Notes on Cinema 01.
I speak for Nathan.
Like you, I love a love story. In its fated, fierce, fantastical shades. With its pleasant denouement. Issa Rae’s Insecure knitted love stories, didn’t it? Especially in that final season.
Some perception will reveal an important truth to you though—the main love story was Issa and Molly’s. Ultimately, Insecure is about finding oneself (one’s confidence, aspirations, preferences, and safe space) in this daunting world. But being fortunate to have your Molly. And the rest of the squad.
I wish to highlight one love story, the glaring one—Issa and Lawrence’s. And although so many were pleased with how that ended, I was engrossed in a sad, inevitable part of the story, one that is typical to most love stories. I call it the ‘collateral damage’. We often ignore the collateral damage because we are selfish narcissists who think all is well as long as we (or the protagonists we see ourselves in) are ‘happy’ in the end. Does it matter — all the people who are hurt on the way to ‘happily ever after’? Nope.
I speak of the people who are abruptly or gradually (I do not know which is worse) dismissed so our protagonists can hysterically find each other’s arms in the final scene.
I do not know for sure. But it must sting to be left for an Ex. To know that this person left something behind for a reason. But they did not think that we, life’s new token, was better than the thing they decidedly left so they just waltzed right back. It must sting to be the rebound, the ‘look, I moved on’ who eventually failed.
It does feel ‘romantic’ when we see ourselves in the protagonists, when we believe in this lofty, destructive idea of true, fated love. It must feel good, convenient to only see Issa and be happy for her. But are we Issa?
Or are we Nathan? How does it feel to be Nathan?
Nathan fought through spells of mental illness and homelessness to become worthy. He always loved that woman and towards the end, she only left him confused. Once, she wanted a cuddle. Once, a kiss. Then she came for him, told him she loved him. Then she stomped her feet around demanding reciprocity.
He was afraid of her inconsistency, but he eventually said the words. He loved that woman and he showed it. He took his walls down, he was going to live with her. But he was too late. It was always late. It never really began. She left him. She was never really there. While he kissed her, while he watched dotingly from across the room, she had already left him. When he asked what was going on, the answer was nothing, the answer was everything.
He did not know anyone at that party. He followed her there. She did not tell him that the Ex would be at this party. He was rattled. In the end, he watched as the Ex he was told not to worry about confessed tardy feelings and threatened violence. Of course, it was embarrassing. And when he talked about taking a step back, Issa just nodded and left. Nothing about ‘fighting’—a word (or a variant of it) that had been repeated in the last episode, used by our writers to tease that predictable finale.
Oh, she cried. Only heaven knows why. I thought there was some clarity — she did not want him, she wanted her Ex. She wanted the history. And the stepchild. Oh, and Lawrence the Ex had done his part — dishing trauma, pregnancy and STIs on his voyage back to her.
The directors closed Nathan’s chapter in a few, brash minutes. Come on, he had to get over it quickly, he was only embellishment, seasoning. He was only collateral damage. He would later resurface, smile on his face and gift in his hand. An attempt at closure? Nah, I thought it was lazy writing. Implausible stuff.
In real life, Nathans do not get over it and return with birthday donations. Come on, would you? Their heart and pride shatter. They spend months in darkness and quiet. They ask existential questions. They fight hate, rage. And when they learn that their Issa returned to the Ex, the news pushes the borders of lucidity.
Again, I do not know about any of this for sure. I have no experience. Ha, may I never do. Well, go on. Or off. Quickly. I will be here, holding a candle for Nathan.
I fear that I do not have the words for Malcolm & Marie. Not entirely because it is brilliant, breathtaking. But because I may have run out of words. No, really. I must have overused ‘brilliant’ by now. Come on, you must be tired of my hackneyed expressions. I am feeling uber-insecure about them tonight.
So much was well said in this film. And it wasn’t because the leads were broken in unusual ways but mostly because they had the words and the articulation. It is a gift—the ability to say exactly what you feel and think. We feel an assortment of emotions and our frustration with expressing them often makes conflict worse than it should be.
It is both simple and chaotic, this one. Two characters, two colors and a lot of conflict. And oh, they just went back and forth. Until the magic word was said—’thank you’. The film is also incredibly profound when it takes on our appreciation of filmmaking itself — the boxes and the prostitution.
I also consider this immersive. I do think that in more ways than one, I am Malcolm—narcissistic, obsessive, committed to turning trauma into art, incapable of deescalating conflict that does not affect my work, forgetting to say important things because I expect people to just ‘get it’.
Oh, you can go on and feel superior. Or hoist a red flag. But we’re all fallible, imperfect, broken people. And if there’s one thing to learn from this film, it is this—in spite of our many faults, as bare as they might be, we have our people and we deserve love.
Now, let me be. I have something in my eye.
Oh, I definitely, unashamedly bawled my eyes out for Swan Song. It was beautiful. I did it for the plot.
And no, I assure you, the plot was not Naomie Harris’ face. Although it is such a beautiful face, strikingly captured in this film. It was the third time I had seen it last year. I saw it in No Time To Die where she was the consistent, rigid Eve Moneypenny. Very little character development there, over the course of 4 James Bond movies. Then she was Shriek in Venom: Let There Be Carnage. If I did not see it in the cinema, I would have skipped parts of that movie. But hey, her character was something. Chaotic.
The plot is not Mahershala Ali either, although he is my favourite actor. Remember this. Again, I do not have the words. The one I use is ‘presence’. He has presence. He occupies every scene, fills it. Everyone else fades away.
Swan Song offers a unique, futuristic look at technology, architecture, and medicine. No, aliens are not invading. Neither are zombies biting necks. It is a simple, steady story about existentialism, affection and one powerful dilemma.
Cameron loves his family but he is dying. He has the option of replicating himself in a perfect clone and transferring all his memories. This clone is perfect, biological. It knows everything he knows; it thinks like him and shares the same motivations. It loves his wife and child. It is he, him, not “it”.
Cameron’s dilemma is this—to tell his wife or not. She deserves to know the man in her bed. But she lost her twin brother years ago and was devastated for years. It almost ruined their marriage. She often says to him that she cannot bear another loss.
So what does he do? Tell her the truth and ruin her life? Or die quietly, hopeful that she would never discover the truth? Or hopeful that she would understand? Or what does it even matter? He would be dead.
On dates, I often ask, “Which is more important? Honesty or loyalty?” Of course, there is no right answer, only a thought process to observe, motivations to unravel. Most people choose honesty. Most of them lie about this. Mostly because they do not want to seem dishonest. Even though we all are. They do not always know that they are lying though. We say we want the truth until it is dished before us.
I used to be quite intolerant of dishonesty. I think I still am. Do not lie to me, I will react. But there is some hypocrisy there. I used to say, “I do not lie”. I did not lie. Then adulthood came and things became complicated.
Here are the important questions, however. Should you always tell the truth? Should all worries be shared, should all secrets be divulged? Even though your recipient is deserving, entitled. Isn’t a lie sometimes the more loving thing to tell?
And when you reach that dilemma—between a lie and the truth, both guaranteeing disaster, what would you do? Well, Cameron died after the lie. You, however, will be left with your deafening conscience. Well, if you are me. It will call out to you on bleak, still nights. While their head lays firmly on your beating chest. While they snore lightly, their eyes shut. You, liar!