October was a busy month. We didn’t have too much trouble with Sandy: a bunch of branches, a downed tree, some damage to the fence. Though today I found, on the ground in the backyard, what I’m guessing is the leatherized carcass of a squirrel that died in the crook of a tree some time ago and got blown out of the tree last week. It wasn't a great month for movies: the front of my Netflix queue was overloaded with what I'd happened to pick at the same time, instead of what I most wanted to see. There's something to be said for interspersing the movies that, in anticipation, look like "meh," with the others, but less to be said for pushing, say, Contagion months out just because there are a lot of "meh"s to get through.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: This was okay, in an “interesting though extremely unexciting,” not a “good story, stupid premise” kind of way. I don’t know the novel or the earlier TV adaptation: if there was more to it than the basic detective story, one man on a mission to find out, “Who is the mole?”, it wasn’t in this movie. A lot of it was two men at a time sitting in rooms, talking, for long periods of time. Not a lot of time was wasted with explanations. In the end, it was about the futility of the Cold War and of the modern way of life, as you’d expect from Le Carré.
Hesher: The plot, if you can believe it: apparently evil, long-haired druggy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) moves into the house of a family that’s been in mourning for the past several weeks and can’t seem to pull itself out of it, and they don’t do anything about it. The picture went screwy about halfway through the movie, and rather than try to clean it, we gave up on this one. I managed to watch the last track, which suggested that the director might have been trying to go for some kind of allegory here. This is the logical conclusion of all those movies about loser druggies who get their friends into trouble but are really good people—except that Hesher isn’t good people. He’s not entirely unappealing, from a distance, if you’re not opposed on principle to guys who have long hair and listen to hardcore music and drive black vans. But he’s not actually a friendly or interesting long-haired hardcore listener. This movie suggests that was interesting about those other films wasn’t, in fact, the underlying niceness of these superficially out-of-it people, but their inability to care about what happens to others. If you like to watch movies about undersized high school kids being bullied, you’ll like this.
Poetry (in Korean): A lyrical meditation, on death, aging, loss of innocence, love and sex, nature and culture. That means “slow-moving.” I found it engrossing, but because of the language difference, I’m not sure I got all of it. The story follows a woman in her sixties as she deals with health issues, the rebelliousness of her grandson, whom she’s raising, and the mystery of a young girl’s suicide, as she attempts to find an outlet in writing poetry.
There’s nothing good in her life, it seems, except poetry. Her grandson is sullen and bosses her around, and he’s gotten into some serious trouble at school that he won’t even discuss with her. It isn’t clear whether she’s only recently become disconnected from things—at the beginning of the film, we see her discussing with a doctor what sound like neurological problems—or whether her medical problems are only now bringing to light a malaise she’s had accumulating for some time. She enrolls in the eponymous poetry class immediately after leaving the doctor’s, and after walking past a scene outside the hospital, involving a mother, hysterical over her young daughter’s suicide. She works as a maid, a home care worker for a rich, elderly man who seems to have had a stroke.
There was an obvious parallel between the older woman facing the end of her life, and her inability to understand how people today think, and the younger girl, the suicide, confronted with the sad realities of the world. There were obvious contrasts drawn between male and female, rich and poor, the city and the country. I’m not entirely sure the film didn’t, ultimately, romanticize death as a fairly reasonable escape from an unjust world, or dwell on suffering merely to be able to feel sorry for people unlike us.
Whether it did depends on the poetry discussed and recited—in voiceover at the end of the film, and at restaurant poetry readings situated throughout it—which I didn’t fully comprehend. I’m not opposed in the slightest to foreign films, or to watching movies with subtitles. But I can’t honestly say I was able to experience the movie as a whole. Subtitles are usually very crudely written. And the final sequence of the film, with the woman’s final poem read aloud over a series of images the viewer has already seen, largely because of the subtitles, required a visual split of attention that made it difficult to follow. I could just about watch the film while reading the subtitles, but it was impossible for me to experience the words deeply. Even if I could have paid attention to all of it at the same time, it seems unlikely that all the poetry of the original came across in the translation.
Stir of Echoes: This is a ghost story that came out about the same time as The Sixth Sense, and coincidentally, it has a lot in common with that movie. I remember hearing a review of both films on NPR that named Stir of Echoes distinctly better, more indicative of “a heart.” I’ve been waiting to see it since then, and got my chance when it was on cable for my Halloween-night vaguely scary movie viewing. The movie is based on a novel by noted science-fiction writer Richard Matheson.
It’s set in a working-class Chicago neighborhood. Kevin Bacon plays a guy who’d like to get out (picture Ren from Footloose ten years on), married to a wife who’s happy there, though she seems to come from better things (played by Kathryn Erbe, who’s now on Breaking Bad). His young son, it turns out, sees dead people—or at least one dead person—their house, a rental they’ve only recently moved into, is haunted. Tom Witsky (the Bacon character) is hypnotized, by his college-educated sister-in-law (played by Illeana Douglas), and suddenly he begins seeing things, too. No scarier than The Sixth Sense, this film finds something more for the ghosts to do than just be symbols of lost love. It’s not exactly an exciting thriller, and the echoes of The Shining, down to the characters’ race, may be a little too exact, but a well-made film.