since i have a phd in film and tv studies, i guess i’ll leave a couple drops of knowledge (they’re mostly just thoughts) on these two films–Arrival and Call Me By Your Name. my thoughts are unrelated but they could be related if one thinks on it long enough.
it’s really about the titles of these two films.
why is Arrival called “arrival”? the film was actually a short story entitled, “The Story of Your Life,” written by Asian American author named Ted Chiang who writes sci-fi. it was adapted into a screenplay by Eric Heisserer who wrote Birdbox.
Arrival is about a linguist named Louise Banks who gets hired by the US military to figure out what the aliens who arrived on earth want to communicate and for what purpose. the aliens tell Banks that she has the gift of being able to know the future. this is what made the movie so wonderful for me: time is utilized as language. i find this idea quite marvelous and beautiful.
ok–so the title then is not just about the arrival of aliens. it’s about Banks arriving to the future flashes she’s seen or “remembered.” “recall” and “memory” are no longer the past for Banks; they are also the future. thus, Banks is arriving. the film is about Banks’s arrival to her present/future self and her ideations, understandings, catharsis, realizations, etc.
the film Call Me By Your Name is also based on a work of fiction written by Italian fiction writer André Aciman. it was adapted for the screen by James Ivory who has experience adapting literary works; Ivory directed A Room with a View (1985).
well, why did, in fact, Oliver suggest to Elio that he call him by his name and vice versa? what is the point of calling one’s lover by one’s own name?
the ending of the film is a static long take of Elio sitting by the fire staring into it for an extended period of time right after getting off the phone with Oliver. Oliver and Elio both called each other by each other’s names over the phone, just as they had when they first became physically intimate as lovers. after Elio hangs up, he sits by the fire, gazing at it, appearing to be either deep in thought or no thought at all.
and nothing is happening. nothing is being said. we just see Elio gazing into the fire.
suddenly, his mother calls out to him: “Elio.”
then Elio looks up from the fire and breaks the fourth wall.
the meaning of the film’s title comes to us full force: because Elio called Oliver by his own name, “Elio,” whenever Elio hears his own name, he will think of Oliver.
and the fourth wall breakage is Luca Guadagnino’s way of asking the audience: “get it?”
this was a brilliant directional choice by Guadagnino. it is subtle yet impactful, hidden yet obvious, and an easter egg only for the ones in the know.
I read Haruki Murakmai’s short story “Tony Takitani” in his collection of short stories Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman when I was in college.
A couple years after I graduated college, I stopped reading Murakami’s works altogether because I found his depiction of women too painful. I could say “problematic” here but I’ll just go with my feeling rather than social commentary. It’s really a personal decision. I’m still not fond of any literary, filmic, or televisual works that use women’s bodies and psyche as playgrounds for male fantasies.
In my in-between stage between college and “the world,” I was living in Seoul. A childhood friend of mine asked me out to a movie at an art house cinema located in a basement somewhere. I remember seeing the poster for the film The Vegetarian, which is a film based on the book that won the Man Booker Prize for Han Kang a few years ago. The film was out way before Han Kang gained international recognition for her book.
There was just one film playing at this art house cinema, and it was Tony Takitani—Jun Ichikawa’s adaptation of Murakami’s short story.
Ichikawa had just passed away a year prior to when I saw this film at this theater. The theater didn’t have theater seating. They were just a couple of chairs. My friend and I were the only audience members. The film played on a projection screen. The theater wasn’t even really a theater. It was more of a small art gallery space. The room we were in was about the size of a small studio apartment.
I recall liking the film very much. I found the aesthetics of the film very pleasing. I liked the soundtrack, too, which was by Ryuichi Sakamoto. The choices that Ichikawa made for the film like letting the voiceover narration transmute into the actor’s line-delivery to blur diagetic and non-diegetic narration, and the staging for each shot were so lovely. They stimulated artistic pleasure for me. The friend I went to see this film with—also an artist, and now a creative director at a luxury sunglasses company—also commented on these stylistic and directional choices.
As soon as the film ended, another film began to play. It was a documentary on the making of Tony Takitani. I learned that all of the sets were created in an isolated urban space outdoors so that Ichikawa could make use of the city lights glimmering or blinking in the backdrop. This adds a great deal of mood to each scene in the film, and a sophisticated aesthetic to the picture that matches the high-end luxury clothes that Eiko was obsessed with.
Tony Takitani is about a man born to a jazz musician—trombone player—who was nearly killed as a POW during WWII. Tony was named after an American soldier that his father had met. Tony’s mother died 3 days after his birth. Tony became an illustrator, but his works were often critiqued for lacking a human touch or warmth. Tony is a loner. He is used to being alone all the time. He is so alone that he doesn’t even register his own loneliness. He meets a younger woman named Eiko, falls in love, and proposes. She rejects him initially but he explains how he feels—that he might not be able to live with his loneliness without her. She marries him, and their married life is blissful, but Tony eventually takes note of Eiko’s shopping addiction. She cannot stop. Eiko one day dies in a car accident. Tony is back to being alone again. He cannot withstand the isolation so he hires a woman who has the exact measurements as his late wife, and asks her to wear his wife’s clothes whenever she comes to do housework as a uniform.
There’s a scene in the film when this hired woman goes into the room where all of Eiko’s clothes are. She looks at them and breaks down into tears saying she’s never seen so many beautiful clothes all at once.
This scene reminds me of the scene in The Great Gatsby—both the Jack Clayton version and Baz Luhrmann version, and of course, the line in the original book by F. Scott Fitzgerald when Jay starts throwing his shirts into the air overwhelming Daisy who starts crying, saying she’s never seen such beautiful shirts before.
This made me wonder—what is it with men imagining women crying at the sight of clothes? Is it like men celebrating themselves when a woman cries during sex thinking that she came, and crediting himself?
I’ll say that both filmic interpretations of The Great Gatsby and Tony Takitani were all directed by men. Both the novel and the short story were written by men.
Do men think women cry when they shop? Do men think that women are crazed by clothing? Do men really think that women fill their “emptiness” with clothes and accessories?
In Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas, she calls out the patriarch’s hypocrisy when they criticize women for being materially occupied. Woolf points to parishioners and priests–men–who wear ornate garments in the church—gown, hat and all—to impress who? god? Is god a materially-occupied being? According to that logic, god really is a woman….
In the modern era, women’s material occupation was shaped and constructed especially after WWII in America and moralized. The woman’s place was the home—back in the domestic sphere. Forget about the fact that she worked while the men were gone. She ought to do nothing but sit at home and purchase what radio, television and magazines tell her to purchase, and she ought to be the most right and responsible household manager, and the only way to do that is to buy the best stuff on the market for if she did not, she would be letting down her entire family, and there is no greater shame than that.
And who were the people in charge of these material goods at ad agencies and corporations? We’ve all seen the show Mad Men, so we know who they were.
But I think Tony Takitani and The Great Gatsby also point to the male protagonists’ sense of emptiness without a female presence in their lives, too. So for these men, they need to fill their emptiness with another person—a person who is not right for them or good for them. They feel that they can do this because the woman they admire is beautiful, and knows how to doll herself up through beautiful materials such as clothes, accessories, shoes, etc.
So these works are pointing to the cycle of material despair, and how none of us can fill this void with any noun—a person or thing.
I was thinking about Jay Gatsby, and wondering why the title of that book calls him “great.”
Jay Gatsby is far from “great,” really. He’s a liar and a crook, but most of all, a stalker. Wait, what? He saved clippings of Daisy for 5 years? He kept throwing huge lavish parties hoping she’d show up? He told people that he went to Oxford and inherited his wealth from his family before they died when those things aren’t exactly true? He says he’s a business man when he’s actually running business from the underground?
I just feel like the word “great” here is used in a confused way. Jay Gatsby isn’t that different from the characters that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book appears to be critiquing (at least in high school standards); if people like Daisy, Tom, George, and Myrtle appear immoral because of their life choices, Gatsby is just as easy to judge. But Nick regards all of them as victims of desire, then the playing field is level. They are all lost souls trapped in longing and wanting. “Desire leads to suffering.”
I question Nick’s character, too, because he sees only Gatsby as the victim in all of this. Gatsby was a nut. He was out of his wack and obsessed with a married woman. There’s nothing great about him. Fitzgerald was right to punish him. I question Fitzgerald in letting Tom and Daisy off scott-free though. Perhaps this where the expression “scott-free” comes from. From F. Scott Fitzgerald’s questionable plot choices where the poor and destitute are punished for being poor and destitute, and the lives of the rich remain uninterrupted no matter what immoral act they commit.
one of the sad things about flying home this year was seeing a lot of closures of time-old establishments. one of these includes A&H (also known as Applebaum) deli across the street from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station. i worked here on the weekends as a cashier back in 2010 & stood by the register with cutouts of cigarette cartons which i wrote my book on. i loved this place for the people i stood alongside and the other employees on the same block of fast food restaurants and bookstores.
in remembrance of them here’s a link to my book again. hope you enjoy ♥️♥️♥️
Two stories by Yi Cheong-jun (이청준) are now available in print. I translated “The Abject” (벌레 이야기) which is the basis for Lee Chang-dong’s 2007 film Secret Sunshinewhich earned Jeon Do-yeon a Best Actress award at Cannes.
Colin Marshall of the LA Review of Books interviewed me for my book DELI IDEOLOGY which was released last Memorial Day. Find it HERE.
We discuss millennials, Al Pacino, the military duty in South Korea that men are subject to, Virginia Woolf, Korean literature in translation, jobs, careers, life, evolution, and a bunch of other ponderous questions we ask or don’t ask while drifting through life. It’s a good listen. Thanks for tuning in.
Thanks everyone for your support and kind words on my photography. It’s certainly a passion and something I enjoy and do for fun. I have an upcoming trip to upstate NY and the MA area to capture more late fall snapshots so please be on the look out.
I want to take a minute and let you know that being a writer and filmmaker is my first occupation.
My first novel DELI IDEOLOGY is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and iTunes (iBooks) for all of your digital reading devices including tablets and smartphones. The book is about a young, educated Korean-American woman who finds herself working a job as a deli cashier alongside immigrants from around the world during the economic recession. It takes place in New York and Seoul.
It’s a book that captures the marginalized woman’s experience who toes a line as an immigrant, woman of color and an American.
Please check it out and as always, I appreciate your kind support.