Invitation, Manifestation, and Escape are typical acts in horror movies from ‘The Exorcist’ to ‘The Changeling’ and to ‘The Others’, all of which are supreme ones of the genre, demonstrating the genuine scare is without a masked slasher on a killing spree that seems to revive forever like a Phoenix. But what about ‘The Boy’ (2016)? The movie is a lackluster flick, a smart apprentice of the masters mentioned above but without depth and breadth of knowledge of the essence of things, natural and supernatural.
It follows a young American woman with a past named Greta (very German or Grimm maybe?) hired by the overtly strange elderly couple as a nanny to their little son Brahms (possibly Bram Stoker?), a porcelain doll. As in Kubler-Ross’s Stages of Death, she shocks and denies, then accepts that she is a nanny to the doll. Of course, pretty Greta is not lonely because a young, good-looking grocer named Malcolm courts her as politely suavely as an English can be. Then Greta’s ex-lover Cole, who is the epitome of big, rough, and domineering man, suddenly manifesting from America in the English mansion, demanding she should leave for the states in the morning with him. And that’s not the end, for we are rudely introduced by a third character (or the same?), and the stupendousness of the story swivels in the flashes of screams, blood, tears, etc.
Watching this movie last night on Netflix made me think that the classic horrors of the 70s and 80s were indeed long gone and would not revive – at least for now. What begins as a classic supernatural story ends as a tepid escapade from one big mess. Greta’s coming to England is loosely explained, not to mention Cole’s sudden appearance in the English countryside manor is abruptly shoehorned into the story, breaking the thread of subplots, changing the atmosphere of the movie into a thriller that is not supernatural at all. Nevertheless, Lauren Cohan’s performance as Greta is commendable for her naturalness and arduousness in portraying her role that is the only gem of the movie that makes it watchable without turning it off.
Maybe I am either anachronistic or fastidious in selecting horror movies because of my propensity for subtle but incredible supernatural thematic elements without monsters, deformed humans, or amorous lovers. So be it. It’s all about how a story is intelligently and entertainingly told on the screen with minimum special effects, gore scenes, love scenes staging in either big swanky English country houses or big deserted mansions that are conveniently used as thematic elements. Reading the background information on this movie, I have noticed that there are quite a few production companies involved in making it. Would it be the reason for turning this otherwise excellent thematic element into a dull child’s play? Did all the companies know a thing about a movie not in monetary terms but art for art’s sake? I wonder.
A critic, according to Abraham Lincoln, has a right to criticize, but has a heart to help. Being a critic requires erudition drown upon a wealth of reading combined with a natural sagacity grown from enriched humanity wielded into an alchemy of words. A good critic with a poet’s heart guides the public with a lantern lighting the artist’s labyrinth in his world and helps us see the unseen in the far corner of a maze with a wealth of knowledge, sans arrogance of intelligence as Roger Ebert.
Unlike his other contemporary peers, Ebert was liberal in views, conservative in beliefs, and fair in judgments, the commendable attributes shared by Samuel Johnson, a 17 century English social/cultural critic, essayist, and dictionarian. He wrote a public in his mind and showed no peremptory atmosphere typically attributable to influential critics showing off their mastery of language not accessible to all due to their expensive private high education. Once Ebert trenchantly criticized a specific movie for its crude violence, abject dystopian portrayal of reality, and shuddering absence of humanity. The director of the film remonstrated with him in a public letter that Ebert’s criticism ignored the fact of life, which is akin to earthly circles of hell. Ebert replied to the director that if that was how he looked at the world, then it should not be forced upon the audience’s minds, exerting his raw and one-dimensional creation of reality upon the sentiments and judgments of the audience. Ebert believed that the world was worth living because there’s hope among the odds to sparkle before our eyes with joy flitting at our sides. This belief should be an essence of Arts that gives off beauty, pleasing to our senses that grows into reason. That is the purpose of arts, to which film belongs.
For this reason and my kindred perspectives on films in general, I miss Roger Ebert, although his writings are perennial. He didn’t grandstand with politically charged views on movies. He believed ‘Art is for Art’s Sake’ because films and books and paintings are not to be used as propagandas for a specific party ideology but to be appreciated for the minds’ food. W.H Auden said of his duty as a poet in society was to defend the use of language. I think Roger Ebert as a film critic in society was to defend the use of film as art to give life a shape.
A great film with a sincere message about life and human nature transcends a divide of time and a boundary of the territory. I believe that a good movie has a lasting sensory impact on the viewer and cultivates the mind with a visual efficacy of precipitation. In this regard, the epic historical drama ‘Ben-Hur’ (1959), directed by William Wyler, is an epitome of masterpiece cinema not for a time but all seasons. The remarkable triumvirate of the outstanding screenplay, the excellent performance of the cast, the fascinating cinematography produces supreme one of art that resonates with spiritual elements of humanity in the witchcraft of motion picture.
The film follows a history of Judah Ben-Hur, a young Jewish prince whose life is forfeited by a betrayal of trust and corruption of friendship. From the height of his prime to the fall, then to redemption, it is heroic acts of high human drama wonderfully conjoined with a tale of Christ whom Ben-Hur encounters by Providence. His wrath is untamed, and anger is the roaring of a lion. Ben-Hur chooses vengeance as a will to live in the march of death in the desert and the prison galleys on the Ionian Sea. He feeds on ire and utters curse every day until he intends to execute vengeance upon the perpetrator with recourse to the old retributory law of an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. Who can calm the turbulent vortex of the soul in despair and save him from the night of the soul?
The film revolves around Christ, and Ben-Hur is another disciple of his teachings through conversion into faith, charity, and hope. The figure of Christ is the central theme of the film, but his face is unseen, and his voice unheard. We can only see his rear, but it is the mysteriousness of the person of Christ that elevates the story of Ben-Hur to the sphere of hagiography. The providential encounters with Christ in the climactic moments of his life lead him to the way of Christ, which mirrors the process of Ben-Hur’s redemption from Wrath to Grace, from Desolation to Hope.
Whether or not you believe in Christianity is not a prerequisite to appreciating this excellent epic drama because it would be a loss to any lover of arts to forego the spectacular beauty of the cinematography, not to mention the spiritual thematic of one man’s redemption from hopelessness. The grand epic scale of cinematography that depicts the tale of Ben-Hur in the trail of Christ from the Nativity to the Crucifixion is akin to watching Michelangelo’s remarkable frescoes of the Sistine Chapel that illustrate the story of humanity from the Genesis to the Last Judgment under God’s mysterious plan for mankind. In conclusion, ‘Ben-Hur’ is not a movie about a hero but about a triumph of hope over the desolation that saves a man’s soul from self-destruction, resonating with ‘Dum spiro, Spero,’ meaning ‘while I breathe, there is hope.’