January 31, 2006

'No Exit'

Just finished reading the play 'No Exit' by Sartre; something I'd been meaning to do ever since Samuel Beckett happened to me.

'No Exit' was quite along the lines of other existentialist literature, though very short. I believe that was in keeping with the curfew timings charted out by the Germans at the time. The play has three main characters, all in the realm of the dead, all trying to live down a shameful past, all trying to find 'an essence' for their existence, but in each others eyes, both literally and figuratively. The young and pretty Estella has to use Inez as a mirror to make sure her lipstick is on right since the room is devoid of any reflective surface. These three disparate and dead characters are forced company for each other while they wait for the 'torturer', who never shows up, in a room from where there is 'no exit'.

The play was so reminiscent of Samuel Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot' that I had read earlier (though chronologically, Sartre's play came way before Beckett's). In both plays the playwright depicts the absurdity of the human situation where we continue 'to wait for what cannot come', like the 'torturer' in No Exit and 'Godot' in Beckett's play. The protagonists in both plays seek to give purpose for their being, and are looking to the future to give meaning to a senseless past. To no avail; their wait is endless as denoted by the last line of the play 'No Exit'. A line that was echoed ten years later in the concluding line of Samuel Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot'.

The two plays force the reader into an in depth analysis of the human situation, and being 'the-glass-is-half-full' kind of a personality, I am disbelieving of the picture that Sartre and Beckett create of the human predicament. Yet it's a picture that many noted writers and philosophers have bought into over the years. Buy it, you may not, but it's a picture you cannot ignore.

'No Exit' is a short, captivating, and fodder-for-the-mind read.

January 16, 2006

Brokeback Mountain - a good movie, but is it a fair contender?

Brokeback Mountain, a novel by Annie Proulx the Pulitzer Prize winning writer, is now a motion picture that was released just a few days ago. The movie is a sensitive portrayal of two lonesome individuals who find love together in the picturesque wilderness of Wyoming. Unfortunately for the two, they are living in the 60s, and they are both males. Ang Lee pulls audience heart strings at various moments in the movie, but as far as the underlying theme of the movie is concerned, Lee takes a back seat and lets the audience decide that. Understandably so, because the subject being dealt with still makes audiences feel uncomfortable. It's credit to Lee's evocative film making that the audience's moral filters are lowered enough to let the two protagonists steal their way into the hearts of the viewers. Interestingly enough, after the lights came on, this elderly couple next to me, visibly touched by the movie, walked out saying, "I am not condoning what the two did, but..."

On a different note, this movie is a likely Oscar contender, as many heart rending social-message-carrier movies have been in the past. Here's what Ang Lee told the NYT's Karen Durbin about why he chose to make this movie:
"When I first read the story, it gripped me. It's a great American love story, told in a way that felt as if it had never been done before. I had tears in my eyes at the end. You remember? You see the shirts put away in the closet side by side."
The sentimentality that the story exudes almost anaesthesizes the audience into an amoral trance, and Ang Lee picked on this right away and decided to make Brokeback Mountain, the movie.

Brokeback Mountain will be in the reckoning with movies such as Munich and Syriana that were also released this year. Needless to say, the latter two may not even make it into the early rounds of the Oscar selection process. The reason being that movies such as Brokeback Mountain make for unfair acclaim in art. Even though the movie is above average and may deserve recognition, it carries an unfair advantage with the judges who are not always mature critiques of art. Touchy-feely movies that are a shade well-made can go very far with some judges, and that's what Ang Lee knew, and that's how Brokeback Mountain will edge ahead of other equally good movies at the Oscars. A thinking individual who is also a lover of art would ponder whether the acclaim a movie achieves is based on its cerebral content that makes the viewer 'think', or is it in its ability to get viewer faucets flowing and 'touch' the audience. Maybe it's a combination of both...

I must admit that I haven't read Annie Proulx novel on which the movie is based, and I'd be curious to know how the movie compares with the novel. However, Brokeback Mountain, the movie, is definitely worth watching for its photography and it's heart rending story. It's depiction of the ordinariness of an extraordinary love relationship that was taboo in the morally stringent sixties, is so evocative that, besides the many tears it may bring, one hopes it will also make a dent in the restrictive demeanour of the present day viewers; make them less judgemental about issues that do not fall within the parameters of what society perceives as acceptable. As for the photography, it is absolutely breathtaking and could make Wyoming the next popular tourist resort.

January 12, 2006

Recognition for President Bush.

George Bush seems to have collected some major brownie points in Pakistan for this poem to have been in an 11th grade textbook, as a part of the English curriculum.

THE LEADER by anonymous

P atient and steady with all he must bear,
R eady to meet every challenge with care,
E asy in manner, yet solid as steel,
S trong in his faith, refreshingly real.
I sn't afraid to propose what is bold,
D oesn't conform to the usual mould,
E yes that have foresight, for hindsight won't do,
N ever backs down when he sees what is true,
T ells it all straight, and means it all too.
G oing forward and knowing he's right,
E ven when doubted for why he would fight,
O ver and over he makes his case clear,
R eaching to touch the ones who won't hear.
G rowing in strength he won't be unnerved,
E ver assuring he'll stand by his word.
W anting the world to join his firm stand,
B racing for war, but praying for peace,
U sing his power so evil will cease,
S o much a leader and worthy of trust,
H ere stands a man who will do what he must.

I am for some reason reminded of Chris Rock's quote of the year-
"you know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy, the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the US of arrogance, Germany does not want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named Bush, Dick and Colon."