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Rescue Dawn (2007) – directed by Werner Herzog, based on the life of Dieter Dengler

by Margaux Williamson

(I saw this while in a hut on the coast of Mexico. For dinner, I had split a can of beans with my boyfriend while we looked through the movies I always bring with me when I travel. They are movies that I sort of want to watch and sort of don’t want to watch so they keep for a while. Rescue Dawn was there in a sleeve along with Old Boy, Dawn of the Dead and a Cassavettes movie. We decided on Rescue Dawn. It ended up being a great movie to watch in the tropical dark while the palm trees shook around outside, ants climbed into my drink and giant cockroaches walked by.)

Rescue Dawn is a drama based on the true story of Dieter Dengler’s crash into enemy territory during the early days of the Vietnam War. It was made by Werner Herzog who, ten years previous, made a documentary about Dieter Dengler called Little Dieter Needs to Fly. The drama is pretty accurate, the documentary (one of my favourites) takes some liberties.

Rescue Dawn begins and ends within the time of Dieter Dengler’s U.S. Navy service. Little Deiter Needs to Fly is focuses on Dieter as a middle aged man who lives in California. In California, Dieter tells and reenacts the story of his life to Werner Herzog. He is handsome and thoughtful. He is not resentful of anyone he recalls and is quick to smile. He looks a touch uncertain of Werner Herzog’s process but also completely committed to it.

In the documentary, he tells us about his childhood in World War II Germany. It involved being hungry and bombings from the U.S. military. He tells us that during a raid on his village, as he stood in an upstairs window watching the chaos, that he caught the eye of a U.S. pilot who happened to be flying by the window. He said it was then that he knew he had to fly.

He immigrated to the U.S. when he was 18 and joined the navy. He eventually went to Vietnam where, on his first mission, he crashed a plane into enemy territory. This was followed by his capture, his imprisonment at a POW camp, an escape from the POW camp, a journey through the jungle and an eventual rescue by the U.S. Navy. Hunger is also a big part of this part of the story.

When Dieter tells his story, there is very little dramatization or emphasis on emotional pain, very little emphasis on the cruelty of others. It is easy to believe that there is no repressed rage or revenge fantasies for this man – only an endless depth of successful defense mechanisms and a mountain of hard-won understanding on human life. Later, in California, he shows the camera his stockpile of dry food that he keeps in giant barrels under his suburban floorboards. This is almost the most painful part of Little Dieter Needs to Fly, and here he doesn’t say anything. We understand that he is both optimistic enough to survive the unimaginable but also realistic enough to survive it too.

I probably would have watched Rescue Dawn earlier had that one person at the Toronto Film Festival not told me that it was very bad and had that movie poster featured a goofily beaming Christian Bale instead of a serious Christian Bale. Also, I loved the documentary so much and had seen it several times so I wasn’t sure it was necessary to see it dramatized.

Though after watching Recue Dawn, I remembered that what is even better than a favourite movie is a good story that is worth repeating. Had I not watched Rescue Dawn, I might have missed that within one of my favourite movies was also one of the best stories that I know.

In Rescue Dawn, as we witness the actors committing themselves to their roles within the story’s parameters, it is easier to make some sort of logic out of Dieter Dengler’s ways. In one illuminating moment, after a fair amount of ill treatment at the hands of his captors, one of them blows a shot gun close to Dieter’s head – knocking out his hearing for a moment but not hurting him otherwise.

After, already, a fair amount of suffering, Dieter finally looks genuinely startled by the blast. “NEVER, NEVER do that again!” he screams, still contained in his handcuffs, surrounded by enemies. It was as though he had been in reasonable negotiations up until that point but now they had really crossed a line. His scream was a warning to not cross that unreasonable line again. Here we understand immediately how reasonable he thinks humans are, how much he is relating to them – even the ones that don’t speak his language, who drag him through the jungle in chains and point a gun at his head. It is as though he really understands that he could have been in their position as captors. But still, he is screaming, he has limits.

This is a person who had somehow managed to be on the ugly side of two ugly 20th century wars, was a victim of both and who voices no complaint. It is fair to say that with this complicated history maybe he did not so easily choose to make villains out of others.

Apart from Werner Herzog’s brilliant Little Dieter Needs to Fly, we now have more of the story of Dieter Dengler, a person whose kind, knowing and careful eyes and whose piles of food under his Californian house’s floorboards still have a lot to tell us – something about how to be insanely optimistic about other humans while staying realistic to the core.

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“Alas It Is So, But Thus It Must Be” (Charlie Louvin, 1927-2011)

by Chris Randle


Cancer took Charlie Louvin on Wednesday morning, and this is going to be an awkward eulogy, because my first exposure to his music came later that day. I’d only known the Louvin Brothers as an internet meme: the 1959 LP above is a staple of weirdest/silliest/kitschiest album-cover lists online. Growing up with middle-class comforts and no vestige of religion in downtown Toronto, one of those kids who says they like every genre “except rap and country,” the very notion of Satan’s realness was more absurd than his plywood caricature.

Here’s something the listmakers usually don’t tell you: Ira Louvin designed that cover himself. He and Charlie burnt kerosene-soaked tires in an old rock quarry to set the scene, nearly incinerating themselves in the process. Between the high forehead, cavernous brows and sinister grins, it’s hard not to read perverse excitement in his expression. Ira (on the left, born Loudermilk) was the older brother, the most gifted, the primary songwriter. He had been drawn to the Pentecostal ministry once, and every seedy bar where he and his sibling played country songs must have felt like spiritual torture.

Ira became a violent alcoholic. He smashed numerous mandolins (!) during shows, cheated on all four of his wives and received several bullets in his back from the third after trying to strangle her with a telephone cord. (“If the son of a bitch don’t die, I’ll shoot him again.”) As the brothers’ hot young opener for one ’50s tour sang hymns in admiration backstage, his soused hero called him a “white nigger” playing suspiciously danceable “trash.” Then Ira tried to strangle Elvis Presley. I remember my friend Maggie, a big fan, telling me about the Louvin Brothers in a bar once; describing the eldest’s death via drunk driver while evading his own DUI warrant, she sounded both awed and appalled.

That was in 1965. Charlie Louvin, the relatively mild-mannered half of the group, had already gotten fed up and ended their partnership two years earlier. He led a respectable solo career for a while, but the tunes became less memorable without his demon brother. I don’t mean that in the fatuous sense of romanticized torment – they needed each other for technical reasons. Chained together through so many of their wounded yet pious gospel songs, the Louvins’ trademark tenor harmonies keen past Biblical doctrine to the pain and sorrow it tries to explain. When they sang “that word ‘broadminded’ is spelled S-I-N,” holding the last letter just until it hurts, they were referring to illicit dancing. You would think it was the fall from Eden.

You might also think it’s a little strange for a lifelong nonbeliever to suddenly find this music so affecting (and I’m far from the only one). If an atheist or agnostic listens to two righteous hellions outlining what a miserable sinner he is and hits “repeat,” is it theological masochism? Well, I don’t fuck with Christian fundamentalism,  but it does seem to give certain acolytes a deep understanding of tragedy. Browsing through Louvin joints over the past couple of days, I became particularly obsessed with one of their secular compositions. “When I Stop Dreaming” ends on these lines: “You can teach the flowers to bloom in the snow / You may take a pebble and teach it to grow / You can teach all the raindrops to return to the clouds / But you can’t teach my heart to forget.”

The heartbreak is magnified until it scrapes the edge of irony, like some Appalachian inversion of Stephin Merrit. I wouldn’t be surprised if the siblings intended that effect. Charlie Louvin apparently had a healthy sense of humour himself, leaning towards the macabre, as country often does. In later years he presided over a ramshackle Louvin Brothers Museum, right next to gory photos from Ira’s death scene. He didn’t release any music for 25 years at one point, but the 2003 tribute album Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’ renewed interest in the duo and presaged a series of new recording sessions. I ran out to buy 2008’s Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs LP yesterday. It features his rendition of “Wreck on the Highway,” and the cover is his smiling, avuncular face.

Curious juxtapositions aside, I don’t think Charlie was making light of Ira Louvin’s death. There are recent interviews where a gentle question about his brother reduces him to sobs. His New York Times obituary closes with this quote: “When it comes time for the harmonies to come in, I will move to my left because my brother and I always used to use one microphone. Even today, I will move over to the left to give the harmony room, knowing in my mind that there’s no harmony standing on my right.” Of all my privileges, the most precious one is that I’ve never had to watch a dear soul destroy themselves, before yearning: Get beside me, Satan.

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Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) – Written and Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

By Margaux Williamson

(I didn’t know too much about “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” but I liked the title and I had half-noticed that the word “art” kept being used in relation to it. Somehow the “art” was not mentioned in either a flattering or negative way, just a descriptive way. “Art” can mean a lot of things, like that the characters will have a lot of feelings or that it will be either pretty unpleasant or extremely pleasant to watch or that the movie will be going after something difficult to catch. Very quickly into “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”, it was clear that the “art” in this case related to the words “intuitive” and “unusual” – and also maybe “going after something difficult to catch.”)

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is made up of separate stories that happen in various times and places. They are connected literally and/or metaphorically by the title Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

Servants carry a princess through the jungle. It looks pretty unpleasant to carry a princess through the jungle. But also, it looks maybe a little bit erotic. The princess has a face darkened with a scar or birthmark. The party comes to rest at the base of waterfall. There, the princess tries to convince herself that intimacy with one of her servants is love. It doesn’t work. She sends the servant away and collapses alone by the water’s edge. She cries and voices out-loud her longing for pure and white skin and also for true love. At this point of despair a catfish begins to talk to her from the surface of the water. “Are you a ghost?” she asks the catfish. “No, I am a catfish”, the catfish says. She eventually enters the water with abandon and has sex with the catfish. Something is being promised to her but we are not sure what it is.

There is a big bull tied to a tree. We stay with the bull for a while in the half-dark. We start to relate to him like any character in a movie. He makes a noise and we sort of know what it means. It seems kind of awful for such a big creature to be tied, by the neck, to a tree in the middle of a field. But maybe it’s ok. In a quick moment he yanks his rope free and lightly runs his giant body to the outskirts of the jungle and then stops there for a bit. Eventually, a man finds him. The man gently leads the bull back towards the field.

Uncle Boonmee has a farm where he grows tamarind and sweet and sour honey. Uncle Boonmee’s kidneys are failing and he thinks he will die in two days. He wonders if it’s because of his karma. “I was bad to the communists”, he says during his dialysis treatment. On the porch, he eats dinner with his sister-in-law and her friend when it is dark outside.

At the dinner table, the ghost of his long-dead wife appears. His ghost-wife looks like a normal wife, but younger. Then a monkey-ghost, the transformed body of his long-lost son, comes to sit down. The monkey-ghost looks amazing. He explains that he was trying to capture something with his camera, on the outskirts of the jungle, when he mated with a monkey-ghost and became a monkey-ghost himself. He explains that now the creatures and ghosts can sense Uncle Boonmee’s illness and are coming closer.

They all sit together at the table quietly. There is very little small talk. The whole movie feels like this, as though every living thing is cautiously acting and speaking as simply as possible in order to make room for some understanding.

Eventually, the wife-ghost and the monkey-ghost are shown photo albums of the years they have missed.

Later on, we are shown still photos too. The photos we see were taken in a field during the day: of a monkey-man being led out of the jungle with a rope tied around his neck by a soldier in camouflage. These photos are the strange cousins of horrific photos we are familiar with from history, but here, in this movie, we see and think about the photos in a different way. Which is good because they are difficult to understand in a logical way.

There is another photo of soldiers, laughing and smiling – it seems like something bad is happening to the monkey-man. Then there is a last photo of the soldiers and the monkey-man posing together, the rope still tied around his neck, everyone smiling. Maybe it is OK we think, but probably it really isn’t.

Later, back in real life at Uncle Boonmee’s farm, Uncle Boonmee, his ghost-wife, his sister-in-law and her friend start on a journey away from the farm and into a field and down into the jungle. The ghost-wife is leading. Uncle Boonmee is trying to make the best sense he can out of his good and bad deeds before he dies. This journey is the best he can do now. They go deeper and enter a cave that looks like the frozen stalactites of centuries-old falling water. They travel deep down into the cave, Uncle Boonmee moving slowly. At the very bottom, they find a tiny pool of albino catfish. This is where Uncle Boonmee lies down.

The movie is not an exploration of filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s wild ideas. It is him trying wildly to make sense of the best and worst of life’s absurdities by expanding and examining them with intuitive logic.

If you are adept at intuitive logic (and with navigating the trauma that was the 20th century) his film will be as clear and seductive as early dusk. It will be as practical and as heartbreaking as any story about injustice, hope and despair could possibly be. Funny too. And beautiful.

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Who’s the Boss? Dialectics for Peter Pan: Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed by Jacob Wren and The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town by Thom Zimmy (both 2010)

by Carl Wilson

If you’d asked me last week for a shorthand analysis of my favourite Bruce Springsteen album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, I would have called it his response to punk rock – inspired by it to a new rawness of sound, but on the other hand rebuking it for pitting subculture against mainstream rather than common man against plutocrat.

As an American, anarchy was all too present to him – the anarchy of the Badlands of Terence Malick’s movie and his own song. Rather than transgression for its own thrilling sake, Bruce wanted to betray betrayal and get fidelity; to sin against his country’s original sin and create virtue. Beyond contradiction to dialectic.

But this week I watched a new documentary about the making of the album. Turns out that though punk and politics were factors, Bruce was responding to a lot of other things. Namely, he and his former manager were suing each other, over the contract he’d naively signed that gave the manager control over how he made his records and half-ownership of his songs. This kept the band out of the studio for a long, frustrating time. It kept them from following up his first big hit, “Born to Run,” at the point conventional wisdom in the mid-1970s said they must or risk career death. He was terrified of losing everything, then jubilant when he could finally get back to work.

This part’s not politics. It’s careerism. There’s a daisychain of desire connecting Bruce to the elite. After years as a struggling artist he’d quite quickly become a rock star. He wanted to stay a rock star. All of which is in the songs: “Poor man wants to be rich, rich man wants to be king.” But he knew he had to be wary of success as much as failure, of becoming his own enemy: “A king ain’t satisfied till he rules everything” (a duality always inherent in his nickname, “the Boss”). He talks in the documentary about the danger of losing yourself, the spark that made you do the work, made you who you are –not just as a human being, one understands, but as a rock star too.

He could see only one safeguard: He had to grow up.

Adulthood, he felt he’d learned from his parents, is a state in which you’ve learned what you have to compromise (song after song refers to paying the price, the cost) and what you must not, while giving up the fantasy that you can dodge compromise altogether: “When the promise is broken, you go on living,” he sings in the song that gives the documentary its title, one of many he cut from the record, dumbfounding his collaborators: When a song sounded like it could be an overshadowing hit, he’d cut it for the sake of the whole, giving for example “Because the Night” to Patti Smith, which became her sole radio success. Perhaps this was the adult thing to do. (A double-disc collection of those songs comes out in November. [Yes, please.])

Springsteen was moving away from kids like the lovers in “Because the Night,” who want escape – the heroes of standard rock’n’roll politics, even in punk. He turned towards the viewpoints of people like his parents – his father went deaf (symbolically enough) working on a factory floor – or those even more damaged and hopeless. It wasn’t the guitar sound or the shredded larynx that made Darkness seem almost more punk than punk. Its commitment to reality came with a bitter willfulness that was bigger than nihilistic escapism, the way Hank Williams’ does (another new discovery for Bruce at the time).

Like his earlier work, though, and in fidelity to rock, it still sought redemption in love. When Bruce had two versions of “Racing in the Street,” one just about the two drag-racing buddies and another that adds a painful love story, he asked a longtime female fan as well as Steve Van Zandt which one they liked better. They both said, “The one with the girl.” Bruce was surprised Van Zandt said so and asked why. “Because that’s how life is: You’ve got a friend, the girl comes along, then you don’t have that friend any more.”

At the end of the song, the couple plans to “ride to the sea, and wash these sins off our hands.” The abandoned Sonny has merged into the girl the singer’s somehow made hate her life. In the film, Bruce says the point was that you couldn’t get rid of sins, only figure out how to live with them. How to be faithful to your betrayals. Beyond contradiction to dialectic.

I’m sure he’d be surprised to be compared to Springsteen, but Jacob Wren’s Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed is a novel that seems to revisit many of the same problems a Christ’s age later.

Jacob’s a Canadian practitioner of experimental theatre of a sort, and a friendly acquaintance of mine. He’s another heir to punk, particularly to the communitarian-anarchist and more self-consciously avant-garde, dadaist strains of it that would develop in the 1980s, when he was getting started as a playwright prodigy with the wonderfully adolescent pseudonym “Death Waits.” (I know Jacob Wren isn’t his birth name either, though I don’t know what that is.)

He gained a lot of notoriety around Toronto at that time, and the traces of that child-star-type brush with fame continue to haunt his work – like Bruce he wants both to hold onto success and reject it, although probably in inverse proportions. He does his best to be no one’s Boss, even when he is directing a theatre company.

I’ve read this novel twice now and have trouble reaching a full verdict, but I find it very compelling. It’s set in the very near future, or perhaps an alternate now, and centres around a group of people who have decided to hold weekly meetings to discuss political questions. Specifically the questions, rather than the answers. They feel the left has gone wrong somewhere, stuck between emotional irrational reaction and well-worn quietistic analysis. They think that if they talk in circles, rigorously, critically, long enough they might somehow break through these impasses – political discussion as a kind of Zen meditation. I’d like to attend these meetings, but in themselves they wouldn’t make a very good novel, of course.

What begins to spin out of them, instead of never-attained political nirvana, is a love triangle between a political philosopher, a doctor-without-borders and a nondescript participant who strikes me as the main viewpoint character, though the actual p.o.v. shifts from chapter to chapter. The affair strains the whole group, but it’s especially disastrous for the three of them, who end up separately turning to sexual (mis?)adventure, an expatriate life of fraud and blackmail, and an improbably plausible career as a reality-TV radical activist. Meanwhile the society around them is descending into nearly open fascism, putting all of them in a danger that both attracts and terrifies them.

Like Springsteen’s, this work is about the problem of adulthood and what compromise consists of, and the meaning of fidelity – personal, romantic/sexual, idealistic. It has a more tragicomic sense than Bruce’s and lacks his heroic dimension, as seems inevitable three decades further on in post-industrial capitalism. But it certainly does deal with chains of desire and ambition, and how (or is it whether) to transcend mere contradiction, mere negation.

The question is what the darkness is on the edge of town: Global political exploitation, or the personal darkness that makes us both prey to and complicit with it, and on which nonetheless we have to make our stand? Both of course. But Jacob’s characters are middle-class educateds in despair over injustice, while Bruce’s are closer to the actual sufferers of injustice. What seems amiss in Jacob’s title is that his characters are not dispossessed in the usual sense (in interviews he’s speculated that what he means is that he’s without possession of a viable political position or stake) and they don’t really get any kind of revenge.

The story in some ways seems to sate an urge to experience a much more brutal and vicious western regime to stand against, for capitalism to become the caricature its most conspiratorially minded critics imagine. The title should be something closer to Dispossession Fantasies of the Politically Depressed. If there weren’t a darkness on the edge of town, Wren’s characters might be forced to invent it. Bruce’s version is more surely not made but found.

The paradox here is of course self-conscious. I doubt Jacob thinks we’re close to a state in which writing a book about non-monogamy, or even professors sleeping with their students, would get you disappeared and tortured, no matter how many Tea Party Republicans get into Congress (or lefty bureaucrats to university administrations). Much less if you’re living in Montreal.

So there’s a satirical spirit. But the writer Wren reminds me of most in this book, Wallace Shawn, has a much surer hand with that kind of escalation of absurdities into a harrowing thought experiment. I waver about how much to credit Wren’s relative messiness – whether it’s an admirable attempt to complicate such methods further, or just plain messiness. (Though it’s certainly praise even to make the comparison.)

On the other hand as he’s gone on Springsteen’s projective identification with the downtrodden – who’ve become less Jersey workers, more dust-bowl John Steinbeck characters – has become less and less credible. He wavers between fidelity to that tough realist voice on Darkness and rock-star do-gooder sentimentality. In that sense Jacob’s got a more adult, sustainable fix on himself. In the evasions they each still make, there’s that tension between Peter Pan romanticism and the cynical ruin it can become (as Joni Mitchell memorably warned in “The Last Time I Saw Richard”).

Yet both these artists make stirring leaps at a near-insurmountable wall. As they say about death and comedy (and the parallel’s pretty accurate): Punk is easy, adulthood is hard. I’d love to hold a meeting to talk about it. Or a rock show to shout about it. Or a bed to whisper it in. I’ll be there on time, and I’ll pay the cost.

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Mansfield Park (1999) – Written and Directed by Patricia Rozema, Based on Jane Austen’s novel

By Margaux Williamson

(I was having a great leisurely day and I went to the video store wanting something familiar and expensive. I picked out Mansfield Park, a movie by Patricia Rozema based on the Jane Austen book of the same name. The characters in Jane Austen’s work spend most of their time having complicated thoughts about intellect, about how to judge others and about their own emotions (how to have them, how to control them). I didn’t read a Jane Austen novel till I was 21. Prior to that I had always figured that most people have virtues and flaws in equal measure, even if the specifics of those virtues and flaws are very different. I figured the good and the bad are just highlighted or more deeply shadowed in different contexts. So from that logic, it seemed reasonable for people to move around a bit, till they find the best place to stand. Somehow it really had never occurred to me how much value or worthlessness one can ascribe to another human being until Jane Austen came along. The books are always a bit foreign to me, but they are always a complicated pleasure.

There was something wrong with the DVD or my DVD player and near the end of the movie – the top of the image went askew. So for about 15 crucial minutes of the movie, people’s heads were pretty far away from their bodies. It was pretty distracting.)



Fanny Price is sent off at the age of ten on a horse-drawn carriage, away from poverty and towards a mansion. When she arrives at the mansion, she starts a new life as a half relative/ half servant to her mother’s extended family, the Bertrams. The only person who is kind to her is her cousin Edmund Bertram, a virtuous young man who will eventually become a clergyman.

Fanny Price, and her four Bertram cousins all grow up together at Mansfield Park. In the day-to-day Fanny is often overlooked and disrespected (because of her different class background and unremarkable looks). It is easy to feel for her and the injustice of her specific situation, and easy to see that, though overlooked, she is intelligent and is watching everything. The bulk of the action takes place in 1808 when Fanny and her cousins are young adults. The narrative primarily involves other people in and around the household taking action and making mistakes. Fanny Price, however, takes no action and makes no mistakes. Fanny Price’s greatest virtue, in the end, is that she is the last one standing, having made no grave mistakes at all. Like a pay-off from a Hollywood movie, all of Fanny Price’s judgments and suspicions regarding the failings of others’ characters are proven to be sound.

Needless to say, she is difficult to fall in love with. In this movie, she continues to be difficult to fall in love with. In the book, Fanny Price is a bit dull, morbidly shy, pious and reserved with her compliments. Here in the movie, Fanny Price is stronger, more modern, less dull and more confident. I can imagine Rozema wanting to make Fanny Price more of a contemporary feminist hero, but the new qualities placed in the same frame create some weird side effects.

Now that she is more confident (and so therefore, more like the other young adults around) Fanny Price’s judgments (regarding love-choices, the worthiness of the arts, the vanity of women, the faults of people’s pasts) seem more harsh and also more confusing. Here, when we see her reserved pleasure at the eventual misfortune of others (valueless characters who were once cruel to her) we think: fair enough. Though now that here we can see her smile, and the modern glint in her eye, it all looks a little bit more like revenge.

To complicate matters, this Fanny Price comes into contact with damning information regarding her uncle’s involvement in the slave trade (in the book, it is more of a cryptic and passing reference). Now, the small protest Fanny Price musters for this occasion seems so inadequate and out of proportion to the clever judgments she formed against an adulterer, a snob, a cynical woman and a lovesick idiot.

Her uncle switches his business to the tobacco industry, and life at Mansfield Park pretty much continues as normal. I’m not sure if it’s the early 19th century time period or the jarring of two different time periods that make this forgiving and forgetting feel so morally confusing and foreign.

These criticisms made me think of Jane Austen in a new way. It made me think more about what resources are possible if one’s mobility is taken away by societal restraints or by one’s own fear of displacement. Suddenly it seemed as though trees would be the most judgmental but forgiving, and the ocean the most generous but fleeting. If you are not free to go, maybe the ability to judge is one of your rare weapons – and forgiveness, a necessity.

Fanny Price marries the soon-to-be clergyman Edmund Bertam, the only person she seems to like. In the last scene of the movie, they walk arm in arm across the garden and into a house – still contained within the boundaries of Mansfield Park. Edmund suggests to Fanny a title for the book she has been working on (in this movie, Fanny Price is a writer). After he suggests a title, Fanny Price laughs, “That’s a terrible title” she says as they get smaller on the screen and the credits start to rise. Good luck Edmund! I think to myself.

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Robin Hood (2010) – directed by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe

by Margaux Williamson

(My friend Lauren Bride invited me to the movies. She suggested “Robin Hood” or “Babies.” We decided on “Robin Hood” because it was summertime. At the theatre, when I saw Russell Crowe’s head on the poster, I was a little disappointed. He always plays the mightiest of virtuous white men, sort of like Doris Day but not as funny and more prone to unwanted and overly serious advice giving. I might have picked “Babies” had I known. How could such a can’t-play-anything-but-a-virtuous-man play Robin Hood? I also somehow made the mistake of picturing the time period being 1990s, and the stage, Hollywood – the time of Kevin Costner and well-laundered cloaks. So I was a little startled when the movie opened in the deep past. I think probably no one else was startled. Throughout the movie, Lauren and I whispered jokes to each other. When we walked home, we didn’t mention the movie. We talked about other things.)

I had no thoughts about this movie – other than an attempt at historical accuracy and a grittier aesthetic doesn’t add much to this big story that keeps collectively getting better (this movie excepted) 600 years after its origin. Also, it’s a war movie (?) starring a virtuous and victorious Russell Crowe (?).

But a month later, on an airplane, after reading an article on perceptual illusions, I fell asleep and had a dream that David Foster Wallace and Russell Crowe were on a panel together. Russell Crowe had his Robin Hood outfit on and his hat in his hands. He looked nervous. He had lost some weight and was finally sweating in all the wrong places. He kept looking at David Foster Wallace, and then, back at the audience. David Foster Wallace was relaxed and in jeans, looking out into the seated crowd. Neither of them were talking. The less they talked, the more nervous Russell Crowe got. Russell Crowe wanted to defend himself, to tell people he was a virtuous and good man, but no one was asking any questions. We all just sat there. It was different from that time I saw Russell Crowe on Oprah, when he gave her a book for her Oprah’s book club, “The Magus”.

If you really want to steal from the rich and give to the poor, it’s good to remember that your trial probably won’t come for a long time – if ever. You’ll have to be patient with being misunderstood, even by people you love. You may be glorified for the wrong reasons and disrespected at all the right parties. Understanding someone can take a very long time.

But it can be interesting to be misunderstood, and being misunderstood lets you be more flexible. Flexibility is important if you want to be an effective element in the big story rather than the respected author of your own story. It can be really fun to see how much one can affect the big story, becoming any character that proves most useful. And fun to observe what story we all begin to understand collectively.

When I woke up from my David Foster Wallace / Russell Crowe dream, there were a lot of people in line for the airplane washroom in the back and no one in line for the one in first class. A stewardess sent me back when I attempted to go to the one in first class, rolling her eyes at this move that had been tried a million times before. Sometimes it’s harder to change the big story than to be a hero of your own making.

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