Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Gravity" - film and "Quarantine" - Jim Crace

Was there ever a 3D film like it? From Wikipedia:
"Dr. Ryan Stone is a Mission Specialist on her first space shuttle mission aboard the Space Shuttle Explorer. She is accompanied by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, who is commanding his final expedition. During a spacewalk to service the Hubble Space Telescope, Mission Control in Houston warns the team about a Russian missile strike on a defunct satellite, which has caused a chain reaction forming a cloud of space debris. Mission control orders that the mission be aborted."
I wonder how this film will play in Moscow?

Russian space-litter hits the ISS

The action story-arc pitches Sandra Bullock's character from one peril into another. The emotional story-line is less stunning: a conventional schmaltzy american tale of a woman who has lost her daughter and can't move on. Somehow, through her experiences on this fated mission, she'll finally come through.

You won't believe a second of it.

The space scenes are a different matter. You will be profoundly convinced that space is irredeemably hostile, and be awestruck by the bravery of astronauts shielded from myriad forms of horrible death by staggering but very frail technologies.

"Quarantine" by Jim Crace is a very different experience. Here's an extract from Frank Kermode's review from the NY Times.
 ''Quarantine,'' a novel-fable that offers an imaginative account of Christ's 40-day sojourn in the wilderness. Crace is far from the first to expand the original version. Mark's Gospel dealt with that test -- the watershed of Jesus' career -- in two verses: ''And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness. And he was there in the wilderness 40 days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.'' Matthew and Luke elaborated on this account, Matthew in 11 verses and Luke in 13, specifying the Devil's temptations -- to turn stone into bread, to possess glory and power, to cast himself from the pinnacle of the temple. Milton wrote his short epic, ''Paradise Regained,'' as an expansion of those expansions; his Christ is unmoved by all that Satan can throw at Him, the point being that He stands as an exemplary instance of the heroic virtue that just says no.

"Crace's Jesus seems to have no divine origin and no obvious supernatural administrations. An unlearned boy from Galilee, whose too-pious habits are deplored by His parents, He has deserted the paternal carpenter's shop and run away to the Judean wilderness in search of God. He arrives with other quarantiners, each with his or her own purpose: it might be to live 40 days in a cave, with what food and water they bring or can find, to purge guilt or be cured of cancer or barrenness. Jesus chooses the least accessible cave and means to go without food or water for the whole period. In contrast, the merchant Musa, though abandoned by other members of his caravan in what looks like a terminal sickness, lives in a fairly splendid tent with his oppressed and pregnant wife.

"Musa makes a miraculous recovery (ambiguously related to a momentary contact with Jesus). He is a greedy and lecherous crook who cheats the quarantiners, charging them rent for their cave accommodations, spotting and exploiting fake piety; yet he is aware of some special quality, some power of healing, in the Galilean. So, as in the Gospel account, it is the demons who recognize Christ for what He is when others fail to identify him.

"The wilderness setting of this story is rendered in obsessive detail: the geography and geology of the area, its birds and animals, insects and plants, its folk beliefs and superstitions. As often with Crace, there are words one needs to look up in a dictionary, and in fact there are some I can't find in any of mine. It doesn't matter; this, for the moment, is his world or continent, and this is its language. The effect is of an almost hallucinatory concentration.

"This effect is deepened by the reports of dreams and by the shadows cast over the characters and events by the original story from which the new fable derives. When Jesus dies, naked and starved, His body is prepared for burial by busy Miri, the wife of Musa, and her more contemplative friend, Marta; we may remember the sisters Mary and Martha who did the same once for Lazarus. The two women weave a birthmat on Miri's portable loom. It has, perforce, inferior wool and clashing colors, but they save it, a token of the new world of the future.

"Musa, seemingly stranded in the old world, is nevertheless vouchsafed a vague vision of a resurrected Jesus. He even refers to it without distinguishing it from the self-serving lies he tells some people he meets on the road: ''There was a man who had defeated death. . . . 'Be well,' he told me. And I am well.' '' As always with Musa, a faint, visionary knowledge has to live in a context of lies and deceptions. He will ''trade the word'' and ''preach the good news.'' He will make a good thing of it. Incorrigibly corrupt, Musa's is the unregenerate spirit that survives even the most virtuous and spiritual of revolutions, even the touch of the supernatural. Yet this rapist, bully and swindler alone recognizes a healer who will later argue that it is just such people He has come to heal."
Crace's novel is marked by the intense realism of his characters: Musa is sociopathic while the Greek, Shim, is an intellectual whose intellect has no answer to Musa's bullying, visceral intimidation. Shim's attempts to self-justify his many appeasements of Musa ("I never wanted that anyway") are classic.

The tribes of Roman Judea were clans: pastoralists with their well-known 'honour culture' where any insult is met by ferocious clan retaliation. This tends to select for macho males, comfortable with aggression. In such a physical force hierarchy women are often mistreated - I don't believe Crace considered this explicitly but his feel for the culture makes it manifest. Northern European societies which are more atomised (nuclear families, a concept of citizenship) can be more transactional, with less interpersonal aggression and more mutual respect. Nicer to live in for sure.