Middlemarch Book II – IV: Inkblot Test

We’ve come to the midpoint of our tentative reading plan. Hard to believe one month’s gone by already. Instead of a review of all the chapters, how about a Middlemarch inkblot test?

What word comes to your mind when you see the following:

 

  • Dorothea 
  • Casaubon 
  • Ladislaw 
  • Fred 
  • Rosamond 
  • Lydgate 
  • Celia 
  • Mr. Brooke 
  • Mary Garth

 

I’ll just stop with these ones. Have your views about these characters changed from first you met them?

Any surprises in the storylines?

Which characters do you click ‘Like’?

What to do with the ones we don’t? Is Eliot having fun with Austen’s idea of creating characters whom no one would much like?

Favorite Quotes?

Here are some of mine, for various reasons, but mostly for Eliot’s power of association in her descriptions.

Will Ladislaw’s thought about Dorothea:

“To ask her to be less simple and direct would be like breathing on the crystal that you want to see the light through.”

About Dorothea’s predicament:

“I suppose it was that in courtship everything is regarded as provisional and preliminary, and the smallest sample of virtue or accomplishment is taken to guarantee delightful stores which the broad leisure of marriage will reveal. But the door-sill of marriage once crossed, expectation is concentrated on the present. Having once embarked on your marital voyage, it is impossible not to be aware that you make no way and that the sea is not within sight –– that, in fact, you are exploring an enclosed basin.”

And if Eliot were among us today, she would likely be vocal in the #Metoo and #Timesup movements:

“Society never made the preposterous demand that a man should think as much about his own qualifications for making a charming girl happy as he thinks of hers for making himself happy.”

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Your two pebbles?

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Other posts from our Read-Along participants:

Men of Middlemarch

Middlemarch –– Ladislaw’s Force of Unreason

Middlemarch by George Eliot –– Completed today

 

A Good Friday Trial

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“Then went the jury out, whose names were Mr. Blindman, Mr. Nogood, Mr. Malice, Mr. Love-lust, Mr. Live-loose, Mr. Heady, Mr. Highmind, Mr. Enmity, Mr. Liar, Mr. Cruelty, Mr. Hate-light, Mr. Implacable, who everyone gave in his private verdict against him among themselves, and afterwards unanimously concluded to bring him in guilty before the judge. And first among themselves, Mr. Blindman, the foreman, said, I see clearly that this man is a heretic. Then said Mr. Nogood. way with such a fellow from the earth! Ay, said Mr. Malice, for I hate the very look of him. Then said Mr. Love-lust, I could never endure him. Nor I, said Mr. Live-loose; for he would be always condemning my way. Hang him, hang him, said Mr. Heady. A sorry scrub, said Mr. High-mind. My heart riseth against him, said Mr. Enmity. He is a rogue, said Mr. Liar. Hanging is too good for him, said Mr. Cruelty. Let us despatch him out of the way, said Mr. Hate-light. Then said Mr. Implacable, Might I have all the world given me, I could not be reconciled to him; let us forthwith bring him in guilty of death. And so they did; therefore he was presently condemned to be had from the place where he was, to the place from whence he came, and there to be put to the most cruel death that could be invented.”

–– John Bunyan
Pilgrim’s Progress

 

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“I am an immigrant” Oscar winning director Guillermo del Toro speaks for millions

Who isn’t from a lineage of immigrants in this relatively new continent of ours ‘discovered’ just a few hundred years ago. Even the indigenous of our land are thought to have had migrated from elsewhere. In his acceptance speech for Best Director at Sunday’s 90th Academy Awards, Mexican film director, writer, and producer of The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro conveys multiple truths. Indeed, multiplicity looks to be the trend forward.

del Toro

“I am an immigrant,” del Toro declares, these four words bold and clear, albeit humbly and thankfully.

The director continues:

“In the last 25 years I’ve been living in a country all of our own. Part of it is here, part of it in Europe, part of it everywhere.”

del Toro highlighted another truth by saying that being a part of a diaspora, home can be anywhere. While some may oppose to it, one cannot deny the effects of globalization is a breaking down of barriers, the fusing of cultures, and the forming of the world citizen.

del Toro is the third Mexican director to win the Best Picture Oscar. He follows two of his countrymen–‘The Three Amigos’ as they’re called– basking in the Oscar limelight in recent years, Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity in 2013 and Alejandro González Iñárritu in the subsequent two years for Birdman and The Revenant.

“… I think that the greatest thing that our art does and our industry does is to erase the lines in the sand. We should continue doing that when the world tells us to make them deeper.”

The making of the Oscar winning feature The Shape of Water is a testimony of border crossing. Written and helmed by a Mexican director, the film stars a London, England, born Sally Hawkins, supported by a cast of American actors. Original music written by a French film composer, Alexandre Desplat, who won his second Oscar with his water music (his first was The Grand Budapest Hotel in 2015). Director of photography is Danish cinematographer Dan Laustsen. The movie nominated for thirteen Academy Awards and winning four is shot and produced in Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Toronto production designer Paul D. Austerberry and his team garners an Oscar for their creative work, bringing del Toro’s fantastic imagination to life.

del Toro sure knows what it means to erase lines in the sand.

Kazuo Ishiguro

A parallel figure can be found in the world of another art form. The 2017 Nobel Laureate in Literature Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1954. When he was five, he followed his family to England. At first his parents thought their sojourn would be a short couple of years, but the family ended up staying there ever since. Immigrants as well. Ishiguro had not returned to visit the country of his birth until thirty years later.

His earliest novels are set in Japan confronting Japanese issues; his later works expand out to other locales and even crossing literary genres. His most well-known novel is perhaps The Remains of the Day which was adapted into film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. It is bona fide a British novel.

Is he a Japanese writer or an English writer? Ishiguro was asked this boundary-setting question after his Nobel win. In his own words on the British Council Literature webpage: “I am a writer who wishes to write international novels. What is an ‘international’ novel? I believe it to be one, quite simply, that contains a vision of life that is of importance to people of varied backgrounds around the world. It may concern characters who jet across continents, but may just as easily be set firmly in one small locality.” Only by eliminating borders can one reach the universal.

del Toro had it right when he used the metaphor of lines in the sand. Often borders are not carved in stone but fluid and arbitrary. Surely you can make them deeper. But sand being sand, the lines can be readily washed away as the tides of change come rolling in.

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I thank Asian American Press for allowing me to repost my article in full.

Related Posts:

The Shape of Water is All Enfolding

Don’t Just Drive Past The Three Billboards

Mudbound: From Book to Screen

 

‘Certain Women’: To Connect on a Vast Landscape

The common denominator is the landscape: Montana. Open country, clear, fresh air. The expanse of space could mean the freedom to roam. As we look into the four female characters, however, the vastness of the landscape and the cold winter could infer separateness and the need for connections. In the internal landscape, an assertion of self.

Director Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, 2008) has chosen three short stories by Maile Meloy to form a cinematic triptych. Meloy’s stories are lean and succinct. Correspondingly, Reichardt’s style is minimal as with her previous works. She brings together three loosely linked stories that can stand on their own. To review them in a succinct way, I’ll use three words as my focal point for each.

Certain Women.jpg

Authority

Laura (Laura Dern), a woman lawyer in Livingston has to deal with a disgruntled client, Fuller (Jared Harris), who was injured in his construction job. As he has accepted a settlement, he can have no further claim for tort. Laura has explained this to him time and again, but he refuses to believe her until one day, they drive a few hours to another town to seek a second opinion from a personal injury lawyer, a male. As Fuller listens to the lawyer stating the same reason as Laura has been telling him all along, he just says ‘Okay’ and seems to accept the fact. Laura laments: “If I were a man, I could explain the law and people would listen and say ‘Okay.’ It’ll be so restful.”

A few days later, a hostage-taking incident occurs in the middle of the night, and Laura is called by the police. It’s Fuller taking a security guard hostage at a government office and wants her to go in to read him his file regarding compensation. Laura goes in and calmly diffuses the tense situation. The incident sends Fuller to prison. He seems content when Laura visits him. Laura finds a changed and much calmer Fuller. He appreciates her visit, and just wants an occasional letter from her to keep in touch. Laura does have authority after all, albeit may not be as she has hoped in the professional front. Her influence rests on her considerate demeanor making an impact on a personal and human level. And for this, Fuller learns to appreciate.

Authenticity

A city woman Gina (Michelle Williams) wants to build a country dream house, not to move in but as a weekend home. She has her eyes on a pile of sandstones that belong to long time resident of the land, Albert (Rene Auberjonois). The sandstones hold the history of the area, for they are from the original school house. We see the cracks in Gina’s relationship with her husband Ryan (James Le Gros) as they try to smooth-talk Albert, Gina seemingly caring but assertive in what she wants, while Ryan is apologetic and conciliatory. Why would a city woman want a pile of old sandstones for her country home? For authenticity, Ryan tells Albert. Ouch, is that supposed to be helpful or is he being sarcastic? Further, their daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier) seems to be harder to placate as she is dragged along to the country reluctantly. The crevice in the mother-daughter relationship looks to be a tough fissure to fix.

Alienation

The most moving segment comes last. A young lawyer Beth Travis (Kristen Stewart) has to drive a few hours several nights a week after work from Livingston to Belfry to teach a night course on school law, a prior commitment before she found her present job. At the night class, she encounters a ranch hand, Jamie (Lily Gladstone), who drops in out of curiosity. The short moments of sharing as she accompanies Beth to a diner after class for a meal before she drives back home stir up deep longings. Gladstone’s restraint is particularly moving. Nuanced performance from both.

While she may be adroit with horses, it’s a human connection that Jamie yearns for. She comes to every class until one night, the students are told that the class will be taught by another teacher as Beth has quit due to the long drive. Eager to look for her, the ranch hand drives to Livingston to search for a lawyer named Beth Travis. What follows is an aching attempt to reach out towards an unrequited end. The last scene of the same horse-tending routines Jamie gets back to speaks poignantly. Life goes on despite…

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

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Source materials: Short stories by Maile Meloy “Tome” and “Native Sandstone” from the collection Half In Love, and “Travis, B.” from Both Ways is the Only Way I Want it.

Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos

I return to The Diary of A Country Priest by French author Georges Bernanos, (Journal d’un curé de campagne, 1936) perennially at Easter time. Like Endo’s Silence, it reveals candidly a priest’s suffering and struggles in the midst of a harsh and unwelcome world. Unlike Silence though, light shines through the cracks more warmly. Power through weakness, life conquering death, the essence of Easter.

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The Diary of a Country Priest Book Cover

A young priest comes to his first parish, the rural town of Ambricourt, filled with humble hopes. All he wants is to serve the people, to give of himself, to bring God’s love. But as soon as he sets foot in the village, he is engulfed by hatred and rejection. There are dark secrets too sinister to be exposed. The young priest is an unwelcome alien. In a town afflicted by hypocrisy, pride, anger and bitterness, he is despised, taunted and ridiculed. His own inexperience is no match even for the children in his catechism class, especially the precocious Seraphitas, a girl ‘with a hardness far beyond her years.’

Ambricourt is a world afflicted by the ‘leprosy of boredom’, a microcosm of the human condition. Bernanos uses diseases to illustrate his point well. The young priest himself is being slowly consumed by terminal illness. The pain in his stomach ultimately defeats his body, cancer. His diet consists mainly of bread dipped in wine which he makes for himself, and some potato soup. Poverty in materials parallels the frailty of his body to take in solid food. None of these though can compare to the sufferings in his spirit. Many a times we see him in the Garden of Gethsemane, pleading for strength in anguish. But he faithfully presses on, using his diary to confide his deepest thoughts, a means to commune with his God.

On the outskirt of Ambricourt is the Château of the powerful M. le Comte. The Count needs no priest to know about his adulterous affairs, this time, with the governess Mlle Louise. His wife Mme la Comtesse is totally absorbed by her long-held bitterness and grief from the loss of her young son. And his daughter Mlle Chantal is a deeply disturbed girl eaten up by anger and jealousy. Soon, she will be sent away to England, a most convenient plan devised by her father.

It is with this deep mess of a family that the young priest finds himself entangled. The most intense scene of the whole book, the climatic moment, comes when the priest goes to the Château to meet with Mme la Comtesse. She lost her beloved son when he was only eighteen months old, a child hated by his jealous older sister Chantal.

On his last day they went out for a walk together. When they came back my boy was dead.

Mme la Comtesse is fully engulfed by hatred for her daughter, grief for her lost son, and bitterness towards God.

Hearing her speak, a tear flows down the face of the young priest. “Hell is not to love any more, madame.” The young priest responds. And with miraculous strength, he delivers the following words.

… But you know that our God came to be among us. Shake your fist at Him, spit in His face, scourge Him, and finally crucify Him: what does it matter? It’s already been done to Him.

Towards the end of some soul piercing exchanges, Mme la Comtesse kneels down, releases her pain, and receives blessings from the young priest. Afterwards, she writes to him in a letter:

… I have lived in the most horrible solitude, alone with the desperate memory of a child. And it seems to me that another child has brought me to life again…

And this young child, a priest, consumed by illness, wreaked by frailty of spirit, can only marvel at the power through weakness:

Oh miracle — thus to be able to give what we ourselves do not possess, sweet miracle of our empty hands!

Not long after this, he succumbs to his illness. A life too short, a mission seems unaccomplished. But his last words faintly uttered on his deathbed are as powerful as the God who sends him:

Does it matter? Grace is everywhere…

And in the film, these three words leave me with one of the most poignant endings of all the films that I’ve seen:

“All is grace.”

 ***

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

English Edition of The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos, translated by Pamela Morris, Perseus Books Group, Philadelphia, PA, 1965, 298 pages.

Journal d’un curé de campagne, 1936, was winner of the Grand prix du roman de l’Académie française.

Upcoming Post:

The Film Review of Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest (1951).

Related Post:

Silence the Movie Arrives in the Most Unwelcome Time

Silence by Shusaku Endo

 

Memorable Movie Love Quotes

The following is my Valentine post back in 2008 and an update after Downton. Re-posting here today for reminiscence. For several years, this post held the highest view records on my blog. I’d received 60+ comments suggesting more quotes. I regret I don’t have the plugin to copy them all here. But I’m sure we can start anew and update with fresh ones.  You’re welcome to add your fave movie love quote in a comment.
 
                                                                                    
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To celebrate Valentine’s Day, I’ve compiled a list of memorable quotes from movies, all on the theme of love. All come from movies I’ve seen, some I’ve reviewed on this Blog (click on title to my review). They represent dialogues that have stirred some ripples in one small heart. And love…being a many splendid thing, embraces all kinds of human relationships, and transcends cultures and boundaries.
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Here’s Arti’s Collection of Memorable Movie Love Quotes:

  • Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. — Dead Poets Society
  • The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return. — Moulin Rouge
  • The things that people in love do to each other they remember, and if they stay together it’s not because they forget, it’s because they forgive. — Indecent Proposal
  • I like you very much. Just as you are. — Bridget Jones’s Diary
Bridget Jones' Diary
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  • When the planes hit the twin towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge — they were all messages of love. — Love Actually
  • Maybe it is our imperfections which make us so perfect for one another. — Emma
  • And now, I’m back…and I’ve lost her all over again. I’m so sad that I don’t have Kelly. But I’m so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring? —Castaway
  • I don’t believe in quantum physics when it comes to matter of the heart. — Bull Durham
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  • Shoot me. There’s no greater glory than to die for love. — Love in the Time of Cholera
  • I need to feel strongly, to love and to admire, just as desperately as I need to breathe. — The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  • For you, a thousand times over. — The Kite Runner
  • Come back…Come back to me. — Atonement
  • Natalie:  Do you believe in love at first sight?
    John:  Yes I do. Saves a lot of time. — The Stickup

While a few are lucky enough to save time and escape the torments of love by creating a lasting flame from the first spark, some have to go through tumultuous pining, even the arduous and humbling experience of transforming oneself to gain requited love. And who, other than the following, epitomizes such kind of yearning:

Love Quotes From Downton Abbey:

“I love you Mr. Bates. I know it’s not ladylike to say it, but I’m not a lady and I don’t pretend to be.”  — Anna, S1E5

“I’m not a romantic… But even I concede that the heart does not exist solely for the purpose of pumping blood.” Violet Crawley, S2E2

“I’d rather have the right man, than the right wedding.” — Anna, S2E5

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You all are welcome to contribute to this list. Just submit your favorite movie love quotes in the comment box below…and have a memorable Valentine’s Day!

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Here’s the link to my original post where you can read all the comments.

Silence the Movie Arrives in the Most Unwelcome Time

 

Why is La La Land being embraced so readily and Silence shunned? Evidence from box office sales and nominations during this Awards Season clearly show the difference between the two. Just now, the Oscar Nominations are in. La La Land: 14  Silence: 1

Allow me to speculate.

One in glamorous primary colours, the other shrouded in misty shades of gloom. One a fantasy, romance in song and dance, the other realism of suffering, persecution, death. One is layback, relaxing entertainment, the other is 2.5 hours of intense engagement. One charms, the other disturbs. When offered at the end of a tumultuous year, and as we step into a new one when hopes and fears are renewed, the choice is easy. La La Land is an amiable feature (although I won’t get into the overrated debate here), but Silence sure doesn’t deserve the disregard it’s getting.

It’s just that Silence arrives in the most unwelcome time. But then again, there’s no suitable time for a feature like it. Isn’t it revelatory and even prophetic that this film, probably director Martin Scorsese’s most important in his oeuvre, seems to be a total outcast, a lost cause? Exactly, that’s just as it would have ended up.

It would be ironic, wouldn’t it, for a film about spirituality, other-worldly and intangible values, and challenges of faith in the face of persecution to be celebrated by this power and fame-obsessed, material world? For it to receive praise and honor would be the ultimate irony indeed.

In a society which aims at being great, where ratings, numbers, wealth and social media status define success, where loudness rules and silence shunned, it is only expected that a film entitled “Silence” will not be cheered on. It runs against the grains of popularism, for it’s a film about failure.

I have posted a book review of Silence back in December, 2016. In it is a historical note. To summarize, Christianity was introduced to Japan by Francis Xavier in 1549. It was well received then, and by 1600, there were 300,000 Christians in Japan. But the Edo Period beginning in 1603 changed everything. Ruler Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered expulsion of foreign influences and Christianity had to survive underground. Torture was used to drive Christians to disavow their faith. Stepping on the fumie, a brass plague engraved with a Christ figure, is the convenient way to show one’s apostasy, leading to instant release. During this time, the Catholic Church received the news that the stalwart leader of the Jesuits mission in Japan, Father Christovao Ferreira had disavowed his faith and became an apostate. He had since lost contact with the Church.

The film doesn’t need many words to explain these historical events, for its visuals are self-explanatory. It starts off with father Ferreira’s apostasy, apparently under duress as he sees his flock being tortured to death. Liam Neeson’s gaunt and horrified expressions speak all. That’s the power of cinema.

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Back in Portugal, two young priests, Father Sebastian Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver) appeal to their superior Father Valignano (Ciarán Hinds) to allow them to go to Japan to look for Ferreira and to seek the truth of the situation. Thus begins the story.

I’ve long learned not to judge a movie adaptation according to how loyal it is to the book, for the two are different art forms and a direct transposition may not be possible. But here is one exception. I’m glad that Scorsese’s Silence, co-written with screenwriter Jay Cock (Gangs of New York, 2002), is surprisingly faithful to Shusaku Endo’s historical novel, and that ‘faithfulness’ is both desirable and most admirable here.

By following Endo’s storyline to the dot, extracting pertinent text from the book as dialogues and voiceover, and spending time to cover the all important Epilogue, the director shows his desire to honour the author’s work, a wish that had long hidden in his heart. Indeed, it has been twenty-five years since Scorsese first read Endo’s masterpiece and was so deeply moved that he knew he needed to film it one day.

Another way we see Scorsese’s regard for Endo is his restraint when portraying the tortures of Japanese Christians. What we have, surely, is visual, graphic scenes which, while reading the book are left to the author’s descriptions and our imagination, but on screen are left to the director’s discretion. Kudos to Scorsese, those scenes are done with much restraints. This was a welcome surprise to me. I went into the theatre braced for his treatment like the ending scene of Taxi Driver (1976), or the bloody mayhem in Gangs of New York (2002). I need not have worried. But what I was hit with I had not expected.

Scorsese can definitely unleash more gore in Silence. But he chose not to. The scenes in the film are done with the utmost respect and dignity for the persecuted. Here’s a confession, I’m not one who easily succumbs to emotions, never need a Kleenex while watching a movie in the theatre. Here in Silence, as I watched the three Japanese Christians hanging on the makeshift crosses at the seashore swallowed up by the rising waves, tears slowly streamed down my face. What more, the guy sitting behind me was sniffing away, uncontrollably.

 

The main actors are powerful in taking hold of our emotions. Liam Neeson’s painful expressions both at the beginning and the end are very moving. Adam Driver lost 50 pounds for his role. His skeletal form is almost painful to watch. The Japanese actor Yôsuke Kubozuka is effective as Kichijiro, the ‘Judas character’.

The emotion of the whole film, however, is driven by two actors: Andrew Garfield as young father Rodrigues and the calculated, ruthless inquisitor Inoue played by Issei Ogata. The two form a stark foil: the hot-blooded idealist slaughtered slowly by the cold, harsh ruler. A tidbit for those who had watched Taiwanese director Edward Yang’s Yi Yi (2000), Ogata is Mr. Ota in there.

Garfield is effective in leading us to feel for Father Rodrigues’ sad and tragic journey. Martyrdom is the path to glory, and an easy way out. But no, Rodrigues isn’t given that luxury. Rather, he is faced with a most precarious test, tearing his soul and conscience, that is to apostatize or see his flock die by torture. It is unfortunate that the film has not been well received. Garfield deserves a nomination for Silence.

While it may be about the hidden church that runs underground to avoid annihilation, Silence is more about one man’s struggle with faith and doubt, and ultimately, making his choice and living with it for the rest of his life.

Here’s the rub. In this ‘either or’ society we live in, Rodrigues’s predicament is particularly distressing for us. It is often convenient and tempting to oversimplify issues and splitting them into clean-cut opposing sides, either B or W, L or R, D or R. In Silence, we’re confronted with yet another dichotomy: Devout or Apostate. What Scorsese reveals to us with his last scene is that, the line separating the two is blurry and permeable.

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In his compendium book to the movie, Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering, Japanese-American artist Makoto Fujimura, who is special adviser to the film, discusses the necessary existence of a ‘hidden’ identity to those practising Christianity in that historical era in Japan. For 250 years during the anti-foreign, ironclad Shogunate rule of the Edo Period (1603-1868), the only way to survive as Christians was to become hidden, Kakure Kirishitans as they were called in Japan. Stepping on the fumie, as the officials say, could well be only a formality, for it likely did not represent the heart. It is unfortunate that the persecuted Kakure Kirishitans had to succumb to this double life. As outsiders looking in, should we be so easy to judge them? Silence challenged us with that question. Unlike the bold declaration of Western Christianity, the Kakure Kirishitans held on to an inner faith that on the outside was wrapped with weakness and failure, total submission to the ruling authority. A painful, paradoxical existence.

The crucial, final scene in the film, which is the Epilogue of Endo’s book, holds the key to the question. I appreciate Scorsese’s closure. That is also how Fujimura explains Endo’s viewpoint. No spoiler here. Cinematically, the production is an artistic and powerful work worthy of Endo’s masterpiece. Scorsese’s quarter-century quest had not been in vain. Being recognized or not in the Awards Ceremonies just may not be as important an issue.

Of course, there’s always the bottom line. After investing so much resources, time and talents in the production, it is only natural to wish for a positive return. Could the voice that speaks to Rodrigues at that most crucial fumie moment speaks also to Scorsese as well regarding his film Silence?

“Trample! Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world…”

 

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

 

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CLICK HERE to read my review of the book Silence by Shusaku Endo

I’m nobody! Who are you?

April is still here I’m glad. Here’s a timely piece to join in the celebration of National Poetry Month.

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I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there are two of us – don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

 

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Oh the comfort of anonymity, no need to trend, to like or be liked, to climb the social media ladder, to reach new heights with more followers. Dickinson sure enjoyed her reclusive life, felt fine with being an unknown. Most of her poems were published posthumously, including this one.

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Thoughts on Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups

In the beginning was The Tree of Life.

That was the first work of divergence in the enigmatic director Terrence Malick’s body of work. His first four films spanned three decades–Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), The New World (2005)–productions that adhered to a relatively conventional storytelling approach, albeit still marching to the beat of his own drum. Then came six years of silence.

In 2011, we saw a new cinematic form come out. The Tree of Life emerged like a new life after a long metamorphosis. It was genre defying, with real and imaginary visuals replacing narrative plots, voiceover replacing dialogues. Dually cosmic and realistic, it boldly explored subjects that spanned eternity, from the Creation to the Afterlife. The story focused on a small Texan family during the 1950’s. The latent conflicts and tensions in the family’s relationships, father, mother, husband, wife, sons, brothers, brought forth a series of existential questions. Whispers of inner anguish, doubts, faith, and the search for redemption fill the movie theatre.

I was stunned by Malick’s audacity. This wouldn’t sit well with critics or viewers alike.

Apparently the thought of rejection didn’t bother the auteur, for the next year saw a repeat of the style. For those who thought The Tree of Life was only a one-time experiment were met with the confirmation that yes, this is Malick’s new cinematic style. To the Wonder is another film seemingly devoid of plot, a visual poetry of love, loss, and the human soul. We see again more voiceovers replacing dialogues, characters drifting through dreamscapes. The Tree of Life was only the beginning. Malick has created a new form of cinematic storytelling.

Then came Knight of Cups in 2015. The director that had taken thirty-two years to make his first four films gives us a trilogy of thought-provoking, genre-defying features in just four years. Knight of Cups is slowly trickling into limited screens this spring, but only an ephemeral appearance. In selective cities, it came quickly and was gone. The movie industry is big business, and box office sales is the bottom line, a fact that doesn’t seem to be a concern for Malick.

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Knight of Cups starts off with a parable. A knight sent by his father, the King of the East, went into Egypt to find a pearl from the depths of the sea. But when the prince arrived the people poured him a cup that took away his memory. He soon forgets his identity and his mission to look for the pearl.

The allusion to Pilgrim’s Progress is also invoked. From that, we know the tale of one man’s escape from the City of Destruction and his quest to search for the Celestial City.

Visually on screen, an earthquake shakes up a sleeping man. We later learn that he is Rick (Christian Bale), a successful screenwriter in L.A., well networked with the rich and famous of Hollywood. Rick is roused up from the quake, tiptoes barefoot through shattered glass to get out into the street, an apt metaphor of his life, fragmented, broken like the debris on the ground.

Thus sets the stage as we follow Rick into the high life of Hollywood: parties, night clubs, Gatsby-esque wildness of L.A. and Las Vegas. The film cast interestingly is made up of well-known names from Hollywood (bravo at the parallel). Through all these, Rick appears aloof, a stranger in his own land.

Ummm, not unlike Camus’s outsider.

His agent tells him: “I want to make you rich. All you need to do is say yes. Who do you want to meet? I can arrange.”

Almost as close as another such luring promise… “all this I will give you, if you bow down and worship me.”

 But the outsider is a tormented soul desperately seeking meaning, not riches or fame. Ambivalent relationships with a skid row brother and a father (Brian Dennehy) who is in turmoil living through the suicide of another son are the slings and arrows hurled at Rick. “I died a different way, “ we hear him say.

Women? Six of them, at one time or another. Played by Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Freda Pinto, Imogen Poots, Teresa Palmer, Isabel Lucas. They appear as vignettes, drifting in and out of his life; not all in waste, each has something to offer. One of them has uttered:

“We’re pilgrims on this earth. We’re not leading the life we’re meant for. We’re meant for something else.”

Or take his ex-wife Nancy (Cate Blanchett), a benevolent doctor who works with the poor. She could have been an inspiring figure, but they had to part. “I just want to be loved,” she says.

Of course, Rick can’t give what he doesn’t have. He too is searching for that powerful love that can complete him.

“Redeem my life… Justify me,” we hear Rick’s voiceover, a thirst which no human can quench.

He must rouse up from his sleep. Remember who you are and your mission. Remember the pearl? Go look for it. “How do I reach you? How do I find my way there?”

I’m glad from the fragments of internal dialogues, I can hear some positive words: “God shows His love through suffering… He leads you through. Regard them as gifts… more precious than happiness… Be thankful for suffering.”

Who would have thought? The reverse of common sense? But then again, how true. 

“You gave me peace, mercy, love, joy. You gave me what the world can’t give.”

Accompanying all these voiceovers is the captivating cinematography. It is interesting to see how three consecutive Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant 2015, Birdman 2014, Gravity 2013) converts soulful anguish onto the screen with lyrical, visual metaphors and well-paced changes of scenes. Faster paced for the ephemeral hedonism, slower for the meditative and transcendent.

The transporting effects are made complete by the musical score. Yes, that’s one of the main reasons I’m so mesmerized by Malick’s recent films. Knight of Cups has a long and expansive playlist with over 50 titles. Among them are these stirring pieces that capture my full attention, Wojciech Kilar ‘s “Exodus”, Arvo Pärt’s “Symphony No. 4 Los Angeles” and the film composer for Malick’s previous two works, the New Zealand born Hanan Townshend’s musical creations.

But one melody stands out and with the scenery on screen stirred me the deepest.

Now what’s the name of that piece? The music overwhelms me with a kind of existential longing, pathos, and deep resonance. 

Yes, got it. I later found out from the movie soundtrack, it was Solveig’s Song from Grieg’s “Peer Gynt”. I made a quick purchase and downloaded the tune and have been listening to it ever since. Like the effect of Smetana’s “The Moldau” in The Tree of Life, I know it will remain in my mind for some time to come.

That’s the reason I still go to the cinema. In that pitch-dark and relatively empty (what do you expect) theatre, I can sit quietly, watch, listen, and think.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

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Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

The Tree of Life Movie Review

Days of Heaven

 

Risen for Hope

The photo was taken just yesterday. Due to illness in the family, I’ve been staying mostly indoor as a caregiver. Yesterday was the first time I went out to greet spring and the birds. A Downy Woodpecker darted right into frame.

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While we’re enjoying an early spring this year, there had been times when it felt like spring would never come. A few years ago, I wrote this poem at Easter, when winter lingered and spring seemed so far away… and it was already April.

**

April is the month of empty dreams
Half the days gone
waiting for words and spring
still frozen ground
and on the screen
a frigid page as white as snow.

Brown could be the color of hope
After the white
for all I know
green is too much to wish for
I’m contented to see a patch
of dry and withered brown.

The sun is a perpetual sign
that there’s still hope
But it’s no herald of the seasons
for its presence comforts all year long
warming my blank and barren state
as I await for words and spring.

But Easter is an apt reminder
that The Word had come
spoken clear to half-frozen ears
His body hung on a lifeless tree
Blood and water flowed
onto parched and dusty earth

So what if no words come to me
That dreaded writer’s block
reigning the winter of sterility
numbing senses,
snatching thoughts,
seizing any sign of spring.

It’s not about a post or a blog,
Or even buds and melting snow.
The Word had come
lived and loved among us,
broken, bled, died and rose,
melting frozen hearts to greet
a new dawn and eternal Spring.

– by Arti, April 2011

  ***

We look not towards the climate, but the Christ.

Happy Easter to all!

 

 

The Outsider Visualized

Just finished rereading Albert Camus’s The Outsider (or, The Stranger, L’Étranger). For some reasons, I find these two photos which I took late last fall well represent my thoughts. Words may come later in another post; until then, these visuals will suffice.

The Outsider 2

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The hardest part is getting out of the car

In chilly -5C (23F), snow a foot deep in some areas, the hardest thing is to get out of a warm car. I drove around, actually left the natural park and then, a couple of blocks later, thought about turning back, all because of the flocks of dark spots by the river I saw from afar.

Glad I finally mustered the will to make a U-turn, find a spot to park and part with the story I’ve been listening from the audiobook CD.  I layered up, attached the ice grippers on my shoes (discovered this secret only a year ago), put on toque and gloves, and with my camera gear in tow, stepped out of the car.

Here’s my reward.

From afar, just some tiny black dots on the water…

From afar

 

 

that turned out to be a party of ducks and geese, basking in the afternoon sun on the icy river:

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Basking

And from behind tall grass, a buck watching me watching the ducks:

Buck behind grass

Suddenly from the corner of my viewfinder, a pheasant flew into frame. Here’s the serendipitous sequence:

Pheasant 1Pheasant 2Pheasant 3

At another spot, more Mallards gathering, over a hundred of them:

More ducks

These pigeons could only watch.

Pigeon A: Don’t you wish you could swim?

Pigeon B: And get all wet in the icy water? I’m thankful that I can’t swim.

Your guess: which is A? and B?

If only we could swim

 

 

 

In the sky Canada Geese flew by:

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On the ground, remnants of fall:

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and some positive human footprints left behind.

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And so I learned: Any worthwhile journey began with a step out of a warm car.

Oh, and one more thing… 

Wisdom from the pigeon: Be thankful for what you can’t do. I’ve got lots to be thankful for.

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This is my post for Saturday Snapshot: Nov. 28. Thanks to West Metro Mommy Reads for hosting. CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.

ALL PHOTOS IN THIS POST TAKEN BY 

ARTI OF RIPPLE EFFECTS

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