Disgrace

J.M. Coetzee’s award-winning novel Disgrace offered a disturbing insight into the soul of modern South Africa. The screen version does not disappoint and features an outstanding performance from John Malkovich as the disgraced professor whose personal life reflects the turmoil of a country in transition. Dismissed from his university, David Lurie (Malkovich) decides to visit his daughter at a remote farm in the eastern Cape that she shares with a trusted black worker. When they are savagely attacked by three black youths, David is finally confronted by the realities of a South Africa where the old rules no longer apply.

I have been looking forward to this for some time. Coetzee is one of my favourite writers; Diary of a Bad Year, Youth, Master of Petersburg and Waiting for the Barbarians are phenomenal works of fiction. But I have mixed feelings about Disgrace (which, incidentally, was chosen as the best English novel of the past 25 years by top writers and critics). Here is what I wrote in a Facebook review:

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When Utopia Crumbles

Kim Nicolini on why Revolutionary Road was shut out at the Oscars.

It’s no wonder Revolutionary Road was shut out of the Oscars. As stated in this article from the New York Times, this year the Academy is looking to stories of the “indomitability of human will” to grace with its little gold statues. All of the nominees for best picture are “films built on individual successes” that provide “a nice, big chunk of uplift.” From Slumdog Millionaire to Milk to Frost/Nixon, these are stories where the little guy can beat the big powers that try to keep him down and where human will has the ability to allow us to conquer all, rise up, forge change, and take control of our own lives and destiny. Given that that many of the films deal with battling political and/or economic systems (presidential abuse of power, the Catholic church, economic class stratification), these films are classic Depression era narratives.

In fact, when writing about Slumdog Millionaire, I described it as Frank Capra goes to Mumbai in the 21st Century. Indeed, there is no hiding the fact that we are in a Depression. As the economy sinks lower and lower, people lose their homes and their jobs, and businesses collapse, there is no denying that the Depression is now. So maybe uplift and triumph is what people need. Apparently the Academy thinks they don’t need a movie like Revolutionary Road which provides a relentlessly brutal critique of the shallow illusion of the American Dream and the inherent fallacy of the institution of marriage. Revolutionary Road basically says that everything America pretends to be through its policies of blind acquisition, status through material gain, and a self-deluded vision of Norman Rockwellesque family life is a toxic lie. Well, isn’t it? Of course it is, but now that most Americans have had to look the lie in the face as the veneer of their American Utopia has crumbled under their feet, I guess they don’t want to see it in the movies too.

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