Film Review: Me Before You 


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I heard about Me Before You from my friend who thinks the romantic moments in the movie are “right up your alley.” I’m glad my friend thinks I am the romantic type instead of cold-hearted, but the most touching moments of the movie for me, have nothing to do with the love story but the ones in the background. I watched this movie while on a 2-hour flight, and my eyes were red by the time we landed.

There are only two areas on which I would limit my review: character and themes.

(Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the movie yet, then stop reading.) 

Character:

I find the character of Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) too nice, meaning not very credible. She is too likable. The audience are meant to like her, and I did like her and if she were a real person, I’d wish her infinite happiness. But a part of me is conscious of the manner in which her character is so contrived as to make viewers instantly like her. So, that’s one of the few things that didn’t impress me.

Her boyfriend, Patrick, is just as flat: self-absorbed to the end. There is nothing about the boyfriend that will make us like him even just a little bit. As a minor character, he serves a foil to the thoughtful character of Will.

The parents of Louisa and those of Will (Sam Claflin) on the other hand, though minor characters seem more real than the previous two mentioned.

As one of the two main characters, Will Traynor is fully developed as a character: from a fun-loving, adventurous, successful young man to an unhappy, helpless, hopeless quadriplegic, who finds a reason to smile in Clarke’s quirkiness.

Themes:

Selfishness/Selflessness 

As people we swing between the selfishness/selflessness pendulum. Louisa selflessly decided to keep a job in her hometown to help her parents. But later she selfishly asked Will to forego his plan to end his life in Switzerland, telling him confidently (to me, it’s more like overconfidently) that she could make her happy.

People may not view her offer as selfishness especially when she is willing to take care of him, but I do. She’s thinking of her own happiness, not his pain, not his daily struggle. I believe no one outside ourselves can truly make us happy or comfort us in our deepest sorrows. Sure, there are those who can make us smile for a while, but at the end of the day we deal with our own thoughts and feelings.

Choice

When told that it’s Will’s choice to end his life in Dignitas in Switzerland, Mrs. Clark says, “Some choices you don’t get to make. He [Will] is not in his right mind.” But Will is in his right mind; he made a choice after careful thought. He knows he’s never going to get better. He is in pain every single day. He cannot do anything by himself.

While I admire people with disability who are optimistic about life and fight to live despite all the pain and difficulties that come with it, I also respect those who choose to leave this world and end the pain that they have to bear daily, and no longer see how much those who love them suffer as much as they do in caring for them.

Louisa is confident that she’ll never regret being with Will and taking care of him, but Will is more realistic and says, “You don’t know that.” It is not easy to care for someone who is in terrible pain and who is never going to get better because they themselves do not find it the least bit easy to live on a daily basis.

Will Traynor’s parents at first don’t want to let him go. He is their son. Their only child. The natural cycle is for children to bury their parents, not the parents burying their child. But in the end they have to give in to his wish and let him die, with them by his side. That takes a lot of courage. This is the most touching moment in the movie for me –the parents being there for their son.

As a mother, I almost feel physical pain when I see my son in pain. When he cries because he’s hurt, it’s painful to watch. So I can only imagine how painful it must be for parents to watch their son/daughter in pain on a daily basis, and worse, to watch him die.

Me Before You is a romantic drama, and romantic souls will like this movie. However, the romance part didn’t move me at all. It’s the idea of having the right to end one’s life and parental love that made me think.

Have a relaxing weekend!
T 💕

P.S. One other thing I like about this movie is the soundtrack. I especially love Imagine Dragon’s “Not Today.” Click here for a link to the video.

On Reality

reality

When I was still a child, I often heard my mother tell people about how I liked to look up at the sky —  wondering, (over)thinking, imagining, which was why she didn’t let me wash the dishes. It took me forever to finish.

These days I find myself doing the same thing — taking some time to finish washing the dishes because I keep looking up at the sky from my kitchen window and wondering, “Is there somebody up there watching us live our lives here below?”

I shared this thought with my husband, who simply laughed and said, “Oh, yes! And they are looking down and saying, ‘Oh look at this cute little girl bravely asking such questions!” (Let me be clear on this one: No one else thinks I’m cute except my husband. That’s why he’s my husband.) 

Ever since I read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Marquez’s “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World,” and Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” over twenty years ago, I’ve always wondered about the nature of “reality.” I remembered asking the question, what if there was another world where their idea of reality is different from ours?

It was a few years later that I read Bradbury’s stories, and watched “The Matrix” and my idea of “reality” was further changed. Two years ago I watched “Interstellar” and the scene where Cooper was finally able to communicate with Murph (they once thought there was a “ghost”) made me think of what we think is “real” or “imagined.”(Some of my friends who are into science fiction weren’t very impressed with “Interstellar,”  but I’m not a big sci-fi fan, so it was very impressive for me.) 

These days there are more and more people talking  about the simulation hypothesis and consciousness and how human beings can suddenly change because of some damage to the brain. Reading about the brain and consciousness and theories on reality and our existence makes me even more eager to know the truth about our existence, our reality.

Just yesterday I started watching the HBO TV series, Westworld, and perhaps this is the reason at 11:31 in the evening I am still up writing this. Hopefully with the popularity of this TV series, more people will be asking questions about our existence and actively seek answers to these questions.

Who are we?

I really want to know.

 

On Reading a True Crime Novel (and Watching a Great Movie about it)

Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

A True Crime Novel

“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote is the first True Crime novel I have ever read, and perhaps the only one of this genre that I would read. I have no plans to read another novel of this genre, but not because I did not think it was good, rather it was so well-written that I could not forget it days after I read it; I even had nightmares three nights in a row from reading it. So to me, there is no question that it is a good novel, but it simply is not the genre that I prefer to read.

(Just in case someone reading this would sarcastically ask, “Then why read it?” Let me give you a simple answer, “Because a handsome man, hehehe, gave it to me.)

After I read “In Cold Blood,” I watched the movie “Capote” and my admiration for Truman Capote grew. The novel was written in a journalistic style – the narrator was distant, not cold, but reported “facts” as they came to him. Even the description of Perry Smith’s childhood was detailed in  a straightforward manner. However, in the movie (if it was indeed a true account of what transpired between Capote and the two convicts), it was quite obvious that there was emotional attachment between the writer and the convict. Capote, seeing Perry Smith and speaking with him for the last time prior to the latter’s hanging, wept in front of the two men. Was it sadness or guilt or both?

To me that was the most moving scene of the movie, and it certainly convinced of the acting prowess of Philip Hoffman. I cried watching that sad scene unfold. I wept for Perry Smith and for the tragic life he lived; for Dick’s parents who loved him dearly, and for Capote who probably lived with guilt for the rest of his life.

If you are into the True Crime genre, then “In Cold Blood” is definitely a must-read; and if you enjoy a good movie that is not sentimental but can make you cry your eyes out, then watch “Capote.” You won’t be wasting your time.

Childhood Memories

childhood memories

I watched the movie “Lucy” sometime ago and thought the first half of the film was interesting, and then it just got stranger and sillier until the end. But one scene that stuck with me is the phone conversation Lucy had with her mom, where she told her she could feel everything, remember everything vividly, as if they happened just a few seconds ago. She could remember how her mother kissed her when she was still a baby.

Would you like that? To remember everything so vividly? I am guessing most people would like to remember just the happy, beautiful times and not the painful ones. In fact most people would prefer to forget the pain they have gone through.

When I was a little girl, being the youngest, I was very affectionate with my mother. I always liked kissing and hugging her and being kissed and hugged in return. She always smelled of Johnson’s Baby Powder, and I liked that. I went on being like this even when I was already in my late 20’s. My sisters used to tell me off telling me it was disgusting that I still acted like a baby when I was already an adult. But it never bothered me what other people thought.

Those are not the only memories I have of me and my mother in my childhood though. I also still vividly remember the times my mother got angry with me and my sisters. I would not say it was a typical Asian way of discipline, but it was quite common to be hit and scolded in front of family and friends or even strangers. My sisters and I sometimes talk about those times with a little sadness and a lot of laughter, but my mother remembers nothing of those times she was not gentle with us.

Yes, I remember them as well, but those hugs and kisses are the more powerful memories.

So now that I, myself, have become a mother, I hug my son tightly as often as I can, hoping he will never forget how much his mom loves him and makes him feel loved. I want him to always remember the loving look his mom gives him, and how when he is scared or hurt, his mom comforts him and makes him feel safe.

It is useless to wish he won’t remember the times I get angry with him, but I hope those memories will not be as vivid as the beautiful ones.

One of my favorite scenes from Dostoevky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov is at the trial of Mitya (Dmitry) when Dr. Herzenstube was called to the witness stand. He recalled a time when he saw Mitya as a little boy, “barefoot, his little trousers held up by a button…” He felt so sorry for him, knowing that Mitya’s father cared little for the boy, and decided to give him a pound of nuts. After that he did not see Mitya again, until twenty-three years later, a young man came to visit him and reminded him of his generosity. This young man said to him, “I’ve just come to town and I want to thank you now for the pound of nuts you once gave me, because you’re the only person who has ever given me a pound of nuts in my whole life!”

What happens in our childhood may have a major impact in our lives as adults. We remember things that happened to us when we were children as if they just happened yesterday. Some may be good, others may make us cringe or angry.

What’s your best childhood memory?

Introspection thru “Predestination”

I got this photo from this site

I got this photo from this site.

Science-fiction is not really my favorite genre, but my friend was sure I would like Predestination because (1) It’s an Ethan Hawke movie, and (2) he thought it was a mind-blowing film.

I certainly do not regret watching this movie because there are a couple of things I like about it, apart from THE Ethan Hawke (who still looks as gorgeous as when he was in his 20’s! Dang!)

It may be an Ethan Hawke movie, and he is great in it (as he is always in his movies), but I find Sarah Snook’s performance impressive. My favorite scene in the movie is when she as the androgynous Unmarried Mother (looking like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic) speaks with her young self, and her face is filled with emotions of love, understanding, compassion — all blending together in that facial expression of hers. Of course, I admit that part of that is merely my own perception. But in my humble opinion, she did a magnificent job in this movie.

The last movie I saw and wrote about was Interstellar, another science-fiction film I did not expect to like but ended up liking so much. I liked the interpersonal relationships present in Interstellar – the character’s relationship with his children and with his fellow astronauts. But, as a person fond of introspection, I liked the intrapersonal relationship the character of Predestination had with himself/herself at different periods in his/her life.

My very limited understanding of physics (I didn’t really listen to my teacher), and science-fiction and the ideas of time-travel and the predestination paradox  perhaps limits my understanding of the movie, but I will not spend another night trying to reconstruct the sequence of events in the movie. I am content to focus on the ideas that caught my attention. I do not totally understand it, but there are certain things that like about it and that made me think.

Revenge

What if I could put him in front of you? The man that ruined your life? If I could guarantee that you’d get away with it, would you kill him?

Would you avenge yourself on the person that ruined your life, if you were assured it could be done with impunity? Hopefully none of my readers have their lives terribly ruined by somebody that they would want to end that somebody’s life, but how about revenge?

“Nemo me impune lacessit.” No one harms me with impunity.

An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. There is no such thing as throwing back a piece or bread (or mantou) to someone who threw stones at you.

Forgiveness, that abstraction that is quite easy to speak about (especially if the one speaking of it is not involved in the situation where it is being sought) is extremely difficult to translate into action. Hence, people often seek revenge for every pain that another person caused them.

But upon closer examination, what does one get from revenge? Is there joy that comes in having avenged oneself? Can one sleep better at night knowing another person is now suffering from one’s revenge?

The irony in the Unmarried Mother’s desire to avenge herself was that she was the transgressor herself. When she found out that it was herself all along that ruined her own life, then she felt compassion towards and even loved herself.

I would look at transgression in two ways: one can endeavor to be empathetic and see things from the point of view of the transgressor and understand why he did what he did. Or, one can accept the fact that no one can ever transgress anyone with impunity. Not even as an act of revenge. Countries have laws. People have conscience. When you hurt other people, you hurt yourself as well. (Or am I wrong? Are there “normal” or “typical” people who rejoice when others suffer, people who have nothing but Schadenfreude in their hearts?)

Jane/John as the bartender, however, could not forgive himself as the Fizzle Bomber and shot him. The same person who was able to understand and accept the one who ruined his/her life, could not forgive himself for killing other people.

Question for Introspection 1:

Is it easier to forgive the harm we brought upon ourselves, than it is to forgive the evil we brought upon others?

Narcissism

Growing up, Jane felt she was a freak, that she was ugly. She even stopped looking at herself in the mirror. This self-loathing became even worse when she found out she had the rare condition of having both male and female reproductive organs and was left with no choice but to undergo surgery to become male.

But when Jane who is now a man with the pseudonym Unmarried Mother goes back to her/his past and meets her/his young self, she/he says to her/him, “You’re beautiful.” She/he falls in love with herself/himself and even has a baby.

(Now this just came to mind as I was typing the previous sentence: isn’t that the same idea as the Divine Trinity? The Father , Son and Holy Ghost? Which came first?)

Question for Introspection 2:

If it were possible to see yourself from the eyes of someone from the opposite sex, do you think you would fall in love with yourself? Do you have the traits that you find attractive, enough to fall in love with another person?

We sometimes love ourselves and sometimes hate ourselves. But to fall in love with oneself, this is something I have only read about or seen in movies. I still have to meet somebody who admits he or she is in love with himself or herself.

Question for Introspection 3:

If you could meet with your 20-year old self (I’m assuming my readers are at least in their 30’s!) what would you say to him/her?

Would you be kind and perhaps encourage yourself? Or would you warn yourself of the many mistakes you would be making? Or would you tell yourself, “There’s nothing to look forward to.”

And what do you think your 20-year old self would say to you? “Nice job! I can’t wait to become you”? Or, “Uh-oh!”

Self-loathing

It is interesting how people can love and hate themselves at the same time. We love certain qualities about ourselves, and hate other qualities that we possess and wish we could change ourselves.

Through time-travel, John is able to meet with his future self, the Fizzle Bomber who has killed thousands of people. When John comes face to face with the Fizzle Bomber, he says with loathing, “I will never become you!” And shoots him.

We have no way of knowing what we will be like 20 years from now. But we can look back at our lives and see what we have become.

Question for Introspection 4:

What do you think a 20-year old you would say to the present you if he/she could speak to you now? Will he/she say: You’re doing a great job! Or will he/she say, “I will never become you” and….

Like I said, I do not totally understand this film, but it’s an Ethan Hawke movie that got me thinking, so I like it. This movie, perhaps, had an effect on me, and when you read what I’ve written, maybe it will have an effect on you, too. Hopefully a good one.

“When a butterfly flutters its wings in one part of the world, it can eventually cause a hurricane in another…” – Edward Lorenz

Interstellar and the Self

interstellar

Interstellar

 

(photo source)

First off, if you have not seen the movie yet, then stop reading.

Second, if you are a film enthusiast or a film critic, then pardon my own humble review of the movie. I am often told that I miss the point of a movie, to which I reply (but only in my head), so what? I see other things in a movie that move me, and to me that is what matters. I do not have to have the same analysis as everybody else. Our understanding and appreciation of a movie or even a book is ultimately shaped by our own individual experiences, our knowledge of the things around us,  our values, culture and many other factors.

That may have sounded like an attempt at apologetics, so I will move on.

I watched Interstellar a week ago, but waited until today to write about it because I had to give myself time to think and discuss with my husband (a physics major in university) about one of the ideas the movie presented that really fascinated me.

Cooper (not my dearest Bradley), Matthew McConaughey’s character, left earth and entered another galaxy through a wormhole. His travel with the other space explorers took, for them, just hours, but what was hours for them was years for the earthlings.

I cannot and will not even attempt to explain how the element of time was used in this story, but in my own simple understanding of what happened and in my humble second-language-learner English, let me say that Cooper was able to go back to a certain place in time, specifically that period when his daughter thought there was a ghost in her bedroom that was trying to tell her something. It turned out that that “ghost” was actually Cooper himself, from the future, (future Cooper)  trying to stop past Cooper from leaving his family. But then he was told he could not change the past.

Let me pause here to say something about Biblical allusions or religious undertones of which there is a prevalence in today’s science-fiction movies. Interstellar is definitely not an exception. the most obvious allusion is to the man Jesus raised from the dead, Lazarus. NASA’s mission in the film is called “Lazarus.”

The Bible contains a few stories about how lives had been sacrificed for something new or better to start. Death for some for the birth of new ones, like when God flooded the world and spared only Noah and his family and a few animals; or when innocent children were killed because King Herod was afraid that the child who had been prophesied to become king was born, and he wanted to be certain the child would not live to be king; or when Jesus had to die to save the people.

In the same way, Dr. Brand had concluded that it was impossible to evacuate the whole population from earth, so he formulated plan B which was to start a new population from the fertilized embryos. He was willing to abandon the living for the survival of the species. This is not new or uncommon. I think people are constantly sacrificing other people’s lives for a cause, be they good or bad.

One other thing that I was reminded of when I saw that scene where  Future Cooper was begging his daughter (who, of course could not hear him) not to let him, Past Cooper leave, was hell. Would it not be hell to be able to see our past selves making a decision that at present we know to be very wrong, but we have no way to correct it? The way we live our lives is not like how a movie is made where we do several takes. It is hell to watch ourselves making mistakes that affect not only our lives but also the lives of the ones we love  and knowing we cannot undo those mistakes.

That scene from the movie spoke to me the most — the father’s anguish at seeing his daughter again and wishing he had listened to her and not left her. I love Matthew McConaughey (not the same way I love Bradley Cooper, but yes) I think he is a great actor.

That scene also made me think of “conscience,” that tiny voice in the head that tells  one what is morally right or wrong, the guide to making decisions. I would like to think that our conscience is simply our “future selves” trying to guide us to the right direction. Sometimes we listen to our conscience, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we even feel it is absent. Maybe on a holiday.

I do not like movies about aliens, but somehow I am a little disappointed that in this movie, the human being seems to be alone in the universe, that there are no other creatures out there, that it is just us in the vastness of the universe. Are we truly this special? That we have such a huge place all to ourselves? I prefer the idea presented by Stephen Hawking that there are other creatures apart from us that are way more advanced  than our civilization. I would like to think that there are other beings out there, that it is not just us on this tiny planet in the infinite universe. This feeling is the same as when I stand on the shore facing the horizon and wondering if on the other side, there is also somebody standing on their shore wondering the same about the other side.

I have so many questions about our existence. I used to think the answer was in philosophy, and then in neuropsychology, but as years pass, I feel the answer can only be found not within ourselves, not within our planet, but out there in the universe, which means I may never know the answers to my questions. It is sad, but I am hopeful one day somebody will find those answers. And that hope and faith is enough to make me go on living my life, hopefully not disappointing my future self too much.

On writing and inspiration

For as long as I can remember I have always said to myself I could never be a Writer. But, I can always be an aspiring writer. My uni professor  had my story, a tale I wrote for his Creative Writing class, published, and it was then I started to hope to become a writer.

To hope to become a writer.

That was over twenty years ago, and I am still hoping. I have had a few of my short stories published in literary journals back home, but having them published does not make me a writer. How do I know I am not a writer? I still depend on inspiration to make me write.

Recently I watched a movie called The Words. I would never have heard of this movie here if not for my best friend #3 who knows I’m crazy about Bradley Cooper (I know I’m 42 and married and have a child, so what?) And he was right about me liking the movie because gorgeous Bradley Cooper plays a writer in this movie (a gorgeous writer!)Bradley-Cooper1

(photo source)

I keep digressing.

Although the movie is about making mistakes, trying to correct them and redeeming oneself, what moved me most was a couple of lines uttered, not by gorgeous Bradley Cooper, but by Jeremy Irons.

The old man (Jeremy Irons) spoke about that period when he wrote the novel, how he forgot to eat, how the words just flowed from nowhere, and he just kept on writing. He was inspired. The muse came to visit him, but never came back after that. That’s my favorite scene.

When I watched that scene, I felt like it was I telling the story. I experienced those same feelings over twenty years ago when I wrote my very first short story –a love story– at two o’clock in the morning. Earlier that evening I saw a scene from a romantic movie, the silhouette of a man and a woman standing on the beach, watching the sunset. That scene stayed with me even after I fell asleep. Then in the middle of the night, I woke up and felt the need to write something. And I did. My hand shook as I was writing, and I was writing so quickly as the words just kept coming, flowing, and I was afraid I would lose them if I failed to write them right away, like sands slipping through the fingers. When I finished I felt exhausted but at the same time relieved that it was over. That was the first time the muse came to me. And it never came again.

Last week I could not write anything. Or I could have, but I did not and still do not want to write about anything  depressingly  sad  and those were all I encountered last week: a friend getting divorced, a friend thinking of breaking up with his girlfriend, a young person I know passed away (RIP). When I told my husband I could not write anything, he just said “Don’t force yourself to write or you will just write something that says nothing.”

And he’s right. I cannot will myself to write. I always need something to make me write. I am not a writer.

But I can always be an aspiring writer.