I have never read Louisa May Alcott‘s 1869 novel Little Women. The first time I heard of Little Women was on This American Life’s episode #680. I did not know there had been 6 adaptations of the book but I knew of Greta Gerwig through her movie ‘LadyBird’. It took a wonderful recommendation from FilmJoy on YouTube for me to put Little Women (2019) on my list and watch it.
A fascinating aspect about the movie was how modern its ideology is. I expected a lot more stigma around women working and not marrying but the movie doesn’t put those things as barriers. It doesn’t present stigma of an independent women as an obstacle, it embraces it as if it is something that has always been a part of women’s lives.
The hardship that the March sisters face is not the society but life itself.
There is a certain joy about watching a movie so well crafted. I felt it when watching Parasite although for the complete opposite reasons. This movie made me live with the March family, laugh with them and grieve with them. It made me proud of Jo and what she had achieved despite everything. It made me happy for Amy & Meg for their marriages. I mourned for Beth like Jo & Marmee did.
The March family become my neighbours or an extension to my family. The March’s lives were mundane and I could see my life reflected in them.
I have thrown tamper tantrums because my brother didn’t bring me along when he hung out with his friends. There are times when I was happy for my name to be mispronounced or given a new name because I wanted to fit in. When we were young, my dad would be working out of the state so it would be an event when he would visit. He would routinely call at a specific time. I have ventured out of my home to accomplish something and support my family just like Jo has. I am sure my brother feels the same.
The characters are people who could be me or someone who I know. I have met people who are basically Jo or Beth and I will always cherish the time I spent with them. And at the same time, just like every character in this story grew up and grew apart, so did the people in my life.
It is a life story. No wonder this movie has been remade 7 times in its history.
The last 10 mins of this movie. Jo is in the attic. Bereft of her youngest sister, and her hope for a normal life. She finds her life not being anywhere close to what she imagined what it would be. What does she do?
What can you do if you are in her place?
You write your own story.
You put it down page by page, break it down piece by piece and rebuild. Editing, rewriting everything. You think about your story, you sleep with your story, eat with your story.
It doesn’t matter if you have to change the end of your story even though you don’t agree with it.
You make compromises.
Because it is not about the end of the story. It was never about the end of the story.
It will, and always be about the whole book that you can clutch in your hands.
After all of the hardship, the pain, the LIFE of it all, you did what you intended to do.
It is difficult to sum up a multi season TV series. NBC’s The Good Place has the following (cheesy) synopsis on IMDB:
Four people and their otherworldly frienemy struggle in the afterlife to define what it means to be good.
Here is my take:
The Good Place was a brilliantly made show which tried to answer complex ethical questions about how to do the morally right thing. It also tried to illustrate how muddy the concept of good and bad is in our world for most people. The show followed six characters’ (Eleanor, Tahani, Chidi, Jason, Janet & Micheal) transformation into better versions of themselves.
Also, The Good Place was about Death.
The first scene of the show was Micheal welcoming Eleanor into The Good Place. In the last episode, Eleanor welcomed Micheal to live like a human. This entire conversation between Micheal & Eleanor is poignant:
Eleanor: You won’t really know what is going to happen to you.
Micheal: That is what makes it special. I won’t exactly know what is going to happen after I die. Nothing more human than that.
It is hard to talk about the series finale without mentioning the penultimate episode. When the characters are finally into The Good Place they discover it was not what it seemed. The episode featured a rendition of ancient Greek philosopher Hypatia, who revealed that everyone in the Good Place has become a “happiness zombie”; an eternity of perfection leads to boredom.
Too much of anything is bad.
So the concept of an end to existence is introduced. Characters who have been in The Good Place can choose to end their own existence. Not out of circumstances, or age but by choice. The souls themselves can decide when they are satisfied with everything they have done.
They can decide when to not just be.
I always want to know what happens after the end of the movie/books/TV show. The series finale gave me those answers. It was immensely satisfying to have answers for my curiosity.
And what answers they are.
I got to see them happy. I got to see them retired and fulfilling their desires. I got to see them make amends with their family. No more obstacles, no more world shattering news or villains. The characters lived.
I was ecstatic as I watched Tahani, Chidi, Jason and Eleanor just be themselves. Jason mastered every video game. Tahani mastered everything she wanted to do and also reconciled with her family. Chidi finished every book and ended up picking up Dan Brown’s books. Eleanor got to help the few people who needed help.
I enjoyed all four seasons of this show. I liked their banter, I liked how light this show was with such a cumbersome theme. I enjoyed the showrunners referencing real life scenarios. I loved how the show reiterated the same message over and over again: everyone can be redeemed.
However, I believe the series finale was special. I watched the fifty minute emotional & tear-jerking farewell episode in awe. It was reassuring about the biggest fears in our lives: death. It was courageous as it asked us to live our lives morally despite those fears. I will be re-watching the show years from now just to watch this finale again.
In the last year, Bung Joon-ho’s Parasite is a movie that I keep coming back to. Parasite might be the best economic class disparity movie I have ever seen. It is so tightly packed because of its absolute perfect direction and story that it is an absolute joy watching it and when the movie is over, it makes you really think about the world we live in.
There are better people than me who have talked about the movie. Here are three of my favorite YouTubers talking about this movie.
While these YouTubers speak about the technical details of the movie, I would like to discuss the thoughts that this movie provokes. In no way are my thoughts well defined, and I will hardly be talking about the movie. But I will be talking about what parallels I draw from the movie.
Prior to watching Parasite, I had only seen this directors’ one movie: SnowPiercer. That movie was pretty straightforward (literally) and on the nose. After watching Parasite, I could see Snowpiercer in a different light. I saw it as Namgoong Minsoo did: a prison and the people in it hoping that reaching the front of the train would fix their problems.
There was no fixing a system that was inherently designed to divide people in classes with no permeability between them. Best way is to break it and start anew.
She is nice because she is rich.
I keep thinking about this line. In our day to day lives, we see so many news articles of rich people acting greedy. They hoard money, they evade taxes and they interfere in policies via proxies. But there is no denying the fact that when rich people speak, we listen. Baring a few exceptions, based on what we see, no one will say rich people aren’t nice.
People from an effluent class give money to charities, have fundraisers etc (I am assuming. I have never been to one). I suspect that Philanthropy wouldn’t exist without a massive wealth inequality.
I remember my undergraduate college. Meeting other students who came in from West Bombay. They were nice. Warm? No, I felt distant from them. But nice? Yes.
I wonder now if they were nice because if they are rich or because they were nice because their effluence allowed them to learn social niceties. Maybe that is the same thing.
I am going to assume that anyone aged 20-30 year old are aware of renting houses. I am also going to assume that most of us are aware of how difficult and expensive it would be for us to own a house.
I have been renting for the last 4 years. My parents were renting up until I was in 4th grade. They finally took a home loan and paid it back over 10 years. I remember the day my mom made the final payment and the sigh of relief on their faces.
In my first year in Auckland, I went for a house party in a friend’s (family) house and they had a pool. I envied him and thought whether I would ever live in this area.
My parents are trying to arrange a marriage for my older brother. This is something Indian families do: arranged marriages. A prospective marriage fell through when the bride’s side looked at our house and turned us down stating: ‘Our house is too small.’
The house my parents saved all their lives to buy is now too small.
Do I fit in here?
This is the question I always asked myself in my first one and a half year of undergraduate. This is the question I asked myself in the first two years in Auckland.
This is the question I asked myself when I went to my friends wedding.
I believe I will always ask this question whenever I walk into a room and see, visibly see, that I dealing with people above my economic class.
This is going to be our in-laws house.
There is this trope in Bollywood movies. The main character is a rough but honorable lower economic class guy. His eventual love interest is usually the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. The movies end eventually with the main character marrying into the wealthy family.
This scene in Parasite made me think of all those Bollywood movies selling the same dream that the son from Parasite is dreaming. The same illusion that Bollywood has been selling as far back as my parents generation.
The biggest thing about this movie that I absolutely loved is that all members of the Kim family are really good at what they do. They take advantage of their positions yes. But also, they are each really good at everything they do.
They cleaned a party, got rid of all of their opposition in 20 mins and also served Park family dinner. The dad knew how to drive and he had really good turning skills(I am jealous). Daughter had amazing photoshop and acting skills.
This movie goes out of its way to show that poor people aren’t lazy, they are just not given enough opportunities.
The last scene of the movie is the son looking at us. I choose to believe that we are thinking the same thing. He will never be able to break the glass ceiling of economic divide. He might push against it. Might see through the gaps of that ceiling, might eventually move out of his subbasement house.
But he will never be able to afford Park’s house.
He will always be running after one monetary goal and then another, never finding something that suffices.
It is not his fault really. This is the system that he lives in. This is the system that we live in.
We are, by our circumstances, always chasing after a unattainable dream of a life of luxury, of a life where we are rewarded by our hard work.
Each Toy Story movies is unique as each presents a metaphor for different age milestone. First Toy Story dealt with teens/early twenties or college years. Toy Story 2 dealt with Woody undergoing a midlife crisis and questioning his life’s purpose. Toy Story 3 dealt with the idea of retirement and the prospect of death. Toy Story 4 deals with life after retirement. A new beginning. I figured this idea should merit this post as it is going to be published on the 1st Jan 2020.
I saw Toy Story 3 before I watched its prequels. I was aware of the first two movies because of the complementary toy given on every McDonald’s ‘Happy Meal’. I used to have/I may still have a Woody from one such Happy Meal.
I was prepared to go for Toy Story 4 in the cinemas this year but for some reason I never did. I ended up watching the first three Toy Story-ies at home first and then watched the latest movie.
The conversation around Toy Story 4 online was lackluster. I knew that the latest movie won’t live upto its expectations. Toy Story 3 is and will forever be one of my favorite movies. Toy Story 3 made me cry twice: the incinerator scene and then the final playtime scene.
I didn’t think Toy Story 4 was a special movie until the climax when Woody said goodbye to the other toys on top of the carousal. Seeing these characters: many of whom have been there since the first movie at their swansong just broke me. I sobbed, I felt as I was saying goodbye to these characters again after ToyStory 3 itself was a goodbye.
Back to the idea that this movie deals with post retirement.
The bulk of the story follows Woody: the character who now has to retire from ‘Andy’s Toy’ to a toy just kept in the cupboard and is hardly played with. Woody is almost everything I can imagine an old almost retiree being:
He is stubborn. He refuses to accept that a kid can start preschool without their toy. He refuses to believe that his days of being a favorite are over.
He is reluctant to change his lifestyle. In another words, he is someone who doesn’t know what he is after he finishes working. This whole movie he is chasing the idea that he has to be there for someone without considering that it is time to be there for himself.
Also, Woody is someone whose experience makes him an old sage. Every toy yearns to have what Woody has had in his whole life. Every toy wants to know what it feels like to be someone’s toy.
Lastly, before he does go on to live his own adventure, I believe he chooses to make sure that he helps out as many toys as possible.
I think the end credits scene where he spends the entire time cheating the system and handing out all toys is a perfect example of him passing the torch.
An awesome video by NerdWriter on the animation technique:
It took Woody a lifetime to live for himself. I hope that you walk onto new year with some of Woody’s enthusiasm and determination. I hope you try something new. Live for yourself after spending a long time living for others.
Grief is a hard thing to describe and write about. It is, I think, comparatively easy to write about when grief is thick like morning fog or when it leaves a strong taste in the mouth. It, when coupled with depression, gets harder to describe as most often when there is no feeling.
It is the absence of any feeling, a vacuum which exists where the grief should be, and this vacuum is hard to discern.
This brings me to Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend. Reading the description of the book prior to requesting it from the library, I knew that this book won’t be an easy read.
When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, she finds herself burdened with the unwanted dog he has left behind. Her own battle against grief is intensified by the mute suffering of the dog, a huge Great Dane traumatized by the inexplicable disappearance of its master, and by the threat of eviction: dogs are prohibited in her apartment building.
While others worry that grief has made her a victim of magical thinking, the woman refuses to be separated from the dog except for brief periods of time. Isolated from the rest of the world, increasingly obsessed with the dog’s care, determined to read its mind and fathom its heart, she comes dangerously close to unraveling. But while troubles abound, rich and surprising rewards lie in store for both of them.
Elegiac and searching, The Friend is both a meditation on loss and a celebration of human-canine devotion.
We get no names in the book. We get characteristics of the people around the main character. But from the main character very little introspection. We get little indication as to which race the characters belong to, how old they are. They are given a perfunctory glance, as if the protagonist can’t seem to notice them.
The protagonist is someone who is grieving but her grief is not put into words. The character shares her feelings almost halfway through the book, months after the death of her lifelong friend. We don’t get the friend’s name either.
The only name we get in the book is of the Great Dane: Apollo. Apollo is almost exactly like our main character. Alone. Abandoned by friend’s suicide. Grieving but unable to form words to speak about it.
The first feelings the main characters show are of protectiveness. A kinship to Apollo. An attachment, a bit obsessively of Apollo. She herself says that Apollo is almost a surrogate to the friend she just lost. She is a surrogate to the pet-parent Apollo lost.
Apollo is everything a dog shouldn’t be. He is old, hardly wiggles his tail when the main character comes home. Uninterested in any other dog or person. Apollo sleeps on the bed everyday, not giving an inch for our main character.
Apollo is also a Great Dane, and the character is told they don’t live long. Apollo shows awareness of the fact that he won’t live long.
The main character readies herself for his death. And she does that, she gets to terms with the suicide of her friend.
There is a chapter close to the end of the book. I think it is the most important one. As she finally deals with the loss of the friend, even if it was in a dream.
As I finished the book, I almost wanted to throw the book away because I misunderstood the end. I kept rereading it, I read a bunch of reviews to see if anyone else came at the same conclusion. It was only after rereading it the second day that I understood what happens.
The end was not heart-wrenching, neither was it delusional as I thought it was.
It was accepting. She accepted things. She tried to treasure what she had. Apollo, arthritis aside, was a dog again. Both healing, but not completely healed.
I have seen a lot of argument online about how authors shouldn’t try to shove in their own political opinions into books. I don’t think that is possible, as writing bares one’s soul onto paper. An author is bound to throw in their political ideas.
Books are not weighed down by political ideologies, but when done correctly, are enhanced by them.
I have started enjoying books which deal with ideologies. It makes the story tangible, almost like a fabric that can be touched, like a discernible flavor. I cherish books possessing similarities with our world.
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise ( 7 books, 8 movies and more ) are an example.
Why Harry Potter matters to me?
I first read Harry Potter about 7 years ago. At the time, I had just started reading novels. I owe a lot to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books because they paved the way for me to find my favorite genre: fantasy novels. I remember being in awe with the concept of magic in the books do. I didn’t pay attention to the minute details and webs that J.K. Rowling had spun in those 7 books.
7 years later, today, I have changed a lot. My views have changed. I know a few things on structuring a story. Movies & books have a more lasting effect on me as I pick subtleties easier.
I read the 7 Harry Potter books again to see if I still like them. My intention was to understand the framework with which Rowling had written the story, to learn how to create a world like she had.
I did not do that. I can’t tell you where are the plot points in the book or what exactly is the story arc of the characters. Because 10 pages into the first book, Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone, I was hooked on to the story of a 11 year old boy walking into Hogwarts.
I noticed the onset of PTSD in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I noticed the miracle by which Harry was different than his arch-nemesis Voldemort. I noticed how real the deaths in Harry Potter were: sudden & unexpected. A single line to describe a character’s death, a single incantation.
There are more important things that the story itself. I started noticing things relevant to our own world.
Always the innocent are the first victims, so it has been for ages past, so it is now.
– J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And the Philosopher’s Stone
The Wizarding World:
I can speculate on how much of the world J.K. Rowling created with Harry Potter was directly influenced from the real world from the hundreds of interviews and articles written on it.
Since its inception, the world Harry Potter inhabits has became an entity of its own, with tons of fan-fiction, followers and content creators. Thus, differences between Rowling’s intended allegories and unintended real-life parallels are hard to pick for me.
To explain unintended real-life parallels: In Hot Fuzz, there is a scene in which the town Chief Inspector says ‘Make Sheffield Great Again’. At the time of movie’s release, this line was probably intended to be funny. Now, this line is no longer funny.
In the books, all 7 of them, three children have to consistently stand against a fascist regime which kills anyone who opposes them. The fight is mostly in the shadows, away from the majority of the population that it could affect, until one day a fascist regime is asking its denizens to present its proof of blood worth.
In book 5, Harry Potter and Order of Phoenix, Dumbledore’s Army decide to train themselves because the powers that be, Ministry of Magic, vehemently denied Voldemort is back because they were afraid of losing power. They discredited Harry Potter, launched political propoganda against him to slander & discredit him.
Over the last year in Auckland, I have seen school children marching down Queen Street to protest inadequate action on Climate Change by the people in power. Greta Thurnberg is a major voice in climate change.
It is not hard to find articles denouncing Climate change in general, but the amount of attempts to discredit Greta are bubbling just beneath the surface.
These kids were subjected to massive amounts of ridicule, death threats by not just people in power but also everyone who thought that their ‘rights’ were under attack.
Malala Yousafzai was shot in 2012 by Taliban because she raised her voice, protested.
I am not saying one thing inspired the other. I am just drawing parallels.
Then there is the entire Dumbledore subplot of book 7, in which a fascist government backed media continuously tries to throw dirt on a dead man just to distract the world from the very real threat of Voldemort.
If you read news these days, its hard not to see media being used/using to distract from the relevant news. The examples are endless, leaving us exhausted but ultimately forgetting the bigger issues in life. Lookup Amazon Rainforest fire ( how it is crucial in tackling climate change ) which was burning for at least 15 days before it broke the news.
The Racism within the world:
The books deal with vehement racism between ones who are born in a wizarding family and ones not. It also draws an line between wizards and non-wizards to the point where there is a term for non-wizards ( Muggle ).
This separation between sections of human beings who are & who are not wizards existed way before Voldemort came to be, it has always been a part of the world Harry Potter inhabits to the point where wizards getting close to non-wizards are looked down on.
Arthur Weasley is looked down by everyone, including at times his wife and children, because he wants to study human technology. It seems like the wizarding world is so proud that it refuses to even acknowledge the possibility that their methods are outdated.
I can’t and neither am I going to judge who was more advanced. ( They are fictional book after all ).
But this xenophobia, albeit benign in most cases, is echoed through the fabric of the entire Wizarding world.
This benign xenophobia served as the groundwork for people like Voldemort to garner followers.
After all, it is fairly obvious from the books, that Death Eaters were emboldened only because Voldemort was more powerful than anyone else in the wizarding world. Otherwise, they were law abiding citizens ( mostly ).
Do I need to talk about the real world examples of such a relationship between a fascist man in power and his supporters?
Furthermore. the lack of any social changes since the founding of Hogwarts ( Slytherin vs other houses ) made sure that every person sitting in the Slytherin table exposed to ideas of blood purity and impunity.
Why was nothing done to challenge ideas like that?
How many times have we heard, ‘this is just the way it is’ without actually asking why?
How many times have we looked down on another bunch of people without actually asking why?
Nobody is perfect. These books exemplify that. Not even Harry Potter. He, who of all people should know what it feels like being detested in his own house, has very little empathy for elves.
The Harry Potter books themselves are not perfect. After all, J.K. Rowling keeps appending changes to the story years after the books have been released.
Regardless, the Harry Pottrer books, its characters and the ways with J.K Rowling talks about the wrongness of our world by illustrating an unjust world is mind blowing.
I hope that the next time I read these books again, I get to pick up something more.