Ghost Stories – Part 2

In Part One, I looked at the history of the ghost story, utilising Freud’s essay The Uncanny to argue that ghosts are representations of collective fears and prejudices. I argued that, in the Victorian era – when there were stronger boundaries and taboos – ghosts were represented in fiction as threatening, mysterious and sinister, consistent with the prejudices and fears of which they were an expression.

The Victorian ghost is, on the whole, a portend of doom and calamity whose true essence can never truly be known since the ghost is not of this world, but a figure less than human; a dehumanised entity whose purpose is often, but not always a subversive one.

In Part Two, I will be exploring the modern ghost story and looking at how the representation of ghosts has changed.

Like most other things in contemporary culture, the ghost has in fact, been claimed by post-modernism, given a reworking on the post modern principles of collapsing polarity and the unsettling of pairs of opposites. In the case of the ghost story this polarity is the life/death polarity.

To clarify this, two examples of ghost stories that have adopted these principles are The Others, starring Nicole Kidman, and Sixth Sense, starring Bruce Willis.

In both of these films, the viewer is unaware at the start of the story, that the main protagonists are themselves ghosts, viewing life from an outsider’s perspective. Thus, the ghost – instead of being cast as the outsider looking in; the figure on the margins – is centralised as the main point of view character. The viewer – unless he or she notices the signs at the beginning of the story – is unaware that they are seeing the world through the eyes of the ghost.

In The Others, Nicole Kidman’s character, Grace, lives in a large deserted house in Jersey after the Second World War, with her photosensitive children. She is waiting for her husband to come home from the war, though unbeknown to her, he is dead. Everything changes for her when some servants turn up at the house asking for work, even though the advert Grace had placed had not yet been published in the newspaper.

"Nicole Kidman", "The Others", "Ghosts"

Nicole Kidman in The Others

There is something disturbing about the servants, a woman and a deaf mute girl – and it transpires that they are ghosts. Gradually it becomes apparent that Grace had a breakdown and killed herself and her children and they have yet to accept that they are dead too.

In this moment the revelation for the viewer is that they too have to accept that they have been seeing the world through the eyes of a ghost. Such a revelation has the very post modern effect of unsettling the neat, established polarity between the living and the dead; of challenging and over-throwing the distinction between self and other.

In Sixth Sense, something similar happens with Bruce Willis’s character, the child psychologist Malcolm Crowe. Crowe becomes involved with a boy who ‘sees’ dead people, not realising that the boy only sees him because Crowe himself is dead.

Throughout the film there are tiny clues to this effect, such as when Crowe is dining with his wife and she does not actually acknowledge his presence, though he interprets her gestures and reactions as a response to him.

Once again the ghost is cast as a central, point-of-view character and the viewer is tricked into seeing the world through the eyes of the ghost until the revelation comes, and the line between life and death is challenged and, temporarily, overthrown.

Such examples, I would argue, illustrate a culture tolerant of difference; a society that seeks to embrace and celebrate the marginalised point of view; collapsing or overturning the often oppressive polarities that have governed the way we think, especially where those polarities have been transcribed into a governing ideology in which the first of a pair of opposites is the dominant one, e.g. male/female, white/black, straight/gay.

Thus, the post-modern ghost reflects the cultural need to dismantle the oppressive polarisation of opposites being challenged elsewhere in our language.

Contemporary representations of the ghost symbolise this trend towards inclusion and the embracing of difference; reflecting society’s move away from the marginalisation of minorities and the suppression of alternative voices and points of view. In short, in societies where there are less taboos, the figure of the ghost is friendlier and less threatening.

Of course not all modern ghost stories conform to this pattern. The recent adaptation of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black starring Daniel Radcliffe reverts back to a more traditional ghost story. Indeed, Hill’s tale could easily have been written in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, drawing as it does, upon the classic ghost story tradition of the malevolent figure with malign intentions, the sighting of which is a portend of doom and disaster.

Thus, it is safe to say that, in this era of technological excess and the relentless march of scientific progress – the ghost story is experiencing something of a revival. This perhaps should not come as a surprise, since a fascination with spiritual matters abounded in the late nineteenth century, when society was teetering on the brink of a new world and experiencing the often negative effects of the Industrial Revolution – effects which for many, included the dehumanisation and mechanisation of life through mass production and factories in which the need for the re-spiritualization of life, whereby we are reminded of our humanity, was ever-present.

In our time, the increasing pace of technological progress, the advances made by science, as well as the gradual decline of orthodox religion have each helped create a spiritual void.

Human beings have a fascination for mystery, for things that defy logic and explanation; for things which, as it were, go bump in the night. The popularity of programmes such as Most Haunted testifies to this.

In spite of how far science has come, or maybe because of it, we still like to think that the world has retained an element of mystery; that there is something out there which is beyond the scope of the relentless rationality and analytic scrutiny that has become the governing sensibility of our time.

Perhaps too much knowledge is a burden and we feel safer with the idea that some things can never be known. Or perhaps we hanker after the lost innocence of a less rational age, where myth could fill in the gaps left by science and our imaginations could flourish without censure or fear of ridicule.

Whatever the reason, ghost stories still grip the imagination with as much fervour as ever, reminding us of that primal fear of the dark; even in our over-lit, clinical age.

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Grace of Monaco

Grace of Monaco
Grace of Monaco stars Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly. The movie star who married a prince. It starts on a studio lot, I think it’s meant to be the last film that she shot before her marriage.

Grace walks to her dressing room and there are many flowers. Then it pans to a newsreel showing her marriage to Rainier III, Prince of Monaco (Tim Roth).

Mr Hitchcock arrives and visits Grace at her new palace. An aid tells him what he and can’t call her. He offers her a part in a film ‘Marnie’. After much debate, she can do the film, as long as she manages the publicity.

However, somebody leaks the story early that she intends to do a film. This causes a negative reaction in Monaco. The Prince is pressured to stop her and they have a bad argument at a dinner.

Can she be a movie star and a princess?

The trouble with the film was it was a bit long and bland. The main issue was the storylines; Grace rides a horse, Grace does a film, Grace takes ‘princess lessons’ from a Count etc.

There were some highlights, a rare comic moment in learning the language. When she does get tough, it’s in trying to find who is leaking stories to the press. This was very good.

Milo Ventimiglia appears as a sort of film studio liaison Rupert Allan. I didn’t really understand the point of the character but Milo does a very good job with the limited scenes he’s given. I was impressed.

Sadly, there just weren’t enough moments. There was no chemistry between Tim Roth and Nicole at all. It was like a marriage of convenience. Tim Roth seemed only to smoke his way throughout the film, just sitting about puffing away.

The film does not pretend to be an accurate account but simply exploring Grace Kelly’s decision. Whether a princess can hold a job and maintain a position in society. I felt this was a shame, if you’re going to cover a true story, you should at least do it properly. Even the director admitted in an interview he never intended it to be 100% true.

Frank Langella played Father Francis Tucker but I was unsure what the purpose of his role was. How did he end up as an advisor to the Prince? There was no explanation to the relationship. Furthermore, he left just after halfway through!

Some British actors got their oar in, but to no avail. The result was terrible accents and cringe-worthy scenes!

Due to the lack of effort about the history, the blandness of most of the cast and there being no real moments of joy. This gets a 6/10 from me.

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Trailer reproduced from Warner Bros. UK Trailers

Film Review: The Railway Man

The Railway Man
The Railway Man was a very good movie. It stars Colin Firth (Kings Speech/Bridget Jones/BBC’s Pride & Prejudice), Nicole Kidman (Batman Forever/Bewitched) and Stellan Skarsgard (Thor/Avengers).

A man makes a journey to find the main man who tortured him during the war. It sounds a simple plot but the acting was outstanding and it gripped me.

The character of Eric Lomax is shared between Colin playing the older Eric Lomax. Jeremy Irvine (War Horse) is the younger Eric. Eric during World War II is taken captive by the Japanese. Of course officers were tortured for information and he must endure agony as he’s torn between duty and emotion.

Colin Firth has played many roles, and he never ceases to amaze me how different he is in very single movie I’ve seen him in. No signs of Mr Darcy here. His wife Patti (Kidman) helps him as time goes by but the nightmares continue. Also helping him is his best pal Finlay (Skarsgard). Returning to the where it all happened was very brave and something that takes a lot of courage. The images of horror would still be fresh as if they happened yesterday – time does not heal all wounds.

The drama between victim and captor was just outstanding, you were left in no doubt scars run deep. I know I’m enjoying a movie when I’m getting involved in the characters lives. I’m not fussing about plots lines. This is something you can sit back and get engrossed in.

Raw human emotions were played out beautifully. Another stunning performance from Nicole Kidman. These two were magic together as the troubled husband and wife. Would it all be too much for our poor hero Eric? Would he get the apology he wants from his nemesis? And if he did, would that be enough to move on?

There was also ample talent from the Japanese cast. Like a well baked cake, all the ingredients came together to make a whopper of a dessert.

Truly gripping and one of the best films I’ve seen this year. You don’t always need CGI and epic wars to get movie gold. This is proof of that.

I truly hope Firth and Kidman will team up again. It would be a crime if they never got another project together. This is such a well deserved 10 of 10 from me. Please put this movie on your do to list!

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Trailer reproduced from LionsgateFilmsUK

Film Review: The Paperboy

the-paperboyAfter its recent slating at the Cannes Film Festival, with audiences mooing (yes, mooing!) after seeing the initial screening, I went in to The Paperboy with a lot of trepidation. Indeed, with a cast that includes Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, and the consistently terrible Matthew McConaughey, there was nothing more than the appeal of seeing a slummed-down John Cusack that drew me in. It seemed a worthy cause to offer this film a chance, but one that, within the first five minutes was instantly regrettable.

We are sent into the world of the American Deep South during the 1970’s, where skinning alligators and casual racism are the locals’ pastimes, and the sweltering heat causes everyone to become scantily clad. When hotshot reporter Ward Jansen (McConaughey) comes back to town, trying to free the potentially innocent Hayley Van Wetter (John Cusack) from death-row, we begin to see the dangerous corruption the encompasses a criminal charge of this nature. Ward enlists the help of his younger brother Jack (Efron), the sexually-charged Charlotte Bless (Kidman), who Jack immediately falls in love with, and his writing partner Yardley (David Oyelowo) a black Londoner, in order to crack the case open. However, no sooner have they started their work than do things start to turn sour, as friends begin double-crossing one another, love interests cloud motivations, and scrupulous locals try to hinder any progression with the case.

The Paperboy had every potential to become a nice mix of A Time To Kill and To Kill A Mockingbird, with the race and class undertones that were there to access, and it could have had as much a punch as In The Heat Of The Night with its subject matter. However, all of the action, conflict and drama of the overriding prison sentence gets lost, as instead we focus on the strange twisted relationship that develops between Jack and Charlotte. And therein lies the problem that writer-director Lee Daniels (Precious) has created for himself – the tone of the film is far too confusing. It isn’t quite about race, the law, or even the newspaper industry, and therefore loses its poignancy, and the ensuing relationship is so farfetched that it completely loses its realism. The story is pointless, the ending is absurd, and halfway through you just want the barrage of absurdity to end.

At the end of the day, this film will only be remembered simply for its shock factor. With scenes including some post-jellyfish-sting-urination, non-contact orgasms, and an extremely surreal case gay bashing, there are several key talking points, all of which would make you feel very dirty for watching them. However, they are included for all of the wrong reasons, and therefore become cheap tricks to bring in curious audiences.

Overall, The Paperboy had a lot of potential. It could have been an emotional, tense journey for all those involved. Instead, it is an over-long piece of drivel where, for once, McConaughey puts out the best acting performance. If you have any sense, you will stay very far away.

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Video reproduced from YouTube / LionsgateFilmsUK