After watching “The Tree of Life“, three friends and I met to gush about the film to the accompaniment of gin, rum and chicken lollypops. We spent 4-odd hours gushing and dissecting the film. Of us, one is a reasonably devout Christian. Another is a mutinous Muslim. The other two are an agnostic and a Hindu. It was really interesting to see how the Hindu and the agnostic didn’t find the Christian storytelling of “The Tree of Life” overbearing. To them, very secular readings were possible and neither the imagery nor the storytelling felt awkward to those not seeing the film from a faithful point of view. For the Christian and Muslim, on the other hand, there was no escaping the religiosity. They saw it in the way the way nature was used, the vision of afterlife, in the messages coded into the story.
(On a somewhat unrelated note, I can’t seem to find anything on this damn blog because of the idiotic titles I’ve given to each post. Took me forever to find the post on “The Tree of Life”. Resolution: more straightforward titles from now on. After this post, that is. Why waste a title when I did manage to think of it?)
While watching Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter”, I remembered in particular our loud arguments about the way Malick showed what the two of us with a religious background called heaven and the other two called the subconscious. Eastwood uses a similar trope to show the afterlife — people walking in circles in a dreamy, white-light setting — but it seems a touch tacky and has none of the elegance of “The Tree of Life”. In fact, even though the themes and imagery were probably more overwhelmingly Christian in “The Tree of Life”, it was “Hereafter” that felt a little bit like I was being cinematically smothered by a devout Christian. Also Eastwood’s attempt to make me believe that heaven and wandering spirits are scientific concepts didn’t sit well with me somehow. I can’t explain why but the whole notion of seeing and engaging with the afterlife just didn’t work for me (and that’s pretty much the point of the film). I’ve no problem with magic and miracles and supernatural powers in literature and cinema. In fact, I’m a fan. But Eastwood’s strength is in depicting a particular stony, grey reality in which the supernatural (as M Night Shyamalan used to show it) just doesn’t fit.
But that’s not why I sat down to write this post. One of the characters in “Hereafter” is a French tv journalist. When we see her, at the beginning of the film, she’s on holiday with her producer and lover in Thailand. They are clearly not married but she’s cheerfully buying souvenirs for his kids. Me, I didn’t like the man at first sight. I’m dubious about any man who invests time and attention upon maintaining a stubble of all things but that’s me. When we see Mademoiselle Journaliste later, it’s clear that she’s famous and well-respected in the world of French media. This woman is, in every sense, a modern European woman. (Or at the very least, a modern European woman as Eastwood imagines her.) Sometime in the middle of the film, this woman realises that her partner has been cheating on her. She doesn’t see it happen. No one tells her. She senses it and when she confronts her lover, he denies it at first but his body language suggests he’s lying.
Cut to Kolkata. I was at lunch with a group of friends who live in that city when they told me about the scandal that has been the talk of town. In the interest of protecting identities, I’m going to rechristen the characters in the drama with alphabets. A and B are dear friends. A is a lissom, lovely lady. B is, well, not quite as lissom but very lovely all the same. A is married to D and has two kids. B is married C and has a kid. ABCD hang out together a lot. All is, as my grand-uncle likes to put it, “hunky dory”. Then, one day, C tells B that he is going for a meeting. B sends him off with a kiss. After about 15 minutes, B decides she wants to go shopping. She goes down to the parking lot and is surprised to see C’s car is still there. She goes up to it and finds C and A in a very compromising position. Confrontation and shrieking follows in parking lot. It ends when A says, “If you’d kept him satisfied for the past 3 years, then I wouldn’t have had to fill in” and then flounces off.
When I say “it ends”, I mean the confrontation and shrieking ends. The marriages and relationships of ADBC are intact. When I asked my friends whether the two couples were still together (fully expecting to hear sordid tales of how difficult the divorces are turning out to be), they all looked at me perplexed and said, “Of course”, “Why wouldn’t they be?” and “Don’t be naïve”. In Kolkata at least, infidelity is no reason to end a relationship. You break up if there’s bride-burning or domestic abuse, sure. But not infidelity. It’s not “convincing enough”, even if everyone knows you’re cheating on your spouse. When I sputtered and choked at what my friends were saying, one of them patted my back and said, “You’re being very bourgeoisie. Be a little Bohemian.”
That comment was made as a joke (I think. I hope.) but I’m still wondering which one, A, B or Mademoiselle Journaliste, is modern and which of them is regressive. According to Mozilla, this is my online persona dissected: