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Buffy or Guilty Pleasures

 

The (probably only) positive thing about being sick is that you get to watch series for which you would normally not have the time. It is the only upside, though.

 

One of these series is Buffy – The Vampire Slayer. I must confess that I completely underestimated the series as a youth. Apart from the slapstick and the funny one-liners for which mostly Xander and Buffy are responsible, it now has the benefit of nostalgia – the music, the tech-gadgets (pagers!), the clothes… And when I say: “Oh my God, the clothes!” I am talking about fuzzy sweaters, swirly colours, baggy jeans and leather corsets, which, if at their best, are combined freely with each other. Fun fact on the side, there is a twitter account dedicated to Bad Buffy Outfits: https://twitter.com/BadBuffyOutfits . If you want a good laugh, go check it out.

 

 

 

(Again, from hereon the web is dark and full of spoilers – continue only if you have watched the series or do not mind spoilers!)

 

 

 

What I love about the series is the abundance of themes and motifs that are important to young people. The writers have tried to cover subjects that teenagers and young adults can relate to. But even at the riper age of (over) 30, you can still take something away from the series, though these themes and motifs are now more memories than actual day-to-day problems.

 

Take for instance the first big love. It was incredibly important at that time, all-consuming, and definitely more important than anything else, school and family included, was it not? Was it not nice to have the time to be able to focus all your attention on that subject, to be able to dedicate oneself fully to the question, whether the boy next door or the one in class 10b, the one with the nice smile and the blue eyes, might be interested? Sure, at 30-something, love and relationships are still important and can take up a lot of your brain-capacity, but you still have other things to worry about, such as your work, the rent and the bills, and you simply cannot afford to ignore everything just because your new colleague seems nice or your boyfriend has left. To watch how Buffy completely loses herself in the relationship with Angel, as well as the level of devotion she shows him and he shows her seems unimaginable in anything but the first big love. Everything is shiny and new and every cut hurts more because it is the first cut. It is bittersweet to watch and reminisce about your own (probably failed) first love and/or relationship – also not a bad conversation-starter.

 

There are other themes and motifs, of course. I will look at the motif of the younger sibling first. It is one of the most obvious and persistent because it is part of three seasons, varying in importance and influence on the storyline.

 

Buffy's younger sibling is introduced very abruptly and the viewer has no idea where she comes from. Dawn, as we learn, is everything: sweet and pretty, yet cumbersome, tiring and a huge challenge for Buffy, especially after the death of her mother. To be honest, the Dawn-Story-Arc infuriates me every time I see it. To me, the whole story-arc seems forced and unnecessarily convoluted. Though it brings us Spike back as a main character, it is my least favourite season. My bf thinks the 6th trumps the 5th in being the worst season because they are all so whiny in the 6th, yet to me, it is the Dawn-Arc, as I will call it.

 

Dawn is shown to be unnecessarily clumsy and she is – oh my God – stupid above all. How can one person be so dumb and unreasonable, even if she is supposed to portray an adolescent, a young person who goes through puberty? I mean, does she need all her brain cells to breathe and eat so that none are left for anything else? At some point, I was very nearly happy about every bad card she got dealt because she deserved all of them. Breaking things – if you know you are clumsy, you leave your fingers off things - , lying, lashing out unreasonably, which is the most teenage-y thing she does, and last but not least stealing… Dawn does better herself over time, but by the 7th series, it is a bit late, in my opinion, to like her after all the things she has pulled these past two seasons. She will always stay the selfish and dumb sibling who is too self-involved to think for a second.

 

I have to admit, I am an only child, but even my friends with siblings said that Dawn is often behaving dumber than the usual sibling. “Seriously dense” was one of the descriptions used and I have to agree. She does improve over time, but even in later episodes, she is hard to stand due to her pouting, obstinacy and incorrigible temper. And then there is the screaming.

The tinnitus is strong with this one.

 

The death of Buffy’s mother Joyce is another motif: the death in the family. The writers made a rite of passage out of it. The father is absent (whom you could legally sue for support, but who is conveniently far away and completely uninterested in his children) and Buffy has to again outgrow herself. From then on she has not only to be the Slayer with the weight of the world on her shoulders, no, she also has to bring home enough money to feed her sister and herself and become somewhat of a mother for Dawn without actually being the mother. And Dawn is so not helping her sister – she is making things worse and worse by flunking classes, stealing and in general being a brat about everything. More than once I wished I could put my hands into the TV and shake her. Giles is also being stupid about this whole affair. He is the father figure in the whole series, the only father-type Buffy has, and when Buffy really needs him, instead of setting some boundaries and helping her on, he leaves her.

 

The episode of Joyce’s death is a masterpiece, though. There is no music, no comfort in sounds, just stark neon light and people who are coarse and very unhelpful. Joyce’s sudden absence is made palpable by the lack of music of any kind to which we are so accustomed in movies to transport feelings and emotions. The fact that they never close Joyce’s eyes is also kind of shocking. Normally, the ambulance or the undertaker would do this, but they all leave her eyes open. It emphasises Joyce’s transition from warm, stability-providing mother to an empty shell without a soul, to a body that is left behind when the persona leaves – also emphasised by the fact that Buffy is not supposed to move “the body”. This episode is, all in all, a turning point for the series and has a whole set of problems in its wake for Buffy and the gang.

 

Additionally, there are many themes and motifs connected to Buffy’s circle of friends, which are usually supposed to teach the viewer a lesson. Here are a few of said themes and motifs:

 

  • Growing up together and how relationships change because people go different ways in life. For example: Willow and Buffy go to college, whereas Xander is becoming a part of the workforce. Apart from the very different decisions that have to be made and the different schedules that make it harder for the trio to meet, there is another lesson in there: go to school, study hard and you can make something of yourself or you will struggle to find a job that does not make you want to do anything but. Xander succeeds anyway, but this is not a given and the show makes this point clear, for Xander only succeeds through hard work.

 

  • Love interests and how to deal with them – or in Xander’s case how NOT to deal with it. Xander is very interested in Buffy, whereas Willow loves Xander and Buffy is totally into Angel. Whereas Willow tries and hopes and, in the end, gives up with good grace, Xander is always jealous and vindictive (to be fair, Angel uses him as a punching ball given the chance). He also uses magic to take revenge on Cordelia and can, in general, be considered the person to do the dumbest thing about a situation that can be done. “Oh, I am twice the idiot”, he says to Giles when he wonders how one can be such an idiot to use a love spell – but Xander has his moments in the series that make up for his idiocy – Saving the world from Willow, for example. By the end of the series, he is a well-rounded character and human,

 

  • Making stupid decisions (a.k.a. trusting people you’ve never met as in Willow’s love-chats with a demon or using love-potions),

 

  • Loneliness and what it can do to people (the girl who became invisible),

 

  • Peer pressure and how to deal with it (Cordelia’s stand against her social circle and going with her heart instead of her popularity),

 

  • Drugs (Willows addiction to magic)

 

  • Unhealthy relationships and being strong about it (Tara leaves Willow when she prioritises magic over her feelings for Tara)

 

 … And there are so many more: being responsible about having sex, having sex, accepting responsibility, moving past your differences, being gay and that is okay, too (which is incredibly important!)…

 

 

Then, obviously, there are the monsters, most notably the vampires and they pose some exciting questions. In order not to get too lost in all the subjects the vampires offer, I want to focus on, what I consider to be, the biggest question that the vampires pose: How much of the man is the vampire?

 

At the start of the series, we are told that when a human is bitten and transformed into a vampire, a demon “sets up shop” in your body and that it may “talk like you and act like you” but that it is a soulless thing that would do things you would never ever consider doing. This theorem is often countered by Angel and Spike whom we get to know quite a bit during the series. By the end, it seems clear, that the demon “vampire” is more likely the darker side of the human embodied and even this is sometimes questionable. There is Harmony, for example, who is not bad enough to be a real danger. She kills for food, but not for fun and her plans to slay the slayer usually fail before they become remotely dangerous and Buffy laughs it off most of the times. In her human life, Harmony was an insipid cheerleader-type girl that put peer-pressure on Cordelia. Her only “redeeming” feature were her pretty looks and they did not get her far in life. As a vampire, she has not changed a bit, apart from the blood-sucking and the big teeth. It seems as if only the base urges and meaner character traits are left after the transformation, though the vampires are able to love and do good – even if they don’t have a soul (yet), like Harmony and Spike. The soul is more akin to a moral anchor that gives a vampire the ability to evaluate their deeds according to a human understanding of good and evil. The soul is the ruling instance that rules good from bad and checks the anger, gives the bearer a frustration-management that makes him socially acceptable and keeps him from murdering the innocent. In short, as a vampire, they simply lack a conscience that could haunt them for evil actions, but they are basically the same person they were when they were human. Angel was a playboy, who, without a thought, slept with women, made lewd jokes and was altogether a rather unpleasant person to be around when you are female and or not drunk. He transforms, after he had been cursed with a soul for the first time, into a self-pitying beggar and then into a moody, aloof and “dark” person who can still be quite… dick-ish all around. I would not describe him as socially well-adjusted. Angel never wants to better himself, he has no goal for himself, no reason to change. Even his eternal love for Buffy does not make him want to be better than he is. Instead, he develops an unhealthy obsession for her that cannot, by any stretch, be classified as love. When he leaves after he has been re-cursed, Buffy is heartbroken, but she recovers after a while.

 

Contrary to Angel, Spike wants to be enough. As a man, he wanted to be enough for his love interest, wanted to be good enough, funny enough, just enough to be loved back – A harmony-bear through and through (I am not sorry for that pun!). Only after he has been wronged many times and been insulted, he despairs and his transformation into a vampire seals the deal so to say. He gives in to his base urges and his darker side (yet, he transforms his mother in an attempt to save her from tuberculosis) emerges. He becomes a really bad boy, who kills his tormentors, is finally “loved” by Drusilla, who is quite mad, and accepted by his small peer-group. He kills two slayers, but when he meets Buffy, he starts to change. In the end, he endures pain and hardship to gain a soul to be finally worthy of Buffy. To him, a “demon”, the soul is not a defilement, but a badge of honour. It is also the reason, why, in my opinion, Spike is a much more interesting character, with much more depth than Angel and he has the bonus of comic-relief, which is often sorely needed amongst all the death and carnage that Buffy and her friends encounter.

 

After all this praise, you must be wondering, why I say that Buffy is a “guilty” pleasure of mine. It is probably because of the cheesy lines, the sudden and strong pathos here and there and the not-so-subtle trash-factor that the series has. On the one hand, the masks and everything make it quite trashy in places, but on the other hand has the series aged quite well BECAUSE they did not use much CGI, which was seriously underdeveloped when the series started. The use of CGI increases over the series, especially the transformations of the vampires improve a lot, but they still use masks for the vampire-faces, which is a definite bonus. The other factor to make Buffy into a “guilty” pleasure for me, is the wallowing in melancholic memories and half-lived experiences from when I was their age. Schools in Germany and the USA do have many differences. There are no Cheerleaders and Quarterbacks that define where the upper side of society is in Germany and few schools in my time had messes where everyone ate the same food. But my experiences as one of the better students were not completely different from what, for example, Willow has to live through. I never cared much for what I wore – “if it fits, I sits”, so to say – and I was mocked mercilessly for it. I also did not care much about who was at the top of the pops or who was smooching whom. I read books, wrote and studied, went horseback riding and swimming and was generally a total outsider. I never fit in with my classmates. I was both too normal to be weird and too weird to be normal. This fact thankfully changed when I entered the 11th grade and the classes were mixed and poured into “courses” and by 12th grade, I finally found friends that I still have to this day (yay me!). I can relate to the challenges of talking to the right or wrong people, butting heads with fellow pupils, wearing the wrong clothes or nail lacquer, trying to be invisible, having to cope with all the homework, falling in love for the first time, losing friends along the way, having to say goodbye to loved ones.

 

 That is why the Buffy series is a guilty pleasure for me and will continue to be so.

 

 

 

I would love to read your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Blade Runner 2049

Atmospheric, claustrophobic and restless - a society deeply in turmoil between the ambitious task to settle on new planets and the dystopian reality of hell on earth.

It's been a while since I saw the original Blade Runner movie. It seemed to be kind of obscure at that time. The atmosphere, though, was one to remember. It felt dark, it felt lonely, it felt hopeless. Until - there was love. At that point, I was convinced that this film is a love-story. And on the side, it was also about the question what makes us human - which supposedly is love.

 

(Careful now - Spoilers lie ahead of you...)

So when I went to see Blade Runner 2049, I was eager to see how they would follow up on this milestone of dystopian urbanism. My first impressions of the artwork were similar to those of Blade Runner. Cold, hopeless - dystopian (duh). The visuals are naturally better than the ones in the original, though the original seemed more rugged, rougher around the edges, which was part of its charm. Blade Runner 2049 still looks overcrowded yet lonely, dark and forlorn, but not as grimy as its predecessor. Following Officer K (played by Ryan Gosling - whom I've somehow not yet seen on screen) through the city, while he is trying to solve the mystery of his past and the wooden horse that is somehow tied to it, gives the audience an idea of the life one leads in this place. There is the loneliness we already saw in Blade Runner, the glaring streetlights and the obvious differences between the rich and the poor, between blissful ignorance and hopelessness. The visuals are sharp and striking, often artful and alien. The place of the blind Niander Wallace was irritating to my eyes at best and disorienting most of the time with its wandering light and the shimmering water. Water is often used in this film as a prop for great, if not somewhat depressing, visuals - be it in the firm and the house of Niander Wallace (played by Jared Leto), or in the scene when Officer K kills Niander's secretary who claims herself to be the best of them all - meaning the replicants. With this, we come full circle in the sense of emotions, especially one: Love. Sylvia Hoeks plays Luv so perfectly emotional while being a being that is supposed to be unable to love - because that is supposedly the one thing that makes us human. Or was that procreation?


Luv is driven by her desire to be loved by Niander whom she is devoted to with all her programmed heart. Her antagonist, the good one, is Officer K who loves his maid-programme, Joi. When we see Joi being advertised for on the streets it makes her death and the knowledge that her algorithms turned her into something truly special the more jarring. It nearly made me tear up to see machine lovers parted by... death? Or how do you call it when a programme is deleted? The love that once drove Blade Runner Rick Deckard to question his inhumanity and procreate with Rachael (which leads to an entirely different question of whether Deckard is, actually, a human being believing himself to be a replicant or whether he is a replicant that is mysteriously able to reproduce which is why Niander is so highly interested in him and his offspring) now drives Officer K, Joi and Luv to act the way they do, blurring the lines between humans and machines.
This circle was unexpectedly expectable, yet, I was not disappointed by the lack of new storyline that unfolded before my eyes; I was mesmerised by the atmospheric density of the city, the vast, shrouded immensity of what once seems to have been Las Vegas and the hopelessness of the slums.


The soundtrack blew me away, too, not only because it was eardrum-shattering loud at moments. Its loudness made sense. It emphasised the dejection one feels in this dystopian world, where many are forced to scuttle over an earth that is struggling to feed them all and only the rich, hopeful ones are able to leave the world and settle on new ones that seem to be better, an escapist fantasy that cannot become real for the masses. Hans Zimmer, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Benjamin Wallfish created a score that is able to tie the city, the wastes and the slums together in one kaleidoscope of sound and silence, of hope and desperation, of emotions and cold calculation.

When I left the cinema, I was flashed. Even though the storyline is not big, not really new or surprising, it makes for interesting food for thought. What is humanity? Can machines be humane without being human? Can you be human without being humane to other beings? Are you the sum of your memories or of your choices? Is dying for someone else really the most human thing you can do (I had to think of I-Robot here)? And what does it mean for us humans, if machines can be like us, if we can build humans/machines that are like us, but expendable to us, to use them as we want on other planets as an expendable workforce?
The ethical questions you can discuss afterwards are manifold and I am not sure how I would answer them. But if you ask me, whether I would watch this film again, I have no doubt about my answer: Yes, I would.

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Viceroy's House

The expectations I had when I sat down in front of the big screen were not fulfilled because the film was different. I had expected a somewhat traditional romance within the story that envelopes different strands of storytelling.

In short (for those who are afraid of spoilers), it was:

- good

- sad

- frightening and upsetting

- historically accurate (compared with what I know through my studies in Indology and British Studies)

- surprisingly honest

- heartwarming

 

For those who are not afraid of spoilers: continue down below.


I do not know a time in which India was not divided. I have ever only known India and Pakistan as two different countries and somewhat part-time mortal enemies (without wanting to get into an endless discussion about religion and beliefs - I think it is so incredibly sad and pointless that so many people have been dying worldwide due to an argument about whose god/s is/are better). "Viceroy's House" sheds light on a turbulent, bloody, horrible part of India's history that became Pakistan's history, too. In the scene when the household is being divided, it also shows the senselessness and lunacy, the hectic with which the subcontinent was parted in two... or three... or rather four (?) parts, if we count West-Pakistan, East Pakistan, India and Karachi as separate entities.

The scenes of the fleeing people, the hopelessness in some of the people's eyes upon hearing the dismal news from burned homes, massacred children was partly acted and partly provided through historical film-material.

I had known that it was the biggest mass-flight in history, but to read of 14 Million people losing their home, the place they had lived in with their families sometimes for generations, and to read of 1 Million dead people saddened me deeply. The film did not spare the audience from the view of dead bodies, neither of men, nor women, nor babies. For someone who feels sometimes like crying when watching the news, the film was a bit more than goose-bumping.

The difficult love story of Jeet and Aalia is intertwined with the more heartwarming story of the Mountbattens who are depicted as honest, well-meaning people who were trying to make the best decisions for a country that had been neglected, to say the least, by the British during their rule. They give you the positive moments in this film when you think, "wow, they actually tried", which makes it so much more unbearable to see them being used. There is some pathos in the way the Mountbattens fight for the people and in the way Jeet and Aalia are reunited after losing everything they ever had - a home, family, their future - but it is a much needed against the harrowing historical film-material that makes you want to cry and rant and scream at the unfairness of it all. Especially when you are from the future, so to say, and know how much these two new countries have... butted heads ever since.

In order to steer the subject away from the politics a little, I want to come to something that I really liked in the film: the casting. Not only is it great to see that they tried to cast the actors according to the likeness they had with the originals, but that they also considered the skillset of the actor. Hugh Bonneville as Mountbatten is not a perfect visual match, he is, though, perfect in his role as Mountbatten (I guess after Downton Abbey this film is "just" the next historical step towards our times). He portraits the amiable, yet determined nature of the Viceroy with natural ease and is believable in his role. You feel with him, especially when he discovers that he has been used by his own government and that his name will forever stand for a plan that divided a country for the benefit of Great Britain. "Divide and Rule" comes as a flashback like a brick to the head.

Mountbatten's wife, portrayed by Gillian Anderson, is cast visually as well as actor-wise perfectly. She walks the line between subversiveness and submissiveness - arguing intelligently and strategically with and against her husband, and then again supporting him in order to not divide country and people further. She knows when she has lost, but she is always the voice of reason and humanity - and she is headstrong, much more a politician than her husband.

The daughter, played by Lily Travers, is also cast for her likeness with the original and has a supportive character. She is not included in the discussions and is more or less just "there". She seems to be included because there was a historical model for her, and in one scene she acts as a conduit for her father's helplessness when he lashes out at her for interrupting a conversation. For the film, she was not absolutely necessary, though.

Jeet and Aalia, on the other hand, are important. Very important. By the means of these two characters, the anguish, grief and sorrow of the Indian people are made palpable to the audience. Their tears and heartrend are hard to see because they are inherently likeable. Jeet is a Hindu and Aalia is a Muslim. Those who have seen Veer and Zaara know how Bollywood sees the lovestory between a Muslim and a Hindu - The family is against it, which leads to a prison sentence, a human-rights lawyer and very emotional songs. "Viceroy's House" shows  families that are not against their marriage, a pair that does not care whether the person they marry is Muslim or Hindu. What separates them are entities out of their control, fueled by religious hatred and insecurity, led by figureheads that were more into power than into caring for the people they should have been working for. Jeet, the honest, good-hearted ex-police officer is played by Manish Dayal. Jeet loses his whole family, his sisters, his nieces and nephews, his mother when his hometown is reduced to cinders. The short, clipped information that is given as to what has happened in his home village makes you envision the most horrible of fates for everyone. Aalia, an independent woman who supports her blind father (who in turn had supported Gandhi) is played by Huma Qureshi. She loses her father to a massacre on the night-train to Lahore, which she escapes only because her father pushes her from the still running train. The scene of Jeet and Aalia finding each other in a camp is heart-wrenching - all this loss and needless bloodshed in their lives have scarred them -, but it is also uplifting and hope-giving to see that there is a way out of this horror: love.

Before the end-credits, the audience is shown slides of facts, containing the losses, the bloodshed, in short: the horror in numbers. And it shows history coming full circle: Gurinder Chadha, the director and co-writer of this film, is a grandchild of one of 14 Million refugees that lost house and home.

All in all, I can say that the film moved me. It seemed to me an attempt at neutrality and historical correctness. It showed the hard negotiations and the political discussions that were held. It shows the pampered life of the British and has them called "rats that flee the sinking ship". The film also shows the unwillingness of the parties to work together and how this unearthed in the squabbles and fisticuffs between household-staff members. The film doled out blame to every party, except maybe Gandhi - an old man without teeth who only speaks of unity and peace makes not for a good target. The movie also showed that there were good people in all the fractions - Aalia and her father who wanted only peace, the cook who wanted Pakistan without being aggressive about it, the Hindus had their heroes in Jeet and Gandhi and the British in Lord Mountbatten and his wife. This is why I say, it was an attempt at neutrality and historical correctness.

 

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