LUCY IN THE SKY(2019)
Natalie Portman is to the manner born when it comes to immersing herself in the void of human compunction, a space where she can go completely blank and yet possess the felicity to express her experiences with utter conviction. So much so that as a discerning individual, the viewer is hypnotized by the depths of her internal probing.
It’s a gift that she imbues her eyes and visage with in every psychologically complex script she nods her assent for, be it BLACK SWAN, PLANETARIUM, JACKIE, VOX LUX or ANNIHILATION. LUCY IN THE SKY, helmed by Noah Hawley, finds its arresting pitch of that same haunting sense with her characterisation of LUCY COLA, an astronaut finding herself unravel when everything on earth eludes her after a successful mission to outer space. Is it just career aspirations and a sense of the universe getting in the way of her personal life? Or is it her unhappy childhood fraught with abandonment by parents coiling around her like an albatross?
With a striking visual palette, shifting screen dimensions and an appropriate pace, LUCY IN THE SKY has intense moments galore, with a focus on mental health issues often getting the short shrift even in the most advanced surroundings buoyed by science. The human mind is an intricate jumble here and Ms. Portman invests that point with total commitment to her psychological state. It is, to me, an example of ‘cinema of dissonance or disorientation’
FARGO (1996), THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI (2017)
Frances McDormand is a performer who can balance extraordinary reserves of righteous indignation affected by policing mishandling of a case involving her dead daughter as on THREE BILLBOARDS… with an almost taunting sense of humour, to go with her regional lingo, as a police officer slowly making her way through a tangle of crime in FARGO. In both, her punctured soul is always in the spotlight, that of a lady grown accustomed to the indignities of the world around her.
I was lucky to watch both these films soon after beholding her almost karmic restraint on NOMADLAND last month. Both unite her in the similitude of being a one woman army within small-town politics of male ego and structures that undermine the power of justice and truth. Catch her full caustic fury on display as a grieving mother holding nothing back from hypocritical gatekeepers of an insulated society in THREE BILLBOARDS…. Or her warmth when with her caring husband and an old friend respectively while very beautifully estimating her dismay at the state of things involving petty pursuits of crime, as in that final ride to the police station with a convict in her van in FARGO. Almost as if she is bemoaning bringing her child into this sort of twisted world( she is shown to be atleast five months pregnant while on duty in the film)
Her subtle shades make each experience worth appreciating.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966)
Friendship or even semblance of trust within the same gender is often grist for conflict that gradually develops over identity crises. That intragender dynamic is interesting to find in a film as resonant in the post-feminist discourse as THE FAVOURITE.
It releases the fictionalized embers of Queen Anne’s physical debilities and position as head of a nation from the fiery cauldron of history, bringing much moral weightlifting to class relations and sexual mores circa 18th Century England, from the prism of a millennial understanding. What makes it heartbreaking is that in a man’s world, none of the three principal women, despite staking their power plays within the court, manage to find unison in each other’s company. That’s worth pondering about, throughout history.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966), a totemic Western from the one and only Sergio Leone, too finds the other gender- the malefolk- uniting but ultimately betraying each other’s better instincts in the blind pursuit of greed, in an epoch of yore. LEE VAN CLEEF, ELI WALLACH and the eternally sexy cowboy CLINT EASTWOOD find out its absurdities as in the climactic shots of Wallach searching like a rabid dog across the length of a mass cemetery for that elusive pot of gold.
It’s a fate that reeks of nations’ foundations built upon violence and existential moral bankruptcy.
THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL (1985)
I came to realize that THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL is actually a wonderful precursor to NOMADLAND. Before Fern(Frances McDormand), we had the great Geraldine Page playing a 60 plus lady taking one unlikely trip to her place of birth BOUNTIFUL, TEXAS even though it has all but vanished from the American map. Just like Fern’s predicament in a post-recession scenario where her hometown of Empire, Nevada is subsumed in anonymity almost overnight.
Ms. Page’s journey in this instance is that of reclaiming a sacred idea of home before old age catches up with her. It’s a coincidence that she won an Oscar for this emotionally wrenching tale and soon passed away. As if this was what Fate had decided for her, an intermingling of real life anticipation regarding one’s mortality with the one portrayed on screen.
How can one possibly forget her scenes in the bus in the presence of a passenger, her reasoning with her son and daughter in law, her breakdown in the bus depot and then her moments in the acre of uninhabited land that was once her precious childhood home becoming a source of joy. The trip fulfilled, it leads her to an open-ended but satisfying journey down the road, another parallel with Fern from NOMADLAND.
Watch this classic to be immersed in its emotional depth, just like the way I remember it after having watched it almost two years ago.
NOTE: in recent years, CICELY TYSON played this acclaimed role for a Lifetime television movie.
LOSING ISAIAH (1995)
A boy with a divine name is endowed with love from two women. The personal politics of motherhood, however, get swept up in racial constraints. A custody battle between the biological single mother, a former drug addict, and the adoptive family, sets in motion a rich emotional saga culled from real life.
With performances by the likes of Oscar winners HALLE BERRY, JESSICA LANGE as well as SAMUEL L. JACKSON and DAVID STRATHAIRN, it is a timely tale and an underrated classic.