Matterlightblooming and Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

In an ancient cemetery on a hill near Washington D. C. the dead-who-know-not-they-are-dead rise from their sick boxes at night to cavort, cajole, console and wonder, wander, ponder. They have developed their own culture, their own shadowy cadence of “living” in this self-inflicted purgatory, patiently waiting for some sign to know what to do next, while fellow spirits vanish in the matterlightblooming and others join them in fresh sick boxes, an eternally spiraling phantom world of temporary inhabits…ships passing in a melancholic feverishly nightmarish harbor where the waters are haunted by memories of thier life in that other place from before they so long for…

One such spirit is left dispirited by another (who committed suicide)…exclaiming…

“You did not give this place a proper chance, but fled it recklessly, leaving behind forever the beautiful things of this world…Forgoing eternally, sir, such things as, for example: two fresh-shorn lambs bleat in a new-mown field; four parallel blind-cast linear shadows creep across a sleeping tabby’s midday flank; down a bleached-slate roof and into a patch of wilting heather bounce nine gust-loosened acorns; up past a shaving fellow wafts the smell of a warming griddle (and early morning pot-clangs and kitchen-girl chatter); in a nearby harbor a mansion-sized schooner tilts to port, sent so by a flag-rippling, chime-inciting breeze that causes, in a port-side schoolyard, a chorus of childish squeals and the mad barking of what sounds like -” (p. 140-141)

Apparently in George Saunders’ purgatorious bardo, every ghost is a poet…and a grammarian champion of the semi-colon. Saunders’ ghosts go through the metaphysical motions, getting bawdy like Shakespeare in their regaling of tales and nihilistic like Beckett’s Godot waiters…waiting, for something…someone…to rock their boats. Continue reading

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

All beings great and small…stirring in the night.

The eyes are watching you.

Writer/Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (say that five times fast) has created Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives to be even more ponderous than his name or the film’s title.  In Thailand, an ailing farmer named Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) is cared for in his final days by his sister-in-law Jen (Jenjira Pongpas) and nephew Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee) while restless spirits lurk in the jungle around them.

The film’s central conceit is that as one approaches death, memories flood the mind, and loved ones living and dead pay a visit and watch over us.  As a Buddhist, Unlce Boonmee recalls not just his current life, but also past lives.  What was done for Christianity in films like Dreyer’s Ordet or Reygadas’ Silent Light is done here for Buddhism.  The spiritual lives of the characters are presented as if programmed in their DNA.  It is not questioned; it just is.  But whereas the other films presented a linear, “We live, We die, We rise,” narrative, here there is cosmic fluidity where one life or one being flows into the next for all eternity.  This inner knowing is translated onto screen in a mesmerizing cacophony of sound design and imagery that evokes that cyclical flow…the stirring…of all beings great and small…past and present and future…in the night (symbolic of death).

The recollections are presented in a quasi-Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness.  Continue reading

It’s Not a Grave, It’s a Niche

Hey, Dad, do you know what happens to owls when they die?

A Review of Biutiful

**Spoilers Ahead – Read with Caution**

It’s not a grave, it’s a niche.  It’s a seemingly innocuous piece of dialogue, a clarification on the not-so-final resting spot of our protagonist’s father – a father he never knew, a father who fled Spain as a political exile only to die in Mexico of pneumonia and be shipped back to Barcelona to be tucked away by his widowed wife in a niche.  But it’s also symbolic of the niche this family has carved out for themselves over the generations where fathers are sent to early graves.  Progress and globalization threaten this niche – a mall is to be built, the niche destroyed, and the corpse cremated – as do calamities and ailments including cancer both literally and figuratively.

Our protagonist, Uxbal (Javier Bardem in a devastating performance) is trying to make do in a Barcelona that is coming apart at the seams.  He deals in knock-off goods and illegal workers.  He’s also trying to raise his two young children (Hanaa Bouchaib and Guillermo Estralla – both naturalistic and deserving of sympathy) while being estranged from his bipolar wife (Maricel Alvarez in a wonderfully complex and flighty performance in perfect pitch through all her mood swings) who is sleeping with his opportunistic and corrupt brother (Eduard Fernandez).  But in the all the varying shades and undulations of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s maddeningly complex and perversely intertwined world, nothing in what it seems on the surface. Continue reading

A Visit to Gettysburg

Late spring is the perfect time of year to visit Gettysburg as the tourist and reenactment season has yet to begin and the stinking heat of summer has yet to enshroud the bucolic Pennsylvania hamlet.  The popular destination can easily be reached in less than three hours from South Jersey or any point in the greater Philadelphia area.  While Civil War buffs and professional ghost hunters could easily make a long weekend of it, we found that one day is perfect for a leisurely self-guided auto tour of the sprawling, picturesque and monument laden battlefield followed by a stroll through the quaint downtown area full of bed-and-breakfast establishments, restaurants, souvenir shops and haunted houses.

What struck me most about the battlefield was not only its size and scope (give yourself at least two hours for the free self-guided auto tour if you plan to make the appropriate stops) but also the meditative peacefulness that now enraptures the place where so much violence once conquered.  It’s a true marvel just for the scenery let alone the history.  Continue reading

A Visit to Fort Mifflin

Recently featured on the TV show Ghost Hunters, Fort Mifflin always finds itself at the top of the list of most haunted places in Philadelphia.  Built in 1771, the fort was an important outpost during the Revolutionary War designed to defend Philadelphia from British ships.  During the Civil War, the fort was turned into a makeshift prison for captured Confederate soldiers, wayward Union soldiers, and unruly civilians.  Over the years it has served as a training ground and up until 1954 was the oldest fort in the nation in continuous use.  The venerable Fort Mifflin has weathered the passing of time as it lies between the Philadelphia Shipping Yards and the International Airport along the Delaware River while many claim some of its past residents refuse to leave. 

I recently paid these hallowed grounds a visit one dreary spring afternoon with a friend looking for ghosts.  Maybe it was the gloom of the light rain falling, or the meditative drone of the airplanes flying so low overhead, or the toxic smells wafting over the marshlands, or the perfectly staged lighting or lack thereof in each and every passageway and tunnel, or the fact that I hit my head on one of the lowly arched doorways in the festering bowels of the ancient fort, but there was certainly a feel to the place that could only be described as creepy.  Here are the photos I captured while exploring Fort Mifflin: Continue reading