Recent Films: Search for Connections

Nov. 9/19

Joker

This movie contains themes of poverty, mental illness, subjective reality and delusion, but the theme of betrayal and societal indifference must be the strongest one underlying this movie.

Arthur Fleck feels betrayed when his government cuts back mental health and social services to the point that he will lose his social worker and his medication. He’s betrayed by his city when young thugs beat him up and leave him bleeding in an alley. He’s betrayed by his employer who fires him from his clown job because Arthur carried a pistol to protect himself. He’s betrayed by his comedian hero (a TV talk-show host played by Robert DeNiro) who humiliates Arthur by mocking his stand-up routine on-air, and betrayed by multi-millionaire industrialist Thomas Wayne, whose hard-line politicking and denial of Arthur’s possible birthright may be responsible for Arthur’s poverty. Arthur is stuck between his need to protect his mother, and his resentment of the man who may be his real father, Thomas Wayne.

In Arthur’s life, the cards always seemed stacked against him. We see his desperation grow as the dillemas and pressures on him build, day by day. What little joy he has is temporary and illusory, and we watch his grasp on reality grow more tenuous as the pressure mounts around him. In those final moments when his releases his anger, at the end when his avenging persona is fully revealed, we feel Arthur’s bizarrely satisfying triumph.

This movie feels like a prequel to Heath Ledger’s Joker from Dark Knight. By the final act, we see Joker’s “agent of chaos” tendency emerge, and we watch him revel in the anarchy caused by rioting citizens who’ve all been pushed to the edge by desperation, corruption, and governmental negligence.

Arthur had little familial support in his life except for his relationship with his ailing and incapable mother. He had no financial stability, but ironically he was probably the son of the richest man in Gotham, trapped in the ugly ruts of poverty and mental illness. By the end of the movie, Arthur had found liberation through an insane justification and violent revenge.

Blade Runner 2049

I recently watched this 2017 movie on NetFlix. I found its visuals to be striking and epic, and its mood to be reminiscent of the original Blade Runner movie.

The big themes in this movie centred on what it means to be human, to have personal freedom, and to feel a connection to someone via romantic and platonic love, or as part of a family. In the world of Blade Runner, the spaciousness of the destroyed landscapes, the sparse, bleak soundscape, and the coldness of the acting tell us that this is an impersonal world without much love or warmth to be found.

The main character, Joe, is a Replicant (aka “skinjob”), a manufactured human with a limited lifespan. Joe works as a “Blade Runner”, a special police office who hunts down and destroys rogue Replicants who are seen as a threat to the government. Joe is cold and methodical in his work, and is treated like a second-class citizen by the humans around him. His only meaningful relationship is with Joi, an AI projection of a woman. Joi seems to genuinely care about him, and Joe seems to feel something for her, even while we wonder how genuine his feeling are. He could be just fulfilling a role that he thinks he is supposed to fill, like when he buys an anniversary gift for Joi. But it might also just be that Joe is playing-out an imitation of true feelings – we can’t really be sure. There are numerous Pinnochio references in this movie regarding Joe. He knows he isn’t a real human, but he wants to be human.

In the first Blade Runner, the main character, Deckerd, was a human in conflict with a world of Replicants who resented and rebelled against their artificially-limited and engineered lot in life. They railed against their creator slave master, Tyrell, the man who ran the Tyrell Corporation to create Replicants as cheap, disposable slave labout for off-world exploration.

Deckerd fell in love with Rachael, Tyrell’s daughter, and they escaped the city and sought a free life.

Rachael believed she was human, but Deckerd revealed the truth to her, painfully. Evan though she was a Replicant, was Rachael’s humanity any less valid because she was manufactured instead of born?

When we learn that Rachael became pregnant and bore a child, perhaps she became more human and symbolic of a new chance at shared life for Replicants and humans. Joe believes he is Rachael’s offspring, making him the son of Deckerd and a bridge between the two races.

This movie explores the idea of rediscovering real connections to another person. Joe discovers that he is not Rachael’s offspring but through Deckerd Joe has found a true connection to someone real. He is mortally wounded and facing his own death, but has found redemption and purpose, completing himself by reuniting Deckerd with the humanity that he had lost -Deckerd and Rachael’s rmissing daughter.

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The Old Man and The Sea

I’ve heard about this famous Hemingway book, but have never read it. Now I am reading it, and am pleasantly surprised by a few things:

  • It’s short, like a novella, but without chapter breaks. It’s really more like a very long short story.
  • The story format makes it immersive – you are deep in it, continuously, until the end. No chapter breaks, breathers or reminders of the format. You remain in the story, almost like it is one long sentence.
  • The writing style is very simple and direct. It feels like a short, straight line between the character and the reader, with the observational aspects almost all from the Old Man’s mouth and mind. The third-person is there, but minimized.
  • The themes of challenge and struggle, of man versus nature, and life versus death, are not framed heroically, but more personally, intimately. He is small compared to the ocean, he is battling his opponents (marlins, and later sharks), and he respects their power. This is very different from the matter-of-fact, somewhat detached rendition of bulls and bullfights in “Sun Also Rises”.
  • The Old Man respects the Marlin, and almost reveres it. There is religious imagery and santification in the act of fishing. He prays to God while fishing. Maybe for him, seeing the marlin come up out of the water could almost compare to seeing an angel fly down from heaven. Many descriptions of fins as wings, and swimming as flying, and flying fish.

I haven’t read any Coles Notes or Wikipedia on this story (yet), but to me, this story feels deeply personal, rooted in love, fear, faith, and belief.

Hemingway seems to be staring deeply at his reflection in the surface of the water, confronting his fears and his mortality. It’s very personal and very beautiful.

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The Impotence of Reading Ernest

I’m starting a run through Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”. Boy, I’m really late to this particular party – reading Hemingway, that is. In fact, I’m probably more interested in the man than his art, but they’re intimately connected, so I think I won’t learn something about one without learning something about the other.

I’ll be first to admit that I’m an amateur, quibbling, scribbling hack as a writer. I’ve hardly written very much at all, and I’ve rarely had anything published by others (just some comic book reviews). I wrote some short stories that you can read here, and, back in 2009, self-pubbed a novella, mainly to see if I could do it – from the story to cover design to limited online marketing. Overall, creatively, I’ve enjoyed hiding inside of the familiar warmth of my main character and avatar, Jack Owen. I wonder if other fiction writers feel that way. I wouldn’t know, because i don’t know any.

Through my first major novel project, I brute forced my way into learning a new art form, but I think I still understand the medium in only the most superficial sense. I have no real underlying knowledge of literature, and I tend to write in a “workman-like” way, as Ian Fleming once described his own style. I tend to read the occasional fiction and, like my taste in music, I tend to stick with a small number of artists whose voices resonate with me the most. As a teen, Ian Fleming and John LeCarre introduced me to spy thrillers and cold war intrigue, and later Chandler and Hammett gave me a taste for setting, vernacular, and the cold lives of lonely gumshoes. In fact, movies triggered my interest in all of these authors.

But reading Steinbeck changed many things for me: in high school, his brief but beautiful “Of Mice and Men” struck me powerfully, and only five or six years ago, his epic “The Grapes of Wrath” floored me and reduced me to tears with its powerful, universal themes. But, like Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway never was one of the voices I bothered to seek out – until now.

A recent, brief email discussion with a friend made me realize how little I knew about Papa. My friend is well-read and well-educated in literature, and I am, decidedly, embarrassingly, not. So, for some internal reason that I still don’t understand, her brief and pointed descriptions of Hem’s background and influences struck me like a kind of personal challenge. I decided to start reading Hem and to study his background. Something in him started to scratch at the inside of my skull…

As a kid, I absorbed references to Hemingway in pop culture (an episode of M*A*S*H, with an overly-adventurous journalist who caused damage and drama while trying to recapture his past glory), and in the stories my father used to tell about himself, or which were sometimes told about him by others. So, it’s come to pass in my head that I may explore some tenuous mental associations: “Ernest” is my first name (after my maternal grandfather), and the persona of “Papa” resonates into some of the self-aggrandizing stories that my Dad used to tell about himself.

As my post title might imply, there may also be issues of “maleness”, sincerity, and the loss of power which I could explore through absorbing Hem’s fiction, and in comparing or relating it to the males who’ve been the biggest influences in my life, primarily my Dad. As a boy, I loved and feared my Dad, as a young adult, I loved and pitied him, and in my middle age, I truly began to resent and even despise him.

What an emotional pendulum, going back and forth from sunny idealism to cold realism! Perhaps it’s just a byproduct of the emotional divorce that’s part of truly saying goodbye and letting someone go.

Maybe digging in on Papa Hemingway will actually help me to remeet and redeem my old man…

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On Joe Buck, the Midnight Cowboy.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been chipping away at “Midnight Cowboy” by James Leo Herlihy. This is the novel that the famous movie was based on, and although I cannot help but picture a young, cocky, blonde Jon Voight as Joe Buck, the Buck from the book beats the movie Joe handily – to a fictiony pulp, in fact.

This is not to say I don’t like the movie. I love the movie. The movie is beautiful to me. But although it was the novel that led to the film adaptation, in a weird inverted loop-around, it was the film that got me interested in the novel.

On the silver screen, Joe Buck is kind of surface-sincere-sweet and demonstratively himself, but in the novel, once you’ve read two dense pages of Joe’s internal deliberations on whether or not he’s being noticed in the Universe (or if he’s even worth noticing), the book version of Joe seems novel indeed, and the onscreen version seems as flat and fleeting as a film frame.

In his novel, Herlihy gives Joe Buck a depth of feeling and an existential sincerity that completely enobles him. Joe searches his blurry memories and his daily street life for answers to the question of who he is. The Cowboy is Joe’s conscously-adopted swaggering persona – the outward-facing role – that he, a lost and wayward son, has adopted in response to a hard, uncaring, and confusing world. Midnight is the dark confusion in which he sits, asking himself and the Universe his deepest, most difficult questions.

He’s lost so much in his young life: his innocence, his family, his security and identity, and his place in the world. The novel is about Joe’s world, his estrangement from it, his attempts to reconnect to it, and how he claws his way back into the light of hope by ditching the Cowboy in him. Texas and New York city are the gauntlets that Joe must run in order to pass through his trials.

Finding Rizzo gives Joe an unlikely ally, but even more, it gives Joe someone to take care of. As a wannabe hustler, Joe only really ever held alegiance to money and to the sexual power he could exercise to get it. However, throughout all his nasty adventures in dark movie theatres, hotel rooms, or up on rooftops, Joe always felt sympathy for those others who were suffering. He had compassion within him, perhaps waiting to be drawn out from under the embroidered shirt and suede jacket. So, the cowboy finally ended up trusting Rizzo, and became a friend and confidante to him. Joe Buck became a caregiver to somebody smaller and weaker than himself. He evolvd from a man-child to a parental figure, in his own way.

Herlihy uses plain language and essential phrases to weave together an elaborate world of internal confusion, torment, and compassion. Through Joe Buck, he questions the nature of love, the meaning of life, and the nature of family and friendship. In the movie version, Joe is a bit of a shallow but well-intentioned hayseed, and it is Voight’s personality that illustrates the sweet soul of Joe Buck onscreen. In the novel, we dive head-long into the emotional quagmire and philosophical dillemmas of a sensitive, yet illiterate young man who’s desperate to ask the big questions about his life without really having the tools to articulate them.

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William S. Burroughs: The terrible truth-telling Orifice.

I bought Naked Lunch back in 1997, I think. I never could get into it past the Introduction sections. I really liked William S. Burroughs’ opinions on addiction and the junkie mindset. His opinions sounded so authoritative, with a mixture of almost clinical objectivity (which drugs he’d become addicted to, how much and how often he’d tried to cure himself) and an acid-tongued cyncical editorializing on the Doctors and approaches that had failed him. Burroughs’ voice is cold and smart and sharp, but soaked in a bitter backwash of pain and regret. But, as much as I liked his observations in the intro and the epilogue of Naked Lunch, I’ll be damned if I could get into the guts of the book in any meaningful way. I wasn’t ready for it, I guess.

The closest I ever got to seeing the whole Naked Lunch novel rendered was by watching Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch movie, which was a collage of Burroughs’ stories and experiences, framed in a narrative featuring cockroaches, centipedes and throbbing anthropomorphized typewriters with talking assholes for mouths. I think the first talking asshole typewriter reveal was the biggest moment in that movie for me. It still makes me laugh.

Cronenberg captured or interpreted a lot of Burroughs’ imagery, and did his work as much service as possible, I think, while making somewhat necessary concessions to his own film tropes. I’m still crawling through Naked Lumch the novel, and digesting it slowly, while regurgitating scenes from Naked Lunch the Movie.

So, flash forward another 16 years, and I found myself reading Kerouac’s “On the Road” for the first time (and generally liking it), and getting a sideways introduction to Burroughs via Kerouac’s “Old Bull Lee” persona. Now I’ve restarted reading Naked Lunch, and it seems I’m ready for it now. Burroughs writes in this crazy, satirical voice with these cut-up chunks of narrative that mostly use a terse, clipped style, resembling a secret agent’s espoionage report, or a detective’s telegram. I found myself picturing him in his fedora and long overcoat, banging out reports in his almost anonymous, government worker voice, with hints of vernacular from the streets of New York or Tangier. It began to feel like watching a documentary film about a Raymond Chandler detective who was addicted to morphine, and whose cases were just falling apart in his face.

So, the writings of Burroughs are very interesting to me because of his challenging style. But Burroughs the man seemed a dependent, fucking mess. The portrait drawn of him in the book “Call Me Burroughs” demonstrates his ample wit and dry humour, but also his itinerant life, co-dependence in relationships, his many (many) addictions, and all the complicated pain that he endured as a gay (or bi?) man. I really don’t know what to make of his life from what I’ve read so far, except that he was probably fortunate to have survived it into his eighties. Burroughs took a beating, but a good deal of his misfortune arose (I think) from his own bad judgement and misadventure.

I started to envision something of a lineage growing down from the post-WWII Beats, down through later poets like Bob Dylan, and especially Jim Morrison. Old Beats like Ginsberg and Lucien Carr quoted Rimbaud’s idea of pursuing a “sustained derangement of the senses” as a path to finding the truth, or perhaps, as a way of escaping a rigid, distasteful reality. I could never do that, personally. I have often wanted to escape reality, but not through drugs or alcohol – just through my imagination or mental escapes into fantasy.

In my teens I loved Jim Morrison, and now after reading about the Beats a bit more, and relistening to “American Prayer” by the Doors, I truly think that no child of the Beats pursued a sustained derangement of their senses like Jim Morrison did. “Break on Through to the Other Side” was Morrison, singing about that same break with conventional values and ways of thinking that drove Burroughs, Kerouac and the Beats.

William Burroughs used a cut-up, collage technique in Naked Lunch. That is very intriguing to me. I’ve played with collage with images from magazines, comics and photos, inspired by Gary Lee-Nova, my art school multimedia instructor (himself a life-long fan and scholar of Burroughs). But I’ve never done it with words. Sometime, I want to look at different ways to derange my thoughts after I put them down on paper or record them.

These days, with composition and acquisition being commoditized into microscopic electronics, there might even be an app for that.

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On Creativity: Carnivalé and the Hero’s Journey

The HBO series Carnivale has been inspiring me.

We recently picked up Carnivalé on DVD, and are enjoying season one. This series was broadcast on HBO in 2004 and only lasted two seasons before being cancelled, but not before attracting attention and kudos for its haunting stories, great cast, and movie-quality production values.

Carnivalé presents us with two unlikely protagonists: an abandoned farm boy who has recently lost his mother and his home, and a tortured preacher who struggles to save the down-trodden “Oakies”, outcasts from society in the midst of the American dustbowl-era depression.

Ben, the farm boy, is beset with dreams and visions of his late father. Ben possesses a healing ability, which his devoutly religious mother condemned him for moments before she died.

Brother Justin, the Preacher, also possess a power – the power to make others see visions. He uses this power to convince the weak and the evil to follow his path of righteousness, specifically to help the downtrodden and especially, poor abandoned and orphaned children.

Each of these men lives in a different world from the other: Ben with the “Carnivalé” circus, and Brother Justin in a small, conservative town that would never accept him as their pastor if they knew of his special abilities.

Ben undergoes what I see as the classic Hero’s Journey, or trial, where he becomes trapped and lost in an abandoned mine, and sees visions involving his late father and a man from the Canivalé, whom he knows as Ludz.

In the Hero’s Journey (a la Joseph Campbell), the hero becomes trapped in a maze or some kind of labyrinth, but eventually escapes after having a vision or dream.

This maze experience is a test. In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker went to Dagobah to learn from Master Yoda, and one of his tasks was to enter an underground cave, where he confronted Darth Vader in a dreamlike battle. We knew it wasn’t the real Darth Vader – it was a test visited upon Luke by his Master, to help him see his own soul and potential future.

 

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On Creativity: Multiple Media and a Billion Artists

Once in a while, an artist will inspire me, and make me appreciate connections to other artists, from the current time, or from a relatively distant point in the past.

Once in a while, an artist will inspire me, and make me appreciate connections to other artists, from the current time, or from a relatively distant point in the past.

Maybe a singer-songwriter like Adele or Beck will say something extremely poignant to me through their music. The same with film-makers like P.T. Anderson, Michel Gondry, or Quentin Tarantino, through their movies.

But even more so, the farther back in time I go: Orson Welles speaks to me strongly.  Buster Keaton makes me cheer for the little guy, and Fritz Lang and Murnau make me wonder what happens in the darker corners of our minds. Illustrators and graphical storytellers like Will Eisner, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee feel like uncles. Their lines are like well-known handwriting that evokes a familiar voice in my head. Steinbeck made me anguish for the poor and desperate working families. Charles Dickens made me love the charity, trust and loyalty of dear David Copperfield.

Some of the stories were recorded decades ago, and some well over a century ago, but they are alive in real-time whenever I experience them again.

I think that the human mind must truly not care a thing about timeliness, or temporal sequence. There is just now.

And now, we all have the capability to dream, to create, to defend our values, and to reach out to each other through our art. The insanely fast, relentless growth and spread of digital communications technology allows us to bring our minds and hearts together in time and space with an immediacy that we’ve never before known.

Of course, there’s a lot of crap and idiocy out there online and in realspace, but in the midst of it, a billion potential artistic voices are trying to call out to each other.

 

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Enigmatic Memes: Bathroom Grafitti I Have Known

Bathroom wall graffiti gives a glimpse of the way people think: it is drect, anonymous and comes with little sense of responsibility, similar to how most people’s backyards tell us how the homeowner truly lives.

Bathroom wall scribbles hardly qualify as art or creative writing, but I can think of some that is more creative than others.

Back in 1985, when I was a first-year student at the Emily Carr College of Art, the men’s room in the Foundation Department had some enigmatic and interesting graffiti. Above one of the urinals, written in tiny letters in the grout between the tiles, were three words, a little zen riddle which puzzled me in the back of my mind. Weeks later, for some reason I can’t recall, me and a few classmates were standing in the hallway at lunch hour, discussing bathroom grafitti. Shaun Hayes-Holgate only had to say the words “Toast or Pockets?” and we all knew what he meant, and exactly where we all, er, stood.

Gossip also went ’round about a long exchange between a student and one of our instructors, which apparently became fairly heated, to the point of using very blunt expletives. The instructor in question was known for writing copious notes on sheets of paper on his classroom walls using a brush pen, which gave his writing a distinctive calligraphic style. Apparently, the instructor’s brush pen was equally effective on drywall and may have given him away. So much for an author’s anonymity.

By comparison, I found the bathroom grafitti at UBC rather disappointing. In the men’s room in the Student Union Building at Western Canada’s largest, most prestigious University, I half expected some sort of first-year philosophy course scrawled across the tiles. Instead, it was the same sort of racist, homophobic ranting and cartoon genitalia that you’d find on the walls of any high school. So much for higher education. (My wife, defending her Alma Mater, declared that these were just first-year students.)

Today, 25 years later, Emily Carr seems to have kept some of its off-beat, enigmatic flavour, but overall, I find that my old school seems so much more mainstreamed and packaged than it was back in my day. Certainly, the quality of bathroom discourse seems to have degraded. Maybe students and teachers have their meaningful exchanges in Twitter and Facebook nowadays. All I know is that today, over the toilet in the Emily Carr Foundation men’s room was scribbled “Kelsey Grammar, bitches!” to which someone had replied “Hell yeah!”

Perhaps devolution is real, or perhaps I expect too much from post-secondary education.

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Mourning Coughey (A story sketch)

The bagel gave its secrets to me limply and without a fight. I was hungry and it got what was coming to it. They always do, stupid bagels.

The sky was grey and overcast, threatening to rain. Large trucks blasted their horns irritably at little cars that were too slow to get out of their way. I knew I was going to end up trudging home in the rain again.

I blinked hard, trying to clear away the mental fog from a sleepless, sweaty night. I’d spent most of it fretting uselessly over problems belonging to other people – chasing stranger’s ghosts down unfamiliar alleys. How can you find something when you can’t even remember what you were looking for?

I went over the situation again, step-by-step: I hadn’t touched that golden writing project in around a year. It was the next big thing for me. Maybe it would buy me a seat at the published writers table. Back then, I knew it was going to be amazing – better than my last (first) book anyway. Way better.

But the momentum I’d held in my brain and hands when I’d last worked on it had long since seeped off, bled out, dried up and been swept away by the first-person drama that took hold of me in the real world. Trivial things like keeping a job, questioning my life, pitching a job into the dustbin, and then eventually finding a new one. It’s amazing how quickly the prospect of facing your own personal economic downturn can turn an impassioned dreamer into a practical, brim-wearing bean counter. That zero-line in the bank balance was getting a little closer each day. Brother, can you spare a thousand bucks?

This is your waking life, buddy. You can’t dream it away, but you’ll keep swimming upstream against its relentless oncoming pressure like the gallant little goldfish that you are, dragging your baggage behind you, hoping to turn old ballast into new fuel.

I took a deep drink from my mug and thanked the Benevolent Hand That Had Created It. Thank god the coffee was good, and still hot. And the sun was peeking out now. That was something. Okay, smart guy – it’s time to try and scribble down that next big idea.

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On Writing: Having Uncommon Thoughts in Common

To observe and comment on your life and world, you need to have a certain amount of objectivity – detachment – from it. If you’re too-comfortably living inside your world, you really can’t see the outside shape of it.

To observe and comment on your life and world, you need to have a certain amount of objectivity – detachment – from it. If you’re too-comfortably living inside your world, I don’t think that you really can see the outside shape of it. You’re too close to it.

On Having an Outsiders View of Things

By outsider, I’m thinking of someone who goes against societal norms, conventions or values, especially in cases where they wish to help someone else who is less fortunate.

Dickens and David Copperfield

I tried to read Copperfield back when I was about twelve. We had inherited a few classics in old hardcover editions, which I’m guessing could have been from the early teens of the century. Being something of a fetishist for old things, I took David Copperfield and Huckleberry Finn to my bookshelf, like a thief in the night. I wish I still had those old books. I got through Huck Finn without any trouble, but Dickens’ complex, florid style stopped me cold after a few pages, and I never went back, until recently. Thirty years later.

Anyway, Dickens had really gotten to me when I finished reading Copperfield last month. It struck me just how much I felt in agreement with the social values that he communicated through his characters. He boldly ran counter to the class-snobbery of his day, imbuing the poorest folk with the purest ethics and strongest character. David felt compassion for others, and tried to help them even when he himself would suffer because of it. Especially, Dickens seemed to care for the suffering of children living in poverty.

I recall one character (maybe Wilkins Macawber?) stating that you cannot judge a book by its cover. As a young lad, David was not well-off at all, and went out of his way to demonstrate character traits that one wouldn’t expect from such a young person. I heard David’s voice in my head, throughout the course of his “life” in the novel, and identified with his ethics, humanity, strengths and weaknesses.

Raymond Chandler: The Big Sleep, and More…

The two Raymond characters who stand out in my mind the most are probably his most famous: Phillip Marlowe, and The Continental Op. Marlowe’s clear-minded, almost weary cynicism, and keen observations of the weaknesses in the ethics of others fascinates me. At first, I found some of Chandler’s use of period vernacular to be too frequent (almost to the point of obscuring meaning, rather than accentuating the colour of it), although I’ve come to appreciate how skilled he was at it, and how difficult it is to create punchy, compelling and rich dialogue that portrays the personalities, motivations and world of each character. Chandler wrote as if he was having fun with his colourful, smirking, almost expressionistic similes. You were allowed to accept his artistic license with tongue in cheek. Marlowe seemed a bit too flipant or devil-may-care, but he was no chump, and neither were you, thanks to Chandler. (I think the makers of the James Bond movies used this same kind of flippant tone. Ian Fleming did not, in his original novels, although he admitted to being a big fan of Raymond Chandler.)

Jeff Lindsay’s “Darkly Dreaming Dexter”

Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter Morgan (you know – from that TV series?) is a unique mix of cold-blooded serial killer and objective observer of the human condition. He’s bewitched, bothered and bewildered by the emotions of his friends (and his victims), and searching to validate  his own existence. He kind of sees himself as the trash collector of the universe, killing those most despicable monsters – child killers, rapists, pedophile priests – whom he decides deserve it, according to The Code of Harry.

Dexter is highly intelligent, wryly funny, and in many ways, truly superior, and yet, he is bereft of real emotional reactions (i.e. sociopathic), so plays an elaborate game of pretend in order to pass as normal to his coworkers and the rest of the waking world.

Something in Common with Uncommon Voices?

What is it that makes me feel kinship to someone who died well before I was born? I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed David Copperfield, and hearing Dickens’ voice. Chandler’s voice acts on me similarly: I feel a familiar personality at work in my head, some recognizable territory that I’ve visited in the past, but remains a little fresh each time I see it again.

I think that the intimate, personal sense of recognition that I have with these two authors has a lot to do with their characters’ first-person perspective: David Copperfield, The Big Sleep (and all the other Phillip Marlowe stories I’ve read by Chandler), and Darkly Dreaming Dexter are all written in the first person. It’s incredibly personal, intimate and effective – putting the reader right into the protagonist’s point of view.

Perhaps because I live in my head so much of the time, I enjoy living in someone else’s head in the same way.

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