The Imaginary Raven

Elliot has been sitting in front of the computer for the past 2 weeks with the intention of writing the first draft of a novel. He has handcuffed himself to the chair and handed the keys to a person who will not visit him until he has received an email with the first draft of the story.

Hunger keeps him awake, he can’t remember the last time he slept and for some time now his dreams have merged with the walls, now crowded with imaginary beings. An endless gallery of noisy beings that keep laughing at him, handcuffed in the chair and unable to write a single word since the torture began. In an effort not to pay attention, Elliot runs his gaze to the window, where a crow crashes against the glass and pierces it with its body. The bird falls to the floor of the room and writhes in pain. Elliot gets up from the chair to assist him, but can’t reach him because of the cuffed arm.

– I can’t help him.

Elliot sits back down, the crow tries to fly away from its own foretold death, whipping itself against the walls and causing new commotion among the imaginary people.

– Do something for the poor guy!

Hysterical cries from the people on the walls, one by one and all together, in unison, claiming for the bird’s life, claiming for the interrupted calm. Elliot raises his shoulders in sign of “nothing I can do” and “the handcuff on the arm” he indicates pointing with the index finger of his free hand.

Ah, you always have an excuse!

Again the screams of a thousand beings, monsters some would say, fall on the restless mind of Elliot, who pretends to write on the computer. But the trick doesn’t work, in his impatience, he stretches out one of his feet to reach the crow and drags it to grab it with his free arm.

Ah, I knew he would make it!

Elliot is grateful for the words of support from the creatures on the walls and leaves the crow next to the pale light of the computer screen, tucked in a sweatshirt. The wind blows hard through the window, a sharp chill runs down his back, the time is coming, the time he has spent without food has brought him to this state, maybe the bird will be saved.

You can do it! Courage!

The beings on the walls are in an uproar, they become fervent in support of the writer who is agonizing in front of them. An incipient smile leads Elliot to put his hands in front of the computer and type….

“The endless storm accompanies a raven that has been forced to be the messenger of death and yet flies with strength to escape this cruel fate. The dark clouds always accompanying him in suffering, in the war fields of a world accustomed to spill blood on the ground. The raven finally understands that the only way to leave behind the misfortunes of men, which come from selfish desires, is to sacrifice his own life to stop the designs of death and to free the dreams of men from the inevitable end of all things”.

Elliot finishes writing and sends the first draft using the last bit of energy he has left, then falls on the desk with his eyes still open. He stares at the horizon visible from the window, where an intense light interrupts the deep night and blurs the outline of all things.

The Vast of Night (2019)

The Vast of Night is a film that went somewhat unnoticed since its release, on the Amazon Prime platform (is that why?) during 2019, but it certainly stands out for its cinematography, production design, and snappy narrative, despite the large amount of dialogue that makes it up. Within the narrative possibilities within the film genre, I believe that films like The Vast of Night (as well as Hereditary, a film we reviewed previously) fall into what I would call “punitive films”, I mean films where the protagonist has to pay a high price for his moral and psychological failures (as opposed to a normal film, where the protagonist ends up learning a lesson and overcoming the difficulties). In this sense, the film directed by Andrew Patterson follows the ancestral logic of “curiosity killed the cat”, with negative consequences for both the protagonist and his loved ones (John Truby would be proud of this story).

Okay but… What is “The Vast of Night” about? The story centers on one night in a small town in America during the 1950s. The main characters are, Everett Sloan, who is the local radio announcer and his friend (love interest?) Fay Crocker, a radio operator (she actually communicates phone calls). The thing is, Fay intercepts a strange sound that is sneaking in between the phone conversations, causing the communications to be cut off. The same strange sound is picked up on Everett’s radio transmission, which is why Fay decides to warn Everett about the noise. When Everett hears the strange noise, which is disrupting communications, he decides to record it and broadcast it on his radio program, with the intention of arousing the interest of someone who knows where the sound is coming from. This action prompts an ex-military man to contact the radio and deliver information about the sound, it is visitors from another world and they are in the sky over the town tonight. The news adds to a slew of people calling Fay, warning about something strange they’ve seen in the sky outside of town. Initially, Everett thinks it’s either Soviet Union planes or spy satellites, and it piques his interest, as he wants to become famous enough to leave town and pursue a radio career in California. It is for this reason that Everett embarks on a hunt for information, along with Fay (who wants to be with Everett and support him) that leads them to find a secret tape, to retransmit a message similar to the sound of the transmissions, to make “contact” thanks to the retransmission and then, inevitably, to learn the truth and to pay a high cost for their curiosity.

Beyond the science fiction aspects, which are interesting in themselves, I think the story rests mostly on both main characters, a duo that at times can remind us of a young Fox Mulder and Dana Scully (The X-Files), they show a similar couple dynamic, although Everett has less empathy for his partner than Mulder (at times his lack of concern is annoying), although he makes up for it in charisma and enthusiasm. This character arc is extremely interesting, especially as it takes place in the space of an hour and a half, which is the length of the film and also the actual time within the story, which occurs during a basketball game, where most of the people in town are gathered in one place. Everett starts the story as a kind of teacher for Fay, teaching him the art of being a radio announcer while they go around the basketball stadium interviewing people, then they head to town, which is practically deserted because of the basketball game and they say goodbye to each other to go to work. However, since Fay intercepts the strange noise, Everett appears again and again (each time worse and worse) as a person blinded by the desire to get an exclusive regardless of the consequences (which Fay asks about several times). During the midpoint of the story, which is when Everett rebroadcasts the signal and the aliens cut the power at the radio station (in what is clearly a warning of the danger of the whole thing), Everett reacts by grabbing a portable recorder and continues transmitting, leaving Fay behind and showing no concern for her or the situation. It is not until Everett and Fay interview Mrs. Blanche and get the truth about what is going on that Everett realizes the gravity of the events, although, by that point, he can no longer back off (in part because he has managed to bring more people into the affair) and this leads him to inevitably fall into the clutches of the aliens.

As I said before, the events that are recreated in the film are presented with a great emphasis on dialogue, it is a constant and frantic search (mostly because of the fear and strangeness of the situation) to know what is happening, for the opportunity presented to an ambitious but irresponsible character, to make contact with forces that are beyond the ordinary. I think the film is 80% expository dialogue, something that all screenwriting gurus have pointed out ad nauseam as an amateur mistake, but which here works to perfection. What does this tell us? Well, to me it means that the problem is not in writing or not writing expository dialogues, but that there are situations in which it works and situations in which it doesn’t work. I mean that there are types of information that can be interesting to hear in expository form, such as paranormal events that provoke the imagination, which is different from when a character tells us about something he has just done (explaining it), which is the most common way to use expository dialogue wrongly.

That’s all I’ll say about The Vast of Night, one of those films that stand out only for the masterful narrative work, in the dialogues full of sense and humanity, in solid performances that deliver all the necessary information, in the minimalist use of science fiction paraphernalia. The best, in my opinion, of the whole film appears in Everett’s character arc, a well-built character, with personal ambitions and a charismatic personality but full of flaws (mostly lack of empathy) that lead him straight into the trap of the antagonist and that, even worse, endangers a person who cares about him and a baby! Ohhh the humanity!

The interrupted Journey (1949)

Among the great paraphernalia of books and movies about the UFO phenomenon, it is strange and at the same time expected (paradoxical) that The Interrupted Journey is the only one of them that manages to present this controversial topic in a convincing way, and as we will see, much of it comes from the choices the author has made in this regard. It is the fact on which the whole story is based, it is the way it is presented, and it is the author’s position on it, factors that conspire to keep the reader on the lookout for the next revelation, while retaining a sense of reality and critical thinking, especially in the evidence presented.

But let’s see… what is The interrupted Journey about? Well, it’s about the famous “Hills abduction”, it’s the recapitulation of this event, the first documented case of alien abduction in the history of mankind (actually I think there were some earlier ones, but it’s the first one to achieve enough fame to get into popular culture). And well the Hills were very unlucky I guess, to have been wandering around at night on a dark, secluded road after going on vacation for a weekend. What happens to them on the way home will remain in their memories for the rest of their lives, although not exactly on their conscience. What occurs is that the Hills, initially, could only remember a part of what had happened to them; on their way home along the highway they encounter a strange light in the sky, strange in the way it moves, back and forth at great speed (which Jung lucidly warns is very similar to the movement of insects). But this light does not remain just circling the night sky, no no, soon this light is above the Hills’ car, chasing them like the shadow of the hawk over the timid rabbit, hunter and prey (in fact this is the sensation that the opening story of the book provokes in the reader). In an almost heroic act, Barney Hill gets out of the car and decides to walk in the open (without really knowing why he is doing it) and I say a heroic act because honestly, how many of us would have gotten out of the car to get a better look at a ship flying menacingly over our car? The thing is, Barney just happened to have some binoculars (the couple later indicates that they had them because they didn’t have the money to buy a camera) and he uses them to get a closer look at the ship, manages to see some people inside and one of these people tells him to stay still using telepathy. The being inside the ship wants to convince him to stay still in that place, away from the car where Betty Hill is yelling at him to come back to her. It is here that Barney feels an inexpressible terror that urges him to run to his wife, carrying with him a terrible premise; “they want to kidnap us”.

Little more than this is what the Hills initially remember, although every time they tell the story to the different people the book reports, especially to people from the U.S. Air Force (since the shock was so great that they did not hesitate to contact the authorities), they become aware of a lot of details that make them think that during that night more things happened than they can remember. In the initial story, Barney and Betty remember escaping in the car after seeing the beings inside the ship, although they also remember arriving home almost three hours later than usual. And it is here where the genius of author John G. Fuller appears in the ordering of the events in the story, who starts the story by telling us this first version of the events, and then moves on to all the evidence that forces the Hill family to question this story and question their own memories, to the point of deciding to venture into hypnosis therapy, with the aim of recovering possible repressed memories. In this way, the author uses the chronological order of events to present us, not only with the two versions of the story, but also to effectively introduce all the characters involved (and I say characters, but they are actually real people).

And that’s how we get to the second version of the story, the version that comes from retrieving memories under hypnosis. I have to say that, initially, the Hills had no intention of telling their story to the rest of the world, especially Barney. However, the feeling that something was wrong and the desires to get it off her chest are what lead, initially Betty Hill, to tell the affair, first to her sister and then to the rest of the people (including the military officers and people close to them). Barney remains in a position of skepticism towards the possibilities, specifically, he does not want to know anything about the existence of extraterrestrials, in an attitude very similar to that demonstrated by people who manifest post-traumatic stress syndrome; the idea is that as long as you can live in denial that the traumatic event happened you can live under the premise that the event did not occur and therefore you are protecting your daily life from that event being part of the reality in which you operate. However, that all stops after the hypnosis sessions to which they both submit. It is here where it is “revealed” what happened during those almost three hours lost in memory. Both Barney and Betty recall under hypnosis being approached by “strange men”, who somehow or other impeded the Hills’ movement and that these strange men took them inside a spaceship, where they underwent a series of apparently medical tests without any explanation and without either of them being able to do anything to stop them.

Now, there are antecedents that are stated in the story that are not, however, taken as established facts or as ultimate conclusions about what happened to the Hills. The conclusion the couple comes to at the end of the hypnosis sessions is that they both were abducted by aliens (the literal sense of the narrative), but others do not see the same truth in the matter. Specifically, the opinion of the psychiatrist who helped them, Dr. Simon, is much more concrete and critical of the story under hypnosis. You see, there is one point in the whole story that I haven’t mentioned that may have had a great influence on everything that happened. The thing is that Barney and Betty are an interracial couple, he is black and she is white. The detail may seem superficial, but let’s remember that the events described in the book took place during the 1960s, a time marked by racial conflict in the United States. Moreover, Barney himself relates in a hypnotic state having been worried (even scared) that something might happen to them because of this. Now, what does an alien abduction have to do with the racial phenomenon in the United States? But wait a minute, there’s still another piece of background missing. Betty’s sister was always an enthusiast of the UFO phenomenon and Betty loved to talk about it with her. So what could have happened? Well, a more concrete possibility is that Barney and Betty experienced a traumatic situation on the road and during the night, perhaps they were approached by a group of racist people and the situation quickly escalated, perhaps too much so, to the point where they both had no choice but to repress the whole thing. There is some evidence to support this idea, such as the fact that Barney had a tool under the driver’s seat (as if he had prepared to fight).

In the end I think this is the best thing about the book, which presents all these versions explicitly but does not settle for any of them, as I guess the author has not taken any side in the matter. In the end it is very difficult to know what really happened, but what we can say, following Jungian logic is that, what is known is that a strange phenomenon (meaning that it does not find a convincing explanation under the logic of consciousness) occurred and that there is an unconscious explanation to the matter (the recovery under hypnosis). The problem is that the unconscious tells us more about the beliefs and mythologies of the person and little about the concrete reality. But well, I think the idea of the book is to present this particular case without making a priori judgments about it and that is why I think it is undoubtedly the best book I have read on the subject of UFOs. The truth is that it is the only good book I have read (without taking into account Jung’s Flying saucers: a modern myth which is more a treaty of psychology) and I have tried to read several (but they are so bad!). I think The Mothman prophecies and Secret Life are worthy contenders, I’ll read them and tell you later.

Hereditary (2018)

Hereditary is the film that launched Ari Aster, director and screenwriter, to fame as one of the greatest current exponents of the horror genre and together with Yorgos Lanthimos (director of The Lobster) marks the return of European culture to Hollywood. Along with this return of European culture to mainstream Hollywood, I feel that both directors also mark a return of magical and religious thinking (even reaching as far back as the Greek tragedies in the case of Lanthimos), in short, of the ancestral narrative that now appears as a refreshment in the face of so many “modern” films that have neither feet nor head, much less the mystique that can be extracted from the ancestral culture.

Well but… What is Hereditary about? Basically, it’s about a grandmother who was part of a satanic cult, worshippers of King Paimon (a demon of great power), they need Paimon’s soul to pass into a male body. However, this grandmother’s son commits suicide when they try to put the demon in him, so now she needs “new children”. In order to satisfy this need for a new child, the grandmother tries to take possession of her daughter Annie’s (the protagonist’s) first child, but she does not allow it. The guilt that comes from taking the grandmother away from her first child leads Annie to allow her to get close to her little daughter Charlie, who acquires Paimon when the grandmother dies. However, the problem persists, Paimon needs a male body and the only solution is to find a way for Annie’s first child to be possessed by the demon. It is then that, through the great guilt that Annie feels towards her son (whom she did not want to have) the dead grandmother and the members of the satanic sect manage to manipulate her to make this possession happen. But in between, a lot of events happen that put a lot of pressure on the protagonist and prevent her from seeing things as they really are until it is too late.

Annie’s character can be described as the artist who prefers to be alone to concentrate on her creations rather than worrying about her family, this is the main problem she faces, because for each negative event that happens in the story, she closes herself more and more, demonstrating again and again her inability to share with the rest of the family, especially with her husband. This defense mechanism that she demonstrates comes from her initial impulse, her desire to be free, which comes from having lived with a controlling and manipulative mother, but it leads her to assert guilt for all the harm she causes her loved ones. Worst of all, when she decides to talk to others, she does it in an aggressive and unempathetic way. Proof of this is in one of those tense scenes in the film (I know, there are a lot of them) where the husband prepares the meal so that everyone can gather to share, after Charlie’s unexpected death. Faced with Annie’s constant refusal to confront her son Peter, who is the accidental cause of his younger sister’s death, Peter forces her to say something, anything, and she responds aggressively, further alienating her son and losing her husband’s sympathy.

But let’s get to the horror, is this movie really scary? Well, it is difficult to answer that question. The first time I saw it, I feel that it caused a constant impression of discomfort in me, especially because of the soundtrack and some scenes that I found extremely tense, especially the one of Charlie’s death. What the film achieves masterfully is to build an atmosphere of constant danger, of always being closely watched. Some images achieved with beautiful cinematography manage to evoke a spiritual sensation that adds further tension to the events that are taking place. On top of all this, the acting of the main characters, especially Toni Collette (Annie) and Alex Wolf (Peter) keeps us anchored to reality for much of the story, especially when it comes to the reactions to the paranormal events that occur. And these paranormal events are also anchored to certain reactions to be expected in human beings when faced with situations of fear or great suggestion, such as the alert reactions to the environment that occur when the person is suggested about the existence of dangers that cannot be seen. Another thing is the iconography that is used in the film that subtly explains the influence and cult of this King Paimon, although obviously only a person with a high knowledge of demonology could recognize such symbols. For the rest of us mortals, I feel that the symbols used bring back memories of both movies like The Blair Witch Project (stick-built elements) and pagan culture (I know it’s a very broad term but I’m referring to European folkloric roots).

After this film, Ari Aster delved deeper into the idea of Scandinavian lore with Midsommar, which proves his broad influences and interest in European lore and pagan and ancestral religions. As a film, Hereditary is undoubtedly the best attempt at mainstream horror since perhaps “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” and just like that film, it manages to build an atmosphere that supports the genre and really produces this sense of discomfort that leads you to think, to imagine, if all these demons and hellish creatures really exist. For that and for reconnecting with ancestral culture, I feel Hereditary is a film that is completely worth seeing.

Illusions (1977)

Illusions is a novel written by Richard Bach, a guy who is a writer and an airplane pilot, how can a person be so interesting? Well, the thing is that this story is about a guy named Richard, which is the author’s name, who is an old airplane pilot and who makes money by taking people for rides in his airplane. The thing is that this Richard meets another guy named Donald Shimoda, who claims to be waiting for him and who happens to be the reincarnation of Jesus, Siddhartha and so many other prophets of antiquity. Donald is waiting for Richard to teach him the art of being a messiah, since Richard has the stuff to be one of them, or as it is later revealed, he belongs to the same family. According to what I have read, it is possible that this novel is the continuation of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but the big difference between the two books is that in Illusions, the narrative has little visuality and a lot of dialogue (in the form of allegories and existential conversations), while in the first one (Seagull…) the ideas are fused with the action. This makes Illusions a more difficult story to read, except for its final passages, where the action is present and has narrative importance. But hey, do you want to know why this book, despite its monotonous parts, has some very interesting ideas about human existence and a philosophy of life that can free you from suffering? Then let’s talk a bit about Illusions.

As I said before, Illusions is about a messiah who comes to teach the protagonist to be a messiah too, what he teaches him is that life is a dream and that we can all do what we really want to do and that this is the way to freedom.The way Donald Shimoda teaches Richard about all these things is that they both spend time together, traveling in their vintage airplanes and taking people for rides, a very simple and free life that allows them to talk about existence and practice miracles along the way, things like walking on water, swimming on land or walking through walls. It’s all about understanding that the ideations we have in our minds are actually limitations that we impose on ourselves by seeing life in a structured way, when the truth is that life is a dream of what in the novel is named as the “is” (the self I suppose). Also, as I said before, the way the novel is written may seem monotonous to some people, as everything is set up with a lot of dialogues in the form of conversations, where Donald may even seem a bit heavy or mumbo jumbo with his know-it-all attitude. To be honest, the first time I read this story I liked it much more than I do now, this reading prior to the review I found it much harder to keep my attention, except towards the end of the story, where the actions take over the plot, albeit somewhat abruptly.

Something interesting about the story is that it is written in a circular way, it all starts with some words written on a draft, it is a story about a person who is born in Indiana and has a very normal life until he recovers memories of other lives, these memories make him strong and wise. Then, other people come to him for advice and he asks them a question; what would they all do if God commanded them to be happy for as long as they live? This is the premise of the story, it is the reason for the violent denouement over the ending, it is the foundation of all the conversations Richard and Donald have throughout the story and it is the reason Donald chooses Richard to teach him the ways of the messiah. And the whole thing takes on a circular nuance because in the epilogue, Richard has a dream where he meets Donald (posthumously) and Donald asks him to write a book containing the teachings of the messiahs, Richard does not want to do it, but ends up accepting Donald’s request and starts writing, which is how the last words of the novel are identical to the first. So the whole time we’ve been reading something that ended but starts at the end, when this idea of writing the things that happened comes to be, but that we already lived through all those things having read the whole novel. Tangled? It made me nauseous too.

Remembering that Lagos Esgri lesson about the point of attack in dramatic stories, I have to say that this story is a very clear example of how to choose that point to build a story. The tale is about a messiah teaching a messiah candidate the job, right? And well, according to the story, a messiah does what he wants, because he knows that the divine goal of life is to be happy. So it is not surprising that at the beginning of the story, Richard lives comfortably and in solitude, he owes nothing to anyone and does what he wants, the only thing he needs is to get rid of the mentality that life is a problem that must be solved at every moment. And that’s when Donald Shimoda shows up and even says, “I’ve been waiting for you”. Could it be that he was waiting for Richard to have this life? The way they meet, flying in old airplanes over the fields, gives the impression that this is the case, although we could also be reading too much between the lines, what do you think?

Before I finish, I cannot but refer to the end of the story, it is a must that cannot be missed. It is a very strange thing because it is at the same time gratifying and at the same time abrupt, the end comes like a heavy stomp on the brake before crashing. Donald is interviewed on the radio about flying over the fields in old airplanes (we don’t know why he is being interviewed) and there he says some controversial things that upset the locals. What he says in summary is that all the people who have done something important for humanity, really what they were doing was living for their own interests with a divinely selfish soul. Something like live and be happy for yourself or live for others and be unhappy. For these words people label him as antichrist and end up shooting him with a shotgun, in a scene very well written by Richard Bach, demonstrating once again his mastery in constructing vivid action sequences (the most interesting aspect of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, I feel). But, even though this scene is so well constructed I couldn’t help but feel that the novel falls into this sequence of events randomly and half disconnected from the rest of the narrative. But what does that matter, if the most interesting thing is when Richard reads the messiah manual, yes seriously, it’s a book that teaches messiahship, right after Donald’s death, and the words he finds there are “Everything in this book can be wrong”. Which I guess is Donald’s last test for Richard, the last threshold to break the lasso of dependency between teacher and student.

That’s all I can say about Richard Bach’s Illusions, I know I said that the book had some monotonous parts, but honestly, when I was younger I found these parts equally interesting, I guess it’s because now I’m a damn cynical nihilist that I can’t enjoy things the way they should be. The first time I read it, I remember this novel having a strong impact on my life, it brought me peace and hope in human existence, beyond the “survival of the fittest” nightmare we’re in right now. That is why I feel that these Bach stories are so important, especially now, because in them you find some very interesting reflections on life and it leads you to think from another perspective, about a world where magic is everywhere, even in those that cause us pain. For all these reasons I feel that if a large number of people read Illusions and other novels by Richard Bach it is more than likely that the author will end up as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Hannah and her sisters (1986)

This is the review of Hannah and her sisters, the only Woody Allen movie I have seen complete, well that doesn’t mean the others are bad. Hannah and her sisters caught my attention when I read the synopsis on imdb, where it more or less says that the movie is about Hannah and her sisters and how they all keep changing partners until they find the perfect match for each other. That’s what it says in the synopsis, but the film actually portrays a very human phenomenon and I feel very difficult to portray, which is the loss of the dominant position within the family (which happens to Hannah towards the end) and how the rest of the people adapt to this new context following the logic of their own idiosyncrasies. To show this interesting change in the family dynamics, the director/screenwriter takes a lot of chapters to advance the plot in a very particular way (I guess for those who love Woody Allen’s films it shouldn’t be that particular, but for an initiated it is!) jumping between characters over and over again, but let’s be honest, not always with a cohesive logical structure, although honestly, what does it matter! In some parts it seems that the movie doesn’t have a defined theme, especially the parts that correspond to the character Woody Allen plays (the hypochondriac) compared to the rest of the movie, don’t seem to have a thematic relation until almost the end of the story. None of this detracts from the entertainment and interest of the story, which concludes with this change in the hierarchical structure of the family.

But… what is the movie about? Well, it’s mostly about Hannah’s sisters, who start the story without having reached the fullness of their lives (without having formed a stable family), unlike Hannah, who welcomes them happily at home with her husband and daughters. At this point in the film, Hannah has the upper hand with her sisters and stands as the benevolent and concerned queen, ready to help but also to remind them of all the problems that keep the family in the way it is currently configured. After the opening scene, where they come together to celebrate Thanksgiving, we spend part of the film watching Hannah’s husband get involved in a love affair with Lee (the sister played by Barbara Hershey), who is living with an older painter (who was also her teacher). At the same time, Holly (the sister played by Dianne Wiest) struggles to find work as a theater actress with her friend April, who ends up beating her in the castings… and in love too! So it goes with poor Holly, who in one revealing scene realizes that, although she has some acting chops, she can’t compete with her friend’s talent and panache.

So let’s say that the film is about Hannah having a settled life (or so she thinks), while her sisters struggle to build a meaningful life following their desires (obvious because the film is also based on the story of an extended family with enough resources). While Holly takes a path that leads her to abandon her dreams of becoming an actress, to later make the decision to try her hand as a writer, Lee leaves the painter to maintain a clandestine relationship with Hannah’s husband. While this happens, we are also involved in the story of Mickey (Woody Allen), who suffers from hypochondria and even fantasizes about being diagnosed with terminal cancer, a situation that leads him to lose the meaning of life and seek solace in different religions. It is worth mentioning that Mickey is Hannah’s first husband and that their relationship was ruined after Mickey discovers that he is infertile. So, while Mickey, who is a television writer, debates with the gods about the fate of life, Holly and Lee wander again and again in the search for emotional stability.

And how does the story end? Well, in the end everyone is happy except Hannah and her husband Elliot, who pay for the success of Hannah’s sisters via worsening their own relational situation. Partly because the first script Holly writes relates to Hannah’s life, with things about her that are personal and that she resents being known (although we could also interpret that she is really upset that her sister is achieving success and this makes her uncomfortable). The other problem that the couple faces in the end is Elliot’s infidelity with Lee, something that is never explicitly talked about in the film, but that constantly appears in the sense of guilt that surrounds both characters, although Lee decides to put an end to the affair and return to study at the university, where she falls in love again with a professor (some people don’t change). But hey, in the end it feels like the movie is about Holly and Mickey, at least they manage to make some change and be happy together (not counting that catastrophic first date). I have the impression that Hannah appears more as the pillar that unifies the stories than as a leading character, so sometimes I think if the movie shouldn’t have been called “Holly and her sisters”, but well, that’s up to the creators I guess. As far as movies about love relationships go, I’d say this film is definitely one of the best I’ve seen, especially because of the clarity in the development of the characters and the conversations between them, the situations they have to face! Things that seem so mundane at a quick glance but are so important in each person’s life story that seeing them portrayed on screen is very interesting. I’m referring to moments like the declaration of an infidelity, a date that goes wrong, the search for a sperm donor or others that we encounter throughout the hour and forty-six minutes that the film lasts.

The good:

  • The characters and the situations they face.
  • Mickey’s religious journey.
  • The end of the story.

The bad:

  • On a few occasions I feel that the device of the character having a monologue in the middle of an action doesn’t come across well constructed (not on all occasions but definitely on some).

Dark Skies (2013)

Dark Skies, a strange movie… to begin with I don’t think I saw any images of dark skies during the whole movie, in fact, I don’t think I even saw a shot of the starry sky. Well then… where are the dark skies? I don’t know, but what I do know is that what starts out as a messy film in the way it builds up tension (especially during the first act) manages after a while to build up an interesting and especially tense tale, even hitting some Kubrickian notes near the end that make it worth giving it a thought. But I have to be honest, I have a personal bias for this movie and for the alien abduction movie genre. I feel it’s the last great myth left in culture, the only place within the collective unconscious from which disturbing stories can be rescued to develop horror narratives. Horror films have always drawn from religious cultural lore (mostly) and with the fall of religious belief, the “death of God” and magical thinking over the last decades, can anyone really say that they have felt fear watching a horror film? Well, I can say that I felt fear watching Dark Skies and that is why we are going to talk about this film.

But it’s true what I said at the beginning, the film starts off in a rather disorganized way and I think this is due to two factors. The first one is an attempt (at least it seems so) to emulate in certain aspects Signs by M. Night. Shyamalan, I’m referring specifically to the plot involving the older brother of the family which only pays off in retrospect (and doesn’t really pay off much) after the final sequence. This plot involves the boy’s passage into adolescence and many of these scenes feel really disconnected from the rest of the story. The other factor that plays into the rocky start of the story is the way the plot moves in the beginning, by which I mean the beginning of the “attack,” the moment when the aliens begin to manifest themselves in the lives of the characters. At least the first two signs of their arrival at the protagonists’ house I feel don’t work at all. At the beginning, the mother finds the food outside the refrigerator (this leads to the hypothesis of an animal attack during the night). Then, certain elements in the kitchen are rearranged in a mathematical way (and we know about this tangentially because the father of the family indicates it and because we know he is an architect). The first time we see an alien is in a drawing that the youngest son makes after commenting that he has been talking to the “Sandman” (an ancient device of Western mythology, you know, of that magical thinking that no longer works), such a drawing reminds us of a lot of old movies that have used the same device ad nauseam.

So far anyone could say that this movie is just another in a long line of horror movies with exactly the same plot. That plot Blake Snider calls “the monster in the house” in his infamous book “Save the Cat”. And a lot of them wouldn’t be wrong, unless… maybe they are wrong, because, admittedly, up to this point the film doesn’t work very well, except perhaps for the element that I feel keeps the film cohesive until the end, the relationship between the parents of the family and the growing tension that forms between them. If the poorly constructed paranormal manifestations haven’t grabbed your attention up to this point, I feel you couldn’t help but be interested in the problems that arise between the two main characters. The problem is that the father has been out of work for some time and the mother has to work for both of them. Also, the father’s relationship with the older son is not the best since the latter has started to become interested in women. What I mean by all this is that, although the film fails at the beginning to present us with the main conflict or does it in an unsatisfactory way, what it does do well is to introduce us to the characters, all of them interesting and well constructed.

But the plot catches up with us after what I feel is the first really disturbing event (and consistent with the alien abduction lore, for those who know it) in the story, occurs when the young son has a catatonic episode playing with other children in the neighborhood square. Up to this point we know that the father is suffering because he hasn’t gotten a job and we’ve seen family arguments culminating in this scene, where the father is completely overcome by his son’s reaction and doesn’t know how to help him. From here on, the story takes on a different tone, one of a constant sense of stalking and growing paranoia, especially in the mother, who is the first to “see” one of the aliens inside the house. The situation escalates rapidly as the characters begin to lose control of their own lives and worse, their bodies, some of them coming to move unknowingly during the night and having seizures consistent with the emotional expression of traumatic events they cannot remember. All this until the moment when the mother decides to start researching about these events and ends up arriving at an internet page that explains everything that is happening to them via “extraterrestrial abductions”. But the father is not willing to believe in this explanation, especially after finally finding a job. However, things get worse to the point where he himself manages to see the strange beings that visit his family during the night.

After this, the parents decide to visit an abduction expert, who tells them the truth about the matter, there is nothing they can do to stop what is happening to them, moreover, he warns them that, when aliens show themselves to people, it is because they are going to take a family member with them. I’m not going to tell specific things about the ending so as not to spoil it for anyone, I’ll just repeat that this is where the plot about the oldest son pays off and it really doesn’t work much. What does work is the way the final confrontation is designed, it makes you wish the whole movie had been this way. Anyway, the truth is that Dark Skies is a film that starts off badly but has a very good second act and a satisfying third act. Besides that, it is a film that dares to explore the extraterrestrial phenomenon under the logic of horror movies, something I don’t understand why it is not done more. Considering that the material at hand is actually terrifying, at least more so than demonic attacks or the fiftieth coming of the antichrist.

The good:

  • The presentation of the emotional traumas that are a product of the abductions.
  • The acting of Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton.
  • The cinematography of the final battle.

The bad:

  • The beginning of the film is uninteresting.

The Walkind Dead (2010)

The Walking Dead is a television series whose first episode aired around the time television broadcasts began and whose last episode will be televised eons after the end of human civilization. I’m serious! Figuratively, actually. It just feels like TWD has been on the air so long that it’s almost impossible to imagine television without this very long story about a group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse. I haven’t actually read the comic by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard, so I can’t speak to this version of the story, but as far as its TV namesake goes, what I can say and what I feel is mostly relevant, far above the concept of revived corpses walking around and eating people, is that TWD establishes an ideal setting to create a multitude of dramatic situations that border on desperation and the desire to live, which constantly erases the moral lines in pursuit of survival, except one, the essential one in this series, the unrestricted protection of the family as an affective nucleus, but also as the only possibility to survive the end of the world.

This concept of family is not something new in TV series, in fact, I honestly feel that TWD is a clear successor of the series Lost, in which the drama revolved around a similar premise. Jack Sheppard, the protagonist of Lost, said in one of the first chapters “Either we learn to live together or we die alone”, a phrase that you could hear in any episode of TWD. And the fact is that, throughout its 10 seasons, TWD has explored to exhaustion themes such as trust, betrayals, compromises and sacrifices for the common good that lead to suffering and loss but also lead to the greatest expressions of humanity and bravery. I remember that one of the premises of Lost was to have a place where infinite situations could occur between characters, such aspect is completely replicable in TWD, with an equally diffuse plot in explanatory terms. I don’t think the nature of the infection has ever been specified, although it’s not as if it matters, since the dynamic of the series is not focused on detecting the origin or causes of the apocalypse (something that happens in World War Z) nor on fighting the infection and healing people. In TWD the characters quickly learn that the only valid option is to find a way to survive for as long as they can, and this survival time increases each time the “family” becomes stronger.

One of the high points of TWD is undoubtedly Andrew Lincoln’s performance as the cop Rick Grimes. And long is the journey we make with him during the 9 seasons in which this character appears in the series (Lincoln left the series during the ninth season). The story starts with Rick waking up in a hospital, after being shot, in the middle of the apocalypse (very much in the style of 28 Days Later). This beginning for the character is very interesting because of the reasons why he is alone, it turns out that Rick has problems with his wife Lori, they are on the verge of separation before the beginning of the end of the world. When the zombies attack, Lori takes refuge in Shane, Rick’s best friend and it doesn’t take long for the two to start a relationship. Now, when Rick returns with his wife and son (Carl Jr.), Rick’s attitude is somewhat peculiar. Instead of staying with them, he decides to go on a bunch of adventures to save other people in the name of justice and what’s right. It’s Shane who, even though his return hurts him in front of Lori, explains to her that in this new world the only thing that matters is protecting your loved ones. And Rick pays for his mistakes a bunch of times before he realizes that Shane is telling the truth. Not that it’s established, but I feel like, at least for the first few seasons of the series, Rick is learning how to be a father. He makes it explicit himself on one occasion when he tells another character that “these people look to me and expect answers, it’s something I wouldn’t want to happen but it does and I can’t do anything about it.”

There are other interesting characters within the series that help maintain and diversify the drama. Among them I think the most important are the ones that make it to the infamous episode 16 of season six “Last Day on Earth” (Negan’s first appearance). Among them are Daryl, Carol, Glenn, Michonne and Maggie. I feel like the series does a really very interesting job of creating the different dynamics between all of them. It’s just a matter of watching the first episode in which each of them appears and the last one to notice the incredible evolution they’ve had. Of course, there are also some exceptions, for example, Daryl appears for the first time as a not very interesting character (perhaps not very well established). It is later in the series that we pay more attention to him, when his value within the group becomes visible, beyond his skills as a hunter. I mean his values as a person, it’s as if he becomes the gum that keeps the group cohesive, always willing to sacrifice himself for others. One character that does have an interesting change from the beginning of the series is Carol, who goes from being a woman abused by a violent husband to become perhaps the best zombie hunter of the group and seeing this transformation really is a great achievement for TWD.

All that about the drama implicit in the story, but what about the more explicit elements? Let’s start with this zombie thing. And I feel like, it’s definitely the least interesting aspect of the whole plot. And I guess the writers of the series also realized this, because the inquiry about the phenomenon is left behind after the second season. There are some chapters in which Rick’s group is in a facility where a guy is investigating the causes of the infection, from this we learn only that all the charac… wait, I think this is a spoiler. The thing is, after this, it’s never talked about again. There is a moment, during the ninth season, where it seems that the lore about zombies is going to be expanded, when a new kind of zombie appears, capable of anticipating attacks and moving faster. However, everything is left behind when we learn that they are actually people disguised as zombies (and I personally feel that, from this moment on, the plot goes to hell). Beyond that, the zombies are nothing more than an unpleasant obstacle that appears every so often in the story. The real source of conflict in the series are the human antagonists and it is here, except for one small problem, where we find the real danger for Rick Grimes’ family. I remember in one episode, Carl Jr. asks his father if they are still the good guys, this because of the amount of murders they have to commit to survive. The first important enemy in the plot is Shane, Rick’s friend, who quickly loses his moral compass because of his love for Laurie. This character is the first major obstacle for Rick, the first test to find out if he is willing to do what it takes to save his family. Then come other enemies, most notably “the mayor” and Negan (perhaps the best-known antagonist of the series). The problem between the two characters is that they are not different enough to feel an evolution in the story. In fact, they both harm the group in a similar way, killing one of them in front of the others.

That’s what I can say about The Walking Dead, a series that has a very interesting character in Rick Grimes and a story about characters who don’t know each other and come to form a family together, as the only way to survive an apocalypse, having to make difficult and desperate decisions in between. Perhaps it’s true that the series has lasted much longer than it should have, already by the time they had defeated Negan it felt like every episode (except for the most important ones) was more of the same. That’s why I prefer to stick with the memories of the first seasons and the most important parts of the battle against Negan. The rest is forgettable, but it doesn’t take away from the dramatic value that the good parts have, moments where you can truly realize why this series was such a phenomenon for so many people.

The good stuff:

  • Rick Grimes!
  • The first four seasons are pure gold.
  • Last Day on Earth.

The bad:

  • The series goes on too long and gets repetitive.
  • The zombies are nothing more than a nuisance.