‘Foster’ by Claire Keegan
Reading Ireland Month 2023 has led me to the short stories by Claire Keegan. I’m excited for this ‘new discovery’. Keegan’s is the kind of writing I admire, sparse but telling, simple prose revealing deep emotional undercurrents.
“Foster” the short story written by Keegan first appeared in The New Yorker. It was later published as a standalone work in book form in 2010. Keegan in an interview had stressed that it was not a novella but a long short story. The book cover in the photo is a new edition that came out in 2022.
The story is written from the point of view of a young girl from an impoverished family, both materially and emotionally. She is sent far away to stay with her mother’s sister Edna and her husband John Kinsella for the summer to lift the burden off her busy mother who has a house full of children and one more expecting. The Kinsellas are childless and live in a farm house in rural Wexford county.
The age of the girl isn’t mentioned, most probably around eight or nine. Interesting too that her name isn’t mentioned except just a few times, Petal, maybe giving a sense of the neglect she has been having all her young life. The title is ironic, I find, for the word foster often comes in contradiction in a lesser sense, or secondary, to natural birth parents. But here during her short stay at the Kinsellas, the girl has made new discoveries she has not experienced before, what it means to be loved and cared for, and begins to learn kindness and self-worth. Moreover, she is also exposed to the complexity and the dark range in the adult world, the loss and pain that come with life.
Foster has been adapted into film with the new title The Quiet Girl. It is Ireland’s official entry to the 95thAcademy Awards held this past Sunday, a nominee in the Best International Feature category, with its language being Irish (Gaelic). I still haven’t the chance to watch it, now a must-see movie for me. Hopefully I can watch it soon before the Reading Ireland event ends.
When I read “Foster”, I noticed that Keegan’s style is an exemplar of that writing advice we hear often: show, not tell. In some passages, Keegan instills in my mind visuals like watching a scene in a good film, actions and nuanced expressions speak clearly in depicting the characters with no need for dialogues. A couple of examples:
Here’s when the girl and his father whom she calls Da have a meal with the Kinsellas after he has dropped her off before heading right back home:
When we sit in at the table, Da reaches for the beetroot. He doesn’t use the little serving fork but pitches it onto the plate with his own. It stains the pink ham, bleeds.
Here’s another example, when Edna brings into her house some fresh rhubarb stalks from her garden for the girl’s father to bring home:
My father takes the rhubarb from her, but it is awkward as a baby in his arms. A stalk falls to the floor and then another. He waits for her to pick it up, to hand it to him. She waits for him to do it. Neither one of them will budge. In the end, it’s Kinsella who stoops to lift it.
‘There now,’ he says.
Just this short description has revealed the character and the relational dynamics among the three adults. Furthermore, these two passages also tell much about the girl, deep within her reticence, she is observant, precocious, and the reader can assume too that she must be eager to experience what’s waiting for her in the days ahead living with these two ‘foster parents’ for the summer.
The Kinsellas hold a family secret, one that’s heavy in their heart and mind, albeit unspoken. Again, Keegan’s writing comes through with subtle yet powerful revealing. The girl learns of their past from a nosy neighbour, and that is a moment of awakening for her. What happens later in the climax I will not spoil anyone’s reading pleasure. However, John Kinsella’s kind words to her observing her quiet demeanour earlier in the story, we know the girl will keep close to her heart for a long time:
‘You don’t ever have to say anything,’ he says. ‘Always remember that as a thing you need never do. Many’s the man lost much just because he missed a perfect opportunity to say nothing.
As she mulls over the Kinsella’s hidden past, and her own experience while staying with them, she is now empowered by love and loyalty to keep silent that which needs to be kept in confidence. The girl might be reticent, but the single word she utters ending the story is most poignant and heart-wrenching. Again, Keegan has used the minimal to bring her readers to the depths of pathos and meaning.
~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples
This is my second post in participation in the Reading Ireland Month hosted by Cathy 746 Books.
Previous post: The Banshees of Inisherin Movie Review
‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’: An After Oscar Review*
In this the universe that we all know, a movie from the indie studio A24 called “Everything Everywhere All at Once” just won seven Academy Awards out of its eleven nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Original Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Editing. The date is March 12th, 2023, at the 95th Academy Awards held in the Dolby theatre in Los Angeles, California.
A historic night as this is the first Sci-Fi genre movie to win Best Picture, and Michelle Yeoh the first Asian to garner the Best Actress honor in the ninety-five years of Oscar history. As well, the movie has set a record of the most acting wins together with Best Picture and Best Director wins from a single movie. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is now A24’s highest-grossing feature of all time, surpassing $100 million at the box office. Surely there are still laundry and taxes to do, but at this point in time in this universe of ours, this is a defining moment in the film industry.
Oscar winning directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the Daniels, have created more than just a Sci-Fi movie. Calling it genre bending sounds outdated now as its multiverse jumping idea in their Best Original Screenplay fuses science fiction, action, comedy, and family drama all at once. Genre jumping might be a better term to describe the Daniels’ creative mode of filmmaking.
Never underestimate a middle age immigrant laundromat owner, wife and mother. Evelyn Wang (Yeoh) has lots on her plate as she has to deal with the mountainous paperwork facing an IRA audit, a daughter dangerously depressed, and husband Waymond initiating a divorce proceeding. Unbeknownst to her is that in another universe, she is Evelyn the superhero whose mission is to save the multiverse from the villain Jobu Tupaki, who, lo and behold, is her daughter Joy’s destructive alter ego.
Ke Huy Quan’s comeback to the acting scene after decades of absence and winning the Oscar Best Supporting Actor is extraordinary. Credits to the casting director (Sarah Halley Finn) and the Daniels’ foresight, for Quan is the perfect guy to play Waymond. His movie role and his real-life persona look to be a perfect match. Quan has won over sixty awards for this role and now garnering the ultimate acclaim. After his magnificent action sequences in the IRS building, the fanny pack just might enjoy a comeback as well.
From a background in New York City’s comedy and improv scene, Stephanie Hsu goes all out in her dual portrayal as Joy, the despondent daughter who feels unseen and unloved by her mother Evelyn, and her alter ego in another universe: Jobu Tupaki, the powerful and destructive villain in the multiverse taking everyone with her into a nihilistic hole, sucked into the everything bagel which she has created and pitted all her despair, pain and guilt on it, an absurdist escape from her meaningless existence.
Creating a multiverse action movie to tell a family story with all its generational dysfunction and disappointment is outside the box thinking. The Daniels’ concept and execution are audacious and innovative, incorporating multiple forms of visuals, animations, and symbolism. Every battle between Superhero Evelyn and Jobu Tupaki is a metaphor for the mother/daughter conflict. As a daughter whose self-image has hit rock bottom, Joy is in despair having failed to live up to her mother’s expectations, choosing to jump right into the everything bagel. Evelyn, not just a superhero but more importantly, a mother, fights to snatch her daughter back.
In a silent scene without spoken dialogues––a much-needed respite from the chaos and sensory overload––Joy the rock chooses to fall off the cliff into oblivion. And what does the mother rock do? She moves to the edge of the precipice and rolls down after her daughter. This may sound ludicrous, but this soundless scene with the two rocks is one of the most poignant cinematic moments in the movie.
IRS paper pusher Deirdre, played by Oscar winning Best Supporting Actress Jamie Lee Curtis, is a follower of Jobu Tupaki in another universe. Her interactions with Evelyn offer some of the spontaneous fun in the movie. Action comedy at its best, not just in the fight scenes, but also in the universe where they have hotdog fingers, their feet and toes ever versatile. Debussy would have been impressed to hear Deirdre’s version of ‘Clair de Lune’ on the piano.
The last person to make up the award-winning ensemble cast is 94 year-old James Hong as grandfather Gong Gong. Hong’s earliest roles in his seventy years of acting were with such classic figures like Cary Grant and Groucho Marx. Here his role is understated but nuanced. Just the scene in the elevator where Waymond urgently tells Evelyn her multiverse mission, using an umbrella to block out the security camera, the oblivious Gong Gong is sitting in his wheelchair casually picking his teeth, one of the many hilarious scenes in the movie.
Finished shooting in just thirty-eight days, the Covid lockdown gave Oscar winning editor Paul Rogers solitary time to complete a tall order, putting together scenes from multiple universes, of multiple timelines, and in extreme variation of locales, real and imaginary, to make sense of a story that needs multiple viewings for one to grasp its layered meaning.
Within the dense and oversaturated visuals and actions, the Daniels have packed in homages to iconic filmmakers like Wong Kar Wai and Stanley Krubrick, fun and significant insertions. Memorable is the scene emulating Wong’s “In the Mood for Love,” when Waymond reveals to Evelyn his romantic self: “In another life, I would have really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you.” This is the way he fights, with kindness and love. And that’s the key to Evelyn’s ultimate change.
And what’s with the googly eyes? That’s Waymond’s mark of existence, harmless fun. He puts them on everything. Evelyn dislikes them at the beginning. In the final battle against Jobu Tupaki and her forces, she puts one on her own forehead. Like a third eye, she begins to see things from a new perspective.
Waymond, seemingly weak, holds a powerful weapon: kindness. “This is how I fight,” he says, moving Evelyn to emulate in the last action scene. When everyone has their googly eyes on, their deadly weapons are turned into innocuous objects; a hand grenade now becomes a perfume atomizer. Universal human kindness wins the final battle.
Didn’t get the metaphors and wacky symbolism? Good reason to re-watch. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is a movie that demands multiple viewings. Outside the box filmmaking requires outside the box viewing. Those familiar with the Marvel, DC, or Manga universes could be more ready to appreciate it.
A thought about diversity. The Daniels are themselves an exemplar of mixed-race collaboration. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” succeeds not just because of diversity but universality: The mother daughter reconciliation, the husband wife rekindling of first love, and the theme of kindness and love overcoming malice would override any specific cultural or racial border. And here’s my hope for the future of filmmaking, go for universality. That which joins us as a humanity will naturally include diversity. Specific representation is important, but the utopic end would be one when race and color are not the defining focus but the common ground that we share as a human society.
~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples
*This article first appeared the day after the Oscars in Asian American Press, on Monday, March 13th. I thank AAPress for allowing me to re-post my review in full here on Ripple Effects.
The Banshees of Inisherin: To be friend or not to be friend
Like his previous movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), writer director Martin McDonagh opens The Banshees of Inisherin with a quiet and peaceful song. The lush green landscape of the island of Inisherin merging with the calm and harmonious chorus pulls us into this cinematic fable right away. McDonagh loses no time to bring out the heart of the matter, the sudden fallout of a lifelong friendship between Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson). In parallel, across the island on the mainland, the Irish civil war rages. The year is 1923.
The juxtaposition of mellow, ponderous music with outward conflicts always makes interesting contrasts, just like mixing comedy with drama, humour and sadness, which McDonagh is so apt in doing. An acclaimed British-Irish playwright whose plays have been performed in the West End and on Broadway, McDonagh is astute in his dialogues, embedding them with humour and poignancy to reveal the nature of the characters:
Pádraic’s sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) likes to read and is the most sensible character in the movie. In one scene, Siobhán is reading.
Pádraic: How’s the book?
Pádraic: Sad? You should read a not sad one, Siobhán, else you might get sad.
Siobhán: Do you never get lonely, Pádraic?
Pádraic: Never get wha?
Pádraic: (mutter in annoyance) No. “Do I never get lonely?” What’s the matter with everybody?
That could give a hint why Colm stops being friends with Pádraic because “he’s dull”. Colm is older and he now thinks more about how he will be remembered when he’s gone. A fiddle player, Colm spends his time playing and composing music. “I just don’t have a place for dullness in my life anymore,” he tells Siobhán. So, when Pádraic, baffled and hurt, confronts his old friend, “you used to be nice,” Colm engages with him about the value of being nice versus being remembered. Mozart, though living in the 17th century, he says, is still being remembered today for his musical legacy. Paintings last; poetry lasts. Who’s going to remember your niceness?
Even though happy go lucky, Pádraic is now saddened by the sudden termination of friendship. He doesn’t care about Mozart, or whatsisname Borvoven, but he remembers his Mammy and Daddy, they were nice, and his sister, “she’s nice. I’ll remember her, forever.” But Colm counters, no one else would remember them other than you. Colm may be facing an existential crisis, seeking for something more permanent or trying to leave a legacy, but McDonagh’s humour seeps through simple dialogues and not let the high ideals of his character be taken too seriously by movie viewers. In this scene, Siobhán has the last word. She corrects Colm, “it was the 18th century, anyway. Mozart. Not the 17th.” Then turns and walks away. This is a dark comedy, after all.
The superb cast brings out McDonagh’s writing perfectly. Farrell and Gleeson reunite after In Bruges (2008, Oscar nom for McDonagh’s original screenplay). It’s fun watching the pair engage, a simple, usually happy Pádraic stonewalled by his best friend’s sudden withdrawal of friendship, not only that, but shocked by his drastic action to cut off one of his own fiddler finger every time Pádraic talks to him.
Condon as Siobhán is most apt in representing the rational mind amidst this absurd development. Her later decision to seek a saner and more meaningful existence is poignant. The yellow coat she wears is a bright symbol of hope. The fourth character that makes up this outstanding ensemble of actors is Barry Keoghan as Dominic, the jester who is probably the saddest of them all and one who sees more clearly than he appears.
One more crucial character must be credited, and that’s Jenny the miniature donkey (Jenny), which plays a pivotal role in the final act, inciting a drastic action from Pádraic. Friendship between man and animal just might be more steadfast than between humans. And that last vengeful resort by Pádraic brings back a similar scene in Three Billboards.
Director of photography Ben Davis’s camera is crucial in revealing the deeper meaning of McDonagh’s fable. Often we see Pádraic on the outside peering through the window into Colm’s home, or into the pub looking for Colm. Poor Pádraic now is an unwanted outsider, rejected and isolated, reminiscence of similar shots in Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest. Or, the metaphor of the Banshee, the omen of death, represented by Mrs. McCormick (Sheila Flitton), her creepy appearance exemplifies the ever-present threat of mortality, just like the Grim Reaper in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957). They don similar costume too. And the ubiquitous religious symbols and activities––the statue of the Virgin Mary on the island, the cross, the Latin mass––just make one question how their faith is relevant in the actions of these islanders.
The Banshees of Inisherin is nominated for nine Oscars in the coming awards night to be held on March 12: Best Picture, Martin McDonagh for Directing and Original Screenplay, Colin Farrell for Best Actor, Kerry Condon Supporting Actress, Brendan Gleeson and Barry Keoghan both for Supporting Actors, Film Editing, and Music (Original Score).
~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples
Related posts mentioned in this review:
Don’t Just Drive Past Three Billboards
Diary of a Country Priest: Film Adaptation (1951)
March is Read Ireland Month 2023 at Cathy 746 Books. You can read the screenplay of The Banshees of Inisherin online here. Upcoming posts will include books by Irish writers and possible book to screen adaptations.
JLC 16: The Swan and the Bat by Keigo Higashino
Take this as a preview rather than a review. Why, this book has not been translated into English yet. The prominent Japanese mystery writer Keigo Higashino has written more than sixty novels but only eleven had been translated and published in English so far.
The latest, A Death in Tokyo, was published in Dec. 2022 by Minotaur Books. Its original Japanese title 麒麟の翼 (The Wing of the Kirin) was actually published in Japan more than ten years ago in 2011. I’ve read eight of Higashino’s translated mystery, including A Death in Tokyo. So, after finishing it, I thought I would have to wait a few years before I have the chance to devour another.
That’s why I couldn’t believe what I found when I came across The Swan and the Bat in our local library. Not sure if it’s Higashino’s latest but it was published in Japan in 2021, and translated into Traditional Chinese language published in Taiwan in 2022. And it’s brand new, beautiful and untouched in its transparent plastic wrap.
Here’s the synopsis of the story. A respected lawyer in Tokyo is murdered. Not long after that, a man goes to the police and gives himself up, confessing that he’s the murderer and not only that, revealing that he had committed a previous unsolved murder thirty years ago. The novel touches on issues such as the propriety of the statute of limitations, and the impact of crime on the victim’s family as well as the culprit’s. The puzzling thing is, why does this man take the initiative to go to the police and offer his confession on both crimes?
Not sure what the future English translation will be like but reading the Chinese version, there are words and concepts we seldom find in mystery novels written in English: sin and redemption, guilt and forgiveness, and the readiness to offer apology. Characters are bound more by their conscience than the law. In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Raskalnikov gets away with murder for a while, trying to rationalize his way out of psychological torments. Higashino’s character does not rationalize but sacrifice.
A thoroughly intriguing read. Different from previous Higashino’s novels in that The Swan and the Bat has a more contemporary setting where social media plays a major role in the court of public opinion, radiating added pain in the victim’s and the perpetrator’s family. Rather than depending on the police to solve the crimes, two people from families on opposing sides of the adversarial legal system play Sherlock on their own, making the novel more complex and captivating.
If this will be translated into English in the future, I would not hesitate to read it again. The Swan and the Bat (title might be changed in the English version) has become my best Keigo Higashino book replacing The Devotion of Suspect X which sits securely in second place.
Thank you to Dolce Bellezza for hosting Japanese Literature Challenge for the sixteenth year.
Tár: To Catch a Falling Star
There are movies that you admire especially upon rewatching but still leave you emotionally detached. The overall tone is artistic and elegant, the camera clever, editing seamless, fantasy sequences enhance the tension, and needless to say, superb acting delivered by the cast. You admire and appreciate the director’s execution, yet you’re not emotionally engaged. Tár is one such movies for me.
Writer director Todd Field’s masterpiece is a film packed with ideas and layered with symbolism conveyed through technical brilliance. It explores power and ambition, identity politics, the separation of the art from the artist, and cancel culture in our contemporary society. Using a phrase ubiquitous in this awards season, it is everything, everywhere, all at once.
At the beginning of the film, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik (playing himself) introduces conductor and composer Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) by reading out a list of her accolades for his live audience and us, movie viewers who would see, in the next two and a half hours, how a radiant star fall from grace. As the film opens, Tár is at the summit of the classical music world, helming the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic. A Harvard PhD, she was mentored by Leonard Bernstein in the emergence of her career, and is currently one of only 15 EGOT winners (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony); her upcoming book Tár on Tár will no doubt be a bestseller.
Field’s feature is nominated for six Oscars in this awards season. It is a forceful narrative and an astute study of power set within an artistic and cultured realm. Blanchett’s Tár embodied success driven by ambition and sustained by ruthless arrogance. She may appear courteous and mild mannered, and that’s where the danger lies. She doesn’t need to raise her voice to be heard.
From the beginning of the movie, the sequence of the custom tailoring of her suit––a symbol of power––sets the premise. The film is not about gender politics, for Tár’s position is a given; she is already at the podium leading a world renown orchestra and is hailed as one of the best living composers.
There are, of course, higher mountains to scale. The self-propelled driving force soon turns Tár into a delusional egotist, her self-will overriding all that comes in her way, destroying not just her career but her relationship with her spouse Sharon (Nina Hoss), concert-master in the orchestra. Field wrote the screenplay with Blanchett in mind. He had mentioned in an interview that if she declined the role, he would not go ahead with the movie. Blanchett delivers with convincing mastery.
While being a fictional character, Tár embodies some real-life issues with much relevance in contemporary society. Her being in a lesbian marriage exemplifies the fact that power can corrupt regardless of gender and sexual orientation. She has the power to endow opportunities and thereby raising the career of young musicians to new heights, or, destroy them. Her obsession with success soon becomes unmanageable, distorting her view of reality, pulling her into the abyss of delusion and even madness.
Among the various issues the film touches on, the Juilliard teaching scene is particularly telling. Tár is teaching a conducting class in a lecture theatre. The camera expertly captures the ten-minute scene with one long take (no cutting). The blocking of the two main characters––Tár and the student Max (Zethphan Smith-Gneist)––speaks volumes.
Max chooses a contemporary piece by the Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir to conduct. Stopping him midway, Tár brings up the importance of Bach’s work, sitting down beside him as equal to discuss and ask if he would consider conducting a Bach piece. Here’s Max’s response:
“Honestly, as a BIPOC, pangender person, I’d say Bach’s misogenystic life makes it kind of impossible for me to take his music seriously.” He’s referring to the composer having had fathered 21 offsprings.
Boycotting Bach for his brood of children?
Here’s Tár’s restrained response: “I’m unclear as to what his prodigious skill on the marital bed has to do with [his Mass in] B minor.” Pointing out the issue of separating the art from the artist.
Drawing out the thought in Max, she says: “Can classical music written by a bunch of straight Austro-German church going white guys exalt us?” To answer that, she invites Max to sit by her side at the piano, going through with him some Bach pieces. To her credit, in both instances, her persuasion is gentle and egalitarian as the camera captures teacher and student sitting at the same level.
Max’s viewpoint is a biting issue today: can a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour), pangender person acknowledge the contribution of straight, ancient white guys? Tár’s response is obvious. The artists’ works override their nationality, colour and gender. Likewise, she challenges Max to look at the composer of his own choice, Icelandic, female composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir. What is the resemblance that Max has to identify with her?
Brilliant question. To which Max responds by picking up his stuff and walks out, with a verbal swipe of expletive for his teacher. Tár replies: “And you’re a robot. The architect of your soul appears to be social media.”
Who wins this debate? Field leaves it to his viewers to decide. As with the other issues laid out in the film as well as the ending, there are more questions than answers. Yes, Blanchett’s performance is top-notch, but I come out having a higher appreciation of Field’s writing.
~ ~ ~ Ripples
A Warm Winter Day
Today is a balmy 5C (41F) winter day. Sunny with no wind, and the Pond is teeming with life and beauty. For the first time in two months, I take my camera out and soak up the scenery.
The chickadees which flutter even in -20’s temperatures are out in full force. Glad to see woodpeckers too, basking in the sunlight:
Yes, those are buds on the branches!
Glad to see a family of deer out enjoying the afternoon sun. This one comes right up to me, maybe hoping for a snack:
While I’m glad to see the woods teeming with activities, what capture my attention are the ice patches, melting and dripping in the warmth of this mid-winter afternoon:
Buds on tree branches and melting ice in January? Just a mid-winter interlude of hope… like a mirage in the desert. No matter, I’m enjoying every bit of this new year blessing.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery with a Magic Fugue
Even before we see anything with the screen black, we hear the subject melody, the quiet and ponderous single line of piano music. What piece is this? One might ask. Eight minutes into the movie, in a convivial house party, we get the answer.
Fashion icon Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) is intrigued by the tune as well when she tries to open a mystery box sent to her by the tech mogul Miles Bron (Edward Norton). Before she can Shazam it, the answer is given by none other than the renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma himself. That’s Bach’s ‘Little Fugue’ in G minor, he explains to Peg (Jessica Henwick) while munching on some sort of finger food in her house party.
“A fugue is a beautiful musical puzzle based on just one tune. And when you layer this tune on top of itself, it starts to change and turn into a beautiful new structure,” the virtuoso casually points out. An apt description of what’s to come.
And, of course, Birdie Jay can’t get her answer, for she’s talking to a lamp to Shazam the tune thinking it’s Alexa.
Writer/director Rian Johnson’s sequel to Knives Out (2019) is a totally different offering in sight and sound. A comedic murder mystery in the vein of an Agatha Christie novel with the Knives Out detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, never mind his accent), a dapper Columbo, a sunny locale, striking set design, a well-written screenplay and seamless editing, and not least, an animated ensemble cast, we get an entertaining feature.
The connections are multiple, watching it viewers become sleuths themselves to decipher the associations and allusions, visually, musically, and cinematically. Spotting all those cameos is fun too: Angela Lansbury, Stephen Sondheim, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Serena Williams. Or check out what’s Ethan Hawke and Hugh Grant are doing there.
Miles is a friendly egotist, seen as a genius by some, extreme danger by others, probably knowing his personal philosophy is “fake it till you make it.” The tech titan has invited his insider group of ‘Disruptors’ to an annual reunion weekend. This time the event takes place on his private Greek island in the form of a murder mystery party; his guests are to solve his own murder. The Disruptors are fashionista Birdie Jay, social media influencer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), politician Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), and scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.)
The key person to show up shocking them all is Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe) who used to be Miles’s business partner. So, some background story needs to be peeled off. Miles’s home on the island is the Glass Onion, a spectacle of an architecture that looks exactly as its name denotes, a metaphor for the core truth actually is hidden in plain sight through visible layers.
The sounding of the hourly dong that echoes through the island (voice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of those moments in the movie that evokes a chuckle, especially when we hear Miles say he got Phil Glass to compose that. Yes, that’s Philip Glass, the minimalist composer creating that one note sound of the gong for Miles. No, not a joke on Glass but more on the self-importance of the tech mogul himself.
Same with the Mona Lisa encased in a sensitive glass protective display case. More chuckles from that too. The world famous painting is on loan to Miles from the Louvre via the French government during the pandemic when all arts venues are closed and revenues lost. Miles is pleased that the art world, even government, bows to his whims, “I wanna be responsible for something that gets mentioned in the same breath as the Mona Lisa. Forever.” And now he has it in his palm, no, not the Mona Lisa, but a little solid hydrogen fuel crystal which will be a gamechanger in global energy source. His plan is to invite national leaders to the Glass Onion to unveil it.
As the story begins to peel off layer by layer, we know each of these Disruptors have their reasons to be loyal to Miles as their personal interest depends on his patronage. Ironically, they also harbour resentment towards him.
Half way into the movie an important layer peels off, revealing the backstory. I have no issue with such a twist, for now I anticipate new conflicts on a different level, heightening the tension. From here on, viewers are shown the point of view of Andi’s character. Reminiscence of Kurosawa’s Rashomon, we can now see more clearly what actually happened in the previous sequence of events, this time, from the perspective of Andi’s; now we understand her as our reluctant heroine.
Repeating the scenes isn’t necessarily redundant, Bach would have said. That’s exactly what he did with the fugue, the same tune appearing in a different context in the contrapuntal composition. While he would probably have found the movie ending shocking, he’d likely be curious to hear songs by singing groups called The Beatles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Bee Gees… among others, or listen to the harpsichord and orchestral theme by a 21st century composer called Nathan Johnson (Rian’s cousin).
From Bond to Blanc, Craig’s collaboration with the Johnsons has made the Knives Out movies a promising and entertaining franchise.
~ ~ ~ Ripples
Reading the Season: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s God is in the Manger
Reading the Season is an annual post on Ripple Effects in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Christmas festivities. An interlude to find rest and to ponder on the reason for the season. Lately, I reread the popular fiction All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr; my mind is haunted by the horrors of a world war raged by a madman. And then I came across this book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God is in the Manger: Reflections of Advent and Christmas. What a timely discovery!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian in WWII Germany. A brilliant intellectual who received his doctorate from the University of Berlin at age 21, Bonhoeffer bravely stood against Hitler, involved in the Resistance, captured, imprisoned, and paid the ultimate price. He was hanged at the Flossenbürg prison on April 9, 1945, just two weeks before the Allies marched in, and three weeks before Hitler took his own life.
Here are a few excerpts from Bonhoeffer’s God is in the Manger:
The lack of mystery in our modern life is our downfall and our poverty… Living without mystery means knowing nothing of the mystery of our own life, nothing of the mystery of another person, nothing of the mystery of the world… It means remaining on the surface, taking the world seriously only to the extent that it can be calculated and exploited, and not going beyond the world of calculation and exploitation. Living without mystery means not seeing the crucial processes of life at all and even denying them.
Replace the word mystery with miracle…
Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous… God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.
God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment.
For the great and powerful of this world, there are only two places in which their courage fails them, of which they are afraid deep in their souls from which they shy away. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ.
And you think he’s intense and serious, well, yes he is, brilliant in insights and brave to speak truth to power. But from his other writings, there’s also humour, equally enlightening. Here’s a quote taken from Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. (Click on the link to my read-along post)
If you board the wrong train it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.
Have a restful and joyous Christmas Season!
Reading the Season in Previous Years:
2021: Sabbath Poems by Wendell Berry
2020: Jack by Marilynne Robinson
2019: ‘A Hidden Life’ – A Film for the Season
2018: A Verse from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season
2017: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson
2013: Poetry by Madeleine L’Engle
2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis
2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle
2010: A Widening Light by Luci Shaw
2009: The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle
2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge
Books to Screen Adaptations 2023 and Beyond
Like to read the book first before watching the movie adaptation in the theatre or streaming? Here’s a new list.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner is being developed into a Netflix mini-series. To seek authentic representation, the filmmakers embarked on a global search for a blind actor to play Marie-Laure, one of the two main characters in the historical novel set in WWII. Penn State doctoral student Aria Mia Loberti won the casting call. An outstanding academic achiever, this will be Loberti’s acting debut.
A Man Called Otto (Ove) by Fredrik Backman
The English version of the heartwarming Swedish novel-turned-movie A Man Called Ove, about a grumpy old man’s suicide attempt being disrupted by his boisterous new neighbours. The title character’s name is changed to a relatively more common name and will be played by an even more familiar name, Tom, Tom Hanks.
A Haunting in Venice (Hallowe’en Party) by Agatha Christie
The adaptation of Hercule Poirot’s 32nd mystery will be directed by once again, Kenneth Branagh, his third Poirot role, after Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. Set in post WWII Venice where the renowned detective finds himself again as an accidental sleuth in a murder mystery. An eclectic cast with Kelly Reilly (abrasive Yellowstone schemer), James Dornan (no shade), Tina Fey (no kidding), and Michelle Yeoh (for kicks?)
A Time for Mercy by John Grisham
A sequel to Grisham’s debut novel A Time to Kill (1989). Matthew McConaughey will reprise his role as lawyer Jake Brigance, from the 1996 movie adaptation. A Time for Mercy (2020) is Grisham’s third Brigance novel after Sycamore Row (2013). It will be adapted into an HBO series.
The Ambassadors by Henry James
In pre-production and to be directed by Mike Newell whose filmography include Four Weddings and a Funeral, Great Expectations, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, among 78 titles, which means, he can do rom coms and literary adaptations. The heavy and serious Henry James just might get a makeover under the helm of Newell. I have this book on my shelf, now’s a good time to dust it off.
The Critic (Curtain Call) by Anthony Quinn
A crime thriller in a theatre setting. According to IMDb, it’s a story of ambition, blackmail and desire… a whodunnit wrapped in a Faustian pact. And the cast just makes it hard to resist: Leslie Manville, Gemma Arterton, Romola Garai, Mark Strong, Ian McKellen, Ben Barnes. Directed by Anand Tucker (Girl with a Pearl Earring)
The Maid by Nita Prose
The popular novel would make one entertaining movie. Molly Gray, a maid in a luxury hotel, is caught in a web of a murder mystery, her innocence and pure heart is no defence from the accusations and schemes of the real world. Many readers and reviewers place her in an autistic spectrum but I just see her as the female version of Sheldon Cooper (of The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon). Florence Pugh (Oscar nom for her role as Amy in Little Women, 2019) is on board to play Molly, a good choice.
Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou
Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai’s own production company, Extracurricular, is in talks to adapt Chou’s debut novel for an Apple TV+ series. That’s a most interesting combination of talents. Book is a satire, yes, LOL humour at times, about a Taiwanese American doctoral student playing literary sleuth and trying to stay afloat in the turbulent academic sea. Reminds me of Sandra Oh in The Chair.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Kristin Hannah’s worldwide bestseller about two estranged sisters during the German occupation of France in WWII will be played by real life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning, each a star in their own right. Its release had been delayed, but might not need to wait till 2023. The latest info is late December, 2022.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carr´é
One Day by David Nicholls
Proust and the Multiverse
A pair of wings, a different respiratory system, which enabled us to travel through space, would in no way help us, for if we visited Mars or Venus while keeping the same senses, they would clothe everything we could see in the same aspect as the things of Earth. The only true voyage… would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is.
This could be taken as dialogues from Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, or, Everything Everywhere All At Once, both 2022 movies flying high on the trending theme of multiple universes. But of course, the excerpt is Proust’s, and the universes he refers to are internal ones.
The above quote is taken from In Search of Lost Time Volume V: The Captive and The Fugitive (343), as the narrator Marcel acknowledges the infinite views that can arise from personal experiences of different individuals filtered through their own subjective lens. There are as many viewpoints as there are people, therefore, every object or event can evoke a variety of perspectives and responses. Subjectivity is Proust’s master stroke. Take this other excerpt from the same volume. As Marcel awakens in the morning:
… from my bed, I hear the world awake, now to one sort of weather, now to another! Yes, I have been forced to whittle down the facts, and to be a liar, but it is not one universe, but millions, almost as many as the number of human eyes and brains in existence, that awake every morning. (V:250)
Today, November 18th, is the centenary of Proust’s death at the age of 51 (1871-1922). A look at his contemporaries could help us place him in a historical context and probably source the influence of his introspective sensitivity and his ultra-reflexive writing. Again, the disclaimer here is that, I’m no Proust scholar… mere ripples out of my own tiny universe. I can think of the following iconic figures as I consider the historical context of Proust’s writing.
It was the era of psychoanalysis. I’m sure Freud (1856-1939) would have been eager to apply his own theory to explain the case of Marcel’s longing for his mother’s goodnight kiss as he lies in bed waiting for her to come up to his room every night. And then there was Carl Jung, (1875 – 1961), whose theory on personality and the unconscious could have sparked some light into Marcel’s epiphany of the involuntary memories: ephemeral flashbacks that fuel his imaginative mind with creative thoughts. It’s such kind of subliminal emergence of Time past that fills him with joy and meaning.
And of course, there are the other writers whom Marcel has mentioned in the book, Henry James (1843-1916) whose brother is also a prominent psychologist of the time, William James (1842-1910), across the Atlantic. Another notable, Marcel’s enthusiasm is heightened when talking about Dostoevsky (1821-1881), the master of characterizing the human psyche.
And what’s with all the space travel idea, flying from star to star, while the Wright brothers had just successfully flown the very first aeroplane only in 1903? Huge imagination and insight for one to think of multiverses at that time. I’m not sure what the original French word is. Those who read In Search of Lost Time in French, is the word the same as its English translation, ‘universe’? (V: 250, 343)
Reading this sparked a personal flashback as I remember my experience of visiting “The Infinity Mirrored Room” created by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (born 1929) at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto a few years ago. Infinite reflections from these tiny silver balls:
Having said all the above about Proust’s sensitivity to subjective universes, here’s the rub. It is utterly ironic that these insights are taken from Volume V: The Captive and The Fugitive. Why, here in this volume, Marcel has taken Albertine captive in his parents’ home where he stays while in Paris. He first met Albertine in Balbec; she has now become his lover/mistress. No, she isn’t in chains, but the restraints Marcel puts on her is psychological rather than physical. He tracks her every move, “whenever the door opened I gave a start.” (494) In reality, there just might be two captives in that house, Albertine and Marcel himself, both caught in a psychological tug of war, maintaining a fragile relationship based on lies and evasiveness.
As much as he knows about his own thoughts and feelings, or even that of his housekeeper Francoise’s, Marcel’s empathy does not extend to Albertine’s universe. He might think his keeping her in his house is for her own good, “to save her from her orgiastic life which Albertine had led before she met me.” (474). Yet his ‘love’ for her is built upon his own possessiveness and jealousy; his displeasure with her intensifies when he learns it’s with other women that she seeks intimacy. Eventually, fleeing a stifling life, gasping for the air of freedom, Albertine leaves the house abruptly one morning. The captive now becomes the fugitive.
The events that follow are like a test of Marcel’s love for Albertine, showing if it is genuine or merely self-indulgence, egotism, or even just lust. Spoiler Alert from here on.
Marcel has never gone out to look for the fugitive. Until one day, he gets the news that Albertine has died in a horse-riding accident. Surely there is grief and pain in the immediate aftermath, but what does he miss most? “I needed her presence, her kisses.” (642) While he goes on to reminisce the good and the bad sides of Albertine, not long after that he has given her up for another:
The memory of Albertine had become so fragmentary that it no longer caused me any sadness and was no more now than a transition to fresh desires, like a chord which announces a change of key. And indeed, any idea of a passing sensual whim being ruled out, in so far as I was still faithful to Albertine’s memory, I was happier at having Andrée in my company than I would have been at having an Albertine miraculously restored… my tenderness for her, both physically and emotionally, had already vanished. (809-810)
“like a chord which announces a change of key…” O the fickleness of desire! The deceits of hidden motives and the capricious emotion one calls love. Marcel might be insightful in acknowledging multiple universes within individuals, pure love remains elusive. Dr. Strange crushes his enemies from the multiverse spectacularly, but the beast that lurks within oneself might be more formidable a foe to conquer.
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust: A Movie Reviewer’s Long Take
“Life is too short, and Proust is too long.” – Anatole France, French writer and poet
Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the Nobel laureate Anatole France died in 1924, three years short of seeing the publication of the complete seven volumes of Proust’s autobiographical novel In Search of Lost Time.
My reading journey began in 2013 when I read the first two volumes, Swann’s Way and Within a Budding Grove, as a Read Along on Ripple Effects. For reasons I can’t recall, it took me a few years to get through the third volume The Guermantes Way, finishing at the beginning of 2018. After that, I thought, that would be all for me.
I’m glad I came across Emma’s Book Around the Corner in January of this year to learn that 2022 is the Centenary of Proust’s death (July 10, 1871 – Nov. 18, 1922). That prodded me to finish up the remaining three volumes. Also, since I own the Modern Library six-volume box set, I hate to see it as just a decorative item, however smart it does look.
So glad I finally finish the last three volumes this year in nine months, just in time for the centenary of Proust’s death in November: Vol. IV Sodom and Gomorrah, Vol. V The Captive and The Fugitive (originally in two volumes), and Vol. VI Time Regained. For me, a hobby Proust reader, not until I come to the last volume Time Regained do I realize the significance of the first three volumes and why Proust writes in such minute details about the narrator’s childhood and youthful experiences.
There are many websites and scholastic discussions on this 4,300 page autobiographical novel. Instead of summarizing––an impossible task for me––I’ll pick out those passages or ideas that have stirred up some ripples within me filtered through the lens of a movie reviewer, hopefully offering something that’s different and easy to chew.
At the end of Volume VI there are over 200 pages listing characters, places, and themes. Some of the subjects in the 44 pages of Index to Themes include beauty, brothels, dreams, literature, language, music, painting, politics, the Dreyfus Affair, anti-semitism, war, love, sexuality, old age, death… just to name a few. Imagine you’re standing by a smorgasbord of a huge array of culinary offerings, yes including those that are hard to digest or don’t agree with your system, and you can only eat so much, of course you would pick and choose your favourite foods. So, here’s what’s on my plate at this buffet.
In the last part of Vol. VI: Time Regained, the narrator discovers the crucial dimension of Time. Surely, Time over the years has rendered many people he has had crossed path with in his life frail and infirmed, or lost their good looks due to ageing, and some have died, like Swann. But the subliminal power of memories allows him to relive his childhood experiences once again and see these people reappear in his mind as he had known them in his youth. His memories have preserved them like they have not grown old.
So the end of this long book brings readers back to the beginning. It’s not so much about going back, but rather, bringing the past to the present as the two form a continuation of life. Yes, a virtual back to the future.
A reader bearing with him from the beginning and now reaching this eureka moment can feel the narrator’s joy in discovering this secret chamber deep in his psyche where he, unknowingly, has stored up treasured moments of his past. The length of the book could well be a virtual reality as we see his life unfold at a slow pace, then vicariously feel the joy of the discovery of this hidden, mental treasure trove years later. Sharing such ecstasy with readers has now become the purpose of his writing:
The happiness which I was feeling was a product not of a purely subjective tension of the nerves which isolated me from the past, but on the contrary of an enlargement of my mind, within which the past was re-forming and actualizing itself , giving me –– but alas! only momentarily––something whose value was eternal. This I should have liked to bequeath to those who might have been enriched by my treasure. (VI: 513)
The above quote found towards the end of the long book brings readers back to the beginning. Many movies are just like this, a bookend finish: The last scenes bring viewers back to the beginning scenes, revealing their significance and then move on to wrap up the whole work. That’s the feeling I got when reading the last volume, Time Regained. Proust brings us back to the pleasure of enjoying the madeleine soaked in tea, the ringing of the bell on the garden gate when he was a child waiting impatiently for his mother to see Swann off so she could come up to kiss him goodnight, Combray memories, the Swann and the Guermantes way––precious scenes to go one full circle back to the beginning–––to regain Time, to cherish a life in continuity. Call it the Circle of Life if you will, but to the narrator, the present has never been separated from the past.
Another ripple from my mental pond is how mindful the narrator is in his everyday living. BTW, he is also called Marcel, so I take it as Proust’s own view of things. His exceptional sensitivity and the minute details in his observation and introspection form the signature of his book.
As I read how he’d stop and see things and people with incisive perception, a movie quote comes to mind. Nope, not from any old sage but spoken time and again by a high school wise guy who wants to play hooky for a day. In a very Proustian posture, Ferris Beuller (Matthew Broderick) lies in bed one morning as he considers a good reason for skipping school that day:
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you can miss it.” –– from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986, directed by John Hughes.
Ferris Bueller might not have read Proust, but just shows how relevant Proust can be in contemporary life.
Click here to the next Proust Post:
Proust and the Multiverse
Past Proust posts on Ripple Effects:
Proust Read Along: Swann’s Way Part I, Combray
Proust Read Along: The Swann and Gatsby Foil
Proust Read Along: Within a Budding Grove
“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” –– George Eliot, in her letter of Oct., 1841
Successive autumns, and never will winter come. What a marvellous thought! Just yesterday, we had our first snow, icy reminder for what’s to come. But the forecast is that we’ll get back to some warmer, seasonal autumn air in the coming week.
I like to dwell on those sunny days of fall. We don’t have many red leaves here, but the rusty and golden hue all around the pond is enticing and fresh.
Many birds have migrated south. So, I was surprised and delighted to see this one still lingering …
A Great Blue Heron in this part of the Pond by late October is rare. Like Proust’s madeleine dipped in tea, serendipitous sightings like this can last through many winters as fond memories conjure up during the shut-in, wintry days.
And with this little Proustian teaser, I’m dropping a hint of what’s to come on Ripple Effects in November. Stay tuned.