Revisiting Life of Pi (the movie) after ten years

No, I haven’t read the book.

When I first watched it, I was immediately awed by the experience. Initially, I found that baffling.

Yes, I do love ethereal visual aesthetics and stories with magical and spiritual themes. But, I have also watched other similar films. None of them – not even the works of Andrei Tarkovsky, one of my favourite directors – have spiritually galvanised me like Life of Pi has.

Seriously, I spent months arguing with my online friends and reading online essays about the film. I tried to decipher the magical happenings by relating them to Pi’s religiously syncretic spirituality and his relationship with his rationalist father. Inevitably, I ended up in self-contemplation about my own life.

From all things in life, I get much of my spiritual awakening from a Hollywood film. Why the hell is that?

First thing first, I have the MBTI AKA Myer-Briggs Type Indicator hypothesis.

Around the time of the film’s release, I was extremely obsessed with the personality type classification due to my early stage of “self-searching”. I identified as an INFJ (Google it yourself) and the film’s titular character was identified by many as one as well. I might be subconsciously influenced by the words of strangers.

But, this hypothesis falls apart quickly as I still love the film even after I become disillusioned with MBTI (it is basically horoscope with psychology veneer). Besides, there were also many other fictional characters and real-life public figures perceived as INFJs, none of which I could relate to (one of them was Hitler, for god’s sake).

Maybe it is indeed the films’ depiction of spirituality. After I dissected it again for the first time in almost ten years, the film does feel different from the others.

While “raw” is not how I describe it, the depiction is certainly not understated. Pi is not just a person who identifies with three different religions, he is also one who endlessly explores spirituality; his metaphysical journey is always at the frontline of his life story.

But, it does not feel like the film imposes his worldview upon us. Instead of keeping us as emotionally-detached spectators, it wants us to empathise with his experiences. It also refrains from utilising any explicitly philosophical dialogues; they can get too technical, overt and sanctimonious.

Unusual for a story with a religious main protagonist, it also wants us to be considerate of the opposing worldview. Now, my experiences with some self-proclaimed rationalists tells me they can be as insufferable as religious zealots. But, Pi’s father, Santosh, is not one of those pseudo-intellectuals.

While he can comes across as cold-hearted*, he teaches Pi to not fall for blind faiths and to not let sentimentality controls his life. In fact, not only his son ends up as a spiritually and emotionally well-rounded individual, the latter skill helps him surviving the perils of getting lost at sea; in such situation, even vegetarians like him have to kill animals for food.

The open-minded contemplation of the other worldview also gives us a nuanced paradigm to interpret Pi’s story.

On one hand, we can take his fantastical story as his attempt to suppress his memory, which is horrific as it involves surviving as a castaway, witnessing murders, killing the murderer and cannibalising his rotting cadaver. The memory suppression is a natural response.

At the same time, the film is not robotic enough to dismiss the story’s possibility. Would I believe it if someone claimed to experience it? No, I wouldn’t. But, I also acknowledge that the world is a bizarre place.

I mean, just take a look at nature. Tectonic plates are basically giant chunks of land who always bump into each other. Many of those deep sea creatures look like aliens. The outer space has black holes. Every single living being on earth is each other’s very distant relative.

While the living island cannot scientifically exist, carnivorous plants do exist and the water surrounding the Italian island of Castello Aragonese has significant content of carbonic acid, which can be corrosive if nothing’s done about the climate change. Nature is one giant weirdo.

Scepticism is indeed a must. But, if nature – the tangible and measurable nature – is weird, we shouldn’t dismiss any human experiences simply because they sound weird.

Maybe this is why I was so obsessed with the film. It goes beyond simply depicting a character’s spiritual journey. It tries its best depicting one that is emotionally exhausting but ever-lastingly rewarding… and it wants us to have a taste of it.

And, as I was in the early stage of “self-searching”, I (probably) subconsciously craved something more nuanced than the glorified pigeonholes of MBTI.

Oh, and I have mixed feelings about the film’s multicultural nature.

On one hand, the film could have been more multilingual. As Pi is from Pondicherry, a Tamil-majority Indian union territory that is formerly a French colony, there could have been more Tamil and French dialogues. Instead, most of them are in English.

But, I also acknowledge the film does a relatively great job in depicting the universality of human experiences. From my eyes, while the titular character is inseparable from his cultural and religious identities, people from all over can easily feel for him in spite of the differences.

The film feels even more multicultural when you learn about Ang Lee, the director.

He is a US-based Taiwanese director. His first two feature films are about the lives of Chinese (mainland and Taiwanese) immigrants in the US, his third is about the clash between Chinese traditions and western-influenced modernity, his fourth is a Jane Austen novel adaptation and many of his subsequent films are set in America and feature American characters.

He is certainly a filmmaker who has experiences traversing cultural differences.

As flawed as the film’s multiculturalism can be, I don’t find it tokenist at all. It does help reminding me about the universality of human experiences.

I don’t see Pi as someone who belongs to the “others”. I see him as a fellow human being.

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*A bit of tangent about Pi’s father, Santosh.

He does come across as cold-hearted. But, I don’t believe he is. There are times when his emotions are glaring for everyone to see.

He looks genuinely sad when he announces the family’s migration to Canada, he tries to physically fight the French cook for disrespecting his vegetarian wife and insulting Indians like him as “curry eaters” and he – along with his family -looks red-faced afterwards.

Oh, and he names one of his sons – the titular character – Piscine Molitor. Why? Because his friend is a swimmer whose favourite swimming pool is at the Piscine Molitor Hotel in Paris. There is nothing rational about that.

He is just as interesting as his youngest son.

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The Orange Girl

I am talking not only about the Jostein Gaarder’s novel, but also about the film adaptation. After immersing myself in both, I realised something: I actually don’t care for Jan Olav’s love life.

For me, it is not about how ‘beautiful’ his romance with the orange girl was (it is less beautiful and more sickly sweet). It is about how his son Georg utilises the tale as a tool for contemplation.

Even though I have read only three of his novels, it is obvious that Jostein Gaarder’s specialty is philosophical fiction; the contemplativeness is expected. Therefore, it is not far-fetched to say romance is not the novel’s main focus. As much as some of you may dislike it, the mind of Georg the pretentious is the main focus.

While the pretentiousness can be off-putting, I actually think it is understandable. If you receive something similar to a sentimental letter from your long-deceased loved one, existential musing is inevitable. If you are a teenager, the musing would be inevitably unrefined.

Of course, it may seems I am excusing it, considering Gaarder’s other novels Sophie’s World and The Solitaire Mystery are not (as) pretentious; it shows he has the capability to write (relatively) well-rounded philosophical fictions.

But, here’s the thing: they have leverages.

Sophie’s World revolves around an interaction between a student and a teacher of philosophy; the presence of an authority figure may help the titular character to be more grounded. The Solitaire Mystery is not even explicitly philosophical; it prefers to express ideas through allegorical means.

The Orange Girl, on the other hand, is explicitly philosophical and none of the living adult characters serve as the main character’s “philosophical mentor”, leaving him “unsupervised” with his musings. So, not only the pretentiousness is hard to evade, it also makes perfect sense.

It is a reason why I can still re-read the book to this day despite everything.

Now about the film adaptation…

Just like many people, I am also disappointed when the adaptations of my favourite books liberally change the stories, especially when the changes do not improve them, if not worsen.

But, in this case, there are two changes which may seem trivial for some, but personally infuriating for me: the setting and Georg’s love interest.

Why does Georg have to go on a skiing trip? Why can’t he simply contemplate inside his bedroom?

Okay, this is not one of those ‘finding-yourself-while-travelling’ stories. The skiing trip only lasts for a few days and it ends before the climax.

But still, I despise the belief that you can only “find yourself” by leaving home. It ignores one crucial element of such experience: the genuine desire to learn. It does not matter if you have visited every country on earth; if you don’t have the desire, you would always be the same pathetic loser of a person.

And why the love interest? The point of the letter is to appreciate life as a whole! But, it seems the filmmakers believed otherwise. Maybe they idiotically mistook the novel as a romance one.

Either that or they thought protagonists must always had love interests.

In both changes, it is shallowness resulting in dumb changes.

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Moving Onward with Onward

*Spoiler alert for Onward……AND Finding Dory (Yes, really).*

Sadly, I am disappointed with it.

The premise itself is interesting: a teenager dealing with his own insecurity (I have a soft spot for such story) longing for a deceased loved one he has no memories of. It is obvious the problem lies on its execution.

It may has something to do with Manticore, a character that is crucial to the plot and yet treated as a comic relief. There is also something about the film that prevents me from emotionally immersing myself in it; I cannot blame its action-oriented and fast-paced narrative because many films, including other Pixar ones, can still be emotional despite being action-oriented and fast-paced. It feels like I am not given enough time to fully relate to the character.

The film is so forgettable, I forgot that I just watched a new Pixar film literally minutes after leaving the theatre.

But, Onward is still way better than Finding Dory.

As disappointed as it is, I have to commend Onward  for having a main character who actually moves onward with his life. Both Ian and Barley are excited to meet their temporarily-revived deceased father. But, amid the (self-inflicted) commotion during the climax, only one of them can meet him for a short while. Ian decided that Barley is more deserving of the one last meeting.

Why? Because, unlike Ian, Barley has actual memories of their father and Barley felt guilty for not giving a proper goodbye to when he was on his deathbed. Ian felt the experience would be more meaningful to his older brother.

Ian also realises his obsession about meeting their deceased father drove him into snubbing the wonderful time he has had with his brother. The list scratching scene near the climax is my favourite in the film.

Moving onward, indeed. The complete opposite of Finding fucking Dory.

If this story is simply about reliving her memories of her parents, then I would be just find. But, somehow, the story has to be about finding them alive! It would be better if they are dead!

Okay, I know I sound heartless. But, hear me out first (or read me out, I guess).

Obviously, there is nothing inherently wrong about wanting to find one’s parents. But, I hate how the film insists that Dory has to find them or else, the absence of family means she would never be emotionally fulfilled, forgetting that Marlin and Nemo are her fucking family; the film’s predecessor clearly shows how Marlin’s mere presence makes Dory feels at home!

Despite my disappointment, Onward‘s emotional maturity shows it is still a Pixar flick. Finding Dory feels more Disney-ish. Yes, I know Disney bought Pixar. But, you get the gist.

I actually don’t have a good reason to bring up Finding Dory. I just hate the film and I am using this opportunity to kick its groin.

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Parasite rightfully won

I have seen way too many people attributing Parasite’s victory at the Oscars to its popularity and it being a foreign-language film.

They are so smart, it hurts.

Not every award is like the Kids’ Choice Awards. Believe it or not, some awards like the Oscars are presided by a handful of (presumably snobby) juries who judge the nominees’ objective merit, NOT their popularity. One can argue the juries are misguided with their judgement and they have been criticised for it. But, it is very certain they don’t care about popularity.

And the data backs me up.

Avatar, one of the most highest-grossing (and one of the most overrated) films ever, was (idiotically) nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars… and yet, it was defeated by Hurt Locker, a film I would never heard of if it wasn’t for its victory. Don’t forget that Marvel Cinematic Universe, the highest-grossing film franchise of all time, have yet to won a single Oscar; they are more successful in awards that specialise in speculative fiction.

Oh, and don’t forget that film snobs looooove Parasite. On Youtube alone, you can find lots of them ravingly reviewing the film… and mind you, those people do not care much about popularity. They don’t have problems berating films they deem dreadful, no matter how popular they are! In fact, I feel alone because it is hard for me to find people who enjoy both Parasite and Marvel films like I do.

The thematic analyses are even more plentiful. Thanks to those Youtubers and their equally passionate audience, the surge of its cinematic exegeses feels never-ending, proving how Parasite is a dense and meticulously-crafted work.

Those who dismiss the legitimacy of its victory are either driven by xenophobia, anglo-centrism, neoliberalism or a combination of some or all of them. I am confident with my assertion because their dismissiveness contradicts the observable facts and I have seen many people hating on the film because it is non-American, non-anglophone and critical of capitalism.

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Parasite: what a treat

Yes, there will be spoilers. Click away if you haven’t watched it.

Seriously, click away!

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This essay is a two-parter. Part one is about my analyses of the film; they are brief and surface-level because many people online have done great jobs with the dissections and I don’t have anything significant to contribute. Part two is about why I personally love the film.

Part one

First thing first, I am annoyed by how some people interpret the significance of Jjapaguri; they think the two instant noodles represent the two poor families while the sirloin represents the rich one.

While it does make sense, people seem to miss one fact: the rich characters are so rich, they easily put expensive Korean beef to their late-night instant noodles meal without a second thought! Don’t let one’s obsession with symbolism makes one misses the obvious.

Another obvious thing people miss is Min-Hyuk. They feel bad for him because Da-hye, whom he has a crush for, ends up falling for Ki-woo.

Why should we feel sorry for him? Yes, Min-hyuk chooses Ki-woo as his replacement because he wants to protect her from perverted college boys. But then, he also says he will date her once she has reached the age of consent.

To paraphrase the situation, Min-hyuk wants to fuck Da-hye once she turns eighteen and he assigns Ki-woo to protect her virginity. Yes, it sounds worse if I put it that way. But still, he is obviously not a saint. Oh, and don’t forget that the scamming was his idea.

As an Indonesian, I am taken aback by the depiction of the wealthy couple. Even though they are Korean characters written by two Korean screenwriters, they affirm the clownish caricatures of wealthy people that have been lingering in my mind for a long time. It actually increases the universality of the already-thematically-universal film.

I don’t know if others experience the same thing. But, I find atmosphere turns sinister once we are first introduced to the Parks’ household. I attribute it to Lee Jung-eun’s performance as the housekeeper; she did a great job portraying a seemingly-innocent person who harbours a great secret underneath.

Seriously, the first time I saw her, I was instantly suspicious. She gives the film a really nice slow burn; the plot twist and unexpected ending feel natural.

Somehow, a part of me also want attribute this to the house, even though I cannot put my finger into it. Yes, the house is indeed what I expect from cartoonish rich characters: expensive, spacious and yet too soulless to live in. But, it is not necessarily sinister.

Maybe the soullessness adds to the slow burn. Just maybe.

Dammit, I almost forgot about Song Kang-ho’s performance.

The day after the flood, his character Ki-taek starts to get visibly upset after realising how rich people like the Parks are leeching off the misery of the poor. One can tell that he is going to snap, without knowing how and when; it makes the atmosphere even more sinister.

If Song was a shit actor, this would not work at all.

Part two

Admittedly, I was worried.

Before I watched the film, I was already hyped out by the online excitement of filmgoers. I was even more hyped out by its victory at the Oscars, triggering those emotionally-fragile, xenophobic Anglo-centrist Americans. I feared that I would be disappointed. But, I watched it anyway….

…. AND HOLY FUCKING SHIT, WHAT A FUCKING MASTERPIECE!

Obviously, I did not act like one of those demented preachers giving Friday sermons when the credit rolled. I spilled my overwhelming excitement solely to my online friends.

You can tell how much I love the film.

Despite the massive hype, I am still deeply impressed by the film. I already knew that bad fate was awaiting the characters and yet, the finale still hits me hard. The film is so technically masterful, it is extremely dense with visual and verbal figures of speech, resulting in seemingly never-ending interpretations. Don’t forget the performances of the actors, whom I believe should had been nominated for the Oscars.

As a result, I get extremely excited. For me, when dealing with the cinema, ‘excitement’ is an unpredictable feeling and hard to run into; I cannot foresee which films that would enliven my soul.

If I show you an exhaustive list of my personal favourites, you would see a significant chunk of them being critically-acclaimed arthouse works with metaphysical themes. Surely, if I want to constantly feel the excitement, I need to simply watch films that fulfil those categories, right?

Well, no.

Being critically-acclaimed and arthouse does not guarantee that I will love them; I have watched award winning arthouse works that I either despise or don’t care for. Metaphysics is also such a broad field and not every metaphysical theme will intrigue me. In fact, a handful of my favourite are not critically-acclaimed, arthouse and laced with metaphysical elements.

Statistically, Parasite has a small chance of becoming a personal favourite of mine. Yet, here I am.

It shows how special this film is for me.

 

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Turning them female and not-white

When I say ‘them’, I am referring to fictional characters. And I am against changing their gender and race.

But, not for the reason most people have.

I don’t give a fuck if the changes defy the original ideas. If it is acceptable for white actors to portray actual non-white historical figures, then it SHOULD be acceptable to change the gender and race of fictional and definitely not real characters!

I am opposed to the change because it is insulting to racial minorities in the west and women.

If the studio executives really do care about being inclusive, they would demand the creations of new and original hero characters which women and non-white actors can portray. They would never hand them roles that are basically leftovers.

If anything, it shows how they don’t have the desire to respect identities that are not white and male. It shows how they are entirely motivated by profit instead of genuine sense of social inclusivity. It is all about lucrative pandering.

Admittedly, it is not as bad as the tokenism in which they create non-white and/or female characters mostly as punchlines or sidekicks and barely have compelling stories of their own. It is dehumanising to be seen as nothing but money-generating pigeon-holed props.

I acknowledge it as a leap forward. But, considering it is only a few inches forward, it is not worthy the celebration.

This celebration is akin to me patting myself on the back for exercising and having strict diet just for one day.

It is akin to perceiving Saudi Arabia’s decriminalisation of women drivers as a catalyst for the Muslim world when the rest of the Muslim world never ban them from driving in the first place.

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My own museum ideas

  • I hate how I grew up in a country where we have an extremely weak museum culture. Most of the museums I have visited are abroad.
  • As an adult, I am no longer into having shopping malls and theme parks as my sources of leisure. If there are no cultural attractions that intrigue in the slightest, I would rather stay at home and watch Youtube videos…
  • ….And browse Wikipedia in where I have spent a significant amount time searching for every article about any museums.

    Being a major time-waster that I am, I now have a few ideas for museums which are not even original. But, if I have the financial means (and the skill and will), I would definitely establish them.

    Museums of hot sauces and fermented seafood.

    That’s my Indonesian tastebud talking.

    I grew up eating dishes which use fermented seafood as ingredients and were often accompanied by chili sauces, or sambal as we call them.

    I have always loved the taste of dried and salted fish. I used to hate hot foods. But now, even though my heat tolerance is still low for Indonesian standard, I am addicted to the hot flavours.

    It would not be a problem if the museums are Indonesia-centric. As the country is gifted with biological and cultural diversity, the museums’ collections would always be huge, assuming they are well-funded and well-managed.

    I am also open to the ideas of making the museums more international either by making a section dedicated to foreign content or making the entire collection international.

    But, my goals for each version differ from one another.

    If the collection is entirely Indonesian, I would want to remind Indonesians about the biological and cultural richness of their country and how the richness should be appreciated and NOT taken for granted.

    If the collection is international, I would want to remind everyone that despite our differences, we still have many things in common and our cuisines are not that different once we take a deeper look.

    I choose foods because every human eats. We can survive without the ability to play music, to dance or to show any forms of craftsmanship. But, we can’t survive without foods. Eating is universal.

    And because I personally love to eat.

    I don’t know where I should locate the museums, though. If they are Indonesia-centric, should I locate them in Jakarta, university cities like Bandung or Jogjakarta, or places with low cultural appreciations like my hometown?

    If they are international, I would definitely locate them in various countries. But, which countries I also don’t know.

    And no, I am not going to think about “maintaining” the perishable collections.

    Museums of Hollywood propaganda

    I think the name explains it and I don’t have to elaborate on why it is needed in the first place and I am focusing on propaganda in American entertainment.

    When it comes to locations, I would definitely establish one in Los Angeles, the headquarters of the industry. Of course, as it is the lions’ den, there will be lots of backlashes. Not to mention that studio executives might have connections in the government.

    Very risky. But, worth the shot.

    But, I am not satisfied about LA is its only location. The question is where else should we locate them?

    Should we choose other major, big cities like NYC, Chicago and Houston? Should we choose the nation’s capital? Should we choose certain university towns where anti-establishment attitude are rampant? Or should we choose urban areas known for unquestioning and zealous patriotism?

    If we want to branch out to other countries, which ones should we choose? Should they be America’s closest allies like Canada and the UK? Do the international locations even matter?

    Museums of human rights violations

    I am not talking about any human rights violations. I am talking about ones that are still controversial due to the persisting historical denialism and whitewashing.

    I am talking about cases like Armenian genocide, the Jewish Holocaust, the expulsion of Palestinians from their own lands, the atrocities committed by Japan in WWII, the 1965 violent anti-Communist purge in Indonesia, history of racism in Australia and the Americas and the coups committed by the US against democratically-elected governments in Iran and Latin America which were replaced with dictatorships.

    You know, topics of light conversations.

    When it comes to locations, I have to make sure they are not in countries where such museums can get shut down by the authorities.

    But, even if censorship is not a problem, I have to make sure at least one case from the host country is included in the exhibition. I want to give the impression to visitors that there is no such thing as angelic countries.

    It is also the reason why I want the museum to be dedicated to many cases instead of just one. It is a lot harder than dedicating to a single case. But, it is worth it.

    I also have to make sure it is located in localities which have lots of foreign tourists and residents. Those localities may include cities like NYC, Sydney, London and even world-famous university towns like Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford and Grenoble.

    I don’t want the learning immersion being mostly exclusive to citizens of one country. Every person, regardless of their national backgrounds, must have the opportunity to experience it.

    Yadda yadda yadda

    It is obvious that my ideas are not only unoriginal, they are also fantastical. I will never create a small museum, let alone a few big ones.

    But, I just can’t help churning my own ideas, even in fields where I don’t have any expertise in. Basically, every field in existence.

    It is fun to write down my fantastical ideas.

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    Are Marvel films “cinema”? (And a long rant about snobs)

     

    Yes, they are. And yes, I am late to the party.

    My short answer should be the end of the story. But, I can’t help myself from ranting and letting cretins ruining my days.

    Yes, it is “days”. Plural.

    On Facebook, a land where intelligent discourses thrive, I made posts on multiple pages and groups on why I disagree with Scorsese, Coppola and their defenders.

    Surprisingly, my comments were more well-received than I expected. It feels nice to know I am not alone with my frustration.

    Unsurprisingly, I also encountered detractors -two to be exact- and their overall counter argument is something I have seen read and heard before. Yet, it still manages to ruffle my feathers.

    Basically, they told me that instead of being “unfairly dismissive”, I should eat the “humble pie” (one of them said that exact term), acknowledge that my taste is shit, acknowledge that my opinions regarding cinema are and will always be inherently less worthy than the ones regurgitated by award-winning directors and acknowledge that I am being pretentious for thinking mine can be better than theirs.

    Five reasons why it is a bullshit argument.

    Reason one:

    Awards are not always what we think they are.

    They do not always indicate appreciation of merits. They can also be used as indicators of how much certain individuals and their creations are beloved by the establishment.

    You cannot expect me to believe they are always about merits when James Cameron’s Avatar, a film which success was entirely dependent on special effects and 3D theatre presentations, was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.

    Reason two:

    It advocates status-worshipping.

    Surely, if one wants to determine the merit of an opinion, the most important thing is to analyse the reasoning and evidences being used instead getting fixated on how much the establishment loves the opinion maker.

    It is not anti-intellectual to simply question the so-called experts. If anything, it ensures they are being held to the highest standard.

    Oh, and if you encounter the “Marvel films are not cinema” remark online and you don’t know who said it, you would not assume it was made by intellectual adults hardened by life experiences.

    No, you would assume it was made by immature and pretentious snot-nosed teenagers who think their tastes are the most sophisticated ones.

    In fact, it is way less understandable when a adult does that. You would think life experiences will make her/him more mature and reasonable.

    Speaking about pretentiousness…

    Reason three:

    Those two snobs don’t know what pretension is.

    I don’t have my own personal definition of what cinema is as I choose to stick with the most objective one available: the production and distribution of films.

    As much as I despise films like Michael Bay’s and Batman vs Superman, I have to acknowledge them as parts of the cinema, just like my favourite films are.

    It is arrogant for anyone -Scorsese and Coppola included- to think their subjective definitions of certain words are the only right ones.

    They are trying to convince us that their unsound and petulant remarks are more profound than they really are. They are trying to convince us that among billions of human beings living right now, people like them are the only ones who “get” cinema.

    In short, they are fucking pretentious.

    I, on other hand, try my best to be as objective as possible by not letting my hatred of certain works hinder my judgement and by not pretending my taste is best.

    One of my detractors also nitpicked about my wording. He said it was pretentious of me to use the word “one” as a pronoun.

    When one realises one does not have any good comebacks, one can simply retaliated by splitting hair in front of one’s opponent.

    Reason four:

    They insist on thinking in boxes.

    It has been ingrained in their minds that loving films like Marvel’s is an absolute sign of mediocre taste. As I can enjoy them, they perceive me as thoroughly unsophisticated.

    But, I also told them about my love of Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman and Stanley Kubrick, three directors who are frequently considered as among the best by film snobs.

    So, if one takes their words as the truth, it means I have a really good taste in cinema.

    Well, not to my detractors.

    Even with my repeated claims that I love those directors, my detractors kept pretending I could only love Marvel and Marvel only.

    Their black and white mindset cannot comprehend how one’s taste in anything can be difficult or even impossible to pigeonhole.

    If they immediately acknowledged my love of those directors, they would have to accept that tastes can be complex. But, as they insisted on thinking in boxes, they ignored my statement and kept claiming their non-existing aesthetic superiority.

    One of them eventually did acknowledge that I am a fan of those directors. But, even then, it did not stop him from using the condescending tone.

    For him, it does not matter if most of my favourite films are arthouse. Love just one Marvel film and I will ruin the whole batch.

    He probably thinks taste is literally measurable… like a literal, physically-embodied chemical which can literally be poisonous.

    They actually make me proud of myself for having unpredictable and relatively complex taste.

    Yes, I used the word “complex” to describe myself.

    Reason five:

    Where is the fucking humble pie?

    If they wanted me to eat the bad-tasting yet nutritious humble pies, they had to painstakingly make one for me.

    Instead, they took a huge dump on the dining table and claimed their faeces is the humble pie; the refusal to consume is a sign of one’s infantility.

    When I kept refusing to do, they started shoving their faeces into my mouth. Unsurprisingly (and ideally), I retaliated by throwing their shit back to their faces.

    When they showed no signs of stopping, I started to take a dump myself and do the same thing.

    Interestingly, when I said the arrogance of snobs put off others from even considering to try something highbrow, my detractors dismissed it.

    They said it never happens and I am just making excuses for people to be comfortable with their aesthetic mediocrity.

    Except, it does happen all the time.

    I have seen people defecating on certain works even though they have yet to experience them. The behaviours of the fans are considered more than enough to determine the quality of those works.

    I have seen people hating on Harry Potter, Steven Universe and anime solely because of their toxic fandoms. And yes, I have seen people hating on fine arts and quality entertainment because of the exact same reason.

    Yes, what I just said are anecdotes. But, at least, I tried to make my claims sound more believable.

    My detractors, on the other hand, didn’t make the efforts. Instead of trying to give me evidences to counter my claim, they simply dismissed it.

    If anything, the (thankfully not literal) excrement fight I just described above actually supports my claim. The evidence that is against them was displayed right on their screens.

    Their arrogance begets my arrogance.

    How can they expect me to eat humble pie when they have never eaten one themselves?

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    Yes, I know I should not let their snobbery ruined my days. I also hate that I ended up resorting to arrogance as well. Even though I am way more reasonable than those two, I believe there is no winner in this fight.

    But, cultural snobbery has been frustrating me for years because of the disservice they have committed against the masses.

    I would love for films like Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman’s to be even more popular. I would love them to greatly influence film industries in the incoming years.

    I would love if the creative industries of the incoming years allow idealism, artistry and experimentation to thrive more.

    I would love if the masses are starting to think more critically about the entertainment they enjoy and stop associating popularity with quality.

    But, thanks to those snobs, my desires will always be make-believes.

    Thanks to them, the masses will keep on associating mindless escapism with “humility of the ordinary people” and intellectually-inclined admiration with “vanity of the elites”.

    Those beliefs are obviously not true. The presence of humility and vanity does not correlate with one’s standing in a society. But, as those snobs prioritise their egos over actually enlightening others, they unwittingly perpetuate those falsehoods.

    They shoot my feet, accuse me of committing self-harm, shoot their own feet and accuse others of violence.

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    A childhood treasure I didn’t know having

    When I was a toddler, I remember watching feature films from those gigantic laser discs and one of my favourite films to watch was Disney’s Fantasia.

    The original one, NOT the so-so sequel.

    Back then, I didn’t try to comprehend the plots. I was simply mesmerised by the beautiful colours and shapes, adorned with harmonious classical music. It felt like I was watching a magically-animated painting, accompanied by a live musical performance.

    Along with my beloved encyclopedias, I credit the film for making my childhood a colourful and vibrant life chapter where even the sky was not a limit. It felt like every inch of the universe was worthy to unearth.

    When I started attending primary school, VCDs had become widespread. I started to watch more movies on the smaller discs and I started neglecting their bulkier predecessors. So, between pre-school and adulthood, I forgot about the existence of the film.

    Yikes.

    I managed to watch it again when I was eighteen. As I already started becoming a snobby cultural critic, I started to appreciate its merit.

    Even though I don’t think it was an extraordinarily groundbreaking film*, it still effortlessly stands out among many Hollywood flicks. To this day, I am still surprised that one of my childhood favourites is of high quality. Most of them tend to be shit.

    And, because of its uniqueness, it shapes my taste in the arts and entertainment as an adult.

    Magically, absurdly and subconsciously realistic

    The segments that feature abstract animations are my very first exposures to abstract art. Now, I am one of those weirdos who genuinely enjoy staring at abstract paintings.

    I don’t care about the lack of coherent narrative. As long as the combination of shapes and colours impress me, I will consider the paintings beautiful regardless.

    I also have to credit it for inspiring me to love surrealism and magical realism, making me attracted to the weird and inexplicably fantastical.

    Nowadays, some of my favourite films include ones with strong metaphysical themes and/or ones that portray the inexplicable. They include Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 and The Shining and much of Andrei Tarkovsky’s works.

    While Fantasia is of neither genre, its sublimely fantastical depictions of natural phenomena certainly help opening the path.

    And it is certainly metaphysical.

    Unhinged sophistication

    When I listened to Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring supposedly for the first time, it felt like an inexplicable surge of nostalgia ran through my veins, as if I had heard it before. It turned out I had: it is one of the soundtracks of Fantasia!

    My early exposure to the modernist composition possibly influenced my taste in classical music. I prefer the more stylistically-eclectic and/or “unhinged” newer works -like ones by Stravinsky (obviously) , George Gershwin and John Cooliged Adams- over the older ones, many of which I find a bit too saccharine.

    In fact, I now love to complain about how films, especially fantastical ones, are too dependent on cliche-sounding orchestral music and are too afraid to utilise more ambient, more eclectic and more “untraditional” compositions.

    The lovely dread

    Chernabog is probably one of my first exposures to “scary entertainment”, even though I was never terrified by it. Again, I was too busy mesmerised by the beautiful animation.

    Beautifully haunting and sinister animation, showcasing something one can describe as a symbolic representation of the dark side of humanity.

    As an adult, I have a weird thing for entertainment with ominous atmosphere, as in you feel scared even though nothing scary is happening on-screen. You know, actual horror instead of cheap jump scares.

    I am not a fan of the show Criminal Minds due to its dehumanising depictions of mental illness sufferers. But, I do love the episode where the heroes unwittingly cooperate with a police station where virtually every officer is corrupt; it genuinely feels like they can be ambushed at any time. It feels like real life horror.

    Horror is not about what you explicitly show, it is about the feeling of terror you induce on your audience.

    Connecting non-existing dots

    Admittedly, what I just said do sound far-fetched.

    It is indeed absurd to claim one feature film dictates my entire taste as an adult. There are many things that can be taken account as the influencing factors.

    As I hinted in the beginning, I also read encyclopedias frequently as a young child and some of them not only discuss “weird” paintings and sculptures, they also display the photos. Basically, they partook in the exposure.

    One of my favourite musicians is Chrisye, an Indonesian Pop singer whose early works reek influence from Genesis -a Progressive Rock band- and the band’s genre does sound “unhinged” to the “untrained” ears. After discovering that particular musical style, I ended up craving for more “weird” sounds.

    And those films that I love, I also have to credit my time wasted on Wikipedia and my Media Studies classes as contributing factors; I would not have heard of Andrei Tarkovsky if it wasn’t for the former and I would not have watched a single film from West Africa if it wasn’t for the latter.

    My love of ominous entertainment may also be rooted by many years of watching horror films and eventually ended up frustrated with the excessive amount of cheap jump scares, craving for actual feeling of terror.

    Oh, and don’t forget about my personality. Our personalities not only dictate how we interact with each other, they also dictate what we love and hate.

    I am a weirdo and have been called such since forever.

    Therefore, my current taste can still come to being even without Fantasia in my life.

    But, still…

    As I said before, the film is a huge part of my childhood. While it is clearly not the only factor that shapes my taste, it certainly is a major one.

    It certainly accelerates its formation and it certainly aggravated its potency.

    Without the film, it would probably take me a much longer time to love the things I now love.

    *I refuse to call Fantasia a groundbreaking film because I don’t think it is.

    Yes, it certainly has a relatively unusual approach in regards to moving image narratives and may be unappealing for those who want more glaring expositions, who think escapism equals quality and who cannot give more damn about visual artistry.

    But, if you dig deeper into the history of cinema, you would see there were already ground-breaking cinema movements -like surrealism and Italian futurism- that predated the film’s existence.

    And works of those genres are bizarre and incomprehensible for the masses. Not matter how weird Fantasia is, I still think it is relatively comprehensible.

    If anything, its audio and visual aesthetics were already conventional at the time of its release.

    The risk-taking was indeed high. But, it was not that high.

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    Toy Story 4: bittersweetness, quashing uneasiness and quality maintenance (a late review)

    Warning: contains spoilers!

    I was genuinely disappointed when Pixar announced the fourth instalment. Like, why? The third film has given us a strongly bittersweet finish to one of the chronicles that warmly occupied my childhood. A sequel would sacrificially bulldoze the highly emotional culmination to give way for more profitable yields. It felt scummy.

    But, at the same time, I would still watch the film anyway. Pixar films have a special place in my heart due to their ability of narrating profound stories of humanity in spite of the abundance of non-human characters; I haven’t watched all because I missed their releases, not because of my lack of interest. Basically, my disappointment failed to squash my fanboyish eagerness.

    And the film exceeded it by hundreds of miles.

    Youtube Big Joel made a video titled Pixar and the Obsolete, in which he observed how Pixar films are all about characters coming to terms with changes and dealing with their increasing irrelevance. While I am not sure if it applies to every single one (e.g. Monsters Inc and A Bug’s Life), I still can agree with the assessment to a certain extent. Overall, the films do portray characters experiencing ups and downs in their lives and realising how life is inherently unstable and there is nothing they can do about it other than confronting the instability.

    In the Toy Story series, this particular theme is very prominent in the third and fourth installments.

    In Toy Story 3, Andy giving away his toys is the emotional climax of the film. In the end, the characters have finally accepted that he has fully grown and they are no longer Andy’s. For them, a new child means new adventures lie ahead, which should be embraced with open arms.

    And it is not just the toys. Even Andy is experiencing changes in his life as well: he is leaving home for the university. Unlike his mom, he is emotionally taking it very well (or so it seems). Even when giving the toys away to Bonnie, he seems unfazed. Well, unfazed until Woody was in the picture.

    Andy was initially very reluctant to let him go. But, knowing his age and where he is heading to next, he lets him go. This goodbye reminds us that Woody has a special place in Andy’s heart… and will always do. Andy has to bid farewell to his childhood and embraces adulthood.

    What I love about Toy Story 4 is how it brings the unpredictability of life even further. Not only Woody gives up his voice box which had always been an integral part of his identity, he also decides to leave his new owner Bonnie and his old friends he has known for years to live as a childless toy with Bo. For me, it was unforeseeable.

    The formula of Toy Story stories has always been toys getting lost, toys getting rescued by other toys and toys going back home. While Toy Story 3 breaks it a little by having Bonnie as the new owner, the formula is more or less the same as having an owner means having a home; not to mention that, due to the story’s premise, the emotional conclusion can be seen from miles away. But, Toy Story 4 decides to ditch it altogether. It gives the impression of life’s unpredictable nature and you will never know which paths you will take.

    And that’s why I am scared. I always prefer to have complete control of my life, I always want to take any paths that I want. But, it begs to differ. The paths in front of us are limited and, whether we like it or not, we have to take the new ones and bring more uncertainty to our lives; choosing the old paths means we are moving in circles and we will never move forward. Toy Story 4 is one of those works of speculative genres that successfully reminds me of the reality.

    Another thing about Pixar films is they know how to make me feel things. Unlike many of their family-friendly contemporaries, they believe there is no excuse for entertainment to tell hunky-dory stories. They believe good stories must encourage their audience to confront the unpleasant emotions within themselves. Basically, I am forced to become a human being. Ew.

    Due to the aforementioned theme of the uncertainty of life, Toy Story 4 is even more emotionally profound than its predecessors. The pleasing and displeasing emotions are intense in equal measure. While not everyone may agree with me, I find this film terribly bittersweet. Even after leaving the theatre, I was still an emotional wreck for many hours. I was both heartbroken and overjoyed!

    I never thought I would ever say this: I am glad Pixar made the fourth installment!

    Oh, and speaking about sequels…

    As I said before, I was apprehensive about Pixar’s plan to continue the series. But, my apprehension has been proven to be unfounded and, because of that, I am now actually open to the possibility of more sequels.

    Obviously, we should never accept sequels willy-nilly. We must have high standards about how the continuation is executed. In the case of Toy Story, I don’t mind if the story formula stays the same as long as they tweak some parts in order to prevent foreseeability from taking shape. But, the emotionality is still the most important thing.

    As one can see, the increasing emotional profundity parallels the series’ progression. It would be a considerable setback if Pixar decides to diminish it in the sequels; it is akin to raising a chick all the way to adulthood and then proceeds to shoot him/her down once he/she soars high in the sky.

    Actually, that’s not a really fair comparison. It is literally easy to not shoot down a bird you raised. All you have to do is to not be an asshole. Making good art works, however, is far from easy.

    I am no artist. But, I know bringing about a heart-wrenching piece requires both high mastery in the craft and good understanding of human nature. Undertaking the task of upholding excellence is certainly different from a walk in the park.

    I must accept that my favourite film studio is run by humans who are certainly plagued with imperfection. While I haven’t watched Cars 2, I have heard about its less-than-stellar reputation among Pixar fans. I have watched Finding Dory and I am greatly disappointed by its lack of risk-taking and similarity to its predecessor. I cannot expect them to be excellent all the time. All I can do is to hope.

    I remember reading an article (I forgot from which media outlet. So, take my words with a grain of salt) about how the producers are quick to shoot down ideas with low potentiality and are quick to kick out individuals from the screenwriting process if they are deemed incapable. Pixar’s higher-ups also consist of individuals with backgrounds in filmmaking and/or animation; consequentially, the executive decision-making is always based on the understanding of the craft.

    If Pixar perpetually sustains such organisational practices, it would be hard for me to not have high expectations of them.