Well, it's been a busy weekend, and it's not even over yet. Friday evening, one of my sisters called to say that she was having a movie night if I wanted to come over. Naturally I did, and so a bunch of us watched Signs, one of M. Night Shyamalan's movies from the time before his career completely derailed. I hadn't seen it in at least ten years, but it really is quite good and, unlike his Sixth Sense, which is essentially a one-trick pony, will stand up to multiple viewings. For me, the stand out performance in this film is given by Joaquin Phoenix as the failed minor league ball player and younger brother, Merrill. He steals virtually every scene that he's in, despite acting with both children and animals.
Yesterday afternoon, my Great Uncle Al had his 100th birthday party. Some of you may remember me mentioning him before, in my post about the Halifax Explosion of 1917, when little Albert, a year-and-a-half old at the time, had a narrow escape from flying glass. Well, here it is, a century later and he's still going strong. He's clear minded and relatively healthy, and until a couple of years ago, lived independently in his own house. Uncle Al sang in a barbershop choir for many years, only giving it up in his nineties when his hearing went. In a nice touch, a group from his former choir came by and sang at the party. Singing, chatting with family and friends, eating cake... Uncle Al enjoyed it all immensely- especially the cake; I suspect his daughter keeps him on a fairly restricted diet these days. He was obviously relishing having an excuse to fill up on all sorts of unhealthy goodies, as were his great grandchildren. It's such a blessing to still have him with us. Just as an interesting bit of trivia, one of the movies which was released in July 1916 was a silent film version of Davy Crockett, starring Dustin Farnum and Winifred Kingston:
Last night we took my Dad out to dinner, as his birthday had been on Wednesday, and then came back to my place for cake and ice cream and a movie. Since the birthday boy gets to pick the movie, Dad looked over my shelves and chose I Am David. I hadn't actually watched it before myself, having bought it at a used DVD sale just because I knew some of my sisters had read the book it was based on in junior high and loved it. It was actually not bad; it obviously didn't have a large budget, and I thought the middle part lagged a bit, but it was a decent film. I thought that revealing David's history in flashbacks was done effectively, and several scenes, especially in the beginning and near the end, were emotionally affecting. In short, the film held my interest enough to make me want to read the book, as I think some things about it might work better in literary form than on screen. Guess I'll be adding that to my reading list.
After the monster success of Star Wars: A New Hope, George Lucas returned in 1980 with The Empire Strikes Back. Frequently sequels are not successful, but this film was, if anything, a stronger movie than the first one. It takes place some time after the events of A New Hope, which ended with the destruction of the Death Star. When the film picks up, the rebels are in hiding from the Empire on the remote ice planet of Hoth. All of our heroes from the first movie are back, including Han Solo though he is planning on leaving since he still has a price on his head and is being pursued by bounty hunters. Princess Leia is less than pleased with this news and the two of them continue their sniping back-and-forth.
While out on patrol, Luke Skywalker is attacked by some sort of snow creature and dragged off to its lair. He escapes by utilizing the Force (and his light saber). Now however, he's stranded in a frozen wasteland with no transportation with night coming on. He eventually collapses from exposure and, while semi-conscious, he is visited by the Force-y spectre of Obi-wan Kenobi. Ben tells him to go to an even remoter planet called Dagobah and find Jedi Master Yoda to train him. Meanwhile at the rebel base, Han Solo has discovered that Luke is missing and goes out into the freezing night to look for him. He saves Luke's life, but this means that he is delayed in leaving Hoth and, due to the rebels finding an Imperial probe, will not be able to leave until the coast is clear.
Unfortunately, the Darth Vader and his minions have located the rebel base and have arrived with an invasion force. Knowing that their meagre numbers cannot defeat the Imperial army, Princess Leia gives the order to evacuate. A newly-recovered Luke leads a force to hold off the Imperial troops while the transport ships are loaded. Han Solo and Chewbacca are readying the Millennium Falcon for takeoff when Han finds out Leia, directing the evacuation from headquarters, has not evacuated. He makes his way there and hustles her off to his ship. After some technical difficulties the Millennium Falcon manages to fight free of Hoth, carrying Solo, Leia, Chewbacca and C3P0. When the last of the transports leave, Luke and his surviving force beat a hasty retreat to their own ships. Luke finds R2D2 waiting in his X-wing fighter and they escape from the smoking ruin on Hoth. To R2D2's puzzlement, Luke doesn't head for the Alliance's pre-arranged meeting place, but sets course for the remote Dagobah system.
On board the Millennium Falcon, things are tense. They are being pursued by some Imperial ships, their hyperdrive keeps failing, and they're forced into an asteroid field to try to evade the Imperials. They briefly do, but it can't last and their mechanical problems are ongoing.
Despite the danger- or perhaps because of it- Han and Leia stop squabbling long enough to share a tender moment before being interrupted by an oblivious C3P0. Sneaking past the Imperial ships, Han sets course for Cloud City, floating over the mining planet of Bespin, where an old friend is the governor and where they can get the repairs they need.
Back on Dagobah, Luke is off to a shaky start as he meets Yoda without realizing who he is. Yoda is unimpressed with Luke's impatience and petulance, and isn't particularly interested in training him. Fortunately, Force-y ghost Obi-Wan shows up and talks him into it. Yoda begins grumpily to teach Luke the ways of the Force.
On Cloud City we meet Lando Calrissian, Han's old friend. It turns out that he had originally owned the Millennium Falcon and Solo won it from him at some point. He readily agrees to overhaul his old ship and while his men are working on it, exerts himself to be charming. Leia is less than impressed by his suave ways and tells Solo that she doesn't trust him. Solo doesn't trust him either, but doesn't regard this as a bar to friendship, or to taking advantage of his hospitality.
As it turns out, they were right not to trust Calrissian, because he's sold them out to the Empire. Unbeknownst to the Millennium Falcon crew, when they sneaked away from the Imperial ships they had been trailed by Boba Fett, a bounty hunter hired by Darth Vader. Realizing that they were headed for Cloud City, he informed Vader, who arrived with troops before the heavily damaged Falcon. Lando isn't happy about betraying his friend, but has little choice in the matter, seeing it as the lesser of two evils. Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and a disassembled C3P0 are taken into custody and as bad as this is, it becomes worse when Lando tells them that Vader is planning on using them as bait to catch some guy named Skywalker.
Speaking of whom, Luke's training is progressing well, and Yoda is obviously reconsidering his opinion of his young pupil being a waste of space. He puts Luke through his paces of physical and mental training, as well as expounding on the nature of the Force, and the differences between the light and dark sides of it. Then one day while training, Luke has a vision or premonition of Han and Leia being in deadly peril. He immediately declares that he must go to help them. Yoda thinks that this is a huge mistake; Luke's training isn't complete and if he ends up facing Darth Vader, the chances are that he will be killed- or worse, turned to the dark side. Luke angrily says that he can't abandon his friends, but Yoda states that it he believes in what they're fighting for, he will. Luke refuses to listen, and it's serious enough that ghost Ben shows up to plead with him, too. Luke is adamant, however; he must go, but promises them that he will return to finish his training.
Meanwhile in Cloud City, Darth Vader is planning for Skywalker's arrival. He wants to capture not kill him, and decides to use the city's processing facility where goods are flash- frozen in liquid carbonite for long distance transport. He plans to freeze Luke, but Lando points out that the process isn't meant to be used on people and may kill him. Vader concedes the point and decides to test it first on Han Solo. Boba Fett doesn't like the sound of this... if Solo is killed, he won't be able to collect the bounty on his head from Jabba the Hutt. But Vader promises him that he'll be reimbursed in case of death. A devastated Leia tells Han that she loves him, and he says he knows, right before he's dropped into the carbonite pit. He survives the process and a satisfied Fett takes his frozen form off to load onto his ship.
Leia and Chewbacca are being marched off back to their cells, when they catch sight of Luke, who has just arrived. Leia shouts to him that it's a trap before being dragged away. Luke attempts to follow her, but he ends up getting forced into the carbonite processing facility where he comes face to face with Darth Vader. In the meantime, Lando has had enough; seeing his friend frozen was the last straw. He gives the order for the city to evacuate, then he and his men overwhelm the Imperial guards and freee Leia and Chewbacca. Lando tells them they might still be able to rescue Han, and they race to the docking bay where Boba Fett's ship is, only to see it lifting off. Han is gone. Unable to do anything else, they make their way to the Millennium Falcon- along with R2D2 whom they've relocated, and blast their way out of the docking bay.
While all of this is going on, Luke and Vader are dueling around the carbonite pit. Luke holds up surprisingly well and Vader fails to knock him into the pit. Inevitably however, Vader's superior training and experience triumph and he pummels Luke, eventually cutting off his hand. Luke desperately scrambles out onto a bridge, and Vader follows him.
Instead of trying to kill Luke, Vader urges him to give himself over to the dark side. When Luke refuses, Vader tells him something shocking; he is his father. Stunned, horrified, and in terrible pain, Luke refuses to believe it, and refuses to give in to Vader. Instead, he lets go and steps off the bridge, free falling until he's sucked into an exhaust tube, ending up clinging to an antenna on the underside of Cloud City. Weakly, he calls Leia's name.
On board the escaping Millenium Falcon, Leia hears him and orders Chewbacca to turn back and head for the bottom of the city. They rescue Luke and escape from Bespin. Later, we see Luke at a medical center, being fitted with an artificial hand. He and Leia are contacted by Lando and Chewbacca; they are taking the Millennium Falcon to try to track down Boba Fett. The last scene is of Luke, Leia, and the two droids watching them leave to find Han.
Hey, neighbours- Happy Independence Day! In honour of the occasion, here's Steve Martin and his band performing his song, Me and Paul Revere. Before I listened to this song I thought that it might be about poor old William Dawes, who was along for the midnight ride but didn't rate a poem. As it turns out, however, it's about the horse which Revere rode that night, Brown Beauty.
The Good Comrade is for the most part about two people: Julia Polkington and Herbert Rawson-Clew. Julia is the primary protagonist, and she is a sympathetic character whom you genuinely wish to succeed. She has grown up in the Polkington family who, as described in my previous post, are desperate to keep up appearances until they land a titled husband for one of their daughters. Her formative years are spent in this atmosphere of precarious finances, endless debt, and dishonest pretension. Unlike the rest of her family, this bothers Julia- she is sick of their lifestyle of living beyond their means and expecting others to pick up the tab. She is angry and ashamed when Rawson-Clew comes to their house in response to her father borrowing money from his nephew; angry because she assumes he looks down on her father, and ashamed because he has justifiable reasons for doing so. She vows to pay back the money and clear her father's honour, which is why she goes to Holland, determined to get the blue daffodil bulb through fair means or foul. The problem is, in her frustration and anger, she has made the mistake of trying to solve the problem the way the Polkingtons would: by any means necessary to accomplish their ends. She doesn't realize that by doing this, she would be becoming what she despises in her own family- placing value on appearance rather than character.
All of these plans of Julia's, however, are merely mental exercises because once in Holland and faced with the reality of putting them into action, she finds that she can't bring herself to do so. There are a variety of reasons for this, one being the naive and trusting nature of the Van Heigen family. Julia feels that it would be too unfair to take advantage of their simplicity in such a way. She feels no such compunction about stealing the chemical formula from the scientist who is unpleasant, nasty, and suspicious. On the contrary, she relishes the challenge. Then too, the Julia who is working in Holland isn't quite the same as the Julia who left England. Her attitude and way of thinking have altered subtly, due in part to her acquaintance with the Van Heigens. Though they lack the sophistication and practiced wit and manners which Julia is used to in London, they have something else- a sense of satisfaction in honest work well done, a certainty about life and their place in it. Julia may occasionally chafe at, and be impatient over, their slow and placid ways but she admires them nonetheless and notes that they have virtues which her own family lacks and would never even be able to recognize.
The other factor which alters Julia's outlook is her rather unlikely acquaintance with Rawson-Clew. Despite their somewhat disastrous first meeting, when they encounter each other again in Holland they form a true friendship which affects both of them. Julia admires and respects Rawson-Clew (although she's not in awe of him) and desires his good opinion. This is why she is so determined to pay back the money her father borrowed- to prove that her family isn't completely lost to honorable behaviour - and why the thought of what he would think of her taking the flower bulb factors in to her decision not to do it. Rawson-Clew's family is on a higher social and financial plain than Julia's and in the normal course of events the two of them would never have become acquainted. Circumstances, however, have brought them both to Holland and a friendship develops, first due to proximity and boredom, then from a genuine interest in, and liking for, each other. What is interesting about their relationship is that it grows and deepens without the complication of romantic feelings. Throughout their time in Holland, neither considers the other in that way, for a number of reasons. One of these is their differing positions in rank, and another is age; Rawson-Clew is considerably older than Julia. And then, of course, there's her impossible family... they both know without saying a word that anything beyond friendship is untenable, and govern themselves accordingly. Because they're not attempting to impress each other romantically, they are open and honest with each other, discussing everything under the sun- except their actual reasons for being in Holland in the first place.
These conversations between Julia and Rawson-Clew provide the most interesting passages in the novel; they are both intelligent and articulate, and their dialogue reflects that. Their perspectives on the various issues they discuss differ considerably, according to their personalities and life experiences, even when their conclusions on these matters don't. Rawson-Clew, older and a lot more worldly than Julia, is amused and often impressed by her quick wit and ability to accurately and succinctly size people and situations up. But though Julia is young and not as well traveled or educated, in her family situation she has come into contact with all the vagaries of human nature, which makes her able to hold her own in their discussions. Some of their most interesting conversations center on philosophic topics such as the nature of honour and morality. For example, Julia points out that the Van Heigens live very honourable and upright lives, but that it has never occurred to them to do otherwise. Is it, she questions, really a sign of morality if they simply lack the imagination or motivation to behave badly? She also suggests that there might also be a kernel of this in his own sense of honour, asking him how much of how he behaves is reflexive rather than reasoned, because of his upbringing as an English gentleman. Rawson-Clew admits that there is a certain automatic quality to some of his actions; there are simply some things one does not do. This leads them to discuss whether it is more honourable if a person behaves well unthinkingly as a matter of course, or if one is tempted to do the wrong thing, yet in the end chooses to do what's right. It also leads to a discussion of what constitutes moral behaviour, and if the morality of a deed or action depends on the motivation behind it. Julia, for example, has come to Holland with the intention of getting one of the blue daffodil bulbs through any means necessary,in order to clear her family's debt. She has deduced, though of course they don't discuss it, that Rawson-Clew is there to get the chemical formula for the explosive, also through any means necessary. Is the action- in this case, stealing something- rendered more or less moral if it is done for one's country rather than for personal gain? It is these sorts of questions that they discuss, and these conversations provide fascinating insights into their characters, as well as provide the reader with the opportunity to mull over these issues personally.
The relationship between Julia and Rawson-Clew is a satisfying one, because it evolves out of their friendship. In so many books or films, you're left wondering what the couple sees in each other, other than physical attraction. Not so in The Good Comrade; although we get the occasional hint that Rawson-Clew finds Julia attractive, it's not something that is a deciding factor for him. He meets a lot of stylish and good looking women in the course of his normal life and is generally bored by them. It is after he spends an evening in the company of his nephew's pretty, socially acceptable, and utterly vacuous spouse that Rawson-Clew realizes what he actually wants in a wife, and how he really feels about Julia. As for Julia, the men in her life up to this point have all been weaklings. Her father is a selfish and morally weak person who has never been the head of his family; Johnny Gillat is well meaning and good-hearted, but childlike and unable to cope with life's problems. Julia has always felt the need to protect and care for them, rather than the other way around. Meeting Rawson-Clew, a strong, competent, honourable man, is something of a revelation to her because he is not what she's used to. When the two of them become embroiled in scandal, Julia naturally attempts to shield Rawson-Clew from the consequences, because that's what she's always done. She is surprised by Rawson-Clew's irritation with this, and shocked by his insistence of taking responsibility for the situation- it's not what she's used to in her family. Then, back in the bosom of her not-so-loving family, recalling Rawson-Clew's intellect, decency, and honour, and contrasting it with what- and who- she's dealing with now, Julia awakens to how she actually feels about him. In conclusion, The Good Comrade has a perfectly serviceable plot and it maintains interest throughout, but the best thing about the novel is the development of the relationship between Julia and Rawson-Clew. They are two independent, intelligent and rather solitary individuals from very different backgrounds who gradually and somewhat warily become friends and then something more. Their conversations provide insight into their opinions, values and tastes which, despite having been arrived at through very different means, are in the end quite similar. Also, the topics which they mull over and debate are ones which still remain relevant and worthy of thought and discussion today. I really enjoyed the book and will without question seek out more writings by this author.