Aug 01

“Captain Fantastic”: Lifestyle of Protest

He Prepared Them For Everything Except The Outside World. Tagline for Captain Fantastic

Matt Ross‘s indie film Captain Fantastic is not as its title might suggest. Not a comic-book-style action hero, Viggo Mortensen‘s lead character Ben Cash is actually the patriarch of an alternatively raised family in the Pacific Northwest.

Manohla Dargis, New York Times, sets up the plot:

For years, [Ben] and his ailing dream of a wife, Leslie (Trin Miller), have been living with their six kids…on a compound where they have thrived beautifully without electricity, a sewer line or trend alerts about the Kardashians. By day, Ben teaches and trains the children, racing them through the woods like Olympians or Special Forces soldiers. At night, the family plays music together and reads by firelight — leafing through books one page at a time — before bedding down in the communal tepee…

Ben and Leslie have opted to live in seclusion as a matter of principle, having embraced protest as an ideal. At its loftiest, their profound seclusion suggests that they’re spiritual and philosophical heirs to an isolationist like Henry Thoreau; at worst, it suggests fanaticism, cultishness, selfishness…

Instead of holidays like Christmas, the Cash family celebrates Noam Chomsky Day. By way of introducing the noted social philosopher here, one sampling I found of Chomsky is quite relevant to today’s political theater: “The more you can increase fear of drugs, crime, welfare mothers, immigrants and aliens, the more you control all of the people.”

A quote that becomes germane to Captain Fantastic and is voiced by a well-learned Cash child: “If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.”

David Edelstein, Vulture: “You could actually think of the movie as Noam Chomsky’s Little Miss Sunshine.”

Let me explain further…

A major turning point early on involves a crisis regarding Leslie’s mental health. We learn she’s been away for months in order to get help for her bipolar disorder—but soon enough we also find out she’s taken her own life. Not fans of Ben’s influence on their daughter, her parents (Frank Langella and Ann Dowd) bar him from the funeral, which becomes yet another thing to protest.

Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times: “...(T)he Cashes decide to steer their bus toward the big city, crash Mom’s church funeral and honor her wish to be cremated in a Buddhist ceremony.”

A brief summary of what ensues (Alonso DuraldeThe Wrap): “Just when you think the film is smugly poising Ben’s rebel-outsider mentality against the close-mindedness of his late wife’s parents, ‘Captain Fantastic’ steps up and acknowledges that some of Ben’s parenting techniques might actually be endangering his own children, and it makes the case that home-schooling and living off the land can be great and valuable, but socialization skills can come in handy as well.”

Watch the trailer for Captain Fantastic below:

May 06

“The Meddler”: Mom, Grief, Boundaries, Therapy

…(I)n its heart, it’s a story about the lived experience of grief. Marnie is still dealing with the death of her husband, and Lori with her father. Matt Zoller Seitz,, regarding The Meddler

A recommended alternative to the widely panned Mother’s Day this weekend is writer-director Lorene Scarfaria‘s semi-autobiographical The Meddler, which has “a diminutive and misleading title for such an affecting, often profound film,” states reviewer Matt Zoller Seitz, His intro:

Susan Sarandon plays the title character, Marnie Minervini, a sixty-something mom who moves from New York to Los Angeles to be closer to her screenwriter daughter Lori (Rose Byrne), who just broke up with her actor boyfriend (Jason Ritter). Marnie is one of those mothers who calls her daughter five times in the space of a couple of hours, leaving a message each time Lori doesn’t pick up, then leaves ten more messages throughout the day because she’s worried about not having heard back from her yet. Her daughter can’t take her relentlessness, so Marnie channels her energy into mothering strangers and near-strangers…

The trailer:

The Role of Therapy in The Meddler

Peter Debruge, Variety: “To the extent that the film is therapeutic, Scafaria clearly wrote it as a way to process her and [mom] Gail’s wildly different approaches to processing [dad] Joseph’s passing — going so far as to involve actual therapy sessions, in which Mom decides to see the same shrink in hopes of hearing what Lori won’t share with her directly.”

How this happens in the film is that Lori has set out to establish some needed guidelines with her mom. Bob Mondello, NPR: “‘I’ve been talking to my therapist,’ she begins, and you see Marnie’s eyes moisten before she even gets to the ‘boundaries’ part. Then mom’s out the door, and straight to the therapist. The therapist they share — so much for boundaries.”

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: “Marnie has started to see the therapist (Amy Landecker in a quick, deadpan turn) at Lori’s urging, though mostly she seems to go as a way to insinuate herself even more deeply into her daughter’s life. It’s no wonder that Marnie seems like a smother-mother who’s one 911 call away from a restraining order; no wonder too that she seems lonely.”

Marnie doesn’t stick with the shrink, though. 

In conclusion, Ella Taylor, NPR: “The great thing about The Meddler is that it doesn’t force Marnie to change all that much. She comes to see that she needs to take care of herself as well as others. Likewise, Lori comes to accept the gift that’s been in front of her nose all along, and to accept that what’s most annoying (to her, if not to her friends) about her mother is also what’s finest about her.”

Aug 27

“The Trauma of Everyday Life” By Mark Epstein: Universal Condition

…(T)rauma, if it doesn’t destroy us, wakes us up to both our minds’ own capacity and to the suffering of others. It makes us more human, caring, and wise. It can be our greatest teacher, our freedom itself, and it is available to all of us. Publisher of The Trauma of Everyday Life

Last month was the release of psychiatrist and Buddhist Mark Epstein‘s The Trauma of Everyday Life, which acknowledges not only that we are all affected by trauma but also that going through the pain is an important part of growth.

What’s also important, though, is how the author defines trauma. Micah Toub, The Globe and Mail: “…Trauma in this book means both serious events such as losing a job or a loved one, but also small disappointments, failures, and that old intangible existential angst that bog us down on a daily basis. Even if all seems okay, he encourages us to remember: ‘The spectre of loss is always hovering.'”

And actual loss also hovers. As Epstein told his own mother, who was feeling guilty at some point for still grieving the death of her spouse, “Trauma never goes away completely. It changes perhaps, softens some with time, but never completely goes away” (The New York Times, 2013).

According to various book descriptions, The Trauma of Everyday Life combines Buddhist thought and stories with the work of psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott (1896-1971).

QUOTES ON DEALING WITH TRAUMA (from the above NYT article):

  • Trauma is not just the result of major disasters. It does not happen to only some people. An undercurrent of trauma runs through ordinary life, shot through as it is with the poignancy of impermanence.
  • I like to say that if we are not suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, we are suffering from pre-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Our world is unstable and unpredictable, and operates, to a great degree and despite incredible scientific advancement, outside our ability to control it.
  • In resisting trauma and in defending ourselves from feeling its full impact, we deprive ourselves of its truth.
  • When disasters strike we may have an immediate empathic response, but underneath we are often conditioned to believe that “normal” is where we all should be.
  • Grief is not the same for everyone. And it does not always go away. The closest one can find to a consensus about it among today’s therapists is the conviction that the healthiest way to deal with trauma is to lean into it, rather than try to keep it at bay. The reflexive rush to normal is counterproductive. In the attempt to fit in, to be normal, the traumatized person (and this is most of us) feels estranged.
  • The willingness to face traumas — be they large, small, primitive or fresh — is the key to healing from them. They may never disappear in the way we think they should, but maybe they don’t need to. Trauma is an ineradicable aspect of life. We are human as a result of it, not in spite of it.

Kirkus Reviews: “Although the Buddhist wisdom he imparts isn’t always necessarily layman-friendly, the connections he makes mostly steer clear of spiritualist mumbo jumbo or, for that matter, clinical psychobabble. However, some readers may get the sense that his main thesis—which could probably be summed up in the line, ‘If one can treat trauma as a fact and not a failing, one has the chance to learn from the inevitable slings and arrows that come one’s way’—is stretched a bit too far and isn’t quite enough to effectively carry an entire book.”

May 07

“The End of Eve”: Caregiving a “Crazy” Mom

The website of prolific author Ariel Gore notes that her new book, The End of Eve, has been called “Terms of Endearment meets Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” (For info on Terms, see this link.)

Part of the publisher’s description of Gore and The End of Eve:

At age 39, Ariel Gore has everything she’s always wanted: a successful writing career, a long-term partnership, a beautiful if tiny home, a daughter in college and a son in preschool. But life’s happy endings don’t always last. If it’s not one thing, after all, it’s your mother. Her name is Eve. Her epic temper tantrums have already gotten her banned from three cab companies in Portland. And she’s here to announce that she’s dying. ‘Pitifully, Ariel,’ she sighs. ‘You’re all I have.’ Ariel doesn’t want to take care of her crazy dying mother, but she knows she will. It’s the right thing to do, isn’t it? And, anyway, how long could it go on? ‘Don’t worry,’ Eve says. ‘If I’m ever a burden, I’ll just blow my brains out.’

Why Did Gore Choose toTake Care of Her “Crazy Dying” Mom?

As told to July Westhale, Lambda Literary:

I became my mom’s caregiver because she was widowed and only had two kids and my sister refused to have anything to do with it. So it fell to me to take it on or to abandon her, which was certainly an option. I think usually if there is a queer kid in the family it falls to the queer kid to do the caregiving. In the same way that if there are no queers but there’s a female—it would fall to the female before it fell to the male children very generally speaking.

Kirkus Reviews: “Convinced that she needed to do as the Tibetan yogis she admired did and ‘go to the places that scared [her],’ she became Eve’s caregiver.”

Eve Under Gore’s Care

Kirkus Reviews: “…(H)er mother took over the house her daughter had bought and began renovating it. While the author and her family scrambled to make a life ‘out of stardust and panic,’ Eve flirted outrageously with an Anaïs Nin scholar–turned-contractor, watched Hollywood noir movies and reminded everyone that she was dying.”

What Happens to Gore’s Life?

For one, she gets kicked out of her own house after standing up to her mom. For another, her 10-year relationship goes kaput.

Susie Bright, author: “This is the story of the world’s most startlingly insane, beautiful mother who was supposed to die in one year— but nearly killed her entire family and staff before she was through.”

Kirkus Reviews: “…(T)he life Gore had ‘always imagined she [wanted]’ soon fell apart. Desperate to understand her own role in making ‘all this violence seem necessary and inevitable,’ Gore fled to a house outside of Santa Fe where she began redefining the meaning of love.”

She meets someone new. Readers will only know this new love interest as “The Chef.”

What Kind of Caretaker is Gore?

Wayne Scott, Oregon Live: “Without defensiveness, Gore maintains her compassion and loyalty. In spite of her mother’s abandonments and manipulations, up to the last days of her life, Gore remains steadfast, trying to set up hospice, bringing food, and worrying.”

Mar 21

“The Face of Love”: A Psychological Love Story with Annette Bening

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter, sets up the premise of the Vertigo-compared The Face of Love, a new psychological love story:

Depicting an episode of grief-fueled insanity that might tempt anyone in the same situation, Arie Posin‘s The Face of Love offers a widow who, upon meeting her husband’s doppelganger five years after his death, can’t help but pretend he’s the man she’s loved her whole life. Annette Bening captivates as the self-delusionist, with Ed Harris ruggedly irresistible as the object of her fantasy.

Nikki had been married about 30 years when she became a widow—her husband Garrett drowned while out swimming one night. Since then her life hasn’t been the same, of course. Meeting the lookalike Tom (who’s divorced from Amy Brenneman‘s character) is one thing, but not telling him why she’s so drawn to him—not even that the man he so closely resembles is dead—is another.

In similar fashion, she also avoids letting either her friend Roger (Robin Williams) or her daughter (Jess Weixler) meet Tom.

You can watch the trailer for The Face of Love below:

The reviews so far have been less than stellar, with more kudos going to the actors than anything else. Some excerpts follow:

Claudia Puig, USA Today: “It’s a maudlin, superficial exercise in obsession masquerading as a heartfelt romance and study of grief, and character development is sorely lacking.”

Justin Chang, Variety: “…verges on ludicrous, but ultimately succeeds at conveying one person’s complicated yet emotionally rational response to a highly irrational situation.”

Manohla Dargis, The New York Times: “…(T)he main attractions are Ed Harris and a deeply appealing Annette Bening as two — actually, make that three — characters brought together by fate and a screenplay that promisingly flirts with fantasy only to come crashing down to bummer earth.”

John DeForeHollywood Reporter: “Posin and co-screenwriter Matthew McDuffie find a wholly credible resolution to this love story, but they can’t resist a coda that is pat enough (especially in its final shot) to be described as tacky. It’s an end as emotionally tidy as the premise is thorny.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “A trite, unconvincing ending, in the form of a credo, finally succumbs to the kind of melodrama the rest of the movie successfully avoids and leaves an unsettling aftertaste. But the acting is bliss.”