You know how we always end up saying that confronting the truth, sometimes absolute truth, is a rite of passage applicable to every age group and social demographic. If that is the yardstick then 2019 was a close fit, in annals of pop culture, to show us the mirror and the smoke on the mountain (the latter image becoming a reality in such pressing times of environmental crises)
In this final curtain call for this year’s body of work, I include three differing perspectives with one harking back to an era of yore(THE KING) and two other bleak portraits of fractured family ties set in the modern world , chillingly told in one instance(TELL ME WHO I AM) and the moody tempo of another ensemble collating facts and projected truths for some semblance of closure (BIG LITTLE LIES) .
It’s Netflix to our rescue again with a period piece that in style, tone and story beats is favourably reminiscent of last year’s seminal OUTLAW KING toplining CHRIS PINE, FLORENCE PUGH and AARON TAYLOR JOHNSON.
But THE KING follows its own individual graph, charting the slow boil process of kingship passing to a young enfant terrible (everybody’s favourite beautiful boy TIMOTHEE CHALAMET) who history knows as KING HENRY THE FIFTH and stripping him of any noble pretence at first by showing him as an outcast, a somewhat rebel without a cause and debauch. Director David Michod doesn’t go for the jugular in this regard and employs a sepia filter of colours, pacing and mood to keep it worthy of viewing by focusing on the young man’s quest to become the reluctant successor to England by utilizing his reserves of wit, powers of negotiation and a sense of changing with the tide of time to truly grasp his pivotal position.
This is to emphasize that a truly cinematic aesthetic allows it to look at the ennui and hushed silences of this transition so that not much really transpires in terms of our usual kinetic expectations from a recreation involving, above all, armed combat. Advisors doubling as allies and enemies from near and far take their sides around the throne and the ruler’s humility along with sound judgement marks his self styled ascent in the hearts of people even as the imminence of conquests becomes a personal task and a lonely one at that. The second half achieves a clarity in identifying his progress and acumen in eliminating true betrayers of faith within the kingdom and one sequence of battle finds him hapless, almost drowning in the senselessness of war amid a pile of bodies and clanging armour. That same stifling motion is present for his mentor and confidante Falstaff (Joel Edgerton), the mighty warrior who sees him before and after his rise as king.
In a stellar cast that includes the likes of ROBERT PATTINSON, SEAN HARRIS, BEN MENDELSOHN and DEAN CHARLES CHAPMAN (of Game of Thrones fame), TIMOTHEE, with his skinny frame belying standard tropes of royals and a mop of unkempt hair , achieves believability as a man of good measures who speaks in dim tones and seems to match the sense of foreboding inevitable in his rank. JOEL , who wrote the film too, is gruff and vital to its core of cunning and sincerity while LILY ROSE DEPP is exemplary as the future queen of England in a matter of five minutes or so, setting the stage for a conversation rife with seeds of an equal and honourable partnership .
THE KING arrives at a time in our lives where bombast is the only remaining option for millions. In this recreation, contours of statecraft find a muted, negotiable nerve of how things were in a far more trying period. It includes a learning curve for a historical figure as he attempts to examine his own choices for the future.
BIG LITTLE LIES SEASON 2
BIG LITTLE LIES had already become a phenomenon in 2017 and this final iteration of its soul-sapped pristine core dug deep into the unhappy entrails of a nouveau riche seaside community in Monterey, California. Truly, money cannot be the cure for a lop sided ethos constructed by sexual violence, domestic frictions and children forced to ingest uneasy truths far more earlier than adults imagine . But more than the initial experience, this one was crucially about a collective of gender representation for the embattled Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and it’s here that the immersive writing found its footing in the many voices of unwavering support for her despite each one of them( Reese Witherspoon, Zoe Kravitz, Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern) being mentally taxed by their own personal wrangles.
This collective found its foundation of faith and solidarity tested from one of its own, that is Celeste’s mother in law from Hell(an always astounding Meryl Streep). Now she was given the usual, time honoured stereotype and Streep gave her all, being uncouth, judgemental and not apologetic in revealing those very ugly stereotypes, to ultimately come to the conclusion that women end up being each other’s enemy because patriarchy is as much ingrained in them as the chest thumping males. Even someone like Renata (Dern), a self – made business tycoon, was shown to exercise a debilitating sense of anger as she was governed by those same diktats around her . So raising her voice sometimes remained her only way to communicate her frustrations with the status quo. By the final run, we knew favourable scales will be tipped in the honour of the truth until the last sequence left us with an intriguing cliffhanger. It was gripping as all women were united in their moral resolutions.
The journey until that point was complex, painfully relevant and with the intensity getting the same leisurely pace as the surface appearance of the idyllic setting which then transforms to the quiet churning of trauma. There are individual scenes here in this season that trace that point of emotional evaluation and vulnerability excellently.
TELL ME WHO I AM (NETFLIX)
I wish that nobody gets to oversee a childhood as harrowing as the one documented in this non fiction work commissioned by Netflix. Truth, here, really becomes two brothers’ worst enemy.
Shot chillingly with silhouettes of country homes, trees, fields and consisting of shadowy remnants of memories of two grown men looking back at how a lifetime of constructed ‘truths’ for one of them in the wake of post-accident amnesia unraveled, TELL ME HOW I AM leaves one numb. While I had guessed the nature of truth from the trailers, the final telling delivers a wallop in the name of family itself.
It’s difficult to watch, draining one mentally and emotionally, and affirms the oft-said truth that sometimes the enemy truly lies at home. Unvarnished facts so painful and unsettling that the dread reached me and left me cold.