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Identity Crisis and Star Trek Discovery


Like many people (and unlike many others) I have been enjoying the first season of Star Trek Discovery which came to an end this week after many months. Personally I’ve enjoyed the ride through an uneven but interesting installment of a franchise I’ve been following on and off basically since birth. I know there’s an entire legion of people, however, who have hated the show with a passion for various reasons, to the extent that I’ve seen it described as the most divisive Star Trek ever.

Much of the discourse has been related to different ideas of what Star Trek ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be. Interestingly, this question of identity reflects many of the show’s own themes in a way that highlights why this incarnation of Trek is (whether successful or not) a fascinating examination of both itself and its audience.

Full spoiler warnings and all that. I’m going to be discussing the entirety of Discovery’s first season, so don’t read on if you’re still to catch it.


The opening credits hint at the theme of deconstruction and analysis.

Star Trek Discovery is, above all else, about identity. Klingons (whose design has been decried by many fans as not being faithful to their original look or first redesign) roar ‘Remain Klingon’ from the bridge of their ship of the dead, a huge warship adorned with the sarcophagi of their fallen comrades. They despise and fear Star Fleet whom they see as trying to dilute their identity, forcing them to conform and integrate themselves into what they see as a universal socialist empire. Star Fleet officers find themselves unable to agree on the role of their organisation and what actions are or aren’t acceptable during a time of war, often citing protocol and telling each other what is (or isn’t) the way Star Fleet should operate.

This has been a conversation that fans have (whether meaning to or not) been quite glad to get involved in. Much of the criticism against the show has revolved around fans’ expectations and demands of what a Star Trek show should look like. It doesn’t take long in any comment board to find instances of fans claiming that this isn’t ‘their’ Star Trek or that the characters don’t act as Star Fleet officers should, by which they mean they don’t act as characters from previous outings have. These sort of discussions are to be expected with such a well loved franchise and they are something that not only the show-runners expected but have relied on to aid the show’s narrative and to subvert the audience’s expectations of the show.

From the outset Discovery has been using the difference between the Federation, the Klingon Empire and the Terran Empire (as well as the opposing ideologies within each faction) to interrogate the social identity of the characters, us as viewers and of Star Trek itself. If Discovery seemed like it didn’t know what it wanted to be at first, that is because it has been questioning what it could be from the beginning.

Discovery’s story, in a nutshell, asks what happens when an inclusive, expansive society comes up against isolationism and nonconformity. At the same it looks at what happens in the opposite situation; if a person (or species) refuses to allow themselves be integrated (or perhaps assimilated, if you like the comparison) into this sort of conglomeration. In short, according to Discovery, they will come into conflict. Not just with each other but also with themselves, bastardizing and compromising their own ideologies. In the show this results in a war between the two species which is exacerbated by the in-fighting between the 24 Klingon houses. The war spreads engulfing everything in its path and wearing away the moral and ideological mentalities of everyone involved until no one’s sense of identity is left fully in tact.

This theme isn’t only explored in the series’ overall plot but also through each of its characters. The question of fractured ideology and damaged identity can be seen again and again through the many splintered personalities of the show’s cast. Each character represents and explores a different aspect of identity or the lack thereof.


Identity Perception Crisis – The ‘Disco’ t-shirts were a smooth way to discourage fans from using the acronym ‘STD’.

Michael Burnham doesn’t know who she is. Raised by Vulcans she struggles with the logic-based philosophy she was brought up with and the emotions she’s always been told to suppress. Despite this, she had made her way into the a second-in-command position under the maternal guidance of Captain Philippa Georgiou. When this reality is pulled away from her, through both internal and external miscalculations, her identity is thrown into crisis. Lorca gives her a second chance but the damage has already been done and Michael no longer knows who she is and what her place in society should be anymore. Much of the series is focused on the journey Michael takes in rediscovering herself.

As a complete counterpoint to Michael, Lorca knows very well who he is but it turns out that he is not who he says he is. Considering he is the captain of the Discovery (a role that has typically acted as figurehead in previous Trek outings) this deception colours the entire series until its reveal and has deep implications for Michael as well as every other character. To further explore the theme of hidden, mistaken or withheld identity we also have Empress Georgiou, Captain Philippa’s mirror universe double, who is physically not the person she was despite how much Michael (and the audience) want her to be.

Even the characters who are more secure in their identities are made to question it throughout the series. Saru knows who he is but is constantly challenged by his nature and even has a complete personality flip at one point. Ensign Tilly must act unlike herself in the guise of Captain Killy. Stamets must confront his doppelganger. The entire crew must, in the end, confront Lorca and measure the man he is against the man they thought he was, while weighing the validity of his words that he forged their collective identity, making them the tight-knit group of fighters they are by the end.

All these character interactions are a deeper, multifaceted exploration of the show’s wider question of identity. But of course, the rabbit hole goes even deeper and so does Discovery, honing in further on the fractured personality of one character; Taylor/Voq. This character is the most complex examination of fractured identity in the show but also has another function. Rather than simply provoking more questions it is through this character that Discovery begins searching for an answer.

tumblr_inline_oy1uws4y5L1qebpxc_540Taylor/Voq is a representation of what happens when two opposing ideas or ideologies are jammed together carelessly. Like the larger social and political framework, the result is confused, messy and desperate. Voq tries to claw his way out of Taylor’s body while Taylor himself begs for help understanding who and what he is. The two personalities can’t find a unified state. It’s like trying to forge a Hegelian synthesis from a thesis and antithesis that have been lain on top of each other but not given the chance to interact properly.

It’s what happens when left-wing radicalism meets right. Neither side wants to give way to the other and they’re unable (or unwilling) to see each others’ point of view. The result is chaos and aggression, and before long, both sides, although different in principle, begin to resemble one another. Each ideology begins using the others jargon and the same hateful rhetoric can be seen from each side, just inverted.

An example of this can be taken from Trek fans themselves and the way so many people have reacted to the show. A very vocal contingent of the audience has decried its use of diversity in casting. I’ve heard it said that the inclusion of women of colour and a gay couple as main characters is a result of ‘Social Justice Warrior’ mentality. Others, while acknowledging its positive contribution in this area, have called faul of the series’ darker, grittier and more violent tone in comparison to its predecessors, calling for a return to a more wholesome and faithful vision. Others still will defend it blindly, stating that Trek has always pushed boundaries and only looks blindly optimistic (possibly naively so) in retrospect. There are a lot of rage-filled message boards but not a lot of genuine conversation on the matter, or certainly not on the surface anyway. There definitely seems to be a ‘for or against’ mentality when it comes to the show which doesn’t leave much room for discussion and seems to mirror how a lot of political discourse takes place on the internet currently.

Most of Discovery’s criticism is wrapped up in the questions of what Star Trek ‘is’ or ‘should be’. There seems to be a disconnect between what Trek’s place in the world was and what it is now. This is exacerbated by the fact that when reading reviews of the show form pop culture websites such as io9 or gamesradar+ we seem to be getting a discourse about what the writer thinks the show should be rather than what it actually is. One gets the sense that these reviewers had decided on their opinion of the show long before it even premiered and as such the reviews become much less about the show and more about the reviewers themselves. Very few discussions about the show are able to reach a mutual understanding or even acknowledgment of each others’ opinions. Star Trek Discovery is either brilliant, embodying the true values of Roddenbury’s boundary pushing epic or awful, an insult to the series’ legacy and a product of contemporary television’s obsession with ‘grit’. The truth, of course, is probably somewhere in bstdetween.

Because of all the contrary opinions before the project had even taken off, the showrunners had a lot to consider. Not just regarding the story, design and style of the show, but also its politics, ideals and how it should approach them.

I think Taylor/Voq is what Star Trek Discovery might have looked were it not given the time to explore its place in the world: Retro, nostalgia-laden optimism pasted over an adverse sociopolitical climate and thrown into a more cynical and exploitative televisual landscape. It most likely wouldn’t have worked. But through Taylor/Voq’s suffering the show is able to begin reconciling its vision with its ideology and history. Taylor looks good to begin with, he’s tough, charming and has heart, but as time goes by the cracks start to show. He’s damaged, lost and, worst of all, it turns out he is not what he thought he was, what he wants to be or what he ‘should’ be. It’s a struggle Star Trek Discovery was always going to have.

When Voq’s previous second-in-command, L’rell, finally agrees to work with Star Fleet doctors to help him we begin to see a more real synthesis. Through a mutual love for the confused mess that is Taylor/Voq they put aside their radical ideologies and work together to save whatever identity is left in him. It’s the first real compromise on both sides and a sign that it is possible to forge a relationship between these two identities, both Tayor and Voq as well as Star Fleet and the Klingon Empire. It’s this compromise which will eventually lead to the end of the war which is neither won nor lost, but firmly seated in compromise.

Before they can get to this point though, the crew of the Discovery find themselves in the Mirror Universe during the second half of the series. Here they are forced to see their organisation reflected through a lens of race-hate and opportunism, in the form of the Terran Empire. Unfortunately, the reality they see isn’t so far away from that of their own universe and, in some ways, even closer to our own. The darkness witnessed there is the kind of darkness found in all humanity.

Jasen Issacs said, of the Mirror Universe:

How different are any of us from the Mirror version of ourselves? […] This particular administration in America has brought some of the ugliest parts of human nature out from in the shadows.
[…] What Ted (Sullivan, co-executive producer of the show) did, which I thought was so brilliant, is make [the Mirror Universe] not that far from us. So, it is a world where people are slightly more Darwinian. That whole “Make the Empire glorious again” and not all races are equal. We worked hard on that speech that Lorca gives to make it not that far from the way many people around us think.

In Star Trek Discovery all universes, all beings and all identities are bound together through the Mycelial Network; the roots that hold all of creation together. This shows that all these differing ideologies are intertwined and closer in kind than each would care to admit. It’s important that Lorca’s slogan ‘make the Empire great again’ is not a far cry from the Klingon’s ‘remain Klingon’, and both have very clear real world counterparts. The implication is that our own universe is also part of this network and Discovery hopes, as does all good science fiction, to act as our own mirror universe.


It is in Discovery’s Mirror Universe, the realm of literal and metaphorical self reflection, that the crew finally come to see themselves for who they are, who they could be and who they must aspire to become. This is all put into words by Saru in the engineering room where he speaks to the crew in what is much less an address and more a meeting. He says speaks about releasing themselves from their confused and fearful past by stating ‘Lorca abused our idealism. But make no mistake, Discovery is no longer Lorca’s, she is ours, and this will be her maiden voyage.’ The scene is a direct reversal of an earlier moment in which Lorca stands in the same room and announces that the ship was ‘not a democracy’.

It’s from the moment of Saru’s speech that the characters start to embody the true ideals of the Federation and we begin to see the original utopian ideals Trek is famous for. It’s no accident that one of the last lines spoken in the mirror universe arc is; ‘That is who Star Fleet is. That is who I am.’

This becomes a mantra of sorts and is constantly repeated throughout the final two episodes and culminates in Michael’s speech in which it becomes a kind of manifesto for the show.

In the end of the Mirror Universe arc the merging and fixing of the show’s fractured identities is reaffirmed as the crew make their way back to their original universe through the Mycelial Network and ‘the clearing in the forest’; a moment of quiet introspection where you can see the world around you and your place in it without being ‘among the trees’, as it were.

Of course, on their return, not all is as it should be and the crew instantly come up against yet another crisis and are forced to stand by their newfound sense of identity even when other member’s of Star Fleet bend under the pressure, allowing themselves to stoop to ever lower depths in desperation. But the crew of the Discovery have leant and grown throughout their journey. They have not only interrogated but embodied the ideals of Star Fleet and it is their confidence in who they must be that paves the way for true change and for the future of not just the show’s world but for the show itself.

After everything has been said and done, Michael puts into words the show’s statement of intent:

No, we will not take shortcuts on the path to righteousness. No, we will not break the rules that protect us from our basest instincts. No, we will not allow desperation to destroy moral authority. I am guilty of all these things. Some say in life there are no second chances. Experience tells me that this is true but we can only look forward. We have to be torchbearers. Casting the light so we may see our path to lasting peace. We will continue exploring, discovering new worlds and civilisations. Yes, that is the United Federation of Planets. Yes, that is Star Fleet. Yes, that is who we are and who we will always be.

Star Trek Discovery is a strange show that takes many risks both in terms of its story and as a show. It relies heavily on a novel-like structure more than many shows I’ve seen that may still be serialised but not novelistic. The show’s first half is much grimmer and more pessimistic than that of its second and the writers ran the risk of alienating much of the audience who didn’t want to see such things from the classic franchise. But the show needed that time to interrogate its own identity, asking what place Star Trek has and what form it should take in a world that seems to be turning its back on Utopian ideals. By testing its characters (and its audience) morally and intellectually it has endeavoured to justify its own existence in our current political, social and televisual climate. Michael’s final speech sums up the series investigation and its discoveries. Now it knows what it is and who its Federation is, the show can start working towards reaching the goal of creating a believable, honest vision of utopia that is relevant to today’s audience.

Ted Sullivan said about Saru’s speech;

We get it. We believe in Star Trek and Starfleet too. We just had to go through this journey of twelve episodes.



Live long and prosper



Tetsuo: The Iron Man – Futurism



I’m always on a quest to watch films that people recommend as being ‘odd’, ‘weird’, ‘surreal’ or otherwise ‘bat-shit mental’. As such, you can probably imagine that I’m no stranger to Japanese cinema. With their penchant for over-the-top violence, surreal imagery and absurdism a lot of really interesting and bizarre film comes out of Japan, some of which is beautiful, disturbing, fascinating and prolific, and some of which is just absolutely mad.

Despite my interest in expressionist and experimental cinema, I’d never actually seen the world famous Tetsuo: The Iron Man until last night. Wow, what a ride that was! It’s one of those films that you don’t so much watch as you experience.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a 1988 black and White tour de force of filmaking which explores concepts of dehumanisation at the hands of industry and technology. It’s often paired up with the Cyberpunk genre although I’m not convinced that’s a satisfactory label for the film. Tetsuo defies genre mixing elements of surrealism, body horror, sci fi, action, erotica and more into an hours bombardment of images and ideas.

The main thing that kept floating through my head as I watched it, was a paragraph from the Futurism Manifest written by F. T. Marinetti in 1909.

Futurism was/is an art movement which began in Italy. It sought to move away form ideas of the past and instead focus on the future. It was a bold, brash movement which reveled in concepts of speed, violence, machinery and industry. Motion became a staple of Futurizmo and objects such as motor cars and aeroplanes were incredibly important to them. The futurists sought to move the world forward into an industrial age with force, by fiercely rejecting the past and storming ahead with all the power of a locomotive. They glorified war and spat on ideas of morality, feminism and peace.

For me, watching Tetsuo: The Iron man was like seeing the ideas of Futurism on screen in beautiful and terrifying clarity.

Tetsuo begins as it means to continue as we are assaulted with harsh images of an industrial suburb of the city. A man, identified in the credits as ‘Fetishist’ enters his home, which is full of unidentifiable mechanics, wires, gears and metal rods. Here the camera glides erratically over the collection of strange and almost alien mechanics, set to a pounding, metallic soundtrack. Suddenly and without warning the fetishist slashes open his leg and forces a length of metal tubing into the wound. Later, when he unwraps it he’s horrified to see that the wound has become infected and has begun to rot, covered in maggots. In horror he runs out into the street and is knocked over by a car. This scene, in contrast, is backed by smooth 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll. Again we’re treated to an all too familiar but strangely otherworldly landscape of metal and wire, as well as the words ‘NEW WORLD’ written on a piece of scenery.

This cinematic punch to the face is a bold opening statement already mixing images of agony with pleasure, ugliness with beauty and progression with death. These mixed messages will continue and grow throughout the film until one is barely discernible from the other, pleasure becomes about agony, ugliness becomes beauty. This mirrors some of the ideas written in the Futurist manifesto about 80 years earlier when they speak of a ‘new beauty’, a beauty far away from the traditional concept which glorifies nature and calmness, but instead acknowledges speed, noise and the unnatural:


We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath … a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.

The story of Tetsuo begins some time after the car crash and follows the man who knocked over the fetishist. He begins to notice bits of metal protruding from his skin and over the course of the film he slowly and painfully transforms into a sort of human junkyard.

In this context the idea of a man turning into a sort of mechanical monstrosity is of course a metaphor for the dominance of industry over nature. It mirrors the way a city grows, swallowing the landscape around it, exactly the way Tetsuo is swallowed by the metal in his body. It also speaks of the dehumanisation of man as we become just parts of a larger mechanism, a message which has been found in films before, most notably in another futurism inspired masterpiece; Metropolis. This isn’t the only similarity Tetsuo bares to Metropolis. The way Fritz Lang filmed close ups of moving machines in a way to make them otherworldly is very similar to what Tsukamoto is doing in Tetsuo. Some of the expressive performances in Tetsuo are also very reminiscent of certain scenes/characters in Metropolis.

Of course the story isn’t only working on an abstract level but on a literal one too. The idea of man literally becoming machine is very prominent in futurism and from it concepts such as Transhumanism and Technological Singularity have risen. In 1927 Fritz Lang was affected by this when making Metropolis in the wake of the First World War, as Anton Kaes noted in his essay Metropolis: City, Cinema, Modernity;

Millions of veterans with prostheses and mechanical body parts—half machine, half human—walked the streets… The war and its aftermath provided the ultimate context for modernism, Metropolis offers a hallucinatory vision of the relationship between humanity and machine.
For Tsukamoto in 1988 this was becoming even more prevalent with the use of computers and mobile phones and with the rapid expansion of industry in Japan. People were really experiencing their lives changed by technology as they were brought into a, as Tsukamoto puts it, new world. And it’s still relevant to us today. As our lives are becoming further integrated with technology the idea of man becoming machine (at least in part) is closer to reality than ever. In fact, in a recent interview Ray Kurzweil, an American inventor, writer and self proclaimed futurist spoke about an event he calls ‘The Singularity’ which marks the time when our machines will be so advanced and intelligent that they’ll be on-par with humanity. At this time our lives (and physical bodies) will start to become completely integrated with technology. In a statement that in some ways evokes the image of Tetsuo with his metal growths bursting from inside, Kurzweil says;

tetsuo early

It’s not some alien invasion of intelligent machines coming from Mars to invade us. It’s coming from within our civilization and the whole point of it is to extend our reach.

And this is what is happening In Tetsuo. As he metamorphoses into his new metal form, he in many ways becomes better, stronger, more powerful whilst all the while loosing his compassion, love and gentility. Seen from a futurist perspective we can acknowledge that these more human sensibilities make one weak and their loss is a positive thing. By replacing these with raw power and aggression he becomes stronger, better, more able to take on the future. As a metaphor this is strikingly similar to the way the futurists called for the destruction of art galleries, libraries and academies because they stifle creation. In order to move forward and create something new and extraordinary, one most let go of comforts that hold them back. In Marinetti’s words:

To admire an old picture is to pour our sensibility into a funeral urn instead of casting it forward with violent spurts of creation and action… Indeed daily visits to museums, libraries and academies…is for artists what prolonged supervision by the parents is for intelligent young men…

After the opening sequence and a short scene showing Tetsuo noticing a shard of metal growing from his face we see him in relative normality, or the closest we’ll get to normality. He speaks to his girlfriend on the phone, a conversation in which the duo repeat the term ‘hello’ eight or nine times in a show of everyday monotony. It is only after one of them mentions the accident that the conversation, and the film itself is allowed to continue. Following this is a couple of nightmarish sequences in which Tetsuo is chased by a woman with a mechanical arm, and a second where his girlfriend (with Brigitte Helm style expressive make up) rapes him with a metal tentacle like appendage.


Both these scenes are genuinely unsettling and are probably some of the scarier things I’ve seen on film recently. Both reinforce the idea of progression through force as Tetsuo’s changes begin in a violent and violating manner. There may also be a sense that one cannot outrun progress, nor con it be beaten. The chase scene is filmed in short, frantic bursts as Tetsuo flees through a maze of underground corridors, perfectly invoking that sense of speed and constant motion that one associates with underground transport and power lines. The dream sequence (although distinctions between dream/wake, fantasy/reality should be taken very lightly here) mixes the erotic with the violent whilst none too subtly hammering the point that industry is a forceful invasion on nature.

The film carries on with this theme in some of the brashest film-making I’ve seen in a while. Eroticism continues to mix with violent, forceful symbolism until it reaches its bold and unforgettable conclusion. Metallic screeches and groans cry out while the woman’s teeth slide over a fork. With each sound Tetsuo reacts with a mix of pleasure and revulsion until it all becomes too much and…


There is an assumption here that the bizarre and violent sexual content tells a wider story of impotence, repression and the weakness of the flesh. I think it says more about human nature and thril in the face of violence and chaos. Here, the phallus is a symbol of destruction and invasion in the most literal form. Even the most normal instance of sex in the film takes place just after the couple have dumped the fetishist’s body in a ditch. It’s the thrill of having killed a man which ignites the passion in them, and then is furthered by the thrill of being watched. As the woman groans ‘honey, he’s watching us!’ the scene climaxes with a film stock explosion. Even here sex is seen as a destructive act and this only becomes more prevalent when Tetsuo literally drills her to death. It’s interesting to note that she is only drilled after she wins a confrontation with him, stabbing him in the neck. After this she becomes overtly sexual again which results in her gruesome death. Just like before, it is she who penetrates Tetsuo before he is allowed to penetrate her. There’s more phallic imagery at the end of the film when Tetsuo and the revived(?) fetishist are moulded together and transformed into a massive penis shaped tank ready to destroy the world.

The male genitalia here is nothing but a force of destruction, a symbol of power, strength and speed. This is in keeping with ideas put forward in the futurist manifesto which denounces feminism and literally hopes to breed contempt for women. For them femininity is a symbol of weakness and cowardice, something that only exists to subdue the destructive and creative power of male compulsion.

We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.

As the film continues Tetsuo’s agonised screams become background noise, along with the pounding, mechanical soundtrack. Images of his ever-changing body become more and more grotesque as an already aggressive film ramps up the violence and horror, never letting up right until the credits roll.

The dead fetishist comes back from wherever he had been dumped and fights Tetsuo in a manga-esque battle put together with fast paced, angry stop-motion. After all is said and done the two characters are morphed together into that giant penis-tank I mentioned before. The imagery here is nasty and discomforting completely at odds with the feelings of the characters. Tetsuo himself is now nothing more than a head, surrounded by metal and dribbling blood or oil. Yet he gladly pronounces ‘I feel great’.


The fetishist, who is at the… head of the tank, brandishing a gun speaks of destroying the world: ‘How about turning the whole world into metal? You and me. We can rust the whole world and scatter it to the dust of the universe. Our love can put an end to this fucking world!’

Of course he’s talking about their love of violence, of speed and of industry. He’s speaking of ending the world as it is and driving it forward into a new age. Denouncing what is old and traditional, literally burying it in metal. In its final moments the film drives home the main focus of the futurist movement with crystal clear clarity. As Marinetti wrote:

Let the good incendiaries with charred fingers come! Here they are! Heap up the fire to the shelves of the libraries! Divert the canals to flood the cellars of the museums! Let the glorious canvases swim ashore! Take the picks and hammers! Undermine the foundation of venerable towns! […] Look at us! We are not out of breath, our hearts are not in the least tired. For they are nourished by fire, hatred and speed! Does this surprise you? it is because you do not even remember being alive! Standing on the world’s summit, we launch once more our challenge to the stars!


‘I feel great.’

Tetsuo: The Iron Man may not be the most profound film ever made, and certainly isn’t the most likable film I’ve seen. In fact it’s a hateful, vicious piece of film-making which takes the concept of subtlety and explodes it in front of the audience. But the futurists weren’t interested in subtlety either, and they sure as hell didn’t care if people liked them. What Tetsuo is, for me, is an almost perfect example of this particular art movement. I’ve never seen another film, or art work of any kind which has so thoroughly and accurately embodied the concepts and atmosphere of futurism.

There’s a lot more I’d like to say about the film; that the role of the fetishist is actually played by the writer and director of the piece and how that changes the perspective of the film (just think of the ‘honey, he’s watch us’ scene); or about certain gestures (such as a man miming a drill-penis with an iron bar) brings the various scenes of sexual violence into a different light. But I feel like it’s unnecessary at this point. There are a lot of layers to this film and a lot to be said in its short run-time. Mainly though it’s a mad, frenetic bombardment of images which starts with a bang and never lets up, dragging the audience through with its visceral images and pulse-pounding sound scape, offering no exit from the ride. And that, in itself is a perfect representation of the kind of art that futurism was interested in producing.

Beauty exists only in struggle. There is no masterpiece that has not an aggressive character. Poetry must be a violent assault on the forces of the unknown, to force them to bow before man.


Wonder Woman’s God Complex



Recently, I went to go and see the new Wonder Woman film in one of the better cinemas I’ve visited in Beijing. In comparison to most the other superhero films I’ve seen in the last few years Wonder Woman is pretty darn good, but I couldn’t help but feel as though there was a particularly large issue with the themes of the film and the fact that Hollywood doesn’t seem capable of dealing with those themes.

Full spoilers below…

Diana is the only child on a magic island hidden from the rest of the world and populated by Amazonian women. When wondering where such a child came from we’re told that her mother Hypolita wished for her so much that she moulded her from clay and asked the god Zues to give her life. This is something that Diana never questions despite the fact that she does admit the knowledge that men are ‘essential for procreation’.

We also learn that for some reason the God of War, Ares, chose to defy the rest of the gods, fighting and killing them. To combat Ares, Zues bestowed upon the Amazons the ‘God Killer’ which they used to vanquish (but not kill) Ares. The God Killer, Hypolita tells her daughter, is a grand sword which Diana, as a child, looks at with an almost forlorn gaze and asks her mother who would ever be able to wield such a weapon. Her disappointment when Hypolita tells her that it wont be her is palpable and the scene ends in such a way that I was left wondering whether or not it was the film-maker’s intentions that the young Diana display an almost psychopathic urge to kill a god one day.

As the film progresses we watch Diana grow up, conditioned by her mother’s obvious lies and her warrior aunt’s tutelage, becoming stronger, more badass but certainly not any wiser. Although Diana is brought up to be naive and unaware the audience hasn’t been, and anyone with a healthy upbringing on superhero movies will have already guessed that Diana is likely to be the daughter of Zues and that the God Killer is in fact her and not the sword at all. To the film’s credit these two revelations are never really treated as any great twist and so their obviousness doesn’t really hurt the story. They do however set the tone for what is to come during the rest of the run time and these two plot points feed into what seems to be the film’s main themes:

Firstly that Diana is a God. Invincible and supreme in her abilities. Secondly, she’s naive. Unaware of the nature of man and the nature of violence. It’s when addressing these ideas that Wonder Woman shows the most potential but also uncovers some of the downsides of the superhero genre as a whole.


There’s a good action scene about halfway through the film where Diana has had enough of watching the horrors of WWI unfold around her and decides to take matters into her own hands. Despite the German machine guns pointing at her she runs across no-man’s land to liberate a small French village. It’s in this scene we have the first full reveal of her iconic uniform, we hear the pulse pounding drums that have become her theme for these DC movies and we witness the extent of her badassery as she flips armoured vehicles with her bare hands, kicks people through walls and literally punches the catholic church so hard it collapses. It’s all good stuff but it’s also where my skepticism of the film’s intentions began. It’s very handy having a bullet-proof supergod on your side, I thought, as her actions inspired her companions to join the fight.

Their victory over the village is short lived however and the Germans soon drop a chemical weapon on it, killing everyone. Diana runs into the orange cloud, not even wrinkling her nose against the gas, to see first hand the nature of man’s hate. It’s the first time that we see Diana completely as ‘other’ to us. Where any man, woman or child faces certain death in the cloud, Diana isn’t affected in the least. The film states, in no uncertain terms, that Diana is not human and she is not in any danger from us or our weapons. She is, however, applaud by our actions.

Instead of readdressing her preconceived notions about men and war though, she carries on with greater resolve to end the war in her own way. Diana, brought up on stories of gods, thinks that the only way to end the war is to defeat Ares, the god of war, who she assumes is causing the fighting in the first place. For some reason she has decided that Ares is actually personified by Ludendorf, the German general who along with the fabulously named ‘Doctor Poison’ is manufacturing the terrible chemical weapons that mark the film’s biggest threat. She confronts Ludendorf who, for no other reason than ‘it’s a movie’ has some kind of magic drug that gives him super strength. Still, Diana kicks him through a wall (watching Wonder Woman kick people through walls never gets old) and impales him to the floor with her God Killer sword. Ares is dead, she thinks, and yet the war continues.

wonderwomantrailer213-470x310@2xAgain we wonder if she’ll finally have to confront her misguided views of the war, but no. Right on cue, the real Ares turns up; a Brit nonetheless. He reveals the minor twists that everyone already knew and sums up the films ideology very clearly. War is a man-made invention. Although he admits to whispering inspirations to the likes of Doctor Poison he tells us that men are the real threat to the world and that no interference from gods can change that. He’s echoing something Chris Pine said earlier when he admits ‘maybe it’s us’; maybe man is to blame for all the horror.

This is the moment the whole film has led up to, where Wonder Woman has seen first hand that war is not a fantasy or a fiction, men’s minds are not twisted by any supernatural being and that war can not be ended by just fly kicking one man in the face. It’s also the moment the film betrays itself.

Wonder Woman decides to kick the crap out of Ares anyway, it is her nature as a weapon, after all. While she’s fighting him her comrades are fighting against the German chemical weapon and loosing. In a moment of weakness she watches Chris Pine commit suicide, taking the weapon with him and this gives her the strength to fight back again. There’s lots of fire, punching each other through buildings, lighting shot from fingertips; it’s everything we’ve come to expect from a DC movie’s final act, and just as empty.

The problem is that we’ve already learnt that Ares has no hold over this war. Killing him will not save the world and yet Wonder Woman fights anyway, ignoring the suffering of her comrades and with such drive that brings back the image of a child coveting a sword she prays to one day use. It’s her singular vision that means Chris Pine has no help from her when he flies off to his death, a gesture that could have easily been prevented by the supergod. It’s all something that could have meaning if it wasn’t for the film’s climax.

Wonder Woman harnesses her power as a god-made weapon, kills Ares and the war ends.

The take away from this final conflict is that actually Wonder Woman was right all along. Killing one supreme bad guy did end the war which must also mean that the war was the fault of this one god and not man at all. None of the men’s struggles or sacrifices mean anything in the face of this revelation and we are all absolved of any responsibility we might have otherwise had to have claimed for the cruelties of war. The film has betrayed its own convictions and through doing so has undermined itself.

Right from the first line of dialogue Diana is being lied to. Her world view is twisted and distorted to the extent that when she enters our world she can’t distinguish reality from fiction. Likewise however, her presence and her actions show her comrades that there is more to the world than they knew. In the end it’s Diana’s world view that wins out. A world of gods and monsters and where the evil of man is actually the fault of someone else. If this was actually the intention of the film then I would argue that WWI was perhaps not the right backdrop for the story. War, chemical weapons, hate and violence are, without a doubt, not god-created issues. They are caused by man, inflicted upon man and no amount of supergod stories can change this sad fact. By sticking to her original intent Diana shows no growth as a character. She’s as confused and misguided as she was as a child and still views the world in black and white terms, what’s worse is that the film makers seem to share this world view.

As much as I love superhero films I can’t help but think they are loosing their relevance in our society. The story of one man or woman saving humanity by punching a single baddie in the face is an outdated concept. It’s an issue that Wonder Woman almost addresses but gives into at the end, more than likely just because this is an American film and needs to end in a predetermined way. It’s a shame that the trapping of the genre force Wonder Woman to betray and undermine itself in the last moments because there is a more interesting story than Diana vs Ares fighting to be told. I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if in those last moments Diana decided to cease her meaningless battle with Ares and go instead to help her new found friends in their struggle against their own kind. What if it was shown that Ares actually didn’t have much power over man and wasn’t causing the war? What if, because of this revelation, Diana showed us that the true power of a god is to inspire mankind to better itself rather than give into its basest instincts?

At the end of the film Diana, in the present day US, sums up her journey for us by saying that ‘only love can save the world’. However this is not what we’ve seen just moments before. Diana did not save the day by putting aside her outdated and ill-informed ideology and helping the war resolve in a peaceful way, she won through violence, just as the men of the film sought to do and in so doing proved that she really is, much like the German’s terrible gas, nothing more than the weapon she was designed to be. Unfortunately the film never addresses this parallel itself.

There’s a moment towards the end of Diana’s fight with Ares where the camera focuses on her, silhouetted in the air behind a red and gold sky. Her arms are outstretched and one leg slightly raised. It’s an image of Christ on the cross. Except here, Diana does not die to save mankind, she kills to save mankind. If love is the only thing that can save the world then perhaps superhero films need to find a gesture other than violence to bring their final acts to a close.



The Winter’s Tale – Re-imagined for everyone ages six and over


imagesThe Winter’s Tale is an odd play at the best of times, what with its sixteen year gap and massive shift in tone between acts. It can only get odder if you imagine it through the eyes of a child. And that’s exactly what you can find at the Regent’s Park Open air Theatre right now.

Re-imagined for people ages 6 and up, The Winter’s Tale is a real treat for families. The play is, of course, cut down and simplified for kids, but that’s not to say the play is just simple and nor does it speak down to its audience. Shakespeare’s rich language is still present as is the jealousy, cruelty and death of the first act. The magic and festivities of the second are also handled with aplomb. What this production does wonderfully is hit the middle ground between being silly and serious.

As I said, the play is a bit problematic itself in the way that the first act is generally much more somber than the second, and especially with this production I found that it wasn’t until the second act that it really hit its stride. There were hints of the madness to come right from the outset, with happy-go-lucky dance moves, pop-culture references and a great visual gag involving a boat, but it really isn’t until the second act that it all comes together.

Beginning with the bizarre sheep shearing contest which was, in this case, realised quite magnificently, the second act seems to relish in the sheer absurdity of it all and is much stronger for it. The visual gags really come into their own and the performances also take off.

For me, the highlight though, was the audience! Kids absolutely loved this show and their reactions and interactions were just as entertaining as the show itself. It’s just excellent hearing some of the stuff that kids come out with. At one point, just as the notorious bear attack is looming near, one kid near us ominously said ‘He’s gunna die…’ and then burst into laughter when the fated attack happened! At another point we were all encouraged to call out ‘Sheer the sheep! Sheer the sheep!’ but some mischievous children behind us were instead shouting ‘Eat the sheep!’ and there was even one rather macabre little boy calling out ‘SKIN THE SHEEP!’ One final moment of note was watching an entire block of tiny children reenacting the Gangnam Style dance routine.

The performances are fun and easy, with a stand out performance by Dean Nolan. In general they handle the Shakespeare in a clear and concise way and switch nicely but simply between multiple characters. The show never really hits any of the play’s emotional highs, but instead is a wonderfully fun and rather silly afternoons entertainment. I’d highly recommend seeing it, if not just to enjoy the children’s reactions to the insanity on stage.

The show is on until the 20th of July and more info can be found here.




Last week I wrote a blog on the blatant commercialism running rampant at E3 this year. Mostly, I wrote about ‘exclusive’ titles and Microsoft’s DRM policy which would give publishers the choice of whether or not to charge people for using pre-owned games, and also, a policy which would necessitate 24 hour online ‘checks’ to play games either on or off line.

Well, about half a week ago, Microsoft announced a complete 180 degree reversal on this policy. In an announcement called ‘Your Feedback Matters’ president Don Mattrick wrote that due to our feedback they have made some big changes to the Xbox One. He announced that after an initial set up players wouldn’t need to connect to the internet at all to play off line, and also that used games will be available for re-sale, rent and lending after all. The announcement closes by saying:

‘We appreciate your passion, support and willingness to challenge the assumptions of digital licensing and connectivity. While we believe that the majority of people will play games online and access the cloud for both games and entertainment, we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content. We have listened and we have heard loud and clear from your feedback that you want the best of both worlds.’

Despite their insistence that their policies were valid and would in fact ensure a better experience for the consumer, I think that after the initial announcements Microsoft came up against such a wall of negativity that there was very little else they could do but abandon their policies. However, I wonder how this would have all panned out if Sony had not been standing right behind them making rabbit ears behind their backs.

E3 is always a battle of sorts between the companies and it was very clear this year that Sony had won. Not only did their showcase appeal much more directly to gamers than Microsoft’s, but they were also launching the new Playstation for about $100 less than Xbox One. Then there was their cheeky and oh-so-topical dig at Microsoft about how easy it is to share games on the Playstation 4.

I wonder if Microsoft would have backed down on their policies so easily had Sony had not recognised and subsequently capitalised on their mistake. Well, the answer is absolutely no. No matter how much they pretend that this is a result of our ‘valued feedback’, it’s very clear that they panicked that everyone was going to go and buy Playstations instead, and so quickly did an about turn. And damn well they should because yes, everyone was going to go and buy Playstations instead! No matter what, I think Microsoft have lost a lot of support and through this newest development they have also lost a lot of integrity. I think their about turn is too little too late, and that they’ve damaged their brand quite a bit this month.

Whether or not they were spooked or genuinely value user feedback, this is a good example of people standing up for themselves, not wanting to be ripped off and beating back a company. This is something that gamers seem to be very good at doing and there are quite a lot of examples to prove it.

I remember a story which captivated me a few years back regarding the MMO EVE Online. The developers (CCP) had wanted to introduce a new expansion for the game which would introduce microtransactions. When it came to light that these microtransactions would cost between $10 – $60 and essentially turn the game into a ‘pay-to-win’ affair, players suddenly started feeling distinctly like they were being ripped off. So, as any self respecting Space Rouges would, hundreds and hundreds of gamers demonstrated their disapproval by attacking an indestructible and iconic monument in the game. This overloaded the servers and basically gridlocked the in-game economy for a day or so. There was also a threat that a heck of a lot of players (who hadn’t already) would cancel their subscriptions to the game, which could have cost CCP over $1 Million in lost revenue. In order to sort all this out CCP payed to fly the player elected council in the EVE world to their HQ in Reykjavík to sort out a compromise.

I love that story! It’s like a digital world revolution in which the gamers won out against a commercial minded company. I feel like Microsoft’s policy reversal marks something similar.

So, well done gamers! 10 points to you. It just shows that with a little perseverance big consumerist companies can be reminded that without the consumer they’re nothing and that, in the end, we’re in charge.


The Wings of Honneamise and THAT scene


honneamise-726389Being involved with the first ever stage adaptation of a Studio Ghibli film, it will come as no surprise to anyone that I’m surrounded by other Ghibli enthusiasts and general anime fans. Of course, when surrounded by these sort of people and these subjects, one will undoubtedly find their interest in such things re-ignited with more fire than before. This is certainly how I am feeling at the moment and because of this I have been watching a number of anime titles I have up to this point never seen before.

Last night, I watched a fantastic little film called Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise.

Wings of Honneamise was released in 1987 and is the first and only full length feature film produced by animation studio Gainax. The film takes place in an alternate version of Earth in which an industrial revolution is flourishing despite the impending war between two nations (Honneamise and ‘The Republic’). At this time, the Space force is working (much to the amusement of the ‘real’ military) towards putting the first man in space. That man is Shirotsugh Lhadatt, who only joined the space program because he didn’t qualify to join the more reputable air force. Lhadatt is a bit of a slacker, only continuing his work with the space program as a way to ensure he can continue to live comfortably compared to the many homeless and jobless of Honneamise.

Whilst wandering the streets one night he meets Riquinni Nonderaiko, a kind hearted religious girl who is preaching against the many injustices and sins of the world. The two become friends and Riquinni’s enthusiasm about what the space program symbolises rekindles Lhadatt’s pride in the program. This is why he volunteers to take the role of first astronaut, despite the obvious danger to himself.

And this is pretty much the basis of the film. From here on we learn about the characters, we see the effect the space program has on both the people and the governing body of  Honneamise, we watch the conflict between the two nations build, using the space program as a catalyst to wage their inevitable war, and we see the growth of our main characters.images

Wings of Honneamise is generally considered one of the finest examples of Japanese adult animation. However, most reviews are often worded something like this:

‘One scene short of a masterpiece.’

‘One of the best animes I’ve ever seen, despite ‘that’ scene.’

‘A beautiful film ruined by one ugly scene.’

Many, many people agree that there is a single scene in the film, often referred to as ‘that scene’, which soils the overall experience the film offers. If you have seen the film, you will instantly know which scene I’m referring to. If you haven’t, then you should know that I’m about to start giving away spoilers for the film, so if you intend to watch it, you might not want to read on.

The scene in question comes about two thirds into the film, when Lhadatt attempts to rape Riquinni in her home. The scene is very coldly realised and unrelenting in its portrayal of the act. Lhadatt attacks Riquinni as she is undressing, pinning her to the floor before he realises what it is he’s doing and stops himself. At this point Riquinni gives him a well deserved braining with a candlestick, knocking him unconscious. The next morning, as Riquinni is leaving home, Lhadatt runs after her to apologise but instead she insists that she be the one to apologise for hitting him. ‘You’ve done nothing wrong,’ she says, ‘You’re a wonderful person and I shouldn’t have hit you. Please forgive me or I shall never forgive myself.’ Well, that all sounds pretty awful and misogynistic now doesn’t it? But  y’know…I’m  not so sure.honneamise3

Now, before I go any further, allow me to explain myself. I despise the way rape is used in media nowadays. It seems to me that whenever a story requires a female character to be hurt, traumatised or damaged in any way, rape is the first port of call. Whenever a man has to be shown as being evil, he’ll rape, or threaten to rape someone. Websites such as Women in Refrigerators exist as a reminder of our frighting and frankly disgusting preoccupation with rape. However, when I was reading reviews of Wings of Honneamise after having seen it, I found myself disagreeing with people’s disgust at this scene. I felt that a lot of people didn’t understand why the scene was in the film at all, and many think the film would be better without the scene. So, I’d like to offer my point of view, what I think the scene’s function is and why I think it is important that it remains.

Right, so, from the outset I am very very surprised how few people mention the scene which comes before ‘that scene’. Some background first: When Lhadatt first comes into contact with Riquinni she is living in a small house outside of the city. Throughout the film we see her life systematically destroyed by the commercialist world they live in; first her electricity is shut off, then her house is demolished to make room for a power plant. She moves into a seemingly unused church after this, which is where ‘the scene’ takes place.

Just before, the two of them meet outside in the rain and rush home together. When they get inside Riquinni takes off her wet boots and some money falls out of them which she shamefully picks up, whilst Lhadatt and Manna (a little girl living with Riquinni) pretend not to notice. For the rest of the evening Lhadatt ignores Riquinni, refusing to look at her until he begins watching her legs from beneath the table. Now, for me, the whole money in the shoe thing was an obvious sign that Riquinni had been prostituting herself to make ends meet. This is reinforced later when Lhadatt mentions that Riquinni ‘must be at…work…’. I’m very surprised that so few people seem to have picked this up.

This fact sort of changes everything. For a start, it goes towards explaining why Lhadatt is so angry with her, and why he allows his frustration to take control. Whether or not Lhadatt is in love with Riquinni is up for interpretation, but it is plainly obvious that he cares for her and that he is attracted to her. The fact that he tries to befriend Manna and offers to give Riquinni the money for a solicitor after her home is destroyed shows that the attraction is not purely physical. So when he learns that she is whoring herself, but still will not consent to anything other than a platonic relationship with him, he is deeply hurt. His anger at her for selling other men the sort of attention that he would have cherished from her sparks his anger and he takes on a certain ‘if they can have you, so should I’ mentality.

But this is not all. Riquinni acts as a pillar of strength for Lhadatt. She renews his pride in his mission, and that what he is doing is right, that he isn’t simply part of what she considers a sinful, unjust world. This is extremely important given that before he goes to visit Riquinni he undergoes a press release in which someone tells him to make up something about why the space program is important and what it symbolises for mankind. By his reaction it’s plainly obvious he is loosing any faith in ‘why’ he’s doing it. Directly after this a news reporter tells him that 30,000 people could be re-homed if the space program cut its funding by half. The reason he goes to Riquinni after this is for some kind of support and reassurance. Instead, he finds out that the purest, most innocent and righteous person he has ever met is prostituting herself. This feels like a betrayal to Lhadatt who is not smart enough to notice the necessity of her actions. He simply feels like she is making a ‘compromise with God’ which is exactly what he suggests earlier when asking why she wont be with him. She replies by saying ‘it’s that sort of compromise that made the world what it is today!’, so it hurts Lhadatt to find her making exactly that sort of compromise. I also wonder, even though it’s never said, that Lhadatt might be able to provide for her if she let him. The main problem of course, is that Riquinni sees no romantic future with Lhadatt whatsoever.

Earlier in the film, Riquinni gave Lhadatt a holy book which he has been reading, trying to understand her point of view. When he finds out she has given into the harsh, sinful side of reality, he looses all will to be anything else and so too gives into his temptation.

During the attack he pauses. As he lies on top of her he suddenly realises what he is doing and stops himself. This moment acts as a symbol as well as a literal event. Lhadatt’s realisation is not just the realisation that he is capable of raping a woman, but that he is part of the military driven society which has forced her into prostitution. It’s only at this moment that he really hears the words of the news reporter. Well over 30,000 people, like Riquinni, cannot afford homes, and are being forced to find ulterior methods of securing income simply to survive because of large scale projects such as the space program. In many ways, the rape of Riquinni has already been carried out, and she had already been defiled by the society they live in, a society which Lhadatt plays a lead role.

None of the above defends Lhadatt’s actions, and in fact shows that he is no better than anyone in the film. He does an awful thing which shocks both the audience and himself. Many reviews I’ve read criticise this scene for destroying a character who had up to this point been rather likeable. I would argue that this is the point of the scene, in which we are shown that nobody, not Lhadatt nor Riquinni are without sin, and are affected by the state of their society.

The later scene, in which Riquinni apologises for hitting Lhadatt backs this up as soon as we realise that Riquinni is not really saying sorry for clocking Lhadatt over the head with a candlestick, but that she is saying sorry for giving into sin. Just as Lhadatt cannot see the necessity of Riquinni’s work, she can not see the righteousness in it. She understands she must do it to provide for herself and Manna, but she sees herself as sinful and wrong. There’s also the possibility that Riquinni is in complete denial about the whole thing. This leads on to something else people have criticised.

Lhadatt doesn’t seem to feel much remorse about the whole thing. It’s never mentioned again, he doesn’t seem to brood over it. In fact, it seems to be almost entirely swept under the carpet. This is generally considered to be bad taste on the part of director and writer Hiroyuki Yamaga, and a sign that the scene served to real purpose other than to shock. I think it’s something else though, I think it’s firstly another example of one of the films main themes; denial (the denial of sin, the denial of being a part of a corrupt government, etc) Lhadatt is denying the event just as much as Riquinni is. It’s also a cold reminder of human nature. I suppose in Lhadatt’s head it is easier to pretend it never happened than to face up to the fact, especially if Riquinni seems content to do so.

These are the films darkest moments, and show our characters in the most negative light. It also comes just in time for the final part of the film in which the action really picks up. Lhadatt is pursued by an assassin in a somewhat rather absurd chase scene, and then we’re onto the final stint in which the rocket is finally launched into space. Then effect it has though, is that we can never really shake the feeling that the scene has left us with. Our connection with Lhadatt has weakened and we cannot wholly root for him any more. This, being the desired effect. Once Lhadatt has reached space, we are left wondering if it was really worth it. If Lhadatt is the kind of man who should be named a hero and an innovator, which is likely to happen, and we wonder if the space program was worth the poverty and conflict that it caused. It’s actually quite hard to feel good for the people of Honneamise.

This is really important given the final prayer of the film.

Just a quick note – I watched the film subtitled, and have realised that it differs a fair bit from the dub. So my understanding of the end is based on the sub translation.tumblr_mbehctdXq51qj7fjto1_1280

‘Is anybody down there listening to this broadcast? This is mankind’s first astronaut. The human race has just taken its first step into the world of the stars. Like the oceans and the mountains before, space too was once just God’s domain. As it becomes a familiar place for us, it’ll probably end up as bad as everywhere else we’ve meddled. We’ve spoiled the land, We’ve fouled the air. Yet we still seek new places to live, and so now we journey out to space. There’s probably no limit to how far we can spread.

Please. Whoever is listening to me. How you do it doesn’t matter, just please; give some thanks to man’s arrival here.

Please, show us mercy and forgive us. Don’t let the way ahead be one of darkness. As we stumble down the path of our sinful history, let there be always one shining star to show the way.’

This is a great achievement from a flawed species. It could spell new hope, or new disaster. Is it a good thing Lhadatt finally reached space? The answer is simply yes, because it shows that through everything, human perseverance has won through. It is also positive because the men and women of the space program were working towards the betterment of mankind, not a political leg up. However, it is what comes next which would tell.  Reaching space may fill many with hope of a bright new era of innovation and perhaps peace, or, as is suggested earlier in the film, if taken into the wrong hands it may spell new and inventive ways for the two nations to bomb each other.

It is neither an optimistic nor pessimistic end to the film, and this is important. I think if the film and the characters had not reached the lows that they had, then the ending would not have been so poignant.

One final note:

I found an article here that describes the scene and says that anyone who defends it is ‘intellectually dishonest or just human filth’. Well, I guess I fall into this bracket, so, human filth it is. But, the writer did include a few things that made me raise my eyebrows:

Apparently, in the commentary track the assistant director, Takami Akai, says that ‘Riquinni reveals herself as a “strong woman” by completely forgiving Shiro and saying that it was her fault’. Well…I don’t really know what to say about that. Obviously I’d argue that it suggests the exact opposite, and that she, like Lhadatt is in fact shown to be very weak. This doesn’t change my analysis of the film, but it does make me wonder just what were the original intentions of the film makers, and if they were consciously aware of all these interpretations people now make.

Another thing that really shocked me was that Akai apparently mentions that he wanted to use animation rcels from the attack as promotion material. Fortunately, people hid all of the production materials from him. Obviously, this can in no way be justified and that all this paints Takami Akai in a very bad light, but I haven’t listened to the whole commentary track myself, so I can’t say anything for sure.


And so there you have my 2 pennies worth! Whatever the film makers intentions may have been, the fact is that ‘that scene’ is not merely one scene among many, but feeds into the whole rest of the film, and I think it has to be viewed this way. To many people seem to take the scene on it’s own, as a horrible and shocking piece, which it is, but when taken as a part of the whole it is not completely gratuitous or unnecessary. Are there other ways the film makers could have portrayed this? Probably. But they chose this way, and instead of just booing it, it’s important to see why it’s there.


Open Class: Stanislavski Continues at the Moscow Arts Theatre


The first thing I noticed about Moscow is how big everything is: The buildings are massive, the roads huge and the beards impressive. The next thing I noticed is the total lack of English, that is, the lack of even a Latin based alphabet. Now, this might sound obvious, but for those of you who don’t know, Russia uses a Cryillic alphabet which is very beautiful but very different from our own. Again, this may all sound pretty obvious but it surprised me just how much having a different alphabet would affect me. I’ve been travelling quite a lot this year but Russia is the first place I’ve been that I was unable to at least guess the road signs. Every now and again a word might jump out at you, but it’s rare. This turned out to be rather daunting and somehow exhausting. It makes things such as taking the Metro an intimidating task, but more about the Metro later.

What also didn’t help, was the amount of horror stories one hears before going somewhere. Endless warnings were given us about how harsh everything is, how we shouldn’t smile and how dangerous the streets are. All these things travel with you, and you enter the country on guard. Well, surprise surprise, it turns out that most of this is wildly over exaggerated. Sure the streets are dangerous; as dangerous as any big city. It is true however, that no one really smiles! At the beginning of the week we took part in a cabaret of sorts. During the introduction the hosts made comic remarks about the “Russian face” – a sort of lifeless, fed up expression. They told us we could use this anywhere we went – and it seemed kind of true. Our hosts then made jokes about how foreign men could find and woo Russian girls: “Hello.” Says one of the hosts pretending to be a foreign man approaching a Russian girl. “Ah!” cries the other, taking on the role of the female, “Ah! I love you! Please!” He (she) thows himself onto his knees and embraces the other around the waist. “I’ll be the best wife you can ask for! Just please, take me away from this country!”

But it’s harder for girls to meet Russian men we are warned: “Hello.” Says the foreign girl. “Oh! Oh you are beautiful! Please take me with you! Get me away from this country!”

In this humour, one can sense a bitter irony, I suspect that as much of a joke as this was, a small amount of truth can be found in it.  Perhaps more so for the older generation, as younger people felt a bit more free and weren’t so fond of the “Russian face”.

This “Russian face” was very popular indeed on the metro, and as promised, I’d like to spare a word for the Metro.

I’m pretty sure this was the station next to my hotel

It. Is. Amazing. Words cannot describe it. You’re on an escalator and already you begin to notice how big everything is, how high the ceilings are, etc. You get to the bottom, walk around a corner and notice hundreds of chandeliers lighting your way!

The Moscow Metro was first opened in 1935 and is apparently the third most used underground rail system in the world. It was made over a large number of years and was delayed by WW2, also, the art deco style at some point met with more Soviet themes. Then in the cold war, more stations were opened to act as shelters in the event of a nuclear war. Due to all this, every station seems to have its own distinct and individual style, and whilst one can defiantly notice that what we’re in is a glorified bomb shelter, you cannot help but marvel at the architecture. The trains themselves are fantastic, again from different times. My favourite ones being these wonderful art deco things that must date back to the 40’s or 50’s. They threaten to slice you in half if you don’t clear the door in time, and they rattle along quite noisily. I really could have spent hours going from station to station looking at the decor. Interestingly there is a book called Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky in which people are forced to live inside the Moscow Metro system after nuclear bombardment. I’d quite like to read it.

How cool looking is the Metro map?

Moscow, as a city, didn’t feel especially hospitable, what it is though, is beautiful and fascinating. I really felt like it was a city of opposing elements, in certain parts of the city you can really feel hung over Soviet influences fighting with more capitalist elements. As everyone knows, Russia has a fascinating, rich and tragic history, and all this is immediately noticeable in the city. Remnants of the past are to be found everywhere. Architecturally the city is stunning, as I said the buildings are huge and beautifully extravagant, some of the more wondrous buildings can be found in the marvellous Red Square, such as St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin. Monuments and statues from various moments in history are scattered throughout the city. For me, some of the most impressive pieces were left over from the Soviet era; large, imposing statues of Lenin, fantastic tributes to the working classes, etc. I wont try to describe much because it really all has to be seen first hand. I can not overstate how fascinating it all is though.

Monument to the conquerors of space

My favourite thing I saw in the city, and probably my favourite piece of architecture ever, was located near our hotel (and more on the hotel in a bit!) in Prospect Mira. It is called ‘Monument to the conquerors of space’ and it’s a 110 metre tall, titanium spaceship taking off. The monument was built in 1964 to celebrate the achievements of Soviet space exploration. But actually, it wasn’t the spaceship that impressed me so much; around the base of the monument are two absolutely stunning murals telling the story of space exploration. It’s almost like something you might dig up in an ancient tomb, albeit a bit more sci-fi. The images are rendered in sharp, almost comic bookish style, which was typical of Soviet art. It depicts scientists working on new technologies and astronauts climbing stairs into the heavens, all under the watchful eye of Lenin. It’s completely fascinating and totally beautiful. The monument was located in a park, which was all space themed with metal statues of the solar system and constellations, etc. Even our hotel was called The Hotel Cosmos.

And just a very quick word on the hotel. If you have seen the film Day Watch by Timur Bekmambetov, then you have seen our hotel. You know the bit when the car drives across the side of the building before crashing though the windows – that’s our hotel! And that’s about the coolest thing about it. It was built around 1980 by French and Soviet architects for the XXII Moscow Olymics. The place was huge, our room being located on the 22nd floor, it was also, for lack of a better phrase, a bit tacky! The sort of place for wealthy businessmen looking for cheap thrills and expensive entertainment. Everything was overcharged and the place was teeming with prostitutes, who actually seemed like nice girls but they didn’t bother talking to us, I presume because of our unkept, slightly scruffy attire. I think they were probably catering to a different (read: richer) class of man. Either way, it was an experience, and it was very kind of the Moscow Art Theatre to put us up there. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a proper hotel like that before.

Now imagine it flashing around the sides and top every night…

And look at this, almost 1000 words in and finally I mention the Moscow Art Theatre! Now lets talk about the actual reason I was in Moscow in the first place!

Anyone who has studied acting or performance should have heard of the Moscow Art Theatre. It is the theatre that was founded by Constantin Stanislavski and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko in 1898. The theatre was first created as a place to break away from the melodramas that were popular in Russia at the time, and to instead showcase a more ‘naturalistic’ theatre. It goes without saying, that here, for the first time, shows were put on regularly using the Stanislavski acting method. The MAT soon became one of the most well known and respected theatres in the world. Obviously it’s not quite that simple, and the theatre had many ups and downs, but I’m not going to go into its history right now.

When you walk into the MAT there is a family tree of all the people involved, from Satislavski and Danchenko all the way up to now. Just glancing over this makes you remember just how important this theatre was and just how exciting it is to become part of its history. One can find on this family tree impressive names such as Anton Chekov, Mikail Bulgakov (whom we visited the house of…and it was wicked cool) and Vsevolod Mererhold (personally my favourite theatre practitioner) just to name a few.

This year the MAT are celebrating their 150th anniversary, and as a part of these celebrations they decided to hold a week long festival earlier this month. Invited to perform in the festival were 9 schools from San Francisco, Italy, France, Hungry, St Petersburg, Poland, Germany, the MAT itself, and of course England. Our show ‘Pages from the Book of…’ based on the life and work of Bruno Schulz, was selected to represent England in the festival. The festival itself was given the name ‘Open Class: Stanislavski Continues’. By calling it an ‘open class’ the MAT are attempting to open a forum for discussion in which each of us could watch one another’s work, discuss and see what is being done on the world stage. There was no competitive element to the festival like in the Istropolitana Projekt in Bratislava, instead we were just encouraged to meet other theatre people, discuss ideas and see how Stanislavski’s ideas have evolved, changed and been adapted over time. Suffice it to say, it was a huge honour to be a part of such a prestigious festival, and it was uber-cool to perform on a stage in the MAT!

Some of the work was great as well. What surprised me was how little of it was naturalistic in style, I was expecting to get there and be one of the craziest things on stage, but actually this wasn’t at all the case.

Without a doubt the best thing I saw, was a show called “FUTURISMVISIONS” by the school in St. Petersburg. The work was developed from a class project and made up of 22 etudes based on Futurism poetry. Linking these was a fantastic band made up of industrial, found (may I venture to say MERZ) objects, which set up the world perfectly. Here, we were presented with an industrial hell in which the upper classes were the denizens and victims of war its public. This was 3 hours of abstract Russian poetry which had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. Obviously, I didn’t understand a word of it, but the visual, musical and performative elements were just stunning. Luckily, I know enough about Russian history and Futurism to grasp onto some of the basic ideas if nothing else. Even so, this was one of the finest performances I’ve seen in a while.

As I said, it was an honour to make up the English contingency of this festival and I was very glad to see how well our show was received. As usually happens I had people approaching me saying “Where’s my father?” which always makes me very happy. You see, in the show my character is forever searching for his father with little to no luck, so this has sort of become my catch phrase! In general, people were very appreciative of the show and seemed to enjoy it greatly.

Also, on a slightly unrelated note, a lovely hungarian girl approached me and told me that I am the spitting image of her fiancé! So much so, that she had to double take at me when I walked on stage. So, not only is there a Slovak Jack, there is also a Hungry Jack out there in the world somewhere. Also, one of our guys found his Russian double and the likeness is really very strong. This always seems to happen when we travel abroad!

Anyway, if you would like to know a little more about the Open Class: Stanislavski Continues festival and about old Stan himself, here is an interview that the head of my school Michael Early gave on Russian TV. There is also, floating somewhere on the Russian digi-sphere a news report with me being interviewed! Although I can’t seem to find it right now I know it exists, because it was on the Russian Channel 1 at about 10am! We saw it on the hotel lobby tv! How very exciting.

In fact, this whole trip was very exciting. I never thought I’d go to Russia, and god knows I never dreamed I’d be performing in the Moscow Art Theatre! I really cannot thank the organisers of Open Class and of course Rose Bruford College enough for making this possible.

Now, I have realised that I’ve spoken about this show quite a lot on this blog, and hopefully, will do many more times. However, many people who don’t know me and haven’t read any of my older posts probably don’t know what I’m talking about. Obviously I can always link you to our website, but I think it might be nice to have something a little closer to home too, so, in the next few days I’m going to make a new page on this blog about the show and the company. Maybe I’ll continue to do this with other projects too, and make this blog a little hub for myself.

Next time I’ll hopefully have news about my other theatre group The Same, But Different, and some novel related news.