Monday, July 30, 2012

We Need to Listen to Kevin

It's a terribly disturbing story, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and the film gives no moment of relief. A ghastly nightmare, but the dream is incomplete. It fosters the myth of the innocent parent. That's not believable even in fiction.

The film is based on a novel by Lionel Shriver. I haven't read it, but from the extensive Wikipedia text on it, I gather that it sticks to the same myth. An evil child and two naive parents.

Kevin is portrayed as a little demon already in infancy, out to get his mother. How could he, and why would he?

At the end of the film, the mother asks Kevin why he did his monstrous deed, killing his father, his young sister, and a number of high school students. He has no answer. That's not surprising, since the parents should be asking themselves.

When a child becomes a demon, the explanation can almost always be found in its childhood, especially the first few years. That's the time when the parents rule the child's cosmos. So, if we want to know why a child commits devilish deeds, we need to scrutinize the parents. They're probably not going to confess any guilt in the matter, so there's no point in just asking them about it.

The film would have been so much more interesting and believable, if it examined more closely how the parents really treated their son. There are tiny clues, now and then, about the mother being cold and distanced to the boy – but it's only presented as if the boy is to blame, because of his cruelty towards her, already when he's an infant.

But she must have been the one initially triggering her son.

When the story refuses to go there, it commits the same treason to children that the adult world keeps repeating and repeating, anytime the new generations aren't fulfilling the dreams of the older ones in every detail. Utter nonsense. The adult world has total power over the children, so it's preposterous that it admits no blame for how they turn out.

Also, it's bad drama, simply because Kevin's behavior remains unexplained, as if coming from a whim of the gods or some kind of mental malfunction nobody could do anything about.

Well, the old deus ex machina, the surprise divine intervention of which all humans were innocent, has a new form. Now it's explained as a medical condition or a genetic malfunction. But experience tells us that even such things need triggers to burst out into action.

I would love to see another version of We Need to Talk About Kevin, where we see it from his viewpoint, through the years of growing up. How did his mother treat him, really? That story remains to be told. All through the 112 minutes of the movie I waited in vain for it. That was the real horror of it.

PS: I still have to say that I marveled at the performances of the main actors. Even the two children playing younger versions of Kevin, Rock Duer and Jasper Newell, were doing so well with their evil characters, I wouldn't dare to ask how. But the main fire of the film was kept alive by Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller, playing the mother and son with sparkling brilliance, making the unspoken words echo throughout.

Also the director, Lynne Ramsay, impressed me. She served the dishes slowly, careful with the spices, sort of like Hitchcock, knowing how to play with the imagination of the audience instead of splashing special effects. Furthermore, I have a feeling that she chose to film it all in a very subjective perspective of the mother, because she was not convinced the story would be the same from other angles.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Where Were They?

The London Olympics opening ceremony was quite spectacular, of course, but the four hours left me wondering: where was everybody? Not much of a line-up, considering what Great Britain has got in store.

There are two countries in the world that have produced a number of world famous artists completely unrivaled by the rest of the nations: the United States and the United Kingdom. Much of it has to do with the simple fact that we are as familiar with their language as we were with Latin in the past millenniums. Anyway, when London holds the Olympic Games, they can show up a splendid cavalcade of superstars. So, why didn't they?

I heard music by David Bowie and Pink Floyd just to mention two, but they were nowhere in sight. We got taped versions. That was true for the whole rhapsody of English pop through the past 50 years. Recordings – how boring is that?

Paul McCartney (an easily predicted presence) had to represent them all, which he did with his usual splendor, commencing with the legendary bars from Abbey Road, where he sings:

And in the end,
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make.

That's worth pondering for quite a while. Then he did Hey Jude, which was the greatest hit the Beatles ever had, when they were still a band. Not bad, but far from satisfying, considering the fountain at the London Olympic disposal.

I saw several references to Harry Potter in the sequence about children's stories, and J K Rowling read a few lines from Peter Pan, but why didn't Daniel Radcliffe make an appearance? That would surely please the kids more.

There were still some strong moments in the four hour show, such as the somber transformation of the stage into industrial society, looking very much like a horror vision from Dante's Divina Commedia, and the dance symbolizing the struggle between life and death. But each passing hour I was more and more frustrated by all that could be there and wasn't.

The show, in all its spectacle, became one of absence.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Imaginative Imagery of the Tarot

I just published a book about Tarot card divination, which has been practiced for around 500 years. So, there are many historical aspects to it. Also, the Tarot imagery is full of intriguing allegories and symbols, saying a lot about our culture and its past.

Therefore, the subject is fascinating to many more people than those who want to try the tarot for divination. But you should all try it, at least once.

Here's my preface to the book:

I was introduced to the Tarot cards in my early twenties, by a friend who was quite learned about all kinds of divination methods. It was love at first sight. The charming illustrations on each of the cards, full of symbolism and intriguing mystery, were a feast for my eyes and got my imagination roaming behind them.

The Tarot works by images, as do we humans to a great extent. Words make us wonder, numbers puzzle us, but images make immediate impressions on our minds, at lightning speed. They dance with our dreams, play with our memories, and blend with our perception of the world we live in. We are creatures of imagination. As the word suggests, that’s mainly done by images, swirling in our minds.

So, reading the Tarot cards is processing the images in our imagination. We get it to the extent we allow ourselves to think in pictures, and that comes naturally to us all.
The Fool card,
from the Tarot Major Arcana.

That’s why I dared to choose the ambiguous subtitle for this book. “Imaginative reading” suggests mere fantasy. Maybe so. Lots of people would claim that’s all it is. But fantasy is no trifle. It’s how we relate to the world and its many enigmas. It gives us ideas by which we are able to discover the secrets of the universe. It unfolds reality.

I can’t think of any other human capacity that takes us farther than fantasy has done through the past thousands of years, and continues to do. It’s the fuel of creativity, and what surpasses the ability to create?

Therefore, whether we put trust in the divinations or not, reading the Tarot cards through our imagination inspires us to reconsider what we are, where we are, and the constantly elusive answer to the question why. Perhaps the wondrous way our mind relates to what is called reality will present some dazzling revelations along the way – or at the very least some thought provoking surprises.

Although I’ve played with the Tarot on numerous occasions through the years, I never thought of writing a book about it. Going from pictures to letters seems like retreating. But then it hit me that this was exactly what I felt like talking about: Reading the Tarot is taking in the images and letting them show themselves, unbound by words and reason. Our imagination will do the rest, and the result has its very own profundity. A picture is worth a thousand words.

So, in the following I will try to tickle the imagination of the reader into going on the spiritual quest induced by imagery. See the Tarot pictures come alive and make other pictures emerge from your mind to meet and transform them. It’s like going to the movies. It’s what we do.

If you haven’t indulged in it before, you may find that the world will never look the same again.

Click here to see the book at Amazon.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Two and a Half Ceases to Compute

I watched through the ninth season of Two and a Half Men, which starts by uncle Charlie being replaced by IT billionaire Walden. It's not working. The money keeps it running, but surely not for long.

Chuck Lorre is a brilliant TV sitcom creator, but saving this series after Charlie Sheen's departure from it is more than he manages. Oddly, it's because he forgets his Aristotle.

The Greek philosopher's text on drama, The Poetics, lays down the laws of how to make any dramatic plot function. Aristotle extracted the principles from the works of the formidable playwrights of the century preceding his. They still work. More than that – they are still laws in the way that if you break them, you fail.

When Charlie Sheen was still on the show, the two and a half were the brothers Charlie and Alan (played by Jon Cryer), two very different but equally fragile characters, and the boy Jake (Angus T. Jones), who seemed to have little less to hope for than their essentially miserable lives.

Alan was a parasite, but also at times the necessary support for his playboy brother Charlie, who was morally impaired, to say the least, but still suffered his parasite brother and the weak-minded boy, like you do in a family. Jake had to adapt to quite a rough adult world, although only a boy, but on the other hand he was neither an Einstein nor an angel to begin with. To sum it up, some kind of justice for all involved.

But Walden (played by Ashton Kutcher) is just a nice, naive guy, who happens also to be a billionaire. He is increasingly taken advantage of, as the ninth season progresses, by two persons who have no right at all to demand his loyalty. That makes him boringly submissive and both Alan and Jake cynical. One good guy and two bad guys. What's to enjoy in that?

Through the episodes of this season, the writers have also made the mistake of making Alan a more and more dominant lead, as if the whole series is really only about him. As if two and a half has become one. But he behaves so badly, abusing Walden's hospitality beyond what's at all reasonable, even stealing money from his teenage son, there's no way the viewer can keep any sympathy for him.

So, they made the bad guy the hero. That just doesn't work. Aristotle made it very clear: You can have the good guy suffer, even die at the end. You can have the bad guy getting away with it. But you can't have the good guy suffer and the bad guy being rewarded. Any audience will turn away in disgust.

Jake could hold the key to it all, but this character is on a downward slope that seems impossible to turn around. Being the very archetype of a hopeless teenager instead of a kid with rosy cheeks, he doesn't attract much sympathy either. No wonder they end the season by sending him off to the army.

When Walden entered the series, he was presented with a flawed personality indeed, but no evil streak. So what would he do in that house, and for that matter in this sitcom series? As the season progressed, his flaws faded away, until we have what can be described as an eccentric, but no fool at all. They even cut his hair and shaved off his beard. That gives no explanation to why he stays around.

Aristotle stated firmly that the best is if the characters do what they do because they have to, out of necessity. Walden has no “has to.” Alan does, Jake does, and so does everyone else in the series, more or less. Only Walden lacks the two components that would render him believable and exciting in this series: a need to be where he is and an evil streak.

What should they have done, once Charlie Sheen was excluded from the series? Well, the best thing would be to cancel the whole thing. A sitcom has a limited lifespan to begin with. But there was money to suck out of it for everybody involved, so it goes on until its presence is embarrassing and its cancellation will be a coup de grâce.

To make that death row prolonged as well as less tormenting, they should have taken proper care about the new guy Walden, making him fit. As mentioned above, two things: a necessity to be there and an evil streak.

For the former, they could for example make him the real father of Jake (provided he had the age for it). That would be a joke played on Alan, and we would suffer his misbehavior easier. We would pity him. It would also make Jake's continued growing into an obnoxious adolescent more interesting. We would be curious about how much of his behavior would be Alan's, and how much from his real father Walden.

That would work. Secret blood relations are classical ingredients all through drama history.

Also, it would give Walden some of that necessary evil streak, since he is continuously unwilling to take the full responsibility of his past action – and hiding it, too. It would also be the clue to what the core of his evil streak should be: irresponsibility and the unwillingness to admit it.

Of course, there are so many other ways in which the series could comply to the Aristotelean rules for drama, and succeed for a while longer. As it seems now, though, the team behind it has all but given up completely. Their hearts are not in it, because it changed into something other than the baby they initially delivered. It's like a stranger to them, an orphan, and they have no love for it.

Another classical theme in drama history.