Tag Archives: logotheraphy

‘Papillon (1973)’ – film review

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From Shakespeare to Hemingway, the resilient human spirit rising above life’s challenges is always a high human drama. Nietzsche said: “What does not kill you only makes you stronger.” This paean to a noble human spirit against the existential strains of life has been a paramount theme for masterpieces of arts, especially in literature and cinema appealing to the universal audiences, touching the deepest valleys of human consciousness and pulling at the heartstrings all in a polyphony of humanity. It is this very reason that Papillon (1973), directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, still evokes ineffable inspiration and indelible impression so powerfully displayed on the screen with the authenticity of a true story of a real-life character.

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Papillon, a butterfly in French, is a nickname of Henri Charriere (played by Steve McQueen), a safe-cracker framed for having murdered a pimp because he has a butterfly tattoo on his chest. Henri was sentenced to life imprisonment in French Guiana and decides to escape from the man-made inferno where death is the only way out of the murderous maltreatment doubled with dysentery and hard labor, which makes me wonder if the Nazis, especially Himmler and his ilk of the Final Solution, adapted the French Penal Colony system into concentration camps during World War II. And yet, Papillon’s will to escape and to live as a free man supersede the hellish daily realities fraught with endlessly cruel labor, inhumane solitary confinements, prolonged starvation, and deaths of his fellow inmates, all of which seem to conspire to break his will to live to conform to the totalitarianism of inhumanity in the name of punishment of his crime that he didn’t commit. Escape after escape, hope against hope, and betrayal after betrayal is fortune’s malice trying to overthrow his sovereign state. Still, Papillon’s sturdy mind exceeds the compass of her will, even if it takes him to the furious watery main and the murderous cliff in the Devil’s Island.

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The stellar performance of Steve McQueen, playing the role of Henri Charriere, renders a sense of verisimilitude of the character and the story so convincingly that you dive into his emotions without realizing a boundary between a screen and yourself. Upon watching the film, you feel that you have contracted a severe biological strain of Stockholm syndrome with the Henri character on whose biography the film is based, which bestows the power of reality and the authenticity of truth upon your mind. Steve McQueen, often referred to as the King of Uber Cool, is excellent in portraying the convict with extraordinary feats of endurance and rebellion against the totalitarian penal system that wrongly imprisons his free spirit. McQueen’s abilities as a character actor shine when he commands his presence in a way that seems wholly authentic without overt gestures and contrived charisma but with his eyes sparkling even in the filthy prison uniform that speaks a thousand words surrounding him like a radiant halo as a token for his strong will to freedom.

This film is, in a way, reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ in terms of old Santiago’s indomitable burst of pep to fight the shark appropriating his hard-won big fish. The old man might look feeble and weak in comparison with the mighty power of the vast sea. Still, it is his will to win the battle against the force of sea that is sublimated into a victory of the human spirit with the resounding  dictum of this feat of humanity: “Man can be conquered, but cannot be destroyed.” That’s what comes to my mind while watching this excellent film about an ordinary human being with an extraordinary power of will to freedom. Hamlet uttered: “To be or not to be, that is the question.” To Henri Charriere, such contemplation is a meaningless echo of a defeatist. Henri is more of Macbeth working out on his plan for life as a free man with stubborn courage: “We fail! But screw your courage to the sticking-place, And we’ll not fail.” And Lo! Did he not take the advice of the Bard! And so, splendidly!

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Author’s Note: I watched the film last night and was immersed in the characters and the story. Not that I am an admirer of Steve McQueen but that he’s one of the greatest actors who vanished like a meteor gives a special meaning to this film. It is one of the best performances in his acting career and will always linger in our hearts. 

‘The Remains of the Day’, by Kazuo Ishiguro – review

The Remains of the DayThe Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ask anyone and you will find everyone has something to talk about life with natural octaves from the highest note to the lowest and best registrar recorded over the vicissitudes of life as if living an ordinary life without a material curriculum vitae were a sign of defeatism synonymous with rootlessness. More often than not, a straightforwardly elliptical, honest-to-goodness narrative is not considered a smashing subject matter for a bestseller that merits an entire aisle of any bookseller, but the story of English butler Stevens shoehorns his ordinary work experience into a suitably fashionable stance for a modern-day memoir that reads like a continual fugue of flattering hopes, misguided beliefs, despotic self-denials, cruel disappointments, and smothered pleasures, all elegantly interwoven into a polyphony of life in The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

The Moment of Reckoning Stevens falls into, pace the general opinion of the mass, results not from his disillusioned loyalty toward Nazi sympathizer Lord Darlington but from his own disoriented value and belief systems in accordance with the changing zeitgeist in the wake of the two great wars. Lord Darlington epitomized what dignity and magnanimity meant to Stevens in a way that his position as a butler was as equally prestigious and sovereign as that of his aristocratic employer Lord Darlington, a figure of respectful English peerage that deserved of his dedication and devotion. It’s really a case of ‘Qualis rex, talis glex,’ meaning “As is the king, so is the people.” And it was this belief system that made Stevens endure occupational humiliation from arrogant guests of high birth, the grief of the death of his father, and tender feelings toward Ms. Kenton, a former head housekeeper at the Darlington Mansion. In fact, such belief system based on seemingly antediluvian values in the post-modern era was Stevens’ lifeline that had kept him going until he took a trip to see now married Ms. Kenton, a kind of Beatrice-like figure guiding Dante from Hell and Purgatory to Paradise.

Stevens’s existential dilemma stems from his existential vertigo in the aftermath of the wars and the subsequent social changes that upended the foundations of the collective value and belief systems of society. Stevens’s inner world was put into an existential vacuum, a void that can only be filled by a sense of purpose and new attitudes toward life in search of finding meaning therein. Rather than bemoaning his life as a boring butler, Stevens kept trying to find meaning in what he had been doing, what he was still doing, and what he would do by asking himself the question of his own life to which only he could answer; that is, to a life he could only respond by being responsible. And it was not a reactionary response with his fists clenched in bitterness and a sprit of French Revolution against the privileged few, but his own examination of his life that felt a void in a sense of direction in life.

Kazuo Ishiguro created a character whose existential dilemma is relatable and pitiable with his mastery of characterization, the wealth of imaginations, and study of human nature, in his signature elliptical narrative skills laced with nuanced emotions that never lay the whole character bare to the eyes of the public. He’s a fantastic writer who shows readers that a good writer is capable of travel and metamorphoses no matter where he was born or what he looks like. I wonder how many writers tried to break free from their biological planes and even dreamed about being who they wanted to be, confidently and naturally crossing the boundaries of culture and race just as Ishiguro did without branding his Japanese cultural and Asian traits as a convenient foundation for suitably fashionable “ethnic” literature. All in all, this is a fascinating book to observe how social changes can affect an individual and how one copes with such historic and cultural juggernauts in search of meaning in life. This book is a testament to the magical craft of writing that a writer should be all that he is capable of becoming no matter who he is. For a writer is also a magician of words, a wondrous sort of shapeshifter in letters.

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Ancient and Modern on Amore Fati

Hope is not all sweet-minded and sweet-eyed as imagined by armchair intellectuals and best-selling writers when we stumble into moments of existential vertigo in real life situations. Shakespeare knew a thing about the nature of hope as an analgesic to numb the strains of daily life thus: “The miserable have no other medicine but only hope.” So much so that his martyred predecessor Sir Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers and statesmen, had already said, “A drowning man will clutch at a straw.” Even before these two benefactors of humanity, the humble ancient Greek farmer/poet Hesiod affirmed hope as a psychosomatic pain relief in the story of Pandora’s Box in which only hope was left to console crestfallen Pandora deprived of all special gifts from gods.

The didactic gist of this famed myth in his ‘Works and Days’ is that a belief in predetermination that we have no control over our life without hope is a delusion, a corollary of fatalism. It is a biological determinism, which must be vanquished, because according to his practical wisdom as a farmer, “Hope could come to fruition, since life pairs good with ill.” This wisdom is viable, since Hesiod as a farmer was a witness to resilient human spirit against unremitting soul. In this regard, Hesiod’s view on hope as an antidote to a malady of heart, giving a flickering force of life its meaning and a sense of purpose that will rekindle reason to continue living in the dark night of the soul relates to Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotheraphy, based on an existential analysis focusing on will to meaning, meaning of life, with freedom of will. Frankl’s aphorism of “what is to give light must endure burning” must have struck the chords of Hesiod and even Thucydides, the Athenian political and military historian.

Thucydides saw hope as an illusory idea of vanity and flattery that weakened man’s will to combat the existential reality. He highlighted the way delusional aspects of hope that generate a kind of hubris with catastrophic aftercome. He saw desire and hope hunting together that led man to choose a divisory lot rather than a realistic approach to life in travail to right the ship in distress. To Thucydides, hope was nothing more than awareness of odds in our favor. That is, you don’t have to think about it,but can fight with every hope of winning. It’s a case of the less you think about, the more you achieve, which was also addressed by Frankl. We are destined to live purposefully and meaningfully as a result of responding genuinely to life’s challenges. And hope is a handmaid to a sense of purpose in life.

The ancient and modern are all united in Theory of Hope because it helps us look at our fate not at its face value but at its meaning. Hence the Latin phrase “Amore fati” chips in. We are challenged to change ourselves to continue living by choosing a right attitude toward life. Nietzsche sums it up brilliantly as thus: “Those who have a why to live can bear with almost any how.” And let us not forget what President Theodore Roosevelt advised us: “When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.”

Fellowship of the arts

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Music has such a charm; it makes bad good and conjures memories of the places and faces of the past with nostalgia in a magical way. It’s a kind of mind teleportation, artistic time-machine, which takes you from the rut of life to anywhere you can dream about. So much so that ever witty and lively William Shakespeare said: “There’s nothing in the world so much like prayer as music is.” Just as reading makes the reader pass over to the literary world of imagination, listening to music carries the listener over to the auditory feast of melodies and rhythms, wonderfully harmonized, all in the mastery of fine musicianship inspired by the Mousal, the music muses, which is demonstrated by the fabulous  Biltmore Trio.

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Biltmore Trio consists of Ben Lion (Piano), Claire Whitecat (Violin) and Julie Tigress (Flute). They are fine amateur musicians who get together two days a week to play music together for reason none other than being aficionados of music, especially of the Baroque music. All of them have full-time occupations by which they earn their livelihood: Ben is an associate professor of history at Avonlea Community College. He is also an established writer for various magazine and short stories. Claire is a free-lanced book illustrator primarily for children’s books. Julie is a legal secretary working at a busy litigation law firm that would not function without her presence. They are good friends from childhood and share their love of music, books and other interests that pique their intelligent minds with scintillating curiosities. Hence, Biltmore Trio is a musical manifestation of their fellowship in the Appreciation of the Arts and Altruism of Humanity based upon the idea that the beauty of art is for everyone, not a prerogative of a few select. It is important that the public has a right to art because as Oscar Wilde attested, “Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can sure the senses but the soul.” How true it is!

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With such tenets of art in mind, Biltmore Trio’s free lunchtime recital of Frederic Hendel’s “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” at the eponymous hotel lounge fills the hearts of the audience with mirth and merriment and frames their minds with beauty and alacrity. The trio’s fine musicianship becomes even more brilliant with their milk of human kindness that benefits all regardless who they are and what day do.

Loveliness blooms in Logotheraphy

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A thing of beauty is a joy to them. Its loveliness increases. It never passes into nothingness. Oscar Wilde, who extolled physical beauty as a form of virtue manifested in a physical form, once flamboyantly remarked: “Crying is for plain women. Pretty women go shopping.”  Although Seraphina Rabitte and Mathilda Beare demur at such uncharitable notion of meritocracy of women’s appearance, they love visiting beauty stores in a way that little children love going to candy stores (or toy stores to be more realistic these days). For the ladies like to keep themselves prim and proper in the belief that presentable appearance (not a physical symmetry per se) indicates how one takes cares of herself by realizing her creative, attitudinal and experiential values in everyday life.

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The belief is grounded in Logotheraphy, one of the three Viennese School of Psychotherapy founded by Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, a neurologist, thinker, psychiatrist, but above all, a remarkable human being who endured personal experiences of Promethean hardships and suffering in Nazi concentration camps and conquered them in triumph of will to meaning. Fashionable and knowledgeable Matilda and Seraphina are students of Logotheraphy, the theory that human nature is motivated by search for a life purpose that is unique to each individual. Unlike other schools of psychotherapy and many other subdivisions thereof, Logotheraphy encompasses a wide scope of the humanities and of course, neuroscience, making it a brilliant multidisciplinary school of thought. In fact, it is a paradigm of the consilience of the knowledge of the humanities and that of science. So, in the context of regarding Logotheraphy, the fashionable ladies’ attitudes toward appearance betokens their ways of preventing noogenic (existential) frustration by engaging themselves in activities to dispel a hint of depression or inertia from their minds, even if it means only going to shopping.

img_0601So, you see it isn’t a symptom of conspicuous consumption as a result of our hyper industrialized social environment that Matilda and Seraphina like pampering themselves with cosmetics. Besides, who can blame them for having none other than a woman’s reason? Didn’t Queen Elizabeth also proclaim herself to have a lion’s heart in a woman’s hide? Also, did the Queen not show fierce attention to fairness herself by putting the most fashionable make-up and dresses and hairstyles of her time? Well, these modern ladies are no less different them from their loyal member of sisterhood in the race of Humankind. In fact, Matilda and Seraphina have aristocratic bearings in appearance and manners due to their fine upbringing and sweetness of the mind by nature, so whenever they go, they give admirable impressions on people whom they encounter. They are the paragon of a virtuous woman as John Milton extolled in Paradise Lost: “Those graceful act, those thousand decencies that flow from all her actions and words.”

Author’s Note: Many thanks to the attendants at the Cosmetic Company Store in Camarillo Premium Outlets who kindly permitted me to take pictures in their store.