On Binge-watching and Depression

I read an article a couple of months ago on Buzzfeed. It was all about the TV series people watched when they were depressed (it’s here!). The thing I watched, in November and December last year, wasn’t on the list. For some reason, I was obsessed with House.

I was prescribed anti-depressants in November. I hadn’t taken them for nine years and I couldn’t remember how I felt when I was on them. I don’t remember being very present, so I was hesitant to start taking them again. When the doctor says that it’ll take around two weeks to adjust, they are being fairly conservative with their estimate. I couldn’t think – I got my boyfriend to look at an essay I’d written for uni because I couldn’t concentrate on it. It barely made any sense. My fears about medication had been confirmed but, hey, I didn’t really mind at that point.

I couldn’t read, couldn’t write and was feeling very tired all of the time. But at least I wasn’t constantly crying anymore. I had no job to go to and I was too tired in the mornings to get up to go to seminars. I found that I could do domestic cleaning and cooking tasks if I was listening to something. And then I realized that House was on Netflix.

When House was first on, in the long-ago time of the mid-noughties when we had to wait a whole week between episodes, I would watch it every week. I liked watching it with my mum the most, because she was a nurse (and has now just retired) and she would sometimes guess what the problem was before the doctors / actors. I liked that.

I started watching House. I can’t explain why I got so addicted to it. House made sardonic comments about the state of humanity – he lives in a worldview where ‘everybody lies’ – this appealed to me in my sedated but still fairly nihilistic state. It was a strange sort of comfort I got from watching these episodes. Based, as the show is, on Sherlock Holmes, there is a formula: clever man eventually finds out The Thing. Then everything goes back to normal.

Perhaps it was the curing of patients that got to me, perhaps it was the disaffected world view that Dr House presents. Whatever it was, watching Dr House was all I could do for a couple of months as my medication kicked in. I thought I was alone in the bizarre phenomenon, but the Buzzfeed article made me see that this wasn’t the case. When a person can’t read, they need to get their stories from somewhere. Maybe experiencing stories is something intrinsically vital to us. And, because television is so passive, it can just sit there with you as you attempt to get back on your feet. Binge-watching TV is not a solution to any problem, but it can help your brain switch off for a little while.

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It’s a Wonderful Life

My boyfriend and I have developed a Christmas ritual: watching It’s a Wonderful Life at the cinema as close as we possibly can to Christmas (this year it’s Christmas Eve). The viewings tend to be sold out and, in contrast to the shoppers outside, everyone seems to be in a good – festive, even – mood. You can take mulled wine into the screening. I do love my local cinema.

What’s interesting about It’s a Wonderful Life is that George Bailey is having a pretty awful Christmas; this is one of the reasons the film wasn’t very successful when it was released, because it was deemed too depressing. This time of year, people are forced into faking smiles when they don’t feel like smiling. Loved ones are missed and it’s the darkest time of the year in the Northern hemisphere. I felt awful at one point last week; and the merry people wearing Christmas jumpers and wacky hats promoting their charities to jingly songs made everything seem so much worse. It’s a difficult time of year for so many, made harder by the almost forced jollity.

George Bailey is at his lowest on Christmas Eve. He’s then shown the effect he has on the small town he’s longed to leave for years. His wife, without him, works in the local library – the horror! Even though the film leaves me, anyway, feeling smiley and loved-up; the majority of the film is depressing. I do like depressing things though, anything that can make me feel something. But although viewers go away thinking how nice everything is, the Baileys’ have a terrible Christmas. George yelled at a teacher and his children, their house is run-down, not to mention the lost money that George feels bad enough about to commit suicide over. It’s quite a deceptive film really, and the optimistic ending makes people leave the film feeling one way, but what if the film finished sooner?

Christmas is a hard time of year for many people. I feel lucky that I can go to see a film that I really enjoy and spend a day or two with the people I love and like. Which I suppose is the general gist of It’s a Wonderful Life.

I hope you have a great holiday season and thank you for taking the time to read my blog this year. Merry Christmas!

Belle: Film Review

Photo by David Appleby - © 2013 - Fox Searchlight Pictures

Photo by David Appleby – © 2013 – Fox Searchlight Pictures

I first heard about this film through somebody saying it was one of a very small amount released this year that passed the Bechdel test. This means that two female characters in the film talk to each other about something other than a man. For a film that is set in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and one of the female character’s main concern is finding a man to marry, I find this quite odd.

(Loosely) based on a real story, Dido Elizabeth Belle was the daughter of an English Admiral and an African slave. She was sent to live with her great-uncle, who also happened to be Lord Chief Justice, at a crucial time in legislation of the slave trade. Belle married John Davinier (portrayed in the film as an up-and-coming lawyer; in real life he was a gentleman’s steward). In the film Belle and Davinier fall in love after he teaches her about the slave trade she has been sheltered from hearing about. Both then set out to convince the Lord Chief Justice to rule against a company viewing the people on the slave ships as cargo.

I didn’t realise until afterwards that a lot of this is fictional, but it doesn’t matter to me. The story was a good one, it made for a lot of dramatic tension and interesting speeches. I liked the way the film undermined the superiority of the British as well: the only reason why the country was so rich was because they exploited people and kept people as slaves, doing their dirty work. A lot of people here seemingly would like to see a return to those days, ignoring the fact that to have that level of finery, people must be treated badly somewhere. I think that all historical films are more of an account of the period in which they were filmed, rather than the actual period that they portray. This film is no different. I feel it spoke to today’s society very much. A lot of our laws are so historical and outdated; a lot of people are prejudiced today (perhaps especially behind backs).

Another thing I liked was the friendship between Belle and Elizabeth. They were honest with each other, laughed together, knew each other very well. When Belle warned Elizabeth about a suitor who was horrible to her, Elizabeth didn’t end up hating her as she would have in a lot of films. I thought their relationship was genuine and you don’t see that in many films. Also the suitor Elizabeth liked was Tom Felton (aka Malfoy from Harry Potter), so I didn’t know why they thought he would be anything other than evil.

There was a lot of good acting in this film. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle) and Sam Reid (Davinier) had amazing chemistry. Miranda Richardson played Lady Ashford, a horrible woman, very well. Also I loved the script. I really am quite fond of this film; it is an intelligent and compassionate movie that deserves a wide audience.

Orange is the New Black: Season Two

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(Spoilers)

 
Season two of Orange is the New Black started off strange: Piper was being taken away to a mysterious place, the audience knew as little as she did. The car she was made to get in, and then the plane, gave the episode a very different feel. The audience and Piper were led to believe that she had killed Pennsatucky in the attack that ended the last series. I think the first couple of episodes fell a little flat for me because I missed the other women. Luckily they returned shortly after, minus Alex.

I like Piper’s character arc though because she has really hardened since the first season. The people she loved turned against her because she couldn’t decide what she wanted. Her complex relationship with Alex is examined further in this season. And Larry is now bizarrely in love with Piper’s old best friend, though it developed organically enough. So by the end of this season, Piper doesn’t care who she annoys. She is not the same person anymore.

The first season was focalised entirely through Piper’s eyes. We saw Alex as bad because Piper didn’t like her; her and other characters are made more complex this season. Crazy Eyes is given a more open story: she is no longer just somebody who wants Piper for her prison wife. Vee manipulates her horribly, as she does with everybody, but because she was nice to Crazy Eyes, she doesn’t want to see her as anything other than good. Poor Crazy Eyes starts to almost worship Vee, beating people up on her say so. I’d like to watch the series again, so I can see Vee’s psychopathy knowing where it leads. Vee certainly has an effect on the inmates in Lichfield. By the end I was rooting for her to leave, though. It was interesting to see how happy the rest of the inmates were after she went missing.

I really like this show because it shows a lot of women who are the opposite of perfect. They’ve taken wrong turns and ended up in prison. I like the flashbacks, the backstories, of the incarcerated women. I like how it questions accepted versions of right and wrong; good and evil. You end up cheering for characters who have done some awful things. I like how the writers play with this idea, and I like that they have a sense of humour about it: they are not earnest. I like how they have created complex characters out of people society would often rather forget. And it uses a brilliant ensemble cast to do it.

I really enjoyed binge-watching the new series of Orange is the New Black and now can’t wait for the next one. This is the problem with binge-watching TV shows: they are only just released and you’re back to waiting for the next series a week later. It’s worth it though! Orange is the New Black is a great show and deserves a bigger audience.

Before Sunrise / Before Sunset / Before Midnight

Some favourite movies: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight #love

A post shared by Kate Lunn-Pigula (@katelunnpigula) on

I love these films. There isn’t a plot in any real sense; it’s just two characters talking to each other most of the time. But this is what I love about these films: it feels real. Julie Delpy plays Céline and Ethan Hawke plays Jesse. They meet by accident on a train in the first film, Before Sunrise. They spend their night talking and feeling connected to each other, then at the end of the film they agree to an An Affair to Remember-esque meeting in six months if they still have feelings for each other. Young and optimistic, they decide not to exchange phone numbers. Before Sunset picks off with Jesse’s Parisian leg of his book tour, nine years later, when he finally gets to reconcile with Céline.

‘I guess when you’re young, you just believe there’ll be many people with whom you’ll connect with. Later in life, you realize it only happens a few times.’

Life inbetween these films has been hard for both characters, both can’t forget the other. Before Midnight, released last year, sees them together with four-year old twins. Their long and intriguing talks have been replaced as they have gotten used to each other. Both have made sacrifices yet finally have a night to themselves, away from the children.

‘If you want true love then this is it. This is real life. It’s not perfect, but it’s real.’

I love these films because Delpy and Hawke have amazing chemistry. Their conversations are in insight into different personalities and thoughts and feelings. Neither character is easily put into a box, as is often the case with film portrayals of characters. They are imperfect and relatable (in quite a subtle way – no constant clumsiness or falling over which is how a lot of media portray relatable people). They are real thinking people who want to connect with each other. It’s fascinating to watch the intimacy of the two characters just talking to each other. And in some ways, they are still getting to know each other in the final film. A question that has always fascinated me is ‘how well can we really know another person?’ In the final film Jesse says that he knows Céline better than he knows anybody else. This is probably the most honest thing you can say to a significant other.

The films follow the protagonists’ relationships with themselves and with each other. Interestingly, concerning my love for Anais Nin, I thought it was interesting to note that Kim Krizan, the co-creator of the characters along with Richard Linklater, is a Nin scholar and wrote the foreword to a recent book about her. I think that there is some relation between Nin’s writing and these films. Both are very human, I think, very honest about relationships and human behaviour.

Happy Belated Birthday, Marilyn Monroe

Copyright Milton Greene

It would have been Marilyn Monroe’s 88th birthday on June 1st. I first became a fan of her when I was a teenager. I saw how sensitive she was in her movies, how vulnerable she let herself be, and realised it was ok if I was like that too. Also, I thought her dresses were pretty and I wanted to be able to wear them.

For all of her glamour, I found Marilyn to be authentic. She said ‘I don’t care about money, I just want to be wonderful.’ She wanted to be wonderful at her job: she fled her Hollywood life when her bosses wanted her to do yet another silly musical. She went to New York and joined the Actor’s Studio: she wanted to be respected and good at her job even though she was one of the most famous actresses in the world. She then started her own production company with Milton Greene, her photographer friend who took the above picture. This is one of the things I admire most about her. Marilyn was one of the first actresses to start her own production company. Marilyn Monroe Productions only made two films but she got to actually act in them, she wasn’t just there to be looked at.

She wrote poetry and was always trying to teach herself new things. A book was published a few years ago called Fragments, which shows her writings and poems. It showed her wanting to succeed; it showed her feelings. She always wanted to improve herself. I like how Marilyn can be both sensitive and strong at the same time. I feel like a lot of the time people think that they’re mutually exclusive. She said that ‘men are climbing to the moon but they don’t seem interested in the beating human heart.’ Her humanity was her strength: it was what made her a good actress and comedienne.

I think that partly too, as a rather depressive teenager, I felt that I understood some of her sadness. Marilyn’s mental health has been much talked about and we can’t be sure what is true. She lived in an era that thought it knew more about mental health than it actually did. Some of the things that should have cured her possibly only made her worse. But I think that too often people feel like they should put Marilyn Monroe in a box; she must have been a certain way because she had blonde hair and said dumb things sometimes in movies. She was a real person, fallible.

So happy belated birthday Marilyn Monroe! I need to re-watch Some Like it Hot soon, it’s one of my favourite movies.

Mad Men: Mid-Season Review

Image by Milton Glaser

(Spoilers)

Mad Men’s final season is at its halfway point. The rest of the season won’t be aired until next year, which seems unfair. A lot happened in this last episode, and half-season, which reminded me why I fell in love with the show in the first place.

Don and Megan broke up over the phone. Most of the characters in this episode aren’t truly connecting to other people anymore, a comment on the impact of what is said to be modernity’s defining decade. The crux of this episode centres around the characters watching the moon landing on their TVs. This, predictably, reminds me of an Anais Nin quote: she said, ‘we are going to the moon, that is not very far. Man has so much farther to go within himself.’ What price has this technological advancement paid? The company now has their own computer (which requires a room of its own and contributed to Ginsberg’s heart-breaking demise), and a lot of the characters are lonely and in broken relationships. In the last episode, Peggy, Don and Pete are seen enjoying burgers together in a fast food restaurant; they are now each other’s family because they have nobody else to sit around the dinner table with.

Bert’s sudden death made Roger be what Bert told him he couldn’t be, a leader. He manages to convince the others to be bought by a bigger company (by the end of the ‘60s we see the beginnings of the huge Multi-National Corporations we see today). The 1960s was a decade that hugely changed society and you can see many stands of this throughout the six-and-a-half series of Mad Men. I would like to go back to some seasons that I thought weren’t as good as others, just to revisit the small ways in which the writers have subtly crafted the story. Peggy, and a lot of other women on the show, came a long way in the 1960s. But in a recent episode Peggy is told, ‘you’re one of the best women in this business.’ The look on her face as she is told that Don will make a more convincing presentation is awful: she has hit the glass ceiling. She is told she will never be as good as a man in the advertising business.

I’ve always liked how Mad Men has realistic characters: sometimes the likable ones do awful things, and vice versa. The story always feels organic, the characters are honest. There is no agenda here, the characters make mistakes and wonder about their life choices. Peggy has done a great job in being ‘one of the best women’ in advertising, but she still wonders if she should have just married and had children. Of course these trailblazing women wouldn’t have been happy with the choices they made all of the time. As well, Pete seems to like being in L.A. but still wants to be in Trudy’s life; his daughter acts like she doesn’t know him. I like that the show doesn’t shy away from the messiness of life.

Also, Sally Draper is fast becoming one of my favourite characters. Kiernan Shipka’s adoption of her on-screen mother’s expressions and ways of speaking is fascinating to watch. All in all, I can’t wait until the show returns next year.