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Recent Movies: A Royal Affair; Zero Dark Thirty; The Gatekeepers; Books: Dark Nights of the Soul

March 23, 2013

Recent Movies

A Royal Affair

Based on a true story, this historical drama takes place in Denmark in the 1700s.  The mentally disturbed King Christian VII has a personal doctor who manipulates some badly needed reforms in the country while showing a great interest in the king’s wife.

This film is in the genre of beautiful European epics that excel in lighting, music, natural settings, and architectural design.  There is also a fine story in the great resistance to the political reforms by stodgy, deceitful bureaucrats who abuse religion in manipulative ways.

This is all admirable except that there is a feeling this has been done before.  “The Other Boleyn Girl” and the recent version of “Anna Karenina” come to mind as examples of royal brutality and upper-class adultery.  The history is fascinating but it probably neeeded a different style to stand out.  As it is, it seems it could have been reduced by about twenty minutes.

An irony is a post-script that explains the history that follows the ending.  If this had been included in the film (rather than just a post-script), it might have been a bit more interesting.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * 1/2

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Zero Dark Thirty

This film is a fictionalized account of the ten-year hunt to kill Osama bin Laden.

This film has a strong edge to it.  Much of its grit is in the deliberate deglamourization of the settings.  They often look bleak yet considering the real-life locales, it would have been superficial to make them more attractive as is often done in similar films.

Director Kathryn Bigelow does a great job in doing the nearly impossible – something Ben Affleck also did with “Argo” – that is to create a feeling of tension and suspense even when the audience already knows the final outcome.  As the film is more than two and a half hours, this is not an easy task.

The film begins to lag a bit in the midway point.  However, during the last half hour, the grand event shows the build-up was well worth it.  The darkness of the photography in the night-time operation creates a very unique impact.  Also, with a fine lead performance by Jessica Chastain as a CIA officer, “Zero Dark Thirty” ends up as one of the best films of 2012.

Rating:   * * * 1/2

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The Gatekeepers

In this Israeli documentary, six former heads of Shin Bet (the Israeli government security service) are interviewed with respect to the history during the times of their authority and their perspectives on current and past states of affairs.

The film includes footage and simulations of events in Mid-East history during the past forty years.  This footage helps to add variety as the mainly interview format can sometimes fall into the trap of other “talking-head” documentaries i.e. losing viewer attention despite the interesting topic.  Ironically though, watching the footage can also feel depressing at it is a troubling reminder of a demoralizing situation – not only because it has continued for so long but also because no end is in sight.

The real juice happens in the last ten minutes or so when the interviewees make unexpected comments that are shocking and contradictory to the usual rationalizations that often occur with this topic.  While this boldness is very refreshing, it would have been more welcome if it had happened near the middle of the film.  If so, the film might have continued with reactions to these perspectives and had the benefit of a twist in the second half.  As it stands, this is a fine film that didn’t meet its full potential. In any case, its boldness might at least provide a bit of hope in the broader situation.

Rating:   * * 1/2

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Books

“Dark Nights of the Soul”  by Thomas Moore

This non-fiction novel explores a spiritual antidote to life’s difficulties including what is labelled as depression and other mental health issues.

This book was a great pleasure to read especially as it is written by the very thoughtful author of another great book “Care of the Soul” among many others I’ve yet to read.

One of the great appeals of this book is the author taking very unusual perspectives on the various trials of life.  The main theme is that, rather than trying to end a dark night of the soul (e.g. depression), it is better to embrace it using various forms of spirituality, philosophies, and mythologies.

There is a very healthy chapter on using a balanced approach in the attitude toward anger.  Similarly, chapters on the acceptance of the aging process and physical illness were also very reassuring.

Some of the most insightful chapters were those on sexuality and creativity.

Moore’s approach to adultery (or the desire to act on it) is that the object of desire represents a part of the soul that has been suppressed.  Also, he affirms that, regarding sexuality, the hyper-sexuality that exists today is not a true expression of the deeper sexuality at a soul level.  Moore implies that our true sexuality and pleasure emerge not only when we do what we like but also when we respect our own inner boundaries and restrictions.

Regarding creativity, there are powerful remarks about the obsessive idolization of famous performers and celebrities within our culture.  This might cause some of us to deny our own creativity under the belief that this process is restricted only to the potentially famous and the talented few.  The implication is that our creative expression can still emerge in front of any sized audience.

Even as spectators, Moore writes that we can benefit from experiencing melancholy music, movies, plays etc. as a way to get closer to our own soul’s experience if we are in a difficult time.

If I were ever stuck on a desert island, this is one book I would choose to have with me – along with all others by this great author.

Rating:   * * * *

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