Month: January 2022

Books

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: A Beautiful, Honest, and Hilarious Story That Argues That Human Connection Is An Antidote to Loneliness

Trigger Warning: this book discusses self-harm, suicide, depression, and alcoholism.

Pros

  • Features a hilarious and intriguing main character
  • Eleanor keeps her individuality while learning to love others and care for their needs and her own
  • Keeps the reader hooked, even in slower plotlines
  • Lovable side characters
  • Good message of love and human connectivity
  • Well written take on introverts, trauma, mental health (depression, alcoholism), and the effects of self-isolation

CONS

  • I didn’t see many cons
  • Makeover scene: the message seemed to promote spending money for looks
  • Overemphasis on social rituals

Over the summer, I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I was looking at the book as an Easter gift my mom bought for me to read at the beach. I actually started reading before I went to the beach, which is surprising. I’m an English major, so usually after finals, the last thing I want to do is stare at paper for hours and absorb words. I usually feel hesitant to read again after finals, but the cover drew me in.

My copy of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine has an eye-catching bright blue and orange design, and it features our heroine with her arms crossed over her. She’s almost insisting to us that she is completely fine after all. I read the back and was intrigued too. What sort of character is this? Then I read that Reese Witherspoon recommended this book, so I was encouraged. I have never read a Reese Witherspoon-approved novel before, but I trust her taste. I was right to do so. 

Eleanor Oliphant is a nearly thirty-year-old woman who has never been particularly social. She works in an office, she does crossword puzzles, and she lives a rather boring life. But when I read her perspective, I found that I was not, for even a second, bored.

Getting inside Eleanor’s head was going through a funhouse, you never know what you will see next and everything you see comes out of nowhere and is intensely amusing. I hardly put the book down. Eleanor’s wit is often unintentional but fantastic.

She has no idea how funny and unusual she is because she grew up isolated from most people. After her mother went away, Eleanor was shuffled between foster homes. She never had stability or comfort and her abusive mother regularly calls her every single Wednesday to insult her. This mother is terrifying. Every phone call is emotionally abusive. I never met a woman like this and I never hope to. Eleanor did not have friends growing up either, so she is very unskilled regarding understanding and following social norms. For example, in one scene she goes to a dance. Eleanor is trying to learn how to dance and interact with people at a party, but she has never danced before.

“Free-form jigging, communal shapes in the air; Dancing was easy!…YMCA! YMCA! Arms in the air, mimicking the letters – what a marvelous idea! Who knew that dancing could be so logical? …From my limited exposure to popular music, people did seem to sing about umbrellas and firstarting and Emily Bronte novels, so, I supposed, why not a gender-and faith-based youth organization?”

Eleanor on dancing

She describes the world the way someone unfamiliar with it would. Rather than being cast off as an odd recluse or weirdo, her differences make her unique and lovable. Her perspective is honest and looks at human life in ways I haven’t considered before. The social rituals that we go through make little sense on the outside, and she can see the beauty and humor in them.

Eleanor’s keen sense of humor keeps the book interesting, even though there are often scenes where not much happens. The simple experience of shopping at a grocery store is wonderful and hilarious to witness. There was also very little filler. All the scenes, big and small, impact the plot. Part of Eleanor’s journey is her goal to meet a man she has seen once in person. To Eleanor, he is intellectually fascinating, extremely handsome, and a genuine person. He is also a semi-famous musician. She is ambitious, so I will give her that.

If we look at side characters, almost everyone is equally lovely. Eleanor runs into particular trouble when she and the IT guy, Raymond, end up saving a stranger’s life together. The unexpected event leads them on an adventure that neither expected.

Raymond is such a delightful character. He is not someone Eleanor would ever choose to associate with, his wardrobe consists of graphic tees and jogging shoes, which Eleanor remarks are primarily worn by people who never set foot in a gym. He spends most weekends playing video games until dawn, and he lacks table manners. Eleanor grew up learning to imitate high society and about the importance of putting a fork in the right place at all times. They make quite the pair.

The man that they save, Sammy, is also delightful. He is a kind man who introduces them to his family. The story is one of found families. Family is foraged from love, rather than blood. Though blood and love often coexist. Raymond’s mother also makes an appearance, and she is lovely.

The novel tells us that the meaning of life and reason to live is human connection. The relationships that Eleanor develops encourage and help her when she is miserable. I found this message to be both uplifting and a little lacking.

The show also mentions human rituals as a meaningful aspect of life, and Eleanor gushes over her makeover and gets her nails done. These rituals require a deal of wealth and material success; Eleanor can easily afford to get her hair, nails, and toes done because she can afford to drop over a hundred dollars. Her experiences at the hair and nail salons felt a little romanticized. I enjoy getting my nails done and my hair cut as much as the next person, but they do not feel like the meaningful rituals that connect me and create an intimacy between myself and the people who perform them for me. If these are are a primary way to happiness, only those with the money can afford these luxuries. The novel also ignores that the people who do her hairdo work to eat and provide for themselves. They may be tired after a long day and just want to go home. It is an act of service, I suppose, but it feels a little shallow. The nail stylist does not necessarily want to interact with Eleanor or help her look good or whatever. The novel shows that the people don’t always care, but Eleanor’s romanticization makes it feel like we should agree with her.

Outside of material good, the novel does mention the beauty of nature a little. There is one particular scene where Eleanor and Raymond are walking outdoors, and they look at the beauty of the sunset. That moment is fleeting but beautiful. A case for the good in nature rather than hair products is probably preferable if we seek a moral center.

The message seems to be a humanist one. Humanism is a philosophy that affirms human importance rather than the importance of the divine. The novel does not offer religion or spirituality as a way to find meaning, grace, or purpose. Eleanor doesn’t believe, nor does anyone else.

A humanist method of seeing the world can have problems. I loved this book, but it is also interesting to pay attention to the views it promotes. Otherwise, honestly, I don’t have a lot of critiques for this book. It was well written, and the humor and scenes of connection between people were beyond beautiful.

However, there are other aspects to life than human beings: the appreciation of nature, a desire to learn about religion, and care for animals. Eleanor does get a pet cat, so she does connect with animals and a being other than humans. The cat was adorable. I was a bit skeptical at a couple of parts of the novel, though. Human connection is also not so perfect and pure at times. The novel is not open to religion or other ideas as an aid or solution, so the cure relies on humans and our ability to care for each other.

I will say the novel felt a little idealistic at times. Her coworkers, for instance, who disliked her before, throw a party for her. It feels a bit off. It was nice to see the people she works with putting her needs before their prejudices. They saw that she was struggling and were empathetic, even if she was a little odd. We must look out and care for each other. W.H. Auden says that “we must love one another or die.” That is brutal, but it is the reality of both life and this book. Without love for each other, life is simply worth living.

Look, Eleanor has her hobbies. She does her crossword puzzles and her daily rituals. Eleanor completes many tasks that the CDC would recommend for a healthy life: seeing people at work five days a week, going outside on walks, reading regularly, eating regular meals, and a well-balanced diet. Eleanor is also a professional success; she is a good employee, she works hard, and keeps her job. She doesn’t take sick days, she returns back from the weekends with her stress forgotten; she never lets her personal life affect the job. She attended university, and she keeps her brain active with puzzles…I could go on. But even if she didn’t live with trauma and depression, I don’t think Eleanor would be happy and satified with this alone. 

I think the point is that none of us should be. Gail Honeyman said of the book:

“Eleanor Oliphant isn’t me, or anyone I know [but] of course I’ve felt loneliness-everyone does.”

Gail Honeyman

The novel addresses the loneliness inside us and that everyone needs somebody. We need others and we need to be there for others when they are around and when they are alive. After all, we don’t live forever. The novel reminds us of that. I think this novel could show life as absolutely perfect if not for the fact that it ends.

The sections about death were tragic. Eleanor has no hope for an afterlife or anything beyond. It is sad, but the novel shows that death is part of life for all of us. Eleanor accepts death as a fact of life and still celebrates all the joys of living. Eleanor Oliphant’s world is filled with life. There are people on the bus and friends all around, there are parties and dancing and going to coffee with friends–those moments make life worth living for Eleanor. Her friendships and interactions with others are well-written and funny. To get on a less morbid topic, let’s talk about makeovers.

One of Eleanor’s decisions to get her crush, the musician, to like her is to get a makeover. I rarely like makeover scenes in movies, because they usually start with a protagonist who is happy with their appearance and then changes so that a love interest finds them attractive and so they can fit in with the popular kids. Eleanor’s makeover also made it seem like she had to change to be accepted by her coworkers. She keeps her sense of humor, but why does she have to get a makeover? This feels like a Disney movie. Eleanor is an adult, she shouldn’t have to change her appearance, which was nice. She took care of her appearance, so it is not like she was careless and sloppy or anything.

I also wish she’d stayed in touch with Sammy, the man whose life she saved’s family more. I would have liked to see her and Laura become friends, it seemed like a no-brainer. To pair a person who is more focused on appearances with a friend who doesn’t care at all could be entertaining. It would have been nice to have two close friends. Both could learn from each other, and Laura seemed pretty chill from what we know about her. They could learn from each other and support each other; after all, they both knew Sammy.

Otherwise, I found the novel uplifting. The message is that when you feel down and lonely, spending time with others is of great benefit. Eleanor learns this and also builds a friendship with Raymond. She doesn’t have to do life alone. She has a friend, and she also starts going to a counselor. The positive portrayal of seeking help was nice. Sometimes you need help in a professional setting as well.

It was also nice to watch Eleanor remain true to herself. She still likes crossword puzzles and has her quirky sense of humor, and no one expects or demands her to change. She also learns to accept others for who they are and to reserve judgment before knowing someone.

I cannot say enough how much I loved Raymond and their relationship. He is incredibly sweet and caring. His outgoing dorkiness and kindness are a perfect match for her blunt and nerdy eccentricity.

When I first read the description, I was expecting a romance between Eleanor and the IT guy (Raymond) to be the main plot, and I was pleasantly surprised when it was not the case. So many stories show the socially isolated and damaged characters finding a love interest that shows them how to live life to the fullest. Realistically, it is probably Eleanor needs time to work on herself and then start dating someone. Unfortunately, this is rarely true in a ton of books I see.

Like those romance covers that talk about a “bad boy” with a troubled past who finds a woman to love, and then she fixes him, and everything is okay, that is stupid. Eleanor thinks finding a guy will help her and she chases the hottest one she can find, but he is a terrible person. He also doesn’t care about a stranger he’s never met. He is a selfish idiot. I don’t get why any other results could have occurred if we look at the situation realistically. 

Confession: I have never read one of these bad-boy romance books, but I feel like I see them everywhere.

Honeyman’s decision to focus on Eleanor’s growth as a character is truly refreshing. There is a hint that something romantic might happen with them in the end, but it feels right. They have become friends first. Maybe dating could work out for them, maybe it wouldn’t, but the book gives us hope that their friendship will continue no matter what. She has a solid friendship and learns that isolation is not the answer.

Eleanor initially believes she is strong for being alone. She is independent, she doesn’t need anybody.

“Some people, weak people, fear solitude. What they fail to understand is that you don’t need anyone, you can take care of yourself.”

Eleanor

Is there a case that sometimes we need to be alone? Absolutely. Learning to enjoy quiet and solitude is an important life skill. It is a good thing to be able to spend a Friday night alone without plans and enjoy spending time by yourself. Friends sometimes have plans, and sometimes people are busy when you are free. You can learn from spending part of your day alone, but should we do this all the time? Absolutely not. After all, we do live in a community; life wasn’t meant to be lived alone. Humans are social creatures.

So, thinking of our need for others, I ask is Eleanor Completely Fine? The answer is no. No one is fine; nobody is perfectly happy alone. We all need alone time. Some need alone time more than others. That is why many introverts relate to this book; it is about being alone and how we like being alone, just not all the time. We all need other humans and to live in a community with each other. When we’re struggling, staying by ourselves isn’t always the answer.

It wasn’t the answer for Eleanor. Spending time with others gets us out of our heads, we can see how others live, how they experience life, and we can learn from them and care about them as they do for us. We need friends, and sometimes we need professional help to sort ourselves out.

Eleanor is a character who rejects using socially acceptable language. She is blunt and doesn’t think to stop and think before speaking. The word filter has probably never crossed her mind. Falsities are not Eleanor Oliphant, but she does tell one lie in particular. Eleanor is a woman with a giant vocabulary. Eleanor possesses extensive knowledge of words and language, but this one social norm cannot escape her, as it does for most of us. It is in conversation, under a burden of pain, that Eleanor grasps for one of the most overused expressions in the English language. When people ask how she is doing Eleanor Oliphant replies: “I am fine.”

If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”

Eleanor Oliphant

To say this broke my heart would be an understatement. I want to reach out to Eleanor and, luckily, she has someone who does, and says to her. To quote Five Seconds of Summer, Eleanor, you are not fine; you’re really not fine at all, and that is okay. You don’t have to be, right now. You are not alone.

Have you read or heard of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine or have you read any novels with an odd protagonist and a human-centered message? I have a feeling there are more Eleanors to come, and I’m curious to see what they look like. There is also a movie coming out, which I am both excited and nervous about. As always, let me know down in the comments below.

Chronicles of the Muse, Shows

Violet Evergarden Shows That Empathy Can Be Learned Through Writing

Violet Evergarden Shows That Empathy Can Be Learned Through Writing

Anime Review (with spoilers):

Violet Evergarden Season 1

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Trigger Warning: This show covers a suicide attempt, PTSD, and war violence.

Written by Paige Wilson and Ashley Ostrowski.

Overview

Pros

  • Shows the power of writing
  • Beautiful animation
  • Amazing art style
  • Accurate depictions of trauma and PTSD
  • Emotionally impactful episodes
  • Realistic development of empathy through interaction with others
  • Great music

Cons

  • Many viewers found it boring, at least at first
  • It would have been a bit better to get more character development for characters other than Violet
  • It was never explained how she became a killing machine or why she became a weapon
  • Episodic feel can leave one wanting more

Observations

  • Violet’s experiences are not very relatable for most people

Warning: Spoilers below!

Review

Violet Evergarden Season 1 is an anime that was released in 2018. It can currently be streamed on Netflix.

Violet is a 14-year-old orphan who was trained to be a weapon of the military in the fictional country of Leiden. Even though Leiden exists in a fictional universe, the anime feels like it takes place in 19th century Europe.

After a pivotal battle in which Violet loses her arms, she wakes up in the hospital and immediately wants to return to her post. The war, however, has been declared over. Having lived her whole life as a soldier as long as she can remember, she does not know how to live a civilian life and act without taking orders. She chooses to work as an “auto memory doll,” which is basically a nickname for the ghostwriters who write other people’s letters for them. Her reasoning behind this is that it will help her to learn the meaning of the words “I love you,” which are the last words spoken to her by Major Gilbert. Gilbert was the one who taught her to read and write and treated her like a person when other officials in the military treated her like a tool.

Gilbert gave her the name Violet; before that she didn’t have any name. Violets can symbolize truth, loyalty, grace, and gentleness. These are all qualities Gilbert wanted for Violet. He wanted her to just be able to live her life well, to not be resigned to a life of violence, and to grow up to be a wonderful young woman.

Violet already has some of the qualities symbolized by the color and the flower violet. She is very honest and straightforward. She does not lie and cannot understand when other people are lying. She is intensely loyal to Major Gilbert. And she is kind of graceful in a way, in the way that martial artists are graceful even when meting out violence. Gentleness is not a quality she has in great supply–she only knows how to be a soldier.

Major Gilbert helps her transition to civilian life even while in the military by treating her like a person rather than a machine. For example, he takes Violet into town and says that she can buy anything that she likes at the market. Violet is confused at first and doesn’t know what to get. She spots an emerald broach at a street corner that is the precise color of the Major’s eyes and she wants it. He buys it for her and she wears it all the time to remember him.

Violet is 14 when we meet her and she is stunted emotionally. At the beginning she is also expressionless nearly all of the time. It is not until she hears the sad story of a father who lost his daughter that she cries for the first time ever.

It is the process of writing letters for people that teaches her empathy. At first, her letters are excessively formal to the point of being more like a technical report than a heartfelt message.

As she continues to write letters, she grows in empathy and in her fluency of writing emotions on paper. She begins to feel regret and guilt for the deeds she did as a weapon of the military. She gains a much deeper understanding of human emotions with every letter she writes.

Violet develops short but meaningful relationships with several of the people who ask her to write letters over the course of each episode. Her episode with Clara Magnolia stands out in particular. Clara is a dying widow with a young daughter, Ann, who asks Violet to write several letters over the course of a week. Violet acts as a sort of babysitter to Ann, as Ann wants to spend time with her mother in the last days of her life, but her mother insists on writing letters. We as an audience get more and more frustrated with the mother for not spending more time with her child. It turns out that Clara was writing birthday letters to her daughter for the next fifty years. It was so sad. Did you cry? We both cried. The audience sees Ann receiving her first letter on the next birthday and we see Ann read more letters as she reaches a new birthday. It is a twist we hadn’t guessed, and it hits hard.

Princess Charlotte’s episode is also particularly memorable. Charlotte is going to be in an arranged marriage with Prince Damian of Flugel. When she is first on-screen, it seems like she is a young girl who is put into a marriage that she does not want to a man she has never met. She tells Violet she has no idea what to say in her letters, which are supposed to be flowery and romantic so that the public can see them. It turns out that Damian was the one who comforted her at a party when she was upset, and she really appreciated him. She did not know what to say because she liked him. Violet’s letters to Damian seem emotionless, and Damian’s letters to her also seem overly formal. She knows how she feels about Damian, but she doesn’t know if he feels the same. Princess Charlotte is upset. Violet suggests that they should write their own letters and it turns out he does. The kingdoms are intrigued by their passionate letters to each other and their wedding is a big celebration of love.

After a while, Violet finds out that Gilbert is presumed dead. It devastates her at first and it takes her a long time to recover. Nevertheless, she never truly accepts or believes that he is dead. It takes her a while to form relationships with the new people in her life, her new coworkers.

The first person to care about Violet is Claudia Hodgins, a man Gilbert asked to take care of Violet for him. He helps her find her first job. Violet meets many people when she gets her new job. Cattleya Baudelaire, Benedict Blue, Iris Canary, and Erica Brown are her coworkers. We get to know Iris in an episode, but the others aren’t as developed. They are likable, but they don’t get much screentime.

Is Gilbert alive? The story ends with an airshow where letters are dropped from the sky. Violet writes a letter for the Major where she tells him she believes that he is alive. We see Gilbert’s wounded body and we see him tell Violet to live, but we never see Gilbert dead. We see Violet at the end visiting a person to write a letter for them, and see a look of surprise when she sees their face, but we are not shown for sure whether this is Gilbert or if she is surprised for some other reason.

Another thing to note is the realism of the series. On Youtube, there is an excellent video where a veteran was interviewed about whether Violet Evergarden’s experience during and after the war was accurate compared to the experience of actual soldiers and veterans.

The veteran said her experience was exaggerated and yet largely accurate.

Some points that stood out to him:

Violet at one point tries to strangle herself. Her suicide attempt was true of many veteran experiences since suicide rates are relatively high among that demographic. The veteran said the episode with the suicide attempt “nailed it,” and was one of the hardest parts for him to watch because he lost several of his own war buddies to suicide.

When Violet tries to save the Major in the last battle before the end of the war, she fails to think straight and clear the area before rushing in to save him. The veteran said that was an instance of her emotions getting the better of her and said that was probably part of the reason she lost her arms and had to have them replaced with metal prosthetics.

The veteran also said that the way she crushed her emotions down was very understandable based on his own experience, and that he could appreciate why she had trouble interacting empathetically after living her entire life in the military.

He also said that he was annoyed about Violet saluting civilians randomly. He said that sort of thing didn’t really carry over into civilian life, but he could see why the creators chose to do this since all Violet ever knew was the military.

A final thing he noted as important was Violet’s nightmares–he said he experienced many nightmares and could relate to that.

The music in this anime is absolutely beautiful, the intro especially.

The intro song is called “Sincerely” by TRUE. It is about the power of words. The singer sings about learning words she didn’t know, which brings memories to the surface. She explains that there are words she may be incapable of understanding without the help of others. Specifically, the words “goodbye” and “I love you” are held up as special and powerful. They cause longing. The lyrics say that words do not have to be spoken to hold weight, they can cut to the heart even while they are unspoken but felt or read.

The outro song is called Michishirube and is by Minori Chihara. One of the lines from it, when translated into English describes a nameless flower that has found peace. This, to us, really describes Violet as she comes to terms with her actions during the war and accepts her new life as an auto memory doll.

The art style and animation are beautiful, especially when they show water or light as you can see above. The attention to detail is excellent and the character design is stunning. We see the characters in the snow, farmland, below the starry sky, and on the lake–among other settings.

In conclusion, we fully recommend this anime. We are aware that many people found the beginning boring, but we found that the development, in the beginning, was necessary and not really that boring. Although the anime has a very episodic feel that at times left us wanting more, there was a continued theme of Violet developing empathy. It is confusing why the military would choose a random 14-year-old orphan girl to use as a weapon, but we hold out hope that this will be explained in later seasons.

We will be putting out a podcast episode next week where we will share our opinions, so keep an eye out!

Books

The Fight Against Sameness: Why The Giver is Still Relevant and How it Mirrors Plato’s Philosophy

Pros

  • Good introduction to dystopian fiction
  • Well-constructed worldbuilding
  • The pacing feels just right- it kept me hooked and I finished reading in a few days
  • The relationships felt genuine
  • It isn’t black and white
  • Affirmation of love (family, friends, romantic), showing a wide range of emotions, the beauty of nature, and individuality
  • Connects to Plato’s philosophy in an intriguing way

Cons

  • Somewhat unrealistic- I can’t picture this community existing for as long as it has in real life

Over winter break, I decided to return to a book from my youth. It brings back simpler times, times before I had to think about questions like what job should I get or what classes should I take in my final semester. Instead, the questions were more: how would I overthrow a totalitarian government? Is the reality I experience true or a product of a carefully manufactured utopian community I was born into? I miss reading and asking those questions.

Just by looking at the cover, I feel like The Giver is covering some real philosophical stuff. Trees and men with long beards remind me of wisdom. Both also remind me of Duck Dynasty, but this isn’t based on a TV show, thankfully.

It all begins with Jonas, a twelve-year-old boy who lives in a closed-off community where everything is perfect, or so it seems. It has been perfectly created so there is no fear, pain, or accidental pregnancy. Everyone lives in identical houses, food is delivered to families, everyone rides bicycles instead of cars, and a spouse is assigned to them, based on compatibility, by the Elders. They also choose their careers in the December of their twelfth year. Why do the Elders have so much power? No one knows, but they watch you and learn what will suit your talents.

If you haven’t heard of this novel or missed it on your seventh-grade syllabus, The Giver is a dystopian novel written by Lois Lowry in 1993. It is one of those stories that I vividly remember reading in middle school. I’m not sure if I finished the book back then, but I saw the movie, and the ideas sealed into my mind.

Jonas’ community sounds a little tempting, like, where can we sign up? There is no hassle or stress at picking a job, no interviews, no troubles conceiving babies, and no one has to worry about finding someone to marry. Imagine not having to worry about getting into a car crash or being late to work because of morning traffic. We also don’t have to worry about air pollution from cars. Riding bicycles everywhere sounds like a blast and great for the environment as well.

Imagine a world without pain, where all our stress could be solved by sitting around the table with our families and talking about our feelings. These parts sound nice. Jonas has a family and two good friends- an outgoing and fun-loving boy named Asher and a quiet and sweet girl named Fiona. They have fun and ride bikes together and seem to have a typical childhood. So, it isn’t too bad.

After childhood, there is work, and people get great pleasure out of their jobs because they are chosen for them by the Elders. The Elders study us and figure out what works best with our talents, so they really know what will make them happy. Jonas’ father, for example, is a nurturer. He loves taking care of babies and gets so much joy out of seeing their small faces.

But of course, this is a dystopian novel. The community has good elements, after all, it is trying to be perfect and safe, but there are also parts that make me grateful I have to apply on LinkedIn.

There are no books, TVs, video games, or even stories in Jonas’ community. People are only allowed to read rule books. This sounds like absolute misery. There is a book that tells people about their ancestors, which they can go into town and look up. Family history cannot even be compiled privately. People cannot create things of their own. It all belongs to the community. In The Giver, no one ever goes to a play or reads a novel. They just work and talk and ride bikes. It sounds pretty boring.

The stories they tell are the ones they experience in their lives, but they all seem to run together. They are all the same. Whenever Jonas’ family talks about their day at the dinner table, the story usually goes like this: a person at work or school broke the rules and it bothered them. They tell the family they made a fist out of anger and then the family reassures them by giving reasons why people would break the rules. They are told to understand the other person’s actions and let go. This happens every day. You would think that Lily would learn, but she just keeps telling the same stories day after day.

This isn’t to say that the families are terrible. The scenes with the family unit, as the book calls them, were often some of my favorite scenes to watch. Jonas’ family cares for each other deeply. I particularly enjoyed Jonas’ father. He is very kind. The family eats dinner together every night, and they make fun of the community’s rules. Not everything is robotic. They know the system is screwed, on some level. It takes forever to learn Jonas’ parents also are there for him when he is nervous about the ceremony of the twelve.

While there is no pain, there is also little joy. All emotions feel stifled and simplified. It just feels like there could be something more. The community values the precision of language. People apologize whenever they do something wrong, and the other person has to forgive them. Happiness does exist, but it is contained, labeled, and structured within what the community finds appropriate. Imagine developing a crush on a classmate, and then your parents tell you to start taking a pill every day.

I’ll talk about the positives for a minute. I enjoyed watching Jonas meet The Giver and learn about him. The scenes of them together are pleasant and well written. I feel like I’m reading a well-written answer to a writing prompt that asks the writer to describe one of the senses to someone who hasn’t experienced them. Lowry shows joy in experiencing the little things and spending time with nature and with friends and family. The relationship between Jonas and The Giver is another great part of the book.

I found it kind of weird that Lowry decided to capitalize words like “Laborers”, “The Old”, and “Ceremony.” Oh no! The Old, Laborers! What could those words possibly mean? How could society ever say their names out loud? I guess calling them “The Old” stigmatizes them, but it also doesn’t make much sense logically. It does make sense since people are generally made to work and be active participants in the community. Younger and older people are seen as unimportant. Also, calling people by their professions shows how people are sorted into a group and isolated from other professions.

I read a few GoodReads reviews, and overall, lots of people love this book. The Giver introduced me to dystopias, and I learned to love seeing characters watch the world around them unravel. It alludes to The Matrix, 1984, and Brave New World. I didn’t notice this until I got older, but they are just like the Matrix, with the pills. It is also unique enough that I wanted to keep reading. It didn’t feel too cliche and it was a great introduction for my middle-school self to question the world around me.

It made me think about what is most important in life. Sameness, keeping life contained and perfect isn’t the answer. We are not the same. A life without joy, hope, love, sadness, and pain is not a life worth living. Although life can be painful, it also can be good. While it doesn’t feel like it could happen, the book has a certain relevance that any timeless novel possesses. It stresses the importance of values and expression and it could be read ten years ago today, or fifty years from now, and someone could still learn from it. The Giver is a story about a closed-off community more than anything, and no one wonders if there is a chance to make everything better until someone starts to see how good life could be.

The story is about the fight against sameness, against the world falling under a single government, a single way of living. The characters aren’t even aware that they have another choice. It is heartbreaking when you get to the end.

If you haven’t read The Giver before, I’d recommend checking it out! It is an intriguing story and I want to learn more about Jonas and the world he lives in. There are also three more books in the trilogy, which I may check out.

Interesting things I noticed (minor spoilers below)

The structures they live in are also incredibly rigid. Families consist of a mother, father, son, and daughter. You have to go through the Elders for everything, and you can’t choose to Technically parents have to apply for children. Women named birthmothers are the ones who have all the babies. So, no one is allowed to procreate. They aren’t aware that they can have children without the government or marry someone other than who the elders assign them. Couples technically can choose not to request children from the state, and you are allowed to be single. The government will deny a spouse or children to those they deem not good enough. Even if you aren’t released, the government can still strip your rights. Jonas, our twelve-year-old protagonist, feels sorry for a character who was single and without children. As a child, he already is judgy. While singleness and childlessness are allowed, they are undesirable options rather than simply options.

The Giver gives Jonas memories about the life that people lived before the community was formed. Jonas’ first memory contains colors, and he realizes that the world as he knew it was in black and white. I’m not sure how possible this could be in real life, but it is a powerful image. As soon as Jonas discovers colors, he is fascinated by them and never wants to go back.

It is weird that twelve-year-olds basically train to be adults. These kids aren’t allowed to be adolescents. The community teaches them not to want things or have desires beyond what the state eventually grants them. Children under nine want bikes and, those under twelve might be excited to get a job, but afterward, everything is supposed to be perfect. Wouldn’t even a job that suits your talents–get boring? Why hasn’t anyone else questioned this system?

Also, the notion of The Giver seems dangerous. Why would you let one person keep all the memories of the past? Isn’t this abusive, forcing one man to bear the world’s pain at a time? It seems like it is sufficient to destroy all the memories. After all, they barely ask The Giver for advice in the first place. They are asking for a rebellion if they let one person know information that they don’t know. After all, he could simply release all the memories, hide out in the woods, and leave everyone else to process the past.

Releasing people was heartbreaking. I guess it shows our duality. Jonas’ father could be so loving towards Gabriel but he also kills a newborn. I feel like he had to know what he was doing on some level, but he didn’t see he had a choice. Dystopian novels always seem to show how easily we’ll do something we’d never do if we’re following orders. It is terrifying. It is just what they do and no one has been taught critical thinking. They don’t even think to rebel.

I kind of wish that the girl who was The Giver before Jonas was still alive. Her story broke my heart a little. She would have been so cool. Also, it would be nice to have a cool female character along with Jonas. But, oh well, plot… I suppose.

Gabriel was adorable. I loved watching him with Jonas and his father. I loved how Jonas gave Gabriel some of the memories of the past. I might have to read the next books in the series to find out what happens to him.

Relationship to Plato’s Theory of the Forms

Plato said that the objects of this world are merely shadows of the larger Forms. He theorizes that we knew of the Forms before our birth, but we have forgotten them. What are the Forms? They are a perfect, eternal version of the objects and feelings we experience in this life. I’ll give an example. Imagine looking at a sunset and thinking that it is beautiful. Plato would argue that the sunset is not perfectly beautiful, it is lacking something. He would say that looking at the sunset points us to the idea of Beauty, but somewhere, there is a form of perfect beauty. The sunset merely points us towards a perfect Beauty.

The theory of the forms also implies that we had some sort of life experience before birth. The Giver seems to allude to Plato’s Allegory of the cave, which describes a man who is chained in darkness. He is chained with other prisoners against a rock and they are watching shadows on the walls of the cave. He breaks out of the cave and starts to see the world beyond which is lit by the sun. But, before he can see the sun, he must see the world lit by the sun. Looking directly at the sun, the source of all goods would be too intense to understand. He then learns that the shadows on the walls were mere reflections of the real world. He looks at the grass lit by the sun, and the trees for example, and appreciates their beauty.

So, how does someone get out of the cave? Well, Plato believed that everyone was born ignorant and that it took a philosopher-king to teach others about the beauty of the Forms. The philosopher-king would be the one to lead the ignorant populace out of the cave and into the light.

Jonas’ Education and Plato’s Journey

Jonas goes on a similar journey to Plato’s cave. Like Plato, he realizes that everyone around him is ignorant and living in darkness. He learns that there are deeper emotions than the enjoyment he has joking with friends and family.

Jonas is a chosen one. He occasionally sees flashes of how the world is supposed to be. He sees flashes of color and is chosen to receive memories of the past world. Jonas is assigned the job as the giver. He meets with the previous giver, who passes down the memories of how life used to be.

The world of The Giver is horrifying. The current giver, an aging man is required to hold all the memories of life before all the joy and pain. So, this man isn’t the just only person to remember suffering, he has to remember the suffering of many generations that came before him. I’m not sure if the giver holds the memories of the entire human history or if it is as far back as they can remember, but the poor man must have so much emotional stress.

I don’t understand the committee. A man with this knowledge could easily just escape the community and leave the people with the memories. That is all it takes, for The Giver can wreak havoc in one night. Then he could leave the community behind and forget the painful memories he experiences. On the committee’s part, this feels pretty stupid. Luckily, the giver cares about the community, likely because he has seen pain and suffering and doesn’t want them to suffer. Jonas imagines leaving the community behind but realizes it would be a bad idea. He loves his family and friends. Oddly enough, the community relies on the giver’s empathy to sustain them.

The giver is like a philosopher-king. He slowly gives Jonas memories of life before the community began. Jonas first rides on a sled and experiences joy for the first time. The exhilaration is nothing like he has experienced before. These memories. The experience of riding sled points to a greater emotion of joy.

When Jonas first discovers colors, he is attached to the things of this world themselves rather than their greater significance. For example, he has this conversation with The Giver.

“Of course. When you receive the memories, you have the capacity to see beyond. You’ll gain wisdom, then along with colors. And lots more.”

Jonas wasn’t interested, just then, in wisdom. It was the colors that fascinated him.

He is focused more on the sensory experience of color, which is completely beautiful, but he doesn’t understand the larger significance. After years of seeing without color, his eyes are opened up to so much more. It is not bad that he doesn’t long for wisdom yet, because his attraction to colors only points him to the most important things.

The best example of this is the scene when Jonas sees a family of parents, grandparents, and children on Christmas opening gifts. He associates the feeling with warmth and comes to realize that the experience is love. Then the book hits me in the gut. He asks his parents if they love him, and they tell him that love is a generalized word. While they are proud of his achievements and enjoy his company– they do not love him. They do not know what the word means.

Emotions are not just words, they need to be felt. Most of the memories that the giver gives Jonas contain few words. Jonas rides on a sled, takes a boat ride, gets sunburn, and watches a boy die in the army. Technical, exact language can describe those experiences, but sometimes feelings need to be felt.

Jonas realizes this at a typical family dinner conversation where Lily says she is angry at another student who broke rules at the play area. Her family comforts her with words.

“But what Lily felt was not anger, Jonas realized now. Shallow impatience and exasperation, that was all Lily had felt. He knew that with certainty because now he knew what anger was. Now he had, in the memories, experienced injustice and cruelty, and he had reacted with rage that welled up so passionately inside him that the thought of discussing it calmly at the evening meal was unthinkable.”

The feelings people experience in the community are merely shadows of the feelings people are truly capable of. Plato is all over this book. The major difference is that Jonas’ world literally exists because the government wants to keep the world the same, but Plato’s Forms are abstract.

Have you read The Giver before? Have you ever returned to a book that stuck with you when you were younger? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Movies

Political Satire of the Year? Don’t Look Up Spoiler-Free Review

I feel like I’ve been watching a reality show for the past 6 years. Life is dramatic and outlandish. The news feels like something from a sci-fi movie or from a teen dystopia. Reality TV is unrealistic; it asks why any rational person would act or believe the things they do. I question the notion that people really want to know the truth when I see how certain reality tv actors are; they believe their story is correct, no matter how many times the rest of the cast proves that they are wrong. What people really want is a truth that benefits their self-interest. The answer to that question is that people are inherently irrational. Our irrationality has been with us long before the pandemic and long before the movies.  

I’ve heard quite often that 2021 wasn’t the best year, though I wonder, when did we have a good year? Our world has always had irrational people and people have been satirizing life forever. The drama of the satire is pointing out the vices and flaws of society and the best satire, in my opinion, points out flaws that we can find not just in the higher-ups, but in ourselves. The best satire can call out the people who need to be called out, as well as ourselves and our complicity.  

The movie Don’t Look Up begins when Ph.D. student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers a meteor in a telescope that will crash to Earth in six months. All human life will end when the meteor hits. This is guaranteed. She and her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), head to Washington DC to tell the President about this incoming doom. The midterm elections are coming soon, and let’s just say–this will not be good. 

Are you hooked yet? For this review, I am going to talk about both reasons to watch Don’t Look Up and some reasons the movie might not be for you. 

Reasons to Watch  

  1. Relevant Political Satire 

Don’t Look Up takes place in America and addresses the current political climate using dark humor. Don’t Look Up portrays the press, tv news, and big tech companies as utterly selfish and shallow. Light and fluffy sells, and drama make a fascinating story as long as it does not personally hurt us or challenge the comfortable ideologies and lifestyles we have settled into. We want shallowness and to feel placated, and this film shies away from nothing. The movie criticizes our selfishness, and it doesn’t just blame one group of people. The US government, owners of corporations, and media are responsible for the most damage, and they are called out rightfully. However, as the film depicts, all of America is afflicted by ignorance and self-interest, not just the higher-ups. 

The film’s president (played by Meryl Streep) is a self-centered politician who cares more about maintaining her position of power over public needs. Trump is never referenced outright, but she shares obvious similarities with him. The movie also jokes about how immoral politicians try to incorporate God, human values, and love in speeches all the while having affairs and lying out of self-interest. The film mixes exaggeration with realism well. For instance, the president wears a hat that says “Don’t Look Up” and stands behind a giant American flag. They also go to great lengths to downplay the numbers of the meteor. The president requests the scientists if she can tell the public the percentage that the meteor will hit the earth is 70% rather than nearly 100%. Lower numbers will not alarm the public before the midterm election. These jokes are based on Trump’s MAGA hat and his use of the phrase ‘” alternative facts.” It is one of those comedies where I didn’t laugh out loud a ton, but I appreciated the humor. 

The movie idea existed before the pandemic, but it bears many similarities. The movie is meant to be a metaphor for climate change, and it feels relevant to both issues. In general, science is treated the same way about both issues.

2. Realistic Portrayal of Scientists and Human Nature 

I read a few reviews online, and scientists have applauded this movie for its portrayal of their experiences. They share Randall and Kate’s frustration with the public, politicians, and media when they ignore, belittle, and undermine the research they have carefully compiled to present to them. Scientists try to tell people about climate change and vaccines, but their words are politicized, minimized, and altered in favor of answers that don’t disrupt or challenge their way of living. When a challenging but clear answer is in front of people, they take any opportunity to avoid it.  

The movie also shows how people are intuitively self-seeking. Everyone is more focused on their image over the impending end of all life. We also see tech leaders claiming the values of science, to improve life for humans and all forms of life while ignoring real scientists. 

The film also addresses human failures and accepts that some events are beyond our control. It also shows how power corrupts and we try to control the wrong things. The movie is also unapologetically tragic. Death is not romanticized and it is interesting watching what the characters choose to do on their final days.  

3. Good Acting  

Many of the characters represent ideologies, but they are people first. Kate and Randall are not perfect people, but I can empathize with them easily. They have been through the unthinkable. Meryl Streep plays an awful, self-serving president of the United States. Jonah Hill plays Jason Orlean, the president’s son: an annoying, shockingly accurate, and hilarious example of privilege and nepotism in politics.  

Some of the celebrities feel like they are randomly thrown in the film for no reason, but they were all good. Ariana Grande plays a celebrity much like herself and she adds some much-needed comic relief. She makes fun of herself and the media coverage of her, which I found fantastic. Apparently, she ad-libbed some lines too. Timothee Chalamet ended up in a pretty unexpected role, and he surprisingly adds heart to a terrifying story. 

4. Surprising Inclusion of a Christian Character and a Positive Portrayal of Faith 

I wasn’t sure how this movie would address religion, if at all, and I was surprised to find an Evangelical Christian character. Sure, they are not completely traditional, but the engagement was nice. Religion is respected by the main characters, even if they don’t agree. The movie primarily focuses on science and the importance of listening to and understanding the truth scientists discover about life, but Christianity does not always have to conflict with science. It was a small part, but I found it cool to see in a movie like this.  

A Few Things to Note 

These aren’t exactly cons, but if you’re considering watching this movie, it might be useful to be aware of these issues beforehand.  

  1. R Rating.  

The film is rated R, so that comes with some things. Don’t Look Up could easily have earned a PG-13 rating if they took out the swearing and the bit of nudity. I do think an R rating makes sense for the catastrophe and satire. The movie explores political themes and social issues in a way that wouldn’t succeed as a family film. I wouldn’t recommend the movie to anyone other than older teens and adults for the following reasons. 

Language: The film is rated R and it swears quite a bit. According to IMDB, the word “fuck” is used 42 times. Other swear words are also occasionally used. Much of the swearing takes place when the characters feel intense anger or frustration with their situation. While understandable in the context, the cursing did not do much for the film. Maybe we needed to be yelled at, but it is painful to watch. The message could have been addressed without as much language and it feels redundant at times during a big speech. If you don’t like a lot of swearing, the movie might not be enjoyable.  

Nudity: the nudity isn’t graphic and it is very brief. The film includes back nudity and partial frontal nudity. Overall, I wouldn’t say that nudity is necessary to tell the story; it is kind of just thrown in there.  

2. One-dimensional portrayal of people who disagree 

The public was all oblivious and ignorant to the events of the world around them. Despite the threat of all human life, no one cared except the scientist characters. People only listened when the politicians and celebrities told them to care either in support of or against evidence that the meteor was going to kill them. People who support Trump-like politicians and their policies were utterly one-dimensional. That is to be expected in satire, of course. I do think if the film is trying to convince people of a message, it excludes some people. If this is something that bothers you, I wouldn’t recommend this movie. Most of the focus is on the higher-ups, and the public is merged into one. The movie requires us to know how to laugh at ourselves, and if you don’t mind satire, it shouldn’t be a problem.  

3. American-Centric 

I suppose this was the point, but for an event like this, there’s no way other countries would not get involved. There are brief snippets of scenes from other countries, but they don’t really land well. The snippets felt like something the film had to include instead of an attempt at diversity. I was disappointed that the movie did not address the world as a whole, especially since everyone is going to die. Seeing how foreign relations interact with each other and understanding the meteor could have been fascinating. The film is very concerned with the USA, but the message and criticism of political power and media can apply everywhere. The focus on the US isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The movie wanted to focus on satirizing America in particular, and specific satire is better than general. I just wish the rest of the world’s response was included a little more. The United States of America, thankfully, is not responsible for the entire world and it would have felt more real if they said that.  

Overall thoughts  

I enjoyed this movie. I wouldn’t call it a powerful piece that will stay with us forever, nor is it the best film I’ve seen this year. It was engaging, but not laugh-out-loud hilarious. The message was a good one, and  It tried to mix satire and some inspiration, and it kind of works. I’m glad I watched it. I enjoyed watching actors I like and checking out a genre I don’t typically watch, and it is pretty good. Even with the few things I mentioned, I would recommend this movie and it is not 2+ hours I regret spending on Netflix. 

I wouldn’t make it out to be more than it is. It can be enjoyed regardless of political viewpoint. The movie points out the importance of science and calls people out through comedy and slight exaggeration. If you appreciate dark comedy, you should enjoy this film. It is a satire, but it also was pretty heartwarming. The movie made me want to be more aware of the world around me and take steps to help, but it wasn’t something that will change the world. It also isn’t too cynical. Though the movie was sad, I didn’t feel worse about the world than I already do. We are entering a new year. There is time to do good and spread awareness and learn about climate change, injustice, poverty, and find ways to help others. Maybe I’m being idealistic, but the movie seems to inspire hope rather than anything. We can listen, we can learn, and we can do better. We can ask more of our leaders and ourselves. 

Don’t Look Up is so similar to the political sphere, but it felt oddly comforting rather than distressing. The film never minimizes the horrors of what is happening to the audience. The humor balances well. 

If you like any of the actors, I think you will like this film. The cast plays roles that fit them perfectly. Don’t Look Up is bleak but its satire of celebrities, politicians, and social media help distract us from the tragedy. I would recommend it if you’re in the mood for a dramatic film that addresses the age, we live in. I also found the movie a little long, it is a little less than two and a half hours, and it seemed longer than it needed to be. It is still worth watching. They drag at parts, but so does life. Back during COVID, I remember waiting all afternoon for an email from our college president detailing whether or not we would go home. Sometimes, even in movies, it’s good to show the slowness, the anxiety of waiting and not knowing. Also, the ending is good, so watch the whole thing. 

Have you seen or heard of Don’t Look Up? What do you think? Let me know down in the comments below! 

Check out my Spoiler Review!

Also, after you’ve watched the movie, check out my spoiler review! I’m going to be discussing criticisms that I didn’t mention here, including surprising things I enjoyed and analyzing the character development and the overall message.  

Movies

Don’t Look Up Spoiler Review: 5 Reflections On This Wonderful Movie

Don’t Look Up. Three words create a giant controversy. If you watch even a few seconds of attention to the news, this is pretty obvious. I will start by saying this movie is satire, it is dangerously true to life. It is also hilarious and true and beautiful. I don’t typically watch movies about political satire, but after these past 2 years, I felt interested. I heard this movie addresses our modern age and includes some famous people and was like, I gotta watch that. You know, sometimes, it’s not that deep. I see Meryl Streep and Timothee Chalamet and I click.

Don’t Look Up begins when Kate Dibasky (Jennifer Lawrence), a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, discovers a comment that will hit the earth and destroy the world. She then must, along with her professor Randall Mindy (Leonardo Decaprio) inform the president of the United States.

The film has got a ton of celebrities: Meryl Street plays the self-interested president. Timothee Chalumet plays a young Evangelical hippie guy and Ariana Grande plays a famous singer nearly identical to herself.

I enjoyed this movie more than I thought. The film was written to address climate change and politics, but the themes of denial and politicization of a threat to human lives fit the pandemic pretty well too. That is partially why the movie is so big. Other than knowing that Don’t Look Down is a satire of American politics and features celebrities, I really didn’t know what to expect.

In this review, I’ll be talking about 5 main ideas I thought of watching this movie. I was pleasantly surprised by what the movie decided to cover. Some characters—Leonardo DiCaprio—are downright unlikeable at times, but somehow, I made it through, partially due to Jennifer Lawrence and Timothee Chalamet.

l. Leonardo DiCaprio is unlikable

Leonardo DiCaprio Helped Rewrite Funniest Don't Look Up Scene 15 Times

It is very hard to like Randall Mindy ( Leonardo Decaprio). Randall is introduced as a camera-shy scientist who views life as a series of facts. We quickly learn, however, that the minute the awkward scientist gets recognition, he falls in with the crowd. He starts off insisting on science and I imagine he’s going to be the voice of reason.

But I, perhaps idealistically, turned out to be wrong about Mindy. Peter Isherwille, the (evil) tech guru understands him. Randall’s fatal flaw is that he is shy and insecure and wants people to like him. Unlike most of the population, he accepts the fact that his life will end in six months. To avoid that horrifying truth, he allows fame to distract him.

“I know what you are, you are a lifestyle idealist. You’re just thrown towards pleasure and away from pain like a field mouse.”

Peter Isherwillie

It also seems like Mindy has an anxiety disorder. He mentions that he takes Xanax and Zoloft. The audience isn’t told any specifics, but he gets visibly anxious before going on TV. Overall, medications (and alcohol) are tools that the characters use to numb the pain of the events happening to them. Randall shares his medications with Kate, which is clearly problematic, after they find out about the meteor.

Both characters pursue or at least accept momentary pleasure when it is offered to them, but DeCaprio is the one who annoyed me.

Kate takes medication and gets high with Yule, but she doesn’t harm anyone else.

Randall is a married man, and his wife cares for several teenage sons mostly by herself. One of his sons takes medication, but he is pretty oblivious about how to be a good father. He has responsibilities as a father, husband, and scientist, and he neglects them all.

The haircut is the start of his ruin. Before he goes on the news to talk about the meteor, the studio cuts Randall’s hair and shapes his beard. The news crew won’t listen what he is going to say, even if he is literally telling them the world will end soon, but they do want him to look hot. The media grooms him like a golden retriever and he falls into their trap so easily. Talk show reporter Brie Evantee (Kate Blanchett) flirts with Randall on set, and after a few interviews, he begins an affair with her as his wife struggles to raise their sons alone. In addition to getting with a reporter, Randall personally recieves almost no backlash for his behavior and he is just the pretty face. Randall is dubbed the hottest scientist by the media, and he rides safely in the limousine of privilege as the truth as society crumbles around him.

While the impending damage of the meteor is downplayed in interviews, and Randall is featured on Elmo, Kate is mocked and reduced to a meltdown meme. Randal is her teacher and he is supposed to be supporting her, but he leaves her in the dust. I wonder if the film was making a point about sexism in the media. Kate is horrified by the public’s attempts to downplay the imminent death of the world and she is honest and upset. Everyone should be upset. But the media portrays her as overly emotional and a joke. No one takes her seriously.

People don’t take Randall seriously, but he never suffers the amount of vitriol that Kate receives. Even when he finally breaks down and screams and swears at the public, no one judges him. In a traumatic situation like this, there is no one way to react or process, but Kate is the only one who is insulted for her grief.

In turn, Randall doesn’t protect Kate and slowly allows the media to take the narrative from him. Randall becomes a shallow, morally bankrupt version of his former self. He was once a man who loved science and facts. He saw life as a series of truths and put facts and honesty above all.

He then settles into an extremely shallow relationship with reporter Brie Evantee. From what we know about her, Bre was born into a wealthy family and has been taught to be very shallow. Brie never broaches a conversation topic below the surface. Her banter with her co-star Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry) is marketed as light and fun. They jump from death to celebrity drama with little care.

I almost felt bad for Bre at first but then she turned out to be a terrible person. She is the one to pursue him even though she knows he’s married. She is clearly capable of being blunt too. She is honest with Randall and his wife about the affair. She is capable of honesty on TV, but she only is honest when it can get her what she wants. Their relationship also mirrors Randall’s relationship with the press. He exchanges integrity for sex appeal and a shallow relationship with the media, where he occasionally spits out facts to an uninterested population.

Randall sucks for the affair. I was disappointed there wasn’t more of a downfall to his character. His wife loves him and takes care of their sons. She gets mad at him rightfully, but then she just forgives him–with the excuse that she cheated on him in college. I get that it is the end of the world, but this guy gets so much slack, and it annoys me when shows ignore the results of cheating. They just sort of blow it off with a joke. Instead, I wish she had genuinely forgiven him if she ever wanted to and that the cheating wasn’t trivialized.

I also hated how he let Kate get made fun of while he was a hero. He never apologizes to Kate. He also gets the best lines at the end and is still the good guy, but Kate has been nothing but kind, honest, and considerate. Kate deals with the worst of the press. She is the true star of this film, but this guy gets the closing lines. I get it, he had everything and lost it all. He also gets a great ending. At least Kate gets Timothee Calumet.

As much as I complain, I appreciate his character arch from honest scientist to a shallow famous face.

It is an eternal truth that power and influence corrupt. For that reason, I liked that Mindy was morally grey. The movie could have made the scientists always act with good intentions and exist as paragons of virtue. I’m glad they didn’t. It would feel too preachy.

Everyone is guilty of ignoring pain and seeking pleasure. No one is completely innocent and pure, even if they believe and say the right things. Our values don’t stop us from screwing up. We are all capable of committing the evils we claim to abhor.

2. Don’t Look Up Makes fun of current politics with wonderful accuracy

Don't Look Up Images Reveal Meryl Streep's President & Star Studded Cast

The president and her son felt like they were genuinely related. She feels like Donald Trump and he feels like one of Trump’s children. The hairstyle and clothing designers knew how to dress the actors for the parts. The nepotism feels so realistic, unfortunately and Jason Orlean is a spoiled brat and Jonah Hill plays that so well and I loved to hate him and president Orlean. The jokes are direct parallels to the real Trump presidency. There is a scene where Jason says his mother is a smoke show or something similar and that he would date her if she was not his mom. That reminds me of what Trump has said about Ivanka.

The scenes showing her supporters and her choice of the cabinet mirrored Trump. Her hat and flag match him to a T. The movie also shows how our media excuses the racist and sexist behavior of others. The old man the president chooses to fly into space makes racist remarks but the media excuses the things he said because he is from “a different time.” This is classic lampshading. No one is held to any moral standard, and the politicians just don’t care because they have power.

The politician’s ignorance of meteor don’t harm themselves, but their supporters. If the president of the United States is telling you that something is true, you should expect honesty. Especially it involves your health or the fact that something could kill you.

Near the beginning, Kate is charged $20 for snacks and water from a member of the staff, only to find out later that food in the White House is free. She wonders why he would scam her like that. Sometimes people do jerky things for kicks and it is so annoying. Political office and power allow humans to do unreasonable things, and I liked the ongoing conversation. In situations where people do bad things, sometimes we remember the simple stuff the most.

3. Engagement with Political Activism/Issues and shallowness of Media

Ariana Grande improvised 'Don't Look Up''s apocalyptic pop anthem

The movie shows how the reporters, politicians, and everyone else preferred a shallow existence to one that recognizes the facts of life. We would rather pretend problems don’t exist and that we live in a perfect world. We’d rather pretend the news doesn’t apply to us and won’t affect us personally. The media we consume caters to our human desire for comfort, safety, and ignorance.

The scene with Ariana Grande still bugs me. She wanted to talk about her charity, saving the manatees, but the press only cares about her breakup. This is one time where a non-scientist wants to do something good for the environment, and no one lets her. She cares about the climate and help others become more aware of the problems around her, but what about Pete Davidson? The apathy of these people was heartbreaking.

Instead, people escape into her relationship drama. Her drama doesn’t affect their lives, but people like the escape into someone else’s false feelings rather than acknowledge their own. They want drama, as long as it doesn’t affect them, and a happy ending is always enjoyable, even if it is fake. It isn’t until she performs a song to look up that fans and the media listen. But by then, there is nothing else they can do.

4. The Film Mocks Big Tech and Its Flirtation with Science

Is Don't Look Up's BASH a Real Mobile Company? Is Peter ...

Peter Isherwell plays a good villain, he acts with an awkward certainty that just feels like a powerful tech billionaire. He is supposed to parody Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and all those rich tech people. The dude is so obsessed with wealth. He saw a literal meteor that will kill all people and the first thing the man thinks of was to let it hit the earth and then mine it for gold.

He also uses science and causes like ending world hunger and restoration of biodiversity to justify taking a risk in pursuit of profit. His tech ads are promoted to help people, but they also are supposed to cater to our every desire and need. Science is really an excuse to cater to our individual needs and make money off those needs rather than improve the world around us. We become self-centered and dependent on our devices. We go to them when we are sad and want to be happy. Then they follow an algorithm and give us what we think we need. The tech company BASH argues that phones can predict all.

Technology is also described using religious language. Drones are mankind’s savior. “You’re gonna be a god in the sky,” he says. Technology is a new means of understanding the world. It is religion, it is science, it is philosophy. When he talks about his phone company, Peter says:

“This is evolution, the evolution of the human species.”

Is it? Is it really? Technology is idealized so much. It is supposed to solve all our problems and make our lives perfect apparently. This film laughs at that idea. The media spreads sparky, empty news. Phones distract people and make them happy when they should panic. Technology only serves to dissuade people, rather than encourage them to care about humanity. It is only when people let go of tech and focus on each other that they’re able to be real and have honest conversations. Tech paints a false promise of utopia, but that is wrong. Isherwell calls the age of tech the Golden Age, which was a time of prosperity in Greece, but the characters are their best when they are together, sitting down at a meal with no screens in sight.

“Isherwell calls the age of tech the Golden Age, which was a time of prosperity in Greece, but the characters are their best when they are together, sitting down at a meal with no screens in sight.”

I liked how he was wrong about Randall’s death. Technology can’t control and predict the world; data does not capture an entire person. He didn’t surrender to impulse and momentary pleasure and returned to his wife and sons. He brings his friends along. He chose to invest in the people around him. He didn’t die alone.

I do wonder what will happen next. The tech lord won and I’m not sure his new society will be a better one. Will the naked people be addicted to their phones for happiness? Will they stage a revolt? Hopefully, we never have to find out. Maybe they’ll all die, after all, the scientist guy is the type to start a war. I’m kind of hoping for a sequel.

5. Engagement with Evangelical Christianity

Don't Look Up," sheeple! Adam McKay's comedy, about a comet that will  destroy Earth, fails to hit | Salon.com

I’ve seen quite a few movies where characters are asked if they believe in God, but this movie portrays Christianity a lot more than many. Timothee Chalemet plays Yule, a young man who was raised by Evangelical parents. He grew up in the countryside and wears a camo baseball hat. He is one of my favorite characters.

Don’t Look Up portrays religion pretty satirically at first. The politicians invoke God and Jesus but only as a means to accomplish their political aims. Their level of pandering is so obvious and hilarious, and this sadly occurs in real life–to people of all groups. Politicians use language to make people think they care about interests greater than themselves. News flash–they don’t. The people who support the president parody Trump supporters. They are one-dimensional charicatures. In a satire, and the film aims to call out politicians. The film accomplishes its message, while stereotypes aren’t ideal, it fits the film’s purpose well. It feels more honest than offensive, and pandering by politicians should be called out way, way more than it currently is.

So, back to Timothee, his parents are Evangelical Christians and he disagrees with what they stand for and says he doesn’t like them. If we look at stereotypes, his parents are likely conservative Evangelical Christians. They likely voted for this president who claimed to support them and their values. He could easily have rejected the faith he grew up in as a nonsense but he doesn’t. He says he figured out how to believe in God in his own way, but it is somewhat unclear at first what he means. Yule is a young guy who is learning about life outside of the one he grew up in for the first time.

I liked how Yule skeptical of the meteor. He doesn’t believe in it initially because he hasn’t heard anything else from his environment, but he’s open to listening to Kate when she tells him the truth. He can listen to others with respect without their words threatening him.

We see Yule pray on the roof with Kate, and his faith feels learned, but genuine. He isn’t repeating a family prayer in a sense of desperation. His faith is real and his own. Is he a perfect person, of course not, but that’s what makes him a good character. For a movie about science that partly mocks Evangelical people, his character could have been a quirky stoner stereotype, but instead, the writes decided to create a Christian character with respect. I would argue he and Kate as well is a moral center to the film. While the people around him worry and are filled with fear, he is a calm presence.

At the end of the most, we see Yule praying for everyone by their request. June and Dr. Randall Mindy are not particularly religious, they have no idea how to pray and only know that saying amen is part of the process. Still, they ask Yule to pray for them because it feels important.

“Dearest Father and Almighty Creator… …we ask for your grace tonight, despite our pride. Your forgiveness, despite our doubt. Most of all, Lord… We ask for Your love to soothe us through these dark times. May we face whatever is to come… …in your divine will with courage and open hearts of acceptance. Amen.”

At this point, everyone has given up any sense of control, they know they will die within minutes. June asked Yule to pray because she was scared. They all are; they fear death and what is to come and are looking for peace and acceptance.

Pride is a big force in this movie. Randall enjoys media attention and does not try to help stop the events around him out of pride. He likes feeling good about himself over fear. Tech billionaire Peter Isherwell denies the need to peer-review his plan to combat the meteor because of pride. He thinks he can fix it himself. The same goes for the president.

At this moment, the characters have a choice. They can fight and they can get angry. They can cry or isolate themselves or go into denial. Instead, they accept their fate. They understand their lack of power and they come together to give their attention to something greater than themselves. Relief doesn’t rely on them alone, and they accept that. Though all the characters are not openly religious, the moment is beautiful and unites all of them. They are accepting what they can’t change and Timothee prays for their fate in God’s hands. They are also holding each other’s hands, they are connected, unified in this terrifying situation, but they are not afraid.

The themes of acceptance and forgiveness are at the heart of this movie. So many characters try to change the world to fit their own perception of reality and hold grudges and false perceptions about others. The reporters try to distort the facts and put on false cheer. The president and tech leader aim for their own success instead of pursuing and accepting the truth. As much as we disagree with Randall’s cheating, he comes back to his wife and asks for forgiveness and she accepts him into her home. She chooses to forgive instead of getting angry and he is honest about his mistake. He doesn’t excuse his behavior or alter the facts.

So much of this movie is full of people altering facts. The ending itself is just beautiful. Timothee’s prayer, acceptance, humility, and connection between the group are powerful. Even though they barely know each other, they face this terrifying event together. That scene redeems the hopeless tragedy that humans have created.

If you’ve seen this movie, what do you think? What do you think of the things I pointed out? Let me know down in the comments below.

Books

It’s Not All Misogyny: 7 Reasons to Read The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway: A Spoiler Free Review

It’s Not All Misogyny: 7 Reasons to Read The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway: A Spoiler Free Review

Intro

The Sun Also Rises was published by Ernest Hemingway. I read this novel in my 20th Century Novel Class. I enjoyed this book, but there are some flaws. I’m going to aim for as few spoilers as possible in this review. The novel is about Jake Barnes, who travels with some friends to the Fiesta de San Fermin in Spain after World War 2. While he visits the Spanish Countryside and watches the bullfighting competition, Jake struggles with a war injury and post-war delusion as he tries to find a code to live by. It is a beautiful novel.

I looked at reviews for this article on Goodreads and I was disappointed. The novel is not just a book about a bunch of guys who chase an idealized woman. The novel is much more than that, and I am going to defend it, and Brett as a character as well.

The novel does have some problematic elements, Robert Cohn is a Jewish character who Hemingway stereotypes. He is the only Jewish character, but he is portrayed as annoying and he is mocked by all the other characters. Brett is also sexualized and treated as an object by many of the male characters, but it is realistic of the time she lived in. If we look past Jake’s perception of her, she is more complex than he gives her credit for. Cohn, unfortunately, is not treated with as much understanding, but he is pitied at least. Upon acknowledging these problems, the novel is worth reading and appreciating for the good elements. My review mostly talks about the good, but first, we will talk about alcohol.

The characters drink an absurd amount of alcohol. The characters drink every few pages and it is pretty concerning. If they are drunk the entire book, I’m not surprised considering the decisions they make. I feel like it is easy to say the book is full of people who drink all the time, but it is more than that. The characters want to numb the pain of the war and of the lives they live. They long for something greater but make awful decisions along the way. For a book with people who are always drinking, there is plenty of beautiful descriptions of nature and the atmosphere around them.

  1. Unusual Male Protagonist

Jake was wounded in the war and is impotent. I hadn’t read a book with a male protagonist in Jake’s situation before and I was surprised it was included. Jake lives a full life and maintains good friendships. Hemingway is an author who seems concerned with masculinity, so it was nice to see that Jake is never less of a man or person because he doesn’t have sex. Sex and romance bring drama for everyone who is in a relationship in this novel.

Jake, like many of Hemingway’s protagonists, was in the war. The novel deals with the post-war delusion and in a modernist novel fashion, he shows the ways we try to explain and ignore the events that happened to us. Hemingway was also famous for his “iceberg principle.” He was notorious for cutting out any bit of unnecessary information. There is so much information under the surface of conversations and thoughts that Hemingway doesn’t state. Many of these people feel broken and are looking for relief as well as a code to explain the world around them. We see all this in Jake, he isn’t idealized or perfected, no one is, and he screws up. He has to live with his choices just like all the characters do.

2. Spanish Bullfighting and Culture

I have never been to Spain or traveled to the Fiesta De San Fermin, but Hemingway made it feel like I had a ticket. Hemingway traveled all the time, and in his lifetime, he made more than 20 trips to Spain. He captures an outsider’s perspective of Spanish culture during this festival. He describes the beauty, excitement, and sadness in the event. Romero is a major bullfighter in the novel and he is beautiful. Hemingway saw bullfighting as a sacred experience that requires a deep connection between the bull and the bullfighter. From what I have heard about horseback riding, it is similar.

There is also a contrast with culture. The tourists are focused on having fun and drinking the day away and it feels like a constant party but not a good one. The descriptions of bullfighting and Spanish culture reveal a code of living that Hemingway deeply admires. Pay attention to his descriptions of bullfighting. They are where Hemingway shines.

3. Brett is the new woman

The only main female character in the novel is Lady Brett Ashley. At the time of the novel, she was The New Woman. She was a common trope and ideal for a woman after the war. She rejects the ideals of the chaste, Victorian woman. She is a woman who drinks, who smokes, who hangs out with the dudes. She outdoes all the men; she is one of the boys. All the guys want to date her. The male protagonist pines after her. Another guy even fights for her honor. Her boyfriend doesn’t care much for her and treats her poorly. She could simply be a male fantasy, but if you take a minute and look at her outside the male perspective–you might realize the guys are missing something. Although she is written under the male gaze, Jake once describes her as a motorboat, her character is more than she appears.

Lady Brett Ashley is a woman who is aware of what people think of her. She knows what she’s doing and she’s not as confident as we think. She is her own harshest critic. We see the facade of Brett, but the flashes we see are of someone with insecurities and doubts. She wonders about going to confession and feels anxious when she goes to a church. She is real, whether anyone notices or not. Though she is breaking societal roles, her role in the world is one that has been created for men. The men enjoy her personality as is, she doesn’t challenge or make them change in any way. She has to realize if this is someone she really wants to be and if so, she should break bad habits and unhealthy cycles.

4. Stunning Landscape

The descriptions of the Spanish countryside in The Sun Also Rises are gorgeous. Bill and Jake look out the window on the way there and well, here’s a quote:

“We all got in the car and it started up the white dusty road into Spain. For a while the country was much as it had been; then, climbing all the time, we crossed the top of a Col, the road winding back and forth on itself, and then it was really Spain. There were long brown mountains and a few pines and far-off forests of beech-trees on some of the mountainsides. The road went along the summit of the Col and then dropped down, and the driver had to honk, and slow up, and turn out to avoid running into two donkeys that were sleeping in the road. We came down out of the mountains and through an oak forest, and there were white cattle grazing in the forest. Down below there were grassy plains and clear streams, and then we crossed a stream and went through a gloomy little village, and started to climb again. We climbed up and up and crossed another high Col and turned along with it, and the road ran down to the right, and we saw a whole new range of mountains off to the south, all brown and baked-looking and furrowed in strange shapes.”

5. Sweet Portrayal of Male Friendship

Bill is another charming side character. He is a friend of Jake’s and he’s the only one who doesn’t pine after Brett. He is funny and a good friend to Jake. They go fishing together and have fun and it is nice to watch. They play off each other well, and though they are quite different, the two get along. It was nice to have a break from some of the more dramatic scenes.

6. Engagement with Catholicism

The novel takes place in a time where there is much misunderstanding between Catholics and Protestants and by in a time, I mean all times. The confusion has always been there. Always. Jake is a Catholic, but he is a bit of a lapsed Catholic. The modernist era includes a doubt in traditional religion, and Jake’s relationship with the church feels unusual. His doubts aren’t strong, but the post-war world he lives in and the people he surrounds himself with do not value growing or understanding faith in any meaningful way. But he still attends church and participates in Catholic traditions. Jake feels simultaneously connected with and disconnected with the rites and experiences of church. His relationship with religion feels real. The church isn’t a huge topic of discussion or major plot point, but it is layered throughout the story. That’s part of why I love Hemingway. He touches on issues with subtlety, and if you blink you will miss them, but they are so rich.

The title is also a reference to Ecclesiastes, and the words fit the novel well. The beauty of a rising sun also fits with the beauty of the material world.

7. The Difficulty of Redemption, Forgiveness, and Understanding Each Other

There were times where I felt let down. I felt both connected to and disconnected from Jake’s narration. He is an imperfect narrator, Hemingway sees things that Jake doesn’t see. If we look we can see cracks. That is part of the beauty of this novel. So many characters have obvious seeming faults, but when we look inside, they are not as obvious and easily solvable. Jake’s relationship with Brett is complicated. They are attracted but can’t ever be together. Jake knows Brett and he doesn’t know Brett. They have an understanding, but both feel misunderstood and alone. I found their entire dynamic fascinating, toxic at times, astounding. Falling in love or love isn’t a universal perfect good.

Conclusion

As I said, Hemingway provides no simple solution. The world these characters live in is not understanding of their struggles. Forgiveness can be limited, redemption can be conditional. The novel asks what it takes to make us choose to change. Mostly, we don’t want to or ignore the need to. The novel captures that temptation well. The Sun Also Rises also shows us good things, the landscape, nature, food, and comradery. The simple speech provides a complex narrative and hints at depth under the surface. Hemingway describes bullfighting beautifully; I feel like I had seats to the bullfight with Jake, Brett, Mike, Cohn, and Bill.

I also liked how traveling wasn’t the end-all-be-all to this series. Travel isn’t an escape to make our lives better, and it isn’t going to make you someone better than you are. It certainly does change you, and this is partly what the novel is about.

I would recommend this novel to any adult or young adult. The Sun Also Rises took me on a trip and back home again. All of these characters are looking for a code, and Jake’s journey and the ending are satisfying. It is beautiful but also broken at times.

Have you read The Sun Also Rises or any Hemingway novels? What did you think? Let me know down in the comments below!