What Wes Anderson’s film about childhood tells us about being a grown-up — as opposed to simply being an adult

We begin on the island of New Penzance, which has had other names in other fictions. Its most well-known name (among the audience most likely reading this) is the Garden of Eden. The island is separate from the rest of the world, and it is lush with “old growth pine and maple”. It hosts the outdoor adventures romantically associated with healthy childhoods in bygone eras (in which people used words like “bygone”). The year is 1965.

Over the next three…


On Guillermo del Toro’s “beautiful ugly fairytale” and how it reveals the dark side of the Golden Age

I make it a habit to follow the principle of being late because, as Wilde put it, “punctuality is the thief of time”. So I was in no rush to see The Shape of Water, and ended up watching it in March this year — in the same week it was already winning four categories of the Oscars. On the same day, incidentally, that I had read about Italy’s general election. I read of the growing support for far-right factions and a…


On the legacy of Steven Spielberg’s classic film and the steady decline that followed.

The latest instalment of the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (an apt subtitle, as we’ll see), offers opportunity for revisiting the series and wondering: Where did it all go wrong? It is hard to watch any of the sequels right after the original and not feel your mood decline in conjunction with the quality of filmmaking and storytelling. Just listen to the way Ian Malcolm, in Fallen Kingdom, mimics John Hammond and examine the difference: “Welcome,” Malcolm says ominously, “to Jurassic World.” Hammond’s welcome…


Why don’t we get to hear what Bob says to Charlotte at the end of the film, and what does this secret tell us about the movie’s themes?

Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation begins and ends with questions. As the movie fades into its opening shot, we are confronted with Charlotte (a twenty-two year old graduate played by a precociously mature seventeen-year-old Scarlett Johansson) lying on a hotel bed, with her back to us, trying to get some daytime sleep as she adjusts to the time difference here in Tokyo. But I am being somewhat coy in this description, in…


How Françoise Sagan’s novel shows that our sense of self shapes our sense of ethics

There is a moment in Françoise Sagan’s novel, Bonjour Tristesse, in which seventeen-year-old Cécile discovers how life fractures a person, forcing them to remake the broken halves into something like a whole. “For the first time in my life,” she says, “this ‘self’ of mine seemed to divide in two and I was quite astonished to discover such a duality within me.”

This observation comes, not incidentally, in the first paragraph of the second part of this short novel; the structure of the book reflects…


How “The Squid and the Whale” and “The Meyerowitz Stories” revisit and reshape shared themes

Within the confines of an apartment just around the corner from the first house I ever lived in, in a city just outside of the town I grew up in, aged nineteen and no longer a child but not anything like an adult, with a mindset only on the precipice of teetering into something other than the religious worldview I’d been raised in — this is to say, as someone who had not yet done much developing as an individual — I watched Noah Baumbach’s…


On the surprising connections between Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” and Dante’s “Divine Comedy”

I’m going to let you in on a secret: Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 movie Parasite is about Capitalism.

All right, that’s as much a secret as is the location of the nose on your face. Here is the real reveal: What Parasite is about, and what it is saying about what it is about, is uninteresting to the point of deathly dull in comparison with how the movie goes about examining its subject. The How is vastly more important and more interesting than the What. …


How Joseph Heller’s distortions of language reveal the value of absurdism, humour, and free speech

In Joseph Heller’s manic-state comedy Catch-22, language is a zero-sum game, a conversational competition, that each player attempts to win by cheating. Language and logic become things to beat the other player over the head with.

Faced with the insubordination of Captain Yossarian — the morally wobbly protagonist of Catch-22 — who aspires to supreme selfishness, Major Danby can only think to invoke Kant’s categorical imperative: “But, Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way.” To which he receives this particular brand of sophistry:

“Then,” said Yossarian…


The John Wick films are a thrilling example of the importance of spectacle in cinematic storytelling

Harry Houdini waits, patient as a prophet in expectation of a fulfilled premonition, as the men prepare to attempt his murder. They double and triple check the packing crate, rapping on the solid wood and hammering flat hands against the corners to examine — to demonstrate — the stability of the box. They do this ostensibly for themselves, but it is really for the expectant eyes fixed on the show performed here on this tugboat.

There would have been a larger audience had the…


How Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” shows us with humour and honesty how certainty collapses — and when and why it should collapse

The question is this: Is knowledge of reality worth more than pleasure? Or, more poetically, is a beautiful lie preferable to an ugly truth?

Imagine with the philosopher Robert Nozick that there is a machine that can give you exactly the life you desire. …

Art Of Conversation

Exploring life, culture, and meaning through literature, cinema, and music. www.artofconversation.net

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