Archive | July 16, 2012

On Totalitarianism–The Fairest of Them All

The Fairest of Them All

A beautiful child and a malformed child stand before me. The mother of the beautiful child weeps quietly into her long stretch of golden hair while the mother of the ugly child curls her lip. I place my hands on the arms of my golden throne and wait.

“What is it you wish?”

The mother of the malformed child bows to me. “O queen, see the children that stand before you. One is a cherub, full of glowing beauty. She will want for nothing in life.”

I look over at the child as she pats at her mother’s hair.

“Indeed, she will want for nothing. I myself was a beautiful child, and look where I am now, the ruler of a kingdom.”

“Not only a ruler, but a fair ruler.” The ugly child’s mother says.

“What do you ask of me?” I say.

“Make my child beautiful, like that one.”

“Like that one? Exactly like? Wouldn’t you rather want your child to be…more beautiful?” I raise an eyebrow. The mother’s eyes light up and she begins to respond, but my advisor interrupts.

“But that, your majesty, would not be fair.” He offers a sweeping bow.

“No, it would not.” I agree. “Tell me, women, what is the meaning of this request? Am I King Solomon? Am I to cut the child in two to see the truth of the matter?”

“Of course not!” The woman is outraged. “I would never suggest such a thing!”

I sigh, “My dear woman, I cannot make your child beautiful. Not by surgery, not by potion and not by witchcraft.”

“But it isn’t fair your majesty! The other children! They hate my daughter for her ugliness!”

I watch her narrowly, “I have already given my answer. What would you have me do?” Again my advisor steps forward.

“Ah, perhaps, my fair queen, you could make the other child less beautiful?”

“That is a thought,” I say, but the beautiful child’s mother objects, scrubbing away at her tears. “Why do you weep?” I ask.

“My husband and son died in a fire last night, a terrible accident. Please, let me live with my daughter in peace. She is all I have left!”

My advisor and I exchange glances. “You, woman, are you still resolute? You wish me to maim this child hoping that your own child may benefit in the process?”

The woman bows to me, “You are the supreme ruler of all the land. We owe all to you, my queen. I ask that you make things fair for us all.”

“You turn the matter entirely over to me?” I smile, “You don’t wish to come to a conclusion yourself?”

“You have the authority, my queen.”

“Authority you gave me.” I say. “I am beautiful, just like this cherub standing here, this child you so despise. And you trust my authority, do you?” The woman nods. “How do you know the fault is not with your own child for being so…ugly? Maybe it is she who is to blame.”

“Surely not!” The mother stamps her foot. “And in any case, you cannot make her beautiful, as you said.”

“I cannot make her outwardly beautiful, but allow her to stay with me for awhile and we will cultivate her inner soul and it will so fine that all the young men––”

“No!” The woman interrupts. “No! Young men only see with their eyes! They will not stop a moment to see into my daughter’s soul! They will trample her on the way to the great beauty’s side!”

“And so you will have me maim this beauty?”

“Yes! I wish for her to be as ugly as my own daughter! If they are both ugly the young men will not prefer one over the other!”

“Indeed the young men may pay them no attention at all,” My advisor says dryly.

I ask the malformed child’s mother if she is certain. The beautiful child’s mother clings to her daughter, looking on in desperation. The woman declares that nothing will do but fairness. I fold my hands and ask the beautiful child to step forward. My advisor tells the guards to hold her mother back.

“Compose yourself, mother.” I order her and look to the child. “Come here.” Trembling, the child steps forward.

“She is beautiful enough to sprout wings!” A nobleman near me gasps. “Do not do this, my queen! Such a pity!”

“Such a pity for your eyes, you mean.” I say sourly. “Now, child, this will only hurt for a moment.” I raise my right hand and put one long, sharp fingernail to the child’s blooming cheek. Quickly and carefully, I make one clean cut on her skin and release the child to her mother who covers the cut with her hair, then her cloak, then her tears. “There. It is done,” I say.

The ugly child’s mother gasps, outraged. “That was nothing! That will heal in a week! My child––”

“Guards go at once to this woman’s home and bring both her husband and son to me. They shall be hung on the gallows at dawn. Tell them that in all fairness to their beautiful neighbor they must be extinguished!”

“What? No, no! My queen, no!” The ugly child’s mother shouts.

“My dear woman, what are you so upset about?”

“You cannot kill my husband and son!”

“Why not?” I laugh. “You gave me authority to do so!  It isn’t fair for your daughter to have a father and brother while this newly scarred child has none.”

“B-but! I only wanted you to harm her!” She points at the beautiful child whimpering into her mother’s embrace. Again I exchange a glance with my advisor.

“Give me authority to harm another and you give me authority to harm yourself.” I say. We wait for the guards and when they return I say to the woman, “Pay your last respects.”

“I beg of you, please, let my family live!” The woman drops to her knees. “I am sorry! I am so sorry that I ever came to you in the first place!”

“You don’t want me to be fair?” I ask.

“No, no, please no!”

“And what about you?” I ask the beautiful child’s mother whose tears are beginning to dry.

“Please, leave the matter be.” The mother says.

“As ruler, I cannot.” I say.  I look down to the woman groveling at my feet. “Get up. Your husband and son may live.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you, my queen!”

“They may live, but not with you.” I step forward. “You have asked that I commit great evil on your behalf. This I cannot let you forget. Therefore, as supreme ruler, I declare your marriage to this man to be dissolved. Husband,” I indicate the beautiful child’s mother, “meet your new wife. She is a widow in need of looking after.  Child,” I look down at the ugly child. “meet your new family. I hope that you may learn to appreciate beauty, rather than to be jealous of it.”

The beautiful child’s mother pulls the ugly child into her embrace. The husband and son regard their former wife and mother with suspicion.

“What did you do?” They ask before joining hands with their new family.

I look down at the woman now motionless at my feet. She raises her head.

“Do you have no forgiveness in you?”

“Forgiveness?” I say, “But that is not what you wanted. No, my dear woman, you wanted fairness. The beautiful child is marred and now both children, beautiful and ugly have a complete family who will care for them and love them for who they are.”

“But what am I to do!”

“In all fairness I should do you harm for wanting to harm another,” I say, “but as I do rather favor forgiveness, I shall let you live in the hope that you will come to repent of your wicked ways.”

“Truly, queen,” My advisor says, “you are the fairest of them all.”

On Totalitarianism–It Is Right

It Is Right

It is right. It is right that Pretty should work and that I should not. She is younger after all, and I have my aching feet, my fatigue, and the days I can barely get out of bed.

“Pretty!” I shout from my sunk-in cushion on the living room couch. “Pretty! I am hungry! Where is my supper, o sister?” It is right that she should wait on me, her elder. I call and cry but no one comes. Now I am both hungry and angry. Why is Pretty being so slow? How can she be so mean as to make me wait to eat?
 I get up and walk to the kitchen. No one is there. Pretty is not in her bedroom either, but I find her in the bathroom, wiping at her face.

“Are you sick, Pretty?”

“Yes.”

“Where is my supper?” I moan. “My stomach hurts and I feel weak and dizzy! I will surely faint if I don’t eat something!” Pretty looks at me steadily.

“You will have to make do.” She says. “I need to rest.” My first thought is to stamp my foot and demand that she cook the supper, but I in all my long years have learned better ways.

“Yes, Pretty. Of course you should rest. I will––I w-will fix myself a peanut b-butter and jelly sandwich!”

Once in the kitchen, I know what to do. I bumble and stumble around, spoiling and breaking dishes that she will have to clean up later. Her abandonment does not come without a price. I always make sure of that. “Pretty, oh, Pretty! I can’t find the bread! Where is it? Where is it!”

“Near the microwave on the counter.” She croaks from her room.

“But which counter? There are too many! I––I don’t see it, P-pretty! I can’t do this!” I weep and throw our parents’ wedding platter to the floor where it smashes satisfactorily. She will come. It takes exactly two minutes.

Calmly, my younger sister walks into the kitchen. She would first like a glass of water, but I insist on the sandwich. She points to the bread bin. I grant her this small concession and take the bread out of the container, rip the bag apart and spill all but two slices on the floor. Pretty does not pick them up.

“Where is the peanut butter?” Pretty is about to say something, but thinks better of it. She goes to the cupboard, pulls out the jar, and hands it to me. Then, Pretty quietly picks up the bread slices from the floor and tidies up the kitchen. I look at her shrewdly. “I have no knife. Am I to use my finger to spread the butter, little sister?”

Pretty pulls open a drawer and takes out a butter knife. Very nearly knocking me over, she edges me aside so that she herself can spread a thick layer of peanut butter on the bread. “Anything else I can do for you, dear sister?” She asks.

“Where is the jelly?” I watch while she crosses to the fridge, stopping for a moment as a wave of nausea overcomes her. “What’s taking so long?” She looks everywhere: no jelly in the fridge, no jelly in the cupboards. “I have to have jelly!” I yell. “I’m hungry!”

On the way to the store I keep the bread and peanut butter in my purse and munch on it while Pretty is not looking. Her driving is terrible and I yell at her that isn’t my heart weak enough without adding to the trauma? In the store, Pretty looks even worse. Her skin is an appalling shade and she weaves back and forth as she walks. I yell at her to come and hold me up, but really it is I who hold her up. A twinge of fear pulls at me.

“Perhaps, Pretty, the jelly is not so very important.”

“No, no,” She says. “You must have what you want, older sister, or you say you will suffer. Don’t you want the jelly?”

I feel as if I am losing my footing.

“Y-yes, but, perhaps…let us rest on this bench.”

My sister puts a hand to her throat. I sit her down and she slouches against a row of tomato soup cans.

A strange sentence works its way out of my mouth: “Maybe…maybe I could go retrieve the jelly…while you wait here.” Pretty is perfectly in agreement with that suggestion, and I notice upon returning that the color has come back into her cheeks. I do not mistake the feverish gleam in her eyes. With fear now clawing at my throat, I help her to her feet.

“What a good and helpful sister you are,” She murmurs.

“I think, Pretty,” I say as I help her into the passenger car seat, “that as you are unwell, it is only right that I watch over you this night.”

Modified from a story I wrote in 2010.  ––Pixie Beldona

Romeo + Juliet stands the test of time.

After reading a letdown of a book purporting to be in relation to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” I felt I had to re-watch Romeo + Juliet, directed by Baz Luhrman to cleanse my mind of poor attempts at romance, setting, and most importantly, emotion. Say what you want about Baz (Somehow calling him “Mr. Luhrman” just seems wrong), but he, like “the Bard” understands entertainment. His movies might not be to everyone’s taste, but they are certainly not boring and have no problem in embracing witty, if sometimes bawdy, humor.

 At the time it was released, Romeo + Juliet was a revelation. No one had attempted and succeeded at translating a Shakespearean play, and especially the actual wording, into something that an average modern audience member could understand. Many attempts have been made to bring other Shakespearean plays up to date, but most were laughable at best and boring at worst. Even the ones I liked, such as O starring Mekhi Phifer and Josh Hartnett, weren’t inspiring enough that I would ever want to watch them again. A Midsummer Night’s Dream starring Kevin Kline is a nice gem of a film, but it’s not terribly “modern” in its approach to the story. I have seen stage plays far better. Romeo + Juliet is a rare film in that it is something that people, especially young adults at the time, wanted––and still want––to watch.

 After re-watching Romeo + Juliet this week, I find that it is just as good today as it was in 1996. Baz’s Moulin Rouge and Australia are cringeworthy in comparison––and I like both of those movies! The remarkable thing is, the language works in the frenetic pseudo-Los Angeles/Latin American setting. It isn’t so odd that the characters refer to their guns as their “swords” and why people run entirely by emotion speak poetically and epically. A gang fight isn’t just a fight, it’s the honor of each family running simultaneously back to “let there be light” and forward into the moon turning to blood and stars falling from the sky. The language absolutely works.

 Baz’s genius is his theatricality, something he shares with Shakespeare. Even if one cannot fully grasp the often difficult Elizabethan wording, one can still grasp the gist of the plot, due to the bold visuals and unsubtle acting.  Much like Bollywood movies, this style appeals to the masses, helping them to appreciate classical works even if they have little to no education.

 What I like best:

  •  Romeo and Juliet look their age.
  • Their relationship is romantic, but in a rash, youthful way.
  • Though they have stars in their eyes, both R and J sense clearly that they may be the demise of each other. They are deep thinkers, though their focus is inward on self, not outward towards the world around them.
  • Mercutio rocks! He was always my favorite character, but he’s extremely attractive in this version (played by Harold Perrineau, LOST) and admirable in his care for Romeo’s honor. He’s the classic class clown who appears to care only about having fun, but in reality cares deeply about his friends and about honor.
  • Romeo and his buddies seem like believable young men. They constantly tease each other, get into fights, make fun of their elders, and cause trouble, repent for two seconds at a time, and begin all over again.
  • Father Laurence. Pete Postlethwaite (The Last of the Mohicans, The Usual Suspects) was perfect for this role. I can’t imagine anyone else playing Father Laurence in this particular version. He was believable in both the Hawaiian shirt and the priestly attire, and especially, as friend and confidante to both Romeo and Juliet. Postlethwaite had a wise yet youthful quality about him.
  • The nurse. Miriam Margolyes is one of those talents that excels in smaller secondary roles. She has been in numerous products including multiple Shakespeare and Dickens adaptations, as well as more modern adaptations, such as the Harry Potter films. Her portrayal of the nurse is both comical and sympathetic. She takes what her employers dish out to her with the stride of a person totally comfortable with who they are.
  • The ending, the ending, the ending!! So perfectly done that even though one is 100% certain that title characters are going to die, the last scenes still put the audience on the edge of their seats wondering if the two lovers will actually ride off into the sunset. It makes the tragic end more exhilarating rather than sorrowful and one can’t help agreeing with the police captain (Vondie Curtis-Hall) that “all are punished,” and punished appropriately. The consequences of such a lifestyle as these characters lead can only be an early death, or the early death of their loved ones.

Onto another great Shakespeare adaptation, and possibly my favorite: Much Ado About Nothing (1993) directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh.