Wednesday, September 27, 2023


Asteroid City

Wes Anderson may have set out not to make an unwatchable film -- his latest is quite watchable -- but to make an all but unreviewable one, because his style so overwhelms its substance.  It is set in a tiny western desert town loosely based on Roswell, New Mexico, in the 1950's (not the 40's, when Roswell's alien crash is said to have happened).  The town has drawn brainiac children and their parents from far and wide for an annual science festival and competition when it has its own encounter with an intrusive non-human intelligence.

The film is shot in unnatural but soothing pastel colors.  The effect is like walking down the aisles at a Toys R Us before that chain went out of business.  It's a world seemingly made out of plastic, but it's not an animated one; the people are real. 

And what an assemblage of people!  Perhaps not since "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" in 1963 have so many prominent names been persuaded to share the screen.  In alphabetical order -- Adrien Brody, Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Willem Dafoe, Hope Davis, Matt Dillon, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, Edward Norton, Margot Robbie, Tilda Swinton.  Wes's powers of persuasion must be enormous; Scarlett is said to have agreed to take the role for a salary of about $16,000/month.

If the film is about anything, it seems to be not about then but about the post-pandemic now.  The father of one of the boys and the mother of one of the girls, who is a movie star within the film, played by Scarlett, fall in love in a manner of speaking, and so do their children, but in both cases it's a certain pronounced and acknowledged emptiness that binds the couples together.  

God forbid there be any affect.  When the actress offers to rehearse a scene of full-frontal nudity for her opposite number, who is just getting to know her, the idea barely registers on his face.  He mumbles something that turns out to be "yes."  The movie then mocks itself by showing Scarlett in the altogether for just an instant, and in a mirror image, a frame within a frame within a frame.

Indeed, one critic has said that "Asteroid City" is about frames precisely -- our inability to escape the multiple frames in which we live.  I think that it might better be said that it is about filters, technological, psychological and cultural, that insulate us from true feeling in our new world, where only fools dream of authenticity.  We inhabit now a place of supreme irony, but also of supreme isolation and numbness.  And this we find to be good fodder for meta, meta comedy.  We stumble about Plato's Cave and see our surroundings through a glass but darkly; we smile nevertheless in smug sophistication.

Saturday, September 23, 2023


In the Hour of the Wolf Last Night

I awoke from a dream that was relatively benign.  In the dream, I was at PwC, chatting informally with some colleagues, in the office of the managing partner.  (He himself kept his back to me whenever he spoke.)  When I looked out the window, I could peer down onto the playing field at Fenway Park.  A game was in progress, but it wasn't baseball, rather some new and stylized form of warfare.  (I know that there is no such prospect of Fenway in all of Boston; the concept must have bubbled up from a visit I made years ago to Baltimore, where there is a PwC conference room with a spectacular view into Camden Yards.)

If my dream seemed benign, my waking state thereafter was not.  Everything in my life, from my physical and mental condition, to my dubious personal habits, to my relationships, to the horror of the upcoming presidential election, to the geopolitical stage -- especially the evil spell that has come over Russia and its people, to the Crack in the Cosmic Egg, seemed immersed in a viscous fluid of noir.  

Who or what could relieve me of this?  I thought about reciting Christ's mantra from the cross -- "Into thy hands I commend my spirit."  The thought would not be authentic, but then again, don't the tenets of cognitive behavioral therapy say that it doesn't matter whether you believe it or not; what matters is that you repeat it!?

In the end, I did not recite it, but sleep once again overcame me, as it always does.  I dreamt a second PwC dream, one more thematically mainstream.  I was in a rush to get to the airport for an important flight.  In my haste I realized that everyone watching me descend on the escalator down into the subway could see that my pants were on backwards.

Friday, September 22, 2023


My Little Skiff

In the course of just ten September days:  At her mooring, lashed but unfazed by the outer bands of a major hurricane.  Working furiously to disgorge herself of three inches of rain, fallen in a single day in a separate storm that was all but unremarked on shore.  And finally headed home for the winter, making the only ripples on a sea of perfect tranquility, at the peak of a nine-foot tide, the buoys and the blades of marsh grass barely keeping their heads under a stark, iconic afternoon Ipswich light.

The changing faces are a tonic, an I Ching for me and the mariner masses.

Thursday, September 21, 2023


"Awesome" In Its Original Meaning

Beauty can be so intense and powerful that instead of inspiring delight, it inspires a particular kind of fear, especially in the faint of heart.  I count myself among the faint of heart.  The heart grows fainter with each passing year.

The summit of Mt. Washington on a clear fall day.  Tahoe from a tight-turning sailplane.  The debris field of the Titanic from a diving bell.  Bikini Atoll at the moment of thermonuclear ignition.  

Standing at the base of the black obelisk depicted in "2001:  A Space Odyssey."  And what amounts to the same thing -- being, finally, "In the Presence of the Lord."  One cowers and turns his back like Igor under the lash.  Others, the bodhisattvas, proceed in serenity, leaving us behind.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023


I Am Ungrateful By Temperament

Rather most times bitter and resentful.  And yet, when I lie in bed with the windows open, listening to a gentle rain as it falls on the north and the west sides of the house, listening stereophonically as it were, I am grateful to be embedded in it.

It was Wittgenstein who said that the religious feeling is a feeling of perfect safety.

Monday, September 11, 2023


A Point Worth Pondering

"Plato's cave is not an allegory."

                -- Prof. Diane Pasulka

Saturday, September 2, 2023


Infinity, Impugned

I have a friend who is hostile to the concept of infinity.  He challenges everyone to find an instance of it in reality.

I fall back on infinity as a mathematical concept.  (In math all things that are within the rules are possible.)  Take a long piece of string.  Sever it in the center.  Throw away one half.  Sever the remaining half in the center.  Ad infinitum.  As long as your tiny scissors, your visual acuity and your underlying tremor cooperate in the exercise, it will never end.

I feel that when I do things now, things from which I derive pleasure, like visiting a lake, or organizing an interview with an admired judge, I am trying to sever the remaining piece of the string, with the further conceit that the very process of severing it will forestall getting to the end.  But we know that in reality the curtain will come down in the middle of the play, my little game erased along with everything else, simultaneously.  Which is why I am in a hunger for some sign of transcendence.  Transcendence is elusive.