Archives for posts with tag: genre: anthem for doomed youth


“…Parfois, on me traitait comme si j’étais un chien, guili-guili sur le ventre et sous leurs doigts, je devenais une poupée, un enfant poupée, un poupon qu’on met tout nu dans la baignoire pour le laver avec les mains de toutes ces dames, de tous ces messieurs, et le mettre au dodo dans un p’tit berceau comme un bébé qui rit quand on le touche…”

Jean-Paul Sartre, L’enfance d’un chef (The Childhood of a Leader, 1939)

Childhood is intended as a time of innocence. A period of one’s life that is free from worry, anxiety, and trepidation about the life yet to come. It is where life is lived in the present, and parents’ love is a shield from the corrosive realities of the indifferent world. In Brady Corbet’s astonishingly capable and self-assured hands however, childhood becomes something else entirely. It is a nasty, brutish thing, cold and dark and utterly lacking in warmth. It is here that the origins of the depraved depths of human cruelty are pried apart; it is here that evil begins.

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The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity – designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny of man.

Ernest Becker, “The Denial of Death” (1973)

There is little doubt that we live in a culture of paradoxes, especially when it comes to raising children. Parents are apt at letting their children know when it is time to go to bed or to clear their rooms – the practical, trivial things, – but seem to be at a loss when discussing those matters which will mold their children into veritable human beings. Among the many concepts which inhabit the proverbial list of aversive topics is that of death. For all its emotional extravagance, Western society remains largely affixed to death-denying, in which grief suppression and avoidance to discussions about death, particularly with children, are a common practise. Thus, when tragedy strikes, it is the children who must deal with an emotion still largely foreign to them, alone.

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With you this world is joyous, and with you that world is joyous;
in this world dwell not without me, and to that world depart not without me.

– Rumi, “278”

In considering common threads which unite the great characters in fiction, from Raskolnikov to Emma Bovary to Mearsault, it is clear that anomie is at the root of it. From its origins in labour theory, Émile Durkheim’s “social disorder”  has come to encompass a very specific facet of psychological anguish, one which results from a veritable wedge between the consciousness of the individual and the collective norms of society. The anomic individual wanders as a spectre in an unfamiliar land, disengaged from the world around him/her, in a quest to attain some sort of meaning or identity. For Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), this apathetic wasteland is Oslo, appropriately grey, muted, and indifferent. His journey through a single day and night in the capital, surrounded by ghosts of his past and premonitions of his future, speaks not only as an elegy to a misspent youth of addiction, but to a sense of self irrevocably and paradoxically woven with the destructive forces which sustain it.

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“Boring damned people. All over the earth. Propagating more boring damned people. What a horror show. The earth swarmed with them.”

– Charles Bukowski, Pulp (1994)

The excellent book “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” by Richard Hofstadter contains the following quote: “…the national distaste for intellect appeared to be not just a disgrace but a hazard to survival.” A simple glance into a slice of modern American life will not leave you scrambling for evidence – the Republican nominees stand as an entity onto themselves, combined with the dirge of reality-tv trash, celebrity culture filth, and the seemingly accepted prerogative to be as outrageously rude as possible, for it will only be rewarded. The thing about Hofstadter’s book is that it received the Pulitzer Prize – in 1964. Nearly 50 years into the future, and Hofstadter’s manifesto for the thinking American has come to encapsulate an entire zeitgeist of acceptable apathy, celebrated stupidity, and dismissal of dissenters.

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Watching We Need to Talk About Kevin is akin to watching a series of Francis Bacon paintings in motion – the one(s) in particular that sprang to mind were the triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944): maligned figures on a splash of turbulent red, each more grotesque than the last. Ramsay makes equal use of the colour red that manages to be both symbolic and unsettling, without straying into heavy-handedness. Red becomes a spectre, haunting particular moments of Eva’s (Tilda Swinton) life, as a reminder of the past and a veritable omen of the future. Red: the colour of love, and the colour of rage, both of which emerge as prominent themes; “there will be blood”, so to speak. Ramsay sways us between dreamlike surrealism and domestic horror that is entirely untarnished by traditional ‘supernatural’ gimmick. The horror of Kevin is that it is real, and is played out with the gravitas of the best of the Greek tragedies.

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The day on which I saw Restless was what can be described as the ideal autumn day. A blistering Indian summer had faded into the coolness of approaching winter, seizing me somewhere in between. The ground was damp, footsteps only made apparent by the euphonious crunch of fresh leaves underfoot. The city in the space between autumn dawn and dusk is quite and cool, and smells of fresh earth. The late light catches just so on the maple tree, igniting its leaves into incendiary warmth, resisting the breath of a nippy breeze.

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