A Monster Calls: Chaos in Acceptance

A Monster Calls is a 2016 film about a boy named Connor, who’s mother is slowly dying of cancer. To cope with this tragedy, he imagines a monster made from a tree who tells him three stories. Each of these stories teaches him about the uncertainty and unpredictability of life and teaches him how to grieve.

Throughout these three stories, the film teaches us to allow us to be contradictory, accepting the unpredictability of life, and the power of belief. Much like Castaway, this film shows the dangers of power and control, when we try and bend reality to our will when events down happen to our liking. In the end, this film is about the incredibly difficult process of letting go, even when you don’t want to.


The First Story

The first story is arguably the hardest to analyze because it is the hardest to understand, and for good reason.

In the first tale, the story serves as a representation of the unpredictability of life. For example, The King in the story was presumed to be poisoned by his Queen who had been delving into the dark arts of witchcraft, but he had merely grown old. Another example would be when The King’s grandson’s new wife had been killed. At first, we automatically associate her death with the crooked Queen. However, the King’s grandson killed his own wife so he could frame the Queen and take the throne.

In most tales, we would expect that the story-line would be linear and easy to understand. However, as we can see with this story, that is not the case. Even Connor stated to the monster that he felt cheated. Although like the monster says, many things in life feel like a cheat.

One of the film’s best ways of explaining this part of its story is through another film that is referenced multiple times: King Kong. There have been other films that have done this in the past, such as Iron Giant, that used the character Superman, as a means to explain the Giant’s longing to forge his destiny, thus, wanting to protect the world, instead of destroying it.

In this film, Connor’s mom explains to her son that people tend to reject things they don’t understand. In King Kong, the movie ends with a less-than-stellar ending, with Kong being killed by airplanes and falling off of the Empire State Building. As a person who’s watched King Kong and loved it, I have to agree that it is not exactly the easiest thing to watch.

Nonetheless, I can still see why Merian C. Cooper wanted this as the ending, as its a great way to end its story, as heartless as it is. If Kong had survived, it may have also stripped away the stakes to the story and ruined the tension that it had built up. In life and film-making, you can’t eat your cake and have it too.

As much as Connor wanted Kong to survive, the film is not going to change. He doesn’t understand why Kong had to die, or why his mother’s medication is failing her, and this is because our brains are wired to fear things we don’t understand.

If someone walked up to you and started lifting a book with their “mind”, you would immediately start freaking out, and likely blame the ability on the paranormal. When something in life goes against everything you have learned up till now, like a disease not being able to be cured, or someone using telekinesis, our immediate reaction is anxiety and fear. Humans evolved in nature, so it was key for our survival that we perceived things we couldn’t understand as a threat. If we don’t understand something, we can’t discern if its friend or foe, so the safest bet is to treat it as something dangerous.

So by knowing this information, the best way to deal with these types of situations is to accept that you will never understand what is happening to you and allow yourself to be scared. In many situations, people are afraid to speak their mind because they fear they will become hypocritical. In events like this though, its perfectly okay. This is because they know they’re never going to comprehend their dilemma, so they embrace the confusion, allowing themselves to be vulnerable in the face of darkness. After all, one of the bravest things anyone can ever accomplish is accepting vulnerability and letting the confusion set in, instead of fighting a fight they know they won’t be able to win.

Life just doesn’t work the way you want it to. Some things in life are completely out of your control. Just like in the first story, as much as you want there to be a good guy and a bad guy, the story will never change. We always want things to happen a certain way, so it’s not unreasonable to expect someone to react with anxiety when life veers off of their expectations. There was never anything guaranteed to happen, nor will there ever will be. That sucks, and we may never understand why it has to happen, but we don’t have to understand or to like it. It’s scary to think that life will do things to us without our “permission”, but that’s life. Connor’s dad even said that most people don’t become happily ever after. Most people become “messily ever after”, and that’s okay.


The Second Story

The second story explains the consequences of resorting to fight your problems instead of allowing yourself to be vulnerable. It also serves as an example that sometimes even when people are poorly mannered, that doesn’t make them a villain.

For example, in the second story, the partisan spoke against the apothecary’s olden ways of healing, and in doing so, deprived him of business. However, when the partisan’s daughters acquired a deadly illness, he begged for the apothecary to help him, saying he would preach in his favor and essentially lie about his beliefs just to save his daughters. In a surprising turn of events, the apothecary refused, and the partisan’s daughters died of their sickness.

Sure, the apothecary may have been rude, but the partisan used his power to attack someone he disagreed with and manipulated the people he was preaching to. The apothecary was still a healer, and, as far as we know, only became sour once his business capsized.

Connor’s Grandmother could be easily compared to the apothecary or even the witch Queen from the first story.

As much as it seems that she’s out to get him, in reality, she only wants the best for him. When she tells Connor that he’ll be living with her for a few days, Connor feuds with anger and flat-out rejects her proposition. It’s harder on her than it is for Connor because they both want what’s best for Lizzie, and Connor just won’t let go.


The King’s Grandson

For a good portion of the film, Connor wears a similar striped shirt to the King’s Grandson in the first story. The boy in the second story killed his wife because he couldn’t accept how events were pulling together. Even if he wanted to take the throne from the Queen in a respectable way, not only was he too young, but by law, the Queen was to reign for another year.

Of course Connor never kills anyone. The meaning behind this comparison is that there are consequences when you try and change things you can’t control. After the second story is finished, the monster begins destroying a house and encourages Connor to take part. During this fit of destruction, the film abruptly cuts to Connor destroying his Grandmother’s furniture, leaving the house in disarray.

In life, when you waste time denying the truth and bottle your emotions, you end up pushing people away. Everyone else is dealing with the same problem he is and is just as confused and frustrated as he is. This isn’t a problem exclusive to Connor. When he looks into his Grandmother’s eyes and realizes what he has done, it is too late.

In the case of the parallel between Connor and the King’s Grandson, the comparison is important because, in both situations, the consequences that resulted from their actions resulted in pain and tragedy at the expense of another person.

Just because Connor couldn’t accept the reality of his mother’s inevitable death, or that he couldn’t get along with his Grandmother that only wanted the best for him and Lizzie, he acted out in a fit of rage and anger. Why is it necessary that he responds to his pain so selfishly when his family is dealing with the same pain he is feeling?


Messily Ever After

There’s a scene after Connor’s destructive rampage that I hold close to my heart. Connor’s father tells a story of his own, a story about his relationship with Lizzie. He said that they thought they had everything they wanted, but their marriage unfortunately, fell apart over time. He could have begged her to stay or vice versa. They could have promised to each other that they’ll change and work to fix this broken marriage, but they didn’t do that. They knew that life sucks sometimes and there will be points in life where relationships with two amazing people die for seemingly no reason.

Both of them had to let life take its course. What were they supposed to do, Fight back? Life is one of the few things humans can’t fight. So, Connor’s father just admitted that he still loves her, and had to give her up. He could have chased after her, in worry that the person he loved may have ended up with someone else, but what sense does that make? What sense is there in worrying who’s she’s going to be with when he knows in his heart that they’re never going to be together again?

In truth, those thoughts probably did come to mind after they split apart, but that’s the whole point of the film’s message. It’s okay to have contradictory feelings, as humans are complex, and our coping mechanisms often get in the way of our true intentions. The great thing about all of this is that none of it matters. All that matters is your actions. What’s amazing about thoughts, is just that. They’re just thoughts, and no one but you has access to them. So, what should we do with these thoughts? Just let them flow through your head as if they were dust bunnies.


Caesar vs Connor

To make it easier for me to explain what I want to say, I’ll compare Connor’s arc to a similar arc from a different film.

In War for the Planet of the apes, Caesar killed Winter, and albino gorilla, all for the sake of his selfish quest for vengeance. Winter may have exposed their hiding place to the Colonel, but he was scared. In his fear, Winter acted in such a way because he was fearful of the future, and his own life. Sure, that may be a selfish act as well, but it’s not unreasonable to expect someone would make rash decisions when they’re in fear.

In this film, the King’s Grandson killed his wife only to take the Queen’s place. The Queen may have become an evil witch in the future, but she was not a murderer, as the King had merely grown old. She certainly never deserved to be framed for the death of an innocent woman.

Like Connor and the King’s Grandson, Caesar acted harshly because he couldn’t look past his selfish coping mechanism for his rage and look the other way.

When Connor destroyed his Grandmother’s furniture, it was because he couldn’t look past her seemingly hostile nature. His Grandmother may seem to be the “bad guy”, but people cope with life in different ways. Connor reacted with such hatred just for something he could have easily forgiven.

Another example of this parallel between these films is Connor’s conversation with his father after his fit of destruction, vs Maurice, telling Caesar he’s acting like Koba after his selfish actions become the cause of Luca’s death.

Caesar may not like the notion of turning the other cheek while his family’s killer walks away unscathed, or that he was compared to Koba. Unfortunately, the reality of life is that we have to accept what it throws at us because we can’t change the past. If he had accepted the humility for what it was at face value: an act of war, he would have been able to separate his grieving process from his leadership over his tribe. It may be painful to just allow these thoughts and emotions to ungulate in his mind without acting on them, but it doesn’t matter how we feel, or what we think, it only matters what we do.

Connor’s father tries to teach him that just because people don’t get along, doesn’t mean they can’t love each other. His father came to the UK because he knew what Connor was going through and knew he needed his dad around in these trying times. He even offered to take Connor to LA for Christmas. After all this generosity, Connor rejected it. His father’s only here for a short amount of time and Connor is placing his selfish bubble higher on the priority list than spending quality time with his father.

The only thing Connor wants is to spend time with his mother and fails to see the big picture. When something terrible happens to us that we can’t control, we have to let it happen instead of pushing people away who are trying to help us.

It’s okay to accept that some things won’t last forever, and it’s okay to say goodbye and let terrible things happen to us. The bravest thing someone could do in this situation is being vulnerable in the face of darkness.


Belief is Half of all Healing

In the second story, the partisan preached against the apothecary’s business, but the apothecary did nothing wrong. The apothecary may have been using ancient methods of healing, but this process never hurt anybody.

Just like how humanity yearned for King Kong’s death because they couldn’t understand him, people automatically assumed the apothecary was evil because he’s the only one of his kind. Even today, when people produce healing remedies made from herbs, they do it in the privacy in their own homes. If they are respectful and humble people, they won’t entertain the notion that their remedies would always be more effective than something from a modern doctor.

Just by believing that the apothecary’s work can heal people, the city’s morale would have been raised significantly. Unfortunately though, the partisan never allowed him to continue with his work and turned his people against him.

The partisan only turned to this man when he had no options left for saving his daughters. He offered to give up everything he believed in, even promising to preach in his favor.

The problem with this, and why the apothecary turned him down, is that this wouldn’t have changed anything. It would have only made the situation worse, as the partisan would be preaching a lie, and by doing so, turning his back to the people. He would be abandoning his respect for his people, and they would have inevitably found out what’s going on. The partisan likely isn’t as smart as the King’s Grandson, and wouldn’t be able to devise a master plan to use the people to get what he wants.

The people and the church would have found out what’s going on, and his trustworthiness would have crumbled. When people say they’ll promise to change just for somebody else, in a frantic attempt to stop something horrible happening to them, they only do so out of selfishness from their crisis. Even if the other party entertained them, it still wouldn’t change anything. Both parties would be turning away from who they are and will be living a lie. This has happened many times throughout human history and has always resulted in relationships collapsing.

This message is reflected in Connor’s life in multiple ways. One of the most prominent ways it does this is through Lizzie lying to Connor, saying she’s going to be healed when she knows in her heart that she’s long gone. When Connor speaks of the fourth tale and tells the truth, he said that deep down he knew that she wasn’t going to be okay. Lizzie wanted to keep Connor ignorant to give him hope to believe in the cure. I think we all know the hypocrisy of this whole situation. Lizzie knew that by keeping him in the dark she could keep Connor hopeful while he figures it out himself. But why would Lizzie want to give him hope, when she already knew the endgame? And to tell you the truth, I don’t know the answer myself.

I’ve said this many, many times throughout this review, but I can’t emphasize this enough. Humans are complex, and not even the most intelligent of our kind, have not unraveled all of our brains strange and unorthodox ways of thinking. In positions like these, we may find ourselves wanting the truth, but also wanting to be lied to, as to not injure our hearts. That’s just the nature of the human spirit.


The Third Story


In the third story, we learn about the dangers of attempting to fight life. Even though sometimes we may think that life doesn’t know we exist, but that doesn’t mean the people that care about us don’t. As much as you may think that no-one is noticing you, they are always watching.

The tale goes like this:

There was once an invisible man, who had grown tired of being unseen. It was not that he was actually invisible, it was just that people had become used to not seeing him. One day the invisible man couldn’t stand it anymore. He kept wondering, if no one sees you, are you really there at all?

Liam Neeson as The Monster (2016)

After The Monster told this story, Connor then stormed forward and took out his anger on his bully. Connor was then reprimanded by his school principal after finding out his violent outburst put the boy in the hospital. When Connor asks why he isn’t being punished, she responds with: “What could possibly be the point?”

This film uses the third story to help explain to Connor, and the audience, that there’s nothing we can do to stop life from enacting its master plan, and we’re bound to make mistakes. Humans are complex and flawed, and we’re so used to being able to control everything. When they’res something we can’t control, we react with fear and anger. As I mentioned earlier, when the brain encounters something it doesn’t understand, its first response is to treat it as a threat. Knowing this information, it’s not unreasonable to expect that someone would make mistakes and act irrationally when dealing with something frightening.


The Fickleness of Punishment

People only learn when they feel pain. I think we can all relate to a situation where we tried to prevent someone we loved from making a rash decision, but the person in question never entertained your advice and they ended up making a grave mistake. Only after they made such a grave mistake did they realize what they have done, and end up asking themselves, “what was I thinking?”.

People don’t realize that they’ve made a mistake until after the consequences become reality. That’s how people learn to be better people. There’s no real way to live life without experiencing failures. After all, When we fail, we will naturally adjust our actions so we don’t make the same mistake again. Connor didn’t need to be punished by his actions because the consequences that resulted from his actions were so traumatic that it was never needed.

In instances like these, where we mess up and cause disarray, we may feel like we deserve the worst for acting out of line. The truth is if you’re going through something traumatic, and you lash out by breaking things, no one is going to hold that against you. You knew you messed up, and the other party can forgive you given the circumstances, so, what’s the point of punishment? In the end, Connor’s Grandmother flat-out rejects Connor’s apology because they’re both going through the same experience and have both made mistakes.


The Invisible Man

Leading up to the telling of this story, Connor felt as if he didn’t exist. In my own experience, I can relate to Connor because I too have lived through times where I felt that the world was piling on top of me. I felt that the world had been doing what it wanted, without a care in the world of how I felt.

To Connor, his Grandma doesn’t seem to pay attention to him or care about him, his father tells him things he doesn’t want to hear, and his mother tells him that she’s going to be alright when in reality, her condition is only worsening. Connor’s age benefits his character arc here, because everyone just tells him a “script”, and do their “grown-up” talk while he is seemingly ignored. After a lengthy buildup of this, his anger leads him to take out his frustrations on his school bully.

The truth of the matter is, you can’t cure invisibility through violence. If anything, it only makes your situation worse, as now everyone is staring at you in reaction to your heinous act. When grieving, it’s important to realize that giving your anger what it wants is going to do nothing to benefit you.

In my own life, I can recall several occurrences in which I felt that nothing I had been doing had been working to dull the pain I was feeling. This doesn’t just happen from going through the loss of a loved one, or even a breakup. This phenomenon happens in all instances where someone would be experiencing depression or sorrow in their life.

From my experience, I can say that there were times I had tried to listen to what people were telling me, watching self-help videos, and watching movies that dealt with a similar theme of acceptance. When none of them worked, I felt the only thing that could help me, the only thing that could make me feel powerful was my anger.

So when I felt I had no options left to cope with my emotions, I snapped, and said and did things that I would regret later.

What I and many other people failed to realize when under its influence is just that. Anger has an incredible influence on our minds if we let it roam free. The truth of the matter is, there are other options. No matter how much you may think that no one cares, there are people that care. The only reason why you may think you are invisible is because your depressive thoughts make you invisible.

There’s a powerful scene near the end of the film when Lizzie’s condition has reached critical levels. It’s too late to continue this charade any longer, and she has to tell Connor the truth. In an inspirational monologue, she says:

One day, if you look back, and you feel bad for being so angry, you can even speak to me. You have to know that that was okay, that I knew. Because I know everything you need to tell me without you having to say it out loud. And if you need to break things, by God you break them!

Felicity Jones as Lizzie O’Malley (A Monster Calls – 2016)

The best way to cope with grief, and your anger, is to embrace it as who you are. If you need to scream, if you need to punch a wall, or if you need to break things, that’s okay, because that’s what being human is all about. It’s okay to be angry, and you shouldn’t feel like you need to be punished when you feel such emotions. You shouldn’t have to feel like you need to hurt someone to express yourself.

People resort to violence in these situations because they are afraid. They are afraid of speaking the truth and embracing their vulnerability. Our pain and our anger makes us who we are, so trying to run away from it would only be foolish. We need these emotions to make us flawed, to make us human. That’s what the gift of free will is all about.


The Truth


In an inevitable sequence of events, Connor has to face his nightmare and speak of the 4th tale. In his nightmare, and finally admit to what he’s feeling, that’s been plaguing him for this entire journey. In this nightmare, a sinkhole develops in the ground, and Connor has to hold onto his mom as the void from the earth sucks her in with immense strength. To save himself, he has to let go. When he does, he finally, admits to The Monster and screams: “I just want it to be over!”.

Back to the theme of punishment again, Connor still thinks that he deserves punishment for wanting his pain to end, even if it meant losing his mother. This is only basic human instinct, and it’s completely natural to wish for an end of pain. He wished for an end to his pain, but he also wished for his mother to continue living. Just as these three stories suggest, not everything in life is going to make sense. At some point in his life, Connor had to accept that sometimes, that’s just how life happens. Of course, these two things contradict each other, but that doesn’t matter.

In King Kong, the humans killed him because they failed to understand him. Connor couldn’t understand his feelings and why he wanted to believe that his mother was going to live when he knew all along that she was lying. After all, from The Monster’s mouth, it does not matter what you think, it is only important what you do.


Conclusion


I feel that the best way to conclude this blog post is to tell my own tale in reflection on what I learned from this film.

I think we’ve all been in situations where we have been suffering through more pain than what should be warranted, as we avoid the red flags because we don’t want to let go of what’s causing us pain. In my own experience, I can recall a similar experience of having to let go. I had recently gone through a breakup from a partner whom I loved very much. I know I had to let her go, but the thought of her being with someone else was too much for me. How could I wish for an end to my pain, yet also want to hold onto her? It didn’t really make sense. Although, no matter what I thought, I knew I wasn’t ever going to get her back, nor would it be a healthy relationship anyway if I did. So I allowed myself to be hypocritical and just accepted reality, as confusing as it was.

Over time, I was healed. Yes, it was hard, it was more than hard. Nonetheless, I was able to move on because I knew that it was best for me, as confusing as that felt.

Author

Noah Veremis

The Grey: Optimizing Opportunity

The Grey is a 2011 film about a group of plane crash survivors that soon find themselves as stalking victims of a group of ravenous, aggressive wolves. On the surface, it looks nothing more than a typical Liam Neeson movie. On my revisited viewing of this film, I absolutely fell in love with this film.

The Key to understanding what this film has to say is to look at the dynamic between Liam Neeson’s character, John, and the alpha of the opposing wolf pack. When John found himself stranded in the middle of an arctic wasteland, he was forced to make a choice. This setting is perfect for the film’s message, as when you consider that in a life-threatening survival situation, to survive one must optimize every single choice they make to ensure their safety.

John’s character in this film lived through life as a jellyfish, just letting the waves carry him through life. When that plane crashed, it forced him to take initiative. In storytelling, the most boring character that could ever be written into a story is one who does not make decisions that move the story forward. So, The Grey takes this to the extreme and builds the entire message of the film off of rapid decision making as opposed to letting life (or the story in this case) make decisions for you.


Living in a Dream


One of the very first pieces of information the film gives us is John’s wife. Some time ago, his wife had passed, and he spends his days mourning during the daytime and living in a paradise in the dream world, where he can be in his wife’s arms.

There’s a poem that John’s dad had coined early in John’s childhood, and had framed on the family wall. The poem reads:

Once more into the fray,

Into the last good fight I’ll ever know,

Live and die on this day,

Live and die on this day.

Liam Neeson as John Ottway – The Grey (2011)

This poem entails that one should do everything they possibly can to complete their goals, thus increasing chances of success by optimizing every opportunity they come across.

We don’t see much of John’s father, but we can assume that he was an important figure in his life. However, after John’s wife had passed away, all hope and enthusiasm that was left died with her. So now, his only reason to live is to wait until he falls asleep so he dull his pain, even for a short moment. John, like anybody would be, is heartbroken. He wishes for things he can’t have and asks the same questions over and over even when he knows he’s going to get the same answer.


Suicide Letter

We learn that since her death, John had landed himself a job working for an oil company. There’s a rampant wolf problem in this area that threatens the workers, so they hired John as a hunter to keep the company’s employees protected.

The opening shot of the film begins with John reading out loud a letter to his late wife. In it, he allows himself to be hypocritical for the sake of acceptance. He writes to her that he doesn’t know why he’s writing this, or what good it will do, especially considering that he knows she’s never going to return to him.

As we progress through this monologue, John explains that the people working for this company are the lowest of the low. They consist of ex-cons, fugitives, and drifters: according to John, as anyone unfit for mankind. Anyone who lands a job working for this company has made far too many mistakes in life to fit in with the rest of society.

There is some religious symbolism in this film that considers the credibility of God’s existence. These people have made far to many mistakes to have any hope of redemption, so why should we believe in the existence of God, when the evidence of his guidance is nowhere to be seen?

Well, shortly after John finishes this letter, he walks into a bar and takes a look around at the filth that inhabits the room around him. He then proceeds to take his last drink and walks outside to take his own life. He ends up stopping himself when he hears the combined howl of a pack of wolves in the mountains.

John chose to live on because it’s his purpose to protect his fellow workers from wolves. From my personal experiences, I only thought about suicide because I didn’t feel like I had a purpose in this world. From my perspective, I felt that the world wouldn’t lose anything if I left. Not necessarily that no one would miss me, but that I was a waste of oxygen. When John was reminded of his purpose, he had no choice but to live on, as all of those deaths attributed to wolf attacks would have been on him.

As John said, these people are the scum of human society. However, by defying fate and delaying their deaths, perhaps he can prolong the inevitable long enough to give them a second chance at redemption. However, as we come to find out, not everyone who works here is a lowlife. Sometimes it just happens that we have no options left. If John were to kill himself, his absence could be responsible for the death of someone who was just down on their luck. They would be at the mercy of fate.

When we feel that we don’t have many options left, when we feel we are beyond hope of saving, we may look to God for guidance. How do you think you would feel if the only person staffed to protect you from wild animals ended up killing himself, only to have you murdered by one of them? Sure, some people might not believe in God, and that’s fine. However, it would be selfish of you to take that faith away from them. Faith exists to give people hope, that as long as they keep breathing they’ll be okay.

People are counting on John to protect them. Even if John had physical proof that God didn’t exist, it would be much smarter just to let people be ignorant. Some people are in such a hole that God is the only thing left they have to hold onto. It would be incredibly self-centered for John to kill himself because so many people count on him. These people trust John with their lives, and John wants to end his own life because he can’t handle being away from his wife? No, that would be horribly unreasonable. So, John pulled his finger off the trigger and chose to live on for another day, in the name of life.

Later in the film, John will come to regret this decision, but that regret is short lasted. After the plane crash, the opportunity presents itself for the need for leadership, and John took initiative because he knew he was the best candidate for the job.


Taking Initiative


There comes a point in the film where John and some of his fellow workers have to board a plane flight for a business trip. John eventually falls asleep, and we see him in bed with his wife. John’s still wearing his coat as she’s cradling him. John’s only coping mechanism for reality is to escape from it in his dreams. So when the plane starts to crash, he’s ripped (literally) out of his wife’s arms and into reality.

Reality isn’t dull anymore. John expects reality to just leave him be until he enters the dream world, but that’s just not the case. This is real, and he has to make decisions that count. Being depressed about his dead wife isn’t going to help him in this life or death situation. It’s not that he doesn’t miss her or that he’s not hurt, it’s just in his best interest to keep living and make a decision, as he has been given an opportunity to turn his life around, to start treating his purpose with respect.

John accepted the harsh truth that no one isn’t going to find them. So, instead of wallowing in the pit life has thrown him in, he starts working for a solution. After all, no one else is equipped to lead, and every group needs a leader to succeed. John could care less about who these people are or why they ended up with such a dead-end job. All he cares about is that it’s in his best interest to take leadership status to ensure his survival. It just so happens that he forms friendships with these people later on.

The other members of the group just don’t have the leadership skills required to survive. He doesn’t spend too much time to mourn the people who have passed, not because he’s heartless, but that it would be a waste of precious time given the current situation.

There is one scene where he does give time to mourn that’s worth mentioning, however. After everyone settles into reality and recovers from their shock, one of the men is stricken with the horrible fate of his inevitable death as he slowly bleeds out. John decides to sit next to him and act as comfort for his dying soul. He does this because nobody else is equipped to handle this situation, so John steps up. See, whenever an opportunity presents itself that the world needs John’s skills, he takes initiative and doesn’t stop until he has no more energy. This is because he wasted so much precious time on his life worrying about things out of his control, waiting for life to allow him to see his wife again.

So now, he makes decisions that count, because there will be situations where the world will call for his aid. Many people may be conflicted as to what their purpose is, but John could care less what his purpose is. He only fills in the role he knows no one else can fill. He only wants to live life as full as he can because all he’s been doing is waiting to go to sleep so he can see his wife. He just wants to solve problems that he knows he has control over.


The Alpha


The wolves in this film may seem at first glance to be heartless killers, but they’re no different from John and his crew, especially the alpha. After the first death from one of these wolves, John explains that they may be trespassing on their territory, hence why these wolves begin hunting them.

Wolves aren’t territorial because they’re out for blood. As a wolf. if another carnivore enters your territory, it threatens your livelihood because you now have competition. If a group of carnivores enters your zone of control, that’s less food for you and your pack. As a leader, wolf or not, your job is to tend to the safety and survival of your pack. Wolves don’t attack humans when outside of their territory because there’s no purpose to, other than being prey, but that’s just the circle of life.

Diaz, the mouthy and rebellious member of John’s group, puts on quite the act to compensate for his fear. He puffs his chest out and talks a big game because that’s the only way he knows how to cope with his fear. So, when John points this out and puts him in his place, Diaz pulls out his knife and challenges his leadership. Of course, John beats him to the ground, not because he hates him, but to assert his dominance. John must maintain his spot as the leader because he’s the only one capable to lead the group. Diaz then apologizes and actually becomes a productive member of the group, but that’s beside the point.

The Alpha also makes a similar display of dominance when one of the wolves threatens his leadership. He then proceeds to kill the challenger, as a means to keep his status as the alpha. This decision to kill the challenger wasn’t personal, it was only practical. If the alpha decided to let it slide, his credibility to be a leader would collapse. The stability of the pack would crumble, and the pack would likely be killed off or starve to death.

In the final scene of the film, John finds himself to be the only survivor and accidentally stumbles into the wolves’ den. The alpha orders the wolves to stand down as he challenges John on his own.

John pulls his bearings together and gets his weapons ready instead of surrendering because there’s still a tiny chance of survival. Although the chances of his success are incredibly slim, there’s still a mathematical chance that he will survive. So, because he’s exhausted every other alternative option of survival, he readies for battle to survive. The only acceptable environment required to allow yourself to surrender is if you have exhausted every other option to complete your goals. In making any decision, you accept the consequences of what may come of it, if you’re tactical about it that is.

The alpha orders his pack to stand down because if he were to be “cowardly” and let his pack do his dirty work, he may have incubated an environment for one of the members of his pack to challenge his authority. For if he challenges the last survivor head-on, none of the other wolves would even dare challenge him. His pack knows he’s making the right decision because his extremely tactful nature in the past has warranted their trust to follow him.

Is this realistic wolf behavior? Absolutely not, but that’s not the point. Animals in films are often personified to be more relatable or frightening, and that’s not a bad thing. This is exactly why in the Lion King 2019 remake, all soul and emotion was lost when the decision was made to keep the animals as realistic as possible.


Conclusion


I absolutely fell in love with this film after my second viewing, and for good reason. I feel that this film’s version of the message, “living life to the fullest”, is the best adaptation that I have ever seen. The dynamic between John and the alpha is amazing, and I feel this is definitely a hidden gem that everyone should see. I love movies that use animals to incorporate their message, and this film did so with flying colors. If you take anything from this film, know that the worst decision you could ever make is not deciding at all.

Author

Noah Veremis

Planet of the Apes: Lesson in Character Development – War

War for the Planet of the Apes is the third and final film in the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy, released in 2017. After Koba forced apes into a war with humans, Caesar is forced to lead his tribe against a fight he didn’t start, because he has to protect his kind, and no one else is qualified to do it.


War


In this film, Koba’s actions haunt everyone even after his death. After Caesar’s family is killed by the Colonel leading a surviving society of humans, Caesar lets his emotions get the best of him when he abandons his tribe to go on a manhunt for revenge. Throughout the film, we start to see Caesar adopt some of Koba’s toxic traits, and this, in turn, puts his tribe in danger.

The magnetic presence and influence Caesar has over his apes play a tremendous role in the overwhelming amount of trust his people have for him.

Caesar in this movie could even be a reflection of Moses from The Bible. This film has many religious commentary inside of its content, and even more so a message of anti-violence. In this spectacular finale, we see Caesar learn exactly how much he means to his fellow apes, and how far they will go to serve him.


Caesar vs Koba


Koba’s actions in Dawn still haunt the apes that remain, especially Caesar. When Caesar talks about this with Maurice, Maurice says that no one could have known how much hatred and darkness that had infected his heart. Of course, yes, that is true, but technically it was Caesar’s fault that this war even happened. Caesar looked down upon humans and thought that they only capable of destruction. If Caesar had learned to treat humans with the same amount of respect as apes, he might have seen the foreseeable future.

However, as Maurice stated, no one had a clue how much hate was living inside of Koba. This version of Caesar is arguably the best in the trilogy because he’s the most relatable. We have all met someone who we trusted, only to be back-stabbed by that person. In my own experience, at one point in my life, I was so captivated by someone that I wasn’t understanding or able to predict that they were just using me for themselves.

Although in Caesar’s case his circumstances are slightly different, the situation is the same. We have all been in a situation where we couldn’t see what someone’s true motives are. I can also think of any number of times where I wallowed over one of my mistakes, thinking hindsight can fix the past. Sometimes it’s hard to let go, even when the universe is screaming at us that it’s in our best interest.


Winter

One of the characters in the film, Winter, is part of Caesar’s main crew until he betrays him. At the beginning of the film, we learn that Rocket and Blue Eyes have found a desert a lengthy distance from the woods and that the apes could travel there to escape further battle from hostile humans. Unfortunately, before they made it to the tribe, their base was attacked by a human military.

Some of the kin working with this band of humans are apes who were previously followers of Koba. They serve as “donkeys” for humans in fear of what Caesar will do to them. One of these donkeys named Red, informs Winter that the colonel will spare his life if he leaves Caesar’s side and informs him of the location of Caesar’s base. Winter, being a fearful creature, gives in and becomes a donkey for the humans.

Unfortunately, this leads Colonel McCullough (the leader of this opposing tribe of humans) to lead a stealth mission to infiltrate the base and kill Caesar. Not everything went as planned however, and Caesar’s wife and son were brutally killed.


Letting Go

This begins the start of Caesar’s character arc, as he is naturally incredibly angry for what had happened to him, and runs off alone to find and kill McCullough in a solo vendetta ride. The problem with this is that he’s leaving his apes behind without a leader. Caesar is a leader and lets his vengeance take priority over leading his people. Not to mention, the only member of his family that survived the attack was his newest son, Cornelius.

Caesar says that by leaving he is giving his people a chance to escape because when he finds the Colonel his forces will look for him. Although this may hold some truth, the fact of the matter is the Colonel would probably expect a prideful ape as Caesar to stick with his men. Colonel McCullough at some points tries to get Caesar to calm down, saying that what he had done was performed solely as an act of war. and that Caesar is taking it much too personally. Regardless of what you might think of McCullough, he’s right.

However, to let this go, and not take it personally, Caesar would have to forgive the Colonel. After all, Caesar wasn’t the one who instigated this war, as he is only invested in it to protect apes. To to properly move on from this traumatic event, would be to live with the fact that Caesar would have to resist his urges for vengeance.

I know not all of us have had family brutally murdered, but I’m sure we can all relate to the fear of forgiveness. Using the same situation I mentioned earlier, it was really hard to forgive this person and live on knowing that this person would live on without anything happening to them, that they would continue to have friends and live a happy life after doing something so terrible to me.

Using Winter as an example, when Caesar left on his suicide mission, Maurice, Rocket, and Luca joined him to make sure he comes back. They come across a human military camp, and surprise surprise, Winter is there. When Caesar’s crew confronts him, humans outside notice the racket, and Caesar promptly puts him in a headlock. Unfortunately in his rage, Caesar accidentally kills him.

Winter is an albino gorilla, which is incredibly rare in the wild. This extraordinary, beautiful creature was killed because he made a mistake driven from the fear for his life. Surely Caesar would have been able to forgive Winter given the circumstances. Winter truly thought that humans were going to discover the hideout, thinking that he would be in the death count. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for Caesar to put his anger aside and forgive Winter. He probably could have even changed his mind and motivate him to join the crew, or at the very least meet back up with the other apes.

Caesar killed an albino gorilla, all because he couldn’t forgive and set his emotions aside. After this happens, Caesar has a dream where he sees an apparition of Koba. Koba says to him “ape not kill ape”. Which haunts Caesar like a revenant out of fear of becoming what Koba represented. In some situations, fear of our past mistakes make us repeat them at a higher volume. When Koba mocks Caesar for killing Winter, he is afraid of admitting his fault because he doesn’t want to be wrong.

In life, it is inevitable that there will be outcomes where the very people who have harmed us mock us or remind us of our shortcomings, and we retaliate because there’s no possible way we could be the very thing that harmed us. Unfortunately, this happens more than we’d like to happen to us. It’s scary to think that we have committed the same mistakes as someone whom we despise out of the things they have done to us. We don’t want to be associated with people like that, so instead of admitting our faults, we retaliate in anger thinking it will prove a point, but usually only prove to the accuser of what we’ve become.

However, the truth is, no matter who we are, we all make mistakes. There’s no fault in admitting of making a mistake either. It’s okay to be vulnerable instead of being defensive because you aren’t going to solve anything unless you forgive.


Simian Flu


One of the main plot-points in this movie is the mutation of the Simian Flu. It’s explained later by the Colonel that the disease that every remaining human still carries, had suddenly changed, rather, mutated into something far more dangerous.

Nova had been a victim of this mutation. What the mutation does, is rob those affected of their higher thinking abilities. They still have the intelligence required to problem solve, but what made them human had been taken away, and had been turned into primitives.

On the trip to find the Colonel, Caesar’s crew encounters Nova when they find her in a small hut filled with trash. The man who was taking care of her had been neglectful of her health. Maurice interacts with her and persuades Caesar to bring her along after they discover she cannot speak.

We later find out that people who had stopped speaking were green-lighted to be killed. The Colonel, informs Caesar in a monologue that anyone who stops speaking carries the mutation, and that the only way to rid of the mutation is to kill them.


Nova


Nova represents vulnerability. Never in the film does she ever show aggression, or even anger. She remains a pretty inactive character for the majority of the film, that is until Luca dies.

After finding an ape that can take them to a weapons depot where the Colonel may reside, the crew gets ambushed on their way there and Luca is stabbed in the chest. The only reason why Luca was killed was because of Caesar’s own selfish desire to go after the Colonel as opposed to protecting his apes.

Luca is the same type of gorilla as Buck from Rise. In that film, Buck’s death represented Caesar’s evolution into an independent character. Caesar no longer had Will to take care of him, and he no longer had Buck to protect his authority. Instead, he developed to rely on his charisma and leadership skills from thereon out. Of course, Caesar has moved past that, and had become a powerful leader using the skills he learned when he was confronted with challenge. Unfortunately however, Caesar has lost the understanding of what’s important. Instead of setting aside his emotions and allowing himself to be vulnerable, he decided to go after the Colonel in a quest for vengeance.

Vulnerability doesn’t make you weak. In a scene before Luca’s death, he plucked a flower from a blossoming tree and set it atop Nova’s ear as a hair-bow. Just before Luca takes his last breath, Nova gives the flower back to Luca as she cries over the dying ape. In his own words, the Colonel started killing people infected with the mutating Simian Flu because he was afraid of becoming no more intelligent than cattle.

In other words, Colonel McCullough started killing his men out of fear of becoming weak. However, as we’ve discussed, vulnerability doesn’t make you weak. Sure, Nova ability to speak was taken from her, but she was able to learn sign language like anyone else. If you can put aside your anger and allow yourself to grieve, to cry, to allow yourself to feel awkward in front of others, you stop pushing people away and allow yourself to be showered with the love you need.


The Prison

Even after Luca’s death, when the dangers of power and control are staring into Caesar’s rage-induced eyes, he still proceeds to press on. When Maurice resents Caesar, he tells him that he is starting to sound like Koba. Caesar responds with rage and decides to go after the Colonel alone. This inevitably leads him to find out that without his leadership, his apes have found themselves captured in a labor camp in terrible living conditions. If this wasn’t terrible enough, Caesar’s tunnel vision lead him to be captured by Red and brought to the Colonel in handcuffs.

Even when McCullough asks him if he’s come to save his apes, Caesar replies with “I came for you”. Caesar doesn’t fully understand the gravity of his mistakes until he sees his only son behind bars, forced to work like everyone else.


Maurice

Maurice, as he’s always been, is a comforting soul who serves as Caesar’s rock. That is especially prevalent in this film, as Maurice is the one who serves as Nova’s protector and guardian. If not for Maurice, Nova likely would not have come along or probably not have survived with the crew, and Caesar would not have learned his most valuable lesson.

After Luca’s death Maurice tries to reason with Caesar. In summary, he says that Luca is the first of what will be an onslaught if Caesar continues down the same path. Thanks to Caesar’s actions, his selfish quest to kill the Colonel will only lead to the death of more apes. When Caesar goes off on his own, Maurice chooses to stow his hand, as sometimes the only way for someone to learn of his shortcomings is for them to occur as a consequence of said shortcomings. After all, people only learn that they’ve done something wrong when something unpleasant happens as a result from their lackluster decisions.

I have had experiences where people have tried to convince me as hard as they can of the path I was walking through, and how dangerous it was to my health. I only learned what I was doing when I found myself at the deep end when I went too far. Only when I finally caved in to self reflect did I realize what I’ve become. The best way for someone to improve from their mistakes, is to have them experience an event that is a consequence of their poor decision making.

So, it’s no surprise that when Caesar is captured and realizes what he’s done, there are a handful of orangutans sprinkled in with all of the other apes.

In a powerful scene, Caesar is forced to work with the other apes on a wall that will defend the base from an attack from a rivaling tribe of humans. After one of the orangutans makes a mistake, he is doomed to be brutally whipped by none other than Red. Caesar screams “LEAVE HIM!”.

Following this scene, all of the apes start shouting and chanting in protest. It’s at this point that Caesar is starting to understand how important he is to his apes, as just two words of confidence from him can motivate his apes from a state of having no hope, to setting everything aside to follow in his footsteps, trusting every move he makes.

When the Colonel threatens to kill Caesar if the apes don’t go back to work, Caesar doesn’t have to say anything. His fellow apes start to work on their own volition. In any other circumstance, if any other ape was the leader of the pack, he would probably be killed to send a message without hesitation. That just shows how much Caesar means to his family. They will do anything he asks, because after seeing the kind of person he has evolved into, they know he’s the best candidate for their leader.

The loyalty of his followers only increases when Caesar is strung up on a log, similar to Crucifixion, as punishment. This is why we never see Maurice fight anyone in the entire film. Even when he is shot by Koba in Dawn, he still never shows resentment towards him. This is why vulnerability and anti-violence is so much stronger than Koba’s philosophy. When you allow yourself to forgive your enemies and allow yourself to be humiliated in front of your followers, that only makes you and your followers stronger.

If you respond with violence, you are no better than your oppressors, and you don’t solve anything, as it is effective as punching a brick wall. If Caesar decided to fight back in any of these circumstances, he would have been beaten and likely killed. Caesar’s people need a leader, so it is paramount that he allows himself to be humiliated and tortured so his people can have someone to rely on, something to hope for. If Caesar were to be killed, his people likely would have lost hope and given up. Not to mention, fighting your captors when you have no chance of succeeding only demonstrates your foolishness as you put yourself in more pain than is necessary.


Redemption

Perhaps Caesar’s defining moment in this film is when Nova leaves the protection of Maurice on her own volition to retrieve food and water for Caesar so he can survive the night. Caesar is sitting in his private cell, curled up in the fetal position suffering from starvation and dehydration. Nova brings the bucket of water up to his mouth and smooths her fingers through his hair to comfort him.

When she brings him some grain from the other apes, all of the apes from the other cell stand up holding their hands together, signifying the phrase “Apes, Together, Strong”. Nova turns back to Caesar and makes the same gesture. It’s an incredibly powerful and emotional scene that shows the strength of Caesar’s leadership and shows him how much his followers love him. It shows that Caesar doesn’t have to go through the death of his family alone, as his followers aren’t just along for the ride. It also shows that by being vulnerable and allowing himself to be tortured and humiliated all to guarantee the safety of his kind, he is the strongest leader anyone could ever ask or hope for.

To further represent this point, to allow Nova to escape back into Maurice’s arms, Rocket makes a racket and shows himself out in the open. He is then promptly beaten half to death, and thrown into the cell with the other apes. When he stands up, he looks at Caesar, smiles, and asks him if he’s feeling better, followed by notions of escape. Rocket, who was once the leader of the small tribe from the animal sanctuary, has come to put his life on the line and blow his cover, all for the protection of Nova and Caesar. After he is beaten severely and disgraced in front of everyone he loves, his only priorities are to make sure his leader is okay.


Conclusion


This film in particular out of the three that I have discussed took me through a wild ride. It still stands to be one of my favorite films, as it is the biggest climax of a series to end all climaxes. It wraps up Caesar’s character arc so perfectly that I feel like we never deserved this amazing of a film. As for Caesar himself, his character evolves so amazingly throughout his journey. Even in War, you can still faintly see the birthmark that made him into who he was from the beginning. To transfer Dawn to War, the team decided to use Koba’s philosophy as a great reflection of Caesar’s wrongdoings and allows the audience to use it as an anchor to ponder of the abstract ideas presented in Caesar’s character flaws. To wrap up, I would go as far as to say that these three films should be films everyone should watch before they die. These films hold a very special place in my heart and taught me things I never expected them to.

Author

Noah Veremis

Planet of the Apes: Lesson in Character Development – Dawn

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the second installment in the Planet of the Apes trilogy. Picking up in the future after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, we see the aftermath of the simian flu. The same drug that increased ape intelligence was incredibly lethal for humans. The few survivors that are immune to the disease live in small settlements in a world controlled by apes.


Dawn

In this film, Caesar’s character arc is further developed. One of the apes that follows him, Koba, cannot forgive what humans have done to him. Once Koba finds out that humans are not extinct and still alive he constantly persists to Caesar that they wipe them out.

Of course this would put apes in needless danger and start a war that wasn’t needed. However, Caesar’s flaw in this film is that he subconsciously believes that apes are better than humans. Due to this flaw in Caesar’s logic, he refuses to believe that Koba could ever break his trust and become a traitor because he is an ape. This fault in logic even almost leads Caesar to his death. In this film, Caesar’s grudge against the human race becomes his downfall, and eventually learns to treat humans with just as much respect and dignity as he would an ape.


Caesar vs Koba


In this film, the character Koba from Rise is further explored and is an important role in the film. Caesar was born in an environment that facilitated all of his needs as an individual. He had a father, a mother, and even a grandfather. Born in a place full of love, that’s all he came to knew. When that was taken away from him he wanted to be back in Will’s arms again and be taken care of. However, this request was never fulfilled and Caesar was placed in an environment that forced him to take action and take initiative. This series of events lead us to the disciplined and hardened Caesar we all know and love.

Unfortunately for Koba, he did not receive the same treatment. Koba was a frequent guinea pig for experimentation and was treated very poorly. Naturally, when someone is living in such neglectful living conditions for so long, this becomes all they are capable of expecting in other individuals. Humans taught Koba nothing but hate. Ontop of this, Koba was never released from this neglect until Caesar arrived to save him.

Koba never had the ability or the wish to take initiative like Caesar accomplished. He never had the capability or the determination to escape from such hateful living conditions so he was conditioned to be passive and submissive. When Caesar helped him escape, he allowed for an environment to let Koba exercise his right to independence and that was like gold to him.

Up until Koba found out that humans were proven to be still alive, he was content with life because his oppressors were assumed dead. It was inevitable for Koba’s violent intent to arise again because that was all he knew. When he found out that humans were still alive, the notion of revenge was therapeutic for him. This is because all of the abuse he received allowed for his anger to build up slowly over time. It is not uncommon for someone to act out violently after suffering abuse earlier in life, because the last thing they want to feel is submissive. It would be natural for a victim of abuse to feel the need to give out beatings, because they want to feel dominant to cope with their feelings of fear and anger out of their mind.

Once the apes finally reunite with the humans, both Caesar and Koba have pretty unhealthy reactions. After Rocket’s new son, Ash was shot by one of these humans, Caesar crosses the Golden Gate Bride to human territory to send a message. Caesar says to them that apes don’t wish for war, but will fight if the situation arises. After telling the humans to stay in their territory, Caesar and his apes take their leave back to their den.

Caesar wishes to segregate humans and apes because he thinks that apes are a much more peaceful species. Of course, this is incredibly terrible logic because there’s always going to be bad eggs, apes and humans the like. When the humans need assistance from the apes, Caesar’s only condition is to have them give up all weapons. All things considered, this is a pretty reasonable request. However, when Caesar finds that a particularly hateful and violent human named Carver, has hidden a shotgun in his toolbox, he associates that transgression with the human race as a whole instead of with one toxic individual.

This is Caesar’s downfall. He believes that all humans are automatically inherited violent and hateful tendencies as soon as they are born. On the opposite side of the spectrum, he believes that all apes are going to be peaceful. If Life of Pi has taught us anything, its that it is naive to think that everyone is going to think like you, and that everyone is going to be peaceful and reciprocate your kindness with more love.

This ultimately leads to Caesar providing the circumstances for Koba to go rogue and stab Caesar in the back, becoming a traitor and leading a war against the humans that shouldn’t have ever happened in the first place.

Caesar only made things worse by making Koba submit whenever his notions got out of hand. In one instance, he stood up and physically made his presence more dominant to force Koba to submit. In another instance when Koba almost harms a human child and insults Caesar, Caesar assaults him and even almost kills him. He ends up stopping himself and says “ape not kill ape”. All of this only incubates Koba’s rage because now he’s forced into submission again, bringing out unhealthy and frustrating memories.

However, because Koba isn’t contained and prevented from acting out his thirst for dominance, he takes action and shoots Caesar in the chest and framing his “death” on the humans, presenting a “human gun” to his fellow apes to start a war.


Apes vs Humans

Now that Caesar is wounded and very close to death, he ultimately has to rely on outside sources to save himself and his fellow apes from the slaughter of the war that Koba started.

There are a few strategies one could employ to fight stereotyping and discrimination, or even just hateful tendencies from multiple individuals in general. One of them is arguably the most effective. All it requires is that the individuals in question work together on a common goal. It really can be anything, like pushing a truck that’s stuck in the mud, or forcing them to work together on a lengthy project.

In this film’s case, our group of human protagonists see Caesar gravely wounded and take him into their truck to tend to his wounds. After being healed by these humans, these same people help Caesar and some of his apes sneak into the battlefield to stop Koba and his army. Caesar and the humans worked together toward a common goal and stop a common enemy. This shoved away Caesar’s ideologies of humans and replaced them with rational ones. Caesar was shown the positive side of humans and learned that it would be naive to think that all humans are hateful because that is just not the case.

Caesar even said out loud that humans and apes might have more in common than he initially thought. It would be wrong to view all humans as horrible living things that only know violence because that’s just not true. It would also be just as naive to believe that everyone in your race would present the same amount of love and peacefulness into the world as you do. There will always be bad eggs, so it would be dangerous to put your trust and faith into everyone you come across.


Conclusion

I think that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the weakest in the series. However, that’s not saying much because its still a phenomenal film. Koba is arguably the most compelling character in the film, because his actions are facilitated by Caesar’s personality. The only reason why Koba succeeded in starting a war was because of Caesar’s naivety. The film also does a terrific job of building Caesar’s character arc to take a next step into the next film. Its the fault of Koba’s actions that War of the Planet of the Apes even exists, allowing for some reflection from this film to take place.

Everything is just sewn together so beautifully that makes for a gem of a trilogy that is sure to stand the test of time.

Author

Noah Veremis

Planet of the Apes: Lesson in Character Development – Rise

The Planet of the Apes trilogy started with Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011 and ended with War for the Planet of the Apes in 2017. It starts with the human race testing a drug on apes that can supposedly cure Alzheimer’s disease, going horribly wrong when humans start to kill over and apes becoming smarter by the minute. When trying to create character development, for most movies its relatively simple: Introduce a character flaw, have that flaw be exploited by the villain or something else, and have that character come past that character flaw by the end.

That is unless you plan on having any sequels. In that case, you have to plan some things out as it can become difficult. To show an example of how this can be done, I will be taking a look at the Planet of the Apes trilogy and Caesar’s journey through the three films.


Rise


At the beginning of the trilogy, the rise of ape intelligence is explained through the testing of a drug that can cure Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, as much as this effort means well, it ends up going terribly wrong. Testing on this drug is done on apes, come to find out that it actually increases their intelligence immensely. After Caesar’s mother is killed when she tries to escape her pen, a scientist named Will who actually created the drug takes Caesar in as his pet.

Later in the film, Will starts to fully realize Caesar’s potential as he inherited the drug’s effects from his mother’s DNA. Represented with a peculiar birthmark, Caesar starts to question who he is and what this unusual mental prowess has in store for him as opposed to other apes.


Caesar’s Birthmark

Caesar starts to question his identity when he is with Will in the woods when they meet another family walking their dog. Of course, the dog reacts aggressively, but the focus is that of his collar. Caesar too is wearing a collar and being treated no differently than a dog. Caesar, a unique animal with such sophisticated intelligence and wit is being treated no differently than a house-pet.

Although Will means well, he is insulting Caesar’s intelligence by treating him like a dog. Naturally, when Caesar finds out about his origins and the death of his mother he feels insulted and views his existence as an abomination. All Caesar wanted was to be an ape. He just wanted a simple life as a chimpanzee and that was taken away from him. This life epiphany kick starts Caesar’s character arc as it displays his slow acceptance of his uniqueness and starting a revolution.

This drug that Caesar inherited was also given to Will’s father, Charles to treat his Alzheimer’s. At first, this drug worked like a miracle. Charles’ symptoms were completely gone and Caesar was flourishing. However, as time progressed, Will comes to find that Charles’ body was producing antibodies to counteract the drug, effectively worsening his condition. Charles has been given a failed drug that made his disease even worse, and Caesar was given a life he wasn’t meant to live, neither did he want to.

This parallel represents toxic parenthood and the dangers of over-protection. There comes a point in the film when in one of Charles’ episodes, he attempts to drive his neighbor’s car that he thought was his own. When the neighbor comes out and starts bullying him, Caesar violently comes to the rescue and is promptly captured by animal control.

When animal control takes Caesar in, they corral him towards the entrance gate using a control pole. When Will naturally acts protective of Caesar, he isn’t doing himself any favors. Will essentially did the same thing by comparing Caesar’s value to that of a dog. Will claims he can give Caesar what he deserves but he physically can’t. In order to give Caesar a life he deserves he has to send him out into the wild to respect Caesar’s independence. Yet, Caesar has become unhealthily attached to Will due to factors of Will’s unfit parenting abilities and the fact that a chimp is not meant to be housed as a pet.

So, when animal control houses Caesar in an ape sanctuary where he can interact with his own kind, Caesar starts to show symptoms of separation anxiety because he’s scared of the notion that he would be living life on his own. The reason why Caesar started a revolution in the first place was that he was denied freedom. When children are victims of over-protective parenting, the death grip from the parents can actually cause more dangerous behaviors to arise in said children to get out of the house and do something “exciting”.

Even when Will bribes the owner of the sanctuary to let Caesar free, Caesar has already found this appreciated new freedom. By putting Caesar in a cage and treated poorly, he starts finding means of escape and earns his leadership over the apes. Caesar sees the collar and leash in Will’s hand and chooses to stay in his pen because he is starting to realize how vast his potential is and starting to accept the abnormal nature of his existence.

An easier way to explain this would be to take a look at a goldfish. In many cases, fish like goldfish are housed in small bowls with no filter to remove waste from the water. This fish is swimming in its own filth and is living in improper living conditions. That fish is far from happy, but the reason why he is being mistreated is that he makes his owner happy. Will wants to keep Caesar at his house and protect him, but that will only limit Caesar’s potential.


Escape

During Caesar’s stay at the sanctuary, he begins to miss his home and often gets bullied by the other apes for not being “normal”. This is displayed by Caesar wearing human clothing. He even uses chalk to draw a painting of the window of his room back at the house to remind him of his home.

After one of Will’s visits, he explains to Caesar that he won’t be coming home with him. Caesar then promptly goes into a rage and erases this painting out of anger that he has been treated so poorly. Caesar could have wallowed in his depression, hating his existence but instead, he accepted his birthmark and embraced it, now becoming a leader and finding means of escape.


Maurice

During his stay, he meets an orangutan who actually worked at a circus before he arrived at this sanctuary. This orangutan named Maurice is the calmest and and most peaceful of Caesar’s crew in the series, and serves as a representation of Caesar’s humanity. Caesar could have followed in Koba’s footsteps, another ape who later sought revenge for what humans did to him, but instead, he practiced forgiveness.

Maurice is a circus orangutan so he is fully aware of the brutal tendencies of humans. Instead of seeking vengeance against humans Maurice forgives them for they know not what they do. If Maurice would have reacted aggressively against his handlers he would likely have been killed and have accomplished nothing.

This trilogy, especially in the last film in the series uses anti-violence in some way in their message. When Caesar finds out that further testing of a new prototype of the drug is under-way, he steals a pocketknife from one of the humans to use as a screwdriver and escape his cage. Since he knew Will would try and use the drug on Charles he knew he could find some at his house. Now inside Will’s room, he could have easily strangled him in his sleep but he chose not to.

Instead of seeking revenge for what humanity has done to him, he seeks to prove humans wrong and start a revolution. He steals the gas canisters from Will’s fridge and “enlightens” all of the caged apes back at the sanctuary.

Caesar knows that not all humans are inhumane because he grew up sheltered with love and affection. Caesar chooses not to seek vengeance onto humans because if he were to do that he would be ignoring all of the love that he grew up with and stereotyping his loving father into the same group of people that were hurting him.

Like Maurice, if Caesar would have resorted to violence he would only have enabled what humans were doing to his species by feeding into the stereotype that apes are primal and dangerous and wouldn’t have accomplished anything.


Buck

Buck is a gorilla that lives inside the sanctuary with the other apes. Unfortunately for him, however, he is inside his own private cage 24/7, meaning he is unable to interact with any of the other apes at any given time.

Buck only ever leaves this cage when Caesar physically breaks him out. After Caesar first arrives at this sanctuary and meets the other apes he meets the leader of the tribe, another ape named Rocket. This naturally leads to Rocket testing him and bullying him for wearing human clothes. So when Caesar finally decides to make his escape he knows he’s going to have to remove him from the throne.

Caesar honestly could have done this pretty easily just by absolutely decimating him in a fistfight, but he chose not to. Instead, he breaks out Buck from his cage and uses him as a bodyguard of sorts to enforce his new leadership. Buck is an absolute brute made out of nothing but muscle. Having him caged up like he was represented Caesar’s caged up potential. By wanting to be with Will, Caesar is choosing security over his well-being.

This particular scene of Caesar using the natural intimidation emitted from Buck’s presence to dethrone Rocket showed the rise of Caesar’s leadership skills. Caesar could have chosen the path of violence to take the throne, but that would only enable humans perceptions of apes and wouldn’t change anything. Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr decided to take a gun and murder someone who was oppressing his fellow man. Would that solve anything? Definitely not, as it would only prove what racists thought of him and African Americans.

There is actually an example of this anti-violence philosophy when Caesar is leading the apes over the bridge to the freedom of the forest away from humankind when Buck is stopped by a police officer and attempts to kill him. When Caesar intervenes and screams for him to stop, Buck simply pushes the man down, roars into his visor and moves on.

During the climax of this escape, Buck saves the apes from an attacking helicopter by jumping into it and killing the pilot, sacrificing himself in the process from taking some bullet wounds. Now that Buck is dead, Caesar can’t use him as a crutch or an enforcer. Caesar wouldn’t really be a true leader, but more of a dictator if he just decided to intimidate anyone who disobeyed him instead of taking problems on himself and taking the charismatic approach. Now, Caesar is truly on his own in terms of leadership and must use his clever wit and initiative to lead his species into salvation.


Freedom


The entire escape scene took place on the Golden-gate Bridge that separated humans from apes by connecting two different land masses. By crossing this bridge with Will in the beginning phases of the film he was questioning who he was and who he wanted to be. Back then, he had a collar around his neck and a shirt and pants. Now, he’s his own soul, as this scene crossing this bridge celebrates Caesar’s independence and the success of the ape rebellion.

Caesar is actually tested once more once he leads his apes across this bridge. Will follows him and approaches him, saying he can protect him back home. In response to this, Caesar simply says “Caesar is home”. Caesar is a leader now and has responsibilities. This birthmark of his is a picture frame that contains a beautiful painting that displays the leader he was destined to be.


Conclusion


Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a remarkable and lovable film that did a great job of capturing Caesar’s first steps into his new shoes as a leader. The film thoroughly kept me entertained and actively involved in the story. Now looking back, Caesar might just be one of my favorite leaders in film simply because of the charisma he has behind his presence. To add the cherry on-top, it only gets better from here. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes we truly see Caesar’s magnetic presence unfold.

This was a fantastic introduction to a series and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Author

Noah Veremis

Life of Pi: The Gift of Nothingness

Life of Pi is a 2012 movie about a young Indian boy stranded in a boat at sea with none only than a Bengal Tiger as his companion on his journey. The film tackles several different philosophical ideas, but they are all interwoven to the film’s one core message: How to love yourself just as much as you love all living things.

The film teaches Pi and the audience about the gifts and burdens of being a parent, and the roles that fatherhood and motherhood both carry as a duty to the relationship of the family, as well as what role religion has for Pi in loving himself and others.

Disclaimer

Before I continue, I want to issue a disclaimer. This analysis comes from the eyes of a Christian. I do not wish any ill will on any Atheist, nor am I a carbon copy of what the character of Pi believes and represents. I simply just love a phenomenal film and want to share my love of movies with the world. The religious aspects of this film are represented in Pi’s mind, and don’t necessarily reflect my own.

I would also like to clarify that the various representations of parenthood that I talk about don’t necessarily apply to everyone. Not everyone is going to be a traditional mother or father. None of the philosophies shown in this film are right or wrong. Everyone has different beliefs on life.

If you are an Atheist, I encourage you to leave food for discussion in a comment. That being said, Let’s move on.


Who is Richard Parker?


Life of Pi’s main character is Pi of course, but in my opinion, it is the much more handsome Richard Parker who steals the show. Once he is introduced in the film especially when they become isolated in their boat, everything the film’s been telling you starts to make sense. This is done this way (in a brilliant fashion I might add) because the audience learns just what Pi’s father was trying to teach him parallel to Pi’s own pace. So to explain what Richard Parker represents and what he means to Pi, I have to back up a bit and explain why his father was so hellbent on protecting him from Richard Parker in the first place.


Learning to Reason

Pi’s father didn’t want to keep his son an Atheist, he wanted him to start with logic and reason. Pi kept leaping from one religion to the next blindly because it was something new and foreign to him. In my own experience, I have found myself to leap to a different lifestyle or different belief in various parts of life because I was scared of being nothing. Not having a label on my face that said to the world “I am __” or “I believe in ___” was terrifying to me.

Pi practiced multiple religions because he was afraid of not believing anything at all. Pi does not know how to better himself so he turns to Religion to solve his problems for him.

Reflected Emotions

Pi’s first encounter with real danger was with Richard Parker. Pi and his family own the zoo, so Pi took his brother Ravi to go see the infamous Bengal Tiger, Richard Parker. Pi wanted to show his brother that he could feed the animal without being attacked. So, he grabbed a slab of meat and stuck his hand into the cage demonstrating the power of his faith. Pi believed that the power of his faith could protect him from such danger.

When Pi’s father found his son he stopped him before the inevitable would happen. His father reprimanded him saying that a carnivorous beast like a tiger is an animal and not a friend. He also said that animals do not have souls, that all you will see when looking into their eyes is your own emotions reflected staring back at you.

What he was trying to teach Pi was that it is dangerous to be that naive. It is foolish to love all forms of life and expect that love to be reciprocated by anything with a heartbeat. Expecting love to come from a place filled with darkness will only get you killed.


Learning to Love

When Pi first met his sweetheart Amandi, he was filling in for a drummer to offer background music for a dancing class. In the class, Amandi did something the other’s didn’t. She made gestures in her movements that basically spelled out to “Lotus flower hiding in the forest. Something like a Lotus Flower hiding in the forest doesn’t make sense because a flower so beautiful should be showing off in the open for people to appreciate its beauty.

Amandi introduced Pi to love. Pi had the will to fall in love but not the will to love. He wanted purely the feeling of happiness and bliss when falling in love with a female, or the security and sense of purpose of practice of Religion. This simply goes back to Pi’s habit of looking for external sources to feel whole.

However, Amandi is different. She knows that she shouldn’t give out her love and trust like a flyer because that has to be earned. It would be dangerous and naive to expect that everyone is going to be worthy of your time and reciprocate the affection you give them. Why else would she hide a lotus flower in the forest?

Women, especially mothers are incubators and will give back to their partner what they receive twice-fold. Fathers are the rocks of the family, holding all of the family’s pain and suffering on his back so he can take care of them and keep them secure. However, the role of a woman in this relationship with her family is to love. The reason why we didn’t see much of Pi’s mother in the film is that women are the providers of love in the universe.

In fact for the majority of her screen time in the film, she supports most of Pi’s endeavors. This information is important because we see a polar opposite in the way his father behaves. In the majority of his father’s screen time, he is not speaking down to his son but teaching him lessons. His father loved his son just as much as his mother but couldn’t show it because he needed to be strong for the family.


Pi, The Mother, The Cook, and The Sailor

Now that we got that out of the way, I can finally talk about my favorite character in all of fiction. There comes a point in the story when Pi’s family is running out of funds and they have to leave India to Canada and sell their animals. On their way to Canada, their ship encounters a severe storm and ends up sinking. Of course, many of the animals on board escape their cages and four animals come aboard Pi’s lifeboat. Them being a zebra, hyena, orangutan, and of course Richard Parker.

This is when Pi starts to become confronted with the importance of his father’s lessons. Animals are not sentient and live for food and water. Of course, many animals have the ability to show affection even to humans but it is important to recognize that they act out of instinct and necessity. They lack the ability to love at the complex level of humans.

There comes a point in the film when the hyena attacks the zebra and sadly kills it. The orangutan gawks and scolds the hyena for having the audacity to kill something so beautiful. However, just like what Pi’s father taught him, the hyena killed the zebra out of basic necessity and reason. For if it kept the zebra alive out of pity for its life the hyena would have died with it.

The orangutan represents Pi’s mother. She wants to keep his father in check and make sure he’s not being too hard on his son. When the hyena becomes especially rambunctious she slaps him to the ground. Pi screams and hollers, praising her for fighting back, therefore, exposing his nativity. She just looks back at him, knowing that as much as she doesn’t want his father to be so hard on him, the lessons that Pi learns from him are going to be the ones that might save his life one day.

The hyena attacks and kills the orangutan. Of course, Pi’s father never was physically or even verbally abusive, but his mother often had to back down and let his father reprimand his son. There’s a reason why you always hear mothers after children do something wrong say “wait until your father gets home” because the role of a father is to challenge you, teach you, and show you the horrors of the world. The orangutan lets herself be killed because she knows that if Pi keeps going along the same path and giving out his love blindly to anyone, he’s going to be killed.

Of course, Pi yells and taunts the orangutan, pulling out a knife. Pi loved his father but he was still too stubborn to fully understand and accept his teachings.


The Tiger


During this scuffle in the boat, the tiger jumps out and kills the hyena immediately without any effort. Richard Parker represents Atheism. It offers no love, nothing to teach, and nothing to give. It is only there to scare you and challenge your existence. This is why he is scarier than the hyena because although the hyena kills out of necessity, the tiger killed to rid of a nuisance. Richard Parker even threw the hyena off the boat and ate the zebra instead. Atheism doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t hate you and it doesn’t love you either, it just wants to chip away at your soul until the time of your death when your soul leaves existence for all eternity.

The hyena was too weak to get to Pi and couldn’t actually get to him because there was a rise in elevation in the boat because of all the supplies. Of course, Pi’s father was an Atheist himself but he was scared that Pi would lose hope on that boat and lose faith, letting his doubt and depression take control of him and be his demise. Unfortunately, he was too late and the tiger got to him first.

Without Religion, Pi had no other interests that kept him busy and gave his life purpose. Pi even admitted that eventually, things like math and science became boredom and patterns without end. So, without Religion in Pi’s eyes, he would be a nobody, and that is exactly what his father was so afraid of. However, Atheism does not care what you think of yourself and it does not care if you are a nobody. It just wants to take your life.


Finding Purpose

Richard Parker gives Pi’s life purpose because if he hadn’t regularly taken care of him he would get too hungry and Pi would be his last meal. Reflectively, Pi’s fear of Atheism brought him to find purpose in his life. By feeding that tiger and keeping him alive Richard Parker ultimately saved his life because if it weren’t for him, Pi would have died in that boat wishing for someone to save him. The fear of there not being a God in the sky to watch over you, was too great for him to just ignore. By putting his faith in God Pi felt secure, and that’s the exact reason why he was drawn to Religion in the first place. When that security is removed then he has no purpose and no other interests or drives in life.

This is reflected when at the beginning of Pi’s journey with Richard Parker, Pi looks to God and says “I surrender myself to you”. Pi hasn’t quite yet fully understood the value of his father’s lessons of prioritizing reason and being self-sufficient, so he turns to God before he turns to himself. It is okay to believe in any Religion and worship the God(s) of that said Religion, but first, you need to know why you are practicing worship in the first place. In Pi’s case, it would be selfish and foolish to believe in a higher power for the sole purpose of taking care of a part of yourself that you are neglecting out of fear or laziness.

In fact, Pi really starts to take after his father when he has the opportunity to kill Richard Parker when he jumps off the boat. When Pi had an ax to his head he decided not to pull the trigger because ultimately he needed Richard Parker to survive, for if he had killed him he would not have the motivation to keep moving and would have killed himself. Not to mention he even brought himself to feed Richard Parker his first fish after sobbing over killing a living creature for survival.

Pi really starts to learn the value of Richard Parker in a scene where Pi sees him looking into the ocean and asks him what he sees. From his dad’s own words, if you look into a tiger’s eyes all you will see is your own emotions reflected back at you. However, whatever you aim at a mirror you see right back. When Richard Parker looked into the ocean we see hallucinations of sorts. Some we could assume are actual living creatures deep in the ocean like a giant squid, a shark, and even an angler fish. However, that’s exactly my point. By looking through the eyes of Richard Parker he’s able to appreciate how beautiful life really is.

By looking through the mirror of Atheism Pi learned that its okay to be scared because that’s what’s life all about. Life is about vulnerability and not everything has to be explained to you and that’s okay. The beauty of life is that there’s so much to explore and find in this world and there’s no reason to waste precious time to be afraid of something you ultimately have no real idea lies ahead of you. No one can really know for sure if there is a higher power, but that’s the beauty of faith. It gives us the motivation to move through our darkest hour because often times it feels like its all we have left.


The Wrath of God


Just when Pi thinks he had learned his ultimate lesson his faith is again tested. When he encounters a storm we something that even Richard Parker is afraid of. God. God does not hate us, He loves us. He puts us through terrible things and takes everything from us to test us and prove our will to Him.

Atheism can’t physically take anything away from him. In a sense, its only purpose is to live in your mind. It’s just a looming presence that challenges your existence and slowly drains you. God, however, will do anything in His power to tear us apart if He wants to if He wants us to learn a lesson. No matter how hard the beating is we have to surrender ourselves to him because we have to accept that God is perfect and He knows what is wrong from right.

To truly love God and prove your loyalty to Him, you sometimes have to do things that are terrifying, like embracing the hole of darkness that is Atheism with open arms. After the storm subsides and Pi and Richard Parker are well near death, Pi and Richard Parker embrace when he rests his head on Pi’s lap. To truly love God, you have to truly be vulnerable. That means fully accepting that even though you don’t have physical proof of God’s existence you must fully give yourself to Him, and that’s possibly one of the most terrifying things to accomplish especially when you have devoted all of your strength to prioritizing reason and thinking rationally.

Pi accepts this unknown future and the spontaneous nature of his fate, surrendering and accepting his death. He says “God, thank you for giving me life, I am ready now”. When Pi felt he was beyond the probability of being saved, God gave him rest. Pi arrived on an island for Pi to lick his wounds. However, this island was not exactly a paradise but another test given by God.


The Carnivorous Island

When Pi arrives on this island, he is immediately embraced by it. Much of the plant-life is edible and the only animals other than Richard Parker to keep him company are none other than Meerkats. The island also has freshwater springs built into it. However by night, a chemical turned the water into acid, and the plants, trees, the very ground itself was carnivorous akin to a Venus flytrap.

Pi ended up picking a fruit from a tree and found a human tooth inside of it. It was then that he had come to the realization that there was a poor soul who came upon this island thinking he could stay there forever, and when he died the island had digested him.

This island represents that of a mother. Often times, mothers will find themselves holding onto their children and inadvertently keep them from becoming more. Mothers are important gears in the confusing clockwork of life, but God built every living thing to be flawed to teach us an infinite amount of lessons. Life itself serves as a representation of a mother. It offers us so much beauty to explore in this world and cradles us with love offering us so many ways to live life to the fullest.

God personifies a father. Without a father figure in your life, there is no one to provide guidance. Mothers, of course, can be well suited as well, especially when they have had a wonderful father to teach them. However, there’s no denying that God built fathers to be better equipped to do this as well.

Mothers are nurturers. Their role is to provide their child with love and affection with all their heart. There’s a reason why its so difficult for men to show affection. Take a banana tree for example. It would be foolish to expect a banana tree to grow apples because that’s not its purpose.

God created this island for Pi to teach him of the importance of his father and the horrors of never leaving your mother’s arms. Fathers are important because they are always watching, getting involved with their children and disciplining them to become strong and confident individuals. You need to confront the challenge to leave the nest. As scary as that is, it is mandatory for living a fulfilling life. God as a father is there to build us into successful people. He was always watching over Pi. When He seemed to be indifferent to Pi’s suffering, He was still watching. When Pi felt he was beyond hope of saving He gave him rest.

There’s a reason why moms always say to their children after they make a grave mistake: “wait ’till your father hears about this”. This is because the role of the father is to give you a challenge, build you into a work of art, and show you the horrors of the world, but they are always watching. Fathers are always there for you and love you with all their hearts even when it seems they are punishing you.

In fact, we see this when Pi’s family departs from India. Pi says to himself that he realized that leaving India was harder on his father than it was for him. Although it may seem that his father is being too harsh in reality that is quite the opposite.


Freedom


When Pi finally reached civilization at the Mexican shore, Pi had learned so much from Richard Parker from his father. However, Pi had been taking care of him for so long it was time for him to leave the nest so to speak. God had taught Pi the gift of fatherhood from his dad’s teachings and taught him about becoming a father himself.

Pi had learned how to find purpose in his life by using Atheism as a mirror to appreciate the grand scheme of what life is really all about, teaching him to love. However, when a child learns how to ride a bike he must learn to ride it without training wheels eventually. Now that Richard Parker is out of his life he cannot use him as a crutch anymore and must now apply his teachings to his own life.

Pi learned on the carnivorous island about leaving the nest and the dangers of staying in the comfort of your mother’s arms, never taking the opportunity to confront the challenge. So although it will be heartbreaking to see Richard Parker leave without the moment to say goodbye, it is what’s best for him for he is a wild animal and not a domestic housecat.


Conclusion


Overall, this film is phenomenal. I have honestly never loved a character as much as I have with Richard Parker. At the beginning of the film, he seems to be nothing more than a black hole of fear and nothingness, and the beautiful part is that never changes.

I feel the reason why I love his character so much is that Pi uses Richard Parker as a mirror, and the only reason why we see him become tamer is that Pi perceives him to be something he can learn from. Richard Parker only became tame when Pi saw the truth and saw how beautiful the world was. So, for Pi and the audience, Richard Parker is only a reflection of what you perceive him to be.

So if you want to see if you can apply this to the real world, just think. Something is only as scary or threatening only if you perceive it to be. After all, Atheists do not fear their belief of no afterlife and no one watching over them because they have already come to accept that. Just remember, mirrors always reflect what is in front of them. So if your fear obstructs that mirror, that is the only thing you will see staring back at you.

Author

Noah Veremis

Candyman: The Fear of the Unknown

Candyman is a 1992 gothic-horror film set in the crowded streets of Chicago. The film is about an urban “legend” named Candyman who blurs the line between myth and reality when he starts stalking our main character Hellen, and people all around her start to die in a brutal and gruesome fashion. As the film progresses we as the audience starts to question if it is really Hellen committing these crimes or if it is actually Candyman just framing her.

From the many times I have watched this phenomenal film, I have come to the grim conclusion that Candyman is only real because we make him real. The scary truth is, The monsters under your bed become real to you, so in your sense of reality they are birthed into this world from your imagination.


Copycat Effect


In this film, our two main characters are Hellen and Bernadette. Their goal is to write a thesis about a mythical figure named Candyman whom people have been attributing to rather peculiar murders in the city. When the two women go to an apartment complex, a building that housed one of these murders, they find the abandoned apartment where the killing took place. In it, Hellen crawls through a hole in a wall and finds unsettling graffiti art resembling Candyman’s gaping mouth as if he’s eating anyone who walks through that hole.

In this room she finds a pile of tampered candy that contain razor blades in them. This is among two separate scenes that, in my opinion are the meat and potatoes of the film’s message.

Have you ever truly seen a child with tampered candy on Halloween? As much as the media likes to portray, there really isn’t any concrete evidence that suggests it has a probability worth stressing about. However, the real interesting factor that I feel parents could confirm is that in most confirmed cases of tampered candy, children have been found to actually poison or tamper with their own candy (Miller). Sometimes this can happen when children hear about this on the news or from a friend and act it out. Other times its merely a prank.

In the other scene, Hellen is talking to a young child named Jake. Apparantly there is another story floating around relating to Candyman about a mentally challenged individual who was castrated in a public bathroom. When she goes to investigate to take pictures she is interrupted by a gang member holding a hook dressed as Candyman who says to her: “I heard you’re looking for Candyman bitch. Well, you found him”. Of course, she was then subsequently beaten to a pulp.

These two scenes matter because it explains who and what Candyman is.


Poisoned Candy “Myth”

Children are incredibly curious and impressionable and frequently act out and talk about what they see around them. When it gets close to Halloween the child may see something on the news or hear from a relative about warnings for razor blades or poison in candy from Trick ‘r Treating. The child might then tamper with their own candy and come running to mommy or daddy all disheveled because they get precious attention from their parents.

However, even though this isn’t directly related to the urban legend of Candyman, it represents what Candyman wants and what he needs for him to exist. It doesn’t really matter if people are actually poisoning candy on Halloween, but it terrifies parents just the same of just having the thought in their head. Children are the ones most malleable by the myth. They are the most naive, gullible, and the ones that express the most fear.

Of course, there hasn’t been enough evidence over the years to entertain the thought that this is an actual risk but again, that doesn’t matter. Once one person hears about it, they tell their friends, their friends make up stories for attention and for a good laugh. Some people even make movies and write books that contain the myth that then go on to be seen by thousands and millions of people.

Candyman doesn’t need to be real for us to believe in him. All Candyman needs is for the legend of his existence to be spread. It’s when gangs and murderers start taking advantage of the legend to scare people when it starts to become really dangerous.


Heard You Were Looking For Candyman

Nearly everyone in Chicago in this film has at the very least heard of Candyman. Naturally criminals take advantage of this to drive fear into the hearts of civilians.

Take a film that came out recently, Joker for example. The United States military themselves warned movie theater chains to ramp up security in preparation for Hollywood’s newest horror movie. The reason was that there was fear that someone might act out the atrocities of a movie villain like Joker. Of course, this never happened but imagine the satisfaction a troubled criminal might come to have, perhaps considering Joker as an idol when they commit atrocities even with the possibility of their death. The attention and satisfaction of sending a message to the world in one big bang is all that matters to them.

Of course, the media is also to blame. Big stories like this attract more traffic, and news companies are even known to drive a fake or far-fetched narrative. The article or script for live television will be structured in such a way that it could almost be considered a story. It doesn’t matter who they make the criminal out to be. Maybe s/he’s an incel raging about their quarrels with women in today’s society. Maybe its a nazi, or in this case, a Joker imposter.

The legend of Candyman is so popular and widespread that gangs take advantage of this and adopt characteristics of him. They paint his name and pictures of him on the walls of buildings and dressing up as him, acting out his likeness. This continued violence keeps the Candyman name alive. Due to all this violence from gang members and people who live through it, some may even add tall tales or fake news to the story.

For the copycats, these people commit these murders and horrendous acts because they attribute to who and what Candyman is, so in that sense the myth becomes real because of them. At that point, there is no myth because that person becomes Candyman. Candyman is the mother-ship of the disgusting imagination and curiosity of Mankind.

Even Hellen, who is trying to research about the real truth of the Candyman urban legend, is only making it worse. Hellen thinks she can stop these rumors from spreading with factual research, but she’s only enabling Candyman and his copycats. By believing in Candyman and spreading his myth you are inadvertently birthing more horrible things into existence related to the Candyman urgan legend. This is reflected by the fact that after all her research and hard work, all she got for her efforts was a black eye.


The New Queen


Throughout the course of the film, I’d like to think that weather Candyman is aware of it or not, Hellen is being trained to become the new Queen of the hive. When Hellen comes home after being released from custody with her lawyer, she has a conversation with him and her husband. She asks Trevor if he thinks she did it when he says “Nobody believes that” and she responds with “But it crossed your mind”. No one wants to address the elephant in the room because of how absurd it sounds that “Candyman” killed someone rather than Hellen. So to save herself the embarrassment she doesn’t entertain the idea and allows herself to be seen in the public eye as the true killer.

When the detective assigned to Hellen’s case tells her that she is to be arrested and asks “do you understand?”, her and the audience have no clue why or what killed that dog and took the child away and how it is related to Candyman. However when Candyman asks the same question, this time it is paired with another question that, although grim, actually makes sense:

Believe me it is a blessing to be whispered about around street corners, to live in other people’e dreams, but not to have to be.

Tony Todd as Candyman – Candyman (1992)

Candyman doesn’t have to be a living and breathing entity, as in his own words, being immortal in the world of dreams and myths is much more intoxicating than the life of a mortal.

After Hellen was burned alive in the end of the film and given a funeral, she had hundreds of followers come to her casket, when Jake throws a hook into her grave. Afterwards, we see Trevor writhing in his bathroom over what he experienced. He looks in the mirror and say’s Hellen’s name in the mirror five times when she appears before him saying, “What’s wrong Trevor, scared of something?”. The truth is he is scared of something. He’s scared of still having feelings for someone who committed murder and acted out disgusting and horrendous actions.

Trevor believed that myths like the albino alligators in the sewer and well, Candyman himself were fake. By doing this and spreading his word he was weakening the faith in Hellen’s new congregation and had to be destroyed.


Conclusion


Looking back at this film, I found the message to be extremely relatable. Take sleep paralysis for example. When you see such terrible things running around your room, its one of the most terrifying things any one person can experience. However, even though you know you’re safe and in a couple minutes you’ll wake up unharmed there’s no shortage of fear in your bones. The bottom line is something doesn’t have to be real to scare us, proving how fragile and helpless we really are.

Author

Noah Veremis


Works Cited


  1. Miller, Adam. “Trick or Truth? The real story behind Halloween candy tampering”. CBC. CBC/Radio-Candada. 31 Oct. 2019. Web. 29 Jan. 2019.

The Dark Valley: The Gift of Free Will

The Dark Valley is a 2014 Western set in the unforgiving terrain of the Alps, specifically in Austria. Unlike other westerns that are dripping with action and tall men with sandpaper for vocal chords, this one is vastly different. So what makes this film so special?

The Dark Valley features Sam Riley as Greider, a photographer coming from North America to the Alps to “take pictures”. However as the movie progresses it becomes clear that he definitely has ulterior motives, using the photography shtick as a disguise for his true intentions. After two men in this small village end up dead, its clear Greider is out for blood.

However, as cookie-cutter as a summary of a film that may be, the film’s satisfying dark twist and clever motifs and visual themes that make for compelling characters and storytelling.


The Twist

Unfortunately, I can’t talk about this film without mentioning spoilers, so if you’re interested in seeing this film stop reading and come back after you’ve watched it.

In this small village, its so separated from the rest of civilization that anyone who stops into this town is usually incredibly famished and exhausted. The town’s leader “Old Brenner” will feed everyone who comes in but with a catch. Any woman that is presented to Old Brenner will have to give their body’s up to him for impregnation. These women are more than welcome to leave but will have to find a way to survive Austria’s harsh unforgiving wilderness. In Greider’s case, his mother was one of the women Old Brenner violated. When her husband tried to rescue her he was crucified. Greider’s mother did manage to escape but was never seen again.

In an epic tale of revenge Greider comes to this village where it all started and begins slaughtering all of Brenner’s sons that get in his way. We later find out that these men were actually Greider’s brothers. What really sells this twist though, is all of the buildup that lead up to that information.


Red vs Blue


When it comes to lighting, the film many of times uses colors of red and blue. When it comes to color you can use it to convey copious amounts of information. In this film, red lamps, fire, and candles are used, and the only time we see blue is through light from outside coming indoors.


Red

The color red represents Greider’s blood and the atrocities that both him and his family are committing. Yes, Greider may be saving people in the process, but at first that isn’t even on his mind. Red is often showing combating for dominance with the color blue, illuminating different parts of the room.

Often there are scenes where half of Greider’s face is illuminated by red, and the other by blue. In the film he has a metronome that he uses to help him take pictures, and uses it as background noise to fall asleep. The metronome is a tool that serves as Greider’s american roots and his naive ideals that life will follow a straight line and be on the side of the “hero”

Greider comes from a country that created the Western genre. There’s even a scene where one of the main characters, Luzi, is asking him questions about his home with wonder and excitement in her voice. Take John Wayne for example. Of course not every one of his films is the same, but John Wayne himself is a symbol of what the genre represents to the public eye. The hero is an assertive, confident hunk always picks himself up when he gets back down.

In this scene, Luzi and Greider are having dinner together and the entire room is illuminated with candles. Luzi is filled with wonder hoping that Greider is the John Wayne in this story and that his victory will be the end of this story and the end of their continuous suffering. In a later scene Greider and Luzi are at a General Store when one of the Brenner Sons, Otto, offers him a Shnapps. Greider refuses and Otto takes the entire bottle and starts drowning him with it. When Luzi comes to the rescue Greider is curled up on the floor while ample lamps all around him cradle him with red light.

Another representation of the color red comes from the coming winter. Because of the severity of the weather in the Alps, Greider would be stuck there until the winter passes. Luzi even tries to get Greider to leave to save him from himself by saying “This is no place for you. You should leave when the snow falls, it will be too late”. After the snow starts to fall, we see a scene of Greider in his room in front of a metronome with a candle illuminating the front of his body and blue light from his window illuminating his back. As the metronome plays, it’s sound slowly transforms into a heartbeat, showing Greider’s transformation from a naive “hero” into the exact thing he sworn to destroy.

Of course, the heartbeat serves as a representation of the cycle of impregnation from Old Brenner, and another example of Brenner’s blood fighting for control inside Greider’s body.

The color red in this movie embodies Greider’s struggle through the film, showing that through a representation of red combating for control with blue. Red is the imperfections of mankind, and blue is the innocence and beauty of life and child birth, which I’ll discuss now.


Blue

Blue is a color that is only represented through the outside world. In other words, it is a completely natural form of illumination.

Take Castaway as an example. When Chuck Noland woke up after passing out in his cave, the natural light of the sun opened his eyes. A similar case can be applied to this film. In many cases, scenes are illuminated almost entirely with red with blue in the background.

After Greider finishes off the rest of the Brenner sons, he returns to the village to kill Old Brenner and finish his quest. The door into Old Brenner’s room is painted blue, and both him and Greider’s faces are both half illuminated with red light and blue light. It is at this point that the audience finds out about the Brenner family being Greider’s brothers.

Now of course, Greider is conflicted. He has to choose between killing his only connection he has to his mother, or letting the cycle of violence and rape continue.

In that sense, perhaps the color blue represents the innocence of child birth and the beauty of raising a child to become a wonderful, active piece in the world and how Old Brenner bastardized that gift for personal pleasure.

In the film, Luzi and another main character Lukas, are to be married. The problem though, is that after they are to be married Old Brenner’s dark tradition of having his way with women after they’re married.

This color represents what God intended for the Earth and his expectations for mankind. Luzi and Lukas, a reflection of Adam and Eve, are caught up in the crossfire. People who are grateful for God’s gift and use their existence to appreciate said gift and create more life. That gift is exactly what Old Brenner is bastardizing: life itself. From my perspective at least, it seems God did not expect people to demoralize and take advantage of what was handed to them. Free will is perhaps the greatest gift of all because it gives us the ability to love, but it also gives us the ability to destroy and harm others.

As a final note there’s one last scene I’d like to talk about, and it might just be one of my favorite scenes of any movie period. When the wedding takes place, blue light from outside is shining through a window onto a statue of Jesus Christ. The priest, Breiser, whom we later find out is involved with the atrocities of the Brenner family, says this:

…Let us remember the good man Joseph. What do you think he felt when his wife was with child though he had never lain with her? He must have been full of rage…and felt helpless. If he had chased Mary away, everyone would have understood. But he was pious…and didn’t want to bring shame on her. And so he acquiesced, knowing that his son came from a higher being. Joseph understood that the Lord had not imposed a sacrifice upon him, but had sent him a gift from heaven. And what did the Holy Mary say about this? “Even if he uses me and my womb…I shall not protest, for he is one that knows better than I what is good and what is right”

Erwin Steinhauer as Breiser – The Dark Valley (2014)

Using this as evidence for my point earlier, Breiser and the Brenner family of this small village are taking advantage of God’s gift and using it to instill fear onto the community and control it by creating a terrible justification of their actions. No matter what, innocent people will suffer because of the gift of free will and will get caught in the crossfire from people who go against God’s prospects.


Conclusion


In conclusion, this movie in my eyes is my favorite western and one of my favorite films of all time. The christian Bible contains so much content, its always awesome to see people using the book to experiment with different themes and philosophical commentary in film.

That being said, I love the film’s message of mankind misinterpreting God’s expectations when he gave us the gift of free will. Even Greider is imperfect and goes against God’s expectations, killing several people in the name of vengeance and stoops down to Old Brenner’s level.

The harsh truth is no one is ever going to meet God’s expectations, because we are all imperfect and are bound to do terrible things in our lifetimes, and make grave and illogical mistakes. In my humble opinion, I believe that as horrible as these atrocities are, free will is not a mistake. Because we can act out of our own volition we can experience making a mistake and the satisfaction of learning from your shortcomings. There are some people in the world who have done absolutely terrible, unthinkable things but have rehabilitated themselves and use the gift of free will to be a productive and healthy member of society.

Author

Noah Veremis

Castaway and the Five Stages of Grief

Castaway is a 2000 film about a man struggling to survive on a tropical island by himself for 4 painstaking years. Except, its more than that. Its visual storytelling is its greatest strength, rarely ever presenting new information without it. So, what exactly makes this film so special?

Castaway is a roller-coaster of emotions that uses the lonely setting of an island to signify Chuck Noland’s struggle through his separation from his girlfriend Kelly, and the inevitable acceptance of his loss of his relationship. The film itself is a message to the audience on how to move on. The film uses Wilson, Chuck’s volleyball friend on the island to show us his gradual maturity throughout the movie. From its fantastic visual storytelling to Tom Hank’s intoxicating performance, Castaway teaches us the horrors of divorce and the harsh reality to moving on.


A Broken Marriage


The symbolic theme of divorce is present throughout the entirety of the film. In the first scene of the film, we are introduced to a FedEx driver pulling into a ranch. The camera pans upwards as we see a metal sign with the words “Bettina” and “Dick” written into the sign. We later see the significance of this sign in the end when we see that “Dick” is sawed off.

The significance of this is that the mysterious package on Chuck’s island that he chooses not to open for hope belongs to the woman who lives on this ranch. It really doesn’t matter what was in the package, because Chuck held onto it to hold onto hope that he might one day just survive. Much like his hopes that he might one day reunite with Kelly. The film isn’t just a metaphor of Chuck’s symbolic divorce, but of a death as well. The first act of the film represents the five stages of grief Chuck goes through until the symbolic passing of his past life.

There’s a visual motif that the film utilizes to represent Chuck’s metaphorical divorce. In the first act, we are introduced to one of our hero’s problems – an infected tooth. This tooth infection is almost always paired with another visual queue, technology.

Chuck’s tooth infection represents his pain over his separation from his lover. His job as a FedEx executive means he’s often away from her and has to rely on technology to keep in contact with her. This is represented a few times with a missed call on an answering machine, and when his pager calls him away from Kelly during a family dinner. In fact, the first time Chuck even see’s Kelly on screen they unite by dancing to a rhythm of a copy machine (Logos Made Flesh).

When Chuck leaves a message for the answering machine, he complains about his tooth. This happens again at the dinner when he takes a bite of some food and the pain comes back to haunt him when his pager calls.

Chuck’s relationship was doomed from the start, as his job only pulls him away from his wife. Technology promises to keep them together but in fact, it is the ONLY thing holding them together. When Chuck reaches the island, his watch Kelly gave to him stops, so does his relationship.


Denial

As he finally succumbs to the harsh reality of life, he goes into shock, looking around the island. He yells “HELLOOOOOO” searching for a single soul to have an excuse to distract himself from his heartbreak. However, he is indeed alone. Time, and his heart both stop at that moment.

As time progresses, his tooth infection becomes worse. When someone goes through grief, its not unreasonable to expect that they would keep holding onto their pain in the hopes that they will eventually be reunited with their lover or passed family member. I don’t know about you, but I can name a few times after a breakup that I would ignore my pain and do anything at all to cope with my heartbreak, much like Nancy’s example of using surfing as a coping mechanism for her mother’s death in The Shallows. For better context, you can check out my breakdown of The Shallows here: https://moviemonster.blog/2019/11/24/the-wasted-potential-of-the-shallows/

In fact, he actually see’s one of the pilots from his crashed plane, only to find a dead body. After he buries him he scavenges his belongings to find anything useful, only to find a dead man’s shoes and a flashlight. Even though his separation from Kelly is causing him pain, he can’t help but hold onto hope of reuniting with her, even in the dark (Logos Made Flesh). His love for her only blinds him to what he really needs, as he looks to technology, a device that once held his relationship together to solve his problems.

After Chuck tries to escape his island when he see’s a ship in the distance, the tide crushes him and a piece of coral tears his leg open. With his life raft now deflated and his spirit broken, he limps back to shore a broken man. He finally admits defeat as he falls asleep in a cave under the dying light of his flashlight. This cave becomes his tomb (Logos Made Flesh).


Anger

After his shock and denial have run its course, Chuck wakes up to start a new life and begin his trial. We see Chuck find some FedEx packages that were lost from the wreckage. As he opens them to find anything he can salvage, its no coincidence that one of the packages he opens is of course a dissolution of marriage. One of the other packages we see him open is the infamous Wilson volleyball that eventually becomes the contrast between his old and new life (Logos Made Flesh).

In this next stage of grief, a common coping mechanism is to resort to anger to rationalize what happened. In my personal experience I have found that in the case of breakups, I would end up telling myself that “she wasn’t a fit partner” or, “she’s a terrible person for what she did to me”.

In Castaway, you can see this in Chuck as he tries to create fire. In his suffering, he has to rely on himself to find purpose and happiness without Kelly. Of course in his weakened and inexperienced state he’s expected to fail miserably. He tries to create fire and in the process, cuts open his hand. In his rage he ends up picking up the volleyball and screaming into the lonely abyss.

When he goes to try again, Wilson is now brought into existence to spite and ridicule him. Once he starts to see smoke, he looks over to Wilson, and realizes that the smoke had dissipated. He screams out to him “The air got to it!”.

Wilson is literally created from Chuck’s anger and suffering as he etches a persona onto this ball from his own blood. Wilson becomes a materialization of Chuck’s past life coming to haunt him. He represents all of Chuck’s failures, insecurities, and his attachment to Kelly. Its not unreasonable to expect that Chuck would lash out to distract himself and ignore these insecurities. Its definitely much easier to cope with loss by resorting to anger rather than moving on.

This stage of his grief starts to meet its end when the pain from the loss of his beloved Kelly becomes so great, that he resorts to a terrible self procedure of cutting out his infected tooth with a Rollerblade to remove it. He’s finally realized that he’s not getting her back. When he passes out from trauma, the film fades and cuts 4 years later to a disheveled and broken Chuck complete with a beard.

There’s even a point in the film when Chuck is given an opportunity to escape again when a door to a porta-john washes ashore which he can use as a sail. As he “talks” to Wilson, he’s fighting with his own thoughts. In his own words:

…And what is your point? We might just make it, did that thought ever cross your brain? Well regardless I’d rather take my chance out there in the ocean than to stay here and die, on this shit-hole island, spending the rest of my life talking to a GOD-DAMN VOLLEYBALL!

Chuck Noland, Castaway (2000)

Chuck kicks Wilson out of the cave and then realizes what he’s done. Using personal experience, I’ve found that when I have thoughts of moving on, I end up feeling depressed and sad inside that I’d even think about moving on from someone I cared so much about. Chuck has the chance to let it all go, but instead chases after Wilson. The waves washed off part of Wilson’s face, so Chuck resorts to holding onto his broken hopes and ideals with his own blood as he restructures Wislon’s face. When they reunite at the beach Chuck cradles him and says “Never again, never again”. Chuck is still holding a death grip onto those false ideals that everything will be okay, that him and Kelly are meant to be together.

People tend to last a long time in this stage. Its hard to grow up and stop blaming others for fault when we may have had some part in the relationship’s failures. After all, in order to admit that you were wrong, you would have to admit that all of your other decisions were wrong.


Bargaining

Chuck doesn’t really spend much time in this stage. After all, many people don’t go through the stages of grief in order. However, there is one incredibly powerful scene that fits this stage perfectly.

Near the end when Chuck is rescued and reunited with Kelly, he is invited into her house. In the beginning of the film before Chuck left, he gave her a series of Christmas gifts leading up to a proposal ring. One of them being hand towels, Chuck remarks at them after giving her the ring box that they were a “joke”.

When he is invited back into her new home, something doesn’t feel right. Chuck is surrounded by pictures and home decor belonging to her new family. He’s in another man’s home. Just as a frog using the last semblance of his strength to escape a pelican’s throat, Chuck is still holding onto hope that him and Kelly can reunite even though he knows deep down that its not right. Kelly gives him some hand towels to dry himself off with.

After a couple minutes of small talk, Chuck says “I shouldn’t have ever left the car”.

The bargaining stage is a coping mechanism that acts as a way for the brain to rationalize and justify the pain or sadness. In Chuck’s case, its his last line of defense against his pain. The hand towels are a representation of what could have been. If only he never left the car, they would still be together, along with their towels.

The human brain will try its absolute hardest to prevent itself from becoming depressed. Eventually however it will lose its energy. Kind of like an angry person eventually becoming sympathetic when they don’t get the reaction they expected. Bargaining is the last fighting spirit the brain has in it before it gives up and opens the floodgates to depression. With Chuck however, it represented his final step into the journey to acceptance.


Depression

In one of the major turning points in the film, Chuck is given a sail when he finds a detached door to a porta-john on the shore and is eventually able to craft a raft to make one last attempt to escape the island. He painted the pair of wings that were on that one package he held onto for hope onto his sail. Little did he know that those wings would be a calling card to his escape from his island and an open door to his future.

After he succeeds and finds himself at the mercy of the sea, he meets a whale who accompanies him throughout his journey. This whale represents God watching over him as Chuck makes his way through his last few trials on his path to acceptance and enlightenment.

After a freak storm, his sail and his hope, are torn off of the raft into the raging wind. When he wakes up, Wilson falls off his raft. The whale, that has been following him along his journey, blows water onto him to wake him up. As we see Chuck frantically search for Wilson, he finds him and makes a break for it.

In his starved and weakened state Chuck finds himself physically unable to go after Wilson and save him. He has to choose over his chance of redeeming himself to live a self-fulfilling life, and going down a path of self destruction that is continuing to mourn and sit in his own sadness and self pity. When he realizes that he has to move on he returns to his raft, and we see a broken man sobbing over the loss of Wilson.

Wilson was the only thing, aside from perhaps Kelly and the mysterious package that kept his sanity intact. Using another film as an example, take Life of Pi. Yes, Richard Parker is indeed a living, breathing, tiger. However, the constant threat of being eaten gave Pi’s life purpose. The fear of being eaten kept his sanity intact without him even realizing. If Pi never had Richard Parker on his boat with him he likely would have succumbed to insanity and met a grim death by his own foolishness.

With Wilson, Chuck had something to project his thoughts onto. Although not human, he still had someone to rely on in his darkest hours. Although symbolically Wilson is a representation of Chuck’s past self it doesn’t change the fact that Chuck still has to let go. He became his best friend on that island. With his only source of companionship gone, he had to go the rest of his journey alone.

The act of moving on is hard. We all want to hold onto hope that one day things will magically be like they used to be. We all want to believe that if we just keep pursuing what we lost we will eventually get it back. There comes a point where we have to realize that not everything is meant to be. For Chuck, this just means accepting his loss for what it is and moving on.


Acceptance

Throughout the film, we see Chuck go through small victories that all help into his path into acceptance.

For example, after he succeeds in making fire to become more self-fulfilling, we see that his survival skills have gotten an upgrade. The dress that he found in one of the packages has now been turned into a net to catch fish more easily instead of chasing after them fruitlessly. We can see that this dress, a symbol of femininity and Kelly as a whole has now been re-purposed to fit his own needs. He’s now taking care of himself and learning to love himself. He’s becoming more of the man he needs to be. When he cuts his hand when trying to start a fire he even uses part of the dress as a bandage, signifying his maturity and his journey to self-fulfillment.

Another example is when he’s in the process of creating a raft, he has a small conversation with Wilson mocking his past life being so concerned with control, represented by his constant obsession with being on time. He says “let’s not commit the sin of turning our back on time” and then chuckles at the foolishness he see’s in his past. Being able to chuckle at your past decisions and make fun of your past self without feeling pain is a great sign of improvement. If you are wise enough to truly laugh at yourself, than that means that you are aware of your past foolishness. After all, we only truly laugh at people who are foolish and ignorant right?

However, Chuck’s final stage is truly represented in the 3rd act of the film. After he gets rescued he has a conversation on the airplane with Stan, his best friend. Stan says “Kelly had to let you go, we thought you were dead. We buried you.” When Chuck asked what was put in the coffin, Stan replied with “well we all put something in. An old cellphone, a pager, I threw in a few Elvis CD’s”. This is a reflection on Chuck’s enlightenment from his time on the island. That coffin, and Wilson, represent his past life and his abandonment of his toxic ideology that technology was the key to holding his relationship together, and that this said relationship was the key to his happiness. Only this time, Chuck is fully aware of this connection and is forming his new life.

Back when he was on the island, Chuck had to feel pain to create fire and craft the tools needed to hunt and survive. It took a lot of hard work and self-discipline to change as a person. When he is rescued, he is given a surprise party of sorts. When everyone leaves Stan tells him “we are going to bring you back to life” and he is left alone to think and ponder in his thoughts. He walks around the room surrounded by the food he had to work so hard for to obtain. He then finds a lighter sitting on one of the tables and turns it on. I love this scene so much because it reflects on Chuck’s journey to self love and self fulfillment. He no longer has to feel pain to get what he wants, or rather what he needs because he is much stronger as an individual now. Now that he is enlightened he doesn’t need to feel pain to create fire.

Afterwards, we find him in a hotel room trying to recreate his cave on his island. He lays on the floor flicking the light on and off looking at his watch Kelly gave him, just as he did with his flashlight. He knows deep down that he has to let her go, but he’s not ready to accept it yet because he loves her so much. The lamp he flicked on and off is a representation of his new knowledge of his failed ideologies of relationships and his dependency on Kelly.

One last scene I’d like to mention before we wrap up is his talk with Stan after his final confrontation with Kelly. In this talk, he enters a long monologue where these final thoughts are spoken:

…The only thing I could control, was when, how, and where that was going to happen. So, I made a rope. I went up to the summit to hang myself. I had to test it, of course, you know me. The weight of the log snapped the limb of the tree. I couldn’t even kill myself the way I wanted to. I had power over nothing. And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow I had to keep breathing….I know what I have to do know. I gotta keep breathing, because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?

Chuck Noland, Castaway (2000)

In the final scene of the film, after this monologue, Chuck finds himself at the ranch that sent him that mysterious package that he has kept all this time. We see that Dick has been removed from the sign, and that only Bettina remains. He even meets the infamous Bettina on his way back down the road. After he leaves the package by the door he finds himself at a crossroads where he can go any which way he wants, and he looks down the road leading to Bettina’s home. Now because he knows what he needs, that he can go down any path he see’s in life, he isn’t tied down by anything. There’s no reason feel the need to control everything in life. Once you take a moment to just appreciate what you have, you can go whichever way you want.

Author

Noah Veremis


Works Cited

  1. Miller, Matthew S. Who is Wilson: Castaway and Time Travel. YouTube, Logos Made Flesh, May 29th, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DNNHO6U40M .

The Wasted Potential of The Shallows

The Shallows is a 2016 film about a rebellious young woman battling a race against time to escape from a killer shark. To this day, The Shallows is the best “shark movie” next to Jaws. Unfortunately, this isn’t a fair comparison considering the films it stands next to. Surprisingly, it actually has a lot of strengths in the second and third act of the film. So, what exactly went wrong?

Why even talk about this movie in the first place? No one remembers this movie right? Well, being a worshipper of movies like Castaway and Life of Pi, as in, movies that thrive with very few characters in an isolated environment, you can imagine how excited I was for this movie. I really, REALLY wanted this movie to be good enough to be in my top ten. Jaume Collet-Serra, the Director of The Shallows clearly has talent. This film actually takes a few pointers from Castaway and utilizes visual storytelling very well. However, there are a few times where it falls flat on its face. I was incredibly disappointed because The Shallows utilizes visual storytelling extremely well, but laziness is its biggest flaw.


Exposition

The first problem we see in The Shallows is laziness. When presenting the audience with information generally at least in my opinion, there are two options. Use objects and color that can work in conjunction with the actor’s performance (visual storytelling), or use dialogue. There is a right and a wrong way to use both. For example, we learn in the exposition that Nancy is a medical student that has been ignoring her true calling to pursue her own endeavors, and ends up pushing her family and friends away in the process. That’s all fine and dandy, but the way it’s presented is aggravating.

To present this information, she straight-up tells us that she’s a med student. Carlos her taxi driver asks her if she went to school because the movie needed him to. Granted this question isn’t that uncommon in small talk, but regardless it feels rushed and lazy. As a filmmaker, you have to understand that your audience can connect the dots and fill in the gaps. You don’t need to explain everything to them.

Another example of this recurring problem presents itself once Nancy makes it onto the beach. She gets a phone call from her sister. After they exchange a few words her dad picks up the phone. Almost immediately he starts rambling about her dead mother explaining how she wouldn’t approve of this behavior. He just tells her “that’s what you do, you help people”, and she says “not everyone can be helped”. This movie shoves exposition down your throat in the first 15 minutes. Similar mistakes are made down the line, but the point remains the same. If you want to present the audience with information, treating them like babies and expecting them to believe everything your characters say and at the same time expect them to retain emotional impact is insulting. Give us proof. I want to watch a movie, not read a book.


The Fix


Visual Introduction

The best way to fix the character building in the exposition is to use a visual introduction. By using visual method in a character introduction, you explain who the character is. Throw a problem at them and show how the character responds. This way, the audience can take interest in this character as they face future problems throughout the story. Besides, how are we supposed to feel connected to a character and her choices if we don’t even know who she is? (Filmento).

How do we fix this using this information? Well, we know that Nancy is slowly pushing herself into loneliness because she’s rejecting her calling of being a mother hen in favor of some alone time. Whatever it is, it must be something personal, because its more relatable and more impact-full when involving family. I don’t know about you, but I can name more than a few times when I rejected plans with a family member or a friend for myself and regretted it. We have all experienced times where we chose something else aside from family, for perhaps a multitude of reasons. When you make something personal, it becomes relatable.

In the beginning of the film, Nancy ends up going by herself because Chloe is taking care of her hangover. To better flesh out her character arc, Nancy should go by herself on her own accord. In the next scene her sister tries to ask if she can come with, Nancy refuses, claiming its something personal that she wants to do alone. This example explains to the audience that Nancy is pushing everyone away from her because she wants to be alone. No more forced and cringy exposition, no more problem. I know that this example seems pretty shallow, but this is the first thing the audience see’s. Remember, exposition doesn’t have to be clumped into a single scene. We are going to present more information to the audience later, so there’s no need to force exposition down their throat. Something like a flashback would break the pacing of the film.


Personal = Relatable

So, we know now that the exposition is the number 1 problem that’s holding the film back. The unfixed version of the film presents the scenes way too heavy handed. When you present information to the audience, it needs to feel natural and organic. Otherwise it destroys the pacing and ruins audience immersion. In my opinion, her past as a med student should be presented later in the film. I personally believe it would function better as a twist. Nancy’s phone call with her father and sister also needs to be significantly altered.

We need to flesh out this information of Nancy’s personality with another conflict. We could have Chloe trying to reach out and explain that ever since she took up surfing she’s been distant. Then, Nancy reacts defensively and they get in a fight over the phone. When it comes to addressing their mother’s death, the dad’s lackluster monologue isn’t going to cut it. It needs to be more personal.

The death of a family member in the exposition is a little tricky to get right. In this case, I don’t think it should be represented visually as in a picture for example. Its just not enough. Chloe should explain to her during the fight that she only has one sister and that Nancy is being selfish for how she’s acting. They both had the same mother and Nancy and Chloe could have helped each other as sisters but Nancy rejected her. This now heartbreaking scene adds more layers to Nancy’s background. Not only does this version have more layers, but its also natural and organic speech that you someone in the same context might actually say.

This also communicates to the audience that Nancy took up surfing as a coping mechanism, and that she’s internalizing the pain instead of opening up. Everyone has experience of isolating themselves from their problems. This is a much better option than dad’s monologue because its relatable. If your character has been through something that the audience has been through and can empathize with, they are much more inclined to get invested through that character and root for them making the impact of her actions that much more powerful.

As for revealing her identity as a med student, there’s a scene later in the film that I feel would be perfect. After she gets stuck on the little island when the tide lowers she notices a man passed out drunk on the beach. In an unfortunate turn of events, instead of helping her, he takes her belongings and ends up getting killed by the shark anyway once he tries to retrieve her surfboard.

Once he goes through her bag, in our version, he goes through her wallet and see’s a student ID. Not only does this communicate that she left her calling behind, but it also communicates that the only way for her to get out of her predicament is to face her loneliness head on. If she tried to swim to safety, she’d be killed by the very thing that haunts her. She can’t run away anymore.

In my opinion these changes are not only natural and organic, but they are also more impact-full. Her past as a med student is now a twist and adds a whole new layer to her backstory, making it more relatable. On-top of this, but the scene where she heals the Seagull’s dislocated wing becomes an even more satisfying arc for her character, incentivizing the audience even further to root for her.


The Climax

In the climax of the film, Nancy records her final thoughts on a Go-Pro from one of the shark’s victims. In the vanilla version, they take the lazy option and have her say “I finally got that alone time, its overrated”. This is just another example of cutting corners and taking the easy route.

There’s a huge island that Nancy refers to in the beginning that, in her words, looks like a pregnant woman. We can use this island in our new climax scene. Instead, When she goes through her monologue she finally explodes in a rant of tears and sadness. We could then have the Sun shine a little too bright in her eyes, and she looks over at the island looking like the pregnant woman, signifying not only her rebirth into a healthier lifestyle, but that her mother was watching all along. She finally realizes that she shouldn’t reject her calling of being a mother hen and follow in her mother’s footsteps.

Before we wrap up I do have a few things to say about the film’s positive qualities.


Pros

The visual storytelling in the second and third act was amazing. There was a lot of small details that really made a difference for me. For example, when she meets up with the other surfers, she stays a long distance away instead of swimming over to them. When she’s confronted with the drunk man on the beach, she sees for herself what loneliness can offer. This man is also going through the same troubles. For him, his coping mechanism is alcohol and no one wants to spend time with him because he’s such an unbearable drunk all the time. When he tries to gather her surfboard, the shark tears him in half and the camera cuts to Nancy’s eyes as we see her see for herself what happens when you don’t save yourself from the pit of loneliness.

Another example of one of the scenes I liked is when she fixes the seagull’s wing. This whole time, she has someone right next to her that’s just as damaged as she is, and she neglects the opportunity. When she finally comes to her senses, she’s cowering under a crushed surfboard looking out to the seagull. She see’s that she’s not alone and that others are going through the same problems she is. Now she finally takes a step towards her rehabilitation and uses her medical knowledge to help someone who’s just as helpless as she is. I loved that they chose a seagull instead of a person because not only is it a throwback to Wilson from Castaway, but its much more impact-full because the seagull couldn’t even save himself if he tried. with a broken wing, he can’t fly away, and birds aren’t exactly the best swimmers.


Conclusion

In my opinion, these changes work because it makes the character more relatable and it makes all of the problems the character faces more personal. With these changes we see Nancy beaten to a pulp until she finally explodes and admits to her wrongdoings in the climax. The shark represents loneliness itself, offering no compassion and no love. Loneliness isn’t just a problem, its a killer. By driving away everyone out of her life she lead herself to the shark, and she’s now at his mercy. Now that my friends, is truly terrifying.

Author: Noah Veremis


Works Cited

  1. “How One Movie Became Bullied by the Internet | Anatomy Of A Failure”. YouTube, Nov 8, 2019.