Erring People In The Movie, “The Eel”

The Eel (film)

The Eel (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Eel (1997), a Japanese film by Shohei Imamura, adapted from a story, centers on two sinners trying to find peace.  One is a man, Yamashita (Koji Yakusho), the other a woman, Keiki (Misa Shimizu).  Keiki, who attempts suicide over a romantic attachment to a married man, comes to love Yamashita, but he keeps his emotional distance from her.  Possibly this is because Yamashita was habitually unforgiving of his wife until, after discovering her adultery one day, he murdered her.  Now an ex-con, he is coming to grips with his clear iniquity.

Pretty Keiki is a pleasant, conventional young woman, and before the murder Yamashita was a quite conventional man, and thereby the film indicates how, sometimes, conventional people are motivated to dreadful extremes.

The ex-con, as it turns out, is now rather odd.  He has made a beloved pet of an eel, and there is symbolic weight here.  For one thing, the male eel is a creature of certain sacrifice, and Yamashita proves to be this too.  This is done for Keiki’s sake:  the two sinners looking for peace finally have chaos thrust upon them, and only a particular gesture will eliminate it.  It begins to seem as though there will be no peace for Yamashita and Keiki, but we would have to consider ourselves presumptuous for believing such a thing.

Its finish hopeful, The Eel is an impressive picture.


Nice Is “The Good Fairy”


Cover of "The Good Fairy"

Cover of The Good Fairy

Ferenc Molnar probably wrote a delightful play when he wrote The Good Fairy, since it was turned into a delightful 1935 movie by William Wyler.  With cool subtlety Margaret Sullavan (once married to Wyler) enacts a friendly, callow girl raised in an orphanage and encouraged there to practice good deeds.  She does one, willy-nilly, for a professional man (Herbert Marshall), a lawyer whose integrity is sadly losing him money.  But to accomplish this, Sullavan’s “good fairy” has to lie to a love-hungry CEO (Frank Morgan), who is generous enough to bestow wealth on the man he believes to be Sullavan’s husband—the lawyer.

Both men are needy in their own way, albeit Sullavan, or Luisa Ginglebuscher (her character’s name), can help only one of them.  The CEO is privileged regardless, and it impresses that the film does something many modern-age people would disdain.  It looks through a positive lens at “men of privilege.”  Yes, the lawyer is poor but, as an educated man, he could gain privilege—and wealth—at any time.  And he does.

A true artist, Preston Sturges, wrote the screenplay for Fairy, and even though it isn’t one of his “personal” works, no doubt he understood what Molnar was doing.

Seriously Cheeky: The Movie, “A Serious Man”

A film by the Coen Brothers, A Serious Man (2009) begins with a prologue, set many decades ago, in which a Jewish peasant woman believes the man her husband has been speaking with is a ghost.  After he comes to the couple’s home, the woman coldly stabs him, expecting the man to be unharmed; but he isn’t.  Seemingly he starts bleeding from the wound, inducing the husband to assert that now the couple are “ruined.”  Are they?  Is the man not a ghost?  Has terrible fortune descended?

Then the movie jumps ahead to the mid-Sixties and concentrates on Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), another Jewish man, a physics teacher living in a prosperous America.  But he starts living unhappily.  Pains and burdens are mounting, and just as serious questions were raised by the prologue, they are raised by the footage of Larry’s experiences.  What is the cosmic purpose for his suffering?  Is he not morally good enough to be happy?  Problems arise for Larry’s family too, though they’re not as intense as those for Larry.  The entire family, like other characters in the film, are markedly Jewish, for the Jews, the Coens impart, are people with problems.  Are there multiple ghosts who have cursed them?

A Serious Man jeers at people and has no trust in Life or Fate.  Regrettably, it is a trifle too cheeky and mocking to be wholly appealing; but it’s a funny and involving tragic farce all the same.  Its cast is sophisticated, with a Stuhlbarg who’s very good at befuddlement and, well, everything else.

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