I have no problem believing that Nate Parker poured his heart and soul into this project. I have no problem believing that he wanted to make an important film with a visceral emotional impact. What I do have a little trouble believing, though, is that he was allowed to make such a high profile film using such amateurish filmmaking techniques. The narrative is flimsy, the editing is something out of a “How Not to Edit” handbook, and the extremely obvious symbolism is constantly screaming to get your attention. I know it’s not the reaction you want from the audience, Nate, but your film is exactly what makes eye-rolling ability useful.
“It’s time to finally take back control. Real control.”
Just like that, reality hits. This entire season has revolved around the question of what’s real, around the blurred lines between the mind and the surrounding world. While it has definitely run into some roadblocks of its own making as a result, this series always has the ability to deliver striking images even in its weakest plots. It all comes to a head in this finale, a simultaneously frustrating and fascinating hour of television that ends with a brutal wake-up call. It’s cruel that Elliot’s perceived moment of true control ends the way it does, but it fits with the nihilistic foundation that the show is built upon. Try to live in an illusion all you want, and reality will still shatter the glass you’re holding up around you. Try to take control, and you’ll be sucked up into an illusion. It’s a vicious cycle.
Clint Eastwood has done the impossible. The world gave him ten minutes of story, and he said “By God, I will make a whole movie with this, even if I have to show the same scene over and over again.” And that he did. Aided by the memory of 9/11 and by somehow-is-a-professional-writer Todd Komarnicki, Eastwood has crafted an ode to both American heroes and films that have no conceivable reason to exist. Thankfully devoid of unnecessary filmmaking tropes like tension, emotion, good dialogue, an interesting script, nice cinematography, competent editing, and characters we care about, Sully stays afloat through the use of its beautiful flashbacks. For instance, we find out that Sully once flew a plane as a kid, an integral piece of knowledge that makes this one of the most fulfilling movies of the year.
The Light Between Oceans is a film that reaches for far more emotion than it’s capable of grasping. Melodrama isn’t inherently a bad thing, but too often does this story feel manufactured, especially in a second half bogged down by sweeping life changes and plot developments. As a result, Rachel Weisz’s character arc feels truncated by the shaky narrative, and the film loses quite a bit of the serene beauty that can be occasionally found in the first half (which I actually enjoy more, even though it meanders a lot). I suppose that’s the point in the second half–this wonderful life crumbles down around these two (very pretty) people–but it just doesn’t feel genuine. The masterful Blue Valentine utilized similar techniques to better results, and this has none of the rawness or character complexity of that film.
“Sooner or later, Elliot, this will all catch up to you.”
Although the sitcom episode earlier in the season was fun and emotional and memorable, it doesn’t hold a candle to this one. This is the show firing on all cylinders, delivering breathless tension in a compact 40 minutes as these characters all tumble toward imminent danger. The quote above could not be more ominous, and it also could not be more true. Angela and Elliot and Darlene are realizing that they’re not free from consequences, and whatever fantasies they may have constructed are being crushed by the blunt force of reality.
From a production standpoint, The Handmaiden is easily one of the best films of the year. The costumes, set design, and lighting are all immaculate, and an incredible amount of detail reveals itself as we plunge deep into Park Chan-Wook’s mesmerizing world. The film distinguishes among its influences–Victorian, Japanese, Korean–but it also allows them to slide around each other like snakes, lines crossed and blurred with dark implications simmering underneath. The film’s universe is fun and alluring, pitch-black and mysterious. Everything has an erotic undertone. It’s rarely uninteresting to watch, and the themes relating to female sexuality–especially as it contrasts with that of the males in this story–are worthy of extensive discussion.