April 18, 2009

Eight questions on barnyard injustice, political correctness, and the definition of heroism

The following is a “review” of the film Charlotte’s Web (2006). I wrote this on December of 2007 as a favor to my officemate Kuya J. who asked me if I could pretty please do his daughter’s school assignment. The assignment consists of watching the movie (Kuya J. provided the rented VCD) and answering several questions (some I found weird) about it. I was not keen on watching the movie, but Kuya J. is a good friend, so.

The movie was directed by Gary Winick and starred Julia Roberts (as Charlotte's voice) and Dakota Fanning.

1. If given a chance to be part of the movie, whose character would you be?

I will have to be Wilbur, the spring pig who lives. Throughout the movie Wilbur won over many animal friends and he has Charlotte to look after him. It feels good to be someone who discovers the meaning of friendship from friends who are willing to cover you and look after your safety.

2. Is the movie politically and morally correct? Explain how.

[I suspected the teacher just copied this question from somewhere. I am really not sure that pupils in elementary level, even in Grades 4 to 6, discuss this sort of questions. I could be wrong, though. One shouldn't underestimate the kids. Just think of the TV show Kakasa Ka Ba Sa Grade 5?, which is a spin-off from Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?]

I think that the manner of presentation of this children’s story is very amusing and light. It is a plain direct story. It does not promote any political belief and it is not moralistic in its tone.

3. Is there any violence in the movie? Do you think it is advisable for children to watch the movie? Why?

[I am deeply troubled by the second question.]

No violence is shown in the movie. The death of Charlotte may be sad but it only shows a situation where those who are close to you die. It is a great loss and bearing this loss is part of living. This film is suitable for children because it teaches them lessons in life that includes the value of friendship and loyalty.

4. What do you think about the doctor’s lack of concern over Fern’s apparent delusions about animals and spiders talking?

The doctor thinks that Fern’s belief that animals talk is all part of Fern’s “childhood phase” and that she will grow out of it in time. I think that it is typical of adults to think this way of children’s “wild imaginations” as they have also gone through this process in their own childhood.

5. The theme of the movie is the unfairness of raising an animal simply to kill it for food. How does this basic sense of barnyard injustice help you understand the movie?

[Well, thank you, Ma’am, for straightening out for us what the theme is. I wouldn’t have thought of it otherwise! And “barnyard injustice”? Are there other forms of injustice? Aesop’s fables and all.]

There is an early scene in the movie in which right after Fern’s declaration that she “absolutely will not let you [her father] kill him [Wilbur the pig],” the scene fades to Fern’s mother frying bacon for breakfast. This is a funny juxtaposition of scenes [well, at least for me] because of its clear irony. It must be a clear indication that the need to eat animal food is not unfair or wrong. It is the unnecessary pain inflicted on animals during their slaughtering that is perhaps not justified.

We humans depend on food for survival. I think that raising animal livestock as a future source of food by treating them well at first and killing them later in a swift clean manner is not at all evil. We can still respect “animal rights” through killing animals in an acceptable manner wherein they do not suffer for long.

6. Templeton the rat acts solely out of self interest, yet he is in many ways the hero of the story, next to Charlotte. How does Templeton’s role contribute to the impression that the story is real?

[Now we’re off to realism.]

The character of Templeton is a very interesting one. He represents someone who is very frank and brutally honest. He is practical in his pronouncements and in his strong sense of self-preservation – in securing for himself enough food. His actions, gestures, and reactions are very natural and can clearly be observed in real people. It makes for a very convincing character that we cannot question Templeton’s motive in hoarding food.

7. Imagine Wilbur, years after the end of the movie, about to die a peaceful, natural death. He decides to write a letter to post on a barn door telling all the future generations of Charlotte’s descendants about their heroic ancestor. Write that letter.

[Shucks. Where’s my hanky?]




Sweet little spiders,

Now that my time is about to end, I wish to tell you of your great grandmother, Charlotte. She is the best bestfriend anybody – even an ordinary-looking pig – can have. She saved me from being put in the slaughterhouse. She used her web to spin such beautiful words that describe a friend. I wish I could do the same for her and inscribe in web my love for her. It will not be as long lasting as an inscription on a marble, but it is just as sturdy as the true love of a true friend. She kept her promise to look after me right until her death. She saved me by her friendship. Be true to one another as your great grandmother was true to me.


8. There are many definitions of heroism that may be derived from the characters in the movie. How did the writer and the director define heroism based on the movie?

[I rest my case.]

The movie is about the power of words. It suggests ways how men should treat animals. This is how Charlotte saved Wilbur by “spinning a web of words.” It is also a celebration of the storyteller’s power to spin words and get his message across. We must note that the film is based on novelist E. B. White’s story. White is a well regarded prose writer who wrote for the magazine The New Yorker and is a stylist who co-wrote the famous manual for writers “The Elements of Style.”
Heroism, as I understand it from this movie, is the act of saying the things that must be said, the important things that others should know. It is to inform others of how special (“Terrific”, “Radiant”, “Humble”) some people/beings (“Some Pig”) are. We must not therefore be timid but rather express how we think and feel. It is the power of words that can influence and convince others to act. The movie is a testament to the transforming power of words.

Moral of the story for me:
Some questions may be questionable, but they can allow you to appreciate the film’s merits.

April 16, 2009

The savage reader (2009)

I’ve began reading 2666 after finishing my morning class in Mathematics. I was wary at first. I checked my pulse, and then I finally flipped the first page. There was no other way.



The book is a tease. It knows it is important and yet is humble to concede to imperfection. It started innocently, in much the same way W. G. Sebald constructs his opening sentences. That is, it started coherently before it rambles into a labyrinth.

I am now halfway to the first of the five books, “The Part about the Critics”. This first book knows its boundaries and yet it soars from its solitary confinement. Bolaño’s stylistic tics are distinctive and surprising. The part about the critics is a maelstrom of conferences attended a group of global citizens who are all connected to Archimboldi, the missing novelist at the heart of the book.



I finished the book. There is nothing more to say of it. It is an unfinished book, but I finished it.



I began typing the first of the above entries in earnest. I sought to write a daily account of my impressions of 2666. The structure that I had in mind is something spontaneous, so I followed the narrator’s lead in Bolaño’s earlier novel The Savage Detectives. As you can see, I was not able to follow this plan. I was only able to write 3 entries, the last of which is when I finished the book. I was so absorbed with the book that between the second day and the last day – a span of almost one month – I did not care to write a single word about it. I read the book intermittently, haphazardly. My aim is to finish it as soon as I can. There were days when I have to put it down due to busy schedule. There were also days when I made significant progress and was able to read large blocks of text.

I have read too many reviews of the book after I finished it. Too many for my own good, I think. I thought of resurrecting my initial plan to write about 2666 in journal fashion. But this is no longer a suitable framework for me. One of these dog days I will begin to consolidate my random thoughts and see if anything coherent will come of it. I seem to be still infected by the book's toxic beauty.

(Cover image from covers.fwis.com)

April 14, 2009

In lieu of a field guide

Translation, in lieu of the original.
Poetry, in lieu of a field guide.