Land of Confusion

Like life, movies hinge on fiction. Industries operate on the bases of myth. Products and personae are crafted to achieve success through the acquiescence of narrative schemes. When I learned this, I began to think more critically about everyday storytellers, vendors, retail markets who aspire to monetize narrative methodologies; that every telling is prejudiced by a desire to tell. Which made me appreciate the value of narratology that yields revelations; notably, the distinction between belonging and connection, a lesson imparted by my therapist.

Belonging carries a desire to recognize that our acceptance is independent from our activity or the sanctions of others. In comparison, connection entails behavioural efforts and an element of reciprocity which one can appreciate immediately or in hindsight. I realize that my tendency to think of the future underwrites my pessimism and most of my anxiety. I strive to belong to peoples and places because I fear my own—and since nothing lasts forever, maybe inevitable—displacement and disposal. Many revere my ‘strength’ to which my productivity, output, and immutability are allegedly testaments. I admit that I’m a fighter, but it never occurs to anyone that the reason I fight so hard is to convey that I’m worth fighting for.

The ostensible message of the belonging-connecting distinction is that it’s fruitful to adapt and conform accordingly whereas striving for belonging is futile due to the inconstancy of the species. Humans breed fatuity amidst societal disparity and turmoil. What hurts most in life isn’t the resignation that accentuates the grim catharses which play out on- and offscreen—it’s facing the bad faith inherent to our existence. This is often convoluted in “Don’t play God” motifs. Stories in this vein duly note our tendency to deny agency to what—or who—we create, which parallels the systemic dehumanization of marginalized peoples in real time and dependents who are infantilized or objectified as chattel. Fiction explores this motif ontologically, proffering the inhuman to be existential. Demarcations, however subjective, may posit animal or inorganic beings are not owed the same moral standing as humans; but their sentience intuits that they have moral standing nonetheless that goes unrecognized.

Which is what I took away from Jurassic Park (1993). Admittedly, I never watched the film or anything else from the series although popular culture has immortalized the franchise. John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) is an idealistic magnate whose facilities cloned dinosaurs and sought to purpose them as amusement park attractions. Despite what one would think are glaringly obvious problems with this concept—seriously, dinosaurs?—Hammond is only inclined to revisit his idea after a lawsuit is filed against him by the relatives of an employee who was mauled, then killed by a velociraptor. To appease investors who’ve since reconsidered the viability of the project, he solicits expert approval from a pair of paleontologists—Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern)—and mathematician, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) who are toured through alongside his grandchildren, Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello). Some scruples and existential tangents later, things unsurprisingly go left when the dinosaurs break free then proceed to terrorize, if not maim or devour whoever they can reach. Hammond employs scientists to clone Jurassic genomes extracted from mosquitoes preserved in amber, feminizing each subject so as to prevent reproduction and ensure thereby population control. To accommodate what gaps there are in the genetic material, the dinosaurs’ DNA are spliced with amphibians—which proves to be a crucial oversight once Dr. Grant finds a nest of eggs and notes how amphibians may change their sex for reproductive purposes.

When I sat down to watch Jurassic Park (and the rest of the Jurassic movies) earlier this week, I found a lot of parallels between the dinosaurs and Frankenstein. It all boils down to what ruination lurks in hubris: humans grossly overestimate their capacities, deluding themselves to believe they can subjugate progeny of any and all kinds. Perhaps, the most glaring example are the velociraptors who strikingly exhibit intelligence and determination. They retain memory, survey their enclosure for weaknesses despite the initially electrifying security measures, and tactfully collude in packs—the latter of which proves to be the warden Robert Muldoon’s (Bob Peck) downfall when one distracts him while another fatally closes in, subsequently elicits one of the most memorable lines in film history: “Clever girl.”

While Hammond and other venture capitalists speak to the potential for prestige and profit, the doctor[ate]s articulate concerns central to the problems. 

First, there’s the lack of failsafes. The dinosaurs run amok because their containment operates using a singular security measure whose foremost engineer—Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight)—is at odds with Hammond, the latter refusing to afford some relief towards personal financial difficulties despite his wealth. When Nedry broaches the subject, Hammond retorts with sanctimonious platitudes in a very “God helps those who help themselves” kind of way—even as he himself solicits others, experts, to help his cause. Consequently, Nedry arranges to sell assets to a rival company and powers everything down while doing so, resulting in the dinosaurs escaping their enclosures. Moreover, dinosaurs are beyond the scope of any defense ministry. There are no service personnel you can call in the event of Jurassic pandemonium. Who are you gonna call if the dinosaurs revolt? Police? Firefighters? Intelligence agencies? Ghostbusters?

Then, there are the research ethics—or lack thereof. Researchers should be as mindful of their work’s outcomes as much as their deliverables. Science has and continues to be utilized against marginalized peoples and nature by those who pursue ideological, political, or military objectives. BIPOC still navigate aspects of historical hegemonic campaigns such as eugenics. While none of the experts in Jurassic Park mention this specifically, they duly reproach Hammond for his unrelenting naïveté. For him, the prospect of novelty and patronage overshadow risks of human error and the savagery—and unpredictability—of wildlife. We can also appreciate the indigence from a socioeconomic perspective as Hammond’s idealism becomes almost Faustian since he is so obsessive. Even if there were no provisional risks, there is a failure to account for longstanding discourses which misidentify BIPOC as physiologically coded to be predators: a rhetoric popularized to substantiate their arbitrary abuse, exclusion, and dehumanization marauded to ‘hold them accountable,’ if not cast them as ‘beholden’ to their oppressors. It’s surreal when you think about it, how amenable positionalities like—or in proximity to—Hammond’s are keener to afford dinosaurs and likewise the benefit of the doubt in theory whilst denigrating BIPOC by weaponizing dangerous, if not fatal stereotypes against them in reality.

Dr. Malcolm speaks to these contentions in many ways, but most aptly when he says: “You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it.” This sentiment asserts that vanity hobbles growth. Despite how vehemently Hammond professes the scientific and remarkable value of dinosaurs, his adamance betrays that he indulges in the Jurassic less for results and more for access; just some vague, impassioned vision of opening doors irrespective of what lies behind them. Consequences may arise, but no one sets about crossing thresholds for outcomes. In contrast, the temerity to innovate or challenge injustice lands you nowhere as does vying for meaningful change. This takes on new meaning for those cast as transgressors against whom grudges are kept and enacted. Hammond embodies toxic, dysfunctional leadership that runs rampant. The failure of every initiative comes down to faulty oversight and poor, if not absent guidance. Tokenism exemplifies this as marginalized peoples devolve into personal tenures who fight over influence, resources, and sabotage principles. Hammond admonishes critique as cowardice or intolerance, but the real travesty afflicts those upon whom his wealth is contingent; the good, everyday people burnt by disparities and spat out of every space wherein they dare broach comfort. People like Hammond create, sustain, then ignore problems assume positions of oversight in perpetuity. This clearly isn’t the case for people like the fraught doctor[ate]s and employees: overworked, underpaid, even infantilized as they’re guilted into shirking their own needs to attain some noble goal despite no clear objectives or plans from affluents or superiors.

For me, the sight of the doctor[ate]s, Hammond, and his lawyer seated evoke the metaphor of having a seat at the table. Having been invoked by miscellaneous patriciates [some of whom many applaud and live through vicariously], I think it’s become futile. More futility is held in the emphasis of organizing the poor and working class who uphold high society despite having the most to gain from revolution.

I don’t know if this is a jaded insight, but I’m sure it’s at least a materialist one. Those who aren’t oppressed by the system—or are unaware of their oppression, or willing to overlook such to delude themselves—are unlikely to participate in its downfall. I often hold this in since it’s hopeless, hurtful, and I don’t want to be a downer, but it’s still true; and I still find it irresponsible that people—often, people with less, if nothing to lose—encourage us to simply ‘hope’ nonetheless. Find a tribe, they’ll say, Build your community.

Never lose hope.

The impetus to build community is overridden by the nonentity of conflict resolution. While intrapersonal conflict entails an active sustained effort to unlearn internalized hegemony, interpersonal conflict is compounded because marginalized peoples are—and remain—structurally disempowered which means they have more at stake. Despite our shared stratification, we are socialized to compete through cis-heteronormative nuclear models and capitalist regimes which cast difference itself to be adversarial. Spite underscores what social cues and hierarchies are encoded through an indirect verbiage and physicality. Moreover: spite is a comprehensive and rational trauma response to the convoluted, critical, alienating, thankless social interactions we endure. It’s almost cyclic in how a vast lack of love justifies a likewise barrage of hate wherein conflict is made palpable only in terms of avoidance or escalation, not management or resolution. This comes from idealistic albeit hegemonic tropes of love and safety, so uncritical reverence and deference comprise the ways in which people associate refuge. But these associations are unhealthy. Love and safety are not ‘givens’ contingent on performative or capitulatory variables. They come from your intuition and a higher wisdom which necessitates presence and consciousness regardless of who you’re with. This becomes driven home harder since I become increasingly solitary as I find myself exploited and alienated by networks of marginalized positionalities avowing a guise of community. My value is transitory. People are not. Welfare is a personal responsibility that comes from our vaster being.

True refuge does not call for ignorance—feigned or otherwise—or dimming yourself down to oblige a swarthy luminance. Too often, people misguide our ambition and valid suspicion, then trivialize our misgivings when we call them out. Rather than validate the sanctity of our distinctions, they instead incline us to downplay ourselves in some effort to empathize or sympathize with auxiliaries. It’s no coincidence that these people tend to envision safety as not being accountable. Never does it occur to them that progress comes down to being present where we apart from reasons to escape, as opposed to embodying an entirely new reality or living vicariously through the token acquisition of privilege.

Complacency favours an industrious denial of historical and ongoing harm, a denial that’s ironically enabled by optimism. Those like Hammond, who exert immense and rampant privilege, personify how opulence distorts even the barest virtue such as optimism or positivity—because not unlike the power they wield, everything they employ functions to thwart effective, crucial action conducive to their vanity projects. Moreover, this distortion is insidious in that it compels one to ‘look on the bright side’ which occludes even the clearest albeit darkest realities, dissuading the recognition or repatriation of harm because ‘everything happens for a reason’ or ‘will work out for the best.’ At large, people are urged to be positive to oblige imposed narratives of overcoming: good meets, then beats evil; the righteous and the joyful will prevail. Performativity obliges us to act happy, kindred, and occupied. Doing otherwise is deemed as ill-affect. As much I savoured the visuality and aural flair of dinosaurs onscreen, I didn’t feel much tension in their depiction as much as the grounds for their resurrection; just bearing in mind that Hammond—and to a lesser extent, the likewise not-so-BIPOC doctor[ate]s and grandchildren he consults—are keener to venerate dinosaurs whom are actually biologically coded to be predators with nary any commitment to absolve marginalized peoples (and even presently endangered species) whom are systemically and wrongly coded deleteriously.

Afforded by a vast budget and a confident motley helmed by Steven Spielberg, Jurassic Park marked the apotheosis of prehistory and dinosaurs onscreen through an extraordinary visuality in audiovisual virtuosity and immaculate marketing epitomized by prosperous merchandise. What makes it memorable for me though is that story wise, there has never been a clearer demonstration of analytical and corporate ineptitude.

The very same society that has—and continues to—degrade and demand things from marginalized positionalities like mine; the same that dehumanizes us and thereby imposes expectations upon us that we could never fulfill. It crushes us, inclines us to feel defective or worthless until we’re drawn to fight as if to earn our humanity or merit, but we never do. We can’t. The game is rigged. The odds can’t be beaten because they’re insurmountable. I can’t tell you how many I know still hoping, fighting, suffering; some young, some old, others fierce or resigned. In any case, none of us are free to be who we want. We’re just characters to those more privileged than us. From the sublime sticklers like Hammond to the quixotic counsel who misguide us—they don’t see our livelihoods as valid, if at all worth protecting. Because, who cares if we’re decimated by dinosaurs? Or, if we can’t get jobs or afford to live despite how avidly we’re told that ‘people like us’ are ‘needed’?

I understand how unhealthy or unhelpful it is to be consumed by the future, but I have never lived otherwise. I don’t hope. It feels dangerous. Despair is waiting without knowing what’s to come. The only way I can cope is to err on the not-so-bright side, trying to fast-track and create failsafes. Looking ahead is how I overcome adversity, including anxiety: knowing that it’s only temporary, that things will pass, that I’m bound for bigger or better things equipped with grit and qualification. Except this conviction has wavered in recent years. No matter how much I read or write, I will never be able to find the words to aptly convey the anguish that afflicts me more often than not these days. To be lauded for my perceived prestige and perseverance who’s clawed and scraped this far to become a doctorate candidate, assured that success was inevitable; as if things, life, gets easier just by sticking them out. Everything—the malaise yielded from my syndrome; the beloveds I’ve lost to death and dependencies who championed, sacrificed for my dream of professorship; the maudlin junctures I came to fear and avoid lest they break my stride—believe me when I say that I’m devastated to graduate; because contrary to the idylls sold by the privileged positionalities whose comforts expose them to be less trustful or genuine than capricious, it is now gallingly clear that nothing awaits me after graduation except abandonment by the very peoples and institutions who I need most. Which is why I can’t just ‘connect’ or live in the present. Presence is incorrigible when you are haunted by a fated absence. There are no words that can begin to express what that loss means to me.

Rock the Casbah

Many humanities and social sciences are kind of a paradox. Theories and inscriptions are rather solitary although the interests of masses underlie their objectives. This is a little different for me. Solitude and independence do reflect a lot of my own scholarship, but marginalization affirms how and why I make it a point to do many things in isolation. Positionality does not just inform me. It defines me. When it comes to praxis and pretenses of impartiality, it also nullifies idealistic attempts and assumptions. It drives home the reality that every community—however progressive—is ultimately rife with so many -isms and -phobias. This includes spaces which strive to empower marginalized peoples, particularly those operant on frames of the institution.

Which is why I think representation is a scam. The same disparities upon which the elites are contingent are the same ones which apply to skinfolk whom assume authority within the institutional status quo. There are no “ground-breakers” or “trail-blazers” which are operant within—rather than in resistance to—imperial regulatory systems. The avowal of those who ‘represent’ is why we struggle with the innate contradiction of traversing the violences of marginalization; because, at the same time, we strive to humanize these ‘representatives.’ Your faves will always quite literally profit at your expense, but you let it slide because they’re only ‘human’; and that discourse underpins many efforts to establish the existence of disparity. Some will argue the need to humanize everyone, including the ‘representatives’ who come by their come-ups in obliging—not ‘gaming’—the industrial complex. Likening them to be human, they say, is a part of emancipative efforts because dehumanization is a testament to the evils which prevail.

To which I honestly don’t care. These ‘representatives’ and their devotees insist upon the ethos of patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism—in contrast to absconding marginalized peoples who repudiate those institutions. They employ multiculturalist and futurist imaginaries because they are keener to merely speculate about utopian prospects than work towards them. Which is why these folks can never reel in their adjacents. In the effort to humanize these types, people tend to overlook that they sparsely make space for their own because they strive to be distinct; and therein, arbitrate meaning at their own convenience.

In terms of academia, I find myself increasingly disinclined to pursue BIPOC studies or subjects which concern marginalized peoples because of the aforementioned. Those of us who see and experience the principles of imperialism and capitalism firsthand—which perpetuate colonialism, patriarchy, and amata-cis-heteronormativity—are precarious as is. It is nothing short of ridiculous to expect that we undertake the fruitless work of appeal. And it is fruitless: people are not amenable to conscience or reason when they’re the ones who reap the benefits. When push comes to shove, they will not prune their privileges to weed out what malignance comprise the root issues.

As I write this, a particularly pallid and privileged person who I have the displeasure of working with comes to mind; the progeny of a highly paid faculty and administrator who asserts that the systemic abuses and disparities we come by are through our own faults or choices.

Then, there’s another one: the Meghan who cosplays as the judiciary they aspire to become, whose arguments never cease to be facile since they are operant upon the assumption of an ideal world rather than the real one; as if the very laws they purport to uphold are impartial as opposed to being created, maintained, and even circumvented in the interests of hegemonic powers.

These people exemplify how marginalized peoples’ cannot be held to impart their realities. It’s not that deep to these types. But think of the depths in which we find ourselves sinking as we attempt to entreat or educate them. Our capacities (or lack thereof) to educate will always wane against these types’ obtuseness since they are unwilling and unable to grasp the basics despite the abundance of teachable moments; and their commitment to inaction under the guise of tolerance and civility is just a means to manufacture apologia.

And then, there’s us: endless and eclectic, a profuse populace with something for everyone. But our vast niches also work to disjoint us. Imperial legacies foster this disconnect through remnants of ascribed castes and concepts of capital which frame our worth and self-concepts in terms of eurocentric beauty ideals, disparate wealth, and productivity. We always fall short despite comprising a larger, more diverse percentile because we have yet to organize a collective, political dominion; and we instead acclimate to individualism only for anguish to make our needs manifest. I often think of this in relation to activists and content creators in “marginalized” genres. 

Another writer, whose anthology has received rave reviews comes to mind: featured in several prominent outlets and must-have lists, nominated for a few literary awards, read widely and locally—but still faces so much scarcity with so little support. I can’t help but wonder if they are bound to become another statistic; paged off as paltry in the coming year but immortalized by their glowing profiles only to be revived by an archivist who may one day stumble upon their work, long after its lure has waned. This person also exemplifies lateral violence since they have precluded the literary prospects of others, myself included; and likewise, continues to disempower us as they instrumentalize their privileges and connections to a problematic vendor. Moreover, against the grain of their alleged self-acceptance and luminescence, this speaks to the contrary: they have no real desire or power to change. Which is why they commodify their positionality as a point of entrance and reference only to anguish as they sow discord. What is also telling is how I encounter mentors and elders who never seem to hold this individual (and others like them) accountable but manage to hold them in high regard—which goes to show that shared identities or struggles are insubstantial when it concerns uncritical reverence and social capital.

This marks the conundrum of being an outsider regardless of whether you’re inside or outside. People would sooner burn everything to hell, including themselves, to oblige their faves or some prospective albeit improbable ally. People would also sooner light you on fire to keep themselves warm. Patrick Bouchard explores this in his short film Subservience. While the film primarily covers classism, it revolves around sheer disparity. Bouchard proffers a lonesome dystopian world in which vanity and their exploitation of an underclass nonetheless define the bourgeoisie. Lateral violence is subtly imparted as the servants do not glean solidarity in their shared oppressions, but uncritically oblige their overseers to their own detriment. What strikes me is each likeness attributed to the haute mode: a finely suited man who sports an impeccable cravat and satchel alongside a dainty costumed woman embodying a ballerina. These characters are fashioned after magnanimous patricians drawn in fairytales, if not the triumphant peasants whose principles afford them this aesthetic in conclusion. Consequently, karmic sentiments of goodwill and integrity are rendered ludicrous in contrast to the realities of systemic violence and exonerated—even encouraged—moral crimes wrought by the sheer existence of aristocrats.

Subservience also depicts class characteristics underscored by venal praxes and points of view. Neither likeness nor positionality is relevant when droves of everyday people become empowered by a party or enterprise. This is especially keen as masses are demonstrably, relatively easy to manipulate against one another. Regardless of whether it is to their benefit or detriment, it takes so little. What Bouchard conveys is how the sacrifices and resolve of survivors and marginalized peoples altogether in perpetuity will always give us insight into the living human beings who are overshadowed by the cults of politic or celebrity.

Bouchard’s servants are so modest, mute and downcast. They make me think of how similarly we may recount our own trials and tribulations. More often than not, we are not afforded justice or closure. Despair seems to be all that is vindicated when we revisit our pasts, including our adversaries. This is why we become increasingly curt and detached in our attachments or lack thereof: because we are conscious that this present is unlikely to be any exception, and that this present is likelier to dissolve into the callous precedents of which we are familiar.

So, maybe that’s how people get reeled into scams like ‘representation.’ Such concepts are reliant upon invoking nostalgia for a time, place, and being that never was. They build personae which are seemingly emblematic of who, where, and what we are in narratives. The key is discerning that these narratives posit these characters as ‘valid’ in a particular way: not as victors, but as objects worthy of consumption. In the industrial complex, it is the latter—not the former—of which tends to cultivate guises of adulation and ‘empowerment.’ And the thing about ‘representation’ is that, unlike worker autonomy, personae are not taking charge of their intentions nor do they revolutionize the parameters of dominant power systems. Once you grasp that, you realize that it matters not who wears the mask or enacts the pantomime since personae are not—and can never be likened to—the real people they purport to represent.

At its core, Subservience drives home how concepts like representation tether us to false positives and how proverbs which caution us to consider life at large—such as “All kinfolk ain’t skinfolk”—continue to resonate. The self-sacrificial retainers for Bouchard also reaffirm my own strength and survivorship in respect to myself and ancestry. Subservience inclines me too to remember from whom and whence I came; how the retention and assertion of this memory may honour its origins. That I may bear in mind which plots I have crossed and uncovered, what ground I have broken notwithstanding those whom have led me to quicksand; and what morsels I have nurtured to fruition beyond and within.

Another Brick in the Wall


I think people largely enjoy films wholly for their narratives; as in, the principle of there even being a narrative. Although events may be disjointed and crucial moments tend to manifest later rather than sooner, the story still unfolds chronologically. Personae embody clear beginnings and endings despite whatever happens between, and we have some grasp of meaning or lack thereof which is something that we lack in real time. Because our lives are ultimately nonlinear albeit spatial or temporal. The prevalence of disparities or institutions incline us not to what we deserve, but to whatever awaits. I’ve known many people who see life as a precipitous, an ongoing avenue that can be climbed like a mountain whose inevitable lows are justified by heights which accord to joyous apex. Lately, I find myself thinking life is more of a descent: less of a mountain climb than a fall down a rabbit hole, more of a plunge than a summit.


Nothing like the movies.

Narrative pretense is meant to suspend our disbelief which is usually accomplished by some resonant line or likeness. This obviously goes well beyond the movies in how we’ve literally been cultivated from infancy not only oblige, but perform particular social norms and mores. Performativity has been definitive in growth and learning. From day one, we’re groomed through positive and negative reinforcement. We’re told to act or think in certain ways so that we may optimize our odds of success or acceptance. Most importantly, we’re alienated if we fail to deliver the script.

This was driven home in each and every scene in Lesson of the Evil. Pretenses are the means through which its lead—the handsome, charismatic Seiji Hasumi; played by Hideaki Itô—accrues favour in social capital. His allure is fruitlessly dissected through pensive exchanges and musings from secondary characters wherefore his charms become inexplicably uncanny, but never cease to enthrall. Yet Hasumi thrives as much from his looks as his strong albeit sociopathic grasp of social contracts. He knows that the mechanisms involved respectability are grounded in reciprocity: the determinant of a star is applause, hence they must simultaneously gauge and appease their audience; and although the audience excises the power of their patronage, they are resigned because they are beholden to the spectacles before them. The transactions underlain in each exchange—of look, touch, dialogue—incline characters to distrust their instincts. Which is why their prolonged albeit valid suspicions never materialize.


Nobuyasu Kita [director of photography] also effects the magnitude of social contracts as well as their innately contradictory nature through chilly colour grading and volley of deep space. The indistinction between genuity and pretension is thematic to many films for which Kita as served as cinematographer. He relates the tenacity and indecision of the ties that bind through ever-shifting rack focuses, and through profuse overhead and low angles which serve to alienate as much they put things in perspective.


Kita also reinforces each characters’ positionality as most instances of match on action are low angle whereas Hasumi is primarily shot from eye level. This conveys how principle and reciprocity are inconsequential as charisma undermines the infrastructure of social contracts. People like Hasumi are beheld more than they are upheld because they feign relativity. In supplanting terms of engagement with terms of endearment, disparities and boundaries are things they can easily dissuade or neutralize. Which is kind of reminiscent of the conglomerate apparatus—celebrities, elites en vogue—whose simulations of amity or solidarity sustain fans and consumers. The sight of Hasumi straight on accentuates the uncanny albeit immaculate extent of this deception: how everyone, including the audience, are duped by his artifice of parity; and how we are inclined to uncritically cede, devoid of facts and instincts.


Another noticeable aspect in the cinematography is the lack of montage. The only exception is an instance of cross-cutting wherein Hasumi is nonplussed by a pair of ominous crows, then revels in mortally wounding one of them. The pair are understood to be Norse mythological incarnates of thought [Huginn] and memory [Muninn], key to Hasumi’s fabled defense of absolution. This likeness eclipses subsequent character exchanges, and that was the only aspect of the film that I found disappointing. Unconsciously, these crows may serve as metaphors for thought and memory: looming, inconspicuous, and almighty albeit precarious. Everyone in Lesson of the Evil exhibits this, including Hasumi. Appearances, intents, and purposes falter because of harrowing memories, points of origin, and the inability to wholly suspend their disbeliefs. Which also speaks to how social contracts are largely operant upon efforts to contrive thought and memory to be selective.


For me, this resonated on another level in terms of politics and scholarship: the conscious choices I make to not only secure, but reclaim my personal time and space; and it is no coincidence that that primarily entails disengagement. We are constantly told that establishing and respecting boundaries are the means to health, transparency, and productivity. At the same time, we are also told that maturity, efficacy, and compromise require that our boundaries be fluid, amenable to negotiation. And, nobody articulates that bullshit quite like the idealists I encounter whom aspire to be educators or judiciaries. These people are typically prone to tangents and false equivalences, assuming sanctimonious platitudes. Their lack of self-awareness sees them opine as if they were to adjudicate; and they are unable and unwilling to see that the very laws which govern us—to which they purport their loyalties—were created, gatekept, and circumvented by imperialist hegemonic powers.


We like to think that these people will be duly dealt with; that their superiors will inevitably conclude that they are inimical or otherwise unremarkable; that their penchants or privileges will eventually count for little since they only count for so much; that cosmic justice or karma will prevail and they just won’t last. Unfortunately, that is hardly the case. These people tend to fall upward. Institutions are rife with them, and they are adulated by those likewise or none-the-wiser.


Which is why our own likeness in Hasumi makes Lesson of the Evil all the more unnerving. The only difference between him and the majority is that he assumes a particularly callous and destructive stance without conscience; whereas others begrudgingly yield, weighing the pros and cons of pretension or conformity, and salvage what pride they can in conclusion. People like Hasumi embody the social contracts which force us to maintain the guise of civility. Not because of their success or disposition, but because of how they [claimers] the narrative as a means to sublimate their contempt. Their stories are principled on the idea that the pen is mightier than the sword and manifest in the realization that those who wield the sword incline those who hold the pen. Lesson of the Evil shows this as its other characters relinquish their own swords on principle and assume Hasumi has done the same, only to discover that he is innately driven to weaponize any means to an end.

UPDATE – 11/27/2020 – This piece was actually shared on the Takashi Miike Facebook page


How Soon Is Now?


Most films I’ve seen tend to open with extreme long shots. Likewise, the cinematography employed in first minute is often termed to be establishing shots since this is where audiences are granted their first taste of perspective; and in these shots, the camera is impartial in being parallel. Subjects are occluded by a literal and figurative bigger picture as visuality unfolds along a linear axis. But this indistinction isn’t exclusive to long shots. Even in close ups or medium shots, impersonality can be effected since subjects themselves preclude the absence of narrative. Ambiguity may also maintain characters as unknowns if we can’t discern or relate to their motives.


Which is probably why nothing gets under my skin quite like psychological horror. It’s a subgenre whose horrors I have yet to fully describe, but maybe that’s the point; maybe it’s meant to invoke aversion—angst, fear, irresolution, loathing—by an inarticulate form of unnerving. It’s a distinct vein in the body of horror. There’s no pun intended when I say the body of horror has become a corpse. It’s an apt figure of speech since the horror genre has become oversaturated with a multitude of half-assed tropes whose imitability have devolved into pastiche and clichés which cheapen narratives as camp and disingenuous. The vein of psychological horror isn’t exempt from the corpse-like genre’s autolysis, which explains why it’s acclimated—if not, collapsed—with hallucinatory dei ex machina purported to be abstract.


For me, good psychological horror films lead down a path which turns outs to be along a hillside. You don’t think to go on because the rise is unassuming; but no matter how far you go, something seemingly innocent or happenstance always occludes the apex. When you finally reach the top, you settle in to take in the view—only to realize that all along, there was a path next to yours. Not only is it adjacent, it’s well-trodden and whoever has walked it is worlds ahead of you. When you retrace your steps, you discover that your path wasn’t a ‘path’; not because it was fundamentally different, but because you’ve got nothing to prove there was ever any path at all. Still, you know there was a path. There had to be. How else could you be here? After a cursory glance, you realize you actually aren’t at the top; but the path you’re so sure of has yet to manifest. However, whatever lies ahead is on even ground. There’s no up or down. There’s just forward. It just makes sense to distrust whether you proceed or pack it in. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Given humankind’s tendency to destroy itself, you have to wonder if there’s such a thing as an advance. Except this outlook isn’t about logic or entropy. It’s personal. Everything in your life has led you to this point. You lived under the impression that you were going somewhere; you were meant for somewhere.


Now, you’re in the middle of nowhere.

Psychological horror plays upon the mundane. It evokes fear in the fact that life as we know it is and always will be fractal despite the totality of the human mind. This subgenre’s best movies effect that catharsis comes down to alienation and disenchantment; and living under the weight of revelation that you were never really alive to begin with, wondering if you’ll ever feel alive, or resigned to the conclusion that one can never truly feel alive in the absence of delusion. These prospects aren’t fantasy-like or speculative. They’re real, if not imminent. Life itself as a phenomenon is novel, but each life as it manifests is empirically unremarkable. Existence is recurrent. Evolution doesn’t boil down to cultures or technologies because everything is already preset. In this way, history is bound to repeat itself because the knowledge of the past hasn’t inclined us to heed it. There is no God or angels regardless of how miraculously one may take flight because any ascent is contingent upon obliging demons a priori. Any happy ending or inspirational anecdote is moot, if not fallacy when disparity has a predetermined meaning.


It’s been a while since I’ve cracked open Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, or Ligotti; but I remember what they were on about. I’m sure when I dust off their classics—wherever they may be in my never-ending library—I’ll be able to better relate psychological horror to continental philosophy for an academic article down the line. Which makes me think of a recent exchange I had on campus. These days, as a PhD student, I’m usually the most senior in my [required] elective classes. I happened to take one last semester which concerned philosophy and artificial intelligence, specifically if the latter could be capable of sentience or actual intelligence.


Although the crux of its was philosophical, this class was cross-listed as a psychology course; and I only mentioned that because that might account for why it ended up being predominantly dudes, some of whom were edgelords (and some of whom I’ve seen lurk and whinge on campus pages). One day, we happened to gloss over the virulent egotism and bigotry of an infamous academic who happens to be a patron saint for today’s edgelords. The fact that those in my class incline people to “consider” them is unsurprising. I found one of my fellow students who proceeded to explain Nietzsche surprising—and amusing. Nietzsche came up since he was frequently cited (and laughably, misread) by the notorious aforementioned academic.


I pretended not to know anything about him; I let this student—who was an undergrad with little, if any background in philosophy (or by extension: early modern and contemporary studies, classics, English, and miscellaneous social sciences or humanities—all of which I was familiar with or had aced)—try to explain what was behind [and what justified that bogus scholar’s reference of] Nietzsche, of all people! I won’t recount the bullshit he proceeded to relay as if it were remotely corrigible; but I will say it was surreal to see someone so woefully wrong feign expertise, even as they registered that their inarticulation betrayed their very own fallacy.


Which is kind of a good segue into the film I watched this week, Abandon. It follows Catherine ‘Katie’ Burke (played by Katie Holmes), a university senior whose ambition and meticulosity ensures she is bound for a corporate ascent. The plot is driven by the pursuit of her ex-boyfriend, Embry (played by Charlie Hunnam) whose estate seeks to declare him deceased given his disappearance two years ago. Benjamin Bratt rounds out the narrative tripartite as Detective Wade Handler who is tasked with privately investigating the case. Although it’s been dubbed as psychological horror and likened to the realm of mystery, Abandon employs psychological horror at its core. It’s a series of everyday albeit eerie sketches which unearth many seeds which have failed to flourish for our three points of interest. Repression is personified mainly in Katie, the austere beauty whose fanatic WPM and hyper-focused scholarship overshadow her sense of self, time, and space; while Embry—the bourgeoise narcissist with a penchant for theatre—embodies sanctimony and mania. Handler represents a grim sense of wonder as his gazes seems to search offscreen, into the distance, in pursuit of something further than answers; something I suspect may reference one of many ruinous machinations of modern capitalism wherein happiness ceases to overcome the technologies which augment reality, prosperity, and celebrity.


Each character, including those peripheral (such as the now wider-knowns: Gabrielle Union, Tony Goldwyn, and Zoey Deschanel), is walking a hillside path despite lacking any concept of summit. Abandon builds upon this, but falls short because it lacks continuity and momentum. Integral aspects of character development are only referenced in passing. These could’ve been explored as opposed to several emphases on impersonal character exchanges. The institutional angle of Abandon—through lenses of post-secondary education, neo-liberalism, and law enforcement—effects just how much success and survival are operant upon quick, superficial, and incisive insights as opposed kindness or principle. In terms of cinematography, the film employs a maximum visual and expressive use of the depth of field in long-shots which are underscored by foreboding scores. Fatalism and disconnected are further conveyed as the characters’ interrelation is conveyed through a singular or flattened planes. These span cool palettes and barren landscapes.


For viewers, the horror of Abandon is one that bleeds in. We’re gradually unnerved as we watch Katie, Embry, Handler, and the rest of the ensemble scurry by because we’re inclined to consider our own paths in contrast. Thematically, this is what defines the film. As we wade onward, even as we may have yet to cultivate any sense of direction, the people and the world as we once knew fall away; but even if we’ve outgrown them, we can never shake the sense that it is us who they’ve left behind. People don’t persist because of any particular objective, but because they are constantly reminded of how little the world thinks of them. As we grow older, we don’t grow freer. We aren’t entrusted with independence and responsibility in adulthood, we’re categorically tasked with such as we’re expected to hold our own on the market.


And, that’s really at the heart of Abandon. It drives home that our most poignant moments ensue when we find ourselves as alienated and isolated, instead of appeased by some abstract sense of reckoning or greater good. People are vainly inclined to emulate some semblance life even as they gradually die inside because of what alienation prevails during our formative years.


When The Party’s Over

…if it ever started.


I think a part of growing up in this day and age is discerning IRL prospects from fickle social capital. This may be part and parcel with the assertion: “High school doesn’t last forever,” a proverb engrained upon young student bodies by various adults; mostly career or guidance counsellors. The saying didn’t really resonate during the first half of the twentieth century since success and acceptance had been so politicized in terms of aristocracy and respectability. Since face was so esteemed, there wasn’t such a thing as outgrowing your class: literal or figurative.


Then, “High school doesn’t last forever” was only alluded to in the sixties given the ascent of the middle class along with scores of rags to riches celebrities who became staples of transcendence, divination, and countercultures.

During the late seventies, it became a mantra to empower marginalized academics; people who were defined by isolation and scarcity with a penchant for STEM fields—who would go on to cultivate lucrative empires, some of which are revered to date. This carried on into the eighties where class divisions somewhat coalesced since students could be sponsored more openly as opposed to exclusively, if not painstakingly chosen or moderated by private benefactors. These ascensions would play into the innately contradictory pastiche of decadent albeit disillusioned yuppies and revellers. New drugs along with new cults [of celebrity and Darwinian sci-fi angles] bled into what became an antithetical outlook of existentialism and nihilism.


What drove home the mantra was how everyone could relate to how high school was particularly hateful and hierarchal. Knowing it literally was only a matter of time was said as an assurance. What was ironic was that it had to be said in the first place, because it evinced the inaction of the adults who floated this consolation. The toxic cultures of high school were bred by the same people who sold this proverb as motivational. There were no callouts or interventions. No expulsions. Not much beyond a slap on the wrist. The very same people who swore the anguish wouldn’t last forever either ignored or idled by as it happened. Except in these decades, students had a firmer grasp of world events and a whiff of corporate politics. The wider range of press, peer groups, along with the seamless portals between nightlife and the high life shaped their emotive and intellectual landscapes—and with that came not only the cognizance, but reactions to adult hypocrisy.


Of course, hypocrisy was nothing new; its awareness just materialized as a rite of passage. Pop culture monetized tropes of student solidarity on a local level. The villainous parliamentarians and warmongers were still screwing the world over, but students were inclined to note how they were otherwise antagonized; and to an extent, to note how their protectors [parents, guardians, voting or apathetic adults] had themselves played into the hands of the evil, elite overseers—whose legacy they would fare against once they grew up.


The more they stewed and speculated, the clearer things became. The immediate adults didn’t have their best interests at heart which was even more of a betrayal than the tyrannous conglomerates. So, the objective became to overthrow, not merely outwit disgruntled parents and educators.

Even though ranks were clear, peer groups diversified by interest. There were still kings and queens, but also monarchies—which wasn’t too different from the real world. What marked the shift in the later decade was how one could not only climb ranks, but climb as high as they desired by any means possible to the chagrin of peers and elders. Growing up afforded the prospect of independence and outclassing anyone at anytime.


Which would be great if life was only about reputation. The consolation that there are bigger fish to fry in the sea of life as well as possessing the agency to move with, lead, or even surpass the school doesn’t hold much water for the people who must swim against the tide. Everyday people internalized a morsel of that when they found themselves alienated; wholly investing in systems and socialites only to turn up short. The “cool kids” were everywhere and nowhere—the selective [back then, rare] social influencers, the glamorous heirs, the ingenious economists, the reclusive visionaries—all of whom were just as likely to be the gold stars or the odd ones out in high school.


By the time the nineties rolled round, people began to notice that there was a distinct singularity of the real-time scene king or queen. They offered little, if anything of real value that was usually in the form of a single “circumstantial” asset. The royals were by default conventionally attractive which made their “good looks” unremarkable—something people invariably learned through the billion-dollar beauty industries which banked upon consumer insecurities, and the gatekeepers who absconded them. Beyond that, what was there? Contagious laughter? Comic “genius”? A golden arm or other appendage? Generous allowances?


Whatever it was, it was always one thing. There was a range of depth (or lack thereof) in terms of personality or what made the cool kids unique as people in and of themselves; but when it came to popularity, all of that was insubstantial. While this fact wasn’t new, it struck home in the nineties for most of the same reasons students were inclined to think more critically about what did/didn’t set apart their peers and protectors decades before. The nineties just drew this out more because [of] most civil wars had been escalated or prolonged to a disastrous precipice; the hypervisibility and Othering of drug epidemics and state sanctioned brutality; the individualism and idealism which defined Generation X; and many people believed 2000 would be the end of the world.


This decade also saw a break where adults could no longer assume an inactive or misguided whilst condescending stance for youth. What were understood to be adult ills found their way to high schools and afflicted students therein. Adults couldn’t simply sit back and assure students nothing lasted forever in this decade because by then, things had gone too far to the wayside on a grand scale. Surviving high school became a feat in itself. The drug use, gun violence, and a burgeoning attempt to acknowledge rape culture yielded too many casualties. I also think that a good chuck of adults in this era were also incentivized to act since they bore in mind their own youthful revelations and resistances. They had seen casualties firsthand of their own or of others. Grassroots initiatives and community outreach became transformative staples. Anti-bullying, anger management, and gun control (and education) campaigns emerged in the tragic wake of murderous spats between students. Active efforts were also explored to better suicide prevention. The derisive resolve of grunge icons and the underground also inclined folks against uncritically revering authority.


And, that all gradually wilted once the internet flourished. There was the upside in enabling connectivity, insulating communities, and open access information. However, none of that outweighed the cons: cyberbullying, cyber-stalking, death threats, doxing, romanticism; and how the power of numbers is subverted to quantify rather than qualify merit, instead of uniting a working majority against a corrupt minority who control natural and monetary reservoirs.


While people started to question and outgrow the popularity complex and the one-dimensionality of those at the top, the 2000s saw the internet completely transform the cult of the individual. Social media imbued users with a wealth of tools to assume airs. Unlike what folks came to see as the garden variety patrician IRL, online personae assume a sentience because of technological matrices. This is evinced in the disparities between the Kiki who gleans acclaim [by means of circulation and validation] from tens of thousands online, everyday people and celebrities alike; and the unremarkable mendicant who is ultimately faceless and penniless IRL.


Truth or Die (also known as Truth or Dare) is one of many movies at whose heart is the confrontation of shifting positionalities and the culture shock of new versus old technologies. It follows the familiar setup of scores unsettled and bones unpicked premised through flashbacks which afflict what’s intended to be a friendly reunion. One of the integral conflicts sees a main character’s (Felix, played by Tom Kane) unrequited crush that sows discord—which would go on to ultimately hollow past and prospective relationships. While the character’s trauma remains in the foreground, a core focus is their deficit social capital as a result.


While the murder mystery that unfolds is rather formulaic, what makes Truth or Die unique is the lens of it looks through. Reality hinges upon the fact that media and capital are at odds in how they serve to disrupt or fracture social networks. The main characters comprise a peer group whose members were popular in trademark fashion: the archetype one who is an optimist, the goof, the athlete, the rich, the rationalist—but nobody was ever more than one. The present day reunion makes for a contemporary past their former lives were set in, which informs the precarious rank they held over their nonplussed classmates.

True to the adage, the group dissolves as time passed. They grow enraged, then estranged after a fallout. Most of them forget one another as they make new ties once they sever old ones. Felix’s brother, Justin—played by the handsome David Oakes [who has made me salivate since The Borgias]—orchestrates their reunion. He invites them to a dinner party; the occasion to celebrate Felix’s homecoming; the venue being a cabin on his family’s estate. While some might cite the lack of character development or back story could hamper the story, I find thats exactly what strengthens the narrative in respect to the theme of reunion. Whats past or present is inconsequential since these archetypes, just like those of high school realities, are genuinely unlikeable characters. It doesnt matter where they came from, where theyre headed, or what trials and tribulations they face. Theyre the cool kids. Their existenceand statusis contingent upon their often cruel subjectification of others. Nothing justifies that. No insight into their personal lives or catharses would elicit sympathy; which is what makes Justin’s creed somewhat identifiable, if not noble. This role also drives home Oakes’ virtuosity as an actor. At least, if you’ve kept up with his filmography. This is one of many characters which evince his mutability. His personae are superb since he’s totally believable as hero or villain, and he’s married the two in this latest crusade.

20This kind of rising action isn’t exactly new, but precarity is what marks this departure: how easily havoc can be wrought by ranks and media is what’s thematic of the overall film. I found Truth or Die more honest and grounded than similar series—Gossip Girl being the infamous example—in its dynamics and execution. Profound revelations bleed through point blank dialogue in the absence of cosmic or quirky coincidences. The lack of pretension redirects viewers to the actual plot rather than suspend their disbelief. And the cinematography that hones in on every subject through mostly mid to tight closeups emphasizes both literal and figurative faces. An expressive focus is further diffused by russet, sparsely furnished interiors and dark forest thickets which comprise the mise-en-scène.


There’s also an element of surrealism as bites of a melancholic, transcendent narration muse upon both living and dying in the moment. Moreover, how the moment loses rather than retains meaning as new technologies emerge to record it. Truth or Die incorporates a dimension of mastery which motivates one’s compulsion to photograph, videotape, scrapbook, or otherwise archive; where one can always assume a degree of control—however small or significant—over a moment that technology can capture. It also relates to a generational divide; where antiquated technologies crystallize precious moments versus the profuse modern, individual histories which hang online through public archives and activity logs.


However, Truth or Die falls short in its adherence to the archetype tale. Occasional campy exchanges and emphatic, spontaneous outbursts undermine narrative tension. This ends up reducing a chunk of reactions to stilt performances. Erraticism then minimizes the characters’ desperation as they try to bully out confessions and search for escape routes. It’s hard to believe they’re driven wholly by a sense of urgency as they saunter through scene by scene since they can’t be bothered to tread lightly. It’s even harder to believe they’re sympathetic as they turn on one another in a way that’s more flighty than callous.


Then, there’s Felix as a framing device: the clumsy recluse everyone is so keen to demoralize. His credulity makes for an obvious red herring. The camerawork is also a bit shaky in parts where it shouldn’t be; and cuts which go from straight on to canted angles disjoint the focus, particularly in sequences with dialogue.


And, the obvious thread that ties everything together here is that life does indeed beat beyond high school. Ironically, this is a pretty obvious element that tends to be downplayed or entirely overlooked in high school whodunnit reunion tales. The only explicit, fleshed out references to high school are ambivalent flashbacks that allude to potential murder motives or scenes within (or following) the climax when the culprit is unmasked. You’d think that wouldn’t be the case given the literal premise of these tales. It’s a shame because it’s such a simple, clever way to frame plot and character development—which in itself motivates why people have high school reunions.


No matter how much times change, the saying that “High school doesn’t last forever” resonates on the principle that happiness and bragging rights await those who take playground politics in stride. People don’t show up to high school reunions to check in or rekindle friendships. They show up to show out: drive home how they’ve become “cool kids” in their own right; gloat over how the cold, real world of adulthood overshadows whatever twinkled at the centre lunch table or bleachers.


The motive is petty in hindsight, but something most of us can relate to. I’m not exactly stewing over things everyday, every time, plotting in the wilderness; wearing a skull shirt and trench coat, resolving to enact vengeance—only to realize no matter what, it will always consume me long after the final execution. But I’m aware there are past qualms I’ve yet to suss out which have manifest in how I relate to things; and I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t feel the teeniest bit vindicated if I heard tragedy struck the monsters I knew in high school. Truth or Die acknowledges this not so guilty pleasure as it reinforces not only how far its circle of friends have fallen from glamorous graces, but how these falls serve as comeuppance. Nobody is perfect nor are they exempt from karma, but there are certain people who are duly dealt a distinct brand of just deserters.

Of Parlance and Pastimes



Online and in real life, legions of romance fans claim that stylized stereotypes mainstreamed in popular media are all in good fun and totally harmless; and that dissenters are either imagining or exaggerating their cons. The same could be said for more of the intellectual perspectives regarding interpersonal idealism. Hyung-Tae Kim’s Pisces assumes a refreshing, riveting point of view that marries real and surreal.

Pisces centralizes Aeryun, played by Lee Mi-Yeon, a rental video store owner who loves movies. She is quiet albeit charismatic with her customers, often suggesting movies according to their personalities that further tailor tastes in film and culture. Dongsuk, played by Choi Woo-Jae [also known as the man of my dreams], is relieved by her recommendations as well as their many mutual interests in music, film, and fish. However, this seemingly ideal setup breeds inelegance, not intimacy. Any prospects of pleasure or realm of romance concerning Aeryun and Dongsuk shatter as their friendship falters.

The film portrays Aeryun’s descent from amity to infatuation, to obsession. Its resonance plays upon how often we are sold the stalking sensualist as noble or noteworthy, which realities of rape culture reflect are not fictionalized. Pisces bares the truth of this trope for the projection and paranoia it is. Its slow pace prolongs every painstaking, pathological detail which mirrors how these relationships work in real time.

Unlike the popular romance or drama setup, Dongsuk isn’t interested when Aeryun articulates his affection. Their shared interests and token chemistry aren’t enough to ensure a hookup or happy ending. Piscespresents the erratic, ‘endearing’ pursuit past refusal as ignoble and invasive. There is nothing adorable, persuasive, let alone rational about someone who doesn’t—or ‘can’t’—take no for an answer; and Hyung-Tae’s forthright literality of that personality appeals to viewers’ sensibilities as opposed to their sentimentalities.

While Aeryun represents furtive fixation, Dongsuk conveys common, abysmal ambitions that seldom come to fruition. He has a specific, grand sense of self that wilts against the greater society which constrains lower castes to servile livelihoods. Moreover, he is immodest albeit inconspicuous; something his gatekeepers sense and reference in their rejections. The audience sees this through his maladaptive dependency and drunken stupors of self-deprecation, notably when he staggers into Aeryun’s shop afterhours with slurred regrets over a failed contract.

In comparison, Aeryun is humble. Compared to Dongsuk, she has simpler ambitions as well as a smaller, stringent, and selective circle of friends. She is reserved, but resolute in addition to introverted; while he is gregarious. His charms and magnetism make him an unwitting extrovert; but his casual attitude eclipses those assets. He has dreams, but lacks foresight and resolution which prevents him from appreciating as well as acknowledging deeper meanings. In that way, he epitomizes the film’s greatest irony: dismissing the extol and extent of Aeryun’s feelings for him and life as they know it, whilst sympathizing with the profound principles in the movies he rents from her.

The PSYCH film scholar in me also takes note of how film itself is metaphorized as well as transmuted. For the audience, everything is evident to us in its entirety as onlookers. Everything is also identifiable, in the sense that we internalize the scenes in accordance to our worldviews and personal experiences—which is why we are not truly objective. The characters cultivate their own truths founded upon tropes of lies. This itself is a statement on the conscious and unconscious performativity through which we live vicariously and uncritically revere. Life is less lived than institutionalized, and the knowledge our mortality and humanity is of no consequence as we abide inequitable hegemonic orders. Pisces breaks the fourth wall somewhat, because it depicts characters who muse upon modal means that justify largely dead ends even as observers. Their capacity to watch films and sympathize with other likenesses don’t negate their imperfections nor prevent their mistakes.

The saying “You can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink” comes to mind as Pisces proposes we are privy to see senseless scenarios and abject antics play out over and over in film and elsewhere, yet we are ultimately unable to heed cautionary tales. Whether that inability comes from willful ignorance, rueful romanticism, or simply flaws attributed to human nature is a question Hyung-Tae—and Aeryun, and Dongsuk—leave open.