Monday, September 28, 2009

Rosemary's Baby 1968: many a slip before we do get born

Director:Roman Polanski
Hardly have I viewed Rosemary's Baby than Polanski is in the news for the wrong reasons.

The theme music is a clear variant and echo of "whatever will be, will be, ours not the future to see" which goes on "will I be handsome, will I be rich", here expressing the hopes and anxieties of an expectant woman.

 It's more than just a good suspense and horror film, which it is ofcourse, gripping you from A to Z. I put off seeing it for many months, fearing it might be another Halloween, which I wasn't prepared to digest . It was very different and as satisfying as the other two Polanski films I have seen. Most of the horrible things one keeps anticipating till the end--blood, knives, ugly evil creatures-- mercifully do not happen.

The mysteries of life are not in the supernatural but in the incomprehensible phenomenon of getting born, living and dying.

Polanski's film is about the poignant and hazardous journey of pregnancy and childbirth and the feelings of mothers. Witchcraft is as irrelevant as is the existence of ghosts to Hamlet. The bunch of satans only serve to frame the life process, here particularised in the journey of childbirth, surrounded by dangers and the ever imminent possility of  abortion  and death. It is life through the eyes of an elevated mind forged in the crucible of experiences later portrayed in the Pianist.

 Of course there is no such thing as a satanic child, only living or still born. Satan invariably assumes the form of an adult human being. In that sense the film concludes on a victorious note, even if the heralds are a bunch of hooded jokers.
It is about the desperation of a young mother  fighting for the presevation of the life growing inside her. Life, that elemental all defying force in the universe! Bursting out of the dry ground as shrubs, clawing out of rocks as litchens, swelling as skyscrapers out of the ashes of war, inerasable hope which no holocast can drive extinguish.  Nothing  is commonplace. The supernatural is superfluous.

A truly humanistic film. The muse surely guides the  Pole, even as he aims at the box office.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Solaris 1972

Director:Andrei Tarkovsky
It resembles Hitchcocks Vertigo in some ways. First, in being about love for a woman who does not, in a sense, exist. Like Hitchcock  it has slow ,brooding, meditative  rhythms.

The car winds it's way through the roads and subways of Tokyo, endlessly, smoothly purring through a seemingly endless journey, and then aerial views of the metropolis, the day fading into the nocturnal patterns of traffic lights and neon signs. It captures the long, uneventfulness of the space journey as the psychologist  Chris travels on his mission to the space station orbiting Solaris where the psycho-drama is to be enacted. There is no gimmickry and the space station might easily have been a drawing room except for the backdrop of a sea of stirring broth swirling slowly which we are reminded of periodically. The poetry is powerful but always restrained, imitating natural rhythms like weeds and river plants undulating in water. This image of the undulating finger like plants is perhaps the bridge between the two worlds of the movie.

The Solaris mission  has been going on for some years . Its apparently not all that hard to send someone there or to come back. There is some talk about science as a mistreass or as a master, humanism versus  scientific fundamentalism, these points being personified in specific characters. These are the questions could have have been popular in the USSR at that time, but are definitely datd now.

 The swirling liquid ocean which constitutes the surface of the planet has a power of  recreating, not  as fantasies but in flesh and blood their respective thought creatures in the astronauts' minds. But this is the paraphernalia. The magic lies in the mood and the rhythm, and the twisted  drama of love. Chris's  late wife Hari, who committed suicide is resurrected as an immortal neutrino woman. She is human in all respects-- she has a self,  all human feelings, deficient only in  lacunae of memory. She is. She is real yet not real like the two Madelienes (Kim Novak)   in Vertigo. She is unhuman in her origin, physical constitution, yet tragically human in the capacity of falling in love.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Antichrist 2009

"Sblood, do you think I am
easier to be played on than a pipe?"

Bowing to the inevitable I sat down to watch Antichrist 2009 today.

It's unfair to demean it as a horror movie, as some are calling it, or to interpret and seek "meanings" in a work of such brimming  elemental energy.

Others have called it an expression of great despair. To call it despairing also seems off the mark since it celebrates the vastness of the human being's innerscape caught in a particularly stormy mood. Vastness of that which goes by the name life itself rather than vastness of despair is the point, and life's characteristic of ricochetting, often instantaneously, from extreme to extreme, just as the child and its mannikin descend to death like  snow-flakes, triggering what ensues. Surely the image of the child as it embraces the void in falling snow in rapt wonder is one to treasure.

 One can take or leave the controversial sections of the film according to one's inclination. The eroticism is depicted with sensitivity  and has more of sculpture and form than sensuality.

The brutality is a true portrayal of our animal potential which all our learning and Ph.ds can scarcely scratch. It's no worse than the routinised and bureaucratised horrors which are the staple of our recent past and the medias bread and butter. At least the  scene of drilling His leg was less shocking than made out.

 A work of art is either authentic or fake, and this one is not fake. Like every authentic drama or film it holds a mirror unto us. He and She as well as the sombre wilderness with its animal cries and whispers is no other but Us, our very own unknown selves. We ourselves are Christ and Antichrist.

As a Buddhist scripture states, all the 84,000 volumes of sutras and teachings ( one could add the great movies and literature) are the diaries of one's own life.Otherwise what interest could they possibly hold?  This is what one may call the Copernican view of the inner cosmos which all human beings inherit in like measure. The large volumes and the open spaces in which the drama of the movie is played out correspond to such a conception of Man. Jung would agree.

For myself, I was held in rapt attention throughout. The prologue is heart rending, a cinematic lyric on procreation, nature, childhood and death. It is a highly memorable piece of cinema. Handels music used as a score is perfectly appropriate as a paeon to the awsomeness of existence as encapsulated in this brief sequence.

The violence and explicitness in the film nowhere descends to a level of cheapness or sensationalism. The director has tried to capture his vision of  a dimension of life, its repertoires of joy and pain stretching towards a no man's land. Like Hamlet's last four words: ".....the rest is silence."

Physicists in the late nineteenth century used to worry that their field of work had reached a point of saturation. Their fears proved groundless and present day reaearchers have no such worry. Our own lives also  have something of the infinite, and art of which cinema is the century's most potent incarnation waits with wonders never to end-- a mirror of societies, a chisel to sculpt the unborn future.

 It's  fractals all the way down.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hamlet: ".....the rest is silence"

Perhaps Hamlet is a self portrait. He embodies a vast power of intellect and seeking spirit . He grapples with life in it's totality so far as is given to mortals or as the bard might have done. He recognizes the mystery as mystery.

Paralleling the immensities revealed by modern knowledge is the immensity of our own personal drama of life as it unfolds once we break the chord and jump out. Our life has it's own mountains and canyons, volcanoes and rivers, if we turn the telescope inwards. Art is self examination, other lives  a revalation of self-possibilty.

Hamlet feels puny in comparison with the mission which is placed on his unwilling and young shoulders.Darkness enfolds him becoming deeper at each step: the father's murder, the mother's marriage and then the appearance of the ghost with it's stern, uncompromisable , distasteful, confusing and difficult injunction. The stench of unwholesome deeds permeates the play.

He desperately tries to wriggle out of a ghastly and impossible situation, his mind propelled into a trajectory of rationalization, to shut his eyes as we all try to do when confronted with something which is too big or too unpleasant for us to handle. Why me, he asks? What did I do to deserve this? Maybe it just isn't true!

He is a young man deeply in love with a "beauteous Ophelia" and he feels life being snatched from him in his prime, a kind of premature old age or at least adulthood, "dispatched", as the ghost mourns, of life, queen and crown. In a sense it is not the late king but Hamlet himself who feels murdered in his prime.

But then we see him growing from scene to scene as he wrestles with the situation, including suicidal impulses as they very naturally surface. We see him break his shell and then growing from a fledgling to a bird in self assured flight. Tagore says that birds are "twice born"--first in their limited shells and finally in the freedom of the open sky. The inherent unequalness of people to the challenges of life is demonstrated by the frequency of suicide and the way they disintegrate in the face of sickness, failure and loss. As the Old Man River laments, he is tired of livin' and feared of dyin'. Life at times seems just too big for us to handle .

We try to escape from the verities by establishing routines. Like the oracle of the Ghost, the play within the play is the psychological turning point. The verification of the supernatural revelation leads to an internal crystallization of Hamlet's determination. Dithering is on the way out. He is on the verge of executing the praying Claudius and minutes later accidentally kills Polonius, mistaking him for Claudius. Hamlet is now emerging beyond vacillation . He has already in effect done the deed once, albeit impulsively.

A certain philosopher says mountains are not created by the piling of dust particles, as the proverb goes, but in cataclysms of volcanic eruption. Our own growth at the life level would also seem to be in quantum jumps, moments of extraordinary exertion in which we transcend our own limits. The first step in the fulfillment of the sacred duty imposed on Hamlet has been taken and hereafter, events hurtle in quick succession to the denouement.

The scene at Ophelia's burial is another turning point as the death of one whom he authentically loves and cherishes snaps any remaining lingering links of attachment. He is a grown man now who exists single-mindedly for the task assigned to him. In the discussion with the gravediggers and his contemplation of the skull of Yorrick the jester, his childhood companion, he understands the brevity of life and learns not to begrudge it when the time comes----"the readiness is all".

He is ready at last, not just to wreck vengeance, but to stake himself completely in the act, which perhaps is the whole point, rather than killing  from behind in the act of prayer or stabbing  through the draperies. This would be more in line with Laertes' and Claudius' way of thinking, who are mere  politicians living by considerations of profit and loss, rather than "honor". Laertes' project is vendetta, not justice.

The storm inside Hamlet is now still, his inner transformation has come full circle, and it is a committed if not seasoned warrior who sets out on what he senses and is "ready" to accept as the final journey. The comic interlude in the form of the farcical invitation to a contest of swordsmanship is appropriate since it celebrates Hamlet's spiritual flowering and coming of age.

But yet the most important part of the journey has just started. "But thou wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart", he tells his friend, for he senses that the game may not be a game, and the primordial terror which every soldier experiences as he marches into battle is upon him. The next half hour or two is the decisive climax of one man's existence, where he conducts himself creditably even unto giving his vote for the succession to Fortinbras, giving instructions to his friend and addressing Claudius directly for the first time with words to match his feelings. But then finally...the rest is silence. He is on the borderland.

Hamlet is no weakling, as some may claim. His weakness, such as it is, is a very human one. Rather he represents the potential for the heroic with which all men and women are endowed, the capacity to summon forth from within the resources to confront any situation . Human beings have a capacity to change, to grow . It is this spiritual germination and flowering of a human being towards his own unique victory and fulfillment is what I believe Shakespeare to have portrayed in this Elizabethan play. Hamlet is a drama of self transcendence and victory which in that sense is less deserving of the tragic label than some of the other plays. The misfortunes which befall him are exactly what he needs to play out the drama of his destiny to it's logical conclusion.