Me, Popcorn and the Oscars: Final Oscar Predictions

Best Picture

  1. Arrival
  2. Fences
  3. Hacksaw Ridge
  4. Hell or High Water
  5. Hidden Figures
  6. La La Land
  7. Lion
  8. Manchester by the Sea
  9. Moonlight
  • Who should win? La La Land
  • Who I want to win? Arrival
  • Who will win? La La Land. OR, Moonlight might come in, and seduce everyone with their black cast and the gay themes and the drugs. The Oscars do love all that, especially to prove the point that they are not “so white”.  Which sadly, even with a story about Jazz, La La Land is (a very white story). The only thing La La Land could’ve done better was to change Ryan Gosling for a black guy.
  • Which was the biggest snub? Silence.

Best Director

  1. Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”)
  2. Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”)
  3. Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea”)
  4. Mel Gibson (“Hacksaw Ridge”)
  5. Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”)
  • Who should win? Denis Villeneuve or Damien Chazelle
  • Who I want to win? Denis Villeneuve
    Who will win? Damien Chazelle
  • Which was the biggest snub? Tom Ford (“Nocturnal Animals”).

Best Actor

  1. Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”)
  2. Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”)
  3. Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”)
  4. Denzel Washington (“Fences”)
  5. Viggo Mortensen (“Captain Fantastic”)
  • Who should win? Casey-Andrew-Denzel
  • Who I want to win? Casey Affleck
  • Who will win? Casey Affleck (although Denzel Washington could steal this one from him if the Oscars go full-on black love)
  • Which was the biggest snub? Colin Ferrel (“The Lobster”)

Best Actress

  1. Meryl Streep (“Florence Foster Jenkins”)
  2. Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”)
  3. Natalie Portman (“Jackie”)
  4. Emma Stone (“La La Land”)
  5. Ruth Negga (“Loving”)
  • Who should win? Natalie Portman (she won’t because last time she was nominated she won, and this performance or movie isn’t that great for two wins in a row). Also, Isabelle Huppert was great.
  • Who I want to win? Ruth Negga or Isabelle Huppert.
  • Who will win? If the Oscars move past Isabelle Huppert’s nationality, she’ll win. If the Oscars forget Emma’s age, she might pull a Jennifer Lawrence and win one before her thirties. Or if the Oscars go full-on black love, then Ruth Negga.
  • Which was the biggest snub? Amy Adams was the biggest snub this year. Period. Also, Annette Bening.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”)
  2. Jeff Bridges (“Hell or High Water”)
  3. Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea”)
  4. Dev Patel (“Lion”)
  5. Michael Shannon (“Nocturnal Animals”)
  • Who should win? No one. But probably Dev Patel’s performance was the best.
  • Who I want to win?  Michael Shannon.
    Who will win? Mahershala Ali
  • Which was the biggest snub? Everyone that wasn’t nominated and should’ve been.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Viola Davis (“Fences”)
  2. Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”)
  3. Nicole Kidman (“Lion”)
  4. Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures”)
  5. Michelle Williams (“Manchester By the Sea”)
  • Who should win? Viola Davis or Michelle Williams
  • Who I want to win? Either one of them.
    Who will win? Viola Davis
  • Which was the biggest snub? Felicity Jones, but not really.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. “20th Century Women” (Mike Mills)
  2. “The Lobster” (Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos)
  3. “La La Land” (Damien Chazelle)
  4. “Manchester by the Sea” (Kenneth Lonergan)
  5. “Hell or High Water” (Taylor Sheridan)
  • Who should win?  The Lobster.
  • Who I want to win? 20th Century Woman.
    Who will win? Manchester by the Sea.
  • Which was the biggest snub? Jackie.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. “Arrival” (Eric Heisserer)
  2. “Fences” (August Wilson)
  3. “Hidden Figures” (Allison Schroeder & Theodore Melfi)
  4. “Lion” (Luke Davies)
  5. “Moonlight” (Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney)
  • Who should win? Arrival.
  • Who I want to win? Arrival.
    Who will win? Moonlight.
  • Which was the biggest snub? Nocturnal Animals

Best Animated Feature

  1. “The Red Turtle”
  2. “Kubo and the Two Strings”
  3. “Moana”
  4. “My Life as a Zucchini”
  5. “Zootopia”
  • Who should win? Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Who I want to win? Kubo and the Two Strings
    Who will win? Zootopia or Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Which was the biggest snub? Sing.

Best Cinematography

  1. “Lion”
  2. “Moonlight”
  3. “Silence”
  4. “La La Land”
  5. “Arrival”
  • Who should win?  Arrival or Silence.
  • Who I want to win? Arrival.
  • Who will win? La La Land.
  • Which was the biggest snub? Manchester by the Sea

Best Original Song

  1. “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” (Justin Timberlake, “Trolls”)
  2. “City of Stars” (Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”)
  3. “How Far I’ll Go” (Auli’i Cravalho, “Moana”)
  4. “Audition” (Emma Stone, “La La Land”)
  5. “The Empty Chair” (By J. Ralph & Sting, “Jim: The James Foley Story”)
  • Who should win? City of Stars
  • Who I want to win? Audition
  • Who will win? City of Stars
  • Which was the biggest snub? Never Give Up, Sia “Lion”

Best Foreign Language Film

  1. “Land of Mine” (Denmark)
  2. “Tanna” (Netherlands)
  3. “A Man Called Ove” (Sweden)
  4. “The Salesman” (Iran)
  5. “Toni Erdmann” (Germany)
  • Who should win?  Toni Erdmann
  • Who I want to win? The Salesman
    Who will win? Toni Erdmann
  • Which was the biggest snub? The Handmaiden

Me, Popcorn and The Oscars: The Oscars 2017 Final Nomination Predictions

I promised a nomination prediction a couple of days before the Oscars announced their nominations, and here it is. I have found that most people don’t really know or care about nominations like “Best Sound Mixing” and “Best Production Design”, and because I don’t know much about that either, I have limited my predictions to the bigger awards. I hope nobody minds this. If you do, there are a lot of other predictions you could read.

820147_ab38338a8c635c631080a4a2a55842db

Best Picture (First set of five)

  • La La Land
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Moonlight
  • Arrival
  • Hacksaw Ridge

nocturnal-animals-poster

Best Picture (Second set of five; in the case that the Academy chooses—like in previous years—to nominate more than five)

  • Fences
  • Hell or High Water
  • Nocturnal Animals
  • Silence
  • 20th Century Women
  • Hidden Figures

mv5bnzqxntiyodaxmv5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzqymda3ote-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_

Best Director

  • Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”)
  • Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”)
  • Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea”)
  • Tom Ford (“Nocturnal Animals”)
  • Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”)

maxresdefault

Best Actor

  • Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”)
  • Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”)
  • Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”)
  • Denzel Washington (“Fences”)
  • Colin Farrel (“The Lobster)

arrival_amy_adams_screenshot_h_2016

Best Actress

  • Amy Adams (“Arrival”)
  • Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”)
  • Natalie Portman (“Jackie”)
  • Emma Stone (“La La Land”)
  • Annette Bening (“20th Century Women”)

6ab71d47a402693339a3734125b04b6d

Best Supporting Actor

  • Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”)
  • Jeff Bridges (“Hell or High Water”)
  • Hugh Grant (“Florence Foster Jenkins”)
  • Michael Shannon (“Nocturnal Animals”)
  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Nocturnal Animals”)

viola

Best Supporting Actress

  • Viola Davis (“Fences”)
  • Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”)
  • Nicole Kidman (“Lion”)
  • Felicity Jones (“A Monster Calls”)
  • Michelle Williams (“Manchester By the Sea”)

womenposter

Best Original Screenplay

  • “20th Century Women” (Mike Mills)
  • “The Lobster” (Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos)
  • “La La Land” (Damien Chazelle)
  • “Manchester by the Sea” (Kenneth Lonergan)
  • “Jackie” (Noah Oppenheim)

arrival-poster-russia

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • “Arrival” (Eric Heisserer)
  • “Fences” (August Wilson)
  • “Loving” (Jeff Nichols)
  • “Nocturnal Animals” (Tom Ford)
  • “Moonlight” (Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney)

kubo-main_0

Best Animated Feature

  • “Finding Dory” (Pixar/Disney)
  • “Kubo and the Two Strings” (Focus Features)
  • “Moana” (Disney)
  • “My Life as a Zucchini” (Gkids)
  • “Zootopia” (Disney)

justin_timberlake_-_cant_stop_the_feeling

Best Original Song

  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” (Justin Timberlake, “Trolls”)
  • “City of Stars” (Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”)
  • “How Far I’ll Go” (Auli’i Cravalho, “Moana”)
  • “Faith” (Stevie Wonder, “Sing”)
  • “Never Give Up” (Sia, “Lion”)

maxresdefault-1

Best Foreign Language Film

  • The Handmaiden (South Korea)
  • “It’s Only the End of the World” (Canada)
  • “A Man Called Ove” (Sweden)
  • “The Salesman” (Iran)
  • “Toni Erdmann” (Germany)

Me, Popcorn and The Oscars: Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” Is Everything You Look For In A Comeback

Hacksaw Ridge is not your typical action film. It is red, it is real, it is revoltingly hypnotizing. This will not be, I hope, a film that will be either ignored or soon forgotten.

*Obvious Spoilers Ahead*

And I will say an extra warning. Honestly, if you are not older than 18, or if you don’t usually like violent movies, DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE! It is tough, violent and gut-wrenching.

hacksaw-ridge-790x445

    The good things (what I liked)

  • Wow, well this was a surprise. I generally don’t like Mel Gibson, and with a cast of actors who are generally far from great (protagonist Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving and Sam Worthington stand out in my mind), I didn’t expect much from this biopic. But I can honestly say that, from what I’ve seen, this is this year’s best picture, with “Arrival” as a close second (of the frontrunners, I’ve seen “Moonlight”, “Arrival”, and “Manchester by the Sea”, but I have still to see the year’s most talked about film “La La Land”, or other strong contenders such as “Fences”, “Loving” or “Hell or High Water”).
  • Andrew Garfield gives one of his best performances yet, and one of the best performances of the year. He portrays Desmond Doss, a war hero who refused to even touch a gun. This is a story based on true events, which only makes his story more impressive. Even if you’re not religious, it’s hard not to feel empathy for this guy, and Garfield goes above and beyond with this part. It’s hard to know if he’ll win because he’s going against Ryan Gosling and Casey Affleck, both of them in movies that are getting more Oscar buzz than “Hacksaw Ridge”.

d4584c20-5506-11e6-934e-a9f43fca48f4_20160728_hacksawridge_trailer1

  • There are so many great scenes in the movie. I think there are more great scenes than okay scenes, which is a good thing, especially in this year, where movies haven’t necessarily been great. “Moonlight” and “Nocturnal Animals” needed more screen time, and “Manchester by the Sea” needed less; however, “Hacksaw Ridge” does everything it needed to do, tells everything it needed to tell… everything falls into place, everything is cohesive, everything is controlled.
  • Both Teresa Palmer and Hugo Weaving give memorable supporting performances. The first portrays a devoted (and beautiful) girlfriend/wife who struggles from afar to be okay with what is happening, and the second is an abusive father, a drunk and a veteran, who somehow manages to redeem himself. They probably won’t get nominated, because both categories are crowded and have fan-favorite contenders like Mahershala Ali, Dev Patel, Naomie Harris, Viola Davis, Michelle Williams; and neither performance has the ugly-cry, screaming-at-the-top-of-your-longs  scene that the Oscar loved from supporting roles like this year’s Michelle Williams’ final scene in “Manchester by the Sea”, or Anne Hathaway’s “Les Misérables” big scene, or like Max von Sydow in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”. The Oscars like that big scene, especially from Supporting Actors, and neither of this characters have that (although, I would argue that the dinner scene when Weaving’s character asks his son to get out of his sight is quite excellent).

hacksaw-ridge-7-300x200

  • I loved that this movie doesn’t glamorize war, but actually showcases the real horrors of this savage, human tradition. And I believe that is what it does best, making the audience cringe and suffer, almost as if one were there. The first fight scene (that is probably between 20 to 30 minutes long) is one of the movie’s best. It’s hard to watch, and I understand why they asked me my ID when I bought the ticket.
  • Something is definitely up with this year’s movies. I usually prefer the independent, soulful or more emotional movies to the typical, mainstream Oscar-loved movies (I preferred “Carol” and “The Danish Girl” to both “The Revenant” or “Spotlight”; I preferred “American Hustle” and “Her” to “12 Years of Slave”; I preferred “The Master” and “Zero Dark Thirty” to “Argo”), but this year, I think I prefer this movie to “Moonlight” or “Manchester by the Sea”. Maybe it’s just me.

Sam-Worthington-in-Hacksaw-Ridge-2016.jpg

    The bad things (what I didn’t like)

  • I didn’t like the last scene. I would’ve liked Desmond to meet with his family again, and his wife. I felt both Dorothy and his father’s characters were left a bit on the air.
  • Again, as with most war movies, for example: “American Sniper”, it makes America look good. This movie doesn’t do that as much because it focuses more on Desmond and his incredible amount of integrity and bravery and faith, but it still does it once in a while. However, Desmond is someone admirable, contrary to Chris Kyle, so again, I don’t feel they did this as much as they usually do it. But it does make America look like a hero, in a way.

    Who would I (or wouldn’t I) recommend it to

Do not watch this movie if you don’t like gory and/or devastating films. This is probably one of the most violent mainstream movies I’ve ever seen, it makes “Saving Private Ryan” a chick flick.

    Best scene or dialogue (if there was any that stood out)

  • As I said, this movie is filled with great scenes. Off the top of my head, the first battle scene, the fight when they were kids and the moment when Desmond’s frenemy tells him he’s scared. However, my two favorite scenes were before Desmond was even at war.

maxresdefault

  • The first is when his brother enlists, and his father tells him how he should take care of his suit when he dies, and then asks him to go away. This scene was excellent. Not too theatric, but it didn’t simplify the horror of war either: the dialogues were exceptional and the acting was on point (especially on Weaving’s part).
  • My second favorite scene was the awkward marriage proposal, just because I enjoyed how this tells the viewer so much regarding historic context. Something like that would be ludicrous nowadays, and yet back then it did happen. The scene was real and believable. From the way it was written, the way Garfield portrayed Desmond so awkwardly and silent and joyous all at once, the way Palmer portrayed both love and hate instantly…. Everything fits.

hacksaw-ridge-tv-spot-incredible

    Who stole the show?

Andrew Garfield was exceptional. I doubt he’ll get an Oscar, being this his first Oscar worthy movie (well, this and “Silence”), and his first probable nomination. However, the category isn’t that outstanding this year so I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled off an Eddie Redmayne and won it on his first try. In addition, everyone here was great, and both Palmer and Weaving are scene stealers (especially Palmer, for she takes both Desmond’s and our attention since the first scene she’s in).

    Do I predict this movie will have any actual nominations?

Yes, I do. The Oscars loves drama-action movies with a strict American point of view (American Sniper, Argo, etc). They don’t feel like The Oscars without a war or terrorist movie among the contenders. Will it win any? I’m not sure. God, I hope it does, though.

    Overall thoughts

Hacksaw Ridge is not your typical action film. It is red, it is real, it is revoltingly hypnotizing. This will not be, I hope, a film that will be either ignored or soon forgotten.

    How many stars?

4.5/5

Me, Popcorn and The Oscars: “Manchester by the Sea” Is Realistic, Polished, Heartbreaking, and Yet, Forgettable

“Manchester by the Sea” is not the year’s best movie and it tried to take on more than it should’ve, nonetheless it has a clear, minimalist and generally realistic script that, even if far from outstanding, is strengthened by a tactful cinematography, extraordinary performances, and an unforgettable score.

*Spoilers ahead*

2016-11-12-1478968630-1457362-manchester2674x491

    The good things (what I liked)

  • I liked the coldness and clarity of the movie. If you haven’t watched the movie, and you watched the trailer, forget everything you saw! This is not one of those cases where the trailer is better than the movie, it’s just that it gives a wrong idea of the movie. This is not a feel good movie! This is not “Educating Helen”, this is not the movie Rachel’s sister, Amy, describes on Friends’ Thanksgiving episode, season 9 (I’m sorry, couldn’t help it). Here you don’t see the typical story of the black sheep of the family getting his dead brother’s child, and using this to be a better person or anything. I mean, it sort of is, but at the same time not in the way one would expect. This story is raw, realistic, deeply human.
  • Most people, at least before this film, only knew Ben Affleck. But, Casey Affleck’s performance was definitely the highlight of the film. The whole movie had great acting, however, Affleck stole the show.

maxresdefault.jpg

  • One shouldn’t ignore, however, the power of Michelle William’s scene (you know which I’m talking about). She was only in about 5 scenes throughout the whole movie, but that scene could very well win her an Oscar.
  • The music is incredible in this movie. Incredible! It helps so much to the overall tone of the movie, and I really enjoyed it. Sometimes, I would stop paying attention to the scene to pay attention to the music. It was great! Game of Thrones episode ten, season six great>
  • The dialogues in this movie are really good, and most characters are well created, and you can know them through the way they talk.
  • Lee is a pretty good protagonist, in the sense that even though it’s hard to like him sometimes, rarely do we judge him. I understood why he did the things he did.
  • The ending, although really unsatisfying, was very realistic.
  • The scene with Patrick and the freezer, and how that connects to his father’s body, was perfectly crafted. How Patrick had said a couple of times by then the same phrase of not wanting his dad to be in a freezer and then saying it again, but crying… it was excellent.

1122_patrick-lee.jpg

    The bad things (what I didn’t like)

  • Okay, so what is it with this year and its frontrunners (Moonlight and this one, at least)? Didn’t the writers take a class in plot development? I won’t spoil anything about Moonlight, although I already did a post on that movie, but there is just so much going on here! And it’s terrible. Couldn’t they just make a movie about either a father accidentally killing his daughters or a man getting his dead brother’s son? There is just too much going on here, and what’s more, the B story (Lee killing his daughters) seems to be more emotionally devastating than the A story (Lee getting Patrick). Also, you have a mother who abandoned her son, a mother who’s also an alcoholic, a man’s divorce and depression, a town’s irrational (and somewhat forced and unrealistic) hate towards a man, a couple of relationships, and a rusted, old boat. The movie just should’ve chosen one of the two stories. Personally, I feel as if the writers were more interested in writing the B story (Lee’s past life), and just had to write the A story as an excuse to write the other one. I know it should be the other way around, but most of the movie’s best scenes belong to that B story (Randi kicking out Lee’s friends, Lee describing what he did to the cops and then trying to kill himself, Lee running into Randi on the street), so it leads me to believe the writers were more intrigued by that story than Patrick’s.
  • You know how you can know when a character’s emotional question is not very well-developed? When the characters react in a specific way towards something, particularly strong reactions like crying or getting into fights or having destructive behaviors, is it clear why they’re doing so? In this movie, you never know the character’s emotional questions, conflicts or dilemmas. For example, take Lee when he’s crying: is crying because he got divorced, or because he lost his daughters, or because his brother died, or because he’s now in charge of Patrick?

18manbysea-blog427

  • The characters are too static. I think this may have been intentional, and in a way, I enjoyed the fact that most of the movie wasn’t overly sentimental, but after something like this hits you, you have to change, at least a bit. And these characters (Lee and Patrick) don’t change at all. Patrick still sleeps with both his girlfriends (something he did since before his dad died, so there’s no reason to believe it’s a change in his character) and Lee still gets into fights. Why don’t they change? If not by the death of a loved one, by each other? By the end, I was left asking myself a simple question: “And… so what?” This is probably the worst thing someone can ask him or herself after watching, reading or listening to art. If you don’t see the point of it, if you don’t understand why a story had to be told, then it utterly failed. I understand sometimes characters must be static because that would be the reality of someone in their situation (for example, with most Raymond Carver stories you see this, or with Fiona on Shameless, US version), but in this case, it was a bit unbelievable.
  • The whole thing with Patrick and his mother was totally unnecessary. Totally. And that dinner scene was simply horrible, unrealistic and, once again, unnecessary. I get they needed to take the mother out of the picture for Patrick to go to Lee, but still, it was an incredibly forgetful B story.
  • Also, Patrick and Lee seem too similar. Almost as if the writers couldn’t write two different type of characters, so they wrote the same one twice.
  • Finally, I don’t want to sound mean, but Patrick was such a horrible character. He was so easy to hate. This is probably a good thing because he is a teenager who only thinks of sex and sports (even during the worst of times) but I put in here because God I hated him all throughout the movie! Also, the actor didn’t pull off the Jock-Heartbreaker-D*ck act. Just saying. 

1122_manchester-hedges.jpg

    Who would I (or wouldn’t I) recommend it to

I’d recommend this movie to anyone who likes real, dramatic yet not melodramatic movies that can make you cry, to anyone who likes The Oscars and to anyone who likes family dramas.

    Best scene or dialogue (if there was any that stood out)

  • Although the movie as a whole isn’t great, it had great scenes. Probably my favorite was when Patrick opened the fridge and all the frozen meat falls, and he tries to pick it up, and it falls again, and he tries to close the door and it can’t close, and then he hits his head. Finally, he ends up crying. This was one of the best scenes of this year’s movies. If scenes could win Oscars, that scene would be one of my favorites. It was so real and devastating. Personally, I can say this has happened to me when you’re having a really bad day, and then something really small happens and you can’t get it right, and you just start crying or screaming or something. I can really relate.
  • Another favorite was the whole scene when Lee tells the cops what happened, and then he tries and kills himself. Everything was on point on this scene! The music, the acting, the character psychology, the dialogues… The way he asked if they were really letting him go as if in a way wanting to get punished, and the way he said everything so coldly and realistically… It was great.
  • Finally, that scene with Michelle Williams. Even on the trailer, you know that scene is going to be great. It might even win her an [extremely deserving] Oscar.

manchester-by-the-sea-trailer-michelle-williams-3

    Who stole the show?

Casey Affleck. No questions asked. Yes, Michele Williams gave a great performance. But her hard scene was literally one minute. The rest of her scenes (which incidentally were only like 4 other scenes) were rather easy. He was the emotional core of the movie, and he pulled it off.

    Do I predict this movie will have any actual nominations?

Yes. And even win some of them. Maybe has a shot for Best Movie, but probably will just win in the acting category (at least one of them has to win either Best Actor or Best Supporting Actress), maybe screenplay, and a couple of other ones. I don’t think this movie will be the night’s biggest winner, but I don’t expect them to go empty-handed.

michelle-williams-casey-affleck-manchester-by-the-sea-tiff-premiere-05.jpg

    Overall thoughts

“Manchester by the Sea” is not the year’s best movie and it tried to take on more than it should’ve, nonetheless it has a clear, minimalist and generally realistic script that, even if far from outstanding, is strengthened by a tactful cinematography,  exceptional performances, and a memorable score. And let me just say this: after this movie, Casey Affleck will never again be thought of as “the other Affleck”.

    How many stars?

3/5

The Tragic Non-Existance of Dolores Haze

This distinction between the two [Dolores and Lolita] must be made, or otherwise, one could get entangled in Humbert’s persuasive, baroque and sublime prose; from “Lolita” to “Lolita” one could lose sight of what’s imagination and what’s reality, what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s Lolita and what’s Dolores.

lolita-1

Humbert Humbert, Nabokov’s protagonist in his masterpiece Lolita, will rarely miss a chance to prove to the reader that he is as smart and well-read as they come. The references are vast, from Poe to Joyce to Freud… and one element that seems to plague the novel is the story of Adam and Eve. Humbert seems to be acutely aware of the fact that, yes, although Adam fell, it was all because of Eve, and so he constantly tries to push upon the reader the image of Lolita as a modernized version of Eve, and him as a modernized Adam. 

His Edenic fantasies are not even subtle, for on the morning when Lolita sits on his lap and she “gives” him an orgasm, he describes her as holding in her hand “a beautiful, banal, Eden-red apple” (57-58)—and there it is, the clear and direct reference. They stay together, he takes the apple, she takes it back, they flirt and play, and on the exact same moment when she finishes the apple, he climaxes, creating a correlation between Eve biting the apple, and him climaxing. However, the way he describes having “stolen the honey of a spasm without impairing the morals of a minor” (62), breaks the continuity with the biblical parable. Humbert believes that, although he has tasted sin, he has not been corrupted nor has corrupted Lolita. “Lolita was safe—and I was safe” (62) he proclaimed.

lolita-feature-e1428449929806

Here it is evidently seen how this character goes out of his way to prove to the reader that he is, after everything, innocent of perverting and sexualizing her. Even if he does confess of having killed Quilty, he is never able to bring himself to accept the fact that he has broken the child.

What he must do instead, to be able to cope with the guilt (or whatever feelings this evokes, for arguably, he is never able to fully repent or feel remorse), is what Eric Lemay explains on his essay Dolorous Laughter: “To transform Dolores into Lolita, to seal this sad adolescent within his musky self, Humbert must deny her her humanity” (par. 2). And how he manages to do it, how he accomplishes the task of ridding this girl of her humanity is one of the most genius and artful features of the novel, and it shows how deep and complex Nabokov’s understanding of his work and his character was.

Put simply, it can be delimited to one strategy that Humbert creates and uses constantly: the language, the vocabulary, the words. Through this strategy, he dehumanizes her and exempts himself from any moral blame.

One must only remember how he sees her, how he defines her. By this it is not meant the way her physicality is described, or the way his feelings are explained, or the way he loves her, but the names, the brands that he gives her.

The first, and the most popular name, must be the infamous nymphet, which he so gracefully defines:

Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of 
nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travellers, 
twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not 
human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I 
propose to designate as ‘nymphets’ (7).

Here we see how, in a very literal way, he says she (or any other nymphet) is “not human”. Need anyone explain that nymphets don’t actually exist? This is a clear rationalization from Humbert’s part, similar to the one he faces after having his first orgasm by the child, which seems to absolve him (in his mind, at least) of any guilt of the truth, this being that he has raped a girl. This strategy he creates allows him to denude her of a self, to butcher her integrity and being, and absorb her, create her as his own.

Similarly, he calls her Carmen, a nickname based on a song which describes the toxic relationship between a man and a woman. Many see the woman in the song as an easy woman, some go as far as to say she is a stripper or a prostitute, especially because of the third line in the song: “And the stars, and the cars, and the bars, and the barmen” (61). Either way, the character of Carmen is far from the exemplary woman, and for Humbert to define the “love of his life” in that way is surely not romantic, much less something that shows his respect for her.

And thirdly, one usually forgets this distinction, he calls her Lolita, “my Lolita”, and not Dolores. He changes her name and rebrands her as he wills. He drowns who she is, and he makes her his; he not only abuses her physically but also breaks her person completely. When he renames her, he changes her, he destroys her.

Through these three simple labels, he decomposes her. He takes her away from the world, where she is real, and he encapsulates her in his words.

And this doesn’t only stop with the names he gives her, but with his whole lavish descriptions, his baroque vocabulary, his constant literary references and French phrases. “His artistry conceals her anguish. The magnificent veils of his masterful prose, wafting sentence after sentence over the readers’ eyes” (par. 4), makes one forget of what he is writing about. He hypnotizes the reader with his lyrical sentences, his silky rhythms, his mesmerizing, water-like prose.

One forgets that Dolores and Lolita are two different creations: one by Nabokov and one by Humbert. Lolita is there to be eaten, to be deconstructed, to be dissolved. He even does it for the reader: Lolita; Lo-lee-ta; Lo. Lee. Ta. Demonically, he tears her name, preparing it for anyone who wishes to accompany him on his feast, “to forget his canine gnaw on the remnants of Dolores” (par. 5).

Humbert’s wizardry in writing creates a toy out of her, and when she is finally destroyed, then he has no emotional or moral obligation over her. This distinction between the two must be made, or otherwise, one could get entangled in Humbert’s persuasive, baroque and sublime prose; from “Lolita” to “Lolita” one could lose sight of what’s imagination and what’s reality, what’s wrong and what’s right, what’s Lolita and what’s Dolores.

4cbccf1913f7f048fe4d461428bebecf.jpg

Then, who is Dolores? How can she be known?

In one of the most honest passages from Lolita, Humbert explains: “At the hotel, we had separate rooms, but in the middle of the night she came sobbing into mine, and we made it up very gently. You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go” (142). She had absolutely nowhere else to go, one must repeat! For this heart-wrenching moment reveals something that, without it, the whole read of Lolita could change completely. One must have the realization, this above anything else, that Lolita is a lonely, lonely character.

I would dare say that this, and the ending sentence of chapter three (part two)—“…the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night—every night, every night—the moment I feigned sleep” (176)—are two of the scarce passages where we actually get a glimpse at the character. And what’s interesting is that there is such indifference in how Humbert describes the moments, almost as if Lolita’s suffering were a burden or annoyance on him, and he describes them in such a passing and aloof manner, that one can almost prove how disinterested Humbert actually is in the real human he so proclaims to love.

So lonely is this character that, even being one of the most important and famous images of the twentieth century (either seen as a temptress, as a sex symbol or as a victim), she doesn’t even exist in her own book. Humbert’s Lolita and Dolores Haze are, for all intents and purposes, two different people, and there are so few real glimpses at the true Dolores that it is almost impossible to describe her; she is as elusive as Humbert is pretentious. To get to know why she does what she does, how her mind works, what her circumstances make her feel… it would be a treat. The only thing one can see in the character in a definite manner, especially after the ending of the first part (when she is told her mother is dead, and Humbert describes her as having no one), is that she is a terribly solitary character.

Even Humber himself accepts this distinction—“She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita” (9)—however, he adheres this changes to Lolita, without realizing that it was him that gave these distinctions, not her. She is a rather constant character (with only one big change, this being after she is told her mother is dead), it is he who sees her as someone different depending on where she is or who she’s with.

445b209f456b14f446c175b22d6dd9b4

Most of the allure and attractiveness of the character is actually this exact indescribability, this multiplicity; who is Lolita? who is Dolores? What did she actually feel? what did she think? what is Humbert’s imagination? what is just an exaggeration?

In many ways, Dolores doesn’t exist. One could rarely find her without her sole defining attribute: her solitude. A solitude so profound, it transcends her ability or disability to elude the other characters in the novel, and is able to touch even the reader, and prevent him from grasping fully who she is. That is why, even if Humbert has fulfilled his dream by immortalizing Lolita, Dolores—the real Dolores—barely even existed.

Works Cited

  • Goldman, Eric. “Knowing Lolita: Sexual Deviance and Normality in Nabokov’s Lolita.” Nabokov Studies. Vol. 8. N.p.: n.p., 2004. 87-104. Print.
  • Lemay, Eric. “Dolorous Laughter.” Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
  • Nabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich. Lolita. New York: Knopf, 1992. Print.

Me, Popcorn and the Oscars: “Nocturnal Animals”, Tom Ford’s Sophmore Film is Not One to Miss This Season

Metaphorical, cyclical, hypnotizing, “Nocturnal Animals” is a deep and different tale of vengeance and obsession. It certainly isn’t perfect, and sometimes director Tom Ford misses, but he’s always clear as to where he’s shooting.

*Obvious Spoiler Alert!*

20161014175110nocturnal_animals_poster

I will do a small recount on who is who in the movie, because it may be difficult to remember everyone by name. Again, if you haven’t watched the movie, stop reading, otherwise this might get confusing.

Susan: Protagonist in the real world.

Edward: Susan’s ex-husband.

Tony: Protagonist in Edward’s novel (played by the same actor, though).

Laura: Tony’s wife.

India: Tony and Laura’s daughter.

Ray: The rapist and killer of Laura and India.

Hutton: Susan’s new husband.

    The good things (what I liked)

  • The acting. The acting is this movie is outstanding. Not only are Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal extremely good, but every other actor in the movie shines (Isla Fisher, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Shannon and even Laura Linney, who appears in only one scene).
  • The cinematographic juxtaposition of the two stories is something I enjoyed very much. Aesthetically speaking, the two stories in the movie are complete opposites. One is in West Texas, rough, rural, dirty, desertic. The other is an almost-futuristic look at New York: full of contemporary art, glamorous and pompous dresses, and shallow relationships.

NE5f4T6KPofp88_1_b.jpg

  • It is extremely interesting how Edward writes a novel that, although plotwise is not like his life, symbolically, it is (or at leats, it was). We never meet Edward in the present (only through Susan’s flashbacks), but in a way, it is evident he sees Susan as Ray (the guy who raped and killed Laura and India). Susan, in the real world, left Edward and aborted his child, thus Edward was left wifeless and childless. This mirrors with Tony’s search for vengeance in the novel. The novel isn’t and shouldn’t be a mystery of if Tony’s family was murdered or not, but a reflection on the hole he was left with, which is the same hole Edward was left with in the real world. Probably because Edward couldn’t really get his vengeance in the real world, he had to write this novel. Although, not to spoil too much, but in the end, he kind of sort of does get  vengeance.
  • I liked the fact that we don’t see Edward directly. We see him through Susan’s perspective in her flashbacks, but never alone, and never in the present story.
  • The scene between Susan and her mother in a flashback is really interesting. We’ve seen Susan in the future, where she is cold and much like her mother, and then we see the flashback, and it’s interesting to see how she, at one point, hated being that.
  • The ending sequence. The movie is worth watching only because of Amy Adam’s last scene. Some of you might not understand why I say this, maybe you don’t think the same as I, but let me explain. Yes, it may be hard to cry, to scream, to smile, to blush, to seem crazy, to appear naked on screen, to make dialogues believable, and here she does nothing like that; in this last shot, probably only five seconds long, Susan doesn’t say a word, and doesn’t make any exaggerated or overly dramatic facial expression, however, Adams portrays total devastation and inner destruction. Edward destroys Susan by not showing up, and she sees finally how her life will never change, and how she chose this, and how she’ll never be happy. When casting Adams, director Tom Ford told her he wanted to know how her character feels, and this is why she said she accepted the role. And this is true throughout the movie. Most of the character’s turmoils are interior and rarely spoken to someone, so Adams had to do a lot of silent scenes where she is just reading and thinking. But in no scene does this show better than in this one (the picture below is not of that scene, though. I couldn’t find the right one).

nocturnalanimals

  • This movie is by Tom Ford, and guessing by the two films he’s done (A Single Man and this one, both spectacular), you’ll want to keep on eye on this one.
  • The beginning of the movie. The first five minutes or so are long shots of fat, old women dancing naked. Ultimately, it is explained that this is part of an Art Exhibition in Susan’s gallery, but this sequence gave me a lot to think about. The movie is deeply metaphorical, so I think of this sequence as a symbol for the movie, how we sometimes try to ignore, push down and set aside those things we don’t want to confront, both in society and in our personal lives.
  • Finally, the clothes are gorgeous, the makeup is impeccable, and Jeff Koons!!!!

9bd80a91-0f5f-4e74-a3e1-59cc380f3141.jpg

    The bad things (what I didn’t like)

  • Sometimes the characters are described too straightforwardly, and with only two or three characteristics (e.g. dreamer, weak, pragmatic, etc).
  • The ending of the novel is quite unsatisfying for my taste. Tony dying is a moralistic ending, in the sense that I feel it more as a way of saying “vengeance is never good” or “vengeance doesn’t bring happy endings”. Also, it is somewhat unbelievable the way he died, falling over his own gun.
  • Okay, so in a way, Ray’s character is somewhat overly dramatic, the acting is over-the-top, and he’s extremely two-dimensional. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Normally this is bad, but here I’m not so sure. I put it in the bad things because I’m not sure how I feel about it yet, and the good side had too many things. This is why it may be okay for Ray to be an exaggeratedly disgusting and evil character: probably, that’s how Edward sees Susan. He feels disgusted by her, and he has no compassion towards her, and being that Ray is partially a symbol for Susan, then maybe Edward didn’t want to humanize him and make him likable.d29da31c2293b3d5a550baa0af439d31
  • Some story lines were flat, for example, why did Ford need to introduce Susan’s daughter if she literally had no impact on the plot, and never came up back again after her thirty-seconds scene.
  • The film needed at least, twenty to forty more minutes, or some time distribution. At times, especially at the start of the movie and with the flashbacks, the pacing was too quick. The movie needed to take its time. The novel took too much time of the movie, and I think at times Ford forgot the main story was Susan’s and not Tony’s. There were three story lines (Susan’s in the present, Susan’s in the past and Tony’s), and this was too much. The flashbacks had a lot of time jumps that made that plot line move too quickly (for example, one day she met him, the next flashback she’s married, and then the next she’s already unhappy).
  • The whole relationship between Susan’s gay brother and his wife (yes, you read that right) was interesting, but because it was never developed or talked again after they’re introduced, it seemed flat and unnecessary. It seemed more an excuse to introduce some of Susan and Hutton’s problems than an actual insight into another relationship.

    Who would I (or wouldn’t I) recommend it to

I would recommend this movie to anyone who likes interesting, complex movies, centered more on characters than plot, and movies that you want to see again, just to see if you catch something else. Also, people who like to read, or watch movies with adapted screenplays.

    Best scene or dialogue (if there was any that stood out)

1478657048_focusfeatures_nocturnalanimals_tomford_amyadams_jakegyllenhaal_aarontaylorjohnson_michaelshannon_linney_bio-796x415

  • As I said before, that final shot at Amy Adam’s face was enough to watch the whole thing, but besides that, probably the best scene is Susan’s conversation with her mother.
  • Also, the first scene of the novel, when Laura and India are kidnapped was excruciatingly painful to watch (in a good way, for a scene so dark that’s easy to watch, is not a good scene).

    Who stole the show?

Most people think Shannon stole the show, but personally, he wasn’t the best. For a white male critic, it is obvious why Tony’s story might be more interesting, and Shannon (or even Taylor-Johnson) might be a favorite, but for me, Amy Adams stole the show. She probably won’t get nominated for this, because she has also “Arrival”, and because she is in the weird place in between Lead and Supporting actress. She is the main character, but because the novel takes out so much time of the movie, she wasn’t always on screen.

    Do I predict this movie will have any actual nominations?

Some, but not many. Maybe some for a supporting role (Taylor-Johnson got nominated for a Golden Globe, but Shannon was more talked about, so who knows). Also, probably the adapted screenplay may get a nomination, director and costumes design would also not surprise me. But I don’t think it will win any of the big 5 (Movie, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay).

6ab71d47a402693339a3734125b04b6d

    Overall thoughts

Metaphorical, cyclical, hypnotizing, “Nocturnal Animals” is a deep and different tale of vengeance and obsession. It certainly isn’t perfect, and sometimes director Tom Ford misses, but he’s always clear as to where he’s shooting.

    How many stars?

4/5

Me, Popcorn and the Oscars: Moonlight, the Low-budgeted Big Promise that Failed to Surprise.

There is promise here, but overall, not so much art as plain sentimentality.

*Obvious Spoiler Alert!*

moonlight_ver2

The good things (what I liked)

  • Personally, what I found most original of the movie was the use of names and nicknames. They are a symbol carried throughout the movie that represent the struggle in the characters of deciding who they are, and it’s a deeply human struggle. Who are we? Who do they think we are? Are we letting them define us?
  • I enjoyed the division of the movie in (literally) three acts, or three parts.
  • The homosexual tone in the movie was also something I didn’t expect (I hadn’t watched the trailer), and I thought it was original for a sort of ghetto black character to also be gay.
  • The first two acts were interesting, and Chiron was a compelling and promising main character.
  • The directing is decent, although nothing too great. What’s impressive is the budget of the movie (only $5 million dollars).

maxresdefault

The bad things (what I didn’t like)

  • Now, I don’t want to be mean, but I expected more from the movie. The first bad thing in the movie would be the palpable inexperience of director/writer Barry Jenkins, especially as a writer (for his directing was actually good). This is in no way his fault, for he will probably get better with time, but his writing does need work.
  • The script is bad, not terrible, just bad. It had a lot of problems.
  • First, dialogues. I think there was a dialogue that actually went something like this: “you know the ocean, now I’m going to show you fire.” And the movie is plagued with bad, pseudo-profound lines and conversations. Rarely did a dialogue shock me here. It reminded me a lot of the movie “The Neon Demon”, where dialogues are simply horrendous.
  • Second, still regarding dialogues, but more in terms of how characters spoke, rather than what they spoke, I found the ghetto dialect to be cliché and forced. I felt as if the writer thought just by writing “ain’t” instead of “isn’t” and “is” instead of “are” he was going to sound realistic, but it sounded plain and stiff.
  • Third, the plot was too over the place. There was little continuity between plot line and plot line to feel like an actual Aristotelian plot style (explained in the image below), to mean, there were so many small stories, there wasn’t really just one climax or one introduction, however it was too overly dramatic to be Slice of Life, and too large in plot-time and short in screen time to feel like an actual coming-of-age tale (every time there was a time jump, I felt there were lots of things missing in-between).

aristotleplotline

  • Another bad thing was that the portrayal of the ghetto is melodramatic, two-dimensional and stereotypical. All you can expect from a story like this was here. An absentee parent? Check. A drug addict, alcoholic and/or neglectful parent? Check. A run-in with the law? Check. A drug dealer? Check. An injustice? Check. The male-ghetto version of the girl-taking-off-her-glasses-and-having-a-make-over-and-suddenly-being-pretty scene? Check. That is why I found the gay thing so original and refreshing. Because you don’t normally see that type of storyline in these movies.
  • The movie tried to cover so many things, I think it lost itself halfway there. We have the main character, and then we see all his problems: being gay, his neglectful mother, him being bullied, his absentee father, his lack of protection either with the law, at school and at home, his relationship with the drug dealer and his wife, etc. During the first act, the centre is in Juan, this new “father figure”; in the second act, the centre is in the mother’s addiction, the bullying and the secret, gay love affair; and by the third act, there are so many plot lines opened, there is no actual emotional centre (is it so we can see how his relationship with Juan affected him? Or how his mother affected him? Or how the bullies affected him? Or how Kevin affected him?). There are so many things in this movie, and so many emotional questions in the character, it feels too broad and overwhelming for just two hours.
  • Probably because of that, the third act was simply horrible. In a cliché and yet unbelievable turn of events (how can a cliché not work? I’m not really sure yet), Chiron is now a drug dealer with the typical (and expected) hard exterior, wanting to make you believe he’s not the shy, emotional kid anymore. But then, rather quickly we find that this is not true (not that we really believed this cliché act anyway). If Jenkins wanted to make him cold for a while, he should’ve at least made it last more than five minutes. This new “hard armor” is quickly destroyed by a simple call by Kevin (an exquisite scene, with surprisingly good dialogues, may I add),  and further destroyed then by a climatic visit to his mother, and finally the long-awaited unsurprising, forced, long and overly-emotional set of scenes with his long-lost love from High School (who’s now married and has kid), Kevin.

20151025_moonlight_d10_c1_k1_0599-960x0-c-default

  • This leads me to the unbelievability of this relationship. Kevin, this boy, was introduced too quickly by the end of the first act, and then is reintroduced in an awkward scene at the start of the second act (almost just so that we know he’s still there), then they meet randomly on a beach, smoke, kiss and well, I’ll leave some stuff to the imagination, and then he beats the hell out of Chiron (so the bullies don’t know he’s actually in love with him). Then comes the third act, many years later. From the quickness and superficiality of their relationship in the second act, I couldn’t believe they would actually still be in love with each other. It’s unrealistic. People move on. I sort of believed Chiron might still be affected by this other man, because of his shy and introverted nature (which apparently he hadn’t overcome it as he’d thought). But the fact that both of them are still in love, is just too sentimentalist from the writer’s part.
  • Finally, Chiron’s relationship with Juan and Teresa, although promising, ended up being flat, and totally forgotten (thus useless) by the end of the film.

Who would I (or wouldn’t I) recommend it to

  • Even though this movie didn’t mesmerize me, and even though I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to, I would still recommend it to some people, after warning them I didn’t find it as good as everyone else apparently did.
  • I would recommend it to activists (or anyone with  activist ideals), people who like low-budget movies that surpassed expectations, people who like good movies, people who like the representation of minorities in movies, and people who like the games with colors and lights in movies (cinematographically speaking).
  • I would not recommend this to people who like movies more for writing than for direction, people who don’t like movies about controversial topics, and people who prefer simple movies like chick flicks and superhero movies.

Best scene or dialogue (if there was any that stood out)

The last scene with Chiron and his mother was honest, simple and heartbreaking. Probably the best and most effective scene in the movie. I could imagine a real mother telling this to a son.

mother

Also, the scene at the beginning when Chiron is not speaking was good.

Who stole the show?

Naomie Harris, and not because she was great the whole time, but for that last scene. That scene could get her the Oscar much like Patricia Arquette’s last scene in Boyhood gave her an Oscar (although Arquette’s performance throughout the film was more stable and better than Harris’). Too bad she is going against powerhouses who’ve had an Oscar coming for longer like Viola Davis, Michelle Williams, Felicity Jones, and even Greta Gerwig.

giphy.gif

Do I predict this movie will have any actual nominations?

Yes, and what’s more, I believe it has a chance of winning some. Not so much because I believe it deserves them, but because of last year’s Oscars-so-white controversy. This movie is perfect to balance this out, with an all-black cast. However, there is also Fences to cover the spot that could’ve been covered by “Straight Outta Compton” or “Tangerine” last year.

Overall thoughts

The concept and idea of the movie was deeper than the actual execution. There is promise here, but overall, not so much art as plain sentimentality.

Stars

2.5/5

Me, Popcorn and the Oscars: Watching Movies and Making Reviews

87th

So, it’s that time of year people! Golden Globe nominations come out tomorrow (December 12th) and we’re just one month and some more days for the actual Oscar nominations to become public (January 24th). And I got to accept, I love this season: I love the movies, the anticipation, the drama….

And this year is an especially interesting year because the Oscars could actually go in a direction they normally don’t gravitate towards: actually artistic, indie films. Of course, there are still the politically correct frontrunners like “Sully”, “Moonlight”, “Silence” or “Fences” (this is not to say that these movies aren’t good, they just are more typical-Oscar material), but there is some talk about more deep, experimental or lower-budget movies being nominated, like the popular surrealist musical “La La Land”, the meta-thriller “Nocturnal Animals”, the philosophical sci-fi “Arrival”, the feminist dramedy “20th Century Women”, or the Cannes-nominated, and critically acclaimed “Loving”, “The Handmaiden”, “Elle” and “The Lobster”.

Last year a similar buzz followed movies like “Carol”, “Ex Machina” and “The Danish Girl”, but neither of these were finally nominated. I mention this just to let readers know that, even if there is buzz, this doesn’t mean these movies will actually be nominated.

Anyway, the point of this post is to let you know I’ll be doing a personal experiment. I will watch as many of these movies (and other Oscar-worthy movies), and for each I’ll write a [hopefully] small review following the next format:

    The good things (what I liked)
    The bad things (what I didn’t like)
    Who would I (or wouldn’t I) recommend it to
    Best scene or dialogue (if there was any that stood out)
    Who stole the show? 
    Do I predict this movie will have any actual nominations?
    Overall thoughts
    How many stars?

Also, I will do a prediction before the nominations as to who will get nominated (this I will try to do a day or two before the announcement), and a final prediction on who will win and who should win (this, I will try to do a day or two before the ceremony). I hope you all like this and follow me through this experiment, and if you want me to change something, or want to let me know about something, please comment.

Have a great night!

—S

What Lies Behind the Theme of Sexuality In Kafka’s The Trial?

The Androgynous Mind and Sexuality

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf writes that art should only come from an androgynous mind; she asks that those who want to create art should be either “man-womanly” or “woman-manly”, for otherwise, their creativity would be blinded, porous. “It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties. Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine…” (Woolf, V. 1945, p. 81).

In relation to Kafka, many Feminists have regarded his work, especially The Trial, as a deeply misogynistic novel, meaning that Kafka’s gender affected or jeopardized his ability to write. In consequence, according to this reading, Kafka couldn’t achieve what Woolf believed a true genius should possess. However, in this essay, I will argue how there is an aesthetic and thematic justification on Kafka’s portrayal of sexuality and gender in his novel, for it all goes back to the same thing: power.

If there is a central theme in The Trial it is surely this. However, the analysis of power in the novel has usually been restrained to the way Kafka portrays the government’s corruption, the law’s dehumanization and the faulty bureaucratic system of the twentieth century. Yet, I would argue that there is a second and parallel thematic line to this previous one, also in relation to power: sexuality.

Kafka’s portrait of the eros is as unique as it is bizarre, and strangely enough, he does it in a way that it becomes intrinsic to the theme of power and oppression. Sure, observed separately, as Feminists often do, it would easy to see K.’s dominant sexual behavior as a misogynistic trait. However, the way Kafka draws sexuality isn’t for sexuality’s own sake, but for the sake of these games of power that exist in the novel. Everything is always compared in relation to something else: arrestor and arrested, kisser and kissed, whipper and whipped, dominant and dominated, killer and killed. Kafka suggests how balance and equilibrium between human relations, whether this is between human to human or human to state, cannot be obtained.

Neither A Hero Nor An Antihero

In essence, The Trial seems to be profoundly Homeric, and Josef K. is nothing more than a modern-day Ulysses. Similarly to The Odyssey, The Trial has a loose plot; it is a novel more sustained by episodes than by a cohesive, straight line. K. is equally trapped by his destiny, even if there are no Gods here to exert it on him (although one could argue that the image of the Gods is replaced by the government). And in every part of The Trial, K. encounters a new character (usually one that doesn’t reappear) who is supposed to help him in his search for answers and absolution.

In a similar way than with the Odyssey, there is a large number of female characters who can “help or hinder the hero, [but never] be an active participant on the quest” (Beck, E. 1983 p. 3). We have Fraülein Burstner, Frau Grubach, Leni, the usher’s wife and Elsa. And strictly speaking, none of these turn out to be really important to the plot of the novel, none affect K.’s destiny, none really aid him, or harm him; and yet without them, the novel would’ve been completely different. These female characters make the difference between The Trial being simply a political statement, and being one of the most profound and complex reflections on what it is to be human.

In the five relationships Josef K. upholds with women in the novel, there is always a clear dominant character, four of the five times this character is K. himself (the only exception is with Fraülein Burstner). Three of the five women mentioned above, want him in a sexual way: Elsa, his lover, who he doesn’t even give time of the novel to; the Usher’s wife, to whom he is indifferent towards; and Leni, who he judged for her openly sexual in her behavior. Then comes Frau Grubach, his landlady, who although never explicitly speaks of any sexual desire for K., has him in the highest esteem possible. She seems distressed when he doesn’t talk to her, and seems to really care what he thinks of her as a person. This may be because she is attracted to him, or because she owes him money—“She is also dependant on me, I may say, for she has borrowed a fair sum of money from me.” (Kafka, F. 1995, p. 28)—but either way, he knows he is more powerful than her and doesn’t mind proving it with his arrogance and disdain.

Finally, comes Fraülein Burstner, the only female character K. seems to respect and desire; ironically, she is the only one who seems not to want him, or even respect him that much. She doesn’t grant him the “interview” he wanted from her, and doesn’t tell him in person she doesn’t want him; asking her friend, Fraülein Montag, to do so for her.

  How Josef K. uses these women is why many attribute a sexist mind to the novel—being a contemporary Hamlet or Heathcliff—for as Taylor Klingensmith writes in his essay The Nature of Man and Joseph K.: “the reader sees the nature of Joseph K. to be almost evil in his attempt to accomplish his goals with the constant use of means that undermine the women he is involved with.” (Klingensmith, T., 2016). However, more importantly than the moral integrity of K., is the strong subtext of bondage and domination in his relations with women, a theme which is hidden but perceptible. K.’s connections to women are usually charged with erotic desire, either platonic (as with Frau Grubach, where nothing happens) or concrete (as with his lover, Elsa), and he is constantly using this desire to his advantage. That is why, although many see K. as a victim in the novel (because of his arrest), the way he treats women proves what only a few can see (as for example, Orson Wells, with his magnificent interpretation in his movie of The Trial): K. is no more a victim as he is a collaborator of these games of power.

Sure, one can argue that Kafka’s portrayal of women can call upon major archetypes from nineteenth-century literature—the madonna and the whore—which can be a bit misogynistic for the Feminist reader. The way K. treats women appears to be to be related to her moral status. But the new factor with Kafka, and the reason why I argue that he is not necessarily a sexist writer (or even if he is, he at least has an aesthetic purpose for it), is that for K. the important factor is not sexuality itself, as one could see it, but the power relation developed by that ‘sexual tension’, to give it a name. In every relationship described in The Trial, whether between men and women, men and men or men and state, there always seems to be a disequilibrium, there is always one side who has the power, one side who is dominant, one side who is in control. And the other is simply there, quiet, submissive, powerless.

One mustn’t forget that in the novel there are two strong sources of oppression and dominance, not only one: the law and sexuality. A Marxist or a Neoliberal might only focus on how the government exerts power on K,; a Feminist might only focus on how K. exerts power on women. And yet, they would both have an immense blind spot, created by their own ideals, that would prevent them from seeing the most important thing in the novel: the correlation between the two. If one reads The Trial as a parable for the law’s oppression over the individual, then sure, one sees K. as the victim; and if one reads The Trial as a man who got arrested for abusing women and continues to abuse women because he can’t even see that what he’s doing is wrong, then one sees these women as victims. And the problem is, there are no victims here. The tragic beauty of K. is that he is both an oppressor and an oppressed, making him neither the villain nor the victim, but an accomplice. He has created this world, he has created his downfall, he has created his destiny.

The Power of Homoeroticism

Probably, this is why many read a homoerotic undertone in the novel—a very possible theory, yet the reality of which is truly irrelevant—because, even in the relations described between men, there is a huge amount of power-play involved. For example, one can recall Block and his relation with Huld, and read it as a sexual and somewhat sadistic liaison; one can recall the scene with the whipper, who is clothed with a “sort of leather garment which left his throat ad good deal of his chest and the whole of his arms bare” (Kafka, F. 1995, p. 84), and see it as a sadomasochist scene, because of the whipper’s costume; one can recall chapter seven, where there is an overly homosexual passage involving Titorelli, and read it as an even further sexual perversion of K.’s character. What’s even more, as Richard Gray writes in his encyclopedia dedicated to Kafka: “In a passage Kafka deleted from The Trial, Josef K fantasies about offering ingratiating homoerotic advances to the painter Titorelli…” (Gray, R., 2005, p.130), which in a way, could confirm the bisexuality of the character. And yet to do so, to limit one’s reading to the interpretation and analysis of K.’s sexual orientation would be as wrongful as it would be to solely discuss The Trial in terms of K.’s relations with the state or with women; it would be to shelter one’s mind, to sabotage our reading by one’s biases and ideologies. 

What’s important is how Kafka still delivers and portrays unbalanced relationships between male characters (otherwise, the Feminist reading of misogyny could be a viable one), the power struggle is still there: Huld owns, in a way, Block, and Block lets him; the whipper is submissive to the Court, and that is why he has to whip the warders, both of whom are submissive to the whipper; K. is willing to do anything to Titorelli for information and aid. There is always someone in power, in each relation, and one who’s weak. That is a constant, it remains, and what’s more, there is never a power shift. Fraülein Burstner never wants K., Huld treats his clients badly all throughout, Leni always likes criminals, the guard never lets the farmer get in, and the Court does end up killing K.. Nothing changes; and even after the protagonist’s death, there is no hint that anything will.

Kafka’s view on humanity, then, is not really misogynistic, for the dominance and submissiveness is not in relation to gender or sexuality. He just portrays, through The Trial, a humanity where power (either to have it, or to be controlled by it) is intrinsic to life.

References

Beck, E. (1983, June/July). Kafka’s Traffic in Women: Gender, Power, and Sexuality. The Literary Review, (26.4).

Bennet, E. (1998, June/July). Kafka and Girls: The Case of Leni. The Midwest Quarterly, (39.4), 390-408. Retrieved October 26, 2016, from http://search.proquest.com/openview/ecb16e9dce6ee9ce2fe312c1af572cd1/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=41210

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1986) Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature. University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota & London.

Gray, R. T. (2005). A Franz Kafka Encyclopedia. Connecticut & London: Greenwood Press.

Kafka, F. (1995). The Trial. Schocken, New York.

Klingensmith, T. (2016, October 26). The Nature of Man and Joseph K. Retrieved October 26, 2016, from http://www.kafka.org/index.php?aid=199

Lorenz, D. C. (n.d.). Kafka and Gender. In J. Preece (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion To Kafka (pp. 169-180).

Woolf, V. (2011) A Room of One’s Own. Penguin Books, London.

Mina and Lucy: Two of Dracula’s Most Revolutionary Characters

a976de4616070de58470e368d0431ca1

The two main female characters in Dracula, the famous novel by Bram Stoker, are Mina and Lucy. Both of which are extremely important to the text. Not only are they great character, from a psychological standpoint, but they add and give many things to the novel, becoming intrinsic to it for the way the plot runs around them, for the changes in point of view and for the portrayal of femininity and friendship.

First off, plot-wise Mina and Lucy’s journals and letters begin a new route the author took in terms of the story. Before this, the novel had centred on Jonathan Harker’s visit to Count Dracula’s castle, and his paranoia; however, with this the story, Stoker stops Harker’s plot and opens one where Mina starts to narrate eerie and peculiar events: Lucy’s sleepwalking, the ghost boat, Harker’s possible disappearance, among other things. Also, if the author had decided only to let Harker tell the story, not only would he have had a huge gap in time (because this character is unable to write for a very long time), but could have had the whole story questioned, for the unreliability of Harker’s point of view.

Continuing that thought, regarding point-of-view, the letters and journals of these two friends give the reader a different voice and a different way of thinking than the way Jonathan Harker did. These change in voices and tones are one of the things that appoint this novel as a direct precursor of modernism. It is not the really the epistolary nature of the novel, for Samuel Richardson, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Jane Austen and many others were doing this, many decades before Stoker, but that for one of the first times ever an author was playing with reliability and credibility from the characters. This is not saying that this is the first time that it was done (Emily Brontë did this with Wuthering Heights fifty years before, for example), or that it is the best example of this tool (several texts come to mind, from Woolf to Nabokov to García Marquez to Roth to Oates and even to Brontë herself), but it is one of the first times in literature where we can notice an author deliberately creating unreliable narrations.

lucymina

In this case—although Lucy is more lively and immature than Mina, they both serve a more or less similar purpose to the general voice of the novel: they break off Harker’s irrational and shaky narrative (it is my belief that if the first four chapters of the novel were seen as a short story, nothing could be said for certain out of the true nature of Count Dracula, or the supernatural in general, for Harker’s writing is just plainly psychotic). The ending of that fourth chapter—being Harker’s last in a long while (that is, the last chapter that features a fragment of his journals or letters)—is very climatic; so the fact that Mina’s voice enters after that moment not only gives the reader a pause in the heavy plot but gives also a more reliable, calmer and objective view of things than our previous narrator.

Finally, Mina and Lucy’s voice gives the book a feminine and joyous touch. One very important thing to remember is that friendship between women was very rare in literature, by the time Dracula was published. Much like Woolf says in her essay A Room of One’s Own: “Cleopatra did not like Octavia. And how completely Antony and Cleopatra would have been altered had she done so! […] How interesting it would have been if the relationship between the two women had been more complicated. All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. So much has been left out, unattempted. And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends.” (Woolf, V. 1928) Sure, Desdemona had Emilia, and Catherine (daughter) had Nelly, Elizabeth had Jane, but even in these cases, the friendship was sustained by either motherly feelings, family bonds, status, or other reasons. So for these two women—two equal women—to get along, for them to be friends and love each other so much, possibly even in a homoerotic way, gives the read an aesthetic and psychological pleasure. This novel pushes the boundaries of women in literature, even if in a subtle way, and it shouldn’t be unacknowledged.

These are a few of the reasons why Stoker’s female characters are groundbreaking characters: intelligent, independent, full of life. And although modernism wasn’t fully formed until the twentieth century, this gothic novel deserves a place among those who strongly influenced the future of literature.

tumblr_n1osgph7yb1t5no8yo1_500.jpg

References:
Woolf, V. (1945) A Room of One’s Own. Penguin Books, London.