AMC’s The Killing – Some Final Thoughts

As the AMC series The Killing wound down into its last 40 plus minutes. Detective Sarah Linden finally saw the light which enabled her to put everything together. Actually what she saw was a ring on the finger of her Lt. Skinner’s daughter. The ring was an exact match of a missing ring from an earlier murder.

Linden pulls her gun out and trains it on Skinner. He’s not evasive or anything. But when Linden asks about the boy who went missing, Skinner says he has him. At the lake house. So they set off in the car.

It was during this ride that we learn about Skinner’s other life. A police Lieutenant by day, and a serial murderer by night. Linden probes, and as the miles and the minutes roll by, we get a chilling, no, make that horrific look inside the mind of a murderer.

 Skinner: You think you know what this is Sarah? You don’t.

Skinner tells how he pulled a girl off the street. He knew her, and he was disgusted. She was high, she was turning tricks. She was on her way to a hellish life. But in the car, the girl spits on Skinner. In something of a reflex, Skinner hit her. A mistake. A big mistake.

Skinner: I knew she’d tell. Ruin everything that I’d been working for all my life. So I took her out to the woods. After that I don’t remember.

But he does remember.

Skinner: It’s quiet. Afterward. I mean she didn’t cry. She didn’t scream. She just looked at me.

Their eyes, when they know that it’s the end … they look at you and it’s like nothing else. When you go past the pain, the animal terror – there’s nothing else, nothing else in the world like it.

Linden: So you just kill them …
Skinner: To save them from the inevitability of their lives.
Linden: You’re a monster…
Skinner: Maybe, maybe …

We watch these types of confessional moments. And I’m not sure what to make of them. I mean this is scary stuff. Skinner, or some one like him, could be my or your next door neighbor. Which makes it all the scarier.

Maybe we like the investigative parts. Or tell ourselves that the police procedural parts are fun to watch. Like putting a puzzle together. You know, when the detective, or detectives, slowly and inexorably sift through the clues, or run down leads, even the false leads, and dead ends which get them nowhere. But eventually, they make their way toward the moments like what happened between Skinner and Linden.

It’s fascinating as well as scary. Maybe we just watch this type of tv fare, so we can feel comfortable about ourselves; you know – I’m not like that. I’ll never be like that.

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Talking About The Killing – Sort of…

I started watching AMC’s The Killing back in June. I hadn’t watched the first two seasons of the show, but I was told that I could begin this season without the depth of a viewing history. So I began the series. I wrote my first piece on The Killing along with The Fall on June 11th. Here’s the link:

Then, on June 17th, I wrote a piece on Episode 4 of The Killing. Here is the link to the post: . It was at this point that reader FD stepped in with a comment.

For a variety of reasons, I stopped writing about the series. I hadn’t lost interest, meaning I was still watching the show. Maybe it was a bit of a slump. maybe there were other factors, and maybe I stopped the reviews/write-ups of The Killing because The Newsroom loomed ahead.

I reached out to reader FD and asked him if he would do a piece covering the episodes that I hadn’t. He declined. But he submitted some comments. These were published in the comments area of the post about Episode 4, and as the newer episodes were released, it seems likely that maybe you hadn’t returned to this site for posts about The Killing because there weren’t any updates.

In lieu of written updates, I decided to bring in FD’s comments, and a couple of responses from me. If you are following The Killing, these may be just what you want. An analysis of what might be the key elements of the show, especially since all that remains is the two-hour finale on Sunday.

Further preamble is not necessary – have a look at these comments will shall serve as a replacement for the posts I didn’t write. Kudos to reader FD.

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Talking About The Newsroom: Sn 02 Ep 03 – Willie Pete

The NewsroomSo I had no idea what ‘Willie Pete’ meant other than being the title of Episode 13 of HBO’s The Newsroom. I don’t think that going in that many of us knew what Willie Pete would turn out to mean, with the exception being those of you who have been deployed, in the military sense, as well as in the war zone sense. Or those of you who have prepared weapon packages for H-1 helos.

The episode was rapid fire and above all entertaining. It required one to pay strict attention. And to clear up some of my questions, and/or to create some new questions for you to consider, I’m going to discuss the episode with Noah Gittell of 

Noah’s blog is about movies, tv, and politics, and is filled with good reads. So I think this will be a good talk. Constance Zimmer, who played a senior Romney press secretary called Taylor Warren and her assistant called Cameron, briefed the press with planned and printed talking points memos. We will not have what they call ‘talking points’. We will make it up as we go.

JMM: Noah, I was impressed by the episode’s beginning and end, but less impressed by the middle. I knew Aaron Sorkin had to give the newbies like Hallie, Taylor, and Jerry a lot to do to get their characters up and running, but I thought that there was far too many repetitions like 4 references to Will’s voice mail, 4 Q & A’s between Jim Harper and Taylor, at least 2 scenes with the campaign embeds speaking into hand-held microphones, and at least 7 or 8 faxes. I’m saying that to make the points, Sorkin hit us over the head with the points far too often.

NOAH: First of all, thanks for having me here to discuss the show. I have such mixed feelings about it that I’m afraid I won’t be able to make too many definitive statements about it, but I’ll try. First of all, I loved the title of the episode. Sorkin does this well. He gives an ambiguous, mysterious title, and at some point in the show, he reveals its importance. I thought Willie Pete would be the name of a second witness to Operation Genoa or something like that, but the reveal of its true meaning was a nice moment.

Regarding your point about repetition, I agree it’s a huge problem, but I see where Sorkin is coming from. With the Q & A’s between Jim and Taylor, as well as the scenes with the reporters televising their spots, he’s trying to build the audience up to a point of frustration and then offering them a release when Jim has his own little “mission to civilize” moment on the free press bus. I thought that moment worked well, and I’m not sure if the repetition didn’t help build to that moment. Having said that, I agree with you 100% about the references to Will’s voice-mail. I can tolerate the subplot about Will and Mac’s romance because they’re both great actors, but let’s move past the voice-mail, shall we?

Jim: Can I get 30 minutes with the candidate? Cameron: No or Taylor: No

Jim: Can I get 30 minutes with the candidate?
Cameron: No
Taylor: No

JMM: Thanks and welcome Noah. Back to Jim for a moment – I liked him as a newsman last year, but so far this year he seems — simply annoying.

NOAH: I’m not sure I agree. Well, I’m mixed about it. I did like him as a newsman last year, but I absolutely hated the Maggie-Jim romance, and the further he gets away from her, the more I like him. In between seasons, Sorkin said that he listened to his critics and made some changes for season two. I wonder if putting an ocean between Jim and Maggie was his way of doing that. Either way, it’s looking like a welcome development. I hope he doesn’t get Jim together with that blonde, feminist reporter – I don’t like her either, which just points to how poorly Sorkin is writing women these days.

The bottom line, unfortunately, is that Jim doesn’t have much of a character in these episodes. He’s only there so that Sorkin can point out how lame the Romney campaign was. The incident with Maggie – which caused him to go to New Hampshire in the first place – didn’t seem to factor into his character at all this week. Does this bother you, too? I thought this episode, in general, worked well because it actually let the characters breathe a little, but too much of the time they seem like vehicles for Sorkin’s political views, and this leads to inconsistencies that make it hard to embrace them.

JMM: I agree about the problems stemming from the Jim-Maggie romance which is why I didn’t mention it above. And clearly he’s in NH and she’s about to be in Uganda is an ocean between them… but Maggie is still with him (in his head) on the bus and the bars and drinking establishments they frequent per Hallie (the blond).

Sorry, but the romance between these two seems inevitable.

But about Hallie – why don’t you like her. She’s seems competent to me as well as attractive.

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Baz Lurhmann’s Gatsby – It’s not History, It’s Art

Didion: American teenagers still get marched through F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) early in their high school careers, told that this is a “classic.” I haven’t read it since then, so it was a revelation to find how much I remembered its contemplative mood. Gatsby is still as inscrutable, and Daisy as shadowy as I remember. It’s a beautiful, evasive book punctuated with moments of the most spectacular clarity of prose and insight — all the better for being so slim and accessible to high school kids.

Ask Jordan Baker to come up. I need to talk to her privately

Ask Jordan Baker to come up. I need to talk to her privately

Told through the eyes of Nick Carraway, a well-to-do Midwesterner whose job selling bonds has landed him a house out on the shores of Long Island Sound, the story fixates on Carraway’s fantastically wealthy neighbor, Jay Gatsby. Rumors fly about him: he might be an Oxford man, or a murderer, or perhaps just a liar. As if to cultivate those tales, Gatsby throws lavish parties and uses oddly unpopular expressions like “old sport.” But as we learn early on, part of this is a show for the benefit of Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan, who lives with her lout of a husband across a small bay from Nick and Gatsby, and who had a short romance with Gatsby years ago when he was a poor serviceman stationed in her hometown of St. Louis. Famously — memorably — Gatsby stands at the edge of his property in the evenings, gazing out across the water to the green light at the end of the Buchanans’ pier, longing for her and hoping that his new wealth and status might be enough to win her back.

Jack Clayton’s 1974 film with Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, and Sam Waterston emphasized the gauzy, sun-lit aspects of the tale, and the grandeur of Gatsby’s house, but critics generally felt the film was better at conveying the surface appearance of the tale than the book’s melancholy soul.. The New York Times’ Vincent Canby famously complained that “the sets and costumes and most of the performances are exceptionally good, but the movie itself is as lifeless as a body that’s been too long at the bottom of a swimming pool.” It may have got the 1920s/ Jazz Age look right, but it failed to capture the classic Americanness of this story.

The song Isn't It Romantic? by Rodgers & hart didn't come along until 1932

The song Isn’t It Romantic? by Rodgers & Hart didn’t come along until 1932, so it is not in the film

All the more reason for a new interpretation. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire in the three core roles, does Baz Luhrmann’s much-anticipated film achieve what Clayton’s could not?

You must tell Tom that you never loved him...

You must tell Tom that you never loved him…

JMM: Great question, Didion. Upon publication in 1925, the book sales were tepid: about 20,000 copies sold in the 1st year following publication. In contrast, the book has sold about 405,000 copies in the first three months of this year. And that number would not include the copy I bought late in April, after not being able to acquire one from my nearest public library.

But before we launch into a discussion of the film, I’d like to point out that the budget/cost of this film was in the West Egg-ish neighborhood of $127,000,000. One would have to be quite creative to spend that much money on a movie. And just think of the clothing and accessories tie-ins with Prada, Tiffany & Co, and Brooks Brothers. I don’t think I’ll be trotting off to Brooks Brothers to pick up a straw boater at $198 a pop. How about you? Will you be going in for the 1920’s look?

Didion: As long as I can score a new tiara, I’ll be all set. You know how us professors get paid so lavishly that a visit to Tiffany is, like, yawn.

So I’m curious, JMM — tell me your thoughts about the relationship between book and film. Obviously, literary adaptations are always tricky; directors want to make films that anyone can see, from big fans of the book to those who’ve never read it. Do you think Luhrmann succeeds?

All that glitters may not be gold, but it will be Gatsby

All that glitters may not be gold, but it will be Gatsby

JMM: Yes, he succeeds. As you said above, the book and its titular character Gatsby are inscrutable which to me means that it is subject to many interpretations — almost as many as the number of bits of confetti and streamers that fell during the Gatsby soirees.

I think the transfer of the literary to the screen was well done. Especially if you consider that the charm of the book is less the story, and more the excellence of the writing.

Didion: I agree with you in part. I felt Luhrmann succeeded with the overall look and the vividness of the characters — no one is going to say, as Canby did about the previous version, that this is lifeless — but I disliked the hyperactive melodrama of the film. It missed, to me, the book’s soul: its narrator’s desire for something real behind all that glitz.

JMM: Yeah, in the film, the Carraway character was either in awe, or watching with stunned amazement – or busy twirling a glass in his hand – but isn’t that what makes the book so difficult to film – the charms of Nick are all his internal discoveries rather than something he actually does?

Nick to Gatsby: [you're better] than the whole damned bunch together

Nick to Gatsby: [you’re better] than the whole damned bunch together

Didion: That’s exactly right. Nick wants to believe that Gatsby really is “worth the whole damn bunch altogether,” as he shouts to Gatsby across the lawn. But the film doesn’t quite show us that Gatsby is anything more than an imperfect invention. Luhrmann couldn’t quite commit: are we supposed to attach to Gatsby? or are we supposed to see through him, and thus become aware of Nick’s naivete?

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Top of the Lake Closes Its Run: Did It Work for You?

Now that Top of the Lake, the seven episode dramatic series has finished its run on the Sundance Channel – I’m left with more questions in the ‘post resolution aftermath’ than I had before the series ended. Whether or not this was the intent of the series creators Jane Campion and Gerard Lee is a question I can’t answer.

Though the questions of what happened to Tui did get resolved, there’s a whole slew of other head-scratchers for we viewers to ponder. Reader FD and I are going to sit down to discuss the show, and with no specific agenda in mind – we will just see where our talks take us.


JMM: In the last three minutes there a number of questions left unanswered. The first one is what actually happened at Al’s house, 2) what was Robin rinsing out in the lake (was it Al’s blood?), and 3) GJ walks off as the show ends. Without specifically tackling those questions, were you happy with the way the show ended?

FD: I was impressed by the cinematography and the cast, particularly Elizabeth Moss (Robin), Holly Hunter (GJ) and Peter Mullan (Matt), but I was unimpressed with the plot and the editing. Even though I guessed who the villain was early on, each episode made less sense to me than the previous one. And like you, I have a shipping container full of unanswered questions.

Here’s a few of them: 1)Were Robin and Johnno really related or was Al also lying about their DNA test? 2) Why did Matt whip himself repeatedly at his mother’s grave site? 3) Why didn’t Matt suspect Al might have been involved with Tui getting pregnant? 4) Why did Matt try to shoot Tui’s baby if it wasn’t his? 5) Why did GJ decide to go to Reykjavik? (to get as far away from this story as possible?) I could list a lot more questions, but, my biggest question is: What was Ms. Campion thinking? Didn’t she notice any of these loopholes?

JMM: To respond about the five questions you just listed: 1) Matt told Robin that he was her father making Johnno her half-brother. Johnno said that was a Matt mind game. Then Al told Johnno that Matt wasn’t his father – making it even more of a puzzle. 2) I have no idea about why Matt whipped himself – guilt I suppose. Because surely he had so much to be guilty about. 3) & 4) Not sure about either of these – need an explanation. 5) GJ was all about money – at least in the closing episode. Seems like that was tossed in as an after-thought. However it all seemed so extraneous. And what was the point of her leaving – especially as the closing image.

Tui intercepts GJ, but moment later, GJ will walk off anyway as the closing shot

Tui intercepts GJ, but moments later, GJ will walk off anyway as the closing shot

Maybe it was all symbolic – NZ: bottom of the world, Iceland: top of the world. Maybe GJ was a stylization of Campion herself – you know, in it for the money. Big emphasis on the maybe. So the key element must be the program Al was running to rehabilitate the kids – because it was clearly something else entirely at least below the surface.

FD: I don’t think there’s a way to perfectly explain this story. Some things were purposely left ambiguous. Other aspects seem to have been inadequately tied up at the climax. But, here’s my quick attempt to summarize. 1) Al was involved in child porn/prostitution, which paid for his two million dollar home. 2) Al also ran a training program for the local kids getting them employment at the cafe/restaurant. April Stephens was a child sex victim who became a murder victim when she knew too much. Al investigated and declared Stephens’ death a suicide. Bob Platt saw the videos made at Al’s house (the terrible thing his wife talked about) and wound up dead (this could have been done by Matt when he dragged him behind his boat but Al’s investigation failed so he may have been involved in the second murder). When Tui disappeared, Al made Wolfie his third victim (scapegoat for Tui’s disappearance/pregnancy).

Tui said “no one” got her pregnant because she was drugged and didn’t remember any sexual encounter (this is supported by Tui later saying she didn’t know how the baby got insider her). This is the basic plot line, but there were many subplots and diversions, most of which undermined the central story’s power. Before we discuss these, do you buy my analysis?

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Top of The Lake – Episode 5: Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain – Instead Concentrate on the Moral Complexities

Top of the Lake on the Sundance Channel continues as does our conversation. With 5 episodes already aired, just two remain, and I think the conclusion (the last two episodes) will be a two hour presentation. The show has managed to intrigue as well as frustrate. Neither of us have any answers that we can bank on. Read on.

FD: When we started this series of reviews, I said Top of the Lake was a show that tried my patience. It still is. Following Episode 5, Jane Campion and Co-director Garth Davis explained that unlike most procedurals that steadily ratchet up suspense, they’re attempting something different. They are portraying the community, not the crime genre staples focused on motive, means, and opportunity. They say they’re telling us a morally complex story. The question is, is it working? Are defying genre conventions and viewer expectations giving us something better?

Per Jane Campion - this is more about a morally complex community than a who-done-it

Per Jane Campion – this is more about a morally complex community than a who-done-it

JMM: I can’t say that it is better, but it’s not a bad idea. However, their execution seems to be flawed. Community works if the community is focused on a specific issue, event , or problem. However this community is simply the same as any other – individuals struggling with problems.
and compounding that is that they continue to introduce events that seem to come out of nowhere. ‘Morally complex’ describes anywhere and likely everywhere – not just Laketop.

FD: Yes, I agree the story is flawed. First, I’m not getting a sense of community. I’m meeting a series of reclusive and secretive, emotionally damaged male characters, and a loose assortment of female oddballs. Such people certainly do exist, but at Top of the Lake, no one seems on the low-end of the autism scale. Odd characters may be interesting, but not necessarily complex. In fact, neither the story or the characters seem complex to me. Moving on, let’s try to figure out what, if anything, is going on in this community. For instance, is Johnno a good person as Robin wants to believe, or another dark figure as Robin’s mother implied?

Right after this, Robin's Mom asks Robin to not see Johnno any more without giving a reason

Right after this, Robin’s Mom asks Robin to not see Johnno any more without giving a reason

JMM: Good question, but not the key question. Robin’s mother did not imply that he was a dark figure – she asked (requested) that Robin not go any further with him. Why? There’s an obvious possibility – Johnno might be her son. But she died – so the question remains.

Good guy? Or a bad guy?And who's son is he?

Good guy? Or a bad guy?
And who’s son is he?

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Top of the Lake: Episode 4 – Discussion


The 4th episode of Top of the Lake once again showed us some magnificent mountain, lake, and forest vistas set in the wilds of Queenstown, New Zealand, also known as the playground of millionaires. Whatever you desired, seemed available in Queenstown. Drugs, sex, even rock ‘n roll – although we have not seen as much of that as we might have liked.

What we did not get a lot of in this episode was clarity. On the other hand, this was balanced by consequences. Also on hand were recollections, remembrances, retribution, and even a bit of revenge.

My talks with reader FD continue:

Dinner at Al's place by the lake

Dinner at Al’s place by the lake

JMM: I just finished watching TOTL Ep 4 and I must say I was roundly disappointed. Almost every scene seemed wrong or flawed, or a representation of either a misstep by the characters, or by the filmmakers. What was your take?

FD: I thought Episode 4 was far better than the previous episode, although I think there were several poorly handled coincidences. And I definitely thought the whole Matt Mitcham meltdown scene could and should have been cut.

JMM: Agreed, Matt Mitcham certainly threw a distinctly unreasonable emotional fit at his new playmate, Anita, one of the Paradise ladies. To me it showed just how unstable he really is. Mind you, I like his instability – he’s a tinderbox character, who can explode at any time. Which is exciting – but his actions in the episode seemed well … over the top.

FD: Whenever they cut away from the Tui investigation, the show falters, But from a screenwriter’s point of view, this is an instructive example of poor editing. TOTL shows how little room for digression you have when writing a mystery-thriller (in comparison, Side Effects, the Soderbergh film was very well-edited, although it also contained a few unlikely coincidences).

JMM: Okay, as long as you mentioned both poor editing, and unlikely coincidences, which scenes or scenes (other than Mitcham’s meltdowns) did you find to be problematic?

FD: The Number 1 rule in screenwriting is don’t be boring. TOTL avoids being outright boring, but it is annoyingly irrational. Plot twists are not properly set up. They appear out of nowhere. For example, I didn’t recall the fact that Tui was receiving text messages from Jamie (played by Luke Buchanan) – the boy in the hoodie, did you?

JMM: There is an explanation for that and it is a bit of a roundabout. We weren’t shown Tui texting with Jamie. But Robin goes to the his home after researching Tui’s cell phone and discovering a multitude of text exchanges between them. Robin hopes to interview the boy. But then his mother turns Robin away as she has to leave. She says Jamie doesn’t talk but he texts. Robin returns later. That’s how they handled that.

FD: OK, I don’t recall Robin researching Tui’s phone bill, but I’ll let that go. So, when Robin finally finds Jamie, he buries a sack in the woods. But, he doesn’t speak when she questions him. He has the word No tattooed on one hand which he uses to respond to Robin’s questions.

Jamie - the boy in the blue hoodie

Jamie – the boy in the blue hoodie

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Talking About Zero Dark Thirty – What’s Your Opinion?

I think I got my first look at Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty film when the official teaser trailer came out in early August of last year. I knew then, that I would see the film at my earliest opportunity, which turned out to be a few days ago on January 11th when the film opened in theaters everywhere.

So you could say I was quite eager for the film. Very eager might even be a better description.

My usual film conversation partner, Didion, author of the Feminéma blog, and I decided to do a discussion on this film, and that decision was made back on November 28th, so this one has been percolating for quite some time. Since we agreed, the film has received a cacophony of commentaries both positive and negative. One could definitely say that film has polarized a lot of folks.

Didion sent me an email while arranging the time and place of our discussion. She wrote:

Really looking forward to this. I’m afraid my expectations for the film are high.

Was she expressing a fear that the film might disappoint her, because she had set the bar so high? Was she reacting to the fact the film did receive Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay but not for Best Direction? Or was she reacting to the plethora of comments already made that she may have read?

Let’s find out.

 JMM: Hi Didion. I’ve been really looking forward to this just as you have. So let’s get this thing going. You mentioned that you were afraid that your expectations for ZD30 were high. Now that we’ve both seen the film, I’ll lay my cards on the table first to say that I was not disappointed at all. Just the opposite – I felt the film was great. What about you?

Didion: I so agree with you. I left the theater in tears, due to a rush of conflicting emotions that I can’t quite believe Bigelow was able to convey so effectively. I think it’s a really major film — better than anything I’ve seen this year.

Yes: fear of high expectations due to the threat of disappointment. But I’d also read relatively little about the film beforehand, so I didn’t realize quite where it would take me.

Can I just start by saying that the opening 1-2 minutes of the film were possibly the most amazing way to get a film started?

JMM: You mean the WTC audio?

Didion: Yes!

JMM: The WTC voices over a blank screen led to a CIA black site was a seriously affecting jump. Especially since we have no idea of what we will see. Were you amazed because of the unexpected transition or just the impact of the voices taking us back to 9/11?

Didion: Yes: what was so amazing for me was the fact that it took me back to 9/11, that it felt like I was reliving it. The voices we hear are not ones we heard that day. But you find yourself lost in thought, remembering where you were. And, hence (in my case at least), realizing the extent to which that one day caused a cultural trauma for so many of us. It put me in mind of sitting in a room at school where someone had found a TV from the A/V room and set it up so we could gather and watch the events unfolding. Surrounded by my colleagues and students, all helplessly watching something unthinkable. And then I went home and didn’t stop crying for, what, 24 hours? 48 hours? a week? two weeks?

Now, I don’t quite know how Bigelow knew to do this, or knew how it might affect people in theaters. Or how she chose the voices she did. But it was an amazing way to frame this film, because I think ultimately its tense action scenes are subsumed under its attempt to tell us something about the big wound we’ve all had for the last 11+ years.

JMM: Some have questioned the legitimacy of using those voices – after all, someone could recognize them. I’ll leave that for others to decide. For me the framing was totally unexpected. I even wondered if this was a malfunction in the theater. You know – a gray screen – but I moved past it. As for me, I was crossing the Hudson River from Manhattan to New Jersey, and we were able to see the smoke and flames while on board the ferry. Later we watched on TV and from our own office windows. Yes, we were helpless as well.

Didion: Yikes!

JMM: I find the comment you make about the wound we’ve lived with these many years interesting . It will never leave us – either as individuals or as a nation….

Didion: Can I ask you something about the film as a whole that’s been debated publicly? About torture. I was prepared to arrive here today and dismiss the charge that the film advocates for torture as a means of getting information. I could certainly develop an argument that falls in line with what Bigelow and Mark Boal (the screenwriter) have said: that it represents the perspectives of CIA figures without endorsing those views.

But honestly, I believe the film gets as close as possible to arguing that torture leads to information — even as it also says that torture helps to procure a bunch of misleading, incorrect, and distracting information as well. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

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Cloud Atlas

JMM: Cloud Atlas. What a peculiar title. What does it mean? In all likelihood, it means something different to each of us because in the vernacular of the film itself we are all connected yet at the same time we are all separate.

To see this film is a trip into history as well as a lengthy look into the future. But that is kind of a simplistic overview. So today, I’ve asked reader FD to join me for a discussion of this film. On that note I’ll invite FD to kick this off with an opening statement.

FD:  According to Wikipedia, a Cloud Atlas is a guidebook for identifying the different types of clouds (e.g., cirrus, cumulus, stratus, etc.).  David Mitchell , author of the novel upon which the movie is based, says the “Atlas” part refers to things in life that remain constant; “Cloud” refers to what can change. In other words, “Atlas” is existence and “Cloud” is the soul.

He took the title from a piece of music by Toshi Ichiyanagi, who was once married to Yoko Ono. So this is a story of continuous existence,  how some part of us may survive even after death.  And the tagline, “Everything is Connected”  implies the cause and the effect of each life that a soul experiences.

JMM: The above statements were written by each of us before either of us had seen the film. Now that we have both seen the film – we have a bit more solid footing. It is my view that film cannot be easily described or explained. Having said that I will quote two speeches made in the film:

The first is by Tom Hanks (as Dr. Henry Goose): Fear, belief, and love are phenomena that determine the course of our lives. These forces began long before we were born and continue long after we perish.

The other is voiced by Susan Sarandon (as The Abbess): Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others: past and present. And by each crime, and every kindness, we birth our future.

Would you agree that these statements – even out of context – are at the heart of the film, and go a long way to describe the film’s main theme?

FD:  First off, I want to go out of my way to agree with you that this is a very unusual movie and certainly not easy to describe or explain. And it’s certainly not an easy movie to review. In fact at one point in the film, the book publisher Timothy Cavendish played by Jim Broadbent says to  author Dermot Hoggins, played by Tom Hanks, “Come now – what’s a reviewer? One who reads quickly, arrogantly, but never wisely.”

On the left – Timothy Cavendish played by Jim Broadbent. On the right Dermot Hoggins, played by Tom Hanks

JMM: [interrupting] Here is the review that led Mr. Hoggins to give his reviewer, a Mr. Finch an award of ‘free flight’:

None-hit wonders like Mr. Hoggins are the road kills of modern letters. Mr. Hoggins should apologize to the trees felled for his bloated ‘autobio-novel’. Four hundred vainglorious pages expire in an ending flat and inane quite beyond belief.

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