Springtime in DC

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: The Tidal Basin; Washington, District of Columbia, USA

Fort McHenry National Monument

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Fort McHenry National Monument; Baltimore, Maryland, USA

‘The Whale’ – Film Review and Analysis

“‘The Whale’, directed by director Darren Aronofsky shows us how low someone can go when things go wrong in life but also how our lowest lows can also bring out the best of us when it is most important.”

2022 may be over but I am still thinking about the most emotionally impactful movie of the past year, which deserves its own review and analysis. Likely to be nominated for a few Academy Awards at the least an Oscar for Best Actor nomination for Brendan Fraser, ‘The Whale’ is a powerful film about a man’s desire to try to right past wrongs in some way before it is too late. ‘The Whale’, directed by director Darren Aronofsky shows us how low someone can go when things go wrong in life but also how our lowest lows can also bring out the best of us when it is most important.

Aronofsky’s filmography from ‘Requiem for a Dream’ to ‘The Wrestler’ to ‘Black Swan’ to ‘The Foundation’ to now ‘The Whale’ all deal with flawed characters looking to right past wrongs or to find redemption in the most meaningful way(s) before they are past the point of no return. Aronofsky so brilliantly can capture psychological drama and tension in each sense in his movies that by the end, you’re so emotionally affected by it all that it can be hard to wrap your head around what you just watched. As a director, he is excellent at painting a picture of a person or people in distress and how while they may have had good intentions, they are almost too far gone to seek redemption or a new start.

Different from Aronofsky’s past films, ‘The Whale’ is adapted from a play of the same name dating back to 2012 so the screenplay that is written and the way the film is set up is exactly how a play would be seen on the big screen. There are few characters, the plot does not get too murky or complicated, and the setting remains the same largely throughout the whole film.

Film critics today may dismiss this film as lacking scale and scope in its ambition, but I was drawn to how beautifully it portrays what could be real people living real lives. ‘The Whale’ may be a film and fiction but it likely portrays real situations and real tragedies that some people unfortunately come to pass in their life. The film deals with multiple real world issues affecting people from obesity to alcoholism to lost loves to broken up families that most people in life can see how that can throw someone’s life off a cliff and make it almost impossible to recover.

‘The Whale’, as the title makes clear is about a severely obese man named Charlie who weighs around 600 pounds and suffers from multiple health issues because of his weight issue. He is estranged from his teenage daughter, separated from his alcoholic wife, and unable to turn the video screen as an online English professor because of his weight condition that may affect how his students see him. His only interaction is with his friend, Liz, who is also a nurse who comes to take care of Charlie especially with his multiple health issues causing him to be near death and at risk of heart failure.

Charlie has become a tragic figure in that he only has Liz left in his life after suffering the loss of the man who he fell in love with. Because of that love, he sacrificed his marriage with his previous wife and his relationship with his daughter for. After the affair he had with his student, Alan, who is also the brother of Liz, for whom she was adopted by a family and her father who was a pastor in the New Life Church. Liz was able to escape the church’s cultish tendencies but Alan’s possible guilt from being disowned by the Church and perhaps his family as well for his homosexuality and relationship with Charlie caused him to end his own life.

This terrible series of events punished Charlie and his eating condition after the death of Alan exacerbated his obesity and caused him major depression and an inability to form relationships with others beyond his caretaker and friend, Liz. Charlie is not looking for any pardoning of ‘sins’ from God or the Church that disowned Alan but rather the sole forgiveness of his daughter for whom he last saw when she was eight years old. Ellie is not a child anymore but is a rebellious and sullen teenager who misses her father and lashes out at her mother, who deals with her problems by downing a bottle of liquor, rather than raising her daughter to be better. Charlie is no saint in the matter in that he did commit adultery with Alan and led him to neglect his daughter, Ellie, and to push his wife away as well.

He never made amends for having caused them both grief and pain with his impulsive decision. His love for Alan eclipsed his love for his daughter, which he struggles in the film to get back. When the New Life Church’s doctrine and his family’s discontent with Alan’s sexuality, Alan’s suicide caused Charlie to spiral further to eat uncontrollably and to negate his relationships even more by becoming a total recluse who cannot even leave the house because of his body weight and inability to walk or drive a car.

‘The Whale’ also highlights how Charlie is not looking for pity from others or for forgiveness. He knows how much his life has gotten out of hand, but he is hoping to do ‘one thing in his life’ right before it’s too late for him. He believes that while his daughter acts out and despises what he has done, that there is still hope for her and that can she achieve her potential but to more importantly to ‘be a good person.’ It may be too late for Charlie to turn it around in life much to Liz’s, his wife’s, and even Ellie’s disappointment, but Charlie knows that redemption is possible for each of them and that even if he is not there, he will try to leave money for his daughter to have a future, or to tell his wife that he is regretful for him leaving them for his affair, and that he apologizes to Liz for what he has done to himself with the loss of her adopted brother that has strained their friendship in the aftermath.

Charlie does not want to be saved by God or religion or from himself but he wants to know that his life through the birth of his daughter is one thing that he got right in life and that while he wasn’t there for her before when she needed him, he can try to make amends before he leaves the world, and to encourage her to be better than he was, to be better off in life, and to be kind to others. He may have lost hope for himself, but he has never lost hope for his daughter.

Similar to how Charlie encourages his English students to be honest with their written essays, he tries to be honest with Ellie in why he did what he did, how he could have been a better husband to his wife, Mary, and how he let Liz down after the tragic death of Alan. Not everyone can be this honest, but Charlie has nothing left to lose, nothing much to gain, and with not a lot of life ahead of him except imminent death due to his body’s condition.

Despite all the concurring factors, Charlie is trying to regain his humanity and his family back as much as he can recoup after it had been lost even if he has become ‘The Whale’. While he may be misunderstood and loathed like the whale in the book Moby Dick by Herman Melville, he is not beyond redeeming himself in the eyes of others and providing some closure for himself in a life that had gone so far astray yet for which he had also been able to give something out of love back to the world to live on in the form of his daughter, Ellie.  

Boat Ride to Isla Taboga

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Taboga Island, Panama

Movie Recommendations – Volume V

“Colder weather and shorter daylight hours mean it’s premium movie watching season again.”

Colder weather and shorter daylight hours mean it’s premium movie watching season again. Whether it is in the movie theater or at your home theater, this time of the year is best not just for Christmas movies but for watching new releases in general. Between the streaming services, new theater movies, or even documentaries, there are a lot of excellent movies coming out to close out 2022. I recently saw four movies that I would recommend to others with three of them being watched at home and one in the theaters. Even if some of these movies are not in theaters, I would recommend checking them out through Apple TV+ in this case for a short-term subscription.

  1. The Fablemans

A semi-biographical film about one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th and perhaps 21st century, ‘The Fablemans’ is an intricate tale of a genius who discovers his calling slowly but surely through his own ingenuity, his family’s encouragement, and with a little bit of luck. Steven Spielberg may not be named as the main character, but this is his life story told through his eyes and what it was like being a Jewish kid growing up in New Jersey, Arizona, and later California in the post-World War II era as his parents struggle to provide for him and his two sisters.

While Spielberg has this innate talent for filmmaking, he wasn’t always set on doing it for a living and struggled with his own doubts. His parents, while supportive, did not always see where his dream could go and were distracted by the issues in their own marriage that caused a divorce to occur. On top of that, having to move for his father’s work in the dawning of the computer age to communities out west not as friendly to American Jews, Spielberg’s ‘The Fabelmans’ covers the ugliness of antisemitism rearing its head and how Spielberg as a teenager was forced to confront it and the bullies who continue these vile tropes.

While not exactly a feel-good story, it is an excellent semi-biographical tale on how The Fablemans as well as The Spielbergs made his dream work and were crucial to the man who would become the most famous director in the world. It is an immensely personal movie with both its tragic and triumphant moments. It is a story that I believe a lot of us can relate to these days on how to overcome setbacks and trials in the pursuit of a life’s goal or dream.

2. Causeway

Not all wounds of war are physical. If I had to sum up the movie, ‘Causeway’ starring Jennifer Lawrence and directed by Lila Neugebauer, it would highlight how post-traumatic stress disorder highlights those wounds that are mental but brought on by physical trauma. Jennifer Lawrence plays the role of Lynsey, an American Army Corps of Engineers specialist who suffers a traumatic brain injury from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that causes her not just physical pain but PTSD as well. Her memory suffers, her eye and hand coordination, and even her ability to form complete sentences is affected. It is a long road to recovery but luckily, she meets people along the way including a home health aide who cares for her upon her return to the States doing backbreaking work to give Lynsey the chance to get her mental and physical faculties together.

Even after the physical recovery seems to be going well, Lynsey suffers from the PTSD that the explosion caused and the horrific memories of seeing her fellow soldiers die in front of her eyes. While the home health aide and physical therapy helps, as a returned soldier, all she wants to do is get back to the front to continue the work she was doing in Afghanistan. She sees that people including her own mother, who was neglectful to her as a child, while she cares about Lynsey, has moved on without her and doesn’t understand quite what she’s been through. Lynsey finds a job cleaning rich people’s pools in New Orleans where she’s from but doesn’t see it as worthy of her skills she acquired while on active duty in Afghanistan. Lynsey has an older brother as well who is away and out of her life due to his involvement in drugs, so she does not have him around either as a steadying influence.

The one person she does relate to is a man named James who has been through his own trauma involving a car accident that left him with an amputated leg. They’ve both seen more than they would care to in life and they are able to bond with each other despite the difficulties of their past. In a world where both feel increasingly isolated and distant, the bond they share as friends may sustain them for the future and keep them from turning to despair. ‘Causeway’ is a great film that really shows you the reality of what it can be like to return to home from war and the mental and physical scars a soldier can take with him or her that never fully heal.

3. Emancipation

There have been multiple movies about the Civil War and about Slavery, but ‘Emancipation’ is an excellent recent film starring Will Smith as an escaping slave in Louisiana yearning to be free and reunite with his still enslaved family. Antoine Fuqua’s directing is on point in this one with sweeping views of civil war battlefields, old plantations, and muddy swamps with a unique choice of filming ‘Emancipation’ in black and white with red being the only other color represented usually by a character’s blood being spilt. This film does not sugarcoat anything and is based on true events and the real-life story of an escaped slave of Gordon or ‘Whipped Peter’ who was whipped repeatedly before escaping from a Louisiana plantation after killing two of the slave drivers before running towards where Lincoln’s army was fighting around Baton Rouge.

‘Emancipation’ does not hesitate to show brutality on screen as well as the violence of a Civil War battle where freed slaves would fight to liberate others from their enslavement. Some viewers may be turned off by the sheer violence of the film, but I thought that it was a rather accurate portrayal of the cruelty of slave owners, the terrible conditions that they were forced to do labor in, as well as the dogs, snakes, alligators, and muddy swamps that an escaped slave would have to go through to reach the Union Army. Many slaves like Peter who were able to escape were not treated that much better than the Union Army besides being free although they had no choice usually but to fight for the Union to free others and to hope to see their families again if they were able to liberate other plantations.

I would recommend this film due to Smith’s performance, the excellent cinematography, as well as the historically accurate nature of Peter’s experience in escaping from slavery, preventing himself from being captured again and fighting with other African Americans in the Union Army to end the horrors of slavery once and for all.

4, The Banshees of Inisherin

It is not every day where you’re able to watch a comedy and a tragedy take place in the same movie but ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ succeeds on both accounts. Led by an excellent cast including Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan, and Kerry Condon, the fictional island of Inisherin off the coast of mainland Ireland is made up of a real bunch of characters who live out a life of repetition, tomfoolery, and drinking, which is a bit of community unifier. Set against the backdrop of the real Irish Civil War of 1922-1923, most of the Inisherin population is ignorant of what happens on the mainland and choose to tend to farm, to shop, and to drink, often excessively, as part of their daily routines.

One of the main characters, Colm Doherty (played by Brendan Gleeson), is fed up with a life in Inisherin that would revolve around just that and as he gets older, wishes to be remembered for his music and his song lyrics rather than getting drunk each day. That is the premise of the falling out he has with drinking buddy and friend, Padraic, (played by Colin Farrell), and while Padraic is nice, he is not someone Colm wishes to hang out with him again even though they are bound to run into each other.

The friendship was so strong and close that one day when it goes away, Padraic refuses to give up on Colm even though he tires of never getting a straight answer out of him. The refusal to lose out on a friend in such a small community, which conflicts with his desire to remain a ‘nice’ guy in the community causes Padraic as well as his sister, Siobhan, a lot of consternation and disappointment leading Padraic to undertake drastic and even ruthless measures to get his friend, Colm, back.

‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ while a fictional movie taking place in a fictional island is one of the best films of 2022 and is well worth a watch. It will make you laugh out loud, hold a tear back or two, and think of a time where you had a hard time letting go whether it was of a former friend or even a family member due to some personal grievance or a difference that came up. The film ponders some philosophical questions and does not belittle the audience with simplistic answers. It is an excellent tragicomedy and one worth seeing especially for Mr. Farrell and Mrs. Condon’s performances.

Parque Nacional Soberanía

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Soberania National Park; Las Cumbres, Panama

The Panama Canal

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: The Panama Canal – Historic Locks and Visitor Center; Panama City, Panama

Casco Viejo

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Casco Viejo Historic District; Panama City, Panama

Restoring The Social Contract

“If everyone just decided to opt out, to not pay their share, to simply protect everything they have, not only would things generally decay quite quickly but the foundational trust that any society is built upon would crumble as well.”

When we are born, we start off with new responsibilities, commitments, or duties. We are purely helpless and rely on other people to assist us in everything from feeding ourselves to being clothed or to even how to be cleanly. Oftentimes, we rely on our first teachers and friends, our parents, to care for us. Of course, not everyone has the luxury to have both or one parent to care and nurture for them, which is why we rely on adoption, local and state services, and even foster care to make sure those who are young, vulnerable, and in need of care are provided for.

If you did not have parents around to guide and nurture you, it is likely that at one point or another, to prevent you from being hungry and homeless, you relied upon services provided by a local, state, or national government. In exchange for such services provided for in part or by whole by taxpayer funding, you would receive support as a child or teenager to receive public schooling, get publicly funded health care or subsidized health insurance to make it more affordable, and even food if you are able to get breakfast or lunch at no or low cost due to circumstances beyond your control. These different services, especially to the young, the poor, the homeless, or even the elderly are part of what I like to call the ‘social contract.’

By participating in the ‘social contract’, you receive certain necessities to live such as food, shelter, housing, and ideally, health care in exchange for later contributing back to the society either financially through taxes and even voluntarily through charitable donations, volunteering, or being active in the political process. The key thing to remember is that the better the taxpayer money is spent and the more accountable it is in those areas, the better those services will end up being.

Going back to the case of an orphaned or abandoned child, since their parent(s) were not there for them when they needed that love and care the most, who else should step in but society itself? Would it be better to abandon such a child to the streets or to an uncertain future to likely starve, to miss school, to be homeless, and to fall into despair or rather should we as a society remember that it could have been us in that situation as a child or a newborn and to ensure that the child will have the same opportunity or chance to succeed despite being born into uncertain circumstances?

Children or teenagers don’t pay taxes but by investing in them, we invest into the collective future of our society. Even if we use private health care, private schools, private roads, etc., the worse off the general society gets, everyone will be negatively affected by it even if those who are well off seek to shield them from such a deformed society. After using such services rather than not having had them at all, I find that it is much more likely that that child will grow a contributing adult to the general society rather than if we had not collectively invested in him or her at all.

Many such issues in adulthood involving joblessness, alcoholism, drug abuse, higher likelihood of prison can be avoided if there are safeguards in place because a home without parents can lead to a slippery slope of lack of opportunities and an eventual grim future if society through our provided services funded by each of us does not help to fill in the gap.

Now, that does not mean that personal responsibility should not be accounted for, and each person should work hard to achieve their goals and pursue opportunities if they put the effort in. You can’t just be given these services and expect them to give you an easy life. You still must be able to finish your schooling, find work in your field, and become part of the large pot of contributions that keep our society running. If everyone just decided to opt out, to not pay their share, to simply protect everything they have, not only would things generally decay quite quickly but the foundational trust that any society is built upon would crumble as well.

Any well-run society in any country always has two fundamental pillars going for it: accountability and trust. If you only have one and not the other, the society will be on shaky ground and be deteriorating in the other area after a while. If you lose both, the society will generally collapse until it can be built again after re-establishing at least one of these two fundamental tenets after it has taken hold in the general population again. Advanced societies are inherently fragile because if you can’t be held accountability regarding why certain services are not given when you believe you are paying a lot into the society and feel like you’re not getting much back in return that you can see, feel, touch, or enjoy, then there is a big issue at hand.

If there is no accountability given on behalf of those who provide such services like health, housing, defense, basic services such as water, energy, or even food production, then people will become increasingly distrustful of each other and seek to provide those services themselves outside of the state or society or focus on only having private means of acquiring such services, which due to the profit motive, may leave part of the society out in the dust if they cannot afford the private services and there are no public ones available as a substitute.

As U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr. once said about the means of taxation, “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.” As much as people will complain about their taxes, if we don’t have them, how else would we provide for clean water, clean air, reliable energy, good schools, safe streets, plentiful hospitals, etc.? The key idea to keep in mind is that if we don’t see our taxes going to these areas that improve upon society or advance it further for the well-being of the population, then there is a lack of accountability there that should be rectified.

Waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer money is a serious offense and so is an inability to break down for the taxpayer where their money goes to fund local, state, and national services year after year. Collectively, there should be a role in taxpayers demanding accountability from those in power to know where are taxpayer money is going, how can we make it more responsive to societal needs, and are we reaching enough of the population to justify the level of taxes we incur?

While it is seriously unlikely, we ever get a full accounting of where our tax money goes individually, it would improve the trust and accountability tenets of society to know which percentage of our taxes are spent on health care, housing, safety, defense, education, etc. and if we have that general idea, I do believe there would be more transparency to change those percentages at least at a local, state, or even national level to be more befitting with the priorities of the general public.

If we see that millions of people do not have access to public or private health care, perhaps our societal priorities can change to accommodate for that in the general contract. If we believe that economically, our roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, and public transit are not enough to compete in the 21st century, that should change the calculations. If our schools are crumbling, our teachers are underpaid, and the schoolchildren with parents or no parents are growing hungry there because there is no free lunch or breakfast accommodated for, that should change the calculations.

These are all good examples of how our general societal contract can be expanded and adapted to. Everybody, regardless of their social class or economic upbringing should have basic dignity afforded to them. I believe that social contract needs to be upheld especially if we are paying into it but not getting enough out of it in exchange. When health care, housing, food, and even school are considered luxuries rather than necessities, that contract is fraying and needs to be strengthened.

If our society becomes complacent and does not allow for such public services including health care and housing to care for all, either it will be privatized or it will vanish from being accounted for. We should begin to account for the societal contract where if you work hard, play by the rules, pay your share, and invest back into your community and country, you should get back what you put in especially if you need a leg up when you fall on hard times. Public necessities like education, health care, housing, and good public transit should not at all be considered luxuries.

We should believe it to be absolutely absurd to hear about people with two jobs not able to afford housing, two hard working parents not able to afford to send their children to publicly funded colleges and universities, or even going bankrupt because you have taken on too much medical debt. The societal contract we pay into and hope to receive back in return is fraying when that becomes not only common place in the society but accepted by the population. There should be push back in terms of accepting that kind of contract, which has to be either rewritten or redone entirely.

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a speech on January 6th, 1941, titled the “Four Freedoms” speech. It addressed what should be what we would consider common sense for a social contract to be based on but during the era of Nazism, fascism, and totalitarianism on the march, it was a key historic event where he lined out what people around the world regardless of birthplace, creed, ethnicity, and background should be born with. They are the freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. Without addressing the whole of human needs from birth, Roosevelt argued that the general society in the United States and in countries around the globe would be worse off.

While FDR did not specifically mention health care, housing, education, or infrastructure in his speech, it can be inferred that economic security made up the ‘freedom from want’ part of the four freedoms. If we do not have a roof over our head, food in our belly, medicine, and care when we get sick, or school / work to give us opportunities to afford such needs as we age then general insecurity and the society itself will fray as a result.

Roosevelt understood that if the social contract does not include the four freedoms or the additional needs encompassed within these four freedoms of humanity, then our societies and the world at large will fall victim to another war, another depression, or general malaise and misery. FDR may have given this speech on the ‘Four Freedoms’ over eighty years ago but his words and his call to action remain as ever necessary in our society today. If there is a child without parents, we must be there to provide and care for his or her future, if a teenager can’t find work, we must provide that community college or technical education to give him an opportunity to succeed, and if that man or woman can’t find a way to get health care when they get sick and are in between jobs, we must step in to fill the void.

Simply put, the social contract is what we decide it is if we work together and find common ground on where it’s lacking based on what we pay into it and how we implement it to see the benefits of what comes out the other end. There is no doubt in my view that the four freedoms of FDR should be upheld and strengthened, especially around economic security or the ‘freedom from want’, which would eventually ensure that more and more of the general population would have the means to pursue their dreams, to be better able to succeed, thrive, and live their lives to the fullest extent.

Welcome to Panama City

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Panama City, Panama

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