Tag Archives: mozart and the whale

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)

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.