March 25, 2010

When Precious Met Alice (Kind of a Movie Review)

Went to see the new Alice in Wonderland movie—3-D, IMAX. Guess you could say I’ve joined the twenty-first century…or the psychedelic era. Hell, the movie cost more than I used to pay to see Grateful Dead shows…with some similarities.

Beyond trippy visuals, though, the movie doesn’t offer much chance for expanded consciousness, with the original’s celebrated wealth of joyfully absurdist poetry sucked out of the story in favor of drably conventional Hollywood fantasy adventure…surrealistic pillows given way to cheesy swords…any feints toward poetic madness rapidly contracted, shriveled and shrunken away with lameass explanations for anything in danger of expanding the viewer’s imaginative scope. The Mad Hatter gets turned into a boring action hero, for chrissake…like Mel Gibson with Carrot Top’s hairstylist.

All in all, the movie’s more C. S. Lewis than Lewis Carroll…if more liberal-minded….a grown-up Alice making the story a bit less Victorian-pervy, more modern-day female-empowerment—as such, offering, I guess, a better role model for my young nieces than the standard Hollywood princess shrinking away dreaming of a handsome prince/sexy vampire…but that’s not saying much.

One pill makes you larger, one pill makes you small
Grace Slick

If not for concerns about subject matter leaving them permanently traumatized, I’d be more likely to recommend sending the kids to see Precious*. Hell, having read Sapphire’s Push a decade ago, didn’t know if I was ready for it. But, flying from San Jose, Costa Rica to George Bush International, Houston…relaxed and flexible from a week of yoga on the beach…if not enough to make a coach seat comfortable enough to concentrate on reading for three and a half hours…but leaving mind relatively open and non-depressed…had a little TV on the seat-back in front of me with fifty-something cinematic pills to choose from…and decided to go for it.

As it turns out, the movie only vaguely implies at least one of the novel’s more horrifying aspects, but, be assured, there are lots more where that came from in a harrowing portrayal of a young woman, Precious, the likes of whom most of us would prefer to ignore…trapped in a rabbit hole of poverty, neglect, rape, incest, illiteracy, and AIDS…told she’s stupid and worthless by a mother who treats her as little more than an object to be used and abused…grown huge on junk food, disappearing inside.

`I can’t help it,’ said Alice very meekly: `I’m growing.’
`You’ve no right to grow here,’ said the Dormouse.
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland (not in the movie)

And yet, the movie’s ultimately about growth…kinda like yoga**…finding possibilities for expansion in unexpected places***…that sacred something remaining…no matter how fucked up and hopeless-seeming a person might appear on the surface…and the importance of having the compassion to see that something even in people it’d be easier not to have to see at all.****

I am large. I contain multitudes
Walt Whitman

Near the end, Precious’ mother***** gives a monologue…revealing, even more than before, just how toxic she is to her daughter…and, probably, to just about anyone else likely to come in contact with her…but, also, the far more difficult truth that, in the end, she’s another desperately wounded human being, so twisted and lost in her damaged mind it’s hard to imagine how she could find peace…but one of us, nonetheless, if we can only grow big enough to acknowledge her.

* Now available on DVD.

** It should be mentioned that Gabourey Sibide, who plays the title character, says she hates yoga…would like to stab it, even….though I suspect that has more to do with airbrushed mass-marketed images than core philosophies…

*** Hell, it turns out Mariah Carey can act…who could’ve imagined that?

**** On an earlier version of this review at Yoga for Cynics, insightful blogger friend Brooks commented it sounds like Precious’s victory over her circumstances is preferable for you because she walks forward as a warrior goddess with her imperfections. And Alice’s imperfections of circumstance are shed for a fantasy of power and wealth….to which I say ummm…yeah…exactly).

***** Played by Mo’Nique…representing one of the rare instances in which I actually agreed with Oscar (though, if I had my way, Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep would win practically every year) (then, if I reallyhad my way, I’d probably be married to Cate Blanchett…but, anyway…).

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