I have been recently reflecting on the “heroes” who have appeared throughout my life as significant influences. Some of these figures are far removed by distance and time, such as great saints and writers. However, there are other people in my life for whom the appellation of “hero” might seem misplaced or exaggerated, since we both live in the same time and there is not a legacy to speak of in the same way. A better word to use, perhaps, would be “inspiration,” and this label is frequently applicable to people I encounter in my everyday life, even if based only on one particular interaction during which a person behaved in an inspirational way.
What I want to reflect on in this post is what attitude we should adopt when faced with inspirations, in any sense of the word, whether they be a hero of great fame and repute, or an acquaintance we talk to briefly at a party. I think that there is both a negative mode of response and a positive mode of response, and which one we choose has great impact regarding our ability to stretch beyond ourselves and grow in the direction of whatever has inspired us.
La La Land has recently enjoyed great critical success with its dominant performance at the Golden Globes. In my opinion, this movie deserves every form of recognition it receives. The film was not only visually and musically dazzling, but also dealt deeply with its themes of artistry and integrity.
When it comes to musicals, I feel that the general population is divided into two camps: one which expresses excitement and delight at the prospect of bursting into song, and the other which is more inclined to roll their eyes and complain about an excess of cheese splattered across all the musical numbers. Although I tend to fall into the former group, I can certainly see why many musicals have earned the label of “cheesy,” and why they might not be seen as serious films.
I think that La La Land, however, accomplishes an impressive feat, in that it delivers fun and abundant joy to its audience, while still feeling organic and retaining its seriousness. I think it could even be said that La La Land has revived or is in the process of reviving the movie-musical genre. And it does so by reaching into the past. Throughout, the film pays tribute to classic musicals, including a couple of scenes that seemed to me directly reminiscent of Singin’ in the Rain. As well, this focus on the past is present in the interests of the two main characters, beautifully embodied by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Stone plays an aspiring actress with an appreciation for classic films like Casablanca. Gosling, on the other hand, is a jazz pianist inspired by the “greats,” rather than the novelty and artificiality of synthesized music. The whole movie is also infused with the feel of Old Hollywood, from the choreography to the costumes and sets.
Anna Karenina is a novel that, to my mind, admits of no comparison, and the recent feature film could not boast of being nearly as impactful or masterful as its source material. In this review, I’d like to talk a little about both the book and the movie, which premiered in 2012 and features Keira Knightley, Jude Law, and Domhnall Gleeson (among others).
To proceed justly, I’ll start with the novel, written by Tolstoy and published in 1877. In my previous review of War and Peace, I reflected on the tendency of literary masterpieces to appear intimidating and even unapproachable when viewed from a distance. And yet War and Peace is a spellbinding and engrossing work which could hardly be called inaccessible if length is not considered an impediment. Anna Karenina is also deserving of all its renown, and is also very accessible. However, it differs greatly from War and Peace. While the latter is more epic in style with its historical sweep over the Napoleonic wars, Anna Karenina is a novel focused primarily on relationships and individuals; on love.
Even though it’s been quite a while since I’ve added new content to jensul.ca, I still wrote over 40 posts during 2016, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and so I thought I would make a post now reviewing some of my highlights from the year, as well as looking ahead to the “re-launch” of jensul.ca I’m anticipating for 2017. One of my major projects that I have been focusing on as of late in lieu of this website is my current novel. I have been working on this book, which I would class as literary and philosophical fiction, for the past year and a half, and decided to devote my writing energies principally towards its completion. On that front, I am excited to say that I am only a few short chapters away from finishing. It has been an intense and engrossing journey, for while it will be the fourth novel I have written, it is the most extensive in terms of the world and cast of characters it encompasses, as well as the style and philosophical ideas I have tried to include in its pages. With this end in sight, I am excited to be able to invest more time and attention into writing regular posts for jensul.ca again.
The new live-action Jungle Book is not a movie I would have professed myself overly excited to see. I recall watching and enjoying the Disney animated version (and from time to time find myself singing about the necessities of life, bare as they may be). However, that particular movie does not hold such a place of reverence in my mind, as it does for others of my generation. When I first heard about this new 2016 Jungle Book film, I supposed it was primarily intended for children. Yet the buzz around the movie sparked my interest, and after watching a startlingly thrilling trailer, I decided the movie was worth a watch.
My experience with the film completely subverted my initial expectations, starting with this one: it is not only a children’s movie, or maybe not even for children at all. I was certainly startled on numerous occasions throughout my viewing experience. The tiger (voiced by Idris Elba) is frankly quite terrifying, and really makes for a powerful adversary. (If anything, this movie reinforced my fear of tigers, and made me feel more warmly towards bears, as a result of Baloo, who was lovably voiced by Bill Murray). Shere Khan, the tiger, aptly points out to the wolf pack who have adopted Mowgli as their own, that Mowgli is distinctly unlike them. Mowgli is a human, a young boy who will soon become a man, and as such, he does not belong in the jungle but among his own kind.
The mother does not love in broken parts
As one divided by the strains of self
But as the voice of nature’s purest art,
Divine in spark yet with the glow of health.
For love that speaks, “you are my very own”
Can cross with ease the gulfs that wind between
We island people biding time alone
And drowned within the dream’s unearthly sheen.
For love like this thinks nothing of exchange,
Instead it lavishes upon the shore
These waves of light and life that can arrange
To calm the world’s incessant ocean roar.
The mother loves with love that, whole, can bear
Those children who abide in her soul’s care.
You were always strong,
Sturdy as the oak
Whose roots reach deep
Winds that seize
And batter branches
Shake the surface only
Your courage was constant
A single flower’s stem,
Woven through rock
Stretching into sunlight,
Weathered by waves
Which foam and crash
Is boredom necessarily a negative experience? Often we view boredom with a certain distaste or dread, which leads to the conclusion that it is not good to be bored. Yet, if probed more deeply, this distaste might reveal itself as fear, perhaps a fear of silence or the absence of entertainment.
Why do we fear silence and what about it do we fear? Since fears are often irrational, we must consider whether this is a sensible fear, and if so, whether it is worthwhile to act in obedience to this fear. I think the fear of silence is increasingly prevalent in a world dominated by noise. The more normal it becomes to live with this “noise” as our constant companion, the less likely we are to recognize the fear of silence as fear at all. It might instead be defined positively as a desire for stimulation or some more productive and efficient use of time.
Yet we are losing something inestimably important when we simply let silence slip out of the equation and repress the fear that forbids its existence. Silence can be connected to openness, to self, and to being. I want to discuss openness first. Silence necessarily involves space and time, space and time that are unfilled though they have the capacity to be filled. This can be looked at both negatively and positively, and for now, I am just going to speak about the former. Openness can be seen as negative because it is unpredictable. Something that is unfilled could become filled with anything, whether desired or undesired. Such a something also lacks a fixed structure or predetermined shape. This ties into our terror of the unknown. We constantly grasp after control- we want to be able to control and manage our lives and to do so with certainty. But silence necessarily requires that we relinquish some measure of control, that we are open to the moment that is itself open. Silence can surprise us; it can deviate from our desires.
My dad has always been a runner, and this is something I have always known, as far back as my memory stretches. In a sense, it was built into the routine of shared family life, woven through sunny Saturday afternoons and frost-tipped mornings that lingered in the wake of a snowfall. He would always tell me (and tells me still) that a real runner can run in all weathers. The specific circumstances were usually irrelevant: my dad is a runner, and so he ran.
I myself was not a runner, not really, until this past summer (shortly before I began this series about running). Yet the impact of my father’s running on my childhood was not restricted to the domain of running itself. It had broader implications; it stretched beyond its literal significance, unveiling truths about strength, perseverance and character. There is a steadiness involved in such dedication that sees the runner leave the house in good days and bad, setting off down the street alone, without celebration, without the mere goal of external achievement. For my dad, running has never been about checking off boxes but about living more fully, connecting on a deeper level with the self.
A little while after watching the movie “Her,” I still find myself pulled in by the images and ideas sown throughout the film, which haunt me as though they appear on a hologram like those in the movie’s slightly futuristic setting.
Perhaps all this (the word “haunt” in particular) sounds like a negative rather than positive description, but negativity is not at all what I mean to evoke. “Her” was utterly compelling, and I found it so from start to finish. I know this to be the case, because I actually had a snack sitting beside me for half of the movie that went completely untouched (this is unheard of!) Yet, as suggested by my opening statement, “Her” wasn’t always easy to watch. At some points, it was uncomfortable and even unpleasant. However, this sort of experience is not something that should be eradicated from art. Rather, it is and can be a meaningful aspect of art; one might go so far as to say that this can be necessary for art.
I could expand on this idea a lot more- of the difficulty of art (both in understanding and in the experience of receiving)- but there are so many things which I want to discuss from this film, so perhaps this “difficulty” should be the subject of a future post. Suffice it to say that a thing does not possess value based on its digestibility: that is, how easy or hard it is, or how pleasant it is. The latter would be the case if pleasure were synonymous with value, or if pleasure alone were capable of providing fulfillment; yet neither one of these aligns with reality. Art strives to capture something real and transcendent; it seeks a holistic vision of the universe, to unite different aspects of experience. If it remains merely at the level of pleasure, the result might be a final product designed only for entertainment or escapism. Good art- true art- might be uncomfortable simply because it is true. The experience might have uncomfortable moments, but these are necessary in order to lead to another subsequent moment, or to a profound insight which would not be possible without the “unpleasantness.”