Conversations with Ben pt. X-ish
Today's agenda: The Sea Inside (Spain, 2004, Amenabar)
Have you finished The Sea Inside?
And Dan responds:
Yes, I finished it this morning before classes began. It was very moving. In fact, I must confess that it took awhile for me to compose myself. Even though, from an aesthetic standpoint, it isn't particularly memorable filmmaking, it is a really compelling story, with some terrific performances. Even though I knew from the opening frame how it would play out, I was still moved to tears, so they were doing something right.
I've seen Bardem in one other film (Before Night Falls), and my memory of him is as HE is, that is, a young, vigorous, athletic screen presence, so it took awhile to get acclimated to this older, physically fragile incarnation. But he was so convincing that I became confused, thinking he must be a lot older than I thought, and wondering if the BNF had been released much longer ago than I remembered. Thankfully, the flashbacks straightened me out. And of course that contrast between my (and the audience's--Bardem is a very well known actor in Spain) memory of him and his (Ramon's) character's paralyzed self helps to really sell the story.
Ramon's death with dignity campaign is also really a plea for life with dignity, and all that entails. It is not merely independence, but interdependence, that he lacks--a life of full and meaningful conjunction with other people. He is bright enough to keep his mind occupied in a million useful and interesting ways for the decades to come, but so what? Life is given meaning through our bodies as well as our minds. (I was reminded of John Goodman as he unleashed a Hadean firestorm in the Coen Bros. Barton Fink, "I'll show you the life of the mind!")
It's also a film about love, of course. The film's great tragedy is that the woman he really passionately loves betrays him. This Romeo's
Julie(tte) chooses not to die by his side. And yet his life's great triumph is that he is surrounded by others who love him enough to help him die. And so the film ends with the contrasting images of the dissipated Julie unable to even remember Ramon, while the young family plays on the beach, their memories of Ramon's death and his crusade for a life with dignity intact.
A lovely film. It won the Oscar for best foreign film last year. I'm inclined to think they got this one right.
Jardine, we are just not communicating these days! Did you or did you not want to have sex with Belen Rueda?
What is it called in classical Greek tragedy, the fatal flaw in the protagonist that is truly fatal, that seals his fate from the get-go and upon its introduction to the audience signals that the play is indeed tragic? Hamartia I think. One of the significant features of the right-to-death ideology is precisely what offends the Christian right-wing, the inversion of this tragic telos. I suppose another way to approach this from the classical Greek camp is hubris to the point of challenging metaphysical power. I swim around with these ideas in an effort to construct the notion that The Sea Inside is not tragic. It is rather anti-tragic, sort of a Nietzschean will to power, with all of the fascist potentia of this fileted away for the feel-good requirements of the love story that the film is. I found it quite up-lifting.
Having said this, I do recall feeling that I had been subjected to a shameless tear-jerker, albeit with considerable taste if not a great deal of cinematic inventiveness. (In this corner, wearing the blue trunks, we have The Sea Inside, weighing in with a lot of heart, and in the other corner we have Last Year at Marienbad, heavy on brains...)
Speaking of boxing, I suspect that the film I condemned as inferior with respect to the right-to-die issue was Million Dollar Baby, uh-huh, the one that got me started on my attack on conventions. If I remember correctly, I held up The Sea Inside as doing a superior job of dealing with the topic. Hey, even if I don't remember correctly, what say you take the bait? Tell me what you think comparatively speaking.
On an entirely different note, rented City Lights for my nine-year old. One of his buddies was sleeping over and didn't want to watch the movie. Fine, whatever, no problem. But here's the thing. Kid had never even heard of Charlie Chaplin. I was horrified. Next day, my guy, Max, watched it on his own. Said he liked it, liked it alot... but not as much as The Gold Rush. I don't know about you but I can't get through one week without thinking I've made some damn mistake as a dad. But I'm doing a few things right too.
Get back to me on Rueda.
Rueda is very hot; she wouldn't have to ask twice. Apparently she is (was?) a TV talk show host--the Spanish Oprah Winfrey?
Ahh...Hamartia. You're taking me back to my classic's classes at UVic. It's a much better (more all-inclusive) term than hubris, I think.
The tragedy for me isn't Ramon's death, which IS uplifting (and affecting), but Julie's betrayal. Or lack of backbone (heh), more like. But even as a near-veg she still looks gorgeous, so I guess you can see why her hubby isn't too eager to let her go.
It WAS M$B that you were comparing this film to, but they are different pictures. For one, Eastwood's film IS a great example of gorgeous filmmaking, while Amenabar's is merely adequate. Yeah, yeah, style w/o substance don't impress you much. But even though Amenabar's film grapples more thoroughly with the topic, Eastwood's film isn't completely bereft of ideas. Rather than taking the "victim's" p-o-v on an individual's right to die with dignity, he chooses to see this from the loved one's perspective. So, rather than Ramon, we're with Julia. Or Rosa. And I found Eastwood's character's torment quite affecting, in no small part due to the old man's performance (in which he must show a vulnerability that I've never really seen in him before--so, as with Bardem, I saw something I didn't expect, which really intensified my experience) and his really stellar sense of cinematic craftsmanship. The film is shot, edited and scored at a whole different level than Beyond the Sea.
How's that for taking the bait?
Oh, and Gold Rush ain't in City Light's league, I'm afraid. But your son is young; he has plenty of time to C the Light.
She wouldn't have to ask twice? She wouldn't have to ask at all, I'd be too busy begging.
Does betrayal constitute tragedy? In and of itself, I don't think so. It seems to me that for a betrayal to constitute tragedy the betrayal must itself rely on something like hamartia. It is because the betrayal was inevitable, inevitable due to a psychological flaw or a metaphysical force or what-have-you - it is this deterministic ground that would make a betrayal tragic. In The Sea Inside, I can't say we are given this. She betrays him not at the deepest level of existential principle. No she betrays him the way lovers so often do. She is a coward when she had promised to be a comrade in the cause. But this cowardice is not fundamentally what's at work with her. More - or less - at work is the plain fact that she just doesn't love him THAT much and she goes back to her husband, again, the way lovers so often do. After the main man manages to kill himself and she is left a pathetic husk of a human, it is reasonable to say that she is tragic. But the story is only secondarily about her. Indeed, she is but a predicate for the subject that is him. And his end is definitely not tragic. That's the Phil Donahue message of the week, right?
M$B does address the issue from the opposite end of the stick. It is worthwhile to do so and Eastwood does so with style and sensitivity. But ironically - unless you're Albert Camus for whom it is obvious - Eastwood's end of the stick is the less problematic, the less morally challenging, the less politically controversial (even for the wacko Fundies). Euthanasia is a tough nut to crack but not as tough as suicide. Suicide calls the WHOLE human condition into question for each and every individual. A suicidal person in need of practical help complicates and intensifies this wholistic questioning. To assist is to endorse - not just for the other who is to die but also for yourself, at least to a degree. This empathetic self-inclusion does not enter into euthanasia. Quite the contrary, mercy-killing not only rests upon but also reinforces the moment of alienation from the other which is the first necessary condition of sympathy. Simply put, then, (and speaking strictly theoretically, what the fuck do I know?) it is easier to kill out of sympathy than it is to assist out of empathy.
Be this as it may, the topic under discussion is what The Sea Inside is ALL about. In M$B, the topic under discussion suddenly enters the last quarter of the picture. Am I to understand that the previous three quarters were intended to be mere back-story for the big conclusion? Sure, sure, I'm being a bit unfair. But only a bit. Personally, I thought it was enough substance to tell a story about a woman boxer. The father-daughter relationship was solid too, (although the business about his flesh-and-blood daughter lost to him was given heavy-handed treatment). So far, so good. That's a lot of movie. But no, the next thing I know we're heading for Terms of Endearment. Well, OK, I'm being a bit unfair again. But only a bit again, which is to say that we didn't make it to Of Mice and Men. (Incidentally, why is that THE heaviest shit on enthanasia? Because it starts to bleed into assisted suicide. Lennie is simply too simple to kill himself, too stupid for suicide. To love him is to kill him. If he had been just a tad more intelligent, he would have set his mind on dying and asked for assistance. [But of course, a tad more intelligent and he wouldn't have got himself into trouble no man should have to live through.]) But why do I bother to subject you to such Eastwood bashing? You're warm for his cinematic form.
And (finally) Dan:
The tragedy is in her final fate, as much as in her inability to finally commit to him and their consummation in death. And yeah, Eastwood's hot. But Rueda's hotter.