Thursday, August 3, 2017

Two films from the past week

Besides being a generally heartwarming and funny movie, The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) is one of the bravest films I’ve seen discussing Western-Islamic relations, and in particular its references to Islam. The film is literally about the real-life relationship between Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, who co-wrote the script, and stars Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan in the role of Gordon. Nanjiani is an aspiring Chicago stand-up comic who meets Gardner after his act in a comedy club. It’s one of those attraction-repulsion relationships where the protagonists soon can’t get their hands off one another. Until, that is, Gardner suffers a serious lung infection and is placed in hospital in a medically-induced coma. But before this there are some hilarious and heart spoken words. An incident in a coffee shop, where Nanjiani’s religion and race become overtly obvious, has him half-seriously shout that he “hates terrorists!” And, when his parents break off their relationship with him because he opted for an American woman over a Pakistani arranged marriage, he tells them that, while he respects their values, he’s in America now, and the world is wider than traditional religious boundaries. The script’s Nanjiani-Gordon’s dialogue is witty and their relationship takes some unconventional bumps.  But the movie, at just over two hours, could have had about 20 minutes shaved off of it. 

Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd), is not about Shakespeare’s anti-heroine but is based on a 19th century Russian novel by Nikolai Leskov. Florence Pugh plays Katherine, a subjugated wife who must obey her husband at all costs. He orders her to stand with her back to him while he masturbates. She can’t even smile without being censured. But Katherine, whether due to an incorrigible personality or the fact she indeed is a sociopath, decides to go on a series of murders. First is her abhorrent husband (Paul Hilton). Next is his father, a despicable lord of the manor played by Christopher Fairbank. Up to this point, I was with Katherine, at least emotionally, and the murders seem more than justified. She is, after all, a self-actualizing spear against male oppression. But it’s what comes next that collapses this apparent persona, and may lead the viewer to conclude quite differently about her psychological state. Which raises the question: do these events undermine that “morality” of her earlier actions, and therefore the story’s feminist vision?

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