Tag Archives: josh hartnett

Mozart and the Whale

“People with Asperger’s want contact with other people very much; we’re just pathetically clueless at it, that’s all”. (Donald Morton)

Mozart and the Whale is a 2005 film directed by Petter Næss and starring Josh Hartnett and Radha Mitchel. It’s based on a true story of two people with Asperger’s syndrome and their relationship.

Asperger’s syndrome is a form of a high-functional autism. It’s been somewhat popularized in media and pop culture in the last decade or so. Media image of the Asperger’s syndrome might easily lead to to the romanticisation or “othering” of people with Asperger’s. That’s why any film about characters with Asperger’s is dealing with a sensitive subject to say the least.

As a peace of art, Mozart and the Whale fails miserably. It’s a cross between a drama and a romantic comedy… and it doesn’t work that way. As if they tried their best to make this into a romantic comedy with quirky characters, but something went bad along the way. This is not just me: it’s been reported that there was some serious Executive Meddling, which resulted the director and the cast being quite unhappy with the final version. We can only hope to see the director’s cut.

Still, there are some excellent, brilliant things in Mozart and the Whale, which make you want to see the director’s cut even more badly. The characters are romanticized to an extend, but in a way, they are quite real, especially Donald Morton, an educated man with talent for numbers who works as a cab driver (it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find – and keep – a better paying job, and in first minutes of the film we learn it’s difficult for him to keep any job, period). He shares his apartment with 6 Cockatiel parrot. The flat is unkempt to say the least, because he never throws anything away, and moving things or cleaning the house makes him anxious. The finds comfort in numbers (to the exaggerated “magic ability” to instantly multiply and divide huge numbers).

He runs a small help-group for people with various mental conditions, and Isabelle is the new member. She has Asperger’s, too, but she is quite different than the shy, introverted Donald. She is loud, has obnoxious laugh, says inappropriate things (often involving sex) and can’t stand the sound of clinking metal.

So, they meet and their “getting to know each other” scenes provide most of the emotion in the film. After that, the film feels quite rushed (the film is too short to adequately portray the whole story arc: them moving in together, finding a decent job for Donald, their difficulties and fights, accepting each other – and themselves – the way they are). But there are so many sweet scenes that can be watched over and over again, so Mozart and the Whale is not a waste of time.

The best aspect of the film is, believe it or not, Josh Hartnett as Donald Morton. What he did with the character is unbelievable. It would be seen as a great performance for anybody, but for a pretty boy that didn’t seem more talented than Keanu Reeves on a bad day, it’s quite unbelievable. Josh Hartnett’s performance is far away from being perfect in technical sense, and it seems to be played on instinct more than careful preparation.

But it’s obvious he put a significant effort and dedication into this role, like no other before. Maybe the role just suited him, but he was so good you forget it’s him and it makes it seem you’re watching someone else… Or, in my case, that you’re watching yourself. There are as many ways Asperger’s syndrome can manifest itself as there are people with Asperger’s, but I could sure relate to this one (even though I don’t have the syndrome in strict sense of the word).

Sadly, the aforementioned executive meddling made Josh Hartnett refuse to promote the movie, which is a shame, because it’s worth a watch, and it’s a film in which he finally proves he’s not just a talentless heart throb, and that he can actually act. And be convincing. And everything that acting truly is.

I definitely recommend Mozart and the Whale, but I am not sure who’d love this film. Many people with Asperger’s seem to like it. But other than that, this isn’t light enough to be a romantic comedy, and is not too well structured to be taken seriously as a drama. So it makes Mozart and the Whale somewhat unfitting for anybody. But there are still good elements, great elements, so I truly recommend this movie. I know it made me feel good and it made me re-watch it, and it made me appreciate Josh Hartnett as an actor. And that’s not an easy thing to do.

Links:

Mozart and the Whale on IMDb
Review at WrongPlanet (online resource and community for Autism and Asperger’s)

Objectifying men

Note: Images are clickable

Men are usually seen as the worst offenders when it comes to objectifying, and it’s not like they don’t engage in objectifying women, sometimes to the scary degrees.

However, women are quite able to do the same, and it often goes both ways. They often objectify themselves (and other women), as well as men. Those who think women rarely do it or that it’s a relatively new phenomena don’t really think about what objectification really means.

In short, to objectify a person means to see her, or him, as an object that can be in some way useful to you. What it means to be useful varies, and is not strictly related to sexual aspect, though it often is, when it comes to inter-gender objectifying.

It makes you fail to see another human being as a person in a full sense of the word. Even if you do understand they are fully human, you still don’t… really care. All you care is your benefit: this individual’s personality, hopes, dreams and needs become irrelevant.

Objectifying for security

Historically, the most common way women used to objectify men is to see them as providers and supporters. The more money and success the guy had, the better. Who he was as an individual was irrelevant. This sort of objectifying exists to this day. So even women who have careers and are capable of providing for themselves will often value rich men, or men with better careers and success higher than the nice guys with great personalities who don’t posses material wealth or success. Yes, this is objectifying.

Is raw objectification possible for women?

And there’s, of course, another form of objectification: the straightforward sexual objectification, in which an individual is seen as a mere object of your sexual desire. Women do this, too. In the same raw, straightforward manner men do to women.

Some people say it can NEVER be the same thing, because of the whole gender imbalance: not matter how unfair women are, they still don’t have the same power as men, and they can never do as much harm; and plus, they’ve suffered so much historically. Also, due to double sexual standards, it can never be the same thing. A man who is objectified is never so dehumanized as an objectified woman. Etc, etc.

It is true that women are still oppressed on so many levels, and that men still have more power. Still, on an individual level, doing a bad thing is, well, doing a bad thing. And women are sure not immune to objectification.

Is it harmful?

One thing that need to be discussed (but it’s not the subject if this post) is whether objectification is as harmful as people claim it to be. Of course, taken to extremes, it is one of the ways to dehumanize people. But it’s also somewhat unavoidable. After all, what is sexual attraction if not a basic objectification? Isn’t certain (unconscious) objectification instinctive?

So yes, on a certain level, it might not be harmful at all. But it often turns into a mechanism of oppression and dehumanization, and that is a bad thing. Women know very well how it works. They all know what is like not to be seen as a subject, a whole human, but an object seen through a male gaze. They all know what is like to have your own values measured by how men find you attractive.

Raw sexual objectification and women

The thing is, women are equally capable of doing the same thing. Due to historical gender imbalance- and double sexual standards- it sometimes seem that women are “above that”. Wrong. Women are capable of thinking pure sexual thoughts, and they can objectify men just as easily.

It often goes to the simple “seeing a man as a sexual object”. His thoughts, beliefs, character, integrity- anything that makes him a human being- are irrelevant. Even his sexual needs are irrelevant. All that matters is how a person doing the objectification sees him.

Plus, due to double standards, women have no guilt over doing this. In fact, some women find it quite empowering. Women go into great detail describing (or thinking) about a man’s physical features that they find arousing, and they’ll fantasize about all sorts of sexual stories involving the guy. They also transfer some of it to reality, so they pay more attention to attractive males, while ignoring or ridiculing the ones that they don’t find as attractive. And let’s not even mention the short guys. They don’t exist, for all we care, right?

However, this objectification is still shaped by double standards that make women embarrassed about openly expressing their sexuality. That’s why their way of objectification takes an unique form.

Usually, it presents itself in a form of focusing to more than the guy’s physical appearance. So the women will emphasize the man’s other qualities, for example, how nice he is as a person, or how great he is at what he does. You can see it with celebrities: many women lusting after a hot actor will point out how nice and great person he is. As if they know him. But don’t be fooled: it’s all down to simple objectifying, really.

Teenage sexual fantasies

Another very popular example offer teenage fangirls (a subject that deserves its own post). Teenage female fans are good for studying objectification, because they are quite honest (they are pretty straight about what they like), but are also already indoctrinated with double standards so they can’t express what they feel in straight terms.

While 14 or 15 year old boys know quite well why they like an actress with huge breasts, fantasies of their female counterparts appear to be more romantic and complex. They want to go on a romantic date with Robert Pattinson. They want to marry him. They want to go on a tropic adventure where they have to solve the mystery of ancient gold, escape world class criminals and fall in love.

But essentially, it’s all down to one simple thing: they want to bang him, hard. But they are not allowed to say it that way, because 14 year old girls are not supposed to be sexual beings. That’s why they develop their (sometimes rather unhealthy) obsession with actors and musicians (instead of simply taking them as sex fantasies, like boys of their age do with their celebrity crushes). That’s why the only way they can write about sex and men they’re obsessed with is through slash fan fiction. It’s not the coincidence, I think, that most writers of slash fanfiction are heterosexual teenage girls. Because you seem less sexual if you write about members of your favourite band having sex with each other than with you.

Empowering… Or shallow?

Simply put, women are quite capable of objectifying men. And many, who get quite mad about men objectifying women, do that without any guilt. I suspect many don’t even realize what they’re doing when they want to watch a movie in which their favourite actor spends suspicious amount of screen time shirtless.

Because female sexuality can never be so raw and strong and simple like male sexuality, right?

The Virgin Suicides: A Masterpiece?

I admit, calling it “a masterpiece” might be an overstatement. But this book sure surprised me with its style, beauty and that ethereal feeling you get whenever you truly lose yourself in a book. And sadly, that doesn’t happen to me often. I guess a book needs to be truly special to make me feel that way.

I am, obviously, quite late to the party. “The Virgin Suicides” novel was popular a long time ago and I have no idea why I never bothered to read it. I guess the “suicide” in the title made it seem depressing. But my husband (who’s read a few passages) recommended it with the words: “this guy writes like you, the same style and all”.

Needless to say, it’s not true in strict sense of the words, but I understand why he said that. What I loved about the novel is not what Eugenides said, but how he said it. The book isn’t perfect technically, but in a way, it makes it even better. And Jeffrey Eugenides sure knows how to write.

The story about the Lisbon sisters, their suicides, the boys who were obsessed with them and changing of suburbia could have been told in numerous ways, but he chose the one that makes it seem not just original, but also the only possible way to tell it. And that speaks volumes about his writing.

What I find fascinating is the fact it’s written in freaking first person plural – and it doesn’t sound annoying, pretentious or confusing at all. It just fits. It fits perfectly. It fits perfectly because the book isn’t really about the Lisbon sisters, or why they killed themselves, but about the boys and their coming of age, and this suburban life that is slowly dying, never to be the same again. Some critics claim the boys serve as a Greek chorus, but I am not quite sure if I buy that. I’d rather say it’s one of the cases of a “hidden” main character, where protagonists are not the same as narrators. But at the end of the day, it is the book about the boys, and it sure makes you (well, me) understand teenage boys better.

And not to mention one of the most captivating characters in contemporary literature: Trip Fontaine. Ok, I might be biased here, because I am insanely jealous of Eugenides for creating this memorable character with so little words. The name itself is perfect; perfect name for such a character (how come I can’t think of something like that?) What is interesting to note is that Trip doesn’t appear in the book that much at all, but still feels like a prominent character. Many writers before Eugenides have written, and many will yet write, trying to give a mesmerizing portrayal of a teenage heartthrob, but people will still remember Trip Fontaine. Now, that’s writing.

The book is in no way perfect, but that’s a good thing. There are some technical “errors”, but they only make it seem less planned, like a real memory.

The movie

Naturally (?) after reading the book, I wanted to see the film. They say movies always disappoint, but I am usually prepared for it. Sofia Coppola’s movie didn’t disappoint, because I wasn’t expecting much. In a way, it is a sweet and poignant film. I didn’t find it to be slow or confusing, as some people claim.

Sofia Coppola took a great effort in keeping most of the little details that make book so striking: the bracelets, poking smoke rings, Lux’s underwear with “Trip” written on it, brown-and white saddle shoes, and so many others. That is something contemporary filmmakers rarely do and I respect her for that.

Still, she somehow managed to make a movie that has all the details, but completely missing the mood, feel and (dare to say) point of the novel. I have no idea how she’s done it, but that’s how it is. She gave us a visually beautiful film, but for some reason it never really felt like a good adaptation of the book.

I guess it’s because she chose to focus on the girls more than the boys. It’s not that I don’t understand this decision; I guess it’s difficult to tell the story from the boys’ POV. Still, focusing on the Lisbon sisters, and showing so many of their lives inside the house, with each other and their parents, killed much of the mystery about the sisters. We got to see them as nothing more but a regular teenagers with strict parents, and we are unable to understand boys’ obsession with them. I think it wasn’t the best move.

The casting was fairly good, despite the fact I – not sure how to put this gracefully – can’t stand Kirsten Dunst. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. But I usually find her unwatchable. Needless to say, I didn’t find her to be a convincing Lux (I think she would make a good Bonnie, though), but she wasn’t bad. I sure didn’t imagine Mr and Mrs Lisbon as James Woods and Kathleen Turner, but they were good.

The only casting choice I am not so sure about is Josh Hartnett as Trip Fontaine. The problem with Trip is that he’s never described, so you can picture him anyway you want, and I sure didn’t picture him as Josh Hartnett. I mean… The guy can’t really act, can he? * Right. But I must reluctantly admit he made a good Trip Fontaine; you could imagine girls (and mothers?) falling for someone like him. And his performance was decent, so I wouldn’t say it was a bad casting choice.

* In Hatnett’s defense, he did give at least one good performance in his career. I’ve watched “Mozart and the Whale” recently, and he was quite good as a guy with Asperger’s. So maybe he’s not completely talentless after all. And now that he’s getting older (and less hot?) he might try to become a real actor and not a joke he used to be (*cough* Pearl Harbour *cough* – yes, I pretend that one never happened, too).

All in all, the movie was visually beautiful, but it didn’t impress me. I just don’t find it to be a good adaptation of the novel: it fails to capture its essence, while at the same time it’s way too dependent on the novel to stand on its own.