Monthly Archives: November 2006

About Schmidt

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     This is written by my teacher for my class in the university.

 THEMES

A film funny and sad at the same time—a tragic-comedy, or a tragedy disguised as comedy.

A character-driven "black comedy," in which every character in the film is beneath us. The film keeps putting everyone down, showing us their weaknesses and eccentricities.

It’s a movie about a man reaching out for some human connection while at the same time ridiculing nearly everyone onscreen. Characters do the most insensitive things without blinking —not because they’re stupid or bad but because they simply don’t know any better. It is therefore a "cautionary comedy."

An end-of-life "road movie." The on-the-road vignettes serve to show how "normal" Schmidt is compared to other people in the Midwest. Just as in life, there is not a lot of plot here.

It’s the story of a man growing up late, but not too late. Or perhaps just starting to grow up: this is more "real life" than "Hollywood"—notice how little Schmidt actually changes as a person. It is a wake-up alert to how one lives their life.

Communication
A main theme in the film is miscommunication or simply lack of communication. Part of this is due to the personalities of the individual characters, but a larger part is also due to the ‘personality’ of American Midwest culture.

People use polite conversation to avoid really saying anything, when saying something genuine becomes difficult. (This is the tatemae of Midwestern American "friendliness," filling uncomfortable silences with a lot of nothing, often with a clichéd, automated, sugar-coated tone.)

This type of speech occurs during just about every uncomfortable exchange in the film. The overall effect of this is the realization that no one is saying what they really mean in an attempt to maintain some sort of decorum. Appropriate responses and politeness are valued more than honesty.

The mirror-image public speeches at the start and end of the movie:
     1) the ritual retirement dinner, with hilariously terrible, clichéd speeches—an excruciating  affair of insincere politeness.
     2) Warren’s wedding speech—also insincere. This has been interpreted in two ways:
          a) his awful realization that he can’t prevent their life of deception and disappointment (like his own marriage all over again), and
          b) his recognition that to speak the truth at the wedding would be very selfish, so instead he’s dishonest, but out of love. Every word is insincere, but intended to heal, console, and make life bearable.

Time
Schmidt lives his life by the clock (notice the clocks in the film.) But retirement and his wife’s death take away the time structures in his life.

"Life is short"—"I can’t afford to waster another minute"—"Don’t dilly-dally!" It is possible to run out of time. But is it ever "too late" to change, to do something about one’ e life?

 

CHARACTERS

The Midwest
This central part of the United States and the type of people who live there are an important "character" in the film. The land is shown as a gray, barren place (the ground and people’s souls go unwatered). It is also dreary and flat (like the people), with gaudy interiors, populated by kooky, irritatingly small -minded folk who speak in strings of clichés. This is Middle America, the "fly-over states," the "Silent Majority" of Americans. Here, everyday life is banal and boring. There is an atmosphere of hopelessness. Retirements and marriages are celebrated in chain restaurants to the tune of chain homilies.

The movie shows the American vernacular (common language) of ritual insincerity, stupefied testimonials, and mindless bromides. It spotlights the strangeness of and the monotony of modern living. (Omaha, Nebraska, Schmidt’s home, is best cattle slaughterhouses.)

The Schmidts
Middle-class, well-behaved, quietly uncommunicative (Omaha, Nebraska stereotype)

Warren
An "old geezer," just retired, and for most of the film a widower.

An ordinary "everyman," alienated and boring, beaten down by life, flat, repressed (holding in his feelings, especially anger), with no hobbies or interests aside from work, fastidiously uptight, a straightlaced man with rigid composure and perpetually tight lips (a Type-A personality: workaholic, by-the-clock conformist).

A slave to routine: his life has been all about routines, but now he has to face life without the things he had depended on — his wife…and his job (which kept him safely away from his wife!)

Lonely and alone: he has "made his bed and is only too willing to lie in it." Hypochondriac and self-pitying, he expects to get love without giving any in return. He has grown accustomed to his isolation and habits, even as he has grown resentful of them (for example, he can’t stand certain things about his wife, but can’t imagine life without her.)

He has disdain (scorn) for most people he meets, although he doesn’t express this (except in the letters). He is displeased wight everything—he rails against the "young punk" who replaced him, his "nincompoop" future son-in-law, the "old woman" (his wife)—so he is displeased with LIFE.

He is a narcissist, without being actively selfish: there is nothing  that he wants and nothing he lacks that he cares about. Nevertheless, he is totally self-centered. He is "clueless" about American society and others" he doesn’t know how to read, respond to , or treat other people; he’s only aware of his own desires and needs.

He comes to believe himself to be a failure (as a worker, husband, father) and makes it his redeeming mission to "rescue" his daughter (who doesn’t want to be rescued) from a bad marriage in order to finally do some good.

Helen
A small, overbearing, woman—pudgy, frumpy, dowdy, obtuse, unobservant, haughty, domineering bossy, bickering, nagging, long-suffering, henpecking.

(Why isn’t Warren excited by the idea of trips in the camper? Because he’d have to spend every waking hour with his wife—something he’s never done.)

Jeannie
Dour, mousy, shrewish.

Warren talks to her as if she were still and obedient little girl, but he no longer has that sort of power over her. She blows him off (dismisses him) several times in the movie. She resents that he was always working and was never emotionally available to her or interested enough in her life when she was growing up.

Why is she marrying Randall? Perhaps she appreciates his non-judgmental support—the kind she never got from her father.

The Hertzels
A grotesque, loud and dysfunctional family—coarse, boozy, boorish, vulgar, blue-collar, aging hippy, bohemian-trash in-laws (a Denver, Colorado stereotype)

Randall
Jeannie’s vapid, cliché-spouting, but doting fiancé.

A "complete nincompoop," air-head, boob, buffoon, dim-bulb, dolt, doofus, fraud, moron, ponytailed idiot, rube, underachiever: cheesy, flaky, goofy, mediocre, simpleminded, stupid.
Warren doesn’t like Randall because he is "beneath" his daughter (in class and intelligence) but partly also because, in his mediocrity, Randall seems to be heading down he same road as Warren himself.

Roberta
Randall’s overly libidinous mother.

Lewd sexpot, earthy, oversexed, blunt, aging hippy, man-hungry—a fount of touchy-feely aggression.

She has self confidence and ease, yet is selfish under her friendliness, and she lacks any class: bare feet on the table while relaxing, empty paint cans on the lawn, yells at her ex in front of guests, talks openly about her sex life, goes skinny-dipping (naked) in the hot tub.

THE LETTERS

Warren’s letters to Ndugu are his self-centered voiceover commentary on his life and the events in the movie. Mostly they are a comic narration—a cliché-rich mix of inane pride, rote optimism, and genial condescension, with occasional diatribes (complaints). This is comic because these are completely inappropriate to a starving 6-year-old orphan in Africa.

Schmidt’s flat, eternally bored intonation in the voice over letters. He is so focused on his own misery, and later his own garrulous, plodding perceptions, that the doesn’t consider Ndugu’ age or situation at all.

The letters are an example of the ancient but effective device of the "unreliable narrator." They dryly expose the discrepancy (gap) between the real world and what Schmidt perceives: we see what happens while we hear his very different account of the incidents. Thus the letters reveal the limitations of Schmidt’s meant horizons.

But what starts out as a comic device end up serving as a window into Schmidt’s soul. Through the letters, we are able to view Schmidt’s life as he sees it, and then make our own assessments. There is no interpersonal communication here: the letters never acknowledge the interests of an impoverished African boy, but simply express Schmidt’s frustration at the world. When he talks to Ndugu, he is talking to himself. Ndugu functions as his invisible father-confessor or silent therapist.

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: The world accepting, by the world accepted

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       Would you like to erase your memory of someone whom you used to love after you have a heated exchange with him or her? If the quarrel really hurts you, you may say yes. Clementine, the heroine of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, does. 

     

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a movie released in U.S, 2004. The heroine, Clementine was played by Kate Winslet, and Jim Carry played her boyfriend, Joel, who is the hero of the story.

     I am taking an English class at a university, and the class is not an ordinary English conversation class, but it’s a kind of a psychology class. Students see movies and study the characters’ feelings psychologically. As we finished seeing the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in the class the other day, I am going to write something about the movie here.
    

In the movie, after arguing Clementine erases Joel’s memory. Joel also decides to erase her memory after knowing she erased him from her brain. 

 

     Most of the scene you see on the movie is Joel’s dream under the procedure for erasing Clementine from his memory. Gradually he remembers how happy he used to be with her as the procedure goes on and the nasty memories are gone. As wonderful memories with her are erased, he tries to keep those.
 
     While resisting “eraser guys” who are erasing the memories of Clementine, Joel realizes how really he loves and needs her. You can see that in his words, “I still thought you were gonna save my life, even after that.” or “It would be different if we could just give it another go around.” in the end of the procedure. Finally he gives up keeping Clementine’s memory. But it’s not a negative meaning. He decides to accept the situation. He stops resisting losing the memories with her, and starts enjoying them instead. 
 
     After erasing the memories of each other, Joel and Clementine meet again. Although they broke up once, they are attracted by each other. After revealing their former relationships, Joel says “Okay” when she tells him that she will get bored with him and will get disliked by him someday. Why can Joel say “Okay”? I think it’s because he can accept the situation in his dream. He can accept whole Clementine as well.
 
     The title of the movie is derived from a poem by Alexander Pope, Eloisa to Abelard.

          How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
          The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
          Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
          Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;

     To tell the truth, it’s difficult for me to understand the poem in the 17th-18th century. But I think you better accept things than forget. 

     If you are in trouble with someone who used to love, why don’t you see the movie? You may be able to get something to solve the problem. 

Nagoya City Archives

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     One of my Tai Chi company devotes herself to weave. The group to which she belongs had an exhibition at Nagoya City Archives the other days. As I am very interested in textile, I went there to see the exhibition on November 8th.

     Nagoya City Archives is a neo-baroque style beautiful red brick building and the building itself is an important national cultural asset. It used to be the Nagoya Supreme Court before. So many law offices remain around the building still now. Most of them are very old and they make the street nostalgic.

     I had seen the building of Nagoya City Archives from outside before, but it was my first time to enter it. As soon as I entered the building, I was very impressed with the beautiful stained glasses on the wall and the ceiling. The banisters of the staircases were elaborate and imposing, too.

     There are many rooms inside and some of them are used by exhibitions. I saw a textile exhibition where my friend submitted her works to, and another exhibition of pictures made from torn off Japanese paper. Both of the exhibitions were really interesting.

     After seeing them, I explored the building. It has old detention rooms and you can see one of them. The lockup was a very tiny room and looked ominous. Maybe because those of rooms are in the basement and I went there alone, I felt a little bit scared and a chill.

     I went out of the building immediately and took fresh air outside. But I still had a shiver and started to have a headache after leaving the building. I thought I became out of shape because of someone’s curse in the lockups.

     But I was wrong. I caught a cold! And still now I have a cold!

Paella for 100 people

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     I learn Spanish from a handsome (!) Spanish man, Mariano. (I was absent from his lesson today because I caught a cold, though…) He is a cook, too. He cooks paella for 100 people once on the first Sunday in Komaki city.

     There is a farm named Kuri-No-Ki Ranch there. They process meat and eggs, produce vegetables, and sell them. And they have a cafeteria as well. Mariano cooks paella at the event there.

     I had longed to try his big paella for a long time, and at last I was able to go there and to taste the paella on November 5th. That was really nice! I ate some fried chicken wings and boiled liver with sweet soy sauce before having the paella because I was too hungry to wait. Those foods were also wonderful!

     The farm has a beautiful garden and two ponies, too. Why don’t you visit there once?

Culture Day

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     November 3rd is Culture Day in Japan. It’s a national holiday. As the day this year was Friday, many people can had three consecutive holidays. And during the holidays, there were festivals in most of the universities in my area.

    With I am now going to two universities to study English and Tai Chi, I have many friends there. One of them belongs to the calligraphy club in one of the universities, and she exhibited some her works at the university festival. That’s why I went to the university’s festival to see her calligraphies.

     The calligraphy club used two big lecture rooms for the exhibition during the festival at the university. Usually all desks and chairs are fixed in the rooms. I mean you cannot move the desks and chairs at all. But they moved all of desks and chairs away for the exhibition! According to a club member, those desks and chairs were terribly heavy! Yeah, I understand…

     All of their calligraphies were fantastic! You know, Japanese (Chinese) calligraphy is usually expressed characters by only black ink on white paper. Those letters became not only symbols but also fine arts by their hands. Even the light and shade of ink on paper express something. The monochrome world was really subtle and profound.

    Because I haven’t written characters by brush for a long time and seldom watch calligraphy, it was a good opportunity for spending Culture Day for me.

 

Curious Coincidence

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     On Sunday of October 29th, there was a festival named World Collabo Festival in Sakae district. Rosario Folklore Peru, of which my Peruvian friend Rosario is the leader, performed there and I went to see it.

     In Sakae there is a square named Oasis 21. http://www.jciti.com/Nagoya/Buildings/Oasis21/ It looks like a huge spaceship. The festival was held at the strange looking place.

    Rosario and her dance team members were wearing beautiful traditional Peruvian clothing. Their performance was really wonderful! One of them looks very sexy, but I was really surprised to hear that she is still 14 years old!

     After seeing their dance, I went to another even area next to Oasis 21. There were many stalls. Most of them were selling ethnic goods, for example, Indian clothing and food, African drums and dolls, musical instrumentals of Andes area and so on.

     As the passage was very narrow, people couldn’t move smoothly and started getting jammed. I heard drums’ sounds when I went ahead by little by little. Someone seemed to be dancing in the narrow passage.

     At last I was able to see what was happening there. Two black men were dancing to rhythm of the bongo drums.

     At the moment I found out who were dancing, the dancers looked at me and shouted my name! Wow! They remember me, even my name! The men are from Senegal. I struck up an acquaintance with them last year, but we hadn’t contacted each other for a while. What a coincidence to meet them there!

They’re musicians, not the Mafia!

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     On Sunday of October 22nd, I went to Miyoshi, which is a town located the southern east from Nagoya, with a friend of mine. There was a festival named International Festa in the town and my Peruvian friend’s dance team was supposed to dance there. 

     The Peruvian friend is from Lima, Peru and now is a graduate student in Japan. She established a dance team named Rosario Folklore Peru about three years ago and introduces Peruvian culture to Japanese people, mainly traditional Peruvian folk dances.

     She and her dance team’s members danced cheerfully in beautiful traditional Peruvian costumes. Both of their dances and costumes were really fantastic!

     As there were some ethnic food stalls in the festival, the friend who went to the festival with me and I tried some of the foods after seeing the dance: Sri Lankan curry noodle, Brazilian barbecue called Churrasco, French fries, Chinese fried chicken, and Vietnamese coffee.

     I was enjoying the food when the friend said, “Oh! Here comes the Mafia!”

     What? The Mafia? When I looked up the direction she pointed, I saw some men walking. Most of them were wearing black colored clothing and sunglasses with long black hair. 

     “No! They are not the Mafia! They are Ecuadorian musicians! They belong to a folklore band named Sisay!”, I said to the friend. 

     Jesus! Why are they here?! I like their music!

     I checked the program of the festival immediately, but I didn’t find their names anywhere. While I was looking for the information about them, they were gone.

     After lunch, the friend and I enjoyed shopping at the festival. I bought a metallic coffee filter for Vietnamese coffee for 100 yen and a bottle of Sri Lankan spirit named Arrack, which is made from Coconut’s blossoms, for 500 yen.

     We were going to try some costumes of different countries and looking for the place. But we found a hall instead. And we found that there were some events in the hall: an orchestra’s performance, Japanese famous athlete Koji Murofushi’s talk show, a concert by Paraguayan musical instrument arpas and then Sisay’s concert! That’s why the Mafia was there!

     Fortunately we were able to enter the hall and got nice seats, and of course enjoyed the event there!