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'


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.


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. 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.