Join yours truly and guest host Ishita Sharma for a second helping of June movie reviews on the next edition of Frankiesense & More! The show, to begin airing on Thursday June 30, will feature reviews of five new releases, as well as the first-ever Frankiesense & More LGBTQIA+ Film Festival, presenting looks at movies for Pride Month. Tune in on Facebook or YouTube for the fun and lively discussion!
Wednesday, June 29, 2022
Tuesday, June 28, 2022
“Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes” (2022). Cast (Interviews and Archives): Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, Lyudmila Ignatenko, Vasily Ignatenko, Ihor Hodosov, Ihor Pismensky, Oleksandr Sirota, Nikolai Tarakanov, Oleksiy Breus, Ihor Yatskiv, Nikolai Kaplin, Yuri Samoilenko. Director: James Jones. Web site. Trailer.
The truth can be hard to face. We may want to deny it, dismiss it or cover it up, but it inevitably comes back to us in all its unblemished fidelity, forcing us to deal with it, no matter how dire the consequences associated with it may be. Attempts at imposing deception may work for a while, but cracks in the foundation of such lies ultimately emerge, enabling victims and onlookers to clearly view all of the excuses, exaggerations and dishonesty that went into the creation of this kind of fraudulent concealment. Such is the lesson we should all hope to learn from the riveting yet infuriating new documentary, “Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes.”
As bad as you might have thought it was, the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster was far worse than any of us knew, as revealed in this unflinching new HBO documentary from director James Jones. With a wealth of previously unseen footage recorded at the facility at the time of the catastrophe and recent interviews with witnesses who managed to survive the calamity, the film serves up a telling account of what happened, often in horrifically graphic images (sensitive viewers beware). The environmental damage, death toll and genetic nightmares that resulted from this tragedy are incalculable and have left a legacy that’s lasted to this day. What’s more, this release provides a detailed account of the Soviet government’s efforts to deliberately downplay the severity of the incident, including calculated deception and outright lying to its own people and concerned parties around the globe (so much for the glasnost and perestroika of the era). It’s an event that sent a powerful message to the planet about the dangers of nuclear energy and contributed significantly to the downfall of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and the collapse of the USSR five years later.
As the film shows, it could be said that the Chernobyl nuclear facility and the nearby residential community of Pripyat, both located approximately 90 kilometers from the then-Soviet-controlled Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, was built on lies from the outset. In 1972, under the direction of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, construction began on the plant and the adjacent living quarters for the facility’s workers and their families. It was intended to serve as a prototype for other such plants and communities to be built throughout the Soviet Union. And, in a decidedly propagandist move, Chernobyl and Pripyat were constructed to be quite modern and lavish by the country’s standards at the time. Those who moved there sincerely believed they were fortunate compared to what was afforded many of their fellow countrymen.
New residents were assured they were safe and should have no concerns about radioactivity, an assertion that most everyone accepted without question. After all, why would their government lie to them, especially when they were being enticed to locate to a community with such beautiful green spaces, good schools and a popular amusement park?
Unfortunately, the workers and residents weren’t informed about the inherent dangers lurking in the design of the plant. Unlike the facilities located in other plants around the globe, the Chernobyl nuclear reactors were not housed in containment buildings to trap released radiation in the event of an accident. This fundamental design flaw would allow dangerous levels of radioactivity to escape into the environment uncontrolled in the event of an explosion, fire or other mishap. This made the facility a potentially ticking time bomb from the outset, a caution not made known to residents or many of the workers.
In the early 1980s, the reactors gradually came on line amidst considerable fanfare, an alleged demonstration of the Soviets’ cutting-edge technological expertise. But, on April 26, 1986, something happened that changed everything – an explosion and fire that blew the roof off of the facility, releasing a dangerous cloud of radiation into the surrounding environment. It was estimated that the accident dispersed radioactivity equivalent to 400 times the amount released by the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.
The initial response to the disaster was wholly inadequate. Firefighters summoned to the plant worked at the site for long shifts, receiving lethal doses of radiation within hours. What’s more, officials did little to inform residents about what had happened. Many locals went about their business normally, with no clue that they were moving about in a cloud of toxic particles. Schoolchildren, business owners and their families were oblivious to what was going on around them, most likely because the deadly enemy enveloping them couldn’t be seen, felt or tasted. And, with no warnings from authorities, they assumed, what was there to worry about?
Circumstances changed quickly, however, when officials began to register how high the radiation levels had become. They hurriedly organized evacuation plans for the residents of Chernobyl and Pripyat, who were told to grab their essentials as quickly as possible and prepare to relocate to an outside safety area that would become known as the “exclusion zone.” But, even in the midst of this swiftly expedited effort, authorities still weren’t honest. They assured evacuees that they were under no threat from the radiation, that levels were within normal and acceptable limits. They also told residents that their evacuation was to be only temporary and that they’d be able to return home soon.
As word of the disaster slowly began leaking out of the Soviet Union, officials like President Gorbachev scrambled to keep matters quiet and to downplay news reports about what was happening. This was true not only within the country, but also in announcements made globally. It’s a plan that didn’t hold up, however, especially when significantly elevated radiation levels were being reported in places like Scandinavia, hundreds of miles away. Even more far-removed places like the United Kingdom were experiencing the effects of radioactive rain. And other world leaders, like US President Ronald Reagan, were demanding answers.
Still, though, the deception continued as new tasks were initiated. For example, containment of the radiation at the reactor site proved to be an enormously arduous task. Many procedures proved inadequate, and efforts that relied on technological solutions, such as robotic drones to do the most dangerous work, were unsuccessful. It soon became apparent that the only way to get the job done was to employ manpower to carry out these labor-intensive practices. The government recruited “volunteers” to do work that amounted to a virtual death sentence. However, in doing this, officials again soft-pedaled what the laborers were up against. They were given the euphemistic title of “liquidators,” an innocuous, seemingly wholesome label to characterize the nature of dangerous tasks they about to take on. What’s more, they were widely proclaimed “heroes of the Soviet Union” for the valiant work they were about to do, an “honor” that many of the liquidators proudly yet naïvely embraced. And, when they each received their rewards of 800 rubles, they reverently accepted their payments, often with tears in their eyes. It’s unclear how many of them lived long enough to spend their money.
As time passed, containment was gradually achieved, but workers, residents and liquidators began dying horrible deaths from radiation poisoning. They were given heroic burials by the state, many of them being interred in Moscow, far removed from their homes in Ukraine to prevent any remaining local residents from being able to find out what happened to their onetime friends, neighbors and loved ones. And, to help ensure that the truth about these deaths remained secret, their immediate survivors were coerced into signing nondisclosure agreements that carried severe penalties.
Even as word of what had happened was beginning to make its way around the world, the Soviets continued to do whatever they could to conceal the truth about Chernobyl. But, as Gorbachev’s ruling initiatives involving glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”) began to take hold throughout the government and culture, their influence couldn’t be prevented from finding their way into efforts aimed at fostering revelations about what happened at the nuclear power plant. And, while this catastrophe alone wasn’t enough to bring about the collapse of the Soviet regime, it certainly played an important part in the leader’s and the country’s downfall. So much for trying to hide the truth.
When we buy into the kinds of ill-conceived beliefs employed by the Soviets here, they invariably impact the outcomes we achieve. And, if those beliefs are fundamentally flawed, masquerading as lies attempting to conceal the truth, calamity is almost certain to result. Disappointing though that may be to those seeking to pull off such hoaxes, that’s one of the hard truths associated with the practice of conscious creation, the philosophy that maintains we draw upon the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents in materializing the reality we experience.
It’s difficult to say if any of the Soviet professionals or authorities involved in this scenario were aware of this school of thought. In fact, given how events played out, it’s unlikely that they had, considering that the outcomes they attained poignantly reflect what happens when we purposely embrace beliefs that disregard the truth. Those “distorted” beliefs led directly to what occurred – a debacle that embodied the lies on which they were built.
In a backhanded way, this scenario illustrates how conscious creation works and how the results it engenders accurately reflect the thoughts, beliefs and intents that went into the process. And, if that in itself isn’t enough to convince skeptics about its functioning, there’s undeniable evidence in the cinematic records of what happened. As the footage shot at Chernobyl clearly shows, the presence and impact of radiation are readily apparent. Much of the film from the time of the accident is pockmarked by small flashes of white light. According to the picture’s narration, those flashes are not due to the aging of the celluloid but to radioactive particles that struck the film emulsion at the time the recording was made. The proof, as they say, is truly in the pudding.
Then there’s the underlying intent that went into the filming of these events in the first place. True to their propagandist intents, officials ordered the creation of this footage to provide a record of the so-called “gallant heroism” of the Soviet people who were involved in the cleanup effort. But, considering what was actually captured on film, this cinematic project exposed the folly, if not the outright inhumane cruelty, of what Soviet authorities were doing. Indeed, one’s stomach might easily churn at the images of smiling, uninformed laborers being sent off to clear massive amounts of radioactive debris with the faux, ungrateful blessings of authorities. The images of liquidators embarking on carrying out the officials’ dirty work doesn’t glorify the laborers’ heroism; it instead exposes – in a bona fide record – the heartless insincerity of those desperately trying to cover their tracks. (This is not to suggest that the laborers weren’t making a heroic sacrifice; they were. It’s just unfortunate that they didn’t know that going in. At the very least, however, the footage unwittingly evidences the disingenuous intent of authorities, documenting the betrayal callously being thrust upon the laborers by officials.)
Even in the wake of all this, the Soviets and their contemporary successors still won’t own up to what actually happened. For instance, the released radiation affected more than just the residents of the area at the time; it persisted long after, even to this day. Also, many former residents who left Chernobyl later went on to give birth to children afflicted with serious health conditions (most notably different forms of cancer) and bizarre birth defects. These issues have been seen in animal populations as well, such as livestock being born with deformities like legs growing out of their necks. Then there’s the death toll, which has been estimated at roughly 200,000 individuals, despite official records claiming that it was only 31, a figure that has remained fixed for nearly 40 years. Some lessons, it would seem, are hard to come by.
The bottom line of this chronicle is that it effectively illustrates the principle of un-conscious creation or creation by default. This occurs when we’re so focused on outcomes that we disregard the consequences that often accompany this kind of tunnel vision approach to managing our beliefs. By ignoring the potential fallout (no pun intended) in this, we may incur unwanted side effects or grossly distorted versions of our hoped-for creations, something that I’m sure most of us can agree came out of what happened at Chernobyl. Such results make it incumbent upon us to consider the nature of our creations and the beliefs that underlie them more scrupulously. Indeed, the Chernobyl incident painfully reveals what can occur when we don’t.
It’s also important to recognize some troubling parallels between what happened in Ukraine under Soviet rule and what’s unfolding there currently in the wake of the attempted Russian takeover. The same kinds of lies that the Soviets used to downplay the Chernobyl incident are being employed by the Russian government to dismiss the severity of and reasons behind the war in Ukraine. One would like to hope that humanity is making progress in evolving toward a greater state of enlightenment, but the situation that has been playing out in recent months would seem to indicate otherwise. And, what’s worse, it’s saddening to see the same kind of deceptive reporting practices being put to use by Russian officials yet again. The circumstance may be different, but the tactic is the same; we can only hope the result isn’t.
In a sense, we should truly be grateful that a record was made of what happened at Chernobyl, difficult though it may be to watch at times. It exposes what really happened, not the sanitized pronouncements that were deliberately devised to keep the truth obscured. Director James Jones has amassed and effectively organized an impressive collection of footage that simultaneously captivates and appalls. In particular, the stories of the Chernobyl survivors will both touch and sadden viewers, but the heroism of these individuals should be recognized as well, given that some of them have spoken out despite the potential retribution they face for violating their confidentiality agreements. “Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes” is must-see viewing for anyone who cares about the dangers of hiding the truth, as well as the dangers of nuclear power. It’s a potent warning to us all; let’s hope we’re paying attention. The film is currently airing on HBO and HBOMax.
If the foregoing isn’t convincing enough to illustrate what can happen when attempting to dodge the truth, I don’t know what is. Deception should be seen as a tactic that’s fundamentally dead on arrival, because it ultimately cannot survive. We should be cognizant – and thankful – for that. Unfortunately, many of us still try to make use of it when we don’t want to face up to our own missteps. In the end, though, it would behoove us to recognize that, for it’s far easier – and more preferable – to deal with our missteps than with our misgivings.
Copyright © 2022, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.
Monday, June 27, 2022
Tune in for the latest Cinema Scribe segment on Bring Me 2 Life Radio, beginning Tuesday June 28, available by clicking here. You can also catch it later on demand on Spreaker, Spotify, Apple, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, Castbox, Deezer, Podchaser and Jiosaavn.
Wednesday, June 22, 2022
“The Phantom of the Open” (2021 production, 2022 release). Cast: Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins, Rhys Ifans, Jake Davies, Christian Lees, Jonah Lees, Mark Lewis Jones, Johann Myers, Steve Oram, Tim Steed, Ash Tandon, Dick Nelson, Nigel Betts, Neil Edmond, Marc Bosch, Mike Capozzola, Tommy Fallon. Director: Craig Roberts. Screenplay: Simon Farnaby. Book: Scott Murray and Simon Farnaby, The Phantom of the Open: Maurice Flitcroft, The World’s Worst Golfer (2011). Web site. Trailer.
It seems like just about everybody is willing to cheer for a lovable loser. We know that these challenged individuals don’t stand a chance of coming out on top in their respective pursuits, but we pull for them anyway, hoping that their efforts will pay off in a modicum of respectability. At the very least, we admire them for their gumption, their willingness to try, even in the face of heavily stacked odds. That’s probably because we can see some of ourselves in them, looking up to them for their commitment to attempt something that we might not be able to bring ourselves to do. Such are the sentiments prompted by the new fact-based comedy, “The Phantom of the Open.”
When it comes to those who’ve achieved celebrity cult status for their magnificent gaffes, the names of filmmaker Ed Wood and British ski jumper Eddie the Eagle readily come to mind. And now, thanks to this hilarious new release, we can add golfer Maurice Flitcroft to that list. The film follows the story of this supremely optimistic underdog (Mark Rylance) in pursuing his dream of becoming a professional golfer after years of working as a crane operator in a shipyard in the English port of Barrow.
So what’s Maurice’s reason for the change? Given the UK government’s plan to nationalize businesses like this in the 1970s, the middle-aged blue collar worker faces the prospect of losing his job due to downsizing and consolidation, despite the fact that his own stepson, Michael (Jake Davies), is an executive in the company. When word of this possibility first emerges, Maurice muses over the idea with his co-workers, Cliff (Mark Lewis Jones) and Willie (Johann Myers), both of whom are somewhat anxious about what the future might hold. But, being the optimist that he is, Maurice is largely unconcerned, knowing that he’ll land on his feet, even if he’s not sure how or where. However, that all changes one night while watching television.
While switching channels, Maurice lands on televised coverage of the prestigious British Open golf tournament and is instantly captivated. Having never played a round of the game in his life, he’s utterly taken with what he sees, and he thus knows that’s what he’s destined to do. All he has to do now is figure out how.
Starting from scratch, having never picked up a club, visited a golf course or learned any of the rules of the game, he proceeds in earnest to investigate what it takes to participate in the 1976 Open. Considering that he’s not anywhere near to being even at the amateur level, his questions about this undertaking are laughable, even to those who know little to nothing about the sport. It’s as if he’s going about things blindly, but that doesn’t matter to him. His innocence and blissful naïvete are enough to keep him moving forward.
Fortunately, Maurice has his share of help in this undertaking. His adoring wife, Jean (Sally Hawkins), and twin sons, Gene (Christian Lees) and James (Jonah Lees), are tremendous sources of support. His friend Cliff supplies him with the equipment and suitably stylish clothing he’ll need to compete. And, before long, he receives the unexpected blessing of Open officials, who approve his application to compete.
So how does someone like Maurice qualify for such an exclusive competition? He can thank condescending tournament officials Keith Mackenzie (Rhys Ifans) and John Pegg (Tim Steed) for green-lighting his application. They’re so full of themselves and the elitist reputation of their sport that they can’t imagine anyone having the kind of moxie Maurice possesses to apply for participation in something for which he’s clearly unqualified. They fail to check his background, never bothering to see what golf clubs he belongs to, what tournaments he has played in or what kind of track record he has amassed as an alleged professional. It’s astounding that the amateur managed to get this far with the Open, given that he was previously denied access by his local golf course to play there just for practice.
When the time comes for the ill-prepared Mr. Flitcroft to take to the green to play in an Open qualifying round, it quickly becomes apparent he ’s out of his league as Messrs. Mackenzie and Pegg look on perplexed and aghast. Who is this person, and how did he get to where he is now? It’s not long before the officials realize they’ve had heaps of egg piled on their faces, and they try to encourage Maurice to withdraw only partway through his round, a request he politely refuses. He keeps playing, eventually tallying a record-breaking score of 121 by the time he finishes.
While most might find such an outlandish tally utterly embarrassing, Maurice matter-of-factly takes it as a cue that he needs more practice to play better in future outings. But he isn’t the only one to take matters in stride. Broadcasters and golf enthusiasts see Maurice as a lovable underdog, one who has competed against the odds and did the best he could, despite his horrendous performance on the links. One could also argue that they probably took some perverse glee in seeing the snooty officials so roundly humiliated for their arrogant stupidity. Indeed, comeuppance can be a bitch.
Needless to say, Mackenzie and Pegg are outraged and take steps to prevent Maurice from being able to play on any golf course in Britain ever again. Such a step, they believe, would not only prevent Maurice from trying to surreptitiously launch a bid for playing in a future Open, but it would also help to overtly squelch any memories of his mortifying “prank” in their revered and beloved sport (even though that’s not at all how Maurice viewed it).
While the newcomer could laugh off the overblown bluster of the Open officials, others closer to home shared in that embarrassment, creating feelings that subsequently engendered ill will in the Flitcroft household. This is most notably apparent with Michael, who fears that his dad’s humiliating public actions would harm his own reputation at work, particularly in eyes of his boss, Gerald Hopkins (Steve Oram). Given Maurice’s long and well-known tenure with the shipyard, Michael is afraid that his father’s golfing antics would reflect badly on him and the company, thereby putting his own job in jeopardy. This strains relations between father and son, but Maurice vows to keep trying his hand at his new vocation, despite the challenges created by golfing officials. He enjoys what he’s doing, and he doesn’t think it fair that others are trying to stop him or shame him. He looks for ways to slip in under the radar to partake in future competitions, knowing that, if others criticize him, he has strong public support to back him up.
Thus the legend of Maurice Flitcroft, the world’s worst golfer, is born. He becomes a cult hero with an adoring following. And he serves as an inspiring symbol for all those who feel undeterred in following their dreams. So what if he doesn’t win any trophies or make a mark on any scorecards? He loves what he does, and he won’t let circumstances impede his efforts to try. And who can find fault with that?
Maurice certainly set quite an example for us all. Once he made up his mind, he was committed to following through on his dream, something that many of us only (pardon the pun) “dream” about and never act on. His story is especially inspiring in light of the fact that his aspiration was so ambitious. Indeed, he set his sights on something grand, an objective almost comparable to, say, a senior lacking spaceflight experience suddenly wanting to become an astronaut. And he made it happen – maybe not the way he thought it would work out, but he brought it into being nevertheless.
That’s because Maurice believed in himself and the fulfillment of his goal. Those beliefs are a powerful impetus, too, for they drive the manifestation of the reality we experience, thanks to the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we draw on these intangible resources in materializing our existence. It’s not clear whether Maurice had ever heard of this school of thought, but he certainly was well versed in its principles and application, as evidenced by how his story unfolded. His “Never Say Die” attitude provided the basis for his pursuit of this objective, and he remained true to it throughout the venture’s realization.
In making this happen, Maurice drew upon a number of beliefs that supported this goal. For instance, he overcame any apprehensions that stood in his way. He sought to participate in the Open as though it were something available to everyone; after all, the tournament was called the “Open,” which certainly implied inclusivity rather than the blatantly intrinsic exclusivity characterizing the field of competitors and means for qualification. Fearlessly forging ahead like this came naturally to him, and he didn’t hesitate to draw upon it, first in his beliefs and subsequently in his actions.
In addition, Maurice looked past any limitations that might be holding him back. Whenever a roadblock arose, he resourcefully looked for a workaround, a creative, unexpected solution to remove the impediment and enable him to proceed. These solutions were often anything but conventional, but sometimes such inventive measures were just what he needed to overcome the problems at hand. By thwarting those who tried to hold him back, he found the unobstructed paths that allowed him to continue to move forward.
Taken collectively, these beliefs provided Maurice with the persistence he needed to succeed, and that’s important given that there’s perhaps no better quality to define the character of the underdog. By remaining committed to striving, Maurice was able to follow his dream and make it real. And, when someone under these circumstances manages to achieve a sought-after goal, there’s often a strong natural tendency for followers to rejoice at that success, even if it’s not perfect. Recognition of the effort provides its own laurels, and both fans and participants can rejoice in such accomplishments.
Such scenarios frequently inspire others to follow suit. That’s apparent in the efforts of Maurice’s twin sons, who seek to become champion professional disco dancers. They look up to their dad’s aspirations and want to attain the kind of success that he has (well, maybe a little better given their talent and experience). They’re solidly bought in to the idea of pursuing their dreams, no matter how frivolous they might be viewed by others (such as their stepbrother Michael, who tends to look down on them the same way he does with their father). No matter how well they ultimately perform, however, they at least have a good example to follow.
We could learn a lot from the experiences of the Flitcroft family. They show us what we should do when we have a cherished dream that we want to fulfill. They inspire us to reach for our own greatness. And they help us understand that there’s no stopping us when we believe in ourselves and remain committed to our objectives. Who thought we could learn so much from a horrible golfer and a pair of disco dancers?
Off-hand notoriety may not seem like something someone would aspire to, yet Maurice’s efforts nevertheless catapulted him to the top of the sports pages at the time and made him a surprise living legend. And, through it all, he managed to hold on to his soft-spoken, unassuming attitude, maintaining always that it’s better to try and fail than to never try at all. Director Craig Roberts’s sweet, charming, whimsically funny tale delights from start to finish, especially in the picture’s second half, in large part thanks to the fine performances of Rylance, Hawkins and Ifans. What’s more, there’s no need to worry about a lack of knowledge about golf, as this is more of a story about a determined underdog who just happens to be a golfer than one requiring an intimate familiarity with the particulars of the sport. Admittedly, this offering could be a little better paced in the opening hour, the overdone soundtrack could stand to be toned down somewhat, and several fantasy sequences and transition bridges could have been handled more effectively. But those are small criticisms in light of everything else that the picture gets right. Indeed, how refreshing it is for this year’s summer movie season to finally produce something truly worth seeing! So tee up and give this one a shot – you won’t regret it. The film is currently playing theatrically in select cities.
We all probably have a little bit of Maurice Flitcroft in us. But how many of us actually have the nerve to let it out and put it on display? We may feel intimidated by the prospect or even embarrassed at the notion of failure. But, if such endeavors are ultimately not to be taken seriously, why not cut loose and see what happens? We could be pleasantly surprised. And, if not, at least we’ve made the attempt to find out and maybe have a little fun along the way. An old saying maintains that we should “dance like nobody’s watching.” Maurice didn’t seem to care about what spectators thought, but, for being willing to make the effort, he still got noticed anyway.
Good for him.
Copyright © 2022, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.
Monday, June 20, 2022
Saturday, June 18, 2022
“Jurassic World Dominion” (2022). Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, DeWanda Wise, Mamoudou Athie, Isabella Sermon, Campbell Scott, BD Wong, Omar Sy, Scott Haze, Dichen Lachman, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Elva Trill, Jasmine Chiu. Director: Colin Trevorrow. Screenplay: Emily Carmichael and Colin Trevorrow. Story: Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow. Source Material: Michael Crichton, novel, Jurassic Park (1990). Web site. Trailer.
Some things bear repeating, especially when they’re important and have been disregarded or not taken seriously. It doesn’t matter how many times or how emphatically the message has been said, either. If the word is not getting through as effectively as it should be – or at all – then it needs reiteration, particularly when the stakes are high. Disparaging as that might be, that’s the point being driven home once again in the latest installment of a long-running sci-fi movie franchise, “Jurassic World Dominion.”
Picking up where this film’s predecessor, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (2018), left off, the planet has fallen prey to a case of dinosaurs gone wild. In the wake of a catastrophic volcanic eruption that destroyed the creatures’ home on Isla Nublar, site of the Jurassic World theme park, the surviving dinosaurs are transferred to the estate of the park’s co-founder, from which they ultimately escape. And, as this sequel opens, the prehistoric beasts have managed to infiltrate the four corners of the world, wreaking havoc as they and humanity attempt to cohabit the planet.
The presence of the freely roaming dinosaurs serves as a backdrop – and constant threat – for the various plot strands that play out in the film, all of which echo the fundamental issue that gave rise to the underlying theme of this storied movie franchise: the potential dangers inherent in genetic manipulation. All of these diverse threads eventually converge, including the following:
- Former dinosaur trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and onetime Jurassic World operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) live in a remote cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains as caretakers for Maisie Lockwood (Isabelle Sermon), the cloned daughter of a deceased high-profile research geneticist and granddaughter of the theme park’s co-founder, the one who harbored the surviving dinosaurs before they fled his Northern California estate. As Maisie enters her teenage years, she feels trapped in her isolated surroundings, hindered from exploring the wider world. However, Owen and Claire keep close tabs on their adopted daughter, knowing that there are forces desperate to get their hands on her because of her unique genetic identity. Owen and Claire are also informal caretakers of the last surviving velociraptor from Jurassic World, a dinosaur who lives in the adjacent wilderness and has apparently been able to asexually produce an offspring, making the creature a valuable commodity for poachers seeking to capture and sell it to the highest bidder.
- Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) runs the multinational genetics corporation Biosyn, a company that claims to have the world’s best interests at heart yet secretly harbors agendas that are anything but beneficial to mankind. Much of this research is conducted on dinosaurs in hopes that discoveries involving their DNA can be tapped and made use of in the areas of health, medicine, agriculture and other endeavors. Dodgson is aided by his right-hand man, Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie), an astute young corporate go-getter who’s being groomed for Biosyn’s future, unaware that he’s being played in order to help fulfill his boss’s nefarious agendas. And those secret plans have a wealth of significant implications for both man and nature.
- Paleobotanist-turned-agricultural scientist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), one of the experts charged with evaluating the viability of Jurassic Park, the predecessor of Jurassic World, is troubled by the mysterious and highly selective destruction of crops by swarms of enormous, incredibly aggressive, allegedly extinct locusts in the American heartland. She soon learns that the spared crops are genetic hybrids produced by Biosyn, an initiative she suspects may be driven by the company’s intent to corner the seed market for high-profile agricultural commodities. She grows more suspicious when she discovers that the locusts in question may also be genetically modified, possessing altered DNA from insects of the Cretaceous Period, a clue that also hints at Biosyn’s involvement.
- Once-renowned paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) has quietly slipped out of the public eye, content to spend his days in relative seclusion working on one of his dinosaur digs. But his life is upended when he receives an unexpected visit from his onetime research partner (and former romantic interest), Ellie Sattler. She relates her suspicions about the genetically modified crops and locusts and wants to see if she can collect definitive evidence linking this curious coincidence to Biosyn. She asks for Grant’s help, hoping that trading on his reputation will help to get them inside the corporation’s isolated headquarters in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains. The duo also hopes to secure the assistance of a former colleague, chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who now works for Biosyn and hopes that his position within the company will help him expose the corporation’s questionable agendas, particularly those hatched by former Jurassic World (and now Biosyn) geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong).
Thus begins the multipronged adventure that is “Jurassic World Dominion.” In addition to the foregoing story threads, the film takes viewers to a dinosaur black market facility on the island of Malta and follows the exploits of would-be kidnappers as they pursue Maisie and the baby velociraptor. The film also introduces other characters who become caught up in the fray, including Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise), a tough-as-nails cargo plane pilot; Soyona Santos (Dichen Lachman), a broker in precious and unusual commodities; Rainn Delacourt (Scott Haze), a relentless poacher; Dr. Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), a dinosaur veterinarian and welfare advocate; Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) and Barry Sembène (Omar Sy), a pair of deep cover intelligence operatives; and Charlotte Lockwood (Elva Trill), Maisie’s late mother, who makes a number of remarkable revelations in videos from the past.
Explaining how all of these elements and characters ultimately come together would reveal too much. Suffice it to say, however, that the unfolding of this story yields a rip-roaring tale, punctuated by familiar but nevertheless stellar special effects and outstanding action-adventure eye candy. And, in its own singular way, the picture remains true to its core message, one that we should heed as science continues to advance, even if our species’ emotional maturity doesn’t always keep up.
The importance of that message can’t be overstated, either. Beginning with author Michael Crichton’s novel that inspired this franchise and all six of the movies that have been spun out of it, the caution has been the same. I wrote about it, too, in my review of the series’ original film, “Jurassic Park” (1993), in my most recent book, Third Real: Conscious Creation Goes Back to the Movies, but I went beyond the genetic manipulation issue to discuss a deeper, more fundamental matter – the question of responsibility. Indeed, as the creators of the reality we experience, we’re in charge of what we manifest, which means we carry the accountability that comes with such undertakings. But, as the films in this franchise have asked, are we truly paying attention to what we’re doing?
This is a hallmark consideration of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we manifest our existence through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. Because of that, we have an infinite range of options for materialization available to us, given that it’s possible to conceive of virtually anything through these formidable metaphysical tools. But, just because we can envision something, does that necessarily mean we should proceed to bring it into being?
This notion has been present in the “Jurassic” films from the beginning, most notably through the impassioned assertions of Dr. Malcolm, who has steadfastly maintained that efforts to trick nature into fulfilling our whims won’t work because “it will always find a way” to achieve its own destined results. In all of the character’s movie appearances, he has posed this question. Unfortunately, it has largely fallen on deaf ears. In pointing out the potentially dire consequences of such actions, his contentions have nearly always been countered with such superficial retorts as “Yeah, but isn’t this cool?” or “Think of how much money we’ll make out of this.” Malcolm’s warnings have come as cautionary tales that have been blindly ignored for the sake of immediate and self-serving considerations, payoffs that pale in comparison to what could result.
What’s lacking in this discussion is a thoughtful sense of discernment. This element is essential to the manifestation process, because it provides much-needed perspective about what is being proposed. It goes beyond the beliefs behind what’s driving the core materialization; it delves into all of the beliefs caught up in this process, including those that may be present but less apparent. For instance, if the profit motive is the principal reason for creating dinosaurs for a theme park or for hybridizing seeds and insect predators, does this take into account what else is also possibly at stake? If the beliefs associated with those potential side effects are overlooked or willfully ignored through the practice of un-conscious creation or creation by default, in which outcomes effectively trump accountability, we run the risk of opening a can of worms whose fallout vastly overshadows whatever “benefits” may be attained by initiating those ventures in the first place. This is crucial, for example, when examining the endeavors launched in this film by the likes of Lewis Dodgson and Dr. Henry Wu.
This principle is by no means limited to the grand morality play on display here. It’s equally applicable to the countless everyday scenarios that come up in our lives. We should be cognizant of addressing it in all of our proposed undertakings, no matter what the scale involved. “Jurassic World Dominion” provides us with an obvious example of what’s at stake in a grand creation, but the underlying concepts are just as potentially pertinent to smaller, more mundane matters.
This is not to suggest that we should never attempt the untried, either. If we adopted such an overcautious stance, we would stall and stagnate, and there would be no forward progress in the evolution of almost any area of life. However, we need to make a concerted effort to be clear with ourselves about what we’re intending and what beliefs underlie those intentions, something that’s noticeably absent in the scrutiny (or lack thereof) of a number of the initiatives here.
Moreover, this is not to say that such ventures always yield negative results. Positive outcomes are possible, too. But, again, the underlying considerations must be taken into account. Maisie’s cloning, for example, might be seen as dangerous territory. However, when the process that resulted in her conception, birth, growth and maturation are considered, there are tremendously beneficial aspects associated with it that shouldn’t be overlooked or dismissed out of hand. Indeed, is it wise to summarily squelch such an undertaking in light of what it might yield compared to what it actually does? This is where the practice of temperament, an outgrowth of the discernment process, comes into play.
In the end, this story also shows us that we can learn valuable lessons about ourselves and our existence through experiences like this, difficult though they may be. If we grasp the messages that come out of these scenarios and actively apply them to our reality as we move forward, we can potentially reap great rewards. For instance, the experience of the “Jurassic” series of stories forces mankind to learn how to better coexist with the world around us. By developing a better relationship with nature and all of its components, perhaps we might adopt the same mindset when it comes to our coexistence with one another as a species. That could be seen as an unexpected, unintended side effect of this greater undertaking, but, considering what it might mean for humanity, wouldn’t that be worth it? It’s certainly food for thought.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit up front that I wasn’t expecting much from this sixth installment in this storied, nearly 30-year-old franchise. And I’ll also admit that I wasn’t exactly bowled over by the result. However, I also wasn’t effusively disappointed by it, either, much to my surprise. While director Colin Trevorrow’s second offering in the franchise’s current trilogy admittedly goes on too long and has its moments of needless convolution, tedious pacing, monodimensional character development and tenuously strung-together plot threads (especially in the opening act), it’s nevertheless a vast improvement over the filmmaker’s laughable first effort in this series, “Jurassic World” (2015). In this outing, which features both returning “World” principals (Pratt, Howard, Wong and Sermon) and the reunion of the original trilogy’s protagonists (Neill, Dern and Goldblum, who is still in his top-notch quasi-creepy form), the film has found a better footing for mixing its action-adventure elements and decidedly campy moments. In addition, the picture effectively (though sometimes heavy-handedly) presents its points about the potential dangers of genetic engineering, the less-than-subtle need for all of us (both humans and nature) to get along, and the perils of unbridled corporate greed (disingenuous though that argument may be coming from its well-heeled producers/distributors). But, given what most viewers are here to see – the thrills and spills of grand adventure and superbly executed special effects – the picture handily delivers the goods throughout, even if some of them should have been pruned back somewhat. In all, this is a moderately satisfying summertime popcorn movie, one that truly doesn’t deserve to have been unceremoniously dumped upon to the degree it’s been denigrated (though don’t expect groundbreaking cinema, either).
And, as for all that talk about this being the finale in the franchise, I don’t buy it for a minute (just as I didn’t buy “The Rise of Skywalker” (2019) as being the last installment in the “Star Wars” franchise), so you can ignore those comments from critics and the film’s distributor about this offering being the end of the “Jurassic Park” mythology; it will almost assuredly be back when there’s as much revenue at stake as there is with this box office and merchandising cash cow. It may take some time to retool and come up with a new angle to breathe new life into it and this may be the last on-screen appearance by the original cast members, but the extinction of the franchise is not an option. Just ask the bean counters who are eagerly tallying the proceeds of this already-successful theatrical release.
When it comes to tackling an ambitious venture, implementing a little prudence may be a wise measure. Granted it might dampen one’s enthusiasm and be seen as timid in the face of bold experimentation. However, when efforts are left unchecked, matters can easily get out of hand and leave us with more “excitement” than we bargained for. So it’s with that in mind that we must ask ourselves, “Is that what we really want?” It’s disappointing when the best laid plans of mice and men go awry, particularly if scuttled in the planning stages. But that disappointment is nothing compared to the turmoil that can result when caution is recklessly thrown to the wind, as the “Jurassic” franchise has shown us so many times now. As Dr. Malcolm has long observed, dinosaurs disappeared because nature selected them for extinction. Let’s hope our own careless ways don’t trigger the same result.
Copyright © 2022, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.
Tuesday, June 14, 2022
Tune in for the latest Cinema Scribe segment on Bring Me 2 Life Radio, beginning Tuesday June 14, available by clicking here. You can also catch it later on demand on Spreaker, Spotify, Apple, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, Castbox, Deezer, Podchaser and Jiosaavn.
Friday, June 3, 2022
“Lola” (“Lola vers la mer”) (2019 production, 2020 release). Cast: Mya Bollaers, Benoît Magimel, Sami Outalbali, Jérémy Zagba, Els Deceukelier, Anemone Valcke, Delphine Bibet, Kris Swinnen, Thao Maerten. Director: Laurent Micheli. Screenplay: Laurent Micheli. Web site. Trailer.
When life doesn’t pan out as we hoped and believed it would, it can be disillusioning, if not devastating. It can even lead to tremendous strain among those who thought they could count on one another when it came to living up to expectations. Such exchanges can turn into seemingly irreparable estrangements filled with bitterness and no hope of reconciliation. But need that be the case? Isn’t it possible that the damage can be undone and that harmonious relations can be re-established? It all depends on what we believe is possible, as seen in the French-Belgian LGBTQ+ domestic drama, “Lola” (“Lola vers la mer”).
Eighteen-year-old Lola (Mya Bollaers) has been going through the process of transitioning from male to female for the past two years with the support of her mother, Catherine. She’s been fortunate to have that backing, too, given that her close-minded father, Philippe (Benoît Magimel), refused to recognize or accept this development, choosing to continue to view Lola as Lionel, the male child to which his wife gave birth years before. And ever since “Lionel” went ahead and made that allegedly foolhardy, exceedingly embarrassing decision (at least in Philippe’s view), Lola and her father have been estranged from one another. Catherine, meanwhile, continued to assist her transitioning daughter throughout that entire time, providing financial support and accompanying her to medical appointments.
During that time, Lola had been growing accustomed to living as a woman in terms of her appearance, sensibilities and outlook. And, having gone through that, she’s now ready to complete the process with gender reassignment surgery. But, just as she’s on the brink of having the procedure, Catherine passes away, leaving Lola on her own. She moves into a home for similarly situated LGBTQ+ youth, hoping that she can still carry through on her plans. However, before doing so, she wants to achieve closure by saying goodbye to her late mother – a gesture Philippe is determined to prevent.
When Lola seeks to attend what she believes is supposed to be her mother’s funeral, she discovers that the ceremony has already been held. Philippe’s plan to intentionally exclude her from it has succeeded, and she’s positively livid. But, even when she assumes things are all over, she learns that they’re not – that there’s one final act to be performed.
Lola discovers that Catherine’s last wish was to have her ashes scattered at her childhood home along the Belgian North Sea coast. Philippe has made plans to carry out the deed by himself, but Lola insists on accompanying him, forcing herself on her father as an embittered but willful traveling companion. She knows it will be a tension-filled journey, but she doesn’t care. Lola feels the need to be part of this pilgrimage and asserts her resolve to make it happen.
Thus begins an unconventional road trip movie. While elements typical of this formula are certainly present here – the disagreeable duo, the outrageous incidents, the influence of unexpected outsiders (in this case of both a real and surreal nature) – given the polarized yet also familiar qualities that both separate and bind them, Lola and Philippe make for a decidedly unusual pair of highway comrades. They both spew more than their share of venom toward one another. They each engage in over-the-top behavior. They collectively aren’t above making scenes in public when events become particularly overheated. And, given that many of these events occur in close quarters, like the confines of Philippe’s car, there’s a decidedly uneasy, claustrophobic feel to developments as they play out.
At the same time, however, there are moments when hints at reconciliation surface. Given that Lola and Philippe share the same degree of fervor for carrying out this reverential task, they both want to honor Catherine properly despite their anger toward each other, a mutually held quality that deep down can’t help but nudge them into going about this endeavor in a civil and dignified manner. There may even be hope for something more, like an amicable resolution or reunification. But, for that to happen, there’s much that they need to get past.
That’s not to say this can’t happen. Indeed, there are guides who interact with them along the way who provide insights that might help make these outcomes possible. This is perhaps best seen at an unplanned late night stop at a gentlemen’s club/guesthouse run by a wily, no-nonsense owner (Els Deceukelier) who doesn’t hesitate to call things as she sees them, especially where Philippe is concerned. Empowerment advice is also doled out by one of the pole dancing performers, Kaatje (Anemone Valcke), who joyfully and playfully asserts that we should all be happy with who we are, guidance that’s undoubtedly encouraging for Lola in light of all the scorn she’s faced from Philippe and so many others during her transition.
But, even as circumstances evolve, there’s still the difficult task that Lola and Philippe face at the end of their journey, a destination that raises old issues for both of them. This includes flashbacks to Lola’s youth as Lionel (Thao Maerten), showing that the hurts s/he experienced are older than what has arisen in the recent past. The implications of these revelations are almost as staggering as those that emerged throughout the duo’s journey to the seacoast and in the two years that preceded it. There’s much on the line for both Lola and Philippe with regard to what lies ahead – and what form it will take.
As this story opens, the walls built up between Lola and Philippe are quite formidable. Neither is willing to budge an inch, and they see no possibility for that to change, despite their common goal of wanting to participate in the dispersal of their loved one’s ashes. One might think that such common ground would help facilitate a resolution, but, as they begin their journey together, no possibility of that seems likely. That’s because each of them has become so entrenched in their hatred for one another that their beliefs are virtually intractable. And that’s important to bear in mind, given that our beliefs govern the nature of our existence thanks to the conscious creation process, the philosophy that makes such manifestations possible.
The walls between Lola and Philippe are initially solidly reinforced by the power behind those beliefs. They’re so unshakable, in fact, that they make those enclosures surrounding Jericho look like picket fences. But, because beliefs are alterable and because they have the potential to make an infinite number of probabilities possible, there’s no telling what can happen if those notions begin to shift in the consciousness of father and/or daughter. Indeed, breaking through limitations (or, in this case, more precisely, barriers) in our beliefs can help anyone realize changes in the outcomes and realities they experience. So why should it be any different for Lola and Philippe?
Expecting such sweeping change to materialize instantaneously is probably unrealistic, despite the kinds of miraculous results that are often depicted in Hollywood movies with supernatural themes. The process tends to be gradual, one that evolves over time, usually as a result of the unfolding of new understandings of how the prevailing conditions at the outset managed to come into existence in the first place.
Journeys like the one Lola and Philippe embark upon frequently provide opportunities for reflection, assessment and dialogue in connection with such matters. Their travels give them the time, space and solitude to examine the existing conditions and to tune out the distractions that might interfere with getting a better handle on the beliefs driving one another’s interpretations of reality. Again, change may come slowly, but the evolutionary process that begins through ventures like this could prove revelatory, eye-opening and even earth-shattering. And, if something valuable and meaningful could come out of it – especially when mutual interests are involved – why not give it a chance?
A large part of this process involves wrestling with preconceived notions and beliefs. For example, when Philippe considers Lola’s decision to transition, he has difficulty getting past an idea that he sees as untenable, perverse and unnatural. He’s also upset at how that decision will impact the ways others see him as a father and as a person. But, perhaps most of all, he’s hurt over the loss of a son whom he had hoped to raise to adulthood, a blow to his own perception of himself as a dad. And in none of this does he consider the reasons why Lola has chosen to pursue the course she’s on to become the person she knows she need to be.
At the same time, Lola gives little consideration to how her decision affects Philippe. She doesn’t appear to take account of his feelings and what impact her actions will have on them. This is not to suggest that she’s being selfish; she has every right to become her true, realized self. But, if she expects Philippe to respect her wishes, shouldn’t she be willing to do the same when it comes to making an effort to understand her father’s feelings?
With both Lola and Philippe having been blind to these concerns before beginning their odyssey together, it’s not surprising that they were unable to appreciate and understand one another. Consequently, if they ever hope to repair the gaping rift between them, they at least have to begin at a point where they’re amenable to trying to grasp where each of them is coming from, and that starts with attempting to recognize and fathom their respective beliefs. Doing so increases the potential for opening doors to understanding – and the possibility of moving their relationship in a healthier new direction.
If conscious creation makes virtually any scenario possible, one might legitimately wonder why anyone would purposely manifest a situation as toxic as this. That’s an argument with genuine merit, but it also introduces an intriguing possibility. Circumstances like this, as difficult and challenging as they may be, afford opportunities for learning valuable life lessons. If the purpose of our soul’s existence, growth, development and evolution is to experience a range of scenarios, all of which intrinsically have their own validity, that would include situations like this. That’s true not only for what it’s like to go through them, but also to see what comes out of them, including both positive and negative results.
As noted above, it’s not as if Lola and Philippe aren’t without help in this venture. The gentlemen’s club manager and pole dancer, for instance, each step in to offer guidance intended to aid the process as it unfolds. Catherine’s intangible presence is also in place, not just in terms of the task she sets forth for her daughter and husband, but also in more subtle ways, such as during times of particularly combative crisis. Such divine intervention helps to smooth out these argumentative incidents, providing a gentle, loving touch to point things in a better direction. It helps to remind Lola and Philippe of why they’re on this journey to begin with, both in terms of its ritualistic resolution and the hoped-for reconciliation between them.
As with many road trip tales, the characters in these stories often end up becoming very different people by journey’s end. The developments that occur during these odysseys frequently help to forge new relationships and to enable individuals to transform themselves and become the people they were genuinely meant to be. Such possibilities as forgiveness and reconciliation, for instance, are indeed possible. But no one will ever see such results if they never make the effort to find out, and it always begins with examining and assessing our beliefs and those of others. As contentious as this duo’s relationship may be at the outset, there could be much in store if they pursue this path and make the most of the opportunity. We can only hope they do so.
Significant and dramatic life events often make for strange affiliations. So it is in this intensely moving, often-outrageous road trip story of a pre-op transsexual and her estranged father. Their stormy journey is replete with a series of arguments, revelations, flashbacks and attempts at reconciliation, along with a touch of the surreal and subtle hints of otherworldly intervention. Some elements of the story are admittedly predictable, and portions of the second act tend to lag a bit at times, but director Laurent Micheli’s second feature offering also takes some unexpected and deliciously intriguing twists and turns in getting viewers to the film’s destination. Punctuated by a crisp screenplay loaded with biting, no-holds-barred dialogue, incisive insights, and more than a few genuinely heartfelt moments, as well as the superb debut performance by transgender actress Mya Bollaers, this touching Belgian/French co-production is a delightful, affecting watch that, while not wholly original, nevertheless comes across as a warm, feel-good story without ever becoming schmaltzy, manipulative or saccharinely sentimental. Bravo, “Lola”!
Viewers in Europe and Canada will be pleased to learn that this offering is widely available for streaming in those countries. In the US, however, the film has no general distributor, regrettably making it somewhat harder to come by. It has been playing at film festivals (especially LGBTQ+ events) stateside, but it has yet to secure mainstream theatrical or streaming agreements. That’s unfortunate, especially at a time like Pride month. Nevertheless, interested domestic viewers who have an opportunity to screen this release should avail themselves of it.
Bridging gaps may be far from an easy process, one for which there’s no guarantee of success. Yet consider what’s to be gained by attempting to do so rather than just leaving things as they are. Unimagined benefits can come from such efforts in areas like healing, well-being and meaningful personal growth, none of which may materialize without the attempt at trying. Lola and Philippe could learn a lot from such an undertaking. And so could many of us.
Copyright © 2021-2022, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.
Thursday, June 2, 2022
Join yours truly and Special Guest Host Ishita Sharma on the first of two June movie broadcasts on The Good Media Network's Frankiesense & More video podcast, available now on Facebook and YouTube. We'll examine five new movies and a film festival wrap-up. Tune in for all the lively discussion!
Wednesday, June 1, 2022
“Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin” (2019). Cast: Interviews: Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, Samuel Delany, David Mitchell, Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon, Theodora Goss, Adrienne Maree Brown, Annalee Newitz, China Miéville, Vonda N. McIntyre, Julie Phillips, Charles Le Guin, Theodore Le Guin, Elisabeth Le Guin, Caroline Le Guin, Karen Biestman, James Clifford. Archive Material: Alfred Kroeber. Director: Arwen Curry. Screenplay: Arwen Curry Web site. Trailer.
Various fields of artistic expression often go through radical conversions as a result of the visionary works of a handful – or sometimes even just one – maverick figure. Through the singular works of these individuals, entire genres are frequently transformed. In filmmaking, for example, the name Stanley Kubrick comes to mind. In music, it’s the Beatles. And, in science fiction literature, many often cite the writings of author Ursula K. Le Guin, the subject of the engaging documentary, “Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin.”
Director Arwen Curry’s in-depth documentary of this insightful writer provides viewers with a razor-sharp look at an author whose body of work drastically changed the sci-fi landscape, reconfiguring it from a genre that wasn’t taken seriously to one that has become one of the most respected, creative and prescient in the field of contemporary writing. Through interviews with the author not long before her death in 2018 and a number of her peers, we see a picture emerge of someone who did much to change how sci-fi literature was viewed, along with what constituted accepted and respected work in that field.
While in college at Radcliffe and for a time thereafter, Le Guin was recognized and regarded by editors and publishers as an excellent writer – but not as one who was especially marketable. The reason: at the time, science fiction/fantasy was regarded as pulp fiction, not looked upon credibly as serious literature, and her writing was seen as too high brow to effectively fit into that market. Also, it was a field largely dominated by White men, a demographic that didn’t match who she was. She was thus essentially written off as a square peg who didn’t fit into any of the established round holes.
Le Guin wouldn’t have it, though. She was part of a group of new sci-fi/fantasy authors who were not cut from the traditional cloth. This new breed consisted largely of women and minorities who had different perspectives and, consequently, different stories to tell, often with unconventional outlooks, and Le Guin was at the forefront of that movement. This resulted in large part from the influence of her father, anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, who specialized in the history and culture of California’s Native American peoples. His work on how White culture led to the disappearance of indigenous people inspired his daughter’s thinking and was reflected in the ideas she sought to express through her works, such as The Ekumen series.
As illustrated by the foregoing, Le Guin’s works often dealt with many themes that had not been previously addressed in literature, particularly through the lens of science fiction/fantasy, where they were expressed metaphorically. Many of her works delved into thought experiments, prompting readers to ponder the issues she raised and not always providing definitive answers or resolutions. For instance, she often dealt with scenarios involving the value and importance of freedom from restrictions, but such stories also simultaneously asked, “Can such freedom be realistically maintained?”
Le Guin is often remembered as an author who addressed feminist and gender equality issues in her works. However, this came about somewhat slowly where feminism was concerned, given that her own personal views on women’s rights didn’t always align with the radicalism of the women’s rights movement. She was a wife and mother and not ashamed of it, as evidenced through interviews with her husband Charles and her children Elisabeth, Caroline and Theodore. This prompted Le Guin to be somewhat defensive in the face of the movement’s more activist leaders who were disappointed at her lack of more definitive support. Her personal life came into conflict with the changing views of society, and it took some time for her sensibilities to catch up. This process caused her to rethink her views and expand her perspective, qualities subsequently reflected in later writings. She came to be an author who wasn’t afraid to question and reassess her own values and make adjustments accordingly in her later works. Such philosophical and literary evolution thus became another hallmark of her outlook and practice.
Ultimately Le Guin’s works were seen as radically experimental, something she scrupulously employed in her writing and in the advice she imparted to others, observing that “Every story must make its own rules – and obey them.” In doing so, she opened the doors for other aspiring writers to do the same, and, in this way, she influenced the works of all writers, not just those in the genres in which she specialized. At the same time, her efforts forced sci-fi and fantasy out of the closet and into the light of respectability as legitimate literature. As one of the film’s commentators notes, the Harry Potter series wouldn’t exist were it not for the doors Le Guin opened through such works as the EarthSea series of novels.
Throughout her career, both in her writings and otherwise, Le Guin became more outspoken in her views and rarely held back in making her thoughts known. In 2014, for instance, she received the National Book Awards Lifetime Achievement Award. In her acceptance speech, she was candid about her feelings on the changing nature of the publishing industry (especially the role of Amazon), particularly for its emphasis on profits at the expense of supporting literary artistry. This, as in many other aspects of her life, reflected her willingness to speak out on issues that were important to her and that others were reluctant to talk about.
Such qualities came to characterize the views and writings of this visionary author, one who reset the chess board for the many who followed in her wake. She expanded the scope of what constituted not only science fiction but literature in general, and generations of writers and readers have her to thank for it. And, thanks to this superb documentary, we have an excellent record of those accomplishments to chronicle just how much of an impact she had.
Given the approach Le Guin took in her writing, she was obviously attempting to do more with it than simply tell good stories. Her works became vehicles for addressing issues that went beyond merely playing out entertaining narratives. There was purpose behind her words, using them as tools to make meaningful statements, in essence pushing the perceived limitations of what a writer is typically expected to do. But that’s important in light of what she believed she was supposed to do through her art. Her efforts were genuine, intentional acts of creativity, initiatives in the spirit of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we draw upon the power of our beliefs in materializing what we seek to manifest.
Her writings embodied one of the key principles of this philosophy – that of pushing the limitations of creativity. This applies not only in terms of the content of her works, but also in terms of what they were intended to evoke among readers and, by extension, in the world at large. The impact of truly great literature is not limited to just the words on the page but on what those words inspire among those who take them to heart and subsequently put into practice. Le Guin lit the match with her prose, and the sparks took on a life of their own, both in the writing community and the wider world of which she and her peers were a part.
A big part of pushing limits involved providing different perspectives to audiences that may not have been previously exposed to them. Her efforts to make science fiction more respectable, for example, was in direct contrast to the prevailing view that it was little more than pulpy, campy, even tawdry schlock. That aim was bolstered tremendously by her inclusion of more sophisticated notions and characters in her work, individuals who possessed wisdom and insights and not merely stockpiles of ray guns and armies of robots. Given that few writings expressed such ideas before she put pen to paper, it’s no wonder that editors and publishers believed her works didn’t stand a chance against the typical fare the industry was producing – that is, until they discovered that there was an eager audience awaiting books like those of Le Guin and others. Alternate perspectives thus pushed the limits that opened up new and previously unforeseen markets, and it all began with the imaginative ideas and groundbreaking beliefs that were rolling around in Le Guin’s consciousness.
Through her works, Le Guin used her art to raise awareness for new ideas. She inspired readers to explore new territory, producing empowering works that helped them realize they had more going for themselves than they had been led to believe. She introduced audiences to individuals of far different character, helping to build bridges to different cultures, traditions and practices. And she exposed the unenlightened, albeit metaphorically, to the challenges, plights and inequities faced by others, such as those affecting Native Americans, as prompted by her interest in the aforementioned work done by her father. She believed these ideas could be conveyed through her writing, and she proceeded to make it happen.
When all of the foregoing is taken together, it becomes apparent that there was a deliberateness behind what Le Guin was doing. It’s as if she were fulfilling a destiny, one designed to achieve certain objectives, both among her readers and her fellow writers. She opened new vistas for each constituency, setting an example for them all to draw upon. This is a practice in conscious creation terms known as value fulfillment, wherein we employ our beliefs and seek to act as our best, truest selves for the betterment of ourselves and those around us. Le Guin certainly personified those values and made the most of them through her achievements, an accomplishment we should all hope to emulate.
This superbly crafted chronicle provides an excellent overview of the author’s life, her inventive writing, her visionary outlook and how they all integrated to create an impressively prolific and inventive body of work. Through numerous insightful interviews with the author, as well as incisive commentary from biographer Julie Phillips, Le Guin’s family, and an array of such noteworthy authors as Margaret Atwood, Samuel Delany, David Mitchell, Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon and Theodora Goss, among others, viewers are given a comprehensive look at Le Guin’s groundbreaking repertoire. The film deftly explores her evolution both as a writer and as a thought leader, one who ultimately had subtle but considerable impact in helping to shape public opinion on a variety of topics while simultaneously enabling aspiring authors to experiment in an art form often restricted by convention and a publishing industry obsessed with profit motives. The narrative is beautifully enhanced by a wealth of gorgeous animation, enlivening Le Guin’s material in ways that mere words cannot. This is must-see viewing for devotees of the author and an excellent introduction to the works of a writer whose substantial fan base could always use more followers of her thoughtful poetry and prose.
If I had any complaints with this film, it would be that it sometimes tends to give short shrift to some of the author’s books. For me, that’s particularly true with Le Guin’s epic The Lathe of Heaven, which is relegated to little more than a passing reference. Given this work’s tremendous popularity and its status as a beloved 1980 cult movie (one of the films featured in my debut book, Get the Picture?!: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies), it genuinely deserved more attention than it received. In the overall scheme of things, however, this is somewhat insignificant compared to everything else the picture has to offer.
“Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin” is readily available for those who are interested in seeing it. The film originally aired as part of the PBS series American Masters in 2019. Since then, the documentary has played (and still does) at film festivals, such as the Brooklyn Sci-Fi Film Festival, where I screened it late last year. It’s also been featured in numerous special showings at bookstores and libraries and is available for streaming online.
Trailblazers don’t come along very often, but, when they do, they’re worth paying attention to. They may not be readily recognized at first, but they often have much to say, much of it groundbreaking and revelatory. Whether it’s individuals working in the arts or some other field of endeavor, they often carry with them the capacity to be game changers, and virtually always for the better. Ursula K. Le Guin was one of those pioneering innovators, someone who set many of us on a new course, be it as artists, activists or advocates. She set the kind of example that the world could use more of these days. But, at the very least, we can be thankful for having her in our midst for as long as we did – and for the lasting legacy that she left behind, one whose impact will undoubtedly be felt for years to come.
Copyright © 2021-2022, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.
Join yours truly and Special Guest Host Ishita Sharma on the first of two June movie broadcasts on The Good Media Network's Frankiesense & More video podcast, available beginning at 1 PM ET on Thursday June 2 on Facebook and YouTube. We'll examine five new movies and a film festival wrap-up. Tune in for all the lively discussion!