LISTEN TO THEIR VOICES BY THE LAKE : on ON GOLDEN POND (1981)

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I had promised to share remaining pivotal thoughts on ON GOLDEN POND, apart from my previous post that I had published two days ago ; I keep my promise and here I am.

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Named after its titular lakeside location, ON GOLDEN POND is an understated celebration of one’s sunset years and there is unbridled, uncompromised beauty to the communication of a life long bond between Ethel and Norman Thayer ( Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda)

Opening with shimmering, sun kissed, golden specks of light on the water, it’s the Thayer’s map of the world, the soul’s landscape where sky and water melt into each other.

This screenplay that won them both Oscars besides scoring one for Best Adapted Screenplay for Ernest Thompson, writer of the play from which he derived its cinematic value, emphasizes the tenacity of filial and conjugal bonds that have a tendency to endure with passing years, possess frictions caused by distances and past regrets but outlast those almost naturally with the sheer strength of shared love and understanding. In this case, the Thayers ring in Norman’s 80th birthday on their country estate by the serene lakeside cocoon of New Hampshire and with their daughter Chelsea ( Jane Fonda), her fiancé Bill ( Dabney Coleman) and his teenage son Billy ( Doug McKeon) joining them, a poignant tale gets underway. The poignancy itself extends from the location and as the focus is on the elderly couple, we see how nature envelops them as much as the permanence of their mutual co – dependence. The essence of their long lives is one with the unchanging panoramas of this country estate.

You have to then experience nuances of the gently uplifting storytelling that packs no unnecessary messages or saccharine moments of manufactured charm. The wisdom is in the pithy narration and dialogues that are lived in, practical and humbling. No wonder then that ON GOLDEN POND has gone down in cinematic echelons as a timeless yarn, applicable to contours of dotage / old age for every era.

The Thayer’s unbreakable respect for each other is traced by the titanic performers embodying their everyday concerns. This kind of purity, innocence and rich inner dialogues , transplanted from the realm of life’s long, arduous but eventful whole to the screen, truly is the mark of an era. This kind of silence, peaceful foregrounding cannot be replicated in our notoriously kinetic times. As we often see in couples who have been married for years, a true partnership is cemented between the two. Ethel, here, clearly the outgoing and assimilative one, constitutes their collective life in the wake of Norman’s advancing days and a natural ‘fear of death’. But the projection of the two together is that of a marriage of equals. She is his true sanctuary.

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The other part of the film is centered on the return of their daughter and the young teenager who will be left in their care as she and her fiancé, the boy’s father, take off for an European summer tour. The bonding and interpersonal dynamics rule the roost then.

The subtext of the daughter harboring regrets, of not being ‘the son’ to her father is palpable. Given Jane Fonda’s casting here, the alchemy of the real life parent – child bond is special. But the true alchemy of cinema is that despite echoes of a conscious truth being supplied from their behind the scenes bonding, we look at them as Thayers. These personal stakes here add a welcome layer of naturalism.

With eventual blossoming of Billy Jr.’s profound relationship with the senior Thayers, especially with Norman on several fishing trips, the warm embrace of grandparents ( that I miss since they have all passed away) and their steady grip on us is beautifully etched.

A soothing background score by Dave Grusin , expert cinematography by Billy Williams , editing by Robert L. Wolfe and timely use of humour on the part of a cantankerous Norman all complement its progression.

Mortality and its natural correlation is hence found with the two loon birds on the lake, one of the many birds appearing dead as both males go fishing while the fish named Walter is captured but let go as he’s lived for too long. Water, here, is also a source of freedom and its vastness echoes the long lives of the protagonists and possibilities that each individual journey upholds. Also the lake and its adjunct landscape is captured like a watercolor painting, many of them Monet style.

The two loon birds are like ETHEL and NORMAN, eternal voyagers who welcome them back to their beloved summer home each year.

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Ultimately, it’s about these two voyagers and soulmates as the ending scene suggests. Cue these immortal lines that Ethel/ Katharine enunciates to Norman, capturing in simple words their joint journey of a lifetime during the early passages in ON GOLDEN POND :

# These two quotes from the film, especially the former, have been recognized by the AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE as also by countless cinephiles. I knew about these lines since years . Watching them unfold is magical to say the least.

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It’s all the more poignant since its concerns of mortality on Norman’s part are so closely hewn to the man playing him, i. e Mr. Fonda. He passed away in 1982 before even having the privilege of receiving his Oscar for Best Actor. It was perhaps fate that this script chose him, his on screen arc borrowing from his own life script to let him subsume his finest, final moments committed on screen. The concluding scenes, especially, are just too close to his own saga of ill health and implicit fear of death. ON GOLDEN POND, as I look back on it, was perhaps God’s plan all along, in anticipation of a glorious curtain call for him. We can never forget his portrayal here.

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Some among us deride aged people as if their advanced years make them exclusive, outside life’s purview of everyday joys, as if life was a selective beacon cut out only for youth and solemn middle age . I have often called such insensitive people out for their downright offensive and deeply prejudiced attitude to the anchors of our world who have seen and felt all. Life is God’s precious gift and we must never decide for others or renounce our own pleasures and hopes, at any stage whatsoever.

In the later years of one’s journey, there is no need to look for an ending and nobody needs sympathy or wise words because a whole lifetime of self sufficiency has made them sturdy like an evergreen tree shown in the film.

Only cinema can raise these ideas to such diurnal glory and ON GOLDEN POND, with great, timeless sensitivity, anchors them. It’s one for the ages.

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Also, I captured most of these images as screenshots while viewing it for a second time. The imagery is bountiful, beautiful.

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‘TIS THE BEAUTY OF OUR SUNSET YEARS: on ON GOLDEN POND (1981)

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I finally experienced the purity of watching ON GOLDEN POND(1981) yesterday ( I thank my lucky stars that it was available in good print on YouTube)

Suffice to say, it shares the same level of compassion, dynamics of interpersonal relationships and intimacy of its setting by the lake, in a country estate, apart from its focus on wise and loveable members of the sunset club, amounting to the later years of one’s life, with one of my all time favourites THE WHALES OF AUGUST ( I have written about this darling of a cinematic creation on this very blog around late last year)

The other similarities being that like the Lindsay Anderson directed feature released in 1987, ON GOLDEN POND too is based on a play and was among the final screen appearances for such behemoths as KATHARINE HEPBURN and HENRY FONDA just like THE WHALES OF AUGUST had luminaries like BETTE DAVIS, LILLIAN GISH, ANN SOTHERN and VINCENT PRICE in their final major appearances committed to the cinematic canon.

On another positive note, it captures the cover of nature beautifully, with the lapping lake water, swimming loon birds, flying winged members of this idyllic location and panoramic shots of the lake from various angles justifying the vastness of the lead couple’s lived experiences and its distillation in this current moment that the film addresses, in which the Thayers, namely NORMAN ( HENRY FONDA) and ETHEL ( KATHARINE HEPBURN), return to their summer home, away from the city, to ring in the man’s 80th birthday, with his daughter Chelsea ( Henry’s real life daughter, the legendary Jane Fonda) joining in. This personal axis makes it more special.

In THE WHALES OF AUGUST too, sisters Sara and Libby follow a life long tradition of returning to their summer home of Maine, even in their advanced years, to catch the annual event of whales appearing on the sea around August ( it’s wonderful how the month and the expression ‘one’s august years’ – or older years – is beautifully integrated in the title)

ON GOLDEN POND, spotting loons on the lake and conducting fishing trips is a constant lifeline so the natural world is very much part and parcel of their inner unravelings, seamlessly intertwined with their pursuit of peace after fulfilling responsibilities of work, family and society so far, in their respective journeys.

This fidelity to a shared custom seems to hold them in a mortal coil of permanence, suggesting that no matter what their fears and apprehensions, there is a safe space where they can be together among loved ones, especially pertinent to the lifetime bonding between two soulmates. One cantankerous, tart tongued, overseeing shades of an abiding existential crisis( as in the parts essayed by BETTE DAVIS and HENRY FONDA) ; the other accommodating a freedom of living each day as it comes, providing soccour to the other half( as represented by LILLIAN GISH and KATHERINE HEPBURN) . This yin and yang dynamic is crucial to sustaining bonds and is at the center of these two soul stirring screenplays.

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I will share more about the film in an upcoming post. For now, I will conclude that watching it has been a joy, so humbling and full of simplicity it is. I had earlier tried watching it on YouTube but the print wasn’t very clear and the screen dimension was so large, only extreme close ups of the faces could be seen. That would have been killjoy. This time, though, it was perfectly suited for a wholesome viewing. It’s a film I had very much heard and read about, specifically from writer Nikhat Kazmi’s book on the greatest films of all time. Last afternoon turned out to be D day for this cinephile and a sense of satisfaction dawned with clarity.

One post on ON GOLDEN POND isn’t enough. It’s a film of profound, sublime imagery and lucid storytelling ethics, with predictable truths rendered with a view for others and the immediate present . So all other thoughts will make way in the next post. Keep reading and sharing your opinions.

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A LONG DAY’S JOURNEY : on the short film ON THE NATURE OF DAYLIGHT by Max Richter (2018 )

ON THE NATURE OF DAYLIGHT is propulsive because it’s first and foremost a solo classical piece of composition by Max Richter, a pioneer of such richly textured scores; as is the norm, individual scores often get undermined by general listeners. But there are enough aficionados like you and I who care for the emotional intricacies of such cohesive masterpieces. This particular solo piece sounded familiar to me and after digging into few details, I found out that it had been used in the heartwrenching documentary THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR, highlighting the melancholy of suffering for its African – American subject through a whole lifetime, parts of which I have seen on YouTube ; it also found pride of place on the television /web series CASTLE ROCK’S famous seventh episode starring Sissy Spacek , a snippet of which I saw and hence heard the background score. That led me to this latest issue of Mr. Richter’s work where the musical piece is part of a composite whole in this eponymously titled short film starring the great Elisabeth Moss, directed by Mike Terry and edited by David Lopez- Edwards . It poignantly begins with a man holding a little bird and Moss receiving a phone call after which she takes a long walk, setting the stage for a contemplative palette of emotions.

This is an unique example for highlighting the interdependence of music and visuals, taking the form of a six and a half minutes journey, in this case . The camera assumes the position of a passive viewer and this inside – out perspective is directly proportional to the transparency of Moss’ facial expressions as she emits her inner unraveling, as raw, stark and natural as she has come to embody her silences over the years .

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There is something soul stirring and inwardly haunting about the orchestral, wave like progression of the violins / strings by Richter. For the visuals, an almost unbroken, one take movement traces the silent trajectory of a lonely life, pointing towards several origin points for her walk through town, like a ghost in an urban wasteland.

It could be anything : mental health issues , loss and utter desolation, the part in the crossroads where we realize nobody is by our sides and so the act of grieving becomes utterly solitary ; like an outro from her body of work on THE HANDMAID’S TALE as June, those streets and cold environs of Toronto( also the shooting location for the series) double up as a thought provoking, wordless rendition of an individual’s struggles. The specificity of the locations mean a lot, considering it is in the backdrop, like a haze and every speck of light is on the actor imbibing the very root of her breakdown, as if her soul was crying out for catharsis.

Moss has always stood out of the league for her choices and this is a continuing paradigm of her wordless artistry on Brandi Carlile’s visual accompaniment to PARTY OF ONE last year, with a similar running time of nearly six and a half minutes. Her eyes are vessels of such pain, internalized worlds, beginning with the nonchalance of the long walk she takes from night till dawn of day, winding up with her breaking down and then projecting a defiant stance. How much should she suffer? How long can a spiritless night transpire for us? The power of suggestion is supreme hence and effectively so.

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The miniaturized portal of short fiction is similarly full of narratives capturing the highs and lows of the everyday, particularly focusing on subtle manifestations of the latter, the nadirs we hit before picking up broken pieces of this world. In 2019, ON THE NATURE OF DAYLIGHT makes sense as a title as darkness of various hues has destabilized our mindfulness, which may have been tuned to some positive hints and attributes earlier . But as the times show, we are far removed from even Frost’s vision of us taking the road less traveled, for this journey is into an abyss.

ON THE NATURE OF DAYLIGHT is beautifully insular in the moment of pain it addresses for its protagonist but I believe it is universal because each of us has a weight on our shoulders and catharsis is truly need of the hour. If we get to so much as cry, that is a start. Note the attention to detail, use of gestures and the heartbreaking, open- ended conclusion. I highly recommend it to you all for its uncompromising realism and artistry.

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STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT : on the underrated short film PASSAGE (2009)

Written by SHEILA CALLAGHAN and AMY KAUFMAN, PASSAGE is a transcendent experience, told with great passion for images and the unsaid by cross continental Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur. It hinges itself on the ‘strangers in the night’ paradigm. However, this tale is centred on three sisters who come together for an unique reconciliation.

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Julia Stiles is here and her passive expressions reflect her tough role as the eldest sibling or the hardships of her life have made her cloak her emotional transparency, neutral to exhibiting much. The two younger sisters, played by Haley Bennett and Lily Cole, get to fill that void. Haley is excellent from start to finish and the emotional communication through eyes, body language and her impassioned operatic singing capture a snapshot of the three women, who are clearly in flux, with Lily espousing the silence of her world ( as she is hearing impaired)

We get immersed in the backlog of pain, personal struggles of them all( never shown on screen), tied by the reappearance of the eldest who has anchored them and takes the reins for them this time too.

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Their unity is omnipresent, not bound by the passage of time and estrangement as blood bonds are like that, given to one moment where those frictions blur and togetherness underlines each conversation. This short film, with minimal dialogues, exists to revive the purity of cinema as an effortless, seamless medium and conveyor of emotions. This implicity and lucidity of images has been a strong suit on the part of a global filmmaker as good and diverse as Kapur( gloriously realized on ELIZABETH and ELIZABETH : THE GOLDEN AGE and very much on THE FOUR FEATHERS) and he succeeds here, aided beautifully by the music by A. R. RAHMAN, cinematography by BENOIT DEBIE and editing by JACOB CRAYCRAFT, the latter especially given the mammoth task of enhancing the value of film’s miniature format in this case.

The hazy, mirrored imagery likens this sixteen minute journey to a reverie, a dream, unfolding with the slow burn of colours and the realistic subconsciousness of memories in which multiple viewpoints have a stake. It’s painterly, poetic and somehow cathartic to watch it in this sixteen minute capsule.

Integrating with their younger selves, the elusive idea of their pasts and tantalizing mystery regarding the eldest sister’s escape uphold the power of suggestion that short films specialize in. This one, released in 2009, was one of the most underrated examples at a time where the format’s traction was marginal. Look at how the form has exploded and this is one of its very best, backed by stalwarts on all fronts.

As has been my duty and responsibility, I share my views about it here as I want cinephiles to discover it on YouTube where it is easily available and appreciate it as a standalone effort. Its ambient, aural power is quietly effective.

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For more of the filmmaker’s footing in his native industry, watch his classics like MASOOM, MR. INDIA and BANDIT QUEEN.

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CONTINGENCIES OCCASIONED BY POPULAR CULTURE- FINAL PART.

These are examples of some iconic popular culture fixtures, in the final part of this series on the many identifiable personal inspirations for this writer, brought to fruition by the artistic medium over the years . That’s why I use the term contingency, something brought by chance to one’s notice. These instances, too, came to me randomly as a viewer first and then stayed in my mind for years, as they will continue to be in the future.

Also, this is the final part for now. As inspiration strikes again, more additions will make way.

So here they are.

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THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA – COLOURS

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA signifies a lot of things to multitudes but to me, more than its surface appearances and thrust on presentability vis a vis growing up in the inner circle of elitist society, it’s about how the fashion world doesn’t have a dearth of talent. Its vision singularly defines our sartorial choices of every hue. Only we don’t realize that. The hard work is equivalent to its inimitable position in the arena of popular culture. Of course there are other trappings attached to the fraternity, some time honoured stereotypes and all .

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA is memorable because it bears myriad colours of human experience. There are no judgements in the immediate narrative although viewers will take away their own perspectives. Disguised as a breezy comedy or even one of manners, it holds several life lessons about survival.

The greatest one comes when the innocent rookie secretary (Anne Hathaway) enters the fashion fray, as an absolute outsider on her first step towards a literary career. Her first step lands her in a space where she is looked down upon because of her appearance. Given those hypocrisies and the many layers of personalities, she, too, is made to come down from her high horse in one betokened instance. Her boss, the imperious editor and czarina of the fashion world Miranda Priestley ( a sensational Meryl Streep) is discussing a colour coordination prototype with her associates and Anne gives out a caustic chuckle as she feels there are no variations to the color scheme, it’s just one shade.

Then Miranda guides her, in her own inimitable caustic manner, about the whole process through which something harmless or baseless as colour coordination percolates down to the clothing choices of even the worst dresser, with the designs showcased by iconic fashion houses becoming the norm and attracting biggest buys at sales.

The newbie is hurt, teary eyed, visibly humiliated because Miranda is no holds barred and to the point but as a viewer it taught me about humility, to not disregard any creative profession just because it overreaches towards goals you and I are far removed from as the matrix of creation is unending; and even when the other person is a shrew.

Only the surface appearance of the fashion world is what we see. But we cannot deny that we are led towards our selections by its bearings. This scene is a masterclass and remains one of the most eye opening instances occasioned by popular culture.

We have our misconceptions no matter how well meaning and earnest we are. This brings it down to a realization. I identified with it because I believe we always look up to the very intricacies of fashion to adorn our best form of self identification. Only it remains implicit and hidden most of the time. But it is changing in these uber modern times we live in. Good taste, now, is crossing the threshold of elitism alone. This film has a lot to convey about that post millennium beginning for our generation and does it with clarity.

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THE ICONIC PEGGY AND DON SCENE FROM MAD MEN (EPISODE : THE SUITCASE, SEASON 4, 2010 )

A pattern here emerges again as part of this essay. All people discussed struggle to make ends meet while chasing the vast, overbearing ghost of privilege, sometimes inherited by them and at others earned by dint of opportunities and sheer hard work. The latter bit fits the bill of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Peggy Olson ( Elisabeth Moss), two of the greatest performances / personages to come out of the post 2000s artistic boom on MAD MEN (2007-2015)

This prime example of the show’s penchant for detailing, down to the last conversational bit, is drawn on a rare episode ‘THE SUITCASE’ centered around just the two of them, professional soulmates who have the most unique connection, away from rampant cynicism and sexism of advertising in the ’60s. The series has a way to make the particular moment timeless, applicable to any era and to the rapport shared between the sexes.

Peggy has a stressful birthday where nothing fruitful has transpired for her personally and she feels the pinch of her age( though she’s just 26) , a glaring void in her love life and the bittersweet value of her profesional undertakings as a copywriter. In short, it’s a bad day and on top of it all, she is made to stay for extra hours by Don to work on an upcoming pitch.

Things take a turn for the worse when her frustrations get the better of her and she confronts Don with those priceless lines, “but you never say thank you” and Don replies, angrily, “that’s what the money is for”

He apologizes, she turns away, crestfallen, leaves and then cries in the ladies room, in front of the mirror. The tough dynamics of the boss, his dispassionate, non- sentimental presence have made her stronger over time while the clear eyed focus on creating more has kept her away from many of those petty, conventional dramatic tics others subscribe to. However, this exchange posits that in a capitalist regime, the professional bond exists to facilitate work and emotions take a backseat. Every hand on the deck has her/ his work only to speak for them. A sense of hierarchy too governs this exchange. Secondly , these two have always been lonely, cut out even when sorrounded by admirers and adversaries. This stage of their conversation is pivotal to understand the stagnation point for both of them, at a time where both lash out against each other, in their own individual ways.

The rest of the episode winds up becoming a tribute to the present dynamics of this beautiful bond after the storm of the confrontation has passed , crystallizing in intimate conversations and while their bond shares ups and downs over time, this scene is reflective of the challenging career crests and personal shortcomings they endure.

It is reflective further of the way we interact, react and then take forward our narratives like mature adults even when the stakes are against us.

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THE CROWN

Claire Foy’s legendary embodiment of Queen Elizabeth the 2nd on iconic Netflix show THE CROWN has facilitated a different kind of in – depth understanding of the world’s longest reigning monarch, for me and millions . The perspectives provided by her distillation of the Queen’s iron clad resolve, determined will power and utterly singular stands on issues pertaining to the personal and the political is a grand yet intimate statement on the post modern reading of authority. Power, in her case, comes from being true to her own ideals and seeking the right way even as her own kindred cast aspersions over her abilities or her society wears her down by its inherent complexities.

The brilliance of the writing on this show doesn’t skimp on her pride and unbending reserves of privilege too, telling us that her rearing has seeped into her very being. But this is an individual who tests her own limits, takes some left turns and is eager to look at her flaws and rectify them in the long run. Be it running roughshod over Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) and a whole network of males within the establishment for their slackness or trying to balance her own personal desires to see her sister( Vanessa Kirby) unite with her beloved( Ben Miles) , a divorced man not from the aristocracy, away from royal decrees that deem it to be forbidden, it is a portrait of an essentially lonely figure who has sometimes not the power to look at her own reflection in the mirror as her responsibilities come first. She has the gumption to also take speech lessons from an expert when her words don’t communicate the pulse of her immediate era, connect with the common standpoint of projected appearances with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and listen intently to a popular American preacher when her own mother is not too keen to lend an ear to the young thirty something lad.

Going by the accuracy of facts represented, this is a profound showcase of a life that seems too far from our grasps and with Olivia Colman taking over the mantle in its third season premiering late this year, we will be enlightened about more unseen facets.

We look at just the grandiosity of her position. The Crown examines the weight on her shoulders as her mythic status alienates her sometimes from her common human core and leads to several moments of soul searching. I gained a lot of insights about the nature of a person in position and the unique trail it occasions.

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THE WIFE – “A WRITER MUST BE READ, HONEY”

I have already written about the Glenn Close starring book to film adaptation of THE WIFE on this blog a little while ago so I will not go into details except to say that its tale of an unlikely shadow figure, an anonymous writer reeling under the misogyny of her own husband( Jonathan Pryce) , a literary firebrand, is truthful to the manner of how a male dominated society functions and is now getting vetoed out for its own purge.

In the middle of the film, come the most arresting two minutes, a snippet of which was a clear highlight in the trailer as well. The younger version of the wife ( played by Close’s own daughter Annie Starke) meets a female alumni of her college ( Elizabeth McGovern of Downton Abbey fame) and within seconds she advises the young, promising writer with a sparkle in her eyes that she shouldn’t think about doing it. Never should she imagine that the male only club of editors, publicists and fellow writers will allow her to make her mark. Like the visiting lady’s own books, hers will end up in the alumnae library. Then she takes out a book and tells her that this is the sound of one that hasn’t been read.

The younger one says a writer must write.

The older one, with a pained expression accumulated through years of experience, tells her these pivotal lines, “a writer has to be read, honey”

The truth has been told here and as a writer myself, I don’t refute the multiple associations occasioned by these lines. Yes, we have to be read. Period.

Discover this scene to let the same sting of reality hit you.

There are also parallels in THE WIFE regarding the Nobel Academy in a whirling scandal relating to sexual harassment, leading to the prize for literature not being handed out last year and the lead male in the film standing for the same brand of toxic masculinity in more ways than one; he is shown to be receiving the Noble for literature . Its release in 2018 truly makes this one a work of our times then.

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REPULSION, REVENGE AND THE ART OF THE SLOW BURN : on THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER(2017)

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THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (2017) has to be one of the very few recent works that haunted me like a stricken memory and this is necessarily not a negative trait. Its disturbing tone is earned since I aligned it with the growing spate of urban crimes and psychological tortures that have become a common feature in our modern world. It’s kind of a moral haunting where the supposed absurdity of the situations presented is actually more real than the limits of our comprehensions about human nature. In 2019, man made disasters, nuclear threats, environmental degradation and the absolute mockery of justice have added fuel to that fireball rolling down an ever precarious slope and hurtling towards us, non committal mortals seeking innocent reviews of present circumstances.

In YORGOS LANTHIMOS’ film, the familial ethos is eerily strategic, specific to a manicured American upper middle class space where the tale of one beautiful family ( Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic) is the one on the inside. The outer realm ( made up of few people like the ones essayed by Barry Keoghan, Alicia Silverstone and Bill Camp) is the one that puts push to shove and a repressed cultivated internal membrane of the four brings to the open disagreements, ugly scars and conflicted flashpoints in slow boil. The nature of the scripting is such that any kind of bombast is not allowed given the moral weights all have to carry. Their particular predicament ( or for that matter of anyone going through these motions in life) calls for sneaky, secretive, almost whispered exhortations as it is an unholy pact between them to ensure no external agent intervenes or even attempts to. It feels like an universal entry in this age of suppressed emotions and lurking dangers where the power of harm is wrested in the hands of the young, in this case a teenager ( Barry Keoghan) who has everything in his disposal to do that and overturn lives. Now isn’t that a byproduct of our excessively dissipated youth culture, one in which things like gun control and fear of consequences is out of the spectrum for so many ?

REPULSION FOR A PAST DEED BY SOMEONE ELSE , THE RESULTING FEELING OF REVENGE DRIVES HIM AND THIS STORY FORWARD. Serious psychological damage is ingrained in his unseemly demands and is compounded by pain that has remained irreconcilable.

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All these elements come together to more than suggest and express that this is a cinema of loneliness and Yorgos addresses strains of cynicism, nihilistic tendencies in the people’s robotic vocal permutations, aided by the mid shot to close up pans. Implying a seemingly prosperous happy facade crumbling to bits with over head shots creates a level of distance, detachment as regards the plot and the musical score by Yorgos Mavropsaridis is on lines of this depressive, uber melancholic development as the film progresses towards one of unchecked operatic tragedy.

This sustained theme of existentialist absurdism is embellished by musical cues likened to banshee screams, fingers on a chalkboard and falling structures. Thimios Bakatakis’ cinematography adds an edginess to this organized portrait of disintegration, with my intentional emphasis on the term ‘organised’. Viewers will realize what I mean when they watch it.

As for the plot, let’s just say that the nature of bonding between the doctor ( Colin Farrell) and the teenager ( Barry) keeps us guessing until we are given eventual details of how an alleged case of medical negligence on the former’s part has wider implications. Soon this mutual agreement of verbal exchanges and long walks between them spills over to his family and a pleasant camaraderie tinged with implosive undercurrents leads to instances of physicality , particularly a hypnotic spell of complex moral flexing and then immobility that claims the two kids ( Raffey and Sunny). As they crawl and struggle to come to terms with the vengeful boy’s damning words that start to literally manifest in their physical debilities, a slant towards the incomprehensible occurs, treated, however, with striking realism. We soon discover why it is so.

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We are all marionettes of fate, with others holding the strings. The unique pall of horror is originally designed to unsettle our established, static thoughts about a larger evil at play amidst our collective consciousness. I got an almost Kubrickesque and Polanskian impression with the unfolding of imagery here. It’s so serene, so graceful on the surface that the foreboding comes with a brutal slow burn. Violence of the mind parallel to a plague of joylessness unintentionally created by our own moments of weakness is a curse within urbanized circles of prosperity.

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It opens with a choral lament ala Greek tragedy and ends with the same. Director Yorgos, a Greek himself, takes an Euripides play IPHIGENIA AT AULIS and fuses it with a contemporary spin that proves the darkness of afflicted souls, especially when poised to make difficult choices and alighted by impossibly complex human mindsets, is mightier than God’s wrath. On earthly realm, the darkness swallows us whole. While the opening minutes unfolded, I could sense this very specific atmosphere exactly attuned to one in Greek and Shakespearean dramas and even if it wasn’t based on an Euripides one, the hints are clearly there for those familiar with that tone. Here the exploration is of the interior mindscape of our bloodthirsty selves ; concepts of crime and punishment take us, hence, to extremities. This insight also is notable in the manner of intimacy akin to chamber pieces, i.e works set within enclosed spaces and so that theatrical input is very much present in the performative arcs and the claustrophobic focus on actions .

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As for the title, the ‘sacred deer’ – to me- is symbolic of a precious entity / being coming undone from points of an already fragile innocence. Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, is an eternal sacred deer then, in my opinion.

Elsewhere, the images that have stuck in my head are of the daughter (Raffey) singing an ominously simpering version of Ellie Goulding’s Burn, an essay on Iphigenia written by her as related by her school principal, the image of a heart being operated upon in the beginning while the siblings talk about using their respective Mp3 players before death beckons them. The pivotal image of the father (Farrell) with a gun and a blindfold is the stuff of nightmares. These popular culture fixtures and contemporary inputs are interesting prisms to humanize the tragic experience here, pointing towards the possibility that in the midst of normal day to day routines, fact remains that somewhere things like these occur. Human sacrifice, an ancient, primeval ritual, here finds a transactional, gloomy track with the tables being turned on gender dynamics of its original Greek source.

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER addresses a culture of depressive atomization affecting a nuclear family – that traditional mould of four – in an uniquely realized inner realm of grave contemporaneous outcomes. It stings and haunts because it is so close to the bone, in the way it diagnoses human behavior of all kinds. From the myth of Iphigenia emerges a tale of our modern era.

All the while you watch it, you get the feeling that an overheated kettle is going to burst too close to us. That’s the underlying tension, grippingly handled here.

**

** below is a Wikipedia entry on the play to give you an idea about its origins.

A CINEMA OF LONELINESS : on PESTONJEE, THE SPINSTER and MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE

As a self confessed lover of cinema and a believer in its absolute truthfulness as a medium narrating our life scripts, I always connect the dots and discover the affinities many of the works I watch seem to share. It’s almost involuntary and as natural as my knack for discovering hidden gems. It is a familiar pattern in which these thematic elements come together to beautifully integrate and embellish this cinephile’s interests. The three films that find pride of place here namely PESTONJEE (1987), THE SPINSTER (2007) and MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE (1990) have a silence about them, manifesting in the inner lives of introverts.

That inhibition to express themselves openly is a mark of their personal nature and in each instance, a sense of self sacrifice and virtuosity of being underlines the greater suffering wrought by that same idea of non protesting individuality. It is at odds with a largely exhibitionist order of things but they cannot change themselves to betray their own natures. That, in itself, is a triumph. It makes me heartened to see that side of a personality so beautifully expressed on screen.

Another similar point present in these three works is that of loneliness characterized by being in an earmarked relationship for life (MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE) or from the voids of spinster/ bachelorhood( its literal depiction in THE SPINSTER and PESTONJEE respectively) . Companionship being parallel to our standing in the world around us, it can be a deal breaker when we fall out of that bracket . Tongue tied, non verbal articulations make these simple, loveable beings, ill fated as they cruelly are, self sufficient vessels because I believe there are people who don’t always have to subscribe to one standard norm and others must accept their placid, introverted selflessness in a non judgemental manner. It’s difficult to navigate life without feeling adequately fulfilled vis a vis relationships. Yet we live to tell our tales. Consider these three examples to crystallize in the most effective, lucid way, illuminating the unsaid ethos of lonely souls.

**

PESTONJEE

The gentle graces and then the rambunctious joie de vivre of the Parsi community has guided Indian subcontinent for generations and centuries. These two poles of personalities have endeared its industrious members and nowhere have they been captured with the singularity of purpose or diverse range of emotional fidelity as on Vijaya Mehta’s PESTONJEE (1987)

Here the focus is also on the middle classes who are not stereotypically upper crust social heads as the rest of the community for not everybody gets the same share of the pie. This film is attuned to the collected elegance and commonplace simplicity of Parsis, without caricaturing them and lastly it upholds the universal ethos of human experiences.

In the form of Piroj ( the effortless Naseeruddin Shah), his best friend Pestonjee ( Anupam Kher), Jeroo ( Shabana Azmi) and Soona ( Kiron Kher), many hued progress of individual personalities gets underway, narrated by Piroj and seen through his eyes. Unable to express his love for a woman, diffident in profusing love, always standing by his friends and a credo of communal spirit, he epitomizes decency.

As things take a different turn, his lone interior space is directly tied to the loneliness within a community. Introverted internalization is beautifully realized through objects and actions.
Like the rudimentary, old fashioned building lift . Or the interior monologue on the part of Piroj. Or the charming bits of Jeroo playing the piano and Piroj’s seaside walks by the end of his journey.

PESTONJEE is a calm and composed drama of manners. The loneliness here is affected by tables being turned on lifelong friendships with the advancement of years , changing priorities post Pestonjee’s marriage to Jeroo and loss of a loved one. Piroj is the stoic, innately human gentleman who never puts himself first and it shows him different facets of life. ‘Nothing stays the same’ is the motto we take from this screenplay.

**

THE SPINSTER ( FOUR WOMEN BY ADOOR GOPALAKRISHNAN, 2007)

This is a haunting reflection of a society where the premium is on marriage only. Like Pestonjee, this one too entails no rosy fairy tale for its protagonist. The Spinster ( actor and director extraordinaire NANDITA DAS) here is looked as a burden, an unsavoury entity, often a melancholic figure, with whom everyone keeps a distance from. It’s as if no other initiative for her exists though the titular figure here, part of an anthology on marginalized women titled FOUR WOMEN by acclaimed Indian filmmaker ADOOR GOPALAKRISHNAN, is financially stable by dint of her mother’s inheritance and family home. There is a stifling conformity and dependence on circumstances for her even in that respect.

Her silence is her only refuge because come to think of it, her conditioning itself has not left her with any other option. Her introverted nature feeds her loneliness. That lack of expressiveness is her own natural bearing but given her so called ‘station’ in life, it leads to her further marginalization. By all means, it’s a difficult place to be in, given that she has nothing to hold herself accountable for. THE SPINSTER is poignantly evocative of a million other voices as hers. That last line that I write is, in itself, ironic since Das gets to mouth not even a dozen lines here.

A passage of time, deja vu is represented by the coming and going of boats in the serene backwaters of Kerala, the film’s location. Her siblings settle down, her mother passes away and muffled whispers and simultaneous support greet her. It’s all very implicit and in the forty minutes of runtime packs a punch because the fate of the spinster / bachelor continues to still remain questionable, open to sympathy or indifference . Das is au natural.

**

MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE( 1990)

In this elegantly executed screen adaptation of two novels based on the writer’s own parents, the famed Merchant – Ivory – Ruth Prawer Jhabwala team deal with the essential internal ennui of the ‘Leisure Class’ who have all the time in the world to talk about poverty of the Europeans, feminist ideals and changing face of sexual mores for the new generation around the 1940s. The prism of this realistic tale is on the titular older couple played by legendary real life partners JOANNE WOODWARD and PAUL NEWMAN.

Mrs. India Bridge is a picture of infinite dignity who seems to hold the reins of feminine representation through the ages. She is subsumed, sublimated in the patriarchal dictations of her upbringing and universal culture that her daughters outrightly reject for themselves. To think she is a relic of the past in this present epoch will be dismissing the truth about obstinate gender dynamics persisting even in this day and age. This is what happens to almost all of us. By the time we think of coming of age, we already cross the threshold of 30 and decide the established rule must be unquestioningly followed till the longest time. It is conformity that makes us withdraw into a shell.

Mr. Walter Bridge, on the other hand, espouses the old guard, with his emphasis on duty, fidelity and dedication to sustaining bonds even when the regimented ways we have inherited from our parents creates a looming distance amongst members of a single unit. We set too many boundaries even within our families to truly reach out and touch a nerve. His case echoes that time honored complexity.

There is no love lost between them and the man particularly is faithfully attuned to his family and work. The cracks in the established order of things get visible as he is too reserved to sometimes even register his love for his wife.

This circulatory, cyclical statis informs a lifetime.

The episodic style of presenting events benefits from the performances of the whole cast, period details and the arc of unpredictable tension there is besides the gentility.

Heartbreaking instances of the son refusing to show his love to Mrs. Bridge in a public event and she getting her car jammed in the snow, with no one to listen to her cry for help display the path of alienation anchors of our families suffer. Ms. Woodward is splendid here and is all heart and soul as her good hearted smiles and impassioned emotional moments carry the weight of her world. Additionally, it holds a key to the loneliness inevitable to advanced years of our lives.

**