Hailing from the famously offbeat Netflix, BoJack Horseman is the adult cartoon that bites back. From nihilist existentialism to abortion, BoJack Horseman doesn’t pull any punches, especially when it comes to feminism.
Feminism can sometimes be a bit of a dirty word these days, but BoJack is fearless, approaching feminism by using different characters to embody different archetypes: Diane is an ardent, verging on traditional, feminist, while Sarah Lynn is a Miley Cyrus-type celebrity. This allows the show to intelligently and purposefully contribute to the feminist debate. With the addition of the fourth season, BoJack doesn’t seem to be letting up on its feminist roots, instead choosing to tackle miscarriage.
To celebrate its return, we’re going to take a look at a few of the times BoJack stuck it to the patriarchy and explored some of the issues women face in the modern world, political correctness be damned.
Sextina Aquafina Babyyyyyy
In Season 3 episode 6, the 14-year-old dolphin dubstep superstar Sextina Aquafina accidentally Tweets about having an abortion. This Tweet sparks an overwhelmingly positive reaction, with Aquafina’s fans praising her bravery. Inspired and intrigued by this, Aquafina releases the absolute banger “Get Dat Fetus, Kill Dat Fetus” — despite the fact that she did not, actually, have an abortion at all.
Sextina’s pro-abortion stance is refreshing, so people are attracted to it. In a country where women are often forced to listen to their foetus’ heartbeat before a termination, an open declaration about getting an abortion is completely out of the ordinary. The song is undoubtedly beyond crass and plenty of people were outraged, including Diane.
Diane, who is actually having an abortion, speaks to a young woman in the clinic waiting room when she is unable to see the appeal of the brazen banger. The young woman, who enjoyed the song, tells her that getting an abortion is scary: “and when you can joke about it, it makes it less scary, you know?”
Later on in the episode, Princess Caroline laments not being in a loving relationship or a position to think about having children, and Diane talks about the guilt of aborting her puppies when she is in a loving marriage and able to provide for them. Diane begins to explain her decisions and Princess Caroline says: “Diane you don’t need to explain anything. To anyone.” With this simple, and touching exchange, BoJack successfully attacks the notion that women have a responsibility to have children if they can. In just one episode, BoJack manages to address more issues surrounding pregnancy, abortion, and motherhood than almost any other show on air.
“I’m Uncle Hanky, you can’t beat Uncle Hanky. That’s just the way it is.”
In the seventh episode of the second season BoJack tackles the monster of misogyny in the entertainment industry — taking aim particularly at the way that some male celebrities can be hounded by accusations of physical or sexual assualt on women and walk away unscathed.
Hank Hippopopalous, talk show host, has been racked by allegations from past female assistants, all of whom have been paid off and since kept quiet. That’s until Diane Nguyen brings it up again on BoJack’s book tour. Despite the fact that Diana spouted off a list of many celebrities (including real-life ones) who have been accused of abusing women, the crowd focus on her criticism of the beloved Uncle Hanky — and a media storm ensues.
Diane ends up at the magazine Manatee Fair, who want to do an exposé on Hippopopalous. Unfortunately this falls through because the magazine and Hippopopalous’ show are owned by the same conglomerate. This company leans on the magazine to drop the exposé, showing just how easy it can be for important men to cover things up.
The episode wraps up perfectly. Diane is sat on a bench in an airport, and a random man sat near her looks over to her and says: “hey… smile”
If this doesn’t make you internally sigh then I’m not sure what will.
BoJack is slamming shitty sexism all over this episode: news anchors asking women to not get hysterical, male superstars too big too fall, websites called “Titpuncher”, and strangers asking you to smile. Mostly it tackles the protection that some men have from their actions. This episode obviously feels like a call out to the accusations against Bill Cosby, but there are so many people, in the entertainment industry or not, who manage to shrug stuff like this off.
A Safe Space For Women, Now For Men Too!
“Has your creepy driver ever tried to give you his number or told you that you reminded him of his dead girlfriend? Or repeated your address slowly like he was trying to memorize it?”
BoJack now takes aim at the tech industry, as well as the tendency for women to get harassed whilst doing banal every day things like taking cabs. Todd’s answer to creeping cab drivers is to have female drivers only for his female customers, training these new drivers on how to be respectful and not harass people. “Cabracadabra” is a huge success, because who knew there was such a demand for a safe space for women?
But then Todd and Mr Peanutbutter take it a step further and open up their safe space for women to men: “that’s an untapped market!” They then head to a gentlemen’s club to find new drivers that are comfortable working with the new male clientele — who are, naturally, invited to harass their female drivers at every turn.
Todd and Mr Peanutbutter manage to turn Cabracadabra from a “safe space for women” to strippers that are cab drivers. This is pure unadulterated genius. By creating a safe space for women, then destroying this by adding men in a way that facillitates the very problem a female safe space would avoid, BoJack manages to poke fun at the ability of men to understand women’s safety without completely condemning the characters.
BoJack Horseman uses humor and on-point social commentary to explore feminism as it stands today. It manages to tackle issues that serious dramas rarely touch, not because it has the veil of humor, but because it has the balls — or maybe even the ovaries — to actually approach things head on. Feminist in-fighting, sexism in the media, abortion, miscarriage and more: nothing is off limits for this audacious show.
Darren Aronofsky’s latest movie mother! is the blackest of black comedies and a fairly heavy-handed religious allegory — to me. The great thing about Darren Aronofsky’s movie is that it can be interpreted pretty much however you like. The inclusion of the classic and archetypal dichotomy of Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence’s characters means that the movie is entirely open to interpretation, potentially saying more about you as the viewer from your interpretation than your interpretation could ever say about the movie.
So far I’ve seen, scattered around the internet: religious readings, feminist readings, horror readings, climate change readings, psychoanalytic readings, and readings about artistic creation. Whilst the filmmakers themselves have made numerous references to the religious reading being correct, that is still very much open to interpretation — who says the filmmakers are right anyway? To save you from wading through all the insane theories here’s a list of the most popular ones.
The Religious Reading
There is a very clear religious allegory going on throughout the film. The naming of the characters is the first clue of many: Javier Bardem is “Him” and Jennifer Lawrence is “Her”, whilst Ed Harris is “Man” and Michelle Pfeiffer is “Woman”. Bardem is the God of the Abrahamic religions, Lawrence represents the pagan concept of Mother Nature and the house is the Earth. The devoted dying Man is Adam, and after a night of drinking Bardem would have appeared to have removed one of Man’s ribs to create Woman — Eve, played by Pfeiffer. They invade the house, and are extremely rude and destructive houseguests, causing Lawrence endless grief. Their sons then turn up, an argument breaks out and the older son kills the younger — just like Adam and Eve’s sons Cain and Able in the Old Testament.
The Biblical allegories continue as Adam and Eve invite more people into the house, a metaphor for the population of Earth, which results in a flood — taken straight, of course, from the Book of Genesis. For a brief moment in the film, there is calm, as it is revealed that Her is pregnant. Yet more crowds soon invade the house, and a horrific chaos ensues. With her baby devoured, and her home being destroyed by the crowd’s heinous acts, Her eventually commits suicide, taking her beloved home with her.
The religious interpretation of this movie is what the filmmakers intended, and it fits very well. The conflict between the Judeo-Christian God and the pagan Mother Earth, how their harmony is ruined by both God’s human creations and his hubris, fuels the film. Her is concerned with protecting the house, whilst Him is concerned with feeding his ego with adoration from his creations; this would appear to be Aronofsky offering a scathing criticism of the Judeo-Christian God, as well as humanity’s complete lack of care for our home.
The Feminist Criticism
There seem to be plenty of feminist interpretations of this movie and they fit so well because at its heart the movie is about a bad husband and a suffering wife. People have been comparing mother! to The Yellow Wallpaper, a seminal feminist text by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which was written in the late 1800s. The story revolves around a woman’s descent into madness when confined within a house for her health — a common practice at the time. The lead of mother! is similarly trapped within a house, at the behest of her domineering husband who does not want her to leave. The latter part of the film could quite easily be seen as Her losing her mind, just like the unnamed narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper.
Whilst Darren Aronofsky may have been aiming for female empowerment, the feminist criticism goes that mother! focuses too much on the suffering of Her — many of the shots hone in on Lawrence’s distraught reactions. Does watching someone beaten and then committing suicide, but still willing to give their heart to their abuser fit in with female empowerment? I’m not so sure.
The Theme Of Climate Change
This interpretation is not incompatible with the religious interpretation, and in fact, they go hand in hand. In the bowel of the house, when Her commits suicide, spilling oil everywhere and setting the place on fire, she takes humanity with her. The meaning of this sequence is pretty self-explanatory, and is similar to the Biblical reading in that it features Her as an allegory for nature, who is distraught at the havoc humans have wrought on her world. Part of the reason for the death of the house is His incompetence and hubris, but it is mostly caused by his followers, the humans.
Living in 2017, it is getting harder every year to deny the effect we have had and are having on the Earth as a species. Deforestation, pollution, and the mistreatment of the sea are causing continually rising temperatures and worsening weather events — signs of our planet’s ailment. In mother! Aronofsky is warning us that if we don’t take care of our home, Mother Nature is gonna burn that shit down.
Can we also just acknowledge the ludicrousness of Mother Earth as a proud housewife renovating and protecting her house? Brilliant.
The Story As Artist vs Muse
The theme of a creator leeching the life and hope from his muse is evident throughout mother! — but Aronofsky himself has said he hasn’t really considered this element of the story. This could be because it’s too obvious, or because it hits a little too close to home, considering that he and Lawrence are now dating.
Bardem plays the character of the suffering artist, needing to create and be adored by rapturous and devoted fans. Lawrence is the suffering wife and muse, always giving and accommodating so he can make great art and thus feed his own ego. This mythic idea of male creation, of something that must be nurtured to appear and applauded, is something that is rarely addressed in art, so for me, this is one of the most interesting interpretations of the movie.
Or Maybe It’s Just A Horror Movie
Literally, mother! is a movie about a crappy husband and some much crappier houseguests. Marketed as a home-invasion horror, mother! would seemingly have a lot in common with Rosemary’s Baby, and its marketing even included a poster that references the cult classic. If you want to see mother! as a horror, I would personally say it is not a very good one. The movie does open much as you would expect from a horror flick, and later descends into madness, chaos, and horrifically graphic imagery — but I think that’s where the similarity with the genre ends.
Mother! defies categorisation, and it is all the better for it. Part of the furore around the movie receiving a usually damning “F” from CinemaScore (who poll the audience leaving the cinema on opening weekend), is because the film was partly mis-sold. The truth is Aronofsky is never going to be mainstream, and mother! could vie for the title of the weirdest movie in his catalogue of very weird movies.
This article is by no means exhaustive, and the beauty of mother!is that we can only draw meaning from the plot via interpretations that ascribe symbolism to characters and events — and that is part of its genius. Whether you loved or hated mother!, it has been a long time since a movie has been this divisive or offered so much material for interpretation.
Spoilers for the The Leftovers, Lost, Mad Men, Breaking Bad ahead.
HBO’s oddball show The Leftovers follows Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) after 2% of the world’s population has disappeared into thin air. The show’s three season run ended recently with an ambitious, ambiguous finale.
Finales can be problematic. Fans build up expectations, they come up with theories on where story lines will go, or sometimes they want an answer, something final. Most times fans don’t want a show to end; often shows are ending because they’ve been cancelled and there’s tension surrounding the writers having enough time to finish what they’ve started.
Some finales go for something that suggests a change of scenery, but a continuation of the characters you know and love, like Friends or Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The Wire gave us little bits about characters that wrapped up storylines well: McNulty going in to forced retirement, Bubbles getting clean. Mad Men teases that Don Draper may be changing his ways and that we might learn some ultimate truth about the man before the final credits roll – and then, with a cheeky smile and a song, swaps “enlightenment” for advertising and assures us that Don will stay just the same.
Some finales try to answer questions and wrap up story lines, leaving fans with finality – and either satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Some shoot ahead in time to do this: Breaking Bad shoots ahead so it can satisfyingly end the show and offers finality by (spoilers) allowing the main character to die.
Six Feet Under shot all the way ahead – and showed us the death of every character in the show in a heart-wrenching 10 minute long montage. Widely regarded as one of the best finales to ever grace a screen, HBOs Six Feet Under went against convention here and left absolutely no chance of any future content or revival.
Six Feet Under is a finale where we see everything, we know exactly what happens to every character in the show and there is no questions left unanswered. Other shows choose ambiguity.
Damon Lindoff is a master of ambiguity. His hit show Lost frustrated millions of viewers with its ambiguous ending, fans were angry with the lack of concrete answers offered by the ending to many questions the show had posed over its seven seasons. But Lost was a lot more populist than Lindelof’s second show The Leftovers. The Leftovers is instead a deliberate and unusual show. But, like Lost, it offers no obvious answers.
Lindelof on the legacy of Lost:
“What’s interesting about the show is it ended in 2010. We’re now seven years out and the legacy is going to change over time. I think what the short term legacy of the show was when it just ended is different to what it is now and will maybe be different 10 or 15 years from now. But I will say that, independent of whether or not you hated or loved the way that it ended, it’s pretty cool that people are still talking about it and have very strong feelings about it. That’s the intention of any art – to basically last. If it lasts you’re saying something even if people are saying it’s something that they don’t necessarily like. I think Breaking Bad is one of the greatest television shows of all time. I think the same thing about The Wire. But nobody ever talks about the finales of those shows because the endings were not as relevant as the journey themselves. With Lost, there’s a fixation over the way that it ended and I think that in and of itself that’s a very interesting legacy for the show to have.”
The finale of The Leftovers offers an answer to some of its questions, an answer of sorts. The last two episodes are incredible. The penultimate episode sees Kevin return to the place that he goes to when he dies (is it purgatory?). His mission is to find Christopher Sunday and learn his song, so Kevin’s father can sing and stop the end of the world. “Do you believe your father can sing a song and stop the flood?” Christopher Sunday asks him, “no” Kevin replies “then why are you here?”. There’s no song, there’s no flood, Kevin is chasing something ridiculous instead.
In this other world nothing makes sense. “God” is an idiot, Kevin is an international assassin and the president, the Guilty Remnant hold the White House and are dropping nukes to end the world. All this insanity is happening and Kevin realises that his dad singing is not going to save the world from a flood that will never exist. But he realises he has failed Nora. “We fucked up with Nora” – one Kevin says to the other Kevin in the bunker after having a chip removed from his chest by Kevin
What follows, the finale, is undeniably romantic. Up until this point I had not though of the show as romantic at all, yet the ending just is and it works. Kevin has spent the last decade (at least, by the look of those grey hairs) scouring rural Australia, looking for Nora whilst everyone else presumed she was dead, or gone.
The last scene is an explanation to the mystery of the Great Departure, an explanation of sorts. Nora manages to go through to find her family (her husband and her two children departed – a statistical anomaly) and we are shown where the 2% have gone: nowhere. They simply exist in a mirror of the world – but in their world 98% of the population disappeared.
But really there is no payoff, no true answer to the questions your inquisitive mind has asked whilst you’ve been watching the show. There is maybe an impression that there could be a payoff. There is consistency that suggests a tangible answer: Kevin keeps dying, he keeps going to a place, there is logic to that world and that gives the impression that there could be sense behind this, and we might learn what this sense is. But ambiguity is better here; an answer can disappoint, and it could undermine the show if the “answer” wasn’t good enough.
The Leftovers was crazy and out there most of the time. Making the finale romantic brought it to a personal level and connecting the viewer to the characters was a great way to end something that doesn’t need an “answer”. Sure, some people may be disappointed, but The Leftovers is not a puzzle to be solved, it is an ambiguity to be enjoyed. The real beauty to be found in The Leftovers is that it can be literal, it can be figurative, it can be both. But it is best not explained, it is best just experienced, because it isn’t a puzzle.
(Spoilers for Rick And Morty ahead, squanchers).
With all the talk about the golden age of television, people often forget the golden age we are actually in: The golden age of cartoons. Adult cartoons that is. The likes of The Simpsons,Family Guy, and Futurama have broken ground in the mega popular sphere in the last couple of decades, Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Ugly Americans are breaking through with the help of the internet in more cult spheres.
We now have adult cartoons that just offer crazy amounts of fun, like Archer or Bob’s Burgers, following the evolution of South Park from fart jokes to the most on-point cultural and political satire, now we are gifted with horrendous examinations of the current human condition (using animals) on Bojack Horseman, deep moments in a kid’s cartoon with Adventure Time and finally science fiction and philosophy in Rick And Morty.
There’s no denying that Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s genius #AdultSwim cartoon #RickandMorty is deep. If you’ve seen the show you’ve no doubt come to that realisation already, probably very quickly. Season 3 is just around the corner so let’s have a look at some of the philosophical concepts in Rick and Morty,squanchers.
Nihilism is, in its simplest terms, the belief that life has no meaning and that there is none to be found. This Nietzschean focus is pretty consistent with a number of the characters, but none better than this little butter-fetching guy above. Rick makes a robot, for some reason bestows it with intelligence and self-awareness and then gives it the one function of passing him butter. Later on the sad little robot lets Rick know that he “is not programmed for friendship” when Rick tries to watch a movie with the clever little guy.
Most of us yearn for a purpose that somehow exceeds our basic functions, so meaning alone doesn’t carry enough weight for an intelligent existence. Here, without Rick (God) having assigned the robot meaning that carries something sublime, the poor slave-bot is left only with his tiny purpose and a level of intelligence and emotion that allows him to lament it. Sound familiar?
The shows often swings between nihilism, existentialism, and absurdism, so here’s a quick (and super reductive) explanation of some key differences between the concepts: An existentialist will look to make their own meaning of life; a nihilist will simply accept that there is no meaning; and an absurdist will overcome the fact that there is no meaning in life by embracing the absurd relationship between the human mind and the rest of the Universe.
‘The Absurd’ refers to the dissonance between the human need to seek value in life, and the constant feeling that none is ever found. If we come to understand that there is no intrinsic meaning in life, then we can suggest three possible answers to this problem:
1. Existentialism – To attempt to find meaning through religion, love, nature etc. Or perhaps even your grandkids.
2. Nihilism – Suicide. Rick appears to try this on one occasion (Auto Erotic Assimilation), and seemingly turns to God at a time when he really does think he is going to die (A Rickle in Time).
3. Absurdism – To rebel and embrace the absurdity of life. To become an absurd hero.
The guys over at Wisecrack recently made a video about absurdism and Rick’s love affair with Szechuan sauce. At the end of season two there’s a touching moment when Rick hands himself into the authorities so his family can head back to earth in peace, rather than life on a strange tiny planet, or a planet where everything is on a cob. This sacrifice and genuine emotion is replaced at the beginning of season three (big spoilers for The Rickshank Rickdemption ahead) with Rick’s quest for Szechuan sauce: a dipping sauce McDonald’s released to promote Disney’s Mulan in the nineties. Rick also dangles an emotional origin story in front of our eyes and then snatches it away, almost laughing at us for daring to care.
From the excellent Jared at Wisecrack: “It’s not just that Rick and Morty evades meaning, the writers seem to get a perverse joy in playing with our desire to search for hope and meaning. As if Camus was making his point in the style of an internet troll.”
Another time, after Rick and Morty’s planet has been destroyed (by none other than Rick and Morty, of course) Rick finds them a new planet in the multiverse. Rick chooses a planet where that Earth’s Rick and Morty happen to just have died from a science experiment gone wrong, so this Rick and Morty can take their place. They both have to then bury their own dead bodies, in the garden. When Summer has had a bad day (she found out that she was nearly aborted), Morty tells her this story and vocalises the meaningless of life.
This speech, captured in the above GIF, perfectly encapsulates absurdism. There is no point to anything, there is no reason for anyone being here, we’re all going to die. So lets embrace the meaninglessness of life. And watch TV, of course.
Free will is one of the most contentious debates in philosophy and has been for centuries. It can also be very hard to discuss or think about because of the knee jerk reaction it can provoke; everybody reacts with indignation if some smug bird-person tries to tell them they don’t have control over their actions because everything they’ll ever do is pre-determined by external and internal factors.
In Rick And Morty the multiverse means that there are nearly infinite versions of Rick, Morty, every other character, as well as infinite crazy versions of Earth — check out Rixty Minutes, where the fam spend most of the episode watching inter-dimensional cable. Rick installs the inter-dimensional cable box so the family can watch all the incredible things that are going on throughout the multiverse. Jerry becomes obsessed when he spots a movie star version of himself — famous and being badass, very unlike the pathetic, snivelling Jerry we are used to.
Similarly, in the version of Earth that has been totally Cronenbergerised, Jerry become a badass, patriarchal caveman that threatens to kill Rick. So why can’t Jerry always be this impressively tenacious? He’s not presented with the circumstances in which he can evolve into the Jerry he would want to be in every Universe. Jerry, like everyone else in the Universe, is determined by the circumstances of the Universe that are hosting his Jerry-like essentialism. Jerry’s actions are determined by whichever universe he’s in — no free will. We don’t get badass Jerry, we get pathetic Jerry in our Earth. Sorry other Jerrys, but snivelling Jerry is the best.
I previously wrote about metamodernism and La La Land here. Metamodernism is possibly the cultural and philosophical movement to follow from postmodernism (prevalent since the end of the Second World War).
I previously would have, and did, say that Rick and Morty is a prime example of metamodernism. Since the season three opener (and currently the only episode from season three), The Rickshank Rickdemption, this looks a lot less likely. Rick shuns his emotions in this episode for the worthy pursuit of McDonalds’ Mulan Szechuan Sauce (although this may all change shortly when we get the rest of season three).
This is potentially completely defunct after The Rickshank Rickdemption. Metamodernism has all the irony and nihilism of postmodernism, as well as a lot of the characteristics (pastiche, being self aware, etc), but genuine emotion as well. There’s a good chance Rick has just been teasing us about the genuine emotion, but we will see.
Long description of postmodernism and metamodernism here:
Metamodernism is the name for the movement that has possibly come after postmodernism. Postmodernism is characterised by irony, self-referentiality, and cynicism. Perfect examples are shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, with the gang’s never-ending narcissistic exploits without any feeling or sincerity (e.g. the insistent of not dealing with Frank being Charlie’s father), and movies like American Psycho, a film that destroys grand concepts like truth using black humour but ending in nihilism. Nothing learned and nothing sincere. Metamodernism calls back to the sentimentality and sincerity from before postmodernism, but keeps the lessons learned from postmodernism (e.g. the destruction of meta-narratives). Metamodernism often speaks with the language of postmodernism — irony, self referencing, cynicism — but what is said is sincere and affecting. Oscillation is also a defining factor of metamodernism — think of every time you’ve seen something on the internet that would appear truthful and reputable, only to see the exact opposite of that thing a few minutes later.
The Experience Machine
Popularised by Vanilla Sky (and the much better Spanish original Open Your Eyes), Robert Nozick’s thought experiment of the Experience Machine (or the Pleasure Machine) asks the question: if there was a machine that could allow you to have any experience you desire, would this be preferable to real life?
Roy — the video game that Rick is obsessed with, is almost a perversion of an experience machine. Instead of anything you could desire, you play out the life of a carpet salesman — but the game is immersive to the point that went Morty takes off the headgear (after he has died at the pathetic age of 55) he asks where his wife is. Instead of having any experience you wish, like to Experience Machine thought experiment, you get to try and make the best life within the parameters of a normal world and all the pressures that come with it (hence football star, to husband, to carpet salesman, to dead). Rick of course manages to mix things up, taking Roy “off grid.” No surprise there.
Published on MoviePilot here.
When Frank Ocean finally sauntered on to the walkway Friday night at Lovebox, twenty five minutes late and wearing headphones, the crowd didn’t exactly go wild. “About time you c**t” the girl next to me screamed. She’d been switching between compulsively taking selfies and taking bumps off keys for the half an hour or so I’d been in her close vicinity.
This was the first time Frank Ocean has taken a stage in the UK since 2014, and only his second gig in those three years. In that time Ocean has released two albums, the visual album Endless followed swiftly by Blonde, but had almost no interaction with the press and almost no public appearances.
But the albums speak for themselves. Blonde is a masterpiece. On the first listen it didn’t have anything like the immediate hit of the songwriting on Channel Orange, it took time to absorb into your subconscious. But when it did absorb, the result was intimate and dreamlike – refrains dance all the way through the album’s seventeen tracks with Ocean distorting his voice more often than not.
So Ocean is enigmatic, to say the least. A man who Beyonce will do uncredited backing vocals for, a man who only needs to stream a video of a room on his website (for a solid week with nothing happening) to bring the internet’s rapt attention. So when he did finally walk out on to that platform you would generally expect an impressive reception.
But the crowd was split. There were obviously people there that really enjoy Ocean’s music, but there was a palpable feeling of many people being there just to say that they had – and for the posts to the ‘Gram of course. Ocean mainly played songs Blonde, as well as recent releases like Biking, Lens, and Chanel; eschewing his much more festival friendly tunes circa Channel Orange, with the notable exception of Thinking About You, two versions of which he played back to back, restarting the first because the timing wasn’t perfect.
This personal and intimate performance, on a platform in a sea of 50,000 people, was perfect for Ocean and for the songs he performed – but undeniably disappointing for people expecting a banging headlining set, especially if they’d just strolled over from seeing Solange slay on the second stage.
Apart from perhaps for the extremely close and exceptionally savvy, the reveal that the guy shooting the incredible video was Spike Jonze was left for the day after. It shouldn’t really be a surprise though and rumours of a tour documentary are flying around.
Ocean’s level of stardom may not go with his artistry. He doesn’t make music for the fame or the money and performs on his own terms. He’s not on social media and doesn’t have scandalous headlines, and he’s not going to just play the hits.
Part way through the set he pulled his headphones off one ear and mumbled “sorry if I’m not engaging enough – I’m still trying to figure this out”. I’ll be getting tickets if he performs again, figured out or not.
Margaret Atwood is amazing. Her first novel was published in 1969, The Edible Woman, a feminist masterpiece that deals with eating disorders and gender roles in the 1960s. Since then she’s written 17 novels, 10 short story collections, 20 poetry collections, 7 children’s books, 10 non-fictions books, 3 operas, and a graphic novel. To call her prolific would be an understatement.
The Handmaid’s Tale was first published in 1985, a finalist for the Booker prize (a prize Atwood later won for The Blind Assassin) and a commercial hit. When Atwood wrote the book, many of the things it deals with may have not been quite as close to the forefront of the cultural consciousness as they are today, but they had all happened at some point in history.
If you’ve read almost any of Atwood’s novels you would know that her insight is undeniable, whether she is writing in the genre she states is speculative fiction (not containing the fantastical elements of science fiction, but something that could feasibly develop from our current reality) or the more straight forward fiction of some of her other novels. The Handmaid’s Tale still stands out for me as my favourite and a career-defining novel.
The high level of production you expect from a modern TV show is clear from the moment The Handmaid’s Tale begins, and a lot of care has obviously been put in to adapting what is a widely read and well loved novel. The cast are fantastic, the direction and cinematography is incredible; but the music selection, especially in the first few episodes, really stands out.
Elisabeth Moss is a boss. Like most people I first caught her in Mad Men as the superlative Peggy Olson and after that in the incredible Top Of The Lake. Her turn in The Handmaid’s Tale is incredible, no other actress could so perfectly embody Offred, her expressions of defiance and audacity elicit absolute empathy. Samira Wiley also stands out as Moira. The entire ensemble cast of Yvonne Strahovski, Max Minghella, Joseph Fiennes, and Alexis Bledel kill it throughout the entire season.
Adaptation and Original
The expansion of the story line is so subtle and well done that I kept having to flick through the pages of the book to try and remember if it happened. The inclusion of Luke’s, Serena Joy’s and Ofglen’s stories gives the show a new depth and exciting promise of more. The series ends where the book ends, but has added much more to the story line. The inclusion in the final episode of Moira making it to Canada and meeting with Luke was exciting: something the show offers that the book didn’t is the prospect of seeing how the world changes back, how the resistance wins. In the novel there is an epilogue based in a conference which is discussing the time of Gilead after it has ended, so we know it has ended but we don’t get the vindication of seeing it happen.
The show is glammed up a bit. There’s more violence, more sex, and more trauma than the novel (this has been criticised by some, not without reason, see Alison Vincent’s article in The Telegraph). The beauty of the way Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale is that everything was understated, hinted at. This works amazingly for a novel but not always so well for a TV show, especially when we’re all used to Game of Thrones‘ level of spectacle (Mad Men used subtlety constantly, but was also extremely watchable and had a devoted audience, so got away with it). The book uses understatement and subtlety throughout, so you have to pay attention, and never really tells you what is going on. The show is still subtle, but it does this much less and makes much bolder moves with the story lines.
Why The Handmaid’s Tale Matters Now
The timing of the filming of the show was obviously not intentional, the creators could not have known that the rise of certain values in the west would become apparent with votes that took place. But it is nonetheless prescient, many hard-won women’s rights are being challenged by politicians and courts, whilst climate change is being ignored more fervently than ever.
The rise in right wing extremist Christianity, due to an extreme decline in fertility is the catalyst for the Gilead government taking power in the novel. Climate change is held responsible for the decline in birthrate to near zero (amazingly Atwood was writing in the mid 80s, when climate change would have barely been on anybody’s radar) and the rise in religious extremism creates the perfect storm.
Current Attitudes Towards Climate Change
Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement cemented his indifference towards issues of climate change. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Gilead claim that their government have reduced carbon emissions by 78% in three years through taking complete control of society. The current political attitude towards climate change, especially in America, is incredibly dismissive with many politicians outright denying its existence. For many people climate change is a pressing issue that is not being dealt with by people in power with enough expedition. Without the decline in birthrate this would appear to be similar to the situation regarding climate change before the beginning of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The Defence of Women’s Rights
The women’s march that took place on the day of Trump’s inauguration was a protest against the reduction in women’s rights, with people around the world not only showing solidarity with Americans, but also all the women who do not have basic rights throughout the world. The election of a man to one of the highest offices in the world who has voiced anti-female sentiments on multiple occasions throughout his life, coupled with the wish to repeal rights-ensuring legislation that would affect millions of women throughout America, has brought the issue and women’s rights to the forefront. The questing of women’s rights that keeps happening in current political discourse feels alarmingly familiar to the sentiments behind the much more extreme actions of the Gilead government.
Dystopias in the Modern World
Atwood wrote an introduction to a new edition of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in which she discusses the relevance of both Huxley’s novel and Nineteen Eighty-Four to modern society (2007 at the time of her writing). If you aren’t familiar with either of these books (they are both fantastic and worth reading) she explains that they contain two very different dystopias: one characterised by totalitarianism control (Nineteen Eighty-Four) and one characterised by prescribed consumerism (Brave New World).
Throughout the world the boot of Nineteen Eighty-Four and the soma of Brave New World can be seen: the boot in oppressive governments and regimes and the soma in the rampant consumerism of shopping and the tranquillising effect of the internet.
The Handmaid’s Tale is arguably on the same level as Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, both of which contain striking prescience about the modern world; The Handmaid’s Tale‘s insight focuses on religious extremism within government and female subjugation. Just like how aspects of the dystopias in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World can be seen in our modern world, aspects of the dystopia in The Handmaid’s Tale are obvious. In recent years the rise in anti-female sentiment and continued attacks on women’s rights make this patent.
In the passage from the novel that holds the same sentiment Elisabeth Moss speaks as Offred, Atwood says that when the Gilead government took power they gunned down Congress and blamed it on Islamic fanatics, and that there were no riots, that everyone stayed home and watched their TVs, that “there wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on”.
The boot is more flagrant, but it’s the combination that will get you.
Bring on season two.
Not many films examine masculinity at all, let alone as well as Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight does. Combine that with a film that examines sexuality, race, and poverty in ways we rarely see and you have something truly exceptional. But Moonlight goes a step further and is universal in its ability to connect.
Moonlight is incredible. The direction, writing, cinematography are all flawless. If you haven’t seen it, you should. The film is set in three acts, with three different actors playing the same character at different points in his life. (Mild spoilers for Moonlight ahead).
The start of Moonlight opens with Boris Gardiner’s “Every N****r Is a Star” (a reference to Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly – a masterpiece that examines mental health, addiction, race and society, amongst many other things) and an introduction to Juan (Mahershala Ali). You could write entirely about the incredible music used in the film, from the soundtrack picks to the subliminal score by Nicholas Britell (soundtrack on Spotify here). Here Alex R. Hibbert plays “Little” in the first of the three acts of the film (although it is obvious throughout the movie that it was adapted from a play, it does not have the problem that Fences has in transforming into its new medium). We watch as Little’s mother slips further in to drug addiction and he meets and connects with Juan, someone who sees a truly isolated child and offers them a connection. In the last scene before moving on we seen Juan and Little, and Little asks Juan if he deals drugs and if his mum does drugs. This, coupled with a previous scene where Juan confronts Little’s mum Paula (the incredible Naomie Harris), was a highlight for me from the first act.
In the second act Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is awkward and sad; the setting of someone being bullied in an American high school is familiar and featured in many narratives. The betrayal Chiron experiences in this act (this is semi-autobiographical up until the end of this act, check out this interview with playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney here) is gut wrenching and leads Chiron to take control of his life, in a destructive way.
Black (Trevante Rhodes) is Chiron fully grown and emulating Juan in everything from the crown on his dash, to the grills, to to his body language. He is also a man who has obviously built himself, physically and mentally, for survival. In many ways the third act’s most striking feature is the facade that Black has created for himself; the use of Jidenna’s “Classic Man” is a give away, a song about a man with old-fashioned values and beliefs and the stereotype of masculinity and of an OG. I don’t want to say to much about the ending of the film, it is fantastic and you should go see the movie immediately if you haven’t already.
Why Moonlight is universal.
There has been quite a lot of discussion about whether people can connect to this film. Camilla Long is one of the few critics not enthralled by Moonlight. She gave it a mixed review, and said the audience would be unable to relate to it because they would be mostly “straight, white, middle class”. There are lots of things you could pick out of her review, like the fact she wasn’t sure who was playing the protagonist in the three parts, that would make you wonder why she hasn’t connected to the film. I’m amazed that something in Moonlight didn’t manage to reach her and move her in the way it appears to have done to almost everyone else, but I personally think she is certainly wrong about any demographic of an audience being unable to relate to it.
That’s because you don’t have to be black, gay, American, even male to understand this. People have called it a coming-of-age drama, but it is about something more universal even than growing up: it is about connecting to another human being. Something so simple and integral to being alive that most people couldn’t imagine not having it. By showing us this essential part of being human from the perspective of someone so isolated, who is denied this connection by the person most responsible for providing it to him, it feels truly universal, allows anyone to connect to the character. From my perspective this is the part that connects to me the most. If I was black, gay, or male there may be another part of the film that speaks to me more or in a different way, as it has to many others.
But, what is incredible is that it doesn’t matter, because the film is so powerful and perfectly realised it will reach everyone. For me Moonlight is more about loneliness and the human condition seen through a lens of homosexuality, race and poverty than it is about specifically about those things. It is amazing to see a film with the diversity of Moonlight doing so well, both critically and commercially, but it’s true success is it’s ability to reach anyone who takes the time to watch it.
Like many others I’m sure, I was hesitant to watch Mel Gibson’s new film Hacksaw Ridge. I’d seen the trailer and it looked like a fairly ridiculous (you know the bit I mean – kicking and slapping away grenades) and standard war film. But the critics were pretty consistent; it’s not a masterpiece, but it is definitely worth your time. So I gave it a go and I really enjoyed it – up until the last twenty minutes or so.
I was hesitant because Mel Gibson is pretty strange. Not because of all the crazy personal stuff (although that is extremely strange and won’t be mentioned here), but because of the movies he makes: Braveheart (1995), The Passion of the Christ (2004), Apocalypto, and now Hacksaw Ridge (full disclosure: I have not seen The Man Without a Face, so I have not mentioned it here). Bear with me. (Spoilers for Hacksaw Ridge ahead).
Personally I often find war films problematic. Partly because so often they seem ubiquitous, and partly because they don’t always seem to adequately deal with their subject matter. Full Metal Jacket on the one hand is a good example of a war film that shows the horrors of war (with a fair amount of humour), whereas something like Fury for me was much more like a glorification of war, violence, and shows the armed forces as a boy’s club. Saving Private Ryan gets a pretty perfect balance. Braveheart is overly long and occasionally self-indulgent, but pretty well balanced. It’s fairly liberal with the truth and, although primarily a war film, does feature religion and Gibson’s standard saviour protagonist.
Religious films are also problematic. Balanced religious films are much less common than balanced war films. You tend to get mainstream films that are critical of religion (Spotlight, The Magdalene Sisters, Sausage Party, Doubt) and then on the opposite of that religious films that are made with a religious agenda. I tried to watch one of these once, A Matter of Faith, but had to turn it off when the father got to his daughter’s university to debate her lecturer on this existence of evolution (this really was the plot). More balanced films that aren’t particularly criticising or promoting tend to be the more historical: Aronofsky’s excellent, and underrated, Noah and The Last Temptation of Christ. Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ probably fits well into the last category.
I enjoyed The Passion of the Christ and it seemed to be fairly focused on portraying a realistic telling of Christ’s last days. There was a lot of criticism at the time that it was very Catholic centric (and Gibson was accused at the time of anti-semitism because of the film). This would at first appear to be Gibson’s most religious film. But, by being a fairly simple (if, perhaps, biased) historical film that happens to be about religion, The Passion of the Christ is not necessarily overwhelmingly religious.
Gibson’s Apocalypto is genius and unprecedented. If perhaps you had been too distracted by the content of his previous films to see what a great film maker he can be, then Apocalypto should convince you. Which, unfortunately, does not mean it is not flawed. Whilst perhaps not particularly historically accurate and potentially pro-colonisation, depending on how you read it, the integrity of the film making and the sheer thrill of chase film set in a jungle makes these problems – if not forgivable – then forgettable.
So, Hacksaw Ridge is a return to both war and religion for Gibson, and a surprisingly good one. The trailer made the concept and the story itself look weak, but throughout the film the dawning that these are real(ish) events has quite an impact – it feels inspirational that someone could save so many people and be involved in war whilst standing by the beliefs and not partaking in the violence.
Richard Brody from the New Yorker took issue with the violence in the film, calling it pornographic. He’s definitely not wrong, the amount of violence and they way that it is filmed seems completely at odds with the message of non-violence from the protagonist. But for me the real issue with the way in which the film forced the religious message.
But unlike other films about religion I’ve mentioned, Spotlight and Doubt for instance, which are ideologically anti-religion do not let their persuasion get in the way of the story telling. The story itself is what leads you to the ideology, if you choose to see it, rather than needing to hammer in the ideology as Gibson does in Hacksaw Ridge.
There are two points that I felt really stuck out as guilty of this: when Doss sends someone back for his bible, and the shot at the very end of Doss on a stretcher. As if Doss would want someone to murder people and risk their life just to retrieve his bible and the final shot when he is being transferred on a stretcher at the end, floating in the sky and the camera moves as if he is ascending to the clouds was too much for me.
In the last 20 minutes the film stops being about a man who happens to be religious, doing a great thing, and instead hands the credit for the actions of the man to his religion and God. The pushing of the religious message, coupled with the amount of violence and the way it is shown, appears completely at odds with what Doss achieved as a conscientious objector. Whenever a film is made that tries to force a message rather than tell a story, the story suffers. Hacksaw Ridge is certainly watchable, and the story of Desmond Doss is truly incredible, but Gibson makes his best films when he leaves the preaching alone.
Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is much more complex than suggested by some.
Unlike many people, I loved Tom Ford’s first film A Single Man. I thought it was profound and interesting and beautifully shot. A lot of people would probably only agree with the last point. So, I was more excited than most for the arrival of Ford’s second film Nocturnal Animals, even though the trailer looked a million miles away from 2009’s A Single Man.
I personally thought Nocturnal Animals was excellent. The performances were great. The cinematography, direction, and art direction were all fantastic. The tenacity with which the story within a story was told somehow made the concept seem fresh. And that scene in the middle was horrendously gut wrenching. I – like I’m sure many others – sat with bated breath and white knuckles counting down the seconds until it was over.
A quick synopsis if you need it:
There are basically three parts to the film: the present, the past, and the novel. In the present Amy Adams plays Susan, an art gallery owner with a crappy marriage to a cheating businessman husband. Susan receives a manuscript from Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), her ex-husband, entitled “Nocturnal Animals”. As Susan begins to read the transcript we’re taken into the novel, where Tony (also played by Jake Gyllenhaal) and his wife (played by Isla Fisher, and as always Fisher and Adams look very similar) when they run into a group of men, who run them off the road, kidnap Tony’s wife and daughter, and then rape and murder them. The rest of the novel is taken up by Tony’s search for revenge (with the help of Michael Shannon as Detective Bobby Andes). Back in the real world we are shown Edward and Susan’s past marriage in flashbacks, which ended with Susan leaving Edward for her current husband and aborting their baby without his knowledge. The film ends with Edward standing Susan up for their catch up in a restaurant.
You know the part I’m talking about. Everyone who’s seen the film, and probably a fair few that haven’t, know the scene that I’m talking about. That part of the story, and in particular that scene, is harrowing and feels deeply violent.
To recap: Tony is going on holiday to West Texas with his wife and daughter. They have what at first seems like a road rage incident, but quickly turns sour. Tony tries to keep everything under control when three men appear and start acting strange and threatening towards the family, helping to fix a flat tyre they no doubt created. Eventually his wife and daughter are in the car alone, at which point they are abducted. Tony is forced to follow in the other car. He manages to escape and finds their dead bodies the next day with the help of Detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon).
Part of what I liked about this scene, other than the fantastic way Ford builds tension so subtly, was the way in which Tony acts. He seems to be not trying to start a fight and remain hopeful that the group of men don’t mean them harm. His wife and daughter, on the other hand, appear to know what’s up straight away – something that I felt rang particularly true as a female viewer.
This part of the story is the book written by Susan’s (Amy Adams) ex-husband Edward, and plays out like a revenge fantasy. Susan aborted a child that was hers and Edward’s without consulting him, after she had left him for another man.
Accusation of violence for violence’s sake
Victoria Coren Mitchell recently wrote an article where she accuses the movie of vapidness, being akin to pornography, “gynophobic death-porn” and arguing that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre never got such accolades.
Scrolling through the comments it become quite obvious that most of the people commenting on the article have not seen the film, and are now unlikely to do so. Accusations of graphic rape scenes that are always unnecessary are thrown around, talk of men making graphic (and pornographic) films that are about women as hapless, but visually attractive victims.
What Coren Mitchell, and many of the commenters, seem to miss is that, terrifying as the movie is in parts, it’s easy to forget that there is almost no violence actually shown in the film. Most of the violence happens off camera (one of the exceptions is Tony visualising what happened to his wife while it is described to him – where we shakily see Isla Fishers face screaming). But they would not know this without seeing the movie.
Coren Mitchell’s argument that women are raped and murdered in the real world and therefore shouldn’t be glorified on screen is fair enough when it truly is glorification, but this is not accurate for Nocturnal Animals. The reactions to the “violence” with Nocturnal Animals seems to broadly swipe at anything violent within film. I understand some people do not like violence at all, and avoid violent films, but to say that is unnecessary would limit us greatly.
Nocturnal Animals doesn’t glorify violence against women, and to suggest it does is to deeply misunderstand it. It explores something much more complex and nuanced: the mundane violences we visit on each other in relationships and how that is dealt with. The violence (if there is violence) is in Edward’s writing of the scene in the novel, not within the scene itself.