Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Lost In Translation - Living in an Alien World

Director: Sophie Coppola
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson
Release: 29 August 2003
IMDB Rating: 7.7

Rotten Tomatoes User Rating: 85%

Well, once again it seems as if a lot of people have already written a lot about this film, but then again it certainly is one of those films that have been beautifully crafted, yet also in a way given to the actors to be able to take their characters and mould them into their own - which is one of the reasons why the only two people who know what Bill Murray whispered to Scarlett Johansen at the end of the film are Bill Murry and Scarlett Johansen (though apparently some geeks have used sound enhancing techniques to be able to find out what was said, but the thing is that it is one of those mysteries that are much better is they remain unsolved).

One of the things that definitely stands out is how Sophia Coppola picked the main actors - a relatively unknown, at least at the time, Scarlett Johansen (apparently she was 17 at the time the film was made, and it is definitely before she became quite well known as Natasha Romanov - aka The Black Widow). At the other end of the scale we have Bill Murray, who is playing a struggling actor who has in the past been the star of many hit films but is now left making Whiskey commercials (though I'd hardly consider Bill Murray to be in the twilight of his career).

Anyway, here is the trailer:

What's It About

Okay, this really isn't one of those films that has a clear plot running through it. Well, it sort of does, but it is actually more about relationships as opposed to any coherent storyline. Sure, we do start off with our heroes (for want of a better word) lost in an alien world, but they slowly come to realise each other's existence, and in doing so begin to connect. This in a way is what the film is really about - it is a film driven not by plot, but rather by themes.

So, we have Bob Harris (which sounds like a call back to one of Bill Murray's more enigmatic characters of the past) who has come to Tokyo to film a number of commercials. While it isn't particularly something he wants to do, he is getting paid a substantial amount of money, so he agrees. However, the one thing that is pretty noticeable is that he really doesn't want to be here. Instead, he simply wants to get the job done and then leave.

Then we have Charlotte, who is here for completely different reasons. Namely, her husband is a photographer, and he is here, well, doing some photography (though it is never suggested that the photography he is doing is the same that Bob Harris is involved in). Well, she has come along because she is, well, his wife, and it is also pretty clear that she is absolutely bored out of her mind. Mind you, I'd love to be in a foreign city, for whatever reason, because I would be using the time to literally explore every nook and cranny. However, not everybody is like me, and this certainly seems to be the case with Charlotte.

Well, they seem to spend time in the bar at the top of the hotel, and it is during the time when both Bob and Charlotte are drinking that they notice each other, and Charlotte makes the first move by buying Bob a drink. In a way, it seems as if they are two people, clearly out of their comfort zone, who seem to be able to make a connection in this way. Mind you, this isn't the only time that people have attempted to reach out to Bob, but many of them just see him as this great actor, and in a way it seems as if this is something that he basically wants to avoid.


In many cases, this is a film about alienation - both of the main characters seem to be alienated from the world around them. Sure, there is this instance where they happen to not only be in a foreign land, but in a foreign land that is so alien from their own that they seem to feel lost and alone. However, we will touch on that idea next, but instead, let us consider the characters and the way they seem to be alienated.

We will start with Bob, because there is one thing that stands out a lot with him, and that is that he is an actor. One of the things that the film seems to touch upon is how alienating being an actor is. In a way you cease to be yourself and in the end become the characters that you play. Mind you, Bill Murray, as an individual, apparently has completely the opposite character to Bob. For instance, he has a habit of gate-crashing parties because, well, because he is Bill Murray. Mind you, I doubt people are going to tell him to get lost, namely because, well, because he is Bill Murray.

However, in the film we see a different side of the acting business because we see that it really does alienate Bob. In a way the whole bowing and scraping of adoring fans, and the people screaming out his name in bars because, well, because he is this big-time actor, really seems to have taken its toll on him. In fact it seems as if Bob simply walks around in this perpetual trance. In another sense, it really seems as if he simply cannot be alone, cannot have a quiet drink by himself without being dragged into a conversation with a bunch of complete strangers about how great his films were.

Charlotte, on the other hand, seems to be alienated in a completely different way. The only reason she is in Tokyo is because her husband is here, and her husband is here on work. She has nothing to do with his work, so she basically finds herself here alone, spending her time puttering around the room, or trying to find things to do. Even though she goes into the bar with her husband and his friends, the thing is that they are his friends, not hers, which is why she seems to be so alienated here.

Another thing that I want to touch upon, something that strikes us at the beginning of the film, is that there is this scene where Charlotte is lying on a bed in a T-shirt and her panties. Normally the scene would just cut away, giving us some voyeuristic pleasure, however Copolla holds this position much longer than normal, and in turn it starts to makes us feel uncomfortable. In a way, this process, I feel, is an attempt to create another feeling of alienation within us, to help us understand what it is to be uncomfortable, and this sets the scene for the film.

Foreign Lands

It goes without saying that people do things differently in foreign lands, and when we travel to foreign lands and start behaving as we would at home, well, we are bound to cause offence. Ironically, we are meant to accept the habits of foreigners who come to our lands to live, one of the major ones being the idea of pushing in line - something that is just not tolerated here in Australia or walking in front of people taking a photo. Yet, ironically, we are told to respect their cultures, despite the actions of some of these people, in our mind, are quite rude.

However, let us take my experiences in Europe for instance - such as the idea of table service. The thing is that in Australia, only the real high-class restaurants have table service (or the modern hipster cafes in the inner city). Pretty much every other place you walk up to the counter and order your meals. Well, that certainly isn't the case overseas, where pretty much every place is table service. This does create a bit of a shock, especially when you go up to the counter to order, and you are literally blasted by the person standing there.

Anyway, this is the sense of alienation that you get when you are in a foreign country, though of course it is much different in places like Japan. However, the thing is that many of the touristy places have a different sort of culture than those places where only the locals seem to live. This is particularly noticeable in places like Thailand, where Phuket and Bangkok seem to go out of their way to not only make tourists welcome but also feel at home.

Yes, this may be true in Japan, but the thing is that neither Bob, nor Charlotte, are in Tokyo as tourists. It is interesting that when Bob first arrives (and also when he leaves) we see the neon lights of the city, the scene that immediately strikes our eyes as being Japan (though it is also noticeable that Hong Kong is quite similar). However, for most of the film we see a rather drab, and dull, image of Tokyo, the city that exists beyond the more touristy parts. Mind you, Charlotte does try some of the touristy parts, but it feels that without her husband, it is all meaningless.

The interesting thing is that when Charlotte and Bob get together we suddenly see another side. All of a sudden they seem to be having fun. In fact, they end up having one quite wild night, experiencing everything that Tokyo has to offer. In a way, it seems to be the secret side of Tokyo, the side that normal people, particularly the tourists, do not get to see.

Stale Marriages

I'm not really sure if we can consider Bob and Charlotte's respective marriages as stale, but in a sense there is something alienating about them. Okay, Bob does have an affair while he is in Tokyo, and I suspect that this isn't the only time that this has happened. What is interesting though is how his wife actually faxes copies of carpets to Tokyo for Bob's attention. In a way, this seems to be something that is actually a little odd, and one does wonder why they can't wait for Bob to get back. In fact, it does feel at times that Bob wants to get away from his wife, spend some time alone, by himself, but she always seems to be there, not far away at all.

Then again, as we can see, Bob is an aging actor, which suggests that Bob's marriage has been quite a long one as well. Mind you, it turns out to be quite rare for celebrity marriages to actually last all that long, particularly when you take a look at the celebrity profiles on their respective Wikipedia pages. Mind you, it still seems as if Bob simply cannot escape his wife - no matter where he goes, she seems to be there, not all that far away, even if they are separated by an ocean, she still seems to be able to get in touch with him, and for some of the most inane reasons at that.

With regards to Charlotte, it is clear that they haven't been married all that long, but then again the age difference does work to provide some contrasts between the characters. It seems that when it comes to Charlotte, it seems that there isn't really any connection between her and her husband's associates. Look, we don't actually know the situation back in the United States, and we aren't meant to, all we need to know is what is being seen here. It is interesting though that despite the significant differences in ages, they still manage to make a connection.


This is the interesting thing about the characters, and that is the connections that they make. I guess in a sense it has to do with both of them feeling alienated in Tokyo. It is clear that Bob really doesn't know anybody here, and all of his business associates are Japanese, so there simply isn't any connection. All of the people that he works with are back in the United States, and even with that, it is also clear that he is self-employed, which means he takes what work that comes. He doesn't work for a company, but rather he is a commodity to be used whenever necessary.

The connection comes about because they both feel isolated, yet what is interesting is the age difference. It is almost like a father/daughter connection, though I also get the impression that Bob has children of his own. However, they are both lost in this world, and as such they see each other as two individuals looking for some companionship in an alien realm. Yet despite the contrasts being quite staggering, the fact that they are both able to develop a connection is what makes this film so great.

A Sexless Romance

This is what brings me to my final point - it seems like it is one of those romances that develop when people are on holidays. They develop close friendships, but the context of the friendship is what defines it. I know because I have experienced similar friendships myself. Basically, it is the context and once the context is removed, the friendship is simply not the same. I guess it is clear with that last whisper that Bob gives Charlotte, namely because he knows that after he leaves, nothing is going to be the same between them.

It is interesting how there is a tinge of jealousy when Bob sleeps with that singer. This is why I suggest that there is some form of romance between them, but the dynamics of the relationship suggest to me that there was never supposed to be anything physical. In fact, to create a physical element would go a long way to completely destroy the relationship. This is something that comes across as being quite realistic.

This is the whole idea of the translation, not the idea where we are speaking different languages, and the subtleties of the language mean that we can't always mean what we say, or say what we mean, but rather the subtle languages of relationships. In many cases, people misinterpret the nature of a relationship, and in many cases head in a direction where it isn't supposed to go. There is always this talk of 'the friend zone', that zone being where two people become good friends but never go beyond that.

This is one of the lies that we are told because, honestly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the friend zone. In fact, friendship relationships can be much more fulfilling than sexual relationships, especially since many relationships fall apart after they become sexual. It is a sense that it is something that was never meant to happen, and because we took it in that direction, the friendship that could have been has been destroyed. Sometimes, in fact, many times, we need to cherish those friendships that we have, as opposed to trying to add another conquest to our list.

Creative Commons License

Lost In Translation - Living in an Alien World by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me at david dot sarkies at internode dot on dot net

Saturday, 25 January 2020

the Rijksmuseum - Amsterdam's Louvre pt 2

We basically left off with the Netherlands at war with the Spanish and many of the artists fleeing to the North from what is now Belgium, bringing their styles and skills with them. Initially this was a form known as mannerism, which focused on the raw beauty of the subject, in an idealised setting. However, in Italy, Caravaggio was starting to make his mark, with a much more realistic feel to his paintings, a more down to Earth, grittier style. As such, this began to filter north to start influencing the Dutch, resulting in a change in style and a movement away from Mannerism.

This is a life-sized replica of the tomb of William I of Orange, who was assassinated in 1584. The style is very lifelike and has been done in a way to make him appear as if he is asleep as opposed to actually being dead. Notice how he has been dressed in his nightclothes, complete with his sleeping cap. Also notice how the dog is lying, asleep, at his feet.

One night in 1566 a group of religious fundamentalists stormed the churches of the Netherlands and systematically destroyed all of the religious arts, holding an extreme view of the no idols section of the Ten Commandments. This painting, by Druck van Delen called 'Iconoclasm in a church' is one of the very few paintings to capture this night. Notice how a man stands on a ladder, draping a noose around the head of a saint, preparing to pull the statue down, while another statue lies broken on the floor.

We are now beginning to see the emergence of the modern Dutch republic, though after the Napoleonic wars a monarchy was once again established. However, the Netherlands successfully navigated the tumultuous seas as a republic for over two hundred years (something that England did not manage to do). The main figure in this guerilla war was William of Orange, the one pictured above. However, once the dust of this violent and turbulent period of Dutch history settled, a great power was about to emerge.

Thus we enter the golden age of the Dutch empire. From here trade with the continents began to emerge, bringing all forms of riches back to the low lands. Colonies across the world were established, and Dutch sailors such as Abel Tasman, would also go as for as to chart the northern coast of Australia, or Dirk Hartog would also travel along the same route. They even knew the Western Coast of the continent, as they encountered the Quokka's of Rottnest Island, and would sail north to the port of Batavia.

Once free of the shackles of the Holy Roman Empire, the Dutch were able to begin to master the seas. However, at first, their fleet was little more than a rag-tag collection of merchantmen, and it was only after a disastrous war with the English that they realised they needed to professionalise their navy. As such the maritime provinces began to build a fleet that not only would protect the merchant vessels, but also provide defence at home. Successful campaigns against the British, Spanish, and even the Swedish lead the Dutch to boast one of the worlds most capable fleets.

This painting by Willem van de Velde is called 'Dutch Ships in a Calm'. The ships are preparing to depart, and a sloop containing dignitaries are passing between the ships. This painting, in a catalogue in 1778 was described as being an exceptional work. It is also reflective of the nature of Dutch maritime culture, and also gives the viewer an impression of the Dutch fleet.

Strange as it may seem, but there was a time when the Dutch and the English weren't really the best of friends. Then again, back in the 17th Century, and for quite a while afterwards, there just didn't seem to be enough room in the North Sea, or even in all of the world's oceans, for there to be more than one naval superpower. However, this was years before the sun never set on the British Empire.

In this painting, by Willem Shellinks, depicts a battle that the English lost. In June 1667 the Dutch attacked the English fleet that was docked upriver at Chattam and completely destroyed it. Here we see the English troops attempting to provide reinforcements, but it was too late - the fleet had been destroyed and the Dutch had escaped. Such paintings no doubt were reminders of the Dutch victories over their enemies.

The above painting, by Ferdinand Bol, is called Titus beheads his son. This painting hung in the Admiralty of Amsterdam and depicts the scene where the Consul Titus Manilus Torquatis ordered his son to be executed. Basically, the son was one of those rebellious kids that disrespected his father, Then again, it went a bit further than that because the reason he was beheaded was due to insubordination. This painting was a reminder to the Admiralty of the penalty for insubordination, namely because obeying orders is the key to maintaining a strong military force. Then again, competent commanders are also very important, and the problem is that when the commander is an idiot, then it doesn't matter how loyal the troops are.

Citizens in Power

In 1659, the Stadtholder, or mayor, William II died and five of the seven provinces decided that it would be a good idea not to elect a replacement. Well, that brought on a golden age of direct democracy in the Netherlands, and not surprisingly, it was also a time of economic expansion. However, despite there being a much more liberal, and free, society, there always will be people that will rise to the fore. This happened in Athens, in Rome, and even in the modern Democracies of today. Back in the Netherlands, this particular person was Johan de Witt.

Mind you, the conservative forces really don't like change, namely because it tends to undermine their authority, and erodes their wealth. Back then the conservative forces were the nobility, despite the fact that the Netherlands was a republic. While this experiment in direct democracy seemed to be working quite well, this came to a sudden end in 1672. Basically, the conservative forces from the surrounding lands attacked the free provinces, arrested and imprisoned de Witt, and installed William III of Orange in the position of Stadtholder.

Dam Square is probably the centre of Amsterdam, and these days the Royal Palace and the Grote Kirke are located there, as well as the occasional amusement park or at least one was located there when I was in Amsterdam one Easter. Anyway, back in the 17th Century, this building, which is now where Queen Beatrix lives (though she did abdicate in 2013, and the monarch is now King Willem-Alexander), was actually the town hall - there was no King in the Netherlands. This painting was painted by Gerrit Berckheyde and shows us the style, and the grandiose nature, of the town hall. In a way it was a symbol not only of democracy at work but also the wealth of Amsterdam. Adding to its mercantile nature, we see merchants with their wares, as well as a crowd of people milling out the front.

The above item was designed by Hertog von Laun and is known as a Table Orrery. In a way, it is sort of like the Antikythera device (which at the time was still sitting at the bottom of the Mediterranean). The purpose of this device was to demonstrate the position of the sun, moon, planets, and the Earth in relation to each other. Initially, von Laun would use it in his lectures, but it was relatively unknown, that is until Professor Jan Hendrik van Swinden discovered the device, and not only wrote numerous articles about it but would also demonstrate it during scientific meetings.

The above is actually a printed plate or the reproduction from one. These were like the poor man's painting, namely because multiple prints could be created, which meant that the prices for them would be substantially lower. This one is called 'The Arsenal of Amsterdam' by Peter van Ryne. Mind you, these days, when you hear the word Arsenal you either think on an English Premiership League team or a place where weapons are stored. However, this was no doubt named after the Arsenale in Venice, which was not only where the ships were stored, but also constructed and repaired. The way the ships were constructed in the Arsenale made Venice a naval powerhouse in the Mediterranean. No doubt, the process was transferred over to the Netherlands to turn them into a similar power.

Neoclassicism in the Netherlands

Neoclassicism is a style where the artists and architects looked back to the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome and attempt to copy their style. This was a movement that arose in the mid-eighteenth century, and in part, we still see buildings from that style still around today. Huge buildings will marble columns are indicative of this style, though of course the skills of the ancients had been called upon as far back as the Renaissance, with sculptures such as Michelangelo's David.

Along with the styles and the buildings, many of these projects were accompanied by detailed drawings and was even applied to devices that simply did not exist back then. The Neoclassicist movement actually spread rather quickly, as opposed to other movements, since many of the styles arrived in the Netherlands during the 1760s. Then again, this is also reflective of the changing times, and how the world was quickly becoming ever more connected.

The above painting, by Jacques Ignatius de Roore, depicts one of the lesser-known Biblical stories. Then again, this is evident of the changing times. Previously it was generally a lot of Madonna and Childs, with a number of other well-known stories. However, the artists were now exploring things that were a little more obscure, and also attempting to challenge us through their art.

The above story occurs after the death of King Solomon. Upon his death, the people of Israel pleaded with the king Rehoboam to ease their burden. However, the king refused and made them work harder, so the Northern ten kingdoms revolted from the south. The king of the north, Jeroboam, to prevent the southerners from undermining his power, established temples and altars in the North. This was in direct violation of God's law. However, while he attempted to distance himself from the south, there were still a number of priests who refused to forsake God. In this painting, Jeroboam attempts to prevent a sacrifice to God, but when he attempted to intervene, his hand was withered.

This painting depicts the story of the Rape of Europa, an ancient Greek myth that appeared in Ovid's Metamorphosis. Interestingly, a lot of these mythological stories come from Ovid, who seems to be the go-to guy for this stuff (despite there being earlier accounts that we possess, such as the Library of Greek Mythology). In this story, Zeus disguises himself as a cow and has his way with poor Europa, who, not surprisingly, is punished by Hera. In part, this is a pastoral scene, with Europa's handmaidens around her, and with Europa placing garlands on the bull (no doubt not knowing that it is actually Zeus). Note in the corner we have Cupid stringing his bow, no doubt preparing to fire the arrow that will forever change Europa's life. Oh, this painting is by Nikolas Verkolje.

The Netherlands Overseas

We have already looked at the Netherlands and her colonies across the world. In a way, the Netherland's colonies were much like those of the Portuguese, that is trading outposts established at strategic locations. Sure, they also controlled whole swaths of territory, but unlike the British, who were more interested in colonisation, or the Spanish, who were more interested in conquest, the Dutch were interested in trade, and in a way sought to claim monopolies over certain products, such as the spices from the East Indies. Yet the Dutch were still a colonial empire,

The above painting is by Luca Carlevarlis, and is entitled 'The Entry of the French Ambassador into Venice'. During this period we are beginning to see a decline in Venetian power, where it was being transformed from a naval superpower into a quaint city swarming with tourists. Paintings such as the above were actually very popular, if only due to the magical nature of the city. Here we have a French ambassador arriving, with all of the pomp and ceremony, at the docks before the Doge's Palace. In a way, looking at this painting, and remembering Venice, it seems that in some cases the place has changed a lot, but in other cases, it has not.

Court Art

The 18th century was actually relatively peaceful, considering the turmoil that had engulfed post-Reformation Europe. During this time there were two main courts in Europe - Versailles and Vienna. During times of peace, rulers tend to be much more lavish in their lifestyle and will spend huge amounts of money on building their palaces and decorating them. This was the case during this time and was no doubt a boon for many of the artists scattered across the land. Not only did we have these major courts, but there were also many smaller courts scattered throughout Europe, both ecclesiastical and secular. Mind you, despite the increase in demand, the nobles tended to be pretty particular in what they liked, and as such were forced to continue to explore and innovate, if only to continue to catch the attention of those who could pay, and pay well, for their work.

Yet Europe wasn't the only place where the artists could practice their trade. The Ottoman court provided a gateway between the East and the West, and the Dutch had had diplomatic relations with them since 1612 and had a permanent embassy there. Mind you, gone were the days when the Ottomans held a monopoly over the spice trade from the East, but they were still no doubt a very wealthy, and rather tolerant, society. This also provided a boon to the artists as they had another outlet in which to export their works, but also to practice and learn new techniques as well.

The above painting, by Francesco Trevisani, is entitled 'The Martyrdom of the Seven Sons' and was commissioned by a Cardinal from the French Court. The story is about Saint Felicity, who was forced to watch the murder of her seven sons before she then had her head removed. In a way, this is reflective of many of the previous styles of religious art, and notice how we also have an opening to heaven in the top left-hand corner. This hails back to the story of the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, who cried out that he saw heaven open up before him, as he was being stoned to death. One should also note here that Trevaisani has painted himself into this painting, not once, but twice.

18th Century

Well, by this time the Dutch Empire was starting to fade into obscurity, however, the wealth it had garnered was still around, which meant that there was still a lot of opportunities for the Dutch artists to make some money, and many of the merchants continued to surround themselves with the works of the European greats. Then again, the 18th Century doesn't really seem to be one of those periods where there are many works of arts or artists, that really stand out above those of the great masters. As for the Netherlands, well, they still had a rather extensive trading empire and continued to hold colonies in the East and the West Indies - with Indonesia being a Dutch possession right up until the 20th century, and a number of Carribean Islands still in Dutch possession even to today.

Mind you, this was the period of the Enlightenment, a period where the absolute power of the monarchs was starting to be questioned. Sure, this was not necessarily the case in the Netherlands, which was still a republic, however, things were beginning to change, particularly in France. Of course, we know what ended up happening in that regards.

Well, it seems that I have jumped from the 18th Century back to the 15th Century, but that probably has something to do with the way we made our way around the Rijksmuseum, namely going from the upper level, all the way down to the subbasement where all of the older medieval art was located, such as this one (though this is not strictly medieval, probably more Renaissance). The story of this painting, called the Martyrdom of St Lucy, involves the fiancee of a Roman Emperor, who happened to break off the engagement due to her becoming a Christian. Well, the problem with breaking off an engagement with the emperor of Rome is that they don't take it all that well. Okay, not many people take such things all that well, it is just that Roman Emperor's tend to be able to do something about it, as is the case here - he burnt her at the state.

This is actually a rather interesting painting from the 15th Century, entitled 'A Landscape from the Conquest of America' by Jan Jansz Mostaert. The image depicts the Spanish soldiers conquering the American continent, though it has certainly been done using the traditional European landscape. In fact, the scene feels more at home in Europe and the continent across the Atlantic. However, Mostaert did throw in a couple of animals to attempt to give this place a much more exotic feel. In fact, the painting itself, even though feels as if it should be European, has colours that put give it a much more otherworldly feel about it. Notice also the swarms of Native Americans, as well as the fortress on the top of the rock outcropping.

This final painting I will look at is by Jan Sanders van Hemmesen and is called 'The Allegory of Nature as the Mother of Art'. This time this painting is a 16th-century painting, and we can see the image of a woman sprinkling breastmilk upon a musician. In fact, the two individuals represent two abstract concepts, with the woman being nature and the man, who is holding a violin, is art. In a way, it is suggesting that the artistic in us is inspired by nature, and this is particularly the case with a lot of the artworks that we look at. In a way, art is a means of capturing the beauty of nature, a beauty that can remain long after the scene becomes a distant memory.

Creative Commons License

the Rijksmuseum - Amsterdam's Louvre pt 2 by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me at david dot sarkies at internode dot on dot net

Saturday, 18 January 2020

JoJo Rabbit - Undoing the Propoganda

Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Roman Griffin Davies, Thomasin MacKenzie, Scarlett Johanson
Release: 8 November 2019
IMDB Rating: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes User Rating: 95%

Imagine being a little boy who has grown up knowing only one world, and one thing, and then suddenly discovering that this whole world is actually a lie. In fact, imagine being a little boy of about the age of 10 who has grown up being told that a certain people are horrid demonic monsters, only to discover that, once again, this is all a lie. Well, not even that, but actually meeting somebody who completely dispels this whole concept that has been fed to you all of your life.

Well, this is the story of Jojo Rabbit, a movie about a young boy, Johannes Betzler, who is living at the closing stages of World War II. The catch is that we are seeing the world from his eyes, which if we do the maths we can work out that he was born somewhere between 1934 and 1935 - after Hitler had basically taken control of Germany. As such, the only world that he knows is the world that is basically Nazi Germany.

Also, taking into account the locale, and the architecture (as well as the fact that the Americans had taken control of the town at the end of the film - I know, spoiler alert, but come on, it isn't as if we don't know who won World War II), we can figure out that the movie took place possibly in Bavaria or one of the other states of Southern Germany. This means that there was probably little impact from the war as it was, considering that much of Bavaria remained relatively untouched by the relentless bombing campaigns.

So, we have this little boy, who has only been taught, and only knows, Nazi ideology. Yet, he is a proud Nazi, going as far as actually having Hitler as an imaginary friend. Mind you, this film is somewhat of a black comedy as well, and if you are familiar with Waititi's work (which in many of our cases probably does not extend much beyond Thor Ragnarok), we will know what his humour is actually like. Yeah, there as been a suggestion that directors don't direct Disney movies - Disney directs Disney movies - yet from watching this film, I have come to understand how Waititi goes about constructing a movie.

Now, the fact that I am writing a blog post about this film probably tells you that there is something that really struck a chord in me as I watched it. Further, it probably also suggests that I really, really liked the film, namely because if I didn't I probably would have just posted an IMDB review and left it at that. Well, due to the restrictions on IMDB, and the fact that one can't really explore films as deep there as I can here, let us go on from here.

But first, the trailer:

So, What Happens

Well, I've probably said everything that I can say about the plot of this film, because it really is a film that is more about relationships than anything else. So, Jojo is a member of Hitler Youth, but he is a small and scrawny lad. He earned the name Jojo Rabbit because during one of the training sessions he had to prove his manliness by killing a rabbit, but instead he let it go. Of course, he ended up being the laughing stock of the group and he runs away.

You know how I mentioned that he had Hitler as an imaginary friend? Well, this imaginary friend rocks up, gives him a pep talk, causing Jojo to run back to his friends, and, well, a little accident happens which sends him back home (I won't tell you what it is because, well, it would be a spoiler). So, this devoted little Nazi finds himself back in town having to do things that people do who can't quite go to war, like putting up propaganda posters, and collecting metal for the war effort. Of course, another interesting thing is that while we, the viewer, know how the war is going, Jojo doesn't.
Anyway, one day he is in one of the upstairs bedrooms and discovers something odd - what looks like a secret door. So he opens it and low and behold, hidden in this room is a young girl. Well, in Jojo's (and our) minds there is only one type of person that would be hiding in a hidden compartment in Nazi Germany - that would be a Jew. Well, Jojo works it out pretty quickly, and what is ironic is that his fears, and the propaganda that has been fed to him, sort of plays out as this girl, Elsa, gets the better of him, and not only takes his Hitler Youth knife but all of the other knives that he comes at her with.

Yet, the thing is that what we are seeing through this film is how they slowly build a relationship, and how everything that Jojo has been taught through his life is slowly being undone. In fact we watch as his beliefs are slowly destroyed one by one, as everything that he thought he believed to be true turns out to be a lie. Yet, on the other hand, we see other characters, such as Captain Klenzendorf, who says one thing, yet his actions betray a completely different side to his character.


I've probably talked about this in a previous post, but I have written so many posts now I honestly can't remember which one it was. However, I'll just link the Wikipedia article rather that go into a full definition of it, other than to say that it is the act of manipulating an individual so that their perception of reality has been changed. In a way, this probably also applies to the term Propaganda.  Yeah, in a way the difference is that Gaslighting applies mostly to a single person, whereas Propaganda applies to a much larger group.

So, you could consider that the people of Germany had been gaslighted, particularly when it came to the Jews. Now, don't get me wrong, the Jews weren't the only people that were being scapegoated - the Homosexuals, the Jehovah Witnesses, the Gypsies, were all subject to the Nazi concentration camps and the 'purification' of society. However, it is the Jews that stand out in our mind probably because they were the largest segment of society that were targetted.

Though, the interesting this is that we are also told that Jews have the ability to control people's minds. This struck a chord in me because as we watch the interaction between Elsa and Jojo we can see how Elsa uses language to protect herself. When Jojo first encounters her, she tells him that his mother doesn't know that she is there (which is a lie) and that if he tells anybody, she will just say that he was the reason that she was there. Further, she points out that the authorities will deal with both him, and his mother, rather brutally for the traitors that she will claim that they are.

Do you see what is happening here? Maybe the mind control comment isn't too far from the truth, because now Jojo realises that he simply cannot run out of the house and tell the Gestapo that there is a Jew hiding in his walls. Yet, when we speak of mind control, we usually think of people having psychic powers forcing us to do things that we wouldn't normally do. However, isn't that what propaganda actually is? A form of mind control. For instance, turning people against their friends and neighbours by convincing them that their friends and neighbours aren't really their friends and neighbours is a means of controlling one's thoughts.

However, in another aspect we have young Jojo who has never known anything other than Nazi Germany. This was what many of the soldiers discovered when they actually entered the country during the war. It turned out that many of the young people have been so brainwashed by Nazi propaganda that they didn't see this as other countries liberating them from an oppressive government, but rather a full-blown invasion that they must repel.


This is the second big thing that challenges us in the film. The sad reality is that we live in a world of us and them. Sure, we fought and defeated the Nazi's, but racism is still with us - in fact, it never went everywhere. For instance, we were horrified that the Germans sent the Jews to concentration camps and executed them en mass, yet here in Australia, we set up a program that was intended to systematically annihilate the First Nations people by simply breeding them out of existence. Further, when the Labour Party, after winning power, decided to apologise to the First Nations people, there were quite a few people, and politicians, who reacted quite strongly against that.

Hitler won elections, and took power, by scape goating the Jews, and we were horrified at where that leads us. Yet, we still see it happening today, though while it may not be the Jews that are targetted, it may be the Mexicans, who are being described as rapists and murders, and we are being warned of the Muslim and Asian swarms that are about to swarm over Australia and destroy our way of life. In fact, the conservatives in Australia are continuing to win elections simply by race-baiting and calling upon the fears of the people smugglers who are simply waiting for a weak government to be elected so they can continue to ply their trade.

The problem is that as long as there is an us and them mentality, it prevents us from actually getting to know these people. This was the case with Jojo because he had one idea of what Jews were like, yet when he actually met, and began to converse with a Jew, he suddenly discovered that maybe, just maybe, they weren't as bad as he was being told. In fact, maybe, just maybe, Hilter was actually lying.

In a sense what we have is racial profiling - a profile is set up of a certain race, and we are told that all races are like that - all Muslims are terrorists, all First-Nation peoples are violent drunks (in reference to Indigenous Australians), all Mexicans are rapists. Sure, we might actually know a Muslim, or a First Nation person, or even a Mexican - but we claim that these people are the exceptions as opposed to the rule. In fact, this type of profiling works to exacerbate the problem rather than solve it. We fear the First-Nation peoples, and proceed to marginalise them, and they, in turn, are forced into gangs. We are seeing it now in Australia where the right-wing media are now attacking African youths, when I can assure you that white Australia youths also form gangs, and can be just as bad (or even worse - if we consider the white supremacists).

Yet, the one thing that struck me was how, just by looking at Elsa, nobody would have known whether she was a Jew or not. We assume that this is the case because she is hiding in a secret compartment. Oh, she wouldn't have had any papers either, so couldn't have proved her identity, but besides that, simply by looking at her, we would have thought that she was just a German. In fact, Hitler had to make up characteristics to describe what Jews looked like, because, well, they just looked like everybody else.

However, with racism on the rise, we are beginning to discover that people that have different skin colours or don't speak the language as well as they could, are starting to be targeted. Further, there is this idea of 'Australian Values', and that unless they are willing to adopt Australian values, then they are not welcome. However, this is just a vague concept, that it almost reeks not only of the 'White Australia Policy' but also the destruction of unique cultures that could come in and transform our culture for the better.

Anyway, I could go on, but I'll leave it at that for the time being, because no doubt, sooner or later, something will come about where I will continue along this train of thought.

Creative Commons License

JoJo Rabbit - Undoing the Propaganda by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me at david dot sarkies at internode dot on dot net

Sunday, 5 January 2020

MoMA Comes to Melbourne Pt 3

So, this is the final post on the MoMA's visit to Melbourne. I probably could have reduced it to two posts, but it is really that there are quite a number of works that I wanted to look at, and explore. The other thing is that the exhibition itself was also quite large, having two major sections at each end of the art gallery. Then again, my understanding is that the MoMA itself is quite large as well. The other interesting thing is that I wonder whether the sections that we were exploring here are the sections as they are laid out in the MoMA itself. Well, maybe, one day, if I ever end up in New York, I'll find out.

Things as they Are (or could be)

The reality was that the world was changing, or at least people's attitudes were beginning to change. The past couple of decades had been defined by function over form, which resulted in some rather ugly looking buildings, among other things. Yet, at this time we were beginning to see a transformation in the market, particularly with the Baby Boomers suddenly entering their teenage years. This was a generation who had been raised without needing to go off to fight in a foreign war (though there was Vietnam, so I guess it was my generation, generation X, that was the first generation not needing to go to war), so there was suddenly a demand for change, and in fact a demand for style.

What we had was also a group of architects that began to reject the idea of function over form, and instead looked at adding artistic design back into the buildings that they constructed, something that has come down to today. However, this was a time when we were looking to the future, so, instead of returning to the Gothic style architecture of the past, we instead take a more modern, and even futuristic, approach. In many cases though, this looking into the future, also had people envisioning what this future was going to be like, with some even seeing a hedonistic paradise where nobody had to work.

This is an interesting work by artist Ron Herron and is, well, called Moving Cities. It sort of raises the question of what actually is a city - is it a collection of people or is it a specific geographic locale? If we were to move the entire population of Los Angeles to, well, Bolivia, would that still be Los Angeles, or would the empty shell of the city sitting on the southern California coast still remain Los Angeles. I suspect that the second idea is the correct one.

The thing is that cities are dynamic and always changing, and this is what this work is trying to explore. Here the city doesn't stay in one place, but rather it moves. No longer is it defined by its geographic location, but rather by the shell in which the people inhabit. Yet, in another sense, we don't use the term city in that way. For instance, if we were to put a million people into a space ship and fire that space ship off into space, it will still be a space ship, it will not, at least in my mind, and others as well, be considered a city.

We continue this idea of the city with this work by Peter Cook called Plug-In City. This came about in the 1960s from a British architectural society. In a way, they were exploring the idea of how cities could be transformed in the future to make them more practical. This concept works on the idea of obsolescence, namely that when a building is no longer needed, or is out of date, it is removed and replaced by something newer. Yet, this can also be seen as a criticism of our consumerist, wasteful, society that seeks to throw things away as fast as possible, simply to get the next best, more modern concept. In a way we live in a disposable society, and this idea of a disposable city is a concept that seems to reach the pinnacle of this problem.

I'm not entirely sure whether I can consider this to actually be a work of art. The reason being is that this symbol simply isn't new - it has been around for a really long time, and has been used in financial transactions since at least the 17th Century. However, the reason this symbol exists, at least in the MoMA, is because it defines our modern world - we use it all the time with email. This symbol was picked by Tomlinson because of the fact that at the time it was, well, very rarely used. However, since it now denotes the destination of an email, we pretty much use it, well, literally every day.

Well, this is one of those examples of the imagination of youth. Gary Anderson, a 23-year-old Engineer student submitted this design for a competition to come up with a symbol to represent recycling, at the time being paper. Well, the simplicity of the design, and the fact that we all pretty much know what it means, goes to show the result of this. Apparently Gary had been doing a project on recycling at the time, so the symbol was already floating around in his head.

Immense Encyclopedia

So, we are now jumping to the 80s and the 90s where artists seem to be co-opting other works to be able to develop their own style. As one artist suggested, the art world is now borrowing from itself as if it were an immense encyclopedia. Yet this is nothing new since art, and in turn, literature, has always borrowed from what came before to produce that which is popular now. However, as technology advanced, so did the medium that produces art. Film is a particularly popular medium, though we also once again have art in the form of posters, album covers (particularly from the Nu-Wave punk movement), and of course signs and buildings.

Keith Harring was not just an artist, but a social commentator and political activist. Much of his works dealt with the issues he was seeking to confront, such as the work above called Totem. Much of his work arises from the use of symbols, and the above we have not just an Egyptian sarcophagus, but also symbols within them. In a way, this is one of those works that screams out so many things, as we see images of people inside, and in a sense, we have this idea of death surrounding us. In a way this work deals with the scourge of AIDs, which finally took his life in 1990.

Vavoom is a character from the animated series Felix the Cat, and his power is that he can literally move mountains by simply shouting his name. This in a way is one of the defining qualities of language, where we simply cut it down to a single word. In a way it feels as if we are moving backwards, so language emerged from grunts, and seems to be returning to that spot, where we simply use a single word to be able to communicate.

Vavoom was created by Raymond Pettibon, an artist that emerged from the underground punk scene in Southern California, and is well know for having a somewhat irreverent spirit, something that punk seems to be all about, but also merging many different styles into a single concept.

This work, by Iraqi born Zaha Hadid is called Peak Project. It is actually the design of a gym that was supposed to be built in Kowloon in Hong Kong (though, of course, the Peak is actually on the island, and is not actually in Kowloon, though Kowloon does have a mountain of its very own). The idea was to create artificial cliffs, after removing parts of the mountain to be able to build this structure. Obviously, the structure itself does have a very futuristic look to it.

Yeah, this sort of gets you when you first look at it, and a part of you tries to wonder what it actually is. Well, this work, by Andreas Gursky, is called Times Square, and is of the foyer of the Marriot Hotel located in, yeah, Times Square, New York. It is sort of confronting, but it has actually been manipulated and enhanced by his computer. In a way, Gursky grew up in Germany, and went to art school at a time when photographers were beginning to muscle their way into the art world themselves.

In a way, there are many painters who have disappeared into the world of obscurity (like my Grandfather). In a way, many of these artists never had the opportunity to become famous like, say, Jackson Pollock, or simply never managed to produce something that caught the eyes of the right people. However, this work is no doubt a memorial to them, by Anslem Keifer, and is called 'To the Unknown Painter'. It is sort of, at first, reminiscent of the Acropolis in Athens, but looking at it again, it seems to be more modern. In a way it is a memorial, a memorial to those who no doubt will be forgotten.

There is something of a difference between the album covers we looked at before, and these rock posters. Well, the main thing is that these are basically punk bands and not the punk that we ended up with in the 90s, but the original, namely the Clash and the Sex Pistols. In a way, they represent the anti-establishment nature of the movement, who considered pop music to be, well, quite dull actually. These posters would have been sent to record shops, and given out in clubs, and seek to challenge a system that have become rather oppressive. In a way, it is still reflective of the later day punk bands (such as Rage Against the Machine) that borrowed from this movement.

The final work we will look at is one that depicts the plight of the Sahwari Arabs in the Saharan desert. In 1975, fleeing the Saharan War, they established a refugee camp, which became known as the Sahwaran Arab Democratic Republic. The thing is that this place was, well, pretty much ignored by the rest of the world, who honestly don't care about stateless individuals and would rather have them locked up in concentration camps. However, Manual Herz, a Swiss Architect, sought to bring light to the existence of these people, and the fact that they are simply wanting to flee from war.

Creative Commons License

MoMA Comes to Melbourne Pt 3 by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me at david dot sarkies at internode dot on dot net

A Troublesome Play - The Taming of the Shrew

I remember when I first read this play and I was actually rather shocked and appalled. In fact, if there are any of Shakespeare's plays that are going to rub up against the grain of our modern society then it is certainly going to be this one - the reason being that the whole plot is about how a husband figuratively beats his wife into submission. Sure, his wife is definitely one nasty piece of work, but the thing is, living in a world where more women are killed by their husbands/partners in domestic violence situations than terrorist attacks (at least in developed countries) one wonders why such a play is still staged, and one also wonders why I actually sat down and spent three hours watching it.

Well, I can certainly provide an answer to the second question - I had just recently seen several plays performed at the Pop-Up Globe in Sydney. Each one of these plays was a comedy, being Merchant of Venice, A Comedy of Errors, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Well, I have to admit that they were pretty amusing performances, almost farcical. Actually, I should probably say incredibly farcical, and they certainly had their fair share of slapstick as well. The thing is, that a lot of the other versions of these plays that I have seen, seem to focus more on the romance than they do on the comedy, so I was sort of wandering to what extent The Globe in London handled the comedies.

Fortunately, the last time I was in London I had spent something like 200 quid on a DVD box set containing a collection of performances that had been staged at the Globe. What that meant was that I now have a heap of Shakespeare videos that have ended up sitting in my cupboard, unwatched, for a year and a half. Well, that probably isn't necessarily a bad thing, because it does mean that when I get some Shakespeare urges, or simply want to watch a performance of a play that I have just read, I have some more options available. Mind you, while I have managed to see two plays at the Globe, both of them were tragedies, and one of them was also Macbeth, a play that I don't particularly like all that much.

So, now that I have the desire to actually see how the Globe pulled off their comedies, I grabbed the collection to see what was available. Well there were a couple that I have yet to read, and there were a couple that I had seen quite recently, so I decided that what I would do is settle upon a play that I have read, was familiar with, and yet had not seen it performed. Oh, and it also had to be a comedy. As it turned out, The Taming of the Shrew certainly ticked all of those boxes - except for the fact that it does happen to be a bit of a problem, as I will go on to explain.

The story is about a nobleman, Baptista Minola, who lives in Padua and he has two daughters. The younger, Bianca, is ravishingly beautiful, and pretty much anybody who is anybody (and unmarried) wants to wed her. Well, that is all well and good, except that he also has an older daughter, Katerina, who, shall we say, is certainly not a pleasant person to hang around. Look, it isn't as if she is particularly ugly, at least in the physical sense, but she is certainly not the type of person that anybody would even consider spending five minutes alone with, let alone the rest of their life. Well, Baptista decides that since he is going to have a rather difficult time getting his eldest daughter married, he makes the statement that nobody will be able to marry Bianca until such a time as Katerina is married.

Well, that certainly puts a dampener in the works, since pretty much everybody, especially Bianca's suitors, consider that it is going to be an impossibility for Katerina to ever get married, that is until Petruccio enters the scene and, shock horror, asks Baptista if he can marry Katerina. Not surprisingly, everybody thinks that he is mad, and if they don't think him mad, they at least think that he is joking. It turns out to be neither, and not only does he trick Katerina into marrying him, but he also manages to turn her into an obedient wife. All the while, in traditional Shakesperian style, there is the second plot going on where Bianca is being courted. Well, there is a bit more to it than that, namely because Lucentio, Bianca's suitor, disguises himself as a tutor so that he can actually get to Bianca, while he gets his servant to disguise himself as, well, him, and to convince Baptisa to let Lucentio marry Bianca. Well, if it seems to pretty complicated, they also get a random stranger to pretend to be Vincentio, Lucentio's father and to talk up the amount of money that he has for the dowry.

Yeah, there seems to be a bit of a problem with this play, you know, the whole auctioning off your daughters and all that. Then there is the issue with Petrucio and Katerina, or as Petrucio calls her, Kate. Let us consider this first because a part of me feels that there really isn't any way we can justify what is going on here. Sure, if the play is performed well, then it can be quite funny. Yet a part of me feels that Petrucio is basically a bully. Yeah, he is the one who steps in to free up Bianca to marry somebody else, but is he actually doing right by Bianca in that he is taking a shrew as a wife - I don't think so.

Apparently, there are a few schools of thought as to how we should interpret the whole thing - that the speech is sincere and that Katerina has not only been tamed, but she has also fallen in love with Petruchio. The other school suggests that it is ironic and that Katherina has not actually been tamed, but rather is, in fact, leading Pettrucio on. I'm not entirely sure about that second interpretation namely because of the context in where it is delivered. Here, the three husbands have a bet as to whose wife is the most loyal - the three husbands call their wives in turn, the first two make excuses as to why they cannot come, the third, Katerina, comes at Pettrucio's beck and call. This is actually a surprise to all involved because the general assumption was that Katerina would be the last person in their mind to come to her husband's summons.

But how does Pettrucio tame her? Well, that is somewhat concerning as well, because he does so by starving her, yet it is interesting how it is performed. In a way, nothing is good enough for his wife. In fact, everything is so bad that he will throw it out rather than have Katerina eat it. It seems farcical in one sense, but isn't this what many of us are like these days - we have become so fussy that we are willing to starve ourselves than to eat something that is beneath us. Okay, I'm not necessarily having a dig at vegetarianism or even veganism, but a part of me feels that this is a case. However, it feels as if Shakespeare is actually having a bit of a dig at those of us who are rather proud, and incredibly picky.

Another thing that I see is that it appears that Pettrucio is actually gaslighting her. This is the idea where the dominant partner in a relationship will change our view of history to suit their own purposes. Okay, I do have an issue with this because there are people who will claim that they are being gaslighted, and in fact in making this claim that is gaslighting themselves. The is the funny thing with memory - it is very, very malleable. The further away from an event we go, the less likely that we are to remember the exact details - this is why gaslighting works so well, and also why people use the claim of being gaslighted to support their version of history. Look, I'm not saying that it doesn't happen, but some people are so unreliable that I find that anything they say is rather dubious.

Yeah, there is also this issue of gender politics. Here we are, at a time where the Biblical idea of the man being the head of the household was still very much in vogue. Yet, we are also in a time when there was a woman on the throne of England, something that actually seemed to set England apart from the rest of Europe. In a way, women were auctioned off to the highest bidder in those days - it doesn't mean that it was right, it is just that it happened. However, what we are seeing is the sexual struggle between a husband and a wife, and in a way the wife loses. Though, if we consider the last scene of the play, where the bet occurs, it is interesting to note that it is the tamed wife that responds, as opposed to the ideal wife.

So, we have three women here - the wealthy widow, the beautiful Bianca, and Katherina. Katerina is the one that nobody, other than Petruchio, actually wants, but it turns out that she is the better of the three due to her loyalty and devotion. Let us consider something different by throwing away this whole idea of gender politics and abuse of women, and rather consider relationships as a whole. Relationships are never meant to be easy, but the best ones are the ones that we work at. This is why it is not always possible to have lots and lots of friends because it takes time to build a strong relationship, and it is when we put in the time and the effort that the fruits of a good relationship emerge. This is what happens in this play - Petruchio puts in a lot of time and effort to actually produce a good relationship, and the fruits of his tireless work are produced at the end when to everybody's surprise, he wins the bet. Okay, actually making a bet on whose wife is the best is also pretty bad, and to be honest, I can't really see going down all that well in today's society.

However, just as an after thought, there is a version of this play that has been placed in our modern world. Okay, it is a fairly old movie, and it has been quite a while since I have actually seen it, but Ten Things I Hate About You is actually a version of Taming of the Shrew. Mind you, like a lot of plays that I have seen, they tend to focus more on the romance, as opposed to the comedy, which I do tend to find a little disappointing.

Creative Commons License

A Troublesome Play - The Taming of the Shrew by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me at david dot sarkies at internode dot on dot net