Archives for posts with tag: Truth

I have just seen the documentary film Mountain, a meditative consideration of the rocky and often snow-covered peaks that loom large and magnificent throughout our landscape.

Jennifer Peedom’s shots are extraordinary from the outset, almost dizzyingly so. The camera shifts vertiginously from one sequence to the next, the act of the image-capturing itself a marvel how was it even done?!). The text, narrated by Willem Dafoe, and co-written by Robert Macfarlane and Peedom, is understated, and as such aptly complements the sublime images it accompanies. There are many silences, which facilitate a pause, a breath-taking moment to consider the majesty and beauty of what is being revealed.

The film is a 76 minute wonderment. I now realise that I have never really used the word s‘awe’ and ‘sublime’ appropriately before.

Beyond the sheer physicality of the film, Mountain left me a number of things to reflect on.

Firstly, I was struck by something Dafoe said early on:

“The mountains we climb are mountains of our minds”

I guess that this analogy refers to the extraordinary psychological challenge that those who set out to scale the highest mountains face, and one that surely matches if not exceeds the physical demands.

But the words made me think too of the sometimes near impossible goals that we set ourselves in our – non-mountaineering – lives. These ‘climbs’ and ‘scalings to the summit’ are often invisible to others, and as a result too infrequently applauded or even acknowledged.

I have never climbed a mountain, nor really aspired to. Yet I am utterly compelled by the attempts and feats of others to do so. I have read pretty much every book, and seen every film and documentary on climbing Mount Everest, for example.

I tend to seek out ‘me’, and my story, or at least components of it, in pretty much all of the fiction/biography/poetry/cinema that I experience. Consciously or otherwise, I have an innate self-selection process that draws me to stories, whatever the medium, where I might find personal resonance.

And so it is with the sublime, and the almost impossible stories of scaling the heights, of getting to the top. I am somewhere in those stories, though my climbing is psychical. The truth is that I am way too fearful to attempt the most novice of physical climbs. But nonphysical challenges hold much less fear for me. I get the adrenaline, the euphoria that these physical risk takers experience – ‘the risk is the reward’. So too for me, but in an infinitely more limited physical microcosm.

Secondly, Mountain gives us more serious issues to consider. It encourages us to question why we feel the need to control our environment, to ‘conquer’ it, to make it ours. Getting to the top of Mount Everest does not actually equate with owning anything. In fact, seeing as we do the queues lining up the ascent, you begin to wonder what exactly humans are trying to achieve. My own theory is that we struggle to cope with the unknown, the unattainable, the inexplicable, particularly as so much more is known and explored that it was, say 100, 200 years ago. Uncertainty, a not knowing, has become an anathema to humanity. And thus, we distract ourselves from such uncertainty – which ultimately equates with our eventual nonexistence – by seeking to conquer. If everything is ultimately within our grasp, perhaps mortality might become so, too. A fallacy, undoubtedly, but the illusion somehow fosters a sense of safety.

Thirdly, Mountain encourages us to consider the beauty, and fragility of all our lives. Perhaps we have forgotten what it means and feels to be alive, to truly notice our lived experiences, and to be grateful for such awareness. There is a beautiful moment in the film when Dafoe refers to the risks that extreme climbers take on. We truly live when death becomes an almost reality – so close, we can almost feel it.

It is at that moment that we are most alive.

 

CQ

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‘Incognito’ means having one’s true identity concealed. Nick Payne’s play very much questions the notion of identity itself.

There are three interwoven stories in Incognito. Two are set in the 1950s and are based on real events. One focuses on the pathologist Thomas Stoltz Harvey who performed the autopsy on Albert Einstein and subsequently stole his brain. The other story from that era tells us about Henry, who underwent pioneering surgery for epilepsy that left him profoundly amnesic. The third story is a present day one, and focuses on Martha who is a clinical neuropsychologist.

Harvey decides to steal Einstein’s brain in an attempt to undertake research that might explain what genius is and ‘looks like’ at a neuroanatomical level. It soon becomes apparent that there was more to Einstein than his genius, and that as a father he was often strange and cruel. What does ‘knowing’ someone really mean?

Martha has a client who confabulates. He has amnesia and his brain compensates by making up stories:

‘A damaged brain can continue to make sense of the world even if the patient can’t.’

Who are we? What part does memory play in creating our identity and our sense of self? Incognito raises these and other questions, which are most likely unanswerable, yet still important to consider.

Martha also considers the potential benefits of amnesia:

‘Imagine if you could, if you could forget all the embarrassing things you’d ever done…if you could forget all that trauma and pain’

For me, Martha had the most insightful land thought provoking lines:

‘The brain builds a narrative to steady us from moment to moment, but it’s ultimately an illusion. There is no me, there is no you, and there is certainly no self; we are divided and discontinuous and constantly being duped. The brain is a storytelling machine and it’s really, really good at fooling us.’

I am less fatalistic than Martha – ‘We are pointless. We’re a blip. A blip within a blip within an abyss.’ – yet I am also grateful to Nick Payne and Incognito for encouraging me to consider what it might, or might not, mean to be me.

The text for the play includes the following disclaimer:

‘Despite being based, albeit very loosely, on several

true stories, this play is a work of fiction.

But then isn’t everything.’

 

‘Everything’ may well include ‘everybody’…

 

CQ

This is one of those films that you are still thinking about, days after the event.

An autobiographical work, where various members of Polley’s family speak to the camera, the film attempts to piece together the story of the director’s mother’s life, as well as her own origins.

The film opens with an extended quote from Margaret Atwood’s novel Alias Grace:

“When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion, a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything about like a story at all. When you’re telling it, to yourself or to someone else.”

Individually, we are all the sum total of a storied life and irrespective of the fact that the film focuses on one particular family and its story, there is much here that potentially holds resonance for all of us.

As such, the film has encouraged me to consider many things around the narrative form that our lives take.

As I have mentioned here before, I believe that we are born in the middle of someone else’s story. When exactly it becomes our own, when we can claim it as our own (and only ours?), I do not know. But I do know that I feel an increasing responsibility, and need, to reclaim my story, to shape it, and to write all headings for subsequent chapters.

Inevitably, (unanswerable) questions around ‘truth’ also arise. I am no longer sure that truth matters here. There is probably little that is true when we are dealing with the memories that inevitably shape our stories. Thus, truth as a end-goal feels like a self-defeating aspiration in this context.

Even if we are born in the middle of someone else’s story (and it follows that our stories too lead onto anothers), that feels ok. We can still take ownership, and reversion those bits where we have a starring role…

CQ

I have seen all of Michael Haneke’s films to date, and so, unsurprisingly, I very much looked forward to his latest creation, Amour, which I saw tonight.

I am not sure I fully understand my fascination with Haneke’s work. It probably results from a combination of factors, from its ability to simultaneously surprise, seduce, shock, distress, and disturb.

Amour has been much hyped, particularly since its Palme D’Or accolade at Cannes in May. There have been many reviews, and 5-star ratings, and a further, albeit much more pedestrian, review would be superfluous. What I can share, is how the film made me feel. Or, I should qualify, how it made me feel during the screening and immediately afterwards. I suspect that over the next days, much more will evolve personally from my experience of seeing Amour.

I found it extraordinary. But in a different way to his other work. I found it extraordinary in how it moved me, and also in the extent to which it disturbed me, much more than Benny’s video or The Seventh Continent. I suspect this results from the fact that the subject matter for Amour is so ‘ordinary’ and real and human, that this, perhaps perversely makes the work feel so important, and critical. Essentially, it is the potential story of you or me, and our frailties and vulnerabilities. Perhaps life doesn’t get more scary than that.

I wondered whether, having seen the film in a pretty packed cinema on a Friday night, such a topic would have been so welcome in mainstream cinema 10, even 5 years ago…

Progress, of sorts.

Go see.

CQ

Lasting just over an hour, this three man play by Colin Teevan leaves much to consider. I am still considering, and although I am not altogether sure that I grasped all the various meanings and layers, I gained enough to make it a thought-provoking experience.

The three men – Young Man (Anthony Delaney),  Man (Owen O’Neill) and Old Man (Gary Lilburn) – are together on stage throughout, digging, and talking, and telling stories, the secrets of their lives gradually exposed and shared as the shovels do their work:

‘Let the shaft glide through your hand – ‘

The play feels rooted in an Ireland of a certain time (The ‘Kingdom of Ireland’ ceased as such in 1801), when young men headed off, ‘making something of yourself”:

‘I take the road eastwards towards the sea,

And England.’

England here equates with London, Kilburn and the Galtee More in Cricklewood specifically, and perhaps predictably.

‘Pints are drunk that night,

And the talk is mighty.’

Also unsurprisingly, the Ireland left behind, we learn as the stories unfold, is one rife with incest, rape and murder. It is also the land of tinkers, of shrines, and, somewhat ironically, Our Lady of Succour…

The Old Man teases us with a riddle at the outset:

‘My mother is my father’s child,

And my mother’s son my father,

If I believe this is no lie,

Tell me stranger who am I?’

The correct answer is ‘a good Christian’…

Violence, blows, suicide, self-inflicted blindness…tragedy suffuses the narrative, with more than a hint of a Greek tragedy prevailing.

In the end, there is no sense of redemption, no sense that truth makes a positive difference. An ambivalence towards the very notion of stories appears in the opening scene, as the talking begins:

‘Go on believing, if it helps,

Telling yourself stories,

If it helps put down the day.’

Leaving Ireland has solved little, the past in the end remains inescapable:

‘I look around at them,

Their battered boots and breeches, worn out braces,

I look into their hungry, cowed faces;

These are not the pride of Hackney, Haringey or Hull,

But the lost sons of Kerry, Cork and Donegal.’

The Old Man’s comment that:

‘One road’s the same as another, when you’re digging it.’

made me think of Seamus Heaney’s poem, Digging (Death of a Naturalist, 1969). Here, Heaney initially describes the tradition of digging in his father’s and grandfather’s time, before concluding:

‘But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb

the squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.’

We dig, in our own individual and unique ways, to get at a truth, which feels intuitively worthwhile and valid. What we unearth, about ourselves and others, may not however be what we expected or hoped to find.

CQ