Variations on Illuminating the Darkness
Reviews by Ken Burke
The Square (Ruben Östlund)
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): The head curator of a prominent Stockholm contemporary art museum hopes to make a big impact on the art world and humanity in general with his upcoming exhibit, The Square, intended as a small safe space where anyone who enters it automatically gets care and consideration from anyone else in the vicinity. Whether he’s able to live up to such standards in his personal life becomes a parallel plotline in this film as he responds to various street beggars, the theft of his phone and wallet, casual sex (or is it?) with a reporter, and a couple of increasingly-disturbing encounters with first a real chimpanzee, then a performance artist acting like one in a most disruptive manner. While this Swedish film’s received some high critical accolades its odd events, conflicting tone between biting satire and brutal confrontation, along with a general audience sense of wanting to better understand what’s occurring in some of the scenes likely makes for a considered decision on the part of potential viewers as to whether to engage with it or not. I highly recommend The Square for originality, probing questions about various aspects of contemporary life, and terrific acting from its lead players, but it’s certainly not to everyone's tastes.
Here’s the trailer: (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)
If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: ⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, continue on if you prefer.
What Happens: Christian (Claes Bang), Senior Curator of Stockholm’s X-Royal Museum of extremely contemporary art (a fictional institution, as best I understand, but shown as connected to the actual Swedish Royal Palace and its several museums [look here for an extensive exploration of the real complex, then here if you’d like to visit the place]), is interviewed by American journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss) about the museum’s ongoing new directions (exemplified visually by shots of an equestrian statue being roughly pulled down from in front of the building; I guess there aren’t any Confederate-descended-Swedes to rally against such historical revisionism), but his attempts to deconstruct the obtuse language used to “explain” contemporary art (such as the current sculptural exhibition of several small piles of gravel, which are the object of a crisis one night in a later scene when a janitor accidently sweeps up some of the stones, forcing Christian and his assistant to retrieve the “trash,” then quietly reconstruct the now-disturbed-piles) just leave her (and us) as puzzled as when she asked her questions. Upon leaving the museum, though—and, like others around him, ignoring the requests of street beggars for a handout— he becomes the victim of a sort of performance art, actually a street hustle where a frantic woman claims she’s being stalked so a man nearby to Christian insists they have to help her, even though the rather-disheveled-“attacker” claims he means no harm. By the time both men have had some contact with our bewildered curator, then quickly left the scene, he realizes he no longer has his wallet or cell phone (he’s also missing the cufflinks off his shirt as evidence of the smooth heist he’s just endured, although those oddly appear again later). Distraught at the loss of these valuable items (no one will lend him a phone to report the robbery) he works with his assistant, Michael (Christopher Læssø), to trace the phone, located in a building in a less-desirable part of town but not linked to a specific apartment.
They then concoct a scheme to write a note demanding return of the stolen property, with it to be left at a nearby 7-Eleven (which looks considerably more upscale than the one in my Hayward, CA neighborhood); Christian makes many copies of this demand, then frantically shoves them into the mail slots of every door in the multi-story-building while his accomplice waits outside deflecting requests from a passerby to learn more about the upscale car. As they speedily drive away, we hear some sort of loud bump (hinting, as this strange, unsettling film encourages us to do, that maybe they ran over someone, but—again, like other aspects of this story which are implied but not clarified—nothing much comes of this except Christian later wiping something off his driver’s side door). From here things continue into strangeness, yet it all begins quietly with Christian’s stolen property being returned (although even this gets connected to the oddity of his first, unsuccessful visit to the 7-Eleven where a woman outside asks for money, he agrees instead to buy her a sandwich, she specifies no onions, he just tosses the mini-meal at her, saying she can pick the onions off herself). Later, he meets Anne again at a party; after a weird come-on from her they end up back at her place for sex, even though he has to ignore the chimp who also lives there, making drawings on a large pad. After extended sweaty shots of Anne on top, Christian behind he finally climaxes, but then they fight over the condom which she demands against his stern resistance (afraid she’s going to impregnate herself with the sperm?), finally resulting in her victory of tossing it into a trashcan. Later, she encounters him again at the museum, accusing him of using his social position to just pick up women for casual sex, which he attempts to deny but not very successfully.
In another plot line, Christian gets a second package at the 7-Eleven with a message denying any theft, demanding an apology or “chaos” will be visited upon the sender of the original letter. However, Christian sent Michael to retrieve this package whereupon an angry boy, assuming Michael to be the author of the previous accusations, confronts the young man. Christian just tries to ignore all this until the boy somewhat learns his identity, then confronts him in the hallway of his apartment building one night when he’s bringing his young daughters home for a visit (he’s divorced) on another dysfunctional day when he refused to give a handout to a beggar at a shopping mall but then asked the man to watch his packages as he went off in search of his temporarily-missing-children. Christian refuses to offer the apology the boy demands (his parents assumed he's the thief noted in the anonymous flier, then put him on severe restrictions), they argue and tussle with the boy falling backward down a flight of stairs. Christian tries to shut himself off from this situation but continues hearing the boy’s voice calling for help (again, ambiguity arises because he hears it more than we do, yet when he goes into the hallway he doesn’t seem to know if the sound’s coming from an upper or lower floor). Finally deciding on a response, he tries to locate the boy’s message but has to go outside (in the rain) to frantically dig through his garbage dump before locating the paper with the kid’s phone number (just as he had to retrieve gravel for the sculptural fiasco), but when he calls there’s only a recording this number’s not in service so he makes a video offering a sincere apology, with our assumption (?) that somehow the boy may see it.
Whether his apology’s ever accepted is dropped from this narrative because another video’s gone viral (300,000 hits on the morning of release) throwing the museum staff into chaos as the PR firm they’ve hired to promote a new exhibit (The Square) has created a huge controversy. Actually, The Square (simply a 4 x 4 meter space,* intended to be on the plaza outside the museum where the statue was pulled down, even though we see it in operation [maybe an indoor prototype?] prior to its debut on that same day with Christian and his girls as he brings them to the museum to enter this sublime space as a means to stop their feuding) has been an element throughout this story but it's just easier for me to wait until now to bring it up. The goal of this project from Argentinian artist Lola Arias is to provide harmonious connection in our increasingly-hostile-world because anyone who enters the square’s dimensions is entitled to help, comfort, emotional and/or material support from anyone else in the vicinity, although the young PR guys felt it would be perceived as too dull for contemporary audiences unless their promo-video somehow drew opposite, negative attention so as to better highlight the peaceful intentions of the installation. ⇒So, their short YouTube announcement featured a very young blond girl—dressed as a beggar holding a kitten—getting blown up while standing in the space. Christian resigns his position in disgrace (although he didn’t preapprove the video but admits this oversight on his part), then holds a press conference for a public apology where he’s berated by some reporters for the shock value of the video but criticized more actively by others for backing down from the video’s premise, as if he opposes free speech.⇐
*The plaque to accompany it reads: “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” Exactly how that will work isn't specified by artist nor curator.
⇒And, because I’ve now deviated from the linearity of the What Happens facts, I’m comfortable with having to backtrack again to a scene prior to the hallway confrontation of Christian and the boy to note this film’s most disturbing presentation, that of a formal dinner for patrons/donors of the museum where their meal is purposely interrupted by a performance artist who, shirtless, jumps around making chimp sounds, offering threatening gestures (he gets into a confrontation with another artist, Julian [Dominic West]—a rather cocky guy we’ve previously seen being interviewed, with constant obscene interruptions from a Tourette’s syndrome sufferer), until he either goes over the line or culminates his act as intended with a sudden assault on a woman, leading to several men rushing to her rescue, beating the artist silly as civilization descends back into the jungle. (We’d seen this guy, Oleg [Terry Notary], previously as a background image from a video installation in which, naked, he just seemed to be a large confrontational presence for the viewer.) Well, even if I’d stayed fully linear in this recap I don’t know the content of The Square would have been any more coherent, but I will get back on track for the end where Christian first attends a sort of large-scale-pep-squad-performance (in a gym where the lines on the floor imply a version of The Square already known to us) including his older daughter, another situation requiring trust as many of the group must stand on shoulders or cupped hands of their colleagues where hesitation or clumsiness could lead to injury, then he takes both girls with him to the apartment building of the troubled boy only to find the kid and his family have moved with no relocation info available so our protagonist’s ongoing attempt to finally reconcile with his accuser comes to nothing as the story simply ends.⇐
|The director and one of his star actors.|
So What? When an entry wins the coveted Palme D’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival it deserves some attention, even when you hardly know where to begin in trying to write about it. But Östlund, in spirit at least, is with me in attempting to share a reaction to his inquisitive work as he says in the press notes: “[…] film can provide us with exceptional access to the world: there are so many things we haven’t actually done ourselves, but we have experienced them in our minds through films. ¶ Films can for instance enhance a critical way of thinking about the conventions and what we take for granted. I am thrilled when someone tells me they have been discussing my film all night with friends, because then my film has initiated change outside of the cinema theatre.” This one contains many elements from the director’s life (the telephone theft ploy, the Tourette’s-obscenity-disruption, the artist-as-animal-performance-at-a-dinner [although as a dog, not an ape]), most importantly The Square sculptural-installation was actually done in 2014 with the same stated altruistic purpose by Östlund and film producer Kalle Boman at Vandalorum Museum in Värnamo, Sweden, but Östlund says the first inspiration came in 2008 with Sweden’s first gated community, “one of the many signs of European societies getting more and more individualistic as government debt grows, social benefits shrink, and the gap between rich and poor widened continuously over three decades. Even in Sweden, once the most egalitarian society in the world, rising unemployment and the fear of a decline in status have led individuals to mistrust one another and to mistrust society. A prevailing feeling of political powerlessness has undermined our trust in the State and pushed us to withdraw into ourselves. But is this how we want our societies to develop?”
Despite the somewhat fragmented structure of The Square (in which various plot aspects are never fully explained, with, at times, only tangential relationships connecting them), it’s a very powerful viewing experience functioning as satire, sociological observation, critique of mindless “ethical” positions not backed up with sincere actions, as well as displaying great relevance to contemporary American political situations despite being made a year ago by a Swedish filmmaker. Particularly notable for me are the denouncements of the “preciousness” of much contemporary art (I say this from a background of being a painter myself—largely decades ago, though—with a BFA from the University of Texas at Austin, furthered by the interesting irony of having been in Stockholm in 2003, anxious to visit their actual modern art museum housing Robert Rauschenberg’s Monogram [1955-1959] only to find the building [quite a trek in itself for a monolingual-foreigner] but learn it was closed for repairs [I’ll finally realize that quest this week when a huge Rauschenberg exhibit of his “combines” and other works opens at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art]) along with the hullabaloo over the “exploded girl” ad, which brought to mind a similar debate over the limits of/need for free speech with the famous 1964 "Daisy" ad* used by President Johnson in his re-election campaign against Sen. Barry Goldwater, in which another innocent blond girl is blown up, raising concerns about Goldwater being too eager to launch a nuclear attack against a “North” Asian country. (Vietnam instead of Korea, though, relative to the current concerns about President Trump and Kim Jong-un pushing each other too far in their “game” of political “chicken”; the further irony is it was LBJ who then took us deeply into the Vietnam War, using just about every weapon except nukes to decimate both the North and South of that country resulting in a useless exercise of military power falling totally short of its intended triumph, the failure continuing to reverberate in debates about or actual implementation [maybe lack thereof] of American military might ever since.)
*This impactful political commercial ran only once because the reactions were so strong, even though it got plenty of free coverage on newscasts providing both financial and pundit windfalls.
Bottom Line Final Comments: Yet I know any attempt on my part to encourage active attendance at this film will immediately be met with resistance if you don’t like to spend a lengthy spell in a theater (150 min., although Thor: Ragnarok clocks in at 130 so tastes probably trump time in these instances), you don’t like to read subtitles (some of The Square’s fully in English—when at least 1 of the characters in a scene’s fluent only in that language—but most of it’s in Swedish [It is a Swedish film, after all] so translations are necessary for many of us), or you’re not that amused when this satire of contemporary art and moral values butts up against a performance artist attacking a woman at a donors’ dinner or an adult participating in a child falling down a staircase then making no immediate offer of aid. Whether you’re willing to trust a film festival jury with your hard-earned-cash regarding spending such on this esoteric project is something you’ll have to decide for yourself, as the collective critical community has been only reasonably supportive with 79% of the Rotten Tomatoes reviews being positive, the average score of the Metacritic reviewers coming in at 72%. You can’t really base your decision on existing audience response, either, as those 51 theaters (although expanding, it would seem) have yielded only about $443,000 in ticket sales, but that’s about a $3,000 average per venue, one of the best results in Box Office Mojo’s latest tracking (except for films playing in less than 50 houses at present or the massive result from something as popular as Thor: Ragnarok with its nearly $14,000 average even while playing at 4,080 locations). Ultimately, I’ll ask you to read again over all that I’ve said about this unique, strange-but-compelling cinematic experience, then decide for yourself if it’s likely worth a long trip to an available theater, knowing my tastes may differ enough from yours that even if all I’ve noted adds up to something intriguing for me it may just be an utter waste of time for you (but, truly, I think not).
Regular readers of my Two Guys in the Dark reviews know I conclude each one with a suggested Musical Metaphor, which allows us (or at least me) to take a last look at the subject under consideration from the viewpoint of another artform, that of music. In the case of The Square with its various aspects of snide humor, paranoia, individual and social hypocrisy, along with a steady undercurrent of befuddlement both in the audience as to what’s going on at times as well as within the characters given their often-odd-responses to the situations they inhabit, I had a lot to choose from but ultimately decided to focus on Christian’s newfound-but-so-far-fruitless-desires for forgiveness, leading me to Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry” (from the 1960 Brenda Lee album, this song as her 1st #1 hit recorded when she was 15) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-TkjEdB1kE (with solid audio quality but terrible video, although it seems appropriate in relation to this film’s frequent comic tone about imbalances, imperfections in our culture) as the singer admits in her personal life “love is blind And I was too blind to see,” just as Christian realizes “mistakes [occur, whether] part of being young [or middle-aged] But that don’t right The wrong that’s been done.” Brenda’s still satisfying audiences with her music (my wife, Nina, and I, along with my parents, saw her some years ago in Reno, NV, still in strong voice) into a new century; however, whether Christian’s been able to satisfy anybody with his attempted apologies is something we’re not intended to find out.
(a noble attempt at) SHORT TAKES (note: spoilers also appear here)
Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi)
Another Marvel Cinematic Universe tale, where the freewheeling God of Thunder suddenly finds he has an older sister who’s bent on destroying their home world of Asgard, but before he can attempt to stop her he suddenly finds himself on a weird planet where he’s forced into being a gladiator battling The Hulk; needless to say, it’s big, loud, yet at times also very funny.
Here’s the trailer:
Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.
|Thor looks like he doesn't have a head here but it's just obscured by smoke from the demon.|
There’s not much of a spoiler nature about Thor: Ragnarok I could reveal that’s not already shown or implied in the trailer, but I’ll be careful where a couple of key plot points are concerned. Except for those reveals, though, this 3rd installment of the Thor franchise is pretty much what you’d expect: lots of action, dazzling special effects, exaggerated comic-book-inspired-characters but with the addition of a good bit of intentional humor, something you don’t often get in superhero stories except for Robert Downey Jr.'s sarcastic remarks as Ironman. We won’t find Tony Stark in … Ragnarok, though, or any of the other characters that crowded up the plot of Captain America: Civil War (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo; review in our May 13, 2016 posting)—except a brief video clip of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)—although this movie does explain why neither Thor nor The Hulk showed up in that previous Avengers showcase: Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) been on a lengthy planetary search for any of the unaccounted-for-Infinity Stones* while Hulk’s (Mark Ruffalo) marooned on the oddball planet of Sakaar, reigning as the Grandmaster’s (Jeff Goldblum) gladiator champion in showcase bouts rivaling anything you've seen at WWE’s WrestleMania. As we encounter Thor again he’s in the process of defeating fire demon Surtur (voice of Clancy Brown, motion capture by Waititi), then taking the horned-crown-trophy back to Asgard in order to prevent this beast from destroying Thor’s home with the predicted, destructive apocalypse of Ragnarök.**
*This video (15:44) offers speculations about upcoming Avengers movies, with info on how the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be explained by what we know of the Infinity Stones: Power (currently protected by the Nova Corps from Guardians of the Galaxy [James Gunn, 2014; review in our August 7, 2014 posting]); Reality (or Aether, in various liquid or smoke forms, kept by The Collector from Guardians …, shown at the end of Thor: The Dark World [Alan Taylor; review in our November 14, 2013 posting]); Space (or Tesserack) now in Asgard; Mind (once in Loki’s staff, now carried by Vision as shown in Avengers: Age of Ultron [Joss Whedon; review in our May 7, 2015 posting]); Time (from Doctor Strange [Scott Derrickson; review in our November 10, 2016 posting], somewhat held in safekeeping); the mysterious Soul Stone, not overtly revealed to us yet.
**You can visit this site to learn more about the ancient Norse myths our current movie’s somewhat (at best) based on, although those stories tell of even-wider-concepts of fatal cosmic destruction.
However, when Thor arrives in Asgard he finds his evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is impersonating their father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), having somehow sent this kingdom’s ruler to Earth (which we—but not Thor—know from the end of the previous … The Dark World). When the brothers track Dad down in Norway (with the help of Dr. Strange [Benedict Cumberbatch]) they find the old man in the process of expiring, with his death allowing the return of their vicious (previously unknown to them) older sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), Goddess of Death, long banished by Odin because of her fierce ambition, held a prisoner for eons in a dark realm by his now-depleted-power.
Hela appears, easily destroys Thor’s mighty hammer, Mjolnir, then sets off in pursuit of her brothers on the magical Bifröst Bridge to Asgard, throwing them off this cosmic-interplanetary-connection where they land individually (with a sort of time warp, as Loki arrives 2 months prior to Thor) on Sakaar, a planet which in various places is strewn with garbage as the wormholes that surround it drag in everything or everyone ever lost (in either a physical or emotional sense). Thor’s captured via a control bolt zapped onto his neck by Scrapper 142 (Tessa Thompson)—who turns out to be Valkyrie from Asgard, long in self-exile from there due to the death of her warrior sisters in a previous battle to prevent Hela from escaping her confinement—a generally drunken misfit who eventually helps Thor escape by neutralizing the neck bolts on all of the captured gladiators, then steals the Grandmaster’s spaceship, but first Thor must get his hair cut off (Marvel creator Stan Lee makes his usual cameo, as the barber) then battle the Hulk, which seems to end in a draw as Thor channels his lightning power (but we’re not really shown a definitive end to the fight). Valkyrie’s unleashing of the gladiators leads to general rebellion against Grandmaster, with yet another stolen spaceship (a much bigger one) allowing Loki plus the former combatants to escape Sakaar also.
⇒Back on Asgard, Hela’s killed all their army of warriors, raised her own legion of fighters from the dead (bodies left from when she along with Odin—vicious himself back then—conquered the Nine Realms), and is set to destroy former Gatekeeper Heimdall (Idris Elba), who’s trying to protect the remaining Asgardians from Hela’s wrath. In summary of a lot of on-screen-action Thor, Valkyrie, Loki (along with Hulk, a group jokingly called The Revengers), and the gladiators battle Hela’s troops; Hulk finally kills Hela’s huge wolf, Fenris; Thor loses an eye to Hela (making him like Odin who appears in a vision telling Thor he doesn’t need the hammer to channel his power); the heroes battling Hela realize they can’t conquer her so Loki—at Thor’s decision—unites Surtur’s crown with Odin’s eternal flame as the fire giant re-emerges destroying Asgard, presumably along with Hela.⇐
⇒The various combatants who survived the battle along with the Asgardians escape in Loki’s huge ship (after Odin, in that vision, tells Thor Asgard’s truly its people, not just a geographical location, which furthered Thor’s decision to destroy the celestial site in order to consume Hela in the destruction) where Thor’s crowned as king, followed by his decision he’ll resettle them—including those Sakaar gladiators, chief among them rock-man Korg (voice, motion capture by Waititi)—on Earth (don’t be surprised if they end up in Norway), but this mid-credits scene ends with their spaceship suddenly meeting another craft much bigger than even the large vessel holding our protagonists.*⇐ There’s also a post-credits-scene where Grandmaster (and 2 of his female companions) staggers out of a storage crate, telling a crowd of his former subjects he, too, plays an important part in their revolution, giving them something to rebel against. Humorous aspects like this add greatly to the overall pleasure of … Ragnarok (with its solid critical embrace—93% positive RT reviews, 73% average MC score—coupled to a massive audience response—$652 million worldwide [$212 million domestically, making it #9 for 2017 so far in our North American tally] after just 2 weeks in release), with other effective comedy bits coming from Hemsworth’s effective timing and reactions, including his impatient waitings for Mjolnir to return to him or the Bifröst Bridge to open up for a needed escape; there’s also a lot of witty patter at various times (especially the opening repartee between Thor and Surtur, as well as the overwrought play performed in Asgard for “Odin,” praising Loki over Thor) to balance the avalanche of computer-generated-imagery and battle scenes, which get lengthy at times such as when various scavengers of Sakaar try to capture Thor before Valkyrie dispatches all of them, even while she’s chugging down her favorite beverage.
⇒*Seemingly this monstrous ship belongs to über-villain Thanos, the upcoming-antagonist (who’s been trying to acquire all of the Infinity Stones in a palnned-quest toward universal conquest) when everything we’ve seen in the previous MCU movies (beginning with Iron Man [Jon Favreau, 2008]) culminates in Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony and Joe Russo; a long-awaited-2-parter, intended for release on May 4, 2018 and May 3, 2019). You can get a bit more detail on all this here (4:53).⇐
There’s no cinematic significance here of The Square’s caliber; still, Thor: Ragnarok works not only because it’s loud, bold, and silly but also because its pace generally keeps your attention, Thor majestically finds he has reserves of determined-strength within himself not requiring the addition of a magical weapon, there’s a wide variety of character types that play well off each other (Thor’s ego balanced by acceptance of his limitations, Loki’s mischief balanced by an awakened devotion to his family and home world, Hulk’s emerging self-awareness and more elaborate speech mode balanced by the finally-released-inner-consciousness of Bruce Banner, Valkyrie’s negative attitudes softened by a desire to live again rather than just survive in a forlorn environment, Grandmaster’s supreme-self-interest rarely devolving into haughty imperiality—except when he decides to liquefy his cousin), and there’s little mumbo-jumbo about the Infinity Stones so you don’t feel you need to have seen all the preceding MCU episodes to follow this story (although I have seen 15 of those 16, choosing to skip this past summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 [Gunn]). ⇒There’s even a sense of serious change here to stabilize the comedy with Thor losing an eye, Asgard being destroyed by its own defenders, Thor ultimately ascending to the throne both his siblings previously coveted.⇐
So, in keeping with that tone of inevitable change, I’ll offer Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over” (on the 1964 album More of Roy Orbison’s Greatest Hits) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzoSDsyiftA (a 1966 London Palladium performance—if you’d like a bit more [12.53] of that concert, with the addition of “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “In Dreams,” and “Twinkletoes,” go here) as this movie’s Musical Metaphor, consciously (in a bit of a silly manner conducive to the tone of … Ragnarok) playing off a song about a romantic breakup to illustrate the end of Thor’s world as he knew it, especially the part about “You won’t be seeing rainbows any more” as a reference to the Bifröst, also known as the Rainbow Bridge, as the destruction of Asgard still “Echo[s] to [him] that’s all that’s all.” But we know it’s not over for Thor and the Avengers despite our long wait until they can soar again in 2018.
Goodbye Christopher Robin (Simon Curtis)
We’re back to the realm of somewhat-fictionalized-history with this story of how A.A. Milne came to write the Winnie-the-Pooh stories as a means of better connecting with his young son, yet how the boy’s sudden fame became a nightmare for him even as children all over England were entranced by the gentle adventures of the little bear and his friends in the big forest.
Here’s the trailer:
Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.
Unlike the others under review this time, Goodbye Christopher Robin (a title which the editor in me says needs a comma after the 1st word, but, then, the editors around me would say I need to cut about half of what I write so we’ll just call it even with no changes anywhere) is yet another “based on true events” movie, this about playwright and author A.A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson)—called Blue by everyone—the inspiration for his Winnie-the-Pooh books, and the problems fame caused for his son, Christopher Robin Milne (Will Tilston at age 8, Alex Lawther at 18)—nicknamed Billy Moon—as he and his toys were written into the stories, leading to a celebrity status that overwhelmed the child, pushing him further away from his already-too-stiff-upper-lip-parents (Blue’s wife Daphne [Margot Robbie] could be a charming mother at times but far too often was remote from [including an extended abandonment of Moon as she pursued her own interests with a return to London], haughty toward her son) so that Billy developed his strongest emotional ties with nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald), who breaks his heart when she leaves their household for marriage but not before upbraiding the parents for allowing their little boy to become so overbooked with publicity photos, public appearances, radio interviews and the like as a nation attempting to recover from the horrors of WW I (including Blue, suffering from what was called “shell shock” then, PTSD now, as a result of his battlefield experiences) warmly embraced the sweet (honey-flavored, of course) adventures of Christopher, Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit, and Owl in the charming “Hundred Acre Wood,” based on the forest bordering Milne’s rural Sussex home where he moved his family, looking for peace from the urban activities of London as well as a chance to contribute something more significant (in his mind) than the witty plays that previously provided him with material comfort.
Our on-screen-story begins in 1941 ⇒with a troubling telegram to Milne and Daphne, saying now-young-man-Christopher’s missing in action, presumed dead in the bitter conflicts of WW II (he enlisted against his father’s wishes, Dad having written a book, Peace with Honour, in 1934 hoping to persuade the world to outlaw war), then it’s all flashback from there until Billy surprises everyone by walking home one day, wounded but whole, with father and son finally able to reconcile, both sharing the hope everyone someday would be able to experience the simple joy they feel from being surrounded by peaceful nature, taking them back to Billy’s much-younger-days when these 2 were forced to fend for themselves with Daphne off in London, Olive on extended leave caring for her sick mother, as an unexpected bonding emerged inspiring the Pooh books (written by Milne, illustrated by close friend Ernest Shepard [Stephen Campbell Moore]), incorporating Billy and his toys (Winnie taking his name from a zoo bear from Winnipeg, Canada) about a charming fantasy world which continues to delight children worldwide even as it overwhelmed its actual little boy.*⇐
*You can watch this video (24:22) of Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore to get a sense of how Milne’s creations have been continued since their acquisition by Disney (including this episode’s invention of the “Pooh sticks” game on the stream featured a couple of times in the current movie).
Critics have been generally mildly-impressed by Goodbye ... with 65% positive reviews at RT, a much-lower 54% score at MC; audience response has been muted as well with domestic earnings of only $1.5 million so far, even after 5 weeks in release, the theater count down to 196 and falling. This movie’s a pleasant enough experience—with tender moments such as the end scene where 1941-aged-Milne walks home with Christopher occasionally seen as 8-year-old Billy Moon, sweetened further by pre-credits-intertitles noting the actual Christopher Robin never took any of the extensive Pooh money, as he was determined to not be further defined by his childhood-alter-ego (further encouraged in that decision by his briefly-shown-trauma when he’s shipped off to boarding school by parents who refuse to fully follow Olive’s angry entreaties, there bullied by classmates who rejected the boy’s fame)—although you could probably get just as much pleasure in about 4 minutes rather than Goodbye…’s 107 running time by watching this video of Loggins and Messina singing “House at Pooh Corner” (from their 1971 album Sittin’ In) at a live performance (date unknown to me) in Santa Barbara, CA at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqayWZN0zLA.
That’s all from me for now; I’ll join you again soon, though, to see how—from this current cluster of reviews—the tale of Thor, Loki, Valkyrie, and the Hulk stacks up against Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg (and just maybe someone else of superior superhero fame not shown currently alive in the trailer) with the release of DC/Warner Bros.' Justice League (Zack Snyder).
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.* Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage. If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!
*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.
Here’s more information about The Square:
https://www.squarethefilm.com (at this site you can download the press kit with the full production notes if you like in order to read more of the director's extensive comments)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mO3wVqqhYcM (49:57 interview with director Ruben Östlund)
Here’s more information about Thor: Ragnarok:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXpAjxzKH0k (13:10 rapid review of Easter Eggs, cameos, post credits in this current movie [with a clothing ad embedded at about 6:00])
Here’s more information about Goodbye Christopher Robin:
http://www.foxsearchlight.com/goodbyechristopherrobin/ (may have problems loading, so you have to wait for the content to come up; may work faster if you open, then close, then open it again)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVm44X6g99M (5:27 interview with director Simon Curtis, actor Will Tilston) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfoCrt_-8HY (5:37 interview with actors Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie)
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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*
*YouTube keeps deleting links to this Eagles performance so I keep putting a newer version back in but you’ll just find dead links in our previous postings prior to November 15, 2017, so don’t be confused.
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker. But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
OUR POSTINGS PROBABLY LOOK BEST ON THE MOST CURRENT VERSIONS OF MAC OS AND THE SAFARI WEB BROWSER (although Google Chrome usually is decent also); OTHERWISE, BE FOREWARNED THE LAYOUT MAY SEEM MESSY AT TIMES.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 25,559; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week: