Friday, April 29, 2016

Liar Temptress Soldier Spy--on the women of the Civil War

Normally, when I read about history, it is of the fictional sort. I have already treated you all to a review of the books of Kate Quinn, one of my favorite current writers ( I can’t recommend her work highly enough, but I recently took what was, for me, a bit of a departure and read about something that actually happened.
Don’t get me wrong, I love history, but I am generally accustomed to learning about it either in a class setting or from a Wikipedia page. I rarely sit down and read an entire nonfiction book. My father would bemoan this inclination—he is a true history devotee, and a lover of nonfiction. What turns me off in a nonfiction setting is the lack of characters. In most books, however thrilling the plot, I find it to be secondary. If a character is unrealistic, or uninteresting, or perpetually unsympathetic, then there is nothing tying me to a book, and I generally end up guiltily tossing it aside halfway through.
Not this time though. Liar Temptress Soldier Spy, by Karen Abbott, kept me reading with baited breathe all the way through. Abbott’s book is nonfiction written as if it were fiction. This is not a textbook; this is a novel with the minds of the characters laid open through what must have been exhausting research. Four remarkable characters, all four interesting, sympathetic (in some ways) and realistic. Of course they were realistic. They were real.
Liar Temptress Soldier Spy gives the accounts of four women who fought in the Civil War, two for the Union and two for the Confederacy. When I say fought, I do not mean that they were all enlisted as soldiers, though one was. I meant that they each struggled every day of the war, facing constant threats from both their enemies and their neighbors, because when you are a woman inhabiting what was considered a man’s role, the greatest threat may come from those for whom you fight.
Belle Boyd was a privileged southern slave-owner’s daughter, who shot a Union soldier who made the mistake of threatening her mother. Her audacity and love of attention would carry her through the rest of the war and the rest of her life; her constant attempts to top her last extravaganza were simultaneously admirable, exasperating, and pitiful. Emma Edmonds escaped an abusive father and pursued religious convictions by disguising herself as a man and fighting for the Union army. During the war, she spied behind enemy lines, disguising herself as a woman, and leading many to wonder how this man was so very convincing in the masquerade of the fairer sex. Rose O’Neale Greenhow was in some ways the strongest of the women and was certainly the hardest for me to stomach. A fervent lover of the Confederacy and all that it stood for, she seduced her way into wartime intelligence, which she passed along through a spy ring she ran largely on her own, until she was finally imprisoned and exiled with her young daughter. She was hard as flint, and just as inflexible, to her downfall. Elizabeth Van Lew was a Richmond abolitionist who spent the war hiding Northern POWs in her attic to later be smuggled across the lines. She too ran a spy ring, passing information on to General Grant that sped the defeat of the south. She earned Grant’s everlasting gratitude, and her neighbors’ everlasting enmity. In many ways, her story is the true tragedy of the book.
Stories have a different effect when you know they are real. Some books have what I call the hangover effect; they cling to you long after you put them down. This one in particular has been insidious. I find myself thinking about these four women, the sacrifices they made, and lives they truly chose to lead, in a time where most women had every choice snatched from their hands. They are eternal now, but in their own time, these choices cost them dearly.

Read this. It is remarkable.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Narrative Authority and Strategists Authors: The Narrators of Emma and Wide Sargasso Sea

I love law school, but sometimes, I miss literary analysis so viciously that I open up some of my old papers just to pump myself up. I wrote this paper in my senior year of undergrad in a class that studied the novel, which was not always the dominant form of literature. I'm proud of this one--I like studying things, like narrators, that normally escape our notice. No one thinks about the narrator of a story, but what would we do without a good one?

Authors write stories; narrators tell them. On paper, the distinction is fairly plain. In practice, it can be difficult to see where one ends and the other begins. Emma, by Jane Austen, and Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys, are two novels in which the narrator and the author play intriguing roles. Emma uses a third person anonymous narrator who speaks authoritatively on all goings on the novel, while Wide Sargasso Sea is told through the voices of the two main characters. The narrator of Emma is more ostensibly present because this narrator announces herself, but is less easily identified as a voice associated with the author; the narrator instead takes the role of a communal voice, delivering gossip and community opinions. The narrator of Wide Sargasso Sea, on the other hand, does not announce herself but can be seen as the author through her manipulation of time and point of view; Antoinette acts as narrator at some points, but narrative responsibility is later given to Mr. Rochester. This manipulation of storylines and voice reveals the authorial control of the narrator.
Critic Michel Foucault once asked “What is an author?’ (McHale 3). One of the most difficult notions for the reader to understand when reading and studying a text is the distinction between the author and the narrator. Critics have argued over the author’s role in the text for generations, and each generation of writer tends to have a different approach to their role in their own writing. Past authors have been identified closely with their work, but in more recent years, “…the visible, intrusive authorial persona of Thackeray, Balzac, Trollope had been superseded; that henceforth the author would be invisible and unobtrusive, above or behind but not in his creation” (199).
 This authorial attempt to hide behind the text, compared to past texts in which the author was more plainly present, only intensifies the question of where author ends and narrator begins. An author strategizes and creates a story; a narrator is the form of delivery. An author writes discourse, while the narrator speaks this discourse. This distinction is easier when the narrator is explicitly revealed to be a character in the story. First-person narration gives the narrator an identity; because the narrator is a part of the story, he or she has biases and personality, and therefore an identity separate from that of the writer. An omniscient, third person narrator, however, frequently has the sort of knowledge and impartiality that one might ascribe to an author, and it is all too easy for a reader to assume that such a narrator speaks the author’s private opinions.
            Emma, the older of the two works, is a novel told by a third person omniscient narrator, who speaks with authority and certainty on the opinions of everyone within the community of Highbury. This narrator never claims a specific identity but reveals a certain attitude and mindset through the use of free indirect style, which gives the narrator the ability to enter the minds of all the characters without surrendering the omniscience and authority of the third-person voice. What Austen uses free indirect style for most frequently, however, is to relate the gossip of Emma’s community, for …Emma is a novel that identifies gossip as the way communities narrate their authority…” (Casey and Finch, 3). In fact, “…gossip in Emma tends to operate as a hidden form of authority…” which “…(feminizes) the voice of authority…” (2-3). Having a narrator so very concerned with society and gossip gives this anonymous narrator a decidedly feminine inclination; this is the voice of a small-town society woman, like Austen herself. Perhaps this could be seen as Jane Austen tacitly admitting her presence in Emma.
            The narrator of Emma, however, has no control over the story; she merely relates the occurrences of Highbury as they occur. She has knowledge, but no power. As Casey and Finch say
“The free indirect style is variously deployed throughout the novel: sometimes it simply reports the actual speeches of characters; sometimes it eavesdrops, as it were, on the internal ruminations of individual citizens in order either to satirize or approve them; and other times it ventriloquizes the voice of the community as a whole (or at least the voice of its respectable citizens.” (14)
This ability to eavesdrop is seen at multiple points. Though the narrator usually comments on Emma’s life, at one point, the narrator moves to Mr. and Mrs. Weston when they discover that Mr. Churchill cannot come to visit. The narrator says:
“Mr. Frank Churchill did not come. When the time proposed drew near, Mrs. Weston’s fears were justified in the arrival of a letter of excuse….Mrs. Weston was exceedingly disappointed—much more disappointed, in fact, than her husband, though her dependence on seeing the young man had been much more sober…” (Austen 123)
The narrator makes note of all this, but there is no art behind the report. Through no word of control or foresight does Austen place herself in the voice of the narrator, who eavesdrops and comments, but cannot manipulate.
            The use of gossip as narrative authority allows this narrator to separate herself from any possible identification with Jane Austen the author. Instead, the narrator becomes the voice of Highbury itself. In many points throughout the novel, the narrator issues speculative opinions as a group of gossipers would, saying
“Real, long-standing regard brought the Westons and Mr. Knightley; and by Mr. Elton, a young man living alone without liking it, the privilege of exchanging any vacant evening of his own blank solitude for the elegancies and society of Mr. Woodhouse’s drawing-room, and the smiles of his lovely daughter, was in no danger of being thrown away.” (14)
This voice of gossip creates a rather large narrative distance. Though the narrator may comment in passing on the general feelings of a character, relatively little access is given to the characters’ minds, except at moments of great emotional intensity, as when Emma discovers her love of Mr. Knightley. The narrator says
“The rest of the day, the following night, were hardly enough for her thoughts. She was bewildered amidst the confusion of all that had rushed on her within the last few hours….How to understand it all!....How long had Mr. Knightley been so dear to her, as every feeling declared him now to be?” (357)
Even at this moment, free indirect style is used, keeping the reader outside of Emma’s mind. The reader perceives her revelation as if a third party speaker related it. The narrator never tries to bridge this gap. There is no manipulation of point of view.
Wide Sargasso Sea is from a very different time than Emma; it also makes use of very different narrators. The novel, at first glance, seems to avoid proclaiming the presence of an author at all costs, for Jean Rhys has “…effaced (her) own subjectivit(y) behind the surrogate subjectivity of a first-person narrator or interior monologuist…” (McHale 199). The entire story is told through the eyes and voices of two characters: Antoinette Mason and her husband (never explicitly named, but the reader can assume him to be Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester). There is no other narrative authority; the reader is able to see and know only what these two characters see and know. The presence of an authority, with knowledge of the story as a whole, is absolutely nowhere to be found.
Despite the fact that the story is completely in the voice of the characters of the story, Rhys’s control is more than plain. McHale points out that frequently, when authors attempt to disappear, their presence became even more obvious, saying “Paradoxically, the more they sought to efface themselves, the more they made their presence conspicuous. Strategies of self-effacement, while ostensibly obliterating surface traces of the author, in fact call attention to the author as strategist” (199). Rhys’s manipulation of temporality and point of view in Wide Sargasso Sea is a perfect example of the author revealing herself through the strategy she implements in the novel. Rhys begins the work by presenting Antoinette’s story through her own eyes. The reader, who theoretically is familiar with the plot of Jane Eyre, has a prior conception of Bertha, but Antoinette’s narration completely belies what scanty facts Jane Eyre provides. This is a strategic decision on Rhys’s part to reverse opinions of a preexisting character. Even more dramatic is Mr. Rochester’s perspective. Mr. Rochester is a full character in Jane Eyre, while Bertha only a shadow in the darkness. Rhys’s conscious denial of all the generations of readers seen Mr. Rochester as reveals her manipulation of convention and her presence in her own novel.
Beyond the characterization decisions, Rhys shows her hand through her manipulation of time and point of view. More than one moment of Wide Sargasso Sea leaves the reader wondering from what time the story is being narrated. At one point, Antoinette hints vaguely that she is relating her story just before throwing herself from Thornfield Hall to her death. She says:
“Quickly, while I can, I must remember the hot classroom. The hot classroom, the pitchpine desks, the heat of the bench striking up through my body…We can colour roses as we choose and mine are green, blue and purple. Underneath, I will write my name in fire red, Antoinette Mason, nee Cosway, Mount Calvary Convent, Spanish Town, Jamaica, 1939.” (Rhys 31)
The reminder that this story is coming from the future as the narrator reflects back, the urgency of the recollection, and the mention of fire, which Bronte’s Bertha made such terrible use of, all force the reader to think of Bertha Mason’s last moments. This shift in temporality also reveals the careful control of a greater authority. Even more plain is the shift in point of view that occurs between Part 1 and Part 2, and then again between Part 2 and Part 3. Antoinette narrates parts 1 and 3, but Antoinette’s husband narrates Part 2. The shift between the two points of view reminds the reader that the story has been designed—the novel belongs to neither Antoinette nor Mr. Rochester.
Interestingly, nowhere is Jean Rhys’s presence plainer than where she seeks to disappear into her characters’ mind. At one point, Rhys’s writing makes a stylistic change as Christophine confronts Mr. Rochester, beginning to resemble a stream of conscious narrative.
“ ‘Only you she see. But all you want is to break her up.’
(Not the way you mean, I thought)
‘But she hold out, eh? She hold out.’
(Yes, she held out. A pity) (Rhys 92)
Rhys’s italic prose describes the actual processes of Rochester’s mind, but this stylistic shift points yet again to the mind creating that style. McHale believes that “…the apparent absence of a controlling authorial voice provokes the reader to reconstruct a position for the missing author to occupy, in effect an image of the author” (199). While Rhys’s writing does not draw the reader’s attention to the novel as a piece of literature (like Bronte’s distancing strategies did), her mindful shifts in time, point of view, and style remind the reader that what they are reading has been carefully designed.
            Many novels, however, have first person points of view and create temporal distance in narration without ever indicating the existence of their authors; one must consider why these tools reveal Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea. The reader would never notice Rhys’s presence as a strategist, were it not for the changes that occur in her writing. The narrative motion, as the point of view switches from Antoinette to Mr. Rochester, to Antoinette again, reveals Rhys; meanwhile, the narrator of Emma keeps a respectful distance from each character’s mind. This anonymous female narrator only shares specific thoughts and observations at certain points, and never creating a stream of consciousness. This allows the author to be forgotten. The novel’s narrator is Highbury itself; “(Emma’s) deployment of free indirect style (which Austen brought to fruition) has the effect of naturalizing narrative authority by disseminating it among the characters.” (Casey and Finch 3). This perspective does not change. At no point is does the discourse suddenly shift, giving narrative authority to Emma, or to Mr. Knightley, or any other character. Rhys, however, takes the narrative reins from Antoinette and hands them to Mr. Rochester, signaling the beginning of Part 2 of her novel, only to switch back to Antoinette’s perspective for Part 3. This change cannot help but remind the reader of the person constructing the story. Rhys also switches suddenly into a semi stream of consciousness style, allowing the reader to see the exact processes of Mr. Rochester’s mind as he speaks with Christophine. This gives the reader an intimate look into this character, but the radical shift in narrative distance and style also brings Rhys into the forefront as a strategist author.

            The narrator of Emma is authoritative and knowledgeable; the narrators of Wide Sargasso Sea are limited and biased. One would think that the omniscient, third party narrator is more easily associated with the author. This narrator, however, maintains her distance from the characters and remains a constant throughout the novel, while Rhys switches point of view from one character to another. In an even more jarring move, Rhys changes styles in a moment of emotional intensity, drawing closer to Mr. Rochester’s mind and revealing Rhys as the strategist of her story. Emma may have an announced authority in the form of the Highbury narrator, but the narrators of Wide Sargasso Sea, because explicit manipulation of point of view and narrative distance, reveal their creator. Narrative movement demonstrates the author’s plan behind the constructed reality of a novel, and therefore reveals the strategist.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Birthday and the End of the Year

It's my birthday today, and it is New Year's Eve's Eve (is that a thing?). With festivities and the business of the season, I don't have a ton of time, so this isn't going to be a long post, but thank you to everyone who reads and keeps reading with my sporadic output. I appreciate the loyalty of the perhaps ten (maybe) readers who stick with me. I hope to have new posts up soon!
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My Opinions on Tarantino (who everyone seems to have an opinion on)

I was on the elliptical at the gym the other day, looking for some way to distract myself from the tedium of any form of exercise other than running (I am a runner, and my knees resent me for it), and I lucked into Volume I of Kill Bill. First thought—“Success, it’s my third favorite Tarantino film!”
            No, I don’t have the films of every well-known director ranked in order of preference to recite at parties and networking functions. I do not have my life quite that together. And I wouldn’t say that I am a diehard Quentin Tarantino fan, though I certainly like him a lot. People tend to feel passionately about Tarantino though, and for some reason, these films adapt themselves well to ordering, perhaps because the stylistic elements of his directing are so consistent that his films are like different culinary variations on the same basic ingredients. They all seem connected—part of the same universe, so to speak. Stylized, cartoonish violence contrasted with real, horrifying violence, historical anachronism, revenge fantasies, Samuel L. Jackson—whether you love it or hate it, you can never fail to recognize a Tarantino film. Anyway, here are favorites (I have never seen Reservoir Dogs, by the way, so don’t hate me for not having that on the list.

1) Pulp Fiction.
Obviously. Was this ever a question? The narrative structure is fascinatingly nonlinear, and yet we never lose the thread of the story (and if we did, we are having enough fun to just go with it). Jackson and John Travolta have wonderful buddy-cop (except they are hitmen) chemistry. Bruce Willis, who I have never credited with much nuance in his acting, gives a remarkably sympathetic performance. It’s hard to put into words the things that make this movie so good, but I could definitely throw out about a hundred different immortal lines just off the top of my head. (“That is a tasty burger.”) That probably says it all; the strength and drive of the film comes from its pithy dialogue, not from the violence that abounds. I will never get bored with a conversation between Jules and Vincent. That can go on all day long, as far as I’m concerned.

2) Django Unchained.
People are going to hate me for this, and I am ok with that. Diehard Tarantino folk tell me that this is a lesser film in the pantheon, but I just told you that I am not a diehard Tarantino lover, so I can like whatever I want. I love this movie because it doesn’t tiptoe around its subject material. I’m aware that the argument could be made that the film goes too far in the other direction, throwing around the most vulgar of racial epithets with something approaching glee, but if we are going to make a movie set in the pre-Civil War South, then let’s not pretend that the vast majority of people weren’t comfortable with the ugly attitudes that pervaded. And I cannot tell you how cathartic it was to laugh at the proto-KKK (the actual KKK wasn’t founded until after the Civil War, but it had its roots in the sorts of groups portrayed in one very memorable scene). And everyone is near perfect in their parts, including Leonardo DiCaprio, who most notably plays against type. The one issue I have with the film is the lack of interesting female parts. Kerry Washington’s portrayal of Broomhilda brings more soul to the part than it otherwise would have had, but the character exists more as an idea than a person.

3) Kill Bill: Volume 1
This is a close one for me. Inglourious Basterds very nearly won out. I give Kill Bill the prize, however, because of the simplicity of the essential plot and the appeal of the main character. Uma Thurman kills (obviously) and the fight sequences are beautiful, if extremely stylized (which can wear a little bit). The Bride’s quest is so primal—revenge for herself and for her child. How could you not get behind her? How can you not support her, no matter how far she goes, given the wrong done her? Also, I love watching female action heroes. They are still rare enough that people feel the need to point them out as novelties, and this was one of the early ones that was done very right.

4) Inglourious Basterds. (Yes, I spelled it right)
Let’s kill some Nazis. Some of the same things that make Django Unchained so appealing apply here (including Christophe Waltz). Historical revenge fantasies are fun, and this one benefits from having a single, horribly familiar historical figure (perhaps the most reviled individual who ever lived) to focus our hatred on. The best parts of this movie are Colonel Hans Landa and Shosanna Dreyfus, who play deadly cat and mouse with each other, one presenting a polite, affable psychopathy, the other steely-eyed, sullen humanity. And then we throw Brad Pitt with a terrible accent into the mix for the fun of it. Because Tarantino said so.

5) Kill Bill: Volume 2

I don’t know why they changed the approach from the first volume, but it was, in my opinion, a mistake. I’m not saying this is a bad movie—far from it. In fact, there are a few sequences in here that I absolutely love, like the Bride’s climb out of the grave, and of course, the very end (no spoilers here), but this volume slowed the pace way, way down. Bill spends a whole lot of time pontificating about things we didn’t need him to pontificate on, and though he's the worst offender, he's far from alone. Why are we going down this rabbit hole? Aren’t there more important things happening?  Stop talking and kill each other, that’s clearly what you want to do (and absolutely what we want you to do)! Still, the ending is fully realized with all the impact it deserves.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Girl Who Gave Zero F***s

The fourth book in the Millennium Series recently came out--the first of the series to not be written by Stieg Larsson, who sadly died of a heart attack in 2004.
This fourth book (English version is titled The Girl in the Spider's Web), was surprisingly on point as far as style and subject matter goes. David Lagercrantz did an admirable job picking up the loose threads of this saga.
But what wonderful loose threads he had to pick up! Larsson first brought us into this story (published posthumously in 2005 in Swedish and 2008 in English) with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and sometimes, I feel that I am in a perpetual "hangover" from this book.
Why? Why does this book, and its subsequent sequels, have such a hold over me?
Part of it is the story and the themes. The original Swedish title to this book, when translated, means Men Who Hate Women, and the book takes an uncompromising view of these men. The characters who come under this label are not sympathetic in other ways, and no good character shrugs off their misogynistic sentiments with an "Oh well, that is just the way the world is." These men get their comeuppance, sometimes in rather spectacular fashion. On a visceral level, this appeals to me deeply. Though I have been lucky enough to meet mostly good, progressive people, I have still, like most women, had the unpleasant dawning realization that the man I am dealing with doesn't think much of me, and it is purely because I am a woman. Worse still are those men who don't simply think less of women, but actively hate them, just because they are women. These men exist, and there is something so twisted and wrong about this attitude (something akin to self-hatred, which is not my primary concern); it feels like a very personal affront to me, though by its definition, it is the exact opposite of personal. Larsson serves these women haters some ugly consequences, and no matter how horrible the events that befall these men, to me, the events feel like justice. I'm a law student. I like justice.

The appeal of Larsson's work and Lagercrantz's follow-up goes beyond an alignment of ideals, however. I love the characters. And when I say characters, I really mean one character.
No offense meant to Michael Blomkvist, but he pales next to Lisbeth Salander, the slight, tattooed, leather-clad, wildly pierced wonder. Lisbeth is a paradox in many ways. She exists on the fringes of society, and in this way, incorporates an element of vulnerability to her worldview. She is different, and therefore easily persecuted. In every other way, however, Salander is the ultimate badass. She views the world in a black and white, strangely (and strictly) ethical way. According to Salander's life rules, good people don't do bad things to weak people, and bad people deserve what they get. It's that easy, and she is willing to put in the man hours to ensure that everything ends the way she thinks it should. She is deeply devoted to her few friends, but struggles immensely with the interpersonal interactions that would, for most of us, comprise a friendship. In most other ways, Salander is strictly logical, unburdened by the sympathies and societal niceties that would usually prevent us from speaking bluntly, and she is shockingly able to walk away from a loved one when she has concluded that there is no further reason to stay.
Lisbeth is uncompromising in her dislike, and I'm not sure she would like me. I generally try to appear stylish and put together, and Lisbeth harbors a distrust of anything too polished. I come from an affluent, middle class family, and Lisbeth doesn't identify with privilege. I want to become a lawyer and spend my life working in an office. Lisbeth doesn't do conventional. Lisbeth would probably not love me, but I enjoy her immensely, and in some ways, I wish I were more like her. She is decisive and almost mechanically efficient in her problem solving. Once she sees her way forward, nothing stops her. She does what she feels needs to be done, no hesitation.
Next to her, who even thinks about Michael Blomkvist, the admittedly dedicated journalist who sleeps around with married women? Who has any patience for his deference to the convention when Salander can get the job done without all the hand-wringing? Michael is really only there to serve as reminder of how remarkable Salander is. He is an everyman, and she is extraordinary.
Read the books. They are fascinating--the plots are intricate and the main character is a force of nature.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Law School

It has been too long since I've posted. For that I apologize, less to my hypothetical readership and more to myself. I've missed doing this.
For the past year I have been preparing to enter law school. Between the LSAT and the personal statement writing, there wasn't much time or energy leftover. Now that's all behind me, and I am currently in my first semester. Everyone warned me over and over how hard law school would be. And it is. It really is. No one told me, however, that I would enjoy 65% of what I was doing. That is a reassuring 65%, because without it, I would currently be castigating myself for not applying to grad school to get my P.H.D. in English. It's good to know I made the right choice.
The sort of legal writing I am doing, however, doesn't allow me to use my hard-won English skills. I've missed this blog. I've missed publishing esoteric nonsense and pretentious TV and movie reviews. Even if no one ever read what I published, I missed the feeling of putting it out there anyway. It was a reason to write it, and I really miss writing to relax.
So I am back, in some form or fashion. I won't be around a ton (I am seriously very busy) but I will pop up now and then.
More to come.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

So wait, Godzilla is the good guy?

I know my avid reader(s) have missed my cinematic insights, so here is my review of Godzilla. 
Let me preface all this by saying I know absolutely nothing about the original Godzilla movies. Well, not nothing. I saw this movie with my parents, and ten minutes in, my mom leaned over and whispered to me, “I thought Godzilla was a monkey.” That’s King Kong, Mom. All the same, I’ve never seen a Godzilla movie, as I dislike dubbing and don’t speak Japanese.
            I therefore came to this most recent adaptation as an ignorant newbie. That being said, my favorite part of this entire production was how very real the entire extravaganza looked. This is a film that could not have been properly made 10 years ago. I watched this movie and could have believed that someone had found three enormous monsters to stomp around. These things are so concretely real that you want to reach out and touch them. The texture, the lighting, the movement…I was convinced. Monsters have come among us.
            The monsters are remarkably uninterested in us, however. We don’t often see the animals in their entirety. The camera makes use of obstacles, night, or dust clouds to keep us from getting too complete of a view for large portions of the film. In this way, the cinematography has a touch of the horror movie to it (some scenes reminded me very strongly of Ridley Scott’s Alien), but the monsters never stalk the humans the way monsters in horror movies do. Without giving anything huge away, I can say that all three creatures (yes, three) have their own agendas, and these agendas do not include killing and/or eating humans. Two of the baddies want to mate and reproduce. The other one wants to kill said lovebirds. Human lives are incidental. We get in the way. We are squashed. Our cities get in the way. Our cities are squashed. None of the monsters are interested in preserving human life, but neither are they interested in destroying it. It’s like when we step on an ant colony in a rush to get to the food truck before they run out of kosher hot dogs. We didn’t want to kill the ants! We just didn’t care enough not to.
            And oddly, I found myself harboring the same sentiment towards all of the characters in the movie. Juliet Binoche and Bryan Cranston play an American couple working at a nuclear power plant in Japan, which is destroyed in the first few scenes. Fifteen years later, their son is a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy with a family of his own, and he gets wrapped up in the unfolding mayhem. There’s an admiral, some army guys, some nurses and doctors, and two scientists (one of whom is played by Ken Watanabe, who literally looks like he is either catatonic or in some sort of trance for the entire movie. Seriously, he does absolutely nothing but make vague, philosophical pronouncements deriding nuclear weapons and promoting the power of nature/Godzilla). With the exception of Watanabe, none of the actors are deficient, but neither do they go above and beyond. In fairness, they aren’t given much to work with. These characters aren’t particularly developed, and consequently, I didn’t mind when many of them simply disappeared without explanation. I also wouldn’t have minded if they all died. Somehow, the giant lizard became the main character. I was more concerned about his life than any human’s. His final showdown is remarkable to watch.
            I don’t know what the motive was of the original Godzilla films, but this one is all about spectacle. Feast your eyes. Root for the enormous lizard. Go Godzilla!

Passing thoughts:
  • Godzilla reminded me very strongly of my brother’s pet pit bull, Bruce, because they both swing their hind quarters around to hit opponents (our other dog in Bruce’s case) and because they both use their head’s to fight and forget about their paws/arms.
  • Juliet Binoche had a bit part. A small bit part. 
  • Generally, I disagree with the army command figure in these movies, but this time, I was completely with him. I’m sorry Ken Watanabe, you want us to sit back, relax, and let the creatures duke it out on their own while they crush our civilization underfoot? Nope, sorry, we just aren’t doing that. I don’t care what deep and completely irrelevant things you have to say about Hiroshima.