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I am in love: with a sixteen year old. A couple of days ago I was in love with a thirteen year old. Same actress, three year old movie.
(Remind you of anything?)
A week ago I never heard of Saoirse Ronan. (Yes, I follow movies, but not all movies. And I follow them on foodstamps, not on some journalism budget.) Then I saw Houdini: Death Defying Acts. Sure Catherine Zeta-Jones is gorgeous. (Yawn.) But it was the little Scots gonif Benji I couldn’t take my eyes off: or my mind.
Mom was in love. and the trouble with love is this:
some people get left out.
I looked her up. Turned out I thought I may have seen her: her Briony in Atonement must have been twelve or so: a year younger than her Houdini mascot.
Keira in Atonement
I instantly I ordered Hanna, watched it the moment it arrived, more than once. Also loved Cate Blanchett’s evil ambiguous, murdering-mother figure.
Cate Blanchett as Marissa
Everybody was good: especially on the other side of the cameras. Now I gotta see everything with Saoirse Ronan, and everything by Joe Wright. Already I realize: he’s also handled Keira Knightly brilliantly. Great movie-making. Never mind the huge consignment of bullshit: it’s great. And all the more I can’t wait to see his Anna Karenina. [A bit later: wowie zowie!]
In particular I commend the “musicality” of his image weaving. It’s obvious when music is the on-screen activity: there are memorable scenes with music: arab woman singing and clapping time as they launder, Flemenco, where everyone in the scene is at one with the 6/8 meter, with variations … But notice how musical it is all the time! (the editing, the image timing … the everything).
I can add here, like a scrapbook. As I live, I will. To close for now let me say: another filmic thing about Hanna I commend is its travelogue character: we start in deep snow, move to a hi-tech s-f alloy-world, pop out among rocks, in a desert … camp around the continents.
Funny: I just borrowed the above image from a film review site where the author seems to have hated it. Maybe he failed to fall in love with the underage star.
When I saw La Dolce Vita, around 1961, I was first disappointed: anything that wasn’t La Strada was disappointing: we’d gone from an apotheosis of the human condition to stroking crassness. But: the movie got into my head, I couldn’t get it out, I obsessed on it. 1971 I got to see it again with a Puerto Rican street intellectual. I was ready to groove, to share worship, to pet her flank: but she was livid with impatience, a monument of irritation, a monument with legs: she got up and walked out! Then I couldn’t re-immerse, couldn’t enjoy.
Remind You of Anything?
As my babble about Zoe’s skinny little assassin said, Colombina was smack in the steal-a-theme tradition of slender-model-as-murderer ripoffs like La Femme Nikita, and the daughter clone with Brigitte Fonda.
Shut My Mouth
2013 10 04 I ordered The Way Back, Peter Weir’s effort with Saoirse Ronan (2010): a great movie with an all around fabulous cast. Saoirse dropped my jaw: the first moment we see her, the second scene we see her, and the final scene: her death scene. I’ll try to highlight some major acting muscles she uses:
- First, I knew she was in the movie, that’s why I’d sought it, though I could well have sought it for Weir too, had I been on a Weir kick: but the movie builds for her entrance, very well done.
Most in the audience would be in a parallel expectation: they saw a girl advertised, they saw a girl in the poster: the movie’s half gone, where is she? Those are external expectations: they’re prompted in us before we see the movie. Now, within the movie’s fiction:
Half a dozen guys are trying to escape from a soviet gulag. Attrition is severe. They’ve brought a few tatters of food with them: still, they’re freezing, malnourished. Hell they were malnourished in the gulag. They sense someone following them. One guy admits to sensing her for days. They cross forest, desert, mountains, but here they’re still in forest. They’re braced for attack with or without a particular stalker. This stalker proves real: but it’s a girl, a young girl: tiny, terrified, herself genuinely starving, far worse than the guys. She’s allowed herself to be sensed, now she allows herself to be seen. Poor girl needs companions, shared resources, shared dangers. She’s seen that that have a little bit of food. But people are dangerous. She’s Polish. Her country has been invaded by Hitler’s Germany from the west and by Stalin’s soviet to the east. Some double bind, damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t.
They spot her. Find this scene and freeze the frame. The girl is committed. Rape, enslavement are the least of her fears: these guys are near cannibalism. A couple of them are frankly selfish in their values.
Anyway, check out Saoirse body language as they first behold her. Macroinformation personified. She looks like an image painted by Goya, or Picasso.
She stands, half turned toward them, half turned away. If they pursue her, could she run? Not well. If they invite her closer maybe she should run anyway. She stands her ground feebly waving her staff, her nothing defense, in the Asian snow, the die cast.
These are not illustrations of these moments, but relate to the atmosphere: Goya, Munch …
(Her posture reminded me also of my basic training: bayonet practice. The sergeant told me to stand only half turned to the target, making myself narrower: hold the rifle before me, stock before my groin. “Protect your nuts,” Sergeant Bradley advised.)
- The guys find a deer mired in muck. It’s the deer they kill, not the girl. She joins them in their feast. Again, she doesn’t disappoint, she knocks my socks off. Sure she’s ravenous, sure she’s single-minded in her eating. Saoirse Ronan continues her acting clinic: again, a saturation of macroinformation: she attacks the meat, eating with her whole face and both hands; yet she’s delicate, female … polite! Starvation civilized.
Whatever these guys think when they first see her, they’re all in love with her (as fathers, brothers) as they travel together.
Bravo, Saoirse, bravo, Peter Weir.
- Her final tableau her death scene: There Weir’s makeup team gets half the credit: and costuming. More than half the credit. Still: it’s a world treasure they’re dressing and making up.
And also I want to know: how much of that acting was Peter Weir’s direction and how much was Saoirse’s invention? I bet a lot of it was her.
More scribble on their first seeing her: One of the delicious tensions concerns the group’s need-for-help and the group’s fear-of-others. Quite right too: a villager (a bandit) could let them sleep in the barn; or the villager (the bandit) could turn them in, have them for dinner, sell them into a different slavery … The girl needs these guys. They need her: in ways they don’t know. … And she could scuttle them.
(I urge all to read Jared’s Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday. He describes a scene in an airport in New Guinea: a generation before the bulk of the people there would never have assembled peaceably together: The World Until Yesterday? See a stranger? Kill them!)
(I suspect that we may have been better off under the default reflex: some people could survive with everyone hostile; everyone patient and waiting? I think 100% may die.) (Oh, Jesus’ advice might have worked had we taken it at the time it was made …)
2014 02 27 I’m just streaming a movie I love the look of so far that uses the same device: a helpless outcast tracking the group of nearly helpless outcasts: Korkoro (2009): Nazis the pursuers in both cases. Here gypsies flee Nazis across southern France. A little blue-eyed kid is ghosting them. Kid is caught between a rock and a hard place. Korkoro seems to mean “freedom”, or “liberty”. It’s great to see it in gypsy, and in French, and in English, subtitled all over the screen.
2015 08 25 I watched it again, The Way Back, bits at a time. First I didn’t love it nearly as much, then I loved it just as much: possibly more. I repeat: I ordered it for Saoirse Ronan: could have ordered it for Peter Weir, or for Ed Harris: damn well should have ordered it for Colin Farrell (and others in the cast!) This third time through I was marveling at everyone and everything: Harris and Farrell so very much. I wept again at the girl’s death: but this time I really wept at the movie ending: Sturgess makes it all the way home: personal drama and world history write on tope of each other. You see, the wife had betrayed the husband: he has to get home so she can see that he forgives her, loves her. Wonderful.
Classic Female Theater Geniuses
I always remember how George Bernard Shaw knocked my socks off: in his review of Elenora Duse on the stage. He wrote it well more than a century ago, I read it half a century ago, but it’s utterly vivid. Shaw reports a play with a vibrant young man. The actor commands the stage, all eyes are on him, he’s riveting: and Duse enters, silent, stage rear. Duse begins to fuss with some flowers in a vase: and, Shaw says, all attention switches to her!
How’d she do it? What is it that great actors do? Part of the answer is merely genetic, or fashion: the guy is handsome, the girl is pretty, the girl is fashionably dressed, the girl is daringly undressed … But that wasn’t Duse. and that isn’t Saoirse Ronan. And it isn’t Meryl Streep, and it isn’t Anthony Hopkins. What do they do!?
Some of what they do remains a mystery, no matter who is writing the wonderment. (My theory of Macroinformation could handle a complete answer better than anything in history: but only if some quorum of minds understood what I was saying: and was willing to pursue it; not just stomp on me.
I’m 75, my life has been taxing. God put me in harm’s way, God leaves me in harm’s way: but, God also rewards me, makes the suffering endurable, even joyful, in ways the careless kleptocratic damned can’t imagine.
The soldier gives Jesus vinegar. Christmas, you’d think that just being crucified would be bad enough! Then a soldier sticks him with a spear. Ditto. Jesus’ suffering is already seemingly “infinite”, especially since he feels infinitely more feelingly than the Roman lout-thugs. But then that suffering escalates, then escalates into a new dimension.
But: there’s Jesus, helpless (for the moment) to do anything but suffer it … except that God lets Jesus see in those moments what the consequences to his tormenters will be!
Put it crassly (crass is the only possibility in a natural human language): Jesus thinks, Ooo, that hurt: but Jesus also sees how the hurt will boomerang to the hurter. Oh, this guy was going to have his nuts eaten by squirrels for ten million years, now he’s going to have his nuts eaten by squirrels for ten billion years, while he watches his daughters raped by a white hot poker, while he himself is raped by a white hot crowbar.
Sad fact is: God doesn’t have to exist, or be in charge, or administer things like a Nazi, for all of those negative causes to be certain. The idiot smokes, someone says to the idiot, “Don’t smoke”, the idiot smokes and causes the do-gooder to lose his job …
The do-gooder suffers: but not as much as the smoker!
It doesn’t matter that the smoker doesn’t know it, it doesn’t matter that the smoker denies it: it’s still the smoker who gets the cancer, gives the cancer: while it could be shown, to an intelligence that is, that it’s the smoker who’s responsible for his species mortality. He he been smarter, mortality might have been mortal! Another still-born sentience, species, biosphere.
So: I’m 75. Even at Judgment I don’t believe that God will be able to explain to humans where they missed the boat. (Can God make the pickpocket believe that he shouldn’t have picked the pocket? Is the pickpocket’s “understanding” a pre-requisite for being thrown into hell?) Stop it Knatz, make the point. I’m old, I’m a mess; but what an ecstasy to see this great young talent. The world has wonders in it no matter how many saints and angels get tortured. No matter how many messages get interrupted, other messages get through. Not enough to save the damned, but enough to entertain the sabotaged.
All the cast is good. Ed Harris is always something to see. He’s the cynic: and Weir punishes him before our eyes:
Her vulnerable decency teaches him the charity he’d denied, following the false god of survival. He’d lost a son, now he’s losing a daughter, but only after gaining a daughter.
Her death scene is his resurrection scene!
Her death scene is his resurrection scene!
PS Let me take the occasion to repeat a line. Colin Farrell is very good as a Russian thug with Stalin tattooed on his chest. Some spiritual-seeming guy warns the others away from this thug and his knife: he seems experienced with it: we saw him kill someone for a sweater. Ah, but the thug speaks, to his tormentor. This is a right paraphrase if not an exact quote:
I bet you yourself have killed.
A guy who prays as much as you do
can’t be innocent.
Weir is from down under, but this film is very Russian: Tolstoy, Dostoievsky. Ed Harris’ character mocks the Christian among them: the cynic thinks the charitable man is a fool, a fool he’ll gladly take advantage of. Harris says the idiot would carry him if he lost his own mobility. Sure, the mass murderer says to Jesus, “Save me, go ahead. Damn idiot.”
But: it’s the Harris character who winds up carrying their Polish girl.
And I love how she tells him to put her down.
“Put me on the ground,” she instructs. He does. Then he puts his suffering face on her midsection.
Once upon a time, in the Middle Ages, when the old person felt they were dying they asked to be removed from the bed and placed on the floor. Once upon a time they would then promptly die.
I’m getting nostalgic in my old age.
2013 11 20 Just saw The Lovely Bones. I’m ordering everything I can find with her in it, and other films by Joe Wright also. The Lovely Bones is filling me with thoughts related to philosophy I may wind up commenting on, things not related to Saoirse Ronan. Hell of a role there tough for a fourteen year old to carry. She displays more facial expression just in Bones than other actresses in a long career.
2014 01 20 And so it goes. I saw Hanna again the other evening with Jan. Exposures are accreting.
2014 04 15 And now I’ve seen a couple of stinkers, painful to watch more than a few minutes of. The Host I’ve bailed out of, don’t know if I’ll pursue it to the end. How I Live Now I regret completing. 2016 09 17 I’m just launching City of Ember. I haven’t seen two minutes of it yet, but it’s a stinker already. Still, any glimpse of Saoirse Ronan’s genius is valuable. 2016 09 18 It’s three years now since I started the Saoirse Ronan kick this post is an early example of. I’m stuck in a stinker but I’m adoring my memory of Atonement. Briony is such a great complex character. Gotta watch it again, and maybe reread the novel: and read more Ian McEwan. Smart guy.
Long Live the King
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