We are The Leftovers of society…

Reviews, Tv Series

Be honest! Have you ever felt like there is something wrong with you? Have you ever felt like you were born in the wrong place at the wrong time? Have you ever felt like there is a curse over you? Have you ever felt like “a plastic bag, drifting through the wind, ready to start again” like our beloved Katy Perry used to sing? Have you ever felt like you would give anything to end this life and just get reborn, hopefully with just a tiny little bit of more luck? No? Well lucky you, I would say. Yes? To at least one of these questions? Then welcome to the club. Not that being part of this club makes you more worthy of anything but at least you know you are not the only one. Cheers. See? There is always something to celebrate!

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When I started watching The Leftovers, I was going through a hard time. I just had my hips surgeries (Two. Yes, two hips, two surgeries!), I was stuck in bed, yadda yadda, I was binge watching Tv-series and movies like eating bonbons, really, and it literally messed up my mind. Every time one episode ended I had this heavy feeling weighing on me, the music, the soundtrack was so melancholic and sad, terrible and haunting, (well I guess thank you Max Richter) that not even Ludovico Einaudi makes me feel that way  (and of course I used some of the songs in my short, a project for filmmaking class at BC that you can find here) …long story short, it was a total body experience. I definitely needed some music therapy after watching this show. I wonder if this is the reason why it took me so long to start reviewing it? Nah, it’s just me and my procrastination issue. I tried to see if there’s some AP meetings around but no. What do you mean “what is PA”? Procrastinators Anonymous of course. Dudes, dudettes, this is a serious issue you guys. Beware! Ugh uh. Anyway… the ways in which this series captures you (or that’s what happened to me at least, and you’ll see why even more later, going through the plot) are infinite. It pushes you through philosophical reasoning, adding psychological traits that you cannot avoid to take into consideration, picking on social and moral issues, religious ideas, ethical reasons, basically it makes you think, and that’s not something to underestimate nowadays. No wonder you start taking seriously the concept of feeling like an actual leftover of society by the end of the show.

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Like the TAO symbol, (the Ying Yang you all, come on, be smart) the stories entwines two sides of the same coin: faith vs lack of faith. Not only faith in God per se, but the meaning behind the actual act of believing (or not) in something, humanity included (yes, indeed, welcome to the club, like I said).  The unbalance and the mess that reigns in this picture where the world and society have been completely compromised by something supernatural (the sudden disappearance of 2% of the world population) makes you lose faith in almost anything, even you and your power, and your existence. Everything. But, (why, yeah, of course there was a “but” coming!!) the only ones who seem to handle this situation pretty well, are those who believe in God, such as Matt, who sometimes I can’t even stand with all his “manners”… but one thing at a time, we’ll get there.

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I asked myself multiple times if what made me relate so much to this show was the fact that it seriously makes you wonder what is going on in the world today. It shows how society is fucked up, pardon my French, and not only on the fictional level: fanatics are all over the places, believers and non-believers, people who simply can’t take it any longer, others who grasps on each other to survive, and then all the rest that simply exists around us, just –occurring– to us. Fate. Faith. Destiny. God. Chance. What is it all about? We don’t know. And this show tells you exactly this. It is all a real frigging mess.  There is not a psychological process in this. Or better, this is what you want to believe: after all, it is a tv-show, there has to be something, a clue, whatever, to connect the dots eventually, but no. You are left with a disturbing question mark even when, slowly, things start to be disclosed. And always expect the unexpected.

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The Leftovers

Genre: they want to call it “psychological thriller”
Based on: The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
StarringJustin Theroux as Kevin Garvey, Amy Brenneman as Laurie Garvey, Christopher Eccleston as Matt Jamison, Liv Tyler as Meg Abbott, Chris Zylka as Tom Garvey, Margaret Qualley as Jill Garvey, Carrie Coon as Nora Durst, Ann Dowd as Patti Levin
Watched on: HBO
Three seasons, Twenty-Eight Episodes binge watched in: I wonder. I watched religiously the first season on SKY Atlantic, if I remember well, then I moved so I must have binged on the second season, and eventually I binged also the third I believe. Oh Oh, yeah yeah, I was in Boston at the time so yeah. Totally.

Mapleton, Ohio. One of the thousands of towns where people suddenly disappeared leaving 98% of the people on Earth… behind. Or alive. Or saved. Who are they? Who are we? We’re The Leftovers.  Among the protagonists of this story there is Kevin Garvey, the chief of police, originally married with Laurie, with whom he has two children. Kevin is trying to ease the tension that recently started to escalate between the town-the “normal” citizens and the members of the Guilty Remnant (GR), who go around town dressed in white, smoking cigarettes 24/7 provoking people into remembering. The point is to think of how life has no meaning, personality is nothing, and you could literally disappear suddenly, without any explanation. The show begins when Laurie has already become a member of the Guilty Remnants but we do not know why, yet.  Apparently the Garveys are all alive, no one in their family has departed (she was pregnant, yes, spoiler, and one moment the fetus is there, a second later he’s gone). After a few attempts of getting Laurie back, and after some shenanigans with Patty (Ann Dowd, aunt Lydia from The Handmaid’s Tale, among other roles),  Kevin gives up (after being forced by Patty to kill her in a very harsh scene) and finds comfort in the arms of Nora Durst, a woman who instead lost her whole family in the sudden event, and she is investigating on the case. Meanwhile Kevin is having nightmares, or so they seem, making him forget where he is and what he is doing, when he wakes up in random places around Mapleton. Moreover, his daughter Jill, a high school girl who seems to have been deeply traumatized by the events, alternates between depression, rebellion, and the need for normalcy, whilst her brother Tommy (who, we will learn, is Laurie’s natural son but not Kevin’s) left home to follow some sort of prophet who has a gift. Kevin’s father, former chief of police, is hearing voices and he gets hospitalized in a mental institution. Nora’s brother Matt, the priest of the town, is taking care of his wife who got hurt by a car without a driver the moment of the departure, and the accident left her on a vegetative state. A whole mess goes on throughout the season until Tommy leaves a special newborn outside his father’s house, giving a sense of relief and a light for a new beginning.

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Uh, but no. When things start to make a little sense, season one ends, and the second begins with Kevin and Nora moving to Miracle, TX -originally Jarden, which has been renamed when census showed in that town no one had departed. Here, where things could finally be “normal” again, hell gets unleashed. First, Tommy wants to belong to the Guilty Remnants to reunite with his mother, in order to dismantle the group and take her home. Then, Meg -Liv Tyler, who was Laurie’s mentor, rapes Tommy who ends up pretending to have gained superpowers and starts a lucrative business with his mother. Kevin and Jill are now living with Nora and the special baby Lily, who is the Prophet’s daughter that Tommy left on their doorstep, and the two adults are in a relationship taking care of the baby. Patti, the leader of the GR who Kevin has killed, starts to appear in his delusional visions. Another priest gets introduced when suddenly his daughter disappears from Miracle, and Kevin seems to be involved through some supernatural ways. The brother of the girl takes Kevin to a shaman who kills him making him go to a sort of visionary purgatory hotel. In this, I want to say afterlife, he gets tested, finds and fights Patti’s ghost, and eventually wakes up, or gets reborn, right after he could see Mary, Matt’s wife, in one of the rooms of the ghost hotel, letting the audience understand she may be living through different realities as well as Kevin.

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Finally it gets revealed that Evie, the girl who disappeared, actually joined the GR so no second departure happened, and the second season ends with the Garveys back together, Laurie included. Kevin though, saw his father through a video screen in the ghost hotel, and he revealed him he knows the truth, and he is in Australia to stop the end of the world and the second great flood: some sort of Apocalyptic natural event that would fix everything back to normal. So guess what? We are in Australia now. Guess where to be precise? Yes, Melbourne, right there, right where part of my soul is still floating, and right where I was before my hips surgery, but anyway, let’s keep going. Oh, and sorry about the spoilers but I could not avoid it. The whole reality situation is messed up again, with the difference that this time, Kevin is living a parallel life where he needs to kill the president, who ultimately comes out to be… him. In this parallel reality Kevin manages to see he has two roles in two dimensions. The Guilty Remnant group is at power, Patty is alive and Meg is his assistant. Apart from the tragicomical scenes where Kevin’s penis is the protagonist, (told you, super spoilers here guys) and that in which he has to kill himself in order to save the world from a nuclear attack (yes, I know this does not make sense at all, I warned you guys since the beginning that this tv-series is pretty mind twisting, to be polite!), Kevin manages to go back to the real world. Here he finds his father who tells him he can stop the flood only if a specific song from the aboriginals will be sung on the day of the Apocalypse, but Kevin has to die again in order to reach the other world. Talking about twists of plots people, things got really screwed up in this series so eventually you end up believing the dystopian version is the truth and the reality is the lie or vice-versa… Where is Nora though? Well, Nora goes to Melbourne as well, but nobody knows, not even Kevin, because she has found a group of scientists who claim to be able to send people to the place where the departed people are, and Matt? Well, Matt has been writing another Bible. Yes, for real. He believes Kevin is the new Jesus and he will save the world. After all, the Great Departure dismantled every certainty in the world so badly that all the confusion that came out of it was simply considered normal, and the more reality is twisted the more life seems to be worth living. At the end of the day, and of the season and series apparently, the world hasn’t ended, Nora is friend with Laurie, Kevin burns the bible that Matt wrote, and a new chapter begins with the Book of Nora.

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Remember, remember, the 5th of November

Movies, Reviews

In a couple of days Great Britain will celebrate Guy Fawkes’ Night, a tradition that has not become popular in the United States or better, although it was imported with the thirteen colonies, it died out following the growth and the development of America as a separated unit from the United Kingdom. Differently than Halloween, which has become a deeply felt celebration, the Bonfire Night-being apparently too much related to the Protestant, Puritan celebration of victory over the Catholics- lost importance rapidly until it disappeared.

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Who was Guy Fawkes and why am I even telling his story? Well, I learned about him in second grade, when English started to be taught in Italian primary schools during the Nineties, and my marvelous Teacher Michela introduced us to British English and the culture of the U.K. I remember my first carved pumpkin, my first English pudding, my first Christmas cracker, my first singing of Molly Malone, my first reciting of Auld Lang Syne, my first Tea with milk, my first A’s in English class (lol), my first recital of We Are The World -years after it was released in the US of-ha course-ha, and finally my first Guy Fawkes’ dummy made out of my brother and father’s old clothes.

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His story dates back to 1605, when he and his friends wanted to blow up the House of Parliament in London, but he was caught and imprisoned on November 5th, giving birth to the celebration of the English Thanksgiving for dismantling the Gunpowder Plot. Long story short, what they do overseas (but not here in the US) is to celebrate the 5th of November with fireworks, bonfires, and burning a dummy that looks like Guy Fawkes, while children knock on doors asking for “a penny for the Guy” (yes, this happens not even a week after they went around annoyingly trick or treating for All Hallows‘ Eve). Let’s get to the point now: have you ever watched V for Vendetta? Yes? Good! No? Go watch it NOW!

V for Vendetta

Created by: James McTeigue
Based onV for Vendetta, 1988 – DC Comics by David Lloyd and Alan Moore
StarringNatalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

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In a dystopian future ca. 2020, Americans are almost all dead and fascists rule in England. V, a vigilante wearing a Guy Fawkes’ mask, saves a TV reporter, Evey (Natalie Portman) from rape, and forces her to join him not before teaching her something with what I would call harsh but necessary manners. For 12 months, from Guy Fawkes Night’s Eve to the 5th of November of the following year, V “plays games” with Evey in a sort of “Phantom of the Opera style”. But I am not going to spoil the movie so please, watch it and see for yourselves what happens next.

What needs to be said is that the film provides food for thought: “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” Basically what I understood from watching it over and over (and again last year after my head shaving madness) is that if you want a revolution, it has to start within yourself in order to have effects on society. People who are the victims of oppression and some kinds of distraction, enforced to live wearing masks, can actually remove them and replace them showing their true self. To remove these masks you have to dedicate yourself, to gain knowledge, to get informed, to turn the lights on and face the shadow of society, but you have to repress and sacrifice part of your social self in order to succeed. Evey’s torturing rituals are painful to watch, but after all that pain there is one big truth that gets revealed to her: “You said you wanted to live without fear. I wish there would have been an easier way, but there wasn’t.” She is at complete peace, without having to rely on someone else’s help, looking for it on the outside because she is has strength within herself. Both V and Evey went through traumas before getting reborn like Phoenixes, burning and raising back again from their ashes. “What was done to me, created me” V says, and no major truth has ever been told.

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My previous studies on Freud may influence my perception of this character, but I found fascinating and tremendously relatable (metaphorically!) that he was imprisoned, used as a lab rat, tortured until he reached a point where he could no longer recognize who he was. He wants revenge and freedom from tyranny detaching himself from what it means to be human, to be a social animal, and he chooses loneliness or better, aloneness over community, sharing, relationships. He has an extremely strong mind, but also a kind heart and a just spirit, and what he does, he does it with a purpose. Today he would be considered a terrorist and a psychopath. Although he is highly intelligent, he does not corresponds to the standards of normality.

Let’s try to look at this man from his characteristics more than from his actions, then. V stands for justice, he wants people to know the truth, to wake up and to pursue freedom from oppression. He sacrifices himself so that people can live in a free world and although he loves Evey, (which is quite understandable) he suppresses his feelings for the greater good. Is there anyone capable of doing something like this as of today? I doubt it. Would we need it? Yes. I mean, would you judge Batman for his actions? No, he’s a hero. Just like V, and sympathizing for him does not mean we are sociopath. Understand? Capish? Very well. Now let’s go watch this movie. Again. After all, it’s a tradition!

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Perception and mental wellness

Reviews, Tv Series

To begin with, why have I used wellness and not health? I will quote what the UNC webpage of Advisory Committee to the Chancellor for Employee Health and Wellness says with regard to this: “According to the World Health Organization, mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” So, mental health is the general term to refer to our emotional, psychological, and social …well-being. Mental wellness, as I am calling it here, is yes a synonyms of mental health, but I want to give it a slightly more positive connotation. The way our brain works affects how we think, feel, act and also how we make choices. Mental health is what makes us work properly in our society. Mental wellness, to me, is how we feel and if we feel -fine enough- to work, act, exist …in our society.

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There are several internal and external factors which contribute to a person’s mental wellness, including relationships with friends, loved ones, financial issues, workplace environment, and those that are called “coping behaviors” and skills. I wonder if I am interested in these topics because of my previous studies in psychology, but then I would have to ask why I was interested in psychology in the first place, back in the days. In this case, I would need a couple of years to go through this argument. So, no thank you. What remains though, is the fact that I just needed a word, perception, to be sure I would have binged watched another tv-show. Duh! And yes, the fact that Eric McCormack was the protagonist was a huge incentive because of Will and Grace, that kept me company during my first years at University, many, many years ago. (Oh, and by the way, a brand new season of Will and Grace is now showing on NBC, oh yeah!)

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I am going to introduce the plot of Perception-the series before continuing this digression on mental wellness:

Perception 

Genre: they want to call it “crime drama” …I would add something psychological too, but meh.
Created by: Kenneth Biller, Mike Sussman
StarringEric McCormackRachael Leigh CookKelly RowanArjay SmithLeVar BurtonScott Wolf
Watched on: FOX Italy
Three Seasons, Thirty-nine Episodes watched in: a couple of months.

Dr. Daniel Pierce is a neuropsychiatrist who teaches neuroscience at the (fictional) Chicago Lake Michigan University (CLMU), and his interest in neuroscience stems from his own long history of paranoid schizophrenia (everyone is interested is what touches them the most, I guess). He also works as an expert consultant for the FBI assisting closely a very Special Agent, Kate Moretti, who is a former student of Pierce’s classes back in the days. It is thanks to his hallucinations that, most of the times, he can pick out the clues allowing him and Agent Moretti to solve the crimes they are investigating. Lewicki, Dr. Pierce’s teaching assistant, is a fundamental asset for Prof. Pierce’s mental well-being, because he knows how to handle his crisis and his obsessions. Last, but not least, (considering she was in another tv-show, The O.C. another favorite of mine) Natalie Vincent played by Kelly Rowan, is the most favorite Pierce’s hallucination who manifests herself as a result of his schizophrenia, but who also serves as his counselor, clue collector and, of course, best friend. How the story “ends” in the last episode of season three is up to you to find out. No spoilers here. #Sorrynotsorry.

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One of the things I like the most is when a tv-series’ episode typically begins with a scene of the protagonist giving a lecture (missing academia much?), or introducing a sort of metaphysical problem, concerns, whatever, about an aspect of humanity that usually leads to the development of the plot itself (Grey’s Anatomy is another show that does something similar, I love you Shonda Rhimes). In this case, it is a brain fact or factor that becomes significant within the story, and reaching the end of the episode, the observations that the professor explains to the students about the paradoxes of human perception end his lecture. Brilliant, I know.

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Perception was canceled after the third season and there were controversies saying it passed a wrong idea about the schizophrenic disease. Now, seriously? The big issue for some was that the main character chose to go off of his meds whilst still managing to work and teach his students, having reasonings with his hallucination-friend, sharing the wrong idea that getting off of your meds is okay. Ugh, no. I bet this is not the message, as eventually Prof. Pierce is just an adult who sees that therapy is needed, but cannot be abused. Schizophrenia is a disease, a complex one which needs to be studied deeply, still. Also, not all the people diagnosed with schizophrenia are alike. The symptoms vary and the age when they first appear makes a huge difference for the prognosis. So every time we judge a tv-show, let’s remember the viewpoint and the actual fact that -this is fiction-, with a few hints of reality, yes, but basically fictional stories.

perception-eric-mccormack-1In conclusion, why was this show important, from my perspective? Because it opened a door on the so called “mental illnesses” that can be part of a person’s life without interfering so very much with their social life. I am not saying it does not affect their own lives, because it does, but it creates no harm, no danger for their social behavior if taken good care of and most of all, if responsibly studied and handled. An important part of mental health is how we perceive the world around us. A person with a mental disease may perceive things much differently than another person, but that does not mean it is the wrong way of perceiving it. Wouldn’t you sound crazy if you had X-rays in your eyes and told others you can see through their skin? Indeed. In many cases, therapy can help interpret and detect these perceptions, but these do not necessarily need to be corrected because someone evaluated and categorized them as distorted. They are simply different ways of perceiving the world around us that may make sense to a different being with a different sensibility, and sensitivity, than others. As they say, a word to the wise is unnecessary and If the cap fits, wear it.

“We live in a kingdom of bullsh*t”

Reviews, Tv Series

8966767_origI knew I was in love with this TV-show since episode one. Elliot, the main character, is a genius. I was hooked when at the end of his mental digression he goes “F*ck society” but he responds “nothing” when the doctor asks him “what is wrong?”, as I recognized myself in those words, something I always wanted to scream out loud, to wake people up. Then I remembered that I read somewhere something like “you can’t explain to people something they are not ready to understand”, and I just isolated myself in my world, or almost so, where I could at least relate to a TV-show, feeling less weird. Elliot’s sessions at his shrink‘s are basically the literal representation of what most of us is thinking right now. Or not? I mean, at least we should. I completely lost it during episode nine, when it was clear that his dissociative identity disorder could relate to Fight Club because the Pixies’ Where Is My Mind started to play. I love that song, and at the same time it reminds me of part of my past I do not love as much. Meh.

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Raise your hand if you have ever felt alienated, when you should feel like you belong to society because after all, you are a human being, but you actually feel detached, different, wrong. Although you try to survive, day by day, you cannot find your spot in a world that does not reflect the socially accepted and advertised picture they taught you since your first second on this planet: a beautiful place, where peace reigns and people are allowed to go to war to bring peace to those areas where it is needed. Crazy? yes. Fair? No. Just a big fat lie. A lie they sugarcoated making it sound beautiful to your ears. They made you believe there is no better place than Earth, that life is worth living and if you kill yourself you are automatically sent to hell. Wow. Where is YOUR mind?

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So here is why a TV-show may be interesting for people who felt, or still feel, isolated and different: from a certain point of view, it makes you feel less lonely. Still, you have to keep in mind it is just a show. A fake representation of reality, where characters may actually be telling the truth, hidden behind a magnified distorted rendered version of it, just to let people, and in this case spectators, stay in that bubble someone else has created for us all. Whether you agree with saying “f*ck society” or not, whether you felt different in a world of clones or not, this is a TV-show that is worth a view.

Mr. Robot

Genre: they want to call it “psychological thriller”
Created by: Sam Esmail
StarringRami MalekCarly ChaikinPortia DoubledayMartin WallströmChristian SlaterMichael CristoferStephanie CorneliussenGrace Gummer
Watched on: TV (Xfinity On Demand)
Two Seasons, Twenty-two episodes binge watched in: two weekends.

Elliot (Rami Malek)is a young programmer who works as a cyber-security engineer at Allsafe, a NYC based IT company.  At first he appears to be a typical nerd, until we realize he is constantly debating with a sort of alter ego, dealing with social anxiety disorder, and depression. Elliot’s thought process seems heavily influenced by a distorted representation of reality which makes him become some kind of vigilante hacker by night. This is how he “knows” people he gets in contact with, by hacking their social media profiles gathering information. He eventually gets recruited by a hacker group whose leader is Mr Robot (Christian Slater) with the purpose of destroying one of the biggest and most important companies in the world, E-corp, which is also the main client of Allsafe, in order to cancel the global debt. Trying to fight the demons in his head, using drugs to detach from reality, and having Angela -a long time friend- by his side, Elliot struggles to do what he thinks is needed in a corrupted society he does not fit in. What happens with him, his family members and everyday drama, is left for you to watch and grow fond of. You’re welcome. 

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“Is any of it real? I mean, look at this. Look at it! A world built on fantasy. Synthetic emotions in the form of pills. Psychological warfare in the form of advertising. Mind-altering chemicals in the form of… food! Brainwashing seminars in the form of media. Controlled isolated bubbles in the form of social networks. Real? You want to talk about reality? We haven’t lived in anything remotely close to it since the turn of the century. We turned it off, took out the batteries, snacked on a bag of GMOs while we tossed the remnants in the ever-expanding dumpster of the human condition. We live in branded houses trademarked by corporations built on bipolar numbers jumping up and down on digital displays, hypnotizing us into the biggest slumber mankind has ever seen. You have to dig pretty deep, kiddo, before you can find anything real. We live in a kingdom of bullsh*t. A kingdom you’ve lived in for far too long. So don’t tell me about not being real. I’m no less real than the f*cking beef patty in your Big Mac.” Season 1, episode 10.

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