Movie review: Elle (2016)

Elle is a rather disturbing movie that reveals the complexities of life and motivations. The relationships and lives of those in the movie are not neat and tidy. Some aspects about their lives can be envied. Some rejected. Some motivations seem rational. Others not so much. In other words, Elle reveals the lie that the lives of others are perfect. We see the messiness.

Michele is a successful, powerful business woman. She is rather no-nonsense, whether it is dealing with employees, her son, or lovers. But she also seems a bundle of contradictions. A strong woman who won’t take attitude from anyone but submits to violent rape. A strong woman who seeks boundaries with lovers, but then acquiesces. A woman who juggles different lies but then reveals them one evening.

After a violent rape in her house, Michele does not go to the police but rather gets on with her life. The rape ultimately does not seem to bother her. She tells family and friends and that’s that.

Later her reasoning for not reporting the rape is made clear: she did not have a good past with the police. When she was 10 years old, her father committed mass murder. As a child, she was paraded through the media. Now decades later, her elderly father is up for parole again. A TV special about the murder is being aired.

Could the rape have something to do with the mass murder of her father (who is still hated by the public)? Or could it be the hatred felt for her at work? At her company, which produces video games, someone produced a rape scene with her visage on the victim. This scene went viral in the office.

Michele receives text messages from the rapist, as if he is taunting her. Where is he? Who is he?

Michele ultimately discovers that he is someone she knows. And yet she not only does not report him, she goes out of her way to interact with him. After a car accident when no friends or ex-lovers were available to help, she turns to her rapist. She flirts with continuing a consensual rape relationship with him.

In the end, for reasons unknown (or at least unfathomable), she decides against the relationship. She informs him that she will go to the police. He attempts one last rape.

Michele’s motivations and life are not the only ones that are messy. Those of her family and friends are too. Why does her son remain with a woman who is abusive and gave birth to a son who is clearly not his (though he attacks anyone who says otherwise)? Why did the wife of her ex-lover, best friend, and sometime lover reconcile with her and plan on moving in with her? Why did the ultra-religious wife of her ex-rapist/lover accept Michele’s relationship with her husband? Life is messy—not the enviable neat and tidy façade that people typically show us.

Elle is not for the faint of heart—the movie includes some violent scenes. But it offers a fascinating look at the complexities of motivations and relationships. We are not rational but are the product of the past, which shapes our motivations.


Movie review: Ex Libris: The New York Public Library (2017)

Ex Libris is an odd documentary. I don’t know that I have ever seen one quite like it. It’s a…voyeuristic documentary.

Rather than being a narrative that pushes towards a conclusion, Ex Libris has no narrative or narrator. The documentary is a collection of meetings that we the viewers watch. We are voyeurs to the things that happen in the libraries, whether it is a board meeting or a recording of a book for the blind or kids programming robots.

Ex Libris takes us to different branches in the New York Public Library system where meetings, talks, readings, and discussions are taking place. The goal seems to be to show us all that libraries are in the modern age and how they are staying relevant.

Libraries are so much more than collections of books. They are hubs for community centers—with everything radiating out from them. They partner with different organizations—government, private corporations, schools—to fulfil community needs. They might work with others to provide support to immigrant communities, mental health initiatives, after-school programs, family and childhood literacy, and the homeless.

Ex Libris shows a library system that is continually stretching, growing, and learning to intertwine more with others to provide exponential value. What libraries can do is limited only by their imagination and funding. Community outreach and advocacy is constant…as is fundraising.

Thrown into the mix is a discussion about digital inclusion—what that means and what the library needs to do to succeed in it. Providing access to the digital world is not sufficient. That will not solve the digital divide between those with digital access, knowledge, and skills and those without. More is needed to include all in the modern technological world. Libraries need to have—and at least in the case of the New York Public Library are having—this discussion.

The thoughtful discussions that the library is involved in is inspiring. Those working in the library system are constantly pondering the role of the library and how to enrich the community and the lives of those in it. The question is not: are libraries relevant, but in what ways and to what depth should they be relevant.

Ex Libris shows us all of the ways that the New York Public Library is deeply intertwined in the community. Some of the services and collections offered were things I did not even imagine, such as a picture collection for anyone to use, recording books for the blind, dance classes, or job workshops. Others were more mundane outreach (at least to me) such as book groups, lectures, or author talks.

The implicit message of the documentary is powerful—the library is more relevant than ever in a digital age and can partner with other organizations to provide deeper, enriching experiences for the community. The format of the documentary with no overarching narrative or explicit drive to a conclusion left me feeling uncomfortable. I wanted to turn off the documentary rather than be a voyeur. I wanted to see a story unfold rather than eavesdrop on meetings and groups using the library.

However, the documentary did one thing. It made me want to move to New York City just so I could use their wonderfully vibrant and relevant library system.

Art favorites: Mushrooms on a Blue Background

Mushrooms on a Blue Background is stunning for its boldness of color and shapes. It seems deceptively simple, as though anyone could have painted it. But this just isn’t the case. Rather the painting shows that talent can make something look so simple that isn’t.

I love the shades of blue and brown, the shadows that the mushrooms throw, the lines around them delineating their boundaries—and how all of these make the entire painting pop.

Mushrooms on a Blue Background
Marsden Hartley
American, 1877-1943
Indianapolis Museum of Art