EO, written by Jerzy Skolimowski and Ewa Piaskowska.

I’m writing this review to purge my feelings. I don’t know why I thought a movie about a donkey on a journey was going to end on an upbeat note. Maybe it’s because we’re taught by Disney to expect upbeat endings when it comes to animals. Anyway, suffice to say, this does not have a happy ending and it left me in tears, which I think is the point.

EO has a loving caretaker and a good life as a performing donkey at a traveling circus in Poland. His caretaker might be a bit too loving, but since this movie is the donkey’s point of view, for the most part, it’s simply a lot of petting and stroking. It is possible to love a dog and a cat so it’s possible to love a donkey. Unfortunately, the circus has to file for bankruptcy and all the circus animals are sold.

There are also protestors at the circus — animal rights activists — who insist that the animals are suffering, though they are clearly not. The activists should have been a clue to me that this movie was going to be about animal welfare and the way we treat animals. EO often escapes whatever captivity he’s been forced into. In one horrible scene, he is pulling a cart at a fur factory where foxes in cages are screaming in fear as they are killed by some sort of electrical execution machine, and then thrown in the back of a cart. In one fairly nice environment, he lives in a donkey petting and riding farm. He finds work in a champion horse breeding stable. He accidentally watches a soccer game that seems to be played between some normal, though very enthusiastic, soccer fans and neo-nazis. Later the neo-nazis, who lost the game, come to where the winning team is celebrating — dragging EO into their revelries — and the nazis break in and beat everyone with bats. Then they see EO and decide to beat him as well. EO ends up in an animals rescue clinic.

Somehow he ends up on a truck that seems to be headed for a glue factory with other horses. But the driver of the truck inexplicably has his throat slit and the horses and EO are offloaded by the police. For no sensible reason, EO has been tied up to a pole and a vagrant, who turns out to be a gambler who has lost all his money, takes EO and says, (an ominous warning if I had been listening properly), “I wonder if I’ve just saved you or if I’m stealing you.”

Even while I still expected an upbeat ending — that he would find his way back to the loving caretaker he had at the beginning of the movie — I still feared the slaughterhouse that seemed to be looming in the background throughout the movie: the animal rights activists — most of whom are against meat — the nazis that nearly beat EO to death — the gambler who is riding in a horse trailer with EO on his way to Italy said something about having eaten sausage with donkey meat — when it finally got to the end and EO was at the slaughterhouse being herded along with thousands of cows and goats into the abattoir and clearly resisting (how they got those donkeys to act is just beyond me), I was surprised and upset. Even right up until the sound of the bolt going into the back of his head and the screen having gone dark, I kept hoping. That’s why I’m so upset and have been crying. Hope was shattered.

I don’t think people feel the same way, judging by the reviews I’ve read on IMDB. Most of those are about the technical aspects and one nut talked about the occult being the backbone of the movie, although I think that genius probably wanted to say mythology rather than the occult. The occult is a system of mystical beliefs and practice that exist outside of common religion. Communion is not an occult practice because it’s a common practice in the Catholic religion. Mythology are stories developed over time by a common group of people — usually spoken and passed down through re-telling. But in our era, there are quasi-myths being made – like Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Star Wars.

Anyway, IO (not EO), like many Greek myths, was a beautiful woman that Zeus decided to make love to rape by disguising himself as a cloud. Hera, found out about it and turned her into a cow. Several things happened and Hera decided to send a gadfly to sting IO and force her to wander the world. There may be something there to latch onto, but it’s no more convincing that he is called EO because that is the closest sound to a donkey’s bray. Anyway, I was deeply affected, upset and moved. It’ll probably take me a few days to get over this ending.

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The Inspection, by Elegance Bratton

This movie could work easily as pure fiction, but it is based on the author’s real life experience in deciding to become a marine, given that his choices in life are bleak. In reality, Elegance Bratton has told people that he didn’t even realize he was homeless, though he lived, more or less, on the streets.

In the movie, he has a horrible mother who, because she is so disgusted by his homosexuality, puts newspaper on the couch so he doesn’t taint it with what I suppose she thinks are gay cooties. It is so weird to see homophobia in minority communities but it’s just as prevalent there as anywhere. This is why a term developed for gay black men called “the down low,” or “being on the down low.”

The surprising thing about this movie is the change that comes over the recruits as they go through boot camp. The year is 2005 and probably at the very start of what I would call the seismic change that led to gay marriage and its recent establishment in the law itself, due to the open threats by the Supreme Court and especially, Uncle Tom himself, Clarence Thomas, to overthrow the court opinion that made gay marriage legal in all 50 states. (The new law does not force states to marry gay people — it can’t do that — but it does require same sex marriages performed in other states to be recognized in every state.) So these recruits start out with their usual biases and hatreds on full display. On their first day they are all screamed at, “Are you a homosexual,” “Are you a communist,” etc. Ellis French, played by the amazing Jeremy Pope, does the usual denial, but, from what I could tell, he gets an erection in the shower and the others nearly beat him to death for getting it. At that point, they know he’s gay, but this being the era of “Don’t ask don’t tell,” they simply force him to sleep away from the others. But, maybe because of his kindness, and his strength, his ability to fight back, his death by drowning (he is revived and does not report the incident, which would have landed his Sargent some jail time,) his ability to comfort other recruits, and perhaps his humor, (although there’s not much of it), they become Marines whose motto is that they “fight to protect the Marine to my right and the Marine to my left.”

The real drama of the movie is actually at the end, when his homophobic mother decides to come to his graduation, and I won’t spoil it any further, suffice to say, he is a Marine among fellow Marines, and a changed man with a future. It speaks loads about the lack of opportunities for young black men, and especially young gay black men, most of whom, as he points out early in the film, are either dead or in jail.

I don’t think the reviews were more than “generally good,” but I thought for a man who has come that far — from not even knowing he was homeless to getting funding and writing and directing a movie based on his life — it was far more than generally good. It was deeply moving and that should be the judge of all artworks.

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Bones and All, directed by Luca Guadagnino, screenplay by David Kagjanich, novel by Camille DeAngelis

Back when I still had a writers group, or maybe it was in a class, we were talking about the absolute glut of books and movies about vampires. It began, probably, with Ann Rice, but really Bram Stoker and the movie Nosferatu. But by the time of Kristen Stewart and her run of movies, it was a joke, almost. As Stanley said in “The Office,” “How many damn Vampires am I supposed to care about?” With Ann Rice’s “Interview…” it was clear because of her skill with writing, that she was writing about gay men. Homo eroticism is basically the foundation of that novel and the subsequent sequels. Sexuality in general is important to those books because once they become a vampire, in Ann Rice’s rules of the world, the penis stops working and sexuality becomes more skin centered, and the focus is on the neck which is a fairly erogenous area. This allowed her to explore the history of Vampirism (but really, it was a look back at gay history and every gay man understood it).

Anyway somebody mentioned that the “new” theme of modern books, especially for young readers, was going to be cannibalism and I think I groaned out loud. I’m so tired of books and stories that a: make no sense and b: purport to shed light on an aspect of life in a new way. The Time Traveler’s Wife, for example, is just so difficult for me because although it’s shedding light on the “part time” marriage, people don’t just pop in and out of time. So it just doesn’t do anything for me.

Whatever cannibalism is supposed to represent is lost to me in this movie, which has won awards and appears to be well liked. What does it mean that they’re cannibals (which they call Eaters — they are able to find each other through a strong sense of smell that they possess). Is it trying to say that sex is a form of eating or ingestion? Is it trying to say that our deepest urge is to devour others? The title, Bones and All, refers to a line said by some particularly creepy cannibal they run into, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, who seems to have a lover played by David Gordon Green, who is not a cannibal but practices it anyway. He says that to eat a person, “bones and all” is the greatest feeling one can ever have. Given that it would be impossible to do this, it feels like a lie, but it sort of makes sense if you’re talking about cannibalism as a metaphor for sexuality. But I’m not really sure that’s what the author intended or what Guadigno is going for. And a quick look at the book it was based upon suggests to me that it’s simply a story about a young girl who is a cannibal. That’s all. Like a book about a girl who wanted to be a rugby player. Or a princess. When Jeffrey Dahmer ate his victims he said that the first time was simply to see what it was like, but later, he said he felt it was a way of keeping them with him. I don’t necessarily believe what Dahmer said about himself and his murders or even his feelings. For me, cannibalism is like murder. It is not explainable and it is no more a metaphor than murder is. Some people are just awful and can’t feel.

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Aftersun by Charlotte Wells

The reviews are splendid. Heart-stopping. Best film of the year. You won’t walk away the same person. Masterful. Stops you in your tracks.

Well no, it doesn’t. What it does have is a very delicate sense of mystery. Sophie is an 11 year old girl who lives in Glasgow with her mother. Her father lives in Turkey, although I was a little confused if he lived in London and was just vacationing in Turkey. Whatever the case, he doesn’t return to London after his daughter visits him and they stay at a resort for roughly 10 days and do all of the boring things people do at resorts.

Spoilers from here on.

But her father Calum, played by Paul Mescal who is masterful, clearly has some issues. We don’t get to learn what demons are plaguing him, but periodically we see him — barely see him — dancing in some sort of club. The strobes are timed so far between and the light is too fast to really see him well. There also seems to be some sort of man looking at him. We don’t really know what this place is or what he’s doing there.

There are no cell phones, but there are other features of modern or a more recent era, like the micro video recorder he is using to record some details of their vacation together, and the movie opens in the dark with the sound of a mini cassette being placed into the recorder and the typical “dinging” sound that Sony recorders made. This is another clue as to what this movie is actually about, because it is not what it seems to be — a somewhat uninteresting vacation between a man and his 11 year old daughter. At some point, he turns 31 on this trip. And later, we see a man — presumably Calum rushing down to the sea in the middle of the night, fully clothed, and running in. He doesn’t emerge. In the next scene he’s in bed, naked and she’s been locked out all night. She doesn’t cringe — she just covers him up.

There is also some things going on between her and some older “kids” — teenagers — who are doing a lot of kissing and stupid things that teenagers do. But really, for most of the time, I kept thinking about the father — because he’s the adult — and he seems tortured. At times I thought that maybe he was gay and had HIV. Then I would abandon that and think, oh, he’s got some other terminal illness. But there was a palpable sense of mystery.

It isn’t until 3/4 of the way through that we have what seems to be a flash forward: Sophie, on her birthday, at age 31. She’s waking up next to her wife or girlfriend, and a baby is crying. The girlfriend says, “Happy birthday Sophie,” so we know it’s her. But still, the major flaw of this movie, is that we don’t understand until the very end that it’s all been a flashback. The adult Sophie has been watching her father’s tapes and, at times, imagining some of what must have gone on that made this visit the last time she saw him. Certain things are out of order, like her imagining his suicide, and the final scene is of him having just waved goodbye to her, shuts off the videotape recorder and walks down an airline hallway and into what appears to be the discotheque we kept seeing him dancing in. The reason I see this as a flaw, is that you can’t actually be moved by something unless you know what it is you’re watching — unless you get the very basics, which is that the adult Sophie is trying to understand her father on the day that she turned 31, the age when he killed himself. This is a twenty year old memory. And yes, it is devastating, once you know that the charming little girl was waving goodbye to a father who was going to kill himself a bit later. I feel like the reviewers who called it masterful and said you won’t leave the theatre the same person, had some sort of fore-knowledge about what the story really was.

This, for example, is the plot according to Wikipedia. “A woman reminisces about embarking on a summer vacation to Turkey with her father during her childhood.” That would be nice if that’s what was actually filmed. That first part: “A woman reminisces,” is not the movie we’re given. The line should be, “An 11 year old girl embarks on a summer vacation to Turkey with her father.”

Flash forwards are interesting devices, but in this case, if I had known that this young woman Wikipedia is talking about, was trying desperately to understand her father’s depression or demons, or what made him kill himself, it would, in fact, be a devastating picture. How can you turn 31 and be happy when that was the age your father killed himself. Hitchcock always said, “Tell the audience everything.” This movie holds so much back, and although I liked it, and the acting was tremendous, I just feel like it missed the ball and it didn’t have to. Still, she’s a great writer and director and this movie is winning awards all over the place, so bravo.

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TÁR by Todd Field.

(Spoilers all the way through, including the end.)

Many of the people who saw this in the theatre with me groaned at the end, and several came up to me and asked me if I understood what “that was all about.” It’s kind of disappointing when people have become so used to being spoon fed the 3 act movie arc that when something goes in only one direction, they simply don’t get what they’ve seen.

If you read several reliable reviewers, you’ll pick up on the fact that what Tar (her name is Lydia Tar) believes is that there are some feelings which are impossible to name, and can only be expressed or “named” if you will, in music, and specifically classical music.

Another word for this is the sublime. But that’s not exactly what the movie is about. That is what she is about. What the movie is about is basically the tragedy of Tar. It opens with her teaching a master class in conducting at Julliard – a class with about 15 students.

Correction: It opens with a New Yorker style talk with New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik playing himself. The importance of this scene is two-fold: to establish that she is one of the world’s greatest conductors, that she is at the top of her game, and secondly, and very very subtly, she states that she really doesn’t care that she has reached the pinnacle of what is essentially a male field. It’s important to know this because it tells us she is not interested in identity or gender politics.

We learn much later in the film that technology was not allowed in the masterclass, but someone is recording her. Tar, who is played by Cate Blanchett, if it even needs to be said, is at the absolute peak of her career and it shows in the way she teaches this class. When she asks one of the students if he had ever conducted a Bach piece, he answers no, because as a bisexual BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person Of Color), he could not support the patriarchy of Bach, who fathered 20 children. She goes on to try to help him see beyond the identity of Bach and listen to the meaning (and feelings) of his music and ultimately starts berating him for his views. He calls her a bitch and leaves the class, but she isn’t the slightest bit fazed or shocked and says, on his way out, that he needs to study music more and social media less. She has absolutely no qualms about what happened, even though it was a bit shocking and most of us who have wondered about identity politics and the stress on identity of the last two decades or so, know that she’s walking on thin ice.

She doesn’t seem to know this. But throughout the movie you have the deep sense that she’s either going to destroy herself or something external is going to destroy her. She’s gay, married to the concert master of the Berlin Philharmonic, where she is planning to conduct her final Mahler Symphony, #5, which is the most mysterious and difficult because Mahler left very little on how to interpret it. (You could also apply that statement to this movie.) But she’s also somewhat of a groomer and predator, and we start to learn this from her assistant, who has musical ambitions of her own. Her assistant brings to her attention that a former protege named Krista is feeling increasingly desperate because she can’t get work. She ultimately kills herself and then we find out that Tar basically sabotaged any attempt that this woman made to find a conducting job. Why she did this, we aren’t told, except that she was “strange.” When a pretty brilliant cellist joins the philharmonic, and before the orchestra has had a chance to vote on whether to accept her, Tar starts making the moves on her, and decides to play as a companion piece to the Mahler #5, the very famous Elgar Cello concerto that the incomparable Jacqueline Du Pre perfomed and popularized. Instead of giving the solo job to the first cellist, which would be normal, Tar has auditions instead and has the first cellist be one of the judges. Olga gets the job and we see Tar moving in, slowly.

Tragedies almost always have a moment when the character is given an opportunity to change course — this either comes as advice (in Chinatown, the Jack Nicholson character is told to stop looking for Faye Dunaway [because he doesn’t know the full story], but he doesn’t and ultimately gets her killed.) Or it comes in the form of a moment which the character doesn’t notice. It’s akin to Tippy Hedron climbing the stairs to the attic and opening the attic door in The Birds.

In this, I think that moment comes when her beleaguered personal assistant is passed over (by Tar) for the position of assistant conductor. Her assistant disappears the following day, and everything that happens since has a frantic and dangerous quality. She’s speeding through the street of Munich like a crazy person, until her wife makes her stop the car so she can get out. But that doesn’t stop her. A video of the master class where she humiliates a BIPOC gets re-edited, sliced, and chopped together in a way that makes it sound like she was using racial slurs. (I’m pretty sure that the person who took that video was her assistant, as the rule about no technology would not have applied to her.) Eventually she loses her position in the orchestra and in a final self destructive act, decides to rush on stage and beat up the conductor who has replaced her for the actual performance.

Thereafter, she loses her wife, her child, her job, her apartments, and she has to return to Queens where she’s from. Her lump of a brother is there, and we learn through him that her name is Linda, not Lydia. She meets with an agency that has a plan to rebuild her career, and her first stop is to conduct an orchestra in Indonesia. I couldn’t tell if the piece they were playing was music from a video game, but the entire audience is dressed in monster cos play gear, and the orchestra, we’re told in the credits that follow, is called The Monster Hunter Orchestra. It’s startling, but she is essentially unchanged. Only now, she’s at the bottom of her game.

The direction is very much in the style of Kubrick and perhaps her name is a reference to the filmmaker Tarkovsky who was noted for long takes and the slow pacing of his movies. But I think it’s closer to Kubrick (the director Todd Field played the piano player in Eyes Wide Shut,) in that Kubrick never really liked to dig too deeply into the psychology of his characters. He simply liked to present them to the audience without commenting on their behavior. Here, I think the confusion this movie generates — especially among U.S. audiences — is because we aren’t told what to think or how to feel.

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The Death of the adversary, by Hans Keilson

I read this some time ago — probably around 2009 when it and his other novel were re-issued for the 100th anniversary of his birth. (He died at 101.) His novels had been out of print and unavailable since 1962.

Vergangenheitsbewältigung is a German word which describes a certain type of literature which tries to tackle the difficult subject of past crimes or troubles. It literally means “Working through the past.” It’s something I don’t think Americans could ever understand because America forgets its past, or rewrites it.

This is one of those novels. W.G. Sebald’s works as well as Gunter Grass and others are in that category, but this book is remarkable because it traces the evolution of hate in someone who is ordinarily at peace. The Times review of the novel(s) by Francine Prose says it much better than I ever could, but in this era (with the rise of white supremacy yet again, and an American Nazism of its own — Kanye West just today said he was going to go “death con 3 on Jews,” and somehow claimed he couldn’t be anti-Semitic because he was a jew himself, earning himself a Twitter ban,) this book couldn’t be any more appropriate to promote in my tiny little corner of the internet.

From the review: “Rarely has a finer, more closely focused lens been used to study such a broad and brutal panorama, mimetically conveying a failure to come to grips with reality by refusing to call that reality by its proper name.” (My emphasis.)

And this:

Our hero is visiting a young woman with whom he works at a department store, and on whom he has a crush, when their pleasant evening is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of her brother and his friends. Almost instantly, without much being said, the narrator and the reader grasp that the intruders are Nazi thugs, just as it is obvious to the intruders that the narrator is a Jew. After a strained, abstract conversation about the burden of having a conscience and the relief of shedding that burden, the youngest of the goons is encouraged to describe a “secret assignment” in which he has participated. His story is long, gripping and almost unbearably horrific, though no one is hurt in the commission of this crime but a few of its inept perpetrators.

Listening, the narrator analyzes his own reactions with a characteristic detachment that is at once coolly clinical, incantatory and overwrought: “You’re a swine, I thought, not to get up and put an end to this disgusting and disgraceful performance. It did me good to call myself a swine, and at the same time I suffered under it. His story aroused all the fury and hatred hidden within me, I suffered under it and at the same time it did me good to suffer. I could have wept, and at the same time it did me good, like a father who is beating his child with tears in his eyes and experiences the twofold delight of being able to beat it and to suffer under it at the same time.” (My emphasis.)

I think the first highlighted section perfectly explains why white and Hispanic and even black Trump supporters are so happily embracing his racist platform, his toxic narcissism, his meanness, his ugliness. Not having to have a conscience means not having to worry so much, and, of course, there is a lot to worry about.

The second highlighted section I think shows how easily we are able to accept contradictions within our own minds, especially if there is some aspect of it that allows us relief from that same burdened conscience.

At this point, the American Nazi party is a fully formed cult. My one and only hope (and I share this with Michael Moore) is that there are more people disgusted with Trump and that group than people who join with them. And that is probably an enormous difference between what happened leading up to 1939 and what’s happening now. Joe Biden beat him once and he’ll beat him again. The other hope I have is that Trump is deteriorating rapidly. Some feel he is becoming aphasic. Others hope that he will be indicted soon. Hope. We live on it.

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George Michael, a life, by James Gavin

This was a great biography. Someone asked me at a dinner who my favorite singer was and I almost instantly answered George Michael. He had been dead 3 years at that point. But I’m not exactly sure why. It just seemed that whenever he released a song, whether it was from the days of Wham or his solo career, the songs always felt like me in a way that no other singer — say Elvis or even Elton John — ever did.

I knew he was gay when he sang Careless Whisper which was when he was with Wham, and, as he insisted many years later, he was having sex with women. And I assumed he was gay right up until he was publicly outed having been coerced into having sex in a public bathroom by a cop who had publicly exposed himself. But I’ve always been curious whether George Michael lived in shame. Because he couldn’t avoid talking about it and, in fact, in brought attention to the fact that coercion is illegal: you can’t do something illegal to get someone else to do something illegal. But, as you can see on his interview with David Letterman, he joked about it, laughed at it, and eventually made a song and a video about it. But I just always had the sense that he was somehow ashamed of being gay, and when he died, and there was a pretty big cover up about what was going on, I wondered if the shame had finally gotten to him. It appears that it had.

He was an addict for a good part of his career. He smoked marijuana all day long, and when he was older he started doing a drug that was popular in the gay world — especially the gay club and sex scene — called G. G does the same thing that Crystal Meth does, except you don’t lose your teeth. But it’s a very dangerous drug and when it first appeared in the clubs, a lot of men were overdosing because it stays in your system. Michael was taking it every day. His family refused to release the toxicology report. But G also makes you binge eat, and apparently some photos got out of George looking like a fat old thing, which must have mortified him.

I knew that he was having trouble because even though he completely lost his American audience, and really thought that America had abandoned him, I had kept following him, mostly via Youtube or Vemo. He overdosed about 8 times. And after doing part of a tour, he came down with cryptococcol pneumonia. That is the type pneumonia which primarily affects AIDS patients. He was put into an induced coma and had to have a tracheotomy for a breathing tube. He recovered and according to his last boyfriend, that was when he discovered he was HIV positive. His boyfriend was a somewhat shady character, and became pretty insane after George died, so there’s no actual confirmation that George had HIV, and because the family has kept these secrets from the public, we have no way of knowing. But one of his last songs and probably his last good song was “White Light,” which was about wanting to live. (He didn’t see the white light, which meant he wasn’t ready to go.) But I think that was probably a wished-for projection, because someone who knew him well, and also knew the problems that addicts have, said he could see it in George’s eyes that he was giving up. And I think this book makes it pretty clear that George was deeply ashamed, and the blame for that lies squarely on his father, who was a conservative Greek and humiliated by his son’s homosexuality.

**************

There is a mountain of predictable reviews to Blonde: that the movie doesn’t go into Marilyn’s brilliance, talent, business acumen, but exploits her in exactly the same way that she was exploited in real life. To this I would counter that you can’t make an anti-war movie because war is inherently dramatic, frightening and exciting. We like watching movies about war and violence. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make a movie about the wars that we wage which tries to state that war is terrible. The Lord Of The Rings is full of anti-war sentiment, even though it is essentially, one long war. The Killing Fields is about as close an anti-war movie as I’ve ever seen, but it’s still incredibly dramatic.

You can’t make a movie about Marilyn Monroe without dealing with female exploitation and the male stare (the male gaze) behind the camera. If they wanted a movie that shows the entire person, then they should write it, make it or re-watch one of the others, like “My Week With Marilyn,” which was a great movie that dealt with a single week in Marilyn’s life.

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Blonde, by Andrew Dominik, based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates

This is a divisive movie, but only because so many people have invested so much time and energy in thinking, reading, watching, and staring at Marilyn Monroe (Norma Jean Mortensen), including, but not limited to, this filmmaker and the writer who said she thought she was going to write a small novella but ended up writing a book that was so long it had to be surgically edited. But MM, the creation, is, arguably, the most famous star that has ever existed. They still sell her images in Times Square, alongside James Dean and maybe Marlon Brando. But those images, of course, are 50 to 60 years old, as is hers. They don’t sell images of Evelyn Nesbit, or even some of Marilyn’s contemporaries, like Jane Russell.

And why did she become an icon? I think maybe that is at the very heart of this adaptation, because I’ve been thinking about it all day. The man next to me felt the need to share his opinion after the nearly 3 hour movie was over, and after he had stayed through all the credits, “Well that was an ordeal.” I don’t know if he thought I’d feel the same — usually people who make unasked for comments like that do think you’ll agree with them — or if he was an idiot. Perhaps he understood how horrific this fictional life story is — the horrors of what we do to each other, told through the story of a woman who was molded in the shape of man’s lust, beaten because of man’s lust, impregnated and aborted because of men’s lust. In any case, he came to see the same movie I did, about a woman whose been dead since 1962 (60 years last August if anyone’s counting.) Since she died at the age of 36, she could actually be still alive if she had the longevity of former Queen Elizabeth.

I think the “Why” of the matter, for me anyway, is in Joyce Carol Oates’s title. Blonde was not her natural hair color. But as most women know, who have to live under the male gaze, especially if they’re looking for a mate, and like one of Marilyn’s titles, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” long flowing blonde hair attracts more men than, say, a brunette pixie cut. The word “blonde” represents everything that she wasn’t. And throughout this movie, and I presume the book, Norma Jean keeps trying to explain to people that she isn’t Marilyn Monroe. That Marilyn Monroe is an invention of the studios and the men that ran them. I can’t remember which studio president said, “Movies are about horses and tits,” but when she first walks into “Z’s” office (a shorthand way of talking about Zanuck), she stares around at all the mounted heads of wild animals and I can’t help thinking that she knows, she knows, she’s going to become one of those mounted stuffed heads. She reads, briefly, a scene she has just been given, and “Z” comes around from behind, pushes her to the floor and fucks her from behind. That’s the moment she becomes Marilyn Monroe. I still don’t know if I’ve answered the “why” question. Why we are so fascinated by this tragic life.

The movie is full of intrusive camera angles, some from inside her vagina, but it makes sense in the scheme of all things, because she was nothing but the same character as the genetically modified woman Somni-451 in Cloud Atlas — she existed to be used. But to get back to the why question of why we are we so interested in this person, I would suggest that we aren’t, actually. We want to see the “real” Marilyn Monroe, who became so famous and iconic that her image will still be sold in Times Square a hundred years from now, long after James Dean, Marlon Brando and whoever comes and goes between now and then. But we can’t, because Marilyn Monroe was a construct, like Jesus on the cross, (now more than 2000 years and still depicted on posters and digital art).

To the actors: They are all brilliant and must be given props: Julianne Nicholson (OMG), Bobby Cannavalle, Adrien Brody, Xavier Samuels, Evan Williams, Toby Huss, and also Lily Fisher who played the little girl Norma Jean at the beginning of the movie.

But one more thing, Ana De Armas gives such an amazing performance that you actually forget, like Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, that she is acting. The criticism that she still had a Cuban accent is invalid. I never once thought about her being Cuban and I didn’t hear it. And also, the fact that MM was a construction and an artifice, like Barbie, should support the notion that if Ana De Armas let any of her Cuban accent through, that would be okay. Because it, MM, was a concoction, like a cake, that we keep consuming.

Five stars.

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Don’t Worry Darling

by Katie Silberman (screenplay) Carey Van Dyke (story) Shane Van Dyke (story)
Directed by Olivia Wilde

I want to add my two cents because this has been getting some bad reviews and a lot of the invented arguments over Harry Styles spitting on Chris Pine, and Florence Pugh fighting with Olivia Wilde are overshadowing what is a really good movie.

One of the things the story does really well is constantly leave you feeling like you don’t know what’s going on, but you have a slight sense that it’s nefarious. It seems like it takes place in the 1950s, and there are some overhead sonic booms that make you think all the men in this town work for a defense company. There’s a huge amount of secrecy, even between the men, but it’s a patriarchal heaven, sort of. The women all stay at home to clean the house and then cook massive hearty meals and be there ready with a drink for when their husbands return home from a long day at work to pleasure them. (Incidentally, only Florence Pugh is seen to be pleasured, because the focus of this movie is not on the men, but on the women.) The fact that it’s set in the 50s more or less hides some of the stranger aspects. The town is a circle, with a line bisecting it, in the middle of a California dessert that looks larger and more barren than anything I’ve seen in California. The women have unlimited credit and can buy anything they want from a department store that is at the center of this town. But they can only use the trolley to get around. They are not allowed to drive. They are not allowed to go into the desert. When they talk about what the men do at their work, it’s said they make “progressive materials,” which is meaningless. Led by John (Chris Pine) who seems to be somewhat of a cult leader, he offers them lines like, “We are changing the world,” or “We are not going back.” So you get a sense of a militia at times, and then a sense of a white supremacy kind of culture, except that there are a few minorities mixed in (one of whom is a Cassandra of sorts and says, “What are we doing here? We don’t belong here?” which gets Florence Pugh’s character thinking, and wondering what are some of these hallucinations she’s having. Later she sees her friend slit her own throat and fall backwards off the roof of her house, and that’s more or less when the problems start to set in.)

Anyway, despite all the negative reviews and people gossiping about Olivia Wilde, at the theatre in which I saw it, there wasn’t a cough, not a single person looked at their phone, and it was so quiet at times, I actually noticed it. I don’t even remember a single person getting up to go to the bathroom. And I noticed that I, myself, was having so many different responses trying to understand the strangeness of this place and these people, I too, was uncharacteristically not fidgeting. (I usually cross and recross my legs constantly, and often I can’t stop biting my nails, when I watch a movie.) This had me rapt. And when the reveal finally came, it was shocking and very satisfying. And the story behind this artificial planned community is as relevant today as it might have been back then: the subjugation of women. In Iran, right now, women and men are both revolting at the theocracy that took over when I was in college, which was basically aimed at subjecting women to brutality and turning them back into second class citizens. In the U.S. the Republicans are doing the opposite, in trying to criminalize women’s health care and eventually attacking non-heterosexual sexuality. Gore Vidal once said that we, as a society, had not stopped moved beyond the two methods of creating a civilization: the subjugation of women and the control of sexuality. In this town of Victory, led by a strange cultist, women are property and are not even allowed to drive (hints of Saudi Arabia). And just as fittingly, there are no homosexuals in Victory.

I think men really just need to shut the fuck up.

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Memoria by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

I had previously seen at the New York Film Festival one of this filmmaker’s earlier films called Tropical Malady which was a mysterious but absolutely beautiful film about a couple of guys who fall in love. They are completely different: one is a military man, the other works in a restaurant, I think. And the first half of the film charts their romance. But the second half, the film becomes the embodiment of a Thai myth, as one of the men finds himself lost in the jungle and being stalked but an unseen entity, which I think turns out to be a jungle tiger. (That is from a 2004 movie so my summary could be entirely wrong.)

This movie is set in Bogota, Medelllin and then a remote part of the Colombian jungle. Like the earlier movie, it seems to be comprised of two major sections: a relatively normal first section that takes place in the cities and then a second section which takes place in the jungle. Tilda Swinton’s character Jessica is an ex-pat from Scotland who wants to grow and export to her former country various orchids that are found in Colombia. We learn later that she’s an insomniac, and the movie opens in that sort of strange moment when the sun hasn’t quite risen but light is starting to fill the morning sky. We hear a huge boom-kind of sound — something like an explosion but also maybe an earthquake. She rises slowly, and not yet fully awake, but not having restfully slept, Jessica starts her day. When she’s speaking a bit later to her landlord, she asks how long the construction next door is going to take place, but her landlord says there is no construction. That’s the first moment when she is starting to become aware that only she can hear this noise.

She goes to a sound engineer and together they try to recreate the sound as she remembers it. This engineer’s name is Hernan and in the credits he is given the name “Young Hernan Bedoya,” because after she returns to seek him out again, she learns from the people there that no one by that name works there. So now she’s really starting to doubt her sanity, but the interesting thing about this is that she doesn’t really feel too frightened about the possibility that she’s losing her mind. Or that reality is starting to slip from her. She continues to hear this boom — three times in a row while she’s having lunch with her sister and brother in law.

Eventually she ends up in the jungle and by changing her position, like lowering her head to the ground, she can hear this sound whenever she wants. And then someone sees her and asks her if she’s alright. This is the “Older Hernan Bedoya,” and he reveals that he remembers everything and can’t sleep. That’s all I’ll say about the plot because the plot is almost incidental. She does, incidentally, or at least we, learn what the sound is.

The movie really seems to be about detritus or what we leave behind. There is a scene where some scholars are carefully reconstructing bones that have been discovered in a giant tunnel they are boring for traffic. (This I understand is based on some controversial and environmentally harmful tunnel that was actually built.) But it’s also about sounds — the sounds of the noisy city — the sounds of the jungle — and of course the sound that only Jessica can hear. One of the skulls is significant because it has a hole drilled out of it and the professor explains that it was probably done to let the demons out of the young girl’s head 6,000 years ago. This practice is called trepanation, but it suggests that Jessica also has something in her head that is causing her to hear things. (There are people who still practice this skull drilling behavior.) And like so many things, it mirrors the drilling of the tunnel itself.

But she never panics about her descent into madness but as viewers, we aren’t really sure that she actually is, in fact, losing her mind. By the end I think we come to view it as a real thing, just as the ancient people who drilled a hole in that skull believed whatever they were letting out was real. Someone told me there is a Buddhist thought that all phenomena (which I think is basically what we see every day) begin as vibrations and then manifest in our “real” world as images and sounds and touch — everything that our brain is capable of processing. This seems to have that feel, for even after the credits start rolling, sounds keep coming our way.

He’s an interesting director. He’s never going to allow this film to be streamed (or as far as I know digitized), and he’s only allowing it to play in one movie theatre at a time.

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