Category: Movies


Film adaptations are a difficult prospect. How much to keep, what will translate well enough to the alternative media, how to avoid deforming and misusing the original source and its intentions. Especially in childrens media/culture, it is common for a screen adaptation to become lighter and unnecessarily softer, removing things that would be seen as “too depressing”/”scary”. Though certain subjects, or their presentation, may be problematic for children, it is still a fact that life itself is quite messy and at times unpleasant and saying otherwise to kids is just a gratuitous and deceitful deviation from the real. On top of that, children by nature are curious and often quite philosophical, and the world being the chaotic place that it is will lead to children experiencing things like death, divorce, bullying etc. to which literature can offer help in coping and understanding these issues. This inclination goes a long way to explaining why the “Moomins”-books, that are chock-full of philosophy and curiosity, have been so poorly adapted when it comes to cartoons and films. Therefore it is no small pleasure to say that in 2014, a fantastic adaption was made of the Moomin comic strip, “Moomins At The Riviera”.

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left to right: Moominmamma, Snorkmaiden, Moomintroll and Moominpappa

The Moomin series started out as novels and comic strips, created by Tove Jansson who wrote the original eight novels, and add-ons, following the Moomin family and their friends. The novels delved into a slew of issues, including death, morality, family, loneliness and middle age crises. The characters who were primarily focused on were the naïve yet kindhearted Moomintroll, the wise, gentle Moominmamma, the angry adopted sister Little My, Moomintrolls vain yet tough girlfriend Snorkmaiden, and the proud Moominpappa. The comics, outside of the novel series, were initially written by Tove Jansson, and then later were run by her brother Lars Jansson. The comic strip was massively popular in England and Japan, and is regarded to this day as Finland’s most popular comic strip. However, inside of the Moomin-fandom they are slightly controversial; some fans love them, some fans dislike them and feel like the novels are fair superior. There is also a third camp (in which I am in) that feel like the comics are at times great, at times lacking.

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The animated film “Moomins at the Riviera” (2014) is based on a comic strip arch that satirized class and social norms, but the comic arch suffered from a poorly written Moomintroll – he was written as a bit possessive and unkind to Snorkmaiden in the original comic strip. The animated film adaption keeps the satirical elements, while also improving on the character development.

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As the film begins, the viewer is introduced to the Moomins and their friends. Life in their valley is relaxed, tolerant, and blissfully tranquil. However Snorkmaiden reads about a fancy hotel in a magazine, and after telling the rest of the gang about the fantastic place she´s read about, they decide to embark on an adventure to find this hotel. When they get there, it turns out that their adventure becomes more of a misadventure. Snorkmaiden gets caught up in the superficial glamour, Moominpappa gets swept up in his own pride and neglects his family, and Moomintroll after seeing Snorkmaiden flirt with others feels abused and abandoned. It is only Moominmamma who keeps her head high, trying to help her depressed son and other lonely creatures at the hotel. As Moominmamma points out: “If only this place wasn´t such a bad influence on us”.

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While the humor and the characters are as loveable as in their book and comic counterparts, what makes this movie a wondrous continuation of the series (and also watchable to people not familiar with this franchise) is it´s witty, intelligent social commentary. At the films beginning the viewer is introduced to an honest, straightforward narration to the family´s philosophy. This is laid out in in the story line through a brief encounter with a lively band of self-proclaimed pirates. Moominmamma mistakes their feverish search through their home as a hunt for a missing “treasure” chest of tropical seeds she had found, while, in reality, and of course, the pirates were scavenging for the booty of a chest of gold. Moominmammas honest confusion at the pirates disregard for the seeds is comical, but also speaks volumes of the alternative lifestyle the Moomins live; that is, one not consumed by wealth or focused on the materialistic.

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In the film version of “Moomins At The Riviera”, while being residence at the hotel, the gang for the first time has to cope with real judgment for their ways and mannerism. They are constantly too clumsy, too obscene, they don´t have the right clothing etc. Snorkmaiden however learns to blend in and Moominpappa is befriended by man from a high class family who´s impressed with Moominpappas “boheme” lifestyle. However Moomintroll becomes more and more helpless as Snorkmaiden becomes enamored with someone else.

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Scene from original comic, duplicated in film

A clear rift is driven between the individuals of the Moomin band, yet despite this wedge sundering to the group Moominmamma and Moomintroll try their best to rekindle their old life. Moomintroll tries to woe Snorkmaiden with a boat trip, Moominmamma tries to help a dog who has an unfortunate fondness for cats. In one beautifully written scene, Moomintroll falls into a deep melancholy when he once again gets dogged by Snorkmaiden and ends up just sulking by himself. Moominmamma tries to engage Moominpappa in this, telling him “our son is a little down, maybe you could give him some advice?” which Moominpappa hand waves away as Moomintroll just being “philosophical”. With such simplicity the pain of the rift is made clear; popularity and outward glamour have in fact corrupted them.

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It is also in Snorkmaidens and Moomintrolls conflict where the film becomes a superior production to the original comic. In the comic strips arch, Moomintroll has a tendency to get angry when Snorkmaiden wants to go to parties and has a habit to belittle her (which he never did in the books). However in the animated film production, he supports her desire to go to the hotel and doesn´t demean her as in the comics. Additionally his jealousy is explored more as a symptom born of his insecurities in light of his girlfriend openly flirting with strangers, as well as the hotel’s general alienating nature. In other words, he is more like the lovable Moomintroll from the books, which gets the audiences sympathy even in his more flawed moments.

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The film, on top of its family dynamics and life style philosophy, also focuses sharply upon the issue of class. The Moomins are read by the hotels celebrities as poor due to their lack of knowledge of fancy food, of their lack of materials and appearance. This assumption creates a hostile attitude, but also naïve admiration; Moominpappa impresses a man from a well-to-do family who wants to “suffer for his art” and live as “the poor”, however he quickly abandons this notion when he lives upon common food for a day, and endeavors to sleeps outside for one night. His one day experiment in downward mobility ends with his exclamation “I´ve lived in poverty quite enough now”. This satire of the exotification of poverty is quick biting, and spot on.

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Moomins at the Riviera” is a fantastic film that loyal Moomin-fans and casual viewers will both love. The atmosphere is gentle despite the satire, the characters are instantly loveable and the themes resonate in an international tone. A must watch.

Inspired by Missmagicgirl´s monthly wrap up post, where she lists her favorite events and memories from a previous month, it is my ambition to (starting from this month) to feature a similar monthly wrap up here at Ruby Soup. The wrap up will cover books, comics, movies, activism and all sorts of fun news from the previous month. With no further ado, let´s get started.

1.Favorite Activist Moment: Protesting Torture in Mexico with Amnesty International.

A former fellow activist (who I had worked with previously in a University based Amnesty group) posted on social media that she was going to attend a protest about the torture of civilians by the military in Mexico. After asking if I could participate, and despite living in Stockholm, I jumped on a train and went up to Uppsala (it´s about 30-60 minutes away from Stockholm). The event was a mash up of protest walking, with activists (including me) brandishing signs stating ”Stop torture” and ”Stop torture in Mexico”, while others dressed up as military folks or their (through fake rope, chains and make up) tortured victims. We marched for about an hour and 15 minutes. Some of the activists asked onlookers to sign Amnesty´s petitions that would be sent to Mexico´s authorities. The activist group was friendly, and the protest was very fruitful.  We got five pages of signatures.

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2. Favorite Graphic Novel: ”All My Darling Daughters” by Fumi Yoshinaga.

This one-shot manga is written in a series of short story form. All of the stories follow a woman and the friends and family around her. The manga is melancholy, at times bittersweet, at times gloomy, exploring the ways that life can go wrong. “All my darling daughters” begins with a woman who, convinced that her mother’s new husband (who is young enough to be our heroines younger brother) is conning her mother, decides to leave the family home. Other stories follow the woman´s sister, who is struggling to find a husband to avoid the stigma of being ”too old to marry” (it is hinted that she may be asexual); the protagonist´s male friend who accidentally gets involved with a student who suffers from severe low self-esteem and a former class mate who is heartbroken to see his female friend become more and more disillusioned, loosing her ambition for independence. ”All my darling daughters” shows life at its most uncomfortable, most unresolved and most frightening. The subject of abuse (emotional, physical and even sexual) is intertwined with the themes of power, relationships and family. The manga gives us candid depictions of the limited working options given to women and unequal division of labor. In fact, many of the female characters express frustration regarding the sexist double standards women face in the work place, like being dismissed as unqualified solely due to gender, as well as the injustice of the wage gap. The occasional humor is pitch black and the human interactions captivating. Along with the question of gender, the manga also explores mother-daughter relationships with a complex look at human psychology. Despite the stories often leaning towards a depressing angle, the reader will most likely have quite the difficulty putting this manga down.

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3. Favorite Film:”Spotlight”, directed Thomas McCarthy.

This Oscar nominated film, based on a true story, follows the whistle-blowing of the systematic cover-up in the Catholic Church regarding the sexual abuse of adolescent and pre-adolescent boys and girls suffered at the hands of priests. While perhaps not the best of movies dealing with this subject, the film still gives a fascinating look at how journalism works (real life journalist have praised this films accurate depiction), features several accounts of survivors telling their stories and gives some chilling insights regarding child abuse. As one quote from the film states: ”If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one too”. The acting is great, but the pacing is at times a little slow. Still worth a watch.

4.Favorite TV Moment(s): John Oliver tackles the economic meltdown of Puerto Rico and the journalistic simplification of science, while the wonderful Holly Walker at ”The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” nobly rages at sexual assault in the military.

Right now we have golden era for political comedy shows. ”Full frontal with Samantha Bee” is fiercely feminist and funny. ”Nightly show with Larry Wilmore” discusses politics and race in a honest dialogue while having a diverse cast of correspondents, with four kick ass women being part of that cast. ”Last week with John Oliver” is hilarious, while giving American TV a much needed international lens. I myself try to watch as many episodes of all these series. The ”Last week” episodes mentioned, that tackled the economic meltdown of Puerto Rico, saw many hospitals and schools having to be shutdown. Oliver went thoughtfully through the issue, and ended the subject with a actual live performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda who has written and directed ”Hamilton”, who himself has Puerto Rican parents. Oliver also discussed how science, through click-bait culture, has been made misrepresented and belittled into more of a headline than the complex field that it is. With a fun parody of Ted-talks to top it off.

Holly Walker, one of the most energetic correspondents on “The nightly show”, took the viewer through a sketch on how infuriating the lack of action around sexual assault in US armies is. It was short, but fun. Holly Walker, just by her sheer presence, is smashing the erasure of middle aged women of color in mainstream media.

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5.Favorite Novel: ”Florian Knol” by Guus Kuijer.

This children´s novel tells the story of  10-year old ginger Florian, who one day has a bird suddenly land on his head. The next day he meets Katja, an big and tall girl who goes to the same school, who confesses her love to him. The duo later bumps into an old woman who can´t find her key (which she calls a ”fork”) and has only one shoe on despite being out in the streets. The pair decide to help the woman  in secret, but things get out of hand when Florian has to juggle his indecision with dating a bigger, taller girl, his parents constant fights and keeping the old woman’s increasingly severe Alzheimers disease unknown to the adults who they fear would send her to an alienating retirement home. A tragicomic novel that addresses aging and anxieties of oneself in a clear, hopeful way that also has a colorful cast of characters. Recommended.

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There´s my month. How was your month, dear readers?

This post is an outcome from getting inspiration from a post by Missmagic girl, who listed her favorite couples from literature. It was a fun blog post, so thought that I could write my own version for this blog. Unfortunately I couldn´t quite make a top ten list from literature alone (I very rarely enjoy the romantic plotlines in novels), so had to resort to films for help. But without further ado, let´s get started.

1. Peeta Mellark and Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games”-trilogy by Suzanne Collins: This relationship works partly for two reasons. One is that it is slowly built up during the course of all three novels. The second is that while Peeta is profoundly kind and nice, the two younglings still are portrayed in a realistic fashion of occasional resentment and confusion, balancing these emotions with altruism and understanding. Both characters are also quite likeable, and the love story is also enjoyable for deconstructing our society’s ideas on masculinity. It´s just pleasant to have a relationship built on mutual trust and honesty, and Peeta´s overall kindness was just a refreshing form of romantic lead when I read it nearly four years ago. (I had gone through high school being frustrated at the so-called broody bad boys that was offered in young adult media back then, so the contrast for me personally was wonderful).

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2. Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger from the “Harry Potter”-series by J. K. Rowling: Total honesty, during the whole course of my adolescence I was rooting for these two to get together. It was a big celebration when, in 2008, I finally finished “The Deathly Hollows” where they were shown getting together. Their bickering is fun, as well as their tender moments being very believable. Most fictional relationships are often quite filled with angst, or are sappy and are unrealistically tension free; Ron and Hermione, like Peeta and Katniss, however are able to both argue with each other, while simultaneously having enormous trust and faith towards each other. Finally, as a plotline, it was quite clever of Rowling to have Hermione to end up with Ron, a deuteragonist, since the cliché is often that the most prominent female character would end up with the stories hero. The relationship is subversive in structure and honest in depiction, and as a bonus quite cute.

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3. Ronja and Birk from “Ronja the Robbers Daughter” by Astrid Lingren: While technically only remaining very close friends in the novel, the romantic subtext is quite heavy. The narration implies that due to both Birk and Ronja being roughly 12 year old, they naturally don´t quite understand romantic love yet, but as they get older they might end up getting a relationship upgrade. Yet even if the romance is just subtext, Ronja and Birk have a quite dramatic and powerful relationship. First they resent each other due to their parent’s disagreements, then they become such close friends that they find the courage to stand up for each other even if it results in their parents disowning them. While being forced to live alone together in the dangerous wild, it is proved that the duo make quite the team. Ronja´s and Birk´s friendship, and possible future romance, is embodied in fierce loyalty, and regardless of how the reader sees the implications of the relationship, is hugely touching.

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4. Petite/Åsa and Torfinn from the “Vikinga”-trilogy by Maj Bylock: In these historical children´s books, we follow a young French girl who is abducted by Vikings and made a slave in Viking era Sweden. She escapes, is adopted by a kind couple, and grows up to become willingly engaged to a young man who himself wants to become a Viking. As a child I found myself surprisingly invested in this romance, since it raised questions of how one views themselves if they marry a person of questionable ambition, and how much one should change for their significant other. There will be no spoilers in case anyone wants to read these books (it is recommended), but let´s just say that the conclusion that the couple comes to at the end is quite heartwarming, making a sacrifice on both ends. Compromise is something that relationships truly need, but few fictional couples portray that, which I guess is why this couple actually did capture my interest as a kid.

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Cover of the second book in series

5. Jelkele and Ulangalu from the fairy tale “Ulangalu”: This is a Monglian-Chinese story about a resourceful young mortal man, named Jelkele, who falls in love with a Snake spirit princess, Ulangalu. She´s essentially a snake that quite often takes human form. While the two hit it off instantly, Ulangalu´s father, the snake King, disapproves and decides to keep Ulangalu imprisoned in his home (which is essentially just a fancy cave). Jelkele decides to aid Ulangalu in her escape, and together they kill her abusive parent. While this couple´s story is noticeably more brutal then most couples´, the theme of loyalty is still quite strong in this tale. And while most (western) fairy tales would end up with the guy single handedly saving the princess, this tale ends with them charging the villain-father together. Like Ronja and Birk, they make a great team, and work off each other to make the best of the situation. Ulangalu, when not given the right to choose, gives herself agency. Just an overall nice, if a tag violent, story.

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Image from a similar chinese folklore, “Madame Whitesnake”

6. Kien and Phuong from “The Sorrow of War” by Bao Ninh: Just as a heads up, this novel is really intense but really, really heartbreaking. Kien is a former soldier for the North Vietnamese side from the American/Vietnam War who suffers from severe Post-traumatic stress syndrome, while Phuong is his former high school sweetheart. The novel goes back and forth in the narrative, showing the horrific times of the war and the propaganda for the war both before and in its aftermath. The romance is shown in a similar fashion. Kien is idealistic and shy, Phuong is energetic and daring. Later on, Kien is disillusioned with life in the aftermath of the war, while Phuong attempts to help Kien and resolve his emotional and intellectual dilemmas. While Kien´s problems prevent the couple from remaining together, their interactions are quite romantic. Phuong is quite straight forward in her opinions, but Kien doesn´t mind; in fact he always considers what she says. Phuong empathizes with Kien, and is much more sexual than him. But most of all as a reader you really feel that they love each other, but after how things have gone about in the world it is sadly not possible for them to work it out. While many War novels depict these kinds of scenarios, it is few that are this devastating to read about.

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7. Toni and Maria from “West Side Story” (1961): A New York, musical version of Romeo and Juliet does not only have great songs, but a surprisingly good chemistry between Natalie Wood (who plays Maria) and Richard Beymer (who plays Toni). Beside the chemistry, the couple, despite suffering from Insta-love, is well written ground for interplay of an amorous pair. They are playful, overly sappy in dialogue, impatient and forgiving. My favorite scene with them is when they imagine getting permission from their parents to get married and make up silly dialogue towards mannequins that represent the parents. It´s silly, but sweet. It is a perfect instant of showing and not telling; the filmmakers show the couple as getting along and enjoying each other’s company, instead of constant flowery speeches of eternal love.

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8. Jack Skellington and Sally from “Nightmare before Christmas”: Once more, what makes this couple great are the characters and how they interact. Sally is wise and brave, Jack is passionate, ambitious and energetic. They complement each other nicely. While for the most of the movie Sally believes her feelings for Jack are unrequited, the ending of the film features by far one of the most romantic getting-together scenes ever made, period.

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9. Balto and Jenna from “Balto”: One of the reasons this couple is so intriguing is that unlike a lot of children´s films, the protagonist Balto´s love interest Jenna is interested in him and knows he´s a decent guy from almost the beginning of the film. The reason for them getting together later is because of a tuberculoses outbreak, which is endangering the town’s child population including Jenna´s owner. This works in the films advance, since the film is more about Balto, who´s half dog and half wolf, coming to terms with his own identity by using both of his dog and wolf traits to bring the needed medicine into the town (through his sled pulling skills). Balto and Jenna, like a lot of couples on this list, come to each other’s aid when needed and Jenna believes in Balto when none of the other dogs do. The film keeps their story simple, which works perfectly. It´s just a story of two generous, kind dogs who find each other, nothing more grandiose needed.

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10. Homer and Marge Simpsons from “The Simpsons” (pre-season 18): Truth be told my original pick was another relationship based on subtext, so I decided to go for a couple that´s explicitly in love but is a relationship which is both complex and enduring. Homer, despite his stupidity, does truly love his wife and kids, and Marge loves Homer irrespective of his many and overt vices. In several episodes Homer works strenuously for his love of the family. And even when Homers flaws overwhelm the family, prompting Marge to get angry and temporarily leave him, he respectfully lets her and considers why she is angry with him. Marge always defends Homer to her sisters, and is shown to be a good listener towards Homer. While Homer drinks too much and does mistakes, they as a couple find ways to make things work. Even if they are perhaps a bit of the typical screw ball family, the Simpsons are a family that sticks with each other, and despite their problems love each other dearly. This bonding and devotion, in its self, makes them deserving of being one of the most iconic couples, as well as family.

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Honorable mentions:
R2D2 and C3PO from the “Star Wars” franchise: …What? Don´t look at me like that, they are totally meant to be a couple! On top of that, their bickering is legendary and their bond is unquestionable. One of the best written lines in “A New Hope” is when C3PO says, before R2D2 has to go off on the mission to blow up the Death Star with Luke is: “Promise me you´ll come back, won´t you R2? Because if you don´t my life will be boring. You don’t want my life to be boring, do you?”. That line right there is a better declaration of love than Han´s “I know” and everything that was written between Anakin and Padme, let´s be honest.

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Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt from “Parks and Recreation”: Not much to say here but that Ben is a very sweet person, Leslie is also very kind, together they are just adorable.

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Gabriel and Batsheeba from “Far from the Madding Crowd” (2015 film adaption): A slow burn romance, but, therefore, all the better. Both Gabriel and Batsheeba are power focuses of activity, while leaving Batsheeba to her stubbornness, and Gabriel his honest kindness. Just watching them grow closer and remaining friends until the end where they decide to become a couple is a moving journey. Plus, Gabriel is not brooding at all, a huge plus in my opinion.

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So those are my picks in this category. I´m going to do another second list along these lines, but with focus on Interspecies couples. So if anyone has some suggestions, feel free to comment, or just comment if you have any other favorite literary or otherwise fictional couples!

Today is National Sami Day! It´s a day that celebrates a small ingenious group of people who exist traditionally in the northern regions of Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia (Sápmi or Lapland). The Sami, commonly known under the moniker Laps or Laplanders, are Caucasians and were previously nomads, before the involvement of others made this impossible. They have a language of their own, known as Sami, who consists of many different types: Northern sami, Inari sami and Southern Sami being the three biggest ones. As with any ingenious groups, centuries of oppression has made their own original faiths come under siege and their own way of life has been nearly forgotten, meaning many of the younger Sami people do not have access to the Sami language, or find the means to speak it fluently. Discrimination is a huge problem for today’s Samis, who face racism and aggressive nationalism from the non-ingenious Swedes, Finns and Norwegians. Simultaneously, with growing awareness of the culture and vibrancy of the Sami people, Finland and Norway have signed the Ilo-Convention, and Sami is protected under the Swedish law as a “Minority language”. In honor of the Scandinavian national day of the Sami, I will review a documentary that consists of both of a generalized cultural history of these people and moving personal view of living as a Sami in the modern age.

Norwegian Sami People in traditional clothing

Norwegian Sami People in traditional clothing

The title of the film, “Jouguan”, means “Jojk” in Sami, a traditional voice device of singing in the Sami culture. It consists of a mixture of humming and singing, where the words are slightly hummed out. The documentary, directed by Maj Lis Skaltje, contains interviews from Norwey, Sweden and Finland. The people being interviewed are all Sami, with the exception of the narrative contextualization of a few historians. The film samples a large and divergent range of different aged Sami people, the oldest being near 80 and 90, while the youngest reside in their teens. Some of the Samis being interviewed live in Sami areas (similar to Indian reservations that exist in the states) and some live in cities. The interviews consist of colorful, funny, insightful and heart-breaking stories.

The significance of what the jojk means to each Sami is touched upon and indicate the wide range of explanations, motivations and motives in which the jojk resides and resonates for the Sami culture. One of the mainstays of the jojk is the Sami use for the herding of reindeer, which is the traditional life style in Sami communities. The Samis were originally entirely dependent on the reindeer, and used them for clothing, food and traveling. The reindeer respond to the humming, especially when it´s their owner who is singing. In this way the jojk is tied with other traditions. Other Samis, both young and old, use the jojk as a way to pay tribute to their family members and different aspects of nature. For instance one of the first interviews Ms. Skaltje did was of two brothers living in Soppero (a Sami area nearby Kiruna, in Sweden) who sing their own jojks dedicated to each other with a heart-warming earnestness. She also interviews a middle-age man who jojks about his cat, with a hilariously accurate mimic. Ms. Sakltje interviews another middle aged man who uses the jojk to learn Sami language, since he grew up with parents who decided not to teach him Sami. The man explains that the Sami have many different ways of expressing their ethic identity; for some speaking the language is the most essential, for others reindeer herding take on the cultural task, and for others the making of the traditional clothing comes to implant them in their cultural identities. For him, personally, the jojking is the most important means to connect with the tone of the cultural roots of the Sami, since he feels like it is a way for him to get in touch with his historical ethnicity and to express his personal emotions regarding this, and his, distinctiveness freely.

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“Jouguans” ample and various interviews give a multi-layered and effervescent depiction of the Scandinavian indigenous people. The Sami in this film have different ways of relating to their heritage and culture and the singing is as unique as every one of the personality we meet within the documentary. The singing is shown as not merely a decorative, exotic type of “folk” singing but a cultural reverberating strength and a resilient personal exploration for each member of this pressured group. The documentary masterfully shows how the songs are used for work, humor, expressions of love and lost, and also for speaking of difficult times that the Sami have gone through. And continue to do so.

Swedish poster of the movie

Swedish poster of the movie

Along with the strength of the diverse interviews, “Jouguans” also explores the historical trajectory of the many ways Samis have been persecuted throughout the ages and the many countries they have inhabited. The jojk, as well as the traditional drum the Sami used when singing, was seen by the Christians as heretical and devotedly antithetical to Christian teaching. Because of this, along with other cultural factors, Sami people were commonly accused of witchcraft during the middle ages and all the way to the 17th century many of them found themselves accused of heresy, or worse, and burned at the stake. This was quite common in Norway, where up to 20% of the people executed for witchcraft were found within the Sami population (both men and women).

One of the many types of drums used by the Sami

One of the many types of drums used by the Sami

The director Maj Lis Skaltje herself speaks openly in the film about her childhood, where she was, due to her Sami roots, marked as unclean by the eugenics policy and testing that dominated in Swedish politics in the 40 to 60´s. While the Sami people were spared from forced sterilization in the Swedish context (a fate that many poor and mentally/physically disabled and women accused of “promiscuousness” had to endure) they were still forcibly and geographically isolated from society and, being deemed a lower people, could therefore not be tolerated to mix with the purer, higher Swedish type. Ms. Skaltje describes how she grew up ashamed of herself, too frightened to even dare speak her own mother tongue. Jojking, along with the fear and avoidance of the Sami Tongue, was seen in this age as a dirty, devilish, and barbaric act.

Another type of traditional clothing (all are made out of reindeer fur)

Another type of traditional clothing (all are made out of reindeer fur)

The Narrative trace of “Jouguans” engulfs us in these facts and personal stories both shock and move us, but does not let us give ourselves forgiveness for these deeds. As with any ingenious group, the Sami´s history is, still and robustly, erased in common history lessons in Scandinavia. The hard and divisive struggles of the Sami are not often discussed in society nor seen as important in the national dialogues of the many states in which the Sami now find themselves. Because of this the mere reiteration of Ms. Skaltje own story becomes a courageous, radical political act of the voice of the forgotten, and brings forth the truth of the systematic oppression the Sami have faced.
“Jojk” is an extraordinary documentary, with a rich character gallery, great music and captivating history. It´s shots are gorgeous; everything just works in this film. So on this day, when we celebrate the Samis heritage and history, it is hugely recommended to go see this movie to learn a great deal about both!

International Sami Flag

International Sami Flag

Hello readers, I´m in New York right now! And just finished one major course at the university, with another course coming to an end (meaning lots and lots of time consumed by studying for the exam). So since I have quite little time, I would like to just briefly recommend some films, Tv series and Graphic novels. During this month I can say that a post on the Adult swim television series “Rick and Morty” will be posted soon enough, and a discussion about a “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” episode is due this month as well. So stay tuned, and check out some of the stuff mentioned below.

The film “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is an excellent character study as well as a psychological thriller. It tells the story of a young girl who struggles with reuniting with her sister after escaping a cult. It´s directed by Sean Durkin and stars Elizabeth Olson, who does an excellent job depicting the complexities of being brainwashed, as well as how painful it can be in the battle of freeing oneself from the oppressions of authoritarian control. John Hawkes (known mostly by his roles in “Deadwood” and “Winter´s Bone”) is shockingly creepy as the cults charismatic leader. “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is also a riveting depiction of systematic sexual abuse and oppression of women. The cult has extremely old fashioned views on gender, and therefore rape is used as a form of getting the newly recruited women to submit. Martha, the films protagonist, not only undergoes such abuse herself but is also shown drugging another girl during such rituals. It´s disturbing, but unfortunately feels like an honest account of how different forms of groups and societies control women. The film easily passes the Bechdel test, and has a heart-breaking depiction of Martha´s relationship to her sister. Martha´s sister tries to understand and support her, but it´s a difficult situation. Few films have such an honest depiction of family: showing events of the interpersonal which even the most loving family members are not able to control nor come to grips with. It´s an unsettling, moving and tragic watch, and it´s a guarantee that once you´ve seen the film you´ll never forget it.

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“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is a 2011 French film that has nearly nothing to do with Ernest Hemingway. Despite the name being a little misleading, this film is a thought-provoking, political piece that is neither simplistic nor preachy. Directed by Robert Guédiguian, the film spins the tale of an elderly couple who are life-long Marxists and who, once they find themselves the victims of a robbery, are forced to question not only their ideologies but also themselves. The film unravels the robber’s story, the thief’s mother, the aforementioned couple and the couple’s children – with all of the characters attempting to come to terms with their feelings, thoughts, and views on the situation. The director cleverly gives each character reasonable arguments. The thief points out that despite the couples avowed Marxism, they still exist in the sphere of the privileged due to their class and that what they may consider fair is not always fair for someone else. The robber’s mother (who has abandoned all of her three children, forcing the thief to become the sole provider for his two underage brothers) points out that it was her boyfriends (the robber and his brothers have two different fathers) who pressured her into having children and then promptly abandoned her after the children were born. The film also attempts to convey how little acts of kindness can at times solve huge problems. A smart film well worth watching!

Original french poster

Original french poster

“Daddy´s Girl” by Debbie Drechler is a very nauseating, but powerful graphic memoir. When Ms. Drechler was a child, she was reputably molested by her father. This would later reflect in her relationships in college, where she undergoes a rape and isolation from her peers. The comic is short, but honest in its brutality and melancholy. Dreschler shows the many layers and forms of abuse, and how they intertwine with each other. It is filled with gut wrenching scenes such as when Debbie wonders if she is a horrible person, since god allows her father to molest her and if her mother is so distant to her due to her father’s abuse. Even more unsettlingly, the comics end is left open, making the reading experience even more a disturbing endeavor. It´s fairly harsh, but definitely worth the read.

Scene from "Daddy´s girl"

Scene from “Daddy´s girl”

This recommendation is no doubt cliché, and therefore I´ll keep this extra short. I was first not sure whether I should or shouldn’t watch “Breaking Bad”, but finally caved in and have loved every minute of watching the first four seasons (fifth season still unseen). It follows a chemistry teacher named Walter White, who in order to pay for his cancer treatments takes up with his former student Jesse to cook Crystal Meth. The writing is tight, the acting superb and the comedic moments (bloody) hilarious. One of the best acting performances was done by Giancarlo Esposito, who plays the drug kingpin and Walters temporary boss Gustavo “Gus” Fring. Gus´ calm and collected demeanor is eerie yet fascinating, and as he switches between playing nice to ruthlessly violence one is reminded of such works as “American Psycho”. Gus has also an interesting back-story and motivations, which the show did an excellent job building up. “Breaking Bad” has also done one of the funniest bottle episodes, where Walt obsesses over killing a fly. Great series!

Walter and Jesse

Walter and Jesse

That’s about it for now. Happy Watching and reading!

(This post is the fourth part in mt series “Torture Awareness Month”)

After the scandals of the leaked photographs from the Abu Grahab prison, torture has been a hot political button. So much so that one of the big promises President Obama made during his presidential election was to close down the most obvious and famous of the detention centers performing torture (most infamously “water boarding”) on its prisoners, Guantanamo Bay. During the Bush Administration many human rights activist and groups held massive campaigns to bring attention to the secret prisons (black sites) and the torture that was carried on incessantly there. One of the most horrific and problematic situations this culture of torture instigated was to draw out a slew of politicians who came to justify, lie or downplay the abuse prisoners faced in these secret prisons. Recently the use of torture under the Bush administration came again to the attention of the world and we found ourselves again confronted with many a politician again responding to the most ignoble and abusive of tortures with either denial or with the literal argument that “what´s done is done, let´s forget it and move on”. Such mentalilites was even mocked on “The Colbert Report”.

One of Amnesty´s many campaigns

One of Amnesty´s many campaigns

Since the resurgence of the use of torture by supposedly Open Democracies, and their justifications as appropriate abuse (John Yoo’s legal justification for torture absolving the Bush Administration most notably), many documentaries have been made on this subject in the contemporary era. In this blog post, I will shortly review these three documentaries: “Taxi to the Dark Side”, about the death of a young Afghan taxi driver due to torture, “Standard Operating Procedure”, where the soldiers at the focus of the Abu Gharab torture scandal are interviewed, and “The Road to Guantanamo” recounting the tale of random atrociousness which placed three young men at Guantanamo.

“Taxi To the Dark side” (2007) is in my opinion the best documentary out of these three. The documentary was the second film in the BBC series “Why Democracy?”, was directed by Alex Gibney and won an Oscar for best documentary. It interviews former guards, politicians, former prisoners, and the family of a killed prisoner to give a whole picture of the politics and the rising culture of torture coming to the fore at the time. The film critiques the use of torture most effectively by the means of focusing on the one particular case of the afghan taxi driver, Dilawar, who is arrested arbitrarily and tortured without constraint. The case of Dilawar is shown bit by bit and we follow the vile pathway of how he is detained only because his customer was deemed suspicious, how he is subjugated to a torture founded on meaningless abuse and power, and finds his fate ultimately in his unjustified killing.

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The Documentary film makers cleverly let those propounding pro-torture state their arguments and then later ply a decisive deconstruction to these that arguments mauling the pro-torture stance through facts. The case of the death of Dilawar is dealt with delicately and with candor, and the film even flits with a not completely unsympathetic view to the ordinary soldiers caught in the machinery of torture at Bagram imposed upon them from within and without restraint. In contradistinction to the nowadays abusive practices the filmmakers find an alternative to the abusive practices in a former war interrogator who worked during WWII. The Former interrogator from WWII expresses great sorrow and revulsion to the emerging status quo and that the states has fallen into the disgrace by using torture. The film is an emotional watch, but well worth the while.

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“Standard Operating Procedure” (2008) is a documentary directed Erroll Morris, who also directed such classic documentaries as “The Thin Blue Line” and “Tabloit”. In this documentary he examines the history of the horrific photos leaked from the Abu Gharab prison. The soldiers that are in the photos and who took the photos are interviewed, and Morris, giving insight to the mentalities of the Prison, details other incidents within the world of the US Military and the White Houses move towards a normalcy of abuse to clarify the abusive photo moments of Abu Gharab which hold us in disgust. Morris´ film is much more stylistic and cinematic than “Taxi to the dark side”, but leaves less of an emotional impact. While in “Taxi to the dark side” one guard admitted that he wished that he would have gone with his own conscience, none of the guards interviewed in “Standard Operation Procedure” show any signs of reflection on their crimes. The film shows that the torture, that allegedly was meant to help the US find Saddam Hussein, didn´t lead anywhere and resulted in random torture and at least the death of one prisoner (captured in one of the photos). SOP follows how the original Abu Gharab was founded as to be used as a torture machine and execution site for and during the regime of Saddam Hussein, which was then quickly converted to be used, in a like manner, as a torture chamber by the American Military. The film isn´t as clear in its critique as “Taxi to the dark side”, but it does show how soldiers use all forms of rationalization to justify their actions and the political turmoil of the Bush Era which lead to the scandals.

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“The Road to Guantanamo” (2006) illustrates the torture scandals from a more personal point of view. The film focuses on three British citizens of Pakistani descent who were captured by military forces and detained unlawfully for years. The film director hired actors to portray the young men, who re-enact past incidents while filling these staged sets with stories directly from the protagonists.

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The director, Michael Winterbottom, won the Silver bear for best director in the 56th Berlin film festival for this documentary and it is hardly a surprise since the film manages to be an intense true tale resembling a dark thriller while also delivering a harsh truth about corrupt, racist systems. The three interviewed men walk the audience through their experience; they explain that they traveled to Afghanistan to do humanitarian aid, but ending up just witnessing bombings. They later get arrested, but when discovering that they are being held by American military, grow hopeful that they will not be unfairly threated. Unfortunately this does not happen; they are detained, tortured and starved. This experience shakes the world view of the three men as they come to experience incarceration and torture without reprise or meaning and to this moment haunts them as possible from anywhere and from anybody. Tightly focused on the emotions and thoughts on the three protagonists, this is a documentary which is viscerally from the torture survivor’s point of view, and this documentary came to inspired more films to allow torture survivors to tell their stories*. Holding its own in creative filmmaking while pluming a subject which makes us recoil in shock, “The Road to Guantanamo” holds out as all-around good and solid work of film.

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All three films bring different angles and views to the torture used by the Bush Administration, and deserve to be viewed. The subject matter is always dealt with wisdom and, due to their unyielding candor regarding the subject set into such dark places of the human mind, show uncomfortable truths about the war on terror.

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*For example, A Finnish documentary named “After Life – 4 stories of torture” (directed by Mervi Junkkonen in 2011) interviews four refugee men who tell about their experiences with torture and the impact it has had on their lives. A similar documentary was also made in 2012, named “Beneath the blindfold” (directed by Ines Sommer and Kathy Berger) which also consist of four survivors speaking out.

Hello and Happy International Women´s Day! To celebrate, this blog will feature various articles and reports about Womens´s struggles for justice and equality, for respect and freedom. Enjoy and become aware!

Firstly, it is time for us as a society to not be friends with rapist.

Buzzfeed has a collection of animated depictions of society´s most beloved couples, where such characters as Marge Simpson and Wonderwoman are vitims of Domestic Abuse. Chilling and powerful. Serious Trigger Warning!

How US Politics contribute to the the epidemic portions of gendered violence in Mexico.

The Aftermatch of the Rwandan genocide, from the Rwandan´s womens perspective.

The horrific situation when millions of women worldwide are denied abortions.


The dangers women face when religious beliefs dominate hospitals.

One brave Afghan woman´s film about rape.

Two takes on Jared Leto´s role in “Dallas Buyers Club”.

What does the recent election in Honduras mean for the countires women?

A factsheet about the almost forgotten Comfort Women.

Amnesty Internationals campaign for Reproductive rights and justice.

Seeking justice for the thousands of murdered Indigenous Canadian women.

A factsheet of Chinese activist Cao Shunli.

Black women and the burden of HIV.

15 facts on sex, pregnancy and violence.

In Nepal, widespread gender discrimination has lead to a crisis in sexual and reproductive rights.

(In Swedish, use google translations). Poor women don´t get access to women´s clinics.

(In Swedish, use google tranlsation). Same situation in Burkina Faso.

(In Finnish, use google translation). Everyone must have the right to decide themselves what their genderidentification is.

Take Action! Sign this petition to prevent a new law in Mocambique which gives rapist the right to marry their victims instead of facing jail.

Take Action! Help a Guatemalan mother find justice for her daughter, who was brutally raped and killed.


In China, single motherhood and having children outside of weddinglock are the final taboo.

A crisis for women´s sexual rights in Poland.


In China, a activist protesting child rape was made homeless by the authorities.

India´s period problem.

How landgrabs in Kenya hurt the Sengwer women (an Indeginous people in Kenya).

There is still hope for Arab feminism!

The scars of the Iraq war lead to depression and drug abuse in Iraqi women.

Breaking the silence of Domestic abuse in the palestian communities.

Israel admitted to forced birth controll and sterilazation of Ethiopian women refugees.

Breaking the silence on violence against Indeginous women, adolescents and children.


Peru will reopen the cause of forced sterilizations, subjected to thousands of Indeginous women.

Top five issues which is killing of Native Americans.

A mother was charged with fellony since she heloed her daughter to get access to an illegal abortion pills online.


19 things women writers are sick of hearing.

Some articles on the Woody Allen controversy: An former lawyer who worked on many child molestian causes explains of how despite not being convicted, it doesn´t mean Allen isn´t guilty. Another piece shows the 1993 papers from the trial, showing he infact wasn´t found completely innocent. Vanity Fair spells out 10 facts about the cause. And finally, a piece on how bizarre it is that Mia Farrow is always accused of brainwashing and Woody Allen isn´t.

One-third of European women suffer from either sexual or physical abuse.

Take Care/ Maaretta

Hi everyone!

Febuary Is Black History Month in the US. To celebrate its last days, here´s some links to check out!

Here´s a good collection of Important, early black feminist.


Top ten black inventors you should know.

A map where slavery still exists.

The myth of the black superwoman, revisited.

Also, sadly, Harold Ramis died today at the age of 69. Rest In Piece, Mr. Ramis.

“Father always spoke Finnish!” – Elina about her deceased father

This is a post to celebrate “The Day of the Finnish Swede”, a day for all Swedes of Finnish Descent and Finns who happen to live in Sweden.

Despite being a good 2-10 percent of Sweden´s population, Finns aren´t much represented in Swedish Media. Only a few Swedish movies feature a character of Finnish roots, and when it comes to the ever growing literature which is penned by immigrants or second-generation immigrants, people of Finnish descent are even less present. Susanna Alakoski and Eija Hetekivi Olsson, both Swedes of Finnish descent, have won awards and been best-sellers, but the fact that they write about Finns hasn´t really been acknowledge by the Swedish critics. Therefore it is a delight that the film “Elina – As If I Didn´t Exist” (2002) not only exists, but is a touching tale of courage and a enchanting, and completely underrated, cinematic gem. It is directed by Klaus Härö, who has also directed “The Best of Mothers”, another work of bright cinematic display.

Original Swedish Movie Poster For "Elina"

Original Swedish Movie Poster For “Elina”

“Elina” centers on a young 9-year old girl who lives in a rural area of Sweden in the year 1952. Both of Elina´s parents were Finnish immigrants, her mother being a single parent after the death of the father. After recovering from tuberculoses, Elina must return to school after a year of absence. Being a year academically behind her age peers Elina must reenter the school into the same class as her sister, Irma. The teacher of Irma´s class is the strict disciplinarian Tora Holm, who is both loved and feared in the small town Elina lives in. While at times generous, Tora is also frightening in her determination. Since it is strongly prohibited in the Swedish schools of the Era, Elinas mother warns her to never, ever speak Finnish outside of her home.

However when in school, Elina decides to help a fellow Finnish speaking classmate, Anton, since he, being of Finnish descent and newly arrived to Sweden and the school, doesn´t speak any Swedish. Elina speaks Finnish to help Anton come to grip with new the language. Unfortunately The teacher, Tora Holm, overhears them speak Finnish and without caring to know the context of the situation, decides this means Anton doesn´t get any lunch (a penalty for speaking Finnish). Elina tries to explain that Anton is at a disadvantage. Furthermore she points out that she also shouldn´t be allowed to have lunch since both of them spoke Finnish. These statements are dismissed by Tora. At lunch Elina, to protest the unfairness of the teachers actions, gives her entire meal to Anton. This starts a chain of verbal abuse Elina receives from her teacher. Elina becomes bullied, since she refuses to tolerate the discrimination she and Anton faces.

Elina and Tora Holm

Elina and Tora Holm

Despite “Elina” being a childrens film, it doesn´t shy away from showing how openly hostile people could be to Finns at the time, as well as to the poor. Since the death of her father, Elinas mother struggles to feed her three children and maintain a meager existence in a richer Swedish community in which they find themselves. The poverty Elinas family faces are constantly mocked by Tora. Tora also refers to the ability to speak Finnish as a sole reason to being poverty stricken, and even states that it´s “so hard to teach these finnsavages”. Today in Sweden Finnish is recognized under law as a minority language (as are the Sami language, Mäenkieli, Romani Chib, Yiddish, and Sign language). This status, as now conferred by Swedish law, means that every Swede of Finnish descent has a right to have access to their mother tongue, or a right to learn Finnish.

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Chinese Poster for “Elina”

While it is of great importance that minority mother tongues, and the cultures which circulate around them, have found respect (at least in theory) in the Swedish State, it´s also crucial that films such as “Elina” show that discrimination and oppression have also been a part of the Finnish-Swede experience. On another note, the Sami in Sweden faced harsher discrimination and still continue today to be erased in Scandinavian society.

Elina as a protagonist is a fantastic, inspirational character. She is strong, fierce and believes in justice. She is brave enough to do this even when literally everyone else is against her, even her family. She feels pride in being Finnish and her sense of belonging and self-respect give her strength to avoid the shame in being different from the other Swedish children.

Elina´s family

Elina´s family

Also, Elina is also shown as having a substantial and binding connection with her father, which the movie implies to have been the person who has nurtured, and inspired, her sense of justice and concern for rights. The Finnish father, in “Elina”, gets to be portrayed as a kind, loving parent, which may not seem to be an important detail, however a commonplace, as well as unfortunate, stereotype of Finnish men in Swedish society, is that they are often drunken and violent hooligans who are commonly brutish and unremittedly uncivilized. In Contrast to this simplistic and one-sided stereotype, Elina´s father is a positive, nuanced portrayal of Finnish men. Granting a space for Finnish men to be allowed more three-dimensional roles in Swedish media without recourse to this overly represented stereotype is important to not only recognize the value of minorities in a society, but also to recognize the importance of the Finn to the history and development of Sweden.

“Elina – As if I didn´t exist” is a powerful film about discrimination and bullying. It´s a film that speaks of a personal history of the Finnish immigrants, but also speaks of the universal will to fight for what’s right.

So for The Day of the Finnish-Swedes, go have a sauna, munch on some Karelian pies and watch “Elina – As if I Didn´t exist”!

Swedish/Finnish Flag

Swedish/Finnish Flag

(Spoilers for both “Frankenweenie” and “Alice in Wonderland” (2010)!)

As a director and visually insightful storyteller, Tim Burton has been a critical darling as well as an icon and initiator of Popular Goth Culture. Successful as a director, writer and producer, Burton has done some truly fantastic films, such as “Beetlejuice” (1988), “Batman” (1989) and “Edward Scissorshand” (1990), with the latter film being a film classic and arguably still his best work to date. After 2005, Burton has had a bit of a creative decline which can, perhaps, be pinpointed in his being too overly productive (Looking at his resume at IMDB, it’s stated that Mr. Burton made two films in both 2005 and 2012) and stuck in the trap of his own brilliant style and quirky narrative deployments. His current work has also grown towards the habit of filming adaption’s of previous existing films, novels and plays, and many of his critics have claimed this to be an ongoing error and a major cause of his fall from his high style.

Tim Burton working on "Frankenweenie"

Tim Burton working on “Frankenweenie”

However Burton is, and has always been, good in plying at the fresh fields implied in the adaption’s he has tackled. His darkly comical version of “Sweeney Todd” was extremely engaging and fascinating, as was his vision of the comic book hero Batman. Making his own personal interpretation of already existing ideals is not necessarily a bad move. The problem lies more in that Mr. Burton doesn’t seem to always think through the interesting aspects of the stories he re-creates.

Adding to the faults which have motivated criticism of Burton’s work since the new millennium, and which can be seen in his latest work “Alice in Wonderland” and “Frankenweenie”, Burton has begun to rely more on demonizing marginalized groups in the guise of shaping his villains and uses the soft narrative contrivance that conflates the normal attractive, or beautiful, guise with that of the good person of the narrative.

Victor and Sparky

Victor and Sparky

“Frankenweenie” is a re-make of a short film Tim Burton made when he was just starting out as a film maker. The story centers a young boy, Victor, who through a logic-free science brings his dog back to life. The story begins with showing Victor being a loner who instead of wanting to have friends prefers the company of his dog Sparky while making inventions and homemade films, starring of course Sparky. After introducing their protagonist, who at this point should be mentioned is white, cis-gendered, male and non-disabled (his character modeling is made personify the cute, i.e. fits our society ideas of what is a decent looking person would entail), the viewer gets a glimpse of his schools class: they consist of a heavily over-weight boy named Bob, a Japanese-American boy named Toshiaki, a girl with pale hair and giant black circles around her eyes, a boy who is most certainly a person of color (possibly having roots in the Middle east) named Nassor and a hunchbacked boy named Edgar. At first it’s a refreshing scene, seeing so many different types of children; especially seeing children of color and disabled children, since these groups are often ignored in mainstream films and media. But very quickly it turns out the roles for all these children are the roles of antagonist. Everyone is a bully. Victor is the victim.

Nassor (left), Edgar (beneath Nassor), Weird girl (next to Nassor), Elsa (right), Toshiaki (next to Elsa), Bob (next to Toshiaki)

Nassor (left), Edgar (beneath Nassor), Weird girl (next to Nassor), Elsa (right), Toshiaki (next to Elsa), Bob (next to Toshiaki)

The Weird girl, the one with pale hair and the sullen eyes, warns Victor that something will happen to him in the near future since her pet cat has had a vision. The vision being that one of its feces is shaped like a “V”; apparently the cat Mr. Whiskers has had feces in the shape of a letter that each student’s name begins with and shortly after something big has in fact happened to the kid in question. Victor blows this warning off since he doesn’t believe in this odd take on a superstition. Fair enough, however Victor is rather dismissive of the Weird Girl (who doesn’t even get a name) and openly shows her with his hostile body language that he doesn’t want to talk to her. He just says curtly “sure” and quickly leaves. I myself am a hard-core atheist and find superstition illogical, but for the sake of goodness, when someone is just trying to be nice and warn you without being offensive, you should at least be polite back.

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After this exchange with the Weird Girl we see Edgar, another of Victor’s classmates approaching to ask of Victor a favor. Edgar, in this scene, is shown having trouble understanding personal space, so Victor being uncomfortable with how close Edgar gets to him appears reasonable to the viewer. Nevertheless, Edgar has approached Victor to simply suggest that they work together on a science project since neither of them have any friends. Victor responds simply that he wants to work alone, while crawling away from Edgar. Why? This revulsion is never explained. Edgar is not being mean. He is simply stating that they could work together since both are friendless. Victor denies the request but no reason is forthcoming, though Edgars socially “odd looks and behavior” seem swimmingly obvious.
The pivot point of the narrative of “Frankenweenie” comes when Sparky the dog is run over by a car and killed and we follow the trajectory of grief this brings to Victor. Victor’s obsession with Sparky’s death is transfigured when, during a science lesson, he is enlightened by how the muscles of even the dead respond to electricity. This inspires Victor with the plan to attempt the same technique to bring his dog back to life (as even Mary Shelly was inspired by the like experiments in her day to incorporate them into her “Frankenstein”). Victor succeeds in reanimating his pet, but wisely decides to keep the fact that he has awoken his dead dog a secret. This attempt at concealing the reanimated falls apart when Edgar spots Sparky chasing a cat. Edgar then proceeds to blackmail Victor into showing him how he brought the dog back to life. If Victor doesn’t show Edgar how he was able to bring his pet back to life, he will tell everyone about Sparky. Victor then reluctantly demonstrates the technique with a gold fish.

FRANKENWEENIE

Before this point, the film was a typical Burton kid film: comfortable macabre with a light heart. A boy brings his dog back to life because he loves his dog so much. But then Edgar starts blackmailing Victor, bullying him into bringing a gold fish back to life. Edgar happily goes to school with the re-animated gold fish. It is then reveled that all of the other students are bullies: after Edgar blackmails Victor, he is cornered at school by Nassor who threatens him. Nassor makes it clear that if Edgar doesn’t tell him what he’s hiding, he’s in trouble. Simultaneously, Toshiaki and Bob are shown bickering about the upcoming science fair. Bob claims Toshiaki is the “smart one” out of the two, stereotyping the over-weight Bob as naturally stupid and Toshiaki as the naturally smart and science-obsessed one. Toshiaki is also shown being sinister and malevolent, as illustrated when he decides that a proper way to win the science fair is by forcefully strapping Bob to a small rocket and launching it off the roof, all while speaking in poor English. Toshiaki in short embodies every negative stereotype against Asians imaginable.

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While it is refreshing to see a children’s film with a diverse cast, it is unfortunate that the entire diverse cast is in fact demonized. The only character that belongs slightly to a marginalized group and is not demonized is Victor’s science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, who is an immigrant (but, he is not a Person of Color like Nassor and Toshiaki. Make of that what one will). Mr. Rzykruski is shown being an energetic and supportive teacher who is falsely accused of inspiring children to do deadly experiments. This results into an awesomely funny speech while he tries to defend himself, which will be linked below. (The science teacher’s design is strongly modeled after the deceased legendary actor Vincent Price, who worked with and strongly influenced Mr. Burton. Mr. Price was a major inspiration for Tim Burton’s first short animation, “Vincent” (1982)).

Mr. Rzykruski is the one to tell Victor he should become a scientist, which brings up another major problem with the film.

Whether it was intentional or not, the film sends the message that only white, “decent looking” men should be involved with science. The science replacement teacher the class gets is a woman, who formally taught PE. One of the students proclaims she knows nothing about science, to which she then snaps that she knows enough. The problem here is that there is an extreme lack of women in science as well as their being many harmful prejudices against women that make it difficult for them to take place in science. By having the female teacher being mean and ignorant of science is not progressive. It is also an outdated stereotype that strong women are mean.

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In the films climax all of the kids Victor has interacted with decide to bring an animal back to life. After Victor’s secret is reviled Toshiaki, Nassor, Weird girl, Edgar and Bob all try to bring an animal back from the dead. After blackmailing and threatening, the kids enter Victor’s room, looking for the device that brought Sparky alive. The children all decide to experiment and to try to bring an animal back to life. Edgar brings a rat back to life, Toshiaki his pet turtle, Nassor his hamster and Bob sea creatures. Weird Girl tries the technique on a dead bat, but accidently mixes the creature with her cat. As one can predict, all of the creatures become uncontrollable monsters that start wrecking and terrorizing the city. The only explanation that is given for the significant different results of bringing the animals alive are that one must “love” the science or experiment. The explanation does not hold up, for Toshiaki and Nassor brought back their pets; sounds like there was a hint of love in that experimentation. True, they are more concerned with winning the science fair, but they actively chose their own pets instead of random dead animals. Weird Girl most definitely loved her cat. And lots of great science has been driven and performed by curiosity and ambition, which Edgar and Weird Girl probably were embodying in their own experiments. So the message of the film is that only white, non-disabled, thin males should do science. Everyone else – People of Color, women, the disabled – will only cause trouble. The film hammers home the message by even having Victor figure out how to destroy all the monsters and save the town. The person who no doubt has most of the privilege saves the day, proving that only white men can do science and fulfill its consequences. The statement about “loving science” becomes only an excuse for prejudice.

TOSHIAKI-IN-FRANKENWEENIE

As a side note, it’s also worth mentioning that the meanest adult in the film is a bald man. He bullies his “pretty” niece and yells constantly at Victor. So people who fit our society’s ideals of “unattractive” are also bad since beauty and looks is what marks out the parameters of a good person.

Another case in point is the work of “Alice” by Tim Burton which moves along the same direction in the demonization of marginalized groups. In “Alice In Wonderland”, the villainous Red Queen is given an abnormally large head. The Mad Hatter in the film revels that residents fighting against the Red Queen use a slogan that goes: “Down with the Bloody Big head”. Even worse, the White Queen is hinted at being a bit dangerous (has served human fingers in a jar), yet she’s the one the audience is suppose to root for and the happy ending is encapsulated in the storyline with her being crowned Queen in the instead of her repugnant sister the Red Queen. The film implies that the White Queen should be the ruler, since she’s “prettier” and the lack of attractiveness on the surface pierces deep into the soul (causes or is caused by is never fully explored). Using the Red Queens looks (which may be a form of disability) as a way to critique her is placed on the viewer as a “given” and hints if not commits ableism. It also hammers home the message that only the attractive should be in positions of power and visibility.

The White Queen and The Red Queen

The White Queen and The Red Queen

This rejection of the outliers of accepted “looks” in Alice (the Red Queen has a “misshapen” head) along with placing the hunchbacked Edgar in “Frankenweenie” as a villain and mostly to blame for the problems in the film (he’s the one to push Victor to show him the device and then tell about it to others) makes a disturbing new pattern in Burton’s film. Indeed, the man who once defended people’s rights to not fit into our society’s norms now appears to be demonizing the very same.

The menagerie of children in “Frankenweenie” are supposedly a reference to different horror films, with each character being a reference to classical horror genres and it is no surprise that Burton wants to express an ode to these influential and important classic horror films. The problem lies with the ill conceived and notable disregard of the historical context of these films. The majority of these films were made in times when a lot of marginalized groups were completely deprived of rights, dismissed by the society at large, seen as problematic to majority culture, marginalized by negative imagery, and were nearly always portrayed negatively in cinema. So casting these old stereotypes into his film does not work without insight to the historical ethnicity and becomes double edge sword cutting towards the highly offensive. You simply cannot have a privileged person being the victim and all the marginalized groups being villains. Yes, even the privileged can have difficult lives, but that does not take away the fact that we still live in a highly hierarchical world where those of marginalized groups struggle to be engaged equally in the social, cultural and political. When Victor is the hero and is shown as the only one we should like and the only one who should be allowed to do science that hierarchy is strengthened. And that is fairly harmful, if not irresponsible.

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Tim Burton has been and remains an important filmmaker. There is no other director quite like him. In his earlier works, Tim Burton has even strongly defended outsiders and probably doesn’t mean to be offensive. It is crucial that he should start thinking more about what roles he gives to marginalized characters; then he will once again be on top of his game.