These were cinematic works I had sought out to watch after a long spell of exhaustion owing to work and other commitments. I finally watched them in 2018 and they funneled real life experiences with acuity and multiplicity of concerns.
Here they are, the trinity of works that had me hooked and emotionally engaged.
The eyes of Charlize Theron – possessing inner worlds of evil( SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN) , pain and despondence(THE BURNING PLAIN) , mythic strata( PROMETHEUS) , mainstream control( FAST AND THE FURIOUS 8), maniacal rage(MONSTER) , love like spring in peak season(SWEET NOVEMBER) and the thirst for vindication(NORTH COUNTRY) all embody the versatile actor’s life in images and the subtle panoramas of a multi dimensional soul. Here too in DARK PLACES , her blank slate is a microcosm of tragic personal histories multiplied over the years. That look is at us, a haunted mirror of ourselves.
An iron clad exterior is what she adopts to fend off a largely unfeeling world that voyeuristically consumes her life script thirty years down the the line and this hawk like precision is reflected in Lyle’s(Nicholas Hoult) fan club which ends up reopening Libby’s perspectives on the scope and truth of the true crime that she witnessed (or was privy to) as a mere eight year old. Her brother becomes embroiled in the ensuing fireball of identity crisis recalled again and again by newsreels and a flawed legal process. Nicholas Hoult is a fascinating presence and so are the pitch perfect renderings by Chloe Grace Moretz and one of my all time favorites Christina Hendricks.
DARK PLACES suggests an incentive for normalcy and the dark trail of crime as not the be all and end all of an individual life. Though the soul sapping trauma chips away one’s belief in stability, life has to be led with the same penchant for, well what else other than existence, morbid as the outcome is at the end of the day.
The subtle hints of a life painted in cold blood reaches the point of articulate unfolding in DARK PLACES .
For me, an America in crisis and the deep reaching tentacles of poverty, especially debilitating for single women in a patriarchal set up, is at the center of this screenplay , based on a book by Gillian Flynn . The generational count of rancid personal regression is hence haunting .
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
The great Roger Ebert believed cinema to be an instrument generating empathy. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA dives deep into the true nature of melancholy, grief and a personal nature of sadness – separate as these emotions are by varying degrees – to generate empathy for those we pass by and overlook as nothing but common people.
This cinematic take on life in throes of a lull is also completely divested from the feral brand of raving and ranting that adults so often give in to. The pain here unfolds with silent obstinacy where alienation becomes the ultimate refuge of a janitor ( Casey Affleck, in an Oscar winning role) who is forced to grapple with his conscience after his beloved brother( Kyle Chandler) passes away and he is left to fend for his teenaged nephew (Lucas Hedges). Financial and emotional crunches aside, his haunting past has made him withdraw into a shell, a misanthrope who walks, talks and subsists on bare minimum like a ghost among flesh and blood humans.
Watch it to turn back a poignant page from his past, for the economy of expressions accorded to everybody, internalizing a legacy of pain, and the back and forth juxtaposition between what transpired then to the current paradigm. Michelle Williams again lingers in the undertow of the tale as a bruised and battered soul who is not above the decency to understand that grief made her weaponised words hurt her good natured husband; and we completely get the normalcy or the lack of it that the teenager attempts to broker but never achieves because he is suffering within. Lucas Hedges is quietly effective here.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA has a surface that is tidy, gleaming as per the natural beauty of the sorroundings in New England, USA. But the aftermath of loss is meditative, barely above a whisper like Casey’s voice ; heartbeats quicken with every moment and in its realism finds humanity in uncomfortable situations. Casey and Co is phenomenal here. To me, it’s a modern elegy on the ways men and women equally grapple with the turnarounds of life.
This is one film that does not have a single concrete center and in lesser hands, that very center would not have been held together with the same finesse and stoke of creativity as in here. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS has a one size fits all thematic structure. It’s about the mental depletion associated with employment as in the nature of every job, the simultaneous pomposity and baselessness of the art world, a good man’s position in a putrid culture of masculinity, a cop’s moral quandary while delivering justice and the crime infested pockets that become hotspots of sexual violence against women.
Amy Adams is an art curator who receives her ex husband’s manuscript and as she reads it, she is deeply moved by the violence and poignancy of it all, like the simultaneity of her own field where both extremes converge. The tale of a mild mannered man whose family is overrun by a gang of hooligans and the night ends in mayhem of the worst kind along the stark stretch of the highway. She imagines the whole tale ( or we are shown in the recreation) with her former husband as the substitute for the stricken male protagonist who watches his wife and daughter taken down by those who have morally eviscerated him. Jake Gyllenhaal is absolutely riveting as the young man who is betrayed by the woman he loved in real life, owing to an inadequacy of ambition and ‘softness’ of being and in the tale within the tale he haunts our living, waking consciousness.
The issue of tainted ideology, materialism and a certain neccesity for extracting revenge in one’s own ways from those who wrong us and maintain a point of impunity about it all come barging into the center then. Michael Shannon as the cop and Aaron Taylor Johnson as the vile convict are excellent. Through the complexity of the tale wrought in print, the lady reflects on her marriage and the stakes that were always stacked up against her husband, she being implicit in his fall even though it is nothing like the murderous rampage in the book. The price of fiction also makes us wonder if the tale is the author’s true life account. So narratives within narratives, a film within a film emerge and this frame device is highly effective. Tom Ford’s frames are decidedly beautiful but the brutality of it all has a reptilian snare. Both clash and clang against a fevered mindscape.
I liked the employment of Jake as the protagonist of the novel’s recreation and the seamless transitions with past and present dynamics of former spouses. We certainly imagine those closest to us in the garbs of people we read about in fiction. It’s how the mind conjures visions. Images are important in NOCTURNAL ANIMALS. Ultimately, the emotional core sustains it. It’s an excellently calibrated representation of multiple voices mingling with good, evil and everything in between.