Because I was working on my French this week, I elected to read one book in French. Because of this, I only have one book complete this week, Albert Camus’ The First Man. Also watched two films off the list. This coming week, I will continue to use the “second rung” off my self improvement list (see the previous blog post), and work on my French and my bhangra for four hours each.
Another bit of house keeping: Because of the jump in readership, it has gotten to the point where I must be a little bit more careful about my name being out in the blogosphere. Don’t plan to go all Bruce Wayne on you, but I need about 12 people for a top secret, super awesome mission that will have moderate benefits and is not at all time consuming. Please contact me via comment (I won’t publish it) if you are interested in being an agent.
The First Man-Albert Camus Given how insipidly uniform most high school curricula are today, I would not be surprised if 70% of all students have read-at least in theory-Camus’ The Stranger. Of that number, probably another 20% have read The Plague. Unfortunately, a sad few have read the First Man, the book that he was working on when he was killed in a car crash. In a death perhaps fitting of an existensialist, fate never gave him the opportunity to revise it into what he predicted would be his masterpiece. Call it unoriginal, but I-and many critics-am inclined to agree with his prediction. Even this early draft is pretty damn good.
The existentialist preoccupations with death and purpose are there, but they are given a more humanist texture in this semi-autobiographical piece. The first part is the story of a middle-aged Jacques Cormery, son of two French parents, born and raised in Algeria. He is visiting his mother in Algeria, and-at his mother’s request-works to connect/have compassion for a father he never knew, killed in the first World War. Hinting at the tensions between the Algerians and the Pieds-noir (Algerian-born French), this section presciently offers up a strikingly modern reading of how geo-politics and colonisation map on to the individual’s consciousness.
The second part benefits from the perspective of the older Jacques who-in contrast with Salinger’s angry adolescent in a funny hat-deals sadly and wisely with the end of Jacques’ childhood: His attempts to escape from poverty through a scolarship and the struggle to balance his strong but impoverished home life, and the intellectual, and very foreign French atmosphere of his school. The stories of his family and his late boyhood adventures gives real warmth to Camus’ tight, focused prose, and wings to his talent for distilling complex abstractions into one, clear sentence. The ending proffers up love as the reason “to live…to age and to die without revolt.” It is what gives life meaning-love-and what makes this so beautiful and correct is not that it is convincing, but rather because Camus is aware of how it is the only answer, however incomplete.
Watchmen-The films starts off strong enough, and even director Zack Snyders slightly ostentatious flourishes with slowmotion and soundtrack seem to fit in well. The film struggles to balance the weaving and ducking themes that are present in the graphic novel, and wisely ditches one whole subplot all together.
The second half of the film gets bogged down in the themes, and becomes increasingly, pointlessly gory. Also, sex scenes in films are supposed to hint at sex, that’s what makes them sexy, not an all-rear end, overly mechanical scene of people humping each other. It eventually just seems focused on distilling the subtle discussions of nuclear war, urban decay, love, and the fear economy into easy-to-digest answers and points. In that sense, it serves as a good primer for the graphic novel, but it is a simplified, diluted, and overly superficial facsimile of Alan Moore’s original. Read the book.
A Serious Man-If you are a Coen brother’s fan, you can make yourself love this movie. The opening scene, taking place in an Eastern European shtetl is probably the funniest part, and the Coen brothers cleverly use this old Europe scene to link it up to a man struggling flailingly to balance old school faith with modern scince. It is a satire, and in true Coen brothers’ form, the satire is over the top, every character but the titualr serious man is slobberingly one-dimensional.
This film was like standing in a shallow stream, it gently tugged at you with moderate humor, good if not exemplary cinematography, and a strong, not powerful, script, but when you got to the other side of it, you were unimpressed. Again, forgettable unless you are a Coen brothers’ diehard.