There were recent films that I wouldn’t have watched even if I had been given free premiere tickets and even if the tickets came with a free dinner. Transformers 3 was one of them. Total waste of time as far as I’m concerned. Truth be told, these days, and especially after Captain America which was such a huge disappointment, I ignore film ads and trailers altogether. Film marketers have become so adept at putting together a film’s best scenes and weaving them to make a trailer that gives an impression that the film is better than it really is.
So, never mind. I’d rather go for credible recommendations. Like? One of the many nice things about having kids taking up art courses is that they get exposed to a lot of books, films and plays that would normally go unnoticed. Especially when it comes to films, those with no box-office appeal rarely get the media mileage that gets audiences hooked long before the film reaches the screen. A lot of people I know are already eagerly awaiting The Avengers which will premiere in mid-2012. But how many have heard, for instance, of a low-budget film called Never Let Me Go that was released in September last year? Or Let Me In, also released last year, an adaptation of the 2008 Swedish film Let The Right One In?
The lead actors of Never Let Me Go are not exactly unknown nor has-beens. Carey Mulligan (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, An Education), Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean) and Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) star in this haunting film set in an “alternate history” about children raised to become organ donors later in life. Sure, it sounds like the plot of The Island, but this is no thriller bang-bang. This is about people who know they will die eventually because their death is the purpose of their birth. It is about a quiet resignation to their inevitable end. But it also about hope, albeit a flimsy one, that there might be a way to postpone the inevitable without fighting the system.
Strangely enough, it made me think of My Sister’s Keeper and the real-life stories of Anissa Ayala and Molly Nash. Ayala and Nash were both dying and their respective parents opted to conceive children who would be bone marrow donors. Just click the links if you want the details. The article about Molly Nash is long and quite detailed. Much of the controversy centers on ethical issues but what bugs me more is the psychological effect on the donors all through their lives. How would I feel if I knew that I was conceived for the sole purpose of saving the life of my older sibling? Would I be resentful? Would the knowledge affect my personality? Would I feel that my parents consider me secondary and, therefore, less important than my sibling whose life I saved? And, if I were a parent, how would I explain it so that my child will not feel less loved? Lots to ponder about.
Let Me In is interesting from a totally different perspective. It is a horror film about a lonely young boy who befriends a neighbor, a pretty girl who appears to be his age who lives with a man whom he thought was her father. He discovers, the horrific way, that the girl is a vampire and the man is her human connection to the world — a procurer of blood to sustain her.
Unlike most vampire films, Let Me In is not about good versus evil. Religion and the concept of God doesn’t figure in it either. So it really veers away from the “image” of the vampire as a creature that will die if a crucifix is pressed against it or if it is shot with a silver bullet. In short, none of the tired Hollywood Dracula stuff.
Rather, Let Me In somehow makes the viewer want to re-assess how he understands the concept of good and evil. It is also a coming-of-age story, of innocent intimacy, survival and how we all deal with survival in different ways. All that set against a backdrop that is eery, chilling and downright scary, all of which were depicted in quiet but artful style.
No shallow, cheesy and awful stuff like Twilight either, thank goodness. No muscular young men who must be bare-chested even in the dead of winter just to make the young girls in the audience squeal with delight. No, no cheap stunts like that at all.
I have not seen the Swedish original but Alex says it is even better.
Sam urged me to watch Stranger Than Fiction, a film that was shown in class when she was in high school. The first time I saw it (I have seen it several times since), I felt elated that Sam, still in high school at the time, could appreciate the intricacies of the story — the symbolisms, the nuances and the characters that are such a far cry from the stereotypes in fiction. Stranger Than Fiction is about Harold Crick, IRS agent, an average man with a boring and predictable life that centers on well-ordered routines (he even counts the number of stokes when brushing his teeth). Not a shallow man. More like a man indifferent to life. A sorry caricature, if there ever was one. If life were a line on a heart monitor, Crick’s life would be a stable one with no significant highs or lows as though he has not experienced (nor does he show) any substantial emotion. He gets up to go to work, does his work as he has been told to do, goes home, repeats the routine the next day, and so on.
Then, his predictable life changes. He starts hearing a voice narrating his life like an echo. When his wristwatch (an important thing in the story) stops, he asks a bystander for the time and he adjusts his wristwatch accordingly. And the voice says that “little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result in his imminent death.” The second change is work-related. He is assigned to audit a bakeshop owner and falls for her.
In another part of the city, a writer, Kay Eiffel, who is suffering from writer’s block is trying to finish her novel. It is then revealed that Crick’s life unfolds with every stroke of Kay’s typewriter (yeah, typewriter, not a computer keyboard — how quaint, eh?) and his death would be the end of the novel. Crick and Eiffel eventually meet, Eiffel tells Crick that she has written “his death” in a draft but has not typed it yet. In a roundabout way, Crick learns the end of the novel. He does not want to die but accepts his fate nonetheless because he is like that — he is meek and good and, well, simply accepting. Fatalistic, in fact (not in the context of seeking death but in the context of accepting whatever is handed to him by fate). How the story actually ends and how the wristwatch figures in the ending is something you’ll have to find out for yourself.
Three films. All low budget. All with no big name matinee idols in the cast. All without the token nudity (or semi nudity) and violence. All thought provoking. All involving moral dilemmas presented in very unorthodox fashion. All obliging the viewer to take another look at what his life has been, so far, and try to assess what he really knows and what he has just been led to believe, and which he has believed to be the truth. All obliging the viewer to view life and humanity from perspectives that he may not have known existed or which he has ignored because they were too uncomfortable to deal with.
I love film. I really do. I just wish that those who make films would make more of the kind that does not insult the viewers’ intelligence.