Revisiting THE LION KING 25 Years Later

If you need to know one thing about me, it’s that I’m one of the biggest fans of The Lion King to ever exist; my love for The Lion King is basically a personality trait at this point. I’ve worked out that I’ve spent over a month of my life watching this film; I would watch it practically every day as a kid when my mum would nap after a night-shift, then I would pretend she was Mufasa in the Gorge – what a happy, wholesome childhood.

As a teenager, I ran a Tumblr blog dedicated to The Lion King – I would make graphics and GIFs, watching it almost every day, getting up to over 80,000 followers. Yes, I know, it bordered on obsession. Now, I watch it every so often, usually as a pick-me-up after a rough day. It’s a constant in my life, something that is so familiar that it grounds me. So I wanted to celebrate this film so close to my heart, and share some of my favorite elements of this Disney classic.

This year The Lion King celebrates its 25th anniversary, and over the years has won the hearts of so many, with it being the top rated Disney film on both IMDb and Letterboxd (it’s one of the 50 Top-Rated films on IMDb ever). It held the record as the highest-grossing animated film until Toy Story 3 overtook it in 2010 and then Frozen in 2013; it still remains the highest-grossing 2D animated film of all time. The original title “King of the Jungle” can still be found on pieces of Disneyland merchandise after the creators renamed the project, realizing that African lions do not, in fact, live in the jungle.

Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella in The Lion King (1994) – source: Walt Disney Pictures

The music is one of the most memorable aspects of the film, being iconic not only within the Disney-verse but within the history of film; Hans Zimmer now claims that his work on The Lion King as one of the greatest in his career. Zimmer worked closely with African musicians to encapsulate the spirit of Africa and fully express the wide range of emotions that this film presents. I had the amazing opportunity last year to see Hans Zimmer live, playing iconic film scores including Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Dark Knight Trilogy as well as The Lion King. Zimmer and his orchestra performed the awe-inspiring themes from the film live with incredible staging, but also inviting Lebo M to reprise his role singing the introduction to Circle of Life. The whole experience was incredibly emotional – Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague is available on Netflix if film scores are as important to you as they are to me!

The Lion King is a naturally beautiful and colorful film, where every shot is utterly breathtaking and so detailed, using the huge color palette of the savanna to bring vibrancy and life to the screen; each scene has a dominant color to set the tone and balance the film. Even in the darker scenes, the use of a variety of shades brings depth, and colored lighting of green in the Elephant Graveyard scenes creates an ominous villainy related to Scar and the Hyenas. The cinematography here is reflective of the Natural Geographic documentaries used as inspiration to present a realistic landscape, with fine detail of the native plants and animals found in the savanna to support the realistic and breathtaking visuals of the film. 

Jonathan Taylor Thomas in The Lion King (1994) – source: Walt Disney Pictures

When talking about Disney films, I find a lot of people have a lot of love for The Lion King and other films from the renaissance era; a main reason being the characters. The vibrant, lovable variety of characters with a range of personalities, strengths and flaws make them feel well-rounded and genuine. And of the carnival of characters that make up the cast, let me talk about my favorite – not only from this film, but my favorite Disney character ever: Scar.

I once had a job interview for the Disney Store, and when asked my favorite character I said Scar. I think it might have cost me the job. As a kid, I loved his flamboyant attitude, and could recognize that he was different and excluded by the other characters, so naturally I fell in love with the villainous outcast. He is easily the most interesting character for me, and I’ve collected so many random facts about him as I did an intense academic character study of him for my dissertation; looking in detail into his dialect, dialogue, behavior and mannerisms. I love how the animators incorporated Jeremy Irons’ facial features and expressions into Scar, making him such an interesting and expressive character on screen. ‘Be Prepared’ is one of my favorite Disney songs – it is iconically villainous with powerful scoring, gravelly vocals and bright green lighting. I was disappointed to hear that it was under consideration for being cut from the 2019 remake but we’ll have to see what makes the final cut!

The deaths in The Lion King are by far the most prominent in Disney history, with an honorable mention to Bambi. Many viewers say that Mufasa’s death is one of the most heartbreaking and traumatizing scenes in cinema, the creators claim that the scene was meant to be a lot darker but the version we now see is toned down in comparison to what they originally had planned. Scar’s death is one of the darkest villain demises found in classic Disney films until this point (another one equally as terrifying since being Clayton’s death in Tarzan 5 years later), where Scar is attacked and devoured by hyenas off-screen and then the fire engulfs them all before the film’s climax. And this is a beloved family movie with thousands of fans, right…?

Jeremy Irons in The Lion King (1994) – source: Walt Disney Pictures

Favorite Under-Rated Moments

Simba and Scar’s Fight:
This scene is so beautifully choreographed, with slow-motion animation and the red and amber lighting from the flames. The animation of the lions is possibly the most life-like here compared to the rest of the film, the fighting reminds us of the animalistic features of the characters and reflects the animal comparisons that the animators studied to animate realistic lions.

‘It’s a Small World’:
This is one of the most under-rated jokes in the whole Disney-verse. Basically makes fun of themselves having a ride with one of the most annoying songs ever known to man – or lion. I also love this scene with the reference of Scar singing ‘I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts’ whilst holding a skull, connecting the film back to the base story origins of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

“He’s Alive”:
The moment in the film that Rafiki discovers Simba is still alive is serious, yet exudes Rafiki’s playful energy and mannerisms. The editing between the two locations is flawless, and, again, this scene uses the amazing color palette of the savanna, combined with the incredibly powerful scoring to highlight the heightened emotions of the scene.

Trivia Tidbits

As you can probably tell by now, I’m one heck of a Lion King nerd, so I wanted to share my top three favorite pieces of trivia:

★ When writer Irene Mecchi came on board, she was told that the story pitch was “Bambi in Africa meets Hamlet”, or “Bamlet”, as she termed it.

★ The wildebeest stampede took the CG department about three years to animate. A new computer program had to be written for the CG wildebeest stampede that allowed hundreds of computer generated animals to run as a herd but without colliding into each other.

★ The team working on The Lion King was supposedly Disney’s “team B,” who were “kept busy” while “team A” worked on Pocahontas, on which the production had much higher hopes. As it turned out, The Lion King became a huge critical and commercial success, whereas Pocahontas was met with mixed reviews and a much lower box office outcome.

James Earl Jones and Jonathan Taylor Thomas in The Lion King (1994) – source: Walt Disney Pictures

Over the past 25 years, The Lion King has been able to bring joy and beauty to so many people while introducing key themes of love and friendship, but it also teaches children about death and loss at a young age. It’s hard to determine whether Disney decided to release the remake purposefully in the same year as the 25th anniversary, but there are mixed responses over social media for the upcoming release in July. Despite my reservations for a “live-action” version of The Lion King, I will go and see it on the release day because I’m still a die-hard fan deep down (and very excited to buy all the new merchandise in the Disney Store, oops). The Lion King has such a special place in my heart, not only because it shares my birth year, but because it has shaped me to be the person I am today and it has been my to-go film that always warms my nostalgic soul.

The 2019 remake of The Lion King comes to theaters worldwide on July 19th.

JUSTINE: The Beauty of Acceptance

We all make unspoken promises. Even if “cross my heart and hope to die” was never uttered, we promise to protect a child the moment we bring it to life. We promise to hold a hand and walk side by side with every implied “I love you.”

That being said, we also break promises. How many children are out there, confined in a limited space they can neither understand nor control, and therefore are left unprotected? How many people are out there chasing a ghost, literal or metaphorical, every time they’re left with lesser hands than they had counted?    

Justine (2019)

In the beginning of Stephanie Turner’s Justine, we meet single mom Lisa Wade (Stephanie Turner), who is in emotional paralysis by the broken unspoken promise her husband once made. His untimely death has left Lisa to grow old and raise their children alone. Lisa’s numbness, however, has rendered her unable to deal with the situation and engage in any type of communication with her daughters, Maya (Bridget Kallal) and Drew, (Ravi Cabot-Conyers).

In order to offer financially stability, Lisa looks for a job and eventually becomes Justine Green’s (Daisy Prescott) caretaker. Significantly, being Justine’s nanny proves to be a bit challenging for Lisa in the beginning. The challenge stems not only from Lisa’s emotional numbness that prevents her from caring for another person, but also from the fact that Justine is an 8-year-old girl with Spina Bifida; a medical condition that has left Justine almost completely paralyzed from the waist down.

With that in mind, we can say that Justine and Lisa are two puzzle pieces that perfectly fit one another: Justine can’t walk, but has a beautiful optimism and is refreshingly carefree, while Lisa has perfect physical mobility, but is emotionally bankrupt.

Justine (2019)

It is through their interactions that both Justine and Lisa become whole; together, they transcend the limitations and discriminations that were ascribed to them by society. Even if their Otherness is based on different unfounded premises, Justine is treated as an unnatural being both by nameless kids and ultimately by her parents, Alison (Darby Stanchfield) and Michael Green (Josh Stamberg), due to her condition, and Lisa is the mother of biracial children, they help each overcome every obstacle in their way.

It should be noted here that this was Stephanie Turner’s objective to begin with. As she has stated, “Lisa and Justine form a bond with one another that is rooted in the fact that society has unfairly judged them.” And it’s that very bond that brings to the fore the film’s core; the notion that “no one, no matter their circumstances, should have limitations put upon them”.

It is safe to say, overall, that Turner succeeded in breathing life into that idea since the film’s argument against discrimination is clearly articulated. What’s more surprising is that the film manages to communicate all this with an invigorating and positive atmosphere. This tension between content and form is what makes the argument so appealing and strong. The audience is not brutally brought into the realization that prejudices are unjust; it shows you the beauty of acceptance.

Stephanie Turner’s Justine, an all female production film, will premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival on 23 June @ 18:15!   

[ATX FEST 2019]: The Good Place for Fans

The ATX Television Festival was held from June 6th to 9th in Austin, Texas. This annual weekend celebrates the medium with panels, screenings and events involving executives, writers, actors, critics and reporters. But the most memorable aspect of the festival is its primary focus on the fans.

Founded eight years ago by Emily Gipson and Caitlin McFarland, ATX (shorthand for “a television experience”) is a meeting place for fans and industry members. “That first year, we said a thesis that turned out to actually be true: Friday Night Lights fans were just as rabid as Firefly fans, they just didn’t have a place to go,” McFarland said. Following the formation of an advisory board and Kickstarter campaign, they worked hard to provide that place.

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ATX Festival Founders Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson – source: Tammy Perez

Gipson explained the weekend’s programming as “a third past, a third present, a third future, and then half fan, half industry. We try and balance genres, we try and balance entertainment and education.”

Notable “educational” topics in this year’s lineup included TV’s portrayal of grief and mental health, along with onscreen representation of women, Muslims and the middle class.

“At our core we want every conversation to be positive and hopeful, but we want to tackle the hard issues as well,” Gipson said. “So there is definitely a balance of that, but we’re all TV fans. Let’s geek out over a show together.”

There was plenty to geek out over at this year’s fest. Screenings included current series like The Good Place, Bless This Mess, Yellowstone, and the upcoming HBO drama Euphoria. Panels were held on Netflix series Atypical and One Day at A Time. Cast reunions included Greek, The League and Veronica Mars (with eight new episodes dropping on Hulu this July).

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Euphoria creator Sam Levinson and star Zendaya – source: Jack Plunkett

Though I’m a massive television fan and have attended the festival in the past, I’m a reporter by nature. I work in the third person and try to remove myself from the events I’m covering or promoting (even using the pronouns “I” and “me” right now feels completely foreign, like the keys on my keyboard are judging me for even typing from my own perspective). I attended this year’s festival as a press member to report on women in television for my day job. But ATX is such a welcoming environment, built around fans and their passion for TV, it’s difficult to remain objective. The enthusiasm of the weekend is contagious, and I found myself having trouble turning off the fangirl voice in my head.

The Terror executive producer Alexander Woo spoke about the intimacy of the medium during a panel about playwrights in writers’ rooms. “Television doesn’t let you off the hook. At the end of a stage play, they can go home and never think about it ever again. A TV show, at least one that’s done well…you think about it for the next seven days. You worry about those characters. You’re happy for them and you talk about them with your actual friends. And it becomes like they’re real, living, breathing people in your life and that’s an incredible power.”

Though I was listening to The Vampire Diaries creator Julie Plec speak about writing grief-stricken characters, instead of scribbling in my notebook like I usually do, I thought about Thursday nights in college, watching her show and taking comfort in its enriching metaphors about life, death and humanity. Listening to Retta talk about the power of female partnerships on her NBC show Good Girls, I thought of all the times my friends and I say “treat yo’self” in daily life.

Instead of pondering which Rob Thomas quote to use in my article about Veronica Mars, I was thinking about the time in my life when I discovered the show and learned valuable lessons from it. I got caught up in the idea that years ago, this man sitting on stage right in front of me had an idea in his head that reached me and helped me and made me laugh – and still does. That’s magic. It’s hard to be objective about magic.

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Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas and stars Jason Dohring and Enrico Colantoni – source: Dominick Dusseault

“When a fan of this show comes up to me, I know something about them. I recognize their love and their passion for the show,” Veronica Mars star Enrico Colantoni said. “Other shows people say ‘hey, great show.’ When a marshmallow comes up to me, there is something about you that I know and I recognize. And it’s just a joy to know that somehow we’ve touched you beyond entertaining you.” ATX Festival provides a platform for fans and industry members to express that mutual joy about the medium we love. Television is personal, and so is the festival.

“We have this tagline: TV camp for grownups. And we realize you only understand that if you’ve been to the festival,” Gipson said. “It doesn’t really work as a marketing tool, because you don’t understand unless you’ve been here. So it’s really having people come experience it, because then they get what it is and what we’re trying to do and you can’t really always put that into words.”

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ATX Festival Veronica Mars Panel – source: Manny Pandya

LATE NIGHT: Feel Good Comedy with Something to Say

Late night television has been on somewhat of a decline lately. While the ratings have been solid thanks to any given show’s devoted fans, anyone will say that the quality isn’t what it used to be. Most people will talk crap about the talk shows being “too political”, acting like they just started talking politics within the last three years because they think it’s cool.

In the movie Late Night, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson)’s talk show has been on a decline for ten years, despite being the first (and only) woman to ever have a late night program running for a long time. She has her followers, yes, but even her husband is quick to say that the show isn’t what it used to be. Her writing is stale and lacks diversity, and her writing staff of all white men reflects that. Enter Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), an Indian chemical plant worker who has a natural knack for comedy and is hired on the writing staff initially to meet a diversity quota.

Late Night (2019) – source: Amazon Studios

Based on the setup alone, I knew a lot of the beats that Late Night was going to hit within its story. The two women don’t get along at first but at the end they realize that they need each other. The story on paper doesn’t do anything new with its formula. The dialogue, on the other hand, is a different story. It’s light, breezy and has something to say about women of color in the workplace, thanks to what I can only imagine is Mindy Kaling’s own experiences of being a woman of color in Hollywood.

I’ll be honest and say I’m not a fan of Kaling. I didn’t watch The Mindy Project when it was on and she was usually one of my least favorite characters on The Office. In the movie, she’s very ambitious and wants to further herself in the world of comedy beyond telling jokes at the chemical plant. Two time Oscar winner Emma Thompson plays the talk show host Newbury, a stone cold bitch who, at one point, is described as a “woman who hates women”. I haven’t seen much of Thompson’s work but I was surprised at her comedic timing.

Late Night (2019) – source: Amazon Studios

The movie works best when either woman is on screen, and the movie’s high points are when both of them are together. I never in my life would’ve guessed this combination would work as well as it did. It reminds me of a movie that came out earlier this year called Long Shot, that also had an unlikely duo in the form of Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron.

Late Night offers a fine balance of comedy and drama within the workplace, thanks to the chemistry between Kaling and Thompson. Clocking in at 102 minutes, the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome and manages to make contemporary commentary about women and people of color in a workforce dominated by white men. Even if you know where the story goes just by looking at the trailer, I would still recommend the movie based on the strength of its performances and dialogue alone.

Late Night is now in theaters worldwide.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE: 00Heaven

The second installment in the James Bond franchise arrived just 1 year after Dr. No, showing that movies back then certainly knew how to shuttle along and get in and out of production quicker than the seemingly cursed Bond 25. But does the quick turnaround work in favor for From Russia with Love?

STARS – Sean Connery, Robert Shaw, Daniela Bianchi, Lotte Lenya

DIRECTOR – Terence Young

RUN-TIME – 115 minutes

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The second coming – From Russia with Love (1963) – source: United Artists

BEST LINE – Spoiler alert, but after Soviet counter-intelligence operative Rosa Klebb is offed, James Bond, without pause, quips “she’s had her kicks.” This relates to the iconic switchblade shoe that she wears. If nothing else, I love the older 007 movies because of their unabashed inclusion of puns.

BEST GADGET – With this film, the world of secreted weapons and clever tricks come into play because MI6 introduce Bond and the audience to Q (Desmond Llewelyn), who I think was the beating heart of the spy series. In this movie before James is dispatched to Turkey, Q goes through a handy travel case equipped with ammo, a hidden knife, a folding rifle inside and a security proof catch system that triggers tear gas if opened incorrectly. The perfect holiday essential!

EEEK MOMENT – Right at the end, when the audience think it’s all over and James is loving life with the Bond girl, as he was with Honey Ryder at the end of Dr. No, we see his hotel room infiltrated by Rosa Klebb disguised as a maid. The irony of knowing who she is with Bond unaware is a tasty morsel right before the credits roll.

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Turn down service – From Russia with Love (1963) – source: United Artists

00 UH-OH – The opening sequence is one of the shortest and weakest ones in the 24 features and it sees a fake Connery mask peeled off a dead lackie which looks plastic and shoddy considering it’s clearly the Scottish actor we’ve been watching beforehand. I doubt they had the materials to make such a convincing Bond mask back then! This is a teeny niggle in comparison to a truly pained scene that sees the MI6 agent heading to a Romani camp, which is utterly peppered with the dated gypsy term and sees a scuffle between two women, which winds up as a clear intention to ogle the flesh and cat-fight, it’s shot gratuitously and goes on far too long.

ICONIC MOMENT – It’s a short-lived image but one that has stood with the franchise like the martinis, the girls and guns. As the SPECTRE organisation convenes and we see Klebb and Czech chess player talk to their unseen boss, the film reveals a hand stroking the white fur of this mysterious man’s cat. All we know at this point is he is called Blofeld and even the credits list the actor as ?, a nice way of playing along with the shadowy aura of the big Bond baddie.

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What’s new pussycat? – From Russia with Love (1963) – source: United Artists

MINI REVIEW – Again, like the 1962 Jamaican set opener, this movie features some dodgy dialogue, outdated views on race and sex and a Bond girl selected on her looks alone, which sees her being dubbed over like Ursula Andress was but that is frustratingly part and parcel of the early 007 movies.

This time around the story shifts into a more political thriller and sees the espionage angle narrowed down. Bond flies to Istanbul to meet with Soviet clerk Tatiana and look the married part, whilst hoping to get a cryptography device from the Soviets themselves. Bond might know it’s a trap but he doesn’t know that Blofeld is playing sides against one another and that assassin Donald Grant is tailing him, in the hopes of killing him once the machine is in SPECTRE’s hands.

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Tatiana and James – From Russia with Love (1963) – Source: United Artists

Sadly, the more political and intelligence warring tone of the story doesn’t come across in a spine-tingly way and instead of major suspense and thrills, From Russia with Love is fairly bland and definitely one of the dullest chapters to come out of the Bond franchise. Unlike a good few of 007 outings which are enjoyable under numerous watches, this is one that slightly tests the patience and goes too long with seeing James constantly on the move or on a train and the lack of a villain stepping in the way is a sour note too.

Blofeld may be an iconic adversary but he hardly appears, Grant is a brooding henchman left to stalk Bond and Klebb does little else to add sinister touches aside from her final scene. Dr. No himself may have had small screen-time but he has the typical sit down conversation and final showdown whereas From Russia with Love is less fun and sunny than before and holds minute action to sustain the excitement.

5/10

MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL is a Tired Reboot Looking For the Snooze Button

No matter the budget or scope of a film, it’s often the tiniest details that key you into how much effort was put into bringing it to life. Take for example Men in Black: International, a borderline comatose reboot of the series that helped turn Will Smith into a superstar. If you look closely, past the painfully obvious bits of corporate branding, you’ll see the movie uses the same city block for several scenes set in supposedly different locations. A common practice, no doubt, but the lack of effort in hiding these cut corners is a small side effect of a larger indifference that ultimately whittles the potential charisma of this reboot down to dust.

As it seems is the trend with this summer’s blockbuster roster, International should have all the pieces to make it work, including a pair of charming, beloved leads in Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth and a franchise well-equipped to highlight the duo’s comedic strengths. The framework of the original film does nothing but set these two up for success, giving them an odd couple energy and enough sleek suits and gadgets for several movies worth of breezy fun. Turns out that the film does nothing but waste their time, playing like a cheeky Listerine tie-in commercial stretched out to feature length.

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Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth in Men in Black: International (2019) – source: Sony Pictures Releasing

Art Marcum and Matt Holloway’s script borrows the basic premise of the first film, setting up Agent M (Thompson) as a freshly-minted recruit sent by Agent O (a fun but largely squandered Emma Thompson) to the London MiB office to grow under the wings of legendary agents H (Hemsworth) and High T (Liam Neeson on autopilot). Once there, she stumbles upon a intergalactic conspiracy that whisks her and the bumbling H into a convoluted plot involving a super weapon, a three-armed arms dealer played by Rebecca Ferguson, and more bad quips than you’d find at your local open mic.

This is a franchise that has continually forgotten why it existed in the first place, a fact that’s never been so blatant until now. The original worked because Smith and the curmudgeonly Tommy Lee Jones had an undeniable chemistry that the movie banked itself on. The kooky aliens brought to life by effects legend Rick Backer were just the icing on the cake, giving Smith and Jones more punching bags to jab off of. International is less interested in mining Thompson and Hemsworth’s already proven rapport, opting instead for one uninspired lights show after another.

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Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth in Men in Black: International (2019) – source: Sony Pictures Releasing

The irony of that choice comes from Men in Black really having only a single big action scene, whereas International is preoccupied with them. The end result is a film that feels in danger of flatlining at any given moment. F. Gary Gray, a once attuned filmmaker who now directs with the energy of a sloth on hallucinogenics, films all these bland laser battles as if instructed to make them boring as possible. None of the action is fresh enough to justify staking the entire affair on gunfights and car chases, and Thompson and Hemsworth simply aren’t given lines lively enough to spruce up the increasingly benign light shows. The only sparks of life come from a mildly amusing voice-over performance from Kumail Nanjiani as a chess pawn-like creature who ends up serving as Thompson’s wisecracking sidekick. But even that shtick becomes unbearable as the film goes on, wearing out its welcome as it reaches Deadpool levels of thinking it’s the funniest thing ever to grace the screen.

It’s shame the film buries Thompson and Hemsworth under a sea of blandness, given that the pair’s partnership in the supremely entertaining Thor: Ragnarok essentially revitalized what had become the MCU’s most boring character. There’s oodles of potential for the two to recapture that energy here, with Hemsworth mining his attractive doofus energy for all it’s worth while Thompson serves as the sarcastic but empathetic voice of reason. There’s hint of that dynamic throughout, but the curtain dressings around it are so dull that it often spoils the mood. The two should enjoy lengthy big-budget careers if and when they escape Marvel’s grasp, but hopefully they’ll be given options more enticing than this.

Men in Black: International is a yet another lifeless dud in a summer movie season already full of them, wasting its potential charms on tired tropes and even sleepier humor. If anything, it’s a testament to the success of the first film, proving it captured lightning in a bottle in a way that Hollywood has failed to recreate since. If any film could emulate that film’s knack for finding inclusivity among humor, we’d be in luck. For now, all we’ve got is a movie no will remember by the time they reach the theater parking lot.

Men in Black: International is now in theaters worldwide.

DEAD POETS SOCIETY: 30 Years Later

With modern life demanding more and more activities, sometimes it becomes difficult to manage enough time for everything. As good cinephiles, film always has a space in our schedules, but keeping up with all the productions is still not an easy task. It takes dedication, and often, to prioritize the new releases, so we end up letting go of old classics. Dead Poets Society was one of those classics for me. However, in the year the feature directed by Peter Weir turns 30 years, I decided to change this situation. I know it’s hard to believe, but aside from the presence of Robin Williams in the cast and some quotes randomly posted on Tumblr, I didn’t know anything else about the movie, something that brought negative and positive points to my experience — my biggest surprise was to see a baby faced Ethan Hawke.

Founded under the pillars of tradition, honor, discipline and excellence, the Welton Academy is presented as one of the best preparatory schools in the United States. The first scenes of the film establish the rigid academic atmosphere, enhanced by the way in which teachers apply their subject — by repetition, exhaustive practice of exercises and punishment for those who do not meet the imposed goals. Against this whole system is Mr. Keating (Robin Williams), a former student of the academy and the newest professor in the English department. Mr. Keating’s first lesson to his students, applied outside the classroom, is about seizing the day. Having teaching methods described as non-orthodox by other teachers, Mr. Keating challenges his students to think outside the box, for themselves.

Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society (1989) – Source: IMDB

For students who live almost automatically in favor of a routine for advanced studies, the lessons of Mr. Keating first provoke reactions as “think he’ll test us on that stuff?”. It’s only later that the boys adapt and give themselves to the teacher’s way of educating, the classes become a moment of deserved relaxation, and the teacher become a confident figure. That’s when the society naming the film comes into play — by investigating Mr. Keating’s life at the academy, the leading group of boys discovers that he belonged to the dead poets society. Inspired by what their members did, the students receive the answer that the dead poets were dedicated to sucking the marrow out of life by reading and absorbing poems written by great poets, such as Henry D. Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and some of their own, at meetings in an old Indian cave located on the outskirts of the academy.

It’s at that moment that the movie disappointed me a bit. By the explanation, I created the expectation that the meetings would be realized with specific purposes. I imagined that during the meetings, the boys would take advantage of that time to vent on problems they were facing, after all, at least two characters there had obvious issues — Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) carries the weight of his older brother’s reputation on his shoulders all the time, and shows discomfort at having to read, which may mean he is dyslexic; in turn, Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard) comes from a home with an authoritarian father, unable to express his own wishes and desires — I thought this was a great opportunity to address more deeply the lives of these characters in the screenplay. Instead, the meetings were marked by smoke wheels and a reading or another of some poem.

Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Josh Charles, and Gale Hansen – source: IMDB

I understand that away from the stern glares of either the parents and the faculty members of the academy, a group of young boys would probably just want to enjoy themselves, as if they were taking a minute off from their stressful routines, yet this expectation break made me think on how today coming-of-age movies deal more openly with some issues, such as mental health, for example, while including fun moments typical of teenagers — a negative point of Dead Poets Society, however, a plus point for our society. It’s a relief to realize that our reception as a society on matters once considered as a taboo has changed for the better. This change of thinking is even clearer with the scene of physical punishment suffered by Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen) — the student is beaten by the director of the academy with a wooden device. To think that situations like this happened in the past is surreal and unacceptable. In addition, Knox Overstreet’s (Josh Charles) insistence on conquering Chris Noel (Alexandra Powers) may even have been seen as a romantic act in 1989, however, I hope nowadays more boys know that “no” means “no”.

Overall, Dead Poets Society is an excellent drama with a clever screenplay — it’s not for nothing that it won an Oscar for that — and the most significant and well-done suicide scene I’ve ever seen. Of all Mr. Keating’s lessons, the one that spoke to me the most was about trusting in your own beliefs and trusting yourself, despite hateful comments.

We all have a need for acceptance, but you must trust that your beliefs are unique your own, even though others may think them odd or unpopular, even though the herd may go ‘that’s baaaad’.

John Keating

It’s not a simple lesson, especially when you’re a young adult, but it’s for everyone — whether you’re an Ivy League student or simply a cinephile.

My Experience at ‘3 Days in Cannes’

Cannes Film Festival

The 3 Days in Cannes program provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for young adults from around the world to get to experience in the international film festival first hand. So without thinking twice, I applied right away.

With the ‘3 days in Cannes’ program only being 2 years old, there is very limited information about it online. This left me with so many unanswered questions when I landed in Nice only a month after I had been accepted to the program.

When my friends and family asked me what exactly this program was, I really couldn’t tell them before I went. All I knew is that I got a 3 day pass to go see screenings, premieres and round tables. While this is only my personal experience at Cannes, it might shed some light on what this program is and if its worth it for you. So, for anyone considering attending the program, here is what you need to know about 3 Days in Cannes:

Sleep

Another writer for The Simple Cinephile who also attended the festival, Matt Bilodeau, simply summed up his experience as “definitely overwhelming but in the best way possible”. I couldn’t say it better. There is no doubt that attending the festival for only 3 days pushed me to see so many films in so little time. And with such a busy schedule, I left feeling completely exhausted but in a fulfilling way. Maybe it was adrenaline, or maybe it was the outrageous amounts of great coffee I had at the festival, but being tired wasn’t something I was going to surrender to; The Cannes Film Festival is Disney World for cinema lovers.

Before attending the festival, 3 days in Cannes seemed like the perfect amount of time to spend at the festival without it costing too much – but I quickly realized that was not true. 3 days in Cannes goes by faster than I could even process I was there. While it obviously is not the most relaxing ‘vacation’ I’ve ever been on, I would recommend mentally preparing yourself to have long days standing on your feet and little sleep.

Before arriving at Cannes, I had completely unrealistic expectations of what my experience would be. I figured I’d go see a movie, and then just walk into the next one without any concern or doubts. But, just like any type of festival or large event, Cannes requires meticulous planning as to what films you will be seeing each day, where they are and if/when you will get a chance to eat. The first day, you have to figure out your way around. Your second day, you get the hang of it. And on your third day, you should be a pro.

Your Pass

While the ‘3 days in Cannes’ pass gets you into all of the daytime screenings, you are never guaranteed inside a premiere unless you managed to attain a ticket through a lottery system. All premieres take place at the Palais. Furthermore, my pass got me into much more than I had even realized. On top of getting access to Cannes screenings, there are three other film festivals going on simultaneously in the Cannes area that you can also attend: Directors Fortnight, International Critics Week and L’Acid.

Inside the Palais des Festivals where you can pick up your tickets

Screenings typically begin starting at 8:30 in the morning and go until around 10 at night. This gives you plenty of time to see at least a handful of movies each day. I ended up seeing a total of 8 films in my 3 days there, which I felt was fairly appropriate considering I also spent some time exploring the city. Meanwhile, I have also spoken to some other attendees of the program who had made it their goal to see as many movies as possible while running on practically no sleep. With that, you can see about 11 movies in your time there.

So while you get access to all of these screenings and premieres during your 3 days, getting into these theaters can be a lot more tricky even with your pass; even though you might have access to see all of the screenings, you might not get in due to a limited amount of seats in the theater. Waiting in line for screenings is a big chunk of what you do at the festival, so here is my advice: if you are planning to see a film, it is recommended that you get in line about an hour and a half before showtime. If you think about it, for every film you will be seeing, you’ll be waiting in line for almost the same amount of time.

Lines

Waiting in lines for so long can easily be seen as one of the worst parts of this program, but it really amazed me how much of an opportunity this turned out to be. The lines never felt as long as they actually were because it was the easiest place to meet people who were also in the program and also loved cinema. It was a perfect time to converse with people from all over the world and get their input on what screenings to go to. If I had to wait in an hour and a half line for something, I would undoubtedly want the line to be at the Cannes Film Festival. You should most definitely use this time to socialize and take advantage of the fact you are surrounded by people who know what Letterboxd is.

Premieres

Premieres are a little bit more tricky than just seeing a random daytime screening due to the fact that they require you to have a ticket in advance. To be clear, premieres are opening screenings of a film that only take place at the Palais. Through a web portal, you are able to request tickets to premieres, as they are given out randomly. If granted a ticket to the premiere, you can pick them up prior to the showtime at the Hall Méditerranée inside the Palais. Premieres only take place between 7:00 pm and 10:00 pm, and while you may already be in the Cannes area, premieres require that you dress the most formal, so make sure you bring semi-formal clothes.

What most people do is request premier tickets for as many premieres during their time and hope that at least one of them gets granted. In my case, I got a ticket to the Baracau premiere, however I decided to pass on it to see 400 Blows on the beach instead (400 Blows on the beach, I had to). But, because of my decision not to attend one of the premieres that I got a ticket to, I was penalized and less likely to get granted another ticket to a premiere. Without sounding too confusing, if you receive a ticket to a premiere, use it or give it to someone who will.

400 Blows screening on the beach

Cannes

The festival is amazing, but there is also a whole city to see so take advantage of it. Make time to walk around, try the food, go shopping and explore the night life. While there are tons of high end shops and restaurants, with a little determination you can stay on budget and still appreciate whats around you.

One of my biggest worries while being in the south of France was breaking the bank. Yet, surprisingly eating and living on a budget there is very doable. While searching for accommodations I was able to find several nicely priced AirB&Bs and hotels even with only a month until the festival. It was also really easy to not spend so much because of your busy schedule waiting in line and seeing movies all day.

One of the meals my friends and I shared right near the Palais

If you love cinema, then take advantage of the ‘3 Days in Cannes’ program like I did. This program is completely what you make of it. Cannes gives you the pass, but how you chose to go about your short time there is totally up to you. The Cannes Film Festival recognizes that students and young adults who are just beginning their careers in the film industry deserve a place in their festival and I am so grateful they included me in their program.

While this might’ve not been the most glamorous article, I hope that it was in some way a help in choosing to apply or attend Cannes. If you have any other questions or concerns do not hesitate to leave them in the comment section below! 🙂

Revisiting FUNNY GAMES: Haneke Hates His Audience

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am going to be talking about the 2007 remake of Funny Games, not the 1997 original. I prefer the latter rather than the former even though the reason I decided to revisit the film is because of the former’s recent Criterion release. Though, after all, they are the same movie.

Funny Games (2007) – source: Warner Independent Pictures

We go into certain genre films expecting specific things to happen. Especially in horror, when tired tropes loose credibility (and audiences) when something legitimately great comes along. Whether it be recycled plot points, manipulated filmmaking to cause a cheap scare, or just characters that will do something that can then spark a chain reaction to set in motion for a hopeful or happy ending. However, when these story trends are challenged and rejected outright, we get Michael Haneke’s sadistic and bleak horror movie, Funny Games, which is still one of the scariest movies I have ever seen after a recent re-watch.

Each year, the Farber family heads to an annual summer home of theirs. Complete with classical music during the drive to the lake house, a friendly environment, and even a golden retriever to drive home the idealistic image that Haneke sets to establish early on. There is Ann (Naomi Watts), George Sr. (Tim Roth), and George Jr. (Devon Gearhart). While Ann is working in the kitchen and George Jr. and Sr. work on the family sailboat, we then meet a well dressed, charming young man named Peter (Brady Corbet) who we briefly saw earlier on with the neighbors.

After some annoying inconveniences with some eggs, his more intelligent and psychopathic partner, Paul (Michael Pitt), enters the house. George Sr. and Jr. have come back to the house right in the middle of Ann dealing with Peter and Paul and now the games have begun. How “logical” the games may be is never defined to make sense but it is all in a standard set up to then dissect the genre even further, to then find what we expect and the lack of character satisfaction.

Funny Games (2007) – source: Warner Independent Pictures

The things that Paul and Peter do are sickening and without reason or consequence, no less. If there was a clear motive that Haneke had set up before these events, at least we would understand, maybe even sympathize with Paul and Peter. Yet, the lack of moral stance taken by the villains is what makes them all the scarier, the search for the motivation behind the actions of a character is just what we desire. They do things such as claiming to have the entire Farber family dead by morning, or having Ann choose how exactly they kill George, but it is done without making a production out of anything, they don’t want to impress the Farbers – they want to amuse themselves.

They’re bored and want to see what will happen to these people when they’re stripped away from any sort of power to defeat an evil that appears to be ordinary. When the film is now viewed 22 and 12 years on, we can make the leap to say Paul and Peter emulate the alt-right or Nazism that has made its way back. Not to say Michael Haneke predicted the return of a toxic obsession of hatred, but it isn’t a stretch that he wasn’t on to something that could have made more of a cultural impact. The only thing worse than evil itself are the ones that exist in plain sight – Paul and Peter never see themselves as evil and that makes it all the scarier.

The violence is never shown but always implied or heard, almost like something you’d read in a novelization. What is shown is shown with a reason, like Ann being pushed off the boat or Peter’s fake death. We see the cruelty from the psychopath’s perspective so they would have control over what happens in the narrative, at least what Paul and Peter consider meaningful. The death of George Jr. or the Farbers’ golden retriever aren’t shown on screen because the boys control the film, and they don’t see those moments as important, unlike the audience. As someone who is always circling back to the idea of humanities tendencies to resort to violence like Haneke, Funny Games is surprisingly restraint with getting its point across yet still manages to be as scary as anything put to screen.

The pacing adds to why the violence never feels bloated when considering the story he wanted to tell and the way he told it. It’s methodical, almost like his fooling around with his audience in places trying to see how long their patience can last when “nothing” happens in a moment of human suffering. I had always seen Haneke blurring the line between reality and fiction given how organically everything is plotted. There isn’t much stylization here but I wouldn’t call it anonymously directed either, the fact that the set up is so banal is purposeful, opting for the satire to do more of the heavy lifting.

Funny Games (2007) – source: Warner Independent Pictures

The film is more or less centered around violence, but also control – what people will do to get it and how others will look when they lose it. The dynamic is inherently lopsided, with Paul and Peter having complete authority over the Farbers, leaving the family in more of a state of a shock rather than a plan of escape we may see in a more conventionally plotted horror film. It is never a question of if the Farbers will receive their control over the situation, but what exactly Paul and Peter will do next to fill their needs. When looking at George Sr., he’s the one that would be expected to handle a situation like this, given the father position typically always protects the family under any threat. However, since Paul hits him in the knee after tension rises, the level of protection that the he would provide has been evaporated. Like The Shining 17 and 27 years before each version of Funny Games, Jack Torrence losing his mind leaves the happy family in shambles – the dad’s inability to be there makes the situation all the more terrifying. It’s arresting to see one side have all the power and the other have none of it, Haneke is interrogating what the viewer really wants out of a film and how it can feel cheap to leave no control of what happens to the characters.

Speaking of a loss of control, it is here that the time rewind scene is all the more brilliant. One of, if not the biggest middle fingers in all of cinema, it shows that Haneke is never in on the side of the protagonists like the audience would be. Instead, using our fascination with sadists to reject any sight of hope. As Ann shoots Peter, we finally receive our catharsis not only because we see violence finally but its the first time that any member of the family has the upper hand. Our main characters have suffered enough for doing nothing at all and some action had been taken, Paul is more than capable than carrying out his promise without Peter but at least she’s leaving marks on the duo.

Then, Paul rewinds the movie with only his knowledge of doing so. It is an audacious ask from Haneke to the audience to have a villain undo something he doesn’t like, but it certainly isn’t out of the ordinary in Funny Games after the multiple fourth wall breaks prior to the rewinding. Usually, this is the checking out point of many viewers expecting a tense horror movie with a banal setup, but Haneke knows this and purposely places this scene towards the end to confirm that there is no more hope for the Farbers while exposing our desire for vengeance.

Funny Games (2007) – source: Warner Independent Pictures

Though Michael Haneke is no stranger to investigating violence and humanities lust for the cruel, Funny Games is where he had always succeeded the most for me. Saying all he needed to say packaged like any other uninspired home invasion thriller, he was on returned to this idea of frank observations and photography. Amour depicts mortality in all its very real rawness and tenderness, The Piano Teacher looking at what repression can to a person when facing difficult pressure, or The White Ribbon interrogating the idea of coincidence of violent tendencies in the face of mass hysteria. I believe Haneke never thinks highly of people in general, which is easy to dismiss since he rarely lets in any hope or joy in his films, yet he still has interesting things to say even if they’re told with an uncompromising voice.

Little things I started to recall on this re-watch before they happened such as the fact that Ann cleans the broken eggs with two towels and puts them both in the dogs’ food dish. Or how George takes this angry bite of a baguette shortly after Paul and Peter leave the movie and he looks so defeated – the bread might even be stale. The way in which he shoots these minimal events surrounding by an exercise in terror shows his provocative knack for details even if he never meant to make these things explicit. Nothing is without purpose to satirize our desire for violence or unsettling the viewer while the movie has that conversation with itself, and I still can’t stop thinking about it.

BIG LITTLE LIES Season 1: The Pursuit of Perfection

Based on the book written by Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies intertwines a dark comedic tale of murder and mischief within the tranquil beachfront town of Monterey, California. Amidst a group of rich and competitive mothers that are fueled by rumors and division within their existing community, the HBO series evolves to be one of the most powerful studies of friendship and trauma that television has ever seen.

The Monterey Five

Told through the eyes of three mothers, Madeline, Celeste and Jane – the series’ narrative explores, thoroughly, society’s myths regarding perfection and its romanticization of marriage, sex, parenting and friendship. Starring Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley and Zoë Kravitz, Big Little Lies tells the story about how women relate to one another – whether that be through fighting, bonding, or a little bit of both.

In the first season, we see our characters building friendships and giving up the ideal images that play in their heads while accepting the choices that they’ve made; this leads them to become united and stronger together, and it all plays out when we enter Monterey. Jane (Shailene Woodley), the younger, less wealthy, and less polished newcomer, serves as our surrogate as we start the series. As we enter the show, we instantly feel out of place right alongside her; a feeling that we are not good enough to be part of this world. Jane expresses her thoughts when she sits down with Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) and Celeste (Nicole Kidman), stating, “You guys are just right. You’re exactly right. And for some reason, that makes me feel wrong I guess.

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Nicole Kidman as Celeste Wright in Big Little Lies (2017)source: HBO

The setting of Big Little Lies is an ideal paradise, and the inhabitants are provoked to feel a certain pressure to be as perfect as the view. Within the first season, we get countless shots of characters staring out at a breathtaking landscape, holding a glass of wine, and stuck replaying some stress that still fathoms in their mind – instead of appreciating the beauty that holds before them. It also seems that the characters’ exhausting pursuit of perfection applies to their looks and loss of youth, to their careers and wealth, and towards their families and domestic bliss.

The Pressure To Be Perfect

Yet as the show progresses, we get insights of our characters realizing that chasing the aim of such perfection is hurting their hopes for real happiness. It’s clear when Madeline thinks she wants something more exciting in her life, but we are often reminded that she is at her happiest when she’s with her husband, Ed. Renata (Laura Dern) finally starts to peak with relaxation and building friendships once she accepts that she can’t always be an infallible mother who protects her daughter from all risks. Celeste, most of all, is a character that has to overcome the overbearing siren of perfection because her appearance to the outside world shows that she has it all – when she in fact doesn’t. She’s introduced to us as the other mothers see her – as the prettiest, richest and cleverest woman in Monterey, with the most handsome husband and perfect sex life to match. So as we watch her character let go of this image that she has kept throughout her whole life, we start to see that, without her charming husband, her life appears the most harrowing out of the women. Upon this realization, we learn that hiding the truth with perfection is what really weakens the characters.

It’s only best if we let out what we see as our worst secrets so that we can be free of them and move on, but Celeste refuses to claim that she is a “victim” and she immediately convinces herself that can handle everything on her own. Obscuring the truth from her therapist, she begins to completely alter the reality when she explains the abuse she is getting from her husband to her closest friend – laughing and shrugging it off with a statement that deems that she is fine with it. However, Celeste is unable to release herself out of danger just through private stoicism, and it’s only when her secret is thrust into the public view that she can finally live without fear and the advantage of perfection.

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Shailene Woodley as Jane Chapman in Big Little Lies (2017)source: HBO

Jane – the victim of abuse from the same man – also shares Celeste’s instinct to share desire to hide the trauma that she’s experienced. Her presence is almost like a personal foil to Madeline in that Jane’s go-to strategy is to stay out of things. Though the first time we see her, she comes across as hesitant to get out of her car and help Madeline, and with her son, Ziggy, questioning a good deed, she realizes that she needs to set a good example for him and proceeds to do the right thing. Her character has to fight her instinctive isolation – and in doing so, she becomes more frequent with allies and evolves a richer lifestyle. Succeeding in becoming more socially open, she learns that running from her emotions won’t do her any good and owns her anger and sadness about what happened to her. In doing so, she’s suddenly able to notice men and imagine new relationships for herself again.

Both Celeste and Jane receive support from their allies in the climatic final battle of the first season, illustrating that what can ultimately save them was to release the pursuit of perfection and allow others to help.

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Reese Witherspoon as Madeline Mackenzie in Big Little Lies (2017) source: HBO

Contending With Other Strong Female Perspectives

Madeline’s perspective in her hometown is to be a fiercely loyal, well-intentioned and generous friend, that both brings people together and draws lines in the sand. But another side to this mother is that she is eager to pick sides and contend with other strong female types – which draws us into rooting for her victory and become transfixed into disliking new characters.

Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz) and Renata are initially presented towards this prospect – Bonnie because she’s married to Madeline’s ex, and Renata due to her aggressive reaction to her daughter getting hurt. Though, what’s curious about our opinion on these two women, is that they’re both types of mothers who, in theory, we should be applauding for. Madeline comes across with such harsh snap judgments, and that given our society’s biases, this tactic would easily cause viewers to dislike a high-powered, strong-minded businesswoman. But over time, with Madeline, we start to see things from Renata’s point of view and realize that she’s only reacting towards the pressure of facing a world that resents her. The response that she takes towards her daughter being physically abused in school is actually reasonable and a plausible reaction. And to this, Renata wins Madeline over by proving she is wise enough to take ownership of her own mistakes.

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Zoë Kravitz as Bonnie Carlson in Big Little Lies (2017) – source: HBO

Bonnie is a character that we should’ve liked from the start because she is portrayed as such a wholesome person. She is fulfilled by work and love, and invested in bringing people together – an image of perfection. But, thanks to Madeline’s jarring judgments, we quickly distrust Bonnie’s sublimity and start to question her motives. However, when Bonnie is revealed to be Perry’s killer and the groups savior, we start to like her because we’ve seen the emotional rawness behind her positive worldview – which we once smirked at – now seeing her character look at the world in a not-so-perfect way.

The show very intentionally puts us against Bonnie and Renata due to the fact that they are deemed as perfect, which only makes us question why we were so eager to dislike these women for their strengths. It also falls against how the series portrays the horrors of physical violence, while also showing Madeline questioning her go-to tactics when participating with verbal and emotional abuse, needing to make enemies and approaching life as a competition.

These combinations come in handy, as Madeline is initially shown to be unfulfilled by her role as a stay-at-home mother – which causes her to let out anger towards her enemies, but also leads her to react with her insecurities and fears of inadequacy. She can relate to her closest friend Celeste who gave up her career to raise her family, but the other women that she bumps into every day represent a life path that Madeline wonders if she should have taken. It’s a sad aspect within her life and because she worries that she’s made the wrong choices, she lashes out with self-destructive behavior. The perfect image that Madeline and Celeste have built for themselves falls down with great relief when they both acknowledge to each other that, as much as they love their children, motherhood doesn’t fulfill their every need and simply can’t be their whole life.

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Laura Dern as Renata Klein in Big Little Lies (2017)source: HBO

Meanwhile, Renata also questions whether she’s made the right decision through the opposite choice: prioritizing her career over full-time childcare. Both women might envy the other for making the “right choices,” but the series teaches us that there is no perfect path without having a few downsides; neither parenting nor career success in itself is going to everything. Big Little Lies suggests that the happiness the characters come across are bonded together through friendships, accepting choices and limits, and not being a slave to impossible expectations of perfection.

Accepting Choices & Limits

Throughout the seven episodes, Jane starts to come to the conclusion that all these perfect people can’t hold everything in place, so she tells the women that they should stop judging themselves so harshly and stop holding their lives to such impossible standards. Of course, the show is encouraging the audience to feel the same relief of knowing that the rich and glamorous aren’t nearly as happy as we might have sought out to imagine.

As the season develops, the cliché falls away around Monterey and reveals that the mothers have presented themselves to be more complex, flawed and interesting than the designer clothes that hang in their wardrobes. Big Little Lies bears a statement that proposes that money doesn’t buy happiness and that everyone has secrets – their accompanying sadness and shame pays absolutely no heed to wealth, status or perfection.

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Big Little Lies – source: HBO

The closing montage of Big Little Lies suggests that the characters have all found contentment within each other and that they’ve learned to accept the choices that they’ve made. Ending with an idyllic beach side picnic featuring every mother and their children, Monterey seems to become a paradise for Celeste and her friends, as they drink wine on a public beach without fear. With everything that they’ve been through together, each woman beams in the sun as the pursuit of perfection no longer carries with them.

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