Golden String

The title (above) comes from the William Blake lines I quoted in the previous posting. Here they are once more:

“I give you the end of a golden string

Only wind it into a ball:

It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate,

Built in Jerusalem’s wall.”

He’s talking about the imagination.

I saw some fairly good films over the holidays:

Charlie Wilson’s War was better than I’d expected, as was The Spiderwick Chronicles. I really enjoyed Hairspray — anything involving Christopher Walken is worth watching. I didn’t care for The Prestige. But the movie I want to talk about that really impressed me is one that I’m guessing a lot of people missed — which is partly why I want to talk about it:

Tideland (2005) was directed by Terry Gilliam, and it was written by Gilliam and Tony Grisoni. It’s based on a novel by Mitch Cullin.

I have no intention of giving away the plot here, but one reviewer referred to it as a gothic Alice in Wonderland (and in fact, in the opening moments, we hear the lilting voice of a young girl reading from Alice in Wonderland in a Texas accent — there are all sorts of deliberate, conscious references to Alice in this story).

Another reviewer described Tideland as “a poetic horror film,” and I think that’s accurate. Warning: although it has a child protagonist, the film deals with extremely dark subject matter and adult themes, so don’t go gathering your kids and popping Tideland into the DVD player to watch with them. Unless you have some pretty sophisticated kids.

What I like so much about the movie (aside from the haunting musical score, the skillful use of the stark, rural Texas landscape, and the brilliant writing, direction, and acting) is that it’s essentially a story about the imagination — particularly childhood’s imagination. It’s a fascinating study of how a child’s imagining transforms the grim circumstances she’s in, and how it makes them — at least for a short while — not only bearable, but eerily beautiful.

As we watch the film, we worry about the main character, Jeliza-Rose (who, I understand, is 11 in the novel, and the actress playing her was born in 1994, so was about 10 or 11 when the film was made — though I had the impression while I was watching it that she was several years younger than that). We are terrified for her — we hold our breath as she innocently makes her way through the unthinkable situation life has thrust upon her, as she interprets reality in her own way.

But at the same time, we can’t help but be drawn into Jeliza-Rose’s world; we can’t help but recognize its haunting, aching, restless, nostalgic, wistful beauty. Though most of us had childhoods a lot tamer and safer than hers, the filmmakers manage to capture something intrinsic to all childhoods, something universal about being eleven.

If you’re not too squeamish, and if you have a stout spirit, I recommend Tideland. It’s one of those films that leaves you not quite the same as you were (in a good way). It makes your canopy of experience a little richer — and may deepen your understanding of the role of imagination in helping us along on life’s journey.

Nor does imagination necessarily involve a complete break with reality. Although Jeliza-Rose is the most imaginative character in the story, she is also the most clear-headed and sensible: in an early scene, she prevents her father from burning down their apartment building.

Anyway, I think we can expect great things of Canadian-born Jodelle Ferland, who plays Jeliza-Rose.

Follow the golden string! Keep winding it into a ball! And thank Heaven for the capacity to build worlds of our own choosing — and for the child that is still, on good days, within us all.


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8 Responses to “Golden String”

  1. Chris Says:

    Definitely going throw Tideland onto the Netflix queue! Thanks!

    I liked “Charlie Wilsons War”. Tom Hanks did a great job playing a relatively flawed hero, and the CIA operative was great! When I see movies from a time that I actually lived through but didn’t know a THING about I always feel somewhat dumber or realize the truth that for all I think I “know” I actually know nothing.

    I love Terry Gilliam movies and I like dark films. Can’t say I’m overly fond of the usual literary technique of dealing with dark topics via the use of child protagonists (just seems too easy, when the really dark stuff can also come to adults. There are actual horrors that adults can appreciate and a good author should be able to speak to me as an adult about the horrors we all face at one time or another).

    So I will definitely grab Tideland.

    Just got done reading “The Terror” by Simmons. It’s a fictionalization about one of my favorite historical topics; the “lost” Franklin Expedition for the Northwest Passage in 1845. I’ve read a goodly amount of the history about this, but Simmons made a kind of fun “horroresque” fictionalization around it. Ended kinda “blah”, but it was a good read!

  2. fsdthreshold Says:

    That CIA operative was played by Philip Seymour Hoffmann (sorry if I’ve misspelled his name; there are at least two places to make a mistake); I like his work a lot. He did a great job in _Capote_ (and won an award for it, I think). And wasn’t he the other medical student, the “serious” one, in _Patch Adams_?

    Well, I think there are ALL KINDS of films that deal with gritty, adult topics from an adult perspective. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding those! I would argue that it takes incredible skill to depict the world as seen through the eyes of a child. I always make my child protagonists way too adult.

    I have _The Terror_ but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. It looks great!

  3. Chris Says:

    The cool thing about _The Terror_ for me was that several years ago I was on a serious “arctic exploration” book jag. I read every non-fic book I could find about polar exploration (Rita and I actually got to visit the Fram, Nansen’s polar exploration ship, when we were visiting Norway!)

    I even have the book “Frozen in Time” about the 1988 exhumations of the bodies on Beechey Island. So reading Simmon’s book was like hooking up with someone realizing you’d read some of the same books! (And it was equally cool to be able to actually see a photograph of some of the people used as fictional characters in the book! Or at least photos of them after they’ve been semi-mummified in the arctic for 150 years).

    Overall Simmons does a very good job of writing the story. His style is very comfortable. Not overly descriptive (although I like overly descriptive writers), but it kept the pages moving. The only down side was the ending was a bit “new agey” in a strange retro sort of way. Not unexpected by the time you got near it, but wasn’t a great climactic moment.

    Overall, a good read.

  4. Chris Says:

    quick correction; I said Simmons wasn’t overly descriptive. I should codify that by saying the imagery in the book is VERY descriptive, but it isn’t obsessively so. An author could easily get carried away with the starkness of the Arctic. My trips to Iceland, Norway and a weekend drive to the Arctic Circle convinced me this is one of the coolest parts of the planet. And I’m sure Fred would recognize it after his time up by Slave Lake (which is mentioned in _The Terror_ as well!)

  5. Maurice Springfield IL) Says:

    Took a look at the Cricket web site plus your blog here — very interesting for a guy my age to look into. Am sure your mother would be proud. Used my buddy’s (Harlan) computer to check things out from your nice note.

  6. Jedibabe Says:

    Fred asked a great question in this post about the difference between a blessing and a burden, and whether the two can overlap:

    Before I was a grad student, I was a personal trainer. I love the work that is required to reach a fitness goal. It was a wonderful thing to help a client set a goal, one they may have thought utterly unattainable on their own, and work with them to the realization of a dream. But no one gets the dream, the blessing, with out the burden of effort. We all have the choice to shoulder the burden and realize the dream, or to shrug it off and continue on the easier path. We are told: “through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God”. The stunning view means less to she who drove to the top of the mountain than to he who made the arduous climb on his own two feet.

    Can there be a blessing that is _not_ a burden might be a greater question. Does anything wonderful come without a price, and if it did would we value it as much? A significant increase of income likely comes with a significant increase in responsibility. A new love comes with a price of selfless service. Having a child is certainly considered a blessing, but surely children are a burden; suddenly one is tied to home, to schedule, to routine. Orderliness goes out the window and one’s cost of living jumps, but the blessings are enormous. Additionally, the challenges we face in our lives are frequently one of God’s primary means of blessing us. Adversity is the soil from which grows the blessings.

    The real clincher here is that it is up to each of us to decide if we want that blessing enough to choose the burden. It would certainly be easier to stick to the comfort of what we know, but we would never grow, and success is likely to evade us if chose not to pay it’s price. Maybe it’s time we took a fresh look at our definition of success.

    Fred, you’ve chosen to pay the burden of the effort to realize your dream, now we shall pray for the blessing. May the Force be with you!

  7. Jedibabe Says:

    Ack! Submitted that comment of the wrong page- never mind!

  8. chessrider Says:

    Hi fred remember me devon.
    I red your stories and I liked them.


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