Farewell and good night

You might have noticed that I haven’t posted any new content in almost two months. It was around the time that I made the decision to change course as a writer.

On the one hand, I realized that what I was doing didn’t cut it anymore. In order to make content that people would be interested in, seek and share, I would need to write longer, more elaborate pieces; probably in video essay format. On the other hand, I have wanted to write a novel since I was eleven and now I have a decent enough framework to finally do it. I have also come to the painful realization that I won’t have any more spare time in the coming years than I do now.

So I have to do it. Take it to the next level. I’m going to work on the novel for now, until I finish it. After that, we will see. I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read the pieces I posted here. It’s been so much fun and enlightening.


 

Quizá os hayáis dado cuenta de que no he publicado contenido nuevo en casi dos meses. Fue por aquel entonces que tomé la decisión de cambiar de rumbo como escritora.

Por un lado, me di cuenta de que lo que estaba haciendo no era suficiente ya. Para hacer contenido que le interese a la gente, que busquen y compartan, necesitaría escribir piezas más largas y elaboradas; probablemente en formato de vídeo ensayo. Por otro lado, llevo queriendo escribir una novela desde los once años y ahora tengo un esbozo lo bastante decente para hacerlo por fin. También me he dado cuenta con pesar de que, en los próximos años, no voy a tener más tiempo libre del que tengo ahora.

Así que tengo que hacerlo. Llevarlo un paso más allá. Voy a trabajar en la novela por ahora, hasta que la termine. Después, ya veremos. Quiero dar las gracias a todos los que se han tomado el tiempo de leer los escritos que he publicado aquí. Ha sido muy divertido e instructivo.

Philip K. Dick’s Electric dreams (Season 1, Part 1, 2017)

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En español a continuación.

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, Season 1, Part 1 (Channel 4, 2017).

Score: pulpy magic coming out of your TV.

Electric dreams is composed of ten standalone adaptations of Philip K. Dick short stories, written and directed by nineteen different people. Channel 4 has already aired six of the episodes, while the other four will have to wait until 2018; I’m so excited about this that I wanted to tell you all about the six episodes that are available as of now, even if the season is not over yet. In general, the episodes remain faithful to the spirit of the original, while they expand on characters’ backgrounds and motivations in order to fill the hour-long footage. While the central themes of K. Dick’s work are explored, reflected upon and made closer to a modern audience, many details of the short stories have been changed, which has enraged some very purist viewers. Oh! One more thing. This is airing on the slot of Black Mirror and they are both science-fiction but that’s pretty much the only similarity; the biggest difference is that Electric dreams isn’t rubbish that could have been thought up by a thirteen-year-old edgelord.

In “The hood maker”, a government division of telepaths is used to predict and punish crime before it happens. Agent Ross (Richard Madden) and Honor (Holliday Grainger) must team up to round up the Hood Maker, who manufactures hoods that block said telepaths. In “Impossible planet”, an old lady (Geraldine Chaplin) pays two space sightseeing pilots (Benedict Wong and Jack Reynor) to take her to the long lost Earth of her ancestors. In “The commuter”, a railroad employee (Timothy Spall) gets asked for a ticket to a station that doesn’t exist, which brings him on an adventure to a place that is not all that it seems. In “Crazy diamond” (adapted from “Sales pitch”), a worker in an artificial human factory (Steve Buscemi) is approached by one of these simulacra (Sidse Babett Knudsen) for his cooperation with a heist. In “Real life” (adapted from “Exhibit piece”), a depressed policewoman (Anna Paquin) decides to take a vacation on a virtual reality where she is John (Terrence Howard); she soon starts doubting which is real life and which is a simulation. Finally, in “Human is”, the wife of a violent and abusive soldier (Essie Davis) finds out that her husband (Bryan Cranston) has deeply changed after a skirmish with an alien species.

I really like the art design for the show; it manages to capture the zeerust and still look good to an audience that doesn’t have that context. It’s retro and futuristic and still eldritch at the same time. The colour palette for “Crazy diamond” is a great choice: the saturated blues and greens make everything look strange and alien and also Sidse Babett Knudsen’s red hair and outfits pop out. Episodes like “The commuter” look pretty much mundane, while others like “Human is” include greatly detailed backgrounds, props and costumes.

Some fifty years have passed since these stories were first published. These appeared in pulp magazines, cheap and popular, but mostly unheard of these days. What the average person spends their spare time on today is, you guessed it, TV shows. If you want this adaptation to be at least mildly interesting, you need to make it closer to its intended audience and, to do that, you need to make changes. It is my personal opinion that the reviews have been tepid because they changed too little to appeal to audiences who have never read K. Dick and too much for people who wanted a word-for-word translation, however absurd that is.

Let me get this out of the way now: Philip K. Dick is a one of a kind writer, not always in the good sense. He has zero regard for three-act structures. He starts at the beginning, finishes at the end and whatever happens in the middle, happens. He starts interesting arcs and then seems to forget about them, characters appear out of nowhere and start having conversations that don’t have anything to do with anything. That’s just how he wrote and it can be annoying at times but it’s also part of what made him so groundbreaking. Some of these adaptations try to sanitize that aspect (except for “Crazy diamond”, which embraces it) but you will still notice it if you’re not used to that kind of storytelling or don’t like it. I feel I have to say this: you will probably not like this show if you don’t like Philip K. Dick.

As for the individual episodes and how well they were adapted, “The hood maker” is a bit the odd one out. It tries much harder to emulate Blade Runner than a Philip K. Dick story and deviates a lot from the original, much more political and convoluted in comparison. The topic of mass surveillance is already in the original but the episode barely exploits it, steering soon into a story about trust between people, which isn’t really an issue as far as mass surveillance is concerned. “Impossible planet” and “The commuter” stay quite close to the originals but develop the characters further and make the themes more apparent. “Human is” goes a bit further and makes more changes but also stays pretty much within the original short story. I find them to be quite good adaptations.

On the other hand, “Real life” keeps the general idea of “Exhibit piece” but changes many details of the plot. As for “Crazy diamond”, I triple-checked that it was actually based on “Sales pitch” because I can’t find the similarities. “Sales pitch” is delicious satire of aggressive marketing strategies and the ubiquity of ads in modern life, while “Crazy diamond” follows a Coen-esque cowardly everyman protagonist as he can’t figure out whether he wants to rebel against his own life or stay subservient. It could have been written by Philip K. Dick any day of the week, mind you. It has the undeveloped subplot of the food that rots immediately and how they try to dig on the lawn to find steel sheets, as well as the motivation to leave and live on a boat far from the mainland, which could be an artifact from the original story. It has a weird structure and behaves anticlimaticly, like many things K. Dick penned. It was the episode I enjoyed the least but it still reflects the spirit of the author effectively.

A lot of characters have been changed into women because, let’s admit it, the originals are quite a sausage fest. Arcs have been added and characters who only had a few lines in the stories were given backgrounds and motivations in order to adjust the content and pacing for hour-long episodes. Themes and topics haven’t changed that much because the things that concerned K. Dick are still a matter of concern today. What every writer managed to do is sublimate K. Dick’s lifelong obsession, and that only is enough to make Electric dreams worth the time: reality versus dreams, what is versus what might have been, humans versus simulacra, truths that make us unhappy versus lies that make us happy. It’s all there, appropriated, distilled and perpetuated.

So, all in all, highly recommended.


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Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, Temporada 1, Parte 1 (Channel 4, 2017).

Puntuación: magia pulp directa a tu televisor.

Electric dreams se compone de diez adaptaciones independientes de relatos cortos de Philip K. Dick, escritas y dirigidas por diecinueve personas diferentes. Channel 4 ya ha emitido seis de ellos, mientras que los otros cuatro tendrán que esperar a 2018; me han gustado tanto que quería hablaros de los seis episodios que han salido, aunque la temporada no haya terminado. En general, los episodios son fieles al espíritu de los originales, a la vez que expanden los contextos de los personajes y sus motivaciones para llenar la hora de metraje. Si bien los temas centrales del trabajo de K. Dick se exploran, examinan y se aproximan al público actual, muchos detalles de los relatos se han cambiado, lo que ha enfurecido a algunos espectadores muy puristas. ¡Ah! Una cosa más. La serie se emite en el espacio de Black Mirror y ambas son ciencia-ficción pero ésa es mayormente la única similitud; la mayor diferencia es que Electric dreams no es una basura que podría habérsele ocurrido a un adolescente intensito.

En “The hood maker”, una división gubernamental de telépatas se usa para predecir y castigar los delitos antes de que ocurran. El Agente Ross (Richard Madden) y Honor (Holliday Grainger) deben colaborar para capturar al Fabricante de Capuchas, que fabrica capuchas para bloquear a dichos telépatas. En “Impossible planet”, una anciana (Geraldine Chaplin) paga a dos agentes de turismo espacial (Benedict Wong and Jack Reynor) para que la lleven a la Tierra perdida de sus ancestros. En “The commuter”, un taquillero de ferrocarriles (Timothy Spall) tiene un cliente que quiere un billete a una estación que no existe, lo que lo lleva en una aventura a un lugar que no es todo lo que parece. En “Crazy diamond” (adaptada de “Sales pitch”), un trabajador de una fábrica de humanos artificiales (Steve Buscemi) recibe la visita de uno de estos simulacros (Sidse Babett Knudsen) para que la ayude a dar un golpe. En “Real life” (adaptada de “Exhibit piece”), una agente de policía deprimida (Anna Paquin) decide tomarse unas vacaciones en una realidad virtual en la que es John (Terrence Howard); pronto comienza a dudar cuál es su vida y cuál es la simulación. Finalmente, en “Human is”, la esposa de un soldado violento y abusivo (Essie Davis) descubre que su marido (Bryan Cranston) ha cambiado drásticamente tras una escaramuza con una especie alienígena.

Me encanta el diseño artístico de la serie; consigue capturar el zeerust y a la vez tener buen aspecto para un público que no tenga ese contexto. Es retro y futurista y espeluznante a la vez. La paleta de color de “Crazy diamond” es una muy buena decisión: los azules y verdes saturados hacen que todo parezca extraño y ajeno y destacan el cabello y la ropa de Sidse Babett Knudsen. Episodios como “The commuter” parecen bastante mundanos, mientras que otros como “Human is” incluyen decorados, atrezzo y trajes muy detallados.

Han pasado unos cincuenta años desde que se publicaron estos relatos. Aparecieron en revistas pulp, baratas y populares, que ya casi no se hacen hoy en día. Con lo que pasa el rato el ser humano medio hoy es, lo adivinasteis, las series de televisión. Si quieres que esta adaptación sea un poco interesante, necesitas acercarla a su público objetivo y para hacer eso necesitas hacer cambios. En mi opinión personal, las críticas han sido tibias porque cambiaron demasiado poco para atraer al público que nunca ha leído a K. Dick y demasiado para la gente que quería una traducción palabra por palabra, por absurdo que sea.

Voy a quitarme esto de encima: Philip K. Dick es un autor único, no siempre en el buen sentido. Tiene cero respeto por las estructuras en tres actos. Empieza por el principio, termina por el final y lo que pasa en medio, pasa. Empieza arcos interesantes y luego parece olvidarse de ellos, hay personajes que aparecen de la nada y empiezan a tener conversaciones que no tienen que ver con nada. Él escribía así y a veces es muy cargante, pero también es parte de lo que lo hizo tan revolucionario. Algunas de estas adaptaciones tratan de disimular este aspecto (excepto “Crazy diamond”, que lo abraza), pero se nota igualmente si no estás acostumbrado a ese tipo de narrativa o no te gusta. Siento que tengo que decirlo: seguramente no te guste la serie si no te gusta Philip K. Dick.

En cuanto a los episodios individuales y cómo están adaptados, “The hood maker” es un poco el caso aparte. Se esfuerza mucho más por emular Blade Runner que un relato de Philip K. Dick y se desvía mucho del original, mucho más político y convulso en comparación. El tema de la vigilancia masiva ya está en el original, pero el episodio apenas lo explota, sino que vira pronto hacia una historia acerca de la confianza entre personas, lo cual realmente no está relacionado con la vigilancia masiva. “Impossible planet” y “The commuter” se mantienen bastante cercanos a los originales pero desarrollan los personajes y hacen que los temas sean más obvios. “Human is” va un poco más lejos y hace más cambios, pero por lo demás se mantiene dentro del relato original. Me parecen adaptaciones bastante buenas.

Por otro lado, “Real life” mantiene la idea general de “Exhibit piece”, pero cambia la mayoría de detalles de la trama. En cuanto a “Crazy diamond”, comprobé tres veces que de verdad está basada en “Sales pitch”, porque no le encuentro el parecido. “Sales pitch” es una sátira deliciosa del márketing agresivo y la ubicuidad de los anuncios en la vida moderna, mientras que “Crazy diamond” sigue a un protagonista ordinario, cobarde y coenesco, que no consigue decidir si rebelarse contra su propia vida o mantenerse sumiso. Lo podría haber escrito Philip K. Dick perfectamente, que no se diga. Tiene esa subtrama sin desarrollar de la comida que se pudre al instante y la escena en la que intentan excavar en el césped y solo encuentran planchas de metal, así como la motivación para marcharse a vivir en un barco en alta mar, que podría ser un artefacto del relato original. Tiene una estructura extraña y un comportamiento anticlimático, como muchas cosas escritas por K. Dick. Es el episodio que menos me gusta pero aun así refleja bien el espíritu del autor.

Muchos personajes ahora son mujeres porque, admitámoslo, los relatos originales son un campo de nabos. Se han añadido arcos y personajes que solo decían algunas frases ahora tienen un pasado y unas motivaciones para ajustar el contenido y el ritmo a episodios de una hora. Los temas y asuntos no han cambiado mucho porque lo que le preocupaba a K. Dick sigue siendo preocupante a día de hoy. Lo que ha conseguido cada guionista ha sido sublimar la obsesión de toda una vida de K. Dick y ya solo por eso merece la pena ver Electric dreams: realidad versus sueños, lo que es versus lo que podría haber sido, humanos versus simulacros, verdades que nos hacen infelices versus mentiras que nos hacen felices. Está todo ahí, apropiado, destilado y perpetuado.

Así que, en resumen, muy recomendada.

Predestination (Spierig Brothers, 2014)

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En español a continuación.

Predestination, directed by the Spierig Brothers and based on the short story “‘—All you zombies—’” by Robert A. Heinlein (2014).

Score: a quite decent adaptation of a classic of science-fiction.

Predestination can be a bit confusing if you are lacking context about its origin and what it was adapted from. This hidden gem of the present decade is actually based on a short story by Robert A. Heinlein, one of the most influential authors in the history of science fiction, that was published in 1959 in the magazine Fantasy and science fiction. The story spans from the 1940s to the 1990s, which are all in the past for us but were partly the future when the original was written; the scene where women are sent to space to relieve the male astronauts might tip you off that what you’re watching is not our version of how history went down, so I thought it would be useful to tell you all this first so you know what you’re going to watch.

A man named John (Sarah Snook) walks into a bar and strikes up a conversation with the barkeep (Ethan Hawke). John writes confession stories for a living, and the reason he is so good at finding the female angle is because he grew up and was socialized as a girl, until a stranger disgraced her. What he doesn’t know is that the bartender sympathises with him much more that he could ever imagine.

The original short story is not even five thousand words long: concise and to the point. The movie adaptation clocks in at a pretty decent ninety-seven minutes, so its pacing is slightly slower but still good for a feature film. The plot and themes are kept intact and some minor arcs are included that expand on the main topic without deviating from the original story: a quite satisfactory adaptation.

If there is a reason to watch this movie, it’s the plot. Don’t let anyone spoil it for you. On the other hand, it’s kind of a shame that the adaptation was done over fifty years after the original because some people will find the whole premise hackneyed, for a good reason: the original was so influential that it has been done to death (though, I might say, rarely as well as this short story). So I’ll make the educated guess that younger people and archeologers of the genre will find the movie delightful; viewers who are not that into the genre might think there’s not so much to fuss about.

 

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Predestination, dirigida por los hermanos Spierig y basada en el relato corto «“…Todos vosotros, zombies…”» de Robert A. Heinlein (2014).

Puntuación: una adaptación bastante decente de un clásico de la ciencia-ficción.

Predestination puede ser un poco confusa si te falta contexto acerca de su origen y de dónde se adaptó. Esta joya oculta de la presente década está en realidad basada en un relato corto de Robert A. Heinlein, uno de los autores más influyentes de la historia de la ciencia-ficción, que se publicó en 1959 en la revista Fantasy and science fiction. El relato tiene lugar entre los años 40 y 90 del siglo XX, que son todos pasados para nosotros pero parcialmente futuros cuando se escribió el original; la escena en la que envían a mujeres al espacio para aliviar a los astronautas podría daros la pista de que lo que estáis viendo no es nuestra versión de cómo se desarrolló la historia, así que he pensado que sería útil contaros todo esto primero para que sepáis qué vais a ver.

Un hombre llamado John (Sarah Snook) entra en un bar y entabla conversación con el camarero (Ethan Hawke). John escribe confesiones para una revista para ganarse la vida y el motivo por el que es tan bueno encontrando el enfoque femenino es que creció y se socializó como una niña, hasta que un desconocido la desgració. Lo que él no sabe es que el camarero entiende su situación mucho mejor de lo que podría imaginar.

El relato original no llega a las cinco mil palabras: conciso y al grano. La adaptación al cine dura unos noventa y siete minutos muy decentes, así que el ritmo es algo más lento, pero bueno para un largometraje. La trama y los temas se mantienen intactos y se añaden algunos arcos menores que expanden el asunto principal sin desviarse del relato original: una adaptación bastante satisfactoria.

Si hay un motivo para ver esta película, es el argumento. No dejéis que nadie os la reviente. Por otro lado, da un poco de pena que la adaptación se hiciera más de cincuenta años después del original porque a algunos les parecerá que la premisa está muy vista, y con razón: el original fue tan influyente que se ha hecho a morir (aunque, debo decir, pocas veces tan bien como este relato). Así que voy a suponer que a los más jóvenes y a los arqueólogos del género les va a encantar; los que non sean tan aficionados pueden pensar que no es para tanto.

The newsroom (Season 1, 2012)

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En español a continuación.

The newsroom, Season 1, created by Aaron Sorkin (HBO, 2012).

Score: mongrel-like.

I decided to give this a watch because I had heard it praised by journalists I personally know and after a long talk with a dear friend about the virtues of Aaron Sorkin as a writer. I have to say that, while I still respect my friend’s opinion a great deal, I rather dislike Sorkin’s style and, expecting something along the lines of Spotlight, I was quite disappointed in the show.

Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is a cable channel news anchor known for not bothering anyone: the Jay Leno of news anchors; one day, he snaps during a panel and goes into a diatribe that some may consider anti-American. The channel hires a new producer, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), actually Will’s ex, and they all embark on the Quixotic task of actually informing American voters of what is going on in the country, regardless of their affiliation. There is also a major arc that bothers with a love polyhedron between journalists Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) and Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr.) and Maggie’s roommate Lisa Lambert(Kelen Coleman).

The whole thing looks quite true-to-life: that was the exactitude that journalists praised in it. There are some interesting reflections on the nature of journalism, truth and manipulation, though nothing groundbreaking. But that is only about half of the runtime. The other half is spent building unresolved sexual tension between Will and Mac and having Maggie and Jim run around in sentimental goose chases I couldn’t care less about. It feels like the show wanted to cater both to people interested in investigative journalism and people who are not and will be distracted by a half-assed attempt at melodrama. Also, the awkward comedy. The way I see it, The newsroom has a serious tone problem: it’s not a drama about journalism and moral integrity, it’s not a romance and it’s not a comedy either. It’s everything in-between and it doesn’t work.

I was bored to death by The social network (and spent two hours wondering how I had wasted my college years so egregiously) and I still have a problem with Sorkin’s style: his screenplays are much too wordy. It’s just yak, yak, yak. Yakking down a corridor, down the street, over lunch. Everywhere you look, there’s exposition. Is the audiovisual medium really suitable for such an idea? Maybe it would work better in written form.

Still, it manages to be engaging. I do want to know what happens next. It’s not a mentally stimulating work, but on the other hand is perfect for munching on a TV dinner when I come home exhausted from work. No effort needed to follow.


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The newsroom, Temporada 1, creada por Aaron Sorkin (HBO, 2012).

Puntuación: mestiza.

Decidí echarle un vistazo a esto porque había oído a periodistas que conozco personalmente alabarla y tras una larga charla con un querido amigo acerca de las virtudes de Aaron Sorkin como escritor. Debo decir que, mientras aún respeto la opinión de mi amigo en gran medida, me disgusta bastante el estilo de Sorkin y, dado que esperaba algo en la línea de Spotlight, la serie me ha decepcionado bastante.

Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) es un presentador de noticias de un canal por cable conocido por no molestar a nadie: el Jay Leno de los presentadores de noticias; un día, pierde los papeles durante una conferencia y se embarca en una diatriba que algunos considerarían antiametricana. El canal contrata a una nueva productora, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), de hecho la ex de Will, y se embarcan todos en una misión quijotesca para informar a los votantes estadounidenses de lo que ocurre en el país, independientemente de su afiliación. También hay un arco principal que se molesta con un poliedro amoroso entre los periodistas Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) y Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr.) y Lisa Lambert (Kelen Coleman), la compañera de piso de Maggie.

En general parece bastante realista: ese era el rigor que le alababan los periodistas. Hay algunas reflexiones interesantes acerca de la naturaleza del periodismo, la verdad y la manipulación, aunque nada revolucionario. Pero eso es solo como la mitad del metraje. La otra mitad se la pasan construyendo tensión sexual no resuelta entre Will y Mac y metiendo a Maggie y Jim en un montón de enredos sentimentales que no me importaban en absoluto. Parece que la serie quería dirigirse tanto a gente interesada en el periodismo de investigación como a gente a la que no le interesa pero se distraerá con un intento cutre de melodrama. Y además, la comedia inoportuna. Tal y como yo lo veo, The newsroom tiene un serio problema de tono: no es un drama acerca del periodismo y la integridad moral, no es un romance ni tampoco una comedia. Es de todo un poco y no funciona.

Me aburrí a muerte con La red social (y me pasé dos horas preguntándome cómo pude malgastar mis años de universidad tan descaradamente) y todavía tengo un problema con el estilo de Sorkin: sus guiones son demasiado locuaces. Es todo bla, bla, bla. Gente rajando por un pasillo, por la calle, mientras come. Mires donde mires, hay exposición. ¿Es el medio audiovisual el más adecuado para una idea así? Quizás funcionaría mejor en forma escrita.

Y aun así, consigue ser entretenida. Quiero saber qué pasa a continuación. No es un trabajo mentalmente estimulante, pero por otro lado es perfecto para mascar el contenido de un tupper cuando llego a casa agotada del trabajo. No se requiere esfuerzo para seguirla.

To be a slave: power struggles and social class in “Blade Runner” (1982)

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En español a continuación.

To be a slave: power struggles and social class in Blade Runner (1982)

***Obviously, SPOILERS for Blade Runner (1982).***

Many people have written more vastly and better than me about the most important themes in Blade Runner: what makes a human human, fear of death or artificial intelligence. Today, I want to address a minor, more hidden theme: the power relationship between humans and replicants and how those themes echo social class issues.

In the wake of Blade Runner 2049, I rewatched Ridley Scott’s film after well over a decade of watching it for the first time. I found it to be wonderfully lighted and shot; its main theme has been revisited, expanded and toyed with so many times in the past years that it can seem simplistic and stale. In any case, Blade Runner, along with Neuromancer, inaugurated the genre of cyberpunk by taking noir tropes and themes and adding to them the first kicks of the newborn society of information.

In this rewatch, there was something in particular that striked me: Deckard (Harrison Ford) and Rachael’s (Sean Young) relationship, romanticized in the infamous theatrical cut and kind of absorbed by pop culture as a tragic love story, is actually presented as cringeworthy abuse on the part of Deckard. After running a Voight-Kampf test on Rachael and finding out she is a replicant, Deckard is ordered to retire her. Instead, he chooses to claim her as a prize and she knows it: she tries to flee his apartment saying that she’s too distressed about having found out her childhood memories are not hers for love, Deckard stops her at the door and forces her to say “kiss me” and “I want you”. Later on, she tells Deckard she loves him, but we know that’s not true; she knows that she has to choose between submitting to Deckard or being retired.

What Rachael is to Deckard is a special case of what replicants are to humans in general: objects, not human, not worthy of rights or respect. In the prologue, we are told that replicants were used as slave labour in colonies and space exploration until a Nexus 6 combat team rebelled and, since then, they are being exterminated following the government’s orders. What do we know about replicants? They’re not robots: Tyrell (Joe Turkel), Sebastian (William Sanderson) and Chew (James Hong) are all genetic engineers. The eyes that Chew is growing when Roy (Rutger Hauer) and Leon (Brion James) pay him a visit seem pretty much fleshy to me. Replicants are stronger, more resistant and at least as intelligent as baseline humans, as evidenced by the prologue and by Roy Batty helping J. F. Sebastian beat Tyrell at chess. So, basically, they are genetically enhanced humans, strictly better than baseline humans. Why are they slaves, then? Because baseline humans say so. Why are they inhuman, then? Because baseline humans say so.

The movie goes to great lengths to show that replicants are human and have human feelings. They show intelligence, compassion, fear of death and have a complete theory of mind (Rachael knows that if she leaves Deckard she will be retired). On the other hand, humans are shown as dehumanized and beast-like: Deckard hunts down replicants because he was ordered to, everyone in Los Angeles is sullen and behaves mechanically. Nexus 6 models are given false memories to try to make easier to control, but that’s not the point: a being with no self-awareness is incapable of agency and therefore cannot revolt. It doesn’t matter whether they believe they are human or not, they have all the properties of a moral subject and are in consequence entitled to rights.

In the end, the question about what makes a human is not as relevant as the question of who decides who is human and who isn’t. In Blade Runner, there are first- and second-class citizens. Replicants are deprived of a living being’s most precious treasure: their lifespan. That’s what Roy Batty wants from his creator, and he’s told it’s not possible. Replicants are also deprived of dignity: if they can die, it means they were once alive, so instead they get retired. J. F. Sebastian, a friendless twenty-five-year-old suffering from progeria, uses his knowledge of genetics to build friends for himself to keep him company. Does he build equals? No! He builds miniature humans who greet him at the door when he arrives home, closer to pets than to friends. Deckard is physically attracted to Rachael and uses his leverage to possess her as a commodity, in a gritty deconstruction of the typical relationship between the hardboiled detective and the femme fatale.

What we learn is that, if you want to exploit and alienate your fellow human being, it is very effective to deprive them of their humanity. In real life, the difference between classes is not that clear-cut, but discrimination can be based on a variety of factors, such as race, religion, education, income, ability, so on and so forth. In two words: social class. In this context, the whole discussion over Deckard being a replicant or not takes on a new hue: Deckard the replicant is somewhere below J. F. Sebastian in the social ladder but still above the rest of replicants in that he abides by the establishment’s rules. He’s acting against his own interests because he is unaware of his true place in society. And that’s a really tragic kind of protagonist to have.


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Ser un esclavo: luchas de poder y clase social en Blade Runner (1982)

***Obviamente, DESTRIPES de Blade Runner (1982).***

Muchos han escrito más vastamente y mejor que yo acerca de los temas más importantes en Blade Runner: qué hace humano a un humano, el miedo a la muerte o la inteligencia artificial. Hoy quiero abordar un tema menor y más escondido: las relaciones de poder entre los humanos y los replicantes y como esos temas se hacen eco de problemas de clase social.

A raíz del estreno de Blade Runner 2049, volví a ver la película de Ridley Scott bastante más de una década después de verla por primera vez. La encontré maravillosamente iluminada y rodada; su tema principal se ha revisitado, expandido y se ha jugueteado con él tantas veces en los últimos años que puede parecer simplista y sobado. En cualquier caso, Blade Runner, junto con Neuromante, inauguró el género cyberpunk tomando los temas y tópicos del género noir y añadiéndoles los primeros balbuceos de la recién nacida sociedad de la información.

En este revisionado, hubo algo que me llamó especialmente la atención: la relación entre Deckard (Harrison Ford) y Rachael (Sean Young), romantizada en el infame montaje para salas de cine y de alguna manera absorbida por la cultura popular como una historia de amor trágica, se presenta de hecho como un abuso espeluznante por parte de Deckard. Después de hacerle a Rachael un test de Voight-Kampf y descubrir que es una replicante, Deckard recibe órdenes de retirarla. En lugar de eso, decide reclamarla como un premio y ella lo sabe: trata de huir de su apartamento diciendo que está demasiado afectada por haber descubierto que sus recuerdos de la niñez no son suyos para un momento de amor, Deckard la detiene en la puerta y la obliga a decir «bésame» y «te deseo». Más tarde, ella le dice a Deckard que lo ama, pero sabemos que no es cierto; ella sabe que tiene que elegir entre someterse a Deckard y que la retiren.

Lo que Rachael es para Deckard es un caso especial de lo que los replicantes son para los humanos en general: objetos, no humanos, indignos de derechos o respeto. En el prólogo, se nos dice que los replicantes se usaron como mano de obra esclava en colonias y exploración espacial hasta que un pelotón de combate Nexus 6 se rebeló y, desde entonces, están siendo exterminados por orden del gobierno. ¿Qué sabemos de los replicantes? No son robots: Tyrell (Joe Turkel), Sebastian (William Sanderson) y Chew (James Hong) son todos genetistas. Los ojos que está cultivando Chew cuando Roy (Rutger Hauer) y Leon (Brion James) le hacen una visita me parecen bastante carnositos. Los replicantes son más fuertes, más resistentes y al menos tan inteligentes como los humanos sin modificar, como se muestra en el prólogo y en la escena en la que Roy Batty ayuda a J. F. Sebastian a ganar a Tyrell una partida de ajedrez. Así que, básicamente, son humanos genéticamente mejorados, estrictamente mejores que los humanos sin modificar. ¿Por qué son esclavos, entonces? Porque lo dicen los humanos sin modificar. ¿Por qué son inhumanos, entonces? Porque lo dicen los humanos sin modificar.

La película hace grandes esfuerzos para mostrar que los replicantes son humanos y tienen sentimientos humanos. Muestran inteligencia, compasión, miedo a la muerte y tienen una teoría de la mente completa (Rachael sabe que, si abandona a Deckard, la retirará). Por otra parte, los humanos aparecen deshumanizados y bestiales: Deckard caza replicantes porque se lo ordenan, todo el mundo en Los Angeles es silencioso y se comporta mecánicamente. Los modelos Nexus 6 tienen recuerdos falsos para que sean más fáciles de controlar, pero eso no es lo importante: un ser sin autoconciencia es incapaz de autonomía y, por tanto, no puede rebelarse. No importa si creen que son humanos o no, tienen todas las propiedades de un sujeto moral y, en consecuencia, les corresponden derechos.

A final, la cuestión de qué nos hace humanos no es tan relevante como la de quién decide quién es humano y quién no. En Blade Runner hay ciudadanos de primera y de segunda. Los replicantes quedan despojados del tesoro más preciado de cualquier ser vivo: su tiempo de vida. Eso es lo que Roy Batty quiere de su creador y le dicen que no es posible. Los replicantes también quedan despojados de su dignidad: si pueden morir, eso quiere decir que una vez estuvieron vivos, así que, en lugar de eso, se los retira. J. F. Sebastian, un veinteañero sin amigos que sufre de progeria, usa sus conocimientos de genética para construirse amigos que le hagan compañía. ¿Construye iguales? ¡No! Construye humanos miniatura que lo reciben cuando llega a casa, más cercanos a mascotas que a amigos. Deckard se siente atraído físicamente por Rachael y usa su posición dominante para poseerla como una mercancía, en una deconstrucción tenebrosa de la relación típica entre el detective duro y la mujer fatal.

Lo que aprendemos es que, si quieres explotar y alienar a otro ser humano, es muy efectivo despojarlo de su humanidad. En la vida real, la diferencia entre clases no es tan clara, pero la discriminación puede estar basada en una buena variedad de factores, tales como la raza, la religión, el nivel educativo, el nivel económico, la capacidad, etcétera. En dos palabras: clase social. En este contexto, el debate acerca de si Deckard es un replicante o no adquiere una nueva tonalidad: Deckard el replicante está algo por debajo de J. F. Sebastian en la jerarquía social, pero aun por encima del resto de replicantes en tanto que acata las normas del sistema. Actúa en contra de sus propios intereses porque no es consciente del lugar que ocupa en la sociedad. Y un protagonista así es un protagonista muy trágico.

 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand planets (Luc Besson, 2017)

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En español a continuación.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, directed by Luc Besson (2017).

Score: takes off with a bang, goes out with a poof.

When I was a kid, in the late Nineties, my dad subscribed to cable. The Fifth Element had just come out, they aired it several times a week at different times and it became a family tradition that we watched it to the end every time it came up. I always went to bed on a cloud, lulled by Korben and Leeloo’s kiss in Eric Serra’s “Little light of love.

So I went to see Valerian quite gingerly, having seen the mixed reviews. The first and second acts of Valerian are a crazy flurry of action and colour, insanely fun and light-hearted, but at the same time visually and technologically ambitious and unrestrained. Then, for some reason, the third act deflates and has you leave the cinema with a bad taste in your mouth.

Major Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevigne) are a pair of special operatives, who happen to be sexually involved, tasked with recovering a stolen Converter, a small animal that is pretty much the goose that laid the golden egg. Valerian has had a vision of a distant planet where these beings lived, inhabited by pearly humanoids that got exterminated from orbit by a mysterious dreadnought. Back in Alpha, the eponymous City of a Thousand Planets, Valerian and Laureline are tasked with protecting Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen) in the wake of an unknown blight that is infecting the core of Alpha.

The similarities with The Fifth Element are not just due to Besson’s tastes: both are based on Valérian et Laureline, a French comic book series running from 1967 to 2010 (Star Wars also borrowed heavily from it, for what it’s worth). Valerian is visually stunning: hypersaturated colour, careful art and costume design in the best tradition of space opera and state-of-the-art special effects. It is also action-packed from the very beginning: after introducing the Pearls, we dive head-first into the fun and compelling section of the Big Market, an ingenious retrieval mission on multiple dimensions. Back in Alpha, Valerian and Laureline get into exciting adventures and meet quirky characters when trying to unravel the mystery of the dead zone in the heart of the massive space station. And then, when it is time to wrap everything up, for some reason, the whole thing becomes utterly uninteresting, which is really weird because the challenges of the first two acts are resolved very efficiently.

If you are a fan of The Fifth Element or light-hearted space opera in the vein of Futurama, I’d advise you give it a try. Even though it crumbles towards the end, I’d say the experience was positive overall.

I’ll try to figure out why the ending fails, but for that I need the SPOILER TAG!

***SPOILERS***

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I’m not there. (Todd Haynes, 2007)

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En español a continuación.

I’m not there., directed by Todd Haynes (2007),

Score: deeply poetic.

See, this is what I was talking about when I complained about A quiet passion.

I’m not there. is a freeform biopic graviting the figure of music legend and Nobel laureate Bob Dylan. Six different actors approach the artist from six different angles: Woodie Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), a young black boy travelling the country, represents Dylan’s origins and influences; Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) is the young, folk-singer Dylan who later converts to Christianity and explores gospel music; Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett) is the electric, insanely famous, alleged sellout Dylan; Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger) is an actor who plays Jack Rollins in the in-universe biopic Grain of Sand and who struggles with his relationship with his wife Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg); Billy the Kid (Richard Gere) lives in a Western movie in the little town of Riddle and represents the elder, recluse Dylan; Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) ties them all together as the figure of the poet and the bohemian, using aphorisms and quotes from the real Dylan.

A biopic always implies a personal vision of the subject person, so why try to pretend objectivity? I’m not there. is a dialogue between Haynes and his experience of Dylan, and intending to make anyone believe that a biopic can be anything other than that is a plain lie. I’m not there. strives to capture the multifaceted essence of Dylan’s art and doesn’t bother so much with the historical events: the straight biographical approach is completely exhausted after rise, fall and optimistic-ending efforts such as Ray and Walk the line.

I’m not a fan of Dylan as of now (though this movie has contributed to my interest in him), so I don’t really have an opinion on the man. The only thing I know is the film shows the reluctant leader of thought, the wanderer, the visionary poet, the decadent rock star, the arrogant celebrity, the womanizer, the failed husband, the middle-class bohemian, the sensitive soul, the voice of a generation and the chainsmoker, and they are all true and a construct at the same time. It’s a profoundly poetic movie: the song lyrics are intertwined with the verse-ridden dialogue and the evocative images: music is poetry and poetry is music, feeling and reflection. Cate Blanchett is simply stunning.

All in all, a bold and brave biopic that actually makes an effort to capture the spirit of the subject, enter a dialogue with him and present him to the world. Delightful to watch.


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I’m not there., dirigida por Todd Haynes (2007).

Puntuación: profundamente poética.

Veis, de esto hablaba yo cuando me quejé de Historia de una pasión.

I’m not there. es un biopic de forma libre acerca de la leyenda musical y ganador del Nobel Bob Dylan. Seis actores diferentes se aproximan al artista desde seis ángulos diferentes: Woodie Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), un joven negro que viaja por el país, representa los orígenes e influencias de Dylan; Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) es el joven Dylan cantante de folk que más tarde se convierte al cristianismo y explora la música gospel; Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett) es el eléctrico, absurdamente famoso y supuestamente vendido Dylan; Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger) es un actor que interpreta a Jack Rollins en el biopic intradiegético Grain of Sand y que tiene problemas en su relación con su esposa Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg); Billy the Kid (Richard Gere) vive en un western en el pueblito de Riddle y representa al Dylan anciano y recluso; Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) los une a todos como la figura del poeta y el bohemio, usando aforismos y citas del Dylan real.

Un biopic siempre implica una visión personal de la persona en cuestión, así que ¿por qué tratar de pretender una cierta objetividad? I’m not there. es un diálogo entre Haynes y su experiencia de Dylan, y tratar de hacer creer a nadie que un biopic puede ser nada más que eso es una pura mentira. I’m not there. se esfuerza por capturar la esencia polifacética del arte de Dylan y no se molesta mucho con los eventos históricos: el enfoque biográfico directo está completamente agotado después de intentos con la estructura de auge, caída y final optimista como Ray y La cuerda floja.

No soy una admiradora de Dylan por el momento (aunque esta película ha contribuido a mi interés en él), así que realmente no tengo una opinión formada sobre el hombre. Lo único que sé es que la película muestra al líder de opinión reticente, el vagabundo, el poeta visionario, la estrella del rock decadente, el famoso arrogante, el mujeriego, el marido fracasado, el bohemio de clase media, el alma sensible, la voz de una generación y el fumador compulsivo, y todos son verdaderos y una construcción al mismo tiempo. Es una película profundamente poética: las letras de las canciones se entrelazan con el diálogo plagado de versos y las imágenes evocadoras: la música es poesía y la poesía es música, sentimiento y reflexión. Cate Blanchett está increíble.

En conclusión, un biopic atrevido y valiente que realmente hace un esfuerzo por capturar el espíritu del retratado, entrar en diálogo con él y presentarlo al mundo. Una delicia de ver.

The leftovers (Season 1, 2014)

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En español a continuación.

The leftovers, Season 1, created by Damon Lindelof, based on a novel by Tom Perrotta (HBO, 2014).

Score: insightful.

On October the 11th, 2011, 2% of the world’s population vanishes. They just poof into thin air. The leftovers shows some insight into the lives of the small community of Mapleton, just outside New York City, three years after the Sudden Departure. Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) is the Chief Officer of the local police, keen on maintaining peace and trying to help out his teenage daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) after his father (Scott Glenn) was commited to a mental institution, his son Tom (Chris Zylka) ran away and joined a cult and his wife and he became estranged. Mapleton, just like the rest of the country, is being slowly taken over by the Guilty Remnant, a cult with a vow of silence and chainsmoking, led by Patti Levin (Ann Dowd) and intent on making everyone remember (and obsess over, if possible) the Sudden Departure. Other important characters are Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), an Episcopalian priest hell-bent on proving that the Sudden Departure was not the Rapture by digging around the morally reproachable things that the Departed did; his sister Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), whose husband and two children were Departed and now works for the government, and Holy Wayne (Paterson Joseph), a cult leader who claims can take grief away by hugging people.

Even though the setting is similar to shows like Flashforward, The leftovers takes on a very different course: the goal is not to find out why all those people disappeared. It is not about solving the mystery, not even about taking a rational approach to it. Something painful happened with no explanation, and the different characters are seen coping with grief, reflecting on their own spirituality, looking up to an absent god for answers or preying on those who can’t find relief. The tone is successfully set within the first two episodes, through extensive use of religious imagery, from the Christian fresco-inspired opening credits to the repeated apparition of a deer, and by quickly establishing what the conflicts are.

The cinematography is more functional than elegant, the score abuses (not always appropriate) preexistent songs, and the dialogue can be silly at times, but the show is, in general, excellently written, especially on episodes that flesh out a particular character, such as “Two boats and a helicopter” and “Guest”. Probably because it deals with sensitive and powerful topics such as faith, grief and loss, from multiple perspectives. It works very well as an allegory for loss and trauma: the Sudden Departure is what you get when you add up sudden absence, an inability to rationalize what happened and a lack of closure. It works for natural deaths of loved ones, massive accidents, terrorist attacks, even broken homes. This allows the show to explore a different aspect of the topic with each character. Events and causality are not really overexplained, so it can be a demanding show; Kevin’s arc in particular requires piecing together and some patience.

All in all, probably not what you’re looking for if you want mystery and adventure, even though the plot trigger promises both. Once that it is out of the way, I recommend this show for its insight and the psychological depth of its characters.

Under the spoiler tag, I would like to analyse the characters in more depth, since there are some very juicy details.

***SPOILERS***

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Black Mirror (Season 3, 2016)

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En español a continuación.

Black Mirror, Season 3, created by Charlie Brooker (Netflix, 2016).

Score: guilt-tripping and fearmongering.

People have a weird relationship with science and technology: they trust them but they don’t bother to try and understand them. People complain about things their phones do or won’t do without realising some of those are for their own safety, or that they aren’t using the phone correctly. I worked for three years in tech support and you’d be surprised at how many people assume the manufacturer is obliged to back up all their personal data without even asking for permission and at the same time defend that 1234 is a perfectly good password. Bothering to understand the most basic things about computers and handheld devices is for nerds and millennials, and that really is a shame because technology is an incredibly powerful tool.

So, what do you do if you want to warn society about misusing such a mighty instrument? Wave your arms around, wail that the end is nigh and point fingers at everyone, of course. Black Mirror’s villains are unbelievable and boring because they’re all the lovechildren of Dr. Evil and Nolan’s Joker. Its allegories are ham-fisted, short-sighted and unoriginal. Even when it criticises technology directly, it’s really misguided.

What if phones, but too much, indeed.

But, for some reason I can’t start to wrap my head around, there is one episode in this season that it’s actually good, and not only for Black Mirror standards: “San Junipero”. Probably because it drops the edgelord act and actually examines an issue, with its good and bad aspects. Also, it bothers to create characters who actually have human, understandable motivations, which one would think would happen more frequently.

Here are my six rants for the six separate episodes:

***SPOILERS***

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