August 20, 2015

Night Train to Lisbon - A Philosophical Movie.

Night Train to Lisbon is a movie I'd recommend for those who are in the fall of their lives. The movie is an introspective yet random journey undertaken by  Raimund Gregorius, a close-to-retirement Swiss Classics Professor who has immersed himself, totally, in a world of philosophy and books. He is divorced, childless, and friendless, perhaps for a reason. It is a reason not known to him, but he is told by his ex wife, that it is because he is very boring, and students taking his class often corroborate that description of him. Professor Gregorius is undoubtedly lonely as the ongoing game of chess on his dining table suggests, where  Gregorius plays on both sides of the board into the wee hours of the night.

One day, fate turns a kindly eye on the Professor when a chance encounter with a woman on a bridge takes Gregorius on a journey of a lifetime. The woman he accidentally saves, was about to end her life by jumping off a bridge, but the Professor manages to stop her in the nick of time.  However, this woman is rather quiet and does not divulge much about herself even though she accompanies the Professor to his class after the incident. However, she does not stay there too long, and within a matter of minutes, rushes out leaving her jacket behind.  The Professor goes after her to return her jacket, but fails to find her. During this time he discovers a book in the pocket of her jacket and begins to read it. This random and clearly insignificant action of his turns Gregorius' life upside down as he then embarks on an intrepid venture to Lisbon hoping to find out what happened to Amadeu de Prado, the author of the book, who was a practicing doctor in Lisbon during António de Oliveira Salazar's dictatorial rule.

The movie is slow paced with a lot of narrative and very little action.  The little action that there is, comes in flashbacks, narrated by several different characters who Gregorius meets up with in Lisbon because they knew Amadeu. The camera does very little to compliment the beautiful setting, Lisbon. The actors do their part, but nothing very remarkable which would stand out. Then what is so special about this movie that made me want to write about it? Basically, what sold the movie to me was perhaps a personal connect I made with Gregorius' journey; a journey that happened from his out-of-character decision after a commonplace event which ultimately led to some dramatic changes in his life.  How many of us, those in the fall of our lives, get a chance to take on such journeys, like Gregorius'?  Those of us who do get that chance, pass it by, or procrastinate over it and then live in regret forever. There was a message in the movie for so many in the audience- to take chances, to try out a different way, and to not wait for something cataclysmic to change your life.

Having liked the movie, now I feel compelled to read the book on which it is based,  The book "Nachtzug nach Lissabon" written by Swiss philosopher writer Peter Bieri (pseudonym Pascal Mercier), was originally published in German and then translated into English and published in 2008. The book intrigues me in that I want to know how much, if at all,  the movie deviates from the original text.  Will Gregorius' journey in the book be like Marlow's in "The Heart of Darkness"? Was Bieri inspired by Conrad perhaps? Most importantly, will I find more poetically profound and soul searching dialogue to ponder over such as the ones in  the movie?

Amadeu: "Given that we live only a small part of what there is in us - what happens with the rest?"

Amadeu: "In truth, the dramatic moments of a life determining experience are often unbelievable, low key."

Amadeu: "But by travelling to ourselves we must confront our own loneliness."

Amadeu: "What could... what should be done, with all the time that lies ahead of us? Open and unshaped, feather-light in its freedom and lead-heavy in its uncertainty?"

I enjoyed the movie! Also, it is available on Netflix, so go for it!  Take a chance : )

August 18, 2015

Andy Weir's "The Martian" - A Survival Story in Sci-Fi Mode

What a read!  I was completely captivated by the story line!  I couldn’t sleep until I knew whether Mark Watney made it home.

Andy Weir’s 2011 novel The Martian is a Sci-Fi novel with a difference.  It’s not one of those dystopic sagas, nor does it present a future phobic vision of life with automated life forms.  Here is a story of a lone man's survival in the cold and apathetic terrain of the planet Mars.  I must admit that I approached this novel with serious trepidation; a first time author with no creative writing credentials. However, reading the first chapter more than alleviated any doubts I may have had about Weir’s competence as a story teller.

Not only is the story interesting, but also the manner by which this story cast itself into a printed novel. It’s astonishing how Weir produced this book.  He did not intend to write a novel of any sorts.  He was employed as a techie at NASA when he started writing blogposts about an astronaut Mark Watney, who mistakenly gets left behind on Mars. The online posts sequentially unraveled Watney’s journey on an inhospitable terrain. The instinct for survival keeps Watney going, each day being more difficult than the previous one.  Watney clings on to the last shreds of hope; an impossible task indeed, knowing all the odds stacked against it: the fact that his fellow astronauts presumed him to be dead, he had limited provisions of water and Oxygen, he had no means of communication to call for help, the rations would run out way before any remotely possible rescue mission could be carried out.  This fearsome yet absorbing tale of a man fighting for survival on the red planet unfolded and gained momentum on Weir’s blogposts, and it intrigued Weir’s readers to such an extent that they prodded him to self publish Watney’s story!  The runaway success of "The Martian" surprised Weir himself : “ I had no idea it was going to do so well. The story had been available for free on my website for months and I assumed anyone who wanted to read it had already read it. A few readers had requested I post a Kindle version because it's easier to download that way. So I went ahead and did it, setting the price to the minimum Amazon would allow. As it sold more and more copies I just watched in awe.”  Weir’s lucky phase was still not over because a movie deal and a print publishing deal followed suit all within a week and Andy Weir, a NASA engineer, became a literary celebrity.
Besides the storyline, Weir’s format for his story enhanced and facilitated its readability. Most of this novel is written as a series of diary postings by the protagonist, with the hope that someday they will be read by another human being. Weir’s narrative style not only provided the reader with a timeline for Watney’s stay on Mars, but it also lent pace and immediacy to the storyline. "The Martian" is a gripping tale of survival and definitely a story you must read.  Also, once you read the novel, perhaps you could answer this  question that has been bothering me ever since I read Weir's novel: 
Was Watney's will to survive the driving force behind all his actions, or was it the hope of rescue that kept him going from one day to the next?

Andy Weir’s success as a maiden writer and storyteller lends credence to the belief that one can become an acclaimed writer without going through an MFA program. There’s hope for us : )