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Russ

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

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Saw it two months ago. Daniels was great. Didn't care for the rest. Part of it was that I went to a prestigious high school in Brooklyn during the time this film supposedly takes place... forgive me for what-to-many-would-seem-like-nitpicking... but I didn't see one person of African-American, Hispanic or Oriental persuastion in the film. It's been a few months, but please correct me if I'm wrong. To me, having been there, this is a huge miscalculation...


Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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Tee hee, you said "Oriental".

(The last time I said "Oriental" around certain friends of mine of a certain broad ethnic grouping, they laughed and whooped and mocked me and told me the correct word is "Asian".)


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Tee hee, you said "Oriental".

(The last time I said "Oriental" around certain friends of mine of a certain broad ethnic grouping, they laughed and whooped and mocked me and told me the correct word is "Asian".)

You're right. I must've had MONOPOLY on the brain.


Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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The thread is helping me.

Saw it over the weekend, but I think I am confusing the film for Jeff Daniels' character. See, cuz, I really wanted to give that fella five in the nave. He was a pretentious snob, his ridiculous, "Don't be difficult," made me wanna growl and claw him, he was an obnoxious loser and I couln't believe the elder son was buying his routine. I guess the thing about hero worship is that you've got to watch out who your heroes are.

Anyway the more I think about it, the film is interesting, and I like the approach many are taking in this thread. I guess I need to get a little less hot under the collar about the dad, step away, and try to think rationally about whether the actual film was worth anything. I can see why some will say that it was.

-s.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I thought the treatment of Daniels' character was heavy-handed. It was as though he had a neon sign above his head that said "Audience is supposed to hate me!"

I suppose the heart of the story was about the older son's epiphany about his father's self-centeredness, but I would've bought his confusion a bit more if I saw a shread of occasional decency from dad.

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I think my Grandma on my dad's side was like that. Another personal blow against me being able to get past the character and realize actual film potential.

-s.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I thought the treatment of Daniels' character was heavy-handed. It was as though he had a neon sign above his head that said "Audience is supposed to hate me!"

I suppose the heart of the story was about the older son's epiphany about his father's self-centeredness, but I would've bought his confusion a bit more if I saw a shread of occasional decency from dad.

Also, each time I've seen the film (I think three times right now), I find more to dislike about the mother. Linney's performance is subtle, and the character's own foibles are so easy to excuse because they are so overshoadowed by Bernard's foibles, but I agree with the guy doing the interview (on the special edition) that she finds ways (perhaps out of survival, perhaps out of the same relational dynamics that led her to Bernard) to try to emotional court or seduce the kids rather than being a parent. The Squid and the Whale can be a symbol of what the mother allowed her to see that the father didn't, but I wonder if it isn't also a symbol of the two of them fighting and how small and inconsequential and vulnerable the children feel when these two giants face off against each other and leave havoc in their wake.

Agreed. I thought Linney's character was much more three-dimensional and her unhealth was not so overt and absurd as the father's.

As far as occasional decency from the dad...I thought the scene where he tells the son he has to go to counseling, even though it was studpid, was a shard of decency. On some levels it hurt him to know his son had to do this, and he was afraid of what would come of it (indeed it was part of the catalyst of him eventually leaving the father), but on some levels he knows this is what is best for the son and finds a way to indirectly encourage him to get the help he needs even if he is not healthy or brave enough to do so directly. Also the scene between him and Linney in the door showed decency and vulnerability. That it was the only major scene where they were alone...where he was not performign, as it were, retaining pretensee for an audience, was significant in my eyes. It showed me that there were shreds of decency in there, but they were increasingly inaccessible (even to himself) the longer and more desperately he kept working to maintain the personal/family mythology that cast him as a victim.

The examples you give are the same moments to me that seemed, to me, hopelessly self-centered. He wanted the marriage more than she did, as is evidenced in the crisis moment ("I'll try harder"). It didn't seem like vulnerability to me, it seemed like jockeying in the language he knew she more appreciated. And the counseling scene? Are you kidding? His father thought it was obsurd, and unless I'm remembering poorly, there was nothing to indicate that the father thought this would help his son. In fact, he even sabotage's it before it occurs by discrediting the counselor who's probably just got a "B.A."

Alan, I'd bring this character to the screen with a bit more humanity. He's ONLY a horny, self-centered, arrogant has-been in this film. I'd give him something for us to hook on to that makes the oldder son's "discipleship" more credible.

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Also, I do think it is important that what we are getting is a pseudo-autobiographical-memoir-in-retrospect and so, tonally, the thing is from the son's (at times retrospective at times immediate) point of view. One of the fascinating things about the film for me is the way it straddles the fence between older-but-wiser retrospection and totally lost in the moment confusion or uncertainty. Reminds me somewhat of reading Prejean's Dead Man Walking and how interesting it is when the recollection/narrative will be interlaced with the post-experience analysis, creating two authorial voices in the same work, the one telling the story and the one commenting on the story (including commenting on one's own participation in story and the way one is remembering it).

This IS an interesting struggle and I'm in fact - RIGHT NOW - teaching a creative writing class where I'm trying to encourage my high school students to pillage their early childhood for writing ideas. And as they do so, I'm running into challenges explaining the value and drawback of hindsight. They usually bounce awkwardly back and forth between still feeling immersed in their childhoods and having grown up beyond them. The more I teach this coarse, the more I'm convinced that teenagers having nothing important to say. Or rather, that they have no idea what the important things they have to say are. The same kid who writes about a fantastic come-of-age moment will write a sappy fictional epic about losing her hot boyfriend with a cool car in a drunk driving accident.

At least they're not writing poetry in the shape of a cross.

:)

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I couldn't shake the belief that we were supposed to like Daniesl's character, or at least excuse him, a la Royal Tennenbaum.

:huh:

We're supposed to excuse Royal Tenenbaum?

I thought that film was about Royal Tenenbaum finding a way through his irresponsibility to his first steps of real affection and care... and about a glimmer of hope that there might be a chance for this grumpy old man's redemption yet.

Everything that didn't work for me in About Schmidt worked for me in Royal Tenenbaums. Anderson's persective gave me hope for stubborn grouches... and since I can be a stubborn grouch... ;) ... I find that encouraging.

I didn't feel the film wanted to justify Royal to me, the way Big Fish tries and tries to excuse and glorify and even exalt the unrepentant and self-absorbed old man there.

(Oh dear... I fear that, in having my own cage rattled, I have gone and rattled other cages...)


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I just bought a used copy of this a few weeks ago, and it's much better than I originally thought. And I thought it was really good then, too.

Bernard's redemptability (could that possibly be a word?) and our feelings toward him are really irrelevant, in my view. The film is told from the older son's point of view. He's our portal into this time and place. For whatever reasons and with whatever blind spots, he moored his ideals to his father through the last months of his parents' marriage and the early months of their divorce. Whether Bernard's boorishness is believable or caricatured is to some degree a function of whether you can try to look at Walt like an impressionable teenager and see Bernard through his not-fully-formed eyes. The film is about the son's insights.

Edited by Russ

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Missed this one every time it passed through Vancouver, but finally saw it today. Liked it a lot. Maybe even loved it, but it would take extra viewings to say for sure. (Definitely liked it more than The Life Aquatic, for whatever that's worth. I think it was also more mature than Kicking & Screaming, though that doesn't necessarily mean I liked it better. Never did see Baumbach's other, middle film.)

Gosh, the music took me back. And what an interesting use of Schoolhouse Rocks (the 'Figure Eight' theme underlies a lot of the instrumental music, right?).

I found myself feeling weirdly attracted to Sophie and protective of her at the same time. I turned 16 the year that this film takes place, and I could very easily have fallen for a girl like her at that time; and I did not like the way Walt treated her At All.

Has anyone else here figured out that the younger boy is played by the son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates?

Before I saw the film, I was vaguely aware that most (if not all) people here at A&F seemed to regard the Jeff Daniels character as a villain, and that most (if not all) people here did not feel such hostility towards the Laura Linney character. So I was somewhat surprised to realize that the character himself ain't like that. Certainly, if I watch the film from the perspective of the two boys, I find it impossible to say that one parent is particularly worse than the other. BOTH parents are playing on their sons' emotions.

In fact, Linney's character rubbed me the wrong way from the moment that the parents sat down to tell their sons about the separation, and she immediately undermined the validity of what they were doing by bitterly saying that a certain agreed-upon course of action was the Daniels character's idea. Sorry, people, but parents shouldn't be doing that in front of their kids, even when they're breaking up.

And what do you do with lines like the one where she tells her younger son, "I need some nights without you guys sometimes?" Sure, you can appreciate that her domestic needs have changed since she became single again, but still... what does a line like that say about how she saw her children BEFORE the separation? And more importantly, what do THE CHILDREN think that that line says about how she saw them?

In the bonus features, there is a Q&A between Baumbach and a man who observes that the Linney character is able to manipulate people by acknowledging her screw-ups -- by softly accepting or anticipating criticism, she evokes her sons' sympathies and makes it impossible for them to keep on critiquing her. The Daniels character does (or tries to do) something similar, albeit in a more detached way -- and the fact that he's so nakedly detached from himself makes him less successful at this than she is. Perhaps that is why people here have been so ready to pounce on the guy. But the very fact of the Linney character's success at this game makes her the more dangerous character, in a way.

kenmorefield wrote:

: Also the scene between him and Linney in the door showed decency and vulnerability. That it

: was the only major scene where they were alone...where he was not performign, as it were,

: retaining pretensee for an audience, was significant in my eyes. It showed me that there

: were shreds of decency in there, but they were increasingly inaccessible (even to himself)

: the longer and more desperately he kept working to maintain the personal/family mythology

: that cast him as a victim.

Yes, brilliant point.

: Just once I get on a role . . .

I think you meant "roll", but it's an interesting slip. ;)

SPOILERS

: The other thing I wanted to add is that much of my initial fence-sitting about the film was

: caused (I finally figured out) by my feeling that whatever shards of humanity Bernard had

: should be interpreted as redemptive, and that the film wanted me to view them (and him)

: that way. I'm indebted to Russ and Darren (and maybe others) for helping me talk through

: that response and see that it was perhaps grounded more on my expecation of what most

: (or other) films do than what this film was doing. The film ends, after all, with Walt breaking

: from Bernard, not coming to accept him.

Also a good point. FWIW, I think it is perfectly valid to view Bernard's "shards of humanity" as containing within themselves the POTENTIAL for redemption. And the very FACT of that potential can make it oh-so-difficult to sever ties with a person. But I also think that people who are themselves damaged often need to make a clean break from the damaged people who have damaged them -- and if Bernard is ever going to be redeemed, it is doubtful that Walt will be the agent of that redemption. At any rate, I can totally understand that Walt needs to extricate himself from that scenario. But I still hold out hope for Bernard.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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BTW, I don't mean to compare the Jeff Daniels character to Francis Schaeffer or anything, but did anyone else find themselves thinking of Portofino while watching this movie? Stern, judgmental dad, potentially unfaithful mom, semi-autobiographical fiction by their son, etc.?

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Anyone wanna talk about the music in this film?

I see that Jeff and Russ have different opinions on the significance of the 'Kyrie Eleison' bit. Personally, I think it works as '80s kitsch AND as a call for mercy (though not necessarily DIVINE mercy -- I wouldn't want to assume that Baumbach means it on THAT level; a simple focus on the lyrics "where I'm going, will you follow" would suffice).

I got a kick out of the use of Bryan Adams' 'Run to You' during the scene where Walt tries to make out with Sophie the first time. I can't recall how prominent any particular lyrics might have been, but this IS the song that has the phrase "It's so damn easy making love to you", and obviously, whatever else the interaction between Walt and Sophie might be, it ain't easy. It's also interesting to note that 'Run to You' is basically about a guy who's cheating on his woman ("She says her love for me will never die / But that would change if she ever found out about you and I"), which may connect to the other infidelity elements in this movie.

Interestingly, according to the bonus features, the Pink Floyd song that Walt plagiarizes was a last-minute replacement for some other song. (Doofus that I am, I forgot to note what the other song was, before I had to return the disc to the store.) So, as always, I don't want to read TOO much into the director's intentions with regard to the songs that were "cast" in the film -- just as I suppose we can't assume that any of the actors in any given film were the director's first choices, either.

-

Side note: I believe, in some earlier post in this thread, someone tried to mitigate the significance of the Linney character's infidelity by saying that the Daniels character had been emotionally distant (or even emotionally unfaithful -- but with whom?). I don't buy that excuse at all. Maybe it's due to my more "sacramental" view of sexual relationships, I dunno -- and I certainly don't pretend that the characters in this film share that view -- but the actual committing of adultery crosses a line for which I don't think there is any excuse. Nothing the Daniels character did or didn't do FORCED the Linney character to do what she did. She made a choice -- quite a few choices, in fact -- and I don't think we should minimize that.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Peter, I agree that the music here is great, in part because even though it is a "period" film, Baumbach resisted going over-the-top in creating a Big 80's Megasoundtrack, which would have made the film's music component stupid. Most of the music choices really fade well into the narrative and don't call attention to themselves in the sort of showy, hey-remember-this-is-the-80s way that the soundtrack does in, say, WEDDING SINGER or AMERICAN PSYCHO.

My favorite use of music, though, is the instrumental intro to Lou Reed's "Street Hassle" which plays over Walt going to the museum. It's really well-done.

I'm also a fan of how Baumbach seamlessly incorporates the tennis and film references of the day into the film. It's so appropriate that Bernard would talk Walt and Sophie into seeing BLUE VELVET when they planned to see SHORT CIRCUIT-- he'd be a snob about them seeing a summer movie and think instead that he could gain their esteem by exposing them bluntly to something taboo or grown-up (recall his inappropriate reference to female anatomy during their dinner). Baumbach's choice of film really serves well the underlying point concerning the boorishness and self-deception present in Bernard.


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Ken, not to get all reader-responsey, but your wife is right on. And I agree with you, too-- Walt's posture at the end is realizing that he has minimized the role his mother played in raising him.

I think Baumbach tries hard not to get too precious or overt or showy about it, but the titular museum display really is a neat image in this context-- this epic, bewildering struggle between two large, somewhat unknowable forces. What can you do but watch?


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FWIW, "sacramental" and "covenantal" are two different things, though of course they can overlap. I would argue that a "sacramental" view of sexual relationships (note: I did not say "marriage") lurks behind St. Paul's declaration that sexual intercourse makes two people "one flesh" even when they are prostitute and client, i.e. even when there is no covenant at all. There is something MORE going on in every single sex act than just body parts coming together and moving apart. And that is why I say that the person who chooses to have sexual intercourse with someone other than his or her spouse is taking a much, much bigger step than the person who, in some merely psychological sense or whatever, "stops being a husband".

Russ wrote:

: Peter, I agree that the music here is great, in part because even though it is a "period" film,

: Baumbach resisted going over-the-top in creating a Big 80's Megasoundtrack, which would

: have made the film's music component stupid. Most of the music choices really fade well into

: the narrative and don't call attention to themselves in the sort of showy, hey-remember-this-

: is-the-80s way that the soundtrack does in, say, WEDDING SINGER or AMERICAN PSYCHO.

Good point. In fact, the more I think about that Bryan Adams song, the more it seems to me that part of the genius of this film is that it uses music that doesn't necessarily scream "Hey! This was a UNIQUELY '80s sound!" the way that those other films you mention do. The movie isn't going for a hip-and-edgy John Hughes soundtrack. It just uses song that a lot of people (like me) heard a lot of the time back then.

: I'm also a fan of how Baumbach seamlessly incorporates the tennis and film references of

: the day into the film. It's so appropriate that Bernard would talk Walt and Sophie into seeing

: BLUE VELVET when they planned to see SHORT CIRCUIT-- he'd be a snob about them

: seeing a summer movie and think instead that he could gain their esteem by exposing them

: bluntly to something taboo or grown-up (recall his inappropriate reference to female

: anatomy during their dinner). Baumbach's choice of film really serves well the underlying

: point concerning the boorishness and self-deception present in Bernard.

Yes, absolutely. Though I have to admit I know nothing of tennis, so "the tennis ... references of the day" goes completely over my head. (Or, hmmm, I just realized, maybe I should read an extra "the" into the space between "and" and "film"?)


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Re: the tennis references, I wasn't a big fan back then, but I know a little about the major players. At one point, the younger son scolds his dad for putting up an Ilie Nastase poster in his "new room," and says something to the effect that he hates Nastase and that his dad knows he's a Vitas Gerulitis fan. Nastase was a top player, but Gerulitis was decidedly middle-of-the-road, which I think may say a lot about the younger son's contentment to be middle-of-the-road and "Philistine" in opposition to his dad's contrived pretensions of cultural or athletic superiority.

Vitas Gerulitis once lost sixteen consecutive matches to Jimmy Connors before beating him, an occasion which prompted him to make my favorite all-time sports quote: "Nobody beats Vitas Gerulitis seventeen times in a row."

Edited by Russ

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I was a huge Gerulitis fan as a kid. The Nastase reference is spot-on. The guy was known as a temperamental jerk, just before McEnroe came along to steal that particular spotlight.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Fascinating. Thanks, guys!


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I wonder if it's a coincidence that a bunch of us 30-somethings are getting nostalgic for tennis of the late-'70s and early-'80s on this particular week, when American tennis, it appears, has been officially declared dead.

When I was in junior high, I took lessons every Saturday morning at an indoor tennis club exactly like the one in the opening shot of the film. I can still smell it. I was -- and always will be -- a McEnroe man.

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When I was in junior high, I took lessons every Saturday morning at an indoor tennis club exactly like the one in the opening shot of the film. I can still smell it. I was -- and always will be -- a McEnroe man.

I wonder if our divergence in political views can be traced back to 1970s tennis, when all right thinking people were Borg fans.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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johnmark's comments:

Baumbach is recently married to the actress, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and has no children. He is now immersed in an inner circle of the clever and anointed which Ms. Leigh

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I don't know how someone could say it's amoral. It's heartbreaking in it's presentation of the destructive nature of divorce and parents who are more involved with themselves than their kids.


"You know...not EVERY story has to be interesting." -Gibby

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Steve Sailer:

Despite adoring reviews, most critics missed the 2005 film's point: that the actual villain was Baumbach's adulterous mother. They overlooked its central theme -- the destructiveness of female infidelity -- because it's sexist (and therefore unthinkable) to notice that a wife's cheating is even more destructive for the family than a husband's, for obvious reproductive reasons ... even though countless human cultures have felt that way.

The irony was that Baumbach's bloviating father was equally clueless about his own nature. In theory, he was an artistic genius above all those deadening bourgeois morals like monogamy. In reality, however, he was a mediocre writer but a faithful husband and reasonably diligent provider who deserved better than cuckoldry.

The younger Baumbach's eagerly awaited new movie, "Margot at the Wedding," with Nicole Kidman as a prominent short story writer and unfaithful wife who inflicts her moral and mental breakdown on her adolescent son when she brings him to her estranged sister's second marriage ceremony, makes his prior film brutally clear. To clear up misconceptions about who the guilty party in his parents' divorce was, Baumbach has John Turturro drop by as Kidman's gallant, kind husband, an English professor who tries to save their marriage from her affair with another writer. . . .

I'm reluctant to buy into critics' assumptions about a writer's motivations, especially when they are tied to what little we know of a writer's personal life ... but I did think the comments in the earlier paragraphs were interesting, at least ...


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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