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My Own Private Idaho Review

The Human Condition

                                                           – The human condition is “the characteristics, key events, and situations which compose the essentials of human existence, such as birth, growth, emotionality, aspiration, conflict, and mortality.”

Gus Van Sant’s Masterpiece

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote,
“The achievement of this film is that it wants to evoke that state of drifting need, and it does. There is no mechanical plot that has to grind to a Hollywood conclusion, and no contrived test for the heroes to pass.”

The main source materials for My Own Private Idaho’s screenplay were two completely separate scripts and a short story, all written by Gus Van Sant. One of the scripts was a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV – part I and Henry IV – part IIVan Sant had actually discarded his original screenplay written in the 1970s after reading the novel City of Night by John Rechy and concluded that Rechy’s handling of the subject of street hustlers was better than his own. After unsuccessful attempts at acquiring Hollywood financing Van Sant explored the idea of making the film on minuscule budget with a cast of actual street kids. After Van Sant sent copies of his script to Reeves and then Reeves showed it to Phoenix, both agreed to star in the film on each other’s behalf.

Scott and Bob, their plot and, most of the time, dialogue is based on the Shakespeare play Henry IV; with Keanu Reeves playing the Prince Hal character of Scott, and William Richert playing the Falstaff like role of “King Of The Streets” Bob. Scott comes from an upper class family, he is the mayor’s son, a preppy prince who is rebelliously slumming in the streets defying even his sexuality. Bob is the leader of the band of hustlers and a father figure to Scott. Scott and Bob’s storyline plays out like a surrealist representation of Shakespeare. In stark contrast; Mike played by River Phoenix is a lovelorn narcoleptic drifter who spends his nights hustling on the streets of Portland, Oregon struggling with his interior journey from fragile adolescence to precarious adulthood, and his desultory attempts to find his missing mother. Flea (a founding member of the rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers) also appears in yet another Van Sant film as Budd, loyal manservant to mentor Bob. Scott and Mike decide to go on the road in search of mike’s mother which takes them from Portland all the way to Italy and back meeting quirky characters along the way including a client who likes his room very, very clean and a young woman who falls in love with Scott.

mike

Idaho is, above all, a road movie and so we begin with a shot of a long stretch of highway that curves and disappears beyond the hill. Mike slides into the view with his cheek covered in a ragged blond sideburn and faint tracings of adolescent acne feels so close; it disorients and grounds you almost instantly. He looks down the road, “There’s not another road anywhere that looks like this road . . . It’s one kind of place . . . Like a fucked-up face,” he says talking not entirely to himself but not quite to us either. It smoothly gets us in touch with Mike’s way of seeing things and then Van Sant helpfully guides you through mike’s point of view of the relevant features : the eyes are two bushes on the hill and the smile the shadow of a passing cloud . Suddenly, Mike collapses in the middle of the road. He dreams a faded home movie of himself as a child, safe in the arms of his mother, seated on the porch of a wood-frame house. Clouds rush across the sky, salmon leap in slow motion upriver, and Mike wakes in a Seattle hotel room, being sucked off by a balding, beer-bellied man. Mike reaches orgasm and a wooden barn comes crashing out of the sky, splintering onto the highway. These first few scenes are enough to give you an idea that this is not your typical coming of age movie.

A Flawed Gem

Some people describe My Own Private Idaho as ‘cinematic poetry’ whereas others argue that it is nothing but ‘absolute drivel disguised as art’ or even a ‘forced Shakespearean disaster’. But for me it is a flawed and forced but impactful and evocative narration of basic human needs of ‘love’ and ‘home’. Its flawed nature is what gives it character and grounds it in reality despite of its over the top and theatrical treatment. The sixties underground film scene had long disappeared at the dawn of the 1990s but Andy Warhol was still a major influence and postmodernist aesthetics still dominated the art world to some extent. These influences are most prominently evident in Idaho, Gus Van Sant’s third feature film which in some ways remains his most ambitious project.

mike and scott

Van Sant masterfully mixes documentary style realism with over the top improvised, theatrical Shakespearean outbursts of dialogue interspersed with home-movie dream sequences and Rudy Valle and The Pogues playing on the soundtrack. Through a clever use of provocative characters, poetic dialogue and grounded surrealism,  Idaho successfully evokes that state of mind where we become most aware of our human condition.

Sadly from this pinnacle Van Sant would go slowly but very surely downhill towards the main stream “Good Will Hunting” and the misguided “Psycho” remake.

My Own Private River

Idaho is one of those movies that has been on my ‘to watch’ list for  a long time and although I had seen bits and pieces of it before I saw the entirety of the film just recently. Idaho is many things, a road movie, a comedy, a coming-of-age movie, a Shakespeare play, a surreal picture; but for me personally, it just screams River Phoenix from the beginning to the very end and I believe that must be the case with most people. In fact it has been almost three decades since the film’s initial release and it wouldn’t even be on my radar weren’t it for my pitiable obsession with River Phoenix.

At the time of release in 1991, in an interview Gus Van Sant said,                                                                           “The character of Mike was originally kind of asexual. Sex was something that he traded in, so he had no real sexual identity. But because he’s bored and they’re in the desert, he makes a pass at his friend. And it just sort of goes by, but his friend also notices that he needs something, he needs to be close, so he says, ‘We can be friends,’ and he hugs him. That was all it was going to be. But River makes it more like he’s attracted to his friend, that he’s really in love with him. He made the whole character that way.”

campfire

Anyone who has seen the movie knows that the campfire scene is one of the most incredibly touching and realistic scenes in the film and to know how much of it was pure River just makes me so happy. River Phoenix brings to his roles more than just his boyish charm and good looks. His performance as the narcoleptic and confused street hustler Mike is so poignant and realistic that you can’t help but fall in love with him. None would or could argue that My Own Private Idaho, the best independent film of the 1990s, is the film that River Phoenix will long be remembered for.

Chameleons

She does reflect
She does take form
She hath no surfaces
She seems to have no sides
She is a rock betwixt all rocks
She failed to fly when she is sky
She is surely for all purpose; chameleon
She is without a doubt him, in the light of day

He is milo
He took a pill
He became Maria
He remains unaltered
He hates all just to love you
He cuts himself for every laugh
He is surely for all purpose; chameleon
He is everyone of them in the dark of night

They embrace as
They strangle you
They are legless dancers
They are hippies with guns
They are single fingered painters
They are artists with petrol bombs
They are surely for all purpose; chameleon
They are all me, for measureless time and again

Suburban Birds

Bird pessimistic alight in nest warm

Seeks solace from swarm

Takes freedom in own constitution to wallow

Cornered in window shallow

Genetic constitution dictates to fly

Vertigo kicks in thirty-six feet high

Ceding the zeal years ago

When once crashed in

Misguided youth

Content never set in

Hymn Corrected

God creates equal,
that is what i last heard.
The world dead in its sequel;
Le colt you sick bastard.
Catalyzing intimidation the world mastered.
Inclination with pop music we plastered.
Broken orphans stand on the horizon;
Senate seats only the guilty wizen.

Prickly red Afro, all wet and grim,
his abhor once raw now ripen.
The space within his face with vex to brim;
his love now tastes of poison.

Taller than tower of Paris,
she whispers a hymn politically corrected.
Swaying as the sand gently caress,
she maims this empire resurrected.
The hymn, in time, will get interrupted;
For this organized system itself is corrupted.
Across the globe, nothing ever does vary;
Lone men, on missions, with them hate they carry.

Sweet Tandem

We wandered the boiling streets of Mumbai with brows all wet with sweat; as our feet brushed the gravel making sounds of rain. I sat under the shade of the young, empty, naked tenement while you, stubborn as always, stood in front of me.

“Sit”

You sat beside me; we flicked the sweat off our foreheads with our thumbs in unison and chuckled as empty eyes and melancholy silence prefaced the conversation that will never happen.

I moved my fingers along the cylindrical outline of my breast pocket, removed the cigarette within and placing it in the corner of my lips; I lit and inhaled in broken breaths. As the sad, pathetic smoke lumped up in my throat; I exhaled in rhythm of an old motorcycle.

You fiddled with sticks and pebbles on ground and picking them up, threw them in the street and did it again, and again, and then again; as if in competition with yourself.

“Pch !”

Oh, how you get on my nerves without saying a word you beautiful creature, you devil in smooth disguise. The cigarette passed between us puffing once or twice and back to me; and then, to you; and then, back to me again. Quite possibly, the only thing we did or could do together in tandem; in sweet tandem.

 

Manchester by the Sea Review

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea is a 2016 American drama film written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan and starring Casey AffleckMichelle WilliamsKyle Chandler, and Lucas Hedges.

Story

At the very beginning we are introduced to the central character of Lee chandler, a handyman (played by Casey Affleck) who goes about living a solitary life in a single room basement doing electrical work, plumbing, taking out the garbage and an array of other mundane tasks for the grumpy tenants of the building he works at. His older brother Joe (played by Kyle Chandler) lives in Manchester, a seaside town an hour up the coast, with his son, Patrick (played by Lucas Hedges). News of joe’s death sends Lee back to Manchester, the site of a loss so terrible that none dare to mention it. He is not just Lee Chandler here but ‘the Lee Chandler’.

Lee and Joe

Back in his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea while staying in Joe’s home and arranging Joe’s funeral, Lee is shocked to learn that Joe has named him as Patrick’s guardian. Reluctant to commit to the guardianship and unwilling to move back to Manchester, but opposed to returning Patrick to his estranged alcoholic mother, Lee makes plans for Patrick to move back to Boston with him. Patrick, deeply rooted in the Manchester community, objects to the idea.

The Oddball Relationships

Lee’s shrewd face pulses with anger as he tries to understand this unexpected burden of responsibility that he definitely did not bargain for. With clenched teeth and the most subtle pursed lips he goes to bars, ignores attractive women coming on to him and instead finds men to fight. A sociopath withdrawn from the world, who ignores any and every display of affection suddenly finds himself as the legal guardian of a 16-year-old, who in his own words “have two girlfriends and is in a band”. Patrick, in stark contrast to Lee, is a mixture of vulnerable, clueless and precociously worldly; and in many ways much better at masking his own grief than his uncle, until it finally pours out when a freezer spillage sparks a panic attack.

Lee and Patrick

This odd couple relationship between lee and his nephew is what dominates the bulk of the movie and that is definitely not a bad thing but it does divert from some of the other interesting characters. Randi (played by Michelle Williams) gets particularly sidelined diminishing the complexity of her character as most of her is explored through flashbacks of the past and a particularly heart-wrenching scene when Lee and Randi attempt to mend their relationship in an alleyway but ultimately fail.

Lee and Randi

Lonergan

Kenneth Lonergan, writer and director, previously co-wrote “Sopranos” a lite comedy and “Analyse this (1999)”; and made his directorial debut with “You Can Count On Me (200)” and later In 2005, filming took place for his second film as writer/director, MargaretThe film spent over five years in post-production, with Lonergan, the producers and various editors unable to agree on its final cut, resulting in multiple legal disputes. It was finally released in 2011 to critical acclaim. He earned an Academy Award for Best Director nomination for Manchester by the Sea, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for You Can Count on Me.

Lonergan’s precision with his actors, the way he invokes a sense of place and the level of control of tone is strikingly visible throughout the film. The way he methodically strives to avoid false notes is masterful work. It might not have the risk and sprawl of his 2011 masterpiece ‘Margaret’; even so it does not follow predetermined story arcs and sob stories of loss and eventual healing and harmony we may be expecting.

Lonergan breaks the monotonous, mundane proceedings of the present by interspersing it with trickling increments of past events as carefully placed critical scenes, each provoked by current circumstances or thoughts of the characters. An exchange with a doctor in a hospital lift brings us back to the moment when Joe was first diagnosed, before Lee pays his last respects in the mortuary room.

Boat

Life as it is lived

Manchester by the Sea, is an honest portrayal of life as it is lived in the real world. Life with no narrative closure. Emptiness is hard to portray and is too often represented by blank stares and vacant glances. Manchester by the Sea, avoids those oversights with its superbly complementing location and its two contrasting timelines with performances that bring into service the full range of its outstanding cast.

Lonergan’s film unapologetically suggests that life simply carries on; at some point, a decision is made and the courage found to keep up with it. As “Margaret” Lonergan’s films have always been more like works-in-progress rather than perfectly finished artefacts and it left me wanting more. With an outstanding set and poignant performances, the winner of the Academy Awards for best original script and best actor is a definite must-see.

Arrival – Analysis

The Following Contains Spoilers

The following is an analysis of the movie and contains major plot reveals please watch the movie first and then come back to this.

Linguistic Relativity

The principle of linguistic relativity hold that the structure of a language effects its speakers world view or cognition. Popularly known as Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or whorfianism is often defined to include two versions. The strong version says that language determines thought, and that linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories, whereas the weak version says that linguistic categories and usage only influence thought and decisions. So, whichever the case, Language does influence thought but might extend to cognition if we go with the strong version.

Whorf’s most elaborate argument for linguistic relativity regarded what he believed to be a fundamental difference in the understanding of time as a conceptual category among the Hopi. He argued that in contrast to English and other SAE languages, Hopi does not treat the flow of time as a sequence of distinct, countable instances, like “three days” or “five years,” but rather as a single process and that consequently it has no nouns referring to units of time as SAE speakers understand them. He proposed that this view of time was fundamental to Hopi culture and explained certain Hopi behavioral patterns.

whorf_shawnee_example

Whorf’s illustration of the difference between the English and Shawnee gestalt construction of cleaning a gun with a ramrod. From the article “Language and Science”, Originally published in the MIT Technology Review, 1940. Image copyright of MIT press.

“Arrival” assumes that the strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is true. It experiments with the idea that if we are indeed limited in our cognitive categories because of our limits in the linguistic categories learning a language that does not share the same linguistic limits might expand our cognitive capabilities.

So we are limited in our perception of time as a result of our linguistic limitation of considering time as a linear phenomenon. Where as, the “Heptapods” don’t share this limitation as evidenced by their circular non-linear language. Proficiency in this language enables Louise to perceive time as a non linear phenomenon as well and see all time at once. Perhaps by accessing a dormant part of her brain.

Hence, the visions of her future notably her daughter’s death and the phone call with the Chinese Military General Shang.

In particular ,the phone call with Shang perfectly demonstrates that Louise is not only able to see the future but seemingly alter it. But seeing as how she is just using information from her vision of the future to convince Shang leads us to believe that she isn’t really altering the future but just accessing time as whole and using the information from other parts of her life in her “present”.

This is possibly how the aliens know that they will need human’s help in a 1000 years and so they must give humans their language to prepare them for a shared future. An argument can be made here that perceiving time in a non linear fashion doesn’t necessarily enable you to alter it in every possible way as her daughters death isn’t prevented. The only way that would happen is if Louise decides not to give birth to Hannah at all. Perhaps this is why Louise names her daughter “Hannah” which is a palindrome meaning it reads the same backwards as forwards.

Perhaps time isn’t linear and neither is it non-linear but perhaps circular. Whatever is to come  will come regardless of our knowledge of it (Hannah) or perhaps our knowledge of it, is what enables it (Shang).

Kuleshov Effect

The Kuleshov effect is a film editing effect demonstrated by Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov in the 1910s and 1920s. It is a mental phenomenon by which viewers derive more meaning from the interaction of two sequential shots than from a single shot in isolation.

The Kuleshov Effect is nothing new to cinema. It is well known among modern film makers and studied by many psychologists. But Arrival’s use of the Kuleshov Effect is not only experimental and edgy but also serves an important part of the narrative . Part of the credit also goes to Amy Adam’s masterful performance.

The movie opens with a montage of Louise and Hannah at the end of which we see that Hannah dies of cancer. With this information we read the next scene Incorrectly. we misinterpret Louise’s disinterest as sadness.

kuleshov-1

And we constantly see Louise through this lens throughout the film until it is revealed that the events in the first scene have not occurred yet. Thus completely shattering our previous conception of Louise’s character and we suddenly see her in a whole different perspective.

Also, the movie ends with a vision in which Louise witnesses scenes similar to the montage we see at the beginning.

This solidifies the narrative’s theme of time and our perception of time even more. Masterfully achieved through clever editing and excellent acting.

Funny Little Dog

Funny little dog with nose flat

looked less a dog and more a rat.

Face wrinkled as that of an old man

every chance he got he bolted, he ran.

With big doe eyes round and wide

this little thief always looked so dignified.

In dreams, open fields he would leap

as he’d twitch his chubby legs in sleep.

Funny little dog whom early took fate

i bet he is now god’s favorite pet.

O righteous man

Do you have a purpose O righteous man ?
If not a purpose, do you have a plan ?
And if a plan is the thing that you got,
then does it ring true with you or your clan ?
And if the answer to that is your clan,
O then how strong is your faith in your lot ?

Are all the men around you just dancing ?
Then why are you so awkwardly prancing ?
Could it be that you just cannot dance ? or
is it because you are drained from ranting ?
And if the answer to that is ranting,
do you believe you have a reason for ?

Think back and reminisce on childhood days.
I bet it all and say you weren’t always
the man you are today, its just not you.
The wrinkles on your forehead and your face
don’t let them be permanent, but a phase.
Shed that though skin and let your dreams renew.

Slave to Nyx

As i place both body and mind
in place i ever do
the tinging wind find
both impinging the two.

And the faux wind through ceiling
takes form on paper revealing.

A motley of thoughts gruesome and ghastly
a true testament of sorrow.
Then from body did mind steadfastly
some relief did borrow.

Mind’s essay to Eden transfixed
and shadow, salve to Nyx, with darkness affixed.

Then inevitable climax of every era
as mind now blur.

From prison released me daughter Hemera
and sapped my body of color.

Every essay of body at bluff futile.
Just the wanton’s delight, slaves in exile.

Then Gaia awakes from slumber
as i lie drained, dull and blind.
In ease as i cease my labor
birthing one of a kind.

Cursorily i, rest and revel in
the grim and haunting glory of my kin.