­Who I am

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whoareyou

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The following article first appeared as the ‘Foreword’ for:

Who Are You: Philosophy, Physics, and Eastern Mysticism (Paperback – January 5, 2018): Chandran Tattvaraj

It is re-published here with the author’s consent. The original title was ‘Who I am’ and we have reverted to that here.

Who I Am

How long have we been questioning who and what we are; where we’ve come from and where we’re going? Perhaps throughout our existence we have questioned the very notion of ‘self’. Ideas of this self are there to read in Eastern religious and philosophical writing, and in the West, was philosophically enshrined with Descartes: I think therefore I am. But long, long before Descartes, religious philosophers had contemplated the nature of the ‘self’ and within the self – the ‘soul’…that there was (is) something intrinsic to us that also seems to be apart from ‘us’ – a part and apart simultaneously.

When I was a child I was fascinated by two mirrors placed near opposite each other in the family’s bathroom. The reflected images disappeared into infinity and thus timelessness. Maybe this triggered in my developing mind an idea of eternity…and an idea of an alternative reality – for I could see many ‘me’s seemingly projected into the future and into a kind of reflected past. As I recall now I can see/feel myself wishing to step into those multiple ‘other worlds’. Ten years later or so, on one of the few occasions I took LSD, I was aware of passages within the space, the air, surrounding me…Had I the wherewithal, I could have turned into these passages, or corridors and entered a world normally hidden from (or by) my ‘normal’ perception.

In medieval time in England it was thought there was a powerful connection between things and the names of those things. That everything naturally had a name that was somehow bestowed and fixed. The bond between this name and the thing was irrevocable. Now we think: a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But we live in and are trapped by our language and thought. The self and our idea of who we are comes to fruition along with understanding both the concept of self-hood and our gradual understanding of our-selves – a paradox from birth that develops and changes through time. We physically and mentally grow into ‘being’. We slowly join the unfolding narrative of the world. As unfolding selves we receive and are affected by the scientific, cultural, religious, fairy-tale narratives of the ‘main characters’. They tell us who we are, what to do, how to behave and what to think. We are seeds scattered into the ground…healthy or rocky.

We are born into a world that seems locked into time and space…a concrete world of ‘reality’. And we are given the ability to perceive this world through our senses in a consensual manner. But is there an ‘out there’ a ‘world’ that exists extraneously to our mind’s perception? Our brain collapses the ‘out there’ (the waves and particles of light photons) into the world we live in and deem ‘real’. Of course in one sense it is so very real…run a blade across your skin and you’ll feel pain and see blood flowing. But the mind that perceives and ‘holds’ our thoughts…the thoughts that perceive the world we grow into has no definite location (there are areas of the brain that correspond to certain elements of the mind…but under given circumstances these can be changed and/or re-routed) – and further, the thoughts themselves have no location or indeed space. You cannot grasp a thought and though it may re-appear as a memory in the ‘future’ its existence feels completely ‘out of time’. Yes we seem to experience the passing of time (and we can look into a mirror or view old photographs to verify this) but that too is seemingly an illusion. But. Let me state, this illusion and all that the brain creates is a necessity for us to exist in this illusory world. No wonder we have constantly asked those enduring questions and the shortest and the most effective and relevant being: Why?

What kind of trick has been played upon us frail humans…and even beyond this trick there being dealt a false trump card – a card that has given us the desire and need to discover who and what we are and where we are, where we are going and ultimately if we were created by some unknown supreme being. We frail humans given cards of nobility and poetry but also fear and violence. Each is dealt his hand…by chance, by providence, through DNA?

I think therefore I am – yet I am aware that I am thinking – therefore I am ‘we’ – both the thinker and the observer. And because I think in English: I think therefore I am English and all that I am aware of through this inherited language. And everything I think comes from where? I think therefore it is I that think. Or: I think unbidden thoughts therefore I am me and something ‘other’? We seem to be a paradox. That’s the nature of the trick.

When we dream – who is it that dreams? Who is it in the dreams? Who creates the dreams and sets the play in motion?

For many people it is enough to live and die – to work and play…some struggle some seem gifted by ‘fate’. Some folk give their lives to ideas and some are tortured and killed for having these, or indeed contrary, ideas. That is how strongly we are caught in our language, in our being. O I truly admire those who have died and suffered in the name of beauty or truth or spirit. But how odd it all seems too. That some men should dictate to others how they might feel, think, believe, say, write and act. When nothing is, indeed, quite how we think it is. The ancient Eastern religions understood this and now modern ‘cutting-edge’ science seems to be verifying these ancient beliefs. There’s more to us perhaps than even we thought.

If this life is a trick, a game…whose rules are we playing to? Is there a reason for us to be here. What is our true nature. There is the argument that we are ‘one’ (non-dual) and that we exist without time and matter. An idea that we are drops of the ocean or fragments of a hologram – all belonging and connected to the whole. In this sense we have been tricked into an earthly state of division and unique personality. When I talk with people about this there comes the idea of ‘re-birth’ (reincarnation) and that our mission, if you will, is to ‘escape’ from captivity of the flesh. That our essence is something beyond and eventually apart from who we are (or who we think we are). On the one hand I see the logic and even justice to this and on the other hand I see cruelty and lack of justice. Most of us are destined to relate as the ‘I’ – and we create our life story correspondingly. The idea of re-birth seems to be the loss of each personality (but maintenance of the ‘spirit’). Who we are is annihilated – and yet some part of ‘us’ carries on. Is this the ‘divine spark’ the droplet of the divine ocean. But if there is no connection between that droplet and my perception of ‘me’ – why would/should I care? Are ‘we’ but fading dreams of another?

How cruel to birth us into this material world with senses to experience it – and to feel its love, hate, warmth, cold, benevolence and cruelty and yet also be locked within a ‘secret’. This secret being that we are NOT truly part of this earth and that we must – through lifetimes of repeated existence – find a way off and out of this material plane! Were I the playwright of such a play I might congratulate myself on its playful and clever conceit. But discovering one is but a fictional character with no life beyond the page…well…I might feel somewhat misused. Especially as my appearance on the stage is so brief and apparently futile.

My father used to say to me: There is only one thing worse than dying for ever and that is living for ever. Here is the great conundrum. This conundrum seems rarely to be challenged. Is there any connection between this earthly existence (the test) and the existence ‘as one’ (connected to all and everything and perhaps The Godhead) beyond time, space and matter? There certainly seems much credible (and incredible!) evidence for existence beyond this life but the nature of that also seems poorly transmitted. It maybe that we enter a lighter consensual reality, amidst others we relate to…a more spiritual place (for some) but dark and heavy for others…who perhaps maintain much of their earthly existence. Maybe we’re being given spurious information as but yet a further test?

The nearest I get to understanding another life beyond the mystical glances sometimes obtained in the beauty of nature…or through music or a piece of sublime literature or art is within my dreamscapes. In dreams it seems as if there is a natural narrative…everything ‘makes sense’…it is us and we comprehend our seemingly natural environment. It’s only on waking that our dreams might seem very strange. And then they begin to fade despite our best efforts to resurrect them or keep the narrative going. It’s like reading a story and the last few pages have been ripped out. Dreams make sense even when nonsense. It really is another reality. It is REAL or as real as this reality. Only waking from a dream does it seem odd or different. Of course there are those who can hop in and out of dream-states and even travel beyond into the astral realms. Or somewhere. Another avenue of reality? A place where our conscious mind (and/or spirit) goes on death? Do dreams offer an insight into the connection between this world and the ‘other’?

These days we can slip into virtual reality. A time seems fast approaching when being in virtual reality might be as common as falling asleep and dreaming. Though we might become masters of our movement in VR land it is not a ‘consensual reality’ but rather a reality created by both humans and machines. I can imagine all sorts of wonderful experiences and the most frightening too. In a future world, grossly over-populated we might enter VR to see, smell and experience nature. But who knows what might have been designed to roam through those lands too. VR certainly can but make us consider what THIS reality is. Like self-induced other realities it will be ‘real’ at the time of experiencing. The mind can be fooled and sometimes quite easily. And the mind can be manipulated too. If we create a VR that transforms the human experience are we creating a VR within a VR. If we can create effective virtual reality who’s to say THIS life isn’t a ‘virtual reality’!

Were we created in God’s (or The Great Creator’s) image? If so – what a disappointment we must have been and still are. I immediately think of us the ‘sons and daughters of God’ creating our own reflections – ‘Artificial Intelligence’ and Robots. Here again the whole notion of consciousness might be forced vehemently into our collective consciousness. The idea – say – that consciousness is received by humans (and not self-created) seems interesting in that the future might see robots obtain their own consciousness. If the reaction to this is – never!…well, that would mean that only the human organic brain (or an animal’s?) can tune into radiating, and yet personal, consciousness. Consciousness is also said to be whole (oneness) but if we receive consciousness we do so in personalised packages. Are we bundled up and packaged pre-birth? If it is the will of the sender that determines who and/or what receives consciousness then why not robots? At the moment robots are fairly ‘primitive’ and yet there has already been a case of robots creating their own language. If humans did come from apes and were subsequently to receive the consciousness we have now – then why not highly sophisticated robots? Of course all this is but scratching the surface. But as an aside there have been experiments with humans where simple choices have been offered (left/right on/off) and their brain reactions monitored. These experiments seem to show quite large gaps between the brain deciding what to do and consciousness deciding what to do! In other words our consciousness (decisions seemingly made in the ‘present’) lagged behind the actual brain decision by seconds. This would mean our ‘present’ is in an eternal ‘past’. Not only that of course but it would suggest all is mapped out and we’re here just for the ride…though we have been tricked (once again) into thinking we are masters of our own fate. Maybe robots of the future though highly evolved will always lag behind their programming? Maybe robots will feel tricked.

If we are beyond time, space and matter (the soul nature) then again we have been tricked into believing we have a beginning and an end. And yet the beginning is hazy and comes together through our perception of time and self and unfolds in retrospection. Most of our perception of ourselves is retrospective. There is also the sense of deja vu (or deja vecu) that haunts us…Do we re-live our life over and over – and if so for what purpose? The world we live in seems to have constant birth and rebirth – as in Nature. Yet we and our surroundings SEEM to be eternal. Others may die (like a leaf/flower/cow/dog or even fellow human) but surely not us. The Sun will one day burn out but can we (do we) perceive of Earth’s ending? And the universe in which we live perhaps has no boundaries and ‘just is’. Like puppets we gaze up into the sky at night, our strings lost into the blackness…Our helplessness and lack of understanding is full of pathos. Why were we tricked so?

What is the antidote to our existence in this world that both is and isn’t? For me it is the art and act of creation. If all was created by The Great Creator – the original creative act – then being creative is truly a spark of godliness. Life can be cold, hard and cruel but we have shown throughout our time on this earth that we can rise above hardship and persecution, above torture and even walk to the gallows with our heads held high. There is something in us that is greater than ourselves.
My own philosophy of life and death draws on the ideas and communications of others (both alive, dead and perhaps beyond the ‘veil’). At death our consciousness/spirit travels on and alights at another place of consensual reality. In this place we flock together with like minds – some others are drawn to the heavy earthly states – some are light and finely tuned. Thus we begin the next stage of our journey. Perhaps this journey involves the ‘release of ourselves’ – the ‘release of attachments’…though we continue to learn we also learn to give up. Gradually we will indeed become ‘one’ – leaving the unique self behind. By becoming ‘one’ we will no longer be aware of time, space or matter…we will no longer fear the loss of ourselves and loved ones…as we will be melded into a greater and all-encompassing love. As I write these words I feel panic…I am attached to the poetic in this life and the connection to others. But being melded with love and being ‘one’ will not – I trust – mean the loss of anyone or anything but rather the gaining of a higher connection and higher ‘love’. Poets, mystics, philosophers, religious thinkers and perhaps even each one of us has at rare times had an in-sight into the greater-ness that we are normally so unaware of. Maybe we’ll get to comprehend the ‘Great Trick’ that has been played on us – maybe we’ll laugh out loud and understand the very true nature of who we are and what we are for. In the meantime we can but dream…we’ll continue viewing the stars above and continue making enquiry. And we’ll continue asking: Who am I?

I hope and trust you will enjoy the essays that follow…and that you might step back from this stage for a while and view from the wings…view the actors so caught up emotionally in the play. Maybe you’ll catch a glance of the playwright him/her/it self viewing from the balcony and maybe you’ll catch a wry smile on that playwright’s face. After all, the playwright knows the trick that’s been played all along. And we are but the stuff that dreams are made on.

Tim Bragg (copyright 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Love, Simon (2018)

lovesimon

Love, Simon is a ground-breaking film aimed at a mainstream audience

PG-13 | 1h 49min | Comedy, Drama, Romance | 16 March 2018 (USA)
Director: Greg Berlanti
Writers: Elizabeth Berger (screenplay by), Isaac Aptaker (screenplay by) |
Stars: Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is a 17-year old with a secret. Simon has “a perfectly normal life” in all ways but one: Simon is gay. The emphasis should be more on the perfect thant the normal in that last phrase though! His parents (played by Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner)are a loving, understanding couple and he even gets on well with his Sister! Problems that many teenagers grapple with are absent from this film.

This does enable the film to focus on the central theme but it is at the expense of realism. Love, Simon has one scene where Simon imagines a college life which includes highly choreographed group dancing to a gay anthem. The rest of the film isn’t so divorced from reality but it isn’t too far off.

Love, Simon isn’t gritty. It’s very vanilla, family-friendly and a PG-13. Warning: There is gay kissing but nothing beyond that! There isn’t much depiction of straight sex either! Everyone is fairly well-behaved!

Don’t get me wrong though, the film is entertaining and well written. It engages your interest in the central mystery very well. Simon sees a posting on a school gossip forum from another student ‘Blue’ who says he is gay but nervous about ‘coming out’ openly. Simon spends much of the movie trying to figure out who this might be. The audience is carefully kept in the dark with Blue’s postings being read by different voices throughout the film, depending on who Simon suspects he might be at a particular point.

There are also some great supporting roles. I found the vice-principal (Tony Hale) very funny, the drama teacher (Natasha Rothwell) engaging and out-and-proud classmate Ethan (Clark Moore) a good counterpoint to Simon.

At heart Love, Simon is a rom-com. I went with my daughter to see it at a special screening and I think that the main audience for it will actually be teenage girls.The film may be criticised for it not confronting issues of homophobia head-on but it’s not that kind of movie – it isn’t dark and it’s aiming at communicating to a mainstream audience. It’s a groundbreaking film which deals with an important issue. It’s better than a lot of teenage films of the same genre as it has good humour, a clear plot and does make you think about how difficult it could be for a teenager dealing with their sexuality in a society which can still be unaccepting of difference.

Editorial note: Love, Simon is based on Becky Albertalli’s 2015 novel was called Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

 

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Darkest Hour (2017)

darkesthourposterHitler is at the height of his power in 1940. His forces are pushing aside opposition in France and Belgium and the British are retreating. An invasion of Britain is a real possibility. It’s not just the ‘other side’ the new wartime leader Winston Churchill has to worry about either. Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and Halifax (Stephen Dillane), think that the best hope is a deal with the Nazis and and are plotting (seemingly with some approval from the King, George VI, at least at first) to undermine Churchill’s cabinet.

Churchill is the hero of this film and his many faults are downplayed. There is reference to his poor judgment and Galipolli and we do get a taste of his ruthless streak when he sacrifices troops like disposable pawns.

His extreme political views on certain topics are not referenced. As far on as 1937, then aged 62, he justified mass genocide of indigenous peoples on the grounds of white supremacy, announcing to the Palestinian Royal Commission: “I do not admit […] that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia.

“I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”

That was nothing new for Churchill. In December 1910, aged 36, Churchill wrote to prime minister Herbert Asquith warning of the “unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feeble-minded and insane classes” (general terms then used to describe the mentally ill and impaired).

Their rapid growth, he asserted, together with the “steady restriction [of the] thrifty, energetic and superior stocks” (folks like himself, of course), constituted “a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate.”

He argued that they should be “sterilised” or “segregated under proper conditions so that their curse died with them and was not transmitted to future generations.”

As home secretary in 1911 he brought the artillery on to the streets of east London in a somewhat onesided battle to deal with Latvian anarchists in the siege of Sydney Street.

In 1910 he ordered the military into Tonypandy to support local police and authorities in quelling disorder and the strikes of the miners.

When Iraqis and Kurds revolted against British rule in northern Iraq in 1920, Churchill, then secretary of state at the War Office, said: “I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes. It would spread a lively terror.”

In the 1926 General Strike Churchill edited the government’s newspaper, the British Gazette, and used it to put forward his anti-union and anti-Labour views.

Before the War he even had a good opinion of Fascism and Hitler.

He wrote to Mussolini: “What a man! I have lost my heart! […] Fascism has rendered a service to the entire world […] If I were Italian, I am sure I would have been with you entirely.”

As late as 1935 he wrote of Hitler: “If our country were defeated, I hope we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.”

In 1943, a famine broke out in Bengal and up to three million people starved to death. He bluntly refused any aid, raging that it was the Indians’ own fault for “breeding like rabbits.”

Of course these views, which jar with our values today, were far from unusual at the time. The past is another country. That’s not to say that there were not many even then who would have had an opposed view. There were. Let’s hope that some of those who go to see the film take a closer look at the history behind it.

He was certainly a bastard but to use the Sumner Welles phrase he was “our bastard” – at least during the War. He is described as the one UK politician who frightened Hitler and, perhaps, that is true. He was also, in my view, right on the likely outcome of appeasement.

The film does present Churchill as the contradiction he was. This is brought out in scenes with his long-suffering wife Clemmie (Dame Kristin Ann Scott Thomas) and family as well as scenes with his secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James).

An underlying theme of the film is the power of language and the importance of oratory. There are many scenes where we see Churchill mobilise the English language and send it to war (as Halifax puts it). Oldman’s Golden Globe-winning performance is forceful and effective and Churchill’s speeches have lost nothing of their persuasive and stirring qualities through his delivery.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

threebillboards15 | 1h 55min | | 12 January 2018 (UK)

This is a dark film dealing with big issues.
Mildred Hayes (Frances McDonagh) is a mother whose daughter was raped and murdered.
One year on and the police have made no progress and have no leads.
She hires three billboards to call out the police and the popular Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) on their inability to catch the killer. Mildred is forthright in her views telling the local news channel: “My daughter Angela was murdered 7 months ago, it seems to me the police department is too busy torturing black folk to solve actual crimes.” She’s a tough woman with a fractured heart and she is angry. Very, very, angry.
You can feel the pain emanating from Mildred. We aren’t invited to sympathise with her, but you can’t help but understand the pain she is enduring and understand the drive she has for revenge, not just on the unknown killer, but on the community and institutions that don’t seem to care. That’s the root of her decision to hire the billboards.
This act has many consequences and shines a light on the divisions, hypocrisy and narrow mindedness of the small community. Most of the community don’t like the billboards and want Mildred to shut-up. They try to pressure and bully her into taking the boards down. They also put pressure on the agency that hired her the boards.
The local police are an unlovely bunch. Their Chief says that if he sacked all the racist cops in his force he’d have a handful left and they would all hate “fags”. One of these racist Cops, Dixon (Sam Rockwell), does all in his power to disrupt the billboard campaign and his violence and crude hatred are difficult to stomach. As his character develops, however, you start to have some sympathy with him for what has made him what he is and the fact that he is strong enough to begin to change. The way Dixon is developed shows how nuanced the film is.
Mildred comes over as one determined lady. She has suffered domestic abuse, the death of her daughter and virtually a whole town that hates her. Her allies, like her, aren’t at the centre of the community, they have little power and are marginalised and ill-treated.
There’s a lot of profanity in this film and the violence is raw but it is a story that is telling a truth.
There are excellent performances from the cast, and the film picked up four Golden Globe awards including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor.
It also has an evocative American based soundtrack.

 

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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The Last Jedi (2017)

WARNING – MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

star_wars_the_last_jedi_poster

Some have seen symbolism of a wider view of The Force in this poster

This film was great. Audiences seem to have liked it too. It received a Cinemascore of “A,” exactly the same as The Force Awakens and Rogue One, and its average rating from moviegoers surveyed by Comscore was five out of five stars. In its opening weekend alone it grossed $220,009,584. Worldwide it has grossed $892,107,89 so far. I was surprised, therefore, at some of the hostile reactions to it online. What may lie behind that says more about our society than the film.

Dave Schilling points out at Birth Movies Death The Last Jedi can be seen as a metaphorical depiction of the baby boomer generation (a generation that featured a lot of white men — good and bad — in positions of power) handing off leadership roles to younger generations, particularly millennials, who tend to be more racially diverse and to advocate having more women in positions of power. The good guys are a young white woman, a black man, a woman of Asian descent, and a Latino man, while the bad guys are two white men.

Of course there are many other criticims relating to the plot itself. To give one example, Finn and Rose’s journey to the casino planet of Canto Bight is seen by some as an unnecessary diversion from the main plot. It’s certainly something you can make a case for although I take a different view. To me the corruption of Canto Bight (whose wealth is based on selling armanents to both The First Order and The Resistance) is clearly intended to provide the moral core – the contrast between the Jedi and everyone else (including the Rebels, to a degree). Perhaps that needs restating because of the suggestion that Skywalker wants to create something new embracing both the light and the dark (embracing “a larger view of the Force”). Some have even seen a symbolism of this in the first poster. Here it is depicted by Luke’s face (light side) on one side, Kylo Ren’s (dark side) on the other, with Rey in the middle separating the two and her lightsaber going from blue to red. Or so some say! So, I don’t see the visit to Canto Bight as a diversion but a small part of the film that helps you understand the rest.

This is a good movie which has a substance to it that makes you think. The action scenes are great, particularly the space battles between the bad guys and The Resistance. The fight scenes are also worthy of mention, particularly the Throne Room scene.

It was great to see Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) again, sadly in her last role and, of course, Mark Hamil (Luke Skywalker) as a sullen, bearded recluse who has lost faith in the Jedi. Both provoked suprisingly emotional reactions in me. Real sadness in the case of Leia and disappointment, at least at first, in Skywalker.

My major criticism of the film is that the Dark Side of the Force was just not Dark enough! That’s probably, partly, because the likes of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious are such tough acts to follow. It’s also because Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is just too clean-cut and boyish to convince as a villain. I guess I expect my villains to be more rugged!The most interesting thing about Kylo Ren is his ambivalence toward the Light and Dark, the Sith and Jedi. In both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi we see that. Is that fully milked as a theme. In The Last Jedi it seems that Rey could win him over but I don’t think the turmoil in Kylo was ever fully developed as a theme. There was just not enough tension.

Still, despite any flaws, this is a great film with and ensemble cast (special mention of Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Vice-Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern).

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

Cast and Crew

Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Actors: Mark Hamill
Carrie Fisher
Adam Driver
Daisy Ridley
John Boyega
Oscar Isaac
Lupita Nyong’o
Andy Serkis
Domhnall Gleeson
Anthony Daniels
Laura Dern
Benicio Del Toro
Peter Mayhew
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Ram Bergman
Composer: John Williams

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Suburbicon (2017)

suburbicon

Director:George Clooney
Produced by:George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Joel Silver, Teddy Schwarzman
Writer(s):Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney, Grant Heslov

 

Suburbicon is a very disappointing film. On paper it looks great with George Clooney directing Matt Damon in a film script originally written by the Coen Brothers and reworked by Cooney and his collaborator Grant Heslov.  Clooney and the Coens have had some big hits  with O Brother, Where Art Thou? to Intolerable CrueltyBurn After Reading, and Hail, Caesar! so the benchmark is set high It is billed as a dark comedy set in a 50s surburb. We are promised another look at the dark underbelly of middle-class America – a popular theme in Hollywood done much better in Blue Velvet.

There are two strands to the plot. First a murder mystery and second opposition to a black family moving in. How the two are connected is unclear and that is just one of the problems of the film.

The murder mystery around the Lodge family (Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Noah Jupe) and  is very predictable.  Jupe as the son of the family stands out.  Oscar Isaac also deserves a mention for a great performance as an Insurance Investigator.

The characters of the black family under siege, the Mayerses (Leith M. Burke, Karimah Westbrook and Tony Espinosa) are not developed. It’s said that the basis is the real-life case, that of the Myers family, who arrived in Levittown, Pennsylvania, in 1957 but there is no feeling of truth or reality to the tale told in Suburbicon.

There are very few times when the script makes you really unsettled and delivers the kind of chills that would raise it above the mundane. Only, at times, when Lodge Snr is justifying himself to his son does it hit the right note. Little wonder then that Suburbicon did not do as well as expected at the box office and was, in the main, a critical flop.

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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Fist of the North Star (1986)

fistofthenorthstarHokuto no Ken (original title)
Not Rated | 1h 50min | Animation, Action, Drama | 27 September 1991 (USA)

Warning: Spoilers

I first saw Fist of the North Star as a very young child. At the time, I had a bizarre interest in films with 18 certificates, probably because I felt as though they were out of bounds. If I recall correctly, the staff of the local video shop would let me take out a film provided it was universal or parental guidance. Those were ratings denoting who could take them out. Everyone could take out a universal, hence why it was called a ‘universal.’ Parental guidance meant a parent had to guide, I suppose. I think on rare occasion I was turned down when I tried to take out a PG, as it’s called for short.

Other than these two ratings, there were ratings: 12, 15, and 18. This is here in the UK. In the US they have a different rating system, although the two are mutually intelligible. Basically adult content was off limits to children like myself. This included on a psychological level and on a physical level in terms of violence. My mother would take out any film I asked for from a certain age onwards, I forget how old, but it was from quite young. Perhaps she shouldn’t have done this but she was not fond of rules in some respects, this being one of them.

I tended to watch martial arts films such as the ones starring Jean Claude Van Damme. Funnily enough, I became fascinated, almost obsessed with martial arts, but most specifically exercise. I would exercise a lot because I thought Van Damme had a brilliant physique, but when I would look in the mirror I noticed I did not have a physique like the one he had. Of course I know now he not only exercised a lot but took steroids as well. That being said, I did develop a somewhat athletic body as a result of this, even if it didn’t look like anything special. I retain quite a bit of this athleticism to this day, maintain it, and play a few combat sports regularly.

I almost never watched Disney movies. I wonder how that affected me and perhaps still affects me. Disney movies are meant to instil a strong moral compass in the viewer, whatever his age, although this is more likely to be successful if he is very young, for reasons I hope are obvious. One thing I vividly recall was wanting to not be strongly affected by depictions of violence. This was because I was affected by them. After watching many action movies for young adults, I did get a bit used to it, but never completely. Even now if I watch one from the Resident Evil series, I get a bit uncomfortable at some of the depictions involving violence and gruesomeness.

Now let’s go back to Fist of the North Star. I have sentimental feelings about it because I saw it for the first time while so young. I have seen it a number of times since. The first time I saw it, I was mostly struck by its cartoon violence. I mean literally cartoon violence, as it is an anime. Some people use that term to describe live motion films as well, but Fist of the North Star really is a cartoon. An adult cartoon, but not a pornographic one, to be clear.

Beneath the violence, the metaphysical musings of a character called Ryuken struck me. I was fascinated by the stars at night already, and certain star constellations are shown early on in the film and the meaning of constellations is central to it, as you may have guessed, with it being called Fist of the North Star. There is mention of polar opposites, of balance, and things being one way for a time until eventually they are the other way, due to the nature of life.

Despite this, much of the story is immature, but this fact is in a way highlighted by the character Ryuken, who is older, wiser, and knows some of the protagonists are idiots, despite their prowess in some areas. Usually only one area – fighting. I know a bit more about the story than is depicted in the film, because it’s based on a comic and there are a few TV shows based on that also, so I will sometimes mention things not shown in the film.

Ryuken is a master of a martial art called Hokuto Shin Ken. It’s passed down through the generations of his family bloodline. Unfortunately, he does not manage to have any children, but tasked with continuing on the family tradition, and calling that is an understatement, he decides to adopt 3 boys. The rule is that the most competent son is the one who continues on the tradition of having children, teaching them the art, and choosing the one to be the successor. The other sons must cease to practice the art. They may have children but they may not teach them the art. Only the successor can continue to practice the art and must pass it on.

The reason why is because it’s a difficult task and must be done with maximum competence. It’s importance to the bloodline is not bordering on spiritual – it is spiritual – to them. Although nothing exactly like this exists in real life, there are elite families who pass down knowledge generation after generation, and most especially pass down wealth as well. It’s also interesting that there is a genetic interest in some cases also, because some families do not want their heirs to have children with people not also from an elite family. Due to this practice, the resort to inbreeding has occurred, especially with royal families. It’s odd because usually inbreeding is associated with intellectual impairment and various issues but in the case of the elite families and royalty, the opposite is intended. It is believed there is some innate quality they possess that puts them above the herd, and the hope is people from other elite families have this quality too, and it can be preserved and passed down through breeding together.

Now in practice, whether it actually works, is up for debate. Perhaps it does sometimes and doesn’t at other times. It’s quite well established that genetic diversity increases the chance of good health and generally better physical appearance. This goes against the elite family idea, but I’m sure there are many more variables and things we don’t understand. It’s evidently the case many people are sheep and cannot think for themselves. Those who rise to the top tend to be able to act on their own initiative, bring something new to the table, and resist the urge to just go with the herd.

Anyway let’s explore the general outline of the film’s story. Just a bit into it, after we hear Ryuken’s voice over, we’re introduced to the characters Julia and Ken. Ken is Ryuken’s adopted son and Hokuto Shin Ken successor. Julia is his fiance. There has been a nuclear holocaust, and there doesn’t seem to be any plant life as a result. Julia carries seeds in a pouch and hopes to grow plant life. Terribly unfortunately for Ken, his so called friend Shin appears and is in love with Julia. Shin is the Fist of the South Star. He practices an equally formidable martial art to the one Ken practices. Julia explains how the Fists of the North and South are not supposed to fight and that he knows this. He ignores her. His intention is to beat Ken, to show her he is better than him.

He does beat him but it only upsets Julia. He begins to torture Ken in front of her. He tells her he won’t stop until she admits she is his. That she does, and he takes her away, leaving Ken on the floor but still alive. Ken’s two brothers watch all of that play out from somewhat afar, and it angers one of them, Raoh, because he would probably have beaten Shin, but was not chosen as the successor. The other brother, Jaggi, is a good fighter but the weakest of the three.

It was Jaggi who convinced Shin he could have Julia if he performed this diabolical stunt. Jaggi becomes known as ‘Jaggi the Pretender,’ because he goes around pretending to be Ken while committing terrible acts. He does this to do as much damage as he can to Ken’s reputation, which was very good prior to his cunning intervention. He even drags Ken’s body to a canyon edge after his fight with Shin, to toss him over it. With it being a supernatural story, Ken survives, and even comes back stronger.

The rest of the film is about Raoh’s fight for power and recognition, despite being rejected by Ryuken, about Ken’s search for Shin who has Julia captive, about whether or not Jaggi will get his comeuppance, and some other little story lines along the way. The most poignant thing for me was that Raoh was not chosen as successor because despite his competence and prowess, he is an idiot. The best part of the film is right at the end when he realises this, after causing an untold amount of carnage. It’s a message to everybody but especially the people who need to hear it most – the idiots of the world just like him.

Reviewed by Alistair Martin

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