FINALS ARE OVER!
Oh Frack. There’s nothing I can do to change my grades.
Oh God. I think I’m going to throw up.
Okay. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. It’s okay. Even if this semester goes down the tubes and my life plans are irrevocably destroyed, I can be a great bum
Yes. That is my plan B, and I shall stick to it.
Sadly, my time of stress is not yet completely over, since I have to come up with a brilliant honors essay proposal and an equally brilliant honors application in the next five days. So the blog posting will continue to be sporadic as I desperately try to learn everything about Feminist Science Fiction in the ’70s and ’80s, and then try to condense that knowledge into a 250 word proposal.
Also – again, if you’ve sent me an email in the past few weeks, I can almost PROMISE I haven’t gotten it (unless you know my real name and thus my main email address). But I will go back to that mailbox soon, and answer emails. (assuming I haven’t become a bum in the meantime).
And without further ado, I give you my review of Shame… and the only blog post of mine my mother has promised to read. Exciting! It’s also the last of my pre-written blog posts (yes, I stored some up for the finals madness), so…I’m actually going to have to write two/three posts a week now, instead of just editing them and putting them up.
I’ve been on a bit of a Michael Fassbender kick lately. I saw him for the first time this summer in X-Men: First Class, where he played Magneto. Because of his kick-ass acting of an equally kick-ass character (Nazi-hunter! Tortured soul! Wearer of Awesome Turtlenecks!) I immediately developed a (small) obsession.
Now, this obsession might not have made that much of a difference to my movie-watching routine, since I almost never go see movies during the academic semester. But after I went to see A Dangerous Method with my friends, one of them copied my example and fell into a mad obsession with Fassbender.
I’m sorry, I got distracted. What?
Oh, yes. My friend, me, and Fassbender.
Given our mutual obsessions, we’re probably going to work our way through Fassbender’s entire back catalogue – which is fine by me. I’m looking forwards to re-watching X-Men – that should yield a good week’s worth of blog posts – and possibly seeing Hunger for the first time (hunger strikes being a fabulous way of boosting one’s post-essay depression). And we’re deeply disappointed that we won’t be in the same city when Prometheus comes out.
But, of course, Shame is still playing in Montreal. So as a reward for surviving our papers, my friend J. and I headed to the theater, planning to giggle wildly (I make no pretense to maturity).
I’m pretty sure everyone in the western hemisphere has heard the basic plot of Shame, but I will repeat it once more. Brandon (Fassbender) is a thirty-something New Yorker suffering from sex addiction. His life is thrown off-kilter when his sister Sissy (Carrie Mulligan) moves in with him. Not surprisingly, Sissy’s presence prevents Brandon from relieving his addiction the usual ways – prostitutes, hook-ups, masturbation, sex-video-chat (is that what those things are called?) etc – and also brings up buried emotions.
Now, the reason everyone has heard of Shame is simple: it involves full frontal male nudity (hence why I was preparing for some highly mature giggling). There’s an interesting discussion to be had about why full frontal male nudity causes everyone to drop their tea tray, slap an NC-17 onto a movie and talk about an actor’s “bravery,” while the plethora of naked women in Hollywood barely merit a movie an R mention. I’m not going to have that conversation now, due to space constraints. But still. Interesting discussion. As one of my favorite professors would says “think about that.”
(I will note that none of the women who went full-frontal in Shame got a “bravery” stamp of approval)
There was no false advertising about Shame. The movie indeed contains a lot of nudity. A LOT of nudity. The first time we see Brandon, he’s walking around his apartment, naked. In flashbacks, we see him with a woman – a prostitute – undressing. Later on, we see Sissy when she’s in the shower – Brandon thinks she’s a thief, and breaks down the door of the bathroom. Most of Brandon’s conquests (paid or unpaid) are shown with their clothes of, as is Brandon himself.
What’s striking about nudity in Shame is that it’s not artificial. In most movies, sex scenes involve lots of clever angles and artful cuts so that the audience can see tantalizing bits, but the film can retain a PG-13 rating. The actors are usually airbrushed to the point where you couldn’t find their real skin cells without a forensics team.
But not here. Like I said, two of the major moments of nudity take place outside of a sex scene – Brandon walking around his apartment, and Sissy yelling at Brandon for scaring her. All the actors look like real human beings – there is no special lighting or posing. The nudity, in other words, doesn’t seem like a performance. Unlike the self-conscious nude actors of Hollywood, these characters don’t seem aware of being watched.
It’s fascinating because, for all the sexualization of popular culture, this sort of unstaged nudity and un-artificial sex is still shocking. We’re cultural prudes: it’s okay to show sex, but only if the people are perfect. Only if they’re performing according to a pre-approved script. Which is why even the naked women in Shame are shocking – we’re so used to the artificialized Hollywood nudity that these “natural” naked women look completely alien.
The result is that the viewers feel like voyeurs. It’s quite discomfiting. The director, Steve McQueen, plays up the audience discomfort. In the one vaguely “romantic” sex scene, the camera is perched at an odd angle vis Brandon and Marianne’s bodies, putting the audience in a bizarre viewing position. For three to four minutes of foreplay, the camera never moves. The camera never cuts. We become slowly aware that the actors, Fassbender and Nicole Behari, actually performed the entirety of the scene in one take. It wasn’t “okay, kiss, now cut,” then “now you lie down, now cut!” They actually made out for a good four minutes. Once again, I was struck by the difference between this scene, and our typical Hollywood fare, where sex scenes are designed to seduce and tantalize the audience. The lack of artificiality makes us feel uncomfortably like intruders. Like voyeurs. We cannot enjoy it.
Beyond the nudity, Shame is more a character study than an action-driven movie. It does have a core plot, but it doesn’t have a great deal of forward motion. Brandon moves through his life. We see him jogging, working, going out with colleagues, taking the metro, picking up women, reading porn. His sister shows up to disturb his preciously-guarded peace, and he spirals out of control, but even this loss of control is low-key. Shame is a quiet movie in more ways than one. It’s telling that two of the movie’s climactic scenes – Brandon’s attempt to seduce a work-colleague, and his discovery of his sister at the end – are lacking in any kind of soundtrack; one of those scenes doesn’t have sound at all.
Character-driven movies like this one are successful based on two things: how interesting the character(s) are, and how good the acting is. Fortunately, Brandon is a complex, convoluted, knotty sort of character; he’s fascinating to watch. The movie works in large part because of the contrast between the subject matter – sex – and the person. Brandon is no happy-go-lucky party animal hosting orgy after orgy in his house. He is quiet, sad, pained. He seems to take no pleasure from sex. He just does it. There’s a fantastic scene right at the start when he makes eye contact with a woman in the subway. There’s a mutual attraction there, but while she smiles coyly, he is grave and sorrowful.
Similarly, in Brandon’s many late night jogs, he passes through space at a painful, glorious speed (seriously – Michael Fassbender’s got a career as a marathoner if this movie star thing doesn’t work out) – but he never engages with the city around him. Life, the city, sex – they’re just things to be gotten through. A duty he cannot avoid. Brandon is a man trapped in his own body, imprisoned by desires he neither wants nor receives any pleasure for.
Why is Brandon this way? He’s an interesting man, quietly likeable, a valued worker at his company – no one would suspect him of being a sex addict. In fact, even when his boss finds out Brandon’s hard drive is filled with porn, he doesn’t think Brandon had anything to do with it. What pushed Brandon into this life? Why can’t he survive without it? The movie (wisely) refuses to tell us. We are never given an explanation for why Brandon is the way he is. We get little insight into Brandon’s bizarre relationship with his sister. Nor does the movie offer any kind of commentary on Brandon’s actions, moral or otherwise. This lack of a moral imperative makes Shame one of the most even-handed portrayals of addiction I’ve ever seen. There is no judgment. There is no moralizing. Brandon’s addiction to sex is neither bad nor good. His decisions are neither praised nor punished. They simply are.
I should talk about Michael Fassbender’s acting. I should, but I’m afraid if I do, I’ll start ranting about the Academy’s complete lack of taste. How in the name of the Patron Saint of Justice and Truth did Fassbender NOT get an Oscar nomination for Shame? For that matter, why didn’t Fassbender WIN an Oscar for Shame?
Yes, he’s that good.
I’m not interested in calling Fassbender “brave” for the nude scenes, or for picking such a controversial character. I don’t think bravery should be rewarded in and of itself. Casey Abrams’ attempt to cover “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on American Idol was brave, but it didn’t make his performance any better (*shudder*). Fassbender need not rely on bravery to get him accolades – nude scenes or no nude scenes, he gave one of the, if not the, best performances of the year. He was in-fracking-credible.
Because Shame has so little explanation of Brandon’s addiction, the weight of the movie rests on Fassbender’s shoulders. He must make us care about a character that we do not, and by necessity cannot, understand. It takes a truly fantastic actor to make you feel for them when you are completely estranged from what they’re feeling. To make you care about a character that’s so alien to your experience.
There’s a scene where Brandon listens to his sister sing at a restaurant in New York. The camera closes in on his face, which is set in his typical impassive mask. The camera lingers. Slowly, his face shifts. His breath shifts minutely. A tear runs down his face. We do not know why Brandon reacts this way to the song. We should not care. But Fassbender makes us feel it nonetheless. He makes us care about Brandon. He makes us want him to conquer his addiction.
On another note, I thought Fassbender should get an oscar just for the way he fits in clothes – is there anything that looks bad on this guy? Seriously.
Sadly, the academy, as usual, does not listen to me. I don’t understand why – I shout loud enough for them to hear me!
One of the things I most enjoyed about Shame was its deconstruction of romantic comedy tropes. We are given several classic “meet-cute” scenarios. Brandon flirts with the girl in the subway. He goes out to a bar with his colleagues, and ends up attracting the woman his boss is trying to pick up. He tries to break his cycle of self-destruction by going out with a vivacious work-colleague. But the movie refuses to fall into the narrative of romance. This is no redemption tale – Brandon cannot be saved by a beautiful woman. Instead, all the encounters are tinged with desperation. Everything that could be romantic is exposed as nothing more than a routine exchange, a coming-together of disconnected people trying to feel something. Somehow, I think Shame’s portrayal of the dating (or hookup) scene is more accurate than usual romantic comedy fare.
Interestingly, most of the women Brandon tries to pick up with are “taken” in some way – they’re in other relationships, they’re prostitutes – and are thus not possible relationship partners. When the relationship could be something more – when it could actually be a moment of connection, or intimacy – Brandon backs away, terrified.
Speaking of “savior” women, I was pleased as punch to see that the one woman Brandon does try to date was African-American. I realize that this is not a big deal. Correction – it SHOULD not be a big deal. But it is. We get so few interracial relationships in mainstream movies that I had a big “Oh god” moment when I saw Brandon’s dinner partner, Marianne, played by the lovely Nicole Beharie. Here we have an African American woman portrayed as an attractive, intelligent, desirable life-partner - she’s probably the sanest character in the entire movie. Nor is Behari’s race a plot device so that the movie can talk about the Very Important Subject of Interracial Dating. It’s such an exceptional state of affairs that I just have to give Steve McQueen a round of applause. Bravo, sir. And to the rest of Hollywood: take note. Learn. Follow McQueen’s lead. Make it so that well-rounded characters of color are so common in American movies that I never, ever have to comment on them again.
Beharie also does a great job – she’s only in the movie for fifteen minutes or so, and she was playing a relatively understated character, but she did such interesting things that I still remember her two months later. Honestly, I remember her character more than I remember Carey Mulligan’s character (who has much more screen time). I’m keeping an eye on her work – I hope we see a lot more from her.
I’m not the only one who has noticed Marianne as an exceptional character. Steve McQueen, the director of Shame, was very aware of Marianne’s status as a black woman in a Hollywood movie (McQueen himself is black, although he’s not African American). In an interview with Elvis Mitchell, McQueen says that when he wanted to cast Beharie as Marianne: “What was interesting was there was all kinds of objections about this, of saying, “Oh, that wouldn’t happen there. That wouldn’t exist.” I said, “What, I don’t exist?” It was a very odd thing, having these conversations about having a love interest that was a Black woman with Brandon (…) But then, what also fascinates me is you have a lot of white American filmmakers who never cast a Black person in their movies and they made quite a few movies. How can you avoid that? That’s kind of weird. It’s like walking around with blindfolds on. How can you make movies in this country–and consistently make movies–and not cast Black characters in the main leads?”
I defer the rest of the discussion of race in Shame to Racialicious, which has a very interesting review of the film, and of Brandon’s relationship to Marianne – I fully purloined their link to McQueen’s interview with Mitchell: http://www.racialicious.com/2011/12/14/shame-the-interracial-relationship-the-casting-the-homophobia/
But while we’re on the subject of things the movie gets right with regard to representation, I should also mention what the movie gets wrong: homosexuality. I was actually pleasantly surprised that Brandon had a homosexual encounter in the film, and I will admit, I didn’t see it as problematic until I started reading the blogs. At the time, I thought it would have been worse NOT to have a homosexual encounter at all, in that it makes no sense for someone with a sex addiction to view male partners as any better or worse than female partners (since it has nothing to do with attraction or romance). If the movie hadn’t had the gay club scene, I would be complaining that “sure, it’s fine to have a sex addict paying for prostitutes, but we can’t possibly have a gay scene, because that’s just PERVERTED.” It would reinforce the idea that homosexuality is a particularly depraved sort of sexuality. Even sex addicts don’t have sex with people of the same gender. Putting the gay scene in, I thought, made gayness as normal an option in the sexual landscape as anything else the movie portrayed.
BUT, as many have pointed out, the gay scene does come when Brandon is at his absolute worse – which makes it possible to read homosexuality as the most perverted of sexual pleasures (right above threesomes). In the absence of another gay encounter when Brandon is not at “rock bottom,” the movie makes homosexuality “the film’s shorthand for “sexual depravity”” (to quote Andrea (AJ) Plaid, who wrote the racialicious article above). So I’m glad the gay scene is there, I think it could have been handled much, much better. If Brandon ahd had a gay encounter BEFORE he’d hit “rock bottom,” for example, this wouldn’t be problematic.
Despite the problematic portrayal of homosexuality, however, Shame is a fantastic movie. It’s sometimes painful to watch, but it’s well worth a trip to your theater. And not just because of how good Fassbender looks in clothes (and out).
I’m kind of hoping I see a bad movie soon, because these laudatory reviews are getting a bit boring. Maybe I should go watch The Help again, I’m sure that would yield a rant that lasts longer than one of Brandon’s jogging marathons.
The Hugo Shortlist is out, gentlemen, gentlewomen and gentle-people-of-non-normative genders. And I have many, many strong emotions about the nominees. Remembering, of course, that I’m pretty damn passionate about the Hugo Awards, full stop. I am, after all, the girl who got dressed up to watch the Hugo livestreaming last year. So it should come as no surprise (not to repeat myself) that I have many, many strong emotions about the nominees.
I may (or may not) have screamed in (happy, happy) shock when I got to best fancast. I may (or may not) have hollered in appreciation when I saw how many times Ken Liu, Catherynne Valente and Seanan McGuire were nominated. I may (or may not) have rolled my eyes when I saw certain nominees. I may (or may not) have yelled at the computer for a good three minutes when I realized certain crucial works had not received nods.
But since my incoherent yelling has never helped anyone, let’s go through the nominees, shall we? I’m going to list each category, and post my thoughts. Warnings: All Caps will be used. Frequently. For reference (if you’re interested), here’s my original ballot.
- Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)
- A Dance With Dragons, George R. R. Martin (Bantam Spectra)
- Deadline, Mira Grant (Orbit)
- Embassytown, China Miéville (Macmillan / Del Rey)
- Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey (Orbit)
I can’t help feeling a disappointed at this shortlist, despite the fact that it contains three of my five picks. It’s just so… expected. I mean, I am pleased as punch to see Among Others, Deadline and Embassytown on there, don’t get me wrong! I’m ecstatic to see Mira Grant get another nod, because damn, that woman can write. And thank the voters that Among Others is on there – it’s a stupendous piece of work. But I have to admit, these five novels have a lot of in common with each other.
I like to think of it as a menu. Classic science fiction and fantasy is chocolate cake, and who doesn’t like chocolate cake? But at the same time… do we want five pieces of chocolate cake? Because that’s what this shortlist feels like. Leviathan Wakes, Embassytown and Among Others are all nostalgic novels, throwbacks to “classic” science fiction. Now, in reading Embassytown and Among Others, I thought both re-vamped the style of “classic” SF in really interesting ways… and yet. They might be chocolate cake with unexpected filling, but they’re still chocolate cake. A Dance with Dragons isn’t classic SF, but it’s classic Epic Fantasy. My impression – having read neither book, but having read a fair amount of reviews for both – is that A Dance with Dragons is the fantasy equivalent of a Leviathan Wakes. It’s comfort food – again, chocolate cake, albeit chocolate cake with swords rather than spaceships.
Deadline is the closest thing to a truly innovative novel here – it’s a postmodern zombie story that melds horror and SF. I don’t think there’s anything like Deadline on the market today. It stands on its own. I’m so glad the series is receiving continued recognition – it does all kinds of fascinating, provocative things with fear and science and family relations, things that take real guts and talent to pull off. The fact that it’s so popular speaks well, I think, of the tastes of the Speculative Fiction reading public. But it’s also an expected choice, in the sense that the first novel in the series, Feed, almost won the Hugo award last year. So Deadline isn’t chocolate cake, but it’s still chocolate. Chocolate mousse, maybe.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with chocolate cake (and mousse). But only chocolate cake? When we have an entire menu of options to choose from? It feels a bit restrictive. Where is the love for people who took real narrative risks and pulled them off? Where is the recognition for authors who whipped up a batch of peanut-butter-kiwi-upside-down-cake and managed to make it delicious despite the terrible name?
To me, the three most innovative novels of the year (that I read) were Catherynne Valente’s Deathless, N.K. Jemisin’s The Kingdom of the Gods and Kameron Hurley’s God’s War. I would have given up a slice of chocolate cake for some Raspberry Souffle (Valente), an Irish Coffee (Jemisin) or a big chunk of Baclava (Hurley). I think those culinary shocks are necessary to keep the genre fresh. Remember when Catherynne Valente’s Palimpsest landed on the Hugo ballot two years ago, and the community exploded with shock and horror? Where’s THAT reaction? I see a lot of people in the blogosphere who are disappointed, but there’s no real outrage. Give me some outrage.
(astute readers may note that I did not nominate Catherynne Valente’s Deathless, and so I shouldn’t complain about it not showing up on the Hugo Ballot. This is a perfectly valid point. However, I hadn’t read it by the deadline, and although I suspected I would love it with a passion, I couldn’t in all honesty nominate it without having finished it. I did love it).
The other thing that makes me call the list restrictive is the race and gender stuff. Because I am your humorless feminist social-justice crusader, and I must complain about these things. Unless I’m making a terrible mistake with Leviathan Wakes, all five novels are set in either North-America or a Western-derived landscape. Yes, Leviathan Wakes occurs in space, but it doesn’t seem to be God’s War or Firefly, which take place in a non-western outer-space. All the authors are white. Excluding A Dance with Dragons, which has no central protagonist (as far as I know), three of the four protagonists are white men. The heroine of Embassytown has no stated race (as I recall), but the default assumption is that she’s white. Not to beat a dead horse, but… I mean… speculative fiction is the literature of alienation (at least according to China Mielville. And me). And we can’t even alienate ourselves away from North American settings and heroes?
Okay, complaints done. On the other hand, there are no duds (again, I haven’t read A Dance With Dragons or Leviathan Wakes, so I may change my mind about this). This isn’t 2010, when The Windup Girl got a nod despite being a terrible sandwich of cultural appropriation with rape fantasies as the amuse-bouche (fortunately it didn’t win…oh, wait). I can appreciate a lack of duds. I just wish there was some pizzazz.
I’m reviewing the short fiction sections as a group, since I know far less about them:
- Countdown, Mira Grant (Orbit)
- “The Ice Owl”, Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
- “Kiss Me Twice”, Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s)
- “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”, Kij Johnson (Asimov’s)
- “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary”, Ken Liu (Panverse 3)
- Silently and Very Fast, Catherynne M. Valente (WSFA)
- “The Copenhagen Interpretation”, Paul Cornell (Asimov’s)
- “Fields of Gold”, Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four)
- “Ray of Light”, Brad R. Torgersen (Analog)
- “Six Months, Three Days”, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com)
- “What We Found”, Geoff Ryman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
Best Short Story
- “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”, E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld)
- “The Homecoming”, Mike Resnick (Asimov’s)
- “Movement”, Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s)
- “The Paper Menagerie”, Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
- “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue”, John Scalzi (Tor.com)
If you consult my Hugo ballot, you’ll note that I didn’t have a whole lot of nominations for the short fiction field. Mostly because it’s not my field of expertise. I’m working on it! That said, I’m ecstatic to see some of my favorite authors on the list. Ken Liu, my short-fiction crush of 2011, is on there twice. Catherynne Valente gets a nod for her first major work of science fiction, which – yes. I say Yes, and I add “Please, sir, can I have some more?” Science Fiction needs Catherynne Valente desperately (let us note that I haven’t read Silently and Very Fast, so I might…change my mind. But I doubt it). My favorite novella of 2011, “Kiss Me Twice” is also front and center (ah, Mary Robinette Kowal). And Geoff Ryman and Rachel Swirsky, two authors I adore, are both nominees.
If anything, I’m excited by all the incredible short fiction I’m going to get to read in the next months. I’m thrilled that I finally have a good excuse to read John Scalzi, whose non-fiction work I adore. And apparently, the short story he wrote was an elaborate April Fool’s Joke, so I know I’m going to love it. All of this quells my slight disappointment at not seeing Karen Joy Fowler’s fantastic “Younger Women” or Catherynne Valente’s “The Bread we Eat in Dreams” get a nod.
(There’s also a lesson here: the less I know about something, the less likely I am to complain about it).
Best Related Work
- The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Third Edition, edited by John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls, and Graham Sleight (Gollancz)
- Jar Jar Binks Must Die…and other Observations about Science Fiction Movies, Daniel M. Kimmel (Fantastic Books)
- The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature, Jeff VanderMeer and S. J. Chambers (Abrams Image)
- Wicked Girls (CD), Seanan McGuire
- Writing Excuses, Season 6 (podcast series), Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Jordan Sanderson
Best Graphic Story
- Digger, by Ursula Vernon (Sofawolf Press)
- Fables Vol 15: Rose Red, by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham (Vertigo)
- Locke & Key Volume 4: Keys To The Kingdom, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
- Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication, written and illustrated by Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (The Tayler Corporation)
- The Unwritten (Volume 4): Leviathan, created by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, written by Mike Carey, illustrated by Peter Gross (Vertigo)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
- Captain America: The First Avenger, screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephan McFeely; directed by Joe Johnston (Marvel)
- Game of Thrones (Season 1), created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss;
written by David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, Bryan Cogman, Jane Espenson, and George R. R. Martin; directed by Brian Kirk, Daniel Minahan, Tim van Patten, and Alan Taylor (HBO)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, screenplay by Steve Kloves; directed by David Yates (Warner Bros.)
- Hugo, screenplay by John Logan; directed by Martin Scorsese (Paramount)
- Source Code, screenplay by Ben Ripley; directed by Duncan Jones (Vendome Pictures)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
- Doctor Who, ”The Doctor’s Wife”, written by Neil Gaiman; directed by Richard Clark (BBC Wales)
- “The Drink Tank’s Hugo Acceptance Speech”, Christopher J Garcia and James Bacon (Renovation)
- Doctor Who, ”The Girl Who Waited”, written by Tom MacRae; directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
- Doctor Who, ”A Good Man Goes to War”, written by Steven Moffat; directed by Peter Hoar (BBC Wales)
- Community, ”Remedial Chaos Theory”, written by Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna; directed by Jeff Melman (NBC)
I know absolutely nothing about the Best Related Works and Best Graphic Story shortlists, but I’m, as ever, looking forwards to discovering them as I make my final selections. I can’t say I’m that excited about the Best Dramatic Presentation shortlists (either of them) although I think it’s fantastic that Game of Thrones got nominated as an entire series – I’m not sure that’s ever happened before. Given it’s popularity, I think it might give even Harry Potter a run for it’s money. I’m also quite happy to see that Community got a nomination, because I just started watching, and I absolutely love the series – even if it’s not “traditional” science fiction (well, it’s not science fiction at all. But that’s not the point).
I will pop up as feminist commenter 101 to point out that ALL the best Long form dramatic nominees (except Game of Thrones, which doesn’t have a central protagonist) have male heroes. And that none of them (again, excluding Game of Thrones) pass the Bechdel Test. Harry Potter does if you squint sideways, and count a conversation as a woman saying something to another woman for three seconds and receiving absolutely no reply. I don’t.
But I shall move on from the Bechdel test (sigh). Especially since next year, we’ll have Prometheus. There are women in the trailer for that movie. Hopefully they will talk to each other. Hopefully the movie will be nominated for a Hugo. Oh, and we’ll have The Hunger Games, which passes with flying colors. Which will also (hopefully) be nominated.
Although it is sad to see the continuing dominance of Doctor Who – not because Doctor Who is a bad show, don’t get me wrong – but because there are other great SciFi shows that deserve to be nominated. Fringe, anyone? Individual episodes of Game of Thrones? The British version of Being Human? Doctor Who is not the only player in the field, but you wouldn’t know that from the ballot. And especially when Fringe has been so consistently mind-blowing… and is a science fiction show about a woman… which would get me to shut up about gender equality for thirty seconds…
Oh, and as someone who watched The Hugos live last year, may I just say that Christopher Garcia’s Acceptance Speech absolutely deserves to be on the shortlist? Because it does. I might even vote for it.
- Apex Magazine, edited by Catherynne M. Valente, Lynne M. Thomas, and Jason Sizemore
- Interzone, edited by Andy Cox
- Lightspeed, edited by John Joseph Adams
- Locus, edited by Liza Groen Trombi, Kirsten Gong-Wong, et al.
- New York Review of Science Fiction, edited by David G. Hartwell, Kevin J. Maroney, Kris Dikeman, and Avram Grumer
- Banana Wings, edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
- The Drink Tank, edited by James Bacon and Christopher J Garcia
- File 770, edited by Mike Glyer
- Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, et al.
- SF Signal, edited by John DeNardo
- The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan & Gary K. Wolfe
- Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts (presenters) and Andrew Finch (producer)
- SF Signal Podcast, John DeNardo and JP Frantz (presenters), Patrick Hester (producer)
- SF Squeecast, Lynne M. Thomas, Seanan McGuire, Paul Cornell, Elizabeth Bear, and Catherynne M. Valente
- StarShipSofa, Tony C. Smith
I don’t really have much to say about best Semi-prozine. I am shocked that Clarkesworld, which has won for the past two years, wasn’t even nominated, but I’m wondering if the magazine didn’t withdraw itself from consideration like Girl Genius did. Anyone know? Oh, and I’m ecstatic to see Catherynne Valente nominated for her work on Apex – she did a fantastic job, and it’s a much-needed magazine in our field.
I have absolutely nothing to say about fanzines – I’m not even going to wade into the “are blogs fanzines” debate, because I’m just not informed enough.
This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for.
GALACTIC SUBURBIA WAS NOMINATED FOR BEST FANCAST OH MY FREAKING GOD I CAN’T BELIEVE IT, GALACTIC SUBURBIA AAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA! YEs!
(congratulations to all the other nominees, by the way)
YES! GALACTIC SUBURBIA FOR THE WIN!
I actually let out a loud WHOOOP when I saw Galactic Suburbia on there. I hoped beyond all hope they would get a nomination, but because they’re a feminist Australian podcast, I didn’t think there was any way they would. The fact that they did – that they got this kind of recognition – makes me absolutely ecstatic. I hope the nomination brings them even more visibility; they deserve it. They bring us news and recommendations, but they do it with that little extra something – and with that feminist analysis – that makes me want to listen to them all day. They’re also just damn fun – you wouldn’t think three women analyzing gender issues in speculative fiction would be a barrel of laughs, but I laugh so hard when I listen to them. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s addictive, it’s brilliant. Whenever I listen to other podcasts, I always end up thinking “I wonder what Tansy, Allysa and Alex would say about that?”
I’m so FREAKING HAPPY they got nominated. To me, it makes up for all the disappointments in all the other categories.
Yes, thank you very much. I will have that giant box of feminist cookies (Galactic Suburbia) and leave you to your cake. But as you can see above, they also have CAKE. So you should listen to it. For the Cookies. And the Cake.
(Yes, I am aware that I’m making no sense. I’m so pleased I can’t think straight)
Finishing up with the final categories:
Best Editor, Long Form
- Lou Anders
- Liz Gorinsky
- Anne Lesley Groell
- Patrick Nielsen Hayden
- Betsy Wollheim
It is beyond me why Dev Pillai and Jeremy Lassen didn’t score nominations for their fantastic work on the NK Jemisin trilogy and the God’s War trilogy respectively, but I will refrain from comment, since I don’t know much about their competitors. I am pleased to see Anne Lesley Groell and Liz Gorinsky get nods, however.
Best Editor, Short Form
- John Joseph Adams
- Neil Clarke
- Stanley Schmidt
- Jonathan Strahan
- Sheila Williams
Best Professional Artist
- Dan dos Santos
- Bob Eggleton
- Michael Komarck
- Stephan Martiniere
- John Picacio
No comment except… you know what’s coming… five men, no women? Wow.
Best Fan Artist
- Brad W. Foster
- Randall Munroe
- Spring Schoenhuth
- Maurine Starkey
- Steve Stiles
- Taral Wayne
And still, I say, no comment! Except that I hope to discover their work soon.
Best Fan Writer
- James Bacon
- Claire Brialey
- Christopher J. Garcia
- Jim C. Hines
- Steven H Silver
I only follow Jim C. Hines closely, but I’m pleased he got a nomination. His blog is fantastic. And hilarious. And he covers lots of feminist issues. If you want a great example of his work, try this one on book covers.
The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
- Mur Lafferty
- Stina Leicht
- Karen Lord
- Brad R. Torgersen
- E. Lily Yu
Really pleased to see Karen Lord on there, obviously, since I gave her first novel such a resounding YES MORE PLEASE of a review. And since I predicted she would show up on many genre award shortlists in the future. I do like to be proved right. I’m also glad to see E. Lily Yu on the list; I loved (and nominated) her short story The Anarchist Wasps and Cartographer Bees.
Again, I’m looking forward to discovering all of these authors’ works so I can vote for them properly.
So overall – well, I’m mixed. I’m ecstatic about some things – the multiple nominations for Catherynne Valente, Ken Liu and Seanan McGuire; the fact that Seanan McGuire broke the glass ceiling and became the first woman to ever be nominated FOUR TIMES (twice as her alter-ego, Mira Grant) for the Hugo; the nomination for GALACTIC SUBURBIA IS THE BEST THING EVER. I’m really excited over the prospect of discovering new fiction, art, essays etc. as I prepare to vote. But I am a bit disappointed that the shortlist for best novels feels so restrictive. It does seem like a step back from last year.
But there’s one thing I’m certain about. I cannot wait to be at the Hugo ceremonies. I’ll be the girl throwing herself under chairs rather than come within a ten foot radius of my favorite authors, many of whom have threatened to be there (famous people scare me). I’ll be the one freaking out because I just caught a glimpse of Catherynne Valente. I’ll be the one taking notes furiously. I’ll be the one clapping at people’s awesome fashion. I’ll be the one muffling screams when my favorites win. I may even be the one with an awesome younger brother (if I can find a way to bring him with me, he’s coming).
I can’t wait.
Other Reactions to the Hugos:
Comments on the Hugo Shortlist by Staffer’s Book Reviews
Hugo Nominations Out: What Will You Wear? by Tansy Rayner Roberts
And Catherynne Valente’s Perfectly Reasonable Reaction to getting Three Nominations
Also, an important post on gender and fanwriting from Rose Lemberg: Best Fan Writers Hugo – And Women Writers
I don’t have time to do a gender and race breakdown of the nominees right now, although I will be posting one once school gets out. In the meantime, James Nicholl has published a gender breakdown
Freud to Jung: “This log in your dream. I think you should entertain the possibility that the log represents the penis”
I’m a big fan of David Cronenberg. His criminally underrated A History of Violence and Eastern Promises are two of my favorite movies of the past five years. I’m also a big fan of Sigmund Freud, even if I do make fun of him quite a bit.
(It’s not my fault. So many inappropriate jokes, so little time).
However, although the movie A Dangerous Method promised to unite two things I liked – Freud and Cronenberg – I was more than a bit skeptical.
After all, for the past few years Cronenberg’s films have been saturated with violence. His movies are like a funeral director’s wet dream. What was he going to do with Freud and Freud’s great invention, the “talking cure”? Was Cronenberg going to have patients brawling in the corridors of Freud’s cramped apartment? Would Freud beat his critics with his cane? Was Carl Jung going to be a secret member of the mafia?
I was not convinced. I was even less convinced when I saw the trailer. “Oh no!” I groaned. “Not a love triangle. Please, not a love triangle. And why in the world is Keira Knightley’s russian accent so terrible? Don’t they have vocal coaches?”
But a even bad trailer could not detract from the lure of Freud. I figured it would be a fun movie. It would get things very wrong, and my friends and I would laugh, and deconstruct it (as literature students are prone to do). And Viggo Mortenson would be awesome, even if he wasn’t carrying around a big sword. (insert immature joke about phallic symbols here).
Well, it was a fun movie, filled with lines about logs and penises. And Viggo Mortenson showed off his impeccable comic timing (someone hand him an Oscar).
But it wasn’t just a fun movie. In fact, A Dangerous Method was – much to my surprise – simply sublime.
What I forgotten in my cynicism is that David Cronenberg isn’t interested in violence for violence’s sake. You don’t make A History of Violence if you’re just interested in blowing things up. Instead, Cronenberg is interested in violence as a symptom of a wider human condition. Why do we keep at it? Is it inevitable? Or is it something more – a collective delusion? A ritual?
In A Dangerous Method, Cronenberg pans the camera back, opening the view. Instead of looking at violence as a symptom of the human condition, he focuses on the lives of the people who changed our view of the human condition forever. It’s the story of the people who, at the turn of the 20th century, mapped the landscape of the human mind.
The movie opens with Sabina Spielrien, a violent, hysterical young woman, being dragged into a mental asylum. From her first seconds onscreen, we’re placed in an uncomfortable position: there’s something about Spielrien – especially about her inhuman movements - that makes us both want to watch her with fascination and to pull back in disgust. Nothing has happened, and yet we’re thrown off balance. The movie continues much in this vein: every normal event is slightly skewed, underlain with a quiet tension that seems ready to snap at any moment.
Spielrien’s doctor, Carl Jung, believes he can help her using a method pioneered by a Viennese physician named Sigmund Freud – the now-famous “Talking Cure.” As Spielrien improves, Jung begins a correspondance with Freud to document his success. From there, the movie tracks the developing relationships between Jung, Freud and Spielrien.
A Dangerous Method is an immensely self-contained piece of work. It focuses on the interactions between these three people to the exclusion of almost everything else. With such a narrow frame, A Dangerous Method risks being overly simplistic. But because Spielrein, Freud and Jung are so fascinating, the story is one of delicate complexity.
Too often, movie narratives fall victim to the obvious plot. Most of my movie-related rants have to do with how cowardly scripts are these days – every time a story stumbles across somewhere original, it runs back towards the obvious like a kid running towards a platter of chocolate chip cookies. I was pleased to see, however, that in A Dangerous Method, there are no such chocolate chip cookie characters. Jung, Freud and Spielrien are fascinating because the writers weren’t afraid of making them challenging or unlikeable.
Though Jung comes across as a find, upstanding man, he’s infuriatingly blind to his own neuroses. He will throw the people he loves in front of buses if they get in his way. Hell, he sometimes just throws them in front of a bus because he’s not paying attention. It’s not malicious – it’s just natural for him to put himself first, always first. And if the universe doesn’t bend his way, he’ll make it bend. Not surprisingly, his privilege drives Freud – and others – up the wall. Jung probably describes himself best as “nothing but a philistine Swiss bourgeois – a complete coward.” Sadly Jung’s self-awareness doesn’t lead to any character growth – he knows he needs to change, but is unwilling to do it. And unlike Freud or Spielrien, Jung’s not someone who has had to struggle in life, which makes his ultimate cowardice all the more unforgivable.
Freud is a case study in quiet brilliance. Every word out of Viggo Mortenson’s mouth is ambiguous. His dialogue seems filled with flashes of insight or moments of compassion; yet every phrase he speaks can also be read as an insult. He always seems to be reveling in a private joke.
Despite his brilliance, or perhaps, because of it, Freud is constrained by his fear of the outside world. Freud has spent so long as the poor, besieged doctor in Vienna, his theories mocked and his practice threatened, that the slightest hint of insubordination terrifies him. If Freud and Jung are alike in anything, it’s in their isolation – they’re both so smart, so new, so cutting-edge, that no one has yet joined them on the frontier of the human mind. Their shared interests and mutual respect should make them the perfect partners, and for a large part of the movie, they are. Freud acts as Jung’s mentor; Jung, in turn, idolizes Freud.
But Freud and Jung are separated by privilege and pride. In a revelatory moment near the beginning of the film, Freud tells Jung he doesn’t want to venture outside the current theories of psychoanalysis because the practice is already stigmatized enough as is. Casually, Freud adds: “and, of course, it does not help that all of the patients and practitioners in Vienna are Jews.” Jung replies “I don’t see why it should matter,” to which Freud rejoins “That, if I may say so, is an exceedingly protestant remark.” Jung cannot set aside his privilege long enough to see the difficulties Freud confronts. Freud, meanwhile, pushes Jung away to protect himself: he cannot fight against the world and fight against his friends at the same time. And he cannot open up to Jung either – he’s spent so long fighting that the slightest appearance of vulnerability would destroy him.
I loved Freud and Jung. I came to the movie specifically to see their interaction, and it did not fail me.
But though I came for them, I walked out cheering – and a little teary-eyed – for the third wheel of the trio, Sabina Spielrien. Spielrein is no doubt the character audiences will be most unfamiliar with – the majority of people have at least heard of Jung and Freud. I worry her relative obscurity will make her difficult to identify with, which is a shame, because she’s absolutely sublime.
It’s so refreshing to see a female character like Spielrein in a (somewhat) mainstream movie. In movies, male characters are almost always allowed more complexity than their female counterparts – but not in A Dangerous Method. On paper, Spielrein was have been a disaster – a woman with serious mental health issues who sleeps with her (married) physician. When I walked into A Dangerous Method, indeed, I was convinced poor Keira Knightley would be stuck playing the femme-fatale who distracts the Great Men from their Great Work. Which is SUCH an annoying stereotype. But I was pleasantly surprised.
The writers avoid reducing Spielrein to a love interest. Treating a woman like a full human being, regardless of her romantic state, seems like an easy task. For some reason, however, it’s a task the majority of Hollywood movies fail to accomplish.
Though Jung “cures” her, Spielrein doesn’t suddenly become a gorgeous princess. There is no dreaded Hollywood makeover where the disturbing “crazy” girl becomes a stunning leading lady. It’s also nice to see a movie that doesn’t pretend mental illness just goes away after a few therapy sessions. Spielrein continues to struggle with her mental illness over the course of the film, fearing, among other things, that her “insanity” will prevent her from becoming a physician. She still speaks haltingly, shyly, and retains most of her uncomfortable physical tics from earlier in the film. It’s still hard to look at her sometimes – she’s not embodied in a normative way.
Spielrein is also strong-willed and unapologetic about her desires, sexual and otherwise. Nor does the movie “punish” Spielrein for her ambitions – too often, ambitious women – women who desire, women who dare to want – are, well, punished (and not in a kinky S&M way, although we do get some S&M action in A Dangerous Method). If anything, Spielrein’s willingness to articulate what she wants is her saving grace – unlike Freud or Jung, she’s not destroyed by her unspoken desires.
True, Spielrien does fall in love with Jung, her physician, but of the two, she’s the one who behaves with the most maturity. When he breaks up with her and lies about their relationship, she doesn’t cling, she doesn’t rant and rave, she doesn’t spend the rest of the movie trying to bring him down. Which is quite impressive, given that Jung has just thrown her under the bus by telling Freud that Spielrien is a delusional lunatic who made up the affair.
Instead, Spielrien forces him to admit the truth to Freud, deducing (correctly) that this will convince Freud to take her on as a patient.** She finishes her dissertation. She becomes a physician in her own right. She’s widely respected in her own field: at the end of the movie, Jung’s wife asks Spielrein to take a depressed Jung on as a patient. It’s a neat reversal of the initial premise.
Even better, Spielrein is not “saved” by her romantic relationship with Jung. Instead, she saves herself through the “talking cure” and her academic work in the psychological field. Moreover, Spielrein’s intellectual development and her contributions to the psychoanalytic field are just as important as Freud’s or Jung’s – I was surprised, for example, to discover that it was Spielrein, not Freud, who first theorized the death instinct. I greatly appreciated the fact that neither Jung nor Freud (or anyone else) ever said something like “but you’re a woman! Women shouldn’t be psychoanalyzing/writing about sex/ going to college.” Or even “Well, as a female physician, you may have some problems.” They treat her as an intellectual equal. They collaborate with her on different projects. Freud even respects her enough to suggest that she take on some of his patients.
** Again, I am pleased to note that Spielrien takes control of her own mental health. When she breaks up with her boyfriend/therapist, she immediately finds a new therapist. Not a boyfriend. Girl has her priorities straight.
Besides, Jung and Spielrein’s interactions are quite interesting to watch. As fellow psychoanalysts, they’re always dissecting their own behavior towards one another. When Spielrein kisses Jung for the first time, they (of course) have to analyze the moment for the next five minutes. You can almost see Jung taking down mental notes, thinking of all the papers he could derive from a single brush of the lips.
As actors, I thought Michael Fassbender (Jung), Viggo Mortenson (Freud) and Keira Knightley (Spielrien) were all out of their comfort zones, which makes their superb work in A Dangerous Method all the more impressive.
Knightley is near-unrecognizable in her role as Spielrien. Her accent is spot-on – I don’t know how they managed to make it sound so terrible in the trailer. From the beginning, she strips any impression we had of her as the “young romantic lead.” Her moments as a hysterical mental patient are so powerful that they’re difficult to watch: when her body crumples and tangles as she forces herself to confess her “vile corruption,” I could barely keep my eyes on the screen. After Spielrein begins recovering, Knightley wisely keeps her from ever becoming a femme fatale, instead imbuing her with a physical awkwardness and a halting, intense pattern of speech that manages to simultaneously convey the woman’s strangeness and her fierce intelligence.
Fassbender, meanwhile, gives emotional depth to Jung’s love for Spielrien, and his defiance of Freud. Without this much-needed layer of vulnerability, the audience would be unable to stop themselves from despising him as an insensitive coward. His looks don’t hurt – my friend said she thought she was swayed towards Jung’s side because of Fassbender’s, er… charming appearance. And the way he looked in early 20th century garb
(I would like to add that I agree. Turn-of-the-century clothes look great on Fassbender. Just sayin’).
Mortenson’s work as Freud… well, he’s just fantastic. As always. He’s the master of double-speak in this movie – I never knew what he meant when he said anything. Which was the point. Mortenson also infuses Freud with a great deal of authority – a difficult task, given that Freud spends most of the movie sitting in a chair. I wouldn’t want to be in the same room as Mortenson’s Freud, is all I’m saying. I’d probably start babbling like an idiot. Or walk into a wall. Or babble like an idiot while walking into a wall. Perhaps most impressively, Mortenson manages to suggest Freud’s self-consciousness without undercutting his imposing presence.
From the script, to the directing, to the acting A Dangerous Method is an incredible movie. It gets under your skin. It avoids the obvious. It zigged when I expected it to zag. It’s also just damn fun to watch.
I therefore have no idea how A Dangerous Method did not get nominated for twenty five thousand Oscars. I would have put it up for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Support Actor. The only actor I wouldn’t have nominated was Fassbender – not because he’s any less inspiring than Knightley or Mortenson, but because Fassbender was going to get nominated for Shame anyways, and then he was going to win and -
Screw the academy, man.
Seriously. To my mind, Knightley and Mortenson shouldn’t just have been nominated – they should have been frontrunners. And so should the movie. The Help was nominated, and this wasn’t? If that’s not a sign that Hollywood isn’t interested in original stories, I don’t know what is.
Yet, even with the Academy’s Bad Attitude, I came out of the movie with joy in my heart. And not just because of the movie’s general awesomeness (although that accounted for much of my elation). I was also thrilled because my friend had just discovered Michael Fassbender.
“What else is he in?” asketh she.
Me: “X-men… uh, Jane Eyre… uh, Shame. That’s playing now, I think – “
Her: “We’re going.”
Unfortunately, that means everyone who reads this blog* will be subject to another “what the hell is wrong with the Oscars” post quite shortly since, yes, I have now seen Shame. And it’s even more incomprehensible to me why Michael Fassbender wasn’t nominated for best Best Actor.
But I’ll be reviewing the movie! And I promise, it’ll be shorter!
Oh, that was a tangled web of lies. It won’t.
I’m also now holding out hopes for a sequel, where Freud analyzes the wonderful modernist poet H.D. Can I suggest Noomi Rapace as H.D.? Would that not be wonderful?
*And by “everyone who reads this blog,” I mean the lovely CIA agents whose job it is to monitor all internet activity. Hi guys! Thanks for protecting us from the forces of evil! (and darkness. I also appreciate your protection from the forces of darkness)
Quick Stats on the Movie:
Passes the Bechdel test: YES! Right near the end of the movie, when Spielrein and Emma Jung discuss Spielrein’s career and their children. The movie also takes a surprisingly long time to pass the reverse Bechdel – not until Freud and Jung meet do we have a male-male interaction. It’s another sign of how this movie isn’t just about the men, which is lovely.
Presence of non-white characters: Absolutely not. Argh. Then again, it is turn-of-the century Europe, so the lack of POC makes some sense. But… still.