Friday, July 14, 2017

Tarkovsky and Milk

Tarkovsky and Milk

In Tarkovsky’s film, Stalker, there is a domestic scene that takes place in the dwelling of the main character and his wife. The couple have been arguing about his plans to leave their domestic situation and their child to go off to explore the mysterious ‘Zone’. On the kitchen table stands a full glass of milk that somehow is knocked over during their argument. Tarkovsky spends a lot of film time watching the flood of white as it expands, covering the table and dripping to the floor. The spilling of milk here, I believe represents a break in the warmth and bond of their familial relationship.

Scenes of spilt or splattered milk also appear in the films Andre Roublev, Mirror and Nostalghia, as well as in Tarkovsky’s later, and last, film, The Sacrifice.

In The Sacrifice, a well-off extended family has come to their country house on an island in Scandinavia to celebrate the sixty-fifth birthday of the family’s paterfamilias. While the family and the maids are momentarily absent from the scene, the camera explores the spacious dining room of the house in silence. Against the wall stands a tall sideboard with shelves. Near its top shelf rests a capacious glass milk jug. As the camera scans this domestic scene, unexpectedly the silence is fractured by what sounds like a pair of jets flying low over the island. As the jets approach, the entire house begins to shake, the tall sideboard with it. As they are heard passing overhead, in a scene that is one of the great images of twentieth century filmmaking, the jug teeters and falls to the floor where it shatters, the explosion of milk covering the wooden floor.

Soon after, the family hears on a radio broadcast that something extremely disturbing and cataclysmic is about to happen in the outside world: all-out war and possibly nuclear holocaust. Looking back, the viewer can see that the scene ending in that white milky blank is suggestive of the finality of a nuclear explosion.

How fascinating that Tarkovsky uses milk for this scene, milk being a symbol of nurturing and fertility, domesticity and life. This is a perfect contrast to the idea of nuclear annihilation which is diametrically opposed to that sense of tender vitality.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Short Essays on Film: Arrival

Short Essays on Film

The Question and the Message in the film ‘Arrival’

In the film ‘Arrival’, the Quebec director, Denis Villeneuve, poses an intriguing question. The aliens have arrived on earth but ‘Arrival’ is much more than a sci-fi thriller or a science and tech orgy, like so many recent films on the same or similar subject.

The question that Villeneuve has the character played by Amy Adams, a linguistics professor, pose is this: If you saw what would happen in your entire life, past and future, would you change anything? In the context of the film, Adams sees a future in which her baby daughter will grow up and, as a young woman, die of a ‘rare disease’ (which might be some form of cancer). Of course, she doesn’t choose that her child not be born at all. Clearly, she realizes that the joys of life include the other side which we define as pain and suffering.

But it’s an absurd, impossible question. We can’t change anything about our lives. We certainly cannot go back into the past and alter events that have already happened. And, as for the future, we might think we have the free will to choose what direction things might take but we are fated to make those choices that free will allows. In other words, fate and free will are the same. This is not quite the same as saying that free will is an illusion, for we are free to make choices but how we act on that freedom is fated. (Some might call this karma, but that’s another subject.) To realize that they are the same is to answer the question, No, I wouldn’t change anything in my life, past or future. I can’t change anything and I choose not to change anything. The image that arises for me is that, at the moment of death, we enter the mirror and realize that that moment is the perfect moment to die, that is the moment that, somehow, we choose.

All of which brings us to the question of Time. In the film, Adams is attempting to communicate with the aliens but nothing clicks until she realizes their language isn’t linear and temporal like ours. We go from one word to the next and the end of this sentence is in the future until it arrives. And then it’s in the past. And that relationship with language affects and determines how we think about Time. However, the aliens have a different view of language, and a different relationship with Time. Their language, like their sense of Time, is circular and holistic, not linear.

Past and future exist in the present. Let’s examine that. The present is nothing more than the process of the future becoming the past. The past no longer exists, the future does not yet exist. But, the truly shocking thing is there is no fixed moment called the present, there is only this process of future becoming past. Nothing to fixate on, nothing to hold onto. And yet, this process is always happening, future in every moment is becoming past. That shooting star never stops, never burns out. Because it isn’t fixed in a distinct, isolate moment, the present is eternal.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Bad Wines (1)

Most wine reviews talk about the good wines, the ones people enjoyed, or they simply rate them on a scale of numbers or stars. I'd like to occasionally warn people off from certain wines, either because they are plain bad or don't live up to the price charged.

Here's two wines that I think you should avoid:

1) Red Hill Estate, 2014 Pinot Noir, from Australia: at 23.95, this wine is a total rip-off. No smoothness, rough, very disappointing.

2) Chateau Fonreaud Listrac, 2010, from France; it's hard to believe they charge 44.75 for this wine as it's nothing special, dull, flat; for a seven-year old wine, it had little character and no flavours left; again, very disappointing especially at that price.

Be forewarned!

One recent wine that I enjoyed (and at a good price) was a Cabernet Sauvignon from Lander Jenkins (Round Hill) (2014); smooth and with a touch of oakiness but not too much. A good deal at 19.95.