the Thai public's tendency for quick jokes and good puns. Our exiled prime minister is of course inevitably linked to Count Bat himself, who lived on the blood of poor people (well, what a poignant metaphor). Thank god they didn't try to find a square-faced person to take this role, as in Animal Farm. Of course, poetic justice rules as Count Bat is brought to pay for his cruelty.

Quite touching is the figure of Oedipus, who tries to uphold the moral code, yet ends up being beaten and gang-raped in a carnivalesque ending by military-like tribal people (or tribe-like military people, if there's any difference). The usurpation of the whole island by the military at the end, I'm sure, would cause chest pain for many viewers.

What I gained from this play are as follows:
(1) desire is good -- the example is Countess Bat, who falls in love with a bear, of course as long as your desire doesn't violate other people's rights;
(2) desire is natural -- those of us who repudiate desire are terrible and cruel, lacking in good taste;
(3) desire is human -- without desire, you cannot be labelled human;
(4) desire is necessary -- it's normal for all of us to want something, to need something, because it's the human condition.
Hmmm ... I reckon we're treading into the sphere of freedom-loving, pro-West ideology once again.

This positive view of desire is crucial to the understanding of the play, as its central meaning rests on the conflict between justice and desire, as it were. Justine, the personified character of Justice, is represented as an innocent, beautiful yet idiotic woman. Due to her symbolism, she's portrayed to be too angelic, too clean to reside in this 'shitty' earth. The earth, by contrast, is rather the carnivalesque space full of activities, both benign and malign, but one sees the desire machine at work behind the 'progress' of humanity.

I wouldn't dare say more, otherwise you might blame me for spoiling the ending and stuff, but some part of the play do touch upon a very sensitive topic, especially the figure of Genius. I don't know whether it's intentional or perhaps it's my misunderstanding. But somehow signs and symbols can be reinterpreted, abused, and exploited to serve various ideologies.

This is once again a fragmentary review of the play, which I rather keep to myself. Those of you who read this review in secret please go to see the play for yourself. It's really thought-provoking and funny. (Most of the people laughed, especially towards the ending, but I on the other hand found it really deeply tragic and shocking -- as it's so true ... too true I think I'd rather stop here.

15 August 2007

The Orange Girl ส้มสื่อรัก


First of all, I need to confess that I didn't plan to buy this little novel. When I went to Esplanade last week, I bought a couple of Buddhist guidebooks as gifts for my Mom and my colleague and found out that if I spent just a hundred baht more I would get a B50 voucher for my next purchase at B2S. Greedy as I was, I decided to buy this latest translation of Jostein Gaarder's novel without much hesitation.

I read his Sophie's World and was amazed at how original and refreshing his approach to philosophy was. I imagined him to be a kind, warm person. Of course he did come to Thailand and did come to Chula to give a talk. Sadly at that time very few people read him, but quite a handful of people that day was a glimmer of hope! Of course I managed to secure his autograph on my Sophie's World purchased at Asia Books but soon after that one of my lecturers borrowed it. There's no due date at the back so she probably wouldn't return it soon (especially considering the fact that she borrowed this about ten years ago!). Well, Gaarder, if you're out there somewhere, please take heed of my plea -- come back to Thailand again, especially to Chula, and give me your precious autograph once again. This time I'll make sure you sign on a hardback so that it's worth your journey. (Needless to say, last time it's just a paperback as I was broke being nothing but a poor nerd.)

Erm ... what was I going to talk about? The Orange Girl ... ส้มสื่อรัก -- that's the Thai name of this novel. I'd recommend this book for those of you who are NOT cynical, especially those of you who haven't read or been corrupt by Murakami or other contemporary writers setting out to make the worst of our living condition or making alienation a thing of beauty, aestheticizing it to the extent that those who want to be fashionable need to go out looking lonely and lost like Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation, either with a laptop in Starbucks or with a rucksack in Nepal or Tokyo. With Gaarder, you need to believe and have faith. I do love reading this book and it proved to be a good read during the long holiday where I was supposed to take my Mom out somewhere (as it's Mother's Day in Thailand).

The plot is classic: a young boy reading a memoir of his dead dad as part of his rite of passage to adulthood. Even though I found this pretty banal, Gaarder managed to turn banality into a narrative sublime, with food for thought scattered throughout the narrative.

For fear of spoiling, I'd better not linger on the main question of the whole narrative that the boy needs to answer his daddy. But it does make me think hard and Gaarder really touches upon the essence of Western philosophy and way of life here, especially in terms of desire, which is quite different from that of Buddhism. As opposed to Western metaphysics, Buddhism prefers us to cut down on desire as part of the process to Nirvana (i.e. the state of nothingness). Life on earth is part of Samsara that humans need to leave. Desire is the cause of pain and hence it should be eschewed. I personally have yet to decide on this crucial question, but one thing that I've come across is the fact that one needs experience to be who one is now (read my entry on The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Without life how can one appreciate Nirvana? Without suffering how can one appreciate the curb on desire? Without desire, how can one enjoy the state of sufficiency? Taking this line of thought, I think life is a 'transitory' stage whereby people need to go through with the main purpose of reflection and contemplation. Without life, one cannot have any experience to reflect or contemplate upon to gain access to the next stage.

Once again my book review has turned into something else, more monstrous and uncontrollable. How sublime!

05 August 2007

The Novel That Has Hands นวนิยายมีมือ

I believe it's time to review a Thai novel after loads of international films. I've also been wavering whether to write in Thai or English, but for the sake of consistency, I stick with the latter, only for the plain reason that I want to practise writing in this language for now.

This novel with such a strange name is written by a writer whose pseudonym is even stranger -- 'Round Finger' or นิ้วกลม in Thai. I must confess I was first attracted to this little novel thanks to its gorgeous cover. It's a story about a writer who needs to come to terms with the loss of his girlfriend, who presumably disappeared in the tsunami incident. The influence of Haruki Murakami is patent and obvious as the writer takes great pain to mention the name of the Japanese writer on almost every page. Most of Murakami's famous motifs -- the alienation and loneliness in the cityspace, the disappearing woman, the coincidence that triggers an encounter and a separation, the unexplained disapperance, the fetish of certain body parts -- can be found here. Those who love Murakami's weird novels and short stories will not be disappointed, I can assure you.

But it's my personal belief that Mr Round Finger (คุณนิ้วกลม) is perhaps more indebted to an invisible writer whom he never mentions as the influence is perhaps too powerful. (This perhaps merits a psychoanalytical study of the all-too-powerful father figure, too powerful to mention, but everywhere such influence is pervasive.) This writer is Italo Calvino. I don't know whether the author has read Calvino's fiction, but its similarity between his text and If on a winter's night a traveller shouldn't be ignored. The play of the levels of textual reference is worth noting: there is an interaction of at least three worlds, that of the writer, that of the reader, and that of the main character. This interaction also entails a philosophical dimension, when the author makes us contemplate on such issues as fate and free will, especially that of the character to detach himself from the dictate of the writer.

Even though Mr Round Finger tends to present a positive ending in which one can choose to be what one wants, but hey isn't this conclusion IRONICALLY ANOTHER COMMAND OF THE WRITER. This logical twist may undermine a lovely message at the end of the novel, but it may show how at the end of the day if an author chooses to discuss fate and fatalism and such like in his/her novel, the author still commands, as he's the GOD of that world. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I simply don't think that there's a possibility to let characters control their own fate without the author's intervention.

Maybe (this is just my presumption, ok?) the act of writing is simply a way for a (wo)man to express his/her megalomaniac wish to become omniscient, yet pretending to be humble to erase him/herself from the text. But the humbler s/he becomes, the more insidious this will appear. Hence, I prefer the fair play whereby the author admits his/her desire to be GOD, and plays with the fate of his/her characters accordingly. (This political correctness (his/her; s/he) starts to make me tired!)

This is why in Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveller the burden is entrusted to readers, as readers can actually interpret and reinterpret what the writer says in whatever ways they want. Maybe the only way to 'kill' the writer is to give birth to the reader. Maybe Roland Barthes is wrong when he mentions about the death of the author, as if this figure just withered and died out of his/her own accord. No, somebody needs to 'kill' the author, deliberately and violently too!

Well, shit happens when I write reviews. I start with something, and end with another. But at least you get something, right? Or perhaps you yourself the reader need to 'kill' me first before you can get anything out of this.

31 July 2007

The Castle ปราสาท


I couldn't quite remember when I first read Kafka's work, but it's quite a bizarre experience, not unlike when one enters a maze and doesn't quite know what to do and how to escape. This long holiday I just had a chance to read one of his longest novels, The Castle, translated into Thai by Achan Thanomnual Ocharoen. (In fact, I got this novel as a gift from her so here I should express my thanks for introducing me to another facet of this enigmatic writer.)

My first impression after finishing this novel was 'what the heck is he talking about?' along with the intense feeling of frustration. As the novel is left unfinished by the writer, one naturally gets that feeling. But I'm sure that had Kafka finished this, the general tone of the whole novel wouldn't haved changed that much. Kafka surely wouldn't have elaborated on what the castle is, who K. is, and why such bad relationships between the mass and the castle occur. Kafka likes it to be puzzling, enigmatic, and mysterious. And it works.

I quite like the general idea of bureaucracy and how it eats humanity at the core. Bureaucracy makes simple things more complex than necessary and one no longer can control one's own fate as it becomes the duty of bureaucratic officialdom. However, the irony is that even bureaucrats don't know what they're doing most of the time, just getting paperwork done, but not grasping the whole picture of what they're dealing with. It's so much like reading Borges's short story 'The Lottery of Babylon', in which people let their fate controlled by the drawing of lottery. First the system was simple and easy to understand; however, organisers gradually make it more complicated to the extent that the whole organisation assumes a life of its own.

This inevitably reminds me of our modern-day organisation studies, which tends to dissect an organisation into different parts, each answering to its own objectives without much relating to each other. Staff members do their job but they just don't understand what their neighbours in adjacent rooms do -- they simply don't grasp the big picture. It's this compartmentalising of society that leads to alienation and segregation that Kafka focuses his criticism on, as I think such division eventually makes us less human and becomes more competitive and antagonistic, just guarding our own interests and wishing to lock up in our own small world, as the world outside has become too 'monstrous' and incomprehensible.

Well, it's surely a time-consuming read, but I do recommend those with a lot of spare time to read this to understand the absurdity of bureaucracy, which sadly is only on the increase.

29 July 2007

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd ...




Alexander Pope, 'Eloisa to Aberlard'


(1)

Wouldn't it be great if we could erase the memories of our loved one once the relationship has gone stale? Wouldn't it also be great if we could choose to start our life anew without any remembrance of bad times? These questions form a central premise of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Even though the film was launched a while back, we just saw the film last night and I'm sitting in front of my computer today writing something about it. This shows how my timeframe is different from others: while others expressed their opinions about this film years ago, I just happen to show my part today. Am I a dinosaur or what? Or does it mean that I simply can't keep pace with the fast rhythm of the world nowadays? Are we laden by good films we need to see, good books we need to read, good music we need to listen to? Are we too spoiled by choices? This leaves me no choice, paradoxically. Being a ravenous pseudo-intellectual who wants to devour every good thing around, I simply have to consume all this stuff, but at a far slower rate than those around me. And the result? This weblog where I register my own personal thoughts, for fear that without it I wouldn't have any evidence left that once I consumed this and that ... But do I feel nostalgic towards the old days where good things come few and far in between and when you have all the time in the world to enjoy them slowly? Of course, but the world has changed and you can choose to be either A) a pseudo-intellectual who wishes to know everything but at a cost -- you only know shallowly; or B) a real intellectual who perhaps doesn't know that Rain is a singer, not water dropping from the sky or doesn't know how to use Window Vista or what Ipod is, but knows something deeply and passionately.



Why do I complain about this? It's about memory of course, and how we modern people seem to disregard its importance. With the aid of technological advances, we simply don't exercise our memories well enough. I remember the old days when scholars can recite poems after poems, whereas nowadays students can barely remember anything. I happen to be the latter and regret not being able to be like the former. This is why the experience of watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is like a slap on my cheek. Under the modern condition, we all seem to have a spotless mind, not being able to remember much of great experience. We rather depend on something like our video clips and weblogs like this to trigger our memory.



(2)

Well, let's talk about the film. Based on a script by Charlie Kaufman (who previously penned Being John Malkovich), the film is an odd yet sentimental surreal attempt to look at our contemporary life from an (as yet) impossible premise: what if we can erase part of our memory. This what-if is beautifully rendered through the relationship between Joel Barish and Clementine Kruczynski. When Clementine decides to have her memory of their relationship erased, Joel goes wild and decides to do the same. However, for some reason, they are destined to meet again and fall in love once again. The film does question whether the total loss of memory is actually valid. The complication is that when we lose part of our memory, we also do not become what we have become. That is, if we can choose to have our bad experience erased, we simply don't learn from that experience, and hence we are not able to become wiser. That's why we tend to commit the same 'mistakes', or fall in love with the 'wrong' person, once again, the important part being what we deem as 'erronous' or 'wrong' do depend on our memory and comparison between the past memory and the present state.



In this line of thought, the film does carry a moral twist: we simply can't escape from our fate, because the loss of memory also entails the loss of lessons learnt, and the regression to the state before the loss. However, the film chooses to portray this in a positive dimension, since love does make wonders and nature does jump, so we tend to see a lot of mysterious happenings around us. So we should embrace these bitter memories as life has both ups and downs, and these bitter memories make us who we are, even though sometimes people find them hard to chew.



If memory makes us what we are and shape what we will become, I simply don't see the future of our race, when we depend less on memory. What will we become? If our head is empty, what can we be? Will we find life significant enough if we don't remember? I remembered watching The Simpsons, and in one episode Bart says he can't remember what happened a few minutes ago 'thanks to' TV. Well, maybe it's a blessing that nowadays we don't need Lacuna Inc. to do their work, as TV in our living room will do their job for us. Everyone of us!

27 July 2007

C.R.A.Z.Y.


C.R.A.Z.Y. is one of the first Canadian films I've seen this year and it's not disappointing. It's a coming-of-age story of Zac, a teenage who learns to recognise his own homosexual desire in a rather eccentric family of five siblings. Zac has a gift: he can heal burns, stop bleeding, and cure other minor wounds. There is a strong parallel in the film between him and Jesus Christ but the significant difference is the fact that he has trouble with his own sexuality and needs to come to terms with it under the domineering shadow of his homophobic father. Well, maybe this is also a similarity: both Zac and Jesus are social outcasts, infamous for their difference that has yet to be accepted by contemporary societies (Jesus in the time of the Roman Empire trying to disseminate Christianity, Zac in the time of David Bowie trying to embrace his own sexual preference despite the resentment of his father). The similarity is also startling on a superficial level: Zac was born on Christmas and he also died once (only for three seconds though) in a road accident before being resuscitated.

The path of one's own self recognition is not easy. Zac has an on-and-off relationship with a girlfriend, while also having some homosexual affairs, one of which entails a partner who resembles a conventional Jesus-lookalike. This reminds me of Hanif Kureishi's The Buddha of Suburbia though it's not just as jubilant in overall atmosphere. Despite his gift of healing other people's suffering, the main irony lies in the fact that he cannot use this gift to cure his own. Asthma is associated with his own homosexuality, as both are his inbred conditions that he wants to get rid of, but simply can't.

The first half of the film is pretty idyllic, portraying the sweet relationship between Zac and his father, whom he thinks is charismatic. However, the paternal influence proves to be too powerful a force that Zac needs to reckon with, as it remains a factor that Zac needs to take into account in his personality development, especially in the second half of the film, when we see the rather tempetuous side of their relationship. The mother, on the other hand, is an understanding Virgin Mary, who is ready to be at Zac's side and defends him at all costs.

However, Zac doesn't need to deal with his parents, but also his elder brothers, especially Raymond, whom he detests most. Raymond is a drug addict who enjoys leading a rough life and constantly nags Zac about his sexuality. However, the two are similar in that they are marginalised outcasts. It is perhaps this similarity that heals their rift at the end, when Raymond feels indifferent towards Zac's sexual preference and even tries to protect Zac's dignity.

Despite all these difficulties and turmoils, C.R.A.Z.Y. is a feel-good Bildungsroman film that has a rather positive ending (of which I do have some qualms). What I find rather surprising is that even though the sixties was regarded as a period of liberation, both sexually and politically, there's still a corner in a world whereby sexual prejudices were still extant.

Also not to be ignored is the magical quality, both in scene-editing and in content, strongly reminiscent of Amelie. It contrasts well with the humdrum of Montreal suburban life and shows the mystical/magical side, which for some is still vital. Sometimes we still need to believe in something in order to go through their tough times or at least to make them more bearable. I'm not sure whether I'm too sentimental but the film does this pretty well without running the risk of being too much like tear-jerking soap-opera.

21 July 2007

One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest


A lot of people out there will laugh at me when I say that I just watched One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest for the first time yesterday. Starring Jack Nicholson in a role that most people would have wished were theirs, the film won five academy awards including the Best Picture.


Based on the novel of the same name by Ken Kesey, an American author who was related to both the Beat Group and the hippies movement in 1960s, the film centres around Randle P. Mcmurphy, a ex-con who fakes his insanity and moves into a mental asylum. As opposed to what you might have guessed, he does not eventually turn out to be a nut case, but a humanitarian with a heart of gold (well, I couldn't help feeling that Jack Nicholson was too cynical to play this sentimental role). Randle sympathises with his co-inmates, only to realise that their condition only gets worse under the supervision of the evil matriarch, Nurse Ratched, who (in a gender paradox) symbolises Lacan's The-Name-Of-the-Father -- a tyrannical dictator who has the right to decide the inmates' fates. Whether she had a bad childhood is not known, but one gets the feeling that she enjoys ruling this madhouse with her errily calm posture.


Anyway, the film does pretty well in confounding our expectation, making us think who's really mad and how much madness is a way society marginalises people in various terms. Many people would've survived fine in the real world, yet they have been discriminated against and labelled as mad, purely because their way of life is not sanctioned by most people in society. Hence most 'mad' people in this film are those that cannot keep pace with the developmental phases society has assigned them to move on. Billy is a case in point, when he is not able to express his love. When he's got the chance of his lifetime to sleep with Randle's girlfriend, Nurse Ratched (I don't know whether it's designed to rhyme faintly with 'wretched', but if it's so, it's soooo out in the face!) intervenes and paradoxically uses her therapy to stunt his development. Randle can also be regarded as 'mad' in this sense, when his status as a conman does threaten the smooth progress of society as a whole. Being a conman is not essentially an immoral thing, according to Nietszche, but it's contextually unethical in the framework of capitalism where people expect to reap what they sow, not what other people sow. The concept of propriety and ownership is thus vital to the ethics of capitalism, as it enables, and (more importantly) urges, people to compete. Randle, a Robin Hood archetype, is too 'nice' and cares too much about people around him, sharing things with them, even his girlfriend. It's no wonder why he poses such a threat to capitalist society and should be got rid of.


Well, I won't tell you the ending this time whether society (as represented by the authorities of the madhouse) does manage to do away with Randle or not, but it is one of the most sentimental films that does raise a lot of questions that still remain unanswered to this day.