Safe (1995)

The nature vs. nurture debate has been longstanding for decades. To what degree is human development influenced by our genetics versus environment in early childhood? That particular issue continues into adulthood, whereby the means we use to cope with stressors and essentially try to control our surroundings have biopsychosocial components. However, dealing with an illness challenges all of our coping mechanisms. Issues in disease management can lead to further ailments, yet it is quite difficult to control the obstacles that one’s surrounding world faces them with on a daily basis. “Safe”, a 1995 independent film directed by Todd Haynes, carefully explores this interplay while questioning our motives and ability to interact with our evolving surroundings.

In one of her earliest roles, Julianne Moore exceptionally and delicately portrays Carol White. Her character is a housewife in the late 1980s who desperately yearns to exact perfection in her life, from expressing anger towards the colour of a couch that was delivered to her home to embarking on a fruit diet fad. Trouble arises when Carol starts to become ill around any environmental toxin. This highly damages her ability to live life as she once did on a daily basis, and she does have some concerning symptoms. She decides to enter into a treatment centre where others face the same struggles with their environment. It is in this setting that the idea of controlling one’s ailments via self-love arises, one which questions the true contributor towards the dissolution of Carol’s once seemingly perfect universe.

“Safe” is quite an ironic title for this film. It is a term used frequently in the film to describe methods of controlling the environment which will undoubtedly lead to markedly improved health and well-being. However, this message gives a sense of false hope and security. Self-mastery cannot guarantee complete authority over the obstacles we face on a daily basis. Employment stressors are a given challenge in daily life. Particularly pertinent to this film, individuals with allergies may have a life-threatening reaction due to a chance encounter with a deadly allergen. Mental illness can also create a vulnerability in facing these trials, as Carol’s sensitivities could be interpreted as Somatic Symptom Disorder. In essence, the acknowledgement of the unknown creates a lingering sense of restlessness in our lives, and we are never completely safe from what the future holds for each of us. tn152_sensitive_movies_7203

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Westworld (1973)

Stepping back in time through our own current realm is a fantasy by which many of us wish to explore. However, how would we as humans of the 21st century interact with those of another time period who follow different cultural frameworks? Would we impose ourselves or respect their boundaries? To complicate this scenario, what if the individuals in the fantasy worlds are not real human beings? “Westworld”, a sci-fi Western directed by Michael Crichton in 1973, delves into these issues wholeheartedly which are highly applicable to our nature as human beings.

Delos is a company which offers three different travel destinations – Medieval World, Roman World, or Westworld. Guests can travel to either world and engage in whatever activity their heart desires. This could be gunslinging, jousting, or engaging in private relations with the hosts (robots who are eerily human-like designed by Delos to inhabit the fantasy worlds). While guests can harm or kill the hosts, the same cannot be said for the latter. Many hosts are repaired on a nightly basis so that guests can indulge in said fantasies during the day. However, an issue arises when a malfunction in the software in each location occurs whereby hosts veer from their programming to refuse guests’ wishes, even harming them.  Yul Brynner convincingly plays a robot gunslinger, who is one of the many robots who aim to exact vengeance on guests who have previously exploited him.

I find the concept of this universe extremely thought-provoking, as well as a startling commentary on humanity. First of all, a class discrepancy existed between the hosts and guests. The hosts and their employer were paid to serve the needs of the upper class guests, which at times were very demoralizing. It was disturbing to watch guests take advantage of fair maiden robots, liberally killing hosts, and enjoying the process while being subliminally influenced by the travel agency in their decisions. This raises the question of the true nature behind humans’ drives and intentions. As well, I feel that another dimension to the film’s interpretation lies in addressing the dissatisfaction of human existence. The guests spend thousands of dollars immersing themselves in a world in which they will never belong, and hope to rid themselves of a lack of control in their daily lives by exerting power onto subordinate guests. While the technology in the film is dated by today’s standards, these ideas are quite pertinent to current tones in society.

This film has been rediscovered thanks to HBO’s acclaimed and highly fine-tuned series. There is a wealth of material to elaborate on for this series, and these themes and the layers of this universe will continue to be carefully unearthed and examined by viewers.

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Paper Moon (1973)

In the 1930s, American psychologist Harry Harlow completed a series of experiments whereby infant rhesus monkeys were placed in a cage with two makeshift inanimate mothers. One mother was made out of wire but had milk available for the infant, while the other had no food but was covered in cloth. Overwhelmingly, the infants gravitated towards the cloth mothers. This experiment illustrates the necessity of human relationships, especially the parent-child bond. This is especially vital during times of financial crisis and food shortages, when we have to rely on one another as a human race to achieve our basic needs. “Paper Moon”, a 1973 comedy-drama film directed by Peter Bogdonavich set in the Depression era, astutely explores this theme with wit, dark humour, and affection.

Addie Loggins, played stoically by Tatum O’Neal, is a nine-year-old girl who has just lost her mother and is totally unaware of her father’s identity. Along comes Moses Pray (Ryan O’Neal, Tatum’s real-life father) – a con artist who claimed to have known Addie’s mother and could potentially be Addie’s father. Through a fiscal grievance of $200, Addie and cleverly named Moses embark on a scheming journey, selling overpriced bibles to gullible mid-Western folks. While they both embark on other legally questionable activities, Addie and Moses become an interdependent unit. Addie also begins to look up to him as a father figure, but it takes longer for him to view her from the same lens. For example, Addie is disheartened when he would rather meet ladies of the night at the State Fair rather than have his picture taken with her on a “paper moon” in one of the fair’s booths. Thus, she embarks on a personal quest for Moses to see her in that light.

While set in a land of diffuse poverty, this film is rich in many facets. The black and white cinematography as well as the bleak landscapes entrench the viewer into the stark reality of the Depression. The screenplay is complex and dark, investigating themes of suspicion, fraud, and orphanhood. However, it also delves into themes of friendship, loyalty, and the power of the parent-child bond. The superb acting by Oscar-winning Tatum O’Neal, Madeline Kahn, as well as the other characters help to animate the resonant screenplay. Above all, the father-daughter relationship is the heart of this film, and is amplified by the real-life connection of the two actors. Whether it be the love of a spouse, partner, child, parent, sibling, or close friend, their support gives us further personal permission to grow and exceed our potential. As the song “It’s Only a Paper Moon” goes, “but it wouldn’t be make believe if you believed in me”.

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Brazil (1985)

There are many aspects of the modernized world which have been, are, and continue to create and fuel suspicion and lack of harmony in our lives. Whether this be the paranoia of the Cold War era or the fears of terrorism post-911, people ponder their safety and reality on a daily basis. The 1985 British science-fiction film “Brazil”, directed by Terry Gilliam, parodies and addresses those societal concerns, as well as how bureaucracy reacts when individuals question the very safeguards which are meant to protect them.

Sam Lowry, played by Jonathan Pryce, is a sheepish minion of the Ministry of Information (M. O. I., which is abbreviated on every inanimate object in the department) for which he works. His life is encompassed by technology and uncovering those who may be terrorists targeting his world. He comes from a shallow world of self-indulgence, but desperately wants to uproot himself from this aspect of his identity. This need for escapism is mirrored by his recurrent fantasy whereby he freely flies, in love with a mystery woman. However, the chains of M. O. I. recur in a now nightmare when he uncovers aspects of his job where its agenda and his morality itself is put into question.

I feel compelled to discuss the beautiful art design of the film. It definitely transcends time, as the world that Sam works in is constructed in the style of a 1940’s noir film – dark shadows, commonplace trench coats and three piece suits, and an overall air of mystery and suspicion. The overall world in which he and other characters inhabit is quite futuristic yet somewhat post-apocalyptic for the era, with a style of cumbersome pipefitting courtesy of Central Services! I feel that the Art Deco skyscrapers of the highly bureaucratic M.O.I. are modelled after and pay homage to the skyscrapers in the 1927 sci-fi classic “Metropolis”. Although political satire is not prominent in the aforementioned masterpiece as it is in “Brazil”, both films also explore secrecy, power, repression, and the human condition. The contrasts yet combination of genres within this ultimately science fiction film illustrate that themes of fear, ambition, and self-discovery know no bounds. I feel as if science fiction can allow us to explore our hopes and fears in a way that no other genre can, by creating a dream-like world by which we can somehow view our world through a different lens. “Brazil” achieves this through a very unique means.

The title of the film is coined after the song “Brazil”, sung by Geoff Muldaur, which plays near the beginning and end of the film. After we travel with Sam on his journey, the romanticism and nostalgia of the song echo a different tune. To me, the lyrics now mock an idealization of the peace and harmony we wish would encapsulate our world. “Brazil” illustrates that this world does exist in our dreams, as it does in Sam’s. However, we face the shields and obstacles of bureaucracy on a daily basis in our adult lives which prevent us from returning to “old Brazil”.tumblr_llgynbxnpx1qzzh6g

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It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

After another viewing of this compelling and heartwarming holiday classic last evening, I knew that this had to be my next blog entry. It is definitely a tradition in my family to watch this film every Christmas Eve – we reflect on the roads travelled throughout the year, their journeys and destinations, and what we have learned from them. This film definitely stimulates those thoughts and a discussion of that nature.

Set in the town of Bedford Falls, the film takes us through the life journey of George Bailey, earnestly played by Jimmy Stewart. He can never quite escape the town which he desperately wants to rid himself of. He continues to be drawn back into the financial politics between the townspeople and the greedy, manipulative villain, Henry Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore. As the majority of the film is told in flashback, we are brought to the present near the end, where George reaches a point of hopelessness. It is through a guardian angel that he realizes the importance of his role in the community, and that he does indeed have “a wonderful life”.

I can’t imagine watching this film at the time of its release. While George himself did not go to war (you will learn why in the film), the battle and challenges that he faced in his daily life with his adversary drove him to desolation. Individuals returning home from the war probably wanted to watch very uplifting portrayals of war heroes, but our protagonist’s struggles must have been quite pertinent (perhaps, a little too pertinent) to those faced by individuals at home. As a result, the film did not do well at the box office initially upon release. Another film, “The Best Years of Our Lives” swept the Oscars in the same year, which explored the post-war lives of three soldiers upon their return home, all quite varied but not without financial, emotional, and social challenges. Both films must have been very tangible to moviegoers, but it took some time for “It’s a Wonderful Life” to find its traction over the years. However, public domain on multiple networks allowed multiple viewers to discover the importance of the film’s message, and that has led to the film becoming one of the most appreciated and loved films of all time.

George Bailey and most of the other characters in the film are timeless. They dedicate their lives to public service, are hardworking, and make personal sacrifices so that others around them can prosper and flourish. This dedication can be quite exhausting and overwhelming. It is important to be reminded that all individuals contribute to a society, whether it be within a familial group, municipal, or even on an international level. Yes, one individual could be limited by lack of resources and manpower, but their endowment to man is unique and appreciated. This film reminds us that our life journeys intertwine with others and have an influence on their daily lives as well. It reminds us of something that all humans desire – that we all matter. 

 

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A Letter to Three Wives (1949)

There are multiple facets that contribute to a strong relationship – affection, respect, a sense of mutual adventure, and most of all, trust. How can a couple, group of friends, siblings, or parents and children create stronger roots in their relationship if reliability has not been built or has been fractured? The latter can lead to an emptiness in one’s life, further leading to estrangement. This excellent film, directed and written by Joseph Mankiewicz, navigates the suspicion and fear that grows within three broken relationships when threatened by a mutual and cultured friend named Addie Ross to whom all the husbands admire.

Rita, Debbie, and Lora Mae are three gal pals of upper middle class who volunteer to chaperone a group of children on a boat trip one Saturday afternoon. Prior to boarding the vessel, they receive a letter from Addie who states that she has left town with one of their husbands, not stating whom. The rest of the film is told in flashback whereby each woman recounts past interactions with their husbands that revolved around some type of “Addie vs. me” ideology. The women each ponder what could have created divisiveness in their marriages – did they have feelings for Addie prior to my involvement in their lives? Did I drive them away? Am I not good enough? Following the boat trip, the truth is discovered and the relationships are altered by that truth.

The “Letter to Three Wives” undoubtedly amplified fear regarding the lack of trust in each relationship. However, there the spectrum of “the troubled relationship” was unique to each couple. As I was watching the film, I was also thinking about women’s rights and freedoms, and how much they have evolved and changed since 1949. I feel that each woman was repressed along a scale regarding their self-expression, and that the letter may have also intensified their resentment towards their husbands’ ability to live and think more freely than themselves. Addie Ross represents a female who is not in an authoritarian relationship, and seems to live a more liberal life to which they may aspire to live. I wonder whether women of 1949 would have thought about the female characters’ views in this regard, or would they have been rooting for the more traditional marriage to always shine through above all? This film left me with many questions regarding the topics of traditional roles in relationships, but also more fundamental questions regarding trust, hope, and loss. How do we regain trust lost? What does it mean to end a relationship? What do we hope for in a relationship? Overall, it is quite alarming that a short letter can stimulate the exploration of these fundamental truths, but that is what allows us to importantly discover our dreams, values, and drives.

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Spartacus (1960)

In honour of Kirk Douglas’ milestone 100th birthday, I thought it only fitting to write about one of his most revered and well-known films, “Spartacus”. Directed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick and winning four Academy Awards, this historical and epic film tells the story of a slave named Spartacus. Having grown up in slavery, he detests all that slavery involves and stands for, and is determined to not bequeath to the desires and needs of his owners. When chosen to become a gladiator, he rebelled against authority and later developed an army composed of slaves to defy the subserviency and grandiosity of the Roman Empire. His greatest nemesis throughout this journey was Crassus, played by the stellar Sir Laurence Olivier. He demanded to maintain slavery, carrying out this despicable goal as an elite Roman senator. This tug of war remains central throughout the film, ending on a tragic note as do many epic tales.

This film also has a great deal of heart. There are two central characters who expose Spartacus’  naturally human need for love and acceptance behind his tough exterior, and who are also all too familiar with the life of slavery. Varinia, played very tenderly by Jean Simmons, initially meets Spartacus while hired as a prostitute for the gladiators. They grow to become soul mates, after she escapes from the clutches of Crassus. Antoninus, played innocently and eagerly by Tony Curtis, also escapes from the same tyrannical owner as Varinia and becomes best friends with and advisor to Spartacus. As well, a true community develops among the brave soldiers who fight against slavery. They have a great deal of respect and admiration for one another, and prove that large masses of individuals have the impetus to bring a great deal of attention to and to create social justice.

This film identifies many universal truths – greed, human rights, community, and the atrocities of dictatorship to name a few. The discrepancy and inequality between social classes are highlighted  through set design, costumes, and the conviction of all involved in the creation of this film. I would be remiss if I did not mention the lead actor of the film. Kirk Douglas carries the story extremely well and is very devoted to the role, whereby his passion in eliminating slavery is a symbol of bravery and honesty. Spartacus’ memory will be forever emblazoned in history for his efforts, and this portrayal will continue to be identified as one of Douglas’ most important and celebrated roles.

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Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)

The bond between parents and children is certainly special, heartwarming, but can also be a contested one. We often think about this relationship as being tested during adolescence, when children are adamantly defying their parents’ authority and searching for their identity. Inadvertent authority may be in the hands of children as roles reverse. Parents may come to be dependent on their children, and this brilliant film delves into these concepts in a very pragmatic and heartbreaking manner.

Directed by Leo McCarey and starring Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi (definitely typecast as a homemaker mother in many classic films but portrays the role so well) play Barkley and Lucy Cooper, an elderly couple who are on the cusp of celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. The film is definitely true to its era – this lovely couple’s home forecloses and Barkley cannot find work. Their five adult children were then in a position to aid their parents in finding a new place to call home. Ultimately, there are minute annoyances from Barkley and Lucy that the families find quite difficult to live with on a daily basis. It is absolutely unthinkable that this devoted couple could be separated at their stage in life, but it becomes a highly unfortunate possibility as the film progresses.

The idea of “tomorrow” has many possibilities – fear, uncertainty, joy, and a multitude of others. I feel that the title “Make Way for Tomorrow” reflects the dismal awareness that the couple’s future may be imploding secondary to their children’s unwillingness to aid them when one of their basic needs is threatened. The couple are very reluctant to potentially travel down a path which they most certainly should not. However, the possibility of family recognizing the massive err of their ways could happen “tomorrow” as well. Whether we experience joy or sadness on any particular day, the possibilities for “tomorrow” are endless.

With the growing population of elderly individuals throughout the world, the issue of placement of the elderly into long term care as well as other assisted living arrangements is a highly pertinent issue in today’s society. Healthcare providers and families have to be attuned to the needs of seniors. These needs may involve mental and physical health, degree of nursing care required daily, as well as safety. However, I believe that one vital factor has to be elderly couples’ accessibility to one another during this period of transition. The elderly need comfort as they age, reflect on their lives, and face death. The greatest comfort that can be provided is each others’ love, company, and support.

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The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

I absolutely love films and stories which capture the life of a main character within them, exploring their flaws, strengths, relationships, and evolution over time. “Forrest Gump” (1994) and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008) are fine examples of that, with the former being my absolute favourite movie. “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp”, directed by the powerhouse team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, may have been one of the pioneers in this manner of storytelling, based upon the British cartoon in the 1930s.

First of all, I have to comment on the absolutely glorious Technicolor used in the film. Bold and strong colours of the sort definitely amplified the caricature nature and environment of our main character, General and eventually Captain Clive Wynne-Candy, played by Roger Livesey. The film takes you on a journey through his military career in the Boer War, WWI, and WWII. Due to mistaken insults on Candy’s part towards German Officers, he duels with a German officer by the name of Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook) during the Boer War. Much to my surprise, these two gentleman become best friends. Their respect and admiration for one another is evident throughout the film. A young Deborah Kerr is also in the film, playing the roles of a different woman during each war. Each character she plays also has a great fondness for Candy, which is mirrored.

Candy’s character and integrity are definitely on display throughout the film. While he is a man with good humour, he also believes strongly in dignity and honour towards the rules of the military, his colleagues. and his friends. That honour is challenged in WWII, as the spreading power and intimidation of the Nazis creates a world of fear. This unleashes spontaneity and lack of preparation in war tactics by very young soldiers on the side of the Allies. Must Candy, a now crusty old man, change his values to adapt with the changing times? Or should he hold steadfast to his ideals and morals? This is a dilemma which all humans face as we deal with daily challenges in the context of our current political and socioeconomic climate. Developing a sense of self grounds us, and helps us to create an identity which we can defend. This plight will always be a constant theme throughout the world, and Candy is one character in film who ponders and navigates through this universal predicament.

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Wings of Desire (1987)

Many people on this Earth float by day-to-day transiently through this world, not appreciating the beauty in living and non-living things surrounding them. Some people are not satisfied with their existence and strive for more. Some people reflect on their life, thinking about missed opportunities. What would someone see if they were an outsider looking into the world of human behaviour? “Wings of Desire”, directed by Wim Wenders and shot in Berlin prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, explores that question.

Damiel and Cassiel are two angels who view the citizens of Berlin from above. Humans are not cognizant of their presence, but their role is to provide comfort to those in need and to potentially create an awareness of their spirit and thus emanate hope. Individual examples of this are shown throughout the movie, including a man hurt in a motorcycle accident and a man who is intensely contemplating ending his life. Damiel is quite torn about continuing his existence as an angel, after falling in love with a lonely trapeze artist named Marion. Upon his transition to human form, the film changes from black and white to colour. He is now experiencing the sights, sounds, and feelings that all humans have. He is beginning the journey of sorrow, joy, and all other multitudes of emotions that we feel as humans every single day. And he is quite grateful to experience them.

The title “Wings of Desire” can be interpreted in many ways relevant to the film. As angels, Damiel and Cassiel’s ultimate desire was to comfort and create positive change amongst those who were in need on Earth. It may also reflect Damiel’s desire to change and to experience life in a way that he could not in his prior form. These analyses reflect our drive to change and explore the world daily. However, the overall message that I took away from this fine film was the importance of appreciating the world in which we live, and to be mindful of our feelings associated with that drive. Damiel’s desire was to absorb and be present with his emotions, those which I feel many people take for granted as they are driven to accomplish goals in their lives. Thus, “wings of desire” may allow us to pursue and approach our destination, but one must pay attention to that journey as we need to be able to learn and grow while being in the moment with our multitude of emotions.

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