Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Strangers Passing in the Street

"Nothing is stranger, more delicate, than the relationship between people who know each other only by sight – who encounter and observe each other daily, even hourly, and yet are compelled by the constraint of convention or by their own temperament to keep up the pretence of being indifferent strangers , neither greeting nor speaking to each other. Between them is an uneasy and overstimulated curiosity, the nervous excitement of an unsatisfied, unnaturally suppressed need to know and to communicate; and above all, too, a kind of strained respect. For man loves and respects his fellow man for as long as he is not in a position to evaluate him, and desire is born of defective knowledge."

Thomas Mann - Death in Venice

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On Trying

It's amazing how so many people are discouraged from something because they believe they can't. And why do they believe they can't do it? Because they haven't tried it. And why don't they try it, because they believe they can't do it. So many people have fallen prisoners to their own minds. Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those who believes you can do anything if you put your mind to it, but I believe that you can never really find out what you can do till you've given it a shot. 

All my childhood and teenage memories revolve around that similar feeling of not believing I can, but my experiences have been different. I was surrounded by two people who managed to change my ideas about myself and others. 

The first of which was my mother, who always told me two things. First that I had to try anything before deciding whether I could do something or not and second that I have to practice anything before deciding whether I could be good at it. Every time I would go up to my mother and tell her that I really loved something but didn't know if I could do it she would tell me to try. She kept telling me that my knowledge was without basis if I didn't have the experience to back it up, and so I should try; look for what I want to do and try it. Every time I went up to her and told her I enjoyed something but didn't know if I would be any good at it, she would tell me to practice. I found out through experience that we're sometimes limited by our own conception of ourselves and that it would cost us almost nothing to find out what we were capable of. In years to come, I would tell my mother advice on how to do things. She would tell me that she can't. I told her the same things she had been telling me all my life, you need to try first before saying that you can't. 

The other person to influence me but in a different manner was my father. My father is a difficult role model to emulate. He is confident, charismatic and very daring. Those who know me know very well how daring and confident I usually am, but I'm nowhere close to where my father's at. I lack his sense of humour (as is evident) and his ability to invent solutions to complex situations on the fly. As a child I was daring, but every time I hesitated about doing something slightly risky, my father would be there for me, telling me to go ahead, explaining the risks and how they can be avoided. He always pushed me to test my limits. He encouraged me to be adventurous but not wreckless. I remember once wanting to jump from the top of an anchored yacht into the deep sea that surrounded it. The yacht's roof was considerably high. I said I wanted to do it, but because so many people were against it and pointed out the danger, I hesitated despite my father's encouragement. I stared into the sea hoping to work up the nerve. My father came up next to me and said it wasn't that difficult and jumped in, just like that without any warning. I wasn't the only one that followed, many got encouraged to jump in the same manner. I learnt that sometimes people don't do things because they haven't seen anyone do it before. I learned to weigh the risks instead of being wreckless but not let my caution interfere with my adventure.

Whenever anyone tells me that they can't do a certain something, I ask for their experience with it, and how often they've tried and how much they've lost. I don't accept that people understand their own limitations without trying. I know that humans are capable of so much as is evident by the test of circumstances. Some people are tried by life, even without trying. In many cases they discover they were capable of so much more, so much more.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Spoiler warning: If you're one of the 3 people who read these posts, then it's better if you have either seen the movie or do not intend on seeing it. 

On another note, I really recommend this movie, it's very intense, if it's a choice between reading and watching, don't read at all.

Taken is a gripping movie. The word gripping has been overused and is now benign. The truth is that gripping is a very intense word, and if that word has not been overused so much it would have sufficed to have left things with the very first sentence. The intensity of this picture is in how quick everything happens. You can feel that there's not a second to lose. You feel the tension; you feel engulfed by the events. It's gripping. It grips your attention and your emotions.


When I had finished watching Taken, I didn't know what it was that left me mesmerized. Sure enough it was an action flick, like many others. The plot didn't particularly stand out. If anything it was predictable save for a few interesting investigative techniques. The real power of this movie was just how raw it was. It was raw, unadulterated and authentic. Liam Neeson gives one of his best performances ever with an intensity and authenticity that captivates you, perfectly portraying a character that walked in on the movie rather than have been created by a script; Subtle, deliberate, strong and vulnerable.


I hate giving away plots but it's useless not to. Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, a loving father who has left the business of being a 'preventer' to live close to his daughter. A 'preventer' of course is just another form of spy who prevents bad things from happening with 'special skills acquired over the years'. He is sincere in his love for his daughter whom he had been away from for years on account of his job.


The movie starts with realism to those unfilmed years after a hero of other movies decides he had neglected his family long enough and has to make it up to them. He is not in the state of despair and hopelessness, and neither is everything like a fairy tale. His daughter loves him, but he cannot manage to be close to her. Time fractured their relationship and not in the usual way where the only feelings were that of bitterness. It was a little better and a little sadder, the feelings were poisoned by pleasant distance. The daughter chose remoteness and amiability rather than closeness and love. There was little else Bryan could do but accept that. His image as a down and out father is heart breaking. His love is subtle, silent, reserved and practical. There is nothing in the world he wouldn't do, he would give up what he loves best, and he would change his attitude and he did. It seems that he will never tire from making it up to her.


But Bryan isn't just a father; he's a 'preventer'. That's why he manages to remain calm and talk to his daughter giving her instructions as she is being taken. He is a man who has seen the world, he deals with the event of his daughter being taken as a doctor would deal with a patient being brought in, to him this is the life he knows. This is perhaps why he is reserved and calm in his love for his child, able to take different forms of rejection. That is what the real world has taught him. His daughter asks if his job was the reason he was paranoid, he replies that it is the reason he is more aware. He is aware of world that's evil and dangerous and yet the true balance in his character was his concurrent awareness of values like friendship and love. He has not lost faith in the world, but he is wary of its ways.


That same character finds himself in an impossible situation of having to save his daughter with all his strength and all his skills. This is where the movie excels actually. The words in the script don't try too hard. There is no debate about what he's feeling or what he's doing. He is someone determined to get his daughter back. The movie does not waste a second to debate morals or ethics, despite how intricate they are to the movie and to real life. In fact, the questions that this movie could pose if you caught your breath were about the intricacies of life. There are no pauses. Bryan mercilessly hunts down those who have kidnapped his daughter. It's all very simple, he investigates and he kills all those he has to within the 96 hour window he has to find her.


But Bryan is no superman. He's lucky, but not completely unbeatable. He is prepared, determined and ruthless. He does not spend time negotiating, he does not pause to think. He is a man used to killing, his emotion exists but does not interfere with him going about his tasks. There is a mention to Rambo in the beginning of the film because of his ability to take on anything thrown at him. Yet the killings are not absurd or humorous like in a Schwarzenegger movie, they are real and serious, there is no remoteness in them. His perseverance and dedication is beyond words.His true ability is to be able to think straight under the most extreme pressure. The whole movie bears witness to this.


Perhaps one of the most shocking scene is when he is with his old friend and his wife during dinner. He asks him if he is complicit and involved with turning a blind eye to all the human trafficking. His friend doesn't really care for Bryan's daughter. At this point Bryan uses his gun to shoot his friend's wife in the arm; a sudden and shocking action that catches everyone off guard, the viewer, the friend and even the wife. The next one will be between her eyes he warns. Bryan is not bluffing, he is not a good guy threatening to kill to get information. We do not imagine that he will not do it. He will kill her, there is no moral question, no hesitation. There is no idleness in his threat. The drive to find his daughter is so compelling that you can only think about this much later, perhaps after the movie has ended. The values of family, corruption, business and the world are so well entwined without the attempt to make a statement. It is enough to observe and weigh things out, the director never giving us eloquent thoughts to think about but purely intense circumstances.


I write this take on the movie without much analysis, just jotting down my reactions to a very intense movie that gave me more joy to feel than analyze.