Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Running Man

When I packed my bags for Puerto Galera last week, a book was one thing that didn’t cross my mind. Years of experience have taught me that I will never find the time to read while traveling. Plus, lounging by the beach with a book in hand seemed too perfect a possibility to seem real. So when we got there and I found out that we were to do nothing besides swim and eat and drink, I scrambled to the nearest library—which, thankfully, was only meters away. A rummage through Sunset at Aninuan’s small collection yielded this early Stephen King novel, which—despite my earlier disbelief—I read cover to cover right on the beach.

Scene: Co-op City, squalid, polluted district. Time: 2025, dystopian future. In this setting we meet Ben Richards, an out-of-work citizen who joins the Games Network’s biggest show, The Running Man, out of desperation. The rules are simple: in this televised chase, the contestants serve as bait for the Hunters, and are considered fair game for anyone, civilians included. Survive thirty days, and you bag the billion-dollar jackpot. Get caught, and you die. Faced with such a high-stakes premise, I expected to devour the book quickly; instead my actual progress was reluctant and forced. The first fifty pages comprise a tedious account of Richards’ application process within the Network bureaucracy. The pacing picks up during the actual Hunt, but after that, everything plummets. Ten pages left in the book, and I would still stop reading just to eat breakfast. By then it felt clear that the story was pulling the character forward instead of the other way around: Richards’ thought processes became difficult to follow; motivations disappeared. With each closing chapter, the story felt more and more like it’s backing itself into a corner where no ending could redeem it.

Stephen King says he wrote this novel in one week—I’m not surprised. The opening scene, Richards’ sob story, is only one of a million others, and not even a compelling one at that. A cop actually tells him “you types are all the same,” “a story for every day of the year.” But a setup like this isn’t impossible to work with. The premise has great potential, and deserves a much lengthier exploration than what The Running Man offers. It’s a pity; Stephen King could have done way, way better.

When the entire group was wearing them, Ben Richards felt as if he had lost his face.

‘You bastards! If you want to see somebody die so bad, why don’t you kill each other?’

There was something suspicious and alien in his features, yet familiar also. After a moment Richards placed it. It was innocence.

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Jane Eyre

It would be idiotic to say that Jane Eyre follows in the tradition of the soap opera, but that it makes such an impression cannot be denied. This is apparent from the first few chapters, which presents a familiar scene: an orphan (unloved and called “a little toad”) forced to live with an unsympathetic stepmother and spoiled, hostile stepsiblings. Except for the uncanny feistiness of the protagonist—who remains charming, if a little impudent—virtually nothing in this segment forebodes a noteworthy plot. But I harbored high hopes for Jane Eyre, and felt all too ready to forgive a bland beginning if it promised an excellent main narrative. However, long after little Jane grows up, the soap opera streak continues, with the story regularly dealing out such noontime drama staples as a hidden letter, a mysterious past, a secret fortune… By the time I finished two-thirds of the book, my hopes had already waned, and it was with laborious effort that I finally reached the end.

Despite the novel’s unimpressive plot, I initially appreciated the narrator’s sharp eye for observation and extraordinary faculty with words. But as I read on, this quality instead grew into an irksome verbosity, which worked against the story by rendering superficial what is emotional, and making it seem affected where it sought to appear earnest. I appreciated Stevens’ roundabout manner in The Remains of the Day, but here I only grew irritated with Jane Eyre: with her choices, her convictions, her manner of speaking. After the Thornfield fiasco, I stopped sympathizing with her altogether—although I did share in her happiness at the ending (mostly because I dreaded the horrid alternative).

I understand why Jane Eyre was deemed groundbreaking in 1847, but read at a later time, from a different perspective, the novel appears to possess few merits. The only scenes I truly cherished were those between Jane and Mr. Rochester, whose love for each other—although it blossomed quickly and rather arbitrarily—I do not doubt for a second. The rest seem artificial: characters like Helen Burns and St. John seem to exist only to provide differing opinions, and conversations involving them verge more on the expedient than the literary. All in all, Jane Eyre is not without charm, but nonetheless falls short of its reputation as a classic, and—save perhaps for the Rochester scenes—is terribly, terribly disappointing.

To this crib I always took my doll; human beings must love something, and in the dearth of worthier objects of affection, I contrived to find a pleasure in loving and cherishing a faded graven image, shabby as a miniature scarecrow.

Even for me life had its gleams of sunshine.

‘…you are good to those who are good to you. It is all I ever desire to be.’

‘I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you—especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.’

‘I tell you I must go! Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? … Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you,—and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.’

‘My principles were never trained, Jane: they may have grown a little awry for want of attention.’

Big Fish (2003)

“In telling the story of my father’s life, it’s impossible to separate fact from fiction, the man from the myth.” Thus William (Billy Crudup) introduces his father Edward Bloom (Albert Finney/Ewan McGregor), and thus we come to know him. But although William’s voice ushers us into the narrative, it is through Edward’s eyes that we see his life story unfold. Amid the last stages of cancer, the old man remains unable to forsake the storyteller in him; and, to his son’s consternation, regales William’s wife (Marion Cotillard) with gallant adventures of his youth—when time literally stopped as he first glimpsed his wife Sandra (Jessica Lange/Alison Lohman) and when as a boy he divined his death in a witch’s glass eye. Frustrated by his father’s fictionalizations, William resolves to uncover the facts through Jenny (Helena Bonham Carter) and for the first time recognizes the man behind the tales.

I don’t believe enough people realize the importance of having a good movie trailer—and the repercussions of releasing a bad one. Conventional blunders include either selling the film too short, as in Hugo, or revealing too much, as in Big Fish. While undeniably appealing, the difficulty with promotions that promise “an adventure as big as life itself” is that it places a heavy burden on the movie, raising expectations and robbing it of the chance to captivate audiences unawares. Had I not previously seen the trailer, I might have been more fascinated by Big Fish, but as it stands, the movie only fulfilled my expectations, without exceeding it—which is a sad thing to say about a film that grants so much import to the imagination.

Although its trailer cheated me out of (what seemed like) an incredible visual experience, the film did have other merits. The last scene between father and son is strikingly poignant. At that moment, William finally, finally comes to an understanding of Edward—why he embellished his stories, why he told them again and again, why he resolutely insisted on the impossible. At its core, Big Fish tells of the necessity of fiction to overcome the banality of life. Despite its annoying faithfulness to family drama tropes, it is overall a moving chronicle of one man’s desire to be bigger than life, something that mere biographical existence fails to offer.

We were like strangers who knew each other very well.

His birth would set the pace for his unlikely life, no longer than most men, but larger.

‘You don’t even know me.’ ‘I have the rest of my life to find out.’