Pacific Rim (Film Review)

Pacific_Rim_FilmPosterIt has been more than a year (more than two, really, but who’s counting?) since Pacific Rim was released in theaters and I have waited patiently to see it at home. That might seem like a long time to wait to see a single movie but it was easy enough because I wasn’t particularly keen on seeing it in the first place. As fond as I am of Guillermo Del Toro’s films, the subject and genre of this film have never appealed to me personally. Despite my reservations, I found myself enjoying it immensely. Granted, it is not a personal favorite of mine but this is entirely due to personal taste and not to the quality of the film.

Some of Del Toro’s fans tend to dismiss his more popular and action-oriented films as being shallow, superficial, and generally lacking any emotionally depth. However, I find this to be utterly untrue. What differentiates films like Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak, or the Hellboy films from The Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth is not the quality of the content but rather the approach to conveying meaning.

Pacific Rim conveys a strong message about cooperation and human survival. At varies moments in the story, personal antagonisms arise but are ultimately put aside, and sublimated, for a common cause. It might seem a little trite in our post-90’s culture to talk of things such as morals but I would have serious doubts regarding anyone who is insensible to this relevance of this message.

One aspect of the film that deserves praise is the diverse cast and unique character development. Hollywood films are frequently whitewashed and female characters tend to fall in love with the white male hero. Fortunately, none of this happens in Pacific Rim. Stacker Pentecost and Mako Mori, played by Idris Elba and Rinko Kikuchi respectively, are both wonderfully written characters and play an instrumental role in the plot. Neither are reduced to cultural stereotypes and are given complex, compelling depth to their characters.

The acting, in regards to all his primary characters, deserves special praise. A lot can be said with nonverbal communication (“body language” for those not studying psychology) and  was pleasantly surprised to see how effectively the actors use this to convey to the view their character’s underlying feelings, thoughts, and states of mind. It is a unique quality to find in an actor’s performance and one quite often overlooked in film, as well as in life.

Some viewers may find it an inferior product compared to its much lauded predecessors but to me Pacific Rim demonstrates Del Toro’s ability to make a popular action film meaningful and compelling as a drama, far surpassing many contemporary or past attempts in the genre.

P.S. : As a fan of the Portal games, I was more than pleased to hear Ellen McLain as the voice of the Jaeger A.I..



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.

A (Most) Dangerous Method (Book/Film Review)

41h3GLZ1EHL._SX940_When I first saw the trailer for A Dangerous Method, I was both excited and worried. I was excited because I had read about the professional relationship between Freud and Jung in The Denial of Death and was thrilled to see it portrayed dramatically. However, I was worried because the trailer gave me the impression that the plot would focus overwhelmingly on the sexual relationship between Jung and Spielrein. As it happens to be, the film focuses on the relationship, both professional and romantic, between Freud, Jung, and Spielrein and how each contributed to the development of psychoanalytic theory.

I saw the film for the first time in a small theater in Los Angeles. Whenever I tell people about the film, my husband reminds me that I was as giddy as a child on Christmas morning when I saw Freud experience his first fainting spell. Though I am far from a Freudian or a Jungian, it nevertheless was a great moment for me as a student of psychology to see this on the silver screen.

Actually, I may have enjoyed the film a little too much. Not long after viewing it, I had an erotic dream in which I merged my husband, Freud, and Viggo Mortensen into one. Also, I was physically female. Moments like these make me glad dream analysis is no longer a primary mode of psychotherapeutic inquiry.

Anyway, I digress.

AMDMSeeing the film inspired me to learn more about the film and what went into its making. A Dangerous Method was based on a stage play of the same name, which was based on an history by John Kerr called A Most Dangerous Method. (The title comes from a letter penned by William James, wherein he described psychoanalysis as a “most dangerous method.”) When I watch historical films, I frequently wonder how accurate they are and how much was creatively filled in. While the film and play leave many details out, it captures the essence of the book very well. Aspects of the sexual relationship between Jung and Spielrein were filled in. Existing letters don’t make any explicit reference to sexual intimacy but the content clearly suggest that their relationship was romantic and likely sexual. Whether they ever engaged in BDSM is not known and probably a dramatic interpretation of their relationship and its relevance to the life and death instinct theory.

Some have questioned the manner in which Jung’s personality was characterised, as shy and rather prudish, Kerr’s history is fairly consistent with the film in this respect–even down to Jung rather greedy consumption of food at Freud’s family home. This does not mean that it is entirely fair or accurate but, unfortunately, my knowledge of Jung begins and ends with Kerr’s work.

The book is considerably more detailed than the film and is roughly 512 pages long. Kerr’s narrative follows not only the careers of Spielrein, Jung, and Freud but the development of psychoanalytic theory within the psychological community at the time. Kerr paints a vivid portrait of the early twentieth century, a time at which psychologists were beginning to abandon nineteenth century materialism for a psychology informed by more subjective concerns. The “talking cure,” the forerunner to what is now known simply as psychotherapy, emerged as a solution to an ever growing awareness that the aggressive curative techniques of the previous century weren’t working as well as they were supposed to. People may malign Freud and psychoanalysis now but it was an important step towards contemporary theories and techniques. It was the first time psychiatrists used conversation as a curative method. Prior to this, psychiatrists would talk to their clients primarily as a means of understanding the symptoms and for giving directions.

Kerr’s book also does something else. It verifies the important role Spielrein played in shaping the life and death instinct. At the time, women weren’t easily welcomed into the sciences and those who were have been largely forgotten. Spielrein might have been entirely forgotten if it had not been for the the discovery of her private correspondence in the 1970’s and now, with the help of historians like Kerr, we can confirm her place in the history of psychology.

A (Most) Dangerous Method is both an excellent film and book. For those who are not familiar with psychoanalytic theory, Kerr’s book might be difficult to follow, He goes into detail regarding how psychoanalytic theory developed in its early years and this could be daunting to some. In addition, the details he includes about the state of psychiatry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries might come off dull but I found these details both interesting and highly rewarding overall. It is a relatively long book but one that pays the reader back in the end. For those who are not keen on reading detailed histories, I would highly recommend the film as an alternative. Otherwise, I would highly recommend both.