Three Monkeys: the elephant in the room

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Title: Üç maymun (Three Monkeys)
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Language: Turkish
Year: 2008
Critical Reception: Screened at Vancouver Film Festival 2008, metacritic rating of 73%, Winner of Cannes 2008 for Best Director
Psych Index: Intimate
In Brief: The film unfolded at a steady pace by the assured hand of the Turkish photographer cum director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who directed the wonderful, equally austere Cannes’ Grand Jury Prize winner Uzak (Distant, 2002). Three Monkeys won him yet another Cannes prize earlier this year, this time as a director, making him one of the international directors to watch. His background as a photographer showed in the composition of the shots and the mood captured in each frame. With Monkeys, he’d strung together a series of moving pictures, hazily beautiful, at once intimate and detached, like memories-filled traveling postcards.

The title refers to the Japanese proverbial three wise monkeys that are the pictorial maxim for “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” While there exist multiple interpretations of the maxim, the one that seemed most close to the film was something of an elephant in the room. Without giving too much of the plot away, until the very end of the film, it would be hard pressed to really know what monkeys the film was referring to: the cover-up, the affair, the murder, or the missing piece to the family puzzle. May be all of them.

For a plot that was full of deceit, intrigue and passion, Three Monkeys was stripped down to the minimum, leaving only the slow decay of a family to fully occupy the screen. The events served as only as anchors for the film, for the real action that propelled the film forward was invisible on the page. Though it became apparent half way through the film’s emotional catalyst may have started before the first screen appeared, the film’s story technically began on a dark, winding road where a politician hit the first serious snag of the election, literally. Fearful that a hit-and-run would ruin his political career, he hired his driver to be the sacrificial lamb in exchange for a handsome sum at the end of jail time. While the driver served his sentence, leaving his wife and teenage son to manage for themselves with his monthly salary, the wife and the politician got involved in a discrete little tryst. It was not too discrete, for the son discovered his mother’s little secret, much to his dismay. When the father finally came back, there was little to do to contain the emotions boiling over. One mistake lead to another, and the price to be paid for silence became the hot potato that got passed on to the nearest frog in a hole.

The film unfolded at a steady pace by the assured hand of the Turkish photographer cum director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who directed the wonderful, equally austere Cannes’ Grand Jury Prize winner Uzak (Distant, 2002). Three Monkeys won him yet another Cannes prize earlier this year, this time as a director, making him one of the international directors to watch. His background as a photographer showed in the composition of the shots and the mood captured in each frame. With Monkeys, he’d strung together a series of moving pictures, hazily beautiful, at once intimate and detached, like memories-filled travelling postcards.

The estranged characters functioned as loners in spite of their clumsy attempt to reach out for each other. Twice, the image of a single alley cat prancing across the screen contrasted with the character’s shape sharing the same frame. The cry of a cat can be awfully lonely and haunting, and its presence in the film – along with the surprisingly creepy and sad missing-piece-of-the-family-puzzle – gave Monkeys a spiritual dimension befitting of the best psychological horror films. The cast felt like real people, breathing and aching like real people, packing an emotional punch to each of their performances, even if their circumstances felt a bit unreal.

There could be some comparisons drawn between the film and Robert Redford’s Ordinary People. Both films dealt with family guilt, grief, and disintegration, though they could not be more different in style of expression. Whereas Ordinary People had an earthy, warm colour to the picture, Three Monkeys‘ brown was more green in shades. The latter also was decidedly less chatty about reasons and feelings, in keeping with the oblivion alluded to by the film’s title. If you’d prefer to do the analysis yourself rather than leaving it up to a film to spell it out, Three Monkeys would probably fit your sensibilities better. Even if you’d left the film puzzled by some loose ends, at the very least it would’ve been a strangely hypnotic, if not pretty, journey.



Inside the Oscar campaign

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NY Mag has an encompassing article on the Oscar campaign.

The Messenger, which has grossed only about $800,000, is probably the least-seen movie that has a shot at a Best Picture nomination; after the AFI ceremony, in the driveway of the Four Seasons Hotel, I hear a publicist for a rival film mutter grimly into his cell phone, “I don’t know if that movie is on the radar or not, but that clip killed.” The Messenger is distributed by Oscilloscope, a New York–based indie run by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch and David Fenkel. “You never know how these things will shape up,” says Fenkel. “Every couple of weeks, films that you thought were contenders turn out not to be, so you’re constantly revising your expectations. And what we found was that in early December, Woody Harrelson’s performance started getting a lot of traction.”

For movies without a huge campaign budget, that kind of break is critical: Actors form the Academy’s largest branch, and a talked-about performance like Harrelson’s can lead voters to watch the DVD and perhaps consider other long-shot choices—like the screenplay (which does, in fact, get nominated) or even the film itself (which doesn’t). Oscilloscope sent screeners to voters early, a real gamble for a company without even a small studio budget, where even a single “For Your Consideration” ad page, which commands between $13,000 and $30,000, requires a cost-benefit analysis. But even in a season of relative austerity, money still matters, and it’s hard to argue that the playing field is level when you’re driving from one studio party to another through a city in which every other billboard (price: $50,000 and up for four weeks) seems to be touting Inglourious Basterds or Up in the Air. (At least Up in the Air is still trying to sell movie tickets. The billboards for Basterds, long gone from theaters, are clearly meant for Academy voters only—Harvey Weinstein, who released the movie, being Oscar’s most remorseless campaigner.)
Avatar would shatter precedent by becoming the first Best Picture winner since 1933 to take the prize without any acting or writing nominations. The Hurt Locker, which has taken in just under $13 million at the U.S. box office, would shatter precedent by becoming the lowest-grossing winner since the fifties.
Bullock, who has never come anywhere near an Oscar nomination but is riding a wave of big box office and positive press for The Blind Side, is almost as good as Streep at the podium: She gives the kind of emotive, funny, ingratiating speech that makes people say, “Maybe she should win,” just because it seems like fun. All at once, we have a contest—and the most interesting acting face-off of the season, since the excellent narrative behind Streep (namely, There Is No Way on God’s Green Earth That This Woman Should Have Fewer Best Actress Oscars Than Hilary Swank) must now fight off Bullock’s, the much simpler Who’da Thunk It?!
And why James Cameron is basically trying to lose his Oscar:
“I would ask you not to be humble,” the first questioner begins. No problem. Cameron quickly advances what amounts to a three-pronged case for why Avatar should win the Oscar. Ebulliently, he muses that the film’s technological leaps could “give permission to other filmmakers” to take 3-D out of the ghettos of “high-end animation and lowbrow live-action”; he points out that the movie, which he envisioned as a “shameless engine of commerce,” is only the second sci-fi film to take this prize; and he notes that it’s “very interesting that a major Hollywood commercial film is in some way controversial, whether it’s the environmental theme or some of the political themes.” It’s an aggressive sell: Tonight, he wants all of the Oscar narratives—The Chance to Make History, The Popular Favorite, The Movie That Speaks to This Moment.

And then, he goes too far. He keeps talking. And he does the one thing that no winner should ever do in a roomful of journalists: He disses Meryl Streep.

A reporter asks him why Avatar’s motion-capture performances haven’t gotten more respect from actors. “I’m going to give you an example,” Cameron says, clearly recalling the encounter I witnessed with the actress after the Critics’ Choice Awards. “I had always wanted to meet her—and I was talking about the performance-capture stuff and I was mentioning how all the actors love doing it. And she said, ‘Oh, yes, I know. I had such a great time doing Fantastic Mr. Fox.’ I thought ‘Oh, my God, this is a perfect example of what’s wrong!’ She didn’t perform the character physically over a period of months. She did a voice performance maybe for a day, maybe for two days, on a lectern!” From far away, I can feel Fox executives emitting psychic beams: “Stop talking now.”

“It’s almost like Asperger’s with him,” a producer tells me later. “How many years has it taken him to live down ‘I’m the King of the World!’? When he shifts into that mode of talking about how great his movies are and how other people just don’t get it, he is literally incapable of understanding how he sounds. And I say that as a fan! He makes it incredibly hard to vote for him.”


Vicky Cristina Barcelona: When Woody Allen Meets Scarlett Johansson

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Title: Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Director: Woody Allen
Language: English, Spanish
Year: 2008
Critical Reception: Penelope Cruz won Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in the film, kudos from major critics including Village Voice's Scott Foundas, The New Yorker's David Denby, Variety's Todd McCarthy, appearance on some year end top 10 lists.
Psych Index: Gender, Intimate
In Brief: It would seem that despite our wantons, we are a creature of habit, unable to break out of the social ties we entangled ourselves in. At least, that was the picture depicted here by Woody Allen, whose love life was a true taboo-ridden tabloid heaven. It was no surprise to see him grappling with the struggle between doing what looked right and doing what felt right. Vicky was a continuation of this depiction, and no new ground was broken here that was not covered in Match Point, except for perhaps the idea of a third wheel being the stabling point for a volatile relationship and an all-too-brief famous kissing scene that made titillated boys of Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz’s fans everywhere. I am not beyond jumping into a threesome involving these women. Did I mention that Javier Bardem was part of this scenario? Try saying no to that.
At first, I thought Vicky Christina Barcelona was a romance novel on screen, complete with erotic, juicy romancing in exotic places. Closer inspection would prove me incorrect, however. Romance novels tend to have two things in them that Vicky deviated from: a female narrator and an optimistic ending. The third person narrator allowed the film to be framed like a picture in a different world – a world pregnant with possibilities that may be a tiny bit far-fetched in this world. The cynicism of its conclusion complicated its warm, breezy, pink-laced feel of anything-goes romanticism. It would seem that despite our wantons, we are a creature of habit, unable to break out of the social ties we entangled ourselves in. At least, that was the picture depicted here by Woody Allen, whose love life was a true taboo-ridden tabloid heaven. It was no surprise to see him grappling with the struggle between doing what looked right and doing what felt right. Vicky was a continuation of this depiction, and no new ground was broken here that was not covered in Match Point, except for perhaps the idea of a third wheel being the stabling point for a volatile relationship and an all-too-brief famous kissing scene that made titillated boys of Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz’s fans everywhere. I am not beyond jumping into a threesome involving these women. Did I mention that Javier Bardem was part of this scenario? Try saying no to that.

This mini review was actually meant to highlight what Cristina uttered in one moment of brutal honesty: she was not gifted in the same way Maria Elena was, though she could appreciate what art was. In some ways, one could see her being the mouth-piece for Woody himself, who often found himself toiled in some circles in the shadow of his favourite filmmaker, Ingmar Bergman. Bergman was a master of chamber cinema depicting relationship struggles involving the self’s deepest wantons, not unlike Woody’s chosen cinematic frame. I could not help but thought of Bergman as the Maria Elena to Woodys’ Cristina, and similarly, filmmakers being the Maria Elena to film critics’ Cristina. This was a passionate thank-you to muses everywhere. As we discovered in the film, Cristina did have an unexpected gift or two in her, waiting for the inspiration of spring to blossom. Sometimes, a touch of passion is all you need to kindle the fire within. Even if in the end our habits got the best of us, we would’ve known what it was like to be awaken. There’s no unringing the bell, and our life is that much richer for having known it, even if we’re no less lost than when we began.

The question remained though, what to make of the women in this film? Was he accurate in his depictions of women’s inner lives? Which of these women do you tend to identify yourself with? Is it fair to say they are all shades of every woman? Would you have said no to the proposition?



Zack and Miri make a porno: sit com, with nudity

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Title: Zack and Miri make a porno
Director: Kevin Smith
Language: English
Year: 2008
Critical Reception: Panned by most major critics, with a metacritic rating of 56.
Psych Index: Intimate
In Brief: At times, Zack and Miri seemed to bathe in gold tint, the same one that encapsulated sitcoms and other mainstream feel-good shows on your smaller tube. It also had the same quirky sheen of other feel-good indie flicks over the past few years. The stage was an innocent, vanilla coffee shop. The cast was, save for all the nudity, Friends-ish. Perhaps this was its one clever move, cinematically, making a case for the notion of porn making its presence well known in the mainstream culture.

Let us fuck. No? Okay now that I’ve used up the one effective and funny catch phrase from Zack and Miri Make A Porno (Smith, 2008), let’s just talk about sex. After all, this was what the film set out to do – to state a case for meaningful sex, in the age of seemingly frivolous humpings, and have it set against an industry made exclusively to entertain sex acts and the idea thereof.

Zack Brown (Seth Rogen), in trying to convince Miri Linky (Elizabeth Banks) that porn was their best option available for some quick cash, claimed that pornography was already present in the mainstream culture. In some ways, its creator waged the success of the film on this notion. To this end, yes, Mr. Smith, porno has gone mainstream. Or, at least as mainstream as it could be. I knew it was so when bottomless parties were the rage in a seemingly innocuous buddy film, Harold and Kumar part deux. Of course, there was also that well circulated sex tape that made Paris Hilton the queen of the tabloid and other news media alike. Point well taken – and demonstrated within the film. At times, Zack and Miri seemed to bathe in gold tint, the same one that encapsulated sitcoms and other mainstream feel-good shows on your smaller tube. It also had the same quirky sheen of other feel-good indie flicks over the past few years. The stage was an innocent, vanilla coffee shop. The cast was, save for all the nudity, Friends-ish. Perhaps this was its one clever move, cinematically, making a case for the notion of porn making its presence well known in the mainstream culture.

The film also featured the same scenario we have seen from the recent Judd Apatow films: ordinary, if not slightly dowdy, guys beating their heart on their sleeves, and in the procress, melt some awestruck pretty girl’s heart (why must the supposed ‘girl next door’ be always so clearly not dowdy?). Clearly, it was meant for the people who went because the title had “porno” in it, as well as people who would not admit to going to see the film for the same reason. It was also made for Kevin Smith fans (which, apparently, included the Weinstein Bros.?), as it featured excessive geeky talk and everything. Oh yes, there was a Star Wars spoof.

But, was there something else to the film? Something about sex changing everything? On this front, the film presented a half-hearted argument at best. The unfortunate part about the quirky, loveable cast was the way it was pit against the humanity of its two main characters. It was like pitching cardboard particles against real pine. It’s not much of an argument if the side of meaningful sex got some warm body to enact it, and in the other corner, cartoonish sex machines being over-the-top silly, or dumb, or sometimes both.

In a way, the porn industry was used in the film the same way Zack and Miri envisioned it: a fantasy dreaming of real human connections. As far as fantasy goes, none of these sideshow characters was given a fair chance – they were barely shown to be human beings, just jokes and dicks. Sex is, of course, meaningless if there’s no human involved. To be fair, the film was not about the porn industry, so one should not expect a fair exploration of the individuals involved. You could argue that Zack and Miri were part of the show, so perhaps they could represent some parts of it. The problem was, they stopped when the going got real. I suppose this could be the portrait of the modern amateurs, but it still did not make a convincing case for sex chaning everything, beyond the obvious “well, duh, of course sex could change existing relationships! Surprise!” Casual, meaningless sex could still exist between breathing human beings. What was this movie about again? Oh, right, sweet human relationships. With nudity. And dangling balls, yes. But you can still take your platonic buddy-or-not friend to it. It won’t change anything, promise.



Spiderman, interpreted by someone who watches a lot of Wes Anderson

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That Owen Wilson impersonation is so spot on, Owen Wilson should sue.


No Country for Old Men: A Summary In 3 Quotes

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Title: No Country for Old Men
Director: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Language: English
Year: 2007
Critical Reception: Oscars Best Picture winner
Psych Index: Existential, Antisocial Personality Disorder
In Brief:
Be it a reconstructed tale or a cautionary post-modern warning, No Country for Old Men resonated beyond the literal, though it very much rooted its success in the Coen brothers' ability to handle the visceral so effortlessly. Everything seemed deliberate but not forced, violent but not pornographically so, bleak but not without a sense of humour. Despite its plot line, this was less a film about crime and some psychopathic killer than it was about what people would do in face of meaningless happenstances and luck-of-the-draw absurdities. It may not always end up happily, but it would at least speak to one's character and sense of place. Unfortunately, only some would be wise enough to quit the scene before the real mess would begin, and many would continue to march on - perhaps with ample greed and little sense of place to help them save themselves, much less their loved ones.


When No Country for Old Men first screened in North America, there was a lot of head scratching after the credits rolled. I’d argue that everything you needed to know about the film was right there in the film, specifically in Ed Tom Bell’s (Tommy Lee Jones) speeches. Here, I’ll summarize the film with three quotes taken directly from the film. SPOILERS ALERT.

First, the beginning monologue that laid the foundation for the emotional and philosophical tone of the film:

I was sheriff of this county when I was
twenty-five. Hard to believe. Grandfather
was a lawman. Father too. Me and him was
sheriff at the same time, him in Plano
and me here. I think he was pretty proud
of that. I know I was.

Some of the old-time sheriffs never even
wore a gun. A lot of folks find that hard
to believe. Jim Scarborough never carried
one. That the younger Jim. Gaston Boykins
wouldn’t wear one. Up in Commanche County.

I always liked to hear about the old-
timers. Never missed a chance to do so.
Nigger Hoskins over in Batrop County knowed
everybody’s phone number off by heart. You
can’t help but compare yourself against the
old timers. Can’t help but wonder how they
would’ve operated these times. There was
this boy I sent to Huntsville here a while
back. My arrest and my testimony. He killed
a fourteen-year-old girl. Papers said it
was a crime of passion but he told me there
wasn’t any passion to it.

Told me that he’d been planning to kill
somebody for about as long as he could
remember. Said that if they turned him
out he’d do it again.

Said he knew he was going to hell. Be
there in about fifteen minutes. I don’t
know what to make of that. I surely don’t.

The crime you see now, it’s hard to even
take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid
of it.

I always knew you had to be willing to
die to even do this job – not to be
glorious. But I don’t want to push my
chips forward and go out and meet some-
thing I don’t understand.

You can say it’s my job to fight it but
I don’t know what it is anymore.

…More than that, I don’t want to know. A
man would have to put his soul at hazard.

… He would have to say, okay, I’ll be
part of this world.

Second, an explanation for what seemed to be the resignation that followed an anti-climatic end to the chase, as Bell realized he could no longer put his chips forward to face things unknown:

I don’t know. I feel overmatched.

…I always thought when I got older
God would sort of come into my life
in some way. He didn’t. I don’t blame
him. If I was him I’d have the same
opinion about me that he does.

Finally, the happy, comforting conclusion to the film that some might have missed:

Okay. Two of ‘em. Both had my father.
It’s peculiar. I’m older now’n he
ever was by twenty years. So in a sen-
se he’s the younger man. Anyway, first
one I don’t remember so well but it
was about money and I think I lost it.
The second one, it was like we was
both back in older times and I was on
horseback goin through the mountains
of a night.

…Goin through this pass in the moun-
tains. It was cold and snowin, hard
ridin. Hard country. He rode past me
and kept on goin. Never said nothin
goin by. He just rode on past and he
had his blanket wrapped around him and
his head down…

…and when he rode past I seen he
was carryin fire in a horn the way
people used to do and I could see the
horn from the light inside of it.
About the color of the moon. And in
the dream I knew that he was goin on
ahead and that he was fixin to make a
fire somewhere out there in allthat
dark and all that cold, and I knew
that whenever I got there he would be
there. Out there up ahead.

This was not to say that there was nothing in between. The point was not to mull over the state of the world in so many words, but to feel the weight of the land, of the troubles people face, and of the random luck-of-the-draw. For that, you’d have to watch the film and not this 3-quote summary. Or read the book, whichever suits you well.



Brüno: Putting sex in homosexuals

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Title: Brüno
Director: Sasha Baron Cohen
Language: English
Year: 2009
Critical Reception: Village Voice's J. Hoberman's stamp of approval
Psych Index: Gender, Homosexuality, Social Relations
In Brief: On the surface, Brüno was a shockingly vulgar and serious (!) picture intended to poke fun at homophobia. However, Cohen was not satisfied with this singular purpose (one which he nevertheless used to dress the overall veneer of the picture). Simmering just underneath was a commentary at the extent that people would go through to achieve fame in America, whether by latching on to a charity cause or by accessorizing with babies. One may claim Brüno to have failed, on a personal level, as a comedy. It happens – I laughed a lot, because I’m crude and such. But to the extent that it outraged on sexual vulgarity or made fools of its targets, it had much to applaud for.


Poor Ron Paul. The esteemed doctor cum 2008 presidential candidate with a dedicate following thought he was being interviewed on the issue of Austrian economics (who knew he was so keen on it?). What awaited him instead when a light suddenly ‘broke’ mid-interview was a flaming homosexual entrapment. Brüno dropped his pants in a seductive dance, and Dr. Paul stormed out of the interview, but not before declaring Brüno to be a queer. Le duh, Ron Paul! Suddenly it was not all theoretical and academic now, was it? The queer guy was in your space, ‘imposing’ his sexuality in what must be the imagined worse case scenario for those who fear the gay epidemic. Where was the politeness, or decency, for straight’s sake?

One could argue that anyone in his situation would have done the same; after all, who wouldn’t be creeped out by a fit man dropping his pants while waiting to go on with the rest of an interview on economics? And following such an incident, one would totally be entitled to fume away in anger and label such a man as a ‘queer.’ That was what was wrong with the whole deal, obviously – that and the fact that he dropped his pants made it all too frighteningly real. Furthermore, it must be taken into account that Dr. Paul was an old man who had never heard of Borat, and the last films he watched were Gone with the Wind and uh, The Sound of Music, both of which were never gay in their (his) time (but are totally flaming now – try admitting that to your friends). Did Sasha Baron Cohen aim too far out in desperation? Was this an instance of unnecessary mean-ness for shock value? What was the point of putting the poor doctor through such a seemingly no-win situation?

On the surface, Brüno was a shockingly vulgar and serious (!) picture intended to poke fun at homophobia. However, Cohen was not satisfied with this singular purpose (one which he nevertheless used to dress the overall veneer of the picture). Simmering just underneath was a commentary at the extent that people would go through to achieve fame in America, whether by latching on to a charity cause or by accessorizing with babies. Few things could be as desperately sad and shockingly appalling as the sequence in which stage parents consented to having their children put through anything for money and fame, even if it meant to have their children being near ‘antiquated machinery’ or dressing up as Nazis in a burn-the-Jews scenario. The irony was that there was a baby in the film – somebody must have consented to have this baby appeared in the same movie as a talking penis! How was that food for thought, Mr. Cohen? And what of banking on one’s flaming sexuality for fame, as Brüno surely now achieves the fame by doing just that? Is Perez Hilton taking notes? Perhaps this was the most astute observation from the film, one that Brüno the film itself was relying on for success – anyone can be a celebrity for any reason, and it really helps to be willful and exhibit no shame about giving what is asked for (in this case, homosexuality, topic du jour).

There may be very good reasons one could cite for not liking this picture without having to admit to being uncomfortable with homosexuality. If it was not the sexual vulgarity then it was the comedy, and both have been used in criticisms regarding the film. Though the outrageous humour remained intact, Brüno was no Borat: lighthearted silliness was almost absent from the film. In place this time around was an absolutely fearless kind of guerrilla comedy, one that was serious, bold, and dangerous (I thought to myself that Mr. Cohen must have had a death wish at several points in the film). There were lots more intended shocks and less emphasis on instantaneous, laugh-o-meter comedy. Not all comedy needed to be so obvious, but different strokes for different folks – one should not feel obligated to laugh out of shock. As for the sexual vulgarity, I would argue that Cohen did the right thing and went all out with all the possible cliche and feared imagined scenarios one could possibly cram in a film. I mean, could one really talk about homosexuality without the sex?

Some people may like to think sexual orientation in ideas, rather than anything to do with sex. When Brüno decided that it may help his celebrity quest if he was straight, he enlisted gay converters to show him the way. One second-stage gay converter started to rattle on about putting up with women’s irritating presence so they could be near women, because it was good for them men, presumably morally and perhaps sexually. Brüno looked genuinely confused – he may be gay but that had nothing to do with being anti-women. It was the sex, stupid, he responded incredulously (okay not in so many words, but you get the gist). As if that was not clear enough, Brüno struck up a conversation about vaginas with his fellow hunters in his attempt to become straight; what else could they bond over that was ’straight’? In a sequence that surely was staged for effect, Brüno was literally whipped into sexual submission by a caricature of a woman, one that many straight men would masturbate to, judging on the prevalence of such image in the sex industry. Nowhere in the film was there a genuine, sexually desirable woman – but of course, there was no place for her in a film that had nothing to do with her desirability and everything to do with fear of the gays, despite what homophobics may want the public to believe.

One may claim Brüno to have failed, on a personal level, as a comedy. It happens – I laughed a lot, because I’m crude and such. But to the extent that it outraged on sexual vulgarity or made fools of its targets, it had much to applaud for. Sure Dr. Ron Paul, as some people have pointed out, did not object to same sex ‘association,’ but that may have less to do with concerns for equality or acceptance and more to do with his stance regarding the federal government’s role in citizens’ private life. Did he personally think homosexuality was wrong? Who really knows? Does it really matter? Cohen aimed to make it matter, obviously. Empathize with Dr. Paul, if you must, just as you might empathize with other unsuspecting individuals who may have been left a little too exposed for their entitled belief. But satire has never been all that kind. And since homophobics fear sexual relations between same gendered people, it made sense for Brüno to tackle it from an exaggerated sexual frame. If such fear was not the flaming centerpiece, what would be the point of the satire otherwise?



Oscar Nominations: It's like Christmas, without presents and family photos

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Every year for the past, oh, I don't know, 12 million bee years, I've played the night-before-nominations prediction and 5:30/8:30 a.m. announcement wake-up call game, so it's a tradition of sort that I'm doing this insane, time-consuming thing, for no one's amusement but mine really. A tradition practised by one person is still a tradition, right? Having seen most of the pictures that would be nominated, I'm not so blindly stabbing in the dark this time around like I was last year. Though my favourite of the year (Drag me to hell) will be completely - and unfairly - ignored this Tuesday morning, I can still root for The White Ribbon, A Single Man, Where the Wild Things Are, The Cove, and Inglourious Basterds. I would be particularly happy if Karen O got a nom for score/song, Drag Me To Hell got anything, Mélanie Laurent and Colin Firth got nominated in their respective category, and The White Ribbon got nominations outside of Foreign Film category.

I try to predict everything, except for the shorts categories, as your guess is as good as mine. So here goes nothing. Predictions and noms*! (Whole nom list)

Best Picture
Avatar *
District 9 *
An Education *
The Hurt Locker *
Inglourious Basterds *
Star Trek
Up in the Air *
Alternates: A Serious Man*, The Hangover, The Blind Side*

Best Actor:
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart *
George Clooney, Up in the Air*
Colin Firth, A Single Man*
Morgan Freeman, Invictus*
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker*
Alternate: Ben Foster, The Messenger

Best Actress
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side*
Helen Mirren, The Last Station*
Carey Mulligan, An Education*
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious*
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia *
Alternate: Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria

Supporting Actor:
Matt Damon, Invictus*
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger*
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station*
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones*
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds*
Alternate: Alfred Molina, An Education

Supporting Actress:
Mo’Nique, Precious*
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air*
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air*
Penelope Cruz, Nine*
Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds / Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart*
Alternate: Mélanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds

Best Director:
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker*
James Cameron, Avatar*
Lee Daniels, Precious*
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air*
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds *
Alternate: Neill Blomkamp, District 9

Original Screenplay:
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker*
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, A Serious Man*
Pete Docter & Bob Peterson, Up*
Scott Neustatder & Michael H. Weber, (500) Days of Summer The Messenger*
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds *
Alternate: Nancy Meyers, It's Complicated

Adapted Screenplay:
Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach, Fantastic Mr. Fox
Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell, District 9*
Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious*
Nick Hornby, An Education*
Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air *
Alternate: Armando Iannucci, In the Loop*

The Hurt Locker*
Up in the Air Precious*
District 9*
Inglourious Basterds*
Alternate: Star Trek

The White Ribbon*
The Hurt Locker*
Inglourious Basterds*
Nine Harry Potter*
Alternate: A Single Man

Art Direction:
District 9 Imaginarium*
Inglourious Basterds Sherlock Holmes*
Julie & Julia The Young Victoria*
A Single Man

The Young Victoria*
Coco Avant Chanel*
Inglourious Basterds Bright Star*
Julie & Julia Imaginarium*
Alternate: Where the Wild Things Are

The Hurt Locker*
Star Trek*
District 9 Inglourious Basterds*
Alternate: Public Enemies

Sound Editing:
The Hurt Locker*
District 9 Star Trek*
Alternate: Inglourious Basterds*

The Informant!
A Single Man Fantastic Mr. Fox*
A Serious Man The Hurt Locker*
Alternate: Sherlock Holmes*

Foreign Language Film:
A Prophet*
The White Ribbon*
El Secreto de Sus Ojos*
The Milk of Sorrow*
Winter in Wartime
Alternate: Ajami*

Doc Feature:
The Cove*
Food, Inc.*
The Beaches of Agnes The most dangerous man in America*
Every Little Step Which way home*
Facing Ali
Alternate: Burma VJ*

Animated Feature:
The Fantastic Mr. Fox*
The Princess and the Frog*
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs The Secret of Kells*
Alternate: 9

Visual Effects:
District 9*
2012 Star Trek*
Alternate: Transformers

Imaginarium Il Divo*
The Young Victoria*
District 9 Star Trek*
Alternate: The Road

Best Song:
The Weary Kind, Crazy Heart*
I See You, Avatar Down in New Orleans, Princess and the frog*
All is love, Where the wild things are Almost there, Princess and the frog*
I Want to Come Home, Everybody’s Fine Loin the Paname, Paris 36*
Cinema Italiano, Nine Take it all, Nine*
Alternate: Winter, Brothers


Inglourious Basterds: nigh time for a Jewish revenge fantasy

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Title: Inglourious Basterds
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Language: English / French / German
Year: 2009
Critical Reception: Raves from Chicago Sun's Roger Ebert, TIME's Richard Corliss, Village Voice's J. Hoberman; Sketical reviews by Salon's Stephanie Zacharek, Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt; Award nominations/wins: Golden Globes for Best Picture
Psych Index: Social Relations
In Brief: As far as vengeance and spaghetti escape films go, [Basterds] was unusually weighty, even with its exaggerated effects and humour. The sensitivity surrounding the subject may deter the production of a Jewish revenge fantasy, despite it being such a great premise for a revenge film (great real world injustice with clear baddies and no satisfying resolution or absolution is as ripe as it gets). Perhaps such a story may have needed a removed but interested storyteller, who would treat it with equal giddiness and respect, brusque and sophistication, and a clear grasp on the power of stories to create and recreate. Tarantino, the filmmaker known for synthesis and meta-reference, may just have been the director of choice for such a feat, and he delivered Basterds with much aplomb. Its status as his masterpiece (as he referred to it twice in the film) may be debatable, but the brilliant ending of Basterds had to be one of the most insane, layered and perfectly appropriate sequences committed to film.

My name is Shoshanna Dreyfus… and you’ve seen the face of Jewish vengeance. – Shoshanna Dreyfus

Chris Rock, a politically incorrect comedian with little regards for niceties, once defended the use of a derogatory term for its function of striking the perpetrator where it would hurt the most. I don’t condone violent means of communication, and I don’t think there’s justice in vengeance. I do, however, believe that the desire for justice by violent means is a natural, human, deep seated emotional reaction to a great perceived injury. We are as much the communal rats as we are the killer hawks – our aggression may be channeled through less murderous venues, but it is not a disease to be cured. The high road can only carry us so far before we become completely removed from one of the most impassioned, naked, and organic parts of ourselves. Obviously we can’t have people going around wreaking vengeance however they see fit; eye for an eye makes the world blind, right? We count on our justice system and sometimes karma to give us some closures, but the business of come-uppance isn’t satisfaction-guaranteed. However, what we may not be able to get through non-fiction, we may still be able to get through our fiction, in this case, cinema. That’s where Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino, 2009) came in: delivering the Jewish anger upon those who were most responsible for the great injury. Quentin Tarantino made sure that everyone knew it was a gift born of love for cinema and desire for a good story, and in his good story, come-uppance came with a bloody satisfaction-guaranteed seal.

Although the basterds carried the title of the film, it was equally (if not more) the story of Shoshanna Dreyfus as the Jew survivor cum theatre owner and film lover. After a very intense and thoroughly terrifying opener (uncharacteristically of a serious nature), Tarantino’s latest mash up began its twisted journey with the scene of Shoshanna running for her life, scared, hurt, but determined. The Jews from then on escaped victimhood and proudly proclaimed their stake in a deathly tango with the Nazis. The picture glided along by conversations as much as actions, though discussions of cinematic details may interest only the handful of film enthusiasts in the audience taking delights in seeing recreations of famous spaghetti cinema bits (e.g. The Searchers door). Nevertheless, with Brad Pitt leading the pack of charming cast, Basterds should have no trouble entertaining its mass audience – I should know, having seen it separately with a North American and a French audience, and seeing it equally embraced by both.

As far as vengeance and spaghetti escape films go, the film was unusually weighty, even with its exaggerated effects and humour. The sensitivity surrounding the subject may deter the production of a Jewish revenge fantasy, despite it being such a great premise for a revenge film (great real world injustice with clear baddies and no satisfying resolution or absolution is as ripe as it gets). Perhaps such a story may have needed a removed but interested storyteller, who would treat it with equal giddiness and respect, brusque and sophistication, and a clear grasp on the power of stories to create and recreate. Tarantino, the filmmaker known for synthesis and meta-reference, may just have been the director of choice for such a feat, and he delivered Basterds with much aplomb. Its status as his masterpiece (as he referred to it twice in the film) may be debatable, but the brilliant ending of Basterds had to be one of the most insane, layered and perfectly appropriate sequences committed to film.

Basterds was not for the squeamish or the bleeding heart – there was a scene involving the Bear Jew and a Nazi sergeant that was reminiscent of the gang beating in A Clockwork Orange. Coming from a director who loves women, as indicated by his previous films, it was also a bit surprising to see what happened to the women in this film. Yet, the objectives were clearly far from invoking the most outrage from the audience. I can just imagine Tarantino explaining his film in his usual nerdy excited manner: “it’s a film about hate, alright? But there’s love too, alright? My great, great love, cinema, is used to redress a great act of hate that had no street justice ending. But it’s not going to be nice; it’s going to be thrilling and fun, but also dirty and over the top and emotionally honest. You’re going to enjoy it.” And there are plenty of things to enjoy, unless, of course, you are squeamish or in possession of a serious bleeding heart. Everyone involved on screen seemed to relish the opportunity to flesh out their at once cartoonish and memorable character. If even Diane Kruger could seem interested in her role as the double agent Bridget von Hammersmark, you know this id-driven avenger could not be denied.



The Jungian shadow speaks: I am the one!

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In hope of turning this site into a personal advocate site for the principles of psychology (and the marriage of that with cinema), a discipline that I am indebted to, I will chronicle my own process of growth as an anecdotal exhibit to psychological principles at work. I should note that I also practise therapy on top of being a student of psychology. My view of psychology is that of use: how do I turn what I learn into something useful for the people, and for myself?

My personal belief when it comes to personality and acceptance is that the more I have issues within myself, the less I would be likely to accept those in others. When I see a particularly unforgiving individual, I know how hard it must be for that particular individual to deal with him/herself. As I grow more accepting of the different parts of the self, I find myself in the position of awe and acceptance of others. It has become unusual for me to be repulsed by any particular personality.

It then comes as a bit of a surprise when recently, I've found myself grappling with a particular person, struggling to find within myself the ability or willingness to let go of my repulsion of said person. So I turned to Jungian shadow principle, determined to find out for myself what this was really a reflection of. The following is my process work, using the principle of Jungian shadow archetype to extract from my reaction an understanding of my blindspot.

Before we go into the details of my struggle, I should explain briefly what a Jungian shadow is and how it translates to real life. According to the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, one of the towering figures in the psychoanalytic branch of psychology, there are four/five (depending on your grouping of anima/animus) basic archetypes that everyone carries with him/her: the anima/animus (speaks to identified gender), the persona (the public, social front), the self (regulating entity - some similarities to Freud's ego), and the shadow (what lurks unconsciously). For this particular journey, we're interested in the Shadow, the part that lies in the unconscious, the part that we don't want to associate with ourselves. The more repressed this part, the denser it is to parse. The shadow does not only contain our dark side, so to speak, but also a light side that could be the seat of our creativity.

The Shadow presents itself to us through dreams, and in real life, through people we find to have particularly attractive, repulsive or irritating characters. It dictates a pattern of attraction and repulsion over time. Who do you tend to find yourself drawn to? Which persons just push the wrong buttons for you? These are the light and dark sides of our shadow. Opposites may attract, but only on the surface - underneath, these opposites actually complement each other's shadow. If you find a fellow particularly repulsive because he's 'an arrogant bastard,' and yet you see yourself being 'the big person,' judging others according to a strict moral compass you have devised to privilege your judgment, then aren't you submitting to moral arrogance?

As I work on embracing all parts of me, I have ceased to find people irritating on at least some level. Being able to work with anyone, to find an 'in' with people, is what I'm trying to do in my professional space. I have been trying to work on not breaking people's fence down, to allow people their defenses. Because I notice behaviour as a reflection of their internal self reflection, I have to be careful as not to pierce their defense and let them know I see them as they see them. I've been able to engage in the process of keeping their persona in tact when we interact so as not to alarm them. This is how you get people to show you who they are; the implicit responsibility is that you don't use your 'in' to tear them apart.

I've been successful at finding at least one part of a person fascinating and of interest to me. This keeps me sincere in my interaction with others: I genuinely value whatever I find in them that's worth my effort to know them. I operate on the principle that you can't fake ingenuity: people are smarter than you think, and they can sense when someone is just faking it. In the past few months, as I came to share work space with a young man, I find myself in a particularly puzzling position: for the life of me, I can not find it in me to like any part of him! It agonized me to work with him, and it agonized me further that it was that difficult for me to be around him. I knew that he represented something that I must hate within myself, as the Jungian Shadow would dictate, but what?

After months of mulling over possibilities, I think I have finally hit the nail on the head. When trying to analyze your own reaction, it helps to arrange the most to least repulsive characteristics of the person. I knew I couldn't find any part of him that was appealing to me, so what was it about him that irritated me the most?

At first, I thought it was the fact that he ingratiated and functioned according to a hierarchical order. In plain English, he followed the leader to the T, and saw himself as either above or below others. This meant being a 'yes' man to the boss and delegating activities to those below him. Why would this irritate me? It is a smart way of moving about the world, and I can't blame him for strategizing in this way, considering his background (authoritarian parenting, issues with women in authority, and bullied past). Many people have done this; he wasn't the only one. It irritated me because I saw myself as someone not inferior to anyone else. He may have triggered the snobby part of me that I have learned to be at peace with, simply by not thinking of how others are above or below me. I obviously think I'm too good to function below anyone, or of inferior class. He reminded me of a hierarchy I may be working in, and I didn't want to be where he was. It made me feel bad about the fact that we were working in the same arena, and this, for some time, depressed my own value of my work. He wasn't smart or interesting or wise enough to be in the same place as I was - this is my arrogance. But this can't be it: I'm quite at peace with arrogance. I see it as my Achilles' heel, but I have no intention of smoothing it over, or getting rid of it. I have channeled my arrogance to be about my pride for a worthy self, and that's how I see others' arrogance too. So this trigger was but one part of the package. I didn't like it, but it wasn't the whole story.

Then I thought of how much of a fearful person he was. I reason that a fearful person is an unreliable person: s/he will run for cover first. There will be no backing-up. Does this mean I think of myself a coward and I hate that I am? Perhaps it is no coincidence that I am drawn to courage, to those with strong principles. I am repulsed by the weaselly, as they can not be relied upon in dangerous times. They can not be trusted to not stab you behind the back, for their own perceived safety or advancement. More than an interest for the self, the fearful is paranoid about their own place in the world, and will likely do things to reinforce their position, even at the expense of someone else. Someone pointed out to me that I have no reason to assume I would be a coward in tough times - I have not yet been tested in dark water, so I can't jump to any conclusion either way! I do empathize with the survival instinct, the need to do anything to survive, to exist. As someone who's constantly mindful of our existential issue, I believe that I may just put my own survival ahead of everything else, based on my fear of non-existence. However, seeing that one simply can not know what one would do under duress, unless one is under duress, I don't actually focus on this part too much, never mind hating it to the point of projecting it on someone else and hating him/her for it. Another force may be at work here: I'm very trusting of people's good intention, and I don't want to be on surveillance, looking out for how others may hurt me. With him around, I can not be sure when I would be thrown in the way of danger, figuratively speaking. I don't want to be a fearful creature on constant alert - this may be closer to why this part of him would irritate me so: I don't want to become him, by virtue of him being around me. Still, this was not the whole story.

What's next? What's the problem that ties into my other known issues?

What irritated most to me about him came into light when someone else made an observation that he only learned specific solutions to specific problems, with no attempt at generalizing solutions to other similar problems. This fell in line with my observation that there seemed to be no processing going on; he simply parroted what was told to him, with no individual imprints or signs of individual processing involved. In addition, I caught someone giving stock answers a few days ago, and they gave me a slight pause. In tying all of these together, a picture of what really was at work here emerged: the individual stamp. In his case, it was the lack thereof. There, laid in bare, was my Shadow.

A common thread to all my attraction and repulsion is that of individuality, a stamp of some sort of originality. I need to interact with the authentic person, in whatever form. This isn't about being around the most amazing people - it's about interacting with someone who isn't just a vessel for others' imprints, who isn't a stock person with ready stock responses to parrot. To extrapolate on this need to see some actual processing at work, I see how this relates to my love of the element of surprise: it is outside of a known perceived pattern. As a consequence, I am enamoured of those who can surprise me, who show me something I have not previously thought of, or seen. Great wordsmiths, comedians, intellectuals: they are all particular magnets of attraction to me for this reason. I can handle strong, commanding personalities, even if they are harsh or difficult to be with, because they interest me in their authentic expressions. By authentic, I don't mean honesty - people don't walk around without some sort of compromises about how much of themselves they'd put out there. I mean: "is there evidence of someone claiming 'here I am!' in that body?" Because that's what it comes down to me: a validation of being 'one'.

This young man resigned to being a vessel, and this very idea repulsed me because of my own fear that I was one, too. Secretly, perhaps, I think that I'm just like everyone else, parroting what I learned, making jokes the rest of humanity already went over a million times. I don't write as many film reviews anymore, probably because of my assessment that "there are just way too many film reviews already, why would anyone want to read one more?" Considering how I see myself - someone unlike anyone else, an entity exclaiming a unique existence in time and space - this dark part of the Shadow can be quite crippling.

Of course, seeing that the Shadow is also the source of creativity, I'm pushed to stamp my own approval on everything that passes by me. I refrain from repeating what I've seen or read without processing it through and adding my own assessment of it. I try to spin an angle on whatever writing I do, film reviews included (hence the existence of this site). I value my emotional experience and reaction, because it's my way of making sure what comes out of me is a part of an actual being. The desire to be "one" competes with the fear of not being all that original or unique, expressing most clearly in my aspiration in the comedic arena. Great comedy requires an understanding of patterns and the ability to step just outside for a little while. So I fear that I'm not funny, and I strive to be funny, all at the same time.

This particular issue ties to the overall arc of what drives and deters me: existential fear. In order for an existential fear to be intense as it is in me, there has to be a distinct and overpowering sense of one self. If the self is transient, the fear should cease to be intense, since the firmer the self, the more at stake existence would be to such an entity. I currently have no resolution to my firm self - it just thinks it is one distinct being, and it really wants to be here.

As you can see, working through my own reaction to an irritable force has helped me learn more about my own process. Thanks to this individual, I now am more aware of my Shadow. I know I'm particularly irritated by empty vessels and stock expressions, because that's what I fear I am, not all that particularly different or unique. All the same, it drives me to be more of an authentic and creative person. While it is easier for us to look at what we're drawn to and see something of ourselves in our attraction, it is harder to see ourselves in those we despise. The next time someone pushes your button, you can ask yourself, is this where my Shadow lies? What part of this person that embodies my projected fear? The person whom you hate so much may hold the key to the discovery of what dwells in your heart of darkness.


The dreamers' dream: what does it mean?

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Carey Morewedge of Carnegie Mellon University and Michael Norton of Harvard conducted a series of studies of more than 1,000 people from three countries — India, South Korea and the United States - to see how people relate to their dreams (NY TIMES). Some findings:

  • the majority in all three countries believed that dreams reveal important unconscious emotions
  • these people considered dreams to be valuable omens: if they dreamed of a crash on the eve of a plane flight, they were more likely to cancel the trip than if they saw news of an actual plane crash on their route.
  • when asked to recall their own dreams, people tend to attach more significance to a negative dream if it was about someone they disliked, and they gave correspondingly more weight to a positive dream if it was about a friend.

These findings hardly surprised, especially in light of modern theories about dreaming. You may find deep, spiritual meaning to your dreams just as Carl Jung did many years ago, and they may very well reveal important universal secrets, or at the very least, our collective unconscious knowledge.

But if you ask a dream researcher, or a neuroscientist/psychologist, you may find their responses a bit more wishy washy. "What do YOU think?" may frustrate you to no end. Our modern understanding of dreams is that it is our brain's attempt to make meanings of random firings while we sleep, some of which may be a rehearsal/review/reinterpretation of what we've pondered during the day. Since meaning making is being made, some psychologists argue that the figures in our dreams are more likely symbolic of parts of our self or what we're going through in our life. If we consider what a friend represents to us, his/her action in our dream may carry meanings devoid of actual interactions with the friend - that is, just because the friend is killing us in our dream with a blunted knife, it does not necessarily mean the friend is a reluctant backstabber; it may not even have anything to do with the friend at all. We are, after all, the director of our dreams, not our friend. Possible interpretations of such a dream may be that we feel our friend has betrayed us/is more likely to betray us, or if it's a close friend, we may feel like we have shot our self in the foot or sabotaged our self.

Dr. Morewedge and Dr. Norton note that dreams can be indicators of people’s emotional state, as evidenced by other researchers’ findings of a correlation between stress and nightmares.

In light of our understanding that dreaming is the brain's attempt at making sense of bodily firings, the other factor that comes into play is our emotional state. The follow up questions to the clarification of what each symbol in the dream means to the dreamer are "what did you feel while dreaming" and "how do you feel about it now?" While symbols can have different interpretations, emotions are more direct in their expression in dreams. Our reaction to what the dream means to us now, after an interpretation or two, is indicative of what we feel about such possibilities. If, rather than being angry, we feel sad about the friend backstabbing us, there may be a desire of reconciliation / better connection (with self or with said friend) instead of a vengeful need to disconnect.

So while there may be a host of possibilities for dream interpretations, there are ways in which you can make them more useful for you. If you were to defer to someone else to do your dream interpretation, just make sure that this person is not in the driver's seat - that's the equivalent of a critic telling a director what kind of a picture he's trying to make. Though glimpses of the overall picture and the path to this end can be facilitated by someone else, just like many other life's subjective endeavours, as the captain of your own ship, it will go where you steer it.

There's an important caveat to all this dream interpretations though:
Dreams can also become self-fulfilling prophecies simply because people take them so seriously, Dr. Morewedge and Dr. Norton say. Dreams of spousal infidelity may lead to accusations and acrimony that ultimately lead to real infidelity.
“When friends and loved ones have disturbing dreams,” Dr. Morewedge suggested, “one may need to do more than say, ‘It was just a dream.’ It may also be a good idea not to tell people about their undesirable behavior in your dreams, as they may infer that your dreams reveal your true feelings about them.”


Glenn Close talks Alex Forrest and mental illness

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From the Huffington Post (SPOILERS ALERT):

Alex Forrest is considered by most people to be evil incarnate. People still come up to me saying how much she terrified them. Yet in my research into her behavior, I only ended up empathizing with her. She was a human being in great psychological pain who definitely needed meds. I consulted with several psychiatrists to better understand the "whys" of what she did and learned that she was far more dangerous to herself than to others.

The original ending of Fatal Attraction actually had Alex commit suicide. But that didn't "test" well. Alex had terrified the audiences and they wanted her punished for it. A tortured and self-destructive Alex was too upsetting. She had to be blown away.

So, we went back and shot the now famous bathroom scene. A knife was put into Alex's hand, making her a dangerous psychopath. When the wife shot her in self-defense, the audience was given catharsis through bloodshed -- Alex's blood. And everyone felt safe again.

The ending worked. It was thrilling and the movie was a big hit. But it sent a misleading message about the reality of mental illness.

While I agree with Ms. Close that mental illness needs to be treated with a lot less stigma and disdain than it currently is often confronted with, one has to be careful talking about mental illness so as not to take on a victim mentality or assign victimhood to the inflicted. Someone with a victim mentality tends to assign faults to the world and looks elsewhere for the locus of control and responsibility. Victimhood infantilizes people in many cases, rendering them helpless in the face of threats or triggers.

As a proponent of strength-based therapy, I am much more inclined to seek people's existing strengths and defense, to facilitate their mastering of their world, or at the very least, their functioning in that world. Many times, it requires advocacy on their behalf, but never with the assumption that they're too helpless to help themselves. For certain, mental illness is a condition of being that needs to be acknowledged and cared for. However, in many cases (there's a huge range of function in the mental illness spectrum), it is neither a pass nor a badge for one to wave personal effects. If talking about the sufferings of mental illness is all one does, it amounts to no more than the absolution of personal efficacy and propagation of helplessness, which in turn may negate any personal strengths and resiliency people have already at their disposal. I am weary of a society being cushioned and catered at every turn, one in which 'dust yourself up and try again' is mere wishful thinking. Triggers are used as ways to avoid adapting to and mastering their own environment. There's nothing more defeating than a bunch of flailing individuals waiting to be baby-fed.

Most people don't suffer at every turn of misfortune, even when the conditions are ripe for triggers. It should not be assumed that those with a mental illness do not have any ounce of resiliency most people possess. There's something to be said for self-fulfilling prophecy, too - expect people to be able to resource themselves for the better, and they may just do that. I'm not saying we should just let people sink or swim; we are dependent on each other for survival, and those with mental illness need proper care and respect. It's just that victimhood is no help at all.

These are just a few words of caution though, not a slap back to Ms. Close's well-intentioned message, which everyone should take heed to. Clearly, she is just as concerned with how we talk about mental illness as she is with what we talk about. The more we talk, the more we understand the conditions we deal with and hopefully the more creative we get with our approaches to treating it.


In trust we trust

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“Corruption is a measure of trust in society, and trust, it turns out, should be essential to well-being.” Daniel Kahneman
International Monetary Fund profiled Nobel prize winner, psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in their Financial and Development issue recently. Beside outlining his achievement in behavioural economics, they also cited his work in well-being research.
Continuing to tackle issues in human decision making, Kahneman now focuses on the study of hedonics—what makes experiences pleasant or unpleasant—and the development of a scientific measure of well-being. In one recent study examining money’s effect on happiness, Kahneman, and others, have found that people with a relatively high income, although more satisfied with their lives, are barely happier at any given moment than those with a significantly lower income. The age-old myth that money buys happiness needs to be refined, as does the competing myth that wealth does not matter.

What he’s found in comparative studies of nations is that both the level of corruption and the degree of trust in society are important predictors of well-being.
I've always found the level of distrust for the government displayed by some interest groups (including, notably, many gun advocates) in the States to be counterproductive to establishing a healthy society. What Kaheman found with his studies, though not particularly shocking, nevertheless reframed the sense of well being - on both personal and social level - to something resembling social faith (to be distinguished from spiritual faith, which exists on a somewhat different dimension). While lying makes the world go round, trusting makes the world grow. As babies, a sign of healthy attachment is our willingness to explore strange environment while trusting that our guardians will be there, at our base, to provide aid and protection, should we need them. Suspicion of others breeds the sort of paranoia that could cripple our relations with each other, and unnecessarily stressing our nervous system (not to mention brain cells spent building fences and elaborate ways to keep us 'safe'). On the macro level, it could lead to instability and possibly violence (McCarthy era was primed with much distrust).
Countries where the level of trust in society is very low have a lot of difficulty thriving economically—so you need a certain level of trust to get moving.
While it is tempting to draw some causal links between trust and well being, it should be footnoted that living in a community within which deception and corruption are a matter of course would make it much harder and perhaps even unrealistic to develop the same sense of trust that could be fostered more readily in a less blatantly corrupted community. Would it be all that surprising for a community (or a country) with greater international power and resources, along with fewer perceived threats to its identity and structure, to likely be populated with more trusting citizens? Nevertheless, debating which comes first, the chicken or the egg, will not bring us closer to happiness and/or contentment. Given that trust is associated with well being, perhaps we can start with whatever we can make changes to. It would seem the pursuit of happiness points in the direction of developing and maintaining social connections, to foster trust amongst individuals and institutions. Socialism is not as dirty as some parts of the 'free' world would like you to believe.
“If there is a way of encouraging increasing trust in society—and that should probably start with trust in institutions—that is going to make a contribution to GDP through the rule of law, respect for property, and so on. It will have an extra contribution to human welfare because happier societies are ones where people trust each other and spend a fair amount of time catering to social needs.”


Freud and his mother: the Oedipus complex in The Door in the Floor

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Oedipus complex is a term used in psychoanalytic theory to refer to the desire of a gendered child to eliminate the parent of the same gender and possess, sexually, the parent of the other gender. Freud's conceptualization of the term, in particular, refers to the desire to eliminate the father and possess the mother, for both boys and girls. The origin of this idea, as argued in a paper by Hartocollis (2005), may have dated back to Sophocles' Oedipus Rex play rather than the actual Greek myth. In his book, Interpretation of Dreams, Freud referred to men having dreams of making love to their mother as a basis for the Oedipal complex, an observation also made by Sophocles. The Oedipus complex is resolved by fear of castration, which leads to the adoption of the Father figure's identification. The objects of the dissolved complex become the nucleus of the superego - your conscience, so to speak.

This theory apparently only works for healthy, heterosexual little boys. Incomplete resolution results in neurosis and perhaps non-heterosexuality. Little girls were beyond Freud's understanding, and he struggled to draw a parallel process for them. The best he could do, which really was not very good, was to propose that little girls never fully completely dissolve the complex and bear a partial hatred for her mother for the rest of her life while wanting to bear children for her father. Subconsciously, of course. Oh, and yes, she does not have much of a superego, aka conscience. Cheat, lie, and steal, par for the course!

In an article exploring Freudian themes in The Door in the Floor (Williams, 2004), the author (Ivey, 2006) argued that the film was "a dark contemplation of oedipal sexuality and loss, and the unconscious strategies employed to avoid these facts of life in the psychological crucible of family relationships (p. 871)." He went on to demonstrate how Ted (Jeff Bridges), estranged from his wife Marion (Kim Basinger), resorted to sexual perversion as a way of dealing with the loss of his sons, objectifying women so that he wouldn't have to form intimate relationships with them. Where there is no intimate attachment, there is no loss. Ivey (2006) believed that Bridges' boyish look and wardrobe (oversized night shirt) placed him in the role of the boy who would open the door in the floor, the door that may relate to his birth and subsequent relationship with women (specifically, his mother). This loss of a child may have been associated with an earlier loss, perhaps of the Oedipal kind relating to his parents (Ivey, 2006).

Most obviously connected to the Oedipal theme were Eddie and his lust for Marion, who was old enough to be his mother. Eddie was hired as Ted's assistant for the summer, probably on the basis of him bearing a resemblance to one of their dead sons. On the one hand, Eddie idealized Ted as a father figure he wished he had; on the other, he was his sexual rival. Parents can help a child overcome or deal with the Oedipus complex successfully by acknowledging the desire but not gratifying it. Ted and Marion meanwhile used Eddie to work out their losses. Ivey (2006) wrote:

Eddie is a virgin and Marion proceeds to seduce him under the pretext of gratifying his needs and facilitating his transition to manhood. The English translation of the Latin school motto in one photograph of the dead sons is: ‘Come hither boys and become men’. The first act of heterosexual intercourse traditionally represents the transition from boyhood to manhood because it is the adult act that led to one’s conception. Marion wonders if her sons had sex before they died and suspects that the younger son did not. Because she identifi es Eddie with Thomas, her intercourse with him implies an enactment of the fantasy of erotic union with her dead son. What are her real motives for this incestuous relationship? One, of course, is revenge; she uses Eddie to punish Ted for his infi delity. But a more atavistic motive is to sexually incorporate her dead son, perhaps reincarnate him, and thereby avoid suffering his loss. This solution, like Ted’s voyeuristic perversion, is maladaptive and doomed to failure. One of the most painful images in the fi lm is the fi nal sex scene between Marion and Eddie. The camera focuses on her face and what we see is not pleasure or connectedness but inconsolable despair and desolation.

Ted’s motives might be that he wants to assuage the guilt he feels about his own infi delity by entrapping Marion in a mutual betrayal. This explanation, however, is superfi cial and fails to do justice to the ubiquitous infl uence of the unconscious. The possibility that he wishes to reanimate his emotionally dead wife by reuniting her with her dead son also misses the compelling fact of Ted’s guilt and his conviction that he was responsible for the death of his sons. He omitted to wipe off the snow from the tail lights and rear window of the car, indirectly causing the snow plow to crash into them. But this was an accident, so why would Ted hold himself responsible? A psychoanalytic answer is that, however much he loved his sons, their emerging manhood confronted him with his middle-age decline and the erosion of his patriarchal authority. We see this symbolized by the fact that one of the boys was in the driver’s seat when the accident occurred. Their youth and virility, moreover, would result in sexual conquests beyond the reach of their aging father, representing an oedipal victory over him. In other words, he may have wanted them dead. The tragic realization of this unconscious wish is the real occasion for his guilt and the reason for his inability to properly mourn their loss. By presenting Eddie to Marion, Ted is attempting to undo the terrible harm he feels he’s done and to resurrect his dead son.

The only one Ivey (2006) believed to have succeeded with the task of resolving the Oedipal complex was Eddie, by virtue of his adopting a paternal role towards Ruth, the 'replacement' daughter to Ted and Marion, and his distancing of both Ted and Marion. It is interesting to see how loss and the mourning thereof relate to the Oedipus complex as illustrated in the film and framed by Ivey: "Interpersonal losses in adulthood recall early infantile experiences of harming or killing loved internal objects, making the experience of subsequent grief hard to endure. In cases where destructive impulses are felt to dominate the mind, loved internal objects are felt to be irrevocably lost or destroyed. Excessive guilt interferes with the work of mourning and gradual resurrection of the good internal objects, resulting in either melancholia or pathological denial of the experience of loss. The former describes Marion’s situation, the latter Ted’s.(p.877)" It may be a stretch to some extent to apply the Oedipus complex to Ted (Ivey referred to Laіus, Oedipus' father, as the prototype for Ted's character), but it is a compelling interpretation of the film, nevertheless.


Hartocollis, P. (2005). Origins and evolution of the oedipus complex as conceptualized by Freud. Psychoanalytic Review, 92(3), 315-35.

Ivey, G. (2006). Sex in the mourning: Oedipal love and loss in The Door in the Floor. International Journal of Psychoanalytics, 87, 871-9.



Are you feelin' the love? How's your vasopressin / oxytocin?

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Larry Young wrote an essay published in the latest Nature issue (you'd need to subscribe to the magazine, or just go to your library and borrow it?). The New York Times ran an article claiming the possibility of an anti-love vaccine based on the findings cited in the essay. Sorry to break it to you, fellas and ladies, this is, of course, as plausible as 'love potion' cologne working to help that special someone fall in love with you, or to just plain boost your chance in dating.

The studies that these writers based their speculation on were done mostly on animals, most recently female prairie voles. Monogamous pair bonding for life is very rare in the mammals world, and prairie voles just happen to be one of these rare instances. When the researchers 'infused' the female prairie voles with oxytocin, they would rapidly become attached to the nearest male. Larry Young cited similar instances of immediate bonding between a mother and her (could be foreign) baby in the animal kingdom (ewes, rats, macaques, etc.) to support the notion that the hormone oxytocin (and in men, vasopressin), in its interaction with the same dopamine reward system as one that's used in mother-infant bonding, somehow was the basis for 'love'. He should have clarified that he wasn't talking about love as much as he was talking about monogamous pair mating in animals. Love in human terms, as we know, is a bit more complicated than just monogamous pair mating. And the dopamine system has been found in so many reward instances that it wasn't particularly telling that they were found to be sharing the same rewarding system as female-infant bonding.

While it was interesting that a particular variant of the AVPRIA gene (vasopressin receptor gene) has been found to be associated with men's likelihood of remaining unmarried (or when married, twice as likely to report a recent crisis in marriage), gene expression does not necessarily translate to a one-to-one ratio with behavioural expression, to speak nothing of the interplay of circumstances/opportunities. I wish cultural context would be taken into account more seriously when considering anything to do with patterns of complicated human behaviour, especially for something as ill-defined as 'love.'



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