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Note, entered 12/99: The authenticity of this account has been called into question. Legal documents and school records contradict the author’s claim of being a Holocaust survivor. The author, however, maintains that his story is true. News accounts of this controversy first appeared in Weltwoche, a Swiss publication, in an article written by author, Daniel Ganzfried, who researched Wilkomirski’s background (August 27, 1998). Among later reports are those in The Times of London (Sept. 8, 1998), and The New York Times (Nov. 3, 1998). In October, 1999 (Oct.,14, 1999 NY Times report) the German publisher, Suhrkamp Verlag, withdrew from stores all hardcover copies and Schocken Books suspended publication on November 1, 1999.
My Summary and Commentary below were written under the assumption, which appears to be false, that Fragments is a memoir, and not fiction. All indications are that Wilkomirski believes his story to be true. Readers might consider the metaphoric significance of the Holocaust in ongoing individual suffering.
Note, entered 10/01: Interestingly, in relation to my final comment of 12/99 above, a recent article places Wilkomirski’s book within the context of scholarly work on trauma, memory, and testimony. See "Beyond the Question of Authenticity: Witness and Testimony in the Fragments Controversy" by Michael Bernard-Donalis (Proceedings of the Modern Language Association, 116/5, October 2001: 1302-1315).
Note: 2/02: The recently published book, A Life in Pieces, by Blake Eskin (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002) tells the story of Wilkomirski, Fragments, and the research into Wilkomirski’s claims, and places the affair into sociohistoric context.
Subtitled "Memories of a Wartime Childhood," this Holocaust memoir unveils the memory "shards" of a childhood spent in the Nazi death camps of Poland. The author, now a musician living in Switzerland, believes himself to have been born around 1939, in Riga, Latvia. He can’t be certain because his father was shot by militia as young Binjamin watched; later he was separated from his brothers; he remembers his mother only from one brief, forbidden visit with her in Majdanek concentration camp when they were both confined there.
Because the memoir is narrated primarily in the present tense, from the perspective of a confused, frightened child, in disjointed flashbacks, the reader viscerally experiences the bewilderment, physical hardships, the viscious cruelty of the guards, the sickening realities of existence (rats, lice, beetles; standing barefoot, ankle-deep in excrement), the fear and guilt [yes, guilt!--for inadvertently betraying another child]. But there was kindness as well--the wise older child, Jankl, who taught Binjamin survival techniques; the women inmates who hid Binjamin and other children under cloths in the laundry room--for weeks on end.
Near the end of the war, camp guards deserted and the surviving inmates staggered out--Binjamin was literally dragged along, against his will, by a camp inmate who recognized him. Somehow he ended up in an orphanage in Krakow, Poland. Here, there was fear of a different kind--distrust of all adults, fear of being "discovered" as a camp survivor (to be held responsible for another child’s death, and for abandoning his mother), total unfamiliarity with the habits of "normal" life.
Wilkomirski’s memoir begins and ends in Switzerland, where he was placed in foster care. In Switzerland there are other nightmares. Spastic attempts to verbalize his experiences are ridiculed, disbelieved, squelched. Not until a high school teacher--a German who fled to Switzerland during the war--shows documentary footage of the allied liberation of Mathausen concentration camp, does Binjamin realize that HE was never liberated. "Where was I when everyone else was being freed? . . . nobody tended us . . . the way it happened in the film. Nobody ever told me that the camp was . . . finally, definitely over . . . that . . . I could go forward without fear or threat into a new time . . . Not even later."
Victorian critic and poet Edmund Gosse was the child of respected zoologist Philip Gosse, a minister within the Plymouth Brethren, a fundamentalist evangelical sect. This memoir of Gosse’s childhood and young adulthood details his upbringing by parents whose faith and literal approach to Scripture directed all their domestic practices.
It details the older Gosse’s agony as he struggles to reconcile his scientific vocation with his religious faith in the face of the hefty challenges posed by Chambers, Lyell and Darwin’s mid-century hypotheses about the age of the earth and the diversity of its species.
Edmund’s own agony as he realizes his inability to fulfill his parents’ expectations for him in terms of religious vocation is another significant thread. While "father and son" is the primary relationship explored, the early parts of the memoir describe Emily Gosse’s influence on her son, particularly during her illness and death from breast cancer.
Faustus was born into lowly circumstances. He studies hard and masters all the knowledges known to man, but he is still dissatisfied. Faustus determines to study magic, the one knowledge that can break the limits of all others. He engages two master magicians to teach him. While he awaits their arrival, a good and an evil angel appear. The good angel urges him not to go through with his plans, but Faustus is determined. He learns quickly and for his first act calls up Mephistophilis, Satan’s messenger. Faustus is very pleased, thinking he has control over the forces of evil, but Mephistophilis says he only showed up because Faustus had rejected God. Faustus offers to give his soul to Lucifer if Mephistophilis will wait on him for twenty-four years. Lucifer agrees.
Faustus is not troubled by this pact because he does not believe in eternal life. With Mephistophilis’ help, Faustus makes a great career for himself. He amazes the Pope by becoming invisible and stealing things from his hands. He calls forth the spirit of Alexander the Great for the Emperor. As his twenty-four years draw to a close, he begins to fear Satan and nearly repents. Instead, he asks Mephistophilis to bring him Helen of Troy to be his lover in his final moments. Just before his end, he reveals to his fellow scholars how he gained his powers. He is then carried off by a group of devils.
Summary:This documentary presents a pastiche of illness narratives, the stories of seven women (including the filmmaker and the associate producer) who have struggled with mental illness, including depression, bipolar disorder, and multiple personality disorder. Intercut with the interviews are reenactments of key events in the women? lives; vivid depictions of sometimes frightening, sometimes exhilarating mental states experienced by the women; films and still photographs from the womens' childhoods, and archival film footage. In the process of exploring their illnesses and recoveries, the women discuss experiences that hurt them (rape, misdiagnoses, racism) as well as those that helped them heal (creativity, caring, therapists, and spirituality).
Frears presents a stark portrayal of London’s underbelly, a place where everything is for sale--at a price. It is a world in which most people tend to ignore or overlook: prostitution, illegal immigrants struggling to survive, illegal activities, humiliating circumstances, and most centrally, black market organ transplantation. "We are the people you don’t see." Information age technologies mix with greed and desperation to depict an engrossing and sordid narrative about real-life events occurring in places beyond the ordinary purview. This modern day thriller brings audiences to the edge of their seats as they witness harrowing and very believable accounts of marginalized members of society deprived of basic human dignities.
The story is complex but two characters dominate, a doctor from Nigeria (Chiwetel Ejiofor) now reduced by harsh circumstances to several menial jobs including taxi driving and hotel clerking, and an illegal chambermaid from Turkey (Audrey Tautou) whom he befriends and assists. She lives in constant danger of humiliation, exposure, deportation. Their paths cross in a hotel where both work, where "johns" are served by prostitutes, and where illegal and sloppy surgical procedures are employed to harvest kidneys from desperate donors.
The full title of this novel is "Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend." Mann wrote it during the latter part of World War II when he was living in exile in the United States. The Faust character in this story is a German composer named Adrian Leverkühn (1885-1940), whose biography is recounted by his childhood friend, a schoolmaster named Serenus Zeitblom. Zeitblom presents the tale in his own voice--in essence, the novel is an extended reflection on the composer’s life (the past) set into the context of the deteriorating military situation in Germany (the present) as he is writing; i.e. the same period that Mann is actually writing the novel.
Adrian Leverkühn starts out as a student of theology, but succumbs to his passion for musical composition. His early pieces, though technically skillful, lack energy and imagination. However, all this changes when the young man experiences himself as having made a pact with the devil. In a confession written years later, Adrian recounts that he "voluntarily" contracted syphilis in an encounter with a prostitute, an episode that he believed was emblematic of this Faustian bargain.
In the confession he recreates his dialog with Satan, who promises the composer an artistic breakthrough, if he agrees to forego human love. As a result of the pact, Leverkühn sets off on a brilliant 24-year career, becoming the greatest German composer of his time. Throughout the novel Serenus intersperses technical details of Leverkühn’s many compositions, culminating with his masterwork, an oratorio called "The Lamentation of Doctor Faustus."
Adrian Leverkühn had been a self-centered youth who failed to reciprocate the friendship and devotion that others, especially Serenus, had lavished upon him. As an adult he leads an austere, solitary, monk-like life. Yet, while he lives only for his music, he also yearns for love. His personal life consists of a series of aborted relationships. Leverkühn becomes attracted to a female acquaintance and asks a friend to court her for him, only to learn that she has fallen in love with the friend.
Toward the end of his career, Adrian’s 5-year-old nephew comes to live with him in the country. The nephew ignites in him another spark of love, only to be snuffed out when the boy suddenly dies of meningitis. Finally, just as he is in the process of "unveiling" his great composition to a select group of friends, Leverkühn experiences a "stroke" and lapses into a coma from which he recovers physically, but not mentally. He survives for another decade in a demented, childlike state, and cared for by his mother.
The larger theme of this somber work relates to the decline of German culture during the decades before the onset of the Nazi era. Mann explores the collapse of traditional humanism and its replacement by a mixture of sophisticated nihilism and barbaric primitivism. In "The Story of a Novel" (1949),
Mann wrote that "Dr. Faustus" was about "the flight from the difficulties of a cultural crisis into the pact with the devil; the craving of a proud mind, threatened by sterility, for an unblocking of inhibitions at any cost; and the parallel between pernicious euphoria ending in collapse with the nationalistic frenzy of Fascism." In Zeitblum’s narrative comments, Mann subtly relates the composer’s personal tragedy to Germany’s destruction in the war. Mann also claimed a "secret identity" between himself, Leverkühn, and Zeitblom.
Olga is a lovely, plump, and friendly girl; the kind of girl whom everyone wants to squeeze and cry delightedly, "You darling!" She marries Kukin, the manager of the amusement park, and lives quite happily, selling tickets to his shows and parroting Kukin’s opinions about the theater.
But Kukin dies while in Moscow on a business trip. Olga goes into deep mourning, but within a few months she marries Pustovalov, the timber merchant. Now Olga adopts Pustovalov’s opinions--all business, no theater. When Pustovalov dies, Olga begins an affair with Smirnin, an army veterinary surgeon who is separated from his wife. While she lives with Smirnin, Olga is full of talk about animals and their diseases.
Finally, Smirnin is transferred elsewhere; Olga is left with nothing to talk about--the darling has no opinions of her own. Many years later, Smirnin returns to the town with his wife and son. Olga becomes attached to the young boy and her eyes light up again. She has something to talk about!
The film is an adaptation of an award-winning play by Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean writer forced into exile in 1973. Through revelatory events affecting the three characters, audiences learn about atrocities committed by the Fascist government that had, until recently, ruled the unnamed country where the story is set.
Paulina Escobar (Sigourney Weaver) had been a political prisoner during the oppressive period who was tortured by her captors. After gaining her trust by treating her kindly and playing a tape of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, Dr. Miranda, a physician (Ben Kingsley) cruelly participated in the abusive treatment of his powerless victim. Gerardo Escobar (Stuart Wilson), then her boyfriend, now her husband, had been editor of the underground newspaper and target of the absolutist regime. In spite of torture, she did not disclose his whereabouts and, in effect, saved his life.
Currently, Paulina lives with Gerardo in a desolate coastal setting. At the film’s onset, viewers note Paulina’s agitation concerning a news bulletin about the presidential appointment of a human rights commission charged with investigating abuses by the previous regime. According to the report, her lawyer husband has been appointed committee chair. The remainder of the film concerns victim, physician, and husband of that oppressive period who through strange circumstances are brought together during the night.
Reminiscent of a Lear-like heath, past terrors are howled out against a raging storm. On his way home Gerardo’s tire became flat and he was picked up and brought home by Miranda, a good Samaritan. When Paulina, who had been blindfolded during her captivity, recognizes his voice and pet phrases, she steals his car and pushes it over the cliff into the sea. Totally perplexed by the Paulina’s actions, the men pace about in the living room where the doctor delivers derisive diatribes about women in general and wives in particular. Gerardo, to a lesser extent, expresses condemnation and embarrassment for his wife’s inexplicable behavior.
When she returns, both men have had too much to drink; she finds a gun in their house, tapes the groggy physician to a chair, pistol whips him as he resists and shouts, stuffs her panties into his mouth, and begins a heated exchange with her incredulous and very angry husband. He wants evidence for her seemingly preposterous charge. She can "smell" him she screams; she found a tape of the Schubert String Quartet in D Minor in his car; and he quotes Nietzsche just as he did when she was strapped to a table. Under much strain, her husband agrees to a taped trial in which he will represent the accused and force a confession.
((Note: This film has a surprise ending that will be discussed below.) Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) are friends, two sex-obsessed 17-year-olds boys who flirt with the beautiful and somewhat older (and married) Luisa (Maribel Verdú), at a wedding and invite her to drive with them to an imaginary beach. She pays little attention, but after discovering that her husband has cheated on her again, she decides to flee her crumbling and childless marriage and calls the boys to see if the invitation is still good. The boys quickly make real plans and all three take off to a remote destination.
There is a lot of driving, and the three talk a lot about sex, and then have it. When things threaten to blow apart because of jealousy between the immature boys, Luisa steps in aggressively to take control of the road trip to make it continue to work for her. After she imposes her rules, there are some fine moments of peace at the beach, with Luisa enjoying the natural beauty of the waterfront and also a more mature relationship with the boys. She even attempts a tender if unhappy telephone farewell with her unfaithful husband.
At the beach, Luisa becomes close to a local fisherman, his wife, and their young child, and when the boys have to get back, Luisa announces she is staying at the beach with the fisherman's family. A month later the boys hear that she has died from cancer. A voice-over tells us that the boys will eventually split up with their girlfriends and never see each other again. Luisa's achievement is what remains.
This is a poem that celebrates the divided self and disconnection. The speaker wonders whether his tendency to be scattered--to not "find out till tomorrow / what you felt today"--is natural, is in fact, "what makes our species great." Is this "dividedness" what allowed "surgeon Keats to find a perfect rhyme / wrist-deep in the disorder / of an open abdomen"? The poem ends with another kind of disconnectedness: a deliberate separation of self from "the whole world in unison" that is preparing itself for the onset of winter: "I have this strange conviction / that I am going to be born."