Sunday Film Roundup (10/23/2016)


How I Live Now (2013)

Directed by:  Kevin MacDonald

This is a joint Canadian-British production based on the post-apocalyptic novel of the same name by Meg Rosoff.  I had low expectations going into this movie, imagining it would be another stock teen-romance with some derivative end-of-the-world drama thrown in for good measure.  But this one actually is oddly affecting, and worth watching.

The plot:  a neurotic American girl named Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) goes to the English countryside to spend time with some cousins.  It’s clear that she’s got some neurosis issues (anorexia?), along with the usual alienation “no one loves me” mentality.  I initially hated this character as we see her insult just about everyone else on-screen, and I never fully warmed up to her as a heroine.  Soon a romance blossoms between her and her handsome cousin Edmund.  There are rumblings on the news about terror attacks in Paris.  A kindly aunt makes an initial appearance, but then vanishes from the rest of the movie.

And then things take a decided turn for the worst.  Specific details are maddeningly absent (one of the film’s flaws), but it seems that some terror group detonates a nuclear device in London.  Then there is vague talk about “insurgents” in the countryside and the poisoning of water supplies.  We don’t really know.  And the characters are too detached or clueless to ask anyone for details.  Or maybe the director didn’t want to offend anyone, and so left out all the details.  We just don’t know.

In the chaos of war and relocation, the two young teens are separated.  Most of the movie is spent showing Daisy trekking through the English countryside to try to reunite with Edmund.  These scenes are beautifully shot and redeem the plot defects.  There is also surprising realism here with unvarnished portrayals of brutality and violence, and a deftness of touch when dealing with serious themes on dislocation, lost opportunities, and interrupted love.  Somehow, all of this comes together adequately enough to make it worth watching for both teens and adults.  Maybe it’s because love and survival, after all, are the very essences of life.

Barry Lyndon (1975)

Director:  Stanley Kubrick

I had never even heard of this Kubrick film until last month when a friend recommended it to me.  Based on an 1844 novel by Thackeray, Barry Lyndon chronicles the rise and fall of an ambitious opportunist as he winds his way from an Irish village to the marbled halls of the English gentry in the eighteenth century.  This is a 3-hour period piece done with Kubrick’s usual scrupulous attention to detail, and it delivers in every way.  This is serious drama with a powerful message.

Barry Lyndon was a commercial failure when first released in 1975, but has since come to be recognized as a compelling parable about the vagaries of Fortune.  Due to the movie’s length and refined dialogue, I recommend that it be watched in several sittings, as if it were a miniseries.

It would take too much space to outline the entire plot here, but the basics are these.  A disadvantaged Irish lad (Ryan O’Neal) longs for great things in life.  An early romance ends badly with a duel and his escape to England; from there, he finds himself involved in sundry adventures that include military service in the Seven Years’ War.  He finally believes he has struck paydirt when he convinces a wealthy, landed English widow to marry him.  But instead of finding peace, we quickly are made to realize that this decision unleashes on him the full fury of Fortune in all her fickle sadism.  We are reminded of one of the most persistent lessons of ancient Greek drama:  excessive pride is offensive to the gods, for which the transgressor will be roundly punished.

The themes here are the folly of excessive ambition, the corruption of wealth, the hellish consequences of immoral behavior, and the blinding human capacity for self-delusion.  Life, Kubrick warns us, is many things; and very often what we think we’re getting is not what we’re actually getting at all.