Here I write about three extremely refined works of art, all informed by real figures and the collective of human experiences finds meritorious traction . I recommend you watch all of these and consume the experiences for yourself. The dynamism of figures portrayed in these films opens pathways for survival, courage and truth seeking endeavors.
For the rest, my words will act as a springboard and introduction for discerning cinephiles.
CONCUSSION is about much more than the titular head injury as it delves into the unlikely life and times of a living legend , a legend of the public realm who is a Good Samaritan first, so simple and unassuming that he doesn’t realize he is going to script a major turn of the screw for the field of sports and the many esteemed players who lost their minds trying to make sense of their mental disintegration post retirement. Dr. BENNET OMALU is a silent crusader and he had faith in science, nothing else, no ego, no plans for a career upshot when he concluded as a coroner that the doomed deaths of former American football Hall of Famers was a result of the constant head butts they received during the course of an ebullient and often violent on – field clash. These were men who didn’t know the rationale behind their aggressive spells and complete disorientation from normal social functioning until Dr. Omalu concluded that their concussions had taken a toll on their minds. He deemed the condition as C. T. E and published his research for the same. It addresses the lack of empathy for the idea of mental health and the way outward appearances hamper diagnosis for these hulking sportstars. What is masculinity? is an implicit theme running through the screenplay, whether it is OMALU who is ridiculed for questioning this display of machismo or those authoritative figures who want to further fill their coffers and continue reaping dividends off the exclusive male club in corporate conglomerates.
Set in the year and beyond immediately after the 9/11 epoch, it also lights up a dark alleyway of the first world, showing us that the society’s real enemy is systemic racism. This rings true everywhere. As Omalu is targeted for denigrating the beloved sports and called out for being a quack (despite his exemplary degrees and accomplishments including one in ethereal music from London’s Royal Academy), the many collared reach of elitism in any professional field, the one hell bent on discrediting him owing to his skin colour, Nigerian roots and immigrant status unspools a fight to the top. The presentation is devoid of jingoism or overt dramatic flourishes.
I felt that courtesy the NFL( National Football League)’s tentacles of power, the established order of the American way is probed, to reveal its hegemonic supremacy that often alienates its immigrants. In Bennet Omalu, the hopes and dreams of fitting into the free world by dint of vocation, righteousness and belief in justice find a resonant contemporary beat.
A shout out to director Peter Landesman. He keeps it real, celebrating the fervour of sports along with the matrix of few supporters and countless detractors who gang up against whistleblowers to save their own skin. Omalu is not an intentional whistle-blower. He is simply stating the truth to save lives. Beautifully structured sequences of complexity and Omalu’s inner struggles to prove a simple point correspond with ones centring around Prema, his wife played by a wonderful GUGU MBATHA RAW and a doctor (Alec Baldwin) who ultimately accepts the cold snare of rejection by going against his life long accomplices for larger good. They undertake a lawful passage in the spirit of citizens of a democratic world. One percenters weigh them down. Towards the end, the transparency and humility of OMALU, extending to a million righteous voices, is firmly sealed. He remains non exhibitionist and restrained as he’s forced to leave Pittsburgh and relocate to Lodi, California as the higher echelons alienate him and dangers lurk for his impending family life . In Will Smith, OMALU finds a perfect representative.
Which is why I feel Smith was unjustly shut out of the Oscar race just like Chadwick Boseman was for his impeccable portrayal of James Brown in GET ON UP. These oversights help us see contradictions of racial diversity by light of day even within cinema’s haloed portals. CONCUSSION sheds the light on individuals and their faithful aides whose crusade for justice is in line with God’s true path for all of us. Compassion and constancy abound then.
THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD (2005)
‘back talking’ , ‘sass talking’ – these terms are easily associated with women who refuse to be passive sheep being led by society’s staff . These terms abounded in the African American society. Actually, it corresponds with an universal culture of silencing opiniated, intelligent females. For Janie in this tale, there is no great demand for luxury, just the wish to be herself – expressive, a constructive participant in her provenance, the right to work and the desire to be not just another pretty face bound by domesticity. She is Everywoman and the woman next door who dares to step out of the doormat that her contained life is, more so as a woman of colour / a minority denomination.
In THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD, based on the classic ZORA NEALE HURSTON novel which I have had the privilege of being in the knowledge of, Janie Crawford is like a river in spate and as still in its crystalline tranquility. Director DARNELL MARTIN gives Halle Berry the virtues of her inherent sensual intelligence and beauty, making them apart from the easy commodification it can offer and acknowledging the freedom of the natural world that Janie Crawford tilts to her own , a verve to live according to her diktats and in the lap of nature. MARTHA COOLIDGE acquired the same result for Halle on the pathbreaking INTRODUCING DOROTHY DANDRIDGE, the difference being that the personal ambit of expression was more pronounced in intimate, concrete spaces . This is a rare case of females communicating the inner world in creative collaborations, in an era where we are still bemoaning the lack of representation for female filmmakers.
There is historical / cultural authenticity on its side. In the foundation of Eatonville, Florida as the first integrated black town, her home in the narrative, the history of the people who dared to become settlers after centuries of servitude is touched with a legacy of egalitarian tempers. Alas, that doesn’t translate to dismantling gender stereotypes and gossip mongering antithetical to a supposed renewed culture. Think about then and now – progresses are made by legislations and worded statutes but social dogmas enbedded in the mind refuse to be swept away with the tides of time. This is a believable inner confrontation Zora made as a novelist, her literary creation Janie did, I do as a viewer and Halle Berry performs with great aptitude. In her marriage to the founding member and later mayor of Eatonville Jody Starks(Ruben Santiago Hudson) she finds riches and status that keep wagging tongues at a distance but the security of a home and prestige among the people get undercut by twenty years of second hand treatment and voiceless meanderings as also a lock on her presence and natural beauty. That is when we take her loveless and short lived earlier marriage to the old man Logan Killicks(Mel Winkler) that was forced on her by her grandmother, in the ironically grand tradition of the past where women were given off into obscurity in the name of the man’s acres and security cover. The freedom to end that relationship of absolute shambles and the transition to the romantic, ideal one with Jody shows the ups and downs of her quest for freedom.
Then after Jody’s death, there comes the great love of her life in Tea Cake( Michael Ealy) , who shares her passions and sensual leanings. They align themselves with a conscious passage of self discovery that had been sold out to conformity earlier .
Her spirit is free and the status of being the first Lady of Eatonville distinguishes her even after she is alone. Her individuality and hard work is her own in sustaining it. By the end, she is bereft yet she has vision of GODLINESS – the free outdoors that align with her pursuit of great emotional transparency. She also has her confidante Phoebe( Nicki Micheaux) . But above all, we are alone and Janie knows her senses can never be fully nullified as her hope is succinct in the natural world. It’s an extension of her spirit. She is a woman who walks ahead of her times and reflects all concerns of her brethren of here and now.
This made for television film is a good example of book to screen adaptation and I must remind you that Eatonville is a real life location extant to this contemporary era. The cast (also comprising of Ruby Dee, Lorraine Toussaint and the heartthrob Terrence Howard) boasts of stellar names and they all succeed. THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD made me think about all of the points I write here as also about how easy it is to demonize a free soul. The beginning and ending portions have a silence, clarity that find the interior life of Janie in her state of loneliness. Berry makes us invest in her freedom, just like she can.
KNIGHT OF CUPS(2015)
More than any era ever before, we tend to stretch our horizons of youthfulness to outlast limits of longevity and this current cultural conditioning leads to a discomfiting mid age crisis.We must know that longevity is not a path to predestined joy, everlasting joy at that. In life, nothing lasts forever and fleeting affairs of the heart and mind overtake mere physical dalliances. Profound philosophy still drips from the overflowing cup set at the table.
That’s the mystical, spiritual disrepair at the heart of Terence Malick’s intimately epic poem that lavishes on consistent imagery of great beauty and the ponderous legacies of a man( the great Christian Bale), his personal rapport with family and the many women who come, go but retain their interiority in his existential sojourn. They all come into their own with individual narrations to ensure an overwhelming single voice never dominates. Malick tends to decode the many set of influences that make our mosaic of experiences. Despair, regret, separation and unity all combine in the collage of an universe constituted by people like us. KNIGHT OF CUPS, named after a tarot card, is a beautifully realized mystery. In its deconstruction of modern day relationships and post modern ethos of universality, the standard of beauty in terms of the cast and a typical Los Angeles based decadence, I found the pathos coming up to the surface, beyond bleary eyes and perfectly manicured spaces at every turn. Art, as an entity, is the muse that cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeszki utilizes to humanize what is essentially a silent film( as there are no dialogues mouthed by anyone) and a mosaic of moods, gestures, architecture, trips and a great American personal odyssey away from the madding crowd of Hollywood’s assembly line. By setting it in the city of angels, the irony reaches a fever pitch of creativity.
It’s Biblical, modern, classical in its grand design (down to the distinct chapterisation of the narrative) and polished in the vein of modern aesthetics and technical details. We wonder at the mechanics of affluence in each frame, shot and panoramic angle. The natural world is a corollary to a landscape of the soul.
In KNIGHT OF CUPS, the CONSCIENCE is personified in the narration by Sir Ben Kingsley , the interior monologue assuming a metaphysical, outer to inner form. IMOGEN POOTS, FREIDA PINTO, CATE BLANCHETT, TERESA PALMER and NATALIE PORTMAN are the anchors to the protagonist’s unraveling while WES BENTLEY, BRIAN DENNEHY, CHERRY JONES and ANTONIO BANDERAS complement the unraveling of this extended interior monologue and stream of consciousness. The focus on their faces and expressions makes this a work free of structure and reliant on improvisation and liberty for all accomplished artists here. As a worshipper of cinema, Malick’s keen eye for detail attached me to his worldview and for me this is the first monumental illustration of cinema reveling in the lack of form and reaching fruition with its superlative content. A profound humanist eulogy for our times.
We have money and power. But they are not enough to separate us from our core. The core is sought in KNIGHT OF CUPS with impressionistic clarity. It’s akin to a literary fluidity we seldom see at the movies.