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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Zen

After enjoying the first episode, the second and third episodes Cabal and Ratking have disappointed. I can't quite put my finger on what exactly is the problem. Casting is not necessarily an issue --- After all, James Caan and Marlon Brando as Sicilians never bothered anyone.

I think there is something wrong with the pacing of the stories, either in the original novels or the TV direction. It just doesn't work.

证人 Beast Stalker



Amores Perros!!!

好吧,林超贤把这部片子的灵感来源藏到最后才被我发现,算他有种。这总算比岸西/陈木胜的作品 《三岔口》 从一半左右就被我识破是抄袭荷兰名片 "The Vanishing" 强多了。

最近也不知是怎么了。前不久看的 《十月围城》 里烂俗套路塞满了不说,最后还来一段 战舰 Potemkin 里面无比有名、已被借用一百遍的奥德萨阶梯,让我几乎要当场放声大笑出来。

除了靠撞车来汇集人物故事线之外,还好,林同学就不欠 Alejandro González Iñárritu
什么了。我喜欢影片里手提着个摄像机在拥挤的香港街头抓拍动作场面的段落。只凭印象,我觉得很多段落必定是抓拍的,极有现实感,不可能是有组织地郑重其事地拍出来的。其实抓拍真实街景根本是论证了影片中暗示的一个想法 (虽然剧本后来编不下去就胡乱收尾了): 在香港这么拥挤纷乱的地方,即使你可以将搜索范围缩小到几条街区,仍然找不到你想找的人。

这些真实的香港街景、社区脉搏镜头,我对之很没有抵抗力。十多二十年前,我们从林岭东到王家卫的爱恋眼光中认识了香港的面目,在大陆各路势力冲击之下的今天又看见如此本土的画面,不可能不爱。

既然他自己采用了 Beast Stalker 这个英文名,就不能怪我忆旧,伤感他和陈嘉上拍摄的 《野兽刑警》 代表香港电影动作片的黄金时代一去不返。当然当然,在港片苟延残喘的环境下还能拍出颇有几处亮点的 《证人》 我已经很感谢他了,但是,差别还是很明显的,动作戏拍得好---除了结尾胡乱拼凑的最后一场之外---而少数几场文戏给旧片提鞋都不配,人物、对话、细节都欠奉。我好想念黄秋生吊儿郎当的笑容,而当年风头那么劲的谭耀文到哪里去了呢?还有迷住我的丑男李灿森。张家辉这个喜剧演员现在怎么变成反派专业户了呢?影片里有几张他的角色曾经是拳击手的照片,瘦了吧唧的让我扑哧一声笑出来。

这就是我老了的证据吧?动不动就唉声叹气一代不如一代。

Another Man's Moccasin



最近感觉需要所谓“治愈系”的读物,于是又回去把 Craig Johnson 的第四本 Walt Longmire 侦探小说借来看看。可是,这个人也越写越暗黑了! 没办法,任何崇拜莎士比亚的人都不可能心里没有黑暗面。但是,还好,Walt Longmire 这个人给读者带来的安全感仍然像一床大棉被。难怪那么多读者迷上了他,把他当成真人。

跟系列中第二本 Death Without Company 有类似之处,Another Man's Moccasin 也深深牵扯到历史与回忆,只是这次是 Walt 自己的回忆,关于越南战争。Johnson 自己肯定没有去过越南, 年纪不够老,但是他写出来还挺活灵活现的。当然这一本书的主要人物之一仍然是怀俄明的 landscape,这一次描述的是被遗弃的鬼镇 Bailey。

我忽然意识到为什么侦探小说给人一种安全感。除了 SJ Rozan 说过的 a rational world (生死有因)之外,虽然侦探小说里总有 evil,但代表 evil 的力量化身在隐藏的凶手里,读者的视角总是保持在离凶手相当的感情/心理距离之外,直到最后揭秘。凶手本身的 point of view 读者不需要了解得太清楚。

Saturday, July 30, 2011

中午跟某同学大眼瞪小眼:中午去吃啥?天气太热不想走远,于是我建议去附近一家号称萨尔瓦多/秘鲁/墨西哥菜的馆子去。这家店经常开车路过但从来没进去过。

还没开到,我就回忆起马里兰有一家小有名气的萨尔瓦多馆子,在那里吃过牛舌,又鲜又嫩,不禁匝匝自己的舌头。本地萨尔瓦多裔民工甚多,小吃店也不少,但似乎只卖玉米馅饼, 烤牛排,牛胃汤几样传统小食,尚未见过牛舌 --- 牛胃汤也不错。

这家店内部空荡而简陋,电视上播放着西语台的足球赛。翻开菜单惊喜地看见果然有炖牛舌,赶紧点了,要一杯拉美版酸梅汤,某同学点了安全的海鲜汤。

牛舌的质地比牛肉更软而嫩,但又保持了瘦肉的味道,无需油脂便有肥嫩的口感。炖得烂烂的拿上来,十分鲜美,入口即化。Mmm~~

Friday, July 29, 2011

Solaris




听完了。十分遗憾没有书面版本而只有有声版。这本书里充满了大段大段的描写,甚至枯燥的伪“科学论文”叙述,听念书很容易走神。对我来说,有声书中侦探小说比较好听,因为情节快,不停推进,能抓住人的注意力。描写多而进度慢,需要慢慢品味的文字适合用眼睛看,可以上下来回游走。什么时候才能解决版权纠纷出版纸书呀?

Solaris 写于1960年,十几年前读的时候,还以为是一个爱情故事,是一个关于人类自己、回忆、意识与潜意识的故事,以及讨论 "What makes us human" 之永恒主题。现在读了忠实译本,接受了另一方面的 “人类与异形生物的 contact” 的主题。他描述的接触跟其他科幻小说里的同类题材完全没有可比性,神秘主义和互不可知的主题只有 Arthur Clarke 的名著 Childhood's End, Rendezvous With Rama 和 Ted Chiang 的 The Story of Your Life 可与之比美。

这本小说实在说不上“好看”,情节缓慢,戏剧冲突少,没有令人满意的结尾,但是非常吸引我,多年来想模仿之而未果。我觉得 Stanislaw Lem 最高明的地方在于混合了抽象不可知的主题与人性自省的主题,神奇得很。

此书被改编成电影至少两次,一次是苏联版,Tarkovsky 导演;一次是好莱坞版,Steven Soderbergh 导演,George Clooney 主演。后者我没看过,但是某同学看过。两个版本都仅采用书中的人类故事而不知如何表达人类与异形的接触情节 --- 可以理解但是令人失望,说明两个导演都完全不懂科幻。

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Made Me Cry

Donald Ray Pollock's interview. He started writing fiction at 45.

The way to a woman's heart is through stories. Every man I've met (not dated) who has had a published story in his pocket has been married at least once. Well, every man I've met except one, but he is pretty young. I can't to attest to the romantic power of music (not in the business), but I suspect the same holds true for music men as well.

Oddly, the same cannot be said about women. Stories or music doesn't seem to have the same influence on men.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Unintended Consequences

In 1978, Deng initiated a series of fundamental policy changes that would eventually release millions and millions of Chinese peasants to thousands of factories under contracts with Nike, Wal-Mart, and Motorola. Coupled with persistently low petroleum price in the 1980s and 1990s, advances in telecommunication technology, and other forces, this labor flood has killed a large portion of American industry.

Who would have thought.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Dance With Dragons

第一章里,最接近作者代言人的 Tyrion Lannister 感叹自己做过的梦:

He had dreamed enough for one small life. And of such follies: love, justice, friendship, glory. As well dream of being tall.

Tyrion 在书里的最后一章则有呼应的一段:

Penny looked as though she was about to cry. "Last night I dreamed my brother was alive again. We were jousting before some great lord, riding Crunch and Pretty Pig, and men were throwing roses at us. We were so happy ..."

Tyrion slapped her. ... "If you want to dream, go back to sleep," he told her.

管它龙不龙的,在很多地方 GRRM 与 Graham Greene 和 Stephen Sondheim 可以说是同一类人,一边 humanistic,一边直面惨淡的人生。相比之下 Tolkien 和 C.S. Lewis 什么的都还属于做梦的那一种人。可是,让我想不通的事情是,为啥英国作家看上去就那么深沉的样子,而美国作者即使思想也很深沉,看上去却总是邋邋遢遢的涅?



Greene



GRRM

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Zen



PBS 新播出的英国侦探剧 Zen。小说作者 Michael Dibdin 是英国人,电视剧是 BBC Scotland 和 Left Bank Pictures 制作的,主角是 Rufus Sewell ,但是剧情设在罗马,不仅都是意大利人,而且里面的情节和人际关系非常意大利,政治黑幕与黑白道勾结等等。

电视剧一上来就让我喜欢了,那么多罗马风景照!在高清电视上看得好爽啊。后街小巷外景和办公楼内景之类未必是罗马,但看样子是意大利没错。主要演员都衣冠楚楚,以阿曼尼为制服。男主角的腔调也挺招人喜欢的。除了罗马大城市之外,还有一段情节跑到山里小城,破落景色,秘密地道山洞之类,也深得我心,好玩的东西真多。

我决定去把小说系列找来瞅瞅。

****

说起外国背景的侦探电视剧,除了 Kenneth Branagh 在瑞典拍的 Wallander,电视上还播出过 Commissario Brunetti 系列,原作者 Donna Leon 是住在意大利的美国人,剧情和人物都设定在威尼斯,而电视剧是德国拍的,演员和对白都是德语,外景在威尼斯。Brunetti 小说我没看过,但是德国拍的这电视剧忒难看!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Dance With Dragons

It has safely arrived on my Kindle this morning. :)

Perfect timing for my reading pleasure (and pain) as I watch skating at Liberty in the next few days.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Paul

上星期进城的时候在地铁站旁边看见开了家法国连锁店 Paul,感叹一下首都终于赶上了北京的脚步。当时已经吃过了,就没进去,还挺好奇的,昨天趁着进城看香港电影的机会去尝了尝。

(“十月围城”果然狗血洒了一地,陈可辛真恐怖。早知道是这片儿我就不去看了。)

环境搞得有点法国小资气氛,不过背景音乐却是不好听的英文歌,一上来就让我失望了,开店的人对法国调调没有研究啊。菜单上除了两三种 quiche,两三种沙拉,一个洋葱汤,剩下就是几种三明治和糕饼。我买了个烟熏三文鱼的冷三明治,某同学买了鸡肉三明治。另有卖两种热三明治的,馅是香肠,说白了就是夹法棍面包的热狗,我看看就没胃口了。

法棍面包倒是够结实有嚼头,馅也就 so-so。某同学倒挺喜欢他的鸡肉,我尝了尝,mustard 味儿还可以,其他没什么。我还买了一小壶咖啡和一只迷你巧克力croissant。咖啡味道寡淡,跟公司里的咖啡差不多,croissant 不过不失,在别处也可买到。柜台里放的一溜糕饼甜点,花色有限,看样子另一个本地法国连锁店 La Madeleine's (实际是从德州出来的)差不多,拿破仑块头很大,里面的 cream 黄黄的厚厚一层,macaron 小甜饼块头也异常之大,倒让人错以为是德州产品。总之看了一眼,没引起什么胃口。不如到 Trader Joe's 买冰柜里的 macaron,个头还小点。

吃的时候某同学问我有什么感想,我老实不客气地说,咖啡和糕点远不如本地的韩国西式咖啡馆,法国面包三明治味道平平,我宁可去吃越南三明治。坐在隔壁座位的一对洋人男女大概听见了,没一会儿就走了,我胡思乱想,他们大概觉得我是个不可救药的 snob 。

当时店里吃午饭的人不少,有一家带外国口音的,三个大人带三个小孩子,小孩子大约3至5岁,二男一女,在店里的木地板台阶上乱蹦乱跳,在地板上乱爬,十分吵闹,几个大人也不怎么管,店员也不管,总之气氛很烦躁。

说起来,本地 Annandale 的韩国咖啡馆才棒呢!我去的这家 Shilla 煮的是意大利出口的 Illy 咖啡,味道浓重,是欧洲口味不是美国口味。店堂里上百种西式面包糕点,近似港式西点,不过花色更丰富,蛋糕什么的尤其好吃,口味比较轻,糖份比美式西点低。也卖红豆包菠萝包什么的,豆沙馅分量很多,让我心花怒放。另外有卖刨冰!在同一广场中,有两三家韩国餐馆,包括韩式烤肉自助餐和韩式中国馆子(还没去吃过)。上次先在一家温馨小店(名字还有中文,唤作“本土人”)吃了炖牛肉汤和石锅拌饭,又便宜又正宗,刚刚将饱未饱的程度,然后溜达到咖啡馆里吃甜点喝咖啡,再买俩面包带回家,啊太爽了。

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Happiness Project

... by Gretchen Rubin, an ex-lawyer and a writer raised in the Midwest and living in New York.

I couldn't finish the book. It gave me a few voyeuristic pleasures for about half of the book, but then her chipper "feeling happy through acting happy" routine just grated on me more and more. So I abandoned it about 3/4 way through.

Her year-long happiness project was pretty much centered around the principle "fake it till you make it." I hope it works for her. I'm sure it doesn't work for me. Her spiritual model, she claims, is Saint Therese of Lisieux. One of the telling anecdotes Rubin cites as an ideal is how Saint Therese went out of her way to be exceptionally nice and friendly to a certain nun who grated on her nerves every day, thus giving that nun an impression that she had made Saint Therese very happy. Ah, how saintly! By that logic, I should write a letter to Rubin, telling her what a wonderful and profound writer she is and how she has changed my life from despair to ecstasy.

During the year of her "happiness project," she would assign herself behavioral goals every month, ranging from refraining from fighting with her husband to preparing parties and homemade gifts for her mother-in-law. Then she would mark them off on their calendar day by day: Done/Not done. She did admit that she had failed some of these goals, but she claimed that the efforts did make her happier. Good for her, I hope, cuz I couldn't tell from her writing whether she felt happier or not.

I should have known her book was not my cup of tea when I read that she prepares a holiday card with her family photo every year and mails it diligently to all her families and friends (and seethes with anger if her husband shows no interest in participating in such a wonderful activity as slapping stamps on these letters).

At least Rubin is somewhat honest about her own shallowness. Although she collected and read tons of books on every happiness-related book she could find, fervently took notes, and cited their lessons obsessively in every chapter, I could sense neither synthesis nor insight out of her own mind after all the cramming. Very lawyerly. Very middle-class, white, middle-aged American woman.

Perfect for a Woody Allen satire.

Another Year



Mike Leigh 作品。其实这个片子的结构非常简单,中心一对美满到近似完美的夫妻 Tom & Gerri,周围不停出现各种各样的人生失败者 ,加上他们的儿子和他的女友(暗示代表 Tom & Gerri 年青时代的样子)。

完全是生活场景组合出来,现场 improvise 的痕迹也多,是 Mike Leigh 的拿手好戏。不知怎么的,他这种拍电影的方法必定每次都会培养出异常出色的表演 --- 大概虚弱的演员第一不敢上这种戏,第二在排练的过程中就知难而退鸟。

即使是极不起眼的小角色也让人击节叫好,例如一开头 Imelda Staunton 的两场戏,演一个 anxious and depressed 病人,看 Gerri 这个 counselor ,天啊!太眼熟太眼熟了,在现实中我绝对见过一模一样的情景人物,尤其是她僵硬的表情和擦眼角泪的姿态,如果不是认得 Staunton 是颇有名气的演员,简直要以为这是从哪个诊所骗来的真病人!David Bradley 演个几乎没有台词的老头,也是某种典型老头的样儿,呆呆的几乎没有 social skills,眼睛嗖地一下往左撩,往右撩,太棒了。

我对 Gerri 这个人物 (Ruth Sheen) 很有好感,也许是因为自己也是个没下巴的,估计老了之后也得长出她这样的火鸡脖子。不过没有她的 overbite。Tom & Gerri 这一对老夫老妻近似完美,我觉得也好,本来的意图就是个对比,他们与其他人物的对比,何必刻意强调“无人完美”,反而生硬了。另外,这片儿简直就象个给 psychotherapy 做的广告,暗示 Gerri 之幸福人生跟她自己是 counselor 有关系。

总之,这片儿很好看!我对这种伪生活化的现实主义电影很没有抵抗力,Station Agent 是另一个例子。

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Liberty

下周三至六将在 Aston, PA 的冰场看俱乐部比赛。Nathan 小同学已经报名,希望能看到他。

可以算小小一个假期,只是坐三天冷板凳,对一把老骨头是种考验。

顺便提醒下自己,出发前别忘了带厚外套。

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

老莎与老马

琢磨了半天,终于发现 GRRM 同志的世界观人生观过去在哪儿见过了。

一早就感觉 GRRM 的人生观真是太不美国了,他简直就不是美国人!当然美国人也不是个个都乐观向上笃信自己会逢凶化吉咧着嘴傻笑那种类型的,也有悲观主义和虚无主义的,但那些主要在严肃文学里出现,类型小说 genre fiction 基本上全是这两个套路的变种: 1) Messiah 饭特希(参见The Matrix,连 Harry Potter 也赶那个热闹),或者2) Joseph Campbell 的英雄历程。GRRM 的 A Song of Ice and Fire 跟两个套路都沾不上边。刻骨铭心的 bleak,我一直觉得很虚无主义。

这两天忽然就联想到 Shakespeare 的悲剧了,发现了很多主题上的共同点。第一,个人不能主宰自己的命运。举例,罗密欧与朱丽叶恋爱之所以悲剧告终,不全是因为两家世仇,不全是因为俩孩子脑子发热要玩私奔,最关键的是,给罗密欧送信的神父路上遇到突发事件(瘟疫爆发,被关进地窖),耽搁了传递重大信息,造成了误会。悲剧是命运的大手造成。

第二,天地不仁,换言之,无常。李尔王提供最典型的例子,小女儿 Cordelia 嫁对了人,带着老公的兵,从法国打回英国搭救老爸惩罚两个坏姐姐。按照普通的故事套路,这就可以开始善有善报恶有恶报了,可是她却败了,被抓了,最后还被掐死了。尤其是最后,连大坏人都收回处决令了,没有人真想她死,可是她就是死了。李尔问天: 如果死的是我还算有道理,你倒是为什么要杀了无辜的 Cordelia 呢?她可是谁都没害过啊。 这是一个非常有争议的结局,让后世很多评论者受不了,满地打滚地抱怨,你这么毫无逻辑毫无因果关系地就把女主角给杀了,太虚无了,太没道理了嘛!至少希腊悲剧里还要拿天神之间的勾心斗角来解释一下人间的各种现象,你这算啥?可莎老头就是很不逻辑的人,他就是要写无辜者的死,毫无道理的悲剧。

看过Kenneth Branagh 拍的王子复仇记电影之后,我曾经在网上愤怒地质问:Ophelia 之死有什么意义?既无人替她复仇偿命,又没留下任何寓意,说起来她还是被爱人冤死的!大家还说王子是好人是英雄!有比这更让人上火的事儿吗?然后有蠢人上来解释,Ophelia 之死有因果关系,合乎逻辑,之前她有欺骗 Hamlet 嘛,难怪他要骂她叫她滚了,自作孽啊。我回答,哇,这么狗屁不通的逻辑都有人宣扬我真是服了你了,她服从老爹去敷衍王子就是不义,该死;如果不服从而跟王子站一边就是不孝,也该死,真是欲加之罪何患无辞。当然,实际上,莎老头没说过 Ophelia 该死,他的主题就是无辜者经常就这么毫无道理地挂了,没有意义。大多数的读者无法接受如此冷酷的现实,冥冥中没有照顾你保护你的神明,更没有伸张正义的力量,大家的命都操纵在随机的轮盘赌上,所以大家急着编造出命运的逻辑和因果。

这两个主题,跟 A Song of Ice and Fire 的路线完全一致。天地不仁,所有表面的因果关系都是假象,因果就是虚无。

第三个相似之处: 野心勃勃的麦克白,把国王给谋杀了,把忠臣给害死了,然后自握大权,但是登基之后疑心病越来越严重,自毁基业。而且这个人的行为深受巫婆的预言影响,一方面相信预言中对自己有利的部分,一方面又自欺欺人刻意“预防”预言中对自己不利的部分。麦克白在 GRRM 笔下也不需要麦夫人推一把了,化身成 Queen Cersei ,女野心家自己上阵。剧情相似处极多,绝非偶然。

第四个相似处: 人人都有他的 point of view。即使坏人也有他的理由和动机,甚至言之成理,甚至让读者同情。

第五个相似/联想点: 罗锅理查三世和 the imp Tyrion Lannister 的相似与相反。实在太对称了,不可能是偶然的。

现在我很怀疑小说的结局要走 Hamlet 的路线。在 Hamlet 中,从头到尾一直有人不停地传话,挪威王子 Fortinbras 要打进丹麦了,大军已经压境了,等等。最后 Fortinbras 果然出现在王宫里,不过这时王族们已经自相残杀内斗干净,一个也不剩了。Fortinbras 老实不客气地往丹麦王座上一坐,把王宫戴到自己头上。A Song of Ice and Fire 从开头起一直在警告北边长城外的冷冻僵尸就要入侵了,冬天就要来了,但是长城内大家都忙着内斗互杀呢,没人理睬。我怕最后结尾跟王子复仇记一样,僵尸就是 Fortinbras,长驱直入 Westeros。嘿嘿,如果真这么收尾,全世界的书迷肯定要炸开了。

Monday, July 4, 2011

酸葡萄及 Stephen King

在新闻媒体上接连看见几次不花钱的宣传 Josh Ritter 的小说 Bright's Passage。所谓不花钱的宣传就是记者把小说作者当作新闻人物来采访,配合新书的出版时间。当然这是很常见的现象,有轰动效应的书出来经常有这种花花轿子互相抬的机会,不过一个文学界门外汉第一次出版处女作就有不花钱的宣传配合出版社的发行,也算是罕见了。为啥呢?原来作者 Josh Ritter 是个早已建立粉丝群的 singer/songwriter,还是新民谣派的,相当有名气。

今天看了一个电视上的采访,好奇狗了一下小说内容,发现完全不是我有兴趣的那种故事,肯定没法欣赏,也不打算找来读了。其实,我最感兴趣的问题只有一个,如果他不是个文艺名人,会不会有这样的待遇,换言之,这样的待遇是冲着他的作品本身来的还是冲着他的艺人身份来的。去翻翻 review,看了几篇无关痛痒的赞扬之后,赫然发现纽约时报的对此书的评论还是请 Stephen King 写的!哇... 然后就看见 King 在书评里非常贴心地回答了我的问题 ---

I’ve asked myself several times if I would have recommended publishing “Bright’s Passage” were I the editor on whose desk it landed and were its author not known, and beloved, in a sister field of the arts. It’s a question I’m glad I never had to answer. Certainly the decision to publish was made easier by Ritter’s proven track record as a songwriter.

果然姜还是老的辣啊。

于是我忽然想起听别人推荐过 Stephen King 的书 On Writing,据说里面有不掺水份的经验之谈。我从来没读过 King 的小说,主要是对恐怖类型不太感冒,或许应该找这一本来瞅瞅。

另一条毫无关联的旧闻: Walt Whitman 是弯的!而且弯得高调弯得毫不掩饰。清教徒的美国教科书就一直假装没这事儿,害得我今天才听说。

The Glass Menagerie




平时一起看剧的朋友过生日,约了家人和朋友(包括我)在 Arena Stage 看戏,然后在她妹妹家开个派对。Arena Stage 上次去过一下,不过是夜里,没仔细看外观,这次大白天的,好好地欣赏了一下在河边重建的戏院。很漂亮。

The Glass Menagerie 过去看过一次电影版的 DVD,七十年代拍摄,主演是 Katharine Hepburn, Sam Waterston, Michael Moriarty, Joanna Mills。 这次是 Arena Stage 跟 Georgetown 大学的戏剧系学生合搞田纳西威廉斯戏剧节排演,里面的三个年轻人角色都是 GU 的学生演的。

回家路上翻看 playbill,结果惊喜地发现下一季 (2011秋至2012春) 这个剧院的上演剧目里包括了 RED! 就是去年上百老汇的(最早先在英国 regional theater 上的) John Logan 的戏,讲抽象派画家 Mark Rothko 的那一出,我一直深恨没看成。当然制作不是全班人马,Arena Stage 不可能请到 Eddie Redmayne 和 Alfred Molina,不过有得看我已经很高兴了 --- 这个剧院离家相当近,风景又好,票价又不贵,而且剧场够小,没有离得太远的座位。

这件事说明,没事儿隔三岔五地去剧院转转,能有意外收获。

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Midnight in Paris




I would hardly call myself a fan of either Paris or Woody Allen, yet this movie strikes the right tone for me. The little tinglings on my skin sparked reliably in nearly every scene --- the know-it-all professor played by Michael Sheen, the ugly American tourist family, the literary and artistic celebrities from the 1920s. The whole lot. Plus I recognized and identified with the sense of being born too late, the stumbling, clumsy awe toward the "giants" one honestly admires. Plus the self-awareness about one's romantic fantasies about the past --- can't really live in a world without Zithromax.

Of Mice and Gods

As soon as the light switch went off in the room, Jerry asked Lenny, who lived in the cage above his, "Hey, Lenny, how's it going?"

Lenny hesitated for a moment, then said, "Same old, same old."

Jerry could hear it in his voice, "Did you pig out on the red lever again today?"

Lenny was silent. After a while, he replied weakly, "I can't help myself."

Jerry shook his head. "You can if you put your mind to it. You have a choice, a blue lever and a red lever. You know you should choose the blue one because the red one will make you forget eating, but you just can't control yourself."

"I feel so good whenever I press the red lever that I totally forget about everything. It is so much better than food." Lenny gave a deep sigh. "I'm weak. I'm a loser."

Jerry tried to boost him up, "No, you are just tempted. We are all tempted. But the gods gave us free will! They don't have to give us the red blue lever, but they did, which means that, in their eyes, we are intelligent and superior creatures. We must live up to their expectation of us."

Lenny did not answer, but merely whimpered and fell asleep. Jerry was worried about him. He had been feeding on the evil red level that had obviously given him no nourishment. The blue level, once pressed, would have brought him real food that would sustain him, but he was too caught up in the indulgence to even think about food, until the day was over and he was sent back to this room for the night. Lenny had become thinner and weaker by the day. Jerry wondered whether his god would let him die or try to save him.

Gods were far more powerful than all the rats put together, every rat knew. They could give life or take it away. The rats had seen baby rats being born under the gods' watchful eyes, as well as rats of all ages being taken away by the gods, never to return.

"Hey, Jerry," a voice came from the left. Jerry couldn't see him, but he recognized Matt's voice. "Tell us about the story of Robinson again."

Matt looked almost identical to Jerry, and both were treated with utmost care and delicacy by the gods. Everyone in the lab was convinced that they were not only brothers but were from a noble bloodline. Of course, there was no way to know for sure, as all rats in this room grew up in separate cages since birth.

"Once upon a time there was a mighty warrior named Robinson," Jerry began for the hundredth time. "He was larger and stronger than any mouse in the world. He won every challenge the gods put in his path, from running the high crossbeam to the swimming test. He was also the smartest, and beat all mice in running mazes. The gods were awed by his might and rewarded him with dozens of the most beautiful and intelligent female rats for mating, so that his seeds would be preserved forever and spread as far as possible in the world."

The entire room fell into a hushed admiration for the legendary Robinson. He was way before their time, and none of them had seen him, but his mythology had lived on.

"I wish I was as strong and as smart as Robinson," Matt said. "Even if I could be only half as great, life would be so much easier."

Oh, no! Jerry thought. Is everyone feeling down tonight? Or is pessimism contagious?

"Don't say that, Matt." Jerry tried to keep his tone encouraging. "We are the lucky ones, because we are the chosen ones. We don't have to live in the dangerous and horrible outside, starving and fending for ourselves. The gods have chosen us because we are special."

Matt sighed. "You're right. I guess I'm just tired. I had a hard day at work."

"Tell me about it," said Jerry. "Then you'll feel better."

"There is not much to tell. I was put in a very large pool. I swam and swam, but felt like I could never reach the edge. It was endless. Finally my god, the boy with the dark hair, fished me out and gave me some sweet food. I was so exhausted. And then he put me in a maze. Are you kidding me? That was too much. I ran around for a whole hour without getting anywhere. I could tell my god was disappointed with me, and that just made me more depressed."

"Oh, I am sure your god was not disappointed with you," Jerry tried to look at the bright side. "He would not have given you such a difficult task if he didn't think you had the exceptional strength. The gods want to make us tough, so that we can succeed more and more. It's call tough love."

Matt chuckled, apparently helped by Jerry's words. "Does your pretty god ever give you tough love? I don't think so."

Jerry blushed a little, but of course no one would see it. "Life is not easy for anyone," he answered vaguely.

"Ah, if I had such a caring and beautiful god, I would be as happy as you are," said Matt with mild envy.

Jerry's god was everyone's envy in this lab. She was tender and kind, she always fed him well, and never allowed Jerry to suffer. And she always smiled. Jerry's job was not easy by no means. He ran a ton of mazes of all kinds every day. There were always new mazes to learn and remember. Sometimes he was injected with something or had blood taken from his body, but his god had a quick hand, and he was never in much pain for too long. He loved his job, because it was intellectually challenging and satisfying and, of course, he was fully rewarded for his intelligence and hard work.

I am smart and I work hard, he thought. Naturally my god appreciates me and rewards me. I've earned it.

"But my god is not so nice, and I have a feeling that my days are numbered. He used to be Peter's god too. Remember Peter? I heard he was sacrificed," Matt continued to complain. Jerry began to suspect that he was not of noble blood anyone, but rather just another weakling like Lenny.

"They are ultimately benevolent," Jerry declared. "But they are also just. They gave us free will and a lot of choices. We are responsible for choosing our own destiny. If we work hard and worship them correctly, they will reward us. Have some faith."

"How do you know all this?" Matt asked skeptically. "Did your god tell you? Can you understand god's language now?"

"I have a personal relationship with my god," Jerry answered cryptically. "She knows my every thought and need. You should try to build one with your own god too. It might make your life much better."

Matt had no answer for that. Darkness engulfed the laboratory. All the rats soon went to sleep. In his dreams, Jerry had a direct dialog with his personal god.


In the office down the hall from the laboratory, Jerry's god was putting the finishing touches on her protocol draft. According to the plan, she would give the final injection of a memory enhancing drug to her rat, test his ability to remember the passages in the maze. If his running time was significantly shorter than the previous test, she would sacrifice him immediately and analyze his brain, so that she could determine the precise biochemical effect of this promising drug.

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