Tag Archives: movies

Raskolnikov and Brandon

I finished Crime and Punishment recently. I ploughed through the Project Gutenberg electronic version of the novel (available here http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2554) on my Blackberry during lunch hours and finished it in a concerted but enjoyable Sunday afternoon reading session; the characterisation really is so strong that I felt compelled, like with all the best fiction, to reach the end and see how the plot and themes were going to resolve.

Aside from the author’s undoubted, legendary, skill, there was another reason I found myself captivated by the story of Raskolnikov: I couldn’t help feeling like I have been a little bit like him. I have never brought an axe down through a cowering old woman’s head then hacked her simple-minded, uncomprehending witness of a sister to death for good measure but I can relate, still, to the methodical planning of an act I know to be wrong; to the lofty minded rationalisation of wrongdoing, before and after the deed and to the pridefulness which cleaved Raskonlikov from his faith, family and friends.

I’m sure I’m not unique in identifying this way with Raskonlikov (er, I’m not am I?). Strong fiction relies, quite often, on characters being relatable so it’s a fair bet that this is part of the reason why Crime and Punishment is regarded as a classic of world literature.

Raskolnikov’s double axe-murder was a powerful way for Doestoyevsky to illustrate, through a well portrayed and relatable character, the struggle between good and evil in the human heart. It was not a commentary on any kind of widespread propensity amongst Russians for chopping each other into bits. I’m sure it happened but not every day on every street. Sometimes though the struggle of the main character in a book or movie relates clearly and directly to a struggle in the society in which the book or movie is crafted; the struggle of Brandon, played by Michael Fassbender, in Shame, a sexually explicit but far from ‘sexy’ or pornographic movie, casts light on the struggle of the 21st century Western world to cope with sexual desire loosed from sexual morality.

Brandon is a well looked after guy in his late thirties, has his own apartment and a respectable job and can hold a female stranger’s gaze without hyperventilating and telling her how wonderful she is or offering to supply her and all her friends with free drinks. This all means that Brandon can indulge, with impunity, in casual sex with willing city-slicker sluts. He takes the opportunity regularly. He also masturbates in his office bathroom as a response to workplace stress (somebody buy him a squeezy desk toy), frequents prostitutes and spends hours at home watching porn and paying for webcam whores.

By the end of Shame we get to see him brought to his knees by his knowledge of the despair and emptiness which are the only fruits of his behaviour. We are also, depressingly, left uncertain of whether he has what it takes to turn over a new leaf in response to hitting rock bottom. The real power of the movie comes from what it says  about 21st century appetites. At a time when a significant number of modern men are apparently addicted to pornography by ten years old and trendy women everywhere worry about the carbon footprint of their toasters yet cheerfully screw with the delicate hormonal system of their own bodies in the name of shagging about (‘having fun’ they call it, thinking it makes them cute), Shame is like a cold shower on a Monday morning: brutal, horrible but somehow necessary.

Unlike the superficially similar nonsense of American Psycho, Shame confronts you with the uncomfortable truth about men and women quite probably in your social circle, on your street, maybe even sitting at your computer. It does not make them look good.

Verdict on Crime and Punishment: Well aged Russian genius.

Verdict on Shame: Outstanding, sobering and grave. Maturity required.

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Thoughts on ‘The Grey’

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Sit!...Lie down!

Yesterday we saw The Grey at the cinema. Before the film, I had high expectations; Liam Neeson, given his recent blockbusting successes with Taken and Unknown, surely has his pick of projects to choose from so his mere presence in the lead role, I thought, bode well for the quality of the movie. In addition, his two most recent films have shown how his imposing yet restrained and thoughtful screen presence can be harnessed to create modern action heroes, of the type who fight almost exclusively in short Krav Maga style bursts of fury and can drive a flat tired Mini Cooper through the eye of a needle, with considerable more depth, warmth and gravitas than anyone else playing those types of roles today.

The Grey, however, whilst certainly giving Neeson space to flex his action man chops, is a decidedly different type of action movie from Taken and Unknown. On reflection, the film actually succeeds at defying both the expectations of the action-movie formula suggested by the ‘Neeson versus the wolves’ advertising campaign, and the survivor movie formula suggested by the plane crashing in the wilderness element of the plot. If Taken is a wolf and Alive is a German Shepherd then The Grey is a surprisingly beautiful Husky: a more than capable cross breed of a film. The film is also beautifully shot, conveying both the awe-inspiring splendour of the Alaskan wilderness (although the film was shot mainly in Canada, I believe) and the sheer pitiless terror to be found in the same vistas.

Satisfying moments of action and peril then, are certainly present; the plot, the actors, the setting and, with a particularly unsettling alacrity, the wolves all deliver these. In one sequence, as characters climbed over a chasm on a hastily constructed improvised rope, I could almost sense everyone in the cinema holding their breath and inching forward in their seats because of the tension. The film was lifted in my opinion though by its philosophical pretensions and how well these were integrated into the whole. There was a deftness of touch which, whilst preventing the film from becoming maudlin or puncturing the tension, nudged questions concerning the meaning and purpose of life into the foreground.

Whilst not offering simple answers to such questions, the film, in my opinion, certainly comes down on the side of there being a real and significant importance to human actions, thoughts and emotions. The feeling which resonated with me powerfully afterwards was that these men mattered, that even whilst beaten and bruised unrecognisable; whilst dying with a nervous and suprised look on their filthy faces; whilst unconscious and insensible; whilst struggling weakly and pathetically in the jaws of a superior predator or, most certainly, whilst standing their ground in defiance and clinging to the smallest of hopes: their actions in the here and now, to paraphrase another film, echoed in eternity. The importance of maintaining respect for the dead is also a prominent theme, never more so than when Neeson’s character rages, with disregard for his own safety, at a wolf defiling the exposed body of a dead airline stewardess.

The film is clear too about the type of people most likely to be making the most pleasing echoes in the eternal caverns outside this mortal plane; all the characters are described in the sonorous opening monologue as ‘men not fit for mankind’ but by the end of the movie only one, the willful outsider who did not show an appreciation for love in either his present or his past, is portrayed as facing death with hopeless uncertainty.

As a final thought, the poem recited by Neeson’s character worked extremely well thematically and reminded me of the final verse of Longfellow’s ‘A Psalm of Life’:

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labour and to wait.

What was the last movie you saw with scary wolves in it that also imparted an appreciation of poetry and had you gripping the arms of the cinema chair?

Verdict: Get it seen.

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