Friday, June 8, 2012

The Snake Pit

1948, 98m, Olivia de Havilland

A highly romanticized and sanitized depiction of mental illness, which does little justice to the depth of inner desolation it entails and the trail of destruction which it leaves. Virginia, the glamorous victim, suffers from an unspecified illness involving confusion and amnesia which lands her in an institution, where her fate is sandwiched between a callous and at times brutal establishment, and a handsome psychoanalyst. She is subjected to the painful treatments current at that period (electric shocks and hydropathy) but psychoanalysis has the day as her past traumas are pealed and all ends happily ever after, as she returns to the ministrations of a doting husband. The environment and conditions inside the hospital are more comical than horrifying, and conform more to the popular image than to any reality. As an early depiction of the subject, it is a very rudimentary and inadequate treatment which sugar coats the grim reality. Manifest behavior is the tip of the iceberg. The sea of experiential reality is invisible. Probably straight narration is an inadequate idiom. I am tempted to quote:
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Loneliness of Long Distance Runner

Tony Richardson, 99m, 1962, UK

Long distance running, particularly in the absence of a cell phone, is certainly an activity, which provides solitude of a special kind. As Smith, the teenage boy who is the subject runs and runs, memories come tumbling and he relives his past. This b/w movie is set in a bleak autumnal British landscape in social conditions far from the affluence of subsequent period. Smith is a teenager from the underprivileged section who lands in a reformatory after getting caught for a petty robbery. We have glimpses of life at the institution.

The head of the school spots the boy's talent for running and, to add a feather to his own cap, goads him with enticements to win the prize for a five mile race in an inter school race competition. Smith leaves his nearest competitor far behind, but close to the finishing line, brings himself to a halt, gifting away the trophy. It is an enigmatic yet powerful act of self assertion, whereby his existence as an individual is established. Like the protagonist of 400 Blows, he now faces the pathless sea of the future. A somewhat rough shod film of substance.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


100m, Denmark, 2010

This documentary tells of the experience of the Afghan war, this time through the eyes of a company of soldiers from Denmark. The camera is very close to the site of action, and we see the casualties on either side as they occur. We see the gradual desensitization of the soldiers, and the increasing depersonalization of the enemy. The surprising thing is that having completed their period of deployment, most of the soldiers elect to return to the same arena of war a year later, as though war were an addictive substance. The movie has the texture of a feature, and one has the feel of watching fiction, not reality.