Overview – Pulp Fiction is a tragedy without the sadness and a comedy without the comic plot line. And at the same time as it portrays itself as a champion of those who want to escape the world of political correctness and limitations, it also mocks the dissociative culture that tends to come along with it, lamenting the American Wasteland. In other words, by pretending to have no moral message it only makes it hit harder. I also believe that the film was written with modern media criticism in mind and purposefully exaggerates the ever-criticized aspects of movies, such as jumping from scene to scene with no apparent reason, and throwing together a mishmosh of genres.
“[Criticism] is the only civilized form of autobiography”
Introduction – I’ve avoided discussing many of the plot details because that’s been done, and redone ad nauseum. Instead, I’ve chosen to focus on an aspect that’s been little talked about—the mythological influence in the film. I’ve read short comparisons between the original and the cinematic Ariadne, but most of what follows is new.
Ariadne – In Greek mythology, the Athenian hero Theseus set out to kill the bull-headed Minotaur in the Cretan Labyrinth to prevent him from eating more Athenian girls and boys. Luckily for him, the Minotaur’s half-sister Ariadne (“the resplendent one”) fell in love with him and decided to help him in his task. She gave him a ball of string that he could unravel as he navigated the maze so that he wouldn’t lose his way. Similarly, in Inception, Ariadne helps Cobb through the dream world, playing the role of Architect and shrink.
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How delighted would be all the kings, czars, and fuhrers of the past…to know that censorship is not a necessity when all political discourses takes the form of a jest?
-Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death
Overview –Clueless is an interesting social experiment. The producers deliberately set out to make new trends for teenagers, even releasing a Clueless-inspired line of Barbie dolls, and these efforts were wildly successfully. But, at the same time, the film is a satire on the very people it was marketed to. It depicts a Huxleyian (as opposed to Orwellian) dystopia. We do not have to fear Big Brother as much as we have to fear the golden fetters of Clueless, the myth of human progress through material goods which drives us to laugh and dance all the way to slavery.
The wine she drinks is made of grapes.
Introduction – Shakespeare wrote a tragedy about a black military hero, portrayed in a glowing light in the beginning, in the midst of a Europe that was still killing people over whether or not they believed that wine is the blood of Christ, let alone a man who was from another continent, with entirely different genetic phenotypes, and whose family presumably had a history of not only Islam but a pagan religion. Considering that only a few years later Englishmen in the New World would begin enslaving Africans in mass numbers, Othello is a remarkable example of tolerance.
Every deep thinker is more afraid of being understood than of being misunderstood. The latter, perhaps, wounds his vanity; but the former wounds his heart.
-Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche
The artfulness which is squandered in self-absorption is that of playacting; playacting requires an audience of strangers to succeed, but it is meaningless or even destructive among intimates.
-The Fall of Public Man, Richard Sennett
Introduction – I’ve read Hamlet three times over the past four months and have watched multiple productions, resulting in about twenty pages of scribbles that keep biting the dust because I’m always left with the impression that it’s not good enough. That I’ve missed the meaning. Only by including the lessons from Socrates and Nietzsche do I feel like I’ve arrived at a more solid understanding of Hamlet that goes beyond whether or not Gertrude was involved in King Hamlet’s murder or the exact degree to which Fortinbras’s situation reflects Hamlet’s. To focus on these things is to miss the poignant and timeless beauty.
Hamlet, Socrates, and Nietzsche – Hamlet illustrates how rationality can lead to irrationality. He has gazed too deeply into this life, swung from the stars, and maybe even spoke to a figure from the underworld in the form of his father’s ghost, and in the process he has failed to observe the ancient Greek principle of “Everything in Moderation.”
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True, I talk of dreams
Which are the children of an idle brain
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant as the wind, who wooes
Even now the frozen bosom of the north
-Romeo and Juliet
Introduction – While Romeo and Juliet is about a poignant love affair, it’s not as romantic as it may seem on the surface. All of the characters find themselves guided by raging love, sadness, hate, and anger, with the latter two especially dividing human society. Mercutio probably comes the closest to reason in that he perceives the corruption and unreason on both sides, but he cannot escape the spirit of the times either; his own fury gets him killed. But this is not a story about a few screwed-up people. Fate steers their courses and our own, and none of us unfortunate souls can control it.
Nature teaches beasts to know their friends
Background and Overview – Coriolanus is based on a Roman legend, which in turn was probably grounded in some truth. A few years prior to the events in the story, the last Roman king was overthrown by a group of Roman patricians (including Coriolanus) and the Roman Republic was established. With the balance of power disrupted, factions developed among the patricians (nobles) and the plebeians (commoners), with the latter group fighting for, and slowly gaining, more power. In the midst of the political conflict, famine stuck, but the patricians denied the poors’ cries for free (or near- free) corn.