This week, on a very special Girls...
One of the most interesting things a television program can do to take advantage of a diverse ensemble is throw a universal theme at the bunch and observe how each character reacts differently. And there’s no theme more universal than death. Maybe Game of Thrones, but that’s out of season. So this week, Girls thrives on the disparate ideologies of its collection of Brooklynites by killing off pseudo-character David Pressler-Goings.
So how does each character react, what is her or his relationship with death, and — most importantly — what does this tell us about the lot of ‘em?
Let’s start with Jessa this time…
…partially because she’s the first person Hannah breaks the news to (after she herself is hit with the tragedy after showing up to David’s office for a meeting), and partially because she’s the only other character who has a tangible story in this episode.
Jessa’s thoughts on death tread on the grand, philosophical side:“It’s something that happens. Like jury duty or floods.” “It must have been so heavy. That moment that it was all going down.””I kind of look forward to the day I die. If you think about it, time isn’t linear. Every moment that has ever happened, or that will ever happen, is happening right now. We just choose to live in this moment to create some illusion of continuity. So, really, we have already died, and also have not yet been born.
But there’s reason to believe that Jessa might not entirely buy into this quantum ideology, at least emotionally. As she reveals to Shoshanna over a subdued lute-plucking, Jessa had a friend named Season who died a long time ago. "My favorite friend," she sweetly reflects. A young woman who she cherished, suffered with, and comes to learn in this particularly eventful episode, is still alive.
After thinking about Season drums up some heavy feelings, Jessa calls Season's mother to get some emotional closure (the usually stoic Jessa is so vulnerable over this situation that she has a difficult time just saying the word "grave"), learning that her deceased friend and fellow addict faked her death long ago in order to get the problematic enabler Jessa out of her life for good. Rattled, angered, and hurt, Jessa tracks Season down to her Brooklyn brownstone, where she lives with her husband and baby, losing her s**t over the revelation that somebody she loved desperately pretended to die in order to get away from her. So far this season, Jessa has been able to keep her issues of loss and loneliness in relative control, but we can't imagine she'll be recovering from such a puzzling punch to the gut so easily.
Though a stranger to David, Adam's heart sinks when he hears about the death of Hannah's editor. What's more, he cannot fathom how his girlfriend is exhibiting such a dearth of emotional sensitivity to the issue (she's primarily concerned abou the fate of her eBook).
Adam's thoughts on death are far more visceral, to the point where he can't even spell them out beyond unsettled groans in response to Hannah's detachment for most of the episode. Until:"If I died, would you just be like, 'Oh, I hope I can make rent"? If you died, the world would blur. I wouldn't know what a tree was."
We don't get any insight into whether or not Adam has a personal experience with a close friend or family member's death, but clearly his sensitivities to the issue are especially potent.
Shoshanna, for a quick sec...
Shoshanna is roped into the story only via the aforementioned scene in which Jessa reveals her Season story, but she does have a lot to say. See, Shoshanna lost a friend too, back in high school, and the experience drummed up enough sadness to inspire her to write a book of poems. Of course, it also allowed her to usurp her role in their social clique, so win some lose some.
He really just shows up to provide another, definitively more surprising, foil to Hannah's attitude. Ray, who intellectualizes every concept, genuinely feels over the death of David (who he only met during last week's bar tustle) and insults Hannah for own "sociopathic detachment." But he spends the rest of his screentime laughing with Colin Quinn at Marnie's music video, so maybe don't consider him such a saint just yet.
"My whole life has been death," Laird says to Hannah. "Sometimes at dinner, when I am sitting at my table, I imagine I am in dialogue will all my dead ones." While Laird also tells Hannah that "you're just going to get number when it all comes like a waterfall," he also breaks down in tears during the tender, painful story of a young girl's death bequeathed unto him and Hannah by Adam's crazy, possibly psychotic sister Liney, from whom Hannah might not be too far a cry...
Hannah opens up to Liney about David's death and about the more pressing issue (in her mind) of Adam's disappointment with her reaction to it. Liney responds by instituting an ad hoc death-themed adventure, leading Hannah and Laird through a cemetary romp and challenging the depths of Hannah's detachment with a tragic story about her and Adam's young cousin who died of cerebral palsy. When she recognizes that Hannah doesn't even grow misty over the story, Liney cackles with delight, admitting that it was all made up, and celebrating Hannah's demented lack of feeling. But it's not the cemetary frolicking or crazy Liney's endorsement of Hannah's callous ways that are especially unsettling. Not compared to the grand finale...
In truth, there could be no character better used as a vehicle for this story than Hannah. Firstly, because she is our vessel into this world, and thus the character we most automatically empathize with (even when we're disapproving of her). But secondly, because Hannah's exhibition throughout and at the end of this episode is a horror story not limited to the parameters of the subject of death, but to the all encompassing reach of life. We see Hannah alter the way she introduces the news of David's death to her friends as the day goes on. First, she tells Jessa, complaining straight away about the uncertain fate of her eBook. She works up a softer approach for Adam, but still jumps into the selfishness quite abjectly. Afterwards, we see Hannah toss in phrases like "I lost a close friend" and pass off her lack of empathy as numbness, knowing full well that she couldn't possibly care less about David's passing. But the culmination of her chilling behavior comes when she, hoping to restore the favor of Adam (the person she claims to love and treasure), recounts the very same fake story that Liney told to her, provoking authentic tears from the sensitive Adam as she produces her own set of synthetic waterworks.
It's a horrifying scene because of how much it does hit home, on both sides. It takes a special kind of person to pull what Hannah pulls here, but the idea of emotional manipulation is not a strange one to anybody in any kind of relationship. Really, it's scary to see how close some of us might be to the capability of this act. Saying whatever possible to get things back to the way we're comfortable with them, convincing others (and ourselves) of outright lies in order to restore order or feel better. If you don't shudder with the familiarity of the final scene of this week's Girls, then good for you for living honestly so far. But although Hannah does take a very extreme and dark measure here, it's just a smidgen too close to home, and it's not a pretty sight.
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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.