Animal Farm by George Orwell

animal farm

Sometimes animals are the best metaphors to use to portray the truth of human nature. George Orwell’s novel may have been written many years ago, but the ‘socio-political’ situation and how the characters’ respond to the conflict around them reminds me of the political climate in my country and in some parts of the world. What Orwell has written in the 1940s is still very much relevant to what is happening today. No wonder this novel became a classic and a must-read for high school and college students.

It’s just apt the that bad guys in this story are portrayed as pigs because these animals are not only clever but also greedy. The humans are portrayed as someone who are inferior than the animals. The rest of the characters like the horses, the cows, and the sheep played rather sad roles, ones who served the best interests of the pigs. Boxer the horse is the character who stood out as he best exemplifies the blind masses under communism rule.

With only 112 pages written in simple narrative, one could finish it in one sitting. But it is good to read up about Russian history before starting on this book as Animal Farm is an allegory of the Russian revolution.

The ending makes the reader look at the window where the pigs are transacting business with humans. In the eyes of those who are watching, it is difficult to tell the pigs from the humans. They have morphed into something like human pigs or pig humans.

And this is what Orwell wants to tell us –  that there’s a thin line that separates the animals from the human beings.

 

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

the girl who played with fire

There is something fascinating about people with mental illness. We are either drawn towards them or repulsed by them. Or both. This is the case of Lisbeth Salander, a 25-year-old bisexual who is considered a psychopath judging from her violent behavior and unremorseful attitude. But there is more to Lisbeth than just her gothic looks and dark past — she actually has a photographic memory,  she is a mathematical genius, and she’s just someone who can save your day.

Most heroines are portrayed as someone who has moralistic ideals, but Larsson paints Salander as an outsider, a socially inept individual who has her own moral standards that involve killing anyone who gets in her way and stealing billions of kronor from unsuspecting people.

The Girl Who Played With Fire is the second installment from Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. I have yet to read the first one which is entitled The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, which refers to Salander, obviously. I believe it is better to read the first one before moving to the second because questions about Salander and Blomkvist’s relationship will surface now and then as you read along. But the Girl Who Played With Fire has a story that can stand on its own.

The fast-paced plot and the simple language will make you turn the page until you will be brought to its shocking end. No novel has haunted me since The Sparrow, but this one has left me sympathizing for Salander and aiming for the the third installment entitled, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

Oh, and there is a movie version for the three books.

Servant of the Bones by Anne Rice

servant of the bones

Altashheth. Do not destroy.

This has been the battlecry of Azriel, a mystic turned Spirit whose story from his human death to his birth as a the Servant of the Bones will make you wonder if curses and genies do exist.

The novel chronicles Azriel’s story as he tells them to Jonathan Ben Isaac, an octogenarian scholar of mysticism, one wintry day when the latter was running with fever and without contact from outside world, seemed to have accepted his death to come. Azriel nursed Jonathan back to health because he felt that needed to tell his story to someone who understands the likes of him.

Azriel was made a sacrificial lamb by his father in order to save their people, the Jews during the reign of King Cyrus. Azriel accepted his fate, but the greed and lust for power by one priest led to one fatal mistake. Azriel did not die, instead he became a Spirit to be called by his Masters – in this case, to whoever holds his bones.

But Azriel is not your typical genie. He defies his masters and even kills them when he senses cruelty and evil in them. Only two of his masters come to his memory because he loved them, Zurvan, King Cyrus’ magician, and Samuel Strasbourg who died during Hitler’s regime.

For centuries, Azriel was contented to sleep in his bones. He knew that he will only wake when his Masters will call him. But something changed when one day, he found himself in present day New York to witness a crime of an innocent young woman. He could not understand who called him. And Azriel found out that he could call himself at his own choosing. There are no more masters. He is no longer the Servant of the Bones. And that he has the choice to destroy or to love.

There is something sad about the existence of Azriel, not human, nor angel, nor demon. Anne Rice has a gift for giving life to the supernatural, but in a language that is also made for poets. I have to admit I skipped some pages that detailed too much the decoration of the room or the intensity of the characters’ feelings. Some parts of the novel could have used some chopping because of the lengthy description.

But perhaps, her editor also used Azriel’s battlecry.

This is a good read for someone who is interested in the supernatural. If you are not into reading, you might just as well watch The Mummy. The Servant of the Bones is in league with that movie.

‘Let there be light!’ and there was ‘Spotlight’

Spotlight

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around in the dark. Suddenly, a light gets turned on and there’s a fair share of blame to go around. – Marty Baron, The Boston Globe

Spotlight is painful to watch because it speaks so much about the truth. And the truth hurts. It talks about one of every parents’ worst fear for their children, and it talks about every child’s greatest nightmare, the boogeyman. This boogeyman comes in the guise of the man of the Lord. He befriends the child at church, takes him out for ice cream, visits him at home where he is always welcome because single Mom is grateful for the father figure, tucks him to bed, then fondles his wee wee while he, the Rev. Fr. also plays with his own wee wee. Next, the Father starts asking for ‘little’ favors like oral sex and anal sex from him, and asks the child to keep this between them. And before the child realizes that he is the boogeyman, he has already developed a faulty conception of sexuality, is beset by shame and guilt, and is suicidal.

One will get this mood throughout the film. The truth is at every corner of the city of Boston, waiting to scare and shock the main characters, but it starts out in a subtle mood. A journalist retires, a new boss gets hired to navigate the thriving paper, reporters search out for a new beat… But when the boss gives the investigative team a new assignment, they started to sail in dangerous waters. And as they gather more facts and are confronted with more evidences, they realized just how close they are to the victims and to the perpetrators themselves.

Even though this is based on real life events, the film did not sacrifice entertainment for documentation purposes, nor did it come out moralistic and preachy. Perhaps, this is what makes it hit home on the viewers. You know that what happened to the victims could happen to just anyone. They are real people. The journalists who fought tooth and nail to uncover the truth did not do it out of heroism – they felt it is their social responsibility to challenge an institution as old as the centuries and the justice system.

Spotlight will evoke fear in you, and this is not even a horror film. The fear is real because sexual predators are everywhere, even in the most unlikely places like the church, and the offender could be just anyone, even the priest who just celebrated the Holy Mass. At the same time, the film evokes a feeling of fearlessness. One doesn’t have to be a journalist to expose any wrongdoings and to possibly save a life. One only has to be a mindful citizen, a concerned neighbor, and a morally responsible individual to ensure that our little ones are safe.  After all, in the words of Edwin Burke, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. The Spotlight team knows this.

Quotable Quotes:

The church thinks in centuries.

I don’t mean prayed for. I mean preyed upon.

It’s not just Boston. It’s the whole country. It’s the whole world. And it goes off to the Vatican.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.

45 Years (?)

45 Years

They should have added a question mark after the title (45 Years?) to ask how the two main characters have managed to stay that long as a couple without the wife knowing about her husband’s previous lover. Aside from wondering in exasperation how she did or didn’t, you’d also be left wondering why it is such a big deal to know about her spouse’s past – after all, past is past. But not in this film where the wife’s predecessor comes back after 45 years to create a ripple in the couple’s otherwise peaceful marriage.

Kate and Geoff Mercer are planning their 45th wedding anniversary party when an unexpected letter arrives saying that Katya’s (his former girlfriend) body has been found after being trapped in a glacier for 45 years. They pretended to be married that time in Switzerland, so Geoff has been notified as the next of kin. Kate pretends not to care, but when Geoff acts strangely (buying a book about climate change, rummaging over old files at the attic, and inquiring a ticket to Switzerland in a travel agency), it dawned on Kate that the foundation of their marriage has been built on Katya’s icy grave.

The concept of time has been emphasized in this film, from the title to the watch that Kate intends to give Geoff as a present (but didn’t). We are presented with Geoff and Kate’s daily routine for only a week, but we get an idea about this couple’s life before and we are left wondering about what’s going to happen next. It seems that time got suspended and we get transported to how Geoff was when he was with ‘my Katya’. Something shifted in Kate (doesn’t it sound like Katya?), especially when she finds out that Katya was pregnant before she died and that they intended to get married.

The cinematography of the lush English countryside makes up for the minimal dialogue and plays a contrasting metaphor to the couple’s childless marriage. Charlotte Rampling as Kate and Tom Courtenay as Geoff breathe life to their characters with convincing performance.

We could only wish that everything will work out for the Mercers that instead of asking 45 years (?), we shall cheer for the couple along with their friends and without hesitation exclaim, 45 years (!).

Quotable Quotes from George:

It’s funny how you forget the things in life that make you happy.

I like not knowing the time.

 

Anomalisa’s Ironies

anomalisa.jpg

*Spoiler Alert

For one, this is an animation that is clearly not for children. Nor is it a funny kind of animation, unless you find amusement in the melancholia of others and you are used to Charlie Kaufman’s (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich) dark sense of humor. These are just two of the several ironies found in Anomalisa, a bittersweet tale of Michael Stone whose name is an allusion to his insensitive, lost and lonely character who finds it hard to connect with other people even if he is an expert in human relations.

Such is the magic of love that it turns an ordinary woman into a goddess. For Stone, a best-selling customer service author who flies to Cincinnati to give a talk on the subject, it’s love at first sound as she hears the ‘goddess’ from her hotel bathroom. The goddess turns out to be a shy, uninteresting and physically scarred baked sales rep who is there to attend Stone’s talk. But that does not matter to Stone who practically hears the same voice for every person, from the taxi driver, to his wife and son, down to the aria artist who sings in his iPod. He thinks Lisa could save him from his bleak existence after spending an exhilarating night with her. Love is not what it seems, however. The goddess turns out to be just like Everyone Else, and Michael Stone is achingly pushed back to his own kind of reality.

This film is a meditation on what it means to be lonely and even mentally ill. It is clearly no fault of his own that Stone has interpersonal problems. He tries hard to reach out, that is after all, his expertise. But his sadness is so deep and so desperate that is pitiful yet fascinating to watch – similar to the scene where he breaks down in front of audience, yet no one dares to stop him. Lisa, on the other hand is a genuine yet flawed character who just wants to love and be loved. Anomalisa is about two people who thought they found love in each other yet ends up disillusioned and disappointed.

Voiced by David Thewlis as Michael Stone, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lisa, and Tom Noonan as Everyone Else, this is one brilliant and interesting film. The interplay among the characters has a universal appeal, but the humor might be offhand for some, such as Stone’s unintentional buying of the sex doll present for his young son. But perhaps, this is still one of the ironies you will find in Anomalisa.

Quotable Quotes:

Sometimes there’s no lesson. That’s a lesson in itself.

I’m ugly to look at in bright sunlight.

I have no one to talk to.

I need tears.