We are a phobic society, afraid of the unknown, and now more than anything, being away from our devices. The term “nomophobia” has been recently introduced into our vernacular – “no-mobile-phone-phobia” – defining our fear of being without a connection. There is a lot of finger-posting going on regarding this trend, blaming the kids and their addiction to the digital world. Sure, all of my students stare into their phones at every given moment, desperate to scroll, some even convinced that they have been given a new power, that society has conceded to their ability to steer us to a brave new understanding.
However misguided they may be, they’re not the problem, only a symptom. The problem isn’t the users, but the providers, the people building these things, selling the latest models, pushing the digital world relentlessly forward. If you don’t buy, you don’t know, and then you die. Our nodigiphobia (“no-digital-device-phobia”) only continues to drive us toward the bleak horizon, latest device in hand, blogging and texting as we go.
Every story needs its ticking bomb: Will Luke destroy the Death Star? Will Jack really kill Ralph? Will Gatsby run off with Daisy? Will Chigurgh catch Llewelyn?* We are compelled to keep reading, to find out what happens in the end.
Without this tension, this inherent inevitability, the story flounders, and with no land in sight, the audience is lost, the story a disaster.
A certain malaise descends on me at this time of year. It is not so much the growing dark – although I am sure that plays a part – so much as the descent into the ‘holiday’ season, a time of year synonymous not for giving and family but for greed and accumulation. Human nature does not have a positive connotation for a reason; it just isn’t good. We take and hoard until we can almost forget what we really are, even if is for just the briefest of moments. We say things and make promises, actually believing some of the profundities we claim…. but there is nothing of substance, just the shell of something half-built, the world always the same as before. The slogans and liquor wear off and we are as we started, creatures who want more.
Aeschylus, Shakespeare and Saramago have had a few things to write about this, but in the end they’re just words, like these, read and discarded on the road to the next thing, the next electronic gadget.
And so, yeah, I can feel a little low – as Black Friday et. al. approach – and dream about the darkness in Greenland, being alone with the aurora borealis and nobody else.
Birdman is not as advertised. It is not a quirky dark comedy, but a claustrophobically relentless attack on modern-day life. Emma Stone screams it best: “You’re scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don’t matter! And you know what?! You’re right! You’re not important! Get used to it!” Michael Keaton plays a washed-up super-hero actor who tries to find relevance in his Broadway staging of Raymond Carver’s personally raw What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Ed loved her so much, he tried to kill her.
Inarritu’s film is an intense combination of the intellectual – akin to Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author – and visceral – offering an edit-less flow of images that winds through the serpentine backstage hallways and stairwells of a Broadway theatre, only briefly escaping to a bar, a tight balcony and a nightmarish run through Times Square. And while the film does tend toward polemics – with everyone, including a theater critic, overtly stating their points of view – it will leave you breathless, wondering what it is you just saw and when you might be able to see it again.
Interstellar is but a messy compilation of almost every science fiction film done before.
It opens as Shyamalan’s Signs – a paranormal tone established on a farm – and develops into Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind– the lead character following intuitive clues to a secret government installation.Our cast goes off in search of other worlds – like all other star-bound yarns – and toils through predictable and half-developed space-age themes like isolation, claustrophobia and love in close quarters, with a couple of buddy-robots thrown in for laughs. The worst of the plagiarism is the sophomoric rip-off from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nolan makes repeated attempts at reaching a Kubrick-ian plateau by diving through worm holes, black holes and inner space, eventually arriving at a fifth dimension where time becomes a soft-focus library, from which the viewer can only beg to be released.
The only way this film could be made more tedious would be to view it on Dr. Miller’s Water Planet (pictured below) where an hour equals seven earth-bound years. That’s right, 21 straight years of Matthew McConaughey tearing up because he can’t age fast enough.
Instead of Interstellar, I recommend a 1996 episode of The Outer Limits, Worlds Apart. As cheap as the special effects may be, the story is the same and it’s free on-line.
Last Friday, Toronto lost to Buffalo, the worst team in the league, and Phil Kessel, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ star forward walked away from the media scrum, telling them, “Leave me alone.”
The jilted scum (sic) made a story out of that. As Mr. Kessel admits, his answers rarely offer them anything much. “I’m a guy that likes to go out and play hockey and have some fun.” Teammate Nazem Kadri, victim of as much negative press as anyone, gave his point of view: “When (Phil) doesn’t feel like he can trust anybody, he gets a little bit shy and a little bit timid in that regard. It’s really nothing personal.” Let me put it differently and not so nicely: sports reporters are lazy and judgemental. They do not pose insightful questions that develop understanding of the nature of the game nor the player, but instead pose trite statements with question marks at the end, searching for a quote that they can insert into their pre-written narrative.
These are the statements/questions Kessel avoided: “What are your thoughts on losing to the worst team in the league?” “How disappointed are you in the team’s efforts?” “How can the team improve?”
Phil Kessel is a great hockey player not only for his skill and humility on the ice but also for his most admirable disdain for these morons he must endure.
The package failed to arrive, and the Fedex website gave conflicting information. The package was both “In Transit” and at a Fedex facility in Richmond, B.C. I called the next morning, and the Fedex agent promised to get back to me with further information. I had the same conversation on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday morning. And then they had their answer: “The FDA will not approve the package. It cannot be shipped.”
“Why did it take you four days to figure that out?”
“It is smoked fish. The FDA will not allow it to be shipped across the border.”
“The contents is written on the package. I’m looking at a scan of it right now. Can you read that too? It says ‘Dressed smoked salmon vacuum sealed, right?” “The FDA will not allow it to be shipped.”
“But why didn’t you inform the shipper of this issue when he dropped the package off?”
There was a brief pause. “The package was inspected by the FDA and was not approved for shipment into the United States.”
“That’s not the point, is it? This isn’t an FDA issue. This is a Fedex issue. Fedex should have communicated this basic information before it was shipped.”
“I apologize for any inconvenience, sir.”
“Your apology is irrelevant. Besides you’re not even apologizing for what happened.”
“Would you like to file a complaint?”
“That’s what I’m doing right now, isn’t it?”
“If you wish to file a complaint, I can contact the Fedex branch so that the manager can ensure that training prevents this problem from happening again.”
“It’s not just the one person in one Fedex office. It’s a Fedex problem. It’s systemic. A shipment was given to you, a shipment containing perishable items, to be delivered the next day. I contacted you seven times over the last four days and no one knew why the package was stuck in transit.”“Sir, would you like to file a complaint?”
“Yes, I would like to file a complaint but not just against one employee in one office.”
There was a long pause. “I don’t know what you want me to do.”
“Take responsibility for the lack of communication at Fedex. Acknowledge that Fedex did not do its job.”
“I’m sorry you were inconvenienced, sir.”
“The message I am getting from you is that I shouldn’t ship with Fedex.”
There was a long silence.
“Unless I’m missing something.”
She sounded tired. “I’m sorry you have been inconvenienced, sir.”
This was an initial meeting, many years before anything would actually have to be done. They were only preparing him for the idea, the fact that this event, one day, would occur. It was a fact of life.
“The body hair is shaved…”
He considered his veins and joints and thought about how he had been the only one who knew them, that they were solely his, his intimates.
“Bodily fluids are drained…”
Once he was gone, that was it; there were no bodies, no veins and joints. They would rot. But the fact was that he could not surrender these parts of self – his very self – to this man or any other. They were his. It was as simple as that. He had to leave.
“An incision is made…”
He didn’t raise his hand. He kept that, like the rest of him, close to himself, as he made a long backward step and pushed open the door.
“Excuse me?” The man’s voice was sharp, suddenly unpleasant.
He only half turned back, still pushing open the door. “Yes?”