A poem: Reliquaire

J’ai une vaste collection de jolis cadavres dans le placard;
Je les pêche en pagayant à travers les eaux
les plus profondes de la vie;
Je les nourris des morceaux de mon cerveau de loin,
pour dépouiller leurs os du pouvoir.
Ce rare reliquaire reste
immergé dans l’inconscient
intact, distant, aliéné à travers
des états compartimentés et dissociatifs;
toute âme qui réussit en quelque sorte
à trouver une lumière et ouvrir un tiroir
se retrouve dans un état squelettique
encapsulé dans le même placard,
avec des fleurs parfumées qui en sortent,
du brouillard et des miroirs tout autour-
visualisez-la.

Motionless

It’s my first time. Half of my motionless body rests inside the white, clinical, cylindrical machine, in my head resembling an intergalactic coffin. I feel an itch, but I have to resist moving. I want to cough, to sneeze, to yawn, ugh, of course, at the most inopportune moments, and I have to keep it under control and be still. My legs are too tense, my lower body feels heavy. I am mentally calm. But my body wants permission to move. Since this is just a brain scan, I try to make a slight leg movement, but it feels like trying to lift an anchor. My mind keeps freezing. There is the buzz. It’s getting louder. And stranger. Then the clanking. The whirring. Suddenly thoughts of the few MRI safety incidents and fatalities I’ve read about vaguely infiltrate my mind in a weirdly serene way. I should have double-checked there is definitely no metal anywhere in or around this room. Oh come on, when something like this enters my mind, I think – what are the odds? and what is the point of obsessing over the odds?- and the thought melts away. I can remember basic aspects about my life, but there is something peculiar about this eerily cold, sterile room, this atmosphere; it’s holding back any specific memories, any feelings, any complex thoughts- I can’t really visualise anything about my past or about life outside this tube. I mean, the noise is quite obstructive, so whenever a thought or a mental image starts materialising, it quickly dissolves. I have a rare, evanescent, uncanny feeling that there is a higher presence or force watching over me. This reminds me of my pre-atheistic, childhood days when I had an agnostic belief in animism and in magical thinking- the belief that one’s thoughts could influence reality, which was problematic whenever I had dark, “forbidden”, ungodly thoughts resulting in fear of divine punishment and futile attempts at suppression. There is a surreal atemporality about this space, it’s like reality is suspended. If my whole body slid into this alienating horizontal cylinder, it would really feel like I’m inside an eccentric, futuristic coffin. That’s spine-chilling. And yet, despite my claustrophobic tendencies, I wish I had a full body scan so I could be encapsulated and see what it would be like if my consciousness or my spirit found a way to return to my corpse a hundred years from now. I don’t believe in it, but I like fantasising. My ego is temporarily numb and any vivid memories are gone, replaced by brief, fleeting perceptions, and it’s one of the few moments in which I’m not living in the past or in the future. I’m living in the now. I feel alive and calm, oddly calm. An oddly calm combination of cells, lying down in a tube, with an ego on snooze mode. Oh, it’s time to get back out there…

Postmodern

Writing will always feel like a strange paradoxical venture to me because you’re supposed to curate your thoughts and words to establish an image, a style, an angle, a niche, fit into a genre, or take into account an audience, but not so much that you compromise with yourself, just enough.
Doesn’t that make writing inherently inauthentic, deceitful?
Or at least, incomplete? Perhaps dual? Every word, sentence, stanza or paragraph tinged with both presence and absence, permanence and transience, openness and confinement, revealing and concealing?
Writing is about the world inside and the world outside, about an appreciation of them, about the connection between them, about reducing the space between self and other.
It carries a compromise between subjectivity and objectivity, between an understanding and a lack of understanding; because every mind functions somewhat differently, every consciousness having a different set-up due to nature and nurture.
And yet, with increasing (especially spiritual) awareness comes the realisation we are all both different and alike.
Perhaps writers are aware of the limitation and power of language the most, followed by psychologists.
I have an infinite fondness for the postmodernists and the beautifully unhinged nature of their work, their literary and psychological fragmentation
Sometimes I see or feel characters and I incorporate what they represent, I give them a voice, in doing that, I give myself a voice- and vice-versa- by integrating them within my self.
This is sometimes exhausting.
It’s also bewildering, cathartic, empowering, a blessing and a curse.

When I write, I know nothing and I know everything.
How avant-garde.

A poem: Freesia girl

I am intoxicated
with the saccharine mystery
in your warm gaze,
your sylph-like appearance-
a misty dream haunting
idyllic paths
inexorably, I find myself
in the same spot
under the tree archway
as much as I try to escape
how sweet-
sickeningly sweet-
my suffering,
the uncanny feeling of being
hypnotised to return,
to haunt and be haunted
I feel masochistic urges
to re-enact scenes of
long-lost delights
of the senses
delicately,
then vigorously
wistfully all along
You never wither,
I decay in the scent
of nostalgia.

On social chameleons, self-monitoring, and other thoughts along the lines of connection and the self

Where do we draw the line between adapting ourselves and our personalities to the people around us by making ourselves liked in order to connect with others and blend into social environments, caring about what people think just enough for it to act as a catalyst for fulfilling connections and successful interactions, and holding onto our individuality and sense of self based on inner beliefs? Up to a certain point, adaptability is normal in any interaction because, as social beings, we tend to bond by relating to another person’s experiences, thoughts, views, and so on, and for that we can’t be rigid or left unchanged, we need to be open to invite all this information from someone else’s world into ours; when inevitable differences arise, they should ideally be respected and sometimes accommodated. It’s also normal in the sense that, sometimes involuntarily, your personality and energy tend to be influenced by people you interact with and their own vibes, especially if you’re an empath, so, attuned to the moods and sensibilities of others. There is also a necessity for a certain degree of conscious adaptability and flexibility ingrained in many social interactions, in entering new environments, and facing a variety of people from different backgrounds, ages, and cultures. The social chameleon (I prefer this term rather than ‘people-pleaser’ which sounds pretty sad) is highly skilful in impression management and Self-Monitoring, being self-aware and aware of others; he or she thrives by reading social cues and charmingly acting and adapting accordingly to specific situations and types of people. Since adaptability is one of the main transferable skills you are asked to prove in interviews and job applications, this is a quality that is often valued in society and viewed as being linked to interpersonal and professional success.

When does this become a problem? When you bypass your personal boundaries and needs, such an attitude or way of living can take on a self-sabotaging quality and an unnatural influence over your life, that is ultimately detrimental to your well-being and your individuality. This happens when the focus you place on adapting to different personalities or social groups by making yourself liked and likeable at all costs becomes an impediment to living authentically and to being in touch with your feelings, interests, and desires. It can make you feel alienated from yourself and it can make others feel like they don’t really know you. The first steps you might take down this slippery slope could be silencing or diminishing your voice to accommodate someone else’s ego (particularly relevant to women tiptoeing around the male ego, or even around other women’s egos), switching between social masks and doing things to accommodate people in general, at the expense of corrupting your spirit, practising unnecessary humility, gaslighting yourself and doubting yourself too much when something goes wrong or when someone puts you in a negative light, putting up with (whatever you may see as) adverse or unfriendly treatment and making excuses for it, blaming yourself, and wanting to fix the situation, and so on. There is a fine line there between being empathetic and understanding of other people’s feelings and being unhealthily willing to compromise on your expectations and needs.

If it appears that you have people-pleasing tendencies, a lot of people pick up on that vibe and your boundaries may be challenged. There is also a shadowy side to people-pleasing: whilst it might seem like an altruistic act and it can be, it can also be a somewhat manipulative approach to get people to like you so that you maintain control over situations, but this is not inherently bad and not everyone who does this is conscious of it or a control freak or has a conscious ulterior motive. And the most harmful aspect is that people-pleasers associate their worth with the capacity to gain other people’s approval. You can be pleasant to be around- as that is clearly an advantage in most situations- but without being a push-over and without relying on people’s reactions and impressions of you, on their response to your behaviour. For this, you need to have a decently stable self-image- so know yourself- and what your expectations and standards are. And then you need to ideally spend your time with people who match those expectations and standards or otherwise, to communicate that need. Go beyond being pleasant. Be an inspiring, uplifting presence. Learn to truly listen to someone and allow trails of their consciousness to permeate yours, without filtering them through your fixated thought patterns too much. Just as I previously mentioned in an article that the best approach in the process of reading a book is to suspend your interpretative frameworks initially, you can do the same thing when you read another person, so you can invite their world into yours.

I’m glad to have reached a stage in my life journey where, after meeting someone new and chatting for a while, instead of wondering “Does this person like me?” it’s more important to first ask myself “Do I like this person?”. I’m not a passive or self-sacrificing person, I’ve never been, but I haven’t always claimed my social and emotional agency to the point where my likeability becomes irrelevant or less relevant than authenticity and personal satisfaction-so there have been times when my self-presentation has overpowered aspects of my life which should have been more important – though not in a ‘blending in’ type of way. These days, instead of impression management, I ask myself questions such as: Does this person add a positive contribution to my life and well-being? Are they a presence I like being around? How do I feel around them? Shift the focus this way. It’s liberating. What value or qualities do people add to your life? It could be that they’re kind, they make you laugh and are fun to be around, they’re thoughtful, relaxing, considerate, helpful, interesting, they just get you, they have a stimulating mind in addition to similar interests or an openness to discuss your interests- or a combination of such traits that you simply click with. If my assessment is positive, then, I value their response to me on a deeper level. Anyway, people are more than a combination of factors, so I don’t believe in having a rigid checklist of traits for friendships or other connections because our minds often override pre-established ideas when we click or feel drawn towards people we wouldn’t have expected to do so or when we don’t click with people we apparently had so much in common with. I personally only have a clear, uncompromising checklist of what I profoundly dislike or am repelled by in interactions. When there is reciprocal appreciation and things really work out, that ‘pleasing’ part is organic and ingrained in your interactions, there is no need to perform or control as it’s all spontaneous and there is definitely no need to feel like you compromise your self.

If your focus is on people-pleasing, it can be self-effacing or, to sound more dramatic, self-annihilating, as you tend to lose yourself in the process of presenting yourself in the way you think others expect you to. This could mean your fashion sense, your personality, the current version of your identity. Identity is fluid, I’ve always believed this, and some of your personality variables are, in fact, altered by interaction. My life mantra seems relevant here: “I am rooted, but I flow” (Virginia Woolf’s words). You have a core, the part of you that is grounded, rooted, true no matter what happens. This is surrounded by waters in which you flow and with which you can merge, meaning you can be open to new experiences and be shaped and re-shaped by them. But be mindful of where you flow and don’t be scared to swim against the current when you have to. Meet new personalities, be amicable and let the right worlds enter yours, without losing yourself in the other.

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.

At 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.”