They fill the fragrant air
With waving signs of life.
The breeze between the palm tips flits
And finds a world in flux Read more
Author Archives: Jenny Sullivan
Everett was happy to be home, as he almost always was. Everything about his home (and even the fact that he had one) was a matter of much happiness to Everett, who could remember a time not so long ago when home had been more about emptiness and silent spaces.
As it was now, Monica met him at the door. She spoke softly, as if she did not want to be overheard, but a brightness had dawned on her face when she saw him there on the step. Bridging the distance between them quickly, she kissed him. Monica’s hair was straight, brown and almost always confined in an elastic. Whenever Everett jokingly suggested she set it free, she laughed and did not do so, not the next day or the one after that. She did not see herself the way Everett saw her.
We often spout off lines about the unimportance of beauty, or at least its subservience to other, greater things. We say things like, “Beauty is only skin deep” or “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.”
But I want to ask: Is this really true?
Certainly we would say that a person who cares only about physical beauty and disdains knowledge or understanding of the interior is a very shallow person indeed. We would probably go so far as to say that they are “not a very good person at all.” However, concern for physical beauty does not necessarily align with the all-or-nothing approach. A person might care about physical beauty (in themselves and in others), though this is not all they care about or the primary thing that they care about. My question is not only, should we care about physical beauty? but also, is it possible for us not to care about physical beauty?
The movie “Groundhog Day” is about Groundhog Day (February 2nd) and only about Groundhog Day, Groundhog Day repeating hundreds, even thousands of times. Groundhog Day seemingly without end. This is the literal content of the film. In another sense though, the movie is about a lot more, transcending the limits of this one infinitely finite day.
Bill Murray lends his comedic subtlety and dry charm to the role of Phil Connors, a weather reporter inflated with ego and his grandiose career aspirations. Forced for the fourth time to travel to a small town and take part in its February 2nd festivities, he encounters another Phil: the famous groundhog itself. After the end of the day- a boring, banal, dreaded and even dreadful day for Phil (human Phil)- he wakes up the next morning to find it is not the next morning at all. Instead it is the same morning that ought to have been behind him. Phil is stuck in an inexplicable time loop, unable to escape this one day- February 2nd- unable to move into the future.
In writing reviews, I look for films that hold some deeper resonance or artistic merit, something I can latch onto like a thread to further unravel, forming a reflection. Yet there are some films which resonate with me so profoundly that it is a struggle to think of translating them in some way or shape into the medium of language. This reveals, in a sense, the divide between the image and the word, and the limitation of language.
The image is what gives a movie its special power and significance. An image can strike and affect us in a way unlike anything else. Think, for example, of the face of a suffering person: perhaps a close family member or friend you saw going through a hard time, or even the face of a complete stranger you saw on the news in connection with some calamity. Such a face can remain in our minds with almost a haunting endurance. Of course, images can be evoked by good writing as well, and when I think back on many of my favourite novels, I am reminded of a particularly potent image of a scene between characters or of something that occurred in the plot. Yet this is still different from the way in which the image confronts us so boldly in the course of a film. Sometimes the sharp detail of this image affects our emotions in an immediate and powerful manner we are unable to describe.
The Royal Tenenbaums is one my favourite movies and I have watched it a whopping total of four times. I’ve been delaying in writing this review for quite a while, precisely because I like the movie so much. I want to be able to do it justice and to give a compelling recommendation so that a reader or two just might be tempted to go out and see it themselves.
Then again, it is, in thinking about it now, a movie that almost eludes description, because it is so very unique. If you do go out and see the movie, perhaps you will at first have the feeling that it is unlike anything you have ever seen before. It’s possible that such a claim is a bit of an exaggeration, but it is certainly true that The Royal Tenenbaums is unconventional. This unconventional nature, however, is at the heart of its charm. This is a movie that isn’t afraid to be what it is.
Michael sat in the tiny cube-like office, waiting, and gazing idly at the stack of magazines beside him. It was a curious assortment to accompany the front desk of a mechanics shop. There were various fashion magazines, a tabloid or two and, oddly enough, a magazine whose cover boasted of good old-fashioned cooking to warm up the winter months. It was not even winter.
Michael would have imagined there would be something to do with cars, or some kind of vehicle. He would have expected an image of a monster truck or some desperately flexing man trying to prove to the world his ultra-masculinity. Instead, Michael flipped through a few pages which presented conflicting arguments as to “who wore it best” and told one how to get their lashes just right. This was useless, of course (Michael’s lashes were already perfect, as he joked to himself; he thought the joke was quite funny), but it passed the time. And besides, Michael did not care much for cars either.
The band Ivan & Alyosha belongs to the genre of indie-folk-pop-rock (is that even a genre? if so, it is my favourite one). Their name does not stem from the names of the actual band members but from two characters in Dostoevsky’s great novel, “The Brothers Karamazov.” This alone makes the band super cool and worth a listen (I hope you didn’t read that with sarcasm, because I intend it to be fully serious, in accordance with my personal definition of “cool”).
In my opinion, there is a lot to like about Ivan & Alyosha (even aside from their awesome name). Their melodies are eminently enjoyable and the lead singer’s voice has a distinct, almost ethereal quality to it that makes the music memorable. Yet there is something more too, to do with the lyrics and an intangible quality of the music. There is a profound struggle and seeking involved in their songs, a beauty expressed not by skimming a shallow surface but by dipping deep into the well of the human mind and soul.
In some ways, Bridge of Spies was just what I expected and hoped it would be, based on having seen the trailer in the movie theatre. However, this did not in any way impinge upon the deep resonance and powerful impact of the film. Bridge of Spies is exciting, intense, well-written and well-acted. But more than these, more than anything else, it is powerful. And this power resounds from the movie’s setting of 1957 into our own age.
Put simply, Bridge of Spies (as suggested by the title) is an espionage thriller. And don’t worry if you’re fond of literal meaning: there is, in fact, an actual bridge that plays a crucial role in the movie. More specifically, Bridge of Spies centres around the efforts of Jim Donovan (played by Tom Hanks), who, despite being only an insurance lawyer, is asked to defend a Soviet spy caught on American soil. From there, the proceedings transform into a tense hostage negotiation, concerning a young American pilot shot down in Soviet Russia.
I recently read a non-fiction book called “The Most Human Human,” which, (as you have probably noticed by now), is the subject of this review. If you have read even a few of my previous posts, most likely you won’t be surprised that this title alone sparked my interest. What does it mean to be the most human human? Isn’t being human enough to make me human (at least as human as that other human passing on the street)? The essential qualities or capacities that underlie our shared humanity and give us common ground with one another is a topic that I find endlessly fascinating and pressingly important. It is also something I have touched on a lot in my writing (see for example Becoming Human, Dignity and Dependence, and the entire Person to Person series). An attentive reader might say I am thoughtfully exploring these issues (and a less generous estimation might use the word “obsessed”).
Yet I hope in this review I can convince you that it is important for us to be aware of what makes us human, and that this is no small or trivial question. Brian Christian, the author of “The Most Human Human,” is certainly of the same mind. Although Christian branches off in many different directions throughout the book, the central narrative revolves around his participation in a competition inspired by the Turing Test. What is the Turing Test exactly? Perhaps you are familiar with the recent film, “The Imitation Game,” which takes place during the Second World War and stars the brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing. Turing was a computer scientist (among other things) and proposed a test for determining human intelligence. If a computer could be judged as a human through an online conversation, then it passes the test. As a human confederate at a competition of this nature, Brian Christian chatted online with judges who would also converse with computer programs and then decide which of their interlocutors were human. The computer and human labelled most frequently as humans are called, respectively, “The Most Human Computer” and “The Most Human Human.”