Thoughts on “The Cellar”

December 8, 2022

This is the second movie that features a recognizable female lead, which this time is Elisha Cuthbert.  I never actually watched any of her shows, as it turns out, but she was such a pop media presence that I, and almost everyone else, knew who she was.  She looks quite a bit different here, and I could really only recognize her by her voice.

The main plot here is that a family moves into a house that they got for an incredible price, which should always be some kind of warning for the people who buy it.  Sure, in the real world it usually means that there’s some kind of rot or structural issue that’s going to take a ton of time and money to fix, but in the horror world it usually means that there are some kind of ghosts or demons in the mix.  That’s the case here as well, as the previous family that owned the house had almost everyone disappear without a trace, and creepy things start happening.  Soon enough, the teenage daughter — who didn’t want to move into the house in the first place — is home with her brother while the parents are at a business meeting and after the lights go out is told by the mother to go into the basement to check it, and since she’s freaked out about that the mother tells her to count the steps to get over her fear, and is freaked out when the daughter mindlessly keeps counting long past the number of steps, and then disappears.  At least partly out of guilt, the mother obsessively investigates the house and discovers that the previous occupant left behind some equations that link to alchemy and to Baphomet, a demon who wants to bring about the apocalypse.  The rest of her family ends up getting caught up in the mindless counting, and she ends up discovering how to open the way to Baphomet’s domain and manages to rescue the daughter, and then tries to get everyone to leave the house but discovers that outside the house is a wasteland, and then all the family starts doing the counting again and she starts doing it herself, which ends the movie.

I admit that I found the ending a bit disappointing.  I actually did want this to be a happy instead of a Downer ending, but worse than that was the fact that it isn’t clear what happened.  Early on, it’s stated that Baphomet wants to use these things to bring about the apocalypse, and so the wasteland outside the house could be reflecting that he succeeded.  Or, it could be the case that they are simply trapped in that dimension and can’t get out, and that the house itself in our reality is still the same, since it was also established early on that these are different dimensions.  It kinda blunts the Downer Ending a bit if we don’t know just how much of a Downer it really is.

That being said, this is a movie that shows that all you need is a decent plot and some decent performances to make a credible horror movie.  I could easily nitpick the fact that the movie doesn’t explain anything about Baphomet and his goals or methods.  Why is counting so important?  How does that allow for the dimensional shifts?  How would that cause the apocalypse?  None of these questions are answered, but what’s important is that the answers aren’t important to the plot, and the movie itself doesn’t really draw attention to that.  So we can go along accepting that these are the way things are and then use that to build the horror without worrying too much about what it all means.  Thus, the movie has just enough plot and exposition to get us to the scares and so we know to be creeped out when people start mindlessly counting without either keeping things way too obscure and hidden or spending too much time on exposition.  This leaves us able to enjoy Cuthbert’s performance — which, though not as good as Christina Ricci’s — and the tension that the movie at least competently builds.

Given all of that, this movie is somewhat on the cusp between a movie that I would definitely rewatch again and one that I might rewatch again.  But on consideration, I think it is at least as good as “The Changeling”, and for a lot of the same reasons, and that one is in my closet.  So this one goes there, too.  And this clearly shows that for horror the important thing about the plot is not having something complicated or deep or that gives a wonderful message, but instead to have a plot good enough to do what you want to do, filling out just enough that we know what’s coming when the creepy things start to happen but not necessarily explaining every little thing.  This movie does that, and when you add in the strong production values and Cuthbert’s strong performance, you end up with a horror movie that’s better than most of the horror movies I watch.

Thoughts on “Antony and Cleopatra”

December 7, 2022

This is another historical, and is a sequel to the best historical I’ve read up until this point in “Julius Caesar”.  This also is an oddity for a historical, where the main focus is on the title characters and we follow their story through the play.  In “Julius Caesar”, the focus was not on Caesar but was on Brutus, and Caesar himself dies early on in the play, but here this actually is the story of Antony and Cleopatra as they head towards their tragic ends.

The basic story is recounting the story of the second triumvirate of Octavius, Antony, and Lepidus.  Lepidus is portrayed as a member of the triumvirate who at least talked as if he was equally impressed by Octavius and Antony, but is really a minor character here.  Antony is spending his time with Cleopatra in Egypt, and when she advances her claims that her son Caesarion is Caesar’s that and Antony’s staying there Octavius starts to suspect that this will cause a rebellion so that the two of them can seize power, and so he calls Antony back to Rome to soothe his suspicions.  Antony agrees to marry Octavius’ sister, but immediately decides that he will return to Cleopatra anyway.  Meanwhile, Cleopatra is enraged at the news that Antony married Octavius’ sister.  They soon reconcile, but this causes the very split that the marriage was supposed to prevent and Octavius and Antony and Rome and Egypt go to war.  Antony takes the incautious tack of attacking at sea rather than at land and loses a huge battle, that is somewhat retrieved with a land battle the next day, but eventually he is defeated and he commits suicide.  At the time, Octavius was not willing to treat with Antony for a peace treaty but was willing to be quite lenient towards Cleopatra, but she suspects that Octavius’ sister is going to have it in for her and that she will be humiliated, and so she commits suicide as well.

The big problem with this play is that while is does focus on Antony and Cleopatra, neither of them are very interesting protagonists, and neither of them actually act all that nice throughout the play, but their problems are not ones that can properly carry drama or tragedy.  Antony is inconsistent throughout the entire play, first accepting the marriage to Octavius’ sister and then immediately repudiating it to return to Cleopatra.  If it had been presented as him knowing that he needed to do it but then being tempted by Cleopatra or even the memory of her, it would have made him more sympathetic.  It doesn’t help that his ill-fated attack is one that pretty much all of his officers tell him is a move that he shouldn’t make, so he looks less tragic and more stupid, and since that is what ultimately results in his suicide we really want it to be more tragic.

For her part, Cleopatra has a running gag where she assumes the worst about someone coming to tell her news and keeps going on about it and speculating about it and what it means so that the person coming to tell her the news can’t get it out over her objections.  This is mildly amusing, but also presents her as a bit scattered and overly emotional.  This wouldn’t be a problem, but she is also saddled with scenes where she berates and torments the messenger for bringing her bad news, threatening even greater punishments and beating him for not lying to her, which makes her unsympathetic.  Again, the only dramatic and tragic elements revolve around the two of them, and her death ends the play, so we really need her to be a sympathetic character so that we feel the right feelings there, and we don’t.  In fact, we don’t feel that her assessment that the Romans are going to humiliate her is accurate, and are more inclined to think that Octavius really wanted to show her mercy given that her assessments of such things throughout the play are almost always wrong.  So she too comes across as more stupid than tragic.

I came into this play and “Julius Caesar” knowing things about the main characters from history and other works, and feeling sympathetic towards them because of it.  That is what carried me through this play, because there is no time taken to develop those characters and make us feel for them in the play itself, which is a hallmark of the historicals.  However, by the end I ended up disliking Antony and Cleopatra despite coming in liking them, and given the structure of the play that isn’t what was intended.  Given that, I didn’t care much for this play, which leaves “Julius Caesar” as the best historical so far, and I’d dare say the only one so far that was unequivocally good.

Up next is what I think is another historical in “Coriolanus”.

Accomplishments Update

December 6, 2022

So it’s been about three months since the last update, and since I’m about to go on my normal Christmas vacation and am about to redo my schedule on New Year’s Day as normal. it seems like a good time to assess how things work out for the three months where I returned to working from the office.

DVDs worked pretty well, as usual.  I managed to get through “Pretty Little Liars:  Original Sin” and “Doom Patrol” and finish off the “X-Men Animated Series”.  As part of going through “Original Sin”, I also rewatched “Scream Queens” so I could compare the two.  Then I turned my attention to a rewatch of Babylon 5, which I should finish sometime this week.  That worked out pretty well for a three month span, and it leaves me ready to watch something new in the New Year, which should actually go a bit faster since “Go 8-bit” has ended its run on my Canadian game show channel and so I can watch such things on Sunday nights again.

Books worked out pretty well, although it may not seem that way.  I’m still working my way through the Pierre Berton history books, and I’m down to the last book and a half out of about five or six.  I should be finished them by the end of December, or at least be pretty close.  Then I have to decide if I’m going to read some lighter history books — mostly by Bill Fawcett — or re-read something from my fiction book cases that I’ve been meaning to re-read for a while, like the X-Wing books.  Right now, I’m leaning towards Fawcett, to get those books done while recognizing that they will be lighter and faster reads than the Berton books.  I did have to ditch a WWI book that I had planned on reading, partly because I didn’t have the time and partly because I was looking for a good WWI book covering the war to pair with that one which talks about the lead-up to the war, and didn’t find one.

Video games are a bit hit and miss.  I did manage to finish all the missions in “Space Crusade” and only didn’t win the last one.  I also managed to play a fair bit of “The Old Republic” to finish off my latest attempt at the TOR Diary with Captain Trunk.  But I didn’t play “Galactic Battlegrounds” or “Dark Age of Camelot” that much, and am missing not really being able to play longer games like “Dragon Age Origins” in the time I have available.  This is something to think about when doing up my new schedule and plan on New Year’s Day.

On Projects, I did manage to finish and post my story inspired by “Taming of the Shrew”.  That’s huge progress for me.  Unfortunately, after that I did absolutely nothing on Projects, mostly because I didn’t feel that I had the time to do it and kept shuffling my schedule around a bit as well.  This is another thing to think about when doing up my new schedule.

I have a plan set up for my vacation and will try to do some things, and then will be moving to the new schedule in January.  We’ll see how things work out then.

Trunk Diary: Voss

December 5, 2022

So, I’d managed to heal my body enough that it wasn’t going to fall apart on me, but that really didn’t do anything for my mind, which still had a ton of ghosts in it that all wanted out, or at least wanted to destroy me.  The answer to that was supposed to be on Voss, which is a planet that has some kind of mystical tradition, but one separate from that of the Jedi or the Sith.  Given their abilities, both sides really want them to join their side, and so I got roped into helping our local Sith Lord, Darth Severin, do exactly that.

First, my own cure.  It turns out that there are rituals that involve visions that would allow me to face down the spirits in my head, but when I did the first ritual it seems that they wanted to try to guilt me by showing me my past deeds and arguing that I failed or betrayed those people.  The problem is that I didn’t.  Zash betrayed me and that’s why she ended up the way she was.  The woman leading my cult seemed to be hinting that I had passed over her love or some other such garbage but that wasn’t in the picture.  The problem with their attack was simple:  I’m not at all guilty over the things I’ve done.  I’ve always done what I think right and justifiable.  So their attacks had no impact on me.

That wasn’t enough, though, to get rid of them.  To do that, I needed another ritual with the help of a Gormak shaman.  Now, the Gormak are the other species that live on Voss, and they and the Voss are bitter enemies.  And the Voss hate them so much that they don’t want to ever have any of them leave the planet, which otherwise would have been the perfect solution for their war.  As it turns out, in helping Darth Severin I discovered that the two species were the same, corrupted by a world corrupting influence spawned by the Jedi coming to Voss in the ancient past and trying to use them in a war against the Sith.  I decided to reveal this to the Voss elders when Severin wanted me to simply tell them about the Jedi part, and he was very angry since he thought that lying to them would bring them to our side, while telling them the truth made them more focused on internal matters and the fallout rather than joining in a galactic war.  But this is why Sith like Serevin are terrible for the Empire, because they would have found out eventually and then been angry at us for lying, while here while the news split them they would be grateful to us for telling them the truth instead of using it for our own gain.  Keeping them out of the war is enough to ensure that we don’t horribly lose it, and they’re more likely to be allies in the future if we don’t lie to them … and if they reconcile with the Gormak, they’ll be even more powerful allies.  Severin, like most Sith, is too short-sighted to see any of this.

So, what was the one thing the shaman wanted for helping me?  To get off the planet.  But I agreed, even though it might anger the Voss.  My own life is more important than their stupid superstitions, and I figured I could get him off the planet without drawing attention.  With him using a sacred stone to make the ghosts fightable, I defeated them again and managed to reintegrate my mind and, more importantly, to shut them all up.  Of course, the Voss managed to find out about the Gormak I was smuggling off the planet, but a simple “Force Persuade” was enough to get him to forget it happened and let me move along.

After this, Thanaton challenged me to some kind of ancient ritual called the “Kagath” to take place on Corellia.  So it’s time for me to gather my remaining resources and take him on there.

“Could Batman Have Been the Joker?”

December 2, 2022

The next essay in “Batman and Philosophy” is “Could Batman Have Been the Joker?” by Sam Cowling and Chris Ragg.  Now, in a non-philosophical context, this question would be an introduction for a “What if?” scenario where through different circumstances Bruce Wayne takes on the criminal persona of the Joker instead of becoming Batman or forms some kind of split personality where he’s both Batman and his own nemesis the Joker.  But while Cowling and Ragg do talk a bit about that, what they want to do is focus on the idea of modal logic and possible worlds and whether what is referred to by “Batman” could ever also be referred to as “the Joker”.

The big argument is indeed about referents.  The idea is that “Batman” is a name, and a name signifies and points out a specific individual in the world, and it can’t be used to point to anything else.  This differs from descriptions which cannot be used to uniquely identify an individual since they can change between possible worlds.  So while “Batman” may not be a crime fighter — or even exist — in a possible world, it would still point out the same individual, and if “the Joker” is also a name that points to a different individual in a possible world then “Batman” can never, in fact, be “the Joker”, even if there exists a possible world where Bruce Wayne dresses up in a clown suit and commits crimes using laughing gas while the Clown Prince of Crime puts on a bat suit and opposes his criminal schemes.  We would have change the properties of those individuals, but ultimately we would have to say that they remain “Batman” and “the Joker”, which would seem odd if such possible worlds actually existed, because then whether that person is “the Joker” or is “Batman”, it would seem, would depend on which world a person started from.  Start from the normal DC comics world, and it’s “Batman” and “the Joker”.  Start from that inverted world, and it’s “the Joker” and “Batman”.  That’s not a result that seems to make sense to us.

I think the way out of this sort of mess is revealed with an issue they reveal, that of the various “Robins”.  If “Batman” picks out a unique individual, then “Robin” does as well.  But there have been multiple “Robins” with different properties, but that are all called “Robin”.  This leads to the recognition that there have been multiple “Batmans” as well.  If the name picks out a unique individual in all possible worlds, then which individual does it pick out?  And if it has to pick out all of them, then it doesn’t pick out a unique individual and we risk having it be just another description or property, leaving us no way to pick out and follow an individual across multiple possible worlds.

However, the issue here is one that I think Jonathan MS Pearce’s nominalism hits as well:  mistaking the symbol for the concept itself.  We know that there are people who share our given name.  But in no sense are we ever confused over which of us is the “real” one or which is being referred to at any given time.  A name is not a unique identifier because of the sequence of letters that make it up, but because of what it is connected to, and so what it refers to.  That sequence of letters gets its meaning by being attached to me and that same sequence of letters, in other context, gets its meaning by being attached to that other person.  It’s the combination of the name itself and what it refers to that produces the unique identity that we can follow through all possible worlds.  That also applies, then, to the “Robins” and even to the “Batmans” and the “Jokers”:  the unique individual is what that name is being used to referred to, and is not the name itself.  After all, a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, so it cannot be the name itself that creates that uniqueness.  Instead, the name is a symbol that we use to label the reference that we have to that specific individual.

That’s why a name picks out an individual in all possible worlds no matter how we shuffle the properties of that individual.  It’s not because that’s what a name does, but because the name is the label for that specific reference to that individual, and that reference stays constant across all possible worlds.  The issues listed above only happen when you treat the name as that crucial element rather than the reference that the name is merely the label or symbol for.  Once we understand this, we can see that the reference to Batman could never be a reference to the Joker, since they are distinct individuals in at least one possible world and so get their own references, and can see that the reference to Bruce Wayne and the reference to Batman are to the same individual since they are the same individual in at least one possible world.  If we find a possible world where Bruce Wayne didn’t become Batman but someone else did, we can see that the original reference is still to the same individual and it’s only the names and symbols that have changed.  In short, the new individual who becomes the crime fighter and calls himself by the name Batman is the same individual that we might reference in the DC comics world, and Bruce Wayne is also the individual that we reference by that name in the DC comics world, but the properties around becoming the crime fighter are what differs.

Once we understand this, we can understand how people and characters can change names between possible worlds without becoming completely different people, while maintaining that the person we, at least, know by that name is the individual that we can follow through all possible worlds and so one that we can look for and posit changes in without having to wonder if they are indeed the same person.  The string of letters that we call them by is another property of the individual that can change between worlds, but the reference we have to them remains constant and is what we actually use to identify them.  Like Pearce, Cowling and Rigg confuse the symbol in the English language for the concept or reference itself, and then tie themselves into knots because they try to apply the properties of the symbol to the properties of the underlying element itself, which causes ridiculous results that they need to untangle.  Separating the two resolves these issues and allows us to use these things in the way we originally wanted to use them.

Thoughts on “Monstrous”

December 1, 2022

This is the first of two movies that I picked up at least in part because the female lead — and the main protagonist — was a recognized actress that I kinda liked.  This time it’s Christina Ricci, who is no stranger to creepy roles and movies, but who at least recently has done a few more “normal” things as well (“Pan-Am” for one, which I didn’t watch).  The idea also sounded somewhat interesting, as it was about a woman and her son moving to a new house and facing some kind of threat, so it was worth taking a chance on it since it was, again, relatively inexpensive.

The movie is set in I think the 50s, and she has moved away and is renting that house because of something her husband did to her son, that the movie is very cagey about mentioning.  She also has dreams and visions that include a woman that she seems to recognize.  At the same time, her son sees a monster coming from the lake, and it seems to enter his room, but later he starts talking about it not being a monster but instead being a “pretty lady”, even though Christina Ricci’s character still sees it as a monster, and ends up stabbing it once.  As things progress, her son doesn’t seem to be making any friends at the school she drops him off at every morning and when she throws him a birthday party no one comes, but it is revealed later that he didn’t give out the invitations, which ticks her off.  Soon after, she comes to pick him up from school and he isn’t there, and no one knows who he is, and then a police officer comes and takes her into the station, and as she is questioned about what really happened to her son her “phone” rings, and it is revealed that she has a cell phone and it isn’t really the 50s at all, and that she’s been living in a delusion the entire time.  It turns out that her son drowned, possibly because she left him alone with his father who didn’t watch him closely enough and she then returned to find him already dead.  The reason that’s possibly is because while she implies that that’s what happened, it isn’t clear that that’s what happened because her retreat into delusion is out of guilt, and the scene that shows it doesn’t include him.  At any rate, it turns out that the woman she was seeing was her grandmother, who talked about how much simpler things were in the past which is what spawned her retreat into that as a delusion, and she was living in her grandmother’s old house and driving her old car.  She ends up driving away in the old car, seemingly having accepted her son’s death but perhaps to simply move away to retreat into delusion again.

The premise here is actually a pretty good one.  While someone retreating into a delusion isn’t a new idea — in fact, the movie “The Turning” did it a while ago — in general what happens in these sorts of movies is that someone is in an insane asylum or something and everything is a complete hallucination.  What’s interesting here is that she is living in the real world and is at least mostly functioning in that world, but her delusion is interpreting the modern world in 50s terms.  This opens up all sorts of ways to hint that she’s in a delusion and to play out the plot and the interpretations.  So it’s both a pretty standard premise and also one that the movie has a potentially interesting spin on.

But the main problem with this movie is that it takes this simple and interesting premise and makes it way, way too complicated, and in ways that leave things open that the movie didn’t need in the first place.  They have the relationship to the grandmother — which they hint at enough that I suspected that it was all a delusion long before the end — the delusion itself, the monster, the monster becoming a pretty lady, the incident with her son, a conflict with her landlords, and her motivations for the delusion itself.  The actual monster idea gets barely touched on, and is quickly replaced with the “pretty lady”, and we never do find out the details of what happened to her son.  What you really want in a movie like this is to build things slowly and drop hints that things aren’t right and that she’s living in a delusion without spoiling it, and the movie spends too much time on other things to leave room for that.  Sure, it might be — and likely is — the case that some of the things she sees aren’t accurate to the time and so would provide such hints, except that we get into what Shamus Young referred to as “Trust the Storyteller” and so any inaccuracies that people familiar with the time would notice will be easily explained by the writer simply making mistakes about what would happen in that time.  It’s actually really difficult to drop these sorts of hints without giving anything away, and so what we’d need is for the character herself to note it and then explain it away, which would allow us to accept that explanation but then be reminded of it later.  But with all the additional complications the small details get lost — like the people at the school looking at her funny — in the overwhelming little details.

If it was me, what I would have done was remove the monster part entirely.  Make it into a more classic ghost story by keeping the “pretty lady” angle, which ties into the grandmother angle.  Yes, you’d probably have to name it “Pretty Lady” or something, but that would create an interesting pun and red herring for the plot of the movie, since at first blush that would seem to refer to her and not to the ghost/monster.  This would also allow them to avoid showing the monster early in the movie like they did here, which would be good because once you introduce and show a monster you can’t easily go back to showing the everyday routine, since the actual known threat from the monster will overwhelm that.  And for a movie like this, what we really, really want is to see the everyday routine so that we can find the hints that this is all a delusion, and so making us wonder when the monster will appear again works against that.  Once the monster is eliminated, the movie can mostly proceed as it does, although while I’d keep the hints that it was the father who was responsible for the drowning I’d make a clear statement at the end that she left the son alone for a short time and he drowned because of that, which explains the enormous guilt that she’s feeling that causes her to retreat into her delusion.

The sad thing is that, as noted above, this isn’t all that novel a concept.  This is a concept that should really be a slam dunk.  Even if they fumbled on the hints — which they did — the premise is interesting enough that all you need is a sympathetic lead and a remotely interesting sequence of events combined with a simple ghost story to keep the audience’s attention through the movie until the end.  But things are so confused and so complicated with a number of unnecessary things that it can’t really be enjoyed on its own, and the fact that nothing gets settled at the end doesn’t help.  It boggles my mind that in terms of plot the movie fumbles things so very, very badly with a premise that is both so simple and so familiar and thus should have been easy to pull off.

Now, normally a plot fumbled so badly would get me to toss this into my box of movies to sell.  I mean, I was indeed actually bored at times while watching it, which is a bad sign.  But Christina Ricci puts on a wonderful performance, which makes me really feel for her character and interested in how things work out for her.  It’s a shame that that wonderful performance comes in such a poorly realized movie, but her performance is so good that I can easily imagine myself rewatching it just to see her performance again.  If they had managed to even provide even a simple, basic plot, her performance would have easily made this a move that I would rewatch on a fairly regular basis, but since they didn’t, it will go into the box of movies that I might rewatch at some point in the future, although it is probably at the top of that list.

Thoughts on “King Lear”

November 30, 2022

This is another play that I happened to study in an English class at some point, probably in high school.  I recalled enjoying it, so it was another play that I was somewhat looking forward to.  And it’s a tragedy, which certainly is a point in its favour.

The basic premise is that King Lear is aging and is probably even entering into his dotage — and is probably a little senile — and so he decides to divide up England among his three daughters.  But before he does so, he asks them how much they love him.  The two older ones — Goneril and Regan — praise him profusely and talk about how great their love for him is, but the youngest — Cordelia — says that she cannot declare that she loves him more than anyone else ever.  This enrages him and he cuts her off from her inheritance over the objections of his closest advisor, and doing so almost scuppers the proposed marriages that he was considering for her, but the King of France maintains his suit in spite of not receiving a dowry and in the face of Lear’s displeasure and marries her, taking her away to France.  Lear also turns his anger on his advisor and exiles him.  Lear is supposed to spend his time staying with his two daughters, but while staying with Goneril he causes her some trouble both with his actions and with his sizeable retinue, which she wants to reduce.  When he refuses, she insists and he attempts to go stay with Regan, but she is on Goneril’s side and they insist that he reduce his retinue and moderate his behaviour to a degree that he considers unacceptable.   Ultimately, they lock him out in a storm, which seems to badly impact his mental state as he slips into insanity.  Meanwhile, his advisor has disguised himself and returned to England, and he supports him.  At the same time, another noble is trying to take his brother’s inheritance and contrives a charge against him that is false, and then wrangles his way into Goneril and Regan’s good graces, which causes them to want to ditch their existing husbands and marry him instead.  Goneril’s husband is reasonable and opposes their general aims and treatment of their father, but Regan’s husband is as cruel as they are.  Cordelia eventually returns with an army from France and they find Lear, but lose the subsequent battle and the other noble orders Cordelia killed while being taken into custody, which is the last straw for Lear’s sanity and he dies as well, while Regan’s husband was killed earlier which causes the two of them to kill each other to try to land the noble, and then of course the noble is executed as well.

For a good tragedy, we should be able to see the tragic events coming but note that the personalities involved will make it so that they can’t avoid those outcomes.  But here that doesn’t seem to be the case.  There was no reason for Cordelia to respond to Lear’s question about how much she loves him the way she did, as she goes over and above simply saying that she wouldn’t flatter him to trying to make rather specious arguments about how she’d have to spare some love for her husband and so on and so forth.  Once she finds out about Lear’s condition, there’s no real reason for her to invade as opposed to simply trying to bring Lear back to France, especially once she finds Lear and can return with him.  The play doesn’t establish that she and her husband — who returned to France and so wasn’t with them to be captured — were really trying to re-establish her legacy or restore Lear’s, and there seemed to be little reason for them to do so.  And yet, that’s the precise event that leads to Cordelia being captured and ultimately killed, which is the real tragic event that we’re supposed to focus on, but it ultimately ends up being nonsensical, which hampers the tragedy.

A big part of this, though, is that we don’t get to know Cordelia very much throughout the play, and so we have a hard time discerning her motives.  She is far too outspoken early on in the play, but we can feel a little happy for her when the King of France wants to marry her anyway, and it would have been nice if she had been able to keep that.  But then we don’t hear much of anything from her for pretty much the entire rest of the play, which leaves her motives in returning with an army unclear.  And as noted above, since that’s what ultimately costs her her happy ending we really need to understand what her motives are.  So we think that she was unfairly treated but could have happiness with the King of France, all of which is tossed away for an invasion that she didn’t need to do and that we are given no reason for.  So it isn’t the case that the tragedy follows from who she and Lear are, because we don’t really know who she is and we have to think that she should have been smart enough to avoid it, which makes it an inferior tragedy.

The tragedy also suffers from portraying the other sisters inconsistently.  They seem to have a point in arguing that Lear’s retinue is too large and too rowdy for them to support, that Lear himself can’t seem to control them, and that Lear in fact can’t even seem to control himself as he acts out against their servants and commits violence upon them.  Since they aren’t his servants, it seems like they’d have a point that he should treat them better and given the slip in his mentality it’s also reasonable to think that he’s doing that unreasonably and so when they didn’t deserve it.  But the play then quickly moves to make them almost cartoonishly villainous, locking him out in a raging storm and then immediately contriving to throw over their husbands for the other noble and contriving to kill their husbands and each other.  The shift from them being flatterers but seemingly committed to looking after their father and only reconsidering because he’s causing so much problems to people who would commit such crimes and care not one whit for their father is way too quick and moves them from being interesting antagonists to boring ones, so it cannot be a tragedy that the entire family dies, but their deaths also aren’t a relief or give us a sense that they received justice or a sense of irony that they ultimately destroyed each other.  Perhaps if the noble was a more compelling character it could be seen as the result of his schemes, but he isn’t and so really the only feeling their deaths instilled in me was relief that at least Goneril’s husband lived.

But I think the big issue here is that there isn’t really enough plot here to fill the number of pages this play has.  “Macbeth” covers 27 pages in my edition, while “King Lear” covers 39.  But “King Lear” certainly does not have a more involved plot than “Macbeth” does, and in fact it’s a pretty simple one at its base:  elderly King hands his property over to his children on the basis of flattery and exiles the one that wouldn’t flatter him, but it turns out that the only one who was truly loyal to and loved him was the one he exiled.  Yes, I outline a lot of things happening in the plot above, but they are mostly disconnected at least in terms of the characters — a theme of family members betraying family members and elderly nobles being fooled by words in lieu of deeds — and so there doesn’t seem to be a lot happening in the plot, and yet it seems to be spending a lot of time doing it.  As such, at times I found myself bored while reading it, which is not something I’m used to having happen in one of Shakespeare’s dramas/tragedies.

And ultimately, at the end of the play, I didn’t have a sense of tragedy like I did in “Hamlet” or “Romeo and Juliet”, but instead felt, well, depressed.  I would really have liked Cordelia to survive and live in France, and felt her death was pointless, along with pretty much all of the other deaths.  It didn’t follow from the characters as written in the play because the play doesn’t really establish their characters in the play, and so it wasn’t a tragedy that they could have avoided but wouldn’t because of who they are, but instead seems more like them making stupid mistakes and unnecessary moves that led to their downfall.  That’s depressing, not tragic.

That being said, Shakespeare does manage to get us to care about Cordelia, which is why the ending was depressing, and his writing is indeed on form here and so the speeches and dialogue still works.  So it’s still a well-written play.  However, that I was ultimately so depressed by it means that it won’t be one of my favourites.  Still, it’s better than most of his comedies and most of his historicals.  It’s just, in my opinion, an inferior tragedy.

Up next is the sequel to “Julius Caesar” in “Antony and Cleopatra”.

Thoughts on “Silent Night”

November 29, 2022

This isn’t a movie that I picked up to start watching to get into the holiday spirit.  No, I actually watched this movie many months ago when I watched “The Fifth Element” and had a rough plan to watch that stack of Sci-Fi movies that I have (and never got around to doing that).  As I’ve wound down watching TV shows, it’s a good time to clear the stacks of things that I want to talk about and so finish off the two Sci-Fi movies that I had watched and never written about in preparation to watch some more Sci-Fi movies and write about them.  Maybe.

As it turns out, I wasn’t really sure how to classify this movie anyway.  The basic premise is that it’s Christmas and a strange storm has been brewing around the world that causes people to be infected with some kind of disease that kills them rather quickly.  It’s just about it hit the U.K., and the citizens have been given suicide pills so that they can kill themselves before it hits and they die horribly.  So they are spending their one last Christmas trying to get in one last gasp of frivolity and togetherness before the end.

Now, this could easily be a horror plot, except that the actual plague isn’t shown much at all (there are a couple of scenes with it).  It could be a straight drama, but the premise seems to be at least slightly futuristic given that it tracks events that might follow from what we’ve been doing to the world but that no one expects to actually happen, at least not that way, right now.  So I think it works better as a science fiction movie.  One thing that is clear, though, is that it’s meant to be a black comedy, with the plague hovering over them and the somewhat goofy events that happen as they try to ignore it for their own last gasp of happiness.

Which makes it a shame, then, that it’s not all that funny.  They did try, however, by contriving all sorts of situations where the preparations for the holiday and for the suicide go wrong in somewhat slapstick ways.  The best part is at the end when one family is preparing to down their pills and the kids are complaining that they were promised a full can of soda apiece and that it’s warm and the father has to run around trying to put all of this together.  But scenes like this are few and far between, which means that for the most part the humour is them sniping at each other which isn’t followed up on or them acting like idiots and dancing around which in a movie like this is more drama than it is comedy.  There’s just not enough humour in the movie for this to work as a great black comedy.

The movie does take the time to add some political commentary, with one girl talking about how this was caused by Russia when it wasn’t and with a couple of other characters talking about how the government didn’t get the pills to illegal immigrants and things like that.  This isn’t actually a bad thing in a movie like this, but what it is supposed to do is get a bunch of people together with radically different political views to spend their time together trying desperately to ignore that in light of the fact that they’re all going to be dead by New Year’s.  But outside of the dinner scene with the comment on the Russians that doesn’t happen, and it seems like we’re supposed to accept that the things they say are correct (except for the Russian thing), which means that it can’t be used as simply a thing they disagree on that they are trying to suppress but instead comes across as more like the writer winking at the audience about the things we obviously all know and agree on, right?

So without the comedy, we have to evaluate the dramatic moments, and the movie flubs that by making the drama nonsensical and yet correct anyway.  The big drama is that the one boy thinks that they could survive the plague, and in the one couple the woman is pregnant and starts to think that maybe she should stay alive to have the baby.  The boy ends up invented and seems to die, which then settles it for everyone and they all decide to take the pill and die, but then the boy wakes up later proving that in theory some people can live through it.  This should be triumphant on his part and cause us to feel that the deaths of everyone else was a tragedy … except that the way the story is structured even with that we know that in-universe the boy got luck and out-of-universe the writers contrived the story to produce that outcome.  As the movie establishes, the storm hit other parts of the world first, such as Africa if I recall correctly, and they would therefore have had lots of time to study it and see if there was any kind of reasonable survival rate, and since they decided to go with the suicide pill option they had to conclude that there wasn’t.  Also, we know that in any kind of plague like this some people will have natural immunity or fight it off so that he manages to survive doesn’t mean that he was right that there’s any reasonable chance of surviving.  And if the pregnant woman had tried to live, perhaps the baby would have lived but she wouldn’t have and then it would die anyway since no one would take care of it.  Even their own political statements work against them here since while they say that the Queen and some others are hiding in a bunker until it passes by the fact that the kills are being given to citizens and not immigrants means that the sort of government that would deny that to immigrants clearly thinks that the better option is to die peacefully from the pills than from the storm, and that they don’t expect anyone to survive the storm since they’d want their citizens to survive and not the immigrants.  And, again, they had lots of time to study its effect in other areas so that they could put this plan into place and decided that the suicide option was the better one.

So the boy surviving isn’t triumphant and isn’t proof that he was right.  He was still wrong but in-universe got lucky and out-of-universe benefited from writer fiat and contrivance.  So the ending is stupid and meaningless, but is trying to seem meaningful and important.  Any work where that happens leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the audience, and yeah, for me one of my main takeaways is that it had a really, really stupid ending.

Given all of that, this isn’t a movie that I want to watch again.  It had its moments, but not enough of them to redeem its ridiculous ending that contradicts its own story.  So, yeah, it goes in the box to possibly sell if I get a chance.

Trunk Diary: Belsavis

November 28, 2022

Is anyone surprised that the Republic has turned an entire planet into some kind of super-secret prison for their worst prisoners? No?  Then is anyone surprised that to save money they built it on top of and around an existing super-secret prison filled with technology and prisoners that they didn’t know about and don’t understand?

While the Empire is stupid enough, the Republic is stupid in a really, really strange way.  See, the Empire would probably do the same thing, but they’d do it so that the Sith could get access to those technologies and Dark Side power and whatever and have ready made facilities and labour to help with it.  It doesn’t look like the Republic thought of that.  They found this secret planet with facilities here already and said “Hey, instead of building the things ourselves that we understand, let’s just use this!  What could go wrong?”

Well, the Empire could figure out that you’re keeping some powerful Sith here in stasis and use all of that stuff you don’t understand against you, figuring that they could always leave if things got too out of hand, for one.

That’s one of the reasons why I wasn’t at all bothered by helping Commander Callum, a member of the Imperial Guard, rescue the Dread Masters, even though it meant going directly against the Republic Warden and his lawman … superior, I guess.  They weren’t much of a threat, but I let the Warden live at the end of it all, but killed the lawman to show that I was indeed a threat.  Plus, his arrogance really bugged me, and once someone has tried to kill you and there’s no real reason to keep them alive a true Sith can indulge themselves on occasion.

The other reason is that I figured that the Dread Masters were arrogant and powerful enough to chafe at being revived just to help win a war, and so they’d want to get their hands on real power.  The people who had that power now obviously weren’t going to want to give that up, and so it would destabilize the power base and hurt the Sith.  I didn’t really want the Dread Masters to win because they relied on fear and to try to win loyalty purely through fear sounds insane to me, but I didn’t think that for all of their power they’d actually be able to take over the Sith and so would end up being disposed of once they’d served their purpose.

As for me, there was supposed to be some kind of ancient healing device here that would fix my body, if not my mind.  It turns out that the machine was sentient and had been imprisoned here by the things it had created so that it couldn’t oppose them, I guess.  It offered to fix me completely if I freed it.  Now, I wasn’t sure that it was telling the truth and I’ve seen enough powerful things that were lying about things like that in order to get free and take over, but it really did seem like it was only interested in creating things and could be limited to Belsavis, and it’s not like the things that imprisoned it were some kind of paragons of virtue, so I decided to free it.  Maybe that will bite someone at some point, but given that this thing thinks in terms of centuries it’s not likely to be me.

Anyway, it kept its word, and now my body is back in shape after the damage I did to it with the ghosts’ power.  Now it’s off to Voss to try to heal my splintered mind.

“How Marriage Changed Sherlock Holmes”

November 25, 2022

The next essay in “Sherlock Holmes and Philosophy” is actually “The Curious Case of the Controversial Canon” by Ivan Wolfe, but I’m not going to talk about that one since all it really does is talk about what importance an official canon has, point out that the official canon for Sherlock Holmes is mostly what Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about Holmes, note that the French version of the complete works adds a couple of stories, and notes that even some things that Doyle writes aren’t included in the canon.  I don’t really have anything to say about that, so I’m going to skip it to talk about “How Marriage Changed Sherlock Holmes” by Amy Kind.  Which, rather ironically, actually has a relation to canon, since it talks about Sherlock Holmes’ marriage to Mary Russell, which never occurred in the canon and so was only ever captured in a series of books by Laurie R. King, which is meant to focus on Russell herself and not on Holmes.  The importance of canon is to established a baseline of Holmes and his world and characters so that fans can have a more or less consistent idea of the character and world to discuss, and so given that the work where he marries Russell is non-canon all we could glean from discussing how that marriage changed him is the view of Holmes that King herself imagined.  We might end up arguing that it is consistent with the character, but we might just as easily argue that it isn’t and even that he would never have married someone like Russell in the first place.  Thus, the dangers of relying on non-canon works.

While I haven’t read the works — I hadn’t even heard about the series until this essay — Kind’s description of King’s heroine makes me wonder if her first name of “Mary” is actually incredibly apropos.  Mary catches Holmes’ eye at a young age, and is explicitly called his equal in intelligence and observational skills, and meets him in a “meet cute” type of event where she doesn’t manage to observe him well enough to avoid almost running into him, but then immediately impresses him with her observational skills.  She also manages to catch Holmes, who was a confirmed bachelor in Doyle’s works and had only been impressed by one woman, Irene Adler.  Thus, the works do come across from this description as being author insert fan fiction and so it isn’t at all clear how examining this “marriage” would help us see how marriage changed Holmes himself.  It’d always be too easy to argue that any such changes were out of character for Holmes, given that the the marriage itself might be out of character for him.

So I’m not going to bother with that.  Instead, I’m going to focus on Kind’s discussion of love that takes as its inspiration the speech of Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium.  The story that he tells is one where we were originally one being, but have been cleaved into two, and the purpose of love — and presumably marriage — is to reunite those two selves into a whole once more.  Now, when I first read that, my very first thought was that the story would imply that we should find not the person who is most like ourselves, but instead the person who has those parts of us that we lack, like the Captain Kirk we find in “The Enemy Within”, with the two halves split from each other and quite different from each other but also with them being unable to survive on their own.  Thus, it would seem like perhaps the best marital companion for him would be someone like Watson, who has the qualities he lacks and could thus help Holmes fill in the gaps in his personality, at least.

Kind is explicit, however, that Holmes could never have married someone like Watson because they were never really equals in their relationship and so could never have been partners, which is required for the sort of love that Aristophanes talks about.  Watson is no where near Holmes’ intellectual equal, whereas Russell is, and so she can be a partner to him in a way that Watson couldn’t.  While that idea of love does insist that the two married partners retain their own identity — Russell, for example, maintains her study of theology despite the fact that Holmes has a strong distaste for it, at least in part to establish that as something she has for herself — the idea here is that Russell is a good match for Holmes because she is quite a bit like Holmes, and a match that was more like Watson wouldn’t be because that match would be more complementary to Holmes instead of being like him.

It seems to me that both views have some merit.  In forming any kind of partnership, the best ones are ones where the two partners are indeed more complementary.  They both bring different things to the table and are masters of at least the two if not more different spheres that people would encounter in the world.  If the partners were too much alike, then they’d have the same weaknesses and wouldn’t be able to help each other overcome their struggles in the world.  We saw this in the idea of the masculine/feminine spheres that were covered traditionally by the male/female marital tradition, and we also see it in the idea that “opposites attract”.  It does seem like we might, in some way, be attracted to people who provide for and are more comfortable in the areas that we ourselves aren’t that good at, that can negotiate and can help us negotiate those areas that we would like to be in, at least at times, but aren’t really capable of moving in.

On the other hand, “opposites attract” rarely seems to extend to true opposites.  We really do seem to want to have things and important things in common with the people we are attracted to.  If we didn’t have any of the same interests or moved in any of the same circles or had any of the same abilities, we wouldn’t be attracted to them at all, perhaps even as friends.  In the case of Holmes, it’s a good point that someone whose intellect lagged his too much wouldn’t be of interest to him.  He might be able to survive someone who was more supportive to his work and took care of his pragmatic needs and managed his emotions and boredom appropriately, but it does seem more credible that if he was ever to fall in love it would be with someone like Russell or Adler whose intellects matched and could challenge his own.  Perhaps she wouldn’t have to be a consulting detective, but her having some knowledge and interest in the facets that make that up would have to be a boon.  They’d have to have something in common.

But, perhaps harkening back to that comment about identity, we have to concede that the person would certainly have to have some interests in common, but would have to have her own interests as well.  No one wants to be married to someone who is exactly like themselves.  Which leads us away from complementary partners or identical partners to the idea of compatible partners, which would argue that the person we are looking for is like us in the important ways but is different enough from us to also work as a complementary partner.  They share our interests so that the two of us can share those activities and grow closer through them, but have enough of their own interests and, importantly, do not share enough of our interests that we can go off and do our own thing at times, retain our own identity, and have something that we maintain as ours and ours alone as opposed to something the two of us share.

Is Russell’s love of theology enough to make her different enough from Holmes to work as his ideal mate, given their similarities.  I can’t say.  I can’t even say if this analysis of love is correct.  But this is a way for us to be split as per Aristophanes:  in some cases, we possess two halves of the same thing, and in some cases we each possess things that the other lacks.  Considering those things is what, then, ultimately reunites us as a complete whole and thus allows us to find our “soul mate”.