Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Day 54: Cold Comfort Farm

Flora Poste's parents have just died (she wasn't close to them) and, as an aspiring writer, she wants to spend the next thirty years of her life accumulating life experiences that will enable her to write a book as good as Jane Austen's Persuasion. Her inheritance is paltry, though, and she is, thus, forced to confront the most important question all young aspiring artists face: How will I eat?

Luckily, she's offered a room on a farm owned by one of her distant relatives who, due to some mysterious goings on in the past, feels as if she owes a great debt to "Robert Poste's child". Flora, seeing this as an opportunity to gain some insight into the world, sets off to Cold Comfort Farm where she's confronted with a plethora of miserable, grimy characters living under the sway of a mysterious, traumatized matriarch. Refusing to succumb to their gloomy way of life, Flora reinvents this place, using insight and wit to inspire nearly everyone on the farm to enact a better life for themselves.

I liked Cold Comfort Farm well enough. I was pleasantly reminded of Beetlejuice throughout the film (something that would seem inexplicable on the surface) and I think it was because the two movies share a similar tone, moving from arch, gothic plot machinations to an outright parody of the same. But don't get me wrong, there's nary a severed head in Cold Comfort Farm. The tone of this film is light and breezy, broadly played, and of little consequence. Kate Beckinsale is great as Flora Poste, investing the role with intelligence and a great deal of charm. I enjoyed the way the movie poked fun at the character's literary aspirations, the movie depicting her writing with such bombast as to constantly refer to the sun as "the yellow orb". And it's wonderful that, for a movie about an upper class, urban character coming into a lower class, rural environment and changing everything so she's not quite so uncomfortable, the way Flora gets what she's looking for is to help other people with their own wishes.

But, I cannot deny, that amidst the fun, a grumpy little demon talked to me during this movie.It kept asking these questions like, "Hey, what if all the characters who lived on the farm were black? Wouldn't you say that this is just like one of those movies where the white people teach the black people how to assimilate and live properly?" And the answer to the question is, honestly, yes. As this is a story about cultural assimilation. Flora Poste brings a more "enlightened" world to the gloomy, uneducated place. She often balks at their backwardness.

But, then another demon, a happier one speaks up: "The farm is gloomy because the characters are obedient to traditions that can bring them nothing but gloom, and it's delightful to see their worlds brightened into something more aesthetically pleasing. And, you know, for the most part Flora simply gives the characters nothing more than a little education that inspires them to do things in a way that makes them happier. And everyone is much happier after she leaves. And, again, the characters really do want this change."

"Well most of them. The one who, ultimately, doesn't want the change is shipped off to an insane asylum."

"But then again, that's quite a good thing for this character and the character is pleased to be going."

"Yes, but isn't it odd that the main character affects so much change but she, herself, remains virtually untouched by them? Sure, she gives up being a writer and jumps into the arms of the guy with the coolest car around (so what if it happens to be a plane?) but, really, up until the very, very end of the movie, she never seems to gain anything from them and, in fact, this final turnaround in her character seems rather unlikely because she's been so unaffected by the other people. Don't you remember Walkabout where we agreed that the reason there was a failure for the two cultures to live peacefully was that the Colonists could take as much as they wanted from the Aborigines but had nothing to give in return? Isn't this part of the same problem?"

Then the happier demon replies by asking the grumpier demon out to dinner and they talk for all hours of the night about many, many things and eventually agree that the movie was a lot of fun to watch, regardless.

1 comment:

matt said...

It's encuraging to see two demons out enjoying some cake. Not making trouble.