Ultra Vires


Ryan’s Movie Corner

Recommendations if you’re looking for different Halloween movies this year

As I’m sure many readers know, it is de rigueur for horror films to be screened during October. Though Halloween is only one day of the month, many moviegoers allow it to cast a long shadow on their film consumption habits during the other 30 days.

I am not one of those moviegoers.

Though there are undoubtedly some great horror films out there (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for example), I find that many of these films are at the service of their genre, rather than the other way around. Not to say that there is anything wrong with an interest in genre—but I prefer films where genre-concerns are secondary.

That’s part of why I love David Lowery’s The Green Knight, a film I discuss below alongside Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car. The Green Knight is something of a fantasy film, something of a horror film, and also something completely unique.

Whatever you watch, however, I wish you a very safe and happy Halloween. 

Drive My Car (2021)

Drive My Car is a Japanese film which was featured at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. The film is an adaptation of a short story by Japanese author Haruki Murakami but, as the three-hour long running time suggests, this film goes (significantly) beyond the scope of its source material.

The film centres on an aging theatre actor and director, Kafuku, who ends up in an agonizing situation: he discovers that his wife is cheating on him, but before he gains the nerve to confront her, his wife suddenly dies. Kafuku is therefore left to dwell on the knowledge of his wife’s infidelity without any release.

Kafuku is an esteemed theatre director and is given the opportunity to direct a rendition of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. While serving in this role, the theatre company that hired him provides him with a driver, Watari. Despite Kafuku’s initial resistance to Watari serving as his driver, Kafuku acquiesces and begins to build a friendship with her.

This film does several things incredibly well. First of all, it is visually stunning. Much of Drive My Car takes place on long, meandering drives by the Japanese seaside. The cinematography is superb. It elevates the mundane act of driving into something beautiful and engaging, in a way that does a splendid job of capturing the writing of Haruki Murakami, for those that are familiar with his work. 

Drive My Car also invites viewers to consider the emotional turmoil of the unspoken. As their friendship develops, both Kafuku and Watari share with each other their shameful, unspoken secrets. Some of the film’s best acting shines through when Kafuku opens up about the pain and confusion that lingers after the death of his wife. 

Somewhat interestingly, the film takes place against the backdrop of auditions, rehearsals, and performances of Kafuku’s rendition of Uncle Vanya. Kafuku hires actors who speak a diverse array of languages and arranges the play’s performance so that each actor speaks their own native tongue (subtitles are displayed on a large screen above the stage). I don’t think that this feature of the film is revolutionary, but it’s still an interesting concept.

As a forewarning, this film is not for everyone. It has an incredibly long running time, much of which is probably not justified. The film’s most forgettable moments include the many scenes where Kafuku leads his rag-tag, multilingual group of actors through rehearsals of Uncle Vanya. Though there is a certain novelty behind this set-up, I found myself losing interest after seeing Kafuku lead his troupe through a table read for the fourth time. The multilingual theatre aspect of the film, itself, feels like a bit of a gimmick, even if it is a creative and laudable backdrop for the other, more engaging story beats of the film.


The Green Knight (2021)

The Green Knight is a film with a bit of a weird premise. It takes up the eponymous Arthurian legend in which the mysterious Green Knight approaches King Arthur’s court and challenges one of his knights to a deadly game: the chosen knight is to strike the Green Knight as hard as he can and, in one year’s time, the Green Knight will return the favour.

Sir Gawain, portrayed by Dev Patel, takes up the challenge. In the film, Patel’s Gawain is a young and impetuous member of King Arthur’s court. He is not yet a knight and is evidently unsure of himself and his place in the world. When the Green Knight arrives at King Arthur’s court on Christmas night to propose his challenge, Gawain accepts, taking the opportunity to prove his worth as a brave and chivalrous soon-to-be knight. 

The Green Knight kneels on the ground, exposing his neck and giving Gawain the chance to slice his head off, much to the entertainment of the court. The Green Knight’s headless body ominously rises from the ground and rides off into the night—promising Gawain that he will return the favour “one year hence.”

As the one-year anniversary of his encounter with the Green Knight approaches, Gawain begins to get cold feet. King Arthur, however, manages to convince him that returning to the Green Knight is an opportunity to show gallantry and make good on the principles of knighthood. From here, things get a bit weird.

Gawain’s journey to the Green Knight’s abode is an ambling, trippy, and occasionally disturbing saga which is equal parts grotesque and beautiful. The film’s aesthetic vision is complete and coherent. The Green Knight portrays a confused and decaying world that transgresses themes we typically find in medieval myths: honour, chivalry, and destiny. 

The world that Gawain explores is dark, dirty, and rotting. This disarray is nevertheless punctuated with moments of beauty that help to convey what is, in my opinion, the film’s most compelling and interesting commentary: that the events of one’s life are contingent and unscripted. They resist grand, unifying narratives and instead often provoke ambivalence and uncertainty. 

This proposition, that fate resists human design, is explored by an extremely memorable monologue by an unnamed character, portrayed by Alicia Vikander, that Gawain encounters on his journey:

Whilst we’re off looking for red, in comes green. Red is the color of lust, but green is what lust leaves behind, in heart, in womb. Green is what is left when ardor fades, when passion dies, when we die, too. When you go, your footprints will fill with grass. Moss shall cover your tombstone, and as the sun rises, green shall spread over all, in all its shades and hues. This verdigris will overtake your swords and your coins and your battlements and, try as you might, all you hold dear will succumb to it.

Your skin, your bones.

Your virtue.

This passage, and the film’s broader approach to human agency in a world that is indifferent to human desires, tells an extremely compelling story that is certain to leave viewers with a lot to chew on. I cannot recommend this film enough.


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