Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sleeper's Wake

Picture life in a remote and idyllic coastal village, lush with greenery and poetic in the lazy back and forth of its bordering sea. Here, the drag of time complements the ponderous quiet. The sweet songs of the birds, and not the din of the traffic, adorn the crisp air. In such an environment, it is easy to fall prey to romantic entrapments, or just plain lust – in most cases one can’t tell the difference. Every addition to the sparse population is an object of open and unabashed interest, a promise of a break from the norm, an escape door. The irony intertwines in a strange dance: the incoming look to escape to the serenity, and the locals look to escape a life that has become banal to them. Add personal tragedy and trauma to the mix, and you have a compelling story of how situations, circumstances, and environments shape man’s actions.

Sleeper’s Wake, based on a novel with a similar title by Alistair Morgan, is a South African movie with pretty much this setting. John Wraith is in his mid-forties and has just lost his wife and daughter in a terrible car accident. His trauma feels worse as he fell asleep on the wheel, causing the accident. He retreats to the remote coastal village, where he gets involved with a family mourning its own loss: Roelf, his teenage daughter Jackie and her younger brother Simon. They are reeling from the loss of their wife and mother in a horrific home robbery.  A shared trauma, an idyllic environment, and various forms of escapism lead John to fall for Jackie’s audacious seductive games, and what unfolds, albeit painstakingly, is a gripping psychological thriller.

You wouldn’t enjoy this movie should you watch it immediately after the latest Fast & Furious, as the plot reveals itself slowly, which is remarkable since the movie runs for just about eighty-eight minutes. A good deal of effort is made to induce a touch of poesy in the screenplay – picturesque scenes are displayed for a tad longer than normally, accompanied by soft piano soundtracks. Perhaps this is necessary as the plot appeals primarily to emotion and psyche. The overall effect is almost literary, almost because the development of the plot is somehow disjointed and doesn’t flow as effortlessly as one would expect.

There’s slight disappointment however in character development. Jackie’s brother Simon only plays a peripheral role and later disappears, presumed to have escaped from their controlling father Roelf. The movie ends without him being found. It is also not clear what role a domestic worker plays after she appears at John’s house seeking employment, and, apart from chancing in on Jackie and John after one of their romps, she virtually fades away.

The acting is above average, particularly by Jay Anstey (Jackie), who has made a notable transition from acting in the SABC TV drama Isidingo to the big screen. Lionel Newton’s portrayal of the troubled John is also profound.

If you have a taste for the slightly morbid and unorthodox, as well as a literary taste, this could be a movie for you. I would recommend it as a fairly good flick. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Bane of Familiarity

You must have fallen in love sometime, or at least had a crush on someone, or something. You might have felt the sudden spring in your step, the inexplicable joy in your voice, or the exhilarating tendency to see positives where there are none. You must have been surprised at your newfound optimism, and your renewed passion in everything, but most importantly, in life itself. You precipitously noticed the brightness of the sun, the bloom of the flower, and the beauty of the stars. The air must have been tastier and fresher, causing you to heave huge sighs that coursed through your veins, and to gaze your eyes dreamily over distant hills and valleys.

Separation from your object of fascination or love or desire must have caused you grief, sorrow, and anxiety. An innocuous word or action from him or her – whether deliberate or nonchalantly carefree – must have caused you to think all day in distress. You might have picked silly fights that you laughed over later on, drawing you to him or her even more. You simply couldn’t imagine life without him or her, and people must have remarked how suited you two were for each other.

You must have been in bliss, in fact, too deep in it to notice the exact point when awesome became normal. But you sure remember well when normal became irritating, boring, and bland. Small, silly fights turn to monumental shouting matches. You notice when his or her eye lingers on another longer than you’d like. Soon, doors are banged, glasses and plates thrown. Worse, frying pans can be waved in the air with malicious intent, with furious chase given. Your friend sits faithfully through yet another longish rant about how things are bad, and wonders why you can’t just call it quits already.

One might say it is human nature. There is nothing much we can do about how we are wired; it’s just the way it is. And we all handle it differently, more or less. Your pastor or counselor may tell you that it is normal, that you just have to stick it out to see if it’s the real deal. If it is, well and good, and thirty or forty years on you might be all preachy to your grandkids. If it is not, well, walking away is the straightforward thing to do, isn’t it?

The love prototype easily fits into everything else in life. In the middle of a book that started excitingly but now belabors the plot, you suddenly pose and ask yourself why you fuss at all in the first place. You notice the cursor blinking back at your blank eyes halfway through that short story or poem, mocking, prodding, and you wonder what it is you’re doing. At that point during a chess game when you get the sinking feeling that the position has shifted from equal to losing, and your opponent plays a knowing, victorious smirk on his face that you wish you could slap, you wonder why you’re obsessed with the game.

It could even be that ritual weekend alcohol binge with your friends that leaves you guilty when you can’t make church on Sunday morning, nursing a splitting headache, wondering why, yet again. It could be those old TPOK Jazz hits on heavy playback on your desktop that work up your nerve instead of entrancing you.

There are those moments when we hate what we love. It is an irony that strangely keeps us going, a natural reaction to having too much of something. We take a step back, knowing that for one reason or another, we will return with renewed obsession and passion. Familiarity breeds contempt, so they say, but its bane is necessary to keep a sane mind. I believe passion, more than anything else, defines our character as humans. Great discoveries couldn’t have been made without passion. Progress itself is a child of passion. You excel at what you do because you are passionate about it.

I return to reading and writing because I am passionate about it. I will still play chess because I am passionate about it. I might take a break when I’m up to my neck in it, but the bug will bite again. I am intimate with passion, I know it, and it knows me. I will realize when it has gone AWOL, even after I have taken that necessary breather. And I will realize when it has been beaten by the bane of familiarity.

It is a strange feeling when you lose passion for what you do for a living. You no longer give it your all. If you have a conscience, you will be unhappy. It doesn’t matter if the money and benefits are good. You will feel like a cheat. Going through the motions for the money makes you a cheap, tart of a cheat, and it’s a horrible feeling.

This is why I have decided to take a lengthy break from what I do. It is a frightening decision, moving away from the security I have come to take for granted and jumping straight into the unknown. I harbor no illusions. Failure is a real possibility, but so is the reward and success of passion. And what would life be if not the pursuit of happiness?

As I pray for God’s guidance, I leave you with a quote from Shel Silversten, a man who was many things – author, cartoonist, playwright, poet, performer, recording artist, and songwriter:

“Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” 
Picture credit: Bizzbangbuzz