Month: April 2007

Pan’s Labyrinth

Watching Pan’s Labyrinth the thing that catches your fancy the most is how a children fantasy and a horrific war are intermingled as a matter of fact thing without ever burdening one thing with the other and also never losing anyone’s relevance. Guillermo del Toro here takes his craft another level up from where he left in The Devil’s Backbone. The plot here moves in two directions, on one side there is a fantastic ancient fantasy unfolding and on the other side is a local resistance in a countryside against a fascist regiment with the setting taking place in Spanish Civil war. Unlike The Devil’s Backbone both the plots here are unrelated(though not altogether) to each other saving a character Ofilia who is central to both and is totally immersed in her fantasy world quite oblivious of the war.

Ofilia is a 11 year old girl who loves reading fantasy stories and moves with a pile of books with her, who arrives with her pregnant mother at a countryside place where her step father Captain Vidal, a ruthless fascist, is trying to crush local resistance. There Ofelia meets a fairy which leads her to an ancient labyrinth and then to a Faun who recognizes her as Princess Moanna, heiress of an underground world where her father and her kingdom waits for her. But in order to return there she will be required to perform three difficult tasks. The Faun then presents her a book and her adventurous journey begins.

The movie scores heavily in the alluring and spellbinding fantasy world that it creates. All the fantasy characters are amazingly original and awe inspiring. Be it The goat faced Faun, The Pale man, The mandrake root or The giant toad, all the creatures here marvel with finest detail and enticing charm.

The enchanting fantasy world is evenly matched with the brutally gruesome war. Captain Vidal here is a perfect personification of fascism. Some scenes there actually are quite unwatchable as far children are concerned. There’s a scene in which Vidal uses a bottle and ruthlessly plains out the elevation of a man’s nose. In another scene after his mouth had been slit open he stitches it up and then applies a bandage, and then takes a shot of brand only to get his bandage wet first with alcohol and then blood.

One of the most important theme of Toro’s work(Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone) is parallel portrayal of the fear of real and the unreal(fantasies , stories, metaphors et al.). And how fear inflicted by real life situations is much more grotesque than the unreal and how embracing the unreal makes us more stronger to face the reality. It just here some how reminds me of few lines from Kafka on the Shore- Haruki Murakami, which go as :
“At any rate you and your story are throwing a stone at a target that’s very far away. Do you understand that?”
I nod.” i know. But metaphors can reduce the distance”
“We’re not metaphors.”
“I know,” I say. “But metaphors help eliminate what separates you and me.”
A faint smile comes to her as she looks up at me. “That’s the oddest pickup line I’ve ever heard.”
“There’re a lot of odd things going on—but I feel like I’m slowly getting closer to the truth.”
“Actually getting closer to a metaphorical truth? Or metaphorically getting closer to an actual truth? Or maybe they supplement each other?”

Cutting it short here Pan’s Labyrinth is a great work of cinema both cinematically as well as in relation to the themes it carries. A must watch.
See the movie site here and catch here a post on mine on The Devil’s Backbone.


Almost Invisible

The ancients built Valdrada on the shores of a lake, with houses all verandas one above the other, and high streets whose railed parapets look out over the water. Thus the traveler, arriving, sees two cities: one erect above the lake, and the other reflected, upside down. Nothing exists or happens in the one Valdrada that the other Valdrada does not repeat, because the city was so constructed that its every point would be reflected in its mirror, and the Valdrada down in the water contains not only all the flutings and juttings of the facades that rise above the lake, but also the rooms’ interiors with ceilings and floors, the perspective of the halls, the mirrors of the wardrobes.

Valdrada’s inhabitants know that each of their actions is, at once, that action and its mirror-image, which possesses the special dignity of images, and this awareness prevents them from succumbing for a single moment to chance and forgetfulness. Even when lovers twist their naked bodies, skin against skin, seeking the position that will give one the most pleasure in the other, even when murderers plunge the knife into the black veins of the neck and more clotted blood pours out the more they press the blade that slips between the tendons, it is not so much their copulating or murdering that matters as the copulating or murdering of the images, limpid and cold in the mirror.

At times the mirror increases a thing’s value, at times denies it. Not everything that seems valuable above the mirror maintains its force when mirrored. The twin cities are not equal, because nothing that exists or happens in Valdrada is symmetrical: every face and gesture is answered, from the mirror, by a face and gesture inverted, point by point. The two Valdradas live for each other, their eyes interlocked; but there is no love between them.

Above is one of the several cities described by Italo Calvino in Invisible Cities.

The book moves as conversations between Marco Polo, an explorer, and Kublai Khan, the emperor. Khan tired of the stories brought to him by his messengers across the empire intently listens to Polo, though not always believing him.

On almost every second page there’s a new city, every city is a new story, every story is a peak, a peak in the neverland. And every turn of the page seems like a betrayal. A betrayal that the father presents his child, while holding the back of the cycle, as he leaves him midway.

Well, am just half way through the book as of now. And yeah i read almost all the pages twice and sometimes more.
Btw here are few links : here n here.
Rest later.


How fair is that?

Well, whether one believes in God or not, the idea of a creator can’t be ruled out. Yeah one may advocate the Darwinian concept of evolution here but still for it to be functional we still need an earth, a big bang and many other accountable things. But thats not the point here. Point is fairness in life. We all say and understand that life’s unfair but do we really know that how it can be fair, i mean how the concept of fairness can be incorporated in this thing called life and existence.

Ok. lets first get to what we call fair. lets consider an examination, a fair examination, where all get equal time, same questions and same evaluation process. But is it fair? What if we say the conditions for preparation were unfair to him and demand that they should also be same i.e similar books, same teachers and also same hours of study. But then one would ask for same mental and physical conditions, i mean some are born lucky so how can we call it fair. And also many other things like similar social atmosphere, same family condition etc etc will be questioned for.
But this can’t go on and on.
So what’s the solution.

Isn’t a fair test essentially a test of inequality and also that for it to be functional an unfair condition must exist before hand. In a fair test someone is bound to have the fairest of deal among all and someone also the other way round.

Ok then Lets now conduct the test for the 2nd time but while interchanging the preceding conditions for the luckiest and the luckiest person i.e the luckiest person will get all the preconditions of the unluckiest person and vice versa.
Now what do we get. A fair deal. Isn’t it. A fair deal with for both the persons with respect to each other.
Also for the deal to be totally fair both the tests must be isolated from each other i.e none effecting the other and also with both guys not knowing that there will be another test i.e fairness is being provided to then in such manner. Crude but a necessary price for fairness.

Now coming back, we have millions of species on earth all very much different from each other. Some having the worst luck, some having not so bad a deal and there are also humans unarguably the luckiest of them all. And then in each specie there’s again the levels of luck. And this with a common test called life.
So whats the parameter of fairness here?
Yeah you guessed it right. Its rebirth with no knowledge of previous birth.

So to speak if there’s really an intelligent creator, who actually sits up there and has words like fairness in his dictionary then we will be going through this thing, i mean life, again. Sad but fair.

The Brothers Karamazov

I am just through with the third part, abt 700 pages, of this mammoth saga about man’s destiny and existence. It has been quite a laborious read till now, mainly because of the melodramatic intensity with which Dostoevsky writes. Almost all his characters keep on brimming with emotions. Its a conscious approach i guess, which actually at times makes him repeat endlessly the same thing over. I actually had to skip few pages from a chapter about Elder Zoshima. The chapter where Alyosha describes his(Elder) finding his faith and then his philosophy about it, which mainly included the thought of ‘every one being responsible for everyone else’s sins’, which can be said to be as the notion of being kind and understanding to every one but here a notion of kind and caring God also comes as well with the requirement of faith in him.

The much celebrated chapter of book, The Grand Inquisitor, presenting the idea of freedom as a tormentor of mankind and religion as a possible solution, was quite astounding. Also was exemplary the way Dostoevsky examines the three temptations of Christ and their effect on mankind. Though one can’t refute Inquisitor’s arguments against freedom as man’s ability to distinguish between Good and Evil as a whole is unarguably questionable but his idea of religion being the solution for it is quite debatable.
He writes:.

..For the mystery of man’s being is not only in living, but in what one lives for. Without a firm idea of what he lives for, man will not consent to live and will sooner destroy himself than remain on earth, even if there is bread all around him.

That is so, but what came of it? Instead of taking over men’s freedom, you increased it still more for them! Did you forget that peace and even death are dearer to man than free choice in the knowledge of good and evil? There is nothing more seductive for man than the freedom of his conscience, but there is nothing more tormenting, either. And so, instead of a firm foundation for appeasing human conscience once and for all, you chose everything that was unusual, enigmatic, and indefinite, you chose everything that was beyond men’s strength, and thereby acted as if you did not love them at all-and who did this? He who came to give his life for them! Instead of taking over men’s freedom, you increased it and forever burdened the kingdom of the human soul with its torments. You desired the free love of man, that he should follow you freely, seduced and captivated by you. Instead of the firm ancient law, man had henceforth to decide for himself, with a free heart, what is good and what is evil, having only your image before him as a guide-but did it not occur to you that he would eventually reject and dispute even your image and your truth if he was oppressed by so terrible a burden as freedom of choice? They will finally cry out that truth is not in you, for it was impossible to leave them in greater confusion and torment than you did, abandoning them to so many cares and insoluble problems. You see, then, you yourself sowed d the seeds for the destruction of your kingdom and no one else is to blame….

Dostoevsky then says abouts man’s desire to follow something universally unquestionable as one of his main point, which he tries to validate by quoting history of religions and rulers whereby each one tried to make itself universal. As he writes:

..It is precisely that requirement of shared worship that has been the principle source of suffering for individual man and the human race since the beginning of history. In their efforts to impose universal worship,men have unsheathed their swords and killed one another. The have invented their gods and challenged one another:”Discard your Gods and worship mine or i will destroy both you and your gods”..

Bread also becomes an integral part of his scheme which man has endlessly desired and freedom has never granted. And then he gives universal religion as a solution which will relieve man of the burden of freedom and free will. It will also take care of his bread as well. No doubt men have fought terrible wars over religions and having a universal religion will at least relieve man kind of the sufferings by these wars. But then a universal religion will never be a peaceful solution considering the rebellious nature of man which Dostoevsky himself also acknowledges in the chapter very well.

Apart from Grand Inquisitor chapter rebellion chapter was also quite good. Grad Inquisitor chapter will require a re reading i guess.
Well, its still 300 pages to go and i guess Alyosha, who’s the central character and also quite acquainted with both Ivan’s and Elder Zoshima’s philosophy will come up with either something reconciling both philosophies and may be something different.
Probably Three days at most.

Kurt Vonnegut dies

Kurt Vonnegut, the amazingly comic and frequently satirical writer, who wrote against the wars and the mindless human technological pursuits, famous for classics like “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “Cat’s Cradle”, died yesterday at the age of 84.

In the times of Bush we loose an important moralist like Kurt. Sigh.

Here’s NYT ‘s piece on him.