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.
We all have our natural registers and best leitmotifs to talk about our lives, however trite or banal they may seem. The subjectivity of individual experience is more compellingly tactile than the objectivity of the essence. The sporting life of one Frank Machin, a young rugged Yorkshire miner turned rough professional Rugby player, is a fugue of restlessness, passion, love, longing, and sorrow played by his instinctual drive in allegretto from beginning to end in the binary world of black and white. This Sporting Life (1963), directed by Lindsay Anderson, is gloriously innovative in its genre and triumphantly influential in its narrative in the fashion of La Nouvelle Vague, ‘French New Wave,’ despite the unanimous consensus of labeling this film as an epitome of the kitchen-sink film. Shot in blank and white without a glamorous, star-studded cast, nor memorable intelligent lines of the script. The film creates a tactile perception of realism seen through a lens of a celestial telescope as though by guardian angels who are with us but cannot interfere with our lives without divine permissions. We can see not only Frank playing the act but also why he does it the way he does, which makes him less of a hateful jerk but more of a pitiful man unfamiliar with the civil code of behaviors and the gentility of emotional intimacy. This Sporting Life is a powerfully moving narrative of a man confined in a field of his limited vision of the world and disoriented in the sense of purpose in life. The story begins with the segmented flashbacks when Fran) becomes unconscious under the anesthesia in a dentist’s office. However, the numbed pain receptors bring back the painful memories of his widowed landlady and object of love Margaret (played by Rachel Roberts). She outwardly resists against his amorous advances but inwardly fights her temptation to love him in tandem. Frank tries to find a meaning of his existence in life by holding onto Rugby as a vehicle to achieve self-worth and love by sporting his masculinity to the fullest extent possible. Still, he’s not tough enough to endure all of the pain and erase it all as if nothing happened. Frank often stumbles into moments of existential vertigo and even chooses to love his landlady Margaret, but it only plunges him to existential frustration. Franks loves her, in the same manner, he plays Rugby in the field because it is the only best way of showing his virtue of being excellently rough and tough. Rugby is a combatively aggressive sport, tackling and attacking whoever gets in the way for the goal. Still, Frank continues to play the game even outside the field with the attitude and mindset of the sporting Rugby player. The sport becomes his identity, selfhood that dominates his mode of thinking and acting, which Margaret feels too formidable to embrace. So, she also sports her love-and-hate tug of war with her dauntingly masculine lodger equally roughly.
Frank is in a way like Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar Named Desire in terms of masculine physique and their similar fierce personalities. Yet, Frank, whose love for Margaret is uncompromising and loyal in his outcry in the darkness of aloneness, seems more vulnerable and sorrowful, hence deserving of our sympathy and understanding. His lack of regard for civil manners and the refined cultural taste is forgivable by his churlish naivete and artlessness manifested in his primordial way of dealing with emotions and feelings. This Sporting Life is not a movie about those Young Angry Men whose selfishly cosseted dissatisfaction with the world sounds no more than spoiled children’s whining. It’s about a man who wants to live a meaningful life but knows not where to find it. The film dramatizes one ordinary man’s existential dilemma in search of the purpose in life in defiance of resorting to being a provisional being as a wandering sportsman. This film will imprint the outcry of Frank in your mind’s wall and resonate with echoes of his pain for a long time.
The mentalese of Horror refers to an intense feeling of fear or shock that generates a feeling of repulsion, which is akin to ravaging terror to the sense. Consequently, horror films of our time, ranging from the 80s to the present, are filled with gory details of anatomical dissection with teeth and blood conjured up by the inflated creatures of scariest nightmares. That is why I have a soft spot for the 70s films of the supernatural phenomena with an intelligent storyline focused on the mysterious force of the beyond that subtly agitates our most primitive fear of the unknown, the uncertain, the unresolved entities lurking in between a thin line of reality.
The Wicker Man (1973), directed by Robin Hardly, is a unique supernatural film that merits its name engraved on the obelisk of memorable films with the elements of folklore, belief system, music, and history unfolded in a vibrant kaleidoscope of scenes and scenery. It records fear in the ordinariness of landscape and people with the subtly suspected evil power lurking in the hidden alley of defenseless equilibrium. Such fear is not, therefore, forced upon the audience but tantalizing the anticipation of the sensation culminating in the extraordinary frisson of epileptic suspense blocked in a mental airlock.
The story begins when policeman Neil Howie from Mainland Scotland journeys to the remote island called Summerisle in search of a missing girl. A young devout Christian and virgin into the bargain, Howie soon discovers that the whole island is a pagan territory of old gods to whom the pleasant-looking islanders with names of flora practice a human sacrifice when crops fail for harvest. Besides, eroticism abounds with lovers in the field and the cemetery. Sensuality is ubiquitous and free because the instinctual desire is a ritual practice of appreciation of natural beauty, which elevates the licentiousness into sacredness by the innocently joyful acts of the actors. Howe sees himself in a cultural and religious twilight zone and thinks himself as a lone Christian hero, a sort of Nathaniel Hawthorn’s Young Goodman Brown figure stranded in the deep forest where Satanic Sabbath is taking place. Both characters distance themselves from the diabolical influence. They belong to the tribe of Wicker Man in the reality of supernatural power translated from their most deep-seated terror sealed in dreamscapes.
The efficacy of music used for the insularity of the proudly pagan island away from the Christian mainland shines through the film against the idyllically pastoral scenery and its happy-looking islanders joyfully practicing everything contrary to contemporary norms and mores. They are all beautiful and peaceful in their ways and see Jesus as a loser flopping in changing the world. It is this habiliment of pleasant appearance that insidiously pervades a sense of fear without blatantly exploiting it. Perhaps, that is why some people find this film monotonous or unsatisfactory in their touchstone for the ecstatic sensation. For this reason, it is not a statement film pontificating about the significance of endangered paganism but a visual story that tells a legend of the Wicker Man. If you are a fan of the supernatural tale clear of buckets of blood and chops of mutilated bodies, you will find this film worth watching.
Often, we find an answer to an existential dilemma in a situation that defenestrates us to an ocean of choices. How to respond to a challenge may change the compass of the fortune’s wheel. Patience and fortitude conquer all things in the mastery of fear in defense of the sovereignty of life against inconveniences and losses in existential selfhood. In this regard, “Jaws” (1975), directed by Steven Spielberg, shows how Man fights against the Leviathan of Life with will and courage.
“Jaws” is a cinematic feast of horror and adventure that brilliantly blurs the genre of the movie fashioned in minimalist realism as regards to the storyline, characters, and leitmotif. Only the thematic lynchpin is larger- than- life: a hybrid of sea monsters, ranging from Johan’s Big Fish to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and to Ernest Hemingway’s Mako that loves to swim around by the teeming shore in New York. In fact, the peaceful resort seaboard of Amity in New York betrays our idea of a Great White Shark as a dweller of the Pacific Ocean where tall palm trees and suntanned surfers are part of the landscape. Also, the appearance and roles of the characters in the movie do not carry Hollywood glamour. Police chief Martin Brody (played by Roy Schneider) is a mild-mannered family man who has recently moved from New York City but has aquaphobia due to childhood trauma. Oceanographer Matt Hooper (played by Richard Dreyfuss) is a wealthy neurotic scientist who is determined to get the formidable man-eater. Seasoned fisherman Quint (played by Robert Shaw) has all the characteristics of the choicest seaman with bravado sealed in unhealed fear. The ad-hocish triumvirate team formed mutual allegiance to defeat the predator that not only threatens the lives of people in the water but also agitates their fears buried in the waves of minds’ mains. Jaws is the contender of life’s challenge that the three characters must face and fight.
Spielberg is ingenious in using music as a leitmotif in expressing the intensity of emotions in scenes that produces suspense held in abeyance of impending danger that tantalizes our ready expectation of sequential segments of the story. He uses a recurring theme without the grandiose scale of orchestral tunes, signaling the menacing presence of the predator lurking in the uneasy equanimity of ordinary leisure. Spielberg also defies casting high-billed actors and actresses to create the verisimilitude of reality. The result produces relatability of the characters placed in situations where the ordinary people might have behaved in such extraordinary circumstances, asking us what we would do if we were in the position.
The stupendousness of the big predatory fish and the nuanced emotions of trepidation is akin to reading Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, where the seasoned fisherman Santiago’s serenity amid the battle against the man-eater in the ocean alone testifies to the steadfastness of human will and courage. Jaws is a film version of it that says, “Man can be destroyed but cannot be conquered.” “Jaws” is a masterpiece cinema that has become a classic in the history of cinema with its legacy. Now I know why people love to watch it anew and again across the oceans.
Ambition, made of sterner stuff, is the solder’s virtue that chooses gain, which darkens him. Bravery, comprised of nobler spirit, is the solder’s honor that elevates the soldier’s merit to the echelon of Homeric virtue of arete, the excellence of man leading to achieving a supernatural feat of heroism. An excellent soldier with arete knows no boundary of political, religious, social, or racial division and transcends the subjectivity of time. Major Dundee (1965), an American western film directed by Sam Peckinpah, cogently translates a balanced, objective equilibrium to test the validity of the soldiers’ virtues on the continuum of the Homeric arete in the background setting of the American Civil War.
Major Amos Charles Dundee of the Union Army (played by Charlton Heston) is a man of primitive ambition of glory sent to head a squalid prisoner-of-war camp in the New Mexico Territory. There he meets his former friend turned foe Confederate Captain Benjamin Tyreen (played by Richard Harris), who bears a grudge against Major Dundee for his betrayal of friendship. The notable tension between the two always remains even after their uneasy but necessary collaboration. Still, the esprit de corps consisting of unlikely but able-bodied characters sets to take out the Apache War Party in the new territories. Major Dundee sets out for the campaign not of pure divine patriotism but his glory despite his contentions with Captain Tyreen, who is more morally honorable and culturally sophisticated than himself.
It is Captain Tyreen, the renegade leader of the southern rebels who embodies the model of the arete, combined with moral integrity and soldierly fitness fabulously demonstrated in his effortlessly stylish habiliment. He is a dandy gentleman with decency and learning and an exemplary soldier and leader with justice and bravery. The refinement of civility as incarnate in the figure of Captain Tyreen is vividly contrasted with the rough intransigence of Major Dundee through the exterior appearances and actions of the two opposite characters. Even Captain Tyreen’s attitude toward the colored Union soldiers surpasses Major Dundee’s languid attitude toward his colored soldiers fighting for the same cause.
“Major Dundee” is a new type of western that abandons its common thematic elements consisting of noble savages, self-righteous lone gunslingers, the arch-villains, and beautiful women in pursuit. It is a new type of western that begins to be aware of the societal changes in the reflection of the nature of humanity with bold actions of likable bravado and admiring characters that are not circumscribed in the extreme ambit of norms and conventions with an artistic touch of vivid realism. Despite the rather unsatisfying commercial success of the film when it first came out, I find this film both entertaining and thoughtful in the historical background of the Civil War, showing true bravery equipped with respectful integrity of a person, friend or foe. There is no better sign of excellence in man than the bare demonstration of the act.