Monday, February 17, 2014

Winter's Tale [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (1 1/2 Stars) (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C-)  Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Winter's Tale [2014] (directed and screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, based on the bestselling novel by Mark Helprin [IMDb]) will probably irritate a fair number of viewers perhaps particularly (but by no means exclusively) of a more conservative bent for its at times almost crushingly heavy "air of self importance."

 As in the case of many stories like this, buy-in into the story requires enduring a rather (I have to go back to the word) "heavy" introductory voice-over that helps explain to us the metaphysics/world-view of the story to follow.  In the case here: (1) We are _each_ put into this world to fulfill a particular purpose/destiny. (2) We'll remain in this world, in one way or another, until our destinies are fulfilled. (3) Time becomes somewhat elastic as we strive to fulfill our individual destinies. (4) When we fulfill our destinies, our spirits will rise to the heavens to become stars.  As the story progresses, we're also told that as we struggle to fulfill our destinies we will be (5) helped by various angelic forces or otherwise "spirit guides," while (6) there are also evil/demonic forces afoot in this world that seek to thwart our reaching our destiny.

It's easy for many to sigh at the pretentiousness and arguably narcissism (each and every one of us is destined to do something "great") of the particular metaphysical world view underpinning this story.  And certainly there have been a fair number of other stories based on other based best selling novels with similarly heavy/burdensome often pretentious metaphysics underpinning put on screen in recent years (Mortal Instruments [2013], Beautiful Creatures [2013], the Percy Jackson, Twilight Saga (!) / Harry Potter (!) series and even the Chronicles of Narnia / LOTR-The Hobbit series), but I would note to readers here that there are hundreds-upon-hundreds, perhaps even thousands-upon-thousands of pulp scifi/fantasy novels, graphic novels and even video/computer games available to interested readers/consumers that _all_ have their own metaphysics and battles between the forces of Good and Evil within them.

I suppose what made this particular story different from any number of more "pulp fictiony" experiments (and put it in the same league with other stories that have been made it from book form to the silver screen) is that this story offered a compelling enough (yet also middle-of-the-road/staid enough) blend of Romance with Fantasy genre metaphysics for Mark Helprin's original novel to have made it onto the New York Times Best Seller List. If the story proved _too_ "out there" or _too_ burdensome it would have never made it this far. 

So then, to the story ...

After the above mentioned early exposition of the metaphysical "rules" of story, we're introduced to Peter Lake, the central protagonist in the story.  It's the late 19th century and he and his parents have arrived, from Russia, at Ellis Island.  After Peter's mother fails her medical exam for "consumption" (tuberculosis) they are ordered deported back to Russia.  Still in New York harbor but already on the ship heading back to Russia, Peter's father finds a model of a sailing ship named "City of Justice" on display in the ship's museum.  Desperate, he breaks the glass case protecting the model boat and then he and his wife a la the infant Moses (Exodus 2:1-10) place their child in the model boat, put it (somehow) in the water and push it in the direction of land.  Apparently the boat lands onshore and Peter grows up in a New York orphanage where, though he was originally of Russian origin, he curiously acquires an Irish accent (most probably the orphanage would have been Catholic...).

The story then jumps several decades ahead to 1916.  At this point, Peter Lake (played as an adult by Colin Farrell) under the "care/protection" of a local (mob) boss Pearly Sommes (played by Russell Crowe) starts to have dreams of a red-haired woman who he only sees from the back.  He doesn't know what this means but Pearly certainly does.  Peary, it turns out, is more than just a local New York-Irish mob boss.  He's long ago sold his soul to the Devil (whose "regional representative" (played by Will Smith) lives and operates out of a seemingly random if rather dark and dank Manhattan warehouse along the Hudson River ... in the world of this story, agents of the Devil live and work in this world appearing to be "just like us" except ... they are not AND they tend to work in already quite nefarious fields, like in the Mob ).

Pearly understands Peter's visions as meaning that he's coming close to meeting his purpose/destiny in life AND PEARLY'S JOB, AS AN AGENT OF THE DEVIL, IS TO FRUSTRATE HUMAN BEINGS' ATTEMPTS TO ACCOMPLISH THEIR PURPOSE / MEET THEIR DESTINY.  On the other hand, other strange things start to happen around Peter Lake, notably a Pegasus-like white horse with wings (a "spirit guide") materializes by good ole Peter just as he's about to be beaten up and perhaps even killed by Pearly and his henchmen (which would have "set back" Peter's ability to meet his destiny ...).

So "Game On" ... the Peter Lake jumps onto the Pegasus-like white horse with wings and escapes Pearly and his men.  The Pegasus-like white horse takes him upriver to a mansion that turns out to be owned by a newspaper magnate named Isaac Penn (played by William Hurt) and ... it turns out that he has a beautiful young REDHEADED daughter named Beverly (played by Jessica Brown Findley).  Is she then wrapped-up somehow in Peter's destiny?  OF COURSE SHE IS, BUT ... she, of course, her own purpose/destiny to fulfill. So much then ensues ... so much so, that Time, in fact, has do be (sort of) warped to do so... but then when Love and Destiny are at stake, what's Time to stand in the way?

Yes, it's kind of a sappy story.  And as I've written above, the "metaphysics" of it all can be rather burdensome.   But the metaphysics is _not_ completely incomprehensible.  A lot of the story's metaphysics is based on traditional Christian metaphysics.  And then ... there's the white horse ... ;-).

The tag line of the film is: This is NOT a "True Story."  It's a Love Story.

It's also not a particularly profound story.  BUT a love story it is and a rather sappy "heavy on the period dress" one at that.  But if you like that sort of thing, you'll probably like the film.

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