Thursday, February 16, 2006

Nanny McPhee

I'm not going to tell you whether to watch it or not, because it's the kind of movie that only appeals to a certain type of person. If you are offended by vulgar humor, a witchlike nanny, gruesome and exaggerated characterizations, revolting sight gags, randomly lovely scenes, and the moral ambiguity (and innuendo) of recent movies such as Peter Pan and Finding Neverland, you will not like Nanny McPhee. Reasons to watch it begin with Emma Thompson, end with the artistic final credits, and encompass such remarkable elements as the absolutely stunning design (the vibrantly colored house and clothing contrast with Nanny McPhee's black garb and the snow-in-August wedding scene), the bizarrely satisfying British humor, and the fairytale plot. I loved it, and berated myself for loving it at the same time.

The puzzling paradox of children's movies that shouldn't be shown to children has been turning in my mind ever since my friend and I left the movie theater last night. Peter Pan and Nanny McPhee go in that category. Now draw a Venn diagram in your head, linking Nanny McPhee with Finding Neverland, a movie about parentless children in Victorian England; Finding Neverland should of course be classed with Peter Pan; draw a circle around Finding Neverland, Dear Frankie, Nanny McPhee, and Second-Hand Lions (parentless children learning to cope with life); factor in Holes (which fits with all the movies about coping, but whose protagonist has two parents).

All of these movies, to a greater or lesser degree, have a distinctly fatalistic quality. The plots are so tight that they result in a simple formula: everything that happens + everything else that happens = meaning. If the scullery maid is reading a fairytale at the beginning of the movie about a prince who marries a plowgirl, then be assured that the scullery maid will marry a rich man by the end. Although comforting in that no stitch is dropped, the plots are almost mechanistic. If a child is angry at his father, you have only to help the child realize why the father behaved the way he did for the child to become sweet as a lamb. No room is left for children to be just plain perverse. What would happen if the children in the movies didn't accept the grownups' coping mechanisms? What if little Peter in Finding Neverland stubbornly refused to believe that his mother was floating about in Neverland after she died? What if little Frankie became an axe-murderer? What if the protagonist of Second-Hand Lions kicked his mother in the head?

Victorian children's literature (such as Alice in Wonderland), for all its flaws, at least reflected life's seeming randomness. And before that, fairytales did the same. What we have now is brilliantly executed movies that imprison their child characters in terrifying worlds that only become bearable when the children learn the magic formula. And that is, I think, precisely why I would not show most of these movies to children. I can appreciate the difference between a comfortable, predictable world that I wish existed and the world that really does exist, but it's unfair to expect children to realize that difference. It's unfair to bill movies as "for children" when they are really for adults who wish that life made sense.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Spring Stream of Consciousness

Just as the weather is becoming winterish again, I'm thinking of e. e. cummings' "In Just-"; but if his free verse is not your style, try "This Is the Garden," a sonnet with a twist of Imagism. Speaking of which, you may enjoy Amy Lowell's imagery in "Lilacs" . . . for some more purple (plums, this time), "This Is Just to Say" that you should check out William Carlos Williams.

I think I've rarely experienced such poignant springs as when my family lived in the last house but one. Maybe part of the reason is that I spent my teenage years there, but I think the house had a lot to do with it--a white colonial with red shutters. The first flowers to bloom were the forsythia out back and the crocuses. Then, one after the other, the ornamental crabapple, bradford pear, and three ornamental cherries would bud and flower. We had grape hyacinths in front of the shrubs and in the round bed among the cherry trees were a variety of nameless pastel perennials. When summer came, the long-lived periwinkles, rose of sharon, and wild strawberries would emerge at the side of the house where the two big pine trees carpeted the slope with golden needles. Usually my grandfather came for a visit and to plant a vegetable garden by the basement door, where the sunlight was always bright. In the corner of the fence, across from the garden, was a rose bush with a lemon-pepper scent.

Spring has gruesomely sprung in my basement. Last week, I had a run-in with my first big spider in months. It had a long fuzzy body with an almost-as-long fuzzy head (if spiders have what can properly be called heads)--kind of like two black pipecleaners jointed together--and legs like unbent hairpins fanned out proportionally around its body, preserving the general oval shape. Unlike the slothful wolf spider of last fall, this one was skitterish and quickly escaped my stomping foot. Although it disappeared into the laundry room, my bold housemate later debilitated it with orange-scented bug spray when it emerged from a corner by the water heater.

Spring Haiku
once again
weapons of war just outside my bedroom:
bug spray and hair spray

Thursday, February 02, 2006

My Sense of Humor

If you don't find this funny, then do not ask me to marry you. No offense.