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How familiar those scenes are to me:  the line in the hospital to pick up your meds; the mother who doesn’t really undertand (or try); the looks everyone gives you when they know you’ve just done a stint in the looney bin.  I can say looney bin and it’s not stigma because I’ve been there.  You say it and it’s a different story.

I liked “Silver Linings Playbook”– I liked it a lot, in fact.  But I still want to know where the line is between certifiably mentally ill and human being is.  Because in this movie, it’s hard to find.  Really hard. 

I found myself laughing a lot during this film– and mostly, the others in the audience did too.  But we were not always lauging at the same times for the same reasons.  Why did they find some of these scenes funny, I asked myself?  Is it funny because life is just funny, or is it funny because someone who has obsessive tendancies does funny things?  It’s a hard question for me. 

Let’s break down the characters.  Pat, who suffers from bi-polar, has the classic mood swings, angry outbursts, grandiose behavior.  But look at his dad, who exhibits some of the same symptoms (banned from a stadium for fighting, slaps his son silly during a fight–impulse control disorder, anyone?) and then some.  Mental illness is hereditary, folks!!  Yet no one in the family acknowledges this.  Dad, played brilliantly by Bobby DeNiro, is fixated and obsessed on a football team and is ritualistic to a fault.  His behavior is just as destructive as Pat’s, yet no one throws him in the hospital.  Mom is in denial about everyone’s behavior and, though we don’t see much of her behavior, stays in denial and and focuses on her ‘homemades’ for game Sunday. 

Tiffany is another character suffering from emotional issues and stigmatized for it.  After losing her husband, she seeks comfort in the arms of anyone who will have her.  Even the cop assigned to keep Pat in line hits on her after a public row.  Nobody tries to hospitalize Tiffany (thank fuck) but she is still treated differently and given chemical remedies to help her cope with her grief.  Typical of American psychiatry these days to give us chemical crutches to get through something that is normal in most of our lives– grief.  I”m not saying that no one needs meds at all, but it’s becoming clear that we are an overmedicated nation.  Take for example the conversation that Pat & Tiffany have at the dinner table about meds they’ve been prescribed:  they rattle off names of drugs like they would days of the week.  Funny, but telling. 

This film has been dubbed a romantic comedy, but there are definitely more serious issues going on.  I can’t decide if mental illness has become more normalized and part of every day life, or if it’s still just trendy and funny to talk about.  The lines are too blurry.

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First of all, let me say that I unabashedly loved Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated.  Cleverly written, great film.  I also confess that I loved the film version of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  It’s tough to write about the tragedy of 9/11 and not delve into cliche, or let the novel become overwrought.  I actually liked the novel, for the most part, right up until the end.  Damn, do I have a problem with endings.  This particular ending is no exception.

Having lost a father at a rather young age myself, I can certainly relate to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  My father didn’t die in a national tragedy, but his death was still a mystery, still painful, still left me with questions.  There are lots of sons without fathers in the novel, and one grandfather without a son.  The women don’t seem to play much more than supporting roles here.  The main issue is the relationships between the fathers and the sons.  This theme takes the attention off of the 9/11 tragedy, which is good.  But you also have the Holocaust in the background, and a grandfather who doesn’t speak.  So the tragedy is everywhere, inescapable.

[Spoiler alert]  The narrator and protagonist, Oskar Schell, has a strong voice.  He’s an interesting kid, full of post 9/11 paranoia and phobias.  But his last act, that of digging up his father’s empty grave, struck me as all wrong.  Why would he do such a thing?  Why would his mother allow him to do it?  I find it implausible.  And just a bit pointless.  Everyone knows the casket is empty, so what is the point?

The last line of the novel is ambiguous;  normally this would delight me.  In this case, not so much.  “We would have been safe” (Foer, 2005). Safe from what?  Who?  Is he referring to the terrorists?  Or the thousands of other ways in which we, as humans, are not ‘safe’?  This notion of safety is not unfamiliar to me; I myself have a dozen or so phobias about being in a safe place.  I think my issue with this ending is that we all have different definitions of what we believe will keep us safe, or what constitutes that feeling of safety.  Certainly this definition has changed since 9/11.  Certainly, we have become a police state due to issues of safety.  Is it just the loss of his father that makes him feel less safe?  When he says “We” is he just referring to his family, or all of us?

I have to say, that although I didn’t like this novel as much, I do appreciate Foer’s style and editing choices.  Choosing multiple narrators and letters and some stream of consciousness works style-wise.  The so-called visual writing (photographs of doorknobs and people falling) is not so appealing; one wonders what the point is of that as well.  Regardless, I love that he pushes the boundaries of style, even if it doesn’t always work.

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. New York:  Houghton Mifflin Co., 2005.  Print.

The boyfriend and I went to a late showing of Les Miserables last night, and while I was in love immediately and crying often, he kept turning to me and saying “This is so sad!  This is so depressing!”  Oh, it gets better, I told him.  Much, much better.

True, the story (and this particular film version) is wretched; the characters are living hard lives and there doesn’t seem to be much hope for them.  Jean Valjean is treated as a hard-core criminal all his life for stealing bread; Fantine loses her job, her teeth, her hair, her dignity, in order to pay for the upkeep of her daughter, Cosette.  I dare anyone to feel badly about their lives when compared to hers.  But, as morbid and woefully wretched as this story can be, it also has more fucking heart than most.  There are many moments of grace, redemption.

I must admit, also, that until now, I was not a fan of Anne Hathaway.  I blame this on the Princess Diaries.  Her Catwoman role in  Batman Rises was good, right up until the end, when she switches sides.  I liked her take on things until she joins up with Batman.  Anyway, in her role as Fantine, she is blissfully and painfully real, and has a killer set of pipes.  The scene in which she sings about her lost dreams is very reminiscent of Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares to U video: shaven head, up close, raw emotion.  Breathtaking.

Go see Les Mis.  Go now.

 

A depressed man uses a puppet (found in the garbage) as a way to deal with the “negative aspects” of his personality.  As a way to deal with the fact that he tried to commit suicide.  As a way to deal with his failed suicide attempts, failed marriage, failed business, failed fatherhood.

I’m all for alternative forms of therapy; I think Americans, in general, are way too over-medicated.  Got an ill, here’s a pill.  A pill for every  ill.  So I guess it’s refreshing to see someone talking about other therapies besides chemical ones.

The Beaver puppet is startling at first;  Mr. Black’s family is taken aback, understandably.  As is the audience.  It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable.  And just when you think you’re getting used to it, the film dives into some even weirder shit.  This movie gets really really weird.

Just like most psychiatric drugs, there are side effects to using the puppet.  The Beaver becomes a crutch;  Mr. Black becomes dependent on it. He can’t talk with out it;  hell, he can’t even have sex without the Beaver  (plushophilia, anyone??).  Mr. Black seems to be on the right track:  gets his business going again, gets his wife and one kid back.  But he’s dependent on that puppet, just as he would be on a prescribed drug.  The puppet is a symbol of modern drug therapy:  once you get on it, you can’t get off.  Eventually this happens to Mr. Black:  he can’t take the puppet off.

Several things caught my attention in this film.  First, the family’s reaction to his therapy:  skepticism at first, acceptance, then total rejection.  Work colleagues were different:  they saw the puppet as an eccentricity, until it became too horrific, and they then rejected Mr. Black altogether (how many times have we seen this in the media?).  The public loved him and his puppet until they found out just how really crazy and mental he was.  Again, sound familiar?

Mr. Black’s oldest son rejects him completely, sick or no, until the very end of the film.  Interesting that the son, too, shows signs of depression and keeps post-it notes all over his room with traits he sees in his father that he wants to avoid.  We’ve all done this, right?  But the question remains:  how will the son avoid the same pitfalls as the father?  We know that depression and other mental illnesses are genetic; we can see this in the film, but the mom (Jodie Foster) doesn’t seem quite aware of that.  She gets angry at the son for sleeping all day.  This is very familiar to me:  as a person who suffers emotionally, I’ve often felt the anger of a parent directed at me simply because I was sick.  No other reason necessary.

What is this film trying to say about depression and mental illness and our treatment of it?  The film culminates in a scene set in an institution, father and son hugging, finding common ground at last.  Is this the message?  That we can only find solutions in institutions?  That we must be taken out of society and locked up?  That no other therapies will work?

I think if the puppet is metaphor for chemical treatment of depression, then it works.  Chemicals are destructive to our minds and bodies, our relationships with others.  This still doesn’t answer the question of why he ends up in an institution, or where he goes from there.  Which leaves me wondering:  where does the field of psychiatry go from here, once we realize drugs are not the only answer?

 

It’s hard not to look at every moment of a man’s life and try to pinpoint the pivotal events.  It’s hard not to sentimentalize and romanticize every word, every turn of event, every single nuance.

“Nowhere Boy” does not romanticize;  it even plays down certain monumental events, such as the first time John Lennon meets Paul McCartney.  What does come through sharply is his tumultuous home life as a teen.  John is a bit of a scamp, stealing records and free rides on double-decker buses, but he’s no worse than any other teenaged boy.  The emphasis is on the two women in his life, one your standard, uptight Brit who’d rather die than show emotion, and the other a much less restrained flirt who loves rock ‘n rollers.

John reunites with his mother Julia, whom he hasn’t seen since he was 5, and who, unbeknownst to him, has been living down the block for the past decade.  Julia is an outright flirt:  in some scenes her behavior is so seductive (even towards John) that I felt not just a little uneasy.  John seems uneasy too, yet also glad to have the attentions of a mother he really doesn’t know.  But he’s not dim and quickly catches on when Julia flirts with his (young) band members, in particular the young Paul.

Aside from the wrenching emotional component, there are bits and pieces of John’s early musical life.  His mum teaches him guitar and he puts together a band. John is exposed to rock and roll, Elvis, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.  My favorite line is John complaining that God didn’t make him Elvis; his mother says ‘He was saving you for John Lennon.’  His mother never knew the success he became due to a fatal car accident (which reminded me, oddly enough, of Lolita), but she certainly encouraged him in music and supported him, even when Aunt Mimi didn’t.  Maybe it was the balance between the two women that he needed.

The beginning scenes of the film are edited sharply; very short scenes that cut quickly and move on to the next.  Scenes lengthen as the movie progresses, and the emotions are pretty raw.  This is a short, 90-minute slice of his life that temporarily delves into serious issues.  There are some hints as to what was coming musically, but this film really focuses on his relationships with mother and aunt, and their relationships with each other.

Only one complaint with this film:  there is one scene that feels trite and almost as if it would lead to the shiny-happy-hollywood film ending (but thank fuck did not):  John reminds Aunt Mimi that she and Julia are sisters and she needed to remember that.  Aunt Mimi and Julia do seem to make amends and start spending time together.  John sees them together in one such scene and smiles to himself.  As if all life’s problems are that easily resolved, eh?   But then, this is all immediately prior to Julia’s getting gunned down by a speeding car.  So.

All in all, a good little film.  And Kristin Scott Thomas as Aunt Mimi was delightful.

At least twice in the Korean film “Vegetarian” is this question asked:  once by a sister, once by the husband of the vegetarian in question.  My question is this:  what does one have to do with the other?  Why does not eating meat equal crazy?

Multiple themes permeate the film:  it is not about (or just about) a woman who turns vegetarian.  The main character, a young married woman, has a sudden aversion to meat after having some unexplained dreams.  We see her ridding the fridge of meat; she later tells her husband she threw out the eggs as well.  She can’t have sex with her husband because he smells of meat.  Later, at a family gathering, her father gets so angry over her refusal to eat meat that he has two relatives hold her while he tries to stuff it down her throat.  Her revulsion and panic is so strong it drives her to take a knife to herself.

My question is:  Why?  Why is it, that when a person makes a choice about their diet, that others get so angry about it?  Why does someone else’s choice of food carry such weight, provoke such anger?  The anger is palpable for me, as this scene feels very familiar.

No one ever tried to force-feed me, but I can safely say there were thoughts of it in the heads of those around me.  I read somewhere recently that in general, it is more acceptable for a person to announce they are an atheist than a vegetarian.  Again, I have to ask:  Why?  Do we need to add to the Constitution Freedom of Diet, alongside Freedom of Speech and Religion?

Yeah, ok, I admit it– I scoff at folks who comest a continuous stream of fast food and processed junk.  I grew up on that stuff– plastic cheese and processed meats and cheap burgers.  I try to eat healthier now, but I do so enjoy some good ol’ non-food items now & then (lately I’m all about HOT FRIES. laugh all you want, they rock.)   So yeah I may have comments about what other folks eat.  But would I ever try to force my beliefs about food on them?  No.  Am I strongly opinionated and will I debate with them about it?  yes.  Eat and let eat, I say.

Another scene near the end of “Vegetarian” shows the girl being forcefully held down in a hospital, nose taped shut, so that they can actually force some sort of rice-gruel down her throat.  It was horrifying.  This was not because of her choice of diet, though.  In the end, she just refused to eat.  We never find out what the trauma was, or what was in her dreams that caused her to say she could not eat meat. She is diagnosed (wrongly, I believe) with Schizophrenia and anorexia.

She has only one person who relates to her in some way:  her artist brother-in-law.  I’m not sure he fully understood what she was going through, but he at least did not attack her for it.  When he paints flowers all over her body she is thrilled; when he paints flowers on another young man, she is undeniably attracted to him.  There is a sex scene with her and the brother-in-law, both painted in flowers, that is both hot and feral.

One other thing I noticed is the sound that meat makes, versus plants:  during the family dinner, the oysters (or whatever other meat they had) made a squishy, wet sound.  Later, when the girl and her brother-in-law are eating fruit, the sounds are crisp and fresh.  I dunno whether the director intended this contrast or not, but it was noticeable to me.

So.  Both the woman’s husband and sister ask and/or say that she is crazy.  I don’t eat meat, so does that mean that I, too, am crazy?  Food for thought, people.

In a few days, I’ll be seeing some late night flick about vampires and some sort of Frankenstein creature.  That should be much more fun!

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