Blow-Up (1966): Between reality and glamourised fantasy

Sixties London represents an alluring myth, a commercialised fantasy, a glamourised concept that conjures up a world of freedom, drugs, fashion, sex, and rock and roll in which young people revelled as a reaction against traditional values. It is a period of revolution and positive changes, which evokes a vibrant, frenetic city where fun and liberation are fundamental. Some underlying aspects of this media construct involve alienation, confusion, disconnection, the elusive nature of communication and existence in a fragmentary world, all of which also resonate with the work of the Italian art cinema director, Michelangelo Antonioni. Blow-Up (1966) reveals what lies behind the mythical London ‘swinging scene’ of the Sixties, at the same time extending its theme beyond London and beyond time, to universal questions about identity.

The rapid cuts and quick shift in images in the film sometimes mirror the characters’ inability to focus on a particular object or action. This is obvious throughout Thomas’ ADHD-like behaviour and his incapability to get fully immersed into any particular activity for the most part of the film. For instance, in the restaurant scene, he shifts his attention away from the photographs, to getting food, then back to a discussion about his fabulous new photograph, followed by a glance through the window and an expression of the wish to leave London. Another key moment that adopts quick editing is Thomas’ photo-shoot featuring Verushka, in a scene described by Danny Powell as “the most iconic of all Sixties cinema”. The dynamic editing, characteristic of the time, shows Verushka in different poses, through still images, imitating the act of photography. This scene is sexualised- through Thomas’ words, their movements, and position towards the end of the shoot. Making fashion and photography sexual is an innovation of the Sixties photographers, David Bailey’s particularly.

The opening of the film provides another sequence of fast cuts, this time between images of mimes revelling on the streets and images of homeless men leaving the shelter. The purpose here is to present different, contrasting sides of London, which indicate that the Sixties period is not only about freedom for everyone: some are still restricted to poor conditions of living and oppression. The less glamorous side of life at that time is omitted from the commercialised dream of Swinging London, which makes the viewers question their perspective of history.

Visually, the group of mimes brings some colour to an otherwise grey cold modern environment. Their make-up and clothes reveal an alternative way of living, shown in contrast to the nuns’ and the royal guard’s costumes. Their dismissal of these symbolic figures represents the rejection of old, traditional values- the attitude of rebelling against authority is characteristic to the Sixties.

Aside from the occasional quick cuts Antonioni employs, the film is generally made up of long sequences, most of unknown significance and amplified in intensity by the long, profound silences. There is not much non-diegetic sound to emphasise moments of importance or convey a certain feeling: the focus is on images, not on sound or words. However, in the end, both ways of communication are shown to be unreliable in determining or defining objective reality. This theme fits into the cultural context of Swinging London: it depicts, again, what lies beyond the glamorised portrayal of those times, namely a fragmentary world.

Thomas, the protagonist, epitomises the figure of the London fashion photographer who wanders aimlessly and has a short attention span and no background or defined identity. Antonioni points out that, like most fashion photographers in London, he belongs to the moment, and no one knows where he comes from or who he is. Admittedly fed up with London, he can’t stay still, moving from one action to another, none of them seeming to impact or interest him greatly; and he does not form any deep connection with any other character. His blasé attitude changes when an eerie event captures his attention – his fascination then makes him totally absorbed in the process of mystery solving through art examination.

Thomas seems to be constantly in search of something he cannot name: he is not satisfied with the world he lives in, and wishes to leave the city: “I’m going off London this week. […] It doesn’t do anything for me […] I’m fed up with those bloody bitches”, he says, echoing the words of the girl from the antiques store who was saying “I’d like to try something different. Get off somewhere. I’m fed up with antiques.”. While she is talking to him about moving away to an exotic place, Thomas does not seem to take her worries into consideration and he does not respond seriously to her- he acts as if he does not understand her. However, by expressing the same longing for something different in the restaurant scene, he seems to establish an indirect connection with the girl, to empathise with someone else for once. The person who listens to him, Ron, laughs and dismisses his train of thought, which further reinforces the disconnection between characters, the loss of communication. Although the characters might have things in common, they don’t really communicate and don’t seem eager to understand others, they’re self-absorbed, but they themselves would like to be listened to and understood.

The relationships between Thomas and women bring forward an important aspect of the film, referring to Antonioni’s views on power relations, gender issues, and toxic masculinity. Thomas the photographer exhibits distant, macho, impudent behaviour towards the women he interacts with and is generally devoid of respect. He has an insolent, dismissive attitude towards the models, he tricks Jane, the mysterious woman from the park and he addresses women as ‘birds’. The term ‘bird’ was commonly attributed to women in the Sixties, which is “a reminder of the attitudes toward women at the time which, despite the new ideas of liberation, are not applied equally”(Powell). However, despite tricking Jane, he seems to have some respect, interest in, and attentiveness towards her, as opposed to the models. This comes from his appreciation of her distinctive qualities: her allure is natural and graceful, she is associated with mystery and nature, she is cut off from the artificiality of the fashion world. Her demeanour and movements appear less performative and calculated. This is indicative of Thomas’ defiance towards and dissatisfaction with the fashion world and its artificiality and his longing for something different. On a larger scale, it is Antonioni’s comment on the lure of the Sixties’ myth – which is not ideal, as it seems to be in the pictures. Thomas’ problematic controlling, objectifying attitude towards the models reflects that.

Thomas seeks to escape from the artificiality of the fashion world by heading towards the park. This is what the Sixties were supposed to be about, moving away from a consumerist to an environmentalist world, which is depicted by moving away from the grey urban space to the green space of the park. This chromatic change marks entering ‘an island of relative peace’ in William Arrowsmith’s view, which sets up a binary opposition between nature and culture, however, as Brunette states, nature in Blow Up is not presented as separate from culture, but as a product of it. For instance, just before heading towards the park, Thomas enters the antique store where he is asked what he is looking for. He replies he is looking for pictures – landscapes in particular. He eventually sees a painting of a landscape which the owner says is sold. Nature is therefore objectified in this scene, just as in the next scene where Thomas takes his camera to photograph landscapes in the park. People cannot escape the artificiality of their world so easily: mod lifestyle in London became so embedded in a glamourised artificial world that a return to the natural would be impossible. It does not take us by surprise then, when the park turns from a place of illusory peace into a violent crime scene, supposedly.

The crime scene is a metaphor for the swinging London scene. Just as we are only aware of Sixties London through a media construct presenting the modern facade, Thomas only finds out about the crime through a photographic representation. Bill the painter’s comment is also closely related to both Thomas’ photograph analysis and to Blow Up– the film: “They don’t mean anything when I do them. Afterwards, I find something to hang on to. Then it sorts itself out and adds up. It’s like finding a clue in a detective story.” Similarly, Antonioni says “My films are documents, not a train of coherent ideas, but ideas which are born of the moment”, and then add up like pieces of puzzle, forming a beautiful, evocative final piece of art.

There are questions which are not or cannot be answered in Blow Up– for instance, regarding the identity of the characters and, most significantly, the nature of reality. There are blank spaces in the plot, which can be associated with the “elusive moment, the space between reality and myth” (Powell) of Sixties London. What is real and what is not still remains concealed, because of several moments in the film which amplify the uncanny ambiguity of the reality-fiction boundary. One such uncanny moment is the disappearance of the body from the crime scene. Thomas wants to step beyond his role and beyond the visual representation that he has caught on camera, just as the spectator should be aware that there is more beyond the surface presented by a media fantasy. He wants to find out the story, and tries to reconstruct it in a narrative form, using the pictures. He is finally engrossed in something: he escapes the state of distraction which is a way of living in Blow Up, not just a temporary bad habit. After seeing the body, he is only left with an enlargement of a picture to confirm what he has seen, since the body is removed and the rest of the pictures are stolen. The enlarged photograph looks like an abstract painting.

Another element which questions reality in the film is the imaginary tennis game from the end, namely, the moment when the camera moves away from the tennis court out into the fields, and we start hearing the diegetic sound of a tennis game, even though we had seen that the game was only mimed. And finally, as Thomas the photographer fades into the background consisting of the vast green space, the viewer is reminded that Blow Up is a film, not an objective reality, and that it is also not trying to convey an objective reality of Swinging London.

Blow Up is a film that can be seen as part of the cultural context of the 1960’s transition and its changes in mentality and way of living, in this sense revealing Antonioni’s take on the attitudes from behind the scenes of that time. It can be seen as a comment on the elusive aspect of language, as a critique on gender dynamics and on the artificiality of our world or as a philosophical investigation on identity and meaning. Through an unconventional editing style and dialogue and through self-reflexivity, Antonioni portrays a world of alienation, distraction, and meaninglessness, which leaves the viewer contemplating artistic truth, media-shaped truth, and the objectivity of reality.

Midsommar (2019) – the representation of mental illness through horror, the psychological susceptibility to cult narratives, & the power of empathy

Midsommar (2019) is a dark-themed cinematic fairytale described by its director and writer Ari Aster as a “horror movie about codependency”. The film encompasses a portrayal of mental illness- bipolar disorder, anxiety, and mood disorders, the pattern and dynamics of a dysfunctional codependent relationship, the exploitation of trauma and vulnerability that is part of the cult indoctrination process, the disillusionment with reality, cognitive dissonance, the uplifting power and importance of empathy and reciprocity, and the psychological susceptibility of a fragmented psyche.

The overall atmosphere created and the feelings evoked in Midsommar are quite different compared to other horror films. Everything happens during daytime, which facilitates the beautiful contrast between the macabre aspect and the idyllic, nostalgic setting filled with enchanted fun, laughter, and dance- all wrapped in a shroud of dreamlike ambiguity (and tinged with a perpetual sense of ominousness). The bizarre light-heartedness of the inhabitants in the face of sinister macabre events adds another layer of ominousness as the spectator is held spellbound by the diaphanous fabric of reality within this strange peaceful community, whilst perpetually feeling like something horrifying could take place at any moment.

Initially shocked by the horrific, gruesome ritualistic events she witnesses within the cult, Dani is gradually lured into the peculiar, nightmarish world because of all its promises of bliss and belonging. The place she finds herself in is like a strange crystal ball, an escapist fantasy gone wrong, sheltering her from a reality that failed her expectations. The process of recruitment within cults often involves an exploitation of trauma, as they prey upon the vulnerable aspects of the human psyche, on powerlessness and feelings of isolation, of being misunderstood, disappointed or mistreated by fate or the external world, in order to sell an alternative, superior, rescuing narrative. For cult members, reality is either too much or not enough. Dani is the archetypal vulnerable person with a psychological susceptibility to being brainwashed and sucked into the ghastly, yet rewarding cult because of the suffering she has experienced in the “real world”. After the tragic demise of her family, she feels alienated from the world and can’t find comfort in her unsatisfying relationship with her boyfriend, Christian, who has emotionally checked out and is unable to fulfil or share her emotional needs.

Taking into account Dani’s backstory is essential in order to understand her gradual conversion to the religion and strange ways of the cult. The relationship dynamic between Christian and Dani is a typical codependent-avoidant dynamic. There is a particular scene in which this dynamic is emphasised very clearly: the more she pushes, both physically and emotionally, the more he withdraws and feels suffocated, and she feels even more rejected and pushes further- this type of dynamic is a vicious cycle. Early on, we find out Dani’s sister is bipolar, and Dani takes anxiety medication, whilst Christian and his friends see her mental struggles as a burden. Although his male friends encourage him to part ways with her in an insensitive conversation at the bar, he feels guilty for his thoughts after the tragedy that has struck, hence inviting her to the Swedish summer solstice festival. Throughout the film, Dani constantly condemns his attitude and perceived uncaring nature, sometimes in a controlling way, other times in a passive-aggressive way. Christian’s friends display no empathy towards her and, whilst he does not have enough energy to deal with her emotionally demanding nature and to reciprocate her emotional investment in the way she wants, he is also not inconsiderate. His friends put up a flimsy facade of niceness around her, which collapses whenever she walks out of the picture. The tension can be felt, and her instinct can tell something is wrong. Her good instinct is constantly denied by those around her, hence the dangerous gaslighting effect leading to a mistrust of her own instinct.

It is generally impossible to pinpoint the one to blame in such relational settings, as both the codependent and the avoidant contribute to a toxic relational pattern, sometimes as a result of emotional trauma or mental disorders, even if they have no bad intentions. It fluctuates. In his discussions with his friends, they sound selfish and unfair towards her and we pity or empathise with her and condemn him, especially after the lack of respect shown towards her in absentia. However, there are moments when Dani is the one seemingly unreasonable and overly pushy and controlling, with a needy attitude, and we almost empathise with his response of feeling cornered. The film manages to make the spectator understand both points of view, but ultimately condemns Christian. Their attachment styles render the relationship doomed to unhappiness due to incompatibilities on the levels of emotional needs and support.

Dani is not seen, her feelings are not acknowledged or validated, and there is an element of gaslighting. This is important because it is why she is attracted to and ensnared by the sinister world of the cult. It feels like the cult community fully accepts her, with her intense emotional makeup. In a bizarre and particularly powerful and cathartic key scene, her emotional reactions are validated and encouraged by the community- it is like she transfers her emotions onto them, and they directly empathise with her by sharing her energy and screaming with her. Crowned as the May Queen, Dani feels embraced, understood, more than seen: she feels celebrated as she is held up in the air and worshipped, she escapes from being sucked into a vortex of mental despair and unhappiness following the tragic events. The May Queen is the personification of spring, and spring is a time of rebirth, symbolically marking Dani’s personal spiritual rebirth and new, happier life. After the shocking imagery and events at the end, at first she is sad and distressed, but then, we can see how her sadness and despair are loudly echoed by the community, whilst Dani’s sorrow is superseded by a strong, gratifying feeling of belonging, of being part of a whole. Remember when her boyfriend’s friend, Pelle, significantly asks her “Does he feel like home to you?”. Her boyfriend never felt like home, nothing felt like home to her in the external world post-tragedy, since her actual family situation was so abnormal. A healthy approach would have been finding home within herself through self-love. However, after the surreal events, Dani’s mind is too unstable to represent the safe concept of home for herself and she needs external support, so the cult-like community becomes her home. After that realisation of unity, gradually, her facial expression transitions and she starts smiling. Her smile suggests a new beginning. The ending is quite powerful and touching: As she smiles, we smile with her and we feel happy for her because she has found happiness, even if her solace was found within such a grim environment and despite the human sacrifices and prior grotesque events unfolding on screen. 

Florence Pugh manages to convey the fragmentation and transition of her character’s psyche admirably. Dani experiences a state of cognitive dissonance when her emotional cravings for being loved and understood override her ability to reason and to process the gravity of the horror and the evil side of the cult. Her profound disillusionment with reality makes her idealise the cult community because it offers her what she lacks and craves the most. The disappointing, misery-inducing events in her life contribute to her future shift towards what feels good- namely empathy, regardless of the the fact that it is provided in an unpredictable, deadly environment. The director, Ari Aster, mentions that she transitions from one codependent relationship to another, so, from her unsatisfying codependent relationship with her boyfriend to a more satisfying one with the loving, empathetic, murderously dark community.

As a spectator, you might find Midsommar to be a strange dream you are deeply immersed in and captivated by, leaving you in a state of blissful confusion even after you walk out of the cinema. The celestial beauty and holy aura of the film setting masking the disturbingly dark characteristics of the cult contribute to a state of confusion, which is amplified by hallucinogenic moments. Aside from Dani’s inner turmoil and emotional metamorphosis compellingly conveyed externally, another ingredient to this cocktail of emotions is a general tinge of existential dread. Ultimately, though, you might empathise with Dani and feel happy and confused by your own happiness in such a gruesome context.

A poem: Snowdrop girl

Snowdrop girl,
I can feel your presence
in the first whispers of spring;
I can hear your breath
in the windy corners of life-
it’s my favourite lullaby,
it makes me cold sometimes-
you could be cold sometimes,
in a scintillating way that
I never wished to oppose
or even dared to question-
my fear was not of
your reaction,
but the possibility of
your contamination
on some elemental level
Beneath many layers of
innocence and frivolity
and even more layers of
impenetrability and frostiness
I know what lies, I know
the substance, the kindness,
the taboo dreams,
the sweet desires-
and that makes me smile
you opened up to me
in the still wintry light in
a moment of rare vulnerability
I am thankful to have been
entrusted with.
The world may have seen
your masks, but who else
has recognised the rarely-resurfacing,
pearl-like gleam
in your eyes?
I have and I enveloped it in
my spirit shell
where it shall shimmer forever,
even after our farewell.

A poem: Heavenly aspirations

I want to purify my body and soul
to reach my version of
blasphemous heaven.
I want to summon the stillness
of the dormant light within
to exorcise all feelings
provoking inner conflicts.
To become an empty vessel
for a moment,
penetrated by light
no longer dormant,
now shining so bright.
Such cravings are born out of
a darkness
with the power to enslave
any spirit
and yet, I am its conqueror
I have tamed it and moulded it
into something beautiful,
fulfilling, ever-growing, and hopefully,
ever-lasting.
Once you taste this version of
inner freedom, untainted,
it’s the only nurturing addiction,
the most welcome overindulgence,
the most heavenly sin.

High Life (2018) – A sinister, dreamlike voyage

High Life (2018) is a hypnotising, mostly slow-paced, eerie sci-fi film directed by Claire Denis, French director associated with art-house films & known for transcending cinematic conventions. The film evokes a dreamlike, uncanny mood with some sinister, twisted aspects, sexual experiments, and violence, all wrapped up in a greater sense of despair and despondency attributed to the hopelessness of the space voyage. The plot of High Life reveals a group of people whose common denominator is their capital crime history, setting off on a peculiar expedition into space with the purpose of harnessing energy from a black hole and bringing it back on Earth. Having been deceived into thinking that the mission is the key to their freedom, as an alternative to their earthly punishment, they soon become aware that it appears to be more like a suicide mission.

Juliette Binoche plays Dibs, the mysterious, long-haired, witchy mad scientist figure on the spaceship, who conducts unwanted sexual experiments on the captives, collecting their bodily fluids for artificial insemination purposes. Her bewitching performance is harmoniously intertwined with Robert Pattinson’s intensity and stoic composure in his role as Monte. His character is protective of the women on the spaceship, going from beating another spaceship inhabitant who tries to rape one of the girls, to rushing to save the doctor’s life, and eventually going into fatherhood. We already figure that Monte and his daughter might be the last ones standing, as he discards the corpses of the other interstellar voyagers into nothingness.


The atmosphere throughout the whole film is somewhat alienating and surreal, with uncanny undertones. After years spent adrift in the vastness of the universe, the spaceship has become their home, whilst at the same time being their prison. Monte’s brief musings are poetic at times, and the dialogue is minimal, amplifying the tension and intensity on board. A major aspect of that tension is sexual, and some of it is released within “The Fuckbox” (initially called the “love machine”, before the French director was persuaded to Americanise it), a particularly strange kinky dark chamber designed for individual fantasy-unleashing, which, however, doesn’t prevent the cosmic drifters from sexually assaulting other members on-board or being repressed. “Fuckbox” seems to be a more appropriate term for its nature, unless “love machine” was intended to create a satirical contrast.

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Dr. Dibs’ self-satisfying scene in the box is mesmerising and primal, her movements are feral. This impression is further emphasised by the inclusion of animal fur within the decor and by the bizarre mystical soundtrack building up, incorporating sounds reminiscent of a wild animal’s lament. The sound could be mistaken for a distorted human moan for a split second, before turning wolf-like, which enhances the sense of eeriness and ritualistic transcendence. Her frenzy doesn’t culminate as she desired, it turns out the process was all too mechanical. When she gets out, she meets Monte’s reprimanding gaze, who questions her ways and her disturbing reproductive mission.

What follows is Monte’s confession that he had frequented the box, but decided to live a life of abstinence, hence why the others refer to him as the monk. He muses: “Chastity was a way of making myself stronger”. To provide contrast to the kinky box which is the symbol of Dibs’ queendom, the next scene shows Monte in his natural habitat, literally. He prefers hanging out in the little garden because it reminds him of life on Earth. His gardening pal admits that the garden anchors him in the present moment, perhaps making him feel connected to his family back on Earth, yet Monte gives him a painful reality check: that his family is either old or dead. We also find out that Monte’s name belongs to his dog, whom he was raised by, and who also had a more significant impact on his life.

 

high-life-119At times, Juliette Binoche’s acting is both trance-inducing and trance-like. Not as if in a daze, but in a controlling, maniacal way. An example of this is the scene following Mia Goth’s character revealing of Dibs’ secret gruesome criminal past. With her ghostly vampiric presence, Dibs steps quietly and secretively through the empty corridor after sedating everyone. Right before the unsettling scene featuring Monte’s sleeping body, she stops in front of the female pilot whom she urges to go to sleep in a weirdly hypnotising manner. The whole sequence is disturbing and uncanny partly because there is a deranged maternal aura about her, her gestures, and the ritual of covering up and putting a baby to sleep (in this case, both Boyse and Nansen). This is particularly disturbing considering what we’ve learnt about her past in the previous scene, even though her dedication to her reproductive mission is derived from that event.

The enthralling aesthetic of the film features a colour palette oscillating from icy tones to colourful, red and purple lights. Within the clinical-looking hallways and inside their separate rooms the characters are drowning in blue lights. The end scene is significantly golden in tone, as the film ends on an enigmatic, positive, vaguely hopeful note. Reminiscent of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (2007) and Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) in different ways, High Life is an arthouse sci-fi film documenting the unfolding of human nature with both its ghastly destructive side and its hopeful nurturing side in the context of a fascinating, dreamlike, ominous space journey.

“The sensation: moving backwards even though we’re moving forwards, getting further from what’s getting nearer, sometimes I just can’t stand it.”

 

Wuthering Heights (2011) and the uncanny connection with nature

The following film stills represent a collection of brief moments providing a glimpse of the haunting, alluringly grim aesthetic of Wuthering Heights (2011), directed by Andrea Arnold. The film is a moody, visceral, atmospheric cinematic version of the story featuring the natural beauty and intensity of Kaya Scodelario as Cathy and her ineffable connection with Heathcliff, both of them sharing a deep bond with the gloomy, bleak, foggy surroundings.

The scenery is dark and as chaotic and turbulent as the compelling cinematography of the film. The atmospheric sounds are intense and loud. From the very beginning, the sound makes us anticipate the eerie human-nature connection. A grown-up Heathcliff wanders around thoughtfully in an empty room, in what appears to be an abandoned house. We can hear the loud wind from outside, as well as the cracking sounds of the doors and the floor. There is something eerie about the location and the unfolding of this initial scene. It looks and sounds as if it could be a house from a horror film. When the branches of a tree hit the window, it reminds us of the scene from the book in which Mr. Lockwood breaks the window to make the tapping stop. In the film, Heathcliff runs against the wall and ends up collapsing on the floor. After he starts crying, we hear four blows on the window, followed by Heathcliff’s matching response: hitting the floor four times while crying in despair. Then, we hear the impetuous rain and the powerful wind followed by the loud bark of the dogs. The wuthering sound remains constant. Heathcliff remains behind and is barked at by a dog, to which he responds with a savage snarl that implies his wild nature.

The chemistry between young Heathcliff and Cathy seems to be quite unusual: it is not represented through words, but mainly through looks, gestures, and, symbolically, through the agitation of the natural elements on the moors. Their bond is closely intertwined with the human-nature bond. The point-of-view shots showing Cathy’s wild hair blown in the wind are followed by shots of the wild, high grass and weeds, suggesting a correlation between the aspect of her messy hair and the chaotic movement of the plants. Even though Heathcliff showed he was capable of speaking (despite being mostly uneducated), the two children rarely talk: it seems that there is an unspoken understanding between them or a sense of telepathy whilst they listen to the whistling of the wind and admire the haunting beauty of the landscape. The actors’ performances are very instinctive and have a visceral quality.

The environment provides refuge for Cathy and Heathcliff from the rest of the world. After their escape from the baptising moment, they start running on the windy, misty moors, happy and carefree. When they get back home, they are slapped by her father for their little rebellion. The film highlights metaphors for the conflict between culture and nature, culture trying to dominate nature, but failing, as nature does not succumb so easily.

During the playful yet tension-imbued mud fight scene, the two children bond with each other and with the earth at the same time. The playful exploration of childhood is essential in the film. Everything between them seems pure, simple, and physical when they are little. The moors become a symbol for their love affair that becomes more complicated as they grow up. What for the spectator might look like a bleak dystopian or threatening landscape, was actually Heathcliff’s Arcadia. When a grown-up Heathcliff returns after a long absence, it’s not only for his love, Cathy, but also for the place and time when he experienced that pure bliss. An idyllic image of unattainable splendour is engraved in his mind. Childhood often seems to reside in the realm of Arcadia in our minds, offering a unique way of feeling and experiencing things, which cannot be brought back or re-adopted.

The moors can also be associated with the dark brooding character of a lonely soul (Heathcliff): the moors are infertile, arid, wild, and even threatening. They are not supposed to be cultivated. They are untouched, uninfluenced by culture. Healthcliff is wild in the traditional way which implies unfitness for civil society, yet he is also wild in the modern use of the word, in that he signifies an antidote to hypercivilisation. The concept of wildness denotes something that is shared between humans and nonhuman entities. There are various examples of how this refers to Heathcliff: consider any scene where young Heathcliff resonates with the natural elements.

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Life observations and tips on how to pass through life with awareness

– Empowered people contribute to the empowerment of those around them.
– Avoid judging things at surface level. You need to dig a few layers deeper without closing your eyes when you find treasure rooms or catacombs. On the surface, you might be trapped in a Fata Morgana.
– It’s true that high expectations often lead to disillusionment with the world; however, as long as you don’t let yourself be disillusioned with your self, high expectations can be used as fuel to build and improve your life.
– Falsity contaminates. Authenticity inspires; it’s contagious, enveloped in light, and arouses kindness. Its adepts are a dying breed, so value them.
– We all have both light and darkness within us. Some will see the angelic, others the devilish, and such judgements are partly reflections of the watcher. I wouldn’t say you should never see yourself through the eyes of another as that could inhibit empathy and diminish your humanity, or simply prevent positive things from happening- instead, be selective of the eyes you borrow, why, and when…
– …and whatever you do, never lose your own vision, lest you be swallowed by the mouth of the world and become a watered-down version of yourself.
– Sometimes you won’t know if something is right or wrong for you until you try it. If you realise it feels wrong, give up. If it feels right, carry on, regardless of external views. Not all compasses for life navigation reveal the same directions.
– Your beliefs, perspective on, or perceptions of many subjects will shift over time. This can manifest in your response to and interpretations of the world around you, which can, in turn, re-shape your world.
– You should create your life, not just react to it. Relinquish fatalistic views.

– Don’t fall into toxic ego traps.
– As you age, years start flying by in a blink. I’m young, and I already feel life slipping away so quickly. Don’t live in the past and don’t spend too much time lamenting the death of past moments or things that are out of your control.
– Don’t become complacent. If you ever feel ‘there is more to life than this’, whether you’re thinking of your job, lifestyle, or experiences, you are probably right. Explore and feel new things, pump up your dopamine and adrenaline levels. Take risks, but have a safety net.
Embrace who you are. Maybe in your adolescence and your twenties that’s a meaningless or elusive statement since you’re constantly learning new things, going through changes, growing as a person. Well, hopefully your whole life will consist of that. But embracing yourself encompasses that fluidity too, it means giving yourself a break, recognising all aspects of yourself and accepting them (if they’re not harmful or toxic). It’s okay to cultivate happy thoughts and it’s okay to be cynical sometimes. It’s okay to be funny and it’s okay to be serious. Intense and light-hearted and giggly. Sociable and reserved. Impulsive or stoic. It’s okay to explore your provocative side and it’s also okay to be timid.  To see yourself as a collection of thoughts and memories. To be made of many things, without any single aspect defining you by itself. It’s okay to be real.

Review / analysis: Osmosis (2019, TV series)

Osmosis (2019, TV, now on Netflix), created by Audrey Fouché, is a French sci-fi drama series with echoes of Black Mirror, albeit less nihilistic, and a tinge of Sense8, with its telepathic encounters. It revolves around the frequently explored sci-fi concept of AI-facilitated romance, interwoven with corresponding existential, moral, and political concerns, as well as realistic coexisting anxieties. The revealing biological term from the title is also the name of the futuristic dating app which collects, uses, and monitors the brain data of the testers for the purpose of uniting them with their ideal romantic match for life. There are also parallel narratives accompanying this romance-centric plot line, featuring non-romantic characters whose lives are driven by different purposes, with motivations such as family or sociopolitical agendas.

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The specifics of the Osmosis process include swallowing a pill delivering nanorobots into the brains of the volunteers, as a way of picking up thoughts, characteristics, responses, and so on. At the end of the process, the algorithm not only reveals the face of their Osmotic partner, but allows the tech team to further analyse brain information in real time to examine the hormone levels, impulses, and reactions of the participant. When both partners are implanted, their brains can connect from afar, allowing them to share an otherworldly connection and moments of ineffable exaltation. There is a moment in which Paul, the protagonist and pioneer of Osmosis, visualises and tries to capture the phenomenon in words, yet the cynical unknowing man listening to him can’t grasp the reality or extent of the experience, dismissing it as poetic embellishment for falling in love.

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The way the TV show depicts the connection is as intertwining physical bodies floating in a dark virtual space. However, there is an element of subjectivity which makes you reluctant to take Paul’s symbolic descriptions for granted, as well as the consistency of Osmosis. Whilst Paul seems to be infatuated with and devoted to the Osmosis process, describing it as otherworldly, if we consider his partner’s dissatisfaction and actions in the show (which I will not spoil too much) we could infer that she may not feel it to the same intensity. It could be that certain issues regarding the scientific predictability and the controlling aspects of Osmosis represent a strong incentive for her actions, overriding the augmented Osmosis euphoria, yet we never hear her describe the same remarkable experience, which makes you wonder- to what extent does the Osmosis experience vary based on brain chemistry? Is it comparable to a normal intimate encounter between infatuated lovers? Is it as varied as people’s capacity for and perception of love? Who knows? Perhaps I will re-watch this, in case I can’t recall something. There is another aspect that is in line with the view of subjectivity and inconsistency: the moment Paul starts saying Osmosis didn’t seem as strong/ intense at particular times and tries to figure out the reasons. Not to mention Lucas, whose abnormal Osmosis experience was dismissed as the inevitable error of/exception to the test. Is Osmosis as reliable as Paul hopes?

Osmosis is a complex show in its dystopian/utopian ambiguity, especially regarding the reliance on advanced invasive technology in the pursuit of human desires, the trustworthiness of and control exerted by tech companies, as well as the idea of controlling and monitoring feelings and predicting love-related outcomes. Some characters vouch for the project, some exhibit outright pessimism, others express some moral and existential doubts- including the supporters of a competing app based on a different, less fatalistic ideology. This will probably echo the responses of the viewers as well, and the common concerns anyone will have on this topic- the oscillations between rejecting and embracing the potential impact of such advanced technology, seeing it as a threatening aspect of the bleak dark future ahead or as an enlightening step forward.

Another significant dimension of the series- a contemporary element among more futuristic concerns, is the complicated familial bond between the creators of Osmosis, Esther (Agathe Bonitzer) and Paul (Hugo Becker). Paul believes in Osmosis with an obsessive dedication, yet everyone around him seems to have other conflicting interests. His sister, Esther, the tech mastermind behind the project, explores the alternative, medical uses derived from Osmosis, such as using the technology to revive their comatose mother, which leads to a sinister family secret being revealed through memory reconstruction. Meanwhile, another character reconsiders their own ulterior motive for signing up for the app, whilst an important piece of the puzzle experiences a change of heart, threatening Paul’s beliefs and life, and AI sentience may also make a short-lived appearance.

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The show is mostly slow-paced, especially in the first episodes, and exudes some art film vibes, and the characters, as well as the actors’ performances, might have a polarising effect in terms of likeability. Esther is the highly intelligent, calculated component of Osmosis, with a background in AI and computational neuroscience -who is, however, perhaps ironically, quite detached from the actual experience and aims of the project. She is absent-minded and somewhat discourteous with people in her vicinity, intense yet emotionally detached from everything aside from being invested in and consumed by family events, doing questionable deeds for pure reasons. Meanwhile, her interest in romantic love is non-existent and replaced by her love for her brother and mother, her sexual encounters in Virtual Reality, and her conversations with the Osmosis-powering computer, the disembodied voice of Martin. Esther is self-contained, tense, rarely smiling, unwavering in her goals- the sterile, clinical room she is usually seen in being a reflection of her clinical self. On the other hand, her brother, Paul, is quite the opposite, expansive, prone to worrying, emotionally transparent, lively, with his constantly reinforced devotion to the Osmosis project and his passionate discourse on the sublimity of love, even whilst the connection which started everything shows signs of disintegrating. If there is one character that will probably annoy you, that will be Ana, you might feel like yelling at her poor decision-making, unassured, flimsily duplicitous manner and random last-minute changes of heart- some nonsensical (for her character) and some belated; she was essential in the delivery of the plot, but her character could have made a lot more sense.

Osmosis starts from a common sci-fi premise and tropes including AI matchmaking, tech threats, surveillance, AI sentience, and data corruption, exploring themes of alienation, soulmates, family ties, alternative sexual orientation, addictions, proceeding to delve into the humanity of the characters, into character flaws, into stories not going as planned, into reality rather than pessimistic apocalyptic nightmares or make-believe romantic ideals.

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A poem: Evocation

There was nothing left except
her orange blossom scent
in the air,
her skin cells
on the conspiring blanket,
the energy he was feeding off
and her seraphic aspirations,
elegantly penned
in a forlorn diary
before her concept
of the world expanded into
postmodern depths and
her self-concept became
a liberating fluidity
of thoughts and impulses.
She’d been through a lot of
symbolic suicides before
deciding to resort to
serial homicide.
She loved herself, yet
with every touch
there was a numbness-
perhaps in her multiple deaths
she was seeking
life,
perhaps in her metaphorical murders
she was seeking an escape from
pseudo-life.

 

Various poems

Catatonic state

I feel your ashes
like quicksand
I’m sucked into
so I’m standing still
trying to enjoy the view.

 

Your faith

I never confessed this but
your faith helped keep me
anchored in myself
whenever the currents started
hitting from all sides.
I just wanted to thank you
for still existing in my mind.

 

Extensions

Extensions of me
are ramifying under
your skin.
Does it hurt when
I unravel your bloody
nightmares?

 

Discrepancy

As you weed them out,
slowly, the space between
you and the other you-
both mental concepts-
will become smaller
and smaller
until they merge into one
at which point you will look
around, filled with life,
no longer tainted, you will
open your eyes and see
the discrepancy is abolished
but so is everyone else.