The Nintendo Switch is almost upon it, and with it, a new Zelda game. A new sandbox Zelda game featuring better looking tunics, hang-gliding, and an intense enough story to make our beloved princess do this:
It just looks so damned good, to the point where some of us here think it could be the best in the entire franchise.
Yet which game would it actually be dethroning? Sure there’s plenty of Link to the Past-stans, and who doesn’t have at least fond memories of Wind Waker? (There was an island of Tingles, for crying out loud!) But from what I can tell, the consensus is almost unanimously on Ocarina of Time (OOT). I say “almost” because there is a small, though vociferous group that argues its direct successor, Majora’s Mask (MM), should hold that honor. For full disclosure, the latter is my personal favorite in the franchise, though I’m not sure if I’d consider it “better” than OOT.
So let’s see if there’s an objective way we can hash this out, examining the strengths of the stories and gameplay, and come away with a decisive winner. DECISIVE, I say!
The Hero of Time
In the off-chance someone doesn’t know the first thing about this game, let’s begin with a quick recap of the plot.
In OOT, a 9 or 10-year-old Link is being raised by the Kokiri, a sort of woodland sprite-ish race that all stay as children forever and have guardian fairies (none for Link, how sad). The Kokiri are all watched by the Great Deku Tree, who is feeling green in the gills lately, so he sends Navi the fairy off to get Link, since the guy has a magical destiny. Link defeats a monster inside the tree, but it turns out he was doomed anyway since some schmuck named Ganondorf cursed him. You see, the Great Deku tree held a spiritual stone, and Ganondorf wants that along with two others so he can open the Door of Time in the Temple of Time and enter the Sacred Realm where he can steal the Triforce for power!
Link learns about this and goes to warn the royal family, succeeding in telling Zelda, who immediately believes him since she’s prophetic and thinks Ganondorf is the worst anyway. She tells Link to get the other two spiritual stones while she protects the Ocarina of Time (this is also needed to open the Door of Time), so that way they can get to the Triforce first and protect it. Unfortunately, they missed the part where Link is too young to be doing any of this shit, so when he gets the stones and opens the door, he ends up getting sealed by the Sage of Light inside the Chamber of Secrets (within the Sacred Realm), while Ganondorf skips on through and grabs the Triforce, casting darkness over the land. The only silver lining is that Ganondorf is such a baddie, he couldn’t take the Triforce whole: it split into thirds, and while he did a lot of damage with one piece, the other two fell safely in possession of Link and Zelda.
The Sage of Light puts Link into a seven year sleep, so he can mature enough to fill his role as the Hero of Time. When Link is pulled out of this stasis, he’s given instructions to go and wake up the other sages so they can all bring down Ganondorf, who has since become King of Hyrule. Link does this with the help of a mysterious Sheikah (a sort of ninja-like people) named…Sheik (clever), who turns out to be Zelda, because she might feel a little responsible for the awfulness in Hyrule.
With the help of now-awake sages and Zelda (who is actually the Goddess of Time and head sage, which means she has some healing and gate-opening powers), Link is able to defeat Ganondorf. Zelda thanks him by sending him back in time to his 9-year-old self so they can just…not do the thing. Just ignore the time paradox it creates, okay?
What’s funny is that before writing that out, I always had thought of OOT’s narrative as a straightforward hero adventure tale. It’s true that there’s the “chosen one” aspect of this, but the importance of Zelda being just as inextricable a piece shouldn’t be understated. OOT took the “defeat the bad guy to save the princess” trope and made it “defeat the bad guy and the princess will help, too.”
There’s also how each geographical area and each sage feels fleshed out and has their own issues. Ruto had to sort of quickly shape up as the sage of water after being rather self-involved and carefree as a kid. Darunia throws himself into the Fire Temple to the point of self-harm as a way of trying to save his people. Nabooru is the second-in-command of the Gerudo who realizes the danger Ganondorf poses and does what she can to subvert his plans even before darkness falls over Hyrule. It’s not Citizen Kane or anything, but these characters, along with Link and Sheik/Zelda, hammer home the theme of responsibility, and does so in a rather compelling way. Even Malon insists on staying in a bad situation for the good of the animals of Lon Lon Ranch helps to support this. There aren’t many pieces that feel extraneous, and this is the game where you spend a fair amount of time running across the map to deliver eye-drops.
Truly, it’s the dramatic irony that’s probably my favorite piece of this: had Link and Zelda not tried to open the Door of Time, none of this would have happened. So then seeing the darkness and how each region turned uniquely to shit (the Zoras getting trapped in ice was probably the most affecting) had more of an underlying tragedy to it besides “evil guy does evil things.”
The ending is rather beautiful in this regard too… Zelda sends Link back in time to subvert this in a different timeline, while she herself has to try and pick up the pieces of the world that has now fallen apart. Her background arc is almost mind-boggling when you think about it, given the way she spent seven years training as a Sheikah, ultimately to sneak into Hyrule and do what she could until Link was ready to take up the mantle of Hero of Time. We’re not talking small things either—Sheik saved Ruto’s life!
All in all, though the story does lead the player from Dungeon A to Dungeon B without much hesitation, the tale it tells to do so is one that creates a sense of urgency, and a deeply felt sense of loss, too. It’s upsetting to see ReDeads wandering through the town market, and I’ll be damned to find a player who didn’t want Kokiri Forest free of monsters as soon as possible.
Hero who’s got no time
Then there’s Majora’s Mask. It’s a bizarre tale, there’s no two ways about it.
Following the events of OOT in the “child” branch of the now-split timeline (thanks, Zelda), a 9/10-year-old Link realizes he really misses Navi, so he goes off to look for her in the neighboring land of Termina. Unfortunately he gets mugged on the road, his horse gets stolen, and he gets turned into a Deku scrub. Could happen to anyone. He meets a mask salesman who tells him that the same thief (a Skull Kid) stole his really cool, really evil and dangerous mask (Majora’s Mask). If Link gets it back for him, he’ll make him a human again, so long as Link also gets his ocarina back (he needs it to fix him).
Small problem: the mask, with the help of the Skull Kid, is somehow making it so the moon falls into Termina after three days and everyone’s going to die. And just before they can throw a really fun festival!
Link manages to get the ocarina and remembers Zelda teaching him the Song of Time. He plays it and finds himself back at the “dawn of the first day” (three days remaining until the moon crash). The mask salesman fixes him up, but Link forgot to get Majora’s Mask, so he gets sent back into the world and has to figure out a way to retrieve it and stop the moon crashing, making as much progress in three days as he can, before traveling back in time and resetting the moon fall over and over.
Much like Groundhog’s Day, Link ends up solving the minor problems of everyone in town, while he ultimately figures out that there are four guardian giants of Termina who are trapped in temples being guarded by masked monsters. Link must defeat these monsters and summon the four giants when the moon is falling so they can catch it and hold it up. Once they do, he’s able to warp onto the moon, fight the now-sentient Majora’s Mask that ditched the Skull Kid (it’s got no strings), and save the day.
It’s weird. I’ve heard it described as “dark and creepy” too, and it’s a little hard to argue with that.
What’s weirdest of all is how none of this should have worked, and yet it all does.
For Link, it boils down to him fighting an evil mask to avoid the destruction of a town. However, he actually takes a surprising backseat in the context of the narrative, which is instead all about Skull Kid, his former friendship to the giants, and the way his friendship to the two fairies Tatl and Tael started out as sharing fun pranks, but took a dark turn aided by the mask. We learn from a story within a story (thanks, Anju’s Grandmother) that the Skull Kid had been super tight with the four giants, but when they announced they were leaving Clock Town to protect Termina from its four geographic regions, he felt abandoned and “spread darkness” before he was banished. The mask allowed him to return, and it all feels very much like the Ring of Power calling out. In many ways the Skull Kid was primed to take it, and the tragedy that unfolded was in line with his former insecurities and latent dark tendencies.
In a move of poetic justice, the Skull Kid gets scrapped by Majora’s Mask to do its own bidding, leaving him completely alone. The end credits focus on the giants telling the Skull Kid that they do care about him, but they still have to go do their protector thing. He proposes to Link that maybe they could be friends, and the final shot we get is this:
Link is, you know, there for these events. But it’s the Skull Kid’s story as he works to understand the concept of friendship while seeing how loneliness manifesting in fear is a dangerous road to walk. “Forgive your friends” is more or less the tagline of the game, and it sure as heck wasn’t Link forgiving Dampe for his formerly terrible tour guide skills.
Still, even if you’re not playing as the story protagonist, does that really matter? Link’s actions certainly make an impact, and the many quests he goes on in Termina play into the central themes anyway. Time and futility stand out the most for the player, but even subplots such as Anju/Kafei or the Gorman Brothers touch on the forgiveness and friendship aspects we see in the A-plot.
Oh, and responsibility strikes again! It’s not Link’s responsibility, oddly, though he’s able to don the forms of those who feel it keenly. The Deku Princess attempts to take on the troubles in her kingdom alone thanks to her ineffectual father (Dutiful Princess alert), both the Goron Elder and Darmani are so determined to stop the endless winter that they fall into near and actual death (respectively), Mikau dies trying to get Lulu’s eggs back, Pamela shields her half-monster father from any potential threat despite the danger he poses to her, Cremia devotes herself to the ranch despite her father’s death and the whole yearly alien abduction of the cows thing… Heck, even Jim, a small child, starts a gang dedicated to helping those in Clock Town because of neighborly duty.
In fact, collective communal responsibility is one of the biggest takeaways given how the Carnival of Time and the potential moon disaster serve as two unifying efforts. We see how the characters of this world relate to one another, often in surprising ways (the receptionist at the mayor’s office has a crush on Kafei, Cremia shelters Anju’s entire family and might be low-key in love with her, and Anju’s grandmother may have been the mayor’s teacher, just to name a few), and Mayor Dotour’s struggle to weigh the risks of staying and the potential losses of fleeing the town in the wake of the carnival only too well frames the way each person’s individual drama influences full picture.
In some ways it’s a masterpiece and in others, it’s completely absurd and downright silly. I have to imagine it is a story that most players find deeply engaging, especially given how self-referential it is, and how far down rabbit holes you can get. For those willing to explore the world in its entirety, the reward is there. Only issue is the willingness to do so without feeling like you’re making the moon crash.
Compared against OOT, I do think MM has the richer tale, though it might be one harder to relate to, especially given Link’s secondary status within it. Zelda’s plotline in OOT will destroy me in a way nothing can in MM, though what is actually on-screen during the game is less compelling than its successor. For these reasons, it’s likely best to call the strength of the stories a draw, and determine the winner of this battle by gameplay merits alone.
What Ocarina of Time did better
Both OOT and MM used very similar mechanics and were released on the same console. However, there are enough differences in game play to set them apart.
1. The superior map
This isn’t just about Termina making no dang sense politically and economically. It’s more that Hyrule feels like a complete world rather than a hodgepodge of disparate zones. Part of that may be the transition areas: you head up Death Mountain Trail before you get to the rocky Goron Village, you’re slowly eased into the Gerudo’s desert setting, little-by-little, there’s the bridge you take to get out of the forest. In MM, Termina Field just has patches of snow randomly existing about twenty feet away from the very temperate-looking beach.
Hyrule also feels less constrained in travel, likely because so much of the map stays closed off to you for so much longer in MM. OOT gives a grander “free roaming” feel, while MM makes you sit around wondering when you’ll come across the item to get you to the next zone. It’s true this can be mitigated by getting out of Woodfall with only the Hero’s Bow, and then damage boosting yourself over the Great Bay fence after getting the Goron mask, but it doesn’t exactly compare to being able to get your Gerudo Membership Card without even having to beat a single temple as an adult.
2. A better warping system
In OOT, you can warp across the map by learning a location-specific song at some point in the game.
In MM, a random owl statue has a song transcribed on it, and if you play that you can travel to anywhere another owl statue exists, as long as you’ve opened it already. They’re both fine. Fine.
This might seem like an odd point to give to OOT, since I was just kvetching about the limits in MM’s travel, and there are some songs you don’t learn until frustratingly late in the game (looking at you, “Nocturne of Shadows”). In MM, you more or less can immediately revisit any area you’ve been to. However, OOT’s travel system felt integrated into the story, and there was a genuine delight in learning the next warp song, especially given how they were composed to evoke the area you were heading. In MM, while Kaepora Gaebora, is a familiar sight for those who played OOT, it’s still just a random owl with random statues in random locations, randomly. Give me a duet with Sheik any day.
3. Better sword upgrade & Epona quests
It might be unfair to lump these in together, but I tend to associate freeing Epona from Lon Lon Ranch with the mad dash across Hyrule to get Biggoron’s Sword, likely because that would be the first thing I’d do after becoming an adult. Both quests were incredibly fun, and actually felt like there were stakes to them, given the countdown clock for most stages of the sword, and what felt like personal stakes in helping Malon.
In MM, you pay a blacksmith for a better sword, and if you happen to have gold dust, he can upgrade it one more time so that it will never break. That’s it. Just…go into a shop twice. Sure, you have to figure out where to get the gold dust from, and you go two full days without a sword while he works but it’s not exactly engaging.
Epona, however, is nothing but frustrating. You can find her pretty quickly once you visit Milk Road, but until you defeat the second dungeon, there’s no getting to her on the first day, when you actually need to be there for Romani to help you. Once you manage that, there’s a small minigame, but it’s nowhere nearly as satisfying as defeating Ingo.
4. Better dungeon design
Speaking of those dungeons, OOT definitely has the edge here, for the simple reason that you can actually figure them out. Yeah, I know the reputation the Water Temple has and that you can get stuck without small keys, but here’s a hint: just move through the rooms counterclockwise, lowest level to highest. It doesn’t require the goddamned civil engineering degree that makes Great Bay comprehensible, and don’t even get me started on Stone Tower Temple. I refuse to believe people were actually able to find all fifteen stray fairies in that one without outside help.
5. The save button
I don’t know why MM didn’t allow for a save and quit whenever the player wanted. I’m guessing it has something to do with the function of the three-day cycle, but truly, it’s a mystery. In OOT, if you wanted to stop playing, you could save wherever you were and it would be fine. Sure, you’d start back in Link’s house, or at the beginning of a dungeon, but it was never a big problem, truly. This was also very nice if you wanted to try something risky out.
In MM, playing the Song of Time and going back to the first day was an automatic save. Otherwise, you’d have to find a dang owl statue. However, the worst part was that if you saved at an owl statue, played for a little, then stopped playing without saving (maybe you messed something up, even), you would be taken back to the last time you played the Song of Time. As a kid who’d only be able to play for a limited amount of time, this was highly stressful.
6. Gold skulltula quest
I am a completionist. Why would I fight Ganondorf with anything less than 20 fortified hearts and the biggest possible quiver? For that reason, the little scritch-scrtich-scritch of the skulltulas was both the bane of my existence, and the delight when playing these games. I lived to get that spider icon on my mini-map in OOT, and there was something immensely satisfying about figuring out all the areas they could hide.
In MM there’s two hellish spider houses, and woe betide you if you defeat one on the wrong day. Learning the speedrunning routes through them are kind of fun, but it’s more or less twenty minutes of the spider noise driving you bananas while you curse yourself for not bottling more bugs.
What Majora’s Mask did better
It’s very important to say something first: MM is a sequel to OOT. For that reason the game could address common complaints. Yes, Tatl is less annoying in her noises than Navi (though she’s also less useful). The text speed is also much faster and you can skip more of it. Sure, these fixes produce a “better” game, but it does seem unfair to hold against OOT all the same.
1. The Great Fairy rewards system
I’m sure this is going to be divisive, but to me there was nothing more delightful than having Link don the Great Fairy mask and plunging into the dungeons. The rewards were more or less the same in both games, at least for three of the fairies, but rather than finding random rocks to blow up or stumbling across the fountains, MM’s integration of them into the dungeon system felt much more organic, and gave the dungeons replay value they might not have otherwise had.
Also, I’m pretty sure the only spell I used in OOT was Din’s Fire in the two cases where I had to. I may have used Farore’s Wind once when I ran out of time to finish a dungeon. But thanks for nothing, half of you Great Fairies. Meanwhile MM has the Great Fairy’s sword, which is ridiculously overpowered. Try the Wart fight using just quick-spins of it…trust me.
2. Masks & movement
It’s really hard to tell if this was a “fix” to OOT’s system, but getting around the world in MM is just a delight. A lot of that is due to the transformation masks, especially given the ridiculous speed the Goron Mask allows you. In fact, it’s almost to the point where Epona feels a little useless. And I’d be remiss not to mention the Bunny Hood, even though you’re unlikely to see it much in speedruns.
In OOT, there’s Epona and back-walking.
The thing is, the masks and the way they affect gameplay are just fun, no other way about it. It’s delightful to get a new mask and try and see where you can use it in some way. Sure, there’s a few lemons, but for every Circus Leader’s Mask, there’s a Bremen mask.
3. Challenging mini-games
Okay, in fairness, Bombchu Bowling is a goddamn nightmare that you can get stuck at for a long time in OOT. But otherwise the mini-games are not the most difficult. Stand and shoot your slingshot at these slowly moving rupees. Fish for ten hours until that really fat one by the log bites. The Horseback Archery presents the biggest challenge, but even there it doesn’t take long to master.
Compare that to MM where you’re racing beavers, playing basketball with bombs, and shooting octorocts faster than you knew was even possible. These are incredibly fun games, and yeah, can trip you up. But boy do those pieces of heart feel well-earned.
4. A less aggravating Dampe quest
OOT fans should give out a collective groan when Dampe is mentioned, because the Heart-Pounding Gravedigging Tour is anything but. It’s more like the tour where you have to turn your damn brightness up all the way, listen for the sound of dirt or stones, and wait for a guy moving slower than the speed of death to charge you money that might eventually lead to a piece of heart.
In MM he’s not faring much better, by the way. In fact, he can’t even see anymore, so you have to use Tatl’s light to guide him. But there’s only six possible dig locations, they’re all very obvious, and you get a bottle at the end rather than just a piece of heart. It’s also a very fun way to close out your first cycle as a human, if you play your cards right.
5. One pair of boots
I’m not sure if this is a result of MM needing a full menu pane for the masks, but goodbye are the days of futzing around with tunic and boot selections. It was kind of fun for a little in OOT, but once the choice was taken away from me in MM, my quality of life was better. This goes for Link getting a functional and non-flammable shield to use at all times. Just…why Deku Shield, why?
I think the biggest source of my frustration with this system in OOT was how awful the hover boots felt for movement, and how dang slow the iron boots were. I realize that was the point so that the Kokiri Boots would remain the default, but it just made me dread the moment I had to put the other ones on. Just give me Link and let me run around without burning up.
And the winner is…
Well, technically I gave OOT one more positive than MM, though I should point out that “mask mechanics and movement” were so fundamental to the game that they should count for a bit more.
The thing is, while I thought I’d end this arguing passionately for MM and being willing to die on that hill, I’m really not sure that either one comes out on top. MM took OOT’s formula and added mechanics on top of it with a focus on fun and difficulty, but none of that would have been possible without OOT’s formula in the first place. Conversely, OOT was a near-perfect game out of the box, though it’s impossible to ignore the ways it was improved.
As much as I’d love to give the crown to one or the other, I can’t. They’re both phenomenal games that have earned a place of affection in Zelda fans’ hearts for a reason. Breath of the Wild has its work cut out for it.
Images courtesy of Nintendo
Netflix’s The Meyerowitz Stories Looks Deep Into Dysfunctional Artist Families
Review and Theme Analysis for The Meyerowitz Stories: New and Selected
“We all have this gap between who we are and who we think we are, between who we are and the dream of who we might be, who we want to be,” said Noah Baumbach concerning his new Netflix original film: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). In it, Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, While We’re Young) explores the dysfunctions of an aging family unit as they try desperately to work through their grievances with the past, and with one another.
The setting, the story, even the title itself, which sounds like something off of a Sufjan Stevens record, is both swallowed up by and pays homage to its postmodern, “Art House” culture. The movie is as advertised: selected snippets of the Meyerowitz family and their dysfunctional relationships. It certainly doesn’t abide by any sort of Hero’s Journey formula, but make no mistake, these selected stories are not chosen at random with an attempt to pretentiously or absurdly confuse their audience. These stories, centered around the children of Harold Meyerowitz (Dustin Hoffman), are all part of a single, congruent narrative that beautifully weaves together powerful themes of regret, bitterness, longing, and neglect.
Danny Meyerowitz Was Trying to Park
Newly separated from his wife, Danny Meyerowitz (played by Adam Sandler) is driving he and his daughter Eliza (Grace van Patten) to his father Harold’s house in Manhattan. (I’d call it an apartment personally, but then I’ve never owned a place in Manhattan, so…) They are having dinner as a family before Eliza heads off to Bard College as a freshman, where her grandfather taught art for more than thirty years.
The relationship between Danny and Eliza is some of the sweetest, most authentic father-daughter on-screen chemistry I’ve seen in a long time. Between their pithy banter while Sandler searches for parking, screaming at other New York drivers that dare get in his way, to their lovely harmonies when they sing together on the family piano, we are given a plethora of special moments between these two characters. The “conversations between generations” is something (I’m told) Baumbach excels at in his films, and though I’m not too familiar with his body of work, The Meyerowitz Stories is more than enough proof of his prowess.
The Meyerowitz family is very artistic. This tradition is carried on down the family. Harold had a successful career as a visual artist, but is hung up on the fact that his friend LJ (Judd Hirsch) has achieved far more fame and admiration that he ever could. Danny, on top of dealing with a fresh separation, turns out to have been an unemployed musician for quite some time. Apparently he never did anything with his talents except write a few charming songs to be played on the family piano. Eliza is now continuing the hereditary niche by way of directing and starring in overtly ridiculous, pornographic Art House films.
“Have you thought about getting a job?…I think you’d feel better about yourself. Have you thought about playing music again?”
Resentment and neglect start to rear their heads when they go to LJ’s showing, and Harold gets his face pressed up against the glass to the life he should have had. He’s snubbed by all the high-society folk as though he were a commoner! But seriously, being ignored amongst your peers is a very hurtful thing. Resentment from Danny for years and years of neglect also bubble to the surface and the night goes awry.
Danny: I’d like to come if that’s alright. It would be a real treat for me.
Harold: I think they’re filled up…L J’s getting me a special spot.
Though it’s like pulling emotionally distant teeth, Danny is eventually allowed to attend the fancy gala with his father. Even on such a celebratory occasion though—complete with a wonderful cameo of one of my favorite actresses—the Meyerowitz boys can’t seem to let their resentment toward life go, and the evening is ruined.
Matt’s Story: Go Forth and Multiply…
Harold is currently remarried to his fourth wife Maureen (Emma Thompson) who is a chronic drinker. And although she seems to share in a loving relationship with Harold, she feels understandably distant from the rest of the extended family, who we are then introduced to.
Enter Harold’s other son Matt (Ben Stiller) from his first marriage. Matt is a successful architect visiting from LA for some meetings, including a delightful luncheon segment with his stubbornly pretentious father to talk about selling his estate. As they wander around a New York City Neighborhood in search of a restaurant that’s ‘up to Harold’s standards,’ we start to see why Matt chose to live across the country.
“I’ll have the steak and the Market salad. We don’t have a ton of time so if you could bring everything at once…”
It’s hinted that Matt’s mother was the love of Harold’s life, and Matt, who is a symbol of that love, was showered with a lot of unwanted attention and pressure growing up. Apparently, even being the favorite child of a successful artist puts a lot on a kid. Nothing comes without cost.
“I got your focus and that fucked me up in a whole other way… It doesn’t matter that I make money, because you don’t respect what I do.”
Scenes between characters, whether it’s parents, siblings, half-siblings, step-parents, or a combination, all feel very scattered and emotionally vacant, but it’s by design. They only have distant memories and vague connections to one another as they must suddenly navigate their way through understanding that their father may not have long to live.
Artists and The Berkshires
Early in the film we are given some exposition. A: Harold is being asked to present art at Bard for a faculty alumni showing. B: Harold suffered a blow to the head on a trail in the Berkshires. Wouldn’t you know it, these two plots intersect when Harold is forced to miss his art showing after suffering severe head trauma from the injury. The aging patriarch is rushed to a hospital in Pittsfield (the very hospital I was born in, actually). It was admittedly challenging to be even slightly objective during this segment as the estranged half-siblings and step-mothers and granddaughters all frantically rush to their summer home in order to be with Harold. They all feared the worst.
I’ve resisted the urge for the most part in this review, but I’d like to delve into why this film struck such a chord with me. Half of it takes place in my home of the Berkshires, where artists have the potential to learn, grow, and thrive with their craft. It’s not filmed on location here or anything, which is actually fine for us Shirefolk because we don’t like our peace disturbed. But see, this film bothered to actually take the time to acknowledge the Berkshire’s contribution to the arts by bringing the characters there in a script all about the art world.
Now, speaking of the film’s theme of resentment, there happens to be an undercurrent of cultural unrest and resentment in the Berkshires. When wealthy New Yorkers buy up summer homes in prime locations up here, it throws the housing market out of whack (i.e., the Meyerowitz family). What used to be a thriving agricultural area and industrial center has now, in many places, either fallen into decline or become a seasonal getaway for exorbitantly wealthy New Yorkers. Putting it simply, it’s hard to have a house in the Berkshires if you work in the Berkshires. Cultural gentrification, if you will.
But on the other hand, many of these wealthy people are generous donors to the arts, which I am heavily involved in. They stimulate local businesses, keep theaters alive with their patronage, and have a general love and appreciation for conserving the culture and natural beauty of the region. To me, (and others, I’d imagine) seeing aspects of your home depicted on film is very special when done well.
Normally I cringe when films try to namedrop my region in order to gain generic culture points, but Meyerowitz Stories does more than that. On a humanistic and personal level, it spoke volumes that it understood “City folk” aren’t just here to clog up our hiking trails. They come here to enjoy the pleasures of art, escape the grind, and sometimes, sadly, to say goodbye to their loved ones. The regional issues are of course more complex than I’m letting on and shouldn’t be simply dismissed because of an Art House film, but it was hard to ignore the sentiment of van Patten’s performance as she wept at her grandfather’s bedside.
Yes, there is also a third child. Jean is technically present throughout the entirety of the film, but she is purposefully sidelined for almost all of the dramatic moments, which parallels her struggle as the most neglected child. Soft-spoken and reserved, her story in the film comes towards the end of the second act.
When Harold’s friend Paul comes to visit him in the hospital, Jean bolts into the woods. She recalls a summer vacation when she was in an outdoor shower and this Paul character was watching her and masturbating. She told her father, but he was complacent. She describes the incident in the same monotone, nostalgic way that she remembers watching Three’s Company, taking a ferry to the house from the other side of the island (because nobody would pick her up), and swimming in the ocean. It’s quite tragic.
Her father’s neglect has probably thrown her into countless traumatic experiences, as well as given Jean the most reason to resent him, and resent the rest of the Meyerowitz clan for that matter. But she has chosen to be resilient and forgive rather than focus on all her painful memories.
“Because I’m a decent person. Even though he never took care of us, it’s what you do. Besides, I like hanging out with you guys.”
Her brothers, feeling very protective of their sister, consider the best course of action to take against an 80-year-old man who once exposed himself to their sister. The revenge, though farcical and fun to watch, is definitely considered an instance of “misplaced do-goodery.” Jean is not happy. Jean did not ask them to take vengeance on an old man with dementia who has come to say goodbye to an old friend.
The emotional abandonment of the siblings is paralleled in the hospital when every time they feel comfortable and trusting of a medical professional, that professional disappears. Pam the nurse was around when Harold seemed to be doing fine, then when his situation worsens, and a new male nurse takes over. He bares the brunt of their confusion and frustration as they’re handed pamphlets about grief. Likewise, when Dr. Soni carefully outlines the plan to induce Harold into a coma, which offers some measure of relief to the three children, Soni immediately tells them that she’s going to be in China for three weeks. Any chance of having stability during their time at the hospital will be slim to none, because, well, that’s how hospitals work.
Matthew: It doesn’t feel fair, Dr. Soni. That you can just live your life normally while our dad is lying here.
Dr. Soni: Maybe it isn’t.
I Love you, I Forgive You, Forgive Me, Thank You, Goodbye…
The film plays with this interesting cutting technique where various scenes reach a character’s moment of emotional explosion, and then they hard cut it to the next scene. It’s a subtle touch to let the audience know how typical it is for these characters to throw their inhibitions to the wind and scream out in frustration. After an explosive argument between Matt and Danny ends in violence (again the cut is made right as the scene reaches fisticuffs), Matt stands before the art patrons at his father’s showing with a bloody nose, ready to give a speech about his father’s accomplishments. But it turns into an emotionally charged farce as he starts to work out all of his childhood issues into the microphone. What he would give for a chance to make things right…
The last theme with Harold’s children, a theme that has been fomenting under the surface and is brought to the forefront by Jean, is forgiveness. It’s the thing that all three of them have been working towards their whole life. The thing they most struggle with. Baumbach has created a cast of raw, troubled, yet deeply sympathetic characters. The subtlety of the emotion behind dialogue combined with myriad amounts of little character quirks that each actor brings to each role is worth the watch on its own merit.
Overall, this is a brilliantly layered, touching family film. And not “family film” in the sense that you can put your kids in front of it and space out for a couple hours. But rather, that in that we all deal with our own versions of “fucked up family drama,” and it’s refreshing when artists hit that nail right on the head. I’m not as familiar with Baumbach’s other films, but I can safely say that he’s just found an unabashed fan in me. I look forward to diving deeper into his body of work.
Images courtesy of Netflix
Let’s Talk About Supergirl
Spoilers for Supergirl Season 3, including future episodes
But, well, it is still Supergirl, and it is still on The CW. So let’s talk about it: the good, the bad, and the potential.
Sanvers is the elephant in the room: after it was announced at the end of last season that Floriana Lima would be leaving the show to pursue other opportunities, the future of the much-lauded couple was uncertain at best.
And now we know: they are breaking up, separating because Alex wants children and Maggie does not. This was something that had been in the rumor-mill for some time.
disagreement over having kids
— Ken (@pursuit23) September 22, 2017
In a world that already pressures women to want children, and in a world that still very much considers the heteronormative nuclear family the norm, it is more than a little off-putting to insert that dynamic into what has otherwise been a very supportive, healthy relationship between two women. When Alex sees Ruby again in episode 3.02, she is obviously taken by the idea of having a child of her own; why, though, was this never discussed earlier?
Maggie and Alex’s relationship moved quickly, yes, but also successfully. Transitioning so abruptly from a place of deep mutual understanding to butting heads on such a fundamental part of a relationship feels unrealistic at best, and damaging to the wonderful relationship they had spent an entire season building at worst.
The U-Haul stereotype already exists; making it seem like moving quickly means not actually knowing your partner is an unnecessary step. And that is something worth recognizing, especially given how much praise and attention the writers give Sanvers. Just because they did well for a while does not mean they can never be criticized. In fact, they have set the bar high, and we should continue to push for healthy, good representation.
While Alex is struggling with her relationship, Kara is mourning her lack of one.
Only again, it’s not necessary. Season 3 takes place six months after Season 2, and Kara dated Mon-El for all of a couple of months. And for someone who has lost so much—an entire family, an entire planet—her insistence on letting go of Kara Danvers because of Mon-El just does not read as emotionally authentic.
That said, I am glad they are exploring her pain. I am glad she is allowed to cry, and yell, and break. Kara is so happy and upbeat, partially because it is the only way for her to survive. Once the darkness creeps in, it takes over. If Mon-El is the vehicle used to explore this side of her, then at least it is being explored, and at least she is being allowed to process and grow from her grief.
The first issue, of course, is that Mon-El is not gone forever. He will be returning, married. This show loves drama more than anything, and his eventual, dramatic return is rife with dramatic potential.
So why use him as a source of development if, in a matter of weeks, he will return to once again be a source of regression? It feels as though the answer is simply that the writers, showrunners, and network want Mon-El to remain a fundamental part of the show, despite his overwhelmingly negative critical reception.
In all, I want Kara to grow. I want her to confront her fears as she did in 3.02; I want her to cry. But she can do that without the constant weight of Mon-El hanging over her. Not on her own, necessarily: let her rely on Alex, as she has been. Let her confide in Lena, who obviously wants to be a part of Kara’s life. Let her move on.
Ah, Mon-El. To paraphrase some Terminator movie, “He’ll be back.” And so will Saturn Girl, who is rumored to be his wife.
back married to some chick. Saturn something or other
— Ken (@pursuit23) September 21, 2017
When he got sent off in his pod of destiny, we all knew—tragically—that he would return. But to have him return married is a move only The CW would make. We know little of how that storyline will play out: some think that his marriage to Saturn Girl is doomed, and he and Kara will end up together once more. Some think this is a gradual way of writing him off the show by drumming up excitement for a future Legion show.
Whatever the case may be, it is a symptom of a larger problem.
Every series regular is either in a relationship, has had relationship drama, or is currently being touted as one half of a new, potential relationship. And for what?
The Relationship Problem
There is nothing wrong with having strong friendships. There is nothing wrong with creating drama through inter-character tension outside of the confines of a traditional romantic relationship.
And if your first thought in response to that is “there’s nothing wrong with relationships either,” then I want you to think about why.
Because yes: on a surface level, you are more than correct. But Supergirl is no longer about Supergirl. Relationships should built up the characters in them. Instead, the relationships in Supergirl fill in for the lack of actual, well-crafted storylines.
There is a tendency in television to write relationships that have no justification. While friendships are built upon something, whether it be family or common interest, relationships, it seems, are built out of narrative closeness—that is, they are in a lot of scenes together, so maybe they should be together.
At the end of the day, relationships do not excuse otherwise bad writing. In fact, they often amplify it.
With Floriana leaving, it is more evident than ever that the Supergirl writers do not know how to handle healthy couples. With Mon-El returning and Kara remaining broken-hearted, it is clear that all drama must come back to romance eventually. And with every character being romantically involved or potentially romantically involved, they narrow their focus from a show about Kara Danvers, a woman who lost her world and still managed to stand tall and strong as an inspirational hero, to a show about a group of friends that cannot manage functional relationships.
That is not a good message to send, and it is not the show we signed up for.
All this is disappointing. When Supergirl moved to The CW, it fell quickly into the CW model of show: pair everyone up, split them up, re-pair, repeat.
But it is not the end of Supergirl, nor will it be the end of my connection with it. The past two episodes have already dived deeper into Kara and her connections with her friends than most of Season 2 did. With Sam and Ruby on the show and Lena involved with CatCo, the plot seems likely to be as female-centric as some of the best moments of Season 1.
And I have no doubt that the changes are in part due to the collective of voices speaking out against Season 2. I have no doubt that the opinions of critics and fans have prompted development, and I have no doubt that they can continue to do so.
In all, let’s talk about Supergirl, and let’s keep talking about it. Let’s make it clear that we love Kara, and Alex, and James. Let’s make it clear why we are here: for a superhero, and for her friends. Because that is the only way things can change.
Images courtesy of The CW.
Love Conquers All in Valerian
I was hesitant to talk about Valerian, really. I was hesitant because it is always hard to talk about things we love that others despise. Especially when those others are critics. But none the less I feel compelled to speak, because, well, I feel it is needed to discuss things I saw there.
Many people talk about how Valerian is high on visuals but low on everything else. My idea is, maybe this film, just as another good film generally despised by critics (The Last Action Hero), is misunderstood. It is judged not by those rules its creator followed. Like, when I read about how the film is unjust to its protagonist, or when it is judged as a part of a franchise.
Valerian, that Han Solo-esque James Bond-like comics hero with his sexy action girl sidekick, is just an excuse to talk about the real main character. The one we see from the very beginning.
Alpha — Humanity — is the Movie’s Protagonist
The movie starts with a documentary footage that almost seamlessly transforms into a surrealistic futurism fantasy. Fantasy, centered around the main theme of the film: love. It may sound tired and worn out, but it is not; we are accustomed to “love” meaning something that is between sexes, generally between different sexes. Luc Besson takes great labor to show us “love” is something between people — or peoples.
When we see Alpha’s creation, we see it created from tolerance, from desire to understand each other, from acceptance and good faith. In other words, Alpha is a love child — because what are those, if not facets of love? And we see humanity as the main creator of Alpha. Something like a heart of this space station. Because certainly the humanity expressed its best qualities during its creation.
But then… then something happens. Alpha’s heart is infected, we hear, but we don’t yet understand that it is just what happened. The heart, the humanity, was infected. It was poisoned. Which really needed investigation and needed a cure. Humanity needed to find its best again.
And Who Is Our Antagonist?
Well, if the humanity is the protagonist, then who is the antagonist? My answer may seem strange: humanity is, as well. It is not a conflict between species or a battle between nations. What the movie depicts is an inner conflict, where our hero has to fight itself to find out its true nature.
All those people — Lauraline, General Octo-bar, Commander Filitt, even Jolly the Pimp — represent different sides of humanity. In between them stands Valerian, that modern not very deep-thinking, not very far-seeing every man; a man chosen by chance rather than his glorious exploits.
He has to face a person he could have once become: Commander Filitt. This man is evil, yes, but he is a special kind of evil. He became such not as a result of his troubled past, nor out of some inborn sadistic predisposition. No. He became evil out of neglect and lack of will.
I frequently see that he is criticized as bland and not interesting antagonist, but I can’t really see why. He seems like a pretty new and interesting type of character to me. When did we ever see a person who committed a full-scale genocide as a side-effect of completely different war effort? Filitt doesn’t like to think much. He has a chance for success, which he takes it without any second thought. After all, dead aliens tell no tales, so why bother?
And then he has to face consequences of his actions. He has to face the fact that people he murdered were, well, just that: the people, who could think and could speak. The fact no one would overlook, and the fact that will cost humanity its honorable place between nations.
Actually, he has lots of ways to react. He could’ve stepped forward and taken full responsibility for his actions to absolve his nation of the accusation for the military crime it didn’t even know about in the first place. But that guy lacks will, and he just continues on his once chosen course: eliminate.
Why Do We Need Valerian?
And here our title hero enters the scene — our second title hero (the first being Alpha). One who has to grow up, to choose, and to learn separating good from evil. One who has to become something that is not another Filitt.
Valerian is prone to the same course of mind; he doesn’t like second thoughts, he doesn’t like responsibility, and he doesn’t like even making amends. He is a total dick towards his best friend/girlfriend and doesn’t even see and understand what he does wrong. Because he follows rules, doesn’t he?
He always follows those unwritten but well-known rules of conduct modern young men follow. He is entitled, because that’s fine in this list; he is not openly vile, because it’s not appropriate in this list. He acts instead of thinking. That’s why I believe him when he talks about his military decorations; he is a good soldier, a well-honed instrument, and nothing more.
I can’t pretend I was not wounded by the whole Bubble segment, mind you. Using female (and female-coded) characters to further male character arcs is intolerable, really. But still I can appreciate the moral and the meaning of that sequence. Our every man hero has to learn what it is to feel for someone.
I loved the Aesop of the Red Light District episode. That was a short parable about what is not love. Lewdness is not, and using other people is not. Forcing others to do anything is not. Valerian sees himself as a heroic liberator, but he, just like Filitt not long ago (though on a lesser scale) has to face consequences of his illusions.
Irreparable consequences. Like the death of a innocent person who has already suffered far too much.
Here, facing his utter defeat, he starts his way back to real manhood. Because he chooses to feel remorse and place the blame where it belongs: on himself.
The Pearls represent the ideal the humanity may aspire to, the ideal it once lost. Alpha was built on that ideal: learn from each race, join forces, create, and give something back for what you took. They are not (thankfully) any new rendition of the old noble savage trope. They may look like Na’vi, but they are totally different from them. Because the Na’vi are perfect as they are. They don’t need to change; all they need is to eliminate those close-minded humans from their natural paradise.
Pearls, on the other hand, were just a people, and not very advanced at that. They had their simple life on their home planet, and they had to learn for decades to become our ideal. The thing is, you need not to be perfect noble idyllic savage to deserve life. All you have to be is simply alive. That’s all. Genocide is a grave crime not because of special-ness of the victim; it is a great crime because that is in its nature. Murdering a person is a crime, regardless of that person’s morality, after all.
Pearls represent the ideal in other very important aspect: they can love. They can feel for others. They can forgive, even while they are not able to forget. And they can be grateful, even to those who represent the doom which once fell on them.
And To Conclude
In the end, mind you, we are left hanging. Yes, we are given a small Easter egg, sending us to the Fifth Element, but the humanity would still be banished from Alpha for Filitt’s crimes. And this is important, too. Because consequences, and because responsibility. And because the humanity has to learn much before it reaches again the heights of its morality — the love that gave life to Alpha.
I loved this movie, yet I cried in the end,because now we live in a world, where such a scenario (a genocide committed as a side-effect, and no one even noticing that side-effect) is no longer unbelievably fictitious. In a world where taking responsibility is out of fashion and feeling remorse is considered a bit odd.
“Love conquers all” may be outdated saying, but now that we float towards more and more grimdark, I think, it is worth remembering. As George Martin said when he visited St Petersburg, maybe the cyberpunk was more correct in predicting the future, but theirs is not a future one wants to visit or dream of.
Me, I don’t want to visit a future full of shit, too. But I can’t ignore the bad sides of our life. What Valerian gave me was both the hope those bad sides will be overcome as well as the acknowledgement they exist. A perfect mix, for me.