Book Reviews, books

Summer Is for Comics

Earlier this month, NPR released the results of their summer comics and graphic novel poll.

I could honestly die a happy woman because My Favorite Thing Is Monsters made the list, along with Through the Woods and Bitch Planet.  But it’s me, so obviously I have thoughts about the list and some favorites that didn’t make the cut.

In somewhat particular order, here is my addendum of 12 favorite graphic novels I love just as much, whether they receive NPR recognition or not:

  1. Asterios Polyp (David Mazzucchelli)
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    The tragic story of a pretentious professor of architecture whose designs have never been built.  Somehow he still manages to be sympathetic and human if not especially likeable. With the added bonus of beautiful illustrations, ghosts of dead twins, and more parallels to Greek mythology than you can shake a stick at.
  2. Berlin (Jason Lutes)
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    Not least because I’ve been waiting for vol 3 for 9 years.  NINE.  (In his latest interview, Lutes claimed the last volume should be out next year, but I’ll believe it when I see it.)  Striking black-and-white illustrations with keen attention to period detail combine with memorable characters to create a compelling story.  Silvia the communist street brawler is my favorite (of course).
  3. Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes (Mary and Bryan Talbot)
    Dotter of Her Father's Eyes
    Scholar Mary Talbot and her cartoonist husband tell a story that works as both a biographical portrait of Joyce and personal memoir.  Talbot draws parallels to Joyce’s troubled relationship with his daughter and her own difficult relationship with her father, a renowned Joycean scholar.
  4. Ethel & Ernest (Raymond Briggs)
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    Though The Snowman is his most famous work, this biography of Briggs’s parents is my favorite of his works.  Ethel and Ernest seem to be the only unchanging fixtures as time passes in 20th century London.  This quiet portrait of everyday life for a middle class London family is fascinating and exactly the kind of history I love to read about.
  5. Giant Days (John Allison)
    Giant Days #19
    Funny and touching story about a group of friends navigating their way through university.  Be warned this gets way too real at times as the characters face disappointment, failure, and some steep learning curves on the way to adulthood…but at the end of the day, the characters’ relationships are there to help them bounce back.
  6. The Fade Out (Ed Brubaker)
    23093372This 1940s noir-style story of murder and the seedy underbelly of Hollywood glam makes this so far up my street it’s not even funny.  The story begins with the murder of an actress, but of course we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on the shady goings-on underneath the glitz of show business.
  7. Super Spy, Mind MGMT, and pretty much anything else by Matt Kindt
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    His illustrations and inking are gorgeous, and things are never as they seem in his work. Frequently his stories revolve around tough ladies in espionage dealing with a gritty, unglamorous reality—my favorite kind.
  8. Widdershins (Kate Ashwin)
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    Magic in a Regency England setting with a series of sarcastic badass ladies and appropriately incompetent men!  This webcomic is such a delight to read and is all free online.
  9. The Green River Killer (Jonathan Case)
    Green River Killer
    I was reluctant to pick this up because I find a lot of true crime stories sleazy and just badly written. Case avoids sensationalizing the story here (as much as possible), taking time to examine the investigation and its toll on the police force.  I would add The New Deal and anything else by Case as well—I have yet to read a book of his I haven’t enjoyed.
  10. Shutter (Joe Keatinge)
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    This is mostly here because I adore the talking cat alarm clock that keeps our protagonist company and I really need one of my own.  Also noteworthy are the LGBTQ characters and their story lines in this fast-paced comic whose many twists and turns will keep you guessing.
  11. Princeless:  Raven the Pirate Princess (Jeremy Whitley)
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    Though I haven’t kept up with this series, volume 1 is hilarious and makes a deliberate effort to represent women of color, multiple sexual orientations, and various body types.  The commentary here is smart and so relevant…plus who would turn down a story about an all-female pirate crew?
  12. Alabaster: Wolves (Caitlin Kiernan)
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    An albino teen is guided by angels to destroy vampires, demons, and all sorts of sinister creatures in the swamps of an eerily empty South Carolina.  Things get interesting right away as our protagonist begins to doubt her guardian angel and is drawn to a girl who may be something other than she appears.  Vol 1 is a compelling mixture of action and eerie silences in a decidedly Southern Gothic tradition.

Needless to say, my TBR list has now grown to an unmanageable length thanks to all of the titles include on NPR’s list (including Blacksad, a noir about a black cat PI?!?!?).  What are you reading this summer?

Cover photo by Laetitia Buscaylet on Unsplash
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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews, Uncategorized

Feminist February: The Love Witch

Horror is this blog collab’s bread and butter, but as Christa and I have lamented, horror can be a terribly misogynistic genre.  How refreshing, then, to watch a female-centric horror about witches that has a lot to say about women and power just in time for the 2nd week of our 2nd Feminist February.  Complete with a lovely ’60s aesthetic, medieval pageantry, and harp accompaniment!

The Film:

The Love Witch

The Premise:

A young witch uses magic and sex appeal to find love and happiness in 1960s California.

The Uncondensed Version:

Elaine is a young woman on the way to start over in small-town California after husband Jerry’s mysterious death.  After his death, Elaine was reborn as a witch in a strange occult ritual (at least that’s what I gather).  Now that she has the power of love and sex magic at her disposal, she’s determined to find a man who won’t disappoint her like Jerry.

Once she settles into the new place, she befriends a neighbor, Trish, who takes her to a Victorian tea room.  It’s really bizarre and comes complete with a woman constantly playing the harp, and everything decorated with delicate cream and pastel pinks.  I’ve just really never been a pastel pink kind of girl.

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Clearly I just haven’t found the right pastel pink floppy hat.

Elaine tells Trish of her sordid past, which has taught her to give men everything they want in order for women to get what they want in turn.  Magic is simply a way to use your will to get what you want, and Elaine seems to have special magic staring powers to influence men.  As Trish (fairly) puts it, it sounds like Elaine has been brainwashed by the patriarchy.

Shortly after, Elaine uses her magic stare to invite herself back to a university professor’s cottage in the woods.  That, and a love potion laced with hallucinogenic herbs.  After sleeping with Elaine, the prof (Wayne) becomes incredibly emotional and obsessed with her, claiming he’s unable to live without her.  As it turns out, not an exaggeration—he dies very soon after, leaving Elaine with a body to bury and evidence to burn.

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It either needs more salt or more hallucinogenic herbs…

Rumors start flying around town around witch murders, casting doubt on the entire witch community.  It should be added that witchcraft is treated as just another religion in this film, with practices that look strange to the outside observer but no less valid than mainstream religions.  This begins to shift as the bodies pile up (spoiler?).

Determined to bounce back, Elaine sets her sights on Trish’s husband when he’s conveniently left alone for the weekend.  Let’s just say this doesn’t end well at all for him.

Meanwhile, the police are investigating Wayne’s suspicious disappearance and all signs point towards Elaine.  Luckily, Elaine still has that magic eye trick up her sleeve, and manages to get a horseback riding date (not a euphemism) with a detective (Griff) instead of a murder charge.  While out together, the pair encounter a group of witches having some sort of medieval pageant, including fake sword fights and songs about unicorns and goblets of joy.  Pretty cringe-y, TBH.  There, Elaine and Griff are bound together in a fake marriage ceremony, finally fulfilling Elaine’s happily ever after fantasy.  At least for the moment…  Believe me when I say the ending gets appropriately dark and gory.

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I personally prefer to see more unicorns in weddings.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The aesthetic is beautiful, and of course I’m all about feminism in films.  One of the biggest challenges in dissecting this one, however, is that none of the characters are particularly likeable.  It’s never overly clear to me whether Elaine believes her own nonsense re: men or, like magic, she’s using these lies to get what she wants.  She’s not as straightforwardly feminist as I expected, caught between wanting to assert her independence and hoping to live out her princess fantasies.  I was really hoping she would have a better relationship with Trish because I’m all about that female solidarity.

Compounding the problem of unlikeable characters is that of one-dimensional acting, which I think is supposed to be part of the tribute to ‘60s films…but sometimes I can’t actually tell either way.

The dialogue gets a bit preachy at times, hitting you over the head with its meaning.  Elaine gets some classic lines (“According to experts, men are fragile and can be crushed if you assert yourself”) along with some truly horrible lines (“I’m the love witch; I’m your ultimate fantasy”).

However, it’s nice to see a film address the complexity of feminist issues surrounding female sexuality in a world where “virgin slut” is an actual insult that can be hurled at women with no one blinking an eye.   I admit I’m still puzzling about this movie, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Would my blog wife marry this one in a fake a ceremony with this one while surrounded by witches or slip it one too many hallucinogenic herbs?  Find out here!

Film Reviews

Obvious Child, or: Russian Roulette

To be completely in line with this month’s theme, I fucked up and forgot we were posting today.  That is the level of my commitment to this blog—I will deliberately fail to remember things just to more authentically represent a theme.  You’re welcome, readers.

Our theme, of course, is “Oh Dear God How Did I End up on This Adulthood Train and How Quickly Can I Jump off Without Winding up on the Tracks?”

The Film:

Obvious Child

Where to Watch:

Amazon Prime

The Premise:

It’s the abortion comedy you never knew you needed!

The Uncondensed Version:

Donna is a stand-up comedian struggling to make a living from her passion in NYC.  Though talented, she is just barely holding things together in her personal and professional life.  Things start to unravel when her boyfriend dumps her after a gig.  To make matters worse, the bookstore where she works during the day is closing, so there goes her major source of income.  Luckily, Donna has friends to help her through:  the angry feminist and the gay best friend.

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Feminists make the greatest bffs!

While Donna has an easy relationship with her father, she doesn’t get along well with her mother, who pushes her to do more with her life.

Still not over her ex, Donna takes the opportunity to get shitfaced both before and after a standup gig, resulting in (a) perhaps the most emotionally intense stream-of-consciousness ever for a standup routine, and (b) a one-night stand with an awkward but sweet guy she meets at the bar.

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Read the room, girl.  Please.

If you go into this film knowing it’s an abortion comedy, you know what happens next:  Donna discovers she’s pregnant and decides to get an abortion.

After that, a series of miscommunications and chance encounters with her one-night stand, Max, leads her to believe she should tell him about the abortion.  That is, until Max tells her how much he’s looking forward to being a grandfather, and Donna begins to think he should never know.

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Book sale??!  This is the most unexpected surprise I could possibly learn about today!

To borrow a page from Christa’s book, dramatic questions:  Will Max find out?  If so, how will he react?  And will Donna give herself a break for not having all of the answers?

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Easily.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this one, but it unflinchingly addresses a (still) controversial topic with warmth and humor.  I flipping love the dialogue in this and the relationships Donna has with her parents and close friends.  The feminist friend has a great line about Donna playing Russian roulette with her vagina.  Max is unrealistically sweet, or perhaps I am unrealistically cynical.  But I’ll take it.

We explore briefly how this procedure can be cost-prohibitive for some women.  At $500, Donna’s abortion is a relatively low-cost medical procedure, but she cries when the doctor gives her this figure.

There are also several female experiences with abortion–for Donna, it is an easy decision but she still feels a certain level of stress and shame.  Her angry feminist friend (I say this with affection), however, feels zero regret about it.  Donna’s abortion doesn’t ruin her life or wrack her with guilt—it’s a decision about her body and future rather than the act of cold-blooded murder certain conservative groups make it out to be.

I will stop now because I could go on all day.

Would Christa take this film out for a nice Italian meal or make up flimsy excuses during chance encounters with it the next day?  Find out here!

Book Reviews, books

Book Review: Bitch Planet, Vol. 1

I’m the worst at keeping up with book reviews, but look at me now.  Writing a review…like a month after I read this one.  Which doesn’t reflect my feelings toward this comic/graphic novel/I can never decide which term to use, Bitch Planet, Vol 1:  Extraordinary Machine by Kelley Sue DeConnick.

The premise is the stuff dreams are made of:  in the near future, non-compliant women are sent to a prison planet informally known as Bitch Planet.  You know you’re going to adore all of these characters, don’t you?  You also know your love is doomed.

In the beginning, we follow Marian, a married woman who insists this is all a mistake and her husband will be doing everything in his power to have her released.  There are some great point/counterpoint panels that support everything Marian says…until there’s a sudden dark turn.  Remember this series is called Bitch Planet, ok?

After our dramatic twist, it turns out Kamau is really our protagonist.  In addition to being a gifted fighter, Kamau has some sort of mysterious dark past b/c of course she does.  Her life on Bitch Planet is about to get even more unpleasant since she is framed for murder by the prison guards.  All of this happens because the Bitch Planet execs want Kamau to form a team that will fight to the death against a team formed by the prison.  It’s apparently a Bitch Planet tradition that makes them a lot of money.

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Only the biggest badass ever.

So we’ve got a rigged futuristic football game to the death, which Kamau is pretty reluctant to participate in.  However, several of the other inmates convince her to form a team, which includes my faves Meiko and Penny.

Penny had a particularly difficult childhood—her mother was considered dangerous, and Penny was raised by her grandmother until age 8.  After her grandmother was arrested, Penny became a ward of the state.  In her adult life, Penny remains fiercely loyal to her family and becomes violent when provoked.  Not a reflection of idealized beauty, Penny nevertheless remains full of strength and self-confidence, never letting others define her.  She’s definitely my hero.

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Fucking hero.

It’s not a great idea to get too attached to any of the characters, though, as even the practice game of prisoners vs. guards ends in tragedy for our team.

You know even more shit is going down in volume 2 (which I’ve already pre-ordered).

Rating:  4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really enjoyed it, but there were times when I wanted to skip ahead to the fake newspaper at the end of each issue called Hey Kids, Patriarchy!  Not because there’s anything wrong with the main story plot but because the biting satire is at its strongest in these issues.

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I think it’s clear what I mean.  Highly disappointing that you can’t actually buy any of the advertised products.
Activism, Life Rants

Some Thoughts of a Political Nature: Orlando and EURef

If you are like me, you are so sick of all of this political bullshit because you care about it so much more than you want to.  It’s vital to have some political awareness, but it also hurts, like getting a colonoscopy or going back to work after your vacation.  As such, I will take a page from John Oliver’s book and reward you for reading this post with an adorable picture of a puppy and kitten who are best friends at the end.  Oh, what the hell—you can just skip to the end now if you really want to.

I didn’t write anything about Orlando because I didn’t know what to say.  Don’t know what to say.  There are levels of hatred beyond words.  I still can’t organize my thoughts enough to say something about my unwavering support of the LGBTQ community and Latino-Americans, shame in the victimization of Muslim, and anger that the right not to be murdered in a public place takes a backseat to the “Don’t Tread on Me” gun-toting mentality of fringe groups in the U.S.

These are a few recent experiences I’ve been processing in that context:

Someone I know (I’m keeping this all as anonymous as possible) admitted her LGBTQ son may be attending the Catholic University where I work (keeping it super vague because I’m not sure exactly how he identifies).  And she is afraid.  Many of the faculty and staff are open-minded and supportive, but some of the students are so conservative and unsympathetic.  Perhaps that’s the way people have always been, but I’ve really experienced such a lack of sympathy for those in pain, those who are different, and those who aren’t well understood lately.  There’s no room for sympathy where there’s hatred, which is what concerns me the most.  And that kind of hatred leaves such a lasting impression on young people.

There was a wheelchair outside the women’s bathroom in the library, which was a bit strange, but I went inside anyway.  Inside the bathroom was an older man just outside the handicapped stall, who immediately rushed to explain, “I’m just helping my wife, who’s in a wheelchair.  I’ll wait outside.”

I said, “That’s okay—it doesn’t bother me.”  But he left anyway, which was considerate but heartbreaking.  I’m embarrassed that we are so shamed about acting appropriately for our gender that a man helping his wife in the bathroom feels like a criminal for doing so.

Men, how can you not be feminists when the patriarchy dictates what you should do and how you should behave too?

On another political note, since everyone in the world has a goddamn opinion about it, I may as well weigh in on the EU Referendum (I refuse to use the “Brexit” word because it’s stupid and sounds like a horrible type of cereal.  John Oliver is with me on this one).  I know the world wants the opinion of another Midwestern American.

I admittedly have a very selfish interest in seeing the British pound retain its value because the sale of my grandfather’s London house is finally supposed to go through in July.  This is the only time I’m pissed about the dollar being strong compared to the pound.

What concerns me the most is the anti-immigrant platforms that have been so successful in the UK and the US.  I did talk to one of my students about the EU Referendum, and how enraging and small-minded it is for the anti-immigrant mentality to persist.  We are so interdependent—our economies, our political decisions, our lives.  Like all empires (and don’t get me wrong, I include the US in this), a slight majority of the UK has had a convenient memory lapse about what it has taken from other countries and what immigrants have brought to the UK.

I’m avoiding reading all of those click-bait articles of reasons the EU Ref is a good sign for Trump because they make me panic.  A man who has been like a grandfather to me went on a bit of a rant about Trump being a Democrat conspiracy to destroy the Republican Party (had to bite my tongue before responding “I think they’ve done fine on that without any outside help whatsoever”).  He also asked if I thought the country was getting worse and, in spite of the bigoted and completely irrational groups on the rise, I don’t.  Our systems are deeply flawed, but we live in a country that is more open, more diverse, and more creative than it ever has been.  How can that possibly be a weakness?

Anyone else in the mood for a political tangent?  Feel free to rant/despair/agree/disagree on this blog.  Just remember there is a person on the other side of the screen.

As promised, here is the picture of adorable puppy and kitten BFFs.

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I bet no one cares if this dog and cat are gay, lesbians, transgender, Muslim, Hispanic, and/or immigrants

Images in this post via Unsplash

Activism, Life Rants

A Few Words About Choice

My intention with this post is not to sway any opinions, but to express my admiration for women who unabashedly support the causes they believe in.

I care about politics more than I’d like to, but I haven’t been one for political rallies up to this point.  They hurt, even when peaceful.  I attended a pro-choice rally a couple of weekends ago organized as a counterpoint to a demonstration at a clinic that provides abortions.  Basically, the people who work for the clinic get harassed for doing their job, and it was especially obnoxious during Lent.

It’s so self-congratulatory.  They wouldn’t do this alleged praying privately because no one would be watching.  Perhaps not a surprise when the current likely GOP nominee is just the one who equates being right with yelling loudest.

Keep in mind these were pastors, religious leaders, who said they were there because they love us and want to save us…despite the fact that we are murderers who will burn in hell.  And that we are Satanist communist pagans, which I really don’t see the problem with.  I admit I got a bit of a giggle when a few pro-choice women started chanting Hail Satan and the pro-lifers believed it to be a literal moment of devil worship.  This is why liberals can be funny but it’s so incredibly painful when conservatives try to use humor—everything has to be literal.

One of the pastors argued that you can’t speak Gaelic and be pro-choice…with a member of our group who then proceeded to speak Gaelic.  That he doesn’t care if anyone gets raped, there are alternatives to abortion.  That all of the Christians there would adopt a child—but have they?  And have they supported a single mother who has no job, maternity leave, or healthcare?

It got really ugly when a pastor told a veteran who has served 3 tours of duty to get back in the kitchen.  And called Obama a Muslin f–, one of only a handful of words I won’t use on this blog.  (Hint:  not the “fuck” f word.)  So many homophobic slurs and the reiteration that sodomy is a sin (but it’s fun).  And abortion is racist because it’s mostly black and Irish babies (I have no idea where the Irish part comes from or why they still think Irish is a race; perhaps it surprises no one that they aren’t interested in talking about Latinas when discussing stats).   It was the only time I’ve heard women un-ironically called “jezebel” and “witch” outside of The Crucible.

I don’t mean to assign blame to religion because I know these groups don’t represent a majority of the faithful.  This isn’t meant as an attack on religion, but on a certain approach to religion.  The mentality that there’s a correct religion to follow, so it’s okay to have a morality complex and talk down to everyone who disagrees with you.  I can’t stand the idea that there’s no room for a viewpoint that isn’t yours (a statement that I acknowledge contains a certain degree of irony).

Some of the cars driving by were encouraging, while others were pretty douchy.  Guess how many of those driving by flipping us the bird were women?  Zero.  And guess how many middle fingers we got from men?  Don’t tell me this issue is about religion or morality or politics.  It’s about men controlling women.

Besides the torrent of verbal abuse, it was sort of the ideal social gathering for me as it required no small talk whatsoever.  Lots of chanting “What do we want?”  “Choice!” and honking and screaming when people supported us.  I truly admire the activists who attend rallies every month and even every week and manage to hear insults hurled at them without taking them to heart.  It was extremely difficult for me to switch gears and go to work later that day without the words popping into my head.

As a librarian it really hurts that people don’t bother to find credible sources of information, which they could at the library.  FOR FREE.  These people STILL believe Planned Parenthood sells baby parts even though the alleged proof was fake, and Planned Parenthood has done more to prevent abortions than Right to Life.  The words you use and the “truth” you spread can kill, so please be careful with them.

You can still feel morally superior and pray for me.

*Image via Unsplash

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Iris, or: I Don’t Want the World to See Me

Feminist February has been much more of an emotional roller coaster than anticipated. Though I regret nothing about our choice this month, I think Christa and I are both ready for the assault on our emotions to end.  Bring it on, as yet unnamed, eclectic March theme!

Not going to lie, this pick has mostly been on my radar forever almost entirely because of Judi Dench.

The Film:

Iris

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Flashbacks reveal the life of Iris Murdoch as a young writer, free spirit, and teller of interesting stories at parties—in contrast to her struggle with Alzheimer’s during her final years.

The Uncondensed Version:

Our film opens with one of the recurring images of this film: Iris swimming, whether old, young, alone, with her husband. Which makes sense what with The Sea, The Sea, if that’s not too obvious. Also the seaside is a place throughout the film where Iris is free…yet seems to be searching for something in the murky waters.

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Keep calm and remember I was an English major if this gets unbearable.

Iris is obviously still full of spirit in her 70s, but she is beginning to forget things. As a young woman, she was charismatic, charming, and nearly impossible to keep up with (both literally and figuratively, as bicycling Hugh Bonneville could tell you).

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Did I mention Kate Winslet is in this too?  Kate Winslet is in this.

Much of the story revolves around the romance between loud, controversial Iris and shy, stammering professor John Bayley. He’s so fascinated by Iris and shyly tells her he’d like to read her novel and that he loves her nose. In contrast to Iris, John is quite sexually conservative and inexperienced, even asking her to marry him after they kiss once. John is super jealous and scandalized when he finds out Iris is banging both men and women on the side.

In the later storyline, Iris and John do normal couple-y things, like complaining about things in grocery stores and hanging out at their local pub. Unfortunately, she also becomes increasingly forgetful and puzzled. While doing an interview that reminded me a lot of a scene in Atonement (or maybe I’ve just got Atonement on the brain), Iris suddenly loses her train of thought and all comprehension of what’s going on. This leads to a memory test, brain scan, and a dementia diagnosis.

It gets so heartbreaking from here on out, as John tries to be patient while caring for Iris but is frequently frustrated. Also really difficult to type because when both Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent are crying, you can’t not fucking cry, and when they are both apologizing to each other, you can’t not fucking weep. Don’t make me think about the scene in which John reads Pride and Prejudice to Iris.

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And I don’t even fucking like Pride and Prejudice!

Though this film is not driven by plot, I’d say it culminates with Iris wandering off one day, sending John into a panic.  And me and, by extension, Bertha Mason.

The Rating:

4.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

An incredibly heart-wrenching film that is also quite horrifying. Our culture deals with aging really, really badly, and I’m not an exception. I dread this type of story, and I can’t think about this film without wanting to hit something and thinking about how unfair everyfuckingthing is.

It’s important that this film doesn’t flinch when tackling how hard it must be to deal with a loved one’s dementia, and it doesn’t pretend Iris Murdoch was an infallible human being. She was strong-willed and brilliant, but flawed.

So worth watching, but prepare yourself.  You will cry and you will get the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” stuck in your head, which will likely make you cry all over again.  I highly recommend tissues, chocolate, and a cat to accompany you.

There’s a funeral for a friend (love lies bleeding) in which John references a part in Anna Karenina where she thinks of something funny to tell her lover but realizes she can’t. John does the same thing. It was basically equally as sad as the funeral in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and if W.H. Auden doesn’t make you fucking weep, I have serious reservations about your humanity.

I was just really glad I had a cat to hold throughout.

Is Christa still speaking to me after this incredibly masochistic pick?  Find out here!