Friday, July 10, 2009

The Four R's - Rendition, Rosencrantz and Guilderstern..., Rent, The Reader

We found our way back to Blockbusters. We'd been away so long that I found three movies just in the R section and then J got another one when she took those back.

We liked Rendition and The Reader a lot. Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead we probably need to get again when we aren't so sleepy. I think Tom Stoppard is one of, if not, the best playwright alive. I first became aware of him when I saw a fantastic university production of Arcadia, then began to see he'd been involved in other things I liked, such as Shakespeare in Love. But his work requires a clear head. There's lots of very cerebral humor and we just weren't up for it. Need to go back and reread Hamlet before watching it again.

Rendition was both a tight dramatic adventure movie with good actors - Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, and a great cast of Arabic actors as well - that also talked to an important issue of our day - secret prison camps and torture and kidnapping. While the Cheney types keep talking about the lives that are saved through torture, they never discuss the innocents who are needlessly tortured based on some minor suspicion, who eventually offer confirmation of the whatever the interrogators want to hear, leading to more innocent suspects. I also liked that the Arabs in the movie spoke Arabic with subtitles instead of dumbing it all down to English. In the world, not everyone speaks English, and certainly not when they are talking among themselves. The US is far away from non-English speaking countries (except Mexico). So most Americans see non-Americans on television and in movies, where they usually speak English. It's important to have movies portray them speaking their own languages. Movies have a powerful effect on how we understand the world. Even if we know intellectualy that they don't really speak English, we know, viscerally, from the movies, that they do.

The ending was disappointingly Hollywood. Unless they can show me where a CIA officer felt sorry for a captive and helped him escape, I think sweetening the end for American audiences almost ruins the movie. Making all the loose ends in the length of a movie isn't an easy task. The best movies manage to do it. I wasn't completely satisfied, but it kept my attention all the way through. I'm sure there is an ideological divide among viewers. This is clearly an anti-Bush policy movie and those who think fighting terrorism is the most important thing in the world will not be happy with this movie. There was also an interesting documentary on rendition and prison camps also on the DVD.

The Reader raises all sorts of questions. Here, the characters are almost all German, but the cast isn't. They do have German accents though and I'm sure it was much more accessible being in English. (I've already discussed the issue recently of acting cross-culturally in a post on the play Man in the Attic - which also took place in Germany.) The Reader based on a 1995 German novel Der Vorleser by Bernhard Schlink. While the focus of attention on this movie has been on the Holocaust, it also raises issues about sexuality that I think are even more interesting. I say this only because the Holocaust seems to be covered so much. While sexuality is everywhere in our culture, it isn't usually dealt with frankly and realistically. In this case, a 15 year old boy is seduced by a woman 21 years his senior. By the end of the movie it is clear that this relationship has seriously damaged him emotionally and he's been unable communicate seriously with anyone.

Lots of men probably have the same symptoms from various causes. I've always wondered whether early sex with an older partner is ALWAYS the negative that we assume. Can an older person introduce sex in a positive way to a younger one? I suspect the difference in ages is relevant, that 15 is probably on the young end of the scale, but that each person is different. Clearly its lasting effects in this story are permanent debilitating scars. But, and this is a big but, how much of the scarring was due simply to the short affair and how much to the fact that the boy, later, as a law student in a small course on the Holocaust, attends the trial of - and he didn't know this in advance - his former lover who is convicted of murdering Jews as a Nazi concentration camp guard. Would he have gotten over the affair if it weren't for the second half? I know there are people who say that any sort of relationship like this is bad, and it clearly is for many if not most. But I don't know what research exists that looks at those who had such relationships and went on to have happy and healthy lives.

Anyway, a good, serious movie with no sweetened endings.

Rent. We made it through the whole movie, but we kept looking at each other and with a look that said, "Why was this a big hit?" Maybe those folks in the 20 - 40 range could relate better to all the issues brought up about relationships and compromises, but that's told a million different ways. This one just didn't connect.


  1. If I remember correctly, when Rent came out, most the reviews said not to watch the film if you liked the musical because it will ruin the soundtrack for you forever and ever. The musical was a big hit, the film was a flop.

    That said, the musical doesn't age much better than, say, Hair.

  2. "The US is far away from non-English speaking countries (except Mexico)"

    And Canada.

  3. KS, thanks for using initials and not just being anonymous. And thanks for the background on the movie versus the play. But I do have to say that Hair did hold up quite well. Forty years later when they did it in Anchorage, the music was still quite good.

    Joel, You think, eh?


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