Posts Tagged ‘Percy Bharucha’

Trumbo And The Art Of War

Trumbo achieves what few others have, to fight with the purity of a radical and yet win with the cunning of a rich man. His words not mine. What I find fascinating is the use of irony, in its potent weaponised form.

Let me begin with a bit of context, while movies remain a source of entertainment, for most of us, I find them to be a remarkably accurate mirror of the human condition. So let’s take a long, good look at ourselves. This is the third piece in the What the movies taught me series. You can read the first part here, and second one is here.

I’ll wait for a moment while that cast list hits you. Deep breaths.

Trumbo is a autobiographical based on the life of Dalton Trumbo, a Hollywood screenwriter who is also an active member of the communist party of USA. Trumbo is one of the ten writers who is later subpoenaed under the allegations of furthering communist propaganda through his writings. He is later imprisoned for contempt of Congress and serves eleven months in a Federal Correctional Institution.

But even after his release the Hollywood Blacklist prevents him and several other communists and communist sympathisers from working in the industry. They’re disavowed by the studios and friends alike in the interests of protecting their own careers. Under struggling financial and familial circumstances, a freshly released from prison, publicly avoided Trumbo plots his revenge and the overthrow of the Hollywood Blacklist.

A Great Debate

At the heart of any good movie, I’d like to believe is a great debate. Whether that is internalised within a character or is played out between two or more. So it is too with Trumbo at its core lies a great debate between the idealist Arlen Hird and the rather pragmatic Trumbo. A debate that I find comes as close as possible within my rather limited knowledge of cinematic history, to the nature of victory and the means employed to fight within a democratic system.

There is a scene in the beginning of the movie that sets up the debate for what is to follow.
Hird: “… you know what it is, I don’t trust you … look I know what I am, I want this whole country to be different, top to bottom. If I get what I want, nobody gets their own lake.
Trumbo: “Well that would be a very dull life.”
Hird: “Yeah, for you not for the guys who built this. If I’m wrong, tell me, but ever since I’ve known you. You talk like a radical but you live like a rich guy.”
Trumbo: “That is true.”
Hird: “Well, I don’t know if you’re willing to lose all of this just to do the right thing.”
Trumbo: “Well, I despise martyrdom and I won’t fight for a lost cause. So you’re right I am not willing to lose it all. (points to family) Certainly not them. But I am willing to risk it all. That’s where the radical and the rich guy make a perfect combination. You see the radical, they fight with the purity of Jesus but the rich guy wins with the cunning of Satan.”
Hird: “Oh please, please just shut up…”

A man fighting only for his principles, for his staunch belief in doing the right thing, is willing to risk it all, his finances, his privileged position in society, his career and his family, but what he’s not prepared to do is lose it all. Employing whatever means it takes to keep them. I found this particular scene to be a great character reveal in all its complex layering. It also seems to be a particular form of irony that a man fighting on principle is willing to use the cunning of Satan to simply win. Irony has a major role to play in the movie as we shall further discover.

Trumbo is the thing grey line between characters and heroes written previously, while most are bound, straightjacketed within their archetypes to the point of boredom through countless repetitions. I talk of the Batman archetype, fights evil but won’t cross a line. Characters who will do what it takes to achieve their selfish goals.

Unprincipled ends call for unprincipled means.
Principled ends always call for principled means.

Else the disparity between the means and ends lead to a loss of viewer empathy for the hero’s struggle or an abandoning of belief in his cause. The unprincipled means are always introduced at a point of departure within the character arc. Suddenly the guy you’ve been rooting for, this good guy turns evil forced by circumstance he abandons the very reasons for which he is fighting and we will pity and the hero falls in our graces. Trumbo will have none of that, with his usual pragmatism and verbosity he remains true a businessman fighting for the good.

Result Vs. Ideology

It is a very fine distinction but one I believe merits drawing your attention to. In almost all fights and wars based merely on principle and ideology we have always witnessed the subordination of the result of the war to the dominant ideology that is the cause of it, in terms of a character’s priority.

Fighting the good fight has always been more important than winning the good fight. Tireless martyrs have sacrificed themselves on the altar of righteousness simply because of their stubborn refusal to do what it takes to win, they’d rather do what it takes to be right.
But herein lies the genius of Trumbo while he is a man fighting for principles he’ll be damned if he’ll allows them to interfere with his victory. Sample this scene from the movie:

Arlen: “…Studios, we should sue them…”
Trumbo: “Yes brilliant! Keep losing. Give all your money away to lawyers.”
Arlen: “I’d rather lose for the right reasons.”
Trumbo: “Why! It’s still losing, you lose, I lose, we all lose! Don’t you see that. And the whole goddamn country stays scared and dead…Arlen we can do this, we can beat them, we can win.”
Arlen: “I don’t care if I win.”
Trumbo: “Bullshit, everybody wants to win.”
Arlen: “No you want to win, I want to change things.”
Trumbo: “I want to win so that I can change things.”

I often think that while in these larger than life rebellions against the system, we might see a lot more victories on the side of the good if every man fighting the good fight wasn’t so damn hung up on fighting it the right way.

The answer to that of course isn’t violence but a more insidious way of collapsing the system but showing the hypocrisy or two-facedness of it. Something that I learnt from Trumbo.

The Nature Of Loss
There is no war without loss and every fight has its repercussions, it changes the people who go through it. Also tragedy in some form or another is required for a good plot anyways. Aristotle argued that tragedy cleansed the heart through pity and terror, purging us of our petty concerns and worries by making us aware that there can be nobility in suffering. He called this experience ‘catharsis’.

What is fascinating me for in Trumbo is the nature of the loss he undergoes. Since this is a true story it is stranger and certainly more enchanting than most fiction. While the most cliched way of dealing with tragedy in conflict is to show how the protagonist becomes in one way or another the very thing he is trying to destroy. A cop who becomes corrupt to see justice done, a doctor who falls sick to the very virus he is trying to eradicate, etc. But Trumbo is special the nature of his loss is the dulling of the very faculties that he depends upon for his livelihood, it is a betrayal of his passion for what he loves to do, write. In the context of his life story after being driven away from the big studios, Trumbo finds employment writing the low budget, low brow Kings Brothers. At the same time he has to write under pseudonyms, being unable to collect two Oscars for his ghost written scripts. In the midst of this there is this beautiful scene where Arlen becomes in many ways the voice of his own passion for writing calling for fealty towards it. After Arlen botches a script about an alien bonking a farm girl by filling it with political references, this is the scene as it happens:

Trumbo: “…What the hell were you thinking?”
Arlen: “I was thinking, it’s why I am a writer. To say things that matter. Remember that, I was a reporter. I was nominated for a Pulitzer. I fought in Spain and I know Ernest Hemingway. I actually know him and he knows me. If I walk into a bar in Paris, maybe not my name but I’ll get a wave.
And you, you won the national fucking book award. I mean what are we doing?”

“I mean do you, do you ever miss writing something, forget great just good. I mean you must have ideas still, right?”

Imagine being a portrait painter in Florence, one of the finest, one with the most generous patrons and then to be reduced to a position where you have to paint road signs, the guy who paints those square lines on roads to demarcate lanes, to make a living and even those are being criticised for not being straight enough. The dulling of the senses is a particularly painful experience.

To reduce the very thing that makes one unique, the very thing that is the foundation of one’s self esteem and standing in society to purposefully take a blunt file and file away at it, to reduce it to rather pathetic ordinary standards would require an extraordinary amount of strength.

And yet Trumbo soldiers on, because to him this temporary period of producing garbage is a path to victory.

Irony As A Weapon

Perhaps the most difficult thing in the movie that Trumbo has to encounter is to keep quelling the insistent voice of Arlen which also mirrors to a very large extent some of his own voices that the audience would expect his character to possess. Especially when they decide to write a script for Buddy Ross a producer who has given testimony against them in closed court.

Trumbo: “This is going to be a very big movie and if Buddy gets a good script.”
Arlen: “Which you’re going to give him.”
Trumbo: “No, which I am going to sell him.”
Arlen: “For money, ‘cos that’s why we did all of this, right, it was for the money.

Trumbo: “Why can’t you not see this, if we get one big movie, we can get all the big movies. And this whole rotten thing could collapse on the sheer irony that every unemployable writer is employed.”

What I find brilliant in the scene is the use of Irony as a weapon, perhaps the greatest weapon there is to destroy a system from within. There is no defence it allows for, in its expose of the hypocrisy of injustice in this case.

Since the movie I’ve been thinking of employing irony as a weapon. Using actions that bring about a deliberate, pervasive sentiment of irony so strong that it wins the fight in your favour. That is precisely what Trumbo teaches us.

We’ve heard of “become the change you want to see in the world”. But what Trumbo shows us is becoming, manifesting an irony, changes the world itself.

– Percy Bharucha

(The author has been previously published in eFiction and eFiction India, Eastlit, Reading Hour, Gratis, The Madras Mag, The Ascent, The Creative Cafe, Invisible Illness, The Writing Cooperative, Bigger Picture, Hundred Naked Words, Be Yourself, Fit Yourself Club, Hopes and Dreams for the Future, Written Tales, Poets Unlimited and The Haven. He writes regularly on Medium and runs a bi-weekly comic strip called The Adult Manual. He also tweets infrequently at  @Sab_Bakwaas_Hai)

What The Movies Taught Me – Part II

Posted: October 30, 2017 by moifightclub in cinema
Tags: ,
The lure of a simpler narrative

Why we’re all hoping, we’ll wake up one day in a better story
What the movies taught me – II


Let me begin with a bit of context, while movies remain a source of entertainment, for most of us, I find them to be a remarkably accurate mirror of the human condition. So let’s take a long, good look at ourselves. This is the second piece in the What the movies taught me series. You can read the first post here.


The Dark Tower Copyright MRC, Columbia Pictures

I recently watched The Dark Tower, a science fiction film based on Stephen King’s novel series. While the movie seemed a not-too-out-of-the-ordinary usual action fare, what surprised me was the familiar twinge of jealousy and regret at not being the protagonist. Hoping one day I too would be called forth to a greater quest of world-saving proportions. A feeling that’s pretty commonplace when you walk out of hero-quest movies as I like to call them. An ordinary, everyday human is displaced from his ordinary life and is told he has a higher order purpose, that he and he alone is uniquely gifted to fulfil. And in the balance of which hangs the fate of the entire world/worlds/universes we know of. Which got me thinking that apart from the lure of being a hero why exactly is it that movies of a similar trope have such universal appeal.


THE  LURE  OF  A  SIMPLER  NARRATIVE

I think a lot of what the movie represents is the lure of a simpler narrative. There is something primitively alluring about being a simple kid with a simple, singular objective of destroying an evil sorcerer who has unlimited powers, while your only ally being a grumpy cowboy who’s been poisoned by an alien-monster-scorpion hybrid is rapidly deteriorating while having an endearing addiction to getting high on sugar drinks. Sounds simple enough.

You Can Do It GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY

Compared to figuring your life out, making rent, working insane hours and the weekends, coming to terms with the fact that there is going to be nothing new or amazing about what you do, dealing with a quarter life crisis, while undergoing therapy for existential problems/impostor syndrome, coming to terms with never being able to find true love- considering giving in to your parents and signing up for that matrimonial site, realising adopting a pet was biting off way more than you could chew, missing staying at home but having your pride, the exhausting act of maintaining a facade of absolute carefreeness and YOLO-ness while silently undergoing bouts of FOMO- being secretly jealous of most of your friends successes and binging on online content every spare moment of the day ‘cos escape. Yeah I’ll take defeating sorcerers any time of the day.


There is an innate amount of freedom in not carrying the weight of determining your own narrative.

Like in the movie Jake Chambers is called to fulfil his destiny. The path is laid out in front of him like a three course dinner. Small monster appetisers in an abandoned amusement park, main course consisting of poached Padick (the Man in Black) and for desert the joy of leaving his old life behind to perform the most important task in the world, protecting the tower. I mean what more could you possibly give an eleven year old apart from a trustworthy mentor, purpose and extraordinary shine. While the rest of us eleven year olds were choosing whether we liked doing math or art, scarcely aware of the long term career ramifications of our choices. I’d give up anything to have a path laid out for me to walk on. It’s hard to question your life or your career choices when your job is literally holding the universe together, keeping it protected from the darkness that surrounds it. The joy of such a singular objective appeals to some part of our reptilian brain that doesn’t revels in the joy of not having to process any complexity for a change. The lens of decision making is devoid of its usual navigation amongst the shady lanes of grey that ordinary adult life requires. Imagine Jake as an adult, all he has to account for is will this attack the tower> kill it, will this protect the tower>protect it as opposed to Jake the adult human going, what could I post on Facebook today to get maximum likes?


THE  APPEAL  OF  THE  SUDDEN  AWAKENING

There is an act of vindicated joy that we all empathise with, when Jake is shown his world is the dream and the mid-world he enters through the portal is his reality. There is that little bit of hope, inside all of us that this can’t be it that finds validation. That our lives cannot be just about doing taxes, choosing stationery supplies and ordering takeout. That somewhere beyond all this mundaneness there is a place where we are needed. A sort of Inception inspired deception that, this is a dream and all we need to do is wake up to realise we were meant for greatness all along. I’ve romanticised it as much as the rest of you guys.

Aww GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY

“I was right! I always knew I was meant for more than this!”

There is also a certain amount of appeal that the spontaneity of the transformation holds. One moment Jake is in his room doing his “delusional” drawings, the next moment the monsters wearing human skin have come for him and he escapes to Mid-World. There is no gradual change here, the appeal I guess of such sudden transformation is that we believe they it happen to us. Right! We don’t need years of prep for it, there is no waiting time, the next moment the monster-skin-people could come for any of us. There is that deceptive hope that that moment could happen to any of us, because all it takes is a moment for the shift to begin and for the dream to end. The spontaneity of it, is proof of its probability and we begin to anticipate that moment. I’ve certainly started looking for scars behind earlobes.


DEATH  ALWAYS  WINS

Stuff like that always gets you thinking about what you’ve been upto all this while. And rather than course correct or work even harder its totally human to just put your feet up and go, “well I’m still dreaming, they haven’t come for me yet.” It’s just reassuring to know and live with the hope that any moment the dream could end and then, then we shall be truly awake and all of this, all of this will just fall by the wayside, as we embrace who we were truly meant to be, all along. When we shall throw away the cloak of mediocrity that hid our own powers all this while and show to the world who we truly were.

Hero GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY


After all, the desire to be in a story is all that drives us.
The desire to wake up one day and know that life is the dream.

– Percy Bharucha

(The author has been previously published in eFiction and eFiction India, Eastlit, Reading Hour, Gratis, The Madras Mag, The Ascent, The Creative Cafe, Invisible Illness, The Writing Cooperative, Bigger Picture, Hundred Naked Words, Be Yourself, Fit Yourself Club, Hopes and Dreams for the Future, Written Tales, Poets Unlimited and The Haven. He writes regularly on Medium and runs a bi-weekly comic strip called The Adult Manual. He also tweets infrequently at  @Sab_Bakwaas_Hai)

What The Movies Taught Me – Part I

Posted: September 11, 2017 by moifightclub in cinema
Tags:
“Endure, Master Wayne.”

Let me begin with a bit of context. While movies remain a source of entertainment, for most of us, I find them to be a remarkably accessible medium to distribute and inspire through a more pop version of philosophy. I hope to begin a series and perhaps someday a publication on Medium dedicated to it. I hope to do a slightly more detailed take than the average BuzzFeed article without getting into the academic or theoretical bits of it.

(Let me know if you guys like the idea in the comments)

While The Dark Knight remains one of the best films of our time, I found within it, a human lesson that has served me quite well and I thought I’ll just point it out for the rest. One of the key scenes in the movie is when this particular sequence of dialogues take place:


“Bruce Wayne: People are dying, Alfred. What would you have me do?

Alfred: Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They’ll hate you for it, but that’s the point of Batman. He can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.”


The Joker is busy executing people till the Batman gives himself up, public opinion has turned against him. The man that has protected them for years is given up in an instant by the police and the public at large. Rather than rant or be bitter about this quite obvious treachery and cowardice on the part of the general population of Gotham, Batman is all set to give himself just to save the innocent from being slaughtered.

He turns to Alfred for validation of his own decision, and, Alfred – the man tasked with raising the billionaire orphan, utters but a single word of advice,

ENDURE !

It’s a rather stoic line of thinking that Alfred presents, he is unmoved by the emotion of the public, indifferent to short term cost of people being sacrificed, he is only guided by the long term view of the Batman as an institution that can protect the people in the future. The odds of the potential good Batman can accomplish in the future weighed calmly against the short term term consequence of a few murders. The logic behind the move is unembellished by personal emotion or by any kind of motive of revenge on the betrayal of the public. I found that to be such a striking diversion from common human behaviour. I know that if any of us were Alfred in the moment we’d be going, “fuck the people, this is how they repay us for years of keeping the peace, they deserve this” and yet there is not a single selfish thought in either Batman or Alfred.

Which is another key point that is reflected by the Stoics, accepting the moment as it presents itself. The development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions; the philosophy holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand universal reason. I cannot imagine the amount of self control it would have taken in that moment for both Batman and Alfred to think as calmly as they do. I know most of you must at this point be going, “It’s a movie and that’s not how it happens in reality.” But if the characters hold us to a higher standard of behaviour and a better state of functioning, then why shouldn’t they be emulated?

Even in the subsequent moment when Batman rejects Alfred’s advice and gives himself up, observe the interrelationship between them, there is no attempt to negotiate, there is no attempt to convince. There is no Alfred going, “WTF Bruh! I was doling out advice, when you was still in diapers, listen to me, you idiot!” Nope, none of that. This is Batman deciding to give himself up, expressing his desire to do so, to the very father figure who raised him and loves him more than anyone else in the world! It broke me, that Alfred doesn’t plead, there are no tears, there is only absolute support. Again the principle of self control and overcoming destructive emotion is applied to their relationship, there is no fear, anger, or control sought. There is but a calm in the whole scene, the calm that brings to the moment a kind of gravitas that could not have been afforded by any measure of emoting.


I often play this scene in my head, especially of late, where in the past few months, there have been regular ups and downs. Many doors have been shut, with a fierce regularity. Often I find myself drowning in a maelstrom of my own making, where the tides of regret pull me to the bottom of the ocean. I know I do not suffer alone. But in those moments the Stoic way has been of immeasurable help to me. It has been an anchor that has always succeeded in pulling me back from these depths. That very anchor that I offer to you today, a single word, a single resounding word that needs to be repeated to the self again and again,

ENDURE !

Percy Bharucha

(The author has been previously published in eFiction and eFiction India, Eastlit, Reading Hour, Gratis, The Madras Mag, The Ascent, The Creative Cafe, Invisible Illness, The Writing Cooperative, Bigger Picture, Hundred Naked Words, Be Yourself, Fit Yourself Club, Hopes and Dreams for the Future, Written Tales, Poets Unlimited and The Haven. He writes regularly on Medium and runs a bi-weekly comic strip called The Adult Manual. He also tweets infrequently at  @Sab_Bakwaas_Hai)

You have seen the film. You have read the reviews. You already know which side of debate you are on. We are late to the party. But we would still suggest that you read this Dunkirk post by Percy H Bharucha.

 

I wanted to just add a small note before I get into the movie itself. If we are to judge the skill of a moviemaker by what he adds to the medium, let us also be magnanimous enough to call it skill when he is able to subtract from the medium without compromising the quality of the visual experience.

First things first, let’s admit to the fact that Dunkirk is a movie unlike most other war movies. Which is where the comparisons to Saving Private Ryan, Hacksaw Ridge should ideally end. Those movies had an independent inspirational story line; there was a plot, which by the way is set during a war. Add to it the usual emotional heart tugging of the “true story”, and the fade to black and white montage sequences of actual war heroes. I’m not saying that’s bad or wrong but this isn’t that kind of movie. In a way the courage portrayed in the movie is mirrored by the courage of the director in embarking on a movie with truly no protagonist, no linear structure, the absolute lack of the usual narrative elements, and a rather odd penchant for sweater vests and turtlenecks. This is an experiment and like all things new should be encouraged. To quote Anton Ego, “…the new needs friends…”

This is movie making with blinders on, and it that respect Nolan perhaps does more justice to the actual event than any other historical movie so far. The evacuation is the story, the evacuation is the plot, the evacuation is the enemy, the friend, the love interest, the comic relief, the everything. There is nothing else to distract the viewer from the event.

 Allow me to list the clichés of a war movie, whose absence I thoroughly enjoyed.

There are no unnecessary amounts of blood, spurting from maimed limbs just to shock and awe the viewer with visceral depictions of bombing. There is no relentless barrage of gunfire, especially bursts of fire in the night for stylistic violence or whatever. No slow motion shots of people running around with stretchers, of shell cases flying. No unnecessary jerky first person POV camera movements to deliver “true immersion into the war front.” No unnecessary audio effects of showing shell shock or ear drums going mute after bombing. No black and white photos of sweethearts left home, no letters written but not posted to sons or mothers, no folding of the flags over coffins, no medic scene with man dying on stretcher. No Michael Bay-esque scenes of military swag with low angle shots of people walking in slow motion against the dying sun with their entourage carrying big heavy guns. No rousing speeches at the darkest moments of the film, no hope carrying banner, no heroic acts of courage glorified by technique or skill. Nobody to yell, “charge” or “fire” or any sort of witticism making fun of the enemy. There is no garish tugging of heartstrings, no vulgar exploitation of emotion, no trembling hands, no lone tear eking its way down a solitary cheek.

At this point you might say, “Percy, can we even call this a war movie?

Isn’t all of this required?”

The answer Nolan tells us quietly is a resounding NO!

That is the man’s skill; he still made it look effortless, he removes all the bells, the frills, and the whistles and still made you want more of the movie. This movie is about an event and in an era where movies pack love, fantasy, action, it is a welcome change to concentrate on one fucking thing.

Dunkirk is, possibly, in my opinion, the most authentic war movie there is. By that statement I do not imply historical accuracy, but perhaps the most realistic depiction of war there is. One of the opening scenes of the movie is a soldier looking for a place to take a dump. If that shit isn’t ‘real’, I don’t know what is. Nolan shows you that side of war that few movies touch on, the absolute chaos, the unsexy clumsiness and randomness of it. There is a fanatical detail to the idiosyncrasies of war, the fumbling with loading the gun in the initial scenes, the lifting of the hose pipe to drink water, the cracking of the fuel gauge, the accidental death of George before coming close to the battle, the soldiers blocking the stretchers as they are carried along the mole reluctant to let them pass, this is the day to day of war.

Most war movies are either; highlight reels made to glorify inspirational, individual acts of valor or the anti war, which focus on the senseless destruction it causes, and the uprooting of giant swathes of people unlucky enough to be caught in it. Nolan treads a fine line here. There is no cinematic glory or angst filter applied to his faithful retelling.

If there is one message he seems to be espousing is that wars are about survival. There is no winning or losing here, there is only survival. Surviving a relentless onslaught of chaotic destruction.

The beach turns into a black hole and we are dropped in the midst of it, through land, through sea and through air, all we see are attempts to escape it. The giving and taking of hope is a hallmark of Nolan’s films, but never before has it been employed so successfully. The moment of relief is short, so short it tears away at the viewer’s heart to have it snatched away so mercilessly. Nolan ensures that the primitiveness of his key emotion, survival is not to be muddied, diluted or tainted in any way through either treatment or narrative. The dialogue is sparse, functional, stripped down to the primitive, bare bone. There are no witty quips, no meme-worthy lines, no clever wordplay, no dying joke, no talk about brotherhood, Nolan moves the viewer through the frame and the silence of the spoken word.

But what Nolan does contrast this bleak landscape of destruction is with what I’d like to term the anonymity of courage. There are these little glimpses throughout the movie, of pure human endurance. But they are the blink-it-and-miss-it kinds. Understated, not trumpeted around there is no lengthy stay or pause for effect there is only the moment as it must have been. And yet it is this very anonymity of courage that adds so much to the movie. There are few names exchanged, there are no identifiers, there is only the anonymous soldier or civilian, blending in and out of the group as required. Perhaps a nod to the fact that war robs us all of identity, if that is intentional it is a masterstroke of filmmaking or maybe I read too much into it.

In the hands of a less skilled filmmaker or even perhaps a less courageous one, this would have been ruined. We would have seen the usual fare of a victorious score announce the arrival of civilian boats, scenes of soldiers hugging and crying with the civilians, exchanging mementos, shaking of hands, passing on of dead soldier letters, prayers being answered, etc. etc. But Nolan is unrelenting. Kenneth Branagh delivers two lines; one is waiting for the French and the other “What do you see? Home”, which are perhaps so historically inspiring from a humanistic point of view, and yet they are shot like any other lines in the movie. There is no close up, there is no heroic music, no posing, there is just the event. The wordless exchanges when the French soldier on multiple occasions saves Harry Styles. Mark Rylance delivers the line, “my son is one of you lot… died three months into the war” he is allowed no indulgence, there is no private moment of grief shared, no banal platitudes offered, just a matter of fact statement made with an implication of such sheer weight. The scene where the son hides the death of George from Cillian Murphy and the father approves wordlessly, such intense stuff yet delivered so functionally. Some tactless father son bonding ritual moment could have easily ruined this, but that is my point this movie is a case on restraint. And George, sigh, a moment of silence for George. The only official hero of the movie dies before he enters the war. If you think that the fact, that George goes blind before he dies is random, remember his lines, his talk about not doing anything worthwhile, how this war was his redemption. A part of me believes that Nolan would rather have him go blind than break his heart over the senseless chaos that war truly is. George died believing in his own myths about the glory and grandeur of the war they joined, a merciful death. But again I fear I might be reading too much into this. And I ask you how can you not be moved? Or perhaps we’ve confused delivery with dialogue. One can say the gravest things without a tear that should not take away from the gravity of their words. The acting is brilliant again by what is not done, what is not shown, the absence of that catch in the throat, the tremor in the tone.

There is little room for emotion when there is a gun pointed at your head, especially if it is an aircraft gun, let us not mistake the deliberate absence of over-the-top hysterics as the lack of emotion in the movie.

I will refrain from dealing with the technical aspects of the movie, the way it has been shot; better people than me have spoken of the incredible work done in those areas.

Lastly, this movie is about courage, the quiet kind, the kind that doesn’t require Wagner-esque scores accompanying it. And it takes courage to say ‘that’s all’ that needs to be there. Nolan has made a movie that will require of the emotionally bombarded palate, an effort to decipher, an effort to connect the storylines. Let us grant him that for the payoff is so worth it. I fear a lot of people have attributed their laziness and their need for over articulated storylines as a fault of the director.

Is the movie messy? Hell Yes, but then so is war!

Percy Bharucha

(The author is a Young India Fellow, and has been writing since he discovered he couldn’t draw. He has a full time job in advertising and hopes to keep it that way. He has been previously published in eFiction and eFiction India, Asia Lit, Reading Hour, Gratis and The Madras Mag. He infrequently tweets @Sab_Bakwaas_Hai)

We are bit late on this, but here it is – our recco post on Damien Chazelle’s new film, La La Land. It’s written by Percy H Bharucha.

la-la-land

La La Land is a movie devoted to a single word – ache.

The ache of Nostalgia.
The ache of a city like L.A.
The ache of dreams unfulfilled.
The ache of lost musicals and movies.
The ache of love lost.
The ache of what could have been.
And the ache of time spent apart.

As a child I used to watch musicals with my grandfather. My introduction to Hollywood was An American In Paris, Singing In The Rain, Easter Parade, Hello Dolly. Those were my first movies and I loved them dearly. As I grew up, so did Hollywood. Things got complicated for all of us and I yearned for a movie so simple, so removed from reality, that it wouldn’t want me to return from it.

La La Land brings back that ache for all of us. It brings with it a refusal to detach from its world. It is astonishing to watch a movie where the failures of the characters seem yours. The viewer takes that emotional burden upon himself just as I did. I rooted for them to fail, yes I did. Just to embrace the feeling it would bring. To feel through them.

There have been movies of recent that have relied on catering to a sense of wonder whether through visual aesthetics or intellectual curiosity, but La La Land is different. It holds itself to a different pedestal, though shot beautifully, it holds itself to the standards of emotion. Few movies have had such an impact on me. It has brought my pen out of hibernation This article is driven by personal catharsis, as much as it is, about this movie being an influence. I write this, as words tear themselves eager to be set on paper.

La La Land reflects a choice every one of us has had to make at least once in life. The choice between love, between relationships we share with ourselves and our dreams. I am glad, for once, there is a movie that prioritises dreams over love, the self over the other. Too many movies are tied to the illusion of the characters walking away with it all. La La Land is fierce enough to show its wounds, our wounds, the costs we pay to be at peace with ourselves.

Which brings me to the last part of the movie, the ache of what could have been, that’s reflected in the alternate flashback between the couple when she walks into his bar. It brings with it the realisation, of the characters being fully aware of their own losses, the pain they’ve endured and so is the viewer too, aware of what he has given up. No one is spared the pain of knowing the ideal, the best case scenario and yet the brilliance of this movie lies in how willingly I, the viewer, could embrace that pain, the burden and the ache the characters bring with them, as my own.

Like a wounded bird we nurse that emotion only because it’s been a long time since any of us felt this strongly about anything at all and even the emotion of absolute loss is better than feeling nothing at all.

La La Land offers an escape from the dark abyss of emotional numbness, it makes us ache in places we didn’t know were capable of expressing emotion. And the final proof of its own success is that a film that reminds us of these aches, becomes an ache by itself. La La Land makes us ache, and departure from the movie is no less painful than the character’s departure from each other.

I wish there was more heartbreak to be felt.

Percy Bharucha

(The author is a Young India Fellow, and has been writing since he discovered he couldn’t draw. He has a full time job in advertising and hopes to keep it that way. He has been previously published in eFiction and eFiction India, Asia Lit, Reading Hour, Gratis and The Madras Mag. He infrequently tweets @Sab_Bakwaas_Hai)