My pupils are the shape of my laptop…

 …but M &M’s are keeping me going.

I’ve spent the early portion of this week going back to my argument and focusing it. I had a lot of history and wanted to show off all the information I found while justifying my argument that Lars von Trier’s Melancholia works as a post-fairy tale. In my latest revision, I’ve condensed and cut some of the history, and focused my discussion of the wedding reception when I start my analyses of the film.

My most important revision is setting up the framework for what I mean by post-fairy tale. I went back and decided to define what a post-fairy tale is on three major levels:

  1. Movement away from the traditional “happily ever after.” (When I don’t have to write that phrase any more it will be a happily ever after…)
  2. Reexamination of gender roles, specifically of the passive female character or the perception of beauty as good/put together.
  3. Psychological Examination of characters.

That third point is a crucial one to me, and not just because von Trier’s film has to do so much with Justine and Claire’s psychology. I also included psychological examination as part of my definition because traditional fairy tales do next to nothing with the psychology of their characters. Characters just are good or evil. There isn’t any in-between and there is no attempt to understand where evil comes from.

While there is no traditional “evil” in Melancholia, there is, an examination of how magic—the disturbance of the norm in Melancholia’s arrival—affects the two leading women. I’ll be digging into Shaviro again for that portion. This, too, moves away from the norm of fairy tales where magic and talking animals are accepted as every day. How does this disturbance affect one’s perception of the world?

Any time I stop working on the paper, I’ve been trying to come up with a short paragraph or two to summarize where I want to head with the paper. I have found that it helps me collect my thoughts, especially the ones that have jumbled after a few hours, and makes it easier to pick up when I begin again.  This has also helped with my editing when I start my next paper session (maybe it doesn’t sound as exciting as a jam session, but I’ve been known to rock out at the library during a stretch break). The summarizing paragraph has helped me go back and cut out details that aren’t really working toward my main argument and better streamline my paper. Or, you know, that’s what it feels like it’s doing. I feel like I’m on the right track.

Distraction:

I love Jennifer Lawrence.

Chase-ing His Voice

I spent a good portion of Jonathan Lethem’s novel Chronic City chastising Chase for being such a dolt, but it’s not like there wasn’t anything going on inside that drugged up brain of his.

ImageOn pg. 185, as Perkus chastises him after a disastrous lunch at Jackson Hole, Chase actively thinks about his rationale for trying to hook Perkus up with the Catoman-glasses wearing hipster waitress, how he tries and fails to read Perkus, and how he should react to Perkus’s hostility. There are real thoughts going on that show Chase is processing the information he sees and maybe even coming up with potential valid responses.

“At least I’d sparked some irate brilliance in him…Perkus couldn’t be so intimidated by his waitress…Hostility? I’d been thinking I’d just uncovered Perkus’s. Would I always be just one insight away? Insight was an onion, I doubted there was anything but layers” (184-85).

Perkus reams him out while Chase collects his thoughts. But that thinking results in a conscious decision to be inarticulate.

“Rather than argue with him like a couple going through a breakup on the street, I elected to silently agree. I was a hopeless case.

            ‘Do you ever look in the mirror, Chase?’

            ‘Sure,” was my idiot reply” (185).

He relies on his appearance, past fame, and charm to get anywhere. Without what he calls his “script” (254) or his role, he becomes inarticulate. Even at his most confident, Chase barely puts up a fight before Oona silences him as he attempts to declare his love for her.

He has, according to his own description, pleasured her so extremely that she couldn’t hide her elation. He seems to think that he will have the edge when he begins to speak to her. On top of his physical persuasion, he believes he has an edge because “actors were more at home in their emotions than many who might be smarter in other ways. The key would be to forge a language so direct, so irony-immune, that it cut off Oona’s typical avenues of escape” (253).

He ends up being wrong about at least one thing. Oona’s calm and rational response shows that Chase:

a)    didn’t rock her world as well as he thought

b)   is about at home with his emotions as I would be in an alligator infested swamp

c)    has no idea how to use words to his advantage

d)   all of the above

He puts up a short argument using a grand total of ten words before he realizes that he “couldn’t finish, my grandiose offering broken apart, shattered from underneath as a building might be wrecked by a burrowing tiger, by levels of despair opening within me” (253). Maybe Chase would find more success writing letters littered with figurative language?

Chase’s inability to articulate his feelings, thoughts, and ideas stems back to his life as a child star. He refers to his past in roles rather than real moments. He identifies both his public and private life through other people—Janice, Oona, Perkus, the list goes on. Chase doesn’t seem to have a real history. There are no mentions of his actual parents, but he refers to his sitcom mother, Sandra, as “my mom” when he speaks with Richard on pg. 285. He relied on scripts throughout his entire developmental phase, and so has become a man who struggles to communicate. Chase has many thoughts, but he has difficulty organizing them, even the basic ones. His narrations are littered with “possiblies” and “mights,” further complicating his ability to articulate his inner workings. Chase, as the ultimate unreliable narrator because he regularly higher than a kit, but also because of his lack of certainty, may be presenting a world to the reader that does not exist at all.

 

Thoughts on my Paper

In my mind I’ve divided my paper into different sections. The first is a look at the origins of fairy tales and how they have evolved or been adapted. This works with interviews with Lars von Trier that I’ve work with that have helped me link why there are images/ideas/themes that stem from fairy tales in Melancholia.

From there, I started my reading of Melancholia as a post-fairy tale. I work with the beginning of the movie as the “happily ever after” where fairy tales leave off. I’ve worked on close readings of Justine in the opening shots and compared her to Briar Rose. The specific connections link the two character’s curiosity and adventurous natures. I work with Maria Tatar’s discussion on “Briar Rose” to illustrate how both Justine and Rose are discouraged from curiosity because of the result—deathly sleep and depression.  In contrast, the prince in “Briar Rose” is rewarded for his curiosity by good timing and only has to walk into the castle and kiss Briar Rose in order to save the day. I’m using the expectations for men and women in fairy tales to help answer the question Justine asks Michael just before he leaves her—“What did you expect?”

I’ve been doing a lot of work with Maria Tabar’s analysis of fairy tales and roles, especially in relation to how gender is presented in the tales. I’m also doing some work off her discussions of societal expectations of fairy tale characters. A J.R.R. Tolkien essay on fairy tales has given me a useful lens with which to work on what the “happily ever after” really is in fairy tales and how I can connect it to the beginning of Melancholia. Steven Shaviro is a big source for looking at the film, while an article by Lori Baker-Sperry and Liz Grauerholz has helped with my analysis on how a certain type of femininity and beauty is produced and used in fairy tales. To that end, I’ve done a close reading of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Briar Rose” so I could draw comparisons between the titular character and Justine. I used those comparisons to discuss ideas of gender expectations and how fairy tales often limit female characters.

In terms of my thinking and approach, I started off with a list of what I remember about fairy tales outside of Disney movies or other on-screen adaptations. From there, I did research on the origins and adaptations of fairy tales. Once I gained an understanding of the evolution of fairy tales, I collected interviews with Lars von Trier about Melancholia and some of the films that came earlier so I had a better idea about his view of the film and how it was different from others he has done. The idea here was to get an idea for why von Trier would include fairy tale elements into his film.

To work with Bloom’s Taxonomy, I think I’ve applied my research to a couple of scenes in Melancholia and have a plan to approach a couple of other scenes as I continue to move forward in my paper. My next focus is going to be on the characters at the reception and how they work as fairy tale characters and affect Justine. From there, I will analyze the relationship of the two sisters and the planet Melancholia in regards to the planet representing the magic/disturbance of the norm in the film and how one sister is equipped to deal with it while the other is not.

Going forward, I’m considering using a “Tale of the Tape” chart in my notes like the one I used in my Oscar Wao post to help me evaluative my connections between I Melancholia and “Briar Rose” or the larger world of fairy tales.

I’ve used a number of free writes in my paper to help get my ideas on the page. Then I have, or will, go back to clean those ideas up and make sure my ideas are working with the arguments of my secondary sources to present my argument that Melancholia can be viewed as a post-fairy tale.

Beginners

I have a confession to make. In a tweet about the film Beginners earlier this week, I chose to post a picture of my own Jack Russell terrier, Maxine, rather than expand on my actual comment within the tweet. Maxine and I have been pals for fifteen years now (sixteen in June), but this is the first time she has been brought up for academic reasons since I was in fifth grade. Needless to say, it’s long overdue.

Elaboration is for blog posts anyways. Speaking of which…

Just over eight minutes into Beginners, Oliver sits on a bench with Arthur in a dog park.Oliver wants Arthur to play with the other dogs (his “own people”) but Arthur is content to hang out with Oliver and observe from a far. Oliver decides to give Arthur a history lesson about his breed. He explains that Jack Russels were first bred in the 1800s by hunting enthusiast for their courage and stamina, but now are bred mainly because humans think they’re cute. Oliver elaborates and touches on a point that is a major theme in the film: “You think you’re you when you want to chase the foxes, but other people planted that in you years ago…you’re chasing tennis balls because it’s as close to a fox as you’re going to get.”

While Oliver speaks about the facts behind the Jack Russell, Arthur disproves Oliver’s point throughout the movie. He has no interest in chasing random objects or other animals. The only people he does chase, or more appropriately, follows around (hangs out with?) are humans who he feels attached to, who he loves—Oliver, Anna, Andy, and Hal, Oliver’s deceased father.

That’s an interesting story in itself. To be brief, Hal has been gay all of his life, but was married to Oliver’s mother for forty four years. In the year after she passed away, Hal told Oliver, at the age of seventy five, that he was gay. Not long after that, he started to date Andy.

Among the many things that I would like to talk about in Beginners, I think one of the most crucial is that idea that spirit can break free of what others attempt to force on people (or in this case dogs, too) through social stigmas, pressure, or (again, for dogs) breeding.

In other words, the spirit of a human, or a dog, has the potential to reveal the true self.

An hour and eleven minutes into the film, Oliver recalls how Hal told him about being gay while married to Oliver’s mother, Georgia. He reveals that she proposed to him. Hal answered, “I love you and we’re great buddies, but you know what I am. And then she says, ‘That doesn’t matter, I’ll fix that.’”

The scene cuts into the colors of the gay pride flag with Oliver’s voice over of the word each color stands for. We get a group of pictures of what the world was like in 1978, a feature repeated in the film that I liked a lot but don’t have space to elaborate on here. This is followed by a look at Hal’s annual Christmas stuffed animal display at the museum where he was director. Oliver’s voice over recites Hal’s favorite quote from Margery Williams’s “Velveteen Rabbit.” The Velveteen Rabbit asks the Skin Horse, “What is real?…Does it happen all at once?” The horse replies, “It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time…Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

This, to me, is the movie. It captures every character and each unique relationship. But I want to focus on Arthur and Hal. Arthur loves his humans so much that he can’t stand to be away from them. He is well trained and follows directions except when one of his humans tries to leave him alone. The real Arthur is not a dog bred to hunt or to just be cute (even though, let’s face it, he is), but real Arthur is capable of love, seen through his actions and his subtitles, and even sadness at the thought of being left alone.

Hal fits the quote nearly to a tee. He has played the role of straight husband for forty four—over half his life—and is finally able to break from that role in his mid-seventies. There are times where it hurt, like the Skin Horse tells the Velveteen Rabbit, as is clear when Hal tells Oliver that “I was willing to try anything” when his friend and future wife proposed to him. Despite suffering from cancer, Hal appears very much alive and happy in any scene that he is not drugged up in a hospital bed. It is that real self—the animated, excited, exuberant Hal with Andy, with Oliver, with Authur, and with his impressively large group of friends—that comes through in Hal.

What really makes the Velveteen Rabbit scene is the image of Hal dancing with Andy, and then with Oliver while Arthur happily runs around them. First they dance to the words Oliver speaks in his voice over, until a bit of uplifting classical music brings the viewer fully into the scene.

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So, how does this relate to ontology vs. epistemology in the film Beginners?

Here’s my thought:

We, as people, may spend the majority of our lives searching for knowledge—of ourselves, of society, of what is right/wrong, of beliefs, of what we need, what we want, or how to break away from decisions based on expectation or social pressure—before we can really understand who we truly are—what are true state of being is.

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What Makes a Good Man?

A little theme music to lighten the mood of this blog post, courtesy of The Heavy: 

Eliot Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity seems to address masculinity on three fronts: fatherhood, sex, and reaction to mistakes/threats.

1. Fatherhood: Two things allow Joe to believe, against substantial evidence to the contrary, that he is a good man: love for his son and success. Sam, or rather the love Joe feels for him, is what convinces Joe. “My love for him is the only unequivocally good thing…there inside of me. It is the reason I should be spared all that is coming” (65). Rather than feel any real concern for his son’s well being, he looks for a way that he can be spared the trial, confrontation with his wife, and public embarrassment that will come his way when it is revealed that his wife had, allegedly, cheated on him and he had spent the previous two years making weekly visits to a prostitute.  In many ways, Sam is just another possession to his father.

Joe takes pride in representing powerful men who trust him with their money. He emphasizes how the success in his career has allows him to buy his house, his car, and renders his wife’s job and salary to supplementary status. This success empowers him over men, making him like the men he idolizes in Gorman, Sheere, Graeme, and Mitch. He takes particular pleasure in the dismissal of men that pose a threat to him. “If we could, we’d be there at the bottom of each glass as the contents further drained the blue from his eyes until they had the egg-white cloudiness of the eyes of an old dog” (90). This line resonated with me because of how powerfully creepy it was. That is more than blood lust that Joe describes. He wants to witness the soul of a person sucked from their being just so he can feel like he has been victorious over another person. Joe compares all of this, the possessions and success, to his own father who failed his family through absences, abuse, and lack of financial support.

2. Sex: One thing that is not ambiguous in this book is how sex crazed the men are. Sex is generally used to control, manipulate, or demonstrate one’s power over another in the book. Angelique tends to be a victim too many times. Joe uses this power over Angelique when he comes to her violently angry, but is stopped by security. Detective Staszic uses sex to manipulate Angelique into a weekend of free service in return for a deal that doesn’t exist.

Dennis/Mitch’s lack of sexuality reduces him to a character that feels like he is less than a man. He is regularly emasculated by his wife through words and affairs and, after a deal gone wrong, by his bosses and colleagues at the office. In the bedroom, he is unable to perform when he first meets Angelique through their escort appointment.

But Mitch does not want to be one of these other men. He becomes defensive when Angelique accuses him of being just like her other bookings: deceptive, back-stabbing, and arrogant.

There is only one moment where Mitch wants to fall to the level of the other men. When Angelique, high on winning, heads to the roulette table to bet all of their money on one spin, Mitch “wishes that I had used her like all the others had… any other man…my wife would call a ‘real man,’ would have grabbed her, even hit her right then and there” (340).

But Mitch cannot hold onto that thought for long. He breaks into tears in recounting the tale to Alex. When Angel wins, he feels a pride that gives him a temporary confidence he has lacked. “None of you have ever known the joy I had that moment knowing that I’d helped get her exactly what she wanted…she would never forget me because…I was the only one who hadn’t fucked her” (341).

But no good deed goes unpunished in Perlman’s novel. Mitch, if he is taken to be a real man in his desire to help Angelique, is reduced to tears by the result of her accident. He is off balanced, and concludes his section begging for help.  

3. Reactions to Mistakes and Threats:

There are plenty of reactions to mistakes and threats throughout the novel. Joe, Mitch, and Simon share a common trait. They all hold onto the belief that they are right or blameless despite their actions or evidence to the contrary. Anna simultaneously calls Simon and Joe on this. “You can’t take my son…and still claim some sort of moral superiority…maybe it’s a male thing but…you have more in common with my husband than you could possible know” (433).

In terms of threats, Simon’s thoughts offer an odd reflection. He has recruited Nazim to help him work out a suicide plan, but the meeting does not go as planned. Nazim holds Simon tight with a hand over his mouth. “I thought of Angelique and how often she must have felt like this when…you stop resisting. You stand up and take it like a man” (441). Simon still wishes for death as he is raped, but the jump from thinking about how Angelique was able to have sex with men she had no desire for to taking the act “as a man” is strange.

Could it suggest that Angelique portrays the “good man” characteristics that Joe, Mitch, and Simon attempt to emulate better than the men themselves? She provides for herself and is able to acquire possessions she needs. She is selfless and breaks limits in order to help Simon, whom she loves. Further, she takes constant humiliation, punishment, and abuse without feeling the self-pity the men inflict on themselves. Perhaps the book suggests that, despite the male characters desperate attempts, there is no such thing as the “good man.” Rather, these are the ways one attempts to survive.

It’ all ambiguous to me.

Once Upon a Time: An Alternative Look at Melancholia

What if Melancholia were viewed as a modern melodramatic fairy tale?

The kingdom: a mansion on a sprawling golf course miles outside the nearest town. Steven Shapiro notes in his article “Melancholia or, the Romantic Anti-Sublime” that the film “refuses to present us with a grandiose and sublime spectacle of destruction…that we find in Hollywood.” Much like a fairy tale has more concern for how magic, villains, and demons affect a select few protagonists with no mention of the rest of the world, so too does Melancholia. This is a local disaster with only brief mentions of the “prophets of doom” and “real scientists” from other kingdoms. The appearance of Melancholia opposite the moon lends the kingdom a fantastical appearance.

Melancholia-07-450x253

The characters: Justine’s mom as the witch who appears at the wedding reception and threatens the gathered with jabs at her family before proclaiming her hatred of marriage.  Justine’s father who is absent at the most crucial time. It would not surprise me if he sent his daughter into the woods with nothing but breadcrumbs. Jack, the best man and Justine’s employer, as Rumpelstiltskin, who looks to squeeze every last idea out of her on the night of her wedding, all the while holding the task over his nephew Tim, one of the poor children (grown up now) who Rumpelstiltskin took after a deal gone wrong for Tim’s parents.

John is king of the land. He hosts the wedding with the queen, Claire. John struggles with the reality of marrying a commoner: her family. He studies the stars for guidance and understanding, passing his knowledge and interests to his young prince.

Justine the rebellious, depressed, and beautiful commoner turned princess. Depressions in a princess seems rather common in popular culture. Isn’t Ariel depressed when she goes to Ursula in a desperate attempt to be human? Isn’t Jasmine won over a little too easily by a magic carpet ride when she needs an escape from her father’s pressure to marry?

It seems Justine has found her prince charming in Mark. He is so in love with her that he can shrug off her frustrating actions and is on his knees when he wants to make love to her. He is only driven away when he spots Justine shagging Tim in a sand trap.

Justine willingly goes from princess to commoner. She rejects her prince and the lifestyle as an understanding of the falseness of her thrown.

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The sisters and Melancholia: It seems that Claire is the sister with the better grasp on life. She runs her household, keeps up appearances, and cares for her family. Justine struggles to stay on script, to perform what is expected of her. Shapiro notes that Justine’s actions are “an unconditioned and nonreflexive state of pure feeling” as the result of her depression. Claire seems put together, while Justine spirals. Director Lars von Trier captures the sisters true contrasting identities in one brief scene.

Claire follows Justine in the middle of the night. Claire is hidden in the dark trees. Her eyes are wide and dark. Her hair down, she looks tired and drained of color. Her cheeks are skintight. Her expression is anxious, fearful. Justine lies naked in the grass, illuminated by the blue planet Melancholia, the fairy godmother who has come to grant her wish. In the planet’s spotlight, Justine is more naturally stunning then she was in her wedding gown. Her expression is calm, her hair falls easy to the side, and she caresses her own body under Melancholia’s gaze.

photo    melancholia

 

The queen of the land struggles with impending doom. She wants to “do this thing right” with wine and crackers on the terrace—to maintain appearance against the apocalypse. The former princess turned commoner throws expectations away in order to protect her nephew from his fear in a “magic cave.”

Justine has already detached herself from the world, and now the rest of humanity will be forced to catch up with her. While the queen loses perspective and cannot stop sobbing long enough to hold her son’s hand in their last moments, Justine attempts to pass her calming acceptance to her nephew and sister.

Justine gets her happily ever after.

Historic Alien Dictators and Oscar Wao

I want to look at three dictator/super villain/aliens that are prevalent as the fukù, or curse, in the de Leòn’s family tree.

Tale of the Tape

 

Dictator, Alien, Super Villains

200px-Rafael_Trujillo

Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molinaw

 250px-Eye

Sauron

 250px-Galactus

Galactus

Origin

San Cristóbal, Dominican Republic

The “offspring of (Eru’s) thoughts”, pre-Middle Earth

Originally known as Galan, transformed into Galactus by the Sentience of (his previous) Universe

Nickname

El Trujillo (among others)

The Eye

Devourer of Worlds

Best Known Terror

Fear, torture, disappearances, rape

Forging the One Ring “to rule them all.”

Devours the life source of planets for sustenance.

Famous Enemies

(for our purposes): the de Leòn family, and anyone who values freedom in the DR.

Frodo, Gandalf the Gray/White, Aragorn, the elves, dwarves, humans, etc.

The Fantastic Four, The Silver Surfer (after his initial attack on Earth), Marvel comic book heroes

Standout Physical feature

His “heavily powered face” (222) when greeting Dr. Abelard Cabral.

His last physical form is that of a giant eye.

Nerdy looking purple outfit. (I’m just saying, if I was half god I’d be wearing something cooler than that.)

Demise

Shot and killed in a car ambush outside of the DR capital city.

Frodo destroying the One Ring in Mt. Doom via Gollum

Long story, but he’s still alive and devourin’

These three villains originate from different worlds or genres (historical, fantasy, comic book/graphic novel) but they share two key similarities that link them specifically to Oscar .

  1. Each consumes his world. Trujillo’s world is his isolated Dominican Republic. He takes what he wants in power, women, economics, and knowledge. Suaron wants to enslave and control all races in Middle Earth. Galactus consumes worlds in a more literal fashion. He does this for survival, but isn’t any kinder. He doesn’t have remorse for the races he consumes, as is made clear in epigraph at the beginning of Oscar Wao.
  2. The Supernatural Element. As Yunior explains, El Trujillo’s powers were so complete that many believed him to be supernatural. Diaz illustrates this in the epigraph before Part 2 of Oscar Wao from La Nación, an Argentinian newspaper. “Trujillo is not a man. He is…a cosmic force.”  Yunior takes this idea to the next level, suggesting that El Trujillo has a deal in place with a powerful fukú demon. Galactus is an actual cosmic force who is even intimidating to a quartet of super heroes. Sauron, in a land with magic, appears as an immortal power thanks to the life source he attached to the One Ring. He, in a stroke of genius, remains alive through ages thanks to the greed and ambition of others.

What do these figures mean to Oscar Wao? Trujillo’s effect on Oscar’s family tree is chronicled throughout the novel. The reason that Trujillo targeted Abelard is unclear, but Oscar and Yunior believe that it is more than just Abelard’s attempts to hide his daughter from the dictator. Abelard, Oscar believes, had started to write the supernatural story of Trujillo. He backs his claims with the fact that all of Abelard’s work, including anything in his handwriting, was destroyed after he was imprisoned. Yunior explains that “You got to fear a motherfucker or what he’s writing to do something like that…it’s only a story, no solid evidence…only a nerd could love” (246). Both seem evident. Trujillo feared Abelard, all dictators fear something, and Oscar was intrigued by the story.

The idea that Trujillo was some supernatural being may have given Oscar, and his family, some vindication. It makes all the fantasy he loved and was ridiculed for some credibility—what if some of these elements actually exist? But it would also confirm a curse and give him a real supernatural force to combat. Maybe this is what ignites the change in Oscar that results in his eventual death. He could become more than just a person—“over there (the afterlife) he’d be a hero, an avenger” (322).  He could combat Trujillo’s curse.

Sauron and Galactus are images Oscar could understand better than that of Trujillo. Galactus, in some ways, is an inverted reflection of Oscar. The Devourer of Worlds is always hungry, constantly seeking out his next energy source. Oscar can relate. But where Oscar is meek, Galactus tramples others for his survival. Galactus, perhaps, is what Oscar wishes for in his teenage apocalyptic dreams. (Katy Perry pun not intended.)

Sauron is the allusion used most often in the novel in comparison to El Trujillo. The similarities are close. Sauron is a dictator who rules through fear and domination. Oscar sees Trujilo as his Sauron, the One Ring as the family’s curse. Oscar, in a strange mix of Gandalf and Frodo, must cast himself into the fire and be reborn as something, or someone more powerful in the afterlife to defeat it. He is, after all, referred to as “our hero.” Maybe there is some hope for Isis.

Reichenbach Falls: A Land of Make Believe

       There have been a number of discussions brought up in our class, both digitally and in-person. The issue becomes muddled in “Reichenbach Falls” because narration is especially hard to follow in this episode when Sherlock’s abilities and character are publicly called into question and are finally tarnished by Moriarty’s puppeteering of personal vendettas and the ambitions of “ordinary people.”

            I’m particularly interested in the scene in which Sherlock and Watson confront Kitty Reilly, the reporter who first wanted to interview Sherlock for a profile story but whom Sherlock shot down, at her flat. The scene combines fairy tale images and reveals Moriarty’s plan in full effect.

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            I went back and watched the episode a second time after our live tweet session and made sure to pause on a number of frames on this scene. In the first revelation of Kitty’s apartment I noticed that white is the predominant color after she flicks on the light. But there is something odd about the flat as well. The white wallpaper has a leaf theme along the wall to the left of and behind the couch. There are an abnormal amount of frames with pictures or paintings that range in size and shape. The shot reminded me of an Alice in Wonderland type setting, with my first through wandering to the Mad Hatter.

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            The second shot comes after Kitty has revealed that she received her information for the “Sherlock is a Fake” story from Richard Brooke, who is Moriarty in an elaborate disguise. The shot reveals the rest of the small flat’s living room. The wall to the left is a wallpaper-less white with a matching white fireplace and white lights on the mantle. The two objects that catch my attention as strange, or fairy tale like, are the two tall white candles in white candelabras at the forefront of the screen and the white chandelier that hangs from the ceiling.  Both objects seem out of place. They remind me of images from ball scenes, specifically Beauty and the Beast. The candelabra and chandelier like fixtures that are too grand for a small, unimpressive flat.

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            On the wall behind the stairs are the words, all in white, “Make Believe.” This is a strange thing for an investigative journalist to have on her wall. Why so much white? It was Snow White who was targeted by the queen for fear that she was more beautiful than the queen. Moriarty has targeted Sherlock for his intelligence.

Moriarty has become our narrator in this scene. He plays the role of the scared actor whom Sherlock has supposedly paid to portray a criminal mastermind, complete with resume and reviews among other evidence. He has convinced the police force, Kitty, and eventually the public through a newspaper story (he later refers to the paper as a modern fairy tale), but he breaks from character twice. It is up to the viewer to catch these instances and realize that his narration is unreliable.

            First, at the 58:11 mark, with Kitty’s back turned, he glares at Sherlock through his hands—a look combined with his scruffiness that colors him as a wolfish character. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the person he has manipulated, Kitty, has red hair. Then, while Kitty shows Watson the Richard Brooke identity, Moriarty confesses. “I’m a storyteller!”

            Sherlock is regulated to an audience member. He watches Moriarty’s performance with a look that boarders between shock and horror, but reveals that he is impressed. When Moriarty glares at him, Sherlock’s mouth twitches upwards because the plot is so clever. Sherlock doesn’t become a part of the action again until he attempts to pursue Moriarty, who disappears out of a window. Kitty doesn’t seem to find that strange.

            Narration shifts a number of times in “Reichenback Falls,” but this scene in Kitty’s apartment is the turning point. The public, Sherlock’s audience, has decided that he is an unreliable narrator and is ready to accept a new narration—a lie that is wrapped “up in truth to make it palpable.” The narration remains in question until Sherlock reveals himself to the audience, but no one else, in the final seconds of the season. 

Sherlock Paratexts 2

Paratexts can be easily overlooked as a part of the entertainment business’s hype machine or as extreme displays of fandom. But, as Jonathan Gray discusses in “Introduction: Film, Television and Off-Screen Studies,” and “Chapter 1, From Spoilers to Spinoffs: A Theory of Paratexts” from his book, Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts, paratexts are tools for one to decide what kind of entertainment one wants to take part in, to interact closely with a text, to help create the text, or to parody the original.

Entryway paratexts are particularly useful when watching an adaptation of a text. Gray explains “paratexts condition our entrance to texts, telling us what to expect, and setting the terms of our ‘faith’ in subsequent transubstantiation”(25).  In an adapted text like Gray’s example of James Bond, “we approach the text with a sense of who…Bond is; via the…para-/inter-textual network of Bond, we will always arrive at any new Bond text with a sense of what to expect…with the interpretation process already well under way” (34). Entryway paratexts serve as a glimpse into the feature text before it is released, and then offer the viewer a closer interaction once he or she has engaged with that text.

BBC used entryway paratexts to introduce their modern take on Sherlock, and continue to use them to promote the series. I’ve included three posters for the series (two from the previous post and one additional below). The first highlights the action sequences in the series—Sherlock a step in front of Watson with a gun pointed forward as they race down a tunnel. The second poster features Sherlock and Watson standing outside of 221B Baker Street, their famous flat. The third has Sherlock just in front of Watson looking at the camera from a side view, his hands in his pockets. Watson faces the camera straight on and had his arms folded. Both men wear stern expressions and stand in front of a picture of London. Sherlock’s name lingers over the city. These posters give the viewer a glimpse of the modern-day Sherlock and Watson, complete with serious but cool and desirable facial expressions made for television.

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The first trailer I included features the line “a new sleuth for the 21st century” and explains the premise of the new adaptation over clips of Sherlock working, characters interacting, and action sequences. The second works off the campaign started by executive producer Steven Moffat who released three words before season two (woman, hound, and fall) to tease the storylines for the second installment of the show. Each short trailer focuses on three key words and a clip to give the viewer a set of clues for the season.

While paratexts include advertising tools like posters and trailers, their most important function is how they expand the larger work. Gray explains that paratexts do more than just frame a text or attract an audience. Paratexts help to create the work and become a crucial part of how the text develops.

BBC’s Sherlock has taken advantage of paratexts to expand the show beyond the hour and a half time frame by creating Sherlock’s website “The Science of Deduction,” which has posts that Sherlock makes on camera as well as others that are referenced to but now shown during the show, Molly Hooper’ rather depressing blog that includes posts from Jim Moriarty’s boyfriend disguise, and the website of the deceased Connie Prince.

The most important official paratext to the series, however, is John Watson’s blog. The blog is initially introduced on the show by Watson’s therapist as a way to help him cope with his PTSD. Watson quickly starts to use it as a way to recount Sherlock’s cases. The blog plays a key part in the narrative of the show. The viewer is given the privilege to view it completely. This takes the viewer beyond Watson’s posts and into comments from main characters and the supporting cast who appear or are only mentioned on the show. There is an especially amusing interaction between Sherlock, Watson, and Mrs. Hudson whom are communicating through the blog while in the same flat or in the same room.  Comments from an anonymous troller, who the audience can deduct is Moriarty, show the reader that Moriarty really is keeping close tabs on Sherlock’s activities. Other fans, or literal fanatics, of Sherlock also comment on posts and add to Sherlock’s celebrity status that is highlighted in season two of the show.

Gray points out that Sherlock is not the first series in which BBC has taken advantage of paratexts to expand the show. Gray cites Will Brooker’s account of the show Attachments. “After watching the episode were Soph is punished by her boss for her article ‘Hell is Other People Shagging’…I was able to read the full article, which could only be glimpsed in the actual episode…and sent a semi-ironic mail to the character pointing out that he’d misspelled a Star Wars reference” (40).

While mail may have been the best form of communication with characters in 2001, interacting with characters from a text is as simple as following them on Twitter. I’ve spent a good amount of time over the past couple of weeks following conversations between the Twitter handles for Sherlock (@StudyinPunk), Watson (@WatsonJohnH), Moriarty (@_JMoriarty), and Irene Adler (@_The_Whip_Hand). Adler was the only one to follow me back. This was flattering, exciting, and slightly scary.

Websites and tumblrs created by fans fall under the category of In Media Res paratexts, or paratexts that “inflect or redirect the text after initial interaction” (35). Some are general sites that serve as an encyclopedia of sorts for the show (Sherlockology.com), while others are more about fandom and feature fan art and fan fiction (221B Baker Street, URL: http://fuckyeahbbcsherlock.tumblr.com). Many of these fan sites have their own Twitter and keep an eye out for discussion of Sherlock online. 221B Baker Street actually re-tweeted one of my Tweets from our #eng576 conversation. It seems that our class discussion is serving as an aid to a paratext, or one of our own, to forward ideas about the show.

Still other fan sites focus on: (a sample from the list on the first post)

–  a specific theme for fan interaction (#BelieveinSherlock includes fan art that show real campaigns to support Sherlock after Moriarty discredits him in the season 2 finale, URL: http://believeinsherlock.tumblr.com)

–  a defining element (Wear Sherlock focuses on wardrobe and props, URL: http://wearsherlock.tumblr.com)

–  a way to let Sherlock fans participate in Sherlock’s cases through discussion of possible theories about the show (Sherlock Theories, URL: http://sherlock-theories.tumblr.com

Exploring Sherlock’s paratexts left me with a question. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is known for having a love/hate relationship with his Sherlock Holmes character. He wanted the character to be placed in front of a large audience for both financial reasons and so his work would continue to receive publicity, but he resented the character for having a bigger name than his creator.

How would Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fare in a world not just filled with multiple incarnations of Holmes, but also in one where websites and Twitter can create a persona that allows fans to communicate with Holmes? Perhaps Doyle would have chosen a spot more definitively deadly than Riechenbach Falls to kill the character. Speaking of the Falls, Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories were also effected by the paratexts of reviews and fan letters in that Doyle was moved to kill Sherlock, and then resurrect him, based on the reactions of readers and critics.

Sherlock Paratexts

I’ve put together some links for Sherlock paratexts. My blog post that discusses them in relation to the Gray article will be up by Monday. For now, feel free to take a look at some of what it out there.

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Official Paratexts:

Dr. John Watson’s Blog

Sherlock’s Website: The Science of Deduction

Molly Hooper’s blog

The late Connie Prince’s website

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Twitter Handles:

Sherlock Holmes @StudyinPunk

John Watson @WatsonJohnH

Irene Adler @The_Whip_Hand

Jim Moriarty @_JMoriarty

@SherlockQuote

#Sherlock

Tumblrs/Websites/Fan Sites:

Sherlockology.com

Believe in Sherlock

221B Baker Street

Sherlock BBC tumblr

Sherlock tumblr focused on fan art

This is a particularly fun one–fans send in “confessions” about Sherlock.

Sherlock Theories

A tumblr focused on the wardrobe and props in Sherlock

A collection of Sherlock fanfiction

 

Trailers:

Season 1:

Season 2: