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Tag: Humanity

Before Sunrise: The Fragility of Midnight

“The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed.”

I never watched Troy (2004) by Wolfgang Peterson, but the quote above shared between a wounded Briseis and the rugged, yet tender Achilles always resonated with me. Our relationship with death gives all our experiences meaning and on a much smaller scale; all our deep connections we form add a dash of colour in our lives because those relationships are finite specks in the great dance of the universe.

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Before Sunrise (1995) directed by Richard Linklater is an ode to young love, love without restrictions, obligations or expectations; a symbol of love which stays with and haunts us even as we age. The story is comically simple, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) sums up the courage and speaks to Celine (Julie Delpy) whom he spots on the opposite isle in the train before stumbling on a crazy idea: Why shouldn’t she get off the train with him and soul search together in the dreamy streets of Vienna? The pair’s chemistry is almost immediate with so much being communicate by their flirty glances, the subtle biting of their lips and the batting of their eyelashes. Love is blooming in the city of Vienna; but only for fourteen short hours before reality tears them apart.

The shots, camera angles and editing employed in this film are all very elementary; from a technical aspect Before Sunrise is a film where you almost don’t feel the presence of a director. Instead, the camera is simply just a friendly companion documenting the discussions and kisses between the two exquisitely charming lovers. Linklater doesn’t attempt to revolutionise the art of cinematography; but he doesn’t need to, there is already enough beauty in the simple stares of affection between two doomed lovers.

Jesse and Celine banter and share their philosophies, most of which address love; the most painful, yet simultaneously exhilarating aspect of humanity. At first, both are reserved in their comments, trying to maintain their sense of autonomy against the breaking tides of affection they feel for each other. Only slowly, as the night drifts on by and the moon rises above the smoky clouds do they reveal their past scars and aspirations. The couple drift from the melancholic grey of a graveyard to the energetic bustle of an amusement park before finally laying in each other’s arms on a park, letting their pauses do as much as the talking as the actual words they utter.

What do the pair actually speak about? Nothing in particular, Jesse talks about the plot of a television show which he came up with day dreaming on a train and Celine speaks about balancing the idea of being strong and independent whilst also falling hopelessly for a man. One of the most memorable scenes occurs in a listening studio of a record store; as one stares longingly the other avoids contact, only for this role to reverse every few seconds. It’s awkward, it’s embarrassing, but so surprisingly realistic, I have been in the exact same spot dozen of times and so have you.

As the slow cloak of midnight finally descends upon the spellbinding city of Vienna, the electricity of night only intensifies the connection between the couple and the audience is only more hopelessly drawn into their romance. Everything is more mysterious and luscious under the cover of stars; the lovers are transported into a realm of seclusion, where they are freed from the demands and obligations of the day. Linklater captures this fleeting promise of eternality as the pairs wander lost in Vienna and more importantly; lost in each other’s eyes.

The most powerful shot in this film occurs near the very end, as the pair reluctantly separate; Jesse for his plane back to America and Celine on her way back to Paris. Linklater cuts back to the locations that the pair visited, a lonely bridge, the deserted cafe and the grungy underground bar. Except, this time it’s in broad day light. And there’s no love struck couple in the scenery either. The fleeting promises of eternality have also evaporated with the moon and the city wakes up from its blissful dream. The contrast between the locations during the night and day time is drastic and very jarring, and only do we realised how charming these two individuals were. Their locations were irrelevant as long as they could whisper sweet nothings into each other’s ears.

The couple stand outside a train which Celine must board; the looming reality which they might never see each other again causes they to spill everything; their feelings for each other and a desire to preserve what they experienced for the last fourteen hours permanently in their minds and souls. They kiss and hug with such passion that Hawke and Delpy stopped being actors in a role; their eyes swam with such tenderness that it forced me to think back on past relationships that I have been fortunate enough to experience. In the spur of the moment, the couple decide to recind their past promise that they would just walk away from each other forever. The idea of them just shelving this night as a symbol for how overwhelmingly beautiful love was just not attractive enough as the possibility for a second night.

But in a world before the advent of Facebook and Whatsapp, this promise seems fragile. Will the couple honour these words uttered whilst under the influence of gripping passions? Celine asks Jesse whether or not they should keep in contact by calling or writing letters to which he dismisses it with the comment “No, it’s depressing.”

I’m afraid of watching the sequel, Before Sunset (2004), part of me doesn’t want to ruin the image of two lost lovers finding solace in the comfort of an anonymous partner. Whether or not Jesse and Celine actually meet again is beside the point, in reality it is highly likely that these two will never cross paths. But that’s okay, or at the very least I am okay with that conclusion, because this film doesn’t attempt to wrap everything neatly together; life is rarely that simplistic. The road doesn’t stop and all you can do is place one foot infront of the other.

But for a brief moment they shared something magical, something which many people will never or have never experienced. Time may roll forwards and Jesse and Celine may visit different cities and drink wine with other foreign lovers. But inevitably whether the pair are stuck in a toxic relationship or whether they are happily married with a loving partner: Once in a while, whether that’s every few months, years or even decades, the pair, whilst sleeping on opposites of the world will inevitably drift back to the first time they laid eyes upon each other; on the train passing through Vienna.

Au Revoir.

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Love, the Two Sided Sword

How do Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis and Walter Raleigh’s The Nymph’s Reply explore the theme of love through contrasting interpretations?

This essay heavily references Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis which you can read here and The Nymph’s Reply written by Walter Raleigh which you can also read here.

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“Thank you, I’ll say goodbye soon
Though it’s the end of the world, don’t blame yourself…Now
And if it’s true, I’ll surround you and give life to a world
That’s our own”

Love is an emotion which transcends all boundaries, since it is interwoven to the human experience and a foundation of humanity; many texts have tried to interpret the magnitude and consequences of love. Venus and Adonis twists Ovid’s classic tale to reflect the dance of love, the pushing and pulling between two parties, whilst The Nymph’s Reply emphasizes a cold and logical response to stifle a burst of passion.

In many respects Venus and Adonis could be read as a cautionary tale against resisting the natural temptations of passion and lust and the socially accepted practice of forming a stable relationship to create children. Adonis has reached the age of adolescent, the age where he can openly choose his future, whether that lies in the realm of hyper-masculinity or a reality where he embraces feminine emotions like love. Unfortunately Adonis’ obsession with the militant characteristics of masculinity such as being a soldier or hunting means his “heart stands armed in his ear.” Adonis views love in a logical and emotionless state and thus he is never able to understand its power to unite. He responds to Venus’ advances with more references to his violent and militaristic mentality “remove your siege from my unyielding heart/ to love’s alarms it will not ope the gate.” Adonis’ fixation on the unattractive elements of love ultimately leads to his demise, this epyllion warns about the dangers of forsaking love and delving too deeply into masculinity. On the other hand, The Nymph’s Reply pushes a different agenda, emphasising the benefits of choosing logic over love, believing that desires to reproduce or fall in love are foolish.

Unwilling and unable to succumb to the weakening effects of love, Adonis is consumed with slaying a boar, a symbol of uncontrolled masculinity and reckless passion during the Renaissance. Blinded by his need to prove himself, Adonis forsakes one of the foundational pillars of humanity; the ability to forge and maintain sophisticated and complex relationships. Another interpretation may view Adonis’ death as a warning against homosexuality since one is straying into a relationship deemed ‘unnatural’ since “thou art bound to breed.” This reading is reinforced by the description of the boar as the “loving swine” who had attempted to “nuzzle” with Adonis and merely wanted to plant a kiss on him, the sexual connotations hinting at a possible romance. The tusk “sheathed in his soft groin” emphaises how homosexuality can be dangerous. It symbolically destroys Adonis’ manhood; as homosexual relationships are inherently unable to create new life, necessary to maintain the human species.

The Nymph’s Reply explores the theme of from a different angle, unlike Venus and Adonis which warns about the dangers of isolation and failing to build a connection to others, the Nymph completely rejects the notion of love. Because human life is finite, promises of love and passion will only echo true in the moment, for the Nymph such rhetoric only serves to hide the suitor’s lust. This is echoed in the statement “If all the world and love were young/ and truth in every shepherd’s tongue” the hyperbole sorely contradicts the sombre reality of an imperfect world where the nymph and her suitors live in. An imperfect world where idealistic emotions fall on deaf ears, where promises of fidelity ring hollow.

The Nymph shares a similar opinion to Adonis, believing love to be an intrusive force, powerful enough to strip away one’s independence. The vast majority of the poem involves the Nymph scientifically and methodically refuting the shepherd’s words, “Times drives the flocks from field to fold… Rivers rage and rocks grow cold.”  In the Nymph’s Reply there is a clear focus upon winter imagery, purposely contradicting and countering the connotations of spring, hope and growth found in the shepherd’s response. This is also reflected in “The flowers do fade, and wanton fields/ to wayward reckoning yields.” The physical gifts like gowns, caps and a bed of roses promised by the shepherd “soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten:” the repetition of “soon” further reinforces the fragility of love and how promises of faithfulness, which were once full of joy and gratitude will deteriorate. The decay of natural objects is a metaphor for the fading feelings that humans will inevitably experience. Unlike Venus, who tries to persuade Adonis to have sexual intercourse with her because life is short, beauty will eventually fade and thus one is charged to enjoy and relish their youth. The Nymph sees love as rather pointless, a superficial and trivial feeling which cannot and will not survive the passing of time.

The Nymph stands as the traditional symbol of the Petrarchan mistress, being virtuous and beautiful in one sense but cruel and unempathetic on the other hand. But in Venus and Adonis, this role which is typically reserved for the female is filled by Adonis, highlighting how love and passion respects no boundaries like gender, age or culture. The uncontrollable desires and consequences are shown to bringing out the animal savagery within people, transforming the noble goddess into a fierce and violent eagle. Unsatisfied with Adonis, Shakespeare gives us a gorgy description of Venus’ pursuit “Tires with her beak in feathers, flesh and bone… devouring all in haste… till gorge be stuffed or prey be gone.” The morphing of characters are poetic techniques trying to capture the selfish and destructive capabilities of unchecked lust or passion. These emotions have the ability to transform a human being into whatever it wills, where that is an animal, a flower or be the catalyst for an incestuous and borderline paedophilic relationship.

It is through these animal metaphors that, Shakespeare’s presentation of love starts to match the Nymph’s Reply, “Now quick desire hath caught the yielding prey… I’ll be a park and thou shalt be my deer.” By degrading Adonis to a prey and a deer, the possessive and selfish motivators in love are revealed; Venus’ words are inspired by lust, which is inseparable from love or passion. The extended metaphor of Venus’ body as a park and Adonis as a small, insignificant animal trapped within, further reinforces the one sided nature of love, the negative qualities which the Nymph spoke off. The crippling repercussions are so strong that even the god of love and fertility has fallen victim to her own domain, as Shakespeare paradoxically writes “She’s love, she loves, yet she is not loved.”

There are many similarities and differences between the two texts, as they both try to explore the diverse topic of love from various perspectives. Venus and Adonis focuses upon the push and pull of two people. Whilst it stresses the controlling and damaging aspects of love, if Adonis embraced love, he would have been ultimately saved. The Nymph’s Reply on the other hand aims to purely point out the unreliable nature of love as it attempts to cover up lustful intentions, the Nymph’s responses pushes the belief that love is superficial in a superficial world.

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The Mental Drug of Mediocrity

I was strolling with my friend, Jacob, both of us eagerly awaiting the challenges and joys which would accompany our third year at university. The cold Autumn wind had began to taint the warm earthy buzz of Summer and all around me, joyful optimism was painted upon the faces of my fellow peers. I asked about Jacob’s trips to Papa New Guinea and what lessons he could take away from such a polarising experience.

“I learnt that… That being a good person and wanting to help people really means nothing, it means nothing if you are not currently engaged in helping others.” Over a month later, this phrase has still resonated deeply with me.

There have been many quotes which have expressed a similar opinion, but to hear it from a close friend with similar ideas and values really shifted my perspective. It is very easy to swallow the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism” it is very easy for one to slip into a state of dull acceptance, “I’m a good person, I help people when I can.”

Except, when was the last time I had been involved in charity? It had been years since I gave up my precious time to help those facing difficult situations. How could I claim to be a good person if my existence didn’t positively change the lives and attitudes of my peer citizens? Values such as honesty, friendliness and acceptance are not traits or characteristics which should be celebrated, they are to be expected from any decent human being.

I write this to any one reading, do not be lulled into a mental state of mediocrity, good is never enough if better is possible. rhetoric can never be a substitute for action, the people who talk through their actions are the ones who will have a lasting legacy upon this world. People who dream with their eyes open are the ones whom history shall sing praises about. The call to action has been sounded and it has invited you to help others who share this beautiful planet with you.

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”
– Pericles

Théoden’s Last Cry

“Forth! Down fear of darkness!
Arise! Arise, Riders of Théoden!
Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered!
A sword day… a red day… and the sun rises!
Ride now… Ride now… Ride!
Ride for ruin and the world’s ending! Death!”

Lord of the Rings stands as a pillar of English literature with Tolkien’s world serving as the archetype for the fantasy genre since the book’s publication. But beyond that, it stands as a symbol of humanity, our ability to overcome darkness with courage.

One major criticism I have on the Lord of the Rings trilogy is generally the lack of duality within characters and more specifically, the lack of flexibility within certain races; all orcs are evil whilst elves are pure and angelic. But in reality orcs are really just a symbol, a blank token or unwavering hatred which must be challenged and defeated. The lack of character development amongst the orcs, goblins and trolls reflect their use as a catalyst to put humanity and it’s neighbouring races through adversity.

The characters and kingdoms in the Lord of the Rings respond magnificently to these waves of chaos, steeling themselves against the forces of evil, forces who wish to trample upon community. I was very scared of death when I was younger, I have made my peace with the inevitable now, but unquestionably the prospect of the abyss still scares me. This is why I see sacrifice as the noblest and most courageous act an individual can perform, when someone believes in a cause so strongly they see fit to forfeit their life to protect that ideal or that spark of hope… It’s powerful, beautiful and extremely moving.

Against all odds, the forces of Rohan unite, reforging their ancient alliance to Gondor, they see the hordes of darkness before them yet they do not stumble, they do not falter. In that moment, the actions of the soldiers showed that humanity was worth protecting, that mankind was not beyond salvation. The soldiers which all hail from different backgrounds prepare to rush to their tangible death to protect something intangible; their ancestor’s legacy and the right for their future generations to walk as free on this green Earth.

Their great deeds would forever be recorded in the songs of lore, of a bygone age where the strength of men did not flinch from the call of duty, where evil merely broke like water upon an iron cliff. From the lowly foot soldier to the mighty king, all were equal on that day and all were willing to die in pursuit of higher ideals. There is no moment more powerful in the trilogy, courage in the face of impending doom, valour against hatred and glory when met with the impossible.

Tis’ a sword day, a red day indeed Théoden king.