Comments on 1987 Best Picture: The Last Emperor

In the summer of 1987, in the 3rd trimester of my first pregnancy, Roland and I saw almost all the movies that came out at that time. Unfortunately, The Last Emperor was released in November of that year when I had a newborn, and seeing a movie that is almost 3 hours long just wasn’t on the agenda.

The_Last_Emperor_filmposterHaving just watched it, I found it a compelling movie, beautifully filmed, and very deserving of the 9 Oscars (everything it was nominated for), the 4 Golden Globes and the many other awards that it won.

A biographical film about the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of the Chinese Qing Dynasty, this film is set in 1950, and is told in flashbacks throughout Puyi’s life starting in 1908 when he was named emperor at age 3, and then in flash-forwards to his death in 1967. Notably, it was the first film that was authorized to be filmed in the Forbidden City in Beijing by the People’s Republic of China.

This quote from the movie, spoken by Puyi’s Scottish tutor, Reginald Fleming “R.J.” Johnston, sums up not only Puyi’s early years in the Forbidden City, but his whole life:

The Emperor has been a prisoner in his own palace since the day that he was crowned, and has remained a prisoner since he abdicated. But now he’s growing up, he may wonder why he’s the only person in China who may not walk out of his own front door. I think the Emperor is the loneliest boy on Earth.

I am not overly familiar with the history of China in the 20th century, and so I found it fascinating to have this history lesson via movie coming from a China-centric viewpoint. I cannot vouch for any historical accuracy.

Watching The Last Emperor on a big screen will only add to the beauty of this film. Alas, I watched the DVD on my computer.

Commentary: Brave New World

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First edition cover,    artist: Leslie Holland

A novel on almost every “must read” list and on many banned book lists as well, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley proved to be educational if not particularly enjoyable. Written in 1931, writer and social satirist Huxley penned this short book in opposition to optimist utopian novels of the time. He referred to Brave New World as a “negative” utopia, and that is an accurate description. There is no Katniss Everdeen heroine to give society hope in this dystopia.

So why must it be read? As time goes on, I think that its significance will dwindle for the general reader though it may continue for the historical scholars. Its status as a banned book should not be discounted. Many readers, myself included, find that status to be a compelling reason to read a book. 

Set in the year AD 2540, the populations of the world are divided into 10 world states. In those states, people are divided into 5 castes, Alpha to Epsilon, with the Alphas being the leaders. Humans are no longer borne of humans, but rather incubate in hatcheries. Fetuses are chemically altered. No one lives past the age of 60. The conflict begins when an “Alpha” character, Bernard Marx, goes on holiday to a New Mexican reservation to see the “savages” in their habitat and he brings one back as a lab specimen, John “Savage”. (Albeit, this savage is borne of a “Beta” woman, impregnated on an own expedition to the reservation by the Director of Hatcheries. Linda’s pregnancy dooms her to remain on the reservation as an outcast of society.)

What is there to offend?  

  1. The sexual promiscuity of society. No longer do people have personal relationships. Rather they are encouraged to have as many sexual partners as possible without any emotional attachment. Birth control is mandatory. There are no graphic sexual scenes.
  2. The rampant and sanctioned drug use. A hallucinogenic drug, soma, is used by all, and given to the lower castes especially, to keep them in control. Critical thinking is discouraged, and this drug helps to insure that no one thinks. Being numb is the accepted way of life, and people look forward to their “soma holidays”.
  3. The derision of Native Americans. Referred to as “savages”, this particular group is not part of any world states and are apparently left to remain “uncivilized”.

I am against censorship, so read this or don’t. The things that offend are meant to offend, and to make one think. Is society really headed in this direction? If you are interested in early 20th century history, you will be familiar with many of the names in the book. Huxley uses a mashup of real names for his characters. For example, Benito Hoover is named for Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy, and Herbert Hoover, then-president of the United States. Other names you might recognize: Marx, Ford, Trotsky, Darwin and Bonaparte. For a more complete list, refer to the wikipedia article that was my primary reference.

Bottom line: Brave New World lacks humanity and hope.

On a scale of 1 (the negative end) to 5 (it depends) to 10 (the positive end), my conclusion:

Readable: 10 (short – 177 pages)

Enjoyable: 2

Does it deserve to be on “must read” reading lists: 5 (I suppose)

Am I glad I read it: 6.5

Would I read it again: 1

Would I recommend it: 4

Does a low recommendation and presence on a list of banned books make one curious: 8

Score: 5.2

The Room

IMG_20160209_104009235There is a room in the basement of my house that is mine. The sea glass blue walls calm, and pops of cherry red invigorate the senses and ignite my creativity. Everything I need is in that room: a comfy chair, books, my sewing machine, fabric and yarn, and paints, too, to create art both good and bad. An enormous craft table graces the center of the room, and a seldom watched TV sits in the corner. My computer is always there.

Not so long ago, I spent almost every waking hour in this room in the basement. I was safe there in the confines of those 4 walls, isolated from the real world, but able to chat with my online friends whenever I wanted. You see, I had a shop on the craft-selling website, Etsy, and had made friends with a supportive group of women who all cheered each other on in their endeavors.

The shop gave me justification to spend so much time in the room, because it needed tending to. When I sold something that I had spent hours making, excitement coursed through my veins, and my hands shook as I packed that precious item, so much a part of me. Oh, sure, I made about 15 cents an hour, but that was fine because who was I to deserve more.

As days, weeks and months went by, I kept to myself down in my room because I was “busy”. I had a “purpose”. And I didn’t notice the changes until it was impossible not to.

The walls had faded to gray, darker first at the ceiling. This darkness crept down the walls like a suffocating blanket. My shelves of colorful fabric disappeared, and I found only black and gray. The pops of cherry red became a brick red and then a muddy gray color as the weeks went on, and the only red was in the bottle of wine that I brought into the room with me.

My beautiful and safe sanctuary had become my prison.

The things that had once brought me joy — the bright fabrics, the soft yarns, the thought-provoking books — had ceased to be comforting, inspirational, or even useful. I could not sew, paint or read, and didn’t want to anyway.

It had come to this; lying on the floor in the darkness.

Eventually though, I began to feel a burning in my chest. A small light in my heart that said to pay close attention. So soft and dim I could hardly hear it, this light said, “Your brain has filled your head with lies. You are not fine, though you tell everyone you are, and you need help. Finding this help is within your power. The time has come to get off the floor, out of your head, begin to feel with your heart, and find hope and love for yourself. I am flickering now, and do not want to go out.”

photo (2)I sat up, wiping the tears from my eyes, and listened. I wanted the light. I wanted my light. My darkness felt deep, but I could feel a tiny sliver of hope seeping in under the door. Dragging myself up by the doorknob, I realized that my prison door had been unlocked all along. Opening that door, I crept up the basement stairs and started over, this time not alone, but with the help of others.

That room is still here, and the colors and light have returned. I go in there now because even though it is in the basement, I feel as if I’m on the top of the world. I have the power within to leave when I want.

A Valentine Miracle

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Source: itscheese.com

Entering the lab, the cheese techs found bins in disarray. Resorting, they discovered an empty cheddar bin. Suddenly, techs from the Relationship Lab rushed in.

Out of breath, they confessed, “we took your cheese, but guess what? Everyone finds love with cheddar!”