Saturday, June 30, 2018

Hollywood trip and the movie The Swimmer

I just wanted to make a few comments about my recent trip to Hollywood. I saw Grauman’s Chinese Theater with the foot and hand prints of many performers on a previous visit a while back. But I was thrilled to see the comments and signatures of many current movie actors and actresses, including Meryl Streep. However, there is also the equally exotic Grauman’s Chinese Theater close by and actors and directors sometimes appear there to discuss their films which are shown at that spot. Sid Grauman was a master showman, and he sort of invented the “Red Carpet” show and all of the hoopla surrounding the premiers of films. He really turned Hollywood into the home of the stars. Jimmy Kimmel’s show is broadcast right across from the Dolby Theater where the Oscars are held, so that is why it is easy for him to have the winners on his show right after the annual ceremony.

I also went on a tour of the Warner Brothers studio. On one lot parts of movies such as East of Eden and The Music Man were filmed. The gazebo and town center for the TV show The Gilmore Girls is in this area, as well as the “Central Perk” coffee shop where Friends was shot. The prop building houses an enormous inventory of items used in movies, including antique lamps and a wall filled with telephones from various time periods. It was quite exciting to see the jacket that James Dean wore in Rebel Without a Cause, and the black bird statuettes used in The Maltese Falcon. In the Harry Potter room, there are a number of items used in the films, including one of the flying broomsticks. And, in one building there are a number of Batmobiles, including the million dollar one introduced in Batman Begins.

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.
Okay, now onto this week’s discussion. Every so often I like to add a post that springs from a discussion in my film class at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. We recently viewed and commented on this not very well known 1968 movie. It is based on a John Cheever short story, and written for the screen and directed by the show business couple, who were married at the time, Eleanor and Frank Perry. They are the duo that gave us the psychological film, David and Lisa. The making of this movie encountered several problems. There was a dispute between Frank Perry and the producer, and Sydney Pollack came in (uncredited) to finish directing the film. Also, the studio pulled the plug on financing at the last moment, and star Burt Lancaster funded the last day of shooting himself.
Despite those setbacks, the result is a thoughtful take on the hope of being part of the “American Dream,” and how, like in The Great Gatsby, that dream can turn into a nightmare. (I always felt that Lancaster would have made a terrific Gatsby, with that board, brilliant smile and twinkle in his eyes. Of course his Elmer Gantry sort of fit the bill of a showy salesman whose false surface hides a darker side). The story here starts out with beautiful morning weather as Ned Merrill (Lancaster), a man in his fifties who is physically fit, shows up in his swim trunks at the backyard pool of upper class suburban neighbors. These middle-aged people had enjoyed an affluent, alcohol-infused party the night before and are languishing in indolent hangovers (they look like they would have fit right in with the people at the party at the beginning of The Graduate). The conversation is pretty white-person bland as they greet Ned who they have not seen for a while. When asked, Ned says that his girls are at home playing tennis and his wife is doing fine, a response that fits in with what would be expected to be said in this environment. Of the houses he visits, this one is the farthest away from his own. The neighbors ask where has Ned been, and he says, “Oh, here and there, here and there.” The vagueness of his response may seem appropriate given the superficial conversation, but it is the beginning of what becomes the central question of the film: What has happened to Ned? His out-of-the-blue early morning desire for a swim in a neighbor’s pool may seem a bit odd, and it gets even stranger as the story unfolds.
These well-to-do inhabitants don’t even swim in their pools for physical fitness. They indulge their bad habits while lounging next to their artificial waterways. They just have parties to show the pools off, as status symbols. One man brags, “I didn’t skimp on anything.” He installed a water filter that, “filters out ninety-nine point ninety-nine point ninety-nine percent of all solid matter in the water.” His description sounds like a plug for a Nazi version of water filters whose goal is purity. One family takes care of their pool to the point that, as someone observes, “they nurse it like a baby.” The implication is that the love of material things has replaced affection for one’s own children.

Ned gets the idea that he wants to swim home, using the pools of the surrounding suburban homes. He says, “Pool by pool, they form a river all the way to our house.” (Remember, Jay Gatsby met his end in a swimming pool). When he doesn’t remember who owns the last place along the route, the neighbors seem surprised. They slowly say that it belongs to Shirley Abbott (Janice Rule), and we suspect that there was a bit of scandal between her and Ned (her last name is ironic, since nothing religious existed between the two of them). Ned sees his swimming as an adventure. He says of himself, “I’m an explorer.” Ned is a sort of a suburban Odysseus, who traveled by water to get home and reclaim his family. Ned seems as if he has turned himself into some hero in a fantasy story, He says, “I’d like to see all those glistening domes and minarets,” and go “sailing around the Golden Horn.” But this story is a mock epic one, and Ned is living in a delusion. He practically advocates self-deception when he says along the way, “if you make believe hard enough that something is true, then it is true for you.”

Another early indication of the flaws in Ned’s character occurs when he visits the next house. He’s all smiles but when he meets Mrs. Hamman (Cornelia Otis Skinner), she tells him he’s not welcome there. He says that he’s a friend of her son, but she says to him coldly, “A friend. How dare you use that word. You never came to see him. You never even called him at the hospital.” Ned asks, “Well how is he. Is he better?” Mrs. Hammar’s scowl shows that her son probably died. Ned is in denial about himself as a friend and the actual events that have transpired around him. Ned’s assessment of himself as being, “a very special human being. Noble. And splendid,” is beginning to seem like false pride.
Ned is also in denial about his age. He is trying to be Peter Pan, staying forever young. In fact Shirley Abbott later says to him sarcastically, “Well how goes it in Never-Never Land?” The name of the place where Peter lives here sounds like a repeated denial of Ned’s facing his actual age and character. His desire to swim home, and his references to being on a quest seem like he’s playing a child’s game of make-believe. At another pool, there is a boy that has grown up, and Ned seems to not have seen him since the youth was much younger. So, we get the feeling of Ned being away from this world for a while. Where has he been? Has he been institutionalized? Or, has he just had some type of mental breakdown with amnesia concerning past times that were traumatic?
At the same pool, he encounters a young woman, Julie Hooper (Janet Landgard) who is twenty years old. She admits to having a crush on Ned when she was younger and doing babysitting. Her hero worshiping feeds Ned’s inflated idea of himself, and symbolizes his desire to recapture his youth. She finds his swimming quest romantic, and temporarily joins him on his journey. They jump over fences but at one point he lands hard and injures his leg, limping through the rest of the film as a symbolic indication that his delusion is failing. Julie’s virginal appearance is undercut for him when she talks about having met a boyfriend through a computer (must have been one of the earliest versions of internet dating), and admits to watching a naked man exposing himself. These revelations show the corruption of age and bang at the door of his self-imposed desire to keep out awareness of the loss of the innocence of a child. When he appears to try to kiss Julie (maybe to taste her vanishing youth?), she is repulsed, because in her eyes he changes from a platonic hero to a dirty old man, and she runs away.
At another home, the host tells Ned that he should leave his phone number because, “I’ve heard of an opening … smaller place than you’re used to … I think if you approach them right, take a cut just at first.” We now start to realize that Ned has fallen on hard economic times, and is unemployed. He, of course, doesn’t want to talk about this offer, since he would then have to face the negativity from which he is trying to escape. His poor economic standing is echoed when he visits the home of a couple of rich, elderly nudists, The Hallorans, (Nancy Cushman and House Jameson). Perhaps they represent a corrupted version of the initially innocent and naked Adam and Eve in The Garden of Eden, as they talk about how Ned still owes them money. The husband says maybe they could lend Ned some more funds, for old time sake, as a friend. But, his wife is all business. She says, “He’s not going to get a penny!” She continues by stating, “Friends are not deductible.” Their dismissal of Ned, who used to be one of them, is an indictment of the coldness of people who put their money first. They illustrate that failure in the world of capitalism draws scorn and dismissal.

Of course Ned was part of this monetarily successful world that marginalized others, and he still believes that he is part of it. When he approached one estate driveway he encounters a black chauffeur who he mistakes for the previous African American employee. The driver gives him an annoyed look, but Ned remains clueless as to his own prejudicial comment. It is a subtle reference to the racist claim that all blacks look alike. There are no African Americans living in this affluent area, except those who are servants or employed in menial jobs.
Ned visits the home of a youth, Kevin (Michael Kearney). The pool there is dry. Perhaps it symbolizes the emotional barrenness of the capitalist world. Kevin thinks he’s a failure because he is a bad swimmer and would never become captain of any sports team. Ned offers some advice when he tells the boy that once he realizes it’s not “the end of the world because you’re not on the team,” he can appreciate “that you’re free. You’re your own man. You don’t have to worry about being captain and all that status stuff,” and he can be “captain of your soul.” Perhaps Ned’s comments show some insight into the futility of the competitive rat race he was part of, or it can also be seen as a rationalization on his part to deal with his failure to remain a star player in the business world.
Ned’s delusional facade continues to crumble when he reaches the home of Henry Biswanger (Dolph Sweet), where another swank party is taking place. Ned earlier said of his daughters, “those kids of mine think I have all the answers. Those kids of mine think I’m just about it.” Here, we hear a different version of Ned’s life. A guest, Howie Hunsacker (Bill Fiore) - the name sounds like a barbarian who will rob you - says his boy had “straight A’s” and won a scholarship. Hunsacker’s wife, Lillian (Jan Miner) says, “we bring up our kids to behave themselves. We don’t let our kids run around drunk, wrecking cars.” Another guest says that Ned kept the names of his daughters out of the newspaper after the drunken driving incident. Lillian says of Ned’s daughters, “those girls never paid no attention to him.” Howie says to Ned, “Your girls laughed at you. I heard them. They thought you were a great big joke.” Ned then sees a hot dog cart that he says belongs to him. Biswanger now owns it. We realize that Ned’s financial collapse probably led to a garage sale, where Biswanger bought the novelty cart.
Ned visits the last house owned by Shirley Abbott who used to be his mistress. His delusion tries to substitute the negativity of how he hurt her with a romanticized version of their relationship, reminiscing about places they didn’t actually visit together. We can see her pain as he tries to seduce her again, and she almost submits, in the pool, but her anger sends him away. She destroys his version of their relationship when she says, “I lied! I lied all the time about loving it anywhere with you. You bored me to tears! With all your stories about your old deals and your old girls and your golf scores and your bloody war and bloody duty to your wife and kids. You bored me to tears! I was playing a scene with you. … I was acting.” It’s possible that the water in this story can be seen as an attempt by Ned to wash away ugly memories in order to return to what he considered a more pleasant past. However, it turns out to be a failed effort at being reborn into a hopeful time. Ned now moves down the ladder of success as he visits a crowded public pool. He is humiliated because he must beg for some money to pay for an opportunity to swim in the crowded facility where those with less money use a pool to actually cool off instead of having one as an indication of financial accomplishment.
By the time Ned reaches his home, the beautiful weather is left behind, as Ned loses his sunny version of his life. We now have a raging rainstorm with its fierce downpour contrasting with the calm waters in the pools. This water washes away Ned’s make-believe world. The grounds of his estate are in decay and the house is abandoned, his family long gone as they probably abandoned him.
One member of the film class offered that, in keeping with the mythological analogies in the movie, Ned’s reference to the pools acting like a “river,” could be interpreted as Ned traveling along the river Styx on his way to hell, washing his feet at the public pool in preparation for his crossing over. The gates to his decrepit, run down home may signify the entrance to the underworld. He becomes sicker and shivers, as he finally reaches the door to his house, possibly expiring there. Ned is severely punished for not remaining a success in a capitalist society. Burt Lancaster accurately described this movie as Death of a Salesman in swim trunks.

The next film is The Miracle Worker.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Stand and Deliver

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.
Many of us have obstacles to overcome in order to live a better life. But, some have more barriers placed in their path that they must ascend than do others. This 1988 film, based on a true story, is one of the most inspirational stories put on film, without being sentimental, that shows the extreme effort needed by some to gain success in the presence of prejudice and the poverty that derives from it.

The movie opens with a scene of flowing water which suggests that we may be ready to visit a lush tropical locale. But it is the river that flows through Los Angeles, and it seems ironic to place nature and concrete side by side. But, the water implies that there can be something that is fertile, life-sustaining, even in an asphalt jungle. Right from the beginning we get a symbol that there can be hope here.
Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos, in an Oscar-nominated performance) is heading to the first day of his teaching job at Garfield High School in a Latino section of the city. We are vicariously experiencing the newness of this adventure with him as he takes in the colors, sounds, and diversity of the neighborhood. It doesn’t take long before he encounters his first obstacle. He is supposed to teach computer science, but is told that they do not have computers. The math department chairperson, Raquel Ortega (Virginia Paris) tells him that the computers were supposed to be there already, but it hasn’t happened. It’s like trying to teach carpentry without any tools. So, the bureaucracy already is working against Escalante.

Since he can’t teach computer science, Escalante must switch gears and is assigned to teach mathematics. The next problem is the students. They are unruly, and see no need to learn math. Pancho (Will Gotay) jokingly says, “I don’t need no math. I got a solar calculator with my dozen donuts.” For these young people, the only math they believe they need will be basic calculations done by the machines in fast-food stores.  Escalante uses humor to deal with the situation, trying to employ entertainment to get the class’ attention. For example, when a girl drapes herself over the desk of a boy, he says that there is only one body per desk. But there are many disruptions on his first day. There are students in the class who only speak Spanish. The bell goes off right after class begins, since some students have rigged it to sound haphazardly. His car is vandalized on the first day, a window broken and the radio removed. One student wears a jacket with a picture of Jesus on the back. It can either suggest hope, irony that the students feel that God has forsaken them, or a reminder that God helps those that help themselves.
We find out, through a discussion with a neighbor, that Escalante worked at a computer company, and left a higher paying job because he wanted to help Latino students learn so they can help themselves. He shows up at class dressed as a butcher with a cleaver and places parts of apples on the students’ desks to teach fractions. Pancho ate his apple, and when asked how much he has left, he says he only has a core. Escalante wittily mixes humor and math when he says, “You owe me a hundred percent. And I’ll see you in The People’s court.” A few students come in late, and are intimidating. But, Escalante uses his humor to deflate their threats. One gives him the finger, and the teacher calls him “finger man.” When Angel (Lou Diamond Phillips) reaches for Escalante’s pen, he warns the student that he might lose a finger. Then, he won’t be able to count to ten, which is a mathematical put-down, suggesting that using his hand is the only way he can add. He later shows the students a simple trick to use fingers to do more complicated computations, encouraging them by showing that they don’t have to be geniuses to solve problems. He basically tells them that showing contempt for education just to act cool now won’t help later in life, because “tough guys don’t do math. Tough guys fry chicken for a living.”

He has other effective classroom management techniques. He stands close to a student’s desk, interacting with that person one-on-one, as an individual, not as a member hiding out in a group. This way he can either inhibit bad behavior, or be supportive of positive academic participation. When one student, Lupe (Ingrid Oliu), rebels by refusing to take a test, he separates her from the group, placing her in a chair facing the rest of the class. Instead of his humor and antics providing entertainment, he tells her she is “the show,” and the other classmates ridicule her for being treated like a child in a time-out. Escalante turns the adolescent inclination of making fun of peers as a way to keep students in line.  

He wants his students to reach for something better out of life, so he challenges them. He says, “If the only thing you know how to do is add and subtract, you will only be prepared to do one thing: Pump gas.” He tells them they are going to learn algebra. He goads one of the “tough guys” to show that he can be smart, being able to add positive and negative numbers to get the answer of zero. He then appeals to their cultural background, to instill pride and associate it with math. He tells them, “neither the Greeks nor the Romans were capable of using the concept of zero. It was your ancestors, the Mayans, who first contemplated the zero. The absence of value. True story. You burros have math in your blood.”
At a math teacher meeting, Principal Molina (Carmen Argenziano) says that if the school doesn’t improve it will be put on probation, and will lose accreditation. Chairperson Ortega points out that there is no real help from the outside in terms of resources. One teacher is supposed to be teaching gym, not math. Another, because of better pay, is going into the aerospace industry. But Ortega’s attitude is a defeatist one, always blaming the situation, those obstacles, for the lack of success, and preaches resignation instead of an attempt to rise to the occasion. She even harbors racist inclinations against her own people, as she suggests that they would have to change the demographics of the district for the school to improve. She surrenders to the notion that they can’t teach “logarithms to seventh grade level kids.” She says that they have done all that they can, but, in contrast to this throwing in the towel attitude, Escalante says he can do more. He counters Ortega’s capitulation by saying, “students will rise to the level of expectation.” If they undercut the students confidence by saying they can’t accomplish goals, they will fail.

He tells the students they already have those extra obstacles mentioned above blocking them. In a society that preaches equality but practices prejudice, and assumes they can’t be smart, he says, “You already have two strikes against you: your name and your complexion.” Despite those imposed disadvantages, there is no reason to give up. Knowledge of mathematics will be the “the great equalizer,” leveling the playing field when they must compete for jobs. He wants them to face the reality that an employer does not want, “to hear your problems.” He wants them to understand by working hard, they can still hit a home run despite the “strikes” against them. But, they must have “ganas,” that is, the desire to achieve.

As the students begin to admire Escalante for believing that they can excel in mathematics, they give him the name of “Kemosabe,” which was the term of endearment that the Native American sidekick of the Lone Ranger on the old TV show used for his masked friend. In some interpretations it means “trusted friend.” But, it also has the connotation of someone who has your back when fighting against the enemy, which in this story turns out to be the social system that has placed those “two strikes” against these kids.
Angel begins to realize that math may be his ticket out of poverty and discrimination. But, he has to avoid the peer pressure of the other gang types who think trying to be a good student is selling out to a system that marginalizes them. So, Angel asks Escalante for a math book he can keep at home so it appears that he isn’t taking his studies seriously by carrying his book around. His teacher jokingly comments on the the absurdity of the problem when he says to Angel, “Wouldn’t want anyone thinking you’re intelligent, would you?” When he gives him the book, Angel hides it under his shirt. In this crazy upside down situation, it is not illegal drugs or stolen goods that must be hidden, but instead a book is the incriminating evidence.

The film takes time to show the obstacles in the personal lives of these students. Lupe is a surrogate mother for her siblings while her mother must work late in order to provide for her family. Angel has a sick grandmother for whom he watches over. One smart girl, Ana (Vanessa Marquez), tells Escalante that she has to drop out to work in her family restaurant. Escalante has dinner at the restaurant with his wife, Fabiola (Rosanna DeSoto), and tries to convince Ana’s father (James Victor) that his daughter can go to college and become a doctor, which is what she told Escalante she wants to be. The father has some old, sexist attitudes about girls, which are impediments to Ana’s wishes. He thinks that the longer Ana stays in school, the more likely she will become pregnant. He says that the whole family works at the restaurant, so why should she be any different. In this way, the father echoes the school math department chairperson by having low expectations for the children, and thus limiting their changes of realizing their dreams. Escalante does go a bit too far by saying that if Ana drops out, she will get fat and waste her life working in the family eatery. This statement is insulting to the father, who had worked his way up from dishwasher to owner. But, Escalante says he, too, started as a dishwasher, and both he and Ana’s father have done well by working hard for what they wanted. Even though the dad is angry at first, Ana shows up at school again, and shines as a student.
Pancho tells Escalante that they need to know how math works in the world outside of school. So, the teacher takes them on a field trip to where he worked at a computer company. A student asks what type of mathematics is displayed on a computer screen. He is told that it is calculus, and Escalante says that it will be taught to them when they go to college. The worker there tells Escalante that his daughter is taught calculus in high school. This encounter gives Escalante the idea of teaching his students calculus so that they can get college credit by passing the Advanced Placement test. Of course, the obstacles are there trying to prevent him from achieving this goal. The negative chairperson, Ortega, says that even some math teachers can’t pass that test, let alone their students who have a seventh grade reading level. She says they don’t even have the books. Escalante knows that Principal Molina wants to prevent the school from being put on probation, so the math teacher says the only way to turn the school around is from the top down, with the best students modeling success for the rest of the student body. Escalante says either he gets to teach calculus, or he walks. In order to achieve greatness, for him, there can be no compromises. Ortega tells Escalante that his students will lose what “little” (note the condescension) self-respect they have when they fail. Again, she assumes defeat. For Escalante, giving up without even trying is the greater failure. Principal Molina gives him the green light, but he must teach prerequisites such as trigonometry in the summer to be ready for the calculus in the fall of the students’ senior year. Summer school is usually for remedial courses, but Escalante wants to use it not for going backward but moving forward academically. The students toil in the heat as the air-conditioning doesn’t work, just adding another burden to deal with on their difficult road ahead.
When school begins again in the new school year, Escalante wants his students’ commitment in writing. He makes them and their parents sign contracts that guarantee that they will show up before school begins, stay late after classes are over, and even to work with him during vacation breaks. There will be no senior year slacking off. The kids are not thrilled, and one says that Escalante likes scaring them into doing stuff, but that it is getting old. But, Escalante is persistent. One girl, Claudia (Karla Montana), trying to convince her mother of the importance of calculus, tells her that it is fascinating that Sir Isaac Newton invented calculus to understand planetary motion. Her mother, another blocking agent that must be overcome, is reluctant to sign the contract, preaching the sexist idea that boys don’t like smart girls. Claudia tells her she wants to learn so that she doesn’t have to rely on a boy. Her mother, probably understanding the vulnerability of relying on a man, is inspired by her daughter’s desire to be self-sufficient, and signs the contract. Pancho tells Escalante that he has a job offer to work a forklift and he will be making more money than the teacher. They go for a ride in Pancho’s car, and Escalante asks him quickly to decide which way to turn. After the turn, he pulls over and says that if Pancho sticks with the course, he will be able to design machines not just try to operate or repair them. His point is to not just have a short range plan to make money to deal with immediate financial needs, but to work toward a fulfilling future. As Escalante tells Pancho, “You only see the turn. You don’t see the road ahead.”

Escalante sometimes goes too far in pushing his students. Claudia looks outside of the classroom window, watching other youths enjoying the outdoors while she is inside enduring her teacher’s grueling lessons. She gets up and starts to leave, and Escalante says she probably has another date, and has more boyfriends than Elizabeth Taylor. She angrily tells him before leaving that she doesn’t appreciate him using her personal life for the class’ entertainment. He does run after her, though, and she breaks down, saying that she doesn’t see her boyfriend, hasn’t had time to help her mother, or even to take care of personal grooming. (While rushing to catch up with Claudia, Escalante puts his hand over the left side of his chest. The act is a foreshadowing of what is to happen later). She makes Escalante realize that she is sacrificing a great deal of her young life to study. Angel takes his ailing grandmother to a public clinic where they have to wait a long time because they can’t afford decent health care. When he is late for class, Escalante kicks him out, and Angel upends a desk, enraged that his teacher won’t even stop to listen to Angels’ reason for his tardiness. Later, Angel crashes Escalante’s holiday dinner, bringing his grandmother, who explains why Angel was late for class. Angel justifies his action by telling his teacher that he needs the math class to get “a good career.” He may have gone over the line, but he has demonstrated to Escalante that Angel has the “ganas” to succeed.
But, Escalante’s zeal to accomplish a greater good for many others has shortchanged his own family. Besides putting in so many extra hours teaching calculus, he also volunteers to teach English as a Second Language to immigrants, and recently started helping out at junior high schools. His driven nature catches up to him, because the human body has its own way of becoming an obstacle to unlimited accomplishment. Escalante suffers a heart attack while teaching an ESL class. To emphasize how the students run into roadblocks at every turn, with only two weeks to the AP test, their substitute is a music teacher. Escalante knows how little support and time is left, and he returns to the class after only being sidelined for a couple of days. He so inspires his class that even the struggling Pancho excels, rising to meet what was expected of him.

They take the AP test, and after the exam they jump into the ocean together to regain a sense of freedom and relief from the trying ordeal they have endured. But, the water seems to imply a sort of baptism and rebirth, cleansing themselves of their old life and allowing an opportunity to start again freed from previous restrictions. Pancho is working under a car, grease all over his hands and arms when the test results come in the mail, He tries to open the envelope without sullying it with the grime of his labors. He is joyous as he learns that he has passed which will allow him not to suffer under, but instead climb above the weariness of manual labor.
At a ceremony at the school, Principal Molina tells the gathering that less than two percent of the students in Southern California attempt the AP test in calculus. However, all eighteen students from Garfield High School who took the test passed. The students feel pride maybe for the first time in their lives and they show their gratitude to Escalante by giving him a plaque expressing their thanks.
Their celebrating does last long as the system imposes another obstacle before them. The eighteen who passed the AP test receive notice that they are to be investigated by the Educational Testing Service for possible cheating. On the surface, they are considered suspect because of the uniformity of their answers, so the possibility of copying from each other is raised. Escalante says that the ETS is not taking into account that the students were in one class and taught rigorously as a team by one teacher, which accounts for the uniformity of their test scores. Angel is particularly enraged, but he expresses his anger and despair at being treated unfairly to his friend, while they drive, by using the new knowledge he has learned. He says, “The stars aren’t really there, ese. No, what you’re looking at is where they used to be, man. It takes the light a thousand years to reach the earth. You know, for all we know, they burned out a long time ago, man. God pulled the plug on us. He didn’t tell nobody.” Despite the fact that he is not being recognized for his intelligence and what he has learned, he has enhanced his life because he can comment on it in scientific and religious terms. A police car pulls them over because Angel hangs out of the car and yells at the police as representatives of the system that treats him badly. Angel says to them, “That’s all you know!” It is a simple sentence but it carries meaning. He is pointing out the ignorance of prejudice that assumes a certain ethnic type is worthless, and by making this point, shows his own intelligence. When the police frisk Angel, the only “weapon” he has is a pencil, which negates their assumption that he is dangerous, and points to his immersion in an academic, not criminal, life.
Although the tests are initially screened anonymously, once they are flagged, the ETS discovers the names of the students and then can investigate or not. In this case they send an African American, Dr. Pearson (Rif Hutton), and a Latino, Dr. Ramirez (Andy Garcia, in a very early role). It seems that the ETS is going out of its way to appear fair to minorities by having two men who are from oppressed ethnic backgrounds represent them. They gather the students in a classroom and try to make them confess to cheating, as if it is a foregone conclusion. Ramirez is particularly unsavory when he uses his own background to say he understands why they might feel a need to take a shortcut by cheating. His remarks are insulting and demeaning to his own ethnic group. Outraged by the way they are treated, Angel appears to give the men what they want to hear. He says that they have been caught. He acquired the test ahead of time from the mailman, who he strangled, and whose body is “decomposing in my locker.” The rest of the class laughs hysterically at how Angel satirized the assumption that they are cheaters and criminals.

The math chairperson, Ortega, again assumes the worst concerning the students. Escalante asks her if she thinks that the students cheated. She says that they care for Escalante so much, they would do anything to please him, even cheat. She says that most people who are accused of a crime are guilty. So much for the American legal tenet that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Escalante starts to despair. He tells his wife that his students, “lost the confidence in the system they’re finally qualified to be part of. “ But, after his kids borrowed his car so they could detail it and make it look cool, he realizes that his wife was right when she said, “those kids love you.”

Escalante confronts Pearson and Ramirez. They argue that all the students finished the test ahead of time, which to them implies cheating. Escalante, arguing against the assumption of guilt, says that “they should be rewarded, not punished” for the swiftness of their work. He tells them that what no one wants to talk about here is racism, which has blanketed the students’ accomplishment in doubt. Escalante says that if the same results involved youths from Beverly Hills High School, there would be no suspicion of cheating. He tells the ETS men, “Those scores would never have been questioned if my kids did not have Spanish surnames and come from barrio schools.”
Escalante refuses to let his kids be stopped on their road to success by the unfairness of prejudice. The students ask for a retest, but they only have one day for review. Escalante says that this time the test will be harder. They must overcompensate in order not to be considered suspect. They can’t have wandering eyes, or wear clothes with pockets. He praises them, trying to build up their confidence, by saying that they are “the true dreamers” (a word which reverberates with immigrants today), and says they are “the champs.” Late in the evening, while some continue to study at Escalante’s house, he takes on a more dire tone. Claudia asks Escalante if he’s worried they will “screw up royally tomorrow.” His response is, “Tomorrow’s another day. I’m worried you’re gonna screw up the rest of your lives.” He may sound harsh here, but he is trying to tell them the same thing he said to Pancho, which is that the test is only one step on a tough, long journey to realize their full potential.

They take the retest. Anna has to leave early because she has an interview for a college scholarship. She is already changing her life, ready to be the first person in her family to get a higher education. While Escalante waits for the test results, the school secretary tells him, after two years that he has been at the school, they finally received the computers. Escalante satirizes the absurdity of waiting for help from a bogged down educational system by saying, “Yep, that will do it.”
The new test results vindicate the original ones. All of the students receive passing or exemplary scores. The film states at the end that from 1982 to 1987, the number of students passing the AP calculus test at Garfield High School went from eighteen to eighty-seven. As Escalante said, despite numerous obstacles in their path, “students will rise to the level of expectation.”

After a week off, the next film is The Swimmer.

Sunday, June 10, 2018


SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.
I wanted to mention that my new novel, The Bigger Picture, a mystery for movie lovers, like its prequel, Out of the Picture, is now available on Kindle. The link to Amazon is:

The new novel deals with the double sexual standard, as does Elizabeth. And, since we have had a British royal wedding recently, this 1998 drama seems a good film to discuss. It may appear historically accurate, but it is really speculative fiction about how Elizabeth I of England turned into the renowned ruler that history actually documents. So, it is really a fictional prequel based on facts. The story shows the movement of the title character from what appears to be an innocent young woman in carefree love to a worldly monarch who sees only danger in the traditional attitudes of men toward women.

We are told at the beginning that the year is 1554, King Henry VIII is dead, and his daughter, Mary Tudor is Queen. However, she has no child to ascend to the throne. She is a Catholic, and the country is torn between catholics and protestants. Elizabeth is her half-sister, the child of Henry and Anne Boleyn, whose marriage was not recognized by the Catholic Church. The catholics consider Elizabeth an illegitimate offspring, and because she is protestant, a heretic.

The first shot is of someone savagely cutting the hair off of a screaming woman as blood runs down her scalp (this foreshadows a different type of hair cutting at the end of the movie). Having long beautiful hair indicated that a woman was a virgin emphasizing her physical attributes to attract a male. The extreme shortening of this woman’s hair was to symbolize a lack of purity. In the sixteenth century, people are deadly serious about what they consider to be religious heresy. The woman, along with two other persons, are burned at the stake as protestant sympathizers, while a bishop presides over the ceremony, proclaiming that these three will burn forever in hell. The scene powerfully stresses the barbaric nature to which religion can descend when its self-righteous element predominates.

Camera angles carry meaning in this film. The opening shot and others look down from on high at the events below. It provides the audience a more inclusive view of events, but it also implies a perception that maybe God is looking down on the actions of people, whose lives are many times petty compared to the grand scope of eternal time.

The Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston) learns from a female servant that Queen Mary Tudor (Kathy Burke) has not had a period recently and her belly is fuller. Norfolk considers the possibility that Mary may be pregnant, although the servant says that her husband has not been sharing her bed. The use of a spy (the servant) to ascertain information here is one instance of many in the film of how benign appearances are used to deceive others in order to advance a more sinister agenda. The main underlying conspiracy here is to at first prevent Elizabeth from becoming a protestant queen, and later, to either weaken her power, or remove her from the throne once she becomes the ruler. Norfolk meets with the Queen, a cleric, and a representative from the Spanish royalty, Alvaro de la Quadra (James Frain), to try and link Elizabeth to a conspiracy against the Queen. On the surface these people are supposed to be noble personages, but they conspire to discuss ways of falsely accusing Elizabeth of treason. Mary tells Norfolk to find proof of treachery, implying he will invent evidence if need be.
There is a scene with the young Princess Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett), who is great in any role) practicing dancing in a field with her female entourage. It is a bright scene, pastoral, full of innocent joy. And, it depicts the excitement of youthful hope in the anticipation of a developing love as Lord Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes) arrives. He enters the scene on horseback, the animal an archetypal symbol of male sexuality.  Lord Robert woos Elizabeth, but we have a contrasting cut to men riding in armor, an image of the violent side of men as opposed to the romantic one. These soldiers arrive to disrupt Elizabeth’s happy time with an accusation that Elizabeth has conspired against Queen Mary. Before taking her to the Tower of London to be imprisoned, Lord Robert tells her “Remember who you are. Do not be afraid of them.” His empowering words, reminding Elizabeth that she comes from royalty and that she should not be frightened in this world run by men, reverberate throughout the story, and, ironically, bring about Lord Robert’s own downfall.
Even though she is trembling as others interrogate her, she says she is not intimidated into confessing to a conspiracy in which she has not participated. She is also ahead of her time, but naive considering the era, by advocating that “this small question of religion” should not tear the country apart. She seeks common ground by saying “we all believe in God.” But, the reality of the rigidity of religion shown in the first scene of the film is repeated here as she is told that there is only one true religion, and the other is heresy. Queen Mary is not pregnant but really has a tumor (a sort of plot element that underpins the theme of a benevolent appearance - pregnancy - disguising a malignant truth below - the tumor). She summons Elizabeth wanting her half-sister to assure her that the country will remain catholic. Elizabeth enters the Queen’s chamber through a door painted with the Virgin Mary nursing the baby Jesus. This image contains multiple suggestions. First, it is a catholic inspired painting, and Elizabeth coming through a portal behind it implies that she will replace the catholic presence with a protestant one. Also, the typical role of a woman is to bear children, and Elizabeth, as we will see, defies the traditional attitudes toward women. The scene is also a foreshadowing of Elizabeth emulating the virgin aspect of Mary, as she will become known as The Virgin Queen, a secular version of the religious mother, whose title conveys a rejection of a woman conquered by men by means of gender dominance.
Queen Mary is desperate, saying that her often absent husband has now deserted her for good. She is in denial about the physicians telling her she has a tumor, believing instead that conspirators poisoned her unborn child. She tells Elizabeth that all she has to do is sign her sister’s death sentence to stop her from becoming a heretic on the throne. But, Elizabeth shows strength by not giving in, saying that she will act according to her conscience. She points out that they share the same father, Henry VIII, which means that Elizabeth, too, is of royal lineage. She reminds Mary that she will be killing her sister. Playing the sibling and guilt cards works and Elizabeth can go home, although under guard. She walks steadily through the hall filled with noblemen, and after she leaves, laughs when she hears Norfolk berating his fellow men for being intimidated by the young princess. Norfolk hears that Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) is returning to England at the request of Sir William Cecil (Richard Attenborough) to protect Elizabeth, and, privately, this information worries Norfolk, and rightly so, as we shall see.

There is a cut to Walsingham musing philosophically to a young man. Is he a youthful lover, or possibly a protege? In any event, the scene quickly reveals Walsingham’s character. He says, “There is so little beauty in the world, and so much suffering. Do you suppose that is what God had in mind? That is to say that there is a god at all. Perhaps there is nothing in this universe but ourselves. And our thoughts.” This short speech shows Walsingham to hold a rather negative view of the world with little redeeming quality, which leads him to question the existence of a god that would allow so much “suffering.” So, he has no allegiance to a supernatural being, and blames the ills of the world on the human race, which he deals with in a coldly efficient pragmatic manner. The young man, perhaps sent to get close to Walsingham in order to assassinate him, pulls a dagger. To further the theme in the movie, the young man appears harmless, but is there to commit murder. Walsingham tells him coolly, even in the face of his own death, to consider what he is about to do, and if decides to go through with the killing, do it without regret. The young man does not go through with the murder. Walsingham says to him that innocence is the most precious thing, “lose it, and you lose your soul.” His words echo the fall from God’s grace of Adam and Eve once they forfeited their innocence and ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge that informed them about the existence of evil. Walsingham has lost what for him was the bliss of being ignorant of the corruption of the world, and now so has the youth in his assassination attempt. For that, Walsingham kills him.
Sir William is one of the few noblemen who tries to protect Elizabeth, although in a traditionally male patronizing way. He meets with her for safety in a confessional booth and warns her not to associate with anyone which may compromise her. He advises against having romantic liaisons with Lord Robert, which can be used as a way to attack her on moral grounds. The meeting in the confessional also serves symbolically to show that a place which appears to be used for holy reasons has been subverted to actually be used for secular, political purposes. Elizabeth is now losing her innocence as she has to deal with political maneuvering. Sir William has Elizabeth meet with the ambassador from Spain, Alvaro, who proposes that a marriage to his king will ensure Elizabeth’s protection with an alliance to another monarch. The Spanish want to make sure that with Elizabeth becoming a secondary figure through marriage to the Spanish king, Catholicism will remain the ruling religion in England. He assures Elizabeth that she will only have to see the king two or three times a year. So much for romantic love. Elizabeth is outraged since Mary is still alive and Elizabeth is not yet queen.

Faced with the objectionable Spanish offer of marriage, Elizabeth disobeys Sir William’s order (another example of her female defiance) and meets with Lord Robert. He wonders if, after she is queen, and has “a court to worship you, a country to obey you, poems written celebrating your beauty, music composed in your honor,” he will mean nothing to her. She laughs and asks “How could you ever be nothing to me? Robert, you know you are everything to me.” At that moment she is very much in love, and has hope for the two of them. His words are a foreshadowing of what is to come.

On Mary’s deathbed, Norfolk pleads for the dying queen to sign the order to put Elizabeth to death. She does not, and Lord Sussex (Jamie Foreman) rides to deliver the ring that appoints Elizabeth as the new ruler. The scene showing the acceptance of the ring has Elizabeth going outside into total whiteness, which signifies her ascending to a higher realm, but which implies a distancing from those she associated with on a lower social level. As she accepts the ring, Elizabeth’s voice transforms. It becomes deeper, more authoritative, as she says, “This is the Lord’s doing.” Her words lend spiritual justification to her becoming queen. She adds, “It is marvelous in our eyes.” She quickly adopts the use of the royal first person plural with the use of the word “our,” showing how she now identifies herself as the representative of the people of England. The British believed in the concept of The Chain of Being. It stated that there was a vertical order with God at the top and all living creatures on earth were placed in descending order in this hierarchy based on their intrinsic worth. The royal leader was at the top of the chain, touching the divine and acting as God’s representative on earth.
The coronation is a sumptuous affair, full of pomp and circumstance, with Norfolk, reluctantly, playing the role of the nobleman who must deliver to the new monarch the objects, the scepter, the crown, etc., that are the symbols that legitimize Elizabeth as Queen of England, Ireland, and France. What follows however is in stark contrast as the noblemen meet with Elizabeth in private and attempt to undermine her authority. They tell her that the kingdom is in dire straights, with no money and no armed forces. They do not see her as capable of ruling since she is a woman, and they suggest that she must marry and produce an heir in order to secure the order assured by a line of succession. So, basically, they are telling her that she is only good for breeding. She wants no more talk of marriage, and in a rebellious statement, says she wonders why women marry at all, which is the opposite belief of the time which saw women’s only power relegated to providing sex and procreation.
Walsingham almost seems to float around the periphery of meetings, almost an invisible spy, observing those at a court party, and assessing threats to Elizabeth, including Norfolk and the Spanish ambassador, Alvaro. Here, the French emissary, Monsieur de Foix (Eric Cantona), with Sir William at his side, proposes to Elizabeth the benefits of marrying a French nobleman. Elizabeth, provocatively but shrewdly, says she wonders why the French have helped fortify the garrison for Mary Queen of Scots (Fanny Ardant), who is a Catholic who wants to replace Elizabeth on the throne. Sir William knows that Lord Robert is sleeping with Elizabeth, and he tells the ladies in her entourage that he wants to see the Queen’s bed sheets so he can monitor her bodily functions. The assumption is to see if she has lost her virginity and whether or not she no longer menstruates because she is pregnant. He says that she has lost privacy by becoming Queen of England. But, it also points to the sexist attitude of marginalizing Elizabeth based on her childbearing potential.

We again have contrasting scenes, where the joys of Elizabeth’s lovemaking with Lord Robert are diminished by Norfolk riding to confront Elizabeth, violating her bedroom privacy, by rudely requiring her to deal with Mary, Queen of Scots. The French are increasing their reinforcements in Scotland. Again, the noblemen try to bully Elizabeth, urging her to go to war with Scotland. Even Lord Robert agrees to the war, if Elizabeth believes it is necessary for her safety. Only Walsingham says it is not a good idea to react too hastily, making it look like she is afraid of her own shadow. Elizabeth declares that she does not like the unpredictability of wars. However, she agrees to the attack. We then see the aftermath of the battle with Mary, Queen of Scots, where most of the British soldiers, consisting of young boys, have been slaughtered.
There is again a shot from above, as if from the view of God in heaven, assessing human action. Elizabeth is fuming, finding no solace in the company of her ladies, and is feeling abandoned since Lord Robert has gone hunting. She goes to a large portrait of her father, Henry VIII, as if to derive inspiration as to how to proceed. This scene is lit darkly, in contrast to the brightness of earlier scenes infused with happiness with Lord Robert and when she was first appointed Queen of England. Her hair is no longer straight, but is curling, as if to suggest how twisted the affairs of humans can become once innocence is left behind. Walsingham interrupts her despair as he attempts to make her face the reality of the treachery against her. He tells her that the Catholic Bishops, from their pulpits, supposedly places of higher morality, told their adult male parishioners not to join the fight against the French troops in Scotland. He tells her that they have no fear of Elizabeth, and want to depict her as a failed ruler, who will not survive.
Elizabeth angrily confronts Lord Robert for not being at court when she needed him, but which reinforces her growing independence from men. However, she must capitulate to political necessity and agrees to meet with Duc d’Anjou (Vincent Cassel) to consider marriage to him to cement English-French relations due to the defeat in Scotland. Monsieur de Foix tells Sir William that having Lord Robert as a romantic rival is not acceptable, and Sir William, who on the surface is supposed to be Elizabeth’s ally, says that Lord Robert’s head will be on a pike rather than be on a pillow in the Queen’s bed. Sir William cares about England, but is not really concerned about Elizabeth as an individual.

We see Elizabeth using her increasing political abilities when she addresses the noblemen and the bishops. Although she wanted to mitigate religion as an issue, she has found she must quiet the conflict, and asks for the country to declare one Church of England to bring unity to the land. However, that would mean denying Catholicism its religious rule over England. She pretends to be “only a woman” and as such can’t force the noblemen to do anything, thus playing up to their male idea of superiority. Instead, she appeals to the English virtue of “common sense,” arguing that there cannot be loyalty to two different masters. The men shift the argument to the need for her to marry, but she says to one nobleman that he shouldn’t give marriage advice since he was twice-divorced, and now married a third time. This statement draws laughter, as she wins the crowd over with her sense of humor. Walsingham is present and he smiles, showing admiration for Elizabeth’s skills. He has locked up five noblemen who are on Norfolk’s side, and Elizabeth gets her way by exactly five votes, which shows Walsingham’s insight and skill at getting results by whatever means necessary.
But the catholic side ups the game of treachery. The Pope (John Gielgud, in his last movie role), meets with an English priest, John Ballard (Daniel Craig), who the Pope orders to assassinate Elizabeth as a heretic. Here we have supposedly the holiest man on earth sending another man of God, ironically, to do the work of the Devil. Ballard has letters of dispensation from the Pope to absolve any Englishman who will end Elizabeth’s life, which is an unholy act by a seemingly holy man. When Ballard arrives on the shores of England he has intelligence (this is more like secret agent stuff than pious activity) that Sir Thomas Elyot (Kenny Doughty) is Walsingham’s spy in Norfolk’s camp. Ballard drags Elyot off along the beach and brutally murders him by beating him with a rock. You wouldn’t want this fellow to dole out penance after your confession.
Duc d’Anjou arrives and he is a prankster, pretending to be a servant at first, then grabbing and kissing Elizabeth, whispering to her what it would be like when they are in bed together. His French crudeness contrasts with English reserve. This division between the two countries is stressed when Elizabeth leaves her reserved English party and visits d’Anjou’s decadent gathering, where he is wearing a dress. A smiling Elizabeth says with understated British humor that she doesn’t think things will work out between the two of them.

Earlier, Elizabeth is on a barge with Lord Robert, who recites poetry to the Queen, and asks her to marry him. She seems reluctant to say yes, as she does not like being pressured by all these men to get married, thus relinquishing her independence and power to a man. She flaunts her relationship with Robert at the French and Spanish envoys revealing her rebellious nature in front of those who want to exert their wills on her. This lighthearted scene suddenly becomes deadly serious as arrows zing into the barge. One of Elizabeth's men is killed, and the Queen is nearly pierced by an arrow. Walsingham, always on the job, whisks Elizabeth to safety. He concludes correctly that since the French and Spanish are trying to gain control through the marriage of Elizabeth, that it is Norfolk who has made an attempt on Elizabeth’s life.

The French representative, Monsieur de Foix, wanting to eliminate Lord Robert as a rival, tells Elizabeth that she cannot marry Robert because he already has a wife. So, even the one man who she feels she can be intimate with and trust, has been deceiving her. At a dance she confronts Lord Robert with this truth, and he pleads to her and says, “For God’s sake, you are still my Elizabeth.” The Queen angrily responds to the possessive nature of that statement by saying, “I am not your Elizabeth. I am no man’s Elizabeth. And if you think to rule, you are mistaken.” She has made her declaration of independence from all men, telling them she is their ruler.

Elizabeth refuses to see Lord Robert and he becomes bitter and overwhelmed by her rejection. He is now fertile ground for the conspirators plotting against the Queen. The Spanish ambassador, who urges Norfolk to remove Elizabeth, tells Robert that Elizabeth is in danger, and he can protect the Queen by cooperating with him. One of Elizabeth’s ladies is attracted to Robert. She notices a dress sent as a gift to Elizabeth, and decides to wear it in order to seduce Robert. Here again Elizabeth is undermined by a supposedly trusted servant, who uses her closeness to the Queen to lure the man who loves her. Robert, in a perverted desire for a surrogate Elizabeth, has sex with the servant while she wears the dress. The woman’s cries of ecstasy turn into cries of pain. The dress has been poisoned, meant to kill Elizabeth. We have a piece of clothing that appears to be a gift and is beautiful on the outside, but contains poison below its enticing exterior. The dress is an effective symbol to further the theme of the villainous treachery that lies beneath supposedly pleasing exteriors. This idea is immediately reinforced by the slow motion advancing of the assassin priest, Ballard, in a monk’s robe, a piece of religious apparel, which also hides his face, as he violates Elizabeth’s sanctuary, penetrating her defenses. The effect makes him simultaneously to appear holy as he makes the sign of the cross, but also covertly deadly, looking like the Grim Reaper. The plot concerning the dress has not worked out, and the commotion surrounding the finding of the dead woman causes Ballard to run for cover.
Walsingham has no problem fighting fire with fire. He pretends to be defecting to the other side. He is like The Godfather’s Luca Brasi, only successful. He visits Queen Mary in Scotland while d’Anjou is visiting. He says that Elizabeth should never have rejected d’Anjou. He states that he has come to realize that Elizabeth has no allies, only enemies, and it will only be a matter of time before she is overthrown. With a double meaning, in an attempt to seduce Mary, he says a wise man, to avoid harm to himself, would change allegiance and “get into bed” with one of her enemies. We then hear d’Anjou’s screams as he discovers the dead Mary naked in her bed. Walsingham, adopting the enemy’s ploy of presenting a friendly front, used the disguise of affection in order to deceive and then kill Mary.

Lord Robert is now a pawn of Alvaro, the Spanish ambassador, in the political chess game. Robert is able to meet with Elizabeth and he tells her that she is in danger. If she agrees to ally herself with Spain, he can guarantee her safety. Robert is making himself a pimp, trying to deliver Elizabeth to the Spanish king, who she will only visit occasionally. Robert is willing to give her up officially so that they can continue their affair. We have him here being a full supporter of keeping up deceptive appearances. Elizabeth, knowing about his having sex with her lady servant, rejects him, and says what he is proposing is to make her his “whore.”
Sir William tells Elizabeth to denounce the murder of Mary, Queen of Scots, and with a sideways look at Walsingham, says she did not order it (which is probably true, but she is apparently okay with the results at this point, not distancing herself from Walsingham). She reluctantly is accepting the brutal reality of being a world ruler. Sir William continues to say that she “must” ally with Spain. Elizabeth, asserting herself, says he dare not use the word “must” to her, and it implies that he would not use it if he were talking to a man. He continues his condescension by saying Elizabeth “is only a woman.” She yells at him that if she chooses, she can have “the heart of a man.” Today that sounds like she is saying that a man is stronger than a woman, but given the time, her statement asserts that she can be as strong as any man. She actually follows Lord Robert’s early advice and says, “I am not afraid of anything.” She graciously thanks Sir William for his past help, but sheds his male counseling by retiring him, and says she will rely on herself hereafter, again asserting her independence. He exchanges a bow with Walsingham, which visually communicates a changing of the guard from one man who undermined the Queen, with another who builds her confidence and empowerment.

Walsingham tells Elizabeth to not be sorry about being “ruthless” to protect herself and her country. He knows about Ballard who has conspired with her enemies. She acknowledges knowing about the priest, since she saw him at the castle, and with a hard look on her face, so foreign from the one we saw in the fields at the beginning of the film, tells Walsingham to find the priest and the conspirators. He locates the cleric, and tortures him until he gives up the Pope’s papers that implicate Norfolk and others. Norfolk only has to sign the papers to show that he agrees to remove Elizabeth from the throne. To expose Norfolk’s treason, removing his cloak of nobility, she coldly tells Walsingham, “Then let him sign it, and let it all be done.”

Walsingham uses treachery to defeat treachery by using Norfolk’s mistress to get Norfolk to sign the papers. She is to deliver them to the Pope, but instead she gives the signed document to Walsingham. What follows is obviously a nod to the ending of The Godfather. The soundtrack provides religious choir music as the conspirators are killed, the Earl of Sussex unheroically meeting his end sitting on the toilet. Alvaro, the Spanish ambassador, and other noblemen and bishops are eliminated. Walsingham visits Norfolk with soldiers and shows him the signed document that sealed his fate. He protests, his pride in his title a delusion, as he says,”I am Norfolk.” Walsingham corrects him by saying, “You were Norfolk. The dead have no titles.” He already is putting him in the past tense before he is later beheaded. Norfolk was contemptuous of a woman on the throne, but ironically is undone by the woman sleeping in his bed. He was outmaneuvered and made an example of how those who model deception may be undone by deceit. Elizabeth confronts Lord Robert who conspired with the Spanish ambassador. She allows him to live, “to always remind me of how close I came to danger” by compromising her individuality, and the power that derives from it, for a man.

We have a scene where Elizabeth is at the foot of a statue of the Virgin Mary, looking up at her. It is made of stone, something enduring, outlasting human decay. Walsingham says the Queen (being at that connecting point between the heavens and earth) represents a chance for the people to have a chance to touch the divine on earth. She says to him that Jesus’ mother had such power over men’s hearts, and Walsingham agrees that there has been no one to replace her.
Elizabeth remakes herself. She cuts her hair, whose length traditionally represented purity in a woman, as noted above. She rewrites that idea, and has her ladies apply a thick alabaster paste all over her skin, which makes her look like a statute, not a human being. She dresses in a very ornate outfit that almost appears as if it was sculpted out of stone. She has made herself appear like a religious icon. She tells her lady servant, “I have become a virgin.” She is emulating a divine woman, and emancipating herself from being the traditional sexual object of men. She royally walks among her subjects, stopping to tell Sir William, who wanted her to marry, that, “I am married … to England,” something grander than any individual man, who would only use her to satisfy his lust for dominion over her. The camera now shoots upward at Elizabeth, as she has risen to the level of adoration, like a goddess.

The postscript says that Elizabeth reigned for forty years. She never met with Robert again, and she never married. For someone who was “just a woman,” she ruled during what has become to be known as “The Golden Age” of England.

The next film is Stand and Deliver.