Exploring Time in “Tenet” and “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”

*Spoilers for I’m Thinking of Ending Things

On the first weekend of September, Christopher Nolan’s long-awaited Tenet arrived to challenge the pandemic and (hopefully) save movie theaters. Meanwhile, writer/director Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things arrived on Netflix. Tenet is a sleek, imaginative, action-packed blockbuster thrill ride that has all of Nolan’s quirks: technical perfection, stiff dialogue, ponderings about reality, and Michael Caine. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is equally full of its director’s quirks: a focus on relationships, abstract, melancholy, arthouse. Both films, outside of their auteur-ness, share something in common: they are both about time, and much can be learned by comparing how the two directors approach their exploration of the subject. 

In Tenet, a character ends her explanation about the central premise of the movie (objects moving through time backward) by saying, “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” Despite that instruction, Tenet is all about thinking. The entire film is completely plot-driven. Every single line of dialogue is plot-related. Every scene moves forward relentlessly. The momentum of the film is exciting, but there is no room for beauty or feeling. Tenet wants you to think about the possibility of going backward in time and it wants you to experience such a disorienting thrill (sometimes too disorienting, I spent an hour standing outside of the theater after the movie with my companions trying to parse the story out, and I’m still not sure I understand everything). 

Meanwhile, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is all about feeling. There is also a lot of talking, however, it’s less about what is said (which are often long monologues about art) and more about how things are said, or why. By the time the ending rolls around and there’s a ballet dance break and Jesse Plemmons sings an entire song from Oklahoma!, you’re either on board or are probably very annoyed. 

Time is warped in several ways during I’m Thinking of Ending Things. When Lucy (Jessie Buckley) gets to Jake’s (Jesse Plemmons) parents’ house, she and Jake stay the same age, but his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) begin aging backward in forward. Every time Lucy steps into a new room, both parents are at different ages. Later, Lucy notes that instead of people being stationary points that move through time, time moves through people and she watches time move through Jake’s parents. 

The scenes in the car between Jake and Lucy likewise play with continuity and time. Jake calls Lucy by several different names, she talks about being in different occupations, and her story of how she and Jake met changes multiple times. And in the ending sequence, it is revealed that Lucy wasn’t real at all, but that Jake was imagining falling in love. 

Maybe. That might be one possible interpretation. But nothing about I’m Thinking of Ending Things encourages you to “solve” the movie. It is not a logical puzzle, and there’s nothing you gain from being able to pin down the movie’s timeline or narrative tricks. What you need to know about Lucy and Jake, or their feelings and relationship, are all conveyed through the acting and visuals. The confusing, metaphysical nature of the visuals and story are supposed to only teach you one thing about time: it is our absurd enemy. Our perception of time is changed by our emotions, and the only way out is through. 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things treats time as a character within itself, as malleable as any of the other characters. Tenet treats time as a tool to play with. Neither approach- thinking or feeling- are inherently better or worse, of course. Both films have numerous explainer videos and articles on the internet to help people figure the films out, and both films prompt rich discussion through their ambiguous nature. I think, though, that the spectacle of Tenet (the big screen really is the only way to see it) will mean that the film won’t have much longevity. Some of Nolan’s other twisty puzzle-box movies have stood the test of time and remained in the cultural memory- I’m thinking of Inception and Memento– but those had stronger emotional cores than Tenet. Meanwhile, I’m Thinking of Ending Things will probably also be forgotten, but less because of the film itself and more from how few people will see it and how even less will submit themselves to its oddity. Yet I think that if you do give I’m Thinking of Ending Things a chance and embrace it on its own terms, you will find it worthwhile, even if you don’t enjoy it.

-Madeleine D.

I Don’t Care Whether You Understand My Movies (Anymore)

By Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan's Next Movie is Getting an IMAX Summer 2020 Release |  IndieWire

There was a time in my life in which I believed it mattered whether the miserable cretins who viewed my films understood what was happening. It was a dark time, reader. I struggled mightily to provide the ill-bred masses with the petty satisfactions they required, employing degrading techniques designed to explain my ingenious, chronologically non-linear plots to even the stupidest of dolts who consumed them.

Yes, reader, I engaged in shameful behavior, lowering my films to the tastes of their basest audiences. I used such abominable devices as “exposition” and “audible dialogue.” I even (forgive me) took the time to write coherent and explanatory endings, designed to fill in whatever points audiences may have missed in their feeble understanding of my sweeping artistic vision. NO MORE! My latest magnum opus, Tenet, is free from such demeaning restraints. 

No longer will I task my considerable genius with “accessibility” or “coherence.” My audiences are, plainly, dumb and worthless, and they will henceforth be treated as such. Of course their feeble minds don’t understand my breathtaking reflections on the nature of time itself, so why should I bother debasing my work for their sake? Don’t understand the intricate workings of Tenet’s time mechanics? Imbecile. Here are some buildings blowing up to satisfy your toddler-esque attention span. Unclear on who a particular character is or where they came from? Too bad, now they’re punching somebody else you’ve never seen before, does that satisfy your infantile lizard brain? Confused by the ending? Not my problem, focus on the big, shiny guns I put in just to entertain idiots like you. Enjoy the flashy lights and shut the hell up. This is cinema. There’s no time to accommodate the dimwits who can’t keep up, I’m making art here. If prolonged landscape shots, car chases of ambiguous purpose, and inexplicable gunfire don’t satisfy your shallow cravings for petty entertainment, I have nothing further to say to you. 

Christopher Nolan is a writer and director. His latest film, Tenet, is in theaters now. 

~

This piece of satire was guest-written by Sam Shideler. Sam is a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma, where his academic pursuit are best articulated as “reading, writing, and regarding STEM majors with contempt.” His hobbies include referring to movies as “films,” pretending to understand classical literature, and suffering at the hands of Oklahoma City Thunder basketball.

Indigenous Filmmaking, Satire, and Horror in “Blood Quantum”

ad722d1ff8e5eb8a272922ecf4ad8c0a.jpg

A guest review by John Truden

Editorial Note: Blood Quantum is a 2019 Canadian zombie horror film directed by Jeff Barnaby, a Canadian Mi’kmaq filmmaker. Barnaby’s film is rooted in an Indigenous perspective. It stars Indigenous actors and is a love letter to both classic zombie horror films and to “indignerds,” the self-proclaimed title of Indigenous people who love pop culture. Blood Quantum holds to many of the conventions of the zombie movie genre, along with influence from filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, but its main premise and some of the stylistic choices draw on Jeff Barnaby’s Mi’kmaq context. The following was written by my friend John Truden, who is currently getting his Ph.D. in Indigenous history, to give some context and history, so the film can be more enjoyable and understandable to a non-Indigenous audience. 

Blood Quantum follows the residents of the Red Crow Indian Reservation (a fictional reserve that stands in for many Indigenous communities in North America) who are overtaken by a zombie outbreak. The residents quickly discover that they are immune, but the surrounding white settlers and wildlife are vulnerable to infection.

The 1970 saw the beginning of a renaissance of Indigenous films, or films rooted in the perspectives of Indigenous peoples. That renaissance reached full bloom in the 1990s and has not stopped since. Smoke Signals, a 1998 film that followed the journey of three young people from the Coeur D’alene Reservation in Idaho, became a marker of this growth. Barnaby created Blood Quantum in this context. The film emphasizes community, ties to the land, and grounding in a specific time and place, reflecting precedents set by Indigenous filmmakers.

The film plays with themes of blood and colonialism. It takes the history of settlers who are a threat to Indigenous populations, and puts it within the genre, casting those settlers as zombies who pose the threat to the immune Indigenous population. It’s a theatrical reimagining of very real history (and recent divisions, colonization is not simply a thing of the past). It’s a reversal of what’s called “Settler Colonialism,” a process where people come to a region and re-shape it. In Blood Quantum, instead of settlers coming in and re-shaping the reservation, the Indigenous population is cleansing it. 

Blood quantum itself was a system devised by the United States and Canadian government to slowly eliminate Indigenous populations by essentially assimilating them out of existence. They did this by measuring Indigenous blood and then making it difficult for Indigenous people to marry one another. According to the blood quantum system, if you don’t have a certain amount of Indigenous blood and ancestry you’re not Indigenous, and if you marry a white person, your kid’s blood quantum goes down, making them even more removed from the Indigenous identity. Slowly but surely, entire indigenous bloodlines are erased. The irony of this film then is that these people who are fighting the zombies that have Indigenous ancestry, and that’s what keeps them safe.

The concept of the zombie came to the United States through an effort to explain Haitian independence. In the 1920s the United States occupied the country of Haiti. At this time the United State is in Jim Crow; it’s a white supremacist nation. But in Haiti, the Haitian are resisting and asserting their independence. In order to make sure no Black Americans got any ideas of revolution, journalists and politicians took the Haitian mythology of the zombie and used it to “explain” why the Black people in Haiti are asserting their independence. They depicted Haitians as being brainless and murderous, stupid and violent. This appropriation the zombie erases an important part of Haitian folklore, where the zombie originated somewhere between 1625 to 1800, and “was a projection of the African slaves’ relentless misery and subjugation. Haitian slaves believed that dying would release them back to lan guinée, literally Guinea, or Africa in general, a kind of afterlife where they could be free. Though suicide was common among slaves, those who took their own lives wouldn’t be allowed to return to lan guinée. Instead, they’d be condemned to skulk the Hispaniola plantations for eternity, an undead slave at once denied their own bodies and yet trapped inside them—a soulless zombie” (Mariani). 

In the 1960s, American director George Romero re-used the concept of zombies and turned them into the “undead,” through his films. He turns them into flesh-eating cannibalistic zombies as a stand-in for things. Night of the Living Dead is a critique of American race relations, in a lot of ways. Day of the Dead is a critique of the military-industrial complex. He starts a tradition where the dialogue between the characters is more important than the actual zombies themselves, which is true of this movie. He also sets the precedent of using zombies as other problems. The format is flexible, there’s a lot of different things you can do with a zombie movie. So there is a long canon that Blood Quantum is joining where the zombies stand for thing, usually various social anxieties. Here, the zombies are used to stand in for white settlers, and in this tells a uniquely Indigenous story. 

Blood Quantum is available on Shudder

Sources:

Zombies and Haiti: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0AF1qPSmvhPEjmSE3vEwu7?si=mPNsSf05Qf2kPZeXlSS20A

Mike Mariani: “The Tragic, Forgotten History of Zombies,” for The Atlantic

John Truden is a PhD student in the Department of History at the University of Oklahoma. His dissertation explores Indigenous-settler relationships in a settler-dominated Oklahoma. Upon graduation he would like to take on a full-time collaborative role by teaching at a tribal college. In his free time he enjoys historical research, working alongside marginalized communities, and investing in friendships. 

Top 20 Movies of 2020 (So Far)

Screen Shot 2020-08-20 at 5.39.19 PM.png

Guest Review by Jonathan Dorst

Many movie theaters are reopening today. For how long, nobody knows, but hopefully for good. I last saw a movie in a theater in early March, so I’m ready (I think) to go back to seeing new releases on the big screen. And there are a number of tantalizing films set to come out in the last four-plus months of this year, including The Personal History of David Copperfield (8/28), Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (9/3), Quiet Place Part II (9/4), I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Netflix 9/4), Antebellum (9/18), Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks (October), David Fincher’s Mank (October), Wonder Woman 1984 (10/2), Trial of the Chicago 7 (10/16), Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch (10/16?), The Courier (10/16), Black Widow (11/6), Pixar’s Soul (11/20), Denis Villeneuve’s Dune (12/18), Coming 2 America (12/18), and Spielberg’s West Side Story (12/18).

But, if you think there haven’t been any good movies that have been released up to this point in 2020, you haven’t been paying attention. Some came out before the pandemic, some went to streamers or VOD when theaters were not an option, and some were released as planned through a streamer. One note: Although some multi-episode documentaries (like OJ: Made In America) have won Oscars and been considered a ‘feature,’ I chose not to include them on this list, so Tiger King and The Last Dance would be part of a top television list instead. One more note: As always, don’t take the inclusion of a film as a blanket endorsement of its content; you are responsible to research the content and determine if certain movies are appropriate for you.

20. Bad Education– Hugh Jackman shows off his versatility in this telling of a true story of embezzlement in the public school system.

19. Radioactive– A good biopic that makes the interesting decision to show the downside (in jarring flash-forwards) of the protagonist’s historical contribution.

18. Downhill– A not-as-good-as-the-original remake of a very good Danish film, still Will Farrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus give good performances in this serious comedy.

17. The Truth– A bit of a cliched premise about an actress mother and her flawed relationship with her daughter, but it’s Juliette Binoche and Catherine Denueve, so it’s a must see.

16. Tigertail– A thoughtful film that tells the story of an immigrant’s struggle to connect in his new land while reconciling what he’s lost back in his homeland.

15. The Vast of Night– An interesting, slow-burn of a film about strange happenings in the sky in New Mexico in the 50’s that I suspect will get better with repeated viewings.

14. Arkansas– A minor, but enjoyable entry in the ‘loveable loser drug dealer’ genre; Liam Hemsworth is terrific playing against type.

13. The Invisible Man– An effective thriller that is a not-too-subtle metaphor for the psychological oppression that powerful men can administer on women.

12. The Old Guard– A superhero film that takes consequences seriously.

11. Da 5 Bloods– Spike Lee’s exploration of the Vietnam War and its effects, as well as his continued exploration of America’s racial history- the acting is great, but the tone and pacing is all over the place.

10. Young Ahmed– The Dardenne brothers’ latest about a young teenaged boy being influenced by a radical Islamic imam.

9. To the Stars– A movie about small-town Oklahoma in the ‘50s that tells the age-old tale of the shy, bullied kid who gets courage from the extroverted, courageous friend, but with some twists that keep it fresh.

8. Ordinary Love– Two great actors (Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson) telling a slice-of-life story that made me want to watch more of their life together.

7. Palm Springs– A very funny take on the Groundhog Day premise that doesn’t quite earn its happy ending but is still very memorable and enjoyable.

6. Athlete A– The emotional story of how USA Gymnastics failed to protect its female gymnasts from predators like Larry Nassar.

5. The Assistant– A day in the life of an administrative assistant who serves her unnamed boss in a Weinstein-like film production company; we see how powerful men got away with so much for so long as we watch her try to raise a red flag in an atmosphere where no one is motivated to change anything.

4. The Trip To Greece– The 4th film in the ‘Trip’ series, this is the most poignant as Rob and Steve follow in the footsteps of Odysseus and ponder their mortality. 

3. Driveways– A beautiful film about people in different stages of life connecting and making the best of their situation.

2. Sorry We Missed You- British filmmaker Ken Loach has been making great social commentary films for a long time, and this one takes aim at companies taking advantage of workers in this ‘gig economy’ while telling an affecting story of a family trying to thrive, or at least survive.

1. Hamilton– I know this really came out as a musical in 2015, but it’s not the first play to be filmed and released as a movie (consider Bergman’s The Magic Flute and Powell’s The Tales of Hoffman), and everything about this production is just. so. good.

Bonus: Worst Movie of the Year (so far, that I’ve seen)- Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey

A Guide to Beyonce’s “Black is King”

200728131808-restricted-screengrab-01-beyonce-black-is-king-super-tease.jpg

On July 31st, Disney+ released Black is King, a visual album by Beyonce. It functions as a sort of movie-length music video that puts visuals to Beyonce’s 2019 album The Lion King: The Gift, which was created by Beyonce for the release of last year’s live-action remake of The Lion King, where she voiced Nala. Black is King follows the storyline of the film abstractly, and there are short audio clips from the film to help move it along. 

Because this is debuting on Disney+, which markets itself as a family-oriented streaming service, and is not a typical film in most regards, I thought it would be helpful to try something different. Instead of a normal review, I’d like to offer some observations and questions that can guide your viewing of Black is King, whether you watched it and would like to learn more about what messages and artistic reference you may have missed, or you’re a parent interested in watching Black is King with your children and would like to cultivate a fruitful discussion of the film (although the film probably won’t interest young children, I’d suggest pre-teen and up). 

As always, this isn’t an endorsement of the film or a suggestion that it is appropriate for all ages and families.

Initial Feelings after Finishing the Film:

  1. How do you feel? Did you like the ending? Were you engaged throughout the movie, or did some parts feel boring?
  2. Did you like it? Give some reasons for why or why not.
  3. Did you like the music? Did it make you want to dance? Do you think it is catchy?
  4. Do you think the visuals matched the music? How so? Did any shot or visual stick out to you as memorable?
  5. There are a lot of spoken-word sections (where Beyonce or others are talking over the music and visuals). Were there any lines that stuck out to you?
  6. Do you imagine visual albums/ feature-length music video films growing in popularity? What are the pros and cons of the medium?

Talking about Race and Black Identity:

1. Black is King was filmed in various African countries. The music is inspired by African music traditions, there are cameos by artists from all over Africa, the costumes were inspired by African fashions, and there are references to various African mythologies and legends. Recognizing, of course, that Africa is not a monolith but is made up of different countries and hundreds of sub-cultures, did the film spark your interest in learning more about Africa, or in any particular parts of African culture?

2. Black is King is explicitly about Black empowerment. It encourages Black people to embrace their heritage, to take pride in their culture and community, and to use their gifts and talents to help build a better future. In a world where Black people are often seen as disposable and are overlooked, Black is King relishes in presenting Blackness as complex, regal, intellectual, spiritual, dynamic, and worthy of respect and attention. Many of the songs are pieces of activism, such as “BROWN SKIN GIRL,” which lovingly reminds Black girls of their beauty, fighting against the very-real stigmas of colorism.

If you are Black, how did Black is King make you feel? (Parents- as with all of these questions, remind your kids that it’s okay to feel ambivalent). Did the film feel relatable, or like Beyonce was talking to you? If you are white or non-Black, how did you feel? Black is King has no prominent white or non-Black characters- was that strange or unusual for you? Did you feel like you learned anything new? Did you feel inspired?

3. In her seminal work Sister Citizen, Melissa Harris-Perry makes the argument that “the internal, psychological, emotional, and personal experiences of black women are inherently political.” Her argument essentially says that because the perspective of Black women has been silenced for much of American history, and stereotypes about Black women persist so much in popular culture, when a Black woman is at the forefront of a narrative, it is inherently political and even transgressive in white-dominant cultures. First, what do you think about this as a theory? Is it fair? And then second- Is Black is King political? How or how not? Does it feel political?

4. Throughout the album, and especially in the song “MOOD 4 EVA(the song with Jay-Z that takes place in a mansion), Beyonce talks about her wealth and opulence (fairly standard for celebrities). But through this and her other work, she seems to make this statement: Beyonce and Jay-Z, in being successful and rich, and showing that off, is a source of empowerment for all Black people. Because Black Americans are more likely to be of lower-income, it is inherently progressive and even radical to present Black people who are wealthy and successful, because it presents both an idea of what could (and even should) be, and presents a positive representation of the abilities of Black people.  

What do you think of this? Is Beyonce right? Can showing off wealth and opulence be empowering, particularly for minority groups? Is Beyonce and Jay-Z’s (presented) lifestyle aspirational?

Homages and References:

1. Did Black is King help you appreciate The Lion King any more? Were you able to follow the storyline of Simba in Black is King, or was it too abstract? Do you think Black is King could stand alone, without the influence of The Lion King?

2. The opening sequence is a retelling of Exodus 2:1-10, where Moses’s mother puts him in a basket and sends him down the Nile to escape the slaughter of all the Hebrew boys. Moses is a large figure in African American music, especially in gospel songs that were sung by enslaved people to speak about freedom. What might Beyonce be referencing by showing it here? And are there any similarities between Moses and Simba from The Lion King?

3. There is a concept called the “Christ-Like Gaze” in film, outlined by this excellent article. It puts forth the idea that cinematography- the way the camera films subjects- can be used to look at people the way Christ looks at us. The three tenants of a “Christ-like gaze” in a movie is this: 

  1. The film sees people as being complex and filled with inherent worth and dignity. The movie doesn’t watch characters with cynical dispassion. Instead, a Christ-like gaze approaches the characters in warmth. Practically, this means the camera doesn’t objectify characters (such as focusing on body parts for sexual attention). There is often a focus on the facial expressions and eyes of a character. The camera is usually at eye-level with the subject.
  2. A Christ-like gaze means the film isn’t only concerned with the plot. The characters act beyond being used as plot devices. The story- and the camera- pays attention to little details and truths about life. Does the film take time to observe beauty? Are there any moments of quietness?
  3. Movies can (and should) depict suffering honestly, but a Christ-like gaze ends in hope. Hope is not blind optimism, nor is it the removal of consequences. But hope knows that there is a resurrection and healing coming.

So with all of that being said- does Black is King have a Christ-like gaze? Does the camera treat the Black bodies on-screen with care and present them as beautiful? How is the scenery treated? How do the choices in hair and costuming contribute to the presentation of Beyonce and the other stars? Is this an uplifting film, and in what regards?

Further reading:

NPR- “‘Black Is King’ Is A Sumptuous Search For Divine Identity”

Vox- Beyonce presenting herself as African Goddess Osun

The Root: Some of the cameos in Black is King

Vox- Framing Black Bodies as Art in “Apeshit”

            –  Madeleine D.

 

“No Bad Guys”: Clemency

clemency.jpg

“It’s my job.”

Chinonye Chukwu’s 2019 film Clemency, starring Alfre Woodard, examines the way this sentiment can be twisted to justify horrific behavior and unjust systems. Woodard plays Bernadine Williams, a prison warden who carries out executions. The film begins with a botched execution and follows Bernadine as she moves towards the next one, a highly public case where the man (Aldis Hodge) in question is largely thought to be innocent. As Bernadine faces public and private scrutiny, she continues to figuratively wash her hands of the issue- after all, she’s just doing her job.

It’s fascinating to compare Clemency to another 2019 movie, Just Mercy. There are plenty of differences between them of course- Clemency is fiction, Just Mercy is based on a true story and on the life of still-living attorney and advocate Bryan Stevenson. Clemency takes place in the present, Just Mercy in the past. Just Mercy speaks explicitly on race and interrogates a “justice” system that imprisons black men at a disproportionately high rate. Clemency, which stars a black woman as a warden and a black man as a prisoner, is full of interesting implications, but never explicitly talks about race. Yet they are both about the prison industrial complex, and specifically, capital punishment. Just Mercy is focused on the prisoner- in this case, wrongfully accused Walter McMillian- and his relentless, righteous lawyer Stevenson. In Just Mercy, little time is spent thinking about those working on the side of the system. Particularly since the film is about race and how racism played into McMillians’ wrongful conviction in 1980’s Alabama, there seems to be a clear right and wrong. The prosecutors, the prison guards- all presented as clear-cut representatives of a broken system, who are therefore complicit. 

But we are all complicit in all sorts of injustice. There is corruption and sin in every industry, no matter how seemingly neutral or even moral your job or workplace is. Most of us end up playing a game about the degree of separation; how close am I to the injustice? Surely if, say, I work at a retail store where I know the clothes we make use child labor overseas, I can take comfort in the fact that there is enough separation between me and the CEO or the foreman in the factory allowing that to happen. I’m alleviated of guilt.

Right?

The frustration and helplessness as we come to grips with the reality that everything we touch is stained and contaminated can feel overwhelming, so we dull ourselves to it. We turn a blind eye, we cope, we disassociate, we tell ourselves stories. And it is true, we can’t fix everything. But instead of allowing that to turn us towards lament, we turn to paralysis or detachment. 

Just Mercy is a great movie (and an even better book). But Clemency, the more understated spiritual sibling to Just Mercy, is a critical companion piece to getting a fuller and more nuanced understanding of the justice system and our state-sanctioned executions. Clemency is focused on the other side, those prosecutors and guards, as well as those people’s loved ones, who serve as instruments of the state. It suggests that those who work in the prison system have a form of PTSD and suffer alongside the prisoners in being a part of a system that dehumanizes everyone involved, a system that seems too big and unwieldy to ever fix. The film departs upon the viewer a wariness, a weight that you feel alongside Bernadine. From the nauseating first sequence to the chilling final one, the movie plunges you into the quickly dulling psyche and spirit of Woodard’s Bernadine as she desperately tries to cope and detach from her escalating guilt and ambivalence. 

Alfre Woodard carries the entire film effortlessly. She conveys a multitude of emotions with just a glance or a sigh. She strikes an intimidating figure, making it clear how Bernadine got to the position of warden, but she always leaves a vulnerable underbelly for the audience to see. Woodard is also able to establish, without the script ever drawing direct attention to it, that Bernadine is experiencing clear signs of trauma- nightmares, detachment, hypervigilance and sensitivity, avoidance, numbness. You can see her choosing to deaden her spirit, moment by moment, rather than fully comprehend all of the implications of what her job requires. In the final sequence, we see that spirit leave her altogether. 

“It’s my job” has been a justification for all sorts of horrific evil. But instead of self-righteous indignation towards Bernadine and the work she does, Clemency takes an observational, non-judgmental eye and instead focuses on the effect the work has on her soul. Clemency rises above feeling like an “issue” movie, yet whether it intends to or not, it offers a critical perspective needed for advocacy and greater awareness of the issue of capital punishment and criminal justice reform.  

– Madeleine D. 

P.S- 

I’m from Oklahoma, where we lead the country with the highest incarceration rate and rank #3 in executions. We also have the highest rate of female incarceration, which just keeps growing. If you’re interested in learning more about programs that offer support and counsel to female inmates, I highly recommend reading about the work of (and consider donating to) the following two Tulsa-based nonprofits. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to meet with some of the leadership of both nonprofits and see some of their operations, and I admire the outcome-driven, strategic work they are doing. 

Still She Rises– Provides comprehensive legal representation to indigent women in the criminal and civil legal system.

Women in Recovery – Intensive outpatient alternative for eligible women facing long prison sentences for non-violent drug-related offenses. The 18-month program focuses on each client’s holistic needs, including rehabilitation, therapy, legal counsel, family reunification, and job training/workplace readiness.

The Old Guard

The Old Guard': How Gina Prince-Bythewood Made Hit Action ...

Netflix is here to save the summer movie season. Or, at least, give us a little oasis in the midst of the current movie desert. Last Friday they dropped The Old Guard, which stars Charlize Theron as a leader of an immortal gang of warriors who receive a new recruit. I am happy to report that The Old Guard is an exceptional summer action film, and would be whether it was released during a pandemic or not. 

There are three components to The Old Guard that make it stand out.

First: Action sequences where you can actually make out what is happening! They are inventive, play around with setting, and reveal things about each character. The stunts are excellent, and if it wasn’t clear before, it is now that Charlize Theron is a credible action star, carrying herself with such gravitas that every time she cricks her long neck I know some serious business is going down. There’s an airplane fight brawl between Kiki Layne and Theron that is particularly fun. 

Second: Tropes, but good! Yes, tropes are not inherently bad- they’re tropes for a reason, people like them. And what is a trope for one group or demographic may not be a trope for another. For example, “grizzled professional who is too old for this shiz teaching a younger recruit” is a trope… for men. But having it between two women, here with Andy (Theron) and Nile (Layne), is rare, and The Old Guard makes good use of it in a way that is compelling for both characters. Likewise, the film’s central group of warriors is based in the found family trope (one of my personal favorites) which is when a group of characters who have no families of their own (or are estranged from them) come together to create their own family. A lot of superhero movies pay lip service to this trope (although some wrestle more honestly with it). But The Old Guard takes the time to build these relationships up so they are believable, and then complicates this family through love, betrayal, death, and conflicting philosophies. Because of the way the tropes are thoughtfully executed in service of the larger film, and because of who is enacting the tropes, the tropes here aren’t stagnant. 

Third: The script, written by Greg Rucka, based on his own comic book of the same name, takes the time to examine the conflicting philosophies of the various characters and ponder the existential questions that come along with immortality. I was continually shocked by the new problems brought up regarding immortality, and there are downright disturbing implications examined (Quynh’s fate? I got chills. The horror of having a body that acts autonomously from yourself? Fascinating!). All of this makes The Old Guard more concerned with consequences than your average action flick, which are too often rushed to get to the next set-piece. The Old Guard is fast-paced, but never rushed. 

There are some editing issues, questionable music choices, and a few story beats that miss the mark, but these issues hardly detract from the overall film. Kiki Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) makes a star turn here, and director Gina Prince Bythewood should be locked down for directing a sequel immediately. If you’re looking for a fun watch with a little more substance, I highly recommend this gem.

– Madeleine D. 

Netflix Triple Feature: Da 5 Bloods, Eurovision, and Athlete A

Da 5 Bloods

2145716-1406070049.jpg

Da 5 Bloods is about five men, but it also may as well be 5 different movies. You’ve got a Vietnam movie, heavily inspired by Apocalypse Now. Then there is a treasure hunt movie, paying homage to Spike Lee’s favorite movie, Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Then there is a father-son story about bitterness and fear. Then there’s a story about veterans and PTSD, particularly for black American soldiers. Then there is a little bit of Girls Trip and other vacation comedies. But like the Da that binds the 5 Bloods together, what binds all of these genres and storylines is Spike Lee, and since this is first and foremost a Spike Lee joint, that means that it is never boring. 

Da 5 Bloods is an epic, and like most epics, the scale means that it is much more unwieldy, and less consistent. It’s a mixed bag. It feels like Lee was trying to do too much, like he was afraid he wouldn’t have another chance to say everything he wants to say (which considering Hollywood’s track record towards black talent is possible, even with an acclaimed director). But with a running time of two and a half hours, with the last forty minutes feeling pretty irrelevant from the stronger first half, I wish he had a stronger editor.

It also, at times, feels like the cast was having too good a time filming on location in Vietnam and Thailand, and Lee let his actors do off-the cuff improv and he had too many good memories to cut scenes short when they needed to be shorter. But at the same time, the entire cast is terrific, with Jonathan Majors as a highlight (watch The Last Black Man in San Francisco)! Their chemistry is palpable and carries the film even in its weaker moments. These weaker moments, while they lower the movie’s overall quality, don’t hide the sharper moments of commentary and insight from Lee, making it still a worthwhile watch. It may not be Lee’s best work but it may be the most “Spike Lee” movie he’s made.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Fire-saga-e1593509502224

A quick story: I recently joined a book club that is reading White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White, by Daniel Hill (great book). The book is about the prevalence of white culture and understanding its impact, why whiteness is often considered the default and how to fight that, and how to celebrate your white culture without being racist. Our book club leader posed this question at the end of our first meeting: what are ways that you can enjoy white culture, unproblematically? 

After that book club meeting, I watched Eurovision, and realized it is the perfect way. So if you, dear reader, are a white American wanting to get back to your European roots, or you’re not either of those things but want to enjoy a cute comedy with over-the-top musical numbers, and find out what Americans have been missing out on, then Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, is your movie. 

The movie follows Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) as two Icelandic singers who beat the odds to get into Eurovision, the yearly multi-national singing competition. The movie is not, as some feared, a satire or lampooning of the contest. Instead it is a sweetly earnest celebration of the event. 

Eurovision’s biggest weakness is simply that of most comedies- the script. The actors carry the movie with their energy, and the music is fun and the locations are lovely, but the script feels more like a series of scene ideas rather than a narrative with cohesion, pacing, and momentum. It also feels the need to add an emotional element to the film, hamfisting a disappointed father subplot with Pierce Brosnan’s character that is wholly unnecessary and distracting. I would have preferred they skipped this obligatory “moral,” especially since the film has other more genuine things to say about the importance of your hometown and not running away from shame. 

In the end, Eurovision is an enjoyable, if forgettable, watch, and I’m looking forward to post-Coronavirus when I can start watching the real song competition myself.

Athlete A

athlete-a-1200.jpg

Documentaries have become more experimental in recent years, but Athlete A is not experimental in style or even in content. However, despite not being flashy, it tells its story compellingly. It focuses on the survivors of the Larry Nassar USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal and centers their experiences while providing a larger context to how such an abusive environment was able to form- and hide a pedophile amongst its ranks. In this the film explores why the culture of an institution- whether it be one like USA Gymnastics or your workplace- matters so much, and what changes can be made to prevent abuse and silence. It also is a celebration of journalism as a force of accountability and balance, injecting the film with a bit of Spotlight feel. It’s one of the best of the media that has come out of the #MeToo era, and while it isn’t a comfortable watch (and while not graphic, should be carefully considered before being watched by sexual assault survivors) it’s an important and valuable one. 

– Madeleine D. 

The 10 Best Things of 2020 (So Far)

While 2020 is probably not going down in the history books as a great year overall, there have been some bright notes when it comes to movies, art, and pop culture. Here is a list of 10 things from different mediums from the first half of 2020 that I recommend!

MOVIES

Onward

I never got around to reviewing Onward, but if I had known at the time it was going to be the last movie I would get to see in theatres for a long time, I may have. Outside the strange nostalgia this movie now holds for me, it is a solid Pixar flick, full of the studio’s characteristic charm, creativity, and excellent writing. It’s got some of the best visual gags I’ve ever seen and is laugh-out-loud funny in parts. The film stylistically feels less like Pixar and more like Dreamworks, but the story- and the gut-wrenching twist ending- is very much in line with the studio that can always make us cry. And here, it’s earned, pivoting from a more conventional story about fathers to one that celebrates people who step into the place of our parents in their absence, like friends, mentors, helpful strangers, and siblings. 

Young Ahmed

Watch every movie by the Dardennes brothers. End review. 

I’m not kidding, but if you’ve never seen a brother by these Belgian filmmakers, Young Ahmed is as good an introduction as any into their style (The Unknown Girl is also a good start and my personal favorite.) The Dardenne’s stories are small, intimate affairs, usually only tracking one or two characters as they wrestle with a choice of some sort. In Young Ahmed, the titular Ahmed is a teenage boy who is embracing Islamic extremism, and who feels called to kill his teacher, who he sees as a traitor of the Quran. 

This premise has a lot of landmines in it, but if any filmmaker has an empathetic, nonjudgmental, and deft hand, it’s the Dardennes, who allow the internal journey of Ahmed (Idir Ben Addi) to play out without making any moralizing or political statements. They do this by simply allowing the story to see Ahmed as who he truly is- a young man, trying to discover the truth and who to listen to, a search for identity and meaning that is universal. 

While the stakes of Young Ahmed are inherently high, the tension is ratcheted up by the stripped-down style of the Dardennes. For example, the movie has little-to-no music in it, which means there are no cues given to the audience that something terrible is about to happen. Scenes can turn on a dime, but because the style is so naturalistic and observational, you never know the direction the story is going, and there are no editing tricks to foreshadow was is about to happen. Young Ahmed is, therefore, challenging and ambiguous on many levels but is all the richer an experience for it. 

TV

Tiger King

Like the rest of the world, I spent the first few weeks of quarantine caught up in Netflix’s unmissable tragicomedy of hubris and dysfunction, Tiger King. As an Oklahoman, the series is devastating. It feels like every time we get in the news, it’s for something bad! Why do we have to become synonymous with a figure like Joe Exotic? When will Oklahoma get some good representation? It’s a great place! But admittedly, we do have our eccentricities, and it has been fun to hear stories from friends about how they’ve met Joe Exotic or gone to his zoo, like one of my professors who, during one of our classes over Zoom, apologetically told us: “I have a confession. I went to the Tiger King zoo. My son and I touched the baby tigers. I am so ashamed.”

While I was disappointed as an Oklahoman, as a consumer of entertainment, I was delighted. Each episode ramps up to an unbelievable degree, and the payoffs are incredibly satisfying. The drama is ridiculously juicy, and the cultural impact the series made was likewise entertaining and certainly needed during the first dark days of the pandemic (in the United States). Maybe that’s what Joe can truly be proud of. He never became president or governor but he has united us through our shared astonishment.

I was thoroughly enjoying the schadenfreude of the show, all the way up to the last episode until I learned that Joe was in jail. Then suddenly, I felt numb. Sad. Guilty. I was laughing at the pain of all of these people. Sure, Joe being in jail may feel like righteous irony. But what is he going to learn in jail? Probably nothing, so there’s no redemption here. Being in jail doesn’t change any of Joe’s past sins nor will it probably change him. It doesn’t restore his and Carol’s relationship. If Carol killed her husband, we’ll never know. Jeff Lowe and Doc Antle are still on the loose. And as the final captions tell us, tigers are still endangered and none of the people we saw in the show are doing anything to save them from captivity. We can gawk at this trainwreck all we want, but what has come out of our consumption of another’s misery? 

That question, of course, comes up in discussions of all types of movies, and Tiger King certainly can’t be pinned down as the one documentary out there that profits off of other people’s indignity. And, admittedly, none of my discomfort with the show means I’ll stop enjoying Here Kitty Kitty. 

Better Call Saul Season 5

The smartest choice Vince Gilligan and Co. made when creating Breaking Bad prequel series Better Call Saul was to… not make it like Breaking Bad. Sure, the shows share characters and setting and symbolism by design, but in structure and tone, Better Call Saul doesn’t try to re-do the elements that make Breaking Bad great. Instead, it confidently strides in its own restrained, small-scale way. The slower pace and subtle style of BCS can be frustrating, for sure, and it has made many viewers abandon the show in earlier seasons. But in season 5 things begin paying off big-time, and your patience is more than rewarded as we continue on this unstoppable train towards corruption. 

What makes season 5 stand out from the other season, besides some of its most stylistic episodes yet and spotlighting Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) as its newest charismatic villain, the series finally commits to one its most interesting twists yet- that this show is no longer about Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman. We already know how he ends up, and the psychological origins of his corruption has been explored enough. Instead, our question mark, the real antihero of the show, whose fate we don’t know and who remains a wildcard, is Kim Wexler. Actress Rhea Seehorn has worked deliberately and quietly the past few seasons, comfortably standing her ground beside Bob Odenkirk’s flashier Jimmy. But now the long-suffering intensity of Kim, and Seehorn’s performance, is breaking through and getting to shine as the tables flip and suddenly Jimmy is the one looking at Kim and wondering, who has this person become? With the sixth and final season on the horizon, that’s a question I’m invested in waiting for, along with the ever-present, “will there be any more Breaking Bad cameos???” 

BoJack Horseman Season 6

I’m ashamed to admit that for a long time, I have had a secret prejudice against adult animation. I have no bases for this bias, I’ve just never seen a commercial for an adult animated show and thought it would be something I would enjoy. However, I’m here to apologize and send a message to anyone who similarly has never given adult animation a try: watch Netflix’s BoJack Horseman. 

BoJack Horseman is a hard sell, and it takes about eight episodes into the first season to get going. It tells the story of fading ‘90’s sitcom star BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett), who is an anthropomorphic horse in a Hollywood filled with a colorful combination of human and animal characters voiced by dozens of celebrity cameos and grounded by the fantastic main cast of Arnett, Allison Brie, Amy Sedaris, Aaron Paul, and Paul F. Tompkins. If you get through the first few episodes and get acclimated to the world of the show, then the payoff is more than worth it. 

The writing and animation is witty and clever, but it’s also surprisingly heartbreaking. BoJack Horseman offers a nuanced portrait of what it looks like to live with depression, and it handles the difficulties of all types of human relationships with sensitivity and care, and without resolving anything easily. It holds its protagonist accountable for his actions without losing empathy. 

Much has been said about BoJack Horseman’s examination of celebrity, mental illness, trauma, #MeToo men, and death, and I feel that most everyone could find something or someone to relate to in the series. For me, what I was most drawn to is the way the show reminds us life is not like a sitcom or any other type of film or television narrative.

As someone who spends a lot of time invested in fictional stories, I can get caught up in believing that my life, too, must have the structure of a fictional story, with easy-to-understand motivations, conflicts that escalate into a singular climax, and problems that can be resolved with perfect closure. Like BoJack himself, I secretly wish life was more like a 22-minute sitcom, where people can get hurt but relationships are always are repaired by the end, and people can change (for the better) easily and quickly and permanently, and all loose ends are tied up by the credits. But Bojack Horseman refuses to conform to the standards of its own thirty-minute episodic format, and BoJack learns that his own life and his actions cannot move forward in a linear, progressive fashion. 

In this sixth and final season of the show, BoJack makes a genuine change in his life, with a mid-season penultimate episode offering what in most shows would be a satisfactory ending for our lovable antihero. But in BoJack Horseman, no sins go unremembered, and this happy ending is swiftly followed by a full reckoning of the previous five seasons of the pain and dysfunction BoJack has caused. Being held accountable for his past actions means that we have to watch the new, genuinely productive life BoJack builds for himself get taken away, which is difficult to watch, and what it leads to is not a happy ending. But it is a uniquely restorative ending, an ending that doesn’t offer platitudes or false consolation but remains resolutely grounded in hope. The hope that we can change, the hope that we can heal, the hope that life can get better, and the hope that undergoing painful transformations will be worth it in the end.

Other

“Why is Cats”

By Lindsay Ellis

Lindsay Ellis- film critic, video essayist, podcast host, and now published author- has been one of my favorite creators/thinkers for a while now, and I’ve referenced her work a few times on this blog. She tops herself again with this Youtube video essay breaking down 2019’s monstrosity Cats. The unique take here though is that beyond dunking on Cats (which there is still plenty of), she uses the film as an opportunity to break down the history of movie musical-adaptations, how director Tom Hooper’s “realistic” styling that Academy voters love just can’t jibe with musicals, and why we love ridiculing people and things on the internet. 

Heartwarming Penguins (that almost made me cry)

This picture of two penguins who lost their partners and came together to comfort one another is one of the most precious things I have ever seen. Wholesome animal content for the win!

The Great C.S Lewis Reread 

By Matt Mikalatos

Soon after our campus shut down and we were all sent back home, a few friends and I decided to keep in touch by doing a book club of C.S Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. It had been a while since I had read the books, and suddenly escaping back into the fantasy world of my childhood sounded like a great idea. 

Tor.com publishes a lot of great content, but this series of essays going through the seven Narnia books are exceptionally good. Author Matt Mikalatos has clearly done his research and approaches Lewis’s work from a place of sincere respect, with an effort to understand where Lewis was coming from and the basis of his beliefs. This means Mikalato’s criticism is made in good faith and is much more thoughtful than some of the lazier Lewis criticism out there that doesn’t make an effort to understand the context in which he wrote. 

These essays are engaging and capture a vibrant conversation between Mikalatos, the text, C.S Lewis, and you. Even if you aren’t actively reading the books as you read the essays, there are still plenty of fun facts about Lewis, food for thought, and theology to be found. The three essays I recommend the most are this examination of Aslan and whether or not he is an allegorythe Green Lady and modern-day enchantment, and Sacraments in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The first two can be read without being familiar with the series. 

Kanopy & Hoopla

Since the 2020 summer blockbuster season has been steamrolled by Coronavirus, this is the perfect time to go back and watch older films! My favorite place to find free films are two services that can be accessed through your library card: Kanopy and Hoopla. 

Hoopla has a selection of mid-range films and smaller gems, including some where I’m not sure if they are student films or not, but are nevertheless delightful in their absurdity (see VelociPastor and Santa Jaws below). Hoopla also has e-books, comics, and music. 

Kanopy is a more curated streaming service where, depending on your library, you can borrow around 6 films a month. Kanopy has a wide variety of educational programs, documentaries, foreign films, and small indies. 

Both services are wonderful and it’s worth checking to see if your library offers either of them. People in Tulsa- the public library system offers Hoopla. Norman people- the Pioneer Library System offers Kanopy. Here are a few of the best films on each service to check out:

Great Films on Kanopy:

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (also on Hoopla)

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

First Reformed (also on Hoopla)

Lady Bird

Eighth Grade

The Parts You Lose (Also on Hoopla)

Room (also on Hoopla)

What We Do In The Shadows (also on Hoopla)

Memento (also on Hoopla)

Great Films on Hoopla:

Adopt a Highway

Short Term 12

Ex Machina (also on Kanopy)

RBG

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Life, Animated

American Woman

The VelociPastor

Santa Jaws

 

-Madeleine D. 

 

10 Best Things of January – June 2019

10 Best Things of July – December 2019

4 Father’s Day Movies

Happy Father’s Day! This holiday is special to madeleinelovesmovies because, as you may have figured out, this is actually a joint venture between a daughter and father! My dad shared his love of movies with me and taught me how to watch them discerningly, and now we continue to share this love through seeing films, debating them, and writing and editing these reviews. To celebrate, here is a spotlight on four small, under-the-radar movies I haven’t reviewed before about complex fathers.

Infinitely Polar Bear

InfinitelyPolarBear_0

Infinitely Polar Bear stars Mark Ruffalo as Cam, a father with bipolar disorder taking care of his two daughters when his wife (Zoe Saldana) goes away to attend graduate school. The film is semi-autobiographical for director Maya Forbes (The Polka King), based on her father and her experiences growing up. 

This is a tough film to watch at times. There is a lot of second-hand embarrassment that comes from Cam’s manic episodes that play out in public and humiliate his daughters. There are emotionally wrought moments, and if you have a parent that struggles with a mental illness, the film will especially hit home. Sometimes it feels a little simplistic, like Forbes is too close to the material to push against Cam’s more irresponsible moments that nearly endanger his children. I imagine the reality was a lot more difficult than Infinitely Polar Bear admits. But this isn’t enough to deter what is overall a wonderfully acted and compelling film that ultimately argues, convincingly, that being present is more important than being perfect, and that there is a lot of grace for parents who try.

Captain Fantastic

cover

Captain Fantastic tells the story of Ben (Viggo Mortensen), a father of six who has been raising his children in the wilderness as a form of extreme-homeschooling. When his wife dies, Ben is forced to take his family out of isolation and emerge into a society that they might not be ready for. 

Captain Fantastic is quirky, but despite the occasional weak point in the script, mostly steers clear of indie cliches. Mortensen holds the film together through his performance as Ben, a fiercely dedicated father but an arrogant, prideful, and boastful man who has to be brought down from his pedestal by his children. He wrestles with making difficult choices for his family, and when to compromise his values for his kids. While the film isn’t traditionally “faith-based” or Christian (the main characters actually make fun of Christians a few times), the questions wrestled with here are those of what many Christians who strive to “be in the world but not of it” face. It will certainly ring true for all parents who must navigate a rapidly changing culture they don’t always understand, in what feels like an increasingly hostile world for their children. But Captain Fantastic assures you that, no matter what, a parent’s love will help the kids be alright. 

The Parts You Lose

MV5BZWE4ZGE2OGUtOGQzMi00NGU0LWE4ODEtNWNlZjc5ZjA3YjIwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzIwNDA4NzI@._V1_

The Parts You Lose is a cautionary tale about what will happen if a child doesn’t have a good father. In this case, the lack of love between him and his father is what drives young Wesley (newcomer Danny Murphy) to bond with the fugitive criminal (a particularly grizzly Aaron Paul) he’s hiding in his shed. 

Wesley is deaf, something his father Ronnie (Scoot McNairy) refuses to acknowledge. While it’s clear Wesley responds better to sign language, Roonie insists on Wesley reading his lips. Ronnie is a rough man; bitter and often absent from his family. It’s basically an act of rebellion against his father’s inattention that Wesley rescues the injured criminal and nurses him back to health. 

Paul’s unnamed criminal is not a good man, but his meager offering of attention and semi-paternal affirmation is enough for Wesley, who quickly becomes attached to him despite the unavoidable. As Wesley struggles between these two fathers, it becomes clear that no matter which influence prevails, Wesley will never fail to be disappointed. 

The Parts You Lose is a bleak, moody, slow burn, but never unengaging. The movie puts Paul’s natural chemistry with kids to good use and he and Murphy’s scenes are a delight. Most impressively, the movie sticks the landing, which is always difficult for any film, but especially for small character dramas. A good ending is surprising, yet inevitable, and I felt like this movie nailed that. It’s sad as hell, but properly haunting. 

Adopt A Highwayaaeef77ab9b06dfa17d268eaf9621c06

For our last pick, and the second film in the subgenre “convicts with parental instincts,” we have the lovely Adopt a Highway. Here at madeleinelovesmovies, we are big fans of all of these leading men, but Ethan Hawke has a special place in our hearts (watch First Reformed!!!) and Adopt A Highway simply reassures us of that fact. Hawke gives a soulful portrait of Russell, a man who spent 21 years in prison for possession of marijuana and emerges back into the world as a thoroughly institutionalized man. He struggles to reintegrate into society, assert his own identity, and make connections- that is, until he finds a baby named Ella in a dumpster outside of his work. 

Adopt A Highway is not Raising Arizona, in tone or plot. Instead, it follows Russell’s road to restoration as he makes his way through his new world. His time with Ella is sweet but- spoiler alert- is not the main focus of the film. Rather, what he learns from his time taking care of Ella sticks with him as he journeys to resolve his own father’s death. Baby Ella shocks Russell into action, making him aware of his own self-worth and potential to care for others. It’s a tender journey that shows what fatherhood- in its many forms- can positively awaken within a man.

-Madeleine D.