Archive for January 2013

H.G. Wells on Teddy Roosevelt on The Time Machine

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Why people don't talk about Teddy Roosevelt more saddens me. His biography is full of baffling and wonderful surprises (such as this incredible tale of reading and reviewing Anna Karenina while chasing bandits down a frozen river in the Dakotas).

For example, H.G. Wells (quoted from Edmund Morris's essay on Teddy in This Living Hand: And Other Essays):

He hadn't, he said, an effectual disproof of a pessimistic interpretation of the future. If one chose to say America must presently lose the impetus of her ascent, that she and all mankind must culminate and pass, he could not deny that possibility. Only he chose to live as if this were not so. He mentioned my Time Machine...

He became gesticulatory, and his straining voice a note higher in denying the pessimism of that book as a credible interpretation of destiny. With one of those sudden movements of his he knelt forward in a garden chair -- we were standing, before our parting, beneath the colonnade -- and addressed me very earnestly over the back, clutching it and then thrusting out his familiar gesture, a hand first partly open and then closed.

"`Suppose, after all,' he said slowly, `that should prove to be right, and it all ends in your butterflies and morlocks. THAT DOESN'T MATTER NOW. The effort's real. It's worth going on with. It's worth it. It's worth it, even so.' . . .

"I can see him now and hear his unmusical voice saying, `The effort -- the effort's worth it,' and see the gesture of his clenched hand and the -- how can I describe it? - - the friendly peering snarl of his face, like a man with the sun in his eyes. He sticks in my mind at that, as a very symbol of the creative will in man, in its limitations, its doubtful adequacy, its valiant persistence, amidst complexities and confusions. He kneels out, assertive against his setting -- and his setting is the White House with a background of all of America.

I always enjoy how nearly every account of meeting Teddy Roosevelt is narrated in the style of a seduction; he's a man who leaves a powerful impression on all he sees.

And besides, can you think of another President who would not only read but have thoughts about contemporary science fiction?

Oscarbait 2012: Silver Linings Playbook



Silver Linings Playbook earns its ending in a way few movies do, let alone recent ones. The film concentrates on something that's usually treated as a simple waypoint in other movie journeys: finding a way to peek your head out from behind the Sisyphean boulder, even when all the signs suggest you should continue to hide. The boulder causes continuous crushing pain, but at least it's pain you're familiar with.

And speaking of crushing pain, do not be mistaken; the first 30 minutes of the movie are profoundly uncomfortable. You will be squirming in your chair, especially when "the incident" is revealed, the moment that lands Patrick Solitano Jr. in the mental hospital.

Patrick (and who knew there was an actor hiding inside Bradley Cooper?) gets out of mental hospital, only to land in a more abstract prison. He suffers from dreams he can't let go, he's oppressed by his parents, he's written off so often that when anyone shows him kindness, he can't even recognize it (and notice that these moments are when he's most explosive).

When he meets Jennifer Lawrence's Tiffany, the real fireworks happen (and not the good kind). They need each other's help, but it's dark and desperate - Pat can't see beyond his own need to reconnect with his estranged wife, and Tiffany never loses sight of her own needs for even a second (take THAT manic pixie dream girl meme). She's not gonna put up with his blindsided bullshit, and if that's the side of himself he brings to work, she doesn't hesitate to manipulate him outright.

It's a complex situation with no easy solutions, and would have been a disaster without Jennifer Lawrence's nuanced performance. Also stay tuned for Robert De Niro, who actually acts for the first time in thirty years (and he's just as terrific as you remember him being).

Mental illness is often treated as a plague upon other people - an affliction for the weak or the mutated or the poorly raised. But when it comes down to it, who hasn't felt the atmosphere become so tight, so oppressive, that you feel like space is literally closing in? When you can't see anything inside your head, let alone outside of it? We write those moments off, "I was stressed," "I haven't gotten enough sleep lately," but as soon as a doctor puts a name to someone else's bad moment, we cease to treat it as a natural part of human experience, but as an unforgivable failing.

At the end of the day, you still have to live, you still have to function. But that isn't easy, and Silver Linings Playbook doesn't pretend it is. Go see it. It deserves all it's Oscar noms (and if there's a God in the academy, it will win Best Picture).


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