The Shining (1980)

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“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” – the seemingly harmless saying takes a sinister overture as we witness Jack Torrance’s (Jack Nicholson) gradual descent into madness when he becomes the winter caretaker of the snow blocked Overlook Hotel and moves in with his family into the isolated building built ominously on an Indian burial ground. The “dull boy” becomes a homicidal axe-wielding man on a murderous rampage, out to kill his wife and son. Danny (Danny Lloyd), has ESP and has a terrifying premonition about the hotel but his fears are ignored by his obstinate father who happens to be a struggling author, apparently in need of solitude. The name of the movie draws from the special telepathic bond that Danny shares with the African-American chef Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers).shining4
Through a complex web of incipient lunacy, spectral murders and
supernatural visions, in the heart of The Shining lies the breakdown of a fragmented, estranged, nuclear family- scarred by an incompatible couple (the husband being an alcoholic) and an abused child who suffers severe mental trauma and resorts to imaginary friends.shining2
It is about isolation and a failure to realize one’s dreams, about a lack of communication and most of all, a terrifying, spine-chilling thirst for violence that stems out of an absolute apathy for those who you latently blame for your failure- in this case, Jack Torrance’s family. With remarkable visual panache, Stanley Kubrick brings to life the brilliant novel by Stephen King.
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The most remarkable moment of the film is when the waves and waves of red wash all over the corridor with the mutilated bodies of the twin girls as a terrified Danny frantically rides away on his tricycle, desperately scribbling “REDRUM” on the mirror on his mother’s room.

Note: I have a fascination for buildings. Especially in association to human psychology. The stiffling, cramped, deeply depressing apartments (like in Polanski’s The Tenant) to gloomy, obviously fiendish hotels (as in Psycho) to the sprawling Overlook Hotel presented in this particular film. Cut off from the rest of civilized society, we find cabin fever setting in and the company of near and dear ones becoming insufferable.overlook overlook2
Also, note the tremendously scarring split-second scene depicting a man in a bear costume in a compromising position with another man 🙂shining5Here’s the trailer to the film:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Cb3ik6zP2I

Festen (1998)

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A dysfunctional family has been the core of many films, secrets kept and unveiled, trauma, pain, estrangement and the lack of understanding- giving way to perverse outlets of tension, often at the cost of permanently severing relationships. The old give way to new- in case of both people and emotions and the temporal nature of life shines through. Festen, which is Danish for “celebration”, sketches the saga of a family assembling to celebrate Helge (Henning Mortizen), the patriarch’s 60th birthday. This film won the Jury Prize at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.

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A shaky, hand-held camera with natural lighting is used for Festen and the style is naturalistic, with little or no post-production, giving it the appeal of a home movie. The viewer at once feels like a part of the setting, seated at the table along with the family during the tense dinner scene. The experience is pretty eerie, as you feel the probing eyes of Christian, the hasty way in which his mother attempts to cover (and feebly justify) for his scarred childhood, or the presence of the father. The characters become are presented to us in a realistic manner and we get to fathom the fabric of their personalities.

The twisted family dynamics is portrayed well with the aid of a remarkably taut screenplay and what we get is an effective family drama with dark undercurrents, put forward brilliantly with the aid of satire. The film focuses on abuse in relationships- bringing to the forefront the macabre nature of anomalous human sexuality, power equations within the family, bitterness and cruelty. Child abuse, racism and betrayal are at the heart of the movie and, it illustrates how arduous it can be to demarcate between love and hate when the line separating them is so thin. The scenes are harsh and raw and Vinterberg’s narrative technique is crisp and meticulous as the details of Christian’s troubled past are merely hinted with the aid of the laudable script and only very subtle hints from other family members that make us doubt Christian’s honesty.

Festen is a collage of highly probing characters. There is Christian, the passive, introverted son- played with restrained intensity by Ulrich Thomsen, his eyes haunt us long after the credits have rolled. He is not the kind of man who provokes others or incites a confrontation but this is one battle he must fight. He must purge his past and reach a sense of closure. Thomsen does a profound depiction of this severely trouble young man. Michael, who is essayed by Thomas Bo Larsen, is Christian’s older brother and diametrically opposite to him with regard to his character. Michael is depicted as a roguish, insensitive, blunt man who abuses his wife and has little regard for his family or anyone else around him- he is supremely conceited and selfish. Though it’s not clearly mentioned, it is pretty certain that Michael was a silent witness to the events that molded Christian’s life and which in turn hardened him. Helene, the younger sister is a masked character who hides her emotions and stifles the pain that engulfs her, Paprika Steen does absolute justice to her character. The central character, however, is that of Helge, the father, who affects and deconstructs the lives of those around him. He is the epitome of failed fatherhood- his failure lashed out on his children in a violent current of sexual abuse that he committed on them when they were children- helpless and mute under his control. The character of Helge is not limited to that of a mere brute, there are different dimensions to him. We almost feel sympathy for him when he is rejected by his family at the end of the movie at the breakfast table- his shame is juxtaposed with Christian’s vindication and his rejection is a sort of poetic justice for rthe suicide of Christian’s twin sister Linda who faced the same abuse that her brother did and could not come to terms with it. Festen is a powerful piece of post-modern cinema. Although it stands as the only notable title of a dying art form, Festen is one of most well executed movies of the Dogme genre.

A quick note on Dogme (much thanks to Wikipedia): Dogme 95 was an avant-garde filmmaking movement started in 1995 by the Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, who created the “Dogme 95 Manifesto” and the “Vow of Chastity”. These were rules to create film making based on the traditional values of story, acting, and theme, and excluding the use of elaborate special effects or technology. They were later joined by fellow Danish directors Kristian Levring and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, forming the Dogme 95 Collective or the Dogme Brethren. Dogme is the Danish word for dogma. The genre gained international appeal partly because of its accessibility. It sparked an interest in unknown filmmakers by suggesting that one can make a recognized film of a quality to gain recognition, without being dependent on commissions or huge Hollywood budgets. The directors used European government subsidies and television station funding instead.

Here’s a link to the trailer:

“These days, relationships with neighbors can be… quite complicated”: The Tenant (1976)

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Tonight I decided to pay a visit to Trelkovsky, an introverted young man who has just moved in to a rather unfriendly apartment on a typically busy street in Paris. It could be any other room in any other building, but it just so happens that the occupant prior to Trelkovsky, an Egyptologist named Simone Choule, had attempted to commit suicide by jumping out through the window.

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Like his earlier work- Repulsion, Polanski’s 1976 film, The Tenant, is a study of the intense paranoia and psychic alienation of a foreigner living in a cold and hostile environment. But where the French Catherine Deneuve’s madness involved a latent fear and awe of exotic sexuality, which culminated in the irrational murder of her landlord; the young Polish man of The Tenant, played by Polanski himself, is an almost pathetically comic figure whose descent into madness involves an extremely curious transformation into a woman. Trelkovsky’s symptoms are more understandable, and the final outburst of violence at the end of the movie is terrifying simply because victim is Trelkovsky himself- the acute isolation that he feels, reaches us in his final plea to the world that surrounds him.
Part of the film’s intrigue is its apparent hesitation between the surrealist and the horror approach to madness. Throughout the first half of the film we identify closely with Trelkovsky’s difficulties finding an apartment, adjusting to his rude neighbors and to the suicide of the former tenant, that it does indeed seem possible that some uncanny force has conspired to bring about the reincarnation of the former tenant – who was after all, an Egyptologist – in the person of Trelkovsky. In other words, the film at first appears to inscribe itself within the tradition of the horror genre, but it soon reveals the source of its uncanny occurrences to be located within the unconscious of its protagonist. The more we encounter the demonic forces which want to transform Trelkovsky into the former tenant, the more we become aware that these forces are the outward symptoms of repressed desires. The Tenant presents a reduced, urbanized version of the classic haunted house-the haunted apartment.

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It is interesting to note that we know nothing of the actual reasons for Simone’s death, just as we know nothing of Simone herself. The important point, however, is that Trelkovsky fabricates a plot on the part of the other tenants that accounts not only for her death but for his own as well. In order to free himself from the burden of his guilt (his latent wish for Simone to die quickly and vacate tye room for him) Trelkovsky projects it onto the other tenants, the very people who seem to be judging him. In this manner, he re-enacts the crime, this time to become its victim. The figure of Trelkosky is a grotesque mixture of voyeur and exhibitionist, of a sadist and a masochist, of criminal and victim. His visual pleasure will now consist in simultaneously submitting to and watching the spectacle of his own torture.This double role becomes even more obvious in the subsequent events of the episode described above in which Trelkovsky watches his severed head bouncing in the courtyard.

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In the final shot of the film we see Trelkovsky in the hospital, a perfect imitation of Simone. But there is a powerful irony in the fact that all he has ever known of Simone has been the outer shell of these bandages. His transformation into Simone ends in the tragedy that he conceived for her. The Tenant‘s exploration of madness ends up questioning the nature of the subject, leaving us in doubt as to the original “cause” of madness, or even if there ever is a fully plausible cause, but at the same time revealing in great detail the psychic processes which govern this madness. An aesthetically brilliant film. Definitely one of my favourites by Polanski.

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Here’s the link to the trailer: