Friday, March 29, 2013

Movie Review: The East

It's been almost 2 weeks since I went to go see the movie The East at SXSW, and since then I've been struggling with what I wanted to say in this post. Each time I wrote a draft it never felt quite right, so I will say my thoughts as plainly as I can, and hope it feels cohesive. Forgive me if my thoughts wander a little, it's just how my brain works. 
Alexander Skarsgard at SXSW. Copyright Katerina Bent, all rights reserved

I really enjoyed The East, which is about an eco-terrorist group that exacts revenge on several large companies for their harmful practices. The main character, Sarah (played by co-writer Brit Marling) is sent out by a private security firm to infiltrate and assess the threat of the terrorist group known as The East. However, Sarah finds herself sympathizing with their movement as the story goes on. (I would caution those who've read reviews that say Sarah's change of heart is due to her falling for The East's enigmatic leader, Benji (Alexander Skarsgard). There is a very very small romance in this story, but it's not the main story). I found The East to be a well balanced movie in the sense that there's a lot of focus on the characters, and the writers still manage to tell a compelling story. The East has a freshness about it that Hollywood movies often lack. The actors don't lean on overused archetypes in their performances, and the writers don't give any easy answers. I couldn't guess what was going to happen, and when I tried, I was proven wrong. I think one of the things that contributes strongly to its feeling of authenticity is its moral ambiguity. As Alexander Skarsgard said in the Q&A, “I've watched this movie twice, and I still don't know who the villain is.”
I think The East is really well done, and I'm someone who regularly finds myself trapped between two worlds when it comes to finding movies I like. I don't like Hollywood blockbusters because they often focus on special effects, and forget the story. I don't love a lot of independent films because they often feel obscure and strange. I think The East hits a good medium. I found it relatable as a reflection of what people are feeling at this point in history.
There was a anecdote told at the Q&A that I wanted to share. While making the movie the director, Zal Batmanglij, and the costume department were having trouble designing clothes that seemed right for the counter culture terrorist group. Batmanglij had the costume department go out and “rent” clothes from those in the counter culture. As the actors were digging through trash bags full of clothes, one of the costume designers said, “oh, we'll have to wash all of these.” To which Batmanglij replied, “you will not touch these clothes!” Apparently Batmanglij felt that the smell and stains contributed to the authenticity of the costume. Ellen Page (who plays Izzy) commented that the black hoodie that she wore often in the film had a very distinct smell along with a bag of stale pretzels in the pocket, so she “had a good snack for between takes.”
Alexander Skarsgard at SXSW. Copyright Katerina Bent, all rights reserved

There was one part of the movie where I asked myself, “Does Alexander Skarsgard need to be naked here?” And then my resounding answer was, “Do I really mind?” No. No I didn't. By the way, I found myself slightly distracted during the movie because Alexander Skarsgard was in the theater, and I kept sneaking peeks at him, one row up, and halfway across the room.
My recommendation is to go see The East. It's an interesting and thought-provoking film. Hopefully you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Please let me know your thoughts on the film if you've seen it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Not Yet A Dead Blog

I haven't written a blog in a while. I know. I recently moved into a new house, my husband's and my first house, in fact. My family visited three days after we closed, and then the holidays happened. I've spent the past two months going to parties, reading, and catching up with people. Now that I again have my head on straight, and don't feel as if I'm doing rapid-fire fun, I'm ready to get back to writing.
I wanted to write a little bit about memory. You see, memory is malleable. Every time we take a memory out from long-term storage into working memory, we have the ability to change that memory. Our brains are not video cameras. We do not recall events exactly as they happened, not even traumatic events, a point that is beautifully illustrated in the Robin Williams movie The Final Cut. Mr. Williams portrays a character who edits the film of people's lives for their funerals. people's recordings of their entire lives after they die. In one scene, at a funeral, a man comes up to him and asks him if he changed the color of the lamp to be blue. Williams replies, “No, I would never do that.” The man nods and walks away, mumbling something about how he could have sworn that the lamp was green. I'm sure we've all experienced something similar. We were sure we got the milk from the grocery store, or that the driveway was on the left and not the right. The point is, our memory is not perfect. (My own personal grammar Nazi put it beautifully when he said “memory is impressions, not details.”)
Memory is so changeable that even the mere suggestion that an event happened can implant a memory. In a research study done by Loftus and Pickrell(1995), researchers would give a booklet of four situations to the participants. Three of the situations did happen to the participants, the fourth didn't. The fourth situation described the participant as a five-years-old child being lost in a mall. The participants were asked to journal about what they remembered of these experiences, once a day, for five days. What researchers found was that the participants would recall vivid details about being lost in a mall, even though the situation described to them never happened. In essence, the researcher had only had to suggest that this incident did happen, and voila!-- a false memory. (This knowledge, along with a few other psychology tidbits, was enough to make me laugh heartily at the movie Inception).
Interestingly, even vivid events (those in which we are sure we remember exactly where we were, what we were wearing, whom we were with etc...) aren't specially protected by memory. Talarico and Rubin (2001) sent out questionnaires the day after 9/11/2001, asking participants where they were when they heard about the terrorist attacks. Months later, they sent out the same questionnaire and compared the answers. Surprisingly, even with such a memorable event as 9/11, people misremembered where they were when they first heard the news. Yet, over time (the researchers polled the participants a third time) the subjects became more sure of where they were (and with less accuracy). Now, don't get me wrong, there are cases of repressed memories that are true. People can remember traumatic events long after they happened. However, they are few and far between -- not at all the norm.
My point is: memory is malleable.
My second point is a little bit harder to swallow. I have a close personal friend who holds onto memories from her childhood. They cause her a lot of stress (they also strain some of her current relationships). I'll be honest, this is where my thoughts get sticky and hard to communicate fully. I understand that it can be difficult to let go of painful memories and experiences, and, if it were easy to let go, she would. My question to her and to others who are holding onto painful past experiences would be simply this: why? Why make yourself miserable over something that is not even real, anymore, and may be misremembered, anyhow? How does it serve you -- and your life?
When I was in college (although, now that I'm writing it, I wonder if it was when I was in high school) I had a professor talk about a story in which the main character was carrying luggage from one train to the next, and the next, and so on. The luggage was constantly burdening the character. The professor explained that the luggage was a metaphor for memories, memories which burdened the owner. At first I was appalled. I don't want to forget the past! My past is who I am! I've learned from my past mistakes. I need those memories! For me, I can see myself clutching at these memories that were painful and holding me back. Now I can think about my past with less emotional attachment (sometimes, not always), and I feel happier for it.
P.S. A few weeks after I wrote this blog, the universe slapped me in the face. I started to think about a friendship that ended badly. A person whom I considered a close personal friend stopped talking to me because of some drama that was going on with someone else I was close to. She was never mean or told me it was over. She simply stopped talking to me. I found myself thinking about her, wondering if she ever thinks about me. I think ultimately my feeling “stuck” in this past relationship has almost nothing to do with her, and more to do with my own feelings of inadequacy. My point is, I get that sometimes we do get stuck in the past. My question is still the same, though: Why don't we just let it go? It doesn't serve us to hold on.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

My HATE-love-HATE Relationship with Bikram Yoga

Woman in Standing Bow Pose

AttributionNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by RON SOMBILON MEDIA, ART and PHOTOGRAPHY

For those of you who have never been to a Bikram yoga class, Bikram is a style of yoga where the room is heated to 105 degrees. Every class does the same 26 poses, each pose 2 times. Classes are packed fairly full, meaning there is only a few feet between you and your neighbor, all the while the instructor is talking you through the series (the instructor never shows the series, she only talks).
I was once told, in one of my many psychology classes, that there are three things that universally create aggression in human beings.
1. Heat
2. Crowds
3. Noise
For me all three things seem to culminate in Bikram yoga, one of the most inappropriate place to feel aggressive that I have possibly ever known. I will enumerate all the reasons why I have a HATE-love-HATE relationship with Bikram yoga.
1. In almost every pose the instructor tells you to “create a pain sensation”. Notice, they do not say “pain”, but a “pain sensation”. PAIN IS A SENSATION. You feel pain, therefore you sense pain, so knock off the bullsh** and call it what it is. PAIN. In this pose there will be pain. In the next pose there will be pain, and the pose after than and the one after that... all the way down the line until you are lying on the floor drenched in your own sweat, there will be pain.
2. I hate how Bikram yoga treats every body as if they were all the same. Each pose is supposed to be done a very specific way, with little to no variation. For example, a lot of the standing poses require you to put your feet and heels together. For most people this is rather easy. Not so for me. For me to put my feet and heels together, one of my knees has to overlap the other. This hurts. It feels uncomfortable. The instructor says it creates good alignment and a stable base. Bullshit! If I wanted a stable base my feet would be parted. Anyone who has ever taken martial arts knows this. (TANGENTIAL THOUGHT ALERT: A parallel in psychology would be Freud and his followers. They tried to treat everybody using their own personal psychology (they believed that everyone had the same psychology as they did). Freud was sexually attracted to his mother, thus we got the Oedipus Complex. Jung was sick most of his childhood and felt inferior, thus we got Inferiority Complex. You know what? No one uses Freudian psychology anymore, because it's all bullshit. It didn't apply to the masses, it barely applied to a few, so it was thrown out. Almost anything that treats each individual as EXACTLY the same is fucking crazy.)
3. You're supposed to do this every day for 30 days. Enough said.
4. At the end of the class, when I'm finally out of the hot sweat drenched room, I feel better. My knees no longer hurt from all the squats I do in Crossfit. My shoulders no longer hurt from the presses and the snatches. My body feels healthy again. My skin looks better. And this is the part that I hate the most. The fact that I love the way I feel after a Bikram yoga class. Despite the pain, despite the heat, I want to go back again tomorrow.