In review: a few classic movies & books I’ve only just seen

One of my resolutions for 2017, along with learning to apply eyeliner properly and doing my part for the resistance against the embarrassing megalomaniac we somehow have as president, was to catch up on some of the books and movies that have been around forever but I haven’t seen. So far, it’s been a 50/50 battle between me actually seeking out these classics and settling in for my fourth rewatch of New Girl. Here’s my takes (and I should note that I’m not gonna be particularly careful with spoilers here):

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I somehow got the impression, from a young age, that this was supposed to be a raucous, hilarious comedy. I settled in sometime in mid-winter with a glass of wine expecting to bust a gut for the better part of two hours, and boy, that is not exactly what happened. I mean, of course the film is brilliant. Edward Albee is a masterful playwright, and naturally the chemistry between Richard Burton and Liz Taylor is unmatched. You don’t need ME to tell you that. I was mesmerized and rather drained by the end. There are funny moments, certainly, but overall it wasn’t what I was expecting.

Plotwise, I wondered, in the end, why Martha was so quick to let the guests in on her and George’s secret, after so many years of their successfully making it their private joy. Was she just fed up? I don’t know. Maybe that’s the point, the questions that stick in your head after.

The Handmaid’s Tale

This book kept getting referenced in the months after the election, and I knew I had to finally take the plunge. I actually avoided reading this book for years, only because I found the cover so bland and evocative of, I don’t know, medieval peasant women doing their chores or whatever. It didn’t entice me at all, regardless of platitudes that specifically recommend not judging books by their covers.

So I read it, and…wow. It could have been three times as long, first of all. It could have been a series. The world-building that Atwood is capable of is astounding, and yes, I was thoroughly terrified by the implications of this book on our current administration. While I was reading Handmaid’s Tale, I saw at least two other women on the train at various times reading it as well. I think we’re all feeling the pressure, feeling the full impact of what the books envisions and warns against. That, and gearing up for the Hulu miniseries coming out later this month.

The Manchurian Candidate

A woman at my work mentioned that the current political situation reminded her of this movie, so I rented it with that in mind, excited to finally see what I’ve always heard is one of the greatest films ever made. This is one of those things that, for me, suffers from too much hype and build-up. It was a good film, a solid, interesting story, but it didn’t move me too much; still, I wondered if my expectations were too high. Most of the film I found dry and slow to get going. I don’t know if it’s aged particularly well–not in the sense of the story it tells or its underlying philosophies, but the film style is very much Of Its Time and not this one.

That said, I’m glad to be able I saw it. Also: more movies with terrifying Angela Lansbury characters, please.

The Poisonwood Bible

It’s April, but I’m going to go ahead and call Poisonwood the best book I’ll read in 2017. Practically everyone I know read this in high school or college, and I missed the boat, vaguely thinking that it was some kind of modern Heart of Darkness, which I wouldn’t especially care to waste my time on. (I also hadn’t read ANY Barbara Kingsolver before, so I really had nothing else to base this premise on. I know! I’m sorry!)

This book is so good that I wish I’d read it sooner, just so that I could be reading it for the third or fourth time now. Reading it, I felt maternally protective of Ruth May and so proud of Leah and Adah for being just who they were, and I was deeply unsettled by how similar I am to Rachel. Not the whole profiting-obliviously-from-white-supremacy thing, but the innate selfishness, the insecurity and anxiety that leave her fixated on her own comfort at the expense of just about everything else. I am smarter and kinder than Rachel, but I am just about as self-absorbed as she is.

I kept waiting for Poisonwood to disappoint me and it just didn’t. I thought that a novel about the Congo written by a white American woman would, at the very least, make me cringe in its depictions of the native villagers, or African politics at the time, or something. But Kingsolver knew exactly what she was doing–in the afterword, she does state that the only story she was entitled to tell was an American one. And of course, that’s what this is: an American story of imperialism and colonialism and the way that religion and pride (both personally and globally) can destroy families and nations.

I was briefly turned off by Adah’s recovery late in the book, because I hate narratives where disabled characters suddenly get “cured” and become redeemable and live happily ever after, almost as if the only thing holding them back from recovery in the first place was their bad attitude. But this is handled well, too. Adah is proud of who she is and was; she didn’t need to regain use of her left side in order to have a happy and productive life. She treats it as a nice perk to a life she’s already in full control of, not as a groundbreaking change that makes the world beautiful. (That can happen, of course–I’d just rather see it from disabled writers.)

In short, I’m going to see out more Kingsolver books in the near future, in addition to other things I haven’t read or watched. I’ve never read a Shirley Jackson book, friends. Maybe that should be next on the list?

What have you read/watched/experienced for the first time lately?

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