"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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Shadow: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A wonderfully made, visually stunning and dramatically and psychologically satisfying Chinese action film in the vein of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero.

Shadow, directed by iconic Chinese film maker Zhang Yimou, is the story of Jingzhou who is trained from a young age to be a double/shadow for military leader Ziyu. The film stars Deng Chao in a dual role as Jingzhou and Commander Ziyu, with supporting turns from Sun Li and Zheng Kai.

Shadow is best described as a Wuxia film, which is a genre of Chinese fantasy/fiction that revolves around “martial heroes” in a world of magical realism. Notable examples of Wuxia films are Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero and House of Flying Daggers by the same director as Shadow, Zhang Yimou.

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Yimou, who is one of the great directors of his generation, has a flair for unique fight choreography and paints his films with a striking palette and dramatic visuals. In Shadow, Yimou and cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding use a muted grey, black and white as the dominant color scheme but the film’s visuals crackle with a stunning intensity. The film is beautifully shot, highlighted by Xiaoding’s gorgeous framing (just look at the poster above) and use of a crisp and clear contrast between the blacks and the whites, the shadow and the light. Yimou and Xiaoding’s masterful use of contrast creates a visual clarity and coherence that is a joy to behold.

Shadow is a psychologically and dramatically rich story that deeply mines the Jungian concepts of the shadow. The most obvious example of this is that Chao plays both Jing and Ziyi, who are essentially the same entity with two different elements of its psyche projected into the outer world, each vying for control. Jing “the shadow”, must be identical to Ziyi, and in a delicious bit of Jungian symbolism, must have the identical “wound” as Ziyi. Ziyi in turn must integrate his “shadow” in order to make himself whole again, or face the consequences of being overcome by his psychological shadow.

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The shadow is a complex and dramatically potent psychological premise used to great effect by other film makers from the East, most notably Japanese master Akira Kurosawa in the terrific film Kagemusha (Shadow Warrior). Like Shadow, Kagemusha also effectively used a single actor (the great Tatsuya Nakadai) to play both the role of the man of power and his shadow. Yimou dives even deeper into Jungian shadow psychology than Kurosawa though by emphasizing the anima (the feminine) and the imperative to also integrate that feminine power in order to become whole.

The ying and yang and wholeness are dominant themes throughout the movie (again look at the poster above) and Yimou emphasizes that battle/balance between the opposites not only visually with the black versus white color scheme, but dramatically with opposing masculine roles and opposing feminine roles. Just as Ziyi has Jing as his literal shadow (and vice versa), Ziyi’s wife, Xiao Ai has a symbolic opposite/shadow in Princess Qingping. That sort of balance in the narrative makes the film dramatically and subconciously very satisfying even while it maintains a pronounced assault and challenge upon our storytelling expectations.

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Wholeness is also represented in numerous ways in the film, most notably by the umbrella. A circle is the symbol for wholeness and in Shadow, Jing integrates his masculine and feminine sides by using a circle, an umbrella, as a weapon not only of defense but of offense. Jing’s learning the use of the umbrella is an integration dance between the masculine and the feminine. The use of the umbrella is not only psychologically resonant but is visually striking as well.

The cast all do solid work with Deng Chao in his dual role and Sun Li as Ziyi’s wife being the most notable. Chao is really remarkable as both men and it is easy to forget the same actor is playing both roles. Sun Li’s work is incredibly layered and she brings a palpable humanity and fragility to the role that profoundly accentuates the drama.

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The fight sequences are all so unique, original and compelling that they are a wonder to behold. Since The Matrix and Crouching Tiger became such big hits twenty years ago, slow motion martial arts moves have become passe, but Yimou fantastically turns everything on its head in Shadow and creates vibrant and vivid fights that are gloriously choreographed and cinematically mesmerizing. Yimou also wisely uses water and rain to further visually enhance the fight sequences.

While Shadow can be a bit confusing at first, especially if you go in unaware of the plot, once it hits its stride it is truly fantastic. I loved the film because it is such a dramatically, psychologically and cinematically rich example of the magical realism of Wuxia in action. If you are a fan of Wuxia or Yimou, rush out and see this movie in the theatres immediately. If you are less a Wuxia enthusiast, but enjoyed Crouching Tiger, Shadow may be a little tougher to penetrate because it isn’t as easily digestible or romantically sweeping as Ang Lee’s epic, but it is equally beautiful to look at. But with all that said, even if you are on the fence about going to see Shadow, why not give it a shot….the shadow you save might just be your own.

©2019

Phantom Thread: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT IN THE THEATRE. For those who have more sophisticated taste in cinema, this is a true gem. For those with more conventional tastes, this might be enjoyable but a bit difficult. 

Phantom Thread, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is the story of Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned fashion designer in 1950's London, and his unlikely relationship with a young waitress. The film stars Daniel Day-Lewis, with supporting turns from Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps.

Phantom Thread is, like most of director PT Anderson's films, one of those movies that successfully operates upon multiple levels simultaneously. On the surface, the film is a dark relationship story, but just below that surface there is a seething underbelly that is glorious in its insightful complexity. While the surface story is entertaining and compelling, the real riches are to be found in the underbelly, where the treasure chest of psychological marrow resides.

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That marrow is the psychological story of a man attempting to integrate his anima. The anima is archetypal feminine energy and men spend their lifetimes trying to resolve their anima issues, just as women spend their lives attempting to resolve their animus issues, both in the pursuit of psychological wholeness. The true narrative at the heart of Phantom Thread is that of the artist (Woodcock - who is probably a stand in for the artist PT Anderson himself), first recognizing, then reconciling with his anima. All artists are in a lifelong dance with their anima, at times immersed in it and other times repulsed by it. While the twists and turns in the narrative of Phantom Thread can at first glance seem a bit much, when viewed through the prism of this psychological lens, they are entirely appropriate and quite remarkable. 

PT Anderson is the preeminent auteur of our age. He is one of the rarest of rare filmmakers who is equally masterful directing actors as he is directing the camera and the narrative. Darren Aronofsky is similar filmmaker to Anderson in this respect but is not quite up to his level. What immediately struck me about Phantom Thread and brought Aronofsky to mind is that the anima narrative at the core of Phantom Thread is almost identical to the core of Aronofsky's last film, the much maligned and debated Mother! (not to mention a very similar narrative structure). I certainly do not think either director intentionally stole the idea or that they were even conscious of the similarities, but it is very striking to me when two artists of PT Anderson's and Darren Aronofsky's caliber are moved by the same muse. Whenever that happens my Isaiah/McCaffrey Wave Theory alarms go off and I immediately sit up and take notice. Now…to be clear, Phantom Thread is a vastly superior film to Mother!, of that there is no doubt, but the similarities of their DNA are worth noting.

Daniel Day Lewis gives what may very well be his greatest performance in Phantom Thread, and considering his stellar career, that is saying a lot. Lewis gives his Reynolds Woodcock a vivid inner life filled with specific and detailed intentions that are palpable on screen, such as when he sets his sights on the young waitress Alma. While Woodcock is a meticulous study in contained fury, it is when he reveals his magnetic and seductive charm that the true force of his power is seen. 

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Lewis is always an intoxicating actor to watch, a master craftsman with a commanding and innate dynamism that is so compelling as to be nearly hypnotic, and so it is in Phantom Thread. Lewis has said that this is his last performance, and that would certainly be a terrific loss for the acting world, but going out with such a tour de force as he gives in Phantom Thread feels like a wonderful Daniel Day-Lewis-ian thing to do for the always enigmatic master. 

Vicky Krieps bursts onto the acting scene as Alma Elson, the waitress who catches Reynold Woodcock's eye. Krieps is an alluring and luminous screen presence. She has an understated power to her that is impressive to behold. There is never a moment where she seems overwhelmed opposite the Greatest Actor in the World®, Daniel Day-Lewis. 

Krieps has an earthy, beguiling sexuality about her that is captivating and enchanting. Watching her Alma navigate the treacherous waters of her relationship with Woodcock by using different tactics and strategies was a joy to behold simply due to Kriep's unabashed talent. 

Lesley Manville plays Reynolds sister Cyrill to perfection. Cyrill is the brains and structure behind Reynolds talent, without her the entire fashion dynasty they have built would crumble. Manville's command of stillness and steely glare make her Cyrill a sort of Lady MacBeth of the House of Woodcock, as she is unsexed and the true power behind the throne. 

Even though he is a highly skilled fashion designer, Reynolds is still a man in every sense of his being. Although he may not appear to be, he is a man ruled by his appetites and his very specific and unique tastes, whether it be in food or women. 

Cyrill is the one who has learned to remain still so that Reynolds hungry animal nature does not devour her, but the intrigue of Phantom Thread is watching Alma try and figure out how to tame Reynolds beast and satiate his appetites without sacrificing herself in the process. 

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Besides being filled with superior acting, Phantom Thread is a gorgeous film to look at as well. Anderson's usual cinematographer, the always fantastic Robert Elswitt, was unavailable to shoot Phantom Thread, and rumors are that Anderson shot it himself, although he claims it was a collaborative effort on the part of multiple people. Whoever shot it though deserves accolades as the framing, in particular, but also the color palette and the sheer beauty of the lighting, some of it with just candles, is remarkable. 

The fashion on display is also a wonder to behold. I am not someone who usually notices that sort of thing but I was overwhelmed with the beauty and intricacy of the wardrobe in the movie. I assume Phantom Thread, which is nominated for six Oscars, will at the very least get a win for Costume Designer Mark Bridges, who richly deserves the award.

In conclusion, I loved Phantom Thread and think it is one of the very best films of the year. Like PT Anderson's other films There Will Be Blood and The Master, it may be a bit impenetrable for  those whose tastes are not inclined to the art house. For cinephiles or those with more ambitious movie going tastes though, Phantom Thread is a delectable cinematic feast. I highly recommend you spend your hard earned dollars and sparse free time to go see it in the theatre. 

©2017

ADDENDUM:

****WARNING- THIS ADDENDUM CONTAINS SPOILERS!! THIS IS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!****

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- I just wanted to write a brief analysis of the film to add to my review for those who have seen the movie already. The thing to watch for in Phantom Thread is Reynolds obvious controlling and power hungry nature. Notice how he has very specific tastes in food and how he controls his environment. 

Reynolds, who, like most artists, is estranged from his anima but like a flame is constantly drawn to it and then repulsed by it, which is why he goes through so many different muses…just like the writer character in Mother!

The fascinating thing to me is that Alma uses mushrooms to sicken Reynolds. Mushroom are grown in the shadow…symbolic of the psychological shadow. She surreptitiously gets Reynolds to digest his shadow material and it makes him ill. It is when he is ill, weakened, that his "male armor" comes down and he is helpless and is able to appreciate Alma once again. 

When caring for the sick Reynolds, Alma takes on the role of his late mother…mother being the ultimate anima figure (hence Aronsofky's film titled Mother!). Reynolds even has a fever dream where he sees Alma and his dead mother in the room with him and they sort of blend into one another. This is the beginning of Reynolds integrating his anima, which is hard and painful work, but ultimately not only necessary but vital. 

As time goes on and their relationship twists and turns, Alma returns to the mushrooms, this time even more of them. Reynolds understand why this is, and that he must turn himself over to the shadow material (mushrooms), even risking his life, in order to have the anima experience he so desperately needs to "survive" as an artist and to continue on his journey to wholeness. 

In some ways, Alma is a witch, using nature to brew up a concoction in order to weaken Reynolds and remove his masculine armor in order to make him more susceptible to the spell of the animus. 

I know that this interpretation might be a bit much for some people, but it makes for a fascinating and in my opinion, ultimately satisfying, way to watch the film. 

©2017

Orlando and The Rough Beast

Estimated Reading Time : 7 Minutes

On the night of Friday, June 10th, singer Christina Grimmie, a 22 year old former contestant on the NBC show The Voice, was shot and killed by a deranged fan after a performance in Orlando, Florida. The next night, June 11th, Omar Mateen, a 29 year old American man of Afghan descent, walked into the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida and shot over a hundred people, killing 49 of them, in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The following Tuesday, June 14, Lane Graves, a two year old boy visiting Disney World from Nebraska with his parents and four year old sister, was snatched and killed by an alligator while wading in shallow water in a lake in Orlando, Florida.

These three stories share much in common, violence, tragedy, grief, frustration, heartbreak and, oddly enough, geographic location. From a human perspective, these stories illicit a great deal of emotion, as we are all able to project ourselves or our loved ones into their horrific circumstances. From a mythological/psychological perspective, these stories reveal something much deeper and much darker about us, our collective unconscious, our time and what lies ahead for us all.

The Religion of Fame and Celebrity

The Jungian psychological symbolism of these three attacks are relatively obvious, and strikingly ominous, for anyone looking for them. The incident that kicked off this horrific four days in Orlando was the senseless murder of Christina Grimmie. Grimmie had obtained a modicum of fame being a contestant on the show The Voice. Grimmie is symbolic of one of the new and powerful American religions…the religion of fame and celebrity. The talented and ambitious Grimmie was trying to climb up the ladder of success to become one of those people who are the Greek gods (immortal myths) of our time…the famous. All religions sell and profess "the light", but that light brings with it the shadow.  That which is demonized by a culture or religion, becomes the shadow of that culture or religion. The shadow of the old religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, is usually sex. See the child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church as a prime example of the repressed shadow asserting itself in distorted ways. The shadow of the new American religion of celebrity is desperation and delusions of grandeur.

The fan who shot and killed Christina Grimmie was the vehicle for the shadow of the religion of fame and celebrity to assert itself. He stalked and then killed Grimmie, and then himself, as a sacrifice to this new religion. Without that level of crazed fanaticism, which is a toxic combination of desperation and delusion, the new religion of celebrity would hold no psychological power over the masses. Good can only function in opposition to evil…the famous can only be famous if there are masses of anonymous people yearning to be just like them. The brighter the light, the darker the shadow, and in this case, the darker the shadow the brighter the light. Christina Grimmie was, like more and more people in our culture, consciously acting upon the siren call of fame and celebrity, her killer, like many of the unwashed and un-famous masses, was unconsciously acting upon the siren call of fame and celebrity's shadow. In terms of the new religion of fame and celebrity and its psychology…meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The Old vs The New

Which brings us to Omar Mateen, the man who slaughtered 49 people at the gay nightclub Pulse on June 11. Mateen, like Grimmie's killer, was playing a part in a much wider mythological struggle than just his own psychological torment. Mateen, by all accounts a closeted homosexual, was a foot soldier in the battle between the old religion and the new. The old religion, in this case Islam, which like Christianity and Judaism before it has sex as its shadow, is not going quietly into the goodnight of its evolutionary oblivion. The religion it is battling was born of its own shadow, that religion is the religion of Libertinism. Mateen was a man torn between the new religion, Libertinism, and the old religion, Islam. Mateen's biology, sexuality and western culture pulled him to the church of Libertinism, and yet his family, tradition and heritage pulled him towards Islam. The poor people slaughtered in Orlando by Mateen are just collateral damage in the war raging between the new and old religions and in his own psyche. Mateen was unconsciously mugged by not only the shadow of one religion but two. The psychological shadow of Libertinism caused him to yearn for the clarity and moral purity being offered by the old religion of Islam, while the the shadow of Islam caused him to act out his repressed sexuality and deem it "deviant", which made him hate himself for his biological urges, and then project that hate on to others who seemingly had no internal struggle over their choice of Libertinism.

Mateen's psychological (and sexual) struggle is the same struggle as the entire culture and its old religions of Islam/Judaism/Christianity. The old religion of Islam/Judaism/Christianity is trying to hold back the tide of human biological urges as well as the new religion, Libertinism, which celebrates them. All the laws, violence and intimidation in the world cannot stop what has started, namely, the decay and collapse of the old order and its religions and the rise of the new order and its religions. There is no moral judgement to be made for or against either side, only the admission of this psychological reality.

The Leviathan

And then there is the horrific tragedy of Lane Graves, the little boy snatched by a gator and killed in a Disney resort lake. Graves is symbolic of the innocent, the pure and the good. The little boy joyously playing in shallow waters with his father and then a beast rises up from the depths to snuff out his life. 

An innocent little boy killed by a beast from the depths is symbolic of the entire series of killings in Orlando that week. From the depths of the collective unconscious and the individual unconscious of the killers, a Leviathan, like that shown to Job in a vision in the Book of Job, born of the shadow of God, rose up to snuff out innocent life in an attempt to make its unconscious aspects conscious. In Jungian psychology, water is symbolic of the unconscious, and this story is about more than the Graves family tragedy, but about the beast lurking in our collective unconscious that is desperate to be made conscious and which will kill as many innocents as it can in order to bring about that consciousness. This primal, primitive unconscious energy is fighting for its survival and will do anything to stay alive (become conscious).

As a friend of mine (and a Jungian analyst) The Big Falconer, said to me recently, "the unconscious, the Self, the dark side of the God-image, doesn't care how many millions of people or how much of life is killed in the quest to become conscious…." And the horrors of Orlando are proof of that.

The Happiest Place on Earth

The fact that this horrific drama played out in Orlando, the theme park capital of the world, otherwise known as "The Happiest Place on Earth" is also of great symbolic meaning. Disney is a religion unto itself. The religion of Disney, is a uniquely American religion that sells an eternal childhood and all the innocence that comes with it. This Disney religion is puritanical, and like its sister religion of Celebrity and Fame, is also delusional and grandiose. The Disney religion ignores the darker parts of reality, namely, the impulses and instincts toward sex, violence and death. Those things, sex, violence, and death, were what came out of the shadows and into the light that bloody weekend in Orlando. The shadow will not be denied. You ignore it at your own peril. As the saying goes, "Do you believe in the Devil? You should, he believes in you."

Like Disney, the American culture has turned into an adolescent theme park and maintains the delusion of being the "happiest place on earth". Disney is as American as it gets, and to have this bloodshed on its doorstep is no "coincidence". The veil of Disney (childhood)/American (adolescence) delusion and illusion is not just being pulled back, it is being violently shredded. The scales won't gently fall from our eyes, but will be forcibly torn away. An innocent little boy, a perfect symbol for the religion of Disney (childhood), was devoured by what that delusional and illusional religion ignores, namely death, which took the form of a primitive shadow beast (reptilian instincts/alligator).

"Many miles away something crawls from the slime, at the bottom of a dark, Scottish Lake" - The Police, lyrics from the song Synchronicity II, off of the album Synchronicity

The fact that the alligator, the symbol of the lizard/reptilian brain, the most archaic part of the psyche, the home of the unconscious drives of sex, violence and fear, was lurking just below the surface of the delusional Disney (childhood)/American (adolescence) waters is striking. This primal beast, this alligator/dragon/Grendel is lurking in the depths and the darkness of America and the world, and it is hungry. The beast's hunger is for life, for consciousness, for survival. It devoured an innocent little boy (childhood) that night, but it also slaughtered an aspiring singer and 49 other people (eternal adolescence) the previous two nights. This Leviathan has crawled out of the primordial ooze of our collective unconscious and is determined to make itself known and to be made wholly conscious. 

The news is currently filled with stories of the primitive, the primal and the wild lashing out at mankind. In Florida, Gators found with human bodies in their jaws, or taking bites out of unsuspecting people. Bears, awaking from their hibernation to devour humans in Japan or attack runners in New Mexico. Mountain lions attacking young children as they play in their back yard. While on the surface these stories reek of the vacuousness of our media, mythologically, psychologically and symbolically they are harbingers of the darkness, like a bear awoken from its slumber, that is dwelling in our collective unconscious, lurking just beneath the surface of our consciousness. These stories are reminiscent of the plethora of shark attack stories in the summer before the 9-11 attack. That summer was deemed the summer of the shark, and if anyone had been paying attention, those shark stories forewarned us not of more shark attacks, but of something much more sinister stalking humanity from the depths and the shadows of our collective unconscious.

The death and destruction played out over those four days on the stage of Orlando, the "Happiest Place on Earth", is like a mini-drama of all mankind and the collective unconscious. The attacks in the "Happiest Place on Earth" are the eyes and nostrils of a gator/dragon/Grendel just breaking above the surface waters of our consciousness, that portends an ominous and powerful  dark force just beneath the surface of our awareness, that is ascending from the depths to descend upon our world.

What Rough Beast?

As W.B. Yeats wrote in his poem "The Second Coming"...

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; 
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere", even, as we recently learned, at the "Happiest Place on Earth". "The Ceremony of innocence is drowned" like the innocent Lane Graves drowned underneath those blood dimmed tides of the Leviathan's lair. "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity", does this line not speak prophetically to the time in which we live today?

The rest of Yeat's poem is as follows...

Surely some revelation is at hand; 
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep 
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Yeats asks the question, "what rough beast, it's hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?" That rough Beast is now born, risen to life in the bloody waters of Orlando, and now, with its hour upon us, slouches its way to prominence and power in our world. This Leviathan is loosed upon us, and will gorge itself upon our ignorance and unconsciousness. There is a very dark age quickly descending upon us all and it will obliterate man's world and try men's souls. The Beast has been unchained…and it is desperate to feed, and we are all on the menu. This is just the beginning of the long descent into darkness…and we are not all going to survive to make it into the light.

Related Article - The Way of the Gun : Meditations on America and Guns

Recommended Reading for anyone interested in learning more about Jungian psychology and the Shadow -  Answer to Job by C.G. Jung, Archetype of the Apocalypse by Edward Edinger, Owning Your Own Shadow : Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche by Robert A. Johnson.

 

©2016