And the Date Was Nineteen Eighty Four

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What happened on the 8th of November 2016 sent a shock-wave all around the globe. A shock-wave which shook the status quo to the core and created a new discourse among the scholar and the intellectual, who since have desperately been trying to explain what had become of America. What brought Americans to this breaking point to fiercely and radically forsake their inborn values and sink this low to allow a clown, arguably, become their president, their face to the world. Some argue that Trump is an evil genius, who premeditatedly devised a populist discourse to deceive and mislead the American electorate in order to advance his wicked and unholy agenda, which is solely to benefit the affluent class, the one percent. Some others believe that the latter argument has generously overrated Trump’s intellect. They claim that Trump is not the cause, but the consequence of a decline of morality in American society. Another group of analysts attribute this not to a moral decline, but a miscalculated outburst out of frustration. Some say Russian meddling played an influential role, whereas some others conjecture that what the democratic party unfairly did to Bernie brought his young and highly indignant and delicate supporters to the verge of defection. Some even blame the electoral college system. Since the catastrophe struck, TV presenters, political pundits, talk show hosts, columnists, philosophers, anthropologists and on and on have attempted to explain the situation, but no one has ever done it better than Salman Rushdie in his latest novel, The Golden House. He masterfully captures the essence of Trumpism and what caused it through his powerful and unrivalled grasp on words. Enjoy:

Golden House “… America had left reality behind and entered the comic-book universe; DC was under attack by DC. It was the year of the Joker in Gotham and beyond. The Caped Crusader was nowhere to be seen – it was not an age of heroes – but his arch-rival in the purple frock coat and striped pantaloons was ubiquitous, clearly delighted to have the stage to himself and hogging the limelight with evident delight. He had seen off the Suicide Squad, his feeble competition, but he permitted a few of his interiors to think of themselves as future members of a Joker administration. The Penguin, the Riddler, Two-Face and Poison Ivy lined up behind the Joker in packed arenas, swaying like doo-wop backing singers while their leader spoke of the unrivalled beauty of white skin and red lips to adoring audiences wearing green fright wigs and chanting in unison, Ha! Ha! Ha! The origins of the Joker were disputed, the man himself seemed to enjoy allowing contradictory versions to fight for airspace, but on one fact everyone, passionate supporters and bitter antagonists, was agreed: he was utterly and certifiably insane. What was astonishing, what made this an election year like no other, was that people backed him because he was insane, not in spite of it. What would have disqualified any other candidate made him his followers’ hero. Sikh taxi drivers and rodeo cow-boys, rabid alt-right blondes and black brain Surgeons agreed, we love his craziness, no milquetoast euphemism from him, he shoots straight from the hip, says whatever he fucking wants to say, robs whatever bank he’s in the mood to rob, kills whoever he feels like killing, he’s our guy. The black bat-knight has flown! It’s a new day, and it’s going to be a scream! All hail the United States of Joker! USJ! USJ! USJ!

Salman_Rushdie_by_Kubik_03bisIt was a year of two bubbles. In one of those bubbles, the Joker shrieked and the laugh crowds laughed right on cue. In that bubble the climate was not changing and the end of the arctic ice cap was just a new real estate opportunity. In that bubble, gun murderers were exercising their constitutional rights but the parents of murdered children were un-American. In that bubble, if its inhabitants were victorious, the president of the neighbouring country to the south which was sending rapists and killers to America would be forced to pay for a wall dividing the two nations to keep the killers and rapists south of the border where they belonged; and crime would end; and the country’s enemies would be defeated instantly and overwhelmingly; and mass deportations would be a good thing; and women reporters would be seen to be unreliable because they had blood coming out of their whatevers; and the parents of dead war heroes would be revealed to be working for radical Islam; and international treaties would not have to be honoured; and Russia would be a friend and that would have nothing whatsoever to do with the Russian oligarchs propping up the Joker’s shady enterprises; and the meanings of things would change; multiple bankruptcies would be understood to prove great business expertise; and three and a half thousand lawsuits against you would be understood to prove business acumen; and stifling your contractors would prove your tough-guy business attitude; and a crooked university would prove your commitment to education; and while the Second Amendment would be sacred the First would not be; so those who criticised the leader would suffer consequences; and African Americans would go along with it all because what the hell did they have to lose. In that bubble knowledge was ignorance, up was down, and the right person to hold the nuclear codes in his hand was the green-haired white-skinned red-slash-mouthed giggler who asked a military briefing team four times why using nuclear weapons was so bad. In that bubble, razor-tipped playing cards were funny, and lapel flowers that sprayed acid into people’s faces were funny, and wishing you could have sex with your daughter was funny, and sarcasm was funny even when what was called sarcasm was not sarcastic, and lying was funny. and hatred was funny, and bigotry was funny, and bullying was funny, and the date was, or almost was, or might soon be, if the jokes worked out as they should, nineteen eighty-four.” [1]

 [1] Rushdie, Salman, The Golden House, London: Jonathan Cape, 2017, pp.243-244

Justice Has Been Served

The killing

A review on “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

By: Masood Sabet

Yorgos Lanthimos is known for his idiosyncratic stories and effectively and constantly utilizing symbolism in his cinematic storytelling. He’s made six feature films, but his first internationally recognized work was “Dogtooth”, which was his third feature, he made in 2009. Dogtooth brought Lanthimos his first Academy award nomination for the best foreign language film in 2011 Oscars. Unfortunately for Lanthimos, luck was not on his side, as he had to compete with Susanne Bier’s “In a better world”, beautifully depicting modern moral dilemmas and contemplating the extent of personal responsibility, and Alejandro G. Innaritu’s Biutiful. And finally, the Oscar went to Susanne Bier, which was well deserved.

Yorgos Lanthimos is his sixth feature film has his fourth collaboration with his co-writer Efthymis Filippou. The plot is simple. Steven is an eminent heart surgeon, who has a seemingly unconventional relationship with a teenage boy: Martin. The nature of this relationship is revealed gradually, and we subsequently realize that Martin’s father died two years ago and now he lives with his mother. In the beginning, Martin and Steven appear to have an amiable relationship, even with a faint notion of one of paternal-filial nature, as though Steven is filling a void in Martin’s life by acting as a greatly needed father figure. They exchange gifts and regularly visit one another. But as the plot unfolds, we find out that Martin is harboring a grudge against Steven, as he’s been blaming him all along for his father’s death, who died on Steven’s operating table. Apparently, Steven had an alcohol problem at the time, but he’s been sober since. According to Martin, for justice to be served, Steven must kill a member of his own family.

Lanthimos has based his story on one of the ancient Greek tragedies: the story of “Iphigenia at Aulis”, written by Euripides, a Greek tragedian and a contemporary of Aeschylus and Sophocles. The story revolves around Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek army in Trojan war. The army is about to set sail to Troy, but the air is stagnant and the wind refuses to blow. They ascertain the cause and it is the wrath of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, forests and hills, the moon and archery. And this wrath is attributed to Agamemnon, who has offended the goddess. As legend has it, Agamemnon has slain an animal sacred to the goddess and subsequently boasted that he was Artemis’s equal in hunting. So as to propitiate Artemis, Agamemnon must sacrifice his eldest daughter: Iphigenia. There is a direct reference to the story of Iphigenia in the film, when Steven is speaking with his children’s school’s principal.

“She wrote a brilliant essay of the tragedy of Iphigenia, which she read out in class and received an A plus.”

But who’s representing the goddess in the film? Well, who else but Martin? He shares some attributes with Artemis, one of them being the lack of sexual desire. This could be the reason why Lanthimos decided to choose a male antagonist in his narrative, instead of a female one. There are a few indications scattered throughout the narrative to convince the audience that Martin is a god. The first clue is in the names Artemis and Martin, which share the part “art” in the stressed syllable. One of the main attributes of the goddess is the lack of sexual desire. The director emphasizes the same characteristic in Martin, by utilizing a stereotype in viewers’ minds. Kim willfully presents her naked body to Martin, an irresistible invitation for a typical teenage boy, but he doesn’t look impressed or interested for that matter. One could hypothesize that Martin could be homosexual, but there is no other scene, indicative of this hypothesis. When Steven first visits Martin’s mother in their house, they watch a film together, Martin’s late father’s favourite film: Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray. While watching the movie, the camera’s focus in on Martin’s back in the foreground, when we hear Bill Murray say in the blurred background: “How do you know I’m not a god?” As yet another indicator, once Steven, whilst driving towards Martin’s house, goes past a cemetery. In order to reach Martin, Steven needs to go past the realm of the dead, he needs to go to the beyond to meet with the god.

While narrating a paranormal occurrence in a completely realistic setting, the narrator (whether in cinema or literature) is bound to create such an atmosphere in which the occurrences would be believable to the audience. In literature, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s a hundred years of solitude epitomizes such a skill. Yorgos Lanthimos too has successfully created this atmosphere. An accomplishment he partly owes to his composer, Gyorgi Ligeti, who has also composed the music for the most prominent works of late Stanley Kubrick, including Eyes Wide Shut, 2001 A Space Odyssey and Shining. The most disturbing scenes of Eyes Wide Shut wouldn’t be so unsettling if it weren’t for Ligeti’s eerie recurring tune, played by the piano. In “The Killing of A Sacred Deer”, whenever we see Martin, we hear a disturbing theme, as if every time he enters the scene, he brings with him a mystical aura of nerve-wracking tension. However, almost halfway into the film, we occasionally hear the very same tune, even without Martin’s presence. He has already established the new order. The two worlds have collided and we are untethered from the suffocating grasp of reality, but at the same time fallen into a precarious realm of the unknown. However, Steven is still hanging in a limbo and all the endeavours of the narrator, Lanthimos, is to dispel his doubts and convince him to let go.

The exaggerated idiosyncrasy in some characters’ behaviours contributes even more to this mystical quality the director has created in the film. In the first sex scene, after Anna (Nicole Kidman) closes the bedroom door, she turns the lights on, which makes the space dominated by mostly cold colours of the white light and the blue quilts. These qualities, accompanied with the open curtains and blinds, which we see all together in a medium shot, are in absolute contrast with whatever could be conceived as erotic. The couple have this little game they play while making love, which they call “general anesthetic”. She plays unconscious and Steven takes full control, which gives a bizarre necrophiliac shade to their sex-life. Anna’s submissiveness is later reflected in her encounter with Martin and his supernatural quest for vengeance. She shows little resistance and submits totally to his sanctitude. She visits Martin at his house to plea for her children’s lives and later, when Martin’s tied and beaten up in Steven’s basement, Anna painstakingly attends to his wound and kisses his feet, but all to no avail. Steven on the other hand is a control freak and claims that he can take command of any situation by utilizing logic and science. But this time, he’s evidently way off. Steven is dismissive of any notion of the supernatural playing a part in the situation. He vehemently refuses to contemplate the notion, even after both his children are paralyzed and bedridden. Steven, desperately delving into the circumstances for a medical cause, a logical explanation. When Anna suggests the possibility of a psychosomatic disorder, Steven fiercely objects. He knows deep inside that psychology, like a double-edged sword and interpreted as a pseudoscience, could be an easy gateway to the supernatural.

After all Steven’s endeavors to discover the cause of the children’s paralysis, he eventually resorts to an intellectually inconvenient measure. Whatever the cause is, he surmises, has something to do with Martin. He’s on the verge of conversion, and about to stumble and fall into the realm of all possibilities. He kidnaps Martin and binds him in the basement. Steven is alone in this fight. His wife and children have dropped the sword long ago, but Steven is still resisting to concede. He beats and tortures Martin only to realize that what works on man doesn’t work on a deity. The god shall be propitiated with a sacrifice.

Steven’s children are so certain of the ominous fate of the story that they have started manipulating his feelings in the hope for him to spare their lives. Bob crawls out of his bed, clumsily cuts his hair short with scissors, drags himself all the way to the kitchen to talk to his father and express his remorse for not cutting his hair sooner when his father had told him to do so.

“Dad, I’ve been thinking about it and I decided I want to become a cardiologist. Not an ophthalmologist. I lied to mom because I didn’t want her to get upset.”

This is the last straw for Steven, which brings him to his knees, a turning point and indicative of the protagonist’s growth. He carries Bob back to bed and tucks him in, goes outside, sits on the street and bursts into tears. Is this growth sufficient for the hero to overcome the crisis and bring everything into a new equilibrium? We should think so. But there’s more to the story. Steven has not yet abandoned the illusion of control. The next morning, he goes to his children’s school and meets with the principal:

“The boy’s very good at math and physics. Kim, on the other hand, apart from her natural aptitude for music, is very good at literature and history, areas in which Bob lags behind.”

Steven is still adamant to devise his “scientific method” of solving problems and collecting data. He doesn’t beat around the bush.

“Do you especially like one of them more than the other? If you had to choose between them, which would you say is the best?”

It’s a difficult choice for Steven on an unconscious level, as if a choice between mind and body, between reason and faith, and between leaving his hard-earned belief system or clinging to it, the very same struggle he has been through over the entire narrative so far. Steven’s growth is an illusion. He’s endeavoring to make an informed decision, which is doomed to failure, because he is still perversely dismissive of the idea that under the new order, the old conventional ways have to be relinquished.

Steven is finally convinced that there is no escape from the new order and devises a mechanism in order to shirk the responsibility of the impossible choice. This brings us to the most grotesque scene of the film: the sacrifice ritual. Steven binds and gags his wife and two children in the living room, loads his rifle, puts on a blindfold bag, spins around and starts shooting. He misses the first two shots, but the third one pierces Bob’s heart, a heart of math and physics. The spirit of reason and certainty has been sacrificed. The book of Steven’s consecutive failures has concluded.

More Human than Human

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A review on Blade Runner, 1982, directed by Ridley Scott

by: Masood Sabet

     Everything started with the discovery of fire. And human, in the metaphorical flickering glimmer of this fire started to look upon himself. A revolutionary change in the course of human evolution, which drew his attention more to himself, other than his surroundings. Human was banished to the earth, because he started to query his own existence by asking who am I? And where am I from? Based on scriptural stories about the creation, the devil took the form of a serpent to deceive man, but in most mythologies the genesis of the devil is fire. From the light and warmth of fire, the angels and from the flames the devil was born.  Like fire, human split into a duality. Life was no more an eternal, meaningless cycle of animalistic needs and whims. There was something more to it. Abstract concepts started to come into existence from nothing, just like the myriad galaxies following the big bang. Human rose to his feet and set out on a quest for answers, seeking a creator. But the more he sought, the less he found. Frustrated man, sick and tired of this futile endeavour and countless efforts and theories to no avail, decided to become a god, rather than finding one. But little did he know that God was far from a mere creator. Becoming a god required attributes which man utterly lacked in nature. Not only didn’t man find his way back to the heaven from which he was banished, but he found himself plunging head first into a self-made inferno.

     Blade runner starts with a hellish landscape of Los Angeles in the future. Flames erupting everywhere in a dark grim setting, which is reminiscent of scriptural descriptions of hell, nightmarish and horrendous, and an eternal rain, which lashes heavily and indiscriminately through the grooves of the city like open wounds. This everlasting rain, along with the massive fog and smoke leaking from everywhere and shadowing everything, besides the thematic functions in the film, are serving to compensate for the insufficiency of the technology of the time for the mise-en-scene. We could add the low angle cinematography to this collection. It is still the early 80s and it hasn’t been long since the advent of the CGI, and this provides the filmmaker with the opportunity to utilise creativity. Scott’s Blade Runner, after almost four decades, still looks decent and even commendable. The production design is astonishingly ingenious, which is particularly highlighted in the scenes of Tyrell’s and Sebastian’s houses. Vast spaces, high-rise ceilings and very tall lavish doors, which through this highly exaggerated grandeur is evidently compensating for some inadequacy and timidity.

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Blade runner starts with a hellish landscape of Los Angeles in the future

     Blade Runner is loosely based on a novel by Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? But the screenplay was written by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples. In juxtaposition to the other aspects of the work, the script seems to be suffering from some shortages. For instance, we could start from the exposition in the beginning. There is an on-screen text which presents the viewers with some essential information about the story. What is a Replicant? What do they do? Who is a blade runner and why are they after replicants to kill (“retire”) them? This information could be (and partly is) conveniently conveyed through the dialogues during the film. In one of the early scenes, we see a blimp hovering over the hell-bound city, trying to entice people to migrate to off-world colonies, in which replicants will serve them as slaves to fulfil a broad spectrum of their needs and desires. The very same piece of information has already been conveyed through the on-screen text in the beginning.

     In mission persuasion emerges another shortcoming in the screenplay. Deckard is a retired police officer, but captain Bryant needs his expertise to hunt four replicants who have stolen a ship in the space and have returned to earth is search of their creator. Mission persuasion is supposed to establish a base on which the second act and the entire narrative for that matter will be based. But this mission persuasion is not particularly persuasive. Deckard first refuses the call, but only one single sentence is enough to bring him round. “Bryant: if you’re not cop, you’re little people. Deckard: So, no choice ha?”

     Generally, the screenwriters have been a bit impatient when it comes to some critical milestones during the film. Deckard, in search of Zhora, finds himself in Abdul Hassan’s shop, who makes high-end artificial snakes. Even though Hassan doesn’t show the slightest unwillingness to cooperate, Deckard turns to violence, which seems utterly unnecessary. In another part of the film, it surprises Deckard to hear that replicants have come to earth, whereas his career would make no sense if there were no replicants on the earth.

     Gaff is a police officer who apparently has a talent in origami. In the last scene of the film (in the directors’ cut) Deckard finds an origami unicorn in his house, which couldn’t be made by anyone other than Gaff. We already know that Deckard sometimes sees a unicorn in his dreams. Although this could be a mere Jungian coincidence, but it also could be an indicative of the fact that Deckard might be a replicant himself, and the unicorn is an implanted memory, downloaded into his bio-engineered mind. But this seems quite far-fetched, since this theory has no other indicative to this in the movie and we also have the privilege of seeing the sequel (Blade Runner 2049), in which Deckard is still alive and well after three decades, whereas we know that the lifespan of replicants is limited to four years, as a fail-safe measure in case replicants develop their own characteristic feelings and emotions.

     Ridley Scott’s film is filled to the brim with symbolism and extratextual references, especially to scriptures and the Greek mythology. But Blade Runner in regard to form is so powerful that it not only makes up for the shortcomings, but puts the film among the best in the history of cinema. The replicants who have come to the earth pursuing this mission have attributes which transcend them from human and transform them into deities. These attributes were designs and implanted in the replicants by their creator, Tyrell. Roy is the leader of the rebellion replicants with a deiform posture, blue eyes and a face reminiscent of a marble bust of an ancient Greek deity. Tyrell corporation, the manufacturer of replicants, has a famous motto: “More Human than Human!” But before the confrontation between Tyrell and Roy, this phrase means nothing more than an empty advertising slogan. Here, we are presented with a Nietzschean definition of God. Man created gods because they served a purpose; compensating for man’s ignorance and weakness. The enlightened man has no purpose for god, therefore its existence is obsolete. Roy, seeking a long life confronts his creator, but finds him weaker to answer his prayer and fulfil his desire. Human goes past another milestone in his evolution, and more human than human is born by killing his creator, and finally Tyrell’s motto comes true.

The epic scene of the film, where Roy confronts Deckard, with an immaculate production design, the historical acting and monologue by Dutch Rutger Hauer, and an enthralling tune by Vangelis, has guaranteed its immortality in the history of cinema. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire, off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” Roy’s half-naked body in this scene symbolizes the rebirth of the first man. He is holding a dove is his hands, which has a dual function. Roy, by eliminating his creator, has chosen to behave against his own “nature”. A nature which is not natural. The filmmaker here reminds the viewer of the subjectivity of the elusive concept of nature. This duality has a constant presence throughout the whole film; the duality of human and more human than human, human and creator, and finally the Cartesian duality of body and soul, which manifests itself in the mystical ascension of the white dove in slow motion. The white dove in Roy’s hands is a declaration of a new rebellion. He recreates his own identity, and consequently his function in the universe. Contrary to the function that gods (Tyrell and associates) have defined for Roy, he now is a messenger of peace, and incarnation of Jesus Christ who dies for man’s sins and to save him. This salvation has been ingeniously symbolized by Roy saving Deckard’s life by pulling him up and sparing his life.

     Each one of Roy’s companions have traits evocative of ancient deities. As though these are delegates from the world of replicants to meet with the God of gods. “In classical Greek polytheism, Zeus, Hera, Apollo and their colleagues were subject to an omnipotent and all-encompassing power [called] Fate, [who] is devoid of interests and biases, and therefor it is unconcerned with the mundane desires, cares and worries of humans.”[1] Tyrell is the Fate for replicants. Replicants were born on the earth and considering the miserable conditions they are suffering in off-world colonies, they still see earth, in all its horridness, as a heaven they long to return to. They have been banished from the heaven, and the only way they can return to it is embrace death. The replicants have started this Odyssean journey in pursuit of relief from this everlasting horror of an overhanging Damocles’ sword of death, which in human scale could be translated to a quest for immortality.

     One of Roy’s companions is Lion, who has an extraordinary physical strength and could be a rival to Hercules, the son of Zeus. Pris, another companion of Roy is a pleasure model and a match to Hedone, the Greek goddess of pleasure. But among these deities, Zeus has another representative: Artemis, the goddess of hunt and wild animals. But Zhora’s choice of wild animal is not a deer like that of Artemis. It is a serpent. “Watch her take pleasure from the serpent, that once corrupted man.” Another verbal reference to the story of creation.

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“All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain”

     Replicants start their pursuit of the creator from the modest laboratory of Hannibal Chew, who designs replicants’ eyes. To reach for the brain (Tyrell), replicants start their journey from the eye, the most notorious Achilles heel of humans. Upon entering into Chew’s laboratory, Roy recites a poem from William Blake, the English poet of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. “Fiery the angels fell, deep thunder rolled around their shores, burning with the fires of Orc.” Although in the original poem it says: fiery angels rose, this subtle adjustment, considering the replicants’ descent from the skies appears to be justified. This poem is from a book called: “America, a Prophecy”, which Blake published in 1793. This book belongs to a series of books in which Blake foretells the fate of the continents on earth with a poetic diction reminiscent of that of the sixteenth century French seer, Nostradamus. In all Blake’s books in this series, there is a character called Orc, who is a symbol of rebellion and insurgency. Orc was born as a worm and then transformed into a serpent. His mythic opponent, Albion’s Angel, describes him as “Lover of wild rebellion, and transgressor of God’s law”. Orc was bound upon a mountain and so as to set himself free and seek vengeance, he needs to emancipate his imagination. He needs to discover fire.

     Time and memory (which are collectively manifested in the form of photographs) are the fundamental thematic elements in Blade Runner. Man, in order to preserve his memories against the destructive and fierce torrent of time, records them in the form of a two-dimensional projection, a photograph. But this image is so deceitful (Rachel’s implanted childhood memories) and so betraying (Lion’s photographs which lead Deckard to Zhora) that has proven utterly unreliable. Yet human so firmly clings on to this untrustworthy shred of the lost memories, a remnant of a former existence, as if a man overboard on a driftwood, stranded in the ocean. Human has proven an astonishing capability of creating spirits for rocks and trees, and souls for the dead. So, what could stop him from arousing a sentiment over an “unreal” memory? After all, a memory is what I remember, not the moments which are long lost in time. And who can trust their memories? We form our perception of the world based on our experiences, which are nothing more than a personal account of the events.

     The confrontation scene between Roy and Deckard presents the utter diffidence and paltriness of human, who finds himself at the mercy of his own creation. There is still a long way to become God. The creator, in order to protect himself against criticism, humiliation and even vengeance, should have stayed hidden from the eyes, shielded by the unknown and mystery.

[1] Noah Harari, Yuval, Sapiens, a brief history of humankind, London: Penguin Random House UK, 2014, print, p.238