Crimson Peak (Film Review)

film_crimson_peak_PosterDom1Over the last month or so, I read numerous articles containing suggested reading and viewing for those eagerly anticipating Crimson Peak, the new film from Guillermo del Toro. I didn’t really follow their advice, partly because I found a number of their suggested titles distasteful but mostly because I am already well-acquainted with the genre. I would gripe about the omission of any 18th century gothic novel from these lists but I won’t go there right now. Needless to say, I have been looking forward to seeing Crimson Peak for more than a year and long before even an official title was given. However, as I often fear, with high expectations may come great disappointment, but I am much gratified to say that Crimson Peak is anything but disappointing.

Guillermo del Toro has frequently impressed me with his ability to convey genuine character in his films, a talent I attribute to his great passion not only for film but for literature. Even though I have technically enjoyed his films ever since I saw Mimic as a child and Hellboy later on as an adolescent, it wasn’t until I listened to his commentary to The Devil’s Backbone that I became thoroughly convinced of his capabilities. Though a number of his fans have dismissed his Hellboy films as inferior to the emotional depth of Pan’s Labyrinth, I believe both of equal merit, though they differ in aesthetic and dramatic qualities. As one studying psychology, I can more readily recognize the sign of emotional depth than the average film critic, whose abilities of appraisal seem to rest more on the flimsy criteria of conventional technique than intelligent insight …. but I digress. Like his other films, del Toro’s newest compares very favorably with his previous efforts and manages to be both entertaining and emotion effective.

Apart from the more apparent gothic trappings–such as the crumbling mansion, ghosts, Byronic hero, and intrepid heroine–the attitudes of the film, expressed both through its photography and characters, is thoroughly true to the ideas and sensibilities of the Romantic movement. The decaying home of Alderdale Hall, colorfully nicknamed “Crimson peak” for the blood-red clay inundating the soil beneath it and even the walls themselves, is imbued with the same ominously sublime character which Radcliffe gave to the castle of Udolpho. The house becomes far more than a thing, a glorious though decrepit gothic revival rivaling even the greatest architectural excesses of the Gilded Age, and reflects, with terrific effect, the evil deeds committed within its antique walls. Lucille Sharpe muses on the fragility of beauty as she holds a dying buttery in her hands, while her brother pointedly compares of the bitterness of the tea to the barren and desolate landscape surrounding the house, which can bear neither crop not hope. It is this that make the horrors of Crimson peak truly terrifying; without it the film would feel hollow and vapid.

Also true to the roots of the genre, is its finely wrought suspense, filled with terrible secrets and hidden agendas. The film truly surprised me many times and felt real, even despite its almost fanatic setting. Although, given my fondness for the genre, my reaction might be more correctly considered a matter of taste. In the language of the 18th centuries critics, I found it wholly probable, a fittingly appropriate portrayal of human psychology and the supernatural. Despite the forwarding of other critics, I found the film genuinely scary and quite disturbing, though perhaps for reasons many other might bot be easily affected by.

Without giving too much away, I can say that at the heart of Crimson peak is uncountable passion and the tragedy that inevitably befalls those who cannot mediates their passions. I found it distributing for the same reason I found Stephan King’s Misery disturbing. It is hard for me to easily hate someone when my heart is moved to pity them yet knowing that nothing but their own actions have condemned them and that nothing can change it. It is rare for me to cry in response to a film but the climax overwhelmed me with such sadness I could not help but do so.

To end on a more pleasant note, I would also like to commend to the building set and costume designs. Oh, and Tom Hiddleston’s bare behind. As a gay man who grew up with films featuring gratuitous female nudity and little, or no, male nudity, it was a refreshing change to see. I’m sure many would agree, if only to express their fondness for Hiddleston and his physical attributes.

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We Need to Talk About Modesty

Modesty is an incredibility important quality. It allows us to regulate our self-perception and maintain self-esteem. However, while it is a while known and appreciated quality, I suspect that it is also widely misunderstood. People often confuse modesty with how we dress, rather than with how we regard ourselves, and tend to associate it with sexual promiscuity. In addition, this belief tend to negatively effect women far more often than it ever effects men. Modesty is definitely a problem in society but problem lies instead in our confused understanding of it and the unequal way in which it is applied.

For many, modesty comes down to how we dress. The more we cover up, the more modest we become; conversely, the more of our body we expose, the more immodest we become. It is understandable why provocative forms of dress are commonly thought of as immodest, since fashion as we know it is predicated on attracting attention from others, but I am strongly disinclined to regard clothing as the final or only manifestation of modesty. Modesty is hardly the only concern we consider when we choose our outfits. We dress to fit in, express personal aesthetic sense, and, or, to protect ourselves from harsh weather. With this in mind, we cannot conclude from a person’s appearance alone whether they are, in actuality, modest or not. Therefore, we must consider modesty for what it is—an attitude.

In Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, modesty is defined a “nondefensive willingness to see the self accurately, including both strengths and weaknesses (Peterson and Seligman, 2004, p. 463).” Modesty is fundamentally about attitude and not, as it is widely believed, about how we dress. It involves an unreasonable belief that one is better than others and deserves to be admired for it. The immodest person is one who boasts, exaggerating their skills and accomplishments, and is eager to put others down if it means making themselves look better by comparison.

In contrast, a modest person is someone who can knowledge their “mistakes, imperfections, gaps in knowledge and limitations” but without utterly putting themselves down. Furthermore, they place less importance on their ideas, opinions, and moral perspective; and can appreciate “the value of all things, as well as the many different ways that people and things can contribute to our world (Peterson and Seligman, pg 462).” They are neither prone to boast about themselves nor reject praise when it is appropriate, and because they are comfortable with their strength and weakness, they feel little need to prove themselves at the expense of others.

This brings me to an important aspect of modesty and it regards gender differences. Whether you like it or not, acknowledge or deny it, modesty is a double standard. Women are expected to be modest, while men generally are not, and when women fail to meet these standards, they are punished very harshly. In the minds of many, modesty is more than what a woman wears. Wearing revealing clothing becomes a sign of promiscuity and the women bearing it are denigrated, regardless of their actual character or lifestyle. When it comes to the way women are perceived and judged, modesty is not really about unreasonable pride but about sexual control. However, contrary to the popular perception that women are immodest, research has consistently shown that men tend to score higher on measures of narcissism than women (Grijalva, E., Newman, D. A., Tay, L., Donnellan, M. B., Harms, P. D., Robins, R. W., & Yan, T., 2015). If anyone is more likely to be immodest, it’s men and not women.

Modesty is not what we wear but how we wear it. Ultimately, our material possessions do not make us immodest but the fallacious belief that they make us better than anyone else and the desire to prove ourselves at the expense of others. The way we shame others, and especially women, is the true testament to the problem of modesty, not whether women wear a little or a lot of clothing. If we cannot understand this, we cannot understand modesty or even remotely achieve it.

References

Grijalva, E., Newman, D. A., Tay, L., Donnellan, M. B., Harms, P. D., Robins, R. W., & Yan, T. (2015). Gender differences in narcissism: a meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 141(2), 261-310.

Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. New York: Oxford University Press.