The Handmaid’s Tale Episode Four: Other Women

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Goodbye June

Episode four “Other Women” is outstandingly menacing and horrific as the director, Kari Skogland, explores the psyche of June in depth, introducing a new mode of freedom. Throughout both seasons, June has consistently demonstrated a strength of mind, will and determination. Her character embodies the power of women and their love for not only their family but of themselves. It is this aspect of June that sustains the audience’s engagement with her character as there is a continued sense of hope in regards to her mental wellbeing and anticipative escape. However, Episode Four is ground-breaking in the way that it shatters these ideas, replacing strength of mind with weakness of will. The episode begins with June’s deliverance to Gilead and her impending return to the Waterford’s home. Both June and the viewer are back to square one. The opening scene demonstrates an image of imprisonment whereby she must either remain in the dark room, confined to a bed or choose to return as a Handmaid. This theme of entrapment is symbolised by the familiar red dress that hangs before her. The dress represents two mindsets: Freedom for Offred or imprisonment of June.

The title of this episode, ‘Other Women,’ is central to the themes that unravel. Throughout the episode, the director deals with the nature of women and the way in which their emotions manifest. The baby shower scene is important as it shows that women choose to ritualise something in order to normalise the situation.  The ritual of the baby shower is set up to normalise the fact that it is not Serena’s baby. June decides to take control of the situation and breaks the ritual by stating, “I felt the baby kick for the first time last night.” The women are hesitant to respond as the rhythm of the ritual is disturbed, yet eventually reply with “Praise be.” This particular scene is essential to the depiction of women as it shows that in order for them to cope in this environment, they must simply forget and normalise new conditions of being.

The nature of women’s sentiments is explored further with the introduction of another female character. In this episode, it is revealed that June and Luke’s relationship surfaced during Luke’s previous marriage to Annie. It is clear that Luke’s feelings for June are sincere, however, the director chooses to sympathise with the pain and hurt that Annie is experiencing. From an audience perspective, neither June nor Annie seem at fault. June cannot change the fact that she is in love with Luke and Annie is not afraid to speak up and say how she truly feels. It is the interaction between these two characters which demonstrates the notion that women are not designed to bottle up emotions. However, in the dystopian Gilead, the strategy of suppressing one’s feelings appears to be a coping mechanism that goes against women’s true nature.

June’s interaction with other women in this episode also has a great impact on June’s psyche. Guilt is a major theme in Episode Four and this manifests through June’s dealings with Annie, the other handmaid’s and ultimately Aunt Lydia. The use of flashback to show her and Annie’s dispute is employed to depict the guilt that she felt, despite not being able to change her feelings towards Luke. Further to this, when June notices the burns on Ofrobert’s hand and discovers that Ofglen’s tongue had been cut off, she instantly feels guilt as it was her who instigated speaking up for Ofwarren at the end of last season.

Throughout the episode, June’s feeling of guilt is developed and reaches a climax when she is confronted with the hanging body of Omar whom she persuaded to help her escape. It is this scene that is the most harrowing as June finally hits a wall. Aunt Lydia’s character in this scene is extremely complex as she embodies a mother-like persona by kissing June on the forehead and hugging her, yet uses this technique to manipulate and indoctrinate June. This relationship also alludes to Big Brother in ‘1984’ and the way in which society was brainwashed into viewing this figure as a father that they should love. From the start of Season One, Aunt Lydia tried to get rid of June by changing her name to Offred. In this episode, she is attempting to get rid of June altogether: “June did this…not Offred…Offred is free from blame… Offred does not have to bare June’s guilt.”

In both seasons, the inner dialogue of June is always about survival, rebellion and hanging onto her identity. She understands that the moment she loses her sense of self, she is gone. The flashbacks therefore keep her grounded to her identity, whilst reminding the viewer of who she was. However, in the final scenes of this episode, we see her sense of self deteriorate as she mutters “my fault” repeatedly to herself and states “I am not worthy yet” to the commander and his wife. She has discovered a new form of freedom and escapism and that is to lose herself. Freedom from Gilead infers freedom from herself. The meaning of freedom has shifted and this shift is demonstrated in the last low-angle shot as she looks blankly at the camera with the repeated line “We’ve been sent good weather” accompanying the image. Her inner dialogue has also shifted. She is now Offred.

 

‘Lady Bird’ Film Review

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Credit: [Metro Cinemas]

Rating: 3.5/5

The film is not about what it says but how it says it

 The Oscar-nominated film Lady Bird, directed by Greta Gerwig, is a unique coming-of-age comedy-drama that follows the senior year of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (played by Saoirse Ronan), as she deals with the themes that surround teenage angst, including family, boys, friends and the common fear of what the future holds after high school. The film, however, is not unique in what it says. There is nothing within the concept of the story that is original or has not been explored before and this is evident through the derivative plot lines and stereotypical characters that are introduced: The good looking “hella tight” boy at school who ends up mistreating her, the popular girls who she leaves her best friend for then realises she was wrong, the anxiety over what university will accept her and the turbulent relationship between her and her mother. These are just a few of the clichés that are explored within the film.

Despite Lady Bird’s lack of originality, the film is not banal and this is due to the witty dialogue, the nuanced acting and the unique way in which it is shot and directed. Set in Sacramento, California in 2002, Greta Gerwig explores the very general aspects of teenage life, however, it is her close attention to detail that creates a warmth to the overall atmosphere, subsequently making the film an enjoyable experience to watch. Numerous scenes in the film are composed of disparate elements and are rich in subjectivity, conjuring heightened emotion and drama with simple but bold editing devices, such as the scene where Marion (played by Laurie Metcalf) is driving in the car by herself towards the end of the film. It is the basic but artful scenes like this that make the film a true pleasure to watch.

In saying this, when reflecting on Lady Bird as a whole, there seems to be something in the film that is missing and it is hard to put one’s finger on. There are three types of audience responses: Those who adore every aspect of the film, those who were disappointed and could not understand why it had received so much acclaim and those who acquired mixed feelings and could not explain why. The latter was certainly my experience of viewing the film and this might just be one of the reasons: the film did not make it easy to find an emotional connection to the character of “Lady Bird.” There are countless highly acclaimed films where the protagonist is hard to relate to and is difficult to sympathise with. Not all films need to have an admirable and lovable lead, yet, in the case of Lady Bird’s storyline, it is essential for the audience to connect and sympathise with Ronan’s character. There are certainly people who will disagree with this opinion. The film has many instances where audiences, especially teenagers, can relate to her character and the events that unfold. Conversely, this relationship with the film is mainly due to the common circumstances that she finds herself in rather than a deep connection to the character’s persona. Despite this inexplicable hole within the film and the imitative concept, Lady Bird is entertaining, relatable and encompasses the reality of growing up superbly.

‘I Tonya’ Film Review

I, Tonya still (NEON)

[Credit: NEON]

Rating: 4.5/5

The fearlessly authentic and highly captivating biopic ‘I, Tonya,’ stands out from the many mainstream biopics that attempt to convey the black and white truth through a limited perspective. Director Craig Gillespie, however, artistically chooses to assess the controversial story behind famous Olympic ice skater Tonya Harding through multiple perspectives, whilst breaking the fourth wall and using black humour to engage and often unsettle its audience. Although the film has a tendency to sympathise with Tonya Harding, manipulating the storyline so that the audience too understands and pities the infamous ice skaters’ circumstance, Gillespie does not shy away from the true nature of her character. Gillespie paints Harding as misunderstood and misinterpreted by the media without losing sight of her negative qualities and characteristics. Through this directorial choice, the audience is positioned to realise and comprehend the unfiltered experiences endured in Harding’s childhood, subsequently influencing the person that she became.

The film may be bias when it comes to sympathy, yet it does not blatantly state the truth surrounding the films prominent and controversial event. Instead, Gillespie views the perspectives of various characters who share their thoughts respectively through interview cuts. It is this technique that creates levels of shade and ambiguity as the storytellers share moments where their perception and evaluation appears to be somewhat unreliable. Margot Robbie’s gutsy portrayal of Tonya Harding is phenomenal. This character is immeasurably different to previous characters that Robbie has played as she truly transforms, bringing with her a nuanced complexity to every scene. The film is hard to categorise which is what makes it all the more engaging.

‘I, Tonya’ is a biopic that infuses drama and black comedy to raise serious issues that remain prevalent in today’s society such as domestic abuse. Gillespie takes a risk when adding comedy to the pot, however he stirs it up perfectly. There is a highly entertaining balance between the comedic scenes such as the Coen Brother’s inspired criminals whose behaviour undermines their mastermind plans and the gruelling scenes of emotional and physical abuse between Tonya and both her mother and husband. It is easy to go wrong with this approach, yet both ‘I, Tonya’ and ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ successfully address taboo topics and issues through the genre and style of black comedy. Craig Gillespie’s ‘I, Tonya’ is a must-see film that explores the individual and society, blurring appearance and reality, comedy and drama in order to tell the story of a strong-minded and unfiltered woman who has paid the price for others misunderstandings and actions.

‘The Shape of Water’ Film Review

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Rating: 4.5/5

Guillermo del Toro’s enchanting film The Shape of Water follows a similar theme to the fellow Oscar-nominated movie Call Me by Your Name directed by Luca Guadagnino. Both of these highly-acclaimed films adventure into a magical love story that explores the desire between two characters and their struggle to be together. Del Toro, director of the dark fantasy film Pans Labyrinth, does not fail in demonstrating his unique film style. Similar to his earlier films, The Shape of Water is an alluring, fairy-tale like film that depicts the monstrous, grotesque and uncanny through fresh eyes. However, unlike Pans Labyrinth, this film is a more light-hearted approach to the world of the supernatural.

Del Toro is known for his ability to portray monsters as human and humans as monsters and this film is no exception. The story is set in 1960s Baltimore and follows Elisa, played by Sally Hawkins, a mute, living above a classic cinema with her neighbouring companion Giles, played by Richard Jenkins. Working as a cleaner in a military facility, Elisa becomes acquainted with “the asset,” an amphibian creature discovered in South America who is contained in a tank for experimentation and testing. Michael Shannon plays Richard Strickland, a high-ranked government agent at the facility who detests the creature and seeks out to harm it. Elisa, on the other hand, perceives the creature as a wonder who she can uniquely connect with, protect and desire.

Del Toro’s cinematic world engulfs the viewer with feelings of enchantment, thrill and love and is drowned in a green-themed colour palette that seeks meaning in every frame. The Shape of Water is one of the best films of 2017 as it brings to its audience an unusual warmth that is rewarding to watch. The performances from each of the cast members are exquisite with Sally Hawkins creating a mesmerising and breathtaking portrayal of Elisa, limited to body language as a means of communicating her emotions. This fantasy film, however, is more than just a love story. The film raises the classic theme of appearance and reality seen in famous texts such as Frankenstein and The Elephant Man, suggesting that appearances can be misjudged and misconstrued. Although the film is not ground breaking, The Shape of Water is a beautifully shot, dreamlike tale about embracing the person that we are along with acknowledging and loving others for who they are as well.

‘Call Me by Your Name’ Film Review

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[Credit: Sony Pictures Classics]

Rating: 5/5

Luca Guadignino’s adaptation of Andre Aciman’s highly acclaimed novel starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer is a uniquely portrayed love story that leaves you feeling more than expected. The film is set “somewhere in Northern Italy” in the summer of 1983. Oliver, a handsome doctoral student, spends the summer as an intern for Elio’s father in their 17th century villa. The precocious 17-year-old Elio too devotes his days to the sun-kissed Italian town, writing transcripts, playing piano and reading novels nearby several water spots. It is amidst this enchanting and fairytale-like environment that Guadignino invites the audience to detach from themselves and become truly immersed in Elio and Oliver’s growing affection and connection. There is something unique about ‘Call Me by Your Name’ whereby it does not restrict its marketed audience to the LGBT community but delivers an authentic and heartbreaking love story that appeals to open audiences.

In comparison to other films made within the Romance/Drama genre, ‘Call Me by Your Name’ explores passionate desire without obstacles. The film allows the audience to indulge and savour every minute of their growing relationship without unnecessary tension and disagreement from other characters. Guadignino is not afraid of shooting long takes that flesh out the lust and tension between the two men, subsequently giving the film a sense of realism that is engaging and at times breathtaking. Although the two-hour and twelve-minute film may seem slow paced in certain scenes, it is not done in a pretentious manner. Instead, it achieves a measured and charming exploration of the love that ensues on screen. There are moments of laugher, compassion and empathy that speak volumes about the human connection and the touching and magical way in which film can interact with its audience. The sensual and transcendental film seduces, overwhelms and grips the viewer with wisdom concerning “the things that matter,” that being love; love in its many forms. “I love this Oliver” “What?” “Everything.”

On the Rocks

The soft breeze sweeps over his delicate skin as he bends to grasp her crossed legs. She feels his body slowly sink into hers, nestling, as if she is his home. A sudden move, he lifts up his head and smiles at the girl. A connection so profound. Why were they here with each other? Was it by some great design? The boy curls up like a baby on the staggered rock facing the rippling water as the girl continues to sit away and write. She stops writing and stares at the boy. His big toe tickling his foot for pleasure, his breath slow but thoughtful, his senses heightened. He feels ants crawl up his skin but chooses to ignore them and let them be. He often wishes he was treated like this too. He listens to the water and the quiet roar of the wind. He smells the salt and the fresh air, hoping that he can stay here forever. But he can’t. Obligation always wins. The boy, so young but withholding so many troubles. The girl, even younger and too naive to care about these same problems for she knows that life is too short and pleasure is hard to find. The two kids soak up what is in front of them and in this transient moment, disconnect from what is known. IMG_1982.JPG