Sunday, May 4, 2014

Moonrise Kingdom: the truth in its absurdity

Wes Anderson, the director of the cult classic, Moonrise Kingdom, makes use of camera shots, lighting, music, and the setting to set the mood and tone for this quirky movie. Set in an older era, the summer of 1965, the story is simplistic. It follows the forbidden love of a young girl and boy as the society around them tries to stop their eloping. While the story mimics Shakespeare’s well known tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is much more comical. The love between Romeo and Juliet is greatly romanticized and often sought out by popular culture because of the characters’ passion, impulsive, and tragic circumstances. It is not often seen as silly, trivial, or comical even though the story takes place within a time span of approximately four or five days. Moonrise Kingdom’s much younger protagonists, however, are harder to take seriously. To be quite honest, none of the characters can really be taken seriously. But that’s the point of movie. Wes Anderson takes the classic Shakespearean, romantic tragedy and reworks it with a twist. His “Romeo” and “Juliet” are two twelve year olds running away from home for the sake of love, but their youth makes the love between them seem silly and trivial. Their naivety and age makes it easy for the audience to dismiss the love between them as being “child’s play”. However, viewers will realize by the end of the movie that the love between these two twelve year olds cannot be more genuine. In fact, it might be the most genuine and earnest thing in the movie. The time period in which the movie is set, the summer of 1965, is characterized by bright pastel colors, the emerging American nuclear family, and plastic-like artificial perfection. Wes Anderson makes use of the time period and camera shots to flip our perception of what it earnest and what is superficial by illustrating the society around the two characters to be “fake” and “doll-like”. This is captured in the opening scenes of the movie. The shots of the room are taken at a distance so that the room is perfectly square and open to the audience like the room of a doll house. The furniture is impeccably neat as are the children and the clothes, to the point where everything seems slightly unnatural. The makeup of the grown women also reflects this artificial perfection. The doll-like makeup would have been “in style” during this particular period but it’s also purposeful. The sharp, black eyeliner, colorful eye shadow, and pink lipstick are as artificial as the “perfect” relationships that exist between the husbands and wives, parents and children, and teachers and students. The characters within this film have very little (if any) sense of humor and take matters very seriously, but that’s what makes this film a comedy. The unexpected truth and honesty behind this very young love reveals the superficiality of the society around them and evokes humor. It’s a contradiction to our expectation that romantic love belongs the “adult world” and is based on maturity; it’s a situation that is rarely seen in real life, and it’s madness. But there is truth in the oddity of this situation which gives the simplistic and comedic nature of the story depth.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Analyzing Catch Me If You Can

The movie, Catch Me If You Can is about a young sixteen year old boy named Frank Abegnale Jr. who runs away from home after his parents get divorced. He learns to forge checks, and impersonates an airline pilot, doctor, and lawyer to survive. What’s most notable throughout this movie is its use of music to convey Frank’s thought process and emotion. The character’s need to runaway and commit fraud to live the “ideal life” stems from his parents’ divorce in which his family lost everything. At one point in the movie, he tells his father, “Dad, I’m getting married in two weeks- I’m buying a sixty thousand dollar house, a new Cadillac. I’m getting it all back, everything they took from us. I want you and Mom to come to the wedding together.” The movie makes use of old Sinatra songs to convey his inner wishes. In the earlier scenes when his mother and father were still together, they would dance in the living room to the song, “Embraceable You”. Unfortunately, Frank, who is holding their red wine, spills some on the carpet. This spilling of the red wine foreshadows the darkening of his parents’ relationship. The color red, symbolizes the frustration, aggression, and criminal activity that would follow suit. As Frank gets ready to marry a nice Southern girl named Brenda, he is invited over to her house for dinner. And he watches in the shadows, peeking into the kitchen as Brenda’s parents wash the dishes together. They seem happy and very much in love. The same song that his parents danced to in the earlier scene plays, making the song “Embraceable You” sound bitter sweet this time around because of the way this scene parallels Frank’s past. Frank stands in the shadows because he knows that he can never be a part of that happy family. Standing in the glowing light of the kitchen, Brenda’s parents emanate warmth. They represent his inner desire for his parents to get back together again. The shadow that Frank is standing in, however, represents the reality. No matter how many times he changes his identity, runs away, or forges checks, he will always be just a sixteen year old kid with divorced parents. The shadow is also the looming possibility that he’ll get caught. Whenever the FBI are around, Frank is always seen hiding in the shadows: behind a curtain, behind a door, right around the corner… he’s always just one step away from being found out. Deep inside, Frank knows that he needs to stop. He even begs his own father, Frank Abegnale Sr. to tell him to stop, but it’s clear that he has come to far. Frank Abegnale Jr. is a boy that’s stuck in the in-between. He can’t live in the warm light of the American Dream because everything about himself is fake and made-up, but he’s not quite swallowed up in the darkness either. He’s a boy who has thrown his childhood away for a chance to chase the life he could have had, living in the shadows to avoid the consequences. In that sense, Frank is kind of tragic character, not quite fitting in anywhere.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

To Earthward

To Earthward
By Robert Frost

Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear;
And once that seemed too much;
I lived on air

That crossed me from sweet things,
The flow of—was it musk
From hidden grapevine springs
Downhill at dusk?

I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they’re gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.

I craved strong sweets, but those
Seemed strong when I was young;
The petal of the rose
It was that stung.

Now no joy but lacks salt,
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault;
I crave the stain

Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove

When stiff and sore and scarred
I take away my hand
From leaning on it hard
In grass and sand

The hurt is not enough:
I long for weight and strength
To feel the earth as rough
To all my length.

Robert Frost’s “To Earthward” focuses on the influential role time plays on the development of love and reveals that love can sometimes bring pain and bitterness but those struggles are what make love taste even sweeter. The first stanza of the poem illustrates the “honeymoon” period of a new love. The speaker is overjoyed and enamored. So much so that it “seemed too much” and he “lived on air”. Underneath the surface of this sweet love, however, there is a sense of foreboding. This is seen in the second stanza as the smell of musk is mentioned, “That crossed me from sweet things, /
The flow of—was it musk.” Musk is a strong, animalistic scent that is often used in the undertones of perfume. It is a scent that is also associated with sex because it is an aphrodisiac. Juxtaposed against the “sweet things” that suggest innocence, the scent of musk that the speaker smells is used to foreshadow the maturity and darkness of the relationship that is to come. The last line of the second stanza, “Downhill at dusk?” has a similar effect. “Downhill” paints a picture of uneven ground for this relationship. Flat, leveled ground would mean that the love will be smooth and easy, but by illustrating uneven ground, the speaker is foreshadowing difficulties that would soon to come. “Dusk” is the time of day when the sun is setting. While beautiful and colorful, dusk brings darkness as day turns to night. The transition from day to night symbolizes the transition of the love from shallow sweetness to a love with more maturity and difficulty. The speaker admits that while he was younger, he “craved strong sweets” such as “honeysuckle” and “the petal of the rose”. But he realizes now that “Now no joy but lacks salt, / That is not dashed with pain / And weariness and fault; / I crave the stain.” Salt, which is the opposite of sugar and sweetness, represents the difficulties that come with love and relationships. So the line, “Now no joy but lacks salt”, goes to convey that everything that brings joy is “dashed with pain and weariness and fault”. Still, the speaker craves “the stain”, which means that he loves because of these difficulties that come with a deeper relationship. He cherishes the bitterness and the tears, viewing those as “the aftermark / Of almost too much love,” evidence that their love is real. He compares these feelings in the next stanza to times when his hand is “stiff and sore and scarred” “From leaning on it hard / In grass and sand.” Grass and sand are pleasant parts of nature, but leaning on it hard can leave imprints and soreness. This comparison ties back into the line, “Now no joy lacks salt.” To bring his transformation from a boy who craved only the shallow sweetness of love to a man that learned to understand how the pain of love creates joy, the speaker concludes by saying that “The hurt is not enough: / I long for weight and strength / To feel the earth as rough / To all my length.”

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"March Days Return With Their Covert Light"

‘March days return with their covert light’

March days return with their covert light,
and huge fish swim through the sky,
vague earthly vapours progress in secret,
things slip to silence one by one.
Through fortuity, at this crisis of errant skies,
you reunite the lives of the sea to that of fire,
grey lurchings of the ship of winter
to the form that love carved in the guitar.
O love, O rose soaked by mermaids and spume,
dancing flame that climbs the invisible stairway,
to waken the blood in insomnia’s labyrinth,
so that the waves can complete themselves in the sky,
the sea forget its cargoes and rages,
and the world fall into darkness’s nets.
Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda is in fact the penname of a famous Chilean diplomat by the name of Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto. Winning a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, he is often known for his love poems, political manifestos, and prose autobiographies. In “March days return with their covert light”, Pablo Neruda contrasts light and dark to reveal that love is often reckless and does not succumb to control; it is passionate and unstable. This poem seems to take the form of a sonnet due to its 14 lines, but the meter, syllable count, and rhyme scheme does not fit the sonnet’s traditional form. The first line, “March days return with their covert light,” is only 9 syllables rather than the usually 10 syllables. The month of March is indicative of the start of spring, and spring is often used to represent the blooming of love. However, this love affair is not one that is yet public. Still in its early stages, the relationship is a quiet one. Such a conclusion can be reached from the word, “covert” which Neruda purposefully chooses to describe the light of spring. The light of spring which melts the coldness of winter, representative of a brief hiatus from love by the speaker, acts as a spotlight to illuminate the lovers and draw attention. But the word, “covert” indicates that this light is hidden. Perhaps this is because the speaker is not quite ready to go public with the love affair since he had recently suffered through a break up.
            The second line, “and huge fish swim through the sky,” continues the focus on the coming of spring. The huge fish are the white clouds against the blue sky. The white clouds that shift form and travel across the sky look strikingly similar to fish when put against a blue sky, which also mimics the color and nature of water. The clear sky and clouds provide contrast against the monochromatic, grey color scheme that winter often adopts. However, the nature of this poem is not as innocent as one may think. These images of spring point to a start of a love affair that is passionate and sexual. Spring is a season for mating. Signs of sexual arousal and pheromones appear in the third line, “vague earthly vapours progressive in secret”. Pheromones cannot be actively detected by most humans so that would explain the line of “progressing in secret”. The silence in line 4 is a hint to the sexual tension that builds. When sexual tension is in the air, both partners naturally feel the need to stop talking. Chattiness is a sign of a relaxed and comfortable environment; silence is a sign of tension.
            Lines 5 and 6, “Through fortuity, at this crisis of errant skies, / you reunite the lives of the sea to that of fire,” describes how this new lover has brought passion back into the broken hearted speaker’s life. The speaker sees the lover’s entrance into his life as an accidental, yet lucky occurrence. He expresses this through the word, “fortuity”, which carries the meaning of an instance of good fortune. We know that he is thankful for meeting her and that she has had a large impact in his life because he describes life before her appearance as “this crisis of errant skies”. “Errant” means to deviate off the normal course, so we can assume that after breaking up with his last lover, he lost his way. The imagery of fire and the sea provides a contrast. The sea represents a cool calm, even indifference, the life the speaker used to have. Fire is representative of passion. So by saying that she reunites “the lives of the sea to that of fire”, he is expressing that she has brought passion back into his life.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Why Depressing Male Characters Are the New Prince Charming

From Prince Hamlet to Mr. Darcy to popular culture’s Edward Cullen, depressing male characters have been charming heterosexual women and homosexual males for ages. There’s something about their sullen faces, pale skin, and “the world is hopeless” attitude that just draws us in. Readers have always loved their damsels in distresses; it’s time that we acknowledge that it’s just as easy to fall in love with a tragic prince. Quiet, misunderstood, and with a metaphorical rain cloud over their head, these male characters tend to do a lot of thinking. They contemplate societal responsibility, life and death, and aren’t buying the whole rosy-colored-glasses thing. Their deep thinking and quiet nature make them come across as philosophical; they observe the world as by-standers and point out the wrong being done. However, very few of them ever rise up to be “the macho hero”; they often take the place of the outcast or underdog. They don’t care for fame or money; instead, these characters thirst for a different passion whether it is romance or knowledge or societal acceptance. They don’t mind being invisible, and I think, as readers, we identify with their need for love and acceptance. At the same time, we feel a wave of pity and sympathy for these characters that have constant internal conflict. Depressing male characters with a deep, dark secret are the most alluring. Though not my favorite, Edward Cullen from the Twilight Series is a prime example. His “secret” is that he’s really not a normal seventeen year old; other than the fact that he’s filled with angst, he’s actually a vampire. This dark secret gives the character a more sinister, animalistic side. It makes him “beast-like”. The internal struggle of loving his damsel in distress counterpart, Bella Swan, and wanting to eat her, makes him seem “tragic”, “deep”, and quite frankly, “dreamy”. But this feature of deep inner turmoil is not unique to Edward Cullen; it’s actually a spin-off of the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. Prince Hamlet also “fights his inner beast”. Though this Shakespearean character is not cursed by physical disfigurement or supernatural abilities that set him apart from the rest of the human race, his passion and “madness” (whether the madness is real or staged is up for debate) is the “beast within”. He is torn inside, wanting to kill King Claudius to avenge his father (this is the beast-like quality) but at the same time wanting to keep his morality and rational (the human quality). His sorrowful soliloquies and philosophical questions regarding the universe make him seem untouchable, and therefore desirable.  In turn, his conflict with his own inner beast makes the reader want to “save” him. After all, every manic pixie dream girl needs a depressing male counterpart (you’d understand if you’ve read my previous blogs). Finally while these depressing characters lack vivaciousness and seem mostly lethargic, their choice to sit back quietly and think rather than to rally up the crowd to fight reveals something about ourselves. It is not easy to be courageous and heroic, most of us are cowards who see evil in the world but fail to change it, and we identify with their apprehension to take action. It does not mean that we do not care; it does not mean that we are heartless. It simply means that we are human. We fall in love with these sullen male characters simply because they are human. They accept that they are not fearless and that they make mistakes; this makes these characters seem genuine, and therefore, lovable.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Psychoanalyzing Hamlet

Can we diagnose Hamlet with a mental disorder? It’s hard to say. A mental illness is characterized by the instability of mood, thought, and behavior. The condition must be considered to be “distressing” to the patient and the behavior/way of thinking must be out of the norm. The condition must also be recognized by American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. It’s likely that Hamlet has a mood disorder. Mood disorders, particularly major depression (which also goes by the name of clinical depression or major unipolar depression) are extremely common. Major depression could possibly explain Hamlet’s dark, bleak outlook on life. This mood disorder is characterized by a sad or depressed mood, lack of interest in things that once made the person happy, fatigue/tiredness, guilt without logical reason, difficulty concentrating, and reoccurring thoughts about death. Depression can often be triggered by stressful events such as death. Considering Hamlet’s father died, his mother married his uncle not two months after King Hamlet’s death, and his uncle took the throne in place of himself, the chance that Hamlet has experienced a stressful enough situation to trigger a mood disorder is pretty high. As the reader, it’s also possible for us to reach the conclusion that Hamlet feels immense guilt over his father’s death without reason (after all, he wasn’t the one that killed King Hamlet). Guilt is often a feeling one feels after someone close to them has died. One can argue that King Hamlet’s ghost is a manifestation of Prince Hamlet’s guilt. Prince Hamlet must feel guilty for doing nothing because the ghost of King Hamlet calls him a “fat weed” and implies that he’s being a coward. Hamlet seems to be bothered by his cowardice, his indecisiveness, and passiveness. In one of the earlier soliloquies he tells us that he is not Hercules, that he is not a hero. Some psychologists believe that depression is simply self hatred turned inward towards the patient. If this perspective is true, Hamlet can be suffering from major depression because he hates his cowardice and desperately wants to please his father. From a Freudian, psychodynamic perspective, Hamlet’s abnormal relationship with both his mother and father can be to blame. Hamlet seems to worship his father. He compares him to a Greek God, specifically Hyperion. Hyperion was one of the Titans and the sun to Helios, the sun, Selene, the moon, and Eos, the dawn. It can be said that Hamlet views his father as the creator of this world, a god. He admires his father and puts him on a pedestal, something that is unusual for normal children to do. The relationship with his mother is also odd and questionable. One can say that he has a bit of an Oedipus complex. He is very concerned with his mother’s private sex life, to the point of obsession. At the end of Act III, he has a whole conversation about the morality of her relationship with his uncle. In their conversation, he finds it appropriate to tell her, “O, throw away the worser part of it, / And live the purer with the other half. / Good night: but go not to mine uncle’s bed;” For the majority of people, giving advice and taking control of one’s mother’s sex life is inappropriate and uncomfortable. But it’s possible that Hamlet feels the need to do this because he is in love with his mother. It’s possible that these repressed feelings of desire simply show up under the disguise of disgust and shame over his mother’s choices rather than his true feelings of jealousy.

Hamlet's Many Faces

Hamlet as the fool.

Hamlet takes on many different archetypes during the course of the play. He plays the moral judge, fool/jester, impulsive fighter, scholar, artist, philosopher, and coward. We see a different side of Hamlet every time he puts on a different mask. The scholar is witty. We see him play the scholar as he shows off his intellectual prowess. This is often seen in his exchanges with Polonius in which he makes Polonius seem ignorant and foolish. He keeps his cool and calm demeanor in these scenes. However, as the fool, Hamlet is at his most honest state (see what I did there?). He is able to speak his mind, though his sincerity is masked by his outlandish humor. It’s the only way he knows how to break out of his silence. In Act I, he speaks about his inability to express his emotions through a soliloquy, in which he says, “But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue.” So playing “the fool” is the only way Hamlet knows how to break free of walls that conceal his emotions. With humor, there is truth. By being absurd, rude, and comical, Hamlet is able to get away with saying some pretty sharp comments. In Act III, he insults both his mother, Queen Gertrude, and his exgirlfriend (depending on how you interpreted the scene before), Ophelia, in front of the entire court. He makes some very crude jokes, and even remarks, “That’s a fair thought to lie between maidens’ legs” for the pure purpose of provoking her. Ophelia has no choice but to keep her anger hidden because Hamlet is much higher in rank, since he is the prince of Denmark, and because she is a woman and the time period expected her to take the insults. He also treats his mother in a similar way by bringing up the death of his father, King Hamlet, her disloyalty, and the “incest” that is taking place between the sheets since Gertrude is Claudius’ sister in law (since King Hamlet was Claudius’ brother). Still conversing with Ophelia, he points out his mother, “O God, your only jig-maker. What should a man do / but be merry? For, look you, how cheerfully my / mother looks, and my father died within these two hours.” Though his mother waited two months rather than two hours to get married to Claudius, Hamlet purposefully says, “two hours” in order to be humorous and sharp tongued at the same time. Hamlet also takes on the part of “the fool” when he acts mad (or actually is mad, depending on the interpretation). We see this as he speaks with his childhood friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, after the play. He acts slightly crazy, demanding them to play the pipe. Guildenstern refuses to try and play the pipe despite Hamlet’s demands, and Hamlet turns the situation around by revealing that he knows about their spying. While they planned and plotted behind his back, convinced that he was crazy, Hamlet knew exactly what was going on. By pretending to be mad and playing the fool, Hamlet gives himself the upper hand because he is able to feign ignorance.