In film, a reflection is rarely just a reflection. It says something about the character, about the moment, about what is being realized or learned or considered. Zack Sharf says: “A mirror shot is never just a mirror shot, and each image speaks volumes to the respective movie’s themes.” Duality, turmoil, hesitation, tranquility– reflections often allude to the fact that there is more going on beneath the surface than the character has admitted to. Below are some of my recent favorite reflections.
I’ve mentioned once or twice how much I love Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle. But what I haven’t mentioned is that very few books in my lifetime have made me fangirl as hard as this series does. I just completed my third reading of the series in January, and somehow loved it even more this time around than the previous two turns. There are a few pieces of knowledge that have made the books even more enjoyable for me, so I wanted to compile them here on the off chance any other readers would benefit from them.
As a beginner reader of the tarot, seeing the references in the books was extremely enjoyable. I wanted to collect all of the references to specific cards from all four books and outline their meanings and significance, because I feel that it sheds a lot of light on the characters themselves, especially Adam. I did leave out a couple of instances where Adam pulls a card to assist him with Cabeswater, but aside from that, every card used in the books should be here! Most of the interpretations were pulled from The Biddy Tarot for her simple wording and thoroughness.
Three of Swords || Interpretation: Painful separation, sorrow heartbreak, grief, rejection. The heart is symbolic of emotion and beauty, while the piercing swords reflect the ability of logic and power to harm the physical body and the emotions of a person. The sky is heavily clouded and rain pours down violently, representing a grim moment in time.|| Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Calla was the first to speak. She flipped the three of swords around for the man to look at. On her card, the three swords stabbed into a dark, bleeding heart the color of her lips. “You’ve lost someone close to you.” (Book 1, page 122) || Appearance: Calla/Persephone’s reading for Greenmantle — “The card was the three of swords. It depicted a bloody heart stabbed with the aforementioned three swords. Gore dripped down the blades. Maura called it “the heartbreak card.” Blue needed no psychic perception to feel the threat oozing from it.” (Book 3, page 75)
Five of Pentacles || Interpretation: Isolation, insecurity, worry, financial loss, poverty. The Five of Pentacles, like the fives in the other suits, portrays a situation of adversity. Both appear to be living in poverty and with little or no possessions. || Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Maura touched the edge of the five of pentacles. “Money’s a concern,” she noted. On her card, a man with a crutch limped through snow under a stained-glass window while a woman held a shawl beneath her chin.” (Book 1, page 123)
Knight of Pentacles || Interpretation: Efficiency, routine, conservatism, methodical. The Knight of Pentacles, like the Knights of the other suits, represents work, effort, and the responsibility that follows upon the dreams of the Page. His eyes reflect careful thought and consideration. The Knight is engaged in the often toilsome, routine efforts required to realize the dreams of his heart. He is building the foundations to support his dreams and his goals. || Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Persephone touched the first card she had drawn. The knight of pentacles. An armored man with cold eyes surveyed a field from the back of a horse, a coin in his hand. […] Persephone finally spoke. In her small, precise voice, she told the man, “You’re looking for something.” […] Calla’s card, beside Persephone’s, was also the knight of pentacles. It was unusual for two decks to agree exactly. Even stranger was to see that Maura’s card was also the knight of pentacles. Three cold-eyed knights surveyed the land before them.” (Book 1, page 124)
The Tower || Interpretation: Disaster, upheaval, sudden change, revelation. The Tower signifies darkness and destruction on a physical scale, as opposed to a spiritual scale. The Tower itself represents ambitions built on false premises. The lightning bolt breaks down existing forms in order to make room for new ones. It represents a sudden, momentary glimpse of truth, a flash of inspiration that breaks down structures of ignorance and false reasoning.|| Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Her attention moved from the Tower, which meant his life was about to change dramatically” (Book 1, page 124) || Appearance: Persephone’s reading for Adam — “The Tower. The Hanged Man. Nine of swords. Persephone pursed her lips. Adam’s eyes drifted from the first card, where men fell from a burning tower (Book 2, page 357) || Appearance: whole-life reading by whole group — “All of the women had turned over five different versions of the Tower. Calla’s version of the Tower perhaps best depicted the card’s meaning: A castle labelled STABILITY was in the process of being struck by lightning, burning down, and being attacked by what looked like garter snakes. A woman in a window was experiencing the full effects of the lightning bolt. At the top of the tower, a man had been thrown from the ramparts – or possibly he had jumped. In any case, he was on fire as well, and a snake flew after him. “So we’re all going to die unless we do something,” Calla said.” (Book 4, page 10)
Page of Cups || Interpretation: A messenger, creative beginnings, synchronicity. The Page of Cups, like the Pages in all the suits, represents some sort of beginning or renewal. The Page of Cups indicates the surprising and unexpected nature of inspiration that comes to us from the realm of the unconscious and the spirit. || Appearance: triple reading for Whelk where we find out this card represents Blue — “the last card in the reading, the page of cups. Blue glanced at her frowning mother. It wasn’t that the page of cups was a negative card; in fact, it was the card Maura always said she thought represented Blue when she was doing a reading for herself. You’re the page of cups, Maura had told her once. Look at all that potential she holds in that cup. Look, she even looks like you. And there was not just one page of cups in this reading. Like the knight of pentacles, it was tripled. Three young people holding a cup of full of potential, all wearing Blue’s face.” (Book 1, page 124) || Appearance: twice in the one-off for Gansey — “As she flipped it over, she let out a little helpless laugh. The page of cups looked back at Blue with her own face. It felt like someone
was laughing at her, but she had no one to blame for the selection of the card but herself. When Maura saw it, her voice went still and remote. “Not that one. Make him choose another.” Blue replaced the card and shuffled the deck with less drama than before. When she offered the cards to him, Gansey turned his face away like he was pulling a raffle winner. His fingers grazed the edges of the cards, contemplative. He selected one, then flipped it over to show the room. It was the page of cups.” (Book 1, page 150)|| Appearance: single card for Blue by Maura — Maura gave Blue’s hand an affectionate shake and flipped over a card at random. “Ah, there you are.” It was the page of cups, the card Maura always said reminded her of Blue. In this deck, the art was of a fresh-faced young person holding a jewel-studded goblet. The suite of cups represented relationships — love and friendship — and the page stood for new and budding possibilities. (Book 2, page 10)|| Appearance: hinted at in whole-life reading by whole group — “Does this mean she’s going to leave?” Orla asked, tapping on another card and referring to a different she. “Probably,” Maura sighed. (Book 4, page 13)
Two of Swords || Interpretation: Indecision, choices, truce, stalemate, blocked emotions. The blindfold shows that the woman in this card is confused about her situation and that she can see neither the problem nor the solution clearly. The swords she holds are perfectly balanced, showing a balanced and stable mind, and that both sides of the situation need to be addressed. The crossed swords are also symbolic of the need for a truce and the Suit of Swords indicates that the problem at hand needs to be resolved using logic and intellect. The waxing moon to the right of the woman shows a new beginning arising out of the solutions found for this problem.|| Appearance: one-off for Adam — “Selecting a card, Adam presented it to Maura. “Two of swords,” she said. “You’re avoiding a hard choice. Acting by not acting. You’re ambitious, but you feel like someone’s asking something of you you’re not willing to give. Asking you to compromise your principles. Someone close to you, I think. Your father?” “Brother, I think,” Persephone said. “Do you want to ask a question?” Maura asked. Adam considered. “What’s the right choice?” Maura and Persephone conferred. Maura replied, “There isn’t a right one. Just one you can live with. There might be a third option that will suit you better, but right now, you’re not seeing it because you’re so involved with the other two. I’d guess from what I’m seeing that any other path would have to do with you going outside those other two options and making your own option.” (Book 1, page 145)
Death || Interpretation: Endings, beginnings, change, transformation, transition. The armour he is wearing indicates that he is invincible and unconquerable. Indeed, no-one has yet triumphed over death. The horse that Death rides is white, the colour of purity. Death is therefore the ultimate purifier. All things are reborn fresh, new and pure. || Appearance: one-off for Gansey — “Flippantly, Gansey snagged another card, clearly finished with this exercise. With flourish, he turned the card over and slapped it on the table. Blue swallowed. Maura said, “That’s your card.” On the card on the table was a black knight astride a white horse. The knight’s helmet was lifted so that it was obvious that his face was a bare skull dominated by eyeless sockets. The sun set beyond him, and below his horse’s hooves lay a corpse. […] “I thought that psychics didn’t predict death,” Adam said quietly. “I read that the Death card was only symbolic.” (Book 1, page 151) || Appearance: Adam’s reading for fixing Cabeswater — “He slapped down three cards on the concrete floor. Death, the Empress, the Devil. […] Three sleepers, yes, yes, he knew that.” (Book 3, page 126)
Ten of Swords || Interpretation: Defeat, crisis, betrayal, endings, loss. Despite the ominous images, there are positive aspects to this card. The sea before which the body lies is still and calm and the sun is rising in the distance beyond the mountains, indicating that the darkness will soon be dispelled. Thus, each new beginning must come from an end, and with every defeat are sown the seeds of future victory.|| Appearance: not within a reading but for Mr. Gray’s situation — He leaned to pick up one she had missed. “This fellow looks unhappy,” he observed. The art depicted a man stuck with ten swords. The victim lay on his face, as most people did after being stuck with ten swords. […] “Good news for him is that the tens represent the end of a cycle. This card represents the absolute worst it’ll get.” (Book 2, page 110) || “The Gray Man’s hand hung down and Maura stroked it. “This is the ten of swords,” he guessed. Maura kissed the back of his hand. “You’re going to have to be brave.” The Gray Man said, “I’m always brave.” She said, “Braver than that.” (Book 2, page 334)
King of Swords || Interpretation: Clear thinking, intellectual power, authority, truth. On his left Saturn finger is a ring, symbolic of power and taking his responsibilities seriously. The King wears a blue tunic, symbolic of a desire for spiritual understanding, and a purple cape, symbolic of compassion combined with intellect. The sky is relatively clear with a few clouds, representing general mental clarity. The trees in the background appear motionless and reflect the stern judgement of the King. || Appearance: Persephone’s interpretation for Mr. Gray — Persephone’s quiet voice cut through Maura’s and Calla’s increasingly loud competition. “The king of swords.” Everyone turned to look at Persephone […] The Gray Man’s hand hovered obediently over the deck. “Top or bottom?” Persephone blinked. “Sixteen cards from the top, I believe.” […] The Gray Man carefully counted the cards, double-checked his count, and then turned over the sixteenth card for the others to see. The king of swords, master of his own emotions, master of his own intellect, master of reason, gazed out at them, expression inscrutable. “That’s Mr. Gray’s card,” Persephone said. The Gray Man turned the card one way and another, as if it would reveal its secrets to him. “I don’t know much about tarot. Is it a terrible card?” “No card is a terrible card,” Maura said. […] “And the interpretation can be very different at each reading. But. . . the king of swords is a powerful card. He’s strong, but impartial— cold. He is very, very good about making decisions based upon facts instead of emotion. No, it’s not a terrible card.” (Book 2, page 112)
The Hanged Man || Interpretation: Suspension, restriction, letting go, sacrifice. This is the card of ultimate surrender, of being suspended in time and of martyrdom and sacrifice to the greater good. This is the archetype to meditate on to help break old patterns of behaviour and bad habits that restrict you. || Appearance: Persephone’s reading for Adam — “The Tower. The Hanged Man. Nine of swords. Persephone pursed her lips. Adam’s eyes drifted from the first card […] to the second, where a man hung upside down from a tree. (Book 2, page 357)
Nine of Swords || Interpretation: Depression, nightmares, intense anxiety, despair. She appears to have just woken up from a bad nightmare, and is obviously upset, fearful and anxious following her dream. Nine swords hang on the wall behind her and the base of the bed is decorated with a carving of a duel in which one person is being defeated by another.|| Appearance: Persephone’s reading for Adam — “The Tower. The Hanged Man. Nine of swords. […] That third card, that utter despair. He couldn’t take his gaze from it. Adam said, “It looks like he’s woken from a nightmare.” (Book 2, page 357)
The Magician || Interpretation: Power, skill, concentration, action, resourcefulness. The Magician is the bridge between the world of the spirit and the world of humanity. His magical table holds all four suits of the Tarot, each of which represents one of the four primordial elements of the alchemists – earth, air, fire and water. These symbolise the appropriate use of mind, heart, body and soul in the process of manifestation. || Appearance: Adam’s draw for himself — “I’m pulling another card.” […] Adam cut the deck, laid his hand on each stack. He took the card that felt warmer. Flipping it, he placed the card beside the nine of swords. A robed figure stood before a coin, a goblet, a sword, a wand — all of the symbols of all the tarot suits. An infinity symbol floated above his head; one arm was lifted in a posture of power. Yes, thought Adam. Understanding prickled and then evaded him. He read the words at the bottom of the card. The Magician.” (Book 2, page 357)
Three of Wands || Interpretation: Preparation, foresight, enterprise, expansion. From this height, he can see all that lies ahead and is aware of the impending challenges and opportunities. The three Wands surrounding him are firmly planted in the ground, reflecting his commitment to his future plans.|| Appearance: Adam/Persephone reading for fixing Cabeswater — “Persephone helped him see what the cards were trying to say. Three of wands: build a bridge across the stream with these three stones.” (Book 2, page 396)
Seven of Swords || Interpretation: Betrayal, deception, getting away with something, stealth. The Seven of Swords shows a man sneaking away from a military camp with a bundle of five swords in his arms. Two other swords remain planted in the ground just behind him. His expression exhibits a sense of over-confidence and mocking, as though he felt absolutely sure of his success of getting away with the theft. However, in the distance a small group of soldiers can be seen to the left of the thief, and one of them holds a sword upraised.|| Appearance: Adam/Persephone reading for fixing Cabeswater — “Persephone helped him see what the cards were trying to say. […] Seven of swords: Just dig out the biggest of the stones and put it in the tri-colored car.” (Book 2, page 396)
The Devil || Interpretation: Bondage, addiction, sexuality, materialism. The goat symbolizes the scapegoat, the person or thing upon which people project the inferior side of themselves in order to feel better about themselves. Thus the Devil is the scapegoat we blame for our troubles in life. The Devil has an almost hypnotic stare, bringing those who come near him within his power. At the foot of the Devil stands a man and a woman, both naked and chained to the podium on which the Devil sits. They appear to be held here, against their will, but only closer observation, the chains around their necks are loose and could be easily removed. This symbolises that bondage to the Devil is ultimately a voluntary matter which consciousness can release. The man and woman wear tiny horns like those of the Satyr – they are becoming more and more like the devil the longer they stay here. The dark and doorless cave implies that the Devil dwells in the most inaccessible realm of the unconscious and only crisis can break through the walls.|| Appearance: Adam/Persephone reading for fixing Cabeswater — “Persephone turned over a card. The Devil. All of a sudden, Adam was quite certain of why they were hurrying.” (Book 2, page 398)|| Appearance: Adam’s reading for fixing Cabeswater — “He slapped down three cards on the concrete floor. Death, the Empress, the Devil. […] Three sleepers, yes, yes, he knew that.” (Book 3, page 126) || Appearance: Adam’s scrying for Cabeswater, noticed by Ronan — “Ronan turned his head sideways to read the cards. Something with flames, something with a sword. The Devil.” (Book 4, page 141)
The Empress || Interpretation: Fertility, femininity, beauty, nature, abundance. The Empress is the archetypal Earth Mother. The Empress is surrounded by a beautiful, lush forest with a stream running through it, demonstrating the Empress’s deep emotional connection with Mother Earth and life. She draws her sense of peace from the trees and the water and is rejuvenated by the energy of nature. || Appearance: Adam’s reading for fixing Cabeswater — “He slapped down three cards on the concrete floor. Death, the Empress, the Devil. […] Three sleepers, yes, yes, he knew that.” (Book 3, page 126)
Knight of Wands || Interpretation: Energy, passion, lust, action, adventure, impulsiveness. The Knight of Wands is seen riding upon his horse, which rears up in the intensity of the Knight’s quest for success. The Knight’s face bears the determination of one bound to succeed. || Appearance: Adam’s scrying for Cabeswater, noticed by Blue — “He placed a random card on the warm hood. His unfocused eyes skipped over the image — a black-smudged knight on horseback carrying a vine-wrapped staff — and began to remake it into something wordless and dreamy. Sight was replaced with sensation. A vertiginous feeling of travel, climbing, rightness. He covered the image with his hand until he got his eyes back, and then he put the card away. “Knight of wands?” Blue asked him.” (Book 3, page 305)
Queen of Swords || Interpretation: Quick thinker, organised, perceptive, independent. The Queen of Swords sits high on her throne with a stern look on her face indicating that no-one can fool her. In her right hand, she comfortably holds a sword pointed to the sky, and her left hand extends as if she has something to offer to others. Behind her is a spring sky, different from the winter settings on most other Swords cards, and this has an emergence and growth quality to it. The sky is clear, representing her clarity of mind as she considers matters of the intellect.|| Appearance: whole-life reading by whole group — “”Does this mean she’s still alive?” Maura asked, tapping on a card in one of the branches – the Queen of Swords. “Probably,” Calla grunted.” (Book 4, page 13) || Note: I’ve seen people write in their reviews that they thought this was referring to Persephone and were consequentially disappointed when she didn’t return. However, because the card is the Queen of Swords, it is undoubtedly a reference to either Piper or Neeve.
Throughout my third reading, I also noticed that there are several instances of intentionally untranslated Latin throughout the four books. I jotted down the translations in the margins of my hard copies and figured that I would share my findings for anyone else who might be interested in doing the same! Please note that I do not speak any Latin whatsoever, so these translations were pulled off Google. As such, I cannot attest to the correctness of the grammar.
Book 1, page 115: “You know what they say about men with large bags,” Ronan replied. “Ostendes tuum et ostendam meus?” = I’ll show you mine if you show me yours
Book 2, page 121: “In indiget homo battery,” muttered Ronan. = a man needs a battery -or- a similar battery is needed
Book 2, page 128: “Occidet eum!” begged Orphan Girl, clinging to Ronan’s leg. […] The girl sobbed out, “Ronan, imploro te!” || Occidet eum = kill || Ronan, imploro te = Ronan, kill him
Book 2, page 230: “Adam was in the dream, too; he traced the tangled pattern of the ink with his finger. He said, “Scio quid hoc est.” As he traced it farther and farther down on the bare skin of Ronan’s back, Ronan himself disappeared entirely, and the tattoo got smaller and smaller. It was a Celtic knot the size of a wafer, and then Adam, who had become Kavinsky, said, “Scio quid estis vos.” He put the tattoo in his mouth and swallowed it.” || Scio quid hoc est = I know what that is || Scio quid estis vos = I know what you are
Book 4, page 35: “Periculosum,” she warned. “Suscitat.” = peril awakens
Book 4, page 74: “Operae pretium est,” Orphan Girl said. = it is worthwhile
Book 4, page 221: “Miseria fortes viros, Ronan,” Adam said. = Fire tests gold; adversity tests strong men
Book 4, page 284: Adam studied the tattoo that covered Ronan’s back: all the sharp edges that hooked wondrously and fearfully into each other. “Unguibus et rostro,” Adam said. = claws and beaks –or- with beak and talon, or tooth and nail.*
Book 4, page 394: Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit,” Ronan said into Adam’s hearing ear = and perhaps one day it will please us to remember these things
*So this line shows up twice in the fourth book, and many readers view it as a phrase of endearment between Ronan and Adam. The two translations are similar in wording, but one carries infinitely more weight. “Claws and beaks” could simply be a way for the boys to refer to themselves, an endearing line that has meaning to them within the scope of their interactions. However, “with beak and talon, or tooth and nail” is far more loaded. We’re all familiar with the phrase “fighting tooth and nail” and when this line shows up for the second time at the end of the book, Ronan is indisputably fighting with all he has. This interpretation implies that Ronan (and Adam) will always fight for what they have and what they love.
Darkness and stark light in movies help to create negative space, which functions to draw the eye to certain focal points and heighten drama. Sometimes, negative space also creates a feel of tension by emphasizing the solitary nature of an object or highlighting the lack of surroundings. In scenes like the one from Chicago, seen directly below, the shadowy negative spaces makes the glitz and glamour of the scene really stand out. The frame from Moonlight, however, uses shadows and negative space to emphasize the space between the two boys, thereby increasing the tension of the moment. Extreme light and extreme dark are both useful visual tools for filmmakers.
Prompted by: Annihilation
Book-to-film adaptions are difficult. Some are certainly more fraught with challenges than others, but it is a huge hurdle to do a good book justice. I think that people largely underestimate the sheer volume of adaptions that are out. Most people know that movies like The Notebook, The DaVinci Code, and The Shining are based on popular books. Fewer people (but still a lot) are aware that movies such as The Godfather and Jurassic Park are also adaptions of books. But when it comes to movies like Forrest Gump and even Mean Girls, most people have no idea that they were based on books at all. High Fidelity, Requiem for a Dream, The Dressmaker, Breakfast at Tiffany’s… all books. The number of times I’ve been watching credits and seen the phrase “based on the book by _______” continues to blow me away.
These days, it seems like any book that makes it big gets turned into a movie. From Gone Girl to The Girl on the Train, popular books are being snatched up for movie deals left and right– not to mention books that came out half a century ago (I’m looking at you, A Wrinkle in Time). Half of me is proud of these authors, proud that they crafted a story so deeply enjoyable that they have been able to make a small fortune off of them and transition them to a new medium. But the other half of me squirms with discomfort over the fact that Hollywood execs are going for so few original scripts. Studios like A24 have been doing an increasingly impeccable job of giving inventive and creative scripts a chance, which makes it exciting instead of uncertain when they do spring for adaptions such as Neil Gaiman’s How to Talk at Girls at Parties. Overall though, I tend to avoid adaptions in theaters, especially when they’re on stylistic novels like Room or The Song of Achilles (more on that below). But without further ado, here’s some of my favorite examples of successful adaptions.
This is, hands down, the best book-to-film transition I have ever seen. The casting was sublime, the pacing was perfection– especially given that I felt it wasn’t ideal in the novel, and the subliminal messages throughout the movie help to recreate and heighten the same sense of disease that the book draws upon. There are some aspects of the book, such as the “I am Jack’s ________” lines and the anti-consumerism themes, that manage to have more impact in the movie, possibly due to having such a visual connection with the narrator. I also feel that the storyline as a whole benefited from the visceral images in the film. My only qualm with Fight Club— both the book and the movie– is that is has the same effect on certain male groups that Rick and Morty does. Rather than realizing that the stories are a commentary on what is wrong with society, some people place characters like Rick Sanchez and Tyler Durden on a pedestal.
Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, the film adaption was released in 2015 and was my favorite film of the year. The strength of the adaption is that it absolutely nails the calmness of the book. Both mediums have a soothing cadence to them, a quiet sort of chemistry that nestles inside your chest. The subtlety of the romance itself is exquisite in the film and pays so much respect to the era that the book was written in. In 1952, coming out as a gay woman would have been nigh on catastrophic. This lends an aura of secrecy and subtlety to every single interaction between the two women, something that the movie displays flawlessly. Lingering glances and fleeting eye contact, swollen silences and unassuming lunches, casual comments and small talk– these are things that the vast majority of heterosexual viewers didn’t pick up on as romantic, whereas queer viewers are entirely too familiar with the language. In fact, some critics complained that the film was “cold” and detached. In an age inundated with overt innuendos and transparency, it can be difficult to pick up on the undercurrent of energy and longing that runs through Carol. This is certainly one of the best adaptions I’ve ever seen, and one that breaks my heart every time I watch it.
Lord of the Rings
The primary issue that Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series faced when it came time for adaption was time constraints. The book trilogy was incredibly complex and features so much material that plot points like Tom Bombadil and The Sacking of The Shire would have only felt shoehorned if they had been included in the movie adaptions, so it is understandable why they were left out. Speaking of time, however, I do feel that the passage of time was not properly conveyed in the movies. Seventeen years pass between Bilbo’s birthday party and Frodo’s departure from The Shire and the quest itself takes over a year to complete. Aside from that, there are really only two things I take issue with: Frodo telling Sam to go home on the stairs to Cirith Ungol, and Aragorn’s near death when he falls over the cliff. While Legolas and Gimli’s on-screen friendship is lacking in comparison to the books, I think the majority of the characterization was spot-on, especially that of Merry and Pippin and Gandalf. Don’t even get me started on Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, but I felt that he succeeded in many ways to bring the scope and scale of such a beloved world to the big screen.
Again, the main issue with adapting an entire book series is the time constraints. I am rather of the belief that JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series would have vastly benefited from being made into a TV series rather than a movies series, but of course that would have come with it’s own full set of challenges. Things like Peeves the Poltergeist, Neville’s full background, S.P.E.W., and Dudley’s “I don’t think you’re a waste of space” line are all things would have enriched the movies… but also would have added noticeable run time to the films. The movies are not without their flaws. From the casting choices for Albus Dumbledore to destroying the Elder Wand, I think the movies left much to be desired. However, what made the series such a huge success (and why I’m including it on this list) was the fact that it was accessible for both readers of the books and new fans. The movies feature a slew of small hat tips to the books, which enriched the viewing for everyone who had been following along for years, while still making it entirely accessible for those who had never opened one of the books. The undertaking of bringing such a layered and detailed story to life was monumental, and I think that the four directors did a surprisingly good job of illustrating the aspects of the wizarding world that many readers held near and dear to their hearts.
Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire
I’ve talked about my issues with this show in a previous post, but I didn’t discuss how much I feel that the books and the show should be required companions for each other. I watched the first four seasons of the show a couple of years back, but only picked up the books this past fall. To say that Martin’s undertaking is ambitious is the understatement of the decade. His endless litany of characters, names, historical events, and houses often feels more like a religious tome than a fantasy novel. I’m not ashamed to say that I likely would not have even made it through the first book if I hadn’t already watched some of the show. Having a familiarity with the main characters (and a lot of the secondary ones) made the story far more enjoyable and immersive. With that being said, the show is severely lacking in many aspects. There are a number of plot points and character subtleties that didn’t make it on screen but do so much to flesh out the world and the people. After finishing the books, I re-watched the first three seasons and had very mixed feelings. There are a lot of things about the show that I simply can’t justify. Merely on a lit nerd level, it’s really difficult to watch all the unnecessary ways in which the show deviates from the books. But on a deeper level, the amount of violence and sexism that repeatedly takes place on screen is something I struggle to watch, for various reasons. I don’t have any intentions of continuing the show, but I can’t recommend the books enough to anyone who is a regular watcher.
Room & Virgin Suicides
I almost didn’t include this section, as I haven’t seen either of these movies. However, both films were nominated for various awards and were clearly well-executed. So why won’t I watch them? As I’ve mentioned before, I’m absolutely over the moon for prose that reads like poetry. The Song of Achilles always leaves me breathless and/or in tears for that very reason, as does Valente’s Fairyland series. While poetic prose is my favorite stylistic trait when it comes to novels, I’m also a huge fan of inventive narrators in general, such as Jack in Room. The Virgin Suicides has been one of my favorite books for close to five years, largely because of it’s blend of unique narrative and beautiful prose. I find myself deeply attached and endlessly in awe of these novels almost entirely due to their writing style. Of course the characters and the settings are wonderful as well, but I only connect to them in the first place because of how they were written. It seems to me that regardless of how well filmed or perfectly cast these movies may be, they will still be unable to properly capture the writing style that made me fall in love with them in the first place. I hate to think that I will watch these movies and forever associate the film choices with the novels. I would rather have the books remain flawless for me than try and mix the two mediums.
So what do you think? Did you enjoy these adaptions? Leave a comment below with your favorite page-to-screen adaption!
Now that my first round of color-centric cinematography posts is wrapped up, I wanted to pause and explore a couple of other themes. These seven frames all feature fireworks and sparks as a focal point. It’s exciting to see how such a variety of movies uses a similar item in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons.
Disclaimer: Thus far, I have only posted frames from films I’ve watched and that is a habit I have every intention of sticking to. However, the below frame from The Theory of Everything popped up on my dash and was such a perfect addition that I had to include it. This will be the very rare exception of including a frame that wasn’t hand-picked after a viewing.
I watched a lot of films in 2017, and I found myself with a growing affection for simple stories well told. In today’s Hollywood, it feels like most blockbusters are all explosions and drama and excess. They’re full of fillers and, as director Eric Swiz puts it, they end up feeling like “movie-flavored” productions rather than real movies. There seems to be less and less emphasis on proper characterization and meandering stories. Instead, more and more emphasis is being placed on catching the attention of viewers, however fleeting that attention may be. Movies like Batman vs Superman and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets feel like they were made to be trailers, not full stories. The goal is to get viewers to spend money on a ticket, not necessarily to make a movie that they will connect with. This makes it all the more surprising (and reassuring) when films like Moonlight make it to the forefront of the public sphere.
As I’ve grown more fond of these simple stories, I’ve noticed a common thread running through their reviews: they’re boring and slow and their endings are unsatisfying. To which I have only this to say: sometimes, so is life.
I wanted to start with an example that a lot of readers might have seen. This 2014 piece directed by Richard Linklater is a daunting 2 hours and 45 minutes, something that had me putting off a viewing until very recently. Nominated for a handful of Oscars and Golden Globes (and winning over 170 awards) this is nothing short of a meandering masterpiece. Within five minutes of this movie starting, I was utterly immersed. I didn’t look at my phone or eat a snack or do anything else except watch the film. Following the normal life of one normal boy, this story winds through 12 years of life, marking both pivotal points and unassuming events in his childhood. On the surface, it almost feels like nothing much happens. There are no deaths or spectacles or dramatic reunions, and you often feel like you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. But there are relationships and conversations and evolution and this is what fleshes out a beautiful and subtle tale of growth. It is a quiet story, one that illustrates how much we change through the years and how our goals and dreams often change with us. It’s difficult to explain the magic of this movie and how deeply it connects with you as you’re watching it, but if you haven’t already seen it, I recommend it highly.
Featuring Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, and Jake Johnson, this might very well be one of my favorite viewings from 2017. It follows the stories of two intertwined couples over a short period of time and the impact they have on each other. It’s a romance film, but it’s not like the romance films that end up on the big screen. There isn’t a dramatic ending, there isn’t a knock-down drag-out fight, and there isn’t a cheesy soundtrack playing when people kiss. It’s quiet and emotional and believable, and it ends like it started: without fanfare or debacle. I don’t want to say much more for fear of spoiling the story, but it’s a very candid look at interactions and the human experience, and one that I can’t recommend enough. Bonus: it’s currently on Netflix!
This 2016 Korean film is brilliant in a very quiet way. The use of negative space throughout the film heightens the overall mood by not using a soundtrack, completely eliminating physical touch, and even minimizing the main character’s self-expression almost to the point of removing it entirely. I think the strength of this movie comes from it’s day-to-day moments and how simple tasks and experiences can be both uplifting and heartbreaking. The movie ends with another average action in another average day, highlighting that in real life, many stories don’t have a happy ending or a neat resolution. This movie is so grounded in the challenges of day-to-day life that it is virtually impossible not to connect with it on one level or another.
7 Chinese Brothers
Following the escapades of a struggling 20-something, played by Jason Schwartzman, this 2015 indie comedy was significantly more fun than I was expecting. A lot of reviewers were flustered over the fact that the film never referenced the title, but not only does the exact phrase show up, but where it shows up is a huge metaphor as to what this movie is all about. Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll catch it. An excerpt from my Netflix review is as follows: “Not all films have to feature a grand adventure or a huge plot twist to be enjoyable. This may not be for everyone, but I found it to be a really enjoyable character study. A simple story well told, in many ways.” Bonus: the dog actor is Jason Schwartzman’s real-life dog!
This 2014 film starring John Boyega is heartbreaking to the nth degree. We watch a young man, just released from prison, desperately trying to make a safe and legal life for his son. The film doesn’t sugarcoat anything and demonstrates the crippling nature of a system built to work against you. There is a quiet grittiness and honesty to this story that crawls into your chest and wraps around your heart. You want so desperately for the main character to succeed at such a simple wish: to take care of his son. Your heart breaks each time another challenge is presented and he is made to feel that it is his own shortcomings that are stifling him. The bittersweet nature of the entire story feels hopeless in some places and awe-inspiring in others, but it is never anything less than honest.
My Life as a Zucchini
This 2016 French stop-motion film has a run time of one hour and six minutes– but I was misty-eyed long before that point. This story follows the life of a little boy called Zucchini who ends up at a French orphanage. I have long been of the belief that animated films are not automatically children’s films, and this is an exquisite example of that. Dealing with profound themes in a simple way, there’s a lot that can be found between the lines. In addition, the fact that it doesn’t make any attempts to fill up the run time is certainly one of its strong points. It’s a peaceful story about a tumultuous time, and is handled with a kind of delicacy that is very rarely seen. It is tender without being overly sentimental, and honest without being explicitly open. It was one of my favorite viewings of 2017 and I would be lying if I said I don’t think it deserved the Oscar over Zootopia.
I’ve talked about the color red before, in regards to Tarantino and Anderson‘s use of it to drive home drama and importance. It’s an intense color that is visceral in a way no other color is. I’ve arranged these frames in order of presence/intensity, but I think all of them utilize the various shades in an amazing way. Enjoy!
Prompted by: The Secret History & The Raven Boys
I’m sure most of us are familiar with manic pixie dream girls by now, but just in case, here’s a quick overview: Coined by critic Nathan Rabin in reference to Kristen Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” She is unavoidably quirky, overtly charming (often because of her quirkiness, sometimes through her aloofness), and is, 99 times out of 100, the love interest of the male protagonist.
“A type of female character depicted as vivacious and appealingly quirky, whose main purpose within the narrative is to inspire a greater appreciation for life in a male protagonist.”
-Oxford Dictionaries’ recently canonized definition of the MPDG
If you’re struggling to think of an example, you can pretty much insert Zooey Deschanel’s on-screen essence in pretty much anything she’s ever been in. The problem that this trope creates is twofold: it typecasts certain actors, and more importantly, it reduces female roles down to one-dimensional objects of infatuation.
“When you get sent scripts and you see you’re always playing someone’s girlfriend when you want to be the central role, it’s so depressing.”
-Zooey Deschanel in regards to being tired of being cast as a MPDG
The holy trifecta of MPDGs in film is Claire in Elizabethtown, Summer in 500 Days of Summer, and Sam in Garden State. However, the presence of the manic pixie dream girl has thoroughly infiltrated the lit world. In fact, they’ve been around for much longer than the term has been. From Sam in Perks of Being a Wallflower to Camilla in The Secret History, these manically dreamy girls pop up like daises (coincidentally, that’s a pretty popular name for the MPDG) in novels both old and new. Usually, the MPDG takes a backseat to our main (male) character. In The Secret History, this means she talks significantly less than any of the other (male) characters. In Looking for Alaska, this means she crashes her car and dies– which propels the main (male) character into his self-realization phase. Her personality is filtered through the rose-colored glasses of our male protag, and she usually ends up vanishing sometime before the third act so our brave boy can ~discover himself~. If you haven’t ever come across an MPDG in literature, you can pretty much pick up any novel by Haruki Murakami or John Green to find one.
Here’s the thing about manic pixie dream girls: they really can seem quite delightful. They’re undeniably enjoyable to read, at least when they’re first introduced, because it takes a certain amount of whimsy and creativity to write them. They have unique names and quirky personality traits and most of the time they have dyed hair and green eyes. They’re vibrant and electric and people gravitate towards them. So why are they problematic? As I mentioned earlier, the big issue is that it reduces a unique female character to nothing more than a trope, which is problematic all on its own. But one of the reasons this is so frustrating is because it’s such an easy fix.
Maggie Stiefvater is the author of The Raven Cycle, a four-book series following the adventure of four prep school boys and their one female friend, Blue. Sounds like trouble already, doesn’t it? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Except it’s not. Stiefvater is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, an incredibly talented writer. She makes paragraphs feel like listening to your favorite song on the radio while you’re cruising at night with the windows down. She weaves stories that drip in nostalgia and make your heart ache with the beauty of it all. And the vehicle that carries all of that emotion is her characterization. Every single character is resplendently unique and unavoidably important. Every single one has a part to play within their own character arc as well as in the grand scheme of things. But if it weren’t for that, all of them could easily feel like manic pixie dream girls (and boys). Blue only eats yogurt and wears crochet leggings in the summer. Gansey chews mint leaves and bought a warehouse to convert into a living space. Ronan is a high schooler with elaborate tattoos and a secret love for farming. Adam has freckles and a shy voice and can fix just about anything wrong with a car. There’s a family of psychics living under one roof, a handsome hitman with a penchant for 70’s culture, a Bulgarian who makes Molotov cocktails and loves street racing, and a 7 foot tall giant who lives in a house full of cats. Each character is quirky in one way or another, and could easily be one-dimensional without flaws or struggles or arcs. But Stiefvater makes sure that isn’t the case. She makes sure they all function both as cohesive groups and as individual characters. They work within their romantic storylines and outside of them as well. They are brave and scared and lonely and hopeful. They have secrets and share their lives with each other and throw temper tantrums from time to time. They are whole characters with whole personalities and it’s impossible not to adore them. (artist credit here)
(If you haven’t read anything by Maggie Stiefvater yet, you’re missing out. She’s a master of magic and beautiful prose and slow burn relationships.)
My creative writing professor in college told us that all characters should be like the yin-yang symbol: the darkest characters should still have a spot of light, and the brightest characters should still have a spot of dark. No one wants to read about a glossed-over girl who doesn’t have anything wrong with her, just like no one wants to read about the dark villain with the mustache and black hat. To relate to a character, the reader must be able to see them as human. Not as just an object to be obtained, not as a quirky caricature, not as a disposable plot point. And so therein lies my issue with manic pixie dream girls: they are quirky objects, hard to obtain but easy to dispose of.
While the MPDG trope is a device that is in desperate need of some work, I’d be remiss to not share a secret about it. Sometimes, if I’m having a bad day, I think about how John Green would write me as a manic pixie dream girl. It’s reassuring to know that my collection of vintage china and my color-coded bookshelf would be whimsical, that my compulsion for neatness and my ripped cuticles would be marks of my quirkiness. That my gray-green eyes framed by glasses and my literary tattoos would be attractive. So if nothing else, the trope sometimes helps me to reframe myself and remember that there are always parts of ourselves that are delightful.
I never thought I’d be writing a “review” for a Did Not Finish but I think people deserve to be warned about the dumpster fire that is this novel.
I’m pretty sure this is a new DNF record for me– I only made it six pages before giving up in disgust. I picked it up after seeing a review on Emma’s blog saying it was one of her only favorites of 2017.
It’s essentially a stream-of-consciousness narrative, written in 2nd person. So basically, you’re reading everything that our narrator is thinking. Which would be really great, if our narrator wasn’t a hyper-pretentious, misogynistic man-child and a judgmental piece of trash. Here’s some of the standout lines from the first two chapters:
- Your V-neck sweater is beige and it’s impossible to know if you’re wearing a bra but I don’t think that you are. (Congrats, Joe. You managed to make me hate you by the second sentence of the entire book.)
- “No, you’re not like those girls. You don’t stage Faulkner and your jeans hang loose.” (Anything along the lines of “you’re not like other girls” is an instant and enormous red flag for me.)
- “You sneeze, loudly, and I imagine how loud you are when you climax.”
- “This guy is, what, thirty-six and he’s only now reading Franny and Zooey?”
- “You could be buying it because you read on some stupid blog that she’s Courtney Love’s biological grandmother. I can’t be sure that you’re buying Paula Fox because you came to her the right way, from a Jonathan Franzen essay.” (FYI: there is no ‘right way’ to come across a book or a song or a movie. Different people have access to different things and it’s great that a wonderful piece of literature crossed their path, regardless of how it got there.)
- “You giggle and I wish your nipples were still hard.”
- “You hand me your credit card even though you have enough cash in there to cover it. You want me to know your name.” (Or you’re an arrogant garbage boy who can’t conceive of people allocating money for things other than you.)
- “He waits near her apartment and stages a run-in. Brilliant, romantic. Love takes work.” (Idolizes the stalking is love trope, naturally.)
- “Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands. Except for you, Beck. These past few days, I’ve learned so much. You put your tiny hands to work on yourself when the mood strikes, which it does, often, which reminds me of another joke in Hannah, where Mia Farrow teases Woody Allen that he ruined himself with excessive masturbation.”
- “Besides, I like that you take care of yourself instead of filling your home and your pussy with a string of inadequate men.” (Add a nice dollop of slut shaming and Danielle is out of here.)
I dropped the book after that line. My hypothesis was that Joe was intentionally written to be abrasive and appalling, but I really don’t want to spend my time absorbing an entire book from the POV of an awful person. So I went to goodreads and read the blurb, then proceeded to read all the spoilers, then all the one-star reviews to assure myself that I wasn’t the only one disgusted by this. Then I finally read Emma’s review.
The thing is, I totally get what she’s saying.
It is creepy, because it’s so within the realm of possibility that a boy at the store finds you attractive and then takes it too far. I can understand, in theory, why people like and connect with the book. But I can’t justify sitting through so much slop for a trite and violent end. Perhaps the plot would have been better packaged in a different narrative style to make the entire ordeal feel less normalized? Because that’s what this book does: normalize stalking and violence and the sexualization of strangers.
At least half of the 4 and 5 star reviews I read on goodreads talked about they found themselves rooting for Joe during the book. How even though they know he’s gross and sadistic, they still sympathize with his character. And on one hand, I absolutely think that’s an impressive feat for a writer: to have written their villain well enough that people can associate with him on a human level. But on the other hand, that’s just downright disturbing. That would be like telling Hard Candy from the POV of the pedophile. There is no excuse, no logic, no justification for stalking a stranger and killing people to reach her.
I watched the new Netflix original series The End of the F***ing World last week and was surprised to find that the first episode has a similar premise to this book. A troubled young white male targets a firecracker of a young white female and shenanigans ensue. Except the show handles it deftly and tenderly and creatively. There isn’t any hyper-sexualization of female characters, there aren’t endless asides about how subpar other people are because they don’t like the “right” things, and there isn’t any excessive vulgarity used for the sole sake of shock effect. Because the show is still new, I’m not going to say much about it for those who haven’t watched it yet. But I will say this: it’s a tender coming-of-age story in a wholly unique frame. If you tried to read You and couldn’t make it past the third chapter, try watching The End of the F***ing World.
Japanese art director and costume designer Eiko Ishioka was virtually unparalleled when it comes to the amount of detail and excess that she put into her work. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I love opulence and decadence in a film. It’s one of the reasons Baz Luhrmann is one of my favorite directors, and I can’t help but wonder what one of his films would have looked like if Eiko had designed the costumes for it.
Today marks six years since her death, so I wanted to take a quick minute to highlight some of her spectacular costume designs.
Her costumes were over the top in the very best of ways, always featuring an extraordinary attention to detail, as well as combinations that most designers wouldn’t even think to attempt.
Eiko had the ability to maximize the potential of ordinary objects of clothing. Whether it was by elevating a hood to an item of mystique and wonder or turning a simple black collar into a work of art or, she had the magic touch.
It was a mark of her genius that she was able to create two wedding dresses for two different movies that could not have been less alike. The inventiveness and ingenuity that went into both gowns is a thing of wonder.
Her ability to work with colors across the spectrum and combine them to create works of art is something that is rarely seen, especially on the scale of grandeur that Eiko utilized.
I find her to be the most talented designer of our time, and the film world is a less beautiful place without her.
-this review contains spoilers-
“But hoping,” he said, “is how the impossible can be possible after all.”
When I started reading Heartless, I totally forgot that it was a Queen of Hearts origin story. I had this book on my reading list for ages because of my adoration for Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, but by the time I finally got to pick it up, I had forgotten what it was even about. That is probably why a lot of my annoyances while reading the book came from the shoehorned Alice in Wonderland references. Between the pepper chef, the rocking horse flies, the smoking caterpillar, the line about the Tweedles, the jabberwocky, hedgehog croquet, and Cheshire himself, I found myself gritting my teeth with the obviousness of it all and how unlike Meyer it was. Then I got to the end and realized that this was actually all backstory for one of the most iconic villains of all time, which placated me a little bit– but not very much.
Because with that being said… I don’t think this is a solid origin story. At all. Meyer’s characters and plot points would have worked so much better as a retelling similar to The Lunar Chronicles, which used their original fairytales as a touchstone rather than as a strict reference text. For example: while the traditional Wonderland aspect carries over well in that Hearts is full of frustratingly obtuse folks, I found myself infinitely more interested in Chess than in Hearts. It seemed counterproductive for an entire world to be created (especially one created by Melissa Meyer) only for us to spend no time there. Instead of absorbing a fresh new world with fresh new rules and characters, we had to spend this entire story trudging through a slight variation of the same world we have been force-fed for ages.
For years, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was one of my favorite pieces of literature. I loved it so much that I did an entire stylized photoshoot around it, was gifted a first edition of the book (swoon), and even considered a tattoo inspired by the story. [Emma of Emma Reads Too Much has some pretty spot-on thoughts on Carroll’s original book that you should absolutely read here.] Unfortunately, there have been so many renditions and interpretations of it that it has lost much of its magic for me. I hated Tim Burton’s two movies on the subject and have grown to loathe the excessive amount of themed gifts found in bookstores and indie shops.
The themes of time and repetition in Heartless were reminiscent of Burton’s concepts, and the endless litany of overt references to the original book felt self-gratuitous. This was the opposite of why I was excited for a Wonderland-themed book by Meyer in the first place– she has left me delighted and entranced by her inventiveness and originality, while still making the reader glow with twists on traditional references (i.e.: a cyborg foot for Cinderella’s shoe, a satellite orbiting in space for Rapunzel’s tower). Sadly, this book left me disappointed by absolutely everyone except Jest and The Sisters.
I was particularly peeved by the Marchioness and ‘Hatta’. The Marchioness was the true villain of the story. She’s controlling, verbally abusive, and is endlessly fat-shaming the main character. I couldn’t believe that no one ever stood up to her, especially in a book by the Melissa Meyer, where the leads tend to be brave and stand up for themselves. I wanted so badly to adore Hatta. Carroll’s Hatter is one of the most off-the-wall and quirky characters of all time, and as much as I disliked Burton/Depp’s rendition, he still managed to make me feel emotional and nostalgic. But Hatta is a sorry excuse for the dynamic and heart-breaking character he could have been. When we’re first introduced, my thought was “a female Hatter would have been a nice change” but that quickly turned into “wow I totally ship Hatta and Jest over Cath and Jest.” Which isn’t out of the normal for me, but then! It turns out! That Hatta loved Jest all along! But never said anything! I cry foul. That’s queerbaiting if I’ve ever seen it. I disagreed with people who claimed BBC’s Sherlock and Watson was queerbaiting. I even partially disagreed with people who felt that Albus and Scorpius’s relationship in Rowling’s Cursed Child was queerbaiting. But this was shameful. To hint at it for 300 pages only to reveal the truth and have Jest killed without ever knowing, leading Hatta go mad with sorrow, is despicable. I expected so much better from Meyer than half-baked LGBTQ+ representation.
I’ve been so enamored with Meyer’s brand of kickass female leads– with her women and girls who solve things and save people and stick up for others and strive to be better– that Cath was an unparalleled disappointment. She was indecisive, spineless, whiny, and intolerant. As I’ve mentioned before, indecisiveness is a big pet peeve for me. Cath’s repetitive reasoning and cyclical complaining was downright exhausting, especially because she never did anything to actively change her fate. Insta-love also plays a huge role in this story, which is something that automatically sets me on edge. I’ve read The Lunar Chronicles three times, and have always been pleased by the fact that Meyer writes the romance in a way that leaves the reader very invested without feeling that it’s the centerpiece of the story. Heartless utterly fails in that regard. The warring world of Chess and the endless deaths occurring there are apparently insignificant in the face of a month-long love affair.
Long story short, Heartless left me disappointed in more ways than one. I’ve come to expect much better from Melissa Meyer than under-cooked storylines and half-hearted characters. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland always has, and always will, deserve better.
When I first started this blog, I wanted to do something called Eye-Roll Reviews. The idea came to me after reading The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, which had me rolling my eyes on every page. I haven’t read any such books (until this one) since I started writing reviews on here, so I haven’t quite worked out how to format such a review. So for now, I’m just going to list my eye-roll-inducing lines, in case any other readers were annoyed by the same things.
“It had been a hazy, beautiful dream, and in it there had been a hazy, beautiful boy.”
“But she had not realized that he was also quite handsome.”
“Impossible was his specialty. The way he had touched her hand had awoken something inside her she had never felt before. Something giddy, but also nervous. Something curious, but also afraid. And if her dreams were to be believed, he was a very, very good kisser.”
“Romance. Passion. Love. She had never experienced them before, but she imagined they would leave her feeling like that dream had. Like the Joker did, with his quick smiles and witty remarks. She felt like she could talk to him for hours, for days and months and years, and never tire of it.” (Girl, you JUST MET HIM.)
“He did, however, offer his elbow, which she accepted, folding her fingers around his arm and surprised to find more muscle there than his lithe frame would suggest.”
“Overnight her life had become a whirlpool, sucking her below the surface.”
Prompted by: Playing it Cool
Sometimes I’ll be watching a movie and something will occur to me regarding the genre or the character or the style or whatever else the case may be. Sometimes I’ll do a google search to see if anyone else has noticed the same things. Sometimes there will be an article or a blog post about the same exact thing I noticed… sometimes there won’t be. And sometimes I think to myself “I should write about it.” But I never do.
But I am today! And today I’m going to talk about how rom-coms are so misogynistic.
When Harry Met Sally
Okay so this is a classic, right? I mean, it’s up there with You’ve Got Mail and Pretty in Pink. I had never seen it, so when it was playing during a plane flight a few months back, I was excited to watch it. Except that I hated it. I hated it from the moment Harry propositions Sally even though he is dating her friend… which is about three minutes into the movie. I hated how smug Harry was, how his self-absorbed monologues wouldn’t let Sally get a word in edgewise, and how he’s aggressive in his pursuits. I hate that he ghosts Sally after they sleep together, that he won’t stop harassing her after she tells him she wants him to leave her alone, and that he publicly announces all of her shortcomings as if she’s only acceptable once he’s said so. For 12 years, Harry shirks responsibility and demeans commitment, and yet we’re somehow supposed to buy that he magically changes and is ready to settle down and live happily ever after? Yeah, right. I hated it so much that I had to look it up when I landed and make sure I had even watched the right movie. I couldn’t fathom how so many people have found it endearing and romantic over the years.
Worthwhile moment: Sally publicly demonstrates how easy it is to fake an orgasm to prove that Harry really isn’t as good in bed as his monstrous ego would lead him to believe.
Play it Cool
This movie is an actual train wreck. Chris Evans plays the lead, and his character is just as sexist as his portrayal The Human Torch, if not more so. With a great line-up featuring Topher Grace, Aubrey Plaza, Michelle Monaghan, and Luke Wilson, I was pretty excited to see this pop up on Netflix. Unfortunately, the cast is really the only good thing about the movie. This sorry excuse for a romance features:
- a scene featuring a sexy babysitter seductively dancing for a young boy.
- a line about Malaysian women being the best to sleep with because they’re used to undersized appendages and you can “rip them up.”
- a main character who continues to show up at the house of his love interest and drunkenly shout up at her window despite her repeatedly asking him to stop.
- a girl whose consolation prize for not being loved by the main character is ending up with her ‘friend’ who previously forced himself on her.
- a cliche attempt to stop a wedding because our white male lead simply can’t fathom that someone genuinely isn’t interested in him.
- repeated racism, sexism, and narcissism.
Worthwhile moment: Topher Grace’s character leaves copies of his favorite book at cafes and coffee shops with a hand-written inscription about how the story changed his life and he hopes it can do the same for the stranger who picks it up.
Another airplane viewing, this is one I didn’t even finish. 27 Dresses relies so heavily on stereotyping and sexism to further the plot that it’s shameful. Girl is wedding-obsessed, girl wants her own wedding so badly because that is what gives life meaning, girl is jealous over her sister stealing her romantic interest (instead of just talking about it like grown women should). I turned it off at the part where James Marsden steals her planner and starts plotting about how he is going to use her personal information to get her attention… after she already told him in no uncertain terms that she wanted him to leave her alone. There’s a TV Trope for this plot device called Stalking Is Love. I’m not sure when we started presenting not taking no for an answer as something that’s romantic and endearing. What it is is creepy, and oftentimes borders on harassment. No means no.
Worthwhile moment: none.
So what’s the deal with the misogyny in romantic comedies in the first place? From women being expected to change in order to land the guy of their dreams (a la Sandy in Grease) to men creepily following women around to woo them (a la Christian Grey in 50 Shades of Grey), there’s just something off about what these popular romantic movies are selling. My frustration only increases when I realize that all this sexism exists in movies made for and about women. What are women retaining, consciously or not, as they watch these movies? Do we start to think it’s okay to be followed by a man even when we’ve told him to stop? Do we start to believe that our life doesn’t have true meaning unless we’re spending it with a man? Do we start to think that men can treat women however they want as long as there’s a grand airport/ballroom/sidewalk-in-the-pouring-rain apology? In her must-read article about what she learned from a year of watching rom-coms, Chloe Angyal summarizes it nicely:
“In romantic comedies, men who appear to be misogynistic pigs are simply waiting for the right woman to prove to them that women deserve to be treated like human beings.”
-Chloe Angyal, The Crappy Lessons of Romantic Comedies
The problem isn’t that this genre is often fluffy and predictable, and it’s not that they’re sappy or corny. The problem definitely isn’t that women want love or are interested in marriage. The problem is that, like or not, what we view impacts us. And the impact of consistently viewing love, sex, and relationships in an inaccurate and unhealthy light cannot be good. Angyal says that “romantic comedies teach us that a woman’s life is empty and meaningless without a man, and that any woman who believes she is happy being single is simply lying to herself. They teach us that love is only for straight white people –- skinny, beautiful straight white people, at that. They teach us that men are sex-crazed, commitment-phobic animals who have to be manipulated into romantic relationships, and that when a man really loves a woman, he’ll demonstrate his feelings with grand gestures that barely skirt the line between love and stalking.” And she’s right. These movies are sending the wrong messages, and they’re sending them relentlessly.
I’m not sure what the solution is. Maybe take viewings with a grain of salt? Maybe don’t be shy about turning off a rom-com that has even less redeeming qualities than most? Maybe add a few indie romances to your lineup: ones that feature healthy relationships with real characters and believable storylines (or just watch anything with Leslie Knope/Ben Wyatt or Morticia/Gomez Addams). Whatever the case may be, there’s no shame in rewatching Made of Honor for the fifth time if that’s something that makes you happy. But while watching Patrick Dempsey race through the Scottish countryside on horseback, remind yourself that, corny as it may be, the best love out there is actually the love you have for yourself.
I haven’t published a post about it yet, but as I mentioned in a previous post (and in just about every other place on this blog), I absolutely adore color in film. I love seeing how it functions as a plot device and how it sends subtle messages about what is happening onscreen. Color sets moods and drops hints and amps up aesthetics. To pay homage to my love for color in film, I’m kicking off a series of posts all about certain colors in certain frames. I won’t be talking much in these posts, but rather just letting the stills speak for themselves.
So without further ado, here’s seven shades of green.
Prompted by: The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
Deus ex machina. Latin for “God from the machine” and often loosely translated to “the god in the machine.” Originally, this expression was a reference to an actual machine used in the performance of Greek plays. A physical device would be used to bring the actors playing gods onto the stage. Sometimes this was a crane that would lower the gods from above, or sometimes a riser that boosted them up from a trapdoor in the stage. The concept of introducing gods into the story was often used to resolve conflict or conclude a plot point.
Today, the term is used to reference a plot device where a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the unexpected intervention of a new character/object/ability/event/etc. The key here is that regardless of what this new thing may be, by its very definition, it shouldn’t have been previously queued up or alluded to. This means that a true deus ex machina will likely leave the reader saying “What! Seriously?!” after its appearance, because there really wasn’t any way for them to have seen it coming. While utilizing this plot device isn’t always lazy, it does seem to be most often utilized by lazy writers.
Popular debates over possible deus ex machinas include: the elder wand/wand lore/wand ownership in Rowling’s Deathly Hallows, the eagles in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and Thoros of Myr repeatedly bringing people back to life in Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series.
The book that got me pondering this plot device is the third and final book in Erika Johansen’s Tearling trilogy. As a little recap: I devoured the first book in the series, The Queen of the Tearling. It featured some of my favorite elements in a story: a strong female lead (who doesn’t display any of my major pet peeves), no overt or unnecessary romance, well-written political intrigue, and inventive and original world-building. The second book, The Invasion of the Tearling, wasn’t quite as solid but was still thoroughly enjoyable. Johansen included a lot of flashbacks through the eyes of a new character, which made it a little more difficult to stay grounded in the main storyline. However, it’s easily forgivable because the character featured in the flashbacks is dynamic and brave as well. Then comes the third book, The Fate of the Tearling. While the first half of the book isn’t flat-out disappointing, it is clear from the start that it is nowhere near as strong as the previous books were. Sadly, Johansen seemed to have painted herself into a corner and created the biggest cop-out of an ending that I have ever read.
Our heroine uses time travel via her sapphire to alter the timeline and create a happy ending in which no one except herself remembers what happens. All of the characters we spent two and a half books connecting with are suddenly obliterated and their storylines are erased. The battle royale that the entire trilogy was building to is eliminated in the blink of an eye. There is no showdown, no reveal, no resolution. Just a tired trope.
The argument that some fans have made is that because the sapphires were present all along, it’s fine that they demonstrated these excessive powers and magically resolved everything. People have also said that Kelsea was a selfless queen who was willing to do anything to protect her people, even if it meant suffering alone for the rest of her life. While those are both fair assertions and might eliminate the possibility of the sapphires being a deus ex machina, neither of them change the fact that it was a lazy choice. Proper story outlining and planning would have eliminated the need for such a drastic and uncharacteristic move.
-spoiler-free content resumes below-
I think my issue with plot devices like this is that they just end up feeling like a betrayal of the characters that we’ve grown attached to. I discussed lazy betrayals in a previous post, and I think it’s a similar situation here. It seems safe to say that most readers want their favorite characters to make choices and moves that are on par with what we already know about them. We want our writers to do them justice because that’s what keeps us immersed in the story. And immersion is the mark of a truly good story.
Oh the drama of a solid silhouette. Is there anything quite as commanding? They demand attention by drawing the eye to the subject, and often leave nothing else in the frame. Silhouettes define characters and situations, and are often used to emphasize the solitary nature of a single figure (a la Batman) or to amp up the drama of a group of people (a la Chicago‘s cellblock tango). Silhouettes help to elevate tension in an understated way by eliminating all the other details that would otherwise be vying for attention. It draws the focus to a pinpointed item or character and builds significance through isolation. They carry power through their simplicity– when you remove all the extra information, what is left is all the more commanding.
After finishing Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle for the second time, I was thinking about how much I appreciate the tenderness with which she writes her male characters. Because I already created a post about my favorite female characters, I thought I would go ahead and whip up a list of my favorite male characters. Enjoy!
Dobby: My pure angel baby. Far and away my favorite character in the HP books, Dobby is a wholesome soul who does his best to be himself in a world that was not made for him. His penchant for socks and his adoration for Harry are just two of the characteristics that make him so lovable. (Artist credit here) || “‘Socks are Dobby’s favorite, favorite clothes, sir!’ he said, ripping off his odd ones and pulling on Uncle Vernon’s. ‘I has seven now, sir. . . . But sir …’ he said, his eyes widening, having pulled both socks up to their highest extent, so that they reached to the bottom of his shorts, ‘they has made a mistake in the shop, Harry Potter, they is giving you two the same!'” -J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire
Saturday: Companion to September from Valente’s Fairyland series, Saturday is a blue marid from the ocean who can grant wishes– under certain circumstances. He’s a soft spoken creature with a tender heart and a knowledge of time and space that rivals any astrophysicist. I’ll keep recommending the series until the day I die, so you might as well pick up the first one now. || “She leaned in, and kissed her Marid gently, sweetly. She tried to kiss him the way she’d always thought kisses would be. His lips tasted like the sea.” -Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
Ronan Lynch: Bad boy extraordinaire, Ronan Lynch is a force to be reckoned with. He’s a heart attack, a car crash, an oil spill. He’s a magician beyond your wildest imagination, a farmer with a secret and a soft spot, and he must be protected at all costs. (Artist credit here) || “Ronan’s smile was sharp and hooked as one of the creature’s claws. ‘A sword is never a killer; it is a tool in the killer’s hand’.” -Maggie Stiefvater, The Dream Thieves
Merry & Pippin: Quite possibly one of literature’s most dynamic duos, these two hobbits are nigh on inseparable, hence my including them as one unit (even though I prefer Pippin). Merry is the smarts and Pippin is the… comedic relief? They are witty to a fault and set in their cushy hobbit ways, but they don’t hesitate to stick up for their friends and do what is right. ||“‘That’s what I meant,’ said Pippin. ‘We hobbits ought to stick together, and we will. I shall go, unless they chain me up. There must be someone with intelligence in the party.'” -J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Dream: Moody, broody, and omnipotent, Morpheus is a wise and petty demigod of sorts. Ruler of the dream world, he has moments of shallow vindictiveness and moments of heartbreaking compassion. His ten volume arc was published over the course of 14 years and garnered endless acclaim– for a good reason. Neil Gaiman is an unparalled writer, and the life he breathes into Dream is passed on to us. || “But he did not understand the price. Mortals never do. They only see the prize, their heart’s desire, their dream… But the price of getting what you want, is getting what once you wanted.” -Neil Gaiman, Sandman #19
Ghüs: He’s a humanoid seal. Who rides a walrus. And wears yellow raincoats. Nuff said.|| “Ghüs has been a lot of things in his day… but sweet is not one of those things.” -Brian K. Vaughan, Saga Vol. 5
Peter Quill: With the exception of DC’s Bombshells series, the comics I read the most of is Guardians of the Galaxy. And Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, is a gem in the galactic group. A little more tenderhearted than the movies portray him, Peter Quill is just a man trying to save the galaxy and his friendships. || “I don’t mind dying like the valiant intergalactic hero that I am… but the least you could do is pay attention!” -Peter Quill, Earth-616
Leo Fitz: Scottish scientist and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Leopold Fitz is equal parts brilliant and dorky. He has a soft heart and looks for the best in people, as well as using his genius to create inventions to help others. He’s also half of a beautiful slow burn relationship, which I historically have a huge weakness for.|| “There’s nothing wrong with the data in my head.” -Leo Fitz, Agents of Shield, #2.11
Han Solo: Problematic fav. Han is definitely the outlier on this list– he’s cynical, arrogant, unreliable, and honestly, a bit of a f*ckboi. But he’s also the most realistic character in Star Wars and he ends up coming through in more way than one. Not to mention, he’s a hell of a pilot. #hanshotfirst || “You like me because I’m a scoundrel. There aren’t enough scoundrels in your life.” -Han Solo, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Lito Rodriquez: A closeted Mexican actor in the Sense8 cluster, Lito is beautiful and emotional and brave and tender. He spends the vast majority of two seasons learning how to do what is right instead of what is easy, which is both relatable and hugely encouraging. || “In the end, we’ll all be judged by the courage of our hearts.” -Lito Rodriguez, Sense8, #1.8
Peppermint Butler: A master of the dark arts, Pep But is devious in his spare time but unequivocally loyal no matter what. Long-time advisor and caretaker to Princess Bubblegum, he is the only member of her kingdom who sticks with her when she is exiled. He brings her tea, helps her prank usurpers, and assists with saving Marceline the Vampire Queen. || “Say ‘hi’ to Death for me if you see him, he lives in a castle made of light.” -Peppermint Butler, Adventure Time, #2.17
It’s been increasingly refreshing to come across more gentle boys with good hearts over the years. Toxic masculinity is a deeply damaging and pervasive part of our culture, and the more we present boys with alternatives to the stoic and degrading men that grace our pages and screens, the better off the world will be.
Runner-ups included Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, Jake the Dog & Finn the Human from Adventure Time, the MCU’s version of Loki Laufeyson, Onion from Steven Universe, and The Gray Man from The Raven Cycle.
The use of expansive spaces on screen most often serves one of two purposes: to draw the eye towards something or someone, or to highlight the enormity (and sometimes hopelessness) of a specific situation. Expansive spaces can be used to highlight the hopelessness of a single person stumbling across an icy wasteland, or to emphasize a focal point of importance or beauty. Below, you can see some of my favorite frames that use skies and sand for one (or maybe even both) of the above purposes.
Prompted by: Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series
I am certainly not the first person to comment on the discrepancies between George R.R. Martin’s writing and the choices made by the front-runners of the show. I watched the first four seasons of the show back when they came out but stopped watching after the season four finale. But I just read all of the released books this fall, and then re-watched the first three seasons again. And boy oh boy do I take issue with some key elements.
Content Warning: violence, rape
Season 1, Episode 1: The rape of Danerys by Khal Drogo. In the books, Dany’s wedding night was overwhelmingly tender and consensual. Drogo asks her repeatedly what is and isn’t okay, he is considerate and slow and waits until it’s something that she is sure she wants. While that doesn’t change the fact that she was a child of 13, it sets a completely different tone for her well-being and their relationship overall. Instead, we get to start the entire show with an explicit act of sexual violence.
Season 2, Episode 7: Dany’s dragons are stolen. One of her maidservants is killed and the other maidservants turn out to have betrayed them both and given up the dragons. In the books, Dany’s handmaidens are unequivocally loyal. There is no bickering between them or conflict or jealousy. They are as kind to each other as they are to the Khaleesi, never making snide comments over the terminology the other might use due to their differing countries of origin. This plot point in the show really left a bad taste in my mouth. Why was it necessary for a close female confidant to betray the trust of the Khaleesi? Why did they have to paint a strong and brave female in such a negative light? Why did the handmaidens have to bicker in the first place? Why are the creators of the show so determined to eliminate positive female interactions?
Season 3, Episode 6: Arya comments that she doesn’t like Melisandre and the response of her male companions is that she feels that way because she’s a girl. Yay, more girl-on-girl hate… because the only conceivable reason a twelve-year-old girl wouldn’t like a grown woman is due to jealousy. Scenes like this only serve to teach girls not to listen to their intuition and to chalk up their feelings to combativeness between females. It’s a reinforcement of the tired social commentary that girls can’t get along because they’re too busy competing with each other.
Season 4, Episode 3: Jamie rapes Cersei after Joffrey’s death. I don’t have to rewatch this episode to remember how utterly nonconsensual the moment is, especially in comparison to the book. Time has a good summary of what’s wrong with this scene, particularly in the light of director Alex Graves saying that it wasn’t rape.
Ros’s entire arc: so this starts off in pretty sex-positive way. A prostitute from Winterfell heads to King’s Landing to seek her fortune. When she starts working her way up in the ranks at one of Littlefinger’s brothels, it feels a bit gratuitous– “oh look how accepting we are, even a sex worker can be successful!” But it still feels positive and empowering– until it becomes clear that they established her as a character just for the sake of putting her in numerous horrible situations. She’s threatened by Littlefinger over her emotional distress after seeing a baby murdered, forced to partake in sadomasochism with another prostitute by Joffrey, beaten on Cersei’s orders, and finally she is brutally murdered by Joffrey. And out of all of those atrocities, only one even took place in the books.
These are only the scenes that stood out to me before I stopped watching the show. It’s been impossible to not hear about Sansa’s rape by Ramsay, or about Arya very nearly being sold into sex slavery– two more overt and off-book instances of sexual violence.
The show features seven writers (five of which are men) and five directors (all of which are men). I’ve previously expressed my frustrations with male writers creating contentious and unsavory female characters in regards to the way Dave Eggers writes his female characters in The Circle. For me, the show takes this to a whole new level by not only including such moments, but also by including these moments that weren’t even in the books in the first place.
Complex has a must-read discussion on their site featuring a panel of female TV critics, and most of their thoughts on the series run parallel to mine, especially these two:
One of my biggest issues with the show in comparison with the books is that the show makes violence the centerpiece. It treats violence as a spectacle rather than focusing on the emotion that the violence results in. For example, in the books we are introduced to so many people who were survivors of war, and we hear the stories of what they saw and experienced. We connect with these people, many of them without names, because we are unavoidably faced with their outrage and pain and loss. Martin manages to make us feel with a sentence what an entire scene in the show fails to elicit. The same can be said for Theon’s transition to Reek. In the show, this character arc is nothing more than an entire season of torture porn. I don’t sympathize with Theon, I only mute the scenes so I don’t have to hear him screaming. In juxtaposition, book Theon disappears for a very long time, and when we finally see him again, he’s scarred and changed in more ways than one. The books make the torture utterly haunting and stomach-turning by alluding to what happened rather than shoving it in your face. Martin has discussed in interviews that he attempted to make his storyline historically accurate by writing in things like rape as a normal part of war. While I don’t entirely agree with the execution, I can understand his perspective on the choice. However, my qualms are not with how Martin treats women, my issues are with how the show treats women.
What it comes down to is that the show handles violence in a way that feels like it’s for shock value rather than emotional impact. The problem with this is that after being repeated over and over again, the shock diminishes but the violence doesn’t– and there still isn’t any emotional impact. Caroline Framke sums it up perfectly:
“The problem I have with Game of Thrones is less that horrible things happen to women than when horrible things happen to women, they’re filmed for shock value, and there’s often very little use in that story beyond how horrible it is.”
-Caroline Framke, Complex’s Female TV Critics Discuss the Violence Against Women on ‘Game of Thrones’
Predictably, the comments section has nothing but charming men saying that no one cares what women think and that feminism is garbage. There is also a comment that expresses a sentiment I’ve seen elsewhere: there’s plenty of violence against men in the show– so why is that not being discussed? But here’s the thing: sexual violence against women is a rampart part of our society. You need only look at the most basic of statistics (or the recent #MeToo movement paired with the massive amount of assault allegations currently being leveled at public figures) to see that women have and are suffering copious amounts of violence at the hands of men. To compound the issue, it is only in the past year that more women have started to feel safe enough to speak up about their experiences without overwhelming fear of being silenced. To what extent is it excusable or justifiable to continue portraying this excessive violence against women as a normal part of being a female?
The Lord of The Rings, much like Game of Thrones, takes place during a time of war. There is violence against all those involved, and the scathing effects of battle is not avoidable, nor is it shied away from. But unlike Game of Thrones, Lord of Rings doesn’t make a spectacle out of it. There are ways to shock viewers and keep them on the edge of their seat that don’t involve on-screen torture and rape.