I watched two good movies this weekend.
On Friday night I finally had the opportunity to go catch Arrival. I’ve been waiting on this damn movie for what feels like forever; I’m a gigantic Ted Chiang fanboy and I have known the screenwriter since he was a punk scaring people on the internet with The Dionaea House, one of the early viral websites that had people across the internet believing that there was a transdimensional house out there eating people. I’ve really been looking forward to seeing what Eric would do with the script, since the original story is so heavily based on the written word and the nuances of language.
I think it translated brilliantly. I think I might like it more than the text version, and please keep in mind I am one of those insufferable “the book is always better” people. I think that it’s exactly the kind of movie that 2016 needs; I will not go in depth for fear of spoiling it, but it deals with themes of barriers between people, how they are built up under artificial pretenses and how to tear them down. It’s about how language both divides and unites living beings everywhere, it’s about a woman who pushes herself to do better and isn’t actively punished for doing so and speaking her mind, it’s about a better future in a lot of ways. I walked out of the film feeling a little bit of optimism bubbling back up after an absolutely emotionally crushing week. It was a similar feeling to when I walked out of The Martian in 2015, a movie that said we have the capacity to fix things if we all stop being pricks to each other and focus on advancing the common good. This is a film that I recommend seeing on the big screen: the visuals are absolutely gorgeous and the sound editing was top notch through a theater’s sound system. When some of the musical choices have you shaking in your seat, you’ll see what I mean.
That was Friday, and then Saturday night I went to a beautiful little retro cinema in Surry Hills, where you have to go underground through kind of a speakeasy-style bar to get to a small theater that sits maybe 40 people altogether. They are cycling through the Studio Ghibli catalog and I caught the subtitled version of my absolute favorite Miyazaki film, Spirited Away.
Spirited Away is… pure magic, for me. It’s not just my favorite Miyazaki film or one of my favorite animated films, it’s one of my favorite movies period. There’s something about it that draws me in from the first frame of a car rolling through the countryside. It’s a story that is both incredibly straightforward, and one that manages to encompass so many themes. It has a case of characters who are otherworldly but ever so grounded in reality; you come away knowing someone like every single spirit that shows up and speaks in the film, because they’re just like people in real life. It’s about perseverance in the face of adversity, in the power of making and treasuring even fleeting friendships, and it talks about ways in which work can be rewarding when it’s helping others – even if it makes you miserable at the start, before you see the effects on the other side. On top of all that I think it’s the film that best exemplifies what Hayao Miyazaki has said is one of his favorite kinds of stories: the ones where the girl saves herself. It’s a ten year old girl outwitting an entire world of spirits through skill, integrity and strength of character. It’s brilliant, I love it, I’ll never get tired of watching the movie. Seeing it on the big screen for the first time since its original release was a treat and brought me right back to being a teenager, being reminded of what such a story can do for your heart.
Friday morning I was absolutely emotionally shattered and exhausted, I felt like I could barely bring myself to do anything but get to work, do my work, choke down some lunch. After dipping into these two movies I feel revitalized and ready to get going again. Friday was a day of looking at my twitter feed and seeing anguish in my friends from the USA and going “oh, god, what do we even do.” Today was seeing the same and going “okay, so we fight and we don’t stop fighting.”
In lieu of a book review I thought I would just throw out my favorite escapist literature, films, television shows. Stuff that saw me through depression, saw me through nasty breakups, saw me through surgeries and recovery periods. I don’t advise losing yourself in escapism entirely, burying your head in the sand and making yourself blind to ways in which you could be helping, but it’s good to dip in and recharge your proverbial batteries from time to time, and these all have a certain sense of… well, optimism in them, people overcoming great odds, making the world a better place even if the world doesn’t want to change.
Books / Comics
- The Lord of the Rings trilogy (natch)
- The Discworld series – particularly the City Watch novels and the Death/Susan stories
- Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Neverwhere and The Ocean at the End of the Lane
- Anything by PG Wodehouse
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
- The Stainless Steel Rat series
- The Bridge of Birds
- The Goblin Emperor
- The Princess Bride
- Star Wars
- The Lord of the Rings again
- The Indiana Jones trilogy (well, you can skip Temple)
- Everything Miyazaki has ever touched
- The Martian
- Star Trek. Especially TOS and TNG. DS9 if you’re okay with optimism in the darkness of space noir instead of raw, unfiltered Roddenberry “life will be great when we all work together.”
- Xena: Warrior Princess (yes, I know it’s the bizarre blend of mid 90s feminism where we can have strong, queer-leaning characters but we should make them mudwrestle at least once every five episodes to keep our viewing numbers up)
- Buffy + Angel
- The X-Files, for a glimpse back into a time when we had good, wholesome conspiracies about sludge alien monsters instead of Russian agents influencing our government
- The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
- Rurouni Kenshin
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Random travel documentaries and cooking shows are also really good if you want 45 minutes of escaping into another place and immersing yourself, but there’s several hundred of them on Netflix I like and I could write a whole month of blog posts just about them. Anything by Anthony Bourdain or David Attenborough is pretty much golden, though.