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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove is a feel-good Swedish comedy that sidles up to the very serious problem of unassimilating immigrants from the Middle East — and the Swedes’ increasing fear of them — then sappily slinks away, toothless.  
Ove’s community of townhouses is a miniature of the regimented Swedish welfare state. Though deposed as board chair, Ove angrily continues to enforce the regulations. Rather than helping his neighbours, Ove refuses their requests and prefers vigilante law-enforcement.  
The film’s central thrust is to discover the tragedy that created this bitter, selfish, righteous jerk. At the end, Ove not only abandons his own isolation but organizes the entire community to thwart the institutional attempt to take away his paralyzed old friend/enemy Rune.  
The flashbacks reveal Ove to have been a promising, solitary, nervous young man. He lost his mother as a boy, saw his father killed by a train while bragging about Ove’s report card and stumbled into a marriage with the beautiful, smart Sonja. A bus crash aborts their child and leaves Sonja paralyzed. When she dies of cancer, Ove is encrusted with rage.  
If Sonja seems too good a catch for the unpromising Ove, her later career as a special needs teacher suggests she intuits potential others don’t. Even Ove doesn’t know his own continuing value, as his failures at suicide reveal. Hence neighbour Parvaneh’s conclusion: “You’re amazingly crap at dying.”  
Parvaneh is the film’s crucial center: a pregnant Persian who fled Iran, married an affable but clumsy Swede and just became Ove’s neighbour. Ove initially rages against the new family’s incompetence, ignorance of the community’s laws and rowdiness. He’s warmed into accepting them. Their interchange represents traditional Sweden’s encounter with immigrants from the Middle East.  
But this immigrant is a heavily sentimentalized soft-focus version of the immigration that is rupturing Sweden. Parvaneh is the idealized immigrant, with her two lovable Persian children to thaw Ove’s heart, her tasty Persian cooking, her eagerness to join and to enjoy her new community.She's not an obvious Muslim. She's learning to drive. Director Hannes Holm’s point is that this Other, an immigrant from that very different culture, is no threat to Sweden’s traditional virtues but an opportunity for their renewal. 
This simplification undermines film’s exhortation to embrace the immigrant. Because Sweden’s threat is not from anyone like Parvanah, the domesticated, safe form of the Other, but from the violent jihadists and rapists that impose their old culture’s values instead of accepting those of their new land. So the film does not really treat with the issue as it is problematically occurring but plays it in a much simpler, easier form. In sentimentalizing the immigrant the film ignores the real issue it purports to address. 
This sentimentalizing pervades the film. As if Parvanah’s two little daughters were not enough to register Ove’s revived feeling, he first confronts and threatens, then eventually adopts and sleeps with yet another Persian — the stray cat.   
So, too, the running joke about Ove’s passionate commitment to the Saab automobile brand. That traditional value he inherited from his father. Its advantage is another metaphor for independent or stasis: its mechanism does not require the propeller rod others do. 
If brand preference is a minor difference, here it balloons. Ove clashes with his kindred Rune for preferring the Volvo. The men’s deepening hostility reflects in their graduation to higher models in their respective brands. Then Rune does the indefensible: embracing the German. When Ove rails against the German and the French cars, the film satirizes jingoism and belligerent nationalism as lightly and as safely as it did the issue of immigration. 
     This very engaging, pleasant and reassuring film is fine — except for occupying the space and time that would have been better invested in a serious treatment of the issue it cites but evades. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

In addition to being arguably the most dramatic, spectacular and entertaining of the King Kong films, Kong:Skull Island is of special interest as an historical document. As any remake or sequel should, the film inflects the original material to express its current times. As the original Kong expressed the Depression anxieties this one reflects America’s post-Nam anxieties. 
The opening credits play against a montage of newsreel clips from the 1940s to the 1970s. That summarizes the social and political changes since the original King Kong film, where the beast was conquered by the beauty, Fay Wray (or as I always say, “Fay Wray from Cardston Alberta”). That Kong sniffed that helpless lady’s underwear. The new one softens to her facial caress and rallies to save her life, both by conquering the greater evil monster and by rescuing her from drowning.   
The film is set in the wake of the Vietnam war. That allows for some Credence Clearwater Revival and “White Rabbit” on the soundtrack, always good for the pulse, and a filial homage to Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. The Conrad and Marlow surnames evoke the latter film’s source, Heart of Darkness. The music also includes David Bowie, Ziggy Pop, etc.,  and works up and back to close on Vera Lynn’s 1940s ditty, “We’ll Meet Again.” These allusions provide a literary and musical history that parallels the political one in the film. Acknowledging the battle-lines have changed, the American heroes' team includes Asian scientist.
The WW II leftover Hank Marlow functions like a time machine, having been isolated from his civilization for 30 years. He brings the Vera Lynn climax into the score, suggesting that history is a continuous cycle of wars, separations, reunions. The film’s first post-script is his magical reunion with his faithful wife and son, set apart from the main film as a small home movie. 
The second surveys the range of threatening unnatural monsters that populate our film world because they inhabit our minds. That is, they embody our primal fears as shaped by our own insecurities and our historical suffering and insecurity. Thus Hiroshima begat Godzilla, Motha, and that crew. That’s why Marlow names the subterranean dragons “Skull Crawlers” and why Kong rules over Skull Island. These monsters are creatures of our imagination, projections from our fears.  
The two senior army men are a contrast in sensitivity and humanity. Marlow has lived with the primitive tribe for so long he understands them — and they him — without speech. Marlow (here as in the Conrad novel) is the understanding mediator between the two cultures. These people’s closeness to their land is imaged when the camouflaged soldiers emerge from the walls. Marlow persuades the heroes Conrad and anti-war photographer Mason Weaver to save Kong because that is Kong’s territory. He justly rules it. Moreover, the island, its people, indeed the whole world, would be imperilled by the underground dragons, were Kong unable to continue their suppression. 
In contrast, the army captain Preston Packard is the pathological fighter, determined to murder any Other in his path, determined to continue any murderous cycle to the end. Hence his mode of persuasion: "You are going to tell me everything that I should know... or I blow you away.” Hence his delusion of insight: “I know an enemy when I see one.” He tries to stare down his monster enemies. Sad. He denies losing the Vietnam war: “We abandoned it.” He won’t leave this one however apocalyptic its conclusion. Fortunately the dragon chows down on him before he can blow up Kong. 
The two monsters whose battle royal provides the film’s climax parallel the recent politics especially in the Middle East. Bill Randa’s stubborn — and crooked — campaign to avenge his earlier loss recalls Dubya’s campaign against Hussein (“That man tried to kill my daddy”). Yes, “monsters exist,” but they really may be the hunters of the putative monsters. 
This film’s initial war is against the villain Kong. But his apparent, temporary defeat only unleashes the greater evil from the deep, the big dragon. The contemporary lesson is clear. If you don’t understand the alien culture don’t act as if you do. For then, erase one evil threat, such as, say, Hussein, and you only unleash a greater one, i.e. ISIS. Contemporary world politics needs a more sophisticated understanding. 
     As well, Kong’s importance to his island’s people is a corrective to the usual American presuming to determine what another people need and want. Marlow teaches Conrad and Weaver to respect Kong as part of the alien culture, of which they have no understanding but which has as much right as they to survive and live their own way. Hence the recurring “We don’t belong here.” The King Kong story has always been a parable about colonialism. The present drama of American righteousness, ignorance and belligerence continues that tradition. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Logan

Wolverine’s valedictory places him in the mainstream of American mythology. He’s the gifted outlaw whose power is needed by the civilized society, so they can survive against less principled baddies. But his power and his accumulated guilt mean he can never settle down there. Society may sometimes need the gun but must shun it. NRA and puppet Trump take note.
That’s the great paradox that troubles America to this day. Civilization pretends to ban violence, but it needs to deploy it to survive. That point makes the classic frontier Western and its later sci-fi spinoff — the outer space frontier western — the primary American myth. In Logan two major quotations establish this theme. 
The end credits play over the old and gravely Johnny Cash’s song of the Day of Judgment, “Hurt.” Cash covered the hit by the — appropriate for this film — Nine Inch Nails. It was part of the ailing Cash’s own valedictory, his dark, melancholy, apocalyptic farewell to this world. 
Earlier, Charles and Laura watch Shane on tv. We see Jack Palance’s evil hired gun bait and slaughter a stupidly proud Southern sodbuster. Then Shane abandons his peacefulness to shoot down that and the other villains. Then Shane explains to young Joey why the gunslinger has to keep moving on. A man is what he is. That whole speech the little mutant girl heroine here recites over Wolverine’s grave. The acrobatic clawed Laura is a world away from her earlier counterpart, innocent Joey.  
Laura is one of the film’s most interesting twists in the Wolverine trilogy. She has been created from Wolverine’s DNA, so she’s had a kind off virgin birth from him. She has the pluck of the Nancy Drew school but the superhuman powers of Wonder Woman. Thus she tacitly personifies the feminist revolution. She proves most effective when she spurns dad’s orders. 
Unlike Shane, Wolverine shows very little attempts to be a man of peace. He’s introduced as hiding his superhuman powers behind the job of driving a rental limo. Like some Uber-mensch. His superpowers he calls a “poison” because it unleashes his animal nature, however virtuous his cause may be.  
     For all its violence and special effects, then, this shoot-n-slice-em-up is still a film of ideas and — in the final farewell — emotion. It’s incidentally a reminder of how dangerous and foolish Trump’s plan for replacing public education with a slew of special interest schools is. It's unnatural to isolate a group of students and narrow their education down to a single, debilitating focus. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

I Am Not Your Negro

The key line is Baldwin’s “History is not about the past. It’s about the present. We carry our history.”
This combination of Samuel Jackson reading Baldwin’s unfinished narrative about three black American martyrs with documentary footage of the times zaps to the heart of the current tragedy of America. What Baldwin perceived in 1960s America continues in spades today. 
He describes America’s two founding races as two blocs ignorant of each other, unable to speak to or to understand each other, locked in a mutual fear — portending war. That summarizes our current warring snarl of Republicans and Non-Republicans, the Trumps and their threatened opposition. 
Here is one of Baldwin’s key perceptions: “What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place. Because I'm not a nigger; I'm a man. But if you think I'm a nigger, it means you need it.” That is, why do Americans need to conjure an enemy within?
In post-Obama neo-racist America, that remains the crux. Add one refinement. The paranoid murderous oppressive class is the same. But add the Latino, Muslim and ever-reliable scapegoat Jew to the Negro as the monster of the white man’s imagination.  
Baldwin looked beyond race for the crux of America’s continuing nightmare. He saw mainstream America as pursuing an unsatisfying set of values. Consumerism, materialism and deluded pretences to freedom and democracy have failed to provide the profound contentment and self-acceptance they crave. Feeling victimized, insecure, empty, they seek out an enemy among themselves on whom to blame the inadequacy of their lives.  
The film is as shocking and terrifying as any horror. The1950s savagery that we thought we had outgrown is back. Trump’s looming voucher system for schools will revive the vampire segregation, to perpetuate the underclass’s disadvantages. The economy, the climate, the water, national health and safety will all be sacrificed to increase the white power’s profits. The fear and hatred of the Other, whether in hue or national origin, has already been trickling down from Trump’s diatribes to the playgrounds and besieged borders, synagogues and mosques.
And here is the most frightening point. All this destruction, all this inhumanity to man, is facilitated if not actually initiated and inflicted by America’s institutions of government. To see the Republican congressmen smiling and nodding at Trump’s empty anodynes and lies in his State of the Union address is to realize how the government majority in both houses supports and advances his prejudice and hatred. We still have an attorney general who was disqualified from lower justice appointments because of his racism — and has since been exposed as a perjurer to boot. The oppressive government holds as strangling a grip on America’s persecuted citizens now as it had in Jim Crow. 

     Worse still: even had everyone in America watched this film the Electoral College’s final verdict would have been the same. Trump’s so-called presidency is the symptom of a national disease — eloquently diagnosed by the prescient as well as perceptive James Baldwin.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Almodovar's Julieta -- Adapting Alice Munro

Almodovar based his Julieta on three short stories from Alice Munro’s 2004 collection Runaway. “Chance,” “Soon” and “Silence” form a sequence centered on part-time Classics teacher Juliet. The stories provide the film’s central plot and central themes. 
In “Chance” Juliet has the dramatic train experience, meeting and rejecting the man who then kills himself.  She meets the Xaon figure, here Eric, the fisherman with the invalid wife and artist friend Christa. Juliet seeks out his home where she meets the sinister housekeeper. Juliet and Eric fall in love and have a daughter, Penelope. Christa’s art here is painted driftwood, with no single piece presented as closely or as resonantly as Ava’s clay-painted bronze. The story ends on the mention of the women’s “ironic flickering of a submerged rivalry” (p. 86) which will later erupt in both works. 
In “Soon” Juliet brings her infant daughter to visit her parents, the invalid Sara and teacher turned gardener Sam, with his useful helper Irene. Almodovar dropped Sam’s and Irene’s respective backstories, as they are outside his present focus. Munro’s Irene leaves Sam before Sara’s death, whereupon he remarries and moves away. Almodovar also dropped  the minister’s home visit in which he and Juliet debated faith. The title comes from Sara’s ensuing expression of her personal faith: “When it gets really bad for me…. I think — Soon. Soon I’ll see Juliet” (p. 124). Later Juliet rues her failure to have responded to this outreach. Those omissions suggest Almodovar preferred to examine guilt, remorse and acceptance on the individual, personal level, outside the context of religion. 
Munro alludes to a resonant artwork in this story — a print of Chagall’s I and the Village — which Juliet buys because it reminds her of the one her parents had. The work relates to Sam’s decision not to leave his small-minded community and to the spiritual element that infuses even the simplest of everyday life. Almodovar’s Freud painting is the dramatic antithesis.
“Silence” completes the sequence and the film. Juliet is irate at Eric’s betrayal with Christa, which leads to his death in the storm. Munro outlines Penelope’s friendship with Heather — both older than in the film — but not the fervid conclusion Almodovar added, making the daughter more complex in both her needs and her character. He keeps the retreat and her disappearance from Juliet’s life. He makes Juliet’s last lover, Gary/Lorenzo, a far more substantial and passionate man, giving Julieta a fuller life. 
Munro leaves her Juliet mildly hoping for some word from her daughter, “as people who know better hope for undeserved blessings, spontaneous remissions, things of that sort” (p. 159). Almodovar provides a happier ending. Julieta gets a card from her daughter with her address, tacitly inviting a visit. But the happy ending is not a cheap overlay. The drowning death of her own son teaches the younger mother to forgive and to accept her own. After 12 years of silence the daughter can’t bring herself to make an explicit invitation. Almodovar’s close is as emotionally and psychologically complex as Munro’s.   


* Quotations are from Alice Munro, Runaway (2004; Penguin edition 2005).

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Julieta

In the first scene Julieta packs in bubble wrap a clay-brown sculpture, which becomes perhaps the film’s key symbol. As we later learn, it’s a bronze sculpture by Ava, the artist friend of Julieta’s love Xoan. 
This very modern abstraction of a “primitive” seated male figure is marked by three inflections. The penis rampant is abruptly truncated exposing a hole. A Lynn Chadwick-style triangle replaces the head, rendering the human into an abstraction. It emphasizes the rational and impersonal. The terracotta surface makes the figure seem pre-Colombian and light. But under the clay colour finish Ava has cast her human figure in bronze — to protect it from blowing away and breaking.
The first of those two details summarizes the central romantic relationship. When Julieta first meets and makes love to Xoan he has a comatose wife. When Julieta comes to him in his seaside home the wife has just died, so their new romance flourishes. But the triangle persists. Xoan still has occasional sex with his longtime friend Ava. As Julieta’s last lover, Lorenzo, is also Ava’s friend she can’t escape the triangular relationship. That sculpture adorns the cover of Lorenzo’s book. 
The heavy bronze covered with flesh-like clay encapsulates Almodovar’s sense of the human condition here. Clay is the source of the flesh, soft, vulnerable to the elements, especially to the wind. But to survive, it needs an additional core of strength and substance. 
While the metallic is conventionally the emblem of a non-feeling, unemotional character, here the core embodies the strength that enables individuals and relationships to survive — the capacity to love and to remain committed across years of separation and misunderstanding. Thus Xoan maintains an integral commitment to both Ava and Julieta, as her father does to his helpless wife and to the girl hired to care for her. Lorenzo remains in love with Julieta despite her rejection when she decides to stay in Madrid to try to find her daughter Antia, after their 12-year alienation.
Julieta’s three men form a non-romantic triangle. Xoan and her father form her base: heavy muscular men with beards and a commitment to life in the elements, her father choosing to become a farmer and Xoan already a fisherman. In contrast Lorenzo is cerebral, academic, bald, in her maturity a refuge from her earlier men. 
The train passenger whose suicide haunts Julieta has the academic mien of Lorenzo and the hirsute force of Xoan and her father. The stranger has the other three men’s loneliness but having failed to find their connection of love takes the train —with emptiness as his luggage — to kill himself. The other men survive their losses because they have the bronze core of love given and received. The suicide is like empty fragile clay.
Yet the film escapes any feeling of abstract schema. Xoan dies in wind and water. He storms off to fish when Julieta confronts him with his betrayal with Ava. That is, one’s emotional life may give one the stability and purpose with which to survive. But even it cannot ward off the accidents and cruelties of fate that the flesh is air to. Xoan is broken into pieces by the wind and water but Julieta identifies him by his tattoo with her and their Antia’s initials. His death, like his love, brings Julieta and Ava together. They jointly pour Xoan’s ashes back into the sea.  
The film’s most enigmatic figure is Antia. We watch her from infancy into maturity but we share Julieta’s loss of connection when she goes off to her spiritual retreat. When she learns what drove her father off to the storm she blames her mother and Ava for his death. Then she blames herself for having been enjoying herself at the summer camp when he died. The bronze in this human figure is the oppressive lead of guilt, which all three women have to work to transcend. On this point the clay signifies the constructive reminder of human vulnerability, helplessness, especially in the twisting fortunes of love. 
Before Antia turns against her mother she turns against her first best friend Bea. This new friendship kept Antia at camp and took her to her friend’s home in Madrid, prolonging the period before she learns of her father’s death. Antia makes Julieta move to Madrid to be closer to Bea. But as we learn, Antia’s friendship/love eventually grew so oppressive Bea fled her to America. That’s when Anita retreated from their friendship.
Despite her anger Antia keeps some connection to her mother, sending a fanciful birthday card. For her part, Julieta marks her daughter’s birthday by dumping a birthday cake into the trash three years running. Only when she has married, had three children and lost the oldest to drowning does Antia realize — by experience — what her mother suffered when Xoan died. That loss, that discovery of her own vulnerability, gives Antia the strengthened core to write her mother and provide her own address, tacitly inviting the imminent visit that ends the film.  
Ava’s sculpture — provided by Miquel Navarro — is not the only resonant artwork in the film. The walls and counters abound with pieces that help define the characters. Most are bright, highly coloured works that reflect the characters’ joy in love. But a dense Lucien Freud painting of an emotionally riven man, emphasized in the opening scene, casts its chill across the film. 
Bea’s Madrid mansion has darker, more substantial art commensurate with her family’s wealth and station. When Julieta tells Antia of her father’s death they stand before a large Richard Serra painting: a large inky black pours down upon a threatened white space. It’s an image of the mortality and grief that eventually blows us all away, even if we have the capacity to love that carries us through for a while. Antia burrows into her mother’s arms, crying, then turns for refuge and strength to her new little friend Bea.   
Almodovar manages a brilliant transition from the young Antia and Julieta into the older. Numbed by grief, the widow drifts through the life her daughter takes her to. Antia seems to strengthen as she grows to handle her mother’s profound despair. Antia and Bea lift Julieta out if the bathtub and cover her in towels. As Antia rubs her mother’s hidden head she seems to massage her change from the young, loving Julieta to the grief-stricken shadow of her former self. As there is no face on Ava’s human sculpture, Julieta’s transition under the towel is hidden from us as well. 
     This is as profound and sensitive a film as Almodovar has made. He seems to have reined in some of his stylistic exuberance but lost none of his suggestive powers and emotional engagement with his characters and our life.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Paterson

This film is too quiet and uneventful for the conventional film story. This film is a poem. It’s a poem like what bus driver Paterson writes: quotidian images, simple and prosaic, that blossom into a wider but unspecified suggestion of meaning. In general parlance — the image is the light bulb, the poetry the light.
The first poem we watch him write starts with the box of matches beside his breakfast Cheerios. The film teems with matches. The film starts with Laura saying she dreamt of having twins, one for each of them. When he leaves the house he sees two elderly twin men, another match. There are at least two sets of twin girls in the film and a couple of adult twin women. 
In another kind of  match, two guys brag about possible conquests. Two lonely young anarchists are isolated in their idealism. All the little dramas of which Paterson catches snatches in his bus are such matches, individuals connecting. Or splitting, like the couple breaking up in the bar.
Consider all the matches in the one-word title. Paterson is (i) the bus driver, (ii) his home town, (iii) his bus route, (iii) the epic poem by local hero William Carlos Williams, also set there. That poet is here aka Carlo William Carlos, a reversal of the original name, another form of twinning or match. 
The basic match is between the external and the interior life. As Williams explained his objective in his Paterson: "the resemblance between the mind of modern man and the city.” The prosaic New Jersey of Paterson’s world abounds with poetry. Outside a laundromat at night he encounters a rap song in the making, the washer thrumming out the rhythm. A carful of sinister blades produces another rap on dog-jacking. In his neighbourhood bar Paterson encounters the florid “acting” of rejected lover Everett. The bartender's angry wife conjugates “chess tournament” into the threat of “chest tourniquet.”  That’s poetry.
Even the film’s visuals are poetic: prosaic images that resonate into larger moods or themes. A bleak brick wall says “Fire.” The night view of the bar and its plush interior shadows evoke the urban blues. Like the words on the matchbox, the physical details work like a megaphone to project a poetic effect. That’s the essential poetic device of metaphor: a particular evokes something more general. However unpromising Paterson’s world may seem, to the observant, pausing and reflecting eye, it can be poetic. Like the gift of the blank notebook, the ostensibly prosaic world holds limitless opportunity for the responsive imagination.
  The characters also seem to work as figures of speech. We don’t learn much about them, just enough to catch their present function. Bus driver Donnie lists a paragraph of the tribulations that define his life. We get a glimpse into the bartender’s uneven marriage. The Japanese poetry-lover is a walking paean to poetry but a total enigma otherwise.
  Paterson’s Laura is his muse, as another Laura was to Petrarch. But she’s not the passive lady of the muse tradition. She is intensely committed to her black-and-white interior design and fashion theory. She respects Paterson’s poetry and presciently urges him to make a second copy, for posterity. She craves her own fame and fortune as country singer and/or cupcake-maker. In her ambition and craving for recognition she’s Paterson’s antithesis. We don’t see them having sex, but we do see their daily physical intimacy and love. That’s the poetic face of the marriage. 
We don’t know much more about Paterson either. The marine photo on his bedstead tells us he was a decorated hero. That explains his efficient take-down of the gun threat in the bar. But it deepens our sense of his life as a bus driver. He’ s still a uniformed public servant but in a more normal, modest and social circumstance. The ribbons show he was a hero at war. The bar take-down attests to his courage and efficiency now. But he achieves a different kind of heroism in his life of transit poet. When he assumes the responsibility of staying with the young girl until her mother returns, he’s the model citizen. His reward: the kindred spirit gives him the prize of a splendid little poem and shares his love of Emily Dickinson. When the loss of his poems might tempt him to abandon that impulse, his faith in his art and in himself is restored by the encounter with the Japanese Williams fan. That carrying on is also heroism.  
Then there’s the dog. A lot of attention is spent upon Marvin (persuasively portrayed by Nellie). A dog is a dog is a dog. Until it isn’t. For dognappers a prized English bulldog can mean fast big bucks. For a man it can be an excuse for a nightly walk and the opportunity to visit the bar. To a woman it can be the child substitute. To the director it can provide the cheap cuteness or sentiment for a cutaway from the characters, or a set-up for a possible dramatic plot-twist, that disturbs the viewer even if it doesn’t happen.
  Marvin in particular is characterized as a living responsive presence in the family, growling at every physical exchange between his pets (aka masters). He’s also very well trained and obedient, as when he stays sat and still at Paterson’s demand. But that control proves severely limited. Marvin’s daily routine, when he’s on his own, is to run outside and knock-over the mailbox, which Paterson later has to straighten up. In his climactic rebellion Marvin destroys Paterson’s only copy of his poems. 
So this dog embodies our hope or delusion of control over the indomitably uncontrollable. That’s what poetry does too, give us a formal construction through which to explore and harness the uncontrollable facts and mysteries of life and fate. As prose narrows and defines our immediate environs, poetry opens out and unleashes the beyond. The poetry here has largely abandoned the strictures of rhyme, but it preserves the intensity and structure of rhythm and the constant eye for a wider meaning. The light beyond the bulb. 
Paterson is both an exaltation of poetry and — in its discovery amid prosaic material circumstance — its demystification. This is a joy to apprehend.