Friday, April 29, 2011

Carpe Diem--Seize the Day

Carpe Diem or "seize the day!" or perhaps the more popular version: "Eat. drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."

This philosophy? has been around for some time. The Latin version comes from Book 1 of Horace's Odes, published in 23 BC. However, it's been around a lot longer, and it's not the exclusive property of Europeans. I never thought much about it, but today, while browsing through a collection of poetry, I found this taken from the Chinese Book of Odes, compiled in the fifth century BC. Since the collection was compiled in the fifth century BC, we don't know how much earlier it was composed. In any case, here are several versions of the theme:

You Will Die

"You have coats and robes,
But you do not trail them;
You have chariots and horses.
But you do not ride them.
By and by you will die,
And another will enjoy them.

You have courtyards and halls,
But they are not sprinkled and swept;
You have bells and drums,
But they are not struck.
By and by you will die,
And another will possess them.

You have wine and food;
Why not play daily on your lute,
That you may enjoy yourself now
And lengthen your days?
By and by you will die,
And another will take your place."

-- Anon --
H. A. Giles, trans
from The World's Best Poems
Mark Van Doren and Garibaldi M. Lapolla, ed.

Horace's Odes, from Book 1

"Ask not ('tis forbidden knowledge), what our destined term of years,
Mine and yours; nor scan the tables of your Babylonish seers.
Better far to bear the future, my Leuconoe, like the past,
Whether Jove has many winters yet to give, or this our last;
This, that makes the Tyrrhene billows spend their strength against the shore.
Strain your wine and prove your wisdom; life is short; should hope be more?
In the moment of our talking, envious time has ebb'd away.
Seize the present; trust tomorrow e'en as little as you may."

Horace. The Odes and Carmen Saeculare of Horace. John Conington. trans. London. George Bell and Sons. 1882.

Quatrain LXXX

Yesterday, This Day's Madness did prepare:
To-morrow's Silence, Triumph, or Despair:
Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why:
Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.

--Omar Khayyam--
The Rubaiyat, second edition
Trans. Edward FitzGerald

China, Rome, and Persia (by way of England)--seems fairly widespread to me. Perhaps some day I may come across versions from Africa and from the Australian Aborigines.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Combination Plate 18

Warning: I will discuss significant plot elements and endings.

Mike Ashley, ed. The Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries, a collection of short mystery stories

Somtow Sucharitkul, Mallworld, a fix-up SF Novel

Fantasias and Trons: clones by Disney

Death Race (2008), SF film

Bernard Knight, "The Crowner John" series

Mike Ashley, ed.
The Mammoth Book of Perfect Crimes and Impossible Mysteries
Carroll and Graf

This collection contains thirty short stories that focus on perfect crimes, supposedly those so well planned out that the perps couldn't be identified, and those that couldn't possibly have happened, such as the man in a glass telephone booth, in plain sight, who was killed by an ice pick or a man who entered a cable car alone and is found dead when the car reaches the bottom even though the car was visible the entire route.

Some of the authors are Mike Ashley, Richard A. Lupoff, Bill Pronzini (author of the Noname Detective novels), Peter Tremayne (author of the Sister Fidelma historical mysteries), Barry Longyear, and Bernard Knight (author of the great "Crowner John" historical mystery series).
I knew Richard A. Lupoff and Barry Longyear from their SF stories and wasn't aware they wrote mysteries also.

This is a great collection to have when there's only short periods available for reading.


Somtow Sucharitkul, Mallworld, a SF novel?

Sucharitkul's Mallworld, although marketed as a novel, really is a collection of short stories that could have been published separately in SF magazines and are loosely connected by a frame. Earth has been quarantined by a galactic federation because humans are too violent and unpredictable. The entire solar system out to Saturn has been enclosed in a small pocket universe. Humans can't get out, but tourists can visit the reservation. The linking is simple: every so often, a member of the federation government comes to observe humans to determine if they have matured enough to be allowed back into the universe. The stories, therefore, represent examples of human behavior upon which the Observer will make his decision.

All stories take place on Mallworld, a huge shopping mall the size of a planet built out around Saturn's orbit. It's the biggest shopping center ever built and has over 20,000 shops and claims to have over a million visitors every day. It was built after the quarantine was imposed. Apparently, the humans decided that if they couldn't explore the universe, they could at least go shopping.

The stories tend toward the comic and the bizarre. One of the establishments at the mall is a suicide parlor where one can select from a list of over three hundred types of suicide. One of the most popular choices is "death by vampire." Another store is Storkways, Inc. where one can order a custom-made baby. But, miss a payment and the repo team is dispatched.

This is also a great book for those times when only short periods are available for reading. One can ignore the interlinear links, and each story is independent, although a few characters do appear in more than one story.


Fantasias and Trons

In 1940 Disney presented the world with Fantasia. To call it simply another cartoon is to grossly devalue the film. It was, and still is as far as I'm concerned, a revelation in Light, Color, Motion, and Sound. It is Disney's creative staff strutting their stuff, saying "Look at what we can do." It's a perfect marriage of the visual and the audio sensory worlds. It's one of my favorite films, and one which I view regularly.

Forty-two years later, in 1982, Disney gave the viewers something new and exciting--Tron. With the use of SFX, Disney opened up the world of cyberspace. He used the new special effects techniques to show us a possible view of what the inside world of those techniques might look like. The story line was acceptable, but the SFX made the film a very enjoyable viewing experience. I immediately thought of Disney's earlier masterpiece Fantasia. All Tron lacked, I thought, was the blending of Sound to Color, Motion, and Light at the level of Fantasia.

Then, inexplicably, in 1999, Disney comes out with Fantasia 2000--almost sixty years after the first film and seventeen years after Tron, which was a celebration of newer techniques. It, sadly, was just a remake of the original film with different music and visuals. It added nothing that hadn't been already accomplished in the original film. I was disappointed. It was good, but I found it nowhere as creative or innovative as the 1942 Fantasia.

In 2010, as should have been expected, Disney produced a second clone, Tron: Legacy. The plot was very similar to the first one (and the first one wasn't really that terrific). Surprisingly, I thought the 1982 version seemed to be more typical of a digital world than the 1999 version. Since I've never experienced the "digital world" of cyberspace, I'm obviously only guessing at this. But, it seemed to me that Tron: Legacy seemed to be in a more organic world than its predecessor. It frequently seemed to lack the sharpness of light and color, and the objects found there were rounder? softer? --characteristics I would associate more with the organic/analogue world than the digital world of cyberspace. Obviously, I'm not too sure of what I mean here and I'm really groping for the right words.

I don't know why the clones were produced, unless it was simply for profit. There's a psychological principle known as the Recency Principle which states that people remember best what they experienced last. That means that my memories of Fantasia and Tron have now been overlaid by the memories of the clones. That's sad. I think that the most effective cure would be to see Fantasia (1940) and Tron (1982) again.


Death Race

This version came out in 2008. It is based on an earlier film, Death Race: 2000, which appeared in 1975. I don't remember seeing the earlier version, but the IMDB listing says that this is a new script, so it may be quite different.

The plot--well, it does have one. Jensen Ames, in a economically depressed US, sometime around 2015 loses his job and is framed for the murder of his wife. He ends up in Terminal Island, a privately run prison. He is persuaded to take part in the Death Race, a televised special that has high ratings. The drivers are prisoners who take part because one who wins five races gets released.

It's a throwback to the days of the Roman games, specifically the chariot races, when blood, carnage, and death were the main attractions. In fact, one of the encounters in this film comes directly from the famous chariot race in the film Ben Hur. In this modern version, the cars are heavily armored and armed with 50 cal. machine guns and whatever else they can scare up. Generally the survival rate is around 60%. The powers-that-be decided one race wasn't enough to take up the 90 minutes, so it's held in three heats.

Acting skills are minimal, except for the Coach, who is played by Ian McShane. His laid back attitude contrasts with the rest of the cast who specialize in macho-a-macho glowering throughout most of the film, and that includes Hennessy, the female warden played by Joan Allen, who must have seen too many Nazi concentration camp films during her formative years. Coach just looks around and smiles, possibly the only person in the cast who realizes how silly all this is.

Overall Reaction: recommended for those who enjoy demolition derby "races" featuring armed and armored vehicles.


Bernard Knight "The Crowner John" Series
Historical mystery, technical detective category

Earlier, when I discussed the collection of stories about impossible crimes, I mentioned Bernard Knight, the author of the superb "Crowner John" series. I first encountered Knight in a novel by Priscilla Royal, Wine of Violence. It was an enjoyable read, and one of the most interesting characters in the novel was the crowner, an king's appointee who served as the king's representative for that area. Royal at the end of the novel stated that she based the character of the crowner on Bernard Knight's "Crowner John" series. So, I went looking, found them fascinating, and am now busy reading my way through the series, which now includes fourteen novels.

He has also begun a new series, featuring a forensic pathologist who sets up a private practice in England in 1955. Knight has spent many years as a practicing forensic pathologist in England and is past president of the Forensic Science Society.

The "Crowner John" series is set during the late twelfth and early thirteenth century in Exeter. Sir John de Wolfe has been appointed to his position by Richard the Lion-Hearted and is one of the first individuals to hold that position. His responsibilities include protecting the king's interests, mostly financial, by recording "all serious crimes, deaths and legal events for the King's judges." The quotation comes from the six page glossary provided by Knight.

Sir John de Wolfe, therefore, is the first coroner in Exeter. He is the second highest law officer in the area, second to the sheriff. Unfortunately the sheriff, Sir Richard de Revelle, is also his brother-in-law who strongly resents de Wolfe's presence in the area for two reasons. One is that he doesn't like someone looking over his shoulder; it cramps his grasping for ill-gotten wealth. The second is that de Wolfe is a strong supporter of King Richard, while de Revelle has thrown his support to Prince John and has been involved in several schemes that bordered on treason. Because of the marital relationship, de Wolfe kept quiet about what he knew of de Revelle's part in several plots to overthrow King Richard.

Those who enjoyed Ellis Peters' "Brother Cadfael" series will like this one. Both Sir John de Wolfe and Brother Cadfael are survivors of the various European conflicts and crusades. Both have gained considerable knowledge of wounds and injuries and the types of weapons that might be responsible. And, both, after long years in the military, have picked up considerable knowledge about diseases and possible cures.

Knight has also gathered several interesting characters as de Wolfe's aides. His assistant is Gwyn of Polruan, a huge Cornishman, who had been de Wolfe's bodyguard and friend for many years on the battlefield. His battlefield experience helps de Wolfe in various ways, from various incidents involving hand-to-hand combat to the simple autopsies that were possible at that time. Since neither he nor Gwyn could write, de Wolfe relies on Thomas de Peyne, a defrocked priest to keep the necessary records. His knowledge of Church rituals, rites, and rules also comes in handy at times, as is his ability to work his way into the confidence of the local clergy, most of whom are unaware of his disgraced status.

The first book in the series is Sanctuary Seeker. I found it surprising just how involved the whole procedure of claiming sanctuary really was. While each novel does stand alone, I would recommend reading them chronologically as the relationships among the characters--de Wolfe, his wife, the sheriff, de Wolfe's mistress, Gwyn, and de Peyne--do vary a bit.

Overall Reaction: a great series, one of the best historical series I have found--especially recommended to those who liked the Brother Cadfael series.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 3 versions

Spoiler Warning: I will discuss significant plot elements and the endings.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, three versions
Director: Steven Spielberg

Richard Dreyfuss-- Roy Neary
Francois Truffaut-- Claude Lacombe
Melinda Dillon-- Jillian Guiler
Teri Garr-- Ronnie Neary

The DVD has made it possible for directors to continue fiddling with their films, much as some writers revise and revise and revise, until they finally tire of the project and put it aside. I recently found that there were now three versions of the popular SF film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I had seen what I thought were the first two, so I was curious about what changes had been seen necessary to put forth a third and, presumably, an improved version. Fortunately I was able to get all three versions at home at the same time. I, therefore, settled down for my own version of a "Close Encounter Marathon."

I found some differences which I will bring up and some that I'm not sure about. I got the feeling some scenes were shortened a bit, but lacking a stop watch and the inclination to get that detailed, I can only speculate. Therefore, I'll leave those for more serious and dedicated observers.

I see the film as having three distinct parts:

The First Part--Strange Events

The Second Part--the trek to Devils Tower, Wyoming

The Third Part--the Encounter

Here are those that jumped up off the screen at me as I watched the 1977, the 1980, and the 1998 versions:

The First Part--
The first changes occurred during the early part of the film, the part that depicted several strange events that happened around the world. In the 1977 version, the strange events took place in Sonora, Mexico, where WWII military aircraft suddenly appeared; in India where the musical theme seemed to come from the heavens; and in the US, where sightings occurred which introduced the two characters played by Richard Dreyfus and Melinda Dillon. A new "strange event" was introduced in the 1980 version and appeared also in the 1998 version. This time the UFO researchers traveled to the Gobi Desert where they saw a Russian freighter stranded in the desert thousands of miles from the nearest ocean.

The second change involved Roy Neary, the Dreyfuss character. We first see him at home, with his family, when the phone rings. In the 1977 version, he goes to the power plant where he learns of the strange things that are happening to the power grid. He is then sent out to investigate and resolve one of the problems. It is while he is driving to the trouble spot that he has his first encounter with the UFO. The scene at the power plant is dropped in the 1980 and 1998 versions. Instead, we see him at home and the phone rings. In the next scene, he is headed for a problem area, and it is at this point that he again has his encounter.

The Second Part: The Trek to Devils Tower

I recognized no significant changes in this part.

The Third Part: The Encounter

The most interesting change took place at the end of the film. In original version, we see Roy walk into the UFO, but can't see anything inside because of the bright light. In the second version, the 1980 version, the viewer steps inside the UFO with Neary and gets a chance to look around for a short period. What I saw was mostly inexplicable to me, which, being an alien craft, was appropriate. However, that scene was dropped for the 1998 version, and it ends, as far as I could tell, the same way as the first version did, with Neary walking inside and disappearing in the glare.

Some questions inevitably arise. I haven't heard or read anything that explains the thinking of Spielberg or whoever was responsible for the changes. All I can do is make guesses. If you have information or a different guess as to why the changes were made, I would love to hear about it. Please make a comment.

Why wasn't the Gobi scene in the first version? Scenes are dropped frequently because it's felt the film is too long and needs to be shortened. Then, why was the Gobi scene added to the 1980 version? Perhaps it was felt that something more was needed to reinforce the sense of something inexplicable was going on. In the version, the scene at the power plant was dropped. That scene really didn't forward the plot but it did convey the feeling that something strange was going on, which the experts couldn't figure out. That sense of the bizarre disappeared as Neary just finds out there are problems and he's sent out to do something about them--this was his job, after all.

That brings up a second question--why was the scene at the power plant dropped? Now that I think about it, a better question might be--what is the relationship among the various changes--the addition of the Gobi scene, the dropping of the scene at the power plant, and the addition of the scene inside of the UFO, all of which took place in the second version, the 1980 version. Were the changes made independently or possibly, was the power plant scene dropped to make room for the Gobi scene and the scene inside of the UFO.

Finally, why was the scene inside the UFO dropped from the final(?) version which emerged in 1998?

At times I have disagreed with those who made the changes in various films (for example, see my comments on Blade Runner), but this time I do agree with the changes, even though I'm not exactly certain why they were made.

One side point: my favorite scene occurs near the end when the UFO touches down and engages in a light and music communication sequence with the humans' computer. Great stuff--could have gone on longer.

Overall Reaction: an enjoyable SF film with friendly aliens to counteract the usual SF stuff featuring fanged, drooling monsters with an inexplicable wish to wipe out humanity (although I must admit, after reading the daily headlines, I frequently don't find it that inexplicable).

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day

Sailing Homeward

Cliffs that rise a thousand feet
Without a break,
Lake that stretches a hundred miles
Without a wave,
Sands that are white through all the year,
Without a stain,
Pine-tree woods, winter and summer
Streams that for ever flow and flow
Without a pause,
Trees that for twenty thousand years
Your vows have kept,
You have suddenly healed the pain of a traveller's heart,
And moved his brush to write a new song

-- Chan Fang-sheng -
(Chinese, 5th century)

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

-- Wendell Berry --
(American, b. 1934)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Three Poems


New feet within my garden go --
New fingers stir the sod --
A Troubadour upon the Elm
Betrays the solitude

New children play upon the green --
New Weary sleep below --
And still the pensive Spring returns --
And still the punctual Snow!

-- Emily Dickinson --
from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

Dead my old fine hopes
And dry my dreaming but still . . .
Iris, blue each spring

-- Shushiki --

Angry I strode home . . .
But stooping in my garden
Calm old willow tree
-- Ryota --

I guess that, at times, we may not be as important as we think we are.

both haiku from A Little Treasury of Haiku

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XXXIX

A familiar theme in this quatrain:

First Edition: Quatrain XXXIX

How long, how long in infinite Pursuit
Of This and That endeavour and dispute?
Better be merry with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.

Second Edition: Quatrain LVI

Waste not your Hour, nor in the vain pursuit
Of This and That endeavour and dispute;
Better be merry with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.

Fifth Edition: Quatrain LIV

Waste not your Hour, nor in the vain pursuit
Of This and That endeavour and dispute;
Better be jocund with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.

The most significant changes occur between the first and second editions, especially in the first two lines of the quatrain. The fifth edition is identical to the second, except for one change in the third line.

The poet in the first and second editions advises us to be "merry with the fruitful grape," whereas, in the fifth edition, he suggests that we be "jocund." In my dictionary, "jocund" is defined as having a "cheerful disposition, or merry, gay." I see nothing to be gained by the substitution of jocund for merry and, in fact, find "merry" to flow much better than the abrupt "jocund." I think it''s a bad substitution: "merry" is superior.

The text I've been using has the following first line: "How long, how long, in definite pursuit." The word "definite" seemed wrong, so I checked with other versions. I discovered that all agreed that the first line should read "How long, how long, in infinite pursuit," which makes more sense than "indefinite." I therefore considered this to be a typographical error and made the change.

Again, in the first edition in my copy, the poet writes "Than sadder after none" in the fourth line while the second and fifth editions read "Than sadden after none." While checking on the problem of "indefinite," I discovered that, in all other copies, the first edition reads "Than sadden after none," just as do the second and the fifth editions. So, I have taken the liberty of assuming that's a typo and made the change.

In the first edition, the poet addresses us directly and asks us a rhetorical question: How long are we going to continue pursuing disputes and tasks that are infinite, and therefore unresolvable? The poet in the second and fifth editions, instead of asking us how long, now opens with an authoritative directive: that we cease wasting our time in those infinite endeavors and pursuits. Perhaps FitzGerald decided against asking that question for fear that his readers might come up with the wrong answer. By providing his readers with a directive, he gets his point across much more clearly and unambiguously.

In addition, the change also suggests a different assumption made by the Poet. In the first edition, the Poet assumes that the reader is engaged in these infinite disputes and endeavors when he asks how long the reader will continue with this fruitless behavior. In the second and succeeding editions, the Poet directly warns the reader against such behavior. In other words, he advises the reader to stop such behavior if already engaged in it or he warns those who aren't against beginning.

His recommendation is the same in all three editions: better be merry with the fruitful grape (a contrast to barren and fruitless disputes) and forget about wasting time over nothing or perhaps even bitter fruit. This refers us back to earlier quatrains about the endless disputes and studies of the wise and pious that go on eternally and whose only result frequently is anger and hatred among the disputants.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Shakespeare: In memoriam, 1564--April 13, 1616

Sonnet LXXXI

Or I shall live your epitaph to make,
Or you survive when I in earth am rotten;
From hence your memory death cannot take,
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men's eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read:
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead;
      You still shall live--such virtue hath my pen--
      When breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

"Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men's eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,"

I don't know the name of the person this sonnet celebrates, but Shakespeare's "gentle verse" proved to be his own monument in the end.

Something to think about

No. 77

Know how to be all things to all men. A wise Proteus, he who is learned with the learned, and with the pious, pious: it is the great way of winning all to you: for to be like, is to be liked. Observe each man's spirit and adapt yourself: to the serious, or to the jovial, as the case may be, by following the fashion, through a politic change within yourself: a veritable necessity in those who are dependent. But this great rule of life calls for rich talent: being least difficult to that man of the world whose mind is filled with knowledge, and whose spirit is filled with tast

Baltasar Gracian (1601-1658)
The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Mr. Elliot was rational, discreet, polished--but he was not open. There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil or good of others. This, to Anne, was a decided imperfection. Her early impressions were incurable. She prized the frank, the open-hearted, the eager character beyond all others. Warmth and enthusiasm did captivate her still. She felt that she could so much more depend upon the sincerity of those who sometimes looked or said a careless or hasty thing, than of those whose presence of mind never varied, whose tongue never slipped.

Mr. Elliot was too generally agreeable. Various as were the tempers in her father's house, he pleased them all. He endured too well, -- stood too well with everybody. He had spoken to her with some degree of openness of Mrs. Clay; had appeared completely to see what Mrs. Clay was about, and to hold her in contempt; and yet Mrs. Clay found him as agreeable as anybody

Jane Austen (1775-1817)
from Persuasion

Two different views here

If someone is "all things to all men," then what really is that person like? I guess we all play roles to a certain extent, to adjust ourselves somewhat according to the present situation, but someone who is "all things to all men" would not inspire trust in me. I think I should have to go along with Anne here.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Steven Spielberg--A. I.: Artificial Intelligence, a film

Warning: I will discuss significant parts of the story and the ending.
Steven Spielberg's A. I. : Artificial Intelligence.

This is a film I hadn't heard of until it was mentioned in connection with a short story I had read for a discussion group. The story is Brian Aldiss' "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long." I posted a commentary on the short story on March 25, 2011.

The film, according to an interview with Spielberg, is actually a project of Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick had been inspired by Aldiss' story and had worked on a film idea for a number of years, frequently consulting with Spielberg. Kubrick, according to Spielberg, had approached him with an offer. Kubrick would produce the film if Spielberg would direct it. Spielberg replied that he would produce it, but Kubrick would have to direct it himself. Kubrick died some time afterwards, and his widow came to Spielberg and offered him the project, saying that if Spielberg didn't do it, it wasn't going to get done at all. Spielberg then accepted the project--a homage to Kubrick.

I found it a fascinating film, but I wasn't quite sure what to make of it at first. It took awhile before I was able to see something of what Spielberg was doing, and, of course, I could also be hallucinating all of this. I see the film as being three separate parts, but so seamlessly created that it was some time before I came up with this view of it.

The first part is inspired by Aldiss' short story and also the Biblical story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and Issac. For a fuller discussion of this, see my comments about Aldiss' short story posted on March 25. Spielberg makes the connection to the Biblical story even stronger than Aldiss does in his story. In the film, David (interesting Biblical name) is a real threat to Martin, the real son, whereas David in the story probably will be returned to the factory at around the time the child is born. Secondly, Monica in the film takes David out into the wilderness and leaves him there, telling him to find his people (the synthetic people) and stay with them, which more closely parallels the Biblical story in which Hagar and Ishmael are driven out into the wasteland by Sarah, who fears for Isaac's future if Ishmael remains with them.

The second part begins at this point. David, who has heard the story of Pinocchio, decides that he is just like Pinocchio, and he goes off to search for the Blue Fairy. In Pinocchio, the Blue Fairy is one who has the power to turn a wooden puppet like Pinocchio into a real human child. If the Blue Fairy could do this for Pinocchio, then she should be able to do the same for David.

The second part of the film then depicts David's search for the Blue Fairy. The story which had been a relatively ordinary domestic drama suddenly turns into a bizarre odyssey as David searches for the Blue Fairy and eventually his humanity. One of the most intriguing experiences David has is at the "Flesh Fair." Stray and abandoned synthetic people and robots are rounded up and then destroyed for the entertainment of real humans. The MC? works up the crowd by warning them that these are soulless machines who will eventually replace real humans if given the opportunity. David is about to be destroyed when he is saved by a little girl, just as Pinocchio is rescued by a little girl when he is about to be destroyed. This incident reminded me of the stories of the early Christians who were taken to the Coliseum in Rome to be killed for they were also seen to be a threat to society.

Spielberg incorporates many SF ideas into the second part, David's quest for humanity. Perhaps there's a touch of Oz here. Is David's quest for humanity any different than the Tin Woodman's search for a heart or the Cowardly Lion's for courage? At one point David is found by the people who created him and is taken to their lab. The lab is in Manhattan but it's a flooded Manhattan, no doubt caused by the melting ice caps at the poles. Later, the ocean freezes over, a new ice age, another common topic in SF catastrophe novels.

The third part begins when David, who has been trapped for thousands of years at the bottom of the ocean, is rescued by what I thought at first were aliens. They were extremely thin figures, almost stick figures, but with a metallic sheen to them. I was later told that Spielberg in an interview said that they were evolved robots, "descendants," in a sense, of the robots from the first part of the film. Humanity has died out by this time, but the robots had survived and flourished.

The robots had developed techniques of cloning humans, if they could get the DNA from a fragment of the body. But, the resurrected humans would live for only one day and then die that night while they slept. Monica, David's mother, is resurrected and the two of them have one day of perfect happiness together. It's a sort of reverse Sleeping Beauty tale, for David and Monica have their perfect day and then she goes to sleep, forever this time. David also falls asleep, to dream forever about their one perfect day together.

There are several ways of looking at the end of the film--that robots have now inherited the earth. Just as the Christianity later supplanted the polytheistic religion of Rome, so the robots supplanted the humans. Another intriguing idea goes back to the Biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac. In the Bible, Abraham takes Isaac up to the mountain to be sacrificed, but the Lord stops Abraham. Isaac's children then multiply to become the Hebrews, God's Chosen people. Moslems, on the other hand, insist that it wasn't Isaac, but Ishmael who was taken up to be sacrificed and then saved. As he is Abraham's oldest son and heir, it is Ishmael's descendants, the Moslems, who really are God's Chosen People.

What makes this film work? It is David, the main character, played by Haley Joel Osment. Somehow, Osment never let me forget that he wasn't a human boy but a machine that looked like a boy and acted like a boy. However, there was a constant intensity in his behavior that only a machine could exhibit. This intensity never wavered, never increased nor decreased as it would have in a flesh-and-blood human. From a distance, I could mistake David for a human child, but in the closeups, his mech nature came through, and, for some inexplicable reason, I found it disturbing.

Overall Reaction: a gentle film, certainly an antidote to many SF films in which warfare is the main ingredient. In this respect, I guess it could be put in the same category as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E. T.

Recommended for those looking for something a bit different in an SF film, or for something a bit different in a film.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Langston Hughes--"Troubled Woman"

A word painting:

Troubled Woman

She stands
In the quiet darkness,
This troubled woman
Bowed by
Weariness and pain
Like an
Autumn flower
In the frozen rain,
Like a
Wind-blown autumn flower
That never lifts its head