Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

My housemate Cecilia and I went to see this film the other night.  We did so in flagrant disregard of the Benedict Cumberbatch rule, namely “Do not watch a movie, TV episode, or miniseries for no other reason other than one actor you like is in it.”  The one actor in question is, unsurprisingly, Tom Hiddleston; we’re fans of his, nor are we opposed to Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, or the rest.  Sadly, none of them could save Only Lovers Left Alive from a deadly (undeadly?) slow pace.

Only Lovers Left Alive

First, the good:  as a whole, the movie certainly catches a quality, a flavor.  It’s dark, coppery, and not very pleasant, but it’s certainly there in Eve’s brisk walk through Tangier (the most feminine I’ve ever seen Swinton), in the grungy melancholy of Adam’s house, in the streets of Detroit.  Cecilia found this depiction of Detroit rather refreshing: instead of focusing on the city as the capital of crime and corruption, the movie focuses on its musical contributions, the grittiness of its urban blight, and its hope for better things.  Eve notes the importance of the lakes all around, saying “This city will rise again.”  Why she doesn’t go for the original Latin, Jim Jarmusch only knows.  But then, Adam is the one in residence there.  Caught in the 1970s as he is, his affinity for the city indicates that both hope for better, but neither really changes.

The benefit of unending existence is the opportunity to read ALL the books.

The benefit of unending existence is the opportunity to read ALL the books.

That stagnant quality of endless days might account for the sluggish plot.  This is the most charitable explanation that comes to mind: that vampires, having spent centuries of darkness watching all that the “zombies” (ie, humanity) have to show – all the art, the music, the scientific advances – are doomed to ennui, to anomie, to acedia, and (should no sunlight, contaminated blood, or immortal beloved interfere) to suicide.  The story arc, such as it is, might just be one more postmodern conceit for human lives with no overarching narrative, no implicit meaning.  The lack of chemistry between Adam and Eve might have been intentional, depicting the natural consequence of being married for some 200 years.  Sparks, fire, fizzle, distance, regroup.  They try to patch it over with allusions to quantum entanglement, Adam describing them as particles which affect each other though they be a universe apart.  Perhaps Donne could make that metaphor work; this script can’t.

The less charitable and possibly more realistic explanation for the film’s torpidity is poor writing and an undeveloped plot.  At some points it was like watching Catcher in the Rye but with vampires in.  There are amusing moments - Adam burying his head under the pillow to avoid Eva, Eve’s iPhone calling Adam’s curious corded setup, the wrinkle of disgust that crosses Eve’s face on watching a body dissolve – but for the most part, neither Adam nor Eve compel me to care much about their undead existence or their butter-scraped-thin romance.  By far the most interesting character was Eva, Eve’s younger sister.  She is obnoxious, she is careless, she drinks them out of their fugue-inducing O-negative – and she somehow remains lively, as Adam and Eve do not.  We left the theater wondering how she spent her time in LA, how she’d offended Adam in 1925 in Paris, what bloodletting would attend her trip back west.

Possibly devotees of artistic films would appreciate details that I missed.  There are a number of overhead shots, a heavy-handed motif which attempts to connect the spinning of the stars, of records, and the eponymous lovers.  Adam takes a look at all manner of classic guitars, so perhaps Gibson fanboys would be into that.  Those with a dog in the fight over the author of Shakespeare’s plays might be amused when Christopher Marlowe turns up.  But for my own part?  Speraveram meliora.  I’d hoped for better.  They’re hardly lovers, and barely alive.

Five Sonnets

I needed to reread these five sonnets by CS Lewis today, so I thought I’d share them ’round.

You think that we who do not shout and shake
Our fists at God when youth or bravery die
Have colder blood or hearts less apt to ache
Than yours who rail.  I know you do.  Yet why?
You have what sorrow always longs to find,
Someone to blame, some enemy in chief;
Anger’s the anaesthetic of the mind,
It does men good, it fumes away their grief.
We feel the stroke like you; so far our fate
Is equal.  After that, for us begin
Half-hopeless labours, learning not to hate,
And then to want, and then (perhaps) to win
A high, unearthly comfort, angel’s food,
That seems at first a mockery to flesh and blood.
A Crazy Stair
There’s a repose, a safety (even a taste

Of something like revenge?) in fixed despair
Which we’re forbidden.  We have to rise with haste
And start to climb what seems a crazy stair.
Our consolation (for we are consoled,
So much of us, I mean, as may be left
After the dreadful process has unrolled)
For one bereavement makes us more bereft.
It asks for all we have, to the last shred;
Read Dante, who had known its best and worst—
He was bereaved and he was comforted—
No one denies it, comforted—but first
Down to the frozen centre, up the vast
Mountain of pain, from world to world he passed. 

Of this we’re certain; no one who dared knock
At heaven’s door for earthly comfort found
Even a door—only smooth, endless rock,
And save the echo of his cry no sound.
It’s dangerous to listen; you’ll begin
To fancy that those echoes (hope can play
Pitiful tricks) are answers from within;
Far better to turn, grimly sane, away.
Heaven cannot thus, Earth cannot ever, give
The thing we want.  We ask what isn’t there
And by our asking water and make live
That very part of love that must despair
And die and go down cold into the earth
Before there’s talk of springtime and rebirth.

Pitch your demands heaven-high and they’ll be met.
Ask for the Morning Star and take (thrown in)
Your earthly love.  Why, yes; but how to set
One’s foot on the first rung, how to begin?

The silence of one voice upon our ears
Beats like the waves; the coloured morning seems
A lying brag; the face we loved appears
Fainter each night, or ghastlier, in our dreams.
“That long way round which Dante trod was meant
For mighty saints and mystics, not for me,”
So Nature cries.  Yet if we once assent
To Nature’s voice, we shall be like the bee
That booms against the window-pane for hours
Thinking that the way to reach the laden flowers.
Bee
“If we could speak to her,” my doctor said,

“And told her, “Not that way! All, all in vain
You weary out your wings and bruise your head,”
Might she not answer, buzzing at the pane,
“Let queens and mystics and religious bees
Talk of such inconceivables as glass;
The blunt lay worker flies at what she sees,
Look there—ahead, ahead—the flowers, the grass!”
We catch her in a handkerchief (who knows
What rage she feels, what terror, what despair?)
And shake her out—and gaily out she goes
Where quivering flowers stand thick in summer air,
To drink their hearts.  But left to her own will
She would have died upon the window-sill.” 

Free bee

Links for Thinks

I don’t often reblog other articles, nor do I tend to share quick picks from the internet at large.  But some of these things are worthy of discussion, and I wanted to share them with you to provide an opportunity for that discussion.  So here goes:

6 Ways to Love Single Women in Your Church
On one hand, I’m leery of being That Single Person Who Is Always Lamenting Her Singleness.  On the other hand…these are all good ideas, practical ways of being charitable, and Lindsey has written them in a charitable way.  I’ve been blessed with a loving and giving and supportive family, friends who ask, married friends who invite.  But that doesn’t always take away the loneliness – especially as more and more of my friends get engaged and the circle of comrades-in-singleness shrinks.  Do you think there’s anything she missed?

Why Miscarriage Matters When You’re Pro-Life
On the other side of the marriage fence, there’s the opportunity to bear new life, but it doesn’t always turn out as planned.  I have at least six friends who have suffered miscarriages, some of them more than once, and it’s…well.  It hurts.  It’s hard to talk about, because what do you say?  Death has made its way into the sphere where we expected life.  I can’t imagine it.  However, I’ve learned from those friends that the loss is real, the grief is real, and the care we take in discussing it also should be real.

Prayers
Sometimes I ask the denizens of Facebook their thoughts or preferences or whatnot.  Yesterday I asked them about their favorite prayers, and got all manner of fascinating responses!  Some tend toward the short and simple: Lord, have mercy.  Jesus, I trust in you.  I believe; help my unbelief!  Others go for the beauty of traditional prayers, like this one by Ephrem the Syrian: O Lord and Master of my life, give me not the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust for power and idle talk.  But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity (integrity), humility, patience and love.  Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brother. For blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Expect to see more mention of prayer throughout Lent.  What do you pray for the most?

On a lighter note…
Between the drink menu at Zola Bistro, where I spent an evening with my housemates last week, and this fun map quiz, I have whiled away some pleasant times!  Make a note of which drinks you’d like, should you ever come to call, and let me know how you fare should you join me in quiz-taking.

The Egotist’s Club Turns Three!

We are ancient. At least in blog years. But it has been a good three years. We have laughed, we have cried, we have rhapsodized, and we have slacked off. Unfortunately, the pressure of being an adult in an adult world seems to sap our cognitive and scribbling strength. But we have been doing better lately, haven’t we?

It was an eccentric, but delightful partnership between Thalia and myself that began this blog. (The story is related here.) It was in part as a challenge to practice writing (haha) and in part as an outlet for snark and craziness. We have matured and grown in wisdom since then, moving onto grander flights of fancy and deeper plunges into melancholy than ever before. Sometimes we chose to share these with you, and sometimes we did not. Consider that to be both a blessing and a curse.

And as we approach middle-age-blogdom, it is time to reflect on all the changes that have happened in our lifespan. So, it the last three years:

Continue reading

Review Part 2: Disney’s Frozen

Now that it’s nearly two months since it came out, I went to see Frozen.  Twice.  It is still the season for it, after all, and it hasn’t left the theaters quite yet.  So it was my turn to be delighted by the magic of animation and music and storytelling.  Here are some thoughts about it, a few of them in response to Melpomene’s earlier post.  In no particular order:

- The music is beautiful.  I particularly enjoyed “Frozen Heart,” the song of the ice harvesters at the start of the movie, as well as “Heimr Arnadalr,” the choral coronation piece which translates approximately as follows:

Worthy Queen of greatness
The heart of Gold shines
We crown thee with hope, love and faith.
Beautiful, stony land, home Arendelle
Follow the Queen of light/ the Queen’s light

Of course, it’s hard to sing a choral piece (or antiphonal yoiking) alone, so I’ve also had “Let it Go” and “Love is an Open Door” running through my head on repeat.  It’s lovely having a song of defiance against the Polar Vortex weather.

- Hullo, unexpected poignancy.  “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” sounds so lighthearted, and then it struck me with feelings.  Even worse is the thought that Elsa and Anna didn’t need to spend so long isolated from each other; Anna trusted her sister all along, and the utter lack of communication didn’t protect either of them.

Pardon me while I go do some gross sobbing in the corner.

Pardon me while I go do some gross sobbing in the corner.

- Nothing separates a guy from his reindeer.  Kristoff and Sven are precious, like a friendlier version of Flynn and Maximus from Tangled.  There were lots of moments that made me giggle, and those two probably accounted for most of them.

- Someone finally said it.

Marry Prudently yallThank GOD.

- Additional background would be groovy.  We don’t really need to know where Elsa’s power comes from, for the sake of the story, but I would love to know more about her as well as the erstwhile king and queen.  Is Elsa like a Muggle-born cryokinetic witch, or is Anna like a Squib who missed out on the elemental control?  Also, if I were a nerdier person, I would love to calculate how much energy is getting thrown around when, say, the entire fjord is frozen.  See a bit more commentary on that here.

- Darlin’, I don’t know why you go to extremes.  My brother and I wondered if, perhaps, the well-intentioned Love Experts actually gave the worst advice: concealing the source of the problem and counseling Elsa to beware of fear in no way encouraged her toward the positive virtue of being more loving.  “Conceal, don’t feel” was never a viable option, and when Elsa does finally let it go, she swings to the other extreme so hard that editorials on the dangers of repression write themselves.  Thankfully things reach a sort of equilibrium; it’s fortunate (and kind of weird) that she is able to undo her enchanted winter quicker than Aslan brings spring to Narnia.

- True love sacrifices.  Love is not summed up in kisses, but consists of all manner of heart-thawing actions.  Love forgives the pains one has suffered.  Love runs to the aid of the beloved, love throws itself between the beloved and the sword, and love binds people together whether they’re parents and children, siblings, romantic couples, or friends.

All in all, Frozen is a beautiful movie, and its depiction of sororal love the most beautiful thing about it.huggiiiiingNow, if only I could thaw the frozen wasteland outside with my own sororal love…

Seasonal Selections

Nipping air, murky skies, dark puddles, and crisp edges in each sense: Fall is here!

I have been slowly reawakening from my summer stupor, and enjoying every moment of actual seasonal change. Despite the outwards appearance of death that seems to characterize Autumn, it is when the 5 senses seem to sharpen: colors are brighter, smells are cleaner, tastes are warmer, touching is cooler, and sounds are richer.

To celebrate, I give you 10 of my favorite things in Autumn. Choose one for each of your senses, and indulge!

10 Autumnal Artworks

10: The Pride and Prejudice Soundtrack (2005)

While Knightly is a terrible Lizzy and I cannot  in good conscience recommend the movie, the soundtrack is fantastic! Dario Marianelli is excellent in all that he does, but here his work sparkles with the clean, sharp images that go perfectly with the season.

9: Apple Cider

Hot or cold, spiced or au natural, (I prefer mine with a generous splash of peaty scotch,) apple cider is an absolutely  work of art. Think of the time, work, and tradition that go into making cider! While it may not have the individuality or require the skill of a poem or painting, still, cider makes the senses tingle with life. It fills the partaker with an incredible sense of time, place, and peace. It epitomizes the taste and smell of all good things in Harvest time.

8: The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy Sayers

Even ancient cultures recognized something dark and eery and tangibly mysterious about the Autumn.  (Samhain?) Therefore, a good mystery is must for those days when you have an hour to spare, and warm blanket, and a hot mug of your preferred beverage. Sayers is a favorite of the Egotists, but this mystery is particularly suited to the season; it is filled with graves, bells, ominous skies, and the blandly blundering Lord Peter.

7: This view of Yellowstone, by American painter Thomas Moran

6: Sauteing onions with the doors (or possibly windows) open

This art does require a certain amount of participation on your part.  It’s very modern that way.

When the wind is blowing from the east and the eves are dripping steady rainfall, open all the doors (or windows) and bend low over the heat of the stove. Slice an onion and throw it into a pan already bubbling with melted butter. With a wooden spoon shove both onions and butter about at will. When an aroma begins to arise, step back from the stove.

Feel the mingling of chill breeze from the open door and steamy heat on your skin. Inhale the sweet, tangy, wild scent of onions and rain. Know that life is astoudning.

5: Rocking chairs

Rocking chairs are one of the greatest advances of civilization. Even the Ancient Philosophers, in their wisdom, would have lavished praise on the rocking chair, that divinely inspired combination of sitting apparatus and cradle. It is a functional meditation on the complex nature of humanity: wise and child-like, hard-working and leisure-loving, practically minded and beauty oriented.  The combined parts living as a whole and complete rocking chair both inspires deep thoughts about our contradictory selves and gives us a place in which to think them.

4: Bonfires

Leaping light, low crackling, living heat, and woodsmoke scents. Autumn bonfires have been extolled for centuries, in part, (I think,) because they appeal to almost every sense so pleasantly. Contrasting colder weather and darker days with wildly controlled flames only makes resilient mortals more at ease in our domain between worlds.

3: Four Season: Autumn 3rd mvt, Vivaldi

This is high on the list for obvious reasons. The stately dance of grey clouds to the wild tumble of leaves are all present to your ears!

2: A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle

“Wild nights are my glory”, declares a very wonderful Mrs. Whatsit one stormy Autumn night. Aside from being one of the best books of childhood, this story is filled with a presence of Autumn; from the actual earthly setting to the plot arcs of sacrifice and renewal.

1: The Poetry of Robert Frost

After Apple Picking

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.         5
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass         10
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,         15
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.         20
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound         25
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,         30
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap         35
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his         40
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Fearful, Human, Holy

For those of us who live more or less by solstices and equinoxes, there are a few weeks of summer yet, but for those whose lives follow the academic calendar, the summer is already dying or, perhaps, already dead.  And so it goes, and so all things on earth go.  So all men go, whether from a bored child’s gun, a poor driver’s car, a cancer, a chemical attack, or a thousand other things, the list ending with the quiet “old age.”

Typically I skip to that one, unwilling to acknowledge that any one of the people I love the most could be taken from me at any moment.  It’s difficult to face the fact that I am mortal and will one day be dust, but far more difficult to face the potential loss of parents, brothers, or friends.

*

How terrible to love what Death can touch,
and find one’s shadowed cloak of apathy
ripped off by fears of life made misery
should it approach to keep you in its clutch.
Perhaps I wouldn’t fret or fear so much
were there some way to fill a treasury
with moments shared, safe from Time’s thievery:
that song, those eyes, paths nigh-forgot, and such.
But fleeting moments never are enough,
not even when they’re in the present tense,
for Time is Death’s dog, hounding us by flight.
It might well sound like greed rather than love
to wonder what I’ll do, when you go hence –
still, greed is not more eager for that night.

*

I don’t remember hearing the line ‘Tis a fearful thing to love what death can touch, but it seemed the sort of thing that I couldn’t have invented on my own.  My attempts to find out who said it first brought this post to my attention.  Seems a 12th century fellow wrote the poem (unlike me, more out of remembrance than fear).  It is a fearful, human, and holy thing, he says, to love that which is mortal.

How much more fearful and holy, then, is divine love, which submits itself to death for the sake of the beloved?

Your life has lived in me, indeed.

No Safe Investment

This is a poem I wrote a few months back.  It patters in anapests, and sermonizes a bit, but as I needed a bit of self-admonishing didacticism today, I thought I’d share it ’round.

Chasing the sunset

A Paradox

Chase after delight ‘til the setting of sun:
You never shall catch it, for all that you run;
Your eyes seeking happiness day and all night
will only grow sore, for it flies far from sight.
But keep your eyes up and your hands stretched to help,
and seek truer joy in forgetting yourself.
Just as seeking your own good keeps happiness hence,
so you do yourself danger in building a fence.
There is no such thing as a love that plays safe,
only very complex forms of envy and hate –
though it tempts, you must not keep your breast-coffers shut;
there are worse fates than heartbreak, heartburning, heartcut.
It crumbles to dust when you keep it from day;
who would have a whole heart must hurl safety away.
No joy will lay siege to that dark citadel,
so cast off the armor that holds you in hell.
*

As ever, I am indebted to Lewis:  There is no safe investment.  …The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.