The horse said yes!

Equus

Equus (1977)

When 17-year old Alan Strang blinds six horses with a metal spike, psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Richard Burton) investigates at the request of a court magistrate.

After a series of intense therapy sessions, Alan reveals he worships horses as the manifestation of the divine. When a girl took him to the stables to consummate their relationship, he felt his beloved horses watching and judging him. Ashamed, he lashed out in anger.

Burton is electric in the opening and closing monologues as he talks about the ways our desire to worship the divine manifests itself. Alan’s relationship with horses is taboo and reprehensible, but we often find examples of revered people of faith acting outside the mainstream of acceptable behavior. Despite Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son, we hold him as a supreme example of faith.

Dysart sees this paradoxical leap of faith as integral to the human experience and worries his professional work is undermining it. Echoing themes from A Clockwork Orange, Dysart worries his attempts to “cure” Alan will remove the passion and spark which makes him unique.

 

45 Years of Big Concussions

Concussion (2015)

Concussion (2015)

After forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) examines the body of former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster, he believes Webster’s erratic behavior and suicide were the result of damage done to his brain during his playing career. Over a period of several years, Omalu investigates the deaths of several former NFL players and confirms his hypothesis.

His published findings encounter stiff resistance from the NFL. The billion dollar business uses every weapon at its disposal to discredit Omalu’s discovery.

The NFL’s attempt to stonewall are thwarted when former player and NFL Players Association executive Dave Duerson commits suicide, leaves a note about his ongoing cognitive problems, and donates his brain to Omalu’s research.

Smith is very good as the single-minded doctor and Albert Brooks is excellent as Omalu’s mentor, Cyril Wecht. This brave film implicitly asserts fans’s complicity in the deaths of Mike Webster, Andre Waters, and Junior Seau, among others. We cheered as they hurled their bodies at each other, and celebrated the deadly big hits on Sportscenter.

I’m sympathetic to the argument the players knew what they were doing. No one was fooled into thinking football was a nonviolent sport. However, the NFL intentionally downplayed the risks and suppressed evidence; they encouraged more violent action in their game, as they simultaneously learned the dangerous consequences.

The NFL’s ruthless business tactics have made football one of the most popular and profitable sports in the world, but profit margins and doing the right thing are often at odds. Invariably, businesses and other social institutions will choose the path which will least impact their bottom line, forgoing any responsibility to make the world a better place. Often their justification boils down to a variation of a familiar refrain, “it’s just business.” This rationale is unacceptable. Business is not a realm of life immune from moral considerations.

I love football, but even the most ardent fans and apologists understand the existential threat the NFL’s actions represent. It’s one thing to be unaware of risks, it’s quite another thing to hide and obfuscate them. I hope and pray the people making decisions about the future of the sport are wiling to adapt to the evidence before it’s too late.

The Big Short (2015)

The Big Short (2015)

Everyone remembers the financial crisis which temporarily suspended the 2008 President election and caused millions of Americans to lose their life savings.

We’ve seen documentaries and news reports and understand it was somehow related to ill-advised home loans. What we didn’t know is several individuals understood the structural inadequacies in the housing sector, foresaw the impending disaster, and bet against the market. While the majority of people lost their savings and retirement, these guys made a fortune.

This film is another indictment of the greedy, unscrupulous tactics which crippled the economy, leaving the less fortunate holding the bag. What sets this film apart from the glut of other films dealing with 21st century financial malfeasance are the series of short segments featuring well-known celebrities (Selena Gomez at a craps table with a Nobel laureate, Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, and Anthony Bourdain at work in a kitchen) elucidating difficult economic principles. Director Adam McKay’s experience with short comedy films on Funny or Die taught him how to present information in short segments and make it captivating.

This film was marketed as a comedy, but this undersells the film’s power. It’s not funny as much as infuriating that so many people profited from, and remain unaccountable for, their unethical tactics.

45_Years_(poster)

45 Years (2015)

Geoff (Tom Courtenay) learns the body of his previous girlfriend Katya, who fell into an icy crevasse a half century ago, has been discovered. Nearly fifty years after he last saw her, thoughts of this previous relationship dominate his mind, even as his 45th anniversary to Kate (Charlotte Rampling) approaches, causing the couple to reflect on their past and contemplate their future.

It’s a nice, sweet film about the accumulated memories and decisions of a shared life. At a certain point, familiarity becomes a crutch and we forget our spouses had lives before us. Kate no longer sees Geoff, she sees her husband, which are not always the same thing.

Rampling is great and deserves the accolades she’s received, while Courtenay’s work is subtle and heartbreaking.

The premise of the reappearing girlfriend is contrived, but the film provides deep insight into relationships and reminds me of Harry and Tonto or Wild Strawberries, only instead of a man reflecting on his mortality, we see a long-term relationship at its close.

The Week That Was, Issue 13

The Week That Was

January 18, 2016 – January 24, 2016

Monday, January 18, 2016

1) They Made Me a Fugitive (1947)

Why I watched: MUBI’s film of the day.

After World War II, financially desperate Clem Morgan works with Narcissus, a shady black market dealer.

After Narcissus betrays him and frames him for murder, Clem escapes from prison and seeks revenge.

There are a few moments of insight, but this is a standard lite-noir thriller.

Continue reading “The Week That Was, Issue 13”