Reel life

Comments on contemporary culture by Mark Hadley

Meaning beyond the darkness


Three films worth thinking seriously about these summer holidays …

The Witches (December 10)

Formerly brought to the big screen by Jim Henson in 1990, Roald Dahl’s memorable children’s book The Witches returns to film as a dark comedy for families, this time set in America. The story opens in 1960s Alabama where a grandmother (Octavia Spencer) is raising her newly orphaned grandson. A dark shadow is cast over their growing happiness, though, when the boy captures the attention of a local witch.

What follows is a desperate attempt at evasion that leads grandma and child to a hotel. However, the establishment turns out to be hosting the annual international convention for witches. There, the pair learns from the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) of a nefarious plan to transform the world’s children into mice.

The Witches sounds grim family viewing, but it’s laced with plenty of fun by veteran director Robert Zemeckis. Though while the content’s not scary, there’s still a certain creepiness about a world populated by witches, as well as a serious message. Dahl’s original warning that evil can lurk behind a nice exterior is still one children should be well aware of.

The Midnight Sky (December 10)

George Clooney directs and stars in a post-apocalyptic science-fiction film that firmly places our responsibility to others over our rights as an individual.

Augustine Lofthouse is a lonely scientist based in a remote Arctic research station with his daughter. The emergence of a mysterious global catastrophe, though, leads them to believe that they are the last people on earth – and therein lies their responsibility. Ether, a spaceship that was supposed to be the last hope for humanity, is on its return voyage to earth. Augustine and his daughter must brave freezing temperatures, increasingly toxic air and the dangers of the arctic landscape to reach an antenna in order to warn its astronauts … not to return.

The Midnight Sky includes all of the harrowing elements of zero-G tragedy matched against a frantic survival story. However, the overwhelming theme is the sacrifice of the few for the many. It’s an unusual lesson in terms of cinema releases today. Yet its value lies in reminding us of humanity’s most significant storyline: one man must sacrifice himself for all, if all hope to have a chance at living.

The Father (December 26)

The Father will move anyone with an ageing parent to tears. Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman star in a story about a man in his 80s slowly falling under the spell of dementia.

Anthony refuses all assistance until his daughter Anne employs a nurse so he can stay at home, and then moves in to keep him company. However, as the plot unfolds, this human drama begins to take on the characteristics of a psychological thriller. Anthony is mostly bright and cheery, but his failure to understand what is going on around him leads him to question his living arrangements and loved ones – even his sanity.

The Father is both heartbreaking and groundbreaking because the story is told from Anthony’s perception, placing us directly in the mind of someone with dementia. Watching Hopkins’ character try to rationally explain his world to himself is both disturbing and moving. As a film, it also frames the Bible’s testament that we are powerless to prevent all things passing away. Best to remember our maker, ‘ … before the silver cord is severed and the golden bowl is broken’.

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