Thoughts On: Arrival (2016)

Thoughts On: Arrival (2016)

Hands down, this film is one of the best sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen. It offers a refreshing lens to the alien first-contact sub-genre, with some brilliant acting from the main cast, a beautiful soundtrack, and an epic glance at the nature of language and its conceptual reality.

In Arrival, one average day twelve giant metallic-looking pods appear in seemingly random places across the world, levitating above the ground and defying the laws of gravity. Already, this foreshadows some of the later parts of the film by introducing the defiance of everything we know to be real and possible. We follow a prominent lecturer in the field of linguistics, Amy Banks, who leads a team to try to find a way to communicate with the aliens within the pod that hovers over the US. The film daringly explores the nature of communication and unlike many similar films which depict the aliens as creatures wanting to crush humanity, their motive is strikingly different: the aliens want to give our planet a gift.

Since the aliens communicate with inky circle-like shapes, Banks must try to decipher a series a of symbols and determine whether the aliens will be a threat. However, the clock is ticking and other nations lead by China are threatening to start a war with the aliens if they do not leave their territory within twenty-four hours.

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My favourite aspect of the film is the way in which it portrays the conceptual realities that language imposes upon (and restricts) us. For the aliens, time passes in a non-linear format, which is eventually revealed to be the gift they wish to give to humans: the transcendence to greater meanings and experiences. Therefore, their arrival into time and our reality is simply another place, as they appear to be highly developed multi-dimensional beings. The film directly references the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: our language determines, defines and potentially restricts our every day experiences. Banks gives an excellent example, if one taught language in the relation to the rules of chess, every word and its meaning would be linked to victory and defeat. This is a lot like Wittgenstein’s idea of language games and the potential inability to conceptually grasp what is meant by the meanings of  a language beyond our own.

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Ultimately, this film is a beautiful look at what it means to communicate and presents the sheer fear of an unknown species with potentially greater power but unknown intentions. A breath-taking film and massively overrated!

Why Claude Frollo is Disney’s Most Twisted Villain

Why Claude Frollo is Disney’s Most Twisted Villain

I recently rewatched Disney’s brilliant and vastly underrated The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) and realised how greatly developed and intriguing Frollo is as a Disney villain. Compared to more recent Disney antagonists such as Hans in Frozen, or traditional antagonists such as Scar in The Lion King, Frollo seems to transcend upon the usual archetype of a Disney villain in a way that isn’t typical in Disney films, or children’s films in general, because it’s only when you’re older when you realise just how twisted Frollo’s motivations really are.

It doesn’t take more than the opening scene to convince the audience of Frollo’s evil nature. From the beginning, there’s a suggestion that Frollo’s motivations are power and control. He immediately chases after a gypsy woman who carries what he perceives as “stolen goods”, and eventually murders her on the steps of Notre Dame without as much as a flinch. He is shortly stopped from murdering her child, young Quasimodo, by the Archdeacon who seems to remind Frollo that there is a greater judge than him. Frollo has become so fixated upon his desire to purge sin from the world that he has become paranoid, resorting to murder and even justifying it (as well as the promise for murdering an infant- “an unholy demon” – too) by his quest to strike out evil. In his own mind, Frollo probably thinks himself as the hero rather than the villain: “I am guiltless, she ran, I pursued.”

It’s interesting, during the opening song, because it’s one of four times in the film where Frollo seems in genuine fear. The first is when the Archdeacon suggests that Frollo, so consumed by his power due to his position as a judge, cannot hide from the “very eyes of Notre Dame”, and of ultimately God. Frollo realises that he has gone to far, displaying genuine fear at the prospect that he has overstepped the line of his ability as a judge.

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Cue The Dark Knight: You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.

However, Frollo doesn’t learn his lesson. Despite having the option to save his soul, he does not take it – he cannot bring himself to raise Quasimodo as his own son which inevitably leads to his own downfall. He considers himself above justice, which is his fatal flaw.

Another way that Frollo shows just how deluded he is, is by the way he dehumanises anything that is a threat to the righteousness of his conscience. Ironically, this contradicts to Catholic ideas about forgiveness and love.

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He degrades gypsies to ants as they represent everything he wishes to wipe out, and reduces them to a scapegoat group. He lowers Quasimodo to a deformed, demonic monster to disguise Frollo’s inner guilt about the fact that he murdered his mother. He vilifies Esmeralda to a witch when he starts to develop sexual desires for her, all the time placing on the blame on everything but himself. He refuses to accept himself as a villain but instead as a holy man fighting a war.

Despite isolating Quasimodo for twenty years and emotionally reducing him to a monster, Frollo is able to justify this abuse by presenting himself again as a protector: “The world is wicked… I am your only friend”. Even calling twenty-year-old Quasimodo a “boy” keeps him in a state of emotional dependency.

Claude Frollo certainly has a hero complex.

While other Disney villains like Ursula and Cruella De Vil want something from the protagonists, it’s the other way around for Frollo – he presents himself as the hero and Esmeralda as an evil entity that wants something from him and a direct threat to his holy conscience. Frollo’s obsession with purging evil costs him his life: instead of dealing with the rebellion in the streets, he heads up to the bell-tower and stands out on the ledge, which cracks, sending him into the fiery pits of hell.

Frollo’s obsessive nature is entirely evident in the contrast between the two songs: Heaven’s Light (sang by Quasimodo) and Hellfire (sang by Frollo). Both immediately after each other, they serve as a direct dichotomy: two conflicting versions of love both evoking religious imagery.

Quasimodo is innocent in his affections, he only dares to hope that Esmeralda might share his affections and bring him happiness. The semantic field of heaven creates a beautiful image for his affections: “heaven’s light”, “glow”, “angel” and ultimately he sees her as a gift from God. The soft blue light and the dark shadows show the slightest inch of hope and light that Esmeralda has brought into his life. Overall, his song is like a melody, a prayer of contentment and hope. Even though he doesn’t get-the-girl at the end, he still manages to find hope and happiness in the fact that she finds somebody who she can love and be happy with.

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For Frollo on the other hand, there is a direct opposite response to his feelings about the girl. Sang as a prayer, Frollo fears for the safety of his soul. He praises himself for his lack of vulgarity and uses hellish imagery to blame the girl for his attachment towards her: “smouldering eyes”, “sun”, “blazing” , “scorch”, “burning desire” which results in thoughts of “sin”. Immediately he rejects her as a “witch” and suggests his weakness is only because of the power of the devil compared to the inferior power of man. Unlike Quasimodo, he cannot stand the thought of her with another man: “be mine or you will burn!”

Way to bring on the charm.

Most of all, Frollo fears Esmeralda’s power over him, because it threatens his control. Throughout the film he is portrayed as calm and calculated, but his lust blurs the objectivity of his actions which eventually turns the people against him.

Ultimately, Frollo is such an interesting and memorable villain, and well worthy of watching again to notice the little things that you never realised before, if you watched the film growing up. I do wish that Disney would stop rebooting old classics and start coming up with fresh, darker ideas again, taking new risks.

Do you agree? Do you have other ideas about the character? Please let me know in the comments!

Thoughts on: Coraline (2009)

Thoughts on: Coraline (2009)

The film adaptation of the book of the same name brilliantly encapsulates the children novel’s creepy concepts, and takes the visuals to a whole new level. The film has so many hidden clues, ideas and little secrets that foreshadow and expand upon the reality of the Pink Palace, and the Other World that Coraline is drawn to at night.

If you haven’t already seen Coraline, I sincerely recommend it; Coraline is unlike any other children’s film you have any seen. Here are some of my thoughts and ideas I had while watching.

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First of all, let’s start with one of the most creepiest part of the film: the button eyes. We are first introduced to them when Coraline meets the Beldam. Everybody else in the Other World shares them too: Coraline’s Other Father, the Other neighbours, and even the small animals have them sewn over their real eyes. To join the Beldam’s perfect world forever the Beldam asks for Coraline to allow her to sew buttons into her eyes. It’s interesting that the Beldam simply doesn’t use force to do so, Coraline’s consent is essential, giving demonic connotations. Deal with the devil, much?

Essentially, the button eyes represent the absence of a soul while real eyes represent youth, life and vitality. The Beldam wants to feed on the life force from Coraline, which she can obtain by sewing buttons into her eyes. Without taking this force, the Beldam will die, because she is weak without it. This explains her deteriorating state. At the beginning of the film the Other Mother is lively, loud, with an emotive voice – in contrast, by the end she has no signs of physical humanity left. She is weak with thin limbs and barely resembles a human, she is literally breaking apart as she needs life force to strengthen her powers. The Other World was constructed like a dream to lure Coraline’s consent – to blind her with greed and selfishness.

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The contrast between reality and the Other World is very bleak. Reality is presented as excruciatingly normal, with slow movements and grey, monochrome colours. The main colour in the real world is the brightness that Coraline brings, in both personality and physical appearance. Her bright yellow coat is featured prominently, and her search for individuality to break from reality is shown when Coraline wants to buy a new pair of orange glove and her mother refuses. Coraline’s real parents are tired and imperfect, they seem to always prioritise other things over her. All alone, Coraline is drawn to a place where she cannot be limited by the adults in her life, where everybody heeds to her every wish: even the toys.

On the other hand, the Other World is initially portrayed with much brighter and unusual colours like purple and orange, showing its illusive and surreal nature. Her Other parents are both more animated and less plagued by exhaustion. But the magic is short-lived as the Beldam cannot sustain the glory of the Other World forever. She needs to take Coraline’s life force, her soul and vitality to regain control and power to manipulate the matter of the Other World.

The clues about the Other Mother are there all along. When Coraline has dinner with her Other parents, her Other Father eats – but the Beldam does not. Her plate remains empty while Coraline thrives on gluttony, even taking desert. The Other Mother has an appetite for something far more sinister and quietly watches Coraline eat. Or when the Beldam suggests that the Other Father is as “hungry as a pumpkin”, the irony being that his original form must have been from a pumpkin since his eventual figure deteriorates into a pumpkin-like figure with clunky movements.Even the back of the Beldam’s black and white dress resembles a black-widow spider.

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The Beldam uses the doll – a copy of Coraline – to spy on her in the real world. Since the doll doesn’t require much energy beyond observation, it doesn’t take up a lot of the Beldam’s powers. When the Other Mother  says to Coraline, “See you soon” after their first meeting, she does mean literally, since the next scene Coraline awakens with the doll staring right down at her. The doll’s task is simple: observe what Coraline doesn’t have so that the Other Mother can replicate it, explaining how the Other Mother knows so much about how to please Coraline. For example, with the gloves, and Coraline’s friends, the doll is picking up methods of manipulation to sway Coraline’s choice.

This could explain why Coraline is only able to use the portal to enter the Other World as certain times and why at others it is bricked up. The portal closes while the Other Mother prepares it, designs it and tailors it to suit Coraline’s desires. It simply wasn’t ready when Coraline attempts to open it after she wakes up. As we know from the credit scene at the beginning of the film, the Beldam goes into a lot of intricate preparation.

But why does the Beldam want Coraline specifically? Surely if she just needs life force from a soul to feed upon, her parents would suffice just as well. The ghosts were all children too, therefore it appears that the Beldam targets children specifically. Perhaps this is because children have the most vitality and life force to give, they are the most filling – so to speak. And they have wilder imaginations than the adults in the story, so they would be easily able to manipulate into giving their consent.

But if the beings from the Other World are entirely the Beldam’s creation, there raises the issue of why Wybie and the Other Father help Coraline, they appear to possess some element of rationality  – even morality. Or perhaps it is an extension of love. They were made as perfected copies of Coraline’s perception of the characters in reality, but they deteriorate in consistency as the Beldam loses her powers. Perhaps they act out of love to save her, or they are more autonomous because they were closer to Coraline in real life. Perhaps the Beldam simply gave them more life force in their creation.

There is also some evidence to suggest that time is in a fluid state in the Other World. The triangle device that Coraline acquired from her downstairs neighbours worked in the Other World, even though it was derived from “hundred-year-old candy”. And Coraline’s doll certainly looks old, the film’s sequence shows it being sewed before Coraline even moved to the Pink Palace – perhaps many years before. The Beldam could certainly be hundreds of years old then, whether she was always in the Other World and created it herself or whether she was once a human and got trapped there, is another mystery.

Perhaps the Other World connects to other places with other secret doors and portals. It would explain why the mirror in which Coraline sees her stolen parents is time-restricted, and the one-way world of the ghost children, and Coraline’s parents when they are trapped in the snow-globe. The Other World opens up a vast number of questions about other portals, and how the doors are opened. Some require keys, some can be slipped through, and some are only one-sided, like whispers or shadows.

Maybe I’m taking this too far, but now I invite you to check out the film again and look out for the little things like the painting of the small boy above the fire place, or the three silhouetted portraits in the wall of the Other Mother’s house. Coraline provokes so many new ideas and images and I would recommend it to anyone looking to watch something a little different.