SPOILER ALERT! The plots will be discussed.
I thought I would make some brief comments on five
Greta Gerwig’s film was a critical and very big
commercial success. She was able to present a funny movie that was also heavy
on theme. The opening is an enjoyable reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey,
with the evolutionary progression moving away from girls playing with one-dimensional
versions of dolls to the multifaceted menu of Barbies. However, as the story
moves forward, those versions are shown as creations by men who are trying to
cash in on women adopting various professions in the modern world.
In the real world, women are still not respected for
their roles, so there is disenchantment that their lives are not living up to
the ideals presented in Barbie World. This disillusionment is represented by
Gloria (America Fererra). Her unhappiness affects Stereotypical Barbie (Margot
Robbie), who shocks other Barbies by ruminating on death, and travels to the
real world to explore the problems there.
She has a stowaway in her Barbiemobile. It’s
Stereotypical Ken (Ryan Gosling). In Barbie World he is just an accessory, as
are the other Ken dolls. In the real world he learns how to be macho, and he brings
that attitude back to Barbie World to share with the Kens. Barbie must return
to set things straight before revisiting the real world at the end.
The thrust here is that neither gender should
dominate, and that women must become empowered by way of their own identity,
and not by what is prescribed by men.
The film is accomplished at bringing the world of
Barbie to life, and the performances hit their marks. Great last line, when
Barbie says she is in an office to see her “gynecologist.”
Christopher Nolan dazzles again in this story about
the scientist who created the atomic bomb. In this film, unlike some others by
Nolan, it is not that difficult to follow the different timelines. The story
jumps between Oppenheimer in his early years associating with the Communist
movement and his early brilliance as a physicist. There is the time period when
he works on the Manhattan Project developing the atomic bomb. When he refuses
to continue work toward developing the even more devastating hydrogen bomb, the
government persecutes him for his early association with Communism. Eventually,
the film depicts his acquittal.
We discussed this film in an online forum that the
Bryn Mawr Film Institute presented. I asked about how the instructors viewed
Nolan’s attitude toward science in general, mentioning his films, Inception,
Interstellar, and his Batman trilogy. The instructors stated that Nolan appears
to view people as flawed creatures who are not equipped to handle the fallout
(pun intended in this case) from their technological advances. Inception shows
the psychological devastation of delving into the dreams of others. Interstellar,
although optimistic in the end, shows the need to leave Earth because of how
humans destroyed the environment with technology. There is the section in the
Batman stories where Bruce Wayne can listen to everything that the citizens are
saying, totally invading their privacy. He allows that technology to be
destroyed, but the fear is there if unscrupulous individuals used that system.
In Oppenheimer, the ethical question that torments the main character is
if he doesn’t develop the nuclear bomb, then Hitler might dominate the world if
he is not stopped. However, by developing the A-Bomb, he opens a nuclear
Pandor’s Box that threatens the existence of the world.
Great performances by Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer,
and Robert Downey, Jr. as the scientist’s eventual nemesis, Lewis Strauss (both
Golden Globe winners).
KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON:
The title of the movie refers to an Osage Native American
ceremony that cherishes the blossoming of flowers each year. During the ritual
they discover oil on their land and the tribe becomes rich. However, they are
surrounded by the enemy, the white man, who cherishes the land for profit. The
whites exploit the Natives by marrying into the tribe and then bringing about
the deaths of the Osage community to inherit the land’s wealth. They even have
some declared incompetent while living to gain control of the assets.
The Native population is somewhat to blame for being
seduced by the white culture’s love of materialism. Martin Scorsese’s film suggests
that the desire for oil destroys the soul of the people who were its initial
residents and pollutes the land with whom the Osage people were joined. One
image that backs up this theme is when the natives have visions of their ancestors,
they are covered in the dark liquid coming from the gushing oil, suggesting a
blackening of their souls.
The film is very much about being in denial. The best
example in Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Ernest Burkhart (The “Earnest” name
comes off as ironic, since he deceives his wife and himself). He comes to Oklahoma
seeking financial help from his uncle, William Hale (Robert De Niro), who is a
deputy sheriff and big landowner. On the surface he appears as a benefactor to
the Osage community, but appearances are deceiving in this film, and he
orchestrates the deaths of Osage natives for the personal gain of the whites.
Ernest marries Mollie (Lily Gladstone, Golden Globe winner for her role), and fools
himself into thinking he is helping her treat her diabetes when he is actually poisoning
her. Mollie herself also deludes herself by not seeing how the man she believes
she loves is attempting to do away with her. She finally comes to her senses
after personal losses and is strong enough to get the Federal Government to
investigate the many killings of Osage natives. The self-denial is general
here, as the white people act as if they are helping the Native Americans while
actually ruining their way of life.
Scorsese employs the camera to good effect when he
places it at ground level and makes the audience feel as if it is a character
walking with the film’s characters in rooms in houses. There is a smart image
of Ernest swatting flies on two occasions. It brings to mind Beelzebub, the
“Lord of the Flies,” and generally acts as a symbol for decay and corruption.
We discussed this film in a Zoom class. One instructor
thought, given the length, that there should have been more of the story told
from the Native American perspective. It seems a valid observation. This movie,
and exceptional films such as Dances with Wolves and Little Big Man, tell the stories from the perspective of the
white man, and not from that of the Native American.
Bradley Cooper does it all
here, writing, directing, and starring in this biopic about musical
conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein, who composed the music for West Side Story. The movie is stylized, as it moves at the
beginning from one location to another without breaks, which stresses the
artistry of the filmmaking and thus can be distancing for the audience to
invest emotionally. There is not a great deal of background information about
Bernstein’s early life. Some may find the lack of exposition admirable while
others may again find it difficult to understand the main character’s passion
for music. But that passion is undeniable, and Cooper is submerged in the
character, energetically demonstrating his conducting ability. Along with the makeup,
Cooper inhabits Bernstein, and it is a virtuoso performance. I did, however,
find his voice distracting, since he constantly sounded like he was suffering
from a cold.
The film focuses on his
marriage, and the conflict between his love for his wife and his homosexual orientation,
and the homophobia of the time period. Carey Mulligan plays the spouse, Felicia,
and she shows her love for and frustration with her husband. She displays
emotional depth as she battles the cancer that ends her life.
While the above films
stress moviemaking artistry and theme, this film by Alexander Payne is very
much about character. Paul Giamatti reunites with Payne after previously
starring in Sideways. He is Paul Hunham, a sarcastic ancient history
teacher at a boys’ boarding school who bemoans the lack of educational accomplishment
of the privileged students who attend the school by way of their affluent
parents. There is a School
Ties and Dead Poets Society feel as to the locale of the story.
Hunham is stuck with having
to babysit a few of the students over the Christmas holiday period because the
boys’ parents are otherwise engaged. One of the fathers eventually arrives, literally
as a helicopter parent, and whisks all but one student to a ski getaway after
the child emotionally blackmails the patriarch. The one remaining boy, Angus
Tully (Dominic Sessa, in a wonderful performance) has shown his anguish about
the demise of his parents’ marriage.
The story is set during the
beginning of the Vietnam War, and the cafeteria worker, Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy
Randolph), has lost a son who was a student at the school. She took advantage
of her employment to allow her boy to attend. There is a definite class antagonism
here as Hunham’s background is more in tune with the workers at the school.
There is a great deal of
witty and insightful dialogue in the movie. Hunham’s pessimistic attitude is
shown when he says, “Life is like a henhouse ladder: shitty and short.” He
tells Tully at one point the need for learning about history when he says, “history
is not simply the study of the past. It is an explanation of the present.”
As the film progresses,
secrets about the lives of both Hunham and Tully come to the surface, and they
find that there is more to each of them than appears on the surface. This film
says that you don’t understand people until you take the time to really get to
know them. Preconceived stereotypes don’t always conveniently fit into one’s
Both Giamatti and Randolph
deserved their Golden Globe wins.
The next film to be
analyzed is Badlands.