His Dark Materials
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Twelve years ago we said we support the troops, that we didn't want to make the same mistake we made as a country in Vietnam by spitting (figuratively and literally) on them.
This is the story of the troops. Eric Christiansen weaves together the accounts of soldiers from the Korean War on, male and female, various cultures, etc. He includes their families, friends and allies.
And then he just gets out of the way.
That's the beauty of this film. Don't expect a lot of sexy twists and turns, just appreciate the heart-felt authenticity of it. Christiansen has a way of putting his subjects at ease so they speak straight from the heart (beautiful or ugly, as you may judge) so you walk away with a better understanding of what these folks are going through.
This is the sacrifice they made for this country. In an era where the VA battles for resources and funds, where the Gulf wars have fallen off the collective radar, and where we deal with the real casualties of battle, I'm grateful this film was made, and appreciated seeing it.
Next time I look into the eyes of a veteran I'll have just a little bit more empathy. And empathy is the least we can strive for to support the troops.
Read this after you see it - first go SEE it. (spoilers)
The Coen Brothers revisit certain themes in their movies, and the "artist in society" was last examined in Barton Fink. While Oscar Isaac's portrayal of Llewyn Davis is a subtly deep and dimensional rendering, the character itself could easily be seen as a metaphor for art itself.
Art serves no functional purpose. It's messy and unreliable. It makes us uncomfortable about ourselves and demands attention for itself. It meanders and gets lost, occasionally finding itself, but more often than not it flounders and fails. It relies on practical people to save it, champion its needs all the while it seems to look down at those same practical people.
If not for those tiny moments of truth, those piercing lights to the soul, art would never maintain the energy to exist. And while many dabblers see the surface product of the artist - the immortality of the work, the praise, the attention, and sometimes even the money - the real artist chases truth in the moment in spite of the obstacles that they soon discover all too common and all too many along the way.
Llewyn Davis is not a peaceful person, but his music seems to bring him a temporary peace even though, as with most folk music, its subject matter can be rife with death, loss and love unreturned. Surrounded by others ensconced in business, academia and commercial music, Llewyn lives on the periphery - he literally crashes on the couch. And he appears to be one closed door away from freezing to death.
And the looming specter, beyond the events in Llewyn's week, is that of Bob Dylan who arrives at the end of the story to mark the death of old folk music and all the Llewyns who will be lost and forgotten.
So is art worth it? At one point Llewyn is about to pitch it all and go to sea like his father did, a man he watches lingering in an institution awaiting death, and for whom he plays music trying to resucitate him and their relationship if for but a moment.
But in the end he has alienated his family, his friends, his employers, and even other artists. And there's no evident hope that he will ever rise above his predicament. So does he forget who he is and leave it all behind? What this movie seems to show is that it really doesn't matter, because for the artist there really isn't a choice.
I think those who see The White Ribbon as a taunting whodunnit are missing the point. The title itself is described in the film as a symbol of innocence and purity. That this film is shot in black and white might even make you think it visually plays with innocence and sin in the composition of every frame.
The performances and camerawork are spot-on. To an American sensibility, Haneke lingers on his subjects and scenes like Gus Van Sant or Terence Malick. As an audience member, you downshift in nearly every way to meet the movie (think of it as the anti-Avatar), and it's so very worth it.
What's great is that you won't quickly digest and dismiss this film. You'll want to see it with a smart friend and then discuss it endlessly afterwards. Good date movie. See it.