Tarantino review: violence and violence against women

Tarantino review: violence and violence against women

Spoilers ahead!

In Tarantino’s new film, ageing actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) avenge the Manson family’s murder of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) through a fictional retelling of the story.

 

I was dragged off to the cinema last week to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (OUaTiH). I wasn’t too excited because I’ve never been much of a Tarantino fan: I find his plots too basic and his violence too extreme. His films usually make me feel as though I’ve stopped to enjoy someone else’s car crash or gone to the modern version of a public execution. 

I found OUaTiHa bit more sophisticated than Tarantino’s usual gore-fests: his views on murder and gender politics were original. Recently the world – myself included – has been obsessing over serial killers and famous murders (eg. Netflix and Hollywood’s new documentaries about Ted Bundy and Madeleine McCann).

The problem is that mentally ill and violent people are being made glamorous. The stories are horrible but engrossing, and many murderers such as Manson and Bundy have attracted fan clubs – people drawn in by their notoriety and by the mystery that surrounds them. 

Tarantino does not romanticise his violence in the same way. He strips it of its mystery and shows it as it is: colourful, brutal and animal – almost healthy. There is no glorification of any murderer – neither Cliff Booth nor the Manson family are shown as admirable characters. 

Both Booth and the Manson family are sinister: scenes with Booth and his monster-like dog hint at his sordid past. There’s a rumour that he murdered his wife, and it’s believable. The Manson family is brilliantly sketched – Tarantino focusses particularly on their movements, giving them the terrifying physicality of a brainwashed but sexually intriguing army.

Tarantino has never been a sensitive director, but for me, this film was about himself. The title pays homage to his love of Westerns, but also describes the film as a love letter to the industry. There was a warmth to it: this is a director who has had a long and successful career, who has worked with actors dealing with the highs and lows of fame.

The film does what La La Land didn’t: it captures humanity in Hollywood. It’s also very much about its director’s trademark violence. He plays with his audience. The film covers short periods of time with a huge attention to detail and, unusually for Tarantino, follows a linear storyline. Except for the last 10 minutes, the film contains only hints of imminent violence. 

The film almost ends without bloodshed. Knowledge of the Charles Manson story adds to the suspense: we already know where and when the violence will be. There will be no surprises, it will be a simple and satisfying climax. But when the violence arrives, announced by Rick Dalton’s TV – “Here comes the moment you’ve all been waiting for!” – Tarantino takes back control. 

Instead of being true to historical events, Tarantino twists the story so that the murderers become the murdered. Every viewer in the cinema exacts revenge on an infamous group of killers, and enjoys it. The punchy music and the gags make watching two men murder three teenagers a hugely enjoyable experience.

Criticism of the film has honed in on Tarantino’s violence against women. It’s set in 1969, and an eloquent 10 year old gives a comical rant about feminism to a hungover Rick Dalton, who looks lost. She is later thrown on the floor at his suggestion. Booth heroically rejects the advances of a teenage member of the Manson family, because she is too young. Sharon Tate is given very few lines, which has surprised many of Robbie’s fans. Later on, two female Manson family members are viciously murdered by two men.

If looked at from a certain perspective, these facts add up to an uncomfortable portrayal of women. But I don’t think this is what the film was trying to say. Robbie’s character is powerful: it represents a new generation of hollywood and the gentle thrills of burgeoning fame. The 10 year old may have been inserted as a joke, but her character helps a gloomy Rick believe in himself: her speech has an impact. Booth’s rejection of the girl who almost forces herself on him simply confirms that more men should ask how old girls are before they sleep with them.

The murder of the two women at the end of the film seems almost “an eye for an eye”: in real life, these girls stabbed an entire household to death. And Cliff Booth is no hero – Tarantino does not justify his actions, he simply shows a version of humanity that is in us all. An animal desire for violence. 

 

Photo by SONY Pictures Entertainment

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Review: When They See Us

Review: When They See Us

The Netflix limited series, When they see us has been a ghost from the past that continues the haunt the future. What did I see in this horrific but notoriously famous story of the Central Five? I see how it still is a challenge to find justice in America. I see how stereotypes have shattered the mere hope that has been battling through ages among the exploited. This show is a must-watch.It makes you quiver, it wants you to feel guilty of all the wrongdoing. It doesn’t tread on lightly. It wants you to stand up. 

Thirty years ago, five young boys of colour were arrested and charged with rape, physical assault of a white female jogger in Central Park. The prosecutors and reporters went on to name the teenagers as – now famously known – the Central Park Five. 

Ava DuVernay, who co-wrote and directed the series, lets her sensitivity about what happened to those boys shine throughout the show. When they see us shows what each of them had to deal with individually when they were coerced into giving false confessions. This eventually led them to do time for a crime they never committed. In 2002, they were finally exonerated when their convictions were vacated when another man came forward and confessed to this crime. 

The intimate approach by DuVernay and powerhouse performances by all the actors definitely strikes a chord with the audience. The five accused namely, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray and Korey Wise reminds you how on the basis of colour you can never be at the wrong place at the wrong time. These five men are introduced to us as five young teenagers strolling through Central Park having a fun time on that fateful night. This convenient circumstance leads the prosecutor Linda Fairstein played by hugely talented Felicity Huffman gives you the taste of white privilege that never shies away from the reality of things. 

Although the first three episodes focus on the gruesome attack and the trial that follows leading to the imprisonment of the five teenagers, the fourth episode solely focuses on Korey Wise.The only one of the five who was sentenced as an adult and the one who winds up spending the most time behind bars in various prisons. Korey is the only character portrayed from his teen years to adulthood by the same actor of Moonlight fame, Jharrel Jerome who delivers a standout performance and is someone to look out for! 

President Trump did not welcome the Netflix show with open arms, as the show reveals footage of a press conference at the time of the trial, when asked to comment about the case, Donald Trump said ’’You’d better believe I hate the people who did this”, while one of the mothers of the accused is watching. When they see us may have a triumphant ending for the protagonists but it makes you wonder how many innocents may still be rotting in prisons. 

The statement that is prominently projected on to the audience by this show is held throughout the series and the triumph of the director comes across in this achievement. She reminds us that, in the US, people of colour are presumed guilty at all times even by white liberals sometimes. This series will not let you forget how the justice system, the press and the people of America have failed people of colour in the past and unfortunately in the present too.

Photo: Netflix

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Book Review: The Milkman

Book Review: The Milkman

Milkman by Anna Burns, may be set in 1970s Belfast, against the backdrop of the troubles, but it is not a historical novel. The city is never named, much like the novel’s characters. They are referred to with titles such as ‘middle sister’ and ‘maybe boyfriend’. The book views the conflict that engulfed Belfast at the time from the eyes of an eighteen year old girl with no interest in the Troubles. She hides from the world around her by burying her head in 19th century novels as she walked because she ‘did not like the 20th century’. This act of eccentricity marks her as ‘beyond the pale’ and therefore her activities are seen as suspicious by many in her community. When a paramilitary known as ‘the milkman’ becomes possessive and begins to stalk her, it is automatically assumed by many in the community that they are having an affair.  This leads to her place in society falling even further, as the effects of the milkman’s actions cause a strain on her mental health and relationships. 

The violence of the troubles is never explicitly shown in Milkman. However, the oppression of ordinary people by paramilitary and State forces through tribalism and the patriarchal nature of warfare is very much evident.  Every character has to be careful not to be seen with the wrong type of newspaper, buying the wrong type of butter or drinking the wrong type of tea. This feeling of constant surveillance feels far more sinister than a graphic description of torture or murder.

Millkman is definitely not a fun beach read.  Anna Burns has a very specific and unique writing style which can make it quite hard to follow at times. However that does not take from the fact this is truly a phenomenal and original piece of work.

Photo: Milkman Book cover, published by Faber and Faber

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With a thought-provoking and graphic video for her new song God Control, pop star Madonna set herself on a mission to raise awareness about gun control, but found criticism on the way.

The video, directed by Jonas Åkerlund, is over ten minutes long and follows a writer, Madame X (aka Madonna), writing a story about a mass shooting in a nightclub. 

Its most powerful element is its juxtaposition of sounds. Before Madonna’s song kicks in, the video fluctuates between the clicks of a typewriter, the faint thudding of a nightclub, eerie anticipatory silences and loud, startling gunshots.  At first it reminded me of a subpar version of Alan Clarke’s Elephant, another film about the mindless violence of shooting people: both shock their audience with the simple sounds of murder.

At the end of the video, the viewer is told to “wake up”, and the words “Gun Control Now” appear in white and red across the screen. This seems a little patronising, particularly as a large number of Americans are greatly active in the battle against the gun problem in the States. 

And, indeed, the video has also been criticised by those who believe that Madonna has been taking advantage of what has been a very real situation to many (particularly those at Pulse nightclub in 2016) in order to gain views. Her response is predictable: she wants to make America a safer place for everyone, and is using her influence as a celebrity in order to do so.

It’s true that the video toes the line between tasteful protest and narcissism. Over the course of the ten minutes, the camera flicks back again and again to Madonna sitting at a typewriter, writing the words that many have been uttering for years, as though she is the first to ever have thought of them. Her dancing scenes in the nightclub where the shooting takes place seems particularly distasteful.

The idea that people will take more action if they see Madonna being shot in a nightclub in a fictional music video than their response to the frequent and non-fictional mass murders of children in the States makes us see the title in a potentially ironic light – God, here, seems to be how Madonna perceives herself. Does it take the imagined death of a pop star instead of the real death of children for people to take action against guns?

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Women’s World Cup: A Game of Two Halves

Women’s World Cup: A Game of Two Halves

The popularity of this summer’s Women’s World Cup was unprecedented…

Record numbers of viewers tuned in to watch the matches. England’s semi-final match against the United States (US), with nearly 12 million views, was the most watched English TV programme of the year. Ditto France’s quarter-final match against the US.  

US viewership of the final in which its team defeated the Netherlands 2-0 was 22% higher than the 2018 men’s final. Remarkably, 88% of Dutch TV viewers also watched the match. Overall, FIFA estimates that this year’s World Cup has attracted one billion viewers for the first time in history. 

Despite Ireland’s team failing to qualify, Irish viewers also tuned-in in their droves, with a peak audience of 315,000 watching England’s dramatic defeat on RTE (surprise, surprise). The fact that Michele O’Neill was assistant referee during the final (becoming the first ever Irish woman to referee a World Cup soccer match) also helped to pique interest levels. 

There are several reasons for the dramatic take-off in viewership for this year’s World Cup. 

For one thing, the skill levels in the women’s game are increasing year on year. In soccer, skill is most accurately measured by the number of passes in a game, rather than by the number of goals. For instance, a typical English Premier League game contains more than 900 passes but this falls to about 650 passes for games in the fourth division. The average number of passes in this year’s World Cup is up 10% on 2015 levels, with latest figures from Opta showing the average game had 825 passes – and that data does not even factor in the knock-out games! The prize money on offer also doubled to 30 million dollars, compared with the 2015 prize pot. The fact that most countries broadcast the World Cup on free-to-air channels like RTE also helped to win more viewers.

Another key reason for the growth in women’s football is the transformative power of new, multi-million sponsorship deals. Some sponsors like Visa are now spending equally on promoting the women’s World Cup as on the men’s. UEFA’s recent unbundling of the rights to the women’s competitions in Europe also encouraged many female-focused brands like Avon to get involved. 

However, issues remain. The annual global wage for a female professional footballer is around 7000 dollars. In England, which has one of the wealthier competitions, a female footballer barely takes home one-hundredth of what a Premier League male footballer makes. These financial issues lead many female footballers to consider throwing in their proverbial boots. 

The US women’s team marked International Women’s Day 2019 by filing a class-action suit against their employer, the United States Soccer Federation, alleging that differences in pay and employment conditions between the women’s and men’s teams violate the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act because the women’s team is getting paid less despite engaging in “substantially equal work”

The US team also called out the FIFA scheduling of the World Cup final as “disrespectful” to the women’s game due to the decision to schedule the Copa America final and the Gold Cup final on the same day.

Closer to home, the FAI has attracted criticism for its perceived failure to truly progress the women’s game. Colin Bell, the former manager of the Irish women’s team, recently stepped down due to his frustration with how women’s football is being handled in this country. In Ireland, aside from the Senior Cup final, there is little to no coverage of domestic women’s football in the media or on television and the women’s game is definitely not getting the attention, nor the financial support, it needs and deserves. 

Don’t be a Fairweather Fan. Let’s show that our support for women’s football is not a passing fad! Now that the furor of the World Cup has passed, why not find out more about the Irish women’s national team and consider going to see them playing in person?

Photo courtesy of US Soccer WNT via Twitter

Browse more stories below, or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight into your inbox.

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Addiction in Ireland

Addiction in Ireland

In my hometown of Roscrea recently a man emerged from the grounds of the imposing town castle clutching a joint. After a couple of pulls he sidled up to me and said “Want a toke cuz?”. 

He looked the picture of ill health. Raggedy unwashed clothes and bony narrow face beneath greasy unkempt hair. My only concern was my own personal safety. This man was clearly a drug addict. I resented his encroachment into my personal space. I lamented the fact that he was comfortable enough to roll and light up in the middle of the day as the half-deserted town went about its daily business. 

Across the road the once famous Pathe Hotel remained closed while every second shopfront sported To Let or For Sale signs. The town has been decimated by urbanisation and globalisation and has been ranked high on the deprivation index.

In 2014, Roscrea made national headlines. A spate of drug related suicides and anti-social behaviour plagued the town while austerity saw the police station effectively closed. The locals had enough.700 of them held public meetings and raised their concern at the breakdown of decency and morality in their town.

Drug use and addiction are inextricably linked with youth unemployment and lack of opportunity. In the years since the economic crash the country appears to mirror Roscrea’s experience of socio-economic disadvantage and rising drug abuse.

Between 2004 and 2016 there have been 8207 drug related deaths recorded in Ireland. That’s an average of 683 per year or almost two a day. These figures include the full spectrum of substance abuse from alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, prescription drugs and heroin.

Research into the psychology of addiction proposes strong evidence that drug addiction risk is exacerbated by a confluence of genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors. Individuals with poor inhibitory control are more vulnerable. Inhibition of negative thoughts, actions and behaviours are essential to living a decent life. Self-control is a skill that can be developed in children and young adults however many drug addicts turn to drugs due to early traumatic experiences and lack of economic opportunity, Repeated use of addictive substances disrupts the brains optimal functioning by dulling and weakening the brains executive functioning in the prefrontal cortex. This is the organ of civilisation, the area of the brain that allows us to control, direct and supervise our goal directed behaviour. Bypassing these mechanisms drug addicts behaviour is governed by increased arousal and disruption of the limbic system which is the centre of the brain responsible for reward and motivation to pursue rewards. The limbic system is disrupted by stimulant ingestion leading to automaticised addictive behaviours where the victim can feel helplessly enslaved to his or her need for drug ingestion.

To put it simply the need outweighs the rational self- control elements of the brain. Control systems become highly compromised leading to drug addicts living their lives moment to moment in a constant state of self-destructive nihilism.

Have you ever found yourself reaching for a bar of chocolate, buying a bottle of wine or dialling a fast food restaurant despite being conscious of not wanting to do so yet feeling like you deserve a reward? Multiply that feeling by a hundred and maybe you are close to what it feels like to be ensconced in the belly of the beast and full-blown drug addiction.

Just as it is simplistic and ignorant to tell a person with depression to “snap out of it” it is equally foolish to sternly advise a drug addict to “just give it up”.

Addicts are often helpless amid their maladaptive and self-destructive behavioural patterns which are often exacerbated by society’s disgust and disdain for their predicament. In Ireland the ‘junkie’ is demonised, hated and feared; he (for it is often a he) is considered a threat to personal and public safety and must be treated with contempt.

Plenty of evidence exists in the literature to support links with adverse early child and adolescent experiences, mental health difficulties and the descent into hard drug use. A strong argument can be put forward therefore for the case of diminished responsibility which then leads us to the need for more compassionate and holistic approaches to drug addiction which can mitigate the personal and public safety concerns overall.

Aodhan O Riordan of the Labour Party, the Minister for Drugs in 2015, proposed the idea of injection centres that have been used to great success in Portugal, Holland and Germany. He was quoted at the time in media outlets as saying that Ireland needs to undergo a “cultural shift” in our attitudes to drug addiction. O Riordan advocated a shift from criminalisation to harm reduction. Instead of locking up drug addicts the state should adopt a hands-on compassionate approach which will in turn alleviate the anti-social problems associated with indiscriminate drug use. Safe spaces where users can even bring their own heroin into fully serviced legal injection centres offered a novel and effective approach to our drugs problem, he suggested.

O Riordan subsequently lost his Dail seat, an electoral failure that may be in part explained by his stance as well as the Labour Party’s overall meltdown that year. The current Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne, has supported O Riordan’s policy proposals. In 2017 she indicated that legislation to decriminalize heroin, cocaine and cannabis for personal use could be in place by 2019. The legislation for injection centres has been passed yet a pilot programme for the first injection centre was held up by Dublin City Council citing planning permission issues following representations by concerned community and business groups who clearly do not want to see such injection centres in their locality.

Activation of the legislation and a roll out of nationwide injection centres remains in limbo amidst cries of Nimbyism.All available evidence supports the move towards injection centres. It seems however that most Irish people support a health-based approach to drug addiction… if those centres are not on their own doorstep.

In the classic HBO television series, The Wire, an inner-city Baltimore police chief effectively decriminalises drug use by moving drug abuse to specific derelict areas of the city under the passive supervision of police officers. The result is a decrease in drug related crimes and associated anti-social problems freeing up police officers to focus on traditional police work. The War on Drugs has failed utterly because it is in effect a War on the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalised and the oppressed and only by recognising the issue as a public health problem and not a criminal problem can the effects of drug addiction be tackled. The show’s fictional narrative-written and produced a former police officer and journalist- appears to be mirrored in real life cases. Portugal for example had an estimated 100,000 people addicted to hard drugs in 1999 with high numbers of deaths and overdoses related to addiction. A decade on the number of addicts had been halved while the number of drug overdoses had dropped to double figures after the country’s government opted to embrace the harm reduction approach and decriminalise personal drug use.

In Ireland, 72% of drug possession cases (12,201 arrests) were for personal drug use. There are approximately almost 19,000 opiate users in our country while people seeking help for cocaine use has increased by 32 per cent between 2016 and 2017 with 1500 cases recorded.

The shift from criminalisation to de-stigmatisation appears to be in effect amongst policy makers and the Irish public however progress moves at a snail’s pace. The issue is sensitive politically as O Riordan might attest. In our current binary, discordant and moronic political and ideological climate the wait for a full roll out of harm reduction policy and injection centres seems unlikely to come to fruition anytime soon especially with a general election looming as TD’s frantically attempt to shore up their base.

Fine Gael’s self-crafted PR image as the party of law and order is hardly commensurate with a truly modern mature and intelligent nationwide implantation of harm reduction drug policy. It is likely however that following the general election a stronger impetus for activation of holistic drug treatment will occur leading to reduced public safety concerns and a political success story.

The issue requires long term vision and implantation which is not conducive to the atmosphere of competition during the canvassing period.

Photo courtesy of Josh Calabrese via Unsplash

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