I think I was the only one who held faith that this movie could be something. The way a reporter finds the thread of a story and runs with it until they have found something extraordinary. This movie punched me in the gut, and then took its finger and flicked me in the brain. B.J. Novak is primarily recognized for his role in the sitcom The Office, but he is also a writer and director. This dark comedy was his first movie, both written and directed by him. And it had some of the most thought provoking and beautiful writing. Everybody knows the growing boom of podcast hosts turned unofficial detectives. Ben Manalowitz, a journalist from New York has dreams of telling the modern Great American Story. His life is loose, girls in his phone named after their hair colour and where they met, rather than by their name. It is the death of one such girl that brings him to rural Texas. Once there, the notion of murder sparks the beginnings of an epic podcast mystery. The sort you’ve likely all listened to at least once. Epic murder mystery in the armpit of Texas? Beautiful soul searching experience by a hollow man? Or maybe a story for the audience, to make them think, and to feel, and to wonder what it is about life that drives you.
This one tugged some heart strings. (Thank you instructor for making me watch it…) And perhaps because I was supposed to be watching it with a therapist’s eye, more of it struck home. It feels like such a hopeless story, but you remind yourself that it is based on the autobiographies of both David Scheff and Nic Scheff, father and son, played by Steve Carell ans Timothée Chalamet. I think Carell’s performance is heartbreak worthy. How do you love somebody so so deeply, and accept the fact that there is nothing you can do to help them? I think it is easy for people to think they would never fall into the trap of drug abuse. We see these people who abuse drugs out on the street, and it is so easy to turn your nose up. But I can admit that I am no stranger to having felt so utterly, soul flying, happiness. And I would climb mountains to feel it again. But instead I am here, in the real world, where people are selfish, and angry. Where people point out all the things you do wrong, rather than acknowledge the things you are doing right. That is the pressure we are under every day. And so Nic Scheff ran away from reality. What bothered me the most was that it is clear that Nic is suffering from some major mental and emotional turmoil. He admits to not being able to handle reality. The focus was so strongly placed on rehab, rehab, rehab. When one professor/doctor straight up told David Scheff that the success rates of drug rehab was in the single digits. What pains me is that this is how it is. Let’s have better gun control laws, because that will stop school shootings. But that is NOT what is going to stop school shootings. We need better mental health resources. Let’s kick the homeless people out of the park, because they make our city look trashy. But that is NOT going to decrease the homeless population. More mental health resources might better help those with mental health issues to have higher stability rates. Drug rehab centers? I don’t honestly know, I have zero experience. But it is no secret that people who abuse drugs are trying to numb a pain. I don’t think this was why the instructor made us watch this film. But it is a heart wrenching story, and it reminds you of how deeply people can struggle.
But honestly, how can one NOT want to go out and try to make the world a better a better place after seeing this film? It was cast excellently. A solid mix of amazing knowns, and newer faces who held their own. Directed by Roger Mitchell, who adored Jim Broadbent, and Broadbent adored him. Unfortunately, Mitchell passed away right before his film premiered. Based on a true story, the idea was originally proposed by Kempton Bunton’s (played by Broadbent) real son. Set in a small English town in the early 60s. At the time, anyone who owned a TV with the capability of receiving the BBC channel, was required to pay for a license to watch it. Bunton whole heartedly believed that pensioners had worked hard enough and shouldn’t have to pay for this license. To the point of sitting at a booth in the rain, to actual jail time. The rebellion is obviously a message for greater injustices. The 60s, while full of free love and aloofness, was also a time of incredible cries for justice and equality. Don’t believe that this film is some serious, stand for what is right. It is an absolute romp. I may have been the only non-silver in the theater, but I laughed through the whole thing. Bunton is portrayed as a ridiculous, unfiltered, lover of life. He is also a writer. Writing such incredible ideas as, what if Jesus had been a woman? His play, about a woman named Susan Christ.. Broadbent did his character such justice, and then some. And while the license requirement WAS eventually abolished for pensioners, it happened long after Bunton had passed. Watch the film, and feel the fire in your belly to stand up for what you believe in, unapologetically, no matter how small it may be.
I think a lot about prison, and our prison systems. This documentary series brings a lot of warmth to my heart. Presented by the renown Ken Burns, this is a look at college opportunities for inmates. It is an idea that a lot of people are against. One such mother expresses her feelings bluntly, these inmates commit crimes and go to prison and are getting a free education, while she is working and paying for her other children to get their education. She states they might as well commit crimes too. But how can you call it a “correctional facility” if you deny the opportunity to correct themselves. As well, not all inmates are cold-blooded killers. A teenager can be sent to prison via the three-strikes law for mere possession of marijuana. Battered women can be sent to prison for defending themselves from the battery. And once they enter those facilities, they are immediately shackled with the identity of “criminal” which will hold them back for the rest of their lives. Believe it or not, education is what decreases recidivism. Without this sort of opportunity, a prisoner merely serves their time, returns to the world, they face all the doors that are closed to them due to the label of “criminal,” job opportunities, housing assistance, etc, and they are forced back into a life of crime. What this documentary highlighted was the mere act of giving these inmates something to live for, a goal, a reason to work to be better. And I am so astounded by how determined they were. You hear their stories and feel the hopelessness, and admire their will to keep going.
Da 5 Bloods. Not Chadwick Boseman’s most astounding performance, but it was his second to last film. A film about black Americans fighting in the Vietnam war. The film had deep messages, and seemed to emulate Muhammad Ali’s argument for refusing the draft, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam after so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” It was a movie about the intense brotherhood that war creates between its soldiers. And it paid a great amount of respect to the Vietnam people, and what they suffered, and are still suffering today. Although, it then becomes slightly less deep, political message, and more international treasure hunt, crime boss double cross, intense shoot out… with a dash of strained romance, and an emphasis on the importance of assistance for veterans and PTSD… It was an action film with a political message about our nation, made after the election of our 45th president.
I watch alot of documentaries on this subject, and L.G.B.T.Q, and all of the mental trauma involved. L.G.B.T.Q individuals are born at a mental and emotional disadvantage. When Oliver Sacks, renown neurologist, admitted to his mother that he was homosexual, all she said was, “I wish you had never been born.” This film, while following less severe forms of conversion therapy, were still appalling. Non-licensed individuals providing therapy, suggesting that homosexuals are the products of childhood sexual trauma. When it was said that there was no sexual trauma, they were manipulated into thinking they had merely suppressed the memory of it. To assume that this “behavior” is the result of past trauma, that you are PLANTING there is sick. The documentaries on trans individuals emphasize the self harm and suicide attempts resulting from the internal confusion and lack of acceptance. Conversion therapy was exactly the same. “Why can’t you just obey?” “Don’t you want to be normal?” One woman talks about going home and burning herself. And how she felt a catharsis by doing it. They could change their behavior and smile and act the right way, but it was all a lie. Inside, nothing had changed. And they couldn’t understand why they felt so empty. A poignant moment was when survivors of conversion therapy sit down and speak to the presidents and founders of one of the largest conversion therapy networks, and express the damage they suffered going through the therapy. And a moment when one founder is watching the news after Proposition 8 passed, and saw the masses of people protesting against Proposition 8, and his heart broke because he realized he had helped pass a motion that was hurting his own people. You can’t deny who you are. You can’t change who you are. It doesn’t make sense to say that an all-loving God created you, yet can’t love you. And the most tragic part, is that these networks still exist.
I have always worked with the idea of giving my patients the benefit of the doubt. I will not automatically assume that what they are telling me is false just because they are Psych patients. And at the very least, I will acknowledge that it is the reality that they are experiencing. But perhaps sometimes that idea can go too far. How much benefit of the doubt is too much? And certainly, when does it stand between innocent and guilty, in terms of crime? I had heard of Billy Milligan before, and have always found Dissociative Identity Disorder to be interesting. While it is important to me to be as fully empathetic as I can, there are a few situations in which I can’t even begin to make sense of mentally. I cannot understand DID, except to relate it to being blackout drunk. Losing time. And there are certainly skeptics of the disorder. Made famous in the late 50s and early 70s, DID began to gain attention. Conveniently, in the mid to late 70s, a serial rapist claimed he did not commit the crimes because he had multiple personalities. What draws me to it is its deep trauma based development. When describing his childhood, it isn’t any stretch of the mind to see a person fracture themselves into the perfect defense mechanism. But as we begin to see more of Billy’s life, it isn’t any further a stretch of the mind to see how he may have simply developed into the perfect Sociopath. The question is then posed, might this have been a perfect crime?
Individuals who believe they have the souls of animals inside them are sent to a small camp to undergo therapy to fully rehumanize them. An interesting sort of modernized conversion therapy film. With all the outlandish and cruel methods used to achieve their goal. Without the religious ideologies pulling for one side or the other. The animals chosen by the two main characters symbolic for each character. The girl, a cat, because she longed to just leap out her window and land, safe and sound, and to just run. The boy, a wolf, because no greater animal emulates the very meaning of freedom. The symbolism is clear as you watch the doctor cruelly try to beat the freedom out of him, cursing him to conform. A very psychology/mental health film. Ironic timing, as I am as of late, uniquely interested in the idea of trauma and development on an individual. It was clear that these patients had experienced some form of trauma in their past and somehow found a safe space in being these animals.
I don’t even know if I can fully express how close to home this film hit. Especially right now. Granted, I was not adopted from China, under the cruel and intense circumstances that many children, young girls, were adopted under. These girls were adopted during the One-Child period in China. Having surprisingly found each other through 23&Me, three adopted cousins made contact. They were all adopted to white families who loved and adored them. But, obviously these girls were raised around alot of ignorance and racism. A lot of the things that they quoted as having been told, might at one time make me laugh, because laughter is deflection. But the stuff said to them, while innocent at times, still reminded them of just how different they were, and always would be. And so a journey to find their birth families was begun. The circumstances alone brought tears to my eyes. From one side, it is easy for an adopted child to think their birth parents didnt want them, or that something was wrong with them. In this film, we see parents who are absolutely crushed at remembering the child who was forcibly taken away from them, because it was against the law to have two children. And at the sheer difficulty of trying to locate their families when they had been left in boxes on the side of the street, wrapped in blankets and left on the steps of the government building. It opened my eyes more to the circumstances of my own Chinese cousins and their adoptions. But the thing that resonated with me the most was the fear, because i also had that. The anticipation and the hope, but also the astounding fear. When asked if she wanted to see a picture of the people thought to be her birth family, one of the cousins sits for a while, and then just covers her face and starts crying. This film ended up being so much more than a success story. It was a story of perspectives, and circumstances, and hopes and fears, and heartbreaks, and discovery, and growth… This film found me at the exact moment I needed it.
Justin Chon always seems to know how to punch me deep in the gut. The first film of his I saw, about Korean youth from around the world. Korea had feared they were losing touch with their heritage and so hosted a camp in Korea for them. While being an almost version of Breakfast Club with an all Korean cast, it also featured a girl who had been adopted. Ironically, she finds out her Korean name and it is the same as mine. I resonated with her character pretty strongly. The next film of his I saw, Gook, about a Korean just trying to survive in L.A. during the 92′ L.A. Riots. In which Koreans were huge victims. This film, about a young man who was adopted at the age of 3, suddenly attracts the attention of the local police, and then I.C.E. and it is found out his naturalization was botched and he faces deportation. A story most people probably remember from right after Trump became president. And sadly, not an uncommon story, just one that is never told. And to be honest, something I had a lot of fear about after he became president. Even though I had complete faith my parents did everything right, I.C.E. was looking for loopholes just to kick people out. And while this character’s story was kind of unique, this film is an example of how terrifying it is for people of colour living in America. It is also a powerful example of how much trauma is involved in someone who has been adopted. And how difficult it is for them to talk about. And honestly, this film painted a picture of a lot of things I had felt and not known how to put words to.
Her mother told her she didn’t have to get married if she didn’t want to, but she had to get a good job, and be successful, so that if she got married and wasn’t happy, she could easily leave. Amy Tan grew up hating her mother. Like most Chinese mothers, they put pressure on their children to be successful. Amy’s parents were adament to raise her and her brothers as American though, and the pressures put on them were not a typical American thing. But it was different for Amy and her brothers. She said her mother wasn’t a Tiger Mom, she was a Suicidal Mom. If you wont do what I say, I might as well kill myself. It wasn’t until the fear that her mother might be dying, much later into Amy’s adulthood, that their relationship changed. Amy finally took the time to get to really know her mother, and through that, she became a writer. Like other writers I’ve posted about, writing was almost a way for Amy to make sense of things. Her first book, The Joy Luck Club, while fiction, was inspired by her mother’s life in China, as well as her own life in America, and the bridging of the gap between. She faced a lot of criticism about the book, for things like the broken English, and suicidal concubines, by Americans who probably had never seen Chinese people as more than just stereotypes. What Amy Tan did with The Joy Luck Club was bring to light the China that her mother and grandmother before her lived through. It also brought to light the modern day Chinese-American experience. Things, admittedly, and shamefully, invisible to most Americans. When Amy was in elementary school, on her birthday, she was terribly afraid her mother would bring Chinese food to the school. She was immensely relieved when her mother brought cupcakes. Amy struggled with a lot of loss, and anger growing up. She grappled with fighting the expectations of her Chinese mother, and of being a successful writer and suddenly having literary expectations thrust on her. All through her books, I think, she was able to make sense of and process a lot of her own life. At the end of the documentary, you see her on her back deck, bird feeders everywhere. She has taken up art again and has beautiful and detailed renditions of various birds. Birds, I think, perhaps almost symbolic for her, for their absolute, weightless sense of freedom.
I’ve wanted to watch this since it came out. I’m kind of sad it took me so long. It’s certainly not a pick-me-up film, but after a crummy day, it is what I needed. Not because it was tragic and someones life is worse than mine. But because this was an absolutely beautifully done film. In a setting we cant even imagine growing up in, a young boy innocently tries to sell a tv set with no screen, for food rations. He is then thrown head long into the bowels of war. A grittier war than we typically imagine. We see his very childhood stripped away from him. He is handed a machete and a gun and told to kill. It sounds like a simplistic story, and maybe it is. But this story was about the journey this boy takes. And the fear and the loss and the breaking of his spirit, that you feel with him. The moment he finds his mother, and she doesn’t even recognize him. And in that moment, the final loss of purpose within him. Where does one go from there, when civil war has ravaged your country? Where is home then?
Goddamn, where was this film a couple months ago while I was on my Civil Rights kick?
This woman was amazing! While an incredibly strong activist for Afro-American rights, she also laughed. She laughed at just how astoundingly ridiculous racism was. She laughed at there being 2 separate water fountains. She stole “colored” signs and sent them home to her mom. She became so incredibly vocal about Afro-American history and awareness, and yet never seemed touched by any of the racial trauma that most activists had felt or experienced at one point in their lives. She grew up in an incredibly diverse neighborhood, and became whole heartedly proud of who she was. Every aspect of who she was. And so unafraid of who she was. An interviewer asked her if she was tired of being labeled a “black woman writer,” and she said no. She was tired of being asked that question. And laughed. Despite scathing and insulting reviews stating that while her talent was abundantly clear, she was limiting herself by only writing about the black experience, she never stopped writing about the black experience. She recieved a letter from a prison stating that they had banned one of her books for fear that it might start a riot. She framed it and hung it on her wall, impressed with herself for having that much power. From the age of 3 she understood the power of words. And maybe that stoked her determination and strength to write what she wrote. She wrote about what she cared the most about. Unapologetically. In the hope that maybe she could help people find a little more humanity within themselves.
While I admit that I have never read any of her books, I am deeply impelled to amend that.
Have you ever discovered someone you knew would be your best friend if you ever were to meet? Or perhaps I would embarass myself by simply being in awe. This woman with these wide, bright eyes, and frizzy hair, and an unfiltered mind. This woman who was Canadian (so of course she’s brilliant), grew up half in school, half in the woods. Learning about plants, and bugs, and developing a love of the real world. Not burdened by the world we all grow into. This film starts off with an audio overlay of her reading the beginning of The Handmaids Tale. And all through the film, moments of her reading. Her voice is slow and somber, as though it is a burden to read her own words. Or rather, she knew that people were listening, there was no need to rush, or to yell, or to get excited. Every word she read would be heard to the fullest. And her words are amazing. She writes about big ideas. Her books and her poetry are her canvas to say what the world needs to hear. And yet it is always so perfectly written. Early in her life, she and other girls were made to watch an old film. A film about a woman who must choose between her career as a dancer, or the man she married. In the end, she kills herself. The message to the girls being, don’t choose a career. And she vowed to never believe in that. I admit to not having read or seen The Handmaids Tale. Margaret’s agent recalls a moment during writing it, that Margaret tells her how difficult it is, because she felt very frightened. But like Malcolm X told Sam Cooke, the people are listening to you, use your voice to make change, Margaret Atwood is also using her voice to make change. And like Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come became the theme song for the Civil Rights Movement, The Handmaids Tale became a symbol for activists today.
And I could only dream to be as brilliant. “I never thought I’d be a popular writer,” she said, “I only wanted to be a good one.”
My story always starts with knowing that I wanted to be a writer at age 5. Joan Didion recalls her mother giving her a notebook and telling her to write, and writing her first story at age 5. Something much more elaborate, and even ironic, in comparison to my stapled together books of pictures, admittedly only just beginning to learn my letters at that age. What strange memories we each have. I read my first book by her just last week. The White Album, and admittedly, did not like it much. Writing about the 60s, a time I so desperately have been trying to understand. Even she could barely put it into words. Instead, it became an anthology of essays. But she is incredibly well known. I find pictures of her when she was younger to be absolutely gorgeous. A woman who doesn’t seem to care what she looks like, either wearing dark sunglasses, or a stoney, detached expression. I have had one of her books on my shelf since college. A Year of Magical Thinking. Untouched for years because I’m not sure I am ready to read it, but kept in posession because of its poetic beauty. Not necessarily the words, I have yet to experience those, but the context surrounding it. As she wrote about, and essentially processed the sudden death of her husband, her life partner, her other half, upon finishing this book, her daughter unexpectedly died. This beautiful daughter she adopted and raised and loved. She later went on to write about her. Those closest to her believing as a way to process. And as she is being interviewed for this documentary, you see a frail and withered woman. Such contrast to the strong woman who went to El Salvador to report on the country itself, as well as America’s involvement with it. But what was most magical about this documentary was the audio overlay of her reading exerpts of her pieces. Read in a strong voice you almost can’t reconcile with the woman who is reading it. Read in the way she hears the words in her own mind. With her pace and emotion. In a way, she appears detached from the world around her, but it is that that helped her so brilliantly write about it.