Sunday, January 20, 2013


Films about God – as opposed to films about organised religion, which usually involve dodgy priests, evil conspiracies or exorcisms gone wrong – can be tricky. They basically put forward the idea that something bigger than us created everything around us, which is fine except that in a movie that is literally true: the characters lives do take place in a world that’s been created by higher beings; those beings being the writer, director and producers. So what to make of Life of Pi, based on the award-winning 2001 novel by Yann Martel about a story that supposedly has the power to make people believe in God?
To be fair, it’s not Pi Patel (played as an adult by Irrfan Khan) who makes these big claims for his story. Rather his uncle has told a writer (Rafe Spall) who is suffering from writer’s block that Pi’s story will knock his socks off, and Pi seems more than happy to pass his tale on. Born in a small town in the formerly French part of India, the deeply religious Pi (named after the French swimming pool Piscine Molitor; he shortened it to the number to stop everyone calling him “pissing”) grew up surrounded by animals at his father’s struggling zoo, and when the struggle grew too much, his father put the animals on a cargo steamer and shipped them and his family to Canada. Well, that was his plan; there was a big storm, the ship sank - fans of disaster porn will love the terrifying realism here - and the only human survivor was the now teenaged Pi (Suraj Sharma).
As the ship went down the animals broke free, so at first Pi shares his lifeboat with a range of creatures. It turns out one of them hiding under a tarp is Bengal tiger “Richard Parker” (named when the registry confused the tiger’s name with the hunter who captured him), which pretty much spells the end for everyone else. So after a long stretch which was little more than a visually attractive but fairly plodding character study, suddenly the film bursts into life as Pi desperately struggles to come up with a way to survive in an enclosed space with a killing machine capable of disembowelling him with a lazy swipe of its paw.
Taking up much of the middle of the film, this struggle between man and beast is brilliant film-making. This tiger is far from tame and shows no interest in becoming so, and Pi’s constant struggle to come up with a way for them to live side by side on a tiny boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is some of the most compelling storytelling of the year. Whatever this film’s flaws (they’re coming up), this stretch is firmly worth the price of admission.
Director Ang Lee is known for his impressive visuals, and working in digital 3D he’s created a film that clearly sets out to astonish. The rest of this review could be taken up purely with description of the various textures of water on display here, or the range of skies on offer, without touching on the more fantastical sights (floating on stars, a sea full of glowing jellyfish, a breaching whale, a swarm of flying fish). No doubt Lee is searching for the visual equivalent of the original novel’s magic realism, and there are some stunning images here. But they never really stick in the memory the way Pi’s struggles do; a pretty backdrop for a life and death-struggle is still just a pretty backdrop.
More impressive is the largely CGI tiger, who occasionally moves with a fluidity that reveals its computer-generated nature but never looks anything less than completely convincing. There’s no false notes struck with the tiger’s behaviour either, no sense that the movie is in anyway playing less than fair with Pi’s struggle against this extremely convincing big cat. If the film had been content to leave things at this level – a man versus a beast isolated in a hostile but often beautiful environment – we could be talking here about a real classic.
Instead the magic increasingly moves to the fore before an ending that poses a question that strives for profundity but really seems kind of silly. It’s open-ended enough to allow for a variety of interpretations, from the openly religious to the slyly mocking, which is a small relief but still: it’s a bit much for a fictional movie based on a fictional novel to make the kind of claims this does at its conclusion. Ironically, if this really wanted to be a searching look at the way human beings interact with God, it handled all that much more intelligently back with the tiger on the lifeboat. If being faced with the on-going reality of your imminent death doesn’t focus your mind on the big questions, nothing will.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012



Lady Macbeth

     Lady Macbeth is Macbeth’s wife, a deeply ambitious woman who lusts for power and position. Early in the play she seems to be the stronger and more ruthless of the two, as she urges her husband to kill Duncan and seize the crown. After the bloodshed begins, however, Lady Macbeth get victim to guilt and madness to an even greater degree than her husband. Interestingly, she and Macbeth are presented as being deeply in love, and many of Lady Macbeth’s speeches imply that her influence over her husband is primarily sexual. Their joint alienation from the world, occasioned by their partnership in crime, seems to strengthen the attachment that they feel to each another.
        Lady Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most famous and frightening female characters. When we first see her, she is already plotting Duncan’s murder, and she is stronger, more ruthless, and more ambitious than her husband. She seems fully aware of this and knows that she will have to push Macbeth into committing murder. At one point, she wishes that she were not a woman so that she could do it herself. This theme of the relationship between gender and power is key to Lady Macbeth’s character: her husband implies that she is a masculine soul inhabiting a female body, which seems to link masculinity to ambition and violence.
        Shakespeare, however, seems to use her, and the witches, to undercut Macbeth’s idea that “undaunted mettle should compose / Nothing but males” (1.7.73–74). These crafty women use female methods of achieving power—that is, manipulation—to further their supposedly male ambitions. Women, the play implies, can be as ambitious and cruel as men, yet social constraints deny them the means to pursue these ambitions on their own.
        Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband with remarkable effectiveness, overriding all his objections; when he hesitates to murder; she repeatedly questions his manhood until he feels that he must commit murder to prove himself. Lady Macbeth’s remarkable strength of will persists through the murder of the king—it is she who steadies her husband’s nerves immediately after the crime has been perpetrated.

The sleepwalking scene is a theatrical tour de force and a critically celebrated scene from William Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth (1607?). The first scene in the tragedy's 5th act, the sleepwalking scene is written principally in prose, and follows the guilt-wracked, sleepwalking Lady Macbeth as she recollects horrific images and impressions from her past. The scene is Lady Macbeth's last on-stage appearance, though her death is reported later in the act. Well known phrases from the scene include "Out, damned spot!" and "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand."
        The sleepwalking scene opens with a conference between two characters making their first appearances, the Doctor of Physic and the Waiting Gentlewoman. The Gentlewoman indicates Lady Macbeth has walked in her sleep. She will not report to the Doctor anything Lady Macbeth has spoken in her somnambulistic state, having no witness to confirm her testimony. Carrying a taper, Lady Macbeth enters sleepwalking. The Doctor and the Gentlewoman stand aside to observe.
        The Doctor asks how Lady Macbeth came to have the light. The Gentlewoman replies that she has ordered that a light be beside her at all times (she is now afraid of the dark, having committed her crimes under its cover). Lady Macbeth rubs her hands in a washing motion. With anguish, she recalls the deaths of King DuncanLady Macduff, and Banquo, then leaves. The Gentlewoman and the bewildered Doctor exeunt, realizing that these are the symptoms of a guilt-ridden mind. The Doctor feels that Lady Macbeth is beyond his help, saying she has more need of "the divine than the physician". He orders the Gentlewoman to remove from Lady Macbeth the "means of all annoyance", anticipating she might commit suicide. Despite his warning, it is implied she commits suicide off-stage in Act 5, Scene4.
        A.C. Bradley indicates that, with the exception of the scene's few closing lines, the scene is entirely in prose with Lady Macbeth being the only major character in Shakespearean tragedy to make a last appearance "denied the dignity of verse." According to Bradley, Shakespeare generally assigned prose to characters exhibiting abnormal states of mind or abnormal conditions such as somnambulism, with the regular rhythm of verse being inappropriate to characters having lost their balance of mind or subject to images or impressions with no rational connection. Lady Macbeth's recollections - the blood on her hand, the clock striking, and her husband's reluctance - are brought forth from her disordered mind in chance order with each image deepening her anguish. For Bradley, Lady Macbeth's "brief toneless sentences seem the only voice of truth" with the spare and simple construction of the character's diction expressing a "desolating misery.

The Psychoanalysis of Lady Macbeth

The sleep-walking scene is not mentioned in Holinshed and it must therefore be looked upon as an original effort of Shakespeare's creative imagination. Lady Macbeth had none of the usual phenomena of sleep, but she did show with a startling degree of accuracy all the symptoms of hysterical somnambulism. Somnambulism is not sleep, but a special mental state arising out of sleep through a definite mechanism. The sleep-walking scene is a perfectly logical outcome of the previous mental state. From the very mechanism of this mental state, such a development was inevitable. She is not the victim of a blind fate or destiny or punished by a moral law, but affected by a mental disease.
        It is evident from the first words uttered by the Doctor in the sleep-walking scene, that Lady Macbeth had had several previous somnambulistic attacks. That we are dealing with genuine somnambulism is shown by the description of the eyes being open and not shut. Now several complexes or groups of suppressed ideas of an emotional nature enter into this scene and are responsible for it. The acting out of these complexes themselves is based upon reminiscences of her past repressed experiences. 
The first complex relates to the murder of Duncan as demonstrated in the continual washing of the hands, an act not seen earlier and here clearly brought out in the sleep-walking scene. This automatic act is a reminiscence of her earlier remark after the murder of Duncan, "A little water clears us of this deed."
The second complex refers to the murder of Banquo, clearly shown in the words, "I tell you yet again, Banquo's buried; he cannot come out of his grave," thus demonstrating that she is no longer ignorant of this particular crime of her husband.

The third complex
entering into the sleep-walking scene distinctly refers to the murder of Macduff's wife and children - "The Thane of Fife had a wife, where is she now?" Various other fragmentary reminiscences enter into this scene, such as Macbeth's terror at the banquet in the words, "You mar all with this starting," the striking of the clock before the murder of King Duncan, and the reading of the first letter from Macbeth announcing the witches' prophecy.
        Thus a vivid and condensed panorama of all her crimes passes before her. Like all reported cases of hysterical somnambulism, the episode is made up, not of one, but of all the abnormal fixed ideas and repressed complexes of the subject. The smell and sight of blood which she experiences, is one of those cases in which hallucinations developed out of subconscious fixed ideas which had acquired a certain intensity, as in Macbeth's hallucination of the dagger. Since blood was the dominating note of the tragedy, it was evidence of Shakespeare's remarkable insight that the dominating hallucination of this scene should refer to blood. The analysis of this particular scene also discloses other important mental mechanisms.
        There is a form of nervous disease known as a compulsion neurosis in which the subject has an almost continuous impulsion to either wash the hands or to repeat other actions almost indefinitely. As a rule, this compulsion appears meaningless and even foolish to the outside observer and it is only by an analysis of the condition, that we can understand its nature and true significance.
        The compulsion may arise from the idea that the hands are soiled or contaminated or there may be a genuine phobia of infection or contamination. Psychoanalysis, however, disclosed the fact that the washing of the hands was due to ideas of religious absolution from certain imaginary sins and arose as an act of defence against imaginary contamination.
Now a similar group of symptoms is found in Lady Macbeth. In the sleep-walking scene the following dialogue occurs -
        Doctor: What is it she does now? Look, how she rubs her hands.
Gentlewoman: It is an accustomed action with her, to seem thus washing her hands: I have known her continue in this a quarter of an hour. Then later in the scene, Lady Macbeth speaks as follows, disclosing the complex which leads to this apparently meaningless action. "What, will these hands ne'er be clean? ... Here's the smell of the blood still: All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand."
        Here the symptom develops through Lady Macbeth transferring an unpleasant group of memories or complexes, which have a strong personal and emotional significance, to an indifferent act or symptom. The act of washing the hands is a compromise for self-reproach and repressed experiences. The mechanism here is the same as in the compulsion neuroses, a proof of Shakespeare's remarkable insight into the workings of the human mind. When the doctor later states, "This disease is beyond my practise," he expressed the attitude of the medical profession towards these psychoneurotic symptoms until the advent of modern psychopathology.
        In the words, "Out damned spot - Out I say," the mechanism is that of an unconscious and automatic outburst. It is very doubtful if Lady Macbeth would have used these words if she were in her normal, waking condition. Thus the difference between the personality of Lady Macbeth in her somnambulistic and in the normal mental state, is a proof of the wide gap existing between these two types of consciousness.
        Lady Macbeth may therefore be looked upon as possessing two personalities, which appear and disappear according to the oscillations of her mental level. In her normal, waking state, repression and an assumed bravery are marked. In the sleeping or somnambulistic state, the repression gives way to free expression and her innate cowardice becomes dominant. In her waking condition, she shows no fear of blood, but shrinks from it when in a state of somnambulism. Her counsel to her husband while awake is that of an emotionless cruelty, while in somnambulism she shows pity and remorse. If one could believe in the womanliness of Lady Macbeth, then her sleeping personality must be interpreted as the true one, because removed from the inhibition and the censorship of voluntary repression.
        Thus Shakespeare, with most remarkable insight, has made the sleep-walking scene exactly conform to all the characteristics of a pathological somnambulism - that is - the subject sees and hears everything, there is a regularity of development, as the subject repeats the same words and gestures as in the original experience and finally, on a return to the normal personality after the attack is over, there is no memory for the attack, in other words, amnesia has taken place. Lady Macbeth's actions during the sleepwalking scene are very complicated; show a clear memory of her past repressed experiences, in fact, they are an exact reproduction and rehearsal of these experiences. Finally, she shows an amount of reasoning and association which would be impossible during the annihilation of consciousness during sleep and which only could have taken place when consciousness was very active.
        Thus somnambulism is not sleep, but an abnormal mental state, distinct from the ordinary mental state of the subject. Somnambulism may be defined as a mental state in which the subject possesses particular memories and does particular acts, but of which there is no memory on return to the normal state of consciousness. The amnesia of somnambulism is of the same nature as all hysterical amnesias; - the subject is incapable of attaching to his normal personality the memories of the somnambulistic attack.