Archive | Country Matters

The Allegory of ‘Room’

To write about “Room,” the much-heralded adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s Man Booker Prize-nominated 2010 novel (she also penned the screenplay), is to write yourself into “Room” with nary a trap door in sight. This is not to say that the film is a black hole, though the effort to avoid spoilers is overwhelming. It’s that this story occupies a sort of fairy tale back room, where we forever are held hostage by the terror of Alice falling down the hole or of Rapunzel trapped in her tower room.

The analogy of Rapunzel is more than apt, actually. “Room” is set in a 11-by-11-foot sealed, sound-proof garden shed called (of course) “Room,” in which a woman known only as Ma (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) are confined. At first, we know very little. We don’t even know that Jack is a boy since he has long, long brown hair just like Ma. The two wake in the same bed, do their exercises, eat breakfast, and then pour over books together. Jack is fond of life in Room. We are introduced to his friends “lamp,” “blobby spoon,” and “rug,” and he and Ma stick to a routine in which they limit TV-watching time, take vitamins, and practice strict body and oral hygiene. But slowly we begin to grok the impossibility of their existence, especially when we realize Jack is still being breast-fed and visits “Wardrobe” every evening while an unseen man named Old Nick deactivates an alarm to enter Room and make a series of animal-like grunts. Slowly, the full horror of this situation dawns upon us: These two are prisoners, and Ma is being daily raped. Continue Reading →

‘Beasts of No Nation,’ Fable for All

It is entirely possible that “Beasts of No Nation” will not achieve the audience that it deserves. Adapted from Nigerian-American Uzodinma Iweala’s fiercely economical 2005 debut novel, it is an extraordinary allegory about the machinery of human violence. But as it is being distributed on Netflix’s streaming service with a limited theatrical release, it is unclear whether viewers will elect to view a 136-minute, virtually celebrity-free film about rebel forces who have taken over an unnamed African country when they can binge-watch “Orange Is the New Black” on the same screen. In an ideal world, they’d watch both.

Certainly “Beasts of No Nation” is Cary Joji Fukunaga’s most assured film to date. A gifted cinematographer, screenwriter, and director, Fukunaga is Hollywood’s latest triple threat – that rare creature who can ground out his own visions holistically. His directorial projects may superficially have little to do with each other but thematically are very much of a piece. Each interrogates the violation of children and of the institution of childhood itself: The macabre gloom of HBO’s first season of “True Detective” hinges on crimes inflicted upon kids; “Jane Eyre” (2011) takes on the bleak existence of a nineteenth-century English orphan; and “Sin Nombre” (2009), which he also wrote, catalogues the difficult passage of young Central Americans to the United States border. “Beasts” may be his tour de force. Continue Reading →

In Defense of Real Science at the Movies

I keep flashing on what a colleague said to me as we exited a critics’ screening of “The Martian.” “Good movie,” he said. “But too much science.” I couldn’t help laughing. His comment reminded me of my favorite scene from “Amadeus” (1984), in which the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II dismisses a new work by composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by saying, “There are simply too many notes.”

To be clear, I’m not suggesting director Ridley Scott is on the level of Mozart. (Sometimes he’s not even on the level of Salieri; hi, “Prometheus.”) But I do think that you can never have “too much science” in a movie, at least when the science is accurate and well-executed. Matter-of-factly miraculous, science is like cinema at its best. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy