I have had a lot going on in my life recently, but I finally finished reading a book I have had for a while, “The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina“, by Mike Padilla. (Full disclosure: Mike is one of my best friends, and I have more than a passing shame at waiting so long to have read his first novel, which came out a few months ago). The book tells the story of a group of Latina friends in the San Fernando Valley, centered on the main character of Julia. I was completely riveted by the unexpected twists and turns in the plot, the story a compelling and relatable soap opera of friendship’s ups and downs and evolutions. And when I say soap opera, I mean it in a good way. Mike has an amazing way of making disparate events come together in believable, thrilling climaxes. He is able to capture something essential about the flavor of his characters’ lives while reaching into all of ours. In particular the idea (that has long been central in my own experience) that one never knows what is “good” or “bad” as the events of our lives unfold. And how so very often the seemingly worst events turn out to be the best thing to happen to us, altering our lives in incredible ways. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip I took with these characters (I would love to see this made into a movie), and I highly recommend it.
Of course it is true that our current set of preoccupations and the emotions that swirl around them color our perceptions of the world. The mind wants to find and make meaning in things, and draw parallels, and find similarities. The mind needs to make sense of things. So I accept that, especially in the presence of strong feelings, we are attuned to notice some things more than others. That said, it seemed quite an example of life’s synchronicity last night that I should attend the play “Next Fall” with my cousin Josh and friend Michael. They had suggested last week we go see the play, which was getting some good reviews, and I agreed to go, not knowing the first thing about it. Its main themes are about the contradictions of our belief systems and how they help or hinder our relationships and love of each other. But the key plot point that drives the storyline was a jarring reminder of what happened to my friend Andrew: Much of the character interaction is in a hospital after a terrible traffic accident, where the main character is brain dead and they must ultimately decide to remove him from life support. So many of the elements mirrored what Shaan told me a few days ago, that it was chilling. And it is funny how the mind plays tricks while trying to put things in a kind of order. Although I don’t think the play actually specified what type of traffic accident, I definitely thought it was on a bike. Each part of the plot that revolved around the accident, the last things said before we say goodbye, our state of being when we die, the senselessness of it — each of these things took me back to my current emotional state and my thoughts about Andrew and Shaan and old friends. Against these strong emotions the rest of the play, its acting, pacing and contradictions somewhat receded into the background. It was interesting as far as it went, but somehow seemed awkward or off-key. Whether this was due to my current lens or part of a greater objective truth about the quality or art of the piece is a little difficult to tease out at this point. But I left feeling an odd sense of how connected everything can seem, and how important it is for us to find those connections and make some meaning from them.
Sure, call it a chick flick if you think that damns it to some lower status. Maybe it is one. But I absolutely loved Julie & Julia, which I just saw today. It tells interweaving stories about the formative years of the famous chef on the one hand, and the woman many years later who would base a blog on working her way through every recipe in Child’s cookbook. Along the way we are treated to a jaw dropping impression of Julia Child by the incomparable Meryl Streep, and great performances by Amy Adams and the rest of the cast. It struck me that a great deal of the fun in this film is about the somewhat caricatured yet iconic place Julia Child holds in our culture. Her persona and mannerisms are legend, and the movie even plays to this by having the later characters watch the famous SNL skit with Dan Akroyd as The French Chef. On the more modern end in the character (based on a real person) of Julie Powell, I was moved by the potent idea of doing something for the love of it, and for the sake of having something to do. And through our projects, almost any project really, we find meaning in our way of pushing a rock up a hill only to have it fall back down again. Arriving somewhere is not nearly as interesting as the journey, and taking stock and pleasure in where we are right now.
The movie dovetails nicely with so many of my own interests, spread as they are over the years of my life. From France and French culture, to writing and blogging, this film really spoke to me. And of course one of the greatest elements in the film, taking notice that the love of great food is part and parcel of the love of life and living.
I went to go see the Watchmen movie today with my friend Barrett. Overall I thought it was really amazing visually, and there were some very interesting elements of the superhero genre that were being critiqued.
1. Sex and violence – There were many points in the movie where you understand that the violence of the superheroes beating up people (good or bad it seems) is quite the aphrodisiac for them. At one point in the movie one of the characters can’t get it up during sex, but after he and his super-heroine partner go out and rough up a few bad guys, they return for some amazing sex. There are also some disturbing parallels in a rape scene perpetrated by one of the “heroes”.
2. Gayness – It was all over the movie, in good and bad and ambiguous characters, and in obvious and subtle forms. Outside of one of the initial characters being a lesbian (and subsequently killed), the character of Ozymandias has gay written all over him, although they never come out and say it. Still, there are about a million cues.
3. The nature of good and evil – Comic books have dealt with these themes for a long time, but Alan Moore, who created the series, really was one of the best at muddying the waters between good and evil, realizing not only that the capacity for good and evil exists within all of us, but that often it isn’t clear which is which. His characters are rich in moral contradictions, and are capable of some pretty gruesome acts in the name of the good (or feeding their super egos).
4. The nature of power and humanity – One of the characters is so powerful, that he is in danger of losing his identification with humankind, and thus ability to empathize with or care about human suffering. One realizes that action (in the service of humanity, for example) is entirely based on scale, that is to say, too far a distance from being human all suffering looks irrelevant. The character even remarks at one point that “at a molecular level” a living body looks identical to a dead one.
One of the other great things about the film was that one of the characters (Dr. Manhattan, the powerful one) is naked throughout much of the film, turning the sexist convention that women are always the objectified, naked ones on its head. He is naked because (as stated above) he is less and less concerned with a human sense of shame or propriety and sees no reason to alter his “natural” appearance.
There were also a lot of pure camp moments in the film, like when two of the characters are having sex with the song Hallelujah playing in the background. Much of the music chosen for the film was evocative of various eras, which was interesting because most people already have their own imprint for these songs, and I am sure that hearing them over a number of scenes caused some varied and odd associations. As a meditation on the superhero genre and what it tells us about our society, the film was really top notch. The only thing that felt a bit odd was that, because the film (as with the graphic novel, released in 1986 and 87) is set in the mid eighties, its concerns with the cold war and world nuclear destruction no longer seem as relevant today as we confront global warming and environmental destruction, terrorism, and the like.