‘It Comes at Night’ and the horror of going it alone

* Spoiler Alert: This post does contain spoilers for the film.

Going to see ‘It Comes at Night’ was an impromptu decision, driven by wine and boredom. After a friend’s glorious gallery opening (seriously, check out HannahandtheCosmos.com), another friend and I decided to grab a quick drink across the way. When neither of us had further plans on an otherwise lovely Saturday night, we decided that being adjacent to a theater lent itself to an evening viewing. Scouring the showing times for the evening, I recalled a review about the “depressing and hopeless film,” ‘It Comes at Night.’ Well, picture me enthralled!

The plot of the film is fairly simple: there is a mysterious disease of some sort, along with a strange sort of disconnectedness from “the outside,” none of which is ever explained (thought it’s quite beside the point). We are introduced to this world through the experiences of a family of four (turned quickly to three) and their dog, as they navigate this uncanny alternative normal. There is an attempted break-in by a man (Will) who claims his family is simply trying to survive, a white savior move by the patriarch of the first family (Paul), all mounting to paranoia galore. All of this ends in a devastating climax, resolved by a parallel mother/son moment, which, for me, made the story.

Aside from the plot, which we’ll spend the most time with, it needs to be stated that this film is audio-visually stunning in its detail and intentionality. Our theater was adjacent to a loud film, and there were often moments which had me wishing I was in a sound-proofed space to really experience the fullness of the silence. The use of detailed sound effect to push the loneliness and emptiness of the space (floors squeaking; noises emanating from the woods), and the disconnectedness of the characters (murmuring through the ceilings as Travis spies unseen in the attic). Visually, the representations of spatial awareness, and the push and pull of darkness and light are the best I’ve seen since last year’s knock out film, ‘The Witch,’ accomplishing similar feats of scale and affective response.

Also comparable to ‘The Witch,’ ‘It Comes at Night’ balances the human with the supernatural in a sort of unbothered ambiguity. I love that sort of magical realism quality, but it also lends itself to the darkness of the film and to the sense of unknowingness. There is a moment where a noise from off in the woods – one which, at first, only the dog hears – setting off a parade of the male characters, all chasing off after each other, is never explained or identified. There is a terror in this moment. What is the dog chasing after? What is the feeling of connectedness and instinct driving each of these men to chase, at first the dog and then each other? When the men all stop, arriving and crashing into the clearing one after the other, the dog has been silenced and nothing can be seen or heard. There is no origin, no evidence to witness. They retreat. The eeriness of this moment is riveting, driving uncertainty about the nature of the thing outside.

Still, this is nothing compared to what’s happening inside. As the fear of this dreadful thing drives the families back into the illusory safety of the house, the viewer is funneled into the moral and relational ambiguity of the film. As each of the patriarchs, complicit with their partners, glares subtle mistrust at the other, there are legitimate reasons for each family’s suspicion of the other. Paul, after all, initially stripped and tied Will up to a tree, leaving him for dead, before welcoming his family into his home with strict rules and no option for negotiating collaborative existence. On the other hand, Will has attempted to break in to Paul’s home amid suspicious circumstances, only offering a less than consistent story about the family’s journey and intentions.

The film strikes a brilliant balance between noticing those suspicions and placing them out of view. It does this without ever dismissing them or driving them to become distractions. We just notice them along with the characters, never really knowing what is real or right or who to trust. This reads as very realistic, representing quite accurately the way we as humans compartmentalize our conflicting feelings for others in the face of ambivalent evidence. It is obvious that both men and their families find each other likeable. There are even arguments made by both sides that they could be stronger together. And yet…

This leads us into a final – and inevitable – sequence of events. I will explore my rationale behind this assertion of inevitability later; however, suffice to say (for now) that this climax and denouement are where the film’s true beauty lies: in its horrifying relatability of the viewer to the characters’ final devastating actions. Speaking with my viewing partner at the end, we had different interpretations of the final sequences. Despite this, we could both relate to the affect of the penultimate sequence.

My partner related her perspective to Paul’s actions. This makes the most sense, because it is the experience centered by the film’s narrative. Paul becomes increasingly concerned for his family’s safety, due to the suspicious nature of a door left open and a misplaced little boy. His paranoia gets the best of him, and when Travis wakes him up to tell him he heard the family discussing leaving, he begins jumping to conclusions – the boy must be sick! they are risking our safety! they will come back and loot our home with others! – and becomes intent on killing them out of a drive for self-preservation. It is simultaneously willfully blind and acutely inline with Paul’s worldview that outsiders are a threat to safety (illustrated quite nicely by the statement “remember, family are the only ones you can trust..” Paul mutters to Travis earlier in the film). The move is both rational and irrational.

On the other hand, I found myself feeling Will’s fears – they’ve been literally trapped in this house by the home owners, their son accused of opening a door he cannot even reach, experiencing his own parallel paranoia about the source of the open door, perhaps even his own fear about someone in the house being sick. His own self-preservation instincts kick in as this large and looming home begins to close in on him – and his family. As soon as the kitchen table conversation happened, I leaned over to my watching partner and whispered, “oh my god, everyone is going to die.” I suspect this is the same dread Will was feeling, while Paul still felt some semblance of power or control, evidenced by his shock – though he and his wife hiding in the hallway were each themselves wielding huge guns – that Will still had a gun of his own even after being directed to leave it in a locked cabinet.

After processing the film, I found myself a bit confused by this kitchen table encounter. I realized that I (and apparently my movie-going partner) had been swept along into the fear and frenzy, the suspicion of the characters through this turning moment: Travis reveals that the door had been open when he stumbled upon it. Both patriarchs comment they had assumed Travis had opened the door. Hadn’t he? No! Is he CERTAIN he found it open?! What do you mean little Andrew wasn’t in his room?! Emotional chaos ensues internally, finally erupting through a command (given by Paul) for the families to separate.

In hindsight, this moment makes no rational sense. Mind you, both families are sitting at the table at this point, no one in the masks or gloves of protection, apparently not afraid that they have been exposed to ‘the sickness’ of the dog who’d lain brutalized in the in-between space of this middle room which connects the internal and external doors. However, with this new revelation, we move suddenly from feeling relatively safe in the home to again feeling vulnerable – from a state of knowing to unknowing.

Despite the unquestionable dangers that the open door risked (exposure to the sickness), there is now a new danger: did something else, something hidden, lurking, unknown, get in? The actual danger of exposure has not ever changed, whether someone from inside or outside the house opened the door. The only thing that changes is the ambiguity of how the door became opened. In this way, the proceeding events are mere projections of this imagined and unspoken fear rather than responses to the actual danger.

Although the film primarily focuses on the patriarchs throughout its narrative, it is actually the juxtaposition of the two mothers in the final scenes which, for me, made the film’s ambiguous narrative come together. Although my viewing partner walked out initially saying she thought that Andrew (Will’s son) must have been sick, I disagree. I believe it was always Travis who was sick. I have two reasons for this view – of which the mothers are my final evidence.

First, there are many individual moments, all understandable in a time of crisis, which build and finally snowball into Travis’ death. Despite Paul’s earlier assertion that his father-in-law’s sickness came upon him suddenly within a day, we witness Travis having nightmares, potentially dissociating, and obsessively drawing horrifying figures. Are these just symptoms of stress? Or could they be symptoms of the disease beginning to set in? Furthermore, right before Travis wakes up and goes walking around the house on then night the door is left ajar, we are privy to a nightmare he is having: one in which he walked out of the house and through the woods. Could Travis have been sleepwalking, leaving the doors open as he made his way back to bed? We also see grandpa’s dog growing more and more lethargic, before he runs off to his death. If grandpa’s dog, who Travis spends all of his time with, is sick, perhaps this is how Travis picked up his sickness.

So that’s one piece of my theory. The second, however, revolves around the dual purpose of the final sequences, and the dichotomous mothers. When Andrew is shot and killed by Paul, his mother screams. Over and over. It’s tortuous to listen to. It is true, unadulterated grief. On the other hand, as Travis lays dying in bed, his mother sits beside him quietly, stroking his head and comforting him as she whispers for him to let go. See, for Travis, his mother recognizes the comfort of death – salvation from disease. To be kind, he will be put out of his misery, much the same way grandpa was at the beginning. On the other hand, Andrew’s mother’s tortured response to her son’s killing indicates her belief that he had a long healthy life ahead of him. He likely was not sick. They were hiding him for his protection from the possible illness and the people with large guns, not from inspection.

The conclusion of the film follows inevitably from the world in which we live. It plays out the logical conclusion of the direction we as humanity are moving. We are so terrified of what might be outside of our control (terrorism! immigrants! gays!), and so assured of our own power to control our safety through self-reliant isolation (guns! bunkers!), that we lash out at everyone else. This is gun culture. This is rape culture. This is the culture of radical individuation – of the myth of self-sufficiency.

Interestingly enough, whether intentional or not, it also illustrates the inevitable outcome of the white savior complex. This struck me early on, as Paul (a white man, married to a black woman and father of a black child) decides to invite the desperate and downtrodden (and brown) Will, who clearly isn’t as well off as Paul (Will announces he was attempting to break in to what he assumed was an abandoned home in search for water), into his home, as long as he does exactly what Paul says and follows the rules. Will’s fate has already been in Paul’s hands; but now his family’s fate becomes dependent upon Paul, as well.

An interview with the writer and director reports that the racial division of the cast was only realized during the casting process, and that this implied a ‘post racial’ world. I find this ironic, however. In my own reading of the film, the helplessness of the people of color (and the complicity of Paul’s black wife in the sudden and immediate plan to kill Will’s family before they can literally escape the house in which they are now being held captive) all points towards the illusion of a post-racial society: one wherein the reality is that the only outcome of the white savior is the ultimate destruction of all.

I highly recommend the film, and look forward to going back to it to see what I’ve missed and what I can add. It is certainly a thinking film rather than a piece of mindless entertainment (I say that without judgment), so it may not appeal to all crowds. There’s also some conflict over whether this can truly classify as horror or if it perhaps fits another genre, perhaps psychological thriller. I won’t contribute to this conversation, but know it’s happening. I’d rather let you decide for yourself!



The Decline of Theoretical Grounding in the Political Sphere

The word theory makes people shudder. As a therapist, theoretical models of therapy, wellness, function/dysfunction were a large part of my graduate school coursework. I still recall supervisory therapists at my internship site laughing and telling me that once I was done with graduate school and my exams, I would realize that theory isn’t important and doesn’t matter. At the time, I thought of this as an interesting potentially correct statement. Except now, as I make my way through my fourth year of practicing post-graduate school, I recognize theory as more important than ever in my practice. Having a clear idea – based in both empirical research, clinical observation, and some in personal experience – of where dysfunction comes from, what it means to experience dysfunction, and what the heck healthy might look like on the other side is all incredibly important to the therapeutic process. Otherwise, like a life coach, we might just be trying to make our patients conform to our own belief systems. Or worse, we might just be guiding them in circles.

It’s also important, clinically, for the therapist and the patient to be on the same page about where they want to go in treatment. The therapist may need to temper expectations or otherwise give options the patient did not realize were present. The therapist should also know the ropes and tools and be able to communicate the treatment plan in a coherent and concise manner. But the therapist – at least in my own view of the therapy process – should not be acting unilaterally under the assumption that they know what is best for the patient. This is paternalistic and manipulative.

One of my professors liked to use the phrase “road map” when describing the role of theory in psychotherapy. I find this helpful. It’s a metaphor which emphasizes the understanding of change processes. I also like that it can be adjusted as necessary to become a collaborative tool of understanding between the patient and therapist. There are so many ‘brands’ of psychotherapy, and though the intention is the same, the best route for any individual patient depends on so many different things. One of these things is the relationship between the therapist and the patient. Having the ability to collaborate on treatment and understandings of “the problem” and “getting better” is a really integral piece of the “map” of treatment. The therapist has expertise in the tools and methods of change, according to his or her theoretical orientations; but the patient holds the expertise over their own values and life systems, etc. Working together is how the most lasting kinds of change occur for the patient.

So what does all of this have to do with political processes? A lot, actually. See, before I became a therapist, I studied political philosophy. Ironically, perhaps, political philosophy was at the forefront of the founding of our nation. The 18th century, even into the 19th, was rich with political theory. New ways of thinking about the interaction between the governing and the governed (read: therapist and patient in my analogy here) were popping up all over the place. The problem of the tensions between security and freedom began to spring up as “the West” began to fundamentally re-configure the relationship between the “bourgeoisie” and the “proletariat” as the French quite nicely defined for us. This is to say, the relationship between those in the “ruling” classes and average citizens. This conversation was necessarily being had parallel to conversations about the function of government – what does a government do, and why.

Ultimately, these were revolutionary times. The script was being flipped in ways we likely cannot even truly imagine in our modern world. The idea of democracy – that government should function as a reflection of the will of the people, and that power should be held by the people rather than the “ruling classes” – was an incredible notion for a society literally built off of empire building and colonization. And yet, as philosophers, economists, politicians and professors all returned to the heritage of Greece in their rejection of the Roman model, they began having these conversations about the values of governing in public. They argued and brought up flaws in design and they redesigned and they collaborated to create theoretical models of governance that could reflect these changes in attitude around the role of government.

Among these thinkers and texts – Paine, Jefferson, Locke, Adams, etc – were the foundations of the “American Experiment.” The founders of our nation were intimately involved in these conversations and texts. As the hit broadway musical “Hamilton” points out, Alexander Hamilton collaborated with others to write an intensive treatise on the merits and foundations of Federalism as a binding agent for this new nation. To say that the founders were working from anything other than theoretical foundations would be to completely misunderstand how America began. America was truly a revolutionary experiment in a world of monarchy and colonial imperialism. The founders sat and argued amongst themselves to create a road map from their theories. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Since the founding, our governing institutions have moved further and further away from theory and “big picture” understanding. The GOP has become quite literally a reactionary party, with their goal being a dismantling rather than a building. This has been enacted through many policy goals thought through on an individual level. What is lacking is a coherent global picture. This is like bad therapy. Rather than having in mind the questions: what does the world look like in it’s ideal final form, and how do we get there, they are focused on specific impediments built around a very specific few. This is, in many ways, a regression back to a pre-democratic, pre-America world.

Not to rag solely on the GOP, the Democratic party has a similar problem. Rather than looking to form a coherent theoretical principle to guide them, they instead pick certain platforms to focus on based around public opinion. This is problematic because it lacks unity and prevents direction to guide policy creation. This inability to clearly communicate the goals and direction of the party have played a role in keeping the left stuck.

What would happen if we would re-engage public intellectualism and re-integrate the theoretical into the political realm? I argue it would be a much more healing and fundamentally more coherent governing process, just like a good therapist facilitating change for a patient.

The Heat, and how much I love female protagonists!

On a whim, I decided to run out and see the new Melissa McCarthy-plus-Sandra Bullock movie on a recent evening.  I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed myself!  It was raucous and dirty and relateable; a ‘guys’ movie for the girls!  It’s definitely about time.  As much as Bridesmaids was heralded to be that movie, ‘The Heat’ was the one that finally delivered.

I hate that so many films ignore the force of the female protagonist – and the true nature of the twenty/thirty something single lady.  This film was different from most female-centric films in that it didn’t focus on a love story (in fact, two single ladies and not a SINGLE boyfriend, oh whoa-is-single-me moment!  Talk about exciting novel moments!) or romantic nonsense.  It didn’t wallow in single self-pity, and it didn’t spend time bemoaning work-life balance, etc.  It was ladies engaging in physical comedy and a fun, developed, action-y story line and behavior generally reserved for male-only bro-films.  Even Bridesmaids was rife with the oh-no-I’m-so-sad single girl tropes (although I do adore Chris O’Dowd), which, as funny as the film was, left me with an icky taste in my mouth and a bit of a down feeling as I left the theater.  Instead, I left ‘The Heat’ happy and fulfilled.

I recently listened to a story on npr (http://www.npr.org/2013/06/30/197390707/casting-call-hollywood-needs-more-women) about Geena Davis’ think tank on women in movies.  I won’t go through it, as I have faith in your reading abilities; suffice to say that the results are broad and enlightening.  I especially found the findings on male:female ratios in film group scenes (17% women on average…) and the resulting discomfort men found when the percentage popped up to 30% (Men felt outnumbered when they were a mere 70% of the group…) fascinating.  Additionally, her discussion of the ‘this film (Thelma and Louise, bridesmaids, etc) changes everything’ media theme following popular female-centered films and the back-to-the-status-quo downfall afterwards was spot on.  This what-men-want/men-dominate-the-theater/women’s-movies-don’t-sell dominant discourse in the film industry is reminiscent of the back-and-forth conversation in many different genres in the entertainment industry – video gaming in particular coming to mind immediately.

The fact that these same assumptions are still being trumpeted around – those ideas men have about what women will or won’t like, or, furthermore, what women are and aren’t like – says so much about the society in which we live. The fact that these two characters and the way they interact and are presented in this film is such a novelty says just as much.  I just hope, as a single female who enjoys watching movies with strong, fun, single female characters, that these types of films will continue to be made with fun, strong female actresses like McCarthy, Davis and Bullock.

A Tale of Two Documentaries.

Tonight, I had both the distinct pleasure and the distinct misfortune of viewing two screenings of two documentaries, both about sex trafficking.  One was fantastic.  The other was at best offensive, and at worst utterly exploitative.


I will start with the second film: Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, because I’d prefer to end on a good note.  This film was absolutely infuriating for me.  First, it claims it is a documentary, but is actually shot more in the vein of a witnessing movie… you know the ones – like, the anti-choice documentaries that show gratuitously over-acted scenes from fantasy land showing how everyone who has an abortion will first die and then be sent directly to the eternal hellfires of damnation?  Yeah, that was what this movie looked like.


I had – thank goodness – a friend with me.  We were able to discuss the film on our trip back to our cars, and we completely agreed on the implications of the film.  First, the opening scene is like some kind of hellacious montage, overdramatized depictions of the story a trafficking survivor from Eastern Europe is sharing for the camera.  It was obnoxious and distracting from the actual truth in her story.  Instead there are screaming, crying women who are apparently there to grab your attention?  As if SEX TRAFFICKING needs a HOOK to grab your attention.  Right.


From here, it just gets worse.  We visit Amsterdam’s red light district, where legal prostitution is mostly run by organized crime the government cannot control, and where legal brothels call up their suppliers when they need a new girl to have one “delivered like pizza.”  This is horrendous.  But there are no conclusions, just open ends as we move along to Asia.  This is where it really gets good.


Racism.  It’s an ugly, ugly thing.  We are treated to a creepster white Christian “counselor” who appears through most of the film, and who is trying to “save” trafficked children.  In itself, this is a noble cause; however, considering that this man is the exact profile – white, western, English-speaking, older – of the men who BUY these young children for sex, from their parents no less, why on EARTH would you think you are the appropriate face of this organization?  That is first.  Next comes the fact that no one of color or of ethnicity that is an expert is organized, not even in their own countries.  This white man, obviously from America, is the only person interviewed about the Asian (oh, and we lump all of Asia together, which is totally not racist, because they’re all HEATHENS!  Who are LAZY and don’t work and just SELL THEIR DAUGHTERS FOR SEX!!  All of them!) child prostitution and sex trafficking – no actual Asian authorities or NGO workers or government workers are interviewed, at all.  Did I mention this white western male do-gooder is Christian?  You’ll see why that’s important, soon.


So then we move to good ol’ America.  We talk to a couple of ladies who are part of Hookers for Jesus.  The founder tells much of her story.  She also – along with a few others – talks about the glamorous life she imagined she would live as a high end hooker/escort, and how the reality was beating after beating after beating, drug abuse, sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her pimp and her johns, psychological abuse, and near death.  She even attempts to briefly talk about her pimp’s brainwashing and control of her body and mind, and how the cultural glamorization of pimps and prostitutes (think “Pretty Woman” which several women attributed to their own entrance into the world of prostitution).  The film glosses over the intense sexual and physical abuse of these girls – 95% of those involved in “sex work” – prior to their entry at the average age of 13 into prostitution in this country.


Now comes the good part.  These women are all white.  Except the one black woman who returned to prostitution a month after her interview.  AND at the end of the film we come to find out that these women have been SAVED by JESUS – that they still hate themselves and pray and apologize to Jesus everyday for what they have done.  As if these women have ANYTHING to apologize for – as if it is their fault!?  It is absolutely disgusting.


The film portrays the problem of trafficking as a “moral and spiritual problem” (that is a direct quote) rather than a cultural problem about attitudes towards women and sexuality.  It portrays other cultures as being in need of salvation, in need of godliness, and of white western Christians as the bringers of redemption.  It portrays anyone not white as being incapable of achieving this one their own.  They interviewed no persons of color as experts.  And the end is a call to arms for Christians to head into battle with prayer.  Yes, prayer; because THAT is the action that is needed to help these women and turn over our culture.  This film exploits the plight of women and children trafficked and forced into prostitution all around the world, exploits our cultural attitudes of women and children as those most in need of protection (presumably by white Christian men) , exploits the cultural misogyny inherent in a system which punishes prostitutes and gives Johns a free ride (this film, by the way, also says absolutely nothing about Johns, with the exception of one “_” who the director and a friend chase down and tell to never come back to this village) to demand an international prayer movement and a call to action for a battle for souls.  Absolutely disgusting.  Thankfully, this is the second film we saw, or I probably would not have attended the other.  And it was phenomenal.  So, to move on to a great note about a documentary done RIGHT –


The first film was called Sex + Money.  This film was – I cannot say it strongly enough – phenomenal.  I hope to own it when they release it and host showings for everyone I know.  I am, already, in fact, planning to approach the group and my local Unitarian Universalist congregation regarding a screening to that group – they would love it.


It was well-done.  No dramatizations or acting sequences to depict fantasy land.  Instead, the facts are presented, from a number of men and women – still primarily white – regarding the trafficking and prostitution of women in America.  This documentary actually discusses root causes instead of crying out for some magical prayer journey.  They talk about sexual abuse being prevalent – again, 95% of those in “sex work” – in women in the “industry.”  They talk about pornography, sex addiction, and an over-sexualized culture.  They talk about the earlier and earlier exposure of young boys especially to pornographic materials, and that the average age of such exposure in persons committing sexual violence towards women is SEVEN YEARS OLD.  They talk about the growing trends and popularity of sexual violence and aggression in pornography, and the mixed messages and expectations young boys are learning about sex from porn, and not from parents or school.


The film goes on to discuss really wonderful points, interviewing johns, police force, former pimps, trafficking survivors, experts, legislators and others.  They discuss for more than 30 seconds the profound impact of the demand-side legislative and punitive approach that Sweden has taken on reducing both trafficking and prostitution in their country versus the increase in trafficking which is conferred legitimacy in places that have legalized of prostitution.  They, in other words, approach this journey towards modern abolition as a multi-faceted fight which requires many different aspects of vigilance – starting, first and foremost, with the way we talk about men and women, and the way we talk about sex.

Midnight in Paris, or, No Time Like the Present

So I should preface by saying that I am not normally a tremendous Woody Allen fan.  However, on a friend’s recommendation, I went to see this film the other night – and I actually quite enjoyed it!  The film was a bit heavy handed in its quite overt message – no day but today, as Jonathan Larson once said.  But otherwise it was cute and the acting was great. I’m always a huge fan of Owen Wilson and the extraordinary Kathy Bates!

Also, I have to say that I really enjoyed the relationship dynamics between Owen Wilson (Gil) and Rachel McAdams (Inez).  Their strained relationship shown through the light of their encounters with others was interesting to watch, and you quickly wonder what these two ever had in common to stay together for. Gil, a Hollywood screen writer turned novelist, holds a deep nostalgia for 1920’s Paris.  He wants to move to Paris to live and write, and he enjoys Cole Porter albums and walking through Paris in the rain.  His fiance, Inez, on the other hand, wants to buy a house in Malibu and furnish it with expensive Parisian antiques.  In an effort to escape Inez’s obnoxious friend Paul, Gil walks back to he hotel while they go dancing.  Becoming lost, he somehow drunkenly falls into 1920’s Paris at the stroke of midnight, meeting a host of fun literary characters, from Dali and Hemingway, Cole Porter, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Picasso.

It’s a lovely little story, and fancifully told, vacillating between 2010 and 1920-something.  Worth watching, though perhaps not at theater pricing.  We end up with the lesson, come to and lectured by Gil, that we must seize today and stop living in the past.  And, furthermore, if things don’t make us happy, we shouldn’t just stick with it out of habit or nostalgia, we should change those things.  Finally, in the end, Gil gets to walk through Paris, at midnight, in the rain.



Sarah’s Key

There are so many fantastic movies out right now, and between my being completely and utterly broke as well as being completely and utterly without free time, I have not been able to fit in a movie.  Fortunately, I was invited for a date last night and proposed that we head to see this fantastic film which I’ve been wanting to see for several weeks now.

I went, in fact, to see this film a bit ago.  I was very glad it was still in theaters, as the day I chose to go I was displaced by a giant, power-killing storm.  Without power, the theater was unable to show any movies, and I was left, therefore, without the experience.  At any rate, I was able to convince my date to head over to the Tara and see this film before it was taken out.  And boy am I glad that I did.

First, this is a film about many things – there are elements of self, of torture, of political and social upheaval and pressure.  There are themes regarding choice and loyalty, as well as those surrounding family and what makes family; of love and sacrifice; of mourning and loss of self.  What makes us who we are, and how do we define our relationships with others or ourselves through others?  Is it possible to be saved, and if so, who is it that saves us?  Do we owe more to ourselves or to others, and can we ever overcome our failures to either?  A beautiful and moving film, I left the theater with a poufy red face streaked with tears.  As always, expect a few spoilers.

The film follows two characters.  One from ‘today’ and one from 1942.  Both are in Paris.  One of our heroines, tragic though, is the young Sarah, a French Jew.  The film follows her childhood experience of the Vel’ d’Hiv wherein the French government rounded up tens of thousands of French Jews – entire families – and kept them for days on a racing track with no food, water or lavatories before trucking them off to holding cells and, eventually, Auschwitz and other concentration camps.  When the police come for Sarah’s family – mother, father, daughter, son – Sarah decides to hide her brother, Michel, in a secret closet, locking him in and making him promise not to make a peep.  Sarah’s story revolves around her key and her promise to her brother to come back and release him from his hiding place.

The other heroine is Julia, a New Yorker transplanted to Paris.  She is married to a French workaholic and struggles with her own family dynamic.  She finds out, while researching the Val’ d’Hiv for a remembrance piece in her magazine, that this girl – Sarah Starzynski – and her brother Michel lived in the apartment that her in-laws have recently granted to she and her family.  Julia finds that the parents both died in Auschwitz – where the French government shipped them off to the mercy of the Nazi’s – while the children were never reported in any of the well-documented deaths.  She goes on a hunt for Sarah and finds a complex story.

I won’t ruin the film, because I really do think anyone interested should absolutely go see it.  But suffice to say that the remaining encounters – Sarah’s story, her key and the family she tries twice to rebuild, unsuccessfully; Julia and her search for Sarah, the bonds she both creates with one family while destroying with another – they will leave you reeling.  Not only does this story encompass the broader themes of human nature, love, healing and terror, but the microcosm of our tiny decisions that create ourselves.  Sarah makes a decision and it leads to a series of blind faith and luck combined with horrifying consequences, and Julia, similarly, makes decisions to sacrifice one relationship for the sake of another.

A beautiful, tragic and haunting film, I absolutely recommend it.


Harry Potter 7.2: The Disappointing Finale

First, a word of warning.  I am going to be critical of this movie.  Also, I’m sure it was lovely for those who’ve never read the books.  For those of you who’ve taken the time not only to read the books, but to immerse yourself in the greater meaning of the story, I hope you will share your feedback, as I’d love to get more insight to how others saw this movie.  Also, spoiler alerts.  J

So, to jump right in.  I found this second installment to be rather disappointing.  After 7.1, I had high hopes.  Going at midnight was a tremendous mistake as the theater was full of raving 16 year olds who were surely out past their curfews, so I have waited to write this until after I was able to return and watch the movie again in a much more sparsely attended theater.  I will say that the difference was remarkable – the laugh lines were ignored this go round (much the way I found them the first time) and there was a general gloom in the theater this time, as well.

Let’s start with the good.  In some ways, this movie reminded me, once more, of just why I love this series so much.  The mythology (the epic battle for humanity, the deathly hallows…), the philosophy (Dumbledore’s ontology: “of course this is happening in your head, Harry; that doesn’t mean it isn’t real”), Severus Snape (oh, dear lord, I love that character), the redemptive character of love, the complexity of a well-wrought tale at its finest, it’s all there.  Snape’s post-mortem memory sequence blew me away – it was done so beautifully, and Alan Rickman is one of the finest actors, no doubt.  His dedication to the role is astounding, and the pain he plays is moving.

Now for the not so great, which was, for the most part, the rest of the film.  For starters, the direction in this film was terrible.  The awful clippy/snippy/terse style was shared across actors.  I have a feeling that much of this was done for laugh lines, but outside of the massive group of crazy teenagers at the midnight showing, there were no laughs.  Instead, it felt forced, fake, out of character.  One particular example was the reunion scene in the room of requirement as our holy trio move in from Hogsmead.  This scene was obnoxious, at best, and difficult to watch.  This kind of directing is what destroys great stories.

The confrontation between Harry/the Order and Snape is another scene which was poorly written/edited/directed, or some combination of the three.  It felt, again, forced.  The travesty committed upon the phenomenal Maggie Smith – who’s fantastic acting and delivery somehow redeemed the shoddy lines and direction – was utterly remarkable.  “Boom!,” for instance.  The entire sequence where McGonagall takes over Hogwarts was utterly out of character for McGonagall.  And while I understand the need for comic relief in such a dark story, there is a time and place – and defiling a character for the sake of laugh lines is absolutely unforgivable, in my book.

The omission of much of the story of Helena Ravenclaw, or the Grey Lady, is also a dire subtraction.  The story of the Diadem adds a layer of complexity to Voldemort, and we can see a romance to his thought process.  The diadem is a complicated addition to Voldemort’s set of Horcruxes, especially as Helena is tied – through romance and murder – to Slytherin.  There is a reverence, then, in Voldemort’s selection of the diadem.   To leave this story – one which would have taken little time to tell – out of the film in favor of a bland moment merely thrown in to establish the diadem story is silly and, in my opinion, dumb.

The make-out scene after Ron and Hermione kill the goblet is another one which, though I’m sure was done as tension relief, was absurdly inappropriate.  From there, it only gets worse.  The last thirty minutes of the film were, in my opinion, the greatest travesty committed to this story.  Let’s walk through it, shall we?

First, Harry walks out of the headmaster’s office to find Hermione and Ron sitting alone amid a ravaged castle with tons going on around them.  Somehow knowing that Harry is hanging out in the head master’s office?  Just sitting.  Hanging out alone.  This is, primarily, out of character for both of these characters.  Additionally, Harry then TELLS THEM that he is heading to the forbidden forest to meet Voldemort, and there is a teary eyed moment of good-bye.  I wanted to groan and yell at the director – do you just not get it?!  Seriously, this is utterly besides the point of the entire sequence of events!  Harry’s self-sacrifice is SILENT.  It is silent for a reason.  It lacks good-bye.  It lacks the seeking of pity.  It is a beautiful and painful moment in the book, as the reader is the only one who knows that Harry is going.  He knows that his friends will try to stop him or go with him – which they would do – so to needlessly change this scene is untrue for all three characters involved and serves absolutely not cinematic purpose.

When Harry gets to the forest, in the book he is wearing the cloak of invisibility – one of the deathly hallows and the cheater of death!  In the movie, this is stripped, and, apart from the brief and unmentioned use of it at Gringotts, is left untreated at all in the movie.  Another huge mistake.  But we will address the issue of the Hallows debacle in a moment.  As we move toward the final duel – a time wasting, out of canon scene drawn out, presumably for the action draw – the missteps become more unforgivable.  First, some background on the profundity of the final scenes in the book.

Harry is Voldemort’s “equal” not out of any real equality, but rather because Voldemort gave him this status.  Voldemort self-fulfilled the prophesy and named Harry as his equal.  The only reason Harry actually survived was because Voldemort’s unstable soul rebounded into Harry upon the death spell.  So, just as a piece of Voldemort lived in all of the other Horcruxes, so this is what kept Harry alive.  Fine, we get that part from the movie.  What we do NOT get is the fact that Voldemort and Harry are NOT equal.  They never were.  Harry doesn’t live because he’s somehow stronger or more magical or able to defeat Voldemort.  Harry lives because Voldemort underestimates the power of love, the most redemptive force in Rowling’s world, and fails to think things all the way through.  Prophesy only has the power we give it, then, and according to Rowling, we all have the freedom to choose our destiny.  Harry’s destiny is tied inextricably to Voldemort’s – but this is only because both of these parties chose this destiny.

Okay, that being said, let’s get back to the movie.  Harry goes and attacks Voldemort and flings them both over the edge of the balcony with some cheese-tastic line that doesn’t make sense.  They go spinning around the castle, only to land, isolated, in the commons.  Blasphemy does not even begin to describe what I felt toward this scene.  Both of these are instances where Harry is being cinematically placed as superior or equal to Voldemort, which is, as we’ve already seen, not the case by any stretch of the imagination.  The fact that the two are isolated is ridiculous, especially as they are, in the book, surrounded by Harry’s supporters.  Harry, on the other hand, only reveals himself to still be alive AFTER everyone remained fighting – there was no grand moment of disclosure in the middle of some touching moment with Voldemort – the people, hopeless and without their symbol, continue fighting Voldemort.  Everyone, in the end, sees the triumph of good over evil, and the triumph of the novice with love and purpose over the master who’s only concern is his own power.

Next, the exclusion of the spells during the final battle – avada kedavra, the killing curse, and expelliarmus, the disarming curse – is a similarly fatal mistake of this film.  Again, the exclusion seems to be aimed at creating a false sense of equality (Harry is not only called out but recognized amongst the fake Harry’s at the beginning of the novel for using this spell.)  It is important that Harry succeeds so succinctly using so simple a spell; and the film makers decided that this was far too sorry a detail to include.  Ridiculous.

Now, for the disaster of the treatment of the Hallows.  First, Deathly Hallows is the name of the book.  Second, they are mostly ignored through the entirety of the film.  Harry would never be so presumptuous as to destroy the elder wand.  In the book, he delivers it back to Dumbledore’s grave, assuming that there would be no natural progression of loyalty after his own death.  This is a touching scene which treats the wand with the reverence it deserves.  The resurrection stone is left, where he dropped it, in the forest to be lost forever.  The cloak, Harry keeps, as it is the only thing that has ever truly belonged to him, being passed down from his father.  The fact that none of this is addressed is lazy.

Finally, the most angering of all, is the epilogue.  Though I had mixed feelings about it in the book – I mean, because we couldn’t imagine the happily ever after on our own?  And what about those names?! – I despised its inclusion in the movie.  Not only did it seem utterly ridiculous, but the use of the same actors in terrible make-up was laughable.  New actors should have been found to play the nearly forty year old characters; they looked utterly ridiculous.  And how can you even focus on the terrible names of the children when the actors all look so silly?

Putting the epilogue aside, my primary issues with the film revolve around a completely misguided and misunderstood representation of the story for the sole purpose of creating a battle scene that looked cool.  It’s offensive to the story and its entire philosophy to degrade a central and final theme over a cinematography choice.  The moral of this story is that the selfless nature of love, no matter its inexperience – and perhaps even because of its naiveté – overcomes evil and the will to power.  This was lost in Harry Potter 7.2, and that is a real shame.