I recently watched the Carey Mulligan movie An Education. I’m usually so out of the loop when it comes to watching movies in the theatre (that’s what Netflix is for), so I end up watching movies about a year after they’re released.
I loved the dark story behind An Education . Carey Mulligan did a fantastic job and really earned that Oscar nomination portraying a 16 year old London school girl who nearly squanders her future to pursue the empty promises of an exceedingly charming con-man beautifully portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard.
Shot mostly in London interiors with a brief interlude in Paris, the mood and atmosphere of 1960s London is almost singlehandly evoked by the costumes and props. I love the costumes in this film. They capture the fashion of my favorite era.
Death is a really hard subject to tackle, period. People in general don’t want to talk about it or deal with it, so imagine how much harder it would be to craft a film about it. Well, apparently this hasn’t deterred Japanese filmmakers. Two of my favorite Japanese films take on that challenge and spin two elegant tales centered around death.
Departures was the 2008 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film. It was Japan’s first win in this category, a monumental achievement for such a quiet film.
It’s the story about a cellist named Daigo who loses his job when his orchestra in Tokyo is dissolved. He and his wife return to the small seaside town of his childhood and occupy the house his mother left him when she died two years earlier. Desperate for work, he interviews for a job advertised in the local paper that cryptically indicates that he would be dealing with “departures.” The pay is great but it turns out that the job involves being an encoffiner, someone who prepares the dead for their casket during the mourning ceremony. Through Daigo’s journey, we come to appreciate the elegance and beauty of this ceremony, portrayed as an honorable send-off for the departed from the world of the living.
The trailer hints at the comic elements of the film which thankfully are never over the top.
Although it’s not a sequel to Departures, After Life does pick up where Departures leaves off. Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, it’s a film about what happens to you after you die. It’s not so much about the actual after life, but a meditation on memory and how we define ourselves by those memories.
In After Life, when you die, you end up in a waystation where the souls of the recently deceased are processed before entering “heaven.” “Heaven” in this case is a single memory from one’s life. A staff of deceased souls work to recreate that memory on film and once the deceased watches it, they disappear into eternity only with that one memory. It’s such an interesting concept and done so tenderly. One of my favorite characters is the old lady with Alzheimer’s diease. I love the way her counselor creates a memory for her to live with for all eternity since she has no memories of her own to draw upon.
Lesson no. 4: When it comes to love, the rebels are always underrated.
I’ve always loved the character of Lizzie’s spinster-in-the-making sister Mary. In an era where women of the Bennet’s social class put all their energy into marrying, Mary stands out as a real rebel. She dresses in somber colors, she’s not interested in ribbons or finery, and she dismisses balls as irrational ways of meeting people. She’s the ultimate foil to the rest of the Bennet girls. One could imagine Mary staying happily single for the rest of her life. With her books and piano as her companions, Mary seeks refuge from the marriage obsession that permeates her household. What a great little rebel Mary Bennet is. And so underappreciated too.
Jane Austen herself never married. She threw herself into writing and became one of the rare women in her time to gain an independent income. She also became a legendary storyteller who is still revered and beloved down to this day. Jane Austen wasn’t Lizzie Bennet, Emma Woodhouse or Anne Elliot — heroines who ended happily in marriage. Jane Austen was the Mary Bennet of her time — a real rebel in every way.
Lesson no. 3: Even the most rational people let their emotions get the best of them.
Darcy prides himself on being a very rational person. His opinions are always supported by facts, his standards unflappable, and his decisions firm and full of purpose. It then surprises everyone (himself most of all), when he realizes that he’s in love with Lizzie, the one woman in the county who’s absolutely determined to hate him. Lizzie is probably the first woman Darcy has ever met for whom he let his feelings get the best of him. When a normally rational person experiences that, it’s a powerful and intriguing thing. It’s also a very hard thing to ignore.
Lesson no. 2 – Falling in love can be a scary, humiliating thing.
We learn from angelic Jane Bennet’s romance with Mr. Bingley that love can sometimes be a humilitating, rocky road. When her courtship with Mr. Bingley results in his leaving the countryside instead of the proposal her family was expecting, poor Jane suffers the humiliation of abandonment. She tries to put on a brave face after her efforts to reconnect with Bingley in London end in further loneliness and disappointment. Happily, Jane Austen decides that Bingley will eventually come around and Jane marries him in the end.
Poor Mr. Collins. What a great interpretation by Tom Hollander. He seems to be convinced that he is searching for love while in reality, he’s simply searching for a wife that his patroness Lady Catherine de Bourg will approve of and ultimately boss around. (He’s such a momma’s boy!) Still, I felt bad for him when Lizzie rejects his proposal. In spite of his going through the motions of courtship, he really gets a good kick in the face by trying to be a proper suitor.
Love is not for the faint of heart. It can be extremely humiliating and disappointing, dragging us through mishaps and misunderstandings. Hearts really take a beating when they’re looking for love, real or not.
I love the Joe Wright production of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightly and Mathew Macfayden from 2005. After watching it recently, I gleaned a few lessons on love from Jane Austen.
Here’s the first lesson I gleaned from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Lesson no. 1: True love can take and deliver a good beating.
Pride and Prejudice is an enduring story about two people who fall in love after beating each other over the head with the truth about each other’s flaws.
Watching them go through this journey is a lot easier than experiencing it yourself.
Jane Austen’s brilliance shines in the way she creates a character like Lizzie who is so likeable yet flawed, and then humbles that character through the very person she initially despises.
Lizzie prides herself on her good judgment and yet she’s so determined to dislike Mr. Darcy when he initially rejects her. Her determination leads her being to be taken in by Mr. Whickham’s one-sided sob story about Darcy. Jane Austen then slams Lizzie with a realization that comes at her as gently as a falling piano. Lizzie’s not as rational and objective as she initially thought she was. She realizes that she’s not a very complete person. She needs someone like Darcy. What a humbling revelation to know that the person you like the least turns out to be the one you ultimately need.
I spent New Year’s Eve in my bathrobe, watching movies on the sofa. I caught a cold on Tuesday and was feeling pretty horrible. All I had the energy to do was watch a couple of movies.
The movie I was watching when the clock struck midnight was a quirky movie called Paper Heart. It’s a fake documentary about a comedienne and musician named Charlene Yi (playing a fictionalized version of herself) who claims she doesn’t believe in love but goes on a road trip to interview people about their experiences and see if she can change her mind.
There were some great scenes where she interviews some children on a Georgia playground. Here’s a very insightful clip: