Monday, 27 February 2017

Leaving the Past Behind - The Butterfly Effect

Director: Eric Bress, J. Mackye Gruber
Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Amy Smart, Melora Walters
Release: 23 January 2004
IMDB Rating: 7.7
Rotten Tomatoes User Rating: 81% (Critics gave it 33%)

Well, my original plan was to simply sit down on my couch on Saturday night and watch a film that I have already watch with the intention of not actually writing anything about something. Well, I guess The Butterfly Effect is not the type of film that one can simply walk away from and not think too heavily about what just occurred. Well, okay, you probably can, but as people suggest I have this annoying habit of thinking too much - not that that is a bad thing, but some people do feel somewhat threatened by people who do have this annoying habit of thinking about and analysing things and want to put a stop to it. However, this isn't a post about anti-intellectualism, so I will leave it at that.

Anyway, as I suggested, I simply couldn't just go to bed after the movie and not think about what had just occurred, even though I had seen it previously. Look, it isn't the best movie that I've seen, and it can be quite slow in parts, however it is still quiet a confronting film and raises the question of whether it would be a good thing to be able to go back into your past and change things for the better, and if one could, what effect would it have on the future. The question is also raised as to whether it is possible to be able to change one's decisions in the past to in effect create the perfect life.

I have already written a review of this film on IMDB, and about halfway through, when it started to drag on for a bit, I jumped onto the computer to discover that I had indeed written a review on the film, and had given it a six. I sort of now understand why it gave it such a rating, because it did have this annoying habit of dragging for a while, and also being somewhat disturbing in places. I also noted that it starred Ashton Kutcher, whose claim to fame in my mind happened to be a rather sleazy film starring Natalie Portman. Upon seeing this my immediate thought was that she seemed to be dumbing down her ability somewhat, especially after Leon the Professional and the Star Wars Prequels (depending on your opinion of the prequels mind you). Oh, they have also released a sequel, and even a third installment, which at this stage seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the original film.

As I do with similar posts, here is trailer:

Anyway, before I continue I will once again make the statement that if you don't actually want to know anything about the film then there will be spoilers, namely because my review is on IMDB, and my purpose here is to explore the film indepth. So ....

The Effect

The movie is one of those movies that begins at the end, that is with Evan crouching under a desk scribbling something onto a notepad. However we don't know anything about the circumstances that brought him to this situation, which is why we jump back in time to his childhood, and to a class where the teacher calls his mother inside where she is shown a drawing of Evan holding a knife and standing on a pile of bodies. It is then that we discover that he suffers from black outs. We also learn that his father is in a mental asylum, and when Evan goes and meets him he has another blackout and wakes up with his father chocking him, at which point the guards come in and bludgeon his father to death.

We then encounter three events in his childhood where Evan has a blackout - one where he visits another family and goes to play Robin Hood in front of a camera, only to discover that he is suddenly naked and in the basement with Kayleigh, the man' daughter (and the brother, Peter, is looking on jealously). The second time occurs when they are teenagers, and Peter stole a stick of dynamite from his father's basement, and convinces the other member of the group, Lenny, to put it into the letter box of a random house. However the show then skips to when they are running away and we have no idea what has actually happened (though with the previous blackout we have a pretty good idea what was going on). Finally they are in a junkyard and Peter has tied Evan's dog in a bag and once again there is a blackout, but we do know that the resulting event was not pleasant for the dog.

Anyway, after this Evan's mother decides that it is time to leave this nightmare of a suburb and Evan's youth comes to an end. We then jump to when he is in college, studying psychology, and living in a dorm with somebody that looks remarkably like a goth. Further, Evan hasn't had a blackout for over seven years so they decide to head off an party, where Evan meets a young lady, goes back to his room, and discovers that the journals that he has been keeping since he was a child (namely due to the recommendation of the doctor that he was seeing because of the blackouts) have this really interesting effect - by reading them he can go back in time to the moments of the blackouts, at which point he discovers what actually happened when the dynamite was placed into the letter box (and it is not pretty), and the shock of discovering this results in him dropping a cigarette on himself with a resultant scare - a scar that suddenly appears on him when he returns to the present.

As such, he discovers that not only does he have the ability to travel back in time but he can also make some changes that will affect the future - thus the title of the film.

Things Get Much Better

To describe Evan's childhood as horrific is an understatement, and in a way it paints a picture of the reality of what it is like growing up in Suburbia. Not only do we have a pedophile living in the neighbourhood, but his children are being tormented by him in a way that results in them growing up as shells of their formers selves. Actually, Evan attempts to change the past begin not when he first goes back to the basement, but when he decides to catch up with Kayleigh and find out what actually happened that day that they put the dynamite in the letter box. In a way this dredging up the past has brought about some unwanted memories, and a rather vicious Peter makes it known that he is not happy with Evan's meddling, and that by Evan attempting to dredge up the past has resulted in some rather unexpected consequences (Kayleigh ends up committing sucide). 

However, having discovered that he can change the past, he does just that and confronts Kayleigh's father in the basement. He then wakes up in a sorority, of which Kayleigh is a member, and the present has changed dramatically. In fact Evan is also a member of a fraternity, and it appears that life is now much, much better. However there is a catch - he still remembers his previous life, and as such has two lives crowded into his brain, and in having these two lives he suddenly discovers that he is living neither one nor the other. For instance, Kayleigh makes mention that he has changed, and he is no longer walking the way that he used to walk. It seems as while he may have changed Kayleigh's life for the better, as well as his, he hasn't truly shaken his past.

This is where it starts to get really tricky because it turns out that Peter hasn't changed, except that where in the first iteration of Evan's life he spent a couple of months in juvenile detention (due to his assaulting somebody in a movie theatre), this time he spent much longer, and when he is released he is absolutely fuming at the fact that Evan and Kayleigh are dating. In fact he makes it his duty to hunt Evan down and make it known that he is not happy. Yet it turns out much worse because when they do confront each other, Evan ends up killing Peter and lands up in gaol.

Third and Later Iterations

Realising that the life that he has fallen into is much, much worse that his original life, Evan decides to fiddle with the past a little more, and this time he changes what happened outside the house. Having discovered that the dynamite prank resulted in the death of a mother and her baby, Evan decides to save them, and runs straight for the letter box. Well, in part it seems as if everything has sorted itself out because Peter is actually a pretty decent person, and Lenny is no longer a recluse, hiding in his room building model airplanes. The catch is that Evan no longer has any arms. Also, Kayleigh is now dating Lenny as opposed to dating Evan, which is something that Evan is not really all that happy about. Sure, in one way things have turned out much better, however Evan is not particularly happy with having to live his life without any arms.

Actually, that might be the forth iteration, but that is beside the point because as it turns out the more Evan tries to interfere with his past the worse it seems to become for everybody involved. Well, okay, the second iteration was somewhat better, that is until he landed up in gaol. However the more he tried to change his life the more her descends into madness, namely because with every interation he gets more and more memories piling into his brain, so while at first he has a minor nose bleed, these eventually get worse and worse. The thing with the film is that there are two endings, but both of them stem off from the fact that Kayleigh decides to remain with her father because she did not want to move away from Evan, and it is then that Evan discovers that he is the element that is making their lives horrendous. In the cinematic ending Evan goes back in time and has a fight with Kayleigh, causing her to move away when her parents divorce, while in the version I watched Evan lands up in a mental institution, and then goes back to before he was born and strangles himself while he is still in his womb.

One of the keys to this ending is when Evan and his mother go into a psychic who tells Evan that he has no life line and should not exist. The other interesting thing is that we also discover that his father was also able to time travel in this way, which is why he landed up in the metal institution (and also why he freaked out when Evan began to ask him about changing the past). What we learn, and it is quite subtle, is that while Evan would time travel through the use of his journal, his father time traveled through the use of photographs - which is why Evan was able to use the film to escape the metal asylum.

Changing the Past

This film opens up one of those dreams that many of us (in particular myself) have, and that is being able to return to the past and making different decisions so as to make life much better for us and those whom we love. The problem in Evan's case is that he can only return to times when he has a blackout - which in a way are significant times in his childhood which eventually resulted in a huge change in the future. In a way these blackouts are effectively blank moments in his life where the decisions that can be made aren't made, and in effect during the moments Evan simply does nothing. Mind you, some periods, such as the blackout in primary school, exist as plot devices - the primary school scene allows Evan to gain the stigmata so that he might be able to use them to get his Catholic cellmate on side and thus escape prison. Other times, such as when he grabs the knife, seem to have no purpose at all.

The other catch with Evan is that while he can change the past at this one specific point, it doesn't mean that he can live his life from that point namely because he then returns to the future (or the present) and despite having changed the course of his life, he has no ability to be able to change any further decisions from that point on. In a way by changing the main decision he has automatically created a series of decisions that have resulted in the past in which he is now living (as well as creating two, or more, sets of memories). In a way what this is suggesting is that our past is defined by a few major decisions that we make when we are young, and that all of the decisions that we end up making in the years afterwards are the consequence of these couple of important decisions. This is despite the fact that in the film Evan's decisions were effectively do nothing and go with the flow.

Actually, maybe that is why Evan's life turned out the way that it did - his decisions were always based upon doing nothing and simply going with the flow. Yet this was not the case when he gets to university since he makes the conscious decision to start digging up the past, and bringing about the resultant chaos. We must remember that when Evan goes back in time and changes the past, he does so with the full knowledge of what the original decision (or lack there of) brought about. When he confronts Kayleigh and Peter's father he does so with the mind of an adult as opposed to the mind of a child (which is why their father is so shocked when he is confronted by Peter).

The other thing with changing the past is that it is not necessarily for the best. We see a conflict within Evan that he wants to change to past to make it better for his friends, but for him as well. This is probably why the original ending was better, that is that he has a fight with Kayleigh as a child, she and Peter move to live with their mother, and the events that resulted in the first iteration never occurred. In a way this worked out much better for Evan because in this scenario he got to live, where as in the director's cut he kills himself as he comes to the realisation that the only reason Kayleigh's life turns out so bad is because he is in it (though we must remember that when he lost both of his arms their lives turned out quite well, it is just that Evan had to live life as a cripple, which in his mind wasn't acceptable).

A Christian Interpretation

I remember somebody suggesting that every film has a Christian interpretation, and that one can take a film and use it as a spring board for a conversation about the Gospel. Well, I'd argue against that because I suspect that you can't actually use Debbie Does Dallas in that sense, though theoretically it is possible but since I haven't seen it, and have no intention of seeing it, I can't speak from experience (though one could use it as an example of the destructive nature of pornography, but I am getting way off topic here). The thing is that years ago I took that idea on board and tried to examine the Christian aspect of every movie that I saw, and the argument could actually prove plausible in a sense, but is it true in most movies?

Let us consider Butterfly Effect - it could be argued that by Evan committing suicide in his mother's womb it meant that his friends could live good and prosperous lives as opposed to the hell hole that they landed up in while Evan was alive. However, I don't actually consider that to be satisfactory namely because the suggestion is that it is better for Evan to be dead than to be alive because by him being alive he simply ends up bringing misery and heartache on everybody around him - if this were the case then theoretically everybody should follow Evan's example because while we may not be the movers and shakers of the world, our self-centered nature means that as long as we live we bring about pain and suffering on all around us.

The question that rises is whether Evan is a noble person. Personally, it is difficult to say because in one way he is attempting to save his friends, but in another way he is also trying to make his life as comfortable as possible. However, it is only when he realises that he has an answer to these blackouts that he decides to go and hunt down the truth, yet in attempting to seek out the truth he ends up reawakening Peter's wrath and driving Kayleigh to suicide. Further we have him changing his life for the better, until he is confronted by Peter, kills him, and lands up in gaol, which isn't a satisfactory outcome for him. In the third iteration Kayleigh has become a prostitute, and in the forth Evan not only has lost his arms, but his mother is dying of lung cancer after becoming a chain smoker. Thus, the final solution is to bring it to an end by dying in the womb.

It is interesting that the hints are scattered throughout the film as to the final conclusion - his father landing up in a mental institution, him being one of a long line of miscarriages, and eventually becoming a miscarriage himself when he decides to start meddling with the past, and also the idea that his father could also time travel, but instead of using a journal he uses photos. While not explicitly spelt out, it is suggested that Evan's ability is a curse that has been passed down from generation to generation, though when they find themselves trapped in a mental asylum it is basically game over - there is no escape - it is only that Evan learns how to use the film to be able to take himself back to a time before he was born to prevent himself ever entering this world and causing such pain and suffering to those around him.

However, the question that eventually arises is whether there is any time when we can say that it is better that we were not born. Personally, if we were born then we were born for a reason, and the life that we have is a precious gift - we should take hold of that gift and make the most of it because it is only one life that we get and even if we do make mistakes there is always, as long as we live, some form of redemption.

Creative Commons License

Leaving the Past Behind - The Butterfly Effect 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

Monday, 20 February 2017

Survival in the Mordern Times

Director: Charlie Chaplin
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman
Release: 25 February 1956
IMDB Rating: 8.5
Rotten Tomatoes User Rating: 95%

I probably would have just left this as a review on IMDB but as it turns out there is a word limit on that site which means that I can't actually say everything that I want to say about, well, this movie. Actually, I have to admit that as a website IMDB is pretty ordinary - it's good for finding out about movies, and I do have a habit of writing a review of every movie that I have seen, but that is about it - unlike Goodreads it isn't a website where you can discuss movies with people or actually write engaging posts on a particular movie. Actually, they did have some discussion boards but have since decided to can them, which is a real shame.

Anyway, when I wrote my post on Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times it ended up that I had to cut the post down by something like a half (or not that much, but I did have to cut it), which I have to admit was really annoying. However, since IMDB's reviewing systems really only allows for short, and simple, reviews, I decided that I should probably write about it as a blog post, particularly since it means that I can actually write an awful lot more about this movie than I could previously, and am also not limited by it having to basically be a review. Mind you, why anybody would actually need to review Modern Times is beyond me because the film is a classic, yet I guess I just have this habit where I have to put my thoughts down on paper.

I have to be honest as admit that this is actually the first Charlie Chaplin movie that I have ever seen. Well, it seems that he didn't actually make all that many full length films, namely because he was one of the very first Hollywood stars (or should I say super-stars), and was working around the time that the film industry was still very much in its infancy. This was a time when there was limited special effects and stunt men basically did stupid things and got hurt as opposed to using fancy camera angles to get the effect that they wanted. In fact Chaplin, being one of the pioneers of film-making, and even established one of the original film studios - United Artists.

As it turns out the entire movie is on Youtube, so I'll post it below:

The Man Behind the Movie

I'm not really all that sure if we can say that Modern Times actually has a plot, namely because it seems to mostly be Chaplin moving from one situation to the next, and then the film ends. It is comedy, but the thing is that the comedy works on two different levels - in one sense it is slapstick, pure and simple, but then again Charlie Chaplin was the master of slapstick. However, on another level it is satire, and it is satire in the sense that as you are watching the film you might not even see it, but when you step back and think about it, you will then begin to see what is actually going on. In a way, what Chaplin is doing is taking us on a journey through the world as he sees it, and it is a world that in many ways has not changed in the eighty-odd years since the film was released.

The interesting thing is that somebody suggested that Chaplin was not intentionally being political with this movie, though this person couldn't be further from the truth. Sure, he may have made such a comment back in the 20s, but this is certainly not the case now, and when you take into account The Great Dictator, and his later films, they certainly are political. In fact Chaplin ended up having to leave the United States due to suspected links with Russia, and since he had never taken US citizenship (he was a Brit), when the heat started coming from McCarthy and his crew he ended up moving over to Switzerland. Mind you, by this time the popularity that he had enjoyed in his younger years had long gone.

Chaplin's most famous character is The Tramp, a character that we are pretty much all familiar with. The interesting thing is that the Tramp appears in quite a lot of his films, and is literally his signature character. In fact, when you see him out of costume he is actually unrecognisable. However, this character seems to reflect Chaplin's younger years in that he actually grew up in poverty, and it was only due to a lucky break that he not only entered the budding film industry, but rose to take the industry by storm. Mind you, with fame comes controversy, and it is interesting to note that Chaplin had a number of wives, some of them being the leading ladies (including Paula, who started opposite him in this film).

Another interesting thing about Chaplin is that he was a perfectionist, but then again a lot of directors fall into this category - Hitchcock was another. However, Chaplin effectively took complete creative control over the film, being not only the actor, but the writer and the director as well. Finally, as I have mentioned, Chaplin is more than just slapstick, he is also quite satirical, and in many ways the jokes seem to sit with you long after the film has ended. I also notice, rather interestingly, that even though by this time sound had been developed, Chaplin seemed to prefer to continue to use the silent style in his films.


There a number of topics I wish to touch upon, and Modern Times does draw them out. The first is the idea of industrialisation and mechanisation and how it is destructive towards the human soul. The film begins in a factory and Charlie is on an assembly line tightening bolts. However the factory owner isn't happy because production isn't going fast enough, so he is looking for ways to speed it up. One method is by bringing in a device that is designed to feed the worker while they are working, so as to eliminate the need for a lunch break - however the machine doesn't work, and poor Charlie has to suffer through it. The other way is simply to speed things up, which eventually causes Charlie to have a nervous breakdown.

It is interesting to see how these two ways are filtering into our workplace - digitalisation and computerisation is looking to make life easier for workers, but everytime a new system comes on line it ends up breaking down and causing no end of troubles. Mind you, they always press ahead with it. However, employers have always been looking at ways of getting the most out of their employees, whether it is clocking on and clocking off, or logging into your computers - the hours worked and the hours paid are measured to the second. Mind you, one of the main reasons that we have lunch breaks is that it is mandated by law.

However, the other ways that employers look to increase value is to continue to raise the standards expected of the employees. In a way more work is expected from less employees - and the employees that are working are expected to maintain the high standards that are demanded of employers. In a way what we see in Chaplin's time is in many ways similar to what we are seeing now - the film is set during the Great Depression, and profits are scare, so companies end up looking for ways of increasing those profits by not only demanding more from workers, but also cutting back on costs so as to keep such costs down - having too many workers, even though they may make things easier during busy times, end up causing a drain on the profits, so employees are simply expected to put up with it during busy times because, well, you have a job so be grateful.

Obviously Chaplin couldn't handle the pressure because everything eventually started to look like a bolt to be turned, and he started chasing people everywhere before collapsing and being carted off in an ambulance. Well, obviously he couldn't handle it, so that's his problem and not the employers, so he has effectively be hung out to dry.

Poverty in the Great Depression

When Chaplin is released from hospital we find that he now takes on the persona of the tramp, namely he is unemployed in an era when unemployment is rife. However, the movie goes much deeper into the nature of poverty than simply being poor, because despite going hungry, to take food without paying is theft, and theft is a crime. One interesting thing though is that Chaplin seems to regularly land up in prison, even if he technically hasn't done anything wrong. For instance a red flag falls of the back of a truck, so he picks it up in an attempt to attract the truck driver's attention, however unbeknowst to him, a protest march materialises behind him, and he is then arrested and locked up for being a communist agitator.

Let us also consider his girlfriend - she is doing what she can to try and get something to eat, however she doesn't actually have any money, so she resorts to theft. However, despite the need for food, theft is still theft and she lands up in gaol. The interesting thing is that Chaplin seems to prefer life in gaol - he is fed regularly, his life is regulated, and he doesn't go without, however after heroically (and rather accidentally), preventing a breakout he is set free, but he wants to go back, so he takes the blame for the theft of the bread - except that the witness steps forward, says he is innocent, and than the woman is actually the thief.

In a way this is morality gone absolutely wrong - in fact it isn't morality, it is legalism. I remember working in a supermarket stacking shelves at night, and was told that the supermarket bosses are actually more concerned about employee theft than about shoplifters. In a way somebody stealing food for a starving family is considered a necesity, where as employee theft is in a sense an abuse of one's position. No wonder employers want to make an example of an employee thief. However, when a member of the public stole something from the food aisle then general consensus among the staff was basically to let him do it and to say nothing.

So, I raise the question as to whether we would actually do anything if we saw somebody stealing a loaf of bread. Well, these days what actually happens is that the homeless and the poor dumpster dump - that is they break into the dumpsters out the back of the supermarkets where all of the food that exceeds the used-by date is thrown, and take that. However, in my mind, there is just something totally wrong with throwing away food - with so much poverty and starvation in the world the idea of throwing away food is, to me, an abomination. However, the other interesting thing is that the Christian Right gets so caught up with abortion that they will cite stats as to the number of fetus' murdered, but turn blind eye to the huge number of children that die due to not being able to have enough to eat.

So the question that I raise is: how many capitalist countries have successfully lifted their entire population out of poverty?

The Union Movement

Well, the interesting thing is that the Union Movement doesn't get spared either. The thing with unions is that they theoretically, in a purely free market society, should be able to exist. Yet unions shouldn't have a monopoly on employment since that undermines the core principles of the free market. Personally, I think Unions have provided a lot of good things in society, but then again so have corporations. For instance, without unions we wouldn't have the eight hour day, sick pay, or annual leave, but then again without corporations we wouldn't have, well, luxuries that we could pretty much live without.

Come to think of it, casuals don't get sick leave or holidays - it is either come to work or we find somebody else to do your job. Mind you, I live in Australia so we have laws in relation to employment, though if you are a casual, you still don't get sick days or holidays. However, you do get penalty rates, which basically means if you work more than your eight hours a day, and at times when people are home with their families, then you get paid more. Mind you, the employers want to get rid of that because, well, it makes them uncompetitive, but in my mind it is just because they want to make more money because they aren't happy with what they have.

However, there is a nasty side of unions as well. A friend of mine told me once that he worked in an industry (the automotive industry) where the unions had such control that you didn't have to do anything unless the union gave you the go ahead, and your employer still had to pay you. I have also heard of unions picketing and bullying small businesses to force them to do things that the corporations don't need to do because, well, they are corporations and these crackpot small unions really have no power over them (and the union that does is basically in their pockets anyway).

The thing with unions is that, like corporations, they have their place, and they have their benefits, however like corporations the power that they can wield can and does get abused. For instance, in the film Chaplin gets a job in the factory, but out of the blue the union comes along and calls a strike, and the thing is that because you work in the factory you are a member of the union, and if you are a member of the union, well, the union pretty much dictates what you do. In fact in Australia the construction industry is pretty much controlled by the union - unless you are a member of the union you pretty much cannot get a job in the construction industry, and you cannot join the union unless you are working in the construction industry - it is a vicious cycle that keeps wages at an unrealistically high level, though the Australian Liberal Party, which is the right-wing party, has approved the developers to be able to import labour from China, which is a way to undercutting the power of the union.

The American Dream

So, we now move onto the idea of the American dream, that is that through hard work one can achieve a good life and be happy. This idea of the dream is actually genius because it means that people in the United States don't see themselves as being oppressed but rather as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. As Chaplin says at the end, the dream is still true, despite the fact that they are wanted by the police, because this is America and the Amercian dream is always there, just over the horizon.

Yet in many ways it is like the carrot and the stick - it is held out as a possibility, that anybody can become president, that the people of the nation are free to do what they want. Yet they aren't - if you have a criminal conviction you can't vote, at all, or at least until you receive a pardon from the President. Sure, Robert Downey Jnr received a pardon, but there are many, many other people out there that haven't. In fact the American system seems to have more people disenfranchised than say, Australia. In Australia it doesn't matter if you have a criminal record, you can still run for parliament and you can still vote. Mind you, you won't get an endorsement from the major parties, but there is nothing disqualifying you from running - unless you happen to be in prison, or have a trial pending.

It is this dream that keeps people under control, and it doesn't matter if they have been wiped out due to business failures because you can always claim bankruptcy, pick yourself up, and try again. Mind you, that is all well and good if you are an entrepreneur, or a charismatic businessman, but not if you are just your typical labourer. Mind you there was a time when you could have an unskilled job and still earn a decent wage and be able to buy a home and enjoy the luxuries of society - yet sadly those days have long gone. When you hear stories of software engineers sleeping in their cars because the rent in the San Francisco bay area is so expensive then something is probably quite wrong.

Yet the other nature of humanity is that if we are given something for free then we end up demanding so much more. I knew a guy that was on a disability pension and was provided housing by the government, yet he never saw that as a privilege, but as a right. In fact he even refused to pay the small amount of rent that he was asked to pay because he believed that the government owed him that house. Mind you, they decided to intervene and take control of his finances, but once again he threw a tantrum because, despite the fact that the government was giving the money to him, it was still his money and if he wanted to put it into the pokies then it was his right. Okay, while that may be an extreme case, it is still an example of our entitlement attitude - which is why the idea of working for the dream mentality does actually encourage people to be productive.

Chaplin's Politics

 I was going to write a section on Charlie Chaplin's policies but I believe that I have covered much of that above. However, the interesting thing is his response to World War II, particularly with his support of Soviet Russia and his desire for the US to provide more support to them. Interestingly Theo La Sing, otherwise known as Dr Suess, also was agitating for the United States to enter the war because he saw the dangers that the Nazi regime posed. The scary thing is that while people may not necessarily consider themselves Nazis, there is still a rather nasty racist streak that runs through our society. Yet I still feel that we need to be careful not to confuse religion with race because I can see that ending really badly. However, I probably should mention that the left doesn't particularly like the attitudes of fundamentalist Islam's attitude towards women.

Creative Commons License

Survival in the Mordern Times 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

Monday, 13 February 2017

Avengers Phase 2 - The Infinity Stones

Well, I have now watched the movies in what has been termed as Phase II, though it seems that this will be the shortest phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which Wikipedia suggests will end with Avengers: Infinity Wars Parts 1 and 2). Another thing that I noticed was that some suggest that this phase ends with Avengers: Age of Ultron, while another ends with Antman. Okay, while I have recently watched Antman, Captain America: Civil War, and Dr Strange, I was going include them just so the phase three post doesn't blow out beyond all proportions, but it has been a while since I have seen those movies so I might leave it for when I give then a refresher (and anyway there is nothing stopping my from writing another post later on in the year).

Anyway, Phase Two seems to bring in the plot of the Infinity Stones. Okay, there were two infinity stones appearing in Phase 1, however it isn't until the end of Phase 2 that we begin to learn more about them. I have provided a link to the Marvel Cinematic Wiki entry above, but before I look at the movies individually, I'll provide a list of the infinity stones that we currently know about, and where I believe they are located.

Space Stone: This was originally in the tesseract, and is currently located in Asagard. It is blue and it's power is to allow the user to open a gate to anywhere in the universe. However, the stone was used by Hydra during World War II to create some incredibly powerful weapons, as we saw in Captain America.

Mind Stone: This was originally the stone in Loki's staff in the first Avengers movie, but is now in Vision's forehead. The stone allows the user to reprogram other's minds, and is considered a very powerful computer (which resulted in the creation of Ultron). After Loki was defeated in the original Avengers movie, it passed into the possession of SHIELD, and then fell into the hands of Hydra.

Aether: This is the red infinity stone, and first appears in Thor: The Dark World. At first it appears as just another powerful artifact, until it is handed to the Collector and is informed that 'it is not good to keep two infinity stones in close proximity'. However, it is not revealed as an infinity stone, albeit in liquid form, until the Age of Ultron. The last known location was in the Collector's museum, but the events in Guardian's of the Galaxy (where the Collector's museum was blown up), may have resulted in the Aether disappearing. This stone possesses the user and gives them incredible powers (usually defensive).

Power Stone: The purple infinity stone is basically a power source that has the capabilities of obliterating an entire planet. It is currently in the possession of Nova Corps, having been given to them by Peter Quinn at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy. The power stone was responsible for destroying the Collector's museum.

Anyway, that is all we know about the Infinity Stones so far, and there are another two that have yet to be revealed. The infinity stones are intended to go into the infinity gauntlet, which we see Thanos take at the end of Age of Ultron, and when they are in the gauntlet, it gives the wielder the power to basically destroy the universe.

Iron Man Three

This is the first movie after The Avengers, and we return to Tony Stark's world where he is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress disorder after sending a nuclear missile into a wormhole and destroying the Chitari mothership. It seems that Stark has matured a lot since we first met him, yet his still has a few issues, particularly since he invites a terrorist to visit him by advertising his address on national media. Once again, we see Pepper Potts (and it is confirmed she is in a relationship with Stark) is running Stark Industries while Tony Stark is working on his Iron Man project. However it appears that Stark is starting to get quite bored with the whole superhero project and is beginning to look for a way out.

Anyway, the United States is being terrorised by The Mandarin, who in the original comics is the head of the Ten Rings (and whenever he appears on television we see his broadcast opening with the symbol of the Ten Rings), however the Ten Rings aren't mentioned in this move. The story begins back in the year 1999, just before New Years Eve, where Stark is at a party in Bern and takes a woman back to his room. Actually, this isn't any woman because she is a geneticist who is working on a regenerative formula. He is approached by another scientist that wants Stark to fund his research, however Stark rejects him, and proceeds to forget about the whole encounter.

As Tony says at the beginning of the film, this is about how his past comes back to haunt him, and not only does this woman from the past return, but so does the scientist. Back in 1999 he was a cripple, but he appears as a rather fit, and strong, individual - also quite attractive. Once again he is rejected, so he disappears into the night, but he hasn't vanished. The thing is that The Mandarin is setting off bombs around the United States, and after Happy, one of Stark's lackies, is seriously injured in an attack, Stark takes it personally. However, after challenging the Mandarin to a fight on national television, his house in Malibu is attacked and Stark is left for dead. This is actually quite useful because it means that he can now investigate the Mandarin without having too much attention drawn to himself.

The main theme of this film is how the past comes back to haunt you, and the Mandarin is actually one of my favourite villains in the series so far. In fact the whole concept of appearance and reality is also a major theme. We are given one impression of who the Mandarin is, however it soon turns out to be a distraction, as the Mandarin is actually somebody completely different. In fact the Mandarin isn't so much a person, but an idea - and the idea is to get back at Tony Stark.

There are hints dropped throughout the film as to what is actually going on. For instance with the flashback in Bern we see Happy playing with the plant, and the plant explodes, namely because the regenerative formula is actually very volatile. Soon enough it becomes evident that the explosions aren't actually bombs, but rather the misuse of this formula. However, the catch is that this formula provide opportunities to people who would not have such opportunities afterwards. For instance the wounded soldier and the disabled. What this does is that it creates an opportunity for the Mandarin to leverage people to his own will.

Personally, I don't want to say anymore about this film because this is actually, to date, my favourite Iron Man film, and I really don't want to spoil it any more.

Thor: The Dark World

This is the second stand-alone Thor movie and it is suggested that the reason that they have shifted to the more fantasy element of Asgard and the Viking mythology is so that the viewers don't suffer superhero fatigue. It is all well and good to release two movies from the Marvel Universe every year,  however if the films are too similar to each other then people end up becoming bored. Mind you, Thor is a major member of the Avengers, and his own story line moves away from the stereotypical superhero vs supervillain plot line that we seem to get a little too much of these days. Instead, Thor is more in line with a fantasy movie, and in fact a majority of The Dark World takes place off of Earth.

Jane Foster (who has an interesting story arc in the comics) is approached by her friend Darcy Lewis who tells her of an anomaly in a warehouse in Central London which appears to be some sort of warp field. Professor Selvig, who played an important role in The Avengers, has landed up in a mental asylum after running around Stonehenge completely naked trying to measure some other anomalies. Anyway, Jane gets caught up in the anomaly and finds a huge block of stone which, when she touches it, released the Aether into her (which as I have mentioned above is one of the infinity stones, except that it is in a fluid form). The Aether is basically a powerful weapon that turns the wielder into a superhero, and it was previously wielded by the Dark Elves, until they were defeated by Odin's father (the Asgardians aren't actually immortal, they are just very long lived, and very powerful).

Most of the film is set in Asgard, though Thor does get into trouble when he brings Jane back, namely because humans aren't supposed to come to Asgard (though it appears that the only people allowed in Asgard are the Asgardians, though we must remember that Loki is actually a Frost Giant). We also travel to a place known as the Dark World, which is actually the resting place of the Dark Elves, before returning to Earth (and Greenwich Village) for the grand finale.

When I looked at my review of The Dark World on IMDB I originally gave it a four, however having watched it a second time I feel that I undercut it somewhat. Mind you, I'm not going to change my rating namely because it was my first impression, and first impressions count a lot, especially when it comes to watching movies. On the other hand it didn't seem to add all that much to the Marvel Universe, but then again it does introduce the red infinity stone, though it is not referred to as such (and is hinted at the end when they hand the Aether to the Collector, whom I have discovered is one of the Masters).

The other thing that I found a little difficult to swallow is the whole Thor and Jane relationship - it just seemed a little odd. However we should remember that in the first Thor movie Thor was forced to live as a mortal, and as such he comes to understand what it is like to be a mortal, and also it was when he first met Jane. The other thing is that it is not out of line from the comics because Jane is also Thor's romantic interest there. However, for me, it just doesn't seem to work that well and seems to be a little soppy.

Another thing I will mention before I move onto Captain America is the idea of the juxtaposition between science and magic. In many ways we see science and magic as completely different entities - science can be explained, magic can't, and in a world that is ruled by science magic is obsolete. In fact, the way we view the world today is that magic simply doesn't exist because science rules. However, the thing with magic is that it is something that can't be explained by science, and as soon as it is explained by science it ceases to be magic - in a way they are two sides of the same coin. The thing with our world is that magic doesn't exist namely because as far as we are concerned everything has an answer, and if we can't explain it then we just apply some more science and, as far as we are concerned, sooner or later the answer will become clear.

Captain America - The Winter Soldier

The Winter Soldier is probably one of my favourite movies and addresses the conflict between freedom and security (though it goes a lot deeper with the belief of the main antagonist that ordinary people are not capable of using their freedom wisely, and as such should be denied that freedom). We begin the movie with Cap a fully fledged member of Shield, but still trying to find his way in this new world. In a way he is still very much out of place, especially since many of his friends have been left behind in the past. Still, he is beginning to make some new friends, including Sam Wilson (who is The Falcon) and Natasha Romanov.

The film opens with him running around the pond in the Mall, and then being summoned by Shield to deal with some pirates on a ship out a sea. However, while he is doing his Captain America stuff (beating up bad guys), he discovers Romanov down-loading some stuff from the ship's computers. Obviously he is a little upset that he is being left out of the loop, and confronts Nick Fury about this. Then, on his way home, Fury is confronted by some cops, but it turns out that these aren't actually cops (namely because his car's computer tells him as such). Thus a gun fight erupts in the heart of Washington DC. During the gunfight, Fury confronts a mysterious masked soldier, before escaping into the sewers.

When Cap arrives home he discovers that Fury has made himself home in his apartment, but an assassin turns up kills him. Cap then returns to Shield headquarters to discover that he has become a wanted criminal, so after he and Romanov give the Shield operatives the slip, they learn that the data that she lifted from the computer points them to the army base where Cap originally trained. After making their way to the base they discover that there is more than meets the eye, and the base actually hides not just a Shield base, but a Hydra base inside the Shield base, where one of Cap's old enemies is hibernating. Cap discovers that not is all as it seems.

Anyway, as I have mentioned, the major theme of this film is the question of security vs freedom, though Hydra's form of security is to profile everybody in the world and to kill those who don't fit the profile of the subservient pleb. Mind you, this raises the question of whether this is to create a productive world, or a beautiful world. In the sense of Hydra, they seem to view it in the perspective that a free population gets in the way of their plans, and as such the population needs to be subjugated. The problem is, as they discovered in World War II, they won't go without a fight, which is why they have move from forceful subjugation to willing subjugation.

The principle is simple, and seems to be playing out in the world today. We scare the population through acts of terrorism, and a scared population will be willing to give up their rights for protection. However, if there is too much peace then the population becomes agitated, so you need to continue to scare them through sporadic attacks. However, by providing security they deny liberty, but a scared population is more concerned with protection than freedom. However, it goes further, because then people are profiled based on whether they will be a threat - no so much a terrorist threat, but a threat to the system, and they need to be put out of the way as well. 

It is suggestive, though, that Hydra represents the corporatocracy - their version of freedom isn't personal freedom but economic freedom. In fact both terms are treated interchangeably when in reality they are not - economic freedom is basically the freedom of business people to make money without interference by the government. However, the catch is that these businesses will do what they can to prevent anything interfering in their ability to generate a profit, which includes people criticising them even if the criticism is justified (just look at the McLibel case to see this in action - the main website is here).

However this also comes to the dichotomy that happens to be SHIELD - while they do have a noble purpose, in reality they have become the enforcement arm of Hydra. This is in many ways reflective of the police, though it is interesting that when Sir Robert Peel first suggested such an organisation he was met with derision and opposition. In a way he was just replacing the army with a, well, different army wearing a different uniform. However the police do provide an important service - they keep the nation safe, and they make sure that people not only obey the laws, but that there is order and peace. This was also the original purpose for Shield, to act as a defense against aggression, however they had been infiltrated, and their original goal (as has been suggested with the police in our world) has been subsumed to protect the interests of those in power.

Guardians of the Galaxy

As the creators suggested, they were looking at making the Marvel Cinematic Universe much more than just a bunch of Superhero movies, and they have certainly done that with Guardians of the Galaxy, otherwise known as the Galactic Avengers. Basically the Guardians are a group of rouges who have given themselves the name, and have accidentally been caught up with an incident regarding Thanos and the Infinity Stones. Actually since the movie is set away from Earth, it feels much closer to the action than it does when we are on Earth, namely because Thanos seems to be sitting in the background for most of the time.

Anyway, the movie focuses on Peter Quinn, who is kidnapped by aliens after he runs out of the hospital after the death of his mother. The movie the jumps to the present where Peter is in a derelict ship basically trying to steal an orb when his old compatriots appear to take it from him. However Peter escapes and heads off to the planet Xandar, the capital of the Nova Empire. Ronan, the villain of the piece, sends an assassin, Gamora, to get the orb, and when she encounters Quinn a fight ensures, dragging a cybernetic raccoon and a treeman into it. The fight results in everybody's arrest and sentence to imprisonment in the Kyln, a prison Asteroid.

This is where Drax comes in because he learns that Gamora is the (adopted) daughter of Thanos, the entity who destroyed his family, and vows to kill her. Quinn intervenes. Anyway, to cut a long story short, they escape, discover an infinity stone in the middle of the orb, blow up a laboratory, and then end up having a massive space battle above Nova Prime, eventually defeating Ronan and recovering the infinity stone.

The interesting thing with this film is that while it is subtle, there is a suggestion that Peter isn't actually human. Mind you, I didn't pick it up until I read one of the comics to discover that the reason he calls himself Starlord is not because he has tickets on himself, but because his father is actually a rather powerful galactic entity. However, in the film all that is said of him was that his father is an angel and will return to Earth one day, everything else is a mystery. However, it is possible that the movies will move in a different direction than the comics, even though the comics have been rebooted to fall further in line with the films.

In this film the infinity stone is a major plot device, however in Thor: The Dark World, the Aether Stone was left with the collector, whose lab was blown up in this film when The Collector attempted to experiment on this infinity stone. As such what happened to the red infinity stone is left somewhat up in the air, though in the end credits we do have the Collector sitting down having a chat with Howard the Duck, though I have been told that unfortunately this isn't going to be an opening to a Howard the Duck movie.

The other thing with this film is that Thanos is playing a much greater role. In the previous films he is basically behind the scenes (even though he had met with Loki), however he is starting to come out of the shadows now. Here it is clear that the antagonist, Ronan, is taking his orders directly from Thanos, and also one of the heroes (or should I say anti-heroes because that is what the Galactic Avengers actually are), Gamora, happens to be his daughter. Still, there are a few mysteries, such as who Peter Quinn's father is, but hopefully that will be revealed in the sequel.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Well, this is basically where the infinity stone plot line really begins, though it had been building up to this point for a while. As we know from Winter Soldier, SHIELD had been infiltrated by Hydra, and basically they had managed to get hold of Loki's Sceptre, which contained one of the infinity stones. We also have the two characters, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who were introduced at the end of Winter Soldier, coming into play in this film.

Anyway, Age of Ultron opens with the Avengers storming the Hydra base to get the sceptre back, in which they are successful. However, back at the headquarters, Stark and Banner, the scientists of the group, decide to experiment on the infinity stone to see if they can harness its power, and accidentally create Ultron, an artificial intelligence that ends up escaping and suddenly wrecking havoc across the world. As such, the Avengers have to attempt to get this creature under control, despite the fact that he has access to the internet which basically means anything and everything is at his disposal. What makes it even more dangerous is that Stark's computer, JARVIS, was the computer that gave birth of Ultron.

One of the ideas that comes out in this film is how humanity seems to have this ability to create things that brings us to the edge of destruction. Actually, this has really only become more and more relevant in these days and ages, though interestingly enough the black plague entered Europe through the use of biological warfare out on the Russian Steppes. However, our modern scientific world has created things that are impossible to get rid off, and it isn't just nuclear power, but the fact that governments and other organisations can collect much, much more information on us than ever before. The other thing is that we can be controlled much more easily, with the use of mass media, though computer technology is starting to change that in the way that the internet has basically made everybody a publisher.

The other thing is that we begin to see the possibility for bad things to happen to the Avengers - the old adage of great power brings great responsibility really comes into play in this film. Here we have them causing huge amounts of destruction in Africa, South Korea, and the Balkans, and it is clear that the world isn't going to sit back and let them do this. More so, since Stark and Banner were responsible for the release of Ultron into the world, then there is likely to be much more criticism of the actions on the Avengers as there was in the pass. Of course, this whole attempting to control the Avengers has been simmering throughout the series, but it is clear that after the events in this film, something is going to have to be done.

Creative Commons License

Avengers Phase 2 - The Infinity Stones 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

Friday, 10 February 2017

Shakesperian Connundrums - or are They?

I've just finished reading a book, Henry V, War Criminal and Other Shakespearian Puzzles, which explores a number of puzzles, and apparent contradictions, in some (or in fact most) of Shakespeare's plays. I guess when you happen to be this hugely famous author any little mistake, or apparent mistake, is suddenly scrutinised extensively, and debated over by academics of all stripes. Then we have somebody like Shakespeare, who in many cases is viewed as not just one of, but the greatest, writer that the English language has ever produced, and we are speaking of a language that has produced countless numbers of great writers. However while writers such as Charles Dickens can produce a love/hate relationship, Shakespeare seems to be loved by all (except for those high school students who are forced to study his plays).

I guess when somebody is held in such high regards, their works will tend to be studied a lot closer - there are countless libraries of books written about Shakespeare and his various works, and if you have a look at some of my previous posts you will see that a number of them are about some of Shakespeares' plays, but then again that does have something to do with me going out to see these plays, and then writing about them when I get home (though to date I have yet to get around to writing about the production of the Scottish Play that I saw at The Globe - probably because it is The Scottish Play). Anyway, for those who are new to the blog, here is a list of the published Shakesperian posts so far:

The thing with Shakespeare is that his plays are so indepth, and the characters so realistic, that it is hard not to be able to write, and continue to write, about his plays, and to continue to perform them in new and imaginative ways. It is also hard to see meanings and ideas that are still relevant today, whether it be in the halls of the power, in the boardrooms, or even just in the family home - in fact Hamlet need not be performed in a castle in Denmark, but in a house in the outer suburbs of a major city.

Yet Shakespeare is also scrutinised, but that is not surprising because people do hold him in such high regard. In fact one could even consider him to have been diefied by the Anglo people - he holds the position of a god of literature. Mind you, if it wasn't for the fact that the Anglo-European world is a Christian world, Shakespeare probably would have become a god, though I do note that the great philosophers and writers of the ancient world were never deified, whereas the Roman emperors where (but then again that is probably because the Roman Emperors actually claimed to be gods).

In a way this probably also answers the question as to why the Bible is scruitinised so much more heavily than other books. Christians are forever crying unfair that the Bible is scrutinised much than the Odyssey, when we have so many more source materials that were written much closer to the original manuscripts of the Bible than we do for the Odyssey. The reason for this is because the Odyssey does not purport to be a holy book or claim to have the answers to life, the universe, and everything, where as the Bible does. In fact the Bible claims to be about this guy who runs around first century Palestine purporting to be God in the Flesh, and then died, and came back to life. With claims like that, of course it is going to be scrutinised.

Poetic License

Each of the chapters of the book explores an aspect of one of the plays that appears to be, on the surface, quite puzzling. One of these things happens to be why time seems to be so compressed. For instance, in Richard II, we have, within a very short space of time, King Richard forming an army, crossing the Irish Sea, subduing the Irish, and then coming back home. In the mean time we have the banished Henry Bollingbrooke suddenly raise another army of supporters, cross over to England, and seize the throne. All in a matter of months (or even within a much shorter space of time).

Well, the answer to that was simply 'warp speed'. That is that like in Star Trek, where the writers created warp speed so that the immense distances between the stars can be traveled in a reasonable amount of time to actually make the series work. If, for instance, it took hundreds, or even thousands, of years for a message to get from the Enterprise to Earth, and back again, then the show wouldn't work. Similarly if it took the same amount of time to get from planet A to planet B. Further, due to problems such as inertia, if the Enterprise even went from a stationary position to impulse speed, pretty much the entire crew would find themselves as splats on the back wall.

The authors suggest that this is a similar case with Shakespeare, though I have to admit that this, like a number of their suggestions, is a little disappointing. The reality is that Shakespeare is compressing quite a lot of action into what is in effect a play that would probably last between two to three hours. Further more, all of this action is happening on a small stage with little in the way of props. As such this whole compressing of time is actually unnecessary. Mind you, when I watch Richard II the last thought that goes through my mind was 'gee, how did Henry Bollingbrooke raise an army in such a short amount of time'. Instead I explore how the characters interact, and the ideas that come out of the play.

In the same way is the question of what season it is in Denmark. It is bitterly cold up on the battlements, but King Hamlet was killed while relaxing in his garden. If it was the middle of winter, then it is highly unlikely that the king would be sleeping in the garden - he would no doubt have died of frost bite or pneumonia without Claudius even needing to raise a finger. Once again, we have poetic license, and to be honest, when I am watching Hamlet, the last thing I am asking is 'gee, how was it that King Hamlet didn't catch a cold'. Actually, because I have seen the play so many times, the question I'm usually asking, especially if it is a particularly bad performance, is 'when is this going to end?'

The Ghost

Well, on the subject of Hamlet, let us raise the question of the infamous ghost, especially since this is something that I have queried and explored in the past. In Julius Caeser, and MacBeth, we have ghosts also appearing, but we never actually bat an eyelid at it. For instance, I have never questioned whether the ghost of Julius Caeser, when it confronts Brutus, is a demon or not, but for some reason I do when it comes to the ghost in Hamlet. As I have since discovered I'm not the only person who raises this question, but I suspect the main reason is that Hamlet doesn't necessarily take this ghost at his word. In fact, when we look at Hamlet and the fact that he doesn't just rush off and lop off Claudius' head suggests that he at least wants some further proof that Claudius is the murderer. Look, the reality is that Hamlet isn't a big fan of Claudius anyway, and being told by a spirit that Claudius is also his father's murderer would be just enough reason for him to do the guy in - but he doesn't. To me it shows that Hamlet isn't indecisive, but quite clear headed and willing to bide his time.

The interesting thing is that the play is set in Denmark, which at the time was clearly a protestant country. This basically means that the belief was that when somebody died they either went straight to heaven, or straight to hell. Personally, even though I'm a Protestant I don't think it is as straight forward as that, but I won't get too theological. Anyway, being a protestant country suggests that their view on ghosts would be that there is no possible way that they could be the deceased, and as such the only thing that they could be would be a demon.

Except Hamlet wasn't set in the contemporary era - this is clear when Hamlet is sent to England. There is mention of the Danelaw, which was a part of England during the medieval ages which was ruled by Denmark. The suggestion, or at least the impression, that I have had was that Hamlet was set not in 15th Century Denmark, but in Medieval Denmark. Mind you, that is also going to cause problems because medieval Denmark wasn't Christian, or at least it didn't become Christian until the late 900s, and Amleth, the mythological character upon which Hamlet is based, was said to have lived much earlier. Further, we also have Hamlet find Claudius praying and has the perfect opportunity to kill him, except he doesn't due to the belief, a Catholic belief, that if somebody is killed while praying then they go straight to heaven.

Okay, Hamlet was also attending university at Wittemberg, and when Amleth was running around universities basically didn't exist. Also Wittenberg was the same town in which Martin Luther famously vandalised the doors of the Cathedral with 95 Theses. So, the question was why Hamlet, who was studying at a protestant university in a protestant country, suddenly resorting to Catholic dogma. The answer was that it was because Hamlet was too torn up with grief to think straight, but honestly grief has nothing to do with whether you believe protestant or Catholic doctrine, rather it probably has a lot more to do with Hamlet being set prior to the protestant reformation.

Or poetic license.


One of the criticisms, or curiosties, that regularly comes about with Shakespeare, is the whole striking of the clock in Julius Ceaser. Okay, there is also the suggestion that the floors were wooden when in fact Roman floors were made of stone, but that doesn't come up as often as the whole clock thing. What people are claiming is that this was an anachronism because the Roman's didn't have clocks, or at least none that we have found. Sutherland and Watts actually explore this conundrum quite deeply, and come out with a rather interesting explanation, which didn't involve Shakespeare not knowing his Roman history.

The thing with Rome is that it was a massive Empire, as we probably all know, and massive empires generally aren't run on vague assumptions of time. Consider our society and how much time rules our lives. We have to be at work at a certain time, and we have to work a certain amount of time, or at least a minimum amount of time. Okay, some of us may be fortunate to work in a role where time isn't actually important, as long as we get our work done, however for the most part our lives are basically ruled by the clock.

This would have been no different in a metropolis, and capital, of a major superpower - the Romans would have needed much more accurate ways of being able to tell the time, such as the sundial. Well, the sundial is actually a pretty shocking way of telling the time, but without mechanical clocks it was the best that they had. Also, there were hour glasses, since sundials have this annoying habit of not working at night. The other method was having somebody ringing a bell every hour on the hour (which I must admit would have been rather annoying trying to get to sleep with all that bell ringing going on).

So, this is where we come to the usage of the word clock - the French word is horloge, which as you can probably tell looks nothing like the word clock, so obviously the English word didn't come from the French. In German it is Uhr, from which our work hour comes from (though interestingly it also comes from the French word heure), however the German word for bell is Glock. Even more interesting the Dutch word for bell is Klok which, as you have probably worked out by now, sounds, and looks, a lot like the English word clock. Thus, our word for clock originates from the word for bell, which when putting it into that context, makes a little more sense and suggests that it wasn't a clock that was striking the hour but a bell.

Okay, maybe I'm (and the authors) were stretching things out a bit there, but still, it works, though I'm sure people are just going to continue to claim that Shakespeare was anachronistic, unless of course the Romans did have clocks. It's just that we haven't found any.


One of the interesting things in Shakespeare is the role of woman - they can actually play some pretty strong characters, and even pass off as men. Mind you, not all of Shakespeare's women are strong, just those that are thrown into a position where they are forced to take on masculine roles (and will usually disguise themselves as men to do so). However, that does raise the question of the role of woman in Shakespeare's society. Well, first of all they weren't allowed to act, which was a little odd because they were allowed to be queen - though I suspect that there were a number of people that weren't too happy with Elizabeth on the throne. Mind you, there is also the argument in Henry V that the king of France was illegitimate because he came through the female line, and the female line could not produce an heir to the throne.

Yet the thing that stood out to me in this book was in relation to Juliette. Okay, Romeo and Juliette is not one of my favourite plays, and you can probably blame Leonardo Di Caprio for that (and also that it is hyped up so much more than other plays). As a side note it is interesting that the term Romeo, usually referring to a male who is has a way with attracting women, has come into regular usage in our language. Mind you, the word Romantic doesn't actually come from Romeo, or actually it could - though French is a romantic language in more ways than one. Another thing, the name Romeo actually refers to somebody who is a pilgrim, in particular a pilgrim to Rome, but I digress.

So, we have a thirteen year old woman, madly in love with a sixteen year old man, who happens to be from the family that is at war with her family, and she is pledged to be married to somebody else. Well, that had nothing to do with the idea, because what they were talking about was how in Renaissance Italy, if a woman didn't bleed on her wedding night then it was clear that she wasn't a virgin, and as such the husband had the right to kill her - in either way her blood would be on that sheet that was hanging out of the window.

In a way that seems to relate to the whole argument with regards to abortion - that a woman should have the right to do what she wants with her body. Honestly, I'm not a big fan of abortion, especially when it is used as a form of contraceptive, and that people are basically wanting to have their cake and eat it too. However, the problem is that men are notorious for disappearing when it becomes apparent that a woman has become pregnant, and that leaving the poor woman to raise a baby by herself. While I don't believe this is grounds for abortion, I do believe that there should be support for the woman and the child - to deny the woman access to abortion for the sake of the child, and to then demonise her for being a whore, goes to show that the child actually isn't the issue.

Which brings me back to the blood on the sheets. I have to admit that our society has come a long way since the days when a woman would be murdered for not being a virgin, but we still live in the world where men can be sluts, while the women are punished. In many ways the abortion question, just like the blood on the sheets, is a way of oppressing and controlling women - there was no way that a man was going to be killed because it came about that he wasn't a virgin on his wedding night. In fact it was probably highly unlikely that he would have been a virgin.

Gender Identities

I probably have little more to say about this aspect to Shakespeare than I have already said in my other posts on As You Like It (which is the one play that really messes around with the idea of Gender Identity). I remember being at University and reacting horribly against the idea that there could be more than one Gender, or that one could change one's Gender. This was a concept that to my conservative Christian mind I simply could not accept - as far as I was concerned the lecturer was simply messed up, and basically hated Christians. Well, one of my friends that actually took her class did tell me that she hated Christians, so I had pretty much written her off by then.

That is until I came back to As You Like It years later to discover that she was right. Well, she did come across as being a bit too obsessed with sex, and there is much, much more to life than sex, but then again when you come back to Shakespeare you suddenly discover that not only is he pretty much obsessed with sex, but he has a pretty dirty mind as well. I was under the impression that the homeo-erotic relationship between Antonio and Bassiano in Merchant of Venice was an after thought added by Hollywood, when in reality Shakespeare, with out explicitly stating it, does quite heavily imply it.

Anyway, while I could be wrong, there is a problem with this whole gender identity thing anyway - it is always the woman changing to a man, never a man changing to a women, or at least as far as I am aware. The only time a man becomes a women is when the man that becomes a woman was a woman in the first place. Okay, that isn't actually taking into account the idea that the female characters on stage were played by boys, or the idea that is suggested in Twelfth Night that a boy has fled to Illyria to escape the snip (in Italy at the time, boys would be castrated for the opera so that their voice wouldn't break), but it is still something to ponder.

Come to think of it, maybe the whole Gender Identity aspect to Shakespeare is something that was made up by late 20th Century university professors.

Anyway, to finish off here is an interesting Shakesperian infographic I found on the Internet

And here is a link to one of many websites dedicated to the works of the Bard - Shakespeare Solved.

Creative Commons License

Shakesperian Connundrums - or are They? 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 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 use wish to use the creative commons part for commercial purposes, please contact me directly.

Title Picture: Emily's Poetry Blog
Richard II Infographic: PBS