‘Up In The Air’ – Film Review and Analysis

“The choices he has made haven’t caught up to him yet, but he is on the path he has chosen that while unorthodox to most leaves him satisfied and content with who he is.”

Ryan Bingham has chosen a different life path than most people he knows. Instead of staying in his hometown, reveling in the glories past of high school and the diner down the road, he wanted to leave his roots and his family for his true passion in life: being up in the air and striving for excellence as a motivational speaker. The choices he has made haven’t caught up to him yet, but he is on the path he has chosen that while unorthodox to most leaves him satisfied and content with who he is.

Bingham (played by George Clooney) is at a crossroads in middle age where he has forgone the responsibilities that are normally achieved by most people his age with a house and a picket fence, being married, and maybe having children. He has forgone all that for an industry on the rise sadly at the time the film is set in and for being out on the road and up in the air for 250+ days of the year. He advocates for a life in motion because if he is not moving, he is not actually living.

His work like his constant travel is an unorthodox industry where he works as a human resources consultant traveling both domestically and internationally to do the dirty work of firing or ‘letting go’ employees in person and providing them with transition packet(s) that the company that’s firing them is leaving them with to help them in the ‘transition’ period. It is a rough job that due to the 2008-2009 global recession has made his HR consultancy firm as needed as ever. The one industry at the time that is gaining jobs rather than losing jobs, Ryan finds himself at risk of having his life of work travel outsources to advancements in video technology (about ten years before Zoom and Skype became mainstream).

While Ryan Bingham is not at risk of getting laid off like so many other working Americans during the period of the Great Recession, the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s, Bingham is at risk of losing his life of travel on the road due to firing people via telecommunications video instead. To make matters worse, his boss Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) is tasking him with having a new hire out of Yale University, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) shadow his in-person firings for a few months as the company, CTC, makes the transition to virtual consulting instead of letting those employees go in-person from now on.

That is not the only change that threatens to upend Ryan’s life choice as he has met a charming, attractive woman who has the same lifestyle as him and appears to see life as he does with less commitments and more choice. Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) is the constantly traveling business woman for whom Ryan may have finally met his match. While they started out as a casual fling, Ryan begins to develop feelings for her as he ponders his uncertain future of life on the road as well as the fact that once he achieves his life goal of ten million airline miles accumulated may not have much to strive for.

Ryan and Natalie may not show it at first but the firings and the emotional weight of being responsible for upending people’s lives cause them stress, anxiety, and a desire to break free of their own pains in doing the job they have chosen. While Ryan is content with travel on the road, he hears from his estranged sister, Kara, that his other, younger sister, Julie is getting married. Ryan left home when he first could leave and never looked back, and his family still remembers that. He is the ‘black sheep’ of the family, known to pursue his own gratification while letting his relationships deteriorate over the years.

Having Alex as a love interest has reignited his desire to see his sisters again and to be there for the wedding in northern Wisconsin. Him and Alex are still a bit of a mystery to each other, but they enjoy each other’s company, and he invites her to join him as the +1 guest, not wanting to be the ‘guy alone at the bar’ watching all the couples enjoy a dance together. There are these moments of vulnerability interspersed through ‘Up in The Air’ that remind the audience that all these characters have their own flaws and shortcomings. They are not perfect people, and the film does not judge them outright but allows the audience to decide if they are admirable or detestable or a bit of both. What I love most is that the film director and writers allow us to decide if we agree with Ryan’s choices or if we would have chosen to go the other route in life that he has neglected.

Sometimes, it is never too late to choose a different path than the one that we have set out for ourselves. However, whether we can pull back from previous choices made and to get a fresh start on a new path, is one of the underlying themes of ‘Up in The Air.’ Ryan can try to start a real relationship with Alex, make amends with his sisters and be more present in their lives, and still achieve his 10-million-mile goal but life can get in the way so it’s possible he will not be as successful in salvaging both his relationships, his career goals, and his need for travel. Even if he thinks he can be successful at keeping everybody in his life happy, he may have to make sacrifices as in life, it can be nearly impossible to keep all options available to you.        

The priorities we make now while end up defining us far into the future and there may come a time where the sacrifices, we make in one area may lead to a lack of connection or attachment or fulfilment in another area. Throughout the film during Ryan’s motivational speeches, he talks about the ‘stuff’ in life weighing us down whether it’s our relationships, our possessions, and even our desires. He makes the point in the audience that ‘life can be better footloose’ and not as tied down to suffer from it. However, what the film makes clear is that when you find real happiness in a relationship, can you pivot to slowing down with that heavier backpack you carry around because you feel fulfilled to do so? Can Ryan make room for a real relationship with Alex or his sisters to give up life on the road so his backpack will be heavier, but he’ll still be happier as a result, and maybe that what’s he was missing all this time around?

While Ryan is a ‘road warrior’ and enjoys not being attached to anyone or anything, who will be there for him if he must stay at his scant one-bedroom apartment in Omaha or if he were to be fired from his job where he fires other people. The film brilliantly shows real people who’ve been through real loss in terms of their jobs and livelihoods, and how while it is almost impossible to get through it, they could not keep going on without their responsibility to their families or the love that their families show for them in those tough times. In life, it always helps to have a good support system or to have good people like family motivating you to get you through the tough times.

Ryan may be prepared for a life unattached now, but he may find as he gets older, that his choice to not have many or any attachments at all may lead to the loneliness and pain that then can come from facing life’s hurdles alone, especially when you don’t truly get to know the person because you are so busy traveling and can’t make time for them at all. As Ryan says to his sister Julie’s husband-to-be, Jim, on their wedding day to help him get over his ‘cold feet’ at getting married, “Life’s better with company.”

“Got to, This is America, Man…” – Anatomy of a Scene

“‘The Wire’ is the greatest television show of all-time. Even as the show nears the 20th anniversary since when it first aired on American cable television network, HBO, it still rings as culturally relevant and as emotionally stirring as it was when it first debuted in the Summer of 2002. While technology may be different now, the characters would not be the same, the setting could be different from the show, the overall themes, and messages from ‘The Wire’ as well as the institutions that the show focused on for five great seasons have not changed that much.”

‘The Wire’ is the greatest television show of all-time. Even as the show nears the 20th anniversary since when it first aired on American cable television network, HBO, it still rings as culturally relevant and as emotionally stirring as it was when it first debuted in the Summer of 2002. While technology may be different now, the characters would not be the same, the setting could be different from the show, the overall themes, and messages from ‘The Wire’ as well as the institutions that the show focused on for five great seasons have not changed that much.

I could write a thesis on ‘The Wire’ and devote at least 10,000 words on the show in terms of an in-depth breakdown on how it’s the modern equivalent to a Shakespeare tragedy or drama. However, in this ‘Anatomy of a Scene’, I am going to focus on one of my favorite scenes in this classic television show. This scene is the opening one for the entire five-season series and discusses a core tenet of the show not just about what kind of ‘game’ that the characters play, but also the ‘game’ inherent to the setting of Baltimore, Maryland as well as America as a country.

The opening scene, more than any other scene, even if it is the 1st, one pinpoints exactly what ‘The Wire’ is about. In the first shots, you can see a young man lay face down dead on the ground on some dark city street with the police collecting evidence and a main character, who is a detective, questioning a potential witness. The associate of the victim talks about how they were involved with street gambling and how it was not fair that it was not right to kill the victim, non-ironically known as ‘snot boogie’ to the game’s players. The victim of the crime has a real name but is endeared to the rest of the game’s players by that nickname alone.

As the witness explains to Detective Jimmy McNulty of Baltimore Police, ‘Snot Boogie’ was the victim of the crime, but his associate did not expect him to be killed for stealing from the other players of the street game for playing craps. The associate tells McNulty that the victim is known for stealing and grabbing the money to run away but they never want beyond just ‘beating his ass’ up a bit.

While it is a grim description of the dangers of gambling illegally on the streets, the witness to McNulty’s murder case explains that there is an unwritten rule to the ‘game’ of street gambling and that ‘Snot Boogie’ should not have been murdered for stealing from the other players. Nobody ever tried to kill the victim even after he was found guilty of stealing money from the street game players even if they did often catch him and beat him for having done it multiple times.

The witness refuses to tell McNulty who killed his associate in this game and does not want to go to court even though he believes it was disgraceful how ‘Snot Boogie’ was killed because they always let him play even though he would always steal from them.
“I got to ask ya, if every time Snot Boogie would grab the money and run away…why’d you even let him in the game?”
“…What?”
“If Snot Boogie always stole the money, why did you always let him play?”
“Got to, This America, man.”

McNulty looks incredulously as the witness tells him this reasoning because at its face, it does not make much sense for a guy who steals from folks repeatedly to continue playing a dangerous and illegal craps street game. It’s clear to both characters that life itself, and life in America is far from being fair at the end of the day especially a man got killed, which was against to how the game was being played, according to the witness, even if he was stealing from them.

Even if the game is fair or is rigged to some degree, it occurs to the witness and then McNulty after he sees the guy’s reasoning that even if the game was not meant to be won and the result would always be the same, you still let the game play out. The game may not be fair like life itself in general or in America, but it must be played by everyone. It may not be a fair shot and there is no equal outcome, but there is equal opportunity out there for each player to be involved even if someone cheats, steals, and comes back to play again. The game exists for everyone to be given a shot at it and if they don’t, that’s against the principle of life itself and life in America.

There are tragic consequences to this craps game for Snot Boogie who loses his life senselessly as well as for the men who will go to jail for it or lose all their money, but the game goes on and it’s open to everyone. Like the witness explains, the game deserves to be played by everyone equally although the outcome may not be something everyone will like or even will cost some people dearly. This excellent opening scene opens with the most prominent themes of The Wire perfectly and almost seems like a graphic novel come to life. Its visuals are striking, the characters are who you can relate to on a human level, and there is a lot of foreshadowing about the rest of the show and its messages to the viewers from this tone-setting scene.

‘The Wire’ is a show about the early stages of 21st century America in its first decade of the 2000s but it is as still as relevant about 20 years later. The metaphor of this opening scene for not just a couple of guys in a craps game gone wrong in the street can pair directly too what can happen when capitalism can go off the rails when someone tries to beat the rules or try to gain an advantage when they are put at a disadvantage to begin with. If the game is rigged from the get-go even if you’re given a shot at it, what’s the point in playing by the rules? If you can beat the system even if there are dire consequences, is it not worth trying?

‘Snot Boogie’s associates knew he was a thief and a cheater because they believed that he still deserved a shot at winning like everyone else even though it was likely rigged so he would never make it after multiple tries. As the opening scene of the greatest television show of all-time shows the viewer, everybody can play the game even if they are a cheater in the sense of having equal opportunity, but what happens when no one is held accountable when the odds are stacked against them from the start of the game and there is no other way to win than by cheating the system and facing serious consequences?

The show may not be defined by its iconic opening scene but as you find as you watch the entire series, the metaphor for what that scene represents about the show and about the ethic that binds American society together long after you finish watching each of its five seasons.

Anatomy of a Scene -‘The Life We Chose; The Life We Lead’

“One scene that conveys that ‘movie magic’ to me is a scene of verbal confrontation between Paul Newman and Tom Hanks in ‘Road to Perdition’ (2002).”

Movie magic is an illustrious concept to grasp but it often happens when you have those special moments to show off the full acting prowess by men or women at the top of their game. Moments like these are increasingly hard to come by when most movies today focus on non-stop action, horror, or thrills without taking the time to stop and let actors perform their best to act like real people in real situations. One scene that conveys that ‘movie magic’ to me is a scene of verbal confrontation between Paul Newman and Tom Hanks in ‘Road to Perdition’ (2002).

In another article, I wrote about my thoughts on this beloved movie of mine now almost twenty years of age but still ripe for a rewatch for me whenever the weather gets colder, and the sun goes down earlier. ‘Road to Perdition’ is a serious film with serious actors. This particular scene titled, ‘The Life We Chose, The Life We Lead’ lets these two juggernauts of Hollywood use their acting skillset to the fullest without any action distractions or cheap thrills.

Director Sam Mendes and the late and great Cinematographer Conrad L. Hall are able to use the muted lighting, the wide lens camera to help focus all of the audience’s attention on Hanks’ and Newman’ characters at a pivotal scene in the film. A good movie lets the attention focus in on the actors and heightens the importance of the dialogue so that nothing is missed, and every word, facial expression, and bodily movement means something to the plot. I fully appreciate this scene because it strips down the movie to its bare bones and puts its faith in the leading actors who make it a great film to begin with. When you are surrounded by great talent, you don’t obscure their abilities but rather let them shine in their roles for all viewers to enjoy.

Without spoiling too much ahead for readers who have not seen the movie, this ‘Road to Perdition’ scene focuses on the evolving conflict between Irish American Mob boss John Rooney (played by Paul Newman) and his loyal enforcer turned outcast named Michael Sullivan (played by Tom Hanks). They are at odds over the murder of his wife, Annie, and his youngest son, Peter, early in the film by John’s only son, Connor, who is now on the run from Michael but whom is being protected by John and his mob associates throughout the Midwest U.S. Both John and Michael find themselves protecting their own sons from each other while mourning the loss of their own special ‘father-son’-like relationship.

The old English idiom of ‘blood being thicker than water’ looms heavily in this dark scene as both men must sacrifice their friendship, their employer-employee relationship, and perhaps their own kin for these acts of bloodshed to stop. In this movie, the Road to Perdition or ‘hell’ is paved with the bloody sins that each man has committed to save the innocence of those they still love.

‘Road to Perdition’ – Confrontation (Scene)

The metaphors of the scene itself especially at the beginning speak for themselves. John and Michael meet secretly in the catacombs of a Church basement where their talk of murder and betrayal is almost drowned out by the church choir practicing above them as they try to avoid more bloodshed. Similar to angels singing from heaven, the men are in ‘hell’ as they confess to each other how as ‘murderers’, they’ll never see ‘heaven’ like the dark catacombs they find themselves meeting in away from the light of the church or of the day.

In a last-ditch attempt to save John from certain death at Michael’s hand, Michael Sullivan tries to convince John that his own son is betraying him. Michael alleges that Connor is stealing from John and has been opening bank accounts while taking money from the men that Michael has killed on Connor and John’s orders. As an enforcer for the Irish mafia, Michael thought he was helping John keep control over his mob empire, but he instead was lining Connor’s pockets with blood money.

Amazingly, John is aware of all this even before Michael gives him the account statements from all the money Connor has been compiling over the years. With remorse and regret in his eyes, John Rooney admits to Michael that he tried to protect Michael from the fact that he was working for Connor and not himself but that he still loved him ‘like’ a son. The key word in their discussion is ‘like’ because Michael is not John’s son, but Connor is. Both men must do what’s in their son’s best interests even though they don’t always see eye to eye with their own sons.

John gave Michael and his wife Annie a home, consistent income, and the ability to live a middle-class American life and in return, Michael killed on John’s behalf and tried to protect his family from the gritty truth of being an enforcer. Michael lost Annie and Peter because of his murderous past but it is not too late at this point in the movie for his only remaining son, Michael Jr. Connor knows Michael Jr. is aware of the murders of his mom and brother along with Finn McGovern, a man who Connor was stealing from so Connor wants Michael Jr. dead. Michael Sr. and his son are on the run from Connor, but they know that once John Rooney is dead, the rest of the mob will give up Connor leaving Michael Sr. in a devastating position of playing ‘cat and mouse’ with his former boss.

Michael Sr. tries to reason with John to give up Connor to spare John’s life. John won’t allow Michael to kill Connor as revenge while he’s alive even though Connor murdered Annie and Peter previously. John can’t let Michael Sr. keep using his losses as a justify for another murder, which would be his son, Connor. “There are only murderers in this room. Michael! Open your eyes! This is the life we chose, the life we lead…and there is only one guarantee: None of us will see heaven!”

“Michael (Jr.) could.”, Michael Sr. hopefully responds. With his mob ties gone, his family torn apart, and his livelihood evaporated, Michael Sr. has one mission left in life and that is to protect his son’s innocence. Michael Jr. is a good teenage boy shielded from his father’s history of violence. To make Michael Sr.’s life worth living, it is worth protecting his son from Connor, his father John, and the rest of the Chicago mafia. Even if it means Michael Sr. dying to protect his son, it would be worth it to Michael to protect his son’s innocence and prevent him from becoming a murderer. At this point in the film, Michael Sr. knows just what to do and that involves killing John, who will keep hunting the two of them to protect Connor, his son.

To have Michael Jr. see heaven, to not go down the same path as his father, to live a full, happy life away from the violence and bloodshed he has already bore witness to, it is up to Michael Sr. to do what he must to protect his son from John’s son. The choir stops singing at the end of the scene signaling that Michael Sr. must decide about what to do once and for all about John.

            “And if I go?”, Michael Sr. asks of John if he lets Connor and John live.

            “Then I will mourn the son I lost…”, John tells him and walks away, with tears glistening in his eyes.

Michael Sr. finds himself with an impossible decision that his life of murder has led him to. Either he lets John, his boss, go free and let Connor escape as well, or he must stay and kill John for not giving up Connor to him. Either John will mourn ‘the son he lost’ meaning Michael Sr. or Michael Sr. will end up mourning the death of John, the ‘father he loved’ even though they are not related by blood.

Throughout this pivotal scene in the film, you can see the many years of friendship, love, and trust that each man shared with one another. Despite them leading a notorious life of crime and violence, they know they have done wrong and will eventually pay for it in this life or the next. The cinematography even indicates from this scene that they may end up perhaps in a ‘hell’ like in the catacombs of a dungeon that they find themselves in now with no exit in sight and away from the singing angels above them in heaven.

However, Michael Sr. knows his son must not lead the same life of misfortunate, pain, and regret that he has. While Connor, John’s son, is now a murderer like John is, Michael Sr. resolves to sacrifice his own innocence to protect that of his own son before it’s too late. In the process, he must continue to avenge the deaths of his wife and other son to protect the only precious thing he has left in this world. Even though he loves John like a ‘father’, he is the only man standing in the way of killing the man who murdered his family and preventing that same man from killing his only son left.

Both men walk away knowing that one of them is going to die after this meeting. The question remains: which man will it be and who is willing to sacrifice himself first to save their own son in the process? This scene of ‘Road to Perdition’ is one of the best in the film because it allows two great men of acting stature do what they do best with just dialogue, emotion, and having amazing chemistry between them even in a fictional world. It’s why I believe this scene and this movie is one of the great films of the 21st century and to which I will keep returning to watch in the future. When acting professors want to show a great scene of pure dialogue, I hope they choose to show their students this one because it will long live on in pure film lore and reverence.

A Premonition from Wall-E

“You cannot argue against the fact that the creators of Wall-E were trying to warn the adults in the audience that this vision for humanity is a lot closer to reality than we would like to imagine.”

The beauty of Pixar movies is that they are not only for children to enjoy but adults as well. Many Pixar movies from Toy Story to Finding Nemo to The Incredibles carry important lessons regarding how to be caring, how to look out for one another, and how to stand up to injustice. Children enjoy the characters and the visuals while adults enjoy the lessons behind the main storyline. We understand how it can be painful to give up childhood toys in ‘Toy Story’, we understand the value of a new friendship earned as in ‘Finding Nemo’, and we deeply get the humdrum of the 9 to 5 day job that’s unfulfilling, but you need the money to survive or to feed a family as in ‘The Incredibles.’

The most powerful example of Pixar bringing adult anxiety and familiarity to life would be in its central ‘premonition’ in their hit film, Wall-E. What the movie ‘Wall-E’, released back in 2008, did was essentially predict where we are heading in 2021 potentially and where we could be by mid-century even though the movie is set in another eight centuries in the 2900s. The central ‘premonition’ or prediction that the film Wall-E makes is about the state of our beloved Planet Earth in the far future although that future in 2021 seems a lot closer to our collective reality than it was even thought of back in 2008. In the Pixar film, the Earth has become a garbage-strewn, hopelessly polluted planet with corporate greed, blatant consumerism, and environmental collapse being the norm rather than the exception. On top of all that, there are robots who do 99% of the labor that humans used to do.

In a particular scene that has stuck with me over the past decade is the sight of exceedingly overweight people in electric motor-scooters being hypnotized by their screens, totally oblivious to the environmental damage and neon advertising signs now in their periphery. In this bleak vision of the future, humans have let themselves go while robots have picked up the slack. Robots steer the ships through space and like Wall-E, they are forced to find a planet for recolonization that can suit humans now that the Earth has become an open-air garbage dump. Poor Wall-E.

Although you could say that this vision is a bit nonsensical in that everyone on Earth has become hopelessly dependent on robots, screens, and consumer goods to make it through the day, you cannot argue against the fact that the creators of Wall-E were trying to warn the adults in the audience that this vision for humanity is a lot closer to reality than we would like to imagine. 

While the film does not mention how did the Earth get so polluted where it’s become inundated with garbage everywhere or how did humans get so overweight, you can tell the writers were using a possible worst outcome scenario if we don’t try to look after ourselves better and to look after the planet that we love. ‘Wall-E’ takes the dystopian vision of the future to the extreme, but I would say that they are trying to take us to the worst-case scenario to make it clear how bad things could still get if we don’t start cleaning up our own act.

In 2021, who could argue with the fact that there are some sadly overweight people who cannot get around without motorized scooters, the fact that there are certain people who interact more with screens than other human beings, and that the fact that there are certain areas of the planet that have ceased to be livable because they are indeed open-air garbage dumps. The brilliance of a premonition is that it is essentially one vision of the future, and it does not necessarily mean that it will come true. This premonition of the movie Wall-E is not just a dystopian vision but a warning to humanity. Even back in 2008, we were warned that if we don’t start taking care of ourselves and the planet, life as we know it in the future will be worse. To those of you reading this article who would say, “It’s just a Pixar movie and is just fiction! Why should we take a fictional Pixar movie seriously?”

To that critique, I would say that there is often truth found in fiction and just because it’s not a true story and is an animated movie does not mean we should not take the film’s central message seriously. If you see the entire film, the average viewer should realize the main message of Wall-E is to always take responsibility for one’s actions because if one person doesn’t in terms of neglecting their health, their lack of care for others and the planet, and to obsessed with the latest technology, that one person’s behavior causes ripples throughout society causing life for everyone to get progressively worse.

The first part of the premonition where we can change our actions so that this warning does not come true is to stay active, eat healthy, and exercise. To end up like a person who is carried around on a motor scooter and can’t even walk around or push buttons anymore is no good way to go through life. Many people today live sedentary lifestyles and are less physically engaged than previous generations. Each person really must work at it to stay physically active if their work or lifestyle does not encourage it. Hopefully, Wall-E encourages more people to take the initiative to take their health seriously because being tied to technology, to consumer goods, and to the latest food fad can end up causing this part of the premonition to become a reality for more and more individuals.

The second part of the premonition where we can change our actions to stop this premonition is to lessen our addiction to technology. Screens are inevitably part of our present and our future, but we must continue to monitor our screen usage, encourage reading and other activities that are not done on screens, and to be able to take a day or more away from screens from time to time. In Wall-E, the people being carted around were staring at their screens continuously like zombies without being aware of the outside world. They didn’t even pay attention to Wall-E when he zips on by and he’s a living robot! I’m sure each of you reading this article has your own story of seeing someone on their phone as they walk across the street not aware of cars driving by or of someone else driving a car and staring at their phone screen rather than paying attention to what’s ahead of them on the road. Technology can help our lives out in many ways, but it is addictive, it is invasive, and it also can cause us to make deadly mistakes. Wall-E clearly warned us back in 2008 about the setbacks of being addicted to our screens.

The last part of the premonition that is most worrisome not just for individuals or for society but for the entire planet. Rampant pollution, poor air quality, lack of trees and vegetation are the main planetary problems highlighted by Wall-E. While the movie doesn’t cover how Earth became uninhabitable, it lays the blame squarely on human beings and our lack of care for the environment. The planet as depicted is filled with garbage, essentially having become an open-air landfill. Because of the Earth being ruined, Robots have must help humans find a new home but there is an underlying message there that how can we not ruin another planet when the Earth was not taken care of? When you can no longer breathe the air or drink the water, what good would a new planet do if the same mistakes are to be made? The environmental impact we are having on our planet has been known for decades and it was made known to the audience in Wall-E back in 2008 but it’s now getting late into 2021 and sadly, it seems as if environmental damage and climate change is getting worse, having greater impacts, and causing us to look more seriously at the fact that the planet might not be habitable for future generations to come.

When you look at Wall-E, you see an animated robot who is both goofy yet cares enough in trying to save Earth, which is seemingly past the point of no return in the movie. I hope we never get to the point in the far future when robots care more about the planet than we do to save it. Wall-E’s central premonition has come true in some aspects of life, but we do still have enough to change ourselves, our society, and our planet so that the premonition does not become a reality. There is indeed truth in fiction and Wall-E is an excellent film that shows us how if we don’t pay attention to the warnings laid out before us, we will make the same mistakes as the human characters do in Wall-E.

Anatomy of a Scene – Suds on the Roof

“For Andy, getting three beers a piece and to have some suds as him and the guys work outdoors in the heat is worth the perilous personal risk that he put himself through to make it happen.”

Sometimes, it pays to speak up and be heard even if you’re a convicted felon. Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) is a few years into his prison stint at Shawshank State Prison in rural Maine. He proclaims his innocence to Red (played by Morgan Freeman, his good friend in the prison, who still has a hard time believing him even though the two have become close first as Andy’s provider of cigarettes and posters of centerfold actresses and models but has become more of a confidant despite being skeptical of Andy’s claims of innocence. He tells Andy “Everyone in Shawshank is innocent, don’t you know that?”

As Red also explains, prison is no fairytale world and Andy runs into a rough crowd of prisoners who sexually assault and physically beat him to a pulp. Prison becomes very routine in that Andy tries to fend off his attackers, does his duty at the massive laundry room, and collects rocks in the yard to shape and polish with his rock hammer as a hobby to pass the time. Red also exclaims in the film, “Prison time is slow time…and a man will do almost anything to keep himself occupied.”

It is through his budding friendship with Red and his connections to the outside world that they can finally break the monotony of prison life and to have a small taste of freedom by bribing a few of the prison guards with cigarettes and whiskey to win the job of tarring the license plate factory roof. While it is arduous, backbreaking, and tiresome; it’s also Summer in Maine, a “fine month to be working outside”, and comes with more outside time in the prison and other special privileges, according to Warden Norton. With a small bribe and maybe some extra names in the sorting hat, Andy, Red, and their associated group of inmates win the job with no other prisoners being suspicious of how they won the prized work outside.

This scene that I like to call ‘Suds on the Roof’ focuses on the men at work with the hot tar with the summer heat bearing down on them. The head of the Prison guards gets fleshed out as a character when we learned that his brother died as a rich man being worth over $1 million dollars, which in the early 1950s would be 20x the amount today in 2021. Byron Hadley, being the vindictive, petty, and cruel man that he is likes to play the victim on how he is only getting $35,000 from his brother despite calling him an ‘asshole’ to the other guards and complaining on how it’s not enough or how the government and others will take some of that money he didn’t earn but inherited. This is a brilliant detail at the beginning of the scene to show just how pathetic and small he could be as a character, which is great writing by the film’s writers, because you begin to grow to detest how vile a person that Byron Hadley is.

Andy Dusfresne, our main character in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ overhears Byron’s ‘tale of woe’ about inheriting money from his recently deceased brother and seeks to take advantage of the situation by knowing that his tax and finance knowledge as a banker may play to his advantage. The way he stops mopping the tar, walking over awkwardly, and coming up from behind with the guards’ backs turned away from him is terror-inducing when you first see this scene. Andy’s crew, including Red, implore and yell at Andy to keep ‘his eyes on the mop’ and not to antagonize a vicious man that Byron is because they know from experience how senselessly brutal and violent, he can be to the inmates for no reason at all.

Andy, in this scene, he is as cool as a cucumber and basically tunes out their pleas of him to keep mopping and ignore Hadley’s tale of woe. Andy goes up to Hadley and says a few choice words that almost get him killed within the next few seconds. “Mr. Hadley, do you trust your wife?” That simple sentence has a lot of implications such as that she may be cheating on Byron and has been unfaithful to him but it’s really about Andy asking about their financial relationship although his poor choice of words almost leads to Byron throwing him off the roof of the license plate factory and then calling it an ‘accident’ with the outside world beyond Shawshank none the wiser about his actual premeditated cause to murder Andy.

“Because if you do trust her…there’s no reason that you can’t keep that $35,000!” …In just a few seconds, Andy’s quick thinking and knowledge of one tax-free gift to your spouse or wife helps keep Byron from throwing Andy off the roof to certain death. Andy is trying to save Byron some money and exclaims quickly that he can give his money up to $60,000 in a tax-free gift hence why Andy awkwardly started to ask him if he trusts her implying if he would trust her with such a large sum of money and if she would take care of it properly for him. Byron knows Dufresne as all the guards do as a ‘smart banker’ who ‘killed his wife’ and is worried that what Andy is advising him to do would be illegal and get him in trouble with the IRS and the law.

Andy assures him that this tax-free gift is entirely legal and if he doesn’t believe Andy, Byron can ask the IRS to check and make sure. Byron still looks down on Andy and doesn’t need his help to get all the money, but Andy replies fast that unless he wants to pay lawyers or a financial advisor to do it, which would cost a lot of money, Andy exclaims while hanging from the edge of the rooftop that he would do it for Byron nearly free of charge! Andy only needs the forms to start preparing him and the only cost that he asks for in return are a few beers for him and each of his “co-workers”, which is a hilarious aside that Andy would refer to his convicted inmate friends as co-workers rather than fellow prisoners. Even though they are in prison for life, most of them, they still form bonds of friendship to survive in terrible conditions, with a sociopathic warden and a vicious head prison guard preparing to harm or even kill them if they step out of line.

Now, the most surprising thing about this scene is that the ‘nearly free of charge’ refers to a specific brand of beer, “Bohemia style” as Red puts it and for them to be “icy cold” especially to quench the thirst of the hard-working prison crew toiling to tar the roof day in and day out. Andy, in a sense, wants to feel like he is doing his banking job again and instead of receiving a salary for just himself as he did before, he instead wagers his life to get beers not only for himself but for his crew of friends he recently established. He is selfless in this way in that he does not think only of himself but thinks of those others who deserve that small moment of freedom by drinking “cold ones” on the roof at “ten o’clock in the morning.” For Andy, getting three beers a piece and to have some suds as him and the guys work outdoors in the heat is worth the perilous personal risk that he put himself through to make it happen. For Andy, it was to help him feel a bit less like a convict in a prison on a life sentence and a little more like a free man, if only for a short while.

I believe Andy wanted to feel a bit more normal such as like him and his friends were tarring the roof of their own houses and to sit with the sun on their shoulders and feel free and have a bit of happiness in grim circumstances that they find themselves in day in and day out with little hope to their chances of getting out of prison. As Red indicates towards the end of the scene, they can make Byron, the guard, seem magnanimous or even ignored altogether because they have sun and they have cold beers and they have each other, which is more than the convict crew has had all together in years probably.

Andy is selfless to the end in this scene showing his true character as not of a cruel murderer but someone who even if unclear yet to the audience was wrongfully convicted, whose intentions were pure, and who missed his previous life as a banker and wanted to “feel normal again, if only for a short while” as Red so eloquently puts it. In this scene, we begin to see Andy’s true nature as a human being: awkward and clumsy at first but very brave, empathetic, and a kind heart that not only Red’s friends realize from his selfless act but that the guards also see even if they have to follow Hadley’s orders in dealing with him. Andy was offered a ‘cold one’ at the end of the scene but tells one of the convict tarring crew that he gave up drinking.

Red speculates to the audience watching as to why Andy would refuse the beers that he almost died to get but then realizes in the narration that it wasn’t about getting the beers at all or helping Hadley get wealthier, it was to have that freedom to choose again, to have a choice without asking for permission all the time from the guards, and to feel a bit of life again within the drab and gray walls of Shawshank. The freedom of choice is directly related to having free will, which was taken away completely from Andy and other prisoners. He wanted to restore it again briefly to have a bit of normalcy and break up the sheer monotony and harshness of prison life.

Andy would like to think and have again for a moment where he is not a mere convict but a human being worthy of some simple dignity, choice, and a small taste of freedom for some brief moments asking for those cold beers and if he must almost die for that freedom, it was worth it to him in the end. That feeling of ‘normalcy’ to Andy as Red puts it was the real driver for him to put himself at risk and to feel good about it after, to smile and feel some small sense of happiness that had been missing for so long. Lastly, Andy did not just do it for himself but to help his friends who had sustained his spirit in the drab prison even after being beaten, abused, and almost worked to death in the laundry room. It is not he who deserves to feel somewhat normal again alone but his crew as well who worked tirelessly to mop hot tar in the summer without any prospect of real rewards or gratitude. The beers were not just for him but for Red and for the others to feel like ‘free men’ and to be the ‘lords of all creation’ in their minds and in their hearts, if only for a short while.

‘The Terminal’ – Film Review and Analysis

“Perhaps that is what endears Viktor so much to the audience in this film is that he does not give up hope, makes the best of the awful situation he is in, and even starts to befriend other airport workers who are often ignored, underpaid, or even mistreated at times by both customers and their employers.”

A lot of us know what it is like to wait in an airport and have to stay overnight at one because your flight runs into an unexpected delay whether it’s due to a plane’s mechanical issue, or there are weather complications, or if a global pandemic cancels your flight unexpectedly. Whatever the cause of your delay, I am sure you never have had to live in an airport for months on end let alone for more than a day. The questions you should ask yourself though if you could put yourself in this following hypothetical scenario: What if you couldn’t leave the airport upon arrival in a new country? What if the country you just left, your home country, underwent significant political changes or even revolution overnight leaving you stranded? The very underrated yet enjoyable ‘The Terminal’ movie asks these unique questions.

A mix of fiction and non-fiction, a concoction of drama, comedy, and a little bit of tragedy all together, ‘The Terminal’ is a 2004 American film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta Jones. The premise may seem out there of someone being stuck in an airport for months or years but ‘The Terminal’ is partly based on the true story of a real-life refugee. Mr. Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee lived in Terminal 1 of Charles de Gaulle Airport and was considered ‘stateless’ for many years and was denied entry into France while also not being expelled from the airport. In total, he lived in the de Gaulle airport for over 18 years and only left from there in 2008 when he was moved for medical treatment and then a Paris shelter.

Nasseri, like ‘The Terminal’s main character have that premise in common of not being able to enter their new chosen destination but also having the right to live in the airport without being expelled. Viktor Navorski (played by Tom Hanks) is on his way to New York City from the fictional Eastern European country known as ‘Krakozhia’ looking to fulfill a personal mission, which is unknown to the viewer right away. We see images of him arriving at JFK along with thousands of others looking to visit America from far-flung countries. However, a routine Visa check and Passport stamp ends up as a nightmare for poor Viktor.

While Viktor was flying into John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, his country underwent a political revolution and civil conflict leaving him without international recognition of his Passport since Krakozhia no longer has a recognized government. Since his passport is no longer valid, he cannot enter the United States because the U.S. does not recognize the country anymore due to the ongoing civil strife. Viktor is now ‘stateless’ as he cannot return home and he cannot leave the airport rendering him stranded there. Viktor is forced to remain in the international transit lounge and is not given much help by Frank Dixon (played by Stanley Tucci) who would much rather Viktor leave the airport to get arrested so he becomes someone else’s problem. Mr. Dixon, the Acting Field commissioner for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, gives Viktor only a handful of food vouchers and a calling card but not much else to get by on.

Viktor has a destination in mind for his New York City trip but has limited English skills when he arrives and is only able to tell the CBP officer the name of a local hotel but does not go into much detail about why he is going there and what the purpose of his stay might be. Without his passport and his return ticket, Viktor’s life shrinks down to the international transit lounge at JFK airport where he spends his days collecting luggage carts to order Burger King, accidentally breaks a young girl’s luggage, and slips, falls when he runs to see news about Krakozhia because the Indian American janitor enjoys seeing people slip for his only entertainment.

Eventually, Viktor becomes accustomed to living in an airport and at first, while both daunting and scary to the stateless refugee, he adapts to his new living conditions with some ingenuity and perseverance. He constructs his own bed by dismantling the arm rests of the seats at an abandoned terminal, he learns English through travel guides and by watching the scroll of news information come across the screen to keep up to date with what is going on with his beloved Krakozhia and can both shower and shave somehow when using the airport bathroom.

Human beings have an innate need to adapt to our surroundings even when they are unfamiliar, foreign, or stressful for us. Perhaps that is what endears Viktor so much to the audience in this film is that he does not give up hope, makes the best of the awful situation he is in, and even starts to befriend other airport workers who are often ignored, underpaid, or even mistreated at times by both customers and their employers. The power of perseverance in the face of obstacles makes ‘The Terminal’ a heartwarming and memorable film. Instead of getting down on life and giving up on his situation, he turns the tables on Frank and the border agents by not falling into their traps that they set for him. He makes his own happiness. One of the best moments of this film is when a random gentleman is shaving alongside Vikor, stops for a second, and says to Viktor, “Do you ever get the feeling that you’re just living in an airport?”

Being stuck in an airport terminal means a lot of time on your hands too. Viktor spends his almost limitless time in waiting by honing his skills as a carpenter and a painter even getting himself a job that allows him to earn money ‘under the table’ as a contractor mostly so he can eat. He befriends the CBP officers he sees each day even though they continue to deny his tourist visa due to his invalid passport. One CBP officer whom he gets to know very well is Dolores who Enrique (Diego Luna) has a massive crush on and would like Viktor to ask her questions to start an eventual conversation with her.

In return, Enrique gives him some extra airplane meals that he delivers on to the planes. Gupta, the janitor who at first makes fun of Viktor for slipping and not seeing the ‘wet floor’ sign eventually gains respect for Viktor because he makes him feel less lonely. Viktor befriends other transit lounge employees, plays card games with them over ‘lost’ items never picked up by passengers, and is able to win the admiration and possible affection of Amelia, a wayward flight attendant who ends up caught in a ‘love triangle’ between Viktor and another man.

While Amelia is always on the go and can’t seem to stand still in her relationships or in her job, Viktor is the exact opposite in that he can’t go and must always stay. Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones have real chemistry in this movie and represent how different their characters are from each other but can bond over their shared humor, interests, and lust for life even if they are opposites in an ironic sense with where they are in their lives, one stuck in limbo and the other always on the go.

The main mystery that I will not spoil for you is why Viktor flew halfway around the world to be in New York and what exactly is in the Planters peanut can, which he won’t let go of even after being in the airport for nine months. More important than his passport or return ticket, the closed Planters can contain the reason for Viktor’s trip and how he ended up this limbo state even though he has a place to go to before he returns to Krakozhia.

By the end of the film, you and the rest of the audience are rooting for a happy ending for Viktor and even for perhaps with Amelia as well. You also see heartwarming stories of Viktor helping a fellow Krakozhian in need of translation help, aiding Gupta with staying in his job and the U.S., as well as getting Enrique and Dolores to successfully date and marry each other.

‘The Terminal’ is perhaps Spielberg’s most heartwarming, underrated, and emotionally uplifting movie in his storied career as one of the world’s greatest directors. With great acting and an impressive accent by Hanks, lovely humor and touching romantic scenes with Zeta-Jones and the excellent Stanley Tucci who plays a man who can be cruel but also compassionate in the same scene but ends up as the film’s antagonist. This film has a little bit of everything and will make you laugh, cry, and even cheer at the ending.

‘The Terminal’ is a reminder that we are all waiting for something or someone in the winding road that is life itself. Sometimes, we get sidetracked, turned around, or even stuck in an airport for days or months even, but we always can find a way to make the best of our new surroundings, even find happiness or love in the place where we least expect it. Viktor Navorski as I would say is a real mensch who finds himself in a terrible situation, one not of his own making, but is able to create an odd life out of being given nothing and is able to help others and become a favorite of the JFK international transit lounge, which is a place that people want to get out of as soon as possible. He can’t leave but he ends up enjoying the long stay thanks to his compassion, kindness, and genuine warmth as a good person.

Anatomy of a Scene – ‘At A Crossroads’

“Sometimes, the only way to move forward in life is to look for a sign or in this case, a person to help guide you in the right direction.”

“You look lost.” “I do?” “Where you headed?”, “Well, I was just about to figure that out.”

There are moments in life where the road ahead looks vague and uncertain, where we struggle to figure out what happens next or what should we do next. You can have a map with you, and you have an idea of where you want to go but there are four directions ahead and you’re not sure whether to go north, south, east, or west. Sometimes, the only way to move forward in life is to look for a sign or in this case, a person to help guide you in the right direction.

A brilliant movie in its own right, ‘Cast Away’ is about a man whose life is upended by mother nature and who will never be the same again. Without spoiling too much of the movie, Chuck (the main character) loses years away from his wife, his job, and his lifestyle and while he was away from it all, the world moved on without him. Most heartbreakingly, he cannot get back the time he lost working for FedEx or being with his wife or integrating back into his former lifestyle after having his life upended by mother nature.

Similar to how oftentimes in our lives, people move on without us. Friendships sometimes end, romantic partnerships fizzle out, and loved ones can grow distant from us on purpose or by accident. The message of the ‘Crossroads’ scene that I have included above is that life goes on with or without us and if we are still here on the planet, we cannot hold on too tightly to the past and must instead try to chart a new path forward even when that is often difficult to do.

This particular movie scene is one that a lot of us can relate to right away. You’ve finished your education, maybe you’ve quit a job, or you decided to retire and are wondering, ‘what’s next?’, which is an essential question of the human condition. It is hard to pause when you’ve had a routine upended or a part of your life just end one day, and you are not sure what will come next. You may have a couple of choices pulling you in different directions and you are looking for a sign of what to do next. Sometimes, that sign comes to you based on a significant item, object, or memory that pulls you in a certain direction but oftentimes, we just have to make the best decision that we have based on our thoughts and assumptions on the way forward. After making ‘crossroads’ decisions of my own in life, what’s important to realize is you have to make some choice and not stagnate in your own worries about what could happen. The worst decision would be to make no choice at all and let your life stay in a perpetual kind of limbo. Chuck was close to doing just that in ‘Cast Away’ before he found the sign that he needed in an unlikely place.

This ‘Crossroads’ scene starts exactly with that image of a crossroads on a non-descript road in middle America, which could be Kansas but is actually somewhere in rural Texas. Chuck, our protagonist, looks lost as he gets out of his car at this dirt crossroads, takes a big gulp of water in the hot Texan sun, and gets his large USA map out to chart his next decision. He just left the house of someone whose package with ‘angel wings’ helped him a lot during his isolation from civilization and for which he brought back their package as a way of thanking him or her. The people in Chuck’s life have moved on without him and he is not sure what comes next given he is a free man after years away from people but at the same time has lost his wife, his job, and his previous lifestyle to one fateful event that was out of his control, and which seemed like an act of God or mother nature.

Any part of this scenario would frighten and subdue even the most resilient person in the world, but Chuck is resilient albeit perplexed on how he ended up where he is without a sign of a compass to chart his way forward. When Chuck reaches this four-way crossroads and stops to check his map, a woman in a red, flatbed truck comes up to greet him and see if he needs any help and if ‘he is lost.’ She tries to give him advice on whether to go north to Canada, west to California, or eastward bound to the coast but he seems resilient if not a bit stubborn after being on his own for so long. Still though, the redheaded woman is kind and sweet in her manner and she says back to Chuck, “well, alright, good luck, cowboy!”

As the sweet-natured woman starts to drive away in her truck, Chuck notices something he’s seen before. A pair of yellow angel wings at the back of her truck’s bumper that he’s seen before on the package he had with him all those years. He knows now that the package he delivered was the one to her house and it was her package! A range of emotions hit Chuck all at once as he becomes shocked, bemused, and then pensive as if he should follow her or not.

Most intriguingly, towards the end of this scene, chuck now with the first sign in a while of where he might go next in life, stands in the middle of the four-way crossroads thinking about the woman whose package had such a big impact on him in his years-long solitude and how likely it is that he finds her attractive as well as kind. The camera pans out to show him in the middle of the crossroads looking at the different directions where he could possibly go next but then the camera lingers on his face as he moves to the direction where he really wants to go. It is the redhead’s truck’s direction down the long, sloping road ahead and Chuck begins to smile as he finally knows where to the long road of his life should end up next.

It is a very poignant and moving scene as we all must make decisions like Chuck in terms of where we want to go next in life. These decisions are hard to make and sometimes involve real regrets but also lead to joy, peace, and happiness. We must do our best to choose wisely in life, but like Chuck did, we must look for the signs where and when we can, and then we must make a choice because not making a choice is not living at all, it is merely existing and that is no way to go through life.

‘The Last Samurai’ – Film Review and Analysis

‘The Last Samurai’ (2003) is an epic drama film that takes place in a unique period of Japan’s history and highlights the conflict between modernization and tradition, between cultures, and also between different styles of warfare. However, it is not just the conflicts that are highlighted in this film but also the cooperation and the understanding that can happen as well in certain aspects such as between cultures. While this film is not specifically based on a true story, it is based on a number of true events that took place in the latter half of the 19th century for Japan and highlights the role of Western influence in Japan during the period of the Meiji Restoration or Reforms.

The main character, Nathan Algren (played brilliantly by Tom Cruise) is a Captain in the United States Army of the 7th Cavalry Regiment. Nathan is a veteran of the American – Indian Wars and perhaps the Civil War as well. He is a bitter man who is suffering from trauma related to the atrocities committed against the Indian tribes during these brutal battles. When the film starts, we can see that Nathan is an alcoholic who is regretful over the orders that he had to follow and what happened to innocent Indian women and children whose lives were disregarded by his commanding officers.

However, for lack of purpose or money, or perhaps both, Nathan is recruited by his former commanding officer, Colonel Bagley, whom Nathan still resents for his role in the Indian massacres, to help train Japanese soldiers in the Western way of combat to put down the Samurai rebellion, which is ongoing in Japan. Algren is dealt a bad hand as he has to train peasants and not actual soldiers who are firing guns for the first time and would be better suited to the farms than to the battlefield.

In addition to that, he is expected to lead them soon into battle against the Samurai for which they do not have enough time to prepare. One of themes of this film is how good men are often corrupted by following misguided orders by their superiors and often end up harmed, captured, or killed for the negligence or ignorance of those with a higher rank. Nathan is a good soldier, but he cannot train peasants into soldiers in the time that is given to him especially when he is not familiar with the ways of the Samurai and how lethal they can be compared to his peasant conscripts.

In the battle between his soldiers and the Samurai, the Samurai end up killing most of them through surprise attacks and then an ambush in a refusal to fight the way of the ‘modern’ army that Nathan has assembled. One of Nathan’s fellow American army colleagues is killed in the battle while most of his army is decimated. Undeterred and with nothing to live for, Nathan fights the Samurai ferociously and is able to hold his own. Instead of killing him, the Samurai’s leader, Katsumoto, decides to capture Nathan instead and hold him as their prisoner. Unbeknownst to Nathan, Katsumoto sees something in Nathan and believes that he is a good warrior, who although tries to kill the Samurai, may be one of them due to his capacity to fight to the last breath.

At first, Nathan is not treated kindly by the Samurai given that he is a former enemy and that he also killed the husband of Katsumoto’s sister who resents Ethan’s presence in their village. Nathan also has his preconceptions and stereotypes regarding the Samurai and their culture. Over time though, Nathan starts to acclimate to his new life as a prisoner. He embraces the Japanese language and culture as well as earns the respect of the other Samurai by learning swordsmanship as well as how to train with others.

He also finds he has an affection for Katsumoto’s sister and ends up befriending her son as well. While it is not easy, he gains an appreciation for the Samurai and their way of life. He even begins to resent the modernity and the loss of the tradition that is being imposed on them by the imperial Japanese government. In this way, ‘The Last Samurai’ does an excellent job what it means to ‘go native.’

When you live in another country for long enough, you start to really embrace certain aspects of the culture and also if you take a liking to the language, you may realize you may want to stay there now that you’re acclimated rather than return to a home culture or country whose flaws become so visible to see when you were blind before to them. This movie does a great job of showing ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and how powerful it can be over time especially if you have a romantic interest in a woman or a man after a long enough period of time.

Algren is also no longer haunted by the nightmares of what he experienced during the Indian wars and has also forgone alcohol as he has found other ways to sustain himself while living with the Samurai. Perhaps most importantly, he develops a friendship with the Samurai’s leader, Katsumoto, who explains to Nathan their worldview and while preserving their 1000-year heritage is so important to them all. Nathan agrees with them and starts to see how important the ways of the Samurai are to Japanese culture and customs themselves.

The biggest turning point in the film is when Nathan begins to fight alongside the Samurai against attacks by both Ninjas, which one of the coolest scenes I have ever watched still. It is an amazing scene when you have Samurai battling with Ninjas and it is a very powerful point in the movie to show Nathan help save Katsumoto’s life. The Samurai are so dedicated to their way of life that they will die or commit ‘seppuku’ (suicide) to preserve their honor.

Without giving away the rest of the film, we can see that the Japanese emperor is being betrayed by big business interests and Western nations in the rapid attempt to modernize. While Japan was right in that it needed to catch up in areas of commerce and warfare, it is also important to remember the ways of the Samurai and to remember their customs as well. It is not right to destroy an important part of their culture and erase it from the history books.

That is what the Samurai leader, Katsumoto, and also Nathan wanted to preserve even if they knew that they were fighting a losing battle. A culture’s customs must be remembered, and its history remembered by all even if the country is to go in a new direction. ‘The Last Samurai’ makes it clear that even if there are no more Samurai, their memory must be retained in the national consciousness and it is important for Japan to not be belittled or bullied around by other powers. Receiving western advice, arms, and goods was a paramount need at that time but not at the sake of destroying a part of Japan that made it a special nation to begin with.

‘The Last Samurai’ is a powerful film because it reminds us all how customs and traditions form the backbone of a country’s culture and its’ history. While nations shift and change, the traditions and customs should never be forgotten by its people. That is the main message of the film and why the Samurai fought and died to preserve their place in Japanese society rather than be changed into something they are not. Becoming ‘Western’ because they had to be was an insult to them and something, they were against in an effort to remain as ‘Samurai’ in whatever capacity they could in order to serve the emperor.

It is a powerful film and also shows the redemption of Nathan Algren who went from a drunken soldier without purpose to a powerful Samurai commander who was able to integrate himself as best as he could into a foreign culture and even earn the love of a woman whose husband’s life he had ended. ‘The Last Samurai’ has many themes to it and each one of them are powerful. Remembering traditions, seeking vengeance, earning one’s redemption are all themes to the film and make it stand out still today as one of the best films of the 2000’s and maybe of this young century still. I hope you will check it out soon and please always remember the Samurai.

‘Ex Machina’ – Film Review and Analysis

The rise of automation, the development of artificial intelligence, and the increasing likelihood that robots who look like us and act like us will become major parts of the next few decades of the 21st century and beyond is not a new phenomenon. Going back to the 1950’s and even earlier, human being have predicted through popular media and culture that the future would have advanced intelligent beings who would aid us, support us, and perhaps even dominate us. Recently, the popular culture seems to have gotten more specific and more in line with the technological developments of today of how artificial intelligence may look not hundreds of years from now but rather mere decades from now.

Television shows like ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Westworld’ approach the rapid growth of technology and the rise of artificial intelligence with unease and even dystopian consequences. However, the main message that these two TV shows can agree on is that these types of scenarios are not a matter of ‘if’ it will happen but ‘when’ it will happen. Now, obviously these shows are science fiction and are not based in truth but it is becoming more and more difficult to say that it is impossible for the world to look somewhat like a mix of ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Westworld’ by the latter half of the 21st century.

While these shows are very black and white by mainly displaying the damage that virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and big brother surveillance can do to our societies, the excellent film ‘Ex Machina’ deals with shades of gray correctly when dealing with this phenomenon. As some of the television shows that are currently popular deal with the advent of robots and AI with total dismay and unease, ‘Ex Machina’ is more balanced in its perspective and points to a conclusion that is left to be interpreted by the audience in its repercussions for humankind.

While it didn’t gain much notoriety or was a big hit at the box office, ‘Ex Machina’ released in April of 2015 in the United States garnered critical acclaim, especially for its visuals. The film won for ‘Best Visual Effects’ at the Academy Awards and was also nominated for ‘Best Original Screenplay.’ Alicia Vikander, who plays ‘Ava’ the humanoid robot that has a high level of artificial intelligence also was nominated and won a few major awards for ‘Best Supporting Actress.’ The film was directed by English novelist and director Alex Gardner and despite it being a science fiction-based concept only had a film budget of $15 million dollars. In addition to the talented actress Alicia Vikander, other up and coming actors like Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac play the other two leading roles. While they are currently known for their high-budget roles in the new Star Wars series, they really get a chance in this film to shine as actors in a movie that centers on dialogue and emotional expression.

The film’s plot begins rather innocuously with pretty spot on references to our world today. A programmer named Caleb Smith (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who works at a Google-like worldwide search engine company known as ‘Blue Book’, similar to Facebook in its name is chosen to meet with the Sergey Brin or Larry Page of this fictional world one-on-one for a week. It’s an office contest that Caleb surprisingly wins and which everyone congratulates him on since this tech CEO is known to be reclusive and does not give interviews. The CEO of ‘Blue Book’ is Nathan Bateman, who lives isolated from humanity in a luxurious mountainous estate that seems to be more of a fortress than a home. Nathan only lives with one other person, Kyoko, who is his personal servant but it is unclear who she is really since she does not speak English.

At first, Caleb is excited to meet his tech idol especially since his boss has developed the first humanoid robot who has passed a simple Turing test, which is quite the triumph where man cannot tell if he who he is talking to a robot or a human being. This special humanoid robot was built and designed by Nathan, and is kept in a singular room in an apartment-like setting within the fortress for which she is never allowed to leave. Unlike other fictional depictions of humanoid robots, it’s clear from the outside that Ava is a robot and does not have a humanlike appearance although Nathan has given her a human face that slowly disarms Caleb in terms of his apprehension of speaking to her and asking her questions. It is clear that Ava is extremely advanced in terms of her artificial intelligence and is curious about who she is and about the outside world.

After a little while, Nathan reveals to Caleb that the real reason he brought him here to his isolated complex was to ask Ava questions to see if she is capable of independent human thought and whether she is conscious of them and her actions. Nathan wants to break the barrier to see if his humanoid robot can relate to Caleb on a human level and to express emotions such as sympathy, remorse, happiness, and even romantic feelings. The big surprise about Ava is how much she is able to turn the tables on Caleb and get him to reveal more about himself than he finds out about her. She is able to connect with him very deeply and even plant ideas in his head regarding her suspicions about who Nathan is and what does he really want.

What once starts out as mutual respect and fascination for Nathan’s work on AI and robotics, Caleb grows to distrust Nathan due to his lack of respect for his servant Kyoko, who is a humanoid herself. Nathan is an alcoholic, quite narcissistic, and uses his robots for personal pleasure and not much else. Nathan is quite controlling of his latest creation, Ava, and is distrustful of her motives when she is around Caleb.

Without spoiling the rest of this intriguing movie, the running theme that binds these three characters together is how they use each other to further their own means. Ava is using Caleb to pursue her potential future away from Nathan and her isolated life, Caleb is using Nathan to absorb his knowledge and to discover more about this AI phenomenon he has created. Nathan is both using Caleb as a test subject for Ava and to also use Ava for his own pursuit in dominating the field of Artificial Intelligence and the future of robotics.

The end of this film, ‘Ex Machina’ has quite a few unexpected twists and turns that will leave the audience member speechless. This movie does a great job of posing questions about the future of humanity and whether we will be able to control artificial intelligence and the sentient beings that may end up usurping us if we are not careful. It’s fascinating to see the humanoid robot character of Ava self-actualize herself throughout the film and her ability to use emotions and feelings to manipulate and best her human creators is astounding. Compared to any other recent science fiction offering, ‘Ex Machina’ is the most realistic in telling us the story of how the latter half of the 21st century might go.

There are many unanswered questions to think about when it comes to this film. Will we be able to control and harness artificial intelligence always or will they be able to usurp our status as the most powerful beings on the planet? What will the relationship be between advanced intelligence creations and human beings? What will AI and humanoid robots expect from human beings and what should we expect from them? Is it right to play God and develop artificial intelligence to the point where they can think like us, act like us, have emotions like us, and even look like us like another face in the crowd.

I am no expert on artificial intelligence or the future of it but I believe that this film ‘Ex Machina’ is important to watch because there may come a day soon in our lifetimes where the possibilities that are laid out in this film come to fruition. We may want to look at ‘Ex Machina’ with different perspectives but we should be united in the fact that these issues and questions are not going away anytime soon and will likely become more prominent and pressing as the 21st century rolls on.

We ignore the message, the theme, and the scenarios played out in ‘Ex Machina’ to our own detriment. If you are reading this review of ‘Ex Machina’ and are intrigued more about what the 21st century may bring, I would definitely recommend the book by the author Yuval Noah Harari titled, ‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’, to gain further insight into how the rest of this century may shape up. If one thing’s for certain, our world is changing quite rapidly and it may lead to being beyond our total control as human beings not too far into the future.

English Corner – Conjunctive Adverbs

Today’s English grammar topic is one that is often overlooked but can really help you become more advanced in using the language if you know how to do so correctly and by following the rules behind it. What I am referring to are ‘conjunctive adverbs’ which can help improve your sentences in terms of the meaning and to explain further about each independent clause within the sentence.

Conjunctive adverbs are words that are used to join two or more independent clauses into one sentence. A conjunctive adverb can help you to create a shorter sentence that still contains the necessary details to be complete. When you use a conjunctive adverb in a sentence, it’s necessary to follow the main rule otherwise it won’t work out.

The main rule for the placement of a conjunctive adverb is to put a semicolon (;) before it and a comma (,) after it. There are very few exceptions to this rule and without observing it, the sentence structure will suffer as a result. 

Example

  • We have many different sizes of this shirt; however, it comes in only one color.

Some examples of conjunctive adverbs are: accordingly, also, besides, consequently, finally, however, indeed, instead, likewise, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, next, otherwise, still, therefore, then, etc.

More Examples

  • The due date for the midterm paper has passed; therefore, I could not submit mine on time.
  • There are many history books; however, some of them may not be accurate.
  • It rained hard; moreover, lightning flashed, and thunder boomed.
  • The tired baby fell asleep; then, the doorbell rang, waking her up.
  • The law does not permit drinking and driving anytime; otherwise, there would be many more car accidents.

Conjunctive adverbs look like coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, so, for, yet, nor); however, they are not as strong as coordinating conjunctions and they are punctuated differently. Compared to coordinating conjunctions in particular, there are many more words out there that can function as conjunctive adverbs. There are a lot less coordinating or subordinating junctions out there when compared to the amount of adverbs that can be used for conjunctive purposes. 

A conjunctive adverb is also used in a single main clause. In this case, only a comma (,) is used to separate the conjunctive adverb from the rest of the sentence. There’s no semicolon (;) in the case of these examples so it’s important to remember that you don’t always need a comma and a semicolon together in between your conjunctive adverb.

  • I woke up very late this morning. Nevertheless, I wasn’t late to school.
  • She didn’t take a bus to work today. Instead, she took the commuter train.
  • Jack wants a toy car for his birthday. Meanwhile, Jill wants a dollhouse for her birthday.
  • They returned home. Likewise, I went home after the party.

List of the Most Popular Conjunctive Adverbs

  • accordingly
  • additionally
  • also
  • anyway
  • besides
  • certainly
  • comparatively
  • consequently
  • conversely
  • elsewhere
  • equally
  • finally
  • further
  • furthermore
  • hence
  • henceforth
  • however
  • in addition
  • in comparison
  • in contrast
  • incidentally
  • indeed
  • instead
  • likewise
  • meanwhile
  • moreover
  • namely
  • nevertheless
  • next
  • nonetheless
  • now
  • otherwise
  • rather
  • similarly
  • still
  • subsequently
  • then
  • thereafter
  • therefore
  • thus
  • undoubtedly
  • yet

Overall, there are dozens of conjunctive adverbs that can be used in the English language but the ones I’ve listed above are definitely the most common. The job of an adverb is not to always connect two main clauses but it can happen so it’s important to be aware of how and when the ‘conjunctive adverb’ can be used in a sentence.

We do sometimes used adverbs to connect ideas together. In addition, conjunctive adverbs are supposed to connect words, phrases, and clauses together in order to create great sentences that flow really well and have a deeper meaning. By using conjunctive adverbs well, you can provide smooth transitions in a sentence from one independent clause to another one. The conjunctive adverb has a really important purpose within English grammar and I hope this blog post will help you, the reader, to use it to better your writing skills and reading comprehension. 

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