Rob Z

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About Rob Z

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  • Occupation
    Graduate student and literature/composition teacher, University of Oregon
  • Favorite movies
    Ordet, Chariots of Fire, The Tree of Life, Blade Runner, Tarkovsky
  • Favorite music
    classical, Stevie Wonder, U2, Over the Rhine, Sufjan Stevens, Patty Griffin, RAIJ
  • Favorite creative writing
    Wendell Berry, Marilynne Robinson, Dostoevsky, Thoreau, Dickinson, religious and environmental poetry
  1. Thank you so much for compiling that list! It's a valuable contribution to anyone who wants to dig deeper in understanding the film's interpretation of Dickinson. I see what you mean. That makes sense. She rejected the notion of a heaven that occupies some space other than HERE. I actually find this to be in line with what many contemporary theologians with a Calvinist bent (including N.T. Wright, who isn't Reformed by affiliation) interpret the New Testament's conception of heaven to be. Two great poems where she troubles (again, I'd say reject is too strong for these) the distant spatiality of heaven are "My period had come for prayer" and "Two lengths hath every day." Fair enough. I was speaking generally. Regarding doctrines, I definitely agree. I'm guessing that upon rewatching I, too, wiil be able to appreciate better how the movie DOES do justice to aspects of Dickinson's spiritual struggles rather than how it doesn't.
  2. Absolutely. "Some keep the Sabbath going to church" is for me the quintessential example of this aspect of Dickinson's relationship to God. I also think that Dickinson's poetry was a place where she did that seeking of God more productively than the contemporaneous church allowed her--a spiritual discipline as you mention. Dickinson was a kind of mystical Calvinist for whom nature played a large role in experiencing God, but so did a kind of surrender of mental control, like Jonathan Edwards. While her contemporaries may have seen her as a "lost sheep" and "outside the fold," I believe she saw the church as the hired hand who has run away from doing the Great Shepherd's bidding while she herself has stayed close to the shepherd. I think belief and rejection might be too strong. As to the vacillating, Dickinson definitely tried on different positions in her poems, but usually with an ambivalence. A big part of this was negotiating between received doctrines and interpretations of the Bible and her own interpretations and experiences. Dickinson certainly gravitated toward a more orthodox view of "heaven" later in her life, I think when she was forced by the death of loved ones to fully come to terms with the meaning of death. That isn't an interpretive determiner, but it is significant. I actually wrote my dissertation chapter on heaven in Dickinson's poetry, so I have a lot of thoughts on this topic! I don't think the common assessment of her use of common hymn meter as "sing-song" is fair. Some hymns are more sing-songy than others that use the exact same meter. Dickinson's poems can be easily read in a sing-songy way, as can many poems with meter, but that doesn't mean they should be. (Pop music and contemporary worship music also use meter, but they aren't designed to be sung by people the way that hymns are. And don't get me started on comparing the inanity of CCM and pop to hymn lyrics, even your standard sentimental 19th-century hymns.) I thought the recitations in the film were excellent, and they certainly didn't succumb to this tendency. I think it's a mistake to judge Dickinson's poetics by the aesthetic standards of Modernism; we don't need to ignore the innovations of the Pounds and Eliots of the poetry world to appreciate Dickinson's aesthetics. But because our culture has lost the participatory nature of singing songs together and reciting poetry, this may take more effort. I like to thing of Dickinson's poems as "counter-hymns" that are no less in praise of God than the hymns of contemporaneous hymn writers (like Fanny Crosby), but a whole lot more sophisticated and, in my opinion, orthodox.
  3. This is the best assessment of the film of any I've read. It expresses much of what I was after in my earlier comments, only more eloquently and learnedly. Thanks for sharing. One difference of interpretation I had is that VanZanten sees the filmmakers' decision to cut the final 8 lines off "This world is not conclusion" as a way of acknowledging her hopefulness. To me it seemed rather to present a position of confidence that the final 8 lines themselves critique. (When the poem was originally published ten years after Dickinson's death, the final 8 lines were likewise lopped off.) I think the decision to exclude the lines mirrors the larger lack of justice to Dickinson's nuanced relationship with faith and heaven. I don't really think the poem itself concludes with doubt rather than hope or faith. Rather it doubts a sureness/certainty/faith that is not actually grounded in what it ostensibly hopes for (in this case, a heavenly life after death). The poem reads as follows. I've added asterisks where the recitation in the film ended This World is not Conclusion. A Species stands beyond - Invisible, as Music - But positive, as Sound - It beckons, and it baffles - Philosophy, dont know - And through a Riddle, at the last - Sagacity, must go - To guess it, puzzles scholars - To gain it, Men have borne Contempt of Generations And Crucifixion, shown - [***********************************] Faith slips - and laughs, and rallies - Blushes, if any see - Plucks at a twig of Evidence - And asks a Vane, the way - Much Gesture, from the Pulpit - Strong Hallelujahs roll - Narcotics cannot still the Tooth That nibbles at the soul -
  4. Fortunately I didn't see that, so I wasn't misled! Everything I saw said June. Sounds like some of the people who were most active in the process got left out at the last minute though. Makes sense to me that they be allowed to vote.
  5. The chapter isn't online or published yet. I would be willing to share it though, phlox--thanks for your interest! Feel free to send me a personal message. Yes, I also expected that from the opening scene. I remember a few other poems included off the top of my head: This world is not conclusion, If you were coming in the fall (I think?), I reckon when I count at all, and My life closed twice before its close. That last one was the penultimate poem, before Because I could not stop for death. The final image was her portrait, but I thought it a little bit unfortunate that the final image of the narrative of the film was a grave. Dickinson was certainly fascinated with death, and her life ended when it ended obviously, but she wrote hundreds of poems about heaven, eternity, the afterlife. She called immortality her "flood subject." I would have loved it if the film had engaged that somehow, at least attempted to do justice to that aspect of Dickinson's thinking, and I think that it could have done something interesting and sophisticated from based on what was on display in the film as it is. Even getting a sense of her literary "afterlife" would have been nice. I wish I could have seen Vinnie's astonishment at finding all the fascicles and loose poems in Emily's drawers! Yeah, I'm surprised and a little sad no list of poems is available. Can you imagine a biopic of a musical artist with no songs listed in the credits, no particular songs mentioned in reviews, no soundtrack album... Any others to add to the list of poems used in the film?
  6. I agree with pretty much all the comments about the film itself on this thread so far. I agree with the 93% Fresh rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but I’m also very sympathetic to the much lower 51% audience approval. The film is visually beautiful, even poetic. The acting is great (although I didn’t think the performance by young Emily was very good at all), but I think Cynthia Nixon was miscast. And the narrative and dialogue just didn’t do it for me. Jennifer Ehle was a fantastic Vinnie, but her presence also reminded me that so much of the dialogue felt like an ersatz Jane Austen novel of manners knock-off. I cringed when I learned the title of the Emily Dickinson biopic was “A Quiet Passion,” and I’m afraid that the film itself bore out my concern with many cringe-inducing moments. I can forgive all that. I can deal with the “arch” dialogue. I can forgive fictitious characters, conflating multiple historical persons into one character, etc. Those can be strengths in translating a biography into a biopic, but I didn’t think they were here. The Emily Dickinson portrayed in the film just didn’t seem to be the Dickinson whose life I’m fairly familiar with, and whose poetry I’m very familiar with (I wrote a dissertation chapter on her poetry) and which has been very meaningful to me (I think she is easily America’s greatest religious poet, and in the highest tier of all English language poets). The main issue is that even though Dickinson lived a relatively quiet life outwardly, her inner life—her spiritual life—was as dramatic as they come, and the film didn't portray that successfully (in my opinion). As a biopic, it hit expected major points. Can’t leave out the Todd affair or her parents’ deaths, for example. The gender dynamics were handled well, and I found the scenes of death, grief, mourning superb and weirdly refreshing. But for all the emotion portrayed, for all the nods to Emily’s sophisticated and bold religious thinking, I don’t think the film came close to doing justice to her emotional turmoil, spiritual struggles, and poetic triumphs. Maybe it’s just the limitations of film as a medium compared with poetry for conveying these kinds of things—still, I loved that the film didn’t feel overly bound to biopic conventions. Personally I would have liked to see her friendship with Sue developed more, as well as her correspondence with Higginson. I didn’t like that older Emily was the physically suffering, bitter, frustrated version, a borderline caricature. That’s not wrong per se, it just misses the other facets of her life. On the other hand, I think the film struck a good balance of showing her as both socially engaged and a recluse. The opening scenes at school caught me as almost too caricatured to be meaningful as a backdrop for her. I’m not saying there’s no historical basis. But if you read sixteen-year-old Emily’s letters, she’s miles ahead in working through spiritual issues than most undergrads, adult churchgoers, even many pastors I’ve interacted with nowadays. Finally, as to the inclusion of poetry in the film, I agree that it was another sign of a screenplay that could have been better. And the ones included were indeed on the verge of suggesting a kind of undergraduate level biographical criticism. At the same time, I wish the poems had taken front stage even more. They are why Emily Dickinson is so important and shy we know who she is. I watched the credits, eagerly anticipating a list of poems included since there were several I didn’t recognize (she wrote almost 2000 poems, after all), but there weren’t any. At the same time, if this film leads anyone to immerse themselves in even a few of her poems, it will have done the world a service beyond being a fine work of art itself.
  7. Great question, Brian! I’ve been wrestling with that too. As a teaser without spoiling, I hope, I’ll say that I interpret the volcano as Joe’s cross (in the Christian sense, though I wouldn’t say Joe is a Christ-figure) and Joe and Patricia get baptized in the ocean. Before I get to that, I came across this fantastic interpretation of the film when doing a little searching inspired by your question. http://www.tor.com/2017/02/20/the-unlikely-philosophy-of-joe-versus-the-volcano/ It is largely an argument that the film critiques capitalism and 80s film tropes, which I think is spot on. Good reading of the moon/prayer scene, too. Regarding the climactic decision, the writer argues that I can accept that up to a point, but I think there is a spiritual richness that exceeds this interpretation. I wrote a question of my own along the same lines as Brian’s over at the thread for the film, which I’ll put in spoiler text here: One thing I didn’t know quite what to make of was that the zig-zag path to Joe’s work was the same as the company’s logo, the wall art in his dingy apartment, and the path up the volcano. Didn’t know how to read the connection, especially since the volcano represents for Joe a heroic way to die rather than a pitiful way. Maybe the visual connection suggests that the volcano is really just dehumanizing in the service of someone else’s greed, like his work. When Joe is on the verge of the final decision, I thought of 2 other films: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Return of the King. I’m actually just going to spoiler my thoughts because the final decision is so important to the film, I think. So this film is pretty much telling the truth of the gospel in fairy tale form, a la Frederick Buechner.
  8. Yes, I agree there are other ways it fits the theme. I was in a hurry when I wrote the justification. Yeah, I think Red Beard is a real gem that gets overlooked among the riches Kurosawa has to offer
  9. It’s interesting that there is a subset of nominated films about “waking up” that might be called “terminal diagnosis” films. Of the nominees, this includes Adam’s Apples, Last Holiday, Ikiru, Cleo from 5 to 7 (anticipated diagnosis), Joe Versus the Volcano, and Arrival (sort of—not involving a protagonist). (How different these are from your standard romantic teen cancer weepies!) There might be others I haven’t seen or missed. And of course, many other nominees involve waking up in ways that are also intertwined with death, just not a terminal diagnosis. It’s interesting that these diagnoses are resolved so differently: respectively. Yet with the exception (I’d argue) of Arrival, each of these diagnoses spurs some sort of (spiritual) growth in the protagonist. Honestly, these are some of the films that seem to me most appropriate for this list (again except for Arrival—I like the film, but I don’t think “waking up” really fits it—and Last Holiday I could take it or leave it). I look forward to seeing how many of these make the final list!
  10. I just watched Joe Versus the Volcano with my wife (she loves Tom Hanks), and I think it would be a great film to include. Not only is “waking up” to living life fully explicitly mentioned in the film, but Joe (and arguably even Meg Ryan’s final character) has a true spiritual awakening as well. He awakens to God and spirituality, to helping others for their own sake (rather than his own), and to the futility of self-centeredness. Even in the fantastical plot and overall weirdness, Joe’s prayer toward the end felt utterly sincere. The richness of the theme of waking up the film explores with seriousness is all the more striking for it being packaged in a silly RomCom romp like this. I made some more extensive comments over the thread for this film, in continuity with the discussion that was already registered there.
  11. I watched this since it’s nominated for the “Waking Up” list. I am very glad I saw the film. I thought it worked well as a Hanks-Ryan RomCom, a creative use of and commentary on film tropes, AND especially as a narrative of waking up spiritually, but I’ll address that in that thread. The film is silly, but it is smart about its silliness. Big difference The world of the film is real life intentionally exaggerated using film tropes to the point of being a fantasy. Reading the conversation from a few years ago, I’m with J. Purves on this one. Taking the obvious plot "weaknesses" to task misses the point of what the film is doing with them. Those C.S. Lewis quotes are spot on. To paraphrase Lewis, this is a modern-day fairy tale for grown-ups. But instead of actual fairy magic we have the magic of filmic storytelling. The film isn’t interested in using the conventions of realism, and that’s fine with me. For this reason I wasn’t troubled by I think getting hung up on that misses the point. The thing that most through me off was the extreme stereotyping of Pacific Islander culture. But by the end of the film I felt that this wasn’t actually stereotyping for humor (though it did do that) as much as it was to demonstrate how ridiculous the stereotypes themselves are. The bit about the orange soda and the chief who seemed to be doing a Mel Brooks impression confirmed this to me upon reflection. When the volcano erupts and the island sinks, it seemed to me that it was these stereotypes that were disappearing rather than One thing I didn’t know quite what to make of was that the zig-zag path to Joe’s work was the same as the company’s logo, the wall art in his dingy apartment, and the path up the volcano. Didn’t know how to read the connection, especially since the volcano represents for Joe a heroic way to die rather than a pitiful way. Maybe the visual connection suggests that the volcano is really just dehumanizing in the service of someone else’s greed, like his work. Finally, it was refreshing to see a romantic comedy where the leads don’t immediately hop into bed together. I feel like having unadvised sex has practically become a RomCom convention, and it’s not a development I like. Sex with someone one has barely gotten to know as a shorthand for true passion seems exactly wrong, even in the movies, and I’m glad this one doesn’t go there. It even points out how it doesn’t go there. Maybe it’s just an older movie, but I still appreciated this about it.
  12. Children of Men charts Theo’s awakening out of cynicism to purpose and even hope. Red Beard charts the medical intern's awakening to the dignity of the lives of the poor and the meaningfulness of serving them.
  13. In I ♥ Huckabees, pretty much every character undergoes a kind of waking up experience. Jason Schwartzman’s character wakes up to his connection with others, even those he despises. Jude Law’s character wakes to the shallowness of his “successful” life. Naomi Watts’ character to the fact that she is a whole person, not just a smiley face and a hot body. Mark Wahlberg wakes up to the personal consequences of single-mindedly pursuing his otherwise good principles and the fact that pursuit of those principles shouldn’t dominate one’s existence. Hoffman & Tomlin and Huppert wake up to the reality of the world’s fallenness and ongoing creational goodness and redemptive qualities respectively. That’s my take on their various awakenings. Others might have different takes, but “waking up” to the meaningfulness of life is definitely a major theme.
  14. I want to make sure I’ve put in some rationale for the films I nominated that are in the running. Although at this point the purpose is also to make some arguments as to why these films belong on the list. Adam’s Apples is the film, of the ones I nominated, that I most hope makes the list. It is dark—an interpretation of suffering in the lineage of Job—but also very funny and a comedy in the classical sense. The neo-Nazi Adam wakes up to the reality of the evil of his former ways, and the value of organized religion, limited as it is, to help people, including himself, out of their antisocial behavior. The priest also wakes up out of his naïve religiosity to the dark reality of his suffering. The film demonstrates how questioning and doubting the easy platitudes of faith is part of spiritual awakening. The film suggests in the end, and I like that it isn’t explicit but it is definitely shown, . This is a very good film showing the stages of spiritual awakening and development.
  15. Thanks for these clarifications. I'd be interested to see the algorithm used to know the precise weighting of votes vs. averages, etc., if it's public, just out of curiosity. Also, if this info is available, does anyone know the range of scores that a typical list includes. I'm sure it varies from year to year, but does a #1 film clock in closer to 4 or 5? Does a #25 film clock in closer to 3 or 4? Are there precise numbers for this?